There was something unreal to him about that night ride eastward across the dusty moonlit plain. He never forgot that night. The unexpectedness of it was only a part of the unreality. What pulled him up short was a new quality in the general unexpectedness of life. Life had always been, like the trip from which he was returning, more or less of a lark. Whereas it suddenly appeared that life might, perhaps, be very little of a lark. So far as he had ever pictured life to himself he had seen it as an extension of his ordered English countryside, beset by no hazard more searching than a hawthorne hedge. But the plain across which he rode gave him a new picture of it, lighted romantically enough by the moon, yet offering a rider magnificent chances to break his neck in some invisible nullah, if not to be waylaid by marauding Lurs or lions. It even began to come to this not too articulate young man that romance and reality might be the same thing, romance being what happens to the other fellow and reality being what happens to you. He looked up at the moon of war that had been heralded to him by cannon and tried to imagine what, under that same moon far away in Europe, was happening to the other fellow. For it was entirely on the cards that it might also happen to him, Guy Matthews, who had gone up the Ab-i-Diz for a lark! That his experience had an extraordinary air of having happened to some one else, as he went back in his mind to his cruise on the river, his meeting with the barge, his first glimpse of Dizful, the interlude of Bala Bala, the return to Dizful, the cannon, Magin. Magin! He was extraordinary enough, in all conscience, as Matthews tried to piece together, under his romantic-realistic moon, the various unrelated fragments his memory produced of that individual, connoisseur of Greek kylixes and Lur nose-jewels, quoter of Scripture and secret agent.
The bounder must have known, as he sat smoking his cigar and ironizing on the ruins of empires, that the safe and settled little world to which they both belonged was already in a blaze. Of course he had known it—and he had said nothing about it! But not least extraordinary was the way the bounder, whom after all Matthews had only seen twice, seemed to color the whole adventure. In fact, he had been the first speck in the blue, the forerunner—if Matthews had only seen it—of the more epic adventure into which he was so quickly to be caught.
At Shuster he broke his journey. There were still thirty miles to do, and fresh horses were to be hired—of some fasting charvadar who would never consent in Ramazan, Matthews very well knew, to start for Meidan-i-Naft under the terrific August sun. But he was not ungrateful for a chance to rest. He discovered in himself, too, a sudden interest in all the trickle of the telegraph. And he was anxious to pick up what news he could from the few Europeans in the town. Moreover, he needed to see Ganz about the replenishing of his money-bag; for not the lightest item of the traveler's pack in Persia is his load of silver krans.
At the telegraph office Matthews ran into Ganz himself. The Swiss was a short, fair, faded man, not too neat about his white clothes, with a pensive mustache and an ambiguous blue eye that lighted at sight of the young Englishman. The light, however, was not one to illuminate Matthews' darkness in the matter of news. What news trickled out of the local wire was very meager indeed. The Austrians were shelling Belgrade, the Germans, the Russians, and the French had gone in. That was all. No, not quite all; for the bank-rate in England had suddenly jumped sky-high—higher, at any rate, than it had ever jumped before. And even Shuster felt the distant commotion, in that the bazaar had already seen fit to put up the price of sugar and petroleum. Not that Shuster showed any outward sign of commotion as the two threaded their way toward Ganz's house. The deserted streets reminded Matthews strangely of Dizful. What was stranger was to find how they reminded him of a chapter that is closed. He hardly noticed the blank walls, the archways of brick and tile, the tall badgirs, even the filth and smells. But strangest was it to listen to the hot silence, to look up at the brilliant stripe of blue between the adobe walls, while over there—!
The portentous uncertainty of what might be over there made his answers to Ganz's questions about his journey curt and abstracted. He gave no explanation of his failure to see the celebration at Bala Bala and the ruins of Susa, which Ganz supposed to be the chief objects of his excursion. Yet he found himself looking with a new eye at the anomalous exile whom the Father of Swords called the prince among the merchants of Shuster, noting the faded untidy air as he had never noted it before, wondering why a man should bury himself in such a hole as this. Was one now, he speculated, to look at everybody all over again? He was not the kind of man, Ganz, to interest the Guy Matthews who had gone to Dizful. But it was the Guy Matthews who came back from Dizful who didn't like Ganz's name or Ganz's good enough accent. Nevertheless he yielded to Ganz's insistence, when they reached the office and the money-bag had been restored to its normal portliness, that the traveler should step into the house to rest and cool off.
"Do come!" urged the Swiss. "I so seldom see a civilized being. And I have a new piano!" he threw in as an added inducement. "Do you play?"
He had no parlor tricks, he told Ganz, and he told himself that he wanted to get on. But Ganz had been very decent to him, after all. And he began to perceive that he himself was extremely tired. So he followed Ganz through the cloister of the pool to the court where the great basin glittered in the sun, below the pillared portico.
"Who is that?" exclaimed Ganz suddenly. "What a tone, eh? And what a touch!"
Matthews heard from Ganz's private quarters a welling of music so different from the pipes and cow-horns of Dizful that it gave him a sudden stab of homesickness.
"I say," he said, brightening, "could it be any of the fellows from Meidan-i-Naft?"
The ambiguous blue eye brightened too.
"Perhaps! It is the river music from Rheingold. But listen," Ganz added with a smile. "There are sharks among the Rhine maidens!"
They went on, up the steps of the portico, to the door which Ganz opened softly, stepping aside for his visitor to pass in. The room was so dark, after the blinding light of the court, that Matthews saw nothing at first. He stepped forward eagerly, feeling his way among Ganz's tables and chairs toward the end of the room from which the music came. They gave him, the cluttering tables and chairs, after the empty rooms he had been living in, a sharper renewal of his stab. And even a piano—! It made him think of Kipling and the Song of the Banjo:
"I am memory and torment—I am Town! I am all that ever went with evening dress!"
But what mute inglorious Paderewski of the restricted circle he had moved in for the past months was capable of such parlor tricks as this? Then, suddenly, he saw. He saw, swaying back and forth against the dark background of the piano, a domed shaven head that made him stop short—that head full of so many astounding things! He saw, traveling swiftly up and down the keys, rising above them to an extravagant height and pouncing down upon them again, those predatory hands that had pounced on the spoils of Susa! They began, in a moment, to flutter lightly over the upper end of the keyboard. It was extraordinary what a ripple poured as if out of those hands. Magin himself bent over to listen to the ripple, partly showing his face as he turned his ear to the keys. He showed, too, in the lessening gloom, a smile Matthews had never seen before, more extraordinary than anything. Yet even as Matthews watched it, in his stupefaction, the smile changed, broadened, hardened. And Magin, sitting up straight again with his back to the room, began to execute a series of crashing chords.
After several minutes he stopped and swung around on the piano-stool. Ganz clapped his hands, shouting "Bis! Bis!" At that Magin rose, bowed elaborately, and kissed his hands right and left. He ended by pulling up a table-cover near him, gazing intently under the table.
"Have you lost something?" inquired Ganz.
"I seem," answered Magin, "to have lost half my audience. What has become of our elusive English friend? Am I so unfortunate as to have been unable to satisfy his refined ear? Or can it be that his emotions were too much for him?"
"He was in a hurry," explained Ganz. "He is just back from Dizful, you know."
"Ah?" uttered Magin. "He is a very curious young man. He is always in a hurry. He was in a hurry the first time I had the pleasure of meeting him. He was in such a hurry at Bala Bala that he didn't wait to see the celebration which you told me he went to see. He also left Dizful in a surprising hurry, from what I hear. I happen to know that the telegraph had nothing to do with it. I can only conclude that some one frightened him away. Where do you suppose he hurries to? And do you think he will arrive in time?"
Ganz opened his mouth; but if he intended to say something, he decided instead to draw his hand across his spare jaw. However, he did speak after all.
"I notice that you at least do not hurry, Majesty! Do you fiddle while Rome burns?"
"Ha!" laughed Magin. "It is not Rome that burns! And I notice, Mr. Ganz, that you seem to be of a forgetful as well as of an inquiring disposition. I would have been in Mohamera long ago if it had not been for your son of Papa, with his interest in unspoiled towns. I will thank you to issue no more letters to the Father of Swords without remembering me. Do you wish to enrich the already overstocked British Museum at my expense? But I do not mind revealing to you that I am now really on my way to Mohamera."
"H'm," let out Ganz slowly. "My dear fellow, haven't you heard that there is a war in Europe?"
"I must confess, my good Ganz, that I have. But what has Europe to do with Mohamera?"
"God knows," said Ganz. "I should think, however, since you are so far from the Gulf, that you would prefer the route of Baghdad—now that French and Russian cruisers are seeking whom they may devour."
"You forget, Mr. Ganz, that I am so fortunate as to possess a number of valuable objects of virtue. I would think twice before attempting to carry those objects of virtue through the country of our excellent friends the Beni Lam Arabs!"
"Your objects of virtue could very well be left with me. What if the English should go into the war?"
"The English? Go into the war? Never fear! This is not their affair. And if it were, what could they do? Sail their famous ships up the Rhine and the Elbe? Besides, that treacherous memory of yours seems to fail you again. This is Persia, not England."
"Perhaps," answered Ganz. "But the English are very funny people. There is a rumor, you know, of pourparlers. What if you were to sail down to the gulf and some little midshipman were to fire a shot across your bow?"
"Ah, bah! I am a neutral! And Britannia is a fat old woman! Also a rich one, who doesn't put her hand into her pocket to please her neighbors. Besides, I have a little affair with the Sheikh of Mohamera—objects of virtue, indigo, who knows what? As you know, I am a versatile man." And swinging around on his stool, Magin began to play again.
"But even fat old women sometimes know how to bite," objected Ganz.
"Not when their teeth have dropped out," Magin threw over his shoulder—"or when strong young men plug their jaws!"
