Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

Vol. 91

NOVEMBER, 1915

Children of Hope'

By STEPHEN WHITMAN Author of "Predestined," "The Woman from Yonder," etc.

CHAPTER I

Illustrations by F. R. Gruger

THE POSTMAN BLOWS HIS WHISTLE

IN MAPLE LANE

TEAR the northern border-line of

NE

Ohio, on the outskirts of a manufacturing town called Zenasville, there stood in Maple Lane, midway of a garden bounded by a broken picket-fence, a small, yellowish frame-house two stories high, the shingles slipping from its roof, the slats of its shutters tilted at all angles, and alongside the front door, close to the bellknob of white china, a sign-board, askew, dilapidated, inscribed:

Aurelius Goodchild, Esquire
Interviews by Appointment.

Every fine morning there emerged upon the door-step a tall, lean man of fifty-five, with bushy beard and mustaches in which gray hair was mingling with fiery red. He was aquiline, pallid, hollow of eye and cheek. Veins, full and blue, wandered over his temples and down the middle of his high forehead. From beneath shaggy brows he gazed forth with a mien half wistful and half sanguine.

If the day proved mild, he retained in hand his black felt hat. A breeze lifted from his neck locks poetically long and ragged. In his buttonhole was a flower.

He inhaled the morning air with gu tried to square his shoulders, set out f promenade. Now and then he flouris an ebony cane that lacked a ferrule. 1 relic flashed in the sunshine like a sw blade; but the dogs never left the f path on that account.

By neighboring gate-posts, beneath foliage of outreaching shrubs, he prone to stop for a chat with toddl boys and girls. To these he impar rigmaroles which charmed them, which they could not remember aft ward. He bestowed on a sickly one blossom from his buttonhole, with an propriate, fantastic tale that made gift for the moment something precio Parting from them, with the apology t business called him, he bowed in cour fashion to the smallest girl.

At times the front door was opened him. Within appeared a narrow sta case, a patch of wall-paper, a commot of skirts. In that small dwelling th was more fluttering of ruffles than feathers in a dove-cote. Mr. Goodchi long a widower, possessed three unm ried daughters.

Three, that number believed by the cients to be peculiarly auspicious, number, indeed, of Zeus's and Euronym 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 personages Mr. Goodchild had long owned, in a mildewed steel-engraving, the likenesses so far as mortal hand could be expected to depict them. Clad in elegant drapery, of which certain less reverent artists have deprived them,-performing in unison some celestial sort of calisthenics, they looked fixedly over their smooth shoulders at Aurelius Goodchild all the while he was dressing and undressing. For a time he failed to read that threefold gaze; but finally-his youngest was already eight months old-he understood. He renamed his daughters after the three Graces.

Aglaia, nowadays, was close to thirty. A pale blonde, she wore tresses of the faintest copperish color. Slender, dainty, serene, she showed thin lips, and eyes like emeralds that smoldered under blanched lashes often lowered. From the scanty dressmaking materials at her disposal she devised costumes for herself suggestive of the pictures in French fashion journals. Aglaia it was who met bill-collectors at the door.

Euphrosyne was twenty-five. Beneath hair that resembled her father's in its vivid red she displayed what is often called, in young women of somewhat heavy features, a strong face. Already her figure foreshadowed a matronly solidity. Attire that was soft-hued and prim confessed her tastes. Of mornings, with a wicker basket on her arm, Frossie went to market.

Thalia had just turned twenty. Her skin was of that brilliancy and fineness which accords with the richest shade of auburn curls. She had lips that were ripe and scarlet, large sky-blue eyes, and round her milk-white throat a double crease, Nature's own precious necklace. Her shape was at the same time plump and lissome. Not infrequently her dress fell open at the neck, her hair threatened to escape its pins, her bodice lacked some buttons down the back. Thallie was the one who decorated Mr. Goodchild's coat-lapel with flowers. At such moments how she reminded him of her mother!

