Margaret Wade Campbell Deland.

The vehement flame, a novel online

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Made in the United State* of America


Copyright, 1922, by Harper & Brothert
Printed in the United States of America


Together, so many years ago seven, I think,
or eight you and I planned this story. The first
chapters had the help of your criticism . . . then, I
had to go on alone, urged by the memory of your
interest. But all the blunders are mine, not yours;
and any merits are yours, not mine. That it has been
written, in these darkened years, has been because
your happy interest still helped me.

May izihy 1922



Love is as strong as death; jealousy is cruel
as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of
fire, which hath a most vehement flame*


'"FHERE is nothing in the world nobler, and lovelier,.
1 and more absurd, than a boy's lovemaking. And the
joyousness of it! . , .

The boy of nineteen, Maurice Curtis, who on a certain
June day lay in the blossoming grass at his wife's feet and
looked up into her dark eyes, was embodied Joy! The
joy of the warm earth, of the sunshine glinting on the
slipping ripples of the river and sifting through the cream-
white blossoms of the locust which reared its sheltering
branches over their heads; the joy of mating insects
and birds, of the whole exulting, creating universe! the
unself conscious, irresponsible, wholly beautiful Joy of
passion which is without apprehension or humor. The
eyes of the woman who sat in the grass beside this very
young man, answered his eyes with Love. But it was a
more human love than his, because there was doubt in
its exultation. . . .

The boy took out his watch and looked at it.

"We have been married," he said, "exactly fifty-four

"I can't believe it!" she said.

" If I love you like this after fifty-four minutes of mar-
ried life, how do you suppose I shall feel after fifty-four
years of it?" He flung an arm about her waist, and hid


his face against her knee. "We are married!" he said, in
a smothered voice.

She bent over and kissed his thick hair, silently. At
which he sat up and looked at her with blue, eager eyes.

"It just came over me! Oh, Eleanor, suppose I hadn't
got you? You said 'No' six times. You certainly did
behave very badly," he said, showing his white teeth in
a broad grin.

"Some people will say I behaved very badly when I
said 'Yes,'"

"Tell 'em to go to thunder! What does Mrs, Maurice
Curtis (doesn't that sound pretty fine?) care for a lot of
old cats? Don't we know that we are in heaven?" He
caught her hand and crushed it against his mouth. "I
wish," he said, very low, " I almost wish I could die, now,
here! At your feet. It seems as if I couldn't live, I am
so " He stopped. So what? Words are ridiculously
inadequate things! . . . "Happiness" wasn't the name
of that fire in his breast. Happiness? "Why, it's God,"
he said to himself; "God" Aloud, he said, again, "We
are married!"

She did not speak she was a creature of alluring
silences she just put her hand in his. Suddenly she
began to sing; there was a very noble quality in the
serene sweetness of her voice:

"O thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
Through the clear windows of the merging, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Springl"

That last word rose like a flight of wings into the blue
air. Her husband looked at her; for a compelling instant
his eyes dredged the depths of hers, so that all the joyous,
frightened woman in her retreated behind a flutter of

"'O Spring!'" he repeated; "we are Spring, Nelly
you and I. ... I'll never forget the first time I heard
you sing that; snowing like blazes it was, do you remem-


ber? But I swear I felt this hot grass, then, in Mrs.
Newbolt's parlor, with all those awful brioa-brac things
around! Yes," he said, putting his hand on a little sun-
drenched bowlder jutting from the earth beside him; "I
felt this sun on my hand! And when you came to 'O
Spring !' I saw this sky " He stopped, pulled three blades
of grass and began to braid them into a ring. "Lord!"
he said, and his voice was suddenly startled; "what a
darned little thing can throw the switches for a man!
Because I didn't get by in Math. D and EC. 2, and had
. to crawl out to Mercer to cram with old Bradley I met
yoid Eleanor! Isn't it wonderful? A little thing like
I that just falling down in mathematics changed my
whole life?" The wild gayety in his eyes sobered. "I
happened to come to Mercer and, you are my wife."
His fingers, holding the little grassy ring, trembled; but
the next instant he threw himself back on the grass, and
kicked up his heels in a preposterous gesture of ecstasy.
Then caught her hand, slipped the braided ring over that
plain circle of gold which had been on her ringer for
fifty-four minutes, kissed it and the palm of her hand
and said, "You never can escape me! Eleanor, your voice
played the deuce with me. I rushed home and read every
poem in my volume of Blake. Go on; give us the rest."
She smiled:

**,... And let our winds
Kiss thy perfumed garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath! ..."

"Oh stop! I can't bear it," he said, huskily; and;
turning on his face, he kissed the grass, earth's "perfumed
garment," snow-sprinkled with locust blossoms, . , .

