Sunday, June 18, 2006

Arthur Train, “You’re Another!”

Story Three. Arthur Train was a lawyer by trade, and wrote stories about good-hearted lawyers dealing with legal loopholes in New York in the oughts and teens of the last century. He could be funny, but unfortunately found sentiment more enriching. While I have attempted to keep recurring characters out of this collection of stories (so that they can be enjoyed on their own), it’s easy to tell that Mr. Ephraim Tutt, his son Tutt, and the Gibson Girl-ish Miss Wiggin are from Mr. Train’s usual company. The story was found in the 1914 book, By Advice of Counsel.

* * *

“We have strict statutes, and most biting laws.”
Measure for Measure, Act I, Sc. 4.

“I am further of opinion that it would be better for us to have [no laws] at all than to have them in so prodigious numbers as we have.”
Montaigne. Of Experience, Chapter XVII.

Mrs. Pierpont Pumpelly, lawful spouse of Vice President Pumpelly, of Cuban Crucible, erstwhile of Athens, Ohio, was fully conscious that even if she wasn’t the smartest thing on Fifth Avenue, her snappy little car was. It was, as she said, a “perfec’ beejew!” The two robes of silver fox alone had cost eighty-five hundred dollars, but that was nothing; Mrs. Pumpelly—in her stockings—cost Pierpont at least ten times that every year. But he could afford it with Cruce at 791. So, having moved from Athens to the metropolis, they had a glorious time. Out home the Pierpont had been simply a P. and no questions asked as to what it stood for; P. Pumpelly. But whatever its past the P. had now blossomed definitely into Pierpont.

Though the said Pierpont produced the wherewithal, it was his wife, Edna, who attended to the disbursing of it. She loved her husband, but regarded him socially as somewhat of a liability, and Society was now, as she informed everybody, her “meal yure.”

She had eaten her way straight through the meal—opera box, pew at St. Simeon Stylites, Crystal Room, musicales, Carusales, hospital entertainments, Malted Milk for Freezing France, Inns for Indigent Italians, Biscuits for Bereft Belgians, dinner parties, lunch parties, supper parties, the whole thing; and a lot of the right people had come, too.

The fly in the ointment of her social happiness—and unfortunately it happened to be an extremely gaudy butterfly indeed—was her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Rutherford Wells, who obstinately refused to recognize her existence.

At home, in Athens, Edna would have resorted to the simple expedient of sending over the hired girl to borrow something. But here there was nothing doing. Mrs. Rutherford had probably never seen her own chef and Mrs. Pumpelly was afraid of hers. Besides, even Edna recognized the lamentable fact that it was up to Mrs. Wells to call first, which she didn’t. Once when the ladies had emerged simultaneously from their domiciles Mrs. Pumpelly had smilingly waddled forward a few steps with an ingratiating bow, but Mrs. Wells had looked over her head and hadn’t seen her.

Thereupon the iron had entered into Mrs. Pumpelly’s soul and her life had become wormwood and gall, ashes in her mouth and all the rest of it. She proposed to get even with the cat at the very first chance, but somehow the chance never seemed to come. She hated to be living on the same street with that kind of nasty person. And who was this Wells woman? Her husband never did a thing except play croquet or something at a club! He probably was a drunkard—and a roo-ay. Mrs. Pumpelly soon convinced herself that Mrs. Wells also must be a very undesirable, if not hopelessly immoral lady. Anyhow, she made up her mind that she would certainly take nothing further from her. Even if Mrs. Wells should have a change of heart and see fit to call, she just wouldn’t return it! So when she rolled up in the diminutive car and found Mrs. Wells’ lumbering limousine blocking the doorway she was simply furious.

“Make that man move along!” she directed, and Jules honked and honked, but the limousine did not budge.

Then Mrs. Pumpelly gave way to a fit of indignation that would have done her proud even in Athens, Ohio. Fire-breathing, she descended from her car and, approaching the limousine, told the imperturbable chauffeur that even if he did work for Mrs. Rutherford Wells, Mrs. Rutherford Wells was no better than anybody else, and that gave him no right to block up the whole street. She spoke loudly, emphatically, angrily, and right in the middle of it the chauffeur, who had not deigned to look in her direction, slyly pressed the electric button of his horn and caused it to emit a low scornful grunt. Then a footman opened the door of the Wells mansion and Mrs. Rutherford Wells herself came down the steps, and Mrs. Pumpelly told her to her face exactly what she thought of her and ordered her to move her car along so her own could get in front of the vestibule.

Mrs. Wells ignored her. Deliberately—and as if there were no such person as Mrs. Pumpelly upon the sidewalk—she stepped into her motor and, the chauffeur having adjusted the robe, she remarked in a casual, almost indifferent manner that nevertheless made Mrs. Pumpelly squirm, “Go to Mr. Hepplewhite’s, William. Pay no attention to that woman. If she makes any further disturbance call a policeman.”

And the limousine rolled away with a sneer at Mrs. Pumpelly from the exhaust. More than one king has been dethroned for far less cause!

“You telephone Mr. Edgerton,” she almost shrieked at Simmons, the butler, “that he should come right up here as fast as he can. I’ve got to see him at once!”

“Very good, madam,” answered Simmons obsequiously.

And without more ado, in less than forty minutes, the distinguished Mr. Wilfred Edgerton, of Edgerton & Edgerton, attorneys for Cuban Crucible and hence alert to obey the behests of the wives of the officers thereof, had deposited his tall silk had on the marble Renaissance table in the front hall and was entering Mrs. Pumpelly’s Louis Quinze drawing-room with the air of a Sir Walter Raleigh approaching his Queen Elizabeth.

“Sit down, Mr. Edgerton!” directed the lady impressively. “No, you’ll find that other chair more comfortable; the one you’re in’s got a hump in the seat. As I was saying to the butler before you came, I’ve been insulted and I propose to teach that woman she can’t make small of me no matter what it costs—and Pierpont says you’re no slouch of a charger at that.”

“My dear madam!” stammered the embarrassed attorney. “Of course, there are lawyers and lawyers. But if you wish the best I feel sure my firm charges no more than others of equal standing. In any event you can be assured of our devotion to your interests. Now what, may I ask, are the circumstances of the case?”

“Mr. Edgerton,” she began, “I just want you should listen carefully to what I have to say. This woman next door to me here has—”

At this point, as paper is precious and the lady voluble, we will drop the curtain upon the first act of our legal comedy.

* * *

“I suppose we’ll have to do it for her!” growled Mr. Wilfred Edgerton to his brother on his return to their office. “She’s a crazy idiot and I’m very much afraid we’ll all get involved in a good deal of undesirable publicity. Still, she’s the wife of the vice president of our best paying client!”

“What does she want us to do?” asked Mr. Winfred, the other Edgerton. “We can’t afford to be made ridiculous—for anybody.”

This was quite true since dignity was Edgerton & Edgerton’s long suit, they being the variety of Wall Street lawyers who are said to sleep in their tall hats and cutaways.

“If you can imagine it,” replied his brother irritably, “she insists on our having Mrs. Wells arrested for obstructing the street in front of her house. She asked me if it wasn’t against the law, and I took a chance and told her it was. Then she wanted to start for the police court at once, but as I’d never been in one I said we’d have to prepare the papers; I didn’t know what papers.”

“But we can’t arrest Mrs. Wells!’ expostulated Mr. Winifred Edgerton. “She’s socially one of our most prominent people. I dined with her only last week!”

“That’s why Mrs. Pumpelly wants to have her arrested, I fancy!” replied Mr. Wilfred gloomily. “Mrs. Wells has given her the cold shoulder. It’s no use; I tried to argue the old girl out of it, but I couldn’t. She knows what she wants and she jolly well intends to have it.”

“I wish you joy of her!” mournfully rejoined the younger Edgerton. “But it’s your funeral. I can’t help you. I never got anybody arrested and I haven’t the least idea how to go about it.”

“Neither have I,” admitted his brother. “Luckily my practice has not been of that sort. However, it can’t be a difficult matter. The main thing is to know exactly what we are trying to arrest Mrs. Wells for.”

“Why don’t you retain Tutt & Tutt to do it for us?” suggested Winfred. “Criminal attorneys are used to all that sort of rotten business.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t do to let Pumpelly suspect we couldn’t handle it ourselves. Besides, the lady wants distinguished counsel to represent her. No, for once we’ve got to lay dignity aside. I think I’ll send Maddox up to the Criminal Courts Building and have him find out just what to do.”

It may seem remarkable that neither of the members of a high-class law firm in New York City should ever have been in a police court, but such a situation is by no means infrequent. The county or small-town attorney knows his business from the ground up. He starts with assault and battery, petty larceny and collection cases and gradually works his way up, so to speak, to murder and corporate reorganizations. But in Wall Street the young student whose ambition is to appear before the Supreme Court of the United States in some constitutional matter as soon as possible is apt to spend his early years in brief writing and then become a specialist in real estate, corporation, admiralty or probate law and perhaps never see the inside of a trial court at all, much less a police court, which, to the poor and ignorant, at any rate, is the most important court of any of them, since it is here that the citizen must go to enforce his everyday rights.

Mr. Wilfred Edgerton suspected that the magistrate’s court was a dirty sort of hole, full of brawling shyster lawyers, and he didn’t want to know any more about such places than he could help. Theoretically he was aware that on a proper complaint sworn to by a person supposing himself or herself criminally aggrieved the judge would issue a warrant to an officer, who would execute it on the person of the criminal and hale him or her to jail. The idea of Mrs. Wells being dragged shrieking down Fifth Avenue or being carried away from her house in a Black Maria filled him with dismay.

Yet that was what Mrs. Pumpelly proposed to have done, and unfortunately he had to do exactly what Mrs. Pumpelly said; quickly too.

“Maddox,” he called to a timid youth in a green eye-shade sitting in lonely grandeur in the spacious library, “just run up to the—er—magistrate’s court on Blank Street and ascertain the proper procedure for punishing a person for obstructing the highway. If you find an appropriate statute or ordinance you may lay an information against Mrs. Rutherford Wells for violating it this afternoon in front of the residence next to hers; and see that the proper process issues in the regular way.”

To hear him one would have thought he did things like that daily before breakfast—such is the effect of legal jargon.

“Yes, sir,” answered Maddox respectfully, making a note. “Do you wish to have the warrant held or executed?”

Mr. Wilfred Edgerton bit his mustache doubtfully

“We-ell,” he answered at length, perceiving that he stood upon the brink of a legal Rubicon, “you may do whatever seems advisable under all the circumstances.”

In his nervous condition he did not recall what, had he stopped calmly to consider the matter, he must have known very well—namely, that no warrant could possibly issue unless Mrs. Pumpelly, as complainant, signed and swore to the information herself.

“Very well, sir,” answered Maddox, in the same tone and manner that he would have used had he been a second footman at Mrs. Pumpelly’s.

Thereafter both Edgertons, but particularly Wilfred, passed a miserable hour. They realized that they had started something and they had no idea of where, how or when what they had started would stop. Indeed they had terrifying visions of Mrs. Wells being beaten into insensibility, if not into a pulp, by a cohort of brutal police officers, and of their being held personally responsible. But before anything of that sort actually happened Maddox returned.

“Well,” inquired Wilfred with an assumption of nonchalance, “what did you find out?”

“The magistrate said that we would have to apply at the court in the district where the offense occurred and that Mrs. Pumpelly would have to appear there in person. Obstructing a highway is a violating of Section Two of Article Two of the Police Department Regulations for Street Traffic, which reads: ‘A vehicle waiting at the curb shall promptly give way to a vehicle arriving to take up or set down passengers.’ It is not usual to issue a warrant in such cases, but a summons merely.”

“Ah!” sighed both Edgertons in great relief.

“Upon which the defendant must appear in default of fine or imprisonment,” continued Maddox.

The two lawyers looked at one another inquiringly.

“Did they treat you—er—with politeness?” asked Wilfred curiously.

“Oh, well enough,” answered the clerk. “I can’t say it’s a place I hanker to have much to do with. It’s not like an afternoon tea party. But it’s all right. Do you wish me to do anything further?”

“Yes!” replied Wilfred with emphasis. “I do. I wish you would go right to Mrs. Pumpelly’s house, conduct that lady to the nearest police court and have her swear out the summons for Mrs. Wells herself. I’ll telephone her that you are coming.”

Which was a wise conclusion, in view of the fact that Edna Pumpelly, née Haskins, was much better equipped by nature to take care of Mr. Wilfred Edgerton in the hectic environs of a police court than he was qualified to take care of her. And so it was that just as Mrs. Rutherford Wells was about to sit down to tea with several fashionable friends her butler entered, bearing upon a salver a printed paper, which he presented to her, in manner and form the following:

In the name of the people of the State of New York to “Jane” Wells, the name “Jane” being fictitious:

You are hereby summoned to appear before the —— District Magistrate’s Court, Borough of Manhattan, City of New York, on the eighth day of May, 1920, at ten o’clock in the forenoon, to answer the charge made against you by Edna Pumpelly for violation of Section Two, Article Two of the Traffic Regulations providing that a vehicle waiting at the curb shall promptly give way to a vehicle arriving to take up or set down passengers, and upon your failure to appear and the time and place herein mentioned you are liable to a fine of not exceeding fifty dollars or to imprisonment of not exceeding ten days or both.

Dated 6th of May, 1920.
JAMES CUDDAHEY, Police Officer,
Police Precinct ——,
New York City.
Attest: JOHN J. JONES,
Chief City Magistrate.

“Heavens!” cried Mrs. Wells as she read this formidable document. “What a horrible woman! What shall I do?”

Mr. John De Puyster Hepplewhite, one of the nicest men in New York, who had himself once had a somewhat interesting experience in the criminal courts in connection with the arrest of a tramp who had gone to sleep in a pink silk bed in the Hepplewhite mansion on Fifth Avenue, smiled deprecatingly, set down his Dresden-china cup and dabbed his mustache decorously with a filigree napkin.

