WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS and HENRY MILLS ALDEN
Harper & Brothers Publishers
New York and London
1895, 1896, 1897, 1904, 1905, 1906
RICHARD LE GALLIENNE
"THE LITTLE JOYS OF MARGARET"
"KITTIE'S SISTER JOSEPHINE"
"THE WIZARD'S TOUCH"
CHARLES B. DE CAMP
"THE BITTER CUP"
MARY APPLEWHITE BACON
ELEANOR A. HALLOWELL
"THE PERFECT YEAR"
WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS
"THE STOUT MISS HOPKINS'S BICYCLE"
MARY M. MEARS
"THE MARRYING OF ESTHER"
"CORDELIA'S NIGHT OF ROMANCE"
E. A. ALEXANDER
"THE PRIZE-FUND BENEFICIARY"
It is many years now since the American Girl began to engage the
consciousness of the American novelist. Before the expansive period
following the Civil War, in the later eighteen-sixties and the earlier
eighteen-seventies, she had of course been his heroine, unless he went
abroad for one in court circles, or back for one in the feudal ages.
Until the time noted, she had been a heroine and then an American girl.
After that she was an American girl, and then a heroine; and she was
often studied against foreign backgrounds, in contrast with other
international figures, and her value ascertained in comparison with
their valuelessness, though sometimes she was portrayed in those poses
of flirtation of which she was born mistress. Even in these her
superiority to all other kinds of girls was insinuated if not asserted.
The young ladies in the present collection are all American girls but
one, if we are to suppose Mr. Le Gallienne's winning type to be of the
same English origin as himself. We can be surer of him than of her,
however; but there is no question of the native Americanness of Mrs.
Alexander's girl, who is done so strikingly to the life, with courage to
grapple a character and a temperament as uncommon as it is true, which
we have rarely found among our fictionists. Having said this, we must
hedge in favor of Miss Jordan's most autochthonic Miss Kittie, so young
a girl as to be still almost a little girl, and with a head full of the
ideals of little-girlhood concerning young-girlhood. The pendant to her
pretty picture is the study of elderly girlhood by Octave Thanet, or
that by Miss Alice Brown, the one with its ideality, and the other with
its humor. The pathos of "The Perfect Year" is as true as either in its
truth to the girlhood which "never knew an earthly close," and yet had
its fill of rapture. Julian Ralph's strong and free sketch contributes a
fresh East Side flower, hollyhock-like in its gaudiness, to the garden
of American girls, Irish-American in this case, but destined to be
companioned hereafter by blossoms of our Italian-American,
Yiddish-American, and Russian-American civilization, as soon as our
nascent novelists shall have the eye to see and the art to show them.
Meantime, here are some of our Different Girls as far as they or their
photographers have got, and their acquaintance is worth having.
The Little Joys of Margaret
BY RICHARD LE GALLIENNE
Margaret had seen her five sisters one by one leave the family nest, to
set up little nests of their own. Her brother, the eldest child of a
family of seven, had left the old home almost beyond memory, and settled
in London. Now and again he made a flying visit to the small provincial
town of his birth, and sometimes he sent two little daughters to
represent him - for he was already a widowed man, and relied occasionally
on the old roof-tree to replace the lost mother. Margaret had seen what
sympathetic spectators called her "fate" slowly approaching for some
time - particularly when, five years ago, she had broken off her
engagement with a worthless boy. She had loved him deeply, and, had she
loved him less, a refined girl in the provinces does not find it easy to
replace a discarded suitor - for the choice of young men is not
excessive. Her sisters had been more fortunate, and so, as I have said,
one by one they left their father's door in bridal veils. But Margaret
stayed on, and at length, as had been foreseen, became the sole nurse of
a beautiful old invalid mother, a kind of lay sister in the nunnery of
She came of a beautiful family. In all the big family of seven there was
not one without some kind of good looks. Two of her sisters were
acknowledged beauties, and there were those who considered Margaret the
most beautiful of all. It was all the harder, such sympathizers said,
that her youth should thus fade over an invalid's couch, the bloom of
her complexion be rubbed out by arduous vigils, and the lines
prematurely etched in her skin by the strain of a self-denial proper, no
doubt, to homely girls and professional nurses, but peculiarly wanton
and wasteful in the case of a girl so beautiful as Margaret.
