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At the sign of the Jack o'Lantern online

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an' die now. Ebeneezer would be willin' for me to die in his house, I
know, for he's often said it'd be a reel pleasure to him to pay my funeral
expenses if I c'd only make up my mind to claim 'em, an'," went on the old
man pitifully, "I feel to claim 'em now. Set up my bed," he wheezed, "an'
let me die. I'm bein' took bad."

He was swiftly reasoning himself into abject helplessness when Dick came
valiantly to the rescue. "I'll tell you what, Uncle Israel," he said, "if
you're going to be sick, and of course you know whether you are or not,
we'll just get a carriage and take you over to the sanitarium. I'll pay
your board there for a week, myself, and by that time we'll know just
what's the matter with you."

The patient brightened amazingly at the mention of the sanitarium, and was
more than willing to go. "I've took all kinds of treatment," he creaked,
"but I ain't never been to no sanitarium, an' I misdoubt whether they've
ever had anybody with green insides.

"I reckon," he added, proudly, "that that wanderin' pain in my spine'll
stump 'em some to know what it is. Even in the big store where they keep
all kinds of medicines, there couldn't nobody tell me. I know what disease
'tis, but I won't tell nobody. A man knows his own system best an' I
reckon them smart doctors up at the sanitarium 'll be scratchin' their
heads over such a complicated case as I be. Send my bed on to Betsey's but
write on it that it ain't to be set up till I come. 'Twouldn't be worth
while settin' it up at the sanitarium for a week, an' I'm minded to try a
medical bed, anyways. I ain't never had none. Get the carriage, quick, for
I feel an ailment comin' on me powerful hard every minute."

"Suppose," said Harlan, in a swift aside, "that they refuse to take the
patient? What shall we do then?"

"We won't discuss that," answered Dick, in a low tone. "My plan is to
leave the patient, drive away swiftly, and, an hour or so later, walk back
and settle with the head of the repair shop for a week's mending in

Harlan laughed gleefully, at which Uncle Israel pricked up his ears. "I'm
in on the bill," he continued; "we'll go halves on the mending."

"Laughin'" said Uncle Israel, scornfully, "at your poor old uncle what
ain't goin' to live much longer. If your insides was all turned green, you
wouldn't be laughin' - you'd be thinkin' about your immortal souls."

It was late afternoon when the bed was finally dumped on the side track to
await the arrival of the freight train, being securely covered with a
canvas tarpaulin to keep it from the night dew and stray, malicious germs,
seeking that which they might devour. Uncle Israel insisted upon
overseeing this job himself, so that he did not reach the sanitarium until
almost nightfall. Dick and Harlan were driving, and they shamelessly left
the patient at the door of the Temple of Healing, with his crated bath
cabinet, his few personal belongings, and his medicines.

Turning back at the foot of the hill, they saw that the wanderer had been
taken in, though the bath cabinet still remained outside.

"Mean trick to play on a respectable institution," observed Dick, lashing
the horses into a gallop, "but I'll go over in the morning and square it
with 'em."

"I'll go with you," volunteered Harlan. "It's just as well to have two of
us, for we won't be popular. The survivor can take back the farewell
message to the wife and family of the other."

He meant it for a jest, but even in the gathering darkness, he could see
the dull red mounting to Dick's temples. "I'll be darned," thought Harlan,
seeing the whole situation instantly. Then, moved by a brotherly impulse,
he said, cheerfully: "Go in and win, old man. Good luck to you!"

"Thanks," muttered Dick, huskily, "but it's no use. She won't look at me.
She wants a nice lady-like poet, that's what she wants."

"No, she doesn't," returned Harlan, with deep conviction. "I don't claim
to be a specialist, but when a man and a poet are entered for the
matrimonial handicap, I'll put my money on the man, every time."

Dick swiftly changed the subject, and began to speculate on probable
happenings at the sanitarium. They left the conveyance in the village,
from whence it had been taken, and walked uphill.

Lights gleamed from every window of the Jack-o'-Lantern, but the eccentric
face of the house had, for the first time, a friendly aspect. Warmth and
cheer were in the blinking eyes and the grinning mouth, though, as Dick
said, it seemed impossible that "no pumpkin seeds were left inside."