“Dear lady,” he remarked with conviction, “in such distressing circumstances I have no hesitation in advising you to consult Mr. Ephraim Tutt.”

* * *

“I have been thinking over what you said the other day regarding the relationship of crime to progress, Mr. Tutt, and I’m rather of the opinion that it’s rot,” announced Tutt as he strolled across from his own office to that of his senior partner for a cup of tea at practically the very moment when Mr. Hepplewhite was advising Mrs. Wells. “In the vernacular—bunk.”

“What did he say?” asked Miss Wiggin, rinsing out with hot water Tutt’s special blue-china cup, in the bottom of which had accumulated some reddish-brown dust from Mason & Welsby’s Admiralty and Divorce Reports upon the adjacent shelf.

“He made the point,” answered Tutt, helping himself to a piece of toast, “that crime was—if I may be permitted to use the figure—part of the onward urge of humanity toward a new and perhaps better social order; a natural impulse to rebel against existing abuses; and he made the claim that though an unsuccessful revolutionary was of course regarded as a criminal, on the other hand, if successful he at once became a patriot, a hero, a statesman or a saint.”

“A very dangerous general doctrine, I should say,” remarked Miss Wiggin. “I should think it all depended on what sort of laws he was rebelling against. I don’t see how a murderer could ever be regarded as assisting in the onward urge towards sweetness and light, exactly.”

“Wouldn’t it depend somewhat on whom you were murdering?” inquired Mr. Tutt, finally succeeding in his attempt to make a damp stogy continue in a state of combustion. “If you murdered a tyrant wouldn’t you be contributing toward progress?”

“No,” retorted Miss Wiggin, “you wouldn’t; and you know it. In certain cases where the laws are manifestly unjust, antiquated or perhaps do not really represent the moral sense of the community their violation may occasionally call attention to their absurdity, like the famous blue laws of Connecticut, for example; but as the laws as a whole do crystallize the general opinion of what is right and desirable in matters of conduct a movement towards progress would be exhibited not by breaking laws but by making laws.”

“But,” argued Mr. Tutt, abandoning his stogy, “isn’t the making of a new law the same thing as changing an old law? And isn’t changing a law essentially the same thing as breaking it?”

“It isn’t,” replied Miss Wiggin tartly. “For the obvious and simple reason that the legislators who change the laws have the right to do so, while the man who breaks them has not.”

“All the same,” admitted Tutt, slightly wavering, “I see what Mr. Tutt means.”

“Oh, I see what he means!” sniffed Miss Wiggin. “I was only combating what he said!”

“But the making of laws does not demonstrate progress,” perversely insisted Mr. Tutt. “The more statutes you pass the more it indicates that you need ’em. An ideal community would have no laws at all.”

“There’s a thought!” interjected Tutt. “And there wouldn’t be any lawyers either!”

“As King Hal said: ‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,’” commented Mr. Tutt.

“Awful vision!” ejaculated Miss Wiggin. “Luckily for us, that day has not yet dawned. However, Mr. Tutt’s argument is blatantly fallacious. Of course, the making of new laws indicates an impulse toward social betterment—and therefore toward progress.”

“It seems to me,” ventured Tutt, “that this conversation is more than usually theoretical—not to say specious! The fact of the matter is that the law is a part of our civilization and the state of the law marks the stage of our development—more or less.”

Mr. Tutt smiled sardonically.

“You have enunciated two great truths,” said he. “First, that it is a ‘part’; and second, ‘more or less.’ The law is a very small part of our protection against what is harmful to us. It is only one of our sanctions of conduct, and a very crude one at that. Did you ever stop to think that compared with religion the efficacy of the law was almost nil? The law deals with conduct, but only at a certain point. We are apt to find fault with it because it makes what appear to us to be arbitrary and unreasonable distinctions. That in large measure is because the law is only supplementary.”

“How do you mean—supplementary?” queried Tutt.

“Why,” answered his partner, “as James C. Carter pointed out, ninety-nine per cent of all law is unwritten. What keeps most people straight is not criminal statutes by their own sense of decency, conscience or whatever you may choose to call it. Doubtless you recall the famous saying of Diogenes Laertius: ‘There is a written law and an unwritten law. The one by which we regulate our constitutions in our cities is the written law; that which arises from custom is the unwritten law.’ I see that, of course you do! As I was saying only the other day, infractions of good taste and manners, civil wrongs, sins, crimes—are in essence one and the same, differing only in degree. Thus the man who goes out to dinner without a collar violates the laws of social usage; if he takes all his clothes off and walks the streets he commits a crime. In a measure it simply depends on how many clothes he has on what grade of offense he commits. From that point of view the man who is not a gentleman is in a sense a criminal. But the law can’t make a man a gentleman.”

“I should say not!” murmured Miss Wiggin.

“Well,” continued Mr. Tutt, “we have various ways of dealing with these outlaws. The man who violates our ideas of good taste or good manners is sent to Coventry; the man who does you a wrong is mulcted in damages; the sinner is held under the town pump and ridden out of town on a rail; or the church takes a hand and threatens him with the hereafter; but if he crosses a certain line we arrest him and lock him up—either from public spirit or for our own private ends.”

“Hear! Hear!” cried Tutt admiringly.

“Fundamentally there are only arbitrary distinctions between wrongs, sins and crimes. The meanest and most detestable of men, beside whom an honest burglar is a sympathetic human being, may yet never violate a criminal statute.”

“That’s so!” said Tutt. “Take Badger, for instance.”

“How often we defend cases,” ruminated his partner, “where the complainant is just as bad as the prisoner at the bar—if not worse.”

“And of course,” added Tutt, “you must admit there are a lot of criminals who are criminals from perfectly good motives. Take the man, for instance, who thrashes a bystander who insults his wife—the man’s wife, I mean, naturally.”

“Only in those cases where we elect to take the law into our own hands we ought to be willing to accept the consequences like gentlemen and sportsmen,” commented his senior partner.

“This is all very interesting, no doubt,” remarked Miss Wiggin, “but as a matter of general information I should like to know why the criminal law doesn’t punish the sinners—as well as the criminals.”

“I guess one reason,” replied Tutt, “is that people don’t wish to be kept from sinning.”

“Thou hast spoken!” agreed Mr. Tutt. “And another reason is that the criminal law was not originally devised for the purpose of eradicating sin—which, after all, is the state into which it is said man was born—but was only intended to prevent certain kinds of physical violence and lawlessness—murder, highway robbery, assault, and so on. The church was supposed to take care of sin, and there was an elaborate system of ecclesiastical courts. In point of fact, though there is a great deal of misconception on the subject, the criminal law does not deal with sin as sin at all, or even with wrongs merely as wrongs. It has a precise and limited purpose—namely, to prevent certain kinds of acts and to compel the performance of other acts.

“The state relies on the good taste and sense of decency, duty and justice of the individual citizen to keep him in order most of the time. It doesn’t, or anyhow it shouldn’t, attempt to deal with trifling peccadillos; it generally couldn’t. It merely says that if a man’s conscience and idea of fair play aren’t enough to make him behave himself, why, then, when he gets too obstreperous we’ll lock him up. And different generations have had entirely different ideas about what was too obstreperous to be overlooked. In the early days the law only punished bloodshed and violence. Later on, its scope was increased, until thousands of acts and omissions are now made criminal by statute. But that explains why the fact that something is a sin doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a crime. The law is artificial and not founded on any general attempt to prohibit what is unethical, but simply to prevent what is immediately dangerous to life, limb and property.”

“Which, after all, is a good thing—for it leaves us free to do as we choose so long as we don’t harm anybody else,” said Miss Wiggin.

“Yet,” her employer continued, “unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately from our professional point of view—our lawmakers from time to time get rather hysterical and pass such a multiplicity of statutes that nobody knows whether he is committing crime or not.”

“In this enlightened state,” interposed Tutt, “it’s a crime to advertise as a divorce lawyer; to attach a corpse for payment of debt; to board a train while it is in motion; to plant oysters without permission; or without authority wear the badge of the Patrons of Husbandry.”

“Really, one would have to be a student to avoid becoming a criminal,” commented Miss Wiggin.

Mr. Tutt rose and, looking along one of the shelves, took down a volume which he opened at a point marked by a burned match thrust between the leaves.

“My old friend Joseph H. Choate,” he remarked, “in his memorial of his partner, Charles H. Southmayde, who was generally regarded as one of the greatest lawyers in our own or any other generation, says, ‘The ever-growing list of misdemeanors, created by statute, disturbed him, and he even employed counsel to watch for such statutes introduced into the legislature—mantraps, as he called them—lest he might, without knowing it, commit offenses which might involve the penalty of imprisonment.’”

“We certainly riot in the printed word,” said Miss Wiggin. “Do you know that last year alone to interpret all those statutes and decide the respective rights of our citizens the Supreme Court of this state wrote five thousand eight hundred pages of opinion?”

“Good Lord!” ejaculated Tutt. “Is that really so?”

“Of course it is!” she answered.

“But who reads the stuff?” demanded the junior partner. “I don’t!”

“The real lawyers,” replied Miss Wiggin innocently.

“The judges who write them probably read them,” declared Mr. Tutt. “And the defeated litigants; the successful ones merely read the final paragraphs.”

“But coming back to crime for a moment,” said Miss Wiggin, pouring herself out a second cup of tea; “I had almost forgotten that the criminal law was originally intended only to keep down violence. That explains a lot of things. I confess to being one of those who unconsciously assumed that the law is a sort of official Mrs. Grundy.”

“Not at all! Not at all!” corrected Mr. Tutt. “The law makes no pretense of being an arbiter of morals. Even where justice is concerned it expects the mere sentiment of the community to be capable of dealing with trifling offenses. The laws of etiquette and manners, devised for ‘the purpose of keeping fools at a distance,’ are reasonably adapted to dealing with minor offenses against our ideas of propriety.”

“I wonder,” hazarded Miss Wiggin thoughtfully, “if there isn’t some sociological law about crimes, like the law of diminishing returns in physics?”

“The law of what?”

“Why the law that the greater the force or effort applied to anything,” she explained a little vaguely, “the greater the resistance becomes, until the effort doesn’t accomplish anything; increased speed in a warship, for instance.”

“What’s that got to do with crime?”

“Why, the more statutes you pass and more new crimes you create, the harder it becomes to enforce obedience to them, until finally you can’t enforce them at all.”

“That is rather a profound analogy,” observed Mr. Tutt. “It might well repay study.”

“Miss Wiggin has no corner on analogies,” chirped Tutt. “Passing statues creating new crimes is like printing paper money without anything back of it; in the one case there isn’t really any more money than there was before and in the other there isn’t really any more crime either.”

“Only it makes more business for us.”

“I’ve got another idea,” continued Tutt airily, “and that is that crime is a good thing. Not because it means progress or any bunk like that, but because unless you had a certain amount of crime, and also criminal lawyers to attack the law, the state would never find out the weaknesses in its statutes. Therefore the more crime there is the more the protective power of the state is built up, just as the fever engendered by vaccine renders the human body immune from smallpox! Eh, what?”

“I never heard such nonsense!” exclaimed Miss Wiggin. “Do let me give you some more tea! Eh, what?”

But at that moment Willie announced that Miss Rutherford Wells was calling to see Mr. Tutt and tea was hastily adjourned. Half an hour later the old lawyer rang for Bonnie Doon.

“Bonnie,” he said, “one of our clients has been complained against by her next-door neighbor, a got-rich-quick lady, for obstructing the street with her motor. It’s obviously a case of social envy, hatred and malice. Just take a run up there in the morning, give Mrs. Pierpont Pumpelly and her premises the once-over and let me know of any violations you happen to observe. I don’t care how technical they are, either.”

“All right, Mr. Tutt,” answered Bonnie. “I get you. Isn’t there a new ordinance governing the filling of garbage cans?”

“I think there is,” nodded Mr. Tutt. “And meantime I think I’ll drop over and see Judge O’Hare.”

* * *

“I’ll settle her hash for her, the hussy!” declared Mrs. Pumpelly to her husband at dinner the following evening. “I’ll teach her to insult decent people and violate the law. Just because her husband belongs to a swell club she thinks she can do as she likes! But I’ll show her! Wait till I get her in court to-morrow!”

“Well, of course, Edna, I’ll stand back of you and all that,” Pierpont assured her. “No, thank you, Simmons, I don’t wish any more ‘volly vong.’ But I’d hate to see you get all messed up in a police court!”

“Me—messed up!” she exclaimed haughtily. “I guess I can take care of myself most anywhere—good and plenty!”

“Of course you can, dearie!” he protested in a soothing tone. “But these shyster lawyers who hang around those places—you ’member Jim O’Leary out home to Athens? Well, they don’t know a lady when they see one, and they wouldn’t care if they did; and they’ll try and pry into your past life—”

“I haven’t got any past life, and you know it too, Pierpont Pumpelly,” she retorted hotly. “I’m a respectable, law-abidin’ woman, I am. I never broke a law in all my days—”

“Excuse me, madam,” interposed Simmons, with whom the second footman had just held a whispered conference behind the screen, “but James informs me that there is a police hofficer awaiting to see you in the front ’all.”

“To see me?” ejaculated Mrs. Pumpelly.

“Yes, madam.”

“I suppose it’s about to-morrow. Tell him to call round about nine o’clock in the morning.”

“’E says ’e must see you to-night, ma’am,” annotated James excitedly. “And ’e acted most hobnoxious to me!”

“Oh, he acted obnoxious, did he?” remarked Mrs. Pumpelly airily. “What was he obnoxious about?”

“’E ’as a paper ’e says ’e wants to serve on you personal,” answered James in agitation. “’E says if you will hallow ’im to step into the dining-room ’e won’t take a minute.”

“Perhaps we’d better let him come in,” mildly suggested Pierpont. “It’s always best to keep on good terms with the police.”

“But I haven’t broken any law,” repeated Mrs. Pumpelly blankly.

“Maybe you have without knowin’ it,” commented her husband.

“Why, Pierpont Pumpelly, you know I never did such a thing!” she retorted.

