Literary Love-Letters and Other Stories
Part 3 out of 3
"Let Helen marry a feller who is willing to go half way for her without a
palace. Why didn't you encourage her marrying Blake, as smart a young man
as I ever had? She was taken enough with him."
"Because I did not think it fit for my sister to marry your junior
partner, who, five years ago, was your best floor-walker."
"Well, Blake is a college-educated man and a hustler. He's bound to get on
if I back him. If Blake weren't likely enough, there's plenty more in
Chicago like me--smart business men who want a handsome young wife."
"Perhaps we have had enough of Stuart, Hodgson, and Blake. There are other
careers in the world outside Chicago."
"Tut, tut! I ain't going to fight here all day. What's the figure? What's
the figure?" He slapped his breeches with the morning paper.
"You will have to take the house in London (the Duke of Waminster's is to
let, mamma writes), and give them two hundred thousand dollars in addition
to their present income for the two years." She let her eyes fall on his
toast and coffee. The old man turned about galvanically and peered at her.
"You're crazy! two hundred thousand these times, so's your sister can get
"She's the last," interposed Mrs. Stuart, deftly.
"I tell you I've done more than most men. I've paid your old bills, your
whole family's, your brothers' in college, to the tune of five thousand a
year (worthless scamps!) and put 'em in business. You've had all of 'em at
Newport and Paris, let alone their living here off and on nearly twenty
years. Now you think I can shell out two hundred thousand and a London
house as easily as I'd buy pop-corn."
"It was our understanding." Mrs. Stuart began on her breakfast.
"Not much. I've done better by you than I agreed to, because you've been a
good wife to me. I settled a nice little fortune on you independent of
your widder's rights or your folks."
"Your daughter will benefit by that," Mrs. Stuart corrected.
"Well, what's that to do with it?" He seemed to lose the scent.
"What was our understanding when I agreed to marry you?"
"I've done more'n I promised, I tell you."
"As you very well know, I married you because my family were in desperate
circumstances. Our understanding was that I should be a good wife, and you
were to make my family comfortable according to my views. Isn't that
The old man blanched at this businesslike presentation; his voice grew
"And I have, Beatty. I have! I've done everything by you I promised. And I
built this great house and another at Newport, and you ain't never
"That was our agreement, then," she continued, without mercy. "I was just
nineteen, and wise, for a girl, and you had forty-seven pretty wicked
years. There wasn't any nonsense between us. I was a stunning girl, the
most talked about in New York at that time. I was to be a good wife, and
we weren't to have any words. Have I kept my promise?"
"Yes, you've been a good woman, Beatty, better'n I deserved. But won't you
take less, say fifty thousand?" He advanced conciliatorily. "That's an
His wife rose, composed as ever and stately in her well-sustained forty
"Do you think _any_ price is too great in payment for these twenty-one
years?" Contempt crept in. "Not one dollar less, two hundred thousand,
and I cable mamma to-day."
Stuart shrivelled up.
"Do you refuse?" she remarked, lightly, for he stood irresolutely near the
"I won't stand that!" and he went out.
When he had left Mrs. Stuart went on with her breakfast; a young woman
Came in hastily from the hall, where she had bade her father good-by.
She stood in the window watching the coachman surrender the horses to
the old man. The groom moved aside quickly, and in a moment the two
horses shot nervously through the ponderous iron gateway. The delicate
wheels just grazed the stanchions, lifting the light buggy in the air
to a ticklish angle. It righted itself and plunged down the boulevard.
Fast horses and cigars were two of the few pleasures still left the old
store-keeper. There was another--a costly one--which was not always
Miss Stuart watched the groom close the ornate iron gates, and then turned
inquiringly to her mother.
"What's up with papa?"
Mrs. Stuart went on with her breakfast in silence. She was superbly
preserved, and queenly for an American woman. It seemed as if something
had stayed the natural decay of her powers, of her person, and had put
her always at this impassive best. Something had stopped her heart to
render her passionless, and thus to embalm her for long years of
mechanical activity. She would not decay, but when her time should come
she would merely stop--the spring would snap.
The daughter had her mother's height and her dark coloring. But her large,
almost animal eyes, and her roughly moulded hands spoke of some homely,
prairie inheritance. Her voice was timid and hesitating.
At last Mrs. Stuart, her mail and breakfast exhausted at the same moment,
Rose to leave the room.
"Oh, Edith," she remarked, authoritatively, "if you happen to drive down
town this morning, will you tell your father that we are going to Winetka
for a few weeks? Or telephone him, if you find it more convenient. And
send the boys to me. Miss Bates will make all arrangements. I think there
is a train about three."
"Why, mamma, you don't mean to stay there! I thought we were to be here
all winter. And my lessons at the Art Institute?"
