Jennette Barbour Perry Lee.

Mr. Achilles online

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me these." She produced the round box and took off the lid, looking into
it with pleased eyes. "Aren't they beautiful?"

The mother bent blindly to it. "Pomegranates," she said. Her lips were
still a little white, but they smiled bravely with the child's pleasure.

"Pomegranates," said Betty, nodding. "That is what he called them. I
should like to taste one - " She was looking at them a little wistfully.

"We will have them for luncheon," said the mother. She had touched the
bell with quick decision.

"Marie" - she held out the box - "tell Nesmer to serve these with

"Am I to have luncheon with you, mother-dear?" The child's eyes were on
her mother's face.

"With me - yes." The reply was prompt - if a little tremulous.

The child sighed happily. "It is being a marvellous day," she said,

The mother smiled. "Come and get ready for luncheon, and then you shall
tell me about the wonderful man."

So it came about that Betty Harris, seated across the dark, shining
table, told her mother, Mrs. Philip Harris, a happy adventure wherein
she, Betty Harris, who had never before set foot unattended in the
streets of Chicago, had wandered for an hour and more in careless
freedom, and straying at last into the shop of a marvellous Greek - one
Achilles Alexandrakis by name - had heard strange tales of Greece and
Athens and the Parthenon - tales at the very mention of which her eyes
danced and her voice rippled.

And her mother, listening across the table, trembled at the dangers the
child touched upon and flitted past. It had been part of the careful
rearing of Betty Harris that she should not guess that the constant
attendance upon her was a body-guard - such as might wait upon a
princess. It had never occurred to Betty Harris that other little girls
were not guarded from the moment they rose in the morning till they went
to bed at night, and that even at night Miss Stone slept within sound of
her breath. She had grown up happy and care-free, with no suspicion of
the danger that threatened the child of a marked millionaire. She did
not even know that her father was a very rich man - so protected had she
been. She was only a little more simple than most children of twelve.
And she met the world with straight, shining looks, speaking to rich and
poor with a kind of open simplicity that won the heart.

Her mother, watching the clear eyes, had a sudden pang of what the
morning might have been - the disillusionment and terror of this
unprotected hour - that had been made instead a memory of delight - thanks
to an unknown Greek named Achilles Alexandrakis, who had told her of
the beauties of Greece and the Parthenon, and had given her fresh
pomegranates to carry home in a round box. The mother's thoughts rested
on the man with a quick sense of gratitude. He should be paid a thousand
times over for his care of Betty Harris - and for pomegranates.

"They are like the Parthenon," said the child, holding one in her hand
and turning it daintily to catch the light on its pink surface. "They
grew in Athens." She set her little teeth firmly in its round side.



Achilles, in his little shop, went in and out with the thought of the
child in his heart. His thin fingers flitted lightly among the fruit.
The sadness in his face had given way to a kind of waking joy and
thoughtfulness. As he made change and did up bags and parcels of fruit,
his thoughts kept hovering about her, and his lips moved in a soft
smile, half-muttering again the words he had spoken to her - praises of
Athens, city of light, sky of brightness, smiles, and running talk....
It was all with him, and his heart was free. How the child's eyes
had followed the words, full of trust! He should see her again - and
again.... Outside a halo rested on the smoky air - a little child, out of
the rattle and din, had spoken to him. As he looked up, the big, sooty
city became softly the presence of the child.... The sound of pennies
clinking in hurried palms was no longer harsh upon his ears; they
tinkled softly - little tunes that ran. Truly it had been a wonderful day
for Achilles Alexandrakis.

