Active Service

by Stephen Crane

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter IV

MARJORY paused again at her father's door. After hesitating in the original way she entered the library. Her father almost represented an emblematic figure, seated upon a column of books. " Well," he cried. Then, seeing it was Marjory, he changed his tone. " Ah, under the circumstances, my dear, I admit your privilege of interrupting me at any hour of the day. You have important business with me." His manner was satanically indulgent.

The girl fingered a book. She turned the leaves in absolute semblance of a person reading. "Rufus Coleman called."

"Indeed," said the professor.

"And I've come to you, father, before seeing him."

The professor was silent for a time. " Well, Marjory," he said at last, "what do you want me to say?" He spoke very deliberately. " I am sure this is a singular situation. Here appears the man I formally forbid you to marry. I am sure I do not know what I am to say."

" I wish to see him," said the girl.

"You wish to see him?" enquired the professor. "You wish to see him " Marjory, I may as well tell you now that with all the books and plays I've read, I really don't know how the obdurate father should conduct himself. He is always pictured as an exceedingly dense gentleman with white whiskers, who does all the unintelligent things in the plot. You and I are going to play no drama, are we, Marjory? I admit that I have white whiskers, and I am an obdurate father. I am, as you well may say, a very obdurate father. You are not to marry Rufus Coleman. You understand the rest of the matter. He is here ; you want to see him. What will you say to him when you see him? "

" I will say that you refuse to let me marry him, father and-" She hesitated a moment before she lifted her eyes fully and formidably to her father's face. " And that I shall marry him anyhow."

The professor did not cavort when this statement came from his daughter. He nodded and then passed into a period of reflection. Finally he asked: "But when? That is the point. When?"

The girl made a sad gesture. "I don't know. I don't know. Perhaps when you come to know Rufus better-" " Know him better. Know that rapscallion better? Why, I know him much better than he knows himself. I know him too well. Do you think I am talking offhand about this affair? Do you think I am talking without proper information?"

Marjory made no reply.

"Well," said the professor, "you may see Coleman on condition that you inform him at once that I forbid your marriage to him. I don't understand at all how to manage these situations. I don't know what to do. I suppose I should go myself and-No, you can't see him, Majory."

Still the girl made no reply. Her head sank forward and she breathed a trifle heavily. "Marjory," cried the professor, it is impossible that you should think so much of this man." He arose and went to his daughter. " Marjory, many wise children have been guided by foolish fathers, but we both suspect that no foolish child has ever been guided by a wise father. Let us change it. I present myself to you as a wise father. Follow my wishes in this affair and you will be at least happier than if you marry this wretched Coleman."

She answered: " He is waiting for me."

The professor turned abruptly from her and dropped into his chair at the table. He resumed a grip on his pen. " Go," he said, wearily. " Go. But if you have a remnant of sense, remember what I have said to you. Go." He waved his hand in a dismissal that was slightly scornful. " I hoped you would have a minor conception of what you were doing. It seems a pity." Drooping in tears, the girl slowly left the room.

Coleman had an idea that he had occupied the chair for several months. He gazed about at the pictures and the odds and ends of a drawing-room in an attempt to take an interest in them. The great garlanded paper shade over the piano lamp consoled his impatience in a mild degree because he knew that Marjory had made it. He noted the clusters of cloth violets which she had pinned upon the yellow paper and he dreamed over the fact. He was able to endow this shade with certain qualities of sentiment that caused his stare to become almost a part of an intimacy, a communion. He looked as if he could have unburdened his soul to this shade over the piano lamp.

Upon the appearance of Marjory he sprang up and came forward rapidly. " Dearest," he murmured, stretching out both hands. She gave him one set of fingers with chilling convention. She said something which he understood to be " Good-afternoon." He started as if the woman before him had suddenly drawn a knife. " Marjory," he cried, "what is the matter?." They walked together toward a window. The girl looked at him in polite enquiry. " Why? " she said. " Do I seem strange ? " There was a moment's silence while he gazed into her eyes, eyes full of innocence and tranquillity. At last she tapped her foot upon the floor in expression of mild impatience. " People do not like to be asked what is the matter when there is nothing the matter. What do you mean ? "

Coleman's face had gradually hardened. " Well, what is wrong? " he demanded, abruptly. "What has happened? What is it, Marjory ? "

She raised her glance in a perfect reality of wonder. "What is wrong? What has happened? How absurd! Why nothing, of course." She gazed out of the window. " Look," she added, brightly, the students are rolling somebody in a drift. Oh, the poor Man ! "

Coleman, now wearing a bewildered air, made some pretense of being occupied with the scene. " Yes," he said, ironically. "Very interesting, indeed."

" Oh," said Marjory, suddenly, " I forgot to tell you. Father is going to take mother and me to Greece this winter with him and the class."

Coleman replied at once. " Ah, indeed ? That will be jolly."

"Yes. Won't it be charming?"

" I don't doubt it," he replied. His composure May have displeased her, for she glanced at him furtively and in a way that denoted surprise, perhaps.

