It was about mid-May when Rosalie saw that little notice pinned on the kitchen wall; “My head aches a little, Rosalie. Your loving little old lady.” Rosalie took a pencil and wrote below, “And my big toe is prickling. Your loving Rosalie.”
When the little old lady came in from the yard Rosalie said, “Dear little old lady, we must pack today.”
“Yes. We must pack. Isn’t it too bad? Get those two leather trunks from the attic.”
“How shall I ever ship them.” said Rosalie, “when I don’t know where I’m going? I may be half way round the world in another month.”
“You won’t have to ship them,” said the little old lady. “You will take them in the Ford.”
“In the Ford, in the new Ford?” gasped Rosalie.
“Of what good will the Ford be to me with you away? I can’t drive it, it would only rust to pieces in the barn. I’m giving you the Ford, Rosalie, so you can come and visit me on your vacations.”
This was too much for Rosalie, and she sat down and covered her face with her hands and burst into a passion of weeping. The little old lady went out in the yard, fussed about the wood-pile, and at last returned with an-armful. Rosalie was still crying quietly in her chair. “Stop it now, Rosalie. Stop it at once, or you’ll have two bawling women. Stop it and go fetch the leather steamer trunks.”
Evening came, the trunks in mid-floor were strapped and labelled, on the little old lady’s insistence, with Miss Stella Star.
They looked at one another with desolation in their faces, but the little old lady was determined to be gay on this their last night together for ever so long.
“We can’t play cards yet it’s too early in the evening. I plan to become an expert at solitaire when you are gone, Rosalie.”
“I’ll soon be back,” said Rosalie, “soon as ever I get off, perhaps if I’m not too far off I could manage weekends.”
“You’ve got to go, wherever you’re going. You mustn’t take me into account at all. There’s a moron girl down below I can hire to stay with me. She’s such a fool that she’s quite interesting.”
“And what if you’re ill, Little Old Lady?”
“I’m never ill, though I must admit I’m full of gas tonight. Do you ever get gassy, Rosalie?”
“Never,” said Rosalie.
“That’s because you’re young and have good digestion.”
“What’s it like,” said Rosalie.
“You feel as if you were blown up like a balloon. That’s the penalty for getting old. I was never gassy when I was young.”
“It must be uncomfortable,” said Rosalie. “I’m sorry, Old Lady.”
“It is, and then you’re disgraced by your entrails rumbling like a truck going over a bridge. There’s a good limerick about that, Rosalie, that I learned many years ago. I never seem to forget anything.”
I took out the Duchess to tea,
I knew just how it would be,
Her rumbling abdominal
Were something phenomenal
And everyone thought it was me.
Rosalie laughed, “You are a cure, Old Lady. I believe you’re just trying to be funny tonight to keep us both from being sad.”
“Nonsense, I’m talking about wind, because I’m full of wind tonight. It’s the penalty of old age. You’ll be that way someday, Rosalie, some sixty years off. Why I can hardly squeeze into my rocking chair to-night. Did you ever hear the story of Sandy MacDonald’s bull?”
“No,” said Rosalie, “was he too full of gas and wind?”
“He was, he swelled so with gas that his sides touched both sides of the stall, and a fine black bull he was. The neighbors were called in for consultation. ‘It’s an enema he needs,’ said a very old man, ‘Give him an enema,’ said all the neighbors in concert. They led the bull out into the yard—they couldn’t get him through the stable door, but had to open the folding doors that led into the hay barn—and they lashed him securely to a big stout gate. But what to use for an instrument? Old grandmother MacDonald rummaged in the attic and found an ancient horn that had been used to call the men home from the hayfield, bell-shaped it was and curved upward in the stem. ‘The very thing,’ said Sandy MacDonald, ‘there’s nothing like the wisdom of old people. Mrs. MacDonald, fetch a bucket of steaming water and soap suds,’ They poured it into the dinner horn, and the bull seemed pleased with the sudden glow of internal warmth. ‘Mrs. MacDonald’, says Sandy, ‘fetch yet another bucket of steaming water and soap suds for he is a great bull,’ Sandy poured in the second bucket. Now, the bull became restive and uneasy and stamped with all his feet and rolled his blood-shot eyes. Suddenly, he reared in his distress, and tore the great gate from its hook and hinges. ‘Look out,’ said Sandy MacDonald, and the neighbors took refuge in house or barn. The bull, however, galloped down the road toward the village dragging the gate with him. Suddenly the dinner horn began to blow great blasts. The village fire department mistaking the blasts for the fire-siren, turned out in brazen helmets, and drove fast up the road thinking in Sandy MacDonald’s farm. The bull travelling at full speed met the fire brigade mid-way. The gate caught on the engine and carried away the two port wheels and threw the men on their beam-ends.”
“Oh, Old Lady,” said Rosalie, “where ever did you learn such tales, my stomach aches from laughing.”
