The Draxon Dinners

IT was the last sentence of the notice sent out by Buffum, the secretary of the Vagabond Club, in which the members took the greatest interest.

“ The next dinner of the Vagabond Club will come off, wind, wave, and weather permitting, on Thursday, November 14.

“ The special lion will be Mr. Edgar S. Northrop. Members are assured that he is good-tempered, well-trained, and will not bite if treated kindly.

“ Congratulations and condolences will also be in order on the engagement of whom the newspapers misguidedly call ‘ the eminent lawyer,’ our Benedict brother, Draxon.”

Although Northrop was a distinguished actor, and had always been a favorite guest at the club, it was on account of Draxon that the members were looking forward eagerly to the dinner. Draxon’s hand was already numb from the vigorous grasp of his friends ; but the true good wishes of Vagabondian comradeship had not yet been given to him in genuine Vagabondian fashion.

Harry Draxon was, without question, the most popular man in the club. There were many members wittier, jollier, and more talented ; but Draxon’s modesty, his hearty good-fellowship, the quiet charm of his manner, combined with his undoubted ability, had won for him from his friends a degree of love almost equal to that which a man ordinarily reserves for the woman of his heart. And they all were sure that this girl who had stolen him away from them was in no way worthy of him. It is probable, however, that they would have held the same opinion regarding any girl whom Draxon might have chosen to place ahead of his friends. But many of them had in addition an uneasy feeling that the whole affair had been too sudden, too impetuous, too youthful almost; that it lacked the necessary firm foundation on which the joy of a man’s whole life should be built.

It was at a house party given by Mrs. Lawrence that Draxon, Holcombe, and Leland had met Ethel Hollister. She was not more than twenty years old, small, fair, and graceful, with an airy, inconsequential way of treating men and things which came from a knowledge of the world confined to that circumscribed portion within which she had blossomed for two years.

Loving Draxon as they did, Holcombe and Leland were not at all surprised that Miss Hollister should be instantly and powerfully attracted by him. But they had felt a distinct shock when they perceived that almost from the outset Draxon’s own heart seemed to be captured by this slip of a girl. Mrs. Lawrence herself had regarded the affair with some astonishment; for she knew that Ethel Hollister was reputed to be engaged already to young Lester Framleigh, who was also one of her guests. And the morose aspect of Framleigh, as he watched the older man monopolizing Miss Hollister’s attention more and more, certainly gave authority to the report. Then one November afternoon, hardly a month from his first meeting with Ethel Hollister, Harry Draxon had come up to a little knot of men sitting at the club, and had announced with an air that was a combination of shamefacedness and assumed bravado, “Well, boys, I’m engaged.”

Whether the girl was worthy of him or not, there could be no doubt that she had made him happy, happier than they had ever seen him. That achievement alone almost redeemed her in the estimation of his friends. For Draxon walked, talked, and did his business with such a glorified air; there emanated from him such an atmosphere of complete bliss, that, notwithstanding the monotony of subject in his conversation, his mere bodily presence with them seemed almost to solve the whole problem of life. His face wore such a perpetual smile that they longed to catch him asleep in order to see if it vanished even then. The attitude which he took toward his own condition would have led one to suppose that engagements were a new invention of his own, and now patented by him for his sole use. And yet, notwithstanding all this, his friends were not entirely satisfied that she was the girl for him. One thing in particular made Leland nervously apprehensive. He spoke of it to Holcombe as they walked home after a call upon her.

“ She appreciates him,” he had said ; “ she appreciates him, but not in the right way. She ’s proud of him and all that; but she’s proud of him in just the same way she glories in her new engagement ring. She sees that she’s got possession of the brilliant genius, that she ’s the envy of most other women, but she does n’t know the man himself yet. He’s a new, and glorious, and expensive toy ; and she’s a child who is playing with it until she gets tired.”

“ Oh, you ’re pessimistic,” Holcombe had replied.

