William Sidney Porter ( O. Henry - 1862- 1910
A SERVICE OF LOVE
When one loves one's Art no service seems too hard.
That is our premise. This story shall draw a conclusion from it, and show at the same time that the premise is incorrect. That will be a new thing in logic, and a feat in story-telling somewhat older than the great wall of China.
Joe Larrabee came out of the post-oak flats of the Middle West pulsing with a genius for pictorial art. At six he drew a picture of the town pump with a prominent citizen passing it hastily. This effort was framed and hung in the drug store window by the side of the ear of corn with an uneven number of rows. At twenty he left for New York with a flowing necktie and a capital tied up somewhat closer.
Delia Caruthers did things in six octaves so promisingly in a pine- tree village in the South that her relatives chipped in enough in her chip hat for her to go "North" and "finish." They could not see her fi, but that is our story.
Joe and Delia met in an atelier where a number of art and music students had gathered to discuss chiaroscuro, Wagner, music, Rembrandt's works, pictures, Waldteufel, wall paper, Chopin and Oolong.
Joe and Delia became enamoured one of the other, or each of the other, as you please, and in a short time were married for (see above), when one loves one's Art no service seems too hard.
Mr. and Mrs. Larrabee began housekeeping in a flat. It was a lonesome flat something like the A sharp way down at the left-hand end of the keyboard. And they were happy; for they had their Art, and they had each other. And my advice to the rich young man would be sell all thou hast, and give it to the poor janitor for the privilege of living in a flat with your Art and your Delia.
Flat-dwellers shall indorse my dictum that theirs is the only true happiness. If a home is happy it cannot fit too close let the dresser collapse and become a billiard table; let the mantel turn to a rowing machine, the escritoire to a spare bedchamber, the washstand to an upright piano; let the four walls come together, if they will, so you and your Delia are between. But if home be the other kind, let it be wide and long enter you at the Golden Gate, hang your hat on Hatteras, your cape on Cape Horn and go out by the Labrador.
Joe was painting in the class of the great Magister - you know his fame. His fees are high; his lessons are light, his high-lights have brought him renown. Delia was studying under Rosenstock, you know his repute as a disturber of the piano keys.
They were mighty happy as long as their money lasted. So is every, but I will not be cynical. Their aims were very clear and defined. Joe was to become capable very soon of turning out pictures that old gentlemen with thin side-whiskers and thick pocketbooks would sandbag one another in his studio for the privilege of buying. Delia was to become familiar and then contemptuous with Music, so that when she saw the orchestra seats and boxes unsold she could have sore throat and lobster in a private dining-room and refuse to go on the stage.
But the best, in my opinion, was the home life in the little flat-- the ardent, voluble chats after the day's study; the cozy dinners and fresh, light breakfasts; the interchange of ambitions, ambitions interwoven each with the other's or else inconsiderable the mutual help and inspiration; and overlook my artlessness stuffed olives and cheese sandwiches at 11 p.m.
But after a while Art flagged. It sometimes does, even if some switchman doesn't flag it. Everything going out and nothing coming in, as the vulgarians say. Money was lacking to pay Mr. Magister and Herr Rosenstock their prices. When one loves one's Art no service seems too hard. So, Delia said she must give music lessons to keep the chafing dish bubbling.
For two or three days she went out canvassing for pupils. One evening she came home elated.
"Joe, dear," she said, gleefully, "I've a pupil. And, oh, the loveliest people! General, General A. B. Pinkney's daughter on Seventy-first street. Such a splendid house, Joe, you ought to see the front door ! Byzantine I think you would call it. And inside ! Oh, Joe, I never saw anything like it before.
"My pupil is his daughter Clementina. I dearly love her already. She's a delicate thing-dresses always in white; and the sweetest, simplest manners ! Only eighteen years old. I'm to give three lessons a week; and, just think, Joe ! $5 a lesson. I don't mind it a bit; for when I get two or three more pupils I can resume my lessons with Herr Rosenstock. Now, smooth out that wrinkle between your brows, dear, and let's have a nice supper."
