THE PARTS MEN PLAY
Arthur Beverley Baxter
Author of “Merrie Gentlemen," “The Airy Prince,” etc.
CHAPTER V The Olympians Thunder
IT must be admitted in defence of Lady Durwent’s dinners that, at any rate, the convernation was unusual. The art of matchingmind against mind, of summoning thought and wedding it to speech, the interchange of spirited controversy which marks the meeting of active brains,
was at least essayed at Chelmsford Gardens.
Like other social arts of past ages, conversation has become the accomplishment of the lew. The chatter •that has taken its place, the povertystricken diet of music-hall humor never rising higher than a play on •words, the intimate inanity of exclusive Society—these are signs of our development no less than the thinly veiled indecencies which muddy the talk of the ultra-smart set.
Among the few benefits accruing from the war, we can at least place temporary interruption to the tyranny of the commonplace. The decade preceding 1914 was a prolific one—it is doubtful if we shall ever
see another period so productive of powerful nonentities.
With all its faults, war stirred the sluggish brain of the world—and supplied a genuine topic of conversation.
T ADY DURWENT was blessed in the possession of a ' cook whose artistry was beyond question, if the same could not be said of the guests to whom she so frequently ministered. She was a descendant of the French, that race which makes everything tend towards development of the soul, and consequently looks upon a meal as something of a sacrament. She prepared a dinner with a balance of contrast and climax that a composer might show in writing a tone poem.
On this eventful evening, therefore, the dinner-party, stimulated by her art and by potent wines (gazing with long-necked dignity at the autocratic whisky-decanter), Tapidly assumed a crescendo and an accelerando—the two things for which a hostess listens.
H. Stackton Dunckley had held the resolutionist in a duel of language—a combat with broadswords—and honors were fairly even. The short-sleeved Johnston Smyth had waged futurist warfare against the modernist Pyford, while the Honorable Miss Durwent sat helplessly between them, with as little chance of asserting her rights as the Dormouse at the Mad Hatter’s tea-party. The American had held his own in badinage with the daughter of Italy on one side and his hostess on the other, the latter, however, being too skilled in entertaining to do more than murmur a few encouragements to the spontaneity that so palpably existed.
“Let me see,” said Lady Durwent as the meal came to a close and the butler looked questioningly at her. “Shall we” —she opened the caverns of her throat, producing a volume that instantly silenced everyone—“Shall we have coffee in here or in the drawing-room? I suppose you gentlemen, as usual, want to chat over your port and cigars
H. Stackton Dunckley protested that absence from the ladies, even for so short a time, would completely spoil his evening—receiving in reward a languorous glance from Lady Durwent. Johnston Smyth, who had done more than ample justice to the wines, offered to “pink” at fifty yards any man who would consider the proposition for a moment. Only Norton Pyford, in a sort of befuddled gallantry, suggested that the ladies might have sentimental confidences to exchange, and leered amorously at Elise Durwent.
“Well,” said Lady Durwent, “I am sure we are all curious to hear what Mr. Selwyn thinks of England, so I think we shall have coffee here. Is it agreeable to everyone?"
Unanimous approval greeted the proposal, and, at a sign from the hostess, cigarettes, cigars, and coffee made
SYNOPSIS:—Lady Durwent, the commoner wife of an English peer, has two sons, Malcolm and Dick, the latter a headstrong lad always in trouble, and one daughter, Elise. Finding herself barred from the inner circles of society on account of her plebeian birth, she cultivates unusual people and so in course of time, when Malcolm has grown up and joined the Guards and Dick has been rusticated from College and Elise has become a beautiful, though rebellious young lady, Lady Durwent gives a dinner in honor of a young American author, Austin Selwyn.
their appearance, with the corresponding niceties of “Just one, please,” “Well, perhaps a cigarette might be enjoyable,” “I know men like a cigar,” “After you, old man,” and all those various utterances which tickle the ear, creating in the speaker’s breast the feeling of saying the right thing and doing it rather well.
Throughout the dinner the daughter of the house had sat practically without a remark, and even when chorus effects were achieved by the rest, remained with almost immobile features, merely glancing from one to another, momentarily interested or openly bored. Several times the American had looked furtively at the arresting face, marred by too apparent mental resentment, but the barricade of Johnston Smyth’s angular personality had been too powerful for him to surmount with anything but the most superficial persiflage.
He had watched her take a cigarette, accepting a light from Smyth, who surrounded the action with a ludicrous dignity, when she looked up and met his eyes.
“Mr. Selwyn,” she said, speaking with the same rapidity of phrasing that had both held and exasperated him before, “we are all waiting for the verdict of the Man from Amer-
"Over there,” he smiled, “it is customary to take evidence before giving a verdict.”
“Good,” boomed the resolutionist; “very good!”
