Read CHAPTER III - RED GAP AND THE BIG-LEAGUE STUFF of Ma Pettengill, free online book, by Harry Leon Wilson, on ReadCentral.com.

I waited beside Ma Pettengill at the open door of the Arrowhead ranch house.  It was a moment of tranquil expectancy; presently we would be summoned to the evening meal.  Down by the barn a tired janizary pumped water into a trough for two tired mules still in harness.  Halfway down the lane, before a mirror tacked to the wall beside the bunk-house door, two men hurriedly combed their damp hair.  Blackbirds were still noisy in the poplars.  In the field at our left a lazy lot of white-faced cattle, large and placid, lolled or grazed on the new spring grass.

Surveying these cattle with a fond eye ­had she not that day refused all of three hundred and twenty-five dollars a head for a score of these pure-bred cows? ­my hostess read me a brief lecture on the superior fleshing disposition of the Hereford.  No better rustler under range conditions, said she, accumulating flesh at all ages, storing it in seasons of plenty to draw on in seasons of want.  Hadn’t I noticed how common cows got paunchy and how well the fat was distributed on the pure-breds?

I had not noticed, cows being more or less cows to me, but I was prepared to look with deep respect upon any cow for which three hundred and twenty-five dollars could be sanely refused, and I now did so.  I was told that I forgot their calves, which would be worth a hundred and sixty dollars the day they were weaned.  This made it all more impressive.  I looked respectfully again at the bulky creatures, though listening, too, for the stealthy-stepping Lew Wee; a day in the thin spring air along a rocky trout stream had made even cattle on the hoof suggestive.

Ma Pettengill, with a last proud look at her jewels, swept the panoramic camera of her eye round to the blacksmith shop on our right.  Before it were strewn the mutilated remains of four wood wagons.  I had lately heard the lady have words with Abner, the blacksmith, concerning repairs to these.  Abner himself had few of the words.  They were almost entirely his employer’s.  They were acutely to the effect that these here wagons would be running again before the week was out or she would know the reason why.  The aggrieved Abner had tried to suggest that this reason she would know would not be the right reason at all, because wasn’t he already working like a beaver?  Possibly, said the lady.  And beavers might be all right in their place.  What she needed at this precise time was someone working like a blacksmith ­someone!

Over her shoulder she had flung the word at him, blackened with emphasis.

“Any one hurt in the runaway?” I asked, observing her glance to linger upon this snarl of wagon parts.

“Four wagons was mortally hurt,” said the lady, “but of course not a mule skinner touched.  Talk about charmed lives!  Besides, they wasn’t accidents; they was just incidents.  It was part of our winter sports.”

“I didn’t know you had winter sports up here.”

“I didn’t either till I got down to Red Gap last winter and found out that was what we had been having.  Here I been gritting along winter after winter, calling it work, and come to find out it’s what parties go a long distance to indulge in and have to wear careful clothes for it.  Yes, sir; society is mad about it.  Red Gap itself was mad about it last winter, when it got a taste of the big-league stuff.  Next winter I’ll try to get the real sporting spirit into this gang of sedentaries up here; buy ’em uniforms and start a winter-sports club.  Their ideal winter sport so far is to calk up every chink in the bunk house, fill the air-tight stove full of pitch pine and set down with a good book by Elinor Glyn.  They never been at all mad about romping out in the keen frosty air that sets the blood tingling and brings back the roses to their wan cheeks.

“Take last winter.  Not knowing it was sport it seemed at times like toil.  First it snowed early and caught a lot of my cows and calves in the mountains.  While we sported round with these, working ’em down into the valley, the weather changed.  It snowed harder.  Just oodles of the most perfectly darling snow.  Then distemper broke out among the saddle horses.  Then being already shorthanded, what does the fool vaquero boss do but pick a splinter out of his thumb with a pin and get blood poison enough to lay him off?  Too much trouble for cussing.  I tried that out scientifically.  So I had to get out and make a hand.  If I heard someone say I did as much as any three of these mollycoddles up here I’d just simper in silence and look down.  Only I wish I’d known it was a fashionable winter sport.  I’d of been more carefree.

“Then come the best of our winter sports ­wood hauling through the drifts over a rocky road down the mountains.  My lands, but it was jolly!  On a quiet day there’d be only one runaway, one wagon fetched to the shop in sections, like a puzzle.  Then another day all hands would seem to be quite mad about the sport, and nothing but the skinners and the mules would get back to camp that night ­with the new outfit of harness and the hoodlum wagon going back next morning to see what could be salvaged.

“Finally we got the cows and calves home, got our wood in and started a general rodeo for the dry stock ­Nature’s fleecy mantle getting thicker every minute.  And none of us ever suspecting that it was a sport only the wealthy have a right to.  If I’d suggested building an ice palace as a sporty wind-up I’ll bet the help wouldn’t of took it right.  Anyway, I didn’t.  With everything under shelter or fence at last I fled down to Red Gap, where I could lead a quiet life suitable to one of my years ­where I thought I could.”

From the doorway Lew Wee softly called, “You come now!” We both heard him.  Inside my hostess stealthily closed the door upon the gentle spring night; closed and locked it.  Furtively she next drew curtains over the two windows.  Then, candle in hand, she went lightly across the big living room to a stern and businesslike safe that stands against the farther wall.  Kneeling before this she rapidly twirled the lock to a series of mystic numbers and opened the formidable doors.

“Leave us keep the home fires burning,” said she impressively, and withdrew from an exposed cavern a bottle of Scotch whisky.  Standing before the safe we drank chattily.  We agreed that prohibition was a good thing for the state of Washington.  We said we were glad to deny ourselves for the sake of those weaker natures lacking self-control, including Mr. Bryan, whom the lady characterized as “just a water-spout.”

The bottle restored to security my hostess shut the thick doors upon it and twirled the lock.  Then she raised the curtains and reopened the door to the innocent spring night, after which we sat to our meatless and wheatless repast.  In place of meat we sternly contented ourselves with stewed chicken, certain of the Arrowhead fowls having refused to do their bit in eggs and now paying the penalty in a crisis when something is expected from everyone.  In place of wheat we merely had corn muffins of a very coaxing perfection.  Even under these hardships I would patriotically practice the gospel of the clean plate.