“ No,” Leland had said seriously, “ you mark my words, she does n’t care for him yet in the right way, — not in the way Draxon cares for her. I don’t say that she will not do so in time. But she does n’t now. There’s something that is n’t there in her; and that worries me.”

Leland had not known that Draxon was contemplating a trip to Europe until he met Holcombe on the street on the day when Buffum’s notice of the dinner was sent out. “ Yes, he’s been called over on business. Poor man, he feels like the devil about going. He’d give up almost anything of his own to stay here ; but this has something to do with one of his trust estates. He sails on the Galatea early Saturday morning. He ’s going over to New York on Friday noon after the dinner. Did you know that they’ve fixed upon the wedding immediately upon his return in January ? This will be his last bachelor dinner at the Vagabond.”

“ The wedding in January ? He is in a hurry, is n’t he ? But after all I’m glad there’s to be no delay. By the way,” Leland had replied, “ I was walking up past the Hollister house the other day, and I saw that young Framleigh coming out.”

“ Framleigh ; who’s he ? ”

“ Why, don’t you remember the sombre youth we met down at Mrs. Lawrence’s,— the man whom Ethel Hollister was supposed to have thrown over in favor of old Harry ? ”

“ Oh, that man ! What do you suppose he’s doing around there now ? It’s like a ghost haunting the scene of his murder, is n’t it ? There must be little satisfaction in that practice for an unsuccessful lover,” Holcombe had said. And then as he turned to leave, “ Don’t forget, we three lunch together the day Draxon leaves.”

“ All right,” Leland had answered, “ I ’ll be there.”

The dinner had certainly been a glorious success, so far, — one of the most brilliant that the many old members who were present could remember. The newer members sat with mouths agape at the jests and the repartee flung up and down and across the table. Old Joshua Manningly, the president, was in his best form that night; and no one had escaped from his incisive sarcasm and his double-edged flattery. All had sat down with riotous enthusiasm; and the confusion had increased in mathematical ratio as each new course came upon the table. The sole rule of the club was that there should be no rules, — the Vagabondian paradox. Its boast was that it had no constitution. Therefore, speaking began or left off at any period in the dinner when fancy dictated ; and any unlucky guest who imagined that time would be afforded to him, at least until the coffee was served, in which to think up his “ impromptu ” speech, was generally disconcerted by being called to his feet in the middle of the entrées.

That night Northrop, the actor, was introduced during the fish course ; but he had been the club’s guest several times, and he was not taken unawares. His speech, delivered in his peculiar, jerky, and very emphatic style, had been appropriate to the occasion, containing no sentence which required even one quarter of a second to digest.

“ I am going to talk only a minute ” —

“ Thank God ! ” came from somewhere.

“ On the evanescence ”—

“ Spell it,” shouted Buffum. “ Shoot him in cold blood,” called another. “ Disgusting display of vocabulary,” came from another direction.

“ On the evanescence ” —

“ Second and last offense,” Manningly said threateningly.

“ Evanescence, — I can’t use that word when I’m in Delaware. It’s so long it goes over the state boundary and has to be extradited,” continued Northrop, unabashed, — “ evanescence of human pride and happiness.” And then he told a little story of his theatrical experience.

“ There’s a moral in that for you, too, Draxon, my boy, you proud and happy youngster,” a member called across the table. Draxon’s ever present smile, however, continued to light up his face.

Then De Forest rose and made his ninth speech of the evening on — no one knew exactly what.

“ No one asked you to talk,” a member said ; and another rose and moved that De Forest be expelled from the club. The motion was put and unanimously carried ; and De Forest bowed and uttered his heartfelt, solemn thanks for the honor.

“ Mr. President and gentlemen,” shouted Holcombe above the uproar.

“ Sir, I dislike the discrimination implied in your remarks,” said the president.

“ Mr. President and other gentlemen,” renewed Holcombe.

The president bowed. “ The amendment is accepted.”

