Read CHAPTER XXIII - LETTERS of The Triflers , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on

Letter from Peter Noyes to Monte Covington, received by the latter at the Hotel Normandie, Paris, France:

NICE, FRANCE, July 22.

Dear Covington:

I don’t know whether you can make out this scrawl, because I have to feel my way across the paper; but I’m sitting alone in my room, aching to talk with you as we used to talk. If you were here I know you would be glad to listen, because suddenly all I told you about has come true.

Riding to Cannes the very next day after you left, I spoke to her and she listened. It was all rather vague and she made no promises, but she listened. In a few weeks or months or years, now, she’ll be mine for all time. She does n’t want me to tell Beatrice, and there is no one else to tell except you so forgive me, old man, if I let myself loose.

Besides, in a way, you’re responsible. We were talking of you, because we missed you. You have a mighty good friend in her, Covington. She knows you the real you that I thought only I had glimpsed. She sees the man in the game not the man in the grand-stand. Her Covington is the man they used to give nine long Harvards for. I never heard that in front of my name. I was a grind a “greasy grind,” they used to call me. It did n’t hurt, for I smiled in rather a superior sort of way at the men I thought were wasting their energy on the gridiron. But, after all, you fellows got something out of it that the rest of us did n’t get. A ’Varsity man remains a ’Varsity man all his life. To-day you stand before her as a ’Varsity man. I think she always thinks of you as in a red sweater with a black “H.” Any time that you feel you’re up against anything hard, that ought to help you.

We talked a great deal of you, as I said, and I find myself now thinking more of you than of myself in connection with her. I don’t understand it. Perhaps it’s because she seems so alone in the world, and you are the most intimate friend she has. Perhaps it’s because you’ve seen so much more of her than I in these last few months. Anyway, I have a feeling that somehow you are an integral part of her. I’ve tried to puzzle out the relationship, and I can’t. “Brother” does not define it; neither does “comrade.” If you were not already married, I’d almost suspect her of being in love with you.

I know that sounds absurd. I know it is absurd. She is n’t the kind to allow her emotions to get away from her like that. But I’ll say this much, Covington: that if we three were to start fresh, I’d stand a mighty poor chance with her.

This is strange talk from a man who less than six hours ago became officially engaged. I told her that I had let her go once, and that now I had found her again I wanted her to stay. And she said, “I’ll try.” That was n’t very much, Covington, was it? But I seized the implied promise as a drowning man does a straw. It was so much more than anything I have hoped for.

I should have kept her that time I found her on the little farm in Connecticut. If I had been a little more insistent then, I think she would have come with me. But I was afraid of her money. It was rumored that her aunt left her a vast fortune, and you know the mongrels that hound a girl in that position, Covington? I was afraid she might think I was one of the pack. She was frightened bewildered. I should have snatched her away from them all and gone off with her. I was earning enough to support her decently, and I should have thought of nothing else. Instead of that I held back a little, and so lost her, as I thought. She sailed away, and I returned to my work like a madman and I nearly died.

Now I feel alive clear to my finger-tips. I ’m going to get my eyes back. I have n’t the slightest doubt in the world about that. Already I feel the magic of the new balm that has been applied. They don’t ache any more. Sitting here to-night without my shade, I can hold them open and catch the feeble light that filters in from the street lamps at a distance. It is only a question of a few months, perhaps weeks, perhaps days. The next time we meet I shall be able to see you.

You won’t object to hearing a man rave a little, Covington? If you do, you can tear up this right here. But I know I can’t say anything good about Marjory that you won’t agree with. Maybe, however, you’d call my present condition abnormal. Perhaps it is; but I wonder if it is n’t part of every normal man’s life to be abnormal to this extent at least once to see, for once, this staid old world through the eyes of a prince of the ancient city of Bagdad; to thrill with the magic and gorgeous beauty of it? It shows what might always be, if one were poet enough to sustain the mood.

Here am I, a plugging lawyer of the Borough of Manhattan, City of New York, State of New York which is just about as far away from the city of Bagdad as you can get. I’m concerned mainly with certain details of corporation law the structure of soulless business institutions which were never heard of in Bagdad. My daily path takes me from certain uptown bachelor quarters through the subway to a certain niche in a downtown cave dwelling. Then presto, she comes. I pass over all that intervened, because it is no longer important, but presto again, I find myself here a prince in some royal castle of Bagdad, counting the moments until another day breaks and I can feel the touch of my princess’s hand. Even my dull eyes count for me, because so I can fancy myself, if I choose, in some royal apartment, surrounded by hanging curtains of silk, priceless marbles, and ornaments of gold and silver, with many silent eunuchs awaiting my commands. From my windows I’m at liberty to imagine towers and minarets and domes of copper.

Always she, my princess, is somewhere in the background, when she is not actually by my side. When I saw her before, Covington, I marveled at her eyes those deep, wonderful eyes that told you so little and made you dream so much. I saw her hair too, and her straight nose, and her beautiful lips. Those things I see now as I saw them then. I must wait a little while really to see them again. In their place, however, I have now her voice and the sound of her footsteps. To hear her coming, just to hear the light fall of her feet upon the ground, is like music.