“The bull” continued the little old lady, “freed of the gate carried straight on, the horn still blowing. Now the keeper of the drawbridge was a man hard of hearing—a political appointee—and when he heard the horn, he thought it was a tugboat blowing to have the draw opened, so he hustled around and swung open the drawbridge. The bull rushed on to the bridge, fell into the gap and was drowned. It is said that bubbles rose for hours from him lying on the bottom.
“Sandy MacDonald didn’t like the half-deaf draw-keeper, and he was mad at the loss of his bull, so he wrote to the government stating that the drawbridge keeper should be dismissed, on the ground that it was no place for a man who could not distinguish between a tugboat’s whistle and a bull blowing on a dinner horn.”
There were tears of laughter in Rosalie’s eyes. They played five games of Rummy and the little old lady won twenty-five cents. They went to bed early for they must be up betimes.
Rosalie sat in the Ford at the top of the grassy lane, the two leather trunks in the back seat. The little old lady stood beside her. It was a fine bright morning of late May, Rosalie was setting out she knew not where.
“I can’t speak a word or I’ll bawl,” said Rosalie.
“Don’t,” said the little old lady.
Rosalie started the engine; the old lady clutched the side of the open window, “Don’t forget Rosalie, what it took me a long time to find out: the world is very old, the first rains hissed on hot rocks in which there was no trace of life; men have been on the world a long time; we come from savagery in a few thousand years; listen to the preacher-medicine men with patience and sympathy; and remember, a strong mind, a steady purpose rules the body, and don’t be ashamed to work at anything. Learn, Rosalie, learn.”
Rosalie let in the clutch, waved her hand, trundled out by the half-burnt church, and turned eastward. Rather sick at heart she drove along briskly and when she came to the highway, she increased her speed to between thirty-five and forty miles. For five hours, she drove without any notable adventure, and by noon, she must have been two hundred miles from the old lady’s house. She had come to a long stretch of straight road, and she was rolling along pleasantly, the owner of a Ford car, with over a hundred dollars in in her purse and two trunks full of clothing in the back seat. She was thinking, ‘people would never believe about my good in a story, they’d expect a lonely wandering girl to meet disaster and ruin,’ when she first saw him zigzagging from one side of the highway to the other. As he was almost a mile ahead, he seemed at first about an inch high as he pursued this slanting and erratic course. As Rosalie got nearer, he rapidly grew into an erect young man about six feet tall, clad in brown shoes, untidy grey flannels and a plaid sports coat. He had on no cap, his hair was tousled, and Rosalie noted that he needed a haircut. When she tooted on her horn he paid no heed, but continued to zigzag and kick savagely at something in the roadway. She was obliged to pull up as she got almost abreast of him.
“Whatever are you doing?” asked Rosalie. She saw that he was a nice looking young man—very young, perhaps twenty-one—and that his thin face was bronzed by the sun. He wore glasses and his long untidy brown hair was faded in patches to a bronzy yellow. “I’m kicking a pebble. Can’t you see? I’ve kicked this one over a mile, and it’s never once gone off the cement.”
“Is it a game?” asked Rosalie.
“A kind of game. You see if I can kick it two miles without it ever getting on the shoulder, I’ll know what to decide. It’s really quite important.”
“It’s a very dangerous game,” said Rosalie. “You might get run over taking the whole road. I had to stop.”
“They all stop,” said, the young man. “Most drivers won’t run over a pedestrian. It’s only bad on curves and there I make short sissy kicks. Anyway, most of them think I’m drunk and hold up. They all say just like you, ‘Whatever are you doing?’ and when I reply, ‘I’m kicking a pebble,’ they think I’m loony, and they get pale and pull well to the far side of the road, and move on. You seem to be the first sensible person that has passed me in four days. I do this straight stretch every day, but I’ve never made it yet. Do you think I’m a loony?”
Rosalie had a sudden reminiscence of the little old lady’s story, and in her mind’s eye saw row upon row of sleeping sailor-men on a yellow deck, their heads wrapped in their coats against Luna the moon, but she said; “Of course I don’t think you’re a loony, I can tell that by looking at your eyes, but ordinary people who only saw you at a distance might very well think so. A grown man can’t go along the pavement kicking a pebble, you know.”
“Why not? I’m a grown man; male, aged twenty-one, white, and I do. I think myself I’m pretty close to the line, but you see I’ve got to make a hard decision. I’ve got fifty more long years to live or forty-nine to be exact, and I want to get off on the right foot.”
“Oh dear,” said Rosalie. “It’s dreadfully hard making decisions isn’t it. I had to leave place number one, and I didn’t want to leave place number two, and now I’m just rolling along the road.”
“Where are you going to?” asked the young man.
“I don’t know,” said Rosalie. “I never know until I get there. Then I know.”
