Alfred A. Knopf New York—1922
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, Inc. Published, September, 1922
Set up and printed by the Vail-Ballou Co., Binghamton, N. Y. Paper supplied by W. F. Etherington & Co., New York, N. Y. Bound by the H. Wolff Estate, New York, N. Y.
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
To Helen and Wilson Follett
LORD TOLLOLLER: "... of birth and position I've plenty; I've grammar and spelling for two, And blood and behaviour for twenty."
Having once, for a few months, had a literary column in a newspaper, I have come to admire those authors who place at the beginning of their books a "word" in which the whole thing is given away. The time that those words saved me in writing my reviews—time which otherwise would have been lost in reading the books—enabled me to write this book; a consummation which may have, in its heart, a significant kernel, and which certainly shows how funny the world is, after all.
Now, as to this book and what it is all about, I frankly am at a loss. That's the difficulty of being too near it. Whether it is realism, naturalism, or merely restrained romanticism, I simply do not know. It is awkward not knowing, for in the battle of the schools now raging I should like to take sides. I should like either to charge with the romantics, or defend with the realists. It must be good fun being pushed and shoved around, with someone's elbow in your eye and someone else's hatpin in your ear, and everyone crying, in the words of a recent heroine, "I want to be outraged." But, for the present at least, I must be content, like little Oliver Twist, to look hungrily on.
The story which trickles through the book starts out bravely enough. Of this much, at least, I can be moderately sure. For a short time it looks as though something might come of it; but nothing really does. It is all so terribly obvious. There are no obstacles such as one finds in real fiction; there is no love spasm in Chapter XXV. There is no Chapter XXV at all! And so it must be perfectly clear that those who insist upon having their love spasms will be bored to death by Tutors' Lane and should on no account be allowed to look at it. There is love, of course, in an academic community; one frequently sees evidences of it; but it is love under control, properly subordinated to the all important business of uniting youth and learning—and to snatching time for an occasional rejuvenating flutter in the sacred fount itself.
So the syllabus is little more than a nervous shake of the hand and a timid statement of a few negative "points"—a disheartening, if not positively dangerous, affair. That there are lurking beauties, however, peeping shyly out like johnny-jump-ups and wild raspberry blossoms, there appears to be some evidence on the jacket. Meanwhile, the course is open, the bell is ringing to class, and the instructor, turning over the text to Chapter I, is prepared to meet whatever scholars God, in his greater wisdom, has been pleased to set before him.
Tom Reynolds, Instructor in English in Woodbridge College, walked along Tutors' Lane in the gathering dusk of a March afternoon. Persons whose knowledge of collegiate dons is limited to the poverty-stricken, butterfly-chasing genus created by humorous scenario writers would be surprised to learn that our hero—for such he is to be—was young, sound of wind and limb, and at the present moment comfortably clothed in a coon-skin coat. The latter touch might be accounted for by such persons on the basis of an eccentric city cousin generously disposed to casting off his garments when only half worn, but the other two points must convince them of the faithlessness of the whole account, and their acquaintance with the young man will accordingly end with the first paragraph.
Woodbridge College, as a matter of fact, has never been without a few young men of this type in its Faculty. Situated in southern New England, it has roots which extend well back into the Eighteenth Century, and its traditions, keeping pace with its growth, rival in dignity and picturesqueness those of its larger neighbours. Whereas they have expanded from Colleges to Universities, Woodbridge has been content to restrict its enrolment to six hundred; and instead of making entrance easier it has, if anything, made it harder. Accordingly, the College holds its head high, not unconscious that the quality of its instruction and of its graduates is unsurpassed.
The Founders of the College placed their first building on the crest of a smallish plateau which commands a view of the Blackmoor Valley. Succeeding generations have scattered its buildings haphazardly about, but, thanks to the generosity of a Woodbridge son, the meadow land which slopes away from the crest down to the Lebanon River, sixty acres in all, was bought and given to the College; and upon this land the future College is to rise. There is a good deal of rather vague talk about this new college—of the quadrangle which is to solve all dormitory and recitation problems, and which is to shine with beauty. But at present the meadow is sacred to athletics, and the elaborate new boat house, completed last spring, seems to make the quadrangle less of a probability than ever.
Tutors' Lane is the main artery of the place. It passes through the college green and on down the hill through a row of faculty houses until it reaches the village of Woodbridge Center, or, as it is usually called, Center. It is a famous street—famous for its elms, which supply, as it has not infrequently been pointed out, the dignity of a nave; famous for the doorways and windows of its colonial houses; and famous for the distinction and propriety of its inhabitants.
It is one of the Woodbridge traditions that these houses are inviolate. Assistant Professors' wives, upon taking up residence in Tutors' Lane, are tactfully warned that it is not the thing to alter them. There may be an occasional painting, yes; but innovations in the way of building are not to be thought of. People who have to build are advised to do it elsewhere; certain streets are provided for the purpose—High Street, for example—and though of course they are not Tutors' Lane, doubtless they are livable enough. In fact, High Street is distinctly coming into its own, thanks, of course, to the High Street Cemetery. For a mortal existence in Tutors' Lane is followed by an immortal one in the High Street Cemetery, and though perhaps those who spend mortality in the Street can hardly expect to enjoy immortality in the Cemetery, nevertheless, no one can take from them the satisfaction of being the neighbours of the oldest families who are doing so. Property is steadily rising in High Street, accordingly, and now Assistant Professors and their wives do well indeed to settle there.
Tutors' Lane is not particularly wide for such an important thoroughfare. Two vehicles can pass without difficulty, but it is well for them not to rush by. If they are in a hurry, they had better take either Meadow Street, which skirts the athletic field, or High Street, which is wide and oiled and designed for heavy traffic. Tutors' Lane is not oiled, and heaven forfend that it ever should be, for its foundations go far back into the past, farther perhaps than any one dreams. No less a person than old Mrs. Baxter is authority for the statement that it follows the course of an old Roman road. It is incredible, of course, and opens up a vista of pre-Columbian discovery more astonishing than any to be found in the Book of Mormon, but Mrs. Baxter was a noted controversialist in her day and, true or false, she succeeded in handing down the story to the present generation.
People who think of an ordinary row of city houses have no conception of Faculty Row. For one thing, the lots are of widely different sizes. Some, like the one owned by the Misses Forbes, daughters of the geologist, are modest affairs with forty-foot fronts. Others, like Dean Norris's, cover two acres. Those built before 1800 have their birth-years painted carefully over their doorways, and it is an unwritten law that younger houses may not claim this privilege. Many are sheltered by box hedges, and none but has its garden—in which flowers other than hollyhocks, mignonette, larkspur, stock, and bachelor's buttons are considered slightly nouveaux venus.
As to the occupants of these houses, volumes many times the size of this one might be written. Suffice it for the present, however, that they are quite superior to the general indifference of the outside world, and that, like the dwellers in Cranford, though some may be poor, all are aristocratic.
To Tom Reynolds, walking along Tutors' Lane in the dusk of a March afternoon, the scene was considerably different from the verdant one just sketched. Instead of peeping out behind their holly hocks and vines, the houses were still defensively wrapped up against the ice which besieged their walls. Storm doors could not yet be dispensed with, and here and there some practical soul—doubtless connected with the Physics Department—had by means of a railing insured himself against the painful mortification of an icy step. Walking is never good in Tutors' Lane during the winter. Cement walks are not laid, and temporary boards smack a little too much of a makeshift. Arctics are the invariable rule, but even so the going is not easy, and it is particularly bad at this time of year, for now it is that arctics, which never seem able to last through a winter, suddenly give out at the heel and fill with mud and slush.
Tom walked on until he came to the Dean's driveway, and then he turned into it. During his college days he had spent a considerable amount of time at the Dean's house, and now, in the first year of his Instructorship, he was there more than ever. His own home in Ephesus, New York, being at the present time occupied by a stepmother for whom he had no particular affection and a father whose interests were in the drygoods rather than the scholastic line, he scarcely thought of himself as having a home other than that made for him by the Dean's wife. It was true that there was an older sister whose husband was a lawyer in Omaha, but she had never approved of his bringing up, and, since she was convinced that he had been spoiled beyond repair, their separation was merciful. At Christmas the family exchanged cheques, and Tom dutifully sent what the Telegraph Company called a "Yule Tide Message," tastefully decorated free of charge. But there family ties ended.
They had really ended sixteen years ago when the nine-year-old Tom had been led up to take a terrified look at his mother's dead face and had then been allowed to escape to the rear of the house for a season of uncontrollable weeping. From that time on until five years later when he came in contact with Mr. Hilton, Instructor in English at the High School, he had led the life of a "queer" boy. Devoted to reading and content, in default of other youth who interested him, to stay by himself, he was a hopeless enigma to his father, whose memories of youth, strengthened by contemporary examination of his "cash boys," were of a radically different sort. But with the attainment of High School and Mr. Hilton the world changed. For the first time since his mother's death Tom met a congenial spirit. Mr. Hilton was gay, he was humorous, he noticed important things which other people were too stupid to notice or to appreciate. He was forever having amusing misadventures; and before long he took Tom off with him for week-end walks, and they had amusing misadventures together. No one else existed for Tom, and anything he suggested became law. In this way Tom came to play baseball sufficiently well to be allowed in his senior year the privilege of standing in the right field of the School team.