Mrs. Stuart smiled contemptuously. "Lessons at the Art Institute are not
the most pressing matter for my daughter, who is about to come out. You
can amuse yourself with golf and tennis as long as they last. Then,
perhaps, you will have a chance to continue your lessons in Paris."
"And papa!" protested the daughter, "I thought he couldn't leave this
Mrs. Stuart smiled again provokingly. "Yes?"
"Oh, I can't understand!" Her pleading was almost passionate, but still
low and sweet. "I want so much to go on with my lessons with the other
girls. And I want to go out here with all the girls I know."
"We will have them at Winetka. And Stuyvesant Wheelright--you liked him
The girl colored deeply. "I don't want him in the house. I had rather go
away. I'll go to Vassar with Mary Archer. You needn't hunt up any man for
"Pray, do you think I would tolerate a college woman in my house? It's
well enough for school-teachers. And what does your painting amount to?
You will paint sufficiently well, I dare say, to sell a few daubs, and so
take the bread and butter from some poor girl. But I am afraid, my dear,
we couldn't admit your pictures to the gallery."
The girl's eyes grew tearful at this tart disdain. "I love it, and papa
has money enough to let me paint 'daubs' as long as I like. Please, please
let me go on with it!"
* * * * *
That afternoon the little caravan started for the deserted summer home at
Winetka, on a high bluff above the sandy lake-shore. It had been bought
years before, when not even the richest citizens dreamed of going East for
the summer. Of late it had been used only rarely, in the autumn or late
spring, or as a retreat in which to rusticate the boys with their tutor.
When filled with a large house-party, it made a jolly place, though not
magnificent enough for the developed hospitalities of Mrs. Stuart.
Old Stuart came home to an empty palace. He had not believed that his
reserved wife would take such high measures, and he felt miserably lonely
after the usual round of elaborate dinners to which he had grown
grumblingly accustomed. His one senile passion was his pride in her, and
he was avaricious of the lost days while she was absent from her usual
victorious post as the mistress of that great house. The next day his
heart sank still lower, for he saw in the Sunday papers a little paragraph
to the effect that Mrs. Stuart had invited a brilliant house-party to her
autumn home in Winetka, and that it was rumored she and her lovely young
daughter would spend the winter in London with their relatives. It made
the old man angry, for he could see with what deliberation she had planned
for a long campaign. Even the comforts of his club were denied him;
everyone knew him and everyone smiled at the little domestic disturbance.
So he asked his secretary, young Spencer, to make his home for the present
in the sprawling, brand-new "palace" that frowned out on the South
Boulevard. Young Spencer accepted, out of pity for the old man; for he
wasn't a toady and he knew his own worth.
People did talk in the clubs and elsewhere about the divided
establishments. It would have been worse had the division come earlier, as
had been predicted often enough, or had Mrs. Stuart ever given in her
younger days a handle for any gossip. But her conduct had been so frigidly
correct that it stood in good service at this crisis. She would not have
permitted a scandal. That also was in the contract.
Of course there was communication between the two camps, the gay polo-
playing, dinner-giving household on the bluff, and the forlorn, tottering
old man with his one aide-de-camp, the blithe young secretary. Now and
then the sons would turn up at the offices down-town, amiably expectant of
large checks. Stuart grimly referred them to their mother. He had some
vague idea of starving the opposition out, but his wife's funds were large
and her credit, as long as there should be no recognized rupture, perfect.
The daughter, Edith, frequently established connections. In some way she
had got permission to take her lessons at the Art Institute. Her mother's
open contempt for her aesthetic impulses had ruined her illusion about her
ability, for Mrs. Stuart knew her ground in painting. But she still loved
the atmosphere of the great studio-room at the Art Institute. She liked
the poor girls and the Western bohemianism and the queer dresses, and
above all she liked to linger over her own little easel, undisturbed by
the creative flurry around, dreaming of woods and soft English gardens and
happy hours along a river where the water went gently, tenderly, on to the
sea. And her sweet eyes, large and black like her mother's, but softer and
gentler, to go with her low voice, would moisten a bit from the dream. "So
nice," he would murmur to her picture, "to sit here and think of the quiet
and rest, such as good pictures always paint. I'd like not to go back with
Thomas to the train--to Winetka where they play polo and dress up and
dance and flirt, but to sail away over the sea----"
Then her eyes would see in the purplish light of her picture a certain
face that meant another life. She would blush to herself, and her voice
would stop. For she couldn't think aloud about him.
Some days, when the murky twilight came on early, she would steal away
altogether from the gay party in Winetka and spend the night with her
lonely father. They would have a queer, stately dinner for three served in
the grand dining-room by the English butler and footman. Stuart never had
much to say to her; she wasn't his "smart," queenly wife who brought all
people to her feet. When he came to his cigar and his whiskey, she would
take young Spencer to the gallery, where they discussed the new French
pictures, very knowingly, Spencer thought. She would describe for him the
intricacies of a color-scheme of some tender Diaz, and that would lead
them into the leafy woods about Barbizon and other realms of sentiment.