Two days later, or not quite three days later, the galley and the motor-boat whose accidental encounter brought about the events of this narrative met again. This second meeting took place in the Karun, as before, but at a point some fifty or sixty miles below Bund-i-Kir. And now the moon, not the sun, cast its paler glitter between the high dark banks of the stream. It was a keen-eared young Lur who first heard afar the pant of the mysterious jinni. Before he or his companions descried the motor-boat, however, Gaston, rounding a sharp curve above the island of Umm-un-Nakhl, caught sight of the sweeps of the barge flashing in the moonlight. The unexpected view of that flash was not disagreeable to Gaston. For, as Gaston put it to himself, he was sad—despite the efforts of his friend, the telegraph operator at Ahwaz, to cheer him up. It is true that the operator, who was Irish and a man of heart, had accorded him but a limited amount of cheer, together with hard words not a few. Recalling them, Gaston picked up a knife that lay on the seat beside him—an odd curved knife of the country, in a leather sheath. There is no reason why I should conceal the fact that this knife was a gift from Gaston's Bakhtiari henchman, who had presented it to Gaston, with immense solemnity, on hearing that there was a war in Firengistan and that the young men of the oil works were going to it. What had become of that type of a Bakhtiari, Gaston wondered? Then, spying the flash of those remembered oars, he bethought him of the seigneur of a Brazilian whose hospitable yacht, he had reason to know, was not destitute of cheer.
When he was near enough the barge to make out the shadow of the high beak on the moonlit water he cut off the motor. The sweeps forthwith ceased to flash. Gaston then called out the customary salutation. It was answered, as before, by the deep voice of the Brazilian. He stood at the rail of the barge as the motor-boat glided alongside.
"Ah, mon vieux, you are alone this time?" said Magin genially. "Where are the others?"
"I do not figure to myself," answered Gaston, "that you derange yourself to inquire for my sacred devil of a Bakhtiari, who has taken the key of the fields. As for Monsieur Guy, the Englishman you saw the other time, whose name does not pronounce itself, he has gone to the war. I just took him and three others to Ahwaz, where they meet more of their friends and all go together on the steamer to Mohamera."
"Really! And did you hear any news at Ahwaz?"
"The latest is that England has declared war."
"Tiens!" exclaimed Magin. His voice was extraordinarily loud and deep in the stillness of the river. It impressed Gaston, who sat looking up at the dark figure in front of the ghostly Lurs. What types, with their black hats of a theater! He hoped the absence of M'sieu Guy and the Brazilian's evident surprise would not cloud the latter's hospitality. He was accordingly gratified to hear the Brazilian say, after a moment: "And they tell us that madness is not catching! But we, at least, have not lost our heads. Eh? To prove it, Monsieur Gaston, will you not come aboard a moment, if you are not in too much of a hurry, and drink a little glass with me?"
Gaston needed no urging. In a trice he had tied his boat to the barge and was on the deck. The agreeable Brazilian was not too much of a seigneur to shake his hand in welcome, or to lead him into the cabin where a young Lur was in the act of lighting candles.
"It is so hot, and so many strange beasts fly about this river," Magin explained, "that I usually prefer to travel without a light. But we must see the way to our mouths! What will you have? Beer? Bordeaux? Champagne?"
Gaston considered this serious question with attention.
"Since Monsieur has the goodness to inquire, if Monsieur has any of that fine champagne I tasted before—"
"Ah yes! Certainly." And he gave a rapid order to the Lur. Then he stood silent, his eyes fixed on the reed portiere. Gaston was more impressed than ever as he stood too, beret in hand, looking around the little saloon, so oddly, yet so comfortably fitted out with rugs and skins. Presently the Lur reappeared through the reed portiere, which aroused the Brazilian from his abstraction. He filled the two glasses himself, waving his attendant out of the cabin, and handed one to Gaston. The other he raised in the air, bowing to his guest. "To the victor!" he said. "And sit down, won't you? There is more than one glass in that bottle."
Gaston was enchanted to sit down and to sip another cognac.
"But, Monsieur," he exclaimed, looking about again, "you travel like an emperor!"
"Ho!" laughed Magin, with a quick glance at Gaston. "I am well enough here. But there is one difficulty." He looked at his glass, holding it up to the light. "I travel too slowly."
"In Persia, who cares?"
"Well, it happens that at this moment I do. I have affairs at Mohamera. And in this tub it will take me three days more at the best—without considering that I shall have to wait till daylight to get through the rocks at Ahwaz." He lowered his glass and looked back at Gaston. "Tell me: Why shouldn't you take me down, ahead of my tub? Eh? Or to Sablah, if Mohamera is too far? It would not delay you so much, after all. You can tell them any story you like at Sheleilieh. Otherwise I am sure we can make a satisfactory arrangement." He put his hand suggestively into his pocket.
Gaston considered it between sips. It really was not much to do for this uncle of America who had been so amiable. And others had suddenly become so much less amiable than their wont. Moreover that Bakhtiari—he might repent when he heard the motor again. At any rate one could say that one had waited for him. And the Brazilian would no doubt show a gratitude so handsome that one could afford to be a little independent. If those on the steamer asked any questions when the motor-boat passed, surely the Brazilian, who was more of a seigneur than any employee of an oil company, would know how to answer.
"Allons! Why not?" he said aloud.
"Bravo!" cried the Brazilian, withdrawing his hand from his pocket. "Take that as part of my ticket. And excuse me a moment while I make arrangements."
He disappeared through the reed portiere, leaving Gaston to admire five shining napoleons. It gave him an odd sensation to see, after so long, those coins of his country. When Magin finally came back, it was through the inner door.
"Tell me: how much can you carry?" he asked. "I have four boxes I would like to take with me, besides a few small things. These fools might wreck themselves at Ahwaz and lose everything in the river. It would annoy me very much—after all the trouble I have had to collect my objects of virtue! Besides, the tub will get through more easily without them. Come in and see."
"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed Gaston, scratching his head, when he saw. "My boat won't get through more easily with them, especially at night." He looked curiously around the cozy stateroom.
"But it will take them, eh? If necessary, we can land them at Ahwaz and have them carried around the rapids."
The thing took some manoeuvering; but the Lurs, with the help of much fluent profanity from the master, finally accomplished it without sinking the motor-boat. Gaston, sitting at the wheel to guard his precious engine against some clumsiness of the black-hatted mountaineers, looked on with humorous astonishment at this turn of affairs. He was destined, it appeared, to be disappointed in his hope of cheer. That cognac was really very good—if only one had had more of it. Still, one at least had company now; and he was not the man to be insensible to the fine champagne of the unexpected. Nor was he unconscious that of many baroque scenes at which he had assisted, this was not the least baroque.
When the fourth chest had gingerly been lowered into place, Magin vanished again. Presently he reappeared, followed by his majordomo, to whom he gave instructions in a low voice. Then he stepped into the stern of the boat. The majordomo, taking two portmanteaux and a rug from the Lurs behind him, handed them down to Gaston. Having disposed of them, Gaston stood up, his eyes on the Lurs who crowded the rail.
"Well, my friend," said Magin gaily, "for whom are you waiting? We shall yet have opportunities to admire the romantic scenery of the Karun!"
"Ah! Monsieur takes no—other object of virtue with him?"
"Have you so much room?" laughed Magin. "It is a good thing there is no wind to-night. Go ahead."
Gaston cast off, backed a few feet, reversed, and described a wide circle around the stern of the barge. It made a strange picture in the moonlight, with its black-curved beak and its spectral crew. They shifted to the other rail as the motor-boat came about, watching silently.
"To your oars!" shouted Magin at them. "Row, sons of burnt fathers! Will you have me wait a month for you at Mohamera?"
They scattered to their places, and Gaston caught the renewed flash of the sweeps as he turned to steer for the bend. It was a good thing, he told himself, that there was no wind to-night. The gunwale was nearer the water than he or the boat cared for. She made nothing like her usual speed. However, he said nothing. Neither did Magin—until the dark shadow of Umm-un-Nakhl divided the glitter in front of them.
"Take the narrower channel," he ordered then. And when they were in it he added: "Stop, will you, and steer in there, under the shadow of the shore? I think we would better fortify ourselves for the work of the night. I at least did not forget the cognac, among my other objects of virtue."
They fortified themselves accordingly, the Brazilian producing cigars as well. He certainly was an original, thought Gaston, now hopeful of experiencing actual cheer. That originality proved itself anew when, after a much longer period of refreshment than would suit most gentlemen in a hurry, the familiar flash became visible in the river behind them.
"Now be quiet," commanded the extraordinary uncle of America. "Whatever happens we mustn't let them hear us. If they take this channel, we will slip down, and run part way up the other. We shall give them a little surprise."
Nearer and nearer came the flash, which suddenly went out behind the island. A recurrent splash succeeded it, and a wild melancholy singing. The singing and the recurrent splash grew louder, filled the silence of the river, grew softer; and presently the receding oars flashed again, below the island. But not until the last glint was lost in the shimmer of the water, the last sound had died out of the summer night, did the Brazilian begin to unfold his surprise.
"Que diable allait-on faire dans cette galere!" he exclaimed. "It's the first time I ever knew them to do the right thing! Let us drink one more little glass to the good fortune of their voyage. And here, by the way, is another part of my ticket." He handed Gaston five more napoleons. "But now, my friend, we have some work. I see we shall never get anywhere with all this load. Let us therefore consign our objects of virtue to the safe keeping of the river. He will guard them better than anybody. Is it deep enough here?"
It was deep enough. But what an affair, getting those heavy chests overboard! The last one nearly pulled Magin in with it. One of the clamps caught in his clothes, threw him against the side of the boat, and jerked something after it into the water. He sat down, swearing softly to himself, to catch his breath and investigate the damage.
"It was only my revolver," he announced. "And we have no need of that, since we are not going to the war! Now, my good Gaston, I have changed my mind. We will not go down the river, after all. We will go up."
Gaston, this time, stared at him.
"Up? But, Monsieur, the barge—"
"What is my barge to you, dear Gaston? Besides, it is no longer mine. It now belongs to the Sheikh of Mohamera—with whatever objects of virtue it still contains. He has long teased me for it. And none of them can read the note they are carrying to him! Didn't I tell you I was going to give them a little surprise? Well, there it is. I am not a man, you see, to be tied to objects of virtue. Which reminds me: where are my portmanteaux?"
"Here, on the tank."
