The Project Gutenberg eBook, Arms and the Woman, by Harold MacGrath
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net
Title: Arms and the Woman
Author: Harold MacGrath
Release Date: December 19, 2005 [eBook #17359]
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ARMS AND THE WOMAN***
E-text prepared by Al Haines
ARMS AND THE WOMAN
Doubleday Page & Company
Copyright, 1899, by
S. S. Mcclure Co.
Copyright, 1899, by
Doubleday and Mcclure Co.
To her, that is to say, to the hand that rocked the cradle.
ARMS AND THE WOMAN
The first time I met her I was a reporter in the embryonic state and she was a girl in short dresses. It was in a garden, surrounded by high red brick walls which were half hidden by clusters of green vines, and at the base of which nestled earth-beds, radiant with roses and poppies and peonies and bushes of lavender lilacs, all spilling their delicate ambrosia on the mild air of passing May. I stood, straw hat in hand, wondering if I had not stumbled into some sweet prison of flowers which, having run disobedient ways in the past, had been placed here by Flora, and forever denied their native meadows and wildernesses. And this vision of fresh youth in my path, perhaps she was some guardian nymph. I was only twenty-two—a most impressionable age. Her hair was like that rare October brown, half dun, half gold; her eyes were cool and restful, like the brown pools one sees in the heart of the forests, and her lips and cheeks cozened the warm vermilion of the rose which lay ever so lightly on the bosom of her white dress. Close at hand was a table upon which stood a pitcher of lemonade. She was holding in her hand an empty glass. As my eyes encountered her calm, inquiring gaze, my courage fled precipitately, likewise the object of my errand. There was a pause; diffidence and embarrassment on my side, placidity on hers.
"Well, sir?" said she, in a voice the tone of which implied that she could readily understand her presence in the garden, but not mine.
As I remember it, I was suddenly seized with a great thirst.
"I should like a glass of your lemonade," I answered, bravely laying down the only piece of money I possessed.
Her stern lips parted in a smile, and my courage came back cautiously, that is to say, by degrees. She filled a glass for me, and as I gulped it down I could almost detect the flavor of lemon and sugar.
"It is very good," I volunteered, passing back the glass. I held out my hand, smiling.
"There isn't any change," coolly.
I flushed painfully. It was fully four miles to Newspaper Row. I was conscious of a sullen pride. Presently the object of my errand returned. Somewhat down the path I saw a gentleman reclining in a canvas swing.
"Is that Mr. Wentworth?" I asked.
"Yes. Do you wish to speak to him? Uncle Bob, here is a gentleman who desires to speak to you."
I approached. "Mr. Wentworth," I began, cracking the straw in my hat, "my name is John Winthrop. I am a reporter. I have called to see if it is true that you have declined the Italian portfolio."
"It is true," he replied kindly. "There are any number of reasons for my declining it, but I cannot make them public. Is that all?"
"Yes, sir; thank you;" and I backed away.
"Are you a reporter?" asked the girl, as I was about to pass by her.
"Yes, I am."
"Do you draw pictures?"
"No, I do not."
"Do you write novels?"
"No," with a nervous laugh.
There is nothing like the process of interrogation to make one person lose interest in another.
"Oh; I thought perhaps you did," she said, and turned her back to me.
I passed through the darkened halls of the house and into the street.
I never expected to see her again, but it was otherwise ordained. We came together three years later at Block Island. She was eighteen now, gathering the rosy flowers of her first season. She remembered the incident in the garden, and we laughed over it. A few dances, two or three evenings on the verandas, watching the sea, moon-lit, as it sprawled among the rocks below us, and the even tenor of my way ceased to be. I appreciated how far she was above me; so I worshipped her silently and from afar. I told her my ambitions, confidences so welcome to feminine ears, and she rewarded me with a small exchange. She, too, was an orphan, and lived with her uncle, a rich banker, who, as a diversion, consented to represent his country at foreign courts. Her given name was Phyllis. I had seen the name a thousand times in print; the poets had idealised it, and the novelists had embalmed it in tender phrases. It was the first time I had ever met a woman by the name of Phyllis. It appealed to my poetic instinct. Perhaps that was the cause of it all. And then, she was very beautiful. In the autumn of that year we became great friends; and through her influence I began to see beyond the portals of the mansions of the rich. Matthew Prior's Chloes and Sir John Suckling's Euphelias lost their charms. Henceforth my muse's name became Phyllis. I took her to the opera when I didn't know where I was going to breakfast on the morrow. I sent her roses and went without tobacco, a privation of which woman knows nothing.
Often I was plunged into despair at my distressed circumstances. Money to her meant something to spend; to me it meant something to get. Her income bothered her because she could not spend it; my income was mortgaged a week in advance, and did not bother me at all. This was the barrier at my lips. But her woman's intuition must have told her that she was a part and parcel of my existence.
I had what is called a forlorn hope: a rich uncle who was a planter in Louisiana. His son and I were his only heirs. But this old planter had a mortal antipathy to my side of the family. When my mother, his sister, married Alfred Winthrop in 1859, at the time when the North and South were approaching the precipice of a civil war, he considered all family ties obliterated. We never worried much about it. When mother died he softened to the extent of being present at the funeral. He took small notice of my father, but offered to adopt me if I would assume his name. I clasped my father's hand in mine and said nothing. The old man stared at me for a moment, then left the house. That was the first and last time I ever saw him. Sometimes I wondered if he would remember me in his will. This, of course, was only when I had taken Phyllis somewhere, or when some creditor had lost patience. One morning in January, five years after my second meeting with Phyllis, I sat at my desk in the office. It was raining; a cold thin rain. The window was blurred. The water in the steam-pipes went banging away. I was composing an editorial which treated the diplomatic relations between this country