The Bent Twig
Part 8 out of 9
elaborately avoided the slightest appearance of rivalry that their
good taste, like a cloth thrown over an unknown object, inevitably
excited curiosity as to what was concealed beneath it.
And Sylvia was not to be outdone. She turned her own eyes away from
it as sedulously as they. She never let a conscious thought dwell on
it--and like all other repressed and strangled currents of thought, it
grew swollen and restive, filling her subconsciousness with monstrous,
unformulated speculations. She was extremely absorbed in the luxury,
the amenity, the smooth-working perfection of the life about her.
She consciously concentrated all her faculties on her prodigious
opportunity for aesthetic growth, for appreciation of the fine and
marvelous things about her. She let go the last scruple which had held
her back from accepting from Aunt Victoria the shower of beautiful
things to wear which that connoisseur in wearing apparel delighted
to bestow upon an object so deserving. She gave a brilliant outward
effect of enjoying life as it came which was as impersonal as that of
the two men who looked at her so frequently, and this effect went as
deep as her will-power had command. But beneath--unacknowledged waves
beating on the shore of her life and roughly, irresistibly, rudely
fashioning it--rolled a ground-swell of imperious questionings....
Was Felix' perfect manner of impersonal interest solely due to the
delicacy of his situation? Did he feel now that he was as rich as
Austin ...? But, on the other hand, why did he come now and put
himself in a situation which required the utmost efforts for
unconsciousness on everybody's part if not because Austin's being
there had meant he dared not wait? And Austin's change of manner since
the arrival of the other man, the film of ceremony which had slid
imperceptibly over the tender friendliness of his manner, did that
mean that he would not take advantage of Morrison's temporarily tied
hands, but, with a scrupulousness all his own, would wait until the
race was even and they stood foot to foot on the same level? Or had he
noticed at once, with those formidably clear eyes of his, some shade
of her manner to Felix which she had not been able to command, and was
he waiting for some move from her? And how could she move until she
had some sign from Felix and how could he give a sign? There was
nothing to do but to wait, to hope that the thin ice which now bent
perilously under the pleasant ceremonies of their life in common,
would hold them until.... Even the wildest up-leaping wave of that
tossing tide never went beyond the blank wall which came after the
There were other moments when all that surge swung back and forth
to the rhythm of the poisoned recollection of her unacknowledged
humiliation in Lydford; when, inflamed with determination to avoid
another such blow in the face, Sylvia almost consciously asked
herself, self-contemptuously, "Who am I, an obscure, poverty-stricken
music-teacher out of the West, to fancy that I have but to choose
between two such men, two such fortunes?" but against this counted
strongly the constantly recurring revelations of the obscure pasts of
many of the women whom she met during those days, women who were now
shining, acknowledged firsts in the procession of success. The serene,
stately, much-admired Princesse de Chevrille had been a Miss Sommers
from Cleveland, Ohio, and she had come to Paris first as a governess.
The beautiful Mrs. William Winterton Perth, now Aunt Victoria's
favorite friend, who entertained lesser royalty and greater men of
letters with equal quiet dignity, had in her youth, so she chanced
casually one day to mention, known what it was to be thrifty about
car-fares. There was nothing intrinsically impossible in any of the
glittering vistas down which Sylvia's quick eye cast involuntary
But inevitably, when the heaving dark tide rose as high as this, there
came a swift and deadly ebbing away of it all, and into Sylvia's
consciousness (always it seemed to her with the most entire
irrelevance) there flared up the picture of Molly as she had seen
her last, shimmering like a jewel in her white veil--then the other
picture, the over-turned car, the golden head bruised and bloody and
forever stilled--and always, always beyond that, the gaunt, monstrous
possibility, too awful ever to be put into words, too impossible for
From that shapeless, looming, black mass, Sylvia fled away actually
and physically, springing to her feet wherever she was, entering
another room, taking up some other occupation.
Just once she had the faintest sign from beyond the wall that she was
not alone in her fear of this horror. She was sitting near Austin Page
at a tea, one of the frequent, small, richly chosen assemblages which
Mrs. Marshall-Smith gathered about her. Part of the ensuing chatter on
one of these occasions turned, as modern chatter frequently does, on
automobiles. The husband of Mrs. William Winterton Perth was an expert
on such matters, having for some years diverted by an interest
in mechanics the immense enforced leisure of a transplanted male
American. He was talking incessantly that day of the wonderful
improvement in steering mechanism the last few years had brought
about. "I tell you what, Miss Marshall!" he insisted, as though she
had disputed the point with him, "I tell you _what_, there used to
be some excuse for piling your car up by the side of the road, but
nowadays any one who doesn't keep in the road and right side up must
be just plain _looking_ for a chance to use his car like a dose of
cold poison." For a moment Sylvia could not conceive why she felt so
sickening a thrust at her heart. She turned her eyes from the speaker.
They fell on a man's hand, on the arm of the chair next hers. It was
Austin's hand and it was shaking uncontrollably. As she gazed at it,
fascinated, he thrust it deep into his pocket. She did not look at
him. In a moment he rose and crossed the room. The husband of Mrs.
William Winterton Perth asked for another _petit four_, confessing his
fondness for chocolate eclairs,--and embarked upon demountable rims.
"_... His wife and children perceiving it, began to cry after him to
return; but the man put his fingers in his ears and ran on, crying,
'Life! Life Eternal!_'"
They had been in the Louvre, had spent an hour with Felix in that
glowing embodiment of the pomp and majesty of human flesh known as the
Rubens Medici-Room, and now, for the sheer pleasure of it, had decided
to walk home. Mrs. Marshall-Smith, endowed with a figure which showed
as yet no need for exercise, and having passed youth's restless liking
for it, had vetoed the plan as far as she went, and entering her
waiting ear, had been borne smoothly off, an opulent Juno without her
The three who were left, lingered for a moment in the quiet sunny
square of the Louvre, looking up at the statue of Lafayette, around at
the blossoming early shrubs. Sylvia was still under the spell of the
riotous, full-blown splendor of the paintings she had seen. Wherever
she looked, she saw again the rainbow brilliance of those glossy
satins, that rippling flooding golden hair, those ample, heaving
bosoms, those liquid gleaming eyes, the soft abundance of that white
and ruddy flesh, with the patina of time like a golden haze over it.
The spectacle had been magnificent and the scene they now entered was
a worthy successor to it. They walked down through the garden of the
Tuileries and emerged upon the Place de la Concorde at five o'clock of
a perfect April afternoon, when the great square hummed and sang with
the gleaming traffic of luxury. Countless automobiles, like glistening
beetles, darted about, each one with its load of carefully dressed and
coiffed women, looking out on the weaving glitter of the street with
the proprietary, complacent stare of those who feel themselves in the
midst of a civilization with which they are in perfect accord. Up the
avenue, beyond, streamed an incessant parade of more costly ears, more
carriages, shining, caparisoned horses, every outfit sumptuous to its
last detail, every one different from all the others, and hundreds and
hundreds and hundreds of them, till in the distance they dwindled to
a black stream dominated by the upward sweep of the Arc de Triomphe,
magnified to fabulous proportions by the filmy haze of the spring day.
To their left flowed the Seine, blue and flashing. A little breeze
stirred the new leaves on the innumerable trees.
Sylvia stopped for an instant to take in the marvel of this pageant,
enacted every day of every season against that magnificent background.
She made a gesture to call her companions' attention to it--"Isn't it
in the key of Rubens--bloom, radiance, life expansive!"
"And Chabrier should set it to music," said Morrison.
"What does it make you think of?" she asked. "It makes me think of a
beautiful young Greek, in a purple chiton, with a wreath of roses in
"It makes me think of a beautiful young woman, all fire and spirit,
and fineness, who drinks life like a perfumed wine," said Morrison,
his eyes on hers. She felt a little shiver of frightened pleasure, and
turned to Page to carry it off, "What does it make you think of?" she
"It makes me think," he answered her at once, his eyes on the haze
caught like a dream in the tender green of the budding trees,--"it
makes me think of a half-naked, sweating man, far underground in black
night, striking at a rock with a pick."
If he had burst into loud profanity, the effect could not have been
more shocking. "_Oh!_" said Sylvia, vexed and put out. She began to
walk forward. Morrison in his turn gave an exclamation which seemed
the vent of long-stored exasperation, and said with heat: "Look here,
Page, you're getting to be a perfect monomaniac on the subject! What
earthly good does it do your man with a pick to ruin a fine moment by
lugging him in!"
They were all advancing up the avenue now, Sylvia between the two men.
They talked at each other across her. She listened intently, with the
feeling that Morrison was voicing for her the question she had
been all her life wishing once for all to let fly at her parents'
standards: "What good _did_ it do anybody to go without things you
might have? Conditions were too vast for one person to influence."
"No earthly good," said Page peaceably; "I didn't say it did him any
good. Miss Marshall asked me what all this made me think of, and I
"It is simply becoming an obsession with you!" urged Morrison. Sylvia
remembered what Page had said about his irritation years ago when
Austin had withdrawn from the collector's field.
"Yes, it's becoming an obsession with me," agreed Page thoughtfully.
He spoke as he always did, with the simplest manner of direct
"You ought to make an effort against it, really, my dear fellow. It's
simply spoiling your life for you!"
"Worse than that, it's making me bad company!" said Page whimsically.
"I either ought to reform or get out."
Morrison set his enemy squarely before him and proceeded to do battle.
"I believe I know just what's in your mind, Page: I've been watching
it grow in you, ever since you gave up majolica."
"I never claimed that was anything but the blindest of impulses!"
protested Page mildly.
"But it wasn't. I knew! It was a sign you had been infected by the
spirit of the times and had 'caught it' so hard that it would be
likely to make an end of you. It's all right for the collective mind.
That's dense, obtuse; it resists enough to keep its balance. But it's
not all right for you. Now you just let me talk for a few minutes,
will you? I've an accumulated lot to say! We are all of us living
through the end of an epoch, just as much as the people of the old
regime lived through the last of an epoch in the years before the
French Revolution. I don't believe it's going to come with guillotines
or any of those picturesque trimmings. We don't do things that way any
more. In my opinion it will come gradually, and finally arrive about
two or three generations from now. And it oughtn't to come any sooner!
Sudden changes never save time. There's always the reaction to be
gotten over with, if they're sudden. Gradual growths are what last.
Now anybody who knows about the changes of society knows that there's
little enough any one person can do to hasten them or to put them
off. They're actuated by a law of their own, like the law which makes
typhoid fever come to a crisis in seven days. Now then, if you admit
that the process ought not to be hastened, and in the second place
that you couldn't hasten it if you tried, what earthly use _is_ there
in bothering your head about it! There are lots of people, countless
people, made expressly to do whatever is necessary, blunt chisels fit
for nothing but shaping grindstones. _Let them do it!_ You'll only get
in their way if you try to interfere. It's not your job. For the few
people capable of it, there is nothing more necessary to do for the
world than to show how splendid and orderly and harmonious a thing
life can be. While the blunt chisels hack out the redemption of the
overworked (and Heaven knows I don't deny their existence), let those
who can, preserve the almost-lost art of living, so that when the
millennium comes (you see I don't deny that this time it's on the
way!) it won't find humanity solely made up of newly freed serfs who
don't know what use to make of their liberty. How is beauty to be
preserved by those who know and love and serve her, and how can they
guard beauty if they insist on going down to help clean out the
sewers? Miss Marshall, don't you see how I am right? Don't you see how
no one can do more for the common weal than just to live, as finely,
as beautifully, as intelligently as possible? And people who are
capable of this noblest service to the world only waste themselves and
serve nobody if they try to do the work of dray-horses."