"That's all right for you, Dele," said Joe, attacking a can of peas with a carving knife and a hatchet, "but how about me ? Do you think I'm going to let you hustle for wages while I philander in the regions of high art ? Not by the bones of Benvenuto Cellini ! I guess I can sell papers or lay cobblestones, and bring in a dollar or two."
Delia came and hung about his neck.
"Joe, dear, you are silly. You must keep on at your studies. It is not as if I had quit my music and gone to work at something else. While I teach I learn. I am always with my music. And we can live as happily as millionaires on $15 a week. You mustn't think of leaving Mr. Magister."
"All right," said Joe, reaching for the blue scalloped vegetable dish. "But I hate for you to be giving lessons. It isn't Art. But you're a trump and a dear to do it."
"When one loves one's Art no service seems too hard," said Delia.
"Magister praised the sky in that sketch I made in the park," said Joe. "And Tinkle gave me permission to hang two of them in his window. I may sell one if the right kind of a moneyed idiot sees them."
"I'm sure you will," said Delia, sweetly. "And now let's be thankful for Gen. Pinkney and this veal roast."
During all of the next week the Larrabees had an early breakfast. Joe was enthusiastic about some morning-effect sketches he was doing in Central Park, and Delia packed him off breakfasted, coddled, praised and kissed at 7 o'clock. Art is an engaging mistress. It was most times 7 o'clock when he returned in the evening.
At the end of the week Delia, sweetly proud but languid, triumphantly tossed three five-dollar bills on the 8x10 (inches) centre table of the 8x10 (feet) flat parlour.
Sometimes," she said, a little wearily, "Clementina tries me. I'm afraid she doesn't practise enough, and I have to tell her the same things so often. And then she always dresses entirely in white, and that does get monotonous. But Gen. Pinkney is the dearest old man ! I wish you could know him, Joe. He comes in sometimes when I am with Clementina at the piano, he is a widower, you know, and stands there pulling his white goatee. 'And how are the semiquavers and the demisemiquavers progressing ?' he always asks.
"I wish you could see the wainscoting in that drawing-room, Joe ! And those Astrakhan rug portieres. And Clementina has such a funny little cough. I hope she is stronger than she looks. Oh, I really am getting attached to her, she is so gentle and high bred. Gen. Pinkney's brother was once Minister to Bolivia."
And then Joe, with the air of a Monte Cristo, drew forth a ten, a five, a two and a one, all legal tender notes and laid them beside Delia's earnings.
"Sold that watercolour of the obelisk to a man from Peoria," he announced overwhelmingly.
"Don't joke with me," said Delia, "not from Peoria !"
"All the way. I wish you could see him, Dele. Fat man with a woollen muffler and a quill toothpick. He saw the sketch in Tinkle's window and thought it was a windmill at first, he was game, though, and bought it anyhow. He ordered another an oil sketch of the Lackawanna freight depot to take back with him. Music lessons ! Oh, I guess Art is still in it."
"I'm so glad you've kept on," said Delia, heartily. "You're bound to win, dear. Thirty-three dollars ! We never had so much to spend before. We'll have oysters to-night."
"And filet mignon with champignons," said Joe. "Were is the olive fork ?"
On the next Saturday evening Joe reached home first. He spread his $18 on the parlour table and washed what seemed to be a great deal of dark paint from his hands.
Half an hour later Delia arrived, her right hand tied up in a shapeless bundle of wraps and bandages.
"How is this ?" asked Joe after the usual greetings. Delia laughed, but not very joyously.
Clementina," she explained, "insisted upon a Welsh rabbit after her lesson. She is such a queer girl. Welsh rabbits at 5 in the afternoon. The General was there. You should have seen him run for the chafing dish, Joe, just as if there wasn't a servant in the house. I know Clementina isn't in good health; she is so nervous. In serving the rabbit she spilled a great lot of it, boiling hot, over my hand and wrist. It hurt awfully, Joe. And the dear girl was so sorry ! But Gen. Pinkney ! Joe, that old man nearly went distracted. He rushed downstairs and sent somebody they said the furnace man or somebody in the basement out to a drug store for some oil and things to bind it up with. It doesn't hurt so much now."
