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WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARD
BY CHARLES BATTELL LOOMIS
HEN I saw her on the roof of that great house in the heart of New York City, sitting on the limb of an appletree and gazing at the clouds, I fell in love with her and said, 'That woman, and she alone, shall be my bride!' And then I threw a kiss down to her. The next minute I was a mile away-”
'Lenox Avenue express. off, please."
At the interruption of the guard, the crowd surged about me, and I was driven out of ear-shot of the man who had uttered the singular words printed above.
He was in evening clothes, and was accompanied by two elderly ladies, who, it was plain to be seen, were deeply interested in what he was saying.
Pale-faced, intellectual-looking, with the stamp of candor in his eyes and a nameless something that might well be romanticism permeating his whole being, he filled me with an absorbing curiosity to know of what he was talking.
I was waiting for a down-town local, and he was evidently waiting for a Broadway express, for he let the Lenox pass. I felt an insane impulse to go up to him and ask him what he was talking about. I could see he was still engaged in telling his story, and the solemn-looking women on each side of him shook their heads and opened their mouths and unconsciously mimicked his facial expressions, as is the habit of many; but they never smiled. What he was telling them was of absorbing import, but it was evidently not hu
And yet it had had that sound.
This wonderful woman, whoever she was, was on the roof of a house in the heart of Manhattan, and yet she was sitting on the bough of an apple-tree and gazing at the passing clouds. Apple-trees. on New York houses are unheard of as far as I know. And then he threw down a kiss to her. Where was he? On top of a higher building? No, for he said that the next minute he was a mile away.
Ah, a balloon! But that did not explain the apple-tree. I made up my mind that I could not sleep that night until I had heard more of this strange story.
When the Broadway express came in, the young man and his companions boarded it, and so did I. I would sit down in front of him and even though it was the height of rudeness, I would read his lips, a trick I learned while afflicted with temporary deafness.
But, as luck would have it, he sat in one of the cross seats, and a "peachbasket" on top of a "peach" hid him from
In my youth I learned patience. "Though I give up my contemplated trip to the Bermudas to-morrow," said I to myself, very firmly, "I will hear the life-story of that romantic-looking young man." My heart was set on my holiday; but I continued, "Neither food nor drink shall pass my lips until I have learned what happened afterward."
At Manhattan Street the young man and his companions left the car, and my heart sank. It is at Manhattan Street that suburbanites get off. Must I follow this man to some strange New Jersey haunt of the out-of-towners?
If I must, I must, and I stepped off the train just behind him, and heard him say, "Together we sat on the edge of the purling brook, and listened to the subdued noises of the city below."
Worse and more of it!
"How charming!" said one old lady, herself the personification of old-fashioned charm.
"How poetic!" said the other, whose white hair and old-fashioned bonnet suggested an age when the sentimental reigned supreme.
"Yes," said the young man with a fervor that seemed absolutely sincere, "idyllic."
We all passed down to the street, and then, instead of walking across town to the ferry, the three went south two or
three blocks, and halted in front of an apartment-house in a cross street.
Was I going to lose my young man? Suppose he lived there? I must either go up and force myself upon his notice, and baldly ask him to retell his story or else wait until morning.
But luck was with me. As they ascended the steps the door opened, and there came out a young man in evening clothes.
"Hello," said the romantic one; "you 're just in time to have supper. What do you say, Mrs. Trembly? Shall we all have some?"
It was eleven o'clock, time for old ladies to be in bed; but these dear things inclined their ears to his suggestion, and the four immediately wended their way to a restaurant in the neighborhood.
And I also went; for I felt that I must keep this young man in sight, and I would eat supper, too.
No sooner were they seated than one of the old ladies asked the young man to tell "Ralph" his romantic story.
The restaurant was a quiet one, not swagger, but highly respectable, and there were not more than three or four in it beside ourselves. So clear and penetrating was the young man's voice that I could not help but hear if he told the story.
"Why," said he, carelessly, "it is n't much to tell, and you have heard most of it."
"Don't mind me," said Ralph, as if he did n't care whether the story was retold or not. I took an instant dislike to him. He looked to me like one of the "knowit-all" type, just out of college and with nothing further to learn.
"Oh, tell it," said Mrs. Trembly, smiling sweetly, and influenced by that smile the young man began again at the beginning.
"One day last month I was fortunate enough to be taken on a little balloon trip by a man who has been giving exhibitions in a small dirigible balloon at a near-by park. After crossing the Hudson from the Jersey side, we sailed over New York, and followed the course of Broadway about an eighth of a mile above it.
