Copyright
Jennette Barbour Perry Lee.

Mr. Achilles online

. (page 3 of 9)
Online LibraryJennette Barbour Perry LeeMr. Achilles → online text (page 3 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


was wrong?" "Late!" "_Very_ late!" "Such a punctual man!" The waves
fluttered and spread and grew. The president of the club looked at the
hostess. The hostess looked at the president. They consulted and drew
apart. The president rose to speak, clearing her throat for a pained
look. Then she waited.... The hostess was approaching again, a fine
resolution in her face. They conferred, looking doubtfully at the
door. The president nodded courageously and seated herself again on the
platform, while Mrs. Philip Harris passed slowly from the room, the eyes
of the assembled company following her with a little look of curiosity
and dawning hope.




VIII

AND GIVE A SIMPLE LECTURE

In the doorway below she paused a moment, a little startled at the
scene. The bowed heads, the bit of folded tissue, the laughing, eager
tones, the look in Miss Stone's face held her. She swept aside the
drapery and entered - the stately lady of the house.

The bowed heads were lifted. The child sprang to her feet. "Mother-dear!
It is my friend! He has come!" The words sang.

Mrs. Philip Harris held out a gracious hand. She had not intended to
offer her hand. She had intended to be distant and kind. But when the
man looked up she somehow forgot. She held out the hand with a quick
smile.

The Greek was on his feet, bending above it. "It is an honour,
madame - that you come."

"I have come to ask a favour," she replied, slowly, her eyes travelling
over the well-brushed clothes, the clean linen, the slender feet of the
man. Favour was not what she had meant to say - privilege was nearer it.
But there was something about him. Her voice grew suave to match the
words.

"My daughter has told me of you - " Her hand rested lightly on the
child's curls - a safe, unrumpled touch. "Her visit to you has enchanted
her. She speaks of it every day, of the Parthenon and what you told
her."

The eyes of the man and the child met gravely.

"I wondered whether you would be willing to tell some friends of
mine - here - now - "

He had turned to her - a swift look.

She replied with a smile. "Nothing formal - just simple things, such as
you told the child. We should be very grateful to you," she added, as if
she were a little surprised at herself.

He looked at her with clear eyes. "I speak - yes - I like always - to speak
of my country. I thank you."

The child, standing by with eager feet, moved lightly. Her hands danced
in softest pats. "You will tell them about it - just as you told me - and
they will love it!"

"I tell them - yes!"

"Come, Miss Stone." The child held out her hand with a little gesture of
pride and loving. "We must go now. Good-bye, Mr. Achilles. You will come
again, please."

"I come," said Achilles, simply. He watched the quaint figure pass
down the long rooms beside the shimmering grey dress, through an arched
doorway at the end, and out of sight. Then he turned to his hostess
with the quick smile of his race. "She is beautiful, madame," he said,
slowly. "She is a child!"

The mother assented, absently. She was not thinking of the child, but of
the fifty members of the Halcyon Club in the library. "Will you come?"
she said. "My friends are waiting."

He spread his hands in quick assent. "I come - as you like. I give
pleasure - to come."

She smiled a little. "Yes, you give pleasure." She was somehow at ease
about the man. He was poor - illiterate, perhaps, but not uncouth.
She glanced at him with a little look of approval as they went up the
staircase. It came to her suddenly that he harmonised with it, and
with all the beautiful things about them. The figure of Professor Trent
flashed upon her - short and fat and puffing, and yearning toward the top
of the stair. But this man. There was the grand air about him - and yet
so simple.

It was almost with a sense of eclat that she ushered him into the
library. The air stirred subtly, with a little hush. The president
was on her feet, introducing Mr. Achilles Alexandrakis, who, in the
unavoidable absence of Professor Trent, had kindly consented to speak to
them on the traditions and customs of modern Greek life.

Achilles's eyes fell gently on the lifted faces. "I like to tell you
about my home," he said, simply. "I tell you all I can."

The look of strain in the faces relaxed. It was going to be an easy
lecture - one that you could know something about. They settled to soft
attention and approval.

Achilles waited a minute - looking at them with deep eyes. And suddenly
they saw that the eyes were not looking at them, but at something far
away - something beautiful and loved.