“ I move you, sir ” —

“ You can’t do it.” “ You ’re not strong enough,” came the interruptions. — “ that we now proceed to the business of the evening.”

“ Mr. Holcombe offers to pay for free champagne,” said the president turning to the head waiter. “ That is the business, I believe.” — “ of the evening, referring to the present enraptured condition of our brother Vagabondian, Harry Draxon.”

At the mention of the name the whole club rose to its feet, and cheers came from all sides. Every man’s glass was raised. “ Dear old Harry.” “Harry, old man.” “Here’s to you.” “Now with me.” “ God bless you, old fellow.” Draxon sat motionless, as if dazed at the tumult. Then, for the first time, his face became grave and he seemed overwhelmed at the heartiness of the good will which shone in every one’s eyes. When the noise subsided and they sat down, some began singing, and all joined in the old, “ For he’s a jolly good fellow ; ” and they sang it as only men who mean every word of it can sing.

Then Holcombe rose, tall and gaunt, out of the tangled mass of men, and began to speak in a sober voice. The hall was as still as a sick room. With great seriousness, with no idle jest, and with the most perfect aptness and sympathy, he told Draxon how much he was to each of them and to the whole club. He told him how they all rejoiced at the fact of his happiness, and envied him the joy that had come into his life, how they all cursed themselves that they had n’t been able to bring as much to him, and that it had remained for a helpless girl to do that. He told him how they knew that the club would never have the same hold upon him that it had before, how something else far better and higher would now have first place in his heart. “ But then,” he said, “ Harry, old man, there ’ll be some night when perhaps she won’t be with you, and when perhaps you 'll feel just a little lonely, and then you ’ll look in on us and you ’ll find us just the same — no, not just the same — even more glad to see you and have you with us than we are now. And so,” his voice trembled a little, “ Draxon, dear, good, old Draxon, we drink to you now. We don’t wish you happiness because you’ve got all of that you can hold. But we wish you a continuance of that happiness all your life, every day, and every hour, and every minute of it, and — and — well, I guess that’s all. Now — Harry — you old fool, get up and say something, can’t you ? ”

With this rather confused and lame ending, Holcombe sat down and every one said it was the best speech he had ever made. And they all rose again, and drank, and hammered the table, until the plates and glasses jumped up and down, clinking and clattering.

Draxon was pushed, and shoved, and hoisted to his feet by his neighbors beside him, and stood silent, nervously tearing his dinner card. He took a glass of water and still remained silent, while they could see his face twitch as he tried to regain control of himself. Finally he said with his old-time drawl, but in a half-smothered voice : —

“Brothers of the Vagabond — I — I don’t know what to say. And yet I ought to say something. I can’t thank you. You see I can’t, as I want to.”

“ Go ahead ; you ’re doing first-rate,” called out a man across the table ; but his interruption was greeted with frowns and admonitions to “ shut up.”

“ I don’t know whether you all have met my — my heart’s desire.”

“ Good, good ! ” they cried.

“ But I think you ’ll take my word for it when I say that I am the luckiest man that ever lived, and to-night the happiest. I don’t deserve it all; God knows, I don’t deserve her.”

Holcombe and Leland exchanged glances. They felt that the luck and the unworthiness were all on the other side.

“ But I’ve got her. By God’s help I ’ll try and make myself what I ought to be, for her. You fellows remember Van Ness’s poem that he read here last spring about Vagabondian Loves. You recall that he described how unlucky all of us seemed to have been in love, judging from the attitude and tone of the love ditties read at this table, — how almost all our poems dwelt on the unfaithfulness of some fairy female, or on the jilting of some woe-begone swain, or were Lays to Lost Loves. Well, I 'm the beginning of a new era; but though now I can’t write a poem of woe or of hard luck in love, I can’t guarantee that my love is n’t unlucky in loving me.”

“ Oh, oh, false modesty thy name is Draxon ! ” “ Never, never,” flew the interjections.

