When I was a girl my mother would say,
These are the months to beware of the moon,"
"And the blackbird singing upon the spray,
Beware, my child, of the blackbird's tune."
When I was sixteen no more than a day,
I met a young man in the flush of the noon.
His step was light, and his manner gay,
And he came from afar, by the dust on his shoon.
I looked at him once, and I looked away,
And my heart it asked but a single boon.
"I love you," he said, "for ever and aye!
For ever and ever -- the blackbird's tune!
I could not leave him or send him away,
So we walked in the wood by the light of the moon.
I had clean forgot what my mother did say,
But I learned it all and I learned it soon.
A blossoming branch in the wind a-sway,
And petals over the grasses strewn....
according to its wisest scholars, the place of Christian fellowship,
long existed, in one shape or another, and under various names, three
pagan beings. They had been goddesses at one time in their dim
before Philistia was discovered; but more recently they had been
in Merry England, where they were best known as Mab and Mop and Tib,
it was as fairies that they came over in the Mayflower to see what the
land of promise was like.
Some little while later, after listening to a sermon by the Rev. Cotton Mather against witches, a sermon that they felt might be misunderstood by the populace, they decided to go South. In the South they remained for a long time, and were held in great honor and respect by the black people from Africa as voodoo goddesses, their names at this period being Ana, Thema, and Maranatha. Tiring of this crude worship, they came back North, arriving in Boston in time to put on red caps and participate in a rather wild masquerade tea party given by the younger set. Their names at this time were Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.
But things after a while grew dull, and the three goddesses, realizing that they were not popular any more, assumed the shapes of old women and set up housekeeping in a quiet cottage in the Catskills. The truth was that there seemed to be no place for them in Philistia. They, who had been honored and loved and feared by great nations in the past, were simply not wanted here, in any shape, or under any name. In fact, ever since that sermon of the Rev. Cotton Mather, they had been a little like hunted criminals who must go about in disguise.
It was a sympathetic gentleman by the name of Washington Irving, a story-teller, stopping at their cottage while on one of his rambles, who, hearing their troubles, suggested that they had perhaps better adapt themselves to circumstances, and take up some useful employment, like everybody in Philistia. They decided accordingly to adapt themselves, and went to New York City to look for work.
But what could three old women do? They tried plain sewing, they tried scrubbing floors in office buildings, they tried selling newspapers on the street; but none of these occupations was quite satisfactory. They kept hoping for some position which, if it lacked authority, had at least some dignity. They realized that they were old; they had lived on, through many civilizations, into one which had no use for them; all they wanted was a little respect to console them in their old age.
The search for such a position seemed hopeless enough; but one day the youngest of them came hurrying home to the others with a really brilliant idea. A court house was being erected in a provincial town in Philistia, and the contractor was in trouble. The plans called for four statues at the steps of the court house, two standing and two sitting, emblematic of Justice and Wisdom, Truth and Mercy. The contractor had gone to a sculptor, and had been shocked to learn that he wanted a hundred dollars apiece for making these statues, the contractor to furnish the marble. Four hundred dollars, in addition to the cost of the marble, would unfortunately cut down the contractor's profit on the whole court house job to something less than three thousand percent and that seemed to him unreasonable. So he had gone to a stone cutter and mortuary-monument-maker; but the stone cutters and mortuary-monument-makers had just formed a union, and asked more for making these statues than the sculptor had asked.
"Here," said the youngest goddess, "is our opportunity, girls. We will take the place of those statues, and nobody except the contractor will ever know the difference. It is certainly a genteel kind of employment, which is more than can be said for scrubbing floors."
"But there are only three of us," they protested.
"We'll have to find another," she said. "In fact," she added, "I've heard of one already." And she whispered a name which was once known in Babylon.
"What!" they exclaimed, "that horrid old thing! We've never associated with her. We are surprised at you, sister."
"But she's reformed," said the goddess, apologetically. "She's terribly respectable now. In fact, she's been the dean at a girls' college for the last seventy or eighty years. She's got to change her job soon, just for that reason. And we don't have to speak to her."
To make a long story short, the fourth goddess was willing to join them, the contractor gladly accepted their offer, they took their places at the court house steps, and there they stayed-- except for one night which they took off to go to a christening a little more than a quarter of a century ago.
