The Eyes of the World
Harold Bell Wright
Part 1 out of 7
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The Eyes of the World
By Harold Bell Wright
Author of "That Printer of Udells," "The Shepherd of the Hills,"
"The Calling of Dan Matthews," "The Winning of Barbara Worth,"
"Their Yesterdays," Etc.
To Benjamin H. Pearson
Student, Artist, Gentleman
in appreciation of the friendship that began on the "Pipe-Line Trail," at
the camp in the sycamores back of the old orchard, and among the higher
peaks of the San Bernardinos; and because this story will always mean more
to him than to any one else,--this book, with all good wishes, is
H. B. W.
April 13, 1914.
"I have learned
To look on Nature not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The sad, still music of humanity,
Not harsh or grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt,
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is in the lights of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.
A motion and a spirit that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thoughts,
And rolls through all things.
Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods
....... And this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her. 'Tis her privilege
Through all the years of this one life, to lead
From joy to joy; for she can so inform
The mind that is within us--so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts--that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shalt e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith."
I. His Inheritance
II. The Woman With the Disfigured Face
III. The Famous Conrad Lagrange
IV. At the House on Fairlands Heights
V. The Mystery of the Rose Garden
VI. An Unknown Friend
VII. Mrs. Taine in Quaker Gray
VIII. The Portrait That Was Not a Portrait
IX. Conrad Lagrange's Adventure
X. A Cry in the Night
XI. Go Look in Your Mirror, You Fool
XII. First Fruits of His Shame
XIII. Myra Willard's Challenge
XIV. In the Mountains
XV. The Forest Ranger's Story
XVI. When the Canyon Gates Are Shut
XVII. Confessions in the Spring Glade
XVIII. Sibyl Andres and the Butterflies
XIX. The Three Gifts and their Meanings
XX. Myra's Prayer and the Ranger's Warning
XXI. The Last Climb
XXII. Shadows of Coming Events
XXIII. Outside the Canyon Gates Again
XXIV. James Rutlidge Makes a Mistake
XXV. On the Pipe-Line Trail
XXVI. I Want You Just as You Are
XXVII. The Answer
XXVIII. You're Ruined, My Boy
XXIX. The Hand Writing On The Wall
XXX. In the Same Hour
XXXI. As the World Sees
XXXII. The Mysterious Disappearance
XXXIII. Beginning the Search
XXXIV. The Tracks on Granite Peak
XXXV. A Hard Way
XXXVI. What Should He Do
XXXVII. The Man Was Insane
XXXVIII. An Inevitable Conflict
XXXIX. The Better Way
XL. Facing the Truth
XLI. Marks of the Beast
XLII. Aaron King's Success
Illustrations from Oil Paintings
F. Graham Cootes
A curious expression of baffling, quizzing, half pathetic, and wholly
"Well, what do you want? What are you doing here?"
Still she did not speak
The Eyes of the World
It was winter--cold and snow and ice and naked trees and leaden clouds and
The house was an ancient mansion on an old street in that city of culture
which has given to the history of our nation--to education, to religion,
to the sciences, and to the arts--so many illustrious names.
In the changing years, before the beginning of my story, the woman's
immediate friends and associates had moved from the neighborhood to the
newer and more fashionable districts of a younger generation. In that city
of her father's there were few of her old companions left. There were
fewer who remembered. The distinguished leaders in the world of art and
letters, whose voices had been so often heard within the walls of her
home, had, one by one, passed on; leaving their works and their names to
their children. The children, in the greedy rush of these younger times,
had too readily forgotten the woman who, to the culture and genius of a
passing day, had been hostess and friend.
The apartment was pitifully bare and empty. Ruthlessly it had been
stripped of its treasures of art and its proud luxuries. But, even in its
naked necessities the room managed, still, to evidence the rare
intelligence and the exquisite refinement of its dying tenant.
The face upon the pillow, so wasted by sickness, was marked by the
death-gray. The eyes, deep in their hollows between the fleshless forehead
and the prominent cheek-bones, were closed; the lips were livid; the nose
was sharp and pinched; the colorless cheeks were sunken; but the outlines
were still delicately drawn and the proportions nobly fashioned. It was,
still, the face of a gentlewoman. In the ashen lips, only, was there a
sign of life; and they trembled and fluttered in their effort to utter the
words that an indomitable spirit gave them to speak.
"To-day--to-day--he will--come." The voice was a thin, broken whisper; but
colored, still, with pride and gladness.
A young woman in the uniform of a trained nurse turned quickly from the
window. With soft, professional step, she crossed the room to bend over
the bed. Her trained fingers sought the skeleton wrist; she spoke slowly,
distinctly, with careful clearness; and, under the cool professionalism of
her words, there was a tone of marked respect. "What is it, madam?"
The sunken eyes opened. As a burst of sunlight through the suddenly opened
doors of a sepulchre, the death-gray face was illumed. In those eyes,
clear and burning, the nurse saw all that remained of a powerful
personality. In their shadowy depths, she saw the last glowing embers of
the vital fire gathered; carefully nursed and tended; kept alive by a will
that was clinging, with almost superhuman tenacity, to a definite purpose.
Dying, this woman _would_ not die--_could_ not die--until the end for
which she willed to live should be accomplished. In the very grasp of
Death, she was forcing Death to stay his hand--without life, she was
holding Death at bay.
It was magnificent, and the gentle face under the nurse's cap shone with
appreciation and admiration as she smiled her sympathy and understanding.
"My son--my son--will come--to-day." The voice was stronger, and, with the
eyes, expressed a conviction--a certainty--with the faintest shadow of a
The nurse looked at her watch. "The boat was due in New York, early this
A step sounded in the hall outside. The nurse started, and turned quickly
toward the door. But the woman said, "The doctor." And, again, the fire
that burned in those sunken eyes was hidden wearily under their dark lids.
The white-haired physician and the nurse, at the farther end of the room,
spoke together in low tones. Said the physician,--incredulous,--"You say
there is no change?"
"None that I can detect," breathed the nurse. "It is wonderful!"
"Her mind is clear?"
"As though she were in perfect health."
The doctor took the nurse's chart. For a moment, he studied it in silence.
He gave it back with a gesture of amazement. "God! nurse," he whispered,
"she should be in her grave by now! It's a miracle! But she has always
been like that--" he continued, half to himself, looking with troubled
admiration toward the bed at the other end of the room--"always."
He went slowly forward to the chair that the nurse placed for him. Seating
himself quietly beside his patient, and bending forward with intense
interest, his fine old head bowed, he regarded with more than professional
care the wasted face upon the pillow.
The doctor remembered, too well, when those finely moulded features--now,
so worn by sorrow, so marked by sickness, so ghastly in the hue of
death--were rounded with young-woman health and tinted with rare
loveliness. He recalled that day when he saw her a bride. He remembered
the sweet, proud dignity of her young wifehood. He saw her, again, when
her face shone with the glad triumph and the holy joy of motherhood.
The old physician turned from his patient, to look with sorrowful eyes
about the room that was to witness the end.
Why was such a woman dying like this? Why was a life of such rich mental
and spiritual endowments--of such wealth of true culture--coming to its
close in such material poverty?
The doctor was one of the few who knew. He was one of the few who
understood that, to the woman herself, it was necessary.
There were those who--without understanding, for the sake of the years
that were gone--would have surrounded her with the material comforts to
which, in her younger days, she had been accustomed. The doctor knew that
there was one--a friend of her childhood, famous, now, in the world of
books--who would have come from the ends of the earth to care for her. All
that a human being could do for her, in those days of her life's tragedy,
that one had done. Then--because he understood--he had gone away. Her own
son did not know--could not, in his young manhood, have understood, if he
had known--would not understand when he came. Perhaps, some day, he would
When the physician turned again toward the bed, to touch with gentle
fingers the wrist of his patient, his eyes were wet.
At his touch, her eyes opened to regard him with affectionate trust and
"Well Mary," he said almost bruskly.
The lips fashioned the ghost of a smile; into her eyes came the gleam of
that old time challenging spirit. "Well--Doctor George," she answered.
Then,--"I--told you--I would not--go--until he came. I must--have my
way--still--you see. He will--come--to-day He must come."
"Yes, Mary," returned the doctor,--his fingers still on the thin wrist,
and his eyes studying her face with professional keenness,--"yes, of
"And George--you will not forget--your promise? You will--give me a few
minutes--of strength--when he comes--so that I can tell him? I--I--must
tell him myself--George. You--will do--this last thing--for me?"
"Yes, Mary, of course," he answered again. "Everything shall be as you
wish--as I promised."
"Thank you--George. Thank you--my dear--dear--old friend."
The nurse--who had been standing at the window--stepped quickly to the
table that held a few bottles, glasses, and instruments. The doctor looked
at her sharply. She nodded a silent answer, as she opened a small, flat,
leather case. With his fingers still on his patient's wrist, the physician
spoke a word of instruction; and, in a moment, the nurse placed a
hypodermic needle in his hand.
As the doctor gave the instrument, again, to his assistant, a quick step
sounded in the hall outside.
The patient turned her head. Her eager eyes were fixed upon the door; her
voice--stronger, now, with the strength of the powerful stimulant--rang
out; "My boy--my boy--he is here! George, nurse, my boy is here!"
The door opened. A young man of perhaps twenty-two years stood on the
The most casual observer would have seen that he was a son of the dying
woman. In the full flush of his young manhood's vigor, there was the same
modeling of the mouth, the same nose with finely turned nostrils, the same
dark eyes under a breadth of forehead; while the determined chin and the
well-squared jaw, together with a rather remarkable fineness of line,
told of an inherited mental and spiritual strength and grace as charming
as it is, in these days, rare. His dress was that of a gentleman of
culture and social position. His very bearing evidenced that he had never
been without means to gratify the legitimate tastes of a cultivated and
As he paused an instant in the open door to glance about that poverty
stricken room, a look of bewildering amazement swept over his handsome
face. He started to draw back--as if he had unintentionally entered the
wrong apartment. Looking at the doctor, his lips parted as if to apologize
for his intrusion. But before he could speak, his eyes met the eyes of the
woman on the bed.
With a cry of horror, he sprang forward;--"Mother! Mother!"
