The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck
James Branch Cabell
Part 5 out of 5
"A great many of these stories," Anne repeated, "aren't true! A great
many aren't! That ought to be consoling, oughtn't it?" She spoke without
a trace of bitterness.
"I express myself very badly. What I really mean, what I am aiming at,
is that I wish you would let me answer any questions you might like to
ask, because I will answer them truthfully. Very few people would. You
see, you go about the world so like a gray-stone saint who has just
stepped down from her niche for the fraction of a second," he added, as
with venom, "that it is only human nature to dislike you."
Anne was not angry. It had come to her, quite as though she were
considering some other woman, that what the man said was, in a fashion,
"There is sunlight and fresh air in the street," John Charteris had been
wont to declare, "and there is a culvert at the corner. I think it is a
mistake for us to emphasize the culvert."
So he had trained her to disbelieve in its existence. She saw this now.
It did not matter. It seemed to her that nothing mattered any more.
"I've only one question, I think. Why did you do it?" She spoke with
bright amazement in her eyes.
"Oh, my dear, my dear!" he seriocomically deplored. "Why, because it was
such a noble thing to do. It was so like the estimable young man in a
play, you know, who acknowledges the crime he never committed and takes
a curtain-call immediately afterwards. In fine, I simply observed to
myself, with the late Monsieur de Bergerac, 'But what a gesture!'" And
he parodied an actor's motion in this role.
She stayed unsmiling and patiently awaiting veracity. Anne did not
understand that Colonel Musgrave was telling the absolute truth. And so,
"You haven't _any_ sense of humor," he lamented. "You used to have a
deal, too, before you took to being conscientiously cheerful, and
diffusing sweetness and light among your cowering associates. Well, it
was because it helped him a little. Oh, I am being truthful now. I had
some reason to dislike Jack Charteris, but odd as it is, I know to-day I
never did. I ought to have, perhaps. But I didn't."
"My friend, you are being almost truthful. But I want the truth entire."
"It isn't polite to disbelieve people," he reproved her; "or at the very
least, according to the best books on etiquette, you ought not to do it
audibly. Would you mind if I smoked? I could be more veracious then.
There is something in tobacco that makes frankness a matter of course. I
He produced an amber holder, fitted a cigarette into it, and presently
inhaled twice. He said, with a curt voice:
"The reason, naturally, was you. You may remember certain things that
happened just before John Charteris came and took you. Oh, that is
precisely what he did! You are rather a narrow-minded woman now, in
consequence--or in my humble opinion, at least--and deplorably superior.
It pleased the man to have in his house--if you will overlook my
venturing into metaphor,--one cool room very sparsely furnished where he
could come when the mood seized him. He took the raw material from me,
wherewith to build that room, because he wanted that room. I acquiesced,
because I had not the skill wherewith to fight him."
Anne understood him now, as with a great drench of surprise. And fear
was what she felt in chief when she saw for just this moment as though
it had lightened, the man's face transfigured, and tender, and strange
"I tried to buy your happiness, to--yes, just to keep you blind
indefinitely. Had the price been heavier, I would have paid it the more
gladly. Fate has played a sorry trick. _You_ would never have seen
through him. My dear, I have wanted very often to shake you," he said.
And she knew, in a glorious terror, that she desired him to shake her,
and as she had never desired anything else in life.
"Oh, well, I am just a common, ordinary, garden-sort of fool. The
Musgraves always are, in one fashion or another," he sulkily concluded.
And now the demigod was merely Rudolph Musgrave again, and she was not
afraid any longer, but only inexpressibly fordone.
"Isn't that like a woman?" he presently demanded of the June heavens.
"To drag something out of a man with inflexibility, monomania and moral
grappling-irons, and _then_ not like it! Oh, very well! I am disgusted
by your sex's axiomatic variability. I shall take Harry to his fond
mamma at once."
She did not say anything. A certain new discovery obsessed her like a
piece of piercing music.
