Students of the folk-lore of the United States of America are no doubt familiar
with the quaint
old story of Clarence MacFadden. Clarence MacFadden, it seems, was 'wishful to dance, but his feet wasn't gaited that way. So he sought a professor
and asked him his price, and said he was willing to pay. The professor
' (the legend
goes on) 'looked down with alarm
at his feet and marked
their enormous expanse
; and he tacked on a five to his regular price for teaching MacFadden to dance.'
I have often been struck by the close similarity
between the case of Clarence and that of Henry Wallace Mills. One difference
alone presents itself. It would seem to have been mere vanity
that stimulated the former
; whereas the motive force
which drove Henry Mills to defy
Nature and attempt
dancing was the purer one of love. He did it to please his wife. Had he never gone to Ye Bonnie Briar-Bush Farm, that popular holiday resort
, and there met Minnie Hill, he would doubtless
have continued to spend in peaceful
reading the hours not given over to work at the New York bank
at which he was employed as paying-cashier. For Henry was a voracious
reader. His idea of a pleasant
evening was to get back to his little flat, take off his coat, put on his slippers, light a pipe, and go on from the point where he had left off the night before in his perusal
of the BIS-CAL volume
of the Encyclopaedia Britannica-making notes as he read in a stout
notebook. He read the BIS-CAL volume
because, after many days, he had finished the A-AND, AND-AUS, and the AUS-BIS. There was something admirable-and yet a little horrible-about Henry's method
. He went after Learning with the cold and dispassionate
relentlessness of a stoat pursuing a rabbit. The ordinary
man who is paying instalments on the Encyclopaedia Britannica is apt
to get over-excited and to skip impatiently to Volume XXVIII (VET-ZYM) to see how it all comes out in the end. Not so Henry. His was not a frivolous mind
. He intended to read the Encyclopaedia through
, and he was not going to spoil
his pleasure by peeping ahead.
It would seem to be an inexorable
law of Nature that no man shall shine
at both ends. If he has a high forehead and a thirst for wisdom
, his fox-trotting (if any) shall be as the staggerings of the drunken; while, if he is a good dancer, he is nearly always petrified from the ears upward. No better examples of this law could have been found than Henry Mills and his fellow-cashier, Sidney Mercer. In New York banks paying-cashiers, like bears, tigers, lions, and other fauna
, are always shut up in a cage
in pairs, and are consequently dependent
on each other for entertainment
intercourse when business is slack
. Henry Mills and Sidney simply could not find a subject
. Sidney knew absolutely
nothing of even such elementary
things as Abana, Aberration, Abraham, or Acrogenae; while Henry, on his side, was scarcely aware
that there had been any developments in the dance since the polka. It was a relief
to Henry when Sidney threw up his job
to join the chorus
of a musical comedy
, and was succeeded by a man who, though full of limitations, could at least converse
intelligently on Bowls.
Such, then, was Henry Wallace Mills. He was in the middle thirties, temperate
, a moderate
smoker, and-one would have said-a bachelor
of the bachelors, armour-plated against Cupid's well-meant but obsolete artillery
. Sometimes Sidney Mercer's successor
in the teller's cage
, a sentimental
young man, would broach
of Woman and Marriage. He would ask Henry if he ever intended to get married. On such occasions Henry would look at him in a manner which was a blend
, and indignation
; and would reply with a single word:
It was the way he said it that impressed
But Henry had yet to experience
the unmanning atmosphere
of a lonely
. He had only just reached the position in the bank
where he was permitted to take his annual vacation
in the summer. Hitherto he had always been released from his cage
during the winter months, and had spent his ten days of freedom
at his flat, with a book in his hand and his feet on the radiator. But the summer after Sidney Mercer's departure
they unleashed him in August.
It was meltingly warm in the city. Something in Henry cried out for the country. For a month before the beginning of his vacation
much of the time that should have been given to the Encyclopaedia Britannica in reading summer-resort literature
. He decided at length
upon Ye Bonnie Briar-Bush Farm because the advertisements spoke
so well of it.
Ye Bonnie Briar-Bush Farm was a rather battered frame building many miles from anywhere. Its attractions included a Lovers' Leap, a Grotto, golf-links-a five-hole course where the enthusiast
found unusual hazards in the shape
of a number of goats tethered at intervals between the holes-and a silvery lake, only portions of which were used as a dumping-ground for tin cans and wooden boxes. It was all new and strange
to Henry and caused him an odd exhilaration
. Something of gaiety
and reckless abandon
began to creep
into his veins. He had a curious
feeling that in these romantic
surroundings some adventure
ought to happen to him.