It is safe to say that the members of the Halcyon Club had never
listened to anything quite like the account that Achilles Alexandrakis
gave them that day, in the gloomy room of the red-fronted house
overlooking the lake, of the land of his birth. They scarcely listened
to the actual words at first, but they listened to him all lighted up
from far away. There was something about him as he spoke - a sweeping
rhythm that flew as a bird, reaching over great spaces, and a simple joy
that lilted a little and sang.

He drew for them the Parthenon - the glory of Athens - in column and
statue and mighty temple and crumbling tomb.... A sense of beauty and
wonder and still, clear light passed before them.

Then he paused... his voice laughed a little, and he spoke of his
people.... Nobody could have quite told what he said to them about his
people. But flutes sang. The sound of feet was on the grass - touching
it in tune - swift-flitting feet that paused and held a rhythmic measure
while it swung. Quick-beating feet across the green. Shadowy forms.
The sway of gowns, light-falling, and the call of voices low and sweet.
Greek youth and maid in swiftest play. They flung the branches wide and
trembled in the voiceless light that played upon the grass. The foot
of Achilles half-beat the time. The tones filled themselves and lifted,
slowly, surely. The voice quickened - it ran with faster notes, as one
who tells some eager tale. Then it swung in cradling-song the twilight
of Athens - and the little birds sang low, twittering underneath the
leaves - in softest garb - at last - rose leaves falling - the dusky
bats around her roof-tops, and the high-soaring sky that arches
all - mysterious and deep. Then the voice sank low, and rang and held
the note - stern, splendid - Athens of might. City of Power! Glory, in
changing word, and in the lift of eye. Athens on her hills, like great
Jove enthroned - the shout, the triumph, the clash of steel, and the feet
of Alaric in the streets. The voice of the Greek grew hoarse now, tiny
cords swelled on his forehead. Athens, city of war. Desolation, fire,
and trampling - ! His eye was drawn in light. Vandal hand and iron
foot!...

Who shall say how much of it he told - how much of it he spoke, and how
much was only hinted or called up - in his voice and his gesture and his
eye. They had not known that Athens was like this! They spoke in lowered
voices, moving apart a little, and making place for the silver trays
that began to pass among them. They glanced now and then at the dark man
nibbling his biscuit absently and looking with unfathomable eyes into a
teacup.

A large woman approached him, her ample bust covered with little beads
that rose and fell and twinkled as she talked. "I liked your talk, Mr.
Alexis, and I am going over just as soon as my husband can get away from
his business." She looked at him with approval, waiting for his.

He bowed with deep, grave gesture. "My country is honoured, madame."

Other listeners were crowding upon them now, commending the fire-tipped
words, felicitating the man with pretty gesture and soft speech,
patronising him for the Parthenon and his country and her art. ... The
mistress of the house, moving in and out among them, watched the play
with a little look of annoyance.... He would be spoiled - a man of that
class. She glanced down at the slip of paper in her hand. It bore the
name, "Achilles Alexandrakis," and below it a generous sum to his order.
She made her way toward him, and waited while he disengaged himself
from the little throng about him and came to her, a look of pleasure and
service in his face.

"You speak to me, madame?"

"I wanted to give you this." She slipped the check into the thin
fingers. "You can look at it later - "

But already the fingers had raised it with a little look of pleased
surprise.... Then the face darkened, and he laid the paper on the
polished table between them. There was a quick movement of the slim
fingers that pushed it toward her.

"I cannot take it, madame - to speak of my country. I speak for the
child - and for you." He bowed low. "I give please to do it."

The next moment he had saluted her with gentle grace and was gone from
the room - from the house - between the stone lions and down the Lake
Shore Drive, his free legs swinging in long strides, his head held high
to the wind on the opal lake.

A carriage passed him, and he looked up. Two figures, erect in the sun,
the breath of a child's smile, a bit of shimmer and grey, the flash and
beat of quick hoofs - and they were gone. But the heart of Achilles sang
in his breast, and the day about him was full of light.