As he knelt there by the bed, when the first moments of their meeting were
past, he turned his face toward the doctor. From the physician his gaze
went to the nurse, then back again to his mother's old friend. His eyes
were burning with shame and sorrow--with pain and doubt and accusation.
His low voice was tense with emotion, as he demanded, "What does this
mean? Why is my mother here like--like this?"--his eyes swept the bare
The dying woman answered. "I will explain, my boy. It is to tell you, that
I have waited."
At a look from the doctor, the nurse quietly followed the physician from
It was not long. When she had finished, the false strength that had kept
the woman alive until she had accomplished that which she conceived to be
her last duty, failed quickly.
"You will--promise--you will?"
"Yes, mother, yes."
"Your education--your training--your blood--they--are--all--that--I
can--give you, my son."
"O mother, mother! why did you not tell me before? Why did I not know!"
The cry was a protest--an expression of bitterest shame and sorrow.
She smiled. "It--was--all that I could do--for you--my son--the only
way--I could--help. I do not--regret the cost. You will--not forget?"
"Never, mother, never."
"You promise--to--to regain that--which--your father--"
Solemnly the answer came,--in an agony of devotion and love,--"I
promise--yes, mother, I promise."
* * * * *
A month later, the young man was traveling, as fast as modern steam and
steel could carry him, toward the western edge of the continent.
He was flying from the city of his birth, as from a place accursed. He had
set his face toward a new land--determined to work out, there, his
promise--the promise that he did not, at the first, understand.
How he misunderstood,--how he attempted to use his inheritance to carry
out what he first thought was his mother's wish,--and how he came at last
to understand, is the story that I have to tell.
The Woman with the Disfigured Face
The Golden State Limited, with two laboring engines, was climbing the
desert side of San Gorgonio Pass.
Now San Gorgonio Pass--as all men should know--is one of the two eastern
gateways to the beautiful heart of Southern California. It is, therefore,
the gateway to the scenes of my story.
As the heavy train zigzagged up the long, barren slope of the mountain, in
its effort to lessen the heavy grade, the young man on the platform of the
observation car could see, far to the east, the shimmering, sun-filled
haze that lies, always, like a veil of mystery, over the vast reaches of
the Colorado Desert. Now and then, as the Express swung around the curves,
he gained a view of the lonely, snow-piled peaks of the San Bernardinos;
with old San Gorgonio, lifting above the pine-fringed ridges of the lower
Galenas, shining, silvery white, against the blue. Again, on the southern
side of the pass, he saw San Jacinto's crags and cliffs rising almost
sheer from the right-of-way.
But the man watching the ever-changing panorama of gorgeously colored and
fantastically unreal landscape was not thinking of the scenes that, to
him, were new and strange. His thoughts were far away. Among those
mountains grouped about San Gorgonio, the real value of the inheritance he
had received from his mother was to be tested. On the pine-fringed ridge
of the Galenas, among those granite cliffs and jagged peaks, the mettle of
his manhood was to be tried under a strain such as few men in this
commonplace work-a-day old world are-subjected to. But the young man did
not know this.
On the long journey across the continent, he had paid little heed to the
sights that so interested his fellow passengers. To his fellow passengers,
themselves, he had been as indifferent. To those who had approached him
casually, as the sometimes tedious hours passed, he had been quietly and
courteously unresponsive. This well-bred but decidedly marked
disinclination to mingle with them, together with the undeniably
distinguished appearance of the young man, only served to center the
interest of the little world of the Pullmans more strongly upon him.
Keeping to himself, and engrossed with his own thoughts, he became the
object of many idle conjectures.
Among the passengers whose curious eyes were so often turned in his
direction, there was one whose interest was always carefully veiled. She
was a woman of evident rank and distinction in that world where rank and
distinction are determined wholly by dollars and by such social position
as dollars can buy. She was beautiful; but with that carefully studied,
wholly self-conscious--one is tempted to say professional--beauty of her
kind. Her full rounded, splendidly developed body was gowned to
accentuate the alluring curves of her sex. With such skill was this
deliberate appeal to the physical hidden under a cloak of a pretending
modesty that its charm was the more effectively revealed. Her features
were almost too perfect. She was too coldly sure of herself--too perfectly
trained in the art of self-repression. For a woman as young as she
evidently was, she seemed to know too much. The careful indifference of
her countenance seemed to say, "I am too well schooled in life to make
mistakes." She was traveling with two companions--a fluffy, fluttering,
characterless shadow of womanhood, and a man--an invalid who seldom left
the privacy of the drawing-room which he occupied.
As the train neared the summit of the pass, the young man on the
observation car platform looked at his watch. A few miles more and he
would arrive at his destination. Rising to his feet, he drew a deep breath
of the glorious, sun-filled air. With his back to the door, and looking
away into the distance, he did not notice the woman who, stepping from the
car at that moment, stood directly behind him, steadying herself by the
brass railing in front of the window. To their idly observing fellow
passengers, the woman, too, appeared interested in the distant landscape.
She might have been looking at the only other occupant of the platform.
The passengers, from where they sat, could not have told.
As he stood there,--against the background of the primitive, many-colored
landscape,--the young man might easily have attracted the attention of
any one. He would have attracted attention in a crowd. Tall, with an
athletic trimness of limb, a good breadth of shoulder, and a fine head
poised with that natural, unconscious pride of the well-bred--he kept his
feet on the unsteady platform of the car with that easy grace which marks
only well-conditioned muscles, and is rarely seen save in those whose
lives are sanely clean.
The Express had entered the yards at the summit station, and was gradually
lessening its speed. Just as the man turned to enter the car, the train
came to a full stop, and the sudden jar threw him almost into the arms of
the woman. For an instant, while he was struggling to regain his balance,
he was so close to her that their garments touched. Indeed, he only
prevented an actual collision by throwing his arm across her shoulder and
catching the side of the car window against which she was leaning.
In that moment, while his face was so close to hers that she might have
felt his breath upon her cheek and he was involuntarily looking straight
into her eyes, the man felt, queerly, that the woman was not shrinking
from him. In fact, one less occupied with other thoughts might have
construed her bold, open look, her slightly parted lips and flushed
cheeks, as a welcome--quite as though she were in the habit of having
handsome young men throw themselves into her arms.
Then, with a hint of a smile in his eyes, he was saying, conventionally,
"I beg your pardon. It was very stupid of me."
As he spoke, a mask of cold indifference slipped over her face. Without
deigning to notice his courteous apology, she looked away, and, moving to
the railing of the platform, became ostensibly interested in the busy
activity of the railroad yards.
Had the woman--in that instant when his arm was over her shoulder and his
eyes were looking into hers--smiled, the incident would have slipped
quickly from his mind. As it was, the flash-like impression of the moment
Down the steep grade of the narrow San Timateo Canyon, on the coast side
of the mountain pass, the Overland thundered on the last stretch of its
long race to the western edge of the continent. And now, from the car
windows, the passengers caught tantalizing glimpses of bright pastures
with their herds of contented dairy cows, and with their white ranch
buildings set in the shade of giant pepper and eucalyptus trees. On the
rounded shoulders and steep flanks of the foothills that form the sides of
the canyon, the barley fields looked down upon the meadows; and, now and
then, in the whirling landscape winding side canyons--beautiful with
live-oak and laurel, with greasewood and sage--led the eye away toward the
pine-fringed ridges of the Galenas while above, the higher snow-clad peaks
and domes of the San Bernardinos still shone coldly against the blue.
In the Pullman, there was a stir of awakening interest The travel-wearied
passengers, laying aside books and magazines and cards, renewed
conversations that, in the last monotonous hours of the desert part of
the journey, had lagged painfully. Throughout the train, there was an air
of eager expectancy; a bustling movement of preparation. The woman of the
observation car platform had disappeared into her stateroom. The young man
gathered his things together in readiness to leave the train at the next
In the flying pictures framed by the windows, the dairy pastures and
meadows were being replaced by small vineyards and orchards; the canyon
wall, on the northern side, became higher and steeper, shutting out the
mountains in the distance and showing only a fringe of trees on the sharp
rim; while against the gray and yellow and brown and green of the
chaparral on the steep, untilled bluffs, shone the silvery softness of the
olive trees that border the arroyo at their feet.
With a long, triumphant shriek, the flying overland train--from the lands
of ice and snow--from barren deserts and lonely mountains--rushed from the
narrow mouth of the canyon, and swept out into the beautiful San
Bernardino Valley where the travelers were greeted by wide, green miles of
orange and lemon and walnut and olive groves--by many acres of gardens and
vineyards and orchards. Amid these groves and gardens, the towns and
cities are set; their streets and buildings half hidden in wildernesses of
eucalyptus and peppers and palms; while--towering above the loveliness of
the valley and visible now from the sweeping lines of their foothills to
the gleaming white of their lonely peaks--rises, in blue-veiled,
cloud-flecked steeps and purple shaded canyons, the beauty and grandeur of
It was January. To those who had so recently left the winter lands, the
Southern California scene--so richly colored with its many shades of
living green, so warm in its golden sunlight--seemed a dream of fairyland.
It was as though that break in the mountain wall had ushered them suddenly
into another world--a world, strange, indeed, to eyes accustomed to snow
and ice and naked trees and leaden clouds.
Among the many little cities half concealed in the luxurious,
semi-tropical verdure of the wide valley at the foot of the mountains,
Fairlands--if you ask a citizen of that well-known mecca of the
tourist--is easily the Queen. As for that! all our Southern California
cities are set in wildernesses of beauty; all are in wide valleys; all are
at the foot of the mountains; all are meccas for tourists; each one--if
you ask a citizen--is the Queen. If you, perchance should question this
fact--write for our advertising literature.
Passengers on the Golden State Limited--as perhaps you know--do not go
direct to Fairlands. They change at Fairlands Junction. The little city,
itself, is set in the lap of the hills that form the southern side of the
valley, some three miles from the main line. It is as though this
particular "Queen" withdrew from the great highway traveled by the vulgar
herd--in the proud aloofness of her superior clay, sufficient unto
herself. The soil out of which Fairlands is made is much richer, it is
said, than the common dirt of her sister cities less than fifteen miles
distant. A difference of only a few feet in elevation seems, strangely, to
give her a much more rarefied air. Her proudest boast is that she has a
larger number of millionaires in proportion to her population than any
other city in the land.
