P. G. Wodehouse ~ At Geisenheimer’s

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temptation

 

As I walked to Geisenheimer’s that night I was feeling blue and restless, tired of New York, tired of dancing, tired of everything. Broadway was full of people hurrying to the theatres. Cars rattled by. All the electric lights in the world were blazing down on the Great White Way. And it all seemed stale and dreary to me.

Geisenheimer’s was full as usual. All the tables were occupied, and there were several couples already on the dancing-floor in the centre. The band was playing ‘Michigan’:

I want to go back, I want to go back
To the place where I was born.
Far away from harm
With a milk-pail on my arm.

I suppose the fellow who wrote that would have called for the police if anyone had ever really tried to get him on to a farm, but he has certainly put something into the tune which makes you think he meant what he said. It’s a homesick tune, that.

I was just looking round for an empty table, when a man jumped up and came towards me, registering joy as if I had been his long-lost sister.

He was from the country. I could see that. It was written all over him, from his face to his shoes.

He came up with his hand out, beaming.

‘Why, Miss Roxborough!’

‘Why not?’ I said.

‘Don’t you remember me?’

I didn’t.

‘My name is Ferris.’

‘It’s a nice name, but it means nothing in my young life.’

‘I was introduced to you last time I came here. We danced together.’

This seemed to bear the stamp of truth. If he was introduced to me, he probably danced with me. It’s what I’m at Geisenheimer’s for.

‘When was it?’

‘A year ago last April.’

You can’t beat these rural charmers. They think New York is folded up and put away in camphor when they leave, and only taken out again when they pay their next visit. The notion that anything could possibly have happened since he was last in our midst to blur the memory of that happy evening had not occurred to Mr Ferris. I suppose he was so accustomed to dating things from ‘when I was in New York’ that he thought everybody else must do the same.

‘Why, sure, I remember you,’ I said. ‘Algernon Clarence, isn’t it?’

‘Not Algernon Clarence. My name’s Charlie.’

‘My mistake. And what’s the great scheme, Mr Ferris? Do you want to dance with me again?’

He did. So we started. Mine not to reason why, mine but to do and die, as the poem says. If an elephant had come into Geisenheimer’s and asked me to dance I’d have had to do it. And I’m not saying that Mr Ferris wasn’t the next thing to it. He was one of those earnest, persevering dancers—the kind that have taken twelve correspondence lessons.

I guess I was about due that night to meet someone from the country. There still come days in the spring when the country seems to get a stranglehold on me and start in pulling. This particular day had been one of them. I got up in the morning and looked out of the window, and the breeze just wrapped me round and began whispering about pigs and chickens. And when I went out on Fifth Avenue there seemed to be flowers everywhere. I headed for the Park, and there was the grass all green, and the trees coming out, and a sort of something in the air—why, say, if there hadn’t have been a big policeman keeping an eye on me, I’d have flung myself down and bitten chunks out of the turf.

And as soon as I got to Geisenheimer’s they played that ‘Michigan’ thing.

Why, Charlie from Squeedunk’s ‘entrance’ couldn’t have been better worked up if he’d been a star in a Broadway show. The stage was just waiting for him.

But somebody’s always taking the joy out of life. I ought to have remembered that the most metropolitan thing in the metropolis is a rustic who’s putting in a week there. We weren’t thinking on the same plane, Charlie and me. The way I had been feeling all day, what I wanted to talk about was last season’s crops. The subject he fancied was this season’s chorus-girls. Our souls didn’t touch by a mile and a half.

‘This is the life!’ he said.

There’s always a point when that sort of man says that.

‘I suppose you come here quite a lot?’ he said.

‘Pretty often.’

I didn’t tell him that I came there every night, and that I came because I was paid for it. If you’re a professional dancer at Geisenheimer’s, you aren’t supposed to advertise the fact. The management thinks that if you did it might send the public away thinking too hard when they saw you win the Great Contest for the Love-r-ly Silver Cup which they offer later in the evening. Say, that Love-r-ly Cup’s a joke. I win it on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Mabel Francis wins it on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It’s all perfectly fair and square, of course. It’s purely a matter of merit who wins the Love-r-ly Cup. Anybody could win it. Only somehow they don’t. And the coincidence of the fact that Mabel and I always do has kind of got on the management’s nerves, and they don’t like us to tell people we’re employed there. They prefer us to blush unseen.

‘It’s a great place,’ said Mr Ferris, ‘and New York’s a great place. I’d like to live in New York.’

‘The loss is ours. Why don’t you?’

‘Some city! But dad’s dead now, and I’ve got the drugstore, you know.’

He spoke as if I ought to remember reading about it in the papers.

‘And I’m making good with it, what’s more. I’ve got push and ideas. Say, I got married since I saw you last.’

‘You did, did you?’ I said. ‘Then what are you doing, may I ask, dancing on Broadway like a gay bachelor? I suppose you have left your wife at Hicks’ Corners, singing “Where is my wandering boy tonight”?’

‘Not Hicks’ Corners. Ashley, Maine. That’s where I live. My wife comes from Rodney…. Pardon me, I’m afraid I stepped on your foot.’

‘My fault,’ I said; ‘I lost step. Well, I wonder you aren’t ashamed even to think of your wife, when you’ve left her all alone out there while you come whooping it up in New York. Haven’t you got any conscience?’

‘But I haven’t left her. She’s here.’

‘In New York?’

‘In this restaurant. That’s her up there.’

I looked up at the balcony. There was a face hanging over the red plush rail. It looked to me as if it had some hidden sorrow. I’d noticed it before, when we were dancing around, and I had wondered what the trouble was. Now I began to see.

‘Why aren’t you dancing with her and giving her a good time, then?’ I said.

‘Oh, she’s having a good time.’

‘She doesn’t look it. She looks as if she would like to be down here, treading the measure.’

‘She doesn’t dance much.’

‘Don’t you have dances at Ashley?’

‘It’s different at home. She dances well enough for Ashley, but—well, this isn’t Ashley.’

‘I see. But you’re not like that?’

He gave a kind of smirk.

‘Oh, I’ve been in New York before.’

I could have bitten him, the sawn-off little rube! It made me mad. He was ashamed to dance in public with his wife—didn’t think her good enough for him. So he had dumped her in a chair, given her a lemonade, and told her to be good, and then gone off to have a good time. They could have had me arrested for what I was thinking just then.

The band began to play something else.

‘This is the life!’ said Mr Ferris. ‘Let’s do it again.’

‘Let somebody else do it,’ I said. ‘I’m tired. I’ll introduce you to some friends of mine.’

So I took him off, and whisked him on to some girls I knew at one of the tables.

‘Shake hands with my friend Mr Ferris,’ I said. ‘He wants to show you the latest steps. He does most of them on your feet.’

I could have betted on Charlie, the Debonair Pride of Ashley. Guess what he said? He said, ‘This is the life!’

And I left him, and went up to the balcony.

She was leaning with her elbows on the red plush, looking down on the dancing-floor. They had just started another tune, and hubby was moving around with one of the girls I’d introduced him to. She didn’t have to prove to me that she came from the country. I knew it. She was a little bit of a thing, old-fashioned looking. She was dressed in grey, with white muslin collar and cuffs, and her hair done simple. She had a black hat.

I kind of hovered for awhile. It isn’t the best thing I do, being shy; as a general thing I’m more or less there with the nerve; but somehow I sort of hesitated to charge in.

Then I braced up, and made for the vacant chair.

‘I’ll sit here, if you don’t mind,’ I said.

She turned in a startled way. I could see she was wondering who I was, and what right I had there, but wasn’t certain whether it might not be city etiquette for strangers to come and dump themselves down and start chatting. ‘I’ve just been dancing with your husband,’ I said, to ease things along.

‘I saw you.’

She fixed me with a pair of big brown eyes. I took one look at them, and then I had to tell myself that it might be pleasant, and a relief to my feelings, to take something solid and heavy and drop it over the rail on to hubby, but the management wouldn’t like it. That was how I felt about him just then. The poor kid was doing everything with those eyes except crying. She looked like a dog that’s been kicked.

She looked away, and fiddled with the string of the electric light. There was a hatpin lying on the table. She picked it up, and began to dig at the red plush.

‘Ah, come on sis,’ I said; ‘tell me all about it.’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘You can’t fool me. Tell me your troubles.’

‘I don’t know you.’

‘You don’t have to know a person to tell her your troubles. I sometimes tell mine to the cat that camps out on the wall opposite my room. What did you want to leave the country for, with summer coming on?’

She didn’t answer, but I could see it coming, so I sat still and waited. And presently she seemed to make up her mind that, even if it was no business of mine, it would be a relief to talk about it.

‘We’re on our honeymoon. Charlie wanted to come to New York. I didn’t want to, but he was set on it. He’s been here before.’

‘So he told me.’

‘He’s wild about New York.’

‘But you’re not.’

‘I hate it.’

‘Why?’

She dug away at the red plush with the hatpin, picking out little bits and dropping them over the edge. I could see she was bracing herself to put me wise to the whole trouble. There’s a time comes when things aren’t going right, and you’ve had all you can stand, when you have got to tell somebody about it, no matter who it is.

‘I hate New York,’ she said getting it out at last with a rush. ‘I’m scared of it. It—it isn’t fair Charlie bringing me here. I didn’t want to come. I knew what would happen. I felt it all along.’

‘What do you think will happen, then?’

She must have picked away at least an inch of the red plush before she answered. It’s lucky Jimmy, the balcony waiter, didn’t see her; it would have broken his heart; he’s as proud of that red plush as if he had paid for it himself.

‘When I first went to live at Rodney,’ she said, ‘two years ago—we moved there from Illinois—there was a man there named Tyson—Jack Tyson. He lived all alone and didn’t seem to want to know anyone. I couldn’t understand it till somebody told me all about him. I can understand it now. Jack Tyson married a Rodney girl, and they came to New York for their honeymoon, just like us. And when they got there I guess she got to comparing him with the fellows she saw, and comparing the city with Rodney, and when she got home she just couldn’t settle down.’

‘Well?’

‘After they had been back in Rodney for a little while she ran away. Back to the city, I guess.’

‘I suppose he got a divorce?’

‘No, he didn’t. He still thinks she may come back to him.’

‘He still thinks she will come back?’ I said. ‘After she has been away three years!’

‘Yes. He keeps her things just the same as she left them when she went away, everything just the same.’

‘But isn’t he angry with her for what she did? If I was a man and a girl treated me that way, I’d be apt to murder her if she tried to show up again.’

‘He wouldn’t. Nor would I, if—if anything like that happened to me; I’d wait and wait, and go on hoping all the time. And I’d go down to the station to meet the train every afternoon, just like Jack Tyson.’

Something splashed on the tablecloth. It made me jump.

‘For goodness’ sake,’ I said, ‘what’s your trouble? Brace up. I know it’s a sad story, but it’s not your funeral.’

‘It is. It is. The same thing’s going to happen to me.’

‘Take a hold on yourself. Don’t cry like that.’

‘I can’t help it. Oh! I knew it would happen. It’s happening right now. Look—look at him.’

I glanced over the rail, and I saw what she meant. There was her Charlie, dancing about all over the floor as if he had just discovered that he hadn’t lived till then. I saw him say something to the girl he was dancing with. I wasn’t near enough to hear it, but I bet it was ‘This is the life!’ If I had been his wife, in the same position as this kid, I guess I’d have felt as bad as she did, for if ever a man exhibited all the symptoms of incurable Newyorkitis, it was this Charlie Ferris.

‘I’m not like these New York girls,’ she choked. ‘I can’t be smart. I don’t want to be. I just want to live at home and be happy. I knew it would happen if we came to the city. He doesn’t think me good enough for him. He looks down on me.’

‘Pull yourself together.’

‘And I do love him so!’

Goodness knows what I should have said if I could have thought of anything to say. But just then the music stopped, and somebody on the floor below began to speak.

‘Ladeez ‘n’ gemmen,’ he said, ‘there will now take place our great Numbah Contest. This gen-u-ine sporting contest—’

It was Izzy Baermann making his nightly speech, introducing the Love-r-ly Cup; and it meant that, for me, duty called. From where I sat I could see Izzy looking about the room, and I knew he was looking for me. It’s the management’s nightmare that one of these evenings Mabel or I won’t show up, and somebody else will get away with the Love-r-ly Cup.

‘Sorry I’ve got to go,’ I said. ‘I have to be in this.’

And then suddenly I had the great idea. It came to me like a flash, I looked at her, crying there, and I looked over the rail at Charlie the Boy Wonder, and I knew that this was where I got a stranglehold on my place in the Hall of Fame, along with the great thinkers of the age.

‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Come along. Stop crying and powder your nose and get a move on. You’re going to dance this.’

‘But Charlie doesn’t want to dance with me.’

‘It may have escaped your notice,’ I said, ‘but your Charlie is not the only man in New York, or even in this restaurant. I’m going to dance with Charlie myself, and I’ll introduce you to someone who can go through the movements. Listen!’

‘The lady of each couple’—this was Izzy, getting it off his diaphragm—’will receive a ticket containing a num-bah. The dance will then proceed, and the num-bahs will be eliminated one by one, those called out by the judge kindly returning to their seats as their num-bah is called. The num-bah finally remaining is the winning num-bah. The contest is a genuine sporting contest, decided purely by the skill of the holders of the various num-bahs.’ (Izzy stopped blushing at the age of six.) ‘Will ladies now kindly step forward and receive their num-bahs. The winner, the holder of the num-bah left on the floor when the other num-bahs have been eliminated’ (I could see Izzy getting more and more uneasy, wondering where on earth I’d got to), ‘will receive this Love-r-ly Silver Cup, presented by the management. Ladies will now kindly step forward and receive their num-bahs.’

I turned to Mrs Charlie. ‘There,’ I said, ‘don’t you want to win a Love-r-ly Silver Cup?’

‘But I couldn’t.’

‘You never know your luck.’

‘But it isn’t luck. Didn’t you hear him say it’s a contest decided purely by skill?’

‘Well, try your skill, then.’ I felt as if I could have shaken her. ‘For goodness’ sake,’ I said, ‘show a little grit. Aren’t you going to stir a finger to keep your Charlie? Suppose you win, think what it will mean. He will look up to you for the rest of your life. When he starts talking about New York, all you will have to say is, “New York? Ah, yes, that was the town I won that Love-r-ly Silver Cup in, was it not?” and he’ll drop as if you had hit him behind the ear with a sandbag. Pull yourself together and try.’

I saw those brown eyes of hers flash, and she said, ‘I’ll try.’

‘Good for you,’ I said. ‘Now you get those tears dried, and fix yourself up, and I’ll go down and get the tickets.’

Izzy was mighty relieved when I bore down on him.

‘Gee!’ he said, ‘I thought you had run away, or was sick or something. Here’s your ticket.’

‘I want two, Izzy. One’s for a friend of mine. And I say, Izzy, I’d take it as a personal favour if you would let her stop on the floor as one of the last two couples. There’s a reason. She’s a kid from the country, and she wants to make a hit.’

‘Sure, that’ll be all right. Here are the tickets. Yours is thirty-six, hers is ten.’ He lowered his voice. ‘Don’t go mixing them.’

I went back to the balcony. On the way I got hold of Charlie.

‘We’re dancing this together,’ I said.

He grinned all across his face.

I found Mrs Charlie looking as if she had never shed a tear in her life. She certainly had pluck, that kid.

‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Stick to your ticket like wax and watch your step.’

I guess you’ve seen these sporting contests at Geisenheimer’s. Or, if you haven’t seen them at Geisenheimer’s, you’ve seen them somewhere else. They’re all the same.

When we began, the floor was so crowded that there was hardly elbow-room. Don’t tell me there aren’t any optimists nowadays. Everyone was looking as if they were wondering whether to have the Love-r-ly Cup in the sitting-room or the bedroom. You never saw such a hopeful gang in your life.

Presently Izzy gave tongue. The management expects him to be humorous on these occasions, so he did his best.

‘Num-bahs, seven, eleven, and twenty-one will kindly rejoin their sorrowing friends.’

This gave us a little more elbow-room, and the band started again.

A few minutes later, Izzy once more: ‘Num-bahs thirteen, sixteen, and seventeen—good-bye.’

Off we went again.

‘Num-bah twelve, we hate to part with you, but—back to your table!’

A plump girl in a red hat, who had been dancing with a kind smile, as if she were doing it to amuse the children, left the floor.

‘Num-bahs six, fifteen, and twenty, thumbs down!’

And pretty soon the only couples left were Charlie and me, Mrs Charlie and the fellow I’d introduced her to, and a bald-headed man and a girl in a white hat. He was one of your stick-at-it performers. He had been dancing all the evening. I had noticed him from the balcony. He looked like a hard-boiled egg from up there.

He was a trier all right, that fellow, and had things been otherwise, so to speak, I’d have been glad to see him win. But it was not to be. Ah, no!

‘Num-bah nineteen, you’re getting all flushed. Take a rest.’

So there it was, a straight contest between me and Charlie and Mrs Charlie and her man. Every nerve in my system was tingling with suspense and excitement, was it not? It was not.

Charlie, as I’ve already hinted, was not a dancer who took much of his attention off his feet while in action. He was there to do his durnedest, not to inspect objects of interest by the wayside. The correspondence college he’d attended doesn’t guarantee to teach you to do two things at once. It won’t bind itself to teach you to look round the room while you’re dancing. So Charlie hadn’t the least suspicion of the state of the drama. He was breathing heavily down my neck in a determined sort of way, with his eyes glued to the floor. All he knew was that the competition had thinned out a bit, and the honour of Ashley, Maine, was in his hands.

You know how the public begins to sit up and take notice when these dance-contests have been narrowed down to two couples. There are evenings when I quite forget myself, when I’m one of the last two left in, and get all excited. There’s a sort of hum in the air, and, as you go round the room, people at the tables start applauding. Why, if you didn’t know about the inner workings of the thing, you’d be all of a twitter.

It didn’t take my practised ear long to discover that it wasn’t me and Charlie that the great public was cheering for. We would go round the floor without getting a hand, and every time Mrs Charlie and her guy got to a corner there was a noise like election night. She sure had made a hit.

I took a look at her across the floor, and I didn’t wonder. She was a different kid from what she’d been upstairs. I never saw anybody look so happy and pleased with herself. Her eyes were like lamps, and her cheeks all pink, and she was going at it like a champion. I knew what had made a hit with the people. It was the look of her. She made you think of fresh milk and new-laid eggs and birds singing. To see her was like getting away to the country in August. It’s funny about people who live in the city. They chuck out their chests, and talk about little old New York being good enough for them, and there’s a street in heaven they call Broadway, and all the rest of it; but it seems to me that what they really live for is that three weeks in the summer when they get away into the country. I knew exactly why they were cheering so hard for Mrs Charlie. She made them think of their holidays which were coming along, when they would go and board at the farm and drink out of the old oaken bucket, and call the cows by their first names.

Gee! I felt just like that myself. All day the country had been tugging at me, and now it tugged worse than ever.

I could have smelled the new-mown hay if it wasn’t that when you’re in Geisenheimer’s you have to smell Geisenheimer’s, because it leaves no chance for competition.

‘Keep working,’ I said to Charlie. ‘It looks to me as if we are going back in the betting.’

‘Uh, huh!’ he says, too busy to blink.

‘Do some of those fancy steps of yours. We need them in our business.’

And the way that boy worked—it was astonishing!

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Izzy Baermann, and he wasn’t looking happy. He was nerving himself for one of those quick referee’s decisions—the sort you make and then duck under the ropes, and run five miles, to avoid the incensed populace. It was this kind of thing happening every now and then that prevented his job being perfect. Mabel Francis told me that one night when Izzy declared her the winner of the great sporting contest, it was such raw work that she thought there’d have been a riot. It looked pretty much as if he was afraid the same thing was going to happen now. There wasn’t a doubt which of us two couples was the one that the customers wanted to see win that Love-r-ly Silver Cup. It was a walk-over for Mrs Charlie, and Charlie and I were simply among those present.

