« PreviousContinue »
He inhaled the morning air with gy
tried to square his shoulders, set out f THE POSTMAN BLOWS HIS WHISTLE
promenade. Now and then he flouris IN MAPLE LANE
an ebony cane that lacked a ferrule. ] TEAR the northern border-line of relic fashed in the sunshine like a swd
Ohio, on the outskirts of a manu- blade; but the dogs never left the fa facturing town called Zenasville, there path on that account. stood in Maple Lane, midway of a garden By neighboring gate-posts, beneath bounded by a broken picket-fence, a small, foliage of outreaching shrubs, he yellowish frame-house two stories high, prone to stop for a chat with toddl the shingles slipping from its roof, the boys and girls. To these he impar slats of its shutters tilted at all angles, and rigmaroles which charmed them, alongside the front door, close to the bell- which they could not remember aft knob of white china, a sign-board, askew, ward. He bestowed on a sickly one dilapidated, inscribed :
blossom from his buttonhole, with an Aurelius Goodchild, Esquire
propriate, fantastic tale that made Interviews by Appointment.
gift for the moment something precia
Parting from them, with the apology t Every fine morning there emerged upon business called him, he bowed in cour the door-step a tall, lean man of fifty-five, fashion to the smallest girl. with bushy beard and mustaches in which At times the front door was opened gray hair was mingling with fiery red. him. Within appeared a narrow sta He was aquiline, pallid, hollow of eye and case, a patch of wall-paper, a commot cheek. Veins, full and blue, wandered of skirts. In that small dwelling th over his temples and down the middle of was more Auttering of ruffles than his high forehead. From beneath shaggy feathers in a dove-cote. Mr. Goodch brows he gazed forth with a mien half long a widower, possessed three unm wistful and half sanguine.
ried daughters. If the day proved mild, he retained in Three, that number believed by the hand his black felt hat. A breeze lifted cients to be peculiarly auspicious, from his neck locks poetically long and number, indeed, of Zeus's and Euronyn ragged. In his buttonhole was a flower. daughters, so celebrated for their beau
1 Copyright, 1915, by STEPHEN WHITMAN. All rights reserved. Copyright, 1915, by THE CENTURY CO. All rights reserved.
gentleness, and refinement! Of those per- It was now more than three decades sonages Mr. Goodchild had long owned, since he had won his wife, she the pretty in a mildewed steel-engraving, the like- daughter of a village squire, he the son nesses so far as mortal hand could be ex- of an intemperate hedge-row physician. pected to depict them. Clad in elegant Poor, bookish, dreamy, a threadbare drapery,-of which certain less reverent Romeo spouting poetry and metaphysics artists have deprived them, -performing by moonlight beneath the window of a in unison some celestial sort of calisthen- sentimental girl, he had furnished that ics, they looked fixedly over their smooth note of mystery on which young romance shoulders at Aurelius Goodchild all the thrives best. After braving her own famwhile he was dressing and undressing. ily, taking to her bed to pine away, reFor a time he failed to read that threefold covering to devise clandestine meetings, gaze; but finally-his youngest was al- she had ended by eloping with him. Old ready eight months old-he understood. Outwall never forgave his daughter for He renamed his daughters after the three that misalliance. Graces.
But those two, for the most part living Aglaia, nowadays, was close to thirty. on kisses and ideals, undismayed to find A pale blonde, she wore tresses of the themselves presently responsible to chilfaintest copperish color. Slender, dainty, dren, ever watching a radiant mirage that serene, she showed thin lips, and eyes like young Goodchild's talents were some day emeralds that smoldered under blanched going to make real, kept love prisoner in lashes often lowered. From the scanty their cottage till the end. Twenty years dressmaking materials at her disposal she had passed since her death, but there were devised costumes for herself suggestive of few days on which he did not think of the pictures in French fashion journals. her. At the inception of his every project Aglaia it was who met bill-collectors at for renown and wealth, Aurelius reflected, the door.