Mr. Hilton was a Woodbridge man, and, after earnest discussion with Mr. Reynolds, he obtained permission for Tom to go to Woodbridge. The financial problem was a simple one, for Tom had awaiting him in trust a comfortable income from his mother's estate, and having him away would be cheaper for Mr. Reynolds. Beginning with Sophomore year, therefore, the previously dull curriculum took on a romantic hue, since by means of it Ephesus could be left behind forever. Studying became a "stunt," and he swept through examination after examination as though they were novels or ball games, until at length he found himself at Woodbridge.
Tom's college life after the first year had been as pleasant as college life ever is. At the start, his career was like that of most boys entering Woodbridge from a high school. His "funny" clothes and mildly awkward manners indicated that, as yet, he hardly spoke the same language as his more fortunate classmates who had been privately prepared for their higher education. He had heard something, of course, as everyone has, of the celebrated democratic tendency that obtains at Woodbridge. It was disconcerting, therefore, to be eyed by these young men as though he were a too strange bird who had somehow wandered into the zoo proper instead of staying, where he belonged, in the aviary. He had been possessed, however, with the desire to "make good," and so avoided the little group of cynics that, in every class, leave their alma mater with gall and bitterness in their hearts. As it was, he came to admire the happy, well-dressed majority. There was an easiness of manner about them that charmed him. They were reserved and did not dull their palms with entertainment of each new-hatch'd comrade, but when they did accept one it appeared to be a thoroughgoing performance. They were the jeunesse doree; but Tom frankly hoped that he might qualify for something as fine.
Tom had, as a matter of fact, qualified, and in the spring of his Junior year he had been awarded the outward and visible sign of a successful Woodbridge career—an election to Star, one of the two Senior Clubs.
This is not the place for a discussion of these two Clubs. Furthermore, they who know anything at all about Woodbridge know about them. They know well enough, without any reminder here, that an election to either is the first prize in the college social life, and they know, furthermore, that their influence extends over into graduate life, colouring it pleasantly to the end of one's days. The reticence which the members of the Clubs feel in regard to them—a reticence found highly amusing by outsiders—extends to the Woodbridge community, and there is, accordingly, a somewhat formidable atmosphere about them which is vaguely felt by all. But here we must let the affair rest. They are not to play any other part in our story than to shed their benign influence over the hero, and we may dismiss them except for an occasional inevitable reference, with a brief statement. When, in his Sophomore year, he had made the baseball team, it had been conceded that Tom's chances of "coming across" were good, and when, later, it was discovered that he read books not prescribed in the college courses, he was "sure." The baseball, however, had come first, for it is true at Woodbridge, as well as in Ephesus, that baseball adds lustre to letters. Why he had chosen Star rather than Grave—for the choice had been given him—is a matter so intimately connected with the outstanding characteristics of the two Clubs that an explanation would promptly lead to the discussion above declined. Let it suffice, therefore, that he "went" Star because of good and sufficient reasons, and we shall have done with this delicate business.
Then the war had come; and now, after two years of service and a year in a graduate school, Tom was back, an infant member of the Faculty.
* * * * *
Tom loitered up the walk to the Dean's house to make the pleasure of his arrival the greater. The Norris house, a somewhat solemn brown-stone structure built in the 'thirties, fascinated him. He found it impossible to stay away for long; and now, as he rang the bell, his pulse quickened with the thought of the rooms about to be opened to him.
Tom stepped into the hall and threw his hat, muffler, and overcoat upon the hall bench. "Lovely day, isn't it, Norah?" he said to the maid who had let him in, receiving her "Yes, Mr. Reynolds" with a smile and a nod, and passing directly into the library.
"Why, hello, Tom," said a girl on the sofa facing the fireplace. Before her was a tea wagon and she was at present pouring a cup for a slightly stiff person in knickerbockers.
Tom shook hands with his host, lately Dean of Woodbridge and now, in the absence of the President, acting in his place. He then turned to the first gentleman, who, cup in hand, was making slow backward progress to his seat. "How do you do?" Tom said with a slight bow.
"How are you, Reynolds," the other replied, hardly noticing him.
"Henry and father have just come back from curling and they say it is perfectly rotten," continued the girl on the sofa. "Let's see, Tom, you take one lump, don't you?"
He declined on the grounds of just having had tea and retiring to a table in the rear of the tea group, idly picked up a copy of the London Times Literary Supplement that was lying on it. Henry, who had apparently been interrupted, proceeded with a description of the various characters that had taken part in the curling.
Tom's interest in the Times was not very great, but his interest in Henry Whitman's story was even less, and he frankly allowed his gaze to wander over the books that covered the walls of the room. They were one of the things that fascinated him in the house. They extended from the floor to the ceiling and encircled the entire room, yielding only to the wide, high fireplace and the five windows. A small section encased in glass housed a few of the Dean's first editions and presentation copies, but Tom rather resented it, breaking as it did the harmony of the whole and pulling the eye to it with its reflecting panes. He had from the first made the mental reservation that, were the house his, he should take away that glass.
The dark blue velours sofa upon which Mary Norris was sitting, facing the fire, he called "The Bosom of the Norris Family," and when there were no heavy people like Henry Whitman about, he would occasionally throw himself upon it, carefully pointing out each time the pretty significance of his act. Behind the Bosom was a large and weighty desk covered with a multitude of personal letters, belonging for the most part to Mrs. Norris, a cheque-book open and face down in mute obeisance to the blotter, newspaper clippings, spectacle cases, scissors, and ash trays. In a neighbouring corner stood a table with imperfectly stacked current magazines, a work basket filled with knitting, and a lamp crowned by a broad shade of silk with threads hanging from it, which, when twirled, stood out and looked like a miniature wheat field with the wind running through it. The lamp on the table by which Tom was sitting was an old-fashioned silver affair but recently converted to electricity. Its shade was high and dignified, and it had been discovered that when lifted from its place it could be worn as a turban.
The fireplace carried on its mantel a running commentary upon the changing details of family interest. At present, flanking the little French clock upon its centre was a variety of old glass, Eighteenth Century rum and whiskey flasks recently collected by Mrs. Norris. There were, additionally, a porcelain image of two farmers, dos a dos, one with rosy cheeks and flashing eye labelled "water," and the other, haggard and ill-favoured, labelled "gin"; also a brace of saturnine china cats. Above the mantel stretched an expanse of oak panelling which supported the portrait of Mrs. Norris's great-great-grandfather in a heavy gilt frame. The old gentleman, who looked amiably out from his starched neckcloth, had been a delegate to the Continental Congress and a jurist of distinction. Beside him on a table were some papers, obviously of the first importance, for they were plastered with seals, a copy of Coke on Lyttleton, and an inkpot with a quill sticking out of it. His arm was lying lightly on the table, his cherubic face smiling back at its observer wherever he stood; and Tom imagined that his next move would be, after the manner of his great-great-granddaughter, to rise with a sweep and tip over the inkpot.
The colour in the room was chiefly contributed by the deep red curtains which hung beside the windows and which brought out and emphasized each object of kindred colour in the room. In this way were made conspicuous the turban-like shade, a lacquered calendar rest upon the desk, a footstool, and even the British Colonies on a globe hiding unobtrusively in a corner. The heavy Persian rugs echoed the note so generously that the books with reddish bindings stood out from their fellows and played their part in giving to the whole a richness that made the room remarkable.
Tom gazed at the group before him. Henry Whitman, Assistant Professor of Economics at thirty, a member of Grave, was telling a story of an Italian in Whitmanville who, when he curled, used only the broadest Scotch. When Tom had met Henry in his ingenuous days he threatened to be overwhelmed by the calm indifference of Henry's manner. The Whitman Air, inherited from a line of distinguished forebears, all but swamped him. It was as perfect and finished as some smooth old bit of jade, and as hard; a "piece" to be carefully handled, admirable only to the initiated. Tom had not yet, in the course of his initiation, come to find it admirable, although he quite appreciated its authenticity. Harry's father, of the same name, had been one of the College's chief luminaries in the preceding Administration, known wherever Political Economy, as such, was known. His father before him had produced the Whitman Woollen Mills, which supported Whitmanville, and though they were at present in the hands of an uncle and various cousins, their beneficent influence was obviously felt by Henry. Everything about him suggested comfort and nourishment. There was in his eye a look which implied intimacy with beagle-hunting in Derbyshire, and the way he used his hands positively suggested candle light at dinner. The knickerbockers that he wore gave out a delightful heathery smell, a smell which is at its best when mingled, as at present, with the smell of superior pipe tobacco. His stockings would naturally be objects of curiosity to anyone familiar with the Whitman Mills, just as the pearls around the neck of a famous jeweller's wife would be, or the soap in the tub of a famous soap-maker. They were, as a matter of fact, excellent stockings of the heaviest, woolliest kind, and Whitman had bought them a year and a half ago in Scotland, whither he had gone after his wife's death. He still wore a mourning band about his arm in her honour, and a black knitted tie; and there was every reason to believe that he would continue to do so another year and a half. For the Whitmans always had mourned hard.