Then Rudolph Musgrave gave the tiniest of gestures downward. "And I have
told you this, in chief, because we two remember him. He wanted you. He
took you. You are his. You will always be. He gave you just a fragment
of himself. That fragment was worth more than everything I had to
Anne very carefully arranged her roses on the ivy-covered grave. "I do
not know--meanwhile, I give these to our master. And my real widowhood
And as she rose he looked at her across the colorful mound, and smiled,
half as with embarrassment. A lie, he thought, might ameliorate the
situation, and he bravely hazarded a prodigious one. "Is it necessary to
tell you that Jack loved you? And that the others never really counted?"
He rejoiced to see that Anne believed him. "No," she assented, "no, not
with him. Oddly enough, I am proud of that, even now. But--don't you
see?--I never loved him. I was just his priestess--the priestess of a
stucco god! Otherwise, I would know it wasn't his fault, but altogether
that of--the others."
He grimaced and gave a bantering flirt of his head. He said, with
"Would it do any good to quote Lombroso, and Maudsley, and Gall, and
Krafft-Ebing, and Flechsig, and so on? and to tell you that the
excessive use of one brain faculty must necessarily cause a lack of
nutriment to all the other brain-cells? It would be rather up-to-date.
There is a deal I could tell you also as to what poisonous blood he
inherited; but to do this I have not the right." And then Rudolph
Musgrave said in all sincerity: "'A wild, impetuous whirlwind of passion
and faculty slumbered quiet there; such heavenly _melody_ dwelling in
the heart of it.'"
She had put aside alike the drolling and the palliative suggestion, like
flimsy veils. "I think it wouldn't do any good whatever. When growing
things are broken by the whirlwind, they don't, as a rule, discuss the
theory of air-currents as a consolation. Men such as he was take what
they desire. It isn't fair--to us others. But it's true, for all that--"
Their eyes met warily; and for no reason which they shared in common
they smiled together.
"Poor little Lady of Shalott," said Rudolph Musgrave, "the mirror is
cracked from side to side, isn't it? I am sorry. For life is not so
easily disposed of. And there is only life to look at now, and life is a
bewilderingly complex business, you will find, because the laws of it
are so childishly simple--and implacable. And one of these laws seems to
be that in our little planet, might makes right--"
He stayed to puff his cigarette.
"Oh, Rudolph dear, don't--don't be just a merry-Andrew!" she cried
impulsively, before he had time to continue, which she perceived he
meant to do, as if it did not matter.
And he took her full meaning, quite as he had been used in the old times
to discourse upon a half-sentence. "I am afraid I am that, rather," he
said, reflectively. "But then Clarice and I could hardly have weathered
scandal except by making ourselves particularly agreeable to everybody.
And somehow I got into the habit of making people laugh. It isn't very
difficult. I am rather an adept at telling stories which just graze
impropriety, for instance. You know, they call me the social triumph of
my generation. And people are glad to see me because I am 'so awfully
funny' and 'simply killing' and so on. And I suppose it tells in the
long run--like the dyer's hand, you know."
"It does tell." Anne was thinking it would always tell. And that, too,
would be John Charteris's handiwork.
Ensued a silence. Rudolph Musgrave was painstakingly intent upon his
cigarette. A nestward-plunging bird called to his mate impatiently.
Then Anne shook her head impatiently.
"Come, while I'm thinking, I will drive you back to Lichfield."
"Oh, no; that wouldn't do at all," he said, with absolute decision. "No,
you see I have to return the boy. And I can't quite imagine your
carriage waiting at the doors of 'that Mrs. Pendomer.'"
"Oh," Anne fleetingly thought, "_he_ would have understood." But aloud
she only said: "And do you think I hate her any longer? Yes, it is true
I hated her until to-day, and now I'm just sincerely sorry for her. For
she and I--and you and even the child yonder--and all that any of us is
to-day--are just so many relics of John Charteris. Yet he has done with
She said this with an inhalation of the breath; but she did not look at
"Take care!" he said, with an unreasonable harshness. "For I forewarn
you I am imagining vain things."
