BERTRAM COPE'S YEAR
Henry Blake Fuller
_1. Cope at a College Tea
2. Cope Makes a Sunday Afternoon Call
3. Cope Is "Entertained"
4. Cope Is Considered
5. Cope Is Considered Further
6. Cope Dines—and Tells About It
7. Cope Under Scrutiny
8. Cope Undertakes an Excursion
9. Cope on the Edge of Things
10. Cope at His House Party
11. Cope Enlivens the Country
12. Cope Amidst Cross-Purposes
13. Cope Dines Again—and Stays After
14. Cope Makes an Evasion
15. Cope Entertains Several Ladies
16. Cope Goes A-Sailing
17. Cope Among Cross-Currents
18. Cope at the Call of Duty
19. Cope Finds Himself Committed
20. Cope Has a Distressful Christmas
21. Cope, Safeguarded, Calls Again
22. Cope Shall Be Rescued
23. Cope Regains His Freedom
24. Cope in Danger Anew
25. Cope in Double Danger
26. Cope as a Go-Between
27. Cope Escapes a Snare
28. Cope Absent From a Wedding
29. Cope Again in the Country
30. Cope as a Hero
31. Cope Gets New Light on His Chum
32. Cope Takes His Degree
33. Cope in a Final View_
COPE AT A COLLEGE TEA
What is a man's best age? Peter Ibbetson, entering dreamland with complete freedom to choose, chose twenty-eight, and kept there. But twenty-eight, for our present purpose, has a drawback: a man of that age, if endowed with ordinary gifts and responsive to ordinary opportunities, is undeniably—a man; whereas what we require here is something just a little short of that. Wanted, in fact, a young male who shall seem fully adult to those who are younger still, and who may even appear the accomplished flower of virility to an idealizing maid or so, yet who shall elicit from the middle-aged the kindly indulgence due a boy. Perhaps you will say that even a man of twenty-eight may seem only a boy to a man of seventy. However, no septuagenarian is to figure in these pages. Our elders will be but in the middle forties and the earlier fifties; and we must find for them an age which may evoke their friendly interest, and yet be likely to call forth, besides that, their sympathy and their longing admiration, and later their tolerance, their patience, and even their forgiveness.
I think, then, that Bertram Cope, when he began to intrigue the little group which dwelt among the quadruple avenues of elms that led to the campus in Churchton, was but about twenty-four,—certainly not a day more than twenty-five. If twenty-eight is the ideal age, the best is all the better for being just a little ahead.
Of course Cope was not an undergraduate—a species upon which many of the Churchtonians languidly refused to bestow their regard. "They come, and they go," said these prosperous and comfortable burghers; "and, after all, they're more or less alike, and more or less unrewarding." Besides, the Bigger Town, with all its rich resources and all its varied opportunities, lay but an hour away. Churchton lived much of its real life beyond its own limits, and the student who came to be entertained socially within them was the exception indeed.
No, Bertram Cope was not an undergraduate. He was an instructor; and he was working along, in a leisurely way, to a degree. He expected to be an M.A., or even a Ph.D. Possibly a Litt.D. might be within the gift of later years. But, anyhow, nothing was finer than "writing"—except lecturing about it.
"Why haven't we known you before?" Medora T. Phillips asked him at a small reception. Mrs. Phillips spoke out loudly and boldly, and held his hand as long as she liked. No, not as long as she liked, but longer than most women would have felt at liberty to do. And besides speaking loudly and boldly, she looked loudly and boldly; and she employed a determined smile which seemed to say, "I'm old enough to do as I please." Her brusque informality was expected to carry itself off—and much else besides. "Of course I simply can't be half so intrepid as I seem!" it said. "Everybody about us understands that, and I must ask your recognition too for an ascertained fact."
"Known me?" returned Cope, promptly enough. "Why, you haven't known me because I haven't been here to be known." He spoke in a ringing, resonant voice, returning her unabashed pressure with a hearty good will and blazing down upon her through his clear blue eyes with a high degree of self-possession, even of insouciance. And he explained, with a liberal exhibition of perfect teeth, that for the two years following his graduation he had been teaching literature at a small college in Wisconsin and that he had lately come back to Alma Mater for another bout: "I'm after that degree," he concluded.
"Haven't been here?" she returned. "But you have been here; you must have been here for years—for four, anyhow. So why haven't we...?" she began again.
"Here as an undergraduate, yes," he acknowledged. "Unregarded dust. Dirt beneath your feet. In rainy weather, mud."
"Mud!" echoed Medora Phillips loudly, with an increased pressure on his long, narrow hand. "Why, Babylon was built of mud—of mud bricks, anyway. And the Hanging Gardens...!" She still clung, looking up his slopes terrace by terrace.
Cope kept his self-possession and smiled brilliantly.
"Gracious!" he said, no less resonant than before. "Am I a landscape garden? Am I a stage-setting? Am I a——?"
Medora Phillips finally dropped his hand. "You're a wicked, unappreciative boy," she declared. "I don't know whether to ask you to my house or not. But you may make yourself useful in this house, at least. Run along over to that corner and see if you can't get me a cup of tea."
Cope bowed and smiled and stepped toward the tea-table. His head once turned, the smile took on a wry twist. He was no squire of dames, no frequenter of afternoon receptions. Why the deuce had he come to this one? Why had he yielded so readily to the urgings of the professor of mathematics?—himself urged in turn, perhaps, by a wife for whose little affair one extra man at the opening of the fall season counted, and counted hugely. Why must he now expose himself to the boundless aplomb and momentum of this woman of forty-odd who was finding amusement in treating him as a "college boy"? "Boy" indeed she had actually called him: well, perhaps his present position made all this possible. He was not yet out in the world on his own. In the background of "down state" was a father with a purse in his pocket and a hand to open the purse. Though the purse was small and the hand reluctant, he must partly depend on both for another year. If he were only in business—if he were only a broker or even a salesman—he should not find himself treated with such blunt informality and condescension as a youth. If, within the University itself, he were but a real member of the faculty, with an assured position and an assured salary, he should not have to lie open to the unceremonious hectorings of the socially confident, the "placed."
He regained his smile on the way across the room, and the young creature behind the samovar, who had had a moment's fear that she must deal with Severity, found that a beaming Affability—though personally unticketed in her memory—was, after all, her happier allotment. In her reaction she took it all as a personal compliment. She could not know, of course, that it was but a piece of calculated expressiveness, fitted to a 'particular social function and doubly overdone as the wearer's own reaction from the sprouting indignation of the moment before. She hoped that her hair, under his sweeping advance, was blowing across her forehead as lightly and carelessly as it ought to, and that his taste in marquise rings might be substantially the same as hers. She faced the Quite Unknown, and asked it sweetly, "One lump or two?"
"The dickens! How do I know?" he thought. "An extra one on the saucer, please," he said aloud, with his natural resonance but slightly hushed. And his blue eyes, clear and rather cold and hard, blazed down, in turn, on her.
"Why, what a nice, friendly fellow!" exclaimed Mrs. Phillips, on receiving her refreshment. "Both kinds of sandwiches," she continued, peering round her cup. "Were there three?" she asked with sudden shrewdness.
"There were macaroons," he replied; "and there was some sort of layer-cake. It was too sticky. These are more sensible."
"Never mind sense. If there is cake, I want it. Tell Amy to put it on a plate."
"Yes, Amy. My Amy."
"Off with you,—parrot! And bring a fork too."
Cope lapsed back into his frown and recrossed the room. The girl behind the samovar felt that her hair was unbecoming, after all, and that her ring, borrowed for the occasion, was in bad taste. Cope turned back with his plate of cake and his fork. Well, he had been promoted from a "boy" to a "fellow"; but must he continue a kind of methodical dog-trot through a sublimated butler's pantry?
"That's right," declared Mrs. Phillips, on his return, as she looked lingeringly at his shapely thumb above the edge of the plate. "Come, we will sit down together on this sofa, and you shall tell me all about yourself." She looked admiringly at his blue serge knees as he settled down into place. They were slightly bony, perhaps; "but then," as she told herself, "he is still quite young. Who would want him anything but slender?—even spare, if need be."
As they sat there together,—she plying him with questions and he, restored to good humor, replying or parrying with an unembarrassed exuberance,—a man who stood just within the curtained doorway and flicked a small graying moustache with the point of his forefinger took in the scene with a studious regard. Every small educational community has its scholar manque—its haunter of academic shades or its intermittent dabbler in their charms; and Basil Randolph held that role in Churchton. No alumnus himself, he viewed, year after year, the passing procession of undergraduates who possessed in their young present so much that he had left behind or had never had at all, and who were walking, potentially, toward a promising future in which he could take no share. Most of these had been commonplace young fellows enough—noisy, philistine, glaringly cursory and inconsiderate toward their elders; but a few of them—one now and then, at long intervals—he would have enjoyed knowing, and knowing intimately. On these infrequent occasions would come a union of frankness, comeliness and elan, and the rudiments of good manners. But no one in all the long-drawn procession had stopped to look at him a second time. And now he was turning gray; he was tragically threatened with what might in time become a paunch. His kind heart, his forthreaching nature, went for naught; and the young men let him, walk under the elms and the scrub-oaks neglected. If they had any interest beyond their egos, their fraternities, and (conceivably) their studies, that interest dribbled away on the quadrangle that housed the girl students. "If they only realized how much a friendly hand, extended to them from middle life, might do for their futures...!" he would sometimes sigh. But the youthful egoists, ignoring him still, faced their respective futures, however uncertain, with much more confidence than he, backed by whatever assurances and accumulations he enjoyed, could face his own.
"To be young!" he said. "To be young!"
Do you figure Basil Randolph, alongside his portiere, as but the observer, the raisonneur, in this narrative? If so, you err. What!—you may ask,—a rival, a competitor? That more nearly.
It was Medora Phillips herself who, within a moment or two, inducted him into this role.
A gap had come in her chat with Cope. He had told her all he had been asked to tell—or all he meant to tell: at any rate he had been given abundant opportunity to expatiate upon a young man's darling subject—himself. Either she now had enough fixed points for securing the periphery of his circle or else she preferred to leave some portion of his area (now ascertained approximately) within a poetic penumbra. Or perhaps she wished some other middle-aged connoisseur to share her admiration and confirm her judgment. At all events——
"Oh, Mr. Randolph," she cried, "come here."
