The Private Soldier
ONSLOW PERRY sat in the dusty, booklined office of the Flywheel Publishing Company, his hand half-concealingly, half-protectingly on a letter he had just finished, and looked across the table at the soft-coal fire burning in the rusted grate. The Flywheel had selected an old house, falling into decay, in a quarter of the town forsaken by the sort of residents that had built it up grandly more than a hundred and fifty years ago. The mantels were so good, both sponsors of the Flywheel said gravely when they were chaffed about gravitating to the slums. So they put the house into fitting repair, and ceased to take any after-notice of it so far as dust and cobwebs went; they affected the attitude of leaving it to itself, to grow ancient again. There Dickerman, the editor and publisher, and Perry, his subordinate, received manuscript and made up the magazine. They had swallowed the house whole, it was said, for they also lived there and skirmished about, from inconsiderable eating-houses on their lean days to gilded cafés when their pockets ran over.
It was matter for amazement in a time when new magazines spring up and flourish briefly, that the Flywheel in particular should have sold; but even at first it did, and the wise declared they knew the reason. Dickerman was buying the most expensive and splendid contributors with his father’s money, though he had the whim of making them publish anonymously. Dickerman himself, known in college as Crazy Ike, Dotty Dick, and half a dozen titles to the same shading and effect, could scarcely contain himself when the circulation ran unhaltingly up. It was, he felt, a personal tribute. He had planned the whole thing, and it was true that he had put his father’s money into it, after coaxings colored by sanguine prophecies absurdly contrasted with his resultant surprise at their fulfillment. But there, at a good figure, the circulation hung. It could not be whipped or spurred, nor did it drop very startlingly below that first buoyant figure.
Dickerman was a favorite among his mates, and he had an enormous acquaintance. Perry, too, owned a vogue of another sort. Men who were not of their own kind, brokers, grave professional workers, or gamblers on the scent of money, having met the two at clubs and laughed at their stories, their wild play of imagination, and antiphonal abuse of each other, cherished a lively curiosity to see what they would say when they really had a medium like the Flywheel. The two men together were possessed of a trick of augmenting each other, to the general mirth; and the absent, who happened not to be creditors, always thought of them to the accompaniment of a smile.
Perry, who sat at the table, arms relaxed and face wistfully puckered, hardly looked like a ministrant to gayety. He was sinewy, and light of hair and eyes, six feet tall, with good broad shoulders and a swing and dash that made the ladies look at him demurely. His thick hair tumbled over his forehead in a blowzy way, because he rumpled it when the world went ill. To the casual eye, he was a handsome, virile animal, with no lines permanent enough as yet to tell careless tales. The time would come when, unless he hardened his face by the repeated hammer-strokes that mould and change, some one would see a blenching of the eye, when his more decided intimates called upon him to do or leave undone, — a sensitive quiver of the mouth.
The door from the inner office opened, and Dickerman came in. He was shortlegged, and cushiony in the shoulders, absurdly fat, with round eyes staring behind large horn-bowed spectacles. His hair stood straight up from his forehead in bristles aggressively cultivated. The frown also was a part of his equipment, lest the world should misprize him for the plumpness thrust upon him. He threw a manuscript on the table.
“ Read that,” said he.
“ When I have time,” Perry answered, as if he did not propose to use the time he had, at call.
“ You’ve got time now. It’s only four thousand words. Want to talk to you about it.”
Perry only leaned back in his chair, and gazed thoughtfully at Dickerman, who, knowing this mood in him, affected not to recognize it, and sought about among the effects on the table, whistling cheerily. But he was of the nature that, having something to say, cannot defer it.
“ I’m going to just electrify you, Perry,” he burst forth. “They’re on to us.”
“ Who are?”
“ Everybody. They will be by day after to-morrow. I met Hunkins on the ferry, and he could n’t contain himself. Said he’d discovered how we made the Flywheel so distinctive. Said he found five or six old numbers on the hotel table where he’d been to interview the mill-hands. Said he read ’em consecutively. Said he guessed the whole thing.”
Perry was looking at him with a gravity that seemed to indicate an issue very bad indeed.
“ What did you say? ” he inquired.
“ Asked him what he meant.”
“ Well ? ”
“ Said he would n’t tell. We could buy the Wednesday’s Trumpet and find out.”
“ He has a weekly column.”
