"Kindly rise, Mr. Langdon," said Miss Challis, chairman of the board.
Langdon got up, and his ears turned red with a sudden and burning self-consciousness.
"Please walk past us two or three times, varying your speed."
He walked in the various styles to which he had been accustomed, changing speed at intervals and running the entire gamut between a graceful boulevard saunter and a lost-dog sprint.
"Now," said the beautiful chairman, "be good enough to run past us several times."
He complied and they studied his kangaroo-like action. Miss Vining even bent over and felt of his ankles doubtfully, and to his vivid confusion Miss Darrell strolled up, made him sit down on a log, placed one soft, white finger on his mouth, and, opening it coolly, examined the interior. Then they drew together, consulting in whispers, then Miss Challis came with a stethoscope and listened to his pneumatic machinery, while Miss Vining carelessly pinched his biceps and tried his reflexes. After which Miss Darrell pushed a thermometer into his mouth, measured his pulses and blood pressure, tested his sight and hearing and his sense of smell. The latter was intensely keen, as he was very hungry.
Then Miss Challis came and stood behind him and examined, phrenologically, the bumps on his head, while Miss Vining, seated at his feet, read his palm, and Miss Darrell produced a dream book and a pack of cards, and carefully cast his horoscope. But, except that it transpired that he was going to take a journey, that somebody was going to leave him money, and that a dark lady was coming over the sea to trouble him, nothing particularly exciting was discovered concerning him.
Miss Challis, relinquishing his head, produced a crystal and gazed into it. She did not say what she saw there. Miss Vining tried to hypnotise him and came near hypnotising herself. Which scared and irritated her; and she let him very carefully alone after that.
And all the while Ethra sat on a tree stump, hands tightly clasped in her lap, looking on with pathetic eagerness and timidly searching the pretty faces of the Board of Regents for any hopeful signs.
Presently the Board retired to a neighbouring cave to confer; and Langdon drew a deep breath of relief.
"Well," he said, smiling at Ethra, "what do you think?"
"It will be horrid of them if they don't award you a blue ribbon," she said.
"Good heavens!" he faltered, "do they give ribbons?"
"Certainly, first, second, third, and honourable mention. It is the scientific and proper method of classification."
Fury empurpled his visage.
"That's the limit!" he shouted, but she silenced him with a gesture, nodding her head toward the surrounding woods; and among the trees he caught sight of scores and scores of pretty girls furtively observing the proceedings.
"Don't let them see you display any temper or you'll lose their good will, Mr. Langdon. Please recollect that there is no sentiment in this proceeding; it is a scientific matter to be scientifically recorded—purely a matter of eugenics."
Langdon gazed around him at the distant and charming faces peeping at him from behind trees and bushes. Everywhere bright eyes met his mischievously, gaily. An immense sense of happiness began to invade him. The enraptured and fatuous smile on his features now became almost idiotic as here and there, among the trees, he caught glimpses of still more young girls strolling about, arms interlacing one another's waists. The prospect dazzled him; his wits spun like a humming top.
"Are—are many ladies likely to come and—and court me?" he asked timidly of Ethra.
A quick little pang shot through her; but she said with a forced smile: "Why do you ask? Are you a coquette, Mr. Langdon?"
"Oh, no! But, for example, I wouldn't mind being rushed by that willowy blonde over there. I'd also like to meet the svelte one with store puffs and sorrel hair. She is a looker, isn't she?"
"She is certainly very pretty," said Ethra, biting her lips with unfeigned vexation.
He gazed entranced at the distant throng for a while.
"And that little grey-eyed romp—the very young and slim one," he continued enthusiastically. "Me for a hammock with her in the goosy-goosy moonlight. . . . And I hope I'm going to meet a lot more—every one of 'em. . . . What on earth is that?" he exclaimed, changing countenance and leaning forward. "By Jinks, it's a man!"
"Certainly. There are four men here. You knew that."
"I forgot," he said, glowering at the unwelcome sight of his own sex.
Ethra said: "Oh, yes, there are those first four men we caught—Mr. Willett, Mr. Carrick, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Green." She added carelessly: "I have been paying rather marked attention to Alphonso W. Green."
"To whom?" he asked, with a disagreeable sensation drenching out the sparks of joy in his bosom.
"To Alphonso W. Green. . . . And I've jollied De Lancy Smith with bon-bons a bit, too. They are having a lot of attention paid them—and they're rather spoiled. But, of course, any girl can marry any one of them if she really wants to."
Langdon gazed miserably at her; she seemed to be pleasantly immersed in her own reflections and paid no further heed to him. Then he cast a scowling glance in the direction of the young man who was gathering wild flowers and arranging them in a little basket.
"Ethra," he began—and stopped short under the sudden and unexpected unfriendliness of her glance. "Miss Leslie," he resumed, reddening, "I wouldn't have come here unless I thought—hoped—believed—that you would pay me m-m-marked——"
"Men do not assume the initiative here. They make no advances; they wait until a girl pays them attentions so unmistakable that——"
"Well, I did come here because of you!" he blurted out angrily.
"That is an exceedingly indelicate avowal!" she retorted. "If the Regents hear you talk that way you won't be permitted to receive any girl unchaperoned."
He gazed at her, bewildered; she stood a moment frowning and looking in the direction of the cave whither the Board of Regents had retired.
"They're calling me," she exclaimed as a figure appeared at the cave entrance and beckoned her.
"I won't be long, Mr. Langdon. I am perfectly confident that you have passed the inspection!" And she walked swiftly across to the edge of the thicket where the three Regents stood outside their cave.
As she came up one of them put her arm around her.
"My poor child," she said, "that man will never do."
"W-what!" faltered the girl, turning pale.
"Why, no. How in the world could you make such a mistake?"
Ethra looked piteously from one to another.
"What is the matter with him?" she asked. "I can't see anything the matter with him. If his legs are a trifle—refined in contour—a bicycle will help——"
"But, Ethra, this is not a hospital, dear. This is not a sanitarium. We don't want any imperfect living creature inside this preserve."
"W-w-what is your decision?" asked the girl; and her underlip began to quiver, but she controlled it.
"The first vote," said Miss Challis, "was for his instant eviction, Miss Vining dissenting. The second vote was for his expulsion with the privilege of taking another examination in three months—Miss Darrell dissenting——"
"I think he's the limit," said Miss Darrell.
"Why, Jessica!" exclaimed Ethra, swallowing a sob.
"The next vote," continued Betty Challis, "was whether he might not remain here a day or two for closer observation. Jessica hasn't voted yet, but Phyllis Vining and I are willing——"
"Oh, Jessica!" pleaded Ethra, catching her hands and pressing them to her own breast, "I—I beg you will let him remain—if only for a few days! Please, please, dear. I know his calves will grow if scientifically massaged; and if he is hygienically fed he will improve——"
Miss Darrell looked curiously at her; under her hands the girl's heart was beating wildly.
"Well, then, Betty," she said to Miss Challis, "I vote we keep him under observation for a day or two. Give him the yellow ribbon." And, bending, she kissed Ethra lightly on the lips, whispering:
"I'm afraid we won't be able to keep him, dear. But if you'd like to have a little fun with him and jolly him along, why—why, I was a flirt myself in the old days of the old regime."
"That is all I want," said Ethra, dimpling with delight. "I want to see how far I can go with him just for the fun of it."
Miss Darrell smiled tenderly at the girl and strolled off to join the other Regents; and Ethra, her thoughtful eyes fixed on Langdon, came slowly back, the yellow ribbon trailing in her hand.
Langdon leaped to his feet to meet her, gazing delightedly at the yellow ribbon.
"I qualified, of course!" he said joyously. "When is it customary to begin the courting?"
"You haven't qualified," said the girl, watching the effect of her words on the young man. "This is merely the probation ribbon."
An immense astonishment silenced him. She drew the big orange-coloured ribbon through his button-hole, tied it into a bow, patted it out into flamboyant smartness, and, stepping back, gazed at him without any particular expression in her dark blue eyes.
"Then, then I may be chased away at any moment?" he asked unsteadily.
"I am afraid so."
Thunderstruck, he stared at her: "What on earth are we to do?" he groaned.
"You and I?"
"How does it concern me?" asked the girl coldly.
She looked him calmly in the eye and shook her head.
"No, Mr. Langdon. However, as you are to remain here for a day or two under observation, no doubt you will receive some attention."
"Ethra! Isn't it possible that you might learn to care——"
"Hush! That is no way to talk!"
"Well—well, I can't wait for you to——"
"You must wait! You have nothing to say about such things until some girl asks you. And that isn't very likely. Those four perfectly handsome young men have been here for weeks now, and, although they have received lots of attention, not one girl has yet made any of them an actual declaration. The girls here are having too good a time to do anything more serious than a little fussing—just enough to frisk a kiss now and then and keep the men amused——"
"That is monstrous!" said Langdon, very red. "When a man's really in love——"
"Nonsense! Men are flirts—every one of them!"
She laughed, made him a little gesture of adieu, refused to let him follow her, and coolly sauntered off among the trees, heedless of his remonstrances at being left to himself.
He watched her until she disappeared, then, with misgivings, walked toward a tennis court, where the four men were playing a rather dawdling and indifferent game and keeping a lively eye out for the advent of some girl.
They appeared to be rather good-looking fellows, not in any way extraordinary, remarkable neither for symmetry of feature nor of limb.
Langdon stood at the edge of the court looking at them and secretly comparing their beauty with such charms as he was shyly inclined to attribute to himself. There could be no doubt that he compared favourably with them. If he was some, they were not so much.
One, a tall young fellow with blond, closely clipped hair, nodded pleasantly to him, and presently came over to speak to him.
"I suppose you are a new recruit. Glad to see you. We're all anxious to have enough men captured to get up two ball nines. My name is Reginald Willett."
