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His publishers said so too. And it was a good story that he told. The trouble was that we wanted to hear it again, and we paid him too well to repeat it. But just as your story became rather less interesting the twenty-third time you told it, so the stories I have been reading more often than not have made a similar impression upon me. I find myself begging the author to think up another story. Of course, you have not felt obliged to read so many stories, and I cannot advise you to do so.
But it has made it possible for me to see in some sort of perspective, just where the American short story is going as well as what it has already achieved. It has made me see how American writers are weakening their substance by too frequent repetition, and it has helped me to fix the blame where it really lies.
Now this is a matter of considerable importance. One of the things we should be most anxious to learn is the psychology of the American reader. We want to know how he reacts to what he reads in the magazine, whether it is a short story, an article, or an advertisement.
We want to know, for example, what holds the interest of a reader of the Atlantic Monthly , and what holds the interest of the reader of the Ladies' Home Journal. It is my belief that the difference between these various types of readers is pretty largely an artificial difference, in so far as it affects the quality of entertainment and imaginative interest that the short story has to offer. Of course, there are exceptional cases, and I have some of these in mind, but for the most part I can perceive no essential difference between the best stories in the Saturday Evening Post and the best stories in Harper's Magazine for example.
The difference that every one feels, and that exists, is one of emphasis rather than of type. It is a difference which is shown by averages rather than one which affects the best stories in either magazine. Human nature is the same everywhere, and when an artist interprets it sympathetically, the reader will respond to his feeling wherever he finds it. It has been my experience that the reader is likely to find this warmly sympathetic interpretation of human nature, its pleasures and its sorrows, its humor and its tragedy, most often in the American magazines that talk least about their own merit.
We are all familiar with the sort of magazine that contents itself with saying day in and day out ceaselessly and noisily: "The Planet Magazine is the greatest magazine in the universe. The greatest literary artists and the world's greatest illustrators contribute to our pages. It has repeated this claim so often that it has come to believe it. Such a magazine is the great literary ostrich. It hides by burying its eyes in the sand. It is an axiom of human nature that the greatest men do not find it necessary or possible to talk about their own greatness.
They are so busy that they have never had much time to think about it. And so it is with the best magazines, and with the best short stories. The man who wrote what I regard as the best short story published in was the most surprised man in Brooklyn when I told him so. The truth of the matter is that we are changing very rapidly, and that a new national sense in literature is accompanying that change.
There was a time, and in fact it is only now drawing to a close, when the short story was exploited by interested moneymakers who made such a loud noise that you could hear nothing else without great difficulty. The most successful of these noisemakers are still shouting, but their heart is in it no longer.
The editor of one of the largest magazines in the country said to me not long ago that he found the greatest difficulty now in procuring short stories by writers for whom his magazine had trained the public to clamor. The immediate reason which he ascribed for this state of affairs was that the commercial rewards offered to these writers by the moving picture companies were so great, and the difference in time and labor between writing scenarios and developing finished stories was so marked, that authors were choosing the more attractive method of earning money. The excessive commercialisation of literature in the past decade is now turned against the very magazines which fostered it.
The magazines which bought and sold fiction like soap are beginning to repent of it all. They have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. This fight for sincerity in the short story is a fight that is worth making. It is at the heart of all that for which I am striving. The quiet sincere man who has something to tell you should not be talked down by the noisemakers.
He should have his hearing. He is real. And we need him. That is why I have set myself the annual task of reading so many short stories. I am looking for the man and woman with something to say,—who cares very much indeed about how he says it. I am looking for the man and woman with some sort of a dream, the man or woman who sees just a little bit more in the pedlar he passes on the street than you or I do, and who wishes to devote his life to telling us about it. I want to be told my own story too, so that I can see myself as other people see me.
And I want to feel that the storyteller who talks to me about these things is as much in earnest as a sincere clergyman, an unselfish physician, or an idealistic lawyer. I want to feel that he belongs to a profession that is a sort of priesthood, and not that he is holding down a job or running a bucket shop. I have found this writer with a message in almost every magazine I have studied during the year. He is just as much in earnest in Collier's Weekly as he is in Scribner's Magazine.
I do not find him often, but he is there somewhere. And he is the only man for whom it is worth our while to watch. I feel that it is none of my business whether I like and agree with what he has to say or not. All that I am looking for is to see whether he means what he says and makes it as real as he can to me. I accept his substance at his own valuation, but I want to know what he makes of it. Each race that forms part of the substance in our great melting pot is bringing the richest of its traditions to add to our children's heritage.
That is a wonderful thing to think about. Here, for example, is a young Jewish writer, telling in obscurity the stories of his people with all the art of the great Russian masters. And Irishmen are bringing to us the best of their heritage, and men and women of many other races contribute to form the first national literature the world has ever seen which is not based on a single racial feeling. Why are we not more curious about the ragman's story and that of the bootblack and the man who keeps the fruit store?