“Yes. And when he’d said that, he just could n’t hold in, and came back and sputtered and laughed the way he does, and said he was going to write the history of the magazine and name it The Echo. Then he called me a clever fellow.”
“ What did you call him ? ”
“ An ass. Because that was the answer to it.”
“ Well,” said Perry. He took up a pencil and began drawing whorls and circles with a clever hand. He had a certain facility in everything. At one time, when he was an intimate of an artistic set in college, there had been an impression that he was going to work miracles as a draughtsman of some sort.
Dickie began to grin. He had a wide mouth and beautiful teeth.
“ I almost told him how I did it,” he said, with a chuckling appreciation of his own folly.
“ Told him how you invented the Flywheel ? ”
“ Yes. It tickled me so I thought I’d have to.”
“ Fool,” said Perry indulgently.
“ I saw myself lying there — I was in bed, you know — and thinking how it’s only discovery that counts. After anybody’s found a new way of doing something or other, there’ll be plenty of fellows that can do the trick as well as he can, or better. But he caught it while it was rushing by, and labeled it, and it stands in the museum in his name.”
“ Yes, I know all that. You said that when you came to rope me in. You reeled it off, and I knew it was a monologue you’d got up for the boys; and then you sprung it on me that you were going to start a magazine.”
“ With anonymous contributions.”
“ Which I was to write.”
“ Because you could write ’em. If I could have done it, do you s’pose I’d have summoned anybody else from the vasty deep ? ”
“Never mind whether you would or would n’t. Anyhow, I’ve done it. I’ve ground you out an imitation of Kipling and an imitation of Shaw, and all the whole blooming push, and when you’ve given ’em a good plausible title and put ’em in without a name, blessed if the wise can tell whether it is n’t Kipling and Shaw.”
“No, they can’t. But here’s that prattler’s article coming out, and it gives the whole thing away. I do hate an incontinent babbler. If a fellow’s got something to say, why can’t he keep his mouth shut ?”
That sounded to them both like the verbal tricks they used to delight the groundlings, and it made them melancholy. Perry often declared that nothing so blighted them as the particular character of each other’s babble.
“It might boom the Flywheel,”he said after a time.
“Why, it’s putting a knife into it! Poor little Flywheel, Poor itty sing.”
“You can’t tell. When it comes to advertising, attack’s as good as reinforcement. As a matter of fact, you really never can tell.”
Dickerman stretched out his short legs and regarded them with disfavor. After a period of incubation, he glanced up brightly.
“You know my system,” he said.
Perry spoke brutally, out of the affectionate derision that counts itself exempt from casuistry. “You haven’t any system except the one you’re riddling with highballs and cigarettes.”
“What do you mean by saying I’ve got no system ? I live by the inner light.”
“ No, inner light. I’m a very intuitive person. I take up the morning paper. I turn to the market. If my inner light sends a long shaft of radiance, ‘ mystic, wonderful,’ to any particular name, I buy that stock.”
“ You never made enough in stocks in the whole course of your life to buy your shoe-strings with, and have ’em charged.”
“What’s that got to do with it? The inner light goes on shining just the same. It’s like the death of Paul Dombey. ‘ The light is shining on me as I go.’ Well, it’s shining on me now.”
“ Oh, you ‘ go ’ fast enough,” commented Perry gloomily. “The bait isn’t dug that you would n’t nibble at.”
“ Now here we come to the Flywheel. When Hunkins told me he proposed showing up our methods, the inner light just coruscated, and I saw with my subconscious vision, ‘Change your methods.’ That’s what we’re going to do, my boy. We’re going to change our methods.”
“ Then it happens at the right time,” said Perry quickly, as if he found himself lacking in impetus to speak at all.
“ ‘ Psychological moment! ’ Have we got that on the Flywheel’s taboo list ? I must put down ‘ anent ’ and ‘ Frankenstein.’ I thought of them this morning.”
“ It happens just right for me,” Perry continued, “ because you won’t need me.”
“Need you! Great Cæssar! you’re the jelly in the tart. You’re it! ”
Perry played with his pencil, using it, by adroit touches, to thrust the stamped letter before him into a series of quick changes of place, as if it were a game. He glanced up from moment to moment, in a desultory way, to watch his friend.
“ I’ve had an offer, Dickie,” he said, “ to go on the Civilian at fifteen per.”
“ Shameful! you shan’t! ”
Perry did not fight out that purely financial issue.
“ I’ve written them I’d go,” he said. “ The letter’s here.”