But Izzy had his duty to do, and drew a salary for doing it, so he moistened his lips, looked round to see that his strategic railways weren’t blocked, swallowed twice, and said in a husky voice:

‘Num-bah ten, please re-tiah!’

I stopped at once.

‘Come along,’ said I to Charlie. ‘That’s our exit cue.’

And we walked off the floor amidst applause.

‘Well,’ says Charlie, taking out his handkerchief and attending to his brow, which was like the village blacksmith’s, ‘we didn’t do so bad, did we? We didn’t do so bad, I guess! We—’

And he looked up at the balcony, expecting to see the dear little wife, draped over the rail, worshipping him; when, just as his eye is moving up, it gets caught by the sight of her a whole heap lower down than he had expected—on the floor, in fact.

She wasn’t doing much in the worshipping line just at that moment. She was too busy.

It was a regular triumphal progress for the kid. She and her partner were doing one or two rounds now for exhibition purposes, like the winning couple always do at Geisenheimer’s, and the room was fairly rising at them. You’d have thought from the way they were clapping that they had been betting all their spare cash on her.

Charlie gets her well focused, then he lets his jaw drop, till he pretty near bumped it against the floor.

‘But—but—but—’ he begins.

‘I know,’ I said. ‘It begins to look as if she could dance well enough for the city after all. It begins to look as if she had sort of put one over on somebody, don’t it? It begins to look as if it were a pity you didn’t think of dancing with her yourself.’

‘I—I—I—’

‘You come along and have a nice cold drink,’ I said, ‘and you’ll soon pick up.’

He tottered after me to a table, looking as if he had been hit by a street-car. He had got his.

I was so busy looking after Charlie, flapping the towel and working on him with the oxygen, that, if you’ll believe me, it wasn’t for quite a time that I thought of glancing around to see how the thing had struck Izzy Baermann.

If you can imagine a fond father whose only son has hit him with a brick, jumped on his stomach, and then gone off with all his money, you have a pretty good notion of how poor old Izzy looked. He was staring at me across the room, and talking to himself and jerking his hands about. Whether he thought he was talking to me, or whether he was rehearsing the scene where he broke it to the boss that a mere stranger had got away with his Love-r-ly Silver Cup, I don’t know. Whichever it was, he was being mighty eloquent.

I gave him a nod, as much as to say that it would all come right in the future, and then I turned to Charlie again. He was beginning to pick up.

‘She won the cup!’ he said in a dazed voice, looking at me as if I could do something about it.

‘You bet she did!’

‘But—well, what do you know about that?’

I saw that the moment had come to put it straight to him. ‘I’ll tell you what I know about it,’ I said. ‘If you take my advice, you’ll hustle that kid straight back to Ashley—or wherever it is that you said you poison the natives by making up the wrong prescriptions—before she gets New York into her system. When I was talking to her upstairs, she was telling me about a fellow in her village who got it in the neck just the same as you’re apt to do.’

He started. ‘She was telling you about Jack Tyson?’

‘That was his name—Jack Tyson. He lost his wife through letting her have too much New York. Don’t you think it’s funny she should have mentioned him if she hadn’t had some idea that she might act just the same as his wife did?’

He turned quite green.

‘You don’t think she would do that?’

‘Well, if you’d heard her—She couldn’t talk of anything except this Tyson, and what his wife did to him. She talked of it sort of sad, kind of regretful, as if she was sorry, but felt that it had to be. I could see she had been thinking about it a whole lot.’

Charlie stiffened in his seat, and then began to melt with pure fright. He took up his empty glass with a shaking hand and drank a long drink out of it. It didn’t take much observation to see that he had had the jolt he wanted, and was going to be a whole heap less jaunty and metropolitan from now on. In fact, the way he looked, I should say he had finished with metropolitan jauntiness for the rest of his life.

‘I’ll take her home tomorrow,’ he said. ‘But—will she come?’

‘That’s up to you. If you can persuade her—Here she is now. I should start at once.’

Mrs Charlie, carrying the cup, came to the table. I was wondering what would be the first thing she would say. If it had been Charlie, of course he’d have said, ‘This is the life!’ but I looked for something snappier from her. If I had been in her place there were at least ten things I could have thought of to say, each nastier than the other.

She sat down and put the cup on the table. Then she gave the cup a long look. Then she drew a deep breath. Then she looked at Charlie.

‘Oh, Charlie, dear,’ she said, ‘I do wish I’d been dancing with you!’

Well, I’m not sure that that wasn’t just as good as anything I would have said. Charlie got right off the mark. After what I had told him, he wasn’t wasting any time.

‘Darling,’ he said, humbly, ‘you’re a wonder! What will they say about this at home?’ He did pause here for a moment, for it took nerve to say it; but then he went right on. ‘Mary, how would it be if we went home right away—first train tomorrow, and showed it to them?’

‘Oh, Charlie!’ she said.

His face lit up as if somebody had pulled a switch.

‘You will? You don’t want to stop on? You aren’t wild about New York?’

‘If there was a train,’ she said, ‘I’d start tonight. But I thought you loved the city so, Charlie?’

He gave a kind of shiver. ‘I never want to see it again in my life!’ he said.

‘You’ll excuse me,’ I said, getting up, ‘I think there’s a friend of mine wants to speak to me.’

And I crossed over to where Izzy had been standing for the last five minutes, making signals to me with his eyebrows.

You couldn’t have called Izzy coherent at first. He certainly had trouble with his vocal chords, poor fellow. There was one of those African explorer men used to come to Geisenheimer’s a lot when he was home from roaming the trackless desert, and he used to tell me about tribes he had met who didn’t use real words at all, but talked to one another in clicks and gurgles. He imitated some of their chatter one night to amuse me, and, believe me, Izzy Baermann started talking the same language now. Only he didn’t do it to amuse me.

He was like one of those gramophone records when it’s getting into its stride.

‘Be calm, Isadore,’ I said. ‘Something is troubling you. Tell me all about it.’

He clicked some more, and then he got it out.

‘Say, are you crazy? What did you do it for? Didn’t I tell you as plain as I could; didn’t I say it twenty times, when you came for the tickets, that yours was thirty-six?’

‘Didn’t you say my friend’s was thirty-six?’

‘Are you deaf? I said hers was ten.’

‘Then,’ I said handsomely, ‘say no more. The mistake was mine. It begins to look as if I must have got them mixed.’

He did a few Swedish exercises.

‘Say no more? That’s good! That’s great! You’ve got nerve. I’ll say that.’

‘It was a lucky mistake, Izzy. It saved your life. The people would have lynched you if you had given me the cup. They were solid for her.’

‘What’s the boss going to say when I tell him?’

‘Never mind what the boss will say. Haven’t you any romance in your system, Izzy? Look at those two sitting there with their heads together. Isn’t it worth a silver cup to have made them happy for life? They are on their honeymoon, Isadore. Tell the boss exactly how it happened, and say that I thought it was up to Geisenheimer’s to give them a wedding-present.’

He clicked for a spell.

‘Ah!’ he said. ‘Ah! now you’ve done it! Now you’ve given yourself away! You did it on purpose. You mixed those tickets on purpose. I thought as much. Say, who do you think you are, doing this sort of thing? Don’t you know that professional dancers are three for ten cents? I could go out right now and whistle, and get a dozen girls for your job. The boss’ll sack you just one minute after I tell him.’

‘No, he won’t, Izzy, because I’m going to resign.’

‘You’d better!’

‘That’s what I think. I’m sick of this place, Izzy. I’m sick of dancing. I’m sick of New York. I’m sick of everything. I’m going back to the country. I thought I had got the pigs and chickens clear out of my system, but I hadn’t. I’ve suspected it for a long, long time, and tonight I know it. Tell the boss, with my love, that I’m sorry, but it had to be done. And if he wants to talk back, he must do it by letter: Mrs John Tyson, Rodney, Maine, is the address.’

DMdJ Neu2

Anthony Trollope ~ Relics of General Chassé: A Tale of Antwerp

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That Belgium is now one of the European kingdoms, living by its own laws, resting on its own bottom, with a king and court, palaces and parliament of its own, is known to all the world.  And a very nice little kingdom it is; full of old towns, fine Flemish pictures, and interesting Gothic churches.  But in the memory of very many of us who do not think ourselves old men, Belgium, as it is now called—in those days it used to be Flanders and Brabant—was a part of Holland; and it obtained its own independence by a revolution.  In that revolution the most important military step was the siege of Antwerp, which was defended on the part of the Dutch by General Chassé, with the utmost gallantry, but nevertheless ineffectually.

After the siege Antwerp became quite a show place; and among the visitors who flocked there to talk of the gallant general, and to see what remained of the great effort which he had made to defend the place, were two Englishmen.  One was the hero of this little history; and the other was a young man of considerably less weight in the world.  The less I say of the latter the better; but it is necessary that I should give some description of the former.

The Rev. Augustus Horne was, at the time of my narrative, a beneficed clergyman of the Church of England.  The profession which he had graced sat easily on him.  Its external marks and signs were as pleasing to his friends as were its internal comforts to himself.  He was a man of much quiet mirth, full of polished wit, and on some rare occasions he could descend to the more noisy hilarity of a joke.  Loved by his friends he loved all the world.  He had known no care and seen no sorrow.  Always intended for holy orders he had entered them without a scruple, and remained within their pale without a regret.  At twenty-four he had been a deacon, at twenty-seven a priest, at thirty a rector, and at thirty-five a prebendary; and as his rectory was rich and his prebendal stall well paid, the Rev. Augustus Horne was called by all, and called himself, a happy man.  His stature was about six feet two, and his corpulence exceeded even those bounds which symmetry would have preferred as being most perfectly compatible even with such a height.  But nevertheless Mr. Horne was a well-made man; his hands and feet were small; his face was handsome, frank, and full of expression; his bright eyes twinkled with humour; his finely-cut mouth disclosed two marvellous rows of well-preserved ivory; and his slightly aquiline nose was just such a projection as one would wish to see on the face of a well-fed good-natured dignitary of the Church of England.  When I add to all this that the reverend gentleman was as generous as he was rich—and the kind mother in whose arms he had been nurtured had taken care that he should never want—I need hardly say that I was blessed with a very pleasant travelling companion.

I must mention one more interesting particular. Mr. Horne was rather inclined to dandyism, in an innocent way.  His clerical starched neckcloth was always of the whitest, his cambric handkerchief of the finest, his bands adorned with the broadest border; his sable suit never degenerated to a rusty brown; it not only gave on all occasions glossy evidence of freshness, but also of the talent which the artisan had displayed in turning out a well-dressed clergyman of the Church of England.  His hair was ever brushed with scrupulous attention, and showed in its regular waves the guardian care of each separate bristle.  And all this was done with that ease and grace which should be the characteristics of a dignitary of the established English Church.

I had accompanied Mr. Horne to the Rhine; and we had reached Brussels on our return, just at the close of that revolution which ended in affording a throne to the son-in-law of George the Fourth.  At that moment General Chassé’s name and fame were in every man’s mouth, and, like other curious admirers of the brave, Mr. Horne determined to devote two days to the scene of the late events at Antwerp.  Antwerp, moreover, possesses perhaps the finest spire, and certainly one of the three or four finest pictures, in the world.  Of General Chassé, of the cathedral, and of the Rubens, I had heard much, and was therefore well pleased that such should be his resolution.  This accomplished we were to return to Brussels; and thence, via Ghent, Ostend, and Dover, I to complete my legal studies in London, and Mr. Horne to enjoy once more the peaceful retirement of Ollerton rectory.  As we were to be absent from Brussels but one night we were enabled to indulge in the gratification of travelling without our luggage.  A small sac-de-nuit was prepared; brushes, combs, razors, strops, a change of linen, &c. &c., were carefully put up; but our heavy baggage, our coats, waistcoats, and other wearing apparel were unnecessary.  It was delightful to feel oneself so light-handed.  The reverend gentleman, with my humble self by his side, left the portal of the Hôtel de Belle Vue at 7 a.m., in good humour with all the world.  There were no railroads in those days; but a cabriolet, big enough to hold six persons, with rope traces and corresponding appendages, deposited us at the Golden Fleece in something less than six hours.  The inward man was duly fortified, and we started for the castle.

It boots not here to describe the effects which gunpowder and grape-shot had had on the walls of Antwerp.  Let the curious in these matters read the horrors of the siege of Troy, or the history of Jerusalem taken by Titus.  The one may be found in Homer, and the other in Josephus.  Or if they prefer doings of a later date there is the taking of Sebastopol, as narrated in the columns of the “Times” newspaper.  The accounts are equally true, instructive, and intelligible.  In the mean time allow the Rev. Augustus Horne and myself to enter the private chambers of the renowned though defeated general.

We rambled for a while through the covered way, over the glacis and along the counterscarp, and listened to the guide as he detailed to us, in already accustomed words, how the siege had gone.  Then we got into the private apartments of the general, and, having dexterously shaken off our attendant, wandered at large among the deserted rooms.

“It is clear that no one ever comes here,” said I.

“No,” said the Rev. Augustus; “it seems not; and to tell the truth, I don’t know why any one should come.  The chambers in themselves are not attractive.”

What he said was true.  They were plain, ugly, square, unfurnished rooms, here a big one, and there a little one, as is usual in most houses;—unfurnished, that is, for the most part.  In one place we did find a table and a few chairs, in another a bedstead, and so on.  But to me it was pleasant to indulge in those ruminations which any traces of the great or unfortunate create in softly sympathising minds.  For a time we communicated our thoughts to each other as we roamed free as air through the apartments; and then I lingered for a few moments behind, while Mr. Horne moved on with a quicker step.

At last I entered the bedchamber of the general, and there I overtook my friend.  He was inspecting, with much attention, an article of the great man’s wardrobe which he held in his hand.  It was precisely that virile habiliment to which a well-known gallant captain alludes in his conversation with the posthumous appearance of Miss Bailey, as containing a Bank of England £5 note.

“The general must have been a large man, George, or he would hardly have filled these,” said Mr. Horne, holding up to the light the respectable leathern articles in question.  “He must have been a very large man,—the largest man in Antwerp, I should think; or else his tailor has done him more than justice.”

They were certainly large, and had about them a charming regimental military appearance.  They were made of white leather, with bright metal buttons at the knees and bright metal buttons at the top.  They owned no pockets, and were, with the exception of the legitimate outlet, continuous in the circumference of the waistband.  No dangling strings gave them an appearance of senile imbecility.  Were it not for a certain rigidity, sternness, and mental inflexibility,—we will call it military ardour,—with which they were imbued, they would have created envy in the bosom of a fox-hunter.

Mr. Horne was no fox-hunter, but still he seemed to be irresistibly taken with the lady-like propensity of wishing to wear them.  “Surely, George,” he said, “the general must have been a stouter man than I am”—and he contemplated his own proportions with complacency—“these what’s-the-names are quite big enough for me.”

I differed in opinion, and was obliged to explain that I thought he did the good living of Ollerton insufficient justice.

“I am sure they are large enough for me,” he repeated, with considerable obstinacy.  I smiled incredulously; and then to settle the matter he resolved that he would try them on.  Nobody had been in these rooms for the last hour, and it appeared as though they were never visited.  Even the guide had not come on with us, but was employed in showing other parties about the fortifications.  It was clear that this portion of the building was left desolate, and that the experiment might be safely made.  So the sportive rector declared that he would for a short time wear the regimentals which had once contained the valorous heart of General Chassé.

With all decorum the Rev. Mr. Horne divested himself of the work of the London artist’s needle, and, carefully placing his own garments beyond the reach of dust, essayed to fit himself in military garb.

At that important moment—at the critical instant of the attempt—the clatter of female voices was heard approaching the chamber.  They must have suddenly come round some passage corner, for it was evident by the sound that they were close upon us before we had any warning of their advent.  At this very minute Mr. Horne was somewhat embarrassed in his attempts, and was not fully in possession of his usual active powers of movement, nor of his usual presence of mind.  He only looked for escape; and seeing a door partly open, he with difficulty retreated through it, and I followed him.  We found that we were in a small dressing-room; and as by good luck the door was defended by an inner bolt, my friend was able to protect himself.

“There shall be another siege, at any rate as stout as the last, before I surrender,” said he.

As the ladies seemed inclined to linger in the room it became a matter of importance that the above-named articles should fit, not only for ornament but for use.  It was very cold, and Mr. Horne was altogether unused to move in a Highland sphere of life.  But alas, alas!  General Chassé had not been nurtured in the classical retirement of Ollerton.  The ungiving leather would stretch no point to accommodate the divine, though it had been willing to minister to the convenience of the soldier.  Mr. Horne was vexed and chilled; and throwing the now hateful garments into a corner, and protecting himself from the cold as best he might by standing with his knees together and his body somewhat bent so as to give the skirts of his coat an opportunity of doing extra duty, he begged me to see if those jabbering females were not going to leave him in peace to recover his own property.  I accordingly went to the door, and opening it to a small extent I peeped through.

Who shall describe my horror at the sight which I then saw?  The scene, which had hitherto been tinted with comic effect, was now becoming so decidedly tragic that I did not dare at once to acquaint my worthy pastor with that which was occurring,—and, alas! had already occurred.

Five country-women of our own—it was easy to know them by their dress and general aspect—were standing in the middle of the room; and one of them, the centre of the group, the senior harpy of the lot, a maiden lady—I could have sworn to that—with a red nose, held in one hand a huge pair of scissors, and in the other—the already devoted goods of my most unfortunate companion!  Down from the waistband, through that goodly expanse, a fell gash had already gone through and through; and in useless, unbecoming disorder the broadcloth fell pendant from her arm on this side and on that.  At that moment I confess that I had not the courage to speak to Mr. Horne,—not even to look at him.

I must describe that group.  Of the figure next to me I could only see the back.  It was a broad back done up in black silk not of the newest.  The whole figure, one may say, was dumpy.  The black silk was not long, as dresses now are worn, nor wide in its skirts.  In every way it was skimpy, considering the breadth it had to cover; and below the silk I saw the heels of two thick shoes, and enough to swear by of two woollen stockings.  Above the silk was a red and blue shawl; and above that a ponderous, elaborate brown bonnet, as to the materials of which I should not wish to undergo an examination.  Over and beyond this I could only see the backs of her two hands.  They were held up as though in wonder at that which the red-nosed holder of the scissors had dared to do.

Opposite to this lady, and with her face fully tamed to me, was a kindly-looking, fat motherly woman, with light-coloured hair, not in the best order.  She was hot and scarlet with exercise, being perhaps too stout for the steep steps of the fortress; and in one hand she held a handkerchief, with which from time to time she wiped her brow.  In the other hand she held one of the extremities of my friend’s property, feeling—good, careful soul!—what was the texture of the cloth.  As she did so, I could see a glance of approbation pass across her warm features.  I liked that lady’s face, in spite of her untidy hair, and felt that had she been alone my friend would not have been injured.

On either side of her there stood a flaxen-haired maiden, with long curls, large blue eyes, fresh red cheeks, an undefined lumpy nose, and large good-humoured mouth.  They were as like as two peas, only that one was half an inch taller than the other; and there was no difficulty in discovering, at a moment’s glance, that they were the children of that over-heated matron who was feeling the web of my friend’s cloth.

But the principal figure was she who held the centre place in the group.  She was tall and thin, with fierce-looking eyes, rendered more fierce by the spectacles which she wore; with a red nose as I said before; and about her an undescribable something which quite convinced me that she had never known—could never know—aught of the comforts of married life.  It was she who held the scissors and the black garments.  It was she who had given that unkind cut.  As I looked at her she whisked herself quickly round from one companion to the other, triumphing in what she had done, and ready to triumph further in what she was about to do.  I immediately conceived a deep hatred for that Queen of the Harpies.

“Well, I suppose they can’t be wanted again,” said the mother, rubbing her forehead.

“Oh dear no!” said she of the red nose.  “They are relics!”  I thought to leap forth; but for what purpose should I have leaped?  The accursed scissors had already done their work; and the symmetry, nay, even the utility of the vestment was destroyed.

