Showing the Value of a Helping
Hand When It Is White and Slender
This time he went leisurely to the
door and opened it; a girl stood there, saying, “I
beg your pardon for disturbing you ”
It was high time she admitted it, for her eyes had
been disturbing him day and night since the first
time he passed her in the hall.
She appeared to be a trifle frightened,
too, and, scarcely waiting for his invitation, she
stepped inside with a hurried glance behind her, and
walked to the center of the room holding her skirts
carefully as though stepping through wet grass.
“I I am annoyed,”
she said in a voice not perfectly under command.
“If you please, would you tell me whether there
is such a thing as a pea-green mouse?”
Then he did a mean thing; he could
have cleared up that matter with a word, a smile,
and he didn’t.
“A green mouse?” he repeated gently, almost
She nodded, then paled; he drew a
big chair toward her, for her knees trembled a little;
and she sat down with an appealing glance that ought
to have made him ashamed of himself.
“What has frightened you?” inquired that
meanest of men.
“I was in my studio and
I must first explain to you that for weeks and weeks
I I have imagined I heard sounds ”
She looked carefully around her; nothing animate was
visible. “Sounds,” she repeated, swallowing
a little lump in her white throat, “like the
faint squealing and squeaking and sniffing and scratching
of of live things. I asked the janitor,
and he said the house was not very well built and
that the beams and wainscoting were shrinking.”
“Did he say that?” inquired
the young man, thinking of the bribes.
“Yes, and I tried to believe
him. And one day I thought I heard about one
hundred canaries singing, and I know I did, but that
idiot janitor said they were the sparrows under the
eaves. Then one day when your door was open,
and I was coming up the stairway, and it was dark in
the entry, something big and soft flopped across the
carpet, and it being exceedingly common
to scream I didn’t, but managed to
get past it, and” her violet eyes
widened with horror “do you know what
that soft, floppy thing was? It was an owl!”
He was aware of it; he had managed
to secure the escaped bird before her electric summons
could arouse the janitor.
“I called the janitor,”
she said, “and he came and we searched the entry;
but there was no owl.”
He appeared to be greatly impressed;
she recognized the sympathy in his brown eyes.
“That wretched janitor declared
I had seen a cat,” she resumed; “and I
could not persuade him otherwise. For a week I
scarcely dared set foot on the stairs, but I had to you
see, I live at home and only come to my studio to
“I thought you lived here,” he said, surprised.
“Oh, no. I have my studio ”
she hesitated, then smiled. “Everybody makes
fun of me, and I suppose they’ll laugh me out
of it, but I detest conventions, and I did hope I
had talent for something besides frivolity.”
Her gaze wandered around his room;
then suddenly the possible significance of her unconventional
situation brought her to her feet, serious but self-possessed.
“I beg your pardon again,”
she said, “but I was really driven out of my
studio quite frightened, I confess.”
“What drove you out?” he asked guiltily.
“Something you can
scarcely credit it and I dare not tell the
janitor for fear he will think me queer.”
She raised her distressed and lovely eyes again:
“Oh, please believe that I did see a bright
“I do believe it,” he said, wincing.
“Thank you. I I
know perfectly well how it sounds and I
know that horrid people see things like that, but” she
spoke piteously “I had only one glass
of claret at luncheon, and I am perfectly healthy in
body and mind. How could I see such a thing if
it was not there?”
“It was there,” he declared.
“Do you really think so? A green bright
“Haven’t a doubt of it,” he assured
her; “saw one myself the other day.”
“On the floor ”
he made a vague gesture. “There’s
probably a crack between your studio and my wall,
and the little rascal crept into your place.”
She stood looking at him uncertainly:
“Are there really such things as green mice?”
“Well,” he explained,
“I fancy this one was originally white.
Somebody probably dyed it green.”
“But who on earth would be silly
enough to do such a thing?”
His ears grew red he felt them doing it.
After a moment she said: “I
am glad you told me that you, too, saw this unspeakable
mouse. I have decided to write to the owners of
the house and request an immediate investigation.
Would would it be too much to ask you to
“Are you you going to write?”
he asked, appalled.
“Certainly. Either some
dreadful creature here keeps a bird store and brings
home things that escape, or the house is infested.
I don’t care what the janitor says; I did hear
squeals and whines and whimpers!”
we wait,” he began lamely; but at that moment
her blue eyes widened; she caught him convulsively
by the arm, pointing, one snowy finger outstretched.
“Oh-h!” she said hysterically,
and the next instant was standing upon a chair, pale
as a ghost. It was a wonder she had not mounted
the dresser, too, for there, issuing in creepy single
file from the wainscoting, came mice mice
of various tints. A red one led the grewsome rank,
a black and white one came next, then in decorous
procession followed the guilty green one, a yellow
one, a blue one, and finally horror of horrors! a
red-white-and-blue mouse, carrying a tiny American
He turned a miserable face toward
her; she, eyes dilated, frozen to a statue, saw him
advance, hold out a white wand saw the uncanny
procession of mice mount the stick and form into a
row, tails hanging down saw him carry the
creatures to a box and dump them in.
He was trying to speak now. She
heard him stammer something about the escape of the
mice; she heard him asking her pardon. Dazed,
she laid her hand in his as he aided her to descend
to the floor; nerveless, speechless, she sank into
the big chair, horror still dilating her eyes.
“It’s all up with me,”
he said slowly, “if you write to the owners.
I’ve bribed the janitor to say nothing.
I’m dreadfully mortified that these things have
happened to annoy you.”
The color came back into her face;
amazement dominated her anger. “But why why
do you keep such creatures?”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.
“It is my profession.”
“My profession,” he repeated doggedly.
“Oh,” she said, revolted,
“that is not true! You are a gentleman I
know who you are perfectly well!”
