MoboReader> Literature > The Two Vanrevels

   Chapter 11 A Voice in a Garden

The Two Vanrevels By Booth Tarkington Characters: 17880

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Crailey came home the next day with a new poem, but no fish. He lounged up the stairs, late in the afternoon, humming cheerfully to himself, and, dropping his rod in a corner of Tom's office, laid the poem on the desk before his partner, produced a large, newly-replenished flask, opened it, stretched himself comfortably upon a capacious horse-hair sofa, drank a deep draught, chuckled softly, and requested Mr. Vanrevel to set the rhymes to music immediately.

"Try it on your instrument," he said. "It's a simple verse about nothing but stars, and you can work it out in twenty minutes with the guitar."

"It is broken," said Tom, not looking up from his work.

"Broken! When?"

"Last night."

"Who broke it?"

"It fell from the table in my room."

"How? Easily mended, isn't it?"

"I think I shall not play it soon again."

Crailey swung his long legs off the sofa and abruptly sat upright. "What's this?" he asked gravely.

Tom pushed his papers away from him, rose and went to the dusty window that looked to the west, where, at the end of the long street, the sun was setting behind the ruin of charred timbers on the bank of the shining river.

"It seems that I played once too often," he said.

Crailey was thoroughly astonished. He took a long, affectionate pull at the flask and offered it to his partner.

"No," said Tom, turning to him with a troubled face, "and if I were you, I wouldn't either. These fishing trips of yours-"

"Fishing!" Crailey laughed. "Trips of a poetaster! It's then I write best, and write I will! There's a poem, and a damned good one, too, old preacher, in every gill of whiskey, and I'm the lad that can extract it! Lord! what's better than to be out in the open, all by yourself in the woods, or on the river? Think of the long nights alone with the glory of heaven and a good demijohn. Why, a man's thoughts are like actors performing in the air and all the crowding stars for audience! You know in your soul you'd rather have me out there, going it all by myself, than raising thunder over town. And you know, too, it doesn't tell on me; it doesn't show! You couldn't guess, to save your life, how much I've had to-day, now, could you?"

"Yes," returned the other, "I could."

"Well, well," said Crailey, good-naturedly, "we weren't talking of me." He set down the flask, went to his friend and dropped a hand lightly on his shoulder. "What made you break the guitar? Tell me."

"What makes you think I broke it?" asked his partner sharply.

"Tell me why you did it," said Crailey.

And Tom, pacing the room, told him, while Crailey stood in silence, looking him eagerly in the eye whenever Tom turned his way. The listener interrupted seldom; once it was to exclaim: "But you haven't said why you broke the guitar?"

"'If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out!' I ought to have cut off the hands that played to her."

"And cut your throat for singing to her?"

"She was right!" the other answered, striding up and down the room. "Right-a thousand times! in everything she did. That I should even ap-proach her, was an unspeakable insolence. I had forgotten, and so, possibly, had she, but I had not even been properly introduced to her."

"No, you hadn't, that's true," observed Crailey, reflectively. "You don't seem to have much to reproach her with, Tom."

"Reproach her!" cried the other. "That I should dream she would speak to me or have anything to do with me, was to cast a doubt upon her loyalty as a daughter. She was right, I say! And she did the only thing she could do: rebuked me before them all. No one ever merited what he got more roundly than I deserved that. Who was I, in her eyes, that I should besiege her with my importunities, who but her father's worst enemy?"

Deep anxiety knitted Crailey's brow. "I understood she knew of the quarrel," he said, thoughtfully. "I saw that, the other evening when I helped her out of the crowd. She spoke of it on the way home, I remember; but how did she know that you were Vanrevel? No one in town would be apt to mention you to her."

"No, but she did know, you see."

"Yes," returned Mr. Gray slowly. "So it seems! Probably her father told her to avoid you, and described you so that she recognized you as the man who caught the kitten."

He paused, picked up the flask, and again applied himself to its contents, his eyes peering over the up-tilted vessel at Tom, who continued to pace up and down the length of the office. After a time, Crailey, fumbling in his coat, found a long cheroot, and, as he lit it, inquired casually:

"Do you remember if she addressed you by name?"

"I think not," Tom answered, halting. "What does it matter?"

Crailey drew a deep breath.

"It doesn't," he returned.

"She knew me well enough," said Tom, sadly, as he resumed his sentry-go.

"Yes," repeated Crailey, deliberately. "So it seems; so it seems!" He blew a long stream of smoke out into the air before him, and softly mur-mured again: "So it seems, so it seems."

Silence fell, broken only by the sound of Tom's footsteps, until, presently, some one informally shouted his name from the street below. It was only Will Cummings, passing the time of day, but when Tom turned from the window after answering him, Crailey, his poem, and his flask were gone.

That evening Vanrevel sat in the dusty office, driving himself to his work with a sharp goad, for there was a face that came between him and all else in the world, and a voice that sounded always in his ears. But the work was done before he rose from his chair, though he showed a haggard visage as he bent above his candles to blow them out.