"Mine is Curtis Langdon."
"Come over and meet the others," said Willett pleasantly.
Langdon followed him, and was presently on excellent terms with James Carrick, De Lancy Smith, and Alphonso W. Green, amiable, clean cut, everyday young fellows.
To them he related the circumstances of his capture, and they all laughed heartily. Then he told them that he was here merely on probation for a day or two, naively displaying the yellow ribbon.
Willett laughed. "Oh, that's all right. They usually say that. We all came in on probation; the Regents couldn't agree, and some girl always swings the deciding vote as a special favour to herself."
"You don't think they'll kick me out?"
"Not much!" laughed Willett. "First of all, your captor would object—not necessarily for sentimental reasons, but because she caught you; you are hers, her game; she says to herself: 'A poor thing, but mine own!' and hangs to you like grim death. Besides, no woman ever lets any man loose voluntarily. And women haven't changed radically, Mr. Langdon. Don't worry; you can stay, all right."
"Here comes Betty Challis," said Carrick, glancing at Alphonso W. Green. "It's you for a stroll, I guess."
Mr. Green looked conscious; more conscious still when the pretty Miss Challis strolled up, presented him with a bouquet, and stood for a few moments conversing with everybody, perfectly at her ease. Other girls came up and engaged the young men in lively conversation. Presently Miss Challis made a play for hers:
"Would you care to canoe, Mr. Green?" she asked casually, turning to him with a slight blush which she could not control.
Green blushed, too, and consented in a low voice.
As they were departing, Miss Vining rode up on horseback, leading another horse, which De Lancy Smith, at her request, nimbly mounted; and away they galloped down a cool forest road, everybody looking after them.
Miss Darrell cut out and roped Willett presently and took him to walk in the direction of a pretty cascade.
A charming girl, a Miss Trenor, arrived with a hammock, book, and bon-bons, and led Carrick away somewhere by virtue of a previous agreement, and the remaining girls pretended not to care, and strolled serenely off in pretty bunches, leaving Langdon standing, first on one foot, then on the other, waiting to be spoken to.
Abandoned, he wandered about the tennis court, kicking the balls moodily. Tiring of this, he sat down under a tree and twirled his thumbs.
Once or twice some slender figure passed, glancing brightly at him, and he looked as shyly receptive as he could, but to no purpose. Gloom settled over him; hunger tormented him; he gazed disconsolately at the yellow ribbon in his button-hole, and twiddled his thumbs.
And all the while, from the shadow of a distant cave, Ethra was watching him with great content. She knew he was hungry; she let him remain so. By absent treatment she was reducing him to a proper frame of mind.
The word had been passed that he was Ethra's quarry; mischievous bright eyes glanced at him, but no lips unclosed to speak to him; little feet strolled near him, even lingered a moment, but trotted on.
His sentiments varied from apathy to pathos, from self-pity to mortification, from hungry despair to an indignation no longer endurable.
He had enough of it—plenty. Anger overwhelmed him; hunger smothered sentiment; he rose in wrath and stalked off toward a girl who was strolling along, reading a treatise on eugenics.
"Will you be good enough to tell me how to get out?" he asked.
"Out?" she repeated. "Have you a pass to go out?"
"No, I haven't. Where do I obtain one?"
"Only the girl who captured you can give you a pass," she said, amused.
"Very well; where can I find her?"
"Who was it netted you?"
"A Miss Leslie," he snapped.
"Oh! Ethra Leslie's cave is over in those rocks," said the girl, "among those leafy ledges."
"Thanks," he said briefly, and marched off, scowling.
Ethra saw him coming, and his stride and expression scared her. Not knowing exactly what to do, and not anticipating such a frame of mind in him, she turned over in her hammock and pretended to be asleep, as his figure loomed up in the mouth of the cave.
"Miss Leslie!" His voice was stentorian.
She awoke languidly, and did it very well, making a charming picture as she sat up in her hammock, a trifle confused, sweet blue eyes scarcely yet unclosed.
"Mr. Langdon!" she exclaimed in soft surprise.
He looked her squarely, menacingly, in the eyes.
"I suppose," he said, "that all this is a grim parody on the past when women did the waiting until it was men's pleasure to make the next move. I suppose that my recent appraisement parallels the social inspection of a debutante—that my present hunger is paying for the wistful intellectual starvation to which men once doomed your sex; that my isolation represents the isolation from all that was vital in the times when women's opportunities were few and restricted; that my probation among you symbolises the toleration of my sex for whatever specimen of your sex they captured and set their mark on as belonging to them, and on view to the world during good behaviour."
He stared at her flushed face, thoughtfully.
"The allegory is all right," he said, "but you've cast the wrong man for the goat. I'm going."
"Y-you can't go," she stammered, colouring painfully, "unless I give you a pass."
"I see; it resembles divorce. My sex had to give yours a cause for escape, or you couldn't escape. And in here you must give me a pass to freedom, or I remain here and starve. Is that it?"
She crimsoned to her hair, but said nothing.
"Give me that pass," he said.
"If I do every girl here will gossip——"
"I don't care what they say. I'm going."
She sat very still in the hammock, eyes vacant, chin on hand, considering. It was not turning out as she had planned. She had starved him too long.
"Mr. Langdon," she said in a low voice, "if it is only because you are hungry——"
"I'm not; I'm past mere hunger. You disciplined me because I took a human and natural interest in the pretty inhabitants of this new world. And I told you that I never would have entered it except for you. But you made me pay for a perfectly harmless and happy curiosity. Well, I've starved and paid. Now I want to go. . . . Either I go or there'll be something doing—because I won't remain here and go hungry much longer."
"S-something—doing?" she faltered.
"Exactly. With the first——"
"You can go if you wish," she said, flushing scarlet and springing out of the hammock.
He waited, jaws set, while she seated herself at a table and wrote out the pass.
"Thank you," he said, in such a rage that he could scarcely control his voice.
She may not have heard him; she sat rigid at the table, looking very hard into space—sat motionless as he took a curt leave of her, never turning her head—listened to his tread as he strode off through the ferns, then laid her brow between snowy hands which matched the face that trembled in them.
As for him, he swung away along the path by which he had come, unstrung by turns, by turns violently desiring her unhappiness, and again anticipating approaching freedom with reckless satisfaction.
Then a strange buoyancy came over him as he arrived in sight of the gate, where the red-haired girl sat on a camp stool, yawning and knitting a silk necktie—for eventualities, perhaps; perhaps for herself, Lord knows. She lifted her grey eyes as he came swinging up—deep, clear, grey eyes that met his and presently seemed ready to answer his. So his eyes asked; and, after a long interval, came the reply, as though she had unconsciously been waiting a long, long while for the question.
"I suppose you will wish to keep this," he said in a low voice, offering her the pass. "You will probably desire to preserve it under lock and key."
She rose to her slender height, took it in her childish hands, hesitated, then, looking up at him, slowly tore the pass to fragments and loosed them from her palm into the current of the south wind blowing.
"That does not matter," she said, "if you are going to love me."
There was a moment's silence, then she held out her left hand. He took it; with her right hand, standing on tiptoe, she reached up and unbarred the gates. And they passed out together into the infernal splendour of the sunset forest.
THE riots in London culminated in an episode so cataclysmic that it sobered the civilised world. Young Lord Marque, replying to a question in the House of Lords, said: "As long as the British peerage can summon muscular vigour sufficient to keep a monocle in its eye and extract satisfaction from a cigarette, no human woman in the British Empire shall ever cast a bally ballot for any bally purpose whatever. What!"
And the House of Lords rose to its wavering legs and cheered him with an enthusiasm almost loud enough to be heard above ordinary conversation.
But that unwise and youthful and masculine defiance was the young man's swan-song. A male suffragette rushed with the news to Miss Pondora Bottomly; Lord Marque was followed as he left the house; and that very afternoon he was observed fleeing in a series of startled and graceful bounds through Regent Park, closely pursued by several ladies of birth, maturity, and fashion carrying solid silver hair-brushes.
The Queen, chronicling the somewhat intimate and exclusive affair a week later, mentioned that: "Among those present was the lovely Lady Diana Guernsey wearing tweeds, leather spats, and waving a Directoire Banner embroidered with the popular device, 'Votes for Women,' in bright yellow and bottle green on an old rose ground;" and that she had far outdistanced the aged Marchioness of Dingledell, Lady Spatterdash, the Hon. Miss Mousely, the Duchess of Rolinstone, Baroness Mosscroppe, and others; and that, when last seen, she and the Earl of Marque were headed westward. A week later no news of either pursuer or pursued having been received, considerable uneasiness was manifested in court and suffragette circles, and it was freely rumoured that Lady Guernsey had made a rather rash but thoroughly characteristic vow that she would never relinquish the trail until she had forced Lord Marque to eat his own words, written in frosting upon a plum cake of her own manufacture.
Marque may have heard of this vow, and perhaps entertained lively doubts concerning Lady Diana's abilities as a pastry cook. At any rate, he kept straight on westward in a series of kangaroo-like leaps until darkness mercifully blotted out the picture.
Remaining in hiding under a hedge long enough to realise that London was extremely unsafe for him, he decided to continue west as far as the United States, consoling himself with the certainty that his creditors would have forced his emigration anyway before very long, and that he might as well take the present opportunity to pick out his dollar princess while in exile.
But circumstances altered his views; the great popular feminine upheaval in America was now in full swing; the eugenic principle had been declared; all human infirmity and degenerate imperfections were to be abolished through marriages based no longer upon sentiment and personal inclination, but upon the scientific selection of mates for the purpose of establishing the ideally flawless human race.
