"And yet our lives have somehow drifted apart, Ruth."
"But not so far, dear, as this woman has made you believe," she answered tenderly. "I have been selfish and resentful, but I will make it all up. I will lift up my head and be cheerful—live for you, work for you, think only of you, ask nothing for myself but only your presence and your love."
"But if I have given it to another—"
Again she put her hand on his lips.
"But you have not. It is madness. You could not forget our life. Last night I lay alone in silence, with wide-open eyes, dreaming it all over again. This woman I know is more beautiful than I—three years younger; her hair is gold, mine the raven's. She is fair and full and tall, and I am dark and small; but, Frank, dear, love is more than eyes and hair and lips and form. We have been made one in our flesh and blood and inmost soul. There is no other man than you for me. There is no music save your voice."
"Yet, if you feel this for me, and I thus wait in love on another, how can I live the lie?"
"Can you forget the sunlit days of our past?" she pleaded wistfully. "When you lay on the sands of the beach in old Virginia and held my hand while I read to you, idly dreaming through that wonderful summer before our first-born came sailing into port from God's blue sea! You said I was beautiful then. And you were so tender and gracious in your strength. No other woman can ever be to you this first girl-mother."
Her voice melted into a sob. She tried to go on and bit her swollen lips.
Then she rose quietly, and walked to the window and looked down at the city below, whose roar had drowned the music of her life.
He sat silent, waiting for her to regain her strength. He knew that he had the power of hypnotic suggestion over her in his iron will, and that she was beginning to recognise the inevitable.
She turned and faced him again, the hungry fires in her eyes burning with mystic radiance. A tiny stream of blood ran down from her lip and stood in the dimple of her chin. She drew a delicate lace handkerchief from her bosom and wiped the blood away until it ceased to flow. And then in low accents she said:
"You are going to leave me, my love. I feel the cold chill on my heart. It is God's will; I bow to it. One look into your dear eyes, one last embrace, one farewell kiss, and you will be gone. A little gift I will make you in this, the saddest, lowliest hour my soul has ever known. This handkerchief, stained with blood from lips you have kissed so tenderly in the past—that bled to-day because I tried to keep back the cries of a broken heart. I ask that you keep this as a token of my love."
She handed it to him and Gordon placed it in his pocket with a sigh, brushing a tear from his own eyes.
THE VOICE OF THE SIREN
Gordon left the house with a lingering look at Ruth's window and turned his face toward Gramercy Park, where another woman was waiting for his footstep.
He had suffered intensely in the scene with his wife. He did not believe it possible that she retained such power over him. He drew a deep breath of relief that it was over. Her pride would come to the rescue; for he knew that with her tenderness she combined strength, and with her delicacy, supreme energy.
The exaltation of his great victory of yesterday welled within him and drowned the sense of pain. It had been the most momentous day of his life. Visions of his Temple with gorgeous dome of gold—rising in the sky from its pile of gleaming marble rose before his fancy. He could hear the peal of the grand organ, the swell of the chorus choir, and the response from five thousand eager faces before him. He was speaking with inspiration as never before. He was leading not a forlorn hope against overwhelming odds, but a triumphant host of free, godlike men and women to certain victory.
He thought of the love that filled the heart of the woman to whom he was hurrying, that she should do this unheard of thing while yet breathing the breath of the capital of Mammon.
And then there stole over him, as oil on slumbering fires, the memory of her kisses, the melting languor of her eyes, the odour of her hair, the fever of her creamy flesh, until his senses reeled as drunk with wine. A smile played about his lips; he quickened his pace, lifted his head high, his nostrils dilated wide; he looked dreamily over the housetops into the sky and saw only the face of a woman.
He was in the grip of superhuman impulses. In the quickened throb of his heart and the rush of his blood was the sweep of subconscious forces of nature playing their role in the cosmic drama of all sentient life, laughing at man's laws, making and unmaking the history of races and worlds.
He was justifying his desires now in his new-found Social philosophy, which he had studied closely since Overman's suggestion of its scope.
He knew instinctively that between these elemental impulses and the Moral Law there was war. He would reconcile them by leading a revolution that should decree a new basis for the Moral Law itself. He would make these very subconscious forces the expression of the highest Moral Law. It suddenly flashed over him that this was the key to the paradox of life. He would be the prophet of the new era, and this beautiful woman his comrade in leadership in the Social Revolution it must bring.
His face flushed with the new enthusiasm, and the glorious autumn day about him seemed one with his spirit. The sky was cloudless with fresh breezes sweeping over the seas from the south.
When he stepped to the downtown platform his eye wandered up and down Twenty-third Street and Sixth Avenue and lingered on rivers of women, below.
His own drama, his million-dollar gift, the enormous sensation it had made in the morning press, had not produced a ripple on this swirling tide of flesh. They crowded the windows filled with feathers and hats, elbowed and jostled one another on the pavements, pushed and squeezed and trampled each other's feet and skirts fighting for standing room around the Monday bargain counters, oblivious of the existence of the spiritual world, church, God, or devil.
Again the ceaseless roar of the city, calm and fierce as the sea, one with its eternity of life, stunned him with its immensity and its indifference. He felt himself once more but an atom lost in the surging tides that beat on these stone pavements, worn by the surge of myriads dead and waiting for the throb of hosts unborn. What did they care? If he were to drop dead that moment, in the morning of his manhood, with the shout of victory on his lips, they would not lift an eye from their gaze on hat or ribbon to watch his funeral cortege trot to the cemetery. A brief obituary and he would be forgotten.
"After all," he mused, "Nature will have her way about this old world and its destiny. Self-development is the first law of life, not self-effacement."
His brow clouded for a moment as he recalled Kate's strange reserve and shrinking at his morning visit. Would she, womanlike, at the last moment contradict herself and withhold the full surrender of life? It was impossible, and yet he felt a vague fear. At any rate, he had burned the bridges behind. His way was clear. He would bring to bear every power he possessed to win her, and in the vanity of his powerful manhood he laughed with the certainty of victory.