As her exploring spoon wandered over the platter of half-submerged chicken Ma Pettengill casually remarked that carefree Bohemians was always the first to suffer under prohibition, and that you couldn’t have a really good Latin Quarter in a dry town.  I let it go.  I must always permit her certain speeches of seeming irrelevance before she will consent to tell me all.  Thus a moment later as she lavished valuable butter fat upon one of the spirituelle muffins she communicated the further item that Cousin Egbert Floud still believed Bohemians was glass blowers, he having seen a troupe of such at the World’s Fair.  He had, it is true, known some section hands down on the narrow gauge that was also Bohemians, but Bohemians of any class at all was glass blowers, and that was an end of it.  No use telling him different, once he gets an idea into his poor old head.

This, too, I let pass, overcome for the moment by the infatuating qualities of the chicken stew.  But when appetites, needlessly inflamed by the lawless tippling, had at last been appeased and the lady had built her first cigarette I betrayed a willingness to hear more of the hinted connection between winter sports and Latin Quarters peopled by Bohemians, glass-blowing or otherwise.  The woman chuckled privately through the first cigarette, adeptly fashioned another, removed to a rocking-chair before the open fire and in a businesslike fervour seized a half-knitted woollen sock, upon which she fell to work.

She now remarked that there must be along the Front millions of sweaters and wristlets and mufflers and dewdads that it looked well to knit in public, so it seemed to be up to her to supply a few pairs of socks.  She said you naturally couldn’t expect these here society dames that knitted in theatres and hotel corridors to be knitting anything so ugly as socks, even if they would know how to handle four needles, which they mostly wouldn’t; but someone had to do it.  Without the slightest change of key she added that it was a long story and painful in spots, but had a happy ending, and she didn’t know as she minded telling me.

So I come down to Red Gap about December first hoping to hole up for the winter and get thoroughly warmed through before spring.  Little did I know our growing metropolis was to be torn by dissension until you didn’t know who was speaking to who.  And all because of a lady Bohemian from Washington Square, New York City, who had crept into our midst and started a Latin Quarter overnight.  The first day I was downtown I overheard two ladies saying something about the new Latin Quarter.  That mystified me, because I knew the town had been lidded tight since Lon Price went out of office as mayor.  Then I meet Mrs. Judge Ballard in the Boston Cash Store and she says have I met a Miss Smith from New York who is visiting here.  I said I had not.  It didn’t sound exciting.  Some way “a Miss Smith” don’t excite you overly, no matter where she hails from.  So I dismissed that and went on with my shopping.  Next I meet Egbert Floud, who is also down for the winter to rest beside a good coal stove, and we ask each other what’s the good word and is anything new.  Cousin Egbert says nothing is new in Red Gap except a Bohemian glass blower from Grinitch Village, New York.  He says he ain’t seen her blow glass yet, but he’s going some night, because them Bohemian glass blowers down to the fair was right fascinating, and don’t I think Grinitch is a bum name for a town?  He says when I see this glass blower I’ll feel like asking animal, vegetable, or mineral, because he has seen her in the post office with Metta Bigler and she looks like a nut.

I tell the poor old zany he sounds simple-minded himself and I can’t make a lick of sense out of what he’s said, except I know this village ain’t spelled that way.  He’s telling me that’s the way it’s spoken anyway, and about how he brought home a glass watch chain that these Bohemians blowed at the fair, when along come Metta Bigler herself and stops to shake hands, so Cousin Egbert slinks off.

I got to tell you about Metta.  She’s our artist; gives lessons in oil painting and burnt wood and other refinements.  People can take six lessons off Metta and go home and burn all the Indian heads on leather sofa pillows that you’d ever want to see.  Also she can paint a pink fish and a copper skillet and a watermelon with one slice cut out as good as any one between here and Spokane.  She’s a perfectly good girl, falling on thirty, refers to herself without a pang as a bachelor girl, and dresses as quiet as even a school-teacher has to in a small town.

Well, Metta rushes up to me now, all glowing and girlish, and says I must come to her studio that very afternoon and meet her dear old chum, Vernabelle Smith, that is visiting her from Washington Square, New York.  She and Vernabelle met when they were completing their art education in the Latin Quarter of Chicago, and Vernabelle had gone down to New York and got into all the new movements and among people who was doing things, and was now very, very advanced being what you might call an intellectual; but I would be sure to like her because she was so delightfully Bohemian, not standing on ceremony but darting straight to the heart of life, which is so complex to most of us who live within convention’s shell and never get in touch with the great throbbing centre of things.  She didn’t say what things.  It was a new line of chatter from Metta.  Usually she’d have been telling me her troubles with Chinese help, or what a robber the Square Deal meat market was, or, at the most, how her fruit-and-fish piece had carried off the first prize of twenty dollars at the Kulanche County Fair.

So I say I’ll be sure to look in on her and her new friend.  I reckoned she must be the Miss Smith and the glass blower I’d already heard about that morning.  Of course “Miss Smith” didn’t sound like much, but Vernabelle Smith was different.  That name Vernabelle made all the difference in the world.  You sort of forgot the ensuing Smith.

That same afternoon about four P.M.  I dropped round to the Bigler house.  Metta’s mother let me in.  She’s a neat and precise old lady with careful hair, but she looked scared as she let me in and led me to the door of Metta’s studio, which is a big room at the back of the house.  She didn’t go in herself.  She pulled it open and shut it on me quick, like it was a lion’s den or something.

All the curtains was down, candles lighted, and the room not only hot but full of cigarette smoke and smoke from about forty of these here punk sticks that smoldered away on different perches.  It had the smell of a nice hot Chinese laundry on a busy winter’s night.  About eight or ten people was huddled round the couch, parties I could hardly make out through this gas attack, and everyone was gabbling.  Metta come forward to see who it was, then she pulled something up out of the group and said “Meet dear Vernabelle.”

