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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIole - Chapter 9
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Iole - Chapter 9 Post by :MSCOTT Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :2786

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Iole - Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX

There was a young wife behind the footlights explaining to a young man who was not her husband that her marriage vows need not be too seriously considered if he, the young man, found them too inconvenient. Which scared the young man, who was plainly a purveyor of heated air and a short sport. And, although she explained very clearly that if he needed her in his business he had better say so quick, the author's invention gave out just there and he called in the young wife's husband to help him out.

And all the while the battery of round blue eyes gazed on unwinking; the poet's dewlaps quivered with stored emotion, and the spellbound audience breathed as people breathe when the hostess at table attempts to smooth over a bad break by her husband.

"Is _that life?" whispered Cybele to Lethbridge, her sensitive mouth aquiver. "Did the author actually know such people? Do _you_? Is conscience really only an attitude? Is instinct the only guide? Am _I_--really--bad----"

"No, no," whispered Lethbridge; "all that is only a dramatist's attitude. Don't--don't look grieved! Why, every now and then some man discovers he can attract more attention by standing on his head. That is all--really, that is all. Barnard Haw on his feet is not amusing; but the same gentleman on his head is worth an orchestra-chair. When a man wears his trousers where other men wear their coats, people are bound to turn around. It is not a new trick. Mystes, the Argive comic poet, and the White Queen, taught this author the value of substituting 'is' for 'is not,' until, from standing so long inverted, he himself forgets what he means, and at this point the eminent brothers Rogers take up the important work.... Please, please, Cybele, _don't take it seriously!... If you look that way--if you are unhappy, I--I----"

A gentle snore from the poet transfixed the firing-line, but the snore woke up the poet and he mechanically pinched an atom out of the atmosphere, blinking at the stage.

"Precious--very, very precious," he murmured drowsily. "Thank you--thank everybody--" And he sank into an obese and noiseless slumber as the gray and silver curtain slowly fell. The applause, far from rousing him, merely soothed him; a honeyed smile hovered on his lips which formed the words "Thank you." That was all; the firing-line stirred, breathed deeply, and folded twelve soft white hands. Chlorippe, twelve, and Philodice, thirteen, yawned, pink-mouthed, sleepy-eyed; Dione, fourteen, laid her golden head on the shoulder of Aphrodite, fifteen.

The finger-tips of Lissa and Harrow still touched, scarcely clinging; they had turned toward one another when the curtain fell. But the play, to them, had been a pantomime of silhouettes, the stage, a void edged with flame--the scene, the audience, the theater, the poet himself as unreal and meaningless as the shadowy attitudes of the shapes that vanished when the phantom curtain closed its folds.

And through the subdued light, turning noiselessly, they peered at one another, conscious that naught else was real in the misty, golden-tinted gloom; that they were alone together there in a formless, soundless chaos peopled by shapes impalpable as dreams.

"_Now tell me," she said, her lips scarcely moving as the soft voice stirred them like carmine petals stirring in a scented breeze.

"Tell you that it is--love?"

"Yes, tell me."

"That I love you, Lissa?"

"Yes; that!"

He stooped nearer; his voice was steady and very low, and she leaned with bent head to listen, clear-eyed, intelligent, absorbed.

"So _that is love--what you tell me?"

"Yes--partly."

"And the other part?"

"The other part is when you find you love me."

"I--do. I think it must be love, because I can't bear to have you go away. Besides, I wish you to tell me--things."

"Ask me."

"Well--when two--like you and me, begin to love--what happens?"

"We confess it----"

"I do; I'm not ashamed.... Should I be? And then?"

"Then?" he faltered.

"Yes; do we kiss?... For I am curious to have you do it--I am so certain I shall adore you when you do.... I wish we could go away somewhere together.... But we can't do that until I am a bride, can we? Oh--do you really want me?"

"Can you ask?" he breathed.

"Ask? Yes--yes.... I love to ask! Your hand thrills me. We can't go away now, can we? It took Iole so long to be permitted to go away with Mr. Wayne--all that time lost in so many foolish ways--when a girl is so impatient.... Is it not strange how my heart beats when I look into your eyes? Oh, there can be no doubt about it, I am dreadfully in love.... And so quickly, too. I suppose it's because I am in such splendid health; don't you?"

"I--I--well----"

"Oh, I _do want to get up at once and go away with you! _Can't we? I could explain to father."

"Wait!" he gasped, "he--he's asleep. Don't speak--don't touch him."

"How unselfish you are," she breathed. "No, you are not hurting my fingers. Tell me more--about love and the blessed years awaiting us, and about our children--oh, is it not wonderful!"

"Ex--extremely," he managed to mutter, touching his suddenly dampened forehead with his handkerchief, and attempting to set his thoughts in some sort of order. He could not; the incoherence held him speechless, dazed, under the magic of this superb young being instinct with the soft fire of life.

Her loveliness, her innocence, the beautiful, direct gaze, the childlike fulness of mouth and contour of cheek and throat, left him spellbound. The very air around them seemed suffused with the vital glow of her youth and beauty; each breath they drew increased their wonder, till the whole rosy universe seemed thrilling and singing at their feet, and they two, love-crowned, alone, saw Time and Eternity flowing like a golden tide under the spell of Paradise.

"Jim!"

The hoarse whisper of Lethbridge shook the vision from him; he turned a flushed countenance to his friend; but Cybele spoke:

"We are very tired sitting here. We would like to take some tea at Sherry's," she whispered. "What do you think we had better do? It seems so--so futile to sit here--when we wish to be alone together----"

"You and Henry, too!" gasped Harrow.