He paused in his work and looked about the little shop. The same
dull-shining rows of fruit, the same spicy smell and the glowing disks
of yellow light. He drew a deep, full breath. It was all the same, but
the world was changed. His heart that had ached so long with its pent-up
message of Greece - the glory of her days, the beauty of temples and
statues and tombs - was freed by the tale of his lips. The world was
new-born for him. He lifted the empty fig-box, from which the child
had set free the butterfly that had hung imprisoned in its grey cocoon
throughout the long winter, and placed it carefully on the shelf. The
lettering traced along its side was faded and dim; but he saw again the
child's eyes lifted to it - the lips half-parted, the eager question and
swift demand - that he should tell her of Athens and the Parthenon - and
the same love and the wonder that dwelt in his own heart for the city of
his birth. It was a strange coincidence that the child should have come
to him. Perhaps she was the one soul in the great, hurrying city who
could care. They did not understand - these hurrying, breathless men and
women - how a heart could ache for something left behind across the
seas, a city of quiet, the breath of the Past - sorrow and joy and sweet
life.... No, they could not understand! But the child - He caught his
breath a little. Where was she - in the hurry and rush? He had not
thought to ask. And she was gone! Only for a moment the dark face
clouded. Then the smile flooded again. He should find her. It might
be hard - but he would search. Had he not come down the long way of the
Piraeus to the sea - blue in the sun. Across the great waters by ship,
and the long miles by train. He should find her.... They would talk
again. He laughed quietly in the dusky shop.

Then his eye fell upon it - the music roll that had slipped quietly to
the floor when her eager hand had lifted itself to touch the butterfly,
opening and closing his great wings in the fig-box. He crossed to it and
lifted it almost reverently, brushing a breath of dust from its leather
sides.... He bent closer to it, staring at a little silver plate that
swung from the strap. He carried it to the window, rubbing it on the
worn black sleeve, and bending closer, studying the deep-cut letters.
Then he lifted his head. A quick sigh floated from him. Miss Elizabeth
Harris, 108 Lake Shore Drive. He knew the place quite well - facing the
lake, where the water boomed against the great break-water. He would
take it to her - to-morrow - the next day - next week, perhaps.... He
wrapped it carefully away and laid it in a drawer to wait. She had asked
him to come.



To Mrs. Philip Harris, in the big house looking out across the lake, the
passing days brought grateful reassurance.... Betty was safe - Miss Stone
was well again - and the man had not come.... She breathed more freely
as she thought of it. The child had told her that she had asked him.
But she had forgotten to give him her address; and it would not do to
be mixed up with a person like that - free to come and go as he liked.
He was no doubt a worthy man. But Betty was only a child, and too easily
enamoured of people she liked. It was strange how deep an impression
the man's words had made on her. Athens and Greece filled her waking
moments. Statues and temples - photographs and books of travel loaded
the school-room shelves. The house reeked with Greek learning. Poor Miss
Stone found herself drifting into archaeology; and an exhaustive study
of Greek literature, Greek life, Greek art filled her days. The
theory of Betty Harris's education had been elaborately worked out by
specialists from earliest babyhood. Certain studies, rigidly prescribed,
were to be followed whether she liked them or not - but outside these
lines, subjects were to be taken up when she showed an interest in them.
There could be no question that the time for the study of Greek history
and Greek civilisation had come. Miss Stone laboured early and
late. Instruction from the university down the lake was pressed into
service.... But out of it all the child seemed, by some kind of precious
alchemy, to extract only the best, the vital heart of it.

The instructor in Greek marvelled a little. "She is only a child," he
reported to the head of the department, "and the family are American of
the newest type - you know, the Philip Harrises?"

The professor nodded. "I know - hide and hoof a generation back."

The instructor assented. "But the child is uncanny. She knows more about
Greek than - "

"Than _I_ do, I suppose." The professor smiled indulgently. "She
wouldn't have to know much for that."

"It isn't so much what she _knows_. She has a kind of _feeling_ for
things. I took up a lot of photographs to-day - some of the _later_
period mixed in - and she picked them out as if she had been brought up
in Athens."

The professor looked interested. "Modern educational methods?"

"As much as you like," said the instructor. "But it is something more.
When I am with the child I am in Athens itself. Chicago makes me blink
when I come out."

The professor laughed. The next day he made an appointment to go himself
to see the child. He was a famous epigraphist and an authority in his
subject. He had spent years in Greece - with his nose, for the most part,
held close to bits of parchment and stone.

When he came away, he was laughing softly. "I am going over for a year,"
he said, when he met the instructor that afternoon in the corridor.

"Did you see the little Harris girl?" asked the instructor.

The professor paused. "Yes, I saw her."

"How did she strike you?"

"She struck me dumb," said the professor. "I listened for the best
part of an hour while she expounded things to me - asked me questions I
couldn't answer, mostly." He chuckled a little. "I felt like a fool," he
added, frankly, "and it felt good."

