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good about anythin' before."

"Something pleasant happens every day," put in Elaine. The country air had
made roses bloom on her pale cheeks. Her blue eyes had new light in them,
and her golden hair fairly shone. She was far more beautiful than the sad,
frail young woman who had come to the Jack-o'-Lantern not so many weeks

"How optimistic you are!" sighed Mr. Perkins, who was eating Mrs.
Smithers's crisp, hot rolls with a very unpoetic appetite. "To me, the
world grows worse every day. It is only a few noble souls devoted to the
Ideal and holding their heads steadfastly above the mire of commercialism
that keep our so-called civilisation from becoming an absolute hotbed of
greed - yes, a hotbed of greed," he repeated, the words sounding
unexpectedly well.

"Your aura seems to have a purple tinge this morning," commented Dorothy,

"What's a aura, ma?" demanded Willie, with an unusual thirst for

"Something that goes with a soft person, Willie, dear," responded Mrs.
Holmes, quite audibly. "You know there are some people who have no
backbone at all, like the jelly-fish we saw at the seashore the year
before dear papa died."

"I've knowed folks," continued Mrs. Dodd, taking up the wandering thread
of the discourse, "what was so soft when they was little that their mas
had to carry 'em around in a pail for fear they'd slop over and spile the

"And when they grew up, too," Dick ventured.

"Some people," said Harlan, in a polite attempt to change the
conversation, "never grow up at all. Their minds remain at a fixed point.
We all know them."

"Yes," sighed Mrs. Dodd, looking straight at the poet, "we all know

At this juncture the sensitive Mr. Perkins rose and begged to be excused.
It was the small Ebeneezer who observed that he took a buttered roll with
him, and gratuitously gave the information to the rest of the company.

Elaine flushed painfully, and presently excused herself, following the
crestfallen Mr. Perkins to the orchard, where, entirely unsuspected by the
others, they had a trysting-place. At intervals, they met, safely screened
by the friendly trees, and communed upon the old, idyllic subject of
poetry, especially as represented by the unpublished works of Harold
Vernon Perkins.

"I cannot tell you, Mr. Perkins," Elaine began, "how deeply I appreciate
your fine, uncommercial attitude. As you say, the world is sordid, and it
needs men like you."

The soulful one ran his long, bony fingers through his mane of auburn
hair, and assented with a pleased grunt. "There are few, Miss St. Clair,"
he said, "who have your fine discernment. It is almost ideal."

"Yet it seems too bad," she went on, "that the world-wide appreciation of
your artistic devotion should not take some tangible form. Dollars may be
vulgar and sordid, as you say, but still, in our primitive era, they are
our only expression of value. I have even heard it said," she went on,
rapidly, "that the amount of wealth honestly acquired by any individual
was, after all, only the measure of his usefulness to his race."

"Miss St. Clair!" exclaimed the poet, deeply shocked; "do I understand
that you are actually advising me to sell a poem?"

"Far from it, Mr. Perkins," Elaine reassured him. "I was only thinking
that by having your work printed in a volume, or perhaps in the pages of a
magazine, you could reach a wider audience, and thus accomplish your ideal
of uplifting the multitude."

"I am pained," breathed the poet; "inexpressibly pained."

"Then I am sorry," answered Elaine. "I was only trying to help."

"To think," continued Mr. Perkins, bitterly, "of the soiled fingers of a
labouring man, a printer, actually touching these fancies that even I
hesitate to pen! Once I saw the fair white page of a book that had been
through that painful experience. You never would have known it, my dear
Miss St. Clair - it was actually filthy!"

"I see," murmured Elaine, duly impressed, "but are there not more
favourable conditions?"

"I have thought there might be," returned the poet, after a significant
silence, "indeed, I have prayed there might be. In some little nook among
the pines, where the brook for ever sings and the petals of the apple
blossoms glide away to fairyland upon its shining surface, while
butterflies float lazily here and there, if reverent hands might put the
flowering of my genius into a modest little book - I should be tempted,
yes, sorely tempted."

"Dear Mr. Perkins," cried Elaine, ecstatically clapping her hands, "how
perfectly glorious that would be! To think how much sweetness and beauty
would go into the book, if that were done!"

"Additionally," corrected Mr. Perkins, with a slight flush.

"Yes, of course I mean additionally. One could smell the apple blossoms
through the printed page. Oh, Mr. Perkins, if I only had the means, how
gladly would I devote my all to this wonderful, uplifting work!"