Sylvia had found this wonderfully eloquent and convincing. She now
broke in. "When I was a young girl in college, I used to have a
pretentious, jejune sort of idea that what I wanted out of life was to
find Athens and live in it--and your idea sounds like that. The best
Athens, you know, not sensuous and selfish, but full of lovely and
leisurely sensations and fine thoughts and great emotions."
"It wasn't pretentious and jejune at all!" said Morrison warmly, "but
simply the most perfect metaphor of what must have been--of course,
I can see it from here--the instinctive sane effort of a nature like
yours. Let's all try to live in Athens so that there will be some one
there to welcome in humanity."
Page volunteered his first contribution to the talk. "Oh, I wouldn't
mind a bit if I thought we were really doing what Morrison thinks is
our excuse for living, creating fine and beautiful lives and keeping
alive the tradition of beauty and fineness. But our lives aren't
beautiful, they're only easeful. They're not fine, they're only
well-upholstered. You've got to have fitly squared and substantial
foundations before you can build enduring beauty. And all this," he
waved his hand around him at the resplendent, modern city, "this isn't
Athens; it's--it's Corinth, if you want to go on being classic.
As near as I can make out from what Sylvia lets fall, the nearest
approach to Athenian life that I ever heard of, was the life she left
behind her, her parents' life. That has all the elements of the best
Athenian color, except physical ease. And ease is no Athenian quality!
It's Persian! Socrates was a stone-cutter, you know. And even in the
real Athens, even that best Athens, the one in Plato's mind--there was
a whole class given over to doing the dirty work for the others. That
never seemed to bother Plato--happy Plato! but--I'm sure I don't
pretend to say if it ultimately means more or less greatness for the
human race--but somehow since Christianity, people find it harder and
harder to get back to Plato's serenity on that point. I'm not arguing
the case against men like you, Morrison--except that there's only one
of you. You've always seemed to me more like Plato than anybody alive,
and I've regarded you as the most enviable personality going. I'd
emulate you in a minute--if I could; but if mine is a case of mania,
it's a genuine case. I'm sane on everything else, but when it comes
to that--it's being money that I don't earn, but they, those men off
there underground, do earn and are forced to give to me--when it comes
to that, I'm as fixed in my opinion as the man who thought he was a
hard-boiled egg. I don't blame you for being out of patience with me.
As you say I only spoil fine minutes by thinking of it, and as you
charitably refrained from saying, I spoil other people's fine moments
by speaking of it."
"What would you _have_ us do!" Morrison challenged him--"all turn in
and clean sewers for a living? And wouldn't it be a lovely world, if
Page did not answer for a moment. "I wonder," he finally suggested
mildly, "if it were all divided up, the dirty work, and each of us did
"Oh, impractical! impractical! Wholly a back-eddy in the
forward-moving current. You can't go back of a world-wide movement.
Things are too complicated now for everybody to do his share of
anything. It's as reasonable, as to suggest that everybody do his
share of watchmaking, or fancy juggling. Every man to his trade!
And if the man who makes watches, or cleans sewers, or even mines
coal--your especial sore spot--does his work well, and is suited to it
in temperament, who knows that he does not find it a satisfaction as
complete as mine in telling a bit of genuine Palissy ware from an
imitation. You, for instance, you'd make a _pretty_ coal-miner,
wouldn't you? You're about as suited to it as Miss Marshall here for
being a college settlement worker!"
Sylvia broke out into an exclamation of wonder. "Oh, how you do put
your finger on the spot! If you knew how I've struggled to justify
myself for not going into 'social work' of some kind! Every girl
nowadays who doesn't marry at twenty, is slated for 'social
betterment' whether she has the least capacity for it or not. Public
opinion pushes us into it as mediaeval girls were shoved into
convents, because it doesn't know what else to do with us. It's all
right for Judith,--it's fine for her. She's made for it. I envy her.
I always have. But me--I never could bear the idea of interfering in
people's lives to tell them what to do about their children and their
husbands just because they were poor. It always seemed to me it was
bad enough to be poor without having other people with a little more
money messing around in your life. I'm different from that kind of
people. If I'm sincere I can't pretend I'm not different. And I'm not
a bit sure I know what's any better for them to do than what they're
doing!" She had spoken impetuously, hotly, addressing not the men
beside her but a specter of her past life.
"How true that is--how unerring the instinct which feels it!" said
Page looked at Sylvia quickly, his clear eyes very tender. "Yes,
yes; it's her very own life that Sylvia needs to live," he said in
unexpected concurrence of opinion. Sylvia felt that the honors of the
discussion so far were certainly with Felix. And Austin seemed oddly
little concerned by this. He made no further effort to retrieve his
cause, but fell into a silence which seemed rather preoccupied than
They were close to the Arc de Triomphe now. A brilliant sunset was
firing a salvo of scarlet and gold behind it, and they stood for a
moment to admire. "Oh, Paris! Paris!" murmured Morrison. "Paris
in April! There's only one thing better, and that we have before
us--Paris in May!"
They turned in past the loge of the concierge, and mounted in the
languidly moving elevator to the appartement. Felix went at once
to the piano and began playing something Sylvia did not recognize,
something brilliantly colored, vivid, resonant, sonorous, perhaps
Chabrier, she thought, remembering his remark on the avenue. Without
taking off her hat she stepped to her favorite post of observation,
the balcony, and sat down in the twilight with a sigh of exquisitely
complete satisfaction, facing the sunset, the great arch lifting
his huge, harmonious bulk up out of the dim, encircling trees, the
resplendent long stretch of the lighted boulevard. The music seemed to
rise up from the scene like its natural aroma.
Austin Page came out after her and leaned silently on the railing,
looking over the city. Morrison finished the Chabrier and began on
something else before the two on the balcony spoke. Sylvia was asking
no questions of fate or the future, accepting the present with wilful
blindness to its impermanence.
Austin said: "I have been trying to say good-bye all afternoon. I am
going back to America tomorrow."
Sylvia was so startled and shocked that she could not believe her
ears. Her heart beat hard. To an incoherent, stammered inquiry of
hers, he answered, "It's my Colorado property--always that. It spoils
everything. I must go back, and make a decision that's needed there.
I've been trying to tell you. But I can't. Every time I have tried, I
have not dared. If I told you, and you should beckon me back, I should
not be strong enough to go on. I could not leave you, Sylvia, if you
lifted your hand. And that would be the end of the best of us both."
He had turned and faced her, his hands back of him, gripping the
railing. The deep vibrations of his voice transported her to that
never-forgotten moment at Versailles. He went on: "When it is--when
the decision is made, I'll write you. I'll write you, and then--I
shall wait to hear your answer!" From inside the room Felix poured a
dashing spray of diamond-like trills upon them.
She murmured something, she did not know what; her breathing oppressed
by her emotion. "Won't you--shan't we see you--here--?" She put her
hand to her side, feeling an almost intolerable pain.
He moved near her, and, to bring himself to her level, knelt down on
one knee, putting his elbows on the arm of her chair. The dusk had
fallen so thickly that she had not seen his face before. She now saw
that his lips were quivering, that he was shaking from head to foot.
"It will be for you to say, Sylvia," his voice was rough and harsh
with feeling, "whether you see me again." He took her hands in his and
covered them with kisses--no grave tokens of reverence these, as on
the day at Versailles, but human, hungry, yearning kisses that burned,
And then he was gone. Sylvia was there alone in the enchanted
twilight, the Triumphal Arch before her, the swept and garnished and
spangled city beneath her. She lifted her hand and saw that he had
left on it not only kisses but tears. If he had been there then, she
would have thrown herself into his arms.
SYLVIA COMES TO THE WICKET-GATE
Three weeks passed before his letter came. The slow, thrilling
crescendo of May had lifted the heart up to a devout certainty of
June. The leaves were fully out, casting a light, new shadow on the
sprinkled streets. Every woman was in a bright-colored, thin summer
dress, and every young woman looked alluring. The young men wore their
hats tilted to one side, swung jaunty canes as they walked, and peered
hopefully under the brim of every flowered feminine headdress.
The days were like golden horns of plenty, spilling out sunshine,
wandering perfumed airs, and the heart-quickening aroma of the new
season. The nights were cool and starry. Every one in Paris spent as
much as possible of every hour out of doors. The pale-blue sky flecked
with creamy clouds seemed the dome, and the city the many-colored
pavement of some vast building, so grandly spacious that the
sauntering, leisurely crowds thronging the thoroughfares seemed no
crowds at all, but only denoted a delightful sociability.
All the spring vegetables were at their crispest, most melting
perfection, and the cherries from Anjou were like miniature apples of
Hesperus. Up and down the smaller streets went white-capped little old
women, with baskets on their arms, covered with snowy linen, and they
chanted musically on the first three notes of the scale, so that the
sunny vault above them resounded to the cry, "De la creme, fromage a
la creme!" The three Americans had enchanted expeditions to Chantilly,
to Versailles again, called back from the past and the dead by the
miracle of spring; to more distant formidable Coucy, grimly looking
out over the smiling country at its foot, to Fontainebleau, even a two
days' dash into Touraine, to Blois, Amboise, Loches, jewels set in the
green enamels of May ... and all the time Sylvia's attempt to take
the present and to let the future bring what it would, was pitched
perforce in a higher and higher key,--took a more violent effort to
She fell deeper than ever under Morrison's spell, and yet the lack of
Austin was like an ache to her. She had said to herself, "I will not
let myself think of him until his letter comes," and she woke up in
the night suddenly, seeing the fire and tenderness and yearning of his
eyes, and stretching out her arms to him before she was awake. And
yet she had never tried so hard to divine every shade of Morrison's
fastidiousness and had never felt so supreme a satisfaction in knowing
that she did. There were strange, brief moments in her life now, when
out of the warring complexity in her heart there rose the simple
longing of a little girl to go to her mother, to feel those strong,
unfailing arms about her. She began to guess dimly, without thinking
about it at all, that her mother knew some secret of life, of balance,
that she did not. And yet if her mother were at hand, she knew she
could never explain to her--how could she, when she did not know
herself?--what she was living through. How long she had waited the
moment when she _would_ know!
One day towards the end of May, Morrison had come in for lunch, a
delicately chosen, deceptively simple meal for which Yoshida had
outdone himself. There had been a savory mixture of sweetbreads and
mushrooms in a smooth, rich, creamy sauce; green peas that had been on
the vines at three o'clock that morning, and which still had the aroma
of life in their delectable little balls; sparkling Saumur; butter
with the fragrance of dew and clover in it; crisp, crusty rolls;
artichokes in oil--such a meal as no money can buy anywhere but in
Paris in the spring, such a simple, simple meal as takes a great deal
of money to buy even in Paris.
"It is an art to eat like this," said Morrison, more than half
seriously, after he had taken the first mouthful of the golden souffle
which ended the meal. "What a May we have had! I have been thinking so
often of Talleyrand's saying that no one who had not lived before the
French Revolution, under the old regime, could know how sweet life
could be; and I've been thinking that we may live to say that about
the end of this regime. Such perfect, golden hours as it has for those
who are able to seize them. It is a debt we own the Spirit of Things
to be grateful and to appreciate our opportunity."
"As far as the luncheon goes, it's rather a joke, isn't it," said his
hostess, "that it should be an Oriental cook who has so caught the
true Gallic accent? I'll tell Tojiko to tell Yoshido that his efforts
weren't lost on you. He adores cooking for you. No, you speak about it
yourself. Here comes Tojiko with the mail."
She reached for the _Herald_ with one hand, and with the other gave
Sylvia a letter with the American postmark. "Oh, Tojiko," said
Morrison with the familiarity of an habitue of the house, "will you
tell your brother for me that I never tasted anything like his ..."