"What's this ?" asked Joe, taking the hand tenderly and pulling at some white strands beneath the bandages.
"It's something soft," said Delia, "that had oil on it. Oh, Joe, did you sell another sketch ?" She had seen the money on the table.
"Did I ?" said Joe; "just ask the man from Peoria. He got his depot to-day, and he isn't sure but he thinks he wants another parkscape and a view on the Hudson. What time this afternoon did you burn your hand, Dele ?"
"Five o'clock, I think," said Dele, plaintively. "The iron, I mean the rabbit came off the fire about that time. You ought to have seen Gen. Pinkney, Joe, when..."
"Sit down here a moment, Dele," said Joe. He drew her to the couch, sat beside her and put his arm across her shoulders.
"What have you been doing for the last two weeks, Dele?" he asked.
She braved it for a moment or two with an eye full of love and stubbornness, and murmured a phrase or two vaguely of Gen. Pinkney; but at length down went her head and out came the truth and tears.
"I couldn't get any pupils," she confessed. "And I couldn't bear to have you give up your lessons; and I got a place ironing shirts in that big Twentyfourth street laundry. And I think I did very well to make up both General Pinkney and Clementina, don't you, Joe? And when a girl in the laundry set down a hot iron on my hand this afternoon I was all the way home making up that story about the Welsh rabbit. You're not angry, are you, Joe? And if I hadn't got the work you mightn't have sold your sketches to that man from Peoria.
"He wasn't from Peoria," said Joe, slowly.
"Well, it doesn't matter where he was from. How clever you are, Joe and kiss me, Joe and what made you ever suspect that I wasn't giving music lessons to Clementina ?"
"I didn't," said Joe, "until tonight. And I wouldn't have then, only I sent up this cotton waste and oil from the engine-room this afternoon for a girl upstairs who had her hand burned with a smoothing-iron. I've been firing the engine in that laundry for the last two weeks."
"And then you didn't "
"My purchaser from Peoria," said Joe, "and Gen. Pinkney are both creations of the same art but you wouldn't call it either painting or music.
And then they both laughed, and Joe began:
"When one loves one's Art no service seems ..."
But Delia stopped him with her hand on his lips. "No," she said " just 'When one loves.'
A BIRD OF BAGDAD
Without a doubt much of the spirit and genius of the Caliph Harun Al Rashid descended to the Margrave August Michael von Paulsen Quigg.
Quigg's restaurant is in Fourth Avenue, that street that the city seems to have forgotten in its growth. Fourth Avenue born and bred in the Bowery staggers northward full of good resolutions.
Where it crosses Fourteenth Street it struts for a brief moment proudly in the glare of the museums and cheap theaters. It may yet become a fit mate for its high-born sister boulevard to the west, or its roaring, polyglot, broad-waisted cousin to the east. It passes Union Square; and here the hoofs of the dray horses seem to thunder in unison, recalling the tread of marching hosts--Hooray! But now come the silent and terrible mountains--buildings square as forts, high as the clouds, shutting out the sky, where thousands of slaves bend over desks all day. On the ground floors are only little fruit shops and laundries and book shops, where you see copies of "Littell's Living Age" and G. W. M. Reynold's novels in the windows. And next, poor Fourth Avenue ! the street glides into a medieval solitude. On each side are shops devoted to "Antiques."
Let us say it is night. Men in rusty armor stand in the windows and menace the hurrying cars with raised, rusty iron gauntlets. Hauberks and helms, blunderbusses, Cromwellian breastplates, matchlocks, creeses, and the swords and daggers of an army of dead-and-gone gallants gleam dully in the ghostly light. Here and there from a corner saloon (lit with Jack-o'-lanterns or phosphorus), stagger forth shuddering, home-bound citizens, nerved by the tankards within to their fearsome journey a down that eldrich avenue lined with the bloodstained weapons of the fighting dead. What street could live inclosed by these mortuary relics, and trod by these spectral citizens in whose sunken hearts scarce one good whoop or tra-la-la remained ?
