Part VI: Kronborg - II

WHEN Ottenburg and his host reached the house on Colfax Avenue, they went directly to the library, a long double room on the second floor which Archie had arranged exactly to his own taste. It was full of books and mounted specimens of wild game, with a big writing-table at either end, stiff, old-fashioned engravings, heavy hangings and deep upholstery.

When one of the Japanese boys brought the cocktails, Fred turned from the fine specimen of peccoray he had been examining and said, "A man is an owl to live in such a place alone, Archie. Why don't you marry? As for me, just because I can't marry, I find the world full of charming, unattached women, any one of whom I could fit up a house for with alacrity."

"You're more knowing than I." Archie spoke politely. "I'm not very wide awake about women. I'd be likely to pick out one of the uncomfortable ones—and there are a few of them, you know." He drank his cocktail and rubbed his hands together in a friendly way. "My friends here have charming wives, and they don't give me a chance to get lonely. They are very kind to me, and I have a great many pleasant friendships."

Fred put down his glass. "Yes, I've always noticed that women have confidence in you. You have the doctor's way of getting next. And you enjoy that kind of thing?"

"The friendship of attractive women? Oh, dear, yes! I depend upon it a great deal."

The butler announced dinner, and the two men went downstairs to the dining-room. Dr. Archie's dinners were always good and well served, and his wines were excellent.

"I saw the Fuel and Iron people to-day," Ottenburg said, looking up from his soup. "Their heart is in the right place. I can't see why in the mischief you ever got mixed up with that reform gang, Archie. You've got nothing to reform out here. The situation has always been as simple as two and two in Colorado; mostly a matter of a friendly understanding."

"Well,"—Archie spoke tolerantly,—"some of the young fellows seemed to have red-hot convictions, and I thought it was better to let them try their ideas out."

Ottenburg shrugged his shoulders. "A few dull young men who haven't ability enough to play the old game the old way, so they want to put on a new game which doesn't take so much brains and gives away more advertising that's what your anti-saloon league and vice commission amounts to. They provide notoriety for the fellows who can't distinguish themselves at running a business or practicing law or developing an industry. Here you have a mediocre lawyer with no brains and no practice, trying to get a look-in on something. He comes up with the novel proposition that the prostitute has a hard time of it, puts his picture in the paper, and the first thing you know, he's a celebrity. He gets the rake-off and she's just where she was before. How could you fall for a mouse-trap like Pink Alden, Archie?"

Dr. Archie laughed as he began to carve. "Pink seems to get under your skin. He's not worth talking about. He's gone his limit. People won't read about his blameless life any more. I knew those interviews he gave out would cook him. They were a last resort. I could have stopped him, but by that time I'd come to the conclusion that I'd let the reformers down. I'm not against a general shaking-up, but the trouble with Pinky's crowd is they never get beyond a general writing-up. We gave them a chance to do something, and they just kept on writing about each other and what temptations they had overcome."

While Archie and his friend were busy with Colorado politics, the impeccable Japanese attended swiftly and intelligently to his duties, and the dinner, as Ottenburg at last remarked, was worthy of more profitable conversation.

"So it is," the doctor admitted. "Well, we'll go upstairs for our coffee and cut this out. Bring up some cognac and arak, Tai," he added as he rose from the table.

They stopped to examine a moose's head on the stairway, and when they reached the library the pine logs in the fireplace had been lighted, and the coffee was bubbling before the hearth. Tai placed two chairs before the fire and brought a tray of cigarettes.

"Bring the cigars in my lower desk drawer, boy," the doctor directed. "Too much light in here, isn't there, Fred? Light the lamp there on my desk, Tai." He turned off the electric glare and settled himself deep into the chair opposite Ottenburg's.

"To go back to our conversation, doctor," Fred began while he waited for the first steam to blow off his coffee; "why don't you make up your mind to go to Washington? There'd be no fight made against you. I needn't say the United Breweries would back you. There'd be some KUDOS coming to us, too; backing a reform candidate."

