James Cabell: The Eagle's Shadow

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James Cabell The Eagle's Shadow
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    The Eagle's Shadow
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THE EAGLE'S SHADOW

By

JAMES BRANCH CABELL

Illustrated by Will Grafé

To

Martha Louise Branch

In trust that the enterprise may be judged

less by the merits of its factor than

by those of its patron

THE CHARACTERS

Colonel Thomas Hugonin, formerly in the service of Her Majesty the Empress of India, Margaret Hugonin's father.


Frederick R. Woods, the founder of Selwoode, Margaret's uncle by marriage.


Billy Woods, his nephew, Margaret's quondam fiancé.


Hugh Van Orden, a rather young young man, Margaret's adorer.


Martin Jeal, M.D., of Fairhaven, Margaret's family physician.


Cock-Eye Flinks, a gentleman of leisure, Margaret's chance acquaintance.


Petheridge Jukesbury, president of the Society for the Suppression of Nicotine and the Nude, Margaret's almoner in furthering the cause of education and temperance.


Felix Kennaston, a minor poet, Margaret's almoner in furthering the cause of literature and art.


Sarah Ellen Haggage, Madame President of the Ladies' League for the Edification of the Impecunious, Margaret's almoner in furthering the


cause of charity and philanthropy. Kathleen Eppes Saumarez, a lecturer  before women's clubs, Margaret's almoner in furthering the cause of theosophy, nature study, and rational dress.


Adèle Haggage, Mrs. Haggage's daughter, Margaret's rival with Hugh Van Orden.


And Margaret Hugonin.


The other participants in the story are Wilkins, Célestine, The Spring Moon and The Eagle.


I

This is the story of Margaret Hugonin and of the Eagle. And with your permission, we will for the present defer all consideration of the bird, and devote our unqualified attention to Margaret.

I have always esteemed Margaret the obvious, sensible, most appropriate name that can be bestowed upon a girl-child, for it is a name that fits a woman—any woman—as neatly as her proper size in gloves.

Yes, the first point I wish to make is that a woman-child, once baptised Margaret, is thereby insured of a suitable name. Be she grave or gay in after-life, wanton or pious or sullen, comely or otherwise, there will be no possible chance of incongruity; whether she develop a taste for winter-gardens or the higher mathematics, whether she take to golf or clinging organdies, the event is provided for. One has only to consider for a moment, and if among a choice of Madge, Marjorie, Meta, Maggie, Margherita, Peggy, and Gretchen, and countless others—if among all these he cannot find a name that suits her to a T—why, then, the case is indeed desperate and he may permissibly fall back upon Madam or—if the cat jump propitiously, and at his own peril—on Darling or Sweetheart.

The second proof that this name must be the best of all possible names is that Margaret Hugonin bore it. And so the murder is out. You may suspect what you choose. I warn you in advance that I have no part whatever in her story; and if my admiration for her given name appear somewhat excessive, I can only protest that in this dissentient world every one has a right to his own taste. I knew Margaret. I admired her. And if in some unguarded moment I may have carried my admiration to the point of indiscretion, her husband most assuredly knows all about it, by this, and he and I are still the best of friends. So you perceive that if I ever did so far forget myself it could scarcely have amounted to a hanging matter.

I am doubly sure that Margaret Hugonin was beautiful, for the reason that I have never found a woman under forty-five who shared my opinion. If you clap a Testament into my hand, I cannot affirm that women are eager to recognise beauty in one another; at the utmost they concede that this or that particular feature is well enough. But when a woman is clean-eyed and straight-limbed, and has a cheery heart, she really cannot help being beautiful; and when Nature accords her a sufficiency of dimples and an infectious laugh, I protest she is well-nigh irresistible. And all these Margaret Hugonin had.

And surely that is enough.

I shall not endeavour, then, to picture her features to you in any nicely picked words. Her chief charm was that she was Margaret.

And besides that, mere carnal vanities are trivial things; a gray eye or so is not in the least to the purpose. Yet since it is the immemorial custom of writer-folk to inventory such possessions of their heroines, here you have a catalogue of her personal attractions. Launce's method will serve our turn.

Imprimis, there was not very much of her—five feet three, at the most; and hers was the well-groomed modern type that implies a grandfather or two and is in every respect the antithesis of that hulking Venus of the Louvre whom people pretend to admire. Item, she had blue eyes; and when she talked with you, her head drooped forward a little. The frank, intent gaze of these eyes was very flattering and, in its ultimate effect, perilous, since it led you fatuously to believe that she had forgotten there were any other trousered beings extant. Later on you found this a decided error. Item, she had a quite incredible amount of yellow hair, that was not in the least like gold or copper or bronze—I scorn the hackneyed similes of metallurgical poets—but a straightforward yellow, darkening at the roots; and she wore it low down on her neck in great coils that were held in place by a multitude of little golden hair-pins and divers corpulent tortoise-shell ones. Item, her nose was a tiny miracle of perfection; and this was noteworthy, for you will observe that Nature, who is an adept at eyes and hair and mouths, very rarely achieves a creditable nose. Item, she had a mouth; and if you are a Gradgrindian with a taste for hairsplitting, I cannot swear that it was a particularly small mouth. The lips were rather full than otherwise; one saw in them potentialities of heroic passion, and tenderness, and generosity, and, if you will, temper. No, her mouth was not in the least like the pink shoe-button of romance and sugared portraiture; it was manifestly designed less for simpering out of a gilt frame or the dribbling of stock phrases over three hundred pages than for gibes and laughter and cheery gossip and honest, unromantic eating, as well as another purpose, which, as a highly dangerous topic, I decline even to mention.

There you have the best description of Margaret Hugonin that I am capable of giving you. No one realises its glaring inadequacy more acutely than I.

Furthermore, I stipulate that if in the progress of our comedy she appear to act with an utter lack of reason or even common-sense—as every woman worth the winning must do once or twice in a lifetime—that I be permitted to record the fact, to set it down in all its ugliness, nay, even to exaggerate it a little—all to the end that I may eventually exasperate you and goad you into crying out, "Come, come, you are not treating the girl with common justice!"

For, if such a thing were possible, I should desire you to rival even me in a liking for Margaret Hugonin. And speaking for myself, I can assure you that I have come long ago to regard her faults with the same leniency that I accord my own.

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