"Fi! And you a chauffeur! Give them to me. I will arrange myself a little. As for you, turn around and see how quickly you can carry me to the charming resort of Bund-i-Kir—where Antigonus fought Eumenes and the Silver Shields for the spoils of Susa, and won them. Did you ever hear, Gaston, of that interesting incident?"
"Monsieur is too strong for me," replied Gaston, cryptically. He took off his cap, wiped his face, and sat down at the wheel.
"If a man is not strong, what is he?" rejoined Magin. "But you will not find this cigar too strong," he added amicably.
Gaston did not. What he found strong was the originality of his passenger—and the way that cognac failed, in spite of its friendly warmth, to cheer him. For he kept thinking of that absurd Bakhtiari, and of the telegraph operator, and of M'sieu Guy, and the others, as he sped northward on the silent moonlit river.
"This is very well, eh, Gaston?" uttered the Brazilian at last. "We march better without our objects of virtue." Gaston felt that he smiled as he lay smoking on his rug in the bottom of the boat. "But tell me," he went on presently, "how is it, if I may ask, that you didn't happen to go in the steamer too, with your Monsieur Guy? You do not look to me either old or incapable."
There it was, the same question, which really seemed to need no answer at first, but which somehow became harder to answer every time! Why was it? And how could it spoil so good a cognac?
"How is it?" repeated Gaston. "It is, Monsieur, that France is a great lady who does not derange herself for a simple vagabond like Gaston, or about whose liaisons or quarrels it is not for Gaston to concern himself. This great lady has naturally not asked my opinion about this quarrel. But if she had, I would have told her that it is very stupid for everybody in Europe to begin shooting at each other. Why? Simply because it pleases ces messieurs the Austrians to treat ces messieurs the Serbs de haut en bas! What have I to do with that? Besides, this great lady is very far away, and by the time I arrive she will have arranged her affair. In the meantime there are many others, younger and more capable than I, whose express business it is to arrange such affairs. Will one piou-piou more or less change the result of one battle? Of course not! And if I should lose my hand or my head, who would buy me another? Not France! I have seen a little what France does in such cases. My own father left his leg at Gravelotte, together with his job and my mother's peace. I have seen what happened to her, and how it is that I am a vagabond—about whom France has never troubled herself." He shouted it over his shoulder, above the noise of the motor, with an increasing loudness. "Also," he went on, "I have duties not so far away as France. Up there, at Sheleilieh, there will perhaps be next month a little Gaston. If I go away, who will feed him? I have not the courage of Monsieur, who separates himself so easily from objects of virtue. Voila!"
Magin said nothing for a moment. Then:
"Courage, yes! One needs a little courage in this curious world." There was a pause, as the boat cut around a dark curve. "But do not think, my poor Gaston, that it is I who blame you. On the contrary, I find you very reasonable—more reasonable than many ministers of state. If others in Europe had been able to express themselves like you, Gaston, Monsieur Guy and his friends would not have run away so suddenly. It takes courage, too, not to run after them." He made a sound, as if changing his position, and presently he began to sing softly to himself.
"Monsieur would make a fortune in the cafe-chantant," commented Gaston. He began to feel, at last, after the favorable reception of his speech, a little cheered. He felt cooler, too, in this quiet rushing moonlight of the river. "What is it that Monsieur sings? It seems to me that I have heard that air."
"Very likely you have, Gaston. It is a little song of sentiment, sung by all the sentimental young ladies of the world. He who wrote it, however, was far from sentimental. He was a fellow countryman of mine—and of the late Abraham!—who loved your country so much that he lived in it and died in it." And Magin sang again, more loudly, the first words of the song:
"Ich weiss nicht, was soll es bedeuten, Dass ich so traurig bin; Ein Maerchen aus alten Zeiten, Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn."
Gaston listened with admiration, astonishment, and perplexity. It suddenly came back to him how this original Brazilian had sworn when the chest caught his clothes.
"But, Monsieur, I thought—Are you, then, a German?"
Magin, after a second, laughed.
"But Gaston, am I then an enemy?"
Gaston examined him in the moonlight.
"Well," he answered slowly, "if your country and mine are at war—"
"What has that to do with us, as you just now so truly said? You have found that your country's quarrel was not cause enough for you to leave Persia, and so have I. Voila tout!" He examined Gaston in turn. "But I thought you knew all the time. Such is fame! I flattered myself that your Monsieur Guy would leave no one untold. Whereas he has left us the pleasure of a situation more piquant, after all, than I supposed. We enjoy the magnificent moonlight of the south, we admire a historic river under its most successful aspect, and we do not exalt ourselves because our countrymen, many hundreds of miles away, have lost their heads." He smiled over the piquancy of the situation. "Strength is good," he went on in his impressive bass, "and courage is better. But reason, as you so justly say, is best of all. For which reason," he added, "allow me to recommend to you, my dear Gaston, that you look a little where you are steering."
Gaston looked. But he discovered that his moment of cheer had been all too brief. A piquant situation, indeed! The piquancy of that situation somehow complicated everything more darkly than before. If there were reasons why he should not go away with the others, as they had all taken it for granted that he would do, was that a reason why he, Gaston, whose father had lost a leg at Gravelotte, should do this masquerading German a service? All the German's amiability and originality did not change that. Perhaps, indeed, that explained the originality and amiability. The German, at any rate, did not seem to trouble himself about it. When Gaston next looked over his shoulder, Magin was lying flat on his back in the bottom of the boat, with his hands under his head and his eyes closed. And so he continued to lie, silent and apparently asleep, while his troubled companion, hand on wheel and beret on ear, steered through the waning moonlight of the Karun.
The moon was but a ghost of itself, and a faint rose was beginning to tinge the pallor of the sky behind the Bakhtiari mountains, when the motor began to miss fire. Gaston, stifling an exclamation, cut it off, unscrewed the cap of the tank, and measured the gasolene. Then he stepped softly forward to the place in the bow where he kept his reserve cans. Magin, roused by the stopping of the boat, sat up, stretching.
"Tiens!" he exclaimed. "Here we are!" He looked about at the high clay banks enclosing the tawny basin of the four rivers. In front of him the konar trees of Bund-i-Kir showed their dark green. At the right, on top of the bluff of the eastern shore, a solitary peasant stood white against the sky. Near him a couple of oxen on an inclined plane worked the rude mechanism that drew up water to the fields. The creak of the pulleys and the splash of the dripping goatskins only made more intense the early morning silence. "Do you remember, Gaston?" asked Magin. "It was here we first had the good fortune to meet—not quite three weeks ago."
"I remember," answered Gaston, keeping his eye on the mouth of the tank he was filling, "that I was the one who wished you peace, Monsieur; and that no one asked who you were or where you were going."
"Well, you seem to have satisfied yourself now on those important points. I might add, however, for your further information, that I think I shall not go to Bund-i-Kir, which looks too peaceful to disturb at this matinal hour, but there—on the western shore of the Ab-i-Shuteit. And that reminds me. I still have to pay you the rest of my ticket."
He reached forward and laid a little pile of gold on Gaston's seat. Gaston, watching out of the corner of his eye as he poured gasolene, saw that there were more than five napoleons in that pile. There were at least ten.
"What would you say, Monsieur," he asked slowly, emptying his tin, "if I were to take you instead to Sheleilieh—where there are still a few of the English?"
"I would say, my good Gaston, that you had more courage than I thought. By the way," he went on casually, "what is this?"
He reached forward again toward Gaston's seat, where lay the Bakhtiari's present. Gaston dropped his tin and made a snatch at it. But Magin was too quick for him. He retreated to his place at the stern of the boat, where he drew the knife out of its sheath.
"Sharp, too!" he commented, with a smile at Gaston. "And my revolver is gone!"
Gaston, very pale, stepped to his seat.
"That, Monsieur, was given me by my Bakhtiari brother-in-law—to take to the war. When he found I had not the courage to go, he ran away from me."
"But you thought there might be more than one way to make war, eh? Well, I at least am not an Apache. Perhaps the sharks will know what to do with it." The blade glittered in the brightening air and splashed out of sight. And Magin, folding his arms, smiled again at Gaston. "Another object of virtue for the safe custody of the Karun!"
"But not all!" cried Gaston thickly, seizing the little pile of gold beside him and flinging it after the knife.
Magin's smile broadened.
"Have you not forgotten something, Gaston?"
"But certainly not, Monsieur," he replied, putting his hand into his pocket. The next moment a second shower of gold caught the light. And where the little circles of ripples widened in the river, a sharp fin suddenly cut the muddy water.
"Oho! Mr. Shark loses no time!" cried Magin. He stopped smiling, and turned back to Gaston. "But we do. Allow me to say, my friend, that you show yourself really too romantic. This is no doubt an excellent comedy which we are playing for the benefit of that gentleman on the bluff. But even he begins to get tired of it. See? He starts to say his morning prayer. So be so good as to show a little of the reason which you know how to show, and start for shore. But first you might do well to screw on the cap of your tank—if you do not mind a little friendly advice."
Gaston looked around absent-mindedly, and took up the nickel cap. But he suddenly turned back to Magin.
"You speak too much about friends, Monsieur. I am not your friend. I am your enemy. And I shall not take you there, to the Ab-i-Shuteit. I shall take you into the Ab-i-Gerger—to Sheleilieh and the English."
Magin considered him, with a flicker in his lighted eyes.
"You might perhaps have done it if you had not forgotten about your gasolene—And you may yet. We shall see. But it seems to me, my—enemy!—that you make a miscalculation. Let us suppose that you take me to Sheleilieh. It is highly improbable, because you no longer have your knife to assist you. I, it is true, no longer have my revolver to assist me; but I have two arms, longer and I fancy stronger than yours. However, let us make the supposition. And let us make the equally improbable supposition that I fall into the hands of the English. What can they do to me? The worst they can do is to give me free lodging and nourishment till the end of the war! Whereas you, Gaston—you do not seem to have reflected that life will not be so simple for you, after this. There is a very unpleasant little word by which they name citizens who do not respond to their country's call to arms. In other words, Mr. Deserter, you have taken the road which, in war time, ends between a firing-squad and a stone wall."
Gaston, evidently, had not reflected on that. He stared at his nickel cap, turning it around in his fingers.
