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Our Mr. Wrenn - The Romantic Adventures of a Gentle Man
by Sinclair Lewis
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Suddenly she gave his hand a parting pressure and sprang up.

"Come. We'll have tiffin, and then I'll send you away, and to-morrow we'll go see the Tate Gallery."

While Istra was sending the slavey for cakes and a pint of light wine Mr. Wrenn sat in a chair—just sat in it; he wanted to show that he could be dignified and not take advantage of Miss Nash's kindness by slouchin' round. Having read much Kipling, he had an idea that tiffin was some kind of lunch in the afternoon, but of course if Miss Nash used the word for evening supper, then he had been wrong.

Istra whisked the writing-table with the Reseda-green cover over before the fire, chucked its papers on the bed, and placed a bunch of roses on one end, moving the small blue vase two inches to the right, then two inches forward.

The wine she poured into a decanter. Wine was distinctly a problem to him. He was excited over his sudden rise into a society where one took wine as a matter of course. Mrs. Zapp wouldn't take it as a matter of course. He rejoiced that he wasn't narrow-minded, like Mrs. Zapp. He worked so hard at not being narrow-minded like Mrs. Zapp that he started when he was called out of his day-dream by a mocking voice:

"But you might look at the cakes. Just once, anyway. They are very nice cakes."

"Uh—"

"Yes, I know the wine is wine. Beastly of it."

"Say, Miss Nash, I did get you this time."

"Oh, don't tell me that my presiding goddessship is over already."

"Uh—sure! Now I'm going to be a cruel boss."

"Dee-lighted! Are you going to be a caveman?"

"I'm sorry. I don't quite get you on that."

"That's too bad, isn't it. I think I'd rather like to meet a caveman."

"Oh say, I know about that caveman—Jack London's guys. I'm afraid I ain't one. Still—on the cattle-boat—Say, I wish you could of seen it when the gang were tying up the bulls, before starting. Dark close place 'tween-decks, with the steers bellowin' and all parked tight together, and the stiffs gettin' seasick—so seasick we just kind of staggered around; and we'd get hold of a head rope and yank and then let go, and the bosses, d yell, 'Pull, or I'll brain you.' And then the fo'c'sle—men packed in like herrings."

She was leaning over the table, making a labyrinth with the currants from a cake and listening intently. He stopped politely, feeling that he was talking too much. But, "Go on, please do," she commanded, and he told simply, seeing it more and more, of Satan and the Grenadier, of the fairies who had beckoned to him from the Irish coast hills, and the comradeship of Morton.

She interrupted only once, murmuring, "My dear, it's a good thing you're articulate, anyway—" which didn't seem to have any bearing on hay-bales.

She sent him away with a light "It's been a good party, hasn't it, caveman? (If you are a caveman.) Call for me tomorrow at three. We'll go to the Tate Gallery."

She touched his hand in the fleetingest of grasps.

"Yes. Good night, Miss Nash," he quavered.

A morning of planning his conduct so that in accompanying Istra Nash to the Tate Gallery he might be the faithful shadow and beautiful transcript of Mittyford, Ph.D. As a result, when he stood before the large canvases of Mr. Watts at the Tate he was so heavy and correctly appreciative, so ready not to enjoy the stories in the pictures of Millais, that Istra suddenly demanded:

"Oh, my dear child, I have taken a great deal on my hands. You've got to learn to play. You don't know how to play. Come. I shall teach you. I don't know why I should, either. But—come."

She explained as they left the gallery: "First, the art of riding on the buses. Oh, it is an art, you know. You must appreciate the flower-girls and the gr-r-rand young bobbies. You must learn to watch for the blossoms on the restaurant terraces and roll on the grass in the parks. You're much too respectable to roll on the grass, aren't you? I'll try ever so hard to teach you not to be. And we'll go to tea. How many kinds of tea are there?"

"Oh, Ceylon and English Breakfast and—oh—Chinese."

"B—"

"And golf tees!" he added, excitedly, as they took a seat in front atop the bus.

"Puns are a beginning at least," she reflected.

"But how many kinds of tea are there, Istra?... Oh say, I hadn't ought to—"

"Course; call me Istra or anything else. Only, you mustn't call my bluff. What do I know about tea? All of us who play are bluffers, more or less, and we are ever so polite in pretending not to know the others are bluffing.... There's lots of kinds of tea. In the New York Chinatown I saw once—Do you know Chinatown? Being a New-Yorker, I don't suppose you do."

"Oh yes. And Italiantown. I used to wander round there."

"Well, down at the Seven Flowery Kingdoms Chop Suey and American Cooking there's tea at five dollars a cup that they advertise is grown on 'cloud-covered mountain-tops.' I suppose when the tops aren't cloud-covered they only charge three dollars a cup.... But, serious-like, there's really only two kinds of teas—those you go to to meet the man you love and ought to hate, and those you give to spite the women you hate but ought to—hate! Isn't that lovely and complicated? That's playing. With words. My aged parent calls it 'talking too much and not saying anything.' Note that last—not saying anything! It's one of the rules in playing that mustn't be broken."

He understood that better than most of the things she said. "Why," he exclaimed, "it's kind of talking sideways."

"Why, yes. Of course. Talking sideways. Don't you see now?"

Gallant gentleman as he was, he let her think she had invented the phrase.

She said many other things; things implying such vast learning that he made gigantic resolves to "read like thunder."

Her great lesson was the art of taking tea. He found, surprisedly, that they weren't really going to endanger their clothes by rolling on park grass. Instead, she led him to a tea-room behind a candy-shop on Tottenham Court Road, a low room with white wicker chairs, colored tiles set in the wall, and green Sedji-ware jugs with irregular bunches of white roses. A waitress with wild-rose cheeks and a busy step brought Orange Pekoe and lemon for her, Ceylon and Russian Caravan tea and a jug of clotted cream for him, with a pile of cinnamon buns.

"But—" said Istra. "Isn't this like Alice in Wonderland! But you must learn the buttering of English muffins most of all. If you get to be very good at it the flunkies will let you take tea at the Carleton. They are such hypercritical flunkies, and the one that brings the gold butter-measuring rod to test your skill, why, he always wears knee-breeches of silver gray. So you can see, Billy, how careful you have to be. And eat them without buttering your nose. For if you butter your nose they'll think you're a Greek professor. And you wouldn't like that, would you, honey?" He learned how to pat the butter into the comfortable brown insides of the muffins that looked so cold and floury without. But Istra seemed to have lost interest; and he didn't in the least follow her when she observed:

"Doubtless it was the best butter. But where, where, dear dormouse, are the hatter and hare? Especially the sweet bunny rabbit that wriggled his ears and loved Gralice, the princesse d' outre-mer.

"Where, where are the hatter and hare, And where is the best butter gone?"

Presently: "Come on. Let's beat it down to Soho for dinner. Or—no! Now you shall lead me. Show me where you'd go for dinner. And you shall take me to a music-hall, and make me enjoy it. Now you teach me to play."

"Gee! I'm afraid I don't know a single thing to teach you."

"Yes, but—See here! We are two lonely Western barbarians in a strange land. We'll play together for a little while. We're not used to each other's sort of play, but that will break up the monotony of life all the more. I don't know how long we'll play or—Shall we?"

"Oh yes!"

"Now show me how you play."

"I don't believe I ever did much, really."

"Well, you shall take me to your kind of a restaurant."

"I don't believe you'd care much for penny meat-pies."

"Little meat-pies?"

"Um-huh."

"Little crispy ones? With flaky covers?"

"Um-huh."

"Why, course I would! And ha'p'ny tea? Lead me to it, O brave knight! And to a vaudeville."

He found that this devoted attendant of theaters had never seen the beautiful Italians who pounce upon protesting zylophones with small clubs, or the side-splitting juggler's assistant who breaks up piles and piles of plates. And as to the top hat that turns into an accordion and produces much melody, she was ecstatic.

At after-theater supper he talked of Theresa and South Beach, of Charley Carpenter and Morton—Morton—Morton.

They sat, at midnight, on the steps of the house in Tavistock Place.

"I do know you now, "she mused. "It's curious how any two babes in a strange-enough woods get acquainted. You are a lonely child, aren't you?" Her voice was mother-soft. "We will play just a little—"

"I wish I had some games to teach. But you know so much."

"And I'm a perfect beauty, too, aren't I?" she said, gravely.

"Yes, you are!" stoutly.

"You would be loyal.... And I need some one's admiration.... Mostly, Paris and London hold their sides laughing at poor Istra."

He caught her hand. "Oh, don't! They must 'preciate you. I'd like to kill anybody that didn't!"

"Thanks." She gave his hand a return pressure and hastily withdrew her own. "You'll be good to some sweet pink face.... And I'll go on being discontented. Oh, isn 't life the fiercest proposition!... We seem different, you and I, but maybe it's mostly surface—down deep we're alike in being desperately unhappy because we never know what we're unhappy about. Well—"

He wanted to put his head down on her knees and rest there. But he sat still, and presently their cold hands snuggled together.

After a silence, in which they were talking of themselves, he burst out: "But I don't see how Paris could help 'preciating you. I'll bet you're one of the best artists they ever saw.... The way you made up a picture in your mind about that juggler!"

"Nope. Sorry. Can't paint at all."

"Ah, stuff!" with a rudeness quite masterful. "I'll bet your pictures are corkers."