It was eleven o'clock; Crailey had not come back, and Tom knew that his light-hearted friend would not return for many hours; and so, having no mind to read, and no belief that he could if he tried, he went out to walk the streets. He went down to the river first, and stood for a little while gazing at the ruins of the two warehouses, and that was like a man with a headache beating his skull against a wall. As he stood on the blackened wharf, he saw how the charred beams rose above him against the sky like a gallows, and it seemed to him that nothing could have been a better symbol, for here he had hanged his self-respect. "Reproach her!" He, who had so displayed his imbecility before her! Had he been her father's best friend, he should have had too great a sense of shame to dare to speak to her after that night when her quiet intelligence had exhibited him to himself, and to all the world, as nought else than a fool-and a noisy one at that!

Suddenly a shudder convulsed him; he struck his open palm across his forehead and spoke aloud, while, from horizon to horizon, the night air grew thick with the whispered laughter of observing hobgoblins:

"And even if there had been no stairway, we could have slid down the hose-line!"

He retraced his steps, a tall, gray figure moving slowly through the blue darkness, and his lips formed the heart-sick shadow of a smile when he found that he had unconsciously turned into Carewe Street. Presently he came to a gap in a hedge, through which he had sometimes stolen to hear the sound of a harp and a girl's voice singing; but he did not enter there tonight, though he paused a moment, his head bowed on his breast.

There came a sound of voices; they seemed to be moving toward the hedge, toward the gap where he stood; one a man's eager, quick, but very musical; the other, a girl's, a rich and clear contralto that passed into Tom's soul like a psalm of rejoicing and like a scimitar of flame. He shivered, and moved away quickly, but not before the man's voice, somewhat louder for the moment, came distinctly from the other side of the hedge:

"After all," said the voice, with a ripple of laughter, "after all, weren't you a little hard on that poor Mr. Gray?"

Tom did not understand, but he knew the voice. It was that of Crailey Gray.

He heard the same voice again that night, and again stood unseen. Long after midnight he was still tramping the streets on his lonely rounds, when he chanced to pass the Rouen House, which hostelry bore, to the uninitiated eye, the appearance of having closed its doors upon all hospitalities for the night, in strict compliance with the law of the city fathers, yet a slender wand of bright light might be discovered underneath the street door of the bar-room.

From within the merry retreat issued an uproar of shouting, raucous laughter and the pounding of glasses on tables, heralding all too plainly the hypocrisy of the landlord, and possibly that of the city fathers also. Tom knew what company was gathered there: gamblers, truckmen, drunken farmers, men from the river steamers making riot while their boats lay at the wharf, with a motley gathering of good-for-nothings of the back-alleys, and tippling clerks from the Main Street stores.

There came loud cries for a song, and, in answer, the voice of Crailey rose over the general din, somewhat hoarse, and never so musical when he sang as when he spoke, yet so touching in its dramatic tenderness that soon the noise fell away, and the roisterers sat quietly to listen. It was not the first time Ben Jonson's song had stilled a disreputable company.

"I sent thee late a rosy wreath, Not so much honoring thee, As giving it the hope that there It might not withered be."

Perhaps, just then, Vanrevel would have wished to hear him sing anything in the world rather than that, for on Crailey's lips it carried too much meaning tonight, after the voice in the garden. And Tom lingered no more near the betraying sliver of light beneath the door than he had by the gap in the hedge, but went steadily on his way.

Not far from the hotel he passed a small building brightly lighted and echoing with unusual clamors of industry: the office of the Rouen Journal. The press was going, and Mr. Cummings's thin figure crossed and recrossed the windows, while his voice could be heard energetically bidding his assistants to "Look alive!" so that Tom imagined that something might have happened between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande; but he did not stop to ask the journalist, for he desired to behold the face of none of his friends until he had fought out some things within himself. So he strode on toward nowhere.

Day was breaking when Mr. Gray climbed the stairs to his room. There were two flights, the ascent of the first of which occupied about half an hour of Crailey's invaluable time; and the second might have taken more of it, or possibly consumed the greater part of the morning, had he received no assistance. But, as he reclined to meditate upon the first landing, another man entered the hallway from without, ascended quickly, and Crailey became pleasantly conscious that two strong hands had lifted him to his feet; and, presently, that he was being borne aloft upon the new-comer's back. It seemed quite a journey, yet the motion was soothing, so he made no effort to open his eyes, until he found himself gently deposited upon the couch in his own chamber, when he smiled amiably, and, looking up, discovered his partner standing over him.

Tom was very pale and there were deep, violet scrawls beneath his eyes. For once in his life he had come home later than Crailey.

"First time, you know," said Crailey, with difficulty. "You'll admit first time completely incapable? Often needed guiding hand, but never-quite-before."

"Yes," said Tom, quietly, "it is the first time I ever saw you quite finished."

"Think I must be growing old and constitution refuses bear it. Disgraceful to be seen in condition, yet celebration justified. H'rah for the news!" He waved his hand wildly. "Old red, white, and blue! American eagle now kindly proceed to scream! Starspangled banner intends streaming to all the trade winds! Sea to sea! Glorious victories on political thieving exhibition-no, expedition! Everybody not responsible for the trouble to go and get himself patriotically killed!"