"You see?" continued Magin. "Well then, what about that little Gaston? I do not know what has suddenly made you so much less reasonable than you were last night; but I, at least, have not changed. And I see no reason why that little Gaston should be left between two horns of a dilemma. In fact I see excellent reasons not only why you should take me that short distance to the shore, but why you should accompany me to Dizful. There I am at home. I am, more than any one else, emperor. And I need a man like you. I am going to have a car, I am going to have a boat, I am going to have a place in the sun. There will be many changes in that country after the war. You will see. It is not so far, either, from here. It is evident that your heart, like mine, is in this part of the world. So come with me. Eh, Gaston?"
"Heart!" repeated Gaston, with a bitter smile. "It is you who speak of the heart, and of—— But you do not speak of the little surprise with which you might some day regale me, Mr. Enemy! Nor do you say what you fear—that I might take it into my head to go fishing at Umm-un-Nakhl!"
"Ah bah!" exclaimed Magin impatiently. "However, you are right. I am not like you. I do not betray my country for a little savage with a jewel in her nose! It is because of that small difference between us, Gaston, between your people and my people, that you will see such changes here after the war. But you will not see them unless you accept my offer. After all, what else can you do?" He left Gaston to take it in as he twirled his metal cap. "There is the sun already," Magin added presently. "We shall have a hot journey."
Gaston looked over his shoulder at the quivering rim of gold that surged up behind the Bakhtiari mountains. How sharp and purple they were, against what a deepening blue! On the bluff the white-clad peasant stood with his back to the light, his hands folded in front of him, his head bowed.
"You look tired, Gaston," said Magin pleasantly. "Will you have this cigar?"
"No, thank you," replied Gaston. He felt in his own pockets, however, first for a cigarette and then for a match. He was indeed tired, so tired that he no longer remembered which pocket to fumble in or what he held in his hand as he fumbled. Ah, that sacred tank! Then he suddenly smiled again, looking at Magin. "There is something else I can do!"
"What?" asked Magin as he lay at ease in the stern, enjoying the first perfume of his cigar. "You can't go back to France, now, and I should hardly advise you to go back to Sheleilieh. At least until after the war. Then there will be no more English there to ask you troublesome questions!"
Gaston lighted his cigarette. And, keeping his eyes on Magin, he slowly moved his hand, in which were both the nickel cap and the still-burning match, toward the mouth of the tank.
"This!" he answered.
Magin watched him. He did not catch the connection at first. He saw it quickly enough, however. In his pale translucent eyes there was something very like a flare.
"Look out—or we shall go together after all!"
"We shall go together, after all," repeated Gaston. "And here is your place in the sun!"
Magin still watched, as the little flame flickered through the windless air. But he did not move.
"It will go out! And you have not the courage Apache!"
"You will see, Prussian!" The match stopped, at last, above the open hole; but the hand that held it trembled a little, and so did the strange low voice that said: "This at least I can do—for that great lady, far away."
The peasant on the bluff, prostrated toward Mecca with his forehead in the dust, was startled out of his prayer by a roar in the basin below him. There where the trim-white jinn-boat of the Firengi had been was now a blazing mass of wreckage, out of which came fierce cracklings, hissings, sounds not to be named. As he stared at it the wreckage fell apart, began to disappear in a cloud of smoke and steam that lengthened toward the southern gateway of the basin. And in the turbid water, cut by swift sharks' fins, he saw a sudden bright trail of red, redder than any fire or sunrise. It paled gradually, the smoke melted after the steam, the current caught the last charred fragments of wreckage and drew them out of sight.
The peasant watched it all silently, as if waiting for some new magic of the Firengi, from his high bank of the Karun—that snow-born river bound for distant palms, that had seen so many generations of the faces of men, so many of the barks to which men trust their hearts, their hopes, their treasures, as it wound, century after century, from the mountains to the sea. Then, at last, the peasant folded his hands anew and bowed his head toward Mecca.
THE GAY OLD DOG
[Note 9: Copyright, 1917, by The Metropolitan Magazine Company. Copyright, 1918, by Edna Ferber.]
BY EDNA FERBER
From The Metropolitan Magazine
Those of you who have dwelt—or even lingered—in Chicago, Illinois (this is not a humorous story), are familiar with the region known as the Loop. For those others of you to whom Chicago is a transfer point between New York and San Francisco there is presented this brief explanation:
The Loop is a clamorous, smoke-infested district embraced by the iron arms of the elevated tracks. In a city boasting fewer millions, it would be known familiarly as downtown. From Congress to Lake Street, from Wabash almost to the river, those thunderous tracks make a complete circle, or loop. Within it lie the retail shops, the commercial hotels, the theaters, the restaurants. It is the Fifth Avenue (diluted) and the Broadway (deleted) of Chicago. And he who frequents it by night in search of amusement and cheer is known, vulgarly, as a loop-hound.
Jo Hertz was a loop-hound. On the occasion of those sparse first nights granted the metropolis of the Middle West he was always present, third row, aisle, left. When a new loop cafe was opened, Jo's table always commanded an unobstructed view of anything worth viewing. On entering he was wont to say, "Hello, Gus," with careless cordiality to the head-waiter, the while his eye roved expertly from table to table as he removed his gloves. He ordered things under glass, so that his table, at midnight or thereabouts, resembled a hot-bed that favors the bell system. The waiters fought for him. He was the kind of man who mixes his own salad dressing. He liked to call for a bowl, some cracked ice, lemon, garlic, paprika, salt, pepper, vinegar and oil, and make a rite of it. People at near-by tables would lay down their knives and forks to watch, fascinated. The secret of it seemed to lie in using all the oil in sight and calling for more.
That was Jo—a plump and lonely bachelor of fifty. A plethoric, roving-eyed and kindly man, clutching vainly at the garments of a youth that had long slipped past him. Jo Hertz, in one of those pinch-waist belted suits and a trench coat and a little green hat, walking up Michigan Avenue of a bright winter's afternoon, trying to take the curb with a jaunty youthfulness against which every one of his fat-encased muscles rebelled, was a sight for mirth or pity, depending on one's vision.
The gay-dog business was a late phase in the life of Jo Hertz. He had been a quite different sort of canine. The staid and harassed brother of three unwed and selfish sisters is an under dog. The tale of how Jo Hertz came to be a loop-hound should not be compressed within the limits of a short story. It should be told as are the photoplays, with frequent throw-backs and many cut-ins. To condense twenty-three years of a man's life into some five or six thousand words requires a verbal economy amounting to parsimony.
At twenty-seven Jo had been the dutiful, hard-working son (in the wholesale harness business) of a widowed and gummidging mother, who called him Joey. If you had looked close you would have seen that now and then a double wrinkle would appear between Jo's eyes—a wrinkle that had no business there at twenty-seven. Then Jo's mother died, leaving him handicapped by a death-bed promise, the three sisters and a three-story-and-basement house on Calumet Avenue. Jo's wrinkle became a fixture.
Death-bed promises should be broken as lightly as they are seriously made. The dead have no right to lay their clammy fingers upon the living.
"Joey," she had said, in her high, thin voice, "take care of the girls."
"I will, ma," Jo had choked.
"Joey," and the voice was weaker, "promise me you won't marry till the girls are all provided for." Then as Jo had hesitated, appalled: "Joey, it's my dying wish. Promise!"
"I promise, ma," he had said.
Whereupon his mother had died, comfortably, leaving him with a completely ruined life.
They were not bad-looking girls, and they had a certain style, too. That is, Stell and Eva had. Carrie, the middle one, taught school over on the West Side. In those days it took her almost two hours each way. She said the kind of costume she required should have been corrugated steel. But all three knew what was being worn, and they wore it—or fairly faithful copies of it. Eva, the housekeeping sister, had a needle knack. She could skim the State Street windows and come away with a mental photograph of every separate tuck, hem, yoke, and ribbon. Heads of departments showed her the things they kept in drawers, and she went home and reproduced them with the aid of a two-dollar-a-day seamstress. Stell, the youngest, was the beauty. They called her Babe. She wasn't really a beauty, but some one had once told her that she looked like Janice Meredith (it was when that work of fiction was at the height of its popularity). For years afterward, whenever she went to parties, she affected a single, fat curl over her right shoulder, with a rose stuck through it.
Twenty-three years ago one's sisters did not strain at the household leash, nor crave a career. Carrie taught school, and hated it. Eva kept house expertly and complainingly. Babe's profession was being the family beauty, and it took all her spare time. Eva always let her sleep until ten.
This was Jo's household, and he was the nominal head of it. But it was an empty title. The three women dominated his life. They weren't consciously selfish. If you had called them cruel they would have put you down as mad. When you are the lone brother of three sisters, it means that you must constantly be calling for, escorting, or dropping one of them somewhere. Most men of Jo's age were standing before their mirror of a Saturday night, whistling blithely and abstractedly while they discarded a blue polka-dot for a maroon tie, whipped off the maroon for a shot-silk, and at the last moment decided against the shot-silk in favor of a plain black-and-white, because she had once said she preferred quiet ties. Jo, when he should have been preening his feathers for conquest, was saying:
"Well, my God, I am hurrying! Give a man time, can't you? I just got home. You girls have been laying around the house all day. No wonder you're ready."
He took a certain pride in seeing his sisters well dressed, at a time when he should have been reveling in fancy waistcoats and brilliant-hued socks, according to the style of that day, and the inalienable right of any unwed male under thirty, in any day. On those rare occasions when his business necessitated an out-of-town trip, he would spend half a day floundering about the shops selecting handkerchiefs, or stockings, or feathers, or fans, or gloves for the girls. They always turned out to be the wrong kind, judging by their reception.
From Carrie, "What in the world do I want of a fan!"
"I thought you didn't have one," Jo would say.
"I haven't. I never go to dances."
Jo would pass a futile hand over the top of his head, as was his way when disturbed. "I just thought you'd like one. I thought every girl liked a fan. Just," feebly, "just to—to have."
"Oh, for pity's sake!"
And from Eva or Babe, "I've got silk stockings, Jo." Or, "You brought me handkerchiefs the last time."
