In Which a Young Man
Arrives at His Last Ditch
and a Young Girl Jumps Over
Utterly unequipped for anything except
to ornament his environment, the crash in Steel stunned him. Dazed
but polite, he remained a passive observer of the sale which followed
and which apparently realized sufficient to satisfy every creditor,
but not enough for an income to continue a harmlessly idle career
which he had supposed was to continue indefinitely.
He had never earned
a penny; he had not the vaguest idea of how people made money. To
do something, however, was absolutely necessary.
He wasted some time
in finding out just how much aid he might expect from his late father's
friends, but when he understood the attitude of society toward a
knocked-out gentleman he wisely ceased to annoy society, and turned
to the business world.
Here he wasted some
more time. Perhaps the time was not absolutely wasted, for during
that period he learned that he could use nobody who could not use
him; and as he appeared to be perfectly useless, except for ornament,
and as a business house is not a kindergarten, and furthermore,
as he had neither time nor money to attend any school where anybody
could teach him anything, it occurred to him to take a day off for
minute and thorough self-examination concerning his qualifications
and even his right to occupy a few feet of space upon the earth's
Four years at Harvard,
two more in postgraduate courses, two more in Europe to perfect
himself in electrical engineering, and a year at home attempting
to invent a wireless apparatus for intercepting and transmitting
psychical waves had left him pitifully unfit for wage earning.
There remained his
accomplishments; but the market was overstocked with assorted time-killers.
His last asset was
a trivial though unusual talent--a natural manual dexterity cultivated
since childhood to amuse himself--something he never took seriously.
This, and a curious control over animals, had, as the pleasant years
flowed by, become an astonishing skill which was much more than
sleight of hand; and he, always as good-humored as well-bred, had
never refused to amuse the frivolous, of which he was also one,
by picking silver dollars out of space and causing the proper card
to fall fluttering from the ceiling.
Day by day, as the
little money left him melted away, he continued his vigorous mental
examination, until the alarming shrinkage in his funds left him
staring fixedly at his last asset. Could he use it? Was it an asset,
after all? How clever was he? Could he face an audience and perform
the usual magician tricks without bungling? A slip by a careless,
laughing, fashionable young amateur amusing his social equals at
a house party is excusable; a bungle by a hired professional meant
an end to hope in that direction.
So he rented a suite
of two rooms on Central Park West, furnished them with what remained
from better days, bought the necessary paraphernalia of his profession,
and immured himself for practice before entering upon his contemplated
invasion of Newport, Lenox, and Bar Harbor. And one very lovely
afternoon in May, when the Park from his windows looked like a green
forest, and puff on puff of perfumed air fluttered the curtains
at his opened windows, he picked up his gloves and stick, put on
his hat, and went out to walk in the Park; and when he had walked
sufficiently he sat down on a bench in a flowery, bushy nook on
the edge of a bridle path.
Few people disturbed
the leafy privacy; a policeman sauntering southward noted him, perhaps
for future identification. The spectacle of a well- built, well-groomed,
and fashionable young man sitting moodily upon a park bench was
certainly to be noted. It is not the fashion for fashionable people
to sit on park benches unless they contemplate self, as well as
So the policeman lingered
for a while in the vicinity, but not hearing any revolver shot,
presently sauntered on, buck-skinned fist clasped behind his broad
back, squinting at a distant social gathering composed entirely
of the most exclusive nursemaids.
The young man looked
up into the pleasant blue above, then his preoccupied gaze wandered
from woodland to thicket, where the scarlet glow of Japanese quince
mocked the colors of the fluttering scarlet tanagers; where orange-tinted
orioles flashed amid tangles of golden Forsythia; and past the shrubbery
to an azure corner of water, shimmering under the wooded slope below.
That sense of languor
and unrest, of despondency threaded by hope which fair skies and
sunshine and new leaves bring with the young year to the young,
he felt. Yet there was no bitterness in his brooding, for he was
a singularly generous young man, and there was no vindictiveness
mixed with the memories of his failures among those whose cordial
respect for his father had been balanced between that blameless
gentleman's wealth and position.
A gray squirrel came
crawling and nosing through the fresh grass; he caught its eyes,
and, though the little animal was plainly bound elsewhere on important
business, the young man soon had it curled up on his knee, asleep.
For a while he amused
himself by using his curious power, alternately waking the squirrel
and allowing it to bound off, tail twitching, and then calling it
back, slowly but inexorably to climb his trousers and curl up on
his knee and sleep an uncanny and deep sleep which might end only
at the young man's pleasure.