The girl on the sofa was a thoroughly healthy person of twenty-four. She played excellent female tennis, and her golf was better than that of half of the male members at the club. Yet she had none of the mannish mannerisms that so often accompany an "athletic" girl. At the present time she was submitting herself to a rigorous course in "housekeeping" majoring in cooking and minoring in accounting, and she had taught Sunday School ever since she had been graduated from Miss Hammond's School at Mill Rock some six years ago. People instinctively liked her unless they were bored by obvious wholesomeness. And although no one ever thought of her as being particularly pretty—she was somewhat too dumpy to be thought that—people noticed her hair, which was a most fashionable shade of red. Then, of course, in as much as she had Mrs. Norris for a mother, one could never be entirely sure that she might not burst forth in some altogether unexpected and delightful manner. Her impromptu bataille des fleurs, for example, was still remembered in Woodbridge although it took place nearly sixteen years ago. Somewhere her attention had been caught by the picture of a cherub, or possibly seraph, perched on a cloud and pouring from a cornucopia great masses of flowers upon the delighted earth. The idea seemed such a lovely one that when, in the spring, her mother gave a card party out on the terrace, she determined to give the ladies a delightful surprise. For weeks before it she despoiled the garden, keeping her plans miraculously secret, and storing her treasures away in a waste-basket, in lieu of the cornucopia. And then, when the ladies were twittering away happily beneath, she stepped out upon her porch clad only in a Liberty scarf borrowed from her mother's wardrobe—the young creature in the picture confined itself to a ribonny dress which floated charmingly about it—and discharged her flowers. She was prepared for astonishment in her audience, and her reception was all she could ask; but what she was not prepared for was the insidious decay which had set in among the blooms, and which robbed them entirely of their natural colour and fragrance, transforming them into a composition recognized by polite people only upon their lawns. It had been Mary's first encounter with the baffling thaumaturgy of chemistry; and to the end of her days her confidence in it was never wholly restored.
Henry Whitman at last finished his story and rose to go. The Dean, who was a genial soul, and who, with his generous embonpoint and his knickers, looked at present a little like Mr. Pickwick, regarded him affectionately. He had retired from the college two years before, but upon the President's departure for Europe on a six months' leave, he had been called from retirement to act in his place because of the great respect the College had for his temperate judgment, a quality at that time particularly useful in college affairs, stirred as they were by the contentions of the advocates of a larger Woodbridge. It was the Dean's duty to keep these malcontents, these radicals—some of whom were powerful—in their places. Quality not quantity had ever been the Woodbridge cry, and it should remain so as long as he had any power. In other respects, however, he was as gentle as one could well be. In the matter of motoring, for example, he was so gentle that to the untutored eye he might seem almost timid. He had viewed the rise of the motor car with all the misgivings of a lover of the Old Ways, long refusing to accompany his wife on her hectic flights, but at last he had consented to buy an electric. For three dreadful weeks he ran it in agony or apprehension. It was not that he might run into people: there was no danger there, for even if he had bumped into some one, the damage would have been only very trifling. No, the terrible thought was what the reckless people might do who would crash into him. So at the end of the three weeks he abandoned the lever and, bringing Murdock in from the stable, definitely transformed him into his chauffeur. The picture that he presented was, he realized, somewhat sedate, but at least he was no longer taking foolhardy chances, and he could now, furthermore, see something as he went along. "When are you expecting Nancy?" he asked Henry.
"Oh, I supposed Mary had told you. Why, she is coming day after tomorrow. Henry Third is very much excited. He has been making a collection for her as a present. I didn't know anything about it until the other day when Annie told me. It seems that he has been very much impressed by a postal card from his Aunt Nancy showing a California orange grove, and so he has been collecting orange pips ever since! He now has over ninety and he is afraid she will arrive before he can get a hundred. It seems to be a rule of the collection that his pips can only be taken from oranges he's eaten, and as he only gets one a day at his breakfast, there is no help for him."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Henry, send him up here and I'll let him eat out his hundred," said Mary.
"Fine person you are," laughed Whitman, "ruining my son's good habits."
They had passed out into the hall when the bell rang violently two or three times.
"That must be mamma," said Mary, and going to the door, she opened it for a majestic lady who swept into the room, talking volubly as she began peeling off the shawls and capes in which she was wrapped.
"Why, Henry, dear, what on earth are you doing here? You never come to see us any more, and I am so anxious, too, to ask you all about the stabilized dollar and these new vitamines. Susan!" she called suddenly in the general direction of the upper floors. Then, addressing no one in particular, "I must find out about the salted almonds that the Dean asked for last night," and she started for the kitchen.
"I ordered them this morning, Gumgum, myself, when I was ordering everything else. I had them on my list."
"You did?" and Mrs. Norris burst into the most contagious laughter. "Tom, I wish you'd stop my daughter calling me that horrid name. It's disgusting. I'm going to call her 'Snuffles.'"
"I really must go, Aunt Helen," said Whitman, starting for the door. The "Aunt" was a heritage of an earlier and more innocent day and not an indication of blood relationship. "Uncle Julian" had, however, been allowed to lapse, upon Henry's accession to the Woodbridge Faculty.
"Oh dear," replied Mrs. Norris. "Well, I'm coming down to see Nancy as soon as she gets back, and then you've got to come up here for dinner. It will be such a relief having her here for the party. And now," she added, putting her arm through Tom's, "I must have a little talk with Tom. I suspect he needs a pill, and I'm going to give it to him. Come here, Tommy, dear, and let me look at you," and she pulled him back into the library.
Mrs. Norris was about to force Tom down upon the Bosom when her eye was caught by the cheque-book on the table. "Oh, land," she exclaimed, "why didn't I give Henry his cheque! I've owed him for those German Socialist books he got me for I don't know how long, and here I've forgotten to give it to him. I must send Susan after him with it right away," and going over to a bell by the fireplace, she pushed it until Susan appeared. Then, looking at Tom, with her sweetest smile she asked, in her quietest voice, "Why don't you like Henry?"
"Why, I don't mind Henry."
"Oh, come now, Tommy." She moved over to "her" chair under the yellow lamp and, picking up the knitting immediately set the needles flying and clicking over one another. "You know you can't bear him. He is a little cut and dried—that's the trouble with him, I think—but then, as far as I can make out, you people in the classics and literatures are just as bad."
"Oh, Mrs. Norris."
"You are too. You are perfectly dreadful. Why, I can remember as well as anything, old Professor Packard standing up before that fireplace and saying, 'Helen,' says he, 'no gentleman is worthy the name who doesn't know his Horace.' 'Stuff,' says I, 'that's utter nonsense. You might as well say a gentlemen is not worthy of the name unless he knows his French for "fiddle-dee-dee"——like the Red Queen,'" and still knitting busily, she rocked with laughter.
Tom dropped into a chair beside her, threw one leg over the arm, and, pipe in hand, gazed at her affectionately. She was about the age his own mother would have been, he thought, in the immediate neighbourhood of sixty. But his own mother, who he knew had become reconciled to the life of Ephesus, could never have arrived at sixty with the imperious disregard for convention that was so perfectly Mrs. Norris's. Upon her face at present, as she looked down at her knitting, was a smiling benignity that would have recommended itself to the Virgin at Chartres; and at the same time her hair—what modest growth there was left—was uncurling itself from behind and threatening to pull down the whole structure after it. It was perfect, Tom told himself, and were he a sculptor commissioned to make her bust, he would do her just like that.
"Nancy, I sometimes think, is the worst person in the world to look after Henry. It's bad for her and bad for him. What he ought to do is to go out and get another wife and leave Nancy alone to do as she pleases. I have a good mind to take her with me to Athens next winter myself. What with Mrs. Robert Lee-Satterlee taking her to California this winter and my taking her to Athens next, Henry will have to get married."
There had been rumours abroad lately that Henry had about arrived at the same conclusion himself and that Mary Norris was receiving serious consideration as a candidate, but there was nothing in Mrs. Norris's manner that suggested a knowledge of it, and Tom correctly concluded that it was just another of those idle rumours that live their luxurious day in Faculty Row.
"Oh, my no," said Tom, "that wouldn't do at all. Why, another marriage would completely upset Henry's System that he's always talking so much about. It's almost certain she couldn't stand it, you know, and then where would Henry be? Suppose, for example, that she forgot to have his senna tea for him at night or didn't care about playing cribbage for three-quarters of an hour after dinner? Now Nancy, apparently, gives perfect satisfaction. She adores little Henry and she manages the house so well that there isn't a single thing to bother big Henry. But they say—"
"Stop it, Tommy. You've been listening again to that horrid old Mrs. Conover. Her husband was a perfect old Scrooge, and now that she's rid of him, poor dear, she feels that she's got to expand and make up for lost time——" Her voice, which had become more and more drowsy, as if bored with what it had to say, trailed off and died. Then, with renewed interest, she exclaimed, "I wonder what they are going to do about Poland?"
