From the latter neighborhood (picture: Rydal Mount) he wrote Sharlee as follows:
Sailing on the 21st, after the most glorious trip in history. Never so full of energy and enthusiasm. Running over with the most beautiful plans.
The exact nature of these plans the writer did not indicate, but Sharlee’s mother, who always got down to breakfast first and read all the postals as they came, explained that the reference was evidently to Blaines College. West, however, did not sail on the 21st, even though that date was some days behind his original intentions. The itinerary with which he had set out had him home again, in fact, on August 15. For in the stress and hurry of making ready 187 for the journey, together with a little preliminary rest which he felt his health required, he had to let his advertising campaign and other schemes for the good of the college go over until the fall. But collegiate methods obtaining in London were too fascinating, apparently, to be dismissed with any cursory glance. He sailed on the 25th, arrived home on the 3rd of September, and on the 4th surprised Sharlee by dropping in upon her in her office.
He was browned from his passage, appeared a little stouter, was very well dressed and good to look at, and fairly exuded vitality and pleasant humor. Sharlee was delighted and quite excited over seeing him again, though it may be noted, as shedding a side-light upon her character, that she did not greet him with “Hello, Stranger!” However, her manner of salutation appeared perfectly satisfactory to West.
They had the little office to themselves and plenty to talk about.
“Doubtless you got my postals?” he asked.
“Oh, stacks of them. I spent all one Saturday afternoon pasting them in an album as big as this table. They made a perfect fireside grand tour for me. What did you like best in all your trip?”
“I think,” said West, turning his handsome blue eyes full upon her, “that I like getting back.”
Sharlee laughed. “It’s done you a world of good; that’s plain, anyway. You look ready to remove mountains.”
“Why, I can eat them — bite their heads off! I feel like a fighting-cock who’s been starved a shade too long for the good of the bystanders.”
He laughed and waved his arms about to signify enormous vitality. Sharlee asked if he had been able to make a start yet with his new work.
“You might say,” he replied, “that I dived head-first into it from the steamer.”
He launched out into eager talk about his hopes for Blaines College. In all his wide circle of friends, he knew 188 no one who made so sympathetic and intelligent a listener as she. He talked freely, lengthily, even egotistically it might have seemed, had they not been such good friends and he so sure of her interest. Difficulties, it seemed, had already cropped out. He was not sure of the temper of his trustees, whom he had called together for an informal meeting that morning. Starting to advertise the great improvements that had taken place in the college, he had collided with the simple fact that no improvements had taken place. Even if he privately regarded his own accession in that light, he humorously pointed out, he could hardly advertise it, with old Dr. Gilfillan, the retired president, living around the corner and reading the papers. Again, taking his pencil to make a list of the special advantages Blaines had to offer, he was rather forcibly struck with the fact that it had no special advantages. But upon these and other difficulties, he touched optimistically, as though confident that under the right treatment, namely his treatment, all would soon yield.
Sharlee, fired by his gay confidence, mused enthusiastically. “It’s inspiring to think what can be done! Really, it is no empty dream that the number of students might be doubled — quadrupled — in five years.”
“Do you know,” said he, turning his glowing face upon her, “I’m not so eager for mere numbers now. That is one point on which my views have shifted during my studies this summer. My ideal is no longer a very large college — at least not necessarily large — but a college of the very highest standards. A distinguished faculty of recognized authorities in their several lines; an earnest student body, large if you can get them, but always made of picked men admitted on the strictest terms; degrees recognized all over the country as an unvarying badge of the highest scholarship — these are what I shall strive for. My ultimate ambition,” said Charles Gardiner West, dreamily, “is to make of Blaines College an institution like the University of Paris.
He sprang up presently with great contrition, part real, part mock, over having absorbed so much of the honest tax-payer’s property, the Departmental time. No, he could not be induced to appropriate a moment more; he was going to run on up the street and call on Colonel Cowles.
“How is the old gentleman, anyway?”
“His spirits,” said Sharlee, “were never better, and he is working like a horse. But I’m afraid the dear is beginning to feel his years a little.”
“He’s nearly seventy, you know. By the bye, what ever became of the young helper you and I unloaded on him last year — the queer little man with the queer little name?”
Sharlee saw that President West had entirely forgotten their conversation six months before, when he had promised to protect this same young helper from Colonel Cowles and the Post directors. She smiled indulgently at this evidence of the absent-mindedness of the great.
“Became of him! Why, you’re going to make him regular assistant editor at your directors’ meeting next month.”
“Are we, though! I had it in the back of my head that he was fired early in the summer.”
“Well, you see, when he saw the axe descending, he pulled off a little revolution all by himself and all of a sudden learned to write. Make the Colonel tell you about it.”
“I’m not surprised,” said West. “I told you last winter, you know, that I believed in that boy. Great heavens! It’s glorious to be back in this old town again!”
He went down the broad steps of the Capitol and out the winding white walkway through the park. Nearly everybody he met stopped him with a friendly greeting and a welcome home. He walked the shady path with his light stick swinging, his eyes seeing, not an arch of tangible trees, but the shining vista which dreamers call the Future. . . . He stood upon a platform, fronting a vast white meadow of upturned faces. He was speaking to this meadow, his theme being “Education and the Rise of the Masses,” and the people, displaying an enthusiasm rare at lectures upon 190 such topics, roared their approval as he shot at them great terse truths, the essence of wide reading and profound wisdom put up in pellets of pungent epigram. He rose at a long dinner-table, so placed that as he stood his eye swept down rows upon rows of other long tables, where the diners had all pushed back their chairs to turn and look at him. His words were honeyed, of a magic compelling power, so that as he reached his peroration, aged magnates could not be restrained from producing fountain-pen and check-book; he saw them pushing aside coffee-cups to indite rows of o’s of staggering length. Blaines College now tenanted a new home on a grassy knoll outside the city. The single ramshackle barn which had housed the institution prior to the coming of President West was replaced by a cluster of noble edifices of classic marble. The president sat in his handsome office, giving an audience to a delegation of world-famous professors from the University of Paris. They had been dispatched by the French nation to study his methods on the ground.