Don't you suppose life is doing things to the boy in the coat-room as interesting as anything in all the romances? Isn't life changing us in the most extraordinary ways, and do we not wish to know in what manner we are to meet and adapt ourselves to these changes? There is a humble writer in an attic up there who knows all about it, if you care to listen to him. The trouble is that he is so much interested in talking about life that he forgets to talk about himself, and we are too lazy to listen to any one who forgets to blow his own trumpet.
But the magazines are beginning to look for him, and, wonderful to say, they are beginning to find him, and to discover that he is more interesting and humanly popular than the professional chef who may be always depended upon to cook his single dish in the same old way, but who has never had time to learn anything else. Now what is the essential point of all that I have been trying to say?
It is simply this. If we are going to do anything as a nation, we must be honest with ourselves and with everybody else. If we are story writers or story readers, and practically every one is either one or the other in these days, we must come to grips with life in the fiction we write or read. Sloppy sentimentality and slapstick farce ought to bore us frightfully, especially if we have any sense of humor. Life is too real to go to sleep over it. To repeat what I have said in these pages in previous years, for the benefit of the reader as yet unacquainted with my standards and principles of selection, I shall point out that I have set myself the task of disengaging the essential human qualities in our contemporary fiction which, when chronicled conscientiously by our literary artists, may fairly be called a criticism of life.
What has interested me, to the exclusion of other things, is the fresh, living current which flows through the best of our work, and the psychological and imaginative reality which our writers have conferred upon it. No substance is of importance in fiction, unless it is organic substance, that is to say, substance in which the pulse of life is beating.
Inorganic fiction has been our curse in the past, and bids fair to remain so, unless we exercise much greater artistic discrimination than we display at present. The present record covers the period from October, , to September, , inclusive. During this period, I have sought to select from the stories published in American magazines those which have rendered life imaginatively in organic substance and artistic form. Substance is something achieved by the artist in every act of creation, rather than something already present, and accordingly a fact or group of facts in a story only attain substantial embodiment when the artist's power of compelling imaginative persuasion transforms them into a living truth.
The first test of a short story, therefore, in any qualitative analysis is to report upon how vitally compelling the writer makes his selected facts or incidents. This test may be conveniently called the test of substance. But a second test is necessary if the story is to take rank above other stories. The true artist will seek to shape this living substance into the most beautiful and satisfying form, by skilful selection and arrangement of his materials, and by the most direct and appealing presentation of it in portrayal and characterization.
The short stories which I have examined in this study, as in previous years, have fallen naturally into four groups. The first group consists of those stories which fail, in my opinion, to survive either the test of substance or the test of form. These stories are listed in the yearbook without comment or a qualifying asterisk. The second group consists of those stories which may fairly claim that they survive either the test of substance or the test of form.
Each of these stories may claim to possess either distinction of technique alone, or more frequently, I am glad to say, a persuasive sense of life in them to which a reader responds with some part of his own experience.
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Stories included in this group are indicated in the yearbook index by a single asterisk prefixed to the title. The third group, which is composed of stories of still greater distinction, includes such narratives as may lay convincing claim to a second reading, because each of them has survived both tests, the test of substance and the test of form. Stories included in this group are indicated in the yearbook index by two asterisks prefixed to the title.
Finally, I have recorded the names of a small group of stories which possess, I believe, an even finer distinction—the distinction of uniting genuine substance and artistic form in a closely woven pattern with such sincerity that these stories may fairly claim a position in our literature.
If all of these stories by American authors were republished, they would not occupy more space than five novels of average length. My selection of them does not imply the critical belief that they are great stories. A year which produced one great story would be an exceptional one. It is simply to be taken as meaning that I have found the equivalent of five volumes worthy of republication among all the stories published during the period under consideration. These stories are indicated in the yearbook index by three asterisks prefixed to the title, and are listed in the special "Roll of Honor.
To the titles of certain stories, however, in the "Rolls of Honor," an asterisk is prefixed, and this asterisk, I must confess, reveals in some measure a personal preference, for which, perhaps, I may be indulged. It is from this final short list that the stories reprinted in this volume have been selected. It has been a point of honor with me not to republish an English story, nor a translation from a foreign author. I have also made it a rule not to include more than one story by an individual author in the volume. The general and particular results of my study will be found explained and carefully detailed in the supplementary part of the volume.
As in past years it has been my pleasure and honor to associate this annual with the names of Benjamin Rosenblatt, Richard Matthews Hallet, Wilbur Daniel Steele, Arthur Johnson, and Anzia Yezierska, so it is my wish to dedicate this year the best that I have found in the American magazines as the fruit of my labors to Sherwood Anderson, whose stories, "The Door of the Trap," "I Want to Know Why," "The Other Woman," and "The Triumph of the Egg" seem to me to be among the finest imaginative contributions to the short story made by an American artist during the past year.
We walked for ten minutes and then he said it again. I turned to look at him. He began to talk and told me the tale I am now about to set down. The thing he had on his mind happened during what must have been the most eventful week of his life. He was to be married on Friday afternoon. On Friday of the week before he got a telegram announcing his appointment to a government position. Something else happened that made him very proud and glad.