When they returned to the library she would feel that there were
compensations for this dreary separation at Winetka and that her enormous
home had never been so nice and comfortable before. As she bade the two
men good-night, her father would come to the door, rubbing his eyes and
forlorn over his great loss, and to her murmured "Good-night" he would
sigh, "so like her mother." "Quite the softest voice in the world,"
Once in her old little tower room that she still preferred to keep,
covered with her various attempts at sea, and sky, and forest, she was
blissfully conscious of independence, so far from Stuyvesant Wheelright
and his mother--quite an ugly old dame with no better manners than the
plain Chicago people (who despised them all as "pork-packers" and "shop-
On one of these visits late in October, Edith had found her father ailing
from a cold. He asked her, shamefacedly, to tell her mother that "he was
very bad." Mrs. Stuart, leaving the house-party in full go, started at
once for the town-house. Old Stuart had purposely stayed at home on the
chances that his wife would relent. When she came in, she found him lying
in the same morning-room, where hostilities had begun three months before.
He grew confused, like an erring school-boy, as his wife kissed him and
asked after his health in a neutral sort of way. He made out that he was
threatened with a complication of diseases that might finally end him.
"Well, what can I do for you now," Mrs. Stuart said, with business-like
"Spencer's looking after things pretty much. He's honest and faithful, but
he ain't got any head like yours, Beatty, and times are awful hard. People
won't pay rents, and I don't dare to throw 'em out. Stores and houses
would lie empty these days. Then there's the North Shore Electric--I was a
fool to go in so heavy the Fair year and tie up all my money. I s'pose you
know the bonds ain't reached fifty this fall. I'm not so tremendously
wealthy as folks think."
Mrs. Stuart exactly comprehended this sly speech; she knew also that there
was some truth in it.
"Say, Beatty, it's so nice to have you here!" The old man raised himself
and capered about like a gouty old house-dog.
He made the most of his illness, for he suspected that it was a condition
of truce, not a bond of peace. While he was in bed Mrs. Stuart drove to
the city each day and, with Spencer's help, conducted business for long
hours. She had had experience in managing large charities; she knew
people, and when a tenant could pay, with a little effort, he found Madam
more pitiless than the old shop-keeper. Every afternoon she would take her
stenographer to Stuart's room and consult with him.
"Ain't she a wonder?" the old man would exclaim to Spencer, in new
admiration for his wife. And Spencer, watching the stately, authoritative
woman day after day as she worked quickly, exactly, with the repose and
dignity of a perfect machine, shivered back an unwilling assent.
All accidents played into the hands of this masterful woman. Her own
presence in town kept her daughter at Winetka _en evidence_ for Stuyvesant
Wheelright and Mrs. Wheelright. For Mrs. Stuart had determined upon him
as, on the whole, the most likely arrangement that she could make. He was
American, but of the best, and Mrs. Stuart was wise enough to prefer the
domestic aristocracy. So to her mind affairs were not going badly. The
truce would conclude ultimately in a senile capitulation; meantime, she
could advance money for the household in London.
When Stuart had been nursed back into comparative activity, the grand
dinners began once more--a convenient rebuttal for all gossip. The usual
lists of distinguished strangers, wandering English story-tellers in
search of material for a new "shilling shocker," artists suing to paint
her or "Mademoiselle l'Inconnue," crept from time to time into the genial
social column of the newspaper.
Stuart spent the evenings in state on a couch at the head of the drawing-
room, where he usually remained until the guests departed. In this way he
got a few words with his wife before she sent him to bed. One night his
enthusiasm over her bubbled out.
"You're a great woman, Beatty!" She looked a little pale, but otherwise
unworn by her laborious month. It was not blood that fed those even
"You will not need my help now. You can see to your business yourself,"
"Say, Beatty, you won't leave me again, will you!" he quavered,
beseechingly. "I need you these last years; 'twon't be for long."
"Oh, you are strong and quite well again," she asserted, not unkindly.
"Will a hundred thousand do?" he pleaded. "Times are bad and ready money
is scarce, as you know."
"Sell the electric bonds," she replied, sitting down, as if to settle the
"Sell them bonds at fifty?" The old shop-keeper grew red in the face.
"What's that!" she remarked, disdainfully. "What have I given?" Her
husband said nothing. "As I told you when we first talked the matter over,
I have done my part to the exact letter of the law. You admit I have been
a good and faithful wife, don't you? You know," a note of passion crept
into her colorless voice, "You know that there hasn't been a suggestion of
scandal with our home. I married you, young, beautiful, admired; I am
handsome now." She drew herself up disdainfully. "I have not wanted for
opportunity, I think you might know; but not one man in all the world can
boast I have dropped an eyelash for his words. Not one syllable of favor
have I given any man but you. Am I not right?"
