Illustrations by Everett Shinn
IN the first place, I want it clearly understood that this story is no burlesque, but a straight record of fact. Indeed, I am almost afraid to write it, since the generation in which we live is as yet so wrong-minded that instead of extending sympathy to Paul Brockway, as it should, it may be inclined to laugh at him. But there is more than one young man walking about upon two legs to-day who has shared Paul's fate; many a young man who reads this will feel the blush of hot shame mounting to his face as he remembers ignominious get-aways that he himself has been forced to make, awful palpitating moments when, torn with embarrassment, chivalry, and false modesty, he has been forced into positions like Paul's.
This is frankly a story with a message; far from being written with levity, this is propaganda. I say it openly, I am not serving you a sugar-coated pill; so when you read the sad story of Paul Brockway, pause and think. Face boldly the conditions of life which actually confront us, and which, because of the European War, are going to grow steadily worse and worse, and then set briskly about creating a public opinion by which men may meet circumstances of this kind with the grace and dignity of self-approval with which women may meet them. Talk about a double standard of morality! Here's a double standard with a vengeance. When it is all right and decent for women, why it is made so fiendish, so soul-searing, so ignominious, and so low-down for men, I can't tell you. It is, and it ought not to be—not with the world as it is.
Paul's tragedy began by listening to the venomous counsels of Hemmingway, the philosopher. Hemmingway sat upon his piazza surrounded by beautiful children of his own begetting, a charming and able wife, whose eye was at once both humorous and cynical, and a philosophy that harked back from some forgotten era of the nineteenth century.
"Women," he boomed, "need to be made love to; only by making love to women can you get to know them. It's the only way for a man of intelligence to begin an acquaintance with a woman—to make love to her." A beautiful blond child perched itself on each of his capacious knees. Caressing their heads, he continued to talk convincingly a philosophy of life suited to an earlier and less-dangerous day. "Marriage," he continued, with an optimism totally unsupported by any fact, "as we now see it in its binding bourgeois phases, will shortly disappear. Men and women are too far apart. More men should know more women. Don't you agree with me, Consuela?" He appealed to that slender and deep-bosomed daughter of Neptune, Consuela Dare, Paul's betrothed. Consuela turned a smoldering eye on Hemmingway.
"No," she said coldly.
"Now, what Paul needs is to make love to some woman if he's to make you happy, Consuela."
"I 'll attend to being happy myself," said Consuela, darkly. At this Hemmingway's wife laughed a short and mocking laugh. Subtly it was turned against Hemmingway.
"But you, Consuela, you like to be made love to. I make love to you myself."
"Do you?" said Consuela, flushing angrily under her tan.
"Don't you know it, Consuela? You slapped me the last time I kissed you. No, it was the time before the last that you slapped me."
"How could I know you were doing what you call 'making love'!" said Consuela.
Hemmingway's wife again laughed maddeningly.
"You 're very subtle, Consuela." Hemmingway went on, "and how shall an inexperienced man like Paul—"
"I'm not so darned inexperienced," Paul broke in. Poor fellow, he was easily drawn.
Here it was that Peggy DeWitt spoke.
"Paul, don't you want some more experience?" said she, putting her face about four inches from his and smiling mockingly into it.
"Sure!" said Paul.
"We 're both engaged," Peggy reminded him; "it's our duty to enrich our lives for the partners of our joys. Come ahead!" They disappeared, Paul having the rejoicing emotion of a small boy playing hooky; besides, he had not relished the fact that right under his eyes Consuela had been flirting with Hemmingway. Obviously he owed her one.
Paul Brockway had led an unusually sheltered life. He had lived in groups of people where men preponderated over women. Since leaving college, four years before, he had spent time in some strange places: he had been in the far North, he had gone to Africa with a moving-picture man. On his latest return from the wild places of the earth he had seen Consuela and become engaged to her. He knew as little about modern life or women as Hemmingway, who, looking at it over a frieze of his children's heads, could still talk in terms of the nineteenth century.
When Paul returned alone, with the irritating look of a cat who has swallowed a canary, Consuela was there waiting for him. The atmosphere was sultry.