“And so,” continued Draxon, his old smile returning, “ perhaps you won’t think me too presumptuous and too oneideaed if I ask you to drink a return toast with me, a toast which ought to be appropriate for each one of you ; and if it does not fit, the sooner you, each one of you, imitate my good example and put yourself in a position where it will fit, the better man you ’ll each of you be. I ask you all, brethren, to rise and drink, ‘ To the Girl who loves a Vagabondian.’ ”

They all jumped up with a cheer, and the wine slopped over their glasses as they drank with a zest, and cheered, and then drank again, and cheered. And all the while Draxon sat back in his chair with his smile of perfect joy and delight.

Then Northrop rose again, although informed that he had “ already spoken once,” and that “ children should be seen, not heard,” and said that he hoped Mr. Draxon would not subject himself, in making love, to the comment made upon him, Northrop. He told how he had received a letter complaining that, when on the stage, he always addressed his proposals to the lady behind her back, and made love to her back hair. On thinking over his plays, he found out that unconsciously this had been his habit. His female correspondent objected bitterly to this mode of procedure as being unfair on the girl who was thus prevented from seeing his face, and from judging whether he was in earnest.

After Northrop had sat down, amid a deathly silence and audibly querulous questionings among the members where the joke lay in his remarks, a popular but very grave judge of the Supreme Court rose, and said the occasion reminded him of a burlesque love poem. Unfortunately it only reminded him of the first four lines. At the fifth line his memory gave out.

“ And close by stood an ancient inn,”

he repeated three times. “ The bench seems to have difficulty in getting by the bar of that inn,” De Forest said in a low and musing tone. A shout went up around the table, and the judge resumed his seat, which action was greeted by a burst of handclapping. Then Grantham set off a bunch of his crackling aphorisms, more or less appropriate to the occasion, — among them, “ Where singleness is bliss, ’t is folly to have wives,” and, “ A little widow is a dangerous thing.” Some one told a story, regarding which the best comment was made by Van Ness, that it was “ received with that cordiality with which we always greet an old friend.”

And so the evening passed by. Salters sang a rollicking song with his delightful tenor voice; and the loving cup was brought on. The famous old toast, “ Here’s to one another — and to one other,” was drunk. Then, after a few stories, the dinner broke up, without formal motion, but by the gradual drifting away of members in congenial groups.

“ Good-by, Harry, old man.” “ Good luck to you.” “ Hope you ’ll have a pleasant trip.” “ Good-by, Harry.” They crowded up to shake his hand ; and then the room became empty.

Holcombe, Draxon, and Leland strolled down the street together. Draxon seemed like a man in a dream, so saturated was he with pleasure at the good comradeship and the hearty wishes of the evening. The three stood under an arc lamp in front of Leland’s quarters, chatting. “ Won’t you come in Harry, just for a minute, and have a final stirrup cup ? ” Leland asked.

“ You forget,” Holcombe said, “ we ’re all three going to lunch to-morrow.”

“ Oh, by the way, Holcombe,” Draxon broke out, “ I entirely forgot to tell you fellows, I can’t lunch with you to-morrow, because I’m going to New York tonight, in just half an hour.” He looked at his watch.

“ Look here, that’s too bad,” said Holcombe. “ What are you going to do that for ? ”

“ Why, I find that I must be in New York to-morrow to attend to some important business. I sail, you know, at four o’clock in the morning, Saturday. I thought that I could fix it up by going on to-morrow noon, but I need more time so I’ve changed my plans.”

“ How did Miss Hollister like your going on to New York this way a day earlier, and leaving her before you meant to ? ” Leland said laughingly.

“ She does n’t know anything about it. You know she was obliged to go off to Washington herself yesterday to see her mother, who’s sick. I said good-by to her then.”

“ Do you mean to say that you stayed back here away from her for this dinner ? ” asked Holcombe.

“ Well, not wholly. I really could n’t get away from here a minute sooner. It was pretty hard though, I can tell you, letting her go off on Wednesday when I was n’t to sail until Saturday.”

