WHEN this crisis supervened, Lucien Royce was at New Helvetia Springs, at the bowling-alley. His resolution that the beautiful girl, whom he had learned to adore at a distance, should never see him again in a guise so unworthy of him, of his true position in life, and of his antecedents, collapsed one day in an incident which was a satiric comment upon its importance. He met her unexpectedly face to face in the mountain woods, within a few miles of the Cove, one of a joyous young equestrian party, and riding like the wind. The plainness of the black habit, the hat, the high close white collar, seemed to embellish her beauty, in that no adornments frivolously diverted the attention from the perfection of its detail. The flush on her cheek, the light in her eye, the lissome grace of her slender figure, all attested the breezy delight in the swift motion ; her smile shone down upon him like the sudden revelation of a star in the midst of a closing cloud, when he sprang forward and handed her the whip which she had dropped at the moment of passing, before the cavalier at her side could dismount to recover it. A polite inclination of the head, a murmur of thanks, a broadside of those absolutely unrecognizing eyes, and she was gone.
She evidently had no remembrance of him. His alert intuition could have detected it in her face if she had. For her he had no existence. He thought, as he walked on into the silence and the wilderness, of his resolution and his selfdenial, and he laughed bitterly at the futility of the one and the pangs of the other. He need never wince to be so lowly placed, so mean, so humble, for she never thought of him. He need not fear to go near her, to haunt, like the ghost he was, her ways in life, for she would never look at him, she would never realize that he was near; for most people are thus insensible of spectral influences.
When he sat for the first time on a bench against the wall, by the door of the bowling-alley, with two or three mountaineers whose lethargic curiosity — their venison or peaches having been sold — was excited in a degree by the spectacle of the game of tenpins, he had much ado to control the agitation that beset him, a certain sensation in his throat as if some sharp blade grazed and rasped it internally. But after this day he came often, availing himself of the special courtesy observed by the players in providing a bench for the mountaineers, as spectators who were indeed never intrusive or out of place, and generally of most listless and uninterested attitude toward the freaks and frivolities of New Helvetia. This attention seemed a gracious and kindly condescension, and flattered a conscious sentiment of noblesse oblige. There were other spectators, of better quality, on the other side of the long low building, —• the elders among the sojourners at New Helvetia Springs, —while down the centre, between the two alleys, were the benches on which the players were ranged.
She was sometimes among these, always graceful and girlish, with a look of innocence in her eyes like some sweet child’s, but wearing her youth and beauty like a crown, with that unique touch of dignity suggestive of a splendid future development, and that these days, lovely though they might be, were not destined to be her best. One might have pitied the hot envy he felt toward the youths who handed her the balls and applauded her play, and hung about near her, and talked in the intervals. — so foolish, so hopeless, so bitter it was. Sometimes he heard her responses: little of note, the talk of a girl of his day and world, but animated with a sort of individuality, a something like herself, — or did he fancy it was like no one else ? He had met his fate too late ; this was the one woman in all the world for him. She could have made of him anything she would. His heart stirred with a vague impulse of reminiscent ambitions that might have been facts had she come earlier. He loved her, and he felt that never before had he loved. The slight spurious evanescent emotion, evoked from idleness or folly or caprice, in sundry remembered episodes of his old world, or evolved in the desert of his loneliness for Euphemia, — how vain, how unreal, how ephemeral, how unjustified ! But she who would have been the supreme power in his life had come at last — and come too late. How truly he reasoned he knew well, as he sat in his humble garb amongst his uncouth associates on the segregated bench, and heard the thunder of the balls and the swift steps of the lightly passing figures at the head of the alley ; but surely he should not have been capable of an added pang when he discerned, with a sense almost as impersonal as if he were indeed the immaterial essence he claimed to be, her fate in the identity of a lately arrived guest. This was a man of middle height and slender, about thirty-five years of age, with a slight bald spot on the top of his well-shaped head. He had a keen narrow face, an inexpressive calm manner, and was evidently a personage of weight in the world of men, sustaining a high social and financial consideration. He did not take part in the game. He leaned against a pillar near her, and bent over her, and talked to her in the intervals of her play. When he was not in attendance on her he was with her parents. His mission here was most undisguised, and it seemed to the poor juggler that the fortunate suitor was but a personified conventionality, whom no woman could truly love, and who could truly love no woman.
When once he had acquired the sense of invisibility, he put no curb on his poor and humble cravings to see her, to hear the sound of her voice albeit she spoke only to others. Every day found him on the mountaineers’ bench at the bowlingalley, sometimes alone, sometimes in grotesque company, the ridicule, he knew, of the young and thoughtless; and he had no care if he were ridiculed too. Sometimes she came, and he was drearily happy. Frequently she was absent, and in dull despair he sat and dreamed of her till the game was done. He grew to love the inanimate things she touched, the dress she wore ; he even loved best that which she wore most often, and his heart lightened when he recognized it, as if the sight of it were some boon of fate, and their common preference for it a bond of sympathy. Once she came in late from a walk in the woods, wearing white, with a purple cluster of the wild verbena at her bosom. There was a blossom fallen upon the floor after they were all gone. He saw it as it slipped down, and he waited, and then, in the absolute solitude, with a furtive gesture he picked it up, and after that he always wore it. folded in a bit of paper, over his heart.
In the midst of this absorbing emotion Lucien Royce did not feel the pangs of supplantation till the fact had been repeatedly driven home. When, returning from New Helvetia, he would find Jack Ormsby sitting on the steps of the cabin porch, talking to Euphemia, he welcomed as a relief the opportunity to betake himself and his bitter brooding thoughts down to the bank of the river, where he was wont to walk to and fro under the white stars, heedless of the joyous voices floating down to him, deaf to all save the inflections of a voice in his memory. He began gradually to note with a dull surprise Euphemia’s scant, overlooking glance when her eyes must needs turn toward him ; her indifferent manner, — even averse, it might seem ; her disaffected languor save when Jack Ormsby’s shadow fell athwart the door. In some sort Royce had grown obtuse to all except the sentiment that enthralled him. Under normal circumstances he would have detected instantly the flimsy pretense with which she sought to stimulate his jealousy, to restore his allegiance, to sustain her pride. She had not dreamed that her hold upon his heart, gained only by reason of his loneliness and despair and the distastefulness of his surroundings, had slackened the instant a deep and real love took possession of him. She had not divined this hopeless, silent love — from afar, from infinite lengths of despair ! — for another. She only knew that somehow he had grown oblivious of her, and was much absent from her. This touched her pride, her fatal pride ! And thus she played off Jack Ormsby against him as best she might, and held her head very high.
The sense of desertion inflicted upon him only a dull pain. He said listlessly to himself, his pride untouched, that she had not really loved him, that she had been merely fascinated for a time by the novelty of the “ readin’s,” and now she cared for them and him no more. He recalled the readiness with which she had forsworn her earlier lover, when his conscience had conflicted with her pride, and this seeming fickleness was accented anew in the later change. Royce tacitly acquiesced in it, no longer struggling as he had done at first with a sense of loyalty to her, but giving himself up to his hopeless dream, precious even in its conscious futility.
How long this quiescent state might have proved more pleasure than pain it is hard to say. There suddenly came into its melancholy serenities a wild tumult of uncertainty, a mad project, a patent possibility that set his brain on fire and his heart plunging. He argued within himself—with some doubting, denying, forbidding instinct of self-immolation, as it seemed, that had somehow attained full control of him in these days —that in one sense he was fully the equal of Miss Fordyce, as well born, as well bred, as she, as carefully trained in all the essentials that regulate polite society. She would sustain no derogation if he could contrive an entrance to her social circle, and meet her there as an equal. He had heard from the fragmentary gossip mention of people in New Orleans, familiars of her circle, to whom he was well known. He did not doubt that his father’s name and standing would be instantly recognized by her father, Judge Archibald Fordyce,—the sojourners at New Helvetia were identifiable to him now by name, — or indeed by any man of consequence of his acquaintance. Under normal circumstances the formality of an introduction would be a matter of course. If she had chanced to spend a winter in St. Louis, he would doubtless have danced with her at a dozen different places ; he wondered blankly if he would then have adequately valued the privilege ! He felt now that he would give his life for a touch of her hand, a look of her eyes fixed upon him ohservingly; how the utter neutrality of her glance hurt him ! He would give his soul for the bliss of one waltz. He trembled as he realized how possible, how easily and obviously practicable, this had become.
