THE SOCIETY AND ITS NEW SECRETARY.
THERE is no use in trying to hurry the natural course of events, in a narrative like this. June passed away, and July, and August had come, and as yet the enigma which had completely puzzled Arrowhead Village and its visitors remained unsolved. The white canoe still wandered over the lake, alone, ghostly, always avoiding the near approach of the boats which seemed to be coming in its direction. Now and then a circumstance would happen which helped to keep inquiry alive. Good horsemanship was not so common among the young men of the place and its neighborhood that Maurice’s accomplishment in that way could be overlooked. If there was a wicked horse or a wild colt whose owner was afraid of him, he would be commended to Maurice’s attention. Paolo would lead him to his master with all due precaution, — for he had no idea of risking his neck on the back of any illconditioned beast, — and Maurice would fasten on his long spurs, spring into the saddle, and very speedily teach the creature good behavior. There soon got about a story that he was what the fresh-water fisherman called “ one o’ them whisperers.” It is a common legend enough, coming from the Old World, but known in American horsetalking circles, that some persons will whisper certain words in a horse’s ear which will tame him if he is as wild and furious as ever Cruiser was. All this added to the mystery which surrounded the young man. A single improbable or absurd story amounts to very little, but when half a dozen such stories are told about the same individual or the same event, they begin to produce the effect of credible evidence. If the year had been 1692 and the place had been Salem Village, Maurice Kirkwood would have run the risk of being treated like the Reverend George Burroughs.
Miss Lurida Vincent’s curiosity had been intensely excited with reference to the young man of whom so many stories were told. She had pretty nearly convinced herself that he was the author of the paper on Ocean, Lake, and River, which had been read at one of the meetings of the Pansophian Society. She was very desirous of meeting him, if it were possible. It seemed as if she might, as Secretary of the Society, request the coöperation of any of the visitors, without impropriety. So, after much deliberation, she wrote a careful note, of which the following is an exact copy. Her hand was bold, almost masculine, a curious contrast to that of Euthymia, which was delicately feminine.
Copyright, 1885, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.
ARROWHEAD VILLAGE, August 3, 18—.
MAURICE KIRKWOOD, ESQ.
DEAR SIR, — You have received, I trust, a card of invitation to the meetings of our Society, but I think we have not yet had the pleasure of seeing you at any of them. We have supposed that we might be indebted to you for a paper read at the last meeting, and listened to with much interest. As it was anonymous, we do not wish to be inquisitive respecting its authorship; but we desire to say that any papers kindly sent us by the temporary residents of our village will be welcome, and if adapted to the wants of our Association will be read at one of its meetings or printed in its records, or perhaps both read and printed. May we not hope for your presence at the meeting, which is to take place next Wednesday evening?
Secretary of the Pansophian Society.
To this note the Secretary received the following reply : —
ARROWHEAD VILLAGE, August 4, 18—.
Miss LURIDA VINCENT,
Secretary of the Pansophian Society.
DEAR MISS VINCENT, I have received the ticket you refer to, and desire to express my acknowledgments for the polite attention. I regret that I have not been and I fear shall not be able to attend the meetings of the Society ; but if any subject occurs to me on which I feel an inclination to write, it will give me pleasure to send a paper, to be disposed of as the Society may see fit.
Very respectfully yours,
“ He says nothing about the authorship of the paper that was read the other evening,” the Secretary said to herself. “No matter, — he wrote it, — there is no mistaking his handwriting. We know something about him, now, at any rate. But why does n’t he come to our meetings ? What has his antipathy to do with his staying away ? I must find out what his secret is, and I will. I don’t believe it’s harder than it was to solve that prize problem which puzzled so many teachers, or than beating Crakowitz, the great chess-player.”
To this enigma, then, The Terror determined to bend all the faculties which had excited the admiration and sometimes the amazement of those who knew her in her school-days. It was a very delicate piece of business; for though Lurida was an intrepid woman’s rights advocate, and believed she was entitled to do almost everything that men dared to, she knew very well there were certain limits which a young woman like herself must not pass.
In the mean time Maurice had received a visit from the young student at the University, — the same whom he had rescued from his dangerous predicament in the lake. With him had called one of the teachers, — an instructor in modern languages, a native of Italy. Maurice and the instructor exchanged a few words in Italian. The young man spoke it with the ease which implied long familiarity with its use.