"Um."

"Please, would you let me see some of them some time. I suppose it would bother—"

"Come up-stairs. I feel inspired. You are about to hear some great though nasty criticisms on the works of the unfortunate Miss Nash."

She led the way, laughing to herself over something. She gave him no time to blush and hesitate over the impropriety of entering a lady's room at midnight, but stalked ahead with a brief "Come in."

She opened a large portfolio covered with green-veined black paper and yanked out a dozen unframed pastels and wash-drawings which she scornfully tossed on the bed, saying, as she pointed to a mass of Marseilles roofs:

"Do you see this sketch? The only good thing about it is the thing that last art editor, that red-headed youth, probably didn't like. Don't you hate red hair? You see these ridiculous glaring purple shadows under the clocher?"

She stared down at the picture interestedly, forgetting him, pinching her chin thoughtfully, while she murmured: "They're rather nice. Rather good. Rather good."

Then, quickly twisting her shoulders about, she poured out:

"But look at this. Consider this arch. It's miserably out of drawing. And see how I've faked this figure? It isn't a real person at all. Don't you notice how I've juggled with this stairway? Why, my dear man, every bit of the drawing in this thing would disgrace a seventh-grade drawing-class in Dos Puentes. And regard the bunch of lombardies in this other picture. They look like umbrellas upside down in a silly wash-basin. Uff! It's terrible. Affreux! Don't act as though you liked them. You really needn't, you know. Can't you see now that they're hideously out of drawing?"

Mr. Wrenn's fancy was walking down a green lane of old France toward a white cottage with orange-trees gleaming against its walls. In her pictures he had found the land of all his forsaken dreams.

"I—I—I—" was all he could say, but admiration pulsed in it.

"Thank you.... Yes, we will play. Good night. To-morrow!"



CHAPTER IX

HE ENCOUNTERS THE INTELLECTUALS



He wanted to find a cable office, stalk in, and nonchalantly send to his bank for more money. He could see himself doing it. Maybe the cable clerk would think he was a rich American. What did he care if he spent all he had? A guy, he admonished himself, just had to have coin when he was goin' with a girl like Miss Istra. At least seven times he darted up from the door-step, where he was on watch for her, and briskly trotted as far as the corner. Each time his courage melted, and he slumped back to the door-step. Sending for money—gee, he groaned, that was pretty dangerous.

Besides, he didn't wish to go away. Istra might come down and play with him.

For three hours he writhed on that door-step, till he came to hate it; it was as much a prison as his room at the Zapps' had been. He hated the areaway grill, and a big brown spot on the pavement, and, as a truck-driver hates a motorman, so did he hate a pudgy woman across the street who peeped out from a second-story window and watched him with cynical interest. He finally could endure no longer the world's criticism, as expressed by the woman opposite. He started as though he were going to go right now to some place he had been intending to go to all the time, and stalked away, ignoring the woman.

He caught a bus, then another, then walked a while. Now that he was moving, he was agonizedly considering his problem: What was Istra to him, really? What could he be to her? He was just a clerk. She could never love him. "And of course," he explained to himself, "you hadn't oughta love a person without you expected to marry them; you oughtn't never even touch her hand." Yet he did want to touch hers. He suddenly threw his chin back, high and firm, in defiance. He didn't care if he was wicked, he declared. He wanted to shout to Istra across all the city: Let us be great lovers! Let us be mad! Let us stride over the hilltops. Though that was not at all the way he phrased it.

Then he bumped into a knot of people standing on the walk, and came down from the hilltops in one swoop.

A crowd was collecting before Rothsey Hall, which bore the sign:

GLORY—GLORY—GLORY

SPECIAL SALVATION ARMY JUBILEE MEETING

EXPERIENCES OF ADJUTANT CRABBENTHWAITE IN AFRICA

He gaped at the sign. A Salvationist in the crowd, trim and well set up, his red-ribboned Salvation Army cap at a jaunty angle, said, "Won't you come in, brother?"

Mr. Wrenn meekly followed into the hall. Bill Wrenn was nowhere in sight.

Now it chanced that Adjutant Crabbenthwaite told much of Houssas and the N'Gombi, of saraweks and week-long treks, but Mr. Wrenn's imagination was not for a second drawn to Africa, nor did he even glance at the sun-bonneted Salvationist women packed in the hall. He was going over and over the Adjutant's denunciations of the Englishmen and Englishwomen who flirt on the mail-boats.

Suppose it had been himself and his madness over Istra—at the moment he quite called it madness—that the Adjutant had denounced!

A Salvationist near by was staring at him most accusingly....

He walked away from the jubilee reflectively. He ate his dinner with a grave courtesy toward the food and the waiter. He was positively courtly to his fork. For he was just reformed. He was going to "steer clear" of mad artist women—of all but nice good girls whom you could marry. He remembered the Adjutant's thundered words:

"Flirting you call it—flirting! Look into your hearts. God Himself hath looked into them and found flirtation the gateway to hell. And I tell you that these army officers and the bedizened women, with their wine and cigarettes, with their devil's calling-cards and their jewels, with their hell-lighted talk of the sacrilegious follies of socialism and art and horse-racing, O my brothers, it was all but a cloak for looking upon one another to lust after one another. Rotten is this empire, and shall fall when our soldiers seek flirtation instead of kneeling in prayer like the iron men of Cromwell."

Istra.... Card-playing.... Talk of socialism and art. Mr. Wrenn felt very guilty. Istra.... Smoking and drinking wine.... But his moral reflections brought the picture of Istra the more clearly before him—the persuasive warmth of her perfect fingers; the curve of her backward-bent throat as she talked in her melodious voice of all the beautiful things made by the wise hands of great men.

He dashed out of the restaurant. No matter what happened, good or bad, he had to see her. While he was climbing to the upper deck of a bus he was trying to invent an excuse for seeing her.... Of course one couldn't "go and call on ladies in their rooms without havin' some special excuse; they would think that was awful fresh."

He left the bus midway, at the sign of a periodical shop, and purchased a Blackwood's and a Nineteenth Century. Morton had told him these were the chief English "highbrow magazines."

He carried them to his room, rubbed his thumb in the lampblack on the gas-fixture, and smeared the magazine covers, then cut the leaves and ruffled the margins to make the magazines look dog-eared with much reading; not because he wanted to appear to have read them, but because he felt that Istra would not permit him to buy things just for her.

All this business with details so calmed him that he wondered if he really cared to see her at all. Besides, it was so late—after half-past eight.

"Rats! Hang it all! I wish I was dead. I don't know what I do want to do," he groaned, and cast himself upon his bed. He was sure of nothing but the fact that he was unhappy. He considered suicide in a dignified manner, but not for long enough to get much frightened about it.

He did not know that he was the toy of forces which, working on him through the strangeness of passionate womanhood, could have made him a great cad or a petty hero as easily as they did make him confusedly sorry for himself. That he wasn't very much of a cad or anything of a hero is a detail, an accident resulting from his thirty-five or thirty-six years of stodgy environment. Cad or hero, filling scandal columns or histories, he would have been the same William Wrenn.

He was thinking of Istra as he lay on his bed. In a few minutes he dashed to his bureau and brushed his thinning hair so nervously that he had to try three times for a straight parting. While brushing his eyebrows and mustache he solemnly contemplated himself in the mirror.

"I look like a damn rabbit," he scorned, and marched half-way to Istra's room. He went back to change his tie to a navy-blue bow which made him appear younger. He was feeling rather resentful at everything, including Istra, as he finally knocked and heard her "Yes? Come in."

There was in her room a wonderful being lolling in a wing-chair, one leg over the chair-arm; a young young man, with broken brown teeth, always seen in his perpetual grin, but a godlike Grecian nose, a high forehead, and bristly yellow hair. The being wore large round tortoise-shell spectacles, a soft shirt with a gold-plated collar-pin, and delicately gray garments.

Istra was curled on the bed in a leaf-green silk kimono with a great gold-mounted medallion pinned at her breast. Mr. Wrenn tried not to be shocked at the kimono.

She had been frowning as he came in and fingering a long thin green book of verses, but she glowed at Mr. Wrenn as though he were her most familiar friend, murmuring, "Mouse dear, I'm so glad you could come in."

Mr. Wrenn stood there awkwardly. He hadn't expected to find another visitor. He seemed to have heard her call him "Mouse." Yes, but what did Mouse mean? It wasn't his name at all. This was all very confusing. But how awful glad she was to see him!

"Mouse dear, this is one of our best little indecent poets, Mr. Carson Haggerty. From America—California—too. Mr. Hag'ty, Mr. Wrenn."

"Pleased meet you," said both men in the same tone of annoyance.

Mr. Wrenn implored: "I—uh—I thought you might like to look at these magazines. Just dropped in to give them to you." He was ready to go.

"Thank you—so good of you. Please sit down. Carson and I were only fighting—he's going pretty soon. We knew each other at art school in Berkeley. Now he knows all the toffs in London."

"Mr. Wrenn," said the best little poet, "I hope you'll back up my contention. Izzy says th—"

"Carson, I have told you just about enough times that I do not intend to stand for 'Izzy' any more! I should think that even you would be able to outgrow the standard of wit that obtains in first-year art class at Berkeley."