For the tableaux and fancy-dress ball had been so relished by the more juvenile element of New Helvetia that the successor of that festivity was already projected. This was in the nature of a “calico ball,” to be a grotesquerie in costume and mask, exclusively of facetious characters. The masks were deemed essential by the small designers of the entertainment, since the secrets of the various disguises had not been carefully kept, and these vizards were ingenuously relied on to protect the incognito of certain personages garbed, with the aid of sympathetic elders, as Dolly Varden, Tilly Slowboy (with a rag-doll baby furnished with a head proof against banging on door-frames or elbows), Sir John Falstaff, three feet high, Robinson Crusoe, and similar celebrities. The whole affair was esteemed a tedious superfluity by the youths of twenty and a few years upward, already a trifle blasé, who sometimes lingered and talked and smoked in the bowling-alley after the game was finished and the ladies had gone. It was from overhearing this chat that Royce learned that although the majority, tired with one effort of devising costumes, had declined to go in calico and in character, still, in deference to the style of the entertainment and the importunity of the children who had projected it, they had agreed to attend in mask. Their out-ofdoor attire of knickerbockers and flannel shirts and blazers ought to be deemed, they thought, shabby enough to appease the “tacky " requirements of the juvenile managers ; for they were pleased to call their burlesque masquerade a “ tacky party,” calico as a fabric not being de rigueur.
Then it was that Royce realized his opportunity, The knickerbockers and flannel shirt, the red-and-black blazer and russet shoes, in which he had entered Etowah Cove, now stowed away in the roof-room of Tubal Cain Sims’s house, were not more the worse for wear than much of such attire at New Helvetia Springs after a few weeks of mountain rambles. Ten minutes in the barber-shop of the hotel, at a late hour when it would be deserted by its ordinary patrons, would put him in trim for the occasion, and doubtless its functionaries who had never seen him would fancy him in this dress a newly arrived guest of the hotel or of some of the New Helvetia summer cottagers. He had even a prevision of the free and casual gesture with which he would hand an attendant a quarter of a dollar and send across the road to the store for a mask. And then —and then — he could feel already the rhythm of the waltz music beating in every pulse; he breathed even now the breeze quickening in the motion of the dance, endowed with the sweetness of the zephyrs of the seventh heaven. It was she — she alone — whom he would care to approach ; the rest, they were as naught ! One touch of her hand, the rapture of one waltz, and he would be ready to throw himself over the bluff ; for he would have attained the uttermost happiness that earth could bestow upon him now.
And suddenly he was ready to throw himself over the bluff that he should even have dreamed this dream. For all that his pulses still beat to the throb of that mute strain, that his eyes were alight with an unrealized joy. that the half quiver, half smile of a visionary expectation lingered at his lips, the red rush of indignant humiliation covered his face and tingled to the very tips of his fingers. He was far on the road between the Cove and the Springs, and he paused in the solitude that he might analyze this thing, and see where he stood and whither he was tending. He, of all men in the world, an intruder, a partaker of pleasures designed exclusively for others ! He to wear a mask where he might not dare to show his face! He to scheme to secure from Her, — from Her! — through false pretenses, under the mistake that he was another, a notice, a word, chance phrases, the touch of her confiding hand, the ecstasy of a waltz ! He had no words for himself ! He was an exile and penniless. He had no identity. He could reveal himself only to be falsely suspected of a vile robbery in a position of great trust; any lapse of caution would consign him to years of unjust imprisonment in a felon’s cell. He was the very sport of a cruel fate. He had naught left of all the lavish earthly endowments with which he had begun life but his own estimate of his own sense of honor. And this was still precious to him. Bereft as he was, he was still a gentleman at heart. He claimed that, — he demanded of himself his own recognition as such. Never again, he determined, as he began to walk slowly along the road once more, never again should expert sophistries tempt him. He would not argue his equality with her, his birth, his education, the social position of his people. It was enough to reflect that if she knew all she would shrink from him. He would not again Seek refuge in the impossibility that his identity could be discovered as a guest at the ball. He would not contemplate the ignoble advantage. He would not plead as a set-off against the deception how innocent its intention, how transient, how venial a thing it was. And lest in his loneliness, — for since the atmosphere of his old world had come once more into his lungs he was as isolated in the Sims household, he found its air as hard to breathe, as if he were in an exhausted receiver,—in his despair, in the hardship of his lot, in the deep, deep misery of the first true, earnest, and utterly hopeless love of his life, some fever of wild enterprise should rise like a delirium in his brain, and confuse his sense of right and wrong, and palsy his capacity for resistance, and counsel disguise, and destroy his reverent appreciation of what was due to Her, he would put it beyond his power ever to masquerade in the likeness of his own self and the status of his own true position in the world ; he would render it necessary that he should always appear before Her in the absolutely false and contemptible rôle of a country boor, an uncouth, unlettered clown.
At this paradox of his conclusion he burst into a grim laugh ; then — for he would no longer meddle with these subtle distinctions of right and wrong, where, in the metamorphoses of deduction, the false became true, and interchangeably the true was false — he began to run, and in the strong vivacity of his pride in his physical prowess he was able to reflect that better time was seldom made by an amateur, unless for a short spurt, than the pace he kept to the Sims cabin. He would not let himself think in the roof-room while he rolled the clothes into a bundle. He set his teeth and breathed hard as he recognized a certain pleasure which his finger-tips derived from the very touch of the soft, fine texture of the cloth, and realized how tenuous was the quality of his resolution, how quick he must needs be to carry into effect the conclusions of his sober judgment, lest he waver anew. He was out again and a mile away before he began to debate the disposition which it would be best to make of the bundle under his arm. He thought with a momentary regret of Mrs. Sims’s kitchen fire, over which doubtless Euphemia was now bending, busy with the johnny-cake for the evening meal. He dismissed the thought on the instant. The feminine ideas of economy would never suffer the destruction of so much good all wool gear, whatever its rescue might cost in the future. Moreover, it would be inexplicable. He could get a spade and bury the bundle, — and dig it up, too, the next time this mad, unworthy temptation should assail him. He could throw it into the river, and some one might fish it out, recognize it as his property, and call him to account for the mystery of its destruction.
Suddenly he remembered the lime-kiln. The greater portion of its product had been used long ago, but the residue still lay unslaked in the dry rock-house, and more than once, in passing, he had noted the great boulder rolled to the aperture and securely closing it against the entrance of air and moisture. The place was in the immediate vicinity, and somehow, although he had been there often since, the predominant impression in his mind, when he reached the jutting promontory of rock and gazed down at the sea of foliage in the Cove, that surely had once known the ebb and flow of tides other than the spring bourgeonings and the autumn desiccations, was the reminiscence of that early time in Etowah Cove when he had stood here in the white glare from the lime-kiln and watched that strange anamorphous presentment of the lime-burner’s face through the shimmering medium of the uprising heat. He seemed to see it again, all unaware that now, in its normal proportions, that face looked down upon him from the height of the cliff above, albeit its fright, its surprise, its crafty intimations, its malevolence, distorted it hardly less than the strange effects of the writhing currents of heat and air in that dark night so long ago.
The young man hesitated once more as he unrolled the garments. He had a certain conscientious reverence for property and order ; it was with a distinct wrench of volition that he would destroy aught of even small value. As he seated himself on the ledge, shaking out the natty black-and-red blazer, he recognized the melody that was mechanically murmuring through his lips, — again, still again, the measures of a waltz, that waltz through whose enchanted rhythms he had fancied that he and she might dreamily drift together. He sprang to his feet in a panic. With one mighty effort he flung the great boulder aside. Hastily he dropped the garments into the rockhouse, and with a long staff stirred the depths of the lime till it rose above them. More than once he was fain to step back from the scorching air and the smarting white powder that came in puffs from the interior.
“ That’s enough,” he muttered mockingly after a moment, as he stood with his muscles relaxed, sick with the sentiment of the renunciation of the world which the demolition of the civilized garb included in its significance. “ I cannot undertake to dance with any fine lady in this toggery now ; she 'd think I had come straight from hell. And,” with a swift change of countenance, “ so I have ! — so I have! ”
Then, with his habitual carefulness where any commercial interest, however small, was concerned, he roused himself, wrenched the great boulder back into its place, noting here and there a crevice, and filling it with smaller stones and earth that no air might gain admission ; and with one final close scrutiny of the entrance he took his way into the dense laurel and the gathering dusk, all unaware of the peering, suspicious, frightened face and angry eyes that watched him from the summit of the cliff above.