After they left, the instructor asked many curious questions about him,— who he was, how long he had been in the village, whether auything was known of his history, — all these inquiries with an eagerness which implied some special and peculiar reason for the interest they evinced.
“ I feel satisfied,” the instructor said. “ that I have met that young man in my own country. It was a number of years ago, and of course he has altered in appearance a good deal; but there is a look about him of — what shall I call it? — apprehension,—as if he were fearing the approach of something or somebody. I think it is the way a man would look that was haunted ; you know what I mean, — followed by a spirit or ghost. He does not suggest the idea of a murderer, — very far from it; but if he did, I should think he was every minute in fear of seeing the murdered man’s spirit.”
The student was curious, in his turn, to know all the instructor could recall. He had seen him in Rome, he thought, at the Fountain of Trevi, where so many strangers go before leaving the city. The youth was in the company of a man who looked like a priest. He could not mistake that peculiar expression of countenance, but that was all he now remembered about his appearance. His attention had been called to this young man by seeing that some of the bystanders were pointing at him, and noticing that they were whispering with each other as if with reference to him. He should say that the youth was at that time fifteen or sixteen years old, and the time was about ten years ago.
After all, this evidence was of little or no value. Suppose the youth were Maurice ; what then ? We know that he had been in Italy, and had been there a good while, — or at least we infer so much from his familiarity with the language, and are confirmed in the belief by his having an Italian servant, whom he probably brought from Italy when he returned. If he wrote the paper which was read the other evening, that settles it, for the writer says he had lived by the Tiber. We must put this scrap of evidence furnished by the Professor with the other scraps; it may turn out of some consequence, sooner or later. It is like a piece of a dissected map; it means almost nothing by itself, but when we find the pieces it joins with we may discover a very important meaning in it.
In a small, concentrated community like that which centred in and immediately around Arrowhead Village, every day must have its local gossip as well as its general news. The newspaper tells the small community what is going on in the great world, and the busy tongues of male and female, especially the latter, fill in with the occurrences and comments of the ever-stirring microcosm. The fact that the Italian teacher had, or thought he had, seen Maurice ten years before was circulated and made the most of, — turned over and over like a cake, until it was thoroughly done on both sides and all through. It was a very small cake, but better than nothing. Miss Vincent heard this story, as others did, and talked about it with her friend, Miss Tower. Here was one more fact to help along.
The two young ladies who had recently graduated at the Corinna Institute remained, as they had always been, intimate friends. They were the natural complements of each other. Euthymia represented a complete, symmetrical womanhood. Her outward presence was only an index of a large, wholesome, affluent life. She could not help being courageous, with such a firm organization. She could not help being generous, cheerful, active. She had been told often enough that she was fair to look upon. She knew that she was called The Wonder by the schoolmates who were dazzled by her singular accomplishments, but she did not overvalue them. She rather tended to depreciate her own gifts, in comparison with those of her friend, Miss Lurida Vincent. The two agreed all the better for differing as they did. The octave makes a perfect chord, when shorter intervals jar more or less on the ear. Each admired the other with a heartiness which, if they had been less unlike, would have been impossible.
It was a pleasant thing to observe their dependence on each other. The Terror of the schoolroom was the oracle in her relations with her friend. All the freedom of movement which The Wonder showed in her bodily exercises The Terror manifested in the world of thought. She would fling open a book, and decide in a swift glance whether it had any message for her. Her teachers had compared her way of reading to the taking of an instantaneous photograph. When she took up the first book on Physiology which Dr. Putts handed her, it seemed to him that if she only opened at any place, and gave one look, her mind drank its meaning up, as a moist sponge absorbs water. “ What can I do with such a creature as this ? ” he said to himself. “ There is only one way to deal with her, — treat her as one treats a silkworm : give it its mulberry leaf, and it will spin its own cocoon. Give her the books, and she will spin her own web of knowledge.”
“ Do you really think of studying medicine?” said Dr. Butts to her.
“ I have n’t made up my mind about that,” she answered, “ but I want to know a little more about this terrible machinery of life and death we are all tangled in. I know something about it, but not enough. I find some very strange beliefs among the women I meet with, and I want to be able to silence them when they attempt to proselyte me to their whims and fancies. Besides, I want to know everything.”
“ They tell me you do, already,” said Dr. Butts.
