THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1917
YEARBOOK OF THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY
EDITED BY EDWARD J. O'BRIEN
EDITOR OF "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1915," "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1916," ETC.
BOSTON SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1918, by The Boston Transcript Company
Copyright, 1917, by The Pictorial Review Company, The Century Company, Charles Scribner's Sons, The Curtis Publishing Company, Harper & Brothers, The Metropolitan Magazine Company, The Atlantic Monthly Company, The Crowell Publishing Company, The International Magazine Company, The Pagan Publishing Company, The Stratford Journal, and The Boston Transcript Company
Copyright, 1918, by Edwina Stanton Babcock, Thomas Beer, Maxwell Struthers Burt, Francis Buzzell, Irvin S. Cobb, Charles Caldwell Dobie, H. G. Dwight, Edna Ferber, Katharine Fullerton Gerould, Susan Glaspell Cook, Frederick Stuart Greene, Richard Matthews Hallet, Fannie Hurst, Fanny Kemble Costello, Burton Kline, Vincent O'Sullivan, Lawrence Perry, Mary Brecht Pulver, Wilbur Daniel Steele, and Mary Synon
Copyright, 1918, by Edward J. O'Brien
Copyright, 1918, by Small, Maynard & Company, Inc.
Fourth printing, January, 1919 Fifth printing, September, 1919 Sixth printing, August, 1920 Seventh printing, August, 1921
WILBUR DANIEL STEELE
BY WAY OF ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Grateful acknowledgment for permission to include the stories and other material in this volume is made to the following authors, editors, publishers, and copyright holders:
To The Pictorial Review Company and Miss Edwina Stanton Babcock for permission to reprint "The Excursion," first published in The Pictorial Review; to The Century Company and Mr. Thomas Beer for permission to reprint "Onnie," first published in The Century Magazine; to Charles Scribner's Sons and Mr. Maxwell Struthers Burt for permission to reprint "A Cup of Tea," first published in Scribner's Magazine; to The Pictorial Review Company and Mr. Francis Buzzell for permission to reprint "Lonely Places," first published in The Pictorial Review; to The Curtis Publishing Company and Mr. Irvin S. Cobb for permission to reprint "Boys Will Be Boys," first published in The Saturday Evening Post; to Harper and Brothers and Mr. Charles Caldwell Dobie for permission to reprint "Laughter," first published in Harper's Magazine; to The Century Company and Mr. H. G. Dwight for permission to reprint "The Emperor of Elam," first published in The Century Magazine; to The Metropolitan Magazine Company and Miss Edna Ferber for permission to reprint "The Gay Old Dog," first published in The Metropolitan Magazine; to The Atlantic Monthly Company and Mrs. Katharine Fullerton Gerould for permission to reprint "The Knight's Move," first published in The Atlantic Monthly; to The Crowell Publishing Company, the editor of Every Week, and Mrs. George Cram Cook for permission to reprint "A Jury of Her Peers," by Susan Glaspell, first published in Every Week and The Associated Sunday Magazines; to The Century Company and Captain Frederick Stuart Greene for permission to reprint "The Bunker Mouse," first published in The Century Magazine; to Mr. Paul R. Reynolds for confirmation of Captain Greene's permission; to The Pictorial Review Company and Mr. Richard Matthews Hallet for permission to reprint "Rainbow Pete," first published in The Pictorial Review; to The International Magazine Company, the editor of The Cosmopolitan Magazine, and Miss Fannie Hurst for permission to reprint "Get Ready the Wreaths," first published in The Cosmopolitan Magazine; to the editor of The Pagan and Mrs. Vincent Costello for permission to reprint "The Strange-Looking Man," by Fanny Kemble Johnson, first published in The Pagan; to The Stratford Journal, the editor of The Stratford Journal, and Mr. Burton Kline for permission to reprint "The Caller in the Night," first published in The Stratford Journal; to The Boston Transcript Company and Mr. Vincent O'Sullivan for permission to reprint "The Interval," first published in The Boston Evening Transcript; to Charles Scribner's Sons and Mr. Lawrence Perry for permission to reprint "'A Certain Rich Man—,'" first published in Scribner's Magazine; to The Curtis Publishing Company and Mrs. Mary Brecht Pulver for permission to reprint "The Path of Glory," first published in The Saturday Evening Post; to The Pictorial Review Company and Mr. Wilbur Daniel Steele for permission to reprint "Ching, Ching, Chinaman," first published in The Pictorial Review; and to Harper and Brothers and Miss Mary Synon for permission to reprint "None So Blind," first published in Harper's Magazine.
Acknowledgments are specially due to The Boston Evening Transcript and The Bookman for permission to reprint the large body of material previously published in their pages.
I wish specially to express my gratitude to the following who have materially assisted by their efforts and advice in making this year-book of American fiction possible and more nearly complete:
Mrs. Padraic Colum, Mr. A. A. Boyden, Mr. Ellery Sedgwick, Mr. Henry A. Bellows, Mr. Herman E. Cassino, Mr. G. G. Wyant, Mr. Burton Kline, Mr. Douglas Z. Doty, Mr. Barry Benefield, Mr. T. R. Smith, Mr. Frederick Lewis Allen, Mr. Henry J. Forman, Miss Honore Willsie, Mr. Harold Hersey, Mr. Bruce Barton, Miss Bernice Brown, Miss Mariel Brady, Mr. William Frederick Bigelow, Mr. John Chapman Hilder, Mr. Thomas B. Wells, Mr. Lee Foster Hartman, Mr. Sewell Haggard, Mr. Samuel W. Hippler, Mr. Joseph Bernard Rethy, Mr. Karl Edwin Harriman, Mr. Christopher Morley, Miss Margaret Anderson, Mrs. Hughes Cornell, Miss Myra G. Reed, Mr. Merrill Rogers, Mr. Charles Hanson Towne, Mr. Carl Hovey, Miss Sonya Levien, Mr. John T. Frederick, Mr. Ival McPeak, Mr. Robert H. Davis, Mrs. R. M. Hallowell, Mr. Harold T. Pulsifer, Mr. Wyndham Martyn, Mr. Frank Harris, Mr. Robert W. Sneddon, Miss Rose L. Ellerbe, Mr. Arthur T. Vance, Miss Jane Lee, Mr. Joseph Kling, Mr. William Marion Reedy, Mr. Leo Pasvolsky, Mr. Churchill Williams, Mr. Robert Bridges, Mr. Waldo Frank, Mr. H. E. Maule, Mr. Henry L. Mencken, Mr. Robert Thomas Hardy, Miss Anne Rankin, Mr. Henry T. Schnittkind, Dr. Isaac Goldberg, Mr. Charles K. Field, Mrs. Mary Fanton Roberts, Miss Sarah Field Splint, Miss Mabel Barker, Mr. Hayden Carruth, Mrs. Kathleen Norris, Mrs. Ethel Hoe, Miss Mildred Cram, Miss Dorothea Lawrance Mann, Miss Hilda Baker, Mr. William Stanley Braithwaite, Mr. Frank Owen, Mr. Alexander Harvey, Mr. Seumas O'Brien, Madame Gaston Lachaise, Mr. John J. Phillips, Mr. Sylvester Baxter, Miss Alice Brown, Mr. Francis Buzzell, Mr. Will Levington Comfort, Mr. Robert A. Parker, Mr. Randolph Edgar, Miss Augusta B. Fowler, Captain Frederick Stuart Greene, Mr. Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, Mr. Reginald Wright Kauffman, Mr. J. B. Kerfoot, Mrs. Elsie S. Lewars, Miss Jeannette Marks, Mr. W. M. Clayton, Mr. Vincent O'Sullivan, Mr. Henry Wallace Phillips, Mr. Melville Davisson Post, Mr. John D. Sabine, Mr. Richard Barker Shelton, Mrs. A. M. Scruggs, Miss May Selley, Mr. Daniel J. Shea, Mr. Vincent Starrett, Mr. M. M. Stearns, Mrs. Ann Watkins, Dr. Blanche Colton Williams, Mr. Edward P. Nagel, Mr. G. Humphrey, Rev. J.-F. Raiche, Mr. Wilbur Daniel Steele, Miss Louise Rand Bascom, Mr. Octavus Roy Cohen, Mr. Robert Cumberland, Mr. Charles Divine, Mr. Frank C. Dodd, Mr. William R. Kane, Mr. David Gibson, Miss Ida Warren Gould, Miss Ella E. Hirsch, Miss Marie Louise Kinsella, Mr. Frank E. Lohn, Mrs. Margaret Medbury, Miss Anna Mitchell, Mr. Robert W. Neal, Mr. Edwin Carty Ranck, Miss Anne B. Schultze, Mrs. Celia Baldwin Whitehead, Mr. Horatio Winslow, Miss Kate Buss, Mrs. E. B. Dewing, Mr. A. E. Dingle, Mr. Edmund R. Brown, Mr. George Gilbert, Mr. Harry E. Jergens, Mr. Eric Levison, Mr. Robert McBlair, Mrs. Vivien C. Mackenzie, Mr. W. W. Norman, Rev. Wilbur Fletcher Steele, Mrs. Elizabeth C. A. Smith, Captain Achmed Abdullah, Mr. H. H. Howland, Mr. Howard W. Cook, Mr. Newton A. Fuessle, Mr. B. Guilbert Guerney, Mr. William H. Briggs, Mr. Francis Garrison, Mr. Albert J. Klinck, Mr. Alfred A. Knopf, Miss Mary Lerner, Mr. H. F. Jenkins, Mr. Guy Holt, Mr. H. S. Latham, Mr. H. L. Pangborn, Miss Maisie Prim, Mr. S. Edgar Briggs, Mr. William Morrow, Mr. Sherwood Anderson, Hon. W. Andrews, Miss Edwina Stanton Babcock, Mr. Thomas Beer, Mrs. Fleta Campbell Springer, Miss Sarah N. Cleghorn, Mr. Irvin S. Cobb, Miss Alice Cowdery, Miss Bertha Helen Crabbe, Mr. H. G. Dwight, Miss Edna Ferber, Mrs. Elizabeth Irons Folsom, Miss Ellen Glasgow, Mrs. George Cram Cook, Mr. Armistead C. Gordon, Miss Fannie Hurst, Mrs. Vincent Costello, Mrs. E. Clement Jones, Mrs. Gerald Stanley Lee, Mr. Addison Lewis, Mr. Edison Marshall, Mr. Edgar Lee Masters, Miss Gertrude Nafe, Mr. Meredith Nicholson, Mr. Harvey J. O'Higgins, Mr. Lawrence Perry, Mrs. Olive Higgins Prouty, Mrs. Mary Brecht Pulver, Mr. Benjamin Rosenblatt, Mr. Herman Schneider, Professor Grant Showerman, Miss Mary Synon, Mrs. Mary Heaton O'Brien, Mr. George Weston, and especially to Mr. Francis J. Hannigan, to whom I owe invaluable cooperation in ways too numerous to mention.
