Who Cares? a Story of Adolescence

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Author: Cosmo Hamilton

III

There was a touch of idealism hidden away somewhere in Martin’s character. A more than usually keen-eyed boy had once called him "the poet" at school. In order that this dubious nickname should be strangled at birth, there had been an epoch-making fight. Both lads came out of it in a more or less unrecognizable condition, but Martin reestablished his reputation and presently entered Yale free from the suspicion of being anything but a first-rate sportsman and an indisputable man.

There Martin had played football with all the desired bullishness. He had hammered ragtime on the piano like the best ordinary man in the University. With his father he rode to hounds hell for leather, and he wrote comic stuff in a Yale magazine which made him admiringly regarded as a sort of junior George Ade. It was only in secret, and then with a sneaking sense of shame, that he allowed his idealistic side to feed on Browning and Ruskin, Maeterlinck and Barrie, and only when alone on vacation that he bathed in the beauty of French cathedrals, sat thrilled and stirred by the waves of melody of the great composers, drew up curiously touched and awed at the sight of the places in the famous cities of Europe that echoed with the footsteps of history.

If the ideality of that boy had been seized upon and developed by a sympathetic hand, if his lively imagination and passion for the beautiful had been put through a proper educational course, he might have used the latent creative power with which nature had endowed him and taken a high place among artists, writers or composers. As it was, his machinelike, matter-of-fact training and his own selfconscious anxiety not to be different from the average good sportsman had made him conform admirably to type. He was a fine specimen of the eager, naive, quick-witted, clean-minded young American, free from "side," devoid of mannerisms, determined to make the utmost of life and its possibilities.

It is true that when death seized upon the man who was brother and pal as well as father to Martin, all the stucco beneath which he had so carefully hidden his spiritual and imaginative side cracked and broke. Under the indescribable shock of what seemed to him to be wanton and meaningless cruelty, the boy gave way to a grief that was angry and agonized by turns. He had left a fit, high-spirited father to drive to a golf shop to buy a new mashie, returned to take him out to Sleepy Hollow for a couple of rounds—and found him stretched out on the floor of the library, dead. Was it any wonder that he tortured himself with unanswerable questions, sat for hours in the dark trying with the most pitiful futility to fathom the riddle of life, or that he wandered aimlessly about the place, which was stamped with his father’s fine and kindly personality,—like a stick suddenly swept out of the current of the main stream into a tideless backwater, untouched by the sun? And when finally, still deaf to the call of spring, his father’s message of courage, "We count it death to falter, not to die," rang out and straightened him up and set him on the rails of action once again, it was not quite the same Martin Gray who uttered the silent cry for companionship that found an answer in Joan’s lonely and rebellious heart. Sorrow had strengthened him. Out of the silent manliness of grief he went out again on the great main road with a wistful desire to love and be loved, to find some one with whom to link an arm in an empty world all crowded with strangers—and there stood Joan.

It was natural that he should believe, under those circumstances, that he and she did not meet by mere accident, that they had been brought together by design—all the more natural when he listened to her story of mental and physical imprisonment and came to see, during their daily stolen meetings, that he was as necessary to her as she was to him. Every time he left her and watched her run back to that old house of old people, it was borne in upon him more definitely that he was appointed in the cosmic scheme to rescue Joan from her peculiar cage and help her to try her wings. All about that young fresh, eager creature whose eyes were always turned so ardently toward the city, his imagination and superstition built a bower of love.

He had never met a girl in any way like her—one who wanted so much and would give so little in return for it, who had an eel-like way of dodging hard-and-fast facts and who had made up her mind with all the zest and thoughtlessness of youth to mold life, when finally she could prove how much alive she was, into no other shape than the one which most appealed to her. She surprised and delighted him with her quick mental turns and twists, and although she sometimes made him catch his breath at her astoundingly frank expression of individualism, he told himself that she was still in the chrysalis stage and could only get a true and normal hang of things after rubbing shoulders with what she called life with a capital L.

Two weeks slipped away more quickly than these two young things had ever known them to go, and the daily meetings, utterly guileless and free from flirtation, were the best part of the day; but there was a new note in Joan’s laugh as she swung out of the wood and went toward Martin one afternoon.

He caught it and looked anxiously at her. "Is anything wrong?"

"There will be," she said. "I just caught sight of Gleave among the trees. He was spying!"

"Why do you think so?"

