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D. Appleton and Company
By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.
Copyright, 1896, by Stephen Crane.
The engine bellowed its way up the slanting, winding valley. Grey crags, and trees with roots fastened cleverly to the steeps looked down at the struggles of the black monster.
When the train finally released its passengers they burst forth with the enthusiasm of escaping convicts. A great bustle ensued on the platform of the little mountain station. The idlers and philosophers from the village were present to examine the consignment of people from the city. These latter, loaded with bundles and children, thronged at the stage drivers. The stage drivers thronged at the people from the city.
Hawker, with his clothes case, his paint-box, his easel, climbed [Pg 2]awkwardly down the steps of the car. The easel swung uncontrolled and knocked against the head of a little boy who was disembarking backward with fine caution. "Hello, little man," said Hawker, "did it hurt?" The child regarded him in silence and with sudden interest, as if Hawker had called his attention to a phenomenon. The young painter was politely waiting until the little boy should conclude his examination, but a voice behind him cried, "Roger, go on down!" A nursemaid was conducting a little girl where she would probably be struck by the other end of the easel. The boy resumed his cautious descent.
The stage drivers made such great noise as a collection that as individuals their identities were lost. With a highly important air, as a man proud of being so busy, the baggageman of the train was thundering trunks at the other employees on the platform. Hawker, prowling through the crowd, heard a voice near his shoulder say, "Do you know where is the stage for Hemlock Inn?" Hawker turned and found a young woman regarding him. A wave of astonishment whirled into his hair, and he [Pg 3]turned his eyes quickly for fear that she would think that he had looked at her. He said, "Yes, certainly, I think I can find it." At the same time he was crying to himself: "Wouldn't I like to paint her, though! What a glance—oh, murder! The—the—the distance in her eyes!"
He went fiercely from one driver to another. That obdurate stage for Hemlock Inn must appear at once. Finally he perceived a man who grinned expectantly at him. "Oh," said Hawker, "you drive the stage for Hemlock Inn?" The man admitted it. Hawker said, "Here is the stage." The young woman smiled.
The driver inserted Hawker and his luggage far into the end of the vehicle. He sat there, crooked forward so that his eyes should see the first coming of the girl into the frame of light at the other end of the stage. Presently she appeared there. She was bringing the little boy, the little girl, the nursemaid, and another young woman, who was at once to be known as the mother of the two children. The girl indicated the stage with a small gesture of triumph. When they were all seated [Pg 4]uncomfortably in the huge covered vehicle the little boy gave Hawker a glance of recognition. "It hurted then, but it's all right now," he informed him cheerfully.
"Did it?" replied Hawker. "I'm sorry."
"Oh, I didn't mind it much," continued the little boy, swinging his long, red-leather leggings bravely to and fro. "I don't cry when I'm hurt, anyhow." He cast a meaning look at his tiny sister, whose soft lips set defensively.
The driver climbed into his seat, and after a scrutiny of the group in the gloom of the stage he chirped to his horses. They began a slow and thoughtful trotting. Dust streamed out behind the vehicle. In front, the green hills were still and serene in the evening air. A beam of gold struck them aslant, and on the sky was lemon and pink information of the sun's sinking. The driver knew many people along the road, and from time to time he conversed with them in yells.
The two children were opposite Hawker. They sat very correctly mucilaged to their seats, but their large eyes were always upon Hawker, calmly valuing him.[Pg 5]
"Do you think it nice to be in the country? I do," said the boy.
"I like it very well," answered Hawker.
"I shall go fishing, and hunting, and everything. Maybe I shall shoot a bears."
"I hope you may."
"Did you ever shoot a bears?"
"Well, I didn't, too, but maybe I will. Mister Hollanden, he said he'd look around for one. Where I live——"
"Roger," interrupted the mother from her seat at Hawker's side, "perhaps every one is not interested in your conversation." The boy seemed embarrassed at this interruption, for he leaned back in silence with an apologetic look at Hawker. Presently the stage began to climb the hills, and the two children were obliged to take grip upon the cushions for fear of being precipitated upon the nursemaid.
Fate had arranged it so that Hawker could not observe the girl with the—the—the distance in her eyes without leaning forward and discovering to her his interest. Secretly and impiously he wriggled in his seat, and as the[Pg 6] bumping stage swung its passengers this way and that way, he obtained fleeting glances of a cheek, an arm, or a shoulder.
The driver's conversation tone to his passengers was also a yell. "Train was an hour late t'night," he said, addressing the interior. "It'll be nine o'clock before we git t' th' inn, an' it'll be perty dark travellin'."
Hawker waited decently, but at last he said, "Will it?"
"Yes. No moon." He turned to face Hawker, and roared, "You're ol' Jim Hawker's son, hain't yeh?"
"I thort I'd seen yeh b'fore. Live in the city now, don't yeh?"
"Want t' git off at th' cross-road?"
"Come up fer a little stay doorin' th' summer?"
"On'y charge yeh a quarter if yeh git off at cross-road. Useter charge 'em fifty cents, but I ses t' th' ol' man. 'Tain't no use. Gol[Pg 7]dern 'em, they'll walk ruther'n put up fifty cents.' Yep. On'y a quarter."
In the shadows Hawker's expression seemed assassinlike. He glanced furtively down the stage. She was apparently deep in talk with the mother of the children.[Pg 8]
When Hawker pushed at the old gate, it hesitated because of a broken hinge. A dog barked with loud ferocity and came headlong over the grass.
"Hello, Stanley, old man!" cried Hawker. The ardour for battle was instantly smitten from the dog, and his barking swallowed in a gurgle of delight. He was a large orange and white setter, and he partly expressed his emotion by twisting his body into a fantastic curve and then dancing over the ground with his head and his tail very near to each other. He gave vent to little sobs in a wild attempt to vocally describe his gladness. "Well, 'e was a dreat dod," said Hawker, and the setter, overwhelmed, contorted himself wonderfully.
There were lights in the kitchen, and at the first barking of the dog the door had been thrown open. Hawker saw his two sisters shading their eyes and peering down the yel[Pg 9]low stream. Presently they shouted, "Here he is!" They flung themselves out and upon him. "Why, Will! why, Will!" they panted.
"We're awful glad to see you!" In a whirlwind of ejaculation and unanswerable interrogation they grappled the clothes case, the paint-box, the easel, and dragged him toward the house.
He saw his old mother seated in a rocking-chair by the table. She had laid aside her paper and was adjusting her glasses as she scanned the darkness. "Hello, mother!" cried Hawker, as he entered. His eyes were bright. The old mother reached her arms to his neck. She murmured soft and half-articulate words. Meanwhile the dog writhed from one to another. He raised his muzzle high to express his delight. He was always fully convinced that he was taking a principal part in this ceremony of welcome and that everybody was heeding him.
"Have you had your supper?" asked the old mother as soon as she recovered herself. The girls clamoured sentences at him. "Pa's out in the barn, Will. What made you so late? He said maybe he'd go up to the cross-[Pg 10]roads to see if he could see the stage. Maybe he's gone. What made you so late? And, oh, we got a new buggy!"
The old mother repeated anxiously, "Have you had your supper?"
"No," said Hawker, "but——"
The three women sprang to their feet. "Well, we'll git you something right away." They bustled about the kitchen and dove from time to time into the cellar. They called to each other in happy voices.
Steps sounded on the line of stones that led from the door toward the barn, and a shout came from the darkness. "Well, William, home again, hey?" Hawker's grey father came stamping genially into the room. "I thought maybe you got lost. I was comin' to hunt you," he said, grinning, as they stood with gripped hands. "What made you so late?"
While Hawker confronted the supper the family sat about and contemplated him with shining eyes. His sisters noted his tie and propounded some questions concerning it. His mother watched to make sure that he should consume a notable quantity of the pre[Pg 11]served cherries. "He used to be so fond of 'em when he was little," she said.
"Oh, Will," cried the younger sister, "do you remember Lil' Johnson? Yeh? She's married. Married las' June."
"Is the boy's room all ready, mother?" asked the father.
"We fixed it this mornin'," she said.
"And do you remember Jeff Decker?" shouted the elder sister. "Well, he's dead. Yep. Drowned, pickerel fishin'—poor feller!"
"Well, how are you gitting along, William?" asked the father. "Sell many pictures?"
"An occasional one."
"Saw your illustrations in the May number of Perkinson's." The old man paused for a moment, and then added, quite weakly, "Pretty good."
"How's everything about the place?"
"Oh, just about the same—'bout the same. The colt run away with me last week, but didn't break nothin', though. I was scared, because I had out the new buggy—we got a new buggy—but it didn't break nothin'. I'm[Pg 12] goin' to sell the oxen in the fall; I don't want to winter 'em. And then in the spring I'll get a good hoss team. I rented th' back five-acre to John Westfall. I had more'n I could handle with only one hired hand. Times is pickin' up a little, but not much—not much."
"And we got a new school-teacher," said one of the girls.
"Will, you never noticed my new rocker," said the old mother, pointing. "I set it right where I thought you'd see it, and you never took no notice. Ain't it nice? Father bought it at Monticello for my birthday. I thought you'd notice it first thing."
When Hawker had retired for the night, he raised a sash and sat by the window smoking. The odour of the woods and the fields came sweetly to his nostrils. The crickets chanted their hymn of the night. On the black brow of the mountain he could see two long rows of twinkling dots which marked the position of Hemlock Inn.[Pg 13]
Hawker had a writing friend named Hollanden. In New York Hollanden had announced his resolution to spend the summer at Hemlock Inn. "I don't like to see the world progressing," he had said; "I shall go to Sullivan County for a time."
In the morning Hawker took his painting equipment, and after manœuvring in the fields until he had proved to himself that he had no desire to go toward the inn, he went toward it. The time was only nine o'clock, and he knew that he could not hope to see Hollanden before eleven, as it was only through rumour that Hollanden was aware that there was a sunrise and an early morning.
Hawker encamped in front of some fields of vivid yellow stubble on which trees made olive shadows, and which was overhung by a china-blue sky and sundry little white clouds. He fiddled away perfunctorily at it. A spec[Pg 14]tator would have believed, probably, that he was sketching the pines on the hill where shone the red porches of Hemlock Inn.
Finally, a white-flannel young man walked into the landscape. Hawker waved a brush. "Hi, Hollie, get out of the colour-scheme!"
At this cry the white-flannel young man looked down at his feet apprehensively. Finally he came forward grinning. "Why, hello, Hawker, old boy! Glad to find you here." He perched on a boulder and began to study Hawker's canvas and the vivid yellow stubble with the olive shadows. He wheeled his eyes from one to the other. "Say, Hawker," he said suddenly, "why don't you marry Miss Fanhall?"
Hawker had a brush in his mouth, but he took it quickly out, and said, "Marry Miss Fanhall? Who the devil is Miss Fanhall?"
Hollanden clasped both hands about his knee and looked thoughtfully away. "Oh, she's a girl."
"She is?" said Hawker.
"Yes. She came to the inn last night with her sister-in-law and a small tribe of young Fanhalls. There's six of them, I think."[Pg 15]
"Two," said Hawker, "a boy and a girl."
"How do you—oh, you must have come up with them. Of course. Why, then you saw her."
"Was that her?" asked Hawker listlessly.
"Was that her?" cried Hollanden, with indignation. "Was that her?"
"Oh!" said Hawker.
Hollanden mused again. "She's got lots of money," he said. "Loads of it. And I think she would be fool enough to have sympathy for you in your work. They are a tremendously wealthy crowd, although they treat it simply. It would be a good thing for you. I believe—yes, I am sure she could be fool enough to have sympathy for you in your work. And now, if you weren't such a hopeless chump——"
"Oh, shut up, Hollie," said the painter.
For a time Hollanden did as he was bid, but at last he talked again. "Can't think why they came up here. Must be her sister-in-law's health. Something like that. She——"
"Great heavens," said Hawker, "you speak of nothing else!"[Pg 16]
"Well, you saw her, didn't you?" demanded Hollanden. "What can you expect, then, from a man of my sense? You—you old stick—you——"
"It was quite dark," protested the painter.
"Quite dark," repeated Hollanden, in a wrathful voice. "What if it was?"
"Well, that is bound to make a difference in a man's opinion, you know."
"No, it isn't. It was light down at the railroad station, anyhow. If you had any sand—thunder, but I did get up early this morning! Say, do you play tennis?"
"After a fashion," said Hawker. "Why?"
"Oh, nothing," replied Hollanden sadly. "Only they are wearing me out at the game. I had to get up and play before breakfast this morning with the Worcester girls, and there is a lot more mad players who will be down on me before long. It's a terrible thing to be a tennis player."
"Why, you used to put yourself out so little for people," remarked Hawker.
"Yes, but up there"—Hollanden jerked his thumb in the direction of the inn—"they think I'm so amiable."[Pg 17]
"Well, I'll come up and help you out."
"Do," Hollanden laughed; "you and Miss Fanhall can team it against the littlest Worcester girl and me." He regarded the landscape and meditated. Hawker struggled for a grip on the thought of the stubble.
"That colour of hair and eyes always knocks me kerplunk," observed Hollanden softly.
Hawker looked up irascibly. "What colour hair and eyes?" he demanded. "I believe you're crazy."
"What colour hair and eyes?" repeated Hollanden, with a savage gesture. "You've got no more appreciation than a post."
"They are good enough for me," muttered Hawker, turning again to his work. He scowled first at the canvas and then at the stubble. "Seems to me you had best take care of yourself, instead of planning for me," he said.
"Me!" cried Hollanden. "Me! Take care of myself! My boy, I've got a past of sorrow and gloom. I——"
"You're nothing but a kid," said Hawker, glaring at the other man.
"Oh, of course," said Hollanden, wagging[Pg 18] his head with midnight wisdom. "Oh, of course."
"Well, Hollie," said Hawker, with sudden affability, "I didn't mean to be unpleasant, but then you are rather ridiculous, you know, sitting up there and howling about the colour of hair and eyes."
"I'm not ridiculous."
"Yes, you are, you know, Hollie."
The writer waved his hand despairingly. "And you rode in the train with her, and in the stage."
"I didn't see her in the train," said Hawker.
"Oh, then you saw her in the stage. Ha-ha, you old thief! I sat up here, and you sat down there and lied." He jumped from his perch and belaboured Hawker's shoulders.
"Stop that!" said the painter.
"Oh, you old thief, you lied to me! You lied—— Hold on—bless my life, here she comes now!"[Pg 19]
One day Hollanden said: "There are forty-two people at Hemlock Inn, I think. Fifteen are middle-aged ladies of the most aggressive respectability. They have come here for no discernible purpose save to get where they can see people and be displeased at them. They sit in a large group on that porch and take measurements of character as importantly as if they constituted the jury of heaven. When I arrived at Hemlock Inn I at once cast my eye searchingly about me. Perceiving this assemblage, I cried, 'There they are!' Barely waiting to change my clothes, I made for this formidable body and endeavoured to conciliate it. Almost every day I sit down among them and lie like a machine. Privately I believe they should be hanged, but publicly I glisten with admiration. Do you know, there is one of 'em who I know has not moved from the inn in eight[Pg 20] days, and this morning I said to her, 'These long walks in the clear mountain air are doing you a world of good.' And I keep continually saying, 'Your frankness is so charming!' Because of the great law of universal balance, I know that this illustrious corps will believe good of themselves with exactly the same readiness that they will believe ill of others. So I ply them with it. In consequence, the worst they ever say of me is, 'Isn't that Mr. Hollanden a peculiar man?' And you know, my boy, that's not so bad for a literary person." After some thought he added: "Good people, too. Good wives, good mothers, and everything of that kind, you know. But conservative, very conservative. Hate anything radical. Can not endure it. Were that way themselves once, you know. They hit the mark, too, sometimes. Such general volleyings can't fail to hit everything. May the devil fly away with them!"
Hawker regarded the group nervously, and at last propounded a great question: "Say, I wonder where they all are recruited? When you come to think that almost every summer hotel——"[Pg 21]
"Certainly," said Hollanden, "almost every summer hotel. I've studied the question, and have nearly established the fact that almost every summer hotel is furnished with a full corps of——"
"To be sure," said Hawker; "and if you search for them in the winter, you can find barely a sign of them, until you examine the boarding houses, and then you observe——"
"Certainly," said Hollanden, "of course. By the way," he added, "you haven't got any obviously loose screws in your character, have you?"
"No," said Hawker, after consideration, "only general poverty—that's all."
"Of course, of course," said Hollanden. "But that's bad. They'll get on to you, sure. Particularly since you come up here to see Miss Fanhall so much."
Hawker glinted his eyes at his friend. "You've got a deuced open way of speaking," he observed.
"Deuced open, is it?" cried Hollanden. "It isn't near so open as your devotion to Miss Fanhall, which is as plain as a red petticoat hung on a hedge."[Pg 22]
Hawker's face gloomed, and he said, "Well, it might be plain to you, you infernal cat, but that doesn't prove that all those old hens can see it."
"I tell you that if they look twice at you they can't fail to see it. And it's bad, too. Very bad. What's the matter with you? Haven't you ever been in love before?"
"None of your business," replied Hawker.
Hollanden thought upon this point for a time. "Well," he admitted finally, "that's true in a general way, but I hate to see you managing your affairs so stupidly."
Rage flamed into Hawker's face, and he cried passionately, "I tell you it is none of your business!" He suddenly confronted the other man.
Hollanden surveyed this outburst with a critical eye, and then slapped his knee with emphasis. "You certainly have got it—a million times worse than I thought. Why, you—you—you're heels over head."
"What if I am?" said Hawker, with a gesture of defiance and despair.
Hollanden saw a dramatic situation in the distance, and with a bright smile he studied it.[Pg 23] "Say," he exclaimed, "suppose she should not go to the picnic to-morrow? She said this morning she did not know if she could go. Somebody was expected from New York, I think. Wouldn't it break you up, though! Eh?"
"You're so dev'lish clever!" said Hawker, with sullen irony.
Hollanden was still regarding the distant dramatic situation. "And rivals, too! The woods must be crowded with them. A girl like that, you know. And then all that money! Say, your rivals must number enough to make a brigade of militia. Imagine them swarming around! But then it doesn't matter so much," he went on cheerfully; "you've got a good play there. You must appreciate them to her—you understand?—appreciate them kindly, like a man in a watch-tower. You must laugh at them only about once a week, and then very tolerantly—you understand?—and kindly, and—and appreciatively."
"You're a colossal ass, Hollie!" said Hawker. "You——"
"Yes, yes, I know," replied the other[Pg 24] peacefully; "a colossal ass. Of course." After looking into the distance again, he murmured: "I'm worried about that picnic. I wish I knew she was going. By heavens, as a matter of fact, she must be made to go!"
"What have you got to do with it?" cried the painter, in another sudden outburst.
"There! there!" said Hollanden, waving his hand. "You fool! Only a spectator, I assure you."
Hawker seemed overcome then with a deep dislike of himself. "Oh, well, you know, Hollie, this sort of thing——" He broke off and gazed at the trees. "This sort of thing—— It——"
"How?" asked Hollanden.
"Confound you for a meddling, gabbling idiot!" cried Hawker suddenly.
Hollanden replied, "What did you do with that violet she dropped at the side of the tennis court yesterday?"[Pg 25]
Mrs. Fanhall, with the two children, the Worcester girls, and Hollanden, clambered down the rocky path. Miss Fanhall and Hawker had remained on top of the ledge. Hollanden showed much zeal in conducting his contingent to the foot of the falls. Through the trees they could see the cataract, a great shimmering white thing, booming and thundering until all the leaves gently shuddered.
"I wonder where Miss Fanhall and Mr. Hawker have gone?" said the younger Miss Worcester. "I wonder where they've gone?"
"Millicent," said Hollander, looking at her fondly, "you always had such great thought for others."