There was a school teacher in that town who
just to escape the embarrassment of being looked up to and disliked by
children for her alleged wisdom. She was embarrassed, because she
was really just a child herslef; so much so that she still read fairy
She had often seen the statues at the steps of the court house, and had
noticed the resemblance of three of them, Truth, Mercy, and Wisdom, to
the personages with whom she was familiar in her favorite fairy
After thinking it over she decided they were Titania and Melusina and
She whispered to them as she went past on her way to school: "Hello,
Hello, Melusina! Hello, Psyche!" And since these were among the
names which they had borne in their immemorial past, they were obliged
to acknowledge the greeting, and nodded their heads slightly as she
by. They also smiled, because they were really quite pleased to
across some one who knew them. And one day, shortly after she was
married, she said to them: "When I have a son, I shall name him Pat,
you shall be invited to the christening. And you must bring
Talking it over afterward, they agreed that it would be a jolly thing to do. It reminded them of old times in Merry England, when they used to be invited to christenings quite regularly. But the fourth goddess, beneath her marble dignity, felt hurt and aggrieved because she had been ignored. She was not used to being ignored.
The young wife, whose name was Mrs. Flower, had been puzzled by that fourth statue, the one of Justice, which also reminded her of some one she had known, but not pleasantly. Suddenly, however, staring into the stern countenance of the statue, she remembered and said, "Why, how do you do, Miss Wilkinson?"
And the statue nodded and smiled very stonily, thinking, "It's about time she recognized me."
Miss Wilkinson had been the dean at the girls' college from which Mrs. Flower had been expelled in her stormy youth.
Presently the child was born, and turned out to be a girl. So Mrs. Flower called her Pat, anyway. And then she remembered the fairies one night in the hospital just before she fell asleep, and whispered, "Dear fairies, come and have a christening party!"
The goddesses heard, and it being a dark night, when no one would notice their absence from the court house steps, they felt quite justified in taking a short leave. They had been on duty steadily for seven years, and they considered that they were entitled to a little pleasure.
"I do not feel quite certain," said Miss Wilkinson, stiffly, "that she meant to include me in her invitation to her son's christening."
"Why, of course," said Titania.
"Why not?" said Psyche.
"And you can give him gifts that we can't," said Melusina.
"Yes," said Miss Wilkinson, "I believe that I can give him some really valuable gifts. So I suppose she must have intended to ask me. But she might have been a trifle less casual about it!"
So Miss Wilkinson came along with the others, and they entered silently through the panes of glass into the little room at the hospital where the mother lay asleep.
"But where's the baby?" asked Titania.
"In the ward with the other new babies, doubtless," said Miss Wilkinson. "That makes our errand almost ridiculous, don't you think? A christening party without any child!" She was very much put out.
"Oh well," said Psyche, "now we're here, let's just go ahead."
"His name is Pat," said Melusina, "and the name's enough for us. What we give to 'Pat,' he'll get. So it's all right."
"I feel that we are perhaps being derelict in our municipal duty," said Miss Wilkinson, "in leaving our posts for a mere private engagement."
"We'll hurry," said Titania. "Shall I begin? I'm the youngest. I've almost forgotten how it ought to go. Pat, I too give thee thy name and take thee as my godchild. And with they name I give such gifts as I can -- the power to change the shapes of all things, so that what was commonplace shall be wonderful, and what was sublime shall be ridiculous; and I give thee the gift of changing thine own shape, so that thou shalt be to any one whatever thou pleasest to seem; and I give thee the gift of laughter."
"And I," said Psyche, "give thee the gift of curiosity. As I was curious, so shalt thou be curious about everything, and especially about those things which are forbidden thee to know. And with this gift I must perforce give thee another gift -- the gift of suffering."
"And I," said Melusina, "give thee my own gift. As I am a creature of the sea, so shalt thou be, my child. And as I strive to be human and to know mortal love, so shalt thou strive -- without every quite succeeding. And I give thee my secret, which no mortal should know, and which, if any rash mortal lover learn it from thee, will bring a swift end to the mortal happiness you have shared." And she whispered -- into her own two hands cupped as if to a baby's ear.
"Fine gifts, those are, if you will permit me to say so!" exclaimed Miss Wilkinson, ironically. "Where would that poor child be with your gifts, and without mine, if I might ask? Fortunately, I can make those gifts comparatively harmless, and even useful in their way, by giving him a proper sense of his social responsibilities, a respect for custom, and a fear of making himself ridiculous. With your gifts and mine, he may go far; he may become a senator. But without my gifts, what would he become? A starveling mountebank, I dare say!"