IX

BETTY LEAVES HER GODS

Little Betty Harris sat in the big window, bending over her gods
and goddesses and temples and ruins. It was months since, under the
inspiration of the mysterious, fruit-dealing Greek, she had begun her
study of Greek art; and the photographs gathered from every source - were
piled high in the window - prints and tiny replicas and casts, and
pictures of every kind and size - they overflowed into the great room
beyond. She was busy now, pasting the photographs into a big book.
To-morrow the family started for the country, and only as many gods
could go as could be pasted in the book. Miss Stone had decreed it and
what Miss Stone said must be done.... Betty Harris looked anxiously at
Poseidon, and laid him down, in favour of Zeus. She took him up in her
fingers again, with a little flourish of the paste-tube, and made him
fast. Poseidon must go, too. The paste-tub wavered uncertainly over the
maze of gods and found another and stuck it in place, and lifted itself
in admiring delight.

There was a little rustle, and the child looked up. Miss Stone stood in
the doorway, smiling at her.

"I'm making my book for the gods," said the child, her flushed face
lighting. "It's a kind of home for them." She slipped down from her
chair and came across, holding the book outstretched before her. "You
see I've put Poseidon in. He never had a home - except just the sea, of
course - a kind of wet home." She gave the god a little pat, regarding
him fondly.

Miss Stone bent above the book, with the smile of understanding that
always lay between them. When Betty Harris thought about God, he seemed
always, somehow, like Miss Stone's smile - but bigger - because he filled
the whole earth. She lifted her hand and stroked the cheek bending above
her book. "I'm making a place for them all," she said. "It's a kind of
story - " She drew a sigh of quick delight.

Miss Stone closed the book decisively, touching the flushed face with
her fingers. "Put it away, child - and the pictures. We're going to
drive."

"Yes - Nono." It was her own pet name for Miss Stone, and she gave a
little quick nod, closing the book with happy eyes. But she waited a
moment, lugging the book to her and looking at the scattered gods in the
great window, before she walked demurely across and began gathering them
up - a little puzzled frown between her eyes. "I suppose I couldn't leave
them scattered around?" she suggested politely.

Miss Stone smiled a little head-shake, and the child bent again to her
work. "I don't like to pick up," she said softly. "It's more interesting
not to pick up - ever." She lifted her face from a print of Apollo and
looked at Miss Stone intently. "There might be gods that could pick
up - pick themselves up, perhaps - ?" It was a polite suggestion - but
there was a look in the dark face - the look of the meat-packer's
daughter - something that darted ahead and compelled gods to pick
themselves up. She bent again, the little sigh checking itself on her
lip. Miss Stone did not like to have little girls object - and it was not
polite, and besides you _had_ to take care of things - your own things.
The servants took care of the house for you, and brought you things to
eat, and made beds for you, and fed the horses and ironed clothes... but
your own things - the gods and temples and scrapbooks and paste that you
left lying about - you had to put away yourself! Her fingers found the
paste-tube and screwed it firmly in place - with a little twist of the
small mouth - and hovered above the prints with quick touch. The servants
did things - other things. Constance mended your clothes and dressed you,
and Marie served you at table, and sometimes she brought a nice little
lunch if you were hungry - and you and Miss Stone had it together on the
school table - but no one ever - ever - _ever_ - picked up your playthings
for you. She thrust the last god into his box and closed the lid firmly.
Then she looked up. She was alone in the big room... in the next room
she could hear Miss Stone moving softly, getting ready for the drive.
She slipped from her seat and stood in the window, looking out - far
ahead the lake stretched - dancing with green waves and little white
edges - and down below, the horses curved their great necks that
glistened in the sun - and the harness caught gleams of light. The
child's eyes dwelt on them happily. They were her very own, Pollux and
Castor - and she was going driving - driving in the sun. She hummed a
little tune, standing looking down at them.

Behind her stretched the great room - high-ceiled and wide, and furnished
for a princess - a child princess. Its canopied bed and royal draperies
had come across the seas from a royal house - the children of kings
had slept in it before Betty Harris. The high walls were covered with
priceless decoration - yet like a child in every line. It was Betty's
own place in the great house - and the little room adjoining, where Miss
Stone slept, was a part of it, clear and fine in its lines and in the
bare quiet of the walls. Betty liked to slip away into Miss Stone's
room - and stand very still, looking about her, hardly breathing. It was
like a church - only clearer and sweeter and freer - perhaps it was the
woods - with the wind whispering up there. She always held her breath to
listen in Miss Stone's room; and when she came back, to her own, child's
room - with its canopied bed and royal draperies and colour and charm,
she held the stillness and whiteness of Miss Stone's room in her
heart - it was like a bird nestling there. Betty had never held a bird,
but she often lifted her hands to them as they flew - and once, in a
dream, one had fluttered into the lifted hands and she had held it close
and felt the wind blow softly. It was like Miss Stone's room. But Miss
Stone was not like that. You could hug Nono and tell her secrets and
what you wanted for luncheon. Sometimes she would let you have it - if
you were good - _very_ good - and Nono knew everything. She knew so much
that Betty Harris, looking from her window, sighed softly. No one could
know as much as Nono knew - not ever.