Tom had learned that an answer to these startling questions and comments of Mrs. Norris was not required. There was no harm, however, in saying the first thing that came into one's head, as in a psychological test, and he accordingly now answered, "Paderewski."
"Yes," said Mrs. Norris quietly. Then brightening up: "How is your work going, Tommy?"
"Why, it's going pretty well."
"They get rather difficult about this time of year, don't they?"
"They do! Oh my, I've had an awful time with them lately. I've muffed Carlyle and Transcendentalism completely."
"Oh, no! Why that's Emerson and all those Concord people. Still, I suppose Louisa Alcott is getting a little old-fashioned."
"You should have seen the set of papers I got back today. There it was, all that I had given them, in great heavy undigested lumps—"
"Like footballs," suggested Mrs. Norris.
"Once I was funny with them," went on Tom, "and I may say that I was properly punished. They put it all down in their notebooks and then mixed it up with everything they shouldn't have mixed it up with—and I shall never be funny again."
"I shall give you at least two grains——"
"Then there are the young men who get off all the stale old facts and expect an A. One of them came to me yesterday, when I had given him a C, and whined around my desk until I finally told him I did not consider his performance remarkable in a young man of eighteen, however much so it might be in a poll parrot of the same age."
"Now that was wrong. Were there other boys around?"
"Well, you simply must not go do that kind of thing. They'll hate it."
"I know it was wrong, but I am rather amused by it. As a matter of fact, I can stand anything but the ones who think they can fool me with a lot of embroidery and gas. They're insulting——"
"Why, Tommy, you were doing the same thing yourself only three or four years ago. You mustn't get so snufty so soon."
"Of course, at times when I've had a good recitation I wouldn't trade places with anyone. It's a kind of ecstasy. It's like all sorts of rushing, exciting things—like a high tide, or a close race, or a fire; really it is. Then you go to the other extreme and you ask yourself what on earth is the use of so futile a business, and what right has a young man with anything to him whatever to waste his time with it. Better go and make bird cages or hair nets or—or—hot water bags, and make some money. When I feel that way I sometimes go out along the ridge, just at dusk, you know, or into the woods—"
"You do? Why, I think that's awfully romantic of you; like Chateaubriand, you know." Then, dreamily, "He used to go out and lean on a pedestal and let the moon shine down on him through the trees. I think Nancy is a little that way herself."
There was a pause, during which the young educator's difficulties were brushed aside.
"Do you realize that I haven't seen Nancy since leaving college?"
"Why, that's strange."
"No: you see she had left for the west before college opened in the fall, and I hadn't been back between then and the time I graduated. As a matter of fact, the last time I saw her was in this house. It was the night of our Senior Prom. I took Mary, you know, and Teddy Roberts took Nancy, and when it was over we came in here and had a cooky contest in the kitchen. Nancy could put a whole one of those gingersnaps you always have into her mouth without breaking it."
"Oh dear. I'm afraid she has the Billings mouth."
"We then got to talking about growing moustaches, and Nancy bet Teddy she could grow one before he could."
"How disgusting! That's what comes of all this emancipation. Marcus Aurelius has a lot to say about it. I must look that up. Did she win?"
"As I remember it, she was in a fair way to, but the war came along, and we left before it could be settled."
Mrs. Norris stopped knitting and looked at Tom with amused curiosity through her tortoise-shell spectacles, which had slid rather farther down her nose than usual. "I forget. Didn't you use to see a good deal of Nancy at one time?" she asked.
"Only just here," he replied.
"Oh," said Mrs. Norris, and went on with her work.
At this point the Dean entered, dressed for dinner.
"Oh dear, I'm not ready at all," cried Mrs. Norris, jumping up; and her knitting, worsted, and bag spilled out upon the floor. "Tommy, tell Norah to put on a plate for you."
"I can't really, Mrs. Norris. This is Thursday night, you see, and I'm going around to the Club." Then as his hostess disappeared up the stairs, he hurried into his overcoat and, indulging in only a small fraction of his usual recessional with the Dean, he was gone.
Outside, walking down the long driveway that led to Tutors' Lane, Tom slowed his pace. Overhead, Betelgeuse was making the most of its recent publicity, unobstructed by vagrant clouds. Tom gazed up at it with a certain air of proprietorship. He had known Betelgeuse years ago and personally had always preferred its neighbour Rigel, which had received no publicity at all. As a small boy some one had given him a Handbook of the Stars, with diagrams of the constellations on one page and chatty notes about them opposite. He had lain on his back out in the fields, with opera glasses to sweep the heavens and a flashlight to sweep the diagrams until he had reconciled the two. This had been in the summer, and although his observations had extended to the autumn stars, the winter constellations had suffered. Still, he knew the great ones and, weather permitting, he would gaze upon them and their neighbours with awe, the greater, perhaps, for his unfamiliarity with their diagrams.
Tom occasionally gave parlour lessons in astronomy, and he had given one to Nancy on the night of his Senior Prom, the night of the cooky contest. He had looked out and seen that the summer stars were up, and had spoken of it, to the boredom of Mary and Teddy Roberts. But Nancy wanted Scorpio pointed out, and from Scorpio they naturally progressed to the others until Nancy sneezed and the kitchen window had to be shut. Then, as it was getting light anyway and the waffles were ready, they stopped the lesson. Tom, however, with the true teacher's instinct, had sent her a copy of his Handbook of the Stars, and at his Training Camp he had received a note of thanks. It was the only note he had ever received from her, and he found it remarkable. She had thanked him without the barrage of gratitude usual among young ladies on such occasions. There had been something masculine in the directness of it, and yet there was no doubt that she had been pleased. In closing, she looked forward to seeing him back at Woodbridge when the war was over. There had been no fine writing about his Going to the Flag. Tom had been impressed by the amount left unsaid, and he had saved the letter until, in moving about, it had been lost. He was annoyed when he missed it, but on second thought he wondered if it were not just as well. For, on later inspection, it might not have proved so remarkable, after all.
Well, the war was now over, and he was back at Woodbridge. It would be very pleasant indeed if she had gone ahead as she gave promise of doing; and why in the world shouldn't she? When he was in college Nancy had been admittedly the first of Woodbridge young ladies. To take her to a dance was to have the ultimate in good times, there was no need to worry about her getting "stuck," and in addition to the thrill of taking a popular girl one could enjoy all the advantages of a stag. One could flit from flower to flower until surfeited with beauty and then retire for a smoke or other innocent diversion without the haunting fear that possibly Dick or Bill was circling around and around in ever-deepening gloom with one's elected for the night. Nancy had permanently impressed herself upon the imagination of discerning Woodbridge youth, and it was hardly extravagant that Tom should look forward to her return.
Let it, therefore, without further evasion, be stated at once that he did look forward to her return.
Nancy Whitman arrived at Woodbridge Center as planned, and her brother and nephew were at the station to meet her, the latter with his collection of ninety-six orange pips in a candy box.
In describing Juliet it will be remembered that the author said nothing about her colour or dimensions, but described her indirectly, and succeeding generations have had their attention called to the merit of the performance. We know, for example, that she taught the candles to burn bright, and, furthermore, that she seemed to hang upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear—most probably a pearl. So, in describing Nancy, perhaps it would be effective to point out that the snow began thawing as soon as she arrived, that the motor which carried her home from the station purred along without the "knock" that had been troubling it, and that Tutors' Lane was less bumpy as they passed over it. But such a description, being dangerously near burlesque, however refined and genteel, must not be thought of for a moment in connection with a prominent resident of Tutors' Lane. It is something of a pity, nevertheless, that it must be given up, for Nancy was not particularly pretty, as young men nowadays measure beauty, and were it possible, the truth might have been hidden. She was something too elfish—and then there was the Billings mouth already mentioned. Gertrude Ellis, who spent much of her time with her aunt in New York and who had a proper care for her person, thought it a ridiculous pose for Nancy not to have something done about her freckles. It was such a simple matter nowadays to have them removed that obviously only a poseuse would tolerate them. Still, men were so unobserving about things that they didn't seem to mind them at all, and Gertrude got nowhere when she once tried to discuss Nancy with a senior.
"Oh, Nancy is so wonderful that she could look like a leopard and people wouldn't care," he had said. "It's funny about her, isn't it? She's not good looking, and yet she's so nice everyone's crazy about her. You have to hand it to a girl that's like that."
Henry Third, or Harry, as everyone but his father called him, had immediately given his collection and been rewarded. He had on his best suit for the occasion and the tie his aunt had sent him on his seventh and latest birthday. He was a handsome, sturdy boy, and his father expected a Phi Beta Kappa key of him and an enthusiasm for Marx and John Stuart Mill. His aunt's plans were vague, but altogether different. At present she was inclined to favour the family business, with the understanding that when he was established at its head he should give a beautiful chapel with a Magdalen tower to the College. His own goal was the Woodbridge football team and, after that, a locomotive on the run to New York.