Dickie made a dive for it, but Perry, by a ready counter-movement, as if this also were the game, caught it up and dropped it into a drawer.
“Don’t you mail that letter,” Dickie blustered.
“ Maybe I shan’t. Honest, I don’t know whether I shall or not. But it’s written. I thought I’d like to see how it would sound.”
Dickerman was staring at him with eyes ridiculously distended. He was white with surprised apprehension, white in patches that, beside the adjacent pink of his skin, had a droll distinctness.
“ I never heard of such a thing,” he declared. “Never! You know you can do what no other fellow can, and you propose to lock up your capital, refuse to let it earn anything for you, and go out hod-carrying for so much a day.”
Perry was returning his gaze with the rather appealing smile that made him younger than his years, the air of the boy that asks sweetly, unassumingly, for something he might easily be denied.
“ The fact is, Dick, it’s awfully bad for me to do your kind of thing. You see, it’s a sort of high-class forgery.”
“ Bad for you ? What do you mean ? bad for your brains, or your pocket, or what ? ”
Now Perry looked absurdly conscious. His shamefaced mien said that he might be about to say something which could be used as a perennial text for jeering.
“ It resolves itself,” he deprecated, “ into that question of the inner light.”
But although Dickerman had himself introduced the inner light as a factor of illumination, somehow it became immediately dilferent when Perry turned it on. It had ceased to disclose the merely humorous. It laid bare, with a most embarrassing distinctness, that earnest which is likely to be comedy’s next neighbor. He shook his head.
“ I have n’t the least idea what you’re driving at,” he averred.
“No,” said Perry. “I know you have n’t. Did it ever occur to you that I’m a queer sort of chap ? ”
“You’re as clever as they make’em” Dickie flashed back, as if he were bidding for him.
“That’s it. But it isn’t my cleverness. It’s the cleverness of the other man, the one that makes me talk, or write, — the author of the book I imitate. I’m a kind of a mirror. You hold up things to me and I reflect ’em.” His face betrayed a keen mortification, the flush and quiver that might have sprung from some definite slight or indignity of the moment.
Dickie saw no way of following him. and frankly abjured the trouble of attempting it.
“ Oh pshaw! ” said he. “ You’re dotty. Come back! The Flywheel’s got to be adjusted. I told you I meant to change the system. I’m going to have some clever original work. What we want is to discover somebody.”
“ Count me out. You can’t discover me.”
Dickie pointed dramatically at the manuscript he had brought in with him.
“ He’s discovered,” he remarked, with oracular certainty. “ Behold! ”
Perry stretched out his hand.
“ Give it here,” he bade him. “ Let me see.”
He took the paper and read it fast, frowning over it, and once he broke out.
“ Good! oh, good! ”
Dickie, nodding from time to time as he saw recognition of this or that distinction he remembered, smiled triumphantly. Perry turned back to the beginning and ran swiftly over it again. Then he slapped it down on the table and left it there, regarding it with a mixture of affection and abusive rallying, as one might a newly discovered and most bewildering person who is really so consummate that the finder shrinks from disclosing the full measure of his own extravagant approval.
“ And the whole thing has been waiting round the corner ever since New York has had a foreign population,” he said, in wonder. “ One man does the Ghetto and another Little Italy, and just these people in here have been toting their bundles and marrying and burying, and nobody’s photographed them. We’re as dense as our cloud-capp’d granite hills.”
“ Well, we need n’t be dense any longer,” said Dickie. His eyes had that peculiar gleam that gathered when he came in after a particularly good night’s sleep and declared the world looked so bright to him, and he found morning was so exactly at seven, that he’d bought five hundred shares of some stock with a picturesque name, because the sound of it invited him. “ I want a series — six stories like that.”
“ Well, you’ve got the first. Going to order five others ? ”
“I’m going to order six others — of you.”
“ Me ? What have I got to do with it?”
“ My boy, you’re the great and only imitator. You’ve read one story and you’ve seen how the trick was done. I’ll bet a shoe-button you could tell me on the dot the names of the others that jumped into your brain since you read this.”
Perry stirred uncomfortably in his chair.
“ What’s the use of talking like that ? ” he inquired testily. “ You don’t know what’s in my brain, nor whether I’ve got a brain at all.”
