Oma Almona Davies was a regular contributor to The Saturday Evening Post throughout the 1920’s. For “A Ring With Rubies At”, we find her collaborating with the iconic post illustrator Tony Sarg to tell a story of romance, robbery, and danger, all centered around a magazine advertisement similar to those found in the Post at the time.
Published on May 10, 1924
Elisha Maice was on his way to kill the Hepple girl. His thoughts were as fiery as his hair, as deep as his blue, green-flecked eyes, as purposeful as the forward jut of his chin.
In amorphous hunch upon the seat of the top buggy, he pestered the horse’s rump with an ineffectual peach shoot while he passionately reviewed the previous half hour of his history. The galling thing was, of course, that he had been yanked upward by the neck scruff at the momentous instant in which he had decided his financial destiny.
For there he had been, a half hour before, with elbows taut upon the warm kitchen table, a 15-year-old man with twelve dollars and seventy-five cents banked in canvas bag upon his bosom, in travail as to whether he would become a cattle king or a hog baron. There had he been when he had rendered final decision in favor of the barony, the superior eagerness of the hog tribe to reproduce its own being the unanswerable argument in its favor. It had been at that climactic moment that Adam had leaped in, ox goad in fist, eyes wild.
“The bull’s outbusted the hind fence! You got to make me an errant. Make quick now!”
And as the potential baron, with hogs teeming by the thousand about him, had sat staring, he had been dragged from his chair, hoisted across the freezing ruts of the barnyard and dumped over the wheel into the top buggy.
“You got to git my girl from Schindler’s to Hoopstetter’s! Make hurry quick! And you fix a dates fur me — you tell her I’m a-settin’ up Saturday night agin!”
Oh, Elisha had protested at mention of the Hepple girl of course! He had started to kick out of the buggy. But Adam had plastered his eighteen-year spread of hand against Elisha’s middle and had pasted him against the seat again.
“Dast you! And you take good care to my girl or I’ll — ” And then, because he was Adam, and Elisha’s mother as well as his brother, he had grinned, rammed a huge paw into his pocket and had flung a dime upon the buggy seat. Then he had run, gripping his ox goad and hallooing to their father, who was already lunging toward the far end of the field.
In the clear flame of his anger against Adam, the bull and the Hepple girl, Elisha saw the problem of his life distinctly. His problem was to put into word and into action the fact that he was a man. Never before had he objected to being Adam’s younger brother — being anything to Adam had been enough. But now that he was being dragged into entangling alliances with Adam’s sticky girls, the relationship, as such, must cease
Here he was on his way — on Adam’s way — to the Hepple girl. He had to get her from her Schindler uncle in the village to her Hoopstetter uncle in the country. Why couldn’t Adam have let Schindler get her to Hoopstetter? And, back of all that, what did she want to come visiting around Buthouse County for anyway? If she was in a factory in the city, why didn’t she stay factor-ing then?
A groan escaped him as he beheld the red top of the Schindler house above its fir hedge.
From Schindlers of assorted sizes and sexes who swarmed into the side yard emerged finally the Hepple girl. She was supported toward the vehicle by a slender male Schindler with thin damp-looking hair. Supported is a carelessly chosen word, however; the young man’s legs seemed scarcely adequate to support his own frame — they gave the impression of being just on the point of swaying from beneath him. He nested his twiglike fingers about the girl’s elbow and she sprang lightly into the seat beside Elisha.
“This here’s Adam’s brother, ain’t? This here’s Elijah Maice, Herbie.”
The Herbie young man flicked an eyelash toward Elisha.
“Elijah, huh? Well, don’t let his ravens get you anyway! And don’t go forgetting your little city cousin while you’re out there among the hog raisers!”
“Oh, ain’t you awful?” giggled the Hepple girl. “Gid dup!” shouted Elisha. “Ain’t he awful yet?” The Hepple girl was the twitchy kind. She twitched at her glove, at a magazine, at the laprobe. “We ain’t relationed together. He just plagues me. He’s Uncle Jacob’s nephew, and I’m Aunt Mat’s niece.”
“Course he’s high educated that way. He’s got a decree, or whatever, at the law. He’s the leading and only lawyer at Heitwille a’ready.”
From the corner of his eye Elisha appraised that she was thin enough to be bounced out by a sizable rut. Suppose he maneuvered the wheels at just the right angle — she wouldn’t land hard, there wasn’t enough to her. Even if he did finally go back for her — if he did — the breath might be jolted out of her so that she’d be quiet anyway. He could see her sitting there by the side of the road.
What he really did see at that moment was another appraising eye. Upon him! A gray eye with an astonishingly black pupil. A pupil astonishingly penetrating!
He raised the reins high and slapped them down mercilessly. Old Bess flipped backward an outrages ear and lunged into a resentful canter. The Hepple girl bounced forward, then back—and settled closer to Elisha.
“Ain’t it kind o’ crispy though, now the sun’s gettin’ ready to set on us?”
Elisha heaved violently to his own corner. He felt the black pupils again turning toward him.
“It wonders me still,” pursued the Hepple girl, and her voice was soft now in meditation; “I thought Adam was sayin’ where he had a little brother. And here you’re a man a’ready. That does now make a supprise fur me.”
“Huh?” Elisha snorted, and was immediately sorry. He had made an iron resolution to suffer in silence his three miles of humiliation.
“Yes, I would guess anyhow! But mebbe he was playin’ off a joke on me. Or else, was you, mebbe, his big brother?”
“He ain’t got but one,” grunted Elisha. He surreptitiously glanced down the length of his arm, flexed its muscles. His secret shame had always been that he was not huge, like Adam!
“Now me, I’m so runty that way,” sighed his companion.
“You are that,” muttered Elisha.
“Course a body can’t help fur their size. But I guess that’s why I always take to big men mebbe.” Elisha shuddered. “Well, and women too. Aunt Mat always says, ‘My, I wisht if I wasn’t more’n two hunert, so I could be stylish like you,’ she says. But I say back always, ‘Well, what does it fetch to be stylish? Look oncet at Cousin Herbie. He might be stylish, but he’s awful skinny. Them kind don’t make nothing with me. I like fur to see ‘em heartier and more, now, comfortable lookin’,’ I says. ‘Comfort yet is what makes with me,’ I says.”
Elisha looked down distrustfully at an extremely pointed shoe slanted upward from beneath the robe. His companion immediately gave a wrenlike nod.
“I know. It looks some squinchy. But it ain’t. I’m just natured to that shape a’ready.”
Elisha again went sharply in search of his breath. What was this he had in the buggy with him anyway? He had never seen such swift reaction, such uncanny divination. He had always thought you had to tell a girl anything twice over before she got it. And here, almost before he had a thought, she was expressing it for him! And that foot now — was it possible that a woman’s foot really did grow into a point? Could it be that a girl did quicken into some strange new thing somewhere along? That she wasn’t just a meager edition of a man, weaker in both mind and body?
He squared heavily about and looked full at the Hepple girl. She twitched lightly about and looked full at him. Her eyelashes rayed out, very black and very long; their tips seemed caught together by twos and threes — caught together — caught — He gasped; his foot jerked heavily upward as though from some entanglement. The jerk pried loose his eyes.
He wouldn’t look at her again. What was the matter with him? A rein dropped from his demoralized fingers. He swooped after it. And as he came up, something slowly pushed his head around so that he looked at her again. Her eyes were still upon him. Her very soft, very red lips parted slowly, slowly curved.
He definitely clutched at anger. He grabbed the peach shoot and sliced blindly. It broke over the dashboard, dangled. He hurled it away and hissed wrathfully after it.
“What you intrusted in?” Should he answer her? “Poland Chinas,” he grudged. “Me too! I do now take to them Oriental things till it is somepun supprising. My, ain’t you up-to-the-minute though?”
“Pigs!” shouted Elisha. “Hogs! Boars!” She was a dopple after all! Didn’t even know Poland Chinas!
She considered. Then she gazed at him, gently forgiving.
“To be sure, pigs. Polish Chinas. But they come from China first off. And if they come from China, they’re what you call it Oriental, ain’t not?”
Each hair upon Elisha’s head rose in fiery curiosity. “China, still? From acrost the oceans over?”
The Hepple girl nodded decisively. “In such ships oncet.”
Elisha pondered this revelation of porcine genealogy. The girl gave a little sigh.
“But, anyways, what does it make? This here is what makes with me: Fur to find somebody where has the same intrusts like what I have a’ready. I do, now, take to such little pigs. I can’t otherwise help fur it. And I would bet, now, you’ve decided to go into pigs!”
Breath-taking! Elisha leaned back somewhat weakly.
“Well, anyway,” he admitted, “I took the prize for Juniors at the Grange two months back a’ready. Twohunert-and-sixty-pound shoat. Ten dollars.”
“Ten dollars still!” gasped his companion. “Since I am born a’ready, I ain’t hearing of nothing so intrusting!” She snuggled closer.
Elisha tipped his cap rakishly. He tossed off, “That ain’t nothing. I’ll git mebbe twenty, twenty-five, more on her yet. Till it comes next week, pop will be loadin’ stock fur the market onto a box car, and I’ll be a-fetchin’ off my share alongside the other — the other men.”
Then said the Hepple girl an amazing thing. “Before ever you was turnin’ in at Schindler’s, I seen it at you. Yes I seen it at you where you was one of the money men of Buthouse County a’ready.”
And she wasn’t joking! He swung upon her quickly to catch her. She was gazing up at him as innocently as a babe, and as helplessly, as helplessly. Her lips were parted as in breathless adoration, her eyes upturned deep pools, into which one might slip — or plunge —
“Whoa!” yelled Elisha, and subdued his steed from a gentle trot to a walk. “Whoa, anyway! What do youse want to make such hurry fur?”
His left side was growing very warm; oh, very! The girl looked bony, but she wasn’t. She flanked him closely, softly, like such a hot- water bottle; or, no, hotter, hotter, like one them mustard plasters now. His heart thump-thumped, thump-thumped. She lay against his heart! He had a sudden conviction, all pain, all pleasure, that he could not move if he tried! He was terrified, he was paralyzed; he had never been so desperately happy in his life.
As though soft veils had been laid over his ears, he heard her voice coming up, coming up, as though from far below: “Yes, well. I guess I would up and give it away if I would ever get such a ten dollars. Yes, I guess I would go to work and make some such inwestment at friendship, like I read off somewheres. And that would be awful silly, ain’t?”
“Yes,” agreed Elisha hoarsely.
Elisha, in fact, was in mood to agree with everybody. A half hour later when Mrs. Hoopstetter swam into the periphery of his bedazzled vision, he agreed with her. Mrs. Hoopstetter, with hairpin antenna emerging from the black coil upon the top of her head, her rounding form incased in black calico with red polka dots, bore an unmistakable resemblance to a potato bug as she ambled toward them from her kitchen door.
“Well, was this, now, Cory Hepple? Ain’t you growed though, since you was a baby a’ready? And if this here ain’t Elisha a-fetchin’ you! Come insides and set along fur supper, Elisha. The Wieners is all made and the coffee’s on the boil.”
Still later he agreed with Cora Hepple when she indicated that he was to sit down beside her upon the settee and to devour with her the magazine which she had carried from the Schindlers’.The name of the publication as it was emblazoned above a polychrome pirate rampant upon its cover was Up to the Minute; and its date was the month previous.
That Miss Hepple was a devotee of literature might have been inferred from the general indication of wear and tear upon the publication; but she disclaimed any tendencies in this direction when Elisha cast a gloomy eye upon it and gloomily shook his head in answer to her question.
“Nor me neither,” she confessed promptly. “I ain’t addicted to readin’ off just one word and then another. That there’s a waste of time, ain’t? But I do sometimes go to work and read what it makes at the adwertisements. Now, fur instinc’, it wouldn’t wonder me none if we was to run into some such pigs over behind.”
Fascinating as were pigs, however, they were not so fascinating to Elisha at that moment as the fingers which were flying in search of them. The lamplight coruscated over the nails which tipped them like they were—well, like they were freshly shellacked, now. He drew his brows as he gazed from them to his own, dull and spatulate, and finally queried bluntly: “What is it at them? Warnish or whatever?”
She looked up at him inquiringly, then laughed softly, tipping up one shoulder, then the other.
“Oh, I’m just natured that way at the nails. It’s fierce, ain’t not?”
“Yes,” breathed Elisha. Pointed feet — shining nails. He slid from her. And why not? It is an awesome experience to discover a new creation.
She uttered a sharp exclamation, laid the magazine flat upon her knees and placed five of her amazing finger nails upon her heart.
“Och, my! That there makes me dizzy at the head! Why, it’s just what I been always dreaming about!”
Elisha looked down at the page. He saw nothing remarkable. “It ain’t nothing but a ring,” he said.
“A ring!” gasped Miss Cora. “A ring with rubies at!” She thrust the publication into his hands. “Read it oncet!”
Above, below and surrounding a particularly angry-looking ring from the stone of which fiery rays darted to the bounds of the column were the words:
STARTLING GEM OFFER
Our exclusive MILLENNIUM RING, known to satisfied thousands. Blue-white stone, perfect cut, set in elegant white-gold cup, surrounded by
CHOICE OF EMERALDS OR RUBIES CREDIT TO OUR FRIENDS This means you!
at $29.50Simply enclose $10.00. Balance $2.50 per week. Our investment in friendship. We take all chances
LIMITED SUPPLY ORDER NOW
Elisha shook his head darkly and handed back the magazine.
“Say, now,” he warned, gazing down at the innocent little creature curled up beside him, “don’t go fallin’ ower this here! It might be some such trick in it. Them city sharpers — ”
But look who it is a’ready! The Old Honest Goldsmith, H. Chadwick, Inc. I’ve knew about Mr. Inc since I was born a’ready. But what does it make to talk?” She spread her ten tiny empty fingers in a gesture of resignation over the piercing rays of the ring. “It ain’t nobody where would go makin’ such expensive inwestments at friendship just ower me! Eut och, my! If anybody up and got me such a ring with rubies at I wouldn’t have eyes for nobody else, it would go that silly with me. I have afraid anyway — ”
But she was not so smitten with fear at that moment as was Elisha. He sprang up, kneecap cracking. His body slanted tensely toward the closed kitchen door, through which a voice was thundering:
“What does he mean by somepun like this anyhow? Lettin’ the cow to milk fur me! It should give a good thrashing fur that one!”
“Your pop!” gasped the girl with lightning intuition.
Elisha did not pause to identify his parent verbally. He was already wresting open a door on the opposite side of the room. He whizzed through the chill dank of a parlor, wrangled a huge brass key at the ceremonial front door and zoomed out into the blackness of a porch.
“I got to go. It’s gittin’ late on me,” he clattered back over his shoulder.
But he had not counted upon the celerity of his hostess. She was there beside him. Even as he landed upon the top step she thrust something beneath his arm.