“Well, let’s have him in, anyway,” he argued. “I can’t digest my food with him sitting out there in the hall.”

Mrs. Pumpelly took control of the situation.

“Have the man in, Simmons!” she directed grandly.

And thereupon entered Officer Patrick Roony. Politely Officer Roony removed his cap, politely he unbuttoned several yards of blue overcoat and fumbled in the caverns beneath. Eventually he brought forth a square sheet of paper—it had a certain familiarity of aspect for Mrs. Pumpelly—and handed it to her.

“Sorry to disturb you, ma’am,” he apologized, “but I was instructed to make sure and serve you personal.”

“That’s all right! That’s all right!” said Pierpont with an effort at bonhomie. “The—er—butler will give you a highball if you say so.”

“Oh, boy, lead me to it!” murmured Roony in the most approved manner of East Fourteenth Street. “Which way?”

“Come with me!” intoned Simmons with the exalted gesture of an archbishop conducting an ecclesiastical ceremonial.

“What does it say?” asked her husband hurriedly as the butler led the cop to it.

“Sh-h!” warned Mrs. Pumpelly. “James, kindly retire!"

James retired, and the lady examined the paper by the tempered light of the shaded candles surrounding what was left of the ‘volly vong.’

“Who ever heard of such a thing?” she cried. “Just listen here, Pierpont!”

In the name of the people of the State of New York to “Maggie” Pumpelly, the name “Maggie” being fictitious:

You are hereby summoned to appear before the —— District Magistrate’s Court, Borough of Manhattan, City of New York, on the tenth day of May, 1920, at ten o’clock in the forenoon, to answer the charge made against you by William Mulcahy for violation of Section One, Article Two of the Police Traffic Regulations in thaton May 7, 1920, you permitted a vehicle owned or controlled by you to stop with its left side to the curb on a street other than a one-way traffic street; and also for violation of Section Seventeen, Article Two of Chapter Twenty-four of the Code of Ordinances of the City of New York in that on the date aforesaid, being the owner of a vehicle subject to Subdivision One of said section and riding therein, you caused or permitted the same to proceed at a rate of speed greater than four miles an hour in turning corner of intersection highways, to wit, Park Avenue and Seventy-third Street; and upon your failure to appear at the time and place herein named you are liable to a fine of not exceeding fifty dollars or to imprisonment of not exceeding ten days or both.

Dated 7th of May, 1920.
PATRICK ROONY, Police Officer,
Police Precinct ——,
New York City.
Attest: JOHN J. JONES,
Chief City Magistrate.

“Well, I never!” she exploded. “What rubbish! Four miles an hour! And ‘Maggie’ —as if everybody didn’t know my name was Edna!”

“The whole thing looks a bit phony to me!” muttered Pierpont, worried over the possibility of having wasted a slug of the real thing on an unreal police officer. “Perhaps that feller wasn’t a cop after all!”

“And who’s William Mul-kay-hay?” she continued. “I don’t know any such person! You better call up Mr. Edgerton right away and see what the law is.”

“I hope he knows!” countered Mr. Pumpelly. “Four miles an hour—that’s a joke! A baby carriage goes faster than four miles an hour. You wouldn’t arrest a baby!”

“Well, call him up!” directed Mrs. Pumpelly. “Tell him he should come right round over here.”

The summons from his client interrupted Mr. Edgerton in the middle of an expensive dinner at his club and he left it in no good humor. He didn’t like being ordered around like a servant the way Mrs. Pumpelly was ordering him. It wasn’t dignified. Moreover, a lawyer out of his office was like a snail out of its shell—at a distinct disadvantage. You couldn’t just make an excuse to step into the next office for a moment and ask somebody what the law was. The Edgertons always kept somebody in an adjoining office who knew the law—many lawyers do.

On the Pumpelly stoop the attorney found standing an evil-looking and very shabby person holding a paper in his hand, but he ignored him until the grilled iron cinquecento door swung open, revealing James, the retiring second man.

Then, before he could enter, the shabby person pushed past him and asked in a loud, vulgar tone: “Does Edna Pumpelly live here?”

James stiffened in the approved style of erect vertebrata.

“This is Madame Pierpont Pumpelly’s residence,” he replied with hauteur.

“Madam or no madam, just slip this to her,” said the shabby one. “Happy days!”

Mr. Wilfred Edgerton beneath the medieval tapestry of the Pumpelly marble hall glanced at the dirty sheet in James’ hand and, though unfamiliar with the form of the document, perceived it to be a summons issued on the application of one Henry J. Goldsmith and returnable next day, for violating Section Two Hundred and Fifteen of Article Twelve of Chapter Twenty of the Municipal Ordinances for keeping and maintaining a certain bird, to wit, a cockatoo, which by its noise did disturb the quiet and repose of a certain person in the vicinity to the detriment of the health of such person, to wit, Henry J. Goldsmith, aforesaid, and upon her failure to appear, and so on.

Wilfred had some sort of vague idea of a law about keeping birds, but he couldn’t exactly recall what it was. There was something incongruous about Mrs. Pierpont Pumpelly keeping a cockatoo. What did anybody want of a cockatoo? He concluded that it must be an ancestral hereditament from Athens, Ohio. Nervously he ascended the stairs to what Edna called the saloon.

“So you’ve come at last!” cried she. “Well, what have you got to say to this? Is it against the law to go round a corner at more than four miles an hour?”

Now, whereas Mr. Wilfred Edgerton could have told Mrs. Pumpelly the “rule in Shelly’s case” or explained the doctrine of cy pres, he had never read the building code or the health ordinances or the traffic regulations, and in the present instance the latter were to the point while the former were not. Thus he was confronted with the disagreeable alternative of admitting his ignorance or bluffing it through. He chose the latter, unwisely.

“Of course not! Utter nonsense!” replied he blithely. “The lawful rate of speed is at least fifteen miles an hour.”

“Excuse me, madam,” said James, appearing once more in the doorway. “A man has just left this—er—paper at the area doorway.”

Mrs. Pumpelly snatched it out of his hand.

“Well, of all things!” she gasped.

“To ‘Bridget’ Pumpelly,” it began, “said first name ‘Bridget’ being fictitious:

“You are hereby summoned to appear . . . for violating Section Two Hundred and Forty-eight of Article Twelve of Chapter Twenty of the Health Ordinances in that you did upon the seventh day of May, 1920, fail to keep a certain tin receptacle used for swill or garbage, in shape and form a barrel, within the building occupied and owned by you until proper time for its removal and failed to securely bundle, tie up and pack the newspapers and other light refuse and rubbish contained therein, and, further, that you caused and permitted certain tin receptacles, in the shape and form of barrels, containing such swill or garbage, to be filled to a greater height with such swill or garbage than a line within such receptacle four inches from the top thereof.”

“Now what do you know about that?” remarked the vice president of Cuban Crucible to the senior parner of Edgerton & Edgerton.

“I don’t know anything about it!” answered the elegant Wilfred miserably. “I don’t know the law of garbage, and there’s no use pretending that I do. You’d better get a garbage lawyer.”

“I thought all lawyers were supposed to know the law?” sniffed Mrs. Pumpelly. “What’s that you got in your hand?”

“It’s another summons, for keeping a bird,” answered the attorney.

“A bird? You don’t suppose it’s Moses?” she exclaimed indignantly.

“The name of the bird isn’t mentioned,” said Wilfred. “But very likely it is Moses if Moses belongs to you.”

“But I’ve had Moses ever since I was a little girl!” she protested. “And no one ever complained of him before.”

“Beg pardon, madam,” interposed Simmons, parting the Flesmish arras, upon which was depicted the skinking of the Spanish Armada. “Officer Roony is back again with two more papers. ’E says it isn’t necessary for him to see you again, as once is enough, but ’e was wondering whether being as it was rather chilly—”

“Lead him to it!” hastily directed Pierpont, who was beginning to get a certain amount of enjoyment out of the situation. “But tell him he needn’t call again.”

“Give ’em here!” snapped Mrs. Pumpelly, grasping the documents. “This is a little too much! ‘Lulu’ this time. Fictitious as usual. Who’s Julius Aberthaw? He says I caused a certain rug to be shaken in such place and manner that certain particles of dust passed therefrom into the public street or highway, to wit, East Seventy-third Street, contrary to Section Two Hundred and Fifty-three of Article Twelve of Chapter Twenty of the Municipal Ordinances. Huh!”

“What’s the other one?” inquired her husband with a show of sympathy.

“For violating Section Fifteen of Article Two of Chapter Twenty, in that on May 7, 1920, I permitted a certain unmuzzled dog, to wit, a Pekingese brown spaniel dog, to be on a public highway, to wit, East Seventy-third Street in the City of New York. But that was Randolph!”

“Was Randolph muzzled?” inquired Mr. Edgerton maliciously.

“Of course not! He only weighs two pounds and a quarter!” protested Mrs. Pumpelly.

“He can bite all right, just the same!” interpolated Pierpont.

“But what shall I do?” wailed Mrs. Pumpelly, now thoroughly upset.

“Guess you’ll have to take your medicine, same’s other violators of the law,” commented her husband.

“I never heard of such ridiculous laws!”

“Ignorance of the law excuses no one!” murmured Wilfred.

“It don’t excuse a lawyer!” she snorted. “I have an idea you don’t know much more about the law—this kind of law, anyway—than I do. I bet it is against the law to go round a corner at more than four miles! Do you want to bet me?”

“No, I don’t!” snapped Edgerton. “What you want is a police-court lawyer—if you’re goin’ in for this sort of thing.”

“My Lord! What’s this now, Simmons?” she raved as the butler deprecatingly made his appearance again with another paper.

“I think, madam,” he ansered soothingly, “that it’s a summons for allowing the house man to use the hose on the sidewalk after eight A. M. Roony just brought it.”

“H’m!” remarked Mr. Pumpelly. “Don’t lead him to it again!”

“But I wouldn’t have disturbed you if it hadn’t been for a young gentleman who ’as called with another one regardin’ the window boxes.”

“What about window boxes?” moaned Mrs. Pumpelly.

“’E says,” explained Simmons, ‘’e ’as a summons for you regardin’ the window boxes, but that if you’d care to speak to him perhaps the matter might be

“Let’s see the summons!” exclaimed Wilfred, coming to life.

“ ‘To Edna Pumpelly,’ ” he read.

“They’re getin’ more polite,” she commented ironically.

“ ‘For violating Section Two Hundred and Fifty of Article Eighteen of Chapter Twenty-three in that you did place, keep and maintain upon a crtain window sill of the premises now being occupied by you in the City of New York a window box for the cultivation or retention of flowers, shrubs, vines or other articles of things without the same being firmly protected by iron railings—”

“Heavens,” ejaculated Mr. Pumpelly, “there’ll be somebody in here in a minute complaining that I don’t use the right length of shaving stick.”

“I understand,” remarked Mr. Edgerton, “that in a certain Western state they regulate the length of bed sheets!”

“What’s that for?” asked Edna with sudden interest.

“About seeing this feller?” hurriedly continued Mr. Pumpelly. “Seems to me they’ve rather got you, Edna!”

“But what’s the use seein’ him?” she asked. “I’m summoned, ain’t I?”

“Why not see the man?” advised Mr. Edgerton, gladly seizing the possibility of a diversion. “It cannot do any harm.”

“What is his name?”

“Mr. Bonright Doon,” answered Simmons encouragingly. “And he is a very pleasant-spoken young man."

“Very well,” yielded Mrs. Pumpelly.

Two minutes later, “Mr. Doon!” announced Simmons.

Though the friends of Tutt & Tutt have made the acquaintance of Bonnie Doon only casually, they yet have seen enough of him to realize that he is an up-and-coming young person with an elastic conscience and an ingratiating smile. Indeed the Pumpellys were rather taken with his breezy, “Well, here we all are again!” manner as well as impressed by the fact that he was arrayed in immaculate evening costume.

“I represent Mr. Ephraim Tutt, who has been retained by your neighbor, Mrs. Rutherford Wells, in connection with the summons which you caused to be issued against her yesterday,” he announced pleasantly by way of introduction. “Mrs. Wells, you see, was a little annoyed by being referred to in the papers as Jane when her proper name is Beatrix. Besides, she felt that the offense charged against her was—so to speak—rather trifling. However—be that as it may—she and her friends in the block are not inclined to be severe with you if you are disposed to let the matter drop.”

“Inclined to be severe with me!” ejaculated Mrs. Pumpelly, bristling.

“Edna!” cautioned her husband. “Mr. Doon is not responsible.”

“Exactly. I find after a somewhat casual investigation that you have been consistently violating a large number of city ordinances—keeping parrots, beating rugs, allowing unmuzzled dogs at large, overfilling your garbage cans, disregarding the speed laws and traffic regulations, using improperly secured window boxes—”

“Anything else?” inquired Pierpont jocularly. “Don’t mind us.”

Bonnie carelessly removed from the pocket of his dress coat a sheaf of papers.

“One for neglecting to have your chauffeur display his metal badge on the outside of his coat—Section Ninety-four of Article Eight of Chapter Fourteen.

“One for allowing your drop awnings to extend more than six feet from the house line—Section Forty-Two of Article Five of Chapter Twenty-Two.

“One for failing to keep your curbstone at a proper level—Section One Hundred and Sixty-four of Article Fourteen of Chapter Twenty-three.

“One for maintaining an ornamental projection on your house—a statue, I believe , of the Goddess Venus—to project more than five feet beyond the building line—Section One Hundred and Eighty-one of Article Fifteen of Chapter Twenty-three.

“One for having your area gate open outwardly instead of inwardly—Section One Hundred and Sixty-four of Article Fourteen of Chapter Twenty-three.

“And one for failing to affix to the fanlight or door the number of your house—Section One Hundred and Ten of Article Ten of Chapter Twenty-three.

“I dare say there are others.”

“I’d trust you to find ’em!” agreed Mr. Pumpelly. “Now what’s your proposition? What does it cost?”