Well, she was about Metta’s age, a short thirty, a kind of a slaty blonde with bobbed hair ­she’d been reached fore and aft ­and dressed mostly in a pale-blue smock and no stockings.  Nothing but sandals.  I could hardly get my eyes off her feet at first.  Very few of our justly famous sex can afford to brave the public gaze without their stockings on.  Vernabelle could ill afford it.  She was skinny, if you know what I mean, lots of tendons and so forth, though I learned later that Vernabelle called it being willowy.  She had slaty-gray eyes and a pale, dramatic face with long teeth and a dignified and powerful-looking nose.  She was kind of hungry-looking or soulful or something.  And she wore about two yards of crockery necklace that rattled when she moved.  Sounded like that Chinaman with his dishes out there in the kitchen.  I learned later that this was art jewellery.

Vernabelle greeted me with many contortions like she was taking an exercise and said she had heard so much about me and how interesting it was to meet one who did things.  I said I was merely in the cattle business.  She said “How perfect!” and clasped her hands in ecstasy over the very idea.  She said I was by way of being the ideal type for it.  And did I employ real cowboys; and they, too, must be fascinating, because they did things.  I said they did if watched; otherwise not.  And did I acquire an ascendancy over their rough natures.  I said we quickly parted forever if I didn’t do that.  Then she clanked across to the couch, where she set down on her feet.  I give her credit for that much judgment.  That girl never did just plain set down.  It was either on one foot or on both feet, or she draped herself along the furniture to show how willowy she could be without its hurting.

She now lighted a new cigarette from her old one and went on telling the fish-faces about her how little colour she had found here.  She said we was by way of being a mere flat expanse in dull tints.  But what could be expected of a crude commercialism where the arts was by way of being starved.  Ah, it was so different from dear old Washington Square, where one was by way of being at the heart of life.  It took me some time to get this by-way-of-being stuff, but the others was eating it up.  Metta Bigler hovered round proud as Lucifer and trying to smoke for the first time in her life, though making poor work of it, like she was eating the cigarette and every now and then finding bits she couldn’t swallow, and holding it off at arm’s length in between bites.  Mrs. Henrietta Templeton Price was making better work of the cigarettes, and Beryl Mae Macomber, a wealthy young society heiress and debutante, aged seventeen, was saying that she had always felt this lack in Red Gap and would of been in the movies long since if her aunt had listened to reason.  The only man present was Edgar Tomlinson, who is Red Gap’s most prominent first-nighter and does the Lounger-in-the-Lobby column for the Recorder, reviewing all the new films in an able and fearless manner.  Edgar was looking like he had come into his own at last.  He was wearing a flowing tie and a collar that hardly come higher than his chest and big wind shields on a black cord, and had his hair mussed up like a regular Bohemian in a Sunday paper.  Vernabelle was soon telling him how refreshing it was to meet away out here one who was by way of doing things, and she had read that very morning his review of the film entitled A Sister of Sin, and had found it masterly in its clear-cut analysis, but why did he waste himself here when the great world lay open.  Edgar thrust back his falling hair with a weary hand and tried to look modest, but it was useless.  Vernabelle devoted most of her chat to Edgar.  She was an incessant person but it seemed to take a man to bring out all that was best in her.

Pretty soon Metta went over to a table and brought back some glasses of wine on a tray, of which all partook with more or less relish.  I recognized it from the bottle.  It was elderberry wine that Metta’s mother had put up.  You have to be resourceful in a dry state.

“I’m afraid you’ll all think me frightfully Bohemian,” said Metta proudly.

Beryl Mae held her glass up to the light and said, “After all, does anything in life really matter?” She appeared very blase in all her desperate young beauty.  She and Edgar Tomlinson looked as near right as anything you’d see in Washington Square.  Vernabelle said the true spirit of Bohemia knew neither time nor place; it was wherever those gathered who were doing things, and wasn’t it splendid that even here in this crude Western town a few of the real sort could meet and make their own little quarter and talk about the big things, the lasting things!  Everyone said yes, quite so; and they all tried to handle their wine like it was a rare old vintage.  But you can’t hold much wassail on the juice of the elderberry; it ain’t the most jocund stuff the world as fermented by Metta’s mother.

However, it livened things up a bit and Vernabelle set down her glass and chattered some more.  She said after all life was anything but selective, but didn’t we think that all the arts rounded out one’s appreciation of the beautiful.  Several said “How true ­how true indeed!” and sighed importantly.  Then Metta said Vernabelle must show us some of her work and Vernabelle said she could hardly bring herself to do that; but yet she could and did, getting up promptly.  She had designs for magazine covers and designs for war posters and designs for mural decorations and designs for oil paintings and so forth ­“studies; crude, unfinished bits” she called ’em, but in a tone that didn’t urge any one else to call ’em that.

It was mostly clouds and figures of females, some with ladies’ wearing apparel and many not, engaged in dancing or plucking fruit or doing up their hair.  Quite different stuff from Metta’s innocent pictures of kittens and grapes and daffodils.  After everyone was put on the easel Henrietta Templeton Price would stick her thumb up in the air and sight across it with one eye shut and say “A stunning bit, that!” and the others would gasp with delight and mutter to each other about its being simply wonderful.

Vernabelle listened in an all-too-negligent manner, putting in a tired word or two now and then.  She admitted that one or two was by way of being precious bits.  “Rather precious in an elemental way,” she would say.  “Of course I am trying to develop the psychology of the line.”  Everyone said “Oh, of course!”

While she had one up showing part of a mottled nude lady who was smiling and reaching one hand up over to about where her shoulder blades would meet in the back, who should be let in on the scene but Lon Price and Cousin Egbert Floud.  Lon had called for Henrietta, and Cousin Egbert had trailed along, I suppose, with glass blowing in mind.  Vernabelle forgot her picture and fluttered about the two new men.  I guess Lon Price is a natural-born Bohemian.  He took to her at once.

“Sit here and tell me all about yourself,” says Vernabelle, and Lon did so while the girl hung breathless on his words.  In no time at all he was telling her about Price’s Addition to Red Gap, how you walk ten blocks and save ten dollars a block and your rent money buys a home in this, the choicest villa site on God’s green earth.  Vernabelle had sort of kept hold of Cousin Egbert’s sleeve with an absent hand ­that girl was a man hound if ever there was one ­and pretty soon she turned from Lon to Egbert and told him also to tell her all about himself.