Randolph left his doorway and stepped across.
"Now you are going to be rewarded," said the lady, broadly generous. "You are going to meet Mr. Cope. You are going to meet Mr.——" She paused. "Do you know,"—turning to the young man,—"I haven't your first name?"
"Why, is that necessary?"
"You're not ashamed of it? Theodosius? Philander? Hieronymus?"
"Stop!—please. My name is Bertram."
"Bertram. Why not?"
"Because that would be too exactly right. I might have guessed and guessed——!"
"Right or wrong, Bertram's my name."
"You hear, Mr. Randolph? You are to meet Mr. Bertram Cope."
Cope, who had risen and had left any embarrassment consequent upon the short delay to Basil Randolph himself, shot out a hand and summoned a ready smile. Within his cuff was a hint for the construction of his fore-arm: it was lean and sinewy, clear-skinned, and with strong power for emphasis on the other's rather short, well-fleshed fingers. And as he gripped, he beamed; beamed just as warmly, or just as coldly—at all events, just as speciously—as he had beamed before: for on a social occasion one must slightly heighten good will,—all the more so if one be somewhat unaccustomed and even somewhat reluctant.
Mrs. Phillips caught Cope's glance as it fell in all its glacial geniality.
"He looks down on us!" she declared.
"How down?" Cope asked.
"Well, you're taller than either of us."
"I don't consider myself tall," he replied. "Five foot nine and a half," he proceeded ingenuously, "is hardly tall."
"It is we who are short," said Randolph.
"But really, sir," rejoined Cope kindly, "I shouldn't call you short. What is an inch or two?"
"But how about me?" demanded Mrs. Phillips.
"Why, a woman may be anything—except too tall," responded Cope candidly.
"But if she wants to be stately?"
"Well, there was Queen Victoria."
"You incorrigible! I hope I'm not so short as that! Sit down, again; we must be more on a level. And you, Mr. Randolph, may stand and look down on us both. I'm sure you have been doing so, anyway, for the past ten minutes!"
"By no means, I assure you," returned Randolph soberly.
Soberly. For the young man had slipped in that "sir." And he had been so kindly about Randolph's five foot seven and a bit over. And he had shown himself so damnably tender toward a man fairly advanced within the shadow of the fifties—a man who, if not an acknowledged outcast from the joys of life, would soon be lagging superfluous on their rim.
Randolph stood before them, looking, no doubt, a bit vacant and inexpressive. "Please go and get Amy," Mrs. Phillips said to him. "I see she's preparing to give way to some one else."
Amy—who was a blonde girl of twenty or more—came back with him pleasantly and amiably enough; and her aunt—or whatever she should turn out to be— was soon able to lay her tongue again to the syllables of the interesting name of Bertram.
Cope, thus finally introduced, repeated the facial expressions which he had employed already beside the tea-table. But he added no new one; and he found fewer words than the occasion prompted, and even required. He continued talking with Mrs. Phillips, and he threw an occasional remark toward Randolph; but now that all obstacles were removed from free converse with the divinity of the samovar he had less to say to her than before. Presently the elder woman, herself no whit offended, began to figure the younger one as a bit nonplused.
"Never mind, Amy," she said. "Don't pity him, and don't scorn him. He's really quite self-possessed and quite chatty. Or"—suddenly to Cope himself—"have you shown us already your whole box of tricks?"
"That must be it," he returned.
"Well, no matter. Mr. Randolph can be nice to a nice girl."
"Oh, come now,——"
"Well, shall I ask you to my house, after this?"
"No. Don't. Forbid it. Banish me."
"Give one more chance," suggested Randolph sedately.
"Why, what's all this about?" said the questioning glance of Amy. If there was any offense at all, on anybody's part, it lay in making too much of too little.
"Take back my plate, somebody," said Mrs. Phillips.
Randolph put out his hand for it.
"This sandwich," said Amy, reaching for an untouched square of wheat bread and pimento. "I've been so busy with other people...."
"I'll take it myself," declared Mrs. Phillips, reaching out in turn. "Mr. Randolph, bring her a nibble of something."
"I might——" began Cope.
"You don't deserve the privilege."
"Oh, very well," he returned, lapsing into an easy passivity.
"Never mind, anyway," said Amy, still without cognomen and connections; "I can starve with perfect convenience. Or I can find a mouthful somewhere, later."
"Let us starve sitting," said Randolph, "Here are chairs."
The hostess herself came bustling up brightly.
And she bustled away.
"Yes; everybody—almost," said Mrs. Phillips to her associates, behind their entertainer's back. "If you're hungry, Amy, it's your own fault. Sit down."
And there let us leave them—our little group, our cast of characters: "everybody—almost," save one. Or two. Or three.
COPE MAKES A SUNDAY AFTERNOON CALL
Medora Phillips was the widow of a picture-dealer, now three years dead. In his younger days he had been something of a painter, and later in life as much a collector as a merchandizer. Since his death he had been translated gradually from the lower region proper to mere traffickers on toward the loftier plane which harbored the more select company of art-patrons and art-amateurs. Some of his choicer ventures were still held together as a "gallery," with a few of his own canvases included; and his surviving partner felt this collection gave her good reason for holding up her head among the arts, and the sciences, and humane letters too.
Mrs. Phillips occupied a huge, amorphous house some three-quarters of a mile to the west of the campus. It was a construction in wood, with manifold "features" suggestive of the villa, the bungalow, the chateau, the palace; it united all tastes and contravened all conventions. In its upper story was the commodious apartment which was known in quiet times as the picture-gallery and in livelier times as the ball-room. It was the mistress' ambition to have the lively times as numerous as possible—to dance with great frequency among the pictures. Six or eight couples could gyrate here at once. There was young blood under her roof, and there was young blood to summon from outside; and to set this blood seething before the eyes of visiting celebrities in the arts and letters was her dearest wish. She had more than one spare bedroom, of course; and the Eminent and the Queer were always welcome for a sojourn of a week or so, whether they came to read papers and deliver lectures or not. She was quite as well satisfied when they didn't. If they would but sit upon her wide veranda in spring or autumn, or before her big open fireplace in winter and "just talk," she would be as open-eyed and open-eared as you pleased.
"This is much nicer," she would say. Nicer than what, she did not always make clear.
Yes, the house was nearly three-quarters of a mile to the west of the campus, but it was twice as far as if it had been north or south. Trains and trolleys, intent on serving the interests of the great majority, took their own courses and gave her guests no aid. If the evening turned cold or blustery or brought a driving rain she would say:
"You can't go out in this. You must stay all night. We have room and to spare."
If she wanted anybody to stay very much, she would even add: "I can't think of your walking toward the lake with such a gale in your face,"—regardless of the fact that the lake wind was the rarest of them all and that in nine cases out of ten the rain or snow would be not in people's faces but at their backs.
If she didn't want anybody to stay, she simply ordered out the car and bundled him off. The delay in the offer of the car sometimes induced a young man to remain. Tasteful pajamas and the promise of a suitably early breakfast assured him that he had made no mistake.
Cope's first call was made, not on a tempestuous evening in the winter time, but on a quiet Sunday afternoon toward the end of September. The day was sunny and the streets were full of strollers moving along decorously beneath the elms, maples and catalpas.
"Drop in some Sunday about five," Medora Phillips had said to him, "and have tea. The girls will be glad to meet you."
"The girls"? Who were they, and how many? He supposed he could account for one of them, at least; but the others?
"You find me alone, after all," was her greeting. "The girls are out walking—with each other, or their beaux, or whatever. Come in here."
She led him into a spacious room cluttered with lambrequins, stringy portieres, grilles, scroll-work, bric-a-brac....
"The fine weather has been too much for them," she proceeded. "I was relying on them to entertain you."
"Dear me! Am I to be entertained?"
"Of course you are." Her expression and inflection indicated to him that he had been caught up in the cogs of a sizable machine, and that he was to be put through it. Everybody who came was entertained—or helped entertain others. Entertainment, in fact, was the one object of the establishment.
"Well, can't you entertain me yourself?"
"Perhaps I can." And it almost seemed as if he had been secured and isolated for the express purpose of undergoing a particular course of treatment.
"——in the interval," she amended. "They'll be back by sunset. They're clever girls and I know you'll enjoy them."
She uttered this belief emphatically—so emphatically, in truth, that it came to mean: "I wonder if you will indeed." And there was even an overtone: "After all, it's not the least necessary that you should."
"I suppose I have met one of them already."
"You have met Amy. But there are Hortense and Carolyn."
"What can they all be?" He wondered to himself: "daughters, nieces, cousins, co-eds, boarders...?"
"Amy plays. Hortense paints. Carolyn is a poet."
"Amy plays? Pardon me for calling her Amy, but you have never given me the rest of her name."
"I certainly presented you."
"Well, that was careless, if true. Her name is Amy Leffingwell; and Hortense's name is——"
"Stop, please. Pay it out gradually. My poor head can hold only what it can. Names without people to attach them to...."
"The people will be here presently," Medora Phillips said, rather shortly. Surely this young man was taking his own tone. It was not quite the tone usually taken by college boys on their first call. Her position and her imposing surroundings—yes, her kindliness in noticing him at all—might surely save her from informalities that almost shaped into impertinences. Yet, on the other hand, nothing bored one more than a young man who openly showed himself intimidated. What was there behind this one? More than she had thought? Well, if so, none the worse. Time might tell.
"So Miss Leffingwell plays?" He flared out his blue-white smile. "Let me learn my lesson page by page."
"Yes, she plays," returned Medora Phillips briefly. "Guess what," she continued presently, half placated.
They were again side by side on a sofa, each with an elbow on its back and the elbows near together. Nor was Medora Phillips, though plump, at all the graceless, dumpy little body she sometimes taxed herself with being.
"What? Oh, piano, I suppose."
"The piano is common: it's assumed."
"Oh, she performs on something unusual? Xylophone?"
"Trombone? I've seen wonders done on that in a 'lady orchestra'."
"Don't be grotesque." She drew her dark eyebrows into protest. "What a sight!—a delicate young girl playing a trombone!"
"Well, then,—a harp. That's sometimes a pleasant sight."
"A harp needs an express wagon. Though of course it is pretty for the arms."
"Arms? Let me see. The violin?"