“Then,” said Lady Durwent, “we seven shall constitute
"Order!” Johnston Smyth rose to his feet and hammered the table with a bottle. “Oyez, oyez, you hereby swear that you shall well and truly try—”
“Can’t,” said Norton Pyford, pulling himself up; “I’m prejudiced.”
“For or against?”
“Against the culprit.”
“My discordant friend,” said Smyth, producing a second bottle from an unsuspected source and making it disappear mysteriously, “means that he is prejudiced against England. Am I right, sir?”
“Not exactly,” drawled the composer. ‘T don’t mind England—but I think the English are awful.”
“That is a nice point,” said Lady Durwent. “Ah,” broke in Madame Carlotti, “but much as I detest the English, I hate England more. Nom de Dieul I—a daughter of the Mediterranean, where the sun is rarely a stranger, and the sky and the water it is always blue. In Italy one lives because she is alive —it is sufficient. Here it is always gray, gray, always gr-r-ray. When the sun comes—• sacramentol he sees his mistake and goes queek away. Ah, Signor Selwyn, it is desolant that I am compelled to live here.”
“Then,” said Johnston Smyth, “if we are all of a mind, there is no need to have a trial. You have all seen the accusation in Mr. Selwyn’s eye, you have considered the unbiassed evidence of the lovely Carlotti—”
“But jurors can't give evi -dence,” muttered Mr. Dunckley.
“My dear sir, I know she can’t but she did," said Smyth triumphantly. “Oyez, oyez—all in favor—”
“But,” interrupted the American, “are we not to hear anyone for the defence?”
“No,” said Smyth, who was thoroughly happy as a selfconstituted master of ceremonies. “No one would accept the brief.”
“Then,” said Selwyn, “I apply for the post of counsel for the defence, for in the limited time I have been in your country I have seen much that appeals to me.”
“Of course, it is a well-known fact,” said Dunckley sententiously, “that American humor relies on exaggeration.”
“No, no,” said Johnston Smyth, hushing the voices with a pianissimo movement of his hands, “it is not humor on Mr. Selwyn’s part, but gratitude. In return for Christopher Columbus discovering America, this gentleman is going to repay the debt of the New World to the Old by discovering England.”
“Shall we have some port?” said Lady Durwent, opening the sluice-gates of her vocal production.
“CJPEAKING of America,” said Mrs. Le Roy Jennings a ^ few minutes later, Johnston Smyth having sat down in order to do justice to the wine of Portugal, “she is in the very vanguard of progress. Women have achieved an independence there unknown elsewhere in the world.”
“That is true,” said Lady. Durwent, who knew nothing whatever about it.
“You are right,” said Madame Carlotti. “The other day in Paris I heard an American woman whistling. ‘Have you lost your dog?’ I asked. ‘No,’ she says; ‘my husband.’ ”
A chorus of approval greeted this malicious sally, followed by the retailing of various anti-American anecdotes that made up in sting what they lacked in delicacy. These showed no signs of abatement until, slightly nettled, Selwyn put in an oar.
“I had hoped,” he said, “to find some illuminating points in the conversation to-night. But it seems as if you treat not only your own country in a spirit of caricature, but mine aá well. We are a very young race, and we have the faults of youth—but then youth always has a future.
It was a sort of post-graduate course to come to England and Europe to absorb some of the loreor isn’t it one of your poets who speaks of ‘The Spoils of Time?’ Your past is so rich that naturally we look to you and Europe for the fundamental things of civilization.”
"And what have you found?” asked Elise Durwent.
“Well,” said the American, “much to admire--and much to deplore."
“In other words,” said Johnston Smyth, “he has been to Edinburgh and to London.”
“That is so,” smiled Selwyn; “but I don't—’’
“All people,” said Smyth serenely, “admire Edinburgh, but abuse London. Over here a man will jest about his religion or even his grandfather, but never about Edinburgh. On the other band, as everyone downs London, and as an Englishman is never so happy as when he has something on hand to grouse about, London's population has grown to some eight millions.”
“I think, Mr. Smyth,” said Lady Durwent, “that you are as much a philosopher as a painter.”
“Lady Durwent,” said the futurist, “all art is philosophy-even old Pyford’s here, though his amounts almost to theology.”
T^OR a few minutes the conversation drifted in incon* sequential channels until H. Stackton Dunckley becalmed everything with a laborious dissertation on the lack of literary taste in both England and America. Selwyn took the opportunity of studying the elusive beauty of Elise Durwent, which seemed to provoke the eye to admiration, yet fade into imperfection under a prolonged searching. Pyford grew sleepy, and even Smyth appeared a little melancholy, when, on a signal from Lady Durwent, brandy and liqueurs were served, checking Mr. Dunckley’s oratory and reviving everyone’s spirits noticeably.
“Mr. Selwyn,” said Mrs. Le. Roy Jennings, in her best manner, “after you have subjected England to a microscopic examination for a sufficient length of time, you will discover that we are a nation of parasites.”