“ I am the most ignorant little wretch that draws the breath of life! ” exclaimed The Terror.
The doctor smiled. He knew what it meant. She had reached that stage of education in which the vast domain of the unknown opens its illimitable expanse before the eyes of the student. We never know the extent of darkness until it is partially illuminated.
“ You did not leave the Institute with the reputation of being the most ignorant young lady that ever graduated there,” said the doctor. “ They tell me you got the highest marks of any pupil on their record since the school was founded.”
“ What a grand thing it was to be the biggest fish in our small aquarium, to be sure! ” answered The Terror. “ He was six inches long, the monster,
— a little too big for bait to catch a pickerel with ! What did you hand me that schoolbook for ? Did you think I did n’t know anything about the human body ? ”
“ You said you were such an ignorant creature I thought I would try you with an easy book, by way of introduction.”
The Terror was not confused by her apparent self-contradiction.
“ I meant what I said, and I mean what I say. When I talk about my ignorance, I don’t measure myself with schoolgirls, doctor. I don’t measure myself with my teachers, either. You must talk to me as if I were a man, a grown man, if you mean to teach me anything. Where is your hat, doctor ? Let me try it on.”
The doctor handed her his wideawake. The Terror’s hair was not naturally abundant, like Euthymia’s, and she kept it cut rather short. Her head used to get very hot when she studied hard. She tried to put it on.
“ Do you see that ? ” she said. " I could n’t wear it, — it would squeeze my eyes out of my head. The books told me that women’s brains were smaller than men’s, perhaps they are, — most of them, — I never measured a great many. But when they try to settle what women are good for, by phrenology, I like to have them put their tape round my head. I don’t believe in their nonsense, for all that. You might as well tell me that if one horse weighs more than another horse, he is worth more,
— a cart-horse that weighs twelve hundred pounds better than Eclipse, that may have weighed a thousand. Give me a list of the best books you can think of, and turn me loose in your library. I can find what I want, if you have it; and what I don’t find there I will get at the Public Library. I shall want to ask you a question now and then.”
The doctor looked at her with a kind of admiration, but thoughtfully, as if he feared she was thinking of a task too formidable for her slight constitutional resource.
She returned, instinctively, to the apparent contradiction in her statements about herself.
“ I am not a fool, if I am ignorant. Yes, doctor, I sail on a wide sea of ignorance, but I have taken soundings of some of its shallows and some of its depths. Your profession deals with the facts of life that interest me most just now, and I want to know something of it. Perhaps I may find it a calling such as would suit me.”
“ Do you seriously think of becoming a practitioner of medicine?” said the doctor.
“ Certainly, I seriously think of it as a possibility, but I want to know something more about it first. Perhaps I sha’n’t believe in medicine enough to practise it. Perhaps I sha’n’t like it well enough. No matter about that. I wish to study some of your best books on some of the subjects that most interest me. I know about bones and muscles and all that, and about digestion and respiration and such things. I want to study up the nervous system, and learn all about it. I am of the nervous temperament myself, and perhaps that is the reason. I want to read about insanity and all that relates to it.”
A curious expression flitted across the doctor’s features as The Terror said this.
“ Nervous system. Insanity. She has headaches, I know, — all those large-headed, hard-thinking girls do, as a matter of course; but what has set her off about insanity and the nervous system? I wonder if any of her family are subject to mental disorder. Bright people very often have crazy relations. Perhaps some of her friends are in that way. I wonder whether ” — the doctor did not speak any of these thoughts, and in fact hardly shaped his “ whether,” for The Terror interrupted his train of reflection, or rather struck into it in a way which startled him.
“ Where is the first volume of this Medical Cyclopædia ? ”she asked, looking at its empty place on the shelf.
“On my table,” the doctor answered. “ I have been consulting it.”
Lurida flung it open, in her eager way, and turned the pages rapidly until she came to the one she wanted. The doctor cast his eye on the heading of the page, and saw the large letters A N T.