“You’re the most sensible young woman I’ve ever met,” said the young man, “and you’re easy to look at too, though that sounds rather flat, stale and unprofitable. Oh God, why should I repeat the sour tripe that men hand out to every pretty girl!”
“You should see me in my new red dress,” said Rosalie laughing.
“You own your own car?”
“Yes,” said Rosalie, “I do. It’s registered in my name and the operator’s license is in my name too. I suppose you think I’ve stolen it.”
“I don’t think anything about it,” replied the young man. “It’s none of my business, and I shouldn’t have asked, the question just popped out due to atavistic curiosity.”
Rosalie didn’t know what atavistic meant and she resolved to look it up in the dictionary.
“I believe whatever people tell me. That’s one of my serious faults, my old man says. It’s none of my business if they lie, that’s their business. Now why should you lie to me? I’m not a detective.”
Rosalie laughed, “You might be, I’m so ignorant of the world. However, you’re only a pebble-kicker as far as I know.”
“And you’re only a pretty girl driving a Ford along the highway on a warm May day, as far as I know. There’s nothing like sticking to facts as far as you know them.”
“I’m a respectable, that is quite respectable, married, woman,” said Rosalie.
“You doubtless are a married woman if you so state, though that sets me back on my heels a bit, but surely it’s hardly respectable to be talking to an unknown man on the roadside when we don’t even know one another’s names.”
“I see you’re the trustworthy kind, I’ve got wit enough for that. My name’s Stella Star, at least that’s what I call myself.”
“An icy brittle name,” said the young man. “Are you by any chance on holiday from Hollywood Miss Star, or should I say Mrs. Star?”
“No,” laughed Rosalie, “I haven’t made the movies yet.”
“My name’s Meister. Did you ever hear such a beastly name? It always makes me want to say, ‘Meist, Meister, Meistest.’ They call me Mice at college. Isn’t that a degrading nickname?”
“I suppose you steer clear of cats,” said Rosalie.
“Catty women, yes. But my first name’s worse. I’ll give you four guesses to choose the most revolting of masculine Christian names.”
“Percy,” said Rosalie provocatively
“No, thank God, not Percy.”
“No, God be praised, not Albert the Good.”
“No, your selection of stinkers is excellent, Miss Star, but It’s not Eric or Little by Little.”
“No, I’ve truly never been in the bush leagues. No, fair lady, you have named four of the most repulsive of male names, but mine is none of these. By a hair’s breadth you have missed the sixty-four dollar prize. There goes another bromide.”
“I give up,” said Rosalie. “What is it then?”
“Ferdinand, and mother calls me Ferdie.”
“Ferdinand the Bull,” laughed Rosalie.
“Exactly,” said the young man, “that’s another name I have at college, when they’re not calling me Mice. What other Ferdinands do you know?”
“Ferdinand and Isabel.”
“Exactly, and as soon as I begin dancing with a pretty girl, some nut taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘May I relieve you of Isabel.’ ”
“There’s Ferdinand of Bulgaria too. He was a very wicked king.”
“You’re quite a scholar, Miss Stella Starr. Only one other person has associated me with Ferdinand of Bulgaria, he was a tutor in history. He fancies himself as a humorist—weak very weak—and he calls me Bulgarian Butter Milk.”
“You’re too young and sensitive,” said Rosalie. “You mind too much, that’s why they call you nicknames. I’ve noticed the same thing with little children when teaching school. Don’t let them know you mind, give them a playful punch in the eye. Ferdinand Meister is a grand high-sounding name. You should go far with that name, for the little old lady says that names have a great effect upon one’s destiny and character.”
“You’re a very comforting young woman,” said the young man.
“Moreover,” said Rosalie, “when people make nice nicknames like ‘Mice’ or ‘Ferdinand the Bull’, or even ‘Bulgarian Butter Milk’, it’s a sign of affection, a sign that they like you. Only you’re too easily teased.”
“I can run faster than any of them anyway. I’m the hundred-yard man and the full-back.”
“There you are,” said Rosalie. “Probably the people in the stands say, ‘Look at Mice running back the ball! Can’t that boy fly! Go on, go on Ferdinand the Bull!’ They’re all on your side. You can’t expect them to chant ‘Behold now Ferdinand Meister runneth with the ball.’ ”
The young man actually laughed, a real laugh from his stomach.
“You’re a quick one,” he said. “Do you know I believe you might help me make a decision.”
“Maybe,” said Rosalie. “It’s a queer world but really an awfully nice generous world. You’d never believe the queer nice things that have lately happened to me. Perhaps certain people are sent with messages to one another.”
“Nonsense,” said the young man,” people just meet by chance. You’re a medievalist, that’s what you are—guardian angels and the Virgin Mary flying over the Allegheny Mountains in purple pyjamas—and all that sort of thing.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rosalie. “I’m a fisherman’s daughter. Do you want a lift? A kind man gave me a lift, the first day I was on the road, when I needed it badly.”