"Of course. And that's probably the very first thing you thought of. Why not have mentioned it?"
"I suppose I've been taught the duty of making conversation."
"The duty? Not the pleasure?"
"That remains to be...." He paused. "So she has arms," he pretended to muse. "I confess I hadn't quite noticed."
"She passed you a cup of tea, didn't she?"
"Oh, surely. And a sandwich. And another. And a slice of layer cake, with a fork. And another cup of tea. And a macaroon or two——"
"Am I a glutton?"
"Am I? Some of all that provender was for me, as I recall."
They were still side by side on the sofa. Both were cross—kneed, and the tip of her russet boot almost grazed that of his Oxford tie. He did not notice: he was already arranging the first paragraph of a letter to a friend in Winnebago, Wisconsin. "Dear Arthur: I called,—as I said I was going to. She is a scrapper. She goes at you hammer and tongs—pretending to quarrel as a means of entertaining you..."
Medora Phillips removed her elbow from the back of the sofa, and began to prod up her cushions. "How about your work?" she asked. "What are you doing?"
He came back. "Oh, I'm boning. Some things still to make up. I'm digging in the poetry of Gower—the 'moral Gower'."
"Well, I see no reason why poetry shouldn't be moral. Has he been publishing anything lately that I ought to see?"
"I presume I can look into some of his older things."
"They are all old—five hundred years and more. He was a pal of Chaucer's."
She gave him an indignant glance. "So that's it? You're laying traps for me? You don't like me! You don't respect me!"
One of the recalcitrant cushions fell to the floor. They bumped heads in trying to pick it up.
"Traps!" he said. "Never in the world! Don't think it! Why, Gower is just a necessary old bore. Nobody's supposed to know much about him—except instructors and their hapless students."
He added one more sentence to his letter to "Arthur": "She pushes you pretty hard. A little of it goes a good way..."
"Oh, if that's the case..." she said. "How about your thesis?" she went on swiftly. "What are you going to write about?"
"I was thinking of Shakespeare."
"Shakespeare! There you go again! Ridiculing me to my very face!"
"Not at all. There's lots to say about him—or them."
"Oh, you believe in Bacon!"
"Not at all—once more. I should like to take a year and spend it among the manor-houses of Warwickshire. But I suppose nobody would stake me to that."
"I don't know what you have in mind; some wild goose chase, probably. I expect your friends would like it better if you spent your time right here."
"Probably. I presume I shall end by doing a thesis on the 'color-words' in Keats and Shelley. A penniless devil was no luck."
"Anybody has luck who can form the right circle. Stay where you are. A circle formed here would do you much more good than a temporary one four thousand miles away."
Voices were heard in the front yard. "There they come, now," Mrs. Phillips said. She rose, and one more of the wayward cushions went to the floor. It lay there unregarded,—a sign that a promising tete-a-tete was, for the time being, over.
COPE IS "ENTERTAINED"
Mrs. Phillips stepped to the front door to meet the half dozen young people who were cheerily coming up the walk. Cope, looking at the fallen cushions with an unseeing eye, remained within the drawing-room door to compose a further paragraph for the behoof of his correspondent in Wisconsin:
"Several girls helped entertain me. They came on as thick as spatter. One played a few things on the violin. Another set up her easel and painted a picture for us. A third wrote a poem and read it to us. And a few sophomores hung about in the background. It was all rather too much. I found myself preferring those hours together in dear old Winnebago...."
Only one of the sophomores—if the young men were really of that objectionable tribe—came indoors with the young ladies. The others—either engaged elsewhere or consciously unworthy—went away after a moment or two on the front steps. Perhaps they did not feel "encouraged." And in fact Mrs. Phillips looked back toward Cope with the effect of communicating the idea that she had enough men for to-day. She even conveyed to him the notion that he had made the others superfluous. But—
"Hum!" he thought; "if there's to be a lot of 'entertaining,' the more there are to be entertained the better it might turn out."
He met Hortense and Carolyn—with due stress laid on their respective patronymics—and he made an early acquaintance with Amy's violin.
And further on Mrs. Phillips said:
"Now, Amy, before you really stop, do play that last little thing. The dear child," she said to Cope in a lower tone, "composed it herself and dedicated it to me."
The last little thing was a kind of "meditation," written very simply and performed quite seriously and unaffectedly. And it gave, of course, a good chance for the arms.
"There!" said Mrs. Phillips, at its close. "Isn't it too sweet? And it inspired Carolyn too. She wrote a poem after hearing it."
"A copy of verses," corrected Carolyn, with a modest catch in her breath. She was a quiet, sedate girl, with brown eyes and hair. Her eyes were shy, and her hair was plainly dressed.
"Oh, you're so sweet, so old-fashioned!" protested Mrs. Phillips, slightly rolling her eyes. "It's a poem,—of course it's a poem. I leave it to Mr. Cope, if it isn't!"
"Oh, I beg—" began Cope, in trepidation.
"Well, listen, anyway," said Medora.
The poem consisted of some six or seven brief stanzas. Its title was read, formally, by the writer; and, quite as formally, the dedication which intervened between title and first stanza,—a dedication to "Medora Townsend Phillips."
"Of course," said Cope to himself. And as the reading went on, he ran his eyes over the dusky, darkening walls. He knew what he expected to find.
Just as he found it the sophomore standing between the big padded chair and the book-case spatted his hands three times. The poem was over, the patroness duly celebrated. Cope spatted a little too, but kept his eye on one of the walls.
"You're looking at my portrait!" declared Mrs. Phillips, as the poetess sank deeper into the big chair. "Hortense did it."
"Of course she did," said Cope under his breath. He transferred an obligatory glance from the canvas to the expectant artist. But—
"It's getting almost too dark to see it," said his hostess, and suddenly pressed a button. This brought into play a row of electric bulbs near the top edge of the frame and into full prominence the dark plumpness of the subject. He looked back again from the painter (who also had black hair and eyes) to her work.
"I am on Parnassus!" Cope declared, in one general sweeping compliment, as he looked toward the sofa where Medora Phillips sat with the three girls now grouped behind her. But he made it a boreal Parnassus—one set in relief by the cold flare and flicker of northern lights.
"Isn't he the dear, comical chap!" exclaimed Mrs. Phillips, with unction, glancing upward and backward at the girls. They smiled discreetly, as if indulging in a silent evaluation of the sincerity of the compliment. Yet one of them—Hortense—formed her black brows into a frown, and might have spoken resentfully, save for a look from their general patroness.
"Meanwhile, how about a drop of tea?" asked Mrs. Phillips suddenly. "Roddy"—to the sophomore—"if you will help clear that table...."
The youth hastened to get into action. Cope went on with his letter to "Arthur":
"It was an afternoon in Lesbos—with Sappho and her band of appreciative maidens. Phaon, a poor lad of nineteen, swept some pamphlets and paper- cutters off the center-table, and we all plunged into the ocean of Oolong— the best thing we do on this island...."
He was lingering in a smiling abstractedness on his fancy, when—
"Bertram Cope!" a voice suddenly said, "do you do nothing—nothing?"
He suddenly came to. Perhaps he had really deserved his hostess' rebuke. He had not offered to help with the tea-service; he had preferred no appropriate remark, of an individual nature, to any of the three ancillae....
"I mean," proceeded Mrs. Phillips, "can you do nothing whatever to entertain?"
Cope gained another stage on the way to self-consciousness and self- control. Entertainment was doubtless the basic curse of this household.
"I sing," he said, with naif suddenness and simplicity.
"Then, sing—do. There's the open piano. Can you play your own accompaniments?"
"Some of the simpler ones."
"Some of the simpler ones! Do you hear that, girls? He is quite prepared to wipe us all out. Shall we let him?"
"That's unfair," Cope protested. "Is it my fault if composers will write hard accompaniments to easy airs?"
"Will you sing before your tea, or after it?"
"I'm ready to sing this instant,—during it, or before it."
The room was now in dusk, save for the bulbs which made the portrait shine forth like a wayside shrine. Roddy, the possible sophomore, helped a maid find places for the cups and saucers; and the three girls, still formed in a careful group about the sofa, silently waited.
"Of course you realize that this is not such a very large room," said Mrs. Phillips.
"Well, your speaking voice is resonant, you know."
"Meaning, then, that I am not to raise the roof nor jar the china. I'll try not to."
Nor did he. He sang with care rather than with volume, with discretion rather than with abandon. The "simple accompaniments" went off with but a slight hitch or two, yet the "resonant voice" was somehow, somewhere lost. Possibly Cope gave too great heed to his hostess' caution; but it seemed as if a voice essentially promising had slipped through some teacher's none too competent hands, or—what was quite as serious—as if some temperamental brake were operating to prevent the complete expression of the singer's nature. Lassen, Grieg, Rubinstein—all these were carried through rather cautiously, perhaps a little mechanically; and there was a silence. Hortense broke it.
"Parnassus, yes. And finally comes Apollo." She reached over and murmured to Mrs. Phillips: "None too skillful on the lyre, and none too strong in the lungs...."
Medora spoke up loudly and promptly.
"Do you know, I think I've heard you sing before."
"Possibly," Cope said, turning his back on the keyboard. "I sang in the University choir for a year or two."
"In gown and mortar-board? 'Come, Holy Spirit,' and all that?"
"Yes; I sang solos now and then."
"Of course," she said. "I remember now. But I never saw you before without your mortar-board. That changes the forehead. Yes, you're yourself," she went on, adding to her previous pleasure the further pleasure of recognition. "You've earned your tea," she added. "Hortense," she said over her shoulder to the dark girl behind the sofa, "will you—? No; I'll pour, myself."
She slid into her place at table and got things to going. There was an interval which Cope might have employed in praising the artistic aptitudes of this variously gifted household, but he found no appropriate word to say,—or at least uttered none. And none of the three girls made any further comment on his own performance.
Mrs. Phillips accompanied him, on his way out, as far as the hall. She looked up at him questioningly.
"You don't like my poor girls," she said. "You don't find them clever; you don't find them interesting."
"On the contrary," he rejoined, "I have spent a delightful hour." Must he go on and confess that he had developed no particular dexterity in dealing with the younger members of the opposite sex?
"No, you don't care for them one bit," she insisted. She tried to look rebuking, reproachful; yet some shade of expression conveyed to him a hint that her protest was by no means sincere: if he really didn't, it was no loss—it was even a possible gain.