“ Three thousand for six,” Dickie was bidding. The color, a girlish rose flush, had overspread his cheeks. His eyes gained in light until they glittered with the gambling zest. “ Daddy’ll stand for it. He made golcondas in sugar last week. Three thousand! You can go abroad and tell Chesterton he’s a paradox. You can go to China and drop a tear on the grave of Tsi-hsi. What do you say ? ”
The enemy within was beguiling Perry more insidiously than the persuader without. The six stories with the same complexion, every intimate touch to the life like this, were lined up beckoning to him. He put out his hand rather uncertainly toward the manuscript. He hated to dismiss them into oblivion, pretty, ingenuous, unborn children. His vague seeking for control and guidance was only stronger than his lack of personal initiative. Give him the right sort of captain, he had always known, and he could have made a faithful soldier.
“How about this girl?” he asked.
“Girl? That isn’t a girl. It’s a middle-aged man, knocked into shape by all the devilish things we know — competition and work and worry. Don’t you see how middle-aged it is ? ”
“ Don’t you see how ideal it is ? ” Perry did lay his hand on the paper now, almost caressingly.
“ I rather guess you can recall your ideals when you’re middle-aged. They loom, too, you’re so far in the ditch below them. Oh, no, Perry, no! This is mellow. There’s practice in it, disappointment. Nobody under thirty ever said a thing like that.” He drew the manuscript from under Perry’s unwilling fingers and whirled the pages to a halt. “Read that.”
Perry evidently did not propose recurring to it. The impression made on him at the start needed no augmenting.
“ What are you going to do with it ? ” he asked.
“ Return it,” Dickie responded, in a tone as conclusive as the words.
“ Pick her brains of their secret and then chuck the shell of it back to her? Talk about the inner light! Dick, you’re defeated. You’re killed, but you don’t know it.”
“ Fiddlededum! ” said Dickerman, looking at his watch. “ I’ve got to be up town in less time than I can get there. You can see the author. He’s coming in this morning for his manuscript.”
“ This author ? This manuscript ? ”
“ Yes, he wrote he’d call. I fancied he had to consider the difference between one stamp or two, poor beggar! I depute to you the task of telling him we don’t want the manuscript, and offering him a cigar. You ’ll see for yourself he’s a man of forty.”
Dickie was out of his chair, giving a characteristic hunch to his clothes, to adapt them the more graciously to his hateful chubbiness. Perry looked his helpless discomfort over the thankless job thrust upon him, and asked rather bitterly, —
“ Shall I tell her you are returning the manuscript because I can write you six of the same pattern, now I’ve learned the way ? ”
“ Tell him I refuse it, that’s all. I do, lock, stock, and barrel, prologue and epilogue. I don’t want it. No printee. Finis.”
“ Why not ask her to write you five more like it ? ”
“ Because I don’t want her to. Because ” — he halted at the door and diffused the sunniest smile —“ because you’ll do the same thing better. You always improve on your pattern. That’s why you’re the man to do it. ' We needs must love the highest,’ mustn’t we? I rather guess we must. If you can do a better job than this codger that’s happened to stumble on a gold mine, are n’t you the chap to do it ? Bet you ’ll have three of ’em written before to-morrow morning. And — don’t you mail that letter.”
He whistled cheerily down the stairs, and Perry condemned him picturesquely. He pounced on a big envelope, as if it could help him, and dipped his pen. The story should be mailed to the author whose literary domain was threatened with invasion. It should be out of the office on the instant, so that it could tempt him no more with its beguiling limpidity, its human warmth, the perfection of form that might well be the despair of even a master imitator.
But when he returned to the manuscript for the address, he had the setback of finding none. Then he pushed it away from him, and, because his angry impulse had spent itself and he lacked even the spirit to go into the inner room to find a record of the story, he lay back in his chair with one idle hand hanging over the arm, and tried to fight down the certainty that, this was destiny and that he was about to do the job of his nefarious imitating, Pen and ink seemed calling him with the force of a spell. Arguments began to chase through his mind, not for earning the money, but for proving to himself that he could do work as good as this, and better. He went back over the genesis of literature and reminded himself that one man could hardly do whatever he did save in the light cast over his shoulder by the other man who had gone before. Who except the scholar, reading certain verse, remembered who first made that metre his own and sealed it, as he had thought, with a golden seal of his recognized distinction ? One man had opened the orient to western eyes by the talisman of his quick sight and hurrying pen, and the west had rushed into what had looked at first like preempted ground, and staked out splendid claims.