Not Fourth Avenue. Not after the tinsel but enlivening glories of the Little Rialto--not after the echoing drum-beats of Union Square. There need be no tears, ladies and gentlemen; 'tis but the suicide of a street. With a shriek and a crash Fourth Avenue dives headlong into the tunnel at Thirty-fourth and is never seen again.
Near the sad scene of the thoroughfare's dissolution stood the modest restaurant of Quigg. It stands there yet if you care to view its crumbling red-brick front, its show window heaped with oranges, tomatoes, layer cakes, pies, canned asparagus its papier-much lobster and two Maltese kittens asleep on a bunch of lettuce, if you care to sit at one of the little tables upon whose cloth has been traced in the yellowest of coffee stains the trail of the Japanese advance to sit there with one eye on your umbrella and the other upon the bogus bottle from which you drop the counterfeit sauce foisted upon us by the cursed charlatan who assumes to be our dear old lord and friend, the "Nobleman in India."
Quigg's title came through his mother. One of her ancestors was a Margravine of Saxony. His father was a Tammany brave. On account of the dilution of his heredity he found that he could neither become a reigning potentate nor get a job in the City Hall. So he opened a restaurant. He was a man full of thought and reading. The business gave him a living, though he gave it little attention. One side of his house bequeathed to him a poetic and romantic adventure. The other gave him the restless spirit that made him seek adventure. By day he was Quigg, the restaurateur. By night he was the Margrave, the Caliph, the Prince of Bohemia going about the city in search of the odd, the mysterious, the inexplicable, the recondite.
One night at 9, at which hour the restaurant closed, Quigg set forth upon his quest. There was a mingling of the foreign, the military and the artistic in his appearance as he buttoned his coat high up under his short-trimmed brown and gray beard and turned westward toward the more central life conduits of the city. In his pocket he had stored an assortment of cards, written upon, without which he never stirred out of doors. Each of those cards was good at his own restaurant for its face value. Some called simply for a bowl of soup or sandwiches and coffee; others entitled their bearer to one, two, three or more days of full meals; a few were for single regular meals; a very few were, in effect, meal tickets good for a week.
Of riches and power Margrave Quigg had none; but he had a Caliph's heart--it may be forgiven him if his head fell short of the measure of Harun Al Rashid's. Perhaps some of the gold pieces in Bagdad had put less warmth and hope into the complainants among the bazaars than had Quigg's beef stew among the fishermen and one-eyed calenders of Manhattan.
Continuing his progress in search of romance to divert him, or of distress that he might aid, Quigg became aware of a fast-gathering crowd that whooped and fought and eddied at a corner of Broadway and the crosstown street that he was traversing. Hurrying to the spot he beheld a young man of an exceedingly melancholy and preoccupied demeanor engaged in the pastime of casting silver money from his pockets in the middle of the street. With each motion of the generous one's hand the crowd huddled upon the falling largesse with yells of joy. Traffic was suspended. A policeman in the centre of the mob stooped often to the ground as he urged the blockaders to move on.
The Margrave saw at a glance that here was food for his hunger after knowledge concerning abnormal working of the human heart. He made his way swiftly to the young man's side and took his arm. "Come with me at once," he said, in the low but commanding voice that his waiters had learned to fear.
"Pinched," remarked the young man, looking up at him with expressionless eyes. "Pinched by a painless dentist. Take me away, flatty, and give me gas. Some lay eggs and some lay none. When is a hen ?"
Still deeply seized by some inward grief, but tractable, he allowed Quigg to lead him away and down the street to a little park.
There, seated on a bench, he upon whom a corner of the great Caliph's mantle has descended, spake with kindness and discretion, seeking to know what evil had come upon the other, disturbing his soul and driving him to such ill-considered and ruinous waste of his substance and stores.
"I was doing the Monte Cristo act as adapted by Pompton, N. J., wasn't I ?" asked the young man.
"You were throwing small coins into the street for the people to scramble after," said the Margrave.
"That's it. You buy all the beer you can hold, and then you throw chicken feed to. Oh, curse that word chicken, and hens, feathers, roosters, eggs, and everything connected with it !"
