“The Play’s The Thing” by Myra Kelly
Story type: Literature
A business meeting of the Lady Hyacinths Shirt-Waist Club was in progress. The roll had been called. The twenty members were all present and the Secretary had read the minutes of the last meeting. These formalities had consumed only a few moments and the club was ready to fall upon its shirt waists. The sewing-machines were oiled and uncovered, the cutting-table was cleared, every Hyacinth had her box of sewing paraphernalia in her lap; and Miss Masters who had been half cajoled and half forced into the management of this branch of the St. Martha’s Settlement Mission was congratulating herself upon the ease and expedition with which her charges were learning to transact their affairs, when the President drew a pencil from her pompadour and rapped professionally on the table. In her daytime capacity of saleslady in a Grand Street shoe store she would have called “cash,” but as President of the Lady Hyacinths her speech was:
“If none of you goils ain’t got no more business to lay before the meetin’ a movement to adjoin is in order.”
“I move we adjoin an git to woik,” said Mamie Kidansky promptly. Only three buttonholes and the whalebones which would keep the collar well up behind the ears lay between her and the triumphant rearing of her shirt waist. Hence her zeal.
Susie Meyer was preparing to second the motion. As secretary she disapproved of much discussion. She was always threatening to resign her portfolio vowing, with some show of reason, “I never would ‘a’ joined your old Hyacinths Shirt-Waists if I’d a’ known I was goin’ to have to write down all the foolish talk you goils felt like givin’ up.”
It seemed therefore that the business meeting was closed, when a voice from the opposite side of the table broke in with:
“Say, Rosie, why can’t us goils give a play?”
“Ah Jennie, you make me tired,” protested the Secretary.
“An’ you’re out of order anyway,” was the President’s dictum.
“Where?” cried Jennie wildly, clutching her pompadour with one hand and the back of her belt with the other, “where, what’s the matter with me?”
“Go ‘way back an’ sit down,” was the Secretary’s advice, “Rosie meant you’re out of parliamentry order. We got a motion on the table an’ it’s too late for you to butt in on it. This meetin’ is goin’ to adjoin.”
But Jennie was the spokesman of a newly-born party and her supporters were not going to allow her to be silenced. Even those Lady Hyacinths who had not been admitted to earlier consultations took kindly to the suggestion when they heard it.
“I don’t care whether she’s out of order or not,” one ambitious Hyacinth declared, “I think it would be just too lovely for anything to have a play. They have ’em all the time over to Rivington Street an’ down to the Educational Alliance.”
“Rebecca Einstein,” said the Secretary darkly, “if you’re goin’ to fire off your face about plays an’ the Educational Alliances you can keep your own minnits, that’s all! Do ye think I’m goin’ to write down your foolishness? Well, I ain’t.”
Again the President plied her gavel. “Goils,” she remonstrated, “this ain’t no way to act. Say, Miss Masters,” she went on, “I guess the whole lot of us is out of order now. What would you do about it if you was me?”
“I should suggest,” Miss Masters answered, “that the motion to adjourn be carried and that the whole club go into committee on the question raised by Miss Meyer.”
“I move that we take our woik into committee with us,” cried Miss Kidansky, not to be deflected from her buttonholes. And from such humble beginnings the production of Hamlet by the Lady Hyacinths sprang.
Hamlet was not their first choice. It was not even their tenth and to the end it was not the unanimous choice. During the preliminary stages of the dramatic fever Miss Masters preserved that strict neutrality which marks the successful Settlement worker. She would help–oh, surely she would help–the Hyacinths, but she would not lead them. She had never questioned their taste in the shape and color of their shirt waists. Some horrid garments had resulted but to her they represented “self expression,” and as such gave her more pleasure than any servile following of her advice could have done. She soon discovered that the latitude in the shirt waist field is far exceeded by that in the dramatic and she discovered too, that the Lady Hyacinths, though they seldom visited the theatre had strong digestions where plays were concerned.
“East Lynne” was warmly advocated until some one discovered a grandmother who had seen it in her youth. Then:
“Ah gee!” remarked the Lady Hyacinths, “we ain’t no grave snatchers. We ain’t goin’ to dig up no dead ones. Say Miss Masters, ain’t there no new plays we could give?”
Miss Masters referred them to the public library, but not many plays are obtainable in book form, and the next two meetings were devoted to the plays of Ibsen, Bernard Shaw, Vaughan Moody. When Miss Masters descried this literature in the hands of the now openly mutinous Secretary she felt the time had come to interfere with the “self activity” of her charges. She promptly confiscated the second volume of “G.B.S.” “For,” she explained “we don’t want to do anything unpleasant and the writer of these plays himself describes them as that.”