“Why, hello, Colonel! Bless your heart, I am glad to see you, sir. . . .”
Colonel Cowles, looking up from his ancient seat, gave an exclamation of surprise and pleasure. He welcomed the young man affectionately. West sat down, and once more pen-sketched his travels and his plans for Blaines College. He was making a second, or miniature, grand tour that afternoon, regreeting all his friends, and was thus compelled to tell his story many times; but his own interest in it appeared ever fresh. For Blaines he asked and was promised the kindly offices of the Post.
The Colonel, in his turn, gave a brief account of his vacationless summer, of his daily work, of the progress of the Post’s Policies.
“I hear,” said West, “that that little scientist I made you a present of last year has made a ten-strike.”
“Queed? An extraordinary thing,” said the Colonel, relighting his cigar. “I was on the point of discharging him, 191 you remember, with the hearty approval of the directors. His stuff was dismal, abysmal, and hopeless. One day he turned around and began handing in stuff of a totally different kind. First-rate, some of it. I thought at first that he must be hiring somebody to do it for him. Did you see the paper while you were away?”
“Very irregularly, I’m sorry to say.”
“Quite on his own hook, the boy turned up one day with an article on the Centre Street ‘mashers’ that was a screamer. You know what the situation was — ”
“I had for some time had it in mind to tackle it myself. The fact was that we were developing a class of boy Don Juans that were a black disgrace to the city. It was a rather unpleasant subject, but this young man handled it with much tact, as well as with surprising vigor and ability. His improvement seemed to date from right there. I encouraged him to follow up his first effort, and he wrote a strong series which attracted attention all through the State, and has already brought about decided improvement.”
“Splendid! You know,” said West, “the first time I ever looked at that boy, I was sure he had the stuff in him.”
“Then you are a far keener observer than I. However, the nature of the man seems to be undergoing some subtle change, a curious kind of expansion — I don’t remember anything like it in my experience. A more indefatigable worker I never saw, and if he goes on this way . . . Well, God moves in a mysterious way. It’s a delight to see you again, Gardiner. Take supper with me at the club, won’t you? I feel lonely and grown old, as the poet says.”
West accepted, and presently departed on his happy round. The Colonel glanced at his watch; it was 3.30 o’clock, and he fell industriously to work again. On the stroke of four, as usual, the door of the adjoining office opened, and he heard his assistant enter and seat himself at the new desk recently provided for him. Another half-hour passed, and the colonel, putting a double cross-mark 192 at the bottom of his paper — that being how you write “Finis” on the press — raised his head.
The connecting door opened, and the young man walked in. His chief eyed him thoughtfully.
“Young man, you have picked up a complexion like a professional beauty’s. What is your secret?’
“I daresay it is exercise. I have just walked out to Kern’s Castle and back.”
“H’m. Five miles if it’s a step.”
“And a half. I do it — twice a week — in an hour and seven minutes.”
The Colonel thought of his own over-rubicund cheek and sighed. “Well, whom or what do you wish to crucify to-morrow?”
“I am at your orders there.”
“Have you examined Deputy Clerk Folsom’s reply to Councilman Hannigan’s charge? What do you think of it?”
“I think it puts Hannigan in a very awkward position.”
“I agree with you. Suppose you seek to show that to the city in half a column.”
Queed bowed. “I may, perhaps, remind you, Colonel, of the meeting in New York to-morrow to prepare for the celebration of the Darwin centennial. If you desired I should be glad to prepare, apropos of this, a brief monograph telling in a light, popular way what Darwin did for the world.”
“And what did Darwin do for the world?”
The grave young man made a large grave gesture which indicated the immensity of Darwin’s doings for the world.
“Which topic do you prefer to handle — Folsom on Hannigan, or what Darwin did for the world?”
“I think,” said Queed, “that I should prefer to handle both.”
“Ten people will read Hannigan to one who reads Darwin.”
“Don’t you think that it is the Post’s business to reduce that proportion?”
“Take them both,” said the Colonel presently. “But always remember this: the great People are more interested in a cat-fight at the corner of Seventh and Centre Streets than they are in the greatest exploit of the greatest scientific theorist that ever lived.”
“I will remember what you say, Colonel.”
“I want you,” resumed Colonel Cowles, “to take supper with me at the club. Not to-night — I’m engaged. Shall we say to-morrow, at seven?”
Queed accepted without perceptible hesitation. Some time had passed since he became aware that the Colonel had somehow insinuated himself into that list of friends which had halted so long at Tim and Murphy Queed. Besides, he had a genuine, unscientific desire to see what a real club looked like inside. So far, his knowledge of clubs was absolutely confined to the Mercury Athletic Association, B. Klinker, President.
The months of May, June, July, and August had risen and died since Queed, threshing out great questions through the still watches of the night, had resolved to give a modified scheme of life a tentative and experimental trial. He had kept this resolution, according to his wont. Probably his first liking for Colonel Cowles dated back to the very beginning of this period. It might be traced to the day when that precariously-placed assistant had submitted his initial article on the thesis his friend Buck had given him — the first article in all his life that the little Doctor had ever dipped warm out of human life. This momentous composition he had brought and laid upon the Colonel’s desk, as usual; but he did not follow his ancient custom by instantly vanishing toward the Scriptorium. Instead he stuck fast in the sanctum, not pretending to look at an encyclopedia or out of the window as another man might have done, but standing rigid on the other side of the table, gaze glued upon the perusing Colonel. Presently the old editor looked up.
“Did you write this?”
“Yes. Why not?”