“It doesn’t cost anything at all! Drop your proceedings and we’ll drop ours,” answered Bonnie genially.

“What do you say, Edgerton?” said Pumpelly, turning to the disgruntled Wilfred and for the first time in years assuming charge of his own domestic affairs.

“I should say that it was an excellent compromise!” answered the lawyer soulfully. “There’s something in the Bible, isn’t there, about pulling the mote out of your own eye before attempting to remove the beam from anybody’s else?”

“I believe there is,” assented Bonnie politely. “ ‘You’re another’ certainly isn’t a statutory legal plea, but as a practical defense—”

“Tit for tat!” said Mr. Edgerton playfully. “Ha, ha! Ha!”

“Ha, ha! Ha!” mocked Mrs. Pumpelly, her nose high in the air. “A lot of good you did me!”

“By the way, young man,” asked Mr. Pumpelly, “whom do you say you represent?”

“Tutt & Tutt,” cooed Bonnie, instantly flashing one of the firm’s cards.

“Thanks,” said Pumpelly, putting it carefully into his pocket. “I may need you sometime—perhaps even sooner. Now, if by any chance you’d care for a highball—”

“Lead me right to it!” sighed Bonnie ecstatically.

“Me, too!” echoed Wilfred, to the great astonishment of those assembled.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gilbert Parker, “The Scarlet Hunter”

The second installment, chosen more or less at random. Anyone who has spent time rooting through old magazines and anthologies is familiar with Parker’s name, but his reputation has more or less vanished today. I don’t know much about him, except that he was one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s better-regarded followers. This story is from the 1892 book Pierre & His People: Tales of the Far North.

“News out of Egypt!” said the Honorable Just Trafford. “If this is true, it gives a pretty finish to the season. You think it is possible, Pierre? It is every man’s talk that there isn’t a herd of buffaloes in the whole country; but this — eh?”

Pierre did not seem disposed to answer. He had been watching a man’s face for some time; but his eyes were now idly following the smoke of his cigarette as it floated away to the ceiling in fading circles. He seemed to take no interest in Trafford’s remarks, nor in the tale that Shangi the Indian had told them; though Shangi and his tale were both uncommon enough to justify attention.

Shon McGann was more impressionable. His eyes swam; his feet shifted nervously with enjoyment; he glanced frequently at his gun in the corner of the hut; he had watched Trafford’s face with some anxiety, and accepted the result of the tale with delight. Now his look was occupied with Pierre.

Pierre was a pretty good authority in all matters concerning the prairies and the North. He also had an instinct for detecting veracity, having practised on both sides of the equation. Trafford became impatient, and at last the half-breed, conscious that he had tried the temper of his chief so far as was safe, lifted his eyes, and resting them casually on the Indian, replied: “Yes, I know the place. . . . No, I have not been there, but I was told — ah, it was long ago. There is a great valley between hills, the Kimash Hills, the hills of the Mighty Men. The woods are deep and dark; there is but one trail through them, and it is old. On the highest hill is a vast mound. In that mound are the forefathers of a nation that is gone. Yes, as you say, they are dead, and there is none of them alive in the valley — which is called the White Valley — where the buffalo are. The valley is green in summer, and the snow is not deep in winter; the noses of the buffalo can find the tender grass. The Injin speaks the truth, perhaps. But of the number of buffaloes, one must see. The eye of the red man multiplies.”

Trafford looked at Pierre closely. “You seem to know the place very well. It is a long way north to where — ah, yes, you said you had never been there; you were told. Who told you?”

The half-breed raised his eyebrows slightly as he replied: “I can remember a long time, and my mother, she spoke much and sang many songs at the camp fires.” Then he puffed his cigarette so that the smoke clouded his face for a moment, and went on, — “I think there may be buffaloes.”

“It’s along the barrel of me gun I wish I was lookin’ at thim now,” said McGann.

“Eh, you will go?” inquired Pierre of Trafford.

“To have a shot at the only herd of wild buffaloes on the continent! Of course I’ll go. I’d go to the North Pole for that. Sport and novelty I came here to see; buffalo-hunting I did not expect! I’m in luck, that’s all. We’ll start to-morrow morning, if we can get ready, and Shangi here will lead us; eh, Pierre?”

The half-breed again was not polite. Instead of replying he sang almost below his breath the words of a song unfamiliar to his companions, though the Indian’s eyes showed a flash of understanding. These were the words:

“They ride away with a waking wind, — away, away!
With laughing lip and with jocund mind at break of day,
A rattle of hoofs and a snatch of song, — they ride, they ride!
The plains are wide and the path is long — so long, so wide!”

Just Trafford appeared ready to deal with this insolence, for the half-breed was after all a servant of his, a paid retainer. He waited, however. Shon saw the difficulty, and at once volunteered a reply. “It’s aisy enough to get away in the mornin’, but it’s a question of how far we’ll be able to go with the horses. The year is late; but there’s dogs beyand, I suppose, and bedad, there y’are!”

The Indian spoke slowly: “It is far off. There is no color yet in the leaf of the larch. The river-hen still swims northward. It is good that we go. There is much buffalo in the White Valley.”

Again Trafford looked towards his follower, and again the half-breed, as if he were making an effort to remember, sang abstractedly:

“They follow, they follow a lonely trail, by day, by night,
By distant sun, and by fire-fly pale, and northern light.
The ride to the Hills of the Mighty Men, so swift they go!
Where buffalo feed in the wilding glen in sun and snow.”

“Pierre!” said Trafford sharply, “I want an answer to my question.”

Mais, pardon, I was thinking . . . well, we can ride until the deep snows come, then we can walk; and Shangi, he can get the dogs, maybe, one team of dogs.”

“But,” was the reply, “one team of dogs will not be enough. We’ll bring meat and hides, you know, as well as some pemmican. We won’t cache any carcasses up there. What would be the use? We shall have to be back in the Pipi Valley by the springtime.”

“Well,” said the half-breed with a cold decision, “one team of dogs will be enough; and we will not cache, and we shall be back in the Pipi Valley before the spring, perhaps,” — but this last word was spoken under his breath.

And now the Indian spoke, with his deep voice and dignified manner: “Brothers, it is as I have said, — the trail is lonely and the woods are deep and dark. Since the time when the world was young, no white man hath been there save one, and behold sickness fell on him; the grave is his end. It is a pleasant land, for the gods have blessed it to the Indian forever. No heathen shall possess it. But you shall see the White Valley and the buffalo. Shangi will lead, because you have been merciful to him, and have given him to sleep in your wigwam, and to eat of your wild meat. There are dogs in the forest. I have spoken.”

Trafford was impressed, and annoyed too. He thought too much sentiment was being squandered on a very practical and sportive thing. He disliked functions; speech-making was to him a matter for prayer and fasting. The Indian’s address was therefore more or less gratuitous, and he hastened to remark: “Thank you Shangi; that’s very good, and you’ve put it poetically. You’ve turned a shooting-excursion into a mediæval romance. But we’ll get down to business now, if you please, and make the romance a fact, beautiful enough to send to the Times or the New York Sun. Let’s see, how would they put it in the Sun? — ‘Extraordinary Discovery — Herd of buffaloes found in the far North by an Englishman and his Franco-Irish Party — Sport for the gods — Exodus of brûlés to White Valley!’ — and so on, screeching to the end.”

Shon laughed heartily. “The fun of the world is in the thing,” he said; “and a day it would be for a notch on a stick and a rasp of gin in the throat. And if I get the sight of me eye on a buffalo-ruck, it’s down on me knees I’ll go, and not for prayin’ aither! And here’s both hands up for a start in the mornin’!”

Long before noon next day they were well on their way. Trafford could not understand why Pierre was so reserved, and, when speaking, so ironical. It was noticeable that the half-breed watched the Indian closely, that he always rode behind him, that he never drank out of the same cup. The leader set this down to the natural uncertainty of Pierre’s disposition. He had grown to like Pierre, as the latter had come in course to respect him. Each was a man of value after his kind. Each also had recognized in the other qualities of force and knowledge having their generation in experiences which had become individuality, subterranean and acute, under a cold surface. It was the mutual recognition of these equivalents that led the two men to mutual trust, only occasionally disturbed, as has been shown; though one was regarded as the most fastidious man of his set in London, the fairest minded of friends, the most comfortable of companions; while the other was an outlaw, a half heathen, a lover of but one thing in this world, — the joyous god of Chance. Pierre was essentially a gamester. He would have extracted satisfaction out of a death sentence which was contingent on the trumping of an ace. His only honor was the honor of the game.

Now, with all the swelling prairie sloping to the clear horizon, and the breath of a large life in their nostrils, these two men were caught up suddenly, as it were, by the throbbing soul of the North, so that the subterranean life in them awoke and startled them. Trafford conceived that tobacco was the charm with which to exorcise the spirits of the past. Pierre let the game of sensations go on, knowing that they pay themselves out in time. His scheme was the wiser. The other found that fast riding and smoking were not sufficient. He became surrounded by the ghosts of yesterday; and at length he gave up striving with them, and let them storm upon him, until a line of pain cut deeply across his forehead, and bitterly and unconsciously he cried aloud, — “Hester, ah, Hester!”

But having spoken, the spell was broken, and he was aware of the beat of hoofs beside him, and Shangi the Indian looking at him with a half smile. Something in the look thrilled him; it was fantastic, masterful. He wondered that he had not noticed this singular influence before. After all, he was only a savage with cleaner buckskin than his race usually wore. Yet that glow, that power in the face! — was he Piegan, Blackfoot, Cree, Blood? Whatever he was, this man had heard the words which broke so painfully from him.

He saw the Indian frame her name upon his lips, and then came the words, “Hester — Hester Orval!”

He turned sternly, and said, “Who are you? What do you know of Hester Orval?”

The Indian shook his head gravely, and replied, “You spoke her name, my brother.”

“I spoke one word of her name. You have spoken two.”

“One does not know what one speaks. There are words which are as sounds, and words which are as feelings. Those come to the brain through the ear; these to the soul through sign, which is more than sound. The Indian hath knowledge, even as the white man; and because his heart is open, the trees whisper to him; he reads the language of the grass and the wind, and is taught by the song of the bird, the screech of the hawk, the bark of the fox. And so he comes to know the heart of the man who hath sickness, and calls upon some one, even though it be a weak woman, to cure his sickness; who is bowed low as beside a grave, and would stand upright. Are not my words wise? As the thoughts of a child that dreams, as the face of the blind, the eye of the beast, or the anxious hand of the poor, — are they not simple, and to be understood?”

Just Trafford made no reply. But behind, Pierre was singing in the plaintive measure of a chant:

“A hunter rideth the herd abreast,
The Scarlet Hunter from out of the West,
Whose arrows with points of flame are drest,
Who loveth the beast of the field the best,
The child and the young bird out of the nest:
They ride to the hunt no more — no more!”

They traveled beyond all bounds of civilization; beyond the northernmost Indian villages, until the features of the landscape became more rugged and solemn, and at last they paused at a place which the Indian called Misty Mountain, and where, disappearing for an hour, he returned with a team of Eskimo dogs, keen, quick-tempered, and enduring. They had all now recovered from the disturbing sentiments of the first portion of the journey; life was at full tide; the spirit of the hunter was on them.

At length one night they camped in a vast pine grove wrapped in coverlets of snow and silent as death. Here again Pierre became moody and alert and took no part in the careless chat at the camp-fire led by Shon McGann. The man brooded and looked mysterious. Mystery was not pleasing to Trafford. He had his own secrets, but in the ordinary affairs of life he preferred simplicity. In one of the silences that fell between Shon’s attempts to give hilarity to the occasion, there came a rumbling far-off sound, a sound that increased in volume till the earth beneath them responded gently to the vibration. Trafford looked up inquiringly at Pierre, and then at the Indian, who, after a moment, said slowly: “Above us are the hills of the Mighty Men, beneath us is the White Valley. It is the tramp of buffalo that we hear. A storm is coming, and they go to shelter in the mountains.”

The information had come somewhat suddenly, and McGann was the first to recover from the pleasant shock: “It’s divil a wink of sleep I’ll get this night, with the thought of them below there ripe for slaughter, and the tumble of fight in their beards.”

Pierre, with a meaning glance from his half-closed eyes, added: “But it is the old saying of the prairies that you do no shout dinner till you have your knife in the loaf. Your knife is not yet in the loaf, Shon McGann.”

The boom of the tramping ceased, and now there was a stirring in the snow-clad tree-tops, and a sound as if all the birds of the North were flying overhead. The weather began to moan and the boles of the pines to quake. And then there came war, — a trouble out of the north, — a wave of the breath of God to show inconsequent man that he who seeks to live by slaughter hath slaughter for his master.

They hung over the fire while the forest cracked round them, and the flame smarted with the flying snow. And now the trees, as if the elements were closing in on them, began to break close by, and one plunged forward towards them. Trafford, to avoid its stroke, stepped quickly aside right into the line of another which he did not see. Pierre sprang forward, and swung him clear, but was himself struck senseless by an outreaching branch.

As if satisfied with this achievement, the storm began to subside. When Pierre recovered consciousness Trafford clasped his hand and sad, — “You’ve a sharp eye, a quick thought, and a deft arm, comrade.”

“Ah, it was in the game. It is good play to assist your partner,” the half-breed replied sententiously.

Through all, the Indian had remained stoical. But McGann, who swore by Trafford — as he had once sworn by another of the Trafford race — had his heart on his lips, and said:

“There’s a swate little cherub that sits up a lot,
Who cares for the soul of poor Jack!”

It was long after midnight ere they settled down again, with the wreck of the forest round them. Only the Indian slept; the others were alert and restless. They were up at daybreak, and on their way before sunrise, filled with desire for prey. They had not traveled far before they emerged upon a plateau. Around them were the hills of the Mighty Men — austere, majestic; at their feet was a vast valley on which the light newly-fallen snow had not hidden all the grass. Lonely and lofty, it was a world waiting chastely to be peopled! And now it was peopled, for there came from a cleft of the hills an army of buffaloes lounging slowly down the wate, with tossing manes and hoofs stirring the snow into a feathery scud.

