Being acquainted with a newspaper reporter who had a couple of free
passes, I got to see the performance a few nights ago at one of the
popular vaudeville houses.
One of the numbers was a violin solo by a striking-looking man not much
past forty, but with very gray thick hair. Not being afflicted with a
taste for music, I let the system of noises drift past my ears while I
regarded the man.
"There was a story about that chap a month or two ago," said the
reporter. "They gave me the assignment. It was to run a column and was
to be on the extremely light and joking order. The old man seems to like
the funny touch I give to local happenings. Oh, yes, I'm working on
a farce comedy now. Well, I went down to the house and got all the
details; but I certainly fell down on that job. I went back and turned
in a comic write-up of an east side funeral instead. Why? Oh, I couldn't
seem to get hold of it with my funny hooks, somehow. Maybe you could
make a one-act tragedy out of it for a curtain-raiser. I'll give you the
After the performance my friend, the reporter, recited to me the facts
over the Würzburger.
"I see no reason," said I, when he had concluded, "why that shouldn't
make a rattling good funny story. Those three people couldn't have acted
in a more absurd and preposterous manner if they had been real actors in
a real theatre. I'm really afraid that all the stage is a world, anyhow,
and all the players men and women. 'The thing's the play,' is the way I
quote Mr. Shakespeare."
"Try it," said the reporter.
"I will," said I; and I did, to show him how he could have made a
humorous column of it for his paper.
There stands a house near Abingdon Square. On the ground floor there has
been for twenty-five years a little store where toys and notions and
stationery are sold.
One night twenty years ago there was a wedding in the rooms above the
store. The Widow Mayo owned the house and store. Her daughter Helen was
married to Frank Barry. John Delaney was best man. Helen was eighteen,
and her picture had been printed in a morning paper next to the
headlines of a "Wholesale Female Murderess" story from Butte, Mont. But
after your eye and intelligence had rejected the connection, you seized
your magnifying glass and read beneath the portrait her description as
one of a series of Prominent Beauties and Belles of the lower west side.
Frank Barry and John Delaney were "prominent" young beaux of the same
side, and bosom friends, whom you expected to turn upon each other every
time the curtain went up. One who pays his money for orchestra seats and
fiction expects this. That is the first funny idea that has turned up in
the story yet. Both had made a great race for Helen's hand. When Frank
won, John shook his hand and congratulated him--honestly, he did.
After the ceremony Helen ran upstairs to put on her hat. She was
getting married in a traveling dress. She and Frank were going to Old
Point Comfort for a week. Downstairs the usual horde of gibbering
cave-dwellers were waiting with their hands full of old Congress gaiters
and paper bags of hominy.
Then there was a rattle of the fire-escape, and into her room jumps the
mad and infatuated John Delaney, with a damp curl drooping upon his
forehead, and made violent and reprehensible love to his lost one,
entreating her to flee or fly with him to the Riviera, or the Bronx, or
any old place where there are Italian skies and _dolce far niente_.
It would have carried Blaney off his feet to see Helen repulse him. With
blazing and scornful eyes she fairly withered him by demanding whatever
he meant by speaking to respectable people that way.
In a few moments she had him going. The manliness that had possessed him
departed. He bowed low, and said something about "irresistible impulse"
and "forever carry in his heart the memory of"--and she suggested that
he catch the first fire-escape going down.
"I will away," said John Delaney, "to the furthermost parts of the
earth. I cannot remain near you and know that you are another's. I will
to Africa, and there amid other scenes strive to for--"
"For goodness sake, get out," said Helen. "Somebody might come in."
He knelt upon one knee, and she extended him one white hand that he
might give it a farewell kiss.
Girls, was this choice boon of the great little god Cupid ever
vouchsafed you--to have the fellow you want hard and fast, and have the
one you don't want come with a damp curl on his forehead and kneel to
you and babble of Africa and love which, in spite of everything, shall
forever bloom, an amaranth, in his heart? To know your power, and to
feel the sweet security of your own happy state; to send the unlucky
one, broken-hearted, to foreign climes, while you congratulate yourself
as he presses his last kiss upon your knuckles, that your nails are well
manicured--say, girls, it's galluptious--don't ever let it get by you.