But the moment of passion left him serious. "When
I think of Mrs. Newbolt," he said, "I could commit mur-
der." In his own mind he was saying, "I've rescued her!"

"Auntie doesn't mean to be unkind," Eleanor explained;
simply; "only, she never understood me Maurice!
Be careful! There's a little ant don't step on it."


She made him pause in his diatribe against Mrs. New-
"bolt and move his heel while she pushed the ant aside with
a clover blossom. Her anxious gentleness made him laugh,
but it seemed to him perfectly beautiful. Then he went
on about Mrs. Newbolt:

"Of course she couldn't understand you! You might
as well expect a high-tempered cow to understand a
violin solo."

"How mad she'd be to be called a cow! Oh, Maurice,
do you suppose she's got my letter by this time? I left
it on her bureau. She'll rage!"

"Let her rage. Nothing can separate us now."

Thus they dismissed Mrs. Newbolt, and the shock she
was probably experiencing at that very moment, while
reading Eleanor's letter announcing that, at thirty-nine,
she was going to marry this very young man.

"No; nothing can part us," Eleanor said; "forever and
ever." And again they were silent islanded in rippling
tides of wind-blown grass, with the warm fragrance of
dropping locust blossoms infolding them, and in their
ears the endless murmur of the river. Then Eleanor
said, suddenly: "Maurice! Mr. Houghton? What will
he do when he hears? He'll think an 'elopement' is

He chuckled. ' ' Uncle Henry ? He isn't really my uncle,
but I call him that; he won't rage. He'll just whistle.
People of his age have to whistle, to show they're alive.
I have reason to believe," the cub said, "that he 'whistled'
when I flunked in my mid-years. Well, I felt sorry, my-
self on his account," Maurice said, with the serious and
amiable condescension of youth. "I hated to jar him.
But gosh! I'd have flunked A B C's, for this. Nelly, I
tell you heaven hasn't got anything on this! As for
Uncle Henry, I'll write him to-morrow that I had to
get married sort of in a hurry, because Mrs. Newbolt
wanted to haul you off to Europe. He'll understand.
He's white. And he won't really mind after the first
biff; that will take him below the belt, I suppose, poor


old Uncle Henry! But after that, he'll adore you. He
adores beauty."

Her delight in his praise made her almost beautiful;
but she protested that he was a goose. Then she took the
little grass ring from her finger and slipped it into her
pocketbook. "I'm going to keep it always," she said.
"How about Mrs. Houghton?"

"She'll love you! She's a peach. And little Skeezics "

"Who is Skeezics?"

** Edith. Their kid. Eleven years old. She paid me
the compliment of announcing, when she was seven, that
she was going to marry me when she grew up! But I
believe, now, she has a crush on Sir Walter Raleigh.
She'll adore you, too."

"I'm afraid of them all," she confessed; "they won't
like an elopement."

"They'll fall over themselves with joy to think I'm
settled for life! I'm afraid I've been a cussed nuisance
to Uncle Henry," he said, ruefully; "always doing fool
things, you know, I mean when I was a boy. And he's
been great, always. But I know he's been afraid I'd take
a wild flight in actresses."

"'Wild' flight? What will he call " She caught her

"He'll call it a 'wild flight in angels'!" he said.

The word made her put a laughing and protesting hand
(which he kissed) over his lips. Then she said that she
remembered Mr. Houghton: "I met him a long time ago;
when when you were a little boy."

"And yet here you are, 'Mrs. Maurice Curtis!' Isn't
it supreme?" he demanded. The moment was so beyond
Mnords that it made him sophomoric which was appro-
priate enough, even though his freshman year had been
halted by those examinations, which had so "jarred"
his guardian. "I'll be twenty in September," he said.
Evidently the thought of his increasing years gave him
pleasure. That Eleanor's years were also increasing did
not occur to him; and no wonder, for, compared to people


like Mr. and Mrs. Houghton, Eleanor was young enough!
only thirty-nine. It was back in the 'nineties that she
had met her husband's guardian, who, in those days, had
been the owner of a cotton mill in Mercer, but who now,
instead of making money, cultivated potatoes (and tried
to paint). Eleanor knew the Houghtons when they were
Mercer mill folk, and, as she said, this charming youngster
living then in Philadelphia had been "a little boy";
now, here he was, her husband for "fifty-four minutes."
And she was almost forty, and he was nineteen. That
Henry Houghton, up on his mountain farm, pottering
about in his big, dusty studio, and delving among his
potatoes, would whistle, was to be expected.

