Containing a Parable Told with
Such Metaphorical Skill that the Author Is Totally
Unable to Understand It
The Green Mouse now dominated the
country; the entire United States was occupied in
getting married. In the great main office on Madison
Avenue, and in a thousand branch offices all over
the Union, Destyn-Carr machines were working furiously;
a love-mad nation was illuminated by their sparks.
Marriage-license bureaus had been
almost put out of business by the sudden matrimonial
rush; clergymen became exhausted, wedding bells in
the churches were worn thin, California and Florida
reported no orange crops, as all the blossoms had
been required for brides; there was a shortage of
solitaires, traveling clocks, asparagus tongs;
and the corner in rice perpetrated by some conscienceless
captain of industry produced a panic equaled only
by a more terrible coup in slightly worn shoes.
All America was rushing to get married;
from Seattle to Key West the railroads were blocked
with bridal parties; a vast hum of merrymaking resounded
from the Golden Gate to Governor’s Island, from
Niagara to the Gulf of Mexico. In New York City
the din was persistent; all day long church bells
pealed, all day long the rattle of smart carriages
and hired hacks echoed over the asphalt. A reporter
of the Tribune stood on top of the New York
Life tower for an entire week, devouring cold-slaw
sandwiches and Marie Corelli, and during that period,
as his affidavit runs, “never for one consecutive
second were his ample ears free from the near or distant
strains of the Wedding March.”
And over all, in approving benediction,
brooded the wide smile of the greatest of statesmen
and the great smile of the widest of statesmen
these two, metaphorically, hand in hand, floated high
above their people, scattering encouraging blessings
on every bride.
A tremendous rise in values set in;
the newly married required homes; architects were
rushed to death; builders, real-estate operators,
brokers, could not handle the business hurled at them
by impatient bridegrooms.
Then, seizing time by the fetlock,
some indescribable monster secured the next ten years’
output of go-carts. The sins of Standard Oil were
forgotten in the menace of such a national catastrophe;
mothers’ meetings were held; the excitement
became stupendous; a hundred thousand brides invaded
the Attorney-General’s office, but all he could
think of to say was: “Thirty centuries
look down upon you!”
These vague sentiments perplexed the
country. People understood that the Government
meant well, but they also realized that the time was
not far off when millions of go-carts would be required
in the United States. And they no longer hesitated.
All over the Union fairs and bazaars
were held to collect funds for a great national factory
to turn out carts. Alarmed, the Trust tried to
unload; militant womanhood, thoroughly aroused, scorned
compromise. In every city, town, and hamlet of
the nation entertainments were given, money collected
for the great popular go-cart factory.
The affair planned for Oyster Bay
was to be particularly brilliant a water
carnival at Center Island with tableaux, fireworks,
and illuminations of all sorts.
Reassured by the magnificent attitude
of America’s womanhood, business discounted
the collapse of the go-cart trust and began to recover
from the check very quickly. Stocks advanced,
fluctuated, and suddenly whizzed upward like skyrockets;
and the long-expected wave of prosperity inundated
the country. On the crest of it rode Cupid, bow
and arrows discarded, holding aloft in his right hand
a Destyn-Carr machine.
For the old order of things had passed
away; the old-fashioned doubts and fears of courtship
were now practically superfluous.
Anybody on earth could now buy a ticket
and be perfectly certain that whoever he or she might
chance to marry would be the right one the
one intended by destiny.
Yet, strange as it may appear, there
still remained, here and there, a few young people
in the United States who had no desire to be safely
provided for by a Destyn-Carr machine.
Whether there was in them some sporting
instinct, making hazard attractive, or, perhaps, a
conviction that Fate is kind, need not be discussed.
The fact remains that there were a very few youthful
and marriageable folk who had no desire to know beforehand
what their fate might be.
One of these unregenerate reactionists
was Flavilla. To see her entire family married
by machinery was enough for her; to witness such consummate
and collective happiness became slightly cloying.
Perfection can be overdone; a rift in a lute relieves
melodious monotony, and when discords cease to amuse,
one can always have the instrument mended or buy a
“What I desire,” she said,
ignoring the remonstrances of the family, “is
a chance to make mistakes. Three or four nice
men have thought they were in love with me, and I
wouldn’t take anything for the experience.
Or,” she added innocently, “for the chances
that some day three or four more agreeable young men
may think they are in love with me. One learns
by making mistakes very pleasantly.”
Her family sat in an affectionately
earnest row and adjured her four married
sisters, four blissful brothers-in-law, her attractive
stepmother, her father. She shook her pretty head
and continued sewing on the costume she was to wear
at the Oyster Bay Venetian Fête and Go-cart Fair.