“Guess we don’t,” the President agreed. “We got to live up to our name, ain’t we? An’ what could be pleasanter than a Hyacinth?”
“Nothing, of course,” agreed Miss Masters unsteadily.
“There’s one in this Ibsen book might do,” Jennie suggested. “It’s called ‘A Dolls’ House,’ that’s a real sweet name.”
“I am afraid it wouldn’t do,” said Miss Masters hastily.
“What’s the matter with it?” demanded Susie Meyer.
“Well, in the first place, there are children in it–“
“Cut it! ‘Nough said,” pronounced the President. “Them plays wid kids in ’em is all out of style. We giv’ ‘East Lynne’ the turn down an’ there was only one kid in that. What else have you got in that Gibson book? Have you got the play with the Gibson goils in it? We could do that all right, all right. Ain’t most of us got Gibson pleats in our shirt waists?”
“I don’t see nothin’ about goils,” the Secretary made answer, “but there’s one here about ghosts. How would that do?”
“Not at all,” said Miss Masters firmly.
“What’s the matter with it?” asked one of the girls abandoning her sewing-machine and coming over to the table. “I seen posters of it last year. They are givin’ it in Broadway. The costoomes would be real easy, just a sheet you know and your hair hanging down.”
“It’s not about that kind of ghost,” Miss Masters explained, “and I don’t think it would do for us as there are very few people in the cast and one of them is a minister.”
“Cut it,” said the President briefly, “we ain’t goin’ to have no hymn singin’ in ours. We couldn’t, you know,” she explained to Miss Masters, “the most of us is Jewesses.”
“Katie McGuire ain’t no Jewess,” asserted the Secretary. “She could be the minister if that’s all you’ve got against this Gibson play. I wish we could give it. It’s about the only up-to-date Broadway success we can find. The librarian says you can’t never buy copies of Julia Marlowe’s an’ Ethel Barrymore’s an’ Maude Adams’ plays. I guess they’re just scared somebody like us will come along an’ do ’em better than they do an’ bust their market. Actresses,” she went on, “is all jest et up with jealousy of one another. Is there anythin’ except the minister the matter with ‘Ghosts?’”
“Everything else is the matter with it,” said Miss Masters. “To begin with, I might as well tell you, it never was a Broadway success. It’s a play that is read oftener than it’s acted and last year, Jennie, when you saw the posters, it only ran for a week.”
“Cut it,” said the President. “We ain’t huntin’ frosts.”
The brows of the Hyacinths grew furrowed and their eyes haggard in the search. Everyone could tell them of plays but no one knew where they could be found in printed form and whenever the librarian found something which might be suitable Miss Masters was sure to know of something to its disadvantage.
And then the real stage, the legitimate Broadway stage intervened. Albert Marsden produced Hamlet and the Lady Hyacinths determined to follow suit.
“It’s kind of old,” the President admitted, “but there must be some style left to it. They’re playin’ it on Broadway right now. An’ we’ll give it on East Broadway just as soon as we can git ready. Me and Mamie went round to the library last night an’ got it out. It’s got a dandy lot of parts in it: more than this club will ever need. An’ it’s got lots of murders an’ scraps, an’ court ladies an’ soldiers an’ kings. It’s our play all right!”
The sea of troubles into which the Lady Hyacinths plunged with so much enthusiasm swallowed them so completely that Miss Masters could only stand on its shore, looking across to Denmark and wringing her hands over the awful things that were happening in that unhappy land. Fortunately she had a friend to whom she could appeal for succour for the lost but still valiant Hyacinths. He was the sort of person to whom appeals came as naturally as honors come to some men and, since he had nothing to do and ample time and money with which to do it, he was generally helpful and resourceful. That he had once loved Miss Masters has nothing to do with this story. She was now engaged to be married to a poorer and busier man, but it was to Jack Burgess that she appealed.
“Of course I know,” said he when he had responded to her message and she had anchored him with a tea-cup and disarmed him with a smile, “of course I know what you want to say to me. Every girl who has refused me has said it sooner or later. You are saying it later–much later–than they generally do, but it always comes. ‘You have found a wife for me.’”
“I have done much better than that,” she answered, “I have found work for you.” And she sketched the distress of the Hyacinths in Denmark and urged him to go to their assistance.
