THE OTHER DAY a poet friend of mine, who has lived in close communication with nature all his life, wrote a poem and took it to an editor.
It was a living pastoral, full of the genuine breath of the fields, the song of birds, and the pleasant chatter of trickling streams.
When the poet called again to see about it, with hopes of a beefsteak dinner in his heart, it was handed back to him with the comment:
Several of us met over spaghetti and Dutchess County chianti, and swallowed indignation with the slippery forkfuls. And there we dug a pit for the editor. With us was Conant, a well-arrived writer of fiction – a man who had trod on asphalt all his life, and who had never looked upon bucolic scenes except with sensations of disgust from the windows of express trains.
Conant wrote a poem and called it ‘The Doe and the Brook.’ It was a fine specimen of the kind of work you would expect from a poet who had strayed with Amaryllis only as far as the florist’s windows, and whose sole ornithological discussion had been carried on with a waiter. Conant signed this poem, and we sent it to the same editor. But this has very little to do with the story.
Just as the editor was reading the first line of the poem, on the next morning, a being stumbled off the West Shore ferryboat, and loped slowly up Forty-second Street.
The invader was a young man with light blue eyes, a hanging ip, and hair the exact colour of the little orphan’s (afterwards discovered to be the earl’s daughter) in one of Mr Blaney’s plays. His trousers were corduroy, his coat short-sleeved, with buttons in the middle of his back. One bootleg was outside the corduroys. You looked expectantly, though in vain, at his straw hat for ear-holes, its shape inaugurating the suspicion that it had been ravaged from a former equine possessor. In his hand was a valise – description of it is an impossible task; a Boston man would not have carried his lunch and law books to his office in it. And above one ear, in his hair, was a wisp of hay – the rustic’s letter of credit, his badge of innocence, the last clinging touch of the Garden of Eden lingering to shame the goldbrick men.
Knowingly, smilingly, the city crowds passed him by. They saw the raw stranger stand in the gutter and stretch his neck at the tall buildings. At this they ceased to smile, and even to look at him. It had been done so often.
A few glanced at the antique valise to see what Coney ‘attraction’ or brand of chewing-gum he might be thus dinning into his memory. But for the most part he was ignored. Even the newsboys looked bored when he scampered like a circus clown out of the way of cabs and street-cars.
They went to a café frequented by men with smooth faces and shifty eyes, and sat at their drinks.
At Eighth Avenue stood ‘Bunco Harry,’ with his dyed moustache and shiny, good-natured eyes. Harry was too good an artist not to be pained at the sight of an actor overdoing his part. He edged up to the countryman, who had stopped to open his mouth at a jewellery store window, and shook his head.
‘Too thick, pal,’ he said critically – ‘too thick by a couple of inches. I don’t know what your lay is; but you’ve got the properties on too thick. That hay, now – why, they don’t even allow that on Proctor’s circuit any more.’
‘I don’t understand you, mister,’ said the green one. ‘I’m not lookin’ for any circus. I’ve just run down from Ulster County to look at the town, bein’ that the hayin’s over with. Gosh! but it’s a
whopper. I thought Poughkeepsie was some punkins, but this here town is five times as big.’
‘Oh, well,’ said ‘Bunco Harry,’ raising his eyebrows, ‘I didn’t mean to butt in. You don’t have to tell. I thought you ought to tone down a little, so I tried to put you wise. Wish you success at
your graft, whatever it is. Come and have a drink, anyhow.’
‘I wouldn’t mind having a glass of lager beer,’ acknowledged the