“General Chassé wore a very good article;—I will say that for him,” continued the mother.

“Of course he did!” said the Queen Harpy.  “Why should he not, seeing that the country paid for it for him?  Well, ladies, who’s for having a bit?”

“Oh my! you won’t go for to cut them up,” said the stout back.

“Won’t I,” said the scissors; and she immediately made another incision.  “Who’s for having a bit?  Don’t all speak at once.”

“I should like a morsel for a pincushion,” said flaxen-haired Miss No. 1, a young lady about nineteen, actuated by a general affection for all sword-bearing, fire-eating heroes.  “I should like to have something to make me think of the poor general!”

Snip, snip went the scissors with professional rapidity, and a round piece was extracted from the back of the calf of the left leg.  I shuddered with horror; and so did the Rev. Augustus Horne with cold.

“I hardly think it’s proper to cut them up,” said Miss No. 2.

“Oh isn’t it?” said the harpy.  “Then I’ll do what’s improper!”  And she got her finger and thumb well through the holes in the scissors’ handles.  As she spoke resolution was plainly marked on her brow.

“Well, if they are to be cut up, I should certainly like a bit for a pen-wiper,” said No. 2.  No. 2 was a literary young lady with a periodical correspondence, a journal, and an album.  Snip, snip went the scissors again, and the broad part of the upper right division afforded ample materials for a pen-wiper.

Then the lady with the back, seeing that the desecration of the article had been completed, plucked up heart of courage and put in her little request; “I think I might have a needle-case out of it,” said she, “just as a suvneer of the poor general”—and a long fragment cut rapidly out of the waistband afforded her unqualified delight.

Mamma, with the hot face and untidy hair, came next.  “Well, girls,” she said, “as you are all served, I don’t see why I’m to be left out.  Perhaps, Miss Grogram”—she was an old maid, you see—“perhaps, Miss Grogram, you could get me as much as would make a decent-sized reticule.”

There was not the slightest difficulty in doing this.  The harpy in the centre again went to work, snip, snip, and extracting from that portion of the affairs which usually sustained the greater portion of Mr. Horne’s weight two large round pieces of cloth, presented them to the well-pleased matron.  “The general knew well where to get a bit of good broadcloth, certainly,” said she, again feeling the pieces.

“And now for No. 1,” said she whom I so absolutely hated; “I think there is still enough for a pair of slippers.  There’s nothing so nice for the house as good black cloth slippers that are warm to the feet and don’t show the dirt.”  And so saying, she spread out on the floor the lacerated remainders.

“There’s a nice bit there,” said young lady No. 2, poking at one of the pockets with the end of her parasol.

“Yes,” said the harpy, contemplating her plunder.  “But I’m thinking whether I couldn’t get leggings as well.  I always wear leggings in the thick of the winter.”  And so she concluded her operations, and there was nothing left but a melancholy skeleton of seams and buttons.

All this having been achieved, they pocketed their plunder and prepared to depart.  There are people who have a wonderful appetite for relics.  A stone with which Washington had broken a window when a boy—with which he had done so or had not, for there is little difference; a button that was on a coat of Napoleon’s, or on that of one of his lackeys; a bullet said to have been picked up at Waterloo or Bunker’s Hill; these, and suchlike things are great treasures.  And their most desirable characteristic is the ease with which they are attained.  Any bullet or any button does the work.  Faith alone is necessary.  And now these ladies had made themselves happy and glorious with “Relics” of General Chassé cut from the ill-used habiliments of an elderly English gentleman!

They departed at last, and Mr. Horne, for once in an ill humour, followed me into the bedroom.  Here I must be excused if I draw a veil over his manly sorrow at discovering what fate had done for him.  Remember what was his position, unclothed in the Castle of Antwerp!  The nearest suitable change for those which had been destroyed was locked up in his portmanteau at the Hôtel de Belle Rue in Brussels!  He had nothing left to him—literally nothing, in that Antwerp world.  There was no other wretched being wandering then in that Dutch town so utterly denuded of the goods of life.  For what is a man fit,—for what can he be fit,—when left in such a position?  There are some evils which seem utterly to crush a man; and if there be any misfortune to which a man may be allowed to succumb without imputation on his manliness, surely it is such as this.  How was Mr. Horne to return to his hotel without incurring the displeasure of the municipality?  That was my first thought.

He had a cloak, but it was at the inn; and I found that my friend was oppressed with a great horror at the idea of being left alone; so that I could not go in search of it.  There is an old saying, that no man is a hero to his valet de chambre, the reason doubtless being this, that it is customary for his valet to see the hero divested of those trappings in which so much of the heroic consists.  Who reverences a clergyman without his gown, or a warrior without his sword and sabre-tasche?  What would even Minerva be without her helmet?

I do not wish it to be understood that I no longer reverenced Mr. Horne because he was in an undress; but he himself certainly lost much of his composed, well-sustained dignity of demeanour.  He was fearful and querulous, cold, and rather cross.  When, forgetting his size, I offered him my own, he thought that I was laughing at him.  He began to be afraid that the story would get abroad, and he then and there exacted a promise that I would never tell it during his lifetime.  I have kept my word; but now my old friend has been gathered to his fathers, full of years.

At last I got him to the hotel.  It was long before he would leave the castle, cloaked though he was;—not, indeed, till the shades of evening had dimmed the outlines of men and things, and made indistinct the outward garniture of those who passed to and fro in the streets.  Then, wrapped in his cloak, Mr. Horne followed me along the quays and through the narrowest of the streets; and at length, without venturing to return the gaze of any one in the hotel court, he made his way up to his own bedroom.

Dinnerless and supperless he went to his couch.  But when there he did consent to receive some consolation in the shape of mutton cutlets and fried potatoes, a savory omelet, and a bottle of claret.  The mutton cutlets and fried potatoes at the Golden Fleece at Antwerp are—or were then, for I am speaking now of well-nigh thirty years since—remarkably good; the claret, also, was of the best; and so, by degrees, the look of despairing dismay passed from his face, and some scintillations of the old fire returned to his eyes.

“I wonder whether they find themselves much happier for what they have got?” said he.

“A great deal happier,” said I.  “They’ll boast of those things to all their friends at home, and we shall doubtless see some account of their success in the newspapers.”

“It would be delightful to expose their blunder,—to show them up.  Would it not, George?  To turn the tables on them?”

“Yes,” said I, “I should like to have the laugh against them.”

“So would I, only that I should compromise myself by telling the story.  It wouldn’t do at all to have it told at Oxford with my name attached to it.”

To this also I assented.  To what would I not have assented in my anxiety to make him happy after his misery?

But all was not over yet.  He was in bed now, but it was necessary that he should rise again on the morrow.  At home, in England, what was required might perhaps have been made during the night; but here, among the slow Flemings, any such exertion would have been impossible.  Mr. Horne, moreover, had no desire to be troubled in his retirement by a tailor.

Now the landlord of the Golden Fleece was a very stout man,—a very stout man indeed.  Looking at him as he stood with his hands in his pockets at the portal of his own establishment, I could not but think that he was stouter even than Mr. Horne.  But then he was certainly much shorter, and the want of due proportion probably added to his unwieldy appearance.  I walked round him once or twice wishfully, measuring him in my eye, and thinking of what texture might be the Sunday best of such a man.  The clothes which he then had on were certainly not exactly suited to Mr. Horne’s tastes.

He saw that I was observing him, and appeared uneasy and offended.  I had already ascertained that he spoke a little English.  Of Flemish I knew literally nothing, and in French, with which probably he was also acquainted, I was by no means voluble.  The business which I had to transact was intricate, and I required the use of my mother-tongue.

It was intricate and delicate, and difficult withal.  I began by remarking on the weather, but he did not take my remarks kindly.  I am inclined to fancy that he thought I was desirous of borrowing money from him.  At any rate he gave me no encouragement in my first advances.

“Vat misfortune?” at last he asked, when I had succeeded in making him understand that a gentleman up stairs required his assistance.

“He has lost these things,” and I took hold of my own garments.  “It’s a long story, or I’d tell you how; but he has not a pair in the world till he gets back to Brussels,—unless you can lend him one.”

“Lost hees br-?” and he opened his eyes wide, and looked at me with astonishment.

“Yes, yes, exactly so,” said I, interrupting him.  “Most astonishing thing, isn’t it?  But it’s quite true.”

“Vas hees money in de pocket?” asked my auspicious landlord.

“No, no, no.  It’s not so bad as that, his money is all right.  I had the money, luckily.”

“Ah! dat is better.  But he have lost hees b-?”

“Yes, yes;” I was now getting rather impatient.  “There is no mistake about it.  He has lost them as sure as you stand there.”  And then I proceeded to explain that as the gentleman in question was very stout, and as he, the landlord, was stoat also, he might assist us in this great calamity by a loan from his own wardrobe.

When he found that the money was not in the pocket, and that his bill therefore would be paid, he was not indisposed to be gracious.  He would, he said, desire his servant to take up what was required to Mr. Horne’s chamber.  I endeavoured to make him understand that a sombre colour would be preferable; but he only answered that he would put the best that he had at the gentleman’s disposal.  He could not think of offering anything less than his best on such an occasion.  And then he turned his back and went his way, muttering as he went something in Flemish, which I believed to be an exclamation of astonishment that any man should, under any circumstances, lose such an article.

It was now getting late; so when I had taken a short stroll by myself, I went to bed without disturbing Mr. Horne again that night.  On the following morning I thought it best not to go to him unless he sent for me; so I desired the boots to let him know that I had ordered breakfast in a private room, and that I would await him there unless he wished to see me.  He sent me word back to say that he would be with me very shortly.

He did not keep me waiting above half an hour, but I confess that that half hour was not pleasantly spent.  I feared that his temper would be tried in dressing, and that he would not be able to eat his breakfast in a happy state of mind.  So that when I heard his heavy footstep advancing along the passage my heart did misgive me, and I felt that I was trembling.

That step was certainly slower and more ponderous than usual.  There was always a certain dignity in the very sound of his movements, but now this seemed to have been enhanced.  To judge merely by the step one would have said that a bishop was coming that way instead of a prebendary.

And then he entered.  In the upper half of his august person no alteration was perceptible.  The hair was as regular and as graceful as ever, the handkerchief as white, the coat as immaculate; but below his well-filled waistcoat a pair of red plush began to shine in unmitigated splendour, and continued from thence down to within an inch above his knee; nor, as it appeared, could any pulling induce them to descend lower.  Mr. Horne always wore black silk stockings,—at least so the world supposed, but it was now apparent that the world had been wrong in presuming him to be guilty of such extravagance.  Those, at any rate, which he exhibited on the present occasion were more economical.  They were silk to the calf, but thence upwards they continued their career in white cotton.  These then followed the plush; first two snowy, full-sized pillars of white, and then two jet columns of flossy silk.  Such was the appearance, on that well-remembered morning, of the Rev. Augustus Horne, as he entered the room in which his breakfast was prepared.

I could see at a glance that a dark frown contracted his eyebrows, and that the compressed muscles of his upper lip gave a strange degree of austerity to his open face.  He carried his head proudly on high, determined to be dignified in spite of his misfortunes, and advanced two steps into the room without a remark, as though he were able to show that neither red plush nor black cloth could disarrange the equal poise of his mighty mind!

And after all what are a man’s garments but the outward husks in which the fruit is kept, duly tempered from the wind?

“The rank is but the guinea stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.”

And is not the tailor’s art as little worthy, as insignificant as that of the king who makes

“A marquis, duke, and a’ that”?

Who would be content to think that his manly dignity depended on his coat and waistcoat, or his hold on the world’s esteem on any other garment of usual wear?  That no such weakness soiled his mind Mr. Horne was determined to prove; and thus he entered the room with measured tread, and stern dignified demeanour.

Having advanced two steps his eye caught mine.  I do not know whether he was moved by some unconscious smile on my part;—for in truth I endeavoured to seem as indifferent as himself to the nature of his dress;—or whether he was invincibly tickled by some inward fancy of his own, but suddenly his advancing step ceased, a broad flash of comic humour spread itself over his features, he retreated with his back against the wall, and then burst out into an immoderate roar of loud laughter.

And I—what else could I then do but laugh?  He laughed, and I laughed.  He roared, and I roared.  He lifted up his vast legs to view till the rays of the morning sun shone through the window on the bright hues which he displayed; and he did not sit down to his breakfast till he had in every fantastic attitude shown off to the best advantage the red plush of which he had so recently become proud.

An Antwerp private cabriolet on that day reached the yard of the Hôtel de Belle Vue at about 4 p.m., and four waiters, in a frenzy of astonishment, saw the Reverend Augustus Horne descend from the vehicle and seek his chamber dressed in the garments which I have described.  But I am inclined to think that he never again favoured any of his friends with such a sight.

It was on the next evening after this that I went out to drink tea with two maiden ladies, relatives of mine, who kept a seminary for English girls at Brussels.  The Misses Macmanus were very worthy women, and earned their bread in an upright, painstaking manner.  I would not for worlds have passed through Brussels without paying them this compliment.  They were, however, perhaps a little dull, and I was aware that I should not probably meet in their drawing-room many of the fashionable inhabitants of the city.  Mr. Horne had declined to accompany me; but in doing so he was good enough to express a warm admiration for the character of my worthy cousins.

The elder Miss Macmanus, in her little note, had informed me that she would have the pleasure of introducing me to a few of my “compatriots.”  I presumed she meant Englishmen; and as I was in the habit of meeting such every day of my life at home, I cannot say that I was peculiarly elevated by the promise.  When, however, I entered the room, there was no Englishman there;—there was no man of any kind.  There were twelve ladies collected together with the view of making the evening pass agreeably to me, the single virile being among them all.  I felt as though I were a sort of Mohammed in Paradise; but I certainly felt also that the Paradise was none of my own choosing.

In the centre of the amphitheatre which the ladies formed sat the two Misses Macmanus;—there, at least, they sat when they had completed the process of shaking hands with me.  To the left of them, making one wing of the semicircle, were arranged the five pupils by attending to whom the Misses Macmanus earned their living; and the other wing consisted of the five ladies who had furnished themselves with relics of General Chassé.  They were my “compatriots.”

I was introduced to them all, one after the other; but their names did not abide in my memory one moment.  I was thinking too much of the singularity of the adventure, and could not attend to such minutiæ.  That the red-rosed harpy was Miss Grogram, that I remembered;—that, I may say, I shall never forget.  But whether the motherly lady with the somewhat blowsy hair was Mrs. Jones, or Mrs. Green, or Mrs. Walker, I cannot now say.  The dumpy female with the broad back was always called Aunt Sally by the young ladies.

Too much sugar spoils one’s tea; I think I have heard that even prosperity will cloy when it comes in overdoses; and a schoolboy has been known to be overdone with jam.  I myself have always been peculiarly attached to ladies’ society, and have avoided bachelor parties as things execrable in their very nature.  But on this special occasion I felt myself to be that schoolboy;—I was literally overdone with jam.  My tea was all sugar, so that I could not drink it.  I was one among twelve.  What could I do or say?  The proportion of alloy was too small to have any effect in changing the nature of the virgin silver, and the conversation became absolutely feminine.

I must confess also that my previous experience as to these compatriots of mine had not prejudiced me in their favour.  I regarded them with,—I am ashamed to say so, seeing that they were ladies,—but almost with loathing.  When last I had seen them their occupation had reminded me of some obscene feast of harpies, or almost of ghouls.  They had brought down to the verge of desperation the man whom of all men I most venerated.  On these accounts I was inclined to be taciturn with reference to them;—and then what could I have to say to the Misses Macmanus’s five pupils?

My cousin at first made an effort or two in my favour, but these efforts were fruitless.  I soon died away into utter unrecognised insignificance, and the conversation, as I have before said, became feminine.  And indeed that horrid Miss Grogram, who was, as it were, the princess of the ghouls, nearly monopolised the whole of it.  Mamma Jones—we will call her Jones for the occasion—put in a word now and then, as did also the elder and more energetic Miss Macmanus.  The dumpy lady with the broad back ate tea-cake incessantly; the two daughters looked scornful, as though they were above their company with reference to the five pupils; and the five pupils themselves sat in a row with the utmost propriety, each with her hands crossed on her lap before her.

Of what they were talking at last I became utterly oblivious.  They had ignored me, going into realms of muslin, questions of maid-servants, female rights, and cheap under-clothing; and I therefore had ignored them.  My mind had gone back to Mr. Horne and his garments.  While they spoke of their rights, I was thinking of his wrongs; when they mentioned the price of flannel, I thought of that of broadcloth.

But of a sudden my attention was arrested.  Miss Macmanus had said something of the black silks of Antwerp, when Miss Grogram replied that she had just returned from that city and had there enjoyed a great success.  My cousin had again asked something about the black silks, thinking, no doubt, that Miss Grogram had achieved some bargain, but that lady had soon undeceived her.

“Oh no,” said Miss Grogram, “it was at the castle.  We got such beautiful relics of General Chassé!  Didn’t we, Mrs. Jones?”

“Indeed we did,” said Mrs. Jones, bringing out from beneath the skirts of her dress and ostensibly displaying a large black bag.

“And I’ve got such a beautiful needle-case,” said the broad-back, displaying her prize.  “I’ve been making it up all the morning.”  And she handed over the article to Miss Macmanus.

“And only look at this duck of a pen-wiper,” simpered flaxen-hair No. 2.  “Only think of wiping one’s pens with relics of General Chassé!” and she handed it over to the other Miss Macmanus.

“And mine’s a pin-cushion,” said No. 1, exhibiting the trophy.

“But that’s nothing to what I’ve got,” said Miss Grogram.  “In the first place, there’s a pair of slippers,—a beautiful pair;—they’re not made up yet, of course; and then—”

The two Misses Macmanus and their five pupils were sitting open-eared, open-eyed, and open-mouthed.  How all these sombre-looking articles could be relics of General Chassé did not at first appear clear to them.

“What are they, Miss Grogram?” said the elder Miss Macmanus, holding the needle-case in one hand and Mrs. Jones’s bag in the other.  Miss Macmanus was a strong-minded female, and I reverenced my cousin when I saw the decided way in which she intended to put down the greedy arrogance of Miss Grogram.

“They are relics.”

“But where do they come from, Miss Grogram?”

“Why, from the castle, to be sure;—from General Chassé’s own rooms.”

“Did anybody sell them to you?”

“No.”

“Or give them to you?”

“Why, no;—at least not exactly give.”

“There they were, and she took ’em,” said the broad-back.  Oh, what a look Miss Grogram gave her!  “Took them! of course I took them.  That is, you took them as much as I did.  They were things that we found lying about.”

“What things?” asked Miss Macmanus, in a peculiarly strong-minded tone.

Miss Grogram seemed to be for a moment silenced.  I had been ignored, as I have said, and my existence forgotten; but now I observed that the eyes of the culprits were turned towards me,—the eyes, that is, of four of them.  Mrs. Jones looked at me from beneath her fan; the two girls glanced at me furtively, and then their eyes fell to the lowest flounces of their frocks.

Miss Grogram turned her spectacles right upon me, and I fancied that she nodded her head at me as a sort of answer to Miss Macmanus.  The five pupils opened their mouths and eyes wider; but she of the broad back was nothing abashed.  It would have been nothing to her had there been a dozen gentlemen in the room.  “We just found a pair of black—.”  The whole truth was told in the plainest possible language.

“Oh, Aunt Sally!”  “Aunt Sally, how can you?”  “Hold your tongue, Aunt Sally!”

“And then Miss Grogram just cut them up with her scissors,” continued Aunt Sally, not a whit abashed, “and gave us each a bit, only she took more than half for herself.”  It was clear to me that there had been some quarrel, some delicious quarrel, between Aunt Sally and Miss Grogram.  Through the whole adventure I had rather respected Aunt Sally.  “She took more than half for herself,” continued Aunt Sally.  “She kept all the—”

“Jemima,” said the elder Miss Macmanus, interrupting the speaker and addressing her sister, “it is time, I think, for the young ladies to retire.  Will you be kind enough to see them to their rooms?”  The five pupils thereupon rose from their seats—and courtesied.  They then left the room in file, the younger Miss Macmanus showing them the way.