“I might now,” said the young man. “I’ve got three miles to go, and I don’t feel like kicking pebbles anymore this morning. You’re by far the nicest pebble I’ve seen on any beach. There I go again, I always get a pain in the neck when I talk tripe like that; flat, flat, stale and unprofitable.”
Rosalie laughed, “Women, they say like even the stupidest and most worn-out compliments.”
“I’ve got to find my pebble first. It’s an excellent pebble, I’ve kicked it now for three days and it’s hardly worn a bit.” And with that he went weaving along the highway, till he retrieved his rounded stone and stowed it in his pocket.
“I don’t believe you’ll need that anymore,” said Rosalie as he came back to the car and climbed aboard.
“How come?” said the young man.
“I don’t know,” said Rosalie as they drove along, “but I don’t think you will. You see I’ve spent the winter with a very wise person, who lived a very full life, and I’m chock-full of second hand wisdom. We got through two good books in the evenings, one in English and one in French.”
“You bi-lingual?” asked the young man.
“Yes,” said Rosalie.
“Well, well! You’re a more astonishing person all the time, a most alluring pick-up, as the bright boys say.”
“I picked you up,” said Rosalie, “please don’t forget that.”
“True and most unusual,” said the young man, “I’m beginning to believe in miracles. Perhaps you were sent along to show me the path for my feet, perhaps the old girl did fly over the Allegheny Mountains.”
“You’re not a wolf are you?” said Rosalie. “ You look too young and honest for that.”
“No, no, not a wolf, I never howl at night. I’m only poor little ‘Mice’ or Ferdinand the Bull’ or ‘Bulgarian Butter Milk’.”
“I think I’ll call you ‘Mice’ if you don’t mind. They’re cosy, friendly little animals though very destructive. It’s a friendly, comforting name.”
“All right, call me Mice, but Stella Star, that name’s too icy and distant for you. Haven’t you got a nickname?”
“Let me think,” said Rosalie “You might call me Rosalie, I’m not twenty yet.”
“So young and yet so fair,” said Mice. “Oh dear there’s another flat-tire, another bromide.”
“What do you say them for if you don’t like them?”
“I don’t say them, my real self doesn’t say them. These vulgar common phrases just pop out of my outer vulgar shell.”
“That’s it”, said Rosalie, “you’re still in a shell, you haven’t quite hatched yet. But you haven’t told me how you like my name.”
“Rosalie, Rosalie,” said Mice, “why it’s the prettiest name in the world and it’s just right for you, plenty of health and sunshine and good nature in that name. Rosalie, Rosalie tripping so merrily, and he rolled the name under his tongue. What poems you could write about Rosalie. Wandering Rosalie, fresh wayside Rosalie, sprang from the sea-foam was Rosalie dawnily. All kinds of sentimental jingle you could make up about Rosalie.”
“Are you a poet?” asked Rosalie “I’ve never seen a poet before.”
“I want to be, that’s where the old man and I don’t hit it off. He wants me to be a doctor, and I want to be a poet. That’s why I’m kicking a pebble along the roads.”
“Oh,” said Rosalie, “that’s what is on your mind, that’s what you’re trying to decide.”
“That’s it,” said Mice, “that’s the problem, that’s why the old pebble gets booted about.”
“Aren’t people different.” said Rosalie. “Here am I just drifting to see what Fate does to me, and not deciding at all, and not even worrying, and you go about kicking pebbles for days and days trying to make up your mind. Why don’t you just drift for a little?”
“I can’t drift, the old man holds the purse strings and it costs money to get a college education. He’s a good old fellow, my dad, a country doctor, and he wants me as he says, to follow in his footsteps. Don’t you hate hackneyed phrases like that, ‘follow in his footsteps’?”
“Cliche’s, we call them in French,” said Rosalie.
“Cliche’s, that’s right. What a knowledgeable young woman you are! No girl at college would know that word. Cliche’s bang on my ear like the slap of an open hand. I’m very sensitive to words.”
“All honest words are good,” said Rosalie. “It’s only when people copy and repeat what they think is smart, that they become bad. Children say lovely natural things sometimes, and make their own phrases.”
“I sometimes believe that education, mass-education, muddles the mind and makes it commonplace,” said Mice
“Not if you get your education from a great-minded person,” said Rosalie, “I’ve had six months with such a person, who never pretended. That’s why I appear wise to you. It’s only reflected wisdom and I suppose it will soon wear off.”
“But you made one great decision all by yourself, didn’t you?” asked Mice.
“I certainly did,” said Rosalie, “and a hard one it was, but some force pushed me along. How did you know?”
“Can’t say,” said Mice, “perhaps I’m psychic too in spite of all my attempts at skepticism. I just knew as soon as I looked at you, I say!”
“Perhaps you’re the one that can tell me. We’ve got a bungalow, a few miles ahead by the river, and I’m there today all alone. Will you stop and have lunch with me?”