But when she speaks, Covington, then all other sounds cease, and she speaks alone to me in a world grown silent to listen. There is some quality in that voice that gets into me that reaches and vibrates certain hidden strings I did not know were there. So sweet is the music that I can hardly give enough attention to make out the meaning of her words. What she says does not so much matter as that she should be speaking to me to my ears alone.

And these things are merely the superficialities of her. There still remains the princess herself below these wonderful externals. There still remains the woman herself. Woman, any woman, is marvelous enough, Covington. When you think of all they stand for, the fineness of them compared with our man grossness, that wonderful power of creation in them, their exquisite delicacy, combined with the big-souled capacity for sacrifice and suffering that dwarfs any of our petty burdens into insignificance God knows, a man should bow his knee before the least of them. But when to all those general attributes of the sex you add that something more born in a woman like Marjory what in the world can a man do big enough to deserve the charge of such a soul? In the midst of all my princely emotions, that thought makes me humble, Covington.

I fear I have rambled a good deal, old man. I can’t read over what I have been scribbling here, so I must let it go as it is. But I wanted to tell you some of these things that are rushing through my head all the time, because I knew you would be glad for me and glad for her. Or does my own joy result in such supreme selfishness that I am tempted to intrude it upon others? I don’t believe so, because there is no one else in the world to whom I would venture to write as I ’ve written to you.

I’m not asking you to answer, because what I should want to hear from you I would n’t allow any one else to read. So tear this up and forget it if you want. Some day I shall meet you again and see you. Then I can talk to you face to face.



Sitting alone in his room at the Normandie, Monte read this through. Then his hands dropped to his side and the letter fell from them to the floor.

“Oh, my God!” he said. “Oh, my God!”

Letter from Madame Covington to her husband, Monte Covington, which the latter never received at all because it was never sent. It was never meant to be sent. It was written merely to save herself from doing something rash, something for which she could never forgive herself like taking the next train to Paris and claiming this man as if he were her own:

Dearest Prince of my Heart:

You’ve been gone from me twelve hours. For twelve hours you’ve left me here all alone. I don’t know how I’ve lived. I don’t know how I’m going to get through the night and to-morrow. Only there won’t be any to-morrow. There’ll never be anything more than periods of twelve hours, until you come back: just from dawn to dark, and then from dark to dawn, over and over again. Each period must be fought through as it comes, with no thought about the others. I ’m beginning on the third. The morning will bring the fourth.

Each one is like a lifetime a birth and a death. And oh, my Prince, I shall soon be very, very old. I don’t dare look in the mirror to-night, for fear of seeing how old I’ve grown since morning. I remember a word they used on shipboard when the waves threw the big propeller out of the water and the full power of the engines was wasted on air. They called it “racing.” It was bad for the ship to have this energy go for nothing. It racked her and made her tremble and groan. I’ve been racing ever since you went, churning the air to no purpose, with a power that was meant to drive me ahead. I ’m right where I started after it all.

Dearest heart of mine, I love you. Though I tremble away from those words, I must put them down for once in black and white. Though I tear them up into little pieces so small that no one can read them, I must write them once. It is such a relief, here by myself, to be honest. If you were here and I were honest, I ’d stand very straight and look you fair in the eyes and tell you that over and over again. “I love you, Monte,” I would say. “I love you with all my heart and soul, Monte,” I would say. “Right or wrong, coward that I am or not, whether it is good for you or not, I love you, Monte,” I would say. And, if you wished, I would let you kiss me. And, if you would let me, I would kiss you on your dear tousled hair, on your forehead, on your eyes

That is where I kissed Peter to-day. I will tell you here, as I would tell you standing before you. I kissed Peter on his eyes, and I have promised to kiss him again upon his eyes to-morrow if to-morrow comes. I did it because he said it would help him to see again. And if he sees again why, Monte, if he sees again, then he will see how absurd it is that he should ask me to love him.

Blind as he is, he almost saw that to-day, when he made me promise to try to stay by his side. With his eyes full open, then he will be able to read my eyes. So I shall kiss him there as often as he wishes. Then, when he understands, I shall not fear for him. He is a man. Only, if I told him with my lips, he would not understand. He must find out for himself. Then he will throw back his shoulders and take the blow as we all of us have had to take our blows. It will be no worse for him than for you, dear, or for me.

It is not as I kissed him that I should kiss you. How silly it is of men to ask for kisses when, if they come at all, they come unasked. What shall I do with all of mine that are for you alone? I throw them out across the dark to you here and here and here.

I wonder what you are doing at this moment? I have wondered so about every moment since you went. Because I cannot know, I feel as if I were being robbed. At times I fancy I can see as clearly as if I were with you. You went to the station and bought your ticket and got into your compartment. I could see you sitting there smoking, your eyes turned out the window. I could see what you saw, but I could not tell of what you were thinking. And that is what counts. That is the only thing that counts. There are those about me who watch me going my usual way, but how little they know of what a change has come over me! How little even Peter knows, who imagines he knows me so well.