“Take it along with! We ain’t looked fur them China pigs!”
Elisha had no need to urge upon old Bess that time was the essence of their contract; she had not yet had her supper. She legged off the mile and a quarter between the two farms with such impatience that Elisha had fed her and had bedded both her and himself before he heard a door slammed in paternal wrath beneath him. He lay quivering in the bed beside the sleep-drenched Adam until he heard his father’s footsteps clanking off to their own room; then he nested down with a great sigh.
It was long before the boy Elisha really slept. And yet, was it the boy Elisha who lay taut between the blankets that night, his forward jut of chin thrusting upward into the crisp air, his deep eyes matching the depth of shadow in the room? Had not the boy Elisha gone to sleep, beyond recall, two, three hours before? It was a naked soul, an elemental, at grips for the first time with the most powerful of the powers of the air. For assuredly it was not a man, this skinny thing which had finally much ado to keep from blubbering, from clutching at the big warm Adam and blubbering that he hadn’t meant to do it, he hadn’t meant to take Adam’s sweetheart from him; but she just would have him, she just would!
Between his tossings, as he lay still-eyed, came again and again a memory seemingly detached from all he was thinking and all he was feeling: A long, long time ago when he was six and Adam was nine, the two of them, stumbling down the hill, behind their father, from the new grave under the beeches — Adam clutching his fingers until they hurt and whispering thinly: “You got me anyway! You got me anyway!”
And this was the Adam the was hurting! This was the Adam he was robbing!
He awoke, as usual, to the vigorous rattling of the stove in the room below. Adam did everything, not quickly, but vigorously. No brighter pans than Adam’s in any kitchen of Buthouse County; no straighter furrow in any field. No better corn cakes turned for any table; no cleaner garden patch behind any house. It always had been rather fun to keep house with Adam; it had seemed no woman’s task as Adam had carried it on, with slashing broom and swishing brush.
But today it was no fun. Elisha slunk about, with eyes down. Oh, he was heartbreakingly sorry for Adam!
And yet his heart beat with terrific triumph. Triumph that took him spasmodically by the legs and flipped him into a handspring. Triumph that took him by the wrist and made him shy a hatful of duck eggs, one by one, against the corncrib.
But there was no compromise in him. The jut of his chin was thrust definitely toward manhood — manhood symbolized, curiously enough, by that girl a mile and a quarter distant. A mile and a quarter? A world distant! And time — this was Friday — tomorrow Saturday. Well, Saturday night, then.
Upon his shoulder fell a heavy hand.
“Now, what about Saturday night?” demanded Adam. “Was you tellin’ her a’ready I am keepin’ comp’ny with her Saturday night?”
Like a bronze frog Elisha squatted, motionless. The hand twisted impatiently. Elisha slowly reached for a weed, slowly plucked it.
“It’s somebody else — settin’ up, keepin’ comp’ny — Saturday night,” he brought out. The hand jerked him, dangling slantwise, to his feet.”Somebody else?” roared Adam. “Who else, then? Answer me up now! That sleazy Schindler?”
“She — ain’t sayin’.”
“She better not be sayin’!” gritted the terrific Adam. When he knotted his fist like that the wrist tendons whipped out like live cords. “He’ll git the right to git his neck twisted off fur him.” He stalked away, kicking the clods.
Elisha oozed down upon the ground. He gazed after Adam, then he knotted his own fist and stared down upon his wrist; there were no cords there! Well, maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t interfere with Adam, Saturday night. But at that moment between his young ribs began to creep and whimper an alien thing, a spawn of distemper which was finally to strangle—and strangle—his love for Adam.
Hot of eye, hot of heart, he watched Adam on Saturday night as he bathed in the zinc tub behind the kitchen stove, as he covered his long clean muscles with splendid raiment, as he carefully parted the bronze glow of his hair and carefully curled up the lopside of it over his finger, as he donned his hat with slow deference to this same curl that it might follow the upward tilt of the felt. Adam never knew that when he closed the door upon his festive person, a man with the ache to kill shot to his feet with clenching fist and kicked murderously the leg of the table with the brass toeguard of his shoe.
But — he couldn’t endure it! He cast a quick glance upon his father mumbling over the livestock quotations, raped his hat and coat from their nail and let himself out of the door. Down the lane crisped Adam’s wheels upon the frozen ground; down the lane sped Elisha. He caught the tail of the buggy at last, jerked along agonizedly with it for a moment, then with a mighty heave landed in a clutching heap upon its narrow tail.
Ignominious, of course, jolting along back to back with Adam, the tailboard bruising into his flesh with every rut. But he was going, at any rate; he was getting there!
He got there, and he crouched like a the Hoopsetter wagonshed while Adam blanketed old Bess. Like a mouse scurried to the window of the living room.
There, there she was—upon the settee just as he had held her in memory! The light from the hanging lamp made a nimbus of her dark curling hair. Her little feet, those pointed feet, were tipping gently this way and that. And her eyes, those wide innocent eyes, were also turning, first this way, then that. Upon whom? Upon the male Schindler and upon Adam, upon a disgruntled Schindler and upon a glum Adam with arms upright like stanchions upon his knees. There they sat, the three of them; and outside, loving, hating, Elisha. Outside, feasting, starving, Elisha.
Outside, that was it. Shivering’ for a quarter of an hour, there, outside. With a hard gulp he swung from that window at last. He had determined what he would do. He would do that which he had told himself for two days that he could not do.
He could not do it fast enough now. He lunged into a run, the aroused Hoopstetter hounds in full yelp behind him. The whole universe seemed in clamor. He liked it. It seemed right, considering the momentous thing he was about to undertake.
The house was dark, as he had expected, but he paused for an alert moment inside the door, his ear cocked cannily upward toward his father’s bedroom. Then he tiptoed into the parlor and abstracted from the paternal stock of stationery between the leaves of the family Bible an envelope, a sheet of paper and a stamp. There was no need to withdraw from the lair beneath his own mattress the phrenetic pirate guarding the Startling Gem Offer of H. Chadwick, Inc. Did he not know by heart every syllable of the Old Honest Goldsmith?
Under slowly weaving tongue Elisha composed his first business letter, which for brevity has probably never been excelled in all the annals of financial correspondence:
Heitville Rural F D
Dear sir Mr Inc I send you still ten dollars. You send me Milennium Ring A3035 as per
stricly confidential. With rubies at.
The letter was only the husk of renunciation, of course. He swallowed the bitter kernel when he gazed his last upon the ten-dollar bill which had lain so warmingly above his heart. It dimmed into twice, thrice its size as he bungled it into the narrow white casket of his hopes beside the letter to Mr. Inc.
Well, anyway, the little canvas bag was not empty; it still contained two dollars and seventy-five cents — no, eighty-five, with Adam’s dime. Two fifty for the first weekly payment, and something over. And within the week his father would be back from the stock market. It was all so safe, this investment in friendship in which Mr. Inc took all chances.
What really troubled him as he set out at once on a trot to the mail box at the crossroads — for had not Mr. Inc warned that he had but a Limited Supply? — what really troubled him on that half-mile trip was that he had not been able to accept the Old Honest Goldsmith’s Sacrifice to the Public as set forth upon another full page of the magazine: The Mammoth Complex Dinner Ring; a Constellation of Seven Large Diamonds: Only $49.50, $15.00 down, $5.00 weekly. But, anyway, she had said she liked rubies. He saw again her ten tiny empty fingers spread above the pictorial rays of his ring — her ring — their ring. How surprised she would be when she opened the Royal Purple Plush Gift Case!
He could keep his secret, Elisha could! But he kept it at fearful odds when he sat once more upon the settee and proffered the portentous magazine to its owner.
“And was you findin’ pigs at? Or, mebbe, somepun else intrusting?” she queried softly.
Elisha dug his heel into the carpet and shook his head. But she looked so concerned, so unutterably downcast that he found himself encouraging:
“Not anyways pigs. But I’m a-findin’ somepun else. I’m a-findin’ somepun else yet in that there book.”
She looked up at him quickly. Then she trilled into gratified laughter. “What, anyway?” she whispered. “Tell me oncet!” He could feel the little confiding heap of her against his elbow. He heaved chastely from her.
Entered Mr. Hoopstetter with rattling newspaper and clanking boot.
“Is Maice a-loadin’ his hogs Monday, then?” he queried grossly as he turned up the wick of the lamp. It reads here where the market goes draggy at the soft pigs. I ain’t a-lettin’ mine till the price stiffens at them, that I give you.”
Ominous words over which Elisha might well have felt apprehension, considering that his own financial solvency depended upon the prompt conveyance of his shoat to market! But all he was feeling for the moment was an intense dislike of the Hoopstetters; for Mr. Hoopstetter, who scraped his chair noisily underneath the hanging lamp; for Mrs. Hoopstetter, who ambled in with gingham apron overflowing with woolen socks, a darning needle stilettoed into her bosom.
They were always there, the Hoopstetters. It seemed as though Miss Cora Hepple was the only person in the world who recognized that he was a man.
“You ain’t gittin’ stuck after Cory, ain’t you?” Thus Mr. Hoopstetter with ponderous playfulness during that first week of Elisha’s daily visits.
Oh, yes, sometime during the day or during the evening Elisha managed to cover that mile and a quarter between the two farms. Sometimes he had only the two Hoopstetters to contend with; sometimes he had Adam, sometimes the damp-haired Schindler; sometimes he, Adam and Schindler sat in a jagged semicircle of hate beneath the hanging lamp. But Elisha gritted his teeth and held his place; he was openly in the running; he was shamelessly sure of his position with the lady. He knew that she simply endured the others because she was too gentle to rid herself of them.
If he was sure of the eternal bond between them during the first five days of their acquaintance, he was doubly sure after that. For on the fifth day appeared beneath the rusty tin flag on the Maice mail box, the ring. Be it said in honor of Elisha’s rare restraint that he had it in his possession, in a hot lump, in a cold lump, in the canvas bag upon his chest for a full hour and a quarter before he delivered it. It came in the morning; he would wait until night. But night was an eternity distant; anything might happen; they might both be stricken dead! And with night might come Schindler or Adam or both. He dropped his ax at the woodpile, sauntered slowly under Adam’s eye to the barn and through it, then tore across fields.
Of course, though, somebody had to interfere! Elisha dodging from one door to another of the Hoopstetter domicile, buffed full into Mrs. Hoopstetter as she ambled around the corner of the house.
“Bei meiner seele!” she gasped, rocking tumultuously. “It’s Elisha oncet! But you look some pale, bubbie. Ain’t you anything so well? Did you got a pain at your stummick or wherever?”
Was ever swain in travail to present a love token interrogated as to the condition of his internal organs? Elisha groaned.
Appeared in the window behind him a pink sunbonnet. He cast upon it a glance of despair.
“I see a’ready where I have overstepped myself,” chuckled Mrs. Hoopstetter with obscene mirth. “He has got it at the heart still. Not anyways at the stummick.”
By lover’s guile Elisha abstracted his lady to a position behind the barn, and ensconced her upon a wagon tongue. His fingers, numb with ecstasy, fumbled forth the plush case. The sliding door crashed open behind them. Mr. Hoopstetter strode triumphantly forth, girt with a pitchfork, and bearing a large conical trap in which a small rodent squeaked frenzy.
Elisha rose in stiff-legged rage and retired his companion, squealing delicately, from the arena of slaughter. The animal in his trap could not have felt more baited than did Elisha as he cast a hunted eye about him. The landscape proffered no inviolable shelter; the fields, the flat garden patch behind the house, the family orchard with its leafless trees Toward the orchard strode Elisha with the pink sunbonnet in wake.
Arrived to the rear of these puny trunks, Elisha again brought forth the Royal Purple Plush Gift Case. For five days he had been framing verbal sentiments appropriate for the occasion, but the untoward circumstances of th’ hour and his own overwhelming emotions of the moment choked the words at the thither end of his Adam’s apple. He silently extended the box and leaned back pallidly against an apple tree.
The moment was more satisfying, much more, than he had even anticipated. She gave a little cry, then a gasp, then another little cry. She plucked the ring quickly from the box and slipped it upon her finger. “A ring — with rubies at!” she breathed; and kissed it!
She flung toward him and reached up her arms. Elisha backed blindly. He took one of her hands and shook it earnestly. She looked up at him, puzzled, a red curl swirling up into her cheeks. She laughed, as though uncertain what to do next; and stood, turning the ring this way and that.
“Ain’t it is wonderful? And such a supprise on me! Och, my! Since I am born a’ready, I ain’t seeing such a grandness!”
Elisha said nothing. He merely looked, his hand at his throat. It was his moment. Nothing would ever take it from him. He would see it always as he saw it then: The trees with their limbs naked in their sleep, and beneath them the girl, vivid, quivering, a slender lance of life, twisting this way and that upon her pointed toes, her bright glance flashing from him to the red stones upon her finger.
“My, ain’t you the swell feller though! And the good guesser yet! I was wishing long a’ready fur a ring with rubies at. It will git me proud to my head, I have afraid, anyway!”
When at last Elisha found himself treading the impalpable air toward the rear of the house, he halted her abruptly at the garden gate.
“Look here,” he panted, his greenflecked eyes upon her, “you leave me be your steady friend. Youse won’t be leavin’ them other two set up by you no more, ain’t not?”
The girl went slowly through the gate and faced him across the pickets. “Well, this here is how it goes with me. I am softhearted that much that I can’t, just to say, go sassing them off. Herbie he’s my cousin — from — marriages that way; and Adam he’s your brother, ain’t not?”
“No!” shouted Elisha, and added with dizzy penitence: “Anyways if he is, he ain’t no more.” He plucked at her sleeve as she turned from him. “But pass me your promise, anyways, where you ain’t travelin’ with him to the Ewangelical picnic. Nor with Schindler neither. Pass me your word you’re goin’ with me and not nobody else. Till it comes Saturday a week?”
“Saturday a week?” she mused, chewing the string of her sunbonnet. Then she laughed suddenly. “That I will oncet. I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with and I’ll come home with. I pass you my promise on that!” She glanced over her shoulder, twisted off the ring and clapped it into her pocket. “There’s Uncle Willie!” she whispered. “And this here’s our secert! Just us both two together! Ain’t not?”
For, of course, a Hoopstetter had to churn across that ineffable moment. Mr. Hoopstetter, angrily sideswiping at the ends of his mustache with his side teeth, crossed the back yard toward the tool house. He was carrying the large glass bowl of the hanging lamp.
“Such a wear on the coal oil!” he groaned loudly. “Sooner I git it filled, sooner it goes empty on me agin! I will give them mealymouths dare fur to pack their own oil along, that I will oncet!”
“Sh-h-h!” pierced Mrs. Hoopstetter from the kitchen door.