The poet glanced around furtively, then drew closer to Elaine. "I may tell
you," he murmured, "in strict confidence, something which my lips have
never breathed before, with the assurance that it will be as though
unsaid, may I not?"

"Indeed you may!"

"Then," whispered Mr. Perkins, "I am living in that hope. My dear Uncle
Ebeneezer, though now departed, was a distinguished patron of the arts.
Many a time have I read him my work, assured of his deep, though
unexpressed sympathy, and, lulled by the rhythm of our spoken speech, he
has passed without a jar from my dreamland to his own. I know he would
never speak of it to any one - dear Uncle Ebeneezer was too finely grained
for that - but still I feel assured that somewhere within the walls of that
sorely afflicted house, a sum of - of money - has been placed, in the hope
that I might find it and carry out this beautiful work."

"Have you hunted?" demanded Elaine, her eyes wide with wonder.

"No - not hunted. I beg you, do not use so coarse a word. It jars upon my
poet's soul with almost physical pain."

"I beg your pardon," returned Elaine, "but - - "

"Sometimes," interrupted the poet, in a low tone, "when I have felt
especially near to Uncle Ebeneezer's spirit, I have barely glanced in
secret places where I have felt he might expect me to look for it, but, so
far, I have been wholly unsuccessful, though I know that I plainly read
his thought."

"Some word - some clue - did he give you none?"

"None whatever, except that once or twice he said that he would see that I
was suitably provided for. He intimated that he intended me to have a sum
apportioned to my deserts."

"Which would be a generous one; but now - Oh, Mr. Perkins, how can I help

"You have never suspected, have you," asked Mr. Perkins, colouring to his
temples, "that the room you now occupy might once have been my own? Have
no poet's dreams, lingering in the untenanted spaces, claimed your
beauteous spirit in sleep?"

"Oh, Mr. Perkins, have I your room? I will so gladly give it up - I - - "

The poet raised his hand. "No. The place where you have walked is holy
ground. Not for the world would I dispossess you, but - - "

A meaning look did the rest. "I see," said Elaine, quickly guessing his
thought, "you want to hunt in my room. Oh, Mr. Perkins, I have
thoughtlessly pained you again. Can you ever forgive me?"

"My thoughts," breathed Mr. Perkins, "are perhaps too finely phrased for
modern speech. I would not trespass upon the place you have made your own,
but - - "

There was a brief silence, then Elaine understood. "I see," she said,
submissively, "I will hunt myself. I mean, I will glance about in the hope
that the spirit of Uncle Ebeneezer may make plain to me what you seek.
And - - "

"And," interjected the poet, quite practical for the moment, "whatever you
find is mine, for it was once my room. It is only on account of Uncle
Ebeneezer's fine nature and his constant devotion to the Ideal that he did
not give it to me direct. He knew it would pain me if he did so. You will

"I will remember. You need not fear to trust me."

"Then let us shake hands upon our compact." For a moment, Elaine's warm,
rosy hand rested in the clammy, nerveless palm of Harold Vernon Perkins.
"Last night," he sighed, "I could not sleep. I was distressed by noises
which appeared to emanate from the apartment of Mr. Skiles. Did you hear

"Nothing," returned Elaine; "I sleep very soundly."

"The privilege of unpoetic souls," commented Mr. Perkins. "But, as usual,
my restlessness was not without definite and beautiful result. In the
still watches of the night, I achieved a - poem."

"Read it," cried Elaine, rapturously. "Oh, if I might hear it!"

Thus encouraged, Mr. Perkins drew a roll from his breast pocket. A fresh
blue ribbon held it in cylindrical form, and the drooping ends waved in
careless, artistic fashion.

"As you might expect, if you knew about such things," he began, clearing
his throat, and all unconscious of the rapid approach of Mr. Chester, "it
is upon sleep. It is done in the sonnet form, a very beautiful measure
which I have made my own. I will read it now.


"O Sleep, that fillst the human breast with peace,
When night's dim curtains swing from out the West,
In what way, in what manner, could we rest
Were thy beneficent offices to cease?
O Sleep, thou art indeed the snowy fleece
Upon Day's lamb. A welcome guest
That comest alike to palace and to nest
And givest the cares of life a glad release.
O Sleep, I beg thee, rest upon my eyes,
For I am weary, worn, and sad, - indeed,
Of thy great mercies have I piteous need
So come and lead me off to Paradise."