In secret he was in the habit of writing verses and during the year before several of them had been printed in poetry magazines. One of the societies that give prizes for what they think the best poems published during the year put his name at the head of their list. The story of his triumph was printed in the newspapers of his home city, and one of them also printed his picture. As might have been expected, he was excited and in a rather highly strung nervous state all during that week. When he got there the house was filled with people and many letters, telegrams and packages were being received.
He stood a little to one side and men and women kept coming to speak with him. They congratulated him upon his success in getting the government position and on his achievement as a poet. Everyone seemed to be praising him, and when he went home to bed he could not sleep. On Wednesday evening he went to the theatre and it seemed to him that people all over the house recognized him. Everyone nodded and smiled. After the first act five or six men and two women left their seats to gather about him.
A little group was formed. Strangers sitting along the same row of seats stretched their necks and looked. He had never received so much attention before, and now a fever of expectancy took possession of him. As he explained when he told me of his experience, it was for him an altogether abnormal time. He felt like one floating in air. When he got into bed after seeing so many people and hearing so many words of praise his head whirled round and round.
When he closed his eyes a crowd of people invaded his room. It seemed as though the minds of all the people of his city were centered on himself. The most absurd fancies took possession of him. He imagined himself riding in a carriage through the streets of a city. Windows were thrown open and people ran out at the doors of houses.
That's him," they shouted, and at the words a glad cry arose. The carriage drove into a street blocked with people. A hundred thousand pairs of eyes looked up at him. What a fellow you have managed to make of yourself! My friend could not explain whether the excitement of the people was due to the fact that he had written a new poem or whether, in his new government position, he had performed some notable act. The apartment where he lived at that time was on a street perched along the top of a cliff far out at the edge of the city and from his bedroom window he could look down over trees and factory roofs to a river.
As he could not sleep and as the fancies that kept crowding in upon him only made him more excited, he got out of bed and tried to think. As would be natural under such circumstances, he tried to control his thoughts, but when he sat by the window and was wide awake a most unexpected and humiliating thing happened.
The night was clear and fine. There was a moon. He wanted to dream of the woman who was to be his wife, think out lines for noble poems or make plans that would affect his career.
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Much to his surprise his mind refused to do anything of the sort. At a corner of the street where he lived there was a small cigar store and newspaper stand run by a fat man of forty and his wife, a small active woman with bright grey eyes. In the morning he stopped there to buy a paper before going down to the city. Sometimes he saw only the fat man, but often the man had disappeared and the woman waited on him. She was, as he assured me at least twenty times in telling me his tale, a very ordinary person with nothing special or notable about her, but for some reason he could not explain being in her presence stirred him profoundly.
During that week in the midst of his distraction she was the only person he knew who stood out clear and distinct in his mind. When he wanted so much to think noble thoughts, he could think only of her. Before he knew what was happening his imagination had taken hold of the notion of having a love affair with the woman. After two or three days of that sort of thing the consciousness of her got into my daytime thoughts.
I was terribly muddled. When I went to see the woman who is now my wife I found that my love for her was in no way affected by my vagrant thoughts. There was but one woman in the world I wanted to live with me and to be my comrade in undertaking to improve my own character and my position in the world, but for the moment, you see, I wanted this other woman to be in my arms. She had worked her way into my being. On all sides people were saying I was a big man who would do big things, and there I was. That evening when I went to the theatre I walked home because I knew I would be unable to sleep, and to satisfy the annoying impulse in myself I went and stood on the sidewalk before the tobacco shop.
It was a two story building, and I knew the woman lived upstairs with her husband. For a long time I stood in the darkness with my body pressed against the wall of the building and then I thought of the two of them up there, no doubt in bed together. That made me furious. I went home and got into bed shaken with anger.
There are certain books of verse and some prose writings that have always moved me deeply, and so I put several books on a table by my bed. I did not hear them. The words printed on the lines would not penetrate into my consciousness. I tried to think of the woman I loved, but her figure had also become something far away, something with which I for the moment seemed to have nothing to do.
I rolled and tumbled about in the bed. It was a miserable experience. There stood the woman alone. I think she knew how I felt. Perhaps she had been thinking of me as I had been thinking of her. A doubtful hesitating smile played about the corners of her mouth. She had on a dress made of cheap cloth, and there was a tear on the shoulder. She must have been ten years older than myself. When I tried to put my pennies on the glass counter behind which she stood my hand trembled so that the pennies made a sharp rattling noise.
When I spoke the voice that came out of my throat did not sound like anything that had ever belonged to me. It barely arose above a thick whisper. Can't you run away from your husband? Come to me at my apartment at seven to-night. That morning she did not say anything at all. For a minute perhaps we stood looking at each other.
I had forgotten everything in the world but just her. Then she nodded her head and I went away. Now that I think of it I cannot remember a word I ever heard her say. She came to my apartment at seven and it was dark. You must understand this was in the month of October. I had not lighted a light and I had sent my servant away. Several men came to see me at my office, but I got all muddled up in trying to talk with them.