I shall be grateful to my readers for corrections, and particularly for suggestions leading to the wider usefulness of this annual volume. In particular, I shall welcome the receipt, from authors, editors, and publishers, of stories published during 1918 which have qualities of distinction, and yet are not printed in periodicals falling under my regular notice. It is also my intention during 1918 to review all volumes of short stories published during that year in the United States. All communications and volumes submitted for review in "The Best Short Stories of 1918" maybe addressed to me at South Yarmouth, Massachusetts. For such assistance, I shall make due and grateful acknowledgment in next year's annual.
If I have been guilty of any omissions in these acknowledgments, it is quite unintentional, and I trust that I shall be absolved for my good intentions.
E. J. O.
* * *
INTRODUCTION. By the Editor xvii
THE EXCURSION. By Edwina Stanton Babcock 1 (From The Pictorial Review)
ONNIE. By Thomas Beer 20 (From The Century Magazine)
A CUP OF TEA. By Maxwell Struthers Burt 45 (From Scribner's Magazine)
LONELY PLACES. By Francis Buzzell 70 (From The Pictorial Review)
BOYS WILL BE BOYS. By Irvin S. Cobb 86 (From The Saturday Evening Post)
LAUGHTER. By Charles Caldwell Dobie 128 (From Harper's Magazine)
THE EMPEROR OF ELAM. By H. G. Dwight 147 (From The Century Magazine)
THE GAY OLD DOG. By Edna Ferber 208 (From The Metropolitan Magazine)
THE KNIGHT'S MOVE. By Katharine Fullerton Gerould 234 (From The Atlantic Monthly)
A JURY OF HER PEERS. By Susan Glaspell 256 (From Every Week)
THE BUNKER MOUSE. By Frederick Stuart Greene 283 (From The Century Magazine)
RAINBOW PETE. By Richard Matthews Hallet 307 (From The Pictorial Review)
GET READY THE WREATHS. By Fannie Hurst 326 (From The Cosmopolitan Magazine)
THE STRANGE-LOOKING MAN. By Fanny Kemble Johnson 361 (From The Pagan)
THE CALLER IN THE NIGHT. By Burton Kline 365 (From The Stratford Journal)
THE INTERVAL. By Vincent O'Sullivan 383 (From The Boston Evening Transcript)
"A CERTAIN RICH MAN—." By Lawrence Perry 391 (From Scribner's Magazine)
THE PATH OF GLORY. By Mary Brecht Pulver 412 (From The Saturday Evening Post)
CHING, CHING, CHINAMAN. By Wilbur Daniel Steele 441 (From The Pictorial Review)
NONE SO BLIND. By Mary Synon 468 (From Harper's Magazine)
THE YEARBOOK OF THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY FOR 1917 483
Addresses of American Magazines Publishing Short Stories 485
The Biographical Roll of Honor of American Short Stories for 1917 487
The Roll of Honor of Foreign Short Stories in American Magazines for 1917 506
The Best Books of Short Stories of 1917: A Critical Summary 509
Volumes of Short Stories Published During 1917: An Index 521
The Best Sixty-three American Short Stories of 1917: A Critical Summary 536
Magazine Averages for 1917 541
Index of Short Stories for 1917 544
[Note 1: The order in which the stories in this volume are printed is not intended as an indication of their comparative excellence; the arrangement is alphabetical by authors.]
A year ago, in the introduction to "The Best Short Stories of 1916," I pointed out that the American short story cannot be reduced to a literary formula, because the art in which it finds its concrete embodiment is a growing art. The critic, when he approaches American literature, cannot regard it as he can regard any foreign literature. Setting aside the question of whether our cosmopolitan population, with its widely different kinds of racial heritage, is at an advantage or a disadvantage because of its conflicting traditions, we must accept the variety in substance and attempt to find in it a new kind of national unity, hitherto unknown in the history of the world. The message voiced in President Wilson's words on several occasions during the past year is a true reflection of the message implicit in American literature. Various in substance, it finds its unity in the new freedom of democracy, and English and French, German and Slav, Italian and Scandinavian bring to the common melting-pot ideals which are fused in a national unity of democratic utterance.
It is inevitable, therefore, that in this stage of our national literary development, our newly conscious speech lacks the sophisticated technique of older literatures. But, perhaps because of this very limitation, it is much more alert to the variety and life of the human substance with which it deals. It does not take the whole of life for granted and it often reveals the fresh naivete of childhood in its discovery of life. When its sophistication is complete, it is the sophistication of English rather than of American literature, and is derivative rather than original, for the most part, in its criticism of life. I would specifically except, however, from this criticism the work of three writers, at least, whose sophistication is the embodiment of a new American technique. Katharine Fullerton Gerould, Wilbur Daniel Steele, and H. G. Dwight have each attained a distinction in our contemporary literature which places them at the head of their craft.
During the past year there has been much pessimistic criticism of the American short story, some of it by Americans, and some by Europeans who are now residing in our midst. To the European mind, trained in a tradition where technique in story-writing is paramount, it is natural that the American short story should seem to reveal grave deficiencies. I am by no means disposed to minimize the weakness of American craftsmanship, but I feel that at the present stage of our literary development, discouragement will prove a very easy and fatal thing. The typical point of view of the European critic, when justified, is adequately reflected in an article by Mary M. Colum, which was published in the Dial last spring: "Those of us who take an interest in literary history will remember how particular literary forms at times seize hold of a country: in Elizabethan England, it was the verse drama; in the eighteenth century, it was the essay; in Scandinavia of a generation ago, it was the drama again. At present America is in the grip of the short story—so thoroughly in its grip indeed that, in addition to all the important writers, nearly all the literate population who are not writing movie scenarios are writing or are about to write short stories. One reason for this is the general belief that this highly sophisticated and subtle art is a means for making money in spare time, and so one finds everybody, from the man who solicits insurance to the barber who sells hair-tonics, engaged in writing, or in taking courses in the writing, of short stories. Judging from what appears in the magazines, one imagines that they get their efforts accepted. There is no doubt that the butcher, the baker, and the candle-stick maker are easily capable of producing the current short stories with the aids now afforded."
Now this is the heart of the matter with which criticism has to deal. It is regrettable that the American magazine editor is not more mindful of his high calling, but the tremendous advertising development of the American magazine has bound American literature in the chains of commercialism, and before a permanent literary criticism of the American short story can be established, we must fight to break these bonds. I conceive it to be my essential function to begin at the bottom and record the first signs of grace, rather than to limit myself to the top and write critically about work which will endure with or without criticism. If American critics would devote their attention for ten years to this spade work, they might not win so much honor, but we should find the atmosphere clearer at the end of that period for the true exercise of literary criticism.
Nevertheless I contend that there is much fine work being accomplished at present, which is buried in the ruck of the interminable commonplace. I regard it as my duty to chronicle this work, and thus render it accessible for others to discuss.
Mrs. Colum continues: "Apart from the interesting experiments in free verse or polyphonic prose, the short story in America is at a low ebb. Magazine editors will probably say the blame rests with their readers. This may be so, but do people really read the long, dreary stories of from five to nine thousand words which the average American magazine editor publishes? Why a vivid people like the American should be so dusty and dull in their short stories is a lasting puzzle to the European, who knows that America has produced a large proportion of the great short stories of the world."
I deny that the American short story is at a low ebb, and I offer the present volume as a revelation of the best that is now being done in this field. I agree with Mrs. Colum that the best stories are only to be found after a laborious dusty search, but this is the proof rather than the refutation of my position.
Despite the touch of paradox, Mrs. Colum makes two admirable suggestions to remedy this condition of affairs. "A few magazine editors could do a great deal to raise the level of the American short story. They could at once eradicate two of the things that cause a part of the evil—the wordiness and the commercial standardization of the story. By declining short stories over three thousand words long, and by refusing to pay more than a hundred dollars for any short story, they could create a new standard and raise both the prestige of the short story and of their magazines. They would then get the imaginative writers, and not the exploiters of a commercial article."
I am not sure that the average American editor wishes to welcome the imaginative writer, but assuming this to be true, I would modify Mrs. Colum's suggestions and propose that, except in an unusual instance, the short story should be limited to five thousand words, and that the compensation for it should not exceed three hundred dollars.
To repeat what I have said in previous volumes of this series, for the benefit of the reader as yet unacquainted with my standards and principles of selection, I shall point out that I have set myself the task of disengaging the essential human qualities in our contemporary fiction which, when chronicled conscientiously by our literary artists, may fairly be called a criticism of life. I am not at all interested in formulas, and organized criticism at its best would be nothing more than dead criticism, as all dogmatic interpretation of life is always dead. What has interested me, to the exclusion of other things, is the fresh living current which flows through the best of our work, and the psychological and imaginative reality which our writers have conferred upon it.
No substance is of importance in fiction, unless it is organic substance, that is to say, substance in which the pulse of life is beating. Inorganic fiction has been our curse in the past, and bids fair to remain so, unless we exercise much greater artistic discrimination than we display at present.
During the past year I have sought to select from the stories published in American magazines those which have rendered life imaginatively in organic substance and artistic form. As the most adequate means to this end, I have taken each short story by itself, and examined it impartially. I have done my best to surrender myself to the writer's point of view, and granting his choice of material and personal interpretation of its value, have sought to test it by the double standard of substance and form. Substance is something achieved by the artist in every act of creation, rather than something already present, and accordingly a fact or group of facts in a story only obtain substantial embodiment when the artist's power of compelling imaginative persuasion transforms them into a living truth. The first test of a short story, therefore, in any qualitative analysis is to report upon how vitally compelling the writer makes his selected facts or incidents. This test may be known as the test of substance.
But a second test is necessary if a story is to take high rank above other stories. The true artist will seek to shape this living substance into the most beautiful and satisfying form, by skilful selection and arrangement of his material, and by the most direct and appealing presentation of it in portrayal and characterization.
The short stories which I have examined in this study, as in previous years, have fallen naturally into four groups. The first group consists of those stories which fail, in my opinion, to survive either the test of substance or the test of form. These stories are listed in the year-book without comment or a qualifying asterisk. The second group consists of those stories which may fairly claim that they survive either the test of substance or the test of form. Each of these stories may claim to possess either distinction of technique alone, or more frequently, I am glad to say, a persuasive sense of life in them to which a reader responds with some part of his own experience. Stories included in this group are indicated in the year-book index by a single asterisk prefixed to the title. The third group, which is composed of stories of still greater distinction, includes such narratives as may lay convincing claim to a second reading, because each of them has survived both tests, the test of substance and the test of form. Stories included in this group are indicated in the year-book index by two asterisks prefixed to the title.
