THE TOWERS OF ILIUM
ETHELYN LESLIE HUSTON
ETHELYN LESLIE HUSTON
Irresponsible motherhood is always a sin, with or
without marriage. Responsible motherhood is always
sacred, with or without marriage. ELLEN KEY.
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Out of the storm your soul I found,
The crag holding back the sea,
And close to its crest I dared to rest
A moment, thankfully.
They were lonely! With sardonic
humor Destiny herded them together
in one million, two, three swarming
in soul-stifling confusion. And out of
that fearful, struggling mass there
steadily boiled the green froth of crime
bred of loneliness!
THE TOWERS OF ILIUM
AS the straw of immemorial times has always indicated
where blows the wind, so incidents of seeming
trivial importance in the life of a child have often in
them coming history writ large for those who have
eyes and can see.
It was therefore a significant occasion when a thor-
oughly estimable young Sunday School teacher under-
took, upon a certain mild and peaceful Sabbath, to
impress upon her class in general, and upon little June
Ferriss in particular, the meaning and importance of
Until that particular Sabbath, the Sabbaths known
to June were indicative of new shoes and clothes. Sun-
day School was a bright and cheerful place where little
boys and girls with exceptionally clean faces appeared
in an ever-fascinating round of these delightful articles
of wear. Of course there were estimable young women,
and also young men, who explained things from the
Bible and who gave them estimable little books for
Christmas presents. But the Bible explanations savoured
rather strongly of Hans Christian Andersen's tales,
without being as interesting, while the little books were
always about good little girls and boys whom they
never seemed to meet in their own schools, so the little
books were not interesting at all. Also the very good
little girls and boys frequently died young, promising to
8 The Towers of Ilium
meet their weeping relations in Heaven and quoting a
verse from a favourite hymn. And somehow this sad
and beautiful fate never seemed to appeal to the mem-
bers of that particular Sunday School that little June
So, in consequence of all this, as already related, the
new shoes and clothes carried the glory and greatness
of the Seventh day, with no complexities, theological nor
fictional, to mar the recurrent excitement and pleasure
On the Sabbath that witnessed the blowing of the
first significant straw, where June's attitude toward life
was concerned, that young person sat sideways on a
low bench, facing her teacher, but with eyes absently
fixed on the two trim bows that tied the two trim pig-
tails of the little girl who sat next to her. In those
days the low benches for each class were arranged in a
hollow square, which the teacher faced from one side,
and the pupils on the right and left sat with heads re-
spectfully turned at attention, if with thoughts that
were prone to wander among matters of earthly vanities.
June's thoughts were on the colour of the trim bows,
which was cherry and therefore ravishing. Her own
bows were pink, and she had considered them completely
soul-satisfying till the warmth of the cherry ribbon
crossed her line of vision as the class finished the open-
ing hymn and sat down on their little benches for the
lesson. Rose-pink or cherry colour! June's universe
rocked dizzily while the pleasant monotone of the young
teacher rippled along in an undisturbing obbligato.
Cherry colour? June pictured it on her own dark brown
curls warm glowing
"So you must remember, children," she subconsciously
was aware that the obbligato was saying, "that baptism
The Towers of Ilium 9
is necessary, and that if a little baby dies without being
baptised, it cannot go to Heaven. Isn't that sad? And
that is why "
The obligate trailed back into its undisturbing mur-
mur while the cherry ribbons blurred and cleared and
blurred again. Little babies? Very little babies even!
Unbaptised the gates of pearl, and the nice little
chubby angels like those on the baptismal font, and the
vague but authentic wonders of the Heavenly Kingdom
all denied them!
June's gaze wrenched itself from the cherry-coloured
bows to the mildly solemn face of the earnest young
obligate, and she found voice.