There are, alas! a considerable number of women predestined by their
lack of personal attractiveness for the humbler tasks of life.
Instinctively we associate them with household work, nursing, and the
general drudgery of existence. One never dreams of their having a life
of their own. They have no accomplishments, nor any of the feminine
charms. Women to whom an offer of marriage would seem as terrifying as a
comet, they belong to the neutrals of the human hive, and are,
practically speaking, only a little higher than the paid domestic.
Indeed, perhaps their one distinction is that they receive no wages.
Now for so attractive a girl as Margaret to be merged in so dreary,
undistinguished a class was manifestly preposterous. It was a stupid
misapplication of human material. A plainer face and a more homespun
fibre would have served the purpose equally well.
Margaret was by no means so much a saint of self-sacrifice as not to
have realized her situation with natural human pangs. Youth only comes
once - especially to a woman; and
No hand can gather up the withered fallen
petals of the Rose of youth.
Petal by petal, Margaret had watched the rose of her youth fading and
falling. More than all her sisters, she was endowed with a zest for
existence. Her superb physical constitution cried out for the joy of
life. She was made to be a great lover, a great mother; and to her,
more than most, the sunshine falling in muffled beams through the
lattices of her mother's sick-room came with a maddening summons
to - live. She was so supremely fitted to play a triumphant part in the
world outside there, so gay of heart, so victoriously vital.
At first, therefore, the renunciation, accepted on the surface with so
kind a face, was a source of secret bitterness and hidden tears. But
time, with its mercy of compensation, had worked for her one of its many
mysterious transmutations, and shown her of what fine gold her
apparently leaden days were made. She was now thirty-three; though, for
all her nursing vigils, she did not look more than twenty-nine, and was
now more than resigned to the loss of the peculiar opportunities of
youth - if, indeed, they could be said to be lost already. "An old maid,"
she would say, "who has cheerfully made up her mind to be an old maid,
is one of the happiest, and, indeed, most enviable, people in all the
Resent the law as we may, it is none the less true that renunciation
brings with it a mysterious initiation, a finer insight. Its discipline
would seem to refine and temper our organs of spiritual perception, and
thus make up for the commoner experience lost by a rarer experience
gained. By dedicating herself to her sick mother, Margaret undoubtedly
lost much of the average experience of her sex and age, but almost
imperceptibly it had been borne in upon her that she made some important
gains of a finer kind. She had been brought very close to the mystery of
human life, closer than those who have nothing to do beyond being
thoughtlessly happy can ever come. The nurse and the priest are
initiates of the same knowledge. Each alike is a sentinel on the
mysterious frontier between this world and the next. The nearer we
approach that frontier, the more we understand not only of that world on
the other side, but of the world on this. It is only when death throws
its shadow over the page of life that we realize the full significance
of what we are reading. Thus, by her mother's bedside, Margaret was
learning to read the page of life under the illuminating shadow of
But, apart from any such mystical compensation, Margaret's great reward
was that she knew her beautiful old mother better than any one else in
the world knew her. As a rule, and particularly in a large family,
parents remain half mythical to their children, awe-inspiring presences
in the home, colossal figures of antiquity, about whose knees the
younger generation crawls and gropes, but whose heads are hidden in the
mists of prehistoric legend. They are like personages in the Bible. They
impress our imagination, but we cannot think of them as being quite
real. Their histories smack of legend. And this, of course, is natural,
for they had been in the world, had loved and suffered, so long before
us that they seem a part of that antenatal mystery out of which we
sprang. When they speak of their old love-stories, it is as though we
were reading Homer. It sounds so long ago. We are surprised at the
vividness with which they recall happenings and personalities, past and
gone before, as they tell us, we were born. Before we were born! Yes!
They belong to that mysterious epoch of time - "before we were born"; and
unless we have a taste for history, or are drawn close to them by some
sympathetic human exigency, as Margaret had been drawn to her mother, we
are too apt, in the stress of making our own, to regard the history of
our parents as dry-as-dust.
