Wherein the Green Mouse Squeaks
A few minutes later the paper hanging
young man entered, swinging an empty dinner pail and halted in polite
surprise before a flushed young girl in full fencing costume, who
sat on his operating table, feet crossed, convulsively hugging a
book to the scarlet heart embroidered on her plastron.
"I--hope you don't
mind my sitting here," she managed to say. "I wanted to watch the
"By all means," he
said pleasantly. "Let me get you a chair----"
"No, thank you. I had
rather sit th-this way. Please begin and don't mind if I watch you."
The young man appeared
to be perplexed.
afraid," he ventured, "that I may require that table for cutting
"Please--if you don't
mind--begin to paste. I am in-intensely interested in p-pasting--I
like to w-watch p-paper p-pasted on a w-wall."
Her small teeth chattered
in spite of her; she strove to control her voice--strove to collect
He stood irresolute,
rather astonished, too.
"I'm sorry," he said,
paste; won't you?" she asked.
"Why, I've got to have
that table to paste on----"
"Then d-don't think
of pasting. D-do anything else; cut out some strips. I am so interested
in watching p-paper hangers cut out things--"
"But I need the table
for that, too----"
"No, you don't. You
can't be a--a very skillful w-workman if you've got to use your
table for everything----"
He laughed. "You are
quite right; I'm not a skillful paper hanger."
"Then," she said, "I
am surprised that you came here to paper our library, and I think
you had better go back to your shop and send a competent man."
He laughed again. The
paper hanger's youthful face was curiously attractive when he laughed--and
otherwise, more or less.
He said: "I came to
paper this library because Mr. Carr was in a hurry, and I was the
only man in the shop. I didn't want to come. But they made me....
I think they're rather afraid of Mr. Carr in the shop.... And this
work must be finished today."
She did not know what
to say; anything to keep him away from the table until she could
"W-why didn't you want
to come?" she asked, fighting for time. "You said you didn't want
to come, didn't you?"
"Because," he said,
smiling, "I don't like to hang wall paper."
"But if you are a paper
hanger by trade----"
"I suppose you think
me a real paper hanger?"
She was cautiously
endeavoring to free one edge of her skirt; she nodded absently,
then subsided, crimsoning, as a faint tearing of cloth sounded.
"Go on," she said hurriedly;
"the story of your career is so interesting. You say
you adore paper hanging----"
"No, I don't," he returned,
chagrined. "I say I hate it."
"Why do you do it,
"Because my father
thinks that every son of his who finishes college ought to be disciplined
by learning a trade before he enters a profession. My oldest brother,
De Courcy, learned to be a blacksmith; my next brother, Algernon,
ran a bakery; and since I left Harvard I've been slapping sheets
of paper on people's walls----"
"Harvard?" she repeated,
"Yes; I was 1907."
He looked down at his
white overalls, smiling.
"Does that astonish
you, Miss Carr?--you are Miss Carr, I suppose----"
triplets," she stammered.
Carr triplets! And you are one of them?" he exclaimed, delighted.
"Yes." Still bewildered,
she sat there, looking at him. How extraordinary! How strange to
find a Harvard man pasting paper! Dire misgivings flashed up within
"Who are you?" she
asked tremulously. "Would you mind telling me your name. It--it
He looked up in pleased
"So you know who I
"N-no. But--it isn't
"O-h!" she breathed.
A sense of swimming faintness enveloped her: she swayed; but an
unmistakable ripping noise brought her suddenly to herself.
"I am afraid you are
tearing your skirt somehow," he said anxiously. "Let me----"
The desperation of
the negative approached violence, and he involuntarily stepped back.
For a moment they faced
one another; the flush died out on her cheeks.
"If," she said, "your
name actually is George, this--this is the most-- the most terrible
punishment--" She closed her eyes with her fingers as though to
shut out some monstrous vision.
"What," asked the amazed
young man, "has my name to do with----"
Her hands dropped from
her eyes; with horror she surveyed him, his paste- spattered overalls,
his dingy white cap, his dinner pail.
marry you!" she stammered in white desperation. "I won't!