"Teacher you mean if a little baby's mamma and
papa do not get it baptised, and it dies, and just because
they don't, it cannot go to Heaven?" she asked halt-
"Yes, that is what I mean," said the obligate in great
June's eyes, dark, wide, plunged into the teacher's
eyes the probe of questioning, new-born, white-hot,
keenly sensitive as the needle that quivers and gropes
through storm-currents for the far magnetic call of
its star. "Yes, that is what I mean" out of the run-
ning obligate her question had struck this reply, words
that dripped on her waking consciousness as an acid
that blisters and stains and poisons Little babies very
little babies even and all because some grown people
June started as the acid reached its point of fire to
her soul. Her Sunday Lesson Leaf slipped from her
fingers to the floor as she crushed forward to stare
beyond the cherry bows at the Sunday School teacher.
Her world rocked sickeningly as the infallibility of
io The Towers of Ilium
grown-ups swayed back and forth in unseemly fashion,
a horrid and unthinkable thing. Then her mouth went
dry and gritty, and with lips that twitched with the
surprise of it, with voice hoarse and unchildlike, June
made answer "I don't believe it!"
SOMEWHAT earlier in the life of June that young
person had arisen one morning in a rather fractious
mood and things generally seemed to go wrong. Sitting
on the floor where she was changing her small slippers
for shoes, June sputtered impatiently over a refractory
"Dear me, June," Mrs. Ferriss said reprovingly. "You
must have left your bed wrong foot first this morning,
you are so cross. What makes you so naughty?"
"Oh, of torse Fse naughty!" retorted Miss June, tug-
ging at a lace viciously. "When chilluns is tross, dey'se
naughty. But when drown folks is tross, it's nerveses!"
The withering emphasis of this statement left Mrs.
Perriss speechless and June bitterly mistress of the situ-
ation. There was no room for argument. Nerveses?
Like the mantling cloak of charity, what sins of com-
mission and omission have they not covered! Nerves
and naughtiness between them, who dares place the line
And June, it will be seen, analysed. She declined to
merely accept. Which gave evidence to those who had
ears and could hear that June's pathway from the cradle
to the grave would be interesting. Those who do not
analyse, drift, and they are the philosophers. But they
do not make history. They just fill in the background.
James Ferriss married Dolly Morton when he was
twenty-four and she eighteen. She was very pretty,
with eyes and lips that laughed easily, and that is about
12 The Towers of Ilium
all that twenty-four requires of its bride. Thirty-four
found James Ferriss with a comfortable law practice
and a growing library. Mrs. Ferriss at twenty-eight
had achieved maturity without character, and the law
practice represented to her merely the source of the
wherewithal for household bills, while the library repre-
sented nothing at all.
June was the only child and was an observant young
person who was able to express herself freely, but who
did not always express herself fully. Like most chil-
dren, she was acutely sensitive to the condition of the
home atmosphere. This is something grown people for-
get, and they spell out words mysteriously to each other,
ostrich-fashion, believing that the meaning is quite care-
fully hidden, while all the time the small pitcher has no
need of ears her eyes and heart and nerves are brand-
ing their impression with little hot needles on her
And June's hyper-sensitive mind was recording faith-
fully and steadily the strange and complex manners of
grown folks. In the first place, the father whom she
regarded as all wisdom and knowledge, and whom she
loved with all of her fast-deepening mind as well as
heart, had a fashion of retreating into himself and a
book with lips sternly set, while Mrs. Ferriss busied
herself with the affairs of her household with a steely
glint in her eye and an acrid note in the laugh that had
once rung musically in her husband's ears.
These barometric conditions June responded to with
the fidelity of the little quivering needle of the com-
pass whirling affrightedly as the air became electrically
surcharged, but held upon the pivot known and rever-
enced as the sacredness of the home.
In the presence of the child James Ferriss and his
The Towers of Ilium 13
wife never descended to the vulgarity of a quarrel.
Both believed that the outward courtesies carefully ob-
served, the allusions elaborately veiled, passed with their
daughter unquestioned. That her ear detected the hol-
low ring of spurious coin and that her soul shrank
from a discordance that bewildered and hurt never oc-
curred to them.
But if she made no sign that she was observant, the
eternal query that stretches over all life laid hold upon
her but the more tenaciously. Like Ferriss himself,
she retreated into herself and questioned and wrestled
mightily with the problems that unfolded grimly before
her fascinated vision. Her father was all wisdom, but
he was not happy. So then even wise people were not
able to find happiness. Her mother was very good,
because she went to church and kept the commandments
and severely criticised other women who were prone to
be light-minded and frivolous and less heedful of the
weekday convenances and Sunday ceremonials. But
she was not happy, either, so even good people did not
What, then, would give happiness?