Mrs. Marshall-Smith broke in with an exclamation of extreme
astonishment. "Oh--what _do_ you think--! Sylvia, did you know
anything about this? Of all the crazy--why, what under the sun--?
I always knew there was a vein of the fanatic--any man who won't
smoke--you may be sure there's something unbalanced--!" She now turned
the paper as she spoke and held it so that the headlines leaped out
across the table:
MILLIONAIRE COAL OPERATOR TURNS VAST
HOLDINGS OVER TO THE STATE
Son of Old Peter Page Converted to Socialism
"_What_!" cried Morrison. Even in the blankness of her stupefaction,
Sylvia was aware of a rising note in his voice that was by no means
"Yes," continued Mrs. Marshall-Smith, reading rapidly and
disconnectedly from the paper, beginning an item and dropping it, as
she saw it was not the one she was searching for, "'Mr. Page is said
to have contemplated some such step for a long ...'--m-m-m, not that
... 'well-known collector of ceramics--Metropolitan Museum--member of
the Racquet, the Yacht, the Century, the Yale--thirty-two--Mother Miss
Allida Sommerville of Baltimore, formerly a great beauty'--_here_ it
is," she stopped skimming and read consecutively: "'Mr. Page's plan
has been worked out in all detail with experts. A highly paid,
self-perpetuating commission of labor experts, sociologists, and
men of practical experience in coal-operating has been appointed to
administer Mr. Page's extremely extensive holdings. The profits form
a fund which, under the stipulations of Mr. Page's agreement with
the State, is to be used to finance a program of advanced social
activities; to furnish money for mothers' pensions, even perhaps
for fathers' pensions in the case of families too numerous to be
adequately cared for on workingmen's wages; to change the public
school system of the locality into open-air schools with spacious
grounds for manual activities of all kinds; greatly to raise wages; to
lengthen the period of schooling before children go into remunerative
occupations ...'" Mrs. Marshall-Smith looked up, said, "Oh, _you_
know, the kind of thing such people are always talking about," and
began to skip again, "'--extensive plans for garden cities--public
libraries--books of the business to be open to employes--educational
future--no philanthropy--and so forth and so forth.'" She glanced
hurriedly down the page, caught the beginning of another sentence,
and read: "'The news has created an immense sensation all over the
country. It is prophesied that Mr. Page's unexpected action will throw
the coal business into great confusion. Other operators will find it
extremely difficult to go on with the old conditions. Already it is
rumored that the Chilton Coal and Coke Company ...'"
"Well, I should think so indeed!" cried Morrison emphatically,
breaking in. "With modern industrial conditions hung on a hair trigger
as they are, it's as though a boy had exploded a fire-cracker in the
works of a watch. That means his whole fortune gone. Old Peter put
everything into coal. Austin will not have a cent--nothing but those
Vermont scrub forests of his. What a mad thing to do! But it's been
growing on him for a long time. I've seen--I've felt it!"
Sylvia gave a dazed, mechanical look at the letter she held and
recognized the handwriting. She turned very white.
Aunt Victoria said instantly: "I see you have a letter to read, my
dear, and I want Felix to play that D'Indy Interlude for me and
explain it--Bauer is going to play it tonight for the Princess de
Chevrille. We'll bother you with our chatter. Don't you want to take
it to your room to read?"
Sylvia stood up, holding the unopened letter in her hand. She looked
about her a little wildly and said: "Oh no, no! I think I'd rather be
out of doors. I'll go out on the balcony."
"It's raining," said Mrs. Marshall-Smith.
"No, not yet," said Morrison, making a great effort to speak in an
ordinary tone. "It's only going to." He sat down at the piano. Sylvia
passed him and went out to the balcony. She opened the letter and read
it through very carefully. It was a long one and this took some time.
She did not hear a note of the music which poured its plaintive, eerie
cadences around her. When she had finished the letter she instantly
started to read it again, with the sensation that she had not yet
begun to understand it. She was now deeply flushed. She continually
put back a floating strand of hair, which recurrently fell across her
forehead and cheek.
After a time, Mrs. Marshall-Smith said from the open door: "Felix and
I are going to Madeleine Perth's. Would you rather stay here?" Sylvia
nodded without looking up.
She sat motionless, looking at the letter long after she had finished
it. An hour passed thus. Then she was aware that it was beginning to
rain. The drops falling on the open letter dissolved the ink into
blurred smears. She sprang up hastily and went into the salon, where
she stood irresolute for a moment, and then, without calling Helene,
went to her room and dressed for the street. She moved very quickly as
though there were some need for extreme haste, and when she stepped
into the street she fell at once automatically into the swinging step
of the practised walker who sees long miles before him.
Half an hour later she was looking up at the facade of Notre Dame
through the rain, and seeing there these words: "I shall be waiting at
Austin Farm to hear if you are at all able to sympathize with me in
what I have done. The memory of our last words together may help you
to imagine with what anxiety I shall be waiting."
She pushed open the greasy, shining leather door, passed into the
interior, and stood for a moment in the incense-laden gloom of the
nave. A mass was being said. The rapidly murmured Latin words came
to her in a dim drone, in which she heard quite clearly, quite
distinctly: "There is another kind of beauty I faintly glimpse--that
isn't just sweet smells and lovely sights and harmonious lines--it's
the beauty that can't endure disharmony in conduct, the fine, true ear
for the loveliness of life lived at its best--Sylvia, finest, truest
Sylvia, it's what you could, if you would--you more than any other
woman in the world--if we were together to try--"
Sylvia sank to her knees on a prie-Dieu and hid her face in her hands,
trying to shut out the words, and yet listening to them so intently
that her breath was suspended.... "What Morrison said is true--for
him, since he feels it to be true. No man can judge for another. But
other things are true too, things that concern me. It's true that an
honest man cannot accept an ease founded, even remotely, on the misery
of others. And my life has been just that. I don't know what success I
shall have with the life that's beginning, but I know at least it
will begin straight. There seems a chance for real shapeliness if the
foundations are all honest--doesn't there? Oh, Sylvia--oh, my dearest
love, if I could think you would begin it with me, Sylvia! Sylvia!"
The girl sprang up and went hastily out of the church. The nun
kneeling at the door, holding out the silent prayer for alms for the
poor, looked up in her face as she passed and then after her with
calm, understanding eyes. Kneeling there, day after day, she had seen
many another young, troubled soul fleeing from its own thoughts.
Sylvia crossed the parvis of Notre Dame, glistening wet, and passed
over the gray Seine, slate under the gray mist of the rain. Under her
feet the impalpable dust of a city turned to gray slime which clung to
her shoes. She walked on through a narrow, mean street of mediaeval
aspect where rag-pickers, drearily oblivious of the rain, quarreled
weakly over their filthy piles of trash. She looked at them in
astonishment, in dismay, in horror. Since leaving La Chance, save for
that one glimpse over the edge back in the Vermont mountains, she had
been so consistently surrounded by the padded satin of possessions
that she had forgotten how actual poverty looked. In fact, she had
never had more than the briefest fleeting glances at it. This was
so extravagant, so extreme, that it seemed impossible to her. And
yet--and yet--She looked fleetingly into those pale, dingy, underfed,
repulsive faces and wondered if coal-miners' families looked like
But she said aloud at once, almost as though she had crooked an arm to
shield herself: "But he _said_ he did not want me to answer at once!
He _said_ he wanted me to take time--to take time--to take time ..."
She hastened her steps to this refrain, until she was almost running;
and emerged upon the broad, well-kept expanse of the Boulevard St.
Germain with a long-drawn breath of relief.
Ahead of her to the right, the Rue St. Jacques climbed the hill to the
Pantheon. She took it because it was broad and clean and differed from
the musty darkness from which she had come out; she fled up the steep
grade with a swift, light step as though she were on a country walk.
She might indeed have been upon some flat road near La Chance for all
she saw of the buildings, the people around her.
How like Austin's fine courage that was, his saying that he did not
want her to decide in haste, but to take time to know what she was
doing! What other man would not have stayed to urge her, to hurry her,
to impose his will on hers, masterfully to use his personality to
confuse her, to carry her off? For an instant, through all her
wretched bewilderment, she thrilled to a high, impersonal appreciation
of his saying: "If I had stayed with you, I should have tried to take
you by force--but you are too fine for that, Sylvia! What you could be
to the man you loved if you went to him freely--that is too splendid
to risk losing. I want all of you--heart, soul, mind--or nothing!"
Sylvia looked up through this clear white light to Austin's yearning
eyes, and back through the ages with a wondering pity at the dark
figure of Jerry Fiske, emerging from his cave. She had come a long way
And then all this, everything fine, everything generous, ebbed away
from her with deadly swiftness, and in a cold disgust with herself she
knew that she had been repeating over and over Morrison's "Austin will
not have a cent left ... nothing but those Vermont scrub forests." So
that was the kind of a woman she was. Well, if that was the kind of
woman she was, let her live her life accordingly. She was sick with
indecision as she fled onward through the rain.
Few pedestrians were abroad in the rain, and those who were, sheltered
themselves slant-wise with their umbrellas against the wind, and
scudded with the storm. Sylvia had an umbrella, but she did not open
it. She held her face up once, to feel the rain fall on it, and this
reminded her of home, and long rainy walks with her father. She
winced at this, and put him hastily out of her mind. And she had been
unconsciously wishing to see her mother! At the very recollection of
her mother she lengthened her stride. There was another thought to run
She swung around the corner near the Pantheon and rapidly approached
the door of the great Library of Ste. Genevieve. A thin, draggled,
middle-aged woman-student, entering hastily, slipped on the wet stones
and knocked from under his arm the leather portfolio of a thin,
draggled, middle-aged man who was just coming out. The woman did not
stop to help repair the damage she had done, but hastened desperately
on into the shelter of the building. Sylvia's eyes, absent as they
were, were caught and held by the strange, blank look of the man, who
stood motionless, his shabby hat knocked to one side of his thin, gray
hair, his curiously filmed eyes fixed stupidly on the litter of papers
scattered at his feet. The rain was beginning to convert them into
sodden pulp, but he did not stir. The idea occurred to Sylvia that he
might be ill, and she advanced to help him. As he saw her stoop
to pick them up, he said in French, in a toneless voice, very
indifferently: "Don't give yourself the trouble. They are of no
value. I carry them only to make the Library attendants think I am a
bona-fide reader. I go there to sleep because I have no other roof."
His French was entirely fluent, but the accent was American. Sylvia
looked up at him surprised. He returned her gaze dully, and without
another look at the papers, scuffled off through the rain, across the
street towards the Pantheon. His boots were lamentable.
Sylvia had an instantly vanishing memory of a pool of quiet sunshine,
of a ripely beautiful woman and a radiant young man. Before she knew
she was speaking, an impulsive cry had burst from her: "Why, Professor
Saunders! Professor Saunders! Don't you know me? I am Sylvia
SYLVIA DRIFTS WITH THE MAJORITY
"No, they don't let you sit down in here if you're as shabby as I am,"
said the man, continuing his slow, feeble, shuffling progress. "They
know you're only a vagrant, here to get out of the rain. They won't
even let you stand still long."
Sylvia had not been inside the Pantheon before, had never been inside
a building with so great a dome. They stood under it now. She sent her
glance up to its vast, dim, noble heights and brought it down to the
saturnine, unsavory wreck at her side. She was regretting the impulse
which had made her call out to him. What could she say to him now they
were together? What word, what breath could be gentle enough, light
enough not to be poison to that open sore?
On his part he seemed entirely unconcerned about the impression he
made on her. His eyes, his sick, filmed eyes, looked at her with no
shrinking, with no bravado, with an entire indifference which gave,
through all the desolation of his appearance, the strangest, careless
dignity to the man. He did not care what she thought of him. He did
not care what any one thought of him. He gave the impression of a man
whose accounts are all reckoned and the balance struck, long ago.