It was these peculiar and well-known advantages of Fairlands that led the
young man of my story to select it as the starting point of his worthy
ambition. And Fairlands is a good place for one so richly endowed with an
inheritance that cannot be expressed in dollars to try his strength. Given
such a community, amid such surroundings, with a man like the young man of
my story, and something may be depended upon to happen.
While the travelers from the East, bound for Fairlands, were waiting at
the Junction for the local train that would take them through the orange
groves to their journey's end, the young man noticed the woman of the
observation car platform with her two companions. And now, as he paced to
and fro, enjoying the exercise after the days of confinement in the
Pullman, he observed them with stimulated interest--they, too, were going
The man of the party, though certainly not old in years, was frightfully
aged by dissipation and disease. The gross, sensual mouth with its
loose-hanging lips; the blotched and clammy skin; the pale, watery eyes
with their inflamed rims and flabby pouches; the sunken chest, skinny neck
and limbs; and the thin rasping voice--all cried aloud the shame of a
misspent life. It was as clearly evident that he was a man of wealth and,
in the eyes of the world, of an enviable social rank.
As the young man passed and repassed them, where they stood under the big
pepper tree that shades the depot, the man--in his harsh, throaty whisper,
between spasms of coughing--was cursing the train service, the country,
the weather; and, apparently, whatever else he could think of as being
worthy or unworthy his impotent ill-temper. The shadowy suggestion of
womanhood--glancing toward the young man--was saying, with affected
giggles, "O papa, don't! Oh isn't it perfectly lovely! O papa, don't! Do
hush! What will people think?" This last variation of his daughter's
plaint must have given the man some satisfaction, at least, for it
furnished him another target for his pointless shafts; and he fairly
outdid himself in politely damning whoever might presume to think anything
at all of him; with the net result that two Mexicans, who were loafing
near enough to hear, grinned with admiring amusement. The woman stood a
little apart from the others. Coldly indifferent alike to the man's
cursing and coughing and to the daughter's ejaculations, she appeared to
be looking at the mountains. But the young man fancied that, once or
twice, as he faced about at the end of his beat, her eyes were turned in
When the Fairlands train came in, the three found seats conveniently
turned, near the forward end of the car. The young man, in passing,
glanced down; and the woman, who had taken the chair next to the aisle,
looked up full into his face.
Again, as their eyes met, the man felt--as when they had stood so close
together on the platform of the observation car--that she did not shrink
from him. It was only for an instant. Then, glancing about for a seat, he
saw another face--a face, in its outlines, so like the one into which he
had just looked, and yet so different--so far removed in its expression
and meaning--that it fixed his attention instantly--compelling his
As this woman sat looking from the car window away toward the distant
mountain peaks, the young man thought he had never seen a more perfect
profile; nor a countenance that expressed such a beautiful blending of
wistful longing, of patient fortitude, and saintly resignation. It was the
face of a Madonna,--but a Madonna after the crucifixion,--pathetic in its
lonely sorrow, inspiring in its spiritual strength, and holy in its purity
and freedom from earthly passions.
She was near his mother's age; and looking at her--as he moved down the
aisle--his mother's face, as he had known it before their last meeting,
came to him with startling vividness. For an instant, he paused, moved to
take the chair beside her; but the next two seats were vacant, and he had
no excuse for intruding. Arranging his grips, he quickly seated himself
next to the window; and again, with eager interest, turned toward the
woman in the chair ahead. Involuntarily, he started with astonishment and
The woman--still gazing from the window at the distant mountain peaks, and
seemingly unconscious of her surroundings--presented now, to the man's
shocked and compassionate gaze, the other side of her face. It was
hideously disfigured by a great scar that--covering the entire cheek and
neck--distorted the corner of the mouth, drew down the lower lid of the
eye, and twisted her features into an ugly caricature. Even the ear, half
hidden under the soft, gray-threaded hair, had not escaped, but was
deformed by the same dreadful agent that had wrought such ruin to one of
the loveliest countenances the man had ever looked upon.
When the train stopped at Fairlands, and the passengers crowded into the
aisle to make their way out, of the characters belonging to my story, the
woman with the man and his daughter went first. Following them, a half
car-length of people between, went the woman with the disfigured face.
On the depot platform, as they moved toward the street, the young man
still held his place near the woman who had so awakened his pitying
interest. The three Overland passengers were met by a heavy-faced
thick-necked man who escorted them to a luxurious touring car.
The invalid and his daughter had entered the automobile when their escort,
in turning toward the other member of the party, saw the woman with the
disfigured face--who was now quite near. Instantly, he paused. And there
was a smile of recognition on his somewhat coarse features as, lifting his
hat, he bowed with--the young man fancied--condescending politeness. The
woman standing by his side with her hand upon the door of the automobile,
seeing her companion saluting some one, turned--and the next moment, the
two women, whose features seemed so like--yet so unlike--were face to
The young man saw the woman with the disfigured face stop short. For an
instant, she stood as though dazed by an unexpected blow. Then, holding
out her hands with a half-pleading, half-groping gesture, she staggered
and would have fallen had he not stepped to her side.
"Permit me, madam; you are ill."
She neither spoke nor moved; but, with her eyes fixed upon the woman by
the automobile, allowed him to support her--seemingly unconscious of his
presence. And never before had the young man seen such anguish of spirit
written in a human countenance.
The one who had saluted her, advanced--as though to offer his services.
But, as he moved toward her, she shrank back with a low--"No, no!" And
such a look of horror and fear came into her eyes that the man by her side
felt his muscles tense with indignation.
Looking straight into the heavy face of the stranger, he said curtly, "I
think you had better go on."
With a careless shrug, the other turned and went back to the automobile,
where he spoke in a low tone to his companions.
The woman, who had been watching with a cold indifference, stepped into
the car. The man took his seat by the chauffeur. As the big machine moved
away, the woman with the disfigured face, again made as if to stretch
forth her hands in a pleading gesture.
The young man spoke pityingly; "May I assist you to a carriage, madam?"
At his words, she looked up at him and--seeming to find in his face the
strength she needed--answered in a low voice, "Thank you, sir; I am better
now. I will he all right, presently, if you will put me on the car." She
indicated a street-car that was just stopping at the crossing.
"Are you quite sure that you are strong enough?" he asked kindly, as he
walked with her toward the car.
"Yes,"--with a sad attempt to smile,--"yes, and I thank you very much,
sir, for your gentle courtesy."
He assisted her up the step of the car, and stood with bared head as she
passed inside, and the conductor gave the signal.
The incident had attracted little attention from the passengers who were
hurrying from the train. Their minds were too intent upon other things to
more than glance at this little ripple on the surface of life. Those who
had chanced to notice the woman's agitation had seen, also, that she was
being cared for; and so had passed on, giving the scene no second thought.
When the man returned from the street to his grips on the depot platform,
the hacks and hotel buses were gone. As he stood looking about,
questioningly, for some one who might direct him to a hotel, his eyes
fell upon a strange individual who was regarding him intently.
Fully six feet in height, the observer was so lean that he suggested the
unpleasant appearance of a living skeleton. His narrow shoulders were so
rounded, his form was so stooped, that the young man's first thought was
to wonder how tall he would really be if he could stand erect. His long,
thin face, seamed and lined, was striking in its grotesque ugliness. From
under his craggy, scowling brows, his sharp green-gray eyes peered with a
curious expression of baffling, quizzing, half pathetic, and wholly
cynical, interrogation. He was smoking a straight, much-used brier pipe.
At his feet, lay a beautiful Irish Setter dog.
Half hidden by a supporting column of the depot portico--as if to escape
the notice of the people in the automobile--he had been watching the woman
with the disfigured face, with more than casual interest. He turned, now,
upon the young man who had so kindly given her assistance.
In answer to the stranger's inquiry, with a curt sentence and a nod of his
head he directed him to a hotel--two blocks away.
Thanking him, the young man, carrying his grips, set out. Upon reaching
the street, he involuntarily turned to look back.
The oddly appearing character had not moved from his place, but stood,
still looking after the stranger--the brier pipe in his mouth, the Irish
Setter at his feet.
The Famous Conrad Lagrange
When the young man reached the hotel, he went at once to his room, where
he passed the time between the hour of his arrival and the evening meal.
Upon his return to the lobby, the first object that attracted his eyes was
the uncouth figure of the man whom he had seen at the depot, and who had
directed him to the hotel.
That oddly appearing individual, his brier pipe still in his mouth and the
Irish Setter at his feet, was standing--or rather lounging--at the clerk's
counter, bending over the register; an attitude which--making his
skeleton-like form more round shouldered than ever--caused him to present
the general outlines of a rude interrogation point.
In the dining-room, a few minutes later, the two men sat at adjoining
tables; and the young man heard his neighbor bullying the waiters and
commenting in an audible undertone, upon every dish that was served to
him--swearing by all the heathen gods, known and unknown, that there was
nothing fit to eat in the house; and that if it were not for the fact that
there was no place else in the cursed town that served half so good, he
would not touch a mouthful in the place. Then, to the other's secret
amusement he fell to right heartily and made an astonishing meal of the
really excellent viands he had so roundly vilified.
Dinner over, the young man went with his cigar to the long veranda; intent
upon enjoying the restful quiet of the evening after the tiresome days on
the train. Carrying a chair to an unoccupied corner, he had his cigar just
nicely under way when the Irish Setter--with all the dignity of his royal
blood--approached. Resting a seal-brown head, with its long silky ears,
confidently upon the stranger's knee, the dog looked up into the man's
face with an expression of hearty good-fellowship in his soft,
golden-brown eyes that was irresistible.
"Good dog," said the man, heartily, "good old fellow," and stroked the
sleek head and neck, affectionately.
A whiff of pipe smoke drifted over his shoulder, and he looked around. The
dog's master stood just behind him; regarding him with that quizzing, half
pathetic, half humorous, and altogether cynical expression.
The young man who had been so unresponsive to the advances of his fellow
passengers, for some reason--unknown, probably, to himself--now took the
initiative. "You have a fine dog here, sir," he said encouragingly.
Without replying, the other turned away and in another moment returned
with a chair; whereupon the dog, with slightly waving, feathery tail,
transferred his attention to his master.