Mr. Haggerty showed quite all of his ragged teeth in a noisy joyous grin and went on, unperturbed: "Miss Nash says that the best European thought, personally gathered in the best salons, shows that the Rodin vogue is getting the pickle-eye from all the real yearners. What is your opinion?"

Mr. Wrenn turned to Istra for protection. She promptly announced: "Mr. Wrenn absolutely agrees with me. By the way, he's doing a big book on the recrudescence of Kipling, after his slump, and—"

"Oh, come off, now! Kipling! Blatant imperialist, anti-Stirner!" cried Carson Haggerty, kicking out each word with the assistance of his swinging left foot.

Much relieved that the storm-center had passed over him, Mr. Wrenn sat on the front edge of a cane-seated chair, with the magazines between his hands, and his hands pressed between his forward-cocked knees. Always, in the hundreds of times he went over the scene in that room afterward, he remembered how cool and smooth the magazine covers felt to the palms of his flattened hands. For he associated the papery surfaces with the apprehension he then had that Istra might give him up to the jag-toothed grin of Carson Haggerty, who would laugh him out of the room and out of Istra's world.

He hated the poetic youth, and would gladly have broken all of Carson's teeth short off. Yet the dread of having to try the feat himself made him admire the manner in which Carson tossed about long creepy-sounding words, like a bush-ape playing with scarlet spiders. He talked insultingly of Yeats and the commutation of sex-energy and Isadora Duncan and the poetry of Carson Haggerty.

Istra yawned openly on the bed, kicking a pillow, but she was surprised into energetic discussion now and then, till Haggerty intentionally called her Izzy again, when she sat up and remarked to Mr. Wrenn: "Oh, don't go yet. You can tell me about the article when Carson goes. Dear Carson said he was only going to stay till ten."

Mr. Wrenn hadn't had any intention of going, so he merely smiled and bobbed his head to the room in general, and stammered "Y-yes," while he tried to remember what he had told her about some article. Article. Perhaps it was a Souvenir Company novelty article. Great idea! Perhaps she wanted to design a motto for them. He decidedly hoped that he could fix it up for her—he'd sure do his best. He'd be glad to write over to Mr. Guilfogle about it. Anyway, she seemed willing to have him stick here.

Yet when dear Carson had jauntily departed, leaving the room still loud with the smack of his grin, Istra seemed to have forgotten that Mr. Wrenn was alive. She was scowling at a book on the bed as though it had said things to her. So he sat quiet and crushed the magazine covers more closely till the silence choked him, and he dared, "Mr. Carson is an awful well-educated man."

"He's a bounder," she snapped. She softened her voice as she continued: "He was in the art school in California when I was there, and he presumes on that.... It was good of you to stay and help me get rid of him.... I'm getting—I'm sorry I'm so dull to-night. I suppose I'll get sent off to bed right now, if I can't be more entertaining. It was sweet of you to come in, Mouse.... You don't mind my calling you 'Mouse,' do you? I won't, if you do mind."

He awkwardly walked over and laid the magazines on the bed. "Why, it's all right.... What was it about some novelty—some article? If there's anything I could do—anything—"

"Article?"

"Why, yes. That you wanted to see me about."

"Oh! Oh, that was just to get rid of Carson.... His insufferable familiarity! The penalty for my having been a naive kiddy, hungry for friendship, once. And now, good n—. Oh, Mouse, he says my eyes—even with this green kimono on— Come here, dear. tell me what color my eyes are."

She moved with a quick swing to the side of her bed. Thrusting out her two arms, she laid ivory hands clutchingly on his shoulder. He stood quaking, forgetting every one of the Wrennish rules by which he had edged a shy polite way through life. He fearfully reached out his hands toward her shoulders in turn, but his arms were shorter than hers, and his hands rested on the sensitive warmth of her upper arms. He peered at those dear gray-blue eyes of hers, but he could not calm himself enough to tell whether they were china-blue or basalt-black.

"Tell me," she demanded; "aren't they green?"

"Yes," he quavered.

"You're sweet," she said.

Leaning out from the side of her bed, she kissed him. She sprang up, and hastened to the window, laughing nervously, and deploring: "I shouldn't have done that! I shouldn't! Forgive me!" Plaintively, like a child: "Istra was so bad, so bad. Now you must go." As she turned back to him her eyes had the peace of an old friend's.

Because he had wished to be kind to people, because he had been pitiful toward Goaty Zapp, Mr. Wrenn was able to understand that she was trying to be a kindly big sister to him, and he said "Good night, Istra," and smiled in a lively way and walked out. He got out the smile by wrenching his nerves, for which he paid in agony as he knelt by his bed, acknowledging that Istra would never love him and that therefore he was not to love, would be a fool to love, never would love her—and seeing again her white arms softly shadowed by her green kimono sleeves.

No sight of Istra, no scent of her hair, no sound of her always-changing voice for two days. Twice, seeing a sliver of light under her door as he came up the darkened stairs, he knocked, but there was no answer, and he marched into his room with the dignity of fury.

Numbers of times he quite gave her up, decided he wanted never to see her again. But after one of the savagest of these renunciations, while he was stamping defiantly down Tottenham Court Road, he saw in a window a walking-stick that he was sure she would like his carrying. And it cost only two-and-six. Hastily, before he changed his mind, he rushed in and slammed down his money. It was a very beautiful stick indeed, and of a modesty to commend itself to Istra, just a plain straight stick with a cap of metal curiously like silver. He was conscious that the whole world was leering at him, demanding "What're you carrying a cane for?" but he—the misunderstood—was willing to wait for the reward of this martyrdom in Istra's approval.

The third night, as he stood at the window watching two children playing in the dusk, there was a knock. It was Istra. She stood at his door, smart and inconspicuous in a black suit with a small toque that hid the flare of her red hair.

"Come," she said, abruptly. "I want you to take me to Olympia's—Olympia Johns' flat. I've been reading all the Balzac there is. I want to talk. Can you come?"

"Oh, of course—"

"Hurry, then!"

He seized his small foolishly round hat, and he tucked his new walking-stick under his arm without displaying it too proudly, waiting for her comment.

She led the way down-stairs and across the quiet streets and squares of Bloomsbury to Great James Street. She did not even see the stick.

She said scarce a word beyond:

"I'm sick of Olympia's bunch—I never want to dine in Soho with an inhibition and a varietistic sex instinct again—jamais de la vie. But one has to play with somebody."

Then he was so cheered that he tapped the pavements boldly with his stick and delicately touched her arm as they crossed the street. For she added:

"We'll just run in and see them for a little while, and then you can take me out and buy me a Rhine wine and seltzer.... Poor Mouse, it shall have its play!"

Olympia Johns' residence consisted of four small rooms. When Istra opened the door, after tapping, the living-room was occupied by seven people, all interrupting one another and drinking fourpenny ale; seven people and a fog of cigarette smoke and a tangle of papers and books and hats. A swamp of unwashed dishes appeared on a large table in the room just beyond, divided off from the living-room by a burlap curtain to which were pinned suffrage buttons and medallions. This last he remembered afterward, thinking over the room, for the medals' glittering points of light relieved his eyes from the intolerable glances of the people as he was hastily introduced to them. He was afraid that he would be dragged into a discussion, and sat looking away from them to the medals, and to the walls, on which were posters, showing mighty fists with hammers and flaming torches, or hog-like men lolling on the chests of workmen, which they seemed to enjoy more than the workmen. By and by he ventured to scan the group.

Carson Haggerty, the American poet, was there. But the center of them all was Olympia Johns herself—spinster, thirty-four, as small and active and excitedly energetic as an ant trying to get around a match. She had much of the ant's brownness and slimness, too. Her pale hair was always falling from under her fillet of worn black velvet (with the dingy under side of the velvet showing curled up at the edges). A lock would tangle in front of her eyes, and she would impatiently shove it back with a jab of her thin rough hands, never stopping in her machine-gun volley of words.

"Yes, yes, yes, yes," she would pour out. "Don't you see? We must do something. I tell you the conditions are intolerable, simply intolerable. We must do something."

The conditions were, it seemed, intolerable in the several branches of education of female infants, water rates in Bloomsbury, the cutlery industry, and ballad-singing.

And mostly she was right. Only her rightness was so demanding, so restless, that it left Mr. Wrenn gasping.

Olympia depended on Carson Haggerty for most of the "Yes, that's so's," though he seemed to be trying to steal glances at another woman, a young woman, a lazy smiling pretty girl of twenty, who, Istra told Mr. Wrenn, studied Greek archaeology at the Museum. No one knew why she studied it. She seemed peacefully ignorant of everything but her kissable lips, and she adorably poked at things with lazy graceful fingers, and talked the Little Language to Carson Haggerty, at which Olympia shrugged her shoulders and turned to the others.

There were a Mr. and Mrs. Stettinius—she a poet; he a bleached man, with goatish whiskers and a sanctimonious white neck-cloth, who was Puritanically, ethically, gloomily, religiously atheistic. Items in the room were a young man who taught in Mr. Jeney's Select School and an Established Church mission worker from Whitechapel, who loved to be shocked.

It was Mr. Wrenn who was really shocked, however, not by the noise and odor; not by the smoking of the women; not by the demand that "we" tear down the state; no, not by these was Our Mr. Wrenn of the Souvenir Company shocked, but by his own fascinated interest in the frank talk of sex. He had always had a quite undefined supposition that it was wicked to talk of sex unless one made a joke of it.