"But who cares?" Maurice said. "It isn't his funeraL"
"He'll think it's yours," she retorted, with a little
laugh. She was not much given to laughter. Her life had
been singularly monotonous and, having seen very little
of the world, she had that self-distrust which is afraid
to laugh unless other people are laughing, too. She taught
singing at Fern Hill, a private school in Mercer's suburbs.
She did not care for the older pupils, but she was devoted
to the very little girls. She played wonderfully on the
piano, and suffered from indigestion; her face was at times
almost beautiful; she had a round, full chin, and a lovely
red lower lip; her forehead was very white, with soft,
dark hair rippling away from it. Certainly, she had
moments of beauty. She talked very little; perhaps
because she hadn't the chance to talk living, as she did,
with an aunt who monopolized the conversation. She had
no close friends; her shyness was so often mistaken for
hauteur, that she did not inspire friendship in women of
her own age, and Mrs. Newbolt's elderly acquaintances
were merely condescending to her, and gave her good
advice; so it was a negative sort of life. Indeed, her sky
terrier, Bingo, and her laundress, Mrs. O'Brien, to whose
crippled baby grandson she was endlessly kind, knew her
better than any of the people among whom she lived.
"When Maurice Curtis, cramming in Mercer because Des-


tiny had broken his tutor's leg there, and presenting (with
the bored reluctance of a boy) a letter of introduction from
his guardian to Mrs. Newbolt when Maurice met Mrs.
Newbolt's niece, something happened. Perhaps because
he felt her starved longing for personal happiness, or per-
haps her obvious pleasure in listening, silently, to his
eager talk, touched his young vanity; whatever the rea-
son was, the boy was fascinated by her. He had ("cuss-
ing," as he had expressed it to himself) accepted an invi-
tation to dine with the "ancient dame" (again his phrase !)
and behold the reward of merit : the niece ! a gentle,
handsome woman, whose age never struck him, probably
because her mind was as immature as his own. Before
dinner was over Eleanor's silence silence is very moving
to youth, for who knows what it hides? and her deep,
still eyes, lured him like a mystery. Then, after dinner
("a darned good dinner," Maurice had conceded to
himself) the calm niece sang, and instantly he knew that
it was Beauty which hid in silence and he was in love
with her! He had dined with her on Tuesday, called on
Wednesday, proposed on Friday; it was all quite like
Solomon Grundy! except that, although she had fallen
in love with him almost as instantly as he had fallen in
love with her, she had, over and over again, refused him.
During the period of her refusals the boy's love glowed
like a furnace; it brought both power and maturity into
his fresh, ardent, sensitive face. He threw every thought
to the winds except the thought of rescuing his princess
from Mrs. Newbolt's imprisoning bric-a-brac. As for his
"cramming," the tutor into whose hands Mr. Houghton
had committed his ward's very defective trigonometry
and economics, Mr. Bradley, held in Mercer because of
an annoying accident, said to himself that his intentions
were honest, but if Curtis didn't turn up for three days
running, he would utilize the time his pupil was paying
for by writing a paper on "The Fourth Dimension."

Maurice was in some new dimension himself! Except
"o!4 Brad," he knew almost no one in Mercer, so he


r had no confidant; and because his passion was, perforce,
inarticulate, his candid forehead gathered wrinkles on'
positive suffering, which made him look as old as Eleanor,
who, dazed by the first very exciting thing that had ever
happened to her, the experience of being adored (and
adored by a boy, which is a heady thing to a woman of
her age!) Eleanor was saying to herself a dozen times
a day : "I mustn't say * yes ' ! Oh, what shall I do ? " Then
suddenly there came a day when the rush of his passion
decided what she would do. . . .