The eyes of Trafford and McGann swam; Pierre’s face was troubled, and strangely enough he made the sign of the cross.

At that instant Trafford saw smoke issuing from a spot on the mountain opposite. He turned to the Indian; “Some one lives there?” he said.

“It is the home of the dead, but life is also there.”

“White man, or Indian?”

But no reply came. The Indian pointed instead to the buffalo rumbling down the valley. Trafford forgot the smoke, forgot everything except that splendid quarry. Shon was excited. “Sarpints alive!” he said, “look at the troops of thim! It is standin’ here we are with our tongues in our cheeks, whin there’s bastes to be killed, and mate to be got, and the call to war on the ground below! Clap spurs with your heels, say I, and down the side of the turf together and give ’em the teeth of our guns!” And the Irishman dashed down the slope. In an instant, all followed, or at least Trafford thought all followed, swinging their guns across their saddles to be ready for this excellent foray. But while Pierre rode hard, it was at first without the fret of battle in him, and he smiled strangely, for he knew that the Indian had disappeared as they rode down the slope, though how and why he could not tell. There ran through his head tales chanted at camp-fires when he was not yet in stature so high as the loins that bore him. They rode hard, and yet they came no nearer to that flying herd straining on with white streaming breath and the surf of snow rising to their quarters. Mile upon mile, and yet they could not ride these monsters down!

And now Pierre was leading. There was a kind of fury in his face, and he seemed at last to gain on them. But as the herd veered close to a wall of stalwart pines, a horseman issued from the trees and joined the cattle. The horseman was in scarlet from head to foot; and with his coming the herd went faster, and ever faster, until they vanished into the mountain-side; and they who pursued drew in their trembling horses and stared at each other with wonder in their faces.

“In God’s name what does it mean?” Trafford cried.

“Is it a trick av the eye or the hand of the divil?” added Shon.

“In the name of God we shall know perhaps. If it is the hand of the devil it is not good for us,” remarked Pierre.

“Who was the man in scarlet that came from the woods?” asked Trafford of the half-breed.

“Eh, it is strange! There is an old story among the Indians! My mother told many tales of the place and sang of it, as I sang to you. The legend was this: — In the hills of the North which no white man, nor no Injin of this time hath seen, the forefathers of the red men sleep; but some day they will wake again and go forth and possess all the land; and the buffalo are for them when that time shall come, that they may have the fruits of the chase, and that it be as it was of old, when the cattle were as clouds on the sky-line. And it was ordained that one of these mighty men who had never been beaten in fight, nor done an evil thing, and was the greatest of all the chiefs, should live and not die, but be as a sentinel, as a lion watching, and preserve the White Valley in peace until his brethren waked and came into their own again. And him they called the Scarlet Hunter; and to this hour the red men pray to him when they lose their way upon the plains, or Death draws aside the curtains of the wigwam to call them forth.”

“Repeat the verses you sang, Pierre,” said Trafford.

The half-breed did so. When he came to the words, “Who loveth the beast of the field the best,” he Englishman looked round. “Where is Shangi?” he said.

McGann shook his head in astonishment and negation. Pierre explained: “On the mountainside where we rode down he is not seen — he vanished . . . mon Dieu, look!”

On the slope of the mountain stood the Scarlet Hunter with drawn bow. From it an arrow flew over their heads with a sorrowful twang, and fell where the smoke rose among the pines; then the mystic figure disappeared.

McGann shuddered, and drew himself together. “It is the place of spirits,” he said; “and it’s little I like it, God knows; but I’ll follow that Scarlet Hunter, or red devil, or whatever he is, till I drop, if the Honorable gives the word, For flesh and blood I’m not afraid of; and the other we come to, whether we will or not, one day.”

But Trafford said: “No, we’ll let it stand where it is for the present. Something has played our eyes false, or we’re brought here to do work different from buffalo-hunting. Where than arrow fell among the smoke we must go first. Then, as I read the riddle, we travel back the way we came. There are points in connection with the Pipi Valley superior to the hills of the Mighty Men.”

They rode away across the glade, and through a grove of pines upon a hill, till they stood before a log hut, with parchment windows.

Trafford knocked, but there was no response. He opened the door and entered. He saw a figure rise painfully from a couch in the corner, — the figure of a woman young and beautiful, but wan and worn. She seemed dazed and inert with suffering, and spoke mournfully: “It is too late. Not you, nor any of your race, nor anything on earth can save him. He is dead — dead now.”

At the first sound of her voice Trafford started. He drew near to her, as pale as she was, and wonder and pity were in his face. “Hester,” he said, “Hester Orval!”

She stared at him like one that had been awakened from an evil dream, then tottered towards him with the cry, — “Just, Just, have you come to save me? O, Just!” His distress was sad to see, for it was held in deep repression, but he said calmly and with protecting gentleness: “Yes, I have come to save you. Hester, how is it that you are in this strange place? — you!”

She sobbed so that at first she could not answer; but at last she cried: “O, Just, he is dead . . . in there, in there! . . . Last night, it was last night; and he prayed that I might go with him. But I could not die unforgiven, — and I was right, for you have come out of the world to help me, and to save me.”

“Yes, to help you and to save you, — if I can,” he added in a whisper to himself, for he was full of foreboding. He was of the earth, earthy, and things that had chanced to him this day were beyond the natural and healthy movements of his mind. He had gone forth to slay, and had been foiled by shadows; he had come with a tragic, if beautiful memory haunting him, and that memory had clothed itself in flesh and stood before him, pitiful, solitary — a woman. He had scorned all legend and superstition, and here both were made manifest to him. He had thought of this woman as one who was of this world no more, and here she mourned before him and bade him go look upon her dead, upon the man who had wronged him, into whom, as he once declared, the soul of a cur had entered, — and now what could he say? He had carried in his heart the infinite something that is to men the utmost fullness of life, which, losing, they must carry lead upon their shoulders where they thought the gods had given pinions.

McGann and Pierre were nervous. This conjunction of unusual things was easier to the intelligences of the dead than the quick. The outer air was perhaps less charged with the unnatural, and with a glance towards the room where death was quartered, they left the hut.

Trafford was alone with the woman through whom his life had been turned awry. He looked at her searchingly; and as he looked the mere man in him asserted itself for a moment. She was dressed in coarse garments; it struck him that her grief had a touch of commonness about it; there was something imperfect in the dramatic setting. His recent experiences had had a kind of grandeur about them; it was not thus that he had remembered her in the hour when he had called upon her in the plains, and the Indian had heard his cry. He felt and was ashamed in feeling, that there was a grim humor in the situation. The fantastic, the melodramatic, the emotional, were huddled here in too marked a prominence; it all seemed, for an instant, like the tale of a woman’s first novel. But immediately again there was roused in him the latent force of loyalty to himself and therefore to her; the story of her past, so far as he knew it, flashed before him, and his eyes grew hot.

He remembered the time he had last seen her in an English country-house among a gay party in which royalty smiled, and the subject was content beneath the smile. But there was one rebellious subject and her name was Hester Orval. She was a willful girl who had lived life selfishly within the lines of that decorous yet pleasant convention to which she was born. She was beautiful — she knew that, and royalty had graciously admitted it. She was warm-thoughted, and possessed the fatal strain of the artistic temperament. She was not sure that she had a heart; and many others, not of her sex, after varying and enthusiastic study of the matter, were not more confident than she. But it had come at last that she had listened with pensive pleasure to Trafford’s tae of love; and because to be worshiped by a man high in all men’s and in most women’s esteem, ministered delicately to her sweet egotism, and because she was proud of him, she gave him her hand in promise, and her cheek in privilege, but denied him — though he knew this not — her heart and the service of her life. But he was content to wait patiently for that service, and he wholly trusted her, for there was in him some fine spirit of the antique world.

There had come to Falkenstowe, this country-house and her father’s home, a man who bore a knightly name, but who had no knightly heart; and he told Ulysses’ tales, and covered a hazardous and cloudy past with that fascinating color which makes evil appear to be good, so that he roused in her the pulse of art, which she believed was the soul of life, and her allegiance swerved. And when her mother pleaded with her, and when her father said stern things, and even royalty, with uncommon sense, rebuked her gently, her heart grew hard; and almost on the eve of her wedding-day she fled with her lover, and married him, and together they sailed away over the seas.

The world was shocked and clamorous for a matter of nine days, and then it forgot this foolish and awkward circumstance; but Just Trafford never forgot it. He remembered all vividly until the hour, a year later, when London journals announced that Hester Orval and her husband had gone down with a vessel wrecked upon the Alaskan and Canadian coast. And there new regret began, and his knowledge of her ended.

But she and her husband had not been drowned; with a sailor they had reached the shore in safety. They had traveled inland from the coast through the great mountains by unknown paths, and as they traveled, the sailor died; and they came at last through innumerable hardships to the Kimash Hills, the hills of the Mighty Men, and there they stayed. It was not an evil land; it had neither deadly cold in winter nor wanton heat in summer. But they never saw a human face, and everything was lonely and spectral. For a time they strove to go eastwards or southwards, but the mountains were impassable, and in the north and west there was no hope. Though the buffalo swept by them in the valley they could not slay them, and they lived on forest fruits until in time the man sickened. The woman nursed him faithfully, but still he failed; and when she could go forth no more for food, some unseen dweller of the woods brought buffalo meat, and prairie fowl, and water from the spring, and laid them beside her door.

She had seen the mounds upon the hill, the wide couches of the sleepers, and she remembered the things done in the days when God seemed nearer to the sons of men than now; and she said that a spirit had done this thing, and trembled and was thankful. But the man weakened and knew that he should die; and one night when the pain was sharp upon him he prayed bitterly that he might pass, or that help might come to snatch him from the grave. And as they sobbed together, a form entered at the door, — a form clothed in scarlet, — and he bade them tell the tale of their lives as they would some time tell it unto heaven. And when the tale was told he said that succor should come to them from the south by the hand of the Scarlet Hunter, that the nation sleeping there should no more be disturbed by their moaning. And then he had gone forth, and with his going there was a storm such as that in which the man had died, the storm that had assailed the hunters in the forest yesterday.

This was the second part of Hester Orval’s life as she told it to Just Trafford. And he, looking into her eyes, knew that she had suffered, and that she had sounded her husband’s unworthiness. Then he turned from her and went into the room where the dead man lay. And there all hardness passed from him, and he understood that in the great going forth man reckons to the full with the deeds done in that brief pilgrimage called life; and that in the bitter journey which this one took across the dread space between Here and There, he had repented of his sins, because they, and they only, went with him in mocking company; the good having gone first to plead where evil is a debtor and hath a prison. And the woman came and stood beside Trafford, and whispered, “At first — and at the last — he was kind.”

But he urged her gently from the room: “Go away,” he said; “go away. We cannot judge him. Leave me alone with him.”

They buried him upon the hill-side, far from the mounds where the Mighty Men waited for their summons to go forth and be the lords of the North again. At night they buried him when the moon was at its full; and he had the fragrant pines for his bed and the warm darkness to cover him; and though he is to those others resting there a heathen and an alien, it may be that he sleeps peacefully.

When Trafford questioned Hester Orval more deeply of her life there, the unearthly look quickened in her eyes, and she said: “Oh, nothing, nothing is real here, but suffering; perhaps it is all a dream, but it has changed me, changed me. To hear the tread of the flying herds, — to see no being save him, the Scarlet Hunter, — to hear the voices calling in the night! . . . Hush! There, do you not hear them? It is midnight — listen!”

He listened, and Pierre and Shon McGann looked at each other apprehensively, while Shon’s fingers felt hurriedly along the beads of a rosary which he did not hold. Yes, they heard it, a deep sonorous sound: “Is the daybreak come?” “It is still the night,” rose the reply as of one clear voice. And then there floated through the hills more softly: “We sleep — we sleep!” And the sounds echoed through the valley — “sleep — sleep!”

Yet though these things were full of awe, the spirit of the place held them there, and the fever of the hunter descended on them hotly. In the morning they went forth, and rode into the White Valley where the buffalo were feeding, and sought to steal upon them; but the shots from their guns only awoke the hills, and none were slain. And though they rode swiftly, the wide surf of snow was ever between them and the chase, and their striving availed nothing. Day after day they followed that flying column, and night after night they heard the sleepers call from the hills. And the desire of the thing wasted them, and they forgot to eat, and ceased to talk among themselves. But one day Shon McGann, muttering aves as he rode, gained on the cattle, until once again the Scarlet Hunter came forth from a cleft of the mountains, and drove the herd forward with swifter feet. But the Irishman had learned the power in this thing, and had taught Trafford, who knew not these availing prayers, and with these sacred conjurations on their lips they gained on the cattle length by length, though the Scarlet Hunter rode abreast of the thundering horde. Within easy range, Trafford swung his gun shoulderwards to fire, but at that instant a cloud of snow rose up between him and his quarry so that they were all blinded. And when they came into the clear sun again the buffalo were gone; but flaming arrows from some unseen hunter’s bow came singing over their heads towards the south; and they obeyed the sign, and went back to where Hester wore her life out with anxiety for them, because she knew the hopelessness of their quest. Women are nearer to the heart of things. And now she begged Trafford to go southwards before winter froze the plains impassably, and the snow made tombs of the valleys. And he gave the word to go, and said that he had done wrong — for now the spell was falling from him.

But she, seeing his regret, said; “Ah, Just, It could not have been different. The passion of it was on you as it was on us; as if to teach us that hunger for happiness is robbery, and that the covetous desire of man is not the will of the gods. The herds are for the Mighty Men when they awake, not for the stranger and the Philistine.”

“You have grown wise, Hester,” he replied.

“No, I am sick in brain and body, but it may be that in such sickness there is wisdom.”

“Ah,” he said, “it has turned my head, I think. Once I laughed at all such fanciful things as these. This Scarlet Hunter, — how many times have you seen him?”

“But once.”

“What were his looks?”

