A Mild Orgie Edit

Locksley came boldly in, breathlessly.

“All right, I see, Mr. Dreeme,” he panted.

“All right, Locksley! thanks to you and Mr. Byng.”

“I’ve been gone,” says the janitor, “long enough to make all the shifts of a permutation lock.”

He deposited a huge basket on the table.

“Bagpypes’s was shut,” he continued. “So was De Grope’s. I had to go up to Selleridge’s. He’s an open-all-night-er. Selleridge’s was full of fire-company boys, taking their tods after a run. Selleridge couldn’t stop pouring and mixing and stirring and muddling. ‘Firemen comes first,’ says he. ‘They’ve got to have their extinguishers into ’em.’ So I jumped up on the counter, and says I, ‘Boys, I’ve got a sick man to oyster up, and if he ain’t oystered up on time he’ll be a dead shell.’ So the red flannels drawed off, like real bricks. I got my oysters, and came away like horse-power.”

Locksley took breath, and began to arrange his vivers on the table.

“Six Shrewsburys,” he pronounced, bestowing their portly shells before him. “For a roast, if Mr. Dreeme likes. Twelve Blue-Pointers, every one little as a lady’s ear. Them for a stew, if Mr. Dreeme likes better. Paper of mixed crackers, — Boston butters, Wilson’s sweets, and Wing’s pethy. Pad of butter. Plate of slaw, ready vinegared. I wanted to leave the slaw; but Selleridge said, ‘No; slaw and oysters was man and wife, and he shouldn’t be easy in his mind if he sent one out and kep’ the other.’ And here’s some Scotch ale, in a scrumptious little stone jug, to wash all down.”

“You will appall Mr. Dreeme’s invalid appetite with these piles of provender,” said I.

“On the contrary, my spirits rise with the sight of a banquet and guests to share it,” Dreeme returned.

“Nibble on a Wing’s pethy,” says Locksley, handing the crackers, “while I plant a Shrewsbury to cook in the stove.”

“I did not know how ravenous I was,” Dreeme said, taking a second “pethy.”

“Dora had a hearty cry,” says the janitor, “because she couldn’t get any word when she came up with your meals to-day, Mr. Dreeme.”

“Poor child! I heard her knock in the morning; but I was half asleep, and too weak to answer. All at once my strength, ignorantly over tasked, had failed. Later, I managed to struggle up and dress myself. Then I found my way to this arm-chair before my picture. There I sat all day, sometimes unconscious, sometimes conscious of a flicker of life. Dora came with my dinner. I heard her knock. When I perceived that I could not speak or stir in answer, utter desolation darkened down upon me. I felt myself sink away, and seemed to drown, slowly, slowly, without pain or terror. Immeasurable deeps of space crushed me. But by and by I felt my course reversed. I was rising, slowly as I had sunk. At last I knew the pang and thrill of life. I woke and saw Mr. Byng restoring me.”

Dreeme recited this history with strange impassiveness.

“You take it pretty cool,” says Locksley. “It seems as if you was making up a tale about somebody else, — holding off your death at arm’s length and talking about it.”

“Mr. Dreeme speaks as an artist,” said I, trying, with a blundering good-humor, to make our parley less sombre. “He already looks at this passage in his life as a peril quite escaped, and so material for dramatic treatment.”

“Death and resurrection!” said Dreeme, gravely “Suppose, Mr. Byng, that you were worn down to die by agony for sins not your own, could you believe that such an incomplete death as mine makes atonement? Could you hope that your strong suffering had purged the guilty souls clean? Could you have faith that their lives would renew and amend, as vital force came back to the life that had sorrowed unto death for them?”

“Solemn questions, Mr. Dreeme,” I replied. “Are you quite well enough yet to entertain them?”

Here the Shrewsbury in the stove recalled us to mundane phenomena, by giving a loud wheeze.

“There she blows!” cried Locksley.

He grappled the crustaceous grandee with the tongs, and popped him on a plate. A little fragrant steam issued from the calcined lips, invitingly parted.

“Roast oysters,” says Locksley, “always wheezes when they’re done to a bulge. If you want ’em done dry, wait till the music’s all cooked out of ’em. This is a bulger,” he continued, deftly whisking off the top shell. “Down it, Mr. Dreeme, without winking!”

Dreeme obeyed.

Locksley consigned another of the noble race of Shrewsbury to fiery martyrdom. Then he turned again to the painter.

“You won’t go and die again?” said he.

Dreeme smiled, and shook his head.

“Not,” says the janitor, with queer earnestness of manner, “that I wouldn’t come in any time on call and help liven you up, howsever dead you might be. But it ain’t good for you; it’s unwholesome, — tell him so, Mr. Byng.”

“Be informed, then, Mr. Dreeme,” said I, “that dying is not good for you. I intend not to let you take any more of it. I prescribe instead a generous life, and I hope you will allow me to aid in administering the remedy.”

“That’s right,” says Locksley, “mix in, Mr. Byng. And now, if you say so, I’ll run down and get Mr. Stillfleet’s volcano and stew-pan to stew the Blue-Pointers. They’re waiting, mild as you please, and not getting a fair show.”

The busy fellow bustled off.

“Mixing in is my trade,” said I. “I am a chemist. Pardon me if I seem to mingle myself too far and too soon in your affairs.”

“I feel no danger from you, Mr. Byng. I accept most gratefully your kind and gentleman-like interference.”