At this juncture
Minnie Hill arrived. She was a small, slim
girl, thinner and paler than she should have been, with large eyes that seemed to Henry pathetic
and stirred his chivalry
. He began to think a good deal about Minnie Hill.
And then one evening he met her on the shores of the silvery lake. He was standing there, slapping at things that looked like mosquitoes, but could not have been, for the advertisements expressly stated that none were ever found in the neighbourhood of Ye Bonnie Briar-Bush Farm, when along she came. She walked slowly, as if she were tired
. A strange thrill
, half of pity
, half of something else, ran through
Henry. He looked at her. She looked at him.
'Good evening,' he said.
They were the first words he had spoken to her. She never contributed to the dialogue
of the dining-room, and he had been too shy
her out in the open.
She said 'Good evening,' too, tying the score
. And there was silence
for a moment
Commiseration overcame Henry's shyness.
'You're looking tired
,' he said.
'I feel tired
.' She paused. 'I overdid it in the city.'
'Oh, dancing. Did you dance much?'
'Yes; a great deal.'
A promising, even a dashing
start. But how to continue
? For the first time Henry regretted the steady determination
of his methods with the Encyclopaedia. How pleasant
if he could have been in a position to talk easily of Dancing. Then memory
reminded him that, though he had not yet got up to Dancing, it was only a few weeks before that he had been reading of the Ballet.
'I don't dance myself,' he said, 'but I am fond
of reading about it. Did you know that the word "ballet
three distinct modern
", and "ballad
", and that ballet
-dancing was originally accompanied by singing?'
It hit her. It had her weak. She looked at him with awe
in her eyes.
almost say that she gaped at Henry.
'I hardly know anything,' she said.
'The first descriptive ballet
seen in London, England,' said Henry, quietly, 'was "The Tavern Bilkers", which was played at Drury Lane in-in seventeen-something.'
'And the earliest modern ballet
was that given by-by someone to celebrate
of the Duke of Milan in 1489.'
There was no doubt
about the date this time. It was grappled to his memory
by hoops of steel owing to the singular coincidence
of it being also his telephone
number. He gave it out with a roll, and the girl's eyes widened.
'What an awful lot you know!'
'Oh, no,' said Henry, modestly. 'I read a great deal.'
'It must be splendid
to know a lot,' she said, wistfully
. 'I've never had time for reading. I've always wanted to. I think you're wonderful
was expanding like a flower and purring like a well-tickled cat. Never in his life had he been admired by a woman. The sensation
Silence fell upon them. They started to walk back to the farm, warned by the distant
ringing of a bell that supper was about to materialize
. It was not a musical bell, but distance
and the magic of this unusual moment
lent it charm
. The sun was setting
. It threw a crimson
carpet across the silvery lake. The air was very still. The creatures, unclassified by science, who might
have been mistaken
for mosquitoes had their presence
at Ye Bonnie Briar-Bush Farm, were biting harder than ever. But Henry heeded them not. He did not even slap at them. They drank their fill of his blood and went away to put their friends on to this good thing; but for Henry they did not exist
. Strange things were happening to him. And, lying awake that night in bed, he recognized the truth. He was in love.
After that, for the remainder
of his stay, they were always together. They walked in the woods, they sat by the silvery lake. He poured out the treasures of his learning for her, and she looked at him with reverent
eyes, uttering from time to time a soft 'Yes' or a musical 'Gee!'
In due season Henry went back to New York.
'You're dead wrong about love, Mills,' said his sentimental
fellow-cashier, shortly after his return. 'You ought to get married.'
'I'm going to,' replied Henry, briskly. 'Week tomorrow.'
the other so thoroughly
that he gave a customer
who entered at that moment
fifteen dollars for a ten-dollar cheque, and had to do some excited telephoning after the bank
Henry's first year as a married man was the happiest of his life. He had always heard this period
described as the most perilous
. He had braced himself for clashings of tastes, painful adjustments of character
, sudden and unavoidable
quarrels. Nothing of the kind happened. From the very beginning they settled down in perfect harmony
. She merged with his life as smoothly as one river joins another. He did not even have to alter
his habits. Every morning he had his breakfast at eight, smoked a cigarette, and walked to the Underground. At five he left the bank
, and at six he arrived home, for it was his practice
to walk the first two miles of the way, breathing deeply and regularly. Then dinner. Then the quiet evening. Sometimes the moving-pictures, but generally the quiet evening, he reading the Encyclopaedia-aloud now-Minnie darning his socks, but never ceasing to listen.