"I'm not afraid, somehow." But Anne did not look at him.
He saw as with a rending shock how like the widow of John Charteris was
to Anne Willoughby; and unforgotten pulses, very strange and irrational
and dear, perplexed him sorely. He debated, and flung aside the
cigarette as an out-moded detail of his hobbling part.
"You say I did a noble thing for you. I tried to. But quixotism has its
price. To-day I am not quite the man who did that thing. John Charteris
has set his imprint too deep upon us. We served his pleasure. We are not
any longer the boy and girl who loved each other."
She waited in the rising twilight with a yet averted face. The world was
motionless, ineffably expectant, as it seemed to him. And the
disposition of all worldly affairs, the man dimly knew, was very
anciently prearranged by an illimitable and, upon the whole, a kindly
So that, "My dear, my dear!" he swiftly said: "I don't think I can word
just what my feeling is for you. Always my view of the world has been
that you existed, and that some other people existed--as accessories--"
Then he was silent for a heart-beat, appraising her. His hands lifted
toward her and fell within the moment, as if it were in impotence.
Anne spoke at last, and the sweet voice of her was very glad and proud
"My friend, remember that I have not thanked you. You have done the most
foolish and--the manliest thing I ever knew a man to do, just for my
sake. And I have accepted it as if it were a matter of course. And I
shall always do so. Because it was your right to do this very brave and
foolish thing for me. I know you joyed in doing it. Rudolph ... you
cannot understand how glad I am you joyed in doing it."
Their eyes met. It is not possible to tell you all they were aware of
through that moment, because it is a knowledge so rarely apprehended,
and even then for such a little while, that no man who has sensed it can
remember afterward aught save the splendor and perfection of it.
* * * * *
And yet Anne looked back once. There was just the tall, stark shaft, and
on it "John Charteris." The thing was ominous and vast, all colored like
wet gravel, save where the sunlight tipped it with clean silver very
high above their reach.
"Come," she quickly said to Rudolph Musgrave; "come, for I am afraid."
And are we then to leave them with glad faces turned to that new day
wherein, above the ashes of old errors and follies and mischances and
miseries, they were to raise the structure of such a happiness as earth
rarely witnesses? Would it not be, instead, a grateful task more fully
to depicture how Rudolph Musgrave's love of Anne won finally to its
reward, and these two shared the evening of their lives in tranquil
service of unswerving love come to its own at last?
Undoubtedly, since the espousal of one's first love--by oneself--is a
phenomenon rarely encountered outside of popular fiction, it would be a
very gratifying task to record that Anne and Rudolph Musgrave were
married that autumn; that subsequently Lichfield was astounded by the
fervor of their life-long bliss; that Colonel and (the second) Mrs.
Musgrave were universally respected, in a word, and their dinner-parties
were always prominently chronicled by the _Lichfield Courier-Herald_;
and that Anne took excellent care of little Roger, and that she and her
second husband proved eminently suited to each other.
But, as a matter of fact, not one of these things ever happened....
"I have been thinking it over," Anne deplored. "Oh, Rudolph dear, I
perfectly realize you are the best and noblest man I ever knew. And I
have always loved you very much, my dear; that is why I could never
abide poor Mrs. Pendomer. And yet--it is a feeling I simply can't
"That you belong to Jack in spite of everything?" the colonel said.
"Why, but of course! I might have known that Jack would never have
allowed any simple incidental happening such as his death to cause his
missing a possible trick."
Anne would have comforted Rudolph Musgrave; but, to her discomfiture,
the colonel was grinning, however ruefully.
"I was thinking," he stated, "of the only time that I ever, to my
knowledge, talked face to face with the devil. It is rather odd how
obstinately life clings to the most hackneyed trick of ballad-makers;
and still naively pretends to enrich her productions by the stale device
of introducing a refrain--so that the idlest remarks of as much as three
years ago keep cropping up as the actual gist of the present!...
