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THE BRIARY BUSH ***




Produced by ellinora, Barry Abrahamsen, and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries) Last Edit of
Project Info









THE

BRIARY-BUSH

A Novel

By

Floyd Dell



[Illustration: Publisher’s Logo]



New York
Alfred · A · Knopf
1921


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COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


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TO

S. A. TANNENBAUM, M.D.,

EXPLORER OF THE DARK
CONTINENT OF THE MIND


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“_Oh, the briary-bush
That pricks my heart so sore!
If I ever get out of the briary-bush
I’ll never get in any more!_”
—Old Song


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CONTENTS

BOOK ONE: COMMUNITY HOUSE

CHAPTER
I FELIX DECIDES TO CHANGE HIS CHARACTER 3
II “BON VOYAGE!” 9
III PLANS 22
IV SURPRISES 28
V THE STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE 37
VI A GUIDE TO CHICAGO 47
VII WORK AND PLAY 52
VIII ROSE-ANN GOES AWAY 62

BOOK TWO: CANAL STREET

IX HOW TO SPEND ONE’S EVENINGS 69
X THE DETACHED ATTITUDE 75
XI AN ADVENTURE IN PHILOSOPHY 83
XII BACHELOR’S HALL 89
XIII IN HOSPITAL 99

BOOK THREE: WOODS POINT

XIV HEART AND HAND 105

XV PRE-NUPTIAL 108

XVI CLIVE’S ASSISTANCE 114

XVII CHARIVARI 121

XVIII THE AUTHORITY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
131

XIX TOGETHER 134

XX “THE NEST-BUILDING INSTINCT” 143

BOOK FOUR: FIFTY-SEVENTH STREET

XXI ADVANCEMENT 155

XXII MAINLY ABOUT CLOTHES 162

XXIII A BARGAIN IN UTOPIAS 170

XXIV STUDIO 176

XXV ST. GEORGE OF THE MINUTE 180

XXVI WHAT ROSE-ANN WANTED 187

XXVII PARTIES 197

XXVIII A FATHER-IN-LAW 201

XXIX INTERLUDE AT MIDNIGHT 207

XXX FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS 210

XXXI MORE OR LESS THEATRICAL 215

XXXII DUTY 224

XXXIII A PARABLE 231

XXXIV JOURNEYS 235

XXXV CIVILIZATION 244

XXXVI “WE NEEDS MUST KNOW THAT IN THE DAYS TO
COME” 247

XXXVII SYMBOLS 249

XXXVIII THE PORTRAIT OF FELIX FAY 254

XXXIX A DATE ON THE CALENDAR 259

XL CELEBRATION 264

BOOK FIVE: GARFIELD BOULEVARD

XLI CHANGES 271
XLII AN APPARITION 275
XLIII NOCTURNE 280
XLIV AUBADE 292
XLV FOURSOME 297
XLVI THE REHEARSAL 307
XLVII GYGE’S RING 312
XLVIII DREAM-TRYST 317
XLIX A MATTER OF CONVENTION 322
L BABES IN THE WOOD 330
LI “BIENFAITS DE LA LUNE” 334
LII SLEEPLESS NIGHTS 341
LIII TWO LETTERS 348
LIV THE GOD AND THE PEDESTAL 353

BOOK SIX: WILSON AVENUE

LV THE CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY 363
LVI EULENSPIEGEL 371
LVII THREE DAYS 380
LVIII RENDEZVOUS 385
LIX UNANSWERED QUESTIONS 394
LX A LEAVE-TAKING 397
LXI TWO MEN DISCUSS A GIRL 401
LXII THEORY AND PRACTICE 408
LXIII IN PLAY 416
LXIV IN EARNEST 422


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Book One
Community House

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I. Felix Decides to Change His Character

1

CHICAGO!

Felix Fay saw with his mind’s eye the map on the wall of the railway
station—the map with a picture of iron roads from all over the middle
west centering in a dark blotch in the corner.