“It’s about as much like your usual style as my style is like Henry James’s.”
“You don’t consider it a good editorial, then?”
“You have not necessarily drawn the correct inference from my remark. I consider it an excellent editorial. In fact — I shall make it my leader to-morrow morning. But that has nothing to do with how you happen to be using a style exactly the reverse of your own.”
Queed had heaved a great sigh. The article occupied three pages of copy-paper in a close handwriting, and represented sixteen hours’ work. Its author had rewritten it eleven times, incessantly referring to his text-book, the files of the Post, and subjecting each phrase to the most gruelling examination before finally admitting it to the perfect structure. However, it seemed no use to bore one’s employer with details such as these.
”I have been doing a little studying of late — ”
“Under excellent masters, it seems. Now this phrase, ‘the ultimate reproach and the final infamy” — the Colonel unconsciously smacked his lips over it — “why, sir, it sounds like one of my own.”
“If you must know, it is one of your own. You used it on Octorber 26, 1900, during, as you will recall, the closing days of the presidential campaign.”
The Colonel stared at him, bewildered.
“I decided to learn editorial-writing — as the term is understood,” Queed reluctantly explained. “Therefore, I have been sitting up till two o’clock in the mornings, studying the files of the Post, to see exactly how you did it.”
The Colonel’s gaze gradually softened. “You might have been worse employed; I compliment and congratulate you,” said he; and then added: “Whether you have really caught the idea and mastered the technique or not, it is too soon to say. But I’ll say frankly that this article is worth more 195 to me than everything else that you’ve written for the Post put together.”
“I am — ahem — gratified that you are pleased with it.”
The Colonel, whose glance had gone out of the window, swung around in his chair, and smote the table a testy blow.
“For the Lord’s sake,” he exploded, “get some heat in you! Squirt some color into your way of looking at things! Be kind and good-natured in your heart — just as I am at this moment — but for heaven’s sake learn to write as if you were mad, and only kept from yelling by phenomenal will-power.”
This was in early May. Many other talks upon the art of editorial writing did the two have, as the days went. The Colonel, mystified but pleased by revelations of actuality and life in his heretofore too-embalmed assistant, found an increasing interest in developing him. Here was a youth, with the qualities of potential great valuableness, and the wise editor, as soon as this appeared, gave him his chance by calling him off the fields of taxation and currency and assigning him to topics plucked alive from the day’s news.
On the fatal 15th of May, the Colonel told Queed merely that the Post desired his work as long as it showed such promise as it now showed. That was all the talk about the dismissal that ever took place between them. The Colonel was no believer in fulsome praise for the young. But to others he talked more freely, and this was how it happened that the daughter of his old friend John Randolph Weyland knew that Mr. Queed was slated for an early march upstairs.
For Queed the summer had been a swift and immensely busy one. To write editorials that have a relation with everyday life, it gradually became clear to him that the writer must himself have some such relation. In June the Mercury Athletic Association had been thoroughly reorganized and rejuvenated, and regular meets were held every Saturday night. At Trainer Klinker’s command, Queed had resolutely permitted himself to be inducted into 196 the Mercury; moreover, he made it a point of honor to attend the Saturday night functions, where he had the ideal chance to match his physical competence against that of other men. Early in the sessions at the gymnasium, Buck had introduced his pupil to boxing-glove and punching-bag, his own special passions, and now his orders ran that the Doc should put on the gloves with any of the Mercuries that were willing. Most of the Mercuries were willing, and on these early Saturday nights, Stark’s rocked with the falls of Dr. Queed. But under Klinker’s stern discipline, he was already acquiring something like a form. By midsummer he had gained a small reputation for scientific precision buttressed by invincible inability to learn when he was licked, and autumn found many of the Mercuries decidedly less Barkis-like than of old.
Queed lived now in the glow of perfect physical health, a very different thing, as Fifi had once pointed out, from not merely feeling sick. In the remarkable development that his body was undergoing, he had found an unexpected pride. But the Mercury, though he hardly realized it at the time, was useful to him in a bigger way than bodily improvement.
Here he met young men who were most emphatically in touch with life. They treated him as an equal with reference to his waxing muscular efficiency, and with some respect as regards his journalistic connection. “Want you to shake hands with the editor of the Post,” so kindly Buck would introduce him. After the bouts or the “exhibition” of a Saturday, there was always a smoker, and in the highly instructed and expert talk of his club-mates the Doctor learned many things that were to be of value to him later on. Some of the Mercuries, besides their picturesque general knowledge, knew much more about city politics than ever got into the papers. There was Jimmy Wattrous, for example, already rising into fame as Plonny Neal’s most promising lieutenant. Jimmy bared his heart with the Mercuries, and was particularly friendly with the representa197tive of the great power which moulds public opinion. Now and then, Neal himself looked in, Plonny, the great boss, who was said to hold the city in the hollow of his hand. Many an editorial that surprised and pleased Colonel Cowles was born in that square room back of Stark’s.
And all these things took time . . . took time . . . And there were nights when Queed woke wide-eyed with cold sweat on his brow and the cold fear in his heart that he and posterity were being cheated, that he was making an irretrievable and ghastly blunder.
Desperate months were May, June, and July for the little Doctor. In all this time he never once put his own pencil to his own paper. Manuscript and Schedule lay locked together in a drawer, toward which he could never bear to glance. Thirteen hours a day he gave to the science of editorial writing; two hours a day to the science of physical culture; one hour a day (computed average) to the science of Human Intercourse; but to the Science of Sciences never an hour on never a day. The rest was food and sleep. Such was his life for three months; a life that would have been too horrible to contemplate, had it not been that in all of his new sciences he uncovered a growing personal interest which kept him constantly astonished at himself.