However, were it within my power, I would evoke Amaimon straightway now
to come up yonder, through your hearthrug, and to answer me quite
honestly if I did not tell him on the beach at Matocton that this,
precisely this, would be the outcome of your knowing everything!"
"I told you that I couldn't, quite, _explain_----" Anne said.
"Eh, but I can, my dear," he informed her. "The explanation is that
Lichfield bore us, shaped us, and made us what we are. We may not enjoy
a monopoly of the virtues here in Lichfield, but there is one trait at
least which the children of Lichfield share in common. We are loyal. We
give but once; and when we give, we give all that we have; and when we
have once given it, neither common-sense, nor a concourse of
expostulating seraphim, nor anything else in the universe, can induce us
to believe that a retraction, or even a qualification, of the gift would
be quite worthy of us."
"But that--that's foolish. Why, it's unreasonable," Anne pointed out.
"Of course it is. And that is why I am proud of Lichfield. And that is
why you are to-day Jack's wife and always will be just Jack's wife--and
why to-day I am Patricia's husband--and why Lichfield to-day is
Lichfield. There is something braver in life than to be just reasonable,
thank God! And so, we keep the faith, my dear, however obsolete we find
fidelity to be. We keep to the old faith--we of Lichfield, who have
given hostages to the past. We remember even now that we gave freely in
an old time, and did not haggle.... And so, we are proud--yes! we are
consumedly proud, and we know that we have earned the right to be
A little later Colonel Musgrave said:
"And yet--it takes a monstrous while to dispose of our universe's
subtleties. I have loved you my whole life long, as accurately as we
can phrase these matters. There is no--no _reasonable_ reason why you
should not marry me now; and you would marry me if I pressed it. And I
do not press it. Perhaps it all comes of our both having been reared in
Lichfield. Perhaps that is why I, too, have been 'thinking it over.' You
see," he added, with a smile, "the rivet in grandfather's neck is not
lightly to be ignored, after all. No, you do not know what I am talking
about, my dear. And--well, anyhow, I belong to Patricia. Upon the whole,
I am glad that I belong to Patricia; for Patricia and what Patricia
meant to me was the one vital thing in a certain person's rather
hand-to-mouth existence--oh, yes, in spite of everything! I know it now.
Anne Charteris," the colonel cried, "I wouldn't marry you or any other
woman breathing, even though you were to kneel and implore me upon the
knees of a centipede. For I belong to Patricia; and the rivet stays
unbroken, after all."
"Oh, and am I being very foolish again?" Anne asked. "For I have been
remembering that when--when Jack was not quite truthful about some
things, you know,--the truth he hid was always one which would have hurt
me. And I like to believe that was, at least in part, the reason he hid
it, Rudolph. So he purchased my happiness--well, at ugly prices perhaps.
But he purchased it, none the less; and I had it through all those
years. So why shouldn't I--after all--be very grateful to him? And,
besides"--her voice broke--"besides, he was Jack, you know. He belonged
to me. What does it matter what he did? He belonged to me, and I loved
And to the colonel's discomfort Anne began to cry.
"There, there!" he said, "so the real truth is out at last. And tears
don't help very much. It does seem a bit unfair, my dear, I know. But
that is simply because you and I are living in a universe which has
never actually committed itself, under any penalizing bond, to be
entirely candid as to the laws by which it is conducted."
* * * * *
But it may be that Rudolph Musgrave voiced quite obsolete views. For he
said this at a very remote period--when the Beef Trust was being
"investigated" in Washington; when an excited Iberian constabulary was
still hunting the anarchists who had attempted to assassinate the young
King and Queen of Spain upon their wedding-day; when the rebuilding of
an earthquake-shattered San Francisco was just beginning to be talked of
as a possibility; and when editorials were mostly devoted to discussion
of what Mr. Bryan would have to say about bi-metallism when he returned
from his foreign tour.