He was sitting at a desk in the office of the Port Royal Daily Record,
writing headings on sheaves of items sent in by country correspondents.

_John Hoffman has finished his new barn._

_Born to Mr. and Mrs. Elbert Hayes last Wednesday a fine ten pound boy._

_Miss Edythe Brush has returned to the State Normal for the fall term._

And so on.

Felix wrote at the top of the page, _Wheaton Whittlings_. A rotten
heading—but it would have to do. He yawned, and then stared unseeingly
at the next page.

He was not thinking about those news-items. He was thinking about
Chicago....

A year ago, he had determined to leave Port Royal forever—and go to
Chicago.

But here he was, still!

2

He had hoped, a year ago, to find, in the excitement of a new life in
Chicago, healing for the desperate hurts of love. If only he had gone
then!...

But he hadn’t had the money to buy a railway ticket.

He had taken this job on the Record, and settled down to life in Port
Royal again as a reporter.

His twenty-first year had gone by.

The hurts of love, so intolerably hard to bear, had healed.

After all, Joyce Tennant had loved him; nothing could ever take away his
memories of those starlit evenings on the river, and in the little cabin
on their lonely island. She had loved him, she had been his. There was
comfort in that thought.... The hurts of love had healed.

But the hurts of pride remained. Loving him, she had chosen to marry
another. That wound still ached....

She had seen him all along for what he was—a moonstruck dreamer! She had
thought him the fit companion of a reckless love-adventure—that was all.

Her scorn, or what seemed to him her scorn, mirrored and magnified by
the secret consciousness of his own weakness, came to assume in his mind
the proportions of a final and universal judgment.

A dreamer? And a dreamer only? His egotism could not endure the thought.

The shadow-world of ideas, of theories, of poetic fancies, amidst which
he had moved all his life, was not enough. He must live in the real
world.

Chicago became for him the symbol of that real world. It was no longer a
place of refuge—it was a test, a challenge. He would go there not as a
moonstruck dreamer, but as a realist, able to face the hard facts of
life.

He would become a different person.

He was tired of being Felix Fay the fool, the poet, the theorist. He
would rather be anybody else in the world than that Felix Fay whose
ridiculous blunderings he knew by heart.

He could imagine himself in Chicago, a changed person—a young man of
action, practical, alert, ruthlessly competitive....

Dreaming of success in Chicago, he sat idly at his desk in Port Royal.

3

It was late in the afternoon. No one was left in the office but himself
and Hastings, the city editor.

“Fay!”

He looked up. The city editor beckoned him over.

“Look at this.”

Hastings held in his hand the sheaf of items from Wheaton, over which
Felix had casually written a heading half an hour before. Felix held out
his hand and took them. Something was wrong. He looked anxiously at the
items, written in grey pencil on coarse paper in a straggling hand. The
page uppermost was numbered “3.” He had hardly glanced at it. Evidently
he had overlooked something.

It caught his eye instantly—the second item from the top:

_A man named Cyrus Jenks, known as Old Cy, committed suicide
last night by hanging himself in the barn. He was a well-known
village character, chiefly noted for his intemperate habits. The
inquest will be held today. His one good trait was his devotion
to his old mother, who died recently. He was her illegitimate
child. She was one of the Bensons, who until her disgrace were
one of the principal families in the county. Her father was
Judge Benson. The family moved to North Dakota years ago, and
left her here in the old family home, where she lived alone with
her son until she died. Before hanging himself Old Cy set fire
to the house, and it was partly burned. Since the old lady’s
death he had received several offers for the place, but refused
to sell, and said that no one should ever set foot in his
mother’s house. The incident is causing much local comment._

Felix drew a long breath. He certainly had overlooked something! He
could see that story, with its headlines, on the front page of the
Record—rewritten by himself. It was just the kind of story that he could
handle in a way to bring out all its values. And he had had it in his
hands—and had let it pass through them, buried in a collection of
worthless country items!

“The postmistress at Wheaton,” Hastings was saying gently, “is not
supposed to know a front-page story. You are supposed to know—that is
the theory on which you are hired.”