“But, my dear Margaret,” he remonstrated, “What can I do? You have always known that ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark,’ and yet you have let these poor innocents stir it up. I have often thought that poor Shakespeare added that line after the first performance. I intend to write that hint to Furniss one of these days.”
“You will write it,” said Margaret Masters, “with more conviction after you have seen my Denmark.”
“Very well,” said he, “I’ll visit Elsinore to-night, but I insist upon a return ticket.”
“You will be begging for a season ticket,” she laughed. “They have reduced me to such a condition that I don’t know whether they are amusing me or breaking my heart. Tell me, come, which is it? Did you ever hear blank verse recited with tense and reverent earnestness and a Bowery accent?”
“I never did,” said he.
* * * * *
“Shakespeare was right,” whispered Burgess to Miss Masters. “There is something rotten in Denmark. I’ve located it. It’s the Prince.” They were sitting together in a corner of the kindergarten room of the settlement: a large and spacious room all decked and bright with the paper and cardboard masterpieces of the babies who played and learned there in the mornings. Casts and pictures and green growing things added to its charm and the Lady Hyacinths so trim and neat and earnest did not detract from it.
The sewing-machines and the cutting-table had been cast into corners and well in the glare of the electric light the President was exclaiming in a voice which would have disgraced an early phonograph, “Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt.”
It was not a dress rehearsal but the too solid Prince wore his hair low on his neck and a golden fillet bound his brows. Silent, he was noble. His walk as he came in at the end of a procession of court ladies and gentlemen was magnificent–slow, dejected, imperious, aloof. But Wittenberg had a great deal to answer for, if he had contracted his accent there.
Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, was a Hyacinth who worked daily at hooks and buttonholes for an East Broadway tailor. On this night she wore none of her regalia save her crown and the King had done nothing at all to differentiate himself from Susie Lacov who officiated as waitress in a Jewish lunchroom.
The Hyacinths had wisely decided to edit Hamlet. In this they followed an almost universal principle and their method was also time-honored. All the scenes in which unimportant members of the club or cast “came out strong,” were eliminated. So far the Hyacinths were orthodox, but Rosie Rosenbaum, Prince, President and Censor, went a step further.
“Git busy. Mix her up, why don’t you!” she commanded later from the wings. The other players were laboriously wading through persiflage and conversation. “You folks ain’t done nothin’ the last ten minutes only stand there and gas. Is that actin’? Maybe it’s wrote in the book. What I want to know is–is it actin’?” Burgess sat suddenly erect and his eyes glowed. Miss Masters half rose to assume authority but he restrained her.
“You shut up and leave me be,” Polonius cried. “Ain’t I got a right to say good-bye to my son?”
“You can say good-bye all right,” Rosie reminded her, “without puttin’ up that game of talk. Give him a ‘I’ll be a sister to you’ on the cheek an’ git through sometime before to-morrow. Cut it, I tell you.”
This “off with his head” attitude on the President’s part delighted Burgess. But the caste enjoyed it less and when the ghost was docked of a whole scene it grew rebellious.
“If you give me any more of your lip,” said the princely stage manager, “I’ll trow you out altogether. There’s lots of people wouldn’t believe in ghosts anyway. Me grandfather seen this play in Chermany and he told me they didn’t use the ghost at all. Nothin’ but a green light with a voice comin’ out of it.”
“Well, I could be the voice, couldn’t I?” the ghost argued; and it was at this point that Miss Masters took charge of the meeting and introduced Mr. Burgess.
“Who has offered,” she went on in spite of his energetic pantomime of disclaimer, “to help us with our play.”
“That’s real sweet of you, Mr. Burgess,” said the President graciously.
“Not at all–not at all,” he answered. “It will be a pleasure, I assure you.”
“You’ll excuse me, I’m sure,” the Secretary broke in, “if we go right on with our woik while you’re here. We’re makin’ our own costoomes, as much as we can. That was one reason us young ladies chose Hamlet. It’s a play what everyone wears skoits in. It’s easier for us and it ain’t so embarrassing, and I guess our folks will like it better. You have to think of your folks sometimes. Even if they are old-fashioned. Miss Masters got us pictures of Mr. Marsden’s production an’ every last one of the characters has skoits on. Hamlet’s ain’t no longer than a bathin’ suit, but anyway it’s there. I don’t think it’s real refined, myself, for young ladies to wear gents’ suits on the stage.”
