I asked why those conditions could not now be indicated.
"You are all alike," she said bitterly. "All alike in your curiosity. I prefer to put them in writing."
I assured her of the inviolability of her confidence and rose.
"Stay," she commanded. "If that girl asks you any impertinent questions send her to me."
Her hands moved quickly as she spoke. The concentration of her voice alarmed me so that I could think of nothing to say. I bowed and withdrew. It was only when I was once outside the room that I recalled, curiously enough, at no time during my interview had I seen Mrs. Drainger's face.
Miss Emily was not visible. I was about to search for the street door when, in her usual extraordinary manner, she appeared out of the gloom.
"What did she want?" she demanded, almost fiercely, her eyes holding me as though they were hands.
I explained as best I could why I could not tell her.
"Humph!" she ejaculated, and without further speech led me to the door.
"There will be fees, I suppose," she said contemptuously, staring at her hand upon the doorknob. "Do not expect much. You are the only person who has entered this house for a year."
I was embarrassed how to reply.
"Poverty is like contagion. People flee from it," she added with a mirthless laugh, and opened the door.
I bade her farewell. She stared at me, a shrewd look in her black eyes, but said nothing. The instant I was on the porch the door was shut and locked behind me.
On my way to Jedfrey's office I could not shake off my unfavorable impression of Miss Drainger. I assured myself again and again that the oddity of their manner of life was sufficient reason for her peculiarities, and yet the same picture of her kept recurring to my mind—a vision of her flitting to and fro in that great house like a monstrous evil moth. I imagined her pale face with its spots of rouge and her lemon dress so unlike any costume I had ever seen. I pictured her materializing, as I phrased it, out of the shadows; hovering expectantly (I knew not why) over the gaunt form in the great chair by the window; or peering out of the unopened shutters as she moved from room to room. I positively grew ashamed of myself for my fancies.
The following morning a square, yellowed envelope (everything about that place seemed to lack freshness), addressed in the fine, regular hand of a generation ago, caught my eye in the heap of mail, and putting aside more important matters, I at once opened it. The note was from Mrs. Drainger, evidently written in her own hand, and contained the provision I was to insert in the will. It was sufficiently queer. She desired that upon her death no one should venture to see her face, which would be covered, she wrote, by a thick veil, and she was particularly anxious that her daughter Emily should respect her wishes. Otherwise her property was to go elsewhere.
The energy and clarity exhibited by the old lady on the previous day forbade any notion that this preposterous idea sprang from a mind touched by the infirmities of age, and yet her stipulation was so peculiar, so irrational that I pondered long over my duty in the case. What Mrs. Drainger wanted was, in one sense, absurdly simple—merely the revision of her will, scarcely more than the retyping of that simple document; but I was conscious of a deeper demand; as though, to the support of her desires, she had called in my person upon the assurance, even the majesty of the law. I could not justify her breaking of what I instinctively took to be a determined habit of seclusion except by postulating deeper issues than I saw on the surface. There was no reason why I should not revise the document and be done with it; queerer provisions have been made in other wills. Yet, to make the inheritance conditional upon so strange a request might be unfair to Miss Drainger. It was true, I distrusted her; but that was not to the point, and this provision was one that she would have every natural incentive to break.
A further thought occurred—there might be other children not known to me who would expect some share in the modest estate; finding the property willed to Emily upon so tenuous a provision, they might easily charge that that provision had been broken, when proof and disproof would be equally difficult, and Mrs. Drainger's wish that her companion (despite her singular testament) be her sole heir would then not be met. The will simply provided that, should Emily forfeit her right to the property the estate should go to a local charity; no mention was made of other children; but this silence did not disprove their existence.
I was too well aware of the ease with which so singular a document could be attacked in court, not to be uneasy. I resolved finally again to consult my client (if the name could attach to so imperious a lady) and briefly announcing my absence to Mark Jedfrey, I sought the Drainger residence.
The old house looked as deathlike as ever. It seemed incredible that human existence could be possible within its sunless walls. Indeed, my persistent efforts at the rusty bell-handle produced only a feeble echo, and the round-eyed interest of a group of urchins, who volunteered, after a time, that nobody lived there. I was beginning to agree with them when a key was turned in the lock and the weatherbeaten door yielded a few cautious inches. Miss Emily looked out at me.
"It's you," she said ungraciously, and seemed rather to hope that I would disappear as at the uttering of a charm.
"I wish to see your mother," I said.
She hesitated. At length, opening the door scarcely enough to admit me, she bade me enter, and disappeared. The house was as dismal as ever.
"Come in here," she said, appearing after her usual sudden fashion in a dim doorway and looking more like a wraith than ever.
Her eyes burned me as I walked cautiously into the other room.
It was one I had not seen, but Mrs. Drainger was seated, as before, in the obscurest corner, a blur of white in which her pale hands looked like pallid lumps of flame. I faced my invisible client.
"I have come about the will," I began, and was immediately conscious of Miss Emily's voracious interest. The opening was, as I recognized too late, scarcely diplomatic.
"Will?" said the daughter in a harsh voice. "You are making a will? You—you——"
She looked enormously tall and unpleasant as she spoke.
"Yes, my dear," responded Mrs. Drainger dryly.
"You? You?" continued the daughter rapidly. "After all these years? It is incredible. It is incredible." She laughed unpleasantly with closed eyes.
Then, conscious that she was betraying emotions not meant for me, she turned to my chair. "You will understand that the information is something of a shock for a daughter. My mother's condition——"
"Mrs. Drainger," I ventured to interrupt, "wishes merely to make certain changes in an instrument already drawn up." I was conscious of a stir, whether of gratitude or of resentment, from the darkened corner.
Emily seemed momentarily bewildered.
"You frightened me," she said at length with a frankness palpably false.
"I quite understand," I retorted, the sham being, I thought, tolerably obvious. "And now if your mother and I——"
She took the hint.
"I will leave you," she said.
It was evident I had not won her gratitude.
As the door closed behind her I heard a low sound from Mrs. Drainger.
"I am afraid—afraid," she murmured weakly. I think forgetting my presence; and then, as if suddenly conscious of a slip:
"Old women, Mr. Gillingham, have their fancies. Death seems at times uncomfortably close."
I murmured some polite deprecation, but I was sure it was not death that frightened her.
Drawing from my pocket her letter and the copy of the will I had prepared I explained as best I could why I had come. I was tolerably confused. I could not question her entire sanity, and as I did not wish in any way to hint at what I felt concerning Emily I soon involved myself in a veritable dust of legal pedantry. Finally I asked whether there were other children.
Mrs. Drainger heard me out in ironic silence.
"I have no others," she admitted at length, and added after a second, "Thank heaven!"
"There remains only one other matter," I said. "The provisions of your will are such that unless she knows them in advance Miss Emily will almost inevitably forfeit the inheritance."
"I am aware of that," said the voice, and the pale hands moved imperceptibly. "I am quite well aware of what I am doing, Mr. Gillingham, and I repeat, my daughter is not to ask impertinent questions."
I bowed, somewhat ruffled. I added that it would be necessary to witness her signature in the usual manner. She seemed surprised to learn that two persons were necessary, and remained silent.
"Call Emily," she directed.
"Emily will not do," I objected, "since she is a possible beneficiary."
"I am aware," she responded coldly. "Call Emily."
Emily, being summoned, was directed to procure the presence of a Mrs. Mueller, living near by, who occasionally helped with the work. She seemed unusually tractable and departed on her errand without comment.
For some three or four minutes Mrs. Drainger did not speak. I could not, of course, see her face; but once or twice her hands shifted in her lap, and I thought she was perturbed. My own conversational efforts had been so uniformly unfortunate that I concluded to remain silent.
"You will see an old, worn woman," she said musingly. "But it does not matter."
The entrance of Miss Emily followed by that of a stout, comfortable German woman prevented the necessity of a reply. I explained what was wanted; Emily assisted me in making it clear to Mrs. Mueller, and then withdrew to the door, where she assumed an attitude of disinterestedness—too obviously assumed it, I thought.
It became necessary to have more light, and Emily went to the window and opened the shutter. I turned to where Mrs. Drainger sat, the will in my left hand, my fountain pen in the other, and in that attitude I hesitated for a brief moment of incredulity. I thought I was looking at a woman without a head.
A second's glance showed how mistaken I was. The thin, emaciated figure, clad like her daughter's, in a fashion long forgotten, was, as I had surmised, somewhat shrunken by age. Her strange hands, loosely held in her lap, were wrinkled with a thousand wrinkles like crumpled parchment, and yet, even in that crueler light, they conveyed the impression of power. They seemed like antennae wherewith their owner touched and tested the outer world. As I sought the reason for this impression I saw that the face and head were entirely wrapped in the thick folds of a black veil, which was so arranged that the eyes alone were visible. These seemed to swim up faintly as from the bottom of a well.
My imperceptible pause of surprise drew from Emily that sudden in-taking of breath I have before remarked, and I could not but feel that she intended, as I felt, a subtle sarcasm in the sound. Accordingly I made no comment, secured Mrs. Drainger's signature without difficulty, then that of Mrs. Mueller (who, during the whole procedure, uttered no word), and added my own with as natural an air as I could manage. Miss Emily led Mrs. Mueller away and I offered the completed document to Mrs. Drainger.