"Surely, Consuela, you 're not so bourgeoise," inquired Hemmingway, "as not to perceive that Paul has done this for you alone?"
"I can't stand Peggy DeWitt," replied Consuela, her bosom heaving, "and I will not see her make a monkey out of Paul!"
"You 're unreasonable," said Paul. He did not like the phrase "make a monkey of."
Consuela clenched her fists.
"I will not have you act like a fool with girls I perfectly dislike," she asserted.
Despite Hemmingway's saying admiringly, "I'd give ten years of my life to have a girl love me like that," they quarreled.
With a feeling that marriage was about to shut confining jaws upon him and that he must have one little day of experience before that time arrived,—these ideas had carefully been inserted there by Hemmingway,—Paul flung himself into his motor.
"Don't come back," said Consuela, flamingly, "until you can stop acting like a fool."
"Which means," Hemmingway interpreted, "until you can do everything she tells you to."
The automobile has had a profound effect upon the course of courtship. A man can arrive and leave with a celerity and unexpectedness that has been impossible hitherto. Paul let the road lead him; he did n't know this part of New England well. Nightfall found him in a quiet and beautiful village. An old white church with a lovely and aspiring tower fronted a green common; the wide streets on each side held a double row of elms. Even the town hall had escaped burning up. No one knows why New England town halls do burn up, but this has been for a long time their characteristic. Ancient houses, their yards full of flowering shrubs, slumbered under the shady elms. A motor-car seemed almost an impertinence here, so much did one appear to have turned back the hand of time.
Paul, whose senses and sensibilities had all been sharpened by the exciting occurrences of the day, fancied himself in a fabled country. The town had a dream-like mellowness that ill accorded with the fiction common to New England that had fallen Paul's way. He asked the name of the town at the post-office, and was told that it was Lebanon, a wooing word. It was a town that called for companionship and conversation. So, in a spirit of adventure rather than of scorn for the small hostelry, he asked who it was in town that might give a night's lodging, and learned from a clerk in a store that the Kellogg girls took in summer folks sometimes.
The house that had been pointed out to him was a sweet, rambling place, with sweet things growing about it; flowers and shrubs were in the yard. It was set back from the road, and one walked up a long brick path under sentinel sycamore-trees. On the front porch a lady was sitting. She was dressed, though Paul, naturally, did not know that, in a filmy sprigged dimity. Her beauty was of fragile delicacy; her dark eyes had a haunting and melancholy look. There was that about her that charmed Paul and made him sorry for her. He hoped that she was Miss Kellogg. She was. He hoped—and his tone was flattering—she had a room. The flattery of his voice did not escape her. It surprised from her a smile as dim as moonlight on a lake.
There was a charming air of faded gentility about the place; things had grown threadbare, as though loving hands had overbrushed and overpolished them. Old things shone dimly, and made mellow and caressing notes of color. He sat at ease, dreaming no evil, thinking no guile, utterly off his guard. A fine adventurous, mood was that of poor Paul's, He was ready for anything.
He heard giggles within, young and hoidenish laughter, voices saying:
"Is it alive? Where did you get it, Aunt Miriam?"
"Hush! hush! He 'll hear you." This was from her whom Paul had already fatuously named "the Lovely Lady."
"In a motor-car, o-oh! o-oh! I like his looks."
" 'Sh!" Again the Lovely Lady's voice mumbled something.
They burst out on him. They were young; one could n't tell whether the blonde or the brunette was older. They were pretty, the brunette dimpled, alluring, with bold, laughing eyes. Her mouth was made up as though for a kiss, and she stood nearer to Paul than there was any need. The blonde was slender, rose-leaf tinted, appealing. With a confiding gesture she sat down very near him in a little attitude of drooping expectancy. To take her hand would have been the most natural thing in the world.