“But we haven’t done any harm, have we?” asked Mrs. Jones, with some tremulousness in her voice.

“Well, I don’t know,” said Miss Macmanus.  “What I’m thinking of now is this;—to whom, I wonder, did the garments properly belong?  Who had been the owner and wearer of them?”

“Why, General Chassé of course,” said Miss Grogram.

“They were the general’s,” repeated the two young ladies; blushing, however, as they alluded to the subject.

“Well, we thought they were the general’s, certainly; and a very excellent article they were,” said Mrs. Jones.

“Perhaps they were the butler’s?” said Aunt Sally.  I certainly had not given her credit for so much sarcasm.

“Butler’s!” exclaimed Miss Grogram, with a toss of her head.

“Oh, Aunt Sally, Aunt Sally! how can you?” shrieked the two young ladies.

“Oh laws!” ejaculated Mrs. Jones.

“I don’t think that they could have belonged to the butler,” said Miss Macmanus, with much authority, “seeing that domestics in this country are never clad in garments of that description; so far my own observation enables me to speak with certainty.  But it is equally sure that they were never the property of the general lately in command at Antwerp.  Generals, when they are in full dress, wear ornamental lace upon their—their regimentals; and when—”  So much she said, and something more, which it may be unnecessary that I should repeat; but such were her eloquence and logic that no doubt would have been left on the mind of any impartial hearer.  If an argumentative speaker ever proved anything, Miss Macmanus proved that General Chassé had never been the wearer of the article in question.

“But I know very well they were his!” said Miss Grogram, who was not an impartial hearer.  “Of course they were; whose else’s should they be?”

“I’m sure I hope they were his,” said one of the young ladies, almost crying.

“I wish I’d never taken it,” said the other.

“Dear, dear, dear!” said Mrs. Jones.

“I’ll give you my needle-case, Miss Grogram,” said Aunt Sally.

I had sat hitherto silent during the whole scene, meditating how best I might confound the red-nosed harpy.  Now, I thought, was the time for me to strike in.

“I really think, ladies, that there has been some mistake,” said I.

“There has been no mistake at all, sir!” said Miss Grogram.

“Perhaps not,” I answered, very mildly; “very likely not.  But some affair of a similar nature was very much talked about in Antwerp yesterday.”

“Oh laws!” again ejaculated Mrs. Jones.

“The affair I allude to has been talked about a good deal, certainly,” I continued.  “But perhaps it may be altogether a different circumstance.”

“And what may be the circumstance to which you allude?” asked Miss Macmanus, in the same authoritative tone.

“I dare say it has nothing to do with these ladies,” said I; “but an article of dress, of the nature they have described, was cut up in the Castle of Antwerp on the day before yesterday.  It belonged to a gentleman who was visiting the place; and I was given to understand that he is determined to punish the people who have wronged him.”

“It can’t be the same,” said Miss Grogram; but I could see that she was trembling.

“Oh laws! what will become of us?” said Mrs. Jones.

“You can all prove that I didn’t touch them, and that I warned her not,” said Aunt Sally.  In the mean time the two young ladies had almost fainted behind their fans.

“But how had it come to pass,” asked Miss Macmanus, “that the gentleman had—”

“I know nothing more about it, cousin,” said I; “only it does seem that there is an odd coincidence.”

Immediately after this I took my leave.  I saw that I had avenged my friend, and spread dismay in the hearts of these who had injured him.  I had learned in the course of the evening at what hotel the five ladies were staying; and in the course of the next morning I sauntered into the hall, and finding one of the porters alone, asked if they were still there.  The man told me that they had started by the earliest diligence.  “And,” said he, “if you are a friend of theirs, perhaps you will take charge of these things, which they have left behind them?”  So saying, he pointed to a table at the back of the hall, on which were lying the black bag, the black needle-case, the black pin cushion, and the black pen-wiper.  There was also a heap of fragments of cloth which I well knew had been intended by Miss Grogram for the comfort of her feet and ancles.

I declined the commission, however.  “They were no special friends of mine,” I said; and I left all the relics still lying on the little table in the back hall.

“Upon the whole, I am satisfied!” said the Rev. Augustus Horne, when I told him the finale of the story.

DGG fur DMdJ

 

 

Tom Sheehan ~ A Chapter In Search of a Novel

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dm29d

 

Morning came bright and eager, and the barest chill bit the air, as Cable looked out over the small piece of Sunquit visible from Frank Keating’s deck. From every quarter came evidence of the storm, debris scattered as if giant baskets had been emptied on the land. Trees had been ripped out of the ground and tossed singly or in piles, their limbs shorn of leaves, bark stripped in huge rents. Every point at the high water mark was littered with wood, huge planks torn from God knows where, boards of every description, two by fours and moldings and fashioned woodwork and now and then large sheets of plywood scaled to a hard resting place, partly buried in sand or debris piles. He could see boat parts of upper decks driven high up on the shore and thought of the agony associated with each piece, the drama which might have surfaced at their rending.

Cable inspected the cottage from stem to stern and the balance of Frank’s property, finding only loose shingles pried from the garage by the relentless force of the wind, a shed door under the line of green shrubs at the roadway. Some of the older trees had been hit heavily and he wondered what had happened at May Keating’s cottage as he remembered her remarks on the telephone. Through the long night she had been a companion of sorts to him, passing in and out of his mind in one frame or another, in one degree or another, vital as hung breath. She was permanently wedded with the wind in his memory, sheer silhouette of silhouettes. When he recalled the ferocity of the wind’s gusts, the high pitch of its moaning in the downspouts and trim gutters, the bumping and banging and grinding sounds the night had been full of, he felt the energy and drive that were, to him, visible parts of her. He knew that whenever the wind came at him, whenever it blew in whatever place in whatever time, from now on he would think of her. She was burned that way into his memory, an image of enormous power, an idea of near omnipotence, which made him laugh at the ridiculousness of his thought, but only for a moment.  She is goddamn real, he said to himself, as the air touched at his forehead and bare arms, left signatures of complicity on the perimeter of his soul.

Coffee aroma flew on the air. People coming about, he thought, rising from the darkness of the storm, from the deep night of awful sounds and rampant terror; people up with the sun, up with their hopes, up with tools at hand to repair damage and get on with their days. A known pulse worked in his arms, in his legs. He thought it the surest of his experience.

He dialed May Keating’s number and heard no dial tone at all. He slid on an old pair of suntans, a gray T-shirt and boots that had served him a good deal of the road. The boots were a reminder of reality. They did not allow him to dream very much, wearing oil from too many pit stops, gravel residues from so many waysides, a thin grayish-white line that spoke of salt water complexion, prairie dust and mountain grain. The panorama of all his travels wove in and out of his mind; scenes recalled other scenes and faces brought out the features of forgotten miens lost down some lane or alley or down a country road falling away under a line of maples running all the way under a leaning mountain.  His life had always been at departure, or at the brink of it.

He knew what his mind was doing to him: summoning all these pictures and views of all the places he had been, all the people he had met. It was a lesson in self-teasing, baiting himself, positioning himself, measuring himself, finding himself still alone in the world. And May Keating was around the corner, the promise of the Lost Covenant, the Last Chance Saloon, a spirited partner of her near dead husband. He shook his head, trying to shake her off, pushing her to a deeper recess, indicting his awful fancies.

As an artifice, he brought back Meghan MacHearne, in her cabin in the High Sierras, in her jeans, arched, furrowed, molded to the back of his mind. A fragrance, soft as violets, but rich and ripe in a quiet way, came back on him. She seemed always to wear things of the field as part of her dress; a daisy, a sprig of unknown name and unnamed aroma, on her blouse once a flower so red he thought her heart had burst, herbs that seemed to spring their essences out of her pockets. Hands thrust into her deep pockets spoke of wildness and unknown rhythms. She should have been anyone’s rival, with hair black as the mountain valley at night, a laughter that was as soothing as a holiday at home, hands of the sculptress on a divine mission, lips the very lava had touched. That they had passed in the night was not, at length, a great surprise to him. In the morning they would never be able to talk, but she could, in the meantime, be an adversary of May Keating, a counter-balance, a point of argument, someone to keep him on his toes. She faded as quickly as she had come, as quickly as she had been summoned, folding into the line of flush maples along a road rising toward a distant mountain.

For a moment he tried to fathom a sense of motion, a trail of movement working in him, the cause and effect of his own travels. Brief hits here, brief hits there, in his mind, just as they were in his life, the itinerant wanderer meeting people like Meghan MacHearne, pausing at the edge of beauty itself, tasting, moving on, driven by an inner cause more powerful than any he could muster. On so many nights, as on this day, he had searched into the marrow and the ganglia matter that stored up all he had seen, had partaken of, the desired roads, the undesired roads, the whole psyche and its travelogue. He had great difficulty in getting to the gist of any reasonable explanation. It was as much apparition as any spirited essence, misty, believable, faint, as real as the nearest substance, unyielding in its makeup.

He thought of inventors or scientists as they plied away at a lifelong task, knowing what they wanted to reach but never having a clear idea, a clear vision, of how they would reach that desired plateau. So many had labored lovingly and endlessly for all their lives and had never reached that sacred plateau.  Not that he placed himself under any such noble endeavors, but he too was grasped in this almost endless task of getting someplace. It tore wretchedly at his innards at times, and much in moments like these when he deliberated on his very next step. Options came and went as quickly as did deep breaths.

The unnamed and untouched and unknown energy of May Keating came back as strong as ever. It was as if he had always known what her make up was, how she was really molded. It was magnetic, pulling him along. He put on a dark green sweater he had found in a closet, not looking any further. As yet he had not looked into any mirror and felt no desire to do so. He shrugged at the lesser of options. Outside the skies were silent and sunlit, the sea a slow monotone.

Slowly over the beaten terrain he walked, measuring the impact of the storm, the local damage piled about him, mostly trees and huge limbs, now and then pieces of boats or houses or sheds or who knows what. At the Keating cottage, a line of roof shingles was torn away, a shed splintered, a huge limb stabbed the deck. The windows, though, were all in place. The slight drift of coffee’s aroma touched at his nostrils. He smelled toast turning a blackened edge, thought he heard bacon turning up its toes in a skittle, rankling to be heard.

In the frame of the doorway she stood, watching him. He’s measuring everything, she thought, seeing his gaze shift from one object or condition to the next. He was tall, hardness about him, a more than ample alertness. He did not move quickly, but dwelt on different points. His hands were expressing himself, though she could not read them. The shoulders were wide enough for any load. She waved energetically. He did not see her.

“Is someone there?” asked Peirce from his ever bed by the seaside window.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s that friend of Frank’s I told you about. Said he’d be by this morning to check on that limb. It’s gone straight through the deck, just the way you pictured it would if it ever let go. I’m afraid the deck’s gone, but it’s not such a heavy loss. At least we’re dry.” She had wanted to say ‘intact’, but had caught herself, just as she had done so often. Just as she had trained herself.

“Do you think he’s coming in?” Peirce’s voice had a new edge to it, a bit of excitement.

“Yes,” she said. “He’ll come in. He said he’d come.” There was a pronouncement she wondered if Peirce had sensed.

“Tell me about him,” Peirce said. “Quickly! What’s he like? Is he tall or short? Does he have good eyes? “Only his head moved in the bed, his lips.

He had not been so animate in months. May looked over at him. He was board-straight and grinning at her. That grin used to knock her off her feet, often knocked her socks off. She felt warmth rising in her cheeks. His eyes were actually alive and blossoming, pushing at her. “Does he have that energy quotient we used to speak of? Remember how we used to measure everybody, doers and don’ters, woulders and won’ters? Is he like one of them? Can you tell yet?” His voice took on a suddenly serious tone. “Do you really think he’s a good reader, May? Would he be that kind of a doer?” His voice faded in a quick relapse, shorn so hurriedly of its good tone, its excitement. She bristled to attention.

“Peirce,” she said, and he knowingly accepted her direct use of his name as a signal of the intent she was about to utter, “He’s one of the strongest ones yet, if not the strongest. He’s tall, has wide shoulders, two children could ride on them. He is alert. I think he notices everything. Maybe, when he’s not conscious of it, he stands like a Marine at a ceremony. Only it’s not bluster, not on parade. More like he’s making some type of salute or paying very special attention to something or someone.”

Her head tilted slightly in support of her statement. Peirce read the incidental trait she had long practiced, one he had long been accustomed to, one that he had never shared with her and this time again, as on every other interpretation, made him feel an extraordinary guilt.

“Did he notice you, May?” His voice had picked up again.

“Yes, I think so.”

“Oh, God!” he said, “maybe this is the one.”

“Peirce, if you say it one more time, I’ll…”

“You’ll kill me! Christ, May, if I could get to the goddamn gun I’d do it myself! And you know it! I would have done it a thousand times, May, a thousand times. Pulled the trigger myself. Now tell me more about him.”

“He’s not a vagrant, not the kind you think of as sliding around, sucking up on things. But he does move, maybe not in fashion, but at his own pace. He’s probably a true nomad in denim. I don’t think we’ve met anyone like him around here. At least, not recently. I think he’s in command, rather than being tossed about at will. Perhaps some design in his travel. It’s not like he’s hoping to find something. More like he knows he’s going to find it, but doesn’t know where or when.”

“He’s really likable, May?” There was pure entreaty in his voice.

“He’s really likable, Peirce. And he’s coming up to the door now.”

When Traegger Cable stepped through the door, Peirce Keating was barely able to see him, but he knew a new man was in the room. He ached to talk to him, to ask questions, to see what life had done to another man, how he handled what had come his way. The energy was not awesome, but it was real. It moved about in the room, he was positive of that. An energy field, unseen but known, coupled them and Peirce thought immediately of Wally Dascomb and how he had wanted to fly, and how that desire emanated from his soul right up to the moment of his crash.

“You haven’t done so badly here,” said Cable. “The deck is gone, a few shingles, but that’s about it. You’re luckier than some.” He turned to Peirce. “My name is Traegger Cable. I’m a friend of Frank Mitman’s and I met your wife last evening when she got wrapped up in her sheets out there on the porch. I like to think that I helped her out of her difficulty, but you know, Mr. Keating, she looks good in sheets.”

Peirce Keating had the first honest laugh in months, a rollicking good laugh that turned contagious and brought May and Cable right into the fold of it.

“Some people, like Frank, have called me Trig. I answer to it mostly, but also answer dinner bells, calls for lunch, iron on iron for breakfast, mail call in Missoula, Montana whenever I’m there, and always help out ladies in any moment of distress.”

May spoke. “This is my husband, Peirce Keating. He was injured in an accident a few years ago and spends all his time here.” She motioned to the bed.

“I’m a lay-at-home, Trig.   I could be standing, but then I’d be a stand-at-home. It’s only a point of view from which way your eyeballs are pointed. May says you like to read. That it’s one of the reasons you came down here, kind of getting away from it all to read, huh?” It was a hopeful phrasing of the question.

“I brought a few with me, some I’ve tried unsuccessfully at times and want to get back at, or back into, whatever it is. Some I’ve been waiting a long time to get at.” He made it sound as if he were going to partake of a long-lost recipe preparation, a watering mouth waiting. “I’ve set pairs of them, twins you might say, for attempting, not really for classification.”

“Like private mind games?” asked Peirce, more excitement clearly readable in his voice.

“You’re absolutely right, Peirce,” he replied. “It’s a pleasure to be discovered.”

Peirce was lit with excitement. “Tell me some of them, please, but slow and easy so I can turn them over.” Another party in the room would have sworn that Peirce Keating was rolling in his bedclothes.

“Let’s see. There’s Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape and Peking Man by Shapiro.”

“Marvelous!” shouted Peirce. “Absolutely marvelous. The pair-bonding. Morris does justice to that. He’s incredible. You’ll love it! What else?”

“How about Lucifer’s Hammer and A Step Farther Out?” Cable paused for the expected reply.

“Hey, Trig, you’re doing a before and after, history and future. Those are Pournelle’s. Both slammers! Big hitters! Real big hitters, if you get what I mean.”

They both laughed a riotous laugh, buddies in the latrine telling a real inside story, board room knowledge of a subordinate out in the air, a privileged private inroad that May was utterly lost to. But a flavor began to ferment itself in a quiet part of her mind. She tried to measure each of them in turn. Peirce was too upbeat even to get a grasp on. She had not seen him this way in such short order in a long time. Traegger Cable, talking as if Peirce were the only person in the room, able to broadcast that feeling without rancor or misinterpretation of its intent, was not unreadable, only unbelievable. Peirce had promised her such a man.

On too many nights to be ignored, he had promised her a special man would come into her life and take his place. He had vowed this every time his nostrils had been full of her, his eyes had been full of her. She had come to believe it, the way myths are believed, or cast in precious stone, like a half understood religion has a grip on you; you dare not let go and you have no solid handle on which to hold. It was the way some poems were with her, full blown realities, feeling what the poet felt the moment he wrote the words, then the actual downhill sense of losing their import as she mouthed them over and over again, finding other meanings, other tastes, in them.

“You have more?” asked Peirce.

“Sure. Before breakfast I’m going to read Babylon Revisited and after breakfast I’m going to read Jubal Sackett by Louis Lamour.”

“To settle your stomach!”  roared Peirce. “To go to ground zero and start all over again!” May thought he would leap out of the bed. His voice had octaves not touched in months, ground not trespassed in a long time. Too long a time.

Heavy male laughter slopped in the room like wood being cut and piled up. It spilled over and over itself, heavy and full and so honest and so in tune May felt in a dream. She waited to be roused from this absolute moment of happiness, this moment of daring that hung in the air.  The laughter rolled and rolled and made a promise of tears. They were like children at play, at secrets, at clubhouse friendship no outsider could really understand. She suddenly thought of the Tavern at the country club Peirce once had become a member of, and from which she was excluded except on weekday afternoons between 12 and 4, and for slabby thick roast beef sandwiches slowly poisoning many male hearts. So many wives had referred to it as the Cabbage Court, as in Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery, and then it became Mrs. Wiggens’ Cabbage Patch, and then the Green Room, and finally they had settled on it as the Celtic Room. And the men kept swallowing the poison and accepting the new name and that limited association with Larry Bird and Bob Cousy and the one and only Bill Russell.

She too began to laugh and the room grew in size, leaped its slim bounds, eased out into the fullness that was the Cape after a serious storm, the air vibrant and shining and full of clean salt rising off the face of the not so serious Atlantic Ocean.

If another eye were put on them, if somebody were to peer in the window, new judgments would be made of the trio. May Keating absolutely bloomed in the midst of them, a literary menage a trois. Her eyes lit up by an inner flame, long, too long, subdued. Expressions leaping to her face, crowding it into old issues, freeing from a secret vault the unused traces of her innermost feelings, highlighting her golden cheeks, the mouth whose parts were the elegance of lips almost dripping with themselves. The very set of her jaw became for the moment softer in its iron than it had been since the very crucible which had set it.

That she wore a yellow flowered dress, designs as large as her frame could hold, butter-yellow, daisy-yellow, was not lost on either of the men. Peirce, in a quiet reveling, gloried in her selection, her not so subtle association with the color scheme of the porch incident the evening before. Her breasts were somewhere undercover, never being much ammunition, as she had often remarked, the nipples partly driven nails, often paying slight attention, standing only for the right company, the right touch, a proper sense in air.  The long curve of a thigh pressed itself through a flower. God, he thought, she can get magnificent! The blooming of her. The need of her.

Traegger Cable, too, took in that loveliness, the sheathed agreement of their first meeting, how yellow clung in curves, arches, turning darker where it was darker, tossing daylight about her, splashing it around, washing the lithe frame she carried with sunlight. Her hair, once again, shook loose, a forgotten attendant that sat lightly on the forehead, wind-worked as ever, playing a game, being innocent in the very breath that created motion.  Cable someplace, somewhere, had seen this pose, this framed moment. He struggled to find who or where, at what point of travel such a sight had been captured that it now came back to him so richly.