Each day brought the same sense of grateful amazement
that he should be so wonderfully happy, so extraordinarily peaceful
. Everything was as perfect
as it could be. Minnie was looking a different
girl. She had lost
her drawn look. She was filling out.
Sometimes he would suspend
his reading for a moment
, and look across at her. At first he would see only her soft hair, as she bent
over her sewing. Then, wondering at the silence
, she would look up, and he would meet her big eyes. And then Henry would gurgle
, and demand
of himself, silently:
'Can you beat it!'
It was the anniversary
of their wedding. They celebrated
it in fitting style
. They dined at a crowded and exhilarating
Italian restaurant on a street off Seventh Avenue, where red wine was included in the bill, and excitable people, probably extremely clever
, sat round at small tables and talked all together at the top of their voices. After dinner they saw a musical comedy
. And then-the great event
of the night-they went on to supper at a glittering restaurant near Times Square.
There was something about supper at an expensive
restaurant which had always appealed to Henry's imagination
. Earnest devourer as he was of the solids of literature
, he had tasted from time to time its lighter face-those novels which begin with the hero
supping in the midst of the glittering throng
and having his attention
attracted to a distinguished-looking elderly
man with a grey imperial
who is entering with a girl so strikingly beautiful that the revellers turn, as she passes, to look after her. And then, as he sits and smokes, a waiter comes up to the hero
and, with a soft 'Pardon, m'sieu!' hands him a note.
of Geisenheimer's suggested all that sort of thing to Henry. They had finished supper, and he was smoking a cigar-his second that day. He leaned back in his chair and surveyed the scene
. He felt braced up, adventurous
. He had that feeling, which comes to all quiet men who like to sit at home and read, that this was the sort of atmosphere
in which he really belonged. The brightness of it all-the dazzling
lights, the music, the hubbub
, in which the deep-throated gurgle
of the wine-agent surprised while drinking soup blended with the shriller note of the chorus
-girl calling to her mate-these things got Henry. He was thirty-six next birthday, but he felt a youngish twenty-one.
A voice spoke
at his side. Henry looked up, to perceive
of a year, which had turned Henry into a married man, had turned Sidney Mercer into something so magnificent
that the spectacle
for a moment deprived
Henry of speech
. Faultless evening dress clung with loving closeness to Sidney's lissom form. Gleaming shoes of perfect patent leather
covered his feet. His light hair was brushed back into a smooth
sleekness on which the electric
lights shone like stars on some beautiful pool. His practically
chinless face beamed amiably
over a spotless collar.
Henry wore blue serge.
'What are you doing here, Henry, old top?' said the vision
. 'I didn't know you ever came among the bright lights.'
His eyes wandered off to Minnie. There was admiration
in them, for
Minnie was looking her prettiest.
'Wife,' said Henry, recovering speech
. And to Minnie: 'Mr Mercer. Old friend.'
'So you're married? Wish you luck. How's the bank
Henry said the bank
was doing as well as could be expected
'You still on the stage?'
Mr Mercer shook his head importantly.
'Got better job
. Professional dancer at this show. Rolling in money.
Why aren't you dancing?'
The words struck a jarring note. The lights and the music until that moment
had had a subtle psychological effect
on Henry, enabling him to hypnotize
himself into a feeling that it was not inability
to dance that kept him in his seat, but that he had had so much of that sort of thing that he really preferred to sit quietly and look on for a change. Sidney's question changed all that. It made him face the truth.
'I don't dance.'
'For the love of Mike! I bet
Mrs Mills does. Would you care for a turn,
'No, thank you, really.'
was now at work on Henry. He perceived that he had been standing in the way of Minnie's pleasure. Of course she wanted to dance. All women did. She was only refusing for his sake.
'Nonsense, Min. Go to it.'
Minnie looked doubtful
'Of course you must dance, Min. I shall be all right
. I'll sit here and smoke.'