"Young sir," said the Margrave kindly, but with dignity, "though I do not ask your confidence, I invite it. I know the world and I know humanity. Man is my study, though I do not eye him as the scientist eyes a beetle or as the philanthropist gazes at the objects of his bounty through a veil of theory and ignorance. It is my pleasure and distraction to interest myself in the peculiar and complicated misfortunes that life in a great city visits upon my fellow-men. You may be familiar with the history of that glorious and immortal ruler, the Caliph Harun Al Rashid, whose wise and beneficent excursions among his people in the city of Bagdad secured him the privilege of relieving so much of their distress. In my humble way I walk in his footsteps. I seek for romance and adventure in city streets--not in ruined castles or in crumbling palaces. To me the greatest marvels of magic are those that take place in men's hearts when acted upon by the furious and diverse forces of a crowded population. In your strange behavior this evening I fancy a story lurks. I read in your act something deeper than the wanton wastefulness of a spendthrift. I observe in your countenance the certain traces of consuming grief or despair. I repeat, I invite your confidence. I am not without some power to alleviate and advise. Will you not trust me ?"
"Gee, how you talk !" exclaimed the young man, a gleam of admiration supplanting for a moment the dull sadness of his eyes. "You've got the Astor Library skinned to a synopsis of preceding chapters. I mind that old Turk you speak of. I read 'The Arabian Nights' when I was a kid. He was a kind of Bill Devery and Charlie Schwab rolled into one. But, say, you might wave enchanted dishrags and make copper bottles smoke up coon giants all night without ever touching me. My case won't yield to that kind of treatment."
"If I could hear your story," said the Margrave, with his lofty, serious smile.
"I'll spiel it in about nine words," said the young man, with a deep sigh, "but I don't think you can help me any. Unless you're a peach at guessing it's back to the Bosphorus for you on your magic linoleum."
THE STORY OF THE YOUNG MAN AND THE HARNESS MAKER'S RIDDLE
"I work in Hildebrant's saddle and harness shop down in Grant Street. I've worked there five years. I get $18 a week. That's enough to marry on, ain't it ? Well, I'm not going to get married. Old Hildebrant is one of these funny Dutchmen, you know the kind, always getting off bum jokes. He's got about a million riddles and things that he faked from Rogers Brothers' great-grandfather. Bill Watson works there, too. Me and Bill have to stand for them chestnuts day after day. Why do we do it ? Well, jobs ain't to be picked off every Anheuser bush. And then there's Laura.
"What ? The old man's daughter. Comes in the shop every day. About nineteen, and the picture of the blonde that sits on the palisades of the Rhine and charms the clam-diggers into the surf. Hair the color of straw matting, and eyes as black and shiny as the best harness blacking think of that !
"Me ? well, it's either me or Bill Watson. She treats us both equal. Bill is all to the psychopathic about her; and me ? well, you saw me plating the roadbed of the Great Maroon Way with silver tonight. That was on account of Laura. I was spiflicated, Your Highness, and I wot not of what I wouldst.
"How ? Why, old Hildebrandt says to me and Bill this afternoon: 'Boys, one riddle have I for you gehabt haben. A young man who cannot riddles antworten, he is not so good by business for ein family to provide, is not that, hein ?' And he hands us a riddle, a conundrum, some calls it and he chuckles interiorly and gives both of us till tomorrow morning to work out the answer to it. And he says whichever of us guesses the repartee end of it goes to his house o' Wednesday night to his daughter's birthday party. And it means Laura for whichever of us goes, for she's naturally aching for a husband, and it's either me or Bill Watson, for old Hildebrant likes us both, and wants her to marry somebody that'll carry on the business after he's stitched his last pair of traces.
"The riddle ? Why, it was this: 'What kind of a hen lays the longest ? Think of that ! What kind of a hen lays the longest ? Ain't it like a Dutchman to risk a man's happiness on a fool proposition like that ? Now, what's the use ? What I don't know about hens would fill several incubators. You say you're giving imitations of the old Arab guy that gave away libraries in Bagdad. Well, now, can you whistle up a fairy that'll solve this hen query, or not ?"