"Keep it," she said with some feebleness and then, more loudly,
"I will take care. Keep it. Make her call for it when it is time. Now let her come to me."
My search for the daughter necessitated my going through the several rooms, so that I had a tolerable notion of the house. Miss Emily's inheritance would not be great, although the lot was itself valuable. The furniture was all old and of just that antiquity which lacks value without acquiring charm. I remarked a vast what-not in one corner; one table promised well, and there were one or two really fine engravings; but for the most part the upholstered chairs were shabby, the tables and desks old and cracked, and the carpets of a faded elegance. The kitchen into which I passed was notably bleak, and the decrepit wood-stove seemed never to have held a fire.
Miss Drainger came in the back entrance as I entered the kitchen. Her face was paler than I had ever seen it. She confronted me silently.
"If you are through," she said bitingly, "I will let you out the front door."
I observed mildly that her mother wanted her and accompanied her into the sitting room. I hesitated how best to broach the matter I had in mind without giving offense and resolved, unfortunately, on a deliberate lie.
"My fee has been paid," I said, awkwardly enough.
She searched my face. I affected to be busy with my hat.
"I see," she commented with a short, cynical laugh. "Sometimes it is done that way, sometimes in ways less pleasant. We are quite used to it. I suppose I had better thank you."
I felt my face flush scarlet.
"It is not necessary," I faltered and was grateful to get out of the house without further blunders.
I filled my lungs with the sweet August morning in positive relief, feeling that I had been in the land of the dead.
I had no further contact with the Draingers for some days. Indeed, the whole curious episode was beginning to fade in my mind when, some three weeks later, a dinner that Helen was giving recalled my experience and added fresh interest to my relations with them. I sat next to one of those conventionally pretty women who require only the surface of one's attention, and I was preparing to be bored for the rest of the evening when I caught a chance remark of Isobel Allyn's.
Mrs. Allyn (everybody calls her Isobel) was talking across the table to Dr. Fawcett.
"You've lost your mysterious veiled lady," she said.
"Yes," said Fawcett.
Fawcett is a good fellow, about forty-five, and inclined to be reticent.
"Veiled lady?" shrilled some feminine nonentity, much to Fawcett's distaste. "How thrilling! Do tell us about it!"
"There is nothing to tell," growled Fawcett.
Isobel, however, is not easily swept aside.
"Oh, yes, there is," she persisted. "Dr. Fawcett has for years had a mysterious patient whose face, whenever he visits her, remains obstinately invisible. Now, without revealing her features, the lady has had the bad taste to die."
I leaned forward.
"Is it Mrs. Drainger, Fawcett?"
He turned to me with mingled relief and inquiry.
"Yes. How did you know?"
I promised myself something later and remained vague.
"I had heard of her," I said.
His eyes questioned mine.
"Everyone must have heard of her but me," came the same irritating voice. "Aren't you going to tell us?"
"Merely a patient of mine," said Fawcett impolitely. "She has just died—at an advanced age."
It was cruel, but justified.
Isobel was penitent.
"I am sorry," she said prettily, and Helen hastily introduced the subject of automobiles, concerning which she knows very little.
I sought out Fawcett on the porch after dinner.
"About Mrs. Drainger," he said. "How did you know?"
"I am, I suppose, her lawyer—or was, rather," I explained. "I have her will."
"I thought soulless corporations and bloated bondholders were more your line."
"They are," I said, and briefly recounted how I had come to be Mrs. Drainger's attorney.
Fawcett's cigar glowed in the dark. His wicker chair creaked as he shifted his weight.
"The daughter is a curious creature," he observed slowly, "something uncanny about her, even devilish. Somehow I picture her striding up and down the shabby rooms like a lioness. The town has grown, the neighborhood changed, and I don't believe either of them was aware of it. They lived absolutely in the past. So far as I could see they hated each other—not, you understand with any petty, feminine spite, but splendidly, like elemental beings. I never went into the house without feeling that hot, suppressed atmosphere of hate. And yet there they were, tied together, as absolutely alone as though they had been left on a deserted island.
"Tied together—I fancy that's it. Emily could, of course, have gone away. And yet I have a queer fancy, too, that so long as Mrs. Drainger wore her veil the girl could not leave; that if she had once uncovered her face the tie between them would have been broken. The old lady knew that, certainly, and I think Emily knew it, too, and I fancy she must have tried again and again to lift the covering from her mother's face. But Mrs. Drainger—she was will incarnate—was always just too much for her."
I told him about the provisions of her will.
"Ah," he said, "it is even clearer now. My theory is right. The veil was, as it were, the symbol that held them together. But now, I wonder, does the will represent the old lady's revenge, or her forgiveness?"
"We shall know shortly," I interjected.
Fawcett nodded in the dark.
"Captain Drainger built the house," he continued inconsequentially, "back in the forties for himself and his young bride, and, though it looks bleak enough now, it was for the Crosby of those days a mansion of the first class. The captain, the tradition is, was a wild, obstinate fellow with black hair and brilliant eyes (I fancy Emily has much of her father in her), and nobody was greatly surprised, when the war broke out, to have him at first lukewarm, and then avowedly a Confederate. Of course he might as well have professed atheism or free love in this locality—he might better have blown his brains out—which he practically did, anyway. Public sentiment forced him out of the state and over Mason and Dixon's line, and he entered the rebel army as a cavalry captain, and deliberately (we heard) got himself killed. Of course the Drainger fortune, fair enough for those days, went to pieces at once.
"Mrs. Drainger immediately adopted the policy of complete seclusion she was to follow ever after. When the captain left, it was said they would not speak; at any rate, she broke off her friendships, refused herself to callers, and saw nobody. Her condition served her as an excuse, but everybody knew, I guess, the real reason why she kept to herself. There, alone with an old servant who died a year or so later, she walked the floor of that mockery of a house, or sat brooding over the coming of the child. It must have been pleasant! Emily was born just before we heard of the captain's death.
"One or two of her nearest friends tried to comfort her, but she would see no one except the doctor—who, by the way was my father. I have inherited the Draingers, you see."
Fawcett's cigar was out, but he did not light another.
"My mother, from whom I got all this, said there was something magnificent in the way Mrs. Drainger suffered, in the way she resented any intrusion upon her self-imposed solitude. My mother was a courageous woman, but she said she was positively frightened when Mrs. Drainger, a tall, fair woman with straight, level eyes, came to the door in answer to her knock.
"'You may go back, Lucy Fawcett,' she said. 'A rebel has no friends,' and shut the door in my mother's mortified face.
"At first there was some grumbling and ill-natured talk, but it soon ceased. People who knew her family (she was a Merion) saw pretty clearly that Mrs. Drainger's heart had, for most purposes, stopped beating when the captain found the bullet he was looking for, and tumbled from his horse. What was left was the magnificent shell of a woman in that great shell of a house—that, and the child. I can picture her sitting upright in some great chair by the shuttered window, peering out at the rank grass and the elm trees, or else wandering, always majestic, from room to room with her baby in her arms, listening to the silence. She cut herself off from the world of the living as though she had been buried, and she tried to bring up Emily as though they were in the land of the dead.
"Emily was, of course, her only friend, her only companion, her only link with life. Tragically enough, she was to fail her. She grew up, a solitary, imperious child, I imagine much as she is now. She strikes me as being one of those unfortunate natures who are as old at twelve as they ever will be. Mother hinted at terrible scenes between the woman, like a tragedy queen, and her baby, the child stormily demanding to be like other children, the mother stonily listening and never bending her ways. The will of the mother—I grow fanciful—was like ice-cold metal, the child was hot with life, and the result was passionate rebellions, followed by long weeks of sullen silence. And always Mrs. Drainger hugged her isolation and hugged her child to that isolation because she was her father's daughter. How or on what they lived, nobody knows.
"You understand," Fawcett interposed, "that this is mainly conjecture. They were long before my day then. I am merely putting together what I heard and my own inferences from what I have seen. And it seems to me, looking back, that Mrs. Drainger set, as it were, when the captain died, into that terrible fixed mold she was to wear ever after, and the lonely child with the brilliant black eyes was not merely fighting solitude, she was beating her passionate little fists against the granite of her mother's nature. And I fancy that at an early age (she was very mature, mind), Emily came to hate her mother quite earnestly and conscientiously, and, so to speak, without meanness or malice.
"Of course it was impossible to keep the girl totally confined. She did not, it is true, go to school, but she went out more or less, and in a queer, unnatural way she made friends. That was later, however. She never went to parties, since her mother would not give any and she was proud—all the Draingers are proud. And she had no playmates. Until she was a young woman, so far as human intercourse was concerned, Emily might as well have had the plague in the house.
"But she went out as she grew older. For instance, she went to church, not, I fancy, because she had any need of religion, but because it was a place she could go without embarrassment or comment."
There was a moment of silence as though Fawcett was pondering how to continue, and I heard the blur of voices from the hall and prayed that nobody would come.