She asked the minister once when she was visiting
her grandparents and he was invited to Sunday dinner.
"What do people do to be happy?" he said in reply
to her question. "Why, if you are good and do unto
others as you would they would do unto you that will
make you happy."
Then after dinner her playmate called for her to go
for a walk because it was a glorious spring day and
they could gather pussy-willows and talk about what
they would do and wear on Commencement Day and
exchange those delightful girl-confidences that are so
14 The Towers of Ilium
thrillingly and absorbingly interesting to chums of all
ages. But her mother stopped her.
"We are going for a drive and you may. go with us,"
So the chum went to call for another little girl and
June got her hat and light jacket and went down to
the carriage block to wait for Bess and Dandy to dance
up with their jingling harness. And when they came,
she fed them clumps of tender young grass while some
of the grown folks settled themselves in the surrey and
exchanged pleasant banter with the others grouped on
the lawn and veranda.
Then as June patted Dandy and kissed Bess on her
soft nose and danced back to the side of the carriage,
it was discovered that there was no room for her.
"It's too crowded for you, June," her mother said
carelessly. "Wait, mother, till I fasten your veil. That
is better. Let us take the lake road it will be beautiful
to-day. Good-bye, everybody ! Have tea at five-thirty
we will be hungry after driving. Good-bye!"
Gay good-byes were exchanged and the party drove
away, leaving a fluffy cloud of dust drifting and glint-
ing in the sunshine. The old grandfather and maiden
aunt on the veranda turned to go upstairs for a peaceful
Sabbath nap. Stillness the appalling, endless stillness
of a sleeping house and long Sunday afternoon hung
like a pall over the child coming slowly back up the
broad veranda steps.
Her chum was gone it was too late to follow her.
And the house party had gone, laughing and indifferent,
after spoiling her day, and had left her alone. And the
long, long afternoon, with its sleepy drone of bees and
lazy twitter of birds, stretched out before her in the
The Towers of Ilium 15
exaggerated perspective of youth which sees no horizon
Something rose in her throat choking her, and a hot
sting of tears in her eyes blurred the gay sunshine that
mocked her. But the little life of self-discipline had
already schooled her in keeping her hurts to herself, and
she pressed her twitching lips hard together as she tried
to slip past the sharp eyes of her elders. Aunt Fanny,
however, correct and active in good works, saw an
opening to plant seed and said reprovingly:
"Little girls shouldn't be sulky grown people know
what is best and children should be obedient and cheer-
Obedient and cheerful! June darted past the hard,
sharp eyes, down through the old-fashioned halls to
the back stairway, up two flights to a landing where the
stairs led to the attic, and then she crouched at a low
window whose broad sill was almost level with the
On her occasional visits to her mother's people this
was her favorite retreat. In the attic were boxes of
magazines, Bow Bells and Godey's and other periodicals
found in polite and conservative homes. And June, re-
garded as odd and a little alarming by her aunt and
grandparents, was always glad to get away from the
handkerchief-hemming and lace-crocheting that they
considered proper occupation and relaxation for young
fingers and minds, and to curl up on the window ledge
with an armful of yellowing books over which she
From the stilted and artificial stories her thoughts
would sometimes wander to the lives and problems
around her that somehow seemed so much more sharply
etched against the background of daily life than the
16 The Towers of Ilium
mildly interesting things in the stories. The story
heroines faded pathetically away into early graves, un-
less they lived to wander sadly in lonely gardens at
dusk, and to pray to the stars with pearly tears stream-
ing from their eyes.
But around her June did not see these people so fa-
miliar in fiction, and so her gaze very often wandered in
puzzled fashion to the waving tops of the maple trees
that swept softly against the window ledge where she
crouched. And over the trees to the drifting banks of
clouds massing in wonderful fairy palaces against the
blue sky she lifted her eyes in grave questioning.