And, besides, it was Rudolph Musgrave's besetting infirmity always to
shrink--under shelter of whatever grandiloquent excuse--from making
changes. One may permissibly estimate this foible to have weighed with
him a little, even now, just as in all things it had always weighed in
Lichfield with all his generation. An old custom is not lightly broken.
PART TEN - IMPRIMIS
"So let us laugh, lest vain rememberings
Breed, as of old, some rude bucolic cry
Of awkward anguishes, of dreams that die
Without decorum, of Love lacking wings
Yet striving you-ward in his flounderings
Eternally,--as now, even when I lie
As I lie now, who know that you and I
Exist and heed not lesser happenings.
"I was. I am. I will be. Eh, no doubt
For some sufficient cause, I drift, defer,
Equivocate, dream, hazard, grow more stout,
Age, am no longer Love's idolater,--
And yet I could and would not live without
Your faith that heartens and your doubts which spur."
LIONEL CROCHARD. _Palinodia_.
So weeks and months, and presently irrevocable years, passed tranquilly;
and nothing very important seemed to happen nowadays, either for good or
ill; and Rudolph Musgrave was content enough.
True, there befell, and with increasing frequency, periods when one must
lie abed, and be coaxed into taking interminable medicines, and be
ministered unto generally, because one was of a certain age nowadays,
and must be prudent. But even such necessities, these underhanded
indignities of time, had their alleviations. Trained nurses, for
example, were uncommonly well-informed and agreeable young women, when
you came to know them--and quite lady-like, too, for all that in our
topsy-turvy days these girls had to work for their living. Unthinkable
as it seemed, the colonel found that his night-nurse, a Miss Ramsay, was
actually by birth a Ramsay of Blenheim; and for a little the discovery
depressed him. But to be made much of, upon whatever terms, was always
treatment to which the colonel submitted only too docilely. And,
besides, in this queer, comfortable, just half-waking state, the
colonel found one had the drollest dreams, evolving fancies such as were
really a credit to one's imagination....
For instance, one very often imagined that Patricia was more close at
hand nowadays.... No, she was not here in the room, of course, but
outside, in the street, at the corner below, where the letterbox stood.
Yes, she was undoubtedly there, the colonel reflected drowsily. And they
had been so certain her return could only result in unhappiness, and
they were so wise, that whilst she waited for her opportunity Patricia
herself began to be a little uneasy. She had patrolled the block six
times before the chance came.
And it seemed to Rudolph Musgrave, drowsily pleased by his own
inventiveness, that Patricia was glad this afternoon was so hot that no
one was abroad except the small boy at the corner house, who sat upon
the bottom porch-step, and, as children so often do, appeared intently
to appraise the world at large with an inexplicable air of
"Now think how Rudolph would feel,"--the colonel whimsically played at
reading Patricia's reflection--"if I were to be arrested as a suspicious
character--that's what the newspapers always call them, I think--on his
very doorstep! And he must have been home a half-hour ago at least,
because I know it's after five. But the side-gate's latched, and I can't
ring the door-bell--if only because it would be too ridiculous to have
to ask the maid to tell Colonel Musgrave his wife wanted to see him.
Besides, I don't know the new house-girl. I wish now we hadn't let old
Mary go, even though she was so undependable about thorough-cleaning."
And it seemed to Rudolph Musgrave that Patricia was tired of pacing
before the row of houses, each so like the other, and compared herself
to Gulliver astray upon a Brobdingnagian bookshelf which held a "library
set" of some huge author. She had lost interest, too, in the new house
upon the other side.
"If things were different I would have to call on them. But as it is, I
am spared that bother at least," said Patricia, just as if being dead
did not change people at all.
Then a colored woman, trim and frillily-capped, came out of the watched
house. She bore some eight or nine letters in one hand, and fanned
herself with them in a leisurely flat-footed progress to the mailbox at
the lower corner.