Scratching exultant ribs, Elisha hurdled homeward. She was going with him to the great social event of the year, the Evangelical Sunday-school picnic! Arm in arm they would parade all day, to the bitter envy of Adam, Schindler and other desolated suitors! And after that, there would be no question as to whom she belonged to; she would be sealed to him and to him only! As he vaulted the last fence he saw Adam swinging his discarded ax. After all, good old Adam! Poor old Adam!
Adam spoiled it all. Leaning upon the ax handle he smiled under frowning brows. “I’m a-goin’ to work and thrash you one if you don’t stop pesterin’ my girl. Now mind it! And here’s somepun else: You got to stop follerin’ me nights or I’ll give you a shamed face in front of her, for I’ll go to work and lay youse ower my knee yet. What do you conceit you are, anyhow, carrot-top? A man a’ready?” Elisha’s eyes darkened from blue to black. His shoulders drew stiffly upward; he lowered his fiery young head like a young bullock and dived straight for his brother’s middle. A second later he was being held at arm’s length like a helpless manikin. He saw haze. He hissed and drooled.
“Why!” gasped Adam. “Why!” He dropped Elisha. “Poor little brat!” He stared at him in amazed comprehension.
Poor! Little! Brat! Each one an insult. All three, a triple insult.
“I hate you!” stifled Elisha. “I — hate you!”
He did. From that moment he hated Adam as fiercely as he had loved him. And he hated most the things he had loved most — Adam’s strength, his good looks, his kindness.
The hate swelled within him as the slow hours of that day passed until it seemed that it was all of him, that there was room for nothing else. But there was. There was room for active apprehension. It was his father who introduced the new agony.
Maice Senior was a stern, silent man. Silent Silas, the county called him. His tongue muscles might have grown flabby had he not exercised them nightly over the newspaper. He invariably read aloud, mumbling the news, droning the quotations. He read even the quotations which did not financially concern him, such as Drugs and Dyes, Metals, Hides and Leather, Turpentine and Oils. He usually fell asleep midway of Turpentine and Oils, awoke strangling, blew his nose and went off to bed.
This night Elisha, somberly hunched over the stove with his back toward the others, would have been oblivious of anything unusual, had not Adam suddenly clanked down the tools with which he was half-soling Elisha’s shoes and inquired in a strange voice: “What was that now? Was the hogs fell agin?”
Mr. Maice droned again: “‘Slow, mostly 25 to 50 cents lower. Packer top $6.10. Shipper top $6.00. Packing sows, fairly active, $5.25. Few fat pigs, steady, around $5.25.’”
Adam did not take up his tools. After a moment he ventured: “Then you wouldn’t, mebbe, be a-loadin’ them — this week?”
Mr. Maice snorted grimly and shook his thick grizzled thatch. He adjusted his paper and started upon Hides and Leather.
Still Adam’s tools remained silent. Elisha turned startled, bloodshot eyes toward his father and shrilly challenged forth his one remark of the evening: “My shoat’s Packer Top, $6.10!”
“Wet Salted Markets Finn,’” intoned his father. “‘Skins Stronger. Tallow Markets Easier. Take off of. Butcher Pelts steady —’”
Elisha slept little that night, not at all in the early hours. How could he, with insolvency pressing upon him, blacker than the night about him? Soon, horribly soon, his first weekly payment would be due. He clutched at the canvas bag beneath his nightshirt and tried to imagine that it still contained two dollars and eighty-five cents. But it did not. It contained one dollar and sixty cents. Yet he could not regret the red tie and the red-striped socks which had so devastated his hoard. Had she not said she liked red? He could even, in that sorry pass, have laughed aloud at Adam. Adam had recently purchased a green tie and a hat with a green band. Oh, yes, he was hating Adam as he lay there! He lay on the edge of the bed; he would not have touched Adam’s body for the world; he had even considered sleeping in the barn. He started at a voice in the darkness: “Say, give me the lend of that there ten dollars, wouldn’t you? Just till pop goes comin’ back from the hogs?” Elisha lay taut. “No,” he finally brought forth. Adam tossed restlessly. “Aw, now, say!
Leave me git the lend of them ten dollars and I’ll put a dollar or whatever to it.” Silence. I’ll swaller back what I said about my girl, all, if that’s what’s eatin’ you. I give you dare fur to tag me to Hoopstetter’s ower.”
His girl! Tag him! Elisha projected his outraged self perilously over the edge of the bed. “Take another guess if you think it!” he sliced. “I guess youse couldn’t git nothing off a poor little brat’!”
He lay in tremble. For a few moments he heard nothing, felt nothing, tasted nothing, but his own bitter words. He was tense for Adam to speak again. Adam did not. That hurt.
He was surprised that Adam, also, was in financial straits. But it was easily accounted for. Adaam had purchased the top buggy a week after the girl had twinkled into Buthouse County upon her amazing little feet. Adam had gotten the buggy for the girl; and now he had gotten the girl from Adam. After all, poor old Adam! He began to hate hating. Loving, now, you just couldn’t help; it just came. But hating tore you. And yet you couldn’t stop.
There he was; and the fun was all gone during the days that followed. And yet he had never been so fiercely happy in his life. Fiercely, that was it, when he was with the girl.” I do now take to you that much! she would say; and Elisha would shiver hotly down his back. But away from her, that was different; away from her, fumbling at the limp bag and speculating as to how long the unknown Mr. Inc would be willing to take all chances; away from her, harking with smitten ears to the evening reports of a dropping hog market; away from her with a strange alienated Adam stumping glumly about house and field. Gone the martial slash of broom and shovel and brush and ax; gone the banter with which Adam the resourceful had imparted a tang to life. “It’s time fur to milk the milk!” he was used to yodel as he swung the pail from its high hook and tossed it to Elisha. Now Elisha reached for it in silence, in silence filled it and in silence slopped with it to the spring house.
Once he slanted his tormented forehead against the rough red pelt of the cow, bruised it there, as he thought that he would give anything, even the girl, if he could only tack back to the old happy days with Adam. But that was a black thought, treacherous to the girl; he knew it that night when she took the ring from her pocket, slipped it on and murmured: “My, I do now set awful store by this tony ring! And mebbe I ain’t settin’ store by youse, too, Elisha!” The rapture of the moment was chilled for Elisha by a curious defection of his eyesight. Glancing down upon the jewels he saw them as green instead of red.
“Why, what is it at them?” he stammered.
Miss Hepple giggled, thrust her fingers into her pocket, twisted from him, and a moment later the rubies flashed before him. “Was you blind or whatever?” she twitted him.
Mr. Inc did not keep him long in suspense — or did he only deepen his suspense? The Old Honest Goldsmith began to use stationery recklessly. Elisha, cannily meeting the mail carrier a full quarter mile from the house, had delivered into his prescient fingers once, twice, thrice, typewritten statements and letters from which emanated a chill formality lacking in the initial correspondence between them.
Stumbling homeward with the latest of these documents, Elisha read and reread the ominous statement: “If the obligation is not paid forthwith, we will take such other and further steps as may be necessary to protect our interests in the matter.” How long was “forthwith”? What would be the “steps”? Elisha sagged down under some sumacs to consider these momentous questions.
He was presently distracted for a moment. At a point where the mail man’s circling detour rejoined the main road Elisha saw Adam striding forth to meet the gig.
He was handed something; he went slowly up the road, head down. Was Adam, too, hailing the mail man surreptitiously?
Elisha returned home by way of the Hoopstetters’. His sojourn under the sumacs had yielded a single forlorn possibility. If it failed, ruin was upon him. But if he could get possession of the ring and return it in hasty loan to the importunate Mr. Inc, would not the jeweler be appeased until such time as he could redeem it? If he could.
But he couldn’t. He saw that at once when Miss Cora Hepple clapped her hand over her pocket and backed from him. “I’m that fond fur it, I would up and die if I was to lend it away!” she informed him.
“Just till it comes next week!” Elisha pleaded desperately. He shifted heavily from one foot to the other, then made terrific compromise with Fate: “Give me it oncet, and I’ll change it off fur the Mammoth Complex Dinner Ring. Seven large diamonds. Forty-nine fifty still.”
This gave Miss Hepple pause. Her red little mouth quirked, considering. “I tell you,” she confided, “I give you dare fur to borrow it at the picnic. Or was you, mebbe, fergittin’ to remember I was keepin’ cornp’ny with just only youse that day?
Was he forgetting? But — the picnic was still six days distant!
Under the barn rafters that afternoon, upon the haymow, he composed another frantic letter to his creditor. Adam’s voice came from below.
“Say, pop, market’s up a quarter cent. And the agent at the freight says we could git a empty box car off the siding. I could go drivin”em in this after; and youse could start behind daylight tomorrow. He says. Where he’ll go hookin’ the car at the freighter where pulls through at four of the A.M. The market might go to work and fall on us agin if we go waitin’.”
Elisha stiffened with his held breath. But he could hear only a discouraging mumble. Ordinarily in the Maice family that would have ended it. “But,” Adam’s voice whanged nervously, “we’re just throwin’ good corn into them! We’re a-losin’ at them day after day. We could git — ruined over them!” This last held the crack of hysteria. There was silence.
Even hating Adam as he did, Elisha could not forbear a grudging admiration. No one had ever stood up to his father like that. But — ruin! And Adam didn’t know, and his father didn’t know, how closely the ugly word was hovering over the peak of the haymow at that moment. It all depended upon the time in which Mr. Inc would take those portentous steps as to whether Elisha would be crushed beneath them or not.
And yet he did not recognize the steps when he finally heard them approaching. They approached, in fact, upon wheels. Three afternoons later when he was cleaning the stalls, he heard an increasing roar, then a series of dying bangs. He ran to the door.
The male Schindler throned in the barnyard in his small automobile. Adam stood rigid, shovel in hand.
The visitor was exaggeratedly slow as he unbuttoned his overcoat, unbuttoned his coat, felt in one inside pocket and then the other, and finally pulled forth a long envelope. No judge upon tribunal ever looked down upon the docks with more implacability than did Mr. Schindler as his gaze swept from Adam to Elisha.
“I have here a certain legal dokiment which authorizes me to replevy two certain properties described as follows and to wit in this here letter which I hold at the present minute in this here hand.”
He paused and again surveyed his quarry with judicial omnipotence.
Adam shook his shovel. “Git it through, then! But speak it in English!”
The visitor stiffened and scowled. “The H. Chadwick Company, Inc., has up and constituted me their attorney-at-law and as such I hereby make demands upon you and each of you for delivery of the possession of said two rings for which you have failured to comply with the contracts you have entered into with said company a’ready. And as aforesaid I now make demands for the conveyance to me of those two certain properties known and described in said letter as rings.”
“Rings!” roared Adam. “I ain’t never bought no two rings! If your bum comp’ny goes a-tryin’ to git any two rings off me, they’ll git their heads busted off fur ‘em. I went and bought a ring, yes, that much I give you. But I ain’t got it by me and I can’t git it, and that’s all to it.”
“There’s two defendants in this here action,” intoned Schindler imperturbably, “and they’re specified in this here interment as Elisha James Maice and Adam Charles Maice. And if you failure to yield up said rings into my possessions herewith, I will require you and each of you to pay me a large attorney’s fee all of which is provided for in said contracts — ”
He stopped, mouth open, and gazed upon his disrupted audience. At mention of their respective names, Adam had whirled toward the pallid Elisha.
“Look here!” he said hoarsely. “You ain’t up and bought no ring! Answer me up now! You ain’t bought no ring!”
Elisha wriggled futilely under his stout hand. “I guess I had dare to buy it if I wanted to,” he said stubbornly.
Adam took his breath on a hissing intake. “You little dopple! Give it up, then!” He shook him. “Give it up! He’s got the right to lawyer it off you!”
Elisha’s throat was beginning to hurt. “I can’t,” he choked. His agonized glance flew involuntarily toward the Hoopstetters’.
“It ain’t — there?” demanded Adam. “She — she ain’t took — a ring — off you?”
Adam’s hand fell. He, too, gazed for a silent moment toward the Hoopstetters’; and in that moment faith, hope and even charity died from his face.
He walked slowly toward the machine. “We got the two rings all right,” he remarked heavily. “But we ain’t got ‘em by us. They’re ower by — Hoopstetter’s.”
The papers crackling ostentatiously between the legal fingers lowered suddenly. The legal person himself metamorphosed before their eyes from the leading and only lawyer in Heitville to a Herbie young man with weak, very damp-looking hair.
“You don’t mean —Hoopstetters’? “he fumbled. His incredulous eyes wavered from Adam to Elisha. “Why, it ain’t true! I know it ain’t true! Why, she told me she ain’t got but one—and you never give her that!” He clutched at dignity, at authority. “Get in here!” he commanded. “We will see oncet!”
In the Hoopstetter lane Mrs. Hoopstetter was ambling about a small, freshly started bonfire, prodding it with the handle of a defunct broom. As the equipage with its freight of young masculinity ground to a stop beside her she chastely thrust further within the wreckage a pair of pink stays.
“Was you comin’ from seein’ her off, then?” she greeted them.
“Off?” squeaked Herbie. “Off?” bellowed Adam. Elisha merely formed the 0. Mrs. Hoopstetter reared back in amazement. “To be sure, off. Back on the trainroad to Stutz City. But ain’t she tellin’ youse? She had got only leave or what you call it fur two months. So, when her off was all, back she had got to go to the fact’ry agin. But, my souls” — her jovial gaze swept from one to the other of the stricken faces in the car —”don’t do it to go takin’ it so hard now! I ain’t a-crying none, nor neither is mister yet.” Mrs. Hoopstetter leaned like an oracle upon her staff and thus cryptically spake: “There’s comp’ny, that I give you; and then agin, there’s other comp’ny. Some such you cry somepun ower; and then agin, some such others you ain’t.” She turned and jabbed at a phrenetic pirate, who, though the flames were licking about him, still breathed polychrome defiance toward the faces above him.
“But — she can’t be gone!” gibbered the demoralized Herbie. “Why, she was going to the picnic with me!”
Adam leaped from his seat. “With you? I guess anyhow not!” He jerked, glowering, toward Mrs. Hoopstetter: “When did
she went, then?”
“Well,” calculated Mrs. Hoopstetter,
“I guess it was, mebbe, ten minutes back a’ready, or either eleven. The hired man packed her to the water tank where you make that way with the flag. Yes, mebbe you could ketch it, Herbie, if you make hurry plenty. But it does now wonder me terrible why she ain’t — ”
What she wondered was lost in the startled whir of the engine. But one remark was made during the journey. “She’s takin’ on water,” Schindler gritted as they whirled through a covered bridge and caught sight of the water tank, and at its base a huge dun caterpillar in three segments. Schindler was once more the stern exponent of the law; his fragile machine fairly careened under the weight of his Jovian frown.
Elisha numbly shunted his legs from the car and numbly followed the others around the end of the train. His middle went limp when he saw her. He knew she could explain; he had not lost faith in her for a momerit. She was leaning out of an open window; her head was turned from them; she was talking animatedly to the conductor.