As the old mother sits there so quiet in her corner, her body worn to a
silver thread, and hardly anything left of her but her indomitable eyes,
it is hard, at least for a young thing of nineteen, all aflush and
aflurry with her new party gown, to realize that that old mother is
infinitely more romantic than herself. She has sat there so long,
perhaps, as to have come to seem part of the inanimate furniture of home
rather than a living being. Well! the young thing goes to her party, and
dances with some callow youth who pays her clumsy compliments, and
Margaret remains at home with the old mother in her corner. It is hard
on Margaret! Yes; and yet, as I have said, it is thus she comes to know
her old mother better than any one else knows her - society perhaps not
so poor an exchange for that of smart, immature young men of one's own
As the door closes behind the important rustle of youthful laces, and
Margaret and her mother are left alone, the mother's old eyes light up
with an almost mischievous smile. If age seems humorous to youth, youth
is even more humorous to age.
"It is evidently a great occasion, Peg," the old voice says, with the
suspicion of a gentle mockery. "Don't you wish you were going?"
"You naughty old mother!" answers Margaret, going over and kissing her.
The two understand each other.
"Well, shall we go on with our book?" says the mother, after a while.
"Yes, dear, in a moment. I have first to get you your diet, and then we
"Bother the diet!" says the courageous old lady; "for two pins I'd go to
the ball myself. That old taffeta silk of mine is old enough to be in
fashion again. What do you say, Peg, if you and I go to the ball
"Oh, it's too much trouble dressing, mother. What do you think?"
"Well, I suppose it is," answers the mother. "Besides, I want to hear
what happens next to those two beautiful young people in our book. So be
quick with my old diet, and come and read ..."
There is perhaps nothing so lovely or so well worth having as the
gratitude of the old towards the young that care to give them more than
the perfunctory ministrations to which they have long since grown sadly
accustomed. There was no reward in the world that Margaret would have
exchanged for the sweet looks of her old mother, who, being no merely
selfish invalid, knew the value and the cost of the devotion her
daughter was giving her.
"I can give you so little, my child, for all you are giving me," her
mother would sometimes say; and the tears would spring to Margaret's
Yes! Margaret had her reward in this alone - that she had cared to
decipher the lined old document of her mother's face. Her other sisters
had passed it by more or less impatiently. It was like some ancient
manuscript in a museum, which only a loving and patient scholar takes
the trouble to read. But the moment you begin to pick out the words, how
its crabbed text blossoms with beautiful meanings and fascinating
messages! It is as though you threw a dried rose into some magic water,
and saw it unfold and take on bloom, and fill with perfume, and bring
back the nightingale that sang to it so many years ago. So Margaret
loved her mother's old face, and learned to know the meaning of every
line on it. Privileged to see that old face in all its private moments
of feeling, under the transient revivification of deathless memories,
she was able, so to say, to reconstruct its perished beauty, and
realize the romance of which it was once the alluring candle. For her
mother had been a very great beauty, and if, like Margaret, you are able
to see it, there is no history so fascinating as the bygone love-affairs
of old people. How much more fascinating to read one's mother's
love-letters than one's own!
Even in the history of the heart recent events have a certain crudity,
and love itself seems the more romantic for having lain in lavender for
fifty years. A certain style, a certain distinction, beyond question, go
with antiquity, and to spend your days with a refined old mother is no
less an education in style and distinction than to spend them in the air
of old cities, under the shadow of august architecture and in the sunset
of classic paintings.
The longer Margaret lived with her old mother, the less she valued the
so-called "opportunities" she had missed. Coming out of her mother's
world of memories, there seemed something small, even common, about the
younger generation to which she belonged, - something lacking in
significance and dignity.
For example, it had been her dream, as it is the dream of every true
woman, to be a mother herself: and yet, somehow - though she would not
admit it in so many words - when her young married sisters came with
their babies, there was something about their bustling and complacent
domesticity that seemed to make maternity bourgeois. She had not dreamed
of being a mother like that. She was convinced that her old mother had
never been a mother like that. "They seem more like wet-nurses than
mothers," she said to herself, with her wicked wit.