"So this is Sylvia," he said, with the slightest appearance of
interest, glancing at her casually. "I always said you would make a
beautiful woman. But since I knew Victoria, I've seen that you must be
quite what she was at your age." It might have been a voice speaking
from beyond the grave, so listless, so dragging was its rhythm. "How
do you happen to be in Paris?" he asked. "Are your parents still
"Oh _yes_!" said Sylvia, half startled by the preposterousness of the
idea that they might not be. "They're very well too. I had such a good
letter from Mother the other day. Do you remember Professor Kennedy?
He has just given up his position to be professor emeritus. I suppose
now he'll write that book on the idiocy of the human race he's been
planning so long. And old Mr. Reinhardt, he's still the same, they say
... wonderful, isn't it, at his age?" She was running on, not knowing
what to say, and chattering rather foolishly in her embarrassment.
"Judith is a trained nurse; isn't that just the right thing for her?
I'm visiting Aunt Victoria here for a while. Lawrence is a Freshman at...."
He broke in, his hollow voice resounding in the immense, vault-like
spaces around them. "You'd better go home," he said. "I'd leave
tonight, if I were you." She looked at him startled, half-scared,
thinking that she had been right to fancy him out of his mind. She saw
with relief a burly attendant in a blue uniform lounging near a group
of statuary. She could call to him, if it became necessary.
"You'd better go away from her at once," went on the man, advancing
aimlessly from one bay of the frescoes to another.
Sylvia knew now of whom he was speaking, and as he continued talking
with a slow, dreary monotony, her mind raced back over the years,
picking up a scrap here, a half-forgotten phrase there, an intercepted
look between her father and mother, a recollection of her own, a
half-finished sentence of Arnold's ...
"She can't be fatal for you in the same way she has been for the
others, of course," the man was saying. "What she'll do for you is to
turn you into a woman like herself. I remember now, I have thought
many times, that you _were_ like her ... of the same clay. But you
have something else too, you have something that she'll take away from
you if you stay. You can't keep her from doing it. No one can get the
better of her. She doesn't fight. But she always takes life. She has
taken mine. She must have taken her bogie-husband's, she took young
Gilbert's, she took Gilbert's wife's, she took Arnold's in another
way.... God! think of leaving a young, growing, weak soul in the care
of a woman like Victoria! She took that poet's, I forget his name; I
suppose by this time Felix Morrison is ..."
At this name, a terrible contraction of the heart told Sylvia that she
was listening to what he said. "Felix Morrison!" she cried in stern,
angry protest. "I don't know what you're talking about--but if you
think that Aunt Victoria--if you think Felix Morrison--" She was
inarticulate in her indignation. "He was married last autumn to a
beautiful girl--and Aunt Victoria--what an idea!--_no_ one was more
pleased than she--why--you are _crazy_!" She flung out at him the
word, which two moments before she would not have been so cruel as to
It gave him no discomfort. "Oh no, I'm not," he said with a spectral
laugh, which had in it, to Sylvia's dismay, the very essence of
sanity. She did not know why she now shrank away from him, far more
frightened than before. "I'm about everything else you might mention,
but I'm not crazy. And you take my word for it and get out while you
still can ... _if_ you still can?" He faintly indicated an inquiry,
looking at her sideways, his dirty hand stroking the dishonoring gray
stubble of his unshaven face. "As for Morrison's wife ... let her get
out too. Gilbert tried marrying, tried it in all unconsciousness. It's
only when they try to get away from her that they know she's in the
marrow of their bones. She lets them try. She doesn't even care. She
knows they'll come back. Gilbert did. And his wife ... well, I'm sorry
for Morrison's wife."
"She's dead," said Sylvia abruptly.
He took this in with a nod of the head. "So much the better for her.
How did it happen that _you_ didn't fall for Morrison's ..." he looked
at her sharply at a change in her face she could not control. "Oh,
you did," he commented slackly. "Well, you'd better start home for La
Chance tonight," he said again.
They were circling around and around the shadowy interior, making no
pretense of looking at the frescoed walls, to examine which had been
their ostensible purpose in entering. Sylvia was indeed aware of great
pictured spaces, crowded dimly with thronging figures, men, horses,
women--they reached no more than the outer retina of her eye. She
remembered fleetingly that they had something to do with the story of
Ste. Genevieve. She wanted intensely to escape from this phantom whom
she herself had called up from the void to stalk at her side. But she
felt she ought not to let pass, even coming from such a source, such
utterly frenzied imaginings against one to whom she owed loyalty. She
spoke coldly, with extreme distaste for the subject: "You're entirely
wrong about Aunt Victoria. She's not in the least that kind of a
He shook his head slowly. "No, no; you misunderstand me. Your Aunt
Victoria is quite irreproachable, she always has been, she always will
be. She is always in the right. She always will be. She did nothing
to me but hire me to teach her stepson, and when my habits became too
bad, discharge me, as any one would have done. She did nothing to
Arnold except to leave him to the best schools and the best tutors
money could buy. What more could any one have done? She had not the
slightest idea that Horace Gilbert would try to poison his wife,
had not the slightest connection with their quarrel. The young
poet,--Adams was his name, now I remember--did not consult her before
he took to cocaine. Morphine is my own specialty. Victoria of course
deplored it as much as any one could. No, I'm not for a minute
intimating that Victoria is a Messalina. We'd all be better off if she
were. It's only our grossness that finds fault with her. Your aunt
is one of the most respectable women who ever lived, as 'chaste as
unsunned snow--the very ice of chastity is in her!' Indeed, I've often
wondered if the redoubtable Ephraim Smith himself, for all that he
succeeded in marrying her, fared any better than the rest of us.
Victoria would be quite capable of cheating him out of his pay. She
parches, yes, she dries up the blood--but it's not by her passion, not
even by ours. Honest passion never kills. It's the Sahara sands of her
egotism into which we've all emptied our veins."
Sylvia was frozen to the spot by her outraged indignation that any one
should dare speak to her thus. She found herself facing a fresco of a
tall, austere figure in an enveloping white garment, an elderly woman
with a thin, worn, noble face, who laid one fine old hand on a stone
parapet and with divine compassion and tenderness looked out over a
sleeping city. The man followed the direction of her eyes. "It's Puvis
de Chavannes' Ste. Genevieve as an old woman, guarding and praying for
the city. Very good, isn't it? I especially admire the suggestion of
the plain bare cell she has stepped out from. I often come here to
look at it when I've nothing to eat." He seemed as flaccidly willing
to speak on this as on any other topic; to find it no more interesting
than the subject of his former speech.
Sylvia was overcome with horror of him. She walked rapidly away,
towards the door, hoping he would not follow her. He did not. When she
glanced back fearfully over her shoulder, she saw him still standing
there, looking up at the gaunt gray figure of beneficent old age. His
dreadful broken felt hat was in his hand, the water dripped from his
frayed trousers over the rotting leather of his shoes. As she looked,
he began to cough, loudly, terribly, so that the echoing reaches of
the great nave resounded to the sound. Sylvia ran back to him and
thrust her purse into his hand. At first he could not speak, for
coughing, but in a moment he found breath to ask, "Is it Victoria's
She did not answer.
He held it for a moment, and then opening his hand let it drop. As she
turned away Sylvia heard it fall clinking on the stone floor. At the
door she turned for one last look, and saw him weakly stooping to pick
it up again. She fairly burst out of the door.
It was almost dusk when she was on the street again, looking down the
steep incline to the Luxembourg Gardens. In the rainy twilight the
fierce tension of the Rodin "Thinker" in front of the Pantheon loomed
huge and tragic. She gave it a glance of startled sympathy. She had
never understood the statue before. Now she was a prey to those same
ravaging throes. There was for the moment no escaping them. She felt
none of her former wild impulse to run away. What she had been running
away from had overtaken her. She faced it now, looked at it squarely,
gave it her ear for the first time; the grinding, dissonant note under
the rich harmony of the life she had known for all these past months,
the obscure vaults underlying the shining temple in which she had been
What beauty could there be which was founded on such an action as
Felix' marriage to Molly--Molly, whose passionate directness had known
the only way out of the impasse into which Felix should never have let
her go?... An echo from what she had heard in the mass at Notre Dame
rang in her ears, and now the sound was louder--Austin's voice,
Austin's words: "A beauty that can't endure disharmony in conduct, the
fine true ear for the deeper values, the foundations--" It was Austin,
asking himself what beauty could be in any life founded, even remotely
as his was, on any one's misery?
For a long time she stood there, silent, motionless, her hands
clenched at her sides, looking straight before her in the rain. Above
her on his pedestal, the great, bronze, naked, tortured man ground his
teeth as he glared out from under the inexorable limitations of his
ape-like forehead, and strove wildly against the barriers of his
Wildly and vainly, against inexorable limitations! Sylvia was aware
that an insolent young man, with moist protuberant eyes, had come up
where she stood there, alone, motionless on the public street. He put
his arm in hers, clasped her hand in a fat, soft palm, and, "_Allons,
ma belle!_" he said with a revolting gayety.
Sylvia pulled away from him, cried out fiercely in English, "Don't you
dare to touch me!" and darted away.
He made no attempt at pursuit, acknowledging his mistake with an easy
shrug and turning off to roam, a dim, predatory figure, along the
dusky street. He had startled and frightened the girl so that she was
trembling when she ventured to slow down to a walk under the glaring
lights of the Boulevard St. Michel. She was also shivering with wet
and cold, and without knowing it, she was extremely hungry. As she
fled along the boulevard in the direction of her own quarter of the
city, her eye caught the lighted clock at the kiosk near Cluny. She
was astonished to see that it was after seven o'clock. How long could
she have stood there, under the shadow of that terrific Thinker,
consumed quite as much as he by the pain of trying to rise above mere
nature? An hour--more than an hour, she must have been there. The
Pantheon must have closed during that time, and the dreadful, sick
man must have passed close by her. Where was he now? What makeshift
shelter harbored that cough, those dirty, skeleton hands, those awful
eyes which had outlived endurance and come to know peace before death....
She shivered and tried to shrink away from her wet, clinging clothing.
She had never, in all her life before, been wet and cold and hungry
and frightened, she had never known from what she had been protected.
And now the absence of money meant that she must walk miles in the
rain before she could reach safety and food. For three cents she could
ride. But she had not three cents. How idiotic she had been not to
keep a few sous from her purse. What a sickening thing it had been to
see him stoop to pick it up after he had tried to have the pride not
to touch it. That was what morphine had done for him. And he would buy
more morphine with that money, that was the reason he had not been
able to let it lie ... the man who had been to her little girlhood the
radiant embodiment of strength and fineness!
Her teeth were chattering, her feet soaked and cold. She tried to walk
faster to warm her blood, and discovered that she was exhausted, tired
to the marrow of her bones. Her feet dragged on the pavement, her arms
hung heavily by her side, but she dared not stop a moment lest some
other man with abhorrent eyes should approach her.
She set her teeth and walked; walked across the Seine without a glance
at its misted lights blinking through the rain, walked on past the
prison of Marie Antoinette, without a thought of that other harmless
woman who had loved bright and lovely things while others suffered:
walked on upon the bridge across the Seine again. This bewildered her,
making her think that she was so dazed she had doubled on her tracks.