"Well, I wonder where they've gone?"
At the foot of the falls, where the mist arose in silver clouds and the green water swept into the pool, Miss Worcester, the[Pg 26] elder, seated on the moss, exclaimed, "Oh, Mr. Hollanden, what makes all literary men so peculiar?"
"And all that just because I said that I could have made better digestive organs than Providence, if it is true that he made mine," replied Hollanden, with reproach. "Here, Roger," he cried, as he dragged the child away from the brink, "don't fall in there, or you won't be the full-back at Yale in 1907, as you have planned. I'm sure I don't know how to answer you, Miss Worcester. I've inquired of innumerable literary men, and none of 'em know. I may say I have chased that problem for years. I might give you my personal history, and see if that would throw any light on the subject." He looked about him with chin high until his glance had noted the two vague figures at the top of the cliff. "I might give you my personal history——"
Mrs. Fanhall looked at him curiously, and the elder Worcester girl cried, "Oh, do!"
After another scanning of the figures at the top of the cliff, Hollanden established himself in an oratorical pose on a great weather-beaten stone. "Well—you must understand[Pg 27]—I started my career—my career, you understand—with a determination to be a prophet, and, although I have ended in being an acrobat, a trained bear of the magazines, and a juggler of comic paragraphs, there was once carved upon my lips a smile which made many people detest me, for it hung before them like a banshee whenever they tried to be satisfied with themselves. I was informed from time to time that I was making no great holes in the universal plan, and I came to know that one person in every two thousand of the people I saw had heard of me, and that four out of five of these had forgotten it. And then one in every two of those who remembered that they had heard of me regarded the fact that I wrote as a great impertinence. I admitted these things, and in defence merely builded a maxim that stated that each wise man in this world is concealed amid some twenty thousand fools. If you have eyes for mathematics, this conclusion should interest you. Meanwhile I created a gigantic dignity, and when men saw this dignity and heard that I was a literary man they respected me. I concluded that the simple campaign of exist[Pg 28]ence for me was to delude the populace, or as much of it as would look at me. I did. I do. And now I can make myself quite happy concocting sneers about it. Others may do as they please, but as for me," he concluded ferociously, "I shall never disclose to anybody that an acrobat, a trained bear of the magazines, a juggler of comic paragraphs, is not a priceless pearl of art and philosophy."
"I don't believe a word of it is true," said Miss Worcester.
"What do you expect of autobiography?" demanded Hollanden, with asperity.
"Well, anyhow, Hollie," exclaimed the younger sister, "you didn't explain a thing about how literary men came to be so peculiar, and that's what you started out to do, you know."
"Well," said Hollanden crossly, "you must never expect a man to do what he starts to do, Millicent. And besides," he went on, with the gleam of a sudden idea in his eyes, "literary men are not peculiar, anyhow."
The elder Worcester girl looked angrily at him. "Indeed? Not you, of course, but the others."[Pg 29]
"They are all asses," said Hollanden genially.
The elder Worcester girl reflected. "I believe you try to make us think and then just tangle us up purposely!"
The younger Worcester girl reflected. "You are an absurd old thing, you know, Hollie!"
Hollanden climbed offendedly from the great weather-beaten stone. "Well, I shall go and see that the men have not spilled the luncheon while breaking their necks over these rocks. Would you like to have it spread here, Mrs. Fanhall? Never mind consulting the girls. I assure you I shall spend a great deal of energy and temper in bullying them into doing just as they please. Why, when I was in Brussels——"
"Oh, come now, Hollie, you never were in Brussels, you know," said the younger Worcester girl.
"What of that, Millicent?" demanded Hollanden. "This is autobiography."
"Well, I don't care, Hollie. You tell such whoppers."
With a gesture of despair he again start[Pg 30]ed away; whereupon the Worcester girls shouted in chorus, "Oh, I say, Hollie, come back! Don't be angry. We didn't mean to tease you, Hollie—really, we didn't!"
"Well, if you didn't," said Hollanden, "why did you——"
The elder Worcester girl was gazing fixedly at the top of the cliff. "Oh, there they are! I wonder why they don't come down?"[Pg 31]
Stanley, the setter, walked to the edge of the precipice and, looking over at the falls, wagged his tail in friendly greeting. He was braced warily, so that if this howling white animal should reach up a hand for him he could flee in time.
The girl stared dreamily at the red-stained crags that projected from the pines of the hill across the stream. Hawker lazily aimed bits of moss at the oblivious dog and missed him.
"It must be fine to have something to think of beyond just living," said the girl to the crags.
"I suppose you mean art?" said Hawker.
"Yes, of course. It must be finer, at any rate, than the ordinary thing."
He mused for a time. "Yes. It is—it must be," he said. "But then—I'd rather just lie here."
The girl seemed aggrieved. "Oh, no, you[Pg 32] wouldn't. You couldn't stop. It's dreadful to talk like that, isn't it? I always thought that painters were——"
"Of course. They should be. Maybe they are. I don't know. Sometimes I am. But not to-day."
"Well, I should think you ought to be so much more contented than just ordinary people. Now, I——"
"You!" he cried—"you are not 'just ordinary people.'"
"Well, but when I try to recall what I have thought about in my life, I can't remember, you know. That's what I mean."
"You shouldn't talk that way," he told her.
"But why do you insist that life should be so highly absorbing for me?"
"You have everything you wish for," he answered, in a voice of deep gloom.
"Certainly not. I am a woman."
"A woman, to have everything she wishes for, would have to be Providence. There are some things that are not in the world."
"Well, what are they?" he asked of her.
"That's just it," she said, nodding her[Pg 33] head, "no one knows. That's what makes the trouble."
"Well, you are very unreasonable."
"You are very unreasonable. If I were you—an heiress——"
The girl flushed and turned upon him angrily.
"Well!" he glowered back at her. "You are, you know. You can't deny it."
She looked at the red-stained crags. At last she said, "You seemed really contemptuous."
"Well, I assure you that I do not feel contemptuous. On the contrary, I am filled with admiration. Thank Heaven, I am a man of the world. Whenever I meet heiresses I always have the deepest admiration." As he said this he wore a brave hang-dog expression. The girl surveyed him coldly from his chin to his eyebrows. "You have a handsome audacity, too."
He lay back in the long grass and contemplated the clouds.
"You should have been a Chinese soldier of fortune," she said.[Pg 34]
He threw another little clod at Stanley and struck him on the head.
"You are the most scientifically unbearable person in the world," she said.
Stanley came back to see his master and to assure himself that the clump on the head was not intended as a sign of serious displeasure. Hawker took the dog's long ears and tried to tie them into a knot.
"And I don't see why you so delight in making people detest you," she continued.
Having failed to make a knot of the dog's ears, Hawker leaned back and surveyed his failure admiringly. "Well, I don't," he said.
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do. You just say the most terrible things as if you positively enjoyed saying them."
"Well, what did I say, now? What did I say?"
"Why, you said that you always had the most extraordinary admiration for heiresses whenever you met them."
"Well, what's wrong with that senti[Pg 35]ment?" he said. "You can't find fault with that!"
"It is utterly detestable."
"Not at all," he answered sullenly. "I consider it a tribute—a graceful tribute."
Miss Fanhall arose and went forward to the edge of the cliff. She became absorbed in the falls. Far below her a bough of a hemlock drooped to the water, and each swirling, mad wave caught it and made it nod—nod—nod. Her back was half turned toward Hawker.
After a time Stanley, the dog, discovered some ants scurrying in the moss, and he at once began to watch them and wag his tail.
"Isn't it curious," observed Hawker, "how an animal as large as a dog will sometimes be so entertained by the very smallest things?"
Stanley pawed gently at the moss, and then thrust his head forward to see what the ants did under the circumstances.
"In the hunting season," continued Hawker, having waited a moment, "this dog knows nothing on earth but his master and the partridges. He is lost to all other sound and movement. He moves through the[Pg 36] woods like a steel machine. And when he scents the bird—ah, it is beautiful! Shouldn't you like to see him then?"
Some of the ants had perhaps made war-like motions, and Stanley was pretending that this was a reason for excitement. He reared aback, and made grumbling noises in his throat.
After another pause Hawker went on: "And now see the precious old fool! He is deeply interested in the movements of the little ants, and as childish and ridiculous over them as if they were highly important.—There, you old blockhead, let them alone!"
Stanley could not be induced to end his investigations, and he told his master that the ants were the most thrilling and dramatic animals of his experience.
"Oh, by the way," said Hawker at last, as his glance caught upon the crags across the river, "did you ever hear the legend of those rocks yonder? Over there where I am pointing? Where I'm pointing? Did you ever hear it? What? Yes? No? Well, I shall tell it to you." He settled comfortably in the long grass.[Pg 37]
"Once upon a time there was a beautiful Indian maiden, of course. And she was, of course, beloved by a youth from another tribe who was very handsome and stalwart and a mighty hunter, of course. But the maiden's father was, of course, a stern old chief, and when the question of his daughter's marriage came up, he, of course, declared that the maiden should be wedded only to a warrior of her tribe. And, of course, when the young man heard this he said that in such case he would, of course, fling himself headlong from that crag. The old chief was, of course, obdurate, and, of course, the youth did, of course, as he had said. And, of course, the maiden wept." After Hawker had waited for some time, he said with severity, "You seem to have no great appreciation of folklore."
The girl suddenly bent her head. "Lis[Pg 38]ten," she said, "they're calling. Don't you hear Hollie's voice?"
They went to another place, and, looking down over the shimmering tree-tops, they saw Hollanden waving his arms. "It's luncheon," said Hawker. "Look how frantic he is!"
The path required that Hawker should assist the girl very often. His eyes shone at her whenever he held forth his hand to help her down a blessed steep place. She seemed rather pensive. The route to luncheon was very long. Suddenly he took a seat on an old tree, and said: "Oh, I don't know why it is, whenever I'm with you, I—I have no wits, nor good nature, nor anything. It's the worst luck!"
He had left her standing on a boulder, where she was provisionally helpless. "Hurry!" she said; "they're waiting for us."
Stanley, the setter, had been sliding down cautiously behind them. He now stood wagging his tail and waiting for the way to be cleared.
Hawker leaned his head on his hand and pondered dejectedly. "It's the worst luck!"[Pg 39]
"Hurry!" she said; "they're waiting for us."
At luncheon the girl was for the most part silent. Hawker was superhumanly amiable. Somehow he gained the impression that they all quite fancied him, and it followed that being clever was very easy. Hollanden listened, and approved him with a benign countenance.
There was a little boat fastened to the willows at the edge of the black pool. After the spread, Hollanden navigated various parties around to where they could hear the great hollow roar of the falls beating against the sheer rocks. Stanley swam after sticks at the request of little Roger.
Once Hollanden succeeded in making the others so engrossed in being amused that Hawker and Miss Fanhall were left alone staring at the white bubbles that floated solemnly on the black water. After Hawker had stared at them a sufficient time, he said, "Well, you are an heiress, you know."
In return she chose to smile radiantly. Turning toward him, she said, "If you will be good now—always—perhaps I'll forgive you."[Pg 40]
They drove home in the sombre shadows of the hills, with Stanley padding along under the wagon. The Worcester girls tried to induce Hollanden to sing, and in consequence there was quarrelling until the blinking lights of the inn appeared above them as if a great lantern hung there.
Hollanden conveyed his friend some distance on the way home from the inn to the farm. "Good time at the picnic?" said the writer.
"Picnics are mainly places where the jam gets on the dead leaves, and from thence to your trousers. But this was a good little picnic." He glanced at Hawker. "But you don't look as if you had such a swell time."
Hawker waved his hand tragically. "Yes—no—I don't know."
"What's wrong with you?" asked Hollanden.
"I tell you what it is, Hollie," said the painter darkly, "whenever I'm with that girl I'm such a blockhead. I'm not so stupid, Hollie. You know I'm not. But when I'm with her I can't be clever to save my life."[Pg 41]
Hollanden pulled contentedly at his pipe. "Maybe she don't notice it."
"Notice it!" muttered Hawker, scornfully; "of course she notices it. In conversation with her, I tell you, I am as interesting as an iron dog." His voice changed as he cried, "I don't know why it is. I don't know why it is."
Blowing a huge cloud of smoke into the air, Hollanden studied it thoughtfully. "Hits some fellows that way," he said. "And, of course, it must be deuced annoying. Strange thing, but now, under those circumstances, I'm very glib. Very glib, I assure you."
"I don't care what you are," answered Hawker. "All those confounded affairs of yours—they were not——"
"No," said Hollanden, stolidly puffing, "of course not. I understand that. But, look here, Billie," he added, with sudden brightness, "maybe you are not a blockhead, after all. You are on the inside, you know, and you can't see from there. Besides, you can't tell what a woman will think. You can't tell what a woman will think."
"No," said Hawker, grimly, "and you suppose that is my only chance?"[Pg 42]
"Oh, don't be such a chump!" said Hollanden, in a tone of vast exasperation.
They strode for some time in silence. The mystic pines swaying over the narrow road made talk sibilantly to the wind. Stanley, the setter, took it upon himself to discover some menacing presence in the woods. He walked on his toes and with his eyes glinting sideways. He swore half under his breath.
"And work, too," burst out Hawker, at last. "I came up here this season to work, and I haven't done a thing that ought not be shot at."
"Don't you find that your love sets fire to your genius?" asked Hollanden gravely.
"No, I'm hanged if I do."
Hollanden sighed then with an air of relief. "I was afraid that a popular impression was true," he said, "but it's all right. You would rather sit still and moon, wouldn't you?"
"Moon—blast you! I couldn't moon to save my life."
"Oh, well, I didn't mean moon exactly."[Pg 43]
The blue night of the lake was embroidered with black tree forms. Silver drops sprinkled from the lifted oars. Somewhere in the gloom of the shore there was a dog, who from time to time raised his sad voice to the stars.
"But still, the life of the studios——" began the girl.
Hawker scoffed. "There were six of us. Mainly we smoked. Sometimes we played hearts and at other times poker—on credit, you know—credit. And when we had the materials and got something to do, we worked. Did you ever see these beautiful red and green designs that surround the common tomato can?"
"Well," he said proudly, "I have made them. Whenever you come upon tomatoes, remember that they might once have been[Pg 44] encompassed in my design. When first I came back from Paris I began to paint, but nobody wanted me to paint. Later, I got into green corn and asparagus——"
"Yes, indeed. It is true."
"But still, the life of the studios——"
"There were six of us. Fate ordained that only one in the crowd could have money at one time. The other five lived off him and despised themselves. We despised ourselves five times as long as we had admiration."
"And was this just because you had no money?"
"It was because we had no money in New York," said Hawker.
"Well, after a while something happened——"
"Oh, no, it didn't. Something impended always, but it never happened."
"In a case like that one's own people must be such a blessing. The sympathy——"
"One's own people!" said Hawker.
"Yes," she said, "one's own people and more intimate friends. The appreciation——"[Pg 45]
"'The appreciation!'" said Hawker. "Yes, indeed!"
He seemed so ill-tempered that she became silent. The boat floated through the shadows of the trees and out to where the water was like a blue crystal. The dog on the shore thrashed about in the reeds and waded in the shallows, mourning his unhappy state in an occasional cry. Hawker stood up and sternly shouted. Thereafter silence was among the reeds. The moon slipped sharply through the little clouds.
The girl said, "I liked that last picture of yours."
"At the last exhibition, you know, you had that one with the cows—and things—in the snow—and—and a haystack."
"Yes," he said, "of course. Did you like it, really? I thought it about my best. And you really remembered it? Oh," he cried, "Hollanden perhaps recalled it to you."
"Why, no," she said. "I remembered it, of course."
"Well, what made you remember it?" he demanded, as if he had cause to be indignant.[Pg 46]
"Why—I just remembered it because—I liked it, and because—well, the people with me said—said it was about the best thing in the exhibit, and they talked about it a good deal. And then I remember that Hollie had spoken of you, and then I—I——"
"Never mind," he said. After a moment, he added, "The confounded picture was no good, anyhow!"
The girl started. "What makes you speak so of it? It was good. Of course, I don't know—I can't talk about pictures, but," she said in distress, "everybody said it was fine."
"It wasn't any good," he persisted, with dogged shakes of the head.
From off in the darkness they heard the sound of Hollanden's oars splashing in the water. Sometimes there was squealing by the Worcester girls, and at other times loud arguments on points of navigation.
"Oh," said the girl suddenly, "Mr. Oglethorpe is coming to-morrow!"
"Mr. Oglethorpe?" said Hawker. "Is he?"
"Yes." She gazed off at the water.[Pg 47]
"He's an old friend of ours. He is always so good, and Roger and little Helen simply adore him. He was my brother's chum in college, and they were quite inseparable until Herbert's death. He always brings me violets. But I know you will like him."
"I shall expect to," said Hawker.
"I'm so glad he is coming. What time does that morning stage get here?"
"About eleven," said Hawker.
"He wrote that he would come then. I hope he won't disappoint us."
"Undoubtedly he will be here," said Hawker.
The wind swept from the ridge top, where some great bare pines stood in the moonlight. A loon called in its strange, unearthly note from the lakeshore. As Hawker turned the boat toward the dock, the flashing rays from the boat fell upon the head of the girl in the rear seat, and he rowed very slowly.
The girl was looking away somewhere with a mystic, shining glance. She leaned her chin in her hand. Hawker, facing her, merely paddled subconsciously. He seemed greatly impressed and expectant.[Pg 48]
At last she spoke very slowly. "I wish I knew Mr. Oglethorpe was not going to disappoint us."
Hawker said, "Why, no, I imagine not."
"Well, he is a trifle uncertain in matters of time. The children—and all of us—shall be anxious. I know you will like him."[Pg 49]
"Eh?" said Hollanden. "Oglethorpe? Oglethorpe? Why, he's that friend of the Fanhalls! Yes, of course, I know him! Deuced good fellow, too! What about him?"
"Oh, nothing, only he's coming here to-morrow," answered Hawker. "What kind of a fellow did you say he was?"
"Deuced good fellow! What are you so—— Say, by the nine mad blacksmiths of Donawhiroo, he's your rival! Why, of course! Glory, but I must be thick-headed to-night!"
Hawker said, "Where's your tobacco?"
"Yonder, in that jar. Got a pipe?"
"Yes. How do you know he's my rival?"
"Know it? Why, hasn't he been—— Say, this is getting thrilling!" Hollanden sprang to his feet and, filling a pipe, flung himself into the chair and began to rock himself madly to and fro. He puffed clouds of smoke.[Pg 50]
Hawker stood with his face in shadow. At last he said, in tones of deep weariness, "Well, I think I'd better be going home and turning in."
"Hold on!" Hollanden exclaimed, turning his eyes from a prolonged stare at the ceiling, "don't go yet! Why, man, this is just the time when—— Say, who would ever think of Jem Oglethorpe's turning up to harrie you! Just at this time, too!"
"Oh," cried Hawker suddenly, filled with rage, "you remind me of an accursed duffer! Why can't you tell me something about the man, instead of sitting there and gibbering those crazy things at the ceiling?"
"By the piper——"
"Oh, shut up! Tell me something about Oglethorpe, can't you? I want to hear about him. Quit all that other business!"
"Why, Jem Oglethorpe, he—why, say, he's one of the best fellows going. If he were only an ass! If he were only an ass, now, you could feel easy in your mind. But he isn't. No, indeed. Why, blast him, there isn't a man that knows him who doesn't like Jem Oglethorpe! Excepting the chumps!"[Pg 51]
The window of the little room was open, and the voices of the pines could be heard as they sang of their long sorrow. Hawker pulled a chair close and stared out into the darkness. The people on the porch of the inn were frequently calling, "Good-night! Good-night!"