When the young man ceased the Margrave arose and paced to and fro by the park bench for several minutes. Finally he sat again, and said, in grave and impressive tones:
"I must confess, sir, that during the eight years that I have spent in search of adventure and in relieving distress I have never encountered a more interesting or a more perplexing case. I fear that I have overlooked hens in my researches and observations. As to their habits, their times and manner of laying, their many varieties and cross-breedings, their span of life, their..."
"Oh, don't make an Ibsen drama of it !" interrupted the young man, flippantly. "Riddles, especially old Hildebrant's riddles, don't have to be worked out seriously. They are light themes such as Sim Ford and Harry Thurston Peck like to handle. But, somehow, I can't strike just the answer. Bill Watson may, and he may not. To-morrow will tell. Well, Your Majesty, I'm glad anyhow that you butted in and whiled the time away. I guess Mr. Al Rashid himself would have bounced back if one of his constituents had conducted him up against this riddle. I'll say good night. Peace fo' yours, and what-you-may-call-its of Allah."
The Margrave, still with a gloomy air, held out his hand.
"I cannot express my regret," he said, sadly. "Never before have I found myself unable to assist in some way. 'What kind of a hen lays the longest ? It is a baffling problem. There is a hen, I believe, called the Plymouth Rock that "
"Cut it out," said the young man. "The Caliph trade is a mighty serious one. I don't suppose you'd even see anything funny in a preacher's defense of John D. Rockefeller. Well, good night, Your Nibs."
From habit the Margrave began to fumble in his pockets. He drew forth a card and handed it to the young man.
"Do me the favor to accept this, anyhow," he said. "The time may come when it might be of use to you."
"Thanks !" said the young man, pocketing it carelessly. "My name is Simmons."
* * * * * *
Shame to him who would hint that the reader's interest shall altogether pursue the Margrave August Michael von Paulsen Quigg. I am indeed astray if my hand fail in keeping the way where my peruser's heart would follow. Then let us, on the morrow, peep quickly in at the door of Hildebrant, harness maker.
Hildebrant's 200 pounds reposed on a bench, silver-buckling a raw leather martingale.
Bill Watson came in first.
"Vell," said Hildebrant, shaking all over with the vile conceit of the joke-maker, "haf you guessed him ? 'Vat kind of a hen lays der longest ?'"
"Er why, I think so," said Bill, rubbing a servile chin. "I think so, Mr. Hildebrant, the one that lives the longest. Is that right ?"
"Nein !" said Hildebrant, shaking his head violently. "You haf not guessed der answer."
Bill passed on and donned a bed-tick apron and bachelorhood.
In came the young man of the Arabian Night's fiasco, pale, melancholy, hopeless.
"Vell," said Hildebrant, "haf you guessed him ? 'Vat kind of a hen lays der longest ?'"
Simmons regarded him with dull savagery in his eye. Should he curse this mountain of pernicious humor curse him and die ? Why should... But there was Laura.
Dogged, speechless, he thrust his hands into his coat pockets and stood. His hand encountered the strange touch of the Margrave's card. He drew it out and looked at it, as men about to be hanged look at a crawling fly. There was written on it in Quigg's bold, round hand: "Good for one roast chicken to bearer."
Simmons looked up with a flashing eye.
"A dead one !" said he.
"Goot !" roared Hildebrant, rocking the table with giant glee. "Dot is right ! You gome at mine house at 8 o'clock to der party."
A MIDSUMMER KNIGHT'S DREAM
"The knights are dead;
Their swords are rust.
Except a few who have to hust-
Le all the time
To raise the dust."
