Read CHAPTER VII of Iole , free online book, by Robert W. Chambers, on ReadCentral.com.

So they went, having nothing better on hand, and at two o’clock they sidled into the squatty little theater, shyly sought their reserved seats and sat very still, abashed in the presence of the massed intellects of Manhattan.

When Clarence Guilford, the Poet of Simplicity, followed by six healthy, vigorous young daughters, entered the middle aisle of the New Arts Theater, a number of people whispered in reverent recognition: “Guilford, the poet! Those are his daughters. They wear nothing but pink pajamas at home. Sh-sh-h-h!”

Perhaps the poet heard, for he heard a great deal when absent-minded. He paused; his six tall and blooming daughters, two and two behind him, very naturally paused also, because the poet was bulky and the aisle narrow.

Those of the elect who had recognized him had now an opportunity to view him at close range; young women with expressive eyes leaned forward, quivering; several earnest young men put up lorgnettes.

It was as it should have been; and the poet stood motionless in dreamy abstraction, until an usher took his coupons and turned down seven seats. Then the six daughters filed in, and the poet, slowly turning to survey the house, started slightly, as though surprised to find himself under public scrutiny, passed a large, plump hand over his forehead, and slowly subsided into the aisle-seat with a smile of whimsical acquiescence in the knowledge of his own greatness.

“Who,” inquired young Harrow, turning toward Lethbridge “who is that duck?”

“You can search me,” replied Lethbridge in a low voice, “but for Heaven’s sake look at those girls! Is it right to bunch such beauty and turn down Senators from Utah?”

Harrow’s dazzled eyes wandered over the six golden heads and snowy necks, lovely as six wholesome young goddesses fresh from a bath in the Hellespont.

“The the one next to the one beside you,” whispered Lethbridge, edging around. “I want to run away with her. Would you mind getting me a hansom?”

“The one next to me has them all pinched to death,” breathed Harrow unsteadily. “Look! when she isn’t looking. Did you ever see such eyes and mouth such a superb free poise ”

Sh-sh-h-h!” muttered Lethbridge, “the bell-mule is talking to them.”

“Art,” said the poet, leaning over to look along the line of fragrant, fresh young beauty, “Art is an art.” With which epigram he slowly closed his eyes.

His daughters looked at him; a young woman expensively but not smartly gowned bent forward from the row behind. Her attitude was almost prayerful; her eyes burned.

“Art,” continued the poet, opening his heavy lids with a large, sweet smile, “Art is above Art, but Art is never below Art. Art, to be Art, must be artless. That is a very precious thought very, very precious. Thank you for understanding me thank you.” And he included in his large smile young Harrow, who had been unconsciously bending forward, hypnotized by the monotonous resonance of the poet’s deep, rich voice.

Now that the spell was broken, he sank back in his chair, looking at Lethbridge a little wildly.

“Let me sit next after the first act,” began Lethbridge, coaxing; “they’ll be watching the stage all the first act and you can look at ’em without being rude, and they’ll do the same next act, and I can look at ’em, and perhaps they’ll ask us what Art really is ”

“Did you hear what that man said?” interrupted Harrow, recovering his voice. “Did you?”

“No; what?”

“Well, listen next time. And all I have to say is, if that firing-line, with its battery of innocent blue eyes, understands him, you and I had better apply to the nearest night-school for the rudiments of an education.”

“Well, what did he say?” began the other uneasily, when again the poet bent forward to address the firing-line; and the lovely blue battery turned silently upon the author of their being.

“Art is the result of a complex mental attitude capable of producing concrete simplicity.”

“Help!” whispered Harrow, but the poet had caught his eye, and was fixing the young man with a smile that held him as sirup holds a fly.

“You ask me what is Art, young sir? Why should I not heed you? Why should I not answer you? What artificial barriers, falsely called convention, shall force me to ignore the mute eloquence of your questioning eyes? You ask me what is Art. I will tell you; it is this!” And the poet, inverting his thumb, pressed it into the air. Then, carefully inspecting the dent he had made in the atmosphere, he erased it with a gesture and folded his arms, looking gravely at Harrow, whose fascinated eyes protruded.

Behind him Lethbridge whispered hoarsely, “I told you how it would be in the New Arts Theater. I told you a young man alone was likely to get spoken to. Now those six girls know you’re a broker!”

“Don’t say it so loud,” muttered Harrow savagely. “I’m all right so far, for I haven’t said a word.”

“You’d better not,” returned the other. “I wish that curtain would go up and stay up. It will be my turn to sit next them after this act, you know.”