Hawker said, "And of course he's got train loads of money?"
"You bet he has! He can pave streets with it. Lordie, but this is a situation!"
A heavy scowl settled upon Hawker's brow, and he kicked at the dressing case. "Say, Hollie, look here! Sometimes I think you regard me as a bug and like to see me wriggle. But——"
"Oh, don't be a fool!" said Hollanden, glaring through the smoke. "Under the circumstances, you are privileged to rave and ramp around like a wounded lunatic, but for heaven's sake don't swoop down on me like that! Especially when I'm—when I'm doing all I can for you."
"Doing all you can for me! Nobody asked you to. You talk as if I were an infant."[Pg 52]
"There! That's right! Blaze up like a fire balloon just because I said that, will you? A man in your condition—why, confound you, you are an infant!"
Hawker seemed again overwhelmed in a great dislike of himself. "Oh, well, of course, Hollie, it——" He waved his hand. "A man feels like—like——"
"Certainly he does," said Hollanden. "That's all right, old man."
"And look now, Hollie, here's this Oglethorpe——"
"May the devil fly away with him!"
"Well, here he is, coming along when I thought maybe—after a while, you know—I might stand some show. And you are acquainted with him, so give me a line on him."
"Well, I should advise you to——"
"Blow your advice! I want to hear about Oglethorpe."
"Well, in the first place, he is a rattling good fellow, as I told you before, and this is what makes it so——"
"Oh, hang what it makes it! Go on."
"He is a rattling good fellow and he has stacks of money. Of course, in this case his[Pg 53] having money doesn't affect the situation much. Miss Fanhall——"
"Say, can you keep to the thread of the story, you infernal literary man!"
"Well, he's popular. He don't talk money—ever. And if he's wicked, he's not sufficiently proud of it to be perpetually describing his sins. And then he is not so hideously brilliant, either. That's great credit to a man in these days. And then he—well, take it altogether, I should say Jem Oglethorpe was a smashing good fellow."
"I wonder how long he is going to stay?" murmured Hawker.
During this conversation his pipe had often died out. It was out at this time. He lit another match. Hollanden had watched the fingers of his friend as the match was scratched. "You're nervous, Billie," he said.
Hawker straightened in his chair. "No, I'm not."
"I saw your fingers tremble when you lit that match."
"Oh, you lie!"
Hollanden mused again. "He's popular with women, too," he said ultimately; "and[Pg 54] often a woman will like a man and hunt his scalp just because she knows other women like him and want his scalp."
"Yes, but not——"
"Hold on! You were going to say that she was not like other women, weren't you?"
"Not exactly that, but——"
"Well, we will have all that understood."
After a period of silence Hawker said, "I must be going."
As the painter walked toward the door Hollanden cried to him: "Heavens! Of all pictures of a weary pilgrim!" His voice was very compassionate.
Hawker wheeled, and an oath spun through the smoke clouds.[Pg 55]
"Where's Mr. Hawker this morning?" asked the younger Miss Worcester. "I thought he was coming up to play tennis?"
"I don't know. Confound him! I don't see why he didn't come," said Hollanden, looking across the shining valley. He frowned questioningly at the landscape. "I wonder where in the mischief he is?"
The Worcester girls began also to stare at the great gleaming stretch of green and gold. "Didn't he tell you he was coming?" they demanded.
"He didn't say a word about it," answered Hollanden. "I supposed, of course, he was coming. We will have to postpone the mêlée."
Later he met Miss Fanhall. "You look as if you were going for a walk?"
"I am," she said, swinging her parasol. "To meet the stage. Have you seen Mr. Hawker to-day?"[Pg 56]
"No," he said. "He is not coming up this morning. He is in a great fret about that field of stubble, and I suppose he is down there sketching the life out of it. These artists—they take such a fiendish interest in their work. I dare say we won't see much of him until he has finished it. Where did you say you were going to walk?"
"To meet the stage."
"Oh, well, I won't have to play tennis for an hour, and if you insist——"
As they strolled slowly in the shade of the trees Hollanden began, "Isn't that Hawker an ill-bred old thing?"
"No, he is not." Then after a time she said, "Why?"
"Oh, he gets so absorbed in a beastly smudge of paint that I really suppose he cares nothing for anything else in the world. Men who are really artists—I don't believe they are capable of deep human affections. So much of them is occupied by art. There's not much left over, you see."
"I don't believe it at all," she exclaimed.
"You don't, eh?" cried Hollanden scorn[Pg 57]fully. "Well, let me tell you, young woman, there is a great deal of truth in it. Now, there's Hawker—as good a fellow as ever lived, too, in a way, and yet he's an artist. Why, look how he treats—look how he treats that poor setter dog!"
"Why, he's as kind to him as he can be," she declared.
"And I tell you he is not!" cried Hollanden.
"He is, Hollie. You—you are unspeakable when you get in these moods."
"There—that's just you in an argument. I'm not in a mood at all. Now, look—the dog loves him with simple, unquestioning devotion that fairly brings tears to one's eyes——"
"Yes," she said.
"And he—why, he's as cold and stern——"
"He isn't. He isn't, Holly. You are awf'ly unfair."
"No, I'm not. I am simply a liberal observer. And Hawker, with his people, too," he went on darkly; "you can't tell—you don't know anything about it—but I tell you that what I have seen proves my assertion[Pg 58] that the artistic mind has no space left for the human affections. And as for the dog——"
"I thought you were his friend, Hollie?"
"No, not the dog's. And yet you—really, Hollie, there is something unnatural in you. You are so stupidly keen in looking at people that you do not possess common loyalty to your friends. It is because you are a writer, I suppose. That has to explain so many things. Some of your traits are very disagreeable."
"There! there!" plaintively cried Hollanden. "This is only about the treatment of a dog, mind you. Goodness, what an oration!"
"It wasn't about the treatment of a dog. It was about your treatment of your friends."
"Well," he said sagely, "it only goes to show that there is nothing impersonal in the mind of a woman. I undertook to discuss broadly——
"At any rate, it was rather below you to do such scoffing at me."
"Well, I didn't mean—not all of it, Hollie."[Pg 59]
"Well, I didn't mean what I said about the dog and all that, either."
"You didn't?" She turned toward him, large-eyed.
"No. Not a single word of it."
"Well, what did you say it for, then?" she demanded indignantly.
"I said it," answered Hollanden placidly, "just to tease you." He looked abstractedly up to the trees.
Presently she said slowly, "Just to tease me?"
At this time Hollanden wore an unmistakable air of having a desire to turn up his coat collar. "Oh, come now——" he began nervously.
"George Hollanden," said the voice at his shoulder, "you are not only disagreeable, but you are hopelessly ridiculous. I—I wish you would never speak to me again!"
"Oh, come now, Grace, don't—don't—— Look! There's the stage coming, isn't it?"
"No, the stage is not coming. I wish—I wish you were at the bottom of the sea, George Hollanden. And—and Mr. Hawker, too. There!"[Pg 60]
"Oh, bless my soul! And all about an infernal dog," wailed Hollanden. "Look! Honest, now, there's the stage. See it? See it?"
"It isn't there at all," she said.
Gradually he seemed to recover his courage. "What made you so tremendously angry? I don't see why."
After consideration, she said decisively, "Well, because."
"That's why I teased you," he rejoined.
"Go on," he told her finally. "You are doing very well." He waited patiently.
"Well," she said, "it is dreadful to defend somebody so—so excitedly, and then have it turned out just a tease. I don't know what he would think."
"Who would think?"
"What could he think? Now, what could he think? Why," said Hollanden, waxing eloquent, "he couldn't under any circumstances think—think anything at all. Now, could he?"
She made no reply.[Pg 61]
She was apparently reflecting.
"Under any circumstances," persisted Hollanden, "he couldn't think anything at all. Now, could he?"
"No," she said.
"Well, why are you angry at me, then?"[Pg 62]
"John," said the old mother, from the profound mufflings of the pillow and quilts.
"What?" said the old man. He was tugging at his right boot, and his tone was very irascible.
"I think William's changed a good deal."
"Well, what if he has?" replied the father, in another burst of ill-temper. He was then tugging at his left boot.
"Yes, I'm afraid he's changed a good deal," said the muffled voice from the bed. "He's got a good many fine friends, now, John—folks what put on a good many airs; and he don't care for his home like he did."
"Oh, well, I don't guess he's changed very much," said the old man cheerfully. He was now free of both boots.
She raised herself on an elbow and looked out with a troubled face. "John, I think he likes that girl."[Pg 63]
"What girl?" said he.
"What girl? Why, that awful handsome girl you see around—of course."
"Do you think he likes 'er?"
"I'm afraid so—I'm afraid so," murmured the mother mournfully.
"Oh, well," said the old man, without alarm, or grief, or pleasure in his tone.
He turned the lamp's wick very low and carried the lamp to the head of the stairs, where he perched it on the step. When he returned he said, "She's mighty good-look-in'!"
"Well, that ain't everything," she snapped. "How do we know she ain't proud, and selfish, and—everything?"
"How do you know she is?" returned the old man.
"And she may just be leading him on."
"Do him good, then," said he, with impregnable serenity. "Next time he'll know better."
"Well, I'm worried about it," she said, as she sank back on the pillow again. "I think William's changed a good deal. He don't seem to care about—us—like he did."[Pg 64]
"Oh, go to sleep!" said the father drowsily.
She was silent for a time, and then she said, "John?"
"Do you think I better speak to him about that girl?"
She grew silent again, but at last she demanded, "Why not?"
"'Cause it's none of your business. Go to sleep, will you?" And presently he did, but the old mother lay blinking wild-eyed into the darkness.
In the morning Hawker did not appear at the early breakfast, eaten when the blue glow of dawn shed its ghostly lights upon the valley. The old mother placed various dishes on the back part of the stove. At ten o'clock he came downstairs. His mother was sweeping busily in the parlour at the time, but she saw him and ran to the back part of the stove. She slid the various dishes on to the table. "Did you oversleep?" she asked.
"Yes. I don't feel very well this morning," he said. He pulled his chair close to the table and sat there staring.[Pg 65]
She renewed her sweeping in the parlour. When she returned he sat still staring undeviatingly at nothing.
"Why don't you eat your breakfast?" she said anxiously.
"I tell you, mother, I don't feel very well this morning," he answered quite sharply.
"Well," she said meekly, "drink some coffee and you'll feel better."
Afterward he took his painting machinery and left the house. His younger sister was at the well. She looked at him with a little smile and a little sneer. "Going up to the inn this morning?" she said.
"I don't see how that concerns you, Mary?" he rejoined, with dignity.
"Oh, my!" she said airily.
"But since you are so interested, I don't mind telling you that I'm not going up to the inn this morning."
His sister fixed him with her eye. "She ain't mad at you, is she, Will?"
"I don't know what you mean, Mary." He glared hatefully at her and strode away.
Stanley saw him going through the fields[Pg 66] and leaped a fence jubilantly in pursuit. In a wood the light sifted through the foliage and burned with a peculiar reddish lustre on the masses of dead leaves. He frowned at it for a while from different points. Presently he erected his easel and began to paint. After a a time he threw down his brush and swore. Stanley, who had been solemnly staring at the scene as if he too was sketching it, looked up in surprise.
In wandering aimlessly through the fields and the forest Hawker once found himself near the road to Hemlock Inn. He shied away from it quickly as if it were a great snake.
While most of the family were at supper, Mary, the younger sister, came charging breathlessly into the kitchen. "Ma—sister," she cried, "I know why—why Will didn't go to the inn to-day. There's another fellow come. Another fellow."
"Who? Where? What do you mean?" exclaimed her mother and her sister.
"Why, another fellow up at the inn," she shouted, triumphant in her information. "Another fellow come up on the stage this[Pg 67] morning. And she went out driving with him this afternoon."
"Well," exclaimed her mother and her sister.
"Yep. And he's an awful good-looking fellow, too. And she—oh, my—she looked as if she thought the world and all of him."
"Well," exclaimed her mother and her sister again.
"Sho!" said the old man. "You wimen leave William alone and quit your gabbling."
The three women made a combined assault upon him. "Well, we ain't a-hurting him, are we, pa? You needn't be so snifty. I guess we ain't a-hurting him much."
"Well," said the old man. And to this argument he added, "Sho!"
They kept him out of the subsequent consultations.[Pg 68]
The next day, as little Roger was going toward the tennis court, a large orange and white setter ran effusively from around the corner of the inn and greeted him. Miss Fanhall, the Worcester girls, Hollanden, and Oglethorpe faced to the front like soldiers. Hollanden cried, "Why, Billie Hawker must be coming!" Hawker at that moment appeared, coming toward them with a smile which was not overconfident.
Little Roger went off to perform some festivities of his own on the brown carpet under a clump of pines. The dog, to join him, felt obliged to circle widely about the tennis court. He was much afraid of this tennis court, with its tiny round things that sometimes hit him. When near it he usually slunk along at a little sheep trot and with an eye of wariness upon it.
At her first opportunity the younger Wor[Pg 69]cester girl said, "You didn't come up yesterday, Mr. Hawker."
Hollanden seemed to think that Miss Fanhall turned her head as if she wished to hear the explanation of the painter's absence, so he engaged her in swift and fierce conversation.
"No," said Hawker. "I was resolved to finish a sketch of a stubble field which I began a good many days ago. You see, I was going to do such a great lot of work this summer, and I've done hardly a thing. I really ought to compel myself to do some, you know."
"There," said Hollanden, with a victorious nod, "just what I told you!"
"You didn't tell us anything of the kind," retorted the Worcester girls with one voice.
A middle-aged woman came upon the porch of the inn, and after scanning for a moment the group at the tennis court she hurriedly withdrew. Presently she appeared again, accompanied by five more middle-aged women. "You see," she said to the others, "it is as I said. He has come back."
The five surveyed the group at the tennis court, and then said: "So he has. I knew he would. Well, I declare! Did you ever?"[Pg 70] Their voices were pitched at low keys and they moved with care, but their smiles were broad and full of a strange glee.
"I wonder how he feels," said one in subtle ecstasy.
Another laughed. "You know how you would feel, my dear, if you were him and saw yourself suddenly cut out by a man who was so hopelessly superior to you. Why, Oglethorpe's a thousand times better looking. And then think of his wealth and social position!"
One whispered dramatically, "They say he never came up here at all yesterday."
Another replied: "No more he did. That's what we've been talking about. Stayed down at the farm all day, poor fellow!"
"Do you really think she cares for Oglethorpe?"
"Care for him? Why, of course she does. Why, when they came up the path yesterday morning I never saw a girl's face so bright. I asked my husband how much of the Chambers Street Bank stock Oglethorpe owned, and he said that if Oglethorpe took his money out there wouldn't be enough left to buy a pie."[Pg 71]
The youngest woman in the corps said: "Well, I don't care. I think it is too bad. I don't see anything so much in that Mr. Oglethorpe."
The others at once patronized her. "Oh, you don't, my dear? Well, let me tell you that bank stock waves in the air like a banner. You would see it if you were her."
"Well, she don't have to care for his money."
"Oh, no, of course she don't have to. But they are just the ones that do, my dear. They are just the ones that do."
"Well, it's a shame."
"Oh, of course it's a shame."
The woman who had assembled the corps said to one at her side: "Oh, the commonest kind of people, my dear, the commonest kind. The father is a regular farmer, you know. He drives oxen. Such language! You can really hear him miles away bellowing at those oxen. And the girls are shy, half-wild things—oh, you have no idea! I saw one of them yesterday when we were out driving. She dodged as we came along, for I suppose she was ashamed of her frock, poor child! And[Pg 72] the mother—well, I wish you could see her! A little, old, dried-up thing. We saw her carrying a pail of water from the well, and, oh, she bent and staggered dreadfully, poor thing!"
"And the gate to their front yard, it has a broken hinge, you know. Of course, that's an awful bad sign. When people let their front gate hang on one hinge you know what that means."
After gazing again at the group at the court, the youngest member of the corps said, "Well, he's a good tennis player anyhow."
The others smiled indulgently. "Oh, yes, my dear, he's a good tennis player."[Pg 73]
One day Hollanden said, in greeting, to Hawker, "Well, he's gone."
"Who?" asked Hawker.
"Why, Oglethorpe, of course. Who did you think I meant?"
"How did I know?" said Hawker angrily.
"Well," retorted Hollanden, "your chief interest was in his movements, I thought."
"Why, of course not, hang you! Why should I be interested in his movements?"
"Well, you weren't, then. Does that suit you?"
After a period of silence Hawker asked, "What did he—what made him go?"
"How was I to know you meant him? Well, he went because some important business affairs in New York demanded it, he said;[Pg 74] but he is coming back again in a week. They had rather a late interview on the porch last evening."
"Indeed," said Hawker stiffly.
"Yes, and he went away this morning looking particularly elated. Aren't you glad?"
"I don't see how it concerns me," said Hawker, with still greater stiffness.
In a walk to the lake that afternoon Hawker and Miss Fanhall found themselves side by side and silent. The girl contemplated the distant purple hills as if Hawker were not at her side and silent. Hawker frowned at the roadway. Stanley, the setter, scouted the fields in a genial gallop.
At last the girl turned to him. "Seems to me," she said, "seems to me you are dreadfully quiet this afternoon."
"I am thinking about my wretched field of stubble," he answered, still frowning.
Her parasol swung about until the girl was looking up at his inscrutable profile. "Is it, then, so important that you haven't time to talk to me?" she asked with an air of what might have been timidity.[Pg 75]
A smile swept the scowl from his face. "No, indeed," he said, instantly; "nothing is so important as that."
She seemed aggrieved then. "Hum—you didn't look so," she told him.
"Well, I didn't mean to look any other way," he said contritely. "You know what a bear I am sometimes. Hollanden says it is a fixed scowl from trying to see uproarious pinks, yellows, and blues."
A little brook, a brawling, ruffianly little brook, swaggered from side to side down the glade, swirling in white leaps over the great dark rocks and shouting challenge to the hillsides. Hollanden and the Worcester girls had halted in a place of ferns and wet moss. Their voices could be heard quarrelling above the clamour of the stream. Stanley, the setter, had sousled himself in a pool and then gone and rolled in the dust of the road. He blissfully lolled there, with his coat now resembling an old door mat.
"Don't you think Jem is a wonderfully good fellow?" said the girl to the painter.
"Why, yes, of course," said Hawker.[Pg 76]
"Well, he is," she retorted, suddenly defensive.
"Of course," he repeated loudly.
She said, "Well, I don't think you like him as well as I like him."
"Certainly not," said Hawker.
"You don't?" She looked at him in a kind of astonishment.
"Certainly not," said Hawker again, and very irritably. "How in the wide world do you expect me to like him as well as you like him?"
"I don't mean as well," she explained.
"Oh!" said Hawker.
"But I mean you don't like him the way I do at all—the way I expected you to like him. I thought men of a certain pattern always fancied their kind of men wherever they met them, don't you know? And I was so sure you and Jem would be friends."
"Oh!" cried Hawker. Presently he added, "But he isn't my kind of a man at all."
"He is. Jem is one of the best fellows in the world."
Again Hawker cried "Oh!"
They paused and looked down at the[Pg 77] brook. Stanley sprawled panting in the dust and watched them. Hawker leaned against a hemlock. He sighed and frowned, and then finally coughed with great resolution. "I suppose, of course, that I am unjust to him. I care for you myself, you understand, and so it becomes——"
He paused for a moment because he heard a rustling of her skirts as if she had moved suddenly. Then he continued: "And so it becomes difficult for me to be fair to him. I am not able to see him with a true eye." He bitterly addressed the trees on the opposite side of the glen. "Oh, I care for you, of course. You might have expected it." He turned from the trees and strode toward the roadway. The uninformed and disreputable Stanley arose and wagged his tail.