He searched his mind, plumbing for associations, placing a variety of images in action as sort of triggers to fire the past into the present. He synthesized faces and shapes and geographies in a scrambling match, saw them meld as whole creatures in known places. May, he kept saying to himself, is different, yet he had seen this vision before, down to all the ancillary details, but failed to find who it was. Her face glowed with inner warmth, a fire deep as earth fire. Peirce was absolutely puffed up by her appearance.  Cable saw that and it pleased him a great deal. The two of them were mesmerized by the aura of the woman, each having his own view of her, husband and stranger coming together in the wake of a terrible storm, two acolytes before the high priestess, and dread hungers as old as the tide washing on the beach below.

In one quick flash Cable found his vision. His mother’s sister, the lovely and vibrant Aunt Flo, audacious Flo, irreverent Flo, Flo of the sweet hands of gifts, Flo in an upstairs room mere feet from his tree house shaking off her dress, her slip, her bra and pants. She glided shoeless in the small visitor’s bedroom, never out of sight, breasts small but high up on her chest, hips subtly pronounced, thighs falling away so gracefully from their appointment, the light of the lamp throwing severe shadows on her body as she turned about the room. She bristled with energy and moved as if she knew he was looking on, transfixed, afraid to move, afraid of not looking. He would be found out. But in the morning she but smiled at him as she always did, a smile full of seasoning, a thoroughly wet kiss of a smile that made him tingle all over, a smile ripe as raspberries stolen from Kostopolous’ garden. He remembered old Ben Perkins talking on the steps of the poolroom. “It ain’t the good legs, boys, it’s the mystery of their ending that does it all.”

Now Cable tingled again, now he looked at May Keating, saw her move subtly in place, felt into his boot tops the beating his body now knew. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been told to read some Yeats. One old bo’ I met told me if I hadn’t read Yeats, then I hadn’t been reading yet.”

Peirce coughed once, then said, ‘On limestone quarried near the spot By his command these words were cut: Cast a cold eye On life, on death. Horseman, pass by!”

    The words hung in the room as cold as a new current of air off the Atlantic. May’s face was stone-still, not a muscle tic moved. Hands as sweet as Aunt Flo’s, full of promise, great gift bringers, hung suspended and useless. Cable was positive that Peirce would crack a joke, thrust a lever into the sudden coldness, use himself again as proxy to rescue, be the immolated guinea pig. When nothing came out of Peirce’s mouth, Cable dared himself to rescue the moment. The moment he started to speak, the moment he thought he was forming words soon to be said and heard, indeed with their sounds still birthing in his head, he was cut short by Peirce. What ran around in Cable’s head, what he thought he had said and was being heard was just a moan coursing over the rocks, lifting off his own sea wall, a long keening moan beating outward from an inner pile of debris. It was a startling revelation to the man. He had come indeed to the place where life began, to that point of land Frank had essayed so well. It had begun for him, a man on the idyllic run, footloose, carefree and happily irresponsible, but not without a hunger nearly buried to the eyes, in a room with a husband and wife who had survived a storm, a horrible accident, a most testing lifestyle, hardships on both sides so severe they could have easily done in others not as strong.

Cable experienced, in a few short moments, such a glare of intelligence and knowledge bursting within himself, he feared it would show on his face. I must be glowing, he thought, the blood rushing pell mell upon him, splashing through veins, hauling such clarity of oxygen along with it, such a shining he thought must be completely transparent. Brooding depths of May’s eyes were revealed to him, flowing from them such a demand for need and solace he knew was crystal clear, was being broadcast as much as an SOS from a distressed vessel. There, in the room, mere feet from him, clad in a bouquet of yellow flowers, being the irony of stonewalled defiance against life as it was, courage only skin deep, her need indeed having come up on the same beach from the center of life itself as he knew his had come, he saw the void circling around her. It swirled its apparition about her, a thin screen, veiled, less than gossamer, but fully enveloping all of her being.

His heart beat for her and he heard Peirce’s words as if they had hung on air.

“Isn’t that right there a most marvelous woman, mister?  Doesn’t she damn well explode in this room!  I mean REALLY explode!  She’s a sight for eyes after the storm, I’d say. J’ever see the likes of her! Standing like that, standing like a goddamn goddess! J’ever? J’ever?”

Then, quickly, his voice faded, as if shorn of all breath behind it, as if he had run up the steepest incline on his way to the victorious end of a long journey. Faint ripples at chest gave clue to inner turmoil. His eyes shifted through the prisms of the mirrors arranged above and about the bed, mirrors that provided him a view of just about everything in the room. His eyes searched Cable’s eyes, found May’s eyes, almost wed them as he moved between them there beside the primeval sea, beside the path out of the depths and up through which all creatures and monsters and people in all forms had come forth to be themselves: algae-like and grasping and rich-mouthed, salt of the sea sucked down into their bones and burning on their flesh, wash of the endless tides moving over them like the hands of the final masseuse, the stroking of a near-godhead figure.

In his mind Cable knew Peirce was moving in the still bed. No man could inflect more into his voice without putting his whole body behind his words. And he fully measured Peirce’s use of the word “mister,” one which exalted Cable to another level, one he himself could not attain.  Peirce was, just as Cable felt, crystal clear.

Traegger Cable accepted Peirce’s invitation for lunch, a light chicken May would toss together without much effort while he set about moving the fallen limb, which he moved away from the house with ease, cut with an old buck saw he had found in the cellar, stacked the cut lengths against the garage. A bit later May, he knew, was looking at him from the window of Peirce’s room and he tried not to set any pose, though her eyes were heavy on him. She’s talking to him, he thought, about what I’m doing, how I’m doing it. At sea the swells were minor, light gray, white-edged, long and furrowed the way an Iowa wheat field he once passed by had been plowed in the spring.  And here he was smack in the middle of a strange triangle. He thought of Peirce board-straight in the bed, his final bed. Departure was ever a threat.

Without a voluntary effort, he thought of May’s thighs in the flowered dress, how they could speak through the weave of the cloth, the heard voice, the unpronounced but spoken message lifted towards him, the anguish, the want, coming straight at him. There was more than arc, more than a coiled energy and want packed deeply in them.  Her pain gathered in him. His eyes closed. She was still there behind the eyelids. The old warnings and hungers rode boldly into the arena once more. Hungers had come fully prepared for the battle, arrayed, at oneness. He did not look at her in the window, seeing only the house and what it appeared to be: an island of two people he had not known more than a day earlier, set right on the plane of the earth. They had been waging their small war of survival before he had come along and, chances were good, they would wage it long after he had gone.

The wood cut and stacked. Cable turned his back on the window and acknowledged his sudden erection. He was positive she was aware of it, so much energy in the air.

His eyes closed, shutting out the piled logs and piled brush and puzzle of leaves lying about like scattered gloves, he thought of her parting herself, touching herself, behind the window, fingers wet, her mouth dry, puckered, salty, calf muscles and thigh muscles in minor rebellion. In a burst of light and energy, he willed the scene to happen behind him.

Peirce asked her again, “How is he doing? Tell me what he’s at. Does he move the same way at labor?”  He had framed the question in the most liquid manner possible. Of their attraction to each other, he was positive. It sat in the midst of the room as indelible as anything the air could carry or contain within itself. May would ride him gloriously, her mouth turned, open, in that frozen moment of ecstasy.

She whipped around to face him, her face full of the message filling up inside. “He’s a stranger, Peirce. A complete stranger. I swear, if you throw me at him you’ll be as sorry as any day of your life you can pick on.”

“You do like him though, don’t you?” he said, more than a question, but leaving the hint of a question in his words, as if room for argument, room as much as deference as for anything. “He’s strong looking, in a quiet way, don’t you agree?  What’s he doing now? I bet he doesn’t strain when he works, just a piece of music, smooth I’ll bet. Am I right?” His eyes fell on her buttocks as she stared out the window, saw them hard against the dress. An old dryness walked in his mouth.

“Do it for me, May. Do it now while you’re standing there, as if you’ll live forever.”

She turned slowly to face him. Her voice lacked conviction. “Peirce, it’s just noontime. He might walk back in here any minute. You can’t ask me to do it right now. It’s not fair.”

He saw the tightness sitting at the edge of her eyes, the faintest twitch to her lip, how her right hand hung beside her as limp as it could ever be. The secret aromas of her body crossed the room to him, for full seconds assailed him in the bed as if a gas had been released from a canister, catching up in his nostrils, riding in the back regions of his throat with a fullness difficult to understand. In that other time she had stood above him, only the vaguest neon of the motel falling across her whiteness, the blackest beauty of her crotch, her legs parted, her hands moving. A million times he saw the picture of her, generated and generated again and again, the sweeping and engulfing heat shooting through him, her mouth opening, the neon flicking on and off on her thighs, throwing the white of her buttocks sideways against the darkness as she turned for him, stood tall, white and lovely. His column of white loveliness. His Canada forever. His Niagara rampage. His starving wife.

He called her name, the soft sound of her name, a whisper that trailed faintly across the room. “May, do you have panties on?” His diminutive use of the word touched them both, as if it were an entryway or a signal.

She smiled. “You know I never wear them around you, Peirce.”  An honest light shone from her eyes. She shrugged imperceptibly, but a shrug that Peirce read and understood, a shrug that told him what road he was on and how much of it he could travel.

“Oh, May,” he said,” do it now, May. Do it now.”

She nodded at her prone husband, her mouth now too dry to talk, not a weariness but a small reservation touching her lightly, then immediately smiled and turned, perhaps cautiously, back to the window.

The sill was chest high. The stranger Cable was still at his task in the yard, his shoulders wide, his hands sure at grasping. In her left hand she gathered the front of her dress, bunched it and slowly pulled it up over long, white thighs elegant in their curving, over the full span of her buttocks, pulling the bunch of it tightly against her abdomen. The mound of her rear, like a half moon of golden light, shone at him, a creature freed from an erotic prison, almost a being in itself, muscled in a clearly provocative way.  His ears buzzed as he looked at the cleft parting it, saw the long sweep of her thighs rising to junctures. The painting of it was set into his mind forever, such a great expanse on her tall frame, such energy thrown into the long-arcing thighs, such a thickness to them that one would never guess of it looking at her fully dressed. Her right hand slipped slowly out of sight, her legs parted, an almost indeterminable motion presented itself to her body.

Her left hand gripped the clump of dress tightly. The hidden hand began to move. Cibola. Victoria. Mound from some starlit night. Ambiguity. Adolescence. Smashing fucking soft beauty to pieces and grabbing it back again. Building it. Making it come back again and again. Oh, again and again. Oh, relentless. Oh, savior of all my nights. Oh, savior of all my nights. Oh, lights on top of lights.

Her husband stared at her backside, the v’eed legs almost at a pulse, and the muscles of her entire frame in concentration. Her taste was in the air. He knew the sea again. All the sea.

Out the window the stranger, suddenly stopping at his task, turned, looked up and stared at her. For the briefest seconds, a trembling finding growth and reception in her legs, in a dozen parts of her body at once, the new sun cascading down on them, their eyes locked together. She thought of universal gravitation without saying the words. She shook. There was a silence in the world.  Water coming against the shore was less than a whisper.

She mouthed his name, and then, her face flushed, feeling the brilliance on it, the redness sitting there, she rode over that motioned pronouncement with her husband’s name; Peirce! Peirce! saying it the way he loved to hear it, urgently, softly, letting it fall to the floor of his room as an early leaf might fall to grass, gracefully, as good as promise can ever be.

She tasted the unity of the moment, fraught departure, the complexities, and then the ironies, every last one of them, building slowly in the air.

 

Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry, Korea 1951-52, and graduated Boston College in 1956. His books are Epic Cures; Brief Cases, Short Spans; Collection of Friends; From the Quickening; The Saugus Book; Ah, Devon Unbowed; Reflections from Vinegar Hill; This Rare Earth & Other Flights, and Vigilantes East.  eBooks include Korean Echoes (nominated for a Distinguished Military Award), The Westering, (nominated for National Book Award); from Hammer & Anvil Books are The Harry Krisman Mysteries ~ Murder at the Forum (an NHL mystery), Death of a Lottery Foe, Death by Punishment, and An Accountable Death. Co-editor of A Gathering of Memories, and Of Time and the River, two collections about our home town of Saugus, Massachusetts, both 400+ pages, 4500 copies sold, all proceeds from $40.00 each cost destined for a memorial scholarship for co-editor, John Burns, in the Saugus School system as director of the English Department at the High School for 45 years. After conception of the idea for the books, and John putting out the word for material to be included by former students, and with a proposal of actions and schedules prepared for a local bank, ten of his former students signed a loan for $60,000 to print two books not yet written!
Tom also has work in Ocean Magazine, Rosebud, Linnet’s Wings, Serving House Journal, Eclectica, Copperfield Review, KYSO Flash, La Joie Magazine, Soundings East, Vermont Literary Review, Literary Orphans, Indiana Voices Journal, Frontier Tales, Western Online Magazine, Provo Canyon Review, 3 AM Magazine, Vine Leaves Journal, Nazar Look, Eastlit, Rope & Wire Magazine, The Literary Yard, KYSO Journal, Green Silk Journal, Fiction on the Web, The Path, Faith-Hope and Fiction, The Cenacle, etc. In the Garden of Long Shadows and The Nations (2014), and Where Skies Grow Wide (2015) published by Pocol Press, and Six Guns, Inc., 2015, by Nazar Look in Romania, as a surprise 87th birthday present, print copy as well as an eBook. Some reviews may be found on Serving House Journal. He has 28 Pushcart nominations, and several Best of the Net and other awards, two best of the Net selections coming from separate publishers this month.
In addition, a new collection, Sons of Guns, Inc. was released earlier this year as a surprise birthday present (print and eBook) by Nazar Look Books in Romania (which awarded him The Nazar Look Short Story Award for 2012 and 2014.) Two new collections have been proposed to publishers; Fables, Fairy Stories, Folk Lore and Fantasies and Back Home in Saugus, 90,000 words, 200 pages of fiction, CNF and poetry.
Tom is the author of Jehrico ~ Eleven Stories of a Mexican Boy Making His Way in the Old West {Hammer & Anvil Books 2016} now available exclusively on Amazon.com. amazon.com/author/tomsheehan.
In celebration of our upcoming 100th issue and first decade in publication, Danse Macabre is proud to name Tom Sheehan as our first Writer-in-Residence, whose fine storytelling eye, rich poetic voice, and indefatigable industry symbolize the best work found in both DM and DM du Jour. Our heartfelt thanks to Tom for sharing so much of his imagination – and heart – with the Macabrely!

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Saki ~ The Byzantine Omelette

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Mouth of Hell

 

Sophie Chattel-Monkheim was a Socialist by conviction and a Chattel-Monkheim by marriage.  The particular member of that wealthy family whom she had married was rich, even as his relatives counted riches.  Sophie had very advanced and decided views as to the distribution of money: it was a pleasing and fortunate circumstance that she also had the money.  When she inveighed eloquently against the evils of capitalism at drawing-room meetings and Fabian conferences she was conscious of a comfortable feeling that the system, with all its inequalities and iniquities, would probably last her time.  It is one of the consolations of middle-aged reformers that the good they inculcate must live after them if it is to live at all.

On a certain spring evening, somewhere towards the dinner-hour, Sophie sat tranquilly between her mirror and her maid, undergoing the process of having her hair built into an elaborate reflection of the prevailing fashion.  She was hedged round with a great peace, the peace of one who has attained a desired end with much effort and perseverance, and who has found it still eminently desirable in its attainment.  The Duke of Syria had consented to come beneath her roof as a guest, was even now installed beneath her roof, and would shortly be sitting at her dining-table.  As a good Socialist, Sophie disapproved of social distinctions, and derided the idea of a princely caste, but if there were to be these artificial gradations of rank and dignity she was pleased and anxious to have an exalted specimen of an exalted order included in her house-party.  She was broad-minded enough to love the sinner while hating the sin—not that she entertained any warm feeling of personal affection for the Duke of Syria, who was a comparative stranger, but still, as Duke of Syria, he was very, very welcome beneath her roof.  She could not have explained why, but no one was likely to ask her for an explanation, and most hostesses envied her.

“You must surpass yourself to-night, Richardson,” she said complacently to her maid; “I must be looking my very best.  We must all surpass ourselves.”

The maid said nothing, but from the concentrated look in her eyes and the deft play of her fingers it was evident that she was beset with the ambition to surpass herself.

A knock came at the door, a quiet but peremptory knock, as of some one who would not be denied.

“Go and see who it is,” said Sophie; “it may be something about the wine.”

Richardson held a hurried conference with an invisible messenger at the door; when she returned there was noticeable a curious listlessness in place of her hitherto alert manner.

“What is it?” asked Sophie.

“The household servants have ‘downed tools,’ madame,” said Richardson.

“Downed tools!” exclaimed Sophie; “do you mean to say they’ve gone on strike?”

“Yes, madame,” said Richardson, adding the information: “It’s Gaspare that the trouble is about.”

“Gaspare?” said Sophie wanderingly; “the emergency chef!  The omelette specialist!”

“Yes, madame.  Before he became an omelette specialist he was a valet, and he was one of the strike-breakers in the great strike at Lord Grimford’s two years ago.  As soon as the household staff here learned that you had engaged him they resolved to ‘down tools’ as a protest.  They haven’t got any grievance against you personally, but they demand that Gaspare should be immediately dismissed.”

“But,” protested Sophie, “he is the only man in England who understands how to make a Byzantine omelette.  I engaged him specially for the Duke of Syria’s visit, and it would be impossible to replace him at short notice.  I should have to send to Paris, and the Duke loves Byzantine omelettes.  It was the one thing we talked about coming from the station.”

“He was one of the strike-breakers at Lord Grimford’s,” reiterated Richardson.

“This is too awful,” said Sophie; “a strike of servants at a moment like this, with the Duke of Syria staying in the house.  Something must be done immediately.  Quick, finish my hair and I’ll go and see what I can do to bring them round.”

“I can’t finish your hair, madame,” said Richardson quietly, but with immense decision.  “I belong to the union and I can’t do another half-minute’s work till the strike is settled.  I’m sorry to be disobliging.”

“But this is inhuman!” exclaimed Sophie tragically; “I’ve always been a model mistress and I’ve refused to employ any but union servants, and this is the result.  I can’t finish my hair myself; I don’t know how to.  What am I to do?  It’s wicked!”

“Wicked is the word,” said Richardson; “I’m a good Conservative and I’ve no patience with this Socialist foolery, asking your pardon.  It’s tyranny, that’s what it is, all along the line, but I’ve my living to make, same as other people, and I’ve got to belong to the union.  I couldn’t touch another hair-pin without a strike permit, not if you was to double my wages.”

The door burst open and Catherine Malsom raged into the room.

“Here’s a nice affair,” she screamed, “a strike of household servants without a moment’s warning, and I’m left like this!  I can’t appear in public in this condition.”

After a very hasty scrutiny Sophie assured her that she could not.

“Have they all struck?” she asked her maid.

“Not the kitchen staff,” said Richardson, “they belong to a different union.”

“Dinner at least will be assured,” said Sophie, “that is something to be thankful for.”

“Dinner!” snorted Catherine, “what on earth is the good of dinner when none of us will be able to appear at it?  Look at your hair—and look at me! or rather, don’t.”

“I know it’s difficult to manage without a maid; can’t your husband be any help to you?” asked Sophie despairingly.

“Henry?  He’s in worse case than any of us.  His man is the only person who really understands that ridiculous new-fangled Turkish bath that he insists on taking with him everywhere.”

“Surely he could do without a Turkish bath for one evening,” said Sophie; “I can’t appear without hair, but a Turkish bath is a luxury.”

“My good woman,” said Catherine, speaking with a fearful intensity, “Henry was in the bath when the strike started.  In it, do you understand?  He’s there now.”

