married the woman who afterwards divorced him.
The fellow, who had once been jolly, moped and
sighed and shook his head. He sat for hours with
his elbow on the table and his cheek in his hand, so
that his lips were all pushed out of shape. He used to
sing " Call Me Thine Own," in a voice like a gang-
saw going through a knot. Nothing like that ailed
Bob; hence he was not in love.
He decided that the thrill he had experienced was
due to nervous apprehension that it was a sign that
she loved him. If she did, why, then, he ought in
honor to marry her. He would keep it from her that
he did not love her, and never let her find it out.
Supposing, though, that after they had been mar
ried some time, he should one day meet a woman
with whom there would be no question of esteem
and admiration, but of love itself, the kind you read
LOVE STORY OF ROBERT PROUTY 235
about, the kind that makes you crazy after the
adored one then what? Wouldn t he wish then that
he had waited for the grand passion, and not have
contented himself with a feeble imitation of it? His
life would be blighted, and not his alone, but this
other woman s and Alice s. He felt a pale regret for
the other woman, but a sorrow for Alice s fate that
amounted to a blushing shame. It would be dog
mean of him if, in this future madness, he should
be tempted to desert her and and perhaps her
What could he do? Perhaps she had not gone such
lengths in love of him that to retrace her steps was
impossible. If he should leave for New York to
morrow but he had made an engagement to take
her for a drive to-morrow. And what was the use
of going to New York so long before the season
He resolved to let the affair die out. It ought not
to be broken off suddenly, for that would make talk
and wound her; but gradually, little by little.
" Well, Alice, child, I can t advise you. Every
time we talk it over, it comes to the same thing.
If you think he s the best you can do "
" Mother! " Such commercialism was revolting.
236 FOLKS BACK HOME
You needn t fly up at me that way. You know
what I mean. If you like him "
" Oh, I like him, but that isn t it."
" Well, then, what is the trouble? Don t you think
he likes you? "
" Well, of course, he hasn t said, but "
Mrs. La Fetra smiled with compressed lips, and
waited in silence.
" If I was right sure I loved him that is, loved
him as much as he loves me O mother, I know he
loves me, I just know he does! If I really loved him,
I wouldn t hesitate one second about giving up my
career. And I can t bear to! "
" Well, Alice, if I was you, I wouldn t cross the
bridge till I got to it. You ll do as you please any
how, so I don t see as there s much use of my saying
The breaking off was indeed gradual so gradual
as to be imperceptible to any but Bob. It was so hard
to begin without wounding Alice s feelings; and he
could not bring himself to do that in the least. If he
left off calling, she would think she had offended
him, and would torture herself trying to think how.
So in the morning he felt obliged to ask her: " What
are you going to do this afternoon? What do you
say if we go boating? " or walking or whatever it
LOVE STORY OF ROBERT PROUTY 237
might be. In the afternoon he found himself making
an appointment for the evening, and in the evening
for the next day.
But though the breaking off was thus gradual, it
was not to be understood that there had ever been
any " going with " her. It made him furious to see
the knowing way Harry Allgire and that De Wees
girl grinned when they met Alice and him. If they
could see how silly they looked!
" Isn t it sickening? " he said to Alice after they
had passed the two spoons. " Isn t that the worst
case of puppy love you ever did see? "
" Awful," she agreed.
He remembered her saying that, because the next
instant she clung wildly to him for protection.
Brown s big St. Bernard bounced out upon them,
barking furiously. Bob had only to pretend to pick
up a stone, and the mere gesture scared the foolish
young dog, who dropped his tail and fled.
"Oh, he frightened me so!"
Alice sighed and clung to him, and looked up into
his eyes gratefully. He took her hand in both his
and petted it. It was lucky that they came out im
mediately from under the thick beeches in front of
Brown s into the bright light of the electric in front
of Hill s, for Bob felt the most insane desire to
crush her against him roughly, so that she should
cry out: " Bob! You re hurting me! "
238 FOLKS BACK HOME
The momentary madness left him trembling. His
heart hammered, and he had to keep swallowing. It
was an impulse at once exultant and regrettable.
He flushed to think how she would scorn him if
she had dreamed that he was even tempted to
" hug " her. A vulgarian like Harry Allgire probably
bragged about " hugging " his " girl." It was a
shame to think of such a word in the same hour with
" You re not going out to-night, are you, Rob
bie? " pleaded his mother.
