0
5.3k VUES
Terminé
temps de lecture
AA Partager

I

Merlin Grainger was employed by the Moonlight Quill Bookshop, which
you may have visited, just around the corner from the Ritz-Carlton on
Forty-seventh Street. The Moonlight Quill is, or rather was, a very
romantic little store, considered radical and admitted dark. It was
spotted interiorly with red and orange posters of breathless exotic
intent, and lit no less by the shiny reflecting bindings of special
editions than by the great squat lamp of crimson satin that, lighted
through all the day, swung overhead. It was truly a mellow bookshop.
The words "Moonlight Quill" were worked over the door in a sort of
serpentine embroidery. The windows seemed always full of something
that had passed the literary censors with little to spare; volumes
with covers of deep orange which offer their titles on little white
paper squares. And over all there was the smell of the musk, which the
clever, inscrutable Mr. Moonlight Quill ordered to be sprinkled
about-the smell half of a curiosity shop in Dickens' London and half
of a coffee-house on the warm shores of the Bosphorus.

From nine until five-thirty Merlin Grainger asked bored old ladies in
black and young men with dark circles under their eyes if they "cared
for this fellow" or were interested in first editions. Did they buy
novels with Arabs on the cover, or books which gave Shakespeare's
newest sonnets as dictated psychically to Miss Sutton of South Dakota?
he sniffed. As a matter of fact, his own taste ran to these latter,
but as an employee at the Moonlight Quill he assumed for the working
day the attitude of a disillusioned connoisseur.

After he had crawled over the window display to pull down the front
shade at five-thirty every afternoon, and said good-bye to the
mysterious Mr. Moonlight Quill and the lady clerk, Miss McCracken, and
the lady stenographer, Miss Masters, he went home to the girl,
Caroline. He did not eat supper with Caroline. It is unbelievable that
Caroline would have considered eating off his bureau with the collar
buttons dangerously near the cottage cheese, and the ends of Merlin's
necktie just missing his glass of milk--he had never asked her to eat
with him. He ate alone. He went into Braegdort's delicatessen on Sixth
Avenue and bought a box of crackers, a tube of anchovy paste, and some
oranges, or else a little jar of sausages and some potato salad and a
bottled soft drink, and with these in a brown package he went to his
room at Fifty-something West Fifty-eighth Street and ate his supper
and saw Caroline.

Caroline was a very young and gay person who lived with some older
lady and was possibly nineteen. She was like a ghost in that she never
existed until evening. She sprang into life when the lights went on in
her apartment at about six, and she disappeared, at the latest, about
midnight. Her apartment was a nice one, in a nice building with a
white stone front, opposite the south side of Central Park. The back
of her apartment faced the single window of the single room occupied
by the single Mr. Grainger.

He called her Caroline because there was a picture that looked like
her on the jacket of a book of that name down at the Moonlight Quill.

Now, Merlin Grainger was a thin young man of twenty-five, with dark
hair and no mustache or beard or anything like that, but Caroline was
dazzling and light, with a shimmering morass of russet waves to take
the place of hair, and the sort of features that remind you of
kisses--the sort of features you thought belonged to your first love,
but know, when you come across an old picture, didn't. She dressed in
pink or blue usually, but of late she had sometimes put on a slender
black gown that was evidently her especial pride, for whenever she
wore it she would stand regarding a certain place on the wall, which
Merlin thought most be a mirror. She sat usually in the profile chair
near the window, but sometimes honored the _chaise longue_ by the
lamp, and often she leaned 'way back and smoked a cigarette with
posturings of her arms and hands that Merlin considered very graceful.

At another time she had come to the window and stood in it
magnificently, and looked out because the moon had lost its way and
was dripping the strangest and most transforming brilliance into the
areaway between, turning the motif of ash-cans and clothes-lines into
a vivid impressionism of silver casks and gigantic gossamer cobwebs.
Merlin was sitting in plain sight, eating cottage cheese with sugar
and milk on it; and so quickly did he reach out for the window cord
that he tipped the cottage cheese into his lap with his free hand--and
the milk was cold and the sugar made spots on his trousers, and he was
sure that she had seen him after all.

Sometimes there were callers--men in dinner coats, who stood and
bowed, hat in hand and coat on arm, as they talked to Caroline; then
bowed some more and followed her out of the light, obviously bound for
a play or for a dance. Other young men came and sat and smoked
cigarettes, and seemed trying to tell Caroline something--she sitting
either in the profile chair and watching them with eager intentness or
else in the _chaise longue_ by the lamp, looking very lovely and
youthfully inscrutable indeed.

Merlin enjoyed these calls. Of some of the men he approved. Others won
only his grudging toleration, one or two he loathed--especially the
most frequent caller, a man with black hair and a black goatee and a
pitch-dark soul, who seemed to Merlin vaguely familiar, but whom he
was never quite able to recognize.

Now, Merlin's whole life was not "bound up with this romance he had
constructed"; it was not "the happiest hour of his day." He never
arrived in time to rescue Caroline from "clutches"; nor did he even
marry her. A much stranger thing happened than any of these, and it is
this strange thing that will presently be set down here. It began one
October afternoon when she walked briskly into the mellow interior of
the Moonlight Quill.