If you're not a paper hanger you look like one! I don't care whether
you're a Harvard man or not--whether you're playing at paper hanging
or not--whether your name is George or not--I won't marry you--I
won't! I won't!"
With the feeling that
his senses were rapidly evaporating the young man sat down dizzily,
and passed a paste-spattered but well-shaped hand across his eyes.
Sybilla set her lips
and looked at him.
"I don't suppose,"
she said, "that you understand what I am talking about, but I've
got to tell you at once; I can't stand this sort of thing."
"W-what sort of thing?"
asked the young man, feebly.
"Your being here in
this house--with me----"
"I'll be very glad
won't do any good! You'll come back!"
"N-no, I won't----"
"Yes, you will. Or
I--I'll f-follow you----"
"One or the other!
We can't help it, I tell you. You don't understand,
but I do. And the moment I knew your name was George----"
"What the deuce has
that got to do with anything?" he demanded, turning red in spite
of his amazement.
"Waves!" she said passionately,
"psychic waves! I--somehow--knew that he'd be named George----"
"Who'd be named George?"
The--man... And if I ever--if you ever expect me to--to c-care for
a man all over overalls----"
"But I don't--Good
Heavens!--I don't expect you to care for--for overalls----"
"Then why do you wear
them?" she asked in tremulous indignation.
The young man, galvanized,
sprang from his chair and began running about, taking little, short,
distracted steps. "Either," he said, "I need mental treatment immediately,
or I'll wake up toward morning.... I--don't know what you're trying
to say to me. I came here to--to p-paste----"
"That machine sent
you!" she said. "The minute I got a spark you started----"
"Do you think I'm a
motor? Spark! Do you think I----"
"Yes, I do. You couldn't
help it; I know it was my own fault, and this-- this
is the dreadful punishment--g-glued to a t-table top--with a man
"Yes," she said passionately,
"everything disobedient I have done has brought lightning retribution.
I was forbidden to go into the laboratory; I disobeyed and--you
came to hang wall paper! I--I took a b-book--which I had no business
to take, and F-fate glues me to your horrid table and holds me fast
till a man named George comes in...."
excited, she made a quick and dramatic gesture of despair; and a
ripping sound rent the silence.
"Are you pasted
to that table?" faltered the young man, aghast.
"Yes, I am. And it's
utterly impossible for you to aid me in the slightest, except by
pretending to ignore it."
"But you--you can't
"I can't help remaining
here," she said hotly, "until you go."
"Then I'd better----"
"No! You shall not
go! I--I won't have you go away--disappear somewhere in the city.
Certainty is dreadful enough, but it's better than the awful suspense
of knowing you are somewhere in the world, and are sure to come
"But I don't want to
come back!" he exclaimed indignantly. "Why should I wish to come
back? Have I said--acted--done--looked--Why should
you imagine that I have the slightest interest in anything or in--in--anybody
in this house?"
"No!... And I cannot
ignore your--your amazing--and intensely f-flattering fear that
I have d-designs--that I desire--in other words, that I--er--have
dared to cherish impossible aspirations in connection with a futile
and absurd hope that one day you might possibly be induced to listen
to any tentative suggestion of mine concerning a matrimonial alliance----"
He choked and turned
a dull red.
She reddened, too,
but said calmly:
"Thank you for putting
it so nicely. But it is no use. Sooner or later you and I will be
obliged to consider a situation too hopeless to admit of discussion."
"I can't see any situation--except
your being glued--I beg your pardon!--but I must speak
"So must I. Our case
is too desperate for anything but plain and terrible truths. And
the truths are these: I touched the forbidden machine
and got a spark; your name is George; I'm glued here,
unable to escape; you are not rude enough to go when
I ask you not to.... And now--here-- in this room, you and I must
face these facts and make up our minds.... For I simply must
know what I am to expect; I can't endure--I couldn't live with this
hanging over me----"
hanging over you?"
He sprang to his feet,
waving his dinner pail around in frantic circles:
"What is it, in Heaven's
name, that is hanging over you?"
"Certainly. Over us
both. We are headed straight for m-marriage."
"T-to each other?"