"We lived across the street from them in those days," he resumed, "and I was a young cub from the medical school, home only at vacations. I really don't know all that happened. Indeed, it seems to me that I have known the Draingers only by flashes at any time. They were always wrapped in mysterious human differences, and even when you saw her on the street some of that surcharged atmosphere of silence seemed to color Emily's face. She had grown up then. Her clothes were quite orthodox, and she was handsome as a leopard is handsome, but always she struck me as haunted by a vague fear, a fear of the house, perhaps, and of her mother's power to rule her. I used to fancy, watching her return to their sombre dwelling, that she was drawn back as to a spider's web by the fascination of its tragic silences. The story of her life is like a strange book read by lightning, with many leaves turned over unseen between the flashes."
"You were in love with her!" I cried.
"No," he said slowly. "I might have been, but I wasn't. You are right, though, in guessing there was love in her story, only it was not I, it was Charlie Brede who, so to speak, sprang the trap.
"She got to know him at church. Charles was an honest, ordinary, likable boy with a face like a Greek god and a streak of the most unaccountable perversity. His obstinacy was at once intense and wild. That made him interesting and, though there was no greatness behind it, any woman would have loved his face. Don't imagine, furthermore, because I have supposed they met at church, that he was narrowly pious. Everybody went to church in those days—there was nowhere else to go. Charlie was, in short, an ordinary, well-behaved youngster, except that his face hinted at possibilities he couldn't have fulfilled, and except for his dash of narrow rebellion. I don't see how, to such a stormy creature as Emily, he could have been bearable.
"The affair had got well along when I came home in the spring. At first, I gathered from the talk, Emily had met him only away from the house (it was not home), at church or downtown, or in such ways as she could unsuspiciously contrive. Then somehow Charlie suspected something queer and insisted, in one of his obstinate fits, on his duty to call.
"I know this because they stood for a long time under the trees in front of our house, Charles's voice booming up through the scented darkness as he argued. Emily put him off with various feminine subterfuges—she was, I remember, rather magnificent in her despairing diplomacy—and I thought for a while she would succeed. Then I heard Brede's voice, wrathful and sullen, with a quality of finality.
"'If you are ashamed of me——' he said, and walked off.
"It was the one statement she could not outwit. Emily stood for a moment, then—I can imagine with what terrific surrender of pride—ran after him.
"'Charlie, Charlie!' she called. He stopped. She came up to him. There was a low murmur of voices, and I thought she was crying.
"'Tuesday, then,' he said, and kissed her.
"Emily waited until he was well away, and in the moonlight I could see her raise her hands to her head in a gesture that might have been despair, that might have been puzzlement. Then she crossed the street into the blackness of their porch.
"Did she love him? I don't know. Do you?"
The question hung motionless in the air. Fawcett lit another cigar.
"One would have expected something regal about the man Emily Drainger should choose. You agree with me, I suspect, that she is—or was—leonine, terrific. Perhaps she was deceived by his face. Perhaps, after the manner of lovers, she found splendid lights and vistas in the Charlie Brede the rest of us considered rather ordinary. Or perhaps, since she had lived her solitary life so long, pestered and haunted by her mother, any pair of lips would have awakened in her the same powerful and primitive impulses. He was her man, and she wanted him, and she was not to get him. I have even thought that she did not love him at all: that she was quite willing to feign a passion in order to escape from that terrible mother with her eyes forever focused on her tragedy, her mother, and that gaunt, grim house. I am superstitious about that house. Nothing good can come out of it. It warped Mrs. Drainger out of all semblance to human nature, and it was warping Emily, and Mrs. Drainger was somehow the presiding genius, the central heart of that sinister fascination.
"Charlie called that Tuesday night, I know, because I stayed home to see. I was quite unashamed in doing so. He had, I must say, courage. But he did not see Emily. There were two chairs on the porch, and, to the enormous surprise of the neighborhood, which had not seen Mrs. Drainger for years, she occupied one of those chairs and Charlie the other, and, after a fashion, they conversed. I could not hear what they said, but there was in Mrs. Drainger's calm, in her placid acceptance of the situation, a quality of danger. I had an impulse to cry out. She made me think of a steel instrument ready to close. And, as Charlie had an obstinate streak in him, it became fairly evident that we were witnessing a duel—a duel for the possession of Emily Drainger. Mute obstinacy was pitted against will, and Emily, enchained and chafing, was permitted only to stand by.
"Considered from Mrs. Drainger's point of view, she was not, I suppose, so hideously unfair. One doesn't shut off the last ray of light from the prisoner's dungeon or grudge clothing to a naked man. And her daughter was, as I have intimated, her only link with the living. Hers was the selfishness of narrow hunger, if you will, of an almost literal nakedness. And yet one cannot live alone with the dead for twenty years and remain sane. Since Mrs. Drainger's life was to Mrs. Drainger entirely normal, she could not, in the nature of the case, imagine what she was condemning Emily to. The mother thought of Brede, I fancy, as of some spiritual calamity that would rob her of half her soul, and she brought to the issue her one power—her power of breaking people's wills, and fought him as fiercely as she would have fought the devil.
"Charlie called again Friday and had again the pleasure of Mrs. Drainger's society. He called again next week; this time both Emily and Mrs. Drainger entertained him. The result was, I imagine, even more unsatisfactory—what Mrs. Drainger wanted. If it had not been so terrific, it would have been funny. Some of us, indeed, took to making wagers on the contest. He called repeatedly. Whether he saw Emily or not, there was always Mrs. Drainger.
"It is not her mere presence, mind, that was disconcerting. The old lady was somehow sinister in her silent intensity, in her subtle power of infiltration. Emily seemed, so far as I could see, thoroughly cowed. Strain as she would at her leash, the keeper held her, and the tedious pattern of their struggling conversation concealed bright chains. This, Mrs. Drainger seemed to say, is what you are coming to. And Charlie would look appealingly at Emily, and she at him, and they both looked at the imperturbable monster of a woman, and on Charlie's lips the desperate proposals to go somewhere, to do something, to get out of it, died before he could utter them. Only mute obstinacy held him there. Mrs. Drainger, if she could not prevent his coming, could at least hold Emily dumb.
"It lasted some four weeks. At length—what was bound to happen—the weakest snapped. A week went by, and Charlie did not come. Emily haunted the porch in an ironic appearance of freedom. Mrs. Drainger, in some subtle way, knew that she had won, that the girl was eternally hers. Emily's face was pitifully white: she was suffering. Was it love? Or was it her passionate hatred of the prison that held her, the guardian that kept her helpless?
"Then, one evening, Charlie came up the street. He looked unwell, as though the contest of wills had somehow broken him. He walked straight to the porch where Emily sat. She rose to meet him—I think she was trembling.
"'Good-bye,' he said, and held out his hand.
"Apparently she did not ask why he had failed her, or where he was going, or how he came so abruptly to bid her farewell. She took his hand for a moment, and, with the other, steadied herself against the chair, and so they stood looking at each other. There must have been queer lights in their eyes—desire baffled in some strange way, wounded pride, and an eating, mortal sickness. Charlie's hand dropped, he ran down the walk, crossed the street straight toward me so that I saw his white face, and walked away. We never saw him again. Emily stood watching him, perhaps hoping that he would look back. If he did there was still a possibility. But he did not, and she heard, I suppose, the iron gates clang to. She went abruptly into the house. An hour later I saw her go out, and after an interval, return."
The story lay between us like a damp mist.
Fawcett seemed to have forgotten me, but my silence clung to him with mute tenacity.
"What I should know," his voice rumbled on, "I don't know—that is, of course, the scene between the two afterwards. When Emily Drainger returned to her house that night something awful happened. What it was, she alone now knows. But the next flash I had of their history came three or four years later—when I had taken up my father's practice after his death. I have said the Draingers were an inheritance; he had been called in to see Mrs. Drainger several times and on those times had seen what I saw later, but I had been away. I could not question him and he was, above everything, scrupulously exact in keeping the confidences of his patients—even with me. At any rate, I was called in to see Mrs. Drainger as my father's son. I saw for the first time that her face was entirely shrouded in the thick black veil she wore ever after; and the wearing of that veil dates, I think, from the night that Charlie Brede and Emily Drainger looked with baffled wonder into each other's eyes.
"Imagine living with the thing. Imagine the torture of patience, the fixity of will required to keep it eternally on. Do you know how bandages feel after a time? Think of shrouding your head for twenty years. But think also of the slow stealthiness with which the mute reproach of that shrouded face would creep into your nerves if you had to live with it; think of the imaginative persistency which saw, in this covering of the features, not merely just the tie that would hold Emily to her forever, but the tedious process of revenge for an injury not known to us, for some monstrous moment between the two that only the dull walls of the house could hear.
"Think, too, of the ingenuity of that symbol. Its very helplessness forbade to Emily the exultation of revilement. Good Heavens! It is bad enough to be tied by your own weakness to a face that you hate, but to be chained forever to that thing, to rise up with it and lie down with it, to talk to it, to insult it, to listen to it, and yet never see your sarcasms strike home! Think of hating a black veil for twenty years!