"It's you who don't care for me," he returned. "I'm vieux jeu."
"Nonsense," she rejoined. "If you have a slight past, that only makes you the more atmospheric. Be sure you come again soon, and put in a little more work on the foreground."
Cope, on his way eastward, in the early evening, passed near the trolley tracks, the Greek lunch-counter, without a thought; he was continuing his letter to "Dear Arthur":
"I think," he wrote, with his mind's finger, "that you might as well come down. I miss you—even more than I thought I should. The term is young, and you can enter for Spanish, or Psychology, or something. There's nothing for you up there. The bishop can spare you. Your father will be reasonable. We can easily arrange some suitable quarters..."
And we await a reply from "Dear Arthur"—the fifth and last of our little group. But no; there are two or three others—as you have just seen.
COPE IS CONSIDERED
A few days after the mathematical tea, Basil Randolph was taking a sedate walk among the exotic elms and the indigenous oaks of the campus; he was on his way to the office of the University registrar. He felt interested in Bertram Cope and meant to consult the authorities. That is to say, he intended to consult the written and printed data provided by the authorities,—not to make verbal inquiries of any of the college officials themselves. He was, after all, sufficiently in the academic tradition to prefer the consultation of records as against the employment of viva voce methods; and he saw no reason why his new interest should be widely communicated to other individuals. There was an annual register; there was an album of loose sheets kept up by the members of the faculty; and there was a card-catalogue, he remembered, in half a dozen little drawers. All this ought to remove any necessity of putting questions by word of mouth.
The young clerk behind the broad counter annoyed him by no offer of aid, but left him to browse for himself. First, the printed register. This was crowded with professors—full, head, associate, assistant; there were even two or three professors emeritus. And each department had its tale of instructors. But no mention of a Bertram Cope. Of course not; this volume, it occurred to him presently, represented the state of things during the previous scholastic year.
Next the card-catalogue. But this dealt with the students only— undergraduate, graduate, special. No Cope there.
Remained the loose-leaf faculty-index, in which the members of the professorial body told something about themselves in a great variety of handwriting: among other things, their full names and addresses, and their natures in so far as penmanship might reveal it. Ca; Ce; Cof; Collard, Th. J., who was an instructor in French and lived on Rosemary Place; Copperthwaite, Julian M., Cotton ... No Cope. He looked again, and further. No slightest alphabetical misplacement.
"You are not finding what you want?" asked the clerk at last. The search was delaying other inquirers.
"Bertram Cope," said Randolph. "Instructor, I think."
"He has been slow. But his page will be in place by tomorrow. If you want his address...."
"—I think I can give it to you." The youth retired behind a screen. "There," he said, returning with a bit of pencilling on a scrap of paper.
Randolph thanked him, folded up the paper, and put it in his pocket. A mere bit of ordinary clerkly writing; no character, no allure. Well, the actual chirography of the absentee would be made manifest before long. What was it like? Should he himself ever have a specimen of it in a letter or a note?
That evening, with his after-dinner cigarette, he strolled casually through Granville Avenue, the short street indicated by the address. It was a loosely-built neighborhood of frame dwellings, with yards and a moderate provision of trees and shrubs—a neighborhood of people who owned their houses but did not spend much money on them. Number 48 was a good deal like the others. "Decent enough, but commonplace," Randolph pronounced. "Yet what could I have been expecting?" he added; and his whimsical smile told him not to let himself become absurd.
There were lighted windows in the front and at the side. Which of these was Cope's, and what was the boy doing? Was he deep in black-letter, or was he selecting a necktie preliminary to some evening diversion outside? Or had he put out his light—several windows were dark—and already taken the train into town for some concert or theatre?
"Well," said Randolph to himself, with a last puff at his cigarette, "they're not likely to move out and leave him up in the air. I hope," he went on, "that he has more than a bedroom merely. But we know on what an incredibly small scale some of them live."
He threw away his cigarette and strolled on to his own quarters. These were but ten minutes away. In his neighborhood, too, people owned their homes and were unlikely to hurry you out on a month's notice. You could be sure of being able to stay on; and Randolph, in fact, had stayed on, with a suitable family, for three or four years.
He had a good part of one floor: a bedroom, a sitting room, with a liberal provision of bookshelves, and a kind of large closet which he had made into a "cabinet." There are all sorts of cabinets, but this was a cabinet for his "collection." His collection was not without some measure of local fame; if not strictly valuable, it was at least comprehensive. After all, he collected to please himself. He was a collector in Churchton and a stockbroker in the city itself. The satirical said that he was the most important collector in "the street," and the most important stockbroker in the suburbs. He was a member of a somewhat large firm, and not the most active one. His interest had been handed down, in a manner, from his father; and the less he participated the better his partners liked it. He had no one but himself, and a sister on the far side of the city, miles and miles away. His principal concern was to please himself, to indulge his nature and tastes, and to get, in a quiet way, "a good deal out of life." But nobody ever spoke of him as rich. His collection represented his own preferences, perseverance and individual predilections. Least of all had it been brought together to be "realized on" after his death.
"I may be something of a fool, in my own meek fashion," he acknowledged, "but I'm no such fool as that."
He had a few jades and lacquers—among the latter, the ordinary inkwells and sword-guards; a few snuff-boxes; some puppets in costume from Mexico and Italy; a few begrimed vellum-bound books in foreign languages (which he could not always read); and now and then a friend who was "breaking up" would give him a bit of Capo di Monte or an absurd enigmatic musical instrument from the East Indies. And he had a small department of Americana, dating from the days of the Civil War.
"Miscellaneous enough," pronounced Medora Phillips, on once viewing his cabinet, "but not altogether"—she proceeded charitably—"utter rubbish."
And it was felt by others too that, in the lack of any wide opportunity, he had done rather well. Churchton itself was no nest of antiquities; in 1840 it had consisted merely of a log tavern on the Green Bay road, and the first white child born within its limits had died but recently. Nor was the Big Town just across the "Indian Boundary" much older. It had "antique shops," true; but one's best chances were got through mousing among the small scattered troups of foreigners (variegated they were) who had lately been coming in pell-mell, bringing their household knick-knacks with them. There was a Ghetto, there was a Little Italy, there were bits of Bulgaria, Bohemia, Armenia, if one had tired of dubious Louis Quinze and Empire. In an atmosphere of general newness a thing did not need to be very old to be an antique.
The least old of all things in Randolph's world were the students who flooded Churchton. There were two or three thousand of them, and hundreds of new ones came with every September. Sometimes he felt prompted to "collect" them, as contrasts to his older curios. They were fully as interesting, in their way, as brasswork and leatherwork, those products of peasant natures and peasant hands. But these youths ran past one's eye, ran through one's fingers. They were not static, not even stable. They were restless birds of passage who fidgeted through their years, and even through the days of which the years were made: intent on their own affairs and their own companions; thankless for small favors and kind attentions— even unconscious of them; soaking up goodwill and friendly offices in a fashion too damnably taken-for-granted ... You gave them an evening among your books, with discreet things to drink, to smoke, to play at, or you offered them a good dinner at some good hotel; and you never saw them after ... They said "Yes, sir," or "Yep;" but whether they pained you by being too respectful or rasped you by being too rowdyish, it all came to the same: they had little use for you; they readily forgot and quickly dropped you.
"I wonder whether instructors are a shade better," queried Basil Randolph. "Or when do sense and gratitude and savoir-faire begin?"
A few days later he had returned to the loose-leaf faculty. Cope's page was now in place, with full particulars in his own hand: his interest was "English Literature," it appeared. "H'm! nothing very special in that," commented Randolph. But Cope's penmanship attracted him. It was open and easy: "He never gave his instructor any trouble in reading his themes." Yet the hand was rather boyish. Was it formed or unformed? "I am no expert," confessed Randolph. He put Cope's writing on a middle ground and let it go at that.
He recalled the lighted windows and wondered near which one of them the same hand filled note-books and corrected students' papers.
"Rather a dreary routine, I imagine, for a young fellow of his age. Still, he may like it, possibly."
He thought of his own early studies and of his own early self- sufficiencies. He felt disposed to find his earlier self in this young man —or at least an inclination to look for himself there.
The next afternoon he walked over to Medora Phillips. Medora's upper floor gave asylum to a half-brother of her husband's—an invalid who seldom saw the outside world and who depended for solace and entertainment on neighbors of his own age and interests. Randolph expected to contribute, during the week, about so many hours of talk or of reading. But he would have a few words with Medora before going up to Joe.
Medora, among her grilles and lambrequins, was only too willing to talk about young Cope.
"A charming fellow—in a way," she said judicially. "Frank, but a little too self-assured and self-centered. Exuberant, but possibly a bit cold. Yet—charming."
"Oh," thought Randolph, "one of the cool boys, and one of the self- sufficing. Probably a bit of an ascetic at bottom, with good capacity for self-control and self-direction. Not at all an uninteresting type," he summed it up. "An ebullient Puritan?" he asked aloud.
"That's it," she declared, "—according to my sense of it."
"Yet hardly a New Englander, I suppose?"
"Not directly, anyhow. From down state—from Freeford, I think he said. I judge that there's quite a family of them."
"Quite a family of them," he repeated inwardly. A drawback indeed. Why could an interesting young organism so seldom be detached from its milieu and enjoyed in isolation? Prosy parents; tiresome, detrimental brothers ... He wondered if she had any idea what they were all like. It might be just as well, however, not to know.
"And, judging from the family name, and from their taste at christenings, I should say there might be some slant toward England itself. A nomenclature not without distinction. 'Bertram'; rather nice, eh? And there is a sister who teaches in one of the schools, I understand; and her name is Rosalind, or Rosalys. Think of that! I gather that the father is in some business," she concluded.
"Well, well," thought Randolph; "more than one touch of gentility, of fine feeling." If the father was in "some business," most likely it was some one else's business.
"He sings," said Medora, further. "Entertained us the other Sunday afternoon. Cool and correct, but pleasant. No warmth, no passion. No special interest in any of my poor girls. I didn't feel that he was drawing any of them too near the danger-line."
"Mighty gratifying, that. Where does one learn to sing without provoking danger?"
"In a church choir, of course. He sang last year in the cathedral at Winnebago."
"Oh, in Wisconsin. And what took us to Winnebago, I wonder?"