There was something selfish in his giving, as there always is in any gift freely and joyfully made. They never suspected the exquisite pleasure it gave him to select these things; these fine, soft, silken things. There were many things about this slow-going, amiable brother of theirs that they never suspected. If you had told them he was a dreamer of dreams, for example, they would have been amused. Sometimes, dead-tired by nine o'clock, after a hard day downtown, he would doze over the evening paper. At intervals he would wake, red-eyed, to a snatch of conversation such as, "Yes, but if you get a blue you can wear it anywhere. It's dressy, and at the same time it's quiet, too." Eva, the expert, wrestling with Carrie over the problem of the new spring dress. They never guessed that the commonplace man in the frayed old smoking-jacket had banished them all from the room long ago; had banished himself, for that matter. In his place was a tall, debonair, and rather dangerously handsome man to whom six o'clock spelled evening clothes. The kind of a man who can lean up against a mantel, or propose a toast, or give an order to a man-servant, or whisper a gallant speech in a lady's ear with equal ease. The shabby old house on Calumet Avenue was transformed into a brocaded and chandeliered rendezvous for the brilliance of the city. Beauty was there, and wit. But none so beautiful and witty as She. Mrs.—er—Jo Hertz. There was wine, of course; but no vulgar display. There was music; the soft sheen of satin; laughter. And he the gracious, tactful host, king of his own domain—
"Jo, for heaven's sake, if you're going to snore go to bed!"
"Why—did I fall asleep?"
"You haven't been doing anything else all evening. A person would think you were fifty instead of thirty."
And Jo Hertz was again just the dull, gray, commonplace brother of three well-meaning sisters.
Babe used to say petulantly, "Jo, why don't you ever bring home any of your men friends? A girl might as well not have any brother, all the good you do."
Jo, conscience-stricken, did his best to make amends. But a man who has been petticoat-ridden for years loses the knack, somehow, of comradeship with men. He acquires, too, a knowledge of women, and a distaste for them, equaled only, perhaps, by that of an elevator-starter in a department store.
Which brings us to one Sunday in May. Jo came home from a late Sunday afternoon walk to find company for supper. Carrie often had in one of her school-teacher friends, or Babe one of her frivolous intimates, or even Eva a staid guest of the old-girl type. There was always a Sunday night supper of potato salad, and cold meat, and coffee, and perhaps a fresh cake. Jo rather enjoyed it, being a hospitable soul. But he regarded the guests with the undazzled eyes of a man to whom they were just so many petticoats, timid of the night streets and requiring escort home. If you had suggested to him that some of his sisters' popularity was due to his own presence, or if you had hinted that the more kittenish of these visitors were palpably making eyes at him, he would have stared in amazement and unbelief.
This Sunday night it turned out to be one of Carrie's friends.
"Emily," said Carrie, "this is my brother, Jo." Jo had learned what to expect in Carrie's friends.
Drab-looking women in the late thirties, whose facial lines all slanted downward.
"Happy to meet you," said Jo, and looked down at a different sort altogether. A most surprisingly different sort, for one of Carrie's friends. This Emily person was very small, and fluffy, and blue-eyed, and sort of—well, crinkly looking. You know. The corners of her mouth when she smiled, and her eyes when she looked up at you, and her hair, which was brown, but had the miraculous effect, somehow, of being golden.
Jo shook hands with her. Her hand was incredibly small, and soft, so that you were afraid of crushing it, until you discovered she had a firm little grip all her own. It surprised and amused you, that grip, as does a baby's unexpected clutch on your patronizing forefinger. As Jo felt it in his own big clasp, the strangest thing happened to him. Something inside Jo Hertz stopped working for a moment, then lurched sickeningly, then thumped like mad. It was his heart. He stood staring down at her, and she up at him, until the others laughed. Then their hands fell apart, lingeringly.
"Are you a school-teacher, Emily?" he said.
"Kindergarten. It's my first year. And don't call me Emily, please."
"Why not? It's your name. I think it's the prettiest name in the world." Which he hadn't meant to say at all. In fact, he was perfectly aghast to find himself saying it. But he meant it.
At supper he passed her things, and stared, until everybody laughed again, and Eva said acidly, "Why don't you feed her?"
It wasn't that Emily had an air of helplessness. She just made you feel you wanted her to be helpless, so that you could help her.
Jo took her home, and from that Sunday night he began to strain at the leash. He took his sisters out, dutifully, but he would suggest, with a carelessness that deceived no one, "Don't you want one of your girl friends to come along? That little What's-her-name—Emily, or something. So long's I've got three of you, I might as well have a full squad."
For a long time he didn't know what was the matter with him. He only knew he was miserable, and yet happy. Sometimes his heart seemed to ache with an actual physical ache. He realized that he wanted to do things for Emily. He wanted to buy things for Emily—useless, pretty, expensive things that he couldn't afford. He wanted to buy everything that Emily needed, and everything that Emily desired. He wanted to marry Emily. That was it. He discovered that one day, with a shock, in the midst of a transaction in the harness business. He stared at the man with whom he was dealing until that startled person grew uncomfortable.
"What's the matter, Hertz?"
"You look as if you'd seen a ghost or found a gold mine. I don't know which."
"Gold mine," said Jo. And then, "No. Ghost."
For he remembered that high, thin voice, and his promise. And the harness business was slithering downhill with dreadful rapidity, as the automobile business began its amazing climb. Jo tried to stop it. But he was not that kind of business man. It never occurred to him to jump out of the down-going vehicle and catch the up-going one. He stayed on, vainly applying brakes that refused to work.
"You know, Emily, I couldn't support two households now. Not the way things are. But if you'll wait. If you'll only wait. The girls might—that is, Babe and Carrie—"
She was a sensible little thing, Emily. "Of course I'll wait. But we mustn't just sit back and let the years go by. We've got to help."
She went about it as if she were already a little matchmaking matron. She corraled all the men she had ever known and introduced them to Babe, Carrie, and Eva separately, in pairs, and en masse. She arranged parties at which Babe could display the curl. She got up picnics. She stayed home while Jo took the three about. When she was present she tried to look as plain and obscure as possible, so that the sisters should show up to advantage. She schemed, and planned, and contrived, and hoped; and smiled into Jo's despairing eyes.
And three years went by. Three precious years. Carrie still taught school, and hated it. Eva kept house, more and more complainingly as prices advanced and allowance retreated. Stell was still Babe, the family beauty; but even she knew that the time was past for curls. Emily's hair, somehow, lost its glint and began to look just plain brown. Her crinkliness began to iron out.
"Now, look here!" Jo argued, desperately, one night. "We could be happy, anyway. There's plenty of room at the house. Lots of people begin that way. Of course, I couldn't give you all I'd like to at first. But maybe, after a while—"
No dreams of salons, and brocade, and velvet-footed servitors, and satin damask now. Just two rooms, all their own, all alone, and Emily to work for. That was his dream. But it seemed less possible than that other absurd one had been.
You know that Emily was as practical a little thing as she looked fluffy. She knew women. Especially did she know Eva, and Carrie, and Babe. She tried to imagine herself taking the household affairs and the housekeeping pocketbook out of Eva's expert hands. Eva had once displayed to her a sheaf of aigrettes she had bought with what she saved out of the housekeeping money. So then she tried to picture herself allowing the reins of Jo's house to remain in Eva's hands. And everything feminine and normal in her rebelled. Emily knew she'd want to put away her own freshly laundered linen, and smooth it, and pat it. She was that kind of woman. She knew she'd want to do her own delightful haggling with butcher and vegetable peddler. She knew she'd want to muss Jo's hair, and sit on his knee, and even quarrel with him, if necessary, without the awareness of three ever-present pairs of maiden eyes and ears.
"No! No! We'd only be miserable. I know. Even if they didn't object. And they would, Jo. Wouldn't they?"
His silence was miserable assent. Then, "But you do love me, don't you, Emily?"
"I do, Jo. I love you—and love you—and love you. But, Jo, I—can't."
"I know it, dear. I knew it all the time, really. I just thought, maybe, somehow—"
The two sat staring for a moment into space, their hands clasped. Then they both shut their eyes, with a little shudder, as though what they saw was terrible to look upon. Emily's hand, the tiny hand that was so unexpectedly firm, tightened its hold on his, and his crushed the absurd fingers until she winced with pain.
That was the beginning of the end, and they knew it.
Emily wasn't the kind of girl who would be left to pine. There are too many Jo's in the world whose hearts are prone to lurch and then thump at the feel of a soft, fluttering, incredibly small hand in their grip. One year later Emily was married to a young man whose father owned a large, pie-shaped slice of the prosperous state of Michigan.
That being safely accomplished, there was something grimly humorous in the trend taken by affairs in the old house on Calumet. For Eva married. Of all people, Eva! Married well, too, though he was a great deal older than she. She went off in a hat she had copied from a French model at Fields's, and a suit she had contrived with a home dressmaker, aided by pressing on the part of the little tailor in the basement over on Thirty-first Street. It was the last of that, though. The next time they saw her, she had on a hat that even she would have despaired of copying, and a suit that sort of melted into your gaze. She moved to the North Side (trust Eva for that), and Babe assumed the management of the household on Calumet Avenue. It was rather a pinched little household now, for the harness business shrank and shrank.
"I don't see how you can expect me to keep house decently on this!" Babe would say contemptuously. Babe's nose, always a little inclined to sharpness, had whittled down to a point of late. "If you knew what Ben gives Eva."
"It's the best I can do, Sis. Business is something rotten."
"Ben says if you had the least bit of—" Ben was Eva's husband, and quotable, as are all successful men.
"I don't care what Ben says," shouted Jo, goaded into rage. "I'm sick of your everlasting Ben. Go and get a Ben of your own, why don't you, if you're so stuck on the way he does things."
And Babe did. She made a last desperate drive, aided by Eva, and she captured a rather surprised young man in the brokerage way, who had made up his mind not to marry for years and years. Eva wanted to give her her wedding things, but at that Jo broke into sudden rebellion.
"No, sir! No Ben is going to buy my sister's wedding clothes, understand? I guess I'm not broke—yet. I'll furnish the money for her things, and there'll be enough of them, too."