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They attributed my rattle-headedness to my approaching marriage and went away laughing. During the night before she also had been unable to sleep and had got out of bed to write the letter. Everything she said in it was very sharp and real, but she herself, as a living thing, seemed to have receded into the distance. It seemed to me that she was like a bird, flying far away in distant skies, and I was like a perplexed bare-footed boy standing in the dusty road before a farm house and looking at her receding figure.
I wonder if you will understand what I mean? In it she, the awakening woman, poured out her heart. She of course knew nothing of life, but she was a woman. She lay, I suppose, in her bed feeling nervous and wrought up as I had been doing. She realized that a great change was about to take place in her life and was glad and afraid too. There she lay thinking of it all.
Then she got out of bed and began talking to me on the bit of paper. She told me how afraid she was and how glad too. Like most young women she had heard things whispered. In the letter she was very sweet and fine. You must remember that I am ignorant and often I will be very stupid. You must love me and be very patient and kind. When I know more, when after a long time you have taught me the way of life, I will try to repay you. I will love you tenderly and passionately. The possibility of that is in me, or I would not want to marry at all. I am afraid but I am also happy.
O, I am so glad our marriage time is near at hand. I remember that I got out of my chair and walked about, proud of the fact that I was to be the husband of so noble a woman. Right away I felt concerning her as I had been feeling, about myself before I found out what a weak thing I was. To be sure I took a strong resolution that I would not be weak. I will go home now and send the other woman away. I cannot be rude to her.
I will have to make some kind of an explanation,' I said to myself. It is likely I never had any intention of doing anything else. There was a bell on my door, but she did not ring, but knocked very softly. It seems to me that everything she did that evening was soft and quiet but very determined and quick. Do I make myself clear?
When she came I was standing just within the door, where I had been standing and waiting for a half hour. My hands were trembling as they had trembled in the morning when her eyes looked at me and when I tried to put the pennies on the counter in the store. When I opened the door she stepped quickly in and I took her into my arms. We stood together in the darkness. My hands no longer trembled. I felt very happy and strong. I have emphasized, you see, the other woman.
I make the blind statement that I love my wife, and to a man of your shrewdness that means nothing at all. To tell the truth, had I not started to speak of this matter I would feel more comfortable. It is inevitable that I give you the impression that I am in love with the tobacconist's wife. That's not true. To be sure I was very conscious of her all during the week before my marriage, but after she had come to me at my apartment she went entirely out of my mind. I am trying very hard to tell what happened to me.
I am saying that I have not since that evening thought of the woman who came to my apartment. Now, to tell the facts of the case, that is not true. In a kind of way I cannot explain the other woman went with me. This is what I mean—you see I had been thinking that if anything happened between me and the tobacconist's wife I would not be able to go through with my marriage.
I am afraid I muddle this matter in trying to tell it. A moment ago I said the other woman, the tobacconist's wife, went with me. I do not mean she went in fact.
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What I am trying to say is that something of her faith in her own desires and her courage in seeing things through went with me. Is that clear to you? Some were relatives from distant places I had not seen before. She looked up quickly when I came into the room. My face must have been radiant. I never saw her so moved. She thought her letter had affected me deeply, and of course it had. Up she jumped and ran to meet me. She was like a glad child.
Right before the people who turned and looked inquiringly at us, she said the thing that was in her mind. We will be two human beings. We will not have to be husband and wife. The tears came into my eyes. I was so happy I wanted to shout. Perhaps you understand what I mean. In her house when she cried out in that way, and when everyone laughed, what I said to myself was something like this: 'We will take care of ourselves. To tell you the truth I had come down off my perch. The spirit of the other woman did that to me.
They thought it very sweet of us to be so affected at the sight of each other. What they would have thought had they known the truth about me God only knows! That is partially true but sometimes in the evening when I am walking alone in the street or in the park as we are walking now, and when evening comes softly and quickly as it has come to-night, the feeling of her comes sharply into my body and mind. After that one meeting I never saw her again.
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On the next day I was married and I have never gone back into her street. Often however as I am walking along as I am doing now, a quick sharp earthy feeling takes possession of me. It is as though I were a seed in the ground and the warm rains of the spring had come.
It is as though I were not a man but a tree. My marriage is to me a very beautiful fact. If you were to say that my marriage is not a happy one I could call you a liar and be speaking the absolute truth. I have tried to tell you about this other woman. There is a kind of relief in speaking of her. I have never done it before. I wonder why I was so silly as to be afraid that I would give you the impression I am not in love with my wife. If I did not instinctively trust your understanding I would not have spoken.
As the matter stands I have a little stirred myself up. To-night I shall think of the other woman. That sometimes occurs. It will happen after I have gone to bed. My wife sleeps in the next room to mine and the door is always left open. There will be a moon to-night, and when there is a moon long streaks of light fall on her bed. I shall awake at midnight to-night. She will be lying asleep with one arm thrown over her head. A man does not speak of his wife lying in bed. What I am trying to say is that, because of this talk, I shall think of the other woman to-night. My thoughts will not take the form they did the week before I was married.
I will wonder what has become of the woman. For a moment I will again feel myself holding her close. I will think that for an hour I was closer to her than I have ever been to anyone else. Then I will think of the time when I will be as close as that to my wife.