“If only she might share in its fruition!" Euphrosyne was twenty-five. Beneath For its fruition never seemed in doubt, so hair that resembled her father's in its confidently did he still smile toward the vivid red she displayed what is often mirage. called, in young women of somewhat Often changing occupations, he had heavy features, a strong face. Already found himself, at each return to disilluher figure foreshadowed a matronly so- sion, equipped for the shabby-genteel praclidity.
Attire that was soft-hued and tice of a new industry. A youthful belief prim confessed her tastes. Of mornings, that he was destined to revolutionize the with a wicker basket on her arm, Frossie art of the camera made it possible for him, went to market.
in middle age, to fall back, at a pinch, upon Thalia had just turned twenty. Her
Her photography. From another fight there skin was of that brilliancy and fineness remained to him the knack of rubbing up which accords with the richest shade of carbon-portraits, of scratching off penauburn curls. She had lips that were ripe and-ink drawings suitable for advertiseand scarlet, large sky-blue eyes, and round ments, of painting the likenesses of neighher milk-white throat a double crease, Na- bors' brats in oils. And, to pass over his ture's own precious necklace. Her shape inventions, -all patented, so all as safe was at the same time plump and lissome. from imitation as from use, - he had not Not infrequently her dress fell open at the turned his back on literature without first neck, her hair threatened to escape its learning how to compose a charming letpins, her bodice lacked some buttons down ter to a creditor, or drawn off from the the back. Thallie was the one who deco- field of music before understanding how rated Mr. Goodchild's coat-lapel with to tune pianofortes. flowers. At such moments how she re- As for the sciences, he knew enough minded him of her mother!
about medicine to work apparent miracles,
in one way or the other, on ailing live cookery. Then one perceived at night, on stock; in the province of chemistry could an illuminated window-pane, a long silcontrive amazing odors and explosions; houette, an aquiline profile, which passed concerning botany was not to be confused and repassed till dawn. about the classic history of any vegetable, So Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia just as, when physics was the topic, he had grew up in a region of fine dreams and two reasons, one modern and one mytho- crestfallen wakings, of feasts and famines, logical, for nearly every natural phenome- or, as they themselves put it, of chickens non.
one day and feathers the next. In short, there seemed to be no end to For in girlhood, emerging finally from the smatterings Mr. Goodchild had ac- the period of blind confidence and fond quired from books no one else would think beliefs, they began to appreciate the actual worth looking at, perused in a broken world. And just as the old house, while arm-chair or a raveled hammock between they grew larger, seemed ever smaller, spasms of exertion.
and turned the shabbier the daintier they Such a father was bound to be, at least became, so, when their hearts expanded in the nursery, a successful man, adept at with a thousand natural instincts, each the invention of enchanting games, weird found herself constricted by the ramtales, mysterious feats in sleight of hand, shackle home, like a captive bird in spring, nonsensical ballads without end.
all at once made intensely aware of the To educate the girls was easier than to limitations of its cage. Thenceforth affecdress and feed them. Sometimes the whole tion for their father did not prevent the family was galvanized by affluence: there secret thought that release would come to was money
in the house! Without them only through their own efforts. delay, new shoes creaked on small feet; Marriage was the first idea of each. white stockings appeared every afternoon From that neighborhood, however, most in Maple Lane; Mr. Goodchild strode marriageable young men, as soon as capahomeward with some brand-new books, ble of serious intentions, set out for the while from the open windows was wafted, great cities. The girls, their childhood at the same time with a thin clatter of love-affairs all ended in lame partings, Tschaikovsky waltzes,
of fell back upon the arts. Aglaia, recalling fried chicken. Dinner over, the fa- Patti's triumphs, dreamed of the opera. ther, expanding on the door-step, gazed Euphrosyne, with George Eliot in mind, toward the farthest tree-tops with the took up the pen. The
of Rosa look of a veteran conqueror about to sub- Bonheur urged Thalia to the easel. jugate fresh lands. He recalled the time But the scores of “Faust” and “Lucia when his house had lain in an independent di Lammermoor” fell to pieces, the writvillage, not in a suburb of that black levi- ing-table showed across its edge two athan the sooty exhalations of which ev- patches bare of varnish, even the easel ery year filled wider skies. Some day he was taking on a battered look, and still would wake to find his garden in the heart their lives were bounded by the broken of town: his property would bring a pretty picket-fence. penny! It needed one thing only, the in- The small rooms were pervaded by an evitable expansion of the town. With that old-fashioned, semi-rural atmosphere. understood, the ground he stood on was This was partly due to the countless odds as good as worth a fabulous sum. One and ends which meanly reconstructed could call it the same thing as being a there a period of naïve and tawdry houserich man!