“Can’t he get out?”

“He doesn’t know how to.  Every time he pulls the lever marked ‘release’ he only releases hot steam.  There are two kinds of steam in the bath, ‘bearable’ and ‘scarcely bearable’; he has released them both.  By this time I’m probably a widow.”

“I simply can’t send away Gaspare,” wailed Sophie; “I should never be able to secure another omelette specialist.”

“Any difficulty that I may experience in securing another husband is of course a trifle beneath anyone’s consideration,” said Catherine bitterly.

Sophie capitulated.  “Go,” she said to Richardson, “and tell the Strike Committee, or whoever are directing this affair, that Gaspare is herewith dismissed.  And ask Gaspare to see me presently in the library, when I will pay him what is due to him and make what excuses I can; and then fly back and finish my hair.”

Some half an hour later Sophie marshalled her guests in the Grand Salon preparatory to the formal march to the dining-room.  Except that Henry Malsom was of the ripe raspberry tint that one sometimes sees at private theatricals representing the human complexion, there was little outward sign among those assembled of the crisis that had just been encountered and surmounted.  But the tension had been too stupefying while it lasted not to leave some mental effects behind it.  Sophie talked at random to her illustrious guest, and found her eyes straying with increasing frequency towards the great doors through which would presently come the blessed announcement that dinner was served.  Now and again she glanced mirror-ward at the reflection of her wonderfully coiffed hair, as an insurance underwriter might gaze thankfully at an overdue vessel that had ridden safely into harbour in the wake of a devastating hurricane.  Then the doors opened and the welcome figure of the butler entered the room.  But he made no general announcement of a banquet in readiness, and the doors closed behind him; his message was for Sophie alone.

“There is no dinner, madame,” he said gravely; “the kitchen staff have ‘downed tools.’  Gaspare belongs to the Union of Cooks and Kitchen Employees, and as soon as they heard of his summary dismissal at a moment’s notice they struck work.  They demand his instant reinstatement and an apology to the union.  I may add, madame, that they are very firm; I’ve been obliged even to hand back the dinner rolls that were already on the table.”

After the lapse of eighteen months Sophie Chattel-Monkheim is beginning to go about again among her old haunts and associates, but she still has to be very careful.  The doctors will not let her attend anything at all exciting, such as a drawing-room meeting or a Fabian conference; it is doubtful, indeed, whether she wants to.

DMdJ Neu1

Thomas Grant Springer ~ The Blood of the Dragon

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JL17

 

Kan Wong, the sampan boatman, sat in the bow of his tiny craft, looking with dream-misted eyes upon the oily, yellow flood of the Yangtze River. Far across on the opposite shore, blurred by the mist that the alchemy of the setting sun transmuted from miasmic vapour to a veil of gold, rose the purple-shadowed, stone-tumbled ruins of Hang Gow, ruins that had been a proud, walled city in the days before the Tai-ping Rebellion.

Viewing its slowly dimming powers as they sank into the fading gold of the mist that the coming night thickened and darkened as it wiped out the light with a damp hand, Kan Wong dreamed over the stories that his father’s father—now revered dust somewhere off toward the hills that dimly met the melting sky line—had told him of that ruined city, wherein he, Kan Wong, had not Fate made men mad, would now be ruling a lordly household, even wearing the peacock feather and embroidered jacket that were his by right of the Dragon’s blood, that blood now hidden under the sun-browned skin of a river coolie. Kan Wong stuffed fine-cut into his brass-bowled pipe and struck a spark from his tinder box. Through his wide nostrils twin streamers of smoke writhed out, twisting fantastically together and mixing slowly with the rising river mist. His pipe became a wand of dreams summoning the genii of glorious memory. The blood of the Dragon in his veins quickened from the lethargy to which drudgery had cooled it, and raced hotly as he thought of the battle past of his forefathers. Off Somewhere along the river’s winding length, where it crawled slowly to the sea, lay the great coast cities. The lazy ripples, light-tipped, beckoned with luring fingers. There was naught to stay him. His sampan was his home and movable, therefore the morrow would see him turning its bow downstream to seek that strange city where he had heard, dwelt many Foreign Devils who now and then scattered wealth with a prodigal hand.

In that pale hour when the mist, not yet dissipated by the rising sun, lay in a cold, silver veil upon the night-chilled water, he pushed out from the shore and pointed the sampan’s prow downstream. Days it took him to reach salt water. He loitered for light cargoes at village edges, or picked up the price of his daily rice at odd tasks ashore, but always, were it day or night for travel, his tiny craft bore surely seaward. Mile after slow mile dropped behind him, like the praying beads of a lama’s chain, but at last the river salted slightly, and his tiny craft was lifted by the slow swell of the sea’s hand reaching for inland.

The river became more populous. The crowding sampans, houseboats, and junks stretched far out into its oily, oozy flow, making a floating city as he neared the congested life of the coast, where the ever-increasing population failed to find ground space in its maggoty swarming. As the stream widened until the farther bank disappeared in the artificial mist of rising smoke and man-stirred dust, the Foreign Devils’ fire junks appeared, majestically steaming up and down—swift swans that scorned the logy, lumbering native craft, the mat sails and toiling sweeps of which made them appear motionless by comparison. A day or two of this and then the coast, with Shanghai sprawling upon the bank, writhing with life, odoriferous, noisy, perpetually awake.

Kan Wong slid into its waterfront turmoil, an infinitesimal human atom added to it. His tiny craft fixed itself upon the outer edge of the wriggling river life like a coral cell attaching itself to a slow growing atoll. From there he worked his way inshore, crawling over the craft that stretched out from the low banks as a water beetle might move over the flotsam and jetsam caught in the back-water of a sluggish stream. Once in the narrow, crowded streets of the city itself, he roamed aimlessly, open-eyed to its wonders, dreamily observant. Out of the native quarter and into the foreign section he moved, accustoming himself to these masters of mystery whom he was about to serve, calling sluggish memory to his aid as his cars strove to reconstruct The meaning of the barbarous jargon.

Into the quarter where the Foreign Devils and the native population came together to barter and to trade, he strayed one day. A Foreign Devil in a strangely unattractive uniform was addressing a crowd of coolies in their own tongue. Kan Wong attached himself to the outer edge of the impassively curious throng, his ears alert, his features, as ever, an imperturbable mask. The foreign officer, for such he seemed to be, was making an offer to the assemblage for contract labour: one dollar a day, with rice, fish, and tea rations, for work in a foreign land. Kan Wong translated the money quickly into yens. The sum seemed incredible to him. What service would he not perform for such payment? Why, within a year, or two at the very most, with careful frugality, he might return and buy himself a junk worthy of his Dragon dreams of the river. And then …

The officer talked on, persuading, holding out the glittering lure of profit and adventure. Kan Wong listened eagerly. He had thought there was a ban on contract labour, but perhaps this new Republican Government, so friendly to the Foreign Devil, had removed it. Surely one who wore the uniform of a soldier and an officer could not thus publicly solicit coolies without the sanction of the mandarins, or escape their notice.

Kan Wong studied the crowd. It contained a few Chinese soldiers, who were obviously keeping order. He was satisfied, and edged his way closer to the speaker. There, already, ranged to one side was a line of his own kind, jabbering to a Celestial who put down their names on slips of rice paper and accepted their marks, which they made with a bamboo brush, that they bonded themselves to the adventure. Kan Wong gained the signing table. Picking up the brush, he set his name, the name of one of the Dragon’s blood, to the contract, accepted a duplicate, and stepped back into the waiting line.

His pay and his rations, he was told, would begin two days hence, when he was to report to the fire junk now lying at the dock, awaiting the human cargo of which he was a part. Kan Wong memorized the directions as he turned away from his instructing countryman. Of the Foreign Devil he took no further notice. Time enough for that when he passed into service. The God of Luck had smiled upon his boldness, and, reflecting upon it Kan Wong turned back to the river and the sampan that had so long been his floating home. No sentimental memories, however, clung about it for him. Its freight of dreams he had landed here in Shanghai, marketing them for a realization. The sampan now was but the empty shell of a water beetle, that had crawled upon the bank into the sun of Fortune to spill forth a dragon fly to try newly found wings of adventure.

He found a customer, and, with much haggling after the manner of his kind, disposed of his boat, the last tie, if tie there was, that bound him to his present life. Waterman he had always been, and now had come to him the call of the Father of All Waters. The tang of the salt in his nostrils conjured up dreams as magical as those invoked by the wand of the poppy god. Wrapped in their rosy mantle, he walked the streets for the next two days, and on the third he took his way to the dock where lay the fire junk that was to bear him forth into the wonders of the Foreign Devils’ land. Larger she loomed than any he had ever seen, larger, oh, much larger, than those which had steamed up the Yangtze in swanlike majesty. But this huge bulk was grey—grey and squat and powerful. Once aboard, he found it crowded with an army of chattering coolies. They swarmed in the hold like maggots. Every inch of space was given over to them, an army, it seemed to Kan Wong, in which he was all but lost.

Day after day across the waste of water the ship took its eastern way. Never had Kan Wong dreamed there was so much water in the world. The broad, long river that had been his life’s path seemed but a narrow trickle on the earth’s face compared with this stretch of sea that never ended, though the days ran into weeks. The land coolies chafed and found much sickness in the swell but Kan Wong, used ever to a moving deck, round the way none too long, and smiled softly to himself as he counted up the dollars they were paying him for the keenest pleasure he had ever known.

At last land appeared. The ship swung into the dock, disclosing to the questioning eyes of Kan Won and his kind a new strange land. In orderly discipline they were marched off the vessel and on to the dock. But rest was not theirs as yet, nor was this their final destination. From the fire junk they boarded the flying iron horse of the Foreign Devils; again they were on the move. Swiftly across the land they went, over high mountains crowded with eternal snow, thence down upon brown, rolling plains as wide as the flat stretches of the broad Yangtze Valley; eastward, ever eastward, through a land sparsely peopled for all its virgin fertility. Behind their flying progress the days dropped—one, two, three, four, at last five; and then they entered a more populous region. Kan Wong, his nose flattened against the glass that held the moving picture as in a frame, wondered much at the magic that unrolled to his never-sated eyes. Yet the journey’s end was beyond his questioning.

Once more they came to a seaport. Marching from the carriages, once more they beheld the sea. But this time it was different—more turbulent, harsher, more sombre with the hint of waiting storms. Was there, then, more than one ocean, Kan Wong asked himself? He found that it was indeed so when once more a fire junk received them. This one was greyer than the first that they had known. Upon her decks were guns and at her side were other junks, low, menacing, with a demon flurry of vicious speed, and short, squat funnels that belched dense smoke clouds. Within the town were many Foreign Devils, all dressed alike in strange drab uniforms; on the docks and here and there at other places they bore arms and other unmistakable equipment of fighting men, which even Kan Wong could not but notice.

The grey ship moved into a cold grey fog. With it other ships as grey and as crowded, ships that crawled with men, strange Foreign Devils who clanked with weapons as they walked aboard. Again a waste of water, through which the ship seemed to crawl with a caution that Kan Wong felt, but did not understand. With it on either side, moved those other junks—squat, menacing, standing low on the horizon, but as haunting as dark ghosts. Where were they bound, this strangely mixed fleet? Often Kan Wong pondered this, but gave it no tongue to his fellow-passengers, holding a bit aloof from them by virtue of his caste.

Again they neared the shore, where other boats, low-built and bristling with guns, flew swiftly out to meet them like fierce ocean birds of prey. Now they skirted high, bleak cliffs, their feet hid in a lather of white foam; then they rounded the cliffs and passed into a storm-struck stretch of sea through which they rolled to a more level land, off which they cast anchor. The long ocean journey was finished at last.

There was a frantic bustle at this port, increasing a hundredfold when once they set foot upon the land. Men—men were everywhere; men in various uniforms, men who spoke various tongues in a confusing babel, yet they all seemed intent upon one purpose, the import of which Kan Wong could but vaguely guess. All about them was endless movement, but no confusion, and once ashore their work commenced immediately.

From the fleet of fire junks various cargoes were to be unloaded with all speed, and at this the coolies toiled. Numberless crates, boxes, and bags came ashore to be stowed away in long, low buildings, or loaded into long lines of rough, boxlike carriages that then went scurrying off behind countless snorting and puffing fire-horses to the east, always to the east and north. Strange engines, which the Foreign Devils saw to it that they handled most tenderly, were also much in evidence, and always, at all hours the uniformed men with their bristling arms and clanking equipment crowded into the carriages and were whisked off to the east, always to the east and north. They went with much strange shouting and, to Kan Wong’s ears, discordant sounds that they mistook for music. Yet now and then other strings of carriages came back from the east and north, with other men—men broken, bloody, lacking limbs, groping in blindness, their faces twisted with pain as they were loaded into the waiting fire-junks to recross the rough sea.

Then came the turn of the coolies to be crowded into the boxlike carriages and to be whisked off to the east. With them went tools—picks, shovels, and the like—for further work, upon the nature of which Kan Wong, unquestioning, speculated. It was a slow, broken journey that they made. Every now and then they stopped that other traffic might pass them, going either way; mostly the strange men in uniforms, bristling with guns, hurrying always to the east and north.

At last they too turned north, and as they did so the country, which had been smiling, low, filled with soft fields and pretty, nestling houses, little towns and quiet, orderly cities, changed to bleak fields, cut and seared as by a simoom’s angry breath. Still there were little towns—or what had been little towns, now tumbled ruins—fire-smitten, gutted, their windows gaping like blind eyes in the face of a twisted cripple. Off to the east hung angry clouds from which the thunder echoed distantly; a thunder low, grumbling, continual, menacing, and through the clouds at night were lightning flashes of an angry red. Toward this storm it seemed that all the men were hurrying, and so too were the coolies of whom Kan Wong was one. Often they chattered speculatively of the storm beyond. What did it mean? Why did the men hurry toward instead of away from it? Truly the ways of the Foreign Devils were strange!

As they drew nearer to the storm, the river dreams of Kan Wong returned. This was indeed the land of the Dragon’s wrath. The torn and harrowed fields, the empty, broken towns, the distant, grumbling storm, and the armed men, hurrying, always hurrying toward the east and north where the clouds darkened and spread—all this was in the tales that his father’s father had told him of those fifteen mad years when the Yangtze Valley crouched trembling under the fiery breath of the Dragon’s wrath. Here once more he saw the crumbling towers and walls of Hang Gow in fresh rain. Here was the ruthless wreck that even nature in her fiercest mood could never make. Truly the lure of the Dragon’s blood in him was drawing him, magnet-like, to the glory of his ancestors.

The one who had them in charge and spoke their tongue gave them their tools and bade them dig narrow ditches head deep. From them they ran tunnels into deep caves hollowed out far under the ground. They burrowed like moles, cutting galleries here and there, reinforcing them with timbers, and lining them with a stone which they made out of dust and water. Many they cut, stretching far back behind the ever present storm in front of them, while from that storm cloud, in swift and unseen lightning bolts that roared and burst and destroyed their work often as fast as it was completed, fell death among them, who were only labourers, not soldiers, as Kan Wong now knew those Foreign Devils in the strange and dirty uniforms to be.

As the storm roared on, never ceasing, it stirred the Dragon’s blood in Kan Wong’s veins. The pick and shovel irked his hands as he swung them; his palms began to itch for the weapons that the soldiers bore. Now and then he came upon a gun where it had dropped from its owner’s useless hands. He studied its mechanism, even asking the Foreign Devil overseer how it was worked, and, being shown, he remembered and practised its use whenever opportunity offered. He took to talking with his fellow-workers, some of whom had themselves fought with the rebels of New China, who, with just such Foreign Devils’ tools, had clipped the claws of the Manchu Dragon, freeing the Celestial Kingdom forever from its crooked grip. He took much interest in these war implements. He became more intimate and friendly with his fellows, feeling them now to be brothers in a danger that had awakened the soldier soul beneath the brown of his coolie skin.

Little could he make of all the strife about him. All of which he was sure was that this was the Dragon’s Field, and he, a Son of the Dragon, had been guided to it to fulfil a destiny his forefathers had begun in the Yangtze Valley when with the “Hairy Rebels” they had waged such war as this. The flying death all about him that now and then claimed toll of one of his own kind was but a part of it; but all the time he grew to hate his humble work and long for a part, a real part, in the fighting that raged ahead, where an unseen enemy, of whom he grew to think as his own, hurled destruction among them. Often he spoke of this to the gang under him, imbuing them with the spirit of the Dragon’s blood that, eager to fulfil its destiny, once more boiled within him.

Then one day the storm grew more furious. The thunder was a continual roll, and both from the front and rear flew the whining lightning bolts, spewing out death and destruction. Many a coolie fell, his dust buried under the dust of this fierce foreign land, never to be returned and mixed with that of his own Flowery Kingdom. Now and then came “stink pots,” filling the air with such foul vapours that men coughed out their lives in the putrid fumes. The breath of the Dragon, fresh from his awful mouth, was wrapped about them in hot wrath.

Past them the soldiers streamed, foul with fight, their hot guns spitting viciously back into the rolling, pungent grey fog that followed them malignantly. Confusion reigned, and in that confusion a perfect riot of death. On all sides the soldiers fell, blighted by the Dragon’s breath. The coolies crouched in the heaped-up ruins of their newly dug ditches, knowing not which way to turn, bereft of leadership since the Foreign Devil who commanded them was gone, buried beneath a pile of earth where a giant cracker had fallen.

Suddenly Kan Wong noticed that there were no more soldiers save only those who lay writhing or in still, twisted heaps upon the harrowed ground. The coolie crowd huddled here alone, clutching their futile picks and shovels, grovelling in helpless panic. Disaster had overtaken them. The Dragon was upon them, and they were unprotected. All about them in scattered heaps lay discarded equipment, guns, even the sharp-barking death-spitting, tiny instrument that the soldiers handled so lovingly and so gently when it was not in action. But those who manned the weapons had passed on, back through the thick curtain of smoke that hung between them and the comparative safety of the rear.

Kan Wong’s eyes were ahead, striving to pierce the pungent veil that hid the enemy. Suddenly his keen eyes noted them—the strange uniforms and stranger faces, ducking forward here and there through the hell of their own making. The blood of the Dragon within him boiled up, now that the enemy was really near enough to feel the teeth and claws of the Dragon’s whelps. This was the hour for which he had lived. This was the Tai-ping glory come again for him to share. Reaching down, he picked up the rifle of a fallen soldier, fondled its mechanism lovingly for a moment, and then, cuddling it tenderly beneath his chin, his finger bade it spit death at the misty grey figures crawling through the greyer fog in front.

When the magazine was exhausted he filled it with fresh clips and turned with the authority he had always wielded, and a new one that they instantly recognized, upon his shivering countrymen.

“What are ye?” he yelled with withering scorn. “Sons of pigs who root in the dung of this Foreign Devil’s land, or men of the Dragon’s blood? Are ye the scum of the Yangtze River or honourable descendants of the Hairy Rebels? Would ye avenge your brothers who have choked to death in the breath of the stink-pots that have been flung among us? Will ye let escape this horde of Foreign Devil enemies who have hurled at us giant crackers that have spit death, now that they are near enough to feel how the Dragon’s blood can strike? Here are the Dragon’s claws!” He waved his bayoneted gun aloft. “Will ye die like men, or like slinking rats stamped into the earth? All who are not cowards—come!” He waved the way through the smoke to the grey figures emerging from it.

The Chinaman is no coward when once aroused. Death he faces as he faces life, stoically, imperturbably. The coolies, reaching for the nearest weapons, followed the man who showed the Dragon’s blood. Many of them understood the use of arms, having borne them for New China. Death was upon them, and they went to meet it with death in their hands.