She is still, you see, an awakening woman. For a moment I will close my eyes and the quick, shrewd, determined eyes of that other woman will look into mine. My head will swim and then I will quickly open my eyes and see again the dear woman with whom I have undertaken to live out my life. Then I will sleep and when I awake in the morning it will be as it was that evening when I walked out of my dark apartment after having had the most notable experience of my life.
What I mean to say, you understand, is that, for me, when I awake, the other woman will be utterly gone. Copyright, , by Sherwood Anderson. Gargoyle stole up the piazza steps. His arms were full of field flowers. He stood there staring over his burden. A hush fell upon tea- and card-tables. The younger women on the Strang veranda glanced at one another. The girl at the piano hesitated in her light stringing of musical sentences. John Strang rose.
Gargoyle flitted contentedly down the broad steps to the smooth drive, and was soon hidden by masses of rhododendron on the quadrangle. Only one guest raised questioning eyebrows as Strang resumed his seat. This girl glanced over his shoulder at the aimless child straying off into the trees. Strang's nerves; he gives me the creeps! Strang is hardly as sensitive as you might suppose. What do you say of a lady who enjoys putting the worms on her shrinking husband's hook? Not only that, but who banters the worms, telling them it's all for their own good?
The mistress of Heartholm, looking over at the two, shook a deprecating head. But Strang seemed to derive amusement from the guest's disapproval. Mockwood, where the Strangs lived, had its impressiveness partly accounted for by the practical American name of "residential park. Polished automobiles gliding noiselessly through massed purple and silver shrubberies, receded into bland glooms of well-thought-out boscage.
The architecture, a judicious mixture of haughty roofs and opulent chimneys, preened itself behind exclusive screens of wall and vine, and the entire frontage of Mockwood presented a polished elegance which did not entirely conceal a silent plausibility of expense. At Heartholm, the Strangs' place, alone, had the purely conventional been smitten in its smooth face.
The banker's country home was built on the lines of his own physical height and mental breadth. Strang had flung open his living-rooms to vistas of tree branches splashing against the morning blue. His back stairs were as aspiring as the Apostles' Creed, and his front stairs as soaring as the Canticle to the Sun. As he had laid out his seven-mile drive on a deer track leading to a forest spring, so had he spoken for his flowers the word, which, though it freed them from the prunes and prisms of a landscape gardener, held them, glorified vassals, to their original masters, sun and rain.
Strang and his love for untrammeled nature were hard pills for Mockwooders to swallow. Here was a man who, while he kept one on the alert, was to be deplored; who homesteaded squirrels, gave rabbits their own licentious ways, was whimsically tolerant of lichens, mushrooms, and vagabond vines. This was also the man who, when his gardener's wife gave birth to a deaf and dumb baby, encouraged his own wife to make a pet of the unfortunate youngster, and when he could walk gave him his freedom of the Heartholm acres.
It was this sort of thing, Mockwooders agreed, that "explained" the Strangs. It was the desultory gossip of fashionable breakfast tables how Evelyn Strang was frequently seen at the gardener's cottage, talking to the poor mother about her youngest. The gardener's wife had other children, all strong and hearty. These went to school, survived the rigors of "regents" examinations, and were beginning to talk of "accepting" positions. There would never be any position for little Gargoyle, as John Strang called him, to "accept. But people who "run about in the sun" are seldom inclined to make themselves useful, and no one could make Gargoyle so.
It would have been as well to try to train woodbine to draw water or to educate cattails to write Greek. The little boy spent all of the day idling; it was a curious, Oriental sort of idling. Callers at Heartholm grew disapprovingly accustomed to the sight of the grotesque face and figure peering through the shrubberies; they shrugged their shoulders impatiently, coming upon the recumbent child dreamily gazing at his own reflection in the lily-pond, looking necromantically out from the molten purple of a wind-blown beech, or standing at gaze in a clump of iris.
He lives in a flower-harem—in a five-year-old Solomon's Song. I've often seen the irises kowtowing to him, and his attitude toward them is distinctly personal and lover-like. If that little chap could only talk there would be some fun, but what Gargoyle thinks would hardly fit itself to words—besides, then"—Strang twinkled at the idea—"none of us would fancy having him around with those natural eyes—that undressed little mind.
It was in good-humored explanations like this that the Strangs managed to conceal their real interest in Gargoyle. They did not remind people of their only child, the brave boy of seven, who died before they came to Mockwood. Under the common sense that set the two instantly to work building a new home, creating new associations, lay the everlasting pain of an old life, when, as parents of a son, they had seemed to tread springier soil, to breathe keener, more vital air.
And, though the Strangs adhered patiently to the recognized technicalities of Mockwood existence, they never lost sight of a hope, of which, against the increasing evidence of worldly logic, their human hearts still made ceaseless frantic attestation. Very slowly, but very constructively, it had become a fierce though governed passion with both—to learn something of the spiritual life coursing back of the material universe. Equally slowly and inevitably had the two come to believe that the little changeling at the lodge held some wordless clue, some unconscious knowledge as to that outer sphere, that surrounding, peopled ether, in which, under their apparent rationality, the two had come to believe.