The next moment
Minnie and Sidney were treading the complicated measure
; and simultaneously
Henry ceased to be a youngish twenty-one and was even conscious
of a fleeting doubt
as to whether he was really only thirty-five.
Boil the whole question of old age down, and what it amounts to is that a man is young as long as he can dance without getting lumbago, and, if he cannot dance, he is never young at all. This was the truth that forced itself upon Henry Wallace Mills, as he sat watching his wife moving over the floor in the arms of Sidney Mercer. Even he could see that Minnie danced well. He thrilled at the sight
of her gracefulness; and for the first time since his marriage
he became introspective
. It had never struck him before how much younger Minnie was than himself. When she had signed the paper at the City Hall on the occasion
of the purchase
of the marriage
licence, she had given her age, he remembered now, as twenty-six. It had made no impression
on him at the time. Now, however, he perceived clearly that between twenty-six and thirty-five there was a gap
of nine years; and a chill sensation
came upon him of being old and stodgy
. How dull
it must be for poor little Minnie to be cooped up night after night with such an old fogy? Other men took their wives out and gave them a good time, dancing half the night with them. All he could do was to sit at home and read Minnie dull
stuff from the Encyclopaedia. What a life for the poor child! Suddenly, he felt acutely jealous
of the rubber-jointed Sidney Mercer, a man whom hitherto
he had always heartily despised.
The music stopped. They came back to the table
, Minnie with a pink glow
on her face that made her younger than ever; Sidney, the insufferable
ass, grinning and smirking and pretending to be eighteen. They looked like a couple
of children-Henry, catching sight
of himself in a mirror, was surprised to find that his hair was not white.
Half an hour later, in the cab going home, Minnie, half asleep, was aroused
by a sudden stiffening of the arm that encircled her waist and a sudden snort
close to her ear.
It was Henry Wallace Mills resolving that he would learn to dance.
Being of a literary
turn of mind
and also economical
, Henry's first step towards his new ambition
was to buy a fifty-cent book entitled
The ABC of Modern Dancing, by 'Tango'. It would, he felt-not without reason-be simpler and less expensive
if he should learn the steps by the aid
of this treatise
than by the more customary method
of taking lessons. But quite early in the proceedings he was faced by complications. In the first place, it was his intention
to keep what he was doing a secret from Minnie, in order to be able
to give her a pleasant surprise
on her birthday, which would be coming round in a few weeks. In the second place, The ABC of Modern Dancing proved on investigation
far more complex
than its title
These two facts were the ruin
of the literary method
, for, while it was possible
the text and the plates at the bank
, the home was the only place in which he could attempt
to put the instructions into practice
. You cannot move the right
foot along dotted line A B and bring the left foot round curve C D in a paying-cashier's cage
in a bank
, nor, if you are at all sensitive
to public opinion
, on the pavement going home. And while he was trying to do it in the parlour of the flat one night when he imagined that Minnie was in the kitchen cooking supper, she came in unexpectedly to ask how he wanted the steak
cooked. He explained that he had had a sudden touch of cramp
, but the incident
shook his nerve
After this he decided that he must have lessons.
Complications did not cease
with this resolve
. Indeed, they became more acute
. It was not that there was any difficulty
about finding an instructor
. The papers were full of their advertisements. He selected a Mme Gavarni because she lived in a convenient
spot. Her house was in a side street, with a station
within easy reach. The real problem
was when to find time for the lessons. His life was run on such a regular schedule
that he could hardly alter
so important a moment
in it as the hour of his arrival home without exciting . Only deceit
'Min, dear,' he said at breakfast.
Henry turned mauve
. He had never lied to her before.
'I'm not getting enough exercise
'Why you look so well.'
'I get a kind of heavy feeling sometimes. I think I'll put on another mile or so to my walk on my way home. So-so I'll be back a little later in future
'Very well, dear.'
It made him feel like a particularly
low type of criminal
, but, by abandoning his walk, he was now in a position to devote
an hour a day to the lessons; and Mme Gavarni had said that that would be ample
'Sure, Bill,' she had said. She was a breezy old lady with a military
moustache and an unconventional
manner with her clientele
. 'You come to me an hour a day, and, if you haven't two left feet, we'll make you the pet of society
in a month.'
'Is that so?'
'It sure is. I never had a failure
yet with a pupe, except one. And that wasn't my fault
'Had he two left feet?'
