The Green Mouse

Robert W. Chambers



A Chapter Devoted to the Proposition that 
All Mankind Are Born of Woman

He began by suddenly filling the air with canary birds; they flew and chirped and fluttered about her head, until, bewildered, she shrank back, almost frightened at the golden hurricane. 
      To reassure her he began doing incredible things with the big silver hoops, forming chains and linked figures under her amazed eyes, although each hoop seemed solid and without a break in its polished circumference. Then, one by one, he tossed the rings up and they vanished in mid-air before her very eyes. 
      "How did you do that?" she cried, enchanted. 
      He laughed and produced the big, white Persian cats, changed them into kittens, then into birds and butterflies, and finally into a bowl full of big, staring goldfish. Then he picked up a ladle, dipped out the fish, carefully fried them over an electric lamp, dumped them from the smoking frying pan back into the water, where they quietly swam off again, goggling their eyes in astonishment. 
      "That," said the girl, excitedly, "is miraculous!" 
      "Isn't it?" he said, delighted as a boy at her praise. "What card will you choose?" 
      And he handed her a pack. 
      "The ace of hearts, if you please." 
      "Draw it from the pack." 
      "Any card?" she inquired. "Oh! how on earth did you make me draw the ace of hearts?" 
      "Hold it tightly," he warned her. 
      She clutched it in her pretty fingers. 
      "Are you sure you hold it?" he asked. 
      She looked and found that it was the queen of diamonds she held so tightly; but, looking again to reassure herself, she was astonished to find that the card was the jack of clubs. "Tear it up," he said. She tore it into small pieces. 
      "Throw them into the air!" 
      She obeyed, and almost cried out to see them take fire in mid-air and float away in ashy flakes. 
      Face flushed, eyes brilliant, she turned to him, hanging on his every movement, every expression. 
      Before her rapt eyes the multicolored mice danced jigs on slack wires, then were carefully rolled up into little balls of paper which immediately began to swell until each was as big as a football. These burst open, and out of each football of white paper came kittens, turtles, snakes, chickens, ducks, and finally two white rabbits with silly pink eyes that began gravely waltzing round and round the room. 
      "Please stand up and shake your skirts," he said. 
      She rose hastily and obeyed; a rain of silver coins fell, then gold, then banknotes, littering the floor. Then precious stones began to drop about her; she shook them from her hair, her collar, her neck; she clenched her hands in nervous amazement, but inside each tight little fist she felt something, and opening her fingers she fairly showered the floor with diamonds. 
      "Can't you save one for me?" he asked. "I really need it." But when again she looked for the glittering heap at her feet, it was gone; and, search as she might, not one coin, not one gem remained. 
      Glancing up in dismay she found herself in a perfect storm of white butterflies--no, they were red--no, green! 
      "Is there anything in this world you desire?" he asked her. 
      "A--a glass of water----" 
      She was already holding it in her hands, and she cried out in amazement, spilling the brimming glass; but no water fell, only a rain of little crimson flames. 
      "I can't--can't drink this--can I?" she faltered. 
      "With perfect safety," he smiled, and she tasted it. 
      "Taste it again," he said. 
      She tried it; it was lemonade. 
      It was ginger ale. 
      "Once more." 
      She stared at the glass, frothing with ice-cream soda; there was a long silver spoon in it, too. 
      Enchanted, she lay back, savoring her ice, shyly watching him. 
      He went on gayly doing uncanny or charming things; her eyes were tired, dazzled, but not too weary to watch him, though she scarcely followed the marvelous objects that appeared and vanished and glittered and flamed under his ceaselessly busy hands. 
      She did notice with a shudder the appearance of an owl that sat for a while on his shoulder and then turned into a big fur muff which was all right as long as he held it, but walked away on four legs when he tossed it to the floor. 
      A shower of brilliant things followed like shooting stars; two or three rose trees grew, budded, and bloomed before her eyes; and he laid the fresh, sweet blossoms in her hands. They turned to violets later, but that did not matter; nothing mattered any longer as long as she could lie there and gaze at him--the most splendid man her maiden eyes had ever unclosed upon. 
      About two thousand yards of brilliant ribbons suddenly fell from the ceiling; she looked at him with something perilously close to a sigh. Out of an old hat he produced a cage full of parrots; every parrot repeated her first name decorously, monotonously, until packed back into the hat and stuffed into a box which was then set on fire. 
      Her heart was pretty full now; for she was only eighteen and she had been considering his poverty. So when in due time the box burned out and from the black and charred débris the parrots stepped triumphantly forth, gravely repeating her name in unison; and when she saw that the entertainment was at an end, she rose, setting her ice-cream soda upon a table, and, although the glass instantly changed into a teapot, she walked straight up to him and held out her hand. 
      "I've had a perfectly lovely time," she said. "And I want to say to you that I have been thinking of several things, and one is that it is perfectly ridiculous for you to be poor." 