Yet the banker and his wife stood to Mockwooders for no special cult or fad; it was only between themselves that their quest had become a slowly developing motive. I noticed that he never picked a rose, never smelled one. The early sun fell slanting through their petals till they glowed like thin little wheels of fire. John dear, it was that scalloped fire which Gargoyle was staring at. The flowers seemed to lean toward him, vibrating color and perfumes too delicate for me to hear. I only saw and smelled the flowers; Gargoyle looked as if he felt them!
Don't laugh; you know we look at flowers because when we were little, people always said, 'See the pretty flower, smell the pretty flower,' but no one said, 'Listen and see if you can hear the flower grow; be still and see if you can catch the flower speaking. Strang never did laugh, never brushed away these fantastic ideas. Settling back in his piazza chair, his big hands locked together, he would listen, amusing himself with his pet theory of Gargoyle's "undressed mind.
Strang averred it confidently. The banker kept his eyes on the treetops; he had his finger-tips nicely balanced before he remarked, with seeming irrelevance:. It killed the poor little feathered gawk. I saw Gargoyle run, quick as a flash, and pick it up. He pushed open the closing eyes, tried to place the bird on a hollyhock stalk, to spread its wings, in every way to give it motion. When, after each attempt, he saw it fall to the ground, he stood still, looking at it very hard.
Suddenly, to my surprise, he seemed to understand something, to comprehend it fully and delightedly. He laughed. Strang shook his head. It—it wasn't pleasant. It was as uncanny as the rest of the little chap—a long, rattling, eerie sound, as if a tree should groan or a butterfly curse; but wait—there's more. It was as if—" Here Strang, the normal, healthy man of the world, hesitated; it was only the father of the little boy who had died who admitted in low tones: "You would have said—At least even I could imagine that Gargoyle—well—that he saw something like a released principle of life fly happily back to its main source—as if a little mote like a sunbeam should detach itself from a clod and, disembodied, dart back to its law of motion.
For a long time they were silent, listening to the call of an oven-bird far back in the spring trees. At last Strang got up, filled his pipe, and puffed at it savagely before he said, "Of course the whole thing's damned nonsense. Time flew swiftly by. The years at Heartholm were tranquil and happy until Strang, taken by one of the swift maladies which often come to men of his type, was mortally stricken.
His wife at first seemed to feel only the strange ecstasy that sometimes comes to those who have beheld death lay its hand on a beloved body. She went coldly, rigidly, through every detail of the final laying away of the man who had loved her to the utmost power of his man's heart. Friends waited helplessly, dreading the furious after-crash of this unnatural mental and bodily endurance. Doctor Milton, Strang's life-long friend, who had fought for the banker's life, watched her carefully, but there was no catalepsy, no tranced woman held in a vise of endurance.
Nothing Evelyn Strang did was odd or unnatural, only she seemed, particularly before the burial, to be waiting intently for some revelation, toward which her desire burned consumingly, like a powerful flame. I saw her standing with him, staring all about her. Somehow it seemed to me that Gargoyle was smiling—that he saw something——!
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For long weeks Doctor Milton stayed on at Heartholm, caring for Mrs. From time to time the physician also studied and questioned Gargoyle. Questioned in verity, for the practised hand could feel rigid muscles and undeveloped glands that answered more truthfully than words. Whatever conclusions Milton arrived at, he divulged to no one but Mrs. What he had to say roused the desolate woman as nothing else could have done. To the rest of the world little or nothing was explained. But, after the consent of the mother at the gardener's cottage had been gained, Doctor Milton left Heartholm, taking Gargoyle with him.
In the office of Dr. Pauli Mach, the professional tongue was freed. Milton, with the half-quizzical earnestness habitual to him, told his story, which was followed by the exchange of much interesting data. The two fell back on the discussion of various schools where Gargoyle might be put under observation. At last, feeling in the gravely polite attention of the more eminent man a waning lack of interest, Milton reluctantly concluded the interview. Strang and tell her your conclusions; she won't accept them—her own husband humored her in the thing.
What John Strang himself believed I never really knew, but I think he had wisdom in his generation. Milton stood there, hesitating; he looked abstractedly at the apathetic little figure of Gargoyle sitting in the chair. Yet I have sometimes wondered if what we call mentally askew people are not those that possess attributes which society is not wise enough to help them use wisely—mightn't such people be like fine-blooded animals who sniff land and water where no one else suspects any?
Given a certain kink in a human brain, and there might result capacity we ought to consider, even if we can't, in our admittably systematized civilization, utilize it. Milton nodded. He moved to go, one hand on Gargoyle's unresponsive shoulder, when the office door swung open. I've already filled one bath-tub; I've even used the buckets in the operating-room.