Those who do not believe in personal influence should go into a house
which uninvited and undesired guests have regretfully left. Every alien
element had gone from the house on the hill, yet the very walls were still
vocal with discord. One expected, every moment, to hear Uncle Israel's
wheeze, the shrill, spiteful comment of Mrs. Holmes, or a howl from one of
the twins.

"What shall we do," asked Harlan, "to celebrate the day of emancipation?"

"I know," answered Dorothy, with a little laugh. "We'll burn a bed."

"Whose bed?" queried Dick.

"Mr. Perkins's bed," responded Elaine, readily. The tone of her voice sent
a warm glow to Dick's heart, and he went to work at the heavy walnut
structure with more gladness than exercise of that particular kind had
ever given him before.

Harlan rummaged through the cellar and found a bottle of Uncle Ebeneezer's
old port, which, for some occult reason, had hitherto escaped. Mrs.
Smithers, moved to joyful song, did herself proud in the matter of fried
chicken and flaky biscuit. Dorothy had taken all the leaves out of the
table, so that now it was cosily set for four, and placed a battered old
brass candlestick, with a tallow candle in it, in the centre.

"Seems like living, doesn't it?" asked Harlan. Until now, he had not known
how surely though secretly distressed he had been by Aunt Rebecca's
persistent kin. Claudius Tiberius apparently felt the prevailing
cheerfulness, and purred vigorously, in Elaine's lap.

Afterward, they made a fire in the parlour, even though the night was so
warm that they were obliged to have all the windows open, and, inspired by
the portrait of Uncle Ebeneezer, discussed the peculiarities of his
self-invited guests.

The sacrificial flame arising from the poet's bed directed the
conversation to Mr. Perkins and his gift of song. Dick, though feeling
more deeply upon the subject than any of the rest, was wise enough not to
say too much.

"I found something under his mattress," remarked Dick, when the
conversation flagged, "while I was taking his blooming crib apart to chop
it up. I guess it must be a poem."

He drew a sorely flattened roll from his pocket, and slipped off the
crumpled blue ribbon. It was, indeed, a poem, entitled "Farewell."

"I thought he might have been polite enough to say good bye," said
Dorothy. "Perhaps it was easier to write it."

"Read it," cried Elaine, her eyes dancing. "Please do!"

So Dick read as follows:

All happy times must reach an end
Sometime, someday, somewhere,
A great soul seldom has a friend
Anyway or anywhere.
But one devoted to the Ideal
Must pass these things all by,
His eyes fixed ever on his Art,
Which lives, though he must die.

Amid the tide of cruel greed
Which laps upon our shore,
No one takes thought of the poet's need
Nor how his griefs may pour
Upon his poor, devoted head
And his sad, troubled heart;
But all these things each one must take,
Who gives his life to Art.

His crust of bread, his tick of straw
His enemies deny,
And at the last his patron saint
Will even pass him by;
The wide world is his resting place,
All o'er it he may roam,
And none will take the poet in,
Or offer him a home.

The tears of sorrow blind him now,
Misunderstood is he,
But thus great souls have always been,
And always they will be;
His eyes fixed ever on the Ideal
Will be there till he die,
To-night he goes, but leaves a poem
To say good bye, good bye!

"Poor Mr. Perkins," commented Dorothy, softly.

"Yes," mimicked Harlan, "poor Mr. Perkins. I don't see but what he'll have
to work now, like any plain, ordinary mortal, with no 'gift'."

"What is the Ideal, anyway?" queried Elaine, looking thoughtfully into the
embers of the poet's bedstead.

"That's easy," answered Dick, not without evident feeling. "It's whatever
Mr. Perkins happens to be doing, or trying to do. He fixes it for the rest
of us."

"I think," suggested Dorothy, after a momentary silence, "that the Ideal
consists in minding your own business and gently, but firmly, assisting
others to mind theirs."

All unknowingly, Dorothy had expressed the dominant idea of the dead
master of the house. She fancied that the pictured face over the mantel
was about to smile at her. Dorothy and Uncle Ebeneezer understood each
other now, and she no longer wished to have the portrait moved.

Before they separated for the night, Dick told them all about the midnight
gathering in the orchard, which he had witnessed from afar, and which the
others enjoyed beyond his expectations.

"That's what uncle meant," said Elaine, "by 'fixing a surprise for
relations.'" "I don't blame him," observed Harlan, "not a blooming bit. I
wish the poor old duck could have been here to see it. Why wasn't I in on
it?" he demanded of Dick, somewhat resentfully. "When anything like that
was going on, why didn't you take me in?"