      "It is rather ridiculous," he admitted, surprised. "Isn't it! And no need of it at all. Your father made a fortune for my father. All you have to do is to let my father make a fortune for you." 
      "Is that all?" he asked, laughing. 
      "Of course. Why did you not tell him so? Have you seen him?" 
      "No," he said gravely. 
      "Why not?" 
      "I saw others--I did not care to try--any more--friends." 
      "Will you--now?" 
      He shook his head. 
      "Then I will." 
      "Please don't," he said quietly. Her hand still lay in his; she looked up at him; her eyes were starry bright and a little moist. 
      "I simply can't stand this," she said, steadying her voice. 
      "Your--your distress--" She choked; her sensitive mouth trembled. 
      "Good Heavens!" he breathed; "do you care!" 
      "Care--care," she stammered. "You saved my life with a laugh! You face st-starvation with a laugh! Your father made mine! Care? Yes, I care!" 
      But she had bent her head; a bright tear fell, spangling his polished shoes; the pulsating seconds passed; he laid his other hand above both of hers which he held, and stood silent, stunned, scarcely daring to understand. 
      Nor was it here he could understand or even hope--his instinct held him stupid and silent. Presently he released her hands. 
      She said "Good-by" calmly enough; he followed her to the door and opened it, watching her pass through the hall to her own door. And there she paused and looked back; and he found himself beside her again. 
      "Only," she began, "only don't do all those beautiful magic things for any--anybody else--will you? I wish to have--have them all for myself--to share them with no one----" 
      He held her hands imprisoned again. "I will never do one of those things for anybody but you," he said unsteadily. 
      "Truly?" Her face caught fire. 
      "Yes, truly." 
      "But how--how, then, can you--can----" 
      "I don't care what happens to me!" he said. To look at him nobody would have thought him young enough to say that sort of thing. 
      "I care," she said, releasing her hands and stepping back into her studio. 
      For a moment her lovely, daring face swam before his eyes; then, in the next moment, she was in his arms, crying her eyes out against his shoulder, his lips pressed to her bright hair. 
      And that was all right in its way, too; madder things have happened in our times; but nothing madder ever happened than a large, bald gentleman who came up the stairs in a series of bounces and planted his legs apart and tightened his pudgy grip upon his malacca walking stick, and confronted them with distended eyes and waistband. 
      In vigorous but incoherent English he begged to know whether this scene was part of an education in art. 
      "Papah," she said calmly, "you are just in time. Go into the studio and I'll come in one moment." 
      Then giving her lover both hands and looking at him with all her soul in her young eyes: "I love you; I'll marry you. And if there's trouble"--she smiled upon her frantic father--"if there is trouble I will follow you about the country exhibiting green mice----" 
      "What!" thundered her father. 
      "Green mice," she repeated with an adorable smile at her lover--"unless my father finds a necessity for you in his business--with a view to partnership. And I'm going to let you arrange that together. Good-by." 
      And she entered her studio, closing the door behind her, leaving the two men confronting one another in the entry. 
      For one so young she had much wisdom and excellent taste; and listening, she heard her father explode in one lusty Saxon word. He always said it when beaten; it was the beginning of the end, and the end of the sweetest beginning that ever dawned on earth for a maid since the first sunbeam stole into Eden. 
      So she sat down on her little camp stool before her easel and picked up a hand glass; and, sitting there, carefully removed all traces of tears from her wet and lovely eyes with the cambric hem of her painting apron. 
      "Damnation!" repeated Mr. Carr, "am I to understand that the only thing you can do for a living is to go about with a troupe of trained mice?" 
      "I've invented a machine," observed the young man, modestly. "It ought to be worth millions--if you'd care to finance it." 
      "The idea is utterly repugnant to me!" shouted her father. 
      The young man reddened. "If you wouldn't mind examining it--" He drew from his pocket a small, delicately contrived bit of clockwork. "This is the machine----" 
      "I don't want to see it!" 
      "You have seen it. Do you mind sitting down a moment? Be careful of that kitten! Kindly take this chair. Thank you. Now, if you would be good enough to listen for ten minutes----" 
      "I don't want to be good enough! Do you hear!" 
      "Yes, I hear," said young Destyn, patiently. "And as I was going to explain, the earth is circumscribed by wireless currents of electricity----" 
      "I--dammit, sir----" 
      "But those are not the only invisible currents that are ceaselessly flowing around our globe!" pursued the young man, calmly. "Do you see this machine?" 
      "No, I don't!" snarled the other. 
      "Then--" And, leaning closer, William Augustus Destyn whispered into Bushwyck Carr's fat, red ear. 
      "You can't prove it!" 
      "Watch me." 

             *       *       *       *       * 

      Ethelinda had dried her eyes. Every few minutes she glanced anxiously at the little French clock over her easel. 
      "What on earth can they be doing?" she murmured. And when the long hour struck she arose with resolution and knocked at the door. 
      "Come in," said her father, irritably, "but don't interrupt. William and I are engaged in a very important business transaction." 


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