" Why, yes, I thought I would," he answered
guiltily, halting on the bottom step of the veranda.
" I told I said I d be over this evening for a little
"The very last evening!" she said reproachfully.
" We haven t seen hardly anything of you all sum
mer, and I laid out to have such a nice long visit
with my boy. And you re going away to-morrow
noon! Dear knows when I ll ever see you again
maybe never." Her voice quavered as she dramatized
the worst. She came down the steps so as to put her
hand on his farther shoulder and let her wrist lie
against his neck. Bob looked down and stirred the
gravel with his toe. " You re the only boy I ve got,"
LOVE STORY OF ROBERT PROUTY 239
she added, and Bob could tell there were tears in
her eyes. He dared not look to see. They even began
to come into his own eyes. What a hypocrite he was,
he thought! How heartless in him, after that appeal,
still to wish to go and leave her!
" I won t stay but a little while," he said to his
mother, but not less to his conscience.
She suddenly bent down and kissed him. She
thrust his face against her bosom and gripped it
" My boy! " she half whispered, half groaned, then
released him and fled up the steps and into the
Bob knew he ought to have followed her. He said
so to himself. He said he must be void of natural
affection to be so selfish, so unable to make ade
quate response to love lavished upon him by his
mother and Alice.
His progress to the La Fetra house, though, was
as steady as if none of these thoughts had entered
his mind. His excuse was that he was going to stay
only a few minutes; then he would return and spend
the last evening of his visit with his parents.
Mr. Prouty s ear noted a little quivering sigh as
his wife cleared the supper table. He looked up from
2 4 o FOLKS BACK HOME
the Cincinnati paper and saw that she had her under
lip bitten fast and that her chin was trembling.
"Why, what s the matter, mother? What s the
He rose to meet her as with a whimper she ran
to him and flung her arms upon his shoulder.
"There, there!" he soothed her, and patted her
softly. As he bent his neck to kiss her, his glasses
slid off, and his awkward stooping for them made
her titter hysterically. He drew her down into his
lap in the Morris chair, where she made him under
" It s foolish of me, I know," she fluttered, " to be
so jealous-hearted, but I can t help it."
" I know, I know," he said, and stroked her hair;
" but, deary, it has to be that way. You know that.
He s got to make another place and call it home.
He must forsake us and cleave to her. Ah me! It
seems only yesterday since we " He kept silence
and stroked her hair a long time, then: " Say, do
you know what he asked me the other day? I
thought there was something up. He said: Father,
what did you say to mother when you proposed to
Mrs. Prouty mused smilingly, and then asked:
" What did you tell him? "
" I told him I didn t remember. Been so long ago.
What did I say? "
LOVE STORY OF ROBERT PROUTY 241
"Laws, I don t know!"
" And what did you say? "
" You know well enough what I said."
" Did you tell me you loved me? "
" I don t know. I reckon so. I was green enough
in those days to say most anything. Let me up.
I ve got to clear away the supper things."
" Oh, they can wait. Do you love me now? Tell
" Oh, behave yourself! Don t be so soft."
But she kissed him and twined a lock of his thin
hair about her fingers.
" But do you? Tell me."
" Of course I do. Do you think I d have put up
with you all these years if I hadn t? " She was remi-
niscently silent for a time, and then she sighed: " I
don t believe you ever loved me as much as I loved
It was more a question than a reproach; but he
felt the reproach, and made haste to declare:
" Oh, yes, I did. Yes, I did. Maybe I wasn t as
demonstrative. I never was much of a hand to make
a display, but "
In the pause that followed he asked himself, had
he ever loved his wife as much as she loved him?
Did he really love her now? Was it love, or had they
grown together so that wrenching them apart would
deal a pang so terrible, so agonizingly terrible, as
242 FOLKS BACK HOME
barely to escape being mortal? If he should lose
her! O good God, avert it! He shuddered at the
The same idea in her mind made her sigh deeply.
Eager to dismiss a subject so disquieting, she rose
and went about her work, while her husband took
up the Cincinnati paper.
Bob stayed only a little while. Soon after he ap
peared, her father and mother went to bed at an
astonishingly early hour for them. He and Alice
chatted a few minutes, as it seemed, and then he
rose to go.
On opening the front door, the world without was
stiller than common. He took her hand in his to
bid her good-by. He felt strangely sad and lonely.