Her aunt had announced that she was going to Europe.
"I'm goin' to take you," Mrs. Newbolt said. "/ don't
know what would become of you if I left you alone ! You
are about as capable as a baby. That was a great phrase
of your dear uncle Thomas's 'capable as a baby.' I'm
puffectly sure the parlor ceilin' has got to be tinted this
spring. When does your school close ? We'll go the minute
it closes. You can board Bingo with Mrs. O'Brien."

Eleanor, deeply hurt, was tempted to retort with the
announcement that she needn't be "left alone " ; she might
get married! But she was silent; she never knew what to
say when assailed by the older woman's tongue. She just
wrote Maurice, helplessly, that she was going abroad.

He was panic-stricken. Going abroad? Uncle Henry's
'ancient dame was a she-devil, to carry her off! Then,
in the midst of his anger, he recognized his opportunity:
?"The hell-cat has done me a good turn, I do believe!
I I'll get her! Bless the woman! I'll pay her passage my-
self, if she'll only go and never come back!"

It was on the heels of Mrs. Newbolt's candor about
Eleanor's "capableness" that he swept her resistance
away. "You've got to marry me," he told her; "that's
all there is to it. ' ' He put his hand in his pocket and pulled
out a marriage license. " I'll call for you to-morrow at ten ;
we'll go to the mayor's office. I've got it all fixed up..
So, you see there's no getting out of it."

"But," she protested, dazzled by the sheer, beautiful
! impertinence of it, "Maurice, I can't I won't J u


"You will," he said. "To-morrow's Saturday," he
added, practically, "and there's no school, so you're free.'*
He rose. . . . "Better leave a letter for your aunt. I'll
be here at five minutes to ten. Be ready!" He paused
and looked hard at her; caught her roughly in his arms,
kissed her on her mouth, and walked out of the room.

The mere violence of it lifted her into the Great Ad-
venture! When he commanded, "Be ready!" she, with a
gasp, said, "Yes."

Well; they had gone to the mayor's office, and been
married; then they had got on a car and ridden through
Mercer's dingy outskirts to the end of the route in Med-
field, where, beyond suburban uglinesses, there were
glimpses of green fields.

Once as the car rushed along, screeching around curves
and banging over switches, Eleanor said, "I've come out
here four times a week for four years, to Fern Hill."

And Maurice said: "Well, that's over! No more school-
teaching for you!"

She smiled, then sighed. "I'll miss my little people,"
she said.

But except for that they were silent. When they left
the car, he led the way across a meadow to the bank of
the river; there they sat down under the locust, and he
kissed her, quietly; then, for a while, still dumb with the
wonder of themselves, they watched the sky, and the
sailing white clouds, and the river flowing flowing; and
each other.

"Fifty-four minutes," he had said. . . .

So they sat there and planned for the endless future
the "fifty-four years."

"When we have our golden wedding," he said, "we
shall come back here, and sit under this tree " He
paused; he would be let's see : nineteen, plus fifty, makes
sixty-nine. He did not go farther with his mental arith-
metic, and say thirty-nine plus fifty; he was thinking only
of himself, not of her. In fifty years he would be, he
told himself, an old man.


And what would happen in all these fifty golden years?
"You know, long before that time, perhaps it won't be-
just us?" he said.

The color leaped to her face; she nodded, finding no
words in which to expand that joyous "perhaps," which
touched the quick in her. Instantly that sum in addition
which he had not essayed in his own mind, became unim-
portant in hers. What difference did the twenty severing
years make, after all ? Her heart rose with a bound she
had a quick vision of a little head against her bosom!
But she could not put it into words. She only challenged

"I am not clever like you. Do you think you can love
a stupid person for fifty years?"

"For a thousand years! but you're not stupid."

She looked doubtful ; then went on confessing : ' ' Auntie
says I'm a dummy, because I don't talk very much. And
I'm awfully timid. And she says I'm jealous."

"You don't talk because you're always thinking; that's
one of the most fascinating things about you, Eleanor,
you keep me wondering what on earth you're thinking
about. It's the mystery of you that gets me! And if
you're 'timid' well, so long as you're not afraid of me,
the more scared you are, the better I like it. A man,"
said Maurice, "likes to feel that he protects his his wife."
He paused and repeated the glowing word . . . "his
wife!" For a moment he could not go on with their care-
less talk; then he was practical again. That word "pro-
tect" was too robust for sentimentality. "As for being
jealous, that, about me, is a joke! And if you were, it
would only mean that you loved me so I would be flat-
tered. I hope you'll be jealous! Eleanor, promise me
you'll be jealous?" They both laughed; then he said:
"I've made up my mind to one thing. I won't go back
to college."