“A face pale and strong, with noble eyes; and in his voice there was something strange.”

Trafford thought of Shangi, the Indian, — where had he gone? He had disappeared as suddenly as he had come to their camp in the South.

As they sat silent in the growing night, the door opened and the Scarlet Hunter stood before them.

“There is food,” he said, “on the threshold — food for those who go upon a far journey to the South in the morning. Unhappy are they who seek for gold at the rainbow’s foot, who chase the fire-fly in the night, who follow the herds in the White Valley. Wise are they who anger not the gods, and who fly before the rising storm. There is a path from the valley for the strangers, the path by which they came; and when the sun stares forth again upon the world, the way shall be open, and there shall be safety for you until your travel ends in the quick world whither you go. You were foolish; now you are wise. It is time to depart; seek not to return, that we may have peace and you safety. When the world cometh to her spring again we shall meet.” Then he turned and was gone, with Trafford’s voice ringing after him, — “Shangi! Shangi!”

They ran out swiftly, but he had vanished. In the valley where the moonlight fell in icy coldness a herd of cattle was moving, and their breath rose like the spray from sea-beaten rocks, and the sound of their breathing was borne upwards to the watchers.

At daybreak they rode down into the valley. All was still. Not a trace of life remained; not a hoof-mark in the snow, nor a bruised blade of grass. And when they climbed to the plateau and looked back, it seemed to Trafford and his companions, as it seemed in after years, that this thing had been all a fantasy. But Hester’s face was beside them, and it told of strange and unsubstantial things. The shadows of the middle world were upon her. And yet again when they turned at the last there was no token. It was a northern valley, with sun and snow, and cold blue shadows, and the high hills — that was all.

Then Hester said: “O Just, I do not know if this is life or death — and yet it must be death, for after death there is forgiveness to those who repent, and your face is forgiving and kind.”

And he — for he saw that she needed much human help and comfort — gently laid his hand on hers and replied: “Hester, this is life, a new life for both of us. Whatever has been was a dream; whatever is now,” — and he folded her hand in his — “is real; and there is no such thing as forgiveness to be spoken of between us. There shall be happiness for us yet, please God!”

“I want to go to Falkenstowe. Will — will my mother forgive me?”

“Mothers always forgive, Hester, else half the world had slain itself in shame.”

And then she smiled for the first time since he had seen her. This was in the shadows of the scented pines; and a new life breathed upon her, as it breathed upon them all, and they knew that the fever of the White Valley had passed away from them forever.

After many hardships they came in safety to the regions of the south country again; and the tale they told, though doubted by the race of pale-faces, was believed by the heathen; because there was none among them, but as he cradled at his mother’s breasts, and from his youth up, had heard the legend of the Scarlet Hunter.

For the romance of that journey, it concerned only the man and the woman to whom it was as wine and meat to the starving. Is not love more than legend, and a human heart than all the beasts of the field or any joy of slaughter?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Information, Please.

I just realized that I highly recommended an upcoming album without mentioning its name or any particulars about it. It’s called We Are the Pipettes, is to be released in the UK on July 20th, and the label is Memphis Industries. No US release date that I can find.

I guess I unconsciously write for an audience already deeply entrenched in the pop-music scene, who are willing to do the legwork to find things their curiosity is piqued by, and who perhaps, like me, are sick of reading reviews that repeat the same information over and over again. In my endeavor to say something unusual, I often end up saying nothing useful.

Oh, and Information, Please was a remarkable, long-running radio show starring educator and critic Clifton Fadiman as the host, with a weekly panel of well-informed and amusing people like newspaper columnist and poet Franklin P. Adams, sportswriter and naturalist John Kieran, and composer and enfant terrible Oscar Levant, plus a couple of spots that would change out every week; guests I’ve heard include directors, actors, musicians, politicians, poets, novelists, artists, newspapermen, historians, explorers, scientists and, memorably, a Chinese general. The sensibility of the show was quiet and unruffled (although Levant stirred things up in a minor way), an urbane and intellectual chat among people who respected one another and were not ashamed to admit they didn’t know things. The object of the show, of course, was for the panel to answer questions sent in by listeners: typical questions would be to name three unusual bathing customs in the ancient world, to name Shakespearean plays suggested by short pieces of music, or to name three people who became rulers of a land they were not born in. Answers were included; if the panelists got one or two answers wrong — depending on the difficulty of the question — the listener who had sent the question in would get a cash prize plus a set of encyclopedias. That such a show could run today, on a commercial network, and be so successful as to last twenty years, is of course not within the range of thinkable thoughts. More’s the pity.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Heaven in Polka Dots.

I am not sure there’s a currently-working musical act that I’ve fallen more completely in love with than the Pipettes.

Let me explain. No, is too complicated, let me sum up: I’ve been a devotee of the girl-group sound of the 1960s for years, especially the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las, two very New York groups of girls who served as a major inspiration for Blondie, Holly & the Italians and other new wave bands. I’m an aficionado of producers like Phil Spector, Shadow Morton, Jack Nietszche, and whoever was running the boards for the Supremes. (Not Berry Gordy, surely?) I’m just as fascinated by the unknowns and the also-rans: Rhino’s new One Kiss Can Lead to Another box set is kind of a wet dream of shimmering sounds, overly dramatic vocals, and cooing lyrics that account for a great deal of what I think of as pop music. And the music’s descendents, Kirsty MacColl chiefly among them, who used the glossy, gorgeous sound to deliver more personal, and often bitter, satirical, or simply comic, songs.

So, the Pipettes. I’ve known about them for a while: a British group of girls in polka-dot dresses, singing quaint, sassy songs. I downloaded few singles, a lot of demos, thought “that’s cute,” and went back to Belle & Sebastian and other Now Pop artists.

Sure, the “I Like a Boy in Uniform (School Uniform)” single made it onto a playlist, but I agreed with some Pitchfork writer that it was probably their greatest achievement, and that they wouldn’t really go to the next level until they got some real songwriters giving them material that could do justice to their admittedly-gorgeous harmonies.

Then their debut album was released. (Or, rather, will be released next month. Yes, I am a bad person. In my defense, I’ll buy it even as an import. And maybe a second copy to convert the unconverted.) I listened to it as one of many albums I listen to, often only once or twice. But a couple hours later I came back to it. Then again, and again. I could not stop listening to it. (Or to Lily Allen’s demos at roughly the same time. But that’s another, if similar, story.)

The album is a pocket-sized universe. I’m neither afraid nor embarrassed to compare it to Pet Sounds. Yes, I said it. Pet Sounds. It is a pop masterpiece with roots in the 60s, a post-feminist attitude from yesterday morning, a very British ear for the nuanced comedy inherent in relationships, and one of the most perfect examples of wielding all the resources of the recording studio as an instrument since the heyday of ABBA. Spector comparisons can and undoubtedly will be made, but Shadow Morton and British genius/loony Joe Meek are closer to the point, while Brian Wilson’s elusive shade flickers just on the periphery. Each song can be unpacked for references and allusions to other pop songs; here’s the opening drumbeat to “Be My Baby,” followed by the opening guitar chord from the Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey.” There a quick whiff of “The Loco-Motion,” and over there is the epic dramatic space of “The Leader of the Pack.”

But they never spill over into mere nostalgia; they’re too canny for the shoop-shoop-delang-delangs that less sophisticated artists might use as girl-group signifiers. The songs vacillate between sexual one-upmanship and sarcastic heartbreak; they don’t want to fall in love or you to fall in love with them, they just want to dance with you, shag you and leave you; they laugh at your attempts at seduction; they brood cynically about love lost, denied, or missing; they tell cheeky stories about other girls whose love affairs tend towards sinister ends. Pulp is an obvious forebear, but they come from a long line of scarred romantics including Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and the Rolling Stones’ pre-Satanic Majesties ballads. And Kirsty MacColl, of course.

(I recently managed to find a digital copy of Kirsty’s long-0ut-of-print debut vinyl album, much of which has never been released on CD. It’s the patterning work here, even if the Pipettes never heard it.)


But then the album ends with a glorious, soaring resolution, as the girls sing “I love you, I love you, I love you” over and over again, as if to make up for all the loves deferred, lost, or laughed at over the rest of the album: the tears, the anger, the bitchiness all forgotten in the cascading bliss of new love, like the end of a satisfying romance novel (I’ve been re-reading Austen lately; I’m a sucker for that stuff), the promise of undying faithfulness: “there will never come a time when we have to say goodbye, because I love you.

I don’t know how much of the album’s sonic detail and sheer beauty is due to the three girls who make up the face of the Pipettes, or how much is due to the anonymous rest of the band, producers, whoever. (Liner notes will no doubt in due time relieve all anxiety.) But it doesn’t matter, either: loving the Ronettes doesn’t require knowing all about Phil Spector, but simply listening to the songs and being caught up in the whole tragi-romantic drama of it all.

Girl stuff, I guess you’d call it.

Oh well; I’ve always liked girls better than guys, anyway.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Dornford Yates, “And the Other Left”

This is the first in many (I hope) reprints of public-domain short stories, specifically from what I call the High Victorian and Edwardian period: roughly 1880 to 1920. In the United States of America, where I am, everything published before 1923 is in the public domain. I have a three-foot-high stack of photocopies from the university library of short stories from books, newspapers and magazines published during that time, which I plan to post to this blog at the rate of one a week. (At that rate, it will take ten years to post them all. By the way.)

Dornford Yates, the writer of this first installment, was an English writer of short stories and thrillers who believed sincerely in the superiority of the British people, who took the rigid class lines he grew up with in the 1890s for granted, and who loathed and despised Germans, Jews, and the colored races. He also had great skill in light persiflage, as his “Berry” stories about the Pleydell family illustrate, and could wax lyrically about natural beauty in an unselfconscious way that recalls Romantics like Wordsworth and Keats.

This story is taken from the book The Courts of Idleness, published in 1919.

“Anybody would think you were bored to find me here,” said Bill Courtier.

“Would they? I simply didn’t know you were coming. That’s all.”

“What’s that to do with it? Why — ”

“Oh, everything. And now, if you don’t mean to go and fish, or anything, do be quiet and let me read.”

With that, the Hon. Dolly Loan bent her fair head once more over her novel and turned over a page with an aggrieved air. The slight frown hanging about her straight brows suggested concentration, which had been disturbed once and really must not be disturbed again. Courtier started to fill a pipe thoughtfully.

Hitch a fortnight in Scotland on to the end of a London season, and you will swear by the simple life — till you are once again standing in the hall at the Carlton, considering the advisability of going on to a Night Club. It was the fourth day of August, and Dolly Loan and her companion were sitting on the verandah of the Flows’ shooting-lodge at Yait. Forty-six miles from the nearest post office, all among woods and mountains and broken, scrambling waters, Yait is as retired a pleasance as ever was known. Half its charm lies in its inaccessibility. Once drift into the shelter Yait affords, and people simply cannot get at you. In these stressful days it is, as it were, sanctuary.

When his old friends, the Flows, had asked Bill Courtier to make one of the small house-party, he had been forced to refuse the invitation. They and he were alike sorry, but it could not be helped. He had promised to go to Dorset only the day before. Then, at the last moment, his prospective hostess had been taken suddenly ill, so he had wired joyfully to the Flows to know if he might come to Yait, after all. The text of his telegram was characteristic.

“Dorset stunt off have you a bed left I have some nerve haven’t I?”

So was their reply.

“No but you can sleep in the stable yes but then you always had.”

Which was how Bill Courtier came to be staying at Yait, and why Dolly Loan was greatly surprised to find him there, when she arrived two days later.

The two were old friends. At least, they had known one another pretty intimately for three years. Dolly was twenty-four and pretty enough to figure in one or another of the weekly periodicals more or less frequently. Sometimes she was described as “The Beautiful and Talented Daughter of Lord Merlin,” sometimes as “A Society Favourite.” Once her photograph had been entitled “An English Rose.” And it wasn’t a bad description either. For she was English to the tips of her pointed fingers, and as fresh as a rose, new-opened before the sun is high.

With eyes half closed, Courtier regarded her meditatively, sitting there, reading with a little air of severity that he did not understand. This was a Dolly that he had not seen before. He was one of the few who had ever beheld her serious; once he had seen her sad. Once, too, in his presence she had flashed out at staid Tag Ewing, a brother-subaltern.

The three had been sitting together at Ranelagh. Out of mischief Dolly had demanded a cigarette. As soon as it was alight, “I suppose you think I oughtn’t to smoke, Mr. Ewing,” she had said mockingly. Very gently, “Not here or now,” he had answered. Dolly had gasped, and then turned on Ewing and rent him for an “impertinent preacher.” The next moment she had flung the cigarette away, caught her offender by the arm and was crying: “I’m sorry, Tag. I know you’re right, and I’m sorry. I’m just a child, Tag, aren’t I?” she added artlessly.

“Yes,” said Tag solemnly.

So Courtier had seen her angry. But her demeanour this August afternoon was something quite new. And, since he believed he knew her better than anyone, he could not get over it. Possibly she was tired, for Yait was a hundred odd miles from her father’s lodge in Argyll, and she had not long arrived, after motoring all the way. Possibly. Yet the soft colour of health springing in her cheeks, her easy, upright pose in her chair, her very absorption in her book, gave the lie direct to such a notion. Besides, she had just had a cold bath.

The eyes that Courtier was watching stole up and away from the page to gaze for a minute over the peaceful glen and the toss of the steep woods beyond. Then the faint frown died, and for an instant the lips moved ever so slightly. The next moment the Hon. Dolly shut her book with a bang.

“If the man isn’t going to amuse me,” she said, “I shall go for a walk.”

And the tone was the tone of Dolly. If taken aback, Courtier was visibly relieved.

“I like that,” he began. “You go and — ”

“I dare say I do. Why shouldn’t I? I am Dolly.”

“That’s the devil of it.”

“What I really want to know,” said my lady, “is why my host and hostess were not here to receive me.”

“Probably because, as you said, you are Dolly. By the way, did you bring a paper?”