To-morrow he was to return to New York and try
for his life to find a finger hold upon the face of that
sheer precipice. It is a thing to make a cold sick
ness at the heart. The pleasant summer idleness was
ended. This was the last of it, and there are few
things of which we can say without emotion: " This
is the last!"
It was the last time, too, that he should talk with
Alice. Perhaps he did not love her, but he would
miss her terribly. It cut him cruelly to think how he
LOVE STORY OF ROBERT PROUTY 243
would miss her, and he tightened his grip upon her
hand, which lingered still in his.
Her gaze suddenly dropped before his eyes, and
her bosom rose and fell in labored breathing. There
recurred the wild desire to crush her roughly to his
breast roughly, so that she should cry out. He
could not withstand it. As he seized her brutally, she
turned her face upward to his, and he kissed her
again and again and yet again, unnumbered times,
frantically, blindly. The hot blood thumping in every
artery dizzied him. His chest panted as if with sob
bing. He choked. His ears rang. His fingers shud
dered violently as he twined them feverishly in hers.
"I do love you! I do love you!" he muttered
hoarsely. "Do you love me? My darling! My dar-
"Yes!" she whispered, and her soul looked
through her eyes at him. What beautiful eyes she
had! " Yes, yes, I do love you! "
Entering his own gate, he heard the town clock
strike the hour. The bell sounded once but there
was no second note. Hearkening, he heard the crash
of freight cars in the yards a mile away. He could
even distinguish the words of the night yardmaster
bawling an order to the pony engineer. But he heard
no second bell stroke. Astonished, he looked at his
watch. It was one o clock! He had thought it might
be ten, surely not eleven.
244 FOLKS BACK HOME
Bob found New York even lonelier than he had
feared. He had taken a hall room and in a cheaper
boarding house, and had shunned his old acquaint
ances, that he might the better husband his little
capital. It proved harder than he thought to " catch
on." It is a long story, this looking for work, long
and heartbreaking. But for Alice s letter coming
every day, he could not have stood it. How they
bore him up! How full of vivid promise was the
assurance in her writing that the darkest hour was
just before the dawn!
He missed her more than he could tell. She was
the dearest girl! He wished it was in his nature to
be more loving than he was, to love her as she loved
him. That burst of passion the night he parted from
her he knew now for what it was. He was glad that
her pure spirit had not guessed it. If he could get
a little bit ahead, so that he could marry, he would
marry her. It would be terrible, though, if, after all,
another woman should appear and he should fall in
love with her in genuine love, this time. It would
break Alice s heart. He might better go to his grave
not knowing what real love was than that he should
break the heart of such a girl as Alice.
He must get something to do, even if it was
LOVE STORY OF ROBERT PROUTY 245
not in his line. For Alice s sake, he would sink
his pride. They made money selling books, he had
heard. It could be no harder than asking for
Just below Twenty-second Street, on his way
down Fifth Avenue to a subscription book house, he
noted Maxwell coming toward him. He pretended
not to see him; but Maxwell walked up, stuck out
his hand, and said:
Bob answered and took the hand. There was no
sense in being rude. If Maxwell had been in the
wrong, Bob had not been wholly in the right.
" Where you been all summer? In your yacht? "
Bob smiled grudgingly.
" Out in Ohio," he said. " Just got back a couple
of weeks ago."
" Doing anything? "
Bob winced. Maxwell noted it as he revolved his
cigar in his mouth and shut his left eye to exclude
" Well, not exactly."
" Now, look here," said Maxwell, taking Bob by
the arm and leading him to a store front, out of the
tide of travel. " There wasn t any need for you to
get your back up the way you did. You might know
I had to call you down about that Camden order.
I never thought you were going to fly off the handle
246 FOLKS BACK HOME
and quit. I was mighty sorry about that. I always
liked you and liked your ways."
He stopped and looked steadily at Bob, who swal
lowed and picked at a roughness in the painted iron.
He had been a fool. He saw it now. Maxwell had
been in the right, or not enough in the wrong to
make a fuss about it. He was just going to say so
when Maxwell spoke:
" Well, I must run along. Glad to see you again.
Oh, by the way, Robbins is sick. Went home yester
day. Think you could take charge of his department
for him till he gets back? All right! See you to
morrow morning, then. So long! I ve got to run."