And then, of course--how did you guess it?--the door opened and in
stalked the bridegroom, jealous of slow-tying bonnet strings.
The farewell kiss was imprinted upon Helen's hand, and out of the window
and down the fire-escape sprang John Delaney, Africa bound.
A little slow music, if you please--faint violin, just a breath in the
clarinet and a touch of the 'cello. Imagine the scene. Frank, white-hot,
with the cry of a man wounded to death bursting from him. Helen, rushing
and clinging to him, trying to explain. He catches her wrists and tears
them from his shoulders--once, twice, thrice he sways her this way and
that--the stage manager will show you how--and throws her from him to
the floor a huddled, crushed, moaning thing. Never, he cries, will he
look upon her face again, and rushes from the house through the staring
groups of astonished guests.
And, now because it is the Thing instead of the Play, the audience must
stroll out into the real lobby of the world and marry, die, grow gray,
rich, poor, happy or sad during the intermission of twenty years which
must precede the rising of the curtain again.
Mrs. Barry inherited the shop and the house. At thirty-eight she could
have bested many an eighteen-year-old at a beauty show on points and
general results. Only a few people remembered her wedding comedy, but
she made of it no secret. She did not pack it in lavender or moth balls,
nor did she sell it to a magazine.
One day a middle-aged money-making lawyer, who bought his legal cap and
ink of her, asked her across the counter to marry him.
"I'm really much obliged to you," said Helen, cheerfully, "but I married
another man twenty years ago. He was more a goose than a man, but I
think I love him yet. I have never seen him since about half an hour
after the ceremony. Was it copying ink that you wanted or just writing
The lawyer bowed over the counter with old-time grace and left a
respectful kiss on the back of her hand. Helen sighed. Parting salutes,
however romantic, may be overdone. Here she was at thirty-eight,
beautiful and admired; and all that she seemed to have got from her
lovers were approaches and adieus. Worse still, in the last one she had
lost a customer, too.
Business languished, and she hung out a Room to Let card. Two large
rooms on the third floor were prepared for desirable tenants. Roomers
came, and went regretfully, for the house of Mrs. Barry was the abode
of neatness, comfort and taste.
One day came Ramonti, the violinist, and engaged the front room above.
The discord and clatter uptown offended his nice ear; so a friend had
sent him to this oasis in the desert of noise.
Ramonti, with his still youthful face, his dark eyebrows, his short,
pointed, foreign, brown beard, his distinguished head of gray hair, and
his artist's temperament--revealed in his light, gay and sympathetic
manner--was a welcome tenant in the old house near Abingdon Square.
Helen lived on the floor above the store. The architecture of it was
singular and quaint. The hall was large and almost square. Up one side
of it, and then across the end of it ascended an open stairway to the
floor above. This hall space she had furnished as a sitting room and
office combined. There she kept her desk and wrote her business letters;
and there she sat of evenings by a warm fire and a bright red light and
sewed or read. Ramonti found the atmosphere so agreeable that he spent
much time there, describing to Mrs. Barry the wonders of Paris, where he
had studied with a particularly notorious and noisy fiddler.
Next comes lodger No. 2, a handsome, melancholy man in the early 40's,
with a brown, mysterious beard, and strangely pleading, haunting eyes.
He, too, found the society of Helen a desirable thing. With the eyes of
Romeo and Othello's tongue, he charmed her with tales of distant climes
and wooed her by respectful innuendo.
From the first Helen felt a marvelous and compelling thrill in the
presence of this man. His voice somehow took her swiftly back to the
days of her youth's romance. This feeling grew, and she gave way to
it, and it led her to an instinctive belief that he had been a factor
in that romance. And then with a woman's reasoning (oh, yes, they do,
sometimes) she leaped over common syllogisms and theory, and logic, and
was sure that her husband had come back to her. For she saw in his eyes
love, which no woman can mistake, and a thousand tons of regret and
remorse, which aroused pity, which is perilously near to love requited,
which is the _sine qua non_ in the house that Jack built.
But she made no sign. A husband who steps around the corner for twenty
years and then drops in again should not expect to find his slippers
laid out too conveniently near nor a match ready lighted for his cigar.