When he greeted Kate and bent to kiss her she drew back, blushed and firmly said:
"No; we have had our moments of madness."
And the man smiled.
"I mean it," she said, shaking her head.
"You will change your mind. It's a woman's way. Those moments of bliss, so intense it was pain, when our souls and bodies met in a kiss, have made a new world for you and me."
"But we will keep ourselves pure and unspotted," she answered slowly. "All night I fought this battle alone. Our love is a hopeless tragedy."
"It shall not be so for you, my shining one."
"There are others," she said, nervously clasping her hands, "whose lives are linked with ours. The face of your wife I saw last night will forever haunt me with its pathos. I've seen your children once—so like you, and yet so like her."
"Even so. Life has no meaning now except that you are mine and I am yours."
"But may you not be mine in a nobler way than the cheap surrender to our senses? We can love and suffer and wait. You love me. It is enough."
"But, Kate, my dear, there can be no middle course between right and wrong, a lie and the truth."
She fixed on him an intense look.
"Have you told her?"
"Yes, and we have separated as man and wife. She leaves for Florida for the winter. She has agreed at my request to secure a divorce, and you and I will marry under the new forms of Social freedom. Our union will be a prophecy of the revolution that shall redeem society."
"You are doing a great wrong," she protested, her full red lips drawn with pain. "When I think of your wife and children, of her tears and reproaches, I am sick with fear."
"Perfect love will cast out fear. The world is large. The soul is large. Lift up your head and be yourself. You said to me in this room once you were not afraid."
"Yes; I had not kissed you then, or felt the bliss and agony of your strong arms about me. Now, I am afraid of you"—her voice sank to a tense whisper—"and I am afraid of myself!"
He seized her hand.
"You will take the risk. You are cast in such a mould," he said, with ringing assurance. "You are the chosen one, my dauntless comrade in a holy crusade. We will call womanhood from enslavement to form, ceremony and tradition, in which the brute nature of man has bound her, out and up into her larger self, the mate and equal of man."
She shook her head, and her hair began to fall in waving ringlets about her forehead, temples and neck.
"I am afraid. I cannot permit this sacrifice on your part. You must break with society, your friends, your father, your past, your wife and children. I must brave the sneers of gossip and the tongue of slander. It will destroy your work and end your career."
"It will give it grander scope. Back of the dead forms of the age, the living heart of a new life is beating. It will burst its bounds as surely as the dead limbs in that park will in spring put on their shimmering satin which Nature is now weaving in her mills beneath the sod. You and I will open the doors of the soul and body to a new and wider life. And, after all, the body is the soul. I know it as I drink the madness of your beauty."
"I do not fear the world so much, I shrink from striking a woman a mortal blow. I know what it is to love now," she insisted sadly.
"Ruth and I have grown out of each other's life. Besides, you do not know her. Beneath her little form are caged powers you have not guessed," he replied, with a curious smile. "I groan and bellow in pain until you can hear me a mile. It is my way. She can take her place on the cold slab of a surgeon's table, feel the crash of steel through nerve and muscle and artery without a groan. I might rave, commit suicide or murder in a tempest of passion, but mark my word, she will lift her lithe figure erect and, with soft, even footstep, go her way."
He said this with a ring of tender pride, as though she were his child about whom he was boasting.
"I believe you love her still," Kate said, flushing with a look of surprise.
"You know her love could not live in the fires with which my eyes are consuming you," he said with intensity.
She lowered her gaze and glanced uneasily about as though afraid of him.
"Must the strength of manhood be forever throttled by the impulses and mistakes of youth? Great changes in society are impending. You have felt it. The whole world is trembling at their coming. Changes in the forms of marriage must come that shall give scope for our highest development. I ask you to enter with me into this new world as a comrade pioneer and priestess. We will enter into a marriage so free, so spontaneous no chains shall gall it; and yet in the breadth of its freedom so sweet, so strong, so harmonious it will be a sublime revelation to the world."
"And you think me fit for such priesthood?" she asked. "There are hidden fires beneath this form you deem so fair. I have never known restraint except in the willing slavery of your love. You do not know me—I warn you. I did not know myself until I felt the mad rush of blood from my heart in your arms yesterday. I am afraid of this woman I met for the first time in the wild joy of your kiss."
"I'm not afraid of you," he laughed, springing to his feet and striding toward her.
She trembled at his approach, but did not protest except with a helpless look in her violet eyes.
He stood for a moment towering over her, his feet braced apart, his big hands fiercely locked, his wide chest heaving with the exultant joy of the mastery of her life, his steel-gray eyes sparkling with the insolence of strength.
"We were born for one another," he said, in low, burning tones. "It was for me you were waiting. Lo! I am here, and you are mine. In you I have seen the ideal that haunts every full-grown man's soul, of comradeship in every work, sympathy with every hope, the glory of a perfect body, and perfect faith with perfect freedom."
"And you see all this in me?" she asked earnestly.
"Yes. You are my affinity, nerve answering nerve, thought echoing thought. In our union I see a love so strong, of such utter surrender, of such devotion of intellect, such mystic enthusiasm and physical joy, its waves must break in ecstasy on our souls forever."
She arose with a sigh, looked appealingly at him, and her lips mechanically said:
"It is wrong."
But the man saw the flash of unutterable love in her eyes and the tender smile about her full lips; and laughing aloud, he took her deliberately in his arms.
He kissed a tear from her lashes. A tremor shook her splendid form, she closed her eyes, breathing deeply, slipped her arms around his neck and sighed:
GOEST THOU TO SEE A WOMAN?
Again Gordon was seated in Overman's library and his single eye was asking some uncomfortable questions.