"It wasn't for me to interfere with his doings," protested Dick, "but I do
wish you could have seen Uncle Israel."

At the recollection he went off into a spasm of merriment which bid fair
to prove fatal. The rest laughed with him, not knowing just what it was
about, such was the infectious quality of Dick's mirth.

"They've all gone," laughed Elaine, happily, taking her bedroom candle
from Dorothy's hand, "they've all gone, every single one, and now we're
going to have some good times."

Dick watched her as she went upstairs, the candlelight shining tenderly
upon her sweet face, and thus betrayed himself to Dorothy, who had
suspected for some time that he loved Elaine.

"Oh Lord!" grumbled Dick to himself, when he was safely in his own room.
"Everybody knows it now, except her. I'll bet even Sis Smithers and the
cat are dead next to me. I might as well tell her to-morrow as any time,
the result will be just the same. Better do it and have it over with. The
cat'll tell her if nobody else does."

But that night, strangely enough, Claudius Tiberius disappeared, to be
seen or heard of no more.


The Love of Another Elaine

When Dick and Harlan ventured up to the sanitarium, they were confronted
by the astonishing fact that Uncle Israel was, indeed, ill. Later
developements proved that he was in a measure personally responsible for
his condition, since he had, surreptitiously, in the night, mixed two or
three medicines of his own brewing with the liberal dose of a different
drug which the night nurse gave him, in accordance with her instructions.

Far from being unconscious, however, Uncle Israel was even now raging
violently against further restraint, and demanding to be sent home before
he was "murdered."

"He's being killed with kindness," whispered Dick, "like the man who was
run over by an ambulance."

Harlan arranged for Uncle Israel to stay until he was quite healed of this
last complication, and then wrote out the address of Cousin Betsey Skiles,
with which Dick was fortunately familiar. "And," added Dick, "if he's
troublesome, crate him and send him by freight. We don't want to see him

Less than a week later, Uncle Israel and his bed were safely installed at
Cousin Betsey's, and he was able to write twelve pages of foolscap, fully
expressing his opinion of Harlan and Dick and the sanitarium staff, and
Uncle Ebeneezer, and the rest of the world in general, conveying it by
registered mail to "J. H. Car & Familey." The composition revealed an
astonishing command of English, particularly in the way of vituperation.
Had Uncle Israel known more profanity, he undoubtedly would have
incorporated it in the text.

"It reminds me," said Elaine, who was permitted to read it, "of a little
coloured boy we used to know. A playmate quarrelled with him and began to
call him names, using all the big words he had ever heard, regardless of
their meaning. When his vocabulary was exhausted, our little friend asked,
quietly: 'Is you froo?' 'Yes,' returned the other, 'I's froo.' 'Well
then,' said the master of the situation, calmly, turning on his heel, 'all
those things what you called me, you is.'"

"That's right," laughed Dick. "All those things Uncle Israel has called
us, he is, but it makes him a pretty tough old customer."

A blessed peace had descended upon the house and its occupants. Harlan's
work was swiftly nearing completion, and in another day or two, he would
be ready to read the neatly typed pages to the members of his household.
Dorothy could scarcely wait to hear it, and stole many a secret glance at
the manuscript when Harlan was out of the house. Lover-like, she expected
great things from it, and she saw the world of readers, literally, at her
husband's feet. So great was her faith in him that she never for an
instant suspected that there might possibly be difficulty at the
start - that any publisher could be wary of this masterpiece by an

The Carrs had planned to remain where they were until the book was
finished, then to take the precious manuscript, and go forth to conquer
the City. Afterward, perhaps, a second honeymoon journey, for both were
sorely in need of rest and recreation.

Elaine was going with them, and Dorothy was to interview the Personage
whose private secretary she had once been, and see if that position or one
fully as desirable could not be found for her friend. Also, Elaine was to
make her home with the Carrs. "I won't let you live in a New York boarding
house," said Dorothy warmly, "as long as we've any kind of a roof over our

Dick had discovered that, as he expressed it, he must "quit fooling and
get a job." Hitherto, Mr. Chester had preferred care-free idleness to any
kind of toil, and a modest sum, carefully hoarded, represented to Dick
only freedom to do as he pleased until it gave out. Then he began to
consider work again, but as he seldom did the same kind of work twice, he
was not particularly proficient in any one line.