Then came the superradicals, to confuse the radicals who confused Mr. Wrenn.

For always there is a greater rebellion; and though you sell your prayer-book to buy Bakunine, and esteem yourself revolutionary to a point of madness, you shall find one who calls you reactionary. The scorners came in together—Moe Tchatzsky, the syndicalist and direct actionist, and Jane Schott, the writer of impressionistic prose—and they sat silently sneering on a couch.

Istra rose, nodded at Mr. Wrenn, and departed, despite Olympia's hospitable shrieks after them of "Oh stay! It's only a little after ten. Do stay and have something to eat."

Istra shut the door resolutely. The hall was dark. It was gratefully quiet. She snatched up Mr. Wrenn's hand and held it to her breast.

"Oh, Mouse dear, I'm so bored! I want some real things. They talk and talk in there, and every night they settle all the fate of all the nations, always the same way. I don't suppose there's ever been a bunch that knew more things incorrectly. You hated them, didn't you?"

"Why, I don't think you ought to talk about them so severe," he implored, as they started down-stairs. "I don't mean they're like you. They don't savvy like you do. I mean it! But I was awful int'rested in what that Miss Johns said about kids in school getting crushed into a mold. Gee! that's so; ain't it? Never thought of it before. And that Mrs. Stettinius talked about Yeats so beautiful."

"Oh, my dear, you make my task so much harder. I want you to be different. Can't you see your cattle-boat experience is realer than any of the things those half-baked thinkers have done? I know. I'm half-baked myself."

"Oh, I've never done nothing."

"But you're ready to. Oh, I don't know. I want—I wish Jock Seton—the filibuster I met in San Francisco—I wish he were here. Mouse, maybe I can make a filibuster of you. I've got to create something. Oh, those people! If you just knew them! That fool Mary Stettinius is mad about that Tchatzsky person, and her husband invites him to teas. Stettinius is mad about Olympia, who'll probably take Carson out and marry him, and he'll keep on hanging about the Greek girl. Ungh!"

"I don't know—I don't know—"

But as he didn't know what he didn't know she merely patted his arm and said, soothingly: "I won't criticize your first specimens of radicals any more. They are trying to do something, anyway." Then she added, in an irrelevant tone, "You're exactly as tall as I am. Mouse dear, you ought to be taller."

They were entering the drab stretch of Tavistock Place, after a silence as drab, when she exclaimed: "Mouse, I am so sick of everything. I want to get out, away, anywhere, and do something, anything, just so's it's different. Even the country. I'd like—Why couldn't we?"

"Let's go out on a picnic to-morrow, Istra."

"A picnic picnic? With pickles and a pillow cushion and several kinds of cake?... I'm afraid the Bois Boulogne has spoiled me for that.... Let me think."

She drooped down on the steps of their house. Her head back, her supple strong throat arched with the passion of hating boredom, she devoured the starlight dim over the stale old roofs across the way.

"Stars," she said. "Out on the moors they would come down by you.... What is your adventure—your formula for it?... Let's see; you take common roadside things seriously; you'd be dear and excited over a Red Lion Inn."

"Are there more than one Red Li—"

"My dear Mouse, England is a menagerie of Red Lions and White Lions and fuzzy Green Unicorns.... Why not, why not, why not! Let's walk to Aengusmere. It's a fool colony of artists and so on, up in Suffolk; but they have got some beautiful cottages, and they're more Celt than Dublin.... Start right now; take a train to Chelmsford, say, and tramp all night. Take a couple of days or so to get there. Think of it! Tramping through dawn, past English fields. Think of it, Yankee. And not caring what anybody in the world thinks. Gipsies. Shall we?"

"Wh-h-h-h-y—" He was sure she was mad. Tramping all night! He couldn't let her do this.

She sprang up. She stared down at him in revulsion, her hands clenched. Her voice was hostile as she demanded:

"What? Don't you want to? With me?"

He was up beside her, angry, dignified; a man.

"Look here. You know I want to. You're the elegantest—I mean you're—Oh, you ought to know! Can't you see how I feel about you? Why, I'd rather do this than anything I ever heard of in my life. I just don't want to do anything that would get people to talking about you."

"Who would know? Besides, my dear man, I don't regard it as exactly wicked to walk decently along a country road."

"Oh, it isn't that. Oh, please, Istra, don't look at me like that—like you hated me."

She calmed at once, drummed on his arm, sat down on the railing, and drew him to a seat beside her.

"Of course, Mouse. It's silly to be angry. Yes, I do believe you want to take care of me. But don't worry.... Come! Shall we go?"

"But wouldn't you rather wait till to-morrow?"

"No. The whole thing's so mad that if I wait till then I'll never want to do it. And you've got to come, so that I'll have some one to quarrel with.... I hate the smugness of London, especially the smugness of the anti-smug anti-bourgeois radicals, so that I have the finest mad mood! Come. We'll go."

Even this logical exposition had not convinced him, but he did not gainsay as they entered the hall and Istra rang for the landlady. His knees grew sick and old and quavery as he heard the landlady's voice loud below-stairs: "Now wot do they want? It's eleven o'clock. Aren't they ever done a-ringing and a-ringing?"

The landlady, the tired thin parchment-faced North Countrywoman, whose god was Respectability of Lodgings, listened in a frightened way to Istra's blandly superior statement: "Mr. Wrenn and I have been invited to join an excursion out of town that leaves to-night. We'll pay our rent and leave our things here."

"Going off together—"

"My good woman, we are going to Aengusmere. Here's two pound. Don't allow any one in my room. And I may send for my things from out of town. Be ready to pack them in my trunks and send them to me. Do you understand?"

"Yes, miss, but—"

"My good woman, do you realize that your 'buts' are insulting?"

"Oh, I didn't go to be insulting—"

"Then that's all.... Hurry now, Mouse!"

On the stairs, ascending, she whispered, with the excitement not of a tired woman, but of a tennis-and-dancing-mad girl: "We're off! Just take a tooth-brush. Put on an outing suit—any old thing—and an old cap."

She darted into her room.

Now Mr. Wrenn had, for any old thing, as well as for afternoon and evening dress, only the sturdy undistinguished clothes he was wearing, so he put on a cap, and hoped she wouldn't notice. She didn't. She came knocking in fifteen minutes, trim in a khaki suit, with low thick boots and a jolly tousled blue tam-o'-shanter.

"Come on. There's a train for Chelmsford in half an hour, my time-table confided to me. I feel like singing."



CHAPTER X

HE GOES A-GIPSYING



They rode out of London in a third-class compartment, opposite a curate and two stodgy people who were just people and defied you (Istra cheerfully explained to Mr. Wrenn) to make anything of them but just people.

"Wouldn't they stare if they knew what idiocy we're up to!" she suggested.

Mr. Wrenn bobbed his head in entire agreement. He was trying, without any slightest success, to make himself believe that Mr. William Wrenn, Our Mr. Wrenn, late of the Souvenir Company, was starting out for a country tramp at midnight with an artist girl.

The night foreman of the station, a person of bedizenment and pride, stared at them as they alighted at Chelmsford and glanced around like strangers. Mr. Wrenn stared back defiantly and marched with Istra from the station, through the sleeping town, past its ragged edges, into the country.

They tramped on, a bit wearily. Mr. Wrenn was beginning to wonder if they'd better go back to Chelmsford. Mist was dripping and blind and silent about them, weaving its heavy gray with the night. Suddenly Istra caught his arm at the gate to a farm-yard, and cried, "Look!"

"Gee!... Gee! we're in England. We're abroad!"

"Yes—abroad."

A paved courtyard with farm outbuildings thatched and ancient was lit faintly by a lantern hung from a post that was thumbed to a soft smoothness by centuries.

"That couldn't be America," he exulted. "Gee! I'm just gettin' it! I'm so darn glad we came.... Here's real England. No tourists. It's what I've always wanted—a country that's old. And different.... Thatched houses!... And pretty soon it'll be dawn, summer dawn; with you, with Istra! Gee! It's the darndest adventure."

"Yes.... Come on. Let's walk fast or we'll get sleepy, and then your romantic heroine will be a grouchy Interesting People!... Listen! There's a sleepy dog barking, a million miles away.... I feel like telling you about myself. You don't know me. Or do you?"

"I dunno just how you mean."

"Oh, it shall have its romance! But some time I'll tell you—perhaps I will—how I'm not really a clever person at all, but just a savage from outer darkness, who pretends to understand London and Paris and Munich, and gets frightfully scared of them.... Wait! Listen! Hear the mist drip from that tree. Are you nice and drowned?"

"Uh—kind of. But I been worrying about you being soaked."

"Let me see. Why, your sleeve is wet clear through. This khaki of mine keeps out the water better.... But I don't mind getting wet. All I mind is being bored. I'd like to run up this hill without a thing on—just feeling the good healthy real mist on my skin. But I'm afraid it isn't done."

Mile after mile. Mostly she talked of the boulevards and Pere Dureon, of Debussy and artichokes, in little laughing sentences that sprang like fire out of the dimness of the mist.