"I sent for you, Frank, because I discovered by accident, in the office of a newspaper of which I am a stockholder, that some curious things are going on between you and a young woman of your congregation. I put two and two together, and I've guessed the secret of your Temple. There's more behind all this than religious enthusiasm. That gift was not laid on God's altar, but on the altar of one of his little images here below. Out with it. You can't fool me."
"Well, your guess is correct. She gave the money. I love her and she loves me. Ruth will go South for the winter, and we have separated. A divorce will be obtained in due time, and I will marry Miss Ransom under the new forms of Social Freedom, and you will be my best man."
"Not on your life," Overman slowly growled, bringing his enormous jaws together and twisting the muscles of his mouth upward as though he smelled something.
"Can't stand the rustle of a woman's dress?"
"Oh, I might survive. You know they say the only really happy people at a wedding are the old bachelors."
"Then why not?"
"I draw the line at the progressive harem idea."
"And a bachelor?" Gordon sneered.
Overman nodded. "Many things may be forgiven sinners, but a bishop must be the husband of one wife."
"I'm not a bishop. I'm a man. I ask no quarter of my enemies."
"You have but one enemy. You can see him in the mirror any time."
"It's funny to hear you preach!"
The banker bent forward.
"Frank, you're joking. You don't mean to tell me that your Socialist poppy plant has borne its opium fruit so soon? That you are going to desert that charming little woman, shy, timid and tremulous, with her great soulful eyes, the bride of your youth, the mother of your babes, and take up with another woman, just as any ordinary cur has done now and then for the past four thousand years?"
"No. I am going to form a union with this beautiful woman which shall be a prophecy and a propaganda of the freedom of the race, when comrade life shall forget the ancient fears, each shall be free to find and love his own, love be loosed from tragedy, doubt or moan, each life be its own, original and masterful, each man a god, arrayed and beautiful!"
Overman laughed softly.
"So fine as that? You're great on the frills. You have dressed it up nicely. But when two of your man-gods, arrayed and beautiful, get their eyes, set on the same woman-god, still more beautiful, arrayed or unarrayed, you'll hear the rattle of the police wagon in the streets of Heaven, with the ambulance close behind."
The banker grinned and fixed his eye on his friend with a quizzical look.
"Don't be a monkey," Gordon scowled.
"Why not? You propose to go back to forest life."
"I propose to make human society a vast brotherhood," the preacher cried, with a wave of his arm.
"Well, don't forget that Cain killed his brother Abel for less than a woman's smile."
"Society is lost unless some great upheaval shall clear the rubbish and we build new foundations on truth and fellowship and freedom."
Overman put his hand on Gordon's knee.
"Frank, I'm a godless, crusty bachelor, but I read history. Destroy the integrity of the family and the salt of the earth is lost. The whole thing will rot."
"But I propose to purify and glorify the home its life by building it on love."
"Your dream's a fake and its world peopled with fools."
"Love must conquer all," the dreamer insisted.
"And to do it, Frank, it must begin at home. You are blinded by a woman's beauty."
"No; I love her with the one master passion of manhood. Such love is itself the highest expression of life."
"Confound you," snapped Overman, "love as many women as you please, but don't desert your wife and children. It's too vulgar. I'm ashamed of you."
"I will not live a lie," Gordon said, with emphasis.
"Strange madness. I urge you to tell a tiny little polite lie and save your wife and children. You're too good to lie, so you kill your wife, proclaim an insane crusade of lust, and call it a religion!"
"We can't control the beat of our hearts," was the dreamy reply.
"No, you can't; but you can control the stroke of your big, blue-veined fist! You have struck the mother of your children with your brute claws. It's a mean, low thing to do, call it by as many high names as you please. Love as many women as you like, but for decency's sake—can't you honour your wife with a polite lie?"
"It's not in me to lie, or to love but one woman."
The banker's massive shoulders went up and his bushy brows lifted.
"You'll end with a dozen, and it's such a stupid old story. You think the performance an original drama in which you are playing a star role. It's as old as the brute beneath the skin of your big hairy hand. Alexander could conquer the world, but he died in drunken revelry with a worthless woman. Caesar and Mark Antony forgot the Roman Empire for the smile of Cleopatra. Frederick the Great became a puppet in the hands of a ballet dancer. She spoke and he obeyed. Conde, in the meridian of his splendid manhood, the pride and glory of France, sacrificed his family, his fortune and his friends for an adventuress, who murdered him. Charles Stewart Parnell, the uncrowned king of Ireland, forgot his people and stumbled into death and oblivion over the form of a woman. The hills and valleys of the centuries are white with the bones of these fools."
"There was never a case just like mine."
"So every fool thought."
"But you have not seen this woman. You do not know her," Gordon protested, hotly.
"No; and I don't want to know her. 'Goest thou to see a woman? Take thy whip!' Women, savages and children are inferior and immature forms of evolution. But they are going to prove more than a match for you, my boy."
"Yes; I've heard you talk such rubbish before," Gordon replied, dreamily. "Mark, I'm sorry for the poverty of your life. The man who has not loved is not a man. He is a monstrosity out of touch of sympathy with the race. You cannot understand me when I tell you that our love is so pure, so wonderful, so perfect, it is its own defense."
"Indeed! Which love? For Ruth or Kate? Frank, I marvel at the childlike simplicity of your folly and your mental antics to justify it. It's enough to make that cat laugh that broke up your sermon."
"We are going to bear in our union and life the flaming standard of a revolution that will yet redeem society."
"I admire your ingenuity. Just a plain rooster-fighting sinner like me would never have thought of making his sin a holy religion. You haven't studied theology for nothing. I'll bet you could argue the devil or the Archangel Michael to a standstill on any proposition you'd set your heart on."
The preacher smiled.
"I never saw my course with greater clearness."