Finally, I have recorded the names of a small group of stories which possess, I believe, an even finer distinction—the distinction of uniting genuine substance and artistic form in a closely woven pattern with such sincerity that these stories may fairly claim a position in our literature. If all of these stories by American authors were republished, they would not occupy more space than six average novels. My selection of them does not imply the critical belief that they are great stories. It is simply to be taken as meaning that I have found the equivalent of six volumes worthy of republication among all the stories published during 1917. These stories are indicated in the year-book index by three asterisks prefixed to the title, and are listed in the special "Rolls of Honor." In compiling these lists, I have permitted no personal preference or prejudice to influence my judgment consciously for or against a story. To the titles of certain stories, however, in the American "Roll of Honor," an asterisk is prefixed, and this asterisk, I must confess, reveals in some measure a personal preference. It is from this final short list that the stories reprinted in this volume have been selected.
It has been a point of honor with me not to republish an English story, nor a translation from a foreign author. I have also made it a rule not to include more than one story by an individual author in the volume. The general and particular results of my study will be found explained and carefully detailed in the supplementary part of the volume.
The Yearbook for 1917 contains three new features. The Roll of Honor of American Short Stories includes a short biographical sketch of each author; a selection from the volumes of short stories published during the past year is reviewed at some length; and, in response to numerous requests, a list of American magazines publishing short stories, with their editorial addresses, has been compiled.
Wilbur Daniel Steele and Katharine Fullerton Gerould are still at the head of their craft. But during the past year the ten published stories by Maxwell Struthers Burt and Charles Caldwell Dobie seem to promise a future in our literature of equal importance to the later work of these writers. Sherwood Anderson and Waldo Frank emerge as writers with a great deal of importance to say, although they have not yet fully mastered the art of saying it. The three new short story writers who show most promise are Gertrude Nafe and Thomas Beer, whose first stories appeared in the Century Magazine during 1917, and Elizabeth Stead Taber, whose story, "The Scar," when it appeared in the Seven Arts, attracted much favorable comment. Edwina Stanton Babcock and Lee Foster Hartman have both published memorable stories, and "The Interval," which was Vincent O'Sullivan's sole contribution to an American periodical during 1917, compels us to wonder why an artist, for whom men of such widely different temperaments as Lionel Johnson, Remy de Gourmont, and Edward Garnett had high critical esteem, finds the American public so indifferent to his art.
Addison Lewis has published during the past year a series of stories in Reedy's Mirror which have more of O. Henry's magic than the thousand writers who have endeavored to imitate him to the everlasting injury of American literature. Frederick Stuart Greene, in "The Bunker Mouse" and "Molly McGuire, Fourteen," shows marked literary development, and reinforces my belief that in him we have an important new story-teller. I suppose the best war story of the year is "The Flying Teuton," by Alice Brown, soon to be reprinted in book form.
I do not know whether it is an effect of the war or not, but during 1917, even more than during 1916, American magazines have been almost absolutely devoid of humor. Save for Irvin S. Cobb, on whom the mantle of Mark Twain has surely fallen, and for Seumas O'Brien, whom Mr. Dooley must envy, I have found American fiction to be sufficiently solemn and imperturbable.
I need not emphasize again the fine art of Fannie Hurst. Two years ago Mr. Howells stated more truly than I can the significance of her work. Comparing her with two other contemporaries, he wrote: "Miss Fannie Hurst shows the same artistic quality, the same instinct for reality, the same confident recognition of the superficial cheapness and commonness of the stuff she handles; but in her stories she also attests the right to be named with them for the gift of penetrating to the heart of life. No one with the love of the grotesque which is the American portion of the human tastes or passions, can fail of his joy in the play of the obvious traits and motives of her Hebrew comedy, but he will fail of something precious if he does not sound the depths of true and beautiful feeling which underlies the comedy."
A similar distinction marks Edna Ferber's story entitled "The Gay Old Dog."
Of the English short story writers who have published during the past year in American periodicals, Mr. Galsworthy has presented the most evenly distinguished work. Hardly second to his best are the six stories by J. D. Beresford and D. H. Lawrence, both well known realists of the younger generation. Stacy Aumonier has continued the promise of "The Friends" with three new stories written in the same key. Although the vein of his talent is a narrow one, it reveals pure gold. Good Housekeeping has published three war stories by an Englishwoman, I. A. R. Wylie, which I should have coveted for this book had they been by an American author. But perhaps the best English short story of the year in an American magazine was "The Coming of the Terror," by Arthur Machen, since republished in book form.
Elsewhere I have discussed at some length the more important volumes of short stories published during the year. "A Munster Twilight," by Daniel Corkery is alone sufficient to mark a notable literary year. And "The Echo of Voices," by Richard Curle is hardly second to it. Yet the year has seen the publication of at least three other books by English authors who are new to the reading public. Thomas Burke, Caradoc Evans, and Arthur Machen have added permanent contributions to English literature.
In "A Handbook on Story Writing," Dr. Blanche Colton Williams has written the first definitive textbook on the subject. Its many predecessors have either been content to deal with narrow branches in the same field, or have exploited quite frankly and shamelessly the commercial possibilities of story writing as a cheap trade. Dr. Williams's book will not be in all likelihood superseded for many years to come, and the effects of her work are already to be seen in the short stories of many established writers.
In the death of Edward Thomas, England has lost a rare artist who, in his particular field, was only rivalled by Richard Jefferies.
During the past year the Seven Arts and the Masses have ceased publication. The Craftsman, which ceased publication a year ago, has been succeeded by the Touchstone, which is already beginning to print many interesting stories; and to the list of magazines which publish short stories must now be welcomed the Bookman.
As it has been my happiness in past years to associate this annual with the names of Benjamin Rosenblatt and Richard Matthews Hallet, whose stories, "Zelig" and "Making Port," seemed to me respectively the best short stories of 1915 and 1916, so it is my pleasure and honor this year to dedicate the best that I have found in the American magazines as the fruit of my labors to Wilbur Daniel Steele, who has contributed to American literature, preeminently in "Ching, Ching, Chinaman," and almost as finely in "White Hands" and "The Woman At Seven Brothers," three stories which take their place for finality, to the best of my belief, in the great English line.
EDWARD J. O'BRIEN.
SOUTH YARMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS, December 23, 1917.
THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1917
NOTE. The twenty stories which follow are arranged in the alphabetical order of their authors' names. This arrangement does not imply any precedence in merit of particular stories.
[Note 2: Copyright, 1917, by The Pictorial Review Company. Copyright, 1918, by Edwina Stanton Babcock.]
BY EDWINA STANTON BABCOCK From The Pictorial Review
Mrs. Tuttle arrived breathless, bearing a large gilt parrot-cage. She swept up the gangway of the Fall of Rome and was enthusiastically received. There were, however, concealed titterings and suppressed whispers. "My sakes! She's went and brought that bird."
"I won't believe it till I see it."
"There he sets in his gold coop."
Mrs. Turtle brought Romeo to the excursion with the same assurance that a woman of another stamp brings her Pekingese dog to a restaurant table. While the Fall of Rome sounded a warning whistle, and hawsers were loosed she adjusted her veil and took cognizance of fellow passengers.
In spite of wealth and "owning her own automobile," Mrs. Turtle's fetish was democratic popularity. She greeted one after another.
"How do, Mis' Bridge, and Mister, too! Who's keeping store while you're away?
"Carrie Turpin! You here? Where's Si? Couldn't come? Now that's too bad!" After a long stare, "You're some fleshier, ain't you, Carrie?"
A large woman in a tan-colored linen duster came slowly down the deck, a camp-stool in either hand. Her portly advance was intercepted by Mrs. Tuttle.
"Mis' Tinneray! Same as ever!"
Mrs. Tinneray dropped the camp-stools and adjusted her smoked glasses; she gave a start and the two ladies embraced.
Mrs. Tuttle said that "it beat all," and Mrs. Tinneray said "she never!"
Mrs. Tuttle, emerged from the embrace, re-adjusting her hat with many-ringed fingers, inquiring, "How's the folks?"
Up lumbered Mr. Tinneray, a large man with a chuckle and pale eyes, who was introduced by the well-known formula, "Mis' Tuttle, Mr. Tinneray, Mr. Tinneray, Mis' Tuttle."
The Tinnerays said, "So you brought the bird along, hey?" Then, without warning, all conversation ceased. The Fall of Rome, steaming slowly away from the pier, whistled a sodden whistle, the flags flapped, every one realized that the excursion had really begun.
This excursion was one of the frank displays of human hopes, yearnings, and vanities, that sometimes take place on steamboats. Feathers had a hectic brilliancy that proved secret, dumb longings. Pendants known as "lavaleers" hung from necks otherwise innocent of the costly fopperies of Versailles. Old ladies clad in princess dresses with yachting caps worn rakishly on their grey hair, vied with other old ladies in automobile bonnets, who, with opera glasses, searched out the meaning of every passing buoy. Young girls carrying "mesh-bags," that subtle connotation of the feminine character, extracted tooth-picks from them or searched for bits of chewing gum among their over scented treasures.
As it was an excursion, the Fall of Rome carried a band and booths laden with many delicious superfluities such as pop-corn and the misleading compound known as "salt-water taffy." There were, besides, the blue and red pennants that always go on excursions, and the yellow and pink fly-flappers that always come home from them; also there were stacks of whistle-whips and slender canes with ivory heads with little holes pierced through. These canes were bought only by cynical young men whose new straw hats were fastened to their persons by thin black strings. Each young man, after purchasing an ivory-headed cane retired to privacy to squint through it undisturbed. Emerging from this privacy the young man would then confer with other young men. What these joyless young men saw when they squinted they never revealed. But among their elders they spread the strong impression that it was the Capital at Washington or Bunker Hill Monument.
Besides bottled soda and all soft drinks the Fall of Rome carried other stimuli in the shape of comic gentlemen—such beings, as, more or less depressed in their own proper environment, on excursions suddenly see themselves in their true light, irresistibly facetious. These funny gentlemen, mostly husbands, seated themselves near to large groups of indulgent women and kept up an exquisite banter directed at each other's personal defects, or upon the idiosyncrasies of any bachelor or spinster near. These funny gentlemen kept alluding to the excursion as the "Exertion." If the boat rolled a little they said, "Now, Mother, don't rock the boat."
"Here, girls, sit up close, we'll all go down together."
"Hold on to yer beau, Minnie. He'll fall overboard and where'll you git another?"
The peals of laughter at these sallies were unfailing. The crunch of peanuts was unfailing. The band, with a sort of plethoric indulgence, played slow waltzes in which the bass instruments frequently misapplied notes, but to the allure of which came youthful dancers lovely in proud awkward poses.