As if the girl had cried out at a calamity, Hawker said again, "Well, you might have expected it."[Pg 78]
At the lake, Hollanden went pickerel fishing, lost his hook in a gaunt, gray stump, and earned much distinction by his skill in discovering words to express his emotion without resorting to the list ordinarily used in such cases. The younger Miss Worcester ruined a new pair of boots, and Stanley sat on the bank and howled the song of the forsaken. At the conclusion of the festivities Hollanden said, "Billie, you ought to take the boat back."
"Why had I? You borrowed it."
"Well, I borrowed it and it was a lot of trouble, and now you ought to take it back."
Ultimately Hawker said, "Oh, let's both go!"
On this journey Hawker made a long speech to his friend, and at the end of it he exclaimed: "And now do you think she cares so much for Oglethorpe? Why, she as good[Pg 79] as told me that he was only a very great friend."
Hollanden wagged his head dubiously. "What a woman says doesn't amount to shucks. It's the way she says it—that's what counts. Besides," he cried in a brilliant afterthought, "she wouldn't tell you, anyhow, you fool!"
"You're an encouraging brute," said Hawker, with a rueful grin.
Later the Worcester girls seized upon Hollanden and piled him high with ferns and mosses. They dragged the long gray lichens from the chins of venerable pines, and ran with them to Hollanden, and dashed them into his arms. "Oh, hurry up, Hollie!" they cried, because with his great load he frequently fell behind them in the march. He once positively refused to carry these things another step. Some distance farther on the road he positively refused to carry this old truck another step. When almost to the inn he positively refused to carry this senseless rubbish another step. The Worcester girls had such vivid contempt for his expressed unwillingness that they neglected to tell him[Pg 80] of any appreciation they might have had for his noble struggle.
As Hawker and Miss Fanhall proceeded slowly they heard a voice ringing through the foliage: "Whoa! Haw! Git-ap, blast you! Haw! Haw, drat your hides! Will you haw? Git-ap! Gee! Whoa!"
Hawker said, "The others are a good ways ahead. Hadn't we better hurry a little?"
The girl obediently mended her pace.
"Whoa! haw! git-ap!" shouted the voice in the distance. "Git over there, Red, git over! Gee! Git-ap!" And these cries pursued the man and the maid.
At last Hawker said, "That's my father."
"Where?" she asked, looking bewildered.
"Back there, driving those oxen."
The voice shouted: "Whoa! Git-ap! Gee! Red, git over there now, will you? I'll trim the shin off'n you in a minute. Whoa! Haw! Haw! Whoa! Git-ap!"
Hawker repeated, "Yes, that's my father."
"Oh, is it?" she said. "Let's wait for him."
"All right," said Hawker sullenly.[Pg 81]
Presently a team of oxen waddled into view around the curve of the road. They swung their heads slowly from side to side, bent under the yoke, and looked out at the world with their great eyes, in which was a mystic note of their humble, submissive, toilsome lives. An old wagon creaked after them, and erect upon it was the tall and tattered figure of the farmer swinging his whip and yelling: "Whoa! Haw there! Git-ap!" The lash flicked and flew over the broad backs of the animals.
"Hello, father!" said Hawker.
"Whoa! Back! Whoa! Why, hello, William, what you doing here?"
"Oh, just taking a walk. Miss Fanhall, this is my father. Father——"
"How d' you do?" The old man balanced himself with care and then raised his straw hat from his head with a quick gesture and with what was perhaps a slightly apologetic air, as if he feared that he was rather over-doing the ceremonial part.
The girl later became very intent upon the oxen. "Aren't they nice old things?" she said, as she stood looking into the faces of[Pg 82] the team. "But what makes their eyes so very sad?"
"I dunno," said the old man.
She was apparently unable to resist a desire to pat the nose of the nearest ox, and for that purpose she stretched forth a cautious hand. But the ox moved restlessly at the moment and the girl put her hand apprehensively behind herself and backed away. The old man on the wagon grinned. "They won't hurt you," he told her.
"They won't bite, will they?" she asked, casting a glance of inquiry at the old man and then turning her eyes again upon the fascinating animals.
"No," said the old man, still grinning, "just as gentle as kittens."
She approached them circuitously. "Sure?" she said.
"Sure," replied the old man. He climbed from the wagon and came to the heads of the oxen. With him as an ally, she finally succeeded in patting the nose of the nearest ox. "Aren't they solemn, kind old fellows? Don't you get to think a great deal of them?"
"Well, they're kind of aggravating beasts[Pg 83] sometimes," he said. "But they're a good yoke—a good yoke. They can haul with anything in this region."
"It doesn't make them so terribly tired, does it?" she said hopefully. "They are such strong animals."
"No-o-o," he said. "I dunno. I never thought much about it."
With their heads close together they became so absorbed in their conversation that they seemed to forget the painter. He sat on a log and watched them.
Ultimately the girl said, "Won't you give us a ride?"
"Sure," said the old man. "Come on, and I'll help you up." He assisted her very painstakingly to the old board that usually served him as a seat, and he clambered to a place beside her. "Come on, William," he called. The painter climbed into the wagon and stood behind his father, putting his hand on the old man's shoulder to preserve his balance.
"Which is the near ox?" asked the girl with a serious frown.
"Git-ap! Haw! That one there," said the old man.[Pg 84]
"And this one is the off ox?"
"Well, suppose you sat here where I do; would this one be the near ox and that one the off ox, then?"
"Nope. Be just same."
"Then the near ox isn't always the nearest one to a person, at all? That ox there is always the near ox?"
"Yep, always. 'Cause when you drive 'em a-foot you always walk on the left side."
"Well, I never knew that before."
After studying them in silence for a while, she said, "Do you think they are happy?"
"I dunno," said the old man. "I never thought." As the wagon creaked on they gravely discussed this problem, contemplating profoundly the backs of the animals. Hawker gazed in silence at the meditating two before him. Under the wagon Stanley, the setter, walked slowly, wagging his tail in placid contentment and ruminating upon his experiences.
At last the old man said cheerfully, "Shall I take you around by the inn?"
Hawker started and seemed to wince at the question. Perhaps he was about to inter[Pg 85]rupt, but the girl cried: "Oh, will you? Take us right to the door? Oh, that will be awfully good of you!"
"Why," began Hawker, "you don't want—you don't want to ride to the inn on an—on an ox wagon, do you?"
"Why, of course I do," she retorted, directing a withering glance at him.
"Well——" he protested.
"Let 'er be, William," interrupted the old man. "Let 'er do what she wants to. I guess everybody in th' world ain't even got an ox wagon to ride in. Have they?"
"No, indeed," she returned, while withering Hawker again.
"Gee! Gee! Whoa! Haw! Git-ap! Haw! Whoa! Back!"
After these two attacks Hawker became silent.
"Gee! Gee! Gee there, blast—s'cuse me. Gee! Whoa! Git-ap!"
All the boarders of the inn were upon its porches waiting for the dinner gong. There was a surge toward the railing as a middle-aged woman passed the word along her middle-aged friends that Miss Fanhall, accom[Pg 86]panied by Mr. Hawker, had arrived on the ox cart of Mr. Hawker's father.
"Whoa! Ha! Git-ap!" said the old man in more subdued tones. "Whoa there, Red! Whoa, now! Wh-o-a!"
Hawker helped the girl to alight, and she paused for a moment conversing with the old man about the oxen. Then she ran smiling up the steps to meet the Worcester girls.
"Oh, such a lovely time! Those dear old oxen—you should have been with us!"[Pg 87]
"Oh, Miss Fanhall!"
"What is it, Mrs. Truscot?"
"That was a great prank of yours last night, my dear. We all enjoyed the joke so much."
"Yes, your riding on the ox cart with that old farmer and that young Mr. What's-his-name, you know. We all thought it delicious. Ah, my dear, after all—don't be offended—if we had your people's wealth and position we might do that sort of unconventional thing, too; but, ah, my dear, we can't, we can't! Isn't the young painter a charming man?"
Out on the porch Hollanden was haranguing his friends. He heard a step and glanced over his shoulder to see who was about to interrupt him. He suddenly ceased his oration, and said, "Hello! what's the matter with Grace?" The heads turned promptly.[Pg 88]
As the girl came toward them it could be seen that her cheeks were very pink and her eyes were flashing general wrath and defiance.
The Worcester girls burst into eager interrogation. "Oh, nothing!" she replied at first, but later she added in an undertone, "That wretched Mrs. Truscot——"
"What did she say?" whispered the younger Worcester girl.
"Why, she said—oh, nothing!"
Both Hollanden and Hawker were industriously reflecting.
Later in the morning Hawker said privately to the girl, "I know what Mrs. Truscot talked to you about."
She turned upon him belligerently. "You do?"
"Yes," he answered with meekness. "It was undoubtedly some reference to your ride upon the ox wagon."
She hesitated a moment, and then said, "Well?"
With still greater meekness he said, "I am very sorry."
"Are you, indeed?" she inquired loftily. "Sorry for what? Sorry that I rode upon[Pg 89] your father's ox wagon, or sorry that Mrs. Truscot was rude to me about it?"
"Well, in some ways it was my fault."
"Was it? I suppose you intend to apologize for your father's owning an ox wagon, don't you?"
"Well, I am going to ride in the ox wagon whenever I choose. Your father, I know, will always be glad to have me. And if it so shocks you, there is not the slightest necessity of your coming with us."
They glowered at each other, and he said, "You have twisted the question with the usual ability of your sex."
She pondered as if seeking some particularly destructive retort. She ended by saying bluntly, "Did you know that we were going home next week?"
A flush came suddenly to his face. "No. Going home? Who? You?"
"Why, of course." And then with an indolent air she continued, "I meant to have told you before this, but somehow it quite escaped me."
He stammered, "Are—are you, honestly?"[Pg 90]
She nodded. "Why, of course. Can't stay here forever, you know."
They were then silent for a long time.
At last Hawker said, "Do you remember what I told you yesterday?"
"No. What was it?"
He cried indignantly, "You know very well what I told you!"
"I do not."
"No," he sneered, "of course not! You never take the trouble to remember such things. Of course not! Of course not!"
"You are a very ridiculous person," she vouchsafed, after eying him coldly.
He arose abruptly. "I believe I am. By heavens, I believe I am!" he cried in a fury.
She laughed. "You are more ridiculous now than I have yet seen you."
After a pause he said magnificently, "Well, Miss Fanhall, you will doubtless find Mr. Hollanden's conversation to have a much greater interest than that of such a ridiculous person."
Hollanden approached them with the blithesome step of an untroubled man. "Hello,[Pg 91] you two people, why don't you—oh—ahem! Hold on, Billie, where are you going?"
"I——" began Hawker.
"Oh, Hollie," cried the girl impetuously, "do tell me how to do that slam thing, you know. I've tried it so often, but I don't believe I hold my racket right. And you do it so beautifully."
"Oh, that," said Hollanden. "It's not so very difficult. I'll show it to you. You don't want to know this minute, do you?"
"Yes," she answered.
"Well, come over to the court, then. Come ahead, Billie!"
"No," said Hawker, without looking at his friend, "I can't this morning, Hollie. I've got to go to work. Good-bye!" He comprehended them both in a swift bow and stalked away.
Hollanden turned quickly to the girl. "What was the matter with Billie? What was he grinding his teeth for? What was the matter with him?"
"Why, nothing—was there?" she asked in surprise.
"Why, he was grinding his teeth until he[Pg 92] sounded like a stone crusher," said Hollanden in a severe tone. "What was the matter with him?"
"How should I know?" she retorted.
"You've been saying something to him."
"I! I didn't say a thing."
"Yes, you did."
"Hollie, don't be absurd."
Hollanden debated with himself for a time, and then observed, "Oh, well, I always said he was an ugly-tempered fellow——"
The girl flashed him a little glance.
"And now I am sure of it—as ugly-tempered a fellow as ever lived."
"I believe you," said the girl. Then she added: "All men are. I declare, I think you to be the most incomprehensible creatures. One never knows what to expect of you. And you explode and go into rages and make yourselves utterly detestable over the most trivial matters and at the most unexpected times. You are all mad, I think."
"I!" cried Hollanden wildly. "What in the mischief have I done?"[Pg 93]
"Look here," said Hollanden, at length, "I thought you were so wonderfully anxious to learn that stroke?"
"Well, I am," she said.
"Come on, then." As they walked toward the tennis court he seemed to be plunged into mournful thought. In his eyes was a singular expression, which perhaps denoted the woe of the optimist pushed suddenly from its height. He sighed. "Oh, well, I suppose all women, even the best of them, are that way."
"What way?" she said.
"My dear child," he answered, in a benevolent manner, "you have disappointed me, because I have discovered that you resemble the rest of your sex."
"Ah!" she remarked, maintaining a noncommittal attitude.
"Yes," continued Hollanden, with a sad but kindly smile, "even you, Grace, were not[Pg 94] above fooling with the affections of a poor country swain, until he don't know his ear from the tooth he had pulled two years ago."
She laughed. "He would be furious if he heard you call him a country swain."
"Who would?" said Hollanden.
"Why, the country swain, of course," she rejoined.
Hollanden seemed plunged in mournful reflection again. "Well, it's a shame, Grace, anyhow," he observed, wagging his head dolefully. "It's a howling, wicked shame."
"Hollie, you have no brains at all," she said, "despite your opinion."
"No," he replied ironically, "not a bit."
"Well, you haven't, you know, Hollie."
"At any rate," he said in an angry voice, "I have some comprehension and sympathy for the feelings of others."
"Have you?" she asked. "How do you mean, Hollie? Do you mean you have feeling for them in their various sorrows? Or do you mean that you understand their minds?"
Hollanden ponderously began, "There have been people who have not questioned my ability to——"[Pg 95]
"Oh, then, you mean that you both feel for them in their sorrows and comprehend the machinery of their minds. Well, let me tell you that in regard to the last thing you are wrong. You know nothing of anyone's mind. You know less about human nature than anybody I have met."
Hollanden looked at her in artless astonishment. He said, "Now, I wonder what made you say that?" This interrogation did not seem to be addressed to her, but was evidently a statement to himself of a problem. He meditated for some moments. Eventually he said, "I suppose you mean that I do not understand you?"
"Why do you suppose I mean that?"
"That's what a person usually means when he—or she—charges another with not understanding the entire world."
"Well, at any rate, it is not what I mean at all," she said. "I mean that you habitually blunder about other people's affairs, in the belief, I imagine, that you are a great philanthropist, when you are only making an extraordinary exhibition of yourself."
"The dev——" began Hollanden. After[Pg 96]ward he said, "Now, I wonder what in blue thunder you mean this time?"
"Mean this time? My meaning is very plain, Hollie. I supposed the words were clear enough."
"Yes," he said thoughtfully, "your words were clear enough, but then you were of course referring back to some event, or series of events, in which I had the singular ill fortune to displease you. Maybe you don't know yourself, and spoke only from the emotion generated by the event, or series of events, in which, as I have said, I had the singular ill fortune to displease you."
"How awf'ly clever!" she said.
"But I can't recall the event, or series of events, at all," he continued, musing with a scholarly air and disregarding her mockery. "I can't remember a thing about it. To be sure, it might have been that time when——"
"I think it very stupid of you to hunt for a meaning when I believe I made everything so perfectly clear," she said wrathfully.
"Well, you yourself might not be aware of what you really meant," he answered sagely. "Women often do that sort of thing, you[Pg 97] know. Women often speak from motives which, if brought face to face with them, they wouldn't be able to distinguish from any other thing which they had never before seen."
"Hollie, if there is a disgusting person in the world it is he who pretends to know so much concerning a woman's mind."
"Well, that's because they who know, or pretend to know, so much about a woman's mind are invariably satirical, you understand," said Hollanden cheerfully.
A dog ran frantically across the lawn, his nose high in the air and his countenance expressing vast perturbation and alarm. "Why, Billie forgot to whistle for his dog when he started for home," said Hollanden. "Come here, old man! Well, 'e was a nice dog!" The girl also gave invitation, but the setter would not heed them. He spun wildly about the lawn until he seemed to strike his master's trail, and then, with his nose near to the ground, went down the road at an eager gallop. They stood and watched him.
"Stanley's a nice dog," said Hollanden.
"Indeed he is!" replied the girl fervently.
Presently Hollanden remarked: "Well,[Pg 98] don't let's fight any more, particularly since we can't decide what we're fighting about. I can't discover the reason, and you don't know it, so——"
"I do know it. I told you very plainly."
"Well, all right. Now, this is the way to work that slam: You give the ball a sort of a lift—see!—underhanded and with your arm crooked and stiff. Here, you smash this other ball into the net. Hi! Look out! If you hit it that way you'll knock it over the hotel. Let the ball drop nearer to the ground. Oh, heavens, not on the ground! Well, it's hard to do it from the serve, anyhow. I'll go over to the other court and bat you some easy ones."
Afterward, when they were going toward the inn, the girl suddenly began to laugh.
"What are you giggling at?" said Hollanden.
"I was thinking how furious he would be if he heard you call him a country swain," she rejoined.
"Who?" asked Hollanden.[Pg 99]
Oglethorpe contended that the men who made the most money from books were the best authors. Hollanden contended that they were the worst. Oglethorpe said that such a question should be left to the people. Hollanden said that the people habitually made wrong decisions on questions that were left to them. "That is the most odiously aristocratic belief," said Oglethorpe.
"No," said Hollanden, "I like the people. But, considered generally, they are a collection of ingenious blockheads."
"But they read your books," said Oglethorpe, grinning.
"That is through a mistake," replied Hollanden.
As the discussion grew in size it incited the close attention of the Worcester girls, but Miss Fanhall did not seem to hear it. Hawker, too,[Pg 100] was staring into the darkness with a gloomy and preoccupied air.
"Are you sorry that this is your last evening at Hemlock Inn?" said the painter at last, in a low tone.
"Why, yes—certainly," said the girl.
Under the sloping porch of the inn the vague orange light from the parlours drifted to the black wall of the night.
"I shall miss you," said the painter.
"Oh, I dare say," said the girl.
Hollanden was lecturing at length and wonderfully. In the mystic spaces of the night the pines could be heard in their weird monotone, as they softly smote branch and branch, as if moving in some solemn and sorrowful dance.
"This has been quite the most delightful summer of my experience," said the painter.
"I have found it very pleasant," said the girl.
From time to time Hawker glanced furtively at Oglethorpe, Hollanden, and the Worcester girl. This glance expressed no desire for their well-being.
"I shall miss you," he said to the girl[Pg 101] again. His manner was rather desperate. She made no reply, and, after leaning toward her, he subsided with an air of defeat.
Eventually he remarked: "It will be very lonely here again. I dare say I shall return to New York myself in a few weeks."
"I hope you will call," she said.
"I shall be delighted," he answered stiffly, and with a dissatisfied look at her.
"Oh, Mr. Hawker," cried the younger Worcester girl, suddenly emerging from the cloud of argument which Hollanden and Oglethorpe kept in the air, "won't it be sad to lose Grace? Indeed, I don't know what we shall do. Sha'n't we miss her dreadfully?"
"Yes," said Hawker, "we shall of course miss her dreadfully."
"Yes, won't it be frightful?" said the elder Worcester girl. "I can't imagine what we will do without her. And Hollie is only going to spend ten more days. Oh, dear! mamma, I believe, will insist on staying the entire summer. It was papa's orders, you know, and I really think she is going to obey them. He said he wanted her to have one[Pg 102] period of rest at any rate. She is such a busy woman in town, you know."
"Here," said Hollanden, wheeling to them suddenly, "you all look as if you were badgering Hawker, and he looks badgered. What are you saying to him?"
"Why," answered the younger Worcester girl, "we were only saying to him how lonely it would be without Grace."
"Oh!" said Hollanden.