His voice broke at the end, not so much from the intrinsic beauty of the
lines as from perceiving Mr. Chester close at hand, grinning like the
fabled pussy-cat of Cheshire, except that he did not fade away, leaving
only the grin.

Elaine felt the alien presence and looked around. Woman-like, she quickly
grasped the situation.

"I have been having a rare treat, Mr. Chester," she said, in her smoothest
tones. "Mr. Perkins has very kindly been reading to me his beautiful
_Sonnet on Sleep_, composed during a period of wakefulness last night. Did
you hear it? Is it not a most unusual sonnet?"

"It is, indeed," answered Dick, dryly. "I never before had the privilege
of hearing one that contained only twelve lines. Dante and Petrarch and
Shakespeare and all those other ducks put fourteen lines in every blamed
sonnet, for good measure."

Hurt to the quick, the sensitive poet walked away.

"How can you speak so!" cried Elaine, angrily. "Is not Mr. Perkins
privileged to create a form?"

"To create a form, yes," returned Dick, easily, "but not to monkey with an
old one. There's a difference."

Elaine would have followed the injured one had not Dick interfered. He
caught her hand quickly, a new and unaccountable lump in his throat
suddenly choking his utterance. "I say, Elaine," he said, huskily, "you're
not thinking of hooking up with that red-furred lobster, are you?"

"I do not know," responded Elaine, with icy dignity, "what your uncouth
language may mean, but I tolerate no interference whatever with my
personal affairs." In a moment she was gone, and Dick watched the slender,
pink-clad figure returning to the house with ill-concealed emotion.

All Summer, so far, he and Elaine had been good friends. They had laughed
and joked and worked together in a care-free, happy-go-lucky fashion. The
arrival of Mr. Perkins and his sudden admiration of Elaine had
crystallised the situation. Dick knew now what caused the violent antics
of his heart - a peaceful and well-behaved organ which had never before
been so disturbed by a woman.

"I've got it," said Dick, to himself, deeply shamed. "Moonlight, poetry,
mit-holding, and all the rest of it. Never having had it before, it's
going hard with me. Why in the devil wasn't I taught to write doggerel
when I was in college? A fellow don't stand any show nowadays unless he's
a pocket edition of Byron."

He went on through the orchard at a run, instinctively healing a troubled
mind by wearying the body. At the outer edge of it, he paused.

Suspended by a singularly strong bit of twine, a small, grinning skull
hung from the lower branch of an apple tree, far out on the limb. "Cat's
skull," thought Dick. "Wonder who hung it up there?"

He lingered, idly, for a moment or two, then observed that a small patch
of grass directly underneath it was of that season's growth. His curiosity
fully awake, he determined to dig a bit, though he had dug fruitlessly in
many places since he came to the Jack-o'-Lantern.

"Uncle couldn't do anything conventional," he said to himself, "and I'm
pretty sure he wouldn't want any of his relations to have his money. Here
goes, just for luck!"

He went back to the barn for the spade, which already had fresh earth on
it - the evidence of an early morning excavation privately made by Mrs.
Smithers in a spot where she had dreamed gold was hidden. He went off to
the orchard with it, whistling, his progress being furtively watched with
great interest by the sour-faced handmaiden in the kitchen.

Back in the orchard again, he worked feverishly, possessed by a pleasant
thrill of excitement, somewhat similar to that conceivably enlivening the
humdrum existence of Captain Kidd. Dick was far from surprised when his
spade struck something hard, and, his hands trembling with eagerness, he
lifted out a tin box of the kind commonly used for private papers.

It was locked, but a twist of his muscular hands sufficed to break it
open. Then he saw that it was a spring lock, and that, with grim,
characteristic humour, Uncle Ebeneezer had placed the key inside the box.
There were papers there - and money, the coins and bills being loosely
scattered about, and the papers firmly sealed in an envelope addressed "To
Whom it May Concern."

Dick counted the coins and smoothed out the bills, more puzzled than he
had ever been in his life. He was tempted to open the envelope, but
refrained, not at all sure that he was among those whom it concerned. For
the space of half an hour he stood there, frowning, then he laughed.

"I'll just put it back," he said to himself. "It's not for me to monkey
with Uncle Ebeneezer's purposes."

He buried the box in its old place, and even cut a bit of sod from a
distant part of the orchard to hide the traces of his work. When all was
smooth again, he went back to the barn, swinging the spade carelessly but
no longer whistling.