"She looks capable," was Patricia's grudging commentary, in slipping
through the doorway into the twilight of the hall. "But it isn't safe to
leave the front-door open like this. One never knows--No, I can tell by
the look of her she's the sort that can't be induced to sleep on the
lot, and takes mysterious bundles home at night."
And it seemed to Rudolph Musgrave, now in the full flow of this droll
dream, that Patricia resentfully noted her front-hall had been "meddled
with." This much alone might Patricia observe in a swift transit to the
She waited there until the maid returned; and registered to the woman's
credit the discreet soft closing of the front-door and afterward the
well-nigh inaudible swish of the rear door of the dining-room as the
maid went back into the kitchen.
"In any event," Patricia largely conceded, "she probably doesn't clash
the knives and forks in the pantry after supper, like she was hostile
armaments with any number of cutlasses apiece. I remember Rudolph simply
couldn't stand it when we had Ethel."
So much was satisfactory. Only--her parlor was so altered!
There was--to give you just her instantaneous first impression--so
little in it. Broad spaces of plain color showed everywhere; and
Patricia's ideal of what a parlor should be, as befitted the chatelaine
of a fine home in Lichfield, had always been the tangled elegancies of
the front show-window of a Woman's Exchange for Fancy Work. The room had
even been repapered--odiously, as she considered; and the shiny floor of
it boasted just three inefficient rugs, like dingy rafts upon a sea of
very strong coffee.
Patricia looked in vain for her grandiose plush-covered chairs, her
immaculate "tidies," and the proud yellow lambrequin, embroidered in
high relief with white gardenias, which had formerly adorned the
mantelpiece. The heart of her hungered for her unforgotten and
unforgettable "watered-silk" papering wherein white roses bloomed
exuberantly against a yellow background--which deplorably faded if you
did not keep the window-shades down, she remembered--and she wanted back
her white thick comfortable carpet which hid the floor completely, so
that everywhere you trod upon the buxomest of stalwart yellow roses,
each bunch of which was lavishly tied with wind-blown ribbons.
Then, too, her cherished spinning-wheel, at least two hundred and fifty
years old, which had looked so pretty after she had gilded it and added
a knot of pink sarsenet, was departed; and gone as well was the
mirror-topped table, with its array of china swan and frogs and
water-lilies artistically grouped about its speckless surface. Even her
prized engraving of "Michael Angelo Buonarotti"--contentedly regarding
his just finished Moses, while a pope tiptoed into the room through a
side-door--had been removed, with all its splendors of red-plush and
Just here and there, in fine, like a familiar face in a crowd, she could
discover some one of her more sedately-colored "parlor ornaments"; and
the whole history of it--its donor or else its price, the gestures of
the shopman, even what sort of weather it was when she and Rudolph found
"exactly what I've been looking for" in the shop-window, and the
Stapyltonian, haggling over the price with which Patricia had
bargained--such unimportant details as these now vividly awakened in
recollection.... In fine, this room was not her parlor at all, and in it
Patricia was lonely.... Yes, yes, she would be nowadays, the colonel
reflected, for he himself had never been in thorough sympathy with all
the changes made by Roger's self-assured young wife.
Thus it was with the first floor of the house, through which Patricia
strayed with uniform discomfort. This place was home no longer.
Thus it was with the first floor of the house. Everywhere the equipments
were strange, or at best arranged not quite as Patricia would have
placed them. Yet they had not any look of being recently purchased. Even
that hideous stair-carpet was a little worn, she noted, as noiselessly
she mounted to the second story.
The house was perfectly quiet, save for a tiny shrill continuance of
melody that somehow seemed only to pierce the silence, not to dispel it.
Rudolph--of all things!--had in her absence acquired a canary. And
everybody knew what an interminable nuisance a canary was.
She entered the front room. It had been her bedroom ever since her
marriage. She remembered this as with a gush of defiant joy.