Mrs. Tuttle meanwhile was the social center, demonstrating that mysterious psychic force known as being the "life of the party." She advanced upon a tall sallow woman in mourning, challenging, "Now Mis' Mealer, why don't you just set and take a little comfort, it won't cost you nothing? Ain't that your girl over there by the coffee fountain? I should ha' known her by the reesemblance to you; she's rill refined lookin'."
Mrs. Mealer, a tall, sallow widow with carefully maintained mourning visage, admitted that this was so. Refinement, she averred, was in the family, but she hinted at some obscure ailment which, while it made Emma refined, kept her "mizzable."
"I brought her along," sighed Mrs. Mealer, "tain't as if neither of us could take much pleasure into it, both of us being so deep in black fer her Popper, but the styles is bound to do her good. Emma is such a great hand for style."
"Yuess?" replied Mrs. Tuttle blandly. This lady in blue was not nearly so interested in Emma as in keeping a circle of admirers hanging around her cerulean presence, but even slightly encouraged, Mrs. Mealer warmed to her topic.
"Style?" she repeated impressively, "style? Seems like Emma couldn't never have enough of it. Where she got it I don't know. I wasn't never much for dress, and give her Popper coat and pants, twuz all he wanted. But Emma—ef you want to make her happy tie a bow onto suthin'."
Mrs. Tuttle nodded with ostentatious understanding. Rising, she seized Romeo's cage and placed it more conspicuously near her. She was critically watched by the older women. They viewed the thing with mingled feelings, one or two going so far as to murmur darkly, "Her and her parrot!"
Still, the lady's elegance and the known fact that she owned and operated her own automobile cast a spell over most of her observers, and many faces, as Mrs. Tuttle proceeded to draw out her pet, were screwed into watchful and ingratiating benevolence.
Romeo, a blase bird with the air of having bitter memories, affected for a long time not to hear his mistress's blandishments. After looking contemptuously into his seed-cup, he crept slowly around the sides of his cage, fixing a cynical eye upon all observers.
"How goes it, Romeo?" appealed Mrs. Tuttle. Making sounds supposed to be appreciated by birds, the lady put her feathered head down, suggesting, "Ah there, Romeo?"
"Rubberneck," returned Romeo sullenly. To show general scorn, the bird revolved on one claw round and round his swing; he looked dangerous, repeating, "Rubberneck."
At this an interested group gathered around Mrs. Tuttle, who, affable and indulgent, attempted by coaxings and flirtings of a fat bediamonded finger to show Romeo off, but the pampered bird saw further opportunity to offend.
"Rubberneck," screamed Romeo again. He ruffled up his neck feathers, repeating "Rubberneck, I'm cold as the deuce; what's the matter with Hannah; let 'em all go to grass."
Several of the youths with ivory-headed canes now forsook their contemplations to draw near, grinning, to the parrot-cage.
Stimulated by these youths, Romeo reeled off more ribald remarks, things that created a sudden chill among the passengers on the Fall of Rome. Mrs. Tinneray, looked upon as a leader, called up a shocked face and walked away; Mrs. Mealer after a faint "Excuse me," also abandoned the parrot-cage; and Mrs. Bean, a small stout woman with a brown false front, followed the large lady with blue spectacles and the tan linen duster. On some mysterious pretext of washing their hands, these two left the upper deck and sought the calm of the white and gold passenger saloon. Here they trod as in the very sanctities of luxury.
"These carpets is nice, ain't they?" remarked Mrs. Bean.
Then alluding to the scene they had just left: "Ain't it comical how she idolizes that there bird?"
Mrs. Tinneray sniffed. "And what she spends on him! 'Nitials on his seed-cup—and some says the cage itself is true gold."
Mrs. Bean, preparing to wash her hands, removed her black skirt and pinned a towel around her waist. "This here liquid soap is nice"—turning the faucets gingerly—"and don't the boat set good onto the water?" Then returning to the rich topic of Mrs. Tuttle and her pampered bird, "Where's she get all her money for her ottermobile and her gold cage?"
Mrs. Tinneray at an adjacent basin raised her head sharply, "You ain't heard about the Tuttle money? You don't know how Mabel Hutch that was, was hair to everything?"
Mrs. Bean confessed that she had not heard, but she made it evident that she thirsted for information. So the two ladies, exchanging remarks about sunburn and freckles, finished their hand-washing and proceeded to the dark-green plush seats of the saloon, where with appropriate looks of horror and incredulity Mrs. Bean listened to the story of the hairs to the Hutches' money.
"Mabel was the favorite; her Pa set great store by her. There was another sister—consumpted—she should have been a hair, but she died. Then the youngest one, Hetty, she married my second cousin Hen Cronney—well it seemed like they hadn't nothing but bad luck and her Pa and Mabel sort of took against Hetty."
Mrs. Bean, herself chewing calculatingly, handed Mrs. Tinneray a bit of sugared calamus-root.
"Is your cousin Hen dark-complexioned like your folks?" she asked scientifically.
Mrs. Tinneray, narrowing both eyes, considered. "More auburn-inclined, I should say—he ain't rill smart, Hen ain't, he gets took with spells now and then, but I never held that against him."
"Uh-huh!" agreed Mrs. Bean sympathetically.
"Well, then, Mabel Hutch and her Popper took against poor little Hetty. Old man Hutch he died and left everything to Mabel, and she never goes near her own sister!"
Mrs. Bean raised gray-cotton gloved hands signifying horror.
"St—st—st——!" she deplored. She searched in her reticule for more calamus-root. "He didn't leave her nothing?"
"No, ma'am! This one!" With a jerk of the head, Mrs. Tinneray indicated a dashing blue feather seen through a distant saloon window. "This one's got it all; hair to everything."
"And what did she do—married a traveling salesman and built a tony brick house. They never had no children, but when he was killed into a railway accident she trimmed up that parrot's cage with crape—and now,"—Mrs. Tinneray with increasing solemnity chewed her calamus-root—"now she's been and bought one of them ottermobiles and runs it herself like you'd run your sewin'-machine, just as shameless—"
Both of the ladies glared condemnation at the distant blue feather.
Mrs. Tinneray continued, "Hetty Cronney's worth a dozen of her. When I think of that there bird goin' on this excursion and Hetty Cronney stayin' home because she's too poor, I get nesty, Mrs. Bean, yes, I do!"
"Don't your cousin Hetty live over to Chadwick's Harbor," inquired Mrs. Bean, "and don't this boat-ride stop there to take on more folks?"
Mrs. Tinneray, acknowledging that these things were so, uncorked a small bottle of cologne and poured a little of it on a handkerchief embroidered in black forget-me-nots. She handed the bottle to Mrs. Bean who took three polite sniffs and closed her eyes. The two ladies sat silent for a moment. They experienced a detachment of luxurious abandon filled with the poetry of the steamboat saloon. Psychically they were affected as by ecclesiasticism. The perfume of the cologne and the throb of the engines swept them with a sense of esthetic reverie, the thrill of travel, and the atmosphere of elegance. Moreover, the story of the Hutch money and the Hutch hairs had in some undefined way affiliated the two. At last by tacit consent they rose, went out on deck and, holding their reticules tight, walked majestically up and down. When they passed Mrs. Turtle's blue feathers and the gold parrot-cage they smiled meaningly and looked at each other.
* * *
As the Fall of Rome approached Chadwick's Landing more intimate groups formed. The air was mild, the sun warm and inviting, and the water an obvious and understandable blue. Some serious-minded excursionists sat well forward on their camp-stools discussing deep topics over half-skinned bananas.
"Give me the Vote," a lady in a purple raincoat was saying, "Give me the Vote and I undertake to close up every rum-hole in God's World."
A mild-mannered youth with no chin, upon hearing this, edged away. He went to the stern, looking down for a long time upon the white path of foam left in the wake of the Fall of Rome and taking a harmonica from his waistcoat pocket began to play, "Darling, I Am Growing Old." This tune, played with emotional throbbings managed by spasmodic movements of the hands over the sides of the mouth, seemed to convey anything but age to Miss Mealer, the girl who was so refined. She also sat alone in the stern, also staring down at the white water. As the wailings of the harmonica ceased, she put up a thin hand and furtively controlled some waving strands of hair. Suddenly with scarlet face the mild-mannered youth moved up his camp-stool to her side.
"They're talkin' about closing up the rum-holes." He indicated the group dominated by the lady in the purple raincoat. "They don't know what they're talking about. Some rum-holes is real refined and tasty, some of them have got gramophones you can hear for nothin'."
"Is that so?" responded the refined Miss Mealer. She smoothed her gloves. She opened her "mesh" bag and took out an intensely perfumed handkerchief. The mild-mannered youth put his harmonica in his pocket and warmed to the topic.
"Many's the time I've set into a saloon listening to that Lady that sings high up—higher than any piano can go. I've set and listened till I didn't know where I was settin'—of course I had to buy a drink, you understand, or I couldn't 'a' set."
"And they call that vice," remarked Miss Mealer with languid criticism.
The mild-mannered youth looked at her gratefully. The light of reason and philosophy seemed to him to shine in her eyes.
"You've got a piano to your house," he said boldly, "can you—ahem—play classic pieces, can you play—ahem—'Asleep on the Deep'?"
In another group where substantial sandwiches were being eaten, the main theme was religion and psychic phenomena with a strong leaning toward death-bed experiences.
"And then, my sister's mother-in-law, she set up, and she says, 'Where am I?' she says, like she was in a store or somethin', and she told how she seen all white before her eyes and all like gentlemen in high silk hats walkin' around."
There were sighs of comprehension, gasps of dolorous interest.
"The same with my Christopher!"
"Just like my aunt's step-sister afore she went!"
Mrs. Tuttle did not favor the grave character of these symposia.
With the assured manner peculiar to her, she swept into such circles bearing a round box of candy, upon which was tied a large bow of satin ribbon of a convivial shade of heliotrope. Opening this box she handed it about, commanding, "Help yourself."
At first it was considered refined to refuse. One or two excursionists, awed by the superfluity of heliotrope ribbon, said feebly, "Don't rob yourself."
But Mrs. Tuttle met this restraint with practised raillery. "What you all afraid of? It ain't poisoned! I got more where this come from." She turned to the younger people. "Come one, come all! It's French-mixed."
Meanwhile Mrs. Bean and Mrs. Tinneray, still aloof and enigmatic, paced the deck. Mrs. Tuttle, blue feathers streaming, teetered on her high heels in their direction. Again she proffered the box. One of the cynical youths with the ivory-headed canes was following her, demanding that the parrot be fed a caramel. Once more the sky-blue figure bent over the ornate cage; then little Mrs. Bean looked at Mrs. Tinneray with a gesture of utter repudiation.
"Ain't she terrible?"