"We were in the neighborhood of the lower-numbered streets when I saw a strange sight, what looked like a little farm on top of a building."
"One of the roof-gardens," said Ralph, patronizingly.
"No, it was n't a roof-garden; a rooffarm would come nearer to describing it. It was very evidently a private place, and it must have covered a couple of acres right in the heart of New York, and from twenty to thirty stories up.
"My companion was busy running the balloon, and did not notice the farm, but I was full of eyes, for at one corner of this prosperous little heart's-ease of a place was an apple-tree, and sitting on a bough of it was the most beautiful woman I
"When I saw her on the roof of that great house in the heart of New York City, sitting on the limb of an apple-tree and gazing at the clouds, I fell in love with her and said, "That woman, and she alone, shall be my bride.' And I threw a kiss down to her. The next minute I was a mile away."
I almost expected to hear, "Lenox Avenue express. Passengers off, please,” but there was no such interruption, and the romantic young man went on, his three auditors visibly interested, the old ladies as before aping his facial expressions through absorption in what he was saying.
"But in that one look I had seen with a busy eye, and I knew that that young woman in the apple-tree was living a country life in the heart of New York, that the little rustic cottage at the side of which the apple-tree grew sheltered her form at night, that the old man driving the yoke of oxen at the farther end of the little patch was her father, and I also knew that in the whole wide universe I loved but one woman, and that woman the lovely one I had surprised in her simple life. She had seen me when I threw the kiss and had not seemed annoyed.”
"How charming!" said the elder of the two old ladies, with a little sigh. I fancied that she would have liked to be back in the fifties, before the war, sitting in an apple-tree on the top of a sky-scraper and receiving with equanimity the kisses thrown by a strange man in a dirigible balloon. But it could never be; hence the sigh.
"Idyllic," said the younger lady, not at all shocked at the rapid passage of loverlike courtesies on the part of the young man who sat before them.
Ralph did not say anything, but he looked about the room as if wondering whether any one else was listening.
I of course gave no sign of having heard a word, and the other suppers-to wrest a word from its usual meaning-were supping very hard, and were heedful only of their own group.
"Well," continued the young man, "for me the rest of the trip was as nothing. I was told afterward that we went as far as Sandy Hook, and then finally came aground at Long Branch; but my thoughts were on that unknown roof, and busied themselves with the fair occupant of the aërial apple-tree. What was she doing now? Did she help her father milk the cows thirty stories above New York streets? Had she swains coming up in the elevator to walk with her in the little garden or gaze in the mimic brook that my one hasty glimpse had noticed purling in the direction of the East River, to which it was evidently led by a wastepipe?"
I should have supposed that right here the ladies would have smiled. There was something incongruous to me in the thought of a purling brook cascading into an ordinary waste-pipe, but they merely elevated their eyebrows and looked benig
"But my mission in life was plain," said the young man. "I would seek for that thirty-story farm if I had to go up every sky-scraper in the city.
"I knew in a general way that it lay above Fourteenth Street and below Fiftieth Street, but its exact location I had been unable to judge in my hurried glimpse. But ever and always that sweet face in the apple-tree smiled at me sleeping or waking, and ever I longed to press her cool, white hand and tell her that I loved only her."
At this point Ralph uttered a suppressed exclamation and began to look foolish. He was plainly not "romantic," nor was his sense of humor strong, and he would have been well pleased to be elsewhere than in a public restaurant while such an avowal of love for a young woman was going on. But the two old ladies purred until you could have heard them in the street. They were having the time of their sweet old lives. This young man was a perfectly good Scheherazade
to them, and although they had evidently heard all this before, for he had not yet come to the place where he had said, "Together we sat on the edge of the purling brook, and listened to the subdued noises of the city below," they were again entranced.
"For days I sought for that house," he went on, his eyes gleaming. "I would have gone up in the balloon again, but my friend had met with an accident and his balloon was out of commission.
"I inquired at police stations, and was laughed at as a madman. Mad I was over my lost one, but not mad in supposing she had a corporeal existence.
"But all things come to him who waits, and once at midnight as I was walking along a cross street not a stone's throw from the Great White Way, I happened to glance within the courtyard of a great sky-scraper. There in the Rembrandtesque shadows I saw what made me look again, for it was a team of oxen pulling a load of hay, and driven by the old man I had seen on the roof-farm."