With a faint smile, his companion shook her head.

“I’m afraid not,” she said slowly. “I’m so sorry. It’s awful not having anything to read sometimes, isn’t it? Here,” she added suddenly, picking up her novel. “You can have this. I’m going —— ”

“From bad to worse,” said Courtier, taking the book, to send it skimming the length of the verandah. “Pretty rapidly, too. There are times when I almost fear for you.”

“You don’t?” said Dolly with sudden interest. “How awfully exciting! Do your knees knock together? When you’re fearing, I mean? By the way, that novel cost six shillings, and now you’ve broken its back.”

“Have you change for a sovereign?” said Courtier, feeling in his pocket.

“No, but you can pay me to-morrow,” said Dolly. “This is splendid. Isn’t there anything else you can destroy? I’m saving up for a new sponge, you know.”

“I absolutely refuse to contribute towards your aquatic ventures,” said Bill firmly. “To my great personal inconvenience, you have occupied bathrooms for an outrageous time all over England on more occasions than I like to remember. The six shillings must be spent upon another copy of the same novel. I have long waited to see you turn over a new leaf.”

“Good old Bill,” said Dolly, laying a small hand upon his sleeve with a maddening smile. “And he’s never said how he likes my new brogues.”

“Who looks at the moon before the sunset?” said Courtier gallantly. “My eyes never get any further down than your ankles.”

Dolly Loan broke into a little peal of laughter.

“A compliment!” she cried delightedly. “When did he think it out? Oh, Bill, you’ll be worthy of your name yet!”

Courtier laughed.

“If you’re like this at twenty-four, what’ll you be in ten years’ time?” he said.

“Thirty-four,” said Dolly pensively. “By that time I shall probably have one husband and two children, and instead of saying I’m pretty, they’ll call me handsome. But that’s a long way ahead. A long, long way. . . . So you got here on Sunday?” she added suddenly.

The other nodded.

“After starting on Thursday, too. Nothing but trouble with the car after I crossed the border. When Tag comes, I’ll have the engine down.”

“He’ll be here to-morrow, won’t he?” said Dolly, gazing into the distance over the sunlit woods.

Courtier nodded.

“Complete with papers,” he said.

“More papers” — musingly.

“Well, Doll, I haven’t seen one for five days, and —— ”

“Neither have I. We only get two posts a week at Ferret. And I didn’t look at Saturday’s lot when they came. Somehow, I don’t want papers when I’m up North. I like to forget there’s any news or any roar or bustle going on in the world.”

“I’ll be like that in a week,” said Bill. “But the spirit of town life takes a little while to die.”

He paused and let his eyes wander luxuriously over the prospect before them. The solemn peace over all lent the scene something more than dignity. Natural grandeur had taken on the majesty that is of silence alone. After a moment:

“It’s wonderful to think the ’buses are still swinging down Piccadilly, isn’t it?”

“They’re not,” said Dolly with conviction. “London’s been a great dream. That’s all. And now we’ve woken up.”

“But they are,” said Courtier. “And the traffic’s writhing through the City, and the pavements of Regent are crammed, and taxis are crawling up Bond Street, and queues are beginning to form up for theatres and music-halls, and —— ”

“‘But I’m here,
And you’re here,
So what do we care?’”

Dolly flung out the words of the song with initmitable abandon. She had a sweet voice. Bill Courtier joined in.

“‘Time and place
Do not count. . . .’”

As they finished on the chorus:

“As sung on the London — if you please — music-hall stage, Edison Bell Record,” said Bill. “Much virtue in dreams.”

A step on the verandah made them look round. The next moment a man-servant was at Courtier’s side with a telegram.

“For me?” said Bill surprisedly.

“Yes, sir.”

“A wire for someone at Yait!” yawned Dolly. “The population of seven will faint with excitement. How on earth did it come?”

As the servant opened his mouth to reply:

“My God!” said Bill quietly. And then “My God!” again.

Then he stood up quickly.

“Bill, what’s the matter?” cried Dolly, laying hold on his sleeve. There was that in his face that frightened her.

Courtier turned to the servant.

“There’s no answer,” he said. “And I want my things packed at once.”

“Yes, sir.”

As the man left the verandah, Courtier handed Dolly the form.

It ran:

“Return instantly France and Germany at war England certain to declare on Germany to-night Tag.”

“Oh, Bill!” breathed Dolly, rising.

For a moment the two stood looking at one another. Then Courtier broke into a light laugh and crossed to the balustrade.

“Quick work,” he said, knocking out his pipe on the rail. “And now don’t talk for a minute, Doll. I want to think.”

Leisurely he began to fill his pipe, and a moment later he fell a-whistling the refrain whose words they had been singing together. Abstractedly, though, for his brain was working furiously. Dolly Loan never took her eyes from his face. He did not look at her at all.

When the pipe was filled, he pressed down the tobacco, folded his pouch very carefully, and slipped them both into his pocket. Then he turned to the girl.

“I shall go straight for Edinburgh,” he said. “Will you lend me your car?”

“Of course. In fact, I’ll come —— ”

“No. You’ll stop here. Your chauffeur can come to take the car back. If I can’t get a train at Edinburgh, perhaps I’ll go for Carlisle. And now may I tell him to get her ready?”


He passed quickly across the verandah to the room behind. At the wide-open door he turned.

“So it’s come at last,” he said, with a great light in his eyes. “‘Made in Germany.’ ’M! They make a lot of rotten things there; we’ll see how they can make war.” Here his glance met Dolly’s. “Good little girl,” he said gently. “I’ll write to you on a drum. Don’t go away. I’m coming back to say ‘Good-bye.’”

Dolly stared after him. Then she sat down in a chair and tried to think. She read the telegram over again dazedly. All the time the lilt of the music-hall ditty danced in her head mercilessly. War! Yes, of course. What of it? There had been wars before. The war in South Africa, for instance. But this . . . not twenty hours from England. Perhaps not ten. And all among the places she knew. Rheims, Strassburg with its red roofs and its old cathedral, the one spire looking like some lonely twin; Cologne and the curling Rhine; Frankfurt with its proud Palm Garden; Dresden, the dear sleepy place where she had been at school. Her thoughts leaped for a second to the cool house in Lessing Strasse, with the plane-trees along its front and the old stone fountain that never played. War! Still, it was not the thought of the ‘area’ that wrought the catch in her breath. Familiarity with places made it exciting, rather. But . . . Courtier was her very good friend. He was — well, he was Bill — Bill Courtier. No, Bill. That was all but it was a great deal. As for Tag . . .

She got up and leaned over the balustrade. ‘So what do we care? Time and place do not count.’ The mockery of the words blazed at her, while at the back of her brain the haunting number ramped tirelessly on. There rose and fell the sunlit landscape, calm and exquisite as ever, but not for her eyes, so black the magic of the flimsy form in her hand. Looking now, she found the sunlight brazen, the smile upon the face of Nature grim, the almighty peace of the place nought but a giant satire, bitter indeed. ‘So what do we care? Time and place —— ’

“I like that man,” said Courtier, stepping out of the smoking-room. “He uses his brain. Most servants would have started packing my trunk. He’s pushed the things I’ll want into a suit-case, and says he’ll send the other luggage after me. Your chauffeur’s a good sort, too. Simply spreading himself. As soon as he’s ready, he’s going to sound the horn. I’ve just about got time for a cigarette. One for you, Doll?”

Mechanically she took a cigarette from his case. When he had lighted it for her:

“Sorry I shan’t see the others. Just show them the wire, and they’ll understand.”

She nodded.

“Don’t look so serious, Doll,” he said suddenly. “It’s only going to be another dream, you know, and when it’s all over we’ll come back here and wake up.”

She raised her eyes at that and swung round. So they stood facing one another.

“I can’t laugh, Bill,” she said quickly. “I don’t believe you’ve appreciated it yet. Perhaps you never will. Soldiers are like that. Besides, it’s — it’s their show now. Only lookers-on. . . . And I think I’ve appreciated it — realized what it means — all at once. And it’s awful.”

For a moment Courtier looked at her — the thick dark hair parted above the left temple, sweeping over the right, and rippling as no coiffeur could ordain, the steady brown eyes strangely solemn for once, the lips that were made for laughter unnaturally set; below them, the lift of the chin, very dainty, and the soft white throat standing for tenderness. Then he threw his cigarette away and laid his hands upon her shoulders.

“Doll,” he said.

Her lips formed the word “Yes?”

“Doll, I’m going away for a while, but I’m coming back, and then we’ll have better times than ever we had before. And — oh, Doll, I love you better than anything in the world. I always have. And I want to marry you when I come back . . . ” He stopped, dropped a hand from her shoulder, and turned to gaze at the woods and the glen and the sinking sun. And a great smile swept into his face, a boy’s smile, the smile of a child. “There!” he went on triumphantly. “I’ve wanted to say that for years, and somehow I never could.”

He seemed to speak with pride, almost with defiance.

The Hon. Dolly Loan never moved.

“You’ve — wanted — to say that — for years,” she repeated dully. “You’ve wanted . . . Oh, why —— ” She checked the wail in her voice suddenly. “Bill, you mustn’t speak to me like this. Not now, or ever again. You see, I just can’t, Bill. Not marry you. I’m awfully fond of you, but . . . It’s difficult to explain. I’ll tell you one day, and then you’ll — you’ll understand. I mean — oh, Bill, I’m so sorry.”

The words came with a rush at the last, anyhow.

Courtier stood motionless, staring into the distance, his one hand still on her shoulder. Then he took a deep breath. She could feel him pull himself together. A moment later the hand slipped away, and he turned.

“That’s all right, Doll,” he said simply.

“Oh, Bill.”

He laughed easily.

“Any way,” he said, smiling. “I’ll write to her. On a drum, too.”

The gruff hoot of a motor-horn came from the other side of the lodge.

Very gently he raised her slim right hand to his lips, smiled and nodded. Then for a moment he held the fingers tight.

“Good-bye, dear,” he said.

As he turned:

“Bill,” said Dolly.

“Yes, dear?”

“I’d like you to kiss me, all — all the same.”

He would have kissed her cheek, but she put up her warm red mouth and slid her arms round his neck.

* * *

The stuff had to be fetched somehow. That was clear. And there it was, waiting at Lence, twenty-three kilometres away. Nitro-glycerine.

“Let me go, sir,” said Courtier. “It’s an officer’s job, and you can’t ask a raw chauffeur chap to take it on. Not that he wouldn’t, every time. But . . . And Ewing’ll come with me. He’s a better mechanic than I am, supposing she did break down.”

“My two Englishmen?” said the French general. “How should I spare you?”

“For less than an hour and a half, sir.”

“I would have sent Pierrefort,” muttered the other.

But the daring driver lay face upwards in the white moonlight, with one foot twisted under him and his eyes wide and staring as never in life. Beside him sprawled the ruin of a great automobile.

“We ought to go now, sir, if we’re to get it to-night,” said Ewing.

For a moment the general stared at the two young Guardsmen who were attached to his staff. Then:

“After all,” he said slowly, “it is Englishmen’s work. Listen. I am not sending you. Only I give you the leave to go. But I bid you return safe. That I command. Take Librand with you. He is a good soldier, though he does not know the front from the back of a car.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The Frenchman rose to his feet suddenly.

“After all, the good God is in heaven,” he said.

* * *

The forty-horse-power Clement had seen better days — merrier ones, any way. Once she had carried a great touring body, rich in leather upholstery, its panels gleaming, the sheen of its fittings matchless — a dream, all blue and silver. Beauty had been handed out of her doors. Gallantry had sat at her wheel. Laughter and dainty voices had floated from under her hood. More than once love had been made above her floorboards. At Biarritz she had been the car of her year. So, for a while, she had flashed through life handsomely. To be exact, for some thirty months, and miles without number. Thereafter she had been purchased by a garage at Lyons. She had been given a landaulette body, built for another car, and the syndicate hired her out, as and when she was wanted. That was often. Never silent, she had become noisy, but she still went like the wind. Sometimes she was greedy, but so long as they gave her her fill, she never went wrong. So, for two years. Then one day they put a van-body on her, and she went to the war.

“What about head-lights?” said Courtier suddenly. “The moon —— ”

“May be able to do without them coming back,” said Ewing, wiping his hands on a rag, “but going — no; must have them. As for their attracting attention, they’d hear us, any way.”

Courtier laughed.

“Right-o,” he said. “And here’s Librand.” The man came up panting. “Sergeant,” he added in French, “give me a hand with this petrol. No. Go and get some water in a can. We must give the old lady a drink.”

Ten minutes later, they swung out of a side-street on to the Lence road. Somewhere a clock struck the half-hour. Half-past three. Three minutes later they were clear of the little town.

If the French could hold Otto, as they were holding Lence, for another three days, all would be very well, and the allied forces would be up to and in possession of the twenty odd kilometres of country that lay between. At the moment the enemy were attacking both the towns vigorously, for they were seemingly more than reluctant to advance between them — though there was nothing to bar their way — till one of the two, at any rate, had been reduced. For the time being, therefore, the road from Otto to Lence was no man’s land. In three days it would probably be in the hands of the Allies, any way. Till then there was nothing to prevent the enemy taking it, if they pleased. According to aviators, they had not pleased up to six the evening before — nine and a half hours ago.

It was awfully cold. That was thanks to the pace at which they were going, as much as the night air. Courtier was ‘putting her along’ properly. By his side sat Ewing, his hands thrust deep into his great-coat pockets, his eyes fixed, like the other’s, on the broad white ribbon of road ahead of them, straight for miles at a stretch. The sergeant sat on the footboard, with his feet on the step. A strap had been buckled across to keep him in.

“Isn’t it glorious?” said Courtier suddenly. “Just the night for a joy ride. Wish I’d got some thicker gloves, though.”

“Joy ride?” said Ewing indignantly. “This is, without exception, the most horrifying experience I’ve ever had. I know you’re supposed to be a good driver, but why — why exploit the backlash? Why emulate the Gadarene swine? For Heaven’s sake, steady her for the corner, man.”

