Roses, Ruses and Romance

Ravenel—Ravenel, the traveller, artist and poet, threw his magazine to the floor. Sammy Brown, broker’s clerk, who sat by the window, jumped.

“What is it, Ravvy?” he asked. “The critics been hammering your stock down?”

“Romance is dead,” said Ravenel lightly. When Ravenel spoke lightly he was generally serious. He picked up the magazine and fluttered its leaves.

“Even a Philistine, like you, Sammy,” said Ravenel seriously (a tone that ensured him to be speaking lightly), “ought to understand. Now, here is a magazine that once printed Poe and Lowell and Whitman and Bret Harte and Du Maurier and Lanier and—well, that gives you the idea. The current number has this literary feast to set before you: an article on the stokers and coal bunkers of battleships, an exposé of the methods employed in making liverwurst, a continued story of a Standard Preferred International Baking Powder deal in Wall Street, a ‘poem’ on the bear that the President missed, another ‘story’ by a young woman who spent a week as a spy making overalls on the East Side, another ‘fiction’ story that reeks of the ‘garage’ and a certain make of automobile. Of course the title contains the words ‘Cupid’ and ‘Chauffeur’—an article on naval strategy illustrated with cuts of the Spanish Armada, and the new Staten Island ferry-boats; another story of a political boss who won the love of a Fifth Avenue belle by blackening her eye and refusing to vote for an iniquitous ordinance (it doesn’t say whether it was in the Street Cleaning Department or Congress), and nineteen pages by the editors bragging about the circulation. The whole thing, Sammy, is an obituary on Romance.”

Sammy Brown sat comfortably in the leather armchair by the open window. His suit was a vehement brown with visible checks, beautifully matched in shade by the ends of four cigars that his vest pocket poorly concealed. Light tan were his shoes, grey his socks, sky-blue his apparent linen, snowy and high and adamantine his collar, against which a black butterfly had alighted and spread his wings. Sammy’s face—least important—was round and pleasant and pinkish, and in his eyes you saw no haven for fleeing Romance.

That window of Ravenel’s apartment opened upon an old garden full of ancient trees and shrubbery. The apartment-house towered above one side of it; a high brick wall fended it from the street; opposite Ravenel’s window an old, old mansion stood, half hidden in the shade of the summer foliage. The house was a castle besieged. The city howled and roared and shrieked and beat upon its double doors, and shook white, fluttering cheques above the walls, offering terms of surrender. The grey dust settled upon the trees; the siege was pressed hotter, but the drawbridge was not lowered. No further will the language of chivalry serve. Inside lived and old gentleman who loved his home and did not wish to sell it. That is all the romance of the besieged castle.

Three or four times every week came Sammy Brown to Ravenel’s apartment. He belonged to the poet’s club, for the former Browns had been conspicuous, though Sammy had been vulgarised by Business. He had no tears for departed Romance. The song of the ticker was the one that reached his heart, and when it came to matters equine and batting scores he was something of a pink edition. He loved to sit in the leather armchair by Ravenel’s window. And Ravenel didn’t mind particularly. Sammy seemed to enjoy his talk; and then the broker’s clerk was such a perfect embodiment of modernity and the day’s sordid practicality, that Ravenel rather liked to use him as a scapegoat.

“I’ll tell you what’s the matter with you,” said Sammy, with the shrewdness that business had taught him. “The magazine has turned down some of your poetry stunts. That’s why you are sore at it.”

“That would be a good guess in Wall Street or in a campaign for the presidency of a woman’s club,” said Ravenel quietly. “Now, there is a poem—if you will allow me to call it that—of my own in this number of the magazine.”

“Read it to me,” said Sammy, watching a cloud of pipe-smoke he had just blown out the window.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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