"Yes; but a nail in the pilot-house will draw the needle and drive the mightiest ocean greyhound on the rocks with the captain at the wheel dead sure of his course."
"Mark, it's utterly useless to talk. You and I are miles apart at our starting-point and we get farther with every step. You look at it from the vulgar point of view of the world. What I am doing is a great act of the soul, a breaking of bonds and chains. You see only the body. I am going to lead a crusade that shall so purify and exalt the body that it shall become one with the soul. The freedom of man can only be attained in unfettered fellowship, and this beautiful woman will be with me a comrade priestess to teach the world this sublime truth."
"And will you be the only priest with her in the Temple of Humanity?" asked the banker, quizzically.
Gordon laughed with insolent assurance.
"In her eyes, yes."
"But other men have eyes."
"Their gaze will not disturb the serenity of our love, because it will be built on oneness of ideal, hope, faith, taste and work."
"And yet dark hair loves the blond, and blue eyes hunger for the brown. It's an old trick Nature has played before, Frank."
"Well, we are going to show you a miracle, and you are coming with us by and by and be a deacon in this Church of the Son of Man."
Overman drew his straight bushy brow down over his one eye until it looked like the gleam of a lighthouse through the woods, turned his head sideways, peered at his friend and growled:
"Well, you are a fool!"
"I have faith that will remove mountains."
"You'll need it. I've been waiting for a church in New York broad enough to invite the devil to join. I'll come when it's ready."
"Good. We'll give you a welcome."
Overman grunted, and gazed into the fire with his single eye, frowning and twisting the muscles of his mouth into a sneer.
The night before the day Gordon had fixed for their final parting Ruth slept but little. The task of gathering his things scattered about the house was harder than she had hoped.
Over each little trinket that spoke its message of the tender intimacy of married life she had lingered and cried. She wished to keep everything.
At last she placed the clothes in his trunk, his collars, cuffs, cravats and such odds and ends as he would need at once, and the rest she packed away carefully in bureau drawers and locked them up.
His slippers and dressing-gowns she knew he would want, but she made up her mind she would keep them. The slippers were an old-fashioned pattern with quaint Spanish embroidery worked around the edges. She had made the first pair before they were married, with her girl's heart fluttering with new-found happiness. She had allowed him no other kind since their marriage. This bit of sentiment she had guarded even in the darkest days of the past year's estrangement. She had worked each pair with her own hand.
His dressing-gowns, in which he often studied at home in her room late on Saturday nights, she had always made for him, changing their designs from time to time as her fancy had led her.
Around these two articles of his wardrobe her very heart-strings seemed woven.
She placed them in his trunk once, telling herself through her tears:
"He may think of me when he sees them."
Then the lightning flashed across the clouds in her eyes.
"She might touch them! Let her make them for him after her own devil's fancy!"
She took them out, kissed them and packed them away. His picture she took down carefully from the walls, his photographs from her mantel and bureau and dresser. The life-sized one she locked in a closet and packed the others with his belongings she meant to keep.
On a wedding certificate, set in a quaint old gold frame, she looked long and tenderly. She took it down from its place over her bureau, where it had hung for years, and brushed the dust from the back. On its broad white margins he had written a poem to her on the birth of their first baby. He had sent her yards of rhymes during their courtship, but this was a poem. Every line was wet with his tears, and every thought throbbed with the sweetest music of his soul wrought to its highest tension of feeling.
She read it over and over again and cried as though her heart would break as a thousand tender memories came stealing back from their early married life.
"Oh, dear God!" she sobbed. "How could he have felt that—and he did feel it—and now desert me!"
She sat for an hour with this framed emblem of her happiness and her sorrow in her hands, dreaming of their past.
She was a girl again in old Hampton, Virginia, her heart all a-quiver over a ball at the Hygeia, where she was to meet a guest, a distinguished young preacher resting for the summer just from his divinity course. He had seen her in the crowd at the hotel and begged a friend to introduce him. She was going to meet him in the parlours, dressed in the splendour of her ballroom dress that night, and conquer this handsome young giant. And from the moment they met, she was the conquered, and he the conqueror.
The incense of their honeymoon in a village of southern Indiana during his first pastorate, when the wonder of love made storm days bright with splendour and clothed in beauty the meanest clod of earth, stole over her soul—each memory added to her pain, and yet they were sweet. She hugged them to her heart.
"They are all mine at least!" she sighed. "And I am glad I have lived them."
At two o'clock she went into the nursery and looked at the sleeping children. She bent over the cradle of the boy. He was dreaming, and a smile was playing about the corners of his lips.
He was so like Gordon, with his little mouth twitching in dreamy laughter, she fell on her knees, and buried her face in her delicate tapering hands, crying:
"How can I bear it!"
She placed her arms on the rail of the cradle and gazed at him tenderly.
"Lord, keep him clean and pure, and whatever he may do in life, may he never break a woman's heart!" she softly prayed.
Into her first-born's face she looked long and in silence. How like her, and how like him, and how marvelous the miracle of this union of flesh and blood and spirit in a living soul! Lucy was growing more like her every day. She could see and hear herself in her ways and voice, until she would laugh aloud sometimes at the memory of her own childhood. And yet to see her very self growing into the startling image of her lover who was deserting her cut anew with stinging power.
Again she was softly praying: "Dear Lord, whatever shall come to her, poverty or riches, joy or pain, honour or shame, sunshine or shadow, save her from this. My feet will climb this Calvary, and my lips drink its gall, but may the cup pass from her!"
After a few hours of fitful sleep, she rose and looked out her window on another radiant November morning. So clear was the sky she could see the flag-staffs of the great downtown buildings and back of them in the distant bay the pennant masts of ships at anchor. The trees in Central Park seemed to glow with the splendour of the dying autumn's sun. The glory of the day mocked her sorrow.
"What does Nature care?" she sighed. "And yet who knows, it may be a token! I must bravely play my part and leave the rest with God."
