Showing the Value of a Helping Hand When It
Is White and Slender
This time he went leisurely to the
door and opened it; a girl stood there, saying, "I beg your pardon
for disturbing you--" It was high time she admitted it, for her
eyes had been disturbing him day and night since the first time
he passed her in the hall.
She appeared to be
a trifle frightened, too, and, scarcely waiting for his invitation,
she stepped inside with a hurried glance behind her, and walked
to the center of the room holding her skirts carefully as though
stepping through wet grass.
"I--I am annoyed,"
she said in a voice not perfectly under command. "If you please,
would you tell me whether there is such a thing as a pea- green
Then he did a mean
thing; he could have cleared up that matter with a word, a smile,
"A green mouse?" he
repeated gently, almost pitifully.
She nodded, then paled;
he drew a big chair toward her, for her knees trembled a little;
and she sat down with an appealing glance that ought to have made
him ashamed of himself.
"What has frightened
you?" inquired that meanest of men.
"I was in my studio--and
I must first explain to you that for weeks and weeks I--I have imagined
I heard sounds--" She looked carefully around her; nothing animate
was visible. "Sounds," she repeated, swallowing a little lump in
her white throat, "like the faint squealing and squeaking and sniffing
and scratching of--of live things. I asked the janitor, and he said
the house was not very well built and that the beams and wainscoting
"Did he say that?"
inquired the young man, thinking of the bribes.
"Yes, and I tried to
believe him. And one day I thought I heard about one hundred canaries
singing, and I know I did, but that idiot janitor said they were
the sparrows under the eaves. Then one day when your door was open,
and I was coming up the stairway, and it was dark in the entry,
something big and soft flopped across the carpet, and--it being
exceedingly common to scream--I didn't, but managed to get past
it, and"-- her violet eyes widened with horror--"do you know what
that soft, floppy thing was? It was an owl!"
He was aware of it;
he had managed to secure the escaped bird before her electric summons
could arouse the janitor.
"I called the janitor,"
she said, "and he came and we searched the entry; but there was
He appeared to be greatly
impressed; she recognized the sympathy in his brown eyes.
"That wretched janitor
declared I had seen a cat," she resumed; "and I could not persuade
him otherwise. For a week I scarcely dared set foot on the stairs,
but I had to--you see, I live at home and only come to my studio
"I thought you lived
here," he said, surprised.
"Oh, no. I have my
studio--" she hesitated, then smiled. "Everybody makes fun of me,
and I suppose they'll laugh me out of it, but I detest conventions,
and I did hope I had talent for something besides frivolity."
Her gaze wandered around
his room; then suddenly the possible significance of her unconventional
situation brought her to her feet, serious but self-possessed.
"I beg your pardon
again," she said, "but I was really driven out of my studio--quite
frightened, I confess."
"What drove you out?"
he asked guiltily.
scarcely credit it--and I dare not tell the janitor for fear he
will think me--queer." She raised her distressed and lovely eyes
again: "Oh, please believe that I did see a bright
"I do believe it,"
he said, wincing.
"Thank you. I--I know
perfectly well how it sounds--and I know that horrid people see
things like that, but"--she spoke piteously--"I had only one glass
of claret at luncheon, and I am perfectly healthy in body and mind.
How could I see such a thing if it was not there?"
"It was there," he
"Do you really think
so? A green--bright green mouse?"
"Haven't a doubt of
it," he assured her; "saw one myself the other day."
"On the floor--" he
made a vague gesture. "There's probably a crack between your studio
and my wall, and the little rascal crept into your place."
She stood looking at
him uncertainly: "Are there really such things as green mice?"
"Well," he explained,
"I fancy this one was originally white. Somebody probably dyed it
"But who on earth would
be silly enough to do such a thing?"
His ears grew red--he
felt them doing it.
After a moment she
said: "I am glad you told me that you, too, saw this unspeakable
mouse. I have decided to write to the owners of the house and request
an immediate investigation. Would--would it be too much to ask you
to write also?"
"Are you--you going
to write?" he asked, appalled.
some dreadful creature here keeps a bird store and brings home things
that escape, or the house is infested. I don't care what the janitor
says; I did hear squeals and whines and whimpers!"
wait," he began lamely; but at that moment her blue eyes widened;
she caught him convulsively by the arm, pointing, one snowy finger
"Oh-h!" she said hysterically,
and the next instant was standing upon a chair, pale as a ghost.
It was a wonder she had not mounted the dresser, too, for there,
issuing in creepy single file from the wainscoting, came mice--mice
of various tints. A red one led the grewsome rank, a black and white
one came next, then in decorous procession followed the guilty green
one, a yellow one, a blue one, and finally--horror of horrors!--a
red-white-and-blue mouse, carrying a tiny American flag.
He turned a miserable
face toward her; she, eyes dilated, frozen to a statue, saw him
advance, hold out a white wand--saw the uncanny procession of mice
mount the stick and form into a row, tails hanging down--saw him
carry the creatures to a box and dump them in.
He was trying to speak
now. She heard him stammer something about the escape of the mice;
she heard him asking her pardon. Dazed, she laid her hand in his
as he aided her to descend to the floor; nerveless, speechless,
she sank into the big chair, horror still dilating her eyes.
"It's all up with me,"
he said slowly, "if you write to the owners. I've bribed the janitor
to say nothing. I'm dreadfully mortified that these things have
happened to annoy you."
The color came back
into her face; amazement dominated her anger. "But why--why do you
keep such creatures?"
"Why shouldn't I?"
he asked. "It is my profession."
"My profession," he
"Oh," she said, revolted,
"that is not true! You are a gentleman--I know who you are perfectly
"Who am I?"