Why were grown people so odd in their ways with
each other? They were very often unkind and very
often unjust as to-day, for instance. They had taken
from her the little junketing with Kitty Adams that she
had looked forward to with enjoyment, and they seemed
quite indifferent to the spoiling of her day. And then
when she had tried bravely to hide her disappointment
and her tears, she had been told that "little girls must
not be sulky."
Her father would have understood, if he had been
there he always understood, and straightened out all
manner of tangled threads for her in his quiet, clever
fashion. But he did not seem able to do anything with
his own tangled threads, and June's level brows drew
together in helpless puzzlement. What was the use of
being grown up and able to do wonderful things that
children could not do if so many things were wrong and
so many people were unkind and unfair to other people ?
To "do unto others" would she spoil a day for her
mother and leave her alone while she drove gaily away
with a laughing group of people? Would she reprove
Aunt Fanny for being "sulky" if she saw her lips
The Towers of Ilium 17
quivering and tears fighting hard to brim over? And if
grown people did not know how to "do unto others"
and find happiness that way, who would know and tell
June hugged her knees and watched a wild canary
teetering happily on a high, slender bough that waved in
the wind. The small- feathered fleck of gold dipped and
fluttered among the flickering leaves and made a dainty,
vividly alive picture of joy and freedom.
Very high up against the fathomless blue a great dark
bird poised on wide, still wings, swaying how and then
in indolent curves, again resting with motionless grace
on the unseen shoulders of the wind.
Swaying boughs and flower-scented wind, great grey
eagle, fleck of feathered gold the life and joy of free
things all there framed by the low attic window, called
to the girl groping in the maze of human standards and
formulas. They were free, the trees and the birds and
the winds. There was no one to say they must go
or they must stay. Just the voices of Life spoke in
their hearts and bid them live and enjoy. And so they
danced and swayed in exultant rhythm and perfect har-
mony, though held in unison only by the joyousness that
pulsed from sky to earth, from earth to sky.
The wind and the eagle they were never tired. But
her father was tired, always. The birds that dipped and
skimmed through the trees, the butterflies that hovered
like living flowers over the flowers of the garden there
was nothing about these that suggested whatever it was
that caused that acrid little laugh of her mother's. Na-
ture was always beautiful, even when the storms swept
across the face of the earth twisting the trees in their
cruel clutches and lashing the roses as with whips.
There was something mighty and grand and solemn
i8 The Towers of Ilium
about the storms, and they always fascinated June in
just the same way as the vibrant thunder of a great pipe-
organ fascinated her when she listened to it in the dim-
ness of a vaulted church.
Storms were part of Nature and belonged to natural
things that June could trust, somehow, even if she could
not understand. But the hundred little bitternesses of
daily life, the shade that settled grimly upon her father's
lips, the sting that made itself felt in some simple words
of her mother, the cold criticism and curt condemnation
by her grandparents and her aunt of offending neigh-
bour or unsuspecting friend these chafed and prickled
on her inner consciousness till the restless misery of it
was as real as the hair shirt of a penitent on the protest-
And why was it? Why were people cross with other
people? If to be wise, as her father was wise, or to be
strict and good, as her mother was both, were the desired
things that she was taught that they were, then what
When company came to the house Mr. Ferriss would
seem to grow younger and June would respond joyfully
to the spirit of the light-hearted banter with which he
made the day or evening pass so quickly and pleasantly
for their guests. But there was always a day strange
and strained to follow that June learned to dread.
Her mother, smiling and attentive while the guests
were there, was cold and queer after, with the occasional
stinging speeches that seemed to mean so much more
than the mere spoken words. And June would see the
light-hearted man of the night before grow grave and
silent and old. If there were ladies who were pretty
and interesting that came to visit them, June, who loved
handsome people and quick wit, would hope fervently
The Towers of Ilium 19
that they would come often so that she could admire and
study them, as well as enjoy the laughing repartee of
Mr. Ferriss in answer to their gay raillery.