“ You ’re a real hero, Harry,” Leland said. “You’ll write her to-night about your change of plans, and all about the dinner ? ”

“ Oh yes, of course.”

“ Well, don’t forget to put in all the nice things that were said. Don’t be too modest, old fellow. Those are the things that will please her.”

Leland looked at his watch.

“Are you going over to your rooms, Harry ? ” he asked; “ because if you are, you have n’t got any extra time to spare.”

“ Oh no,” he said, “ I locked everything up over there this afternoon and cleared out. I had my baggage sent over to the station early, so that I could meet Manningly and Northrop at the Arnold Club before we went down to the dinner. What time is it ? ”

“ Eleven thirty-five.”

“So late? Well, I suppose I ought to be going.” There was great reluctance and regret in his voice. “ Goodby, old men — until January 2d.”

Leland gripped his hand. “ Good-by and all kinds of good luck, Harry, and hurry back home,” he said.

Holcombe took his hand. “ Harry,” he said, “ I meant what I said to-night, you know. It was n’t a speech. I meant it. You understand ? ”

“ Oh, that’s all right. Of course — and thank you, old man ; you know how much,” answered Draxon. “ Good-by,” — “ Good - by,” — “ Good - by,” came from them all; and then Harry Draxon walked off.

As he turned, they could see his eyes ; and they felt they had never seen a more completely happy man.

That was Thursday night, November the 14th. It was on the afternoon of Wednesday, the 20th, that the usual little coterie of men had gathered in the lounging room of the Arnold Club. The tinkle of the clock on the wall over the blazing wood fire announced half past five. With drinks on tables at their side, they were lazily watching the stream of business men and belated shoppers returning home through the twilight. They saw Buffum come down the street and up the steps of the club, and there was a curious look on his face. He joined them amid casual and jovial greetings. He held up his hand to quell the noise.

“ You have n’t heard the news, then ? ” he said, with a choking voice.

“ What news ? What’s the matter, Buff?”

He paused, and there was the complete stillness of anticipation in the room. Then he said without further preliminary, —

“ The Galatea has gone down — only one boatload of passengers saved.”

“ Great God ! ” some one cried. The rest sat, silent and chilled.

“ And Harry Draxon ? ” It was Holcombe’s voice, but one would hardly have recognized it.

“ His name is not among those saved.”

A sound of laughter drifted in from the hallway. Then they began to talk together in strained whispers.

Later bulletins confirmed the horrible report. The Galatea, two days out from New York, had collided with a large iceberg in the nighttime, and had gone straight to the bottom. The second mate, the purser, and a dozen passengers had escaped in one boat. All the rest, officers, crew, and passengers, were lost, and Harry Draxon was dead.

“ Do you remember, Roger, how the dear old fellow looked that night when we said ‘good-by’ ? ” Holcombe said to Leland, three days afterwards, when the truth of the news was absolutely established. “ Did you ever see a happier being in your life ? ”

Holcombe was the executor named in Draxon’s will, and he had asked Leland, as one of Harry’s most intimate friends, to go up to Draxon’s room with him, when he started to take charge of his papers and effects. It was a painful thing to do, but Leland had felt that possibly he might be of some service, and so he had accompanied him. The old housekeeper had met them, and said with a sob : “Ye ’ll find everything of Mr. Harry’s just as he left it, the blessed soul; and there is two letters on his desk that came for him the evening he left, which I was going to forward to Europe for him. Ye know he changed his plans and went over to New York earlier, and he did n’t leave me any address. They ’ll be there all right on his desk.”

They entered his room as if they were entering a church, — that room in which they had passed so many confidential, careless, jovial evenings. It looked the same, but it never would be the same again. They talked in whispers as Holcombe unlocked the desk drawers and looked over the papers. Everywhere around the room, on the table, the mantelpiece, the desk, were photographs of Ethel Hollister.