“Why not,” said Rosalie smiling, “I’m hungry and you’re no wolf, even if you were you couldn’t wolf me for I’m a very strong young woman.”
“I wouldn’t attempt to wolf a flea. We’re almost there. Do you see that bridge way ahead? Pull in to the left fifty yards this side on the patch of green. I’ll be a medievalist for the day and believe in miracles and the blood of Saint Januarius.”
Rosalie halted the car where she was bid and got out. “My trunks,” she pointed out with pride. I hope you’ve got something good to eat for I’m hungry.”
“Materialist,” said Mice, “don’t you realize that you are an embodied guardian angel, that you are in the land of romance where fair women do not eat. However, I’m much obliged to you for not saying I’m hungry as a bear.”
“What a heavenly place,” thought Rosalie, as she stood before a gray and green bungalow, behind which lofty pines and hemlocks towered and cast a friendly shade. There were window boxes in which nasturtium leaves were already showing. Such a cosy, friendly little bungalow with wide white verandah seats, and above a red-shingled roof, from which a brick chimney sprouted. “It’s just like the ginger-bread house,” thought Rosalie. Such a place of peace and contentment, and yet here lives a young man whose mind is so torn with confusion and discontent, that he has to leave all this, and go kicking a pebble along the pavement. I guess the little old lady was right, peace lies in the mind and heart, and you can shift or change your environment if you hold your mind steady.”
In front of the bungalow, spring grass stretched down to the boulders that formed the riverbank. The glory of the place was the river that slid out of a long calm silent still-water, split just before the bungalow on a gray cliff of rock as big as a house, lingered by the rock’s margin in a stretch of smooth slick water, before it shattered itself in a rapid of foam and bubbles and unregulated ragged waves to swirl against the abutments of the red iron bridge. Rosalie knew by instinct that this must be a salmon pool, and even as she looked, a fin and a strip of black back showed itself in the slick water by the rock. Upstream the still-water was for the most part calm, ruffled and darkened in patches once in a while, by a gentle squall of down-river wind. Between the tops of the tall hemlocks on either bank she could see a strip of blue May sky, that threw down upon the middle line of the still-water, a ribbon of silver light. The wild pear and wild cherry were in full bloom, in the intervals of the hemlocks, waving their slender trunks to and fro, and shaking their heads in a glory of cream and white. Every branch strove, upward for light, every root pushed downward for water; it was no wonder that some philosophers looking at the splendor of spring, had decided that light and water were the sources of life. ‘This,’ said Rosalie to herself, ‘is as near Heaven as I shall ever be; perhaps I’ll never make the real heaven now after leaving Hercule,’ and she contrasted the lovely spot with the rocky fishing village in which she had been born. ‘How beautiful the world is, and could be for everyone, if all men understood’, she thought.
Then in her moment of happiness, she offered up a little prayer, ‘O dear loving God, you know that I am a very wicked young woman, but please, dear Jesus, please teach me how to live beautifully, and then perhaps to help the world to be a little better and people happier.’ Then she laughed at herself a little and looking again at the variegated still-water and the slick water that plunged into the furious rapid, she thought, ‘what a donkey, what a contradiction am I!’
From the kitchen came a pleasant smell of grilling fish and presently Mice, who had no illusions about the necessities of women, said; “There’s a toilet off the bedroom, luncheon served steaming hot in five minutes.” Rosalie went in, noting as she went the well placed furniture, the paintings on the wall—she understood little but had a natural sense of colour, Mice explained later, mother’s a painter—the little upright piano with a violin laid across the top, and the red brick fireplace in which of course there was no fire, since the day was warm. Somehow, she knew instinctively that it was all in good taste, and she gave a little sigh and felt a tiny tug at her heart.
When she got back to the verandah Mice was laying out the luncheon from a yellow tray. He was quite a skilled cook; he had split and grilled a small salmon, and there was homemade bread and marmalade, and coffee and a lemon split in two to squeeze over the fish. There was as well, two tall glasses of foaming beer. “Light alcoholic beverage,” explained Mice, “continued proof that I am no wolf. Had I been wolfish I should have provided whiskey and soda.”
“And I’m no spring lamb,” laughed Rosalie, taking a good draught of beer. “I’m hungry and thirsty as a …”
“Don’t say it,” said Mice. “Just be hungry and thirsty. It’s a kind of cross between breakfast and luncheon. I haven’t any pie or pudding so I thought marmalade and fresh bread and butter might go well with the coffee. There’s plenty of salmon. I made the bread yesterday and caught the salmon last night. Poor lovers, poor desperate lovers, they’re running upstream now.”
“It’s just right,” said Rosalie, “it goes with the river and the tall trees and the wild pear.”
Then for a little while, they had no time for talking, for both were young and hungry, and they did themselves very well.
“I’m full,” said Rosalie at last, “full right up to the neck.”
“Good,” said Mice “and that’s good honest talk.”