Many, many verses of the old air indifferently
known as " Rousseau s Dream," " Days of Absence,"
"Go Tell Aunt Rhody," and "Greenville," all
to four syllables repeated over and over again,
had been sung and sung. They had been followed
by long-drawn susurrations, by silence, and by a
stealthy withdrawal from the room with the white
iron crib in it.
On the front stoop Rob and this Mr. Maxwell, a
friend of his, were talking as they smoked their
after-dinner cigars and admired one of the sunsets
for which Long Island is so justly famed. She could
LOVE STORY OF ROBERT PROUTY 247
hear most of what Rob said, but Mr. Maxwell had
a more muffled way of speaking.
"Oh, that s all my eye!" Rob said. "I used to
be afraid of the same thing myself, but I tell you
this other woman won t come along unless you re
looking for her. And if this certain party you speak
of is as fond of you as you say " An interval, and
then: " I understand. I understand. We were just
supposing. If she really loves you, you simply can
not take any interest in another woman. That is, if
this certain party you speak of is as sensible and
good a little woman as my wife. Say, do you know,
I ve got one out of a thousand yes, one out of
a million! I m the luckiest man alive. I don t de
serve it. When I think that she loves me me, mind
you do you think I d look at another woman? I
couldn t. I couldn t! It would be dog mean!"
The baby stirred just then, and Alice missed what
came next. He had lowered his voice. But this is
what he said:
" You don t have to have this wild, passionate,
story-book love. I think that s kind of kiddish. There
never was any of it in my case. Just esteem, that s
all. She was the only woman I ever met that didn t
make me tired. She s company, if she doesn t say a
The baby was sound asleep.
" Oh, it s the only way to live," Rob went on.
248 FOLKS BACK HOME
" Why, I m as happy as happy " he searched for
a comparison " as happy as a hen in a flower bed.
Hush! There she comes. Here, take this rocking
chair, honey. Well, he fought against it as long as
he could, didn t he, the little rascal!"
THE DAYS OF HIS SEPARATION
JIMMY DARLING stood in his sock feet be
fore his bureau, combing out his long red hair
and braiding it for the night. As he braided,
he noticed for the first time one or two threads of
white. At such a time, if ever, a man casts up ac
counts with life, the earnest of that final accounting,
plainly not so very far away.
He had come home that night, as he had come
home any night since his sister married and moved
to Kansas, to a dark and cheerless home. He had
lighted the lamps and made the fires; had cooked
and eaten his lone supper; had washed the dishes and
tidied up. He was a neat housekeeper for a man.
To-morrow he would cook and eat his lone break
fast, do up his lunch, and go to work in the carriage
factory. To-morrow and the next day and so on, as
he had done yesterday and the day before and so
on. And what was the good of it all?
It might have been very different with him. He
thought how it would be if, when he clicked the gate
latch, he might have seen the cheery lamps shining
for him; if, when he trod the narrow brick walk by
250 FOLKS BACK HOME
the side of the house, he might have seen through
the window the white cloth gleaming and the glass
and silver gayly twinkling at him; if, when he opened
the back door, the warm and savory kitchen air
gushed in his face; if some one had said, "Well,
Jimmy," and put her mouth up to be kissed, and
romping children had flung themselves against him.
There is a fatherhood as well as a motherhood, and
they tell me that a bachelor when he sees his first
gray hair thinks of these things.
She who would say, " Well, Jimmy," was no
vague abstraction of the feminine. Ever since he be
gan to " take notice of ? em," she was Hetty Funk
that was, now Mrs. Chris Hyams. Clairvoyantly
Jimmy saw that no such welcome waited on Chris
Hyams homecoming, and that the children trem
ulously shadowed in the background until they knew
whether pa was "all right." Poor Chris! Once a
dashing sort of fellow, and a first-rate workman,
he was now " his own worst enemy," if you know
what that means.
All that the Bible says about the Nazarite, how
he never tasted strong drink, and how, while his
vow lasted, no hair of his head was shorn, was
known by heart to Jimmy Darling. The sixth chap
ter of Numbers was worn and tattered to a brown
flake. To-night as he beheld the threads of white
in his thick red braids, he found himself repeating
THE DAYS OF HIS SEPARATION 251
the words, "And this is the law of the Nazarite
when the days of his separation are fulfilled. . . .