“I should guess I ain’t from these here jaky parts! To see that, I guess it wouldn’t take no dummy. And, say, mebbe youre think I ain’t glad to git back where it makes more lively.” She saw them, then; at least she saw two of them; Elisha could not drive his wretched self forward. He saw her clap smitten fingers to her face. He saw Schindler grab his papers from his pocket and wave them before her. He saw her red lip curl back over her teeth—but it was not the smile he knew. And after moments he heard her—or did he hear her? — those strident tones!
“The law on me yet! I never heard the likeness! For just only takin’ such presents that way! Ain’t you the smarties, though? Well, I ain’t givin”em back, and that’s flat enough plenty!”
A red flag of defiance shot through her cheeks; but her eyes blinked with fright. They flew desperately toward the engine.
The conductor laughed. Others began to laugh. Heads appeared in windows, projected out from the platforms. Elisha could not bear it. He sprang forward.
“Don’t fault her none!” he choked. “I give it her fur keeps!”
Adam swept him back with a powerful arm.
If she saw him she gave no sign. Her trapped eyes swept him impersonally as they darted this way and that. Her knuckles clenched stubbornly against the window ledge. Then with one of her swift gestures she stripped.a ring set with rubies over a burnished nail, stripped a ring set with emeralds over another burnished nail, and dropped them like hot coals into Schindler’s upturned palm.
The antiquated engine gave a snort, ending in a long sigh. The train shuddered. The conductor with a cry of warning sprang upon the step.
“Here, you!” yelled Herbie Schindler. “That ain’t all! You give up that there other! My ring!”
He sprang toward the steps. The conductor sternly shouted him back. He ran along by the side of the moving train, screaming incoherence. From a window waved a hand with shining nails, and upon it a Mammoth Complex Dinner Ring. Schindler backed toward the tank, staring vacantly.
“Forty-nine fifty! In a lump! Forty-nine fifty yet!’
They all stared vacantly at the train as it puffed angrily from them. No one moved. No one spoke. They scarcely breathed. The tension grew, and grew terrific.
Emotions wound and tangled — tighter — tighter.
Schindler rasped in with a grinding swing of his heel and a scratchy laugh: “The little feist! I’ll fetch her yet and twist her that ring off! The skinny little devil!”
Elisha turned glassy eyes upon him. He slowly swelled; he slowly hunched. He lunged toward the legal ribs, striking out with both fists.
Schindler staggered; then with a backswipe of his long arm cut Elisha to the ground. With a roar Adam was upon him. They went down in tight crash.
They clenched and rolled there below the water tank. Elisha wound his arms tautly about his body and danced round and round them. He plucked at them, at Adam and at Schindler; he ached to be wedged between them, battering and being battered.
It was over in a minute, of course. Schindler was no match for Adam. Adam got up and stared down at the other.
Schindler waved his arms like feeble antenna and swayed to his feet. He felt of his nose, of his forehead. His fingers cruised his pockets. Adam whipped out a bandanna. “Here, the,” he said.
Schindler took it and mopped his forehead. He smiled, and looked down. Adam smiled, and looked down. Without another word they turned toward the machine.
But Elisha had had no relief. He made little whimpering sounds like a small animal in pain. He walked crookedly and he walked past the car.
Adam grabbed him and hoisted him into the tonneau. The fields seemed to tip up on either side and to make a dim funnel through which they rushed.
But it seemed to him afterward that Adam had reached out and had clutched his fingers until they hurt. It seemed to him he had heard him whisper thinly: “You got me anyway! You got me anyway!”
They got out. But the machine hesitated. The legal gentleman, with a red lump hoisting his damp hair in the exact middle of his forehead, hesitated. He looked down earnestly at Elisha.
“You know, there’s a proviso in those contracts. It says you can return the goods and select anything else from their catalogue. That’s fair enough. There’s watches and pens and things, I might, mebbe, hold onto them rings for a few days
Elisha walked on into the barn. He turned round and round in an empty stall and looked at it as though he had never seen it before.
Yodeled a voice behind him: “It’s time fur to milk the milk!”
Elisha for the first time failed to catch the pail as Adam tossed it to him. But it rolled with such grotesque purposefulness to his very feet that he smiled — crookedly.
Featured image: “I have here a certain legal dokiment which authorizes me to replevy two certain properties.”
Illustrations by Tony Sarg
See all of our Time Capsule videos.
The Flapper, 1920 (Selznick Pictures Corporation, via Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license)
Oliver Lodge (Lafayette Ltd. via the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license)
Arthur Conan Doyle spirit photograph and poster (The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia)
Music: Wyoming Lullaby by Mayfair Dance Orchestra, 1920
Featured image: Everett Collection / Shutterstock
Amidst the gleam of his emerging career, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short personal essay for the Post’s “Who’s Who — and Why?” section letting the magazine’s readers in on where this new writer had come from. The year, 1920, had been a momentous one for Fitzgerald, having published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, along with several short stories: first, “Head and Shoulders,” and “The Ice Palace,” and later the famous “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” The “jazz age” author offers distant comments on his life hitherto as though it were all an ironic dream leading him to inevitable success. Fitzgerald would muse about his own life for the magazine many more times in the years to come, penning “How to Live on $36,000 a Year” in 1924 and “One Hundred False Starts” in 1933.
Originally Published on September 18, 1920
The history of my life is the history of the struggle between an overwhelming urge to write and a combination of circumstances bent on keeping me from it.
When I lived in St. Paul and was about twelve I wrote all through every class in school in the back of my geography book and first year Latin and on the margins of themes and declensions and mathematic problems. Two years later a family congress decided that the only way to force me to study was to send me to boarding school. This was a mistake. It took my mind off my writing. I decided to play football, to smoke, to go to college, to do all sorts of irrelevant things that had nothing to do with the real business of life, which, of course, was the proper mixture of description and dialogue in the short story.
But in school I went off on a new tack. I saw a musical comedy called The Quaker Girl, and from that day forth my desk bulged with Gilbert & Sullivan librettos and dozens of notebooks containing the germs of dozens of musical comedies.
Near the end of my last year at school I came across a new musical comedy score lying on top of the piano. It was a show called His Honor the Sultan, and the title furnished the information that it had been presented by the Triangle Club of Princeton University.
That was enough for me. From then on the university question was settled. I was bound for Princeton.
I spent my entire Freshman year writing an operetta for the Triangle Club. To do this I failed in algebra, trigonometry, coordinate geometry, and hygiene. But the Triangle Club accepted my show, and by tutoring all through a stuffy August I managed to come back a Sophomore and act in it as a chorus girl. A little after this came a hiatus. My health broke down and I left college one December to spend the rest of the year recuperating in the West. Almost my final memory before I left was of writing a last lyric on that year’s Triangle production while in bed in the infirmary with a high fever.
The next year, 1916-17, found me back in college, but by this time I had decided that poetry was the only thing worthwhile, so with my head ringing with the meters of Swinburne and the matters of Rupert Brooke I spent the spring doing sonnets, ballads and rondels into the small hours. I had read somewhere that every great poet had written great poetry before he was 21. I had only a year and, besides, war was impending. I must publish a book of startling verse before I was engulfed.
By autumn I was in an infantry officers’ training camp at Fort Leavenworth, with poetry in the discard and a brand new ambition—I was writing an immortal novel. Every evening, concealing my pad behind Small Problems for Infantry, I wrote paragraph after paragraph on a somewhat edited history of me and my imagination. The outline of 22 chapters, four of them in verse, was made, two chapters were completed; and then I was detected and the game was up. I could write no more during study period.
This was a distinct complication. I had only three months to live — in those days all infantry officers thought they had only three months to live — and I had left no mark on the world. But such consuming ambition was not to be thwarted by a mere war. Every Saturday at one o’clock when the week’s work was over I hurried to the Officers’ Club, and there, in a corner of a roomful of smoke, conversation and rattling newspapers, I wrote a one-hundred-and-twenty-thousand-word novel on the consecutive weekends of three months. There was no revising; there was no time for it. As I finished each chapter I sent it to a typist in Princeton.
Meanwhile I lived in its smeary pencil pages. The drills, marches and Small Problems for Infantry were a shadowy dream. My whole heart was concentrated upon my book.
I went to my regiment happy. I had written a novel. The war could now go on. I forgot paragraphs and pentameters, similes and syllogisms. I got to be a first lieutenant, got my orders overseas — and then the publishers wrote me that though The Romantic Egotist was the most original manuscript they had received for years they couldn’t publish it. It was crude and reached no conclusion.
It was six months after this that I arrived in New York and presented my card to the office boys of seven city editors asking to be taken on as a reporter. I had just turned 22, the war was over, and I was going to trail murderers by day and do short stories by night. But the newspapers didn’t need me. They sent their office boys out to tell me they didn’t need me. They decided definitely and irrevocably by the sound of my name on a calling card that I was absolutely unfitted to be a reporter.
Instead I became an advertising man at 90 dollars a month, writing the slogans that while away the weary hours in rural trolley cars. After hours I wrote stories — from March to June. There were 19 altogether; the quickest written in an hour and a half, the slowest in three days. No one bought them, no one sent personal letters. I had 122 rejection slips pinned in a frieze about my room. I wrote movies. I wrote song lyrics. I wrote complicated advertising schemes. I wrote poems. I wrote sketches. I wrote jokes. Near the end of June I sold one story for 30 dollars.
On the Fourth of July, utterly disgusted with myself and all the editors, I went home to St. Paul and informed family and friends that I had given up my position and had come home to write a novel. They nodded politely, changed the subject and spoke of me very gently. But this time I knew what I was doing. I had a novel to write at last, and all through two hot months I wrote and revised and compiled and boiled down. On September 15th This Side of Paradise was accepted by special delivery.
In the next two months I wrote eight stories and sold nine. The ninth was accepted by the same magazine that had rejected it four months before. Then, in November, I sold my first story to the editors of The Saturday Evening Post. By February I had sold them half a dozen. Then my novel came out. Then I got married. Now I spend my time wondering how it all happened.
In the words of the immortal Julius Caesar: “That’s all there is; there isn’t anymore.”
Featured image: The Saturday Evening Post, September 18, 1920
Don Marquis was most famous for creating Archy and Mehitable, the iconic comedic cockroach-and-cat duo. However, he was also a frequent contributor to The Saturday Evening Post, writing short stories and columns for the magazine throughout his career. “Two Red-Haired Women” finds Marquis at home in his humorist roots, telling the classic tale of Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth from the perspective of a historically inaccurate — yet wildly entertaining — Irish-American father.
Published on December 8, 1928
Mr. Timothy O’Meara was a few years past sixty. He was bald, his countenance bore the scars of his youthful hard work and of the business struggles of his middle age. He was a building contractor, and he lived in Brooklyn.But in spite of all this staid and sober circumstance, Mr. O’Meara was essentially romantic, and would be so until dreams and visions ceased with him altogether.
He had never led the kind of life, in his own person, that he felt should have been his, but he was forever reaching out into the past and identifying himself imaginatively with heroic actions and colorful situations. From the world at large he concealed this strong propensity of his, but his two sons, Jack and Terence, who had gone into his business with him, could now and then goad him into narrations which delighted them. Like so many Americans of Irish descent, all the poetry in his nature was twined about his love for Ireland, and his sons had discovered that the surest way to get him talking was to pretend to depreciate Ireland. He thoroughly understood what they were at, but he could never resist the challenge; and his snorts of rage as he answered them, and the occasional touch of Irish brogue that stole into his speech as he grew more interested in his legendary lyrics, were all a part of the game not least loved by him and his sons.
“It has always been a strange thing to me,” said Terence to his brother Jack, one evening after dinner as they all sat about with their pipes and coffee, “that the Irish should fall down the way they do in the matter of diplomacy. Great warriors they have had in plenty, and great generals, great singers and great orators, but never one great diplomatist.”
And Terence winked at his brother Jack as their father’s bald head suddenly flushed pink.
“Yes,” said Jack, with an unfilial answering wink, “and do you know, I’ve about come to the conclusion that William of Orange was the world’s greatest diplomatist.”
The senior O’Meara dropped his pipe, and for an instant the young men thought that for once they might have gone too far. But after one dreadful glare their father turned his face away from them and addressed the empty air as if speaking of his sons to someone not present.
“Shame upon them,” he said — “shame upon them both for their terrible ignorance! And sorrow to me that has such sons!”
He picked up his pipe, refilled it with cut plug and then addressed his sons with dignity:
“The greatest diplomatist of all times, ancient or modern, was an Irishman,” he said — “not even barring Machiavelli, who was by descent an Irishman himself, as the name shows — nor yet Talleyrand.”
“Who was he, dad?” asked Jack.
“Timothy O’Meara was his name, the same as me own, and my ancestor he was,” said Mr. O’Meara. “But neither one of you two would he acknowledge as his descendants.”
The old gentleman’s “neither one” trembled on the verge of being “nayther wan,” and from this his sons argued that they had got him started. They settled themselves to listen, and presently, sweeping his mental eye back and forth along the ages, Mr. O’Meara descried a most attractive period and swooped upon it.
This great diplomatist, Timothy O’Meara, I’m telling ye about — me own name he had, and me ancestor he was, and by the word of him that’s been handed down from O’Meara to O’Meara for generations, he must have been pretty much the same figure of a man I was in me own youth — lived during one of the most ticklish times in the history of the world. ’Twas an epoch so known and noted for bein’ dangerous to everybody alive that ’tis a surprise, lookin’ hack on it, that anny wan survived that epoch to tell about it. Merely to kape wan’s head upon wan’s shoulders in thim days called for a constant exercise of tact and diplomacy of the first wather.
The main trouble with the British Islands at that day and date was that there was two quanes rulin’ at the same time, wan of them in England, and that was Elizabeth, and the other wan in Scotland, and that was Mary Quane of Scots. And added to all the other trouble of the world was the terrible fact that both of thim quanes was red-headed.
Red-headed Mary, she sat on her throne in Edinburgh and promulgated to the known world that if she had her rights she would be quane of England too. And red-headed Elizabeth sat on her throne in London and told the entire universe that she was quane of England, and if she had her rights she would be quane of Scotland as well, and thim that disbelieved her had better keep away from the swing of her scepter, be damned to them, says she. For she was a terrible talker and swearer, and a woman with two fists. A well-educated woman she was herself, but you could tell it on her that education hadn’t been long in her family, and altogether she was wan of the roughest ladies that ever wore a crown.
Whichever wan of them finally won out as undisputed quane of England, it went without sayin’ that she would claim Ireland too. Everywan always claimed it. None of them foreigners could ever get it into their heads that all Ireland ever asked for was to be let alone in peace and quietness, so that she could fight out her troubles for herself. Fire and sword and the bloody Sassenach was doing their terrible work in Ireland at the very moment I’m speakin’ of.