They were met at the door by Annie, Harry's nurse, and by Clarence, Harry's Airedale. Clarence, who immediately dominated the scene, rendering Nancy's greeting to Annie vain and perfunctory, was a three-year-old with a frivolity of manner that ill became his senescent phiz. Upon its grizzled expanse there would pass in amazing succession the whole range of canine passion, rage, love, urbanity, shame, drollery, ennui, and, most frequent of all, curiosity. At present all his energy was devoted to expressing unmitigated pleasure, the dignity of which exhibition was continually being marred by sliding rugs. But it is almost certain that he didn't care a rap for his lost dignity. His mistress was back after an unconscionable absence, and there was every reason to believe in the reappearance of the superior brand of soup bones, a matter in which of late there had been too much indifference.
Nancy luxuriated in her renewed proprietorship of the old house, her home, and the home of her family even before the British officers seized it for their quarters in 1812. There was a hole to this day in the white pine panelling above the fireplace in the dining room, which, tradition held, had been made by a British bullet discharged after a discussion of the family port. She had found something depressing in the rococo civilization of Southern California. There was an insufficient appreciation of Mr. Square's Eternal Fitness of Things. The spirit of Los Angeles, for example, was the same as that of the picnic party which, lunching on Ruskin's glacier, leaves its chicken bones and eggshells to offend all subsequent picnickers. At Woodbridge people did not make public messes of themselves. If they picnicked on a glacier they did up their eggshells in a neat package, which, in default of a handy bottomless pit, they took home with them and put in their garbage pails. That's the way nice people behaved, and what on earth was there to be gained by behaving otherwise?
So Nancy was glad to be home and see again the family things she had grown up with and loved. She was glad to see Henry, who appeared in his turn glad to see her; but her feelings upon being restored to her nephew were much deeper than either. Harry mattered more to her than anyone else in the world. Her mother, who had died five years ago, when Nancy was twenty, had been particularly devoted to him; and this would have been sufficient reason in itself for commending him to her tenderest care.
Such was the family that would have met the casual eye of a stranger: a young professor in extremely comfortable circumstances, with a brilliant future and an enviable son, living in a fine old house administered by a younger sister, the favourite daughter of the town. Beneath the surface, however, and unknown except to a few, was a conflict of wills that only an exterior made up of strong family pride and respect for the established order could have withstood.
On the evening of the day on which Mrs. Robert Lee-Satterlee—the grandeur of whose name was never reduced by the omission of a single syllable—asked Nancy to go to California, Nancy had talked it over with Henry.
"It would be nice to go, for I haven't really been away since Mother died. I confess I'd like it, but she's not coming back until March, and that seems a long time to leave Harry and the house."
Henry had leisurely put his cigar into his mouth, had puffed luxuriously, and had then continued to gaze at his paper without saying anything.
Nancy hated this indifference, and she knew that Henry knew that she hated it. It was like his whistling. At times, when for some reason or other he wished to be disagreeable, he would start quietly whistling behind his paper, apparently for his sole enjoyment. It was as if, in view of the coldness of his audience, he were forced to express himself in a humble and subdued manner, but express himself he must. The tunes that he chose were The Rosary, The Miserere, Tosti's Good-bye, Gounod's Ave Maria. There would be an occasional lapse into the jazz song of the moment, and quite frequently a sacred number. The songs themselves exasperated her, but what was unbearable were the trills and improvised fireworks. She would leave the room thoroughly angry, and would fancy that as she ascended the stairs the tune swelled slightly and acquired even more airs and graces.
So now, as he deliberately smoked his cigar without noticing her, her anger rose. He was so smug, so self-sufficient—she wanted to stick a pin into him.
"It isn't, of course, as if the house were not in capable hands," she went on, "for Katie and Julia are perfectly responsible, and Annie couldn't be better." Henry put down his paper, blew a cloud of smoke, and, looking blandly at her, twisted his mouth so that he might enjoy the luxury of biting his cheek.
"Well?" burst out Nancy. "I don't see why you need be so irritating about it?"
"Why, don't be foolish," he replied with an amused smile; "do just what you want, of course." To Nancy, the smile spoke a great deal more. "How fatuous you are," it said, "with your devotion to my son and to me. Let a lollypop in the way of a trip to California come along, and away you go as if you didn't have a responsibility in the world. There's a firm nature for you."
She had fled to Mrs. Norris, as always in an emergency, and, receiving reassuring words, she had gone, but not without tears and misgiving and not without an unforgettable memory of Henry's behaviour.
She had frankly discussed her Henry Problem with Mrs. Robert Lee-Satterlee. "I can't seem to reach any middle ground with him," she had said. "Either I feel terribly because things go so wrong, so much worse than when Mother was alive, or else I am furious with him. Then I am overwhelmed with mortification and make up my mind that I will get on with him, no matter what happens. And of course he can be perfectly lovely when he wants to be—and then he will deliberately go and do some horrid thing which makes me want to go away and—drive an auto stage, or something."
As a matter of fact Nancy would on these occasions, retire and invest herself in some such romantic, emancipated, role. Possibly she would be a great surgeon. Having gone through her preliminary training with unprecedented speed, she had established herself as a famous specialist—of the brain. People who had gone wrong in their heads would be brought to her by their desperate friends and relatives. If she only would help them out. She did usually, although heaven knew that she was but one little woman to so many brains, and as she worked chiefly under God's guidance, anyway, she had to conserve her strength. However, she operated steadily from eight in the morning until eight at night with only a light lunch in between—possibly only a water cracker. She saw herself in the operating room with her rubber gloves and her knives. There was a hazy cloud of white-robed nurses and distinguished surgeons who, attracted from all over the world, had come to see her miracles for themselves. A form was on the table, with head shaved. She was to go into his cerebellum and take out a tumor which had caused deafness, dumbness, and blindness. She would probably have to make two hundred stitches or more in sewing him up, but she always had been good at needlework, and it gave her no concern. She picked up her saw—but to her horror she found she couldn't bear to stick it in!
Or she was a famous lawyer, strongly reminiscent of Portia, specializing in pleading for widows and orphans. She had a secretary to handle her correspondence, who explained that as Miss Whitman was able to work chiefly by the grace of God—her health was none too robust, and it was necessary for her to put her trust in Him—it really was not fair of them to expect her to handle their cases. However, the most outrageous ones she passed on to Nancy and it was by them that Nancy made her great reputation. Of course she took no fees, but as body and soul had to be kept together and the secretary's salary paid, she wrote syndicated articles for the papers, on religious and ethical subjects. Naturally she was an object of interest and curiosity and people thronged the court room when she pleaded. They saw a quiet woman, dressed in black, but when she began speaking you could hear a pin drop. There was a thrilling quality in her voice, much remarked by the press, and big lawyers pitted against her had been known to break down and weep, to the confusion of their clients. The judge—it was always the same one—had a big bushy beard, and, though of fierce and impartial mien at the beginning of the proceedings, he had been known time and again, as her address continued, to draw forth his large silk handkerchief and blubber into it. The gratitude of the widows—who extended in a long, black line, leading their army of white-faced little boys, looking strangely like Harry when he had the croup—was the one thing that she could not stand. She would not see them when it was all over, but she couldn't keep them from sending her flowers, and accordingly her apartment was always a bower.
So mighty would these scenes be, so moving, and so pathetic, that Nancy would emerge entirely at peace with Henry and the world. They dwarfed the cause of her anger; they left her calm and serene, a cousin to the Superwoman.
* * * * *
The first evening at home passed off very pleasantly indeed. Henry was charmingly interested in the details of her trip, and the usual cribbage session was doubled. Harry's progress at school and through the mumps—an illness which had torn his aunt—were duly recounted and the maids given a good bill of health. The state of Henry's classes was described at some length. They were slightly better than usual, it appeared, and his special course in Labour Problems was going perfectly. It was really making him famous, he told Nancy.
That night in her room, as she sat at her desk writing her diary, she calmly told herself that the present tranquillity should last. She solemnly resolved to guard against every possible contingency that might lead to a "situation." She did not purpose to surrender her individuality; she would not become a dummy. But there must be a middle ground where she could blend service to herself with service to her family. Life should be rich, but it ought also to be tactful. Surely this was not an impossible union. Very well, then, she would live richly and tactfully.
Just exactly what she meant by living richly she didn't quite know. It would doubtless be somewhat clearer in the morning when she wasn't so sleepy. Americanization work in Whitmanville. That seemed to offer rich possibilities. There must be room for endless Uplift in Whitmanville. And what could be richer than Uplift? She would start a school, she thought, as she turned off the light and climbed into her four-poster. She would teach the women how to take care of their babies and the men how to take care of their women. But it must all be done tactfully. She must be eternally vigilant upon that score. Yet not so tactful as to become less rich. Nor yet so rich as to become less tactful.... Tact and riches—riches and tacks—tracts—striches—....