He, too, began to feel
the subtle stillness of the drowsing woodland; musing there, caressing
his short, crisp mustache, he watched the purple grackle walking
about in iridescent solitude, the sun spots waning and glowing on
the grass; he heard the soft, garrulous whimper of waterfowl along
the water's edge, the stir of leaves above.
He thought of various
personal matters: his poverty, the low ebb of his balance at the
bank, his present profession, his approaching début as an
entertainer, the chances of his failure. He thought, too, of the
astounding change in his life, the future, vacant of promise, devoid
of meaning, a future so utterly new and blank that he could find
in it nothing to speculate upon. He thought also, and perfectly
impersonally, of a girl whom he had met now and then upon the stairs
of the apartment house which he now inhabited.
Evidently there had
been an ebb in her prosperity; the tumble of a New Yorker's fortune
leads from the Avenue to the Eighties, from thence through Morristown,
Staten Island, to the West Side. Besides, she painted pictures;
he knew the aroma of fixitive, siccative, and burnt sienna; and
her studio adjoined his sky drawing-room.
He thought of this
girl quite impersonally; she resembled a youthful beauty he had
known--might still know if he chose; for a man who can pay for his
evening clothes need never deny himself the society he was bred
She certainly did resemble
that girl--she had the same bluish violet eyes, the same white and
deeply fringed lids, the same free grace of carriage, a trifle too
boyish at times--the same firmly rounded, yet slender, figure.
"Now, as a matter of
fact," he mused aloud, stroking the sleeping squirrel on his knee,
"I could have fallen in love with either of those girls--before
Copper blew up."
Pursuing his innocuous
meditation he nodded to himself: "I rather like the poor one better
than any girl I ever saw. Doubtless she paints portraits over solar
prints. That's all right; she's doing more than I have done yet....
I approve of those eyes of hers; they're like the eyes of that waking
Aphrodite in the Luxembourg. If she would only just look at me once
instead of looking through me when we pass one another in the hall----"
The deadened gallop
of a horse on the bridle path caught his ear. The horse was coming
fast--almost too fast. He laid the sleeping squirrel on the bench,
listened, then instinctively stood up and walked to the thicket's
What happened was too
quick for him to comprehend; he had a vision of a big black horse,
mane and tail in the wind, tearing madly, straight at him--a glimpse
of a white face, desperate and set, a flutter of loosened hair;
then a storm of wind and sand roared in his ears; he was hurled,
jerked, and flung forward, dragged, shaken, and left half senseless,
hanging to nose and bit of a horse whose rider was picking herself
out of a bush covered with white flowers.
Half senseless still,
he tightened his grip on the bit, released the grasp on the creature's
nose, and, laying his hand full on the forelock, brought it down
twice and twice across the eyes, talking to the horse in halting,
When he had the trembling
animal under control he looked around; the girl stood on the grass,
dusty, dirty, disheveled, bleeding from a cut on the cheek bone;
the most bewildered and astonished creature he had ever looked upon.
"It will be all right
in a few minutes," he said, motioning her to the bench on the asphalt
walk. She nodded, turned, picked up his hat, and, seating herself,
began to smooth the furred nap with her sleeve, watching him intently
all the while. That he already had the confidence of a horse that
he had never before seen was perfectly apparent. Little by little
the sweating, quivering limbs were stilled, the
tense muscles in the neck relaxed, the head sank,
dusty velvet lips nibbled at his hand, his shoulder; the heaving,
sunken flanks filled and grew quiet.
Bareheaded, his attire
in disorder and covered with slaver and sand, the young man laid
the bridle on the horse's neck, held out his hand, and, saying "Come,"
turned his back and walked down the bridle path. The horse stretched
a sweating neck, sniffed, pricked forward both small ears, and slowly
followed, turning as the man turned, up and down, crowding at heel
like a trained dog, finally stopping on the edge of the walk.
The young man looped
the bridle over a low maple limb, and leaving the horse standing
sauntered over to the bench.
"That horse," he said
pleasantly, "is all right now; but the question is, are you all
She rose, handing him
his hat, and began to twist up her bright hair. For a few moments'
silence they were frankly occupied in restoring order to raiment,
dusting off gravel and examining rents.
"I'm tremendously grateful,"
she said abruptly.
"I am, too," he said
in that attractive manner which sets people of similar caste at
ease with one another.
"Thank you; it's a
generous compliment, considering your hat and clothing."