Felix did not reply. There was nothing to be said.

Hastings was looking at him thoughtfully. “I don’t know what’s got into
you, Felix,” he said. “I thought you were going to make a good newspaper
man. And sometimes I think so still. But mostly—you aren’t worth a
damn.”

“Yes, sir,” said Felix. “—I mean, no, I don’t think I am, either.”

He was going to be fired.... Well, he deserved it. He ought to have been
fired long ago. And he was rather glad that it was happening.

Hastings was rather taken aback. “Well,” he said, “frankly, I was going
to let you go. But—well, there’s no harm done this time; we’d already
gone to press when that stuff came in. Of course, I don’t say that
your—your letting it get by was excusable. In fact, I simply can’t
understand it. But—if you realize—”

So he was not going to be fired after all! Felix was unaccountably
sorry.

“If you think you can pull yourself together—” said Hastings. “I’d hate
to have you leave the Record. I’ve always—”

Felix felt desperate. He knew now why he wanted to be fired. It would
give him the necessary push into his Chicago adventure. He would never
have the courage to leave this job, and venture into the unknown, upon
his own initiative. He didn’t have any initiative.

“I don’t think it’s any use, Mr. Hastings,” he said, “keeping me on the
Record.”

Hastings stared at him incredulously.

“I mean,” Felix went on hastily, “I’ve got in a rut. I go through my
work mechanically. I don’t use my brains. I’m dull. And it’s getting
worse. I simply can’t take any interest in my work.”

“You mean you want to be fired?” Hastings asked severely.

It was absurd. In fact, it was preposterous. This was not the way to do
it at all. But it was too late now.

“Yes, sir,” he said.

“Well, then, you are.” Hastings looked coldly at the ungrateful and
rather sheepish-looking youth standing before him. “Have you got another
job?” he asked suspiciously.

“No—I’m going to Chicago to look for one.”

As soon as he said that, he wished he hadn’t. It committed him to going.
He couldn’t back out now. He had to go.

“And I haven’t any money except my pay-check for this week.”

He hadn’t thought of that before. How could he go without money?

“Will you lend me fifty dollars?”

It had slipped out without his intending it. Felix blushed. He was
certainly behaving like a fool. After proving himself to Hastings an
utter incompetent, to ask him for money.... He would go on a freight
train....

“Fifty—what are you talking about? Chicago!” Hastings was embarrassed,
too. “Why—why—yes, I can lend you some money, if you really want it....
Chicago—I don’t know but what you’re right, after all.... When are you
going?”

Felix was trying to think now before he spoke. He just managed to check
himself on the point of saying, “Tonight!”

All this was happening too swiftly. He needed time to consider
everything, to make his plans. A month would be none too much.

“Next m—Monday,” he said.

4

When Felix left the office he went home by a round-about way which took
him up through one of the quiet residential streets of the town. He
turned a corner, and walked slowly down past a row of cheerful little
houses set back within well-kept lawns. There was nothing magnificent or
showy about these houses—they did not betoken any vast prosperity or
leisure, but only a moderate comfort and security. They might perhaps
suggest a certain middle-class smugness; but even that was no reason why
Felix should have looked at them from under his slouching hat-brim with
such a grimace of hostility. As he neared a particular one of these
houses, he walked faster and bent his head, casting a furtive glance at
its windows. But there was no one to be seen at those windows, and so
Felix looked again and slowed his step a little. In front of the house
he paused momentarily and looked at it with an apparently casual glance.

He had gone past that house, in this manner, a dozen times in the past
year, savoring painfully each time the hard, unmistakable, disciplinary
fact that there, contentedly under that roof, the wife of its owner,
lived Joyce—his Joyce of only a year ago. He had come, now, to read that
lesson in realism for the last time.

He did not want to see the girl who had taught him that lesson. He only
wanted to look at this house in which she lived as another man’s wife.

But, as he walked on past, he did see her. She was standing on the
little side verandah. And in the vivid picture of her which Felix’s eyes
caught before he looked hastily away, he saw that she had a baby in her
arms.