'Hadn't any feet at all. Fell off of a roof after the second lesson
, and had to have 'em cut off him. At that, I could have learned
him to tango
with wooden legs, only he got kind of discouraged
. Well, see you Monday, Bill. Be good.'
And the kindly old soul
, retrieving her chewing gum from the panel
of the door where she had placed it to facilitate conversation
, dismissed him.
And now began what, in later years, Henry unhesitatingly considered
the most miserable period
of his existence
. There may be times when a man who is past his first youth feels more unhappy and ridiculous
than when he is taking a course of lessons in the modern
dance, but it is not easy to think of them. Physically, his new experience
caused Henry acute
pain. Muscles whose existence
he had never suspected came into being for-apparently-the sole purpose
. Mentally he suffered even more.
This was partly due to the peculiar method
at Mme Gavarni's, and partly to the fact
that, when it came to the actual lessons, a sudden niece was produced from a back room to give them. She was a blonde young lady with laughing blue eyes, and Henry never clasped her trim
waist without feeling a black-hearted traitor
to his absent
Minnie. Conscience racked him. Add to this the sensation
of being a strange
, jointless creature
with abnormally large hands and feet, and the fact
that it was Mme Gavarni's custom
to stand in a corner
of the room during the hour of tuition
, chewing gum and making comments, and it is not surprising that Henry became wan
Mme Gavarni had the trying habit
of endeavouring to stimulate
Henry by frequently
comparing his performance
with that of a cripple whom she claimed to have taught at some previous
She and the niece would have spirited
arguments in his presence
as to whether or not the cripple had one-stepped better after his third lesson
than Henry after his fifth. The niece said no. As well, perhaps, but not better. Mme Gavarni said that the niece was forgetting the way the cripple had slid his feet. The niece said yes, that was so, maybe she was. Henry said nothing. He merely
He made progress
slowly. This could not be blamed upon his instructress, however. She did all that one woman could to speed
him up. Sometimes she would even pursue
him into the street in order to show him on the side-walk a means of doing away with some of his numerous
errors of technique
, the elimination
of which would help to make him definitely
the cripple's superior
. The misery
of embracing her indoors was as nothing to the misery
of embracing her on the sidewalk.
Nevertheless, having paid for his course of lessons in advance
, and being a determined
man, he did make progress
. One day, to his surprise
, he found his feet going through
the motions without any definite exercise
of will-power on his part-almost as if they were endowed with an intelligence
of their own. It was the turning-point. It filled him with a singular pride
such as he had not felt since his first rise of salary
at the bank
Mme Gavarni was moved to dignified praise
, kid!' she observed. 'Some speed
Henry blushed modestly. It was the accolade
Every day, as his skill
at the dance became more manifest
, Henry found occasion
to bless the moment
when he had decided to take lessons. He shuddered sometimes at the narrowness of his escape
. Every day now it became more apparent
to him, as he watched Minnie, that she was chafing at the monotony
of her life. That fatal
supper had wrecked the peace of their little home. Or perhaps it had merely
precipitated the wreck
. Sooner or later, he told himself, she was bound
to have wearied of the dullness of her lot. At any rate, dating from shortly after that disturbing
night, a lack
seemed to creep
into their relations. A blight
settled on the home.
Little by little Minnie and he were growing almost formal
towards each other. She had lost
her taste for being read to in the evenings and had developed a habit
of pleading a headache and going early to bed. Sometimes, catching her eye when she was not expecting it, he surprised an enigmatic
look in it. It was a look, however, which he was able
to read. It meant that she was bored
have been expected
that this state
of affairs would have distressed
Henry. It gave him, on the contrary
, a pleasurable thrill
. It made him feel that it had been worth it, going through
the torments of learning to dance. The more bored
she was now the greater her delight
when he revealed himself dramatically. If she had been contented
with the life which he could offer her as a non-dancer, what was the sense of losing weight
and money in order to learn the steps? He enjoyed the silent, uneasy
evenings which had supplanted those cheery ones of the first year of their marriage
. The more uncomfortable
they were now, the more they would appreciate
later on. Henry belonged to the large circle of human
beings who consider
that there is acuter pleasure in being suddenly
cured of toothache than in never having toothache at all.
chuckled inwardly, therefore, when, on the morning of her birthday, having presented her with a purse
which he knew she had long coveted
, he found himself thanked in a perfunctory
'I'm glad you like it,' he said.