This was a pretty bad business for Lord Marque. The day after his arrival he was a witness of the suffragette riots when the Mayor, the Governor, and every symmetrical city, county, and State official was captured and led blushing to the marriage license bureau. He had seen the terrible panic in Long Acre, where thousands of handsome young men were being chased in every direction by beautiful and swift-footed suffragettes. From his window in the Hotel Astor he had gazed with horror upon this bachelors' St. Bartholomew, and, distracted, had retired under his bed for the balance of the evening, almost losing consciousness when a bell-hop knocked at his door with a supply of towels.
Only one thought comforted him; the ocean rolled majestically between the Lady Diana, her pastry, and the last of the house of Marque.
Never should that terrible and athletic young woman discover his whereabouts if he had to remain away from London forever; never, never would he eat that pastry!
As he lay under his bed, stroking his short moustache and occasionally sneezing, he remembered with a shudder his flight from those solid silver hair-brushes through Regent's Park; he recalled how, behind him, long after the heavier feminine aristocracy had given up the chase, one youthful, fleet, supple, and fearsome girl had hung to his trail—a tall, lithe, incarnation of her goddess namesake.
She had been too far away for him to distinguish her features; only in Liverpool, where one dark night he ventured out to buy a copy of the Queen and eagerly read the details of the function, did he learn the name of his closest pursuer.
Later, furtively haunting the smoking room on the Caramania, he learned from the gossip there of Lady Diana's vow that she would never rest until Lord Marque had eaten her plum cake with its frosted inscription—this inscription consisting of the flippant words of his own rash speech delivered in the upper house of Parliament.
Now, lying on his back under the bed, while outside in Long Acre the dreadful work was going on, he lighted a cigarette and pondered the situation. He didn't believe that Lady Diana would attempt to trail him to America. That was one comfort. But, in view of the suffragette disturbances going on outside his windows, he saw little prospect of a dollar princess for the present. Meanwhile, how was he to exist?
The vague and British convictions concerning the rapid accumulation of wealth on a "ranch" of any kind comforted Marque. He also believed them.
And three months later he had managed to survive a personal acquaintance with the following episodes:
First, one large revolver bullet through hat with request to answer affably when addressed by white men.
Second, one infuriated cow.
Third, one indigestion incubated by cumulative series of pie and complicated by attentions from one large centipede.
Fourth, one contusion from a Montana boot with suggestion concerning monocle.
Fifth, one 45-70 Winchester projectile severing string of monocle, accompanied by laughter and Navajo blanket.
Sixth, comprehensive corporal casualties incident upon international altercation concerning relative importance of Guy Fawkes and July 4th.
Seventh, physical debility due to excessive local popularity following personal encounter with one rustler.
Eighth, complete prostration in consequence of frequent attempts to render thanks for toasts offered him at banquet in celebration of his impending departure for the East.
Ninth, general collapse following bump of coal and forcible ejection from freight train near Albany, New York.
THE duties of young Lord Marque, the new man on the Willett estate at Caranay, left him at leisure only after six o'clock, his day being almost entirely occupied in driving a large lawn mower.
Life, for John Marque—as he now called himself—had become exquisitely simple; eating, sleeping, driving a lawn mower—these three manly sports so entirely occupied the twenty-four hours that he had scarcely time to do much weeding—and no time at all to sympathise with himself because he was too busy by day and too sleepy at night.
Sundays he might have taken off for the purpose of condoling with himself, had it not been for the new telephone operator.
She was a recent incumbent at the railroad station—a tall, clear-skinned, yellow-haired girl of twenty-five who sat at her desk all day saying in a low, prettily modulated voice, "hello—hello—hello—hello" to unseen creatures of whom John Marque wotted not.
Three things concerning her he had noticed: She wore pink gingham; she never seemed to see him when he came down to the little sunburnt platform and seated himself on the edge, feet dangling over the rails; he had never seen her except when she was seated at the pine table which was ornamented by her instrument and switchboard. She had a bed-room and kitchen in the rear. But he never saw her go into them or emerge; never saw her except seated at her switchboard, either reading or sewing, or, with the silvery and Greek-like band encircling her hair and supporting the receiver close to her small ears, repeating in her low, modulated voice: hello—hello—hello—hello.
He wondered how tall she might be. He had never seen her standing or walking. He wondered what her direct gaze might be like. Only her profile had he yet beheld—a sweet, youthful, profile nobly outlined under the gold of her hair; but under the partly lowered lashes as she sat sewing or reading or summoning centrals from the vast expanses of North America, he divined eyes of a soft lilac-blue. And he chewed his pipe-stem and kicked his feet and thought about them.
Few trains stopped at Caranay except for water; the station, an old-time farm house of small dimensions, overlooking the track and Willow Brook, contained ticket office, telephone, and telegraph in one—all presided over by the telephone operator. Sometimes as many as two people in a week bought railroad tickets; sometimes a month would pass without anybody either sending or receiving a telegram. Telephone calls were a little more frequent.
So the girl had little to do there at her sunny open window, where mignonette and heliotrope and nasturtiums bloomed in pots, and the big bumble bees came buzzing and plundering the little window garden. And, except on Sundays, Marque had little leisure to observe her, although in the long late June evenings it was still light at eight o'clock, and he had, without understanding how or why, formed the habit of coming down to the deserted station platform to smoke his pipe and sometimes to fish in the shallow waters of Willow Brook, and watch the ripples turn from gold to purple, and listen to a certain bird that sat singing every day at sunset on the tip of a fir-balsam across the stream—a black and white bird with a rosy pink chest.
So lovely the evening song of this bird that Marque, often watching the girl askance, wondered that the surprising beauty of the melody never caused her to lift her head from book or sewing, or even rise from the table and come out to the doorway to listen.
But she never did; and whether or not the bird's singing appealed to her, he could not determine.
Nobody in the little gossiping hamlet of Caranay seemed to know more than her name; he himself knew only a few people—men who, like himself, worked on the Willett place with hoe and rake and spraying cart and barrow—comrades of roller and mower and weed-fork and mole-trap—dull-witted cullers of dandelion and rose-beetle. And mostly their names were Hiram.
These had their own kind in the female line to "go with"—Caranay being far from the metropolis, and as yet untroubled by the spreading feminine revolution. Only stray echoes of the doings had as yet penetrated to Caranay daisy fields; no untoward consequences had as yet ensued except that old Si Dinglebat's wife, after reading the remains of a New York paper found on the railroad track, had suddenly, and apparently in a fit of mental aberration, attacked Si with a mop, accompanying the onslaught with the reiterated inquiry: "Air wimmen to hev their rights?"
That was the only manifestation of the welt-weh in Caranay—that and the other welt on Si's dome-like and knobby forehead.
He encountered Marque that evening after supper as that young man, in clean blue jeans, carrying a fish-pole and smoking his pipe, was wandering in circles preparatory to a drift in the general direction of the railroad station.
"Evenin', neighbour!" he said.
"Good evening," said the young man.
"Goin' sparkin'?" inquired Si, overflowing with natural curiosity and tobacco.
"Be you goin' a-sparkin'?"
"Nonsense!" said Marque, reddening. "I don't know any girls in Caranay."
"Waal, I cal'late you know that gal down to the depot, don't ye?"
"No, I don't."
"Hey? I'm a leetle deef."
"No!" shouted Marque, "I don't."
"Don't know her, dammit!"
"Aw, quit yer cussin'," said Si, with a gummy wink. "Folks has been talkin' ever since the fustest time you set onto that there platform and that Eden gal fooled ye with her lookin' glass."
"What are you talking about?" said Marque impatiently.
"Issy Eden and her pretendin' not to see nobody—an' her a lookin' into the leetle glass behind her table and a seein' of ye all the time! I know she kin see because she ketched Hi Orville's boy a-hookin' apples outen the bar'l that—"
"You mean she is able to see anybody on the platform," said Marque, confused and astounded.
"You bet she kin. I know because I peeked in the winder an' I seen her a-lookin' at you when you was fishin'——"
But the young fellow had recovered himself: "All right," he interrupted; "that isn't your business or mine. Who gave you that crack on the lid?"
"By gum," he said, "Hetty done it. I was that took! Forty year, and she ain't never throwed s'much as a dish pan at me. I wa'n't lookin' for no sech thing at my time o' life, young man. So when I come in to wash up for supper, I sez to my woman, 'Hello, Het,' sez I, an' she up an' screeched an' fetched me a clip.
"'Lord a'mighty!' sez I. 'Look out what ye doin',' sez I. 'Air wimmen to hev their rights?' sez she, makin' for me some more. 'Is wimmen to be free?' she sez.
"'Yew bet,' sez I, grabbin' onto her. 'I'll make free with ye,' sez I. An' I up an' tuk an' spanked Hetty—the first time in forty year, young man! An' it done her good, I guess, for she ain't never cooked like she cooked supper to-night. God a'mighty, what biscuits them was!"
Marque listened indifferently, scarcely following the details of the domestic episode because his mind was full of the girl at the station and the amazing discovery that all these days she could have seen him perfectly well at any moment if she had chosen to take the trouble, without moving more than her dark, silky lashes. Had she ever taken that trouble? He did not know, of course. He would like to have known.
He nodded absently to the hero of the welt-weh clash, and, pipe in one hand, pole in the other, walked slowly down the road, crossed the track, and seated himself on the platform's edge.
She was at her desk, reading. And the young man felt himself turning red as he realised that, if she had chosen, she could have seen him sitting here every evening with his eyes fixed—yes, sentimentally fixed upon the back of her head and her pretty white neck and the lovely contour of her delicately curved cheek.
All by himself he sat there and blushed, head lowered, apparently fussing with his line and hook and trying to keep his eyes off her, without much success.
His angling methods were simple; he crossed the grass-grown track, set his pole in position, and returned to seat himself on the platform's edge, where he could see his floating cork and—her. Then, as usual, he relapsed into meditation.