Dr. Archie measured his length in his chair and thrust his large boots toward the crackling pitch-pine. He drank his coffee and lit a big black cigar while his guest looked over the assortment of cigarettes on the tray. "You say why don't I," the doctor spoke with the deliberation of a man in the position of having several courses to choose from, "but, on the other hand, why should I?" He puffed away and seemed, through his half-closed eyes, to look down several long roads with the intention of luxuriously rejecting all of them and remaining where he was. "I'm sick of politics. I'm disillusioned about serving my crowd, and I don't particularly want to serve yours. Nothing in it that I particularly want; and a man's not effective in politics unless he wants something for himself, and wants it hard. I can reach my ends by straighter roads. There are plenty of things to keep me busy. We haven't begun to develop our resources in this State; we haven't had a look in on them yet. That's the only thing that isn't fake—making men and machines go, and actually turning out a product."

The doctor poured himself some white cordial and looked over the little glass into the fire with an expression which led Ottenburg to believe that he was getting at something in his own mind. Fred lit a cigarette and let his friend grope for his idea.

"My boys, here," Archie went on, "have got me rather interested in Japan. Think I'll go out there in the spring, and come back the other way, through Siberia. I've always wanted to go to Russia." His eyes still hunted for something in his big fireplace. With a slow turn of his head he brought them back to his guest and fixed them upon him. "Just now, I'm thinking of running on to New York for a few weeks," he ended abruptly.

Ottenburg lifted his chin. "Ah!" he exclaimed, as if he began to see Archie's drift. "Shall you see Thea?"

"Yes." The doctor replenished his cordial glass. "In fact, I suspect I am going exactly TO see her. I'm getting stale on things here, Fred. Best people in the world and always doing things for me. I'm fond of them, too, but I've been with them too much. I'm getting ill-tempered, and the first thing I know I'll be hurting people's feelings. I snapped Mrs. Dandridge up over the telephone this afternoon when she asked me to go out to Colorado Springs on Sunday to meet some English people who are staying at the Antlers. Very nice of her to want me, and I was as sour as if she'd been trying to work me for something. I've got to get out for a while, to save my reputation."

To this explanation Ottenburg had not paid much attention. He seemed to be looking at a fixed point: the yellow glass eyes of a fine wildcat over one of the bookcases. "You've never heard her at all, have you?" he asked reflectively. "Curious, when this is her second season in New York."

"I was going on last March. Had everything arranged. And then old Cap Harris thought he could drive his car and me through a lamp-post and I was laid up with a compound fracture for two months. So I didn't get to see Thea."

Ottenburg studied the red end of his cigarette attentively. "She might have come out to see you. I remember you covered the distance like a streak when she wanted you."

Archie moved uneasily. "Oh, she couldn't do that. She had to get back to Vienna to work on some new parts for this year. She sailed two days after the New York season closed."

"Well, then she couldn't, of course." Fred smoked his cigarette close and tossed the end into the fire. "I'm tremendously glad you're going now. If you're stale, she'll jack you up. That's one of her specialties. She got a rise out of me last December that lasted me all winter."

"Of course," the doctor apologized, "you know so much more about such things. I'm afraid it will be rather wasted on me. I'm no judge of music."

"Never mind that." The younger man pulled himself up in his chair. "She gets it across to people who aren't judges. That's just what she does." He relapsed into his former lassitude. "If you were stone deaf, it wouldn't all be wasted. It's a great deal to watch her. Incidentally, you know, she is very beautiful. Photographs give you no idea."

Dr. Archie clasped his large hands under his chin. "Oh, I'm counting on that. I don't suppose her voice will sound natural to me. Probably I wouldn't know it."

Ottenburg smiled. "You'll know it, if you ever knew it. It's the same voice, only more so. You'll know it."

"Did you, in Germany that time, when you wrote me? Seven years ago, now. That must have been at the very beginning."