“No,” she said, threading
her needle and deftly sewing a shining, silvery scale
onto the mermaid’s dress lying across her knees,
“I’ll take my chances with men. It’s
better fun to love a man not intended for me, and
make him love me, and live happily and defiantly ever
after, than to have a horrid old machine settle you
“But you are wasting time, dear,”
explained her stepmother gently.
“Oh, no, I’m not.
I’ve been engaged three times and I’ve
enjoyed it immensely. That isn’t wasting
time, is it? And it’s such fun!
He thinks he’s in love and you think you’re
in love, and you have such an agreeable time together
until you find out that you’re spoons on somebody
else. And then you find out you’re mistaken
and you say you always want him for a friend, and
you presently begin all over again with a perfectly
new man ”
“Are you utterly demoralized!”
Everybody behaved as I do before you and William invented
your horrid machine. Everybody in the world married
at hazard, after being engaged to various interesting
young men. And I’m not demoralized; I’m
only old-fashioned enough to take chances. Please
The family regarded her sadly.
In their amalgamated happiness they deplored her reluctance
to enter where perfect bliss was guaranteed.
Her choice of rôle and costume for
the Seawanhaka Club water tableaux they also disapproved
of; for she had chosen to represent a character now
superfluous and out of date the Lorelei
who lured Teutonic yachtsmen to destruction with her
singing some centuries ago. And that, in these
times, was ridiculous, because, fortified by a visit
to the nearest Destyn-Carr machine, no weak-minded
young sailorman would care what a Lorelei might do;
and she could sing her pretty head off and comb herself
bald before any Destyn-Carr inoculated mariner would
be lured overboard.
But Flavilla obstinately insisted
on her scaled and fish-tailed costume. When her
turn came, a spot-light on the clubhouse was to illuminate
the float and reveal her, combing her golden hair
with a golden comb and singing away like the Musical
“And,” she thought secretly,
“if there remains upon this machine-made earth
one young man worth my kind consideration, it wouldn’t
surprise me very much if he took a header off the
Yacht Club wharf and requested me to be his.
And I’d be very likely to listen to his suggestion.”
So in secret hopes of this pleasing
episode but not giving any such reason
to her protesting family she vigorously
resisted all attempts to deprive her of her fish scales,
golden comb, and rôle in the coming water fête.
And now the programmes were printed and it was too
late for them to intervene.
She rose, holding out the glittering,
finny garment, which flashed like a collapsed fish
in the sunshine.
she said. “Now I’m going off somewhere
by myself to rehearse.”
“In the water?” asked her father uneasily.
As Flavilla was a superb swimmer nobody
could object. Later, a maid went down to the
landing, stowed away luncheon, water-bottles and costume
in the canoe. Later, Flavilla herself came down
to the water’s edge, hatless, sleeves rolled
up, balancing a paddle across her shoulders.
As the paddle flashed and the canoe
danced away over the sparkling waters of Oyster Bay,
Flavilla hummed the threadbare German song which she
was to sing in her rôle of Lorelei, and headed toward
“The thing to do,” she
thought to herself, “is to find some nice, little,
wooded inlet where I can safely change my costume and
rehearse. I must know whether I can swim in this
thing and whether I can sing while swimming
about. It would be more effective, I think, than
merely sitting on the float, and singing and combing
my hair through all those verses.”
The canoe danced across the water,
the paddle glittered, dipped, swept astern, and flashed
again. Flavilla was very, very happy for no particular
reason, which is the best sort of happiness on earth.
There is a sandy neck of land which
obstructs direct navigation between the sacred waters
of Oyster Bay and the profane floods which wash the
gravelly shores of Northport.
“I’ll make a carry,”
thought Flavilla, beaching her canoe. Then, looking
around her at the lonely stretch of sand flanked by
woods, she realized at once that she need seek no
farther for seclusion.
First of all, she dragged the canoe
into the woods, then rapidly undressed and drew on
the mermaid’s scaly suit, which fitted her to
the throat as beautifully as her own skin.
It was rather difficult for her to
navigate on land, as her legs were incased in a fish’s
tail, but, seizing her comb and mirror, she managed
to wriggle down to the water’s edge.
A few sun-warmed rocks jutted up some
little distance from shore; with a final and vigorous
wriggle Flavilla launched herself and struck out for
the rocks, holding comb and mirror in either hand.
Fishtail and accessories impeded her,
but she was the sort of swimmer who took no account
of such trifles; and after a while she drew herself
up from the sea, and, breathless, glittering, iridescent,
flopped down upon a flat rock in the sunshine.