Caressing the seal-brown head with a gentle hand, and apparently speaking
to the soft eyes that looked up at him so understandingly, the man said,
"If the human race was fit to associate with such dogs, the world would be
a more comfortable place to live in." The deep voice that rumbled up from
some unguessed depths of that sunken chest was remarkable in its
suggestion of a virile power that the general appearance of the man seemed
to deny. Facing his companion suddenly, he asked with a direct bluntness,
"Are you not Aaron King--son of the Aaron King of New England political
Under the searching gaze of those green-gray eyes, the young man flushed.
"Yes; my father was active in New England politics," he answered simply.
"Did you know him?"
"Very well"--returned the other--"very well." He repeated the two words
with a suggestive emphasis; his eyes--with that curious, baffling,
questioning look--still fixed upon his companion's face.
The red in Aaron King's cheeks deepened.
Looking away, the strange man added, with a softer note in his rough
voice, "I thought I knew you, when I saw you at the depot. Your mother and
I were boy and girl together. There is a little of her face in yours. If
you have as much of her character, you are to be congratulated--and--so
are the rest of us." The last words were spoken, apparently, to the dog;
who, still looking up at him, seemed to express with slow-waving tail, an
understanding of thoughts that were only partly put into words.
There was an impersonality in the man's personalities that made it
impossible for the subject of his observations to take offense.
Aaron King--when it was evident that the man had no thought of
introducing himself--said, with the fine courtesy that seemed always to
find expression in his voice and manner, "May I ask your name, sir?"
The other, without turning his eyes from the dog, answered, "Conrad
The young man smiled. "I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Lagrange.
Surely, you are not the famous novelist of that name?"
"And _why_, 'surely not'?" retorted the other, again turning his face
quickly toward his companion. "Am I not distinguished enough in
appearance? Do I look like the mob? True, I am a scrawny, humpbacked
crooked-faced, scarecrow of a man--but what matters _that_, if I do not
look like the mob? What is called fame is as scrawny and humpbacked and
crooked-faced as my body--but what matters _that?_ Famous or infamous--to
not look like the mob is the thing."
It is impossible to put in print the peculiar humor of pathetic regret, of
sarcasm born of contempt, of intolerant intellectual pride, that marked
the last sentence, which was addressed to the dog, as though the speaker
turned from his human companion to a more worthy listener.
When Aaron King could find no words to reply, the novelist shot another
question at him, with startling suddenness. "Do you read my books?"
The other began a halting answer to the effect that everybody read Conrad
Lagrange's books. But the distinguished author interrupted; "Don't take
the trouble to lie--out of politeness. I shall ask you to tell me about
them and you will be in a hole."
The young man laughed as he said, with straight-forward frankness, "I have
read only one, Mr. Lagrange."
"The--ah--why--the one, you know--where the husband of one woman falls in
love with the wife of another who is in love with the husband of some one
else. Pshaw!--what is the title? I mean the one that created such a
furore, you know."
"Yes"--said the man, to his dog--"O yes, Czar--I am the famous Conrad
Lagrange. I observe"--he added, turning to the other, with twinkling
eyes--"I observe, Mr. King, that you really _do_ have a good bit of your
mother's character. That you do not read my books is a recommendation that
I, better than any one, know how to appreciate." The light of humor went
from his face, suddenly, as it had come. Again he turned away; and his
deep voice was gentle as he continued, "Your mother is a rare and
beautiful spirit, sir. Knowing her regard for the true and genuine,--her
love for the pure and beautiful,--I scarcely expected to find her son
interested in the realism of _my_ fiction. I congratulate you, young
man"--he paused; then added with indescribable bitterness--"that you have
not read my books."
For a few moments, Aaron King did not answer. At last, with quiet dignity,
he said, "My mother was a remarkable woman, Mr. Lagrange."
The other faced him quickly. "You say _was_? Do you mean--?"
"My mother is dead, sir. I was called home from abroad by her illness."
For a little, the older man sat looking into the gathering dusk. Then,
deliberately, he refilled his brier pipe, and, rising, said to his dog,
"Come, Czar--it's time to go."
Without a word of parting to his human companion with the dog moving
sedately by his side, he disappeared into the darkness of the night.
* * * * *
All the next day, Aaron King--in the hotel dining-room, the lobby, and on
the veranda--watched for the famous novelist. Even on the streets of the
little city, he found himself hoping to catch a glimpse of the uncouth
figure and the homely, world-worn face of the man whose unusual
personality had so attracted him. The day was nearly gone when Conrad
Lagrange again appeared. As on the evening before, the young man was
smoking his after-dinner cigar on the veranda, when the Irish Setter and a
whiff of pipe smoke announced the strange character's presence.
Without taking a seat, the novelist said, "I always have a look at the
mountains, at this time of the day, Mr. King--would you care to come?
These mountains are the real thing, you know, and well worth
seeing--particularly at this hour." There was a gentle softness in his
deep voice, now--as unlike his usual speech as his physical appearance was
unlike that of his younger companion.
Aaron King arose quickly. "Thank you, Mr, Lagrange; I will go with
Accompanied by the dog, they followed the avenue, under the giant pepper
trees that shut out the sky with their gnarled limbs and gracefully
drooping branches, to the edge of the little city; where the view to the
north and northeast was unobstructed by houses. Just where the street
became a road, Conrad Lagrange--putting his hand upon his companion's
arm--said in a low voice, "This is the place."
Behind them, beautiful Fairlands lay, half lost, in its wilderness of
trees and flowers. Immediately in the foreground, a large tract of
unimproved land brought the wild grasses and plants to their very feet.
Beyond these acres--upon which there were no trees--the orange groves were
massed in dark green blocks and squares; with, here and there, thin rows
of palms; clumps of peppers; or tall, plume-like eucalyptus; to mark the
roads and the ranch homes. Beyond this--and rising, seemingly, out of the
groves--the San Bernardinos heaved their mighty masses into the sky. It
was almost dark. The city's lamps were lighted. The outlines of grove and
garden were fast being lost in the deepening dusk. The foothills, with the
lower spurs and ridges of the mountains, were softly modeled in dark blue
against the deeper purple of the canyons and gorges. Upon the cloudless
sky that was lighted with clearest saffron, the lines of the higher crests
were sharply drawn; while the lonely, snow-capped peaks,--ten thousand
feet above the darkening valley below,--catching the last rays of the sun,
glowed rose-pink--changing to salmon--deepening into mauve--as the light
Aaron King broke the silence by drawing a long breath--as one who could
find no words to express his emotions.
Conrad Lagrange spoke sadly; "And to think that there are,--in this city
of ten thousand,--probably, nine thousand nine hundred and ninety people
who never see it."
With a short laugh, the young man said, "It makes my fingers fairly itch
for my palette and brushes--though it's not at all my sort of thing."
The other turned toward him quickly. "You are an artist?"
"I had just completed my three years study abroad when mother's illness
brought me home. I was fortunate enough to get one on the line, and they
say--over there--that I had a good chance. I don't know how it will go
here at home." There was a note of anxiety in his voice.
"What do you do?"
[Illustration: A curious expression of baffling quizzing half pathetic and
wholly cynical interrogation]
With his face again toward the mountains, the novelist said thoughtfully,
"This West country will produce some mighty artists, Mr. King. By far the
greater part of this land must remain, always, in its primitive
naturalness. It will always be easier, here, than in the city crowded
East, for a man to be himself. There is less of that spirit which is born
of clubs and cliques and clans and schools--with their fine-spun
theorizing, and their impudent assumption that they are divinely
commissioned to sit in judgment. There is less of artistic tea-drinking,
esthetic posing, and soulful talk; and more opportunity for that
loneliness out of which great art comes. The atmosphere of these mountains
and deserts and seas inspires to a self-assertion, rather than to a
clinging fast to the traditions and culture of others--and what, after
all, _is_ a great artist, but one who greatly asserts himself?"
The younger man answered in a like vein; "Mr. Lagrange, your words recall
to my mind a thought in one of mother's favorite books. She quoted from
the volume so often that, as a youngster, I almost knew it by heart, and,
in turn, it became my favorite. Indeed, I think that, with mother's aid as
an interpreter, it has had more influence upon my life than any other one
book. This is the thought: 'To understand the message of the mountains; to
love them for what they are; and, in terms of every-day life, to give
expression to that understanding and love--is a mark of true greatness of
soul.' I do not know the author. The book is anonymous."
"I am the author of that book, sir," the strange man answered with simple
dignity, "--or, rather,--I should say,--I _was_ the author," he added,
with a burst of his bitter, sarcastic humor. "For God's sake don't betray
me. I am, _now_, the _famous_ Conrad Lagrange, you understand. I have a
_name_ to protect." His deep voice was shaken with feeling. His worn and
rugged features twitched and worked with emotion.
Aaron King listened in amazement to the words that were spoken by the
famous novelist with such pathetic regret and stinging self-accusation.
Not knowing how to reply, he said casually, "You are working here, Mr.
"Working! Me? I don't _work_ anywhere. I am a literary scavenger. I haunt
the intellectual slaughter pens, and live by the putrid offal that
self-respecting writers reject. I glean the stinking materials for my
stories from the sewers and cesspools of life. For the dollars they pay, I
furnish my readers with those thrills that public decency forbids them to
experience at first hand. I am a procurer for the purposes of mental
prostitution. My books breed moral pestilence and spiritual disease. The
unholy filth I write fouls the minds and pollutes the imaginations of my
readers. I am an instigator of degrading immorality and unmentionable
crimes. _Work_! No, young man, I don't work. Just now, I'm doing penance
in this damned town. My rotten imaginings have proven too much--even for
me--and the doctors sent me West to recuperate,"
The artist could find no words that would answer. In silence, the two men
turned away from the mountains, and started back along the avenue by which
they had come.
When they had walked some little distance, the young man said, "This is
your first visit to Fairlands, Mr. Lagrange?"
"I was here last year"--answered the other--"here and in the hills yonder.
Have _you_ been much in the mountains?"
"Not in California. This is my first trip to the West. I have seen
something of the mountains, though, at tourist resorts--abroad."
"Which means," commented the other, "that you have never seen them at
Aaron King laughed. "I dare say you are right."
"And you--?" asked the novelist, abruptly, eyeing his companion. "What
brought you to this community that thinks so much more of its millionaires
than it does of its mountains? Have _you_ come to Fairlands to work?"