“I’ll help with the dishes,” said Rosalie.
They carried the dishes to the kitchen and washed up together.
“Do you wash out your cup-towels and dish cloths?” asked Rosalie. “Never,” said Mice, “that’s women’s work, women must always have their own distinct functions.”
Rosalie laughed, “Men never can,” and she washed and rinsed them expertly and hung them straight on a little corner rack. They went back to the verandah, sat down and looked at the river.
“Now” said Rosalie, “let’s hear about the great problem, and why you have to kick a pebble along the highways of the world.”
“You’ve half heard it already. My old man is bound I’ll be a doctor, mother is on the fence, and I want to be a writer, a poet really.”
“Oh,” said Rosalie, “a poet, that would be fun. How do they manage to live and how do they learn? I never talked with a poet before.”
“I’m not a poet yet and I don’t want to be a half-assed poet. I want to be a great poet, like Chaucer or Shakespeare or even Heine or Matthew Arnold.”
“You’ve hitched your wagon to a star, haven’t you?” said Rosalie. “Yes, I have, though it seems to me I’ve heard that phrase about the wagon and the star before. And if I can’t be a great poet, I’d like to be a great novelist and do something as good as ‘Wilhelm Meister’, or ‘Don Quixote’ or ‘Les Miserables’ or ‘Tess of the D’Ubervilles’ or ‘The Cossacks’ or ‘Tom Jones.’ ”
“Or perhaps ‘Great Expectations’, suggested Rosalie timidly.
“Yes, even as good as ‘Great Expectations’. That was a favorite of mine when I was a kid. Why do you mention that one?”
“I read it out loud last winter,” said Rosalie. “What makes you think you must be a poet?”
“Because my head is full of jingles, silly jingles I’ll admit, from morning to night. Some days everything turns in rhymes. You see I can begin on you right at this very minute.
Sprung from the sounding sea
“ ‘Sounding sea’ that’s Homer of course.
Sweet as the dew-kissed rose
Blowing at dawn,
“Let’s see now, what rhymes with ‘rose’ and ‘dawn’? ‘Nose’ won’t do, ‘clothes’ is better, and ‘fawn’ of course will go with ‘dawn’.
Leaves for her rustling clothes,
Shy as a fawn.
“You see it’s all nonsense, because you haven’t come out of the sounding sea or any other kind of a sea, and you’re not clad in leaves but in a perfectly good dress, and you’re not a bit shy. There’s no sense in any of my poetry yet, but my brain goes on jingling and rhyming from morning to night.
Now you have come to me,
Do not depart
Stay beating heart;
Watch the blooms quiver
Here by the river,
Stay till the twilight
Softens day’s garish light.”
Rosalie laughed. “That’s enough for now,” she said, “turn off the hot water tap.”
“Please don’t think,” said Mice, “that I can’t tell good poetry from my jingles, listen to this;
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.”
Mice halted to note the effect on his audience. “That’s great poetry,” said he.
“I’m afraid I don’t know much about poetry,” said Rosalie.
“Don’t tell me,” said Mice fiercely, “that you’re wedded to ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore,’ ‘Casabianca,’ and ‘The Wreck of the Hesperus.’ ”
“That’s about my style,” said Rosalie. “You see those are all in the school readers, and the children learn to recite them. But even when we were little we made some improvements;
The boy stood on the burning deck,
Eating peanuts by the peck.”
Mice winced. “I know, I know, I’ve been all through those childish epidemics. They’re like measles. The school books stuff the children’s heads with mediocre and sub-mediocre verses in order to reduce them all to quiet orderly mediocrity. That’s democracy for you. Rhyming and jingling have become a disease with me, and I can find no cure. In fact, I don’t know that I want to be cured. Everything I look at starts me going. I look at that big rock in the river for instance, and here I go;
Giant rock you never quiver,
At the onrush of the river,
Fast and firm and bold you stand
Deeply rooted in the land.”
“I don’t want to seem too stupid or unsympathetic,” said Rosalie, “but I know enough to know that there’s good, bad and indifferent poetry. I read a little bit once and liked it so much, that I committed it to memory. Would you like to hear it? Of course it’s sentimental, but there’s one line in it about the empty room with the door ajar that I like very much. You’ll understand, Mice, that I’m not saying it to you to vamp you, I’d just like to show that I’m a little better than a ‘Casabianca’ girl.”
“Shoot,” said Mice.
“The day is lost without thee,
The night hath not a star;
Thy going is an empty room,
whose door is left ajar.
Depart; it is the foot-fall,
Of twilight on the hills;
Return; and every rood of ground
Bursts into daffodils.”
“I can’t do anything as good as that yet,” admitted Mice.
“Not yet, not for a long time, I expect,” said Rosalie. “You’d have to be or have been really in love to write that.”
“I’ve been in love fifty times,” said Mice. “I love nearly every pretty girl I meet.”