It was now more than three decades since he had won his wife, she the pretty daughter of a village squire, he the son of an intemperate hedge-row physician. Poor, bookish, dreamy, a threadbare Romeo spouting poetry and metaphysics by moonlight beneath the window of a sentimental girl, he had furnished that note of mystery on which young romance thrives best. After braving her own family, taking to her bed to pine away, recovering to devise clandestine meetings, she had ended by eloping with him. Old Outwall never forgave his daughter for that misalliance.

But those two, for the most part living on kisses and ideals, undismayed to find themselves presently responsible to children, ever watching a radiant mirage that young Goodchild's talents were some day going to make real, kept love prisoner in their cottage till the end. Twenty years had passed since her death, but there were few days on which he did not think of her. At the inception of his every project for renown and wealth, Aurelius reflected, "If only she might share in its fruition!" For its fruition never seemed in doubt, so confidently did he still smile toward the mirage.

Often changing occupations, he had found himself, at each return to disillusion, equipped for the shabby-genteel practice of a new industry. A youthful belief that he was destined to revolutionize the art of the camera made it possible for him, in middle age, to fall back, at a pinch, upon photography. From another flight there remained to him the knack of rubbing up carbon-portraits, of scratching off penand-ink drawings suitable for advertisements, of painting the likenesses of neighbors' brats in oils. And, to pass over his inventions, -all patented, so all as safe from imitation as from use, - he had not turned his back on literature without first learning how to compose a charming letter to a creditor, or drawn off from the field of music before understanding how to tune pianofortes.

As for the sciences, he knew enough about medicine to work apparent miracles,

in one way or the other, on ailing live stock; in the province of chemistry could contrive amazing odors and explosions; concerning botany was not to be confused about the classic history of any vegetable, just as, when physics was the topic, he had two reasons, one modern and one mythological, for nearly every natural phenome

non.

In short, there seemed to be no end to the smatterings Mr. Goodchild had acquired from books no one else would think worth looking at, perused in a broken arm-chair or a raveled hammock between spasms of exertion.

Such a father was bound to be, at least in the nursery, a successful man, adept at the invention of enchanting games, weird tales, mysterious feats in sleight of hand, nonsensical ballads without end.

To educate the girls was easier than to dress and feed them. Sometimes the whole family was galvanized by affluence: there was money in the house! Without delay, new shoes creaked on small feet; white stockings appeared every afternoon in Maple Lane; Mr. Goodchild strode homeward with some brand-new books, while from the open windows was wafted, at the same time with a thin clatter of Tschaikovsky waltzes, an aroma of fried chicken. Dinner over, the father, expanding on the door-step, gazed toward the farthest tree-tops with the look of a veteran conqueror about to subjugate fresh lands. He recalled the time when his house had lain in an independent village, not in a suburb of that black leviathan the sooty exhalations of which every year filled wider skies. Some day he would wake to find his garden in the heart of town: his property would bring a pretty penny! It needed one thing only, the inevitable expansion of the town. With that understood, the ground he stood on was as good as worth a fabulous sum. One could call it the same thing as being a rich man!

Or, else, the cash on hand had all been spent. Then presently one saw again in use old costumes that had been flung aside. Then one smelled another sort of

cookery. Then one perceived at night, on an illuminated window-pane, a long silhouette, an aquiline profile, which passed and repassed till dawn.

So Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia grew up in a region of fine dreams and crestfallen wakings, of feasts and famines, or, as they themselves put it, of chickens one day and feathers the next.

For in girlhood, emerging finally from the period of blind confidence and fond beliefs, they began to appreciate the actual world. And just as the old house, while they grew larger, seemed ever smaller, and turned the shabbier the daintier they became, so, when their hearts expanded with a thousand natural instincts, each found herself constricted by the ramshackle home, like a captive bird in spring, all at once made intensely aware of the limitations of its cage. Thenceforth affection for their father did not prevent the secret thought that release would come to them only through their own efforts.