I see you reaching Paris and driving to your hotel. I wonder if you are at the Normandie. I don’t even know that. I’d like to know that. I wonder if you would dare sleep in your old room. Oh, I’d like to know that. It would be so restful to think of you there. But what, if there, are you thinking about? About me, at all? I don’t want you to think about me, but I ’d die if I knew you did not think about me.

I don’t want you to be worried, dear you. I won’t have you unhappy. You said once, “Is n’t it possible to care a little without caring too much?” Now I ’m going to ask you: “Is n’t it possible for you to think of me a little without thinking too much?” If you could remember some of those evenings on the ride to Nice, even if with a smile, that would be better than nothing. If you could remember that last night before we got to Nice, when when I looked up at you and something almost leaped from my eyes to yours. If you could remember that with just a little knowledge of what it meant not enough to make you unhappy, but enough to make you want to see me again. Could you do that without getting uncomfortable without mixing up your schedule?

I cried a little right here, Monte. It was a silly thing to do. But you’re alone in Paris, where we were together, and I’m alone here. It is still raining. I think it is going to rain forever. I can’t imagine ever seeing the blue sky again. If I did, it would only make me think of those glorious days between Paris and Nice. How wonderful it was that it never rained at all. The sky was always pink in the east when I woke up, and we saw it grow pink again at night, side by side. Then the purple of the night, with the myriad silver stars, each one beautiful in itself.

At night you always seemed to me to grow bigger than ever inches taller and broader, until some evenings when I bade you good-night I was almost afraid of you. Because as you grew bigger I grew smaller. I used to think that, if you took a notion to do so, you’d just pick me up and carry me off. If you only had!

If you had only said, “We’ll quit this child’s play. You’ll come with me and we’ll make a home and settle down, like Chic.”

I’d have been a good wife to you, Monte. Honest, I would if you’d done like that any time before I met Peter and became ashamed. Up to that point I’d have gone with you if you had loved me enough to take me. Only, you did n’t love me. That was the trouble, Monte. I’d made you think I did not want to be loved. Then I made you think I was n’t worth loving. Then, when Peter came and made me see and hang my head, why, then it was too late, even though you had wanted to take me.

But you don’t know, and never will know, what a good wife I’d have been. But I would have tried to lead you a little, too. I would have watched over you and been at your command, but I would have tried to guide you into doing something worth while.

Perhaps we could have done something together worth while. You have a great deal of money, Monte, and I have a great deal. We have more than is good for us. I think if we had worked together we could have done something for other people with it. I never thought of that until lately; but the other evening, after you had been talking about your days in college, I lay awake in bed, thinking how nice it would be if we could do something for some of the young fellows there now who do not have money enough. I imagined myself going back to Cambridge with you some day and calling on the president or the dean, and hearing you say to him: “Madame Covington and I have decided that we want to help every year one or more young men needing help. If you will send to us those you approve of, we will lend them enough to finish their course.”

I thought it would be nicer to lend the money than give it to them, because they would feel better about it. And they could be as long as they wished in paying it back, or if they fell into hard luck need never pay it back.

So every year we would start as many as we could, each of us paying half. They would come to us, and we would get to know them, and we would watch them through, and after that watch them fight the good fight. Why, in no time, Monte, we would have quite a family to watch over; and they would come to you for advice, and perhaps sometimes to me. Think what an interest that would add to your life! It would be so good for you, Monte. And good for me, too. Even if we had oh, Monte, we might in time have had boys of our own in Harvard too! Then they would have selected other boys for us, and that would have been good for them too.

Here by myself I can tell you these things, because because, God keep me, you cannot hear. You did not think I could dream such dreams as those, did you? You thought I was always thinking of myself and my own happiness, and of nothing else. You thought I asked everything and wished to give nothing. But that was before I knew what love is. That was before you touched me with the magic wand. That was before I learned that our individual lives are as brief as the sparks that fly upward, except as we live them through others; and that then they are eternal. It was within our grasp, Monte, dear, and we trifled with it and let it go.

No, not you. It was I who refused the gift. Some day it will come to you again, through some other. That is what I tell myself over and over again. I don’t think men are like women. They do not give so much of themselves, and so they may choose from two or three. So in time, as you wander about, you will find some one who will hold out her arms, and you will come. She will give you everything she has, all honest women do that, but it will not be all I would have given. You may think so, and so be happy; but it will not be true. I shall always know the difference. And you will give her what you have, but it will not be what you would have given me what I would have drawn out of you. I shall always know that. Because, as I love you, heart of me, I would have found in you treasures that were meant for me alone.

I’m getting wild. I must stop. My head is spinning. Soon it will be dawn, and I am to ride again with Peter to-morrow. I told you I would ride every fair day with him, and I am hoping it will rain. But it will not rain, though to me the sky may be murky. I can see the clouds scudding before a west wind. It will be clear, and I shall ride with him as I promised, and I shall kiss him upon his eyes. But if you were with me

Here and here and here I throw them out into the dark.

Good-night, soul of my soul.