"Emily, of course, had changed. She met me at the door as she met you. She was a shell burned out by one fierce moment of fire. Something had toppled in her and collapsed, and only by the pitiless and continual irony of her silence could she hide her inward loathing. With me she was proud and acid, but in her mother's room, whither she led me, her silence was like a frightened, defensive covering which might, at any moment, be stripped from her, leaving her indecently, almost physically bare. Her pride, in sum, was broken, but not her hatred. That smoldered where before it had flamed.
"Mrs. Drainger had some minor complaint, I have forgotten what. Emily followed me into the room where she sat—she seems to me always to have been sitting with patient intensity in some corner of that house. I recall the stab of surprise with which I searched the shadowy room for the austere and beautiful face of the Mrs. Drainger we knew, and how, in my confusion, I could see nothing but her hands. Emily mocked me with her eyes, but did not speak. Then I saw.
"I remember I asked Mrs. Drainger, for some reason, to remove the veil. I was raw in those days. Emily stiffened behind me and, I thought, started to speak, but the rigid silence of Mrs. Drainger was never broken. Her very speechlessness rebuked me. I prescribed for her and got out of the house.
"If you will believe me, Gillingham," Fawcett went on with a change of voice, "I have visited that house for twenty years and during that time Mrs. Drainger, so far as I know, has never divested herself of her veil. I got that much out of Emily. But I could get no more. She seemed to freeze when I sought after reasons. I do not know what she had done, but I do know that the wearing of that black mantle represented to them that flaming crisis in their relationship when Emily lost forever her one hope of escape.
"I have watched them for twenty years. Twenty years—think of it! They were like two granite rocks, clashed once together, and thereafter frozen into immobility. They have never changed. All pretense of affection had dropped from them—even before me. There was only naked hate. Year after weary year, seeing no one, never going anywhere, they have rasped and worn each other merely by being what they are.
"And now the ultimate ingenuity, the last refinement of unhappiness! The veil, I say, is a symbol of their shuddering cohesion which death would normally destroy. But the will of this woman, as it triumphed over life, she has made to triumph over death: if Emily removes the veil she becomes, with her lack of training, her useless equipment, a helpless beggar; if she does not remove it, if she never sees her mother's face, she will be tormented by memory, bound forever, as she was in life, to a blank and inscrutable shawl. Is it forgiveness—or justice, mercy or revenge?"
Fawcett broke off as a swirl of guests flooded the coolness of the porch.
"I will tell you what happens," I said when I could.
"Do," he returned. "And you must take precautions."
On my way to the office next morning, it suddenly dawned on me what Fawcett meant. How, in truth, was I to ascertain whether the singular provision of Mrs. Drainger's will had or had not been met? Fawcett had not, he said, been present at the death; and even if he had been, there must elapse a considerable time in which Emily would necessarily be alone with her mother's body.
The more I pondered, the more puzzled I grew. It seemed grotesque that Mrs. Drainger should have overlooked this situation. Moreover, I was naturally curious. Fawcett's narrative justified me in all I had thought, but it had not given a motive for the veil, nor for the tenacity with which Mrs. Drainger clung to it.
The house looked unchanged as I turned into the street on which it faced. Death was, it said, of so little consequence to the walls which had immured and conquered life itself. There was in the very lack of change a great irony. A barren device of crepe on the door, one lower window partly open—that was all. The very papers yellowing before the door had not been swept away.
Mrs. Mueller, the woman who had witnessed the signing of the will, was standing on the steps that led to the street. If my relations with the Draingers had been odd, they were to conclude as strangely. The woman was apparently expecting me, and her manner testified to recent terror.
"What do you want?" I asked.
"She told me," Mrs. Mueller said, "to get you."
Her hunted look and the solemn glance she gave me testified that she was as real to her as though Mrs. Drainger had not for twenty-four hours been dead. "She told me if a certain thing happened I was to call you."
Suddenly I saw. That tremendous woman was reaching at me over the very boundaries of life.
"I don't like it," continued Mrs. Mueller with an indescribable accent of fear and a sidelong look at me for support. "I don't like it. But she said the day before she died, she said, 'If Miss Emily uncovers my face when I am dead, you are to tell Mr. Gillingham,' she said. And she made me promise to watch."
She seemed to want to tell me something she could not put in words.
"It is terrible," she went on in a vague, haunted manner, "what I saw."
"She was always a queer woman. 'If Miss Emily uncovers my face,' she said, 'you are to call Mr. Gillingham.' And she made me watch. I didn't want to. So when she died I came right over."
"How did you know when to come?"
"I don't know," she answered helplessly. "I just came. She told me Miss Emily wasn't to see me, but I was to watch. It is terrible."
We were at the door. I had a sudden distaste for the woman, though she was quite simply honest, and, as it were, the helpless and unconscious spy that Mrs. Drainger, in her grave, had set upon her daughter. I was anxious to get it over with.
"You will see," she said again and brought me into the house.
Her terror was beginning to affect me. She was quite unable to tell me what she had seen, but her whole manner expressed a dazed horror, not so much of some concrete fear as of the ghastly position in which she found herself.
She led me to the door of the room in which I had last seen Mrs. Drainger alive, but no inducement could make her come in, nor could I get from her anything more explicit. Poor soul! I do not wonder at her terror.
The room was as before. The shuttered windows admitted only faint bars and pencils of light. The dim chairs and shadowy tables were discernible, but, as if they yielded precedence to death, the most solid object in the obscurity was the coffin in which Mrs. Drainger's body lay. I advanced to it. The mistress of this ill-fated mansion seemed to have grown larger in death; her body was no longer shrunken and her folded hands still retained faintly their peculiar luminous quality. I could see in the shadow that around her face there was no longer the black mantle, but the face puzzled me—I could not make it out, and, opening the shutter, I let in the light.
I stepped again to the side of the coffin. Could this be the queenly beauty of whom Fawcett had spoken? For, where the features should have been there was, naked to the light, only a shapeless, contorted mass of flesh in which, the twisted eyelids being closed, there seemed to my horrified gaze no decent trace of human resemblance!
I turned half-sick from the sight. Emily Drainger, tall, pallid yellow, her great eyes burning with an evil glow, her lemon dress an unhealthy splotch in the doorway, stood regarding me.
"The will—the will!" she cried. "She thought she could stop me, but she could not!"
"Who—what has done this?" I pointed involuntarily to her mother's face.
She seemed to expand before my eyes with evil triumph.
"I—I," she cried at length, her black eyes holding me as I stood, weak and faint, clinging unconsciously to the coffin for support. "Twenty years ago! But"—she laughed hysterically and came to look at the shapeless, brutalized face—"I never knew, until she died, that it was done so well!!"
UNDER A WINE-GLASS
[Note 18: Copyright, 1918, by The Century Company. Copyright, 1920, by Ellen N. La Motte.]
BY ELLEN N. LA MOTTE
From The Century
A little coasting-steamer dropped anchor at dawn at the mouth of Chanta-Boun Creek, and through the long, hot hours she lay there, gently stirring with the sluggish tide, waiting for the passage-junk to come down from Chanta-Boun Town, twelve miles farther up the river. It was stifling hot on the steamer, and from side to side, whichever side one walked to, came no breeze at all. Only the warm, enveloping, moist, stifling heat closed down. Very quiet it was, with no noises from the after-deck, where under the awning lay the languid deck-passengers, sleeping on their bedding rolls. Very quiet it was ashore, so still and quiet that one could hear the bubbling, sucking noises of the large land-crabs, pattering over the black, oozy mud, or the sound of a lean pig scratching himself against the piles of a native hut in the village, that stood, mounted on stilts, at the mouth of the creek.
The captain came down from the narrow bridge into the narrow saloon. He was clad in yellow pajamas, his bare feet in native sandals, and he held a well pipe-clayed topee in one hand. He was impatient at the delay of the passage-junk coming down from up-river, with her possible trifling cargo, her possible trifling deck-passengers, of which the little steamer already carried enough.
"This long wait is very annoying," he commented, sitting upon the worn leather cushions of the saloon bench. "And I had wished for time enough to stop to see the lonely man. I have made good time on this trip, all things considered, with time to spare to make that call, somewhat out of our way. And now the good hours go by while we wait here uselessly."
"The lonely man?" asked the passenger, who was not a deck-passenger. He was the only saloon-passenger, and because of that he slept first in one, then in the other, of the two small cabins, alternating according to which side the wind blew from.
"You would not mind, perhaps," continued the captain, "if, after all, in spite of this long delay, we still found time for the lonely man? An unscheduled call, much out of our way—oh, a day's sail from here, and we, as you know, go slowly——"
"Three days from now, four days from now, it matters little to me when we reach Bangkok," said the passenger, largely, "but tell me of this man."
Upon the sideboard, under an inverted wine-glass, sat a small gilt Buddha, placed there by the China boys. The captain fixed his eyes upon the Buddha.
"Like that, immovable and covered in close, sitting still in a small space—covered in. Some one turned a wine-glass over on him, long ago, and now he sits, still and immovable like that. It makes my heart ache."
"Tell me, while we are waiting."
