The new fable of the intermittent fusser
Once a grammar-school Rabbit, struggling from long Trousers toward his first brier-wood Pipe, had Growing Pains which he diagnosed as the pangs of True Love.
The Target was a dry-seasoned Fannie old enough to be his Godmother.
She was a Post-Graduate who was keeping herself on Earth by running to the Drug-Store every few minutes.
The Eye-Brows were neatly blocked out by some Process unknown to the writer, and she had a Shape that could be revised ad lib.
An Expert would have Made her at a glance, but the Cub fell for the Scenery and Mechanical Effects.
He had sketched a little synopsis of the Future. After waiting 8 years, until she had unpetaled into the perfect bloom of Womanhood and he was wearing a Full Beard, he would take her by the Long Glove and lead her off into Dreamland.
Just to show how one of those pinfeather Passions may be shunted onto a Siding and left among the Dog-Fennel, when the Subject of this Sketch was aetat 22, he was picking them out of the Air in the Left Garden at the State University. Fannie (she of the purchased Pallor) was thoroughly married to a Veterinary with the Drug Habit.
Soon after recovering from the Pip, known in Medical Parlance as the Spooney Infantum, he began to glory in the friendship of an incipient Amazon who wore a Blazer and walked like a Policeman.
She did not hamper her fibrous Physique with any excess Harness that might pinch when she essayed a full St. Andrew’s Swipe with a wooden Club. And she had one lower octave of Pipes, like a Brakeman on the Erie.
There comes a brief Period in the Veal Epoch of every Sentimental Tommy when the only real Cutie is one who can propel a Canoe and throw Overhand.
So Walter, such being the baptismal Handicap, often thought it would be Sweet Billiards to keep house with the she-Acrobat for 30 or 40 years, because when they were tired of sitting in the House they could go into the Front Yard and play Ketch.
He was just at the rickety Age when the Gams refuse to cooerdinate. Every time he sauntered carelessly across the porch at a Summer Hotel, he gave a correct Imitation of a troop of Cavalry going over a Wooden Bridge at full Gallop.
He had a way of backing into Potted Plants.
Each Morning was clouded by the task of picking out a Cravat that would be of the same Radio-Activity as the Socks. And all through the waking hours he carried with him a faint and sickly Realization that his Parents did not understand him.
One day he stood before a kind-faced Registrar and matriculated. Branded as a regular Freshman, he went back to his little Den and put a news-stand Photo of Lillian Russell between two Pennants.
The whalebone Divinity in the Home Town passed out of his Life. He told himself that he would be true to Miss Russell and all the other Members of her sprightly Profession.
The emotional side of his unfolding Nature began to nourish itself on Song Hits, and he slept each night with his Banjo folded tightly to his Bosom.
He became acquainted with a Sophomore who once sat near Trixie Friganza in a Parlor Car. One night Alice Nielsen looked directly at the Box in which he was seated with the other Fraters of the Ippy Ki Yi. In fact, his Life became crowded with tingling Experiences.
The collection of Cigarette Pictures made him acquainted with many Celebrities. His intimacy with them grew apace as he developed a bookish appetite for Sunday Newspapers.
He danced with the local Chickadees, but all the time his Heart was far away, in the Dramatic Column.
Suddenly he found that he was an Upper Classman, to whom each Neophyte touched the Leaf of Lettuce balanced on top of the Head, ostensibly as a Cap.
He became endowed with the divine Right to hit himself on the Leg with a Walking Stick and sit on a hallowed Fence.
Simultaneous-like, he became conscious of the fact that the Footlight Favorites were no longer worthy of him. He began to hold long and serious Conversaziones with the Sister of a Prof.
She was an aerial Performer who wore powerful Spectacles, in which any one standing before her could see an Image of himself, greatly reduced.
She looked as if she had been sitting up all night, writing a History of Civilization.
Walter found himself uplifted every time they were left together in the Library. Sometimes she took him up so high that he became dizzy.
He now began to prog as follows: He and the Lady Emerson would be legally welded just after Commencement and spend the Honeymoon at some lively Chautauqua.