The head nurse stood there, white-frocked, smiling, her stout arms full of rosy gladioli and the lavender and white of Japanese iris. The two doctors started to help her with the fragrant burden, but not before Gargoyle sprang out of his chair. With a start, as if shocked into galvanic motion, the boy sat upright. With a throttled cry he leaped at the surprised woman. He bore down upon her flowers as if they had been a life-preserver, snatching at them as if to prevent himself from being sucked under by some strange mental undertow. The softly-colored bloom might have had some vital magnetizing force for the child's blood, to which his whole feeble nature responded.
Tearing the colored mass from the surprised nurse's arms, Gargoyle sank to the floor. He sat there caressing the flowers, smiling, making uncouth efforts to speak. The arms that raised him were gentle enough. They made no attempt to take from him his treasures. They sat him on the table, watching the little thin hands move ardently, yet with a curious deftness and delicacy, amid the sheaf of color.
As the visionary eyes peered first into one golden-hearted lily, then into another, Milton felt stir, in spite of himself, Strang's old conviction of the "undressed mind. Doctor Mach was absorbed. He stood the boy on the table before him. The nurse stripped Gargoyle, then swiftly authoritative fingers traveled up and down the small, thin frame. Life at Heartholm went on very much the same.
The tender-hearted observer might have noted that the gardens held the same flowers year after year, all the perennials and hardy blooms John Strang had loved. No matter what had been his widow's courageous acceptance of modern stoicism, the prevailing idea that incurable grief is merely "morbid," yet, in their own apartments where their own love had been lived, was every mute image and eloquent trifle belonging to its broken arc.
Here, with Strang's books on occult science, with other books of her own choosing, the wife lived secretly, unknown of any other human being, the long vigil of waiting for some sign or word from the spirit of one who by every token of religion and faith she could not believe dead—only to her wistful earthly gaze, hidden. She also hid in her heart one strangely persistent hope—namely, Gargoyle! Letters from Doctor Milton had been full of significance. The last letter triumphantly concluded:.
Your young John Strang Berber, alias Gargoyle, can talk now, with only one drawback: as yet he doesn't know any words! The rapidly aging mother at the gardener's cottage took worldly pride in what was happening to her youngest. To think of him speaking his mind out like any one else! I allus took his part—I could ha' told 'em he had his own notions! There was no doubt as to Gargoyle's having the "notions. Close-mouthed the boy was, and, they said, always would be; but watchful eyes and keen intuitions penetrated to the silent orgies going on within him. So plainly did the fever of his education begin to wear on his physical frame that wary Doctor Mach shook his head.
Give this field only one stream that shall be nourishing. For other supernormal developments that "one stream" might have been music or sports. For Gargoyle it happened to be flowers. The botanist with whom he was sent afield not only knew his science, but guessed at more than his science. His were the beatitudes of the blue sky; water, rocks, and trees his only living testament. Under his tutelage, with the eyes of Doctor Mach ever on his growing body, and with his own special gifts of concentration and perception, at last came to Gargoyle the sudden whisper of academic sanction—namely, "genius.
He himself seemed never to hear this whisper. What things—superimposed on the new teeming world of material actualities—he did hear, he never told. Few could reach Berber; among fellow-students he was gay, amiable, up to a certain point even frivolous; then, as each companion in turn complained, a curtain seemed to drop, a colorless wrap of unintelligibility enveloped him like a chameleon's changing skin; the youth, as if he lived another life on another plane, walked apart.
We keep forgetting that we've dragged our fifty-year-old carcasses into an entirely new age—a wireless, horseless, man-flying, star-chasing age. Why, after shock upon shock of scientific discovery, shouldn't the human brain, like a sensitive plate, be thinned down to keener, more sensitive, perceptions?
Some one remarked that in the case of Berber, born of a simple country woman and her uneducated husband, this was impossible. Another man laughed. He took the wrong car and landed on this globe. Why not? How do we know what agency carries pollen of human life from planet to planet? Milton, smiling at it all, withdrew. He sat down and wrote a long-deferred letter to Mrs. I have asked John Berber if he would care to revisit his old home.
It seemed never to have occurred to him that he had a home! When I suggested the thing he followed it up eagerly, as he does every new idea, asking me many keen questions as to his relatives, who had paid for his education, etc. Of the actual facts of his cure he knows little except that there was special functioning out of gear, and that now the wheels have been greased. Doctor Mach is desperately proud of him, especially of the way in which he responds to normal diversion-environments and friendships. You must instruct his mother very carefully as to references to his former condition.
It is best that he should not dwell upon the former condition. Your young friend, Gargoyle, sees no more spooks. He is rapidly developing into a very remarkable and unconceited horticulturist! The first few days at Mockwood were spent at the little gardener's cottage, from which the other youngsters had flown. Berber, quietly moving about the tiny rooms, sitting buried in a scientific book or taking long trips afield, was the recipient of much maternal flattery.
He accepted it all very gently; the young culturist had an air of quiet consideration for every one and absolutely no consciousness of himself. He presumed upon no special prerogatives, but set immediately to work to make himself useful. It was while he was weeding the box borders leading to the herb-gardens of Heartholm that Mrs. Strang first came upon him. Her eyes, suddenly confronted with his as he got to his feet, dropped almost guiltily, but when they sought his face a second time, Evelyn Strang experienced a disappointment that was half relief.