He looked up; she stood
twisting her hair and doing her best with the few remaining hair
"I'm a sight for little
fishes," she said, coloring. "Did that wretched beast bruise you?"
"Did I?" he said vaguely.
"How do you feel?"
"There is," she said,
"a curious, breathless flutter all over me; if that is fright, I
suppose I'm frightened, but I don't mind mounting at once-- if you
would put me up----"
"Better wait a bit,"
he said; "it would not do to have that horse feel a fluttering pulse,
telegraphing along the snaffle. Tell me, are you spurred?"
She lifted the hem
of her habit; two small spurs glittered on her polished boot heels.
"That's it, you see,"
he observed; "you probably have not ridden cross saddle very long.
When your mount swerved you spurred, and he bolted, bit in teeth."
"That's exactly it,"
she admitted, looking ruefully at her spurs. Then she dropped her
skirt, glanced interrogatively at him, and, obeying his grave gesture,
seated herself again upon the bench.
"Don't stand," she
said civilly. He took the other end of the seat, lifting the still
slumbering squirrel to his knee.
"I--I haven't said
very much," she began; "I'm impulsive enough to be overgrateful
and say too much. I hope you understand me; do you?"
"Of course; you're
very good. It was nothing; you could have stopped your horse yourself.
People do that sort of thing for one another as a matter of course."
"But not at the risk
"No risk at all," he
She thought otherwise,
and thought it so fervently that, afraid of emotion, she turned
her cold, white profile to him and studied her horse, haughty lids
adroop. The same insolent sweetness was in her eyes when they again
reverted to him. He knew the look; he had encountered it often enough
in the hallway and on the stairs. He knew, too, that she must recognize
him; yet, under the circumstances, it was for her to speak first;
and she did not, for she was at that age when horror of overdoing
anything chokes back the scarcely extinguished childish instinct
to say too much. In other words, she was eighteen and had had her
first season the winter past--the winter when he had not been visible
among the gatherings of his own kind.
squirrels are very tame," she observed calmly.
"Not always," he said.
"Try to hold this one, for example."
She raised her pretty
eyebrows, then accepted the lump of fluffy fur from his hands. Instantly
an electric shock seemed to set the squirrel frantic, there was
a struggle, a streak of gray and white, and the squirrel leaped
from her lap and fairly flew down the asphalt path.
"Gracious!" she exclaimed
faintly; "what was the matter?"
"Some squirrels are
very wild," he said innocently.
"I know--but you held
him--he was asleep on your knee. Why didn't he stay with me?"
"Oh, perhaps because
I have a way with animals."
"With horses, too,"
she added gayly. And the smile breaking from her violet eyes silenced
him in the magic of a beauty he had never dreamed of. At first she
mistook his silence for modesty; then--because even as young a maid
as she is quick to divine and fine of instinct--she too fell silent
and serious, the while the shuttles of her reason flew like lightning,
weaving the picture of him she had conceived--a gentleman, a man
of her own sort, rather splendid and wise and bewildering. The portrait
completed, there was no room for the hint of presumption she had
half sensed in the brown eyes' glance that had set her alert; and
she looked up at him again, frankly, a trifle curiously.
"I am going to thank
you once more," she said, "and ask you to put me up. There is not
a flutter of fear in my pulse now."
"Are you quite sure?"
They arose; he untied
the horse and beckoned it to the walk's edge.
"I forgot," she said,
laughing, "that I am riding cross saddle. I can mount without troubling
you--" She set her toe to the stirrup which he held, and swung herself
up into the saddle with a breezy "Thanks, awfully," and sat there
gathering her bridle.
Had she said enough?
How coldly her own thanks rang in her ears--for perhaps he had saved
her neck--and perhaps not. Busy with curb and snaffle reins, head
bent, into her oval face a tint of color crept. Did he think she
treated lightly, flippantly, the courage which became him so? Or
was he already bored by her acknowledgment of it? Sensitive, dreading
to expose youth and inexperience to the amused smile of this attractive
young man of the world, she sat fumbling with her bridle, conscious
that he stood beside her, hat in hand, looking up at her. She could
delay no longer; the bridle had been shifted and reshifted to the
last second of procrastination. She must say something or go.
Meeting his eyes, she
smiled and leaned a little forward in her saddle as though to speak,
but his brown eyes troubled her, and all she could say was "Thank
you--good-by," and galloped off down the vista through dim, leafy
depths heavy with the incense of lilac and syringa.