“That’s only kid’s stuff,” said Rosalie.
“I know,” said Mice, “and the provoking thing is, no one takes me seriously and I get very bad marks in English Lit—I’ve just finished my second year and done English One and English Two—and the instructor laughs at me and pulls my leg and says something silly like this to me, when we’re alone;
You’ve got to be fit
To pass English Lit.
One can’t see things right
Unless one is tight
And then farewell knowledge,
One’s thrown out of college.”
“I think he’s a very good teacher,” said Rosalie.
“He’s trying to make you laugh at yourself, and not take yourself too seriously.”
“He’s a good scout,” said Mice, “but he makes fun of me.”
“You an only child?” asked Rosalie, “Did mother tell her darling boy he was going to be a genius?”
“Words to that effect,” admitted Mice,
Mother found joy
In her wonderful boy
“Oh Mice,” laughed Rosalie, “snap out of it.”
“It’s not so easy,” said Mice. “The provoking part of the whole thing is that while I just pass in English Literature, I’m a whiz at chemistry and biology, and get high marks in them, when I don’t want to at all. They’re both stinking subjects, but my marks in them confirm the old man’s opinion.”
“Of course,” said Rosalie, “I’m not a learned person and not very wise yet, for I’m only nineteen and I won’t be twenty till next September.”
“Birthday date please,” said Mice, pretending to pull out a note book, “so that appropriate present may be shipped.”
Rosalie gave no heed to his nonsense. “But I had a great course with a wise person last winter and I picked up a good deal. Really, you ought to talk with Johnny Allen and the Little Old Lady.”
“Where are they?” asked Mice.
“Miles and miles from here, I’m afraid you’ll have to listen to me at second-hand. I’m not sure that they even exist. They may have been fairies, though a truck driver could never be a fairy could he? Perhaps they were just people made in my mind, but that’s nonsense, for there’s the Ford and that must have come from somewhere. In some ways I’m as loony as you, Mice, for my life seems only a dream and I think that someday I’ll wake up and reach out and touch something real, something like a tree or a stone.”
“Might be,” said Mice, “maybe you and I are part of a dream right now. Shall I try you with pin?”
Rosalie laughed that away, and went on; “I can tell you what I’ve learned so far, and maybe it might help you a little. You see, you have to know a great many things about the world and people, and be able to size up their characters, before you can write anything true or worthwhile. The little old lady says it has to agree with an inner truth, that is truer than the apparent outside appearance. People who live by what they call facts are hardly wise at all. You have to have wisdom and understanding to see the truth behind the facts. Oh dear,” said Rosalie, “I’m talking like a wise old woman and I’m younger than you. I learned all this from the little old lady.”
“You talk exactly like the old man,” said Mice, “only perhaps you’re a shade more profound.”
“Oh, Mice, stop teasing me,” said Rosalie, “stop nibbling. I’m not a bit profound yet, but give me time to grow. I’m sure of one thing, you’ve got to work and work hard at whatever you’re doing, no matter how humble the task, before you can understand people. And you mustn’t love money. The old country proverb says; ‘Poverty, Labour and Humility maketh a man.’ ”
“I’m not so strong on humility,” said Mice, “and I think you should add ‘cold’. Snow and ice are good for the human animal.”
“And struggle,” said Rosalie.
“And ‘getting around’,” added Mice.
“I don’t know much, about literature,” said Rosalie, “and maybe I’m only a ‘Casabianca’ and ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’ girl, but I’ve read ‘The Tempest’ through four times.”
“There,” said Mice, “that tears it. I’ve been wondering who are; you’re Miranda come to life again.”
Rosalie laughed, “Little you know,” said she, “but you can’t put me off with nonsense. You see I liked ‘The Tempest’ so much that I read a life of the author.”
“A well-known name, a triple A poet,
Never a muff
Never a bluff
“There I go again on the old jingle. What helpful lesson do you draw from him, for your infant class?”
“Well, he was a country boy with none too much education, but he looked at trees and flowers and fields and clouds and brooks and ordinary country people. And afterwards he was chore-boy and horse-holder in London, a ham-actor, a re-maker of old plays, ticket taker at the door, and at last part-owner in three theatres. He learned and laboured and watched people, and then he sat down often tired and discouraged, and made the greatest poetry in the world.”
“I know there’s nothing in my jingles now,” said Mice, “they’re all soft and punk;
You are the girl for me
but give me time.”
“Here’s something,” said Rosalie, “that I’ve thought out all by myself since I’ve met you. The doctor’s nearly always the best man in a place, and everyone depends on him. He knows everybody’s troubles and keeps all their secrets. He knows the people inside and outside, and he delivers all the babies. Now, how could you ever learn about people better than by being a doctor, especially a country doctor who has an easy and welcome entry to homes of rich and poor. Then as you drove along the country roads, you could turn some of the stuff you’d really learned into verses.”