By the end of June he found it safe to give less and less time to the study of editorial paradigms, for he had the technique at his fingers’ ends; and so he gave more and more time to the amassment of material. For he had made a magnificent boast, and he never had much idea of permitting it to turn out empty, for all his nights of torturing misgivings. He read enormously with expert facility and a beautifully trained memory; read history, biography, memoirs, war records, old newspapers, old speeches, councilmanic proceedings, departmental reports — everything he could lay his hands on that promised capital for an editorial writer in that city and that State. By the end of July he felt that he could slacken up here, too, having pretty well exhausted the field, and the first day of August — red-letter day in 198 the annals of science — saw him unlock the sacred drawer with a close-set face. And now the Schedule, so long lapsed, was reinstated, with Four Hours a Day segregated to Magnum Opus. A pitiful little step at reconstruction, perhaps, but still a step. And henceforth every evening, between 9.30 and 1.30, Dr. Queed sat alone in his Scriptorium and embraced his love.
Insensibly summer faded into autumn, and still the science of Human Intercourse was faithfully practiced. The Paynter parlor knew Queed not infrequently in these days, where he could sometimes be discovered not merely suffering, but encouraging, Major Brooke to talk to him of his victories over the Republicans in 1870-75. Nor was he a stranger to Nicolovius’s sitting-room, having made it an iron-clad rule with himself to accept one out of every two invitations to that charming cloister. After all, there might be something to learn from both the Major’s fiery reminiscences and the old professor’s cultured talk. He himself, he found, tended naturally toward silence. Listeners appeared to be needed in a world where the supply of talkers exceeded the demand. The telling of humorous anecdote he had definitely excided from his creed. It did not appear needed of him; and he was sure that the author of his creed would herself have authorized him to drop it. He never missed Fifi now, according to the way of this world, but he thought of her sometimes, which is all that anybody has a right to expect. Miss Weyland he had not seen since the day Fifi died. Mrs. Paynter had been away all summer, a firm spinster cousin coming in from the country to run the boarders, and the landlady’s agent came to the house no more. Buck Klinker he saw incessantly; he was the first person in the world, probably, that the little Doctor had ever really liked. It was Buck who suggested to his pupil, in October, a particularly novel experience for his soul’s unfolding, which Queed, though failing to adopt it, sometimes dandled before his mind’s eye with a kind of horrified fascination, viz: the taking of Miss Miller to the picture shows.
But the bulk of his time this autumn was still going to his work on the Post. With every fresh wonderment, he faced the fact that this work, first taken up solely to finance the Scriptorium, and next enlarged to satisfy a most irrational instinct, was growing slowly but surely upon his personal interest. Certainly the application of a new science to a new set of practical conditions was stimulating to his intellect; the panorama of problems whipped out daily by the telegraph had a warmth and immediateness wanting to the abstractions of closet philosophy. Queed’s articles lacked the Colonel’s expert fluency, his loose but telling vividness, his faculty for broad satire which occasionally set the whole city laughing. On the other hand, they displayed an exact knowledge of fact, a breadth of study and outlook, and a habit of plumbing bottom on any and all subjects which critical minds found wanting in the Colonel’s delightful discourses. And nowadays the young man’s articles were constantly reaching a higher and higher level of readability. Not infrequently they attracted public comment, not only, indeed not oftenest, inside the State. Queed knew what it was to be quoted in that identical New York newspaper from whose pages, so popular for wrapping around pork chops, he had first picked out his letters.
Of these things the honorable Post directors were not unmindful. They met on October 10, and upon Colonel Cowles’s cordial recommendation, named Mr. Queed assistant editor of the Post at a salary of fifteen hundred dollars per annum. And Mr. Queed accepted the appointment without a moment’s hesitation.
So far, then, the magnificent boast had been made good. The event fell on a Saturday. The Sunday was sunny, windy, and crisp. Free for the day and regardful of the advantages of open-air pedestrianism, the new assistant editor put on his hat from the dinner-table and struck for the open country. He rambled far, over trails strange to him, and came up short, about 4.30 in the afternoon, in a grove of immemorial pines which he instantly remembered to have seen before.
Green was the turf above Fifi, sweet the peacefulness of her little churchyard. Her cousin Sharlee, who had loved her well, disposed her flowers tenderly, and stood awhile in reverie of the sort which the surroundings so irresistibly invited. But the schedules of even electric car-lines are inexorable; and presently she saw from a glance at her watch that she must turn her face back to the city of the living.
On the little rustic bridge a hundred yards away, a man was standing, with rather the look of having stopped at just that minute. From a distance Sharlee’s glance swept him lightly; she saw that she did not know him; and not fancying his frank stare, she drew near and stepped upon the bridge with a splendid unconsciousness of his presence. But just when she was safely by, her ears were astonished by his voice speaking her name.
“How do you do, Miss Weyland?”
She turned, surprised by a familiar note in the deep tones, looked, and — yes, there could be no doubt of it — it was —
“Mr. Queed! Why, how do you do!”
They shook hands. He removed his hat for the process, 201 doing it with a certain painstaking precision which betrayed want of familiarity with the engaging rite.
“I have n’t seen you for a long time,” said Sharlee brightly.
The dear, old remark — the moss-covered remark that hung in the well! How on earth could we live without it? In behalf of Sharlee, however, some excuses can be urged; for, remembering the way she had talked to Mr. Queed once on the general subject of failures, she found herself struggling against a most absurd sense of embarrassment.
“No,” replied Queed, replacing his hat as though following from memory the diagram in a book of etiquette. He added, borrowing one of the Colonel’s favorite expressions, “I hope you are very well.”
“Yes, indeed. . . . I’m so glad you spoke to me, for to tell you the truth, I never, never, should have known you if you had n’t.”
“You think that I’ve changed? Well,” said he, gravely, “I ought to have. You might say that I’ve given five months to it.”
“You’ve changed enormously.”