Marriage was the first idea of each. From that neighborhood, however, most marriageable young men, as soon as capable of serious intentions, set out for the great cities. The girls, their childhood. love-affairs all ended in lame partings, fell back upon the arts. Aglaia, recalling Patti's triumphs, dreamed of the opera. Euphrosyne, with George Eliot in mind, took up the pen. The career of Rosa Bonheur urged Thalia to the easel.

But the scores of "Faust" and "Lucia di Lammermoor" fell to pieces, the writing-table showed across its edge two patches bare of varnish, even the easel was taking on a battered look, and still their lives were bounded by the broken picket-fence.

The small rooms were pervaded by an old-fashioned, semi-rural atmosphere. This was partly due to the countless odds and ends which meanly reconstructed there a period of naïve and tawdry household furniture. Then, too, when doors and windows had been kept shut awhile, all the faded carpets, tidies, sofas, lambrequins exhaled the odors of a dead age. It was one of those little old houses, thread

bare and unesthetic, the shortcomings of which are finally appreciated, and yet, because of poverty, not remedied.

Nevertheless, there was a different savor and appearance to a low, haphazardlooking extension, its walls nearly plumb, its windows almost rectilinear, that extended from the kitchen porch to the rear fence. This structure, the product of Mr. Goodchild's own architectural skill, was called the studio.

Immediately on passing from the kitchen porch into a narrow corridor, one smelled chemicals, oil-paints, fresh flowers. Ahead there opened out a large, bright room, the board walls plastered with sketches and mechanical diagrams. Between windows full of potted plants stood home-made book-shelves and cabinets for curiosities. To the left, a door opened into a closet, by turns the "dark room" and the "laboratory." To the right, there huddled a photographer's camera, a few backgrounds painted with elegiac landscapes, a chair with an iron head-rest, some mats of artificial grass, a flowerstand for brides to pose by. In the far wall, a north light, composed of several small window-panes, expanded above an easel, a writing-table, an old pianoforte. Here it was that Aglaia ran her scales, that Euphrosyne thumbed the dictionary, that Thalia laid out her palette, that Mr. Goodchild carried forward his innumerable projects.

The studio was the heart of the house. Through the long days of summer the three girls worked there peacefully. Soft airs, which had gathered fragrance from many blossoms, entered, to be perfumed afresh, above the window plants. The stillness of that suburb ringed the sisters round: at times some sound-a calling voice, the barking of a dog, a cracking whip-penetrated their consciousness, but very gently. The sunshine, creeping across the floor, at last turned red: the window geraniums were nearly matched in hue by the still clouds beyond them. Languor pervaded nature, foliage stood motionless, the earth's heart-beat was imperceptible. Thallie laid down her brush

to dream. Aggie, putting aside her scores, sat balancing assets against liabilities. Frossie, having refilled and cleaned her fountain-pen, turned her thoughts kitchenward. The tardy shadows found them gone.

But the studio was coziest in winter. Then, to be sure, the flower-pots looked forlorn. Against the panes hung icicles. Through the north light one saw, beneath clouds of violent contour, the bare limbs of trees, their forks wedged with snow, all swaying to the blast. In such weather, though, the fat cast-iron stove wore round its middle a red-hot zone, and the early dusk, if shortening the day, extended the period which charmed that household most, the lamplight hour. Snug in their little corner, listening, though well warmed, with a shivery delight to wind and sleet, they felt their more subtle aspirations, if not benumbed by cold, at least stupefied by that hot confinement. The present, more than the future, then engrossed the sisters.

Spring, on the other hand, made the studio, and all the world, seem different. When the sky, on a day unexpectedly serene, revealed unusual tenderness, when one discovered that the mesh of twigs had here and there caught fast a scrap of green, when suddenly the first song-bird warbled, straightway prosaic thoughts were beautifully transformed, while all fantastic dreams turned reasonable once

more.