Cousin Egbert wasn’t so glib as Lon.  He looked nervous.  He’d come expecting a little glass blowing and here was something strange.  He didn’t seem to be able to tell her all about himself.  He couldn’t start good.

“Tell me what you are reading, then,” says Vernabelle; and Cousin Egbert kind of strangled at this, too.  He finally manages to say that he tried to read Shakespere once but it was too fine print.  The old liar!  He wouldn’t read a line of Shakespere in letters a foot high.  It just showed that he, too, was trying to bluff along with the rest of ’em on this Bohemian chatter.

Vernabelle continued full of blandishment for the two men and poured ’em out stiff hookers of this demon elderberry wine and lighted cigarettes for ’em from hers.  I don’t know whether this beverage got to Lon Price or not, but in a minute he was telling her that beauty in her sex was a common-enough heritage, but how all-too rare it was to find beauty and brains in the same woman!  Vernabelle called him comrade after that, and then she was telling Cousin Egbert that he was of the great outdoors ­a man’s man!  Egbert looked kind of silly and puzzled at this.  He didn’t seem to be so darned sure about it.

Then Vernabelle worked over by the easel ­it took her about six attitudes leaning against things, to get there ­and showed her oil paintings to the newcomers.  Lon Price was full of talk and admiration and said she must do a poster for him showing a creature of rare beauty up in the clouds beckoning home-buyers out to Price’s Addition, where it was Big Lots, Little Payments, and all Nature seemed to smile.  He said this figure, however, had better have something in the shape of a garment on it because the poster would go into homes where art in its broader extent was still regarded in a suspicious or even hostile manner, if she caught what he meant.  The artist says she can readily understand, and that life after all is anything but selective.

Cousin Egbert just looked at the pictures in an uncomfortable manner.  He spoke only once and that was about the mottled lady reaching over her shoulder and smiling.  “Grinitch,” says he with a knowing leer.  But Vernabelle only says, yes, it was painted in the dear old village.

Then the crowd sort of got together on the couch and in chairs and Vernabelle talked for one and all.  She said how stimulating it was for a few of the real people who did things to come together in this way after the day’s turmoil ­to get away from it all!  Beryl Mae said she had often wanted to get away from it all, but her aunt was narrow-minded.  Henrietta Price lighted her ninth cigarette and said how it reminded her of the Latin Quarter of Paris, which she had never been to, but her cousin had spent a whole afternoon there once and had been simply wild about it.  Vernabelle said it was times like this, with a few real people, that she got her biggest ideas; that life in the rough was too terribly a labyrinth, didn’t we think, stunning one with its immensity, while in these dear little half-lighted moments the real came out unafraid, if we understood what she meant.  Many of us said we did.

It was when we got up to go that Vernabelle told me things about Cousin Egbert.  She said he must have great reserve strength in his personality.  She said he fairly frightened her, he was so superbly elemental.

“It is not so much Mr. Floud that frightens me,” says she, “as the inevitability of him ­just beautifully that!  And such sang fraw!”

Poor Egbert was where he had to overhear this, and I had never seen him less sang fraw ­if that’s the word.  He looked more like a case of nettle rash, especially when Vernabelle gripped his hand at parting and called him comrade!

We finally groped our way through the smoke of the door and said what a lovely time we’d had, and Metta said we must make a practice of dropping in at this hour.  Vernabelle called us all comrade and said the time had been by way of being a series of precious moments to her, even if these little studio affairs did always leave poor her like a limp lily.  Yep; that’s the term she used and she was draped down a bookcase when she said it, trying to look as near as possible like a limp lily.

The awestruck group split up outside.  Nothing like this had ever entered our dull lives, and it was too soon to talk about it.  Cousin Egbert walked downtown with me and even he said only a few little things.  He still called the lady a glass blower, and said if she must paint at all why not paint family pictures that could be hung in the home.  He said, what with every barroom in the state closed, there couldn’t be much demand for them Grinitch paintings.  He also said, after another block, that if he owned this lady and wanted to get her in shape to sell he’d put her out on short sand grass, short almost to the roots, where she’d wear her teeth down.  And a block later he said she hadn’t ought to be calling everyone comrade that way ­it sounded too much like a German.  Still and all, he said, there was something about her.  He didn’t say what.

So now the Latin Quarter had begun, and in no time at all it was going strong.  It seemed like everybody had long been wanting to get away from it all but hadn’t known how.  They gathered daily in Metta’s studio, the women setting round in smocks, they all took to wearing smocks, of course, while hungry-eyed Vernabelle got the men to tell her all about themselves, and said wasn’t it precious that a few choice spirits could thus meet in the little half-lighted hour, away from it all, and be by way of forgetting that outer world where human souls are bartered in the market place.

Of course the elderberry wine was by way of giving plumb out after the second half-lighted hour, but others come forward with cherished offerings.  Mrs. Dr. Percy Hailey Martingale brought round some currant wine that had been laid down in her cellar over a year ago, and Beryl Mae Macomber pilfered a quart of homemade cherry brandy that her aunt had been saving against sickness, and even Mrs. Judge Ballard kicked in with some blackberry cordial made from her own berries, though originally meant for medicine.

Lon Price was a feverish Bohemian from the start, dropping in almost every day to tell Vernabelle all about himself and get out of convention’s shell into the raw throb of life, as it was now being called.  Lon always was kind of light-minded, even after the state went dry.  He told Vernabelle he had a treasured keepsake hid away which he would sacrifice to Bohemia at the last moment, consisting of one quart bottle of prime old rye.  And he was going to make over to her a choice building lot in Price’s Addition, right near the proposed site of the Carnegie library, if Vernabelle would put up something snappy on it in the way of a Latin Quarter bungalow.

Lon also added Jeff Tuttle to the Bohemians the day that old horned toad got down from his ranch.  After going once Jeff said darned if he hadn’t been a Bohemian all his life and never knew what was the matter with him.  Vernabelle had him telling her all about himself instantly.  She said he was such a colourful bit, so virile and red-blooded, and she just knew that when he was in his untamed wilderness he put vine leaves in his hair and went beautifully barefoot.  She said it wasn’t so much him as the inevitability of him.  She’d said this about Cousin Egbert, too, but she was now saying of this old silly that he had a nameless pathos that cut to her artist’s heart.  It seems Cousin Egbert had gone round a couple times more looking for glass blowing and getting disappointed.