Still, Dick had no false ideas about labour. At college he had canvassed
for subscription books, solicited life and fire insurance, swept walks,
shovelled snow, carried out ashes, and even handled trunks for the express
company, all with the same cheerful equanimity. His small but certain
income sufficed for his tuition and other necessary expenses, but for
board at Uncle Ebeneezer's and a few small luxuries, he was obliged to

Just now, unwonted ambition fired his soul. "It's funny," he mused,
"what's come over me. I never hankered to work, even in my wildest
moments, and yet I pine for it this minute - even street-sweeping would be
welcome, though that sort of thing isn't going to be much in my line from
now on. With the start uncle's given me, I can surely get along all right,
and, anyhow, I've got two hands, two feet, and one head, all good of their
kind, so there's no call to worry."

Worrying had never been among Dick's accomplishments, but he was restless,
and eager for something to do. He plunged into furniture-making with
renewed energy, inspired by the presence of Elaine, who with her book or
embroidery sat in her low rocker under the apple tree and watched him at
his work.

Quite often she read aloud, sometimes a paragraph, now and then an entire
chapter, to which Dick submitted pleasantly. He loved the smooth, soft
cadence of Elaine's low voice, whether she read or spoke, so, in a way, it
did not matter. But, one day, when she had read uninterruptedly for over
an hour, Dick was seized with a violent fit of coughing.

"I say," he began, when the paroxysm had ceased; "you like books, don't

"Indeed I do - don't you?"

"Er - yes, of course, but say - aren't you tired of reading?"

"Not at all. You needn't worry about me. When I'm tired, I'll stop."

She was pleased with his kindly thought for her comfort, and thereafter
read a great deal by way of reward. As for Dick, he burned the midnight
candle over many a book which he found inexpressibly dull, and skilfully
led the conversation to it the next day. Soon, even Harlan was impressed
by his wide knowledge of literature, though no one noted that about books
not in Uncle Ebeneezer's library, Dick knew nothing at all.

Dorothy spent much of her time in her own room, thus forcing Dick and
Elaine to depend upon each other for society. Quite often she was lonely,
and longed for their cheery chatter, but sternly reminded herself that she
was being sacrificed in a good cause. She built many an air castle for
them as well as for herself, furnishing both, impartially, with Elaine's
old mahogany and the simple furniture Dick was making out of Uncle
Ebeneezer's relics.

By this time the Jack-o'-Lantern was nearly stripped of everything which
might prove useful, and they were burning the rest of it in the fireplace
at night. "Varnished hardwood," as Dick said, "makes a peach of a blaze."

Meanwhile Harlan was labouring steadfastly at his manuscript. The glowing
fancy from which the book had sprung was quite gone. Still, as he cut,
rearranged, changed, interlined, reconstructed and polished, he was not
wholly unsatisfied with his work. "It may not be very good," he said to
himself, "but it's the best I can do - now. The next will be better, I'm
sure." He knew, even then, that there would be a "next one," for the
eternal thirst which knows no quenching had seized upon his inmost soul.

Hereafter, by an inexplicably swift reversion, he should see all life as
literature, and literature as life. Friends and acquaintances should all
be, in his inmost consciousness, ephemeral. And Dorothy - dearly as he
loved her, was separated from him as by a veil.

Still, as he worked, he came gradually to a better adjustment, and was
very tenderly anxious that Dorothy should see no change in him. He had not
yet reached the point, however, where he would give it all up for the sake
of finding things real again, if only for an hour.

Day after day, his work went on. Sometimes he would spend an hour
searching for a single word, rightly to express his meaning. Page after
page was re-copied upon the typewriter, for, with the nice conscience of a
good workman, Harlan desired a perfect manuscript, at least in mechanical

Finally, he came to the last page and printed "The End" in capitals with
deep satisfaction. "When it's sandpapered," he said to himself, "and the
dust blown off, I suppose it will be done."

The "sandpapering" took a week longer. At the end of that time, Harlan
concluded that any manuscript was done when the writer had read it
carefully a dozen times without making a single change in it. On a
Saturday night, just as the hall clock was booming eleven, he pushed it
aside, and sat staring blankly at the wall for a long time.