Was there, she asked herself, something in realization that inevitably
lost you the dream? Was to incarnate an ideal to materialize it? Did the
finer spirit of love necessarily evaporate like some volatile essence
with marriage? Was it better to remain on idealistic spectator such as
she - than to run the risks of realization?
She was far too beautiful, and had declined too many offers of
commonplace marriage, for such questioning to seem the philosophy of
disappointment. Indeed, the more she realized her own situation, the
more she came to regard what others considered her sacrifice to her
mother as a safeguard against the risk of a mediocre domesticity.
Indeed, she began to feel a certain pride, as of a priestess, in the
conservation of the dignity of her nature. It is better to be a vestal
virgin than - some mothers.
And, after all, the maternal instinct of her nature found an ideal
outlet in her brother's children - the two little motherless girls who
came every year to spend their holidays with their grandmother and their
Margaret had seen but little of their mother, but her occasional
glimpses of her had left her with a haloed image of a delicate,
spiritual face that grew more and more Madonna-like with memory. The
nimbus of the Divine Mother, as she herself had dreamed of her, had
seemed indeed to illumine that grave young face.
It pleased her imagination to take the place of that phantom mother,
herself - a phantom mother. And who knows but that such dream-children,
as she called those two little girls, were more satisfactory in the end
than real children? They represented, so to say, the poetry of children.
Had Margaret been a real mother, there would have been the prose of
children as well. But here, as in so much else, Margaret's seclusion
from the responsible activities of the outside world enabled her to
gather the fine flower of existence without losing the sense of it in
the cares of its cultivation. I think that she comprehended the wonder
and joy of children more than if she had been a real mother.
Seclusion and renunciation are great sharpeners and refiners of the
sense of joy, chiefly because they encourage the habit of attentiveness.
"Our excitements are very tiny," once said the old mother to Margaret,
"therefore we make the most of them."
"I don't agree with you, mother," Margaret had answered. "I think it is
theirs that are tiny - trivial indeed, and ours that are great. People in
the world lose the values of life by having too much choice; too much
choice - of things not worth having. This makes them miss the real
things - just as any one living in a city cannot see the stars for the
electric lights. But we, sitting quiet in our corner, have time to watch
and listen, when the others must hurry by. We have time, for instance,
to watch that sunset yonder, whereas some of our worldly friends would
be busy dressing to go out to a bad play. We can sit here and listen to
that bird singing his vespers, as long as he will sing - and personally I
wouldn't exchange him for a prima donna. Far from being poor in
excitements, I think we have quite as many as are good for us, and those
we have are very beautiful and real."
"You are a brave child," answered her mother. "Come and kiss me," and
she took the beautiful gold head into her hands and kissed her daughter
with her sweet old mouth, so lost among wrinkles that it was sometimes
hard to find it.
"But am I not right, mother?" said Margaret.
"Yes! you are right, dear, but you seem too young to know such wisdom."
"I have to thank you for it, darling," answered Margaret, bending down
and kissing her mother's beautiful gray hair.
"Ah! little one," replied the mother, "it is well to be wise, but it is
good to be foolish when we are young - and I fear I have robbed you of
"I shall believe you have if you talk like that," retorted Margaret,
laughingly taking her mother into her arms and gently shaking her, as
she sometimes did When the old lady was supposed to have been "naughty."
* * * * *
So for Margaret and her mother the days pass, and at first, as we have
said, it may seem a dull life, and even a hard one, for Margaret. But
she herself has long ceased to think so, and she dreads the inevitable
moment when the divine friendship between her and her old mother must
come to an end. She knows, of course, that it must come, and that the
day cannot be far off when the weary old limbs will refuse to make the
tiny journeys from bedroom to rocking-chair, which have long been all
that has been demanded of them; when the brave, humorous old eyes will
be so weary that they cannot keep open any more in this world. The
thought is one that is insupportably lonely, and sometimes she looks at
the invalid-chair, at the cup and saucer in which she serves her
mother's simple food, at the medicine-bottle and the measuring-glass, at
the knitted shawl which protects the frail old form against draughts,
and at all such sad furniture of an invalid's life, and pictures the day
when the homely, affectionate use of all these things will be gone
forever; for so poignant is humanity that it sanctifies with endearing
associations even objects in themselves so painful and prosaic. And it
seems to Margaret that when that day comes it would be most natural for
her to go on the same journey with her mother.
