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If You Touch Them They Vanish

Gouverneur Morris

  Produced by Roger Frank and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at


  By Gouverneur Morris

  Published byCharles Scribner's Sons

  If You Touch Them They Vanish. Illustrated. net $1.00

  The Penalty. Illustrated. net $1.35

  It, and Other Stories. net $1.25

  The Spread Eagle, and Other Stories. net $1.20

  The Footprint, and Other Stories. $1.50


  "If I had the power," he thought, "I'd settle this regionwith innocent people who have been accused of crimes."]



  By Gouverneur Morris

  With illustrations by Charles S. Chapman

  New York Charles Scribner's Sons 1913


  Copyright, 1913, by Charles Scribner's Sons

  Published October, 1913


  ToJohn Frederick Byers



  "If I had the power," he thought, "I'd settle this regionwith innocent people who have been accused of crimes" Frontispiece


  "Only come back, darlint"--she fought against tears--"andI'll fill the house with helpers from attic to cellar" 42

  "Now how about a sawmill--right here?" 80

  During the winter the Poor Boy made two excursionssouthward through his valley and beyond 86

  She suddenly stopped running, and turned and waited for him 96

  His fingers began to follow an air that flowed witheternal sadness like blood from a broken heart 120

  "She will always be just as I see her now, noolder, untroubled, gentle, and dear" 132

  And then carrying her swiftly home, he proceeded to go quite mad 144



  Old Martha wondered if the Poor Boy would have a smile for her. He hadhad so many in the old days, the baby days, the growing-up days, thecollege days, the "world so new and all" days. There were some which shewould always remember. The smile he smiled one Christmas morning, whenhe put the grand fur coat around her shoulders, and the kiss on hercheek. The smile he smiled that day when they met in front of thephotographer's, and he took her in and had their photograph takentogether: she sitting and glaring with embarrassment at the camera, hestanding, his hand on her shoulder, smiling--down on her.

  To save her life she could not recall a harsh word in his mouth, a harshlook in his eyes. In the growing-up days he had been sick a great deal;but the trustees and the doctors had put their trust in old Martha, andshe had pulled him through. When the pain was too great, her Poor Boywas always for hiding his face. It was thus that he gathered strength toturn to her once more, smiling. It was Martha who spoke stories ofprincesses and banshees and heroes and witch-wolves through the longnights when he could not sleep. It was old Martha who drew the tub ofred-hot water that brought him to life, when the doctor said he wasdead.

  If he had been her own, she could not have loved him more.

  How many hundred cold nights she had left her warm bed, to return, bluewith cold, after seeing that he was well covered! How she had dreadedthe passing of time that brought him nearer and nearer to manhood, inwhose multiple interests and cares old tendernesses and understandingsare so often forgotten. But wherever he went, whatever he did, he hadalways an eye of his mind upon Martha's feelings in the matter. She wasold, Irish, unlettered, but as a royal duchess so was she deferred to inthe Poor Boy's great house upon the avenue.

  Old Martha had seats for the play whenever she wanted them. And veryhandsome she looked, with her red cheeks and her white hair, and herthick black silk. One winter, when she had a dreadful cold, the Poor Boytook her to Palm Beach in his car, and introduced all his smart friendsto her. But it was as if they had always known her, for the Poor Boy,who talked a great deal, never talked for long without celebrating "mynurse."

  "Oh," he might say, "I, too, have known what it is to have a mother."

  Or coming home late from some gay party, the sparkle still in his eyes,he might say to the old woman herself:

  "I love people, but I love you more."

  Of the Poor Boy who gave her so much she had never asked but one thing.One simple kindly act in the future. She had made him promise her that;take his oath to it, indeed; cross his tender heart. She had made himpromise that when at last she lay dead, he would come to her and closeher eyes.

  He would keep his word; not a doubt of it. But he would do more. Hewould see to it that in Woodlawn, where his young father and mother lay,old Martha should lie, too, and that the ablest sculptor of the timeshould mark her grave for the ages.

  The Poor Boy had the intuition of a woman, and the tenderness; he hadthe imagination of a poet and the simplicity of a child. Everybody lovedhim--the slim, well-knit, swift body, carrying the beautiful round head;the face, so handsome, so gentle, and so daring. He was not cast in aheroic mould, but he was so vivid that in groups of taller, strongermen it was the Poor Boy whom you saw first. Half the girls did, anyway,and most of the wives, and all the old grandmothers. The most ambitiousgirls forgot that he was princely rich, and wanted him for himselfalone. But the "world-so-new-and-all" was cram-jammed with flowers, andthe Poor Boy was dazzled, and did not more than half make up his mindwhich was the loveliest.

  Old Martha was a firm believer in love at first sight (otherwise shemight never have been a wet-nurse), and often, when the Poor Boy camehome from some great gathering of people, she would ask him, "Did ithappen to yez?" And he knew what she meant, and teased her a littlesometimes, saying that he wasn't "just quite sure." (And hewasn't--always.)

  One day the world crashed about old Martha's ears. The Poor Boy stood upin the court and said, "Not guilty," in his clear, ringing voice. Butthey didn't believe her child, her angel, and when they sent him toprison she tore her white hair, and beat her head against the wall ofher bedroom until she fell senseless. And indeed it was true thatJustice, the light woman, had again been brought to bed of amiscarriage. But who was to believe that, when Justice's whole familyand her doctor gave out that the child was clean-run and full time? Ifany believed there were not many. The Poor Boy was a poor boy, indeed,and it seemed to him (trying so very hard not to go mad) that his lifewas all over.

  As a matter of fact, it was getting ready at last to begin.