"Oh, of course," she said, in a glad voice. " It will be more fun. We expect to nave a fine time. There is such a n ice lot of boys going Sometimes father chooses these dreadfully studious ones. But this time he acts as if he knew precisely how to make up a party."

He reached for her hand and grasped it vise-like. "Marjory," he breathed, passionately, " don't treat me so. Don't treat me-"

She wrenched her hand from him in regal indignation. " One or two rings make it uncomfortable for the hand that is grasped by an angry gentleman." She held her fingers and gazed as if she expected to find them mere debris. " I am sorry that you are not interested in the students rolling that man in the snow. It is the greatest scene our quiet life can afford."

He was regarding her as a judge faces a lying culprit. " I know," he said, after a pause. " Somebody has been telling you some stories. You have been hearing something about me."

" Some stories ? " she enquired. " Some stories about you? What do you mean? Do you mean that I remember stories I may happen to hear about people? "

There was another pause and then Coleman's face flared red. He beat his hand violently upon a table. " Good God, Marjory! Don't make a fool of me. Don't make this kind of a fool of me, at any rate. Tell me what you mean. Explain-" She laughed at him. " Explain? Really, your vocabulary is getting extensive, but it is dreadfully awkward to ask people to explain when there is nothing to explain."

He glanced at her, " I know as well as you do that your father is taking you to Greece in order to get rid of me."

" And do people have to go to Greece in order to get rid of you? " she asked, civilly. " I think you are getting excited."

" Marjory," he began, stormily. She raised her hand. " Hush," she said, "there is somebody coming." A bell had rung. A maid entered the room. " Mr. Coke," she said. Marjory nodded. In the interval of waiting, Coleman gave the girl a glance that mingled despair with rage and pride. Then Coke burst with half-tamed rapture into the room. " Oh, Miss Wainwright," he almost shouted, " I can't tell you how glad I am. I just heard to-day you were going. Imagine it. It will be more—oh, how are you Coleman, how are you " "

Marjory welcomed the new-comer with a cordiality that might not have thrilled Coleman with pleasure. They took chairs that formed a triangle and one side of it vibrated with talk. Coke and Marjory engaged in a tumultuous conversation concerning the prospective trip to Greece. The Sunday editor, as remote as if the apex of his angle was the top of a hill, could only study the girl's clear profile. The youthful voices of the two others rang like bells. He did not scowl at Coke; he merely looked at him as if be gently disdained his mental calibre. In fact all the talk seemed to tire him; it was childish; as for him, he apparently found this babble almost insupportable.

" And, just think of the camel rides we'll have," cried Coke.

" Camel rides," repeated Coleman, dejectedly. " My dear Coke." Finally he arose like an old man climbing from a sick bed. "Well, I am afraid I must go, Miss Wainwright." Then he said affectionately to Coke: " Good-bye, old boy. I hope you will have a good time."

Marjory walked with him to the door. He shook her hand in a friendly fashion. " Good-bye, Marjory,' he said. " Perhaps it may happen that I shan't see you again before you start for Greece and so I had best bid you God-speed—-or whatever the term is now. You will have a charming time; Greece must be a delightful place. Really, I envy you, Marjory. And now my dear child "-his voice grew brotherly, filled with the patronage of generous fraternal love, " although I may never see you again let me wish you fifty as happy years as this last one has been for me." He smiled frankly into her eyes; then dropping her hand, he went away.

Coke renewed his tempest of talk as Marjory turned toward him. But after a series of splendid eruptions, whose red fire illumined all of ancient and modem Greece, he too went away.

The professor was in his. library apparently absorbed in a book when a tottering pale-faced woman appeared to him and, in her course toward a couch in a corner of the room, described almost a semi-circle. She flung herself face downward. A thick strand of hair swept over her shoulder. " Oh, my heart is broken! My heart is broken! "

The professor arose, grizzled and thrice-old with pain. He went to the couch, but he found himself a handless, fetless man. " My poor child," he said. " My poor child." He remained listening stupidly to her convulsive sobbing. A ghastly kind of solemnity came upon the room.

Suddenly the girl lifted herself and swept the strand of hair away from her face. She looked at the professor with the wide- open dilated eyes of one who still sleeps. " Father," she said in a hollow voice, " he don't love me. He don't love me. He don't love me. at all. You were right, father." She began to laugh.

"Marjory," said the professor, trembling. "Be quiet, child. Be quiet."

" But," she said, " I thought he loved me—I was sure of it. But it don't-don't matter. I—I can't get over it. Women-women, the- but it don't matter."

" Marjory," said the professor. " Marjory, my poor daughter."

She did not heed his appeal, but continued in a dull whisper. " He was playing with me. He was—was-was flirting with me. He didn't care when I told him—I told him— I was going-going away." She turned her face wildly to the cushions again. Her young shoulders shook as if they might break. " Wo-men-women-they always——"

Return to the Active Service Summary Return to the Stephen Crane Library

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.