So it seemed to Rudolph Musgrave that Patricia came actually into the
room that had been hers....
A canary was singing there, very sweet and shrill and as in defiant joy.
Its trilling seemed to fill the room. In the brief pauses of his song
the old clock, from which Rudolph had removed the pendulum on the night
of Agatha's death would interpose an obstinate slow ticking; and
immediately the clock-noise would be drowned in melody. Otherwise the
room was silent.
In the alcove stood the bed which had been Patricia's. Intent upon its
occupant were three persons, with their backs turned to her. One
Patricia could easily divine to be a doctor; he was twiddling a
hypodermic syringe between his fingers, and the set of his shoulders was
that of acquiescence. Profiles of the others she saw: one a passive
nurse in uniform, who was patiently chafing the right hand of the bed's
occupant; the other a lean-featured red-haired stranger, who sat
crouched in his chair and held the dying man's left hand.
For in the bed, supported by many pillows, and facing Patricia, was a
dying man. He was very old, having thick tumbled hair which, like his
two-weeks' beard, was uniformly white. His eyelids drooped a trifle, so
that he seemed to meditate concerning something ineffably remote and
serious, yet not, upon the whole, unsatisfactory. You saw and heard the
intake of each breath, so painfully drawn, and expelled with manifest
relief, as if the man were very tired of breathing. Yet the bedclothes
heaved with his vain efforts just to keep on breathing. And sometimes
his parted lips would twitch curiously.... Rudolph Musgrave, too, could
see all this quite plainly, in the mirror over the mantel.
The doctor spoke. "Yes--it's the end, Professor Musgrave," he said. For
this lean-featured red-haired stranger to whom the doctor spoke, a
pedagogue to his finger-tips, had once been Patricia's dearly-purchased,
chubby baby Roger.
And Rudolph Musgrave stayed motionless. He knew Patricia was there; but
that fact no longer seemed either very strange or even unnatural; and
besides, it was against some law for him to look at her until Patricia
had called him.... Meanwhile, just opposite, above the mirror, and
facing him, was the Stuart portrait of young Gerald Musgrave. This
picture had now hung there for a great many years. The boy still smiled
at you in undiminished raillery, even though he smiled ambiguously, and
with a sort of humorous sadness in his eyes. Once, very long ago--when
the picture hung downstairs--some one had said that Gerald Musgrave's
life was barren. The dying man could not now recollect, quite, who that
Rudolph Musgrave stayed motionless. He comprehended that he was dying.
The greatest of all changes was at hand; and he, who had always shrunk
from making changes, was now content enough.... Indeed, with Rudolph
Musgrave living had always been a vaguely dissatisfactory business, a
hand-to-mouth proceeding which he had scrambled through, as he saw now,
without any worthy aim or even any intelligible purpose. He had nothing
very heinous with which to reproach himself; but upon the other side, he
had most certainly nothing of which to be particularly proud.
So this was all that living came to! You heard of other people being
rapt by splendid sins and splendid virtues, and you anticipated that
to-morrow some such majestic energy would transfigure your own living,
and change everything: but the great adventure never arrived, somehow;
and the days were frittered away piecemeal, what with eating your
dinner, and taking a wholesome walk, and checking up your bank account,
and dovetailing scraps of parish registers and land-patents and county
records into an irrefutable pedigree, and seeing that your clothes were
pressed, and looking over the newspapers--and what with other
infinitesimal avocations, each one innocent, none of any particular
importance, and each consuming an irrevocable moment of the allotted
time--until at last you found that living had not, necessarily, any
climax at all.... And Patricia would call him presently.
Once, very long ago, some one had said that the most pathetic tragedy in
life was to get nothing in particular out of it. The dying man could not
now recollect, quite, who that person was.