Minnie looked at the purse
'It's just what I wanted,' she said, listlessly.
'Well, I must be going. I'll get the tickets for the theatre while I'm in town.'
Minnie hesitated for a moment
'I don't believe I want to go to the theatre much tonight, Henry.'
'Nonsense. We must have a party on your birthday. We'll go to the theatre and then we'll have supper at Geisenheimer's again. I may be working after hours at the bank
today, so I guess I won't come home. I'll meet you at that Italian place at six.'
'Very well. You'll miss your walk, then?'
'Yes. It doesn't matter
'No. You're still going on with your walks, then?'
'Oh, yes, yes.'
'Three miles every day?'
'Never miss it. It keeps me well.'
Yes, there was a distinct
chill in the atmosphere
. Thank goodness, thought
Henry, as he walked to the station
, it would be different
tomorrow morning. He had rather the feeling of a young knight
who has done perilous
deeds in secret for his lady, and is about at last to receive credit
Geisenheimer's was as brilliant
and noisy as it had been before when Henry reached it that night, escorting a reluctant
Minnie. After a silent dinner and a theatrical performance
during which neither had exchanged more than a word between the acts, she had wished to abandon
the idea of supper and go home. But a squad
of police could not have kept Henry from Geisenheimer's. His hour had come. He had thought
of this moment
for weeks, and he visualized every detail of his big scene
. At first they would sit at their table
in silent discomfort
. Then Sidney Mercer would come up, as before, to ask Minnie to dance. And then-then-Henry would rise and, abandoning all concealment, exclaim
grandly: 'No! I am going to dance with my wife!' Stunned amazement
of Minnie, followed by wild joy. Utter rout
and discomfiture of that pin-head, Mercer. And then, when they returned to their table
, he breathing easily and regularly as a trained dancer in perfect condition
should, she tottering a little with the sudden rapture
of it all, they would sit with their heads close together and start a new life. That was the scenario
which Henry had drafted.
It worked out-up to a certain
point-as smoothly as ever it had done in his dreams. The only hitch
which he had feared-to wit
, the non-appearance of Sidney Mercer, did not occur
. It would spoil
a little, he had felt, if Sidney Mercer did not present himself to play the role
; but he need
have had no fears on this point. Sidney had the gift, not uncommon in the chinless, smooth
-baked type of man, of being able
to see a pretty girl come into the restaurant even when his back was towards the door. They had hardly seated themselves when he was beside their table
'Why, Henry! Always here!'
'Many happy returns of the day, Mrs Mills. We've just time for one turn before the waiter comes with your order. Come along.'
The band was staggering
into a fresh
tune, a tune that Henry knew well. Many a time had Mme Gavarni hammered it out of an aged and unwilling piano in order that he might
dance with her blue-eyed niece. He rose.
'No!' he exclaimed grandly. 'I am going to dance with my wife!'
He had not under-estimated the sensation
which he had looked forward
to causing. Minnie looked at him with round eyes. Sidney Mercer was obviously
you couldn't dance.'
'You never can tell,' said Henry, lightly. 'It looks easy enough.
Anyway, I'll try.'
'Henry!' cried Minnie, as he clasped her.
He had supposed
that she would say something like that, but hardly in that kind of voice. There is a way of saying 'Henry!' which conveys surprised admiration
and remorseful devotion
; but she had not said it in that way. There had been a note of horror
in her voice. Henry's was a simple mind
, and the obvious solution
, that Minnie thought
that he had drunk too much red wine at the Italian restaurant, did not occur
He was, indeed, at the moment
too busy to analyse vocal
inflections. They were on the floor now, and it was beginning to creep
upon him like a chill wind that the scenario
which he had mapped out was subject
At first all had been well. They had been almost alone on the floor, and he had begun moving his feet along dotted line A B with the smooth vim
which had characterized the last few of his course of lessons. And then, as if by magic, he was in the midst of a crowd
, jigging crowd
that seemed to have no sense of direction
, no ability
whatever to keep out of his way. For a moment
of weeks stood by him. Then, a shock, a stifled cry from Minnie, and the first collision
had occurred. And with that all the knowledge
which he had so painfully acquired passed from Henry's mind
, leaving it an agitated
blank. This was a situation
for which his slidings round an empty
room had not prepared him. Stage-fright at its worst came upon him. Somebody charged him in the back and asked querulously where he thought
he was going. As he turned with a half-formed notion
of apologizing, somebody else rammed him from the other side. He had a momentary feeling as if he were going down the Niagara Rapids in a barrel
, and then he was lying on the floor with Minnie on top of him. Somebody tripped over his head.