“I would rather you said that than I, Mrs. Jennings.” “Parasites,” reiterated the speaker, fixing an eye on some point on the wall directly between Selwyn and the hostess, “We sprawl over the world—why? To develop resources? No! It is to reap the natural growth of others’ endeavors? Yes! The Englishman never creates. He is the world’s greatest brigand—”
“Too thoroughly masculine to be really cruel," chimed in the irrepressible Smyth.
“Brigand,” repeated Mrs, Jennings, not deigning the artist so much as a glance, “skimming the earth of its surface riches, and rendering every place the poorer for his being there.”
There was an awesome silence, which no one seemed courageous enough to break.
“Yes,” said H. Stackton Dunckley finally,
“and in addition England is decadent.”
“But, Mr. Selwyn”—again the American heard the voice of Elise Durwent, that quick intensity of speech that always left a moment of startled silence in its wake—“you have discovered somethingadmirableaboutEngland. Won’t you tell us what it is?”
“Well,” he said, smiling, “for one thing, no one can deny the beauty of your women.”
“All decadent nations,” said H.
Stackton Dunckley, “produce beautiful women—it is one of the surest signs that they are going to pieces.
The Romans did at the last, and Rome and England are parallel cases. As Mrs. Le Roy Jennings says, they are parasitic nations. What did the Romans add to Greek art? The Greeks had this” he made an elliptical movement of his hands—“the Romans did that to it”—he described a circle, then shrugged his shoulders, convinced that he had said something crushing.
“So you think English women beautiful, Mr. Selwyn?” said Lady Durwent, trying to retrieve the conversation from the slough of her inamorato’s ponderosity.
“Undoubtedly,"answered the American warmly. “It is no doubt the outof-door life they lead, and I suppose the moist climate has something to do with their wonderful complexions, but they fare womanly as well,'and their voices are lovely.”
“1 smell a rat,” said Smyth, who was smoking an unlit cigarette, which had fastened itself to his lip and bobbed up and down with his speech, like a miniature baton.
When a man says a woman’s voice is sweet, it means that she has bored him; that what she has to say interests him so little that he turns to contemplation of her voice. This American is a devilish cute fellow.”
\ BABBLE of voices took up the charge and de‘ * manded immediate explanation.
To a certain extent,” said Selwyn stoutly, “there is much in what Mr. Smyth says.” t\-t'S^ t0 ^'g,T1'V ,)ra's'nf> oracle,” chanted the
I do not think,” went on the American, “that the English girls I have met are as bright or as clever as the cultured young women of the continent of America. In
other words, with all her natural charm, the English girl does not edit herself well.”
“In that,” said H. Stackton Dunckley, “she reflects the breed. The Anglo-Saxon has an instinctive indifference to thought.”
“As soon as an Englishman thinks,” minced Madame Carlotti, “he leaves England with its cattivo climate and goes to the Colonies. C’eut pourquoi the Empire is so powerful -its brains are in the legs.”
“Come, come,” laughed Selwyn, “is there no one here but me who can discover any merit in old England?”
“Yes,” said Pyford gloomily; “London is only seven hours from Paris.”
“Ah—Parigi!” ejaculated Madame Carlotti with the fervor born of the feeling in all Latin women that Paris is their spiritual capital.
“And yet,” said Selwyn, after a pause to see if Madame Carlotti’s exuberance was going to develop any further, “in literature, which I suppose is the natural art of the Anglo-Saxon temperament, we still look to you for the outstanding figures. With all our ability for writing short stories—and I think we are second only to the French in that—England still produces the foremost novelists. In the sustained effort required in the formation of a novel, England is yet first. Of course, musically, I think England is very near the bottom.”
“And yet,” said Johnston Smyth, "we are the only people in the world candid enough to have a monument to our lack of taste.”
Everyone looked at the artist, who stroked his left
arm with the back of his right hand, like a barber sharpening a’razor.
“In that part of London known as Kingsway,” he said, “there is a beautiful building called ‘The London Opera House!’ ” He thrust both hands out, palms upwards, as if the building itself rested on them. “It stands in a commanding position, with statues of the great composers gazing from the roof at the passing proletariat emanating from the Strand. Inside it is luxuriously equipped, as befits the home of Opera.”
“Yes,” said the American as the speaker paused.,
Smyth produced a watch from nowhere in particular. “It is just past ten,” he said. “I am not sure whether it is Charlie Chaplin or Mary Pickford showing on the screen at this hour, at the London Opera House.”
A murmur of applause acknowledged the artist's wellplanned climax. He looked about with a satisfied smile, then replaced the watch with the air of pocketing both it and the subject.
“But—you have opera?” said Selwyn wonderingly.
“Of course,” said Smyth; “and where? In a vegetablemarket. In Covent Garden. Yet England has been accused of hypocrisy! What other nation is so candid?”