"Then what do you haggle for over a few dollars? Have I ever given you
reason to repent our arrangement? Have I not helped you in business, in
social matters put you where you never could go by yourself? And do you
think my price is high?"
"Money is so scarce," Stuart protested, feebly.
"Suppose it left you only half a million, all told! What's that, in
comparison to what I have given? Think of that. I don't complain, but you
know we women estimate things differently. And when we sell ourselves, we
name the price; and it matters little how big it is,"
Her scorn pierced the old man's somewhat leathery sensibilities.
"Well, if it's a question of price, when is it going to end--when shall I
have paid up? Next year you'll want half a million hard cash."
"There is no end."
The next morning, Mrs. Stuart returned to Winetka; the rupture threatened
to prolong itself indefinitely. Stuart found it hard to give in
completely, and it made him sore to think that their marriage had remained
a business matter for over twenty years. And yet it was hard to face death
without all the satisfaction money could buy him. The crisis came,
however, in an unexpected manner.
One morning Stuart found his daughter waiting for him at his office. She
had slipped away from Winetka, and taken an early train.
"What's up, Ede?"
"Oh, papa!" the young girl gasped "They make me so unhappy, every day, and
I can't stand it. Mamma wants me to marry Stuyvesant Wheelright, and he's
there all the time."
"Who's he?" Stuart asked, sharply. His daughter explained briefly.
"He is what mamma calls 'eligible'; he is a great swell in New York, and I
don't like him. Oh, papa, I can't be a _grande dame_, like mamma, can I?
Won't you tell her so, papa? Make up with her; pay her the money she wants
for Aunt Helen, and then perhaps she'll let me paint."
"No, you're not the figure your mother is, and never will be," Stuart
said, almost slightingly. "I don't think, Ede, you'll ever make a great
lady like her."
"I don't think she is very happy," the girl bridled, in her own defence.
"Well, perhaps not, perhaps not. But who do you want to marry, anyway? You
had better marry someone, Ede, 'fore I die."
"I don't know--that is, it doesn't matter much just now. I should like to
go to California, perhaps, with the Stearns girls. I want to paint, just
daubs, you know--I can't do any better. But you tell mamma I can't be a
great swell. I shouldn't be happy, either."'
The old man resolved to yield. That very afternoon he drove out to Winetka
along the lake shore. He had himself gotten up in his stiffest best. He
held the reins high and tight, his body erect in the approved form; while
now and then he glanced back to see if the footmen were as rigid as my
lady demanded. For Mrs. Stuart loved good form, and he felt nervously
apprehensive, as if he were again suing for her maiden favors. He was
conscious, too, that he had little enough to offer her--the last months
had brought humility. Beside him young Spencer lolled, enjoying, with a
free heart, his day off in the gentle, spring-like air. Perhaps he divined
that his lady would not need so much propitiation.
They surprised a party just setting forth from the Winetka house as they
drove up with a final flourish. Their unexpected arrival scattered the
guests into little, curious groups; everyone anticipated immediate
dissolution. They speculated on the terms, and the opinion prevailed that
Stuart's expedition from town indicated complete surrender. Meanwhile
Stuart asked for an immediate audience, and husband and wife went up at
once to Mrs. Stuart's little library facing out over the bluff that
descended to the lake.
"Well, Beatty," old Stuart cried, without preliminary effort, "I just
can't live without you--that's the whole of it." She smiled. "I ain't much
longer to live, and then you're to have it all. So why shouldn't you take
what you want now?" He drew out several checks from his pocket-book.
"You can cable your folks at once and go ahead. You've been the best sort
of wife, as you said, and--I guess I owe you more'n I've paid for your
puttin' up with an old fellow like me all these years."
Mrs. Stuart had a new sensation of pity for his pathetic surrender.
"There's one thing, Beatty," he continued, "so long as I live you'll own I
oughter rule in my own house, manage the boys, and that." Mrs. Stuart
nodded. "Now I want you to come back with me and break up this party."
Mrs. Stuart took the checks.
"You've made it a bargain, Beatty. You said I was to pay your family what
you wanted, and you were to obey me at that price?"
"Well," replied Mrs. Stuart, good-humoredly. "We'll all go up to-morrow.
Isn't that early enough?"
"That ain't all, Beatty. You can't make everybody over; you couldn't brush
me up much; you can't make a grand lady out of Edith."
Mrs. Stuart looked up inquiringly.
"Now you've had your way about your family, and I want you to let Ede
"She doesn't want that Wheelright fellow, and if you think it over you'll
see that she couldn't do as you have. She ain't the sort."
Mrs. Stuart twitched at the checks nervously.
"I sort of think Spencer wants her; in fact, he said so coming out here."