And there was new Bohemians every day.  Otto Gashwiler, that keeps books for the canning factory, and Hugo Jennings, night clerk of the Occidental Hotel, was now prominent lights of the good old Latin Quarter passing their spare moments there where they could get away from it all, instead of shaking dice at the Owl cigar store, like they used to.  And Oswald Cummings of the Elite Bootery, was another.  Oswald is a big fair-haired lummox that sings tenor in the Presbyterian choir and has the young men’s Bible class in the Sabbath School.  Vernabelle lost no time in telling him that he was oh, so frankly a pagan creature, born for splendid sins; and Otto seemed to believe it for a couple of weeks, going round absent like as if trying to think up some sins that would be splendid, though if any one but a Bohemian had told him this he’d have blushed himself to death.  It shows you what a hold Vernabelle was by way of getting on Red Gap.

It was sure one season of triumph for Metta Bigler, who lurked proudly in the background as manager.  Metta’s mother wasn’t near so thrilled as Metta, though.  She confided to me that Bohemians was a messy lot to clean up after, raining cigarette ashes over everything; and also it was pretty hard to have raised a child to Metta’s age only to see her become a cigarette fiend overnight, and having these mad revels with currant wine and other intoxicants ­and Metta was even using a lip stick!

And Metta’s mother wasn’t the only one in town looking sidewise at these Bohemian doings.  There was them that held aloof from the beginning and would give their bitter reasons at every opportunity.  These was the ultra-conservative element of the North Side set, and what they said about the new Latin Quarter was a plenty.  They said it was mostly an excuse for drunken orgies in which all sense of decency was cast aside, to say nothing of cigarettes being brazenly smoked by so-called ladies.  They said this here talk about getting away from it all meant the ruin of the home upon which all durable civilization must be built; and as for wives and mothers going round without their stockings look at what befell proud Rome!  And it was time something was done to stem this tide of corruption.

Mrs. Cora Wales and Mrs. Tracy Bangs, president and vice-president of our anti-tobacco league, was the leaders of this movement and sent in a long complaint to the chamber of commerce urging instant action or a foul blot would be splashed on the fair name of our city, to say nothing of homes being broken up.  They was ably backed up in this move by a committee from the civic purity league.

And of course this added to the attractions of the Latin Quarter, giving each Bohemian a new thrill.  Vernabelle said it was by way of being ancient history; that from time immemorial these little groups of choice spirits who did things had been scorned and persecuted, but that every true Bohemian would give a light laugh and pursue his carefree way, regardless of the Philistine And so it went, venomous on both sides, but with Vernabelle holding the bridge.  She’d brought new stuff to town and had a good working majority in favour of it.

Downtown one day I met Metta in the Red Front grocery buying olives and sardines in an excited way.  I suppose it’s for one of her unspeakable orgies, but she tells me it’s something special and I must be sure to come.

“Dear Vernabelle,” she says, “has consented to give an evening cycle of dance portrayals for just a few of the choicer spirits.  I know there has been dreadful talk about our little group, but this will be a stunning bit and you are broad-minded, so do come.”

I could just see Vernabelle consenting, almost peevishly; but it sounded like it might be disorderly enough, so I says I’ll come if she promises to leave at least one window down at the top, me not having a gas mask.

Metta thinks a minute, then says she guesses she can leave one window down a mite; not much, on account of the nature of Vernabelle’s dance costume.  I says if such is to be the nature of her costume I’ll come anyway and risk being gassed.  Metta chides me gravely.  She says the costume is perfectly proper to the artist eye, being a darling little early Greek thing; built on simple lines that follow the figure, it is true, yet suggest rather than reveal, and if the early Greeks saw no harm in it why should we?  I tell her to say no more, but reserve me a ringside seat, though near a window if one can be opened; say, as far as the early Greeks would have done at such a time, on account of the punk sticks.

And of course I wouldn’t miss it.  I’m there at eight-thirty and find quite a bunch of Latin Quarter denizens already gathered and full of suppressed emotion.  The punk sticks, of course, are going strong.  Vernabelle in a pink kimono says they supply atmosphere; which is the only joke I ever heard her get off, if she knew it was one.  Bohemians Lon Price and Jeff Tuttle are hanging over the punch bowl, into which something illegal has been poured.  Jeff is calling Vernabelle little woman and telling her if worse comes to worst they might try being Bohemians on a mixture his men up on the ranch thought of for a New Year’s celebration.  He says they took a whole case of vanilla extract and mixed it with one dozen cans of condensed milk, the vanilla having a surprising kick in it and making ’em all feel like the good old days next morning.

Vernabelle says he reminds her of some untamed creature of the open, some woodsy monster of the dells, and Jeff says that’s just what he feels like.  He’s going on to tell her some more about what he feels like, but Vernabelle is now greeting Oswald Cummings, the pagan of splendid sins, from the Elite Bootery.  She tells Oswald there is a cold cruelty in the lines of his face that reminds her of the emperor Nero.

Finally about twenty choice spirits who did things was gathered for this half-lighted hour, so everybody set down on chairs and the couch and the floor, leaving a clear space for Vernabelle; and Professor Gluckstein, our music teacher, puts down his meerschaum pipe and goes to the piano and plays a soft piece.  The prof is a German, but not a pro-German, and plays first rate in the old-fashioned way, with his hands.  Then, when all the comrades get settled and their cigarettes lighted, the prof drifted into something quite mournful and Vernabelle appeared from behind a screen without her kimono.

The early Greeks must of been strong on art jewellery.  Vernabelle clanked at every step with bracelets and anklets and necklaces.  She had a priceless ruby weighing half a pound fastened to the middle of her bony forehead.  Her costume was spangled, but not many spangles had been needed.  The early Greeks couldn’t of been a dressy lot.  If Vernabelle had been my daughter I could of give her what she deserved with almost no trouble.  The costume, as Metta had said, not only followed the lines of the figure, so far as it went anywhere at all, but it suggested and almost revealed that Vernabelle had been badly assembled.  The Bohemians kind of gasped and shivered, all except Jeff Tuttle, who applauded loudly.  They seemed to feel that Vernabelle was indeed getting away from it all.