“ I thought so,” he said to himself. “ We shall know everything there is in the books about antipathies now, if we never did before. She has a special object in studying the nervous system, just as I suspected. I think she does not care to mention it at this time ; but if she finds out anything of interest she will tell me, if she does anybody. Perhaps she does not mean to tell anybody. It is a rather delicate business, —a young girl studying the natural history of a young man. Not quite so safe as botany or palæontology ! ”
Lurida, lately The Terror, now Miss Vincent, had her own plans, and chose to keep them to herself, for the present, at least. Her hands were full enough, it might seem, without undertaking the solution of the great Arrowhead Village enigma. But she was in the most perfect training, so far as her intelligence was concerned; and the summer rest had restored her bodily vigor, so that her brain was like an over-charged battery which will find conductors somewhere to carry off its crowded energy.
At this time Arrowhead Village was enjoying the most successful season it had ever known. The Pansophhian Society flourished to an extraordinary degree under the fostering care of the new Secretary. The rector was a good figure-head as President, but the Secretary was the life of the Society. Communications came in abundantly : some from the village and its neighborhood, some from the University and the Institute, some from distant and unknown sources. The new Secretary was very busy with the work of examining these papers. After a forenoon so employed, the carpet of her room looked like a barn floor after a husking-match. A glance at the manuscripts strewed about, or lying in heaps, would have frightened any young writer away from the thought of authorship as a business. If the candidate for that fearful calling had seen the process of selection and elimination, he would have felt still more desperately. A paper of twenty pages would come in, with an underscored request to please read through carefully. That request alone is commonly sufficient to condemn any paper, and prevent its having any chance of a hearing ; but the Secretary was not hardened enough yet for that kind of martial law in dealing with manuscripts. The Looker-on might have seen her take up the paper, cast one flashing glance at its title, read the first sentence and the last, dip at a venture into two or three pages, and decide as swiftly as the lightning calculator would add up a column of figures what was to be its destination. If rejected, it went into the heap on the left; if approved, it was laid apart, to be submitted to the Committee for their judgment. The foolish writers who insist on one’s reading through their manuscript poems and stories ought to know how fatal the request is to their prospects. It provokes the reader, to begin with. The reading of manuscript is frightful work, at the best; the reading of worthless manuscript, — and most of that which one is requested to read through is worthless, — would add to the terrors of Tartarus, if any infernal deity were ingenious enough to suggest it as a punishment.
If a paper was rejected by the Secretary, it did not come before the Committee, but was returned to the author, if he sent for it, which he commonly did. Its natural course was to try for admission into some one of the popular magazines: into “ The Sifter,” the most fastidious of them all; if that declined it, into “The Second Best;” and if that returned it, into “ The Omnivorous.” If it was refused admittance at the doors of all the magazines, it might at length find shelter in the corner of a newspaper, where a good deal of very readable verse is to be met with nowadays, some of which has been, no doubt, presented to the Pansophian Society, but was not considered up to its standard.
A NEW ARRIVAL.
There was a recent accession to the transient population of the village which gave rise to some speculation. The new-comer was a young fellow, rather careless in his exterior, but apparently as much at home as if he owned Arrowhead Village and everything in it. he commonly had a cigar in his mouth, carried a pocket pistol, of the non-explosive sort, and a stick with a bulldog’s head for its knob; wore a soft hat, a coarse check suit, a little baggy, and gaiterboots which had been half-soled, — a Bohemian-looking personage, altogether.
This individual began making explorations in every direction. He was very curious about the place and all the people in it. lie was especially interested in the Pansophian Society, about which he made all sorts of inquiries. This led him to form a summer acquaintance with the Secretary, who was pleased to give him whatever information he asked for ; being proud of the Society, as she had a right to be, and knowing more about it than anybody else.
The visitor could not have been long in the village without hearing something of Maurice Kirkwood, and the stories, true and false, connected with his name, He questioned everybody who could tell him anything about Maurice, and set down the answers in a little note-book he always had with him.
All this naturally excited the curiosity of the village about this new visitor. Among the rest, Miss Vincent, not wanting in an attribute thought to belong more especially to her sex, became somewhat interested to know more exactly who this inquiring, note-taking personage, who seemed to be everywhere and to know everybody, might himself be. Meeting him at the Public Library at a fortunate moment, when there was nobody but the old Librarian, who was hard of hearing, to interfere with their conversation, the little Secretary had a chance to try to find out something about him.
“ This is a very remarkable library for a small village to possess,” he remarked to Miss Lurida.
“ It is, indeed,” she said. “ Have you found it well furnished with the books you most want ? ”
“ Oh, yes, — books enough. I don’t care so much for the books as I do for the Newspapers. I like a Review well enough,— it tells you all there is in a book ; but a good abstract of the Review in a Newspaper saves a fellow the trouble of reading it.”