"And I told him he could have her, if she wanted him. I don't think I
should like to see another woman of mine live the sort of life you have
with me. It's hard on 'em." His voice quivered.
Beatrice, Lady Stuart of Winetka, as they called her, stood silently
looking out to the lake, reviewing "the sort of life she had lived" from
the time she had made up her mind to take the shop-keeper's millions to
this moment of concession. It was a grim panorama, and she realized now
that it had not meant complete satisfaction to either party. Her twenty or
more frozen years made her uncomfortable. While they waited, young Spencer
and Miss Stuart came slowly up the terraced bluff.
"Well, John," Mrs. Stuart smiled kindly. "I think this is the last
payment,--in full. Let's go down to congratulate them."
CHICAGO, March, 1895.
_The best man has gone for a game of billiards with the host. The maid of
honor is inditing an epistle to one who must fall. The bridesmaids have
withdrawn themselves, each with some endurable usher, to an appropriate
retreat upon the other coasts of the veranda. The night is full of
starlight in May. The lovers discover themselves at last alone._
_He._ What was that flame-colored book Maud was reading to young Bishop?
_She. The Dolly Dialogues_; you remember we read them in London when they
_He._ What irreverent literature we tolerate nowadays! I suppose it's the
aftermath of agnosticism.
_She._ It didn't occur to me that it was irreligious.
_He._ Irreverent, I said--the tone of our world.
_She._ But how I love that world of ours--even the _Dolly Dialogues_!
_He_. Because you love it, this world you feel, you are reverent toward
it. I have hated it so many years; it carried so much pain with it that I
thought every expression of life was pain, and now, now, if it were not
for Maud and the _Dolly Dialogues_, these last days would seem to launch
us afresh upon quite another world.
_She_. Yes, another world, where there is a new terror, a strange, inhuman
terror that I never thought of before, the terror of death.
_He_. Why, what a perversity! You think of immortality as so real, so
sure! Relief from that terror of death is the proper fruit of your firm
_She_. But I never cared before about the shape, the form, the kind of
that other life. I was content to believe it quite different from this,
for I knew this so well, enjoyed it so much. When the jam-pot should be
empty, I did not want another one just like it. But now....
_He_. I know. And I lived so much a stranger to the experiences I could
have about me that I was indifferent to what came after. Now, what I am,
what I have, is so precious that I cannot believe in any change which
should let me know of this life as past and impossible. That would be "the
supreme grief of remembering in misery the happy days that have been."
_She._ It makes me shiver; it is so blasphemous to hate the state of being
of a spirit. That would seem to degrade love, if through love we dread to
lose our bodies.
_He._ Strange! You have come to this confession out of a trusting religion
and I from doubt--at the best indifference. You are ashamed to confess
what seems to you wholly blasphemous against that noble faith and prayer
of a Christian; and I find an invigorating pleasure in your blasphemy.
There is no conceivable life of a spirit to compare with the pain, even,
of the human body; it is better to suffer than to know no difference.
_She._ But "the resurrection of the body": perhaps the creed, word for
word without interpretation, would not mean that empty life which we
moderns have grown to consider the supreme and liberal conception of
_He._ Resurrection in a purified form fit for the bliss, whatever one of
all the many shapes men have dreamed it may vision itself in!
_She._ But this love of life, this excessive joy, must fade away. The
record of the world is not that we keep that. Think of the old people who
dream peacefully of death, after knowing all the fulness of this life.
Think of the wretches who pray for it. That vision of the life of spirits
which is so dreadful to us has been the comfort of the ages. There must be
some inner necessity for it. Perhaps with our bodies our wills become worn
_He_. That, I think, is the mystery--the wearing out, which is death. For
death occurs oftener in life than we think; I know so many dead people who
are walking about. As for sick people, physicians say that in a long
illness they never have to warn a patient of the coming end. He knows it,
subtly, from some dim, underground intimation. Without acknowledging it,
he arranges himself, so to speak, for the grave, and comforts himself with
those visions that religion holds out. Or does he comfort himself?
But apart from the dying, there are so many out of whose bodies and
spirits life is ebbing. It may have been a little flood-tide, but they
know it is going. You see it on their faces. They become dull. That
leprosy of death attacks their life, joint by joint. They lay aside one
pleasure, one function, one employment of their minds after another.
The machine may run on, but the soul is dying. That is what I call _death
THE EPISODE OF LIFE.
Jack Lynton is becoming stone like that. His is a case in point, and a
good one, because the atrophy is coming about not from physical disease,
or from any dissipation. You would call him sane and full of fire. He was.