As the evening grew old, the mother of the Worcester girls joined the group. This was a sign that the girls were not to long delay the vanishing time. She sat almost upon the edge of her chair, as if she expected to be called upon at any moment to arise and bow "Good-night," and she repaid Hollanden's eloquent attention with the placid and absent-minded smiles of the chaperon who waits.
Once the younger Worcester girl shrugged her shoulders and turned to say, "Mamma, you make me nervous!" Her mother merely smiled in a still more placid and absent-minded manner.
Oglethorpe arose to drag his chair nearer to the railing, and when he stood the Worces[Pg 103]ter mother moved and looked around expectantly, but Oglethorpe took seat again. Hawker kept an anxious eye upon her.
Presently Miss Fanhall arose.
"Why, you are not going in already, are you?" said Hawker and Hollanden and Oglethorpe. The Worcester mother moved toward the door followed by her daughters, who were protesting in muffled tones. Hollanden pitched violently upon Oglethorpe. "Well, at any rate——" he said. He picked the thread of a past argument with great agility.
Hawker said to the girl, "I—I—I shall miss you dreadfully."
She turned to look at him and smiled. "Shall you?" she said in a low voice.
"Yes," he said. Thereafter he stood before her awkwardly and in silence. She scrutinized the boards of the floor. Suddenly she drew a violet from a cluster of them upon her gown and thrust it out to him as she turned toward the approaching Oglethorpe.
"Good-night, Mr. Hawker," said the latter. "I am very glad to have met you, I'm sure. Hope to see you in town. Good-night."[Pg 104]
He stood near when the girl said to Hawker: "Good-bye. You have given us such a charming summer. We shall be delighted to see you in town. You must come some time when the children can see you, too. Good-bye."
"Good-bye," replied Hawker, eagerly and feverishly, trying to interpret the inscrutable feminine face before him. "I shall come at my first opportunity."
Down at the farmhouse, in the black quiet of the night, a dog lay curled on the door-mat. Of a sudden the tail of this dog began to thump, thump, on the boards. It began as a lazy movement, but it passed into a state of gentle enthusiasm, and then into one of curiously loud and joyful celebration. At last the gate clicked. The dog uncurled, and went to the edge of the steps to greet his master. He gave adoring, tremulous welcome with his clear eyes shining in the darkness. "Well, Stan, old boy," said Hawker, stooping to stroke the dog's head. After his master had entered the house the dog went forward and[Pg 105] sniffed at something that lay on the top step. Apparently it did not interest him greatly, for he returned in a moment to the door-mat.
But he was again obliged to uncurl himself, for his master came out of the house with a lighted lamp and made search of the door-mat, the steps, and the walk, swearing meanwhile in an undertone. The dog wagged his tail and sleepily watched this ceremony. When his master had again entered the house the dog went forward and sniffed at the top step, but the thing that had lain there was gone.[Pg 106]
It was evident at breakfast that Hawker's sisters had achieved information. "What's the matter with you this morning?" asked one. "You look as if you hadn't slep' well."
"There is nothing the matter with me," he rejoined, looking glumly at his plate.
"Well, you look kind of broke up."
"How I look is of no consequence. I tell you there is nothing the matter with me."
"Oh!" said his sister. She exchanged meaning glances with the other feminine members of the family. Presently the other sister observed, "I heard she was going home to-day."
"Who?" said Hawker, with a challenge in his tone.
"Why, that New York girl—Miss What's-her-name," replied the sister, with an undaunted smile.
"Did you, indeed? Well, perhaps she is."[Pg 107]
"Oh, you don't know for sure, I s'pose."
Hawker arose from the table, and, taking his hat, went away.
"Mary!" said the mother, in the sepulchral tone of belated but conscientious reproof.
"Well, I don't care. He needn't be so grand. I didn't go to tease him. I don't care."
"Well, you ought to care," said the old man suddenly. "There's no sense in you wimen folks pestering the boy all the time. Let him alone with his own business, can't you?"
"Well, ain't we leaving him alone?"
"No, you ain't—'cept when he ain't here. I don't wonder the boy grabs his hat and skips out when you git to going."
"Well, what did we say to him now? Tell us what we said to him that was so dreadful."
"Aw, thunder an' lightnin'!" cried the old man with a sudden great snarl. They seemed to know by this ejaculation that he had emerged in an instant from that place where man endures, and they ended the discussion. The old man continued his breakfast.
During his walk that morning Hawker[Pg 108] visited a certain cascade, a certain lake, and some roads, paths, groves, nooks. Later in the day he made a sketch, choosing an hour when the atmosphere was of a dark blue, like powder smoke in the shade of trees, and the western sky was burning in strips of red. He painted with a wild face, like a man who is killing.
After supper he and his father strolled under the apple boughs in the orchard and smoked. Once he gestured wearily. "Oh, I guess I'll go back to New York in a few days."
"Um," replied his father calmly. "All right, William."
Several days later Hawker accosted his father in the barnyard. "I suppose you think sometimes I don't care so much about you and the folks and the old place any more; but I do."
"Um," said the old man. "When you goin'?"
"Where?" asked Hawker, flushing.
"Back to New York."
"Why—I hadn't thought much about—— Oh, next week, I guess."[Pg 109]
"Well, do as you like, William. You know how glad me an' mother and the girls are to have you come home with us whenever you can come. You know that. But you must do as you think best, and if you ought to go back to New York now, William, why—do as you think best."
"Well, my work——" said Hawker.
From time to time the mother made wondering speech to the sisters. "How much nicer William is now! He's just as good as he can be. There for a while he was so cross and out of sorts. I don't see what could have come over him. But now he's just as good as he can be."
Hollanden told him, "Come up to the inn more, you fool."
"I was up there yesterday."
"Yesterday! What of that? I've seen the time when the farm couldn't hold you for two hours during the day."
"Go to blazes!"
"Millicent got a letter from Grace Fanhall the other day."
"Yes, she did. Grace wrote—— Say,[Pg 110] does that shadow look pure purple to you?"
"Certainly it does, or I wouldn't paint it so, duffer. What did she write?"
"Well, if that shadow is pure purple my eyes are liars. It looks a kind of slate colour to me. Lord! if what you fellows say in your pictures is true, the whole earth must be blazing and burning and glowing and——"
Hawker went into a rage. "Oh, you don't know anything about colour, Hollie. For heaven's sake, shut up, or I'll smash you with the easel."
"Well, I was going to tell you what Grace wrote in her letter. She said——"
"Gimme time, can't you? She said that town was stupid, and that she wished she was back at Hemlock Inn."
"Oh! Is that all?"
"Is that all? I wonder what you expected? Well, and she asked to be recalled to you."
"And that's all. 'Gad, for such a devoted[Pg 111] man as you were, your enthusiasm and interest is stupendous."
The father said to the mother, "Well, William's going back to New York next week."
"Is he? Why, he ain't said nothing to me about it."
"Well, he is, anyhow."
"I declare! What do you s'pose he's going back before September for, John?"
"How do I know?"
"Well, it's funny, John. I bet—I bet he's going back so's he can see that girl."
"He says it's his work."[Pg 112]
Wrinkles had been peering into the little dry-goods box that acted as a cupboard. "There are only two eggs and half a loaf of bread left," he announced brutally.
"Heavens!" said Warwickson from where he lay smoking on the bed. He spoke in a dismal voice. This tone, it is said, had earned him his popular name of Great Grief.
From different points of the compass Wrinkles looked at the little cupboard with a tremendous scowl, as if he intended thus to frighten the eggs into becoming more than two, and the bread into becoming a loaf. "Plague take it!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, shut up, Wrinkles!" said Grief from the bed.
Wrinkles sat down with an air austere and virtuous. "Well, what are we going to do?" he demanded of the others.
Grief, after swearing, said: "There,[Pg 113] that's right! Now you're happy. The holy office of the inquisition! Blast your buttons, Wrinkles, you always try to keep us from starving peacefully! It is two hours before dinner, anyhow, and——"
"Well, but what are you going to do?" persisted Wrinkles.
Pennoyer, with his head afar down, had been busily scratching at a pen-and-ink drawing. He looked up from his board to utter a plaintive optimism. "The Monthly Amazement will pay me to-morrow. They ought to. I've waited over three months now. I'm going down there to-morrow, and perhaps I'll get it."
His friends listened with airs of tolerance. "Oh, no doubt, Penny, old man." But at last Wrinkles giggled pityingly. Over on the bed Grief croaked deep down in his throat. Nothing was said for a long time thereafter.
The crash of the New York streets came faintly to this room.
Occasionally one could hear the tramp of feet in the intricate corridors of the begrimed building which squatted, slumbering, and old, between two exalted commercial structures[Pg 114] which would have had to bend afar down to perceive it. The northward march of the city's progress had happened not to overturn this aged structure, and it huddled there, lost and forgotten, while the cloud-veering towers strode on.
Meanwhile the first shadows of dusk came in at the blurred windows of the room. Pennoyer threw down his pen and tossed his drawing over on the wonderful heap of stuff that hid the table. "It's too dark to work." He lit a pipe and walked about, stretching his shoulders like a man whose labour was valuable.
When the dusk came fully the youths grew apparently sad. The solemnity of the gloom seemed to make them ponder. "Light the gas, Wrinkles," said Grief fretfully.
The flood of orange light showed clearly the dull walls lined with sketches, the tousled bed in one corner, the masses of boxes and trunks in another, a little dead stove, and the wonderful table. Moreover, there were wine-coloured draperies flung in some places, and on a shelf, high up, there were plaster casts, with dust in the creases. A long stove-[Pg 115]pipe wandered off in the wrong direction and then turned impulsively toward a hole in the wall. There were some elaborate cobwebs on the ceiling.
"Well, let's eat," said Grief.
"Eat," said Wrinkles, with a jeer; "I told you there was only two eggs and a little bread left. How are we going to eat?"
Again brought face to face with this problem, and at the hour for dinner, Pennoyer and Grief thought profoundly. "Thunder and turf!" Grief finally announced as the result of his deliberations.
"Well, if Billie Hawker was only home——" began Pennoyer.
"But he isn't," objected Wrinkles, "and that settles that."
Grief and Pennoyer thought more. Ultimately Grief said, "Oh, well, let's eat what we've got." The others at once agreed to this suggestion, as if it had been in their minds.
Later there came a quick step in the passage and a confident little thunder upon the door. Wrinkles arranging the tin pail on the gas stove, Pennoyer engaged in slicing the[Pg 116] bread, and Great Grief affixing the rubber tube to the gas stove, yelled, "Come in!"
The door opened, and Miss Florinda O'Connor, the model, dashed into the room like a gale of obstreperous autumn leaves.
"Why, hello, Splutter!" they cried.
"Oh, boys, I've come to dine with you."
It was like a squall striking a fleet of yachts.
Grief spoke first. "Yes, you have?" he said incredulously.
"Why, certainly I have. What's the matter?"
They grinned. "Well, old lady," responded Grief, "you've hit us at the wrong time. We are, in fact, all out of everything. No dinner, to mention, and, what's more, we haven't got a sou."
"What? Again?" cried Florinda.
"Yes, again. You'd better dine home to-night."
"But I'll—I'll stake you," said the girl eagerly. "Oh, you poor old idiots! It's a shame! Say, I'll stake you."
"Certainly not," said Pennoyer sternly.
"What are you talking about, Splut[Pg 117]ter?" demanded Wrinkles in an angry voice.
"No, that won't go down," said Grief, in a resolute yet wistful tone.
Florinda divested herself of her hat, jacket, and gloves, and put them where she pleased. "Got coffee, haven't you? Well, I'm not going to stir a step. You're a fine lot of birds!" she added bitterly, "You've all pulled me out of a whole lot of scrape—oh, any number of times—and now you're broke, you go acting like a set of dudes."
Great Grief had fixed the coffee to boil on the gas stove, but he had to watch it closely, for the rubber tube was short, and a chair was balanced on a trunk, and two bundles of kindling was balanced on the chair, and the gas stove was balanced on the kindling. Coffee-making was here accounted a feat.
Pennoyer dropped a piece of bread to the floor. "There! I'll have to go shy one."
Wrinkles sat playing serenades on his guitar and staring with a frown at the table, as if he was applying some strange method of clearing it of its litter.[Pg 118]
Florinda assaulted Great Grief. "Here, that's not the way to make coffee!"
"Why, the way you're making it. You want to take——" She explained some way to him which he couldn't understand.
"For heaven's sake, Wrinkles, tackle that table! Don't sit there like a music box," said Pennoyer, grappling the eggs and starting for the gas stove.
Later, as they sat around the board, Wrinkles said with satisfaction, "Well, the coffee's good, anyhow."
"'Tis good," said Florinda, "but it isn't made right. I'll show you how, Penny. You first——"
"Oh, dry up, Splutter," said Grief. "Here, take an egg."
"I don't like eggs," said Florinda.
"Take an egg," said the three hosts menacingly.
"I tell you I don't like eggs."
"Take—an—egg!" they said again.
"Oh, well," said Florinda, "I'll take one, then; but you needn't act like such a set of dudes—and, oh, maybe you didn't have much[Pg 119] lunch. I had such a daisy lunch! Up at Pontiac's studio. He's got a lovely studio."
The three looked to be oppressed. Grief said sullenly, "I saw some of his things over in Stencil's gallery, and they're rotten."
"Yes—rotten," said Pennoyer.
"Rotten," said Grief.
"Oh, well," retorted Florinda, "if a man has a swell studio and dresses—oh, sort of like a Willie, you know, you fellows sit here like owls in a cave and say rotten—rotten—rotten. You're away off. Pontiac's landscapes——"
"Landscapes be blowed! Put any of his work alongside of Billie Hawker's and see how it looks."
"Oh, well, Billie Hawker's," said Florinda. "Oh, well."
At the mention of Hawker's name they had all turned to scan her face.[Pg 120]
"He wrote that he was coming home this week," said Pennoyer.
"Did he?" asked Florinda indifferently.
"Yes. Aren't you glad?"
They were still watching her face.
"Yes, of course I'm glad. Why shouldn't I be glad?" cried the girl with defiance.
"Oh, certainly. Billie Hawker is a good fellow, Splutter. You have a particular right to be glad."
"You people make me tired," Florinda retorted. "Billie Hawker doesn't give a rap about me, and he never tried to make out that he did."
"No," said Grief. "But that isn't saying that you don't care a rap about Billie Hawker. Ah, Florinda!"
It seemed that the girl's throat suffered a[Pg 121] slight contraction. "Well, and what if I do?" she demanded finally.
"Have a cigarette?" answered Grief.
Florinda took a cigarette, lit it, and, perching herself on a divan, which was secretly a coal box, she smoked fiercely.
"What if I do?" she again demanded. "It's better than liking one of you dubs, anyhow."
"Oh, Splutter, you poor little outspoken kid!" said Wrinkle in a sad voice.
Grief searched among the pipes until he found the best one. "Yes, Splutter, don't you know that when you are so frank you defy every law of your sex, and wild eyes will take your trail?"
"Oh, you talk through your hat," replied Florinda. "Billie don't care whether I like him or whether I don't. And if he should hear me now, he wouldn't be glad or give a hang, either way. I know that." The girl paused and looked at the row of plaster casts. "Still, you needn't be throwing it at me all the time."
"We didn't," said Wrinkles indignantly. "You threw it at yourself."[Pg 122]
"Well," continued Florinda, "it's better than liking one of you dubs, anyhow. He makes money and——"
"There," said Grief, "now you've hit it! Bedad, you've reached a point in eulogy where if you move again you will have to go backward."
"Of course I don't care anything about a fellow's having money——"
"No, indeed you don't, Splutter," said Pennoyer.
"But then, you know what I mean. A fellow isn't a man and doesn't stand up straight unless he has some money. And Billie Hawker makes enough so that you feel that nobody could walk over him, don't you know? And there isn't anything jay about him, either. He's a thoroughbred, don't you know?"
After reflection, Pennoyer said, "It's pretty hard on the rest of us, Splutter."
"Well, of course I like him, but—but——"
"What?" said Pennoyer.
"I don't know," said Florinda.
Purple Sanderson lived in this room, but he usually dined out. At a certain time in his[Pg 123] life, before he came to be a great artist, he had learned the gas-fitter's trade, and when his opinions were not identical with the opinions of the art managers of the greater number of New York publications he went to see a friend who was a plumber, and the opinions of this man he was thereafter said to respect. He frequented a very neat restaurant on Twenty-third Street. It was known that on Saturday nights Wrinkles, Grief, and Pennoyer frequently quarreled with him.
As Florinda ceased speaking Purple entered. "Hello, there, Splutter!" As he was neatly hanging up his coat, he said to the others, "Well, the rent will be due in four days."
"Will it?" asked Pennoyer, astounded.
"Certainly it will," responded Purple, with the air of a superior financial man.
"My soul!" said Wrinkles.
"Oh, shut up, Purple!" said Grief. "You make me weary, coming around here with your chin about rent. I was just getting happy."
"Well, how are we going to pay it? That's the point," said Sanderson.
Wrinkles sank deeper in his chair and[Pg 124] played despondently on his guitar. Grief cast a look of rage at Sanderson, and then stared at the wall. Pennoyer said, "Well, we might borrow it from Billie Hawker."
Florinda laughed then.
"Oh," continued Pennoyer hastily, "if those Amazement people pay me when they said they would I'll have the money."
"So you will," said Grief. "You will have money to burn. Did the Amazement people ever pay you when they said they would? You are wonderfully important all of a sudden, it seems to me. You talk like an artist."
Wrinkles, too, smiled at Pennoyer. "The Eminent Magazine people wanted Penny to hire models and make a try for them, too. It would only cost him a stack of blues. By the time he has invested all his money he hasn't got, and the rent is three weeks overdue, he will be able to tell the landlord to wait seven months until the Monday morning after the day of publication. Go ahead, Penny."
After a period of silence, Sanderson, in an obstinate manner, said, "Well, what's to be done? The rent has got to be paid."
Wrinkles played more sad music. Grief[Pg 125] frowned deeper. Pennoyer was evidently searching his mind for a plan.
Florinda took the cigarette from between her lips that she might grin with greater freedom.
"We might throw Purple out," said Grief, with an inspired air. "That would stop all this discussion."
"You!" said Sanderson furiously. "You can't keep serious a minute. If you didn't have us to take care of you, you wouldn't even know when they threw you out into the street."
"Wouldn't I?" said Grief.
"Well, look here," interposed Florinda, "I'm going home unless you can be more interesting. I am dead sorry about the rent, but I can't help it, and——"
"Here! Sit down! Hold on, Splutter!" they shouted. Grief turned to Sanderson: "Purple, you shut up!"
Florinda curled again on the divan and lit another cigarette. The talk waged about the names of other and more successful painters, whose work they usually pronounced "rotten."[Pg 126]
Pennoyer, coming home one morning with two gigantic cakes to accompany the coffee at the breakfast in the den, saw a young man bounce from a horse car. He gave a shout. "Hello, there, Billie! Hello!"
"Hello, Penny!" said Hawker. "What are you doing out so early?" It was somewhat after nine o'clock.
"Out to get breakfast," said Pennoyer, waving the cakes. "Have a good time, old man?"
"Do much work?"
"No. Not so much. How are all the people?"
"Oh, pretty good. Come in and see us eat breakfast," said Pennoyer, throwing open the door of the den. Wrinkles, in his shirt, was making coffee. Grief sat in a chair try[Pg 127]ing to loosen the grasp of sleep. "Why, Billie Hawker, b'ginger!" they cried.
"How's the wolf, boys? At the door yet?"
"'At the door yet?' He's halfway up the back stairs, and coming fast. He and the landlord will be here to-morrow. 'Mr. Landlord, allow me to present Mr. F. Wolf, of Hunger, N. J. Mr. Wolf—Mr. Landlord.'"