If only just once she had ever betrayed the slightest knowledge of his presence in her vicinity he might, little by little, cautiously, and by degrees, have ventured to speak to her.
But she never had evinced the slightest shadow of interest in anything as far as he had noticed.
Now, as he sat there, the burnt out pipe between his teeth, watching alternately his rod and his divinity, the rose-breasted grosbeak began to sing in the pink light of sunset. Clear, pure, sweet, the song rang joyously from the tip of the balsam's silver-green spire. He rested his head on one hand and listened.
The song of this bird, the odour of heliotrope, the ruddy sunlight netting the ripples—these, for him, must forever suggest her.
He had curious fancies about her and himself. He knew that, if she ever did turn and look at him out of those lilac-tinted eyes, he must fall in love with her, irrevocably. He admitted to himself that already he was in love with all he could see of her—the white neck and dull gold hair, the fair cheek's curve, the glimpse of her hand as she deliberately turned a page in the book she was reading.
But that evening passed as had the others; night came; she lowered her curtain; a faint tracery of lamplight glimmered around the edges; and, as always, he lighted his pipe and took his fish, and shouldered his pole and went home to die the little death we call sleep until the sun of toil should glitter above the eastern hills once more.
A few days later he decided to make an ass of himself, having been sent with a wagon to Moss Centre, a neighbouring metropolis.
First he sent a telegram to himself at Caranay, signing it William Smith. Then he went to the drug store telephone, and called up Caranay.
"Hello! What number, please?" came a far, sweet voice; and Marque trembled: "No number. I want to speak to Mr. Marque—Mr. John Marque."
"He isn't here."
"Are you sure?"
"Perfectly. I saw him driving one of Mr. Willett's wagons across the track this morning."
"Oh, that's too bad. Could I—might I—ask a little information of you?"
"What sort of a fellow is this John Marque? He doesn't amount to much I understand."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I might want to employ him, but I don't believe he is the sort of man to trust——"
"You are mistaken!" she said crisply.
"You mean he is all right?"
"Unquestionably!" she said indignantly.
"Are you sure?"
"How do you know?"
"I have means of information which I am not at liberty to disclose. Who is this speaking?"
"William Smith of Minnow Hollow."
"Are you going to take Mr. Marque to Minnow Hollow?"
"You can't. Mr. Willett employs him."
"Suppose I offer him better wages——"
"He is perfectly satisfied here."
"No! Mr. Marque does not care to leave Caranay."
"I am sorry. It is useless to even suggest it to him. Good-bye!"
With cheeks flushed and a slightly worried expression she resumed her sewing through the golden stillness of the afternoon. Now and then the clank of wagon wheels crossing the metals caused her to glance swiftly into her mirror to see what was going on behind her. And at last she saw Marque drive up, cross the track, then, giving the reins to the boy who sat beside him, turn and walk directly toward the station. And her heart gave a bound.
For the first time he came directly to her window; she saw and heard him, knew he was waiting behind the mignonette and heliotrope, and went on serenely sewing.
She waited another moment—time enough to place her sewing leisurely on the table. Then, very slowly she turned in her chair and looked at him out of her dark lilac-hued eyes.
He heard himself saying, as in a dream:
"Is there a telegram for me?"
And, as her delicate lifted brows questioned him:
"I am John Marque," he said.
She picked up the telegram which lay on her table and handed it to him.
"Thank you," he said. After he had gone she realised that she had not spoken.
WHENEVER he went to Moss Centre with the wagon he telephoned and telegraphed to himself, and about a month after he had begun this idiot performance he ventured to speak to her.
It occurred late in July, just before sunset. He had placed his rod, lighted his pipe, and seated himself on the platform's edge, when, all of a sudden, and without any apparent reason, a dizzy sort of recklessness seized him, and he got up and walked over to her window.
"Good evening," he said.
She looked around leisurely.
"Good evening," she said in a low voice.
"I was wondering," he went on, scared almost to death, "whether you would mind if I spoke to you?"
After a few seconds she said:
"Well? Have you decided?"
Badly frightened, he managed to find voice enough to express his continued uncertainty.
"Why did you care to speak to me?" she asked.
"I—we—you——" and he stuck fast.
"Had you anything to say to me?" she asked in a lower—and he thought a gentler—voice.
"I've a lot to say to you," he said, finding his voice again.
"Really? What about?"
He looked at her so appealingly, so miserably, that the faintest possible smile touched her lips.
"Can I do anything for you, Mr. Marque?"
"If—if you'd only let me speak to you——"
"But I am letting you."
"I mean—to-morrow, too——"
"To-morrow? To-morrow is a very, very long way off. It is somewhere beyond those eastern hills—but a very, very long way off!—as far as the East is from the West. No; I know nothing about to-morrow, so how can I promise anything to anybody?"
"Will your promise cover to-day?"
"Yes. . . . The sun has nearly set, Mr. Marque."
"Then perhaps when to-morrow is to-day you will be able to promise——"
"Perhaps. Have you caught any fish?"
After a moment he said: "How did you know I was fishing? You didn't turn to look."
She said coolly: "How did you know I didn't?"
"You never do."
She said nothing.
At her window, elbows on the sill, the blossoms in her window-box brushing his sunburnt face, he stood, legs crossed, pipe in hand, the sunset wind stirring the curly hair at his temples.
"Did you hear the bird this evening?" he asked.
"Yes. Isn't he a perfect darling!"
Her sudden unbending was so gracious, so sweet that, bewildered, he remained silent for a while, recovering his breath. And finally:
"I never knew whether or not you noticed his singing," he said.
"How could you suppose any woman indifferent to such music?" she asked indignantly. She was beginning to realise how her silence had starved her all these months, and the sheer happiness of speech was exciting her. Into her face came a faint glow like a reflection from the pink clouds above the West.
"That little bird," she said, "sings me awake every morning. I can hear his happy, delicious song above the rushing chorus of dawn from every thicket. He dominates the cheery confusion by the clear, crystalline purity of his voice."
It scarcely surprised him to find himself conversing with a cultivated woman—scarcely found it unexpected that, in her, speech matched beauty, making for him a charming and slightly bewildering harmony.
Her slim hands lay in her lap sometimes; sometimes, restless, they touched her bright hair or caressed the polished instruments on the table before her. But, happy miracle! her face and body remained turned toward him where he stood leaning on her window-sill.
"There is a fish nibbling your hook, I think," she said.
He regarded his bobbing cork vaguely, then went across the track and secured the plump perch. At intervals during their conversation he caught three more.
"Now," she said, "I think I had better say good-night."
"Would you let me give you my fish?"
She replied, hesitating: "I will let you give me two if you really wish to."
"Will you bring a pan?"
"No," she said hastily; "just leave them under my window when you go."
Neither spoke again for a few moments, until he said with an effort:
"I have wanted to talk to you ever since I first saw you. Do you mind my saying so?"
She shook her head uncertainly.
He lingered a moment longer, then took his leave. Far away into the dusk she watched him until the trees across the bridge hid him. Then the faint smile died on her lips and in her eyes; her mouth drooped a little; she rested one hand on the table, rose with a slight effort, and lowered the shade. Listening intently, and hearing no sound, she bent over and groped on the floor for something. Then she straightened herself to her full height and, leaning on her rubber-tipped cane, walked to the door.
HE came every day; and every day, at sundown, she sat sewing by the window behind her heliotrope and mignonette waiting.
Sometimes he caught perch and dace and chub, and she accepted half, never more. Sometimes he caught nothing; and then her clear, humorous eyes bantered him, and sometimes she even rallied him. For it had come to pass in these sunset moments that she was learning to permit herself a friendliness and a confidence for him which was very pleasant to her while it lasted, but, after he had gone, left her with soft lips drooping and gaze remote.
Because matters with her, with them both, she feared, were not tending in the right direction. It was not well for her to see him every day—well enough for him, perhaps, but not for her.
Some day—some sunset evening, with the West flecked gold and the zenith stained with pink, and the pink-throated bird singing of Paradise, and the brook talking in golden tones to its pebbles—some such moment at the end of day she would end all of their days for them both—all of their days for all time.
But not just yet; she had been silent so long, waiting, hoping, trusting, biding her time, that to her his voice and her own at eventide was a happiness yet too new to destroy.
That evening, as he stood at her window, the barrier of mignonette fragrant between them, he said rather abruptly:
"Are you ill?"
"No," she said startled.
"Oh, I am relieved."
"Why did you ask?"
"Because every Tuesday I have seen the doctor from Moss Centre come in here."
In flushed silence she turned to her table and, folding her hands, gazed steadily at nothing.
Marque looked at her, then looked away. The big, handsome young physician from Moss Centre had been worrying him for a long while now, but he repeated, half to himself: "I am very much relieved. I was becoming a little anxious—he came so regularly."
"He is a friend," she said, not looking at him.
He forced a smile. "Well, then, there is no reason for me to worry about you."
"There never was any reason—was there?"
"No, no reason."
"You don't say it cheerfully, Mr. Marque. You speak as though it might have been a pleasure for you to worry over my general health and welfare."
"I think of little else," he said.
There was a silence. Between them, along the barrier of heliotrope and mignonette, the little dusk moths came hovering on misty wings; the sun had set, but the zenith was bright crimson. Perhaps it was the reflection from that high radiance that seemed to tint her face with a softer carmine.
She looked out into the West across the stream, thinking now that for them both the end of things was drawing very near. And, to meet fate half way with serenity—nay, to greet destiny while still far off, with a smile, she unconsciously straightened in her chair and lifted her proud little head.
"Lord Marque," she said quietly, "why do you not go back to England?"