"I hope to," answered the artist. "There are--there are reasons why I do
not care to work, for the present, in the East. I confess it was because I
understood that Fairlands offered exceptional opportunities for a portrait
painter that I came here. To succeed in my work, you know, one must come
in touch with people of influence. It is sometimes easier to interest them
when they are away from their homes--in some place like this--where their
social duties and business cares are not so pressing."
"There is no question of the material that Fairlands has to offer, Mr.
King," returned the novelist, in his grim, sarcastic humor. "God! how I
envy you!" he added, with a flash of earnest passion. "You are young--You
are beginning your life work--You are looking forward to success--You--"
"I _must_ succeed"--the painter interrupted impetuously--"I must."
"Succeed in _what_? What do you mean by success?"
"Surely, _you_ should understand what I mean by success," the younger man
retorted. "You who have gained--"
"Oh, yes; I forgot"--came the quick interruption--"I am the _famous_
Conrad Lagrange. Of course, you, too, must succeed. You must become the
_famous_ Aaron King. But perhaps you will tell me why you must, as you
call it, succeed?"
The artist hesitated before answering; then said with anxious earnestness,
"I don't think I can explain Mr. Lagrange. My mother--" he paused.
The older man stopped short, and, turning, stood for a little with his
face towards the mountains where San Bernardino's pyramid-like peak was
thrust among the stars. When he spoke, every bit of that bitter humor was
gone from his deep voice. "I beg your pardon, Mr. King"--he said
slowly--"I am as ugly and misshapen in spirit as in body."
But when they had walked some way--again in silence--and were drawing near
the hotel, the momentary change in his mood passed. In a tone of stinging
sarcasm he said. "You are on the right road, Mr. King. You did well to
come to Fairlands. It is quite evident that you have mastered the modern
technic of your art. To acquire fame, you have only to paint pictures of
fast women who have no morals at all--making them appear as innocent
maidens, because they have the price to pay, and, in the eyes of the
world, are of social importance. Put upon your canvases what the world
will call portraits of distinguished citizens--making low-browed
money--thugs to look like noble patriots, and bloody butchers of humanity
like benevolent saints. You need give yourself no uneasiness about your
success. It is easy. Get in with the right people; use your family name
and your distinguished ancestors; pull a few judicious advertising wires;
do a few artistic stunts; get yourself into the papers long and often, no
matter how; make yourself a fad; become a pet of the social autocrats--and
your fame is assured. And--you will be what I am."
The young man, quietly ignoring the humor of the novelist's words, said
protestingly, "But, surely, to portray human nature is legitimate art, Mr.
Lagrange. Your great artists that the West is to produce will not
necessarily be landscape painters or write essays upon nature, will they?"
"To portray human nature is legitimate work for an artist, yes"--agreed
the novelist--"but he must portray human nature _plus_. The forces that
_shape_ human nature are the forces that must be felt in the picture and
in the story. That these determining forces are so seldom seen by the eyes
of the world, is the reason _for_ pictures and stories. The artist who
fails to realize for his world the character-creating elements in the life
which he essays to paint or write, fails, to just that degree, in being an
artist; or is self-branded by his work as criminally careless, a charlatan
or a liar. That one who, for a price, presents a picture or a story
without regard for the influence of his production upon the characters of
those who receive it, commits a crime for which human law provides no
adequate punishment. Being the famous Conrad Lagrange, you understand, I
have the right to say this. You will probably believe it, some day--if
you do not now. That is, you will believe it if you have the soul and the
intelligence of an artist--if you have not--it will not matter--and you
will be happy in your success."
As the novelist finished speaking, the two men arrived at the hotel steps,
where they halted, with that indecision of chance acquaintances who have
no plans beyond the passing moment, yet who, in mutual interest, would
extend the time of their brief companionship. While they stood there, each
hesitating to make the advance, a big touring car rolled up the driveway,
and stopped under the full light of the veranda. Aaron King recognized the
lady of the observation car platform, with her two traveling companions
and the heavy-faced man who had met them at the depot. As the party
greeted the novelist and he returned their salutation, the artist turned
away to find again the chair, where, an hour before, the strange character
who was to play so large a part in his life and work had found him. The
dog, Czar, as if preferring the companionship of the artist to the company
of those who were engaging his master's attention, followed the young man.
From where he sat, the painter could see the tall, uncouth figure of the
famous novelist standing beside the automobile, while the occupants of the
car were, apparently, absorbingly interested in what he was saying. The
beautiful face of the woman was brightly animated as she evidently took
the lead in the conversation. The artist could see her laughing and
shaking her head. Once, he even heard her speak the writer's name;
whereupon, every lounger upon the veranda, within hearing, turned to
observe the party with curious interest. Several times, the young man
noted that she glanced in his direction, half inquiringly, with a
suggestion of being pleased, as though she were glad to have seen him in
company with her celebrated friend. Then the man who held so large a place
in the eyes of the world drew back, lifting his hat; the automobile
started forward; the party called, "Good night." The woman's voice rose
clear--so that the spectators might easily understand--"Remember, Mr.
Lagrange--I shall expect you Thursday--day after to-morrow."
As Conrad Lagrange came up the hotel steps, the eyes of all were upon him;
but he--apparently unconscious of the company--went straight to the
artist; where, without a word, he dropped into the vacant chair by the
young man's side, and began thoughtfully refilling his brier pipe.
Flipping the match over the veranda railing, and expelling a prodigious
cloud of smoke, the novelist said grimly, "And there--my fellow artist--go
your masters. I trust you observed them with proper reverence. I would
have introduced you, but I do not like to take the initiative in such
outrages. That will come soon enough. The young should be permitted to
enjoy their freedom while they may."
Aaron King laughed. "Thank you for your consideration," he returned, "but
I do not think I am in any immediate danger."
"Which"--the other retorted dryly--"betrays either innocence, caution, or
an unusual understanding of life. I am not, now, prepared to say whether
you know too much or too little."
"I confess to a degree of curiosity," said the artist. "I traveled in the
same Pullman with three of the party. May I ask the names of your
The other answered in his bitterest vein; "I have no friends, Mr. King--I
have only admirers. As for their names"--he continued--"there is no reason
why I should withhold either who they are or what they are. Besides, I
observed that the reigning 'Goddess' in the realm of 'Modern Art' has her
eye upon you, already. As I shall very soon be commanded to drag you to
her 'Court,' it is well for you to be prepared."
The young man laughed as the other paused to puff vigorously at his brier
"That red-faced, bull-necked brute, is James Rutlidge, the son and heir of
old Jim Rutlidge," continued the novelist. "Jim inherited a few odd
millions from _his_ father, and killed himself spending them in
unmentionable ways. The son is most worthily carrying out his father's
mission, with bright prospects of exceeding his distinguished parent's
fondest dreams. But, unfortunately, _he_ is hampered by lack of adequate
capital--the bulk of the family wealth having gone with the old man."
"Do you mean James Rutlidge--the great critic?" exclaimed Aaron King, with
"The same," answered the other, with his twisted smile. "I thought you
would recognize his name. As an artist, you will undoubtedly have much to
do with him. His friendship is one of the things that are vital to your
success. Believe me, his power in modern art is a red-faced, bull-necked
power that you will do well to recognize. Of his companions," he went on,
"the horrible example is Edward J. Taine--friend and fellow martyr of
James Rutlidge, Senior. Satan, perhaps, can explain how he has managed to
outlive his partner. His home is in New York, but he has a big house on
Fairlands Heights, with large orange groves in this district. He comes
here winters for his health. He'll die before long. The effervescing young
creature is his daughter, Louise--by his first wife. The 'Goddess'--who is
not much older than his daughter--is the present Mrs. Taine."
The artist's exclamation drew a sarcastic chuckle from the other. "I am
prepared, now, to testify to your unworldly innocence of heart and mind,"
he gibed. "And, pray, why not his wife? You see, she was the ward of old
Rutlidge--a niece, it is said. Mrs. Rutlidge--as you have no doubt
heard--killed herself. It was shortly after her death that Jim took this
little one into his home. She and young Jim grew up together. What was
more natural or fitting than that her guardian--when he was about to
depart from this sad world where human flesh is not able to endure an
unlimited amount of dissipation--should give the girl as a lively souvenir
to his bosom friend and companion of his unmentionable deviltries? The
transaction also enabled him, you understand, to draw upon the Taine
millions; and so permitted him to finish his distinguished career with
credit. You, with your artist's extravagant fancy, have, no doubt, been
thinking of her as fashioned for _love_. I assure you _she_ knows better.
The world in which she has been schooled has left her no hazy ideas as to
what she was made for."
"I have heard of the Taines," said the younger man, thoughtfully. "I
suppose this is the same family. They are very prominent in the social
world, and quite generous patrons of the arts?"
"In the eyes of the world," said the novelist, "they are the noblest of
our Nobility. They dwell in the rarefied atmosphere of millions. By the
dollarless multitudes they are envied. They assume to be the cultured of
the cultured. Patrons of the arts! Why, man, _they have autographed copies
of all my books!_ They and their kind _feed_ me and my kind. They will
feed you, sir, or by God you'll starve! But you need have no fear that the
crust of genius will be your portion," he added meaningly. "As I
remarked--the 'Goddess' has her eye upon you."
"And why do you so distinguish the lady?" asked the artist, quietly
amused--with just a hint of well-bred condescension. "Has Mrs. Taine such
powerful influence in the world of art?"
If Conrad Lagrange noticed his companion's manner he passed it by. "I
perceive," he said, "that you are still somewhat lacking in the rudiments
of your profession. The statement of faith adhered to by modern climbers
on the ladder of fame--such as I have been, and you aspire to be--is that
'Pull' wins. Our creed is 'Graft.' By 'Influence' we stand, by
'Influence' we fall. It pleases Mrs. Taine to be, in the world of art, a
lobbyist. She knows the insides of the inside rings and cliques and
committees that say what is, and what is not, art; that declare who shall
be, and who shall not be, artists. She has power with those who, in their
might, grant position and place in the halls of fame; as their kinsmen in
the political world pass the plums to those who court their favor. The
great critics who thunder anathemas at the poor devils who are outside,
eat out of her hand. Jim Rutlidge and his unholy crew are at her beck and
call. Jim, you see, needing all he can get of the Taine millions, hopes to
marry Louise. You can scarcely blame the young and beautiful Mrs. Taine
for not being interested in her husband--who is going to die so soon. The
poor girl must have some amusement, so she interests herself in art, don't
you know. She gives more dinners to artists and critics; buys more
pictures and causes more pictures to be bought; mothers more art-culture
clubs; discovers more new and startling geniuses; in short, has a larger
and better trained company of lions than any one else in the business. She
deals in lions. It's her fad to collect them--same as others collect
butterflies or postage stamps. She has one other fad that is less harmful
and just as deceptive--a carefully nourished reputation for prudery. I
sometimes think the Gods must laugh or choke. That woman would no more
speak to you without a proper introduction than she would appear on the
street without shoes or stockings. She has never been seen in an evening
gown. Her beautiful shoulders have never been immodestly bared to the
eyes of the world."