"Three years ago," began the captain, dreamily, still looking at the tiny gilt Buddha in its inverted wine-glass, "he came aboard, bound for nowhere in particular. To Bangkok, perhaps, since we were going that way; or to any other port he fancied along the coast, since we were stopping all along the coast. He wanted to lose himself, he said. And, as you have seen, we stop at many remote, lonely villages such as this one. And we have seen many lonely men, foreigners, isolated in villages such as this one, unknown, removed, forgotten. But none of them suited him. He had been looking for the proper spot for many years. Wandering up and down the coast in cargo-boats, in little coasting vessels, in sailing-vessels, sometimes in native junks, stopping here and there, looking for a place where he could go off and live by himself. He wanted to be quite absolutely to himself. He said he would know the place immediately if he saw it, recognize it at once. He said he could find himself if he could get quite absolutely away. Find himself—that is, recover himself, something, a part of him which he had lost. Just temporarily lost. He was very wistful and very eager, and said I must not think him a fool or demented. He said he only wanted to be by himself, in the right spot, to accomplish his purpose. He would accomplish his purpose and then return.
"Can you see him, the lonely man, obsessed, going up and down the China coast, shipping at distant ports, one after another, on fruitless quests, looking for a place to disembark? The proper place to disembark, the place which he would recognize, would know for his own place, which would answer the longing in him that had sent him searching round the world, over the seven seas of the world, the spot in which he could find himself again and regain what he had lost.
"There are many islands hereabouts," went on the captain, "hundreds. Desert. He thought one would suit him. So I put him down on one, going out of my way to find it for him. He leaned over the rail of the bridge and said to me, 'We are getting nearer.' Then he said that he saw it. So I stopped the ship and put him down. He was very grateful. He said he liked to be in the Gulf of Siam. That the name had a picturesque sound, the Pirate Islands. He would live all by himself on one of the Pirate Islands, in the Gulf of Siam. Isolated and remote, but over one way was the coast of Hindu-China, and over the other way was the coast of Malay. Neighborly, but not too near. He would always feel that he could get away when he was ready, what with so much traffic through the gulf, and the native boats now and then. He was mistaken about the traffic, but I did not tell him so. I knew where he was and could watch him. I placed a cross on the chart, on his island, so that I might know where I had left him; and I promised myself to call upon him from time to time, to see when he would be ready to face the world again."
The captain spread a chart upon the table.
"Six degrees north latitude," he remarked, "ten thousand miles from—"
"Greenwich," supplied the passenger, anxious to show that he knew.
"From her," corrected the captain.
"He told me about her a little. I added the rest from what he omitted. It all happened a long time ago, which was the bother of it. And because it had taken place so long ago, and had endured for so long a time, it made it more difficult for him to recover himself again. Do you think people ever recover themselves? When the precious thing in them, the spirit of them, has been overlaid and overlaid, covered deep with artificial layers?
"The marvel was that he wanted to regain it, wanted to break through. Most don't. The other thing is so easy. Money, of course. She had it, and he loved her. He had none, and she loved him. She had had money always, had lived with it, lived on it; it got into her very bones. And he had not two shillings to rub together; but he possessed the gift—genius. But they met somewhere, and fell in love with each other, and that ended him. She took him, you see, and gave him all she had. It was marvelous to do it, for she loved him so. Took him from his four-shilling attic into luxury; out of his shabby, poor worn clothes into the best there were; from a penny bus into superb motors, with all the rest of it to match. And he accepted it all because he loved her, and it was the easiest way. Besides, just before she had come into his life he had written—well, whatever it was, they all praised him, the critics and reviewers, and called him the coming man, and he was very happy about it, and she seemed to come into his life right at the top of his happiness over his work. And she sapped it. Didn't mean to, but did; cut his genius down to the root. Said his beginning fame was quite enough for her, for her friends, for the society into which she took him. They all praised him without understanding how great he was or considering his future. They took him at her valuation, which was great enough. But she thought he had achieved the summit; did not know, you see, that there was anything more.
"He was so sure of himself, too, during those first few years, young and confident, aware of his power. Drifting would not matter for a while; he could afford to drift. His genius would ripen, he told himself, and time was on his side. So he drifted, very happy and content, ripening; but being overlaid all the time, deeper and thicker, with this intangible, transparent, strong wall, hemming him in, shutting in the gold, just like that little joss there under the wine-glass.
"She lavished on him everything without measure; but she had no knowledge of him, really. He was just another toy, the best of all, in her luxurious equipment. So he traveled the world with her, and dined at the embassies of the world, East and West, in all the capitals of Europe and Asia, but getting restive finally, however, as the years wore on. Feeling the wine-glass, as it were, although he could not see it. Looking through its clear transparency, but feeling pressed, somehow, aware of the closeness. But he continued to sit still, not much wishing to move, stretch himself.
"Then sounds from the other side began to filter in, echoing largely in his restricted space, making within it reverberations that carried vague uneasiness, producing restlessness. He shifted himself within his space, and grew aware of limitations. From without came the voices, insistent, asking what he was doing now. Meaning what thing was he writing now; for a long time had passed since he had written on which called forth the praise of men. There came to him within his wine-glass, these demands from the outside. Therefore he grew very uneasy and tried to rise, and just then it was that he began to feel how close the crystal walls surrounded him. He even wanted to break them, but a pang at heart told him that that was ingratitude; for he loved her, you see. Never forget that.
"Now you see how it all came about. He was aware of himself, of his power. And while for the first years he had drifted, he was always aware of his power. Knew that he had only to rise to assume gigantic stature. And then, just because he was very stiff, and the pain of stiffness and stretching made him uncouth, he grew angry. He resented his captivity, chafed at his being limited like that, did not understand how it had come about. It had come about through love, through sheer sheltering love. She had placed a crystal cup above him to keep him safe, and he had sat safe beneath it all these years, fearing to stir, because she liked him so.
"It came to a choice at last: his life of happiness with her or his work. Poor fool, to have made the choice at that late day! So he broke his wine-glass, and his heart and her heart, too, and came away. And then he found that he could not work, after all. Years of sitting still had done it.
"At first he tried to recover himself by going over again the paths of his youth, a garret in London, a studio off Montparnasse, shabby, hungry; all no use. He was done for, futile. Done himself in for no purpose, for he had lost her, too. For, you see, he planned, when he left her to come back shortly, crowned anew; to come back in triumph, for she was all his life. Nothing else mattered. He just wanted to lay something at her feet in exchange for all she had given him. Said he would. So they parted, heart-broken, crushed, neither one understanding. But he promised to come back with his laurels.
"That parting was long ago. He could not regain himself. After his failure along the paths of his youth, his garrets and studios, he tried to recover his genius by visiting again all the parts of the world he had visited with her. Only this time, humbly. Standing on the outside of palaces and embassies, recollecting the times when he had been a guest within. Rubbing shoulders with the crowd outside, shabby, poor, a derelict. Seeking always to recover that lost thing.
"And he was getting so impatient to rejoin her. Longing for her always. Coming to see that she meant more to him than all the world beside. Eating his heart out, craving her. Longing to return, to reseat himself under his bell. Only now he was no longer gilded. He must gild himself anew, just as she had found him. Then he could go back.
"But it could not be done. He could not work. Somewhere in the world, he told me, was a spot where he could work, ... Where there were no memories. Somewhere in the seven seas lay the place. He would know it when he saw it. After so many years of exclusion, he was certain he would feel the atmosphere of the place where he could work. And there he would stay till he finished, till he produced the big thing that was in him. Thus, regilded, he would return to her again. One more effort, once more to feel his power, once more to hear the stimulating rush of praise, then he would give it up again, quite content to sit beneath his wine-glass till the end. But this first.
"So I put him down where I have told you, on a lonely island, somewhat north of the equator, ten thousand miles away from Her. Wistfully, he said it was quite the right spot; he could feel it. So we helped him, the China boys and I, to build a little hut, up on stilts, thatched with palm-leaves. Very desolate it is. On all sides the burnished ocean, hot and breathless, and the warm, moist heat close around. Still and stifling. Like a blanket, dense, enveloping. But he said it was the spot. I don't know. He has been there now three years. He said he could do it there, if ever. From time to time I stop there if the passengers are willing for a day or two's delay. He looks very old now and very thin, but he always say it's all right. Soon, very soon now, the manuscript will be ready; next time I stop, perhaps. Once I came upon him sobbing. Landing early in the morning—slipped ashore and found him sobbing, head in arms and shoulders shaking. It was early in the morning, and I think he'd sobbed all night. Somehow I think it was not for the gift he'd lost but for her.
"But he says over and over again that it is the right spot, the very right place in the world for such as he. Told me that I must not mind seeing him so lonely, so apparently depressed. That it was nothing. Just the Tropics, and being so far way, and perhaps thinking a little too much of things that did not concern his work. But the work would surely come on. Moods came on him from time to time that he recognized were quite the right moods in which to work, in which to produce great things. His genius was surely ripe now; he must just concentrate. Some day, very shortly, there would be a great rush; he would feel himself charged again with the old, fine fire. He would produce the great work of his life. He felt it coming on; it would be finished next time I called.
"This is the next time. Shall we go?" asked the captain.