She was looking down at the baby, shaking her head teasingly above it so
that stray locks of her yellow hair touched its face. It uttered a faint
cry, and she shook her curly head again, and looked up, smiling.

But she did not see Felix. She was looking down the street past him. She
was waiting for someone—for the owner of this house, her husband;
waiting for the man who was the father of her child.

This Felix saw and felt with a bewildered and hurt mind in the moment
before he turned his eyes away to stare at the sidewalk in front of him.
He walked on, and in another moment he must perforce enter the field of
her vision as he passed along the street in which her eyes were
searching for another man. He braced himself, threw his head back, and
commenced to whistle a careless tune.

If she saw him, if she noted the familiar slouch of his hat as he passed
out of her sight, she would never know that he had seen—or cared.


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II. “Bon Voyage!”

1

THE family were apparently not at all surprised when, at the
supper-table, Felix announced his sudden decision.

“Well, I knew you’d be going one of these days,” his brother Ed
remarked.

That seemed strange to Felix, who had kept his Chicago intentions
carefully to himself all that year....

And his brother Jim, who was working again in spite of his lameness, was
quite converted from his supper-table querulousness by the announcement.
“When I was in Chicago—” he said, and told stories of the Chicago of ten
years ago, where he had tried briefly to gain a foothold. It remained in
his mind, it seemed, not as a failure, but as a glorious excursion....

Alice, Ed’s wife, was enchanted. Her cheeks glowed, and she asked
endless questions. It appeared that none of them had the slightest doubt
of Felix’s ultimate, and splendid, success. It really seemed as if they
envied him!

And all the while, Felix was thinking what an ironic spectacle he would
present if he returned home in a month or two. He clenched his fists
under the table-edge, and swore to himself that he would
never—never—make that confession of failure....

“You must write to your mother and tell her all about it, Felix,” said
Alice.

His mother and father were down on the farm in Illinois where Mrs. Fay
had lived as a little girl. She had never adjusted herself to town life;
nor had her husband. They were best content in the country, where she
could grow flowers in the front yard and he could fatten and butcher and
salt down a couple of hogs for the winter.... Their only grievance was
that their children found so little time to come and visit them. Ed
usually came once a year, in the slack season, and Jim when he needed a
rest; but Felix, it seemed, was always too busy....

“Why bother her about my going to Chicago?” Felix grumbled.

“Why, Felix!” Alice reproached him. She could never understand why it
was so hard for him to write to his mother.

“I don’t want her worrying about me,” Felix explained uncomfortably.

“She won’t worry about you,” Alice insisted. “She’ll be proud of you!”

Felix wondered if people always had to lie to themselves about their
prospects before they could do anything.... Perhaps he ought to lie to
himself; but he preferred to face the facts as they were. He would have
to embellish them a little, however, in writing to his mother....

When supper was cleared away, and Jim had gone out to sit on the front
steps, and Ed and Alice were in the front room playing one of the newest
records on the phonograph, Felix wrote briefly and shyly to his
mother—explaining that he was fairly certain to get something to do in
Chicago very quickly.... And then, by way of savouring in advance the
grim realities of his adventure, he wrote a long letter to Helen Raymond
in New York—a letter in which he made clear the wild recklessness of his
plans. He felt that the woman who had befriended him when she was the
librarian at Port Royal and he a queer boy who worked in a factory and
wrote poetry, would understand this newest folly of his.

But what a waste of time, writing letters, when he had only six days
left in which to prepare for going to Chicago!... He determined to use
those remaining days very carefully and sensibly.

He bought a street map the next morning, and went home to study it. But
it was hard to give it due attention at home. His sister-in-law was
mending and pressing his clothes, and collecting and inspecting his
shirts, and talking excitedly about his trip. “If you run short of
money, Felix, you just write to us for it. Ed and I will see that you
get it somehow.” Felix was fiercely resolved not to be a burden to them
after he went to Chicago, and these offers made him uncomfortable. Why
should Alice be so interested in this expedition of his anyway? She was
as concerned about it as though it were she herself who was going. She
wanted to know his plans; and when he did not seem to have any, she
persisted in trying to make them for him.

