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The Torrents of Spring Part 2 Chapter 8

Half an hour later Scripps O'Neil and the elderly waitress returned to the beanery as man and wife. The beanery looked much the same. There was the long counter, the salt cellars, the sugar containers, the catsup bottle, the Worcestershire Sauce bottle. There was the wicket that led into the kitchen. Behind the counter was the relief waitress. She was a buxom, jolly-looking girl, and she wore a white apron. At the counter, reading a Detroit paper, sat a drummer. The drummer was eating a T-bone steak and hashed-brown potatoes. Something very beautiful had happened to Scripps and the elderly waitress. Now they were hungry. They wished to eat.

The elderly waitress looking at Scripps. Scripps looking at the elderly waitress. The drummer reading his paper and occasionally putting a little catsup on his hashed-brown potatoes. The other waitress, Mandy, back of the counter in her freshly starched white apron. The frost on the windows. The warmth inside. The cold outside. Scripps's bird, rather rumpled now, sitting on the counter and preening his feathers.

"So you've come back," Mandy the waitress said. "The cook said you had gone out into the night."

The elderly waitress looked at Mandy, her eyes brightened, her voice calm and now of a deeper, richer timbre.

"We are man and wife now," she said kindly. "We have just been married. What would you like to eat for supper, Scripps, dear?"

"I don't know," Scripps said. He felt vaguely uneasy. Something was stirring within him.

"Perhaps you have eaten enough of the beans, dear Scripps," the elderly waitress, now his wife, said. The drummer looked up from his paper. Scripps noticed it was the Detroit News. There was a fine paper.

"That's a fine paper you're reading," Scripps said to the drummer.

"It's a good paper, the News," the drummer said. "You two on your honeymoon?"

"Yes," Mrs. Scripps said; "we are man and wife now."

"Well," said the drummer, "that's a mighty fine thing to be. I'm a married man myself."

"Are you?" said Scripps. "My wife left me. It was in Mancelona."

"Don't let's talk of that any more, Scripps, dear," Mrs. Scripps said. "You've told that story so many times."

"Yes, dear," Scripps agreed. He felt vaguely mistrustful of himself. Something, somewhere was stirring inside of him. He looked at the waitress called Mandy, standing robust and vigorously lovely in her newly starched white apron. He watched her hands, healthy, calm, capable hands, doing the duties of waitresshood.

"Try one of these T-bones with hashed-brown potatoes," the drummer suggested. "They got a nice T-bone here."

"Would you like one, dear?" Scripps asked his wife.

"I'll just take a bowl of milk and crackers," the elderly Mrs. Scripps said. "You have whatever you want, dear."

"Here's your crackers and milk, Diana," Mandy said, placing them on the counter. "Do you want a T-bone, sir?"

"Yes," Scripps said. Something stirred again within him.

"Well done or rare?"

"Rare, please."

The waitress turned and called into the wicket: "Tea for one. Let it go raw!"

"Thank you," Scripps said. He eyed the waitress Mandy. She had a gift for the picturesque in speech, that girl. It had been that very picturesque quality in her speech that had first drawn him to his present wife. That and her strange background. England, the Lake Country. Scripps striding through the Lake Country with Wordsworth. A field of golden daffodils. The wind blowing at Windermere. Far off, perhaps, a stag at bay. Ah, that was farther north, in Scotland. They were a hardy race, those Scots, deep in their mountain fastnesses. Harry Lauder and his pipe. The Highlanders in the Great War. Why had not he, Scripps, been in the war? That was where that chap Yogi Johnson had it on him. The war would have meant much to him, Scripps. Why hadn't he been in it? Why hadn't he heard of it in time? Perhaps he was too old. Look at that old French General Joffre, though. Surely he was a younger man than that old general. General Foch praying for victory. The French troops kneeling along the Chemin des Dames, praying for victory. The Germans with their "Gott mit uns." What a mockery. Surely he was no older than that French General Foch. He wondered.

Mandy, the waitress, placed his T-bone steak and hashed-brown potatoes on the counter before him. As she laid the plate down, just for an instant, her hand touched his. Scripps felt a strange thrill go through him. Life was before him. He was not an old man. Why were there no wars now? Perhaps there were. Men were fighting in China, Chinamen, Chinamen killing one another. What for? Scripps wondered. What was it all about, anyway?