"I don't know what I've got," he thought, "but I've certainly got two
hundred and fifty pages of typed manuscript. It should be good for
something - even at space rates."

After dinner, Sunday, he told them that the book was ready, and they all
went out into the orchard. Dick was resigned, Elaine pleasantly excited,
Dorothy eager and aflame with triumphant pride, Harlan self-conscious,
and, in a way, ashamed.

As he read, however, he forgot everything else. The mere sound of the
words came with caressing music to his ears. At times his voice wavered
and his hands trembled, but he kept on, until it grew so dark that he
could no longer see.

They went into the house silently, and Dick touched a match to the fire
already laid in the fireplace, while Dorothy lighted the candles and the
reading lamp. The afterglow faded and the moon rose, yet still they rode
with Elaine and her company, through mountain passes and over blossoming
fields, past many dangers and strange happenings, and ever away from the
Castle of Content.

Harlan's deep, vibrant voice, now stern, now tender, gave new meaning to
his work. His secret belief in it gave it a beauty which no one else would
ever see. Dorothy, listening so intently that it was almost pain, never
took her eyes from his face. In that hour, if Harlan could have known it,
her woman's soul was kneeling before his, naked and unashamed.

Dick privately considered the whole thing more or less of a nuisance, but
the candlelight touched Elaine's golden hair lovingly, and the glow from
the fire seemed to rest caressingly upon her face. All along, he saw a
clear resemblance between his Elaine and the lady of the book, also, more
keenly, a closer likeness between himself and the fool who rode at her

When Harlan came to the song which the fool had written, and which he had
so shamelessly revised and read aloud at the table, Dick seriously
considered a private and permanent departure, like the nocturnal vanishing
of Mr. Perkins, without even a poem for farewell.

Elaine, lost in the story, was heedless of her surroundings. It was only
at the last chapter that she became conscious of self at all. Then,
suddenly, in her turn, she perceived a parallel, and quivered painfully
with a new emotion.

_"Some one, perchance," mused the Lady Elaine, "whose beauty my eyes alone
should perceive, whose valour only I should guess before there was need to
test it. Some one great of heart and clean of mind, in whose eyes there
should never be that which makes a woman ashamed. Some one fine-fibred and
strong-souled, not above tenderness when a maid was tired. One who should
make a shield of his love, to keep her not only from the great hurts but
from the little ones as well, and yet with whom she might fare onward,
shoulder to shoulder, as God meant mates should fare."_

Like the other Elaine, she saw who had served her secretly, asking for no
recognition; who had always kept watch over her so unobtrusively and
quietly that she never guessed it till now. Like many another woman,
Elaine had dreamed of her Prince as a paragon of beauty and perfection,
with unconscious vanity deeming such an one her true mate. Now her
story-book lover had gone for ever, and in his place was Dick;
sunny-hearted, mischievous, whistling, clear-eyed Dick, who had laughed
and joked with her all Summer, and now - must never know.

In a fierce agony of shame, she wondered if he had already guessed her
secret - if she had betrayed it to him before she was conscious of it
herself; if that was why he had been so kind. Harlan was reading the last
page, and Elaine shaded her face with her hand, determined, at all costs,
to avoid Dick, and to go away to-morrow, somewhere, anywhere.

_But Prince Bernard did not hear_, read Harlan, _nor see the outstretched
hand, for Elaine was in his arms for the first time, her sweet lips close
on his. "My Prince, Oh, my Prince," she murmured, when at length he set
her free; "my eyes did not see but my heart knew!"_

_So ended the Quest of the Lady Elaine._

The last page of the manuscript fluttered, face downward, upon the table,
and Dorothy wiped her eyes. Elaine's mouth was parched, but she staggered
to her feet, knowing that she must say some conventional words of
congratulation to Harlan, then go to her own room.

Blindly, she put out her hand, trying to speak; then, for a single
illuminating instant, her eyes looked into Dick's.

With a little cry, Elaine fled from the room, overwhelmed with shame. In a
twinkling, she was out of the house, and flying toward the orchard as fast
as her light feet would carry her, her heart beating wildly in her

By the sure instinct of a lover, Dick knew that his hour had come. He
dropped out of the window and overtook her just as she reached her little
rocking-chair, which, damp with the Autumn dew, was still under the apple

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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedAt the sign of the Jack o'Lantern → online text (page 15 of 16)