“Who am I?”
She called him by name, almost angrily.
“Well,” he said sullenly,
“what of it? If you have investigated my
record you must know I am as poor as these miserable
“I I know it. But you are a
“I am a mountebank,” he
said; “I mean a mountebank in its original interpretation.
There’s neither sense nor necessity for me to
“I I don’t understand you,”
she whispered, shocked.
“Why, I do monkey tricks to
entertain people,” he replied, forcing a laugh,
“or rather, I hope to do a few and
be paid for them. I fancy every man finds his
own level; I’ve found mine, apparently.”
Her face was inscrutable; she lay back in the great
chair, watching him.
“I have a little money left,”
he said; “enough to last a day or two. Then
I am to be paid for entertaining some people at Seabright;
and,” he added with that very attractive smile
of his from which all bitterness had departed, “and
that will be the first money I ever earned in all my
She was young enough to be fascinated,
child enough to feel the little lump in her throat
rising. She knew he was poor; her sisters had
told her that; but she had supposed it to be only
comparative poverty just as her cousins,
for instance, had scarcely enough to keep more than
two horses in town and only one motor. But want actual
need she had never dreamed of in his case she
could scarcely understand it even now he
was so well groomed, so attractive, fairly radiating
good breeding and the easy financial atmosphere she
was accustomed to.
“So you see,” he continued
gayly, “if you complain to the owners about
green mice, why, I shall have to leave, and, as a matter
of fact, I haven’t enough money to go anywhere
except ” he laughed.
“Where?” she managed to say.
“The Park. I was joking,
of course,” he hastened to add, for she had
turned rather white.
“No,” she said, “you
were not joking.” And as he made no reply:
“Of course, I shall not write now.
I had rather my studio were overrun with multicolored
mice ” She stopped with something
almost like a sob. He smiled, thinking she was
But oh, the blow for her! In
her youthful enthusiasm she had always, from the first
time they had encountered one another, been sensitively
aware of this tall, clean-cut, attractive young fellow.
And by and by she learned his name and asked her sisters
about him, and when she heard of his recent ruin and
withdrawal from the gatherings of his kind her youth
flushed to its romantic roots, warming all within her
toward this splendid and radiant young man who lived
so nobly, so proudly aloof. And then miracle
of Manhattan! he had proved his courage
before her dazed eyes rising suddenly out
of the very earth to save her from a fate which her
eager desire painted blacker every time she embellished
the incident. And she decorated the memory of
it every day.
And now! Here, beside her, was
this prince among men, her champion, beaten to his
ornamental knees by Fate, and contemplating a miserable,
uncertain career to keep his godlike body from actual
starvation. And she she with more
money than even she knew what to do with, powerless
to aid him, prevented from flinging open her check
book and bidding him to write and write till he could
write no more.
A memory a thought crept
in. Where had she heard his name connected with
her father’s name? In Ophir Steel?
Certainly; and was it not this young man’s father
who had laid the foundation for her father’s
fortune? She had heard some such thing, somewhere.
He said: “I had no idea
of boring anybody you least of all with
my woes. Indeed, I haven’t any sorrows
now, because to-day I received my first encouragement;
and no doubt I’ll be a huge success. Only I
thought it best to make it clear why it would do me
considerable damage just now if you should write.”
“Tell me,” she said tremulously,
“is there anything anything I can
do to to balance the deep debt of gratitude
I owe you ”
“What debt?” he asked,
astonished. “Oh! that? Why, that is
no debt except that I was happy perfectly
and serenely happy to have had that chance to to
hear your voice ”
“You were brave,” she
said hastily. “You may make as light of
it as you please, but I know.”
“So do I,” he laughed,
enchanted with the rising color in her cheeks.
“No, you don’t; you don’t
know how I felt how afraid I was to show
how deeply deeply I felt. I felt it
so deeply that I did not even tell my sisters,”
she added naively.
“Yes; you know them.”
And as he remained silent she said: “Do
you not know who I am? Do you not even know my
He shook his head, laughing.
“I’d have given all I
had to know; but, of course, I could not ask the servants!”
Surprise, disappointment, hurt pride
that he had had no desire to know gave quick place
to a comprehension that set a little thrill tingling
her from head to foot. His restraint was the
nicest homage ever rendered her; she saw that instantly;
and the straight look she gave him out of her clear
eyes took his breath away for a second.
“Do you remember Sacharissa?” she asked.
“I do certainly! I always thought ”
“What?” she said, smiling.
He muttered something about eyes and
white skin and a trick of the heavy lids.
She was perfectly at ease now; she
leaned back in her chair, studying him calmly.
“Suppose,” she said, “people could
see me here now.”
“It would end your artistic
career,” he replied, laughing; “and fancy!
I took you for the sort that painted for a bare existence!”
“And I I took you for ”
“Something very different than what I am.”
“In one way not in others.”
“Oh! I look the mountebank?”
“I shall not explain what I
mean,” she said with heightened color, and rose
from her chair. “As there are no more green
mice to peep out at me from behind my easel,”
she added, “I can have no excuse from abandoning
art any longer. Can I?”
The trailing sweetness of the inquiry
was scarcely a challenge, yet he dared take it up.
“You asked me,” he said, “whether
you could do anything for me.”
“Can I?” she exclaimed.
“I will I am glad tell
me what to do?”
“Why, it’s only this.
I’ve got to go before an audience of two hundred
people and do things. I’ve had practice
here by myself, but but if you don’t
mind I should like to try it before somebody you.
Do you mind?”
She stood there, slim, blue-eyed,
reflecting; then innocently: “If I’ve
compromised myself the damage was done long ago, wasn’t
it? They’re going to take away my studio
anyhow, so I might as well have as much pleasure as
And she sat down, gracefully, linking her white fingers
over her knees.