“And of course,” a gentle-eyed little girl looked up from her sewing to remark,–“of course this club ain’t formed just for makin’ shirt waists. We’ve got a culture-an’-refinement clause in the club constitution, so we wouldn’t want to do nothin’ that wasn’t real refined.”
“I understand,” said Burgess more at a loss than a conversation had ever found him, “And what may I ask, is your part of the play?”
“Mamie Conners is too nervous,” the lady President explained “to come right out and act. She’s ‘A flourish of trumpets within an’ a voice without an’ a lady of the court an’ a soldier an’ a choir boy at the funeral.’”
“Ah, Miss Conners,” Burgess assured this timid but versatile Hyacinth, “that’s only stage fright, all great actresses suffer from it at one time or another.”
* * * * *
During the weeks that followed, order gradually gained sway in Denmark and Burgess gained an interest and an occupation more absorbing than he had found for many years.
“My dear Margaret,” he was wont to assure Miss Masters, when she remonstrated with him upon his generosity, “Why shouldn’t I order supper to be sent in for them? and why shouldn’t I ask them up to the house for rehearsals? There’s the big music room going to waste and those lazy beggars of servants with nothing to do, and you saw yourself how it brightened up poor old Aunt Priscilla. She likes it–they like it–I like it–you ought to like it. And you certainly can’t object to my having taken them en masse to see Marsden in the play. By George! I’ll drag him to theirs. We’ll show him an Ophelia! that Mary Conners is a little genius.”
“She is wonderful,” agreed Miss Masters. “The grace of her! The dignity! What she herself would call the culture-an’-refinement!”
“All my discovery. That tyrant of a Rosie Rosenbaum had cast her as a quick change, general utility woman. And in the day-time you tell me she’s a miserable little shop-girl in a Grand Street rookery!”
“That is what she used to be. But I went to the shop a day or two ago to ask her to come up to my house to rehearse with the new Hamlet. I watched her for a few moments before she noticed me. She was Ophelia to the life. She conversed in blank verse. She walked about with that little queenly air you have taught her. She was delicious, adorable. At first she said that she could not rehearse that night, but I told her you wished it and she came like a lamb. I often wonder if I did a wise thing in introducing them to you. Your sort of culture-an’-refinement’ may rather upset them when the play is over and we all settle back to the humdrum.”
“You did a great kindness to me,” said he, “and the best stroke of missionary work you’ll do in a dog’s age. I’m going to work.”
“You are not,” she laughed.
“I am. Shamed into it by the Lady Hyacinths.”
“Then perhaps the balance will be maintained. If you turn them against labor they will have turned you toward it.”
But Miss Masters’ fears were groundless: the Lady Hyacinths though dedicated to a flower of spring were old and wise in social distinctions. The story of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid would have drawn only a contemptuous “cut it out” from the lady President. Every Hyacinth of them knew her exact place in nature’s garden–all except Mary Conners–now Ophelia–and she knew herself to be a foundling with no place at all. The lonely woman who had adopted her was now dead and Mary was quite alone in her little two-room tenement, free to dream and play Ophelia to her heart’s content and to an imaginary Hamlet who was always Burgess. To her he was indeed, “The expectancy and rose of the fair state.” “The glass of fashion and the mould of form.” He was “her honoured lord”–“her most dear lord.” But in Monroe Street she never deceived him. Never handed his letters over to interfering relatives. She could quite easily go mad and tuneful when she knew that each rehearsal–each lesson taught by him and so quickly learned by her–brought the days when she would never see him so close that she could almost feel their emptiness.
It was well that she played to an idealized Hamlet for the real Hamlets came and went bewilderingly. One of Burgess’s first triumphs of tact had been to pry the part away from the lady President and give it to the sturdy Secretary. There followed two other claimants to the throne in quick succession and then the lot fell to Rebecca Einstein and stayed there. Each change in the principal role necessitated readjustment throughout the cast and at every change the lady President was persuaded not to over exert herself.
And still Burgess in the seclusion of the homeward bound hansom railed and swore.
“I tell you, Margaret, that girl will ruin us. All the rest are funny. Overwhelmingly, incredibly funny! And pathetic! Could anything be more pathetic! But that awful President strikes a wrong note: Vulgarity. Take her out of it and we’ll have a thing the like of which New York had never seen, for Ophelia is a genius or I miss my guess and all the rest are darlings.”
“But we can’t throw out the President of the club. She must have a part. You have moved her down from Hamlet to Laertes–to the King–“
“I did,” groaned Burgess. “Will you ever forget her rendering of the line, “Now I could do it, Pat,” and then her storming up to me to know “Who Pat was anyway?””