Accordingly, within a day or two, the small coastwise steamer dropped her anchor in a shallow bay off a desert island marked with a cross on the captain's chart, and unmarked upon all other charts of the same waters. All around lay the tranquil spaces of a desolate ocean, and on the island the thatched roof of a solitary hut showed among the palms. The captain went ashore by himself, and presently, after a little lapse of time, he returned.
"It is finished," he announced briefly; "the great work is finished. I think it must have been completed several weeks ago. He must have died several weeks ago, possibly soon after my last call."
He held out a sheet of paper on which was written one word, "Beloved."
A THING OF BEAUTY
[Note 19: Copyright, 1919, by The American Hebrew. Copyright, 1920, by Elias Lieberman.]
BY ELIAS LIEBERMAN
From The American Hebrew
Simonoff told it to me over the coffee cups. It was the twilight hour on Second avenue and we were enjoying a late afternoon chat. The gates of the human dam, shut all day long, had been opened and the rushing, swirling stream of men and women beat past us relentlessly—past the door of the Cafe Cosmos open to the sights and sounds of the street.
Every person in that human torrent seemed eager to reach a haven of rest. Not that their faces looked tired or haggard. But each gave the impression that something had been worn off in a subtle, persistent process—a certain newness, freshness, gloss, call it what you will. Shadows of men and women they were in the twilight as they scurried past. And yet the rhythm of their footsteps beat upon the ear as steadily as the roar of many waters.
"The ghosts are having a holiday," said Simonoff.
His voice was barely audible in the hum of conversation. Simonoff was one of those rare teachers on the lower East Side who neither taught night school nor practised law after his daily duties were over. His passion was to understand his fellow men—to help them, if possible—although, for a reformer, he was given entirely too much to dreaming. His cafe bills for a year, when added together, made a surprisingly large total. But then Simonoff never bothered with useless mathematics.
A hand organ outside was droning the "Miserere." Children of the tenements, like moths drawn to globes of brilliant light on midsummer nights, hovered about the organ and danced. There was a capricious abandon about their movements which fascinated Simonoff. He had a way of running his slender fingers through his wavy, brown hair, when he was emotionally stirred.
"The dancing maidens of Trebizond were not more graceful than these," he sighed as his eyes followed the sinuous movements of two ragged little tots. "They outgrow it after a while."
"Never," I protested. "The Grand street halls——"
"I mean the search for beauty," drawled Simonoff. "This is the dance of Greek maidens at the sacrificial rites to Demeter. The Grand street thing is a contortion before the obese complacency of the great god Jazz. And Jazz has no soul."
Through the ever-gathering darkness the electric lights began to twinkle like blue-white diamonds against purple velvet. The lights in the cafe too were turned on by a pottering waiter whose flat-footed shuffle had become familiar to us through many years of observation.
A bedraggled looking person entered the cafe, clutching awkwardly a dozen or more cut roses. He passed from table to table and offered them for sale. The price was ridiculously small.
It seemed strange to me that Simonoff's face should turn so white. His manner suggested great agitation. When the peddler reached him, Simonoff purchased the entire stock and gave him in payment far in excess of the amount asked. The happy vender directed one searching glance at him, then went out whistling.
"What will you do with all those roses?" I asked.
"Give them away," he answered, "to the dirtiest, most woebegone, most forlorn little children I can find. I shall do this in memory of John Keats."
I looked my astonishment.
"'A thing of beauty is a joy forever,'" Simonoff intoned dreamily. "But there's a story connected with it."
"I suspected it," I said quietly. "When a school teacher consents to part with a perfectly good dollar for a dozen wilted roses, there must be an esoteric reason."
"Materialist," he laughed.
The dancing and the scurry of pattering feet had both ceased. The sounds of the night were now more soothing, more harmoniously blended. The earliest arrivals of the theatre crowd were besieging the sidewalk ticket office of the burlesque house opposite. Simonoff launched into his narrative.
* * *
I was sitting here one evening all alone. The day had been particularly trying. I had been visited by my district superintendent, a perfect paragon of stupidity. He had squatted in my class room until I wished him and his bulk on the other side of the Styx. When it was all over I came here, glad to shake off the chalk dust and the pompous inconsequence of my official superior. Suddenly I was startled out of my brooding.
"You are unhappy," I heard a voice murmur ever so softly. It seemed like the sighing of a night wind through the tree tops.
I looked up. Before me stood a young man with deep blue eyes, blond hair, exquisite daintiness of feature and unnaturally pale complexion. He was dressed in soft gray tweeds. In the crook of his left elbow he carried roses. Their fragrance permeated the cafe and, for once, the odor of stale tobacco was not dominant.
"You are unhappy," he repeated mildly as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to say.
"I am," I answered frankly. "The world is a stupid place to live in."
"You must not say that," he reproached quietly. "It is we who are stupid. The world is beautiful. Won't you accept a rose?" Like a prince in a fairy story he bowed grandly and offered me an American Beauty still moist with the mock dews of the florist.
"But why do you honor me thus?" I asked, taking the flower and inhaling its fragrance.
He looked a bit put out as if I were asking the obvious thing. "You were sad, of course, and a thing of beauty——"
"Is a joy forever," I concluded.
He flushed with pleasure.
"I am so glad you have read my Endymion," he exclaimed delightedly. "Suppose we walk out together and preach the gospel of beauty to those who like yourself forget the eternal in the trivial. I have some powerful sermons here." He caressed his roses as a mother would stroke the head of a child.
Along the avenue we were followed by hordes of little girls with starved eyes. My good samaritan picked the poorest and the most wistful for his largesse of roses. And to each one as he handed the flower he repeated the famous line from the work of the great romantic poet.
"'A thing of beauty is a joy forever.'"
Soon there were only two left. These my friend was inclined to withhold from the clamoring tots who assailed us.
"After all they are young," he said. "Their sad moments vanish like the mists. But the sorrows of the years of discretion are not thrown off so easily. They persist like scars long after the original bruise has healed."
We entered a hallway to escape our little friends. From a door ajar on the first story a man's voice floated down to us. It was high pitched and strident, as if a relentless lawyer were arraigning a criminal.
"My friends," we heard, "how long are you going to remain blind to your condition? The interests of capital and labor are diametrically opposed to each other. You are the producers of the world's wealth and yet you submit to exploitation by the class of parasites who fatten upon your ignorance and your unwillingness to unite. Workingmen of the world, you have nothing to lose but your chains."
"Slavinsky, the great agitator, probably rehearsing his speech for the party rally at Cooper Union tomorrow," I explained.
"Agitator?" questioned the apostle of beauty. "He is agitated, indeed, and unhappy. I shall give him a rose."
Slavinsky sputtered with amazement when the rose was offered to him.
"A joy forever!" he mocked. "It isn't such a joy to work for starvation wages, to be bled by profiteers, to be flayed alive by plutes. I tell you, Mister—"
"You are addressing Keats, John Keats."
"I tell you, Mister Keats, there ain't no beauty when you're up against it. I tell you—"
"Won't you accept this rose?"
"I'll take it," growled Slavinsky with unnecessary fierceness. "It ain't Nature's fault. She don't go in for profiteering." The agitator's conversational style was more colloquial though no less vehement than his platform manner.
"Did you note the omission?" Keats inquired when we were again on the avenue.
"It isn't impoliteness," I replied. "Men of his class are too stirred by cosmic problems to say 'Thank you.'"
"It is a beautiful thing to say, nevertheless, and the world needs it." I thought the eyes of John Keats—a fitting name for such a fantastic personality—were filling with tears.
My companion held his rose before him as if it were a charm against the sordidness about him. He had a way of peering at the people we passed as if he were looking for someone he had lost in the crowd. At Sixteenth Street we turned into the small park at the right of the avenue, which with its neighbor on the left keeps alive the memory of green and growing things among the dwellers of the tenements.
It was at the fountain that he first saw her. John Keats had an abrupt manner, for all his gentleness, of proceeding along the path of his desires.
"At last I have found you," he said to the tall girl who was watching a group of youngsters at play near the gushing waters. In the darkness I could see only a pair of flashing eyes under a broad-brimmed straw and a cape of soft blue hanging gracefully from her shoulders.
She scrutinized both of us with the intuitive glance of one who has learned to tread warily amid dangerous surroundings. Apparently her preliminary examination was satisfactory. She put us into the non-poisonous class. Keats had flattened the palm of his right hand against his breast and was offering the last rose to her with the other. His manner was of the stage but not offensively so.
"At last I have found you," repeated my curious acquaintance. "For all your laughter you are unhappy. You are consumed with yearning, even as I am. Pray accept a rose."
With a murmured repetition of his formula he gave he his last flower.
His manner was earnest and the girl had immediately rejected the assumption that we were mocking her.
"This is a mistake," she explained, hesitating about the rose. "I don't think you know who I am."
"A lady of high degree, I am sure," responded Keats gallantly. There was a peculiar quaintness about his English, which like his name, took me back to the early nineteenth century. The coincidence of his name did not strike me as unusual, because the telephone directory is full of such parallels.
"No high degree about me," laughed the girl. "I'm a saleslady at Marmelstein's, that's all. What you said about being unhappy is true sometimes. When you came up I was just thinking."
Her voice with its overtone of sadness sounded in the semi-darkness like the faint tremolo of mandolins serenading in the distance.