DY one of those unspoken understandings that are the rules of mobs and dinner-parties, it was felt that the topic was ceasing to be exhaustive and becoming exhausting. Lady Durwent glanced interrogatively about the table; Madame Carlotti took a hitch in her gown; Norton Pyford emptied his glass and sat pensively staring at it as if .it had hardly done what he expected, but on the whole he felt inclined to forgive it; Johnston Smyth made a belated attempt to be sentimental with the Honorable Miss Durwent, whose lips, always at war with each other, merely parted in a smile that utterly failed to bring any sympathy from her eyes; Mrs. Le Roy Jennings took a last sip of coffee, and finding it quite cold, put it down with a gesture of finality.
"Lady Durwent,” said Austin Selwyn —and the quality of his voice was lighter and more musical than it had been—“I suppose that a man who deliberately goes to a country to gather impressions lays himself open to the danger of being influenced by external things only. If I were to base my knowledge of England on what her people say of her, I think I should be justified in assuming that the century-old charge of her decadence is terribly true. Yet I claim to have something of an artist’s sensitiveness to under-currents, and it seems to me that there is a strong instinct of race over here—perhaps I express myself clumsily —but I think there is an England which has far more depth to it than your artists and writers realize. For some reason you all seem to want to deny that; and when, as to-night, it is my privilege to meet some of this country’s expressionists, it appears that none has any intention of trying to reveal what is fine in your life as a people—you seek only to satirize, caricature, or damn altogether. If I believe my ears, there is nothing but stupidity and insularity in England. If I listen to my senses, to my subconscious mind, I feel that a great crisis would reveal that she is still the bed-rock of civilization.”
Madame Carlotti raised her glass.
“To America’s next ambassador to England!” she cried.
THE momentous evening was drawing
to a close.
\ Rain, in fitful gusts, had been be-
sieging the windows, driven by an illtempered wind that blustered around the streets, darting up dark alleys, startling the sparks emerging from chimney-pots, roaring across the parks, slamming doors, and venting itself, every now and then, in an ill-natured
Inside the refuge of No. 8 Chelmsford Gardens a fire threw its merry warmth over the large music-room, and did its best to offset the tearful misery of the November night.
Conversation had dwindled in energy with the closing hour of the affair, and seizing an auspicious moment, Norton Pyford had reached the piano, and for twenty minutes demonstrated the close relation of the chord of C Minor to the color brown. Modernist music, acting on unusual souls as classical music on ordinary souls, stimulated the flagging conversational powers of the guests, and he was soon surrounded by a gesticulating group of dissenting or condoning critics.
Selwyn noticed that Elise Durwent had not left her seat by the fire, and absenting himself from the harmonic debate, he took a chair by hers.
“You are pensive, Miss Durwent,” he said.
She smiled, with a slight suggestion of weariness, though her eyes had a softness he had not seen in them before.
“I am very dull company tonight,” she said, “but ever since I was a child, rain beating against the windows has always made me dreamy. I suppose I am old-fashioned, but it is sweeter music to me than Mr.
Pyford’s new harmonies.”
He laughed, and leaning towards the fire, rubbed his hands meditatively. “You must have found our talk wearisome at dinner,” he said.
“No,” she answered, “it was not so bad as usual. You introduced a note of sincerity .that had all the effect of a novelty.”
Her mannerism of swift and disjointed speech, which broke all her sentences into rapidly uttered phrases, again annoyedhim. Though her voice was refined, it seemed to be acting at the behest of a whiplike brain, and she spoke as if desirous rather of provoking a retort than of establishing any sense of compatibility. Yet she was feminine—gloriously, delicately feminine. The finely moulded arms and the gracefulness of body, indicated rather than revealed beneath her blue gown, intrigued the eye and the senses, - just as the swiftly spoken words challenged the brain and infused exasperation in the very midst of admiration. Thecomplicatedelements of the girl offered a peculiar fascination to the eternal instinct of study possessed by the young American author.
“Miss Durwent,” he said,
"If I was sincere to-night, it was because you encouraged me to be so.”
“But I said nothing.”
“Nevertheless, you were the nspiration.”
■ “I never knew a girl could accomplish so much by holding her tongue.”
A crash of “Bravos” broke from the group around the piano; Pyford had just scored a point.
“You know,” resumed Selwyn thoughtfully, “a man doesn’t go to a dinner-party conscious of what he is going to say. It is the people he meets that produce ideas in him, many of which he had never thought of before.”
She tapped the ground with her foot, and looked smilingly at his serious face. “It is the reverse with me,” she said. “I go out to dinner full of ideas, and the people I meet inspire a silence in me of unsuspected depth.”
“May I smoke?” asked Selwyn, calling a halt in the verbal duel.
“Certainly; I’ll join you. Don’t smoke your own cigarettes— there are some right in front of you.”
He reached for a silver box, offered her a cigarette, and struck a match. As he leaned over her she raised her face to the light, and the blood mounted angrily to his head.