From which she took a careful survey of the surroundings.
Certainly nobody could see her here.
Nobody would interrupt her either, because the route
of navigation lay far outside, to the north. All
around were woods; the place was almost landlocked,
save where, far away through the estuary, a blue and
hazy horizon glimmered in the general direction of
So, when she had recovered sufficient
breath she let down the flashing, golden-brown hair,
sat up on the rock, lifted her pretty nose skyward,
and poured forth melody.
As she sang the tiresome old Teutonic
ballad she combed away vigorously, and every now and
then surveyed her features in the mirror.
Ich weiß nicht was soll es bedeuten
Dass ich so traurig bin
she sang happily, studying her gestures
with care and cheerfully flopping her tail.
She had a very lovely voice which
had been expensively cultivated. One or two small
birds listened attentively for a while, then started
in to help her out.
On the veranda of his bungalow, not
very far from Northport, stood a young man of pleasing
aspect, knickerbockers, and unusually symmetrical
legs. His hands reposed in his pockets, his eyes
behind their eyeglasses were fixed dreamily upon the
skies. Somebody over beyond that screen of woods
was singing very beautifully, and he liked it at
However, when the unseen singer had
been singing the Lorelei for an hour, steadily, without
intermission, an expression of surprise gradually
developed into uneasy astonishment upon his clean-cut
and unusually attractive features.
“That girl, whoever she is,
can sing, all right,” he reflected, “but
why on earth does she dope out the same old thing?”
He looked at the strip of woods, but
could see nothing of the singer. He listened;
she continued to sing the Lorelei.
“It can’t be a phonograph,”
he reasoned. “No sane person could endure
an hour of that fool song. No sane person would
sing it for an hour, either.”
Disturbed, he picked up the marine
glasses, slung them over his shoulder, walked up on
the hill back of the bungalow, selected a promising
tree, and climbed it.
Astride a lofty limb the lord of Northport
gazed earnestly across the fringe of woods. Something
sparkled out there, something moved, glittering on
a half-submerged rock. He adjusted the marine
glasses and squinted through them.
“Great James!” he faltered,
dropping them; and almost followed the glasses to
destruction on the ground below.
How he managed to get safely to earth
he never knew. “Either I’m crazy,”
he shouted aloud, “or there’s a a
mermaid out there, and I’m going to find out
before they chase me to the funny house!”
There was a fat tub of a boat at his
landing; he reached the shore in a series of long,
distracted leaps, sprang aboard, cast off, thrust both
oars deep into the water, and fairly hurled the boat
forward, so that it alternately skipped, wallowed,
scuttered, and scrambled, like a hen overboard.
“This is terrible,” he
groaned. “If I didn’t see what
I think I saw, I’ll eat my hat; if I did see
what I’m sure I saw, I’m madder than the
hatter who made it!”
Nearer and nearer, heard by him distinctly
above the frantic splashing of his oars, her Lorelei
song sounded perilously sweet and clear.
“Oh, bunch!” he moaned;
“it’s horribly like the real thing; and
here I come headlong, as they do in the story books ”
He caught a crab that landed him in
a graceful parabola in the bow, where he lay biting
at the air to recover his breath. Then his boat’s
nose plowed into the sandy neck of land; he clambered
to his feet, jumped out, and ran headlong into the
belt of trees which screened the singer. Speed
and gait recalled the effortless grace of the kangaroo;
when he encountered logs and gullies he rose grandly,
sailing into space, landing with a series of soft
bounces, which presently brought him to the other
side of the woods.
And there, what he beheld, what he
heard, almost paralyzed him. Weak-kneed, he
passed a trembling hand over his incredulous eyes;
with the courage of despair, he feebly pinched himself.
Then for sixty sickening seconds he closed his eyes
and pressed both hands over his ears. But when
he took his hands away and opened his terrified eyes,
the exquisitely seductive melody, wind blown from
the water, thrilled him in every fiber; his wild gaze
fell upon a distant, glittering shape white-armed,
golden-haired, fish-tailed, slender body glittering
with silvery scales.
The low rippling wash of the tide
across the pebbly shore was in his ears; the salt
wind was in his throat. He saw the sun flash on
golden comb and mirror, as her snowy fingers caressed
the splendid masses of her hair; her song stole sweetly
seaward as the wind veered.
A terrible calm descended upon him.
“This is interesting,” he said aloud.
A sickening wave of terror swept him,
but he straightened up, squaring his shoulders.
“I may as well face the fact,”
he said, “that I, Henry Kingsbury, of Pebble
Point, Northport, L.I., and recently in my right mind,
am now, this very moment, looking at a a
mermaid in Long Island Sound!”
