The Heart of a Man
THE HEART OF A MAN.
By ELLIS PARKER BUTLER.
I KNEW him for many years—this lover of fair women, this bold and fickle trifler with hearts—and we were good friends, as friendships go; but he left me one day never to return, and without so much as saying "By your leave." I remember quite well the day he departed, and I was pleased enough to be rid of him then; but often now, when the world crowds hard upon me, I long to have him back again, for he was light of heart, and he knew how to bring the laughter to my eyes, and the ready tears, too. And now I can only laugh as tired men laugh, and my tears are few and bitter.
Oh, he was a jolly rake, this fellow—a very Ariel of Love! A Bacchus for Kisses! An Argus for Love-looks! A born lover, forsooth! Even before he could toddle across the floor on his chubby legs he practised the wiles of a lover, and lavished his love glances and pretty tricks on one old enough to be his mother, snuggling his curly head against her breast and touching her lips and cheeks and eyes with his soft hands. Or, again, he would reach up and crowd kisses upon her face and neck. And she, who was old enough to have outgrown such flirtations, urged him on. But I shall not blame her, for love excuses much, and, after all, she was his mother.
I do not mean to claim for him a heart differing from the hearts of other men. I have studied him deeply, in retrospect, since I decided to chronicle his love affairs, and I do not intend to praise or to blame him. He loved—persistently, frequently; but if he hid his deeper feelings beneath a froth of playfulness, it was because this heart of his was tender and feared rebuffs. He had good reason to know the pangs of one who has proffered his heart only to have it scorned. It was his earliest lesson in the ways of women. It was about the time he first donned the distinctive garb of a man, and it was at the seaside.
"About this time he first donned the distinctive garb of a man."
Why is it that a man's first love is given to a woman whose years exceed his own? Genevieve was at least twice his age, but he loved her at first sight—ravenously. He was a thoughtless fellow in those days, and to love with him was to seek to possess. He rushed upon her, casting away his calmer senses, and threw his arms about her neck in an ecstasy of affection, regardless that he had never been introduced, regardless that another was her beau, regardless that she was building a masterpiece of sandwork. He placed one foot on the house of sand and the other on her dress, and kissed her vehemently. Oh, woman! woman! What love you throw away! She spurned him. She grasped him by the shoulders and threw him down, and cried: "You are a bad, bad boy!" and he, poor fellow, cast himself upon his face and wept.
Shall I tell all his love affairs? Better let them rest. Some of the fair creatures lie adored during those years are wives now, and husbands are jealous. There were kisses—love kisses—stolen from his sweetheart before the very eyes of their companions, who imagined it was a mere harmless "kissing game," and did not guess the joy he felt, nor fathom the guile that made him kiss every other girl in the circle before he chose the one he really wished to kiss. And, oh! the joy when She ran screaming from him, to be pursued; and how She fought when caught!—for then he knew she wanted to be kissed!
"Some of the fair creatures he adored."
There was one brown-haired sweetheart who lived in the land of faery, and who led him, wide-eyed and half-afraid, to the fairy realm in the pasture back of the red barn, and then cast him aside because he could not see the fairies that she said she saw. She could not understand that men were made for sterner things—for fighting Indians and a bold Swiss Family Robinson life.
Misunderstanding, yes, and deceit, these are the portion of the heart of man. For was there not the one with honest blue eyes to whom he gave his heart, and, under promise of eternal secrecy, showed the robin's nest, only to find the secret betrayed the moment his back was turned?
"Under promise of eternal secrecy."
Love is sweet, but there are moments of the deepest pain. His love for his cousin was sweet, for he had her much to himself when she visited his house; but, oh! the humiliation and disgrace of having to bathe and be combed before her! A man's heart revolts at that. I think it was about that time that he acquired the dislike for bathing that clung to him as long as I knew him. Nor is it soothing to see the one to whom you would gladly give up your last long slate-pencil going to school under the umbrella of your rival.
I remember one sweetheart he had who was sworn to marry him. Kate was wealthy, he knew, because her father kept two horses; but he did not care for that. He cared for her snapping black eyes and the manner in which she could tuck her skirts about her knees and swing, head downward, from a trapeze on which he could only hang by his hands. The first time he saw her do this "circus act," he felt she must be his for ever. It was a feeling of pride, perhaps, that led him to propose marriage. He knew that his fellows would burn with envy when he showed them his wife. He had vague notions of dressing her in spangles and gauze after they were wed, like a queen of a woman he had seen at the real circus. He gave up Dorothy for this acrobat, and Dorothy cried because he had deserted her; but Dorothy was only sweet, and not an acrobat.
"About that time he acquired the dislike for bathing that clung to him."
But he did not marry Kate. There was a long, steep terrace, and one day she pushed him down it, and he fell, bruised and weeping, against the fence at the bottom; and when he tried to scale the heights above him, she pushed him back again and again, laughing at his tears and mocking him until his admiration was swallowed up by his rage, and he remembered Dorothy as he had seen her last, pensive and fair, looking wistfully upon him as he played in the early moonlight before her window; and he longed to go back to her, but he could not, for Dorothy was sick and could see no one. It was early autumn when she died, and for weeks he remembered her as he had seen her last at the window. He was faithful to her a long, long time, and carried a keepsake in his pocket at which he often looked, and he felt he could never again be anyone's beau.
"Going to school under the umbrella of your rival."
His heart was weary of love, and his limbs ached with growing pains. He went much with the other men of his age, and learned to smoke cornsilk and cigarettes. For the first time in his life he had no sweetheart, and he wanted none. He decided that he would never marry. He would wait until met Dorothy, and then he would explain how he had come to desert her, and would beg her pardon, and she would tell him that he was the only boy she had ever cared anything about, and they would be happy, up there.
Then the new family moved into the vacant house across the street. There was one boy in the new family, and he was strange in the town, and stood diffidently watching the other boys play. It was only right that this friend of mine should show some courtesy to the stranger and invite him to join in building a snow fort. There were two sisters of the strange boy, and one was tall and fair, with golden hair and blue eyes, and a sweet seriousness that made one's heart beat faster. That day he gave her brother his new pocket-knife, and it was but a few days after that he carried her books on the way to school.
"It was only right to invite him to join in building a fort."
Was he faithful to her, this reckless lover? That I shall not tell, for he went away before long, never to return. I remember quite well the day he departed. It was the day I donned my first long trousers. He was with me in the morning, and in the evening he was gone—and no one can bring him back—My Childhood Self. But if he carried with him my happiest days, I cannot complain, for he left me the heart of a man.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1937, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 85 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.