Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
McGUIRE ELLIS WAKES UP
On implication of the Highest Authority we have it that the leopard cannot change his spots. The Great American Pumess is a feline of another stripe. Stress of experience and emotion has been known to modify sensibly her predatory characteristics. In the very beautiful specimen of the genus which, from time to time, we have had occasion to study in these pages, there had taken place, in a few short months, an alteration so considerable as to be almost revolutionary.
Many factors had contributed to the result. No woman of inherent fineness can live close to human suffering, as Esmé had lived in her slum work, without losing something of that centripetal self-concern which is the blemish of the present-day American girl. Constant association with such men as Hugh Merritt and Norman Hale, men who saw in her not a beautiful and worshipful maiden, but a useful agency in the work which made up their lives, gave her a new angle from which to consider herself. Then, too, her brief engagement to Will Douglas had sobered her. For Douglas, whatever his lack of independence and manliness in his professional relations, had endured the jilting with quiet dignity. But he had suffered sharply, for he had been genuinely in love with Esmé. She felt his pain the more in that there was the same tooth gnawing at her own heart, though she would not acknowledge it to herself. And this taught her humility and consideration. The Pumess was not become a Saint, by any means. She still walked, a lovely peril to every susceptible male heart. But she no longer thirsted with unquenchable ardor for conquests.
Meek though a reformed pumess may be, there are limits to meekness. When Miss Eleanor Stanley Maxwell Elliot woke up to find herself pilloried as an enemy to society, in the very paper which she had tried to save, she experienced mingled emotions shot through with fiery streaks of wrath. Presently these simmered down to a residue of angry amazement and curiosity. If you have been accustomed all your life to regard yourself as an empress of absolute dominance over slavish masculinity, and are suddenly subjected to a violent slap across the face from the hand of the most highly favored slave, some allowance is due you of outraged sensibilities. Chiefly, however Esmé wondered WHY. WHY, in large capitals, and with an intensely ascendant inflection.
Her first impulse had been to telephone Hal a withering message. More deliberate thought suggested the wisdom of making sure of her ground, first. The result was a shock. From her still infuriated guardian she had learned that, technically, she was the owner, with full moral responsibility for the "Pest-Egg." The information came like a dash of extremely cold water, which no pumess, reformed or otherwise, likes. Miss Elliot sat her down to a thoughtful consideration of the "Clarion." She found she was in good company. Several other bright and shining lights of the local firmament, social, financial, and commercial, shared the photographic notoriety. Slowly it was borne in upon her open mind that she had not been singled out for reprehension; that she was simply a part of the news, as Hal regarded news--no, as the "Clarion" regarded news. That Hal would deliberately have let this happen, she declined to believe. Unconsciously she clung to her belief in the natural inviolability of her privilege. It must have been a mistake. Hal would tell her so when he saw her. Yet if that were so, why had he sent word, the day after, that he couldn't keep his appointment? Would he come at all, now?
Doubt upon this point was ended when Dr. Elliot, admitted on the strength of his profession to the typhus ward, and still exhibiting mottlings of wrath on his square face, had repeated his somewhat censored account of his encounter with "that puppy." Esmé haughtily advised her dear Uncle Guardy that the "puppy" was her friend. Uncle Guardy acidulously counseled his beloved Esmé not to be every species of a mildly qualified idiot at one and the same time. Esmé elevated her nose in the air and marched out of the room to telephone Hal Surtaine forthwith. What she intended to telephone him (very distantly, of course) was that her uncle had no authority to speak for her, that she was quite capable of speaking for herself, and that she was ready to hear any explanation tending to mitigate his crime--not in those words precisely, but in a tone perfectly indicative of her meaning. Furthermore, that the matter on which she had wished to speak to him was a business matter, and that she would expect him to keep the broken appointment later. None of which was ever transmitted. Fate, playing the rôle of Miching Mallecho, prevented once again. Hal was out.
In the course of time, Esmé's quarantine (a little accelerated, though not at any risk of public safety) was lifted and she returned to the world. The battle of hygiene vs. infection was now at its height. Esmé threw herself into the work, heart and soul. For weeks she did not set eyes on Hal Surtaine, except as they might pass on the street. Twice she narrowly missed him at the hospital where she found time to make an occasional visit to Ellis. A quick and lively friendship had sprung up between the spoiled beauty and the old soldier of the print-columns, and from him, as soon as he was convalescent, she learned something of the deeper meanings of the "Clarion" fight and of the higher standards which had cost its owner so dear.