But they never came more than two or three times,
and June kept her disappointment to herself. Her
mother did not like them, she could see that, and June
grew to understand that the stinging little speeches and
the acrid laugh represented that which must be propiti-
ated with gifts and sacrifices, like the idols to whom
the heathen gave their treasures. And as her father laid
his manhood in uncomplaining silence on this altar, so
the daughter contributed her quota.
Major events in one's history are rarely heralded with
trumpets. Destiny is not melodramatic. She is as subtle
in her methods as is a Mrs. Fiske or Madame Janauschek
or Madame Bernhardt. The silences of these remark-
able women transcend all eloquence. When the story
of the drama twists the keys abruptly into tense expec-
tancy and a gesture or a sigh must play upon taut nerves
with a touch that means tragic perfection or bathos, the
tenebrae of emotion or dramatic disaster the artistry
of those players reaches with psychic carefulness to just
the muteness, just the stillness, that should give pause
before the word that is the keynote, the sentence that
is the crux of the story itself.
The calm is pregnant with a something that is com-
ing, the peace is ominous, the immeasurable fear of the
unknown broods over things that cower and listen. And
across the silence, the word that has been waited for
cuts at last with the hushed, terrible vividness of heat
Fright, clamour and chaos they are as hounds in full
cry, the sensations unleashed and possessed of hysteria
and madness. But tragedy is still. It gathers the gamut
20 The Towers of Ilium
of sound into a whisper and the whisper shivers down
to the gates of doom.
And so it was that on a certain spring day that was
as vividly beautiful as a Turner, with that artist in his
happiest mood, June paused at the edge of womanhood
and brushed elbows with death.
Returning from a week-end with a particularly con-
genial house-party, Mr. Ferriss was sending their motor
car forward at a good clip while the drearily familiar
programme was enacted. The aftermath of all their pleas-
urings was no longer a mystery to June Ferriss. And
now she sat in her corner of the smoothly gliding car,
wishing in futile rebellion that she could put her fingers
in her ears.
Ferriss watched the road ahead, with its ever-chang-
ing vista, in silence. His wife discussed the women of
the house party, his attitude toward them and their atti-
tude toward him. She weighed and dissected, and punc-
tuated the process with the little acrid laugh that rasped
on the nerves of the girl like a file. And as the after-
noon sky gathered into itself colourings and glories that
flooded the earth and the trees and the waters with
supernatural beauty, the human comedy trailed out its
drab and wearying length. The irritation of its triviali-
ties seemed to wear on the girl, forced to listen to them,
more than ever before, and she sat up with quick relief
as they swung around a curve of the street and their
own home came into view.
Then a deafening report struck her ear-drums like a
mighty hammer and a crash followed, in which earth
and sky swept together.
WHEN June's eyes opened she saw the comforting
walls of her own room. A strange young woman
in uniform came and bent over her, holding a glass to
her lips. As she drank the sweetish-bitter potion, her
wheeling wits began to steady and she remembered.
"We smashed, didn't we? Father what of him?
And my mother?"
The nurse looked speculatively into her patient's face.
She saw there the charm and delicacy of youth, but she
saw also a strength that youth does not often have the
strength of youth that has looked at the facts of life
as well as played with the fancies.
"Your father will live, but he is unconscious. Youc
mother is alive "
She paused and June said, after a minute:
"My mother is going to die, you mean?"
The trite, professional compromise on "While there
is life" rose mechanically to the lips of the nurse, but
the strangely steady eyes and quiet voice checked the
words. Her own steady nerves did homage to a steadi-
ness she recognised fraternally, and in her tone was
"She is dying yes."
She was dying and the suspicious eyes would not
trouble them with their suspicious watching any more.
The thin, mocking voice, the hard, light laugh with its
little significant sneer those would be still for always
and for always. The surveillance that had kept step
like a shadow with every step of James Ferriss for all
22 The Towers of Ilium
the years of his married life would keep step no longer.
He would be free to go or to come, and no one would
Death was but the step across a shadowy threshold,
the continuing of life freed of the burden of the flesh.
That was the only difference, so taught the churches.
Yet James Ferriss would be quite free to talk with
whom he pleased to love and to woo and to marry
if he desired. And it would be all quite all right and no