"All ready, Betty." It was Miss Stone in the doorway again. And with a
last look down out of the window at the horses and the shimmering lake,
the child came across the room, skipping a little. "I should like to
wear my hat with the cherries, please," she said. "I like to feel them
bob in the sun when it shines - they bob so nicely - " She paused with a
quick look - "They _do_ bob, don't they, Nono?"

"I don't think I ever noticed," said Miss Stone. She was still smiling
as she touched the tumbled hair, putting it in place.

"But they _must_ bob," said Betty. "I think I should have noticed your
cherries bobbing, Miss Stone." She was looking intently at the quiet
cheek close beside her own, with its little flush of pink, and the
greyness of the hair that lay beside it. "I notice all your things,
Nono," she said softly.

Miss Stone smiled again and drew her to her. "I will look to-day, Betty,
when we drive - "

The child nodded - "Yes, they will bob then. I can see them - even with
my eyes not shut, I can see them bob - Please, Constance - " She turned to
the stiff maid who had come in - "I want my grey coat and red-cherry hat.
We're going to drive - in the sun."

The maid brought the garments and put them on with careful touch, tying
the strings under the lifted chin.

The child nodded to her gaily. "Good-bye, Constance - we're going for a
drive - a long drive - we shall go and go and go - Come, Miss Stone." She
took the quiet hand, and danced a little, and held it close to her - down
the long staircase and through the wide hall - and out to the sunshine
and the street.

James, from his box, looked up, and the reins tightened in the big
hands. The horses pranced and clicked their hoofs and stood still; and
James, leaning a respectful ear, touched his hat-brim, and they were
off, the harnesses glinting and the little red cherries bobbing in the
sun.




X

FOR A LONG DRIVE

Betty Harris sat very still - her hands in her lap, her face lifted to
the breeze that touched it swiftly and fingered her hair and swept past.
Presently she looked up with a nod - as if the breeze reminded her. "I
should like to see Mr. Achilles," she said.

"Not to-day," answered Miss Stone, "we must do the errands for mother
to-day, you know."

The child's face fell. "I wanted to see Mr. Achilles," she said simply.
She sat very quiet, her eyes on the lake. When she looked up, the eyes
had brimmed over.

"I didn't mean to," said the child. She was searching for her
handkerchief and the little cherries bobbed forward. "I didn't know they
would spill!" She had found the handkerchief now and was wiping them
away, and she smiled at Miss Stone - a brave smile - that was going to be
happy -

Miss Stone smiled back, with a little head-shake. "Foolish, Betty!"

"I didn't expect them," said the child, "I was just thinking about
Mr. Achilles and they came - just came! - They just came!" she repeated
sternly. She gave a final dab to the handkerchief and stowed it away,
sitting very erect and still.

Miss Stone's eyes studied her face. "We cannot go to-day," she said,
" - and to-morrow we start for the country. Perhaps - " she paused,
thinking it out.

But the child's eyes took it up - and danced. "He can make us a visit,"
she said, nodding - "a visit of three weeks!" She smiled happily.

Miss Stone smiled back, shaking her head. "He could not leave the
fruit-shop - "

But the child ignored it. "He will come," she said quickly, "and we
shall talk - and talk - about the gods, you know - " She lifted her eyes,
"and we shall go in the fields - He will come!" She drew a deep sigh of
satisfaction and lifted her head.

And Miss Stone, watching her, had a feeling of quick relief. She had
known for a day or two that the child was not well, and they had hurried
to get away to the fields. This was their last drive. To-morrow the
horses would be sent on; and the next day they would all go - in the
great touring car that would eat up the miles, and pass the horses, and
reach Idlewood long before them.

No one except Betty and Miss Stone used the horses now. They would have
been sold long ago had it not been for the child. The carriage was a
part of her - and the clicking hoofs and soft-shining skins and arching
necks. The sound of the hoofs on the pavement played little tunes for
Betty. Her mother had protested against expense, and her father had
grumbled a little; but if the child wanted a carriage rather than the
great car that could whir her away in a breath, it must be kept.