She called him by name,
"Well," he said sullenly,
"what of it? If you have investigated my record you must know I
am as poor as these miserable mice."
"I--I know it. But
you are a gentleman----"
"I am a mountebank,"
he said; "I mean a mountebank in its original interpretation. There's
neither sense nor necessity for me to deny it."
"I--I don't understand
you," she whispered, shocked.
"Why, I do monkey tricks
to entertain people," he replied, forcing a laugh, "or rather, I
hope to do a few--and be paid for them. I fancy every man finds
his own level; I've found mine, apparently."
Her face was inscrutable;
she lay back in the great chair, watching him.
"I have a little money
left," he said; "enough to last a day or two. Then I am to be paid
for entertaining some people at Seabright; and," he added with that
very attractive smile of his from which all bitterness had departed,
"and that will be the first money I ever earned in all my life."
She was young enough
to be fascinated, child enough to feel the little lump in her throat
rising. She knew he was poor; her sisters had told her that; but
she had supposed it to be only comparative poverty--just as her
cousins, for instance, had scarcely enough to keep more than two
horses in town and only one motor. But want--actual need--she had
never dreamed of in his case--she could scarcely understand it even
now--he was so well groomed, so attractive, fairly radiating good
breeding and the easy financial atmosphere she was accustomed to.
"So you see," he continued
gayly, "if you complain to the owners about green mice, why, I shall
have to leave, and, as a matter of fact, I haven't enough money
to go anywhere except--" he laughed.
"Where?" she managed
"The Park. I was joking,
of course," he hastened to add, for she had turned rather white.
"No," she said, "you
were not joking." And as he made no reply: "Of course, I shall not
write--now. I had rather my studio were overrun with multicolored
mice--" She stopped with something almost like a sob. He smiled,
thinking she was laughing.
But oh, the blow for
her! In her youthful enthusiasm she had always, from the first time
they had encountered one another, been sensitively aware of this
tall, clean-cut, attractive young fellow. And by and by she learned
his name and asked her sisters about him, and when she heard of
his recent ruin and withdrawal from the gatherings of his kind her
youth flushed to its romantic roots, warming all within her toward
this splendid and radiant young man who lived so nobly, so proudly
aloof. And then--miracle of Manhattan!--he had proved his courage
before her dazed eyes--rising suddenly out of the very earth to
save her from a fate which her eager desire painted blacker every
time she embellished the incident. And she decorated the memory
of it every day.
And now! Here, beside
her, was this prince among men, her champion, beaten to his ornamental
knees by Fate, and contemplating a miserable, uncertain career to
keep his godlike body from actual starvation. And she--she with
more money than even she knew what to do with, powerless to aid
him, prevented from flinging open her check book and bidding him
to write and write till he could write no more.
A memory--a thought
crept in. Where had she heard his name connected with her father's
name? In Ophir Steel? Certainly; and was it not this young man's
father who had laid the foundation for her father's fortune? She
had heard some such thing, somewhere.
He said: "I had no
idea of boring anybody--you least of all--with my woes. Indeed,
I haven't any sorrows now, because to-day I received my first encouragement;
and no doubt I'll be a huge success. Only--I thought it best to
make it clear why it would do me considerable damage just now if
you should write."
"Tell me," she said
tremulously, "is there anything--anything I can do to--to balance
the deep debt of gratitude I owe you----"
"What debt?" he asked,
astonished. "Oh! that? Why, that is no debt-- except that I was
happy--perfectly and serenely happy to have had that chance to--to
hear your voice----"
"You were brave," she
said hastily. "You may make as light of it as you please, but I
"So do I," he laughed,
enchanted with the rising color in her cheeks.
"No, you don't; you
don't know how I felt--how afraid I was to show how deeply--deeply
I felt. I felt it so deeply that I did not even tell my sisters,"
she added naively.
"Yes; you know them."
And as he remained silent she said: "Do you not know who I am? Do
you not even know my name?"
He shook his head,
"I'd have given all
I had to know; but, of course, I could not ask the servants!"
hurt pride that he had had no desire to know gave quick place to
a comprehension that set a little thrill tingling her from head
to foot. His restraint was the nicest homage ever rendered her;
she saw that instantly; and the straight look she gave him out of
her clear eyes took his breath away for a second.
"Do you remember Sacharissa?"
"I do--certainly! I
"What?" she said, smiling.
He muttered something
about eyes and white skin and a trick of the heavy lids.
She was perfectly at
ease now; she leaned back in her chair, studying him calmly.
"Suppose," she said,
"people could see me here now."
"It would end your
artistic career," he replied, laughing; "and fancy! I took you for
the sort that painted for a bare existence!"
"And I--I took you
"Something very different
than what I am."
"In one way--not in
"Oh! I look the mountebank?"
"I shall not explain
what I mean," she said with heightened color, and rose from her
chair. "As there are no more green mice to peep out at me from behind
my easel," she added, "I can have no excuse from abandoning art
any longer. Can I?"
The trailing sweetness
of the inquiry was scarcely a challenge, yet he dared take it up.
"You asked me," he
said, "whether you could do anything for me."
"Can I?" she exclaimed.
"I will--I am glad--tell
me what to do?"
"Why, it's only this.
I've got to go before an audience of two hundred people and do things.
I've had practice here by myself, but--but if you don't mind I should
like to try it before somebody--you. Do you mind?"
She stood there, slim,
blue-eyed, reflecting; then innocently: "If I've compromised myself
the damage was done long ago, wasn't it? They're going to take away
my studio anyhow, so I might as well have as much pleasure as I
And she sat down, gracefully,
linking her white fingers over her knees.