"Of course," she said
faintly. "Do you think I'd care whom you are going to marry if it
wasn't I? Do you think I'd discuss my own marital intentions with
you if you did not happen to be vitally concerned?"
expect to marry me?" he gasped.
"I--I don't want
to: but I've got to."
He stood petrified
for an instant, then with a wild look began to gather up his tools.
She watched him with
the sickening certainty that if he got away she could never survive
the years of suspense until his inevitable return. A mad longing
to get the worst over seized her. She knew the worst, knew what
Fate held for her. And she desired to get it over--have the worst
happen--and be left to live out the shattered remains of her life
in solitude and peace.
"If--if we've got to
marry," she began unsteadily, "why not g-get it over quickly--and
then I don't mind if you go away."
She was quite mad:
that was certain. He hastily flung some brushes into his tool kit,
then straightened up and gazed at her with deep compassion.
"Would you mind," she
asked timidly, "getting somebody to come in and marry us, and then
the worst will be over, you see, and we need never, never see each
He muttered something
soothing and began tying up some rolls of wall paper.
"Won't you do what
I ask?" she said pitifully. "I-I am almost afraid that--if you go
away without marrying me I could not live and endure the--the certainty
of your return."
He raised his head
and surveyed her with deepest pity. Mad--quite mad! And so young--so
exquisite... so perfectly charming in body! And the mind darkened
forever.... How terrible! How strange, too; for in the pure- lidded
eyes he seemed to see the soft light of reason not entirely quenched.
Their eyes encountered,
lingered; and the beauty of her gaze seemed to stir him to the very
wellspring of compassion.
"Would it make you
any happier to believe--to know," he added hastily, "that you and
I were married?"
"Y-yes, I think so."
"Would you be quite
happy to believe it?"
"Yes--if you call that
"And you would not
be unhappy if I never returned?"
"Oh, no, no! I--that
would make me--comparatively--happy!"
"To be married to me,
and to know you would never again see me?"
"Yes. Will you?"
"Yes," he said soothingly.
And yet a curious little throb of pain flickered in his heart for
a moment, that, mad as she undoubtedly was, she should be so happy
to be rid of him forever.
He came slowly across
the room to the table on which she was sitting. She drew back instinctively,
but an ominous ripping held her.
"Are you going for
a license and a--a clergyman?" she asked.
"Oh, no," he said gently,
"that is not necessary. All we have to do is to take each other's
She shrank back.
"You will have to let
me take your hand," he explained.
She hesitated, looked
at him fearfully, then, crimson, laid her slim fingers in his.
The contact sent a
quiver straight through him; he squared his shoulders and looked
at her.... Very, very far away it seemed as though he heard his
heart awaking heavily.
What an uncanny situation!
Strange--strange--his standing here to humor the mad whim of this
stricken maid--this wonderfully sweet young stranger, looking out
of eyes so lovely that he almost believed the dead intelligence
behind them was quickening into life again.
"What must we do to
be married?" she whispered.
"Say so; that is all,"
he answered gently. "Do you take me for your husband?"
"Yes.... Do you t-take
me for your--wife?"
"Don't say that!...
"All over," he said,
forcing a gayety that rang hollow in the pathos of the mockery and
farce.... But he smiled to be kind to her; and, to make the poor,
clouded mind a little happier still, he took her hand again and
said very gently:
"Will it surprise you
to know that you are now a princess?"
she asked sharply.
"A princess." He smiled
benignly on her, and, still beaming, struck a not ungraceful attitude.
"I," he said, "am the
Crown Prince of Rumtifoo."
She stared at him without
a word; gradually he lost countenance; a vague misgiving stirred
within him that he had rather overdone the thing.
"Of course," he began
cheerfully, "I am an exile in disguise--er-- disinherited and all
that, you know."
She continued to stare
"Matters of state--er--revolution--and
that sort of thing," he mumbled, eying her; "but I thought it might
gratify you to know that I am Prince George of Rumtifoo----"
The silence was deadly.
"Do you know," she
said deliberately, "that I believe you think I am mentally unsound.
"I--you--" he began
to stutter fearfully.