As the steamboat approached the wharf and the dwarf pines and yellow sand-banks of Chadwick's Landing, a whispered consultation between these two ladies resulted in one desperate attempt to probe the heart of Mabel Hutch that was. Drawing camp-stools up near the vicinity of the parrot's cage, they began with what might to a suspicious nature have seemed rather pointed speculation, to wonder who might or might not be at the wharf when the Fall of Rome got in.
Once more the bottle of cologne was produced and handkerchiefs genteelly dampened. Mrs. Bean, taking off her green glasses, polished them and held them up to the light, explaining, "This here sea air makes 'em all of a muck."
Suddenly she leaned over to Mrs. Tuttle with an air of sympathetic interest.
"I suppose—er—your sister Hetty'll be comin' on board when we get to Chadwick's Landing—her and her husband?"
Mrs. Tuttle fidgeted. She covered Romeo's cage with a curious arrangement like an altar-cloth on which gay embroidered parrakeets of all colors were supposed to give Romeo, when lonely, a feeling of congenial companionship.
Mrs. Bean, thus evaded, screwed up her eyes tight, then opened them wide at Mrs. Tinneray, who sat rigid, her gaze riveted upon far-off horizons, humming between long sighs a favorite hymn. Finally, however, the last-named lady leaned past Mrs. Bean and touched Mrs. Turtle's silken knee, volunteering,
"Your sister Hetty likes the water, I know. You remember them days, Mis' Tuttle, when we all went bathin' together down to old Chadwick's Harbor, afore they built the new wharf?"
Mrs. Tinneray continued reminiscently.
"You remember them old dresses we wore—no classy bathin'-suits then—but my—the mornings used to smell good! That path to the shore was all wild roses and we used to find blueberries in them woods. Us girls was always teasin' Hetty, her bathin'-dress was white muslin and when it was wet it stuck to her all over, she showed through—my, how we'd laugh, but yet for all," concluded Mrs. Tinneray sentimentally, "she looked lovely—just like a little wet angel."
Mrs. Tuttle carefully smoothed her blue mitts, observing nervously, "Funny how Mis' Tinneray could remember so far back."
"Is Hetty your sister by rights," suavely inquired Mrs. Bean, "or ony by your Pa's second marriage, as it were?"
The owner of the overestimated parrot roused herself.
"By rights," she admitted indifferently, "I don't see much of her—she married beneath her."
The tip of Mrs. Tinneray's nose, either from cologne inhalings or sunburn, grew suddenly scarlet. However she still regarded the far-off horizons and repeated the last stanza of her hymn, which stanza, sung with much quavering and sighing was a statement to the effect that Mrs. Tinneray would "cling to the old rugged cross." Suddenly, however, she remarked to the surrounding Summer air,
"Hen Cronney is my second cousin on the mother's side. Some thought he was pretty smart until troubles come and his wife was done out of her rights."
The shaft, carefully aimed, went straight into Mrs. Turtle's blue bosom and stuck there. Her eyes, not overintelligent, turned once in her complacent face, then with an air of grandiose detachment, she occupied herself with the ends of her sky-blue automobile veil.
"I'll have to fix this different," she remarked unconcernedly, "or else my waves'll come out. Well, I presume we'll soon be there. I better go down-stairs and primp up some." The high heels clattered away. Mrs. Bean fixed a long look of horror on Mrs. Tinneray, who silently turned her eyes up to heaven!
As the Fall of Rome churned its way up to the sunny wharf of Chadwick's Landing, the groups already on the excursion bristled with excitement. Children were prepared to meet indulgent grandparents, lovers their sweethearts, and married couples old school friends they had not seen for years. From time to time these admonished their offspring.
"Hypatia Smith, you're draggin' your pink sash, leave Mommer fix it. There now, don't you dare to set down so Grammer can see you lookin' good."
"Lionel Jones, you throw that old pop-corn overboard. Do you want to eat it after you've had it on the floor?"
"Does your stomach hurt you, dear? Well, here don't cry Mommer'll give you another cruller."
With much shouting of jocular advice from the male passengers the Fall of Rome was warped into Chadwick's Landing and the waiting groups came aboard. As they streamed on, bearing bundles and boxes and all the impedimenta of excursions, those already on board congregated on the after-deck to distinguish familiar faces. A few persons had come down to the landing merely to look upon the embarkation.
These, not going themselves on the excursion, maintained an air of benevolent superiority that could not conceal vivid curiosity. Among them, eagerly scanning the faces on deck was a very small thin woman clad in a gingham dress, on her head a battered straw hat of accentuated by-gone mode, and an empty provision-basket swinging on her arm. Mrs. Tinneray peering down on her through smoked glasses, suddenly started violently. "My sakes," she ejaculated, "my sakes," then as the dramatic significance of the thing gripped her, "My—my—my, ain't that terrible?"
Solemnly, with prunella portentousness, Mrs. Tinneray stole back of the other passengers leaning over the rail up to Mrs. Bean, who turned to her animatedly, exclaiming,
"They've got a new schoolhouse. I can just see the cupola—there's some changes since I was here. They tell me there's a flag sidewalk in front of the Methodist church and that young Baxter the express agent has growed a mustache, and's got married."
Mrs. Tinneray did not answer. She laid a compelling hand on Mrs. Bean's shoulder and turned her so that she looked straight at the small group of home-stayers down on the wharf. She pointed a sepulchral finger,
"That there, in the brown with the basket, is Hetty Cronney, own sister to Mis' Josiah Tuttle."
Mrs. Bean clutched her reticule and leaned over the rail, gasping with interest.
"Ye don't say—that's her? My! My! My!"
In solemn silence the two regarded the little brown woman so unconscious of their gaze. By the piteous wizened face screwed up in the sunlight, by the faded hair, nut-cracker jaws, and hollow eyes they utterly condemned Mrs. Tuttle, who, blue feathers floating, was also absorbed in watching the stream of embarking excursionists.
Mrs. Tinneray, after a whispered consultation with Mrs. Bean went up and nudged her; without ceremony she pointed,
"Your sister's down there on the wharf," she announced flatly, "come on over where we are and you can see her."
Frivolous Mrs. Tuttle turned and encountered a pair of eyes steely in their determination. Re-adjusting the gold cage more comfortably on its camp-stool and murmuring a blessing on the hooked-beak occupant, the azure lady tripped off in the wake of her flat-heeled friend.
Meanwhile Mr. Tinneray, standing well aft, was calling cheerfully down to the little figure on the wharf.
"Next Summer you must git your nerve up and come along. Excursions is all the rage nowadays. My wife's took in four a'ready."
But little Mrs. Cronney did not answer. Shading her eyes from the sun glare, she was establishing recognizance with her cerulean relative who, waving a careless blue-mitted hand, called down in girlish greeting,
"Heigho, Hetty, how's Cronney? Why ain't you to the excursion?"
The little woman on the wharf was seen to wince slightly. She shifted her brown basket to the other arm, ignoring the second question.
"Oh, Cronney's good—ony he's low-spirited—seems as tho he couldn't get no work."
"Same old crooked stick, hey?" Mrs. Tuttle called down facetiously.
Mrs. Bean and Mrs. Tinneray stole horrified glances at each other. One planted a cotton-gloved hand over an opening mouth. But little Mrs. Cronney, standing alone on the pier was equal to the occasion. She shook out a small and spotless handkerchief, blowing her nose with elegant deliberation before she replied,
"Well—I don't know as he needs to work all the time; Cronney is peculiar, you know, he's one of them that is high-toned and nifty about money—he ain't like some, clutching onto every penny!"
By degrees, other excursionists, leaning over the railing, began to catch at something spicy in the situation of these two sisters brought face to face. At Mrs. Cronney's sally, one of the funny men guffawed his approval. Groups of excursionists explained to each other that that lady down there, her on the wharf, in the brown, was own sister to Mrs. Josiah Tuttle!
The whistle of the Fall of Rome now sounded for all aboard. It was a dramatic moment, the possibilities of which suddenly gripped Mrs. Tinneray. She clasped her hands in effortless agony. This lady, as she afterward related to Mrs. Bean, felt mean! She could see in her mind's eye, she said, how it all looked to Hetty Cronney, the Fall of Rome with its opulent leisurely class of excursionists steaming away from her lonely little figure on the wharf; while Mabel Tuttle, selfish devourer of the Hutches' substance and hair to everything, would still be handing aroun' her boxes of French-mixed and talking baby talk to that there bird!
At the moment, Mrs. Tinneray's mind, dwelling upon the golden cage and its over-estimated occupant, became a mere boiling of savage desires. Suddenly the line of grim resolution hardened on her face. This look, one that the Tinneray children invariably connected with the switch hanging behind the kitchen door, Mr. Tinneray also knew well. Seeing it now, he hastened to his wife.
"What's the matter, Mother, seasick? Here I'll git you a lemon."
Mrs. Tinneray, jaw set, eyes rolling, was able to intimate that she needed no lemon, but she drew her husband mysteriously aside. She fixed him with a foreboding glare, she said it was a wonder the Lord didn't sink the boat! Then she rapidly sketched the tragedy—Mrs. Tuttle serene and pampered on the deck, and Hetty Cronney desolate on the wharf! She pronounced verdict.
"It's terrible—that's what it is!"
Mr. Tinneray with great sagacity said he'd like to show Mabel Tuttle her place—then he nudged his wife and chuckled admiringly,
"But yet for all, Hetty's got her tongue in her head yet—say, ain't she the little stinger?"
Sotto voce Mr. Tinneray related to his spouse how Mabel Tuttle was bragging about her brick house and her shower-bath and her automobile and her hired girl, and how she'd druv herself and that there bird down to Boston and back.
"Hetty, she just stands there, just as easy, and hollers back that Cronney has bought a gramophone and how they sets by it day and night listening, and how it's son and daughter to 'em. Then she calls up to Mabel Tuttle, 'I should think you'd be afraid of meddlin' with them ottermobiles, your time of life.'"
Mr. Tinneray choked over his own rendition of this audacity, but his wife sniffed hopelessly.
"They ain't got no gramophone—her, with that face and hat?—Cronney don't make nothing; they two could live on what that Blue Silk Quilt feeds that stinkin' parrot."
But Mr. Tinneray chuckled again, he seemed to be possessed with the humor of some delightful secret. Looking carefully around him and seeing every one absorbed in other things he leaned closer to his wife.
"She's liable to lose that bird," he whispered. "Them young fellers with the canes—they're full of their devilment—well, they wanted I shouldn't say nothing and I ain't sayin' nothing—only—"
Fat Mr. Tinneray, pale eyes rolling in merriment, pointed to the camp-stool where once the parrot's cage had rested and where now no parrot-cage was to be seen.
"As fur as I can see," he nudged his wife again, "that bird's liable to get left ashore."