The artist thought of that moment on the observation car platform.
Presently, the novelist--refilling his pipe--said whimsically, "Some day,
Mr. King, I shall write a true story. It shall be a novel of to-day, with
characters drawn from life; and these characters, in my story, shall bear
the names of the forces that have made them what they are and which they,
in turn, have come to represent. I mean those forces that are so coloring
and shaping the life and thought of this age."
"That ought to be interesting," said the other, "but I am not quite sure
that I understand."
"Probably you don't. You have not been thinking much of these things. You
have your eye upon Fame, and that old witch lives in another direction. To
illustrate--our bull-necked friend and illustrious critic, James Rutlidge,
in my story, will be named 'Sensual.' His distinguished father was one
'Lust.' The horrible example, Mr. Edward Taine,--boon companion of
"Good!" laughed the artist. "I see; go on. Who is the daughter of
"'Ragtime'," promptly returned the novelist, with a grin. "Who else could
"And Mrs. Taine?" urged the other.
The novelist responded quickly; "Why, the reigning 'Goddess' in the realm
of 'Modern Art,' is 'The Age,' of course. Do you see? 'The Age' given over
to 'Materialism' for base purposes by his companion, 'Lust.' And you----"
"Go on," cried the young man, "who or what am I in your story?"
"You, sir,"--answered Conrad Lagrange, seriously,--"in my story of modern
life, represent Art. It remains to be seen whether 'The Age' will add you
to her collection, or whether some other influence will intervene."
"And you"--persisted the artist--"surely you are in the story."
"I am very much in the story," the other answered. "My name is
'Civilization.' My story will be published when I am dead. I have a
reputation to sustain, you know."
Aaron King was not laughing, now. Something, that lay deep hidden beneath
the rude exterior of the man, made itself felt in his deep voice. Some
powerful force, underlying his whimsical words, gripped the artist's
mind--compelling him to search for hidden meanings in the novelist's
A few moments passed in silence before the young man said slowly, "I met a
character, yesterday, Mr. Lagrange, that might be added to your cast."
"There are several that will be added to my cast," the other answered
To which the painter returned, "Did you notice that woman with the
disfigured face, at the depot?"
Conrad Lagrange looked at his companion, quickly. "Yes."
"Do you know her?" questioned the artist.
"No. Why do you ask?"
"Only because she interested me, and because she seemed to know your
friends--Mr. Rutlidge and Mrs. Taine."
The novelist knocked the ashes from his pipe by tapping it on the veranda
railing. The action seemed to express a peculiar mental effort; as though
he were striving to recall something that had gone from his memory. "I saw
what happened at the depot, of course," he said slowly. "I have seen the
woman before. She lives here in Fairlands. Her name is Miss Willard. No
one seems to know much about her. I can't get over the impression that I
ought to know her--that I have met and known her somewhere years ago. Her
manner, yesterday, at seeing Mrs. Taine, was certainly very strange." As
if to free his mind from the unsuccessful effort to remember, he rose to
his feet. "But why should she be added to the characters in my novel, Mr.
King? What does she represent?"
"Her name,"--said the artist,--"in your study of life, is suggested by her
face--so beautiful on the one side--so distorted on the other--her name
should be 'Symbol'."
"There really is hope for you," returned the older man, with his quizzing
smile. "Good night. Come, Czar." He passed into the hotel--the dog at his
It was two days later--Thursday--that Conrad Lagrange made his memorable
visit to the Taines--memorable, in my story, because, at that time, Mrs.
Taine gave such unmistakable evidence of her interest in Aaron King and
At the House on Fairlands Heights
As my friend the social scientist would say; it is a phenomenon peculiar
to urban life, that the social strata are more or less clearly defined
That is,--in the English of everyday,--people of different classes live in
different parts of the city. As certain streets and blocks are given to
the wholesale establishments, others to retail stores, and still others to
the manufacturing plants; so there are the tenement districts, the slums,
and the streets where may be found the homes of wealth and fashion.
In Fairlands, the social rating is largely marked by altitude. The city,
lying in the lap of the hills and looking a little down upon the
valley--plebeian business together with those who do the work of Fairlands
occupies the lowest levels in the corporate limits. The heights are held
by Fairlands' Pride. Between these two extremes, the Fairlanders are
graded fairly by the levels they occupy. It is most gratifying to observe
how generally the citizens of this fortunate community aspire to higher
things; and to note that the peculiarly proud spirit of this people is
undoubtedly explained by this happy arrangement which enables every one to
look down upon his neighbor.
The view from the winter home of the Taines was magnificent.
From the window of the room where Mrs. Taine sat, that afternoon, one
could have looked down upon all Fairlands. One might, indeed, have done
better than that. Looking over the wealth of semi-tropical foliage
that--save for the tower of the red-brick Y.M.C.A. building, the white,
municipal flagstaff, and the steeples and belfries of the churches--hid
the city, one might have looked up at the mountains. High, high, above the
low levels occupied by the hill-climbing Fairlanders, the mountains lift
their heads in solemn dignity; looking down upon the loftiest Fairlander
of them all--looking down upon even the Taines themselves.
But the glory of Mrs. Taine's God was not declared by the mountains. She
sat by the window, indeed, but her eyes were upon the open pages of a
book--a popular novel that by some strange legal lapse of the governmental
conscience was--and is still--permitted in print.
The author of the story that so engrossed Mrs. Taine was--in her
opinion--almost as great in literature as Conrad Lagrange, himself. By
those in authority who pronounce upon the worthiness or the unworthiness
of writer folk, he is, to-day, said to be one of the greatest writers of
his generation. He is a realist--a modern of the moderns. His pen has
never been debased by an inartistic and antiquated idealism. His claim to
genius rests securely upon the fact that he has no ideals. He writes for
that select circle of leaders who, like the Taines and the Rutlidges, are
capable of appreciating his art. All of which means that he tells filthy
stories in good English. That his stories are identical in material and
motive with the vile yarns that are permitted only in the lowest class
barber shops and in disreputable bar-rooms, in no way detracts from the
admiring praise of his critics, the generosity of his publishers, or the
appreciation of those for whom he writes.
With tottering step and feeble, shaking limbs, Edward Taine entered the
apartment. As he stood, silently looking at his young wife, his glazed,
red-rimmed eyes fed upon her voluptuous beauty with a look of sullen,
impotent lustfulness that was near insanity. A spasm of coughing seized
him; he gasped and choked, his wasted body shaken and racked, his
dissipated face hideously distorted by the violence of the paroxysm.
Wrecked by the flesh he had lived to gratify, he was now the mocked and
tortured slave of the very devils of unholy passion that he had so often
invoked to serve him. Repulsive as he was, he was an object to awaken the
Mrs. Taine, looking up from her novel, watched him curiously--without
moving or changing her attitude of luxurious repose--without speaking.
Almost, one would have said, a shade of a smile was upon her too perfect
When the man--who had dropped weak and exhausted into a chair--could
speak, he glared at her in a pitiful rage, and, in his throaty whisper,
said with a curse, "You seem to be amused."
Still, she did not speak. A tantalizing smile broke over her face, and she
stretched her beautiful body lazily in her chair, as a well-conditioned
animal stirs in sleek, physical contentment.
Again, with curses, he said, "I'm glad you so enjoy my company. To be
laughed at, even, is better than your damned indifference."
"You misjudge me," she answered in a voice that, low and soft, was still
richly colored by the wealth of vitality that found expression in her
splendid body. "I am not at all indifferent to your condition--quite the
contrary. I am intensely interested. As for the amusement you afford
me--please consider--for three years I have amused you. Can you deny me my
He laughed with a hideously mirthless chuckle as he returned with ghastly
humor, "I have had the worth of my money. I advise you to make the most of
your opportunity. I shall make things as pleasant for you as I can, while
I am with you, but, as you know, I am liable to leave you at any time,
"Pray don't hurry away," she replied sweetly. "I shall miss you so when
you are gone."
He glared at her while she laughed mockingly.
"Where is everybody?" he asked. "The place is as lonely as a tomb."
"Louise is out riding with Jim."
"And what are you doing at home?" he demanded suspiciously.
"Me? Oh I remained to care for you--to keep you from being lonely."
"You lie. You are expecting some one."
"Who is it this time?" he persisted.
"Your insinuations are so unwarranted," she murmured.
"Whom are you expecting?"
"Dear me! how persistently you look for evil," she mocked. "You know
perfectly well that, thanks to my tact, I am considered quite the model
wife. You really should cultivate a more trusting disposition."
Another fit of coughing seized him, and while he suffered she again
watched him with that curious air of interest. When he could command his
voice, he gasped in a choking whisper, "You fiend! I know, and you know
that I know. Am I so innocent that Jack Hanover, and Charlie Rodgers, and
Black Whitman, and as many more of their kind, can make love to you under
my very nose without my knowing it? You take damned good care--posing as a
prude with your fad about immodest dress--that the world sees nothing; but
you have never troubled to hide it from me."
Deliberately, she arose and stood before him. "And why should I trouble to
hide anything from you?" she demanded. "Look at me"--she posed as if to
exhibit for his critical inspection the charm of her physical
beauty--"Look at me; am I to waste all _this_ upon you? You tell me that
you have had your money's worth--surely, the purchase price is mine to
spend as I will. Even suppose that I were as evil as your foul mind sees
me, what right have you to object? Are you so chaste that you dare cast a
stone at me? Am I to have no pleasure in this hell you have made for me
but the horrible pleasure of watching you in the hell you have made for
yourself? Be satisfied that the world does not see your shame--though
it's from no consideration of you, but wholly for myself, that I am
careful. As for my modesty--you know it is not a fad but a necessity."