Though a man accustomed to dissect rather than obey his passions, he possessed that universal quality of man which demands the weakness of the feminine nature in the woman who interests him. He will satirize that failing; if he be a writer, it will serve as an endless theme for light cynicism. He will deplore that a woman’s brains are so submerged by her emotions; but let him meet one reversely constituted, and he steers his course in another direction with all possible speed.
CELWYN had come to her with a comfortable, after-. ^ dinner desire for a tete-a-tete. He expected flattering questions about his writings, and would have enjoyed talking about them; instead of which this English girl with the crimson coloring and the maddening eyes had coolly kept him at a distance with her rapier brain. He felt a
sudden indignation at her sexlessness, and struck a match for his own cigarette with such energy that it broke in two
“Miás Durwent,” he said suddenly, lighting another match, “I want to see you again—soon.” He paused, astonished at his own abruptness, and an awkward smile expanded until it crinkled the very pinnacle of his nose.
“I like you when you look like that,” she said. “It was just like my brother Dick when he fell off a horse. By the way, do you ride?”
“Yes,” he said, watehing the cigarette-smoke curl towards the fireplace, “though I prefer an amiable beast to a spirited one.”
"Good!” she said, so quickly that it seemed like the thruät of a sword in tierce. “You have the same taste in horses as in women. Most men have.”
“Miss Durwent”—his face flushed angrily and his jaw stiffened—“I’ll ride any horse you choose in England,
“And break the heart of the most vixenish maiden in London! You $re a real American, after all. What is it you say over there? Shake!”
She slapped her hand into his, ami he held it in a strong grip-
“But you will let me see you again soon?”
“Certainly.” She withdrew her hand from his with a firmness that had neither censure nor coquetry in it, and the heightened color of her cheeks subsided with the sparkle of her eyes.
“To-morrow morning if you like. I shall have horses here at eleven, and we can ride in the Row, providing you will put up with anything so quiet as our
“That is bully of you. I shall be here at eleven.”
“I thought all Americans used slang,” she said.
“You are the first English girl I have met,” he answered with extraordinary venom in his voice, “who has not said ‘ripping’.”
T'WENTY minutes later A Austin Selwyn, unable to secure a taxi, tramped along Oxford Street towards his hotel. He had just reached the Circus when the malignant wind, hiding in ambush down Regent Street, rushed at him unawares and sent his hat roistering into the doorway of a store. With a frown, Selwyn stopped and stared at the truant.
“Confound the wretched thing!” he said.
But it is doubtful if he was thinking altogether of the hat.
A Morning in November
AUSTIN SELWYN rose from his bed and looked at Berners Street glistening in a sunlight that must have'warmed Madame Carlotti herself. With a lazy pleasure in the process, he recalled, the picture of Elise Durwent sitting in the dim shadows of the firelit room; he felt again the fragrance of her person as he leaned over her with the lighted match. On the canvas of his brain was thrown the rich coloring of the English girl, with the copperhued luxury of hair and the eyes that seemed to steal some magic from the fire; and he saw again those warring lips, the crimson upper one chiding the passionate scarlet of its twin.
Idly, while enjoying the unusual , dissipation of a prebreakfast cigarette, he tried to imagine the course of incident and heredity that had produced her strange personality. That there was a bitterness somewhere in her disposition was obvious; but it certainly could not have come from the mother, who was the soul of contentment. He found himself speculating on the peculiar quality of personality, that strange thing which makes an individual something apart from others of his kind, that gift which singles out a girl of ordinary appearance and leaves one of flawless beauty still w.agging her pretty head in the front row of the chorus. From that point he began to Speculate on the loneliness of personality, which so often robs its owner of the cheery companionship of commonplace'people.
On the whole, he regretted that he was going to see her again so soon. Her pertness, which had seemed fairly clever the previous night, would probably descend to triteness in the morning; he could even see her endeavoring to keep up the same exchange of short sentences. Bah!
It was like a duel with toothpicks. The stolid respectability of Berners Street lent its aid to the conviction that the morning would hold nothing but anti-climax.
And he was poet enough to prefer an unfinished sonnet to one with an inartistic ending.
A USTIN SELWYN was twenty-six—an age which ** has something in common with almost every one of the seven celebrated by Shakespeare. Like most men in their twenties, he had the character of a chameleon, and adapted himself to his surroundings with almost uncanny facility. At college he had been an ardent member of a dozen cliques, even falling under the egotism of the men who dabbled in Spiritualism, but a clarity of thought and a Continued on page 59 strain of Dutch ancestry kept his feet on the earth when the rest of him showed signs of soaring.
The Parts Men Play
Continued from page 15
Some moderate wit had said of him at college that he was himself only twice a day
when he got up in the morning and when he went to bed at night. This Stevensonian theory was not quite true, for a chameleon does not cease to be a chameleon because it changes its color.