"I suppose," he said, "the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life was to print your picture."
"Did he have to print it?"
"Didn't he? It was news."
"And that's your god, isn't it, Mr. Mac?" said his visitor, smiling.
"It's only a small name for Truth. Good men have died for that."
"Or killed others for their ideal of it."
"Miss Esmé," said the invalid, "Hal Surtaine has had to face two tests. He had to show up his own father in his paper."
"Yes. I read it. But I've only begun to understand it since our talks."
"And he had to print that about you. Wayne told me he almost killed the story himself to save Hal. 'I couldn't bear to look at the boy's face when he told me to run it,' Wayne said. And he's no sentimentalist. Newspapermen generally ain't."
"Aren't you?" said Esmé, with a catch in her breath. "I should think you were, pretty much, at the 'Clarion' office."
From that day she knew that she must talk it out with Hal. Yet at every thought of that encounter, her maidenhood shrank, affrighted, with a sweet and tremulous fear. Inevitable as was the end, it might have been long postponed had it not been for a word that Ellis let drop the day when he left the hospital. Mrs. Festus Willard, out of friendship for Hal, had insisted that the convalescent should come to her house until his strength was quite returned, instead of returning to his small and stuffy hotel quarters, and Esmé had come in her car to transfer him. It was the day after the Talk-It-Over Breakfast at which Hal had announced the prospective fall of the "Clarion."
"I'll be glad to get back to the office," said Ellis to Esmé. "They certainly need me."
"You aren't fit yet," protested the girl.
"Fitter than the Boss. He's worrying himself sick."
"Isn't everything all right?"
"All wrong! It's this cussed Pierce libel case that's taking the heart out of him."
"Oh!" cried Esmé, on a note of utter dismay. "Why didn't you tell me, Mr. Mac?"
"Tell you? What do you know about it?"
"Lots! Everything." She fell into silent thoughtfulness. "I supposed that you had heard from Mr. Pierce, or his lawyer, at the office. I must see Hal--Mr. Surtaine--now. Does he still come to see you?"
"Send word to him to be at the Willards' at two to-morrow. And--and, please, Mr. Mac, don't tell him why."
"Now, what kind of a little game is this?" began Ellis, teasingly. "Am I an amateur Cupid, or what's my cue?" He looked into the girl's face and saw tears in the great brown eyes. "Hello!" he said with a change of voice. "What's wrong, Esmé? I'm sorry."
"Oh, I'm wrong!" she cried. "I ought to have spoken long ago. No, no! I'm all right now!" She smiled gloriously through her tears. "Here we are. You'll be sure that he's there?"
"Fear not, but lean on Dollinger And he will fetch you through"--
quoted the other in oratorical assurance, and turned to Mrs. Willard's greeting.
At one-thirty on the following day, Mr. McGuire Ellis was where he shouldn't have been, asleep in a curtained alcove window-seat of the big Willard library. At one minute past two he was where he should have been still less; that is, in the same place and condition. Now Mr. Ellis is not only the readiest hair-trigger sleeper known to history, but he is also one of the most profound and persistent. Entrances and exits disturb him not, nor does the human voice penetrate to the region of his dreams. To everything short of earthquake, explosion, or physical contact, his slumber is immune. Therefore he took no note when Miss Esmé Elliot came in, nor when, a moment later, Mr. Harrington Surtaine arrived, unannounced. Nor, since he was thoroughly shut in by the draperies, was either of them aware of his presence.
Esmé rose slowly to her feet as Hal entered. She had planned a leading-up to her subject, but at sight of him she was startled out of any greeting, even.
"Oh, how thin you look, and tired!" she exclaimed.
"Strenuous days, these," he answered. "I didn't expect to see you here. Where's Ellis?"
"Upstairs. Don't go. I want to speak to you. Sit down there."
At her direction Hal drew up a chair. She took the corner of the lounge near by and regarded him silently from under puckered brows.