"Bad as that?" said Hawker.
"You bet it is! Easy Street is somewhere in heaven, for all we know. Have some breakfast?—coffee and cake, I mean."
"No, thanks, boys. Had breakfast."
Wrinkles added to the shirt, Grief aroused himself, and Pennoyer brought the coffee. Cheerfully throwing some drawings from the table to the floor, they thus made room for the breakfast, and grouped themselves with beaming smiles at the board.
"Well, Billie, come back to the old gang again, eh? How did the country seem? Do much work?"
"Not very much. A few things. How's everybody?"
"Splutter was in last night. Looking out[Pg 128] of sight. Seemed glad to hear that you were coming back soon."
"Did she? Penny, did anybody call wanting me to do a ten-thousand-dollar portrait for them?"
"No. That frame-maker, though, was here with a bill. I told him——"
Afterward Hawker crossed the corridor and threw open the door of his own large studio. The great skylight, far above his head, shed its clear rays upon a scene which appeared to indicate that some one had very recently ceased work here and started for the country. A distant closet door was open, and the interior showed the effects of a sudden pillage.
There was an unfinished "Girl in Apple Orchard" upon the tall Dutch easel, and sketches and studies were thick upon the floor. Hawker took a pipe and filled it from his friend the tan and gold jar. He cast himself into a chair and, taking an envelope from his pocket, emptied two violets from it to the palm of his hand and stared long at them. Upon the walls of the studio various labours of his life, in heavy gilt frames, contemplated him and the violets.[Pg 129]
At last Pennoyer burst impetuously in upon him. "Hi, Billie! come over and—— What's the matter?"
Hawker had hastily placed the violets in the envelope and hurried it to his pocket. "Nothing," he answered.
"Why, I thought—" said Pennoyer, "I thought you looked rather rattled. Didn't you have—I thought I saw something in your hand."
"Nothing, I tell you!" cried Hawker.
"Er—oh, I beg your pardon," said Pennoyer. "Why, I was going to tell you that Splutter is over in our place, and she wants to see you."
"Wants to see me? What for?" demanded Hawker. "Why don't she come over here, then?"
"I'm sure I don't know," replied Pennoyer. "She sent me to call you."
"Well, do you think I'm going to—— Oh, well, I suppose she wants to be unpleasant, and knows she loses a certain mental position if she comes over here, but if she meets me in your place she can be as infernally disagreeable as she—— That's it, I'll bet."[Pg 130]
When they entered the den Florinda was gazing from the window. Her back was toward the door.
At last she turned to them, holding herself very straight. "Well, Billie Hawker," she said grimly, "you don't seem very glad to see a fellow."
"Why, heavens, did you think I was going to turn somersaults in the air?"
"Well, you didn't come out when you heard me pass your door," said Florinda, with gloomy resentment.
Hawker appeared to be ruffled and vexed. "Oh, great Scott!" he said, making a gesture of despair.
Florinda returned to the window. In the ensuing conversation she took no part, save when there was an opportunity to harry some speech of Hawker's, which she did in short contemptuous sentences. Hawker made no reply save to glare in her direction. At last he said, "Well, I must go over and do some work." Florinda did not turn from the window. "Well, so-long, boys," said Hawker, "I'll see you later."
As the door slammed Pennoyer apologet[Pg 131]ically said, "Billie is a trifle off his feed this morning."
"What about?" asked Grief.
"I don't know; but when I went to call him he was sitting deep in his chair staring at some——" He looked at Florinda and became silent.
"Staring at what?" asked Florinda, turning then from the window.
Pennoyer seemed embarrassed. "Why, I don't know—nothing, I guess—I couldn't see very well. I was only fooling."
Florinda scanned his face suspiciously. "Staring at what?" she demanded imperatively.
"Nothing, I tell you!" shouted Pennoyer.
Florinda looked at him, and wavered and debated. Presently she said, softly: "Ah, go on, Penny. Tell me."
"It wasn't anything at all, I say!" cried Pennoyer stoutly. "I was only giving you a jolly. Sit down, Splutter, and hit a cigarette."
She obeyed, but she continued to cast the dubious eye at Pennoyer. Once she said to him privately: "Go on, Penny, tell me. I[Pg 132] know it was something from the way you are acting."
"Oh, let up, Splutter, for heaven's sake!"
"Tell me," beseeched Florinda.
"Pl-e-a-se tell me."
"Oh, go on."
"Ah, what makes you so mean, Penny? You know I'd tell you, if it was the other way about."
"But it's none of my business, Splutter. I can't tell you something which is Billie Hawker's private affair. If I did I would be a chump."
"But I'll never say you told me. Go on."
"Pl-e-a-se tell me."
When Florinda had gone, Grief said, "Well, what was it?" Wrinkles looked curiously from his drawing-board.
Pennoyer lit his pipe and held it at the side of his mouth in the manner of a deliberate man. At last he said, "It was two violets."
"You don't say!" ejaculated Wrinkles.
"Well, I'm hanged!" cried Grief. "Holding them in his hand and moping over them, eh?"
"Yes," responded Pennoyer. "Rather that way."
"Well, I'm hanged!" said both Grief and Wrinkles. They grinned in a pleased, urchin-like manner. "Say, who do you suppose she is? Somebody he met this summer, no doubt. Would you ever think old Billie would get into that sort of a thing? Well, I'll be gol-durned!"[Pg 134]
Ultimately Wrinkles said, "Well, it's his own business." This was spoken in a tone of duty.
"Of course it's his own business," retorted Grief. "But who would ever think——" Again they grinned.
When Hawker entered the den some minutes later he might have noticed something unusual in the general demeanour. "Say, Grief, will you loan me your—— What's up?" he asked.
For answer they grinned at each other, and then grinned at him.
"You look like a lot of Chessy cats," he told them.
They grinned on.
Apparently feeling unable to deal with these phenomena, he went at last to the door. "Well, this is a fine exhibition," he said, standing with his hand on the knob and regarding them. "Won election bets? Some good old auntie just died? Found something new to pawn? No? Well, I can't stand this. You resemble those fish they discover at deep sea. Good-bye!"
As he opened the door they cried out:[Pg 135] "Hold on, Billie! Billie, look here! Say, who is she?"
"Who is she?"
"Who is who?"
They laughed and nodded. "Why, you know. She. Don't you understand? She."
"You talk like a lot of crazy men," said Hawker. "I don't know what you mean."
"Oh, you don't, eh? You don't? Oh, no! How about those violets you were moping over this morning? Eh, old man! Oh, no, you don't know what we mean! Oh, no! How about those violets, eh? How about 'em?"
Hawker, with flushed and wrathful face, looked at Pennoyer. "Penny——" But Grief and Wrinkles roared an interruption. "Oh, ho, Mr. Hawker! so it's true, is it? It's true. You are a nice bird, you are. Well, you old rascal! Durn your picture!"
Hawker, menacing them once with his eyes, went away. They sat cackling.
At noon, when he met Wrinkles in the corridor, he said: "Hey, Wrinkles, come here[Pg 136] for a minute, will you? Say, old man, I—I——"
"What?" said Wrinkles.
"Well, you know, I—I—of course, every man is likely to make an accursed idiot of himself once in a while, and I——"
"And you what?" asked Wrinkles.
"Well, we are a kind of a band of hoodlums, you know, and I'm just enough idiot to feel that I don't care to hear—don't care to hear—well, her name used, you know."
"Bless your heart," replied Wrinkles, "we haven't used her name. We don't know her name. How could we use it?"
"Well, I know," said Hawker. "But you understand what I mean, Wrinkles."
"Yes, I understand what you mean," said Wrinkles, with dignity. "I don't suppose you are any worse of a stuff than common. Still, I didn't know that we were such outlaws."
"Of course, I have overdone the thing," responded Hawker hastily. "But—you ought to understand how I mean it, Wrinkles."
After Wrinkles had thought for a time, he[Pg 137] said: "Well, I guess I do. All right. That goes."
Upon entering the den, Wrinkles said, "You fellows have got to quit guying Billie, do you hear?"
"We?" cried Grief. "We've got to quit? What do you do?"
"Well, I quit too."
Pennoyer said: "Ah, ha! Billie has been jumping on you."
"No, he didn't," maintained Wrinkles; "but he let me know it was—well, rather a—rather a—sacred subject." Wrinkles blushed when the others snickered.
In the afternoon, as Hawker was going slowly down the stairs, he was almost impaled upon the feather of a hat which, upon the head of a lithe and rather slight girl, charged up at him through the gloom.
"Hello, Splutter!" he cried. "You are in a hurry."
"That you, Billie?" said the girl, peering, for the hallways of this old building remained always in a dungeonlike darkness.
"Yes, it is. Where are you going at such a headlong gait?"[Pg 138]
"Up to see the boys. I've got a bottle of wine and some—some pickles, you know. I'm going to make them let me dine with them to-night. Coming back, Billie?"
"Why, no, I don't expect to."
He moved then accidentally in front of the light that sifted through the dull, gray panes of a little window.
"Oh, cracky!" cried the girl; "how fine you are, Billie! Going to a coronation?"
"No," said Hawker, looking seriously over his collar and down at his clothes. "Fact is—er—well, I've got to make a call."
"A call—bless us! And are you really going to wear those gray gloves you're holding there, Billie? Say, wait until you get around the corner. They won't stand 'em on this street."
"Oh, well," said Hawker, depreciating the gloves—"oh, well."
The girl looked up at him. "Who you going to call on?"
"Oh," said Hawker, "a friend."
"Must be somebody most extraordinary, you look so dreadfully correct. Come back,[Pg 139] Billie, won't you? Come back and dine with us."
"Why, I—I don't believe I can."
"Oh, come on! It's fun when we all dine together. Won't you, Billie?"
"Oh, don't be so stupid!" The girl stamped her foot and flashed her eyes at him angrily.
"Well, I'll see—I will if I can—I can't tell——" He left her rather precipitately.
Hawker eventually appeared at a certain austere house where he rang the bell with quite nervous fingers.
But she was not at home. As he went down the steps his eyes were as those of a man whose fortunes have tumbled upon him. As he walked down the street he wore in some subtle way the air of a man who has been grievously wronged. When he rounded the corner, his lips were set strangely, as if he were a man seeking revenge.[Pg 140]
"It's just right," said Grief.
"It isn't quite cool enough," said Wrinkles.
"Well, I guess I know the proper temperature for claret."
"Well, I guess you don't. If it was buttermilk, now, you would know, but you can't tell anything about claret."
Florinda ultimately decided the question. "It isn't quite cool enough," she said, laying her hand on the bottle. "Put it on the window ledge, Grief."
"Hum! Splutter, I thought you knew more than——"
"Oh, shut up!" interposed the busy Pennoyer from a remote corner. "Who is going after the potato salad? That's what I want to know. Who is going?"
"Wrinkles," said Grief.
"Grief," said Wrinkles.[Pg 141]
"There," said Pennoyer, coming forward and scanning a late work with an eye of satisfaction. "There's the three glasses and the little tumbler; and then, Grief, you will have to drink out of a mug."
"I'll be double-dyed black if I will!" cried Grief. "I wouldn't drink claret out of a mug to save my soul from being pinched!"
"You duffer, you talk like a bloomin' British chump on whom the sun never sets! What do you want?"
"Well, there's enough without that—what's the matter with you? Three glasses and the little tumbler."
"Yes, but if Billie Hawker comes——"
"Well, let him drink out of the mug, then. He——"
"No, he won't," said Florinda suddenly. "I'll take the mug myself."
"All right, Splutter," rejoined Grief meekly. "I'll keep the mug. But, still, I don't see why Billie Hawker——"
"I shall take the mug," reiterated Florinda firmly.
"But I don't see why——"
"Let her alone, Grief," said Wrinkles.[Pg 142] "She has decided that it is heroic. You can't move her now."
"Well, who is going for the potato salad?" cried Pennoyer again. "That's what I want to know."
"Wrinkles," said Grief.
"Grief," said Wrinkles.
"Do you know," remarked Florinda, raising her head from where she had been toiling over the spaghetti, "I don't care so much for Billie Hawker as I did once?" Her sleeves were rolled above the elbows of her wonderful arms, and she turned from the stove and poised a fork as if she had been smitten at her task with this inspiration.
There was a short silence, and then Wrinkles said politely, "No."
"No," continued Florinda, "I really don't believe I do." She suddenly started. "Listen! Isn't that him coming now?"
The dull trample of a step could be heard in some distant corridor, but it died slowly to silence.
"I thought that might be him," she said, turning to the spaghetti again.
"I hope the old Indian comes," said Pen[Pg 143]noyer, "but I don't believe he will. Seems to me he must be going to see——"
"Who?" asked Florinda.
"Well, you know, Hollanden and he usually dine together when they are both in town."
Florinda looked at Pennoyer. "I know, Penny. You must have thought I was remarkably clever not to understand all your blundering. But I don't care so much. Really I don't."
"Of course not," assented Pennoyer.
"Really I don't."
"Of course not."
"Listen!" exclaimed Grief, who was near the door. "There he comes now." Somebody approached, whistling an air from "Traviata," which rang loud and clear, and low and muffled, as the whistler wound among the intricate hallways. This air was as much a part of Hawker as his coat. The spaghetti had arrived at a critical stage. Florinda gave it her complete attention.
When Hawker opened the door he ceased whistling and said gruffly, "Hello!"
"Just the man!" said Grief. "Go after[Pg 144] the potato salad, will you, Billie? There's a good boy! Wrinkles has refused."
"He can't carry the salad with those gloves," interrupted Florinda, raising her eyes from her work and contemplating them with displeasure.
"Hang the gloves!" cried Hawker, dragging them from his hands and hurling them at the divan. "What's the matter with you, Splutter?"
Pennoyer said, "My, what a temper you are in, Billie!"
"I am," replied Hawker. "I feel like an Apache. Where do you get this accursed potato salad?"
"In Second Avenue. You know where. At the old place."
"No, I don't!" snapped Hawker.
"Here," said Florinda, "I'll go." She had already rolled down her sleeves and was arraying herself in her hat and jacket.
"No, you won't," said Hawker, filled with wrath. "I'll go myself."
"We can both go, Billie, if you are so bent," replied the girl in a conciliatory voice.[Pg 145]
"Well, come on, then. What are you standing there for?"
When these two had departed, Wrinkles said: "Lordie! What's wrong with Billie?"
"He's been discussing art with some pot-boiler," said Grief, speaking as if this was the final condition of human misery.
"No, sir," said Pennoyer. "It's something connected with the now celebrated violets."
Out in the corridor Florinda said, "What—what makes you so ugly, Billie?"
"Why, I am not ugly, am I?"
"Yes, you are—ugly as anything."
Probably he saw a grievance in her eyes, for he said, "Well, I don't want to be ugly." His tone seemed tender. The halls were intensely dark, and the girl placed her hand on his arm. As they rounded a turn in the stairs a straying lock of her hair brushed against his temple. "Oh!" said Florinda, in a low voice.
"We'll get some more claret," observed Hawker musingly. "And some cognac for the coffee. And some cigarettes. Do you think of anything more, Splutter?"
As they came from the shop of the illus[Pg 146]trious purveyors of potato salad in Second Avenue, Florinda cried anxiously, "Here, Billie, you let me carry that!"
"What infernal nonsense!" said Hawker, flushing. "Certainly not!"
"Well," protested Florinda, "it might soil your gloves somehow."
"In heaven's name, what if it does? Say, young woman, do you think I am one of these cholly boys?"
"No, Billie; but then, you know——"
"Well, if you don't take me for some kind of a Willie, give us peace on this blasted glove business!"
"I didn't mean——"
"Well, you've been intimating that I've got the only pair of gray gloves in the universe, but you are wrong. There are several pairs, and these need not be preserved as unique in history."
"They're not gray. They're——"
"They are gray! I suppose your distinguished ancestors in Ireland did not educate their families in the matter of gloves, and so you are not expected to——"
"You are not expected to believe that people wear gloves only in cold weather, and then you expect to see mittens."
On the stairs, in the darkness, he suddenly exclaimed, "Here, look out, or you'll fall!" He reached for her arm, but she evaded him. Later he said again: "Look out, girl! What makes you stumble around so? Here, give me the bottle of wine. I can carry it all right. There—now can you manage?"[Pg 148]
"Penny," said Grief, looking across the table at his friend, "if a man thinks a heap of two violets, how much would he think of a thousand violets?"
"Two into a thousand goes five hundred times, you fool!" said Pennoyer. "I would answer your question if it were not upon a forbidden subject."
In the distance Wrinkles and Florinda were making Welsh rarebits.
"Hold your tongues!" said Hawker. "Barbarians!"
"Grief," said Pennoyer, "if a man loves a woman better than the whole universe, how much does he love the whole universe?"
"Gawd knows," said Grief piously. "Although it ill befits me to answer your question."
Wrinkles and Florinda came with the Welsh rarebits, very triumphant. "There,"[Pg 149] said Florinda, "soon as these are finished I must go home. It is after eleven o'clock.—Pour the ale, Grief."
At a later time, Purple Sanderson entered from the world. He hung up his hat and cast a look of proper financial dissatisfaction at the remnants of the feast. "Who has been——"
"Before you breathe, Purple, you graceless scum, let me tell you that we will stand no reference to the two violets here," said Pennoyer.
"Oh, that's all right, Purple," said Grief, "but you were going to say something about the two violets, right then. Weren't you, now, you old bat?"
Sanderson grinned expectantly. "What's the row?" said he.
"No row at all," they told him. "Just an agreement to keep you from chattering obstinately about the two violets."
"What two violets?"
"Have a rarebit, Purple," advised Wrinkles, "and never mind those maniacs."
"Well, what is this business about two violets?"[Pg 150]
"Oh, it's just some dream. They gibber at anything."
"I think I know," said Florinda, nodding. "It is something that concerns Billie Hawker."
Grief and Pennoyer scoffed, and Wrinkles said: "You know nothing about it, Splutter. It doesn't concern Billie Hawker at all."
"Well, then, what is he looking sideways for?" cried Florinda.
Wrinkles reached for his guitar, and played a serenade, "The silver moon is shining——"
"Dry up!" said Pennoyer.
Then Florinda cried again, "What does he look sideways for?"
Pennoyer and Grief giggled at the imperturbable Hawker, who destroyed rarebit in silence.
"It's you, is it, Billie?" said Sanderson. "You are in this two-violet business?"
"I don't know what they're talking about," replied Hawker.
"Don't you, honestly?" asked Florinda.
"Well, only a little."
"There!" said Florinda, nodding again. "I knew he was in it."[Pg 151]
"He isn't in it at all," said Pennoyer and Grief.
Later, when the cigarettes had become exhausted, Hawker volunteered to go after a further supply, and as he arose, a question seemed to come to the edge of Florinda's lips and pend there. The moment that the door was closed upon him she demanded, "What is that about the two violets?"
"Nothing at all," answered Pennoyer, apparently much aggrieved. He sat back with an air of being a fortress of reticence.
"Oh, go on—tell me! Penny, I think you are very mean.—Grief, you tell me!"
"The silver moon is shining;
Oh, come, my love, to me!
"Be still, Wrinkles, will you?—What was it, Grief? Oh, go ahead and tell me!"
"What do you want to know for?" cried Grief, vastly exasperated. "You've got more blamed curiosity—— It isn't anything at all, I keep saying to you."
"Well, I know it is," said Florinda sullenly, "or you would tell me."[Pg 152]
When Hawker brought the cigarettes, Florinda smoked one, and then announced, "Well, I must go now."
"Who is going to take you home, Splutter?"
"Oh, anyone," replied Florinda.
"I tell you what," said Grief, "we'll throw some poker hands, and the one who wins will have the distinguished honour of conveying Miss Splutter to her home and mother."