The sunburnt youth, in khaki trousers and brown-flannel shirt, who knelt by the border before her was John Strang Berber, Doctor Mach's human masterpiece; this was not "Gargoyle. White teeth flashed, deep eyes kindled. Berber rose and, going to a garden seat, took up some bits of glass and a folded paper. He showed her fragments of weed pressed upon glass plates, envelopes of seeds preserved for special analyzation. She began sorting out her embroidery silks as Berber, the bits of glass still in his hand, stood before her. He was smiling. A feeling as powerful and associative as the scent of a strong perfume stole over Evelyn Strang.
Before she could speak Berber had resumed his weeding. He was very busy this morning. I have no credentials, but my mother seems to think I am a born gardener. This lack of conceit, this unassuming practicality, the sort of thing with which Gargoyle's mind had been carefully inoculated for a long time, baffled, while it reassured Mrs. Also the sense of sacred trust placed in her hands made her refrain from any psychic probing. For a long while she found it easy to exert this self-control. The lonely woman, impressed by the marvelous "cure" of John Berber, magnetized by his youth and sunny enthusiasms back to the old dreaming pleasure in the Heartholm gardens, might in the absorbed days to come have forgotten—only there was a man's photograph in her bedroom, placed where her eyes always rested on it, her hand could bring it to her lips; the face looking out at her seemed to say but one thing:.
What we knew and were to each other had not only to do with our bodies. Men call me 'dead' but you know that I am not. Why do you not study and work and pray to learn what I am become, that you may turn to me, that I may reach to you? Mockwooders, dropping in at Heartholm for afternoon tea, began to accustom themselves to finding Mrs. Strang sitting near some flower-bed where John Berber worked, or going with him over his great books of specimens.
The smirk the fashionable world reserves for anything not usual in its experience was less marked in this case than it might have been in others. Even those who live in "residential parks" are sometimes forced albeit with a curious sense of personal injury to accept the idea that they who have greatly suffered find relief in "queer" ways. Mockwooders, assisting at the Heartholm tea-hour, and noting Berber among other casual guests, merely felt aggrieved and connoted "queerness.
For almost a year, with the talking over of plans for John Strang's long-cherished idea of a forest garden at Heartholm, there had been no allusion between mistress and gardener to that far-off fantasy, the life of little Gargoyle. During the autumn the two drew plans together for those spots which next spring were to blossom in the beech glade. They sent to far-off countries for bulbs, experimented in the Heartholm greenhouses with special soils and fertilizers, and differences of heat and light; they transplanted, grafted, and redeveloped this and that woodland native.
Unconsciously all formal strangeness wore away, unconsciously the old bond between Gargoyle and his mistress was renewed. Thus it was, without the slightest realization as to what it might lead, that Evelyn Strang one afternoon made some trifling allusion to Berber's association with the famous Doctor Mach.
As soon as she had done so, fearing from habit for some possible disastrous result, she tried immediately to draw away from the subject. But the forbidden spring had been touched—a door that had long been closed between them swung open. Young Berber, sorting dahlia bulbs into numbered boxes, looked up; he met her eyes unsuspiciously. The mistress of Heartholm did not reply. In spite of her tranquil air, Evelyn Strang was gripped with a sudden apprehension. How much, how little, did Berber know? She glanced swiftly at him, then bent her head over her embroidery.
The colored stream of Indian summer flowed around them.
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A late bird poured out his little cup of song. I was thought to be an idiot until I was twelve years old—born deaf and dumb? It was asked so naturally, with a scientific interest as impersonal as if he were speaking of one of the malformed bulbs in his pocket, that at first his mistress felt no confusion. Her eyes and hands busying themselves with the vivid silks, she answered. Strang and I were attracted to your mysterious plays No, you never spoke, but we were not sure you could not hear—and"—drawing a swift little breath—"we were always interested in what—in what—you seemed—to see!
There was a pause. He knelt there, busily sorting the bulbs. Suddenly to the woman sitting on the garden bench the sun-bathed October gardens seemed alive with the myriad questioning faces of the fall flowers; wheels and disks like aureoled heads leaned toward her, mystical fire in their eyes, the colored flames of their being blown by passionate desire of revelation. But that she might not yet speak out her heart to John Berber his mistress was sure. She was reminded of what Strang had so often said, referring to their lonely quest—that actual existence was like a forlorn shipwreck of some other life, a mere raft upon which, like grave buffoons, the ragged survivors went on handing one another watersoaked bread of faith, glassless binoculars of belief, oblivious of what radiant coasts or awful headlands might lie beyond the enveloping mists.
Soon, the wistful woman knew, she would be making some casual observations about the garden, the condition of the soil. Yet, if ever the moment had come to question him who had once been "Gargoyle," that moment was come now! Berber lifted on high a mass of thickly welded bulbs clinging to a single dahlia stalk. Books By Amy Patricia Meade. Get it by Friday, Sep 27 Only 5 left in stock more on the way. This title has not yet been released. Temporarily out of stock.
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