"The old devil," he muttered, with keen appreciation. "The wise old


Mrs. Dodd's Fifth Fate

_Morning lay fair upon the land, and yet the Lady Elaine was weary. Like a
drooping lily she swayed in her saddle, sick at heart and cast down.
Earnestly her company of gallant knights strove to cheer her, but in vain.
Even the merry quips of the fool in motley, who still rode at her side,
brought no smile to her beautiful face._

_Presently, he became silent, his heart deeply troubled because of her. An
hour passed so, and no word was spoken, then, timidly enough, he ventured
another jest._

_The Lady Elaine turned. "Say no more, fool," she commanded, "but get out
thy writing tablet and compose me a poem. I would fain hear something sad
and tender in place of this endless folly."_

_Le Jongleur bowed. "And the subject, Princess?"_

_Elaine laughed bitterly. "Myself," she cried. "Why not? Myself, Elaine,
and this foolish quest of mine!"_

_Then, for a space, there was silence upon the road, since the fool, with
his writing tablet, had dropped back to the rear of the company, and the
gallant knights, perceiving the mood of their mistress, spoke not._

_At noon, when the white sun trembled at the zenith, Le Jongleur urged his
donkey forward, and presented to Elaine a glorious rose which he had found
blooming at the wayside._

_"The poem is finished, your highness," he breathed, doffing his cap, "but
'tis all unworthy, so I bring thee this rose also, that something in my
offering may of a certainty be sweet."_

_He would have put the scroll into her hand, but she swerved her palfrey
aside. "Read it," she said, impatiently; "I have no mind to try my wits
with thy poor scrawls."_

_So, with his voice trembling, and overwhelmed with self-consciousness,
the fool read as follows:_

The vineyards, purple with their bloom,
Elaine, hast thou forgotten?
The maidens in thy lonely room,
Thy tapestry on silent loom -
But hush! Where is Elaine?
Elaine, hast thou forgotten?

Thy castle in the valley lies,
Elaine, hast thou forgotten?
Where swift the homing swallow flies
And in the sunset daylight dies -
But hush! Where is Elaine?
Elaine, hast thou forgotten?

Night comes at last on dreamy wings,
Elaine, hast thou forgotten?
'Mid gleaming clouds the pale moon swings,
Thy taper light a faint star brings,
But hush! Where is Elaine?
Elaine, hast thou forgotten?

Harlan had never written any poetry before, but it had always seemed easy.
Now, as he read the verses over again, he was tremendously satisfied with
his achievement. Unconsciously, he had modelled it upon an exquisite
little bit by some one else, which had once been reprinted beneath a
"story" of his own when he was on the paper. He read it aloud, to see how
it sounded, and was more pleased than ever with the swing of the verse and
the music of the words. "It's pretty close to art," he said to himself,
"if it isn't the real thing."

Just then the luncheon bell rang, and he went out to the midday
"gab-fest," as he inwardly characterised it. The meal proceeded to dessert
without any unusual disturbance, then the diminutive Ebeneezer threw the
remnants of his cup of milk into his mother's face, and was carried off,
howling, to be spanked. Like many other mothers, Mrs. Holmes resented her
children's conduct when it incommoded her, but not otherwise, and though
milk baths are said to be fine for the complexion, she was not altogether
pleased with the manner of application.

Amid the vocal pyrotechnics from the Holmes apartments, Harlan escaped
into the library, but his poem was gone. He searched for it vainly, then
sat down to write it over before he should forget it. This done, he went
on with Elaine and her adventures, and presently forgot all about the lost

"Don't that do your heart good?" inquired Mrs. Dodd, of Dorothy, inclining
her head toward Mrs. Holmes's door.

"Be it ever so humble," sang Dick, strolling out of the room, "there's no
place like Holmes's."

Mrs. Carr admitted that her ears were not yet so calloused but that the
sound gave her distinct pleasure.

"If that there little limb of Satan had have throwed his milk in anybody
else's face," went on Mrs. Dodd, "all she'd have said would have been:
'Ebbie, don't spill your nice milk. That's naughty.'"

Her imitation of the fond mother's tone and manner was so wickedly exact
that Dorothy laughed heartily. The others had fled to a more quiet spot,
except Willie and Rebecca, who were fighting for a place at the keyhole of
their mother's door. Finally, Willie gained possession of the keyhole, and
the ingenious Rebecca, lying flat on her small stomach, peered under the
door, and obtained a pleasing view of what was going on inside.