In the old and ancient days a thousand years before the time I’m tellin’ ye of, as ye would know yourself if ye were not both stuffed to the ears with ignorance and misinformation, Ireland was the world’s greatest country, givin’ her light and learnin’ to all the nations that gathered at her feet.
Most countries has but enough royal blood in thim to have but wan king and wan quane at a time, but in Ireland it’s always been different. There was the king of Ulster and the king of Connaught, the king of Leinster and the king of Munster, and over thim all was the high king of Ireland. And there was a lot more families that would have been sittin’ on thrones thimselves if they but had their rights. And all these kings of Ireland, being proud and unconquerable heroes, was naturally opposed to each other gettin’ away with annything; and that’s how the foreigners was always gettin’ in.
This Timothy O’Meara I’m tellin’ ye about — my ancestor he was — would have been high king of all Ireland himself if he had but had his rights. But you two are willfully ignorant and unworthy of the remarkable men from whom ye sprang, and I don’t know why I’m taking the trouble to enlighten ye.
Time and again Timothy O’Meara rallied his countrymen against the Sassenach, but always they came again, because there was so many of thim. And after years of warfare, during which he had become the most skillful swordsman the world has ever seen and the most sagacious and strategical general, he says to himself wan day, he says:
’Be damned to all this! It’s gettin’ us nowheres at all, at all! As soon as I have wan tin thousand of thim English well whipped and sit down to me bit of porridge and bacon, there’s another tin thousand of thim landed. ’Tis time to try diplomacy.”
And he sat down on the shore of Ireland, a figure of a man like Conachur MacNessa or Finn MacCool himself, and combed his red beard through his fingers, and looked over toward the shore of England and cogitated. And he took off his helmet and scratched the place on top of his head that was growin’ just a trifle bald, as was the premature way with me own hair, and he thought and thought.
“If I could but meet a king of England and talk this matter over with him, face to face and man to man, aquel to aquel and king to king, we might strike a bargain,” says he. “But with no lesser man below the rank of king will Timothy O’Meara bandy words. And I don’t like talkin’ it over with a quane. Women is the divil.”
If he had wan weakness in the world it was a weakness for women. By his appearance as well as his mental qualities and the great fame of his eloquence and warlike deeds, he was always and forever enslavin’ women, and scarcely knowin’ that he’d done it. But after he had seen the plight they was in, and their sufferin’s for love of him, his ginerous heart would always begin to pity the poor craytures and he would be aisy and reassurin’ with thim, and thin, if he wasn’t careful, they’d wrap him around their little fingers. And I hope that I’ll never find out that either wan of you has inherited that tendency.
“I don’t like it — her being a quane instead of a king,” says he. “But somebody’s got to save Ireland. So here goes!”
And with that he took his sword between his teeth and plunged into the wather, strikin’ out bold and strong for the English shore. I was always a great swimmer, and this Timothy O’Meara, me ancestor, was as much at home in the wather as Manannan mac Lir himself.
“Tact,” says he, rollin’ in the seas and spoutin’ wather like a porpoise — “tact is what will save Ireland. Tact and diplomacy!”
Hand over hand he clambered up the rocky coast of Cornwall — as ye’ve seen me, yourselves, go up the framework of a building — and then he batted the sea gulls away from his eyes and shook the salt wather from his beard, and borrowed the first horse he seen and galloped off. Early next mornin’ he was in London, and a surprisin’ city it was to him, what with the crowds and leanin’ houses and high towers and royal troops and all thim bannered palaces; but he was The O’Meara of that time, better than anny of thim, and he would not show his surprise to the Sassenach. He paused but long enough to trim his beard and dress himself in the latest style, and well before noon he set off to the quane’s palace.
’Twas no trouble at all for him to identify that same. If the two of ye were not sunk deep in ignorance and illiteracy, which ye are, ye would know that Quane Elizabeth’s palace in that day was the most splendid and stately edifice ever erected by anny monarch annywheres outside of ancient Ireland. Through all the outer magnificence strode Timothy O’Meara with his head up, and that in his eye that forbade a question by anny underling. Past the courts and guards and fountains tannin’ wine, and all the enginery and paraphernalia of great and royal luxury he went, till he came to a flight of broad steps that led upward to a most magnificent hall.
And all over thim steps, and at the top of thim, in front of the big gilded doors that led into the hall of state, was a crowd of the most risplindent courtiers on guard — English they was, most of thim, but with a sprinklin’ of Scotch and a few Spaniards and Frinch, and two or three Irish — bad cess to the traitors! Knights and baronets, earls and dukes and princes, ginerals and admirals, by the gay and splendid look of thim, with their jewels and velvets, that’s what they was, no less.
“And who are ye,” says wan swaggerin’ sprig of nobility, with his hand on his sword hilt as Tim laid hold upon the big door, “that thinks he can crash the gate of the quane’s own hall, without lave or likin’ from annywan?”
“I’m The O’Meara,” says Tim, and he gave the young popinjay a backhand swipe that tumbled him down the stairs. None of us O’Mearas has ever had great patience with empty impertinence, then or now.
Fifty swords were out in a second and they ringed him round.
“I’m here from Ireland,” says Tim, “to see the quane of England. If diplomacy was not me intintion I’d cut me way through youse. But if there’s anny of ye wishful for a little sport, now’s the time to spake up. Diplomatist though I be, I’m the man for ye!”
Siviral of thim proved to be wishful, and in less than ten minutes he decimated three of thim Englishmen with a Scottish claymore, and then he accommodated an aquel number of Scotchmen with an English broadsword, and thin he took in his fist wan of thim Spanish rapiers and gave a fencin’ lesson to a Frenchman, and then he says:
“Gintlemen, what man is the master of the British Islands at any form of fencin’ with anny kind of soord?”
“The O’Meara is!” says they all, with wan hearty voice.
“’Tis well ye English and Scotch know it,” says Tim. “But is there anny Welshman here has his doubts?”
But if there was anny Welshman there, he said nothing disputatious about it. And just then the lord chancellor flung open the big door to the quane’s hall, and he says:
“And what’s all this racket of weapons out here? Have ye no more sinse than to be scrapin’ steel almost in Her Majisty’s very prisince?”
“’Tis I that am the responsible party,” says Tim. “And who might you be?” says the lord chancellor. “I’m The O’Meara,” says Tim. “So!” says the lord chancellor. “The boldest rebel in Ireland! I’ve heard of ye!”
“I’m no rebel,” says Tim, “but a free man. And were I not here on a diplomatic mission I’d bloody your mouth for ye.” But as it was, he remembered his tact and did nothing but twist the old boy’s whiskers a swipe or two.
“Stop your blattin’, ye old goat,” sings out Quane Elizabeth to the lord chancellor from her throne, “and bring The O’Meara to me, if ’tis he indeed that has his clutches on you. ’Tis long I have wanted to meet that impudent warrior!” Timothy O’Meara — my ancestor he was — walked up the hall to where the quane set on her throne, and he made her the bow that anny gentleman of breedin’ makes to a lady, but divil the bit did he kneel to her, and he stood and looked her in the eye and she sat there and looked back at him.
“Ye’re the bold rebel, Timothy O’Meara,” says Queen Elizabeth.
“I’ve heard ye’re no coward yerself, Your Majisty,” says Tim.
“Do ye know anny reason why I should not have your head struck from your shoulders?” says the quane.
“Siviral,” says Tim. “Such as?” says she. “Faith,” says he, looking pointedly at her own red hair, “if ye had the same love for red hair in a man that I have for red hair in a woman, ye’d never think of it,” says he. “Besides which, ’twould be to the great detriment of me neck.”
“That’s what they all say,” says the quane.
And with that, they smiled at each other, and all the guards and courtiers and dukes and counselors that was gathered about smiled also. A high-tempered and imperious woman was this Quane Elizabeth, and there was something free and commandin’ in her that caught the fancy of me bold Timothy from the start. Not that she was anny great beauty; her nose was a trifle too long for that, but there was the divil’s own intelligence in her eyes, and a humorsome way about her mouth, and a kind of dangerous element about her altogether that made her fascinatin’ to Timothy O’Meara at wance, for he was wan of thim men that seeks out the prisince of peril for the pure enjoyment of facin’ it. Thim intelligent women has always had a great fascination for meself; and there was manny a beautiful woman that loved Tim O’Meara that he cared less for than Queen Elizabeth, for all her long nose and bad manners and the way she painted her face. As for Tim, there was never yet the woman looked at the big lad without her imagination was stirred, nor was she ever quite the same woman afterward.
“And for what do ye come here so bold and proud, with your neck so stiff and your hand upon your sword?” says the quane.
“I’m here as the discendant of the ancient kings of Ireland, rightful and historical,” says Timothy O’Meara — “them that had their high seats on the hill of Tara and was the masters of war and wisdom. I bear word to ye from the green island that’s never been conquered yet, and the word I bring is that ye might as well quit tryin’! For a thousand years we’ve been assaulted and tricked and massacred by the bulcheens of the world — the Dane, the Norman and the Sassenach — but we’re still strong-hearted in the field and fightin’ back. And in a thousand years from now, if there’s wan heart still beatin’ there, ’twill be a heart that’s free and strong, aven though it beats alone against a million tyrants. Ye cannot conquer us, quane, but ye can take away thim troops off a people that was never yours and never will be; ye can do that free and ginerous without conditions, and ye’ll find a ginerosity springin’ up to equal yours, and after while ’tis Ireland may forgive ye and be your friend.”
“’Tis I that am the quane of Ireland!” says Elizabeth.
’Twas on the tip of The O’Meara’s tongue to rejoin with heat, but he remembered his diplomacy in the nick of time, and all he said was: “Some dirty, lyin’ old fool of a prime minister has been stuffin’ thim beautiful ears of yours with nonsinse and falsehoods, Your Majisty.”
Quane Elizabeth sat and thought, and frowned at him and sized him up, the while she picked her teeth with the end of her scepter, for good manners was only an occasional practice with that quane. Then she sent everywan else from the room, and she says:
“Mr. O’Meara, in me heart I know ye’re not far wrong. But ’tis wan of the obsessions of this people of mine that the ruler of England should be the ruler of Ireland too. ’Twould not be so aisy as ye seem to think — doing what ye ask. But if I was to take the risk and give up Ireland to ye, tell me this: What would ye give me in return?”
“Annything ye want,” says Tim. “Scotland’s what I want,” says she. “’Tis yours in six weeks,” says Timothy, “if ye’ll give me but half the men ye have blunderin’ about Ireland, and I’ll take a few hundred of me own Irishmen that has learned thim English the rudiments of fightin’.”
Annything else?” says the quane. “France, if ye’d like it,” says Tim. “Annything else?” says the quane, speakin’ but little above a whisper this time, but with that tilt of the head that says:
Well, what about it?
Tim, he was wan of thim unfortunate men that’s cursed with a knowledge of what ye can do and when ye can do it, and he stepped up to the throne and dropped his arm about her. But he only kissed her wance or twice, rememberin’ his diplomacy just in time, and not wantin’ to commit himself with irrevocability.
“Tim,” says she, “can’t ye forget Ireland and stay in London for a while? I need men like yoursilf. Ye should be commander of me armies and admiral of me navies and prime minister of all me councils, and if there’s annything more than that ye might want, ye’d have but to put the name on it, Tim.”
Tim thinks quick and diplomatic to himself, wonderin’ whether it would be for the benefit of Ireland if he married her, or whether that would work out to the detriment of both Ireland and himself in the long run. “Marriage,” says he, tentative and judicial, and risking another kiss on her for the sake of Ireland, “is wan of thim yes-and-no games, Your Majisty.”
“Who said annything about marriage?” says she, twisting loose and frowning on him. “Be damned to marriage! The Maiden Queen was I born and the Maiden Queen will I die. I’m a broad-minded woman, with very few prejudices, but the wan strong prejudice I have is against a quane gettin’ married. What I was thinkin’ of was, maybe we might be engaged for a while.”
“I hear Your Majisty’s already been engaged a good deal to a lot of these noble gazabos,” says Tim, “including King Philip of Spain and siviral dukes.”
“Thim others is but statecraft, Timothy,” says she. “There’s little that’s personal in thim. With you and me ’twould be far different.”
“Well, now then, Your Majisty,” says Tim, “ye put me in mind of a funeral I noticed this morning as I came past Westminster Abbey. They told me they was buryin’ that part of the Duke of Norfolk from his collar down, and the part of him from his collar up is exposed to the wind and weather on Temple Bar; and between the two, where his neck ought to be, there’s three companies of royal halberdiers. Separations like that must be painful, followin’ a long engagement like yours and his was.”
“He wasn’t executed because he was engaged to me, Timothy. He was executed because of high treason. He went and proposed matrimony to that Mary Stuart, who calls herself quane of Scotland.”
And when she mentioned Mary Stuart’s name there came an expression on her face that made Tim more diplomatic than ever about getting himself engaged to her.
“And Scotland,” he says, getting back to where they was, “is yours, Your Majisty, within two months after ye’ve evacuated Ireland.”
She pushed him away from her, and she gave him a long look and she laughed.
“Ye trade too fast, Mr. O’Meara,” she says. “The way of it will be this: Me troops will leave Ireland the day after I’m crowned quane of Scotland at Edinburgh, with Mary Stuart’s head in a basket at me feet.”
And move her from that decision he could not, neither with the power of reason nor with the blandishments of his magnetic and affectionate personality. For three days, off and on, they debated that point, while she entertained him royal at her palace, but at the end of that time she was just as firm and fixed as at the beginning: Ireland she would not give up to him till first he’d conquered Scotland for her. And on the morning of the fourth day he leaped on his horse and galloped north to scout the ground over alone.
Through sun and moon and rain he galloped, day and night, commandeerin’ cattle in the quane’s name as he needed them, up the middle of England and through them Cheviot Hills, keepin’ his strategical eye peeled for military positions as he rode; and ’twas on an afternoon of blowin’ wind and streaks of sunlight through the clouds he topped a ridge and looked across land and wather upon the tall town of Edinburgh, wavin’ her plumes of smoke a dozen miles away.
And betwixt the sight of that and the reach of his mind there came the whistle of feathers and the scream of a bird, and right in the air forninst his station a falcon stooped with a whir of silver bells and struck all his blades into the red life of a heron. But no time had Timothy to think of thim rumpled feathers, for with a shout and a rattle of hoofs, a lady all in green stormed up the rise before him on a white palfrey, and a man, ridin’ after her, bent from his saddle and snatchin’ at her bridle.
“Ruthven!” she cried, and lashed out at him with her riding whip. And with that both reined their horses to a prancing stand.
“I have my Lord Murray’s orders never to let ye ride alone,” says the man, sullen and black.