First, there is the discoverer. Then, when the trees are blazed by the pioneer axe, paths have to be made to river and spring. He remembered a poem that told, with a dignified but hurt emphasis, this same tale of the pioneer’s sharing his discovery with after-invaders deputed, by the unvarying law of leveling, to develop the land. Once, in the midst of this inner colloquy, he paused, with a whimsical flirt of the mind, to wonder whether Dickerman, on his way uptown, was sending these arguments back to him by wireless; it was a part of his morbid self-consciousness, at this time, to regard Dickie, when he was not in the room offering his pinkiness and gayety for testimony to the wholesomeness of things, as mysteriously equipped with necromantic powers of evil.
Now, he felt, his mind was almost reconciled to the feat of leaping into the field and sowing magic seed of the plant that comes up in an hour, where the other mind had ploughed and furrowed and raised the stock that bore the bright new bloom: almost reconciled, but not quite. There was something within him, an unnamed personality, something more august than any mind, and either royal or timid, because it walked always veiled. On this inner person he was now laying a mandatory and beseeching finger, bidding it come out into the daylight and tell what it really had to say, when the door opened and the girl came in. That was what he called her at once, because he had prophesied her in relation to the story — the girl. She was dark and slender, very neat and yet not at first sight significant, because she looked like many other women dressed trigly for their work. But Perry, as he got out of his chair, noted distinctive things about her, a pallor that was yet wholesome, dark shining hair, and sincere gray eyes under a lovely line of brow. She was not timid, he saw, for she advanced to his table at once, and said, —
“ My name is Hartwell. I came to ask about a manuscript I sent in.”
“ G. Hartwell ? ” he inquired. He went round the table, and pulled out Dickie’s chair, “ Won’t you sit down, Miss Hartwell ? I have the manuscript here.”
She took the chair with a quiet acceptance of its being the thing to do; but her eye did light when it followed his to the little pile of paper there on the table.
“ I hope,” she began, and then dropped into a form of speech that should make it easier for him: “ I’m afraid you’re not going to take it.”
“ Have you been writing long? ”
He had gone back to his seat, and now reproved himself for the futility of his beginning when it was so evident that she was too young to have been doing anything long.
“ I don’t write. I teach school. But I want to leave it, and do writing altogether.”
“ Journalism, or—this ? ” He touched the manuscript again with a kind of approving intimacy.
“I’ve already done some journalism, book-notices and reading manuscript. But this,” her eyes, too, sought the story, “ this is what I really want to do.”
At once he saw that it stood for exactly what it did in his own longings, — one of the free, splendid masteries, a craft to be studied with devotion for a lifetime perhaps, if only one could say at the close, “ I have served one thing well.” He wanted to have his brutal task over as soon as possible.
“ He’s not going to take it,” he threw at her.
A look of almost terrified surprise shot into her face, to be quelled as swiftly under a patience that looked as if it had been learned through much rebuff.
“ Then you’re not Mr. Dickerman?” she asked.
“ No.” He sacrificed Dickie without an instant’s scruple. “ He does n’t think he can use it. He believes he may have more of the same kind.”
She made a movement to take the story, but he closed his hand upon it. Thereupon she waited for anything further he might have to say. His inexplicable mortification impressed itself upon her then, and she tried to help him.
“I can’t wonder,” she said. “It’s presumption in me to jump into a pool where there are such big fish. Of course nobody’d see me. The other tails and fins are flashing so! ” Her big, sweet mouth broadened into a smile. “ No magazine has such a list of contributors as yours. And they do their best work for you. You must offer them big bribes, to publish such good stuff anonymously.”
Perry felt his face crimsoning with pleasure. He could hardly help rising to make her a bow, and murmur his delighted appreciation.
“ You like it then ? ” he speciously inquired, “ You like the Flywheel ?”
She answered without an instant’s pause.
“Oh, it’s superb! But I can’t help thinking — you’ll pardon me, won’t you ? — it’s a mistake to keep the contributors anonymous. Folks are so stupid, most of them. They don’t recognize the master hand unless it signs its name. Some of us do, and it makes us fearfully conceited. But you can’t build up a circulation out of the elect, now, can you ? There are n’t enough of us.”