Watching at the window she saw Gordon coming, his broad feet measuring a giant's stride, his wide shoulders and magnificent head high with unconscious strength.
She wondered if he would stop in the parlour as a visitor or come to her room as was his custom, and a sharp pain cut her with the thought of their changed relationship.
He stopped in the hall, asked the maid to send the children down at once, and stepped into the parlour.
He felt a strange embarrassment in his own home. This house he had bought for Ruth soon after their arrival in New York. It had just been built in the wide-open space of the cliffs on Washington Heights. The Pilgrim Church's members were long since scattered over every quarter of the city, and, by arranging his study in the church, he was able to have his home so far removed from the noise of the downtown district. He had thus fulfilled Ruth's passionate desire for a home of her own within their moderate means. He recalled now with tender melancholy how happy they had been decorating this little nest, and how far from his wildest dream had been such an ending of it all.
But he had come with important news, and he hoped her pain would be softened by its announcement.
The children entered with shouts of delight. First one would hug him, and then the other, and then both would try at the same time.
Lucy put her hands on his smooth ruddy cheeks and kissed his lips and eyes with the quaintest imitation of her mother's trick of gesture.
"Where have you been, Papa? We thought you were never coming? Mama said you were gone for a trip and would come to-day, but"—her voice sank—"she's been crying, and crying, and we don't know what's the matter. I'm so glad you've come."
"Well, you and brother run upstairs to play and tell her Papa wishes to see her."
The children left and Ruth came down at once.
As she entered the room, he was struck by the change in her face and manner. She seemed transfigured by a strange, spiritual elation. She was gracious, natural and friendly. The anxiety had passed from her face, and the storm in her dark eyes seemed stilled by a steady radiance from the soul.
"I'm glad to see you looking better, Ruth," he said, with feeling.
"Yes, I have a new standard now of measuring life, its pain and its joy. The soul can only pass once through such a moment as that I lived, prostrate on the floor at your feet last Monday. I have looked Death in the face. I am no longer afraid."
"I am very, very sorry to give you such pain. I did not think you cared so deeply," he said, gently.
"Yes, I know I have seemed indifferent and resentful for the past year. I thought you would come back to your old self by and by. In my poor proud soul I thought I was punishing you. How little, dear, I dreamed of this! The thought of really losing you never once entered my heart. It was unthinkable. I do not believe it yet. Such love as ours, such tenderness and devotion as you gave to me once, the delirium of love's joy that found itself in my motherhood and wrought itself in the forms of our babies—no, Frank, it cannot die, unless God dies! And I shall not lose you at last, unless God forgets me, and He will not."
Her face, even through her tears, was illumined by an assurance so strong, so prophetic, the man was startled.
"I need not tell you, Ruth, that I desire your happiness. And, strange as it may seem to you, Miss Ransom regards you with tenderness."
The dark eyes flashed a gleam of lightning from their depths.
"Thanks. I can live without her maudlin pity."
"You misjudge her," he cried, raising his hand.
"Perhaps; but I'll ask you, Frank, not to dishonour me, or this little home you were once good enough to give to me, by mentioning that woman's name within its doors again."
The sensitive mouth closed with an emphasis he could not mistake.
"But I am the bearer from her to-day of a token of her regard. She has determined to turn over to you as quickly as possible a half-million dollars of her remaining fortune."
Ruth sprang to her feet, her face scarlet, her breast heaving, her lithe figure erect and trembling.
"And you dare bring this message to me? This offer to sell my husband and my love!"
"Come, come, Ruth, a woman has no need to sacrifice a great fortune in New York for a husband. They are cheaper than that."
"They do seem cheap," she answered, bitterly.
"You should have common sense. The spirit of sacrifice in this great gift to you and the children is too deep and honest to be met with a sneer. It is my desire and hers that you shall be forever beyond want."
Ruth's face softened and a tender smile lit it once more.
"Frank, my darling, you cannot think me so base? You know there is not a drop of mean blood in me. Can gold pay for my heart's desire? The price for my beloved? Pile the earth with diamonds to the stars, I'd hold it trash for the touch of your hand!"
The man moved nervously.
"You must have some sense, Ruth. Surely, I'm not worth all this if I leave you so. You must take this money."
She moved closer to him and held up her delicate hands, with the sunlight gleaming through the red blood of her tapering fingers.
"You see these hands? They have only known the gentle tasks of love. Well, I'll scrub, sew and wash the clothes of working-men before one dollar of her gold shall stain them!"
"You cannot be so foolish," he protested, impatiently. "Besides, she has given me this money to give to you."
"Ah, my love," she went on, as though she had not heard his last words, "if you were frankly evil as other men, I might bear this shame with better grace. Others before me, as good as I, have borne its burden. But when I think that you are making your sin a religion, and that you are going to preach with the zeal of a prophet this gospel of the brute and call it freedom, how can I bear it?"
They were both silent for a moment.
"Let us change this disgusting subject, Frank," she said at length. "I wish you to leave with something kindlier to remember in my face than this shadow. You see, I have taken your pictures all down and locked them up. I have placed your clothes, all I could spare, in your trunk—for even these little things to me are heart treasures now. I could not let you take the slippers I have made for you with my own hands, or your dressing-gowns. That woman shall never touch them. The marriage certificate, with the little poem written to me on the birth of Lucy, I've packed up, too, with your pictures. I've put them away, because, just now, it would break my heart to look at them after this parting with you. When I come back from the South I will be stronger, and I will bring them out again. Your ring is mine until God's hand shall take it. I'll teach our babies always to love you."
Her voice broke, and he looked away.
"I will tell them that you have gone on a long journey into a strange country, and that you will come back again because you love them."
He stirred uneasily in his chair, crossed his legs and frowned.