She saw, a long way off, a solitary hooded sergent de ville, and
dragged herself across an endless expanse of wet asphalt to ask him
her way. But just before she reached him, she remembered suddenly that
of course she was on the island and was obliged to cross the Seine
again before reaching the right bank. She returned weary and
disheartened to her path, crossed the bridge, and then endlessly,
endlessly, set one heavy foot before the other under the glare of
innumerable electric lights staring down on her and on the dismal,
wet, and deserted streets. The clocks she passed told her that it
was nearly eight o'clock. Then it was past eight. What must they be
thinking of her on the Rue de Presbourg? She tried again to hurry, but
could force her aching muscles to no more than the plod, plod, plod of
her dogged advance over those interminable miles of pavement. There
was little of her then that was not cold, weary, wet flesh, suffering
all the discomforts that an animal can know. She counted her steps for
a long time, and became so stupidly absorbed in this that she made a
wrong turning and was blocks out of her way before she noticed her
mistake. This mishap reduced her almost to tears, and it was when she
was choking them weakly back and setting herself again to the cruel
long vista of the Champs-Elysees that an automobile passed her at top
speed with a man's face pressed palely to the panes. Almost at once
the car stopped in answer to a shouted command; it whirled about
and bore down on her. Felix Morrison sprang out and ran to her with
outstretched arms, his rich voice ringing through the desolation of
the rain and the night--"Sylvia! Sylvia! Are you safe?"
He almost carried her back to the car, lifted her in. There were
wraps there, great soft, furry, velvet wraps which he cast about her,
murmuring broken ejaculations of emotion, of pity, of relief--"Oh,
your hands, how cold! Sylvia, how _could_ you? Here, drink this! I've
been insane,--absolutely out of my mind! Let me take off your hat--Oh,
your poor feet--I was on my way to--I was afraid you might have--Oh,
Sylvia, Sylvia, to have you safe!" She tried to bring to mind
something she had intended to remember; she even repeated the phrase
over to herself, "It was an ugly, ugly thing to have married Molly,"
but she knew only that he was tenderness and sheltering care and
warmth and food and safety. She drew long quivering breaths like a
child coming out of a sobbing fit.
Then before there was time for more thought, the car had whirled them
back to the door, where Aunt Victoria, outwardly calm, but very pale,
stood between the concierge and his wife, looking out into the rainy
At the touch of those warm embracing arms, at that radiant presence,
at the sound of that relieved, welcoming voice, the nightmare of the
Pantheon faded away to blackness....
Half an hour later, she sat, fresh from a hot bath, breathing out
delicately a reminiscence of recent violet water and perfumed powder;
fresh, fine under-linen next her glowing skin; shining and refreshed,
in a gown of chiffon and satin; eating her first mouthful of Yoshido's
"Why, I'm so sorry," she was saying. "I went out for a walk, and then
went further than I meant to. I've been over on the left bank part of
the time, in Notre Dame and the Pantheon. And then when I started to
come home it took longer than I thought. It's so apt to, you know."
"Why in the world, my dear, did you _walk_ home?" cried Aunt Victoria,
still brooding over her in pitying sympathy.
"I'd--I'd lost my purse. I didn't have any money."
"But you don't pay for a cab till you come to the end of your journey!
You could have stepped into a taxi and borrowed the money of the
Sylvia was immensely disconcerted by her rustic naivete in not
thinking of this obvious device. "Oh, of course! How could I have been
so--but I was tired when I came to start home--I was very tired--too
tired to think clearly!"
This brought them all back to the recollection of what had set her off
on her walk. There was for a time rather a strained silence; but they
were all very hungry--dinner was two hours late--and the discussion
of Yoshido's roast duckling was anything but favorable for the
consideration of painful topics. They had champagne to celebrate her
safe escape from the adventure. To the sensation of perfect ease
induced by the well-chosen dinner this added a little tingling through
all Sylvia's nerves, a pleasant, light, bright titillation.
All might have gone well if, after the dinner, Felix had not stepped,
as was his wont, to the piano. Sylvia had been, up to that moment,
almost wholly young animal, given over to bodily ecstasy, of which not
the least was the agreeable warmth on her silk-clad ankle as she held
her slippered foot to the fire.
But at the first chords something else in her, slowly, with extreme
pain, awoke to activity. All her life music had spoken a language to
which she could not shut her ears, and now--her face clouded, she
shifted her position, she held up a little painted screen to shield
her face from the fire, she finally rose and walked restlessly about
the room. Every grave and haunting cadence from the piano brought to
her mind, flickering and quick, like fire, a darting question, and
every one she stamped out midway, with an effort of the will.
The intimacy between Felix and Aunt Victoria, it was strange she had
never before thought--of course not--what a hideous idea! That book,
back in Lydford, with Horace Gilbert's name on the fly-leaf, and Aunt
Victoria's cool, casual voice as she explained, "Oh, just a young
architect who used to--" Oh, the man in the Pantheon was simply
brutalized by drugs; he did not know what he was saying. His cool,
spectral laugh of sanity sounded faintly in her ears again.
And then, out of a mounting foam of arpeggios, there bloomed for her
a new idea, solid enough, broad enough, high enough, for a refuge
against all these wolfish fangs. She sat down to think it out, hot on
the trail of an answer, the longed-for answer.
It had just occurred to her that there was no possible logical
connection between any of those skulking phantoms and the golden
lovely things they tried to defile. Even if some people of wealth
and ease and leisure were not as careful about moral values as about
colors, and aesthetic harmonies--that meant nothing. The connection
was purely fortuitous. How silly she had been not to see that. Grant,
for purposes of argument, that Aunt Victoria was self-centered and
had lived her life with too little regard for its effect on other
people,--grant even that Felix had, under an almost overpowering
temptation, not kept in a matter of conduct the same rigid nicety of
fastidiousness which characterized his judgment of marbles--what of
it? That did not mean that one could only be fine and true in conduct
by giving up all lovely things and wearing hair-shirts. What an
outgrown, mediaeval idea! How could she have been for a moment under
its domination! It was just that old Puritanism, Spartanism of her
childhood, which was continually reaching up its bony hand from the
grave where she had interred it.
The only danger came, she saw it now, read it plainly and
clear-headedly in the lives of the two people with her, the only
danger came from a lack of proportion. It certainly did seem to be
possible to allow the amenities and aesthetic pleasures to become so
important that moral fineness must stand aside till they were safe.
But anybody who had enough intelligence could keep his head, even
if the temptation was alluring. And simply because there was that
possible danger, why not enjoy delightful things as long as they did
not run counter to moral fineness! How absurd to think there was any
reason why they should; quite the contrary, as a thousand philosophers
attested. They would not in her case, at least! Of course, if
a decision had to be taken between the two, she would never
hesitate--never! As she phrased this conviction to herself, she turned
a ring on her white slim finger and had a throb of pleasure in the
color of the gem. What harmless, impersonal pleasures they were! How
little they hurt any one! And as to this business of morbidly probing
into healthy flesh, of insisting on going back of everything, farther
than any one could possibly go, and scrutinizing the origin of every
dollar that came into your hand ... why, that way lay madness! As
soon try to investigate all the past occupants of a seat in a railway
before using it for a journey. Modern life was not organized that way.
It was too complicated.
Her mind rushed on excitedly, catching up more certainty, more and
more reinforcements to her argument as it advanced. There was,
therefore, nothing inherent in the manner of life she had known these
last months to account for what seemed ugly underneath. There was no
reason why some one more keenly on his guard could not live as they
did and escape sounding that dissonant note!
The music stopped. Morrison turned on the stool and seeing her bent
head and moody stare at the fire, sent an imploring glance for help to
Just let her have the wealth and leisure and let her show how worthily
she could use it! There would be an achievement! Sylvia came around to
another phase of her new idea, there would be something worth doing,
to show that one could be as fine and true in a palace as in a
hut,--even as in a Vermont farmhouse! At this, suddenly all thought
left her. Austin Page stood before her, fixing on her his clear and
passionate and tender eyes. At that dear and well-remembered gaze, her
lip began to quiver like a child's, and her eyes filled.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith stirred herself with the effect of a splendid ship
going into action with all flags flying. "Sylvia dear," she said,
"this rain tonight makes me think of a new plan. It will very likely
rain for a week or more now. Paris is abominable in the rain. What do
you say to a change? Madeleine Perth was telling me this afternoon
that the White Star people are running a few ships from Portsmouth by
way of Cherbourg around by Gibraltar, through the Mediterranean to
Naples. That's one trip your rolling-stone of an aunt has never taken,
and I'd rather like to add it to my collection. We could be in Naples
in four days from Cherbourg and spend a month in Italy, going north as
the heat arrived. Felix--why don't you come along? You've been wanting
to see the new low reliefs in the Terme, in Rome?"
Sylvia's heart, like all young hearts, was dazzled almost to blinking
by the radiance shed from the magic word Italy. She turned, looking
very much taken aback and bewildered, but with light in her eyes,
color in her face.
Morrison burst out: "Oh, a dream realized! Something to live on all
one's days, the pines of the Borghese--the cypresses of the Villa
Medici--roses cascading over the walls in Rome, the view across the
Campagna from the terraces at Rocca di Papa--"
Sylvia thought rapidly to herself: "Austin _said_ he did not want me
to answer at once. He _said_ he wanted me to take time--to take time!
I can decide better, make more sense out of everything, if I--after I
have thought more, have taken more time. No, I am not turning my back
on him. Only I must have more time to think--"
Aloud she said, after a moment's silence, "Oh, nothing could be
She lay in her warm, clean white bed that night, sleeping the sound
sleep of the healthy young animal which has been wet and cold and
hungry, and is now dry and warmed and fed.
Outside, across the city, on his bronze pedestal, the tortured
Thinker, loyal to his destiny, still strove terribly against the
limitations of his ape-like forehead.
_THE STRAIT PATH_
A CALL FROM HOME
It was quite dark when they arrived in the harbor at Naples; and
they were too late to go through the necessary formalities of harbor
entering. In company with several other in-and outward-bound steamers,
the _Carnatic_ lay to for the night. Some one pointed out a big liner
which would sail for New York the next morning, lying like a huge,
gaily lighted island, the blare of her band floating over the still
Sylvia slept little that night, missing the rolling swing of the ship,
and feeling breathless in the stifling immobility of the cabin. She
tossed about restlessly, dozing off at intervals and waking with a
start to get up on her knees and look out through the port-hole at the
lights of Naples blazing steadily in their semicircle. She tried to
think several times, about her relations to Felix, to Austin--but
nothing came to her mind except a series of scenes in which they had
figured, scenes quite disconnected, which brought no enlightenment to
As she lay awake thus, staring at the ceiling, feeling in the intense
silence and blackness that the fluttering of her eyelids was almost
audible, her heart beating irregularly, now slow, now fast, it
occurred to her that she was beginning to know something of the
intensity of real life--real grown-up life. She was astonished to
enjoy it so little.
She fell at last, suddenly, fathoms deep into youthful slumber, and
at once passed out from tormented darkness into some strange, sunny,
wind-swept place on a height. And she was all one anguish of longing
for Austin. And he came swiftly to her and took her in his arms and
kissed her on the lips. And it was as it had been when she was a child
and heard music, she was carried away by a great swelling tide of joy
... But dusk began to fall again; Austin faded; through the darkness
something called and called to her, imperatively. With great pain she
struggled up through endless stages of half-consciousness, until she
was herself again, Sylvia Marshall, heavy-eyed, sitting up in her
berth and saying aloud, "Yes, what is it?" in answer to a knocking on
The steward's voice answered, announcing that the first boat for shore
would leave in an hour. Sylvia sprang out of bed, the dream already
nothing more than confused brightness in her mind. By the time she was
dressed, it had altogether gone, and she only knew that she had had
a restless night. She went out on the deck, longing for the tonic of
pure air. The morning was misty--it had rained during the night--and
clouds hung heavy and low over the city. Out from this gray smother
the city gleamed like a veiled opal. Neither Felix nor her aunt was to
be seen. When she went down to breakfast, after a brisk tramp back and
forth across the deck, she was rosy and dewy, her triumphant youth
showing no sign of her vigils. She was saying to herself: "Now I've
come, it's too idiotic not to enjoy it. I _shall_ let myself go!"