“And they mustn’t rhyme,” said Mice thoughtfully, “blank verse is the stuff. It must scan and flow but not rhyme, rhyme makes even the greatest poets ridiculous. Look at Byron, he was the greatest rhymester of them all, and look at the amount of tripe he wrote. Rhyme is a disease.”
“I don’t know anything about Mr. Byron,” said Rosalie, “but the little old lady told me that two English doctors had written great novels. I think their names were Cronin and Maugham.”
“Almost thou persuadest me,” said Mice, “How come you know so much?”
“Well,” said Rosalie, with the egotism of youth, “I haven’t had much opportunity, but I’m alert and listen and keep looking round me, and the little old lady says I’m well above the average. I don’t know much yet, but someday I’m going to know quite a lot. I’m going to work hard in the world and look and listen. I guess you’d better try what your old man says, especially if you’ve got a natural flair for chemistry and biology.”
“If I could only get over rhyming.”
“You’ll get over it,” said Rosalie. “if you only set your mind on real things.”
“Sure?” asked Mice.
“Certain,” said Rosalie.
Mice took off his glasses and cleaned them on a handkerchief that was rather rusty. “Only sun-glasses,” he explained, “There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight.” He looked steadily into Rosalie’s eyes. “Well,” he said when he had completed his polishing, “I’m sold on miracles and medievalism forever. A pretty girl in a Ford car picks me up in broad daylight on a cement highway, and turns my mind around from north to south in two hours. I’ll believe in anything queer now, guardian angels, smelly dead men coming to life again, I’ll even swallow the story of the purple pyjamas flapping over the Allegheny Mountains.”
Rosalie smiled the slightly mysterious smile that all women employ when they reflect on the fact that men always remain little boys.
“Here goes,” said Mice, walking across the verandah to where his coat was hanging on a chair-back, “here goes the old ball-game.” He rummaged in his coat pocket, took out the pebble and flung it in the river, where it made a tiny and momentary splash in the slick of the rapid. “Never kick her again, said he. “I guess I’m on the road to being a saw-bones.”
Rosalie got up from her chair, “Thanks for a good lunch,” said she, “I guess I’ll have to be on my way.”
“Don’t you know,” said Mice, “that on a college essay, ‘I guess’ is marked ‘archaic, obsolete and illiterate?’ ”
“You just used it a minute ago,” said Rosalie.
“I, oh I, it doesn’t matter what I say. I am only a weakling that can be twisted around a woman’s finger. But you, now you’ll have to be careful because you have a touch of genius.”
“Where will you sleep tonight, Rosalie?”
“People always ask that,” said Rosalie. “At least you’re the second man who has asked that, and I’ll give you the same answer; I’ll be sleeping somewhere and wherever I’ll be sleeping, I’ll be sleeping there.”
“That sounds a bit like, ‘She sells sea shells’, or ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers’. How will I find you again, Rosalie? You see I’ll have to report progress. You can’t just cast me off after I’ve thrown my pebble away.”
“I really don’t know,” said Rosalie, “perhaps we’ve completed the reason for our meeting.”
“Would you mind kissing me before you go, Rosalie? Would you mind very much?”
“I’d like to,” said Rosalie feeling that that is what Miranda would have replied. “I like you ever so much, really I like you better than any man I’ve ever talked to.”
The parting kiss confirmed an idea that for some minutes had been lingering in the back of Mice’s mind. “I think I’d like to marry you someday, Rosalie, in fact I’m quite sure I would. Of course, I haven’t got any sense yet, you can see that.”
“That’s just it,” said Rosalie, “we couldn’t get married unless we fell in love with one another, and you’re still a chick in a shell or wrapped up somehow like a cocoon, you haven’t burst out yet and really spread your wings.”
“I’m going to fly soon, though,” said Mice. “I’m going to get out the Anatomy Book this very afternoon.”
“Get your wings clear, Mice. You know we learn a good deal of Latin in our schools, and I remember one nice phrase, when a boy decided or somebody decided that he was a man, he put on the toga virilis. Put on the toga virilis, Mice.”
Mice sprang up, seized a rug, draped it around his shoulders, and assumed the pose of a senator about to deliver an oration in the Roman Forum.
“It would be fun,” said Rosalie quite frankly, “to marry a man like you because you’re both serious and humourous, but it’ll be a long time before you’re a doctor—years and years—and perhaps I’ll be blown about the roads of the world like a dead leaf. I’ll only be Stella Star of Somewhere and you’ll be learning to fly. Perhaps I’ll learn to fly too.”
“You can fly now,” said Mice. “You’ve already got your wings clear.”
Rosalie walked out to her Ford and climbed aboard. She had backed out to the, highway before Mice could pull his wits together.
“Rosalie,” he cried.
Rosalie leaned out of the car window and shouted, “Don’t forget to get your hair cut, Mice, it will help,” and she was off.