"And I wish you to leave me to-day with the certainty—you can read it in my eyes, if you doubt my lips—that I will love you to the end, though you kill me. You can go on no journey so long, in no world so strange, that I shall not follow. My soul will envelop you. For better, for worse, through evil report and good report, I am yours."
Again a convulsive sob shook her, and she was silent.
Gordon felt an almost resistless impulse to take her in his arms and kiss and soothe her.
Through her tears she smiled at him.
"How beautiful you are, my dear! You will not forget that I love you? The spring, the summer, the autumn, the winter will only bring to me messages from our past. The way will be lonely, but the memory of the touch of your hand, our hours of perfect peace and trustfulness, the sweetness of your kisses on my lips, the living pictures of your face in our children, I will cherish."
He stooped to kiss her as he left, but she drew back trembling.
"No, Frank, not while your lips are warm with the touch of another and your flesh on fire with desire for her. It will be sweet to remember that you wished it—for I know, what you do not, that deep down in your soul of souls you love me. I will abide God's time."
He left her with a smile playing around her sensitive mouth and lighting the shadows of her great dark eyes.
THE THOUGHT THAT SWEEPS THE CENTURY
On the Saturday following Gordon's drama with Kate and his wife, his dream of secrecy was rudely shattered. Van Meter's ferret eyes, by the aid of his detectives, had fathomed the mystery of Kate Ransom's appearance in the study and her more mysterious disappearance.
They found that Gordon had separated from his wife, after a terrific scene; that he was a daily visitor to the Ransom house; and that his great patron was none other than the young mistress of the Gramercy Park mansion.
All day long he was beseiged by reporters. Ruth was compelled to hire a man to stand on the doorstep to keep them out. The Ransom house was barred, but Gordon could not escape.
He saw at once that they knew so much it was useless to make denials, and he prepared a statement for the press, giving the facts and his plans for the future in a ringing address. He submitted it to Kate for her approval, and at three o'clock gave it out for publication.
Their love secret had not been fathomed, but it had been guessed. He feared the reports would be so written that it would be read between the lines and a great deal more implied.
His revolutionary views on marriage and divorce and the fact that he was from Indiana, a state that had granted the year before nearly five thousand divorces, one for every five marriages celebrated,—were made the subject of special treatment by one paper. They submitted to him proofs of a six-column article on the subject, and asked for his comments. He was compelled to either deny or repeat his utterances advocating freedom of divorce, and finally was badgered into admitting that this feature was one of the fundamental tenets of Socialism.
He was not ready for the full public avowal of this principle, but he was driven to the wall and was forced to own it or lie. He boldly gave his position, and declared that marriage was a fetish, and that its basis on a union for life without regard to the feelings of the parties was a fountain of corruption, and was the source of the monopolistic instincts that now cursed the human race.
"Yes, and you can say," he cried, "that I propose to lead a crusade for the emancipation of women from the degradation of its slavery. Love bound by chains is not love. Love can only be a reality in Freedom and Fellowship."
This single sentence had changed the colouring of the whole story as it appeared in the press on Sunday morning, and was the key to the tremendous sensation it produced.
The next day long before the hour of service the street in front of the Pilgrim Church was packed with a dense crowd.
The police could scarcely clear the way for the members' entrance. Within ten minutes from the time the large doors were opened every seat was filled and hundreds stood on the pavements outside, waiting developments, unable to gain admission.
So many statements had been made, and so many vicious insinuations hinted, Gordon was compelled to lay aside his sermon and devote the entire hour to a defense of his position.
The crowd listened in breathless stillness, but he knew from the first he had lost their sympathies and that he was on trial. Unable to tell the whole truth, his address was as lame and ineffective as his outburst the Sunday before had been resistless. When he dismissed the crowd he noticed that some of his warmest friends were crying.
As he came down from the pulpit, Ludlow took him by the hand and, with trembling voice, said:
"Pastor, you know how I love you?"
What he did not say was more eloquent than a thousand words, and it cut Gordon to his inmost soul. He knew his failure had been pathetic, and that his enemies were laughing over the certainty of his ruin.
It angered him for a moment as he looked over the silent crowd filing out of his presence and out of his life.
He cursed their stolid conservatism.
"The average man does not aspire to liberty of thought," he mused with bitterness, "but slavery of thought. The mob must have its fixed formulas easy to read, requiring no thought. Well, let them go."
Suddenly a confused murmur, with loud voices mingled, came through the doors of the vestibules. The exits were blocked, and the moving crowd halted and recoiled on itself as if hurled back by the charge of an opposing army, and a cheer echoed over their heads.
The people inside, who had been halted, stretched their necks to see over the heads of those in front, crying:
"What is it?"
"What's the matter?"
"It sounds like a riot," some one answered near doors.
Gordon wedged himself through the mass that had been thrown back on the advancing stream and reached the doorway. He was astonished to find packed in the street more than five thousand men, evidently working-men and Socialists. They had been quick to recognise his position in the vigorous statement he had given to the press.
When Gordon's giant figure appeared between the two opposing forces a wild cheer rent the air.
A Socialist leaped on the steps beside him and, lifting his hat above his head, cried:
"Now again, men, three times three for a dauntless leader, a free man in the image of God, who dares to think and speak the truth!"
Three times the storm rolled over the sea of faces, and every hat was in the air.
Gordon lifted his big hand and the tumult hushed.
"My friends, I thank you for this mark of your fellowship. At the old Grand Opera House, next Sunday morning, the seats will be yours. You will get a comrade's welcome. I will have something to say to you that may be worth your while to hear."
The crowd, who had never seen or heard him, were impressed by his magnificent presence and his trumpet voice. They liked its clear ringing tones and its consciousness of power.
The unexpected demonstration restored his self-respect and blotted out the aching sense of failure.
His few words were greeted with tumultuous applause, renewed again and again. The air was charged with the electric thrill of their enthusiasm.
Gordon looked over the seething mass of excited men with exultant response.