Dawn came. From a hilltop they made out the roofs of a town and stopped to wonder at its silence, as though through long ages past no happy footstep had echoed there. The fog lifted. The morning was new-born and clean, and they fairly sang as they clattered up to an old coaching inn and demanded breakfast of an amazed rustic pottering about the inn yard in a smock. He did not know that to a "thrilling" Mr. Wrenn he—or perhaps it was his smock—was the hero in an English melodrama. Nor, doubtless, did the English crisp bacon and eggs which a sleepy housemaid prepared know that they were theater properties. Why, they were English eggs, served at dawn in an English inn—a stone-floored raftered room with a starling hanging in a little cage of withes outside the latticed window. And there were no trippers to bother them! (Mr. Wrenn really used the word "trippers" in his cogitations; he had it from Istra.)

When he informed her of this occult fact she laughed, "You know mighty well, Mouse, that you have a sneaking wish there were one Yankee stranger here to see our glory."

"I guess that's right."

"But maybe I'm just as bad."

For once their tones had not been those of teacher and pupil, but of comrades. They set out from the inn through the brightening morning like lively boys on a vacation tramp.

The sun crept out, with the warmth and the dust, and Istra's steps lagged. As they passed the outlying corner of a farm where a straw-stack was secluded in a clump of willows Istra smiled and sighed: "I'm pretty tired, dear. I'm going to sleep in that straw-stack. I've always wanted to sleep in a straw-stack. It's comme il faut for vagabonds in the best set, you know. And one can burrow. Exciting, eh?"

She made a pillow of her khaki jacket, while he dug down to a dry place for her. He found another den on the other side of the stack.

It was afternoon when he awoke. He sprang up and rushed around the stack. Istra was still asleep, curled in a pathetically small childish heap, her tired face in repose against the brown-yellow of her khaki jacket. Her red hair had come down and shone about her shoulders.

She looked so frail that he was frightened. Surely, too, she'd be very angry with him for letting her come on this jaunt.

He scribbled on a leaf from his address-book—religiously carried for six years, but containing only four addresses—this note:

Gone to get stuff for bxfst be right back.—W. W.

and, softly crawling up the straw, left the note by her head. He hastened to a farm-house. The farm-wife was inclined to be curious. O curious farm-wife, you of the cream-thick Essex speech and the shuffling feet, you were brave indeed to face Bill Wrenn the Great, with his curt self-possession, for he was on a mission for Istra, and he cared not for the goggling eyes of all England. What though he was a bunny-faced man with an innocuous mustache? Istra would be awakening hungry. That was why he bullied you into selling him a stew-pan and a bundle of faggots along with the tea and eggs and a bread loaf and a jar of the marmalade your husband's farm had been making these two hundred years. And you should have had coffee for him, not tea, woman of Essex.

When he returned to their outdoor inn the late afternoon glow lay along the rich fields that sloped down from their well-concealed nook. Istra was still asleep, but her cheek now lay wistfully on the crook of her thin arm. He looked at the auburn-framed paleness of her face, its lines of thought and ambition, unmasked, unprotected by the swift changes of expression which defended her while she was awake. He sobbed. If he could only make her happy! But he was afraid of her moods.

He built a fire by a brooklet beyond the willows, boiled the eggs and toasted the bread and made the tea, with cream ready in a jar. He remembered boyhood camping days in Parthenon and old camp lore. He returned to the stack and called, "Istra—oh, Is-tra!"

She shook her head, nestled closer into the straw, then sat up, her hair about her shoulders. She smiled and called down: "Good morning. Why, it's afternoon! Did you sleep well, dear?"

"Yes. Did you? Gee, I hope you did!"

"Never better in my life. I'm so sleepy yet. But comfy. I needed a quiet sleep outdoors, and it's so peaceful here. Breakfast! I roar for breakfast! Where's the nearest house?"

"Got breakfast all ready."

"You're a dear!"

She went to wash in the brook, and came back with eyes dancing and hair trim, and they laughed over breakfast, glancing down the slope of golden hazy fields. Only once did Istra pass out of the land of their intimacy into some hinterland of analysis—when she looked at him as he drank his tea aloud out of the stew-pan, and wondered: "Is this really you here with me? But you aren't a boulevardier. I must say I don't understand what you're doing here at all.... Nor a caveman, either. I don't understand it.... But you sha'n't be worried by bad Istra. Let's see; we went to grammar-school together."

"Yes, and we were in college. Don't you remember when I was baseball captain? You don't? Gee, you got a bad memory!"

At which she smiled properly, and they were away for Suffolk again.

"I suppose now it'll go and rain," said Istra, viciously, at dusk. It was the first time she had spoken for a mile. Then, after another quarter-mile: "Please don't mind my being silent. I'm sort of stiff, and my feet hurt most unromantically. You won't mind, will you?"

Of course he did mind, and of course he said he didn't. He artfully skirted the field of conversation by very West Sixteenth Street observations on a town through which they passed, while she merely smiled wearily, and at best remarked "Yes, that's so," whether it was so or not.

He was reflecting: "Istra's terrible tired. I ought to take care of her." He stopped at the wood-pillared entrance of a temperance inn and commanded: "Come! We'll have something to eat here." To the astonishment of both of them, she meekly obeyed with "If you wish."

It cannot be truthfully said that Mr. Wrenn proved himself a person of savoir faire in choosing a temperance hotel for their dinner. Istra didn't seem so much to mind the fact that the table-cloth was coarse and the water-glasses thick, and that everywhere the elbow ran into a superfluity of greasy pepper and salt castors. But when she raised her head wearily to peer around the room she started, glared at Mr. Wrenn, and accused: "Are you by any chance aware of the fact that this place is crowded with tourists? There are two family parties from Davenport or Omaha; I know they are!"

"Oh, they ain't such bad-looking people," protested Mr. Wrenn.... Just because he had induced her to stop for dinner the poor man thought his masculine superiority had been recognized.

"Oh, they're terrible! Can't you see it? Oh, you're hopeless."

"Why, that big guy—that big man with the rimless spectacles looks like he might be a good civil engineer, and I think that lady opposite him—"

"They're Americans."

"So're we!"

"I'm not."

"I thought—why—"

"Of course I was born there, but—"

"Well, just the same, I think they're nice people."

"Now see here. Must I argue with you? Can I have no peace, tired as I am? Those trippers are speaking of 'quaint English flavor.' Can you want anything more than that to damn them? And they've been touring by motor—seeing every inn on the road."

"Maybe it's fun for—"

"Now don't argue with me. I know what I'm talking about. Why do I have to explain everything? They're hopeless!"

Mr. Wrenn felt a good wholesome desire to spank her, but he said, most politely: "You're awful tired. Don't you want to stay here tonight? Or maybe some other hotel; and I'll stay here."

"No. Don't want to stay any place. Want to get away from myself," she said, exactly like a naughty child.

So they tramped on again.

Darkness was near. They had plunged into a country which in the night seemed to be a stretch of desolate moorlands. As they were silently plodding up a hill the rain came. It came with a roar, a pitiless drenching against which they fought uselessly, soaking them, slapping their faces, blinding their eyes. He caught her arm and dragged her ahead. She would be furious with him because it rained, of course, but this was no time to think of that; he had to get her to a dry place.

Istra laughed: "Oh, isn't this great! We're real vagabonds now."

"Why! Doesn't that khaki soak through? Aren't you wet?"

"To the skin!" she shouted, gleefully. "And I don't care! We're doing something. Poor dear, is it worried? I'll race you to the top of the hill."

The dark bulk of a building struck their sight at the top, and they ran to it. Just now Mr. Wrenn was ready to devour alive any irate householder who might try to turn them out. He found the building to be a ruined stable—the door off the hinges, the desolate thatch falling in. He struck a match and, holding it up, standing straight, the master, all unconscious for once in his deprecating life of the Wrennishness of Mr. Wrenn, he discovered that the thatch above the horse-manger was fairly waterproof.

"Come on! Up on the edge of the manger, Istra," he ordered.

"This is a perfectly good place for a murder," she grinned, as they sat swinging their legs.

He could fancy her grinning. He was sure about it, and well content.

"Have I been so very grouchy, Mouse? Don't you want to murder me? I'll try to find you a long pin."

"Nope; I don't think so, much. I guess we can get along without it this time."

"Oh dear, dear! This is very dreadful. You're so used to me now that you aren't even scared of me any more."

"Gee! I guess I'll be scared of you all right as soon as I get you into a dry place, but I ain't got time now. Sitting on a manger! Ain't this the funniest place!... Now I must beat it out and find a house. There ought to be one somewheres near here."

"And leave me here in the darknesses and wetnesses? Not a chance. The rain'll soon be over, anyway. Really, I don't mind a bit. I think it's rather fun."

Her voice was natural again, natural and companionable and brave. She laughed as she stroked her wet shoulder and held his hand, sitting quietly and bidding him listen to the soft forlorn sound of the rain on the thatch.

But the rain was not soon over, and their dangling position was very much like riding a rail.

"I'm so uncomfortable!" fretted Istra.

"See here, Istra, please, I think I'd better go see if I can't find a house for you to get dry in."

"I feel too wretched to go any place. Too wretched to move."

"Well, then, I'll make a fire here. There ain't much danger."

"The place will catch fire," she began, querulously.

But he interrupted her. "Oh, let the darn place catch fire! I'm going to make a fire, I tell you!"

"I don't want to move. It'll just be another kind of discomfort, that's all. Why couldn't you try and take a little bit of care of me, anyway?"