How it happened Paul never remembered afterward, but he was soon in a game of romps, chasing Louise—for the two were quaintly named Clara and Louise Kellogg—about the long lawn. She dodged him through the syringa-bushes; she led him a chase up a little hill, flaunting, alluring, making a pretense at repelling. When he finally captured her in a grape arbor, what on earth was there for him to do but to kiss her, I ask you? He did it; I never pretended that Paul Brockway shunned the obvious. When they came back, Louise protesting, pouting with an innocent air, then before the rest insolently daring him to kiss her.
The Lovely Lady had aged; the silent years seemed to have slid over her in his absence. She sat quiet, composed, a generation away. Perhaps it was not their bounding vitality that had so wiped her out as their calm assumption of her belonging to another generation. "Aunt," "Aunt Miriam," "Auntie," dropped ceaselessly from their lips; and yet there was no line upon her brow, no dimming of her quiet color. She could not, Paul reflected, have been a day over thirty, if she was that; but one could not imagine her getting kissed in a grape arbor on sight, as it were, and somehow that episode was more exciting than the moonlit vistas of shy companionship which friendship with her offered him.
After dinner he found himself helping her with the dishes. Then there were more romps with Louise. She managed to do these things without giving the effect of any vulgarity. There was a spontaneity in her high good humor, a heady quality about her bold, alluring ways. She was simply the sort of girl, Paul reflected, one had to kiss. God had evidently created her for that purpose, and she seemed to be perfectly willing to fulfil the designs of the Almighty.
A little out of breath, his pulses hammering, a feeling of being "a devil of a fellow" surging over him, he sat down on the front porch. The Lovely Lady was there; she looked at him with an unfathomable glance that suddenly made his heart beat faster, and that seemed to implore him mutely:
"Don't send me back into the shadow of years; don't envelop me with a fictitious mantle of age. You see, I'm young as spring, and as shy." Impulsively Paul said:
"Won't you take a turn to-morrow in my car?"
She hesitated; she smiled at him with adorable shyness.
"Oh, do come!" urged Paul.
"Very well," she said; and from the tone of her voice Paul gathered the touching information that this to her was a great adventure.
"It takes very little to satisfy some women," he reflected; and thought with anger of Consuela Dare who exacted so much of a man.
She left him. In a moment the blonde Clara was beside him. The front porch had benches running the length of it; four people might have sat there; Clara, evidently making room for two ghostly visitors, sat close to him. She looked up, her blue melting eyes in his face:
"I'm glad you 've come," she said softly.
"So am I," responded silly, innocent Paul.
"You are not just going to pass through Lebanon?" Her voice quivered a little. There was a touching quality to her that made Paul wish to comfort her.
"I think I 'll stay a day or so," he said. A sigh of deep relief escaped her.
From within came Louise's voice:
"Clara!" it called.
"Yes," responded Clara, indolently.
"Auntie wants you."
"All right," said Clara, amiably; she did n't move. "I don't care if she wants me," she announced in a gently triumphant tone. The low footfall of the Lovely Lady was heard. "Do you want me, Auntie?" called Clara.
"No, dear." Clara smiled subtly.
"Clara?" said Louise.
Clara arose softly.
"Let's walk," she said. There was a little thrill in her voice. "The streets are so sweet at night, with the linden-trees in bloom."
There was a witchery about her. Unresisting. Paul followed. They moved away like shadows, without speaking, wrapt in some vague enchantment. They were down at the gate before Louise's voice was again heard:
"Clara!" Under the electric light one might have observed that Clara again smiled subtly.
Time moved swiftly with Paul the next day. By the time dinner was over he had a little bit the feeling as though the movement had been as rapid as that in a moving-picture show. Between Clara and Louise he began to have a slightly breathless feeling. He strolled down to the end of the garden by himself, smoking to catch his breath, to reflect, complacently, upon their rather open-mouthed expression when he had driven off with "Auntie."
At the other side of the gray picket-fence there was a rustic grape arbor; from the inside of the grape arbor came a rustling of skirts; a charming head protruded now, framed in vine leaves and delicate tendrils of brown curls—a face full of delicacy and piquancy, the nose tilted up, the wide, golden-brown eyes wild, while the mouth, with its delicately fashioned corners, was sophisticated. She had a long, straight throat.