She examined with interest this new Mr. Queed who loafed on rustic bridges, five miles from a Sociology, and hailed passing ladies on his own motion. He appeared, indeed, decidedly altered.
In the first place, he looked decidedly bigger, and, to come at once to the fact, he was. For Klinker’s marvelous exercises for all parts of the body had done more than add nineteen pounds to his weight, and deepen his chest, and broaden his shoulders. They had pulled and tugged at the undeveloped tissues until they had actually added a hard-won three-quarters of an inch to his height. The stoop was gone, and instead of appearing rather a small man, Mr. Queed now looked full middle-height or above. He wore a well-made suit of dark blue, topped by a correct derby. His hair was cut trim, his color was excellent, and, last miracle of all, he wore no spectacles. It was astonishing but true. The 202 beautiful absence of these round disfigurements brought into new prominence a pair of grayish eyes which did not look so very professorial, after all.
But what Sharlee liked best about this unglassed and unscienced Mr. Queed was his entire absence of any self-consciousness in regard to her. When he told her that Easter Monday night that he cheerfully took his turn on the psychological operating-table, anæsthetics barred, and no mercy asked or given, it appeared that he, alone among men, really meant it.
Under the tiny bridge, a correspondingly tiny brook purled without surcease, its heart set upon somewhere finding the sea. Over their heads a glorious maple was taking off its coat of many colors in the wind. Sharlee put back a small hand into a large muff and said: —
“At church this morning I saw Colonel Cowles. He told me about you. I don’t know how you look at it, but I think you’re a subject for the heartiest congratulations. So, here are mine.”
“The men at the Mercury were pleased, too,” mused Mr. Queed, looking out over the landscape. “Do you ever read my articles now?”
“For many years,” said Sharlee, evasively, “I have always read the Post from cover to cover. It’s been to me like those books you see in the advertisements and nowhere else. Grips the reader from the start, and she cannot lay it down till the last page is turned.”
A brief smile appeared in the undisguised eyes. “Do you notice any distinctions now between me and the Encyclopedia Britannica?”
“Unless you happen to refer to Lombroso or Buckle or Aristotle or Plato,” said Sharlee, not noticing the smile, “I never know whether it’s your article or Colonel Cowles’s. Do you mind walking on? It’s nearly time for my car.”
“A year ago,” said he, “I certainly should not have liked that. I do now, since it means that I have succeeded in what I set out to do. I’ve thought a good deal about 203 that tired bricklayer this summer,” he went on, quite unembarrassed. “By the way, I know one personally now; Timrod Burns, of the Mercury. Only I can’t say that I ever saw Timmy tired.”
Down the woodland path they passed side by side, headed for the little station known as Stop 11. Sharlee was pleased that he had remembered about the bricklayer; she could have been persuaded that his remark was vaguely intended to convey some sort of thanks to her. But saying no more of this, she made it possible to introduce casually a reference to his vanished glasses.
“Yes,” said he, “I knocked them off the bureau and broke them one day. So I just let them go. They were rather striking-looking glasses, I always thought. I don’t believe I ever saw another pair quite like them.”
“But,” said Sharlee, puzzled, “do you find that you can see perfectly well without them?”
“Oh, yes; if anything, better.” He paused, and added with entire seriousness: “You see those spectacles, striking-looking as they were, were only window-glass. I bought them at a ten-cent store on Sixth Avenue when I was twelve years old.”
“Oh! What made you do that?”
“All the regulars at the Astor Library wore them. At the time it seemed to be the thing to do, and of course they soon became second nature to me. But I daresay no one ever had a sounder pair of eyes than I.”
To Sharlee this seemed one of the most pathetic of all his confidences; she offered no comment.
“You were in the churchyard,” stated Mr. Queed. “I was there just ahead of you. I was struck with that motto or text on the headstone, and shall look it up when I get home. I have been making a more careful study of your Bible this autumn and have found it exceptionally interesting. You, I suppose, subscribe to all the tenets of the Christian faith?”
Sharlee hesitated. “I’m not sure that I can answer that 204 with a direct yes, and I will not answer it with any sort of no. So I’ll say that I believe in them all, modified a little in places to satisfy my reason.”
“Ah, they are subject to modification, then?”
“Certainly. Are n’t you? Am not I? Whatever is alive is subject to modification. These doctrines,” said she, “are evolving because they have the principle of life in them.”
“So you are an evolutionist?”
“The expert in evolutionary sociology will hardly quarrel with me for that.”
“The expert in evolutionary sociology deals with social organisms, nations, the human race. Your Bible deals with Smith, Brown, and Jones.”
“Well, what are your organisms and nations but collections of my Smiths, Browns, and Joneses? My Bible deals with individuals because there is nothing else to deal with. The individual conscience is the beginning of everything.”
“Ah! So you would found your evolution of humanity upon the increasing operation of what you call conscience?”
“Probably I would not give all the credit to what I call conscience. Probably I’d give some of it to what I call intellect.”
“In that case you would almost certainly fall into a fatal error.”
“Why, don’t you consider that the higher the intellectual development the higher the type?”
“Suppose we go more slowly,” said Mr. Queed, intently plucking a dead bough from an overhanging young oak. “How do you go about measuring a type? When you speak of a high type, exactly what do you mean?”
“When I speak of a high type,” said Sharlee, who really did not know exactly what she meant, “I will merely say that I mean a type that is high — lofty, you know — towering over other types.
She flaunted a gloved hand to suggest infinite altitude.
“You ought to mean,” he said patiently, “a type which most successfully sketches the civilization of the future, a 205 type best fitted to dominate and survive. Now you have only to glance at history to see that intellectual supremacy is no guarantee whatever of such a type.”
“Oh, Mr. Queed, I don’t know about that.”