Babe had as useless a trousseau, and as filled with extravagant pink-and-blue and lacy and frilly things as any daughter of doting parents. Jo seemed to find a grim pleasure in providing them. But it left him pretty well pinched. After Babe's marriage (she insisted that they call her Estelle now) Jo sold the house on Calumet. He and Carrie took one of those little flats that were springing up, seemingly over night, all through Chicago's South Side.
There was nothing domestic about Carrie. She had given up teaching two years before, and had gone into Social Service work on the West Side. She had what is known as a legal mind, hard, clear, orderly, and she made a great success of it. Her dream was to live at the Settlement House and give all her time to the work. Upon the little household she bestowed a certain amount of grim, capable attention. It was the same kind of attention she would have given a piece of machinery whose oiling and running had been entrusted to her care. She hated it, and didn't hesitate to say so.
Jo took to prowling about department store basements, and household goods sections. He was always sending home a bargain in a ham, or a sack of potatoes, or fifty pounds of sugar, or a window clamp, or a new kind of paring knife. He was forever doing odd little jobs that the janitor should have done. It was the domestic in him claiming its own.
Then, one night, Carrie came home with a dull glow in her leathery cheeks, and her eyes alight with resolve. They had what she called a plain talk.
"Listen, Jo. They've offered me the job of first assistant resident worker. And I'm going to take it. Take it! I know fifty other girls who'd give their ears for it. I go in next month."
They were at dinner. Jo looked up from his plate, dully. Then he glanced around the little dining-room, with its ugly tan walls and its heavy dark furniture (the Calumet Street pieces fitted cumbersomely into the five-room flat).
"Away? Away from here, you mean—to live?"
Carrie laid down her fork. "Well, really, Jo! After all that explanation."
"But to go over there to live! Why, that neighborhood's full of dirt, and disease, and crime, and the Lord knows what all. I can't let you do that, Carrie."
Carrie's chin came up. She laughed a short little laugh. "Let me! That's eighteenth-century talk, Jo. My life's my own to live. I'm going."
And she went. Jo stayed on in the apartment until the lease was up. Then he sold what furniture he could, stored or gave away the rest, and took a room on Michigan Avenue in one of the old stone mansions whose decayed splendor was being put to such purpose.
Jo Hertz was his own master. Free to marry. Free to come and go. And he found he didn't even think of marrying. He didn't even want to come or go, particularly. A rather frumpy old bachelor, with thinning hair and a thickening neck. Much has been written about the unwed, middle-aged woman; her fussiness, her primness, her angularity of mind and body. In the male that same fussiness develops, and a certain primness, too. But he grows flabby where she grows lean.
Every Thursday evening he took dinner at Eva's, and on Sunday noon at Stell's. He tucked his napkin under his chin and openly enjoyed the home-made soup and the well-cooked meats. After dinner he tried to talk business with Eva's husband, or Stell's. His business talks were the old-fashioned kind, beginning:
"Well, now, looka here. Take, f'rinstance your raw hides and leathers."
But Ben and George didn't want to take f'rinstance your raw hides and leathers. They wanted, when they took anything at all, to take golf, or politics, or stocks. They were the modern type of business man who prefers to leave his work out of his play. Business, with them, was a profession—a finely graded and balanced thing, differing from Jo's clumsy, downhill style as completely as does the method of a great criminal detective differ from that of a village constable. They would listen, restively, and say, "Uh-uh," at intervals, and at the first chance they would sort of fade out of the room, with a meaning glance at their wives. Eva had two children now. Girls. They treated Uncle Jo with good-natured tolerance. Stell had no children. Uncle Jo degenerated, by almost imperceptible degrees, from the position of honored guest, who is served with white meat, to that of one who is content with a leg and one of those obscure and bony sections which, after much turning with a bewildered and investigating knife and fork, leave one baffled and unsatisfied.
Eva and Stell got together and decided that Jo ought to marry.
"It isn't natural," Eva told him. "I never saw a man who took so little interest in women."
"Me!" protested Jo, almost shyly. "Women!"
"Yes. Of course. You act like a frightened school boy."
So they had in for dinner certain friends and acquaintances of fitting age. They spoke of them as "splendid girls." Between thirty-six and forty. They talked awfully well, in a firm, clear way, about civics, and classes, and politics, and economics, and boards. They rather terrified Jo. He didn't understand much that they talked about, and he felt humbly inferior, and yet a little resentful, as if something had passed him by. He escorted them home, dutifully, though they told him not to bother, and they evidently meant it. They seemed capable, not only of going home quite unattended, but of delivering a pointed lecture to any highwayman or brawler who might molest them.
The following Thursday Eva would say, "How did you like her, Jo?"
"Like who?" Jo would spar feebly.
"Now, don't be funny, Jo. You know very well I mean the girl who was here for dinner. The one who talked so well on the emigration question."
"Oh, her! Why, I liked her, all right. Seems to be a smart woman."
"Smart! She's a perfectly splendid girl."
"Sure," Jo would agree cheerfully.
"But didn't you like her?"
"I can't say I did, Eve. And I can't say I didn't. She made me think a lot of a teacher I had in the fifth reader. Name of Himes. As I recall her, she must have been a fine woman. But I never thought of her as a woman at all. She was just Teacher."
"You make me tired," snapped Eva impatiently. "A man of your age. You don't expect to marry a girl, do you? A child!"
"I don't expect to marry anybody," Jo had answered.
And that was the truth, lonely though he often was.
The following year Eva moved to Winnetka. Any one who got the meaning of the Loop knows the significance of a move to a north shore suburb, and a house. Eva's daughter, Ethel, was growing up, and her mother had an eye on society.
That did away with Jo's Thursday dinner. Then Stell's husband bought a car. They went out into the country every Sunday. Stell said it was getting so that maids objected to Sunday dinners, anyway. Besides, they were unhealthy, old-fashioned things. They always meant to ask Jo to come along, but by the time their friends were placed, and the lunch, and the boxes, and sweaters, and George's camera, and everything, there seemed to be no room for a man of Jo's bulk. So that eliminated the Sunday dinners.
"Just drop in any time during the week," Stell said, "for dinner. Except Wednesday—that's our bridge night—and Saturday. And, of course, Thursday. Cook is out that night. Don't wait for me to 'phone."
And so Jo drifted into that sad-eyed, dyspeptic family made up of those you see dining in second-rate restaurants, their paper propped up against the bowl of oyster crackers, munching solemnly and with indifference to the stare of the passer-by surveying them through the brazen plate-glass window.
* * *
And then came the War. The war that spelled death and destruction to millions. The war that brought a fortune to Jo Hertz, and transformed him, over night, from a baggy-kneed old bachelor whose business was a failure to a prosperous manufacturer whose only trouble was the shortage in hides for the making of his product—leather! The armies of Europe called for it. Harnesses! More harnesses! Straps! Millions of straps! More! More!
The musty old harness business over on Lake Street was magically changed from a dust-covered, dead-alive concern to an orderly hive that hummed and glittered with success. Orders poured in. Jo Hertz had inside information on the War. He knew about troops and horses. He talked with French and English and Italian buyers—noblemen, many of them—commissioned by their countries to get American-made supplies. And now, when he said to Ben or George, "Take f'rinstance your raw hides and leathers," they listened with respectful attention.
And then began the gay dog business in the life of Jo Hertz. He developed into a loop-hound, ever keen on the scent of fresh pleasure. That side of Jo Hertz which had been repressed and crushed and ignored began to bloom, unhealthily. At first he spent money on his rather contemptuous nieces. He sent them gorgeous fans, and watch bracelets, and velvet bags. He took two expensive rooms at a downtown hotel, and there was something more tear-compelling than grotesque about the way he gloated over the luxury of a separate ice-water tap in the bathroom. He explained it.
"Just turn it on. Ice-water! Any hour of the day or night."
He bought a car. Naturally. A glittering affair; in color a bright blue, with pale-blue leather straps and a great deal of gold fittings and wire wheels. Eva said it was the kind of a thing a soubrette would use, rather than an elderly business man. You saw him driving about in it, red-faced and rather awkward at the wheel. You saw him, too, in the Pompeiian room at the Congress Hotel of a Saturday afternoon when doubtful and roving-eyed matrons in kolinsky capes are wont to congregate to sip pale amber drinks. Actors grew to recognize the semi-bald head and the shining, round, good-natured face looming out at them from the dim well of the parquet, and sometimes, in a musical show, they directed a quip at him, and he liked it. He could pick out the critics as they came down the aisle, and even had a nodding acquaintance with two of them.
"Kelly, of the Herald," he would say carelessly. "Bean, of the Trib. They're all afraid of him."
So he frolicked, ponderously. In New York he might have been called a Man About Town.
And he was lonesome. He was very lonesome. So he searched about in his mind and brought from the dim past the memory of the luxuriously furnished establishment of which he used to dream in the evenings when he dozed over his paper in the old house on Calumet. So he rented an apartment, many-roomed and expensive, with a man-servant in charge, and furnished it in styles and periods ranging through all the Louis. The living room was mostly rose color. It was like an unhealthy and bloated boudoir. And yet there was nothing sybaritic or uncleanly in the sight of this paunchy, middle-aged man sinking into the rosy-cushioned luxury of his ridiculous home. It was a frank and naive indulgence of long-starved senses, and there was in it a great resemblance to the rolling-eyed ecstasy of a school-boy smacking his lips over an all-day sucker.
The War went on, and on, and on. And the money continued to roll in—a flood of it. Then, one afternoon, Eva, in town on shopping bent, entered a small, exclusive, and expensive shop on Michigan Avenue. Exclusive, that is, in price. Eva's weakness, you may remember, was hats. She was seeking a hat now. She described what she sought with a languid conciseness, and stood looking about her after the saleswoman had vanished in quest of it. The room was becomingly rose-illumined and somewhat dim, so that some minutes had passed before she realized that a man seated on a raspberry brocade settee not five feet away—a man with a walking stick, and yellow gloves, and tan spats, and a check suit—was her brother Jo. From him Eva's wild-eyed glance leaped to the woman who was trying on hats before one of the many long mirrors. She was seated, and a saleswoman was exclaiming discreetly at her elbow.