"Hello, man!" she remarked.
"Hello, girl!" responded fatuous Paul.
"I am not a girl," responded the sophisticated mouth, which, despite its words, held a wild wood note; "I'm a widow, thank God!"
"Thank God!" echoed Paul, the obvious.
"Come over and sit in my hammock with me," now invited the widow. "My name is Simone Drummond, and I'm terribly bored."
"We 'll soon alter that," said Paul.
"Oh, will we?" said Simone, clasping her hands. "Are you sure we will?"
"Absolutely," said Paul, who now, poor thing, was feeling slightly wicked andish.
They talked. She was young and lovely; she had been unhappy; when what she referred to as "his horrid estate" was settled, she would be rich. Paul need n't think because she used the vocabulary of levity that she had no mind; she had. She was a Feminist, very advanced; she hinted that her life had been such that only her natural goodness had kept her from being driven to extremes of opinion. Was Paul a Feminist? Oh, yes, indeed; Paul was anything that she liked. Oh, he held advanced views, most advanced! Did he believe in Ellen Key?
Paul had never heard of that lady, so he believed in her devoutly.
And why on earth was Louise Kellogg lashing up and down her back yard like a lioness deprived of her prey?
This, Paul wittily remarked, he could not tell her.
They both laughed at this. Already they were in that perilous state of mind when anything serves for a joke between a man and a woman. How advanced he was he now proved by dishing up some of Hemmingvvay's philosophic trash about men and women being more adventurous together.
When he left, it was almost supper-time.
"One gets acquainted quickly in a desert," she remarked.
After supper he sat on the porch with the Lovely Lady. She had been young when she drove with him, touchingly so; but now the shadows of age had again mysteriously shut in about her. Despite her smooth skin, there was that about her that foreshadowed spinsterhood in a way that to Paul was touching and unbearable.
"She's worth the whole lot of them," he thought vaguely. "The whole lot of them" stretched very wide, almost reaching the place where Consuela dwelt. You may have observed that up to now Paul has had but little time to moon about concerning Consuela. What he was aware of was not having time enough for talk with the Lovely Lady.
His reflection concerning the Lovely Lady was now fulfilled by the appearance of a little shell-tinted wren of a girl. She was round and small, with quantities of soft, drab hair, gold at the points. She stood in a charming embarrassment before them. When she was introduced to Paul, she merely let her eyes rest on him like those of a child and said nothing. She was very young; there was something about her both touching and pleasing.
Her name, it seemed, was Clover Branch. Soon after having imparted this information to Paul, the Lovely Lady excused herself. She seemed, Paul reflected, to be always doing this in favor of the very young.
There was a silence; then, after a long sigh, Clover said:
"Oh, how I wish I were pretty like Clara and Louise!"
Paul found nothing whatever to say to this remark, which embarrassed him, except, "Why?"
To this Clover replied, with limpid innocence:
"So you'd like me better."
"I like you as you are," said Paul. What else would you have expected him to say?
"You 've passed my house a hundred times and never looked at me." Her voice was like the mourning of a dove; and now he perceived that it was a dove and not a wren that she resembled.
"And where do you live?" said Paul.
Up to this there had been only one next door to Paul.
Then she covered her face with her hands.
"It's awful," she said, "it's awful for me to have come over here just to get introduced! Oh, what will Clara and Louise say!" She fled.
You naturally expect, don't you, that Paul soon offered to take Clover Branch to ride in his motor? Your expectations are not disappointed.
Turn on the hands of the clock for an extraordinarily busy week. I mentioned before that Simone was fair and young and had been unhappy; you will not have forgotten that they started off with "Paul and Simone." But also, living in a house with them, it was astonishing how much time he found for persiflage—and this word is a euphemy—with Clara and Louise, and since Clover Branch had hung over the fence and looked at him with dove eyes and said, "Oh, take me for just a turn!" he had done so. As the French say, "What would you have?"