When the days of his separation are fulfilled." Ful
filled? They never could be now as he dreamed
they would. It was as if those white strands had been
the filaments of electric lamps that shed light into a
dark place. His vow that had been his stay so long
against the smile of those to whom he had been
pointed out as a " character "... Why, it was no
vow at all!
In his youth when, like the rest of us, he sought
a reconciliation of what is with what ought to be,
he had lighted upon what seemed to him to be the
Cause of All the Trouble. It was Whisky. Nothing
could be a plainer duty than to abolish Whisky. And
that could be done as soon as ever the decent men,
who certainly outnumber all the vile and reckless,
should vote to have it done. On a November day,
range all the wolves on one side, range all the sheep
on the other; give the word, " One. . . . Two. . . .
Three. . . . Go!" and the sheep would butt the
wolves to death. Ended the miserable past; begun
the golden, happy future. It had seemed to him so
sure a thing that he had made it up with old Jake
Reinhart that, from that day and date, he, James M.
Darling, party of the first part, would not cut his
hair, or have it cut, until there was a Prohibition
President of these United States; and to make it a
252 FOLKS BACK HOME
fair bargain, for his part, he, Jacob S. Reinhart,
party of the second part, covenanted and agreed not
to cut his hair after there was a Prohibition Presi
dent of these United States.
It was no solemn vow only an election bet. He
saw that now, and wondered he had not seen it
sooner. It was no solemn vow, but his days had been
" days of separation," without a doubt. He had been
keeping company with Hetty Funk, but when he
explained to her his vow, she mittened him in hot
temper. She said she wasn t going to be made a
mock of by nobody, and if he liked her as well as
he said he did, he wouldn t think of such a fool
caper. Why, the very idea! She didn t deny but
what she liked him, but if he thought if he thought
she was going to marry a man that went around
lookin like a Taw-way Injun, with his hair a-flyin ,
why he was mighty much mistaken, that was all! She
stood there a minute, burst into a loud fit of crying,
and ran out and slammed the door behind her. There
would be no Prohibition President of these United
States. He knew that well. Year by year the vote was
dwindling. Jake Reinhart was long dead, so that even
if victory would come, it would bring no triumph.
He might as well absolve himself of his vow if it
was a vow. But it had gone so long now and peo
ple would think it strange if He smiled that he,
of all men, should consider what " people thought."
THE DAYS OF HIS SEPARATION 253
A faint shudder thrilled his spine. Standing there
in his sock feet so long, he probably had taken cold.
He must attend to it at once. It was the policy of
his life never to neglect the beginnings of a cold.
He went to the cupboard and took down a bottle
of Dr. Hooker s Celebrated Chil-e-na.
Chil-e-na is one of the finest medicines ever put
forth. It is good for almost every chronic ailment
that almost everybody has. It is a sovereign remedy
for catarrh, colds, consumption, and pneumonia. It
cures dyspepsia in all its hideous forms. Also, rheu
matism and neuralgia. It repairs the ravages of ma
laria, nervous prostration, and general debility. For
" that sinking feeling " it is a positive specific. It
tones up the system, and makes rich red blood. For
sale at all druggists at one dollar a bottle. As it
is better to be always well than to get sick and be
cured again, it is earnestly advised that all should
keep their systems toned up by regularly taking two
tablespoonfuls of this invaluable remedy before each
meal and upon retiring, also when feeling particu
larly exhausted, and to ward off colds. Many a time,
on coming home from the carriage factory all tired
out, Jimmy had taken a dose for " that sinking feel
ing," and it had toned up his system and made rich
red blood right away. He could notice the difference
It had been in the Enquirer about his vow not to
254 FOLKS BACK HOME
cut his hair until there was a Prohibition President,
but Jimmy had not been much set up by this no
toriety. He didn t think much of The Cincinnati
Enquirer anyhow. But he felt right proud to know
that his signed testimonial to the healing and pre
serving powers of Dr. Hooker s Celebrated Chil-e-
na, accompanied by a large line-and-dot portrait of
himself with his braids hung in front, nicely done
up with ribbon bows, had been spread broadcast
throughout the land, in the illustrious company of
admirals, statesmen, the reverend clergy, and people
who had lived to be a hundred and five years old. To
have convinced one person of the merits of Chil-e-na
was to have done some good in the world. The
testimonial had convinced Jimmy at least; for there
after he bought Chil-e-na by the case and kept it in
As he replaced the bottle in the cupboard he
heard a rap on his front door. Visitors were rare