It was a dark afternoon, threatening rain and the end of the world,
and done in that particularly gloomy gray in which only New York
afternoons indulge. A breeze was crying down the streets, whisking
along battered newspapers and pieces of things, and little lights were
pricking out all the windows--it was so desolate that one was sorry
for the tops of sky-scrapers lost up there in the dark green and gray
heaven, and felt that now surely the farce was to close, and presently
all the buildings would collapse like card houses, and pile up in a
dusty, sardonic heap upon all the millions who presumed to wind in and
out of them.

At least these were the sort of musings that lay heavily upon the soul
of Merlin Grainger, as he stood by the window putting a dozen books
back in a row after a cyclonic visit by a lady with ermine trimmings.
He looked out of the window full of the most distressing thoughts--of
the early novels of H. G. Wells, of the boot of Genesis, of how Thomas
Edison had said that in thirty years there would be no dwelling-houses
upon the island, but only a vast and turbulent bazaar; and then he set
the last book right side up, turned--and Caroline walked coolly into
the shop.

She was dressed in a jaunty but conventional walking costume--he
remembered this when he thought about it later. Her skirt was plaid,
pleated like a concertina; her jacket was a soft but brisk tan; her
shoes and spats were brown and her hat, small and trim, completed her
like the top of a very expensive and beautifully filled candy box.

Merlin, breathless and startled, advanced nervously toward her.

"Good-afternoon--" he said, and then stopped--why, he did not know,
except that it came to him that something very portentous in his life
was about to occur, and that it would need no furbishing but silence,
and the proper amount of expectant attention. And in that minute
before the thing began to happen he had the sense of a breathless
second hanging suspended in time: he saw through the glass partition
that bounded off the little office the malevolent conical head of his
employer, Mr. Moonlight Quill, bent over his correspondence. He saw
Miss McCracken and Miss Masters as two patches of hair drooping over
piles of paper; he saw the crimson lamp overhead, and noticed with a
touch of pleasure how really pleasant and romantic it made the
book-store seem.

Then the thing happened, or rather it began to happen. Caroline picked
up a volume of poems lying loose upon a pile, fingered it absently
with her slender white hand, and suddenly, with an easy gesture,
tossed it upward toward the ceiling where it disappeared in the
crimson lamp and lodged there, seen through the illuminated silk as a
dark, bulging rectangle. This pleased her--she broke into young,
contagious laughter, in which Merlin found himself presently joining.

"It stayed up!" she cried merrily. "It stayed up, didn't it?" To both
of them this seemed the height of brilliant absurdity. Their laughter
mingled, filled the bookshop, and Merlin was glad to find that her
voice was rich and full of sorcery.

"Try another," he found himself suggesting--"try a red one."

At this her laughter increased, and she had to rest her hands upon the
stack to steady herself.

"Try another," she managed to articulate between spasms of mirth. "Oh,
golly, try another!"

"Try two."

"Yes, try two. Oh, I'll choke if I don't stop laughing. Here it goes."

Suiting her action to the word, she picked up a red book and sent it
in a gentle hyperbola toward the ceiling, where it sank into the lamp
beside the first. It was a few minutes before either of them could do
more than rock back and forth in helpless glee; but then by mutual
agreement they took up the sport anew, this time in unison. Merlin
seized a large, specially bound French classic and whirled it upward.
Applauding his own accuracy, he took a best-seller in one hand and a
book on barnacles in the other, and waited breathlessly while she made
her shot. Then the business waxed fast and furious--sometimes they
alternated, and, watching, he found how supple she was in every
movement; sometimes one of them made shot after shot, picking up the
nearest book, sending it off, merely taking time to follow it with a
glance before reaching for another. Within three minutes they had
cleared a little place on the table, and the lamp of crimson satin was
so bulging with books that it was near breaking.

"Silly game, basket-ball," she cried scornfully as a book left her
hand. "High-school girls play it in hideous bloomers."

"Idiotic," he agreed.

She paused in the act of tossing a book, and replaced it suddenly in
its position on the table.

"I think we've got room to sit down now," she said gravely.

They had; they had cleared an ample space for two. With a faint touch
of nervousness Merlin glanced toward Mr. Moonlight Quill's glass
partition, but the three heads were still bent earnestly over their
work, and it was evident that they had not seen what had gone on in
the shop. So when Caroline put her hands on the table and hoisted
herself up Merlin calmly imitated her, and they sat side by side
looking very earnestly at each other.

"I had to see you," she began, with a rather pathetic expression in
her brown eyes.

"I know."

"It was that last time," she continued, her voice trembling a little,
though she tried to keep it steady. "I was frightened. I don't like
you to eat off the dresser. I'm so afraid you'll--you'll swallow a
collar button."

"I did once--almost," he confessed reluctantly, "but it's not so easy,
you know. I mean you can swallow the flat part easy enough or else the
other part--that is, separately--but for a whole collar button you'd
have to have a specially made throat." He was astonishing himself by
the debonnaire appropriateness of his remarks. Words seemed for the
first time in his life to ran at him shrieking to be used, gathering
themselves into carefully arranged squads and platoons, and being
presented to him by punctilious adjutants of paragraphs.