“I do,” laughed Margaret, “and then how you moved her on to Guildenstern and now you have got her down to Bernardo with all her part cut out and nothing except that opening line, “Who’s there?” and the other: “‘Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.””
“Yes, and she ruins them. I’ve drilled her and drilled her till my throat is sore and still she says it straight through her nose just as though she were delivering an order of ‘ham and’ at her hash battery. Just the same truculent ‘Don’t you dare to answer back’ attitude. She’s impossible. She must be removed.”
Meanwhile the Lady Hyacinths scattering to their different homes discussed their mentor. Ophelia and Horatio and Hamlet were going through Clinton Street together. Ophelia was still at Elsinore but Horatio was approaching common ground again.
“I suppose he’s Miss Masters’ steady,” said he to Hamlet. “He wouldn’t come down here every other night just to help us goils out.”
But Ophelia was better informed. She knew Miss Masters to be engaged to quite another person.
“Then I know,” cried Horatio triumphantly. “He’s stuck on Rosie Rosenbaum. It’s her brings him.”
Ophelia said nothing, and Horatio having experienced an inspiration, set about strengthening it with proof.
“It’s Rosie sure enough. Ain’t he learned her about every part in the play? Don’t he keep takin’ her off in corners an’ goin’ ‘Who’s there, ‘Tis now struck twelve’ for about an hour every night? I wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with a feller that kept company that way, but I s’pose it’s the style on Fifth Avenue. You know how I tell you, Ham, in the play that there’s lots of things goin’ on what you ain’t on to. Well it’s so. None of you was on to Rosie an’ his nibs. You didn’t ever guess it did you ‘Pheleir?”
“No,” admitted Ophelia. “No, I never did.”
“Well it’s so. You watch ’em. The style in wives is changin’. Actresses is goin’ out an’ the ‘poor but honest workin’ goil’ is comin’ in. One of our salesladies has a book about it. “The Bowery Bride” its name is. All about a shop goil what married a rich fellow and used to come back to the store and take her old friends carriage ridin’. If Rosie Rosenbaum tries it on me, I’ll break her face. If she comes round me,” cried the Prince’s fellow student: “with carriages and a benevolent smile, I’ll claw the smile off of her if I have to take the skin with it!”
When Horatio and Hamlet left her, she wandered disconsolate, down to the river. But no willow grows aslant that brook, no flowers were there with which to weave fantastic garlands.
“I’ve gone crazy all right,” said poor Ophelia as she watched the lights of the great bridge, “but I don’t drown myself until Scene VII. And I’m goin’ up to his house to-morrow night to learn to act crazy. I guess I don’t need much learning.”
* * * * *
The performance of Hamlet by the Lady Hyacinths is still remembered by those who saw it as the most bewildering entertainment of their theatrical experience. The play had been cut down to its absolute essentials and the players, though drilled and coached in their lines and business, had been left quite free in the matters of interpretation and accent. The result was so unique that the daily press fell upon it with whoops of joy and published portraits of and interviews with the leading characters. People who had thought that only ferries and docks lay south of Twenty-third Street penetrated to the heart of the great East Side and went home again full of an altruism which lasted three days. And on the last night of the “run” of three nights, Jack Burgess brought Albert Marsden to witness it. Other spectators had always emerged dumb or inarticulate from the ordeal but the great actor was not one of them. He was blusterous and garrulous and, to Burgess’ amazement, not at all amused.
“Who is that girl who played Ophelia? Is she an East Side working girl or one of the mission people?”
“She’s a shop-girl,” answered Burgess. “There’s no good in your asking me to introduce you to her for I won’t. That’s been one of our rules from the beginning. We don’t want the children to be upset and patronized.”
“Who taught her to act?”
“Well, I coached them all as you know, but she never seemed to require any special teaching. Pretty good, isn’t she?”
“Pretty good! She is a genius–a wonder. This is all rot about my not meeting her. I am going to meet her and train her. I suppose you have noticed that she is a beauty too.”
“But she’s only a child,” Burgess urged. “She’s only eighteen. She couldn’t stand the life and the work and she couldn’t stand the people. You have no idea what high ideals these girls have, and Mary Conners–that’s the girl’s name–seems to be exceptional even amongst them.”
“Too good for us, eh?” asked the actor.
“Entirely too good,” answered Burgess steadily.
“And do you feel justified in deciding her future for her! In condemning her to an obscure life in the slums instead of a successful career on the stage?”