He wondered, vaguely, what might have been the outcome if Rudolph
Musgrave had whole-heartedly sought, not waited for, the great
adventure; if Rudolph Musgrave had put--however irrationally--more
energy and less second-thought into living; if Rudolph Musgrave had not
been contented to be just a Musgrave of Matocton.... Well, it was too
late now. He viewed his whole life now, in epitome, and much as you may
see at night the hackneyed vista from your window leap to incisiveness
under the lash of lightning. No, the life of Rudolph Musgrave had never
risen to the plane of dignity, not even to that of seeming to Rudolph
Musgrave a connected and really important transaction on Rudolph
Musgrave's part. Yet Lichfield, none the better for Rudolph Musgrave's
having lived, was none the worse, thank heaven! And there were younger
men in Lichfield--men who did not mean to fail as Rudolph Musgrave and
his fellows all had failed.... Eh, yes, what was the toast that Rudolph
Musgrave drank, so long ago, to the new Lichfield which these younger
men were making?
"To this new South, that has not any longer need of me or of my kind.
"To this new South! She does not gaze unwillingly, nor too complacently,
upon old years, and dares concede that but with loss of manliness may
any man encroach upon the heritage of a dog or of a trotting-horse, and
consider the exploits of an ancestor to guarantee an innate and personal
"For to her all former glory is less a jewel than a touchstone, and with
her portion of it daily she appraises her own doing, and without vain
speech. And her high past she values now, in chief, as fit foundation of
that edifice whereon she labors day by day, and with augmenting
Yes, that was it. And it was true. Yet Rudolph Musgrave's life on earth
was ending now--the only life that he would ever have on earth--and it
had never risen to the plane of seeming even to Rudolph Musgrave a
really important transaction on Rudolph Musgrave's part....
Then Patricia spoke. Low and very low she called to Olaf, and the dim,
wistful eyes of Rudolph Musgrave lifted, and gazed full upon her
standing there, and were no longer wistful. And the man made as though
to rise, and could not, and his face was very glad.
For in the dying man had awakened the pulses of an old, strange,
half-forgotten magic, and all his old delight in the girl who had shared
in and had provoked this ancient wonder-working, together with a quite
new consciousness of the inseparability of Patricia's foibles from his
existence; so that he was incuriously aware of his imbecility in not
having known always that Patricia must come back some day, not as a
glorious, unfamiliar angel, but unaltered.
"I am glad you haven't changed.... Why, but of course! Nothing would
have counted if you had changed--not even for the better, Patricia. For
you and what you meant to me were real. That only was real--that we, not
being demigods, but being just what we were, once climbed together very
high, where we could glimpse the stars--and nothing else can ever be of
any importance. What we inherited was too much for us, was it not, my
dear? And now it is not formidable any longer. Oh, but I loved you very
greatly, Patricia! And now at last, my dear, I seem to understand--as in
that old, old time when you and I were glad together----"
But he did not say this aloud, for it seemed to him that he stood in a
cool, pleasant garden, and that Patricia came toward him through the
long shadows of sunset. The lacy folds and furbelows and
semi-transparencies that clothed her were now tinged with gold and now,
as a hedge or a flower bed screened her from the level rays, were
softened into multitudinous graduations of grays and mauves and violets.
They did not speak. But in her eyes he found compassion and such
tenderness as awed him; and then, as a light is puffed out, they were
the eyes of a friendly stranger. He understood, for an instant, that of
necessity it was decreed time must turn back and everything, even
Rudolph Musgrave, be just as it had been when he first saw Patricia. For
they had made nothing of their lives; and so, they must begin all over
"_Failure is not permitted_" he was saying....
"_You're Cousin Rudolph, aren't you?_" she asked....
And Rudolph Musgrave knew he had forgotten something of vast import, but
what this knowledge had pertained to he no longer knew. Then Rudolph
Musgrave noted, with a delicious tingling somewhere about his heart,
that her hair was like the reflection of a sunset in rippling
waters--only many times more beautiful, of course--and that her mouth
was an inconsiderable trifle, a scrap of sanguine curves, and that her
eyes were purple glimpses of infinity.
Back to Full Books