It was perhaps his susceptibility to the many vintages of existence that had impelled him to write, authors being more or less a natural result of the economic law of intake and output. As is the habit of most young writers, he wrote on various subjects, put enough material for a two-
volume novel into a short story, and generally revelled in the prodigality of literary youth. He was prepared to be a social satirist, a chronicler of the Smart Set, a champion of the down-trodden masses, or a commercial essayist, according to the first public that showed appreciation of his work.
Although he had lived in Boston, that city which claims so close an affinity to ancient Athens (as a matter of fact, has it not been said that Athens is the Boston of Europe?), he was drawn to the great vortex of New York, that mighty capital of modernism which sucks the best brains of an entire continent. For some time he wrote beneath his own standard and with considerablejsuccess. Following the example of several successful New York i authors, he plunged into a hectic portrayal of “high” society, a set of people that makes one wonder as to the exact meaning ¡ of theTadjective. For a short space he came under the influence of the studied I Bohemianism of “Greenwich Village,”
! and wrote deucedly clever things for the ¡ applause of the villagers, then sneered at I American taste because people in Arkansas I did not like his work. Still retaining his i love of Greenwichery, he next succumbed I to the money lure of the motion-picture I industry, which offered to buy the picturerights of his stories, provided he would introduce into them the elements which go to make up successful American films.
With the prospect of a bank president’s income before him, he succeeded in writing his share of that form of American litera1 ture which has a certain love interest,
; almost obscured by a nasty sexual diagnosis, an element of comedy relief, and,
I above all, a passionate adherence to the 1 craze of the moment—a work that fades from the mind with the closing of the book,
■ as the memory of the author’s name vanishes almost before the last sound of the i earth dropped upon his coffin.
He knew that there were sincere literati writing of the abiding things that do not die with the passing of a season, but the clamor of commercialism drowned their ! voices. As though they were stocks upon an exchange, he heard the cries: “Brown’s getting five thousand dollars a _ month writing serials for Hitch’s”; _ “Smith sold two novels on synopsis for thirty thousand dollars”; “Green’s signed up with Tagwicks for four years at two thousand dollars a month writing problem novels.” Into I the maelstrom of “Dollars, Dollars, Dollars” the sensitive brains of all America were drifting, throwing overboard ideals i and aspirations in order to keep afloat in •
I the swirling foam.
AND then—the Fates stooped and touched his destiny with a star.
A New York publisher (one of that little group which has for its motto, “Art for Art’s sake,” not “Art, for God’s sake!”) noticed him, and spoke of literature as an expression of the soul, a thing not of a season or a decade, but as ageless as a painting. -
His ear caught the new song of attainment just as readily as it had received the chorus of “Dollars.” He wrote a novel of New England life, full of faults, but vibrant with promise; and having gathered together quite a nice sum of money, he went to England, at the advice of the beforementioned publisher, there and elsewhere in Europe to absorb the less oxygenic atmosphere of older civilizations, which still gives birth to the beginnings of things.
Twice he had visited Paris. The first time, with the instinct of the tourist, he had discovered the vileness of the place—a discovery fairly easy of accomplishment. The second time he had ignored the tourist-stimulated aspect of Paris life, and had allowed his senses to absorb the soul of the Capital of all the Latins, the laboratory óf civilization. And he who has done that is never the same man again. Germany had ministered to his reason, and Italy to his emotions; but he found his greatest interest in London, which offered to him an endless inspiration of changing moods, of vagrant smells, and the effect of a stupendous drama of humanity.
Under the spell of Europe’s ageless artistry and the rich-hued meadows of England’s literary past he had grown humble. The song of “Dollars” was less clamorous than the echo of the ocean in the heart of a sea-shell. When he wrote, which was seldom, he approached his paper-littered desk as an artist does his canvas. It was the medium by which he might gain a modest niche in the Hall of Immortals—or, failing that, his soul at least would be enriched by the sincerity of his endeavor.
In that highly artistic frame of mind he suddenly secured the entree into London Society. For some reason, as unaccountable as the reverse, a wave of popularity for Americans was breaking against' the oak doors, and he was carried in on the crest. The result was not ennobling. The dormant instinct of satire leaped to life and the idealist became the jester.
But then he was twenty-six and most agreeably susceptible to haphazard^ influence. Being a Bostonian, he acquitted himself with creditable savoir faire; and being an American, his appreciation of the
ridiculous saved him from the quagmire of snobbery, though he made many friends and dined regularly with august people, whose family trees were so rich in growth that they lived in perpetual gloom from the foliage.
Lady Durwent’s dinner-party had been an expedition into the artistic fakery of London and he would have dismissed the whole affair as a stimulating and amusing diversion from the ultra-aristocratic rut if the personality of Elise Durwent had not remained with him like a haunting melody.
He looked at his watch. “By Jove!” he muttered; “it’s nine o’clock”; and hurriedly completing his ablutions, he dressed and descended to breakfast.