He shuddered; but he was sheer pluck
all through. Teeth might chatter, knees smite
together, marrow turn cold; nothing on earth or Long
Island could entirely stampede Henry Kingsbury, of
His clutch on his self-control in
any real crisis never slipped; his mental steering-gear
never gave way. Again his pallid lips moved in
“The thing to do,”
he said very slowly and deliberately, “is to
swim out and and touch it. If it dissolves
into nothing I’ll probably feel better ”
He began to remove coat, collar, and
shoes, forcing himself to talk calmly all the while.
“The thing to do,” he
went on dully, “is to swim over there and get
a look at it. Of course, it isn’t really
there. As for drowning it really doesn’t
matter.... In the midst of life we are in Long
Island.... And, if it is there I
c-c-can c-capture it for the B-B-Bronx ”
Reason tottered; it revived, however,
as he plunged into the s. w. of Oyster Bay and
struck out, silent as a sea otter for the shimmering
shape on the ruddy rocks.
Flavilla was rehearsing with all her
might; her white throat swelled with the music she
poured forth to the sky and sea; her pretty fingers
played with the folds of burnished hair; her gilded
hand-mirror flashed, she gently beat time with her
So thoroughly, so earnestly, did she
enter into the spirit of the siren she was representing
that, at moments, she almost wished some fisherman
might come into view just to see whether
he’d really go overboard after her.
However, audacious as her vagrant
thoughts might be, she was entirely unprepared to
see a human head, made sleek by sea water, emerge from
the floating weeds almost at her feet.
“Goodness,” she said faintly,
and attempted to rise. But her fish tail fettered
“Are you real!” gasped Kingsbury.
“Y-yes.... Are you?”
“Great James!” he half shouted, half sobbed,
“are you human?”
“V-very. Are you?”
He clutched at the weedy rock and
dragged himself up. For a moment he lay breathing
fast, water dripping from his soaked clothing.
Once he feebly touched the glittering fish tail that
lay on the rock beside him. It quivered, but
needle and thread had been at work there; he drew a
deep breath and closed his eyes.
When he opened them again she was
looking about for a likely place to launch herself
into the bay; in fact, she had already started to glide
toward the water; the scraping of the scales aroused
him, and he sat up.
“I heard singing,” he
said dreamily, “and I climbed a tree and saw you!
Do you blame me for trying to corroborate a thing like
“You thought I was a real one?”
“I thought that I thought I saw a real one.”
She looked at him hopefully.
“Tell me, did my singing compel you to
swim out here?”
“I don’t know what compelled me.”
“But you were compelled?”
“I it seems so ”
“O-h!” Flushed, excited,
laughing, she clasped her hands under her chin and
gazed at him.
“To think,” she said softly,
“that you believed me to be a real siren, and
that my beauty and my singing actually did lure you
to my rock! Isn’t it exciting?”
He looked at her, then turned red:
“Yes, it is,” he said.
Hands still clasped together tightly
beneath her rounded chin, she surveyed him with intense
interest. He was at a disadvantage; the sleek,
half-drowned appearance which a man has who emerges
from a swim does not exhibit him at his best.
But he had a deeper interest for Flavilla;
her melody and loveliness had actually lured him across
the water to the peril of her rocks; this human being,
this man creature, seemed to be, in a sense, hers.
“Please fix your hair,”
she said, handing him her comb and mirror.
“Certainly. I want to look at you.”
He thought her request rather extraordinary,
but he sat up and with the aid of the mirror, scraped
away at his wet hair, parting it in the middle and
combing it deftly into two gay little Mercury wings.
Then, fishing in the soaked pockets of his knickerbockers,
he produced a pair of smart pince-nez,
which he put on, and then gazed up at her.
“Oh!” she said, with a quick, indrawn
breath, “you are attractive!”
At that he turned becomingly scarlet.
Leaning on one lovely, bare arm, burnished
hair clustering against her cheeks, she continued
to survey him in delighted approval which sometimes
made him squirm inwardly, sometimes almost intoxicated
“To think,” she murmured, “that
I lured you out here!”
“I am thinking about it,” he said.
She laid her head on one side, inspecting him with
“I wonder,” she said, “what your
name is. I am Flavilla Carr.”
“Not one of the Carr triplets!”
“Yes but,” she added quickly,
“I’m not married. Are you?”
“Oh, no, no, no!” he said
hastily. “I’m Henry Kingsbury, of
Pebble Point, Northport ”
“Master and owner of the beautiful
but uncertain Sappho? Oh, tell me, are
you the man who has tipped over so many times in Long
Island Sound? Because I I adore a
man who has the pluck to continue to capsize every
day or two.”