"But there need be no unhappiness," contended Keats. "We must shut out from our sight everything but beauty, pure beauty. At this moment I am supremely happy."
He looked at her. There was an unreality about him for which I could not account. Like a mirage of the park he seemed. In a twinkle of the incandescents, I thought, he might vanish. The girl from Marmelstein's looked at him as if fascinated. Romance had come and touched her heart with a magic wand. She sniffed at the rose pensively.
"I couldn't just tell you why I was feeling queer. Marmelstein's is a nice place, honest. You see all sorts of people during the day and it's interesting to work there. But there's something missing—I don't know what."
"Beauty, my lady, beauty," declared Keats.
Out of the shadows a fourth form had materialized, a thickset man who approached us with a firm stride. He patted my friend gently on the shoulder.
"You're a bad boy, John," he reproached, "giving me the slip that way. I had the time of my life looking for you. The moment my back was turned you vamoosed from the waiting room. That wasn't kind. If I hadn't a known how fond you wuz of roses, I would a been stumped, stumped for good. I trailed you by them roses."
The girl sensed that there was something wrong.
"Lady, farewell," said Keats.
With a little moan she saw him being led off.
"What's wrong?" I asked the intruder.
"Bugs on beauty, that's all. Thinks he's a guy named John Keats who wrote poems. Harmless case. Wouldn't hurt a fly. I was bringing him over to see his mother when he give me the slip. Gee, but I can breathe easy now."
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever," declared the spirit of Keats.
"Sure, sure," said the attendant, lighting a cigar.
When I turned to leave the park the girl from Marmelstein's came up to me.
"What happened?" she inquired. Her fists were clenched and she was breathing heavily.
"He was such a gentleman," she sobbed softly.
THE OTHER ROOM
[Note 20: Copyright, 1919, by The McCall Company. Copyright, 1920, by Mary Heaton O'Brien.]
BY MARY HEATON VORSE
From McCall's Magazine
It was after John MacFarland was Captain of Black Bar Life-Saving Station for nearly twenty years. Every summer evening all that time I would see him and Mis' MacFarland driving along to the station, for in the summer the crew is off for two months and only the Captain stays there from sundown to sunup.
I never saw her drive past without thinking how she hated to look at the sea. She never sat where she could see salt water. She had been going out to Black Bar all these years and never once had seen the boat-drill. This was because she knew, on account of her husband's being a life-saver, what the sea does to the vessels and the men in them.
When Mis' MacFarland's married daughter died and her little granddaughter Moira came to live with her, I would see all of them, the Captain, Mis' MacFarland and Moira, driving to the station summer evenings, Moira's head peeping out between them like a little bird. And I would always think how Mis' MacFarland hated the sea, and I'd be real glad that the blowing of the sand grinds the station windows white till you can't see through them.
Then John MacFarland died all of a sudden just at the end of the summer. He had been building a yawl out there at the station for nearly two years, and she was just ready to la'nch. I remember meeting him on the boardwalk and him telling me about that boat of his, and thinking what a fine figure of a man he was for over sixty. And next I heard he was dead.
Then Mis' MacFarland had a spell of sickness, and that is how I came to be housekeeper to her and Moira. And I remember how she struck me the first day, for there she was sitting looking out over the bay watching the boats as though the sight of them gave her pleasure. I was so surprised I spoke right out:
"Why, Mis' MacFarland," says I, "I thought you couldn't abide the look of salt water."
"I don't seem to feel there's the difference between land and sea I used to," she says in her gentle, smiling way. "We learn."
I wanted to ask her how we learned what I saw she'd learned, for, if you can understand me, she seemed to have gotten beyond grief, but before I could speak Moira came running in and it seemed as if the joy in her heart shone out of her so the place was all lighted up. Her face was tanned so brown that her blue eyes looked strange, and against her skin the fair hair around her forehead looked almost silver.
"Where you been," I said, "to have so much fun?"
"In the back country," says she. "I'm always happy when I come from in back."
"Were you alone?" She stopped a minute before she answered.
"Yes—I suppose so," as if she didn't quite know. It was a funny answer but there was a funny, secret, joyful look on her face that suddenly made me take her in my arms and kiss her, and quite surprised to find myself doing it.
Then she sat down and I went around getting supper; first I thought she was reading, she was so still. Then my eyes happened to fall on her and I saw she was listening; then suddenly it was like she heard. She had the stillest, shiningest look. All this don't sound like much, I know, but I won't forget how Moira and Mis' MacFarland struck me that first day, not till I die.
When I went to bed I couldn't get 'em out of my mind and I found myself saying out loud:
"There's joy and peace in this house!"
It was quite a time before I sensed what had happened to Mis' MacFarland and what made her change so toward the sea. She'd sit by the window, a Bible in her hands and praying, and you would catch the words of her prayer, and she was praying for those she loved—for the living and the dead. That was only natural—but what I got to understand was that she didn't feel any different about them. Not a bit different did she feel about the living and the dead!
They were all there in her heart, the dead and the living, and not divided off at all like in most folks' minds.
I used to wonder about Moira, too, when she'd have these quiet spells—like she was listening, but not to any sounds. Then next you'd feel as if she was gladder than anything you'd ever known, sitting there so still with that listening look on her face—only now like I told you, as if she'd heard. She'd be so happy inside that you'd like to be near her, as if there was a light in her heart so you could warm yourself by it.
It's hard to tell just how I came to feel this. I suppose just by living with folks you get to know all sorts of things about them. It's not the things they say that matters. I knew a woman once, a pleasant-spoken body, yet she'd pizen the air about her by the unspoken thoughts of her heart. Sometimes these thoughts would burst out in awful fits of anger—but you'd know how she was inside, if she spoke to you always as gentle as a dove.
I'd like to be near Moira those times and yet it made me uneasy, too, her sitting so still, listening, and Mis' MacFarland, as you might say, always looking over the edge of eternity. It was all right for her but I'd wonder about Moira. I wondered so hard I took it up with Mis' MacFarland.
"Do you think you're doing right by that child?" I asked her right out plain.
"Why, how do you mean?" she says in her calm way.
"Teaching her things that's all right for us older people to know but that don't seem to me are for young things."
"Teaching her things!" says Mis' MacFarland. "I haven't taught Moira nothing. If you mean them still, quiet, happy spells of hers, she's always had 'em. She taught me. It was watching her when she was little that taught me——"
"Taught you what?" I asked her when she wouldn't go on.
"It's hard to say it in words—taught me how near all the rest is."
I didn't get her, so I asked what she meant by "the rest."
"The rest of creation!" says she. "Some folks is born in the world feeling and knowing it in their hearts that creation don't stop where the sight of the eyes stop, and the thinner the veil is the better, and something in them sickens when the veil gets too thick."
"You talk like you believed in spooks and God knows what," I says, but more to make myself comfortable than anything else.
"You know what I mean, Jane McQuarry," says she. "There's very few folks, especially older ones, who haven't sometimes felt the veil get thinner and thinner until you could see the light shining through. But we've been brought up to think such ideas are silly and to be ashamed of 'em and only to believe in what we can touch and taste and, in spite of stars shining every night over our heads, to think creation stops with heavy things like us. And how anyone who's ever seen a fish swimming in the water can think that—I don't know. What do they know of us and how can they imagine folks on legs walking around and breathing the air that makes 'em die? So why aren't there creatures, all kind of 'em, we can no more see than a fish can us?"
I couldn't answer that, so I went back to Moira.
"She'll get queer going on like this," I said. "Thin veils and light shining through and creatures that feel about us like we do about fishes are all right for old folks who've lived their lives. She's got to live hers and live it the way ordinary folks do."
"Ain't she happy?" asked Mis' MacFarland. "Don't she like rolling a hoop and playing with the other children? Didn't you say only yesterday her mischief would drive you out of your senses?"
I couldn't deny this. Unless you'd seen her as I had, she was just like any other happy little girl, only happier maybe. Like, I said, you could see her heart shine some days, she was so happy. About that time I found out more how she felt. One still night, for no reason, I got out of my bed and went into Moira's room and there she was sitting up in her bed, her eyes like starlight.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Why—I—don't know—I'm waiting for something!"
"Waiting! At this time of the night! How you talk! You lie right down, Moira Anderson, and go to sleep," says I, sharp.
"I can't yet," she says, turning to me. "I haven't been able to find it for two days now. I've not been good inside and I drove it away."
"For mercy's sake, speak plain! What did you drive away?"
"Why, don't you know?" says she. "You lose your good when you're unkind or anything."
"Your good!" I says. "Where do you get it from?" For she spoke as though she were talking of something that was outside herself and that came and went.
"It comes from out there," she says, surprised that I didn't know.
"From out there?"
"Oh, out there where all the things are you can feel but can't see. There's lots of things out there."
I sat quiet, for all of a sudden I knew plain as day that she thought she was feeling what everybody else in the world felt. She hadn't any idea she was different.
"You know," she said, "how it is when you sit quiet, you know it's there—something good, it floods all over you. It's like people you love make you feel, only more. Just like something beautiful that can get right inside your heart!"