He married three years ago. Their life was full, too, like ours, and
precious. They did not throw it away; they were wise guardians of all its
possibilities. The second summer--I was with them, and Jack has told me
much besides--Mary began talking, almost in joke, of these matters, of
what one must prepare for; of second marriages, and all that. We chatted
in as idle fashion as do most people over the utterly useless topics of
life. One exquisite September day, all steeped in the essence of
sunshine--misty everywhere over the fields--how well I remember it!--she
spoke again in jest about something that might happen after her death. I
saw a trace of pain on Jack's face. She saw it, and was sad for a moment.
Now I know that all through that late summer and autumn those two were
fighting death in innuendoes. They were not morbid people, but death went
to bed with them each night.
Of course, this apprehension, this miasma, came in slowly, like those
autumn sea-mists; appearing once a month, twice this week--a little
oftener each time.
Jack is a sensible man; he does not shy at a shadow. His nerves are
tranquil, and respond as they ought. They went about the business of life
as joyfully as you or I, and in October we were all back in town. Now,
Mary is dying; the doctor sees it now. I do not mean that he should have
known it before. _She_ knew it, and _she_ noted how the life was fading
away until the time came when what was so full of action, of feeling, of
desire, was merely a shell--impervious to sensation.
And Jack is dying, too--his health is good enough, but pain which he
cannot master is killing him into numbness. He watches each joy, each
experience with which they were both tremulous, depart. And do you suppose
it is any comfort for those two honest souls to believe that their spirits
will recognize each other in some curious state that has dispensed with
sense? Do you suppose that a million of years of a divine communion would
make up for one spoken word, for even a shade of agony that passes across
_She_. If God should change their souls in that other world, then perhaps
their longings would be quite different; so that what we think of with
chill they would accept as a privilege.
_He_. In other words, those two, who have learned to know each other in
human terms, who have loved and suffered in the body, will have ended
their page? Some strange transformation into another two? Why not simply
an end to the book? Would that not be easier?
_She_. If one had the courage to accept these few years of life and ask
for no more.
_He_. I think that it is cowardice which makes one accept the ghostly
satisfaction of a surviving spirit.
WHEN THE BODY IN LIFE FEELS THE SPIRIT.
_She_. But have you never forgotten the body, dreamed what it would be to
feel God? You have known those moments when your soul, losing the sense of
contact with men or women, groped alone, in an enveloping calm, and knew
content. I have had it in times of intoxication from music--not the
personal, passionate music of to-day, but some one or two notes that sink
the mazy present into darkness. I knew that my senses were gone for the
time, and in their place I held a comfortable consciousness of power.
There have been other times--in Lent, at the close of the drama of
Christ--beside the sea--after a long dance--illusory moments when one
forgot the body and wondered.
_He._ I know. One night in the Sierras we camped high up above the summits
of the range. The altitude, perhaps, or the long ride through the forest,
kept me awake. Our fires died down; a chalky mist rose from the valleys,
and, filtering through the ravines, at last capped the granite heads. The
smouldering tree-trunks we had lit for fires and the little patch of rock
where we lay, made an island in that white sea. Between us and the black
spaces among the stars there was nothing. How eternally quiet it was! I
can feel that isolation now coming over my soul like the stealthy fog,
until I lay there, unconscious of my body, in a wondering placidity,
watching the stars burn and fade. I could seem to feel them whirl in their
way through the heavens. And then a thought detached itself from me, the
conception of an eternity passed in placidity like that without the pains
of sense, the obligations of action; I loved it then--that cold residence
_She._ You have known it, too. Those moments when the body in life feels
the state of spirit come rarely and awe one. Dear heart, perhaps if our
spirits were purified and experienced we should welcome that perpetual
contemplation. We cannot be Janus-faced, but the truth may lie with the
monks, who killed this life in order to obtain a grander one.
TWO SOULS IN HEAVEN REMEMBER THE LIFE LIVED ON EARTH.
_He._ Can you conceive of any heaven for which you would change this
shameful world? Any heaven, I mean, of spirits, not merely an Italian
palace of delights?
_She._ There is the heaven of the Pagans, the heaven of glorified earth,
_He._ Would you like to dine without tasting the fruit and the wine? What
attainment would it be to walk in fields of asphodel, when all the colors
of all the empyrean were equally dazzling, and perceived by the mind
alone? For my part, I should prefer to hold one human violet.
_She_. The heaven of the Christian to-day?
_He_. That may be interpreted in two ways: the heaven where we know
nothing but God, and the heaven where we remember our former life. Let us
pass the first, for the second is the heaven passionately desired by those
who have suffered here, who have lost their friends.
Suppose that we two had finished with the episode of death, and had come
out beyond into that tranquillity of spirit where sorrows change to
harmony. You and I would go together, or, perhaps, less fortunate, one
should wait the other, but finally both would experience this
transformation from body into spirit. Should you like it? Would it fill
your heart with content--if you remembered the past? I think not. Suppose
we should walk out some fresh morning, as we love to do now, and look at
that earth we had been compelled to abandon. Where would be that fierce
joy of inrushing life? for, I fancy, we should ever have a level of
contentment and repose. Indeed, there would be no evening with its
comforting calm, no especially still nights, no mornings: nothing is
precious when nothing changes, and where all can be had for eternity.