Pennoyer and Wrinkles speedily routed the dishes to one end of the table. Grief's fingers spun the halves of a pack of cards together with the pleased eagerness of a good player. The faces grew solemn with the gambling solemnity. "Now, you Indians," said Grief, dealing, "a draw, you understand, and then a show-down."
Florinda leaned forward in her chair until it was poised on two legs. The cards of Purple Sanderson and of Hawker were faced toward her. Sanderson was gravely regarding two pair—aces and queens. Hawker scanned a little pair of sevens. "They draw, don't they?" she said to Grief.[Pg 153]
"Certainly," said Grief. "How many, Wrink?"
"Four," replied Wrinkles, plaintively.
"Gimme three," said Pennoyer.
"Gimme one," said Sanderson.
"Gimme three," said Hawker. When he picked up his hand again Florinda's chair was tilted perilously. She saw another seven added to the little pair. Sanderson's draw had not assisted him.
"Same to the dealer," said Grief. "What you got, Wrink?"
"Nothing," said Wrinkles, exhibiting it face upward on the table. "Good-bye, Florinda."
"Well, I've got two small pair," ventured Pennoyer hopefully. "Beat 'em?"
"No good," said Sanderson. "Two pair—aces up."
"No good," said Hawker. "Three sevens."
"Beats me," said Grief. "Billie, you are the fortunate man. Heaven guide you in Third Avenue!"
Florinda had gone to the window. "Who won?" she asked, wheeling about carelessly.[Pg 154]
"What! Did he?" she said in surprise.
"Never mind, Splutter. I'll win sometime," said Pennoyer. "Me too," cried Grief. "Good night, old girl!" said Wrinkles. They crowded in the doorway. "Hold on to Billie. Remember the two steps going up," Pennoyer called intelligently into the Stygian blackness. "Can you see all right?"
Florinda lived in a flat with fire-escapes written all over the front of it. The street in front was being repaired. It had been said by imbecile residents of the vicinity that the paving was never allowed to remain down for a sufficient time to be invalided by the tramping millions, but that it was kept perpetually stacked in little mountains through the unceasing vigilance of a virtuous and heroic city government, which insisted that everything should be repaired. The alderman for the district had sometimes asked indignantly of his fellow-members why this street had not been repaired, and they, aroused, had at once ordered it to be repaired. Moreover, shopkeepers, whose stables were adjacent, placed[Pg 155] trucks and other vehicles strategically in the darkness. Into this tangled midnight Hawker conducted Florinda. The great avenue behind them was no more than a level stream of yellow light, and the distant merry bells might have been boats floating down it. Grim loneliness hung over the uncouth shapes in the street which was being repaired.
"Billie," said the girl suddenly, "what makes you so mean to me?"
A peaceful citizen emerged from behind a pile of débris, but he might not have been a peaceful citizen, so the girl clung to Hawker.
"Why, I'm not mean to you, am I?"
"Yes," she answered. As they stood on the steps of the flat of innumerable fire-escapes she slowly turned and looked up at him. Her face was of a strange pallour in this darkness, and her eyes were as when the moon shines in a lake of the hills.
He returned her glance. "Florinda!" he cried, as if enlightened, and gulping suddenly at something in his throat. The girl studied the steps and moved from side to side, as[Pg 156] do the guilty ones in country schoolhouses. Then she went slowly into the flat.
There was a little red lamp hanging on a pile of stones to warn people that the street was being repaired.[Pg 157]
"I'll get my check from the Gamin on Saturday," said Grief. "They bought that string of comics."
"Well, then, we'll arrange the present funds to last until Saturday noon," said Wrinkles. "That gives us quite a lot. We can have a table d'hôte on Friday night."
However, the cashier of the Gamin office looked under his respectable brass wiring and said: "Very sorry, Mr.—er—Warwickson, but our pay-day is Monday. Come around any time after ten."
"Oh, it doesn't matter," said Grief.
When he plunged into the den his visage flamed with rage. "Don't get my check until Monday morning, any time after ten!" he yelled, and flung a portfolio of mottled green into the danger zone of the casts.
"Thunder!" said Pennoyer, sinking at once into a profound despair[Pg 158]
"Monday morning, any time after ten," murmured Wrinkles, in astonishment and sorrow.
While Grief marched to and fro threatening the furniture, Pennoyer and Wrinkles allowed their under jaws to fall, and remained as men smitten between the eyes by the god of calamity.
"Singular thing!" muttered Pennoyer at last. "You get so frightfully hungry as soon as you learn that there are no more meals coming."
"Oh, well——" said Wrinkles. He took up his guitar.
Oh, some folks say dat a niggah won' steal,
'Way down yondeh in d' cohn'-fiel';
But Ah caught two in my cohn'-fiel',
Way down yondeh in d' cohn'-fiel'.
"Oh, let up!" said Grief, as if unwilling to be moved from his despair.
"Oh, let up!" said Pennoyer, as if he disliked the voice and the ballad.
In his studio, Hawker sat braced nervously forward on a little stool before his tall Dutch easel. Three sketches lay on the floor near[Pg 159] him, and he glared at them constantly while painting at the large canvas on the easel.
He seemed engaged in some kind of a duel. His hair dishevelled, his eyes gleaming, he was in a deadly scuffle. In the sketches was the landscape of heavy blue, as if seen through powder-smoke, and all the skies burned red. There was in these notes a sinister quality of hopelessness, eloquent of a defeat, as if the scene represented the last hour on a field of disastrous battle. Hawker seemed attacking with this picture something fair and beautiful of his own life, a possession of his mind, and he did it fiercely, mercilessly, formidably. His arm moved with the energy of a strange wrath. He might have been thrusting with a sword.
There was a knock at the door. "Come in." Pennoyer entered sheepishly. "Well?" cried Hawker, with an echo of savagery in his voice. He turned from the canvas precisely as one might emerge from a fight. "Oh!" he said, perceiving Pennoyer. The glow in his eyes slowly changed. "What is it, Penny?"
"Billie," said Pennoyer, "Grief was to get[Pg 160] his check to-day, but they put him off until Monday, and so, you know—er—well——"
"Oh!" said Hawker again.
When Pennoyer had gone Hawker sat motionless before his work. He stared at the canvas in a meditation so profound that it was probably unconscious of itself.
The light from above his head slanted more and more toward the east.
Once he arose and lighted a pipe. He returned to the easel and stood staring with his hands in his pockets. He moved like one in a sleep. Suddenly the gleam shot into his eyes again. He dropped to the stool and grabbed a brush. At the end of a certain long, tumultuous period he clinched his pipe more firmly in his teeth and puffed strongly. The thought might have occurred to him that it was not alight, for he looked at it with a vague, questioning glance. There came another knock at the door. "Go to the devil!" he shouted, without turning his head.
Hollanden crossed the corridor then to the den.
"Hi, there, Hollie! Hello, boy! Just the fellow we want to see. Come in—sit down[Pg 161]—hit a pipe. Say, who was the girl Billie Hawker went mad over this summer?"
"Blazes!" said Hollanden, recovering slowly from this onslaught. "Who—what—how did you Indians find it out?"
"Oh, we tumbled!" they cried in delight, "we tumbled."
"There!" said Hollanden, reproaching himself. "And I thought you were such a lot of blockheads."
"Oh, we tumbled!" they cried again in their ecstasy. "But who is she? That's the point."
"Well, she was a girl."
"Yes, go on."
"A New York girl."
"A perfectly stunning New York girl."
"Yes. Go ahead."
"A perfectly stunning New York girl of a very wealthy and rather old-fashioned family."
"Well, I'll be shot! You don't mean it! She is practically seated on top of the Matterhorn. Poor old Billie!"
"Not at all," said Hollanden composedly.
It was a common habit of Purple Sander[Pg 162]son to call attention at night to the resemblance of the den to some little ward in a hospital. Upon this night, when Sanderson and Grief were buried in slumber, Pennoyer moved restlessly. "Wrink!" he called softly into the darkness in the direction of the divan which was secretly a coal-box.
"What?" said Wrinkles in a surly voice. His mind had evidently been caught at the threshold of sleep.
"Do you think Florinda cares much for Billie Hawker?"
Wrinkles fretted through some oaths. "How in thunder do I know?" The divan creaked as he turned his face to the wall.
"Well——" muttered Pennoyer.[Pg 163]
The harmony of summer sunlight on leaf and blade of green was not known to the two windows, which looked forth at an obviously endless building of brownstone about which there was the poetry of a prison. Inside, great folds of lace swept down in orderly cascades, as water trained to fall mathematically. The colossal chandelier, gleaming like a Siamese headdress, caught the subtle flashes from unknown places.
Hawker heard a step and the soft swishing of a woman's dress. He turned toward the door swiftly, with a certain dramatic impulsiveness. But when she entered the room he said, "How delighted I am to see you again!"
She had said, "Why, Mr. Hawker, it was so charming in you to come!"
It did not appear that Hawker's tongue could wag to his purpose. The girl seemed[Pg 164] in her mind to be frantically shuffling her pack of social receipts and finding none of them made to meet this situation. Finally, Hawker said that he thought Hearts at War was a very good play.
"Did you?" she said in surprise. "I thought it much like the others."
"Well, so did I," he cried hastily—"the same figures moving around in the mud of modern confusion. I really didn't intend to say that I liked it. Fact is, meeting you rather moved me out of my mental track."
"Mental track?" she said. "I didn't know clever people had mental tracks. I thought it was a privilege of the theologians."
"Who told you I was clever?" he demanded.
"Why," she said, opening her eyes wider, "nobody."
Hawker smiled and looked upon her with gratitude. "Of course, nobody. There couldn't be such an idiot. I am sure you should be astonished to learn that I believed such an imbecile existed. But——"
"Oh!" she said.[Pg 165]
"But I think you might have spoken less bluntly."
"Well," she said, after wavering for a time, "you are clever, aren't you?"
"Certainly," he answered reassuringly.
"Well, then?" she retorted, with triumph in her tone. And this interrogation was apparently to her the final victorious argument.
At his discomfiture Hawker grinned.
"You haven't asked news of Stanley," he said. "Why don't you ask news of Stanley?"
"Oh! and how was he?"
"The last I saw of him he stood down at the end of the pasture—the pasture, you know—wagging his tail in blissful anticipation of an invitation to come with me, and when it finally dawned upon him that he was not to receive it, he turned and went back toward the house 'like a man suddenly stricken with age,' as the story-tellers eloquently say. Poor old dog!"
"And you left him?" she said reproachfully. Then she asked, "Do you remember how he amused you playing with the ants at the falls?"
"Why, he did. He pawed at the moss, and you sat there laughing. I remember it distinctly."
"You remember distinctly? Why, I thought—well, your back was turned, you know. Your gaze was fixed upon something before you, and you were utterly lost to the rest of the world. You could not have known if Stanley pawed the moss and I laughed. So, you see, you are mistaken. As a matter of fact, I utterly deny that Stanley pawed the moss or that I laughed, or that any ants appeared at the falls at all."
"I have always said that you should have been a Chinese soldier of fortune," she observed musingly. "Your daring and ingenuity would be prized by the Chinese."
"There are innumerable tobacco jars in China," he said, measuring the advantages. "Moreover, there is no perspective. You don't have to walk two miles to see a friend. No. He is always there near you, so that you can't move a chair without hitting your distant friend. You——"
"Did Hollie remain as attentive as ever to the Worcester girls?"[Pg 167]
"Yes, of course, as attentive as ever. He dragged me into all manner of tennis games——"
"Why, I thought you loved to play tennis?"
"Oh, well," said Hawker, "I did until you left."
"My sister has gone to the park with the children. I know she will be vexed when she finds that you have called."
Ultimately Hawker said, "Do you remember our ride behind my father's oxen?"
"No," she answered; "I had forgotten it completely. Did we ride behind your father's oxen?"
After a moment he said: "That remark would be prized by the Chinese. We did. And you most graciously professed to enjoy it, which earned my deep gratitude and admiration. For no one knows better than I," he added meekly, "that it is no great comfort or pleasure to ride behind my father's oxen."
She smiled retrospectively. "Do you remember how the people on the porch hurried to the railing?"[Pg 168]
Near the door the stout proprietress sat intrenched behind the cash-box in a Parisian manner. She looked with practical amiability at her guests, who dined noisily and with great fire, discussing momentous problems furiously, making wide, maniacal gestures through the cigarette smoke. Meanwhile the little handful of waiters ran to and fro wildly. Imperious and importunate cries rang at them from all directions. "Gustave! Adolphe!" Their faces expressed a settled despair. They answered calls, commands, oaths in a semi-distraction, fleeting among the tables as if pursued by some dodging animal. Their breaths came in gasps. If they had been convict labourers they could not have surveyed their positions with countenances of more unspeakable injury. Withal, they carried incredible masses of dishes and threaded their ways with skill. They served people with[Pg 169] such speed and violence that it often resembled a personal assault. They struck two blows at a table and left there a knife and fork. Then came the viands in a volley. The clatter of this business was loud and bewilderingly rapid, like the gallop of a thousand horses.
In a remote corner a band of mandolins and guitars played the long, sweeping, mad melody of a Spanish waltz. It seemed to go tingling to the hearts of many of the diners. Their eyes glittered with enthusiasm, with abandon, with deviltry. They swung their heads from side to side in rhythmic movement. High in air curled the smoke from the innumerable cigarettes. The long, black claret bottles were in clusters upon the tables. At an end of the hall two men with maudlin grins sang the waltz uproariously, but always a trifle belated.
An unsteady person, leaning back in his chair to murmur swift compliments to a woman at another table, suddenly sprawled out upon the floor. He scrambled to his feet, and, turning to the escort of the woman, heatedly blamed him for the accident. They ex[Pg 170]changed a series of tense, bitter insults, which spatted back and forth between them like pellets. People arose from their chairs and stretched their necks. The musicians stood in a body, their faces turned with expressions of keen excitement toward this quarrel, but their fingers still twinkling over their instruments, sending into the middle of this turmoil the passionate, mad, Spanish music. The proprietor of the place came in agitation and plunged headlong into the argument, where he thereafter appeared as a frantic creature harried to the point of insanity, for they buried him at once in long, vociferous threats, explanations, charges, every form of declamation known to their voices. The music, the noise of the galloping horses, the voices of the brawlers, gave the whole thing the quality of war.
There were two men in the café who seemed to be tranquil. Hollanden carefully stacked one lump of sugar upon another in the middle of his saucer and poured cognac over them. He touched a match to the cognac and the blue and yellow flames eddied in the saucer. "I wonder what those two[Pg 171] fools are bellowing at?" he said, turning about irritably.
"Hanged if I know!" muttered Hawker in reply. "This place makes me weary, anyhow. Hear the blooming din!"
"What's the matter?" said Hollanden. "You used to say this was the one natural, the one truly Bohemian, resort in the city. You swore by it."
"Well, I don't like it so much any more."
"Ho!" cried Hollanden, "you're getting correct—that's it exactly. You will become one of these intensely—— Look, Billie, the little one is going to punch him!"
"No, he isn't. They never do," said Hawker morosely. "Why did you bring me here to-night, Hollie?"
"I? I bring you? Good heavens, I came as a concession to you! What are you talking about?—Hi! the little one is going to punch him, sure!"
He gave the scene his undivided attention for a moment; then he turned again: "You will become correct. I know you will. I have been watching. You are about to achieve a respectability that will make a stone[Pg 172] saint blush for himself. What's the matter with you? You act as if you thought falling in love with a girl was a most extraordinary circumstance.—I wish they would put those people out.—Of course I know that you—— There! The little one has swiped at him at last!"
After a time he resumed his oration. "Of course, I know that you are not reformed in the matter of this uproar and this remarkable consumption of bad wine. It is not that. It is a fact that there are indications that some other citizen was fortunate enough to possess your napkin before you; and, moreover, you are sure that you would hate to be caught by your correct friends with any such consommé in front of you as we had to-night. You have got an eye suddenly for all kinds of gilt. You are in the way of becoming a most unbearable person.—Oh, look! the little one and the proprietor are having it now.—You are in the way of becoming a most unbearable person. Presently many of your friends will not be fine enough.—In heaven's name, why don't they throw him out? Are you going to howl and gesticulate there all night?"[Pg 173]
"Well," said Hawker, "a man would be a fool if he did like this dinner."
"Certainly. But what an immaterial part in the glory of this joint is the dinner! Who cares about dinner? No one comes here to eat; that's what you always claimed.—Well, there, at last they are throwing him out. I hope he lands on his head.—Really, you know, Billie, it is such a fine thing being in love that one is sure to be detestable to the rest of the world, and that is the reason they created a proverb to the other effect. You want to look out."
"You talk like a blasted old granny!" said Hawker. "Haven't changed at all. This place is all right, only——"
"You are gone," interrupted Hollanden in a sad voice. "It is very plain—you are gone."[Pg 174]
The proprietor of the place, having pushed to the street the little man, who may have been the most vehement, came again and resumed the discussion with the remainder of the men of war. Many of these had volunteered, and they were very enduring.
"Yes, you are gone," said Hollanden, with the sobriety of graves in his voice. "You are gone.—Hi!" he cried, "there is Lucian Pontiac.—Hi, Pontiac! Sit down here."
A man with a tangle of hair, and with that about his mouth which showed that he had spent many years in manufacturing a proper modesty with which to bear his greatness, came toward them, smiling.
"Hello, Pontiac!" said Hollanden. "Here's another great painter. Do you know Mr. Hawker?—Mr. William Hawker—Mr. Pontiac."
"Mr. Hawker—delighted," said Pontiac.[Pg 175] "Although I have not known you personally, I can assure you that I have long been a great admirer of your abilities."
The proprietor of the place and the men of war had at length agreed to come to an amicable understanding. They drank liquors, while each firmly, but now silently, upheld his dignity.
"Charming place," said Pontiac. "So thoroughly Parisian in spirit. And from time to time, Mr. Hawker, I use one of your models. Must say she has the best arm and wrist in the universe. Stunning figure—stunning!"
"You mean Florinda?" said Hawker.
"Yes, that's the name. Very fine girl. Lunches with me from time to time and chatters so volubly. That's how I learned you posed her occasionally. If the models didn't gossip we would never know what painters were addicted to profanity. Now that old Thorndike—he told me you swore like a drill-sergeant if the model winked a finger at the critical time. Very fine girl, Florinda. And honest, too—honest as the devil. Very curious thing. Of course honesty among the girl models is very common, very common—quite[Pg 176] universal thing, you know—but then it always strikes me as being very curious, very curious. I've been much attracted by your girl Florinda."
"My girl?" said Hawker.
"Well, she always speaks of you in a proprietary way, you know. And then she considers that she owes you some kind of obedience and allegiance and devotion. I remember last week I said to her: 'You can go now. Come again Friday.' But she said: 'I don't think I can come on Friday. Billie Hawker is home now, and he may want me then.' Said I: 'The devil take Billie Hawker! He hasn't engaged you for Friday, has he? Well, then, I engage you now.' But she shook her head. No, she couldn't come on Friday. Billie Hawker was home, and he might want her any day. 'Well, then,' said I, 'you have my permission to do as you please, since you are resolved upon it anyway. Go to your Billie Hawker.' Did you need her on Friday?"
"No," said Hawker.
"Well, then, the minx, I shall scold her. Stunning figure—stunning! It was only last week that old Charley Master said to me[Pg 177] mournfully: 'There are no more good models. Great Scott! not a one.' 'You're 'way off, my boy,' I said; 'there is one good model,' and then I named your girl. I mean the girl who claims to be yours."
"Poor little beggar!" said Hollanden.
"Who?" said Pontiac.