"That is just it"--he retorted--"it is the way you make a fad of a
necessity! Forced to hide your shoulders, you make a virtue of
concealment. You make capital of the very thing of which you are ashamed."
"And is not that exactly what we all do?" she asked with brutal cynicism.
"Do you not fear the eyes of the world as much as I? Be satisfied that I
play the game of respectability with you--that I give the world no cause
for talk. You may as well be," she finished with devilish frankness, "for
you are past helping yourself in the matter."
As she finished, a servant appeared to announce Mr. Conrad Lagrange; and
the tall, uncouth figure of the novelist stood framed in the doorway; his
sharp eyes regarding them with that peculiar, quizzing, baffling look.
Edward Taine laughed with that horrid chuckle. "Howdy-do, Lagrange--glad
to see you."
Mrs. Taine went forward to greet the caller; saying as she gave him her
hand, "You arrived just in time, Mr. Lagrange; Edward and I were
discussing your latest book. We think it a masterpiece of realistic
fiction. I'm sure it will add immensely to your fame. I hear it talked of
everywhere as the most popular novel of the year. You wonderful man! How
do you do it?"
"I don't do it," answered Conrad Lagrange, looking straight into her
eyes. "It does itself. My books are really true products of the age that
reads them; and--to paraphrase a statesman who was himself a product of
his age--for those who read my books they are just the kind of books that
I would expect such people to read."
Mrs. Taine looked at him with a curious, half-doubtful half-wistful
expression; as though she glimpsed a hint of a meaning that did not appear
upon the surface of his words. "You do say such--such--twisty things," she
murmured. "I don't think I always understand what you mean; but when you
look at me that way, I feel as though my maid had neglected to finish
hooking me up."
The novelist bowed in mock gallantry--a movement which made his ungainly
form appear more grotesque than ever. "Indeed, madam, to my humble eyes,
you are most beautifully and fittingly--ah--hooked up." He turned toward
the invalid. "And how is the fortunate husband of the charming Mrs. Taine
"Fine, Lagrange, fine," said the man--a cough interrupting his words.
"Really, I think that Gertrude is unduly alarmed about my condition. In
this glorious climate, I feel like a three-year-old."
"You _are_ looking quite like yourself," returned the novelist.
"There's nothing at all the matter with me but a slight bronchial
trouble," continued the other, coughing again. Then, to his
wife--"Dearest, won't you ring, please; I'm sure it's time for my toddy;
perhaps Mr. Lagrange will join me in a drink. What'll it be, Lagrange?"
"Nothing, thanks, at this hour."
"No? But you'll pardon me, I'm sure--Doctor's orders you know."
A servant appeared. Mrs. Taine took the glass and carried it to her
husband with her own hand, saying with tender solicitude, "Don't you
think, dear, that you should lie down for a while? Mr. Lagrange will
remain for dinner, you know. You must not tire yourself. I'm sure he will
excuse you. I'll manage somehow to amuse him until Jim and Louise return."
"I believe I will rest a little, Gertrude." He turned to the guest--"While
there is nothing really wrong, you know, Lagrange, still it's best to be
on the safe side."
"By all means," said the novelist, heartily. "You should take care of
yourself. Don't, I beg, permit me to detain you."
Mrs. Taine, with careful tenderness, accompanied her husband to the door.
When he had passed from the room, she faced the novelist, with--"Don't you
think Edward is really very much worse, Mr. Lagrange? I keep up
appearances, you know, but--" she paused with a charming air of perplexed
and worried anxiety.
"Your husband is certainly not a well man, madam--but you keep up
appearances wonderfully. I really don't see how you manage it. But I
suppose that for one of your nature it is natural."
Again, she received his words with that look of doubtful
understanding--as though sensing some meaning beneath the polite,
commonplace surface. Then, as if to lead away from the subject--"You must
really tell me what you think of our California home. I told you in New
York, you remember, that I should ask you, the first thing. We were so
sorry to have missed you last year. Please be frank. Isn't it beautiful?"
"Very beautiful"--he answered--"exquisite taste--perfect harmony with
modern art." His quizzing eyes twinkled, and a caricature of a smile
distorted his face. "It fairly smells to heaven of the flesh pots."
She laughed merrily. "The odor should not be unfamiliar to you," she
retorted. "By all accounts, your royalties are making you immensely rich.
How wonderful it must be to be famous--to know that the whole world is
talking about you! And that reminds me--who is your distinguished looking
friend at the hotel? I was dying to ask you, the other night, but didn't
dare. I know he is somebody famous."
Conrad Lagrange, studying her face, answered reluctantly, "No, he is not
famous; but I fear he is going to be."
"Another twisty saying," she retorted. "But I mean to have an answer, so
you may as well speak plainly. Have you known him long? What is his name?
And what is he--a writer?"
"His name is Aaron King. His mother and I grew up in the same
neighborhood. He is an artist."
"How romantic! Do you mean that he belongs to that old family of New
"He is the last of them. His father was Aaron King--a prominent lawyer
and politician in his state."
"Oh, yes! I remember! Wasn't there something whispered at the time of his
death--some scandal that was hushed up--money stolen--or something? What
was it? I can't think."
"Whatever it was, Mrs. Taine, the son had nothing to do with it. Don't you
think we might let the dead man stay safely buried?" There was an ominous
glint in Conrad Lagrange's eyes.
Mrs. Taine answered hurriedly, "Indeed, yes, Mr. Lagrange. You are right.
And you shall bring Mr. King out to see me. If he is as nice as he looks,
I promise you I will be very good to him. Perhaps I may even help him a
little, through Jim, you know--bring him in touch with the right people
and that sort of thing. What does he paint?"
"Portraits." The novelist's tone was curt.
"Then I am _sure_ I could do a great deal for him."
"And I am sure you would do a great deal _to_ him," said Conrad Lagrange,
She laughed again. "And just what do you mean by that, Mr. Lagrange? I'm
not sure whether it is complimentary or otherwise."
"That depends upon what you consider complimentary," retorted the other.
"As I told you--Aaron King is an artist."
Again, she favored him with that look of doubtful understanding; shaking
her head with mock sadness, and making a long sigh. "Another twister"--she
said woefully--"just when we were getting along so beautifully, too.
Won't you try again?"
"In words of one syllable then--let him alone. He is, to-day, exactly
where I was twenty years ago. For God's sake, let him alone. Play your
game with those who are no loss to the world; or with those who, like me,
are already lost. Let this man do his work. Don't make him what I am."
"Oh dear, oh dear," she laughed, "and these are words of one syllable! You
talk as though I were a dreadful dragon seeking a genius to devour!"
"You are," said the novelist, gruffly.
"How nice. I'm all shivery with delight, already. You really _must_ bring
him now, you see. You might as well, for, if you don't, I'll manage some
other way when you are not around to protect him. You don't want to trust
him to me unprotected, do you?"
"No, and I won't," retorted Conrad Lagrange--which, though Mrs. Taine did
not remark it, was also a twister.
"But after all, perhaps he won't come," she said with mock anxiety.
"Don't worry madam--he's just as much a fool as the rest of us."
As the novelist spoke, they heard the voices of Miss Taine and her escort,
James Rutlidge. Mrs. Taine had only time to shake a finger in playful
warning at her companion, and to whisper, "Mind you bring your artist to
me, or I'll get him when you're not looking; and listen, don't tell Jim
about him; I must see what he is like, first."
At lunch, the next day, Conrad Lagrange greeted the artist in his
bitterest humor. "And how is the famous Aaron King, to-day? I trust that
the greatest portrait painter of the age is well; that the hotel people
have been properly attentive to the comfort of their illustrious guest?
The world of art can ill afford to have its rarest genius suffer from any
lack of the service that is due his greatness."
The young man's face flushed at his companion's mocking tone; but he
laughed. "I missed you at breakfast."
"I was sleeping off the effect of my intellectual debauch--it takes time
to recover from a dinner with 'Materialism,' 'Sensual,' 'Ragtime' and 'The
Age'," the other returned, the menu in his hand. "What slop are they
offering to put in our troughs for this noon's feed?"
Again, Aaron King laughed. But as the novelist, with characteristic
comments and instructions to the waitress, ordered his lunch, the artist
watched him as though waiting with interest his further remarks on the
subject of his evening with the Taines.
When the girl was gone, Conrad Lagrange turned again to his companion, and
from under his scowling brows regarded him much as a withered scientist
might regard an interesting insect under his glass. "Permit me to
congratulate you," he said suggestively--as though the bug had succeeded
in acting in some manner fully expected by the scientist but wholly
disgusting to him.
The artist colored again as he returned curiously, "Upon what?"
"Upon the start you have made toward the goal you hope to reach."
"What do you mean?"
"Mrs. Taine wants you."
"You are pleased to be facetious." Under the eyes of his companion, Aaron
King felt that his reply did not at all conceal his satisfaction.
"I am pleased to be exact. I repeat--Mrs. Taine wants you. I am ordered by
the reigning 'Goddess' of 'Modern Art'--'The Age'--to bring you into her
'Court.' You have won favor in her sight. She finds you good to look at.
She hopes to find you--as good as you look. If you do not disappoint her,
your fame is assured."
"Nonsense," said the artist, somewhat sharply; nettled by the obvious
meaning and by the sneering sarcasm of the novelist's words and tone.
To which the other returned suggestively, "It is precisely because you can
say, 'nonsense,' when you know it is no nonsense at all, but the exact
truth, that your chance for fame is so good, my friend."
"And did some reigning 'Goddess' insure your success and fame?"
The older man turned his peculiar, penetrating, baffling eyes full upon
his companion's face, and in a voice full of cynical sadness answered,
"Exactly so. I paid court to the powers that be. They gave me the reward I
sought; and--they made me what I am."
So it came about that Conrad Lagrange, in due time, introduced Aaron King
to the house on Fairlands Heights. Or,--as the novelist put it,--he,
"Civilization",--in obedience to the commands of her "Royal Highness",
"The Age",--presented the artist at her "Majesty's Court"; that the young
man might sue for the royal favor.
It was, perhaps, a month after the presentation ceremony, that the painter
made what--to him, at least--was an important announcement.