The night following Nancy's return was the night of the Norris party, the party which is to Woodbridge what the Mardi Gras is to New Orleans, the Carnival to Rome, and what the Feast of the Ygquato Bloom was to the ancient Aztecs. It is always held on the twenty-first of March, Sunday of course excepted, and it is known as the Vernal. Not to be seen at it is too bad. Not to be invited—unlike the lupercals before mentioned it requires invitations—is a blight mercifully spared all but the most painfully outre. Of these the Coogans, who live in Center and whose connubial infelicities are proverbial, are an example. Tradespeople frequently bear witness to the marks of a man's fingers on Mrs. Coogan's fair—and by no means insignificant—arm, and it is common property that she drinks paregoric. It is quite clear, of course, that such people can not expect to be invited.
The Vernal has always been "different." In the old days Mrs. Norris set her face against dancing, not upon any moral grounds, certainly, but because of its alleged dullness. Why couldn't people enjoy one another without flying into a perspiration? she asked; but, unfortunately for her plans for the establishment of an animated conversazione, the substitutes she had advocated were felt to be even duller. So, one by one, all her nice games were abandoned and only the charade is left. This however has gained in popularity, if anything, and certainly it has gained paraphernalia. Mrs. Norris's costume box has overflowed into a trunk, and from the trunk has spread into a closet, and the closet is now nearly filled. From this treasure the two captains select their colleagues' wardrobes, a duty discharged in advance of the performance by way of ensuring enough professionalism to prevent the party's collapsing at the start. In other words, Mrs. Norris, although luckless in the matter of "adverbs," memory contests, and backgammon tourneys, has established charades.
It used to be a masquerade party, but because of certain unhappy circumstances which have recently befallen, it was decided this year to do without the masks and "Fancy dress." For the last few years people have been complaining a little of the necessity of getting something new each year. Mrs. Bates, for example, has exhausted the possibilities of her husband's summer bath robe. It served excellently at first as a Roman toga, and the next year it did well enough for Mephistopheles. By cutting away the parts ravaged by moths it passed as a pirate, but she despairs of any further alteration. Then, too, it would always be remembered that a stranger at the last Vernal had in all seriousness reproved old Professor Narbo, the Chemist, for not taking off his funny old mask when he already had done so, a mishap none the less enjoyed because the bringing of a similar charge to one's friends has been an inevitable jest among the wags for generations. Professor Narbo had been offended, and great is the offendedness of a Full Professor, particularly when he is a Heidelberg Ph.D. and parts his hair all the way down the back. The stranger had been crushed; and, all in all, it was as mortifying an affair as one could well imagine, and one which in itself would have been enough to do away with the masks—a long-discussed possibility—had not worse followed. Edgar Stebbins, Assistant Professor of History, was unfortunately a little too warmly devoted to the memory of the grape, or, more specifically, of the corn. Being mildly mellowed by something more than the memory of it, he found occasion to embrace a lady who was dressed in his period, the Late Roman, and to whom he was naturally drawn. The lady promptly screamed and unmasked; and the situation was not at all improved by its being discovered that she was the wife of Professor Robbins of the Latin Department, with which gentleman Mr. Stebbins was not on speaking terms. Mrs. Robbins, it seemed, had employed the squeaky voice so familiar at masquerade parties and had thus rendered her disguise complete. Upon her testimony it was learned that Mr. Stebbins's voice had been so roughened by drink that his own mother wouldn't have recognized it. Mr. Stebbins had withdrawn from the party and, at the end of the academic year, from the college as well, and his name is now only an appalling memory.
In the morning Nancy hurried up to the Norrises' as soon as she could. She found Mary and her mother in the drawing-room. Mary was playing the piano while her mother sat in a distant chair, amiably shredding codfish, a pleasure which she would on no account yield to the kitchen.
As soon as the rush of sisterly greeting was passed, all four—for the cod could not be left behind—repaired to the sofa in the library; and after the gaps in their correspondence had been filled, they came to the party. Mary was to be one of the charade captains and Tom Reynolds the other. Nancy, who was an inevitable member of the charade, was to be on Tom's side.
"Tell me," she asked, "is he really as nice as you people make out?"
"Oh yes," replied Mary, "he's one of us."
"He used to scare me. He never would dance with me any more than he had to, and I always was afraid he would get that terribly bored look I've seen him get. I think probably he's conceited."
"Oh dear, to hear you girls talk you'd think that a little honest boredom was the most dreadful thing on earth. Why, your fathers used to get so bored with us that——"
"Now, Gumgum, you know that isn't sensible," broke in Mary severely—a regrettable habit which seems increasingly prevalent among our modern daughters—"unless you people were ninnies."
"That was in Garfield's administration," replied Mrs. Norris absently, "or possibly a little before, in Hayes's—Rutherford B. Hayes. He did away with the carpetbaggers and all those dreadful people in the South." Then, more dreamily still, "His middle name was Birchard."
"I know why you think he's conceited," Mary went on, warming up to the never-ending pleasure of analysis, "but it's because he's really diffident. Lots of people I know who people think are snobby are only just diffident."
"What on earth do you mean by saying that Rutherford Hayes was diffident? He wasn't a bit. He was a very great philanthropist."
"She's too awful today," exclaimed Mary, "with that smelly old fish and Rutherford Garfield. Gracious, I'd like to bury the old thing."
"You horrid, ungrateful child, when I'm doing this for your lunch. We're just old Its, we mothers. I'm going to start an Emancipation Club for Mothers. The poor old things, they might just as well crawl away into the bushes like rabbits."
There then followed a tender passage between mother and daughter, which ended in Mary's blowing down her mother's neck. A convulsive scream and a frantic clawing gesture in the direction of her daughter was the immediate reaction, much to the confusion of the codfish, which was only just saved by Nancy from a premature end upon the hearth.
Following the rescue, the heroine, who had some shopping to do, began making motions of departure. "You must come as soon as you can after dinner to have Tom explain what you are to do. Gumgum thinks we ought to have a rehearsal, but Tom has a five o'clock, and I don't think it's necessary anyway. He's really awfully funny and clever, Nancy, and you must like him."
"I hate clever people. I have nothing to say to them. I'm a perfect gawk when they're around, and I'm afraid I won't be able to stand him."
As she walked on down to Center, however, it occurred to her that he might come in useful with the children of the parents in her Whitmanville school. He could teach them basketball and of course he could coach their baseball team. He would also be useful in taking them off on hikes and—But she hadn't seen him in ever so long, and he might not do at all. In fact, it was highly probable that he wouldn't do, for boys are suspicious of clever people, and he almost certainly wouldn't think of doing it. Or possibly he might, out of politeness, and then when he got bored with it he would decide to be funny with the boys, and they would get to hate him and tell their parents, who would come to her with sullen looks and threatening gestures and——
When Nancy arrived in the evening, she found Tom distributing costumes. He was heavier, she noticed, and his forehead was higher. Some day she might get a chance to tell him how she saved Henry's hair simply by brushing it carefully. It was ridiculous to put a lot of smelly greasy stuff on it——
She had shaken hands with him and received her costume which was an aigrette and a peacock-feather fan. "The word is 'draper,'" explained Tom, "and you are to be the Lady Angela. In the first syllable you have lost your pet Persian and, after explaining your loss to the little house-maid who is dusting around, you call in Merriam the detective. I am Merriam the detective and I arrive immediately after you are through calling me up on the telephone. The little maid goes over to the window and says, 'Goody, here comes Mr. Merriam the detective in a dray,' and then you go out to meet me, and that's the first act. Then I come on alone in the second act and investigate the room heavily, looking for a clue, you see. I have a theory that the little maid is the thief, and when you come in, as you do when I have said 'Ha, it is a match box,' I explain to you that——"
"Oh, dear, I haven't any idea what I'm to do."
"Well, you just go in and wave your fan disconsolately, and I'll do the rest. It will be dreadful, of course, but then, no one ever expects them to be otherwise. Now I think the best way is for us to run over it, and then little things will come to you."
Downstairs the Dean and Mrs. Norris had begun receiving their guests, most of the receiving being done by the Dean. His wife, whose trail was like that of a runaway astral body, was here, there, and everywhere, calling, ordering, laughing.
The Misses Forbes, invariably the first comers, had taken possession of front-row seats. This year Miss Edith had the Burnham lace—an heirloom whose glory could on no account be dimmed by a tri-partite division—and Miss Annie had the Burnham pearls. They were a modest string, perhaps, but they lived on after more spectacular ones became gummy. As for Miss Jennie, the youngest, aged sixty-five, she was something of a philosopher, being the community's sole theosophist, and she regarded her sisters' pleasure in their baubles with amusement. Nor could she be drawn into a discussion of their ultimate disposition, a nice problem, for other Burnhams and Forbeses were there none. "Why not give them to the museum?" she had once suggested, to the sorrow of her sisters, who hated to see her cynical side. Worse than that, she was a radical and had boldly come out for the open shop, or the closed shop, whichever was the radical one, and she talked very wildly indeed of Unions and Compensation Bills.