For a moment Mrs. Tinneray received this news stolidly, then a look of comprehension flashed over her face. "What you talkin' about, Henry?" she demanded. "Say, ain't you never got grown up? Where's Manda Bean?"
Having located Mrs. Bean, the two ladies indulged in a rapid whispered conversation. Upon certain revelations made by Mrs. Bean, Mrs. Tinneray turned and laid commands upon her husband.
"Look here," she said, "that what you told me is true—them young fellers—" she fixed Mr. Tinneray with blue-glassed significant eyes, adding sotto voce, "You keep Mabel Tuttle busy."
Fat Mr. Tinneray, chuckling anew, withdrew to the after-rail where the azure lady still stood, chained as it were in a sort of stupor induced by the incisive thrusts of the forlorn little woman on the wharf. He joined in the conversation.
"So yer got a gramophone, hey," he called down kindly—"Say, that's nice, ain't it?—that's company fer you and Cronney." He appealed to Mrs. Tuttle in her supposed part of interested relative. "Keeps 'em from gettin' lonesome and all," he explained.
That lady looking a pointed unbelief, could not, with the other excursionists watching, but follow his lead.
"Why—er—ye-ess, that's rill nice," she agreed, with all the patronage of the wealthy relative.
Little Mrs. Cronney's eyes glittered. The steamboat hands had begun lifting the hawsers from the wharf piles and her time was short. She was not going to be pitied by the opulent persons on the excursion. Getting as it were into her stride, she took a bolder line of imagery.
"And the telephone," looking up at Mr. Tinneray. "I got friends in Quahawg Junction and Russell Center—we're talkin' sometimes till nine o'clock at night. I can pick up jelly receipts and dress-patterns just so easy."
But Mrs. Tuttle now looked open incredulity. She turned to such excursionists as stood by and registered emphatic denial. "Uh-huh?" she called down in apparent acceptance of these lurid statements, at the same time remarking baldly to Mr. Tinneray, who had placed himself at her side,
"She ain't got no telephone!"
At this moment something seemed to occur to little Mrs. Cronney. As she gave a parting defiant scrutiny to her opulent sister her black eyes snapped in hollow reminiscence and she called out,
"Say—how's your parrot? How's your beau—Ro-me-o?"
At this, understood to be a parting shot, the crowd strung along the rail of the Fall of Rome burst into an appreciative titter. Mrs. Tuttle, reddening, made no answer, but Mr. Tinneray, standing by and knowing what he knew, seized this opportunity to call down vociferously,
"Oh—he's good, Romeo is. But your sister's had him to the excursion and he's got just a little seasick comin' over. Mis' Tuttle, yer sister, is going to leave him with you, till she can come and take him home, by land, ye know, in her ottermobile—she's coming to get you too, fer a visit, ye know."
There was an effect almost as of panic on the Fall of Rome. Not only did the big whistle for "all aboard" blow, but some one's new hat went overboard and while every one crowded to one side to see it rescued, it was not discovered that Romeo's cage had disappeared! In the confusion of a band of desperadoes composed of the entire group of cynical young men with ivory-headed canes, seized upon an object covered with something like an altar-cloth and ran down the gangplank with it.
Going in a body to little Mrs. Cronney, these young men deposited a glittering burden, the gold parrot-cage with the green bird sitting within, in her surprised and gratified embrace. Like flashes these agile young men jumped back upon the deck of the Fall of Rome just before the space between wharf and deck became too wide to jump. Meanwhile on the upper deck, before the petrified Mrs. Tuttle could open her mouth, Mr. Tinneray shouted instructions,
"Your sister wants you should keep him," he roared, "till she comes over to see you in her ottermobile—to—fetch—him—and—git—you—for—a—visit!"
Suddenly the entire crowd of excursionists on the after-deck of the Fall of Rome gave a rousing cheer. The gratified young men with the ivory-headed canes suddenly saw themselves of the age of chivalry and burst into ragtime rapture; the excursion, a mass of waving flags and hats and automobile veils, made enthusiastic adieu to one faded little figure on the wharf, who proud and happy gently waved back a gleaming parrot's cage!
It was Mr. Tinneray, dexterous in all such matters, that caught at a drooping cerulean form as it toppled over.
"I know'd she'd faint," the pale-eyed gentleman chuckled. He manfully held his burden until Mrs. Tinneray and Mrs. Bean relieved him. These ladies, practised in all smelling-bottle and cologne soothings, supplied also verbal comfort.
"Them young fellows," they explained to Mrs. Tuttle, "is full of their devilment and you can't never tell what they'll do next. But ain't it lucky, Mis' Tuttle, that it's your own sister has charge of that bird?"
When at last a pale and interesting lady in blue appeared feebly on deck, wiping away recurrent tears, she was received with the most perfect sympathy tempered with congratulations. There may have been a few winks and one or two nods of understanding which she did not see, but Mrs. Tuttle herself was petted and soothed like a queen of the realm, only, to her mind was brought a something of obligation—the eternal obligation of those who greatly possess—for every excursionist said,
"My, yes! No need to worry—your sister will take care of that bird like he was one of her own, and then you can go over in yer ottermobile to git him—and when you fetch him you can take her home with yer—fer a visit."
[Note 3: Copyright, 1917, by The Century Company. Copyright, 1918, by Thomas Beer.]
BY THOMAS BEER
From The Century Magazine
Mrs. Rawling ordered Sanford to take a bath, and with the clear vision of seven years Sanford noted that no distinct place for this process had been recommended. So he retired to a sun-warmed tub of rain-water behind the stables, and sat comfortably armpit deep therein, whirring a rattle lately worn by a snake, and presented to him by one of the Varian tribe, sons of his father's foreman. Soaking happily, Sanford admired his mother's garden, spread up along the slope toward the thick cedar forest, and thought of the mountain strawberries ripening in this hot Pennsylvania June. His infant brother Peter yelled viciously in the big gray-stone house, and the great sawmill snarled half a mile away, while he waited patiently for the soapless water to remove all plantain stains from his brown legs, the cause of this immersion.
A shadow came between him and the sun, and Sanford abandoned the rattles to behold a monstrous female, unknown, white-skinned, moving on majestic feet to his seclusion. He sat deeper in the tub, but she seemed unabashed, and stood with a red hand on each hip, a grin rippling the length of her mouth.
"Herself says you'll be comin' to herself now, if it's you that's Master San," she said.
Sanford speculated. He knew that all things have an office in this world, and tried to locate this preposterous, lofty creature while she beamed upon him.
"I'm San. Are you the new cook?" he asked.
"I am the same," she admitted.
"Are you a good cook?" he continued. "Aggie wasn't. She drank."
"God be above us all! And whatever did herself do with a cook that drank in this place?"
"I don't know. Aggie got married. Cooks do," said Sanford, much entertained by this person. Her deep voice was soft, emerging from the largest, reddest mouth he had ever seen. The size of her feet made him dubious as to her humanity. "Anyhow," he went on, "tell mother I'm not clean yet. What's your name?"
"Onnie," said the new cook. "An' would this be the garden?"
"Silly, what did you think?"
"I'm a stranger in this place, Master San, an' I know not which is why nor forever after."
Sanford's brain refused this statement entirely, and he blinked.
"I guess you're Irish," he meditated.
"I am. Do you be gettin' out of your tub now, an' Onnie'll dry you," she offered.
"I can't," he said firmly; "you're a lady."
"A lady? Blessed Mary save us from sin! A lady? Myself? I'm no such thing in this world at all; I'm just Onnie Killelia."
She appeared quite horrified, and Sanford was astonished. She seemed to be a woman, for all her height and the extent of her hands.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"As I am a Christian woman," said Onnie. "I never was a lady, nor could I ever be such a thing."
"Well," said Sanford, "I don't know, but I suppose you can dry me."
He climbed out of his tub, and this novel being paid kind attention to his directions. He began to like her, especially as her hair was of a singular, silky blackness, suggesting dark mulberries, delightful to the touch. He allowed her to kiss him and to carry him, clothed, back to the house on her shoulders, which were as hard as a cedar trunk, but covered with green cloth sprinkled with purple dots.
"And herself's in the libr'y drinkin' tea," said his vehicle, depositing him on the veranda. "An' what might that be you'd be holdin'?"
"Just a rattle off a snake."
She examined the six-tiered, smoky rattle with a positive light in her dull, black eyes and crossed herself.
"A queer country, where they do be bellin' the snakes! I heard the like in the gover'ment school before I did come over the west water, but I misbelieved the same. God's ways is strange, as the priests will be sayin'."
"You can have it," said Sanford, and ran off to inquire of his mother the difference between women and ladies.
Rawling, riding slowly, came up the driveway from the single lane of his village, and found the gigantic girl sitting on the steps so absorbed in this sinister toy that she jumped with a little yelp when he dismounted.
"What have you there?" he asked, using his most engaging smile.
"'Tis a snake's bell, your Honor, which Master San did be givin' me. 'Tis welcome indeed, as I lost off my holy medal, bein' sick, forever on the steamship crossin' the west water."
"But—can you use a rattle for a holy medal?" said Rawling.
"The gifts of children are the blessin's of Mary's self," Onnie maintained. She squatted on the gravel and hunted for one of the big hair-pins her jump had loosened, then used it to pierce the topmost shell. Rawling leaned against his saddle, watching the huge hands, and Pat Sheehan, the old coachman, chuckled, coming up for the tired horse.
"You'll be from the West," he said, "where they string sea-shells."
"I am, an' you'll be from Dublin, by the sound of your speakin'. So was my father, who is now drowned forever, and with his wooden leg," she added mournfully, finding a cord in some recess of her pocket, entangled there with a rosary and a cluster of small fishhooks. She patted the odd scapular into the cleft of her bosom and smiled at Rawling. "Them in the kitchen are tellin' me you'll be ownin' this whole country an' sixty miles of it, all the trees an' hills. You'll be no less than a President's son, then, your Honor."
Pat led the horse off hastily, and Rawling explained that his lineage was not so interesting. The girl had arrived the night before, sent on by an Oil City agency, and Mrs. Rawling had accepted the Amazon as manna-fall. The lumber valley was ten miles above a tiny railroad station, and servants had to be tempted with triple wages, were transient, or married an employee before a month could pass. The valley women regarded Rawling as their patron, heir of his father, and as temporary aid gave feudal service on demand; but for the six months of his family's residence each year house servants must be kept at any price. He talked of his domain, and the Irish girl nodded, the rattles whirring when she breathed, muffled in her breast, as if a snake were crawling somewhere near.
"When my father came here," he said, "there wasn't any railroad, and there were still Indians in the woods."
"Red Indians? Would they all be dead now? My brother Hyacinth is fair departed his mind readin' of red Indians. Him is my twin."
"How many of you are there?"
"Twelve, your Honor," said Onnie, "an' me the first to go off, bein' that I'm not so pretty a man would be marryin' me that day or this. An' if herself is content, I am pleased entirely."