Then came this here cycle-of-dance portrayals.  The first one wasn’t much dance; it was mostly slow, snaky motions with the arms and other things, and it was to portray a mother cobra mourning her first-born.  At least that’s the way I understood it.  Another one was called “The Striving Soul,” to which the prof played something livelier.  Vernabelle went round and round, lifting her feet high.  It looked to me like she was climbing a spiral staircase that wasn’t there.  Then she was a hunted fawn in a dark forest and was finally shot through the heart by a cruel hunter ­who was probably nearsighted.  And in the last one she was a Russian peasant that has got stewed on vodka at the Russian county fair.  This was the best one.  You couldn’t see her so well when she moved quick.

Of course there was hearty applause when it was all over, and pretty soon Vernabelle come out again in her kimono.  Panting like a tuckered hound she was when the comrades gathered to tell her how wonderful she had been.

“That music tears me,” says Vernabelle, putting her hands to her chest to show where it tore.  “That last maddening Russian bit ­it leaves me like a limp lily!” So she was led to the punch bowl by Comrades Price and Tuttle, with the others pushing after and lighting cigarettes for her.

It was agreed that the evening had been a triumph for Vernabelle’s art.  Almost every Bohemian present, it seemed, had either been tore or maddened by that last Russian bit.

Vernabelle was soon saying that if she had one message for us it was the sacred message of beauty.  Jeff Tuttle says, “You’ve certainly delivered it, little woman!” Vernabelle says, oh, perhaps, in her poor, weak way ­she was being a limp lily against the piano then ­but art is a terrible master to serve, demanding one’s all.  Comrade Price says what more could she give than she has to-night.  And then, first thing I know, they’re all talking about an intimate theatre.

This was another part of Vernabelle’s message.  It seems intimate theatres is all the rage in New York, and the Bigler barn is just the place to have one in.  Vernabelle says they will use the big part where the hay used to be and paint their own scenery and act their own plays and thus find a splendid means of self-expression the way people of the real sort are doing in large cities.

Everyone is wild about this in a minute, and says how quaint and jolly Bohemian it will be.  The Bigler barn is just the place, with no horse there since Metta bought one of the best-selling cars that ever came out of Michigan, and Vernabelle says she has written a couple of stunning little one-act pieces, too powerful for the big theatres because they go right to the throbbing raw of life, and it will be an inspiration and uplift to the community, of which all present can be proud.  Lon Price says he will furnish a good drop curtain free, painted with a choice nine-room villa with just a line mentioning Price’s Addition to Red Gap, Big Lots, Little Payments.  And he’s quite hurt when Vernabelle tells him no, that they must keep entirely out of the slime of commercialism.  I don’t think Lon ever again felt the same toward Vernabelle ­calling his business slime, that way.

However, the party broke up full of plans for the new intimate theatre, leaving an empty punch bowl and a million cigarette ends.

And right here was where the Philistine opposition braided feathers in its hair and done a war dance.  Members of the little group that did things spoke freely the next day of Vernabelle’s art in the dance and her early Greek costume, taking a mean enjoyment in the horror they inspired among pillars of the church and the civic purity league.  It is probable that in their artistic relish they endowed Vernabelle with even fewer clothes than she had wore.  At any rate, they left a whole lot to be inferred, and it promptly was inferred.

The opposition now said this was no job for a chamber of commerce; it had become a simple matter for the police.  The civic purity league had a special meeting at which the rind was peeled off Vernabelle’s moral character, and the following Sabbath one of the ministers gave a hot sermon in which the fate of Babylon and a few other undesirable residence centres mentioned in the Bible was pointed out.  He said that so-called Bohemia was the gateway to hell.  He never minced his words, not once.

And the Latin Quarter come in for some more shock assaults when the talk about an intimate theatre in the Bigler barn got out.  The regular theatre was bad enough, said the civic purity league; in fact, they had started a campaign against that the month before, right after a one-night engagement of the Jolly Paris Divorcees Burlesque Company, which, I gathered, had not upheld the very highest standards of dramatic art.  And if the town was going to stand for anything more intimate than this show had provided, why, it was time for drastic action if any wholesome family life was to be saved from the wreck.

Feeling ran high, I want to tell you, and a few of the younger set fell out of the ranks of good old Bohemia ­or was yanked out.  Luella Stultz’s father, who is old-fashioned, it was said, had give Luella a good licking for smoking cigarettes, and old Jesse Himebaugh had threatened his daughter Gussie with the reform school if she didn’t stop trying to get away from it all.  Even Beryl Mae’s aunt put her foot down.  Beryl Mae met me in the post office one day and says auntie won’t let her be a Bohemian any more, having threatened to take her new ukulele away from her if she goes to that Latin Quarter another single time; and poor Beryl Mae having hoped to do a Hawaiian dance in native costume for the intimate theatre, where it wouldn’t be misunderstood!

Things was just in this shape, with bitterness on every side and old friends not speaking, and the opposition passing the Bohemians on the street with the frown of moral disgust, and no one knowing how it would all end, when I hear that Cora Wales has a niece coming from New York to visit her ­a Miss Smith.  I says to myself, “My lands!  Here’s another Miss Smith from New York when it looks to me like the one we got is giving us a plenty of the big league stuff.”  But I meet Cora Wales and learn that this one’s first name is Dulcie, which again seemed to make a difference.

Cora says this Dulcie niece is one of New York’s society leaders and she’s sorry she invited her, because what kind of a town is it in which to introduce a pure young girl that never smoked or drank in her life and whose people belong to one of the very most exclusive churches in the city.  She had hoped to give Dulcie a good time, but how can she sully herself with any of our young people that have took up Bohemianism?  She being fresh from her social triumphs in New York, where her folks live in one of the very most fashionable apartment houses on Columbus Avenue, right in the centre of things and next to the elevated railway, will be horrified at coming to a town where society seems to be mostly a little group of people who do things they hadn’t ought to.

Dulcie is a dear girl and very refined, everything she wears being hand embroidered, and it would of been a good chance for Red Gap to get acquainted with a young society girl of the right sort, but with this scandal tearing up the town it looks like the visit will be a failure for all parties.