Kan Wong dragged up an uninjured machine gun the crew of which lay about it. Fitting the bands of cartridges as he had seen the gunners do, he turned the crank and swung it round on its revolving tripod. Before its vicious rain he saw the grey figures fall, and a great joy welled up in his breast. He signalled for other belts and worked the gun faster. Round him the coolies rallied; others beyond the sound of his voice joined in from pure instinct. The grey figures wavered, hesitated, melted back into the smoke, and then strove to work around the fire of the death-spitting group. But the Dragon’s blood was up, the voice of the Dragon’s son cheered and directed the snarling, roused whelps to whom war was an old, old trade, forgotten, and now remembered in this strange, wild land. The joy of slaughter came savagely upon them. The death that they had received they now gave back. In the place the white men had fled, the yellow men now stood, descendants of the Tai-pings, as fierce and wild as their once Hairy brothers.

Meanwhile, behind them the retreating line halted, stiffened by hurried reinforcements. The officers rallied their men, paused and looked back through the smoke. The line had given way and they must meet the oncoming wave. Quickly reforming, they picked their ground for a stand and waited. The moments passed, but no sign of the victors.

“What the hell is up?” snarled one of the reinforcing officers. “I thought the line had given way.”

“It has,” replied the panting, battle-torn commander. “My men are all back here; there’s no one in front but the enemy!”

“What’s that ahead, then?” The sharp bark of rifles, the rat-a-tat of machine guns, the boom of bursting grenades, and the yells, groans, screams and shouts of the hand-to-hand conflict came through the curtaining smoke in a mad jumble of savage sound.

“Damned if I know! We’d better find out!” They began moving their now rallied men back into it.

Suddenly they came upon it—a writhing mass of jeans-clad coolies, wild-eyed, their teeth bared in devilish, savage grins, their hands busy with the implements of death, standing doggedly at bay before grey waves that broke upon them as a sullen sea breaks and recedes before a jutting point of land …

With the reinforcements the tide turned, ebbing back in a struggling, writhing fury, and soon the ground was clear again of all save the wreck that such a wave leaves behind it. Once the line was re-established and the soldiers holding it steadily, the coolies, once more the wielders of pick and shovel, returned to the work of trench repairing, leaving the fighting to those to whom it belonged.

The officers were puzzled. What had started them? What had injected that mad fighting spirit into their yellow hides? What had caused them to make that swift, wild, wonderful stand?

“Hey, you, John!” The commanding officer addressed one of them when a lull came and they were busy again at the tumbled earth. “What you fight for, hey?”

The coolie grinned foolishly.

“Him say fight. Him heap big man, alle same have Dlagon’s blood. Him say fight, we fight, sabe?” And he pointed to Kan Wong—Kan Wong, his head bleeding from a wound, his eyes glowing with a green fury from between their narrow lids, his long, strong hands, red with blood other than his own, still clutching his rifle with a grip that had a tenderly savage joy in it.

The officer approached him.

“Are you the man who rallied the coolies and held the line?” he asked shortly.

Kan Wong stiffened with a dignity to which he now felt he had a right.

“Me fight,” he said quietly—”me fight, coolie fight, too. Me belong Dlagon’s blood. One time my people fighting men; long time I wait.”

“You’ll wait no longer,” said the officer. He unpinned the cross from his tunic and fastened it to the torn, bloody blouse of Kan Wong. “Off to the east are men of your own race, fighting-men from China, Cochin-China. That is the place for a man of the Dragon’s blood—and that is the tool that belongs in your hand till we’re done with this mess.” He pointed to the rifle that Kan Wong still held with a stiff, loving, lingering grip.

And so, on the other side of the world, the son of the Dragon came to his own and realized the dreams of a glory he had missed.

DmdJ Neu3

Vern Fearing ~ The Sloths of Kruvny

Standard

amazing

 

Bradley Broadshoulders—friends called him “Brad”, or “Broad”, or “Shoulders”—stood grim-lipped, as is the custom of spacemen, and waited for the Commander to speak fateful words. He was an obese youth, fully five feet tall, without a shred of muscle, but he wore the green tunic of the Galaxy Patrol proudly, and his handsome, bony head boasted a tidy crop of Venusian fungus. His gleaming eyes gleamed.

“Brad, We Are In A Tough Fix!” the Commander said suddenly. His name was Metternich, known also as Foxey Gran’pa; he had spoken in capitals all over Europe and continued the practice since. “We Are Up Against It!” he went on. “The Fate Of The World May Be At Stake!”

“What’s wrong, chief?” asked Brad, jauntily.

“Plenty!” roared Metternich. “Nobody’s Attacking The Earth—That’s What’s Wrong! Nobody Is Out To Conquer The Universe! How Come, May I Ask?”

Brad gulped. Could he believe his ears? No one attacking good, kind, old Earth? Was there nothing in which a man could pin his faith, let alone his ears? Were they, indeed, his ears?

He turned to his best friend, Ugh, who stood beside him. Would he stand behind him? Did he realize they were on the verge of A Mission? Ugh was a pastiche, or intermezzo—a cross between a Martian and a Texan—as loathsome and stupid a combination as one could wish. Why he was Brad’s best friend was a mystery. Squarely, he met Brad’s gaze, which left him an eye to spare. It winked, and Brad shuddered.

It was an omen….

“I Want To Know Why!” the Commander shouted. “You Have Your Secret Orders! Off With You!”

A really fat omen.

The good ship, Lox Wing, was almost ready to go. She was a fine, spaceworthy craft, Brad knew; just the same, it was disconcerting to see rats deserting her by the thousands. Not that he missed them; some were sure to return as soon as Ugh appeared on the scene; he seemed to fascinate them.

Just then, the rats paused. Sure enough, Ugh was coming. He was reeling. He had apparently made the rounds, as is the custom of spacemen, swilling vast quantities of airplane dope, and he was high as a kite. Brad glommed him glumly in the gloaming, with more than a glimmer of gloomy foreboding. It was wrong, he thought, all wrong. If only it hadn’t been too late to turn back. But it wasn’t. They hadn’t even started yet. If anything, it was too early. There was no way out. He entered the spaceship with a Si. Si, whose whole name was Silas Mariner, shook his hand weakly, muttered: “Remember the Albatross!” and tottered out.

It was an omen….

Presently, Brad and Ugh were blasting off. As the cigar-shaped vessel rose to the starry void, spacemen, their visages lined and tanned like cigars, held their cigars aloft in silent salute and gently flicked their ashes, while softly, a cigar band played “Maracas, Why You No Love Me No More?

Two days out, Brad summoned Ugh. “How fast are we going?”

“Oh, say … 30,000 miles an hour?”

Brad calculated rapidly and put down his abacus. “At this rate it’ll take us 14 years just to get out of our own lousy solar system!” he barked. “Faster!”

Ugh said Yes, Sir, and vice versa. Then he upped the speed to 186,000 miles per second and came back and shyly told Brad.

Brad said “Bah! We’ll be 70 years reaching the Big Dipper! Faster!”

“But nothing can’t go any faster!” protested Ugh. “According to Einstein—”

“To hell with Einstein!” roared Brad. “Is he paying your salary?”

So they went faster.

The ship sped onward—unless it was upward—to fulfill its Mission. Again and again Brad found himself wondering where he was going. The Mission was a real stiff. He knew only that since there was practically no life anywhere in the solar system, except for good, kind, old Earth—Earth had seen to that—anyone attacking Earth—or not doing so—was obviously somewhere in outer space! But here the trail ended.

Courage, he told himself, courage! After all, was he not the grandson of Pierre Fromage, inventor of the rubberband motor? With a start, he realized he was not.

His own heritage, while covered with peculiar glory, was a more tragic one—the spacemen’s heritage. The Broadshoulders were brave, but things happened to them. His grandfather, a traffic officer, had chased a comet for speeding, and had, unfortunately, overtaken it. His father had been spared the fire, but one day, aboard his spaceship, someone spilled a glass of water. The gravity was off at the time, and the water just hung there in mid-air until Brad’s father walked into it and drowned.

What would be his own end, he wondered? What other way was there to die? Just then, through the bulkhead, he could hear Ugh swinging in his hammock, playing the violin. He wondered if the rats were dancing, like the last time he’d surprised him. Another thought was on the way, something about rats and a new way to die, but Brad was already asleep, mercifully having a nightmare.


It was morning of the fifth day when the Emergency Alarm (E-A) was suddenly activated! Instantly, a host of automatic devices went off. One turned on the fan, another blew the fuses, a third made the beds. Bells clanged and bugles sounded every call from Battle Stations (B-S) to Abandon Ship (J-r). Brad and Ugh slept through it all. Nothing was wrong, except with the Emergency Alarm (E-A). It wore itself out and the eventful voyage continued.

Brad woke on the ninth day. The 2-day pill he’d taken on the third day had evidently done its work well. He was rested, he felt optimistic again. When he looked out the porthole, he could see plenty of space for improvement.

—But what was that?

There, half obscured in a tumbling, swirling mass of misty gray clouds, he could make out something white! He pressed his nose against the porthole and strained his eyes. It gave him the feeling of peering into a Bendix, as is the custom of spacemen. His mouth went damp-dry. This was it—whatever it was!

“Ugh!” he shouted, all agog. “Ugh! Ugh!”

Ugh dashed in, wheeling a large kaleidoscope. Expertly, they read the directions and trained it on the mysterious formation. The Indicator turned pale.

“By the ring-tailed dog star of Sirius!” barked Brad. “Why, it’s nothing more than an enormous gallstone, revolving in space!”

“This is Sirius!” barked Ugh.

“That’s what I barked!” snapped Brad. “And don’t ask me whose it is! It’s big enough to support life, that’s the main issue! Prepare to land!”

A strange, yet resplendent, civilization, thought Brad, looking out at a sunlit landscape, or gallscape, of molten gold. The houses, stylish igloos and mosques, were sturdily constructed of 3-ply cardboard and driftwood. Before each house, mysteriously, stood a Berber pole of solid peppermint.

Brad and Ugh bounded out of their ship. The two bounders stood there, encased in heat-resistant pyrex pants, expecting the natives to make things hot for them. Dumbfounded at the delay, they waited for the attack to commence. It did not.

“I never!” said Brad, presently. “If we needed proof, we’ve got it! Such a display of indolence is testimony enough that these people are responsible for not attacking Earth! We shall have to use stratemegy!”

Swiftly, he took off his pants, revealing underneath the red flannel costume of a 17th century French courtier, complete with powdered wig and Falstaff. Ugh ran up a flag emblazoned with the legend: Diplomacy And Agriculture, then planted beans all around the ship, while Brad postured and danced the minuet.

The clever scheme worked beautifully. Soon an old man began circling them on a bicycle, keeping a safe distance. Clearly, he was someone of importance, for his long white beard was carefully braided and coiled in a delivery basket on the handlebars. Furthermore, he wore a glowing circlet on his forehead—so that Brad knew he was able to read their minds—if they had any.

“How about throwing us a couple circlets?” Brad cried.

Instead, the old man, who was hard of hearing, flung them a couple cutlets, which worked even better, and had protein besides.

Thus fortified, they were escorted to the palace.


Some moments earlier, Brad had learned first, that Kruvny was the name of this unusual culture, and second, that the High Kruv himself, attended by all his nobles, would see him. Brad had then entered the Kruv Chamber, or Trapeze Room, and he had learned nothing since. It was all true, he told himself. The High Kruv was hanging by his toes from a trapeze, and so were all his nobles. The only difference was that the High Kruv’s trapeze was more ornate than the rest. Yes, said Brad to himself, it was all true; he had been shaking and punching his head, and nothing had changed.

“I come,” he said, “from a far away land—”

“Shad-dap!” cried the Kruv. “Who cares?”

At this, the old man, who was still on his bicycle, whispered to Brad. “They’ve all got headaches,” he nodded, stroking his beard sagebrushly. “It’s all part of a great cosmic error—a tragedy played among the spiral nebulae, to the hollow ringing laughter of the gods! You see, we Sloths are only half the population of Kruvny,” he went on. “On the other side of our world live the Sidemen, or Sad Sax. Legend has it that eons ago, the Sidemen were mistakenly delivered a cargo of saxophones, from Saks Fifth Avenue.” The old man’s voice was hushed as he added, “They have been practicing ever since.”

“I see,” said Brad. “And that accounts for the headaches here?”

“Small wonder,” said the old man. “I bless the day I went deaf.”

“But why do they do it?” asked Brad.

“The Sidemen? They’re tryin’ to drive us off’n the ranch—the planet, I mean. Yuh see, they claim they made this whole durned gallstone theirselves!”

Made it?” asked Brad, dully.

“Uh-huh.” The old man spat Mercurian tobacco juice. “Just like on Earth, where myriad minute oceanic organisms pile their skeletons to form coral islands. Yuh see, the Sidemen eat radishes—love ’em, in fact—but it gives ’em gallstones. They claim this whole world is the collected gallstones of their ancestors.” The old man wiped Mercurian tobacco juice from his beard and shoes. “Kind of a hard claim to beat,” he opined.

“I see,” said Brad. “That explains the misty swirling clouds all around this planet, and why it’s seldom visible. You follow me?”

“Yep,” said the old man. “It’s gas. Them radishes’ll turn on you every time!”

Suddenly the High Kruv began to sob. “Now you see, don’t you, why we haven’t attacked Earth? A body can’t keep his mind on anything around here! I asked for a few secret weapons, and what did I get?” He was blubbering now. “Oh, I tried, I tried! Appropriations and all that; you may be sure we lined our pockets—but after years of stalling, they showed up with two weapons they swore were terrible enough to put an end to war. One of them was a water pistol.”

“I see,” said Brad. “And the other?”

“A ray gun.”

Brad’s eyes brightened. “A ray gun? May I see how it works?”

“Indeed you may!”

A platoon of maroon dragoons dragged in a queer apparatus. It looked like a medieval cannon, with a Victorian phonograph speaker flaring from its business end. The dragoons ranged around the weapon, keeping their backs to it. One of them clutched the firing lanyard. There was a pause, a brittle silence—then the lanyard snapped!

“‘Ray!‘” shouted the ray gun.

“What was that?” asked Brad.

Twice more the lanyard snapped. The ray gun boomed: “‘Ray! Ray!‘”

“You mean all it does is shout ‘Ray?'” asked Brad.

“Well, it can also shout ‘Max‘,” said the old man. “Fearful, ain’t it?”

“Yes,” said Brad. He took a piece of old parchment from a breast pocket. “This,” he stated, “is the original deed to Manhattan. Notice here on the bottom where it says $24. I am signing it over to you.” He signed with a flourish. “Now you have a legal claim, a crusade, and a nice piece of property. Go get it!”

“But the headaches!” cried the old man.

“Cool, man, cool!” said Brad. “I’ll mix a Bromo.”

“Is it habit-forming?” cried the High Kruv.

“Not a bit,” said Brad, mixing it. “Simply take one an hour, forever. And now I must bid you farewell.”

“Wait!” cried the Kruv. “Don’t you want to take my lovely daughter back with you?”

Brad looked at her. She was lovely. She had scales, but she was lovely. She had magnificent blonde hair, some of it almost an inch long, none of it on her head, but she was lovely.

“… Well,” said Brad, hesitatingly. He had his eyes glued on her; when he took them off, they made a noise like vacuum cups: “Pfffopp!

“Your mother won’t like her,” whispered Ugh.

“… Well,” said Brad. He could feel Duty tugging inside. Not for him the pipe and slippers. He was one of spaceway’s men; he would go the spacemen’s way, off into waymen’s space. Waymen, not women, he told himself sternly. The call of the Ether … the vacuous void … the black velvet wastes … the outspread cloak of the universe, dripping with stardust … the undreamt-of galaxies … these were the things by which he lived. “… Well,” said Brad.

“C’mon,” said Ugh. “We’ll only fight over her.”

Slowly, they bounded back to their spaceship.

The ship sped backward, headed for Earth. It was days before the mistake was discovered, and this alone spared their lives. For had they completed their journey on schedule—but why be morbid?

The fact is, the Earth blew up. What a sight. The whole thing, whirling one minute like the globe in Miss Fogarty’s geography supply closet—the next minute, whamo!

“Gee,” said Ugh, soberly. “Guess we’re lucky, huh?”

“… Well,” said Brad. He hadn’t said anything else for days, but he didn’t seem well at all. Funny, he thought. They promise you if you go on working, work hard and don’t fool around, don’t ask questions, just do your job, everything’ll come your way. The next thing they’re all dead, and there’s nobody to complain to, even. Was it selfish to think of one’s career at a time like this? No, he told himself. It was all he knew. The Patrol was all that mattered!

He did some rapid calculation. They were far off the interplanetary travel lanes; their fuel supply was down to a single can of kerosene; food for perhaps 2 days remained. As he listened to Ugh tuning his violin, scarcely audible over the squeakings and squealings that filled the spaceship, he realized that the only solution—the only thing that could save them, or the future of Earthmen—was for a shipload of beautiful dames to rescue them within the next 36 hours.

He figured the odds against this to be fifty billion to one—but Brad had fought big odds before.

Grim-lipped, he shaved.

O. Henry ~ The Duplicity of Hargraves

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When Major Pendleton Talbot, of Mobile, sir, and his daughter, Miss Lydia Talbot, came to Washington to reside, they selected for a boarding place a house that stood fifty yards back from one of the quietest avenues. It was an old-fashioned brick building, with a portico upheld by tall white pillars. The yard was shaded by stately locusts and elms, and a catalpa tree in season rained its pink and white blossoms upon the grass. Rows of high box bushes lined the fence and walks. It was the Southern style and aspect of the place that pleased the eyes of the Talbots.

In this pleasant private boarding house they engaged rooms, including a study for Major Talbot, who was adding the finishing chapters to his book, Anecdotes and Reminiscences of the Alabama Army, Bench, and Bar.

Major Talbot was of the old, old South. The present day had little interest or excellence in his eyes. His mind lived in that period before the Civil War when the Talbots owned thousands of acres of fine cotton land and the slaves to till them; when the family mansion was the scene of princely hospitality, and drew its guests from the aristocracy of the South. Out of that period he had brought all its old pride and scruples of honor, an antiquated and punctilious politeness, and (you would think) its wardrobe.

Such clothes were surely never made within fifty years. The Major was tall, but whenever he made that wonderful, archaic genuflexion he called a bow, the corners of his frock coat swept the floor. That garment was a surprise even to Washington, which has long ago ceased to shy at the frocks and broad-brimmed hats of Southern Congressmen. One of the boarders christened it a “Father Hubbard,” and it certainly was high in the waist and full in the skirt.

But the Major, with all his queer clothes, his immense area of plaited, raveling shirt bosom, and the little black string tie with the bow always slipping on one side, both was smiled at and liked in Mrs. Vardeman’s select boarding house. Some of the young department clerks would often “string him,” as they called it, getting him started upon the subject dearest to him—the traditions and history of his beloved Southland. During his talks he would quote freely from the Anecdotes and Reminiscences. But they were very careful not to let him see their designs, for in spite of his sixty-eight years he could make the boldest of them uncomfortable under the steady regard of his piercing gray eyes.

Miss Lydia was a plump, little old maid of thirty-five, with smoothly drawn, tightly twisted hair that made her look still older. Old-fashioned, too, she was; but antebellum glory did not radiate from her as it did from the Major. She possessed a thrifty common sense, and it was she who handled the finances of the family, and met all comers when there were bills to pay. The Major regarded board bills and wash bills as contemptible nuisances. They kept coming in so persistently and so often. Why, the Major wanted to know, could they not be filed and paid in a lump sum at some convenient period—say when the Anecdotes and Reminiscences had been published and paid for? Miss Lydia would calmly go on with her sewing and say, “We’ll pay as we go as long as the money lasts, and then perhaps they’ll have to lump it.”

Most of Mrs. Vardeman’s boarders were away during the day, being nearly all department clerks and business men; but there was one of them who was about the house a great deal from morning to night. This was a young man named Henry Hopkins Hargraves—every one in the house addressed him by his full name—who was engaged at one of the popular vaudeville theaters. Vaudeville has risen to such a respectable plane in the last few years, and Mr. Hargraves was such a modest and well-mannered person, that Mrs. Vardeman could find no objection to enrolling him upon her list of boarders.