hold furniture. Then, too, when doors Or, else, the cash on hand had all been and windows had been kept shut awhile, spent. Then presently one saw again in all the faded carpets, tidies, sofas, lambreuse old costumes that had been flung quins exhaled the odors of a dead age. It aside. Then one smelled another sort of was one of those little old houses, thread
bare and unesthetic, the shortcomings of to dream. Aggie, putting aside her scores, which are finally appreciated, and yet, be- sat balancing assets against liabilities. cause of poverty, not remedied.
Frossie, having refilled and cleaned her Nevertheless, there was a different sa- fountain-pen, turned her thoughts kitchenvor and appearance to a low, haphazard- ward. The tardy shadows found them looking extension, its walls nearly plumb,
gone. its windows almost rectilinear, that ex- But the studio was coziest in winter. tended from the kitchen porch to the rear Then, to be sure, the flower-pots looked fence. This structure, the product of forlorn. Against the panes hung icicles. Mr. Goodchild's own architectural skill, Through the north light one saw, beneath was called the studio.
clouds of violent contour, the bare limbs Immediately on passing from the kit- of trees, their forks wedged with snow, chen porch into a narrow corridor, one all swaying to the blast. In such weasmelled chemicals, oil-paints, fresh flow- ther, though, the fat cast-iron stove wore
Ahead there opened out a large, round its middle a red-hot zone, and the bright room, the board walls plastered early dusk, if shortening the day, extended with sketches and mechanical diagrams. the period which charmed that household Between windows full of potted plants most, the lamplight hour. Snug in their stood home-made book-shelves and cabi- little corner, listening, though well nets for curiosities. To the left, a door warmed, with a shivery delight to wind opened into a closet, by turns the “dark and sleet, they felt their more subtle asroom" and the “laboratory.” To the right, pirations, if not benumbed by cold, at
, there huddled a photographer's camera, a least stupefied by that hot confinement. few backgrounds painted with elegiac The present, more than the future, then landscapes, a chair with an iron head-rest, engrossed the sisters. some mats of artificial grass, a flower- Spring, on the other hand, made the stand for brides to pose by. In the far studio, and all the world, seem different. wall, a north light, composed of several When the sky, on a day unexpectedly sesmall window-panes, expanded above an rene, revealed unusual tenderness, when easel, a writing-table, an old pianoforte. one discovered that the mesh of twigs had Here it was that Aglaia ran her scales, here and there caught fast a scrap of that Euphrosyne thumbed the dictionary, green, when suddenly the first song-bird that Thalia laid out her palette, that Mr. warbled, straightway prosaic thoughts Goodchild carried forward his innumer- were beautifully transformed, while all able projects.
fantastic dreams turned reasonable once The studio was the heart of the house. Through the long days of summer the Again the sisters glimpsed that future three girls worked there peacefully. Soft which the sum of all their tasks ought airs, which had gathered fragrance from finally to earn for them. To one appeared many blossoms, entered, to be perfumed a proscenium that framed a multitude of afresh, above the window plants. The applauding strangers; to another, a salon stillness of that suburb ringed the sisters maintained by intellectual celebrities; to round: at times some sound-a calling the third, great galleries wherein the voice, the barking of a dog, a cracking throng stood longest before her pictures. whip-penetrated their consciousness, but Then their father entered softly, in his very gently.