It made a pretty picture this morning as it turned into the busier
street and took its way among the dark, snorting cars that pushed
and sped. It was like a delicate dream that shimmered and touched the
pavement - or like a breath of the past... and the great cars skimmed
around it and pushed on with quick honk and left it far behind.

But the carriage kept its way with unhurried rhythm - into the busy
street and out again into a long avenue where great houses of cement and
grey stone stood guard.

No one was in sight, up and down its clear length - only the morning sun
shining on the grey stones and on the pavement - and the little jingling
in the harness and the joyous child and the quiet grey woman beside her.

"I shall not be gone a minute, Betty," said Miss Stone. The carriage had
drawn up before the great shadow of a house. She gave the child's hand a
little pat and stepped from the carriage.

But at the door there was a minute's question and, with a nod to Betty,
she stepped inside.

When the door opened again, and she came out with quick step she glanced
at her watch - the errand had taken more than its minute, and there
were others to be done, and they were late. She lifted her eyes to the
carriage - and stopped.

The coachman, from the corner of his eye, waited for orders. But Miss
Stone did not stir. Her glance swept the quiet street and came back to
the carriage - standing with empty cushions in the shadow of the house.

The coachman turned a stolid eye and caught a glimpse of her face and
wheeled quickly - his eye searching space. "There wa'n't nobody!" he
said. He almost shouted it, and his big hands gripped hard on the
reins.... His face was grey - "There wa'n't nobody here!" he repeated
dully.

But Miss Stone did not look at him. "Drive to the Greek's. You
know - where she went before." She would not give herself time to
think - sitting a little forward on the seat - of course the child had
gone to the Greek - to Mr. Achilles.... They should find her in a minute.
There was nothing else to think about - no shadowy fear that had leaped
to meet the look in James's face when it turned to her. The child would
be there -

The carriage drew up before the shop, with its glowing lines of fruit
under the striped awning, and Miss Stone had descended before the wheel
scraped the curb, her glance searching the door and the dim room beyond.
She halted on the threshold, peering in.

A man came from the rear of the room, his hands outstretched to serve
her. The dark, clear face, with its Greek lines, and the eyes that
looked out at her held a welcome. "You do me honour," he said. "I hope
Madame is well - and the little Lady - ?" Then he stopped. Something
in Miss Stone's face held him - and his hand groped a little, reaching
toward her - "You - tell me - " he said.

But she did not speak, and the look in her face grew very still.

He turned sharply - calling into the shop behind him, and a boy came
running, his eyes flashing a quick laugh, his teeth glinting.

"I go," said the man, with quick gesture - "You keep shop - I go." He had
taken off his white apron and seized a hat. He touched the woman on the
shoulder. "Come," he said.

She looked at him with dazed glance and put her hand to her head. "I
cannot think," she said slowly.

He nodded with steady glance. "When we go, you tell - we find her," he
said.

She started then and looked at him - and the clear colour came to her
face. "You know - where - she is!"

But he shook his head. "We find her," he repeated. "You tell."

And as they threaded the streets - into drays and past clanging cars and
through the tangle of wheels and horses and noise - and she told him the
story, shouting it above the rumble and hurry of the streets, into the
dark ear that bent beside her.

The look in Achilles's face deepened, but its steady quiet did not
change. "We find her," he repeated each time, and Miss Stone's heart
caught the rhythm of it, under the hateful noise. "We find her."

Then the great house on the lake faced them.

She looked at him a minute in doubt. Her face broke - "She may have
come - home?" she said.

"I go with you," said Achilles.

There was no sign of life, but the door swung open before them and they
went into the great hall - up the long stairway that echoed only vacant
softness, and into the library with its ranging rows of perfect books.
She motioned him before her. "_I_ must tell them," she said. She passed
through the draperies of another door and the silence of the great house
settled itself about the man and waited with him.




XI

TWO MEN FACE EACH OTHER

He looked about the room with quiet face. It was the room he had been
in before - the day he spoke to the Halcyon Club - the ladies had costly
gowns and strange hats, who had listened so politely while he told them


1 3 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryJennette Barbour Perry LeeMr. Achilles → online text (page 3 of 9)