"Well, hurry up and give hime your gifts, then," said Titania.
But Miss Wilkinson had seen, on a little table at the head of the bed where Mrs. Flower lay sleeping, a letter which Mrs. Flower had been writing. Miss Wilkinson had acquired the habit of reading the private letters of her pupils whenever opportunity offered, not in vulgar curiosity, of course, but from a deep sense of her custodianship over their behavior. And so, from old habit, she had read the exposed lines of writing. They were upside down, but she had learned to read handwriting upside down, and at a glance. And what she read made her start, and taking up the letter, she read aloud to the others with cold emphasis this passage:
"I hoped he would be a boy, but she's a girl, and I'm going to call her Pat just the same."
"It seems that we have been mistaken, and I think I may say deliberately deceived, as to the sex of our godchild," she said sternly.
"What of it?" asked Titania.
"What of it? Well, really! If you don't know, I must point out that your gifts -- all of them -- are, considering the sex of the child, most inappropriate. You should realize that mine are the only gifts proper for a girl child."
"It's too late now," said Titania.
"We can't take back our gifts," said Psyche, "and you know it. What's given, is given."
"Moreover," said Melusina, maliciously, "you must give her your gifts, too. You accepted the invitation of her christening, so you can't get out of it! I'm not so old but that I can remember the rules and regulations for fairy-godmothers."
But Miss Milkinson had been treated much too inconsiderately. Always a stickler for form, her sense of the proprieties had been deeply outraged by these irregular proceedings. And now they were attempting to force her to connive at, and to participate in, their mistake! She drew herself up very haughtily.
"Very well," she said. "I give this child my gifts also, but as a bequest, to come into effect at my death. As it happens, I also know the rules and regulations concerning fairy gifts." And drawing her robe about her with a magnificent gesture, she swept out through the window.
It is well known that fairies and such-like supernatural pagan beings do not die natural deaths, though they can be destroyed by violent means such as fire or gunpowder. But who would shoot a dignified old lady, expecially since she looked like a marble statue of Justice as she stood at the courthouse steps? Miss Wilkinson's expectations of life were many times greater than this baby's. Except by some very unlikely accident, Pat Flower would never inherit her gifts at all.
"Well, that's that!" said Psyche.
"I wonder what she will be like," said Melusina, a little awed at what they had done. For, after all, it was unusual to give a girl child all these gifts. They hadn't been given to very many, ever: just to Cleopatra and Mary Queen of Scots and Nell Gwynne and some others -- a few actresses and queens.
"Wait and see," said Titania, who didn't care what happened.
And so they all flew back to the courthouse steps.
And there, in the only place of dignity left them in the civilization of Philistia, they remained, motionless, silent, thinking of old times.
* * * * * * * * * *
Pat Flower grew up.
Limitations of space, good manners, and, failing everything else, the libel laws, forbid a detailed account of her career. Suffice it to say that she became the girl poet whom you all admire and love and wonder about. She grew up lacking in any proper sense of her social responsibilities, without any respect for custom, and without any fear of making herself ridiculous. And she had the power to change the shapes of all things, so that what had been vulgar became beautiful when she celebrated it in a poem; and what had been holy became, when she mocked at it, absurd. And she herself seemed whatever she chose to seem; and she chose to seem many different things to many different people. And, as not the least of Titania's gifts, she could turn her lovers into asses with long ears; she could do that by a look. Moreover, she had Psyche's gift of curiosity. She was curious about everything -- especially about things which it was forbidden to know. And with this gift there came perforce another -- the gift of suffering. And being Melusina's godchild, she was not quite human, being a creature of the salt and changing sea; and yet, like Melusina, she must strive to be human, and to know mortal love -- and not quite succeed. And she had Melusina's whispered secret, which no mortal should know, and which, if any rash mortal lover wrested from her, brought a swift end to the mortal happiness they had shared. And, because she was a poet, she was sometimes behind in her rent for her little room in Greenwich Village. But, being under compulsion by reason of those fairy gifts, she couldn't stop being a poet.