"Yes; do you wonder?" She leaned swiftly in front of him; a fragrant breeze stirred his hair. "Lissa, I'm desperately infatuated with Mr. Lethbridge. Do you see any use in our staying here when I'm simply dying to have him all to myself somewhere?"

"No, it is silly. I wish to go, too. Shall we?"

"You need not go," began Cybele; then stopped, aware of the new magic in her sister's eyes. "Lissa! Lissa!" she said softly. "_You_, too! Oh, my dear--my dearest!"

"Dear, is it not heavenly? I--I--was quite sure that if I ever had a good chance to talk to a man I really liked something would happen. And it has."

"If Philodice might awaken father perhaps he would let us go now," whispered Cybele. "Henry says it does not take more than an hour----"

"To become a bride?"

"Yes; he knows a clergyman very near----"

"Do you?" inquired Lissa. Lethbridge nodded and gave a scared glance at Harrow, who returned it as though stunned.

"But--but," muttered the latter, "your father doesn't know who we are----"

"Oh, yes, he does," said Cybele calmly, "for he sent you the tickets and placed us near you so that if we found that we liked you we might talk to you----"

"Only he made a mistake in your name," added Lissa to Harrow, "for he wrote 'Stanley West, Esq.' on the envelope. I know because I mailed it."

"Invited West--put _you where you could--good God!"

"What is the matter?" whispered Lissa in consternation; "have--have I said anything I should not?" And, as he was silent: "What is it? Have I hurt you--I who----"

There was a silence; she looked him through and through and, after a while, deep, deep in his soul, she saw, awaking once again, all he had deemed dead--the truth, the fearless reason, the sweet and faultless instinct of the child whose childhood had become a memory. Then, once more spiritually equal, they smiled at one another; and Lissa, pausing to gather up her ermine stole, passed noiselessly out to the aisle, where she stood, perfectly self-possessed, while her sister joined her, smiling vaguely down at the firing-line and their lifted battery of blue, inquiring eyes.

The poet--and whether he had slumbered or not nobody but himself is qualified to judge--the poet pensively opened one eye and peeped at Harrow as that young man bent beside him with Lethbridge at his elbow.

"In sending those two tickets you have taught us a new creed," whispered Harrow; "you have taught us innocence and simplicity--you have taught us to be ourselves, to scorn convention, to say and do what we believe. Thank you."

"Dear friend," said the poet in an artistically-modulated whisper, "I have long, long followed you in the high course of your career. To me the priceless simplicity of poverty: to you the responsibility for millions. To me the daisy, the mountain stream, the woodchuck and my Art! To you the busy mart, the haunts of men, the ship of finance laden with a nation's wealth, the awful burden of millions for which you are answerable to One higher!" He raised one soft, solemn finger.

The young men gazed at one another, astounded. Lethbridge's startled eyes said, "He still takes you for Stanley West!"

"Let him!" flashed the grim answer back from the narrowing gaze of Harrow.

"Daughters," whispered the poet playfully, "are you so soon tired of the brilliant gems of satire which our master dramatist scatters with a lavish----"

"No," said Cybele; "we are only very much in love."

The poet sat up briskly and looked hard at Harrow.

"Your--your friend?" he began--"doubtless associated with you in the high----"

"We are inseparable," said Harrow calmly, "in the busy marts."

The sweetness of the poet's smile was almost overpowering.

"To discuss this sudden--ah--condition which so--ah--abruptly confronts a father, I can not welcome you to my little home in the wild--which I call the House Beautiful," he said. "I would it were possible. There all is quiet and simple and exquisitely humble--though now, through the grace of my valued son, there is no mortgage hanging like the brand of Damocles above our lowly roof. But I bid you welcome in the name of my son-in-law, on whom--I should say, _with whom--I and my babes are sojourning in this clamorous city. Come and let us talk, soul to soul, heart to heart; come and partake of what simples we have. Set the day, the hour. I thank you for understanding me."

"The hour," replied Harrow, "will be about five P.M. on Monday afternoon.... You see, we are going out now to--to----"

"To marry each other," whispered Lissa with all her sweet fearlessness. "Oh, dear! there goes that monotonous piano and we'll be blocking people's view!"

The poet tried to rise upon his great flat feet, but he was wedged too tightly; he strove to speak, to call after them, but the loud thumping notes of the piano drowned his voice.

"Chlorippe! Dione! Philodice! Tell them to stop! Run after them and stay them!" panted the poet.

"_You go!" pouted Dione.

"No, I don't want to," explained Chlorippe, "because the curtain is rising."

"I'll go," sighed Philodice, rising to her slender height and moving up the aisle as the children of queens moved once upon a time. She came back presently, saying: "Dear me, they're dreadfully in love, and they have driven away in two hansoms."

"Gone!" wheezed the poet.

"Quite," said Philodice, staring at the stage and calmly folding her smooth little hands.

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CHAPTER VIIIHarrow looked at his program, then, leaning toward Lissa, whispered: "That is the overture to _Attitudes_--the program explains it: 'A series of pale gray notes'--what the deuce!--'pale _gray notes giving the value of the highest light in which the play is pitched'--" He paused, aghast. "I understand," whispered the girl, resting her lovely arm on the chair beside him. "Look! The curtain is rising! _How my heart beats! Does yours?" He nodded, unable to articulate. The curtain rose very, very slowly, upon the first scene of Barnard Haw's masterpiece of satire; and the lovely firing-line quivered, blue batteries opening very
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