The discipline of life had certain subduing effects on Lucien Royce. He felt very much tamed when next he took a seat upon the bench placed aside in the corner of the bowling-alley, to affect to watch the game, but in truth to give his humble despair what added pain it might call pleasure and clutch as solace, by the sight of her smiles won by happier men, the sound of her voice, the meagre realities of the day to supplement the lavish and fantastic visions of his dreams. He had reached the point where expectation fails. He looked only for the eventless routine of the alley, — the hour of amusement for the others, the lingering separation, the silence of the deserted building, and the living on the recollection of a glance of the eye, a turn of the head, a displaced tendril of hair, softly curling, until to-morrow, or the next day, or the next, should give him the precious privilege of making such observations for the sustenance of his soul through another interval of absence. Suddenly, his heart, dully beating on through these dreary days, began to throb wildly, and he gazed with quickening interest at the scene before him : the long narrow shell of a building with the frequent windows where the green leaves looked in, the brown unplastered walls, the dark rafters rising into the shadowy roof, and the crossing of the great beams into which records of phenomenal successions of ten strikes were cut by the vaunting winners of matches, with their names and the dates of the event, the year of the Lord methodically affixed, as if these deeds were such as were to be cherished by posterity. Down the smooth and shining alley a ball was rolling. Miss Gertrude Fordyce, wearing a sheer greenand-white dress of simple lawn and a broad hat trimmed with ferns, was standing at the head of the alley, about to receive her second ball from the hands of a blond young cavalier in white flannels. Royce had seen him often since the morning when he had observed him giving his valuable advice as to the erection of the stage in the ballroom, and knew that he was Millden Seymour, just admitted to the bar, with a reputation for talent, an intelligent face, and a smooth and polished bonhomie of manner ; he was given to witty sayings, and was a little too intent upon the one he was exploiting at this moment to notice that the pins at the further end had not been set up, the hotel functionary detailed for that duty not having arrived. She hesitated, with the ball in her hand, in momentary embarrassment, the color in her cheeks and a laugh in her eyes.
Royce sprang up, and running lightly down by the side of the alley placed the pins in readiness to receive her second ball; then stood soberly aside, his hat in his hand, as if to watch the execution of the missile.
“ How very polite ! ” said one of the chaperons over her knitting to another. “ I often notice that young man. He seems to take so much interest in the game.”
This trifling devoir, however, which he had not hesitated to offer to a lady, savored of servility in its appropriation by a man. Nevertheless, he was far too discreet, too well aware of what was due to Her, to allow the attention to seem a personal tribute from him. He cursed his officiousness, notwithstanding, as he bent down to set the tenpins in place for the second player, who happened to be the smart young cavalier. Only with an effort he conserved his blithe air and a certain amiable alacrity as through a round or two of the game he continued to set up the pins; but when the flustered and hurried bell-boy whose duty he had performed came panting in, Royce could have broken the recreant’s head with right good will, and he would not restrain a tendency to relapse into his old gait and pose, which had no savor of meekness, as he sauntered up the side of the alley to his former seat beside the mountaineers, who had gazed stolidly at his performance.
Royce noted that one or two of the more athletic of the young men had followed his movements with attention. “ Confound you ! ” he said to himself irritably. “ I am man enough to throw you over that beam, and you are hardly so stupid as to fail to know it.”
Miss Fordyce had not turned her eyes toward him, —no more, he said to himself, than if he had been the side of the wall. And notwithstanding the insignia of civilization thrust out of sight into the quicklime and the significance of their destruction, and the flagellant anguish of the discipline of hopelessness and humiliation, he felt this as a burning injustice and grief, and the next instant asked himself in disdain what could such a man gain that she should look at him in his lowly and humble estate ?
Royce brooded gloomily upon these ideas during the rest of the game ; and when the crowd had departed, and he had risen to take leave of the scene that he lived by, he noticed, with only the sense that his way was blocked, several of the young men lingering about the door. They had been glancing at him, and as one of them, — it was Seymour, — in a very propitiatory manner, approached him, he became suddenly aware that they had been discussing the appropriateness of offering him a gratuity for setting up the tenpins in the heat and dust while they played. Seymour was holding out their joint contributions in his hand ; but his affability was petrified upon his countenance as his mild eyes caught the fiery glance which Royce flung at the group, and marked the furious flush which suffused neck and face and ears as he realized their intention. It was a moment of mutual embarrassment. They meant no offense, and he knew it. Had he been what he seemed, it would have been shabby in the last degree to accept such friendly offices with no tender of remuneration. Royce’s ready tact served to slacken the tension.
“ Here,” he said abruptly, but despite his easy manner his voice trembled, “ let me show you something.”
He took a silver quarter of a dollar from the handful of small change still mechanically extended, and, turning to a table which held a tray with glasses, he played the trick with the goblet and the bit of money that had so interested the captain of the ill-fated steamboat on the night when Lucien Royce perished so miserably to the world. It was with a good-natured feigning of interest that the young men pressed round, at first, all willing to aid the salving of the honest pride which their offering had evidently so lacerated. But this gave way to an excitement that had rarely been paralleled at New Helvetia Springs, as feat succeeded feat. The juggler was eager now to get away, having served his purpose of eluding their bounty, but this was more difficult than he had anticipated. He feared troublesome questions, but beyond a “ Say, how in thunder did you learn all this ? ” there were none ; and the laconic response, " From a traveling fellow,” seemed to allay their curiosity.
After a little he forgot their ill-starred benevolence; his spirits began to expand in this youthful society, the tone of which was native to him, and from which he had long been an outcast. He began to reflect subacutely that the idea of a fugitive from justice would not occur to them so readily as to the mountaineers, who were nearer the plane of the ranks from which criminals are usually recruited, being the poor and the humble. He might seem to them, perhaps, a man educated beyond his prospects in life and his station, and ashamed of both ; such types are not altogether unknown. Or perhaps he might be rusticating in this humble fashion, being a person of small means, or a man with some latent malady, sojourning here for health, and of a lower grade of society. “ For they tell me,” he said scornfully to himself, “that such people have lungs and livers like the best of us ! ” He might be a native touched by some unhallowed ambition, and, having tried his luck in the outer world, flung back upon his despised beginnings and out of a job. He might be the schoolmaster in the Cove, of a vastly higher grade than the native product, doubtless, but these young swells were themselves new to the mountains, and hardly likely to evolve accurate distinctions. He felt sure that the idea of crime would occur to these gay butterflies the most remotely of all the possible solutions of the anomalies of his presence and his garb. He began to give himself up unconsciously to the mild pleasure of their association ; their chatter, incongruously enough, revived his energies and solaced his feelings like some suave balm. But he experienced a quick repulsion and a start of secret terror when two or three, having consulted apart for a few moments, joined the group again, and called upon him to admire their “cheek,” as they phrased it, in the proposition they were about to make, —no less than that he should consent to perform some of his wonderful feats of sleight of hand at an entertainment which they proposed to give at New Helvetia. They explained to him, as if he had not grievous cause to know already, that the young ladies had devised a series of tableaux followed by a ball; that the children had scored a stunning success in a “ tacky party; ” that the married people had preëmpted the not very original idea of a fête champêtre, and to preclude any unmannerly jumping of their claim had fixed the date, wind and weather permitting, and had formally bidden the guests, all the summer birds at New Helvetia Springs. And now it devolved upon the young men to do their part toward whiling away time for the general pleasure, — a task for which, oddly enough, they were not so well equipped as one might imagine. They were going to give a dramatic entertainment upon the stage erected for the tableaux in the ballroom, which still stood, it being cheaper, the proprietor remarked, to leave it there than to erect it anew ; for no one could be sure when the young people would want it again. There would be college songs first, glees and so forth, and they made much of the prestige of a banjoplayer in their ranks. Some acrobatic feats by the more athletic youths were contemplated, but much uneasiness was felt because a budding littérateur — this was again Mr. Seymour — was giving token of a total breakdown in a farce he was writing for the occasion, entitled The New Woman, which, though beginning with aplomb and brilliancy, showed no signs of reaching a conclusion, — a flattering tribute to the permanence of the subject. Mr. Seymour might not have it completed by the date fixed. The skill of this amateur prestidigitator would serve to fill the breach if the playwright should not be ready ; and even if inspiration should smile upon him and bring him in at the finish, the jugglery would enliven the long waits while the scenes were being prepared and the costumes changed.
Royce, with a sudden accession of prudence, refused plumply ; a sentiment of recoil possessed him. He felt the pressure of the surprise and the uncertainty like a positive pain as he sat perched on the high window-sill, and gazed out into the blank unresponsiveness of the undergrowth of the forest, wilting in the beat of a hazy noon. The young men forbore to urge him ; that delicate point of offering money, obviously so very nettling to his pride, which seemed altogether a superfluous luxury for a man in his position, hampered them. He might, however, he in the habit of giving exhibitions for pay; for aught they knew, the discussion of the honorarium was in order. But they had been schooled by the incident of the morning ; even the quarter of a dollar which had lent itself to the nimble gyrations of legerdemain had found its way by some unimagined art of jugglery into the pocket of its owner, and Millden Seymour, who had a bland proclivity to smooth rough places and enjoy a refined peace of mind, was swearing by all his gods that it should stay there until more appropriately elicited.