“I do not,” answered Burgess, “she must decide that for herself. I’ll ask her and let you know.”
To this end he sought Miss Masters. “I want you,” said he, “to ask Mary Conners to tea with you to-morrow afternoon. It will be Sunday so she can manage. And then I want you to leave us alone. I have something very serious to say to her.”
Margaret looked at him and laughed. “Then you were right,” said she, “and I was wrong; I had found a wife for you.”
“For absolute inane, insensate romanticism,” said he, “I recommend you to the recently engaged. You used to have some sense. You were clever enough to refuse me and now you go and forever ruin my opinion of you by making a remark like that.”
“It is not romanticism at all,” she maintained. “It is the best of common sense. You will never be satisfied with anyone you haven’t trained and formed to suit your own ideals. And you will never find such a ‘quick study’ as Mary.”
It was the earliest peep of spring and Burgess stopped on his way to Miss Masters’ house and bought a sheaf of white hyacinths and pale maiden hair for the little Lady Hyacinth who was waiting for him.
As soon as he was alone with her he managed to distract her attention from her flowers and to make her listen to Marsden’s message. He set the case before her plainly. Without exaggeration and without extenuation.
“And we don’t expect you,” he ended, “to make up your mind at once. You must consult your relatives and friends.”
“I have no relatives,” she answered.
“Your friends then.”
“I don’t think I have many. Some of the girls in the club perhaps. The old book-keeper in the store where I work, perhaps Miss Masters.”
“And you have me,” he interrupted. But she smiled at him and shook her head. “You were real kind about the play,” said she, “but the play’s all over now. I guess you’d better tell your friend that I’ll take the position. I have been getting pretty tired of work in the store and I’d like to try this if he don’t mind.”
“Oh, but you mustn’t go into it like that,” Burgess protested, “just for the want of something better. Acting is an art–a great art–you must be glad and proud.”
“I’ll try it,” she said without enthusiasm. “If you feel that way about it I’ll try it. It can’t be worse than the store. The store is just horrible. Oh! Mr. Burgess you can’t think what it is to be Ophelia in the evening with princes loving you and then to be a cashier in the day-time that any fresh customer thinks he can get gay with. Maybe if I was an actress I could be Ophelia oftener. I’d do anything, Mr. Burgess, to get away from the store.”
Burgess did not answer immediately. Her earnestness had rather overcome her and he waited silently while she walked to the window, surreptitiously pressed her handkerchief against her eyes and conquered the sobs that threatened to choke her. Burgess watched her. The trimness of her figure, the absolute neatness and propriety of her dress, the poise and restraint of her manner. Then she turned and he rose to meet her.
“Mary,” said he, “you never in all the time I’ve known you have failed to do what I asked you. Will you do something for me now?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered simply.
“Then sit down in that chair and take this watch of mine in your hand and don’t say one single, solitary, lonely word for five minutes. No matter what happens: no matter what anyone says or does. Will you promise?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered again.
“Well then,” he began, “I know another man who wants you–this stage idea is not the only way out of the store. Remember you’re not to speak–this other man wants to marry you.”
A scarlet flush sprang to Mary’s face and slowly ebbed away again leaving her deadly pale. She kept her word in letter but hardly in spirit for she looked at him through tear-filled eyes, and shook her head.
“Of course you can’t be expected to take to the idea just at first,” said he, as if she had spoken, “but I want you to think it over. The man is a well-off, gentlemanly sort of chap. Miles too old for you of course–for you’re not twenty and he’s nearly forty–but I think he would make you happy. I know he’d try with all the strength that’s in him.”
Blank incredulity was on Mary’s face. She glanced at the watch and up at him and again she shook her head.
“This man,” Burgess went on, “is a friend of Miss Masters and it was through her that he first heard of the Lady Hyacinths. He was an idler then. A shiftless, worthless loafer, but the Lady Hyacinths made a man of him and he’s gone out and got a job.”
Comprehension overwhelming, overmastering, flashed into Mary’s eyes. But her promise held her silent and in her chair. Again it was as though she had spoken.
“Yes, I see you understand–you probably think of me as an old man past the time of love and yet I love you.”
“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”
“That’s all I have to offer you, sweetheart. Just love and my life,” and he in turn went to the window and looked out into the gathering dusk.
Mary sat absolutely still. She knew now that she was dreaming. Just so the dream had always run and when the five minutes were past, she rose and went to him: a true Ophelia, her arms all full of hyacinths.
“My honored Lord,” said she. He turned, and the dream held.