Miss Elfrida Balch had arrived, and likewise her brother, the artist. Miss Balch was a lady of almost crystalline refinement. She was tall and fair, with a delicacy of complexion that stood in no need of retailed bloom. She might have passed for the daughter of a kindly old Saxon chieftain—it was, indeed, generally known that she sprang from the seed of Saxon kings—who, firm in the belief that no young man was her equal in birth or behaviour, had insisted upon her declining into a spinsterhood which increased in refinement as it did in service. Sentimental persons held that she came by that manner from association with Art in her brother's studio. Others, of a more sardonic turn, said that her manner was that of one who continually smelled a bad smell, and that if she got it by looking at her brother's pictures they didn't wonder.
Leofwin Balch was not a personable gentleman. The early Saxon strain in him had taken the form of obesity, a tendency not confined, if we may trust the evidence of scholars, to descendants of Saxon kings. To those who had little sympathy with genius in its more alarming shapes, his fair chin whisker seemed an absurdity. The more discriminating, however, welcomed it. Anything might be expected of a man with a chin whisker which some one, with more imagination than restraint, had described as an "attenuated shredded wheat biscuit seen through a glass darkly." Leofwin's work had of late years suffered on account of a rheumatism which defied medicine. He had sacrificed his tonsils and nine teeth upon the altar of Art with little or no relief, and it was now feared by those closest to him, his sister and himself, that he would never again approach the promise given in his "Willows." "Willows" had received an honourable mention at the Exhibition—just which Exhibition, was a subject of controversy among the uninitiated—and had been purchased by a rich baronet in Suffolk. The Balches had seen it in his gallery, and it had become an open secret that hanging in the same room were a Constable and a John Opie.
Mrs. Robert Lee-Satterlee had arrived and was already with a group of the great around her chair. She was wearing the famous Lee-Satterlee dog collar, and her hair had been carefully dressed for the occasion. Such items alone would have borne witness to the importance of the Vernal, had she not in addition chosen to carry the Court fan. This fan, which was known as the "Court fan" to distinguish it from all other fans in the world, had been given her by the Court ladies when she and her husband, the late Ambassador, had departed upon the arrival of the new Administration's appointee. Its sticks were mother-of-pearl, encrusted with diamonds, and on its silk was the cruel story of Pyramus and Thisbe set forth in brilliant colours, but in what wondrous manner no one quite knew. For it was true that Mrs. Robert Lee-Satterlee had walked with kings, danced with dukes, and played croquet with counts, and it was therefore inevitable that she should be regarded as the Empress of Woodbridge. She would have been considered so quite apart from the fact that she had great possessions—in addition to the Court fan and the dog collar—possessions which were commonly supposed to be destined for the college, the Lee-Satterlees having no issue. Accordingly, Mrs. Robert Lee-Satterlee was allowed liberties unthinkable in another; but, be it said to her credit, she never abused them. Since she, or at least her property, was to take such an active part in Woodbridge affairs when she passed into the next world, it was only reasonable that she should take an active part while she was still in this; and it is safe to say that no one knew more about college affairs than she. Still, no one ever thought of calling her a nuisance. When, occasionally, she did quietly suggest that possibly such-and-such a course might be a wise one or that such-and-such a man might be the one to appoint to such-and-such a vacancy, it would be discovered that, with singular insight, she had made a perfect suggestion. Whereas, therefore, it might be said that she was a despot, it was universally agreed that she was a benevolent one and an enlightened one, and many even went so far as to fear that her death might actually prove a loss.
The library was filling fast. Mrs. Norris, casting a rather wild eye into it occasionally, would perhaps signal out an individual for a mission that somehow in the general run of things could not conceivably be completed. For example, her eye, on one of these expeditions, happened to alight on a gentleman of the Physics Department, a gentleman with a gold tooth and a loud laugh, who represented a somewhat larger group of instructors than the best Tutors' Lane families cared to acknowledge. The gentleman responded with an alacrity that did him credit, nor did he quail before the steady gaze of Mrs. Norris, which seemed to wonder if she hadn't been a little unwise in placing such trust in so uninteresting a vessel. She asked him, however, to see if the musicians had found a good place to put their hats and coats, and as there were several musicians, some of whom had not arrived, he was not restored to his nervous and too friendly mate until the charades were over.
And now there was a suggestive flutter in the Dean's study, behind whose large folding doors the charades were to be acted. Gentlemen who were standing urbanely about moved into corners, with smiles calculated to impress all with their self-possession in even the first houses. The doors rolled open and a buzz of admiration greeted the distraite Lady Angela, whose return from California had been acknowledged by but few of the audience. She went through her scene with the little maid, and when the doors were bumped together, Mr. Grimes of the Romance Languages, a noted success at anagrams, acrostics, and charades, announced, "Dray." After a few minutes the second act was done, in which it appeared that Mr. Merriam the detective had fallen madly in love with Lady Angela. In the midst of the scene the little maid was heard purring loudly off-stage, a purring which was explained by both lovers as the purring of the lost Persian. Mr. Grimes guessed "Purr" loudly at the close, and the final syllable, in which Mr. Merriam appeared disguised as a draper, was thus rendered stale and perfunctory. Mary's charade eluded Mr. Grimes's wit no more successfully, and the music was received with even more enthusiasm than usual.
The Lady Angela, as a matter of fact, had been considerably flustered by the ardour of Merriam the detective's wooing. The rehearsal had not prepared her for anything so realistic, and she was annoyed. Art was art, of course, but she was no Duse, and she didn't care to be the object of such public passion. The fact that she was obliged to reciprocate his sentiments instead of slapping his face was also trying. Well, there was no reason to conceal her displeasure now; and when she found herself again in his arms—they were rather strong arms, incidentally, and he did dance well—she had little to say to him.
It was not, fortunately, necessary for her to do a great deal of dancing, because of the visiting she naturally owed to her elderly friends, and once when Tom cut in she left him, excusing herself on the ground of having to see the Dean and Mrs. Robert Lee-Satterlee, his time-honoured bridge partner. The Dean took his bridge seriously and with extreme deliberation. Henry Whitman, on the other hand, who was one of his opponents, played with a rapidity amounting at times to frenzy, and he was fidgeted by anyone of more sober pace. His partner, old Mrs. Conover, in a cap with violet insertion, had some little difficulty in telling kings from jacks and hearts from spades and was inclined, furthermore, to be forgetful of the trump. Accordingly, Nancy remarked beneath her brother's rather terrible calm all these symptoms of a whistling bee when they were again at home.
The Dean was halfway through a hand and was trying to choose a card from the dummy. He at length carefully lifted the king of spades from it as if it weighed a ton, and then, after looking at it soberly, put it back and scowled at his own hand. Henry, who had his card ready to throw down upon the table, slid it back into his hand with the look of resignation that has tranquillized our memories of the Early Christian Martyrs. The Dean rested his eye on the tempting king in the dummy and pursed his lips. He would do it. Then he leaned over and played it with the air of a man who lays all in the lap of the gods. Mrs. Conover, who had been shuffling her cards around in ill-suppressed excitement, popped out a trump with a cry of triumph just as Henry's Ace of Spades covered the king. A dreadful scene followed. The Dean was all gallantry, Mrs. Conover all self-reproach, Mrs. Robert Lee-Satterlee all charm, and Henry all exasperation; and when, later in the same hand, his mind torn with the memory of his lost ace, he made a revoke and was quietly brought to account by the Dean, Nancy discreetly withdrew.
Tom, who had seen her at the table with three people whom she met constantly and upon whom she hardly needed to make a call, felt decidedly snubbed. Was she, after all, so much a Whitman that she felt no need to obey the ordinary rules of decency? It seemed too bad, for his impression of her earlier in the evening had been decidedly different.
Tom had sometimes wondered about love at first sight. What was it anyway? How did one feel? Was it like a blow between the eyes, a ball in the breast? Did one stagger and have to lie down, with a pulse coursing up to one hundred and five? What was it? When Tom first looked at Nancy in the costume closet he wondered if he were to be brought face to face with the answer. Certainly, little hints by the Norrises and Old Mrs. Conover would have put the idea into his head, had it not in the natural course of events found its way there unaided.
And now Nancy had made it clear that she did not care to have anything to do with him. It was, he guessed, because of the too tender passage in the charade. He pictured himself arguing with her. "It is ridiculous to object to me because I played the part well. Would you have had me a stick and make the thing even more of a bore?" "No," coldly, "but you didn't have to have that part in it." "Well, it made it more interesting, and, besides, if you think that I put it in just for an excuse to put my arm around you, you're entirely mistaken and not the girl I thought you." This last thrust, which, in less skilful hands might have become mere petulance, was delivered with a rolling deliberation that would have wrung a Jezebel. Tom always did well in these conversations, but unfortunately, the present situation was not solved so easily. Nancy, he had found, was even more attractive than she had been when he was in college. They would, of course, see something of each other from time to time, and it would be tiresome not to be friendly. Besides, he guessed that she would be helpful in discussing his various problems. Mrs. Norris was splendid, of course, and he loved her dearly, but he found himself occasionally wishing for a somewhat younger listener and one not given over to quite so many nonsequiturs. Nancy seemed excellent material, but if she were going to be superior—Possibly it was because of Ephesus and the Reynolds Dry Goods Store. He turned away with a slightly bilious feeling. If it should prove that she was affected by that, then indeed would he be disappointed in her.
