The Nightlife Of The Gods
THE LAST SIGH
HEBE was bearing her last cup, and the Olympians, scattered round the lounge room of their suite in the hotel, were drinking their last drinks. The scene gave one the impression of a fancy-dress ball. All save Betts were in costume. Even Mr Hawk, looking not unlike Abraham Lincoln gone Roman, was swathed in white drapery. To please the Olympians, and especially the lady Olympians, on this last evening he had allowed a little variety to be used in their costumes. The colours were riotous, but the costumes themselves were essentially the same—yards of material wound or draped according to the fancy of the individual wearer. Altogether the effect was picturesque.
Mercury was wearing his funny hat and Perseus had retrieved his heroic sword.
On the floor in their midst lay Dora, the stolen cow, who during their absence had been forced to remain in a state of acute petrification. She too was adorned gaily with ribbons which she failed utterly to appreciate.
The reason for the bizarre regalia of the outfit was that Mr Hawk, for reasons of his own, wanted no marks of identification left behind when the Olympians returned to their pedestals, as they were just about to do. One by one they had rather sheepishly admitted that they were just a little tired. The world was too much with them, or after them. On all sides they either encountered trouble or created it. Then again, their stomachs were not what they had been. It was not Mr Hawk's fault. No blame could be attached to him. He was not responsible for irresponsible persons who made ill-advised laws.
'Volstead,' said Bacchus, 'must be a most remarkable fellow. I would have enjoyed a little chat with him in spite of the fact that we don't see eye to eye.'
The discussion now centred round Dora. What disposition should be made of the cow?
'I say, bring the old girl along and make her a gift to the museum,' suggested Mercury. 'Petrify her along with the rest of us.'
'You would say that, because you stole the cow,' observed Bacchus.
'I found the cow,' said Mercury. 'Betts and Meg stole her. I only came along.'
'Then why not give her to Betts as a token of appreciation of his splendid mixing?' asked Neptune, idly dipping a hand in the goldfish tank.
Betts looked startled.
'Couldn't think of accepting her,' he said hastily but modestly. 'Mrs Betts dislikes the idea of cows. Never got along well with them.'
The heavy business of transporting the animal appalled the old man.
'Isn't there some society that does things about cows?' Meg inquired vaguely. 'There seems to be a society for almost everything else either for or against.'
'I don't think there's a society for the Redemption of Lost Cows,' volunteered Mr Betts. 'How about the Zoo?'
'Not a bad idea, that,' said Mr Hawk. 'The Zoo might like to have a nice domestic cow just to make its collection complete. Tell you what we could do, though. We could write a letter to the Police Commissioner saying, "If you will look in room 1537, you will find something to your interest." We could sign it, "A Well-Wisher."'
In the end it was decided to do nothing at all about the cow, a decision that could have been predicted from the very outset of the discussion.
At the appointed hour the Olympians arose, drank a final toast and followed Mr Hawk from the room. Hebe was bearing in triumph the cup she had originally wanted to bear. Mr Hawk had not the heart to deprive her of this last pleasure.
'There's a cow knocking about my rooms,' Mr Hawk told the elevator boy, who did not seem greatly interested.
'Is that cow still there?' he asked carelessly.
'Of course it is,' snapped Mr Hawk. 'What do you think we did with the animal, eat it raw?'
'I wondered what you were going to do with her in the first place,' remarked the boy.
'Well, do something about it now,' said Mr Hawk.
'What, for instance?' asked the boy.
'Damned if I know,' said Mr Hawk, as he stepped into the Emperor and drove off with Betts at the wheel.
It was late now, and no one witnessed the return of the gods to the Metropolitan. Mercury with his magic fingers had somehow managed the door. Before Hawk followed them in, he pressed the restoring ring into the hand of the faithful Betts. Its usefulness was over. It could do no harm. The ray had nothing to operate on save the lower half of Griggs, a stone dog in the woods, a couple of policemen, a few waiters, and two fleeing figures by a woodland lake. Betts would never use it.