Again the sisters glimpsed that future which the sum of all their tasks ought finally to earn for them. To one appeared a proscenium that framed a multitude of applauding strangers; to another, a salon maintained by intellectual celebrities; to the third, great galleries wherein the throng stood longest before her pictures. Then their father entered softly, in his shiny house-jacket and blue carpet slippers, to inform them, with a sprightly air, that he had brought home four fine pork chops for supper.

Over the supper-table hung a porcelain lamp, its milky shade and bowl embellished with hand-painted daisies. In the

center of the pink-fringed cloth a cruetcastor displayed its thick glass vessels and its old, conventional lions' heads bereft of silver-plating. Round this object clustered many dishes of jam, pickles, and spiced fruit. Before the father, on a platter of imitation delf, smoked the viands of the day.

The vegetable-bowls were passed from hand to hand.

At these repasts the girls turned talkative and gay: all chattered at once, all burst together into peals of laughter. Mr. Goodchild, plying his fork excitedly, chewing hard, so as to clear his mouth for speech, was a worthy master of the symposium, in which anything was apt to be discussed, from archaic Apollos to woolen undergarments, from medieval ladies' fashions to the habits of bees. His beard, in the lamplight, was like a tangle of gold and silver threads; his eyes shone in their hollow sockets; his full, white brow, almost transparent at the temples, seemed encircled by a shadowy garland. It was a prefiguration from the hand-painted daisies on the lamp.

Sometimes, while admiring his daughters in that mellow radiance, he determined to whisk them off, on making his fortune, to scenes worthier of them. Then once more Aurelius would hurl defiance at the future. And the sisters, the gaiety fading from their faces, would listen with fixed smiles, with feelings of compassion and self-pity.

Once Aglaia, her emerald-green eyes staring into space, remarked:

"How much do you really suppose old Jabez Outwall 's worth these days?"

Aurelius repressed a look of pain. Thalia's pout expressed ennui. Euphrosyne, with a mirthless laugh, inquired:

"Chasing that will-o'-the-wisp again?" Jabez Outwall was an uncle of their mother, a retired lumber merchant of Detroit, now eighty-odd years old. Reputed to be wealthy, he had for a long time furnished the sisters with a secret hope. But, as the years went by without a sign from him, two had concluded that the Outwalls' animosity against Aurelius still smoldered on in Jabez. Only Aglaia,

reflecting that the near approach of death may change the hardest hearts, clung to the dream of a fine legacy.

Said Mr. Goodchild in low tones: "I'm glad that I never expected anything of Uncle Jabez. If I had, on one of those specially dark days I might have. wished for a human being's death. When our Lord, in His Sermon on the Mount, described one sin that may be committed no less in thought than in act, He suggested another dictum, 'Every one who contemplates a man to wish for his death hath committed murder already in his own heart.""

They were silent till Aurelius, rising with a gentle smile, concluded:

"So, children, we must always be careful not to love wealth enough to want it at any one's expense. As Epictetus has it, 'None who is a lover of money is likewise a lover of mankind, but only he-and she -who is a lover of virtue.'

[ocr errors]

And Aurelius, the delf platter in one hand and the tea-pot in the other, politely stood aside while his daughters, laden with the supper-dishes, filed into the kitchen.

The dishes washed, they returned to the studio. A sewing-basket appeared, for the relief of ragged shirts, stockings full of holes, and still other garments. Frossie read aloud a chapter of Alexandre Dumas, Aggie played rag-time on the piano. Thallie imitated the German butcher blowing up his errand-boy, or Mr. Goodchild, who found it hard to remember they were full-grown now, with the sudden boisterousness of elders bent on frolic in the nursery, proposed a catch. In an instant the Goodchild family were chanting "Three Blind Mice" or "London 's Burning." But in the midst of that shindy a knocking shook the door.

"Come in!" called every one in accents to make obedience a pleasure. And some neighbors, who had circled the house for this seat of light and noise, presented smiling faces.

Mr. and Mrs. Ira Inchkin rarely missed a Saturday night.

He was

a little stiff-backed fellow

« AnkstesnisTęsti »