Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
The Downfall of Abner Joyce
"Don't work so hard at it," said Medora, laying her violin on top of the pianola. "You shake the house. A minute more and you'll have that lamp toppling over. And you'll tire yourself out."
Abner wiped his damp brow and felt of his wilted collar. He never put less than his whole self into anything he attempted. "Tire myself? I'm strong enough, I guess."
"Well, use your strength to better advantage. Let me show you."
Medora slipped into his place, reset the roll, pulled a stop or two, and trod out a dozen ringing measures with no particular effort. "Like that."
"Very well," said Abner, resuming his seat docilely. The rest wondered; he seldom welcomed suggestions or accepted correction.
"Now let's try it once more," said Medora.
An evening devoted to literature was ending with a bit of music. Abner and Bond had both read unpublished manuscripts with the fierce joy that authors feel on such occasions, and the others had listened with patience if not with pleasure. Abner gave two or three of the newest chapters of Regeneration, and Bond read a few pages to show what progress an alien romanticist was making in homely fields nearer at hand. He had hoped for Abner's encouragement and approval in this new venture of his, but he got neither.
"The way to write about cows in a pasture," commented Abner, "is just to write about them--in a simple, straightforward style without any slant toward history or mythology, and without any cross-references to remote scenes of foreign travel. For instance, you speak of a Ranz----"
"Ranz des Vaches," said Medora: "a sort of thing the Alpine what's-his-name sings."
"It's for atmosphere," said Bond, on the defensive.
"Let the pasture furnish its own atmosphere. And you had something about a certain breed of cattle near Rome--Rome, was it?"
"Roman Campagna. Travel reminiscences."
"Travel is a mistake," declared Abner.
"So it is," broke in Clytie. "Squat on your own door-step, as Emerson says."
"Does he?--I think not," interposed Giles the elder. "What he does say is----"
"We all know," interrupted Stephen, "and ignore the counsel."
Abner did not know, but he would not stoop to ask. "And there was a quotation from one of those old authors,--Theocritus?"
"Theocritus, yes. Historical perspective."
"Leave the past alone. Live in the present. The past,--bury it, forget it."
"So hard. Heir of the ages, you know. Good deal harder to forget than never to have learned at all. That's easy," jibed Bond, with a touch of temper.
"Oh, now!" cried Medora, fearful that another temper might respond.
"If you must bring in those old Greeks," Abner proceeded, "take their method and let the rest drop. All they knew, as I understand it, they learned from men and things close round them and from the nature in whose midst they lived. They didn't quote; they didn't range the world; they didn't go for sanction outside of themselves and their own environment."
"The Greeks didn't know so much," interjected Clytie.
"Oh, didn't they, though!" cried Adrian, sending a glance of thanks to counteract his contradiction. "They finished things. The temple wasn't complete till they had swept all the marble chips off the back stoop, and had kind of curry-combed down the front yard, and had----"
"'Sh,'sh!" said Medora. Abner looked about, more puzzled than offended. "Let's have some music, before our breasts get too savage," said the girl, starting up.
Bond followed with the rest. "I'll stick to my regular field," he said to Clytie, as he thrust his crumpled-up manuscript into his pocket. "Griffins, gorgons, hydras, chimeras dire,--but no more cows. I was never meant for a veritist."
"Samson is pulling down the temple," observed Clytie. "Crash goes the first pillar. Who will be next?"
"He'll be caught in the wreck," said Bond, in a shattered voice. "Just watch and see."