"W-well, either you
"Nonsense! I thought
that marriage ceremony was a miserably inadequate affair!... And
I am hurt--grieved--amazed that you should do such a--a cowardly----"
"What!" he exclaimed,
stung to the quick.
"Yes, it is cowardly
to deceive a woman."
"I meant it kindly--supposing----"
"That I am mentally
unsound? Why do you suppose that?"
in this century, and in this city, people who never before saw one
another don't begin to talk of marrying----"
"I explained to you"--she
was half crying now, and her voice broke deliciously--"I told you
what I'd done, didn't I?"
"You said you had got
a spark," he admitted, utterly bewildered by her tears. "Don't cry--please
don't. Something is all wrong here--there is some terrible misunderstanding.
If you will only explain it to me----"
She dried her eyes
mechanically: "Come here," she said. "I don't believe I did explain
And, very carefully,
very minutely, she began to tell him about the psychic waves, and
the instrument, and the new company formed to exploit it on a commercial
She told him what had
happened that morning to her; how her disobedience had cost her
so much misery. She informed him about her father, and that florid
and rotund gentleman's choleric character.
"If you are here when
I tell him I'm married," she said, "he will probably frighten you
to death; and that's one of the reasons why I wish to get it over
and get you safely away before he returns. As for me, now that I
know the worst, I want to get the worst over and--and live out my
life quietly somewhere.... So now you see why I am in such a hurry,
He nodded as though
stunned, leaning there on the table, hands folded, head bent.
"I am so very sorry--for
you," she said. "I know how you must feel about it. But if we are
obliged to marry some time had we not better get it over and then--never--see--one
He lifted his head,
then stood upright.
Her soft lips were
mute, but the question still remained in her eyes.
So, for a long while,
they looked at each other; and the color under his cheekbones deepened,
and the pink in her cheeks slowly became pinker.
"Suppose," he said,
under his breath, "that I--wish--to return--to you?"
not wish it----"
"Try to--to wish for----"
"For my return. Try
to wish that you also desire it. Will you?"
"If you are going to--to
talk that way--" she stammered.
"Yes, I am."
"Is there any reason
why I should not, if we are engaged?" he asked. "We are--engaged,
are we not?"
"Yes. Are we?"
"I--yes--if you call
"I do.... And we are
to be--married?" He could scarcely now speak the word which but
a few moments since he pronounced so easily; for a totally new significance
attached itself to every word he uttered.
"Are we?" he repeated.
"Then--if I--if I find
"Don't say it," she
whispered. She had turned quite white.
"Will you listen----"
"No. It--it isn't true--it
"It is coming truer
every moment.... It is very, very true--even now.... It is almost
true.... And now it has come true. Sybilla!"
White, dismayed, she
gazed at him, her hands instinctively closing her ears. But she
dropped them as he stepped forward.
"I love you, Sybilla.
I wish to marry you.... Will you try to care for me--a little----"
"I couldn't--I can't
He had her hands now;
she twisted them free; he caught them again. Over their interlocked
hands she bowed her head, breathless, cheeks aflame, seeking to
cover her eyes.
"Will you love me,
She struggled silently,
"No.... Let me go----"
dear--" His head, bowed beside hers over their clasped hands, was
more than she could endure; but her upflung face, seeking escape,
encountered his. There was a deep, indrawn breath, a sob, and she
lay, crying her heart out, in his arms.
* * * * *
It is curious how quickly
one recognizes unfamiliar forms of address.
"You won't cry any
more, will you?" he whispered.
"N-n-o," sighed Sybilla.
"Because we do
love each other, don't we?"
"Y-yes, George." Then,
radiant, yet sweetly shamed, confident, yet fearful, she lifted
her adorable head from his shoulder.
"George," she said,
"I am beginning to think that I'd like to get off this table."
"You poor darling!"
"And," she continued,
"if you will go home and change your overalls for something more
conventional, you shall come and dine with us this evening, and
I will be waiting for you in the drawing-room.... And, George, although
some of your troubles are now over----"
"All of them, dearest!"
he cried with enthusiasm.
"No," she said tenderly,
"you are yet to meet Pa-pah."