For a moment what she had said held no meaning for him. Then comprehension smote him like lightning; and, thunderstruck, he remained as he was without moving a muscle, still resting against her window-sill, his lean, sun-browned face illuminated under the zenith's fiery glory.
"Who are you?" he said, under his breath.
"Only an English girl who happened to have seen you in London."
She turned deliberately and, resting one arm across the back of her chair, looked him steadily in the eyes.
"I am twenty-five. Since I was twenty your face has been familiar to me."
They exchanged a long and intent gaze.
"I never before saw you," he said.
"Who can know what a fashionable young man really looks at—through a monocle."
"I don't wear it any more. I lost it out West," he said, reddening.
"You lost your top hat once, too," she said.
He grew red as fire.
"So you've heard of that, too?"
"I saw it."
"You! Saw me attacked?" he demanded angrily, while the shame burnt hotter on his cheeks.
"Yes. You ran like the devil."
For a moment he remained mute and furious; then shrugged: "What was I to do?"
"Run," she admitted. "It was the only way."
He managed to smile. "And you were a witness to that?"
She nodded, eyes remote, her teeth nipping at the velvet of her underlip. He, too, remained lost in gloomy retrospection for a while, but finally looked up with a more genuine smile.
"I wonder whatever became of that fleet-footed girl who hung to my heels long after the more solidly constructed aristocracy gave up?"
"Lady Diana Guernsey?"
"That's the one. What became of her?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because she gave me the run of my life. She was a good sport, that girl. I couldn't shake her off; I took to a taxi and she after me in another; my taxi broke down in the suburbs and I started across country, she after me. And the last I saw of her was just after I leaped a hedge and she was coming over it after me—a wonderful athletic young figure in midair silhouetted against the sky line. . . . That was the last I saw of her. I fancy she must have pulled up dead beat—or perhaps she came a cropper."
"She did," said the girl in a low voice.
"Is that so?" he said, interested. "Hope it didn't damage her."
"She broke her thigh."
"Oh, that's too bad!" he exclaimed. "If I'd guessed any such thing I'd have come back. . . . The poor little thing! I mean that, though she was nearly six feet, I seem to think of her as little—and, of course, I'm six—two and a half. . . . Good little sport, that Diana girl! She got over it all right, I hope."
"It lamed her for life, Lord Marque."
Shocked, for a moment he could find no words to characterise his feelings. Then:
"Oh, dammitall! I say, it's a rotten shame, isn't it? And all on account of me—that superb young thing taking hedges like a hunter! Oh, come now, you know I—it hurts me all the way through. I wish I'd let her catch me! What would she have done to me? I wouldn't mind being pulled about a bit—or anything—if it would have prevented her injury. By gad, you know, I'd even have eaten her plum cake, frosting and all, to have saved her such a fate."
The girl's eyes searched his. "That was not the most tragic part of it, Lord Marque."
"God bless us! Was there anything more?"
"Yes. . . . She was in love with you."
"With—with me?" he repeated, bewildered.
"Yes. As a young, romantic girl she fell in love with you. She was a curious child—like all the Guernseys, a strange mixture of impulse and constancy, of romance and determination. If she had fallen in love with Satan she would have remained constant. But she only fell in love with young Marque. . . . And she loves him to this day."
"That—that's utterly impossible!" he stammered. "Didn't she become a suffragette and carry a banner and chase me and vow to make me eat my own words frosted on a terrible plum cake?"
"Yes. And all the while she went on loving you."
"How do you know?" he demanded, incredulously.
"She confided in me."
"I knew her well, Lord Marque. . . . Not as well as I thought I did, perhaps; yet, perhaps better than—many—perhaps better than anybody. . . . We were brought up together."
"You were her governess?"
"I—attempted to act in a similar capacity. . . . She was difficult to teach—very, very difficult to govern. . . . I am afraid I did not do my best with her."
"Why did you leave her to come here?" he asked.
She made no reply.
"Where is she now?"
She looked out into the cinders of the West, making no answer.
He gazed at her in silence for a long time; then:
"Is she really lame?"
"It is hip disease."
"But—but that can be cured!" he exclaimed. "It is now perfectly curable. Why doesn't she go to Vienna or to New York——"
"She is going."
"She ought to lose no time!"
"She is going. She only learned the nature of her trouble very recently."
"You mean she has been lame all this time and didn't know what threatened her?"
"She was—too busy to ask. Finally, because she did not get well, she called in a physician. But she is a very determined girl; she refused to believe what the physician told her—until—very recently——"
"See here," he said, "are you in constant communication with her?"
"Then tell her you know me. Tell her how terribly sorry I am. Tell—tell her that I'll do anything to—to—tell her," he burst out excitedly, "that I'll eat her plum cake if that will do her any good—or amuse her—or anything! Tell her to bake it and frost it and fill it full of glue, for all I care—and express it to you; and I'll eat every crumb of that silly speech I made——"
"Wait!" she exclaimed. "Do you realise what you're saying? Do you realise what you're offering to do for a girl—a lame girl—who is already in love with you?"
His youthful face fell.
"By gad," he said, "do you think I ought to marry her? How on earth can I when I'm—I'm dead in love with—somebody myself?"
"You—in love?" she said faintly.
He gazed across the brook at the darkening foliage.
"Oh, yes," he said with a pleasant sort of hopelessness, "but I fancy she cares for another man."
"W-why do you think so?"
"He comes to see her."
"Is that a reason?"
"She won't talk about him."
"When a woman won't talk about a man is it always because she cares for him in that way?"
They had lifted their heads now, facing each other in the violet dusk. Between them the scent of heliotrope grew sweeter. He said:
"I've been all kinds of a fool. For all I know women have as many rights on earth as men have. All I wish is that the plucky girl who took that hedge, banner in hand, were well and happy and married to a really decent fellow."
"But—she loves you."
"And I"—he looked up, encountering her blue eyes—"am already hopelessly in love. What shall I do?"
She said under her breath: "God knows. . . . I can not blame you for not wishing to marry a lame girl——"
"It isn't that!"
"But you wouldn't anyhow——"
"I would if I loved her!"
"You couldn't—love a—a cripple! It would not be love; it would be pity——"
He said slowly: "I wish that you were that lame girl. Then you'd understand me."
For a while she sat bolt upright, clasped hands tightening in her lap. Then, turning slowly toward him, she said:
"I am going to say good-night. . . . And thank you—for Diana's sake. . . . And I am going to say more—I am going to say good-bye."
"Good-bye! Where are you going?"
"To New York."
"Before I see you again."
"There is no train until——"
"I shall drive to Moss Centre."
"Where that—that doctor lives——"
"Yes. I am going to New York with him, Lord Marque."
He stood as though stunned for a moment; then set his teeth, clenched his hands, and pulled himself together.
"I think I understand," he said quietly. "And—I wish you—happiness."
She stretched out her hand to him above the heliotrope.
"I—wish it—to you——" suddenly her voice broke; again her teeth caught at her underlip like a child who struggles with emotion. "You—don't understand," she said. "Wait a little while before you—come to any—unhappy—conclusions."
After a moment she made a slight effort to disengage her hand—another—then turned in her chair and dropped her head on the table, her right hand still remaining in his. Presently he released it; and she placed both hands on the edge of the table and her forehead upon them.
"I am coming in," he said.
She straightened up swiftly at his words.
"Please don't!" she said in a startled voice, still tremulous.
But he was gone from the dark window, and, frightened, she bent over, caught up her walking stick, and took one impulsive step toward the door. And stood stock still in the middle of the floor as he entered.
His eyes met hers, fell on the supporting cane; and she covered her face with her left arm, standing there motionless.
"Good God!" he breathed. "You!"
She began to cry like a child.
"I didn't want you to know," she wailed. "Oh, I didn't want you to know. I thought there was no use—no hope—until yesterday. . . . I—wanted to go to New York with the doctor and be made all sound and well again b-before—before I let you love me——"
"Oh, Diana—Diana!" he whispered, with his arms around her. "Oh, Diana—Diana—my little girl Diana!"
Which was silly enough, she being six feet—almost as tall as he.
"Turn your back," she whispered. "I want to go to my desk—and I can't bear to have you see me walk."
"No, no, no! Please let them cure me first. . . . Turn your back."
He kissed her hands, held her at arm's length a second, then turned on his heel and stood motionless.
He heard her move almost noiselessly away; heard a desk open and close; heard the chair by the window move as she seated herself.
"Come here," she said in a curious, choked voice.
He turned, went swiftly to her side.
"Great heavens!" he said. "When did you bake that cake?"
"B-because I was going away to New York and would never perhaps see you again unless I was entirely cured. And I meant to leave this for you—so you would know that I had followed you even here—so you would know I had made a plucky try at you—through all these months—"
"D-do you really mean it?"
"Mean it! I tell you, Diana, you women put it all over the lords of creation—or any lord ever created! Mean it! You bet I do, sweetness! I'll take back everything I ever said about women. They're the real thing in the world! And the best thing for the world is to let them run it!"
"But—dear——" she faltered, lifting her beautiful eyes to him, "if men are going to feel that way about it, we won't want to run anything at all. . . . It was only because you wouldn't let us that we wanted to."
He said in impassioned tones:
"Let the bally world run itself, Diana. What do we care—you and I?"
"No," she said, "we don't care now."
Then that rash and infatuated young man, losing his head entirely, drew from his jeans a large jack-knife, and, before she could prevent him, he had sliced off an enormous hunk of plum cake heavily frosted with his own words.
"Don't, dear!" she begged him. "I couldn't ask that of you——"
"I will!" he said, and bit into it.
"Don't!" she begged him; "please don't! I haven't had much experience with pastry. It may give you dreadful dreams!"
"Let it!" he said. "What do I care for dreams while you remain real! Diana—Diana—huntress of bigger game than ever fled through the age of fable!"