I tell Cora on the contrary it looks like a good chance to recall the town to its better self.  If this here Dulcie is all that is claimed for her she can very probably demolish the Latin Quarter and have us all leading correct society lives in no time, because the public is fickle and ever ready for new stuff, and as a matter of fact I suspect the Latin Quarter is in a bad way because of everything in town of an illegal character having been drunk up by the comrades.  Me?  I was trying to get some new life into the fight, understand, being afraid it would die natural and leave us to a dull winter.

Cora’s eyes lighted up with a great hope and she beat it off to the Recorder office to have a piece put in the paper about Dulcie’s coming.  It was a grand piece, what with Cora giving the points and Edgar Tomlinson writing it.  It said one of Gotham’s fair daughters would winter in our midst, and how she was a prominent society leader and an ornament of the fast hunting set, noted for her wit and beauty and dazzling costumes, and how a series of brilliant affairs was being planned in her honour by her hostess and aunt, Mrs. Leonard Wales, Red Gap’s prominent society matron and representative of all that was best in our community, who would entertain extensively at her new and attractive home in Price’s Addition.  And so forth.

I’m bound to say it created a flurry of interest among the younger dancing set, and more than one begun to consider whether they would remain loyal to Bohemia or plunge back into society once more, where stockings are commonly wore, and smoking if done at all is hurriedly sneaked through out on the porch or up in the bathroom.

From Cora’s description I was all prepared to find Dulcie a tall, stately creature of twenty-eight, kind of blase and haggard from her wearing social duties in New York.  But not so.  Not so at all.  Cora had invitations out for a tea the day after Dulcie come; invitations, that is, to the non-Bohemians and such as had reformed or give good signs of it.  I don’t know which head I got in under.  And this Dulcie niece was nothing but a short, fat, blond kid of seventeen or eighteen that had never led any society whatever.  You could tell that right quick.

She was rapidly eating cream-cheese sandwiches when I was presented to her.  I knew in one look that society had never bothered Dulcie any.  Victuals was her curse.  In the cattle business it ain’t riding disrespectful horses that gets you the big money; it’s being able to guess weights.  And if Dulcie pulled a pound less than one hundred and eighty then all my years of training has gone for naught.  She was certainly big-framed stock and going into the winter strong.  Between bites of sandwich, with a marshmallow now and then, she was saying that she was simply crazy about the war, having the dandiest young French soldier for a godson and sending him packages of food and cigarettes constantly, and all the girls of her set had one, and wasn’t it the darlingest idea.

And her soldier was only twenty-two, though his beard made him look more mature, and he wrote such dandy letters, but she didn’t suppose there would ever be anything between them because papa was too busy with his coal yard to take her over there.

As the girl chattered on it didn’t seem to me that our Latin Quarter was in the slightest danger from her.  Still, some of the girls that was there seemed quite impressed or buffaloed by her manner.  One idea she give out now was new in Red Gap.  She had all her rings named after meals.  She had a breakfast ring and a dinner ring and a supper ring and a banquet ring, and Daisy Estelle Maybury admired the necklace she had on, and Dulcie said that was a mere travelling necklace; and how did they like this cute little restaurant frock she was wearing?  A little dressmaker over on Amsterdam Avenue had turned it out.  All the parties she dealt with, apparently, was little.  She had a little dressmaker and a little hair woman and a little manicure and a little florist, and so forth.  She’d et five cream-cheese sandwiches by this time, in spite of its being quite painful for her to pick up a dropped napkin.  Dulcie didn’t fold over good.  You could tell here was a girl that had never tried to get away from it all.  She wanted to be right where it was.

Pretty soon one of the girls said something about the Bohemians of the Latin Quarter, probably aiming to show this New York chatterbox that Red Gap wasn’t so far west as it looked.  But Dulcie gave ’em the laugh.  She said oh, dear, New York society had simply quit taking up Bohemians, it not being considered smart any longer, and did we really take them up here?  The girls backed up at this.  And Dulcie went on being superior.  She said of course society people now and then made up a party and went down to Washington Square to look them over, but as for taking them up, oh, dear, no!  It was more like a slumming party.  One could stare at them, but one simply didn’t know them.

And perhaps, if she could get Aunt Cora to chaperon them, they might make up one of these slumming parties some evening and go down to Red Gap’s Latin Quarter; it might be amusing.  Cora Wales glistened at this.  She said she guessed people could now see how such goings-on were regarded by society in the true sense of the word.  And it did give the girls a chill, calling the Bigler home a slum.  But I still didn’t see any stuff in Dulcie to vanquish Vernabelle.

And I didn’t see it a minute later when Dulcie wolfed her tenth marshmallow and broke out about winter sports.  She first said what perfectly darling snow we had here.  This caused some astonishment, no one present having ever regarded snow as darling but merely as something to shovel or wade through.  So Dulcie pronged off a piece of sticky chocolate cake and talked on.  She said that everyone in New York was outdooring, and why didn’t we outdoor.  It was a shame if we didn’t go in for it, with all this perfectly dandy snow.  New York people had to go out of town for their winter sports, owing to the snow not being good for sport after it fell there; but here it was right at hand, and did we mean to say we hadn’t organized a winter-sports club.

No one spoke, for no one could guess what you did to outdoor properly.  About all they could think of was hustling out after another chunk for the fireplace or bringing a scuttle of coal up from the cellar.  But they soon got the idea.  Dulcie said right from this window she could see a corking hill for a toboggan slide, and it would be perfectly darling to be out there with plenty of hot coffee and sandwiches; and there must be some peachy trips for snowshoe parties with sandwiches and coffee at the end; or skating in the moonlight with a big bonfire and coffee and sandwiches.

She suggested other things with coffee and sandwiches and finally got up some real enthusiasm when she said she had brought some of the dearest sport toggery with her.  The girls was excited enough when they found out you had to dress especial for it.  They was willing to listen to anything like that if New York society was really mad about it, even if it conflicted with lifelong habits ­no one in Red Gap but small boys having ever slid downhill.

And still I didn’t suspect Dulcie was going to groundsluice Vernabelle.  It looked like the Latin Quarter would still have the best of it, at least during a cold winter.  Which goes to show that you can’t tell what society will go mad about, even in Red Gap, when you can dress for it.