There must be expiation, explanation, and possibly execration. A little
purgatory, and then, maybe, if he were properly humble, he might be
trusted with a harp and crown. And so she made no sign that she knew or
And my friend, the reporter, could see nothing funny in this! Sent out
on an assignment to write up a roaring, hilarious, brilliant joshing
story of--but I will not knock a brother--let us go on with the story.
One evening Ramonti stopped in Helen's hall-office-reception-room and
told his love with the tenderness and ardor of the enraptured artist.
His words were a bright flame of the divine fire that glows in the heart
of a man who is a dreamer and doer combined.
"But before you give me an answer," he went on, before she could accuse
him of suddenness, "I must tell you that 'Ramonti' is the only name I
have to offer you. My manager gave me that. I do not know who I am or
where I came from. My first recollection is of opening my eyes in a
hospital. I was a young man, and I had been there for weeks. My life
before that is a blank to me. They told me that I was found lying in the
street with a wound on my head and was brought there in an ambulance.
They thought I must have fallen and struck my head upon the stones.
There was nothing to show who I was. I have never been able to remember.
After I was discharged from the hospital, I took up the violin. I have
had success. Mrs. Barry--I do not know your name except that--I love
you; the first time I saw you I realized that you were the one woman in
the world for me--and"--oh, a lot of stuff like that.
Helen felt young again. First a wave of pride and a sweet little thrill
of vanity went all over her; and then she looked Ramonti in the eyes,
and a tremendous throb went through her heart. She hadn't expected that
throb. It took her by surprise. The musician had become a big factor in
her life, and she hadn't been aware of it.
"Mr. Ramonti," she said sorrowfully (this was not on the stage,
remember; it was in the old home near Abingdon Square), "I'm awfully
sorry, but I'm a married woman."
And then she told him the sad story of her life, as a heroine must do,
sooner or later, either to a theatrical manager or to a reporter.
Ramonti took her hand, bowed low and kissed it, and went up to his room.
Helen sat down and looked mournfully at her hand. Well she might. Three
suitors had kissed it, mounted their red roan steeds and ridden away.
In an hour entered the mysterious stranger with the haunting eyes. Helen
was in the willow rocker, knitting a useless thing in cotton-wool. He
ricocheted from the stairs and stopped for a chat. Sitting across the
table from her, he also poured out his narrative of love. And then he
said: "Helen, do you not remember me? I think I have seen it in your
eyes. Can you forgive the past and remember the love that has lasted
for twenty years? I wronged you deeply--I was afraid to come back to
you--but my love overpowered my reason. Can you, will you, forgive me?"
Helen stood up. The mysterious stranger held one of her hands in a
strong and trembling clasp.
There she stood, and I pity the stage that it has not acquired a scene
like that and her emotions to portray.
For she stood with a divided heart. The fresh, unforgettable, virginal
love for her bridegroom was hers; the treasured, sacred, honored memory
of her first choice filled half her soul. She leaned to that pure
feeling. Honor and faith and sweet, abiding romance bound her to it. But
the other half of her heart and soul was filled with something else--a
later, fuller, nearer influence. And so the old fought against the new.
And while she hesitated, from the room above came the soft, racking,
petitionary music of a violin. The hag, music, bewitches some of the
noblest. The daws may peck upon one's sleeve without injury, but whoever
wears his heart upon his tympanum gets it not far from the neck.
This music and the musician caller her, and at her side honor and the
old love held her back.
"Forgive me," he pleaded.
"Twenty years is a long time to remain away from the one you say you
love," she declared, with a purgatorial touch.
"How could I tell?" he begged. "I will conceal nothing from you. That
night when he left I followed him. I was mad with jealousy. On a dark
street I struck him down. He did not rise. I examined him. His head had
struck a stone. I did not intend to kill him. I was mad with love and
jealousy. I hid near by and saw an ambulance take him away. Although you
married him, Helen--"
"_Who Are You?_" cried the woman, with wide-open eyes, snatching her
"Don't you remember me, Helen--the one who has always loved you best? I
am John Delaney. If you can forgive--"
But she was gone, leaping, stumbling, hurrying, flying up the stairs
toward the music and him who had forgotten, but who had known her for
his in each of his two existences, and as she climbed up she sobbed,
cried and sang: "Frank! Frank! Frank!"
Three mortals thus juggling with years as though they were billiard
balls, and my friend, the reporter, couldn't see anything funny in it!