He flushed and his big fists involuntarily closed. He had felt in his face the breath of the spirit that is driving the century before it.
A VOICE FROM THE PAST
From a college town in Indiana the aged father, William Gordon, Professor Emeritus of History and Belles Lettres, hurried to New York to see his son.
When he read the Sunday morning papers, which reached him about three o'clock, he pooh-poohed the wild reports the Associated Press had sent out from New York announcing the separation from Ruth and linking his son's name in vulgar insinuations with another woman.
He hastened to find the telegraph operator, and got him to open the office. He sent a long telegram to Frank, urging on him the importance of correcting these slanderous reports immediately.
He walked about the town to see his friends and explain to them.
"It's all a base slander," he said, drawing himself up proudly. "My son's success has been so phenomenal, he has made bitter enemies. The press has published these lies out of malice. His popularity is the cause of it. I have wired him. He will correct it immediately."
But when he failed to receive a denial, and the Monday's press confirmed the facts with embellishments, he quietly left home and hastened to New York.
He was a man of striking personality, a little taller than his distinguished son, six feet four and a half inches in height. Now, in his eighty-fifth year, he still walked with quick, nervous step, and held himself erect with military bearing. His face was smooth and ruddy, and his voice, in contrast with his enormous body, was keen and penetrating. When he rose in a church assembly his commanding figure, with its high nervous voice, caught every eye and ear and held them to the last word.
He was the most popular man that had ever occupied a chair in the faculty of Wabash College. He taught his classes regularly until he was eighty years old, and when he quit his active work he was still the youngest man in spirit in the institution. He read with avidity every new book on serious themes, and he was not only the best read man in the college town—he was the best informed man on history and philosophy in the state, if not in the entire West. He had the gift of sympathy with the mind of youth that fascinated every boy who came in contact with him. His genial and beautiful manners, his high sense of honour, the knightly deference he paid his students, his enthusiasm in the pursuit of knowledge, his quenchless thirst for truth, were to them a source of boundless admiration and loyalty.
The one supreme passion of his age was love for his handsome son and pride in his achievements. He had married late in life, and Frank's mother had died in giving him birth. The tragedy had crushed him for a year and he went abroad, leaving the child with a nurse. But on his return he gave to the laughing baby, with the blond curling hair of his mother, all the tenderness of his love for the dead, and his sorrow tinged his whole after life with sweetness and romance.
The only evidence of advancing age was his absentmindedness from boylike brooding over the days of his courtship and marriage and his day dreams about his long-lost love. He recognised it at once and laid down his class work.
Gordon met him at the Grand Central Depot with keenest dread and embarrassment. Hurrying out of the crowd, they boarded a downtown car on Fourth Avenue.
The old man glanced uneasily about and said:
"Son, isn't this car going down the avenue?"
"Yes, father. We are going to my hotel."
"Hotel? I don't want to go to a hotel. I want to go to your house. I want to see Ruth and the children at once."
"We'll go to my study at the church first, then, and I'll explain to you."
The old man's brow wrinkled, and he pressed his lips tightly together to keep them from trembling.
Gordon was glad he had not yet given orders for the removal of his study, and when they entered he drew the lid of his roll-top desk down quickly, that his father might not see Kate's picture where he had once seen Ruth's.
"Of course, my boy," the old man began, "I know there is some terrible mistake about this. I told my friends so at the College. But I couldn't wait for a letter, and I couldn't somehow understand your telegram. I'm getting a little old now, so I hurried on to see you. I'm sure if you and Ruth have quarreled you can make up and begin over again. Lovers' quarrels are not so serious."
"No, father, our separation is final."
The old man raised his hand in protest.
"Nonsense, boy, you have an iron will and Ruth a fiery temper, but a more lovable and beautiful spirit was never born than your wife. I was so proud of her when you brought her home! Of all the women in the world, I felt she was The One Woman God had meant for the mother of your children. In every way, mentally and physically, she is your complement and mate. Your differences only make the needed contrast for perfect happiness."
"But we have drifted hopelessly apart, father,"
"My son, the man and woman whom God hath made one in the beat of a child's heart cannot get hopelessly apart. It's a physical and moral impossibility. Do you mean to tell me that if your mother had lived after your birth, and we had bowed together over your cradle, height or depth, things past, present or to come, or any other creature, could have torn us asunder? You must make up this foolish quarrel. You must be patient with her little jealousies. It's natural she should feel them when you are the centre of so many flattering eyes."
Gordon saw it was useless to avoid the heart of the difficulty. So with all the earnestness and eloquence he could command he told his father the history of Kate Ransom's work in the church, the growth of their love, the drifting apart from Ruth, and the final dramatic climax of the day that she gave the money to build the Temple.
The old man with fine courtesy listened attentively, now and then brushing away a tear, and sighing.
"And so, father," he concluded, "a divorce is the only possible end of it all."
"And what has Ruth to say?" he asked, pathetically.
"She has accepted the situation, and at my request will bring the suit."
"And you will marry this other woman while Ruth lives?"
"Yes, father, and our union will be a prophecy of a redeemed society in which love, fellowship, Comradeship and brotherhood shall become the laws of life."
The old man's brow wrinkled in pain.
"But the family at which you aim this blow, my son, is the basis of all law, state, national, and international. It is the unit of society, the basis of civilisation itself. To destroy it is to return to the beast of the field."
"It must be modified in the evolution of human freedom, father."
"But, my son, it is the law of the Lord, and the law of the Lord is perfect!" the old man cried, with his voice quivering with anguish and yet in it the triumphant ring of the prophet and seer.
"Yes, father, your view of the law," the younger man quietly answered.
"My boy, since man has written the story of his life, saint and seer, statesman and chieftain, philosopher and poet have all agreed on this. There can be nothing more certain than that my view is true."