And then one night, a private detective, who had been hired to watch the Reds and circumvent their plots, having discovered that there were no plots to circumvent, and being in great fear of losing his job, and wishing to convince his employers that the republic was in danger, accordingly planted a picric-acid bomb under the steps of the courthouse in a provincial town in which an editor of an obscure radical paper had been sentenced to ninety-nine years' imprisonment for criticizing the Government. The statues of Justice, Wisdom, Truth, and Mercy were blown to bits.
High explosives can destroy anything -- custom, learning, beauty, love, civilization itself.
And so the goddesses ceased to exist. That is to say, they existed now only in so far as they existed in Pat, in whom their gifts were incarnate. She was at the same time freed from the compulsion of these gifts, being now herself a demi-goddess. As such, she was free, and could use her gifts or not, as she chose. Moreover, to the other gifts at her command were now added those of the fourth goddess -- a sense of social responsibility, respect for custom, and the fear of making herself ridiculous.
Pat, of course, did not know all this. But the fairy spell which had been cast over her was dissolved. She could do just as she pleased now. She could keep on being a poet if she really wanted to, or she could become a perfectly respectable young lady.
* * * * * * * * * *
The next morning Pat Flower remembered that she
become engaged last night. To be sure, she had been engaged many
times before; but this was different. This time she was in
(To be sure, she had been in love many time before, but this was
He worshipped her. Naturally! And he didn't mind her keeping on writing love poems after they were married. "Because," he said, "people will know they're written to your husband. And it will make people realize that married lovers can be just as happy as the other kind."
The idea rather pleased her -- writing the poetry of married lovers.
He had discovered the real truth about her -- that underneath her airs of gay cynicism and bravado she was a shy, helpless, hurt child, an idealist who believed in the things at which she mocked, vastly weary of the pretenses which she had made so beautiful and so convincing in her poems. He really understood her.
(To be sure -- but this was different.)
She had wanted to believe in love before, and now she did believe in it. Yes, she really meant it this time. She loved John with all her heart. And she knew -- she knew profoundly -- that she was going to be a good wife to him. Oh, terribly good! She would darn his socks, and everything.
It almost scared her, this prospect of voluntary, contented goodness.
"John," she said to him, "give me a month to have my fling in. Then I'll marry you."
"All right, darling. Go ahead and have your fling," he said indulgently. "I know you won't do anything I wouldn't want you to do."
"I'm afraid I won't." she said and sighed. "But -- you're to stay away all the month. You're not to come to see me at all."
That was a hard bargain, he thought, but he had to accept it.
And all that month, up to the last day, she sat at home and darned socks. She bought the socks at a sock store, and cut holes in the toes with her manicure scissors, and darned the holes neatly. She was pretending they were John's socks.
She had bought thirty pairs of socks, but the month had thirty-one days in it; on the last day she had no socks to darn. She moped all morning. She wrote a little poem in the afternoon -- a love poem, entitled "Married Love." It began:
"Soft brown wool
From soft brown sheep
You shall make comfortable
His darling feet!"
She did not even notice at the time that feet
didn't rhyme very well with sheep. Love had never
her like that before. No madness had ever been so transcendent --
and she had known some madness in her young life -- as to make her
the principles of her art, which shows that this was true love at last.
There still remained the evening to be got through somehow. Tomorrow they would be married. But tonight -- No, she must not call him up and tell him he could come to see her. She had to stick it out somehow.
She put on her little hat and went out.
* * * * * * * * * *
As she went along the street, she saw a new sign
that said: "Fortunes told -- 25 cents." She felt in her
She had just twenty-five cents. She went in.
There sat an old man with a long white beard, looking at least a hundred years old.
"Please tell my fortune," she said, and laid down her quarter.
"Let me see your hand," said the old man, gravely.
She gave him her hand, the left one. The old man looked thoughtfully at her engagement ring, John's solitaire.
"You are going to be married," he said.
"Why, that's true!" she said in great surprise. Evidently there was something to fortune telling after all. She settled herself trustfully in her chair. "Tell me some more," she said.
"You are going to be very happy," he told her.
"Ah!" she said.
"This is the first time you have ever been in love," he told her, with a glance at her ingenuous countenance, so like a child's. "You have never known what true love meant before."
(True, perfectly true!)
"You have wondered if you were in love before; but you soon found out that it wasn't so."
(Why, this was uncanny!)
"And this is to be the great love of your life," he told her.
"Will it last forever?" she asked wistfully.
He peered closely into her palm.