'Take care of things,' Mr Hawk told him, as he squeezed the old man's arm. 'That ring may serve to remind you of a few pleasant occasions.'
Old Betts just looked at his master, then smiled.
'I may bring you back some day,' he said.
'By that time the ring will have lost its power,' Mr Hawk replied. 'By the way, are you sure Miss Daffy picked up Blotto at the station?'
'Yes, sir,' said Betts in a low voice. 'I had her on the phone. She said, sir, to tell you—' the old man hesitated, then resumed—'I think the exact words were "pip, pip"'
Hawk left the Emperor and crossed the short distance to the door. Inside, the Olympians were waiting for him in the long corridor.
'I thought you were never coming,' whispered Meg, looking like a small child in her white drapery.
Neptune was the first to mount to his stand. He settled himself properly and beamed down at Hawk.
'Thanks for the fish,' he said.
'Good-bye, old friend,' replied Mr Hawk, shaking the sea-god's hand. 'Your beard was a great help.'
Meg did what was necessary, and the great god became even greater as he returned to his original state.
Thus passed the Olympians, one by one, mounting to their pedestals, to resume once more their rightful function of edifying and enlightening the general public. The world could stand for them in bronze or stone, but in the flesh it was an altogether different matter.
'We've had a nice clean time together,' said Venus, as she smilingly stepped up. 'Oh, what about my arms?'
'Let the museum staff puzzle about them,' replied Meg. They're damn good arms, old girl, but they'll probably break 'em off.'
Hebe returned, still clinging to her cup. It was this incongruous article that shocked and amazed the museum authorities, officials, and staff more than anything else connected with the whole strange affair.
'You can't say I didn't keep my head,' grinned Perseus, as he was about to go.
'You can keep right on keeping,' said Mr Hawk. 'I'm sure Magistrate Plenty won't envy you.'
'Well, my boy, I'm as near being a confirmed drunkard as I ever was in my life,' observed Bacchus. 'I don't know whether that's a compliment to your modern stuff or not. I think not.'
'It's been nice to meet you both,' murmured Diana. 'I trust you will not judge me by the conduct of my sister. She really is a trollop. Thanks for a lovely time.'
'If you meet a girl named Mabel,' said Apollo, 'just tell her not to worry. Not that she will. I wish to thank you, Mr Hawk, for all of us, in case the others forgot.'
'Good-bye, Mercury, old son,' said Mr Hawk, when it came time for that smooth fellow to return. 'You've been a great help and comfort. I hope you enjoyed your thieving.'
'I did, I did,' replied Mercury. 'Meg's not so bad herself. Tell me, Mr Hawk. Do you happen to know in which hand I held this damn caduceus? I can't recall for the life of me. It really doesn't matter. The whole pose is ridiculous. Please hurry, or I'll fall on my nose.'
'Well, thank God that's over,' said Meg, when the restoration of the Olympians had been completed. 'Now we're alone at last.'
She sank wearily to a bench beside the lean, white-draped scientist. In the vast hall the two figures looked like people from another age returned to claim their own. Mr Hawk looked thoughtfully round him at the dim, inanimate forms of the Olympians.
'Only a moment ago they were alive and active,' he said in a low voice. 'They were full of thoughts and ideas, of wants, likes, and dislikes. They could move and make themselves felt. Now—nothing. So much imperishable beauty.'
'They played hard for a while and tired quickly,' replied Meg, drawing closer to the man beside her. 'Now they have gone back to rest. In a world that has forgotten how to play, there was no room for the Olympians.'
'Nor for us,' said Mr Hawk, taking the girl in his arms and slipping off her drapery as they sank to the cold stone floor.
And Meg took the man to her as a woman takes a man.
'Your lips on mine,' she said. 'Always.'
As the current passed through the locked bodies, a little sigh of ecstasy escaped the lips of Meg. The stone closed round them, shutting out the world. Nothing could get at them now. There was no time nor age. They had themselves for ever, the man and the woman.
Yet through the deep silence of the vast hall something of them seemed to linger—Meg's last little sigh still floated like a mocking kiss on the cold cheek of convention.