An odd thing it was, the juggler was feeling, that without a moment’s hesitation he should accept the box receipts of the show in the Cove, on which he had subsisted for weeks, and yet in his uttermost necessity he could not have brooked appearing as a juggler before the sojourners at New Helvetia Springs for his own benefit. The one audience represented the general public, he supposed, and was far from him. The other he felt as his own status, his set; and he could as soon have handed around the hat, after one of the snug little bachelor dinners he used to be so fond of giving in St. Louis, as ask remuneration for his assistance in this amateur entertainment of the young butterflies at New Helvetia.
He burst into abrupt and sardonic laughter as he divined their line of cogitation, and realized how little they could imagine the incongruities of his responsive mental processes. In the quick change from a pondering gravity to this repellent gayety there was something of the atmosphere of a rude rebuff, and a certain dignity and distance informed the manner of the few who still lounged about with their cigars. Royce hastened to nullify this. They had shown much courtesy to one of his low degree, and although he knew — from experience, poor fellow — that it was prompted not so much by a perception of his deserts as by a realization of their own, it being the conduct and sentiment which graced them and which they owed to persons of their condition, he had no wish to be rude, even though it might seem that he owed a man in his position nothing.
“ Oh, I ’ll help you,” he said hastily, “ though we shall have to rig up some sort of properties. But I don’t need much.”
The talk fell upon these immediately, and he forthwith perceived that he was in for it. And why not? he asked himself. How did it endanger him, or why should he shun it? All the Cove and t he countryside for twenty miles around knew of his feats of sleight of hand ; and since accident had revealed his knack to this little coterie of well-bred and wellplaced young men, why should he grudge the exhibition to the few scores of ladies and children at New Helvetia, to aid the little diversion of the evening ? His scruples could have no force now, for this would bring him — the social pariah ! — no nearer to them than when he sat by the tenpin alley and humbly watched his betters play. The episode of the jugglery, once past, would be an old story and bereft of interest. He would have had his little day, basking in the sun of the applause of his superiors, and would sink back to his humble obscurity at the side of the bowling-alley. Should he show any disposition to presume upon the situation, he realized that they well understood the art of repressing a forward inferior. The entertainment contemplated no subsequent social festivities. The programme, made out with many an interlineation, had been calculated to occupy all the time until eleven o’clock ; and Royce, looking at it with the accustomed eye of a manager of private theatricals, felt himself no prophet to discern that midnight would find the exhausted audience still seated, enjoying that royal good measure of amusement always meted out by bounteous amateurs. Throughout the evening he would be immured with the other young men in the close little pens which served for dressing and green rooms, — for all the actors in the farce were to be men, — save for the fraction of time when his jugglery should necessitate his presence on the stage. True, Miss Fordyce, should she patronize the entertainment, might then have to look at him somewhat more discerningly than she would look at the wall, perhaps! it could surely do her no harm. She had seen worse men, he protested, with eager self - assertion. She owed him that much, — one glance, one moment’s cognition of his existence. It was not much to ask. He had made a great sacrifice for her sake, and all unknown to her. He had had regard to her estimate of her dignity and held it dear. He had done her reverence from the depths of his heart, regardless that it cost him his last hope.
The powers of the air were gradually changing at New Helvetia Springs. The light of the days had grown dull and gray. Masses of white vapor gathered in the valley, rising, and rising, and filling all its depths and slopes, as if it were the channel of some great river, till only the long level line of the summit of the opposite range showed above the impalpable tides in the similitude of the furthest banks of the great stream. It was a suggestive resemblance to Lucien Royce, and he winced as he looked upon it. He was not sorry when it had gone, for the gathering mists soon pervaded the forests, and hid cliffs and abysses and even the familiar path, save for the step before the eye, and in this still whiteness all the world was lost; at last one could only hear — for it too shared the invisibilities— the rain falling in its midst, steadily, drearily, all the day and all the long, long hours of the black night. The bowling-alley was deserted ; lawn-tennis had succumbed to the weather ; the horses stood in the stalls. One might never know that the hotel at New Helvetia Springs existed except that now and again, in convolutions of mist as it rolled, a gable high up might reveal itself for a moment, or a peaked turret, or a dormer window ; unless indeed one were a ghost, to find some spectral satisfaction in slipping viewless through the white enveloping nullity, and gazing in at the window of the great parlor, where a log fire was ruddily aflare and the elders read their newspapers or worked their tidies, and the youth swung in rocking-chairs and exchanged valuable ideas, and played cards, and read a novel aloud, and hung in groups about the tortured piano. So close stood a poor ghost to the window one day, risking observation, that he might have read, over the charming outline of sloping shoulders clad faultlessly in soft gray cloth, the page of the novel which Miss Fordyce had brought there to catch the light ; so close that he might have heard every syllable of the conversation which ensued when the man in whom he discovered her destiny — the cold, inexpressive-looking, “ personified conventionality ” — came and sat beside her on the sofa. But the poor ghost had more scruples than reality of existence, and, still true to the sanctions that control gentlemen in a world in which he had no more part, he turned hastily away that no syllable might reach him. And as he turned he ran almost into the arms of a man who had been tramping heavily up and down the veranda in the white obscurities, all unaware of his propinquity. It might have been better if he had !
For there were strangers at New Helvetia, — two men who knew nobody and whom nobody knew. Perhaps in all the history of the watering-place this instance was the first. The patronage of New Helvetia, like that of many other secluded southern watering places, had been for generations among the same clique of people, all more or less allied by kindred or hereditary friendship, or close association in their respective homes or in business interests, and the traditions of the place were community property. So significant was the event that it could scarcely escape remark. More than one of the hereditary sojourners observed to the others that the distance of fifty miles from a railroad over the worst stage-road in America seemed, after all, no protection. And around the flaring, flaring red fire, in the heart of the sad, gray day, they all hearkened with gloomy forecast to a dread tale recounted by a knowing old lady who came here on her bridal tour, sixty years ago, of the sudden prosperity, popularity, and utter ruin of a secluded little watering-place some hundred miles distant, which included the paradoxical statement that nobody went there any more, and yet that this summer it is so crowded that wild rumors prevail that they have to put men to sleep on the billiard-tables and on the piano, only because a railroad had invaded the quiet contiguous valleys. There was no railroad near New Helvetia, yet here were two strange men who knew nobody, whom nobody knew, and who seemed not even to know each other. They were of types which the oldest inhabitant failed to recognize. One was a quiet, decorous, reserved person who might be easily overlooked in a crowd, so null was his aspect. The other had good, hearty, aggressive, rural suggestions about him. He was as stiffly upright as a ramrod, and he marched about like a grenadier. He smoked and chewed strong, rank tobacco. He flourished a red-bordered cotton handkerchief. He had been carefully trimmed and shaved by his barber for the occasion, but alas, the barber’s embellishments can last but from day to day, and the rougher guise of his life was betrayed in certain small habitudes, conspicuous among which were an obliviousness of many uses of a fork and an astonishing temerity in the thrusting of his knife down his throat at the dinner-table.