"Is it about Ellis?" said Hal, alarmed at her hesitation.
"No. It is about Mr. Pierce. There won't be any libel suit."
"No." She shook her head in reassurance of his evident incredulity. "You've nothing to worry about, there."
"How can you know?"
"Did her father tell her?"
"She told her father. There's a dreadful quarrel."
"I don't understand at all."
"Kathie absolutely refuses to testify for her father. She says that the accident was her own fault, and if there's a trial she will tell the truth."
Before she had finished, Hal was on his feet. Her heart smote her as she saw the gray worry pass from his face and his shoulders square as from the relief of a burden lifted, "Has it lain so heavy on your mind?" she asked pitifully.
"If you knew!" He walked half the length of the long room, then turned abruptly. "You did that," he said. "You persuaded her."
"No. I didn't, indeed."
The eager light faded in his face. "Of course not. Why should you after--Do you mind telling me how it happened?"
"It isn't my secret. But--but she has come to care very much for some one, and it is his influence."
"Wonderful!" He laughed boyishly. "I want to go out and run around and howl. Would you mind joining me in the college yell? Does Mac know?"
"Nobody knows but you."
"That's why Pierce kept postponing. And I, living under the shadow of this! How can I thank you!"
"Don't thank me," she said with an effort. "I--I've known it for weeks. I meant to tell you long ago, but I thought you'd have learned it before now--and--and it was made hard for me."
"Was that what you had to tell me about the paper, when you asked me to come to see you?"
"But how could I come?" he burst out. "I suppose there's no use--I must go and tell Mac about this."
"Wait," she said.
He stopped, gazing at her doubtfully.
"I'm tearing down the tenement at Number 9."
"Tearing it down?"
"As a confession that--that you were right. But I didn't know I owned it. Truly I didn't. You'll believe that, won't you?"
"Of course," he cried eagerly. "I did know it, but too late."
"If you'd known in time would you have--"
"Left that out of the paper?" he finished, all the life gone from his voice. "No, Esmé. I couldn't have done that. But I could have said in the paper that you didn't know."
"I thought so," she said very quietly.
He misinterpreted this. "I can't lie to you, Esmé," he said with a sad sincerity. "I've lived with lies too long. I can't do it, not for any hope of happiness. Do I seem false and disloyal to you? Sometimes I do to myself. I can't help it. All a man can do is to follow his own light. Or a woman either, I suppose. And your light and mine are worlds apart."
Again, with a stab of memory, he saw that desperate smile on her lips. Then she spoke with the clear courage of her new-found womanliness.
"There is no light for me where you are not."
He took a swift step toward her. And at the call, sweetly and straightly, she came to meet his arms and lips.
"Poor boy!" she said, a few minutes later, pushing a lock of hair from his forehead. "I've let you carry that burden when a word from me would have lifted it."
"Has there ever been such a thing as unhappiness in the world, sweetheart?" he said. "I can't remember it. So I don't believe it."
"I'm afraid I've cost you more than I can ever repay you for," she said. "Hal, tell me I've been a little beast!--Oh, no! That's no way to tell it. Aren't you sorry, sir, that you ever saw this room?"
"Finest example of interior architecture I know of. Exact replica of the plumb center of Paradise."
"It's where all your troubles began. You first met me here in this very room."
"Oh, no! My troubles began from the minute I set eyes on you, that day at the station."
"Don't contradict me." She laid an admonitory finger on his lips, then, catching at his hand, gently drew him with her. "Right in that very window-seat there--" She whisked the hangings aside, and brushed McGuire Ellis's nose in so doing.
"Hoong!" snorted McGuire Ellis.
"Oh!" cried Esmé. "Were you there all the time? We--I--didn't know--Have you been asleep?"
"I have been just that," replied the dormant one, yawning.
"I hope we haven't disturbed--" began Esmé in the same breath with Hal's awkward "Sorry we waked you up, Mac."
"Don't be--" Ellis checked his familiar growl, looked with growing suspicion from Esmé's flushed loveliness to Hal's self conscious confusion, leaped to his feet, gathered the pair into a sudden, violent, impartial embrace, and roared out:--
"Go ahead! Be young! You can only be it once in a lifetime."
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.