"That's what scared me," she said. "I knew you had to have a specially
made throat--and I knew, at least I felt sure, that you didn't have
one."

He nodded frankly.

"I haven't. It costs money to have one--more money unfortunately than
I possess."

He felt no shame in saying this--rather a delight in making the
admission--he knew that nothing he could say or do would be beyond her
comprehension; least of all his poverty, and the practical
impossibility of ever extricating himself from it.

Caroline looked down at her wrist watch, and with a little cry slid
from the table to her feet.

"It's after five," she cried. "I didn't realize. I have to be at the
Ritz at five-thirty. Let's hurry and get this done. I've got a bet on
it."

With one accord they set to work. Caroline began the matter by seizing
a book on insects and sending it whizzing, and finally crashing
through the glass partition that housed Mr. Moonlight Quill. The
proprietor glanced up with a wild look, brushed a few pieces of glass
from his desk, and went on with his letters. Miss McCracken gave no
sign of having heard--only Miss Masters started and gave a little
frightened scream before she bent to her task again.

But to Merlin and Caroline it didn't matter. In a perfect orgy of
energy they were hurling book after book in all directions until
sometimes three or four were in the air at once, smashing against
shelves, cracking the glass of pictures on the walls, falling in
bruised and torn heaps upon the floor. It was fortunate that no
customers happened to come in, for it is certain they would never have
come in again--the noise was too tremendous, a noise of smashing and
ripping and tearing, mixed now and then with the tinkling of glass,
the quick breathing of the two throwers, and the intermittent
outbursts of laughter to which both of them periodically surrendered.

At five-thirty Caroline tossed a last book at the lamp, and gave the
final impetus to the load it carried. The weakened silk tore and
dropped its cargo in one vast splattering of white and color to the
already littered floor. Then with a sigh of relief she turned to
Merlin and held out her hand.

"Good-by," she said simply.

"Are you going?" He knew she was. His question was simply a lingering
wile to detain her and extract for another moment that dazzling
essence of light he drew from her presence, to continue his enormous
satisfaction in her features, which were like kisses and, he thought,
like the features of a girl he had known back in 1910. For a minute he
pressed the softness of her hand--then she smiled and withdrew it and,
before he could spring to open the door, she had done it herself and
was gone out into the turbid and ominous twilight that brooded
narrowly over Forty-seventh Street.

I would like to tell you how Merlin, having seen how beauty regards
the wisdom of the years, walked into the little partition of Mr.
Moonlight Quill and gave up his job then and there; thence issuing out
into the street a much finer and nobler and increasingly ironic man.
But the truth is much more commonplace. Merlin Grainger stood up and
surveyed the wreck of the bookshop, the ruined volumes, the torn silk
remnants of the once beautiful crimson lamp, the crystalline
sprinkling of broken glass which lay in iridescent dust over the whole
interior--and then he went to a corner where a broom was kept and
began cleaning up and rearranging and, as far as he was able,
restoring the shop to its former condition. He found that, though some
few of the books were uninjured, most of them had suffered in varying
extents. The backs were off some, the pages were torn from others,
still others were just slightly cracked in the front, which, as all
careless book returners know, makes a book unsalable, and therefore
second-hand.

Nevertheless by six o'clock he had done much to repair the damage. He
had returned the books to their original places, swept the floor, and
put new lights in the sockets overhead. The red shade itself was
ruined beyond redemption, and Merlin thought in some trepidation that
the money to replace it might have to come out of his salary. At six,
therefore, having done the best he could, he crawled over the front
window display to pull down the blind. As he was treading delicately
back, he saw Mr. Moonlight Quill rise from his desk, put on his
overcoat and hat, and emerge into the shop. He nodded mysteriously at
Merlin and went toward the door. With his hand on the knob he paused,
turned around, and in a voice curiously compounded of ferocity and
uncertainty, he said:

"If that girl comes in here again, you tell her to behave."

With that he opened the door, drowning Merlin's meek "Yessir" in its
creak, and went out.

Merlin stood there for a moment, deciding wisely not to worry about
what was for the present only a possible futurity, and then he went
into the back of the shop and invited Miss Masters to have supper with
him at Pulpat's French Restaurant, where one could still obtain red
wine at dinner, despite the Great Federal Government. Miss Masters
accepted.

"Wine makes me feel all tingly," she said.

Merlin laughed inwardly as he compared her to Caroline, or rather as
he didn't compare her. There was no comparison.
19 Mai 2018 16:57:23 0 Rapport Incorporer Suivre l’histoire
0
Lire le chapitre suivant II

Commentez quelque chose

Publier!
Il n’y a aucun commentaire pour le moment. Soyez le premier à donner votre avis!
~

Comment se passe votre lecture?

Il reste encore 3 chapitres restants de cette histoire.
Pour continuer votre lecture, veuillez vous connecter ou créer un compte. Gratuit!