The two strangers appeared on the evening of the dramatic entertainment among the other guests of the hotel in the ballroom, as spectators of the “ Unrivaled Attraction” profusely billed in the parlor, the office of the hotel, and the tenpin alley. The rain dashed tempestuously against the long windows, and the sashes now and again trembled and clattered in their frames, for the mountain wind was rising. Ever and anon the white mist that pressed with pallid presence against the panes shivered convulsively, and was torn away into the savagery of the fastnesses without and the wild night, returning persistently, as if with some fatal affinity for the bright lights and the warm atmosphere that would annihilate its tenuous existence with but a single breath. The blended sound of the torrents and the shivering gusts was punctuated by the slow dripping from the eaves of the covered walks within the quadrangle close at hand, that fell with monotonous iteration and elastic rebound from the flagging below, and was of dreary intimations distinct amid the ruder turmoil of the elements. But a cheerful spirit pervaded the well-housed audience, perhaps the more grateful for the provision for pleasantly passing the long hours of a rainy evening in the country. since it did not snatch them from alternative pleasures : from languid strolls on moonlit verandas, or contemplative cigars in the perfumed summer woods under the stars, or choice conferences with kindred spirits in the little observatory that overhung the slopes. The Unrivaled Attraction had been opportunely timed to fill an absolute void, and it could not have been presented before more leniently disposed spectators than those rescued from the jaws of unutterable ennui. There was a continuous subdued ripple of laughter and stir of fans and murmur of talk amongst them ; but although richly garbed in compliment to the occasion, the brilliancy of their appearance was somewhat reduced by the tempered light in which it was essential that the audience should sit throughout the performance and between the acts, for the means at the command of the Unrivaled Attraction were not capable of compassing the usual alternations of illumination, and the full and permanent glare of splendor was reserved to suffuse the stage. The audience was itself an object of intense interest to the actors behind the scenes, and there was no interval in which the small rent made in the curtain for the purpose of observation was not utilized by one or another of the excited youths, tremulous with premonitions of a fiasco, from the time when the first groups entered the hall to the triumphant moment when it became evident that all New Helvetia was turning out to honor the occasion, and that they Were to display their talents to a full house. It was only when the stir of preparation became tumultuous — one or two intimations of impatience from the long-waiting audience serving to admonish the performers — that Lucien Royce found an opportunity to peer out in his turn upon the scene in the dusky dare-obscure. Here and there the yellow globes of the shaded lamps shed abroad their tempered golden lustre, and occasionally there came to his eye a pearly gleam from a fluttering fan, or the prismatic glitter of a diamond, or the ethereal suggestion of a girl in a white gown in the midst of such sombre intimations of red and brown and deeply purple and black in the costumes of the dark-robed elders that they might hardly be accounted as definite color in the scale of chromatic values. With such a dully rich background and the dim twilight about her, the figure and face of the girl he sought showed as if in the glamours of some inherent light, reminding him of that illuminating touch in the method of certain painters whose works he had seen in art galleries, in which the radiance seems to be in the picture, independent of the skylight, and as if equally visible in the darkest night. She wore a light green dress of some silken texture, so faint of hue that the shadows of the soft folds appeared white. It was fashioned with a long, slim bodice, cut square in the neck, and a high, flaring ruff of delicate old lace, stiff with a Medici effect, which rose framing the rounded throat and small head with its close and high-piled coils of black hair, through which was thrust a small comb of carved coral of the palest possible hue. She might have been a picture, so still and silent she sat, so definitely did the light emanate from her, so completely did the effect of the pale, lustrous hues of her attire reduce to the vague nullities of a mere background the nebulous dark and neutral tints about her. How long Royce stood and gazed with all his heart in his eyes he never knew. He saw naught else. He heard naught of the stir of the audience, or the wild wind without, or the babel upon the stage where he was. He came to himself only when he was clutched by the arm and admonished to clear the track, for at last, at last the curtain was to be rung up.
What need to dwell on the tremulous eagerness and wild despair of that moment,—the glee club all ranged in order on the stage, and with heart-thumping expectation, the brisk and self-sufficient tinkle of the bell, the utter blank immovableness of the curtain, the subdued delight of the audience ? Another tintinnabulation, agitated and querulous; a mighty tug at the wings ; a shiver in the fabric, a sort of convulsion of the texture, and the curtain goes up in slow doubt, — all awry and bias, it is true, but still revealing the “ musicianers,” a trifle dashed and taken aback, but meeting a warm and reassuring reception which they do not dream is partly in tribute to the clownish tricks of the curtain.
Royce, suddenly all in heart, exhilarated by the mere sight of her, flung himself ardently into the preparations progressing in the close little pens on either side and at the rear of the stage. The walls of these were mere partitions reaching up only some ten feet toward the ceiling, and they were devoid of any exit save through the stage and the eye of the public. Hence it had been necessary that all essentials should be carefully looked to and provided in advance. Now and then, however, a wild alarum arose because of the apparent non-existence of some absolutely indispensable article of attire or furniture, to be succeeded by embarrassed silence on the part of the mourner when the thing in question was found, and a meek submission to the half-suppressed expletives of the rest of the uselessly perturbed company. It was a scene of mad turmoil. Young men already half clad in feminine attire were struggling with the remainder of their unaccustomed raiment,— the actors to take part in the farce The New Woman. Others were in their white flannel suits, — no longer absolutely white, — hot, dusty, perspiring, the scene-shifters and the curtain contingent, all lugubriously wiping their heated brows and blaming one another. The mandolin and banjo players, in faultless evening dress, stood out of the rush and kept themselves tidy. And now arose a nice question, in the discussion of which all took part, becoming oblivious, for the time, of the audience without and the tra-la-la-ing of the glee singers, the boyish tones of argument occasionally rising above these melodious numbers. It was submitted that in case the audience should call for the author of The New Woman, — and it would indeed be unmannerly to omit this, — the playwright ought to be in full dress to respond, considering the circumstances, the place, and the full dress of the audience. And here he was in his white flannel trousers and a pink-andwhite striped blazer at this hour of the night, and his room a quarter of a mile away in a pitching mountain rain, whither certain precisians would fain have him hie to bedizen himself. He listened to this with a downcast eye and a sinking heart, and doubtless would have acted on the admonition save for the ludicrous effect of emerging before the audience as he was, and returning to meet the same audience in the blaze of full-dress glory.
“ It ’s no use talking,” he said at last, decisively. “We are caught here like rats in a trap. There is no way of getting out without being seen. I wonder I did n’t think to have a door cut.”
Repeatedly there rose on the air the voice of one who was a slow study repeating the glib lines of The New Woman ; and once something very closely approximating a quarrel ensued upon the discovery that the budding author, already parsimonious with literary material, had transferred a joke from the mouth of one character to that of another ; the robbed actor came in a bounding fury and his mother’s false hair, mildly parted and waving away from his fierce, keen young face and flashing eyes, to demand of the author-manager its restoration. His decorous stiffly lined skirts bounced tumultuously with his swift springs forward, and his fists beneath the lace frill of his sleeves were held in a belligerent muscular adjustment.
“ It ’s my joke,” he asseverated vehemently, as if he had cracked it himself. “ My speech is ruined without it, world without end ! I will have it back ! I will! I will ! ” he declared as violently as if he could possess the air that would vibrate with the voice of the actor who went on first, and could put his collar on the syllables embodying the precious jest by those masterful words, “ I will ! ”
The manager had talents for diplomacy, as well he should. He drew the irate antique-seeming dame into the corner by the lace on the sleeve and, looking into the wild boyish face, adjured him, “ Let him have it, Jack, for the love of Heaven. He does it so badly, and he is such a slow study, that I ’m afraid the first act will break down if I don’t give it some vim ; after you are once on, the thing will go and I shan’t care a red.”
And so with the dulcet salve of a little judicious flattery peace came once more.
Royce, as he took his place upon the narrow stage, felt as if he had issued from the tumultuous currents of some wild rapids into the deep and restful placidities of a dark untroubled pool. The air of composure, the silence, the courteous attention of the audience, all marked a transition so abrupt that it had a certain perturbing effect. He had never felt more ill at ease, and perhaps he had never looked more composed than when he advanced and stood bowing at the footlights. He had forgotten his assumed character of a mountaineer, his coarse garb, his intention to seek some manner that might consist with both. He was inaugurating his share of the little amateur entertainment with a grace and address and refinement of style that were astonishing his audience far more than aught of magic that his art could command, although his resources were not slight. He seemed some well-bred and talented youth of the best society, dressed for a rural rôle in private theatricals. Now and again there was a flutter of inquiry here and there in the audience, answered by the whispered conclusions of Tom or Jack, retailed by mother or sister. For the youth of New Helvetia Springs had accepted the explanation that he was out of a position, “ down on his luck,” and hoped to get a school in Etowah Cove. He had gone by the sobriquet of “ the handsome mountaineer,” and then “ the queer mountaineer,” and now, “ He is no mountaineer,” said the discerning Judge Fordyce to a man of his own stamp at his elbow.
What might have been the estimate of the two strangers none could say. They sat on opposite sides of the building, taking no note of each other, both stolidly gazing at the alert and graceful figure and the handsome face alight with intelligence, and made no sign. One might have been more competent than the other to descry inconsistencies between the status which the dress suggested and the culture and breeding which the manner and accent and choice of language bespoke, but both listened motionless as if absorbed in the prestidigitator’s words.
Royce had made careful selection among his feats in view of the character of his audience, and the sustaining of such poor dignity as he might hope to possess in Miss Fordyce’s estimation. There were no uncouth tricks of swallowing impossible implements of cutlery, which sooth to say would have vastly delighted the row of juvenile spectators on the front bench. Perhaps they were as well content, however, with the appearance of two live rabbits from the folds of the large white silk handkerchief of an old gentleman in the crowd, borrowed for the purpose, and the little boy who came up to receive the article for restoration to its owner went into an ecstasy of cackling delight, with the whole front row in delirious refrain, to find that he had one of the live rabbits in each of the pockets of his jacket, albeit the juggler had merely leaned over the footlights to hand him back the handkerchief. The audience applauded with hearty good will, and a general ripple of smiles played over the upturned faces.
