And when She came! Just a girl’s laugh at first from the street door! An impish prance of feet down the dark, unaccustomed hallway! A little trip on the threshold! And then personified—laughing—blushing, stumbling fairly headlong at last into the room—the most radiantly lovely young girl that you have ever had the grace to imagine, dangling exultantly from each frost-pinked hand a very large, wriggly, and exceedingly astonished rabbit.
“Oh, Uncle Charles!” she began, “s-ee what I’ve found! And in an ash-barrel, too! In—a—” She blinked the snow from her lashes, took a sudden startled glance round the room, another at the clock, and collapsed with confusion into the first chair that she could reach.
A very tall “little girl” she was, and very young, not a day more than eighteen surely. And even in the encompassing bulk of her big coon-skin coat with its broad arms hugging the brown rabbits to her breast she gave an impression of extraordinary slimness and delicacy, an impression accentuated perhaps by a slender silk-stockinged ankle, the frilly cuff of a white sleeve, and the aura of pale gold hair that radiated in every direction from the brim of her coon- skin hat. For fully fifteen minutes my Husband said she sat huddled-up in all the sweet furry confusion of a young animal, till driven apparently by that very confusion to essay some distinctly normal-appearing, every-day gesture, she reached out impulsively to the reading table and picked up a book which some young man had just relinquished rather suddenly at a summons to the doctor’s inner office. Relaxing ever so slightly into the depths of her chair with the bunnies’ noses twinkling contentedly to the rhythm of her own breathing, she made a wonderful picture, line, color, spirit, everything of Youth. Reading, with that strange, extra, inexplainable touch of the sudden little pucker in the eyebrows, sheer intellectual perplexity was in that pucker!
But when the young man returned from the inner office he did not leave at once as every cross, irritable person in the room hoped that he would, but fidgeted around instead with hat and coat, stamped up and down crowding other people’s feet, and elbowing other people’s elbows. With a gaspy glance at his watch he turned suddenly on the girl with the rabbits. “Excuse me,” he floundered, “but I have to catch a train— please may I have my book?”
“Your book?” deprecated the Girl. Confusion anew overwhelmed her! “Your—book? Why, I beg your pardon! Why—why—” Pink as a rose she slammed the covers and glanced for the first time at the title. The title of the book was “What Every Young Husband Should Know.” . . . With a sigh like the sigh of a breeze in the ferns the tension of the room relaxed! A very fat, cross-looking woman in black satin ripped audibly at a side seam. . . . A frail old gentleman who really had very few laughs left, wasted one of them in the smothering depths of his big black-bordered handkerchief. . . . The lame newsboy on the stool by the door emitted a single snort of joy. Then the doctor himself loomed suddenly from the inner office, and started right through everybody to the girl with the rabbits. “Why, May,” he laughed, “I told you not to get here till four o’clock!”
It was just as everybody drifted back from the dining-room into the library that the May Girl wriggled her long, silken, childish legs out of the steamer-rug that encompassed her, struggled to her feet, wandered somewhat aimlessly to the piano, fingered the keys for a single indefinite moment and burst ecstatically into song!
None of us, except my Husband, had heard her sing before. None of us indeed, except my Husband and myself, knew even that she could sing. The proof that she could smote suddenly across the ridge of one’s spine like the prickle of a mild electric shock.
My Husband was perfectly right. It was a typical “Boy Soprano” voice, a chorister’s voice—clear as flame— passionless as syrup. As devoid of ritual as the multiplication table it would have made the multiplication table fairly reek with incense and Easter lilies! Absolutely lacking in everything that the tone sharks call “color”—yet it set your mind a-haunt with all the sad crimson and purple splendors of memorial windows! Shadows were back of it! And sorrows! And mysteries! Bridals! And deaths! The prattle alike of the very young and the very old! Carol! And Threnody! And a fearful Transiency as of youth itself passing!
“There is a Green Hill far away
Without a city wall,
Where our dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us—all.”
and she sang
“From the Desert I come to thee,
On a stallion shod with fire!
And the winds are not more fleet
Than the wings of my de-sire!”
Like an Innocent pouring kerosene on the Flame-of-the-World the young voice soared and swelled to that lovely, limpid word “desire.” (In the darkness I saw Paul Brenswick’s hand clutch suddenly out to his Mate’s. In the darkness I saw George Keets switch around suddenly and begin to whisper very fast to Allan John.) And then she sang a little nonsense rhyme about “Rabbits” which she explained rather shyly she had just made up. “She was very fond of rabbits,” she explained. “And of dogs, too—if all the truth were to be told. Also cats.”
“Also—shells!” sniffed young Kennilworth.
“Yes, also shells,” conceded the May Girl without resentment.
“Ha!” sniffed young Kennilworth.
“O—h, a—jealous lover, this,” deprecated George Keets. “Really, Miss Davies,” he condoned, “I’m afraid to-morrow is going to be somewhat of a strain on you.”
“To-morrow?” dimpled the May Girl.
“Ha!—To-morrow!” shrugged young Kennilworth.
“It was the rabbits,” dimpled the May Girl, “that I was going to tell you about now. It’s a very moral song written specially to deplore the—the thievish habits of the rabbits. But I can’t seem to get around to the ‘deploring’ until the second verse. All the first verse is just scientific description.”
“Adorably the young voice lilted into the nonsense——
“Oh, the habit of a rabbit
Is a fact that would amaze
From the pinkness of his blinkness and the blandness of his gaze,
In a nose that’s so a-twinkle like a merri—perri—winkle—
Goodness me!—That voice!—The babyishness of it!—And the poignancy! Should one laugh? Or should one cry? Clap one’s hands? Or bolt from the room? I decided to bolt from the room.