Harrow ventured to glance at the superb young creature sitting beside him, and at the same instant she looked up and, catching his eye, smiled in the most innocently friendly fashion the direct, clear-eyed advance of a child utterly unconscious of self.

“I have never before been in a theater,” she said; “have you?”

“I I beg your pardon,” stammered Harrow when he found his voice, “but were you good enough to speak to me?”

“Why, yes!” she said, surprised but amiable; “shouldn’t I have spoken to you?”

“Indeed oh, indeed you should!” said Harrow hastily, with a quick glance at the poet. The poet, however, appeared to be immersed in thought, lids partially closed, a benignant smile imprinted on his heavy features.

What are you doing?” breathed Lethbridge in his ear. Harrow calmly turned his back on his closest friend and gazed rapturously at his goddess. And again her bewildering smile broke out and he fairly blinked in its glory.

“This is my first play,” she said; “I’m a little excited. I hope I shall care for it.”

“Haven’t you ever seen a play?” asked Harrow, tenderly amazed.

“Never. You see, we always lived in the country, and we have always been poor until my sister Iole married. And now our father has come to live with his new son-in-law. So that is how we came to be here in New York.”

“I am so glad you did come,” said Harrow fervently.

“So are we. We have never before seen anything like a large city. We have never had enough money to see one. But now that Iole is married, everything is possible. It is all so interesting for us particularly the clothing. Do you like my gown?”

“It is a dream!” stammered the infatuated youth.

“Do you think so? I think it is wonderful but not very comfortable.”

“Doesn’t it fit?” he inquired.

“Perfectly; that’s the trouble. It is not comfortable. We never before were permitted to wear skirts and all sorts of pretty fluffy frills under them, and such high heels, and such long stockings, and such tight lacing ” She hesitated, then calmly: “But I believe father told us that we are not to mention our pretty underwear, though it’s hard not to, as it’s the first we ever had.”

Harrow was past all speech.

“I wish I had my lounging-suit on,” she said with a sigh and a hitch of her perfectly modeled shoulders.

“W what sort of things do you usually dress in?” he ventured.

“Why, in dress-reform clothes!” she said, laughing. “We never have worn anything else.”

“Bloomers!”

“I don’t know; we had trousers and blouses and sandals something like the pink pajamas we have for night-wear now. Formerly we wore nothing at night. I am beginning to wonder, from the way people look at us when we speak of this, whether we were odd. But all our lives we have never thought about clothing. However, I am glad you like my new gown, and I fancy I’ll get used to this tight lacing in time.... What is your name?”

“James Harrow,” he managed to say, aware of an innocence and directness of thought and speech which were awaking in him faintest responsive echoes. They were the blessed echoes from the dim, fair land of childhood, but he did not know it.

“James Harrow,” she repeated with a friendly nod. “My name is Lissa my first name; the other is Guilford. My father is the famous poet, Clarence Guilford. He named us all after butterflies all my sisters” counting them on her white fingers while her eyes rested on him “Chlorippe, twelve years old, that pretty one next to my father; then Philodice, thirteen; Dione, fourteen; Aphrodite, fifteen; Cybele, the one next to me, sixteen, and almost seventeen; and myself, seventeen, almost eighteen. Besides, there is Iole, who married Mr. Wayne, and Vanessa, married to Mr. Briggs. They have been off on Mr. Wayne’s yacht, the Thendara, on their wedding trip. Now you know all about us. Do you think you would like to know us?”

Like to! I’d simply love to! I ”

“That is very nice,” she said unembarrassed.

“I thought I should like you when I saw you leaning over and listening so reverently to father’s epigrams. Then, besides, I had nobody but my sisters to talk to. Oh, you can’t imagine how many attractive men I see every day in New York and I should like to know them all and many do look at me as though they would like it, too; but Mr. Wayne is so queer, and so are father and Mr. Briggs about my speaking to people in public places. They have told me not to, but I I thought I would,” she ended, smiling. “What harm can it do for me to talk to you?”

“It’s perfectly heavenly of you ”

“Oh, do you think so? I wonder what father thinks” turning to look; then, resuming: “He generally makes us stop, but I am quite sure he expected me to talk to you.”

The lone note of a piano broke the thread of the sweetest, maddest discourse Harrow had ever listened to; the girl’s cheeks flushed and she turned expectantly toward the curtained stage. Again the lone note, thumped vigorously, sounded a staccato monotone.

“Precious very precious,” breathed the poet, closing his eyes in a sort of fatty ecstasy.