And he bolted a section of frosting and began to chew vigorously upon another, while she slipped both hands into his, regarding him with tender solicitude.
"Have no fears for me, dearest," he said indistinctly; "fortified by months of pie I dread no food ever prepared by youth and beauty. Even the secret dishes of the Medici——"
"After all—I don't cook so badly."
So, in the gloaming, he swallowed the last crumb and gathered her into his strong young arms, and drew her golden head down close to his.
"Take it from me," he whispered, relapsing into the noble idioms of his adopted country, "you're all to the mustard, Diana; your eats were bully and I liked 'em fine!"
THE situation in Great Britain was becoming deplorable; the Home Secretary had been chased into the Serpentine; the Prime Minister and a dozen members of Parliament had taken permanent refuge in the vaults of the Bank of England; a vast army of suffragettes was parading the streets of London, singing, cheering, and eating bon-bons. Statues, monuments, palaces were defaced with the words "Votes for Women," and it was not an uncommon sight to see some handsome young man rushing distractedly through Piccadilly pursued by scores of fleet-footed suffragettes of the eugenic wing of their party, intent on his capture for the purposes of scientific propagation.
No young man who conformed to the standard of masculine beauty set by the eugenist suffragettes was safe any longer. Scientific marriage between perfectly healthy people was now a firmly established principle of the suffragette propaganda; they began to chase attractive young men on sight with the avowed determination of marrying them to physically qualified individuals of their own sex and party, irrespective of social or educational suitability.
This had already entailed much hardship; the young Marquis of Putney was chased through Cadogan Place, caught, taken away in a taxi, and married willy-nilly to a big, handsome, strapping girl who sold dumb-bells in the new American department store. No matter who the man might be professionally and socially, if he was young and well-built and athletic he was chased on sight and, if captured, married to some wholesome and athletic young suffragette in spite of his piteous protests.
"We will found," cried Mrs. Blinkerly Dank-some-Hankly triumphantly, "a perfect human race and teach it the immortal principles of woman's rights. So, if we can't persuade Parliament to come out for us, we'll take Parliament by the slack of its degraded trousers, some day, and throw it out!"
This terrible menace delivered in Trafalgar Square was cabled to the Outlook, which instantly issued its first extra; and New York, already in the preliminary throes of a feminine revolution, went wild.
That day the handsome young Governor of New York, attended by his ornamental young Military Secretary in full uniform, had arrived at the Waldorf-Astoria to confer with the attractive young Mayor of the metropolis concerning a bill to be introduced into the legislature, permitting the franchise to women under certain conditions. And on the same day a monster suffragette parade was scheduled.
Some provisions of the proposed measure, somehow or other, had become known to the National Federation of Women; and as the Governor, his Military Secretary, and the Mayor sat in earnest conference in a private room at the Waldorf, the most terrible riot that New York ever saw began on Fifth Avenue just as the head of the parade, led by the suffragette band of 100 pieces, arrived at the hotel.
The Governor, Mayor, and Secretary rushed to the windows; acres of banners waved wildly below; cheer after cheer rent the raw March atmosphere; in every direction handsome young men were fleeing, pursued by eugenists. Under their very windows the shocked politicians beheld an exceedingly good-looking youth seized by several vigorous and beautiful suffragettes, dragged into a taxi, and hurried away toward a scientific marriage, kicking and struggling. This was nothing new, alas. More than one attractive young man had already been followed and spoken to in Manhattan.
Mr. Dill, president of the Board of Aldermen, and the handsomest incumbent of the office that the city ever beheld, had been courted so persistently that, fearful of being picked up, he remained in hiding disguised as a Broadway fortune teller, where the Mayor came at intervals to consult him on pretense of having his palms read.
But now the suffragettes threw off all restraint; men, frightened and confused, were being not only spoken to on Fifth Avenue, but were being seized and forcibly conducted in taxicabs toward the marriage license bureau.
It was a very St. Bartholomew for bachelors.
"John," said the Governor to his capable young Military Secretary, "take off that uniform. I'm going to flee in disguise."
"What does your excellency expect me to flee in—dishabille?" stammered the Military Secretary.
"I don't care what you flee in," said the Governor bluntly; "but I will not have it said that the Governor of the great State of New York was seized by a dozen buxom eugenists and hurried away to become the founder of a physically and politically perfect race of politicians. Get out of those gold-laced jeans!"
"I'll flee disguised as a chambermaid," muttered the handsome, rosy-cheeked young Mayor. And he rang for one.
While the Governor and his Secretary were exchanging clothes they heard the Mayor in the hallway arguing with a large German chambermaid in an earnest and fatherly manner, punctuated by coy screams from the maid.
By and by he came back to the room, perspiring.
"I bought her clothes," he said; "she'll throw them over the transom."
The clothing arrived presently by way of the transom; the Governor and the Secretary tried to aid the Mayor to get into the various sections of clothing, but as they all were bachelors and young they naturally were not aware of the functions of the various objects scattered over the floor.
The Governor picked up a bunch of curls attached to a cup-shaped turban swirl.
"Good heavens!" he said. "The girl has scalped herself for your sake, John!"
"I bought that, too," said the Mayor, sullenly. "Do you know which way it goes on, George?"
They fixed it so that two curls fell down and dangled on either side of his Honour's nose.
Meanwhile the unfortunate Military Secretary had dressed in the top hat and cutaway of the Governor.
He said huskily, "If I can't outrun them they'll catch me and try to start raising statesmen."
"It's your duty to defend me," observed the Governor.
"Yes, with my life, but not with my p-progeny—"
"Then you'd better run faster than you've ever run in all your life," said the Governor coldly.
At that moment there came a telephone call.
"Lady at the desk to speak to the Governor," came a voice.
"Hello, who is it?" asked his excellency coyly.
"Professor Elizabeth Challis!" came a very sweet but determined voice.
At the terrible name of the new President of the National Federation of American Women the Governor jumped with nervousness. Anonymous letters had warned him that she was after him for eugenic purposes.
"What do you want?" he asked tremulously.
"In the name of the Federation I demand that you instantly destroy the draft of that infamous bill which you are preparing to rush through at Albany."
"I won't," said the Governor.
"If you don't," she said, "the committee on eugenics will seize you."
"Let 'em catch me first," he replied, boldly; and rang off.
"Now, John," he said briskly, "as soon as they catch sight of you in my top hat and cutaway they'll start for you. And I advise you to leg it if you want to remain single."
The unfortunate Military Secretary gulped with fright, buttoned his cutaway coat, crammed his top hat over his ears, and gazed fearfully out of the window, where in the avenue below the riot was still in lively progress. Terrified young men fled in every direction, pursued by vigorous and youthful beauty, while the suffragette band played and thousands of suffragettes cheered wildly.
"Isn't it awful!" groaned the Mayor, arranging the lace cap on his turban-swirl and shaking out his skirts. "The police are no use. The suffragettes kidnap the good-looking ones. Are you ready for the sortie, Governor?"
The Governor in the handsome uniform of his Military Secretary adjusted his sword and put on the gold-laced cap. Then, thrusting the draft of the obnoxious bill into the bosom of his tunic, he strode from the room, followed by his Secretary and the unfortunate Mayor, who attempted in vain to avoid treading on his own trailing skirts.
"George," said the Mayor, spitting out a curl that kept persistently getting into his mouth every time he opened it, "I'll be in a pickle unless I can reach Dill's rooms. . . . Wait! There's a pin sticking into me——"
"Too late," said the Governor; "it will spur you to run all the faster. . . . Where is Dill's?"
The Mayor whispered the directions, spitting out his curl at intervals when it incommoded him; the Governor walked faster to escape.
Down in the elevator they went, gazed at by terror-stricken bell-hops and scared porters.
As the cheering and band playing grew louder and more distinct the Secretary quailed, but the Governor admonished him:
"You've simply got to save me," he said. "Pro bono publico! Come on now. Make a dash for a taxi and the single life! One—two—three!"
The next moment the Secretary's top hat was carried away by a brick; the Mayor's turban-swirl went the same way, amid showers of confetti and a yell of fury from a thousand suffragettes who saw in his piteous attempt to disguise himself, by aid of a turban-swirl, an insult to womanhood the world over.
A perfect blizzard of missiles rained on the terrified politicians; the Secretary and the Mayor burst into a frantic canter up Thirty-fourth Street, pursued by a thousand strikingly handsome women. The Governor ran west.
THE Governor of the great State of New York was now running up Broadway with his borrowed sword between his legs and his borrowed uniform covered with confetti—footing it as earnestly as though he were running behind his ticket with New York County yet to hear from.
After him sped bricks, vegetables, spot-eggs, and several exceedingly fashionable suffragettes, their perfectly gloved hands full of horsewhips, banners, and farm produce.
But his excellency was now running strongly; one by one his eager and beautiful pursuers gave up the chase and fell out, panting and flushed from the exciting and exhilarating sport, until, at Forty-second Street, only one fleet-footed young girl remained at his heels.
The order of precedence then shifted as follows: First, the young and handsome Governor running like a lost dog at a fair and clutching the draft of the obnoxious bill to his gold-laced bosom; second, one distractingly lovely young girl, big, wholesome-looking, athletic, and pink of cheeks, swinging a ci-devant cat by the tail as menacingly as David balanced the loaded sling; third, several agitated policemen whistling and rapping for assistance; fourth, the hoi polloi of the Via Blanca; fifth, a small polychromatic dog; sixth, the idle wind toying carelessly with the dust and refuse and hats and skirts of all Broadway.
This municipal dust storm, mingling with the brooding metropolitan gasoline fog, produced a sirocco of which no Libyan desert needed to be ashamed; and it alternately blotted out and revealed the interesting Marathonian procession, until one capricious and suffocating flurry, full of whirling newspapers and derbies, completely blotted out the Governor and the young lady at his heels.