Leland gave a start as the thought suddenly occurred to him that, in the intensity of his personal grief, he had not attempted to call upon her. He wondered whether she was in town or still in Washington. As he stood by the fireplace looking painfully at the last picture which Harry had had taken, a photograph of himself and Miss Hollister together, he heard Holcombe utter a violent exclamation followed by a groan. Turning around, he saw him staring vacantly at an open letter, one of the two upon the desk.

“ What’s the matter ? ” Leland said. “ Anything serious ? ” Holcombe seemed about to offer the letter to him, then he drew back, folded it up, and returning it to the envelope, placed it in his pocket. His face was white, almost as if from anger.

“ What is it ? ” Leland repeated.

“ It ’s a letter,” Holcombe said, “which I found here for Draxon, and which—well, which I think perhaps I ’d better not show you, at least not now.”

Leland was surprised at the confusion and emotion in his manner. But he saw on looking intently at Holcombe’s rigid face that it would be wiser not to press the matter further at present. He retained, however, considerable curiosity to know what it could have been that had stirred Holcombe so deeply.

The funeral was held a few days after that. The church was crowded with men, and although Draxon was comparatively young in his profession, there were judges of the Supreme Court, clerks of the courts, leaders of the Bar, and, what was more significant, elevator men from his office building and from the court house, minor court-room officials, tradesmen with whom he dealt, and his club associates, all mingled together. Never had Leland and Holcombe understood so perfectly his lovable character as during that hour when they sat in the dimly lighted church and watched all those men in diverse walks of life assembled to show their personal affection for him. And Ethel Hollister was there, not dressed in the deepest of mourning, but very pale and stricken in her look.

About two weeks later the members received a notice containing simply the bare announcement that the next dinner of the Vagabond Club would be held on Thursday, December 12. With the recollection of the last dinner vivid in him, Leland had been unable to bring himself to the point of deciding to go, until he had met Frank Holcombe on the day before the dinner. “ You ought to go, Roger. We all ought to go, because Harry would have wished it. You know how he loved the club, and how he would have disliked the thought that his death should in any way break up our meetings. The club must show its appreciation of his feelings.” Leland knew that he was right, and so they went together on the evening of the 12th. But on looking round the room where they were accustomed to assemble, he shivered as if a cold wind had swept in through it from the sea; for it seemed so empty without him there to squeeze their hands with unaffected gladness at seeing them again. Each member as he arrived appeared to have a subdued air of wanting to say something and yet of suppressing his real thought by force of will. A few mentioned openly Harry Draxon’s name. But those who knew him best kept ominously silent in respect to him. The fact was, that the place was so full of association that no one of them dared trust his own emotions.

As they went into the dining hall they noticed halfway down the table a chair, in front of which stood a battered pewter beer mug. It was the place where he had sat last November. The mug was his, well remembered for years back. Tonight they left the chair unoccupied. When they all were seated at the board and touched elbows, when each felt the helpful presence of his neighbor, a little of the true Vagabondian cheer gradually returned. The jokes began to be flung about again wildly. Good-natured abuse and cutting quips met each man who ventured to speak a few words loud enough to be heard by the others. A new member was initiated ; and his initial attempt at literary production was received with all the old-time opprobrium, insults, and derision. As Van Ness said in mock flattery, “ I congratulate Mr. Penthrow on dipping into poetry and emerging still conscious, although only partly intelligible.” One of the club bores read a lengthy and didactic essay, evidently intended to be humorous, which was received in discouraging and stony silence.

The merriment seemed to rise to even a higher pitch than on many previous evenings. But those who knew the men intimately felt that it was all feverish, almost strained, that each was vying with his neighbor, as if afraid lest the one and only topic of which all were thinking should be mentioned. De Forest had risen and was speaking rather wildly and disconnectedly when suddenly — crash — crash ! ! ! The president’s gavel fell on the table with so tremendous force that a bottle by his side toppled over. Unheeding, Manningly rose with a very serious face. “ Brethren,” he said, — Excuse me, De Forest, will you not please sit down ? ” — This unwonted courtesy so confused De Forest that he dropped heavily into his chair. — “ Brethren, why keep up this ghastly farce of pretense? We have watched one another trying in vain by joke or jest to drive out of his mind the one thought which holds us all to-night. But why avoid it ? Why not be honest ? We are here because we loved Harry Draxon.”