“That for my Lord Murray’s orders!” cries the woman, and with the word she gave her horse the spur and was on him like the spring of a wildcat. Twice she cut him on the face, while the air danced with the forefeet of horses and the man swayed in his saddle; and if it had been a blade instead of a whip ’twould have been the fellow’s finish that instant. Back staggered his horse, and he caught his dropped reins again in one hand and laid the other on his dagger.
“Ruthven!” she cried again, and raised her whip once more. But me bold Tim spurred between them.
“Will ye draw steel on a lady!” he roared, whirlin’ out his sword with the word. The man let go the dagger and out with his own sword. Timothy O’Meara — me ancestor he was — was too distinguished a swordsman to trifle with a foe just for the mere pleasure of it, and now the blood of the ancient chiefs of Ireland was singin’ through him, and with one neat backhand sweep he sent that fellow’s head rollin’ down the hill and his horse galloped off with the rest of him.
“’Twas a good blow,” says the lady.
“I misdoubt,” says Tim, lookin’ after the horse, “but that I was a trifle hasty with him. But ’tis not in me character to see a man offer insult to a lady.”
“’Tis no great matter,” says the lady; “there’s plenty more where he comes from — sons and fathers and cousins.”
“Who was he?” says Tim.
“Wan of them Ruthvens,” says she. “They’re always in trouble. And who are ye, me bold knight?”
“I’m The O’Meara,” says Tim, “from Ireland.”
“I’ve heard of ye,” says she, “as who in the world has not? I’m Mary Stuart,” she says.
“The quane of Scotland?” he says.
“And France,” says she. “And England, too, if I but had me rights.”
“Be gosh,” says Tim, rash and impulsive, and clean forgetful for the moment of all his diplomacy, “but I’ll make ye quane of England the day ye say the word. And yes,” he says, says he, “and on top of that, the quane of Ireland too.”
For I had been lookin’ hard at her, and her at me, and it had come over me with a rush —
Mr. O’Meara suddenly checked himself, his bald head flushing, and gave his attention to his pipe but no notice at all to his two sons, who were grinning broadly and ironically at him. He cleaned his pipe with elaborate care, lighted it again and resumed.
Timothy O’Meara had been looking hard at her, as she at him, and it had come over him with a rush that if Ireland was to have a quane, this woman was the quane for Ireland. Red was her hair, and it was blowin’ in the wind — a brown red the most of it, but with streaks of gold red twisted through it — and hazel was her eyes, but there was glints of gold in them, too, and through that quane’s white skin ye could mark at times the leap and circlin’ of her blood. A golden woman she was, and there was the sparkle of red wine in her, too, and there’s been no language known to any bard could tell her beauty nor the wild intoxication from it — nor no harper to sing it, neither, since the old and ancient days when we chanted of the only woman that was ever more beautiful than she, and that was Deirdre herself, the Troubler of Ireland and the world.
“No man,” says he, “could look at ye, Quane Mary, and not want to give ye all the kingdoms of the earth.”
“Wan kingdom at a time,” says she, and laughed; and if he had not been already hers that laughter would have finished him. And as for her — I will keep back no secrets from ye — he had upon her the usual and instantaneous effect that he had upon all mortal women everywhere and always. “From what I’ve heard of ye,” says she, “and what I’ve seen myself, I think ye could make me quane of England in good earnest.”
“There’s but wan thing I ask of ye, Quane Mary,” says Tim, all his diplomacy coming back to him again, “and ’tis that when ye’re quane of England ye’ll let Ireland go her own way, alone and free. And I think ye’d better sign a paper to that effect before I put ye on the throne.”
“I’ll sign it the day I’m crowned in London,” says Mary, “and that’s a good deal to give up to you, Mr. O’Meara, for the fact is that I’m quane of Ireland by rights now, and I’ll have the double right when I’m quane of England.”
“Now, now, now,” says Tim, “don’t talk to me like that, or I’ll think there’s more honey than wisdom on thim lips of yours. We can’t deal on thim terms at all, at all,” says he.
With that she give him a look out of her eye. “And isn’t there anny other terms you and me could deal on, Timothy O’Meara?” says she. And with that look there went a smile.
Now Tim was wan of thim unfortunate men, as I’ve tried to show youse, who knew by instinct what wan of thim looks and wan of thim smiles called for — unfortunate, I say, because his impulses was forever gettin’ into the way of his diplomacy. He slipped his arm around her and lifted her from her horse to his own.
“Moira,” he says, “if anny woman in the world could make me forget me juty to Ireland, ’twould be yourself!” And with that he kissed her wance or twice. “But no woman could,” says he. And with that he kissed her again. “Not aven you,” says he. And what more was said and done in the next few minutes, he was always too much of a gentleman to tell annywan, and your father will lave it to your own imaginations.
“There’s wan other thing I would dearly love to have, Timothy darlint,” says she afther while, when she was back on her own horse again, “and that’s me Cousin Elizabeth’s head in a basket.”
“We’ll see about that, Moira,” says Tim, aisy and tactful, not wishin’ to commit himself to annything. And with that the rest of her huntin’ party, which she had outridden and lost, came jinglin’ up. ’Twas to Holyrood Castle they went, and there Quane Mary entertained him free and royal for three days. ’Twas on the second day the quane proposed marriage to him.
“I hear Your Majisty is married already,” says Tim, diplomatic.
“Didn’t ye hear that terrible explosion last night?” says Mary. “That was me husband getting himself blown up with gunpowder, out in the suburbs. He was always a clumsy fellow, that Darnley.” And she stooped down and fixed wan of the rugs on the floor. “Mary Livingstone,” she says to a lady in waitin’, with a kind of mist in her eyes, “you girls have got no affection for your quane! I have always to be straightenin’ out this rug for mesilf.”
“Your Majesty knows we love you,” says Mary Livingstone, with a curtsy, “but ye must remember we have not the same motive as yourself for rememberin’ what that spot on the floor is. There’s times when we forget just where it was Davy Rizzio was stabbed.”
“Nobody loves me,” says the quane, lookin’ at Tim, “neither man nor woman.”
If the whole court hadn’t been there, Tim would have showed her that minute she was wrong, as who wouldn’t? But he kept hold of his diplomacy.
“Your Majisty,” says he, being careful to call her that in public, “I’ve heard some talk that the Earl of Bothwell would be your next husband.”
“Why, I thought that the Earl of Bothwell had met with a fatal accident!” says the quane, looking surprised and speakin’ to a group of them noblemen standin’ about. “Lindsay,” she says, “or Douglas, or some of you that’s not too near related to him, won’t you be so kind as to go and bring the quane the very latest news about the Earl of Bothwell?” And six of them bullies started out of the room at once, lickin’ their chops. “Remember, now,” she calls after them; “bring back to me nothin’ but the very latest news of what poor Bothwell’s fate has been!”
And with that she turned a dazzlin’ smile on Tim, as if to say obstacles to their matrimony seemed to be eliminating themselves.
“And now,” says she, lookin’ around on the rest of the gentlemen, “is there anny wan else present I’ve promised to marry?”
“Your Majisty mentioned it to me wan day,” says the Lord of the Isles, feelin’ unaisy of his neck, “but I got the idea Your Majisty was just havin’ wan of your bursts of mirriment.”
“What,” says she; “is the man tellin’ me he don’t want to marry me? Speak up,” she says: “do ye want to marry me or don’t ye?”
“I’m willin’ to let bygones be bygones, please Your Majisty, if you are,” says the Lord of the Isles.
“Never in the world,” says Mary, turning a bright and beautiful pink, “was such an insult offered to a quane before in broad daylight, and her sittin’ on her throne. Don’t,” she says, covering her face with her hands”don’t anny of you gentlemen be too cruel with the man that uttered it, for ’tis plain he’s not sane and accountable for his actions. And don’t,” she says, peeking through her fingers—”don’t be too slow with him, neither!” And the wans that led him out wasn’t.
“Timothy O’Meara,” says she to him, “I’ll have a word in private with ye,” and gave him one of them looks and dismissed the court. Wan word in private between them two always led to another, and so on and on, in the way of love and logic. But at the end of two days’ discourse betwixt thim of this and that, there was wan thing that Quane Mary was just as fixed and firm about as at the beginning: She would sign no paper givin’ up Ireland to him till first he’d set her on the throne of England. And on the morning of the fourth day, wonderin’ about manny things, Tim got on his horse and rode away.
And he hadn’t rode many miles before it came to him like a flash that there was a good many diplomatic disadvantages in his situation along with the diplomatic advantages of it. “Suppose either wan of thim quanes should get the notion,” says he to himself, “that I’ve been makin’ love to the other wan, and each of thim after wanting the other’s head that way?” An’ he couldn’t deny to himself that, although he’d been careful not to commit himself to nothing much, yet at the same time he’d given both of thim a bit of encouragement. “I’m betwixt love and honor,” says Tim to himself, “and I’ve got to step aisy.” But the main point of honor with him was which wan of thim would herself he doing the most honorable thing for Ireland.
“They’re both of thim kind o’ foxy, too thim quanes,” says Tim to himself. ’Twas running through Tim’s mind ’twould be the better stroke of diplomacy if he could but get the promise of both of thim regardin’ Ireland before he handed another crown to either wan of thim.
If Ireland was out of the question he’d have married Mary in a minute, and be damned to Elizabeth, as annywan would. But thinkin’ how much him and Mary was in love with each other made him sorry for Elizabeth, too, and the more he thought of it the more he pitied her, and he says to himself he’ll have to be extra kind to her when he sees her, to make up to her for what she don’t know about, and ’tis just this kind of tinder-heartedness that kept me in trouble all through me youth.
And ’twas thus he was revolvin’ love and diplomacy around in his head when he rode into London early one mornin’ and sent word in to Queen Elizabeth to get out of bed and slip somethin’ on; he wanted to speak with her at wance.
“And how is Scotland, Timothy?” says Quane Elizabeth, sittin’ on the side of her bed with a cup of morning tay in her hand, flappin’ a pair of blue mules on her feet.
“’Tis still there,” says Tim, diplomatic and noncommittal.
“I suppose you didn’t see that Mary Stuart, now, did ye?” asked the quane.
“I did get a glimpse of her,” says Tim, still tactful.
“Tell me, Timothy,” says the quane very confidential; “what does the woman really look like?”
“There’s but one woman in the known world, Elizabeth, who has any advantage on her in the way of looks,” says Timothy, seein’ that this was not wan of thim times when a diplomatist could afford to be entirely frank.
“And who may that woman be?” asks Elizabeth, cocking her intelligint eye at him over the top of the taycup.
“’Tis yourself,” says Timothy O’Meara, telling the most outrageous and audacious lie that ever left the lips of mortal man. But he pardoned himself, for ’twas for the sake of Ireland.
“You’re full of blarney,” says she, giving him her hand to kiss; but she was not ill pleased, at that.
“They do be sayin’ in Scotland,” says Tim, throwin’ out a feeler to see if any of her spies had been busy, “that she’s in mournin’ for a husband and planning to marry another wan.”
“Be damned to the woman!” says Elizabeth suddenly, throwing her cup and saucer against the wall. “I don’t like her! There’s manny reasons why I don’t like her, but one of the chief ones is she’s always gettin’ married! Marriage! Marriage! Marriage! What way is that for a quane to be conductin’ herself? ’Tis not dignified! ’Tis a kind of a reflection on all us Maiden Quanes. A quane ought to be far and away above all that matrimonial nonsense!”
For days he discoursed with Elizabeth and debated, but he could get no further with her than the wan word: “Make me quane of Scotland first, and after that Ireland’s free,” and on top of that she was forever urging him to enter into wan of thim formal engagements she was so fond of. Back he rides to Edinburgh, and ’twas similar with Mary. “Make me quane of England first,” she says, “and I’ll see that Ireland’s no more bothered”; and on top of that she was continually suggestin’ matrimony. And afther half a dozen of thim trips, commutin’ back and forth, Tim says to himself: “I’m spendin’ me life on horseback, but I’m not gettin’ annywheres!”
And then wan day the inspiration come to him that if he could get the two of them near together and let aich wan of them get the idea he was maybe getting a little interested in the other, the jealousy arisin’ out of that would lead to both of them offerin’ better terms for Ireland, for the sake of holdin’ onto himself. So he says to Elizabeth that he’s concocted a scheme that will give her Scotland without great warfare, but there’s a conference between her and Mary necessary first. And he speaks similar to Mary.
And ’twas thus he arranged the most extraordinary meeting of royalties and nobilities for the purpose of negotiations the world has ever seen. Quane Elizabeth comes north with twinty thousand men, in pride and splendor, and pitches her tent in a valley in the Cheviot Hills, and Quane Mary comes south with twinty thousand men and camps on the other side of the valley, and Timothy, who was to be president of the conferences, seats himself on a mountain overlooking both of them.
And both them quanes brings all their courts and all their counselors and earls and dukes, and their ladies with them, and the tents and pavilions was all of silk and cloth of gold and there was feastin’ and frolickin’ and tournaments and dances and sports, and the blowin’ of trumpets and the squeal of pipes, and cannon boomin’ all day and all night long in royal salutes, and nobody but the two quanes and Timothy knew what ’twas all about, and only Timothy knew the rights of it, for ’twas long before anny of this nonsinse about open diplomacy began to be chattered about the world.
Tim, he wasn’t in no hurry, and the feastin’ and the parties went on and on for weeks before the negotiations started; and the word that there was something momentous doing in England spread all over Europe. And King Philip of Spain marches in wan day off his ships with ten thousand troops, and tells Elizabeth he’s with her through thick and thin, and then takes the same word to Mary. And the next day there’s a burst of French horns, and the Juke of Alencon arrives with ten thousand men and says his brother, the king of France, would like to be reprisented too. And the Emperor of Austria and the Czar of Russia and the King of Prussia was the next that come troopin’ over the hills with their drums beatin’ and their banners flyin’. And with every fresh arrival there’d be a shout from all that soldiery and the thunderin’ clangor of ten thousand bung starters beatin’ on casks as more wine was opened, and the smell of the barbecued oxen was wafted across the wathers as far as Norway and Sweden, and all thim Scandinavian kings and nobility sniffed it and came along too. And Tim O’Meara sat on the top of his mountain and looked down on the valleys round about him and rubbed his hands and he says, “By the saints,” says he, “I believe I’ve started something!”
Ye talk about diplomacy! Never was there so much of it gathered together in wan spot, before nor since. And ’twas Timothy O’Meara was the man that had the key to it all. Everywan could see that he was in the confidence of both of thim quanes, though nobody but himself knew to what extent, and everybody courted him.
“Mr. O’Meara,” says the Duke of Alencon to him wan day, “ye could do worse for yourself than be commander in chief of the armies of France, under command of an enterprisin’ young king like mesilf. And if ye’d arrange a marriage betwixt the Maiden Queen and me, that’s what I’d make ye.”
“But ’tis your brother is King of France,” says Timothy.