Helene attended to the ladies' packing and to the labeling and care
of the baggage. Empty-handed, care-free, feeling like a traveling
princess, Sylvia climbed down from the great steamer into a dirty,
small harbor-boat. Aunt Victoria sat down at once on the folding
camp-chair which Helene always carried for her. Sylvia and Felix stood
together at the blunt prow, watching the spectacle before them. The
clouds were lifting from the city and from Vesuvius, and from Sylvia's
mind. Her spirits rose as the boat went forward into the strange,
foreign, glowing scene.
The oily water shimmered in smooth heavings as the clumsy boat
advanced upon it. The white houses on the hills gleamed out from their
palms. As the boat came closer to the wharf, the travelers could see
the crowds of foreign-looking people, with swarthy faces and cheap,
ungraceful clothes, looking out at the boat with alert, speculative,
unwelcoming eyes. The noise of the city streets, strange to their ears
after the days of sea silence, rose clattering, like a part of the
brilliance, the sparkle. The sun broke through the clouds, poured a
flood of glory on the refulgent city, and shone hotly on the pools of
dirty water caught in the sunken spots of the uneven stone pavement.
Aunt Victoria made her way up the gang-plank to the landing dock,
achieving dignity even there. Felix sprang after her, to hand her her
chair, and Helene and Sylvia followed. Mrs. Marshall-Smith sat down
at once, opening her dark-purple parasol, the tense silk of which was
changed by the hot Southern sun into an iridescent bubble. "We will
wait here till the steward gets our trunks out," she announced."
It will be amusing to watch the people." The four made an oasis of
aristocracy in the seething, shouting, frowzy, gaudy, Southern
crowd, running about with the scrambling, undignified haste of ants,
sweating, gesticulating, their faces contorted with care over their
poor belongings. Sylvia was acutely conscious of her significance in
the scene. She was also fully aware that Felix missed none of the
contrast she made with the other women. She felt at once enhanced and
protected by the ignobly dressed crowd about her. Felix was right--in
America there could be no distinction, there was no background for it.
The scene about them was theatrically magnificent. In the distance
Vesuvius towered, cloud-veiled and threatening, the harbor shone and
sparkled in the sun, the vivid, outreaching arms of Naples clasped
the jewel-like water. From it all Sylvia extracted the most perfect
distillation of traveler's joy. She felt the well-to-do tourist's
care-free detachment from the fundamentals of life, the tourist's
sense that everything exists for the purpose of being a sight for him
to see. She knew, and knew with delight, the wanderer's lightened,
emancipated sense of being at a distance from obligations, that
cheerful sense of an escape from the emprisoning solidarity of
humanity which furnishes the zest of life for the tourist and the
tramp, enabling the one light-heartedly to offend proprieties and
the other casually to commit murder. She was embarked upon a moral
vacation. She was out of the Bastile of right and wrong. She had a
vision of what freedom from entangling responsibilities is secured by
traveling. She understood her aunt's classing it as among the positive
goods of life.
A man in a shabby blue uniform, with a bundle of letters in his hand,
walked past them towards the boat.
"Oh, the mail," said Mrs. Marshall-Smith. "There may be some for us."
She beckoned the man to her, and said, "Marshall-Smith? Marshall?
The man sorted over his pile. "Cable for Miss Marshall," he said,
presenting it to the younger lady with a bold, familiar look
of admiration. "Letter for F. Morrison: two letters for Mrs.
Marshall-Smith." Sylvia opened her envelope, spread out the folded
sheet of paper, and read what was scrawled on it, with no realization
of the meaning. She knew only that the paper, Felix, her aunt, the
crowd, vanished in thick blackness, through which, much later, with a
great roaring in her ears, she read, as though by jagged flashes of
lightning: "Mother very ill. Come home at once. Judith."
It seemed to her an incalculably long time between her first glance at
the words and her understanding of them, but when she emerged from the
blackness and void, into the flaunting sunlight, the roaring still
in her ears, the paper still in her hands, the scrawled words still
venomous upon it, she saw that not a moment could have passed, for
Felix and her aunt were unfolding letters of their own, their eyes
beginning to run quickly over the pages.
Sylvia stood quite still, feeling immeasurably and bitterly alone.
She said to herself: "Mother is very sick. I must go home at once.
Judith." But she did not know what she said. She felt only an impulse
to run wildly away from something that gave her intolerable pain.
Mrs. Marshall-Smith turned over a page of her letter, smiling to
herself, and glanced up at her niece. Her smile was smitten from her
lips. Sylvia had a fantastic vision of her own aspect from the gaping
face of horror with which her aunt for an instant reflected it. She
had never before seen Aunt Victoria with an unprepared and discomposed
countenance. It was another feature of the nightmare.
For suddenly everything resolved itself into a bad dream,--her aunt
crying out, Helene screaming and running to her, Felix snatching the
telegram from her and reading it aloud--it seemed to Sylvia that she
had heard nothing for years but those words, "Mother very sick. Come
home at once. Judith." She heard them over and over after his voice
was silent. Through their constant echoing roar in her ears she heard
but dimly the babel of talk that arose--Aunt Victoria saying that she
could not of course leave at once because no passage had been engaged,
Helene foolishly offering smelling-salts, Felix darting off to get a
carriage to take them to the hotel where she could be out of the crowd
and they could lay their plans--"Oh, my poor dear!--but you may have
more reassuring news tomorrow, you know," said Mrs. Marshall-Smith
The girl faced her aunt outraged. She thought she cried out angrily,
"tomorrow!" but she did not break her silence. She was so torn by the
storm within her that she had no breath for recriminations. She turned
and ran rapidly some distance away to the edge of the wharf, where
some small rowboats hung bobbing, their owners sprawled on the seats,
smoking cigarettes and chattering. Sylvia addressed the one nearest
her in a strong, imperious voice. "I want you to take me out to that
steamer," she said, pointing out to the liner in the harbor.
The man looked up at her blankly, his laughing, impertinent brown face
sobered at once by the sight of her own. He made a reply in Italian,
raising his shoulders. Some ill-dressed, loafing stragglers on the
wharf drew near Sylvia with an indolent curiosity. She turned to them
and asked, "Do any of you speak English?" although it was manifestly
inconceivable that any of those typical Neapolitans should. One of
them stepped forward, running his hand through greasy black curls. "I
kin, lady," he said with a fluent, vulgar New York accent. "What ye
"Tell that man," said Sylvia, her lips moving stiffly, "to take me out
to the ship that is to leave for America this morning--and now--this
minute, I may be late now!"
After a short impassioned colloquy, the loafer turned to her and
reported: "He says if he took you out, you couldn't git on board. Them
big ships ain't got no way for folks in little boats to git on. And
he'd ask you thirty lire, anyhow. That's a fierce price. Say, if
you'll wait a minute, I can get you a man that'll do it for--" Mrs.
Marshall-Smith and Helene had followed, and now broke through the line
of ill-smelling loungers. Mrs. Marshall-Smith took hold of her niece's
arm firmly, and began to draw her away with a dignified gesture. "You
don't know what you are doing, child," she said with a peremptory
accent of authority. "You are beside yourself. Come with me at once.
This is no--"
Sylvia did not resist her. She ignored her. In fact, she did not
understand a word that her aunt said. She shook off the older woman's
hand with one thrust of her powerful young arm, and gathering her
skirts about her, leaped down into the boat. She took out her purse
and showed the man a fifty-lire bill. "Row fast! Fast!" she motioned
to him, sitting down in the stern and fixing her eyes on the huge bulk
of the liner, black upon the brilliance of the sunlit water. She heard
her name called from the wharf and turned her face backward, as the
light craft began to move jerkily away.
Felix had come up and now stood between Mrs. Marshall-Smith and her
maid, both of whom were passionately appealing to him! He looked over
their heads, saw the girl already a boat-length from the wharf, and
gave a gesture of utter consternation. He ran headlong to the edge of
the dock and again called her name loudly, "Sylvia! _Sylvia!_" There
was no mistaking the quality of that cry. It was the voice of a man
who sees the woman he loves departing from him, and who wildly,
imperiously calls her back to him. But she did not return. The boat
was still so close that she could look deeply into his eyes. Through
all her tumult of horror, there struck cold to Sylvia's heart the
knowledge that they were the eyes of a stranger. The blow that had
pierced her had struck into a quivering center of life, so deep within
her, that only something as deep as its terrible suffering could seem
real. The man who stood there, so impotently calling to her, belonged
to another order of things--things which a moment ago had been
important to her, and which now no longer existed. He had become for
her as remote, as immaterial as the gaudy picturesqueness of the
scene in which he stood. She gave him a long strange look, and made a
strange gesture, a gesture of irrevocable leave-taking. She turned her
face again to the sea, and did not look back.
They approached the liner, and Sylvia saw some dark heads looking over
the railing at her. Her boatman rowed around the stern to the other
side, where the slanting stairs used in boarding the harbor-boats
still hung over the side. The landing was far above their heads.
Sylvia stood up and cried loudly to the dull faces, staring down at
her from the steerage deck. "Send somebody down on the stairs to speak
to me." There was a stir; a man in a blue uniform came and looked over
the edge, and went away. After a moment, an officer in white ran down
the stairs to the hanging landing with the swift, sure footing of a
seaman. Sylvia stood up again, turning her white face up to him, her
eyes blazing in the shadow of her hat. "I've just heard that my mother
is very sick, and I must get back to America at once. If you will let
down the rope ladder, I can climb up. I must go! I have plenty of
money. I _must_!"
The officer stared, shook his head, and ran back up the stairs,
disappearing into the black hole in the ship's side. The dark, heavy
faces continued to hang over the railing, staring fixedly down at the
boat with a steady, incurious gaze. Sylvia's boatman balanced his
oar-handles on his knees, rolled a cigarette and lighted it. The boat
swayed up and down on the shimmering, heaving roll of the water,
although the ponderous ship beside it loomed motionless as a rock.
The sun beat down on Sylvia's head and up in her face from the molten
water till she felt sick, but when another officer in white, an
elderly man with an impassive, bearded face, came down the stairs, she
rose up, instantly forgetful of everything but her demand. She called
out her message again, straining her voice until it broke, poised so
impatiently in the little boat, swinging under her feet, that she
seemed almost about to spring up towards the two men leaning over to
catch her words. When she finished, the older man nodded, the younger
one ran back up the stairs, and returned with a rope ladder.
Sylvia's boatman stirred himself with an ugly face of misgiving.
He clutched at her arm, and made close before her face the hungry,
Mediterranean gesture of fingering money. She took out her purse, gave
him the fifty-lire note, and catching at the ladder as it was flung
down, disregarding the shouted commands of the men above her to
"wait!" she swung herself upon it, climbing strongly and surely in
spite of her hampering skirts.
The two men helped her up, alarmed and vexed at the risk she had
taken. They said something about great crowds on the boat, and that
only in the second cabin was there a possibility for accommodations.
If she answered them, she did not know what she said. She followed the
younger man down a long corridor, at first dark and smelling of hemp,
later white, bright with electric light, smelling strongly of fresh
paint, stagnant air, and machine-oil. They emerged in a round hallway
at the foot of a staircase. The officer went to a window for a
conference with the official behind it, and returned to Sylvia to say
that there was no room, not even a single berth vacant. Some shabby
woman-passengers with untidy hair and crumpled clothes drew near,
looking at her with curiosity. Sylvia appealed to them, crying out
again, "My mother is very sick and I must go back to America at
once. Can't any of you--can't you--?" she stopped, catching at the
banisters. Her knees were giving way under her. A woman with a flabby
pale face and disordered gray hair sprang towards her and took her in
her arms with a divine charity. "You can have half my bed!" she cried,
drawing Sylvia's head down on her shoulder. "Poor girl! Poor girl! I
lost my only son last year!"