He crossed the hall into the drawing-room, where a dozen or so couples were dancing in various stages of aesthetic intoxication. The saxophone and the violin were engaging in a pantomime calculated to add gaiety to the waning enthusiasm of the party, and he gazed at them in disgust. A young lady with hair newly hennaed and face suggestive of an over-ripe pear ogled him over her partner's elbow as they jazzed by. Let her dance on until she got so sick of him she was ready to scream, was Tom's thought.
In one corner, obviously having a poor time, was Leofwin Balch. Tom sat down beside him.
"It's too hot in here, don't you think?" he asked.
"Much," replied Leofwin. "I think these parties get worse every year." These were soothing words. "Particularly those damned charades," he went on. "Now, my dear fellow, you know perfectly well that yours was a miserable failure."
Tom found this a little trying. It was true that no one could be more deprecating of his effort than he, but, privately, he had a somewhat better opinion of it. As charades went, he thought it decidedly above the average; and the way he had examined the room, after the manner of Mr. William Gillette, and come upon the match box was proved amusing by the laugh it had brought.
"Granted," he replied, with a shade of sarcasm, "it was a miserable failure."
"Why, the way you made love to Miss Whitman was disgusting."
Tom flushed. Had he really been as bad as that? Had he really just missed being put out of the house like that clown Stebbins? Were they all now, all these people sitting around so innocently in groups, were they all blasting his name as a cheap cad? "What do you mean?" he asked.
"Why, you went at it like a puling babe. Why didn't you put some fire into it—kiss her feet or bite her neck? Then you would have made us sit up and take notice. You college people are a lot of old women, anyway."
Tom, with bounding relief, started to confess the apparent inability of most college people to bite ladies in the neck, when he observed a startling change in his companion. From the passionate leprecaune of the moment before he had become even as a little child. His hand, which was resting elegantly on the arm chair, stole up into his chin whisker, amid which it wistfully strayed. There crept into his Saxon eyes that light of resigned suffering which inspires such exquisite anguish in the friends of Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe. In short, his entire being proclaimed to all who would but look, a great quiet man in love. Tom's eyes followed his and rested upon—Nancy! He rose in disgust and, walking away, suddenly came face to face with her. Then, without thinking of his resolve to let her severely alone, he reached out his hand and cut in.
What a fool he was! Obviously she didn't want to dance with him, and here he was forcing himself upon her. It made him look so common, so pushing, so like an Ephesus drygoods clerk. Some one barged into him, surged into him, from the rear, causing him to stumble. "Sorry," he muttered. They started on, just out of step. He tried to get into step by speeding up, and their knees bumped together. Would no one ever cut in? Then the music stopped, and it appeared that the musicians were going to rest for a few minutes.
"Let's sit down, shall we?" said Nancy. They settled themselves upon two gilt chairs with spindly legs. "Do you like your work here?" she asked pleasantly.
What a very dull question! An expletive exploded inside Tom's head. "Oh, yes," he said. Then after a heavy pause, "How are you getting on with the stars?"
"Oh, I learned the diagrams in that nice little book you sent me, but I'm afraid I've forgotten most of them now. I feel rather superior about Betelgeuse, though."
"So do I. We might start a Betelguese Club."
"What would we do at it?"
"Oh, read papers. With Betelguese's power behind us we might do all sorts of things—have picnics and read tracts to the poor. When you see only college people, after a while you crave being illiterate, and I've thought recently that I'd like to enlist in the Navy or move to Alaska, or go over and work in the Mills. I'd buy a black shirt to work in and use a bandana—when I used anything—and take the nice extra room my laundress has in Whitmanville. She says her clothesline goes out fifty feet, and they have a phonograph. Don't you think that would be more attractive than trying to teach a lot of Freshmen Carlyle and Hawthorne?"
"Lots, and there would be ever so much more money in it."
"It would be a kind of social service work, wouldn't it? 'Woodbridge Professor Slaves in Mill to Earn Bread.' That would go big, all over the country."
"Do you know, I've thought a little of doing some social work, seriously. I don't know anything about it, of course, but it has occurred to me that if I could get a group of people together we might have one of the Physiologist instructors give us some lectures. You see, the first thing in social work must be the health of the people, and I should think a good grounding in the fundamentals would be essential. As soon as we have their interest in their personal welfare we can get them to playing basketball, brushing their teeth, putting screens in their windows, and—so on. Naturally I don't know much about it, but it would seem as though there were a great opportunity for somebody."
"Conditions in the town, on the west side, aren't too good."
"Of course they're not. I have let my mind run on at a great rate about it, but I don't see why, if the right person got hold of it, the whole town couldn't be improved, made into a model mill town, you know—with playgrounds, and creches, and—" Again other model features failed her.
"Well, why aren't you the proper person? I should think you could do it if anyone could. Your uncle would have to listen to you, and he probably would be all for it."
"Oh, Uncle Rob is just as nice as he can be—but I couldn't do it all alone."
"Well, now of course we have got into this thing pretty quickly, but I assure you I should like nothing better than to do something about it with you. After all, what is education in the finest sense, but the uplifting of the masses? You probably will want to think it over a little more before going ahead, but, really, I hope you will, and I hope you will let me join you."
"There is no time like the present. Why dilly-dally? We both realize that this is a crying need. Then why not do something about it? If you will find out who is the best man for us, I'll provide the rest."
At this point the musicians swung into Home Sweet Home, and Mrs. Norris hurried up to the embryonic workers. "The party is over now, my dears, and please help by going and getting your things. It's this awful standing around saying good-bye that is so trying," and with an emphatic push of her back comb she began hauling tables and chairs back into their normal places.
Tom had only just time to assure Nancy that he would do his part when Mrs. Norris called to him again to help her with the dining-room rug; and with a quick handshake and a pleasanter nod than he would have thought could possibly have come to him half an hour before, Nancy Whitman was gone.
In the morning Nancy's thoughts flew to the proposed social work. What on earth had she got herself into! Swept away, as usual, she had confided her plans for a life of service to a man she barely knew, one hour after she had decided to leave him alone! Well, there was nothing to do now but make the best of it. Their talk had, as a matter of fact, shown that she had been a little silly about the charade. He had unsuspected depth. That had been made clear by his conversation about education, and it was unlikely that anyone who felt as strongly as he did could be wayward in a charade. So it might turn out all right, after all, and she had better set about getting the workers.
Mary, to her surprise, was a disappointment. It seemed that with her music, which she was studying seriously this year, with weekly trips to Boston for a lesson, she had no time. Others of her friends to whom she had naturally turned were unavailable for one reason or another, and the affair began to look discouraging. On the fourth day, however, while calling upon the Misses Forbes, she got an unsolicited recruit. Her mind being full of the idea, she was talking about it before she knew it; and to her astonishment, and a little to her dismay, Miss Jennie offered her services. "I cannot," she said, "talk to the operatives about their bodies, and, accordingly, it won't be necessary for me to attend the physiological lectures, but I think I can be of use later on. When we went to Miss Northcote's School we learned to weave mats and paint on china, and I can give instructions in them. In their turn they will instruct me, for I shall learn much about Housing Conditions and have an opportunity to examine at first hand the various industrial problems of the day. Who knows? when we are through, I may prepare a paper for the Nation." Her sisters indicated their disapproval by rocking hopelessly.
Tom, too, had met with difficulties. Upon thinking the matter over he had little doubt as to its outcome. Enough of his Ephesus life remained with him to tell him that factory hands are not to be reached by lectures from academic ladies and gentlemen. He blushed, too, for certain sentiments he had expressed upon the essence of education, but they might be credited to the delicate frenzy of the dance and his unexpected reconciliation. It was, of course, all Nancy. He could not imagine himself proceeding upon such an affair with anyone else. Still, he found it necessary to placate his conscience for the time taken from the study of Beowulf which he was then making for his Ph.D. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" seemed, after a somewhat desperate search, as sound a principle as any; and, furthermore, he would save time from his exercise by running around the cemetery—the classic running course—instead of playing squash at the Country Club. So that problem was settled.
The young physiologist, however, upon whom he had been counting had developed appendicitis, and he didn't feel that he knew any of the other men in the department well enough to take their time for such a speculative cause. Then he met old Professor Sprig, a Star man of '65, who had been a celebrated physiologist in his time and who was now an almost equally celebrated eccentric. Having complained of the present status of the department and explained his problem, Tom was invited by the old gentleman to bring Nancy to his rooms. "You know, I suppose, where I live?" he asked with a crafty smile.