Eva turned sharply and encountered her own saleswoman returning, hat-laden. "Not to-day," she gasped. "I'm feeling ill. Suddenly." And almost ran from the room.
That evening she told Stell, relating her news in that telephone pidgin-English devised by every family of married sisters as protection against the neighbors and Central. Translated, it ran thus:
"He looked straight at me. My dear, I thought I'd die! But at least he had sense enough not to speak. She was one of those limp, willowy creatures with the greediest eyes that she tried to keep softened to a baby stare, and couldn't, she was so crazy to get her hands on those hats. I saw it all in one awful minute. You know the way I do. I suppose some people would call her pretty. I don't. And her color! Well! And the most expensive-looking hats. Aigrettes, and paradise, and feathers. Not one of them under seventy-five. Isn't it disgusting! At his age! Suppose Ethel had been with me!"
The next time it was Stell who saw them. In a restaurant. She said it spoiled her evening. And the third time it was Ethel. She was one of the guests at a theater party given by Nicky Overton II. You know. The North Shore Overtons. Lake Forest. They came in late, and occupied the entire third row at the opening performance of "Believe Me!" And Ethel was Nicky's partner. She was glowing like a rose. When the lights went up after the first act Ethel saw that her uncle Jo was seated just ahead of her with what she afterward described as a Blonde. Then her uncle had turned around, and seeing her, had been surprised into a smile that spread genially all over his plump and rubicund face. Then he had turned to face forward again, quickly.
"Who's the old bird?" Nicky had asked. Ethel had pretended not to hear, so he had asked again.
"My uncle," Ethel answered, and flushed all over her delicate face, and down to her throat. Nicky had looked at the Blonde, and his eyebrows had gone up ever so slightly.
It spoiled Ethel's evening. More than that, as she told her mother of it later, weeping, she declared it had spoiled her life.
Ethel talked it over with her husband in that intimate, kimonoed hour that precedes bedtime. She gesticulated heatedly with her hair brush.
"It's disgusting, that's what it is. Perfectly disgusting. There's no fool like an old fool. Imagine! A creature like that. At his time of life."
There exists a strange and loyal kinship among men. "Well, I don't know," Ben said now, and even grinned a little. "I suppose a boy's got to sow his wild oats some time."
"Don't be any more vulgar than you can help," Eva retorted. "And I think you know, as well as I, what it means to have that Overton boy interested in Ethel."
"If he's interested in her," Ben blundered, "I guess the fact that Ethel's uncle went to the theater with some one who wasn't Ethel's aunt won't cause a shudder to run up and down his frail young frame, will it?"
"All right," Eva had retorted. "If you're not man enough to stop it, I'll have to, that's all. I'm going up there with Stell this week."
They did not notify Jo of their coming. Eva telephoned his apartment when she knew he would be out, and asked his man if he expected his master home to dinner that evening. The man had said yes. Eva arranged to meet Stell in town. They would drive to Jo's apartment together, and wait for him there.
* * *
When she reached the city Eva found turmoil there. The first of the American troops to be sent to France were leaving. Michigan Boulevard was a billowing, surging mass: Flags, pennants, bands, crowds. All the elements that make for demonstration. And over the whole—quiet. No holiday crowd, this. A solid, determined mass of people waiting patient hours to see the khaki-clads go by. Three years of indefatigable reading had brought them to a clear knowledge of what these boys were going to.
"Isn't it dreadful!" Stell gasped.
"Nicky Overton's only nineteen, thank goodness."
Their car was caught in the jam. When they moved at all it was by inches. When at last they reached Jo's apartment they were flushed, nervous, apprehensive. But he had not yet come in. So they waited.
No, they were not staying to dinner with their brother, they told the relieved houseman. Jo's home has already been described to you. Stell and Eva, sunk in rose-colored cushions, viewed it with disgust, and some mirth. They rather avoided each other's eyes.
"Carrie ought to be here," Eva said. They both smiled at the thought of the austere Carrie in the midst of those rosy cushions, and hangings, and lamps. Stell rose and began to walk about, restlessly. She picked up a vase and laid it down; straightened a picture. Eva got up, too, and wandered into the hall. She stood there a moment, listening. Then she turned and passed into Jo's bedroom. And there you knew Jo for what he was.
This room was as bare as the other had been ornate. It was Jo, the clean-minded and simple-hearted, in revolt against the cloying luxury with which he had surrounded himself. The bedroom, of all rooms in any house, reflects the personality of its occupant. True, the actual furniture was paneled, cupid-surmounted, and ridiculous. It had been the fruit of Jo's first orgy of the senses. But now it stood out in that stark little room with an air as incongruous and ashamed as that of a pink tarleton danseuse who finds herself in a monk's cell. None of those wall-pictures with which bachelor bedrooms are reputed to be hung. No satin slippers. No scented notes. Two plain-backed military brushes on the chiffonier (and he so nearly hairless!). A little orderly stack of books on the table near the bed. Eva fingered their titles and gave a little gasp. One of them was on gardening. "Well, of all things!" exclaimed Stell. A book on the War, by an Englishman. A detective story of the lurid type that lulls us to sleep. His shoes ranged in a careful row in the closet, with shoe-trees in every one of them. There was something speaking about them. They looked so human. Eva shut the door on them, quickly. Some bottles on the dresser. A jar of pomade. An ointment such as a man uses who is growing bald and is panic-stricken too late. An insurance calendar on the wall. Some rhubarb-and-soda mixture on the shelf in the bathroom, and a little box of pepsin tablets.
"Eats all kinds of things at all hours of the night," Eva said, and wandered out into the rose-colored front room again with the air of one who is chagrined at her failure to find what she has sought. Stell followed her, furtively.
"Where do you suppose he can be?" she demanded. "It's—" she glanced at her wrist, "why, it's after six!"
And then there was a little click. The two women sat up, tense. The door opened. Jo came in. He blinked a little. The two women in the rosy room stood up.
"Why—Eve! Why, Babe! Well! Why didn't you let me know?"
"We were just about to leave. We thought you weren't coming home."
* * *
Jo came in, slowly. "I was in the jam on Michigan, watching the boys go by." He sat down, heavily. The light from the window fell on him. And you saw that his eyes were red.
And you'll have to learn why. He had found himself one of the thousands in the jam on Michigan Avenue, as he said. He had a place near the curb, where his big frame shut off the view of the unfortunates behind him. He waited with the placid interest of one who has subscribed to all the funds and societies to which a prosperous, middle-aged business man is called upon to subscribe in war time. Then, just as he was about to leave, impatient at the delay, the crowd had cried, with a queer dramatic, exultant note in its voice, "Here they come! here come the boys!"
Just at that moment two little, futile, frenzied fists began to beat a mad tattoo on Jo Hertz's broad back. Jo tried to turn in the crowd, all indignant resentment. "Say, looka here!"
The little fists kept up their frantic beating and pushing. And a voice—a choked, high little voice—cried, "Let me by! I can't see! You man, you! You big fat man! My boy's going by—to war—and I can't see! Let me by!"
Jo scrooged around, still keeping his place. He looked down. And upturned to him in agonized appeal was the face of little Emily. They stared at each other for what seemed a long, long time. It was really only the fraction of a second. Then Jo put one great arm firmly around Emily's waist and swung her around in front of him. His great bulk protected her. Emily was clinging to his hand. She was breathing rapidly, as if she had been running. Her eyes were straining up the street.
"Why, Emily, how in the world!—"
"I ran away. Fred didn't want me to come. He said it would excite me too much."
"My husband. He made me promise to say good-by to Jo at home."
"Jo's my boy. And he's going to war. So I ran away. I had to see him. I had to see him go."
She was dry-eyed. Her gaze was straining up the street.
"Why, sure," said Jo. "Of course you want to see him." And then the crowd gave a great roar. There came over Jo a feeling of weakness. He was trembling. The boys went marching by.
"There he is," Emily shrilled, above the din. "There he is! There he is! There he—" And waved a futile little hand. It wasn't so much a wave as a clutching. A clutching after something beyond her reach.
"Which one? Which one, Emily?"
"The handsome one. The handsome one. There!" Her voice quavered and died.
Jo put a steady hand on her shoulder. "Point him out," he commanded. "Show me." And the next instant. "Never mind. I see him."
Somehow, miraculously, he had picked him from among the hundreds. Had picked him as surely as his own father might have. It was Emily's boy. He was marching by, rather stiffly. He was nineteen, and fun-loving, and he had a girl, and he didn't particularly want to go to France and—to go to France. But more than he had hated going, he had hated not to go. So he marched by, looking straight ahead, his jaw set so that his chin stuck out just a little. Emily's boy.
Jo looked at him, and his face flushed purple. His eyes, the hard-boiled eyes of a loop-hound, took on the look of a sad old man. And suddenly he was no longer Jo, the sport; old J. Hertz, the gay dog. He was Jo Hertz, thirty, in love with life, in love with Emily, and with the stinging blood of young manhood coursing through his veins.
Another minute and the boy had passed on up the broad street—the fine, flag-bedecked street—just one of a hundred service-hats bobbing in rhythmic motion like sandy waves lapping a shore and flowing on.
Then he disappeared altogether.
Emily was clinging to Jo. She was mumbling something over and over. "I can't. I can't. Don't ask me to. I can't let him go. Like that. I can't."
Jo said a queer thing.
"Why, Emily! We wouldn't have him stay home, would we? We wouldn't want him to do anything different, would we? Not our boy. I'm glad he volunteered. I'm proud of him. So are you, glad."
Little by little he quieted her. He took her to the car that was waiting, a worried chauffeur in charge. They said good-by, awkwardly. Emily's face was a red, swollen mass.
So it was that when Jo entered his own hallway half an hour later he blinked, dazedly, and when the light from the window fell on him you saw that his eyes were red.
Eva was not one to beat about the bush. She sat forward in her chair, clutching her bag rather nervously.
"Now, look here, Jo. Stell and I are here for a reason. We're here to tell you that this thing's got to stop."
"You know very well what I mean. You saw me at the milliner's that day. And night before last, Ethel. We're all disgusted. If you must go about with people like that, please have some sense of decency."