INTO the row of splendidly inert houses known as Chelmsford Gardens, Austin Selwyn turned his couree. A couple of saddle-horses were standing outside No. 8, held by a groom of expressionless countenance. From No. 3 a butler emerged, looked at the morning, and retired. Elsewhere inaction reigned.
Ringing the bell, Selwyn was admitted into ' the music-room of the previous night’s scene. The portrait of a famous Elizabethan beauty looked at him with plump and saucy arrogance. In place of the crackling fire a new one was laid, all orderly and proper, like a set of new resolutions. The genial disorder of the chairs, moved at the whim of the Olympians, had all been put straight, and the whole room possessed an air of studied correctness, as though it were anxious to forget the previous evening’s laxity with the least possible delay.
Elise Durwent swept into the room with an impression of boundless vitality. She was dressed in a black riding-habit with a divided skirt, from beneath which a pair of glistening riding-boots shone with a Cossack touch. Her copper hair, which was arranged to lie rather low at the back, was guarded by a sailor-hat that enhanced to the full the finely formed features and arched eyebrows. There was an extraordinary sense of youthfulness about her—not the youthfulness of immaturity, but the stimulating quality of the spint.
“I came here this morning,” began Selwyn vaguely, “expecting—”
“Expecting a frumpy, red-haired girl with a black derby hat down to her nose.” He bowed solemnly. “Instead of which, I find—a Russian princess.”
“You are a dear. You can’t imagine how much thought I expended on this hat.”
“It was worth it. You look absolutely
“Just a minute, Mr. Selwyn. You are not going to tell me I look charming?” “That was my intention.”
She sighed, with a pretty pretence at disappointment. “That will cost me half-a-crown,” she said.
“I beg your—” _ .
“Yes; I wagered my maid two-and-six to a ‘bob’ that you wouldn’t use that
“It is really your fault that I .did,” he said seriously.
She curtsied daintily. “I make money on Englishmen and lose it on Americans,” she said. “My maid and I have a regular scale of bets. I give ten to one that an Englishman will say in the first ten minutes that I look ‘topping’; five to one on ‘absolutely ripping’; and even money on ‘stunning’ in the first hour.”
His face, which had been portraying an amusing mixture of perplexity and admiration, broke into a smile which encompassed all his features. “Do all bets cease at the end of the first hour?” he
“Yes, rz-ther. An Englishman never pays compliments then, because he is used to you. Isn’t it awful seeing people getting used to you?”
“Do they ever?”
“Umph’m. The only chance of bagging one of the nobility as a husband is to limit interviews to half-an-hour and never wear the same clothes twice. Startle him! Keep him startled! Save your most daring gown for the night you’re going to make him propœe, then wear white until the wedding. An Englishman will fall in love with a woman in scarlet, but he likes to think he’s marrying one who wears white. Costume, my dear Americano—costume does it. _ Hence the close alliance between the nobility and the chorus. But come along; we’re snubbing the sunlight.” . .
With something like intoxication in his blood, he followed his imperious, highspirited oompanion from the house. He hurried forward to help her to mount, but she had her foot in the stirrup and had swung herself into the saddle before he could reach her side. With less ease, but with creditable horse-management, Selwyn mounted the chestnut and drew alongside the bay, who was cavorting airily, as if to taunt the larger horse with the superior charm of the creature that bestrode him.
“We’ll he back, Smith, at twelve-thirty,” she called; and with the tossing of the horses’ heads, resentful of the restraining reins, and the clattering of hoofs that struck sparks from the roadway, they made for the Park.
IONDON is a stage that is always set.
■J The youthful Dickens watching the murky Thames found the setting for his moments of horror, justas surely as cheery coach-houses, many of them but little changed to this day, bespokethe entrance of Wellers senior and junior. London gave to Wilde’s exotic genius the scenes wherein his brilliantly futile characters played their wordy dramas; then, turning on the author, London’s own vileness called to his. Thackeray the satirist needed no further inspiration than the nicely drawn distinction between Belgravia and Mayfair. Generous London refused nothing to seeking mind. Nor is it more sparing to-day than it was in the past; it yields its inspiration to the gloom of Galsworthy, the pedagogic utterances of Mr. Wells, the brilliant restlessness of Arnold Bennett, and the ever-delightful humor of Punch.
On this November morning London was in a gracious mood, and Hyde Park, colored with autumn’s pensive melancholy, sparkled in the sunlight. Snowy bits of cloud raced across the sky, like sails against the blue of the ocean. November leaves, lying thick upon the grass, stirred into life, and for an hour imagined the fickle wind to be a harbinger of spring. Children, with laughter that knew no other cause than the exhilaration of the morning, played and romped, weaving dreams into their lives and their lives into dreams. Invalids in chairs leaned back upon their pillows and smiled. Something in the laughter of the children or the spirit of the wind had recalled their own careless moments of full-lived youth.