"We were teaching in a college there."
The talk languished. Basil Randolph had learned most that he wanted to know, and had learned it without asking too many direct questions. He began to pick at the fussy fringe on the arm of his chair and to cast an empty eye on the other fussy things that filled the room. The two had exhausted long ago all the old subjects, and he did not care to show an eagerness— still less, a continuing eagerness—for this new one: much could be picked up by indirection, even by waiting.
Medora felt him as distrait. "Do you want to go up and see Joe for a little while before you leave us?"
"I believe I will. Not that I've brought anything to read."
"I doubt if he cares to be read to this time—Carolyn gave him the headlines this forenoon. He's a bit restless; I think he'd rather talk. If you have nothing more to say to me, perhaps you can find something to say to him."
"Oh, come! I'm sure we've had a good enough little chat. Aren't you a bit restless yourself?"
"Well, run along. I've heard his chair rolling about up there for the last half hour."
COPE IS CONSIDERED FURTHER
Randolph took the stairs to the second floor, and presently his footfalls were heard on the bare treads that led from the second to the third. At the top landing he paused and looked in through the open door of the picture- gallery.
Over the varnished oak floor of this roomy apartment a middle-aged man who wore a green shade above his eyes was propelling himself in a wheeled chair. Thus did Joseph Foster cover the space where the younger and more fortunate sometimes danced, and thus did he move among works of art which, even on the brightest days, he could barely see.
He knew the step. "Brought anything?" he asked.
He depended on Randolph for the latest brief doings in current fiction; and usually in the background—and often long in abeyance—was something in the way of memoirs or biography, many-volumed, which could fill the empty hours either through retrospect or anticipation.
"Only myself," replied the other, stepping in. Foster dextrously manoeuvred his chair toward the entrance and reached out his hand.
"Well, yourself is enough. It's good to have a man about the place once in a while. Once in a while, I said. It gets tiresome, hearing all those girls slithering and chattering through the halls." He put his bony hands back on the rims of his wheels. "Where have you been all this time?"
"Oh, you know I come when I can." Randolph ran his eye over the walls of the big empty room. The pictures were all in place—landscapes, figure- pieces, what not; everything as familiar as the form of words he had just employed to meet an oft repeated query implying indifference and neglect.
"How is it outside? I haven't been down on the street for a month."
"Oh, things are bright and pleasant enough." Through the wide window there appeared, half a mile away, the square twin towers of the University library, reminiscent of Oxford and Ely. Round them lesser towers and gables, scholastic in their gray stone, rose above the trees of the campus. Beyond all these a level line of watery blue ran for miles and provided an eventless horizon. A bright and pleasant enough sight indeed, but nothing for Joe Foster.
"Well, let me by," he said, "and we'll get along to my own room." The resonant bigness of the "gallery" was far removed from the intimate and the sociable.
To the side of this bare place, with its canvases which had become rather demode—or at least had long ceased to interest—lay two bed-chambers: Foster's own, and one adjoining, which was classed as a spare room. It was sometimes given over to visiting luminaries of lesser magnitudes. Real celebrities—those of national or international fame—were entertained in a sumptuous suite on the floor below. Casual young bachelors, who sometimes happened along, were lodged above and were expected to adjust themselves, as regarded the bathroom, to the use and wont of the occupant adjoining.
Foster's own room was a cramped omnium gatherum, cluttered with the paraphernalia of daily living. It was somewhat disordered and untidy—the chamber of a man who could never see clearly how things were, or be completely sure just what he was about.
"There's Pepys up there," he said, pointing to his bookshelf, as he worked out of his chair and tried to dispose himself comfortably on a couch. "I hope we're going to get along a little farther with him, some time."
"As to that, I have been getting along a little farther;—I've been to the Library, looking somewhat ahead in the completer edition. I find that 'Will,' who flung his cloak over his shoulder, 'like a ruffian,' and got his ears boxed for it, was no mere temporary serving-man, but lived on with Pepys for years and became the most intimate and trusted of his friends. And 'Gosnell,' who lasted three days, you remember, as Mrs. Pepys' maid, turns up a year or two later as an actress at 'the Duke's house.' and 'Deb,' that other maid whose name we have noted farther along—well, there's a deal more about her than exactly tends to edification...."
"Good. I hope we shall have some more of it pretty soon."
"Not exactly to-day. I've got some other things to think about."
"Well, I expect you're going to be invited here to dinner pretty soon?"
"So? I've been invited here to dinner before this."
"But another day has come. A new light has risen. I haven't seen it, but I've heard it. I've heard it sing."
"A light singing? Aren't you getting mixed?"
"Oh, I don't know. There was Viollet-le-Duc and the rose-window of Notre Dame. They took him there as a child for a choral service, and he thought it was the rose itself that sang. And there was Petrarch, and the young Milton—both talking about 'melodious tears'—and something of the same sort in 'The Blessed Damosel.' And——"
"A psychological catch for which there ought to be a name. Perhaps there is a name."
"Well, as I say, the light rose, shone, and sang. I didn't see it—I never see anybody. But his voice came up here quite distinctly. It seemed good to have a man in the house. Those everlasting girls—I hope he wasn't bothering to sing for them."
"He probably was. How did it go?"
"Very well indeed."
"What kind of voice?"
"Oh, baritone, I suppose you'd call it."
"And he sang sentimental rubbish?"
"Not at all. Really good things."
"Well, hardly. With cool correctness. An icicle on Diana's temple—that would be my guess."
"An icicle? No wonder the young ladies don't quite fancy him."
"I understand he took them all in a lump—so far as he took them at all. Treated them all exactly alike; Hortense was quite scornful when she brought up my lunch-tray. Of course that's no way for a man to do."
"On the contrary. For certain purposes it might be a very good way."
"'On the contrary,' if you like; since frost may perform the effects of fire. Medora herself is beginning to see him as a tall, white candle, burning in some niche or at some shrine. Sir Galahad—or something of that sort."
Randolph grimaced at this.
"Oh, misery! I hope she hasn't mentioned her impression to him! Imagine whether a man would enjoy being told a thing like that. I hope, I'm sure, that no 'Belle Dame sans Merci' will get on his tracks!"
"If he goes in too much for 'palely loitering' he may be snatched."
"Poor fellow! They'd better leave him to his studies and his students. He has his own way to make, I presume, and will need all his energies to get ahead. For, as some one has said, 'There are no tea-houses on the road to Parnassus.' Neither do tea-fights boost a man toward the Porch or Academe."
"He's going in for teas?"
"I won't say that. But it was at a tea that I met him. A trigonometry tea at little Mrs. Ryder's."
"You've seen him then. You have the advantage of me. What's he like?"
"Oh, he has points in his favor. He has looks; a trim figure, even if spare; well-squared shoulders; and manners with a breezy, original tang. The kind of young fellow that people are likely enough to like."
"What kind of manners did he have for you?"
"Well, there you rather get me. He called me 'sir,' with a touch of deference; yet somehow I felt as if I were standing too close to an electric fan."
"Yes, even when they indulge a show of deference, they contrive to blow our gray hairs about our wrinkled temples."
"Don't talk about gray hairs. You have none; and mine are not always seen at first glance."
"Medora begins to tax me with a few. Don't you see any?"
"Not one. I concentrate on my own. Tush, you're only forty-seven."
"Or fifty-seven, or sixty-seven, or seventy-seven...." Foster adjusted his green shade and attempted an easier disposition of his twisted limbs on the couch. "Well, forty-seven, as you suggest,—as you insist. How old is this young fellow?"
"Twenty-four or twenty-five."
"Well, they can make us seem either younger or older. That rests with ourselves. It's all in how we take them, I expect."
"Better take them so as to make ourselves younger."
"Then the other question."
"How they take us?"
"Yes. We're lucky, in this day and generation, if they take us at all."
"You may be right," assented Randolph ruefully. "Yet there are gleams of hope. The more thoughtful among them have a kind of condescending pity to bestow——"
"And the thoughtless?"
"They can find uses for us. One of the faculty was telling me how he tried to give two or three of his juniors an outing at his cottage over in Michigan. Everything he gave they took for granted. And if anything was lacking they took—exceptions. Monopolized the boats; ignored the dinner- hour.... Sometimes I think that even the thoughtless are thoughtful in their own way and use us, if we happen to have lands and substance, purely as practical conveniences. I've been almost glad to think that I possess none myself."
"Don't stay here and talk like that. This is one of my blue days."
"I wish I had brought a novelette. Sure you don't want to hear a little more about the Countess of Castlemaine and the rascalities of the Navy Office?"
"No; some other time, when I feel a bit more robust. It isn't every day that the mind can digest such a period with comfort."
"Are we two old fogies beginning to wear on each other?"
"I hope not. But when you go down, stop for Medora a minute and see if she hasn't got something to say."
Medora—when he finally got down stairs—had.
She laid some knitting on the drawing-room table and came out into the hall.
"No reading this afternoon, I judge. What I heard, or seemed to hear, was a broken flow of talk."
"No reading. Restless."
"So I was afraid. I'd rather have one good steady voice purring along for him, and then I know he's all right. Carolyn has been too busy lately. What seems to have unsettled him?"
"Oh, I don't know. Young life, possibly."
"Well, I've asked and asked the girls not to be quite so gay and chattery in the upper halls."
"You can't keep girls quiet."
"I don't want to—not everywhere and at all times."
"I have an idea that a given number of girls make more noise in a house than the same number of young fellows. I know that they do in boarding- houses and rooming-houses, and I believe it's so as between sororities and fraternities. Put a noise-gauge in the main hall of the Alpha-Alpha house and another in the main hall of the Beta-Beta house, and the girls would run the score above the boys every time. If ever I build a sorority house, it will be for the Delta-Iota-Nus, and a statue of the great goddess DIN herself shall stand just within the entrance."
"You discourage me. I was going to give a dinner."
"Go ahead. A few remarks from me won't stop the course of your hospitality. Neither would a few orations. Neither would a few deliberative bodies assembled for a month of sessions, with every member talking from nine till six."
"You think I indulge in too many?"
"Too many what? Festivals? Puns?"
Medora paused, a bit puzzled.
"Puns? Why, I never, never——Oh, I see!"
"Too many dinners? No. Who could?"
"This one was to be a young people's dinner. I was going to invite you."