And when, a moment later, the miniature tornado had subsided into a series of playful sidewalk eddys, only the policemen, the hoi polloi, and the dog were still going; the Governor and the beautiful suffragette had completely disappeared.
They had, it is true, chosen a very good time and place for such an occult performance; Long Acre at its busiest.
Several mounted policemen had now joined in the frantic festivities. They galloped hurriedly in every direction. The crowd cheered and pursued the police, the small dog barked in eddying circles till he resembled an expiring pinwheel.
Meanwhile a curious thing had occurred; the youthful Governor was now chasing the suffragette. It occurred abruptly, and in the following manner:
No sooner had the dust cloud spread a momentary fog around the radiant young man—like a hurricane eclipse of the sun—than he darted into the narrow and dark hallway of an old-fashioned office building devoted to theatrical agencies, all-night lawyers, and "astrologists," and started up the stairs. But his unaccustomed sword tripped him up, and as he fell flat with a startling outcrash of accoutrements, there came a flurry of delicately perfumed skirts, the type-written papers were snatched from his gloved hands, and the perfumed skirts went scurrying away through the dusky corridor which ought to have opened on the next cross street. And didn't.
After her ran the Governor, now goaded to courage by the loss of his papers, and she, finding herself in a cul-de-sac, turned at bay, launched the cat at his head, and attempted to spring past him. But he caught the whirling feline in one white-gloved hand and barred her way with the other; and she turned once more in desperation to seek an egress which did not exist.
A flight of precipitate and rickety stairs led upward into an obscurity rendered deeper by a single gas jet burning low on the landing above.
Up this she sprang, two at a time, the young man at her heels; up, up, passing floor after floor, until a dirty skylight overhead warned her that the race was ending.
On the top corridor there was a door ajar; she sprang for it, opened it, tried to slam and lock it behind her, then, exhausted, she shrank backward into the room and sank into a red velvet chair, holding the bunch of papers tightly to her heaving breast.
There was another chair—a gilt one. Into it fell his excellency, gasping, speechless, his spurred and booted legs trailing, his borrowed uniform all over confetti and dust from his tumble on the stairs.
Minute after minute elapsed as they lay there, fighting for breath, watching each other.
She was the first to stir; and instantly he dragged himself to his feet, staggered over to the door, locked it, dropped the key into his pocket, returned to his chair, and collapsed once more.
After a few moments he glanced down at the cat which he was still clutching. A slight shiver passed over him, then, as he inspected it more closely, over his features crept an ironical smile.
For the cat was not even a ci-devant cat; it had never been a cat; it was only an imitation of a defunct one made out of floss and chenille, like a teddy-bear; and he smiled at her scornfully and dangled it by its black and white tail.
"Pooh," he panted; "I suppose even your bricks and vegetables and eggs were cotillion favours full of confetti."
"They were," she admitted defiantly. "Which did not prevent their serving their purposes."
"Symbols?" he retorted in derision.
"Yes, symbols! The three most ancient symbols of an insulted people's fury—the egg, the turnip, and the cat."
"Mala gallina, malum ovum," he laughed, adjusting his sword and picking several streamers of confetti from his tunic. "Did they hurl spot-eggs in ancient Rome, fair maid?"
"They did; and cats—ex necessitate rei," she observed with composure.
"Ex nihilo felis fit—a cat-fit for nothing," he retorted, flippantly.
Half disdainfully she straightened out the slight disorder of her own apparel, still breathing fast, and keeping tight hold of the bundle of papers.
"How soon are you going to let me have them?" he asked good-humouredly.
"I can't permit you to leave this room until you hand them to me."
"Then I shall never leave this room."
"You certainly shall not leave it until I have those papers."
"Then I'll remain here all my life!" she said defiantly.
"What do you expect to do when the people who live here return?"
She shrugged her pretty shoulders, and presently cast an involuntary and uneasy glance around the room.
It was not a place to reassure any girl; gilt stars were pasted all over walls and ceilings, where also a tinsel sun and moon appeared. The constellations were interspersed with bats.
The remaining decorations consisted of a cozy corner, some pasteboard trophies, red cotton velvet hangings, several plaster casts of human hands, and a frieze of half-burnt cigarettes along the mantel-edge.
"Are you going to give me those papers?" he repeated, secretly amused.
"What do you expect to do with them?"
"Deliver them to Professor Elizabeth Challis, President of the National Federation of Independent Women of America."
"Is this a private enterprise of yours," he asked curiously, "or just a—a playful impulse, or the militant fruition of a vast and feminine conspiracy?"
She smiled slightly.
"I suppose you mean to be impertinent, but I shall not evade answering you, Captain Jones. I am acting under orders."
"Betty's?" he inquired, flippantly.
"The orders of Professor Elizabeth Challis," she said, with heightened colour.
"Exactly. It is a conspiracy, then, complicated by riot, assault, disorderly conduct, and highway robbery—isn't it?"
"You may call it what you choose."
"Oh, I'll leave that to the courts."
She said disdainfully: "We recognize no laws in the making of which we have had no part."
"There's no use in discussing that," said the Governor blandly; "but I'd like to know what you suffragettes find so distasteful in that proposed bill which the Mayor and—and the Governor of New York have had drafted."
"It is reactionary—a miserable subterfuge—a treacherous attempt to return to the old order of things! A conspiracy to re-shackle, re-enslave American womanhood with the sordid chains of domestic cares! To drive her back into the kitchen, the laundry, the nursery—back into the dark ages of dependence and acquiescence and non-resistance—back into the degraded epochs of sentimental relations with the tyrant man!"
She leaned forward in her excitement and her sable boa slid back as she made a gesture with her expensive muff.
"Once," she said, "woman was so ignorant that she married for love! Now the national revolt has come. Neither sentiment nor impulse nor emotion shall ever again play any part in our relations with man!"
He said, trying to speak ironically: "That's a gay outlook, isn't it?"
"The outlook, Captain Jones, is straight into a glorious millennium. Marriage, in the future, is to mean the regeneration of the human race through cold-blooded selection in mating. Only the physically and mentally perfect will hereafter be selected as specimens for scientific propagation. All others must remain unmated—pro bono publico—and so ultimately human imperfection shall utterly disappear from this world!"
Her pretty enthusiasm, her earnestness, the delicious colour in her cheeks, began to fascinate him. Then uneasiness returned.
"Do you know," he said cautiously, "that the Governor of New York has received anonymous letters informing him that Professor Elizabeth Challis considers him a proper specimen for the—the t-t-terrible purposes of s-s-scientific p-p-propagation?"
"Some traitor in our camp," she said, "wrote those letters."
"It—it isn't true, then, is it?"
"What isn't true?"
"That the Governor of the great State of New York is in any danger of being seized for any such purpose?"
She looked at him with a curious veiled expression in her pretty eyes, as though she were near-sighted.
"I think," she said, "Professor Challis means to seize him."
The Governor gazed at her, horrified for a moment, then his political craft came to his aid, and he laughed.
"What does she look like?" he inquired. "Is she rather a tough old lady?"
"No; she's young and—athletic."
"Oh, she's as tall as the Governor is—about six feet, I believe."
"Nonsense!" he exclaimed, paling.
"Six feet," she repeated carelessly; "rowed stroke at Vassar; carried off the standing long jump, pole vault, and ten-mile swimming——"
"This—this is terrible," murmured the young man, passing one gloved hand over his dampening brow. Then, with a desperate attempt at a smile, he leaned forward and said confidentially:
"As a matter of fact, just between you and me, the Governor is an invalid."
"Impossible!" she retorted, her clear blue eyes on his.
"Alas! It is only too true. He's got a very, very rare disease," said the young man sadly. "Promise you won't tell?"
"Y-yes," said the girl. Her face had lost some of its colour.
"Then I will confide in you," said the young man impressively. "The Governor is threatened with a serious cardiac affection, known as Lamour's disease."
She looked down, remained silent for a moment, then lifted her pure gaze to him.
"Is that true—Captain Jones?"
"As true as that I am his Military Secretary."
Her features remained expressionless, but the colour came back as though the worst of the shock were over.
"I see," she said seriously. "Professor Challis ought to know of this sad condition of affairs. I have heard of Lamour's disease."
"Indeed, she ought to be told at once," he said, delighted. "You'll inform her, won't you?"
"If you wish."
"Thank you! Thank you!" he said fervently. "You are certainly the most charmingly reasonable of your delightful sex. The Governor will be tremendously obliged to you——"
"Is the Governor—are his—his affections—to use an obsolete expression—fixed upon any particular——"
"Oh, no!" he said, smiling; "the Governor isn't in love—except—er—generally. He's a gay bird. The Governor never, in all his career, saw a single specimen of your sex which—well, which interested him as much—well, for example," he added in a burst of confidence, "as much even as you interest me!"
"Which, of course, is not at all," she said, laughing.
"Oh, no—no, not at all——" he hesitated, biting his moustache and looking at her.
"I'll tell you one thing," he said; "if the Governor ever did get entirely well—er—recovered—you know what I mean?"
"Cured of his cardiac trouble?—this disease known as Lamour's disease?"
"Exactly. If he ever did recover, he—I'm quite sure he would be——" and here he hesitated, gazing at her in silence. As for her, she had turned her head and was gazing out of the window.
"I wonder what your name is?" he said, so naively that the colour tinted even the tip of the small ear turned toward him.
"My name," she said, "is Mary Smith. Like you, I am Militant Secretary to Professor Elizabeth Challis, President of the Federation of American Women."
"I hope we will remain on pleasant terms," he ventured.
"I hope so, Captain Jones."
"I trust so."
She bent her distractingly pretty head in acquiescence.
"Then you'll give me back the papers?"
"Sorry for taking them?"