The men breathed deep all along the table. Leland saw Holcombe and Buffum wipe the perspiration from their foreheads. Others pushed their chairs back, and there was absolute attention. “And we are here, too,” the president continued, “ because Harry Draxon loved the club, and because by coming here and behaving just as we always have done, in closest and cheeriest fellowship, we shall be doing just what Harry Draxon would have wished that we should do.” Holcombe and Leland exchanged glances and nodded to each other. Leland felt that he had never heard old Manningly speak with more perfect feeling and insight.

“ Boys, I can call you so, because I am so much older than most of you, I loved him like a son ; you, like a brother. This is no place for formal eulogy on our loss. That has been said in other surroundings. Harry needs no eulogy. Besides, the Vagabond never loses a member in this way. He is still our Harry, still a Vagabondian, — but now non-resident.” There was a murmur of appreciation of the phrase. “ I want you men to sit here to-night, and tell of him and talk of him, and repeat his stories and his doings, just as if he had simply gone over to Boston or New York to live, and as if we were some time to see him again — as, God willing, we shall.”

He sat down quickly, trying hard to smile ; and a great cheer went up from all round the table, springing out of the feeling of relief from the artificial strain.

Then the stories began, as each man recalled some little event, some quiet joke, some kind act, or thoughtful present, or helping word in Harry Draxon’s life. Gradually the tone of gloom died away as they chatted together about him ; for each one of them wanted to make his contribution, wanted to add his tribute. It was certainly a remarkable life of a Christian gentleman that was unrolled there that night. The minutes fled by ; and still some one would call back a well-remembered story that he had told them, a witty bit of repartee that had made a red-letter night of a jolly past dinner. And as the clock was striking eleven, — and they found themselves amazed at the lateness of the hour, so great had been their solemn enjoyment of this unique tribute of affection, — Stanley Armstrong rose and there was great clapping of hands. For Armstrong was a sculptor, well beloved of the club, who combined with his artistic talent the power of dashing off the most delicate verse, both grave and gay, always short, but full of the choicest phrases.

He took from his inside pocket a sheet of letter paper and began to read. A hush came over all, as he spoke the beautiful lines in the firmest and softest of voices. It was a poem of four stanzas to Harry Draxon’s memory; and each stanza ended with the line, —

“ Sit closer, friends.”

He finished and sat down. No one spoke a word. A man opposite Armstrong silently leaned over the table and gripped his hand.

Then De Forest rose, — no longer flippant. “ Mr. President,” he said, “ I think that Armstrong has spoken the last word to be said. But this club should do one thing more. I move, sir, that the Vagabond Club have the report of these stories of Draxon’s life and Armstrong’s perfect poem got together in some appropriate form, and one copy placed in our library, one copy sent to Harry’s sister, and one to Miss Hollister.”

The president bowed. “ It will not be necessary, I think, to put that to a vote,” he said, and he was leaning over toward the secretary, when suddenly Holcombe rose and said in a strained and harsh voice, —

“ I regret, brethren, that I must oppose that motion in one respect.”

Leland looked at him in great surprise, and the others seemed startled as well.

“ I must ask,” he continued, “ that the part of the motion relating to Miss Hollister be stricken out, and that a copy be sent merely to Draxon’s sister.”

There was a confused murmur of protest. Holcombe looked round the table with a half-sad, half-angry start.

“I must ask you, brethren of the Vagabond, to trust me, to rely on the absolute validity of my reasons for making this request, — a request which it is most hard, most unpleasant for me to make, — and to believe that I would not make it if I did not feel compelled to do so from the most urgent motive.”