Alone, the Lovely Lady had faded out of the picture. At the end of a week Paul was no longer feeling like a devil of a fellow, which sustaining emotion had borne him along at such a headlong speed. Indeed, at this belated day the idea was beginning to penetrate Paul that it was about time to "pull out of here." There are situations when you either go on or you don't.
There was that night a strawberry sociable at the church, and Paul invited to it the Lovely Lady. She seemed surprised.
"Why, if you really want me—" she hesitated.
"I really do," said Paul, earnestly. She smiled at him. Paul had the uneasy feeling that it was compassionately that she smiled, and comprehendingly. He wanted to shout to her, "No, I am not hiding behind you; I like you best." But naturally there are some things one cannot say, though during the week Paul had found a great many more things had been said than he had hitherto dreamed possible in this vale of tears. He was in a distinctly ungrateful frame of mind. There was a pasha-like blaséness about Paul at this moment, a feeling of satiety of a sort that had made him think when Clara had frisked before him not long before, "Hang it! I can't kiss everybody, you know!"
Now mark what may befall a man in a short time.
It was six forty-five, and supper was over. Not until a quarter past eight would one start for the sociable. The voices of Clara and Louise in altercation reached his ears:
"Widow or no widow," came Clara's voice, "I should think you'd be ashamed to use a harpoon the way you do. You began the very first night he came here. You know it."
"Well, I like that!" Louise cried in response. "I began the very first night, and you! Harpoon!" just indignation choked her. "Let me tell you, Clara Kellogg, I prefer to be a harpoon than a piece of fly-paper!"
Contrary to his intention, Paul removed himself to smoke his cigarette at Simone's. A week has passed, remember—a week in a desert! A week filled with the companionship of a swiftly moving and perilous friendship; a week full of windy talk about the equal place in the world of men and women; a week where they had brandished their spears against the old demon Convention, where they had had the fine, heady feeling of being free spirits. She allured him and eluded him; she led him on, and fled from him only to return to him again; she was a sweet, soft thing, a delightful thing. Paul was everything except in love with her. He had been making love to her, or was it she who had made love to him? But there was a limit somewhere. "What the devil do you do with them when you have made love to them?" was what he was beginning to ask himself. There was no place to go but on, thought he despairingly, and "on" precisely was just where Paul was not going to go. There was, though the reader may have forgotten it, Consuela.
He went over, meaning to tell Simone that he was going, and somehow—now here we come to the meanness of men's situation— he felt like a skunk in having to tell her that.
Why, I ask you? Had Simone at this moment pronounced the word "Good by," and vanished, our sympathies would be with her; but there is not a man living who does not know how difficult these words would be to speak to a woman in these circumstances, especially as they greeted each other as though they had not seen each other for years.
"Simone!" Their hands clasped.
He sat down moodily; the disgust of too much life enveloped him, the conversation between Clara and Louise jangled disagreeably in his ears.
For Paul the hour had struck; right or wrong he was through. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, just as girls get through in similar circumstances.
"Paul?" Simone's voice came quiveringly out of the dark—"Paul, we can't go on like this."
"No," said Paul, gloomily.
"We are not children," said Simone.
Paul said nothing.
Simone put her hand on Paul's; her golden-brown eyes were fixed on him appealingly.
"We'd better go in; it's mosquitoy out here."
Paul muttered uneasily. There was no Anthony Hopeishness about him this time, you perceive.
"Paul, this has been too intense to go on in the usual way; it has taken us and whirled us up."
"Uh-huh," said Paul.
"I know you 'll understand what I'm going to do, Paul. I suppose you are n't ready to marry,—men of your age rarely are in a position to,—but I am, Paul. I have plenty for both of us."
Paul felt as though a blood-cell had burst inside of his brain. This was what things had led to; he was being proposed to!
You know what he felt like? He felt like a cad; he felt like an oaf; he wished he had never been born; he begged her to forgive him; he was beside himself. Not that he showed it, for it was as though he were frozen. It was Simone who mobilized first, and vanished in the dusk.