“He’s not feelin’ so well these days,” says the duke, twistin’ his mustache to hide a smile, “and the bettin’ is three to wan he won’t live out the year.”
“Mr. O’Meara,” says the King of Spain, “I’ve been engaged to Quane Elizabeth, off and on, for three years, but still she dodges the altar. The day you get her there for me Mexico is your own.”
“I’ll think it over, Philip, me lad,” says The O’Meara.
And ’twas much the same with all of them kings and princes. Some of them wanted wan quane, and some of them the other, some of them this and some of them that, and sooner or later every wan of thim came to Tim. And thim two quanes kept him busier and busier. As yet, they hadn’t met each other, but their jealousies was runnin’ higher day by day, and aven hour by hour.
And the diplomacy kept gettin’ thicker and thicker and thicker, with more and more of them monarchs puttin’ their plans and combinations up to him, until he was himself, in his wan person, the repository for all the statecraft of Europe. And what with all that buzzin’ in his head, and breakfast with Elizabeth, and lunch with Mary, and a drink or two with Spain and Austria, and tay with Elizabeth, and a drink or two with Norway and Sweden, and dinner with Mary, and card parties and dances, and late suppers with both thim quanes, and constant and continual love-makin’, and new plans for Ireland formin’ every day, the thoughts in Timothy O’Meara’s head was whirlin’ faster and faster.
Faster and faster spun the diplomacy, round and round, inside of him and outside, but no matter how fast it spun he kept himself the master of it, and he said: “There’s wan thing that must not be! This diplomacy must not sink annywheres to the level of vulgar intrigue.”
And then things took a turn that began to make him a little uneasy. Each of them quanes got the notion at the same time she ought to be provin’ to him how he had the first place in her affections.
“Timothy, darlint,” Mary would say to him, “why did ye not drop in to tay yesterday? I had the Duke of Hamilton executed just to please yourself, thinking maybe you’d heard the false rumor that he was to be married to me. Ye’re neglectin’ me, Tim; ye don’t love me like ye did!”
“Mavourneen,” Tim would say, “it’s me that am plannin’ statecraft for ye day and night, and ye say that to me!”
“And when will these conferences begin?” says she. “And when am I going to be quane of England?”
“Lave the diplomacy of it to me, darlint,” says Tim.
And he’d be getting notes from Elizabeth that said: “Timothy dear, ye’ve been absent from me nearly twinty-four hours, and ’tis well I know politics is not all ye’re talkin’ to Mary Stuart these days. I’ve planned a party for your especial benefit tomorrow evening, and ye must not fail me. The Earl of Essex will be beheaded — him that was wance engaged to me — and afther that there will be dancing.”
Tuesday it would be Essex to the block, and Wednesday it would be her old favorite, the Earl of Leicester, and Thursday it would be Sir Walter Raleigh. And Quane Mary runnin’ through the Scotch nobility in the same way, beginnin’ to work out of the earls in the Lowlands up through thim chiefs of the Highland clans.
For a while these executions was no great moment to Timothy in thimselves; he took thim philosophical, saying to himself: “There’s another Englishman gone, and that’s that,” or, “There’s another Scotchman!” For the most of thim were no friends of Ireland. But as it went on and on he began to wonder if ’twasn’t a bad habit thim two quanes was formin’ for thimselves, and a habit that might lead to dangerous consequences for himself in the long run. The date set for that conference betwixt the two quanes, and their first meetin’ with each other, was comin’ nearer and nearer, and the nearer it came the less aisy was it for Timothy to know exactly what was the best thing to do with all thim diplomatic situations he’d made himself the master of.
’Twas on the day before the wan the conference was set for that Elizabeth said to him:
“Timothy, me love, I’ve got joyous news for ye.”
They were sitting in her royal pavilion, and Tim was getting a bit unaisy, for ’twas in his mind that he was overdue on the other side of the valley at Mary’s encampment.
“What’s the news, Elizabeth, me life?” says Tim, kissin’ her tenderly on the back of her neck and thinkin’ of Mary all the time. And terrible sorry he felt for Elizabeth, too, and that was the occasion of his tenderness.
“’Tis just this, Timothy,” says she: “I’ve decided to break me lifelong rule against matrimony — for wance annyhow and marry ye!”
And with that she slipped a diamond ring onto his finger. Tim, the poor divil, he didn’t dare to show his face for a minute, so he grabbed hold of her and squeezed her, and hung his countenance over her shoulder.
And pretty soon she says: “Ye don’t say annything, Timothy.”
“I’m speechless,” says Tim — “speechless with delight.” And then he says: “’Twill be just as well to keep it secret for a few days, darlint, till we get some of these diplomatic matters settled.”
And he got away from there as quick as ’twas decently possible, for he wanted to think over all the implications and complications of this new matter. If he was to be king consort of England he could rule that country and assure Ireland a square deal, but his heart was sore in him at the thought of Mary Stuart and giving her up like that.
And he stepped into the long tent where the lads in their white jackets was busy, and put his foot on the brass rail, for ’twas there the royal boys hung out of an afternoon; and he called for a glass of usquebaugh with a drop of bitters in it.
“Ye look sad, Tim,” says Philip of Spain, edgin’ over toward him. “What’s eatin’ ye?”
“Ain’t women the divil, Philip?” says Tim, diplomatic and noncommittal.
“More especially thim red-headed wans,” says the Duke of Alencon, tactless and partially inebriated. And the Czar of Russia, who was wan of thim Asiatic savages with knowledge of no European language, so that he had to do his drinkin’ through an interpreter, came over and declared himself in. And in a minute there was a dozen of them clustered around Tim at the kings’ end of the bar, and the mere dukes and earls down at the other end was edgin’ up as near as etiquette would sanction, with their ears open.
And wan thing led to another, what with the latest anecdotes and everybody wantin’ to buy, until inside of an hour there was less discretion among thim than ye would think possible in the case of such seasoned diplomats. And as for Tim himself, the poor lad, inside of him was wan big heartbreak at the thought of losin’ Mary Stuart, and it kept getting worse and worse the more he tried to drown it; and yet, on top of everything there was swimmin’ the thought that maybe ’twould be the best thing for Ireland did he become king of England and protect her.
“What’s the jam ye’re in, Timothy, me boy?” says Alengon. “Ye know damned well that I’m with youse, money, troops or annything else.”
“I know ye are, juke,” says Tim, “but ’tis wan of thim cases where nayther money nor troops will suffice.” And he sighed.
“’Tis women,” says the King of Norway. And the King of Prussia nodded sympathetic, and they all had another wan.
“None of us would mention no names,” says the King of Spain.
“Of course not,” says Tim. “Ye’re all gintlemen, aven if ye are kings.”
And pretty soon Philip of Spain led him aside and says: “Tim, give me the lowdown. What’s due to break, in the way of diplomacy? Don’t let me be caught unawares, Timothy.”
“Things looks bad, Phil,” says Tim, speakin’ out of his heartbreak rather than his diplomacy.
“If hell pops annywheres, slip me the word quick, and I’ll know what to do,” says Philip. “I’ll take no risks. I’ll turn me guns onto the Frinch at wance. These peace conferences is always dangerous.”
“I’ll do that same,” says Tim. And wan after another, every monarch present led him aside private and put substantially the same question to him, and got the same answer. “If hell pops,” says Alengon, “I’ll cut loose on the right flank of the English at wance.” And so on, each naming his favorite enemy; and then they all went back to drinking with one another, the same as these modern peace conferences, and Tim sighed and went to see Mary.
Her being a female and feminine woman, it was natural the first thing she would notice would be the diamond ring on Tim’s finger.
“Oh, Timothy, darlin’,” she cries out, slippin’ it off before he had time to resist her, “’tis the first thing ye ever gave me!” And with that she put her arms around him. “It’s sweet, it is!” she says. “’Tis my engagement ring.”
“Mary, me love,” says Timothy, “’twas me own mother’s wedding ring” — and he was about to say that for that reason he couldn’t give it to anyone, not aven to her, but before he could get that far with it, Mary says, says she: “Oh, Timothy, that makes it all the sweeter.”
So Tim thinks to himself that he will get it away from her again pretty soon with some pretext or another. But talking about this, that, or the other thing, political and personal, it clean slipped away from his mind, and when he left there late that night it was still out of his mind. The trouble was there was so many political complications in Tim’s mind at this time that he had very little room there for anything else, and with both of them girls he had most desperately tried to postpone this conference that was coming tomorrow until he should get the opportunity to meditate more profoundly on the situation. But nayther one of them was willing for any more postponement. Each one of them wanted that other crown as soon as possible and each one of them wanted Tim united with her in the holy bonds of matrimony.
And the next afternoon Tim sat alone at the table in the conference tent before ayther one of thim arrived, with considerable apprehension on the inside of him. One of thim came in through one door and one of them came in through the other, and both of thim had their crowns on, and aich of thim had a tea-party smile on her face, but what was underneath that smile Timothy trembled to think of.
They bowed formal to each other, with that smile, and Elizabeth was the first to speak. “You’re Mary Stuart,” says she.
“And you’re Elizabeth Tudor,” says the other wan. “I’ve often heard Mr. O’Meara speak of ye.”
“Girls,” says Tim, “sit down. And we’ll be getting on with our statecraft.”
But, as ill luck would have it, the first thing that Elizabeth noticed was that ring. “Statecraft be damned!” she cried out, pointing to it. “Mary Stuart, where did ye get that diamond ye’re wearin’?” “’Tis wan of the crown jewels of Scotland,” says Mary. “Ye lie!” says Elizabeth. Mary drew herself up proud and regal.
“Ye speak to me like the daughter of Anne Boleyn, that everywan knows was never married legal to your father, the king.”
“Ye answer me like David Rizzio’s mistress,” says Elizabeth, “that everywan knows was wance married legal to me Cousin Darnley.” And with that they stood and looked at aich other in such a way as ye could feel the silk walls of that tent crackin’ and snappin’ with electricity, whilst they themselves turned every color of the rainbow.
“Now then, ladies “Tim says.
But they both turned on him. “As for you, Tim O’Meara “says Elizabeth, and choked with rage. “As for you ⎯ “says Mary. ’Twas in that instant that the red hair of Tim O’Meara began to show streaks of gray. And slowly they turned back toward each other.
And ’twas then that Timothy O’Meara caught the sudden inspiration which was wan of the greatest strokes of diplomacy the world has ever seen. With thitn two redheaded queens still locked in that terrible look, each strugglin’ for the word that would say her feelin’s, Tim backed quietly out of that tent and in a minute was standing at the door of the barroom.
“Boys,” he cried out to all them royalties and notabilities, “hell has popped!”
Startled, they dropped their glasses, and as they turned their faces toward him the thing he saw plainest and always remembered was twenty pairs of eyes sticking out like the eyes of snails.
“Hell’s popped!” he says again, and was out of there and took his way to his mountain. And he was scarcely there before he heard the drums beatin’ and the trumpets blowin’, and in a minute more the rattle and crash of musketry, and then began the roar of cannon. And in all the valleys and slopes beneath him there was the flash of steel and rollin’ billows of fire and the reek of smoke and the shoutin’ of men and the thunder of hoof beats. “The world’s at war,” says Tim — “all but Ireland!”
And for three days he set on his mountain, lookin’ down upon that strife, while reenforcements swarmed in from all sides, from all over the world, thinkin’ to himself with every charge and every volley that there went another hundred foreigners who would never trouble the freedom of Ireland. For ’twas the crown and glory of his great stroke of diplomacy that while the rest of the earth was at war and too busy to think of Ireland, out of that turmoil he would snatch the freedom of his native land.
And on the fourth day he took his way back home with the news that Ireland was free. And whilst he was organizing a stable government there, he died in camp. But before he died he got a note from Elizabeth in which she said: “Timothy, I have conquered Scotland and am now queen of the same, and I would sind ye the red head of that Mary Stuart by this same messenger, if I did not know that ye are more interested in auburn hair like me own than in plain red. A great manny of me counselors are urging me, now that Scotland and Mary Stuart are out of me way, to go after Ireland and Tim O’Meara, and go afther thim hard. But old frindships is not so easy forgot as all that, and if it was in your mind to come over to London and visit the Maiden Quane, I have no doubt that somethin’ could be fixed up satisfactory to England, Ireland, yoursilf and me. Think it over, Timothy, me dear.”
And Timothy wrote an answer in which hesays: “My dear Elizabeth, Ireland and me will stay whare we are.” And the shame and sorrow of it all was that with his death the fruits of all his diplomacy was dissipated because his successors was lunkheads, and the Sassenach came back again with fire and sword.
But there’s nothin’ can take away the fame of his merits, and if I ever hear either wan of you whisperin’ again that Ireland never had a diplomatist, I’ll take bothav youse acrost me knees and larrup ye well, as I am still able to do, praise God!
Illustrations by Tony Sarg, © Copyright The Saturday Evening Post
In January of 1925, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to investigate the finances of a charity called the National Disabled Soldiers’ League. Incorporated in 1920, the league purported to “foster and perpetuate national patriotism” by working to improve the lot of disabled soldiers, sailors, and marines.
The NDSL had raised around $290,000 in the prior three years — mostly through mail campaigns in which they sent envelopes containing pencils to prospective donors to solicit donations. The problem was that they could only prove that about 10 percent of that money had gone to the actual cause. The other 90 percent likely went into the pockets of three men who took over the league less than a year after its founding.
In the hearings, a select committee — chaired by Hamilton Fish, Jr. — observed evidence of the NDSL’s unprincipled dealings. They had held excessive, bacchanalian annual conventions, after which they stiffed local hotels, restaurants, and entertainment workers. They were denounced by prominent men (like Senator William Calder and vaudeville star Edward F. Albee) who had once held positions on their advisory board. They dodged all government investigations into their finances, refusing to show their books. The league even cheated the Donnelly Corporation, the company that made their pencils.
The NDSL was a perfect example of the kind of organization that soft-hearted Americans were warned against in the years after the First World War. A 1922 article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle told of “the suavely professional solicitor of tear-stained checks for shady causes” and advised readers to “ask before you give.”
Whether ineffectual charities were nefarious scams or just mismanaged, they were making a whole lot more money after the armistice. The drives that raised funds for the war effort and foreign relief during the war had inadvertently created an army of consultants ready to offer their services to every church, league, and club in the country.
Raising money for a cause — or, pejoratively, systematic begging — was a new sector in the economy of sentiment, and it was big business.
Writer James H. Collins called it the new “drive industry” when he wrote about it in this magazine 100 years ago, saying fundraising had “become a form of higher finance which is distinctly with us yet.” According to his reporting, the largest national fundraising effort before the war had been a long-planned drive for a clergy pension fund with a goal of four million dollars. But more recently, such multi-million-dollar drives had become commonplace, and — in the year since the war ended — he counted 1 to 1.5 billion dollars raised for various causes around the country.