"Oh, hon-ey!" he wailed, in youthful bewilderment. "I did try to get you to stay at that hotel in town and get some rest."

"Well, you ought to have made me. Don't you realize that I took you along to take care of me?"

"Uh—"

"Now don't argue about it. I can't stand argument all the time."

He thought instantly of Lee Theresa Zapp quarreling with her mother, but he said nothing. He gathered the driest bits of thatch and wood he could find in the litter on the stable floor and kindled a fire, while she sat sullenly glaring at him, her face wrinkled and tired in the wan firelight. When the blaze was going steadily, a compact and safe little fire, he spread his coat as a seat for her, and called, cheerily, "Come on now, honey; here's a regular home and hearthstone for you."

She slipped down from the manger edge and stood in front of him, looking into his eyes—which were level with her own.

"You are good to me," she half whispered, and smoothed his cheek, then slipped down on the outspread coat, and murmured, "Come; sit here by me, and we'll both get warm."

All night the rain dribbled, but no one came to drive them away from the fire, and they dozed side by side, their hands close and their garments steaming. Istra fell asleep, and her head drooped on his shoulder. He straightened to bear its weight, though his back twinged with stiffness, and there he sat unmoving, through an hour of pain and happiness and confused meditation, studying the curious background—the dark roof of broken thatch, the age-corroded walls, the littered earthen floor. His hand pressed lightly the clammy smoothness of the wet khaki of her shoulder; his wet sleeve stuck to his arm, and he wanted to pull it free. His eyes stung. But he sat tight, while his mind ran round in circles, considering that he loved Istra, and that he would not be entirely sorry when he was no longer the slave to her moods; that this adventure was the strangest and most romantic, also the most idiotic and useless, in history.

Toward dawn she stirred, and, slipping stiffly from his position, he moved her so that her back, which was still wet, faced the fire. He built up the fire again, and sat brooding beside her, dozing and starting awake, till morning. Then his head bobbed, and he was dimly awake again, to find her sitting up straight, looking at him in amazement.

"It simply can't be, that's all.... Did you curl me up? I'm nice and dry all over now. It was very good of you. You've been a most commendable person.... But I think we'll take a train for the rest of our pilgrimage. It hasn't been entirely successful, I'm afraid."

"Perhaps we'd better."

For a moment he hated her, with her smooth politeness, after a night when she had been unbearable and human by turns. He hated her bedraggled hair and tired face. Then he could have wept, so deeply did he desire to pull her head down on his shoulder and smooth the wrinkles of weariness out of her dear face, the dearer because they had endured the weariness together. But he said, "Well, let's try to get some breakfast first, Istra."

With their garments wrinkled from rain, half asleep and rather cross, they arrived at the esthetic but respectable colony of Aengusmere by the noon train.



CHAPTER XI

HE BUYS AN ORANGE TIE



The Aengusmere Caravanserai is so unyieldingly cheerful and artistic that it makes the ordinary person long for a dingy old-fashioned room in which he can play solitaire and chew gum without being rebuked with exasperating patience by the wall stencils and clever etchings and polished brasses. It is adjectiferous. The common room (which is uncommon for hotel parlor) is all in superlatives and chintzes.

Istra had gone up to her room to sleep, bidding Mr. Wrenn do likewise and avoid the wrong bunch at the Caravanserai; for besides the wrong bunch of Interesting People there were, she explained, a right bunch, of working artists. But he wanted to get some new clothes, to replace his rain-wrinkled ready-mades. He was tottering through the common room, wondering whether he could find a clothing-shop in Aengusmere, when a shrill gurgle from a wing-chair by the rough-brick fireplace halted him.

"Oh-h-h-h, Mister Wrenn; Mr. Wrenn!" There sat Mrs. Stettinius, the poet-lady of Olympia's rooms on Great James Street.

"Oh-h-h-h, Mr. Wrenn, you bad man, do come sit down and tell me all about your wonderful trek with Istra Nash. I just met dear Istra in the upper hall. Poor dear, she was so crumpled, but her hair was like a sunset over mountain peaks—you know, as Yeats says:

"A stormy sunset were her lips, A stormy sunset on doomed ships,

only of course this was her hair and not her lips—and she told me that you had tramped all the way from London. I've never heard of anything so romantic—or no, I won't say 'romantic'—I do agree with dear Olympia—isn't she a magnificent woman—so fearless and progressive—didn't you adore meeting her?—she is our modern Joan of Arc—such a noble figure—I do agree with her that romantic love is passe, that we have entered the era of glorious companionship that regards varietism as exactly as romantic as monogamy. But—but—where was I?—I think your gipsying down from London was most exciting. Now do tell us all about it, Mr. Wrenn. First, I want you to meet Miss Saxonby and Mr. Gutch and dear Yilyena Dourschetsky and Mr. Howard Bancock Binch—of course you know his poetry."

And then she drew a breath and flopped back into the wing-chair's muffling depths.

During all this Mr. Wrenn had stood, frightened and unprotected and rain-wrinkled, before the gathering by the fireless fireplace, wondering how Mrs. Stettinius could get her nose so blue and yet so powdery. Despite her encouragement he gave no fuller account of the "gipsying" than, "Why—uh—we just tramped down," till Russian-Jewish Yilyena rolled her ebony eyes at him and insisted, "Yez, you mus' tale us about it."

Now, Yilyena had a pretty neck, colored like a cigar of mild flavor, and a trick of smiling. She was accustomed to having men obey her. Mr. Wrenn stammered:

"Why—uh—we just walked, and we got caught in the rain. Say, Miss Nash was a wonder. She never peeped when she got soaked through—she just laughed and beat it like everything. And we saw a lot of quaint English places along the road—got away from all them tourists—trippers—you know."

A perfectly strange person, a heavy old man with horn spectacles and a soft shirt, who had joined the group unbidden, cleared his throat and interrupted:

"Is it not a strange paradox that in traveling, the most observant of all pursuits, one should have to encounter the eternal bourgeoisie!"

From the Cockney Greek chorus about the unlighted fire:

"Yes!"

"Everywhere."

"Uh—" began Mr. Gutch. He apparently had something to say. But the chorus went on:

"And just as swelteringly monogamic in Port Said as in Brum."

"Yes, that's so."

"Mr. Wr-r-renn," thrilled Mrs. Stettinius, the lady poet, "didn't you notice that they were perfectly oblivious of all economic movements; that their observations never post-dated ruins?"

"I guess they wanted to make sure they were admirin' the right things," ventured Mr. Wrenn, with secret terror.

"Yes, that's so," came so approvingly from the Greek chorus that the personal pupil of Mittyford, Ph.D., made his first epigram:

"It isn't so much what you like as what you don't like that shows if you're wise."

"Yes," they gurgled; and Mr. Wrenn, much pleased with himself, smiled au prince upon his new friends.

Mrs. Stettinius was getting into her stride for a few remarks upon the poetry of industrialism when Mr. Gutch, who had been "Uh—"ing for some moments, trying to get in his remark, winked with sly rudeness at Miss Saxonby and observed:

"I fancy romance isn't quite dead yet, y' know. Our friends here seem to have had quite a ro-mantic little journey." Then he winked again.

"Say, what do you mean?" demanded Bill Wrenn, hot-eyed, fists clenched, but very quiet.

"Oh, I'm not blaming you and Miss Nash—quite the reverse!" tittered the Gutch person, wagging his head sagely.

Then Bill Wrenn, with his fist at Mr. Gutch's nose, spoke his mind:

"Say, you white-faced unhealthy dirty-minded lump, I ain't much of a fighter, but I'm going to muss you up so's you can't find your ears if you don't apologize for those insinuations."

"Oh, Mr. Wrenn—"

"He didn't mean—"

"I didn't mean—"

"He was just spoofing—"

"I was just spoofing—"

Bill Wrenn, watching the dramatization of himself as hero, was enjoying the drama. "You apologize, then?"

"Why certainly, Mr. Wrenn. Let me explain—"

"Oh, don't explain," snortled Miss Saxonby.

"Yes!" from Mr. Bancock Binch, "explanations are so conventional, old chap."

Do you see them?—Mr. Wrenn, self-conscious and ready to turn into a blind belligerent Bill Wrenn at the first disrespect; the talkers sitting about and assassinating all the princes and proprieties and, poor things, taking Mr. Wrenn quite seriously because he had uncovered the great truth that the important thing in sight-seeing is not to see sights. He was most unhappy, Mr. Wrenn was, and wanted to be away from there. He darted as from a spring when he heard Istra's voice, from the edge of the group, calling, "Come here a sec', Billy."

She was standing with a chair-back for support, tired but smiling.

"I can't get to sleep yet. Don't you want me to show you some of the buildings here?"

"Oh yes!"

"If Mrs. Stettinius can spare you!"

This by way of remarking on the fact that the female poet was staring volubly.

"G-g-g-g-g-g—" said Mrs. Stettinius, which seemed to imply perfect consent.

Istra took him to the belvedere on a little slope overlooking the lawns of Aengusmere, scattered with low bungalows and rose-gardens.

"It is beautiful, isn't it? Perhaps one could be happy here—if one could kill all the people except the architect," she mused.

"Oh, it is," he glowed.