“ Ladies and gentlemen,” said the juggler, picking up a small and glittering object from the table, " if I may ask your attention, you will observe that each chamber of this revolver is loaded ” —
With his long, delicate, deft white hands he had turned aside the barrel, and now held the weapon up, the two parts at right angles, each cartridge distinctly visible to the audience.
But a sudden authoritative voice arose. “ No pistols ! ” called out a sober paterfamilias, responsible for four boys in the audience.
“ No pistols ! ” echoed Judge Fordyce. There had been a momentary shrinking among the ladies, whose curiosity, however, was greater than their fear, and who sustained a certain doubtful and disappointed aspect. But the shadowy bullet-heads of the whole front row were turned with one accord in indignant and unfilial protest.
Royce understanding in a moment, with a quick smile shifted all the cartridges out into his hand, held up the pistol once more so that all might see the light through the empty chambers, then with an exaggerated air of caution laid all the shells in a small heap on one of the little tables and the pistol, still dislocated, on another table, the breadth of the stage between them; and with a satiric “ Hey ! Presto ! ” bowed, laughing and complaisant, to a hearty round of applause from the elders. For although his compliance with their behests had been a trifle ironical, the youths of New Helvetia were not accustomed to submit with so good a grace or so completely.
The two elderly strangers accommodated the expression of their views to the evident opinion of those of their time of life, applauding when the gentlemen about them applauded, maintaining an air of interest when they were receptive and attentive. Was it possible, one might wonder in looking at them, that they could conceive that differences so essential could be unremarked— that it was not patent to the most casual observer that they were not among their kind ? The perspicacity of the casual observer, however, was hampered by the haze of the pervasive obscurity ; from the stage each might seem to the transient glance merely a face among many faces, the divergences of which could be discerned only when some intention or interest informed the gaze.
Lucien Royce saw only that oasis in the gloom where the high lights of her delicately tinted costume shone in the dusk. He was keenly mindful of a flash of girlish laughter, the softly luminous glance of her eye, the glimmer of her white teeth as her pink lips curled, the young delight in her lace. How should he care to note the secret, down-looking countenance of the one man, the grizzled stolid bourgeois aspect of the other ?
The manager, keenly alive to the success of the entertainment, advanced a number of the programme since the pistol trick was discarded. He handed through the wings a flower-pot filled with earth for a feat which it had been his intention to reserve until after the first act of The New Woman.
“ Now, ladies and gentlemen,” said the juggler, “ oblige me by looking at this acorn. It is considered quite harmless. True, it will shoot, too, if you give it half a chance; but I am told,” with a glance of raillery, “ that its projectile effects are not deleterious in any respect to the human anatomy.”
The ladies who had been afraid of the pistol laughed delightedly, and the guyed elderly gentlemen good-naturedly responded in another round of applause, so grateful were they to have no shooting on the stage, and no possible terrifying accidents to their neighbors, themselves, and their respective families.
“ There is nothing but pulverized soil in this flower-pot,” continued the juggler, running his hand through the line white sand, and shaking off the particles daintily, “ a little too sandy to suit my views and experience in arboriculture, but we shall see — what we shall see ! I plant the acorn, thus ! I throw this cloth over the flower-pot, drawing it up in a peak to give air. And now, since we shall have to wait for a few moments, I shall, with your kind indulgence, beguile the tedium, in imitation of the jongleurs of eld, with a little song.”
The audience sat patient, expectant. A guitar was lying where one of the glee singers had left it. Royce turned and caught it up, then advanced down toward the footlights, and paused in the picturesque attitude of the serenader of the lyric stage. He drew from the instrument a few strong resonant chords, and then it fell a-tinkling again.
But what new life was in the strings, what melody in the air? And as his voice rose, the scene-shifters were silent in the glare of the pens ; the actors-expectant thronged the wings ; the audience sat spellbound.
No great display of art, to be sure ! But the mountain wilds were without, and the mountain winds were abroad, and there was something strangely sombre, romantic, akin to the suggestion and the sound in the rich swelling tones of the young voice so passionately vibrant on the air. Though obviously an amateur, he sang with a careful precision that bespoke fairly good advantages amply improved, but the singing was instinct with that ardor, that love of the art, that enthusiasm, which no training can supply or create. The music and the words were unfamiliar, for they were his own. Neither was devoid of merit. Indeed, a musical authority once said that his songs would have very definite promise if it were not for a determined effort to make all the science of harmony tributary to the display of Lucien Royce’s high A. A recurrent strain now and again came, interfluent through the drift of melody, rising with a certain ecstatic elasticity to that sustained tone, which was soft, yet strong, and as sweet as summer.
As his voice thus rang out into the silence with all its pathos and its passion, he turned his eyes on the eyes he had so learned to love, and met those orbs, full of delight and of surprise and a patent admiration, fixed upon his face. The rest of the song he sang straight at Gertrude Fordyce, and she looked at the singer, her gaze never swerving. For once his plunging heart in triumph felt he had caught and held her attention ; for once, he said to himself, she did not look at him as impersonally as if he were the side of the wall.
It was over at last, and he was bowing his acknowledgments to the wildly applauding audience. The jugglery was at a discount. He had drawn off the white cloth from the flower-pot, where a strongly rooted young oak shoot two feet high appeared to have grown while he sang. But the walls of the room resounded with the turbulent clamors of an insistent encore. Only the eyes of the rustic-looking stranger were starting out of his head as he gazed at the oak shoot, and there came floating softly through his lips the involuntary comment, “ By gum ! ”
It was necessary in common courtesy to sing at least the last stanza again, and as the juggler did so he was almost happy in singing it anew to her starry eyes, and noting the flush on her cheeks, and the surprise and pleasure in her beautiful face. The miracle of the oak shoot went unexplained, for all New Helvetia was still clapping a recall when the juggler, bowing and bowing, with the guitar in his hand, and ever retreating as he bowed, stepped off at the wings for instructions, and was met there by renewed acclamations from his fellow entertainers.
“ You ’d better bring on the play if you don’t want to hold forth here till the small hours,” he said, flushed, and panting, and joyous once more.
But the author-manager was of a different mind. The child of his fancy was dear to him, although it was a very grotesque infant, as indeed it was necessary that it should be. He deprecated submitting it to the criticism of an unwilling audience, still clamoring for the reappearance of another attraction. However, there would not be time enough to respond to this encore, and yet bring the farce on with the deliberation essential to its success, and the effect of all its little points.
“ You seem to be the star of the evening,” he said graciously. “ And I should like to hear you sing again myself. But we really have n’t time. As they are so delighted with you, suppose, by way of letting them down gently, we give them another sight of you by moving up the basket trick on the programme, instead of letting it come between the second and third acts of the play, —we have had to advance the feat that was to have come between the first and second acts, anyhow, — and have no jugglery between the acts.”
Royce readily agreed, but the manager still hesitated while the house thumped and clapped its recall in great impatience, and a young hobbledehoy slipped slyly upon the stage and facetiously bowed his acknowledgments, with his hand upon his heart, causing spasms of delight among the juvenile contingent and some laughter from the elders.
Said the hesitating manager, unconscious of this interlude, “ I don’t half like that basket trick.”
“ Why ? ” demanded the juggler, surprised. “ It’s the best thing I can do. And when we rehearsed it, I thought we had it down to a fine point.”
“ Yes,” still hesitating, “but I’m afraid it’s dangerous.”
The juggler burst into laughter. “ It’s as dangerous as a pistol loaded with blank cartridges ! See here,” he cried joyously, turning with outspread arms to the group of youths fantastic in their stage toggery, “I call you all to witness — if ever Millden Seymour hurts me, I intended to let him do it. Come on ! ” he exclaimed in a different tone ; “I’m obliged to have a confederate in this, and we have rehearsed it without a break time and again.”
In a moment more they were on the stage, side by side, and the audience, seeing that no more minstrelsy was in order, became reconciled to the display of magic. A certain new element of interest was infused into the proceedings by the fact that another person was introduced, and that it was Seymour who made all the preparations, interspersing them with jocular remarks to the audience, while the juggler stood by, silent and acquiescent. He seemed to be the victim of the manager, in some sort, and the juvenile spectators, with beating hearts and open mouths and serious eyes, watched the proceedings taken against him as his arms were bound with a rope and then a bag of rough netting was slipped over him and sewed up at the end.
“ I have him fast and safe now,” the manager declared. “ He cannot delude us with any more of his deceits, I am sure.”