"Florinda," answered Hollanden. "I suppose——"
Pontiac interrupted. "Oh, of course, it is too bad. Everything is too bad. My dear sir, nothing is so much to be regretted as the universe. But this Florinda is such a sturdy young soul! The world is against her, but, bless your heart, she is equal to the battle. She is strong in the manner of a little child. Why, you don't know her. She——"
"I know her very well."
"Well, perhaps you do, but for my part I think you don't appreciate her formidable character and stunning figure—stunning!"
"Damn it!" said Hawker to his coffee cup, which he had accidentally overturned.
"Well," resumed Pontiac, "she is a stunning model, and I think, Mr. Hawker, you are to be envied."[Pg 178]
"Eh?" said Hawker.
"I wish I could inspire my models with such obedience and devotion. Then I would not be obliged to rail at them for being late, and have to badger them for not showing up at all. She has a beautiful figure—beautiful."[Pg 179]
When Hawker went again to the house of the great window he looked first at the colossal chandelier, and, perceiving that it had not moved, he smiled in a certain friendly and familiar way.
"It must be a fine thing," said the girl dreamily. "I always feel envious of that sort of life."
"What sort of life?"
"Why—I don't know exactly; but there must be a great deal of freedom about it. I went to a studio tea once, and——"
"A studio tea! Merciful heavens—— Go on."
"Yes, a studio tea. Don't you like them? To be sure, we didn't know whether the man could paint very well, and I suppose you think it is an imposition for anyone who is not a great painter to give a tea."
"Go on."[Pg 180]
"Well, he had the dearest little Japanese servants, and some of the cups came from Algiers, and some from Turkey, and some from—— What's the matter?"
"Go on. I'm not interrupting you."
"Well, that's all; excepting that everything was charming in colour, and I thought what a lazy, beautiful life the man must lead, lounging in such a studio, smoking monogrammed cigarettes, and remarking how badly all the other men painted."
"Very fascinating. But——"
"Oh! you are going to ask if he could draw. I'm sure I don't know, but the tea that he gave was charming."
"I was on the verge of telling you something about artist life, but if you have seen a lot of draperies and drunk from a cup of Algiers, you know all about it."
"You, then, were going to make it something very terrible, and tell how young painters struggled, and all that."
"No, not exactly. But listen: I suppose there is an aristocracy who, whether they paint well or paint ill, certainly do give charming teas, as you say, and all other kinds[Pg 181] of charming affairs too; but when I hear people talk as if that was the whole life, it makes my hair rise, you know, because I am sure that as they get to know me better and better they will see how I fall short of that kind of an existence, and I shall probably take a great tumble in their estimation. They might even conclude that I can not paint, which would be very unfair, because I can paint, you know."
"Well, proceed to arrange my point of view, so that you sha'n't tumble in my estimation when I discover that you don't lounge in a studio, smoke monogrammed cigarettes, and remark how badly the other men paint."
"That's it. That's precisely what I wish to do."
"Well, in the first place——"
"In the first place—what?"
"Well, I started to study when I was very poor, you understand. Look here! I'm telling you these things because I want you to know, somehow. It isn't that I'm not ashamed of it. Well, I began very poor, and I—as a matter of fact—I—well, I earned myself over half the money for my studying, and the other half I[Pg 182] bullied and badgered and beat out of my poor old dad. I worked pretty hard in Paris, and I returned here expecting to become a great painter at once. I didn't, though. In fact, I had my worst moments then. It lasted for some years. Of course, the faith and endurance of my father were by this time worn to a shadow—this time, when I needed him the most. However, things got a little better and a little better, until I found that by working quite hard I could make what was to me a fair income. That's where I am now, too."
"Why are you so ashamed of this story?"
"Poverty isn't anything to be ashamed of."
"Great heavens! Have you the temerity to get off that old nonsensical remark? Poverty is everything to be ashamed of. Did you ever see a person not ashamed of his poverty? Certainly not. Of course, when a man gets very rich he will brag so loudly of the poverty of his youth that one would never suppose that he was once ashamed of it. But he was."[Pg 183]
"Well, anyhow, you shouldn't be ashamed of the story you have just told me."
"Why not? Do you refuse to allow me the great right of being like other men?"
"I think it was—brave, you know."
"Brave? Nonsense! Those things are not brave. Impression to that effect created by the men who have been through the mill for the greater glory of the men who have been through the mill."
"I don't like to hear you talk that way. It sounds wicked, you know."
"Well, it certainly wasn't heroic. I can remember distinctly that there was not one heroic moment."
"No, but it was—it was——"
"It was what?"
"Well, somehow I like it, you know."[Pg 184]
"There's three of them," said Grief in a hoarse whisper.
"Four, I tell you!" said Wrinkles in a low, excited tone.
"Four," breathed Pennoyer with decision.
They held fierce pantomimic argument. From the corridor came sounds of rustling dresses and rapid feminine conversation.
Grief had kept his ear to the panel of the door. His hand was stretched back, warning the others to silence. Presently he turned his head and whispered, "Three."
"Four," whispered Pennoyer and Wrinkles.
"Hollie is there, too," whispered Grief. "Billie is unlocking the door. Now they're going in. Hear them cry out, 'Oh, isn't it lovely!' Jinks!" He began a noiseless dance about the room. "Jinks! Don't I wish I had a big studio and a little reputation![Pg 185] Wouldn't I have my swell friends come to see me, and wouldn't I entertain 'em!" He adopted a descriptive manner, and with his forefinger indicated various spaces of the wall. "Here is a little thing I did in Brittany. Peasant woman in sabots. This brown spot here is the peasant woman, and those two white things are the sabots. Peasant woman in sabots, don't you see? Women in Brittany, of course, all wear sabots, you understand. Convenience of the painters. I see you are looking at that little thing I did in Morocco. Ah, you admire it? Well, not so bad—not so bad. Arab smoking pipe, squatting in doorway. This long streak here is the pipe. Clever, you say? Oh, thanks! You are too kind. Well, all Arabs do that, you know. Sole occupation. Convenience of the painters. Now, this little thing here I did in Venice. Grand Canal, you know. Gondolier leaning on his oar. Convenience of the painters. Oh, yes, American subjects are well enough, but hard to find, you know—hard to find. Morocco, Venice, Brittany, Holland—all oblige with colour, you know—quaint form—all that. We are so hideously modern over[Pg 186] here; and, besides, nobody has painted us much. How the devil can I paint America when nobody has done it before me? My dear sir, are you aware that that would be originality? Good heavens! we are not æsthetic, you understand. Oh, yes, some good mind comes along and understands a thing and does it, and after that it is æsthetic. Yes, of course, but then—well—— Now, here is a little Holland thing of mine; it——"
The others had evidently not been heeding him. "Shut up!" said Wrinkles suddenly. "Listen!" Grief paused his harangue and they sat in silence, their lips apart, their eyes from time to time exchanging eloquent messages. A dulled melodious babble came from Hawker's studio.
At length Pennoyer murmured wistfully, "I would like to see her."
Wrinkles started noiselessly to his feet. "Well, I tell you she's a peach. I was going up the steps, you know, with a loaf of bread under my arm, when I chanced to look up the street and saw Billie and Hollanden coming with four of them."
"Three," said Grief.[Pg 187]
"Four; and I tell you I scattered. One of the two with Billie was a peach—a peach."
"O, Lord!" groaned the others enviously. "Billie's in luck."
"How do you know?" said Wrinkles. "Billie is a blamed good fellow, but that doesn't say she will care for him—more likely that she won't."
They sat again in silence, grinning, and listening to the murmur of voices.
There came the sound of a step in the hallway. It ceased at a point opposite the door of Hawker's studio. Presently it was heard again. Florinda entered the den. "Hello!" she cried, "who is over in Billie's place? I was just going to knock——"
They motioned at her violently. "Sh!" they whispered. Their countenances were very impressive.
"What's the matter with you fellows?" asked Florinda in her ordinary tone; whereupon they made gestures of still greater wildness. "S-s-sh!"
Florinda lowered her voice properly. "Who is over there?"
"Some swells," they whispered.[Pg 188]
Florinda bent her head. Presently she gave a little start. "Who is over there?" Her voice became a tone of deep awe. "She?"
Wrinkles and Grief exchanged a swift glance. Pennoyer said gruffly, "Who do you mean?"
"Why," said Florinda, "you know. She. The—the girl that Billie likes."
Pennoyer hesitated for a moment and then said wrathfully: "Of course she is! Who do you suppose?"
"Oh!" said Florinda. She took a seat upon the divan, which was privately a coal-box, and unbuttoned her jacket at the throat. "Is she—is she—very handsome, Wrink?"
Wrinkles replied stoutly, "No."
Grief said: "Let's make a sneak down the hall to the little unoccupied room at the front of the building and look from the window there. When they go out we can pipe 'em off."
"Come on!" they exclaimed, accepting this plan with glee.
Wrinkles opened the door and seemed about to glide away, when he suddenly turned[Pg 189] and shook his head. "It's dead wrong," he said, ashamed.
"Oh, go on!" eagerly whispered the others. Presently they stole pattering down the corridor, grinning, exclaiming, and cautioning each other.
At the window Pennoyer said: "Now, for heaven's sake, don't let them see you!—Be careful, Grief, you'll tumble.—Don't lean on me that way, Wrink; think I'm a barn door? Here they come. Keep back. Don't let them see you."
"O-o-oh!" said Grief. "Talk about a peach! Well, I should say so."
Florinda's fingers tore at Wrinkle's coat sleeve. "Wrink, Wrink, is that her? Is that her? On the left of Billie? Is that her, Wrink?"
"What? Yes. Stop punching me! Yes, I tell you! That's her. Are you deaf?"[Pg 190]
In the evening Pennoyer conducted Florinda to the flat of many fire-escapes. After a period of silent tramping through the great golden avenue and the street that was being repaired, she said, "Penny, you are very good to me."
"Why?" said Pennoyer.
"Oh, because you are. You—you are very good to me, Penny."
"Well, I guess I'm not killing myself."
"There isn't many fellows like you."
"No. There isn't many fellows like you, Penny. I tell you 'most everything, and you just listen, and don't argue with me and tell me I'm a fool, because you know that it—because you know that it can't be helped, anyhow."
"Oh, nonsense, you kid! Almost anybody would be glad to——"[Pg 191]
"Penny, do you think she is very beautiful?" Florinda's voice had a singular quality of awe in it.
"Well," replied Pennoyer, "I don't know."
"Yes, you do, Penny. Go ahead and tell me."
"Well, she is rather handsome, you know."
"Yes," said Florinda, dejectedly, "I suppose she is." After a time she cleared her throat and remarked indifferently, "I suppose Billie cares a lot for her?"
"Oh, I imagine that he does—in a way."
"Why, of course he does," insisted Florinda. "What do you mean by 'in a way'? You know very well that Billie thinks his eyes of her."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do. You know you do. You are talking in that way just to brace me up. You know you are."
"No, I'm not."
"Penny," said Florinda thankfully, "what makes you so good to me?"[Pg 192]
"Oh, I guess I'm not so astonishingly good to you. Don't be silly."
"But you are good to me, Penny. You don't make fun of me the way—the way the other boys would. You are just as good as you can be.—But you do think she is beautiful, don't you?"
"They wouldn't make fun of you," said Pennoyer.
"But do you think she is beautiful?"
"Look here, Splutter, let up on that, will you? You keep harping on one string all the time. Don't bother me!"
"But, honest now, Penny, you do think she is beautiful?"
"Well, then, confound it—no! no! no!"
"Oh, yes, you do, Penny. Go ahead now. Don't deny it just because you are talking to me. Own up, now, Penny. You do think she is beautiful?"
"Well," said Pennoyer, in a dull roar of irritation, "do you?"
Florinda walked in silence, her eyes upon the yellow flashes which lights sent to the pavement. In the end she said, "Yes."
"Yes, what?" asked Pennoyer sharply.[Pg 193]
"Yes, she—yes, she is—beautiful."
"Well, then?" cried Pennoyer, abruptly closing the discussion.
Florinda announced something as a fact. "Billie thinks his eyes of her."
"How do you know he does?"
"Don't scold at me, Penny. You—you——"
"I'm not scolding at you. There! What a goose you are, Splutter! Don't, for heaven's sake, go to whimpering on the street! I didn't say anything to make you feel that way. Come, pull yourself together."
"I'm not whimpering."
"No, of course not; but then you look as if you were on the edge of it. What a little idiot!"[Pg 194]
When the snow fell upon the clashing life of the city, the exiled stones, beaten by myriad strange feet, were told of the dark, silent forests where the flakes swept through the hemlocks and swished softly against the boulders.
In his studio Hawker smoked a pipe, clasping his knee with thoughtful, interlocked fingers. He was gazing sourly at his finished picture. Once he started to his feet with a cry of vexation. Looking back over his shoulder, he swore an insult into the face of the picture. He paced to and fro, smoking belligerently and from time to time eying it. The helpless thing remained upon the easel, facing him.
Hollanden entered and stopped abruptly at sight of the great scowl. "What's wrong now?" he said.[Pg 195]
Hawker gestured at the picture. "That dunce of a thing. It makes me tired. It isn't worth a hang. Blame it!"
"What?" Hollanden strode forward and stood before the painting with legs apart, in a properly critical manner. "What? Why, you said it was your best thing."
"Aw!" said Hawker, waving his arms, "it's no good! I abominate it! I didn't get what I wanted, I tell you. I didn't get what I wanted. That?" he shouted, pointing thrust-way at it—"that? It's vile! Aw! it makes me weary."
"You're in a nice state," said Hollanden, turning to take a critical view of the painter. "What has got into you now? I swear, you are more kinds of a chump!"
Hawker crooned dismally: "I can't paint! I can't paint for a damn! I'm no good. What in thunder was I invented for, anyhow, Hollie?"
"You're a fool," said Hollanden. "I hope to die if I ever saw such a complete idiot! You give me a pain. Just because she don't——"
"It isn't that. She has nothing to do with[Pg 196] it, although I know well enough—I know well enough——"
"I know well enough she doesn't care a hang for me. It isn't that. It is because—it is because I can't paint. Look at that thing over there! Remember the thought and energy I—— Damn the thing!"
"Why, did you have a row with her?" asked Hollanden, perplexed. "I didn't know——"
"No, of course you didn't know," cried Hawker, sneering; "because I had no row. It isn't that, I tell you. But I know well enough"—he shook his fist vaguely—"that she don't care an old tomato can for me. Why should she?" he demanded with a curious defiance. "In the name of Heaven, why should she?"
"I don't know," said Hollanden; "I don't know, I'm sure. But, then, women have no social logic. This is the great blessing of the world. There is only one thing which is superior to the multiplicity of social forms, and that is a woman's mind—a young woman's mind. Oh, of course, sometimes they are[Pg 197] logical, but let a woman be so once, and she will repent of it to the end of her days. The safety of the world's balance lies in woman's illogical mind. I think——"
"Go to blazes!" said Hawker. "I don't care what you think. I am sure of one thing, and that is that she doesn't care a hang for me!"
"I think," Hollanden continued, "that society is doing very well in its work of bravely lawing away at Nature; but there is one immovable thing—a woman's illogical mind. That is our safety. Thank Heaven, it——"
"Go to blazes!" said Hawker again.[Pg 198]
As Hawker again entered the room of the great windows he glanced in sidelong bitterness at the chandelier. When he was seated he looked at it in open defiance and hatred.
Men in the street were shovelling at the snow. The noise of their instruments scraping on the stones came plainly to Hawker's ears in a harsh chorus, and this sound at this time was perhaps to him a miserere.
"I came to tell you," he began, "I came to tell you that perhaps I am going away."
"Going away!" she cried. "Where?"
"Well, I don't know—quite. You see, I am rather indefinite as yet. I thought of going for the winter somewhere in the Southern States. I am decided merely this much, you know—I am going somewhere. But I don't know where. 'Way off, anyhow."
"We shall be very sorry to lose you," she remarked. "We——"[Pg 199]
"And I thought," he continued, "that I would come and say 'adios' now for fear that I might leave very suddenly. I do that sometimes. I'm afraid you will forget me very soon, but I want to tell you that——"
"Why," said the girl in some surprise, "you speak as if you were going away for all time. You surely do not mean to utterly desert New York?"
"I think you misunderstand me," he said. "I give this important air to my farewell to you because to me it is a very important event. Perhaps you recollect that once I told you that I cared for you. Well, I still care for you, and so I can only go away somewhere—some place 'way off—where—where—— See?"
"New York is a very large place," she observed.
"Yes, New York is a very large—— How good of you to remind me! But then you don't understand. You can't understand. I know I can find no place where I will cease to remember you, but then I can find some place where I can cease to remember in a[Pg 200] way that I am myself. I shall never try to forget you. Those two violets, you know—one I found near the tennis court and the other you gave me, you remember—I shall take them with me."
"Here," said the girl, tugging at her gown for a moment—"Here! Here's a third one." She thrust a violet toward him.
"If you were not so serenely insolent," said Hawker, "I would think that you felt sorry for me. I don't wish you to feel sorry for me. And I don't wish to be melodramatic. I know it is all commonplace enough, and I didn't mean to act like a tenor. Please don't pity me."
"I don't," she replied. She gave the violet a little fling.
Hawker lifted his head suddenly and glowered at her. "No, you don't," he at last said slowly, "you don't. Moreover, there is no reason why you should take the trouble. But——"
He paused when the girl leaned and peered over the arm of her chair precisely in the manner of a child at the brink of a fountain. "There's my violet on the floor," she[Pg 201] said. "You treated it quite contemptuously, didn't you?"
Together they stared at the violet. Finally he stooped and took it in his fingers. "I feel as if this third one was pelted at me, but I shall keep it. You are rather a cruel person, but, Heaven guard us! that only fastens a man's love the more upon a woman."
She laughed. "That is not a very good thing to tell a woman."
"No," he said gravely, "it is not, but then I fancy that somebody may have told you previously."
She stared at him, and then said, "I think you are revenged for my serene insolence."
"Great heavens, what an armour!" he cried. "I suppose, after all, I did feel a trifle like a tenor when I first came here, but you have chilled it all out of me. Let's talk upon indifferent topics." But he started abruptly to his feet. "No," he said, "let us not talk upon indifferent topics. I am not brave, I assure you, and it—it might be too much for me." He held out his hand. "Good-bye."
"You are going?"[Pg 202]
"Yes, I am going. Really I didn't think how it would bore you for me to come around here and croak in this fashion."
"And you are not coming back for a long, long time?"
"Not for a long, long time." He mimicked her tone. "I have the three violets now, you know, and you must remember that I took the third one even when you flung it at my head. That will remind you how submissive I was in my devotion. When you recall the two others it will remind you of what a fool I was. Dare say you won't miss three violets."
"No," she said.
"Particularly the one you flung at my head. That violet was certainly freely—given."
"I didn't fling it at your head." She pondered for a time with her eyes upon the floor. Then she murmured, "No more freely—given than the one I gave you that night—that night at the inn."
"So very good of you to tell me so!"
Her eyes were still upon the floor.
"Do you know," said Hawker, "it is very hard to go away and leave an impression in[Pg 203] your mind that I am a fool? That is very hard. Now, you do think I am a fool, don't you?"
She remained silent. Once she lifted her eyes and gave him a swift look with much indignation in it.
"Now you are enraged. Well, what have I done?"
It seemed that some tumult was in her mind, for she cried out to him at last in sudden tearfulness: "Oh, do go! Go! Please! I want you to go!"
Under this swift change Hawker appeared as a man struck from the sky. He sprang to his feet, took two steps forward, and spoke a word which was an explosion of delight and amazement. He said, "What?"
With heroic effort she slowly raised her eyes until, alight with anger, defiance, unhappiness, they met his eyes.
Later, she told him that he was perfectly ridiculous.