"Yes, somewhere near the beginning. She sang one of the Rhine daughters." Fred paused and drew himself up again. "Sure, I knew it from the first note. I'd heard a good many young voices come up out of the Rhine, but, by gracious, I hadn't heard one like that!" He fumbled for another cigarette. "Mahler was conducting that night. I met him as he was leaving the house and had a word with him. 'Interesting voice you tried out this evening,' I said. He stopped and smiled. 'Miss Kronborg, you mean? Yes, very. She seems to sing for the idea. Unusual in a young singer.' I'd never heard him admit before that a singer could have an idea. She not only had it, but she got it across. The Rhine music, that I'd known since I was a boy, was fresh to me, vocalized for the first time. You realized that she was beginning that long story, adequately, with the end in view. Every phrase she sang was basic. She simply WAS the idea of the Rhine music." Ottenburg rose and stood with his back to the fire. "And at the end, where you don't see the maidens at all, the same thing again: two pretty voices AND the Rhine voice." Fred snapped his fingers and dropped his hand.

The doctor looked up at him enviously. "You see, all that would be lost on me," he said modestly. "I don't know the dream nor the interpretation thereof. I'm out of it. It's too bad that so few of her old friends can appreciate her."

"Take a try at it," Fred encouraged him. "You'll get in deeper than you can explain to yourself. People with no personal interest do that."

"I suppose," said Archie diffidently, "that college German, gone to seed, wouldn't help me out much. I used to be able to make my German patients understand me."

"Sure it would!" cried Ottenburg heartily. "Don't be above knowing your libretto. That's all very well for musicians, but common mortals like you and me have got to know what she's singing about. Get out your dictionary and go at it as you would at any other proposition. Her diction is beautiful, and if you know the text you'll get a great deal. So long as you're going to hear her, get all that's coming to you. You bet in Germany people know their librettos by heart! You Americans are so afraid of stooping to learn anything."

"I AM a little ashamed," Archie admitted. "I guess that's the way we mask our general ignorance. However, I'll stoop this time; I'm more ashamed not to be able to follow her. The papers always say she's such a fine actress." He took up the tongs and began to rearrange the logs that had burned through and fallen apart. "I suppose she has changed a great deal?" he asked absently.

"We've all changed, my dear Archie,—she more than most of us. Yes, and no. She's all there, only there's a great deal more of her. I've had only a few words with her in several years. It's better not, when I'm tied up this way. The laws are barbarous, Archie."

"Your wife is—still the same?" the doctor asked sympathetically.

"Absolutely. Hasn't been out of a sanitarium for seven years now. No prospect of her ever being out, and as long as she's there I'm tied hand and foot. What does society get out of such a state of things, I'd like to know, except a tangle of irregularities? If you want to reform, there's an opening for you!"

"It's bad, oh, very bad; I agree with you!" Dr. Archie shook his head. "But there would be complications under another system, too. The whole question of a young man's marrying has looked pretty grave to me for a long while. How have they the courage to keep on doing it? It depresses me now to buy wedding presents." For some time the doctor watched his guest, who was sunk in bitter reflections. "Such things used to go better than they do now, I believe. Seems to me all the married people I knew when I was a boy were happy enough." He paused again and bit the end off a fresh cigar. "You never saw Thea's mother, did you, Ottenburg? That's a pity. Mrs. Kronborg was a fine woman. I've always been afraid Thea made a mistake, not coming home when Mrs. Kronborg was ill, no matter what it cost her."

Ottenburg moved about restlessly. "She couldn't, Archie, she positively couldn't. I felt you never understood that, but I was in Dresden at the time, and though I wasn't seeing much of her, I could size up the situation for myself. It was by just a lucky chance that she got to sing ELIZABETH that time at the Dresden Opera, a complication of circumstances. If she'd run away, for any reason, she might have waited years for such a chance to come again. She gave a wonderful performance and made a great impression. They offered her certain terms; she had to take them and follow it up then and there. In that game you can't lose a single trick. She was ill herself, but she sang. Her mother was ill, and she sang. No, you mustn't hold that against her, Archie. She did the right thing there." Ottenburg drew out his watch. "Hello! I must be traveling. You hear from her regularly?"