For who shall fill for her her mother's place on earth - and what
occupation will be left for Margaret when her "beautiful old _raison
d'Ãªtre_," as she sometimes calls her mother, has entered into the sleep
of the blessed? She seldom thinks of that, for the thought is too
lonely, and, meanwhile, she uses all her love and care to make this
earth so attractive and cozy that the beautiful mother-spirit who has
been so long prepared for her short journey to heaven may be tempted to
linger here yet a little while longer. These ministrations, which began
as a kind of renunciation, have now turned into an unselfish
selfishness. Margaret began by feeling herself necessary to her mother;
now her mother becomes more and more necessary to Margaret. Sometimes
when she leaves her alone for a few moments in her chair, she laughingly
bends over and says, "Promise me that you won't run away to heaven while
my back is turned."
And the old mother smiles one of those transfigured smiles which seem
only to light up the faces of those that are already half over the
border of the spiritual world.
Winter is, of course, Margaret's time of chief anxiety, and then her
loving efforts are redoubled to detain her beloved spirit in an
inclement world. Each winter passed in safety seems a personal victory
over death. How anxiously she watches for the first sign of the
returning spring, how eagerly she brings the news of early blade and
bud, and with the first violet she feels that the danger is over for
another year. When the spring is so afire that she is able to fill her
mother's lap with a fragrant heap of crocus and daffodil, she dares at
last to laugh and say,
"Now confess, mother, that you won't find sweeter flowers even in
And when the thrush is on the apple bough outside the window, Margaret
will sometimes employ the same gentle raillery.
"Do you think, mother," she will say, "that an angel could sing sweeter
than that thrush?"
"You seem very sure, Margaret, that I am going to heaven," the old
mother will sometimes say, with one of her arch old smiles; "but do you
know that I stole two peppermints yesterday?"
"You did!" says Margaret.
"I did indeed! and they have been on my conscience ever since."
"Really, mother! I don't know what to say," answers Margaret. "I had no
idea that you are so wicked."
Many such little games the two play together, as the days go by; and
often at bedtime, as Margaret tucks her mother into bed, she asks her:
"Are you comfortable, dear? Do you really think you would be much more
comfortable in heaven?"
Or sometimes she will draw aside the window-curtains and say:
"Look at the stars, mother.... Don't you think we get the best view of
them down here?"
So it is that Margaret persuades her mother to delay her journey a
Kittie's Sister Josephine
BY ELIZABETH JORDAN
Kittie James told me this story about her sister Josephine, and when she
saw my eye light up the way the true artist's does when he hears a good
plot, she said I might use it, if I liked, the next time I "practised
I don't think that was a very nice way to say it, especially when one
remembers that Sister Irmingarde read three of my stories to the class
in four months; and as I only write one every week, you can see yourself
what a good average that was. But it takes noble souls to be humble in
the presence of the gifted, and enthusiastic over their success, so only
two of my classmates seemed really happy when Sister Irmingarde read my
third story aloud. It is hardly necessary to mention the names of these
beautiful natures, already so well known to my readers, but I will do
it. They were Maudie Joyce and Mabel Blossom, and they are my dearest
friends at St. Catharine's. And some day, when I am a real writer and
the name of May Iverson shines in gold letters on the tablets of fame,
I'll write a book and dedicate it to them. Then, indeed, they will be
glad they knew me in my schoolgirl days, and recognized real merit when
they saw it, and did not mind the queer things my artistic temperament
often makes me do. Oh, what a slave is one to this artistic, emotional
nature, and how unhappy, how misunderstood! I don't mean that I am
unhappy all the time, of course, but I have Moods. And when I have them