He sat up. Somebody helped him to his feet. He was aware
Mercer at his side.
'Do it again,' said Sidney, all grin and sleek
immaculateness. 'It went down big, but lots of them didn't see it.'
The place was full of demon
* * * * *
'Min!' said Henry.
They were in the parlour of their little flat. Her back was towards him, and he could not see her face. She did not answer. She preserved the silence
which she had maintained since they had left the restaurant. Not once during the journey
home had she spoken.
The clock on the mantelpiece
ticked on. Outside an Elevated train
rumbled by. Voices came from the street.
'Min, I'm sorry.'
I could do it. Oh, Lord!' Misery was in every note of Henry's voice. 'I've been taking lessons every day since that night we went to that place first. It's no good-I guess it's like the old woman said. I've got two left feet, and it's no use my ever trying to do it. I kept it secret from you, what I was doing. I wanted it to be a wonderful surprise
for you on your birthday. I knew how sick and tired
you were getting of being married to a man who never took you out, because he couldn't dance. I thought
it was up to me to learn, and give you a good time, like other men's wives. I-'
She had turned, and with a dull amazement
he saw that her whole face had altered
. Her eyes were shining with a radiant happiness
'Henry! Was that why you went to that house-to take dancing lessons?'
He stared at her without speaking. She came to him, laughing.
'So that was why you pretended you were still doing your walks?'
'I saw you come out of that house. I was just going to the station
at the end of the street, and I saw you. There was a girl with you, a girl with yellow hair. You hugged her!'
Henry licked his dry lips.
'Min,' he said huskily. 'You won't believe it, but she was trying to teach me the Jelly Roll.'
She held him by the lapels of his coat.
'Of course I believe it. I understand
it all now. I thought
at the time that you were just saying good-bye to her! Oh, Henry, why ever didn't you tell me what you were doing? Oh, yes, I know you wanted it to be a surprise
for me on my birthday, but you must have seen there was something wrong. You must have seen that I thought
something. Surely you noticed how I've been these last weeks?'
it was just that you were finding it dull
'Dull! Here, with you!'
'It was after you danced that night with Sidney Mercer. I thought
the whole thing out. You're so much younger than I, Min. It didn't seem right
for you to have to spend your life being read to by a fellow like me.'
'But I loved it!'
'You had to dance. Every girl has to. Women can't do without it.'
'This one can. Henry, listen! You remember
how ill and worn out I was when you met me first at that farm? Do you know why it was? It was because I had been slaving away for years at one of those places where you go in and pay five cents to dance with the lady instructresses. I was a lady instructress. Henry! Just think what I went through
! Every day having to drag a million heavy men with large feet round a big room. I tell you, you are a professional
compared with some of them! They trod on my feet and leaned their two hundred pounds on me and nearly killed me. Now perhaps you can understand
why I'm not crazy about dancing! Believe me, Henry, the kindest thing you can do to me is to tell me I must never dance again.'
'You-you-' he gulped. 'Do you really mean
that you can-can stand the sort of life we're living here? You really don't find it dull
She ran to the bookshelf, and came back with a large volume
'Read to me, Henry, dear. Read me something now. It seems ages and ages since you used to. Read me something out of the Encyclopaedia!'
Henry was looking at the book in his hand. In the midst of a joy that almost overwhelmed him, his orderly mind
of something wrong.
'But this is the MED-MUM volume
'Is it? Well, that'll be all right
. Read me all about "Mum".'
'But we're only in the CAL-CHA-' He wavered. 'Oh, well-I' he went on, recklessly. 'I don't care. Do you?'
'No. Sit down here, dear, and I'll sit on the floor.'
Henry cleared his throat.
'"Milicz, or Militsch (d. 1374), Bohemian divine
, was the most influential
among those preachers and writers in Moravia and Bohemia who, during the fourteenth century
, in a certain
sense paved the way for the reforming activity of Huss."'
He looked down. Minnie's soft hair was resting against his knee. He put out a hand and stroked it. She turned and looked up, and he met her big eyes.
'Can you beat it?' said Henry, silently, to himself.