"Oh, he never walks a yard unless he has to. I thought I saw him eying me rather queerly at lunch. I’ve been looking happy lately, and that’s made him suspicious."

"But what can he do?"

"What can’t he do! Grandmother’s one of the old-fashioned sort who thinks that a girl must never speak to a man without a chaperon. They must have been a lively lot of young women in her time! Gleave will tell her that I’ve been coming here to meet you, and then there’ll be a pretty considerable row."

Martin was incredulous. He was in America in the twentieth century. Young people did as they liked, and parents hardly ventured to remonstrate. He showed his teeth in the silent laugh that was characteristic of him. "Oh, no! I’ll be all right. Your grandfather knew my father."

"That won’t make any difference. I believe that in a sort of way he’s jealous of my having a good time. Queer, isn’t it? Are all old people like that? And as to Grandmother, this will give her one of the finest chances to let herself go that she’s had since I set a curtain on fire with a candle; and when she does that, well, things fly, I assure you."

"Are you worried about it?"

Joan gave a gesture of the most eloquent impatience. "I have to be," she said. "You can’t understand it, but I’m treated just as if I were a little girl in short frocks. It’s simply appalling. Everything I say and do and look is criticized from the point of view of 1850. Can’t you imagine what will be thought of my sneaking out every afternoon to talk to a dangerous young man who has only just left Yale and lives among horses?"

That was too much for Martin. His laugh echoed among the trees.

But Joan didn’t make it a duet. "It wouldn’t be so funny to you if you stood in my shoes, Martin," she said. "If I had gone to Grandmother and asked her if I might meet you,—and just think of my having to do that,—she would have been utterly scandalized. Now, having done this perfectly dreadful thing without permission, I shall be hauled up on two charges,—deceit and unbecoming behavior,- -and I shall be punished."

The boy wheeled around in amazement. "You don’t mean that?"

"Of course I mean it. Haven’t I told you over and over again that these two dear but irritating old people look down at me from their awful pile of years and only see me as a child?"

"But what will they do to you?"

Joan shrugged her shoulders. "Anything they like. I’m completely at their mercy. For Mother’s sake I try to be patient and put up with it all. It’s the only home I’ve got, and when you’re dependent and haven’t a cent to bless yourself with, you can’t pack up and telephone for a cab and get out, can you? But it can’t go on forever. Some day I shall answer back, and sparks will fly, and I shall borrow money from the coachman, who’s my only friend, and go to Alice Palgrave and ask her to put me up until Mother comes back. I’m a queer case, Martin—that’s the truth of it. In a book the other day I came across an exact description of myself. I could have laughed if it hadn’t hit me so hard. It said: ’She was a supermodern in an early-Victorian frame, a pint of champagne in a little old cut-glass bottle, a gnome engine attached to a coach and pair.’" She picked up a stone and flung it down the hill.

One eager wild thought rushed through Martin’s brain. It had made his blood race several times before, but he had thrown it aside because, during all their talks and walks, Joan had never once looked at him with anything but the eyes of a sister. As his wife he could free her, lift her out of her anomalous atmosphere and take her to the city to which her face was always turned. But he lacked the courage to speak and continued to hope that some day, by some miracle, she might become less superlatively neutral, less almost boyish in her way of treating him. He threw it aside again, tempted as he was to take advantage of a chance to bribe her into becoming his wife with an offer of life. Then too, she was only eighteen, and although he was twenty-four and in the habit of thinking of himself as a man of ripe years, he had to confess that the mere idea of marriage made him feel awfully young and scared. And so he said nothing and went on hoping.

Joan broke the silence. "Everything will be different when Mother comes back," she said. "I shall live with her then, and I give you my word I’ll make up for lost time. So who cares? There are three good hours before I face Grandmother. Let’s enjoy ourselves."

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Chicago: Cosmo Hamilton, "III," Who Cares? a Story of Adolescence, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in Who Cares? a Story of Adolescence Original Sources, accessed April 23, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZNUNXHRYAEY35G.

MLA: Hamilton, Cosmo. "III." Who Cares? a Story of Adolescence, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in Who Cares? a Story of Adolescence, Original Sources. 23 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZNUNXHRYAEY35G.

Harvard: Hamilton, C, 'III' in Who Cares? a Story of Adolescence, ed. and trans. . cited in , Who Cares? a Story of Adolescence. Original Sources, retrieved 23 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CZNUNXHRYAEY35G.