"You're a good cook," said Rawling, honestly. "How old are you?"
He had been puzzling about this; she was so wonderfully ugly that age was difficult to conjecture. But she startled him.
"I'll be sixteen next Easter-time, your Honor."
"That's very young to leave home," he sympathized.
"Who'd be doin' the like of me any hurt? I'd trample the face off his head," she laughed.
"I think you could. And now what do you think of my big son?"
The amazing Onnie gurgled like a child, clasping her hands.
"Sure, Mary herself bore the like among the Jew men, an' no one since that day, or will forever. An' I must go to my cookin', or Master San will have no dinner fit for him."
Rawling looked after her pink flannel petticoat, greatly touched and pleased by this eulogy. Mrs. Rawling strolled out of the hall and laughed at the narrative.
"She's appalling to look at, and she frightens the other girls, but she's clean and teachable. If she likes San, she may not marry one of the men—for a while."
"He'd be a bold man. She's as big as Jim Varian. If we run short of hands, I'll send her up to a cutting. Where's San?"
"In the kitchen. He likes her. Heavens! if she'll only stay, Bob!"
Onnie stayed, and Mrs. Rawling was gratified by humble obedience and excellent cookery. Sanford was gratified by her address, strange to him. He was the property of his father's lumbermen, and their wives called him everything from "heart's love" to "little cabbage," as their origin might dictate; but no one had ever called him "Master San." He was San to the whole valley, the first-born of the owner who gave their children schools and stereopticon lectures in the union chapel, as his father had before him. He went where he pleased, safe except from blind nature and the unfriendly edges of whirling saws. Men fished him out of the dammed river, where logs floated, waiting conversion into merchantable planking, and the Varian boys, big, tawny youngsters, were his body-guard. These perplexed Onnie Killelia in her first days at Rawling's Hope.
"The agent's lads are whistlin' for Master San," she reported to Mrs. Rawling. "Shall I be findin' him?"
"The agent's lads? Do you mean the Varian boys?"
"Them's them. Wouldn't Jim Varian be his honor's agent? Don't he be payin' the tenantry an' sayin' where is the trees to be felled? I forbid them to come in, as Miss Margot—which is a queer name!—is asleep sound, an' Master Pete."
"Jim Varian came here with his honor's father, and taught his honor to shoot and swim, also his honor's brother Peter, in New York, where we live in winter. Yes, I suppose you'd call Jim Varian his honor's agent. The boys take care of Master San almost as well as you do."
Onnie sniffed, balancing from heel to heel.
"Fine care! An' Bill Varian lettin' him go romping by the poison-ivy, which God lets grow in this place like weeds in a widow's garden. An' his honor, they do be sayin', sends Bill to a fine school, and will the others after him, and to a college like Dublin has after. An' they callin' himself San like he was their brother!"
As a volunteer nurse-maid Onnie was quite miraculous to her mistress. Apparently she could follow Sanford by scent, for his bare soles left no traces in the wild grass, and he moved rapidly, appearing at home exactly when his stomach suggested. He was forbidden only the slate ledges beyond the log basin, where rattlesnakes took the sun, and the trackless farther reaches of the valley, bewildering to a small boy, with intricate brooks and fallen cedar or the profitable yellow pine. Onnie, crying out on her saints, retrieved him from the turn-table-pit of the narrow-gauge logging-road, and pursued his fair head up the blue-stone crags behind the house, her vast feet causing avalanches among the garden beds. She withdrew him with railings from the enchanting society of louse-infested Polish children, and danced hysterically on the shore of the valley-wide, log-stippled pool when the Varians took him to swim. She bore him off to bed, lowering at the actual nurse. She filled his bath, she cut his toe-nails. She sang him to sleep with "Drolien" and the heart-shattering lament for Gerald. She prayed all night outside his door when he had a brief fever. When trouble was coming, she said the "snake's bells" told her, talking loudly; and petty incidents confirmed her so far that, after she found the child's room ablaze from one of Rawling's cigarettes, they did not argue, and grew to share half-way her superstition.
Women were scarce in the valley, and the well-fed, well-paid men needed wives; and, as time went on, Honora Killelia was sought in marriage by tall Scots and Swedes, who sat dumbly passionate on the back veranda, where she mended Sanford's clothes. Even hawk-nosed Jim Varian, nearing sixty, made cautious proposals, using Bill as messenger, when Sanford was nine.
"God spare us from purgatory!" she shouted. "Me to sew for the eight of you? Even in the fine house his honor did be givin' the agent I could not stand the noise of it. An' who'd be mendin' Master San's clothes? Be out of this kitchen, Bill Varian!"
Rawling, suffocated with laughter, reeled out of the pantry and fled to his pretty wife.
"She thinks San's her own kid!" he gasped.
"She's perfectly priceless. I wish she'd be as careful of Margot and Pete. I wish we could lure her to New York. She's worth twenty city servants."
"Her theory is that if she stays here there's some one to see that Pat Sheehan doesn't neglect—what does she call San's pony?" Rawling asked.
"The little horse. Yes, she told me she'd trample the face off Pat if Shelty came to harm. She keeps the house like silver, too; and it's heavenly to find the curtains put up when we get here. Heavens! listen!"
They were in Rawling's bedroom, and Onnie came up the curved stairs. Even in list house-slippers she moved like an elephant, and Sanford had called her, so the speed of her approach shook the square upper hall, and the door jarred a little way open with the impact of her feet.
"Onnie, I'm not sleepy. Sing Gerald," he commanded.
"I will do that same if you'll be lyin' down still, Master San. Now, this is what Conia sang when she found her son all dead forever in the sands of the west water."
By the sound Onnie sat near the bed crooning steadily, her soft contralto filling both stories of the happy house. Rawling went across the hall to see, and stood in the boy's door. He loved Sanford as imaginative men can who are still young, and the ugly girl's idolatry seemed natural. Yet this was very charming, the simple room, the drowsy, slender child, curled in his sheets, surrounded with song.
"Thank you, Onnie," said Sanford. "I suppose she loved him a lot. It's a nice song. Goo' night."
As Onnie passed her master, he saw the stupid eyes full of tears.
"Now, why'll he be thankin' me," she muttered—"me that 'u'd die an' stay in hell forever for him? Now I must go mend up the fish-bag your Honor's brother's wife was for sendin' him an' which no decent fish would be dyin' in."
"Aren't you going to take Jim Varian?" asked Rawling.
"I wouldn't be marryin' with Roosyvelt himself, that's President, an' has his house built all of gold! Who'd be seein' he gets his meals, an' no servants in the sufferin' land worth the curse of a heretic? Not the agent, nor fifty of him," Onnie proclaimed, and marched away.
* * *
Sanford never came to scorn his slave or treat her as a servant. He was proud of Onnie. She did not embarrass him by her all-embracing attentions, although he weaned her of some of them as he grew into a wood-ranging, silent boy, studious, and somewhat shy outside the feudal valley. The Varian boys were sent, as each reached thirteen, to Lawrenceville, and testified their gratitude to the patron by diligent careers. They were Sanford's summer companions, with occasional visits from his cousin Denis, whose mother disapproved of the valley and Onnie.
"I really don't see how Sanford can let the poor creature fondle him," she said. "Denny tells me she simply wails outside San's door if he comes home wet or has a bruise. It's rather ludicrous, now that San's fourteen. She writes to him at Saint Andrew's."
"I told her Saint Andrew's wasn't far from Boston, and she offered to get her cousin Dermot—he's a bellhop at the Touraine—to valet him. Imagine San with a valet at Saint Andrew's!" Rawling laughed.
"But San isn't spoiled," Peter observed, "and he's the idol of the valley, Bob, even more than you are. Varian, McComas, Jansen—the whole gang and their cubs. They'd slaughter any one who touched San."
"I don't see how you stand the place," said Mrs. Peter. "Even if the men are respectful, they're so familiar. And anything could happen there. Denny tells me you have Poles and Russians—all sorts of dreadful people."
Her horror tinkled prettily in the Chinese drawing-room, but Rawling sighed.
"We can't get the old sort—Scotch, Swedes, the good Irish. We get any old thing. Varian swears like a trooper, but he has to fire them right and left all summer through. We've a couple of hundred who are there to stay, some of them born there; but God help San when he takes it over!"
Sanford learned to row at Saint Andrew's, and came home in June with new, flat bands of muscle in his chest, and Onnie worshiped with loud Celtic exclamations, and bade small Pete grow up like Master San. And Sanford grew two inches before he came home for the next summer, reverting to bare feet, corduroys, and woolen shirts as usual. Onnie eyed him dazedly when he strode into her kitchen for sandwiches against an afternoon's fishing.
"O Master San, you're all grown up sudden'!"
"Just five foot eight, Onnie. Ling Varian's five foot nine; so's Cousin Den."
"But don't you be goin' round the cuttin' camps up valley, neither. You're too young to be hearin' the awful way these news hands do talk. It's a sin to hear how they curse an' swear."
"The wumman's right," said Cameron, the smith, who was courting her while he mended the kitchen range. "They're foul as an Edinburgh fishwife—the new men. Go no place wi'out a Varian, two Varians, or one of my lads."
"Good Lord! I'm not a kid, Ian!"
"Ye're no' a mon, neither. An' ye're the owner's first," said Cameron grimly.
Rawling nodded when Sanford told him this.
"Jim carries an automatic in his belt, and we've had stabbings. Keep your temper if they get fresh. We're in hot water constantly, San. Look about the trails for whisky-caches. These rotten stevedores who come floating in bother the girls and bully the kids. You're fifteen, and I count on you to help keep the property decent. The boys will tell you the things they hear. Use the Varians; Ling and Reuben are clever. I pay high enough wages for this riffraff. I'll pay anything for good hands; and we get dirt!"
Sanford enjoyed being a detective, and kept the Varians busy. Bill, acting as assistant doctor of the five hundred, gave him advice on the subject of cocaine symptoms and alcoholic eyes. Onnie raved when he trotted in one night with Ling and Reuben at heel, their clothes rank with the evil whiskey they had poured from kegs hidden in a cavern near the valley-mouth.
"You'll be killed forever with some Polack beast! O Master San, it's not you that's the polis. 'Tis not fit for him, your Honor. Some Irish pig will be shootin' him, or a sufferin' Bohemyun."
"But it's the property, Onnie," the boy faltered. "Here's his honor worked to death, and Uncle Jim. I've got to do something. They sell good whisky at the store, and just smell me."
But Onnie wept, and Rawling, for sheer pity, sent her out of the dining-room.
"She—she scares me!" Sanford said. "It's not natural, Dad, d' you think?"
He was sitting on his bed, newly bathed and pensive, reviewing the day.