“ You find the papers you want, here, I hope,” said the young lady.
“ Oh, I get along pretty well. It’s my off-time, and I don’t do much reading or writing. Who is the city correspondent of this place ? ”
“ I don’t think we have any one who writes regularly. Now and then, there is a letter, with the gossip of the place in it, or an account of some of the doings at our Society. The city papers are always glad to get the reports of our meetings, and to know what is going on in the village.”
“ I suppose you write about the Society to the papers, as you are the Secretary.”
This was a point-blank shot. She meant to question the young man about his business, and here she was on the witness-stand. She ducked her head, and let the question go over her.
“ Oh, there are plenty of members who are willing enough to write, — especially to give an account of their own papers. I think they like to have me put in the applause, when they get any. I do that sometimes.” (How much more, she did not say.)
“ I have seen some very well written articles, which, from what they tell me of the Secretary, I should have thought she might have written herself.”
He looked her straight in the eyes.
“ I have transmitted some good papers,” she said, without winking, or swallowing, or changing color, — precious little color she had to change; her brain wanted all the blood it could borrow or steal, and more too. “ You spoke of Newspapers,” she said, without any change of tone or manner : “do you not frequently write for them yourself? ”
“ I should think I did,” answered the young man. “ I am a regular correspondent of The People’s Perennial and Household Inquisitor.’ ”
“ The regular correspondent from where ? ”
“ Where ! Oh, anywhere, — the place does not make much difference. I have been writing chiefly from Naples and St. Petersburg, and now and then from Constantinople.”
“ How long since your return to this country, may I ask ? ”
“ My return ? I have never been out of this country. I travel with a gazetteer and some guide-books. It is the cheapest way, and you can get the facts much better from them than by trusting your own observation. I have made the tour of Europe by the help of them and the newspapers. But of late I have taken to interviewing. I find that a very pleasant specialty. It is about as good sport as trout-tickling, and much the same kind of business. I should like to send the Society an account of one of my interviews. Don’t you think they would like to hear it?”
“I have no doubt they would. Send it to me, and I will look it over ; and if the Committee approve it, we will have it at the next meeting. You know everything has to be examined and voted on by the Committee,” said the cautious Secretary.
“Very well, — I will risk it. After it is read, if it is read, please send it back to me, as I want to sell it to ‘ The Sifter,’or ‘ The Second Best,’ or some of the paying magazines.”
This is the paper, which was read at the next meeting of the Tansophian Society.
“ I was ordered by the editor of the newspaper to which I am attached, ‘The People’s Perennial and Household Inquisitor,’ to make a visit to a certain well-known writer, and obtain all the particulars I could concerning him and all that related to him, I have interviewed a good many politicians, who I thought rather liked the process; but I had never tried any of these literary people, and I was not quite sure how this one would feel about it. I said as much to the chief, but he pooh-poohed my scruples. ‘ It is n’t our business whether they like it or not,’ said he ; ‘ the public wants it, and what the public wants it’s bound to have, and we are bound to furnish it. Don’t be afraid of your man; he ’s used to it, — he ’s been pumped often enough to take it easy, and what you ’ve got to do is to pump him dry. You need n’t be modest, — ask him what you like; he is n’t bound to answer, you know.’
“ As he lived in a rather nice quarter of the town, I smarted myself up a little, put on a fresh collar and cuffs, and got a five-cent shine on my best highlows. I said to myself, as I was walking towards the house where he lived, that I would keep very shady for a while, and pass for a visitor from a distance ; one of those ‘ admiring strangers,’who call in to pay their respects, to get an autograph, and go home and say that they have met the distinguished So and So, which gives them a certain distinction in the village circle to which they belong.
“ My man, the celebrated writer, received me in what, was evidently his reception-room. I observed that he managed to get the light full on my face, while his own was in the shade. I had meant to have his face in the light, but he knew the localities, and had arranged things so as to give him that advantage. It was like two frigates manœuvring, — each trying to get to windward of the other. I never take out my notebook until I and my man have got engaged in artless and earnest conversation,— always about himself and his works, of course, if he is an author.
“ I began by saying that he must receive a good many callers. Those who had read his books were naturally curious to see the writer of them.