Dear Reader: It was summertime. The sun glared down upon the city with pitiless ferocity. It is difficult for the sun to be ferocious and exhibit compunction simultaneously. The heat was, oh, bother thermometers! who cares for standard measures, anyhow ? It was so hot that
The roof gardens put on so many extra waiters that you could hope to get your gin fizz now as soon as all the other people got theirs. The hospitals were putting in extra cots for bystanders. For when little, woolly dogs loll their tongues out and say "woof, woof !" at the fleas that bite 'em, and nervous old black bombazine ladies screech "Mad dog !" and policemen begin to shoot, somebody is going to get hurt. The man from Pompton, N.J., who always wears an overcoat in July, had turned up in a Broadway hotel drinking hot Scotches and enjoying his annual ray from the calcium. Philanthropists were petitioning the Legislature to pass a bill requiring builders to make tenement fire-escapes more commodious, so that families might die all together of the heat instead of one or two at a time. So many men were telling you about the number of baths they took each day that you wondered how they got along after the real lessee of the apartment came back to town and thanked 'em for taking such good care of it. The young man who called loudly for cold beef and beer in the restaurant, protesting that roast pullet and Burgundy was really too heavy for such weather, blushed when he met your eye, for you had heard him all winter calling, in modest tones, for the same ascetic viands. Soup, pocketbooks, shirt waists, actors and baseball excuses grew thinner. Yes, it was summertime.
A man stood at Thirty-fourth street waiting for a downtown car. A man of forty, gray-haired, pink-faced, keen, nervous, plainly dressed, with a harassed look around the eyes. He wiped his forehead and laughed loudly when a fat man with an outing look stopped and spoke with him.
"No, siree," he shouted with defiance and scorn. "None of your old mosquito-haunted swamps and skyscraper mountains without elevators for me. When I want to get away from hot weather I know how to do it. New York, sir, is the finest summer resort in the country. Keep in the shade and watch your diet, and don't get too far away from an electric fan. Talk about your Adirondacks and your Catskills ! There's more solid comfort in the borough of Manhattan than in all the rest of the country together. No, siree ! No tramping up perpendicular cliffs and being waked up at 4 in the morning by a million flies, and eating canned goods straight from the city for me. Little old New York will take a few select summer boarders; comforts and conveniences of homes that's the ad. that I answer every time."
"You need a vacation," said the fat man, looking closely at the other. "You haven't been away from town in years. Better come with me for two weeks, anyhow. The trout in the Beaverkill are jumping at anything now that looks like a fly. Harding writes me that he landed a three-pound brown last week."
"Nonsense !" cried the other man. "Go ahead, if you like, and boggle around in rubber boots wearing yourself out trying to catch fish. When I want one I go to a cool restaurant and order it. I laugh at you fellows whenever I think of you hustling around in the heat in the country thinking you are having a good time. For me Father Knickerbocker's little improved farm with the big shady lane running through the middle of it."
The fat man sighed over his friend and went his way. The man who thought New York was the greatest summer resort in the country boarded a car and went buzzing down to his office. On the way he threw away his newspaper and looked up at a ragged patch of sky above the housetops.
"Three pounds !" he muttered, absently. "And Harding isn't a liar. I believe, if I could but it's impossible, they've got to have another month, another month at least."
In his office the upholder of urban midsummer joys dived, head foremost, into the swimming pool of business. Adkins, his clerk, came and added a spray of letters, memoranda and telegrams.
At 5 o'clock in the afternoon the busy man leaned back in his office chair, put his feet on the desk and mused aloud:
"I wonder what kind of bait Harding used."
* * * * * * *
She was all in white that day; and thereby Compton lost a bet to Gaines. Compton had wagered she would wear light blue, for she knew that was his favorite color, and Compton was a millionaire's son, and that almost laid him open to the charge of betting on a sure thing. But white was her choice, and Gaines held up his head with twenty-five's lordly air.
The little summer hotel in the mountains had a lively crowd that year. There were two or three young college men and a couple of artists and a young naval officer on one side. On the other there were enough beauties among the young ladies for the correspondent of a society paper to refer to them as a "bevy." But the moon among the stars was Mary Sewell. Each one of the young men greatly desired to arrange matters so that he could pay her millinery bills, and fix the furnace, and have her do away with the "Sewell" part of her name forever. Those who could stay only a week or two went away hinting at pistols and blighted hearts. But Compton stayed like the mountains themselves, for he could afford it. And Gaines stayed because he was a fighter and wasn't afraid of millionaire's sons, and, well, he adored the country.