Then she laughed unaffectedly over her cockiness, and he joined her, taking up the current number of the Flywheel, and asking, with a shamefacedness she could not penetrate, —
“ Run over the contents, will you, and name the contributors ? ”
She did it without reflection. There were a dozen names, four of them as significant as the modern list affords, and the others of the well-known best in an inferior circle. As she ran them rapidly through, Perry felt himself tingling with the pleasure of it. This he had done; if he could not create, he could at least duplicate the beat makers so that fine eyes and fine ears could hardly tell the difference, which might, after all, be sometimes in his favor.
“ Thank you,” he said soberly at the end, but she could not know exactly what his gratitude was for. Suddenly he found he was throwing prudence and a dozen lesser bits of ballast overboard, and admitting her to the inside of his mind where he conceived and plotted. “ See here,” he said, “ do you want me to tell you what I should do with this story ? ” His hand had not left her manuscript. Now it beat upon it with an indicating finger.
“ I should give it to the Councillor.”
“ The Councillor ! I should n’t dare. It is n’t for the likes of me.”
“ The Councillor will jump at it.”
“ But you did n’t jump.”
He temporized. “It’s a bully story,” he said. “There’s been nothing like it in a year’s issue of all the magazines, the whole posse of them.”
“ But there’s an out about it or you’d take it yourself.”
“ I don’t say there is n’t — for the Flywheel. But you try the Councillor. And — ” he looked her straight in the eye, to make her, if he could, share his conviction — “ and not alone. With five others like it.”
“ A series ? ”
“ Yes. The minute I’d read this I saw what they could be. Don’t you see, you could take the sixteen-year old girl and put her into the shop, to substitute for her sister, so the sister can make her wedding-clothes. The family need never know who it was the sister was engaged to, but when Rosa gets into the shop she finds it’s that frightful Lecorescor —”
One by one they went over them, from the grandfather to the child, and stabbed the tragedy of each. Now the girl talked faster than he. Color came into her face; she flashed and charmed unconsciously.
“ Of course I can,” she kept saying. “ Of course! Why, it’s the story of the family. This little sketch only begins it. How stupid I was! ”
Then only did he give her back her manuscript.
“ Got any more in your head ? ” he asked, with a misleading lightness. It covered an almost fatherly anxiety. He wanted her to succeed. It seemed worth any sacrifice.
She laughed back at him out of that new brilliancy.
“ Lots! ” she said almost defiantly, as if she challenged him to dispute it. “ If I could only get time, I should glut the market. The supervisors keep us frightfully busy doing fool things. But — ” she lifted her head to its little willful pose — “I shall get time. I’m determined.”
Perry was looking at her narrowly, partly because it was evident that she would soon go and it seemed desirable to learn her face by heart, and also to come to some understanding of a will so secure that it predicted what must be.
“ Do you always do what you determine on ? ” he asked, so seriously that she answered, not out of her whimsical mood of the previous moment, but with a soft earnestness, —
“ I try to, when it’s right.”
Then, as his face continued to interrogate her with its painful appeal, she saw that more was required of her. “ We must,” she ventured, from the shyness of the unaccustomed preacher. “We must, must n’t we? ”
“ Must what ? ”
“ We must determine on things and then just do them.”
He stared down at his hand playing with the papercutter, and did not look up even though he knew, by the little preparatory rustle, that in an instant she would go.
“ Sit still,” he said. “ I want to ask you something.”
So she kept her seat and was very quiet, watching his face grow graver than the moment seemed to warrant.
“ It’s about a story,” he began. “ I want you to tell me what you think could be done with it.”
“ You want me to do it? ” she asked alertly.
“ I don’t know. Maybe I do. Maybe I want you to collaborate. I fancy I’ve got to have a hand in it myself. We might call it ‘ The Mirror,’ or something of that sort. It’s the story of a man who found he could only reflect things. He could n’t give out any light of his own. Understand ? ”
“ No,” she answered frankly.
“ Well, to illustrate, here are you, writing stories. You think of ’em — ”
“They come to me.”
“ It’s all one. But so far as you know, the story springs, in the form you finally use, from your own brain. Of course you’re indebted to previous observation, a million hints from without. But you take those million hints and fuse and color and shape in your own private workshop — your brain. That’s what you do, or think you do; for after all none of us knows really much about it.”
“ That’s what I think I do.”
“ Now take another kind of brain, the brain of the man we spoke of. That’s a workshop, too, but it’s different. The tools are about the same, for he turns out the brand of article you do; but the beginning, the inception, is different. You work — or you think you work — without a pattern.”
She had fallen in with the fancy.