Standing there beside her, happiness enveloping them, looking across the marvelous sward, Bill Wrenn was at the climax of his comedy of triumph. Admitted to a world of lawns and bungalows and big studio windows, standing in a belvedere beside Istra Nash as her friend—

"Mouse dear," she said, hesitatingly, "the reason why I wanted to have you come out here, why I couldn't sleep, I wanted to tell you how ashamed I am for having been peevish, being petulant, last night. I'm so sorry, because you were very patient with me, you were very good to me. I don't want you to think of me just as a crochety woman who didn't appreciate you. You are very kind, and when I hear that you're married to some nice girl I'll be as happy as can be."

"Oh, Istra," he cried, grasping her arm, "I don't want any girl in the world—I mean—oh, I just want to be let go 'round with you when you'll let me—"

"No, no, dear. You must have seen last night; that's impossible. Please don't argue about it now; I'm too tired. I just wanted to tell you I appreciated—And when you get back to America you won't be any the worse for playing around with poor Istra because she told you about different things from what you've played with, about rearing children as individuals and painting in tempera and all those things? And—and I don't want you to get too fond of me, because we're—different.... But we have had an adventure, even if it was a little moist." She paused; then, cheerily: "Well, I'm going to beat it back and try to sleep again. Good-by, Mouse dear. No, don't come back to the Cara-advanced-serai. Play around and see the animiles. G'-by."

He watched her straight swaying figure swing across the lawn and up the steps of the half-timbered inn. He watched her enter the door before he hastened to the shops which clustered about the railway- station, outside of the poetic preserves of the colony proper.

He noticed, as he went, that the men crossing the green were mostly clad in Norfolk jackets and knickers, so he purchased the first pair of unrespectable un-ankle-concealing trousers he had owned since small boyhood, and a jacket of rough serge, with a gaudy buckle on the belt. Also, he actually dared an orange tie!

He wanted something for Istra at dinner—"a s'prise," he whispered under his breath, with fond babying. For the first time in his life he entered a florist's shop.... Normally, you know, the poor of the city cannot afford flowers till they are dead, and then for but one day.... He came out with a bunch of orchids, and remembered the days when he had envied the people he had seen in florists' shops actually buying flowers. When he was almost at the Caravanserai he wanted to go back and change the orchids for simpler flowers, roses or carnations, but he got himself not to.

The linen and glassware and silver of the Caravanserai were almost as coarse as those of a temperance hotel, for all the raftered ceiling and the etchings in the dining-room. Hunting up the stewardess of the inn, a bustling young woman who was reading Keats energetically at an office-like desk, Mr. Wrenn begged: "I wonder could I get some special cups and plates and stuff for high tea tonight. I got a kind of party—"

"How many?" The stewardess issued the words as though he had put a penny in the slot.

"Just two. Kind of a birthday party." Mendacious Mr. Wrenn!

"Certainly. Of course there's a small extra charge. I have a Royal Satsuma tea-service—practically Royal Satsuma, at least—and some special Limoges."

"I think Royal Sats'ma would be nice. And some silverware?"

"Surely."

"And could we get some special stuff to eat?"

"What would you like?"

"Why—"

Mendacious Mr. Wrenn! as we have commented. He put his head on one side, rubbed his chin with nice consideration, and condescended, "What would you suggest?"

"For a party high tea? Why, perhaps consomme and omelet Bergerac and a salad and a sweet and cafe diable. We have a chef who does French eggs rather remarkably. That would be simple, but—"

"Yes, that would be very good," gravely granted the patron of cuisine. "At six; for two."

As he walked away he grinned within. "Gee! I talked to that omelet Berg' rac like I'd known it all my life!"

Other s'prises for Istra's party he sought. Let's see; suppose it really were her birthday, wouldn't she like to have a letter from some important guy? he queried of himself. He'd write her a make-b'lieve letter from a duke. Which he did. Purchasing a stamp, he humped over a desk in the common room and with infinite pains he inked the stamp in imitation of a postmark and addressed the letter to "Lady Istra Nash, Mouse Castle, Suffolk."

Some one sat down at the desk opposite him, and he jealously carried the task upstairs to his room. He rang for pen and ink as regally as though he had never sat at the wrong end of a buzzer. After half an hour of trying to visualize a duke writing a letter he produced this:

LADY ISTRA NASH, Mouse Castle.

DEAR MADAM,—We hear from our friend Sir William Wrenn that some folks are saying that to-day is not your birthday & want to stop your celebration, so if you should need somebody to make them believe to-day is your birthday we have sent our secretary, Sir Percival Montague. Sir William Wrenn will hide him behind his chair, and if they bother you just call for Sir Percival and he will tell them. Permit us, dear Lady Nash, to wish you all the greetings of the season, and in close we beg to remain, as ever, Yours sincerely, DUKE VERE DE VERE.

He was very tired. When he lay down for a minute, with a pillow tucked over his head, he was almost asleep in ten seconds. But he sprang up, washed his prickly eyes with cold water, and began to dress. He was shy of the knickers and golf-stockings, but it was the orange tie that gave him real alarm. He dared it, though, and went downstairs to make sure they were setting the table with glory befitting the party.

As he went through the common room he watched the three or four groups scattered through it. They seemed to take his clothes as a matter of course. He was glad. He wanted so much to be a credit to Istra.

Returning from the dining-room to the common room, he passed a group standing in a window recess and looking away from him. He overheard:

"Who is the remarkable new person with the orange tie and the rococo buckle on his jacket belt—the one that just went through? Did you ever see anything so funny! His collar didn't come within an inch and a half of fitting his neck. He must be a poet. I wonder if his verses are as jerry-built as his garments!"

Mr. Wrenn stopped.

Another voice:

"And the beautiful lack of development of his legs! It's like the good old cycling days, when every draper's assistant went bank-holidaying.... I don't know him, but I suppose he's some tuppeny-ha'p'ny illustrator."

"Or perhaps he has convictions about fried bananas, and dines on a bean saute. O Aengusmere! Shades of Aengus!"

"Not at all. When they look as gentle as he they always hate the capitalists as a militant hates a cabinet minister. He probably dines on the left ear of a South-African millionaire every evening before exercise at the barricades.... I say, look over there; there's a real artist going across the green. You can tell he's a real artist because he's dressed like a navvy and—"

Mr. Wrenn was walking away, across the common room, quite sure that every one was eying him with amusement. And it was too late to change his clothes. It was six already.

He stuck out his jaw, and remembered that he had planned to hide the "letter from the duke" in Istra's napkin that it might be the greater surprise. He sat down at their table. He tucked the letter into the napkin folds. He moved the vase of orchids nearer the center of the table, and the table nearer the open window giving on the green. He rebuked himself for not being able to think of something else to change. He forgot his clothes, and was happy.

At six-fifteen he summoned a boy and sent him up with a message that Mr. Wrenn was waiting and high tea ready.

The boy came back muttering, "Miss Nash left this note for you, sir, the stewardess says."

Mr. Wrenn opened the green-and-white Caravanserai letter excitedly. Perhaps Istra, too, was dressing for the party! He loved all s'prises just then. He read:

Mouse dear, I'm sorrier than I can tell you, but you know I warrned you that bad Istra was a creature of moods, and just now my mood orders me to beat it for Paris, which I'm doing, on the 5.17 train. I won't say good-by—I hate good-bys, they're so stupid, don't you think? Write me some time, better make it care Amer. Express Co., Paris, because I don't know yet just where I'll be. And please don't look me up in Paris, because it's always better to end up an affair without explanations, don't you think? You have been wonderfully kind to me, and I'll send you some good thought-forms, shall I? I. N.

He walked to the office of the Caravanserai, blindly, quietly. He paid his bill, and found that he had only fifty dollars left. He could not get himself to eat the waiting high tea. There was a seven-fourteen train for London. He took it. Meantime he wrote out a cable to his New York bank for a hundred and fifty dollars. To keep from thinking in the train he talked gravely and gently to an old man about the brave days of England, when men threw quoits. He kept thinking over and over, to the tune set by the rattling of the train trucks: "Friends... I got to make friends, now I know what they are.... Funny some guys don't make friends. Mustn't forget. Got to make lots of 'em in New York. Learn how to make 'em."

He arrived at his room on Tavistock Place about eleven, and tried to think for the rest of the night of how deeply he was missing Morton of the cattle-boat now that—now that he had no friend in all the hostile world.

In a London A. B. C. restaurant Mr. Wrenn was talking to an American who had a clipped mustache, brisk manners, a Knight-of-Pythias pin, and a mind for duck-shooting, hardware-selling, and cigars.

"No more England for mine," the American snapped, good-humoredly. "I'm going to get out of this foggy hole and get back to God's country just as soon as I can. I want to find out what's doing at the store, and I want to sit down to a plate of flapjacks. I'm good and plenty sick of tea and marmalade. Why, I wouldn't take this fool country for a gift. No, sir! Me for God's country—Sleepy Eye, Brown County, Minnesota. You bet!"

"You don't like England much, then?" Mr. Wrenn carefully reasoned.

"Like it? Like this damp crowded hole, where they can't talk English, and have a fool coinage—Say, that's a great system, that metric system they've got over in France, but here—why, they don't know whether Kansas City is in Kansas or Missouri or both.... 'Right as rain'—that's what a fellow said to me for 'all right'! Ever hear such nonsense?.... And tea for breakfast! Not for me! No, sir! I'm going to take the first steamer!"