"Oh, Maurice!"

He was very matter of fact. " I'm a married man; I'm
going to support my wife!" He ran his ringers through


his thick blond hair in ridiculous pantomime of terrified
responsibility. "Yes, sir! I'm out for dollars. Well, I'm
glad I haven't any near relations to get on their ear,
and try and mind my business for me. Of course," he
ruminated, "Bradley will kick like a steer, when I tell
him he's bounced! But that will be on account of money.
Oh, I'll pay him, all samee," he said, largely. "Yes; I'm
going to get a job." His face sobered into serious happi-
ness. "My allowance won't provide bones for Bingo!
So it's business for me.

She looked a little frightened. "Oh, have I made you
go to work?" She had never asked him about money;
she had plunged into matrimony without the slightest
knowledge of his income.

"I'll chuck Bradley, and I'll chuck college," he an-
nounced. "I've got to! Of course, ultimately, I'll have
plenty of money. Mr. Houghton has dry-nursed what
father left me, and he has done mighty well with it; but
I can't touch it till I'm twenty-five worse luck! Father
had theories about a fellow being kept down to brass
tacks and earning his living, before he inherited money
another man had earned that's the way he put it. Queer
idea. So, I must get a job. Uncle Henry '11 help me. You
may bet on it that Mrs. Maurice Curtis shall not wash
dishes, nor yet feed the swine, but live on strawberries,
sugar, and What's the rest of it?"

"I have a little money of my own," she said; "six
hundred a year."

"It will pay for your hairpins," he said.Jand put out
his hand and touched her hair black, and very soft and
wavy ;*j" but the strawberries I shall provide."

"I never thought about money," she confessed.

"Of course not! Angels don't think about money."

*'So they were married"; and in the meadow, fifty-four

minutes later, the sun and wind and moving shadows,

and the river flowing flowing heralded the golden

years, and ended the saying: "lived happy ever afterward"



IT was three days after the young husband, lying in
the grass, his cheek on his wife's hand, had made his
careless prophecy about "whistling," that Henry Hough-
ton, jogging along in the sunshine toward Grafton for
the morning mail, slapped a rein down on Lion's fat
back, and whistled, placidly enough. . . . (But that was
before he reached the post office.) His wife, whose sweet
and rosy bulk took up most of the space on the seat,
listened, smiling with content. When he was placid, she
was placid; when he wasn't, which happened now and
then, she was an alertly reasonable woman, defending him
from himself, and wrenching from his hand, with ironic
gayety, or rallying seriousness, the dagger of his discon-
tent with what he called his "failure" in life which was
what most people called his success a business career,
chosen because the support of several inescapable blood
relations was not compatible with his own profession of
painting. All his training and hope had been centered
upon art. The fact that, after renouncing it, an admirably
managed cotton mill provided bread and butter for sickly
sisters and wasteful brothers, to say nothing of his own
modest prosperity, never made up to him for the career
of a struggling and probably unsuccessful artist which
he might have had. He ran his cotton mill, and supported
all the family undesirables until, gradually, death and
marriage took the various millstones from around his
neck; then he retired, as the saying is although it was
really setting sail again for life to his studio (with a
farmhouse attached) in the mountains. There had been
a year of passionate work and expectation but his


pictures were dead. "I sold my birthright for a bale of
cotton," he said, briefly.

But he still stayed on the farm, and dreamed in his
studio and tried to teach his little, inartistic Edith to
draw, and mourned. As for business, he said, "Go to the
devil!" except as he looked after Maurice Curtis's
affairs ; this because the boy's father had been his friend.
But it was the consciousness of the bartered birthright
and the dead pictures in his studio which kept him from
"whistling" very often. However, on this June morning,
plodding along between blossoming fields, climbing
wooded hills, and clattering through dusky covered
bridges, he was not thinking of his pictures; so, naturally
enough, he whistled; a very different whistling from that
which Maurice, lying in the grass beside his wife of fifty-
four minutes, had foreseen for him when the mail should be
distributed ! Once, just from sheer content, he stopped his :

Online LibraryMargaret Wade Campbell DelandThe vehement flame, a novel → online text (page 1 of 29)