"Thanks. Thanks. Thanks."
"Still, if you think my girls are noisy...."
"I was speaking of girls in numbers."
"Well, Bertram Cope didn't find them so."
"Why not, indeed? They collected in a silent little group behind my sofa...."
"Fudge! Well, save Thursday."
"Is he coming?"
"I trust so."
"Then they do need a constabulary to keep them quiet?"
"How many are you expecting to have? You know I don't enjoy large parties."
"Could you stand ten?"
"I think so."
"Thursday, then," she said, with a definitive hand on the knob of the door.
Randolph went down the front walk with a slight stir of elation—a feeling that had come to be an infrequent visitor enough. He hoped that the company would be not only predominantly youthful, but exclusively so—aside from the hostess and himself. And even she often had her young days and her young spots. It would doubtless be clamorous; yet clamor, understood and prepared for, might be met with composure.
COPE DINES—AND TELLS ABOUT IT
Cope pushed away the last of the themes and put the cork back in the red- ink bottle. Here was a witless girl who seemed to think that Herrick and Cowper were contemporaries. The last sense to develop in the Western void was apparently the sense of chronology—unless, indeed, it were a sense for the shades of difference which served to distinguish between one age and another and provided the raw material that made chronology a matter of consequence at all.
"If there were only one more," muttered Cope, looking at the pile of sheets under the gas-globe, "I should probably learn that Chaucer derived from Beaumont and Fletcher."
He reached up and jerked the gas-jet to a different angle. The flame lit, through its nicked, pale-pink globe, a bedroom cramped in size and meagre in furnishings: a narrow bed, dressed to look like a lounge; two stiff- backed oak chairs, not lately varnished; a bookshelf overhead, with some dozen of the more indispensable aids to our tongue's literature. The table at which he sat was one of plain deal, covered with some Oriental-seeming fabric which showed here and there inkspots that antedated his own pen. He threw up this covering as it fell over the front edge of the table, pulled out a drawer, laid a sheet of paper in the bettered light, and uncorked a black-ink bottle.
"Dear Arthur," he began.
He looked across to the other chair, with its broken spindles and obfuscated varnish. With things as he wanted them, his correspondent would be sitting there and letter-writing would be unnecessary.
"Dear Arthur," he repeated aloud, and set himself to a general sketch of the new land and the "lay" of it.
"Three-quarters of them are of course girls," he presently found himself writing, "which is the common proportion almost everywhere, I presume, except in engineering and dentistry. However, there are four or five men. I've been pretty careful, and they still treat me with respect. I'm afraid my course is regarded as a 'snap.' Everybody, it seems, can grasp English literature (and produce it). And almost anybody, I begin to fear, can teach it. Judging, that is, from the pay. I'm afraid the good folks at Freeford will find themselves pinched for another year still."
He glanced across toward the pile of corrected themes. He felt that not everybody was "called," as a matter of course, to write English, and he stubbornly nourished the belief that toiling over others' imperfections was more of a job than boards of trustees always realized.
"Of course," he presently resumed, "things are rather changed from what they were before. I find more in the way of social opportunities and greater interest shown by the middle-aged. It is no disadvantage to cultivate people who have their own homes; the lunch-rooms round the fountain-square are numerous enough, but not so good as they might be. And I don't know but that an instructor may lose caste by eating among a miscellany of undergraduates. Anyhow, it's no plan to pursue for long."
He sat for a moment, lost in thought over recent social experiences.
"One very good house has lately been opened to me," he continued. "I dined there last Thursday evening. It's really quite a mansion—a great many large rooms: picture-gallery, ballroom, and all that; and the dinner itself was very handsomely done. You know my theory,—a theory rather forced upon me, in truth, by circumstances,—that the best way to enjoy a good meal is to have had a string of poor ones. Well, since coming back, and with no permanent arrangements made, I have had plenty of chance for getting into position to appreciate the really first-class. There was a color-scheme in pale pink—ribbons of that color, pink icing on the cakes, and so on. The same thing could be done, and done charmingly, in light green—with pistache ice-cream. Of course the candle-shades were pink too."
His eye wandered toward a small triangular closet, made off from the room by a flimsy and faded calico-print curtain.
"I had my dress-suit cleaned and pressed, but the lapels of the coat came out rather shiny, and I thought it better to hire one for the occasion. There was no trouble about a fit—I have standardized shoulders, as you know.
"Of course I miss you all the time, and I assuredly missed you just here. If it is really true, as you write, that you are holding your summer gains and weigh twelve pounds more than you did at the end of June, and if you are thinking of getting a new suit, please bear in mind that my own won't last much longer. I have the chance, now, to go out a good deal and to meet influential, worth-while people. In the circumstances I ask you not to bant. One rather spare man in a pair of men is enough.
"My hostess, a Mrs. Phillips, I met at a tea during my first week. This tea was given by a lady in the mathematical department, and she and her husband were at the dinner. They are people in the early or middle thirties, I judge, and were probably put in as a connecting link between the two sections of the party. Mrs. Phillips herself is a rich widow of forty-odd— forty-five or six, possibly,—though I am not the very best judge in such matters: no need to tell you that, on such a point, my eye and my general sense are none too acute. The only other middle-aged (or elderly) person present was a Mr. Randolph, who is perhaps fifty, or a little beyond, yet who appears to have his younger moments. There were some girls, and there were two young men in business in the city—neighbors and not connected with the University at all. 'For which relief,' etc.,—since it is a bit benumbing to move in academic circles exclusively;—I should hate to feel that a really professorial manner was stealing over me. Well, everybody was lively and gay, except at first Ryder (he's the math. man); but even he limbered up finally. Mrs. Phillips herself has a great deal of action and vivacity—seemed hardly more than thirty. Well, I could be pretty gay too with a lot of money behind me; and I think that, for another year or so, I can contrive to be gay without it. But after that....
"I wish you had been there instead of Ryder. If you are really going to be twenty-seven in November—as I figure it—you might yourself have served as a connecting link between youth and age. No, no; I take it back; I didn't mean it. I wouldn't have you seem older for anything, and you know it.
"There were three girls. They all live in the house itself, forming a little court: Mrs. P. seems to need young life and young attentions. So not one of them had to be taken home—there's usually that to do, you know. Not that it would have mattered much, as the distances would have been short and the night was clear starlight. But they could all stay where they were, and I walked home in quite different company."
Cope threw back his Oriental table-cover once more and drew out a few additional sheets of paper.
"One of them is an artist. She paints portraits, and possibly other things. Oh, I was going to say there is an art-gallery at the top of the house. Her husband—I mean Mrs. Phillips'—was a painter and collector himself; and after dinner we went up there, and a curious man came in, propelling a wheeled chair—a sort of death's-head at the feast.... But don't let me get too far away from the matter in hand. She is dark and a bit tonguey—the artist-girl; and I believe she would be sarcastic and witty if she weren't held down pretty well. I think she's a niece: the relationship leaves her free, as I suppose she feels, to express herself. If you like the type you may have it; but wit in a woman, or even humor, always makes me uncomfortable. The feminine idea of either is a little different from ours.
"Another girl is a musician. She plays the violin—quite tolerably. Yes, yes, I recall your views about violin-playing: it's either good or bad— nothing between. I'll say this, then: she played some simple and unpretentious things and did them very deftly. Simple, unpretentious: oddest thing in the world, for she is a recent graduate of our school of music and began this fall as an instructor. Wouldn't you have expected to find her demanding a chance to perform a sonata at the least, or pining miserably for a concerto with full orchestra? Well, this young lady I put down as a plain boarder—you can't maintain a big house on memories and a collection of paintings. She's a nice child, and I dare say makes as good a boarder as any nice child could.
"The third girl—if you want to hear any more about them—seems to be a secretary. Think of having the run of a house where a social secretary is required! I'm sure she sends out the invitations and keeps the engagement- book. Besides all that, she writes poetry—she is the minstrel of the court. She does verses about her chatelaine—is quite the mistress of self- respecting adulation. She would know the difference between Herrick and Cowper!"...
Cope pulled out his watch. Then he resumed.
"It's half past ten, but I think I'll run on for a few moments longer. If I don't finish, I can wind up to-morrow.—Mr. Randolph sat opposite me. He looked at me a lot and gave attention to whatever I said—whether said to him, or to my neighbors right and left, or to the whole table. I didn't feel him especially clever, but easy and pleasant—and friendly. Also a little shy—even after we had gone up to the ball-room. I'm afraid that made me more talkative than ever; you know how shyness in another man makes me all the more confident and rackety. Be sure that voice of mine rang out! But not in song. There was a piano up stairs, of course, and that led to a little dancing. Different people took turns in playing. I danced—once— with each of the three girls, and twice with my hostess; then I let Ryder and the two young business-men do the rest. Randolph danced once with Mrs. Phillips, and that ended it for him. My own dancing, as you know, is nothing to brag of: I think the young ladies were quite satisfied with the little I did. I'm sure I was. You also know my views on round dances. Why dancing should be done exclusively by couples arranged strictly on the basis of contrasted sexes...! I think of the good old days of the Renaissance in Italy, when women, if they wanted to dance, just got up and danced—alone, or, if they didn't want to dance alone, danced together. I like to see soldiers or sailors dance in pairs, as a straightforward outlet for superfluous physical energy. Also, peasants in a ring—about a Maypole or something. Also, I very much like square dances and reels. There were enough that night for a quadrille, with somebody for the piano and even somebody to 'call off,'—but whoever sees a quadrille in these days? However, I mustn't burn any more gas on this topic.
"I sat out several dances between Mrs. Phillips and Mr. Randolph. He thought he had done enough for her, and she thought I had done enough for them all. And one of the young business-men did enough for that springy, still-young Mrs. Ryder. Once, indeed, Mrs. Phillips asked me if I wouldn't like to try a third dance with her (she goes at it with a good deal of old- time vivacity and vim); but I told her she must know by this time that I was something of a bungler. 'I wouldn't quite say that,' she returned, smiling; but we continued to sit there side by side on a sort of bench built against the wall, and she seemed as well pleased to have it that way as the other. She did, however, speak about a little singing. I told her that she must have found me something of a bungler there, too, and reminded her that I couldn't play the accompaniments of my best songs at all. Arthur, my dear boy, I depend on you for that, and you must come down here and do it. No singing, then. But Mrs. Phillips was not quite satisfied. Wouldn't I recite something? Heavens! Well, of course I know lots of poems—c'est mon metier. I repeated one. Then other volunteers were called upon—it was entertaining with a vengeance! The young ladies had to chip in also—though they, of course, were prepared to. And one of the young business-men did some clever juggling; and Mrs. Ryder sang a little French ballade; and Mr. Randolph—poor man!—was suddenly routed out of his placidity, and responded as well as he could with one or two little stories, not very pointed and not very well told. But I judge he makes no great claim to being a raconteur—he was merely paying an unexpected tax as gracefully as he could.