He was not going to get any opportunity to study that street map at
home. He decided that he would go and spend a few days at his friend Tom
Alden’s little place in the country, where he would find a more
congenial atmosphere.

2

Too congenial! Tom was the same perfect companion of an idle
hour—instinctively expert in gilding that idleness with delightful talk
until it ceased to seem mere idleness—the same old Tom that Felix had
loafed away long evenings with last summer, when they were supposed to
be writing novels. Tom was still desultorily working upon his novel; but
he put it aside to walk in the woods and talk with Felix about Chicago.
It was not, however, of the grim Chicago which loomed in Felix’s mind,
that Tom talked.

Tom, as Felix now realized, was a romantic soul. Chicago had been to him
a series of brilliant vacation-trips, a place of happy occasional
sanctuary from the dull realities of middle-class life in Port Royal: an
opportunity for brief, stimulating human contacts, not at all a place to
earn a living in.

Lying in the cool grass beside the creek where he and Felix had spent so
many illusioned hours a summer ago, he talked with dreamy enthusiasm of
genial drunken poets and philosophers and friends met at the Pen
Club—and of their girl companions, charming and sophisticated, whose
loves were frank and light-hearted.

Felix walked up and down impatiently. A year ago he too had dreamed of
Tom’s Chicago—

“_Midnights of revel
And noondays of song!_”

But he knew better now. He could imagine the Pen Club, with its
boon-companionship of whiskey and mutual praise. These, he told himself,
were the consolations of failure. He might, he reflected grimly, have to
fall back on these things at forty. But in the meantime he would try to
learn to face reality.

And those light Chicago loves—he suspected that the romantic temperament
had thrown a glamour over these also. He was not going to Chicago for
Pen Club friendship nor the solace of complaisant femininity.... While
Tom Alden reminisced of glorious nights of talk and drink and kisses,
Felix was brooding over a scene inside his mind which he called
Chicago—a scene in which the insane clamour of the wheat-pit was mingled
with stockyards brutality and filth. This was what he must deal with....

“What’s on your mind?” Tom asked.

“Nothing. Except—I came here to study my street map, and I haven’t
looked inside it.”

“Never mind your street map just now,” Tom said. “We’re going to the
station to meet Gloria and Madge.”

Madge was a cousin of Tom’s, and Gloria her especial—and
beautiful—friend. They were just back from a trip abroad, and Tom had
asked them out to dinner to hear what they had to tell.

“You mustn’t be prejudiced against Gloria because of her eyelashes,” Tom
urged. “She has rather a mind, I think.”

So Felix, reluctantly, went along to the station.

Tom jested at his reluctance. “Why, are you afraid of becoming entangled
in Gloria’s celebrated eyelashes?”

“No, I’m not afraid of that,” Felix said.

Tom laughed and put his hand on Felix’s shoulder.

“Think, they bring us news of the great world: London! Paris! Doesn’t
that stir you?”

“No,” Felix retorted, “for I don’t believe it. They bring back what they
took with them.”

“Wait and see! I hear rumours that Gloria has become fearfully
cosmopolitan.”

When Gloria and Madge stepped from the train, it was evident, even to so
careless an observer as Felix, that they had been at least outwardly
transformed. Every woman in Port Royal was wearing the wide-flaring
“Merry Widow” hat; and these girls wore small close-fitting
hats—Gloria’s being a jaunty little flower-confection, and Madge’s a
tiny straw turban set off by a perky feather.

“Dear old Tom,” said Gloria, embracing him affectionately. “Too busy to
come to town to see old friends, so old friends have to come see him.
Busy writing great novel?”

“More or less,” Tom answered, and they started back up the road. “How’s
Europe?”

“We tore ourselves from the arms of doting relatives to come and tell
you—When one’s been all over the world, what’s a few miles more? ...



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