"No, sorry for keeping them."
"You don't mean to say that you are going to keep them, Miss Smith?"
"I'm afraid I must. My duty forces me to deliver them to Professor Challis."
"But why does this terrible and strapping young lady desire to swipe the draft of this bill?"
"Because it contains the evidence of a wicked conspiracy between the Governor of New York, the Mayor of this city, and an abandoned legislature. The women of America ought to know what threatens them before this bill is perfected and introduced. And before they will permit it to be debated and passed they are determined to march on Albany, half a million strong, as did the heroines of Versailles!"
She stretched out her white gloved hand with an excited but graceful gesture; he eyed her moodily, swinging the chenille cat by its fluffy tail.
"What do they suspect is in that bill?" he said at last.
"We are not yet perfectly sure. We believe it is an insidious attempt to sow dissension in the ranks of our sex—a bill cunningly devised to create jealousy and unworthy distrust among us—an ingenious and inhuman conspiracy to disorganize the National Federation of Free and Independent Women."
"Nonsense," he said. "The bill, when perfected, is designed to give you what you want."
"Certainly; votes for women."
"On what terms?" she asked, incredulously.
"Terms? Oh, no particular terms. I wouldn't call them 'terms,'" he said craftily; "that sounds like masculine dictation."
"It certainly does."
"Of course. There are no terms in it. It's a—a sort of a civil service idea—a kind of a qualification for the franchise——"
"Yes," he continued pleasantly, "it a—er—suggests that a vote be accorded to any woman who, in competition with others of that election district, passes the examinations——"
He twirled the cat carelessly.
"Oh, the examination papers are on various subjects. One is chemistry."
"Yes—that part of organic chemistry which includes the scientific preparation of—er—food."
Her eyes flashed; he twirled the cat absently.
"Yes," he said, "chemistry is one of the subjects. Physics is another—physical phenomena."
"Oh, the—the proposition that nature abhors a vacuum. You're to prove it—you're given a certain area—say a bed-room full of dust. Then you apply to it——"
"I see," she said; "you mean we apply to it a vacuum cleaner, don't you?"
"Or," he admitted courteously, "you may solve it through the science of dynamics——"
"Of course—using a broom." Her eyes were beautiful but frosty.
"Do you know," he said, as pleasantly as he dared, "that you, for instance, would be sure to pass."
"Because I'm intelligent enough to comprehend the subtleties of this—bill?"
"Exactly." He swung the cat in a circle.
"Thank you. And what else do these examination papers contain?"
"Physics mostly—the properties of solid bodies. For example, you choose a button—any ordinary button," he explained frankly, as though taking her into his confidence; "say, for instance, the plain bone button of commerce——"
"And sew it onto some masculine shirt," she nodded as he sank back apparently overcome with admiration at her intelligence. "And that," she added, "no doubt is intended to illustrate the phenomenon of adhesion."
"You are perfectly correct," he said with enthusiasm.
"What else is there?" she asked.
"Oh, nothing—nothing very much. A few experiments in bacteriology——"
"Sterilizing nursing bottles?"
"How on earth did you ever guess?" he cried, overwhelmed, but perfectly alert to the kindling anger in her blue eyes. "Why, of course that is it. It is included in the science of embryotics—"
"Embryotics. For instance, you take an embryo of any kind—say a—a baby. Then you show exactly how to dress, undress, wash, feed, and finally bring that baby to triumphant maturity. It's interesting, isn't it, Miss Smith?"
She said nothing. He twirled the cat furiously until its tail gave way and it flew into a corner.
"Captain Jones," she said, "as I understand it, this bill is a codified conspiracy to turn every woman of this State into a—a washer of clothes, a cleaner of floors, a bearer of children—and a Haus-frau!"
"I—I would not put it that way," he protested.
"And her reward," she went on, not noticing his interruption, "is permission to vote—to use the inalienable liberty with which already Heaven has endowed her."
Tears flashed in her eyes; she held her small head proudly and not one fell.
"Captain Jones," she said, "do you realize what centuries of suppression are doing to my sex? Do you understand that woman is degenerating into an immobility—an inertia—a molluskular condition of receptive passivity which is rendering us, year by year, more unfitted to either think or act for ourselves? Even in the matter of marriage we are not permitted by custom to assume the initiative. We may only shake our heads until the man we are inclined toward asks us, when he is entirely ready to ask. Then, like a row of Chinese dolls, we nod our heads. I tell you," she said, tremulously, "we are becoming like that horrid, degenerate, wingless moth which is born, mates, and dies in one spot—a living mechanical incubator—a poor, deformed, senseless thing that has through generations lost not only the use, but even the rudiments of the wings which she once possessed. But the male moth flies more strongly and frivolously than ever. There is nothing the matter with the development of his wings, Captain Jones."
IT was now growing rather dark in the room.
"I'm terribly sorry you feel this way," he said.
She had averted her eyes and was now seated, chin in hand, looking out of the window.
"Do you know," he said, "this is a rotten condition of affairs."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"This attitude of women."
"Is it more odious than the attitude of men?"
"After all," he said, "man is born with the biceps. He was made to do the fighting."
"Not all of the intellectual fighting."
"No, of course not. But—you don't want him to rock the cradle, do you?"
"Cradles are no longer rocked, Captain Jones. I don't think you would be qualified to pass this examination with which you menace us."
He began to be interested. She turned from the window, saw he was interested, hesitated, then:
"I wish I could talk to you—to such a man as you seem to be—sensibly, without rancour, without personal enmity or prejudice——"
"Why, yes. I can. But—I am not sure what your attitude——"
"It is friendly," he said, looking at her. "I am perfectly hap—I mean willing to listen to you. Only, sooner or later, you must return to me those papers."
"The Governor entrusted them to me officially——"
She said smiling: "But you—your Governor I mean—can frame another similar bill."
"I'm a soldier in uniform," he said dramatically. "My duty is to guard those papers with my life!"
"I am a soldier, too," she said proudly, "in the Army of Human Progress."
"Very well," he said, "if you regard it that way."
"I do. Only brute violence can deprive me of these papers."
"That," he said, "is out of the question."
"It is no more shameful than the mental violence to which you have subjected us through centuries. Anyway, you're not strong enough to get them from me."
"Do you expect me to seize you and twist your arm until you drop those papers?"
"You can never have them otherwise. Try it!"
He sat silent for a while, alternately twisting his moustache and the cat's tail. Presently he flung the latter away, rose, inspected the stars on the wall, and then began to pace to and fro, his gloved hands behind his back, spurs and sword clanking.
"It's getting late," he said as he passed her. Continuing his promenade he added as he passed her again. "I've had no luncheon. Have you?"
He poked around the room, examining the fantastic furnishings in all their magnificence of cotton velvet and red cheesecloth.
"If this is Dill's room it's a horrible place," he thought to himself, sitting down by a table and shuffling a pack of cards.
"Shall I cast your horoscope?" he asked amiably. "Here's a chart."
"No, thank you."
Presently he said: "It's getting beastly cold in this room."
"Really!" she murmured.
He came back and sat down in the gilded chair. It was now so dusky in the room that he couldn't see her very plainly.
So he folded his arms and abandoned himself to gloomy patience until the room became very dark. Then he got up, struck a match, and lighted the gas.
"By Jupiter!" he muttered, "I'm hungry."
For nearly five minutes she let the remark go apparently unnoticed. But the complaint he had made is the one general and comprehensive appeal that no woman ever born can altogether ignore. In the depths of her something always responds, however faintly. And in the soul of this young girl it was answering now—the subtle, occult response of woman to the eternal and endless need of man—hunger of one kind or another.
"I'm sorry," she said, so sincerely that the sweetness in her voice startled him.
"Why—why, do you know I believe you really are!" he said in grateful surprise.
"I am a great many things that you have no idea I am," she said, smiling.
"What is one of them?"
"I'm afraid I'm a—a fool."
She came forward and stood looking at him.
"I've been thinking," she said, "that I can do you no kinder service than to destroy those papers and let you go home."
For a moment he thought she was joking, then something in her expression changed his opinion and he took a step forward, eyes fixed on her face.
"Yes," he said, "it would be the kindest thing you can do for me. Shall I tell you why? It's because I'm hopelessly near-sighted. I wear glasses when I'm alone in my study, where nobody can see me."
"What in the world has that to do with my leaving you?" she asked, colouring up.
"Suffragettes would never marry a near-sighted man, would they?"
"They ought not to."
"You wouldn't, would you?"
"Why do you ask—such a thing?"
"I want to know."
"But how does your myopia concern me?" she said faintly.
"Couldn't it—ever?" he asked, reddening.
"No," she said, turning pale.
"Then we'd better not stay here; and I'm going to be as generous as you are," he said, advancing toward her. "I'm going to let you go home."
She backed away, thrusting the papers behind her; his arm slipped around her, after them, strove to grasp them, to hold and restrain her, but there was a strength in her tall, firm young body which matched his own; she resisted, turned, twisted, confronted him with high colour, and lips compressed, and they came to a deadlock, breathing fast and irregularly.
Again, coolly, dexterously, he pitted his adroitness, then his sheer strength against hers; and it came again to a deadlock.
Suddenly she crook'd one smooth knee inside of his; her arms slid around him like lightning; he felt himself rising into the air, descending—there came a crash, a magnificent display of ocular fireworks, and nothing further concerned him until he discovered himself lying flat on the floor and heard somebody sobbing incoherencies beside him.
He was mean enough to keep his eyes shut while she, on her knees beside him, slopped water on his forehead and begged him to speak to her, and told him her heart was broken and she desired to die and repose in mortuary simplicity beside him forever.
Certain terms she employed in addressing what she feared were only his mortal remains caused him to prick up his ears. He certainly was one of the meanest of men.