We should talk, as of old, but the conversation of old men and women would
be dramatic and passionate to ours. For everything must needs be known,
and there could be no distinctions in feeling. Should you see your sister
dying in agony at sea, you would smile tranquilly at her temporary and
childish sorrow. All the affairs of this life would not strike you, pierce
your heart, or move your pulse. They would repeat themselves in your eyes
with a monotonous precision, and they would be done almost before the
actors had begun. Indeed, if you should not be incapable of blasphemy, you
would rebel at this blind game, played out with such fever.
We must not forget that our creative force would be spent: planning,
building, executing, toiling patiently for some end that is mirrored only
in our minds--how much of our joy comes from these!--would be laid aside.
We should have shaken the world as much as we could: now, _peace_....
Again, I say, peace is felt only after a storm. Like Ulysses, we should
look wistfully out from the isolation of heaven to the resounding waves of
this unconquered world.
Of course, one may say that the mind might fashion cures for all this;
that a greater architect would build a saner heaven. But, remember, that
we must not change the personal sense; in heaven, however you plan it, no
mortal must lose that "I" so painfully built from the human ages. If you
destroy his sense of the past life, his treasures acquired in this earth,
you break the rules of the game: you begin again and we have nothing to do
_She._ You have not yet touched upon the cruellest condition of the life
of the spirit.
_He._ Ah, dearest, I know that. You mean the love of the person. Indeed,
so quick it hurts me that I doubt if you would be walking that morning in
heaven with me alone. Perhaps, however, the memories of our common life on
earth would make you single me out. Let us think so. We should walk on to
some secluded spot, apart from the other spirits, and with our eyes cast
down so that we might not see that earth we were remembering. You would
look up at last with a touch of that defiance I love so now, as if a young
goddess were tossing away divine cares to shine out again in smiles. Ah,
I should have some stir about the heart, some desire to kiss you, to
embrace you, to possess you, as the inalienable joy of my life. My hand
could not even touch you! Would our eyes look love? Could we have any
individual longing for one-another, any affection kept apart to ourselves,
not swallowed up in that general loving-kindness and universal
beatification proper to spirits?
I know upon earth to-day some women, great souls, too, who are incapable
of an individual love. They may be married, they may have children; they
are good wives and good mothers; but their souls are too large for a
single passion. Their world blesses them, worships them, makes saints of
them, but no man has ever touched the bottom of their hearts. I suppose
their husbands are happy in the general happiness, yet they must be sad
some days, over this barren love. Hours come when they must long, even for
the little heart of a coquette that has dedicated itself to one other and
with that other would trustingly venture into hell.
Well, that universal love is the only kind such spirits as you and I
should be, could know. Would that content you?
We should sit mournfully silent, two impotent hearts, and remember,
remember. I should worship your exquisite body as I had known it on earth.
I should see that head as it bends to-night; I should hear again your
voice in those words you were singing when I passed your way that first
time; and your eyes would burn with the fire of our relinquished love. It
would all come faintly out of the past, deadened by a thin film of
recollection; now it strikes with a fierce joy, almost like a physical
blow, and wakes me to life, to desire.
_She._ Yes. We women say we love the spirit of the man we have chosen, but
it is a spirit that acts and expresses itself in the body. To that body,
with all its habits, so unconscious! its sure force and power, we are
bound--more than the man is bound to the loveliness of the woman he
adores. We--I, it is safer so, perhaps--understand what I see, what I
feel, what I touch, what I have kissed and loved. That is mine and becomes
mine more each day I live with it and possess it. That love of the
concrete is our limitation, so we are told, but it is our joy.
_He_. So we should sit, without words, for we would shrink from speech as
too sad, and we should know swiftly the thought of the other. And when the
sense of our loss became quite intolerable, we should walk on silently, in
a growing horror of the eternity ahead. At last one of us, moved by some
acute remembrance of our deadened selves, would go to the Master of the
Spirits and, standing before him in rebellion, would say: "Cast us out as
unfit for this heaven, and if Thou canst not restore us into that past
state at least give us Hell, where we may suffer a common pain, instead of
this passive calm and contemplation."
THE MEASURE OF JOY IN LIFE.
_She._ Yet, how short it will be! How awful to have the days and weeks and
months slip by, and know that at the best there is only a reprieve of a
few years. I think from this night I shall have my shadow of death. I
shall always be doing things for the last time; a sad life that! And
perhaps we change; as you say, we may become dead in life, prepared for a
different state; and in that change we may find a new joy--a longing for
perfection and peace.