He noticed that people were beginning to grow weary of fundraisers. “You’ve seen the drive develop in patriotism and run to the pestiferous,” Collins wrote.
Before the 20th century, charitable fundraising in the U.S. for any given cause was accomplished mostly through soliciting a handful of wealthy donors. Charles Sumner Ward and Lyman Pierce, in their work for the Young Men’s Christian Association, pioneered the method of a fundraising campaign targeting the masses. Then, systematic, crowd-sourced fundraising took off. As public relations historian Scott M. Cutlip wrote in Fund Raising in the United States, “World War I brought intensive, hard-hitting campaigns that raised millions and established philanthropy on the broad, democratic basis that characterizes it today.”
“War bazaars” were popular events for getting dressed up and indulging in some shopping and entertainment for the cause of the doughboys overseas. Or at least that was the idea. In at least one case, such an event raised almost $80,000, and a New York World investigation found that only $754 went directly to the “great war charity.” The rest was depleted by expenses for the event. In a 1917 call for this kind of graft to be avoided by funneling all war expenses through the government, The Washington Times decried the “philanthropic camouflage” of “gentlemen whose business is urging others to contribute.”
Several methods for collecting money became ubiquitous in the U.S. by 1920. Coin boxes to collect loose change were installed in all kinds of businesses. On “tag days,” volunteers — like women from the “Anti-Saloon League for enforcement of the prohibition laws” in Nashville — would swarm street corners with buckets soliciting donations. Passersby who gave would receive a “tag” pin, marking them against further harassment. Often, donors’ names and contributions were printed in the local paper after a drive for Belgian relief or war bond sales.
Sometime during the war, the tactics associated with money drives became a means for padding resumés and charging varying amounts of commission. A column in Topeka’s Capper’s Weekly in 1920 claimed that more than 10,000 men and women had entered this new field as directors, collectors, and publicity agents: “The war showed the possibility of this modern method of getting money. It has also created a new industry or profession, that of the drive-making.”
The explosion in American fundraising necessitated some standards for best practices. Giving up 30 percent of funds to a campaign manager and publicist (as Collins described one hospital doing) was unnecessary, let alone the 50 to 70 percent reported from various other campaigns. Five to ten percent was reasonable, according to most experts, with costs much more or less signaling dishonesty or inefficiency.
The National Information Bureau (later named the National Charities Information Bureau) was formed as a sort of cooperative watchdog group in New York in 1918. The bureau released eight guidelines for giving, including making sure a charity keeps good records with a C.P.A., that they aren’t duplicating the work of others, and that they avoid “remit-or-return” schemes like sending trinkets in the mail. In 1920, according to Collins, the bureau only approved of 124 of the 1,021 national money drives in the U.S.
For attentive donors, the National Disabled Soldiers’ League wouldn’t have passed the bureau’s sniff test. The league failed to produce financial records throughout the congressional committee’s investigation,they relied on remit-or-return mailing for fundraising, and they supposedly engaged in the work of advocating for veterans without coordinating with similar organizations. In 1921, the Disabled American Veterans of the World War of Minneapolis denounced the NDSL and its grifter kingpins, where they claimed “the officers … receive 90 percent of the dues as salaries.”
Another effort that aimed to breed more efficiency in charities was the popular Community Chest system. Before it became known primarily as a serendipitous card from the Monopoly game, the Community Chest was an organized group of community members who would direct lumped donations to local charities to eliminate duplication of efforts and competition. Cleveland created the model for a Community Chest program in 1913, and the idea spread around the country throughout the early century. Eventually, they merged to form the United Way Foundation, one of the largest non-profits in the world.
As technology and media have progressed, fundraising methods have evolved to suit ever more platforms for giving. War bazaars gave way to telethons just as mailing lists have given way to powerful donor relations software. Even as United Way marked a centralization of fundraising for charities in the latter half of the 20th century, the rise of the popular site GoFundMe — where one in three campaigns seeks to cover individuals’ medical costs — is a decidedly decentralized trend in giving.
That the drive industry is still “distinctly with us” after more than a century is a given. Though it has expanded and adapted to the changing world, charitable fundraising can still be approached with the same rules the National Information Bureau laid out in 1918:
After the congressional investigation into the NDSL, the House special committee recommended the case to be turned over to a Federal Grand Jury. They found that three men, John Nolan, James McCann, and Kenneth Murphy, were in complete control of the finances, and their bank accounts were receiving suspicious deposits while the league’s money was unaccounted for. The next month, the Postmaster General barred the NDSL from using the mail. “Nothing is sacred to these crooks,” the Buffalo Courier printed. “Religion, patriotism or anything else they will capitalize so long as they can see in it a chance to get money.”
Five years later, Murphy was at it again, planning a fundraising campaign to build a memorial to the Allied General Ferdinand Foch. He had even talked Franklin D. Roosevelt into joining the committee. Hamilton Fish, Jr. heard that familiar name and publicly denounced the project, calling attention to Murphy’s previous scams with the NDSL. “I hope in the future,” he said, “that members of the House and Senate, who permit the use of their names for these fake veteran organizations, will take the trouble to find out something about them.”
Today, the fundraising industry is sprawling and complex. Charities and non-profits — whether dubious or entirely dependable — still vie for well-meaning Americans’ dollars. Graduate students in philanthropic studies take courses in fundraising processes and donor behavior, not to mention the contemporary craft of grant writing.
It would, perhaps, have come as a surprise to enthusiastic early-century advocates of the Community Chest to know that in 2017, Brian Gallagher, CEO of the centralized progeny organization United Way, would receive more than $1.6 million in compensation. United Way maintains that it is comparable to CEO salaries at other non-profit organizations of similar size, but that might just further illustrate how competition has played a role in building the so-called “non-profit industrial complex.”
There are charities in the U.S. for animals, veterans (and sometimes both), medical research, homelessness, hunger, and too many environmental organizations to count. Several watchdog organizations, like CharityWatch, Charity Navigator, and the Better Business Bureau, provide reports on many of these — including financial audits, board makeup, and quick figures on spending.
On GoFundMe or other similar websites, it’s a philanthropic wild west. You can donate to a family who has just lost their house to a fire or a college student who has been diagnosed with brain cancer or any number of bizarre, cheeky, or politically-charged fundraisers. GoFundMe pages are vetted inasmuch as individuals provide and request evidential information. Although the company claims that less than .1 percent of the fundraisers on their site are fraudulent, plenty of high-profile scams have become big news stories over the years.
The current, entrenched system that makes a philanthropist out of everyone might seem inevitable and commonplace, but Americans living before war drives and tag days would never have seen it coming. They would have reacted with great suspicion to anyone soliciting them for their hard-earned dollars or mailing them pencils. What they didn’t yet understand was that their empathy for the downtrodden and poor could fuel the makings of a fantastic business model.
Featured image: Library of Congress, 1920, National Photo Company Collection: TAG DAY UP TO DATE IN WASHINGTON D.C. No longer can the citizen who rides in an automobile feel secure on tag days. In the past the lowly pedestrian has been the one to “Come across” while the automobilist was comparatively safe. Washington society ladies sprang a new one today in selling tags for the benefit of Columbia Hospital. Fair damsels on horseback “Held Up” automobiles while their sisters on foot “Worked” the sidewalks. Photo shows Miss Ellen Messer receiving a liberal contribution from a surprised automobilist.
—The following is from “The Younger Set,” Editorial, September 4, 1920
No longer is it true that the young are seen but not heard. Not only do they make themselves heard but they shout down their elders in a daily mounting chorus of derision and scorn. Art, literature, education, and economics — all these are being dominated by the reckless, half-formed judgments of youth.
Progress would die if old men always had their way. But it is no sign of settled brain paths to be aware of the rampage on which youth has of late been engaged. The meaningless smudge and blur that makes up so much of modern art; the strange, tortured language which so many of the younger, newer writers use in place of English; and the rediscovered and previously discarded utopias which a host of youthful reformers are so joyfully recommending — are these not signs that youth has been given — or has taken — its head with a vengeance?
—The following is from “Parents Will Never Amount to Much!” December 19, 1964
My sister and I don’t know what is becoming of parents this generation. We love our own parents very much, but sometimes we are afraid they will never amount to much.
We know that whatever their little faults, they mean well. But we still don’t understand them. Parents today seem to be living in their own private little world.
Even though they know they should, they never go to bed early. They watch too much television at night. And when they go out with their friends, they stay out to all hours.
Parents have too much freedom these days. They are always thinking of ways to get away from us. When our mother goes on a business trip with our father, why do they always take their bathing suits?
We don’t know where our parents picked up all their bad habits. Certainly not from us. It’s probably their friends. We don’t approve of their friends. They wear too much makeup and they drink.
Sometimes we’re afraid we spoil parents by letting them have their way.
—“Parents Will Never Amount to Much” by Jamie and Suzy Kitman, December 19, 1964
Featured image: Everett Collection / Shutterstock
It was one of the greatest — and most disturbing — success stories of the 1920s. In just five years, the Ku Klux Klan grew its membership from a few thousand to five million. What had been an organization principally of rural white southerners in the 1860s now included among its members doctors, lawyers, and professors in both northern and southern states. How did they do it? Like any modern organization: they launched a marketing campaign.
The Klan had begun as a fraternal order of former Confederate soldiers who terrorized freed slaves and members of the state governments implementing Reconstruction. But when Reconstruction was dismantled, the Klan melted away.
By 1915, the Klan had just one member: William Joseph Simmons. He was inspired to revive the organization after watching D. W. Griffith’s film, Birth of a Nation, which portrayed Klansmen as heroes.
To Simmons, 1915 seemed right for the Klan’s return. Many southerners were angered by progressive policies that were expanding the federal government and supporting civil rights for minorities. Also, many resented the flood of immigrants and feared foreign cultures would destroy what they considered “traditional American values.”
Simmons felt the country would be receptive to an organization pledged to white nationalism. On Thanksgiving Eve, 1915, atop Stone Mountain near Atlanta, Simmons swore 15 candidates into the revived Klan. After they repeated the oath, he set a large cross on fire. It was a bit of stagecraft dreamed up from Birth of a Nation that had captivated Simmons, and it soon became a Klan tradition.
But something was missing. Recruitment was slow. In five years, Simmons had added only 5,000 members.
Then he met Mary Tyler and Edward Clarke, professional fundraisers who saw potential in the Klan, particularly when Simmons offered them 80 percent of the profits from dues. In June 1920, they became the brains behind the Klan’s national marketing campaign.
The timing for a racist organization was better than it had been five years earlier. There was a new defiance among black Army veterans, now returning to the South from the war. Having served their country, they were unwilling to reprise any subservient role in their communities. Major race riots had already erupted in several cities.
But Clarke and Tyler realized that racism wasn’t enough. Not every part of America was as interested in suppressing black Americans and protecting white power. The Klan couldn’t grow unless it reached a broader audience.
So Clarke and Tyler divided the country in eight regions and sent out 1,000 agents to identify the focus of bigotry and fear in their assigned areas: labor-union organizers and communists in the industrial north, Asians on the west coast, Jews and Catholics almost anywhere.
They began to expand the Klan’s mission, stirring hatred against these groups.
The two also tapped into Americans’ anger at accelerated social change. They wanted to channel the disapproval of the media that mocked tradition, the rebellious attitude of young people, the immodest behavior of women, and, of course, jazz.
Having relatively few adherents in cities, the Klan adopted several attitudes popular in rural areas. They helped enforce Prohibition and they denounced motion pictures.
Almost everywhere they found a public yearning for a golden past, where they remembered an America free of foreign influences. Millions were drawn to the Klan’s policy of “America for Americans” as well as its sometimes violent enforcement of fundamentalist Protestant values.
Many members would never have supported the beatings, tar-and-featherings, murders, and kidnappings committed by other Klansmen. They believed in the Klan was a patriotic, God-fearing organization that revered traditional values. To them, it was simply a fraternal organization, a good place to enjoy white privilege, and maybe do some business networking.
Tyler realized that American women were another promising market. “The Klan stands for the things women hold most dear,” she told the New York Times in 1921. She developed a women’s Klan that eventually claimed 500,000 members, who hosted picnics and attended cross burnings.
They launched a modern media campaign for Simmons, lining up interviews with reporters. Suddenly the Klan’s message was reaching whole new parts of the country. Within a few months, membership had grown 2,000 percent.
Meanwhile their agents were recruiting members in every part of the country. About half of every $10 initiation fee they collected was forwarded to the national office in Atlanta, most of it flowing into the pockets of Clarke and Tyler.
In addition, they were getting a kickback on the sale of official white robes, charging $6.50 for robes that had cost them $3.28. Sensing even greater profits, they began churning out various Klan publications for members. As another sideline, they managed real estate on Klan-owned properties. Within a year, Clarke and Tyler had taken in over a million dollars.
It had been an illegal, covert organization in the Reconstruction era. But in 1925, over 50,000 Klansmen marched boldly through Washington D.C. And, contrary to tradition, not a single one wore a mask.
Not only had the Klan gained social acceptance, it held political power. Klan-backed candidates held office in city and state governments across America, where they protected the Klan’s interests. In Indiana, Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson could even claim, with good reason, “I am the law.”
The Klan might have seemed unstoppable, but the end came soon afterward as it was rocked by several scandals. In addition, the fallout from several investigations was bringing to light the true work of the Klan.
The New York World’s investigation revealed that, in 1921, the Klan was responsible for four murders, a mutilation, 41 floggings, 27 tar-and-featherings, five kidnappings, and 43 threats and warnings to leave town. Civic groups started posting the Klan’s membership lists publicly, and the NAACP led a successful public education campaign about the abuses of the Klan.
One of the scandals took down Tyler. She and Clarke were planning to oust Simmons and take over the Klan’s leadership when they were arrested in a “house of ill repute.” Police discovered them conducting an affair despite being married to others — while in possession of bootleg alcohol. Klan members were outraged, especially when they discovered Tyler, a woman, had been the force behind the Klan’s rapid growth.
She was accused of embezzlement and forced out of the Klan in 1922.
That same year, the FBI was requested to investigate the Klan control of northern Louisiana. The complaint said members had already tortured and killed two men who had opposed the organization. The FBI focused its efforts on Clarke, who had been able to remain an officer in the Klan and was now taking $8 out of every $10 initiation fee.
Unable to convict Clarke on any existing law, he was charged with violating the Mann Act when he drove his mistress across a state line. He, too, was forced from the Klan and moved out of the country to avoid prosecution.
The Klan’s membership started declining rapidly, from its peak of five million members in 1925 to 30,000 in 1930. It reached a low of 3,000 in 2015. Recently, Klan membership has started to pick back up again. There’s been no official word on who is handling their marketing.
Featured image: A flyer advertising a Klan event at the Texas State Fair, 1923 (The Portal to Texas History, the University of North Texas)