He spoke with marked dignity. Indeed, although the circumstances of our meeting had brought us so near together, the reserve and settled self-possession of his manner kept me at a wide distance. No fear that he would not protect himself against intrusion.

Locksley now reappeared with the stew-pan and alcohol-lamp. He went at his cookery with a blundering frenzy of good-will. It was quite idle for Dreeme to protest that he would be killed by this culinary kindness.

“Just one Blue-Pointer!” says the janitor-cook, forking out a little oyster of pearly complexion from where it lay heads and points among its fellows.” Just one! It’ll top off the Shrewsburys, as a feather tops off a commodore.”

The bristly fellow’s earnestness, as he stood seductively holding up the neat morsel, was so comic, that Dreeme let himself laugh heartily.

I had heard no laugh since Densdeth’s at the Chuzzlewit dinner-table. That scoffing tone of his which broke in upon my queries to Churm regarding Cecil Dreeme was still in my ears. The memory of Densdeth’s laugh still misrepresented to me all laughter. Laughter, if I took that as its type, was only the loud sneer of a ruthless cynic. Such a laugh made honor seem folly, truth weakness, generosity a bid for richer requital, chivalry the hypocrisy of a knave.

I was hardly conscious how much faith had gone out of me, expelled by his sneering tone, until Dreeme’s musical, child-like laugh redressed the wrong. Instantly the wound of Densdeth’s cynicism was healed. I was freshened again, and tuned anew to all sweet influences. Honor seemed wisdom; truth the only strength; generosity its own reward; chivalry the expression in manners of a loyal heart. All the brave joyousness of my nature responded to this laugh of Dreeme’s, and spoke out boldly in my echoing one. Each of us perceived new sympathy in the other.

Locksley now made his reappearance with the volcano. The oysters crackled in the stove, fizzed and bubbled over the lamp on the table.

The poetic temperament takes in happiness and good cheer as a bud takes sunshine. Dreeme expanded more and more. His silver laugh flowed free in chastened merriment. He seemed to forget that an hour ago he had been dying, friendless and alone; to forget whatever sorrow or terror had driven him to this unnatural seclusion, up in the shabby precincts of Chrysalis College.

We were a merry trio. Reaction after the anxiety of the evening exhilarated me to my best mood. Locksley too was in high feather. His harangue at Selleridge’s had loosed his tongue, — never in truth a very tight one, — and he vented no end of odd phrases over the banquet.

Stillfleet’s antique flasks and goblets figured decorously at the board. They were spectators rather than actors. The janitor proposed Mr. Dreeme’s health.

“I hardly expected, Locksley,” said I in reply, “when Stillfleet warned you that I would try to introduce the Orgie here, that you were to be my chief abettor.”

“The mildest Orgie ever known!” said Dreeme.

“Rather a feast of thanksgiving. But shall we end it now? I see you grow weary.”

“I do, healthily weary. Ah, Mr. Byng! you cannot conceive the blissful revulsion in my life since last night, when I fell asleep alone and without hope, — over-weary with work, weary to death of life.”

“Would you like me to camp with a blanket on your floor, in case you should need anything?”

“No,” he replied, rather coldly. “I shall do well. I would not incommode you.”

“Good night then, my dear Mr. Dreeme. Pray understand that our new friendship must not be slept out of existence.”

No doubt my tone betrayed that his sudden cold manner had made me fancy such a result.

“O no!” he said ardently. “I am not a person of many professions, but I do not forget. And I need your kindness still, and shall need it. Pray,” continued he, “keep my secret. I do not wish to be known, until my hibernation is over. Locksley has been pretty faithful thus far.”

“Until Mr. Byng arrived to make a traitor of me,” said the janitor, with compunction.

“Such treachery is higher loyalty,” Dreeme rejoined. “You find me hiding my light under a bushel, but don’t suspect me, Mr. Byng, of anything worse than a freak, or an ambitious fancy.”

Not either of these, I was sure, from his unhappy attempt at a smile as he spoke. But he threw himself upon my good faith so utterly, that I resolved never to open my eyes, to shut them even to any flash of suspicion of his secret that any circumstance might reveal.

“Good night!” And so we parted.

“We’ve hit the bull’s-eye true,” said Locksley, as we descended. “You suited him even better than Mr. Churm could have done.”

“Mysterious business! Such an odd place to hide in! And his name on the door, too!”

“Who would think of searching for a runaway in a respectable old den like this. Perhaps the name is not his. A wrong name puts people on the wrong scent. It’s having no name that is suspicious. And if he’d put ‘Panther,’ instead of ‘Painter,’ on his door, it wouldn’t have kept people away any better. Who goes to a young painter’s door? They have trouble enough to get any notice.”

“I believe you are right. Will you come in and let me give you a cigar?”

“No I thank you, sir. Miss Locksley has got a natural nose against tobacco. If I go to bed scented, she’ll wake up and scallop me with questions. Good night, sir.” And we parted at the main staircase.

“A full day,” I thought, as I entered my room. No danger of my being bored, if events crowd in this way in America. Here certainly is romance. Destiny has brought Cecil Dreeme and me together without a break-down on his side of the ceiling, or a pistol-shot from me below. Poor fellow! who knows but, even so young, he has had some cruel experience like Churm’s? But hold! I must not pry into his affairs. I might strike tragedy, and tragedy I do not love. So to bed, and no dreams of Dreeme.