The grinding Wheels and raucous buying and selling of the Marts of Trade seemed faint and far away when he roamed through the Cloisters with Elfreda. He was in the moulting Stage, and it seemed to him that Success in Life would consist of going about reeking of Culture.
A Degree looked bigger than a Dividend.
He never had heard tell of such a thing as a Coal-Bill or a Special Assessment for a Sewer.
The vision of Elfreda floated out through a Transom three days after he drew a Desk in the extensive Works owned by the Governor.
He was too busy keeping his Head above the Churning Waves to bother with Speculative Philosophy or write Letters studded with Latin Phrases, like Currants in an English Cake.
All the cringing Peons in the big Stockade hated him because he had a Drag. It was up to him to deliver the Merchandise and demonstrate that he was a Human Being rather than a College Graduate.
In the meantime, the Spectators were hoping that he would Skid and go into the Fence.
He began to wear his Frat pin on his undershirt, and he had no time to frivol away on the fluffy Gender, because he expected to be sitting in the Directors’ Room in a couple of years, talking it over with Henry C. Frick.
So he waved aside the Square Envelopes and allowed himself to be billed all over the Macaroon Circuit as a Woman-Hater.
Of course he girled in a conservative way, but he merely trailed. He did not buzz, or throw himself at the fallen Handkerchief, or run to get the Wraps, or do any of the Stuff that marks the true and bounden Captive.
When he found himself in the cushioned Lair of a Feline, he would lean back in perfect Security, knowing that even if she exercised her entire repertoire of Wiles, she could not warm the Dead Heart nor stir into life the fallen Rose Leaves of Romance.
All the time she was spilling her familiar line of Chatter, he would look at her with an arid and patronizing Smile, such as the Harvard Man produces when he finds himself in immediate juxtaposition to some human Caterpillar from west of Pittsburgh.
Very often, when the registered Dolly Grays got together for a Bon-Bon Orgy, some one would say, “Oh, Crickey, ain’t he the regular Cynic?”
Another might suggest that he was hiding a great Sorrow, his whole Existence having been embittered by the faithlessness of some Creature.
Then they would take a Vote and decide that he was a plain Mutt.
The Chauncey who refuses to reciprocate will excite more Conversation than a regular Union Lover, but it is Lucky for him that he does not hear all the Conversation.
Walter at the age of twenty-five thought he was too old and sedate to be a Diner-Out and a Dancing Devil.
When he was 28, however, he had become Hep to the large and luminous Truth that the man who sits in his Lodgings reading Dumas may overlook many a Bet.
He noted on every Hand the nice-looking Boys who turned in about 10.40 and avoided the Pitfalls of Society, and most of them were pulling down as much as $14 a week.
He recalled what this humble Chronicler had said away back in 1899: “Early to Bed and Early to Rise and you will meet very few of our Best People.”
He looked over the Lay-Out and decided that it was just as easy to mingle with the Face Cards as to sleep in the Discards.
He saw many a Light Weight with a gilt sign exposed on Main Street and no Assets except a Suit with a Velvet Collar, a pair of indestructible dancing Legs, and just enough intellectual Acumen to stir Tea without spilling it.
So he decided to have a try at the Gay Life and worm his way into the Safety Deposit Vaults via the Parlor Route.
A worthy Resolve and one often taken.
If a Friend of the People can capitalize his Vocal Cords, why should not the little Brother of the Rich put his undying Nerve into the Market and get what he can on it?
The Captain of Finance is usually owned, Body and Soul, by the other Half of the Sketch. She may be a head bell-ringer in the D. A. R. or the blue-pencil Queen of the Golden Pheasants, but in a vast majority of cases she has not the Looks to back up the Title.
Even the Buckingham Palace manner and the Arctic Front cannot buffalo the idle Spectator into overlooking the fact that she belongs to the genus Quince.
She may not be a Beaut, but it is She who stands at the main entrance to the Big Tent and tears off seat coupons.
Walter knew that if he wished to be mentioned all over town as a Sure-Enough, his passport to the Inner Circle of Hot Potatoes would have to be vised by Patroness No. 1.
He began to work in the Secret Service of the Chosen Few and was First Aid to the Chaperons.