Her accent, her look, the tones of her voice, some emanation of deep
humanity from her whole person, reached Sylvia's inner self, the
first message that had penetrated to that core of her being since the
deadly, echoing news of the telegram. Upon her icy tension poured a
flood of dissolving warmth. Her hideous isolation was an illusion.
This plain old woman, whom she had never seen before, was her sister,
her blood-kin,--they were both human beings. She gave a cry and flung
her arms about the other's neck, clinging to her like a person falling
from a great height, the tears at last streaming down her face.
The trip home passed like a long shuddering bad dream in which one
waits eternally, bound hand and foot, for a blow which does not fall.
Somehow, before the first day was over, an unoccupied berth was found
for Sylvia, in a tiny corner usually taken by one of the ship's
servants. Sylvia accepted this dully. She was but half alive, all her
vital forces suspended until the journey should be over. The throbbing
of the engines came to seem like the beating of her own heart, and
she lay tensely in her berth for hours at a time, feeling that it was
partly her energy which was driving the ship through the waters. She
only thought of accomplishing the journey, covering the miles which
lay before her. From what lay at the end she shrank back, returning
again to her hypnotic absorption in the throbbing of the engines. The
old woman who had offered to share her berth had disappeared at the
first rough water and had been invisible all the trip. Sylvia did not
think of her again. That was a recollection which with all its sacred
significance was to come back later to Sylvia's maturer mind.
The ship reached New York late in the afternoon, and docked that
night. Sylvia stood alone, in her soiled wrinkled suit, shapeless from
constant wear, her empty hands clutching at the railing, and was the
first passenger to dart down the second-class gang-plank. She ran to
see if there were letters or a telegram for her.
"Yes, there is a telegram for you," said the steward, holding out a
sealed envelope to her. "It came on with the pilot and ought to have
been given you before."
She took the envelope, but was unable to open it. The arc lights
flared and winked above her in the high roof of the wharf; the crowds
of keen-faced, hard-eyed men and women in costly, neat-fitting
clothing were as oblivious of her and as ferociously intent on their
own affairs as the shabby, noisy crowd she had left in Naples,
brushing by her as though she were a part of the wharf as they bent
over their trunks anxiously, and locked them up with determination. It
seemed to Sylvia that she could never break the spell of fear which
bound her fast. Minute after minute dragged by, and she still stood,
very white, very sick.
She was aware that some one stood in front of her, looking into her
face, and she recognized one of the ship's officials whom she had
noticed from a distance on the ship, an under-officer, somehow
connected with the engines, who had sat at table with the second-class
passengers. He was a burly, red-faced man, with huge strong hands and
a bald head.
He looked at her now for a moment with an intent kindness, and taking
her arm led her a step to a packing-case on which he made her sit
down. At the break in her immobility, a faintness came over Sylvia.
The man bent over her and began to fan her with his cap. A strong
smell of stale and cheap tobacco reached Sylvia from all of his
obese person, but his vulgar, ugly face expressed a profoundly
self-forgetful concern. "There, feelin' better?" he asked, his eyes
anxiously on hers. The man looked at the envelope comprehendingly:
"Oh--bad news--" he murmured. Sylvia opened her hand and showed him
that it had not been opened. "I haven't looked at it yet," she said
The man made an inarticulate murmur of pity--put out his thick red
fingers, took the message gently from her hand, and opened it. As he
read she searched his face with an impassioned scrutiny.
When he raised his eyes from the paper, she saw in them, in that
grossly fleshy countenance, such infinite pity that even her swift
intuition of its meaning was not so swift as to reach her heart first.
The blow did not reach her naked and unprotected in the solitude of
her egotism, as it had at Naples. Confusedly, half-resentfully, but
irresistibly she knew that she did not--could not--stand alone, was
not the first thus to be struck down. This knowledge brought the tonic
summons to courage. She held out her hand unflinchingly, and stood
up as she read the message, "Mother died this morning at dawn." The
telegram was dated three days before. She was now two days from home.
She looked up at the man before her and twice tried to speak before
she could command her voice. Then she said quite steadily: "I live in
the West. Can you tell me anything about trains to Chicago?"
"I'm going with ye, to th' train," he said, taking her arm and moving
forward. Two hours later his vulgar, ugly, compassionate face was the
last she saw as the train moved out of the station. He did not seem a
stranger to Sylvia. She saw that he was more than middle-aged, he must
have lost _his_ mother, there must have been many deaths in his past.
He seemed more familiar to her than her dearest friends had seemed
before; but from now on she was to feel closer to every human being
than before to her most loved. A great breach had been made in the
wall of her life--the wall which had hidden her fellows from her. She
saw them face the enigma as uncomprehendingly, as helplessly as she,
and she felt the instinct of terror to huddle close to others, even
though they feel--_because_ they feel--a terror as unrelieved. It was
not that she loved her fellow-beings more from this hour, rather that
she felt, to the root of her being, her inevitable fellowship with
The journey home was almost as wholly a period of suspended animation
for Sylvia as the days on the ocean had been. She had read the
telegram at last; now she knew what had happened, but she did not yet
know what it meant. She felt that she would not know what it meant
until she reached home. How could her mother be dead? What did it mean
to have her mother dead?
She said the grim words over and over, handling them with heartsick
recklessness as a desperate man might handle the black, ugly objects
with smoking fuses which he knows carry death. But for Sylvia no
explosion came. No ravaging perception of the meaning of the words
reached her strained inner ear. She said them over and over, the sound
of them was horrifying to her, but in her heart she did not believe
them. Her mother, _her_ mother could not die!
There was no one, of course, at the La Chance station to meet her,
and she walked out through the crowd and took the street-car without
having seen a familiar face. It was five o'clock in the afternoon
then, and six when she walked up the dusty country road and turned in
through the gate in the hedge. There was home--intimately a part of
her in every detail of its unforgotten appearance. The pines stood up
strong in their immortal verdure, the thick golden hush of the summer
afternoon lay like an enchantment about the low brown house. And
something horrible, unspeakably horrible had happened there. Under the
forgotten dust and grime of her long railway journey, she was deadly
pale as she stepped up on the porch. Judith came to the door, saw her
sister, opened her arms with a noble gesture, and clasped Sylvia to
her in a strong and close embrace. Not a word was spoken. The two
clung to each other silently, Sylvia weeping incessantly, holding fast
to the dear human body in her arms, feeling herself dissolved in a
very anguish of love and pain. Her wet cheek was pressed against
Judith's lips, the tears rained down in a torrent. All the rich,
untapped strength of her invincible youth was in that healthful flood
There were none such in the eyes of Professor Marshall as he came down
the stairs to greet his daughter. Sylvia was immeasurably shocked by
his aspect. He did not look like her father. She sought in vain in
that gray countenance for any trace of her father's expression. He
came forward with a slow, dragging step, and kissed his daughter,
taking her hand--his, she noticed, felt like a sick man's, parched,
the skin like a dry husk. He spoke, in a voice which had no resonance,
the first words that had been uttered: "You must be very tired,
Sylvia. You would better go and lie down. Your sister will go with
you." He himself turned away and walked slowly towards the open door.
Sylvia noticed that he shuffled his feet as he walked.
Judith drew Sylvia away up the stairs to her own slant-ceilinged room,
and the two sat down on the bed, side by side, with clasped hands.
Judith now told briefly the outline of what had happened. Sylvia
listened, straining her swollen eyes to see her sister's face, wiping
away the tears which ran incessantly down her pale, grimy cheeks,
repressing her sobs to listen, although they broke out in one burst
after another. Her mother had gone down very suddenly and they had
cabled at once--then she grew better--she had been unspeakably
brave--fighting the disease by sheer will-power--she had conquered
it--she was gaining--they were sorry they had cabled Sylvia--she had
not known she was going to die--none of them had dreamed she was going
to die--suddenly as the worst of her disease had spent itself and the
lungs were beginning to clear--suddenly her heart had given way, and
before the nurse could call her husband and children to her, she was
gone. They had been there under the same roof, and had not been with
her at the last. The last time they had seen her, she was alive and
smiling at them--such a brave, wan shadow of her usual smile--for a
few moments they went about their affairs, full of hope--and when they
entered the sick-room again--
Sylvia could bear no more, screaming out, motioning Judith imperiously
to stop;--she began to understand what had happened to her; the words
she had repeated so dully were like thunder in her ears. Her mother
Judith took her sister again in her arms, holding her close, as though
she were the older. Sylvia was weeping again, the furious, healing,
inexhaustible tears of youth. To both the sisters it seemed that they
were passing an hour of supreme bitterness; but their strong young
hearts, clinging with unconscious tenacity to their right to joy,
were at that moment painfully opening and expanding beyond the narrow
bounds of childhood. Henceforth they were to be great enough to harbor
joy--a greater joy--and sorrow, side by side.
Moreover, as though their action-loving mother were still watching
over them, they found themselves confronted at once with an inexorable
demand for their strength and courage.
Judith detached herself, and said in a firm voice: "Sylvia, you
mustn't cry any more. We must think what to do."
As Sylvia looked at her blankly, she went on: "Somehow Lawrence must
be taken away for a while--until Father's--either you or I must
go with him and stay, and the other one be here with Father until
he's--he's more like himself."
Sylvia, fresh from the desolation of solitude in sorrow, cried out:
"Oh, Judith, how can you! Now's the time for us all to stay together!
Why should we--?"
Judith went to the door and closed it before answering, a precaution
so extraordinary in that house of frank openness that Sylvia was
struck into silence by it. Standing by the door, Judith said in a low
tone, "You didn't notice--anything--about Father?"
"Oh yes, he looks ill. He is so pale--he frightened me!"
Judith looked down at the floor and was silent a moment. Sylvia's
heart began to beat fast with a new foreboding. "Why, what _is_ the
matter with--" she began.
Judith covered her face with her hands. "I don't know what to _do_!"
she said despairingly.
No phrase coming from Judith could have struck a more piercing alarm
into her sister's heart. She ran to Judith, pulled her hands down, and
looked into her face anxiously. "What do you mean, Judy--what do you
"Why--it's five days now since Mother died, three days since the
funeral--and Father has hardly eaten a mouthful--and I don't think
he's slept at all. I know he hasn't taken his clothes off. And--and--"
she drew Sylvia again to the bed, and sat down beside her, "he says
such things ... the night after Mother died Lawrence had cried so I
was afraid he would be sick, and I got him to bed and gave him some
hot milk,"--the thought flashed from one to the other almost palpably,
"That is what Mother would have done"--"and he went to sleep--he was
perfectly worn out. I went downstairs to find Father. It was after
midnight. He was walking around the house into one room after another
and out on the porch and even out in the garden, as fast as he could
walk. He looked so--" She shuddered. "I went up to him and said,
'Father, Father, what are you doing?' He never stopped walking an
instant, but he said, as though I was a total stranger and we were in
a railway station or somewhere like that, 'I am looking for my wife. I
expect to come across her any moment, but I can't seem to remember
the exact place I was to meet her. She must be somewhere about, and
I suppose--' and then, Sylvia, before I could help it, he opened the
door to Mother's room quick--and the men were there, and the coffin--"
She stopped short, pressing her hand tightly over her mouth to stop
its quivering. Sylvia gazed at her in horrified silence.