"Well, as I was saying, the man in the wheeled chair came in. Of course he hadn't been down to dinner—I think I saw a tray for him carried along the hall. As he was working his way through the door, I suppose I must have been talking and laughing at my loudest; and that big, bare room, done in hard wood, made me seem noisier still. He sort of stopped and twitched, and appeared to shrink back in his chair: I presume my tones went straight through the poor twisted invalid's head. He must have fancied me (from the racket I was making) as a sort of free-and-easy Hercules (which is not quite the case), if not as the whole football squad rolled into one. Whether he really saw me, then or thereafter, I don't know; he wore a sort of green shade over his eyes. Of course I met him in due form. I tried not to give his poor hand too much of a wring (another of my bad habits); but he took all I gave and even seemed to hang on for a little more. He sat quietly to one side for a while, and I tried not to act the bull of Bashan again. Anyhow, he didn't start a second time. Presently he pulled out rather unceremoniously: the two young business-men had begun a sort of burlesque fandango, and their feet were pretty noisy on the bare floor. He started off after looking toward the piano and then toward me; and Mrs. Phillips glanced about as if to hint that any display of surprise or of indulgence would be misplaced. Poor chap!—well, I'm glad he didn't see me dancing.
"We broke up about eleven, and Mr. Randolph suggested that, as we lived in the same general direction, we might walk homeward together. Great heaven! it's eleven—and five after—now! Enough, in all conscience, for to-night. You shall have the rest to-morrow."
COPE UNDER SCRUTINY
An evening or two later Cope again corked his red ink and uncorked his black.
"As I have said, Mr. Randolph and I walked home together. He stopped for a moment in front of his place. Another large, handsome house. He told me he had the use of his quarters as long as his landlord's lease ran, and asked me to come round some time and see how he was fixed. Then he said suddenly that the evening was fine and the night young and that he would walk on with me to my quarters, if I didn't mind. Of course I didn't—he seemed so friendly and pleasant; but I let him learn for himself that I was far from being lodged in any architectural monument. Well, we went on for the necessary ten minutes, and he didn't seem at all put out by the mediocre aspect of the house where I have put up. He sort of took it all for granted—as if he knew about it already. In fact, on the way from his place to mine, I no more led him (as I sense it now) than he led me. He hesitated at no corner or crossing. 'I am an old Churchtonian,' he said incidentally—as if he knew everything and everybody. He also mentioned, just as incidentally, that he had a brother-in-law on our board of trustees. Of course I promised to go round and see him. I presume that I shall drop in on him some time or other. Come down here, and you shall have one more house of call.
"He stopped for a moment in front of my diggings, taking my hand to say goodnight and taking his own time in dropping it. Enough is enough. 'You have the small change needed for paying your way through society,' he said, with a sort of smile. 'I must cultivate a few little arts myself,' he went on; 'they seem necessary in some houses. But I'm glad, after all, that I didn't remember to-night that a tribute was likely to be levied; it would have taken away my appetite and have made the whole evening a misery in advance. As things went, I had, on the whole, a pleasant time. Only, I understood that you sang; and I was rather hoping to hear you.' 'I do best with my regular accompanist,' I returned—meaning you, of course. I hope you don't mind being degraded to that level. 'And your regular accompanist is not—not——?' 'Is miles away,' I replied. 'A hundred and fifty of them,' I might have added, if I had chosen to be specific. Now, if he had wanted to hear me, why hadn't he asked? He would have needed only to second Mrs. Phillips herself; and there he was, just on the other side of me. In consequence of his reticence I was driven—or drove myself—to blank verse. And that other man, the one in the chair; he may have had his expectations too. Arthur, Arthur, try to grasp the situation! You must come down here, and you must bring your hands with you. Tell the bishop and the precentor that you are needed elsewhere. They will let you off. Of course I know that a village choir needs every tenor it can get—and keep; but come. If they insist, leave your voice behind; but do bring your hands and your reading eye. Don't let me go along making my new circle think I'm an utter dub. Tell your father plainly that he can never in the world make a wholesale- hardware-man out of you. Force him to listen to reason. What is one year spent in finding out just what you are fit for? Come along; I miss you like the devil; nobody does my things as sympathetically as you do. Give up your old anthems and your old tinware and tenpennies and come along. I can bolt from this hole at a week's notice, and we can go into quarters together: a real bed instead of an upholstered shelf, and a closet big enough for two wardrobes (if mine really deserves the name). We could get our own breakfast, and you could take a course in something or other till you found out just what the Big Town could do for you. In any event you would be bearing me company, and your company is what I need. So pack up and appear."
The delay in the posting of this appeal soon brought from Winnebago a letter outside the usual course of correspondence. It was on a fresh sheet and under a new date-line that Cope continued. After a page of generalities and of attention to particular points in the letter from Wisconsin, Cope took up his own line of thought.
"I had meant, of course, to look in on him within a few days,—no great hurry about it. But on Sunday evening he wrote and asked if he might not call round on me instead. My name is not in the telephone-book; neither, as I found out, was his. So I used up a sheet of paper, an envelope, and a stamp—just such as I am now using on you—to tell him that he might indeed. I put in the 'indeed' for cordiality, hoping he wouldn't think I had slighted his invitation. On Monday evening he came round—I must have reached him by the late afternoon delivery. Need I say that he had to take this poor place as he found it? But there was no sign of the once- over—no tendency to inventory or appraise. He sat down beside me on the couch just as if he had no notion that it was a bed (and a rather rocky one, at that), and talked about my row of books, and about music and plays, and about his own collection of curios—all in a quiet, contained way, yet intent on me if not on my outfit. Well, it's pleasant to be considered for what you are rather than for what you have (or for what few poor sticks your landlady may have); and I rather liked his being here. Certainly he was a change from my students, who sometimes seem to exclude better timber.
"Needless to say, he repeated his invitation, and last evening I shunted Middle English (in which I have a lot to catch up) and walked round to him. Very adequately and handsomely lodged. Really good bachelor quarters (I hadn't known for certain whether he was married or not). A stockbroker of a sort, I hear,—but not enough to hurt, I should guess. He has a library and a sitting-room. Like me, he sleeps three-quarters, but he doesn't have to sit on his bed in the daytime. And he has a bathrobe of just the sort I shall have, when I can afford it. He has got together a lot of knick-knacks and curios, but takes them lightly.
"'Sorry I've only one big arm-chair,' he said, handing me his cigarette- case and settling me down in comfort; 'but I entertain very seldom. I should like to be hospitable,' he went on; '—I really think it's in me; but that's pretty much out of the question here. I have no chef, no dining-room of my own, no ball-room, certainly.... Perhaps, before very long, I shall have to make a change.'
"He asked me about Freeford, and I didn't realize until I was on my way back that he had assumed my home town just as he had assumed my lodging. Well, all right; I never resent a friendly interest. He sat in a less-easy chair and blew his smoke-rings and wondered if I had been a small-town boy. 'I'm one, too,' he said; '—at least Churchton, forty years—at least Churchton, thirty years ago, was not all it is to-day. It has always had its own special tone, of course; but in my young—in my younger days it was just a large country village. Fewer of us went into town to make money, or to spend it.'...
"And then he asked me to go into town, one evening soon, and help him spend some. He suggested it rather shyly; a tatons, I will say—though French is not my business. He offered a dinner at a restaurant, and the theatre afterwards. Did I accept? Indeed I did. Think, Arthur! after all the movies and restaurants round the elms and the fountain (tho' you don't know them yet)! I will say, too, that his cigarettes were rather better than my own....
"I suppose he is fully fifty; but he has his young days, I can see. Certainly his age doesn't obtrude,—doesn't bother me at all, though he sometimes seems conscious of it himself. He wears eye-glasses part of the time,—for dignity, I presume. He had them on when I came in, but they disappeared almost at once, and I saw them no more.
"He asked me about my degree,—though I didn't remember having spoken of it. I couldn't but mention 'Shakespeare'—as the word goes; and you know that when I mention him, it always makes the other man mention Bacon. He did mention Bacon, and smiled. 'I've studied the cipher,' he said. 'All you need to make it go is a pair of texts—a long one and a short one—and two fonts of type, or their equivalent in penmanship. Two colors of ink, for example. You can put anything into anything. See here.' He reached up to a shelf and brought down a thin brown square note-book. 'Here's the alphabet,' he said; 'and here'—opening a little beyond—'is my use of it: one of my earliest exercises. I have put the first stanza of "Annabel Lee" into the second chapter of "Tom Jones."' He ignored the absent eye-glasses and picked out the red letters from the black with perfect ease. 'Simplest thing in the world,' he went on; 'anybody can do it. All it needs is time and patience and care. And if you happen to be waggishly or fraudulently inclined you can give yourself considerable entertainment—and can entertain or puzzle other people later. You don't really believe that "Bacon wrote Shakespeare"?'
"Of course I don't, Arthur,—as you very well know. I picked out the first line of 'Annabel Lee' by arranging the necessary groupings among the odd mixture of black and red letters he exhibited, and told him I didn't believe that Bacon wrote Shakespeare—nor that Shakespeare did either. 'Who did, then?' he naturally asked. I told him that I would grant, at the start and for a few seasons, a group of young noblemen and young gentlemen; but that some one of them (supposing there to have been more than that one) soon distanced all the rest and presently became the edifice before which the manager from Stratford was only the facade. He—this 'someone'—was a noble and a man of wide reach both in his natural endowments and in his acquired culture. But he couldn't dip openly into the London cesspool; he had his own quality to safeguard against the contamination of a new and none too highly-regarded trade. 'I don't care for your shillings,' he said to Shaxper, 'nor for the printed plays afterward; but I do value your front and your footing and the services they can render me on my way to self- expression.' He was an earl, or something such, with a country-seat in Warwick, or on the borders of Gloucestershire; 'and if I only had a year and the money to make a journey among the manor-houses of mid-England,' I said, 'and to dig for a while in their muniment-rooms....' Well, you get the idea, all right enough.