I ask you, when women do things like this, must n't we reconstruct our point of view? Men must be allowed to refuse the unwelcome advances of ladies with dignity; and yet there are prehistoric reptiles like Hemmingway still on earth who not only uphold the old theory that you must never let a woman bat an eye at you in vain, but also that you must begin this nefarious business yourself.
When a woman refuses a man, how does she feel? Properly pained, we trust, but perfectly in her own right, dignified, and aware of her virtue. And how does a man feel? Like the things that crawl, of course; like the worm, like the hound. Since it is being done every day, civilization must find a way out of this impasse.
I plead for Paul. He and Simone had jumped into this together; to be sure, Paul knew that he was engaged, and Simone did not. On the other hand, Simone began it. Girls have often done the same. And then, besides, it was not the engagement; they each took their chances. In fiction we always have it the other way around, but life splits at fifty and fifty for us.
He gathered himself together, and with great precaution he walked around to his own abode with the view of eluding Clara and Louise until it should be time to take their Aunt Miriam to the sociable. He was drenched in humiliation. He had deceived a perfectly nice woman into proposing to him; he wished to God that he had a keeper. A glad thought shot through him. He had one; there sat the able, hot-tempered, and ardent Consuela ready to perform this much-needed task.
A voice in the gloom assailed his ears. It was the little voice of Clover Branch.
"Good evening, Mr. Brockway," said she; "don't forget you promised to take me for a little turn to-morrow morning."
He followed over the fence.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I can't take you; I'm leaving."
"You 're—y-you 're leaving?" Her voice faltered.
"Yes, leaving." He wished to God it did n't sound so like Weber and Field's. What a fool he was, anyway!
"Oh dear! oh dear!" wailed Clover. "Oh, I'm so disappointed! I lo-love m-motoring, and n-nobody but that red-headed Wharf boy ever takes me here."
"There, there," comforted Paul, "don't cry!" He sat down beside her. She continued to sob. It was too distressing. A great pity for this child's narrow life surged over Paul. He sat beside her on the bench for some time, comforting her, saying little kind things to her. In the end he kissed her. For a moment she sat with her head on his shoulder saying,
"I know I'm a fool, but it's all right now.
He sat there until it was time to go. He said good-by to her kindly; then, since she held her face up toward him, again he kissed her.
While he was eating strawberry ice-cream with the Lovely Lady, the voice of Mrs. Branch smote his ears:
"No," said she, "Clover ain't told me a thing about it yet; but I can see for myself how things are."
"Well, you know these city chaps," replied another unseen voice, "are mighty slippery."
With a vehemence into which the purpose of a lifetime had been compressed, "Slippery nothing!" replied Mrs. Branch. "All I 've got to say is that what my two eyes have seen let no man put asunder!"
The Lovely Lady's eyes sought his. Alas! laughter was in them!
"Run," she said in a low voice. "You said you were going to-morrow; go to-night. A good-natured thing like you has n't one eighth of a chance in a town like this."
Have they a chance anywhere, I wonder, except in those sheltered safe portions of the globe that Paul had inhabited? Women like Miriam are rarer every day. Every day we see returning from the fray able young Valkyries like Louise with heroes across their saddle-bows. Every day we see swains stuck helplessly in the fly-paper spread by crafty Claras.
Meanwhile, through the night, Paul Brockway, withered up in shame and humiliation, was speeding toward Consuela and safety. Broad and vulgar Comedy had pursued him to Simone Drummond, where Tragedy had brushed him with its wing, and now that nothing should be wanting to his abasement, grotesque Farce had stepped in to do its awful work upon his spirit.
In his flight through the darkness Paul felt as though pursued by witches; the world seemed full of able young women who could up and marry a man against his will before you could say Jack Robinson. Not in early Hebrew days did any pursued victim seek sanctuary more gladly than Paul. A little while before and the altar had seemed to him a prison; now it was deliverance.
He arrived rather late. Hemmingway was on the piazza. Paul perceived that nothing had changed. Hemmingway's voice boomed out in the darkness, "You only learn to understand them by making love to them."
"Understand hell!" thought Paul as he ascended the steps toward the haven of safety. "I suppose you only learn to understand dynamite by exploding it!"