"More or less regularly. She was never much of a letter-writer. She tells me about her engagements and contracts, but I know so little about that business that it doesn't mean much to me beyond the figures, which seem very impressive. We've had a good deal of business correspondence, about putting up a stone to her father and mother, and, lately, about her youngest brother, Thor. He is with me now; he drives my car. To-day he's up at the mine."

Ottenburg, who had picked up his overcoat, dropped it. "Drives your car?" he asked incredulously.

"Yes. Thea and I have had a good deal of bother about Thor. We tried a business college, and an engineering school, but it was no good. Thor was born a chauffeur before there were cars to drive. He was never good for anything else; lay around home and collected postage stamps and took bicycles to pieces, waiting for the automobile to be invented. He's just as much a part of a car as the steering-gear. I can't find out whether he likes his job with me or not, or whether he feels any curiosity about his sister. You can't find anything out from a Kronborg nowadays. The mother was different."

Fred plunged into his coat. "Well, it's a queer world, Archie. But you'll think better of it, if you go to New York. Wish I were going with you. I'll drop in on you in the morning at about eleven. I want a word with you about this Interstate Commerce Bill. Good-night."

Dr. Archie saw his guest to the motor which was waiting below, and then went back to his library, where he replenished the fire and sat down for a long smoke. A man of Archie's modest and rather credulous nature develops late, and makes his largest gain between forty and fifty. At thirty, indeed, as we have seen, Archie was a soft-hearted boy under a manly exterior, still whistling to keep up his courage. Prosperity and large responsibilities—above all, getting free of poor Mrs. Archie—had brought out a good deal more than he knew was in him. He was thinking tonight as he sat before the fire, in the comfort he liked so well, that but for lucky chances, and lucky holes in the ground, he would still be a country practitioner, reading his old books by his office lamp. And yet, he was not so fresh and energetic as he ought to be. He was tired of business and of politics. Worse than that, he was tired of the men with whom he had to do and of the women who, as he said, had been kind to him. He felt as if he were still hunting for something, like old Jasper Flight. He knew that this was an unbecoming and ungrateful state of mind, and he reproached himself for it. But he could not help wondering why it was that life, even when it gave so much, after all gave so little. What was it that he had expected and missed? Why was he, more than he was anything else, disappointed?

He fell to looking back over his life and asking himself which years of it he would like to live over again,—just as they had been,—and they were not many. His college years he would live again, gladly. After them there was nothing he would care to repeat until he came to Thea Kronborg. There had been something stirring about those years in Moonstone, when he was a restless young man on the verge of breaking into larger enterprises, and when she was a restless child on the verge of growing up into something unknown. He realized now that she had counted for a great deal more to him than he knew at the time. It was a continuous sort of relationship. He was always on the lookout for her as he went about the town, always vaguely expecting her as he sat in his office at night. He had never asked himself then if it was strange that he should find a child of twelve the most interesting and companionable person in Moonstone. It had seemed a pleasant, natural kind of solicitude. He explained it then by the fact that he had no children of his own. But now, as he looked back at those years, the other interests were faded and inanimate. The thought of them was heavy. But wherever his life had touched Thea Kronborg's, there was still a little warmth left, a little sparkle. Their friendship seemed to run over those discontented years like a leafy pattern, still bright and fresh when the other patterns had faded into the dull background. Their walks and drives and confidences, the night they watched the rabbit in the moonlight,—why were these things stirring to remember? Whenever he thought of them, they were distinctly different from the other memories of his life; always seemed humorous, gay, with a little thrill of anticipation and mystery about them. They came nearer to being tender secrets than any others he possessed. Nearer than anything else they corresponded to what he had hoped to find in the world, and had not found. It came over him now that the unexpected favors of fortune, no matter how dazzling, do not mean very much to us. They may excite or divert us for a time, but when we look back, the only things we cherish are those which in some way met our original want; the desire which formed in us in early youth, undirected, and of its own accord.