_He_. That would be an acknowledgment of defeat, indeed, and that is the
sad result of so much living. The world has been too hard, we cry--there
is so much heartbreaking, so much misery, so few arrive! We look to
another world where all that will be made right, and where we shall suffer
Let the others have their opiate. You, at least, I think, are too brave
for that kind of comfort. Does it not seem a little grasping to ask for
eternity, because we have fifty years of action? And an eternity of
passivity, because we have not done well with action? No, the world has
had too much of that coddling, that kind of shuffle through, as if it were
a way station where we must spend the night and make the best of sorry
accommodations. Our benevolence, our warmheartedness, goes overmuch to
making the beds a bit better, especially for the feeble and the sick and
old, and those who come badly fitted out. We help the unfortunate to slide
through: I think it would be more sensible to make it worth their while to
stay. The great philanthropists are those who ennoble life, and make it a
valuable possession. It would be well to poison the forlorn, hurry them
post haste to some other world where they may find the conditions better
suited. Then give their lot of misery and opportunity to another who can
find joy in his burden.
_She._ A world without mercy would be hard--it would be full of a strident
clamor like a city street.
_He._ Mercy for all; no favoritism for a few. Whoever could find a new
joy, a lasting activity; whoever could keep his body and mind in full
health and could show what a tremendous reality it is to live--would be
the merciful man. There would be less of that leprosy, death in life, and
the last problem of death itself would not be insurmountable.
So I think the common men who know things, concrete things,--the price of
grain, if you will; the men of affairs who have their minds on the
struggle; the artists who in paint or words explore new possibilities--all
these are the merciful men, the true comforters whom we should honor. They
make life precious--aside from its physical value.
You know the keen movement that runs through your whole being when you
come face to face with some great Rembrandt portrait. How much the man
knew who made it, who saw it unmade! Or that Bellini's Pope we used to
watch, whose penetrating smile taught us about life. And the greater
Titian, the man with a glove, that looks at you like a live soul, one whom
a man created to live for the joy of other men. In another form, I feel
the same gift of life in a new enterprise: a railroad carried through; a
corrupt government cleaned for the day. And, again, that Giorgione at
Paris, where the men and women are doing nothing in particular, but living
in the sunlight, a joyful, pagan band.
And then think of the simpler, deeper notes of the symphony, the elements
of light and warmth and color in our world, the very seeds of existence. I
count that day the richest when we floated into the Cape harbor in the
little rowboat, bathed in the afternoon sun. The fishermen were lazily
winging in, knowing, like birds, the storm that would soon be on them. We
drank the sun in all our pores. It rained down on you, and glorified your
face and the flesh of your arms and your hands. We landed, and walked
across the evening fields to that little hut. Then nature lived and glowed
with the fervor of actual experience. You and the air and the sun-washed
ocean, all were some great throbs of actualities.
_She._ You remember how I liked to ride with you and sail, the stormy
days. How I loved to feel your body battling even feebly with the wind and
rain. I loved to see your face grow crimson under the lash of the waves,
and then to _feel_ you, alive and mine!
_He._ It would not be bad, a heaven like that, of perpetual physical
presentiment, of storms and sun, and rich fields, and long waves rolling
up the beaches. For nerves ever alive and strung healthily all along the
gamut of sensation! Days with terrific gloom, like the German forests of
the Middle Ages; days with small nights spent on the sea; September days
with a concealed meaning in the air. One would ride and battle and sail
and eat. Then long kisses of love in bodies that spoke.
_She._ And yet, how strange to life as it is is that picture--like some
mediaval song with the real people left out; strange to the dirty streets,
the breakfasts in sordid rooms, the ignoble faces, the houses with failure
written across the door-posts; strange to the life of papa and mamma; to
the comfortable home; the chatter of the day; the horses; the summer
trips--everything we have lived, you and I.
_He._ Incomplete, and hence merely a literary paradise. It is well, too,
as it is, for until we can go to bed with the commonplace, and dine with
sorrow, we are but children,--brilliant children, but with the unpleasant
mark of the child. Not sorrow accepted, my love, and bemoaned; but sorrow
fought and dislodged. He is great who feels the pain and sorrow and
absorbs it and survives--he who can remain calm in it and believe in it.
It is a fight; only the strong hold their own. That fight we call duty.
And duty makes the only conceivable world given the human spirit and the
human frame: even should we believe that the world is a revolving
palastrinum without betterment. And the next world--the next? It must be
like ours, too, in its action; it must call upon the same activities, the
same range of desires and loves and hates. Grander, perhaps, more adorned,
with greater freedom, with more swing, with a less troubled song as it
rushes on its course. But a world like unto ours, with effort, with the
keen jangle of persons in effort, with sorrow, aye, and despair: for there
must be forfeits!
Is that not better than to slink away to death with the forlorn comfort of
"_Requiescat in pace?_"
PARIS, December, 1895.
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