At the theater Hargraves was known as an all-round dialect comedian, having a large repertoire of German, Irish, Swede, and black-face specialties. But Mr. Hargraves was ambitious, and often spoke of his great desire to succeed in legitimate comedy.

This young man appeared to conceive a strong fancy for Major Talbot. Whenever that gentleman would begin his Southern reminiscences, or repeat some of the liveliest of the anecdotes, Hargraves could always be found, the most attentive among his listeners.

For a time the Major showed an inclination to discourage the advances of the “play actor,” as he privately termed him; but soon the young man’s agreeable manner and indubitable appreciation of the old gentleman’s stories completely won him over.

It was not long before the two were like old chums. The Major set apart each afternoon to read to him the manuscript of his book. During the anecdotes Hargraves never failed to laugh at exactly the right point. The Major was moved to declare to Miss Lydia one day that young Hargraves possessed remarkable perception and a gratifying respect for the old régime. And when it came to talking of those old days—if Major Talbot liked to talk, Mr. Hargraves was entranced to listen.

Like almost all old people who talk of the past, the Major loved to linger over details. In describing the splendid, almost royal, days of the old planters, he would hesitate until he had recalled the name of the negro who held his horse, or the exact date of certain minor happenings, or the number of bales of cotton raised in such a year; but Hargraves never grew impatient or lost interest. On the contrary, he would advance questions on a variety of subjects connected with the life of that time, and he never failed to extract ready replies.

The fox hunts, the ‘possum suppers, the hoe-downs and jubilees in the negro quarters, the banquets in the plantation-house hall, when invitations went for fifty miles around; the occasional feuds with the neighboring gentry; the Major’s duel with Rathbone Culbertson about Kitty Chalmers, who afterward married a Thwaite of South Carolina; and private yacht races for fabulous sums on Mobile Bay; the quaint beliefs, improvident habits, and loyal virtues of the old slaves—all these were subjects that held both the Major and Hargraves absorbed for hours at a time.

Sometimes, at night, when the young man would be coming upstairs to his room after his turn at the theater was over, the Major would appear at the door of his study and beckon archly to him. Going in, Hargraves would find a little table set with a decanter, sugar bowl, fruit, and a big bunch of fresh green mint.

“It occurred to me,” the Major would begin—he was always ceremonious—”that perhaps you might have found your duties at the—at your place of occupation—sufficiently arduous to enable you, Mr. Hargraves, to appreciate what the poet might well have had in his mind when he wrote, ‘tired Nature’s sweet restorer’—one of our Southern juleps.”

It was a fascination to Hargraves to watch him make it. He took rank among artists when he began, and he never varied the process. With what delicacy he bruised the mint; with what exquisite nicety he estimated the ingredients; with what solicitous care he capped the compound with the scarlet fruit glowing against the dark green fringe! And then the hospitality and grace with which he offered it, after the selected oat straws had been plunged into its tinkling depths!

After about four months in Washington, Miss Lydia discovered one morning that they were almost without money. The Anecdotes and Reminiscences was completed, but publishers had not jumped at the collected gems of Alabama sense and wit. The rental of a small house which they still owned in Mobile was two months in arrears. Their board money for the month would be due in three days. Miss Lydia called her father to a consultation.

“No money?” said he with a surprised look. “It is quite annoying to be called on so frequently for these petty sums, Really, I—”

The Major searched his pockets. He found only a two-dollar bill, which he returned to his vest pocket.

“I must attend to this at once, Lydia,” he said. “Kindly get me my umbrella and I will go downtown immediately. The congressman from our district, General Fulghum, assured me some days ago that he would use his influence to get my book published at an early date. I will go to his hotel at once and see what arrangement has been made.”

With a sad little smile Miss Lydia watched him button his “Father Hubbard” and depart, pausing at the door, as he always did, to bow profoundly.

That evening, at dark, he returned. It seemed that Congressman Fulghum had seen the publisher who had the Major’s manuscript for reading. That person had said that if the anecdotes, etc., were carefully pruned down about one-half, in order to eliminate the sectional and class prejudice with which the book was dyed from end to end, he might consider its publication.

The Major was in a white heat of anger, but regained his equanimity, according to his code of manners, as soon as he was in Miss Lydia’s presence.

“We must have money,” said Miss Lydia, with a little wrinkle above her nose. “Give me the two dollars, and I will telegraph to Uncle Ralph for some to-night.”

The Major drew a small envelope from his upper vest pocket and tossed it on the table.

“Perhaps it was injudicious,” he said mildly, “but the sum was so merely nominal that I bought tickets to the theater to-night. It’s a new war drama, Lydia. I thought you would be pleased to witness its first production in Washington. I am told that the South has very fair treatment in the play. I confess I should like to see the performance myself.”

Miss Lydia threw up her hands in silent despair.

Still, as the tickets were bought, they might as well be used. So that evening, as they sat in the theater listening to the lively overture, even Miss Lydia was minded to relegate their troubles, for the hour, to second place. The Major, in spotless linen, with his extraordinary coat showing only where it was closely buttoned, and his white hair smoothly roached, looked really fine and distinguished. The curtain went up on the first act of A Magnolia Flower, revealing a typical Southern plantation scene. Major Talbot betrayed some interest.

“Oh, see!” exclaimed Miss Lydia, nudging his arm, and pointing to her program.

The Major put on his glasses and read the line in the cast of characters that her fingers indicated.

Col. Webster Calhoun …. Mr. Hopkins Hargraves.

“It’s our Mr. Hargraves,” said Miss Lydia. “It must be his first appearance in what he calls ‘the legitimate.’ I’m so glad for him.”

Not until the second act did Col. Webster Calhoun appear upon the stage. When he made his entry Major Talbot gave an audible sniff, glared at him, and seemed to freeze solid. Miss Lydia uttered a little, ambiguous squeak and crumpled her program in her hand. For Colonel Calhoun was made up as nearly resembling Major Talbot as one pea does another. The long, thin white hair, curly at the ends, the aristocratic beak of a nose, the crumpled, wide, raveling shirt front, the string tie, with the bow nearly under one ear, were almost exactly duplicated. And then, to clinch the imitation, he wore the twin to the Major’s supposed to be unparalleled coat. High-collared, baggy, empire-waisted, ample-skirted, hanging a foot lower in front than behind, the garment could have been designed from no other pattern. From then on, the Major and Miss Lydia sat bewitched, and saw the counterfeit presentment of a haughty Talbot “dragged,” as the Major afterward expressed it, “through the slanderous mire of a corrupt stage.”

Mr. Hargraves had used his opportunities well. He had caught the Major’s little idiosyncrasies of speech, accent, and intonation and his pompous courtliness to perfection—exaggerating all to the purpose of the stage. When he performed that marvelous bow that the Major fondly imagined to be the pink of all salutations, the audience sent forth a sudden round of hearty applause.

Miss Lydia sat immovable, not daring to glance toward her father. Sometimes her hand next to him would be laid against her cheek, as if to conceal the smile which, in spite of her disapproval, she could not entirely suppress.

The culmination of Hargraves audacious imitation took place in the third act. The scene is where Colonel Calhoun entertains a few of the neighboring planters in his “den.”

Standing at a table in the center of the stage, with his friends grouped about him, he delivers that inimitable, rambling character monologue so famous in A Magnolia Flower, at the same time that he deftly makes juleps for the party.

Major Talbot, sitting quietly, but white with indignation, heard his best stories retold, his pet theories and hobbies advanced and expanded, and the dream of the Anecdotes and Reminiscences served, exaggerated and garbled. His favorite narrative—that of his duel with Rathbone Culbertson—was not omitted, and it was delivered with more fire, egotism, and gusto than the Major himself put into it.

The monologue concluded with a quaint, delicious, witty little lecture on the art of concocting a julep, illustrated by the act. Here Major Talbot’s delicate but showy science was reproduced to a hair’s breadth—from his dainty handling of the fragrant weed—”the one-thousandth part of a grain too much pressure, gentlemen, and you extract the bitterness, instead of the aroma, of this heaven-bestowed plant”—to his solicitous selection of the oaten straws.

At the close of the scene the audience raised a tumultuous roar of appreciation. The portrayal of the type was so exact, so sure and thorough, that the leading characters in the play were forgotten. After repeated calls, Hargraves came before the curtain and bowed, his rather boyish face bright and flushed with the knowledge of success.

At last Miss Lydia turned and looked at the Major. His thin nostrils were working like the gills of a fish. He laid both shaking hands upon the arms of his chair to rise.

“We will go, Lydia,” he said chokingly. “This is an abominable—desecration.”

Before he could rise, she pulled him back into his seat.

“We will stay it out,” she declared. “Do you want to advertise the copy by exhibiting the original coat?” So they remained to the end.

Hargraves’s success must have kept him up late that night, for neither at the breakfast nor at the dinner table did he appear.

About three in the afternoon he tapped at the door of Major Talbot’s study. The Major opened it, and Hargraves walked in with his hands full of the morning papers—too full of his triumph to notice anything unusual in the Major’s demeanor.

“I put it all over ’em last night, Major,” he began exultantly. “I had my inning, and, I think, scored. Here’s what The Post says:

“‘His conception and portrayal of the old-time Southern colonel, with his absurd grandiloquence, his eccentric garb, his quaint idioms and phrases, his motheaten pride of family, and his really kind heart, fastidious sense of honor, and lovable simplicity, is the best delineation of a character role on the boards to-day. The coat worn by Colonel Calhoun is itself nothing less than an evolution of genius. Mr. Hargraves has captured his public.’

“How does that sound, Major, for a first-nighter?”

“I had the honor”—the Major’s voice sounded ominously frigid—”of witnessing your very remarkable performance, sir, last night.”

Hargraves looked disconcerted.

“You were there? I didn’t know you ever—I didn’t know you cared for the theater. Oh, I say, Major Talbot,” he exclaimed frankly, “don’t you be offended. I admit I did get a lot of pointers from you that helped out wonderfully in the part. But it’s a type, you know—not individual. The way the audience caught on shows that. Half the patrons of that theater are Southerners. They recognized it.”

“Mr. Hargraves,” said the Major, who had remained standing, “you have put upon me an unpardonable insult. You have burlesqued my person, grossly betrayed my confidence, and misused my hospitality. If I thought you possessed the faintest conception of what is the sign manual of a gentleman, or what is due one, I would call you out, sir, old as I am. I will ask you to leave the room, sir.”

The actor appeared to be slightly bewildered, and seemed hardly to take in the full meaning of the old gentleman’s words.

“I am truly sorry you took offense,” he said regretfully. “Up here we don’t look at things just as you people do. I know men who would buy out half the house to have their personality put on the stage so the public would recognize it.”

“They are not from Alabama, sir,” said the Major haughtily.

“Perhaps not. I have a pretty good memory, Major; let me quote a few lines from your book. In response to a toast at a banquet given in—Milledgeville, I believe—you uttered, and intend to have printed, these words:

“‘The Northern man is utterly without sentiment or warmth except in so far as the feelings may be turned to his own commercial profit. He will suffer without resentment any imputation cast upon the honor of himself or his loved ones that does not bear with it the consequence of pecuniary loss. In his charity, he gives with a liberal hand; but it must be heralded with the trumpet and chronicled in brass.’

“Do you think that picture is fairer than the one you saw of Colonel Calhoun last night?”

“The description,” said the Major, frowning, “is—not without grounds. Some exag—latitude must be allowed in public speaking.”

“And in public acting,” replied Hargraves.

“That is not the point,” persisted the Major, unrelenting. “It was a personal caricature. I positively decline to overlook it, sir.”

“Major Talbot,” said Hargraves, with a winning smile, “I wish you would understand me. I want you to know that I never dreamed of insulting you. In my profession, all life belongs to me. I take what I want, and what I can, and return it over the footlights. Now, if you will, let’s let it go at that. I came in to see you about something else. We’ve been pretty good friends for some months, and I’m going to take the risk of offending you again. I know you are hard up for money—never mind how I found out, a boarding house is no place to keep such matters secret—and I want you to let me help you out of the pinch. I’ve been there often enough myself. I’ve been getting a fair salary all the season, and I’ve saved some money. You’re welcome to a couple hundred—or even more—until you get——”

“Stop!” commanded the Major, with his arm outstretched. “It seems that my book didn’t lie, after all. You think your money salve will heal all the hurts of honor. Under no circumstances would I accept a loan from a casual acquaintance; and as to you, sir, I would starve before I would consider your insulting offer of a financial adjustment of the circumstances we have discussed. I beg to repeat my request relative to your quitting the apartment.”

Hargraves took his departure without another word. He also left the house the same day, moving, as Mrs. Vardeman explained at the supper table, nearer the vicinity of the downtown theater, where A Magnolia Flower was booked for a week’s run.

Critical was the situation with Major Talbot and Miss Lydia. There was no one in Washington to whom the Major’s scruples allowed him to apply for a loan. Miss Lydia wrote a letter to Uncle Ralph, but it was doubtful whether that relative’s constricted affairs would permit him to furnish help. The Major was forced to make an apologetic address to Mrs. Vardeman regarding the delayed payment for board, referring to “delinquent rentals” and “delayed remittances” in a rather confused strain.

Deliverance came from an entirely unexpected source.

Late one afternoon the door maid came up and announced an old colored man who wanted to see Major Talbot. The Major asked that he be sent up to his study. Soon an old darkey appeared in the doorway, with his hat in hand, bowing, and scraping with one clumsy foot. He was quite decently dressed in a baggy suit of black. His big, coarse shoes shone with a metallic luster suggestive of stove polish. His bushy wool was gray—almost white. After middle life, it is difficult to estimate the age of a negro. This one might have seen as many years as had Major Talbot.

“I be bound you don’t know me, Mars’ Pendleton,” were his first words.

The Major rose and came forward at the old, familiar style of address. It was one of the old plantation darkeys without a doubt; but they had been widely scattered, and he could not recall the voice or face.

“I don’t believe I do,” he said kindly—”unless you will assist my memory.”

“Don’t you ‘member Cindy’s Mose, Mars’ Pendleton, what ‘migrated ‘mediately after de war?”

“Wait a moment,” said the Major, rubbing his forehead with the tips of his fingers. He loved to recall everything connected with those beloved days. “Cindy’s Mose,” he reflected. “You worked among the horses—breaking the colts. Yes, I remember now. After the surrender, you took the name of—don’t prompt me—Mitchell, and went to the West—to Nebraska.”

“Yassir, yassir,”—the old man’s face stretched with a delighted grin—”dat’s him, dat’s it. Newbraska. Dat’s me—Mose Mitchell. Old Uncle Mose Mitchell, dey calls me now. Old mars’, your pa, gimme a pah of dem mule colts when I lef’ fur to staht me goin’ with. You ‘member dem colts, Mars’ Pendleton?”

“I don’t seem to recall the colts,” said the Major. “You know. I was married the first year of the war and living at the old Follinsbee place. But sit down, sit down, Uncle Mose. I’m glad to see you. I hope you have prospered.”

Uncle Mose took a chair and laid his hat carefully on the floor beside it.

“Yessir; of late I done mouty famous. When I first got to Newbraska, dey folks come all roun’ me to see dem mule colts. Dey ain’t see no mules like dem in Newbraska. I sold dem mules for three hundred dollars. Yessir—three hundred.

“Den I open a blacksmith shop, suh, and made some money and bought some lan’. Me and my old ‘oman done raised up seb’m chillun, and all doin’ well ‘cept two of ’em what died. Fo’ year ago a railroad come along and staht a town slam ag’inst my lan’, and, suh, Mars’ Pendleton, Uncle Mose am worth leb’m thousand dollars in money, property, and lan’.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said the Major heartily. “Glad to hear it.”

“And dat little baby of yo’n, Mars’ Pendleton—one what you name Miss Lyddy—I be bound dat little tad done growed up tell nobody wouldn’t know her.”

The Major stepped to the door and called: “Lydie, dear, will you come?”

Miss Lydia, looking quite grown up and a little worried, came in from her room.

“Dar, now! What’d I tell you? I knowed dat baby done be plum growed up. You don’t ‘member Uncle Mose, child?”

“This is Aunt Cindy’s Mose, Lydia,” explained the Major. “He left Sunnymead for the West when you were two years old.”

“Well,” said Miss Lydia, “I can hardly be expected to remember you, Uncle Mose, at that age. And, as you say, I’m ‘plum growed up,’ and was a blessed long time ago. But I’m glad to see you, even if I can’t remember you.”

And she was. And so was the Major. Something alive and tangible had come to link them with the happy past. The three sat and talked over the olden times, the Major and Uncle Mose correcting or prompting each other as they reviewed the plantation scenes and days.

The Major inquired what the old man was doing so far from his home.

“Uncle Mose am a delicate,” he explained, “to de grand Baptis’ convention in dis city. I never preached none, but bein’ a residin’ elder in de church, and able fur to pay my own expenses, dey sent me along.”

“And how did you know we were in Washington?” inquired Miss Lydia.

“Dey’s a cullud man works in de hotel whar I stops, what comes from Mobile. He told me he seen Mars’ Pendleton comin’ outen dish here house one mawnin’.

“What I come fur,” continued Uncle Mose, reaching into his pocket—”besides de sight of home folks—was to pay Mars’ Pendleton what I owes him.

“Yessir—three hundred dollars.” He handed the Major a roll of bills. “When I lef’ old mars’ says: ‘Take dem mule colts, Mose, and, if it be so you gits able, pay fur ’em.’ Yessir—dem was his words. De war had done lef’ old mars’ po’ hisself. Old mars’ bein’ long ago dead, de debt descends to Mars’ Pendleton. Three hundred dollars. Uncle Mose is plenty able to pay now. When dat railroad buy my lan’ I laid off to pay fur dem mules. Count de money, Mars’ Pendleton. Dat’s what I sold dem mules fur. Yessir.”

Tears were in Major Talbot’s eyes. He took Uncle Mose’s hand and laid his other upon his shoulder.

“Dear, faithful, old servitor,” he said in an unsteady voice, “I don’t mind saying to you that ‘Mars’ Pendleton spent his last dollar in the world a week ago. We will accept this money, Uncle Mose, since, in a way, it is a sort of payment, as well as a token of the loyalty and devotion of the old régime. Lydia, my dear, take the money. You are better fitted than I to manage its expenditure.”

“Take it, honey,” said Uncle Mose. “Hit belongs to you. Hit’s Talbot money.”

After Uncle Mose had gone, Miss Lydia had a good cry—-for joy; and the Major turned his face to a corner, and smoked his clay pipe volcanically.

The succeeding days saw the Talbots restored to peace and ease. Miss Lydia’s face lost its worried look. The major appeared in a new frock coat, in which he looked like a wax figure personifying the memory of his golden age. Another publisher who read the manuscript of the Anecdotes and Reminiscences thought that, with a little retouching and toning down of the high lights, he could make a really bright and salable volume of it. Altogether, the situation was comfortable, and not without the touch of hope that is often sweeter than arrived blessings.

One day, about a week after their piece of good luck, a maid brought a letter for Miss Lydia to her room. The postmark showed that it was from New York. Not knowing any one there, Miss Lydia, in a mild flutter of wonder, sat down by her table and opened the letter with her scissors. This was what she read:

DEAR MISS TALBOT:

I thought you might be glad to learn of my good fortune. I have received and accepted an offer of two hundred dollars per week by a New York stock company to play Colonel Calhoun in A Magnolia Flower.

There is something else I wanted you to know. I guess you’d better not tell Major Talbot. I was anxious to make him some amends for the great help he was to me in studying the part, and for the bad humor he was in about it. He refused to let me, so I did it anyhow. I could easily spare the three hundred.

Sincerely yours,
H. HOPKINS HARGRAVES.

P.S. How did I play Uncle Mose?

Major Talbot, passing through the hall, saw Miss Lydia’s door open and stopped.

“Any mail for us this morning, Lydia, dear?” he asked.

Miss Lydia slid the letter beneath a fold of her dress.

The Mobile Chronicle came,” she said promptly. “It’s on the table in your study.”

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