“Then I will convince you,” said he. “Look at the French — the most brilliant nation intellectually among all the European peoples. Where are they in the race to-day? The evolutionist sees in them familiar symptoms of a retrogression which rarely ends but in one way. Look at the Greeks. Every schoolboy knows that the Greeks were vastly the intellectual superiors of any dominant people of to-day. An anthropologist of standing assures us that the intellectual interval separating the Greek of the Periclean age from the modern Anglo-Saxon is as great as the interval between the Anglo-Saxon and the African savage. Point to a man alive to-day who is the intellectual peer of Aristotle, Plato, or Socrates. Yet where are the Greeks? What did their exalted intellectual equipment do to save them in the desperate struggle for the survival of the fittest? The Greeks of to-day are selling fruit at corner stands; Plato’s descendants shine the world’s shoes. They live to warn away the most causal evolutionist from the theory that intellectual supremacy necessarily means supremacy of type. Where, then, you may ask, does lie the principle of triumphant evolution? Here we stand at the innermost heart of every social scheme. Let us glance a moment,” said Mr. Queed, “at Man, as we see him first emerging from the dark hinterlands of history.”
So, walking through the sweet autumn woods with the one girl he knew in all the world — barring only Miss Miller — Queed spoke heartily of the rise and fall of peoples and the destiny of man. Thus conversing, they came out of the woods and stood upon the platform of the rudimentary station.
The line ran here on an elevation, disappearing in the curve of a heavy cut two hundred yards further north. In front the ground fell sharply and rolled out in a vast green meadow, almost treeless and level as a mill-pond. Far off on the horizon rose the blue haze of a range of foothills, 206 upon which the falling sun momentarily stood, like a gold-piece edge-up on a table. Nearer, to their right, was a strip of uncleared woods, a rainbow of reds and pinks. Through the meadow ran a little stream, such as a boy of ten could leap; for the instant it stood fire-red under the sun.
Sharlee, obtaining the floor for a moment, asked Queed how his own work had been going. He told her that in one sense it had not been going at all: not a chapter written from May to September.
“However,” he said, with an unclouded face, “I am now giving six hours a day to it. And it is just as well to go slow. The smallest error of angle at the centre means a tremendous going astray at the circumference. I — ahem — do not feel that my summer has been wasted, by any means. You follow me? It is worth some delay to be doubly sure that I put down no plus signs as minuses.
“Yes, of course. How beautiful that is out there, is n’t it?”
His eyes followed hers over the sunset spaces. “No, it is too quiet, too monotonous. If there must be scenery, let it have some originality and character. You yourself are very beautiful, I think.”
Sharlee started, almost violently, and colored perceptibly. If a text-book in differential calculus, upon the turning of a page, had thrown problems to the winds and begun gibbering purple poems of passion, she could not have been more completely taken aback. However, there was no mistaking the utter and veracious impersonality of his tone.
“Oh, do you think so? I’m very glad, because I’m afraid not many people do. . . .”
Mr. Queed remained silent. So far, so good; the conversation stood in a position eminently and scientifically correct; but Sharlee could not for the life of her forbear to add: “But I had no idea you ever noticed people’s looks.”
“So far as I remember, I never did before. I think it was the appearance of your eyes as you looked out over the plain that attracted my attention. Then, looking closer, I noticed that you are beautiful.”
The compliment was so unique and perfect that another touch could only spoil it. Sharlee immediately changed the subject.
“Oh, Mr. Queed, has the Department you or Colonel Cowles to thank for the editorial about the reformatory this morning?”
“Both of us. He suggested it and I wrote it. So you really cannot tell us apart?
She shook her head. “All this winter we shall work preparing the State’s mind for this institution, convincing it so thoroughly that when the legislature meets again, it simply will not dare to refuse us. When I mention we and us, understand that I am speaking to you Departmentally. After that there are ten thousand other things that we want to do. But every thing is so immortally slow! We are not allowed to raise our fingers without a hundred years’ war first. Don’t you ever wish for money — oceans and oceans of lovely money?”
“Good heavens, no!”
“I do. I’d pepper this State with institutions. Did you know,” she said sweetly, “that I once had quite a little pot of money? When I was one month old.”
“Yes,” said Queed, “I knew. In fact, I had not been here a week before I heard of Henry G. Surface. Major Brooke speaks of him constantly, Colonel Cowles occasionally. Do you,” he asked, “care much about that?”
“Well,” said Sharlee, gently, “I’m glad my father never knew.”
From half a mile away, behind the bellying woodland, a faint hoot served notice that the city-bound car was sweeping rapidly toward them. It was on the tip of Queed’s tongue to remind Miss Weyland that, in the case of Fifi, she had taken the ground that the dead did know what was going on upon earth. But he did not do so. The proud way in which she spoke of my father threw another thought uppermost in his mind.
“Miss Weyland,” he said abruptly, “I made a — confi 208dence to you, of a personal nature, the first time I ever talked with you. I did not, it is true, ask you to regard it as a confidence, but — ”
“I know,” interrupted Sharlee, hurriedly. “But of course I have regarded it in that way, and have never spoken of it to anybody.”
“Thank you. That was what I wished to say.”
If Sharlee had wanted to measure now the difference that she saw in Mr. Queed, she could have done it by the shyness that they both felt in approaching a topic they had once handled with the easiest simplicity. She was glad of his sensitiveness; it became him better than his early callousness. Sharlee wore a suit of black-and-gray pin-checks, and it was very excellently tailored; for if she purchased but two suits a year, she invariably paid money to have them made by one who knew how. Her hat was of the kind that other girls study with cool diligence, while feigning engrossment in the conversation; and, repairing to their milliners, give orders for accurate copies of it. From it floated a silky-looking veil of gray-white, which gave her face that airy, cloud-like setting that photographers of the baser sort so passionately admire. The place was as windy as Troy; for far on the ringing plains the breeze raced and fell upon this veil, ceaselessly kicking it here and there, in a way that would have driven a strong man lunatic in seven minutes. Sharlee, though a slim girl and no stronger than another, remained entirely unconscious of the behavior of the veil; long familiarity had bred contempt for its boisterous play; and, with her eyes a thousand miles away, she was wishing with her whole heart that she dared ask Mr. Queed a question.