“ He assented, emphatically, to this statement. He had, he said, a great many callers.
“ I remarked that there was a quality in his books which made his readers feel as if they knew him personally, and caused them to cherish a certain attachment to him.
“He smiled, as if pleased. He was himself disposed to think so, he said. In fact, a great many persons, strangers writing to him, had told him so.
“ My dear sir, I said, there is nothing wonderful in the fact you mention. You reach a responsive chord in many human breasts.
Everybody feels as if he, and especially she (his eyes sparkled), were your blood relation. Do they not name their children after you very frequently?
“ He blushed perceptibly. ‘ Sometimes,’he answered. ‘I hope they will all turn out well.’
“ I am afraid I am taking up too much of your time, I said.
“‘Ho, not at all,’ he replied. ‘ Come up into iny library; it is warmer and pleasanter there.’
“ I felt confident that I had him by the right handle then ; for an author’s library, which is commonly his workingroom, is, like a lady’s boudoir, a sacred apartment.
“ So we went upstairs, and again he got me with the daylight on my face, when I wanted it on his.
“ You have a fine library, I remarked. There were books all round the room, and one of those whirligig square bookcases. I saw in front a Bible and a Concordance, Shakespeare and Mrs. Covvden Clarke’s book, and other classical works and books of grave aspect. I contrived to give it a turn, and on the side next the wall I got a glimpse of Barnurn’s Rhyming Dictionary, and several Dictionaries of Quotations and cheap compends of knowledge. Always twirl one of those revolving book-cases when you visit a scholar’s library. That is the way to find out what books he does n’t want you to see, which of course are the ones you particularly wish to see.
“ Some may call all this impertinent and inquisitive. What do you suppose is an interviewer’s business ? Did you ever see an oyster opened ? Yes? Well, an interviewer’s business is the same thing. His man is his oyster, which he, not with sword, but with pencil and note-book, must open. Mark how the oysterman’s thin blade insinuates itself, — how gently at first, how strenuously when once fairly between the shells!
“ And here, I said, you write your books, — those books which have carried your name to all parts of the world, and will convey it down to posterity ! Is this the desk at which you write ? And is this the pen you write with ?
“‘It is the desk and the very pen,’ he replied.
“ lie was pleased with tny questions and my way of putting them. 1 took up the [ten as reverentially as if it had been made of the feather which the angel I used to read about in Young’s Night Thoughts ought to have dropped, and did n’t.
“ Would you kindly write your autograph in my note-book, with that pen ? I asked him. Yes, he would, with great pleasure.
“ So I got out my note-book.
“ It was a spick and span new one, bought on purpose for this interview. I admire your book-cases, said I. Can you tell me just bow high they are ?
“ ‘They are about eight feet, with the cornice.’
“ I should like to have some like those, if I ever get rich enough, said I. Eight feet, — eight feet, with the cornice. I must put that down.
“ So I got out my pencil.
“ I sat there with my pencil and notebook in my hand, all ready, but not using them as yet.
“ I have heard it said, I observed, that you began writing poems at a very early age. Is it taking too great a liberty to ask how early you began to write in verse ?
“ He was getting interested, as people are apt to be when they are themselves the subjects of conversation.
“ ‘ Very early, — I hardly know bow early. I can say truly, as Louise Colet said,
“ I am not a very good French scholar, said I ; perhaps you will be kind enough to translate that line for me.
“ ‘ Certainly. With pleasure. I made my first verses without knowing how to write them.’
“ How interesting ! But I never heard of Louise Colet. Who was she ?
“ My man was pleased to give me a piece of literary information.
“ ‘ Louise the lioness ! Never heard of her ? You have heard of Alphonse Karr ? ’
“ Why, — yes, — more or less. To tell the truth, I am not very well up in French literature. What had he to do with your lioness ?
“ ‘ A good deal. He satirized her, and she waited at his door with a case-knife in her hand, intending to stick him with it. By and by he came down, smoking a cigarette, and was met by this woman flourishing her case-knife. He took it from her, after getting a cut in his dressing-gown, put it in his pocket, and went on with his cigarette. He keeps it with an inscription : —
Lively little female ! ’
“ I could n’t help thinking that I should n’t have cared to interview the lively little female. He was evidently tickled with the interest I appeared to take in the story He told me. That made him feel amiably disposed toward me.