“ Do you care to say why you make this certainly extraordinary suggestion ? ” asked Manningly.

“I cannot tell you,” Holcombe replied ; “ but I assure you on my honor as a gentleman that it would be needlessly cruel, and I will say improper, to send a copy of this to Miss Hollister.”

Manningly remained a moment silently thinking. Then he said, —

“ Frank Holcombe’s suggestion will be accepted if there is no objection. We rely, however, Holcombe, on your pledge that there is some valid reason why the copies should not be sent as first proposed.”

Holcombe bowed gravely. “ I thank you, Mr. President; I thank all of you fellows.”

The episode, however, made an unpleasant impression on them all; and it seemed as if the dinner was to end as unfortunately as it had begun. But Manningly, noticing the look on the men’s faces, beckoned to the head waiter, and the loving cup was brought in and placed in front of him. Raising the cup he spoke the toast.

There were two toasts which were always drunk at the Vagabond Club. One they had drunk at their November dinner. The other they drank that night. And each man, as the cup came round to him, solemnly lifted it high and said before he drank, “ To our brothers, living and dead.” As the cup was passed into Holcombe’s hands, he held it out motionless for a moment, and looking off beyond the man opposite, off beyond the wall of the room, and out far, far into space, he said, with a choking break in his voice, “ Good-by, Harry, old man.”

At the end of their walk back together up the avenue, Holcombe, who had been silent for some time, suddenly said to Leland, “ Roger, I think you, at least, of Harry’s friends have a right to know why I acted so strangely to-night. Come up to my rooms for a minute.” Leland followed him upstairs, and threw himself into a chair in front of the fire, while Holcombe unlocked his desk and took out an envelope. Leland recognized it as the one he had seen him open in Draxon’s room. Holcombe handed the inclosed letter to him, saying, “ You’d better read it now. No one else will ever see it. I found that unopened, you remember, on Harry’s desk. It arrived, thank God, after he left Philadelphia, and was never forwarded to New York.”

This was the letter which Leland read.

WASHINGTON, November 14.

When we said good-by yesterday, I did not have the courage to tell you what I must write in this letter. Perhaps now that I am away from you, you will not take it so hard. You will get this, I know, before you leave for New York, for you told me you were going there on Friday ; but there will be no use in your coming on to Washington when you receive it, for I have made up my mind and nothing can change it. I have thought it over and over, oh so hard, so long, —you cannot know, — and I know now that I can never marry you. I do not love you in the way that you love me. I thought I could deceive myself ; and I did. I have for a little time. I was so proud that you should love me. But I do not, I never have loved you that way. It would be wrong for me to say I do, and so you must see I cannot be your wife. I don’t want to be a coward or deceive you in any way, for I think too highly of you ; I honor you too much to do so. You will understand everything when I tell you that Lester Framleigh has asked me to marry him, and I have consented. For I love him. Please, please don’t make it any harder than it is for me, — and so don’t try to see me here.


The letter dropped from Leland’s hand as he watched the crackling fire in benumbed distress.

“ And he never knew,” he said at last.

“ Thank God, he never knew,” Holcombe repeated.

“ And he died happy.”

“ The happiest man I ever saw.”

“ You were right to-night, Holcombe, in what you did,” Leland said, when he finally realized the whole situation. “ There was no need of our being as cruel to her as she would have been to him. I think the receipt of that record would have been the bitterest thing in her life. I could wish no harder thing for her.”

Two months later Leland met Buffum going into the Arnold Club. “ Have you heard the news about Ethel Hollister ? ”

“ No,” he said.

“ She’s engaged to young Lester Framleigh.”

“ I am not astonished,” he answered, to Buffum’s marked surprise.

“Poor Harry!” Buffum exclaimed thoughtfully.

“ No, old man, happy Harry — always that, in our remembrance.”

And Leland knew that he spoke the truth.

Charles Warren.