“No corner, old chap. It’s the shadow that cottage is throwing. See?” They flashed by the white-washed walls. “And now don’t make me laugh, Tag. We’ve got to get there, you know.”

“That,” said Ewing, “is exactly my point. Besides, it’s all very well, but I came out here to be shot, not to have my neck broken. This isn’t Coney Island, you know.” Here they encountered a culvert, and the van leaped bodily into the air. “I warn you,” he said severely, “that if you do that again, you may consider yourself under arrest.”

He stopped. Courtier was shaking with a great silent laughter. Consciously or unconsciously his usually serious brother-officer was in form this night of the nights. At length:

“Oh, Tag,” he gasped, “you are a fool. How’s the sergeant getting on?”

“Died of fright at the culvert,” said Ewing gravely, “about three miles back. Thank Heaven, here’s a bit of a rise.”

They flew by cross roads and on up the long, slight gradient. It could not be called a hill.

“That’s the main road to Very,” said Courtier with a jerk of his head to the right. “I remember this part well. It’s flat again in a moment for about half a mile. Road runs through a wood. There you are. Then there’s a fairly steep hill with another wood at the top. There’s a corner there, I know.”

“Where?” said Ewing.

“On top of the hill in the wood. Not this one. We’re just about half way. Hullo!”

The thud of a big gun sounded in the distance. For the first time Librand shifted in his place on the foot-board.

“Having another smack at Lence,” said Ewing. “Or was it behind us?”

Courtier shook his head.

“No. It was Lence all right. Listen.”

Two more thuds followed each other in quick succession. There was no doubt about the direction this time. The attack upon Lence had been renewed.

And now they were out of the wood and taking the hill with a rush. Half way up, Courtier slipped into third, and the van roard out of the moonlight and into the next wood grandly. The land lay exactly as he had said. As they rounded the corner, Librand shifted again and peered into the darkness beyond the scudding beam of the head-lights. He was looking a little towards the left.

“What is it sergeant?” said Ewing, speaking in French. “You’re the wrong side for the Germans, you know.”

“Ah! My lieutenant will forgive me. I was not thinking of the enemy. There is somewhere here a sudden gap in the wood. In daylight one stands there and looks away down into the valley. There one can see a little farm. I have seen it so very often, but not now for thirty-seven years. It is the farm where I was born, lieutenant,” he added naïvely, as if everyone was born at some farm or other.

“Thirty-seven years, and now it’s too dark,” said Ewing. “What a shame! You must look out for it on the way back.” And he pointed to the grey look in the sky over towards the east.

“But no, my lieutenant,” said the Frenchman. “It will be too dark still. Besides, I shall be on the other side then. It does not matter at all. I shall see it again one day. Two fortune-tellers have said this. I am to die there, where I was born. It is a good thing to know,” he added contentedly.

“So?” said Courtier. “Thanks very much. I know you’re not superstitious, Tag, but I rather think we look out for this precious wood on the way home.”

“I hope you will,” said Ewing. “That corner’s just the place for a nasty skid.”

The van fled on over the broad highway. Here, for a quarter of a mile, tall silent poplars lined it on either side, their shadows ribbing the pale road with darkness; and here low, thick-growing bushes marked the edge of a stream that ran by their side for a while, and then curled capriciously off under their feet, so that the way rose and fell to suffer its passage. Now they swept through a village, whitewashed houses — deserted — on either side. In the short street the steady mutter of the engine swelled into a snarl, that shore through the silence fiercely. By rights, dogs should have bayed the matter furiously. . . . And so again out into open country. Under the still moonlight the landscape slumbered very peacefully — untroubled slumber that even the dull thunder ahead could not ruffle.

Five miles later they slowed down for the Lence outposts.

As they ran into the town:

“Twenty-one minutes to the tick,” said Ewing, looking at his watch. “And not a sight of a German all the way. If we don’t strike the blighters on the way home, I shall ask for my money back.”

* * *

By the time the van had been laden with its grim cargo, cock-crow had come and gone. A faint grey light had stolen into the sky, spoiling the moon of her splendour, lending to ways and buildings a look of dull reality in place of the illusive livery of black and silver they had worn before. Men and things were invested with a stern workmanlike air. Which was as it should be, for there was vital work to be done, and done quickly.

Smoking easily, Courtier and Ewing stood talking with three French officers, the better for the hot café-au-lait with which they had just been served. On the other side of the van, Librand was exchanging experiences with two or three comrades-in-arms. From time to time he applied a can of hot coffee to his lips with evident relish. Under the supervision of a sergeant, French soldiers were putting the finishing touches to their bestowal of the explosive. It was not the sort of stuff to have slipping and sliding about at every bend of the road.

At length the packing was over, two soldiers scrambled out of the van, and the sergeant closed and fastened the high back doors, lifting the crossbar into its place and thrusting the pin through the staple. The Clement was ready for the run of her life.

“The carriage waits,” said Courtier, throwing away his cigarette. “Come along, brother, or we shall miss the curtain-raiser.”

He spoke in French, and the three officers laughed wonderingly.

“You are brave fellows,” said one of them. “It is not everyone who would escort Madame Nitro-Glycerine to the theatre.”

“She is no worse than other women,” said Courtier. “You take a girl to the theatre. If she does not like the play, she blows up.”

The next minute he had started the engine.

As he was settling himself behind the wheel:

“Better let me have your revolver,” said Ewing. “You wouldn’t be able to use it any way.”

With a sigh the other handed over the weapon.

“Now I really feel like a chauffeur,” he said disgustedly. “Is the sergeant all right?”


Crying their good wishes, the French officers stepped back from the van. Courtier let in the clutch, and she began to move.

Au revoir. Bon voyage,” called the Frenchmen.

Au revoir. So long,” came the reply.

Then they swung out of the sentried yard into the cobbled street.

The firing had slackened a little. At one time, whilst they were waiting at Lence, it had been very heavy. The town’s reply seemed to have silenced one of the enemy’s guns, but, beyond a shattered searchlight, the defenders had suffered little or no damage.

“What’s the time?” said Courtier suddenly.

“Five-and-twenty to five,” said Ewing. “I didn’t think the loading would have taken so long.”

“Nor did I. However.” They turned out of the market-place on to the Otto road. “S’pose I mustn’t go all out now,” he said gloomily. “Not with this soothing syrup on board.”

“As long as you’ve got her in hand,” said Ewing. Then: “Did you mark where the culverts came?”

The other nodded.

“Three, weren’t there?”

“Yes. I’ll tell you when to stand by.”

Two minutes later they were clear of the outposts.

Like the little town behind them, the road and the countryside had taken on a look of soberness. With the grey light of dawn, the shadows had fled. Fantasy, with all her shining train, was gone westward. The brave showy the moonlight had made was over. The world about them seemed to be cleared for action.

As before, the sergeant sat on the foot-board at Ewing’s feet. After a while he plucked a great revolver from under his coat, and held it ready for use in his right hand. With the left he laid hold of the strap that should keep him in. Above him Ewing sat motionless, his hands as deep as ever in the great pockets of his coat, his eyes never lifting from the pale road tapering into the distance. Courtier leaned comfortably against the short back of the seat, his chin lifted a little, smiling easily into the rush of the air that swept over the lower half of the wind-screen steadily, like a long, cold wave. He might have been driving up from Newmarket after a good day.

So presently they came to the silent village, and the stream flowing beyond it, and the long ranks of poplars lining the way.

As they dropped into the wood, Ewing made as though he would draw his hands out of his pockets. Then he changed his mind suddenly, and let them stay where they were. A smile at his own impulse flickered over his face. But Courtier had seen the movement with the tail of his eye and laughed outright.

“‘Just the place for a nasty skid,’” he quoted amusedly, taking out the clutch.

And it would have been, if the road had been at all greasy. All the same, they rounded the corner carefully — to see the German uniforms seventy paces away.

Infantry, about a hundred strong, marching towards them in a dense mas: all on the slope of the steep hill midway between the upper and the lower wood.

At one and the same moment they saw and were seen. For a fraction of a second they stared — the one at the other. Then, with a cry, Courtier let in the clutch and pressed the accelerator right down. . . .

It was their only chance, and slight as a hair at that. Death in front of them, death swaying behind them. . . . Put an odd bullet into the body of the van and all in Lence and Otto alike would know the face of their nitro-glycerine.

The Clement leaped forward like a thing gone mad. The grey mass had halted, and an officer was shouting and fumbling at his holster. Ewing fired with his left hand, resting his wrist on the wind-screen; his right arm lay across Courtier’s shoulder. He would cover him on that side if he could. The sergeant was on his feet firing.

As the officer fell, the mass shivered and broke — too late. Into and over the grey uniforms — that was the way of the van. Literally she ploughed her way through, heaving, rocking, leaping, hurling herself along, hoarse screams of agony and terror ringing her round. Courtier clung to the wheel desperately, helping her all he could. Ewing had lost his balance and lay on his side on the seat, his right arm stretched behind Courtier, blazing away over the Stepney wheel. The sergeant was leaning out at the side, wielding his empty revolver, roaring like one possessed, roaring, roaring. . . . Then a German officer fired full in his face, and he pitched forward heavily on to the broad highway.

It was the only shot the enemy fired. The miracle had happened, and they had come through — they and the death swaying behind them.

“Is she all right?” said Ewing, meaning the van.

The other nodded.

“I think so. Don’t ask me why? Thank God, it was foot,” he added jerkily. “I couldn’t have done it to horses to save my life.”

“Bet there are more behind,” said Ewing laconically, trying desperately to reload. The pace was against him. “Those chaps had come from Very.”

“And turned at the cross roads?”


“We’ll be there in a second now. If the others aren’t up —— ”

“We can go as we please for the rest of the way to Otto. If they are . . .”

“She’ll never stand it again,” said Courtier. “The steering’ll go. Besides —— That’s done it,” he added quietly.

They were out of the lower wood by now, and there, at the foot of the rise, was the head of a German column wheeling out of the road on the left-hand side — the road to Very. Only the head of a column, a bare handful of men — so far. But behind, beyond, blocking the road to Otto, utterly cutting them off, was drawn up a squadron of Uhlans, waiting to see the infantry over the cross roads.

“Straight at ’em,” said Ewing. “And when we’re well in, if they haven’t plugged the nitro stuff, I’ll do it mys—— No!” he roared suddenly. “No! Take the road on the right, Bill. Take the road on the right.”

“I’ll try,” yelled Courtier. “She’ll break in half, but I’ll try.”

It is a cool-headed fellow who will stand fast and take deliberate aim, full in the path of an onrushing car. Had they but known of the death that lay in the van, so easy to loose, it might have been otherwise. The few men that had wheeled stared and shrank back dazedly. Others, unseeing, came on out of the Very road, treading upon the heels of those in front. In a moment all was confusion. Some of them turned to fly, one tripped and fell in the road. And, behind, the front rank of the Uhlans shouted and raved impotently.

The Clement tore down the slope desperately. If she could take the corner, her way was fairly clear. The stumbling, shouting, frantic mass of men was writhing on the very cross of the roads. On two sides their comrades and the Uhlans blocked their chance of safety. A few had started to rush down the road on the right.

As they reached the cross roads, Courtier jammed on the foot-brake and wrenched the wheel round. With a rending noise of tires, the great body swung over, pivoting, as it were, on the front wheels and tilting terribly. Half way about, her side met the jam of men like a wall, flying. She just shuddered and swung on, sweeping the broken bodies against the whole behind, and then breaking them in turn. . . . Somebody fired.

It was all the work of a moment, for in the midst of her swing, Courtier straightened her up and let her go. As she leaped forward like a slipped hound, an officer, screaming in German, thrust out his left hand and fired point-blank over the near-side wing.

Courtier shook the blood out of his eyes and glanced at the seat by his side. Ewing was still there.

“My aunt!” he said. Then: “I thought you were gone that time. I held myself in by the wheel.”

“Put her along,” said Ewing thickly.

Then the road curled, and they pelted into the shelter of a belt of trees. They were through.

Nevertheless, they fled along swiftly, watching and waiting for an odd road on the left. So they should come to Otto, or on to the Otto road. . . .

The level-crossing they struck after about seven kilometres came as a glad surprise. No trains running, they had forgotten the line. And now it was only a matter of raising the tall bar — there was the windlass at hand — and pounding along the railway track to Otto. They were as good as home.

Courtier slowed down wearily, for the fiftieth time brushing the trickle of blood away from his eyebrows. A bullet had whipped across his forehead, just cutting the skin.

As the van came to a standstill:

“Oh, Tag,” he said, merriment trying to struggle into his voice, “what a life!”

As if by way of answer, Ewing slid round sideways, with his chin on his chest. Just in time to catch him, Courtier realized with a shock why the screaming officer’s bullet had not exploded the nitro-glycerine. . . .

He got him out and made him as comfortable as he could in the grass by the wayside. After a little he died quietly, as he had lived.

He spoke for a moment or two, just at the end — queer muttering words, with no brain behind them.

“Doll . . . .” The other started ever so slightly. “Dolly girl . . . . always . . . . Love her long lashes and . . . . on the fifth, Doll. So we’ll be at Yait together, and then . . . . I promise. Not even Bill, till the . . . .” He sighed contentedly. Then, “A marriage has been arran—— ”

The poor voice faded. There was a sharp struggle for breath, blood fighting with air in the lungs desperately. Courtier raised him a little, and the blood sank back beaten. But the effort had been too much. A moment later he sighed very wearily, settled his head in the crook of the other’s arm, and just slipped out.

* * *

Fifty minutes later the Clement, her head-lights smashed and bloody, her wings stained and buckled, blood and hair on her steps and wheels and dumb irons, slowed down between the low platforms of Otto’s railway station. And Courtier sat at her wheel listlessly, a dirty handkerchief bound about his forehead, and an old and stricken look in his strong young face. Behind him, the body of Ewing, which had shifted helplessly with every jolt of the van, came to rest easily, with its white face pressed against the packing of the carefully stowed explosive.