Mandy, the buxom waitress, leaned forward. "Say," she said, "did I ever tell you about the last words of Henry James?"

"Really, dear Mandy," Mrs. Scripps said, "you've told that story rather often."

"Let's hear it," Scripps said. "I'm very interested in Henry James." Henry James, Henry James. That chap who had gone away from his own land to live in England among Englishmen. Why had he done it? For what had he left America? Weren't his roots here? His brother William. Boston. Pragmatism. Harvard University. Old John Harvard with silver buckles on his shoes. Charley Brickley. Eddie Mahan. Where were they now?

"Well," Mandy began, "Henry James became a British subject on his death-bed. At once, as soon as the king heard Henry James had become a British subject he sent around the highest decoration in his power to bestow—the Order of Merit."

"The O. M.," the elderly Mrs. Scripps explained.

"That was it," the waitress said. "Professors Gosse and Saintsbury came with the man who brought the decoration. Henry James was lying on his death-bed, and his eyes were shut. There was a single candle on a table beside the bed. The nurse allowed them to come near the bed, and they put the ribbon of the decoration around James's neck, and the decoration lay on the sheet over Henry James's chest. Professors Gosse and Saintsbury leaned forward and smoothed the ribbon of the decoration. Henry James never opened his eyes. The nurse told them they all must go out of the room, and they all went out of the room. When they were all gone, Henry James spoke to the nurse. He never opened his eyes. 'Nurse,' Henry James said, 'put out the candle, nurse, and spare my blushes.' Those were the last words he ever spoke."

"James was quite a writer," Scripps O'Neil said. He was strangely moved by the story.

"You don't always tell it the same way, dear," Mrs. Scripps remarked to Mandy. There were tears in Mandy's eyes. "I feel very strongly about Henry James," she said.

"What was the matter with James?" asked the drummer. "Wasn't America good enough for him?"

Scripps O'Neil was thinking about Mandy, the waitress. What a background she must have, that girl! What a fund of anecdotes! A chap could go far with a woman like that to help him! He stroked the little bird that sat on the lunch-counter before him. The bird pecked at his finger. Was the little bird a hawk? A falcon, perhaps, from one of the big Michigan falconries. Was it perhaps a robin? Pulling and tugging at the early worm on some green lawn somewhere? He wondered.

"What do you call you bird?" the drummer asked.

"I haven't named him yet. What would you call him?"

"Why not call him Ariel?" Mandy asked.

"Or Puck," Mrs. Scripps put in.

"What's it mean?" asked the drummer.

"It's a character out of Shakespeare," Mandy explained.

"Oh, give the bird a chance."

"What would you call him?" Scripps turned to the drummer.

"He ain't a parrot, is he?" asked the drummer. "If he was a parrot you could call him Polly."

"There's a character in 'The Beggar's Opera' called Polly," Mandy explained.

Scripps wondered. Perhaps the bird was a parrot. A parrot strayed from some comfortable home with some old maid. The untilled soil of some New England spinster.

"Better wait till you see how he turns out," the drummer advised. "You got plenty of time to name him."

This drummer had sound ideas. He, Scripps, did not ever know what sex the bird was. Whether he was was a boy bird or a girl bird.

"Wait till you see if he lays eggs," the drummer suggested. Scripps looked into the drummer's eyes. The fellow had voiced his own unspoken thought.

"You know a thing or two, drummer," he said.

"Well," the drummer admitted modestly, "I ain't drummed all these years for nothing."

"You're right there, pal," Scripps said.

"That's a nice bird you got there, brother," the drummer said. "You want to hang onto that bird."

Scripps knew it. Ah, these drummers know a thing or two. Going up and down over the face of this great America of ours. These drummers kept their eyes open. They were no fools.

"Listen," the drummer said. He pushed his derby hat off his brow and, leaning forward, spat into the tall brass cuspidor that stood besides his stool. "I want to tell you about a pretty beautiful thing that happened to me once in Bay City."

Mandy, the waitress, leaned forward. Mrs. Scripps leaned toward the drummer to hear better. The drummer looked apologetically at Scripps and stroked the bird with his forefinger.

"Tell you about it some other time, brother," he said. Scripps understood. From out of the kitchen, through the wicket in the hall, came a high-pitched, haunting laugh. Scripps listened. Could that be the laughter of the Negro? He wondered.