"Listen at that!" cried Mrs. Dodd, her countenance fairly beaming with
innocent pleasure. "I'm gettin' most as much good out of it as I would
from goin' to the circus. Reckon it's a slipper, for it sounds just like
little Jimmie Young's weepin' did the night I come home from my fifth

"That's the only time," she went on, reminiscently, "as I was ever a
step-ma to children what wasn't growed up. You'd think a woman as had been
married four times afore would have knowed better 'n to get her fool head
into a noose like that, but there seems to be only one way for folks to
learn things, an' that's by their own experience. If we could only use
other folks' experience, this here world would be heaven in about three
generations, but we're so constituted that we never believe fire 'll burn
till we poke our own fingers into it to see. Other folks' scars don't go
no ways at all toward convincin' us.

"You read lots of novels about the sorrers of step-children, but I ain't
never come up with no epic as yet portrayin' the sufferin's of a step-ma.
If I had a talent like your husband's got, I'll be blest if I wouldn't do
it. What I went through with them children aged me ten years in less 'n

"It was like this," she prattled on. "I'd never seen a one of 'em, they
livin' far away from their pa, as was necessary if their pa was to get any
peace an' happiness out 'n life, an' that lyin' creeter I married told me
there was only three. My dear, there was eight, an' sixteen ordinary young
ones couldn't have been no worse.

"Our courtin' was done mainly in the cemetery. I'd just laid my fourth
away in his proper place an' had the letterin' all cut nice on his side of
the monumint, an' I was doin' the plantin' on the grave when I met my
fate - my fifth fate, I'm speakin' of now. I allers aimed to do right by my
husbands when they was dead no less 'n when they was livin', an' I allers
planted each one's favourite flower on his last restin'-place, an' planted
it thick, so 's when the last trump sounded an' they all riz up, there
wouldn't be no one of 'em that could accuse me of bein' partial.

"Some of the flowers was funny for a graveyard. One of 'em loved
sunflowers, an' when blossomin'-time come, you could see a spot of light
in my lot clear from the gate when you went in, an' on sunny days even
from quite a piece outside.

"Geraniums was on the next grave, red an' pink together, as William loved
to see 'em, an' most fittin' an' appropriate. He was a queer-lookin' man,
William was, all bald except for a little fringe of red hair around his
head, an' his bald spot gettin' as pink as anythin' when he got mad. I
never could abide red an' pink together, so I did my best not to rile him;
but la sakes, my dear, red-haired folks is that touchy that you never can
tell what's goin' to rile 'em an' what ain't. Some innercent little remark
is as likely to set 'em off as anythin' else. All the time it's like
carryin' a light into a fireworks place. Drop it once an' the air 'll be
full of sky-rockets, roman candles, pinwheels, an' set pieces till you're
that dazed you don't know where you're livin'. Don't never take no
red-haired one, my dear, if you're anyways set on peace. I never took but
one, but that was enough to set me dead against the breed.

"Well, as I was a-sayin', James begun to woo me in the cemetery. Whenever
you see a man in a cemetery, my dear, you can take it for granted that
he's a new-made widower. After the first week or two, he ain't got no time
to go to no grave, he's so busy lookin' out for the next one. When I see
James a-waterin' an' a-weedin' on the next lot to mine, therefore, I
knowed his sorrer was new, even though the band of crape on his hat was
rusty an' old.

"Bein' fellow-mourners, in a way, we struck up kind of a melancholy
friendship, an' finally got to borrerin' water from each other's
sprinklin' cans an' exchangin' flower seeds an' slips, an' even hull
plants. That old deceiver told me it was his first wife that was a-lyin'
there, an' showed me her name on the monumint. She was buried in her own
folks' lot, an' I never knowed till it was too late that his own lot was
plum full of wives, an' this here was a annex, so to speak. I dunno how I
come to be so took in, but anyways, when James's grief had subsided
somewhat, we decided to travel on the remainin' stretch through this vale
of tears together.

"He told me he had a beautiful home in Taylorville, but was a-livin' where
he was so 's to be near the cemetery an' where he could look after dear
Annie's grave. The sentiment made me think all the more of him, so 's I
didn't hesitate, an' was even willin' to be married with one of my old
rings, to save the expense of a new one. James allers was thrifty, an' the
way he put it, it sounded quite reasonable, so 's that's how it comes, my
dear, that in spite of havin' had seven husbands, I've only got six

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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedAt the sign of the Jack o'Lantern → online text (page 10 of 16)