With a gigantic smoke-puff of disgust the man from Sleepy Eye stalked out, jingling the keys in his trousers pocket, cocking up his cigar, and looking as though he owned the restaurant.

Mr. Wrenn, picturing him greeting the Singer Tower from an incoming steamer, longed to see the tower.

"Gee! I'll do it!"

He rose and, from that table in the basement of an A. B. C. restaurant, he fled to America.

He dashed up-stairs, fidgeted while the cashier made his change, rang for a bus, whisked into his room, slammed his things into his suit-case, announced to it wildly that they were going home, and scampered to the Northwestem Station. He walked nervously up and down till the Liverpool train departed. "Suppose Istra wanted to make up, and came back to London?" was a terrifying thought that hounded him. He dashed into the waiting-room and wrote to her, on a souvenir post-card showing the Abbey: "Called back to America—will write. Address care of Souvenir Company, Twenty-eighth Street." But he didn't mail the card.

Once settled in a second-class compartment, with the train in motion, he seemed already much nearer America, and, humming, to the great annoyance of a lady with bangs, he planned his new great work—the making of friends; the discovery, some day, if Istra should not relent, of "somebody to go home to." There was no end to the "societies and lodges and stuff" he was going to join directly he landed.

At Liverpool he suddenly stopped at a post-box and mailed his card to Istra. That ended his debate. Of course after that he had to go back to America.

He sailed exultantly, one month and seventeen days after leaving Portland.



CHAPTER XII

HE DISCOVERS AMERICA



In his white-painted steerage berth Mr. Wrenn lay, with a scratch-pad on his raised knees and a small mean pillow doubled under his head, writing sample follow-up letters to present to the Souvenir and Art Novelty Company, interrupting his work at intervals to add to a list of the books which, beginning about five minutes after he landed in New York, he was going to master. He puzzled over Marie Corelli. Morton liked Miss Corelli so much; but would her works appeal to Istra Nash?

He had worked for many hours on a letter to Istra in which he avoided mention of such indecent matters as steerages and immigrants. He was grateful, he told her, for "all you learned me," and he had thought that Aengusmere was a beautiful place, though he now saw "what you meant about them interesting people," and his New York address would be the Souvenir Company.

He tore up the several pages that repeated that oldest most melancholy cry of the lover, which rang among the deodars, from viking ships, from the moonlit courtyards of Provence, the cry which always sounded about Mr. Wrenn as he walked the deck: "I want you so much; I miss you so unendingly; I am so lonely for you, dear." For no more clearly, no more nobly did the golden Aucassin or lean Dante word that cry in their thoughts than did Mr. William Wrenn, Our Mr. Wrenn.

A third-class steward with a mangy mustache and setter-like tan eyes came teetering down-stairs, each step like a nervous pencil tap on a table, and peered over the side of Mr. Wrenn's berth. He loved Mr. Wrenn, who was proven a scholar by the reading of real bound books—an English history and a second-hand copy of Haunts of Historic English Writers, purchased in Liverpool—and who was willing to listen to the steward's serial story of how his woman, Mrs. Wargle, faithlessly consorted with Foddle, the cat's-meat man, when the steward was away, and, when he was home, cooked for him lights and liver that unquestionably were purchased from the same cat's-meat man. He now leered with a fond and watery gaze upon Mr. Wrenn's scholarly pursuits, and announced in a whisper:

"They've sighted land."

"Land?"

"Oh aye."

Mr. Wrenn sat up so vigorously that he bumped his head. He chucked his papers beneath the pillow with his right hand, while the left was feeling for the side of the berth. "Land!" he bellowed to drowsing cabin-mates as he vaulted out.

The steerage promenade-deck, iron-sided, black-floored, ending in the iron approaches to the galley at one end and the iron superstructures about a hatch at the other, was like a grim swart oilily clean machine-shop aisle, so inclosed, so over-roofed, that the side toward the sea seemed merely a long factory window. But he loved it and, except when he had guiltily remembered the books he had to read, he had stayed on deck, worshiping the naive bright attire of immigrants and the dark roll and glory of the sea.

Now, out there was a blue shading, made by a magic pencil; land, his land, where he was going to become the beloved comrade of all the friends whose likenesses he saw in the white-caps flashing before him.

Humming, he paraded down to the buffet, where small beer and smaller tobacco were sold, to buy another pound of striped candy for the offspring of the Russian Jews.

The children knew he was coming. "Fat rascals," he chuckled, touching their dark cheeks, pretending to be frightened as they pounded soft fists against the iron side of the ship or rolled unregarded in the scuppers. Their shawled mothers knew him, too, and as he shyly handed about the candy the chattering stately line of Jewish elders nodded their beards like the forest primeval in a breeze, saying words of blessing in a strange tongue.

He smiled back and made gestures, and shouted "Land! Land!" with several variations in key, to make it sound foreign.

But he withdrew for the sacred moment of seeing the Land of Promise he was newly discovering—the Long Island shore; the grass-clad redouts at Fort Wadsworth; the vast pile of New York sky-scrapers, standing in a mist like an enormous burned forest.

"Singer Tower.... Butterick Building," he murmured, as they proceeded toward their dock. "That's something like.... Let's see; yes, sir, by golly, right up there between the Met. Tower and the Times—good old Souvenir Company office. Jiminy! 'One Dollar to Albany'—something like a sign, that is—good old dollar! To thunder with their darn shillings. Home!... Gee! there's where I used to moon on a wharf!... Gosh! the old town looks good."

And all this was his to conquer, for friendship's sake.

He went to a hotel. While he had to go back to the Zapps', of course, he did not wish, by meeting those old friends, to spoil his first day. No, it was cheerfuler to stand at a window of his cheap hotel on Seventh Avenue, watching the "good old American crowd"—Germans, Irishmen, Italians, and Jews. He went to the Nickelorion and grasped the hand of the ticket-taker, the Brass-button Man, ejaculating: "How are you? Well, how's things going with the old show?... I been away couple of months."

"Fine and dandy! Been away, uh? Well, it's good to get back to the old town, heh? Summer hotel?"

"Unk?"

"Why, you're the waiter at Pat Maloney's, ain't you?"

Next morning Mr. Wrenn made himself go to the Souvenir and Art Novelty Company. He wanted to get the teasing, due him for staying away so short a time, over as soon as possible. The office girl, addressing circulars, seemed surprised when he stepped from the elevator, and blushed her usual shy gratitude to the men of the office for allowing her to exist and take away six dollars weekly.

Then into the entry-room ran Rabin, one of the traveling salesmen.

"Why, hul-lo, Wrenn! Wondered if that could be you. Back so soon? Thought you were going to Europe."

"Just got back. Couldn't stand it away from you, old scout!"

"You must have been learning to sass back real smart, in the Old Country, heh? Going to be with us again? Well, see you again soon. Glad see you back."

He was not madly excited at seeing Rabin; still, the drummer was part of the good old Souvenir Company, the one place in the world on which he could absolutely depend, the one place where they always wanted him.

He had been absently staring at the sample-tables, noting new novelties. The office girl, speaking sweetly, but as to an outsider, inquired, "Who did you wish to see, Mr. Wrenn?"

"Why! Mr. Guilfogle."

"He's busy, but if you'll sit down I think you can see him in a few minutes."

Mr. Wrenn felt like the prodigal son, with no calf in sight, at having to wait on the callers' bench, but he shook with faint excited gurgles of mirth at the thought of the delightful surprise Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle, the office manager, was going to have. He kept an eye out for Charley Carpenter. If Charley didn't come through the entry-room he'd go into the bookkeeping-room, and—"talk about your surprises—"

"Mr. Guilfogle will see you now," said the office girl.

As he entered the manager's office Mr. Guilfogle made much of glancing up with busy amazement.

"Well, well, Wrenn! Back so soon? Thought you were going to be gone quite a while."

"Couldn't keep away from the office, Mr. Guilfogle," with an uneasy smile.

"Have a good trip?"

"Yes, a dandy."

"How'd you happen to get back so soon?"

"Oh, I wanted to—Say, Mr. Guilfogle, I really wanted to get back to the office again. I'm awfully glad to see it again."

"Glad see you. Well, where did you go? I got the card you sent me from Chesterton with the picture of the old church on it."

"Why, I went to Liverpool and Oxford and London and—well—Kew and Ealing and places and—And I tramped through Essex and Suffolk—all through—on foot. Aengusmere and them places."

"Just a moment. (Well, Rabin, what is it? Why certainly. I've told you that already about five times. Yes, I said—that's what I had the samples made up for. I wish you'd be a little more careful, d' ye hear?) You went to London, did you, Wrenn? Say, did you notice any novelties we could copy?"

"No, I'm afraid I didn't, Mr. Guilfogle. I'm awfully sorry. I hunted around, but I couldn't find a thing we could use. I mean I couldn't find anything that began to come up to our line. Them English are pretty slow."

"Didn't, eh? Well, what's your plans now?"

"Why—uh—I kind of thought—Honestly, Mr. Guilfogle, I'd like to get back on my old job. You remember—it was to be fixed so—"

"Afraid there's nothing doing just now, Wrenn. Not a thing. Course I can't tell what may happen, and you want to keep in touch with us, but we're pretty well filled up just now. Jake is getting along better than we thought. He's learning—" Not one word regarding Jake's excellence did Mr. Wrenn hear.

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