The Mystery of the Rose Garden
The acquaintance of Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange had developed rapidly
The man whom the world had chosen to place upon one of the highest
pinnacles of its literary favor, and who--through some queer twist in his
nature--was so lonely and embittered by his exaltation, seemed to find in
the younger man who stood with the crowd at the foot of the ladder,
something that marked him as different from his fellows.
Whether it was the artist's mother; some sacredly hidden memories of
Lagrange's past; or, perhaps, some fancied recognition of the artist's
genius and its possibilities; the strange man gave no hint; but he
constantly sought the company of Aaron King, with an openness that made
his preference for the painter's society very evident. If he had said
anything about it, at all, Conrad Lagrange, likely, would have accounted
for his interest, upon the ground that his dog, Czar, found the
companionship agreeable. Their friendship, meanwhile--in the eyes of the
world--conferred a peculiar distinction upon the young man--a distinction
not at all displeasing to the ambitious artist; and the value of which he,
To Aaron King--aside from the subtle flattery of the famous novelist's
attention--there was in the personality of the odd character a something
that appealed to him with peculiar strength. Perhaps it was that the man's
words, so often sharp and stinging with bitter sarcasm, seemed always to
carry a hidden meaning that gave, as it were, glimpses of another nature
buried deeply beneath a wreck of ruined dreams and disappointing
achievements. Or, it may have been that, under all the cruel,
world-hardness of the thoughts expressed, the young man sensed an
undertone of pathetic sadness. Or, again, perhaps, it was those rare
moments, when--on some walk that carried them beyond the outskirts of the
town, and brought the mountains into unobstructed view--the clouds of
bitterness were lifted; and the man spoke with poetic feeling of the
realities of life, and of the true glory and mission of the arts;
counseling his friend with an intelligence as true and delicate as it was
rare and fine.
It was nearly two months after Conrad Lagrange had introduced the young
man at the house on Fairlands Heights. The hour was late. The
painter--returning from a dinner and an evening at the Taine home--found
the novelist, with pipe and dog, in a deserted corner of the hotel
veranda. Dropping into the chair that was placed as if it awaited his
coming, the artist--with no word of greeting to the man--bent over the
brown head that was thrust so insistently against his knee, as Czar, with
gently waving tail, made him welcome. Looking affectionately into the
brown eyes while he stroked the silky coat, the young man answered in the
language that all dogs understand; while the novelist, from under his
scowling brows, regarded the two intently.
"They were disappointed that you were not there," said the painter,
presently. "Mrs. Taine, particularly, charged me to say that she will not
forgive, until you do proper penance for your sin."
"I had better company," retorted the other. "Czar and I went for a look at
the mountains. I suppose you have noticed that Czar does not care for the
Fairlands Heights crowd. He is very peculiar in his friendships--for a
dog. His instincts are remarkable."
At the sound of his name, Czar transferred his attentions, for a moment,
to his master; then stretched himself in his accustomed place beside the
The artist laughed. "I did my best to invent an acceptable excuse for you;
but she said it was no use--nothing short of your own personal prayers for
mercy would do."
"Humph; you should have reminded her that I purchased an indulgence some
Again, the other laughed shortly. Watching him closely, Conrad Lagrange
said, in his most sneering tones, "I trust, young man, that you are not
failing to make good use of your opportunities. Let's see--dinner and the
evening five times--afternoon calls as many--with motor trips to points of
interest--and one theater party to Los Angeles--believe me; it is not
often that struggling genius is so rewarded--before it has accomplished
anything bad enough to merit such attention."
"I _have_ been idling most shamefully, haven't I?" said the artist.
"Idling!" rasped the other. "You have been the busiest hay-maker in the
land. These scientific, intensive cultivation farmers of California are
not in your class when it comes to utilizing the sunshine. Take my advice
and continue your present activity without bothering yourself by any
sentimental thoughts of your palette and brushes. The mere vulgar tools of
your craft are of minor importance to one of your genius and opportunity."
Then, in a half embarrassed manner, Aaron King made his announcement.
"That may all be," he said, "but just the same, I am going to work."
"I knew it"--returned the other, in mocking triumph--"I knew it the moment
you came up the steps there. I could tell it by your walk; by the air with
which you carried yourself; by your manner, your voice, your laugh--you
fairly reek of prosperity and achievement--you are going to paint her
"And why not?" retorted the young man, rather sharply, a trifle nettled by
the other's tone.
"Why not, indeed!" murmured the novelist. "Indeed, yes--by all means! It
is so exactly the right thing to do that it is startling. You scale the
heights of fame with such confident certainty in every move that it is
positively uncanny to watch you."
"If one's work is true, I fail to see why one should not take advantage
of any influence that can contribute to his success," said the painter. "I
assure you I am not so wealthy that I can afford to refuse such an
attractive commission. You must admit that the beautiful Mrs. Taine is a
subject worthy the brush of any artist; and I suppose it _is_ conceivable
that I _might_ be ambitious to make a genuinely good job of it."
The older man, as though touched by the evident sincerity of the artist's
words, dropped his sneering tone and spoke earnestly; "The beautiful Mrs.
Taine _is_ a subject worthy a master's brush, my friend. But take my word
for it, if you paint her portrait _as a master would paint it_, you will
sign your own death warrant--so far as your popularity and fame as an
"I don't believe it," declared Aaron King, flatly.
"I know you don't. If you _did_, and still accepted the commission, you
wouldn't be fit to associate with honest dogs like Czar, here."
"But why"--persisted the artist--"why do you insist that my portrait of
Mrs. Taine will be disastrous to my success, just to the degree that it is
a work of genuine merit?"
To which the novelist answered, cryptically, "If you have not the eyes to
see the reason, it will matter little whether you know it or not. If you
_do_ see the reason, and, still, produce a portrait that pleases your
sitter, then you will have paid the price; you will receive your reward;
and"--the speaker's tone grew sad and bitter--"you will be what I am."
With this, he arose abruptly and, without another word, stalked into the
hotel; the dog following with quiet dignity, at his heels.
From the beginning of their acquaintance, almost, the novelist and the
artist had dropped into the habit of taking their meals together. At
breakfast, the next morning, Conrad Lagrange reopened the conversation he
had so abruptly closed the night before. "I suppose," he said, "that you
will set up a studio, and do the thing in proper style?"
"Mrs. Taine told me of a place that is for rent, and that she thinks would
be just the thing," returned the young man. "It is across the road from
that big grove owned by Mr. Taine. I was wondering if you would care to
walk out that way with me this morning and help me look it over."
The older man's hearty acceptance of the invitation assured the artist of
his genuine interest, and, an hour later--after Aaron King had interviewed
the agent and secured the keys, with the privilege of inspecting the
premises--the two set out together.
They found the place on the eastern edge of the town; half-hidden by the
orange groves that surrounded it on every side. The height of the palms
that grew along the road in front, the pepper and eucalyptus trees that
overshadowed the house, and the size of the orange-trees that shut in the
little yard with walls of green, marked the place as having been
established before the wealth of the far-away East discovered the peculiar
charm of the Fairlands hills. The lawn, the walks, and the drive were
unkempt and overgrown with weeds. The house itself,--a small cottage with
a wide porch across the front and on the side to the west,--unpainted for
many seasons, was tinted by the brush of the elements, a soft and restful
But the artist and his friend, as they approached, exclaimed aloud at the
beauty of the scene; for, as if rejoicing in their freedom from restraint,
the roses had claimed the dwelling, so neglected by man, as their own. Up
every post of the porch they had climbed; over the porch roof, they spread
their wealth of color; over the gables, screening the windows with
graceful lattice of vine and branch and leaf and bloom; up to the ridge
and over the cornice, to the roof of the house itself--even to the top of
the chimney they had won their way--and there, as if in an ecstasy of
wanton loveliness, flung, a spray of glorious, perfumed beauty high into
On the front porch, the men turned to look away over the gentle slope of
the orange groves, on the other side of the road, to the towering peaks
and high ridges of the mountains--gleaming cold and white in the winter of
their altitude. To the northeast, San Bernardino reared his head in lonely
majesty--looking directly down upon the foothills and the feeble dwellers
in the valley below. Far beyond, and surrounded by the higher ridges and
peaks and canyons of the range, San Gorgonio sat enthroned in the
skies--the ruler of them all. From the northeast, westward, they viewed
the mighty sweep of the main range to Cajon Pass and the San Gabriels,
beyond, with San Antonio, Cucamonga, and their sister peaks lifting their
heads above their fellows. In the immediate landscape, no house or
building was to be seen. The dark-green mass of the orange groves hid
every work of man's building between them and the tawny foothills save the
gable and chimney of a neighboring cottage on the west.
"Listen"--said Conrad Lagrange, in a low tone, moved as always by the
grandeur and beauty of the scene--"listen! Don't you hear them calling?
Don't you feel the mountains sending their message to these poor insects
who squirm and wriggle in this bit of muck men call their world? God, man!
if only we, in our work, would heed the message of the hills!"
The novelist spoke with such intensity of feeling--with such bitter
sadness and regret in his voice--that Aaron King could not reply.
Turning, the artist unlocked the door, and they entered the cottage.
They found the interior of the house well arranged, and not in bad repair.
"Just the thing for a bachelor's housekeeping"--was the painter's
verdict--"but for a studio--impossible," and there was a touch of regret
in his voice.
"Let's continue our exploration," said the novelist, hopefully. "There's a
barn out there." And they went out of the house, and down the drive on the
eastern side of the yard.
Here, again, they saw the roses in full possession of the place--by man,
deserted. From foundation to roof, the building--a small simple
structure--was almost hidden under a mass of vines. There was one large
room below; with a loft above. The stable was in the rear. Built,
evidently, at a later date than the house, the building was in better
repair. The walls, so hidden without by the roses, were well sided; the
floors were well laid. The big, sliding, main door opened on the drive in
front; between it and the corner, to the west, was a small door; and in
the western end, a window.
Looking curiously from this window, Conrad Lagrange uttered an
exclamation, and hurried abruptly from the building. The artist followed.
From the end of the barn, and extending, the full width of the building,
to the west line of the yard, was a rose garden--such a garden as Aaron
King had never seen. On three sides, the little plot was enclosed by a
tall hedge of Ragged Robins; above the hedge, on the south and west, was
the dark-green wall of the orange grove; on the north, the pepper and
eucalyptus trees in the yard, and a view of the distant mountains; and on
the east, the vine-hidden end of the barn. Against the southern
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