“ I began with very general questions, but by degrees I got at everything about his family history and the small events of his boyhood. Some of the points touched upon were delicate, but I put a good bold face on my most audacious questions, and so I wormed out a great deal that was new concerning my subject. He bad been written about considerably, and the public would n’t have been satisfied without some new facts ; and these I meant to have, and I got. No matter about many of them now, but here are some questions and answers that may be thought worth reading or listening to : —
“ How do you enjoy being what they call ‘ a celebrity,’ or a celebrated man ?
“ ‘ So far as one’s vanity is concerned it is well enough. But self-love is a cup without any bottom, and you might pour the Great Lakes all through it, and never fill it up. It breeds an appetite for more of the same kind. It tends to make the celebrity a mere lump of egotism. It generates a craving for high-seasoned personalities which is in danger of becoming slavery, like that following the abuse of alcohol, or opium, or tobacco. Think of a man’s having every day, by every post, letters that tell him he is this and that and the other, with epithets and endearments, one tenth part of which would have made him blush red hot before he began to be what you call a celebrity!’
“ Are there not some special inconveniences connected with what is called celebrity?
“ ‘ I should think so ! Suppose you were obliged every day of your life to stand and shake hands, as the President of the United States has to after his inauguration : how do you think your hand would feel after a few months’ practice of that exercise ? Suppose you had given you thirty-five millions of money a year, in hundred-dollar coupons, on condition that you cut them all off yourself in the usual manner: how do you think you should like the look of a pair of scissors at the end of a year, in which you had worked ten hours a day every day but Sunday, cutting off a hundred coupons an hour, and found you had not finished your task, after all ? You have addressed me as what you are pleased to call “ a literary celebrity.” I won’t dispute with you as to whether or not I deserve that title. I will take it for granted I am what you call me, and give you some few hints of my experience.
“ ‘ You knon there was formed a while ago an Association of Authors for SelfProtection. It meant well, and it was hoped that something would come of it in the way of relieving that oppressed class, but I am sorry to say that it has not effected its purpose.’
“ I suspected he had a hand in drawing up the Constitution and Laws of that Association. Yes, I said, an admirable Association it was, and as much needed as the one for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I am sorry to hear that it has not proved effectual in putting a stop to the abuse of a deserving class of men. It ought to have done it; it was well conceived, and its public manifesto was a masterpiece. (I saw by his expression that he was its author.)
“ ‘ I see I can trust you,’ he said. ‘ I will unbosom myself freely of some of the grievances attaching to the position of the individual to whom you have applied the term “ Literary Celebrity.”
“ ‘ He is supposed to be a millionaire, in virtue of the immense sales of his books, all the money from which, it is taken for granted, goes into his pocket. Consequently, all subscription papers are handed to him for his signature, and every needy stranger who has heard his name comes to him for assistance.
“ ‘ He is expected to subscribe for all periodicals, and is goaded by receiving blank formulæ, which, with their promises to pay, he is expected to fill up.
“ ‘ He receives two or three books daily, with requests to read and give his opinion about each of them, which opinion, if it has a word which can be used as an advertisement, he will find quoted in all the newspapers.
“ ‘ He receives thick masses of manuscript, prose and verse, which he is called upon to examine and pronounce on their merits ; these manuscripts having almost invariably been rejected by the editors to whom they have been sent, and having as a rule no literary value whatever.
“He is expected to sign petitions, to contribute to journals, to write for fairs, to attend celebrations, to make afterdinner speeches, to send money for objects he does not believe in to places he never heard of.
“ ‘ He is called on to keep up correspondences with unknown admirers, who begin by saying they have no claim upon his time, and then appropriate it by writing page after page, if of the male sex ; and sheet after sheet, if of the other.
“ ‘ If a poet, it is taken for granted that he can sit down at any moment and spin off any number of verses on any subject which may be suggested to him; such as congratulations to the writer’s greatgrandmother on her reaching her hundredth year, an elegy on an infant aged six weeks, an ode for the Fourth of July in a Western township not to be found in Lippincott’s last edition, perhaps a valentine for some bucolic lover who believes that wooing in rhyme is the way to win the object of his affections.’
“ Is n’t it so ? I asked the Celebrity.
“ ‘I would bet on the prose lover. She will show the verses to him, and they will both have a good laugh over them.’