Whereupon, like her marionette that she worked by a string, he opened his mouth and gravely answered her.
“I have three theories about my father. One is that he is an eccentric psychologist with peculiar, not to say extraordinary, ideas about the bringing up of children. Another is that because of his own convenience or circumstances, he does not care to own me as I am now. The third is that 209 because of my convenience or circumstances, he thinks that I may not care to own him as he is now. I have never heard of or from him since the letter I showed you, nearly nine months ago. I rather incline to the opinion,” he said, “that my father is dead.”
“If he is n’t,” said Sharlee, gently, as the great car whizzed up and stopped with a jerk, “I am very sure that you are to find him some day. If he had n’t meant that, he would never have asked you to come all the way from New York to settle here — do you think so?”
“Do you know?” said Mr. Queed — so absorbedly as to leave her to clamber up the car steps without assistance — “if I subscribed to the tenets of your religion, I might believe that my father was merely a mythical instrument of Providence — a tradition created out of air just to bring me down here.”
“Why,” said Sharlee, looking down from the tall platform, as the car whizzed and buzzed and slowly started, “are n’t you coming?”
“No, I’m walking,’ said Mr. Queed, and remembered at the last moment to pluck off his glistening new derby.
Thus they parted, almost precipitately, and, for all of him, might never have met again in this world. Half a mile up the road, it came to the young man that their farewell had lacked that final word of ceremony to which he now aspired. To those who called at his office, to the men he met at the sign of the Mercury, even to Nicolovius when he betook himself from the lamplit sitting-room, it was his carefully attained habit to say: “I hope to see you again soon.” He meant the hope, with these, only in the most general and perfunctory sense. Why, then, had he omitted this civil tag and postscript in his parting with Miss Weyland, to whom he could have said it — yes, certainly — with more than usual sincerity? Certainly; he really did hope to see her again soon. For she was an intelligent, sensible girl, and knew more about him than anybody in the world except Tim Queed.
Gradually it was borne in upon him that the reason he had failed to tell Miss Weyland that he hoped to see her again soon was exactly the fact that he did hope to see her again soon. Off his guard for this reason, he had fallen into a serious lapse. Looking with untrained eyes into the future, he saw no way in which a man who had failed to tell a lady that he hoped to see her again soon was ever to retrieve his error. It was good-by, Charles Weyland, for sure.
However, Miss Weyland herself resolved all these perplexities by appearing at Mrs. Paynter's supper-table before the month was out; and this exploit she repeated at least once, and maybe twice, during the swift winter that followed.
On January 14, or February 23, or it might have been March 2, Queed unexpectedly reëntered the dining-room toward eight o’clock, with the grave announcement that he had a piece of news. Sharlee was alone in the room, concluding the post-prandial chores with the laying of the Turkey-red cloth. She was in fickle vein this evening, as it chanced; and instead of respectfully inquiring the nature of his tidings, as was naturally and properly expected of her, she received the young man with a fire of breezy inconsequentialities which puzzled and annoyed him greatly.
She admitted, without pressure, that she had been hoping for his return; had in fact been dawdling over the duties of the dining-room on that very expectation. From there her fancy grew. Audaciously she urged his reluctant attention to the number of her comings to Mrs. Paynter’s in recent months. With an exceedingly stagey counterfeit of a downcast eye, she hinted at gossip lately arising from public observation of these visits: gossip, namely, to the effect that Miss Weyland’s ostensible suppings with her aunt were neither better nor worse than so many bold calls upon Mr. Queed. Her lip quivered alarmingly over such a confession; undoubtedly she looked enormously abashed.
Mr. Queed, for his part, looked highly displeased and more than a shade uncomfortable. He annihilated all such foolishness 211 by a look and a phrase; observed, in a stately opening, that she would hardly trouble to deny empty rumor of this sort, since —
“I can’t deny it, you see! Because,” she interrupted, raising her eyes and turning upon him a sudden dazzling yet outrageous smile — “it’s true.”
She skipped away, smiling to herself, happily putting things away and humming an air. Queed watched her in annoyed silence. His adamantine gravity inspired her with an irresistible impulse to levity; so the law of averages claimed its innings.
“While you are thinking up what to say,” she rattled on, “might I ask your advice on a sociological problem that was just laid before me by Laura?”
“Well,” he said impatiently, “who is Laura?”
“Laura, is the loyal negress who cooks the food for Mrs. Paynter’s bright young men. Her husband first deserted her, next had the misfortune to get caught while burgling, and is at present doing time, as the saying is. Now a young bright-skin negro desires to marry Laura, and speaks in urgent tones of the divorce court. Her attitude is more than willing, but she learns that a divorce, at the lowest conceivable price, will cost fifteen dollars, and she had rather put the money in a suit and bonnet. But a thought no larger than a man’s hand has crossed her mind, and she said to me just now: ‘I ’clare, Miss Sharly, it do look like, when you got a beau and he want to marry you, and all the time axin’ and coaxin’ an’ beggin’ you to get a div-o’ce, it do look like he ought to pay for the div-o’ce.’ Now what answer has your old science to give to a real heart problem such as that?”
“May I ask that you will put the napkins away, or at the least remain stationary? It is impossible for me to talk with you while you fluttering about in this way.”
At last she came and sat down meekly at the table, her hands clasped before her in rather a devotional attitude, while he, standing, fixed her with his unwavering gaze.
“I speak to you,” he began, uncompromisingly, “as to Mrs. Paynter’s agent. Professor Nicolovius is going to move in the spring and take an apartment or small house. He has invited me to share such apartment or house with him.”