"He came across and sat on the arm of the big easy-chair. 'If you went over there and discovered all that, the English scholars would never forgive you.' As of course they wouldn't: look at the recent Shaxper discoveries by Americans in London! 'And wouldn't that be a rather sensational thesis,' he went on, 'from a staid candidate for an M.A., or a Ph.D., or a Litt.D., or whatever it is you're after?' It would, of a verity; and why shouldn't it be? 'Don't go over there,' he ended with a smile, as he dropped his hand on my shoulder; 'your friends would rather have you here.' 'Never fear!' I returned; 'I can't possibly manage it. I shall just do something on "The Disjunctive Conjunctions in 'Paradise Lost,'" and let it go at that!'
"He got up to reach for the ash-receiver. 'They tell me,' he said, 'that a degree isn't much in itself—just an etape on the journey to a better professional standing.' 'Yes,' said I, '—and to better professional rewards. It means so many more hundreds of dollars a year in pay.' But you know all about that, too.
"I'm glad your dramatic club is getting forward so well with the rehearsals for its first drive of the season; glad too that, this time at least, they have given you a good part. Tell me all about it before the big stars in town begin to dim your people in my eyes—and in your own; and don't let them cast you for the next performance in January. You will be here by then.
COPE UNDERTAKES AN EXCURSION
Two or three days later, Randolph met Medora Phillips in front of the bank. This was a neat and solemn little edifice opposite the elms and the fountain; it was neighbored by dry-goods stores, the offices of renting agencies, and the restaurants where the unfraternized undergraduates took their daily chances. Through its door passed tradesmen's clerks with deposits, and young housewives with babies in perambulators, and students with their small financial problems, and members of the faculty about to cash large or small checks. Mrs. Phillips had come across from the dry- goods store to pick up her monthly sheaf of vouchers,—it was the third of October.
"Don't you want to come in for a minute?" she asked Randolph. "Then you can walk on with me to the stationer's. Carolyn tells me that our last batch of invitations reduced us to nothing. How did your dinner go?"
Randolph followed her into the cool marble interior. "Oh, in town, you mean? Quite well, I think. I'm sure my young man took a good honest appetite with him!"
"I know. We don't do half enough for these poor boys."
"Yes, he rose to the food. But not to the drinks. I took him, after all, to my club. I innocently suggested cocktails; but, no. He declined—in a deft but straightforward way. Country principles. Small-town morals. He made me feel like a—well, like a corrupter of youth."
"You didn't mind, though,—of course you didn't. You liked it. Wasn't it noble! Wasn't it charming! So glad that we had nothing but Apollinaris and birch beer! Still, it would have been a pleasure to hear him refuse."
The receiving-teller gave her her vouchers. She put them in her handbag and somehow got round a perambulator, and the two went out on the street.
"And how did your 'show' go?" she continued. "That's about as much as we can call the drama in these days."
"That, possibly, didn't go quite so well. I took him to a 'comedy,'—as they nowadays call their mixture of farce and funniment. 'Comedy'!—I wish Meredith could have seen it! Well, he laughed a little, here and there,— obligingly, I might say. But there was no 'chew' in the thing for him,— nothing to fill his intellectual maw. He's a serious youngster, after all, —exuberant as he seems. I felt him appraising me as a gay old irresponsible...."
"'Old'—you are not to use that word. Come, don't say that he—that he venerated you!"
"Oh, not at all. During the six hours we were together—train, club, theatre, and train again—he never once called me 'sir'; he never once employed our clumsy, repellent Anglo-Saxon mode of address, 'mister'; in fact, he never employed any mode of address at all. He got round it quite cleverly,—on system, as I soon began to perceive; and not for a moment did he forget that the system was in operation. He used, straight through, a sort of generalized manner—I might have been anywhere between twenty and sixty-five."
They were now in front of the stationer's show-window, and there were few people in the quiet thoroughfare to jostle them.
"How clever; how charming!" she said. "Leaving you altogether free to pick your own age. I hope you didn't go beyond thirty-five. You must have been quite charming in your early thirties."
"That's kind of you, I'm sure; but I don't believe that I was ever 'charming' at any age. I think you've used that word once too often. I was a quiet, studious lad, with nice notions, but possibly something of a prig. I was less 'charming' than correct. The young ladies had the greatest confidence in me,—not one of them was ever 'afraid'."
"Why, how horrid! How utterly unsatisfactory! Nor their mothers?"
"No. And I'm still single, as you're advised. And I'm not sure that the young gentlemen cared much more for me. If I had had a little more 'gimp' and verve, I might have equalled the particular young gentleman of whom we have been discoursing. But...."
His obviously artificial style of speech concealed, as she guessed, some real feeling.
"Oh, if you insist on disparaging yourself...!"
"I was quite as coolly correct as I apprehend him to be; and if I could only have contrived to compass the charming, as well, who knows what——?"
"You don't like my word. Is there a better, a more suitable?"
"No. You have the mot juste."
He threw a finger through the wide pane of glass. "Is that the sort of thing you are after? Those boxes of pale gray are rather good."
"I never buy from the show-window. Come in, and help me choose."
"I love to shop," he said, in a mock ecstasy. "With others," he added. "I like to follow money in—and to contribute taste and experience."
Over the stationer's counter she said:
"Save Sunday. We are going out to the sand-hills."
"Thank you. Very well. Most glad to."
"And you are to bring him."
"Why, I've given him six hours within two or three days. And now you're asking me to give him sixteen."
"Sixteen—or more. But you're not giving them to him. You're giving them to all of us. You're giving them to me. The day is likely to be fine and settled, and I'd recommend your catching the 8:30 train. I shall have my full load in the car. And more, if I have to take along Helga. Try to reach us by one, or a quarter past."
Mrs. Phillips had lately taken on a house among the sand dunes beyond the state line. This singular region had recently acquired so wide a reputation for utter neglect and desolation that—despite its distance from town, whether in miles or in hours—no one could quite afford to ignore it. Picnics, pageants, encampments and excursions all united in proclaiming its remoteness, its silence, its vacuity. Along the rim of ragged slopes which put a term to the hundreds of miles of water that spread from the north, people tramped, bathed, canoed, motored and week-ended. Within a few seasons Duneland had acquired as great a reputation for "prahlerische Dunkelheit"—for ostentatious obscurity—as ever was enjoyed even by Schiller's Wallenstein. "Lovers of Nature" and "Friends of the Landscape" moved through its distant and inaccessible purlieus in squads and cohorts. Everybody had to spend there at least one Sunday in the summer season. There were enthusiasts whose interest ran from March to November. There were fanatics who insisted on trips thitherward in January. And there were one or two super-fanatics—ranking ahead even of the fishermen and the sand-diggers—who clung to that weird and changing region the whole year through.
Medora Phillips' house was several miles beyond the worst of the hurly- burly. There were no tents in sight, even in August. Nor was the honk of the motor-horn heard even during the most tumultuous Sundays. The spot was harder to reach than most others along the twenty miles of nicked and ragged brim which helped enclose the wide blue area of the Big Water, but was better worth while when you got there. Her little tract lay beyond the more prosaic reaches that were furnished chiefly in the light green of deciduous trees; it was part of a long stretch thickly set for miles with the dark and sombre green of pines. Our nature-lover had taken, the year before, a neglected and dilapidated old farmhouse and had made it into what her friends and habitues liked to call a bungalow. The house had been put up—in the rustic spirit which ignores all considerations of landscape and outlook—behind a well-treed dune which allowed but the merest glimpse of the lake; however, a walk of six or eight minutes led down to the beach, and in the late afternoon the sun came with grand effect across the gilded water and through the tall pine-trunks which bordered the zig-zag path. Medora had added a sleeping porch, a dining-porch and a lean-to for the car; and she entertained there through the summer lavishly, even if intermittently and casually.
"No place in the world like it!" she would declare enthusiastically to the yet inexperienced and therefore the still unconverted. "The spring arrives weeks ahead of our spring in town, and the fall lingers on for weeks after. Come to our shore, where the fauna and flora of the whole country meet in one. All the wild birds pass in their migrations; and the flowers!" Then she would expatiate on the trailing arbutus in April, and the vast sheets of pale blue lupines in early June, and the yellow, sunlike blossoms of the prickly-pear in July, and the red glories of painter's-brush and bittersweet and sumach in September. "No wonder," she would say, "that they have to distribute handbills on the excursion-trains asking people to leave the flowers alone!"
"How shocking!" Cope had cried, with his resonant laugh, when this phase of the situation was brought to his attention. "Are the automobile people any better?"
Randolph had told him of some of the other drawbacks involved in the excursion. "It's a long way to go, even when you pass up the trolley and make a single big bolt by train. And it leads through an industrial region that is mighty unprepossessing—little beauty until almost the end. And even when you get there, it may all seem a slight and simple affair for the time and trouble taken—unless you really like Nature. And lastly," he said, with a sidelong glance at Cope, "you may find yourself, as the day wears on, getting a little too much of my company."
"Oh, I hope that doesn't mean," returned Cope, with another ingenuous unchaining of his native resonance, "that you are afraid of getting a little too much of mine! I'm fond of novelty, and nobody can frighten me."
"If that's the case, let's get away as early in the day as we can. Breakfasts, of course, are late in every household on Sunday. So let's meet at the Maroon-and-Purple Tavern at seven-thirty, and make a flying start at eight."
Sunday morning came clear and calm and warm to the town,—a belated September day, or possibly an early intimation of Indian summer,—and it promised to be even more delightful in the favored region toward which our friends were journeying. After they had cleared many miles of foundries and railroad crossings, and had paralleled for a last half-hour a distant succession of sandhills, wooded or glistening white, they were set down at a small group of farmhouses, with a varied walk of five miles before them. Half a mile through a shaded country lane; another half-mile along a path that led across low, damp ground through thickets of hazel and brier; a third half-mile over a light soil, increasingly sandy, beneath oaks and lindens and pines which cloaked the outlines of the slopes ahead; and finally a great mound of pure sand that slanted up into a blue sky and made its own horizon.