"What do you mean?"

"Water!" said the other, feebly. Tom brought the pitcher, and Crailey, setting his hot lips to it, drank long and deeply; then, with his friend's assistance, he tied a heavily moistened towel round his head. "All right very soon and sober again," he muttered, and lay back upon the pillow with eyes tightly closed in an intense effort to concentrate his will. When he opened them again, four or five minutes later, they had marvellously cleared and his look was self-contained and sane.

"Haven't you heard the news?" He spoke much more easily now. "It came at midnight to the Journal."

"No; I've been walking in the country."

"The Mexicans crossed the Rio Grande on the twenty-sixth of last month, captured Captain Thornton and murdered Colonel Crook. That means war is certain."

"It has been certain for a long time," said Tom. "Polk has forced it from the first."

"Then it's a devil of a pity he can't be the only man to die!"

"Have they called for volunteers?" asked Tom, going toward the door.

"No; but if the news is true, they will."

"Yes," said Tom; and as he reached the hallway he paused. "Can I help you to undress?"

"Certainly not!" Crailey sat up, indignantly. "Can't you see that I'm perfectly sober? It was the merest temporary fit, and I've shaken it off. Don't you see?" He got upon his feet, staggered, but shook himself like a dog coming out of the water, and came to the door with infirm steps.

"You're going to bed, aren't you?" asked Tom. "You'd much better."

"No," answered Crailey. "Are you?

"No. I'm going to work."

"You've been all up night, too, haven't you?" Crailey put his hand on the other's shoulder. "Were you hunting for me?"

"No; not last night."

Crailey lurched suddenly, and Tom caught him about the waist to steady him.

"Sweethearting, tippling, vingt-et-un, or poker, eh, Tom?" he shouted, thickly, with a wild laugh. "Ha, ha, old smug-face, up to my bad tricks at last!" But, recovering himself immediately, he pushed the other off at arm's length, and slapped himself smartly on the brow. "Never mind; all right, all right-only a bad wave, now and then. A walk will make me more a man than ever."

"You'd much better go to bed, Crailey."

"I can't. I'm going to change my clothes and go out."

"Why?"

Crailey did not answer, but at that moment the Catholic church-bell, summoning the faithful to mass, pealed loudly on the morning air; and the steady glance of Tom Vanrevel rested upon the reckless eyes of the man beside him as they listened together to its insistent call. Tom said, gently, almost timidly:

"You have an-engagement?"

This time the answer came briskly. "Yes; I promised to take Fanchon to the cemetery before breakfast, to place some flowers on the grave of the little brother who died. This happens to be his birthday."

It was Tom who averted his eyes, not Crailey.

"Then you'd best hurry," he said, hesitatingly; "I mustn't keep you," and went downstairs to his office with flushed cheeks, a hanging head, and an expression which would have led a stranger to believe that he had just been caught in a lie.

He went to the Main Street window, and seated himself upon the ledge, the only one in the room not too dusty for occupation; for here, at this hour, Tom had taken his place every morning since Elizabeth Carewe had come from the convent. The window was a coign of vantage, commanding the corner of Carewe and Main streets. Some distance west of the corner, the Catholic church cast its long shadow across Main Street, and, in order to enter the church, a person who lived upon Carewe Street must pass the corner, or else make a half-mile detour and approach from the other direction-which the person never did. Tom had thought it out the first night that the image of Miss Betty had kept him awake-and that was the first night Miss Carewe spent in Rouen-the St. Mary's girl would be sure to go to mass every day, which was why the window-ledge was dusted the next morning.

The glass doors of the little corner drug-store caught the early sun of the hot May morning and became like sheets of polished brass; a farmer's wagon rattled down the dusty street; a group of Irish waitresses from the hotel made the boardwalk rattle under their hurried steps as they went toward the church, talking busily to one another; and a blinking youth in his shirt-sleeves, who wore the air of one newly, but not gladly, risen, began to struggle mournfully with the shutters of Madrillon's bank. A moment later, Tom heard Crailey come down the stairs, sure of foot and humming lightly to himself. The door of the office was closed; Crailey did not look in, but presently appeared, smiling, trim, immaculate, all in white linen, on the opposite side of the street, and offered badinage to the boy who toiled at the shutters.

The bell had almost ceased to ring when a lady, dressed plainly in black, but graceful and tall, came rapidly out of Carewe Street, turned at the corner by the little drug-store, and went toward the church. The boy was left staring, for Crailey's banter broke off in the middle of a word.

He overtook her on the church steps, and they went in together.

That afternoon Fanchon Bareaud told Tom how beautiful her betrothed had been to her; he had brought her a great bouquet of violets and lilies-of-the-valley, and had taken her to the cemetery to place them on the grave of her baby brother, whose birthday it was. Tears came to Fanchon's eyes as she spoke of her lover's goodness, and of how wonderfully he had talked as they stood beside the little grave.

"He was the only one who remembered that this was poor tiny Jean's birthday!" she said, and sobbed. "He came just after breakfast and asked me to go out there with him."

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