A Hard Life, say you? Not a tall–not a tall.
He was entirely surrounded by Fairy Lamps and sweet-smelling Flowers.
Life became a kaleidoscopic Aurora Borealis.
When the first Crash of Music came through the hothouse Palms, Walter would be out on the Waxen Floor with his hair in a Braid.
Through the long watches of the night he played Blonde against Brunette and then went home with his Time-Card bearing the official O.K.
He swam among the floating Hooks and side-stepped the Maternal Traps, until the compilers of Marital Statistics had his name in the list marked “Nothing Doing.”
The Dope on him seemed to be that he was Immune and Jinx-Proof.
After he led one of them back to a Divan and fed her an Ice, it was a case of “Good Night, Miss Mitchell.”
Truly, a Bachelor flown with Insolence and Pride is the favorite Mark for the Bow-and-Arrow Kid.
For every weather-beaten Beau and Ballroom Veteran there is waiting somewhere in Ambuscade a keen little Diana with the right kind of Ammunition.
One night he went to a Small Dance in his regular Henry Miller suit and wearing a tired look around the Eyes. He counted these minor Functions a dreadful Bore.
Over in a corner sat a half-portion Damosel who had come to town on a Visit. Her name was Violet, and she looked the Part.
She didn’t know who was running for President or what Miss Pankhurst said about Suffrage, but she had large belladonna Orbs, with Danger lurking in their limpid depths.
She was just at the Age when any girl who is not actually Deformed looks fair to middling, while the real Dinger, with the Tresses and the Complexion and the gleaming white Shoulders and the Parisian figure, is right there with a full equipment for breaking up Families.
Old Dare-Devil Dick, the Hero of 1000 Flirtations, was sitting out one of the Dances recently condemned by Press and Pulpit.
He became aware of the presence of something Feminine at his immediate right. He took a cautious Look and beheld a timid Debutante, sparkling with the Dew and waiting to be plucked.
She gave him a frightened Smile and lamped him very slowly.
Suddenly he felt himself wafted away on a cloud of Purple Perfumery.
She had put the Sign on him without lifting a Finger.
As she circled away, clutched by a rude Collegian, he lay back helpless, tied in a True Lovers’ Knot.
Later in the evening he met her. He sat alongside of her in an agony of confused Bliss, with a Temperature of 104 and the Vocal Chords entirely paralyzed. And yet, as a rule, he was just as reliable as a Phonograph.
All the way home that night he was Bleeding freely.
At 8 the next Morning he began sending Flowers.
It was a terrible Case. The old ones seem to suffer more.
He followed her like a trained Spaniel.
When she seemed cold and distant, he would hurry to his Room and pull a private Brain-Storm. For many Hours thereafter the Map of the World would have a Black Border around it.
Next day she would relent, and accept his Jack Roses, and he would run around and around in a Circle, gurgling and clapping his Hands.
He was on the waiting list for the Nut Club. Our Old Friend was flooey in the Filbert. The Love Bacilli swarmed in every part of his Being.
When she found that she had him sure enough Lariated, she eased up on her part of the Work and began a public demonstration of Woman’s Power and Dominion over the Brute Creation. He was meeker than a Federal Office-Holder.
Any time she snapped her Fingers, he sat up and Begged.
Then she used to carry on with certain Men against whom he had warned her. It amused her to know that he was walking up and down outside, chewing the White Gloves.
His friends tried to save him. They demonstrated, with a Pencil and a Piece of Paper, that she was just an ordinary, everyday Baby Doll with a Second Reader intelligence and the Spiritual Caliber of a Humming Bird. They proved that exactly the same kind were scattered through every Department Store, working for $6 a week.
When they got through knocking, he hurried over and told her everything and promised her that if she would marry him, not one of these Snakes would ever be permitted to enter the House.
He writhed on the Rug and said that if she didn’t whisper that One Little Word, it would be a case of Satin Lining and Silver Handles for little Wallie.
She looked out the Window and yawned slightly and then said, “Oh, very well.”
He rode home standing up in a Taxicab, while she was showing the Maids a lozenge-shaped Ring that set him back 450 Bucks.
MORAL: The higher they fly the harder they fall.