The instructor smiled. "I go through it twice a week. The trouble seems
to be that she's alive, and that she thinks everything Greek is alive,

The professor nodded. "It's never occurred to her it's dead and done
with, these thousand years and more." He gave a little sigh. "Sometimes
I've wondered myself whether it is - quite as dead as it looks to you and
me," he added. "You know that grain - wheat or something - that Blackman
took from the Egyptian mummy he brought over last spring - "

"Yes, he planted it - "

"Exactly. And all summer he was tending a little patch of something
green up there in his back yard - as fresh as the eyes of Pharaoh's
daughter ever looked on - "

The instructor opened his eyes a little. This was a wild flight for the
head epigraphist.

"That's the way she made me feel - that little Harris girl," explained
the professor - "as if my mummy might spring up and blossom any day if I
didn't look out."

The instructor laughed out. "So you're going over with it?"

"A year - two years, maybe," said the professor. "I want to watch it



In another week Achilles Alexandrakis had made ready to call on Betty
Harris. There had been many details to attend to - a careful sponging
and pressing of his best suit, the purchase of a new hat, and cuffs and
collars of the finest linen - nothing was too good for the little lady
who had flitted into the dusky shop and out, leaving behind her the
little line of light.

Achilles brushed the new hat softly, turning it on his supple wrist with
gentle pride. He took out the music-roll from the drawer and unrolled
it, holding it in light fingers. He would carry it back to Betty Harris,
and he would stay for a while and talk with her of his beloved Athens.
Outside the sun gleamed. The breeze came fresh from the lake. As he made
his way up the long drive of the Lake Shore, the water dimpled in the
June sun, and little waves lapped the great stones, touching the ear
with quiet sound. It was a clear, fresh day, with the hint of coming
summer in the air. To the left, stone castles lifted themselves sombrely
in the soft day. Grim or flaunting, they faced the lake - castles from
Germany, castles from France and castles from Spain. Achilles eyed them
with a little smile as his swift, thin feet traversed the long stones.
There were turrets and towers and battlements frowning upon the
peaceful, workaday lake. Minarets and flowers in stone, and heavy marble
blocks that gripped the earth. Suddenly Achilles's foot slackened its
swift pace. His eye dropped to the silver tag on the music-roll in his
hand, and lifted itself again to a gleaming red-brown house at the left.
It rose with a kind of lightness from the earth, standing poised upon
the shore of the lake, like some alert, swift creature caught in flight,
brought to bay by the rush of waters. Achilles looked at it with
gentle eyes, a swift pleasure lighting his glance. It was a beautiful
structure. Its red-brown front and pointed, lifting roof had hardly
a Greek line or hint; but the spirit that built the Parthenon was in
it - facing the rippling lake. He moved softly across the smooth roadway
and leaned against the parapet of stone that guarded the water, studying
the line and colour of the house that faced him.

The man who planned it had loved it, and as it rose there in the light
it was perfect in every detail as it had been conceived - with one little
exception. On either side the doorway crouched massive grey-pink lions
wrought in stone, the heavy outspread paws and firm-set haunches resting
at royal ease. In the original plan these lions had not appeared. But
in their place had been two steers - wide-flanked and short-horned, with
lifted heads and nostrils snuffling free - something crude, brusque,
perhaps, but full of power and quick onslaught. The house that rose
behind them had been born of the same thought. Its pointed gable and its
facades, its lifted front, had the same look of challenge; the light,
firm-planted hoofs, the springing head, were all there - in the soft, red
stone running to brown in the flanks.

The stock-yard owner and his wife had liked the design - with no
suspicion of the symbol undergirding it. The man had liked it
all - steers and red-brown stone and all - but the wife had objected. She
had travelled far, and she had seen, on a certain building in Rome, two
lions guarding a ducal entrance.

Now that the house was finished, the architect seldom passed that way.
But when he did he swore at the lions, softly, as he whirred by. He had
done a mighty thing - conceived in steel and stone a house that fitted
the swift life out of which it came, a wind-swept place in which it
stood, and all the stirring, troublous times about it. There it rose
in its spirit of lightness, head up-lifted and nostrils sniffing the
breeze - and in front of it squatted two stone lions from the palmy days
of Rome. He gritted his teeth, and drove his machine hard when he passed
that way.