"Just as men have agreed on delusions and traditions in theology, but you now see as clearly as I how foolish many of these things are."
"But, my son, new theology or old theology, Bible or no Bible, Heaven or no Heaven, Hell or no Hell, God or no God, it is right to do right!" Again his high nervous voice rang like a silver trumpet.
"I am trying to do right."
"Yet greater wrong than this can no man do on earth—lead, captivate the soul and body of a gracious and innocent girl, teach her the miracle of love in motherhood, and then desert her for a fairer and younger face."
"But, father, I cannot live a lie."
"Then you will cherish, honour, love and protect your wife until death; and the old marriage ceremony read, 'until death us depart.' Your vow is eternal and goes beyond the physical incident of death itself."
"Yet how can I control the beat of my heart? We must go back to the reality of Nature and her eternal laws, in spite of illusions and theories," maintained the younger man.
"Ah, my boy, these things you call illusions I call the great faiths of our fathers, the revelation of God. Call them what you will, even if we say they are illusions, they are blessed illusions. They are the steel bars behind which we have caged the crouching, blind and silent forces of nature, fierce, savage and cruel as death."
His voice sank to a whisper, he leaned over and placed his trembling hand on Gordon's arm and added:
"I once felt the impulse to kill a man. It was natural, elemental and all but overpowering. Remember that civilisation itself is impossible without tradition. I know that progress is made only by its modification in growth. But growth is not destruction, and progress is never backward to beast or savage. Marriage is not a mere convention between a man and a woman, subject to the whim of either party. It is a divine social ordinance on which the structure of human civilisation has been reared. It cannot be broken without two people's consent and the consent of society, and then only for great causes which have destroyed its meaning."
"But I have begun to question, father, whether our civilisation is civilised and worth preserving?"
"And would you civilise it by giving free rein to impulses of nature that are subconscious, that lead direct to the reign of lust and murder? Is not man more than brute? Has he not a soul? Is the spirit a delusion? Ah, my boy, do you doubt my love?"
"I know that you love me."
"Yes, with a love you cannot understand. You can touch no depths to which I will not follow with that love. But I'd rather a thousand times see you cold in death than hear from your lips the awful words you have spoken in this room here this morning with the face of Jesus looking down upon us from your walls."
He seemed to sink into a stupor for several moments, and was silent as he gazed into the glowing grate.
At length he said:
"You must take me to your house. I will spend a few days with Ruth and the children."
Gordon could not face the meeting between his father and Ruth. He accompanied him to the door and gently bade him good-by, promising to call the next day.
A singularly beautiful love the old man had bestowed on Ruth, and she on him; for he was resistless to all the young. When he kissed her as Frank's bride he seemed to have first fully recovered his spirits from the shadows of his own tragedy. In her great soft eyes with the lashes mirrored in their depths, her dimpled chin and sensitive mouth, her refined and timid nature, the grace and delicacy of her footsteps, he saw come back into life his own lost love. Above all, he was fascinated by her spiritual charm, haunting and vivid. He had never tired of boasting of his son's charming little wife, and he loved her with a devotion as deep as that he gave his own flesh and blood.
When she entered the room, in spite of his efforts at control, he burst into tears as he kissed her tenderly and slipped his arm softly around her.
"Ruth, my sweet daughter!" he sobbed.
"You must cheer up, my little one; I've come to help you."
"You must not take it so hard, father. It will all come out for the best. God is not dead; He will not forget me. I'm a tiny mite in body, but you know I've a valiant soul. You must cheer up."
She led him gently to a seat.
"I'll bring the children now; they'll be wild with joy when I tell them grandfather is here."
But at the sight of the children the old man broke completely down and sat with his great head sunk on his breast.
He drew Ruth down and whispered:
"Take them away, dear. It's too much. I—can't see them now."
When she returned from the nursery, he said:
"Come, Ruth, sit beside me and tell me about it, and I'll see my way clearer how to help you."
She drew a stool beside his chair, leaned her head against his knee, took one of his hands in hers, and, while his other stroked her raven hair, she gently and without reproach told him all.
When she had finished, his eyes were heavy with grief beyond the power of tears.
"And my boy told you to—take—this—money, Ruth?" he slowly and sorrowfully asked.
"Do you know an honest lawyer, dear?"
"Yes; an old friend of mine, Morris King."
"Call him over your telephone immediately, and take me to your desk. My fortune is not large, as the world reckons wealth—perhaps fifty thousand dollars carefully saved during the past thirty years of frugal living. It shall be yours, my dear."
"But, father, you must not take it from yourself in your age!"
"Are you not my beloved daughter? And do not your babies call me grandfather? It's such a poor little thing I can do. I've enough in bank to last me to the journey's end, and I'll stay near to watch over you. I can have no other home now."
The lawyer came within an hour, and the will was duly witnessed.
He handed it to Ruth and she kissed and thanked him.
He wandered about the house in a helpless sort of way for half an hour, sighing. His great shoulders for the first time in his long life lost their military bearing and drooped heavily.
Ruth watched him pace slowly back and forth with his hands folded behind him, his head sunk in a stupor of dull pain, wondering what she could do or say to cheer him, when he suddenly stopped and sank into a heap on the floor.
The doctor came and shook his head.
"He may regain consciousness, Mrs. Gordon, but he cannot live."
Ruth called the hotel and summoned Frank. He was out and did not get the message until five o'clock. When he reached the house, she was by the bedside. The old man was holding her hand and talking in a half-delirious way to his friends, explaining to them how impossible that these wild reports could be true about his son.
Soon after Gordon came he regained consciousness. Taking him by the hand he said:
"Well, my boy, my work is done. I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith. I love you always. You will not forget—right or wrong, you are my heart's blood and your mother's, dearer to me than life. When I go from this lump of clay, if you will open my breast you will find an old man's broken heart, and across the rent your name will be written in the ragged edges. