Containing a Parable Told with Such Metaphorical
that the Author Is Totally Unable to Understand
The Green Mouse now dominated the
country; the entire United States was occupied in getting married.
In the great main office on Madison Avenue, and in a thousand branch
offices all over the Union, Destyn-Carr machines were working furiously;
a love-mad nation was illuminated by their sparks.
had been almost put out of business by the sudden matrimonial rush;
clergymen became exhausted, wedding bells in the churches were worn
thin, California and Florida reported no orange crops, as all the
blossoms had been required for brides; there was a shortage of solitaires,
traveling clocks, asparagus tongs; and the corner in rice perpetrated
by some conscienceless captain of industry produced a panic equaled
only by a more terrible coup in slightly worn shoes.
All America was rushing
to get married; from Seattle to Key West the railroads were blocked
with bridal parties; a vast hum of merrymaking resounded from the
Golden Gate to Governor's Island, from Niagara to the Gulf of Mexico.
In New York City the din was persistent; all day long church bells
pealed, all day long the rattle of smart carriages and hired hacks
echoed over the asphalt. A reporter of the Tribune
stood on top of the New York Life tower for an entire week, devouring
cold-slaw sandwiches and Marie Corelli, and during that period,
as his affidavit runs, "never for one consecutive second were his
ample ears free from the near or distant strains of the Wedding
And over all, in approving
benediction, brooded the wide smile of the greatest of statesmen
and the great smile of the widest of statesmen-- these two, metaphorically,
hand in hand, floated high above their people, scattering encouraging
blessings on every bride.
A tremendous rise in
values set in; the newly married required homes; architects were
rushed to death; builders, real-estate operators, brokers, could
not handle the business hurled at them by impatient bridegrooms.
Then, seizing time
by the fetlock, some indescribable monster secured the next ten
years' output of go-carts. The sins of Standard Oil were forgotten
in the menace of such a national catastrophe; mothers' meetings
were held; the excitement became stupendous; a hundred thousand
brides invaded the Attorney-General's office, but all he could think
of to say was: "Thirty centuries look down upon you!"
These vague sentiments
perplexed the country. People understood that the Government meant
well, but they also realized that the time was not far off when
millions of go-carts would be required in the United States. And
they no longer hesitated.
All over the Union
fairs and bazaars were held to collect funds for a great national
factory to turn out carts. Alarmed, the Trust tried to unload; militant
womanhood, thoroughly aroused, scorned compromise. In every city,
town, and hamlet of the nation entertainments were given, money
collected for the great popular go-cart factory.
The affair planned
for Oyster Bay was to be particularly brilliant--a water carnival
at Center Island with tableaux, fireworks, and illuminations of
Reassured by the magnificent
attitude of America's womanhood, business discounted the collapse
of the go-cart trust and began to recover from the check very quickly.
Stocks advanced, fluctuated, and suddenly whizzed upward like skyrockets;
and the long-expected wave of prosperity inundated the country.
On the crest of it rode Cupid, bow and arrows discarded, holding
aloft in his right hand a Destyn-Carr machine.
For the old order of
things had passed away; the old-fashioned doubts and fears of courtship
were now practically superfluous.
Anybody on earth could
now buy a ticket and be perfectly certain that whoever he or she
might chance to marry would be the right one--the one intended by
Yet, strange as it
may appear, there still remained, here and there, a few young people
in the United States who had no desire to be safely provided for
by a Destyn-Carr machine.
Whether there was in
them some sporting instinct, making hazard attractive, or, perhaps,
a conviction that Fate is kind, need not be discussed. The fact
remains that there were a very few youthful and marriageable folk
who had no desire to know beforehand what their fate might be.
One of these unregenerate
reactionists was Flavilla. To see her entire family married by machinery
was enough for her; to witness such consummate and collective happiness
became slightly cloying. Perfection can be overdone; a rift in a
lute relieves melodious monotony, and when discords cease to amuse,
one can always have the instrument mended or buy a banjo.
"What I desire," she
said, ignoring the remonstrances of the family, "is a chance to
make mistakes. Three or four nice men have thought they were in
love with me, and I wouldn't take anything for the--experience.
Or," she added innocently, "for the chances that some day three
or four more agreeable young men may think they are in love with
me. One learns by making mistakes--very pleasantly."
Her family sat in an
affectionately earnest row and adjured her--four married sisters,
four blissful brothers-in-law, her attractive stepmother, her father.
She shook her pretty head and continued sewing on the costume she
was to wear at the Oyster Bay Venetian Fête and Go-cart Fair.
"No," she said, threading
her needle and deftly sewing a shining, silvery scale onto the mermaid's
dress lying across her knees, "I'll take my chances with men. It's
better fun to love a man not intended for me, and make him love
me, and live happily and defiantly ever after, than to have a horrid
old machine settle you for life."
"But you are wasting
time, dear," explained her stepmother gently.
"Oh, no, I'm not. I've
been engaged three times and I've enjoyed it immensely. That isn't
wasting time, is it? And it's such fun!
He thinks he's in love
and you think you're in love, and you have such an agreeable time
together until you find out that you're spoons on somebody else.
And then you find out you're mistaken and you say you always want
him for a friend, and you presently begin all over again with a
perfectly new man----"
"Are you utterly demoralized!"
Everybody behaved as I do before you and William invented your horrid
machine. Everybody in the world married at hazard, after being engaged
to various interesting young men. And I'm not demoralized; I'm only
old-fashioned enough to take chances. Please let me."
The family regarded
her sadly. In their amalgamated happiness they deplored her reluctance
to enter where perfect bliss was guaranteed.
Her choice of rôle
and costume for the Seawanhaka Club water tableaux they also disapproved
of; for she had chosen to represent a character now superfluous
and out of date--the Lorelei who lured Teutonic yachtsmen to destruction
with her singing some centuries ago. And that, in these times, was
ridiculous, because, fortified by a visit to the nearest Destyn-Carr
machine, no weak-minded young sailorman would care what a Lorelei
might do; and she could sing her pretty head off and comb herself
bald before any Destyn-Carr inoculated mariner would be lured overboard.
But Flavilla obstinately
insisted on her scaled and fish-tailed costume. When her turn came,
a spot-light on the clubhouse was to illuminate the float and reveal
her, combing her golden hair with a golden comb and singing away
like the Musical Arts.
"And," she thought
secretly, "if there remains upon this machine-made earth one young
man worth my kind consideration, it wouldn't surprise me very much
if he took a header off the Yacht Club wharf and requested me to
be his. And I'd be very likely to listen to his suggestion."
So in secret hopes
of this pleasing episode--but not giving any such reason to her
protesting family--she vigorously resisted all attempts to deprive
her of her fish scales, golden comb, and rôle in the coming
water fête. And now the programmes were printed and it was
too late for them to intervene.
She rose, holding out
the glittering, finny garment, which flashed like a collapsed fish
in the sunshine.
"It's finished," she
said. "Now I'm going off somewhere by myself to rehearse."
"In the water?" asked
her father uneasily.
As Flavilla was a superb
swimmer nobody could object. Later, a maid went down to the landing,
stowed away luncheon, water-bottles and costume in the canoe. Later,
Flavilla herself came down to the water's edge, hatless, sleeves
rolled up, balancing a paddle across her shoulders.
As the paddle flashed
and the canoe danced away over the sparkling waters of Oyster Bay,
Flavilla hummed the threadbare German song which she was to sing
in her rôle of Lorelei, and headed toward Northport.
"The thing to do,"
she thought to herself, "is to find some nice, little, wooded inlet
where I can safely change my costume and rehearse. I must know whether
I can swim in this thing--and whether I can sing while swimming
about. It would be more effective, I think, than merely sitting
on the float, and singing and combing my hair through all those
The canoe danced across
the water, the paddle glittered, dipped, swept astern, and flashed
again. Flavilla was very, very happy for no particular reason, which
is the best sort of happiness on earth.
There is a sandy neck
of land which obstructs direct navigation between the sacred waters
of Oyster Bay and the profane floods which wash the gravelly shores
"I'll make a carry,"
thought Flavilla, beaching her canoe. Then, looking around her at
the lonely stretch of sand flanked by woods, she realized at once
that she need seek no farther for seclusion.
First of all, she dragged
the canoe into the woods, then rapidly undressed and drew on the
mermaid's scaly suit, which fitted her to the throat as beautifully
as her own skin.
It was rather difficult
for her to navigate on land, as her legs were incased in a fish's
tail, but, seizing her comb and mirror, she managed to wriggle down
to the water's edge.
A few sun-warmed rocks
jutted up some little distance from shore; with a final and vigorous
wriggle Flavilla launched herself and struck out for the rocks,
holding comb and mirror in either hand.
Fishtail and accessories
impeded her, but she was the sort of swimmer who took no account
of such trifles; and after a while she drew herself up from the
sea, and, breathless, glittering, iridescent, flopped down upon
a flat rock in the sunshine. From which she took a careful survey
of the surroundings.
Certainly nobody could
see her here. Nobody would interrupt her either, because the route
of navigation lay far outside, to the north. All around were woods;
the place was almost landlocked, save where, far away through the
estuary, a blue and hazy horizon glimmered in the general direction
of New England.
So, when she had recovered
sufficient breath she let down the flashing, golden-brown hair,
sat up on the rock, lifted her pretty nose skyward, and poured forth
As she sang the tiresome
old Teutonic ballad she combed away vigorously, and every now and
then surveyed her features in the mirror.
nicht was soll es bedeuten
Dass ich so traurig bin----
sang happily, studying her gestures with care and cheerfully flopping
She had a very lovely
voice which had been expensively cultivated. One or two small birds
listened attentively for a while, then started in to help her out.
On the veranda of his
bungalow, not very far from Northport, stood a young man of pleasing
aspect, knickerbockers, and unusually symmetrical legs. His hands
reposed in his pockets, his eyes behind their eyeglasses were fixed
dreamily upon the skies. Somebody over beyond that screen of woods
was singing very beautifully, and he liked it--at first.
However, when the unseen
singer had been singing the Lorelei for an hour, steadily, without
intermission, an expression of surprise gradually developed into
uneasy astonishment upon his clean-cut and unusually attractive
"That girl, whoever
she is, can sing, all right," he reflected, "but why on earth does
she dope out the same old thing?"
He looked at the strip
of woods, but could see nothing of the singer. He listened; she
continued to sing the Lorelei.
"It can't be a phonograph,"
he reasoned. "No sane person could endure an hour of that fool song.
No sane person would sing it for an hour, either."
Disturbed, he picked
up the marine glasses, slung them over his shoulder, walked up on
the hill back of the bungalow, selected a promising tree, and climbed
Astride a lofty limb
the lord of Northport gazed earnestly across the fringe of woods.
Something sparkled out there, something moved, glittering on a half-submerged
rock. He adjusted the marine glasses and squinted through them.
"Great James!" he faltered,
dropping them; and almost followed the glasses to destruction on
the ground below.
How he managed to get
safely to earth he never knew. "Either I'm crazy," he shouted aloud,
"or there's a--a mermaid out there, and I'm going to find out before
they chase me to the funny house!"
There was a fat tub
of a boat at his landing; he reached the shore in a series of long,
distracted leaps, sprang aboard, cast off, thrust both oars deep
into the water, and fairly hurled the boat forward, so that it alternately
skipped, wallowed, scuttered, and scrambled, like a hen overboard.
"This is terrible,"
he groaned. "If I didn't see what I think I saw, I'll
eat my hat; if I did see what I'm sure I saw, I'm madder than the
hatter who made it!"
Nearer and nearer,
heard by him distinctly above the frantic splashing of his oars,
her Lorelei song sounded perilously sweet and clear.
"Oh, bunch!" he moaned;
"it's horribly like the real thing; and here I come headlong, as
they do in the story books----"
He caught a crab that
landed him in a graceful parabola in the bow, where he lay biting
at the air to recover his breath. Then his boat's nose plowed into
the sandy neck of land; he clambered to his feet, jumped out, and
ran headlong into the belt of trees which screened the singer. Speed
and gait recalled the effortless grace of the kangaroo; when he
encountered logs and gullies he rose grandly, sailing into space,
landing with a series of soft bounces, which presently brought him
to the other side of the woods.
And there, what he
beheld, what he heard, almost paralyzed him. Weak- kneed, he passed
a trembling hand over his incredulous eyes; with the courage of
despair, he feebly pinched himself. Then for sixty sickening seconds
he closed his eyes and pressed both hands over his ears. But when
he took his hands away and opened his terrified eyes, the exquisitely
seductive melody, wind blown from the water, thrilled him in every
fiber; his wild gaze fell upon a distant, glittering shape--white-armed,
golden- haired, fish-tailed, slender body glittering with silvery
The low rippling wash
of the tide across the pebbly shore was in his ears; the salt wind
was in his throat. He saw the sun flash on golden comb and mirror,
as her snowy fingers caressed the splendid masses of her hair; her
song stole sweetly seaward as the wind veered.
A terrible calm descended
"This is interesting,"
he said aloud.
A sickening wave of
terror swept him, but he straightened up, squaring his shoulders.
"I may as well face
the fact," he said, "that I, Henry Kingsbury, of Pebble Point, Northport,
L.I., and recently in my right mind, am now, this very moment, looking
at a--a mermaid in Long Island Sound!"
He shuddered; but he
was sheer pluck all through. Teeth might chatter, knees smite together,
marrow turn cold; nothing on earth or Long Island could entirely
stampede Henry Kingsbury, of Pebble Point.
His clutch on his self-control
in any real crisis never slipped; his mental steering-gear never
gave way. Again his pallid lips moved in speech:
he said very slowly and deliberately, "is to swim out and--and touch
it. If it dissolves into nothing I'll probably feel better----"
He began to remove
coat, collar, and shoes, forcing himself to talk calmly all the
"The thing to do,"
he went on dully, "is to swim over there and get a look at it. Of
course, it isn't really there. As for drowning--it really doesn't
matter.... In the midst of life we are in Long Island.... And, if
it is there--I c-c-can c-capture it for the B-B-Bronx----"
Reason tottered; it
revived, however, as he plunged into the s. w.[A]
of Oyster Bay and struck out, silent as a sea otter for the shimmering
shape on the ruddy rocks.
A: Sparkling Waters or Sacred Waters.]
Flavilla was rehearsing
with all her might; her white throat swelled with the music she
poured forth to the sky and sea; her pretty fingers played with
the folds of burnished hair; her gilded hand-mirror flashed, she
gently beat time with her tail.
So thoroughly, so earnestly,
did she enter into the spirit of the siren she was representing
that, at moments, she almost wished some fisherman might come into
view--just to see whether he'd really go overboard after her.
as her vagrant thoughts might be, she was entirely unprepared to
see a human head, made sleek by sea water, emerge from the floating
weeds almost at her feet.
"Goodness," she said
faintly, and attempted to rise. But her fish tail fettered her.
"Are you real!" gasped
"Y-yes.... Are you?"
"Great James!" he half
shouted, half sobbed, "are you human?"
"V-very. Are you?"
He clutched at the
weedy rock and dragged himself up. For a moment he lay breathing
fast, water dripping from his soaked clothing. Once he feebly touched
the glittering fish tail that lay on the rock beside him. It quivered,
but needle and thread had been at work there; he drew a deep breath
and closed his eyes.
When he opened them
again she was looking about for a likely place to launch herself
into the bay; in fact, she had already started to glide toward the
water; the scraping of the scales aroused him, and he sat up.
"I heard singing,"
he said dreamily, "and I climbed a tree and saw--you! Do you blame
me for trying to corroborate a thing like you?"
"You thought I was
a real one?"
"I thought that I thought
I saw a real one."
She looked at him hopefully.
"Tell me, did
my singing compel you to swim out here?"
"I don't know what
"I--it seems so----"
"O-h!" Flushed, excited,
laughing, she clasped her hands under her chin and gazed at him.
"To think," she said
softly, "that you believed me to be a real siren, and that my beauty
and my singing actually did lure you to my rock! Isn't it exciting?"
He looked at her, then
"Yes, it is," he said.
Hands still clasped
together tightly beneath her rounded chin, she surveyed him with
intense interest. He was at a disadvantage; the sleek, half-drowned
appearance which a man has who emerges from a swim does not exhibit
him at his best.
But he had a deeper
interest for Flavilla; her melody and loveliness had actually lured
him across the water to the peril of her rocks; this human being,
this man creature, seemed to be, in a sense, hers.
"Please fix your hair,"
she said, handing him her comb and mirror.
"Certainly. I want
to look at you."
He thought her request
rather extraordinary, but he sat up and with the aid of the mirror,
scraped away at his wet hair, parting it in the middle and combing
it deftly into two gay little Mercury wings. Then, fishing in the
soaked pockets of his knickerbockers, he produced a pair of smart
pince-nez, which he put on, and then gazed up at her.
"Oh!" she said, with
a quick, indrawn breath, "you are attractive!"
At that he turned becomingly
Leaning on one lovely,
bare arm, burnished hair clustering against her cheeks, she continued
to survey him in delighted approval which sometimes made him squirm
inwardly, sometimes almost intoxicated him.
"To think," she murmured,
"that I lured you out here!"
thinking about it," he said.
She laid her head on
one side, inspecting him with frankest approval.
"I wonder," she said,
"what your name is. I am Flavilla Carr."
"Not one of the Carr
"Yes--but," she added
quickly, "I'm not married. Are you?"
"Oh, no, no, no!" he
said hastily. "I'm Henry Kingsbury, of Pebble Point, Northport----"
"Master and owner of
the beautiful but uncertain Sappho? Oh, tell me, are
you the man who has tipped over so many times in Long Island Sound?
Because I--I adore a man who has the pluck to continue to capsize
every day or two."
"Then," he said, "you
can safely adore me, for I am that yachtsman who has fallen off
the Sappho more times than the White Knight fell off
adore you!" she exclaimed impulsively.
"Of course, you d-d-don't
mean that," he stammered, striving to smile.
me, you--I know you are not like other men! You never
have had anything to do with a Destyn-Carr machine, have you?"
"Neither have I....
And so you are not in love--are you?"
"Neither am I. Oh,
I am so glad that you and I have waited, and not become engaged
to somebody by machinery.... I wonder whom you are destined for."
She clapped her hands.
"Neither am I. It is too stupid, isn't it? I don't
want to marry the man I ought to marry. I'd rather take chances
with a man who attracts me and who is attracted by me.... There
was, in the old days--before everybody married by machinery--something
not altogether unworthy in being a siren, wasn't there?... It's
perfectly delightful to think of your seeing me out here on the
rocks, and then instantly plunging into the waves and tearing a
foaming right of way to what might have been destruction!"
Her flushed, excited
face between its clustering curls looked straight into his.
destruction," he said. His own voice sounded odd to him. "Utter
destruction to my peace of mind," he said again.
"You--don't think that
you love me, do you?" she asked. "That would be too--too perfect
a climax.... Do you?" she asked curiously.
"Do--do you know
it?" He gazed bravely at her: "Yes."
She flung up both arms
joyously, then laughed aloud:
"Oh, the wonder of
it! It is too perfect, too beautiful! You really love me? Do you?
Are you sure?"
"Yes.... Will you try
to love me?"
"Well, you know that
sirens don't care for people.... I've already been engaged two or
three times.... I don't mind being engaged to you."
"Couldn't you care
for me, Flavilla?"
"Why, yes. I do....
Please don't touch me; I'd rather not. Of course, you know, I couldn't
really love you so quickly unless I'd been subjected to one of those
Destyn-Carr machines. You know that, don't you? But," she added
frankly, "I wouldn't like to have you get away from me. I--I feel
like a tender-hearted person in the street who is followed by a
"Oh, I didn't
mean anything unpleasant--truly I didn't. You know how tenderly
one feels when a poor stray cat comes trotting after one----"
He got up, mad all
you offended?" she asked sorrowfully. "When I didn't mean anything
except that my heart--which is rather impressionable--feels very
warmly and tenderly toward the man who swam after me.... Won't you
understand, please? Listen, we have been engaged only a minute,
and here already is our first quarrel. You can see for yourself
what would happen if we ever married."
"It wouldn't be machine-made
bliss, anyway," he said.
That seemed to interest
her; she inspected him earnestly.
"Also," he added, "I
thought you desired to take a sportsman's chances?"
"And I thought you
didn't want to marry the man you ought to marry."
"Then you certainly
ought not to marry me--but, will you?"
"How can I when I don't--love
"You don't love me
because you ought not to on such brief acquaintance.... But will
you love me, Flavilla?"
She looked at him in
silence, sitting very still, the bright hair veiling her cheeks,
the fish's tail curled up against her side.
"I don't know," she
"Shall I help you?"
Evidently she had gazed
at him long enough; her eyes fell; her white fingers picked at the
seaweed pods. His arm closed around her; nothing stirred but her
"Shall I help you to
love me?" he breathed.
"No--I am--past help."
She raised her head.
"This is all so--so
wrong," she faltered, "that I think it must be right.... Do you
truly love me?... Don't kiss me if you do.... Now I believe you....
Lift me; I can't walk in this fish's tail.... Now set me afloat,
He lifted her, walked
to the water's edge, bent and placed her in the sea. In an instant
she had darted from his arms out into the waves, flashing, turning
like a silvery salmon.
"Are you coming?" she
called back to him.
He did not stir. She
swam in a circle and came up beside the rock. After a long, long
silence, she lifted up both arms; he bent over. Then, very slowly,
she drew him down into the water.
"I am quite sure,"
she said, as they sat together at luncheon on the sandspit which
divides Northport Bay from the s.w. of Oyster Bay, "that you and
I are destined for much trouble when we marry; but I love you so
dearly that I don't care."
"Neither do I," he
said; "will you have another sandwich?"
And, being young and
healthy, she took it, and biting into it, smiled adorably at her