Now this may seem queer to you, for Moira was only a little girl of twelve, but there was a look on her face of just sheer, wonderful love, the way you see a girl look sometimes, or a young mother. It was so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes. That was the last time I worried about Moira for a long time, for, think I, anything as beautiful as that is holy even if it ain't regular.
I told Mis' MacFarland about our talk.
"What do you think she means when she says 'her good'? Is it like feeling God's near?" I asked. She shook her head.
"I don't believe it," she said. "It's more human than that. I think it's someone out there that Moira loves—"
"How you talk!" I said. "Someone out there! If you keep on like this you'll be fey, as my old grandmother used to call it."
"Well," she said, "when you get to where I am, lots of things that seem curious at first thought don't seem a mite more curious than birth or death. Not as curious even, when you come to think about it. What's there so curious I'd like to know, Jane McQuarry, about sensing the feelings of somebody else off to a distance? How about your own mother, the night your brother was lost at sea; didn't she know that and hadn't you all mourned him dead for two months before the real word came to you?"
I couldn't deny this, and I felt that the wind was taken out of my sails. I suppose it was all along with that feeling of hers, with not making a difference between those that were dead and those that were not. All the world was mysterious, and she had a sense of the wonder of the least blade of grass in it, so the things that were not so usual as you might say didn't disturb her any.
"Why," says she, "sometimes I sit in a maze just to look at this room."
"Why, what ails this room?" said I.
'T was a room like many you've seen hereabouts, with a good horse-hair sofy and the mahogany furniture nice and shiny from being varnished every spring, and over the sofy was thrown a fur rug made in lozenges of harp seal and some other fur and a dark fur border. It was real pretty—it was always wonderful to me that folks like Eskimos can make the things they do. There was some little walrus ivory carvings on the what-not, and on the mantel a row of pink mounted shells, and the model of her father's barkentine when he was in the China trade was on the wall in a glass case.
There's many rooms alike here in this town, with the furniture kept so nice and the things the men's brought back with 'em from the north and south, as you'd expect in a seafaring town—
"What ails this room?" I said.
"Why, it's the folks who made it," says she. "So many and from so far. The whole world's here!" She went on like that until it seemed to me the room was full of folks—savages and Eskimos and seafaring men dead a long while ago, all of 'em. It was wonderful if you looked at it that way.
"So," she said, jumping out on me sudden, "what's there strange about Moira feeling like she does when there's rooms like this? It's less common, but it's no more wonderful."
I saw what she meant, though at the time her explanation of Moira seemed just nonsense to me. Though I'll say I could tell myself when Moira lost what she called "her good." She'd be like a lost child; she'd be like a plant without water and without sun.
Except for that she grew up just like any other girl, a favorite with the children, and a lovely dancer. Only there it was—she had something that other children didn't. It came and went, and when it went away she would grow dim like a smoky lamp. I got so used to it that it just seemed to me like a part of Moira. Nothing that marked her off from nobody, or that gave you anything like a queer and creepy feeling about her. Quite the contrary. She just seemed to have an abiding loveliness about her that everybody else ought to have but didn't, not so much.
When Kenneth Everett came along, "Well," thinks I, "I might have saved myself the worry." For worry I always had for fear that this other feeling of hers would cut her off from the regular things in life. It would have been all very well in another time in the world when a girl could go off and be a saint, but there was no such place for a girl to go in a town like ours.
There was no one but Moira for Kenneth from the first. He was as dark as she was fair; sunlight and starshine they seemed to me. It used to make me happy just to see him come storming in calling out, "Moira!" from the time he passed the Rose of Sharon bush at the gate.
Things in those days seemed right to me. Maybe I didn't see far enough; maybe I wanted too much for her—all the things it seems to me a woman in this life ought to have—and that I hadn't understood what made Moira the way she was. No wonder he loved her. I wish I could make you feel the way Moira looked. You had to feel it in your heart some way. She was fair and her face was tanned with the wind to a lovely golden color and her cheeks were smooth like ripe fruit and her eyes were blue and steady, so dark sometimes they seemed black—seeing eyes, that looked beyond what Mis' MacFarland called "the veil of things." She always seemed to me as if the spirit of the sea and the dunes between them was more her father and mother than anything else. That's a fanciful idea, but she gave you thoughts like that. She was the kind that makes even plain bodies like me fanciful.
There was days when she looked to me like something out of a lovely dream—if you can imagine a girl that's been dreamed by the sea and the dunes come true.
I can't quite tell when I first sensed what Kenneth felt about the times Moira was away, for as she went to the back country—you know how wild and secret that back country behind the town is—so there was what you might call the back country of the spirit she used to go to. I guess I found out how he felt one afternoon when he was waiting for her to come back from the dunes. She flew in as if she was helped by wings and she was listening—I'd got so used to it by now, it was so part of her, that I forgot how it might strike lots of folks.
He jumped toward her. "Oh, I've been waiting such a time, Moira! I'm so glad you're back!"
I knew he'd seen she was "away" and he was putting himself between her and whatever it was. For a moment she stood looking at him puzzled, as if it had taken her a minute to come back, and then she was as glad to see him as he was her.
"Well," thinks I, "when she gets married all her odd ways will go."
I took to watching them, and then and again I'd see him, as you might say, bring her back to real earth from the shining spot to which her thoughts went. Then sometimes after he'd go she'd be restless like she was when she was little when she'd lost "her good."
I could tell Mis' MacFarland was watching her, too, as she'd sit there praying like she did so much of the time, though it often seemed to me that her prayers wasn't so much prayers as a kind of getting near to those she loved.
I was sure then, as I ever was of anything, that Moira loved Kenneth. At the sound of his voice, light would come to her eyes and color to her face and her hand would fly to her breast as if there wasn't enough air in the world for her to breathe. Yet there was something else, too. She was always sort of escaping from him and then coming back to him like a half-tamed bird, and all the time he came nearer and nearer to her heart. All the time he had more of her thoughts. He fought for them.
He loved her. It seemed he understood her. He sensed all that was in her heart, the way one does with those we love. He'd look at her sometimes with such anxious eyes as if he was afraid for her, as if he wanted to save her from something. I couldn't blame him. I'd felt that way myself, but I'd gotten used to her ways.
Now I saw all over again that there was strange thoughts in her heart—thoughts that don't rightly belong in the kind of world we live in now.
It seems queer to you, I suppose, and kind of crazy, but I couldn't someway see what would become of Moira without "her good." If you'd lived with her the way I did all those years you'd have seen something beautiful reflected in her like the reflection of a star in a little pool at evening, only I couldn't see the star myself, just the reflection of it, but she saw the star.
I couldn't blame Kenneth; he wanted for her all the things I'd wanted for her always—and I couldn't bring myself to feel that the reflection of a star was better than the warm light of the fire from the hearth, but it was the star that had made her so lovely.
All this time Mis' MacFarland talked liked nothing was going on and all the time I knew she was watchin'. I'd try and sound her and she'd manage not to answer.
There came a time when I couldn't hold in. Moira'd been out all day on the dunes and toward night the fog had swept over us.
She came back out of the fog with a look on her face like a lost soul. I knew what had happened—I knew what was wrong—yet I couldn't help crying out:
"What's the matter?"
She just looked at me the way animals do when they suffer and can't understand. Her mouth was white and her eyes were dark, as if she was in pain, and when Kenneth came she ran to him as if she would have thrown herself in his arms to hide. They went out on the porch and that was when I could hold in no longer.
"What do you think about it?" I asked Mis' MacFarland right plain out.
"About what?" she asked.
I looked to where they was sitting. 'T was a wet night; the windows and trees seemed like they was crying. The great drops that fell from them, plop—plop, was like tears. There was a rainbow around the street light that made it look like the moon had dropped down close. Mis' MacFarland looked at them and she just shut her mouth and she shook her head and I could tell she wasn't pleased. Then says she:
The light fell on Moira's face and she was seeing out into the night and I knew she was out there. Kenneth spoke and she answered and yet she wasn't with him.
He got up and walked up and down. He spoke again, and again she answered, but Moira's voice answered without Moira. Her face was shining like silver.
She'd heard—she'd found it again.
Then he stood in front of her and said in a strange sort of a voice:
"Moira, what are you doing?"
"Dreaming," she said.
"What are you dreaming about?"
"I don't know—"
"It's not about me, it's nothing about me. Moira, look at me!"
I tell you his tone made my heart bleed. She didn't answer, but looked out into the fog in that absorbed, happy way of hers.
"Moira," he said again, "Moira!" He couldn't get her; he couldn't reach her, any more than if she'd stepped into another world. He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to him.
"Moira!" he said; his voice was husky with fear. "What do you find out there?" She turned to him as in a dream. She looked at him and she looked like some spirit when she spoke.
"I find the one I love!" she said.
"What do you mean?" he said. "What do you mean?"
"The one I love," she said again.
"Do you mean there's someone you love better than you do me?"
She nodded, with that flooding look of wonder on her face.
"I didn't know," she said next. "I didn't know—not—until now—all about it."
"All about it?" he cried.
"Yes, the meaning of what I felt—that it's someone as real as you, as real as me—that I love someone out there—someone I can't see."