The juggler was placed at full length on the floor and a white cloth was thrown over him. The manager then exhibited a large basket some three feet long and with a top to it, which he also thrust under the cloth. Taking advantage of the evident partisanship of the children for their entertainer, he spoke for a few minutes in serious and disapproving terms of the deceits of the eye, and made a very pretty moral arraignment of these dubious methods of taking pleasure, which was obviously received in high dudgeon. He then turned about to lead his captive, hobbled and bound, off the stage. Lifting the cloth he found no trace of the juggler; the basket with the top beside it was revealed, and on the floor was the netting, — a complete case with not a mesh awry through which he could have escaped. The manager stamped about in the empty basket and finally emerged putting on the top and cording it up. Whereupon one antagonistic youth in the audience opined that the juggler was in the basket.
“ He is, is he?” said the manager, looking up sharply at the bullet-headed row. “ Then what do you think of this, and this, and this ? ”
He had drawn the sharp bowie-knife with which Royce had furnished him, and was thrusting it up to the hilt here, there, everywhere through the interstices of the wickerwork. This convinced the audience that in some inscrutable manner the juggler had been spirited away, impossible though it might seem. The stage, in the full glare of all the lamps at New Helvetia Springs, was in view from every part of the house, and it was evident that the management of the Unrivaled Attraction was incapable of stage machinery, trap-doors, or any similar appliance. In the midst of the discussion, very general over the house, the basket began to roll about. The manager viewed it with the affectation of starting eyes and agitated terror for a moment. Then pouncing upon it in wrath he loosened the cords, took off the top, and pulled out the juggler, who was received with acclamations, and, bowing and smiling and backing off the stage, he retired, the hero of the occasion.
Seymour at the wings was giving orders to ring down the curtain to prepare the stage for The New Woman.
“ Don’t do it unless you mean it for keeps, Mill,” remonstrated the property-man. “ The devil’s in the old rag, I believe. It might not go up again easily, and I ’m sure, from the racket out there, they are going to have the basket trick over again.”
For the front row of bullet-heads was conducting itself like a row of gallery gods and effervescing with whistlings and shrill cries. The applause was general and tumultuous, growing louder when the over-cautious father called out “ No pistols and no knives ! ”
“ Oh, they can take care of themselves,” said a former adherent of his proposition, for the feat was really very clever, and very cleverly exploited, and he was ready to accredit the usual amount of sagacity to youths who could get up so amusing an entertainment. No one was alert to notice — save his mere presence as some messenger or purveyor of properties — a dazed-looking young mountaineer, dripping with the rain and apparently drenched to the skin, who walked down the main aisle and stepped awkwardly over the footlights, upon the stage. He paused bewildered at the wings, and Lucien Royce behind the scenes, turning, found himself face to face with Owen Haines. The sight of the wan, ethereal countenance brought back like some unhallowed spell the real life he had lived of late into the vanishing dream-life he was living now. But the actualities are constraining. “ You want me ? ” he said, with a sudden premonition of trouble.
“ I hev s’arched fur you-uns fur days,” Haines replied, a strange compassion in his eyes, contemplating which Lucien Royce felt his blood go cold. “ But the Simses deceived me ez ter whar ye be ; they never told me till ter-night, an’ then I hed ter tell ’em why I wanted you-uns.”
“ Why ? ” demanded Royce, spellbound by the look in the man’s eyes, yet almost overmastered by the revulsion of feeling in the last moment, the quaking of an unnamed terror at his heart.
Nevertheless, with his acute and versatile faculties he heard the clamors of the recall still thundering in the room, he noted the passing of the facetiously bedight figures for the farce. He was even aware of glances of curiosity from one or two of the scene-shifters, and had the prudence to draw Haines, who heard naught and saw only the face before him, into a corner.
“ Why?” reiterated Royce. “Why do you want me ? ”
“ Bekase,” said Haines, “Peter Knowles seen ye fling them clothes inter the quicklime, an’ drawed the idee ez ye hed slaughtered somebody bodaciously, an’ kivered ’em thar too.”
The juggler reddened at the mention of the clothes and the thought of their sacrifice, but he was out of countenance before the sentence was concluded, and gravely dismayed.
“ Oh, pshaw ! ” he exclaimed, seeking to reassure himself. “ They would have to prove that somebody is dead to make that charge stick.”
Then he realized the seriousness of such an accusation, the necessity of accounting for himself before a legal investigation, and this, to escape one false criminal charge, must needs lead to a prosecution for another equally false. The alternative of flight presented itself instantly. “ I can explain later, if necessary, as well as now,” he thought. “ I’m a thousand times obliged to you for telling me,” he added aloud, but to his amazement and terror the man was wringing his hands convulsively and his face was contorted with the agony of a terrible expectation.
“ Don’t thank me,” he said huskily. Then, with a sudden hope, “ Is thar enny way out’n this place ’ceptin’ yon ? ” he nodded his head toward the ballroom on the other side of the partition.
“ No, none,” gasped Royce, his nerves beginning to comprehend the situation, while it still baffled his brain.
“ I’m too late, I’m too late ! ” exclaimed Haines in a tense, suppressed voice. “ The sher’ff’s thar, ’mongst the others, in that room. I viewed him thar a minit ago.”
Assuming that he knew the worst, Royce’s courage came back. With some wild idea of devising a scheme to meet the emergency, he sprang upon the vacant stage, on which the curtain had been rung down despite the applause, still resolutely demanding a repetition of the feat, and through the rent in the trembling fabric swiftly surveyed the house with a new and, alas, how different a motive ! His eyes instantly fixed upon the rustic face, the hair parted far to the side, as the sheriff vigorously stamped his feet and clapped his hands in approbation. That oasis of refined, ideal light where Miss Fordyce sat did not escape Royce’s attention even at this crisis. Had he indeed brought this sorry, ignoble fate upon himself that he might own one moment in her thoughts, one glance of her eye, that he might sing his song to her ear ? He had certainly achieved this, he thought sardonically. She would doubtless remember him to the last day she should live. He wondered it they would iron him in the presence of the ladies. Could he count upon his strong young muscles to obey his will and submit without resistance when the officers should lay their hands upon him, and thus avoid a scene ?
And all at once — perhaps it was the sweet look in her face that made all gentle things seem possible — it occurred to him that he despaired too easily. An arrest might not be in immediate contemplation, — the corpus delicti was impossible of proof. He could surely make such disposition of his own property as seemed to him fit, and the explanation that he was at odds with his friends, dead-broke, thrown out of business in the recent panic, might pass muster with the rural officer, since no crime could be discovered to fit the destruction of the clothes. Thus he might still remain unidentified with Lucien Royce, who pretended to be dead and was alive, who had had in trust a large sum of money in a belt which was found upon another man, robbed, and perhaps murdered for it. The sheriff of Kildeer County had never dreamed of the like of that, he was very sure.
The next moment his heart sank like lead, for there amongst the audience, quite distinct in the glooms, was the sharp, keen, white face of a man he had seen before,— a certain noted detective. It was but once, yet, with that idea of crime rife in his mind, he placed the man instantly. He remembered a court-room in Memphis, during the trial of a certain notable case, where he had chanced to loiter in the tedium of waiting for a boat on one of his trips through the city, and he had casually watched this man as he gave his testimony. His presence here was significant, conclusive, to be interpreted far otherwise than any mission of the sheriff of the county. Royce did not for one moment doubt that it was in the interests of the marble company, the tenants of the estate per autre vie, although the criminal charge might emanate directly from the firm whose funds had so mysteriously disappeared from his keeping, whose trust must now seem so basely betrayed. There was no possible escape; the stanch walls of the building were unbroken even by a window, and the only exit from behind the partition was through the stage itself in full view of the watchful eyes of the officers. Any effort, any action, would merely accelerate the climax, precipitate the shame of the arrest he dreaded, — and in her presence! He felt how hard the heart of the cestui que vie was thumping at the prospect of the summary resuscitation. He said to himself, with his ironical habit of mind, that he had found dying a far easier matter. But there was no responsive satire in the limited look of his hot, wild, glancing eyes, the quiver of every muscle, the cold thrills that successively trembled through the nervous fibres. He looked so unlike himself for the moment, as he turned with a violent start on feeling the touch of a hand on his arm, that Seymour paused with some deprecation and uncertainty. Then with a renewed intention the manager said persuasively, “You won’t mind doing it over again, will you? You see they won’t be content without it.”
A certain element of surprise was blended with the manager’s cogitations which he remembered afterward rather than realized at the moment. It had to do with the altered aspect of the man, — a sudden grave tumultuous excitement which his manner and glance bespoke ; but the perception of this was subacute in Seymour’s mind and subordinate to the awkward dilemma in which he found himself as manager of the little enterprise. There was not time, in justice to the rest of the programme, to repeat the basket trick; and had the farce been the work of another he would have rung the curtain up forthwith on its first scene. But the pride and sensitiveness of the author alike forbade the urging of his own work upon the attention of an audience still clamorously insistent upon the repetition of another attraction, and hardly likely, if balked of this, to be fully receptive to the real merits of the little play.