“ I have only reported a small part of the conversation I had with the Literary Celebrity. He was so much taken up with his pleasing self-contemplation, as I made him air his opinions and feelings and spread his characteristics as his laundress spreads and airs his linen on the clothes-line, that I don’t believe it ever occurred to him that he had been in the hands of an interviewer until he found himself exposed to the wind and sunshine in full dimensions in the columns of ‘ The People’s Perennial and Household Inquisitor.’ ”
After the reading of this paper, much curiosity was shown as to who the person spoken of as the “ Literary Celebrity ” might be. Among the various suppositions the startling idea was suggested that he was neither more nor less than the unexplained personage known in the village as Maurice Kirkwood. Why should that be his real name ? Why should not he be the Celebrity, who had taken this name and tied to this retreat to escape from the persecutions of kind friends, who were pricking him and stabbing him nigh to death with their daggers of sugar candy ?
The Secretary of the Pansophian Society determined to question the Interviewer the next time she met him at the Library, which happened soon after the meeting when his paper was read.
“ I do not know,” she said, in the course of a conversation in which she had spoken warmly of his contribution to the literary entertainment of the Society, “ that you mentioned the name of the Literary Celebrity whom you interviewed so successfully.”
“ I did not mention him. Miss Vincent,” he answered, “nor do I think it worth while to name him. He might not care to have the whole story told of how he was handled so as to make him communicative. Besides, if I did, it would bring him a new batch of sympathetic letters, regretting that he was bothered by those horrid correspondents, full of indignation at the bores who presumed to intrude upon him with their pages of trash, all the writers of which would expect answers to their letters of condolence.”
The Secretary asked the Interviewer if he knew the young gentleman who called himself Maurice Kirkwood.
“ What,” he answered, — “ the man that paddles a birch canoe, and rides all the wild horses of the neighborhood? No, I don’t know him, but I have met him once or twice, out walking. A mighty shy fellow, they tell me. Do you know anything particular about him ? ”
“ Not much. None of us do, but we should like to. The story is that he has a queer antipathy to something or to somebody, nobody knows what or whom.”
“ To newspaper correspondents, perhaps,” said the Interviewer. “ What made you ask me about him ? You did n’t think he was my ‘ Literary Celebrity,’ did you ?”
“ I did not know. I thought he might be. Why don’t you interview this mysterious personage ? He would make a good sensation for your paper, I should think.”
“ Why, what is there to be interviewed in him ? Is there any story of crime, or anything else to spice a column or so, or even a few paragraphs, with ? If there is, I am willing to handle him professionally,”
“ I told you he has what they call an antipathy. I don’t know how much wiser you are for that piece of information.”
“ An antipathy ! Why, so have I an antipathy. I hate a spider, and as for a naked caterpillar, — I believe I should go into a fit if I had to touch one. I know I turn pale at the sight of some of those great green caterpillars that come down from the elm-trees in August and early autumn.”
“ Afraid of them ? ” asked the young lady.
“Afraid? What should I be afraid of ? They can’t bite or sting. I can’t give any reason. All I know is that when I come across one of these creatures in my path I jump to one side, and cry out, — sometimes using very improper words. The fact is, they make me crazy for the moment.”
“ I understand what you mean,” said Miss Vincent. “ I used to have the same feeling about spiders, but I was ashamed of it, and kept a little menagerie of Spiders until I had got over the feeling ; that is, pretty much got over it, for I don’t love the creatures very dearly, though I don’t scream when I see one.”
“ What did you tell me, Miss Vincent, was this fellow’s particular antipathy?”
“ That is just the question. I told you that we don’t know and we can’t guess what it is. The people here are tired out with trying to discover some good reason for the young man’s keeping out of the way of everybody, as he does. They say he is odd or crazy, and they don’t seem to be able to tell which. It would make the old ladies of the village sleep a great deal sounder, — yes, and some of the young ladies, too, — if they could find out what this Mr. Kirkwood has got into his head, that he never comes near any of the people here.”
“ I think I can find out,” said the Interviewer, whose professional ambition was beginning to be excited. “ I never came across anybody yet that I could n’t get something out of. I am going to stay here a week or two, and before I go I will find out the secret, if there is any, of this Mr. Maurice Kirkwood.”
We must leave the Interviewer to his contrivances until they present us with some kind of result, either in the shape of success or failure.
Oliver Wendell Holmes.