Paris, despite your Bois de Boulogne; New York, for all the beauties of your Central Tark and Riverside Drive—what have you to compare with London’s parks on a sun-intoxicated morning in November?
Reaching the tan-bark surface of Rotten Row, Selwyn and the English girl eased the reins and let the horses into a canter. With the motion of the strong-limbed chestnut the American felt a wave of exultation, and chuckled from no better cause than sheer enjoyment in the morning’s mood of emancipation. He glanced at Elise Durwent, and saw that her eyes were sparkling like diamonds, and that the self-conscious bay was shaking his head and cantering so lightly that he seemed to be borne on the wings of the wind. Selwyn wished that he were a sculptor that he might make her image in bronze; he would call it “Recalcitrant Autumn.” He even felt that he could burst into poetry. He wished—
BUT then he was in the glorious twenties;
and after all, what has the gorged millionaire, rolling along in his beflowered, bewarmed, becushioned limousine, that can give one-tenth the pleasure of the grip on the withers of a spirited horse?
Sometimes they walked their beasts, and chatted on such subjects as young people choose when spirits are high and care is on a vacation. They were experiencing that keenest of pleasures—joy in the present. For centuries philosophers have sought to prove the musty theory that happiness is only in retrospect or anticipation. It is not true, although there is happiness in both of these; but complete enjoyment of the passing hour, with never a thought of the yesterday or the to-morrow, is one of the climaxes of life.
They watched London Society equestrianizing for the admiration of the less washed, who were gazing from chairs and benches, trying to tell from their appearance which was a duke and which merely “mister”—and usually guessing quite wrongly. Ladies of title, some of them riding so badly that their steeds were goaded into foam by the incessant pull of the curb bit, trotted past young ladies and gentlemen with note-books, who had been sent by an eager Press to record the activities of the truly great. Handsome women rode in the Row with their children mounted on wiry ponies (always a charming sight); and middleaged, angular females, wearing the customary riding-hat which reduces beauty to plainness and plainness to caricature, rode melancholy quadrupeds, determined, to do that which is done by those who are of consequence in the world.
But pleasures born of the passing hour, unlike those of the past or of anticipation, end with the striking of the clock. It seemed to Austin Selwyn that they had been riding only for the space of minutes, when Elise asked him the time.
“It is twenty minutes to one,” he said. “I had no idea time had passed so quickly.” “Nor I,” she answered. “Just one more canter, and then we’ll go.”
The eager horses chafed at their bits, and pleaded, after the manner of their kind, to be allowed one mad gallop with heaving flanks and snorting triumph at the end; but decorum forbade, and contenting themselves with the agreeable counterfeit, Selwyn and the girl reluctantly turned from the Park towards home.
The expressionless Smith was waiting for, them, and looked at the two horses with that peculiar intolerance towards their riders which the very best groom in the world cannot refrain from showing.
“Won’t you come in and take the chance of what there is for lunch?" she said as Selwyn helped her to dismount,
“N-no, tnanks,” he said.
She pouted, or pretended to. “Now, why?” she said as Smith mounted the chestnut, and touching his hat, walked the horses away.
“There is no reason,” he said, smiling, “except —look here; will you come downtown and have dinner with me to-night?” “You Americans are refreshing,” she said, burrowing the toe of her riding-boot with the point of the crop. “As a matter of fact, I have to go to dinner to-night at Lady Chisworth’s.”
'‘Then have a headache,” he persisted. “Please,” as her lips proceeded to form a negative.
“Someone would see us, and Lady Chisworth would declare war.”
“Then let us dine in some obscure restaurant in Soho.”
“There’s no such thing, old dear. Soho is always full of the best people dining incog. Almost the only place where you are free from your friends is Claridge’s.” “Well”—his nose crinkled at her remark—“then let us go to Claridge’s. Miss Durwent, I know I’m too persistent, but it would be a wonderful ending to a bully day. You know you’ll be bored at Lady Chisworth’s, and I shall be if you don’t come.”
“Humph!” She stood on the first of the stone steps, her agile gracefulness lending itself to the picture of healthy, roseate youth. “Where could we meet?”
“Let me call for you.”
“N-no. That wouldn’t do.”
“Would your mother object?”
“Heavens, no!—but the servants would. You see, English morality is largely living up to your servants—and we only met last
“But you will come?” He crossed his j hands behind his back and swung the crop against his boots.
“Mr. Selwyn,” she said, “your books should be very interesting.”
“From now on they will be,” he said, ! “if—”
“All right,” she interrupted him with something of the staccato mannerism of the evening before. “I’ll motor down in my little car, and we’ll go to the^Cafe
“Good—wherever that may be.”
“No one has discovered it yet but me,” she said. “Then I shall have a headache at four, and meet you outside Oxford Circus Tube at seven.”
“You’re a real sport, Miss Durwent.”
“Ah, monsieur—” she smiled with a roguishness that completely unsettled him for the remainder of the day—“have you no sympathy for my headache?”
To be Continued.