“ I make my own pattern,” she said quickly. “ But I do it only because I’ve seen so many thousand patterns cut by master workmen before me. Still I think my pattern is my own.”
“ Exactly! but the man we’re dealing with can’t make his pattern. He can only work after somebody has given him a model. He can do it then, stunning stuff, you know, but it’s never anything but a copy. It’s the difference between Cellini and a clever silversmith who is merely clever. You take him a vase of Cellini and he can copy it exquisitely, but he could n’t have designed it.”
“ Is n’t that the difference between an artisan and an artist?”
“ I fancy so. Well, now, an artisan may be honest, usually is. But if he stole patterns whenever he got a chance, and said, ‘They’re mine. They’re the real thing,’ he would n’t be honest, now, would he ? ”
“ Oh, no. He’d be a scamp.”
“ He might do it at first as a kind of a joke, and because he was really rather vain and it tickled him to see he could do the trick as well as anybody, only show him how. But one day it might occur to him that he was too much of a copyist. It had ceased to be a question of filling orders in the intellectual workshop. It was everything now.”
“ It had gone into his life.”
“ Yes, he was getting to be obedient to the chaps that were stronger than he. I don’t know that they ’re stronger. Only they have such an infernal way of seeming original and bossing from that side of things. And he’s made only to reflect, and he can’t help reflecting. What’s he going to do ? ”
He looked up at her now, and found she was resting both elbows on the table and had propped her chin on her hands, in the attitude of deep reflection. She did not answer him with a glance. The hypothetical man evidently seemed of enormous importance to her, sufficient to demand the most earnest thought; but her air also said that she found no definite personal issue in the case.
“ He was meant to be a private soldier,” she half-declared, half-inquired for confirmation.
“ It would seem so.”
“ Nothing but his own will would make him a leader ? ”
“ I doubt if his will could do it. I told you he was n’t altogether weak, — at least, he does n’t seem so to me, — but he’s no initiative. He’s simply got to copy, in his work, and, I almost think, he’s got to obey in his life. Now what’s going to prevent him from sagging more and more, leaning on other wills, coming at call, even doing the things he knows ought not to be done? There’s a kind of a dry rot in it. That’s what I’m asking you to save him from.”
She took her elbows off the table and sat up straight, looking at him now as he looked at her. Their eyes met, and each recognized the spirit behind the darkening pupils.
“ He must n’t do the things that ought not to be done,” she said concisely. “ He simply must n’t.”
“ But he’s a private soldier. We began with that.”
“ He must n’t serve under any captain that is n’t — oh, is n’t perfectly splendid! He must n’t fight in any cause that is n’t just.”
“Then it’s the question of the captain ? ”
“ Yes. At first, until he’s trained and trained, and fought and fought, until he’s got his will tempered — oh, well, then, you know, I think he’d be promoted.”
“ You do?”
She nodded. The laughter ran into his face, and hers answered it.
“ Do you know,” he said confidentially, “ I’m not sure he’d want to be promoted. I think it would scare him.”
“ It’s my opinion half of them are scared,” she answered, — “ the leaders. That’s why they are so big. They’re brave enough to fight the foe within at the same time they’re fighting the one without.”
She had risen now, and he did not try to keep her.
“ I wonder,” he was musing, “ whether it is a question of captains! Strongwilled — ” He looked at her as if he inventoried her qualities, and she gazed innocently back at him, waiting to say good-by. “ Strong-willed, sound-hearted, kind — and beautiful.”
Then he seemed impatiently to put that by, as if he were talking foolishness she could not yet be trusted with. He came back to his everyday look of accessible, charming good humor.
“ Would you mind,” he asked, in an off-hand fashion, “leaving me your address ? I have an idea I shall want to see you again about this — or something.”
She wrote the address in a firm hand, putting the sheet of yellow paper he gave her flat against the wall.
“ Thank you,” he said, and she responded, at the door, with a kind little smile and a good-by. She was over the sill, when he bent quickly, opened the drawer, and took out the letter he had tossed there an hour ago. He strode after her, holding it outstretched.
“ Would you mind,” he asked, in a laughing earnest, “ would you mind mailing this ? ”
She took it with no appearance of surprise.
“ Delighted,” she said. “ Good-by again.”
He was at the head of the stairs looking down at her nodding plume.
“ I had a fancy,” he called, in an exhilaration she did not understand, “ to have you mail it. It’s for luck.”