“Then,” he said, “you
can safely adore me, for I am that yachtsman who has
fallen off the Sappho more times than the White
Knight fell off his horse.”
“I I do adore you!”
she exclaimed impulsively.
“Of course, you d-d-don’t mean that,”
he stammered, striving to smile.
Tell me, you I know you are not like other
men! You never have had anything to do with
a Destyn-Carr machine, have you?”
“Neither have I.... And so you are not
in love are you?”
“Neither am I. Oh, I am so glad
that you and I have waited, and not become engaged
to somebody by machinery.... I wonder whom you
are destined for.”
“Nobody by machinery.”
She clapped her hands. “Neither
am I. It is too stupid, isn’t it? I don’t
want to marry the man I ought to marry. I’d
rather take chances with a man who attracts me and
who is attracted by me.... There was, in the
old days before everybody married by machinery something
not altogether unworthy in being a siren, wasn’t
there?... It’s perfectly delightful to
think of your seeing me out here on the rocks, and
then instantly plunging into the waves and tearing
a foaming right of way to what might have been destruction!”
Her flushed, excited face between
its clustering curls looked straight into his.
“It was destruction,”
he said. His own voice sounded odd to him.
“Utter destruction to my peace of mind,”
he said again.
think that you love me, do you?” she asked.
“That would be too too perfect a
climax.... Do you?” she asked curiously.
“I think so.”
“Do do you know it?”
He gazed bravely at her: “Yes.”
She flung up both arms joyously, then laughed aloud:
“Oh, the wonder of it!
It is too perfect, too beautiful! You really love
me? Do you? Are you sure?”
“Yes.... Will you try to love me?”
“Well, you know that sirens
don’t care for people.... I’ve already
been engaged two or three times.... I don’t
mind being engaged to you.”
“Couldn’t you care for me, Flavilla?”
“Why, yes. I do....
Please don’t touch me; I’d rather not.
Of course, you know, I couldn’t really love
you so quickly unless I’d been subjected to
one of those Destyn-Carr machines. You know that,
don’t you? But,” she added frankly,
“I wouldn’t like to have you get away from
me. I I feel like a tender-hearted
person in the street who is followed by a lost cat ”
“Oh, I didn’t mean
anything unpleasant truly I didn’t.
You know how tenderly one feels when a poor stray
cat comes trotting after one ”
He got up, mad all through.
“Are you offended?”
she asked sorrowfully. “When I didn’t
mean anything except that my heart which
is rather impressionable feels very warmly
and tenderly toward the man who swam after me....
Won’t you understand, please? Listen, we
have been engaged only a minute, and here already is
our first quarrel. You can see for yourself what
would happen if we ever married.”
“It wouldn’t be machine-made bliss, anyway,”
That seemed to interest her; she inspected him earnestly.
“Also,” he added, “I thought you
desired to take a sportsman’s chances?”
“And I thought you didn’t want to marry
the man you ought to marry.”
“That is true.”
“Then you certainly ought not to marry me but,
“How can I when I don’t love
“You don’t love me because
you ought not to on such brief acquaintance....
But will you love me, Flavilla?”
She looked at him in silence, sitting
very still, the bright hair veiling her cheeks, the
fish’s tail curled up against her side.
“I don’t know,” she said faintly.
“Shall I help you?”
Evidently she had gazed at him long
enough; her eyes fell; her white fingers picked at
the seaweed pods. His arm closed around her; nothing
stirred but her heart.
“Shall I help you to love me?” he breathed.
“No I am past help.”
She raised her head.
“This is all so so
wrong,” she faltered, “that I think it
must be right.... Do you truly love me?...
Don’t kiss me if you do.... Now I believe
you.... Lift me; I can’t walk in this fish’s
tail.... Now set me afloat, please.”
He lifted her, walked to the water’s
edge, bent and placed her in the sea. In an instant
she had darted from his arms out into the waves, flashing,
turning like a silvery salmon.
“Are you coming?” she called back to him.
He did not stir. She swam in
a circle and came up beside the rock. After a
long, long silence, she lifted up both arms; he bent
over. Then, very slowly, she drew him down into
“I am quite sure,” she
said, as they sat together at luncheon on the sandspit
which divides Northport Bay from the s.w. of Oyster
Bay, “that you and I are destined for much trouble
when we marry; but I love you so dearly that I don’t
“Neither do I,” he said;
“will you have another sandwich?”
And, being young and healthy, she
took it, and biting into it, smiled adorably at her