"Yes, forever," he said. "I must tell you the truth. I see here the signs of an absolutely happy and absolutely perfect marriage."
"That's just what I'm afraid of," she said a little sadly.
"Afraid? Why?" he asked in surprise.
"I don't know why; but that's just how I feel."
"Your fear," he said, "draws my attention to this curious little cross at the base of the index finger. That cross indicates that you are --" he glanced at the calendar on the wall, and spoke with some excitement -- "yes, this very day, in some grave danger!"
"Really!" she said. "What danger?"
"In order to know that, I shall have to cast your horoscope, and that costs twenty-five cents more."
"That was all the money I had with me," she said. "Couldn't you trust me till tomorrow? I live right down the street here. My name's Pat Flower." She hoped he might know who she was.
He did, it seemed.
"Are you" -- he stared at her -- "Pat Flower!"
"Yes," she admitted.
"I've always wanted to meet you," he said and took off his white beard. He wasn't a day over twenty-five.
"But -- you really aren't going to get married, are you?" he demanded.
"Aren't I? You said I was!"
"Well, I take it back. You -- you musn't!"
"I'll tell you why not," he said earnestly. "But first let me tell you who I am. I'm a newspaper man, and I'm doing this as an assignment -- Greenwich Village Has Its Fortune Told. I've only been in New York a few weeks. I've worked on newspapers all over the country, and everywhere I've gone, people are reading you and talking about you. Young people, I mean."
"What do they say about me?" she asked.
"That's just it. They say awful things about you -- or things that would be awful if they were said about anybody else. But -- they love you for it."
"That's curious," she said.
"In Philistia," he said, "the pagan spirit has been pretty well stamped out. But still it's there -- in young people. They read your poetry. It means something to them. It's beauty, it's joy, it's freedom. And here you want to go and spoil it -- by getting married! Why, you can't get married! You're our pagan goddess, if you only knew it. All the beautiful things we want to do, and can't, because we live in Philistia, you do them for us, and write about them for us, and we worship you for them."
"How do you know I do the things I write about?" she asked.
"That makes no difference, so long as we believe it. But if you get married -- why, everybody will think those love poems are written to your husband!"
She was struck by that. It was exactly what John had said. People would think just that.
"Don't you see?" he exclaimed. "A goddess can't sit at home and darn her husband's socks!"
Well, there might be something to that.
"You can't belong to just one person. You belong to us all -- the boys and girls of the younger generation."
"I see," said Pat. "I've a certain -- you might call it a social responsibility in this matter."
"Exactly!" said the young man. "You have a tremendous social responsibility."
"And if I'm a pagan goddess, I suppose I must behave as one," she went on reflectively.
"Of course. You can't defy the custom of the centuries just to please some man."
"True; one must respect old and established custom. But -- still --" She did love poor John. It would be a pity --
The fortune teller saw her waver.
"Why," he said, "it would be perfectly ridiculous for you to be married."
"I suppose it would be rather ridiculous," she said slowly. "for me to be married --"
He rose triumphantly.
"You won't," he said.
"No -- I guess I won't. Poor John!"
"Oh, forget poor John!" said the young man, "Let's go somewhere for dinner."
Indeed, he was rather handsome.
* * * * * * * * * *
Some time that night Pat Flower wrote the poem --
you know the one I mean -- which most endears her to the hearts of all
young people who believe in beauty and joy and freedom. She sent
it to John next morning by messenger boy, by way of breaking her
And thus it was that Pat Flower, the girl poet, made use of the gifts of the fourth goddess.
Shadow-boy, shadow lover,
Why do you come
To enchant me, to haunt me,
To trouble me in dreams?
The remembered delirium
Of your dream-kiss
Seems more real now than this
That I wake to take in the light of day
From him who lay by my side all night.
Are you the ghost of some old desire,
Lawless and lost--some dead caprice--
That you conspire against my peace?
Would you remind me
Of some rash vow left behind me?
Must you perturb me now?
What's over is over,
Or are you the warning in my breast
Of some new passion dawning unconfessed?
Some wild longing that I dare not know by day,
That I must hide away in a secret dream at night,
Shuttered utterly from sight--
Lest I seem to be wringing one too dear so to wrong--
One to whom my dreams belong!
Do you hear?
How does one exorcise
A boy-ghost with laughing eyes?
Anathema maranatha! Pax tecum! Amen!
Come not again!
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