"What do you think, Miss Mary ?" he said once. "I knew a duffer in New York who claimed to like it in the summer time. Said you could keep cooler there than you could in the woods. Wasn't he an awful silly ? I don't think I could breathe on Broadway after the 1st of June."
"Mamma was thinking of going back week after next," said Miss Mary with a lovely frown.
"But when you think of it," said Gaines, "there are lots of jolly places in town in the summer. The roof gardens, you know, and the er the roof gardens."
Deepest blue was the lake that day, the day when they had the mock tournament, and the men rode clumsy farm horses around in a glade in the woods and caught curtain rings on the end of a lance. Such fun !
Cool and dry as the finest wine came the breath of the shadowed forest. The valley below was a vision seen through an opal haze. A white mist from hidden falls blurred the green of a hand's breadth of tree tops half-way down the gorge. Youth made merry hand-in-hand with young summer. Nothing on Broadway like that.
The villagers gathered to see the city folks pursue their mad drollery. The woods rang with the laughter of pixies and naiads and sprites. Gaines caught most of the rings. His was the privilege to crown the queen of the tournament. He was the conquering knight, as far as the rings went. On his arm he wore a white scarf. Compton wore light blue. She had declared her preference for blue, but she wore white that day.
Gaines looked about for the queen to crown her. He heard her merry laugh, as if from the clouds. She had slipped away and climbed Chimney Rock, a little granite bluff, and stood there, a white fairy among the laurels, fifty feet above their heads.
Instantly he and Compton accepted the implied challenge. The bluff was easily mounted at the rear, but the front offered small hold to hand or foot. Each man quickly selected his route and began to climb, A crevice, a bush, a slight projection, a vine or tree branch all of these were aids that counted in the race. It was all foolery there was no stake; but there was youth in it, cross reader, and light hearts, and something else that Miss Clay writes so charmingly about.
Gaines gave a great tug at the root of a laurel and pulled himself to Miss Mary's feet. On his arm he carried the wreath of roses; and while the villagers and summer boarders screamed and applauded below he placed it on the queen's brow.
"You are a gallant knight," said Miss Mary.
"If I could be your true knight always," began Gaines, but Miss Mary laughed him dumb, for Compton scrambled over the edge of the rock one minute behind time.
What a twilight that was when they drove back to the hotel ! The opal of the valley turned slowly to purple, the dark woods framed the lake as a mirror, the tonic air stirred the very soul in one. The first pale stars came out over the mountain tops where yet a faint glow of
* * * * * * *
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Gaines," said Adkins.
The man who believed New York to be the finest summer resort in the world opened his eyes and kicked over the mucilage bottle on his desk.
"I...I believe I was asleep," he said.
"It's the heat," said Adkins. "It's something awful in the city these"
"Nonsense !" said the other. "The city beats the country ten to one in summer. Fools go out tramping in muddy brooks and wear themselves out trying to catch little fish as long as your finger. Stay in town and keep comfortable that's my idea."
"Some letters just came," said Adkins. "I thought you might like to glance at them before you go."
Let us look over his shoulder and read just a few lines of one of them:
MY DEAR, DEAR HUSBAND: Just received your letter ordering us to stay another month . . . Rita's cough is almost gone . . . Johnny has simply gone wild like a little Indian . . . Will be the making of both children . . . work so hard, and I know that your business can hardly afford to keep us here so long . . . best man that ever . . . you always pretend that you like the city in summer . . . trout fishing that you used to be so fond of . . . and all to keep us well and happy . . . come to you if it were not doing the babies so much good . . . I stood last evening on Chimney Rock in exactly the same spot where I was when you put the wreath of roses on my head . . . through all the world . . . when you said you would be my true knight . . . fifteen years ago, dear, just think! . . . have always been that to me . . . ever and ever,
The man who said he thought New York the finest summer resort in the country dropped into a cafe on his way home and had a glass of beer under an electric fan.
"Wonder what kind of a fly old Harding used," he said to himself.