“What! But you declined?”
“On the contrary, I accepted at once.”
Mrs. Paynter’s agent was much surprised and interested by this news, and said so. “But how in the world,” she went on, puzzled, “did you make him like you so? I always supposed that he hated everybody — he does me, I know.”
“I believe he does hate everybody but me.”
“Strange — extraordinary!” said Sharlee, picturing the two scholars alone together in their flat, endeavoring to soft-boil eggs on one of those little fixtures over the gas.
“I can see nothing in the least extraordinary in the refusal of a cultured gentleman to hate me.”
“I don’t mean it that way at all — not at all! But Professor Nicolovius must know cultured gentlemen, congenial roomers, who are nearer his own age — ”
“Oh, not necessarily.,” said Queed, and sat down in the chair by her, Major Brooke’s chair. “He is a most unsocial sort of man,” — this from the little Doctor! — “and I doubt if he knows anybody better than he knows me. That he knows me so well is due solely to the fact that we have been forced on each other three times a day for over a year. For the first month or so after I came here, we remained entire strangers, I remember, and passed each other on the stairs without speaking. Gradually, however, he has come to take a great fancy to me.”
“And is that why you are going off to a honeymoon cottage with him?”
“Hardly. I am going because it will be the best sort of arrangement for me.”
“I will pay, you see,” said Queed, “no more than I am paying here; for that matter, I have no doubt that I could beat him down to five dollars a week, if I cared to do so. 213 In return I shall have decidedly greater comforts and conveniences, far greater quiet and independence, and complete freedom from interruptions and intrusions. The arrangement will be a big gain in several ways for me.”
“And have you taken a great fancy to Professor Nicolovius, too?”
“Oh, no! — not at all. But that has very little to do with it. At least he has the great gift of silence.”
Sharlee looked at his absorbed face closely. She thought that his head in profile was very fine, though certainly his nose was too prominent for beauty. But what she was wondering was whether the little Doctor had really changed so much after all.
“Well,” said she, slowly, “I’m sorry you’re going.”
“Sorry — why? It would appear to me that under the tenets of your religion you ought to be glad. You ought to compliment me for going.”
“I don’t find anything in the tenets of my religion that requires you to go off and room-keep with Professor Nicolovius.”
“You do not? It is a tremendous kindness to him, I assure you. To have a place of his own has long been his dream, he tells me; but he cannot afford it without the financial assistance I would give. Again, even if he could finance it, he would not venture to try it alone, because of his health. It appears that he is subject to some kind of attacks — heart, I suppose — and does not want to be alone. I have heard him walking his floor at 3 o’clock in the morning. Do you know anything about his life?”
“I know everything.”
He paused for her to ask him questions, that he might have the pleasure of refusing her. But instead of prying, Sharlee said: “Still I’m sorry that you are going.”
“Because,” said Sharlee.
“Because I don’t like his eyes.”
“The question, from your point of view,” said Mr. Queed, “is a moral — not an optic one. These acts which confer benefits on others,” he continued, “so peculiarly commended by your religion, are conceived by it to work moral good to the doer. The eyes (which you use synecdochically to represent the character) of the person to whom they are done, have nothing — ”
“Mr. Queed,” said Sharlee, briskly interrupting his exegetical words, “I believe you are going off with Professor Nicolovius chiefly because—you think he needs you!”
He looked up sharply, much surprised and irritated. “That is absolutely foolish and absurd. I have nothing in the world to do with what Professor Nicolovius needs. You must always remember that I am not a subscriber to the tenets of your religion.”
“It is not too late. I always remember that too.”
“But I must say frankly that I am much surprised at the way you interpret those tenets. For if — ”
“Oh, you should never have tested me on such a question! Don’t you see that I’m the judge sitting in his or her own case? Two boarders gone at one swoop! How shall I break the news to Aunt Jennie?”
He thought this over in silence and then said impatiently; “I’m sorry, but I do not feel that I can consider that phase of the matter.”
“The arrangement between us is a strictly business one, based on mutual advantage, and to be terminated at will as the interests of either party dictates.”
He turned a sharp glance on her, and rose. Having risen he stood a moment, irresolute, frowning, troubled by a thought. Then he said, in an annoyed, nervous voice: —
“Look here, will it be a serious thing for your aunt to lose me?”
The agent burst out laughing. He was surprised by her 215 merriment; he could not guess that it covered her instantaneous discovery that she liked him more than she would have ever thought possible.
“While I’m on the other side — remember that,” said she, “I’m obliged to tell you that we can let the rooms any day at an hour’s notice. Not that the places of our two scholars can ever be filled, but the boarding-house business is booming these days. We are turning them away. Do you remember the night you walked in here an hour late for supper, and I arose and collected twenty dollars from you?”
“Oh, yes. . . . By the way — I have never asked — whatever became of that extraordinary pleasure-dog of yours.”
“Thank you. He is bigger and more pleasurable than ever. I take him out every afternoon, and each day, just as the clock strikes five, he knocks over a strange young man for me. It is delightful sport. But he has never found any young man that he enjoyed as heartily as he did you.”
Gravely he moved toward the door. “I must return to my work. You will tell your aunt I have given notice? Well — good-evening.”
“Good-evening, Mr. Queed.”
The door half shut upon him, but opened again to admit his head and shoulders.
“By the way, there was a curious happening yesterday which might be of interest to you. Did you see it in the Post — a small item headed ‘The Two Queeds’?”
“Oh — no! About you and Tim?”
“About Tim, but not about me. His beat was changed the other day, it seems, and early yesterday morning a bank in his new district was broken into. Tim went in and arrested the burglar after a desperate fight in the dark. When other policemen came and turned on the lights, Tim discovered to his horror that he had captured his brother Murphy.”