After a pause, Judith went on: "He turned around and ran as fast as
he could up the stairs to his study and locked the door. He locked
me out--the night after Mother died. I called and called to him--he
didn't answer. I was afraid to call very loud for fear of waking
Lawrence. I've had to think of Lawrence too." She stopped again to
draw a long breath. She stopped and suddenly reached out imploring
hands to hold fast to Sylvia. "I'm so _glad_ you have come!" she
This from Judith ran like a galvanic shock through Sylvia's
sorrow-sodden heart. She sat up, aroused as she had never been before
to a stern impulse to resist her emotion, to fight it down. She
clasped Judith's hand hard, and felt the tears dry in her eyes. Judith
went on: "If it hadn't been for Lawrence--he's sick as it is. I've
kept him in his room--twice when he's been asleep I've managed to get
Father to eat something and lie down--there seem to be times when he's
so worn out that he doesn't know what he's doing. But it comes back to
him. One night I had just persuaded him to lie down, when he sat up
again with that dreadful face and said very loud: 'Where is my wife?
Where is Barbara?' That was on the night after the funeral. And the
next day he came to me, out in the garden, and said,--he never seems
to know who I am: 'I don't mind the separation from my wife, you
understand--it's not that--I'm not a child, I can endure that--but I
_must_ know where she is. I _must_ know where she is!' He said it over
and over, until his voice got so loud he seemed to hear it himself and
looked around--and then he went back into the house and began walking
all around, opening and shutting all the doors. What I'm afraid of is
his meeting Lawrence and saying something like that. Lawrence would go
crazy. I thought, as soon as you came, you could take him away to the
Helman farm--the Helmans have been so good--and Mrs. Helman offered to
take Lawrence--only he oughtn't to be alone--he needs one of us--"
Judith was quiet now, and though very pale, spoke with her usual
firmness. Sylvia too felt herself iron under the pressure of her
responsibilities. She said: "Yes, I see. All right--I'll go," and the
two went together into Lawrence's room. He was lying on the bed, his
face in the pillows. At the sound of their steps he turned over and
showed a pitiful white face. He got up and moved uncertainly towards
Sylvia, sinking into her arms and burying his face on her shoulder.
But a little later when their plan was told him, he turned to
Judith with a cry: "No, _you_ go with me, Judy! I want _you_! You
Over his head the sisters looked at each other with questioning eyes;
and Sylvia nodded her consent. Lawrence had always belonged to Judith.
"_Strange that we creatures of the petty ways,
Poor prisoners behind these fleshly bars,
Can sometimes think us thoughts with God ablaze,
Touching the "fringes of the outer stars_.""
And so they went away, Lawrence very white, stooping with the weight
of his suitcase, his young eyes, blurred and red, turned upon Judith
with an infinite confidence in her strength. Judith herself was pale,
but her eyes were dry and her lips firm in her grave, steadfast face,
so like her mother's, except for the absence of the glint of humor.
Sylvia kissed her good-bye, feeling almost a little fear of her
resolute sister; but as she watched them go down the path, and noted
the appealing drooping of the boy towards Judith, Sylvia was swept
with a great wave of love and admiration--and courage.
She turned to face the difficult days and nights before her and forced
herself to speak cheerfully to her father, who sat in a chair on the
porch, watching the departing travelers and not seeing them. "How
splendid Judith is!" she cried, and went on with a break in the voice
she tried to control: "She will take Mother's place for us all!"
Her father frowned slightly, as though she had interrupted him in some
effort where concentration was necessary, but otherwise gave no sign
that he heard her.
Sylvia watched him anxiously through the window. Presently she saw
him relax from his position of strained attention with a great sigh,
almost a groan, and lean back in his chair, covering his eyes with
his hands. When he took them down, his face had the aged, ravaged
expression of exhaustion which had so startled her on her arrival. Now
she felt none of her frightened revulsion, but only an aching pity
which sent her out to him in a rush, her arms outstretched, crying to
him brokenly that he still had his children who loved him more than
anything in the world.
For the first time in her life, her father repelled her, shrinking
away from her with a brusque, involuntary recoil that shocked her,
thrusting her arms roughly to one side, and rising up hastily to
retreat into the house. He said in a bitter, recriminating tone, "You
don't know what you are talking about," and left her standing there,
the tears frozen in her eyes. He went heavily upstairs to his study on
the top floor and locked the door. Sylvia heard the key turn. It shut
her into an intolerable solitude. She had not thought before that
anything could seem worse than the desolation of her mother's absence.
She felt a deathlike sinking of her heart. She was afraid of her
father, who no longer seemed her father, created to protect and
cherish her, but some maniac stranger. She felt an impulse like that
of a terrified child to run away, far away to some one who should
stand before her and bear the brunt. She started up from her chair
with panic haste, but the familiar room, saturated with recollections
of her mother's gallant spirit, stood about her like a wall, shutting
her in to the battle with her heart. Who was there to summon whom she
could endure as a spectator of her father's condition? Her mother's
empty chair stood opposite her, against the wall. She looked at it
fixedly; and drawing a long breath sat down quietly.
This act of courage brought a reward in the shape of a relaxation
of the clutch on her throat and about her heart. Her mother's wise
materialism came to her mind now and she made a heartsick resolve that
she would lead as physically normal a life as possible, working out of
doors, forcing herself to eat, and that, above all things, she would
henceforth deny herself the weakening luxury of tears. And yet but an
hour later, as she bent over her mother's flower-beds blazing in the
sun, she found the tears again streaming from her eyes.
She tried to wipe them away, but they continued to rain down on her
cheeks. Her tongue knew their saltness. She was profoundly alarmed and
cowed by this irresistible weakness, and stood helplessly at bay among
the languid roses. The sensation of her own utter weakness, prostrate
before her dire need for strength, was as bitter as the taste of her
She stood there, among the sun-warmed flowers, looking like a symbolic
figure of youth triumphant ... and she felt herself to be in a black
and windowless prison, where the very earth under her feet was
treacherous, where everything betrayed her.
Then, out of her need, her very great need, out of the wide and empty
spaces of her inculcated unbelief, something rose up and overwhelmed
her. The force stronger than herself which she had longed to feel,
blew upon her like a wind out of eternity.
She found herself on her knees, her face hidden in her hands, sending
out a passionate cry which transcended words. The child of the
twentieth century, who had been taught not to pray, was praying.
She did not know how long she knelt there before the world emerged
from the white glory which had whirled down upon it, and hidden it
from her. But when she came to herself, her eyes were dry, and the
weakening impulse to tears had gone. She stretched out her hands
before her, and they did not tremble. The force stronger than herself
was now in her own heart. From her mother's garden there rose a
strong, fragrant exhalation, as sweet as honey.
* * * * *
For more than an hour Sylvia worked steadily among the flowers,
consciously wrought upon by the healing emanations from the crushed,
spicy leaves, the warm earth, and the hot, pure breath of the summer
wind on her face.
Once she had a passing fancy that her mother stood near her ...
"_Call now; is there any that will answer thee?_"--JOB.
When she went back to the silent, echoing house, she felt calmer than
at any time since she had read the telegram in Naples. She did not
stop to wash her earth-stained hands, but went directly up the stairs
to the locked door at the top. She did not knock this time. She stood
outside and said authoritatively in a clear, strong voice, the sound
of which surprised her, "Father dear, please open the door and let me
There was a pause, and then a shuffle of feet. The door opened and
Professor Marshall appeared, his face very white under the thick
stubble of his gray, unshaven beard, his shoulders bowed, his head
hanging. Sylvia went to his side, took his hand firmly in hers, and
said quietly: "Father, you must eat something. You haven't taken a bit
of food in two days. And then you must lie down and rest," She poured
all of her new strength into these quietly issued commands, and
permitted herself no moment's doubt of his obedience to them. He
lifted his head, looked at her, and allowed her to lead him down the
stairs and again into the dining-room. Here he sat, quite spent,
staring before him until Sylvia returned from the kitchen with a plate
of cold meat and some bread. She sat down beside him, putting out
again consciously all her strength, and set the knife and fork in his
nerveless hands. In the gentle monologue with which she accompanied
his meal she did not mention her mother, or anything but slight,
casual matters about the house and garden. She found herself speaking
in a hushed tone, as though not to awake a sleeping person. Although
she sat quite quietly, her hands loosely folded on the table, her
heart was thrilling and burning to a high resolve. "Now it is my turn
to help my father."
After he had eaten a few mouthfuls and laid down the knife and fork,
she did not insist further, but rose to lead him to the couch in the
living-room. She dared not risk his own room, the bed on which her
mother had died.
"Now you must lie down and rest, Father," she said, loosening his
clothes and unlacing his shoes as though he had been a sick child.
He let her do what she would, and as she pushed him gently back, he
yielded and lay down at full length. Sylvia sat down beside him,
feeling her strength ebbing. Her father lay on his back, his eyes wide
open. On the ceiling above him a circular flicker of light danced and
shimmered, reflected from a glass of water on the table. His eyes
fastened upon this, at first unwinkingly, with a fixed intensity,
and later with dropped lids and half-upturned eyeballs. He was quite
quiet, and finally seemed asleep, although the line of white between
his eyelids made Sylvia shudder.
With the disappearance of the instant need for self-control and
firmness, she felt an immense fatigue. It had cost her dearly, this
victory, slight as it was. She drooped in her chair, exhausted and
undone. She looked down at the ash-gray, haggard face on the pillow,
trying to find in those ravaged features her splendidly life-loving
father. It was so quiet that she could hear the big clock in the
dining-room ticking loudly, and half-consciously she began to
count the swings of the pendulum: One--two--three--four--five--six--
She awoke to darkness and the sound of her mother's name loudly
screamed. She started up, not remembering where she was, astonished to
find herself sitting in a chair. As she stood bewildered in the
dark, the clock in the dining-room struck two. At once from a little
distance, outside the window apparently, she heard the same wild
cry ringing in her ears--"_Bar-ba-ra!_" All the blood in her body
congealed and the hair on her head seemed to stir itself, in the
instant before she recognized her father's voice.
The great impulse of devotion which had entered her heart in the
garden still governed her. Now she was not afraid. She did not think
of running away. She only knew that she must find her father quickly
and take care of him. Outside on the porch, the glimmering light from
the stars showed her his figure, standing by one of the pillars,
leaning forward, one hand to his ear. As she came out of the door, he
dropped his hand, threw back his head, and again sent out an agonizing
cry--"_Bar-ba-ra!_ Where are you?" It was not the broken wail of
despair; it was the strong, searching cry of a lost child who thinks
trustingly that if he but screams loudly enough his mother must hear
him and come--and yet who is horribly frightened because she does not
answer. But this was a man in his full strength who called! It seemed
the sound must reach beyond the stars. Sylvia felt her very bones
ringing with it. She went along the porch to her father, and laid
her hand on his arm. Through his sleeve she could feel how tense and
knotted were the muscles. "Oh, Father, _don't!_" she said in a low
tone. He shook her off roughly, but did not turn his head or look at
her. Sylvia hesitated, not daring to leave him and not daring to try
to draw him away; and again was shaken by that terrible cry.
The intensity of his listening attitude seemed to hush into
breathlessness the very night about him, as it did Sylvia. There was
not a sound from the trees. They stood motionless, as though carved in
wood; not a bird fluttered a wing; not a night-insect shrilled; the
brook, dried by the summer heat to a thread, crept by noiselessly. As
once more the frantic cry resounded, it seemed to pierce this opaque
silence like a palpable missile, and to wing its way without hindrance
up to the stars. Not the faintest murmur came in answer. The silence
shut down again, stifling. Sylvia and her father stood as though
in the vacuum of a great bell-glass which shut them away from the
rustling, breathing, living world. Sylvia said again, imploringly,
"Oh, _Father_!" He looked at her angrily, sprang from the porch, and
walked rapidly towards the road, stumbling and tripping over the laces
of his shoes, which Sylvia had loosened when she had persuaded him to
Back to Full Books