Something gathering in Jo's face should have warned her. But he was slumped down in his chair in such a huddle, and he looked so old and fat that she did not heed it. She went on. "You've got us to consider. Your sisters. And your nieces. Not to speak of your own—"
But he got to his feet then, shaking, and at what she saw in his face even Eva faltered and stopped. It wasn't at all the face of a fat, middle-aged sport. It was a face Jovian, terrible.
"You!" he began, low-voiced, ominous. "You!" He raised a great fist high. "You two murderers! You didn't consider me, twenty years ago. You come to me with talk like that. Where's my boy! You killed him, you two, twenty years ago. And now he belongs to somebody else. Where's my son that should have gone marching by to-day?" He flung his arms out in a great gesture of longing. The red veins stood out on his forehead. "Where's my son! Answer me that, you two selfish, miserable women. Where's my son!" Then as they huddled together, frightened, wild-eyed. "Out of my house! Out of my house! Before I hurt you!"
They fled, terrified. The door banged behind them.
Jo stood, shaking, in the center of the room. Then he reached for a chair, gropingly, and sat down. He passed one moist, flabby hand over his forehead and it came away wet. The telephone rang. He sat still, it sounded far away and unimportant, like something forgotten. I think he did not even hear it with his conscious ear. But it rang and rang insistently. Jo liked to answer his telephone when at home.
"Hello!" He knew instantly the voice at the other end.
"That you, Jo?" it said.
"How's my boy?"
"Listen, Jo. The crowd's coming over to-night. I've fixed up a little poker game for you. Just eight of us."
"I can't come to-night, Gert."
"Can't! Why not?"
"I'm not feeling so good."
"You just said you were all right."
"I am all right. Just kind of tired."
The voice took on a cooing note. "Is my Joey tired? Then he shall be all comfy on the sofa, and he doesn't need to play if he don't want to. No, sir."
Jo stood staring at the black mouth-piece of the telephone. He was seeing a procession go marching by. Boys, hundreds of boys, in khaki.
"Hello! Hello!" the voice took on an anxious note. "Are you there?"
"Jo, there's something the matter. You're sick. I'm coming right over."
"Why not? You sound as if you'd been sleeping. Look here—"
"Leave me alone!" cried Jo, suddenly, and the receiver clacked onto the hook. "Leave me alone. Leave me alone." Long after the connection had been broken.
He stood staring at the instrument with unseeing eyes. Then he turned and walked into the front room. All the light had gone out of it. Dusk had come on. All the light had gone out of everything. The zest had gone out of life. The game was over—the game he had been playing against loneliness and disappointment. And he was just a tired old man. A lonely, tired old man in a ridiculous, rose-colored room that had grown, all of a sudden, drab.
THE KNIGHT'S MOVE
[Note 10: Copyright, 1917, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. Copyright, 1918, by Katharine Fullerton Gerould.]
BY KATHARINE FULLERTON GEROULD
From The Atlantic Monthly.
Havelock the Dane settled himself back in his chair and set his feet firmly on the oaken table. Chantry let him do it, though some imperceptible inch of his body winced. For the oak of it was neither fumed nor golden; it was English to its ancient core, and the table had served in the refectory of monks before Henry VIII decided that monks shocked him. Naturally Chantry did not want his friends' boots havocking upon it. But more important than to possess the table was to possess it nonchalantly. He let the big man dig his heel in. Any man but Havelock the Dane would have known better. But Havelock did as he pleased, and you either gave him up or bore it. Chantry did not want to give him up.
Chantry was a feminist; a bit of an aesthete but canny at affairs; good-looking, and temperate, and less hipped on the matter of sex than feminist gentlemen are wont to be. That is to say, while he vaguely wanted l'homme moyen sensuel to mend his ways, he did not expect him to change fundamentally. He rather thought the women would manage all that when they got the vote. You see, he was not a socialist: only a feminist.
Havelock the Dane, on the other hand, was by no means a feminist, but was a socialist. What probably brought the two men together—apart from their common likableness—was that each, in his way, refused to "go the whole hog." They sometimes threshed the thing out together, unable to decide on a programme, but always united at last in their agreement that things were wrong. Havelock trusted Labor, and Chantry trusted Woman; the point was that neither trusted men like themselves, with a little money and an inherited code of honor. Havelock wanted his money taken away from him; Chantry desired his code to be trampled on by innumerable feminine feet. But each was rather helpless, for both expected these things to be done for them.
Except for this tie of ineffectuality, they had nothing special in common. Havelock's life had been adventurous in the good old-fashioned sense: the bars down and a deal of wandering. Chantry had sown so many crops of intellectual wild oats that even the people who came for subscriptions might be forgiven for thinking him a mental libertine, good for subscriptions and not much else. Between them, they boxed the compass about once a week. Havelock had more of what is known as "personality" than Chantry; Chantry more of what is known as "culture." They dovetailed, on the whole, not badly.
Havelock, this afternoon, was full of a story. Chantry wanted to listen, though he knew that he could have listened better if Havelock's heel had not been quite so ponderous on the saecular oak. He took refuge in a cosmic point of view. That was the only point of view from which Havelock (it was, by the way, his physical type only that had caused him to be nicknamed the Dane: his ancestors had come over from England in great discomfort two centuries since), in his blonde hugeness, became negligible. You had to climb very high to see him small.
"You never did the man justice," Havelock was saying.
"Justice be hanged!" replied Chantry.
"Quite so: the feminist slogan."
"A socialist can't afford to throw stones."
The retorts were spoken sharply, on both sides. Then both men laughed. They had too often had it out seriously to mind; these little insults were mere convention.
"Get at your story," resumed Chantry. "I suppose there's a woman in it: a nasty cat invented by your own prejudices. There usually is."
"Never a woman at all. If there were, I shouldn't be asking for your opinion. My opinion, of course, is merely the rational one. I don't side-step the truth because a little drama gets in. I am appealing to you because you are the average man who hasn't seen the light. I honestly want to know what you think. There's a reason."
"What's the reason?"
"I'll tell you that later. Now, I'll tell you the story." Havelock screwed his tawny eyebrows together for a moment before plunging in. "Humph!" he ejaculated at last. "Much good anybody is in a case like this—What did you say you thought of Ferguson?"
"I didn't think anything of Ferguson—except that he had a big brain for biology. He was a loss."
"No personal opinion?"
"I never like people who think so well of themselves as all that."
"No opinion about his death?"
"Accidental, as they said, I suppose."
"Oh, 'they said'! It was suicide, I tell you."
"Suicide? Really?" Chantry's brown eyes lighted for an instant. "Oh, poor chap; I'm sorry."
It did not occur to him immediately to ask how Havelock knew. He trusted a plain statement from Havelock.
"I'm not. Or—yes, I am. I hate to have a man inconsistent."
"It's inconsistent for any one to kill himself. But it's frequently done."
Havelock, hemming and hawing like this, was more nearly a bore than Chantry had ever known him.
"Not for Ferguson."
"Oh, well, never mind Ferguson," Chantry yawned. "Tell me some anecdote out of your tapestried past."
Havelock dug his heel in harder. Chantry all but told him to take his feet down, but stopped himself just in time.
"Well, go on, then," he said, "but it doesn't sound interesting. I hate all tales of suicide. And there isn't even a woman in it," he sighed maliciously.
"Oh, if it comes to that, there is."
"But you said—"
"Not in it exactly, unless you go in for post hoc, propter hoc."
"Oh, drive on." Chantry was pettish.
But at that point Havelock the Dane removed his feet from the refectory table. He will probably never know why Chantry, just then, began to be amiable.
"Excuse me, Havelock. Of course, whatever drove a man like Ferguson to suicide is interesting. And I may say he managed it awfully well. Not a hint, anywhere."
"Well, a scientist ought to get something out of it for himself. Ferguson certainly knew how. Can't you imagine him sitting up there, cocking his hair" (an odd phrase, but Chantry understood), "and deciding just how to circumvent the coroner? I can."
"Ferguson hadn't much imagination."
"A coroner doesn't take imagination. He takes a little hard, expert knowledge."
"I dare say." But Chantry's mind was wandering through other defiles. "Odd, that he should have snatched his life out of the very jaws of what-do-you-call-it, once, only to give it up at last, politely, of his own volition."
"You may well say it." Havelock spoke with more earnestness than he had done. "If you're not a socialist when I get through with you, Chantry, my boy—"
"Lord, Lord! don't tell me your beastly socialism is mixed up with it all! I never took to Ferguson, but he was no syndicalist. In life or in death, I'd swear to that."
"Ah, no. If he had been! But all I mean is that, in a properly regulated state, Ferguson's tragedy would not have occurred."
"So it was a tragedy?"
"He was a loss to the state, God knows."
Had they been speaking of anything less dignified than death and genius, Havelock might have sounded a little austere and silly. As it was—Chantry bit back, and swallowed, his censure.
"That's why I want to know what you think," went on Havelock, irrelevantly. "Whether your damned code of honor is worth Ferguson."
"It's not my damned code any more than yours," broke in Chantry.
"Yes, it is. Or, at least, we break it down at different points—theoretically. Actually, we walk all round it every day to be sure it's intact. Let's be honest."
"Honest as you like, if you'll only come to the point. Whew, but it's hot! Let's have a gin-fizz."
"You aren't serious."
Havelock seemed to try to lash himself into a rage. But he was so big that he could never have got all of himself into a rage at once. You felt that only part of him was angry—his toes, perhaps, or his complexion.
Chantry rang for ice and lemon, and took gin, sugar, and a siphon out of a carved cabinet.
"Go slow," he said. He himself was going very slow, with a beautiful crystal decanter which he set lovingly on the oaken table. "Go slow," he repeated, more easily, when he had set it down. "I can think just as well with a gin-fizz as without one. And I didn't know Ferguson well; and I didn't like him at all. I read his books, and I admired him. But he looked like the devil—the devil, you'll notice, not a devil. With a dash of Charles I by Van Dyck. The one standing by a horse. As you say, he cocked his hair. It went into little horns, above each eyebrow. I'm sorry he's lost to the world, but it doesn't get me. He may have been a saint, for all I know; but there you are—I never cared particularly to know. I am serious. Only, somehow, it doesn't touch me."