The girls had got a line on Dulcie and was properly impressed by her, and then with an evening affair at the Wales home the dancing men had their chance.  Even some of the Bohemians was let to come, just to have ’em see that there was indeed a better life; and reports of Dulcie was such that all took advantage of it.  The male sex was strong for the girl at once.  She didn’t know that life is anything but selective, or that all the arts round out one’s appreciation of the beautiful, or that anything was “by way of being” something.  But all the food she took didn’t make her torpid; she giggled easily and had eyes like hothouse grapes, and in spite of her fat there was something about her, like Cousin Egbert said of Vernabelle.  Anyway, she prevailed.  Oswald Cummings, the pagan, for one, quickly side-stepped his destiny of splendid sins, and Hugo Jennings told Dulcie he had merely gone to this Latin Quarter as he would go to an animal show, never having meant for one moment to take Bohemians up, any more than New York society would.

First thing I hear, the winter-sports club has been organized, snowshoes sent for and a couple of toboggans, and a toboggan slide half a mile long made out in Price’s Addition, starting at the top of the highest hill, where Lon’s big board sign with the painted bungalow made a fine windshield, and running across some very choice building lots to the foot of the grade, where it stopped on the proposed site of the Carnegie Library.  Lon was very keen about the sport himself after meeting Dulcie, and let a fire be built near his sign that burned it down one night, but he said it was all good advertising, more than he’d ever got out of being a Bohemian.

Of course there was a great deal of fuss about the proper sport toggery, but everyone got rigged out by the time the toboggans got there.  Dulcie was a great help in this and was downtown every day advising one or another about the proper sweaters or blanket coats or peaked caps with tassels, or these here big-eyed boots.  You’d meet her in a store with Stella Ballard, eating from a sack of potato chips; and half an hour later she’d be in another store with Daisy Estelle Maybury, munching from a box of ginger wafers; with always a final stop at the Bon Ton Kandy Kitchen for a sack of something to keep life in her on the way home.  There really got to be so much excitement about winter sports that you hardly heard any more talk about the Latin Quarter.  People got to speaking to each other again.

By the opening day of the sports club you wouldn’t of thought any one in town had ever tried to get away from it all.  Even them that thought it crazy came and stood round and said so.  Cousin Egbert Floud said this Dulcie was some sparrow, but nutty ­going out in the cold that way when nothing drove her out.  Dulcie made a great hit with the club this first day, having the correct Canadian toggery and being entirely fearless in the presence of a toboggan.  She’d zip to the bottom, come tramping back, shooting on all six, grab a sandwich ­for not a morsel of food had passed her lips since she went down the time before ­and do it all over again.  And every last ex-Bohemian, even Edgar Tomlinson, fighting for the chance to save her from death by starvation!  Dulcie played no favourites, being entranced with ’em all.  She said they was the dearest gentleman friends she’d ever had.  The way they was fighting for her favours she could of called ’em her gentleman frenzy.  Ain’t I the heinous old madcap, thinking of jokes like that?

Next day there was a snowshoe trip up to Stender’s spring and back by way of the tie camp.  Dulcie hadn’t ever snowshoed and it wasn’t any light matter when her shoes threw her down ­requiring about three of the huskiest boys to up-end her ­but she was game and the boys was game and she was soon teaching snowshoeing shoes how to take a joke.  And from that on winter sports ruled in Red Gap.  The chamber of commerce even talked of building an ice palace next year and having a carnival and getting the town’s name in the papers.  Oh, there certainly must of been a surprised lot of snow round there that winter.  Nothing like this had ever happened to it before.

And all being done on nothing stronger than coffee, with hardly a cigarette and never anything that was by way of being a punk stick in a closed room.  It was certainly a lot healthier than a Latin Quarter for these young people, and for the old ones, too.  Dulcie had sure put one large crimp into Bohemia, even if she could not be justly called an intellectual giantess.

And Vernabelle knew who to blame, too, when the little group quit coming round to get away from it all.  She knew it was Dulcie.  She said that Dulcie seemed to be a pampered society butterfly that devoted all her thoughts to dress.  This was repeated to Dulcie by an ex-Bohemian, but she found no poison in it.  She said of course she devoted all her thoughts to dress; that a young girl with her figure had to if she ever expected to get anywhere in the world.

Even ex-comrade Lon Price would now shut his office at four o’clock every day and go up on the hill and outdoor a bit, instead of getting away from it all in a smoky Bohemian way.  Besides he’d had a difference of opinion with Vernabelle about the poster she was doing for him, the same being more like an advertisement for some good bath soap, he said, than for choice villa sites.

“I don’t know anything about art,” says Lon, “but I know what my wife likes.”  Which left Vernabelle with another design on her hands and brought Comrade Price out of Bohemia.

Even if Dulcie’s winter sports hadn’t done the trick I guess it would of been done easy by her report that Bohemians was no longer thought to be smart in New York, Red Gap being keenly sensitive in such matters.  Metta Bigler’s mother firmly turned out the half-lights in Bohemia when she heard of this talk of Dulcie’s.  I don’t blame her.  She didn’t one bit relish having her neat home referred to as a slum, say nothing of having her only child using a lip stick and acting like an abandoned woman with cigarettes and the wine cup.

She said just that to me, Metta’s mother did.  She said she had heard that New York was all broken up into social sets, the same way Red Gap is, and if Bohemians wasn’t being took up by the better element in New York, then they shouldn’t be took up by the better element of Red Gap ­at least not in any home of which the deed was still in her name.  She said of course she couldn’t keep Metta’s guest from being a Bohemian, but she would have to be it alone.  She wasn’t going to have a whole mob coming round every day and being Bohemians all over the place, it being not only messy but repugnant alike to sound morality and Christian enlightenment.  And that settled it.  Our town was safe for one more winter.  Of course God only knows what someone may start next winter.  We are far off from things, but by no means safe.

Cousin Egbert was kind of sorry for Vernabelle.  He said if she’d just stuck to plain glass blowing she might of got by with it.  He’s a wonder, that man ­as teachable as a granite bowlder.

My Godfrey!  Ten-thirty, and me having to start the spring sport of ditch cleaning to-morrow morning at seven!  Won’t I ever learn!