The sunshine, creeping shiny house-jacket and blue carpet slipacross the floor, at last turned red: the pers, to inform them, with a sprightly air, window geraniums were nearly matched that he had brought home four fine pork in hue by the still clouds beyond them. chops for supper. Languor pervaded nature, foliage stood Over the supper-table hung a porcelain motionless, the earth's heart-beat was im- lamp, its milky shade and bowl embelperceptible. Thallie laid down her brush lished with hand-painted daisies. In the
center of the pink-fringed clotii a cruet- reflecting that the near approach of death castor displayed its thick glass vessels and may change the hardest hearts, clung to its old, conventional lions' heads bereft of the dream of a fine legacy. silver-plating. Round this object clustered Said Mr. Goodchild in low tones: many dishes of jam, pickles, and spiced "I 'm glad that I never expected anyfruit. Before the father, on a platter of thing of Uncle Jabez. If I had, on one imitation delf, smoked the viands of the of those specially dark days I might have day. The vegetable-bowls were passed wished for a human being's death. When from hand to hand.
our Lord, in His Sermon on the Mount, At these repasts the girls turned talka- described one sin that may be committed tive and gay: all chattered at once, all no less in thought than in act, He sugburst together into peals of laughter. Mr. gested another dictum, 'Every one who Goodchild, plying his fork excitedly, chew- contemplates a man to wish for his death ing hard, so as to clear his mouth for hath committed murder already in his speech, was a worthy master of the sym
own heart.'" posium, in which anything was apt to be They were silent till Aurelius, rising discussed, from archaic Apollos to woolen with a gentle smile, concluded: undergarments, from medieval ladies' “So, children, we must always be carefashions to the habits of bees. His beard, ful not to love wealth enough to want it in the lamplight, was like a tangle of gold at any one's expense. As Epictetus has it, and silver threads; his eyes shone in their ‘None who is a lover of money is likewise hollow sockets; his full, white brow, al- a lover of mankind, but only he--and she most transparent at the temples, seemed - who is a lover of virtue.'' encircled by a shadowy garland. It was a And Aurelius, the delf platter in one prefiguration from the hand-painted dai- hand and the tea-pot in the other, politely sies on the lamp.
stood aside while his daughters, laden Sometimes, while admiring his daugh with the supper-dishes, filed into the kitters in that mellow radiance, he deter- chen. mined to whisk them off, on making his The dishes washed, they returned to the fortune, to scenes worthier of them. Then studio. A sewing-basket appeared, for the once more Aurelius would hurl defiance relief of ragged shirts, stockings full of at the future. And the sisters, the gaiety holes, and still other garments. Frossie fading from their faces, would listen with read aloud a chapter of Alexandre Dumas, fixed smiles, with feelings of compassion Aggie played rag-time on the piano. and self-pity.
Thallie imitated the German butcher Once Aglaia, her emerald-green eyes blowing up his errand-boy, or Mr. Goodstaring into space, remarked:
child, who found it hard to remember “How much do you really suppose old they were full-grown now, with the sudJabez Outwall 's worth these days?" den boisterousness of elders bent on frolic Aurelius repressed a look of pain in the nursery, proposed a catch. In an
. Thalia's pout expressed ennui. Euphros- instant the Goodchild family were chantyne, with a mirthless laugh, inquired: ing “Three Blind Mice” or “London 's
"Chasing that will-o'-the-wisp again?” Burning.” But in the midst of that
Jabez Outwall was an uncle of their shindy a knocking shook the door. mother, a retired lumber merchant of "Come in!” called every one in accents Detroit, now eighty-odd years old. Re- to make obedience a pleasure. And some puted to be wealthy, he had for a long neighbors, who had circled the house for time furnished the sisters with a secret this seat of light and noise, presented hope. But, as the years went by without smiling faces. a sign from him, two had concluded that Mr. and Mrs. Ira Inchkin rarely the Outwalls' animosity against Aurelius missed a Saturday night. still smoldered on in Jabez. Only Aglaia,
little stiff-backed fellow