"Just think of that, Ralph!" said Mrs. Trembly, enthusiastically. She had evidently been waiting for this episode, for she looked from Ralph to the narrator and back again to Ralph as if she felt she had performed a service in bringing a new listener to so odd a narration.
"Piffle!" said Ralph, and dropping a cigarette which he had been rude enough to smoke in the presence of the old ladies, he stamped on it pettishly.
"Go on, Mr. Bolingbroke," said Mrs. Trembly, speaking the story-teller's name for the first time.
"It was plain to me," said Mr. Bolingbroke, "that the old man did not wish to be seen. That was why he had waited until midnight before appearing on the street with his load of fresh-mown, skyscraped hay.
"Ah me! how sweet it smelled! I could picture my fair unknown as having tossed it gracefully from one end of the farm to the other as she helped her aged parent.
"The oxen were shod with rubber shoes, therefore their passage through the street was attended with no noise. the revelers on the Great White Way were too intent on their follies to notice the horned beasts when they crossed Broadway.
"Waiting until the man had gotten out of sight, bound for some haymarket, I cautiously walked within the courtyard and looked about me.
"Was the elevator running at that time of night? Plainly not, for it was an office building, and all its lights were extinguished, its erstwhile busy clerks and managers and stenographic corps gone home."
"What a suggestion of poetry in that!" said Mrs. Trembly. "How varied their lives!"
"Charming!" murmured the other lady. Mr. Bolingbroke bowed at the compliment, and I wondered what his thoughts were concerning these innocent ladies. But it did my heart good to see their enjoyment of the tale. Their salad had received inadequate attention, so engrossed were they in the account of one man's night in New York.
The young man continued his narration.
"But the old man had evidently come from above. How? By the freight-elevator undoubtedly. Cautiously I tiptoed to the elevator-shaft, and found the platform car at the street level.
"To tell the truth," said he, "I am rather glad that Ralph went. He disconcerted me, for he was antagonistic in his atmosphere. Let's see, where was I?”
"You had just stepped aboard the freight-elevator," said Mrs. Trembly, eagerly.
"Yes, yes," said the other. "Oh, I think what follows is most remarkable, almost unbelievable!"
"I stepped aboard the elevator and pulled the rope. The car did not move, but a voice from below said, "That you, Mr. Haynes? Back again so soon?'
"I am something of a mimic, and I had heard the farmer say, 'Gee haw, gee a little!' to his oxen, and in the same tones I said, 'Yes, found I 'd left my pitchfork up on the farm.'
"'Should n't have a farm in such an unlikely place,' said the voice, gruffly; but the elevator began to move, and after what seemed to me a year it came to a stop under a hood. Then the silver moon shed its beams on me, I smelled the fragrance of honeysuckle, and I knew that I had come to the sky-farm.
"And now I come to the most romantic part of the story. I assure you that I had
"The gate was open, and I stepped had no thought beyond getting to the aboard-"
"Say, if you'll excuse me, I'll run along," said Ralph. "I just happened to think I was writing a letter-"
'Afraid of being made a fool of," thought I as he passed me. "When will he have the serene unconsciousness of the dear old aristocrats?"
They excused him, although his excuse seemed inadequate; but the old ladies begged Mr. Bolingbroke to go on with his story.
"You know, you had n't quite finished it when Ralph came. He's Jane's child all over-not an ounce of romance in him," said Mrs. Trembly. "He acted as if he did n't believe you."
"Romance is always and everywhere," said the other ancient one. "It is all in the reception we give to it. Perhaps the old man with the oxen did not know that he was romantic."
"Perhaps not," said Mr. Bolingbroke, very soberly, and catching my eye just then, it seemed to me that he winked at me; but as I am a little near-sighted, I would not swear to it.
farm. The hour was late, and I supposed that the gentle girl had long since gone to sleep. I intended to find some sequestered spot in a haymow where I could sleep until morning, and then in broad daylight I meant to seek out the lady of the apple-tree and ask her to be mine."
"How honorable!" said Mrs. Trembly, fervently.
"But when I stepped off the car, whom did I behold but the roof-farmer's daughter, a look of anxiety on her lovely face and a pitchfork in her hands! The moon silvered the tips of her eyelashes in a manner indescribably beautiful, and I loved her more than ever.
"'Who are you?' said she. 'Who dares to come to this forbidden spot? Are you a man?'"
At this point Mrs. Trembly interrupted the recital.