"Why not? She's alone here, and you're the only thing she's fond of. Stop telling her about things or she'll get sick with worry."
"She's fond of Margot and Pete, but she's just idiotic about me. She did scare me!"
Rawling looked at his son and wondered if the boy knew how attractive were his dark, blue eyes and his plain, grave face. The younger children were beautiful; but Sanford, reared more in the forest, had the forest depth in his gaze and an animal litheness in his hard young body.
"She's like a dog," Sanford reflected. "Only she's a woman. It's sort of—"
"I suppose that's the word. But I do love the poor old thing. Her letters are rich. She tells me about all the new babies and who's courting who and how the horses are. It is pathetic."
* * *
He thought of Onnie often the next winter, and especially when she wrote a lyric of thanksgiving after the family had come to Rawling's Hope in April, saying that all would be well and trouble would cease. But his father wrote differently:
"You know there is a strike in the West Virginia mines, and it has sent a mass of ruffians out looking for work. We need all the people we can get, but they are a pestiferous outfit. I am opening up a camp in Bear Run, and our orders are enormous already, but I hate littering the valley with these swine. They are as insolent and dirty as Turks. Pete says the village smells, and has taken to the woods. Onnie says the new Irish are black scum of Limerick, and Jim Varian's language isn't printable. The old men are complaining, and altogether I feel like Louis XVI in 1789. About every day I have to send for the sheriff and have some thug arrested. A blackguard from Oil City has opened a dive just outside the property, on the road to the station, and Cameron tells me all sorts of dope is for sale in the hoarding-houses. We have cocaine-inhalers, opium-smokers, and all the other vices."
After this outburst Sanford was not surprised when he heard from Onnie that his father now wore a revolver, and that the overseers of the sawmill did the same.
On the first of June Rawling posted signs at the edge of his valley and at the railroad stations nearest, saying that he needed no more labor. The tide of applicants ceased, but Mrs. Rawling was nervous. Pete declared his intention of running away, and riding home in the late afternoon, Margot was stopped by a drunken, babbling man, who seized her pony's bridle, with unknown words. She galloped free, but next day Rawling sent his wife and children to the seaside and sat waiting Sanford's coming to cheer his desolate house, the new revolver cold on his groin.
Sanford came home a day earlier than he had planned, and drove in a borrowed cart from the station, furious when an old cottage blazed in the rainy night, just below the white posts marking his heritage, and shrill women screamed invitation at the horse's hoof-beats. He felt the valley smirched, and his father's worn face angered him when they met.
"I almost wish you'd not come, Sonny. We're in rotten shape for a hard summer. Go to bed, dear, and get warm."
"Got a six-shooter for me?"
"You? Who'd touch you? Some one would kill him. I let Bill have a gun, and some other steady heads. You must keep your temper. You always have. Ling Varian got into a splendid row with some hog who called Uncle Jim—the usual name. Ling did him up. Ah, here's Onnie. Onnie, here's—"
The cook rushed down the stairs, a fearful and notable bed-gown covering her night-dress, and the rattles chattering loudly.
"God's kind to us. See the chest of him! Master San! Master San!"
"Good Lord, Onnie. I wasn't dead, you know! Don't kill a fellow!"
For the first time her embrace was an embarrassment; her mouth on his cheek made him flush. She loved him so desperately, this poor stupid woman, and he could only be fond of her, give her a sort of tolerant affection. Honesty reddened his face.
"Come on and find me a hard-boiled egg, there's a—"
"A hard-boiled egg? Listen to that, your Honor! An' it's near the middle of the night! No, I'll not be findin' hard-boiled eggs for you—oh, he's laughin' at me! Now you come into the dinin'-room, an' I'll be hottin' some milk for you, for you're wet as any drowned little cat. An' the mare's fine, an' I've the fishin'-sticks all dusted, an' your new bathin'-tub's to your bath-room, though ill fate follow that English pig Percival that put it in, for he dug holes with his heels! An' would you be wantin' a roast-beef sandwidge?"
"She's nearly wild," said Rawling as the pantry door slammed. "You must be careful, San, and not get into any rows. She'd have a fit. What is it?"
"What do you do when you can't—care about a person as much as they care about you?"
"Put up with it patiently." Rawling shrugged. "What else can you do?"
"I'm sixteen. She keeps on as if I were six. S-suppose she fell in love with me? She's not old—very old."
"It's another sort of thing, Sonny. Don't worry," said Rawling, gravely, and broke off the subject lest the boy should fret.
Late next afternoon Sanford rode down a trail from deep forest, lounging in the saddle, and flicking brush aside with a long dog-whip. There was a rain-storm gathering, and the hot air swayed no leaf. A rabbit, sluggish and impertinent, hopped across his path and wandered up the side trail toward Varian's cottage. Sanford halted the mare and whistled. His father needed cheering, and Ling Varian, if obtainable, would make a third at dinner. His intimate hurtled down the tunnel of mountain ash directly and assented.
"Wait till I go back and tell Reuben, though. I'm cooking this week. Wish Onnie 'd marry dad. Make her, can't you? Hi, Reu! I'm eating at the house. The beef's on, and dad wants fried onions. Why won't she have dad? You're grown up."
He trotted beside the mare noiselessly, chewing a birch spray, a hand on his friend's knee.
"She says she won't get married. I expect she'll stay here as long as she lives."
"I suppose so, but I wish she'd marry dad," said Ling. "All this trouble's wearing him out, and he won't have a hired girl if we could catch one. There's a pile of trouble, San. He has rows every day. Had a hell of a row with Percival yesterday."
"Who's this Percival? Onnie was cursing him out last night," Sanford recollected.
"He's an awful big hog who's pulling logs at the runway. Used to be a plumber in Australia. Swears like a sailor. He's a—what d' you call 'em? You know, a London mucker?"
"Yes, that's it. He put in your new bath-tub, and Onnie jumped him for going round the house looking at things. Dad's getting ready to fire him. He's the worst hand in the place. I'll point him out to you."
The sawmill whistle blew as the trail joined open road, and they passed men, their shirts sweat-stained, nodding or waving to the boys as they spread off to their houses and the swimming-place at the river bridge.
A group gathered daily behind the engine-yard to play horseshoe quoits, and Sanford pulled the mare to a walk on the fringes of this half-circle as old friends hailed him and shy lads with hair already sun-bleached wriggled out of the crowd to shake hands, Camerons, Jansens, Nattiers, Keenans, sons of the faithful. Bill Varian strolled up, his medical case under an arm.
"I'm eating with you. The boss asked me. He feels better already. Come in and speak to dad. He's hurt because he's not seen you, and you stopped to see Ian at the forge. Hi, Dad!" he called over the felt hats of the ring, "here's San."
"Fetch him in, then," cried the foreman.
Bill and Ling led the nervous mare through the group of pipe-smoking, friendly lumbermen, and Varian hugged his fosterling's son.
"Stop an' watch," he whispered. "They'll like seein' you, San. Onnie's been tellin' the women you've growed a yard."
Sanford settled to the monotony of the endless sport, saluting known brown faces and answering yelps of pleasure from the small boys who squatted against the high fence behind the stake.
"That's Percival," said Ling, as a man swaggered out to the pitching-mark.
"Six foot three," Bill said, "and strong as an ox. Drinks all the time. Think he dopes, too."
Sanford looked at the fellow with a swift dislike for his vacant, heavy face and his greasy, saffron hair. His bare arms were tattooed boldly and in many colors, distorted with ropes of muscle. He seemed a little drunk, and the green clouds cast a copper shade into his lashless eyes.
"Can't pitch for beans," said Ling as the first shoe went wide. When the second fell beside it, the crowd laughed.
"Now," said Ian Cameron, "he'll be mad wi' vainglory. He's a camstearlie ring' it an' a claverin' fu'."
"Ho! larf ahead!" snapped the giant. "'Ow's a man to 'eave a bloody thing at a bloody stike?"
The experts chuckled, and he ruffled about the ring, truculent, sneering, pausing before Varian, with a glance at Sanford.
"Give me something with some balance. Hi can show yer. Look!"
"I'm looking," said the foreman; "an' I ain't deaf, neither."
"'Ere's wot you blighters carn't 'eave. Learned it in Auckland, where there's real men." He fumbled in his shirt, and the mare snorted as the eight-inch blade flashed out of its handle under her nose. "See? That's the lidy! Now watch! There's a knot-'ole up the palings there."
The crowd fixed a stare on the green, solid barrier, and the knife soared a full twenty yards, but missed the knot-hole and rattled down. There was flat derision in the following laughter, and Percival dug his heel in the sod.
"Larf ahead! Hany one else try 'er?"
"Oh, shut up!" said some one across the ring. "We're pitchin' shoes."
Percival slouched off after his knife, and the frieze of small boys scattered except a lint-haired Cameron who was nursing a stray cat busily, cross-legged against the green boarding.
"Yon's Robert Sanford Cameron," said the smith. "He can say half his catechism."
"Good kid," said Sanford. "I never could get any—"
Percival had wandered back and stood a yard off, glaring at Bill as the largest object near.
"Think I can't, wot?"
"I'm not interested, and you're spoiling the game," said Bill, who feared nothing alive except germs, and could afford to disregard most of these. Sanford's fingers tightened on his whip.
"Ho!" coughed the cockney. "See! You—there!"
Robert Cameron looked up at the shout. The blade shot between the child's head and the kitten and hummed gently, quivering in the wood.
"Hi could 'a' cut 'is throat," said Percival so complacently that Sanford boiled.
"You scared him stiff," he choked. "You hog! Don't—"
"'Ello, 'oo's the young dook?"
"Look out," said a voice. "That's San, the—"
"Ho! 'Im with the Hirish gal to 'elp 'im tike 'is bloody barth nights? 'Oo's he? She's a—"
A second later Sanford knew that he had struck the man over the face with his whip, cutting the phrase. The mare plunged and the whole crowd congested about the bellowing cockney as Bill held Cameron back, and huge Jansen planted a hand on Rawling's chest.
"No worry," he said genially. "Yim an' us, Boss, our job."
Varian had wedged his hawk face close to the cockney's, now purple blotched with wrath, and Rawling waited.
"Come to the office an' get your pay. You hear? Then you clear out. If you ain't off the property in an hour you'll be dead. You hear?"
"He ought to," muttered Ling, leading the mare away. "Dad hasn't yelled that loud since that Dutchman dropped the kid in the—hello, it's raining!"
"Come on home, Sonny," said Rawling, "and tell us all about it. I didn't see the start."
But Sanford was still boiling, and the owner had recourse to his godson. Ling told the story, unabridged, as they mounted toward the house.
"Onnie'll hear of it," sighed Rawling. "Look, there she is by the kitchen, and that's Jennie Cameron loping 'cross lots. Never mind, San. You did the best you could; don't bother. Swine are swine."