Seymour remembered afterward, but did not note at the time, the obvious effort with which the juggler controlled his agitation. “ Oh, anything goes ! ” he assented, and in a moment more the curtain had glided up with less than its usual convulsive resistance. They were standing again together with composed aspect in the brilliance of the footlights, and Seymour, with a change of phrase and an elaboration of the idea, was dilating afresh upon the essential values of the positive in life ; the possible pernicious effects of any delusion of the senses ; the futility of finding pleasure in the false, simply because of the flagrancy of its falsity ; the deleterious moral effects of such exhibitions upon the very young, teaching them to love the acrobatic lie instead of the lame truth, — from all of which be deduced the propriety of tying the juggler up for the rest of the evening. But the bullet-heads were not as dense as they looked. They learned well when they learned at all, and the pauses of this rodomontade were filled with callow chuckles and shrill whinnies of appreciative delight, anticipative of the wonder to come. They now viewed with eager forwarding interest the juggler’s bonds, little dreaming what grim prophecy he felt in their restraint, and the smallest boy of the lot shrilly sang out, when all was done, “ Give him another turn of the rope ! ”
Seymour, his blond face flushed by the heat and his exertions to the hue of his pink-and-white blazer, ostentatiously wrought another knot, and down the juggler went on the floor, encased in the unbroken netting; the cloth was thrown over the man and the basket, and Seymour turned anew to the audience and took up the thread of his discourse. It came as trippingly off his tongue as before, and in the dusky gray-purple haze, the seeming medium in which the audience sat, fair, smiling faces, full of expectation and attention, looked forth their approval, and now and again broke into laughter. When, having concluded by announcing that he intended to convey the discomfited juggler off the stage, he found naught under the cloth but the empty net without a mesh awry, the man having escaped, his rage was a trifle more pronounced than before. With a wild gesture he tossed the fabric out to the audience to bid them observe how the villain had outwitted him, and then sprang into the basket and stamped tumultuously all around in the interior, evidently covering every square inch of its surface, while the detective’s keen eyes watched with an eager intensity, as if the only thought in his mind were the miracle of the juggler’s withdrawal. Out Seymour plunged finally, and with dogged resolution he put the lid on and began to cord up the basket as if for departure.
“ Save the little you ’ve got left,” whinnied out a squirrel-toothed month from the front bench, almost too broadly a-grin for articulation.
“ Get a move on ye. — get a move ! ” shouted another of the callow youngsters, reveling in the fictitious plight of the discomfited manager as if it were real.
He seemed to resent it. He looked frowningly over the footlights at the front row, as it hugged itself and squirmed on the bench and cackled in ecstasy.
I wish I had him here ! ” he exclaimed gruffly. " I ’d settle him — with this — and this — and this ! ” Each word was emphasized with the successive thrusts of the sharp blade of the bowieknife through the wickerwork.
“ That’s enough! That’s enough!” the remonstrant elder in the audience admonished him, and he dropped the blade and came forward to beg indulgence for the unseemly and pitiable position in which he found himself placed. He had barely turned his back for a moment, when this juggler whom he had taken so much pains to secure, in order to protect the kind and considerate audience from further deceits of a treacherous art, mysteriously disappeared, and whither he was sure he could not imagine. He hesitated for a moment and looked a trifle embarrassed, for this was the point at which the basket should begin to roll along the floor. He gave it a covert glance, but it was motionless where he had left it. Raising his voice, he repeated the words as with indignant emphasis, thinking the juggler had not caught the cue. He went on speaking at random, but his words came less freely ; the audience was silent, expectant; the basket still lay motionless on the floor. Seeing that he must needs force the crisis, he turned, exclaiming with uplifted hands, “ Do my eyes deceive me, or is that basket stirring, rolling on the floor ? ”
But no; the basket lay as still as he had left it. There was a moment of tense silence in the audience, and then his face grew suddenly white and chill, his eyes dilated — fixed on something dark, and slow, and sinuous, trickling down the inclined plane of the stage. He sprang forward with a shrill exclamation, and catching up the bowie-knife severed with one stroke the cords that bound the basket.
“ Are you hurt?” lie gasped in a tremulous voice to the silence beneath the lid, and as he tossed it aside he recoiled abruptly, rising to his feet with a loud and poignant cry. “ Oh, my God ! he is dead ! he is dead ! ”
The sudden transition from the purely festival character of the atmosphere to the purlieus of grim tragedy told heavily on every nerve. There was one null moment blank of comprehension, and then women were screaming, and more than one fainted ; the clamor of overturned benches added to the confusion, as the men, with grim set faces and startled eyes, pressed forward to the stage ; the children cowered in ghastly affright close below the footlights, except one small creature who thought it a part of the fun, not dreaming what death might he, and was laughing aloud in high-keyed mirth down in the dusky gloom. A physician among the summer sojourners, on a flying visit for a breath of mountain air, was the first man to reach the stage, and, with the terrorstricken Seymour, drew the long lithe body out and straightened it on the floor, as the curtain was lowered to hide a mise en scène which it might be terror to women and children to remember. His ready hand desisted after a glance. The man had died from the first stroke of the bowie-knife, penetrating his side, and doubtless lacerating the outer tissues of the heart. The other strokes were registered, — the one on his hand, the other, a slight graze, on the neck. A tiny package had fallen on the floor as the hasty hands had torn the shirt aside from the wound : the deft professional fingers unfolded it, — a bit of faded flower, a wild purple verbena ; the physician looked at it for a moment, and tossed it aside in the blood on the floor, uninterested. The pericardium was more in his line. He was realizing, too, that he could not start to-morrow, as he had intended, for his office and his rounds among his patients. The coroner’s jury was an obstinate impediment, and his would be expert testimony.
Upon this inquest, held incongruously enough in the ballroom, the facts of the information which Owen Haines had brought to the juggler and the presence of the officers in the audience were elicited, and added to the excitements incident to the event. The friends of young Seymour, who was overwhelmed by the tragedy, believed and contended that since escape from prosecution for some crime was evidently impossible, the juggler had in effect committed suicide by holding up his left arm that the knife might pierce a vital part. Thus they sought to avert the sense of responsibility which a man must needs feel for so terrible an accident wrought by his own hand. But crime as a factor seemed doubtful. The sheriff, indeed, upon the representations of Sims, supplemented by the mystery of the lime-kiln which Knowles had disclosed, had induced the detective to accompany him to the mountains to seek to identify the stranger as a defaulting cashier from one of the cities for whose apprehension a goodly amount of money would be paid. But in no respect did Royce correspond to the perpetrator of any crime upon the detective’s list.
“ He need n’t have been afraid of me,” he observed dryly; “I saw in a minute he was n’t our fellow. And I was just enjoying myself mightily.”
The development of the fact of the presence of the officers and the juggler’s knowledge that they were in the audience affected the physician’s testimony and his view of the occurrence. He accounted it an accident. The nerve of the young man, shaken by the natural anxiety at finding himself liable to immediate arrest, was not sufficient to carry him through the feat. He failed to shift position with the celerity essential to the basket trick, and the uplifted position of the arm, which left the body unprotected to receive the blow, was but the first effort to compass the swift movements necessary to the feat. The unlucky young manager was exonerated from all blame in the matter, but the verdict was death by accident.
Nevertheless, for many a day and all the years since the argument continues. Along the verge of those crags overlooking the valley, in the glamours of a dreamy golden haze, with the amethystine mountains on the horizon reflecting the splendors of the sunset sky, and with the rich content of the summer solstice in the perfumed air; or amongst the fronds of the ferns about the fractured cliffs whence the spring wells up with a tinkling tremor and exhilarant freshness and a cool, cool splashing as of the veritable fountain of youth; or in the shadowy twilight of the long, low building where the balls go crashing down the alleys; or sometimes even in the ballroom in pauses of the dance when the music is but a plaint, half-joy, halfpain, and the wind is singing a wild and mystic refrain, and the moonlight comes in at the windows and lies in great bluewhite silver rhomboids on the floor despite the dull yellow glow of the lamps, — in all these scenes which while yet in life Lucien Royce had haunted, with a sense of exile and a hopeless severance, as of a man who is dead, the mystery of his fate revives anew and yet once more, and continues unexplained. Conjecture fails, conclusions are vain, the secret remains. Hey! Presto! The juggler has successfully exploited his last feat.
Charles Egbert Craddock.