But to Achilles, standing with bared head, the breeze from the lake
touching his forehead, the lions were of no account. He let them go. The
spirit of the whole possessed him. It was as if a hand had touched him
lightly on the shoulder, in a crowd, staying him. A quick breath escaped
his lips as he replaced his hat and crossed to the red-brown steps. He
mounted them without a glance at the pink monsters on either hand. A
light had come into his face. The child filled it.

The stiff butler eyed him severely, and the great door seemed ready to
close of itself. Only something in the poise of Achilles's head, a look
in his eyes, held the hinge waiting a grudging minute while he spoke.

He lifted his head a little; the look in his eyes deepened. "I am
called - Miss Elizabeth Harris - and her mother - to see," he said, simply.

The door paused a little and swung back an inch. He might be a great
savant... some scholar of parts - an artist. They came for the child - to
examine her - to play for her - to talk with her.... Then there was the
music-roll. It took the blundering grammar and the music-roll to keep
the door open - and then it opened wide and Achilles entered, following
the butler's stateliness up the high, dark hall. Rich hangings were
about them, and massive pictures, bronzes and statues, and curious
carvings. Inside the house the taste of the mistress had prevailed.

At the door of a great, high-ceiled room the butler paused, holding back
the soft drapery with austere hand. "What name - for madame?" he said.

The clear eyes of Achilles met his. "My name is Achilles Alexandrakis,"
he said, quietly.

The eyes of the butler fell. He was struggling with this unexpected
morsel in the recesses of his being. Plain Mr. Alexander would have had
small effect upon him; but Achilles Alexandrakis - ! He mounted the long
staircase, holding the syllables in his set teeth.

"Alexandrakis?" His mistress turned a little puzzled frown upon him.
"What is he like, Conner?"

The man considered a safe moment. "He's a furriner," he said, addressing
the wall before him with impassive jaw.

A little light crossed her face - not a look of pleasure. "Ask Miss Stone
to come to me - at once," she said.

The man bowed himself out and departed on silken foot.

Miss Stone, gentle and fluttering and fine-grained, appeared a moment
later in the doorway.

"He has come," said the woman, without looking up.

"He - ?" Miss Stone's lifted eyebrows sought to place him -

"The Greek - I told you - "

"Oh - The Greek - !" It was slow and hesitant. It spoke volumes for Miss
Stone's state of mind. Hours of Greek history were in it, and long rows
of tombs and temples - the Parthenon of gods and goddesses, with a few
outlying scores of heroes and understudies. "The - Greek," she repeated,

"The Greek," said the woman, with decision. "He has asked for Betty and
for me. I cannot see him, of course."

"You have the club," said Miss Stone, in soft assent.

"I have the club - in ten minutes." Her brow wrinkled. "You will kindly
see him - "

"And Betty - ?" said Miss Stone, waiting.

"The child must see him. Yes, of course. She would be heart-broken - You
drive at three," she added, without emphasis.

"We drive at three," repeated Miss Stone.

She moved quietly away, her grey gown a bit of shimmering in the
gorgeous rooms. She had been chosen for the very qualities that made
her seem so curiously out of place - for her gentleness and unassuming
dignity, and a few ancestors. The country had been searched for a
lady - so much the lady that she had never given the matter a thought.
Miss Stone was the result. If Betty had charm and simplicity and
instinctive courtesy toward those whom she met, it was only what she saw
every day in the little grey woman who directed her studies, her play,
her whole life.

The two were inseparable, light and shadow, morning and night. Betty's
mother in the house was the grand lady - beautiful to look upon - the
piece of bronze, or picture, that went with the house; but Miss Stone
was Betty's own - the little grey voice, a bit of heart-love, and
something common and precious.

They came down the long rooms together, the child's hand resting lightly
in hers, and her steps dancing a little in happy play. She had not heard
the man's name. He was only a wise man whom she was to meet for a few
minutes, before she and Miss Stone went for their drive. The day was
full of light outside - even in the heavily draped rooms you could feel
its presence. She was eager to be off, out in the sun and air of the
great sea of freshness, and the light, soft wind on her face.

Then she saw the slim, dark man who had risen to meet her, and a swift
light crossed her face.... She was coming down the room now, both hands
out-stretched, fluttering a little in the quick surprise and joy. Then
the hands stayed themselves, and she advanced demurely to meet him;
but the hand that lifted itself to his seemed to sing like a child's
hand - in spite of the princess.

"I am glad you have come," she said. "This is Miss Stone." She seated
herself beside him, her eyes on his face, her little feet crossed at the
ankle. "Have you any new fruit to-day?" she asked, politely.

He smiled a little, and drew a soft, flat, white bit of tissue from his
pocket, undoing it fold on fold - till in the centre lay a grey-green

The child bent above it with pleased glance. Her eyes travelled to his

He nodded quickly. "I thought of you. It is the Eastern citron. See - "
He lifted the leaf and held it suspended. "It hangs like this - and the
fruit is blue - grey-blue like - " His eye travelled about the elaborate
room. He shook his head slowly. Then his glance fell on the grey gown
of Miss Stone as it fell along the rug at her feet, and he bowed
with gracious appeal for permission. "Like the dress of madame," he
said - "but warmer, like the sun - and blue."

A low colour crept up into the soft line of Miss Stone's cheek and
rested there. She sat watching the two with slightly puzzled eyes. She
was a lady - kindly and gracious to the world - but she could not have
thought of anything to say to this fruit-peddler who had seemed, for
days and weeks, to be tumbling all Greek civilisation about her head.
The child was chatting with him as if she had known him always. They had
turned to each other again, and were absorbed in the silken leaf - the
man talking in soft, broken words, the child piecing out the
half-finished phrase with quick nod and gesture, her little voice
running in and out along the words like ripples of light on some dark

The face of Achilles had grown strangely radiant. Miss Stone, as she
looked at it again, was almost startled at the change. The sombre look
had vanished. Quick lights ran in it, and little thoughts that met the
child's and laughed. "They are two children together," thought Miss
Stone, as she watched them. "I have never seen the child so happy. She
must see him again." She sat with her hands folded in her grey lap, a
little apart, watching the pretty scene and happy in it, but outside it
all, untouched and grey and still.



Outside the door the horses pranced, champing a little at the bit, and
turning their shining, arching necks in the sun. Other carriages drove
up and drove away. Rich toilets alighted and mounted the red-brown
steps - hats that rose, tier on tier, riotous parterres of flowers and
feathers and fruit, close little bonnets that proclaimed their elegance
by velvet knot or subtle curve of brim and crown. Colours flashed,
ribbon-ends fluttered, delicately shod feet scorned the pavement. It was
the Halcyon Club of the North Side, assembling to listen to Professor
Addison Trent, the great epigraphist, who was to discourse to them on
the inscriptions of Cnossus, the buried town of Crete. The feathers and
flowers and boas were only surface deep. Beneath them beat an intense
desire to know about epigraphy - all about it. The laughing faces and
daintily shod feet were set firmly in the way of culture. They swept
through the wide doors, up the long carved staircase - from the Caracci
Palace in Florence - into the wide library, with its arched ceiling and
high-shelved books and glimpses of busts and pedestals. They fluttered
in soft gloom, and sank into rows of adjustable chairs and faced sternly
a little platform at the end of the room. The air of culture descended
gratefully about them; they buzzed a little in its dim warmth and
settled back to await the arrival of the great epigraphist.

The great epigraphist was, at this moment, three hundred and sixty-three
and one-half miles - to be precise - out from New York. He was sitting
in a steamer-chair, his feet stretched comfortably before him, a
steamer-rug wrapped about his ample form, a grey cap pulled over his
eyes - dozing in the sun. Suddenly he sat erect. The rug fell from his
person, the visor shot up from his eyes. He turned them blankly toward
the shoreless West. This was the moment at which he had instructed his
subconscious self to remind him of an engagement to lecture on Cretan
inscriptions at the home of Mrs. Philip Harris on the Lake Shore Drive,
Chicago, Illinois. He looked again at the shoreless West and tried to
grasp it. It may have been his subconscious self that reminded him - it
may have been the telepathic waves that travelled toward him out of the
half-gloom of the library. They were fifty strong, and they travelled
with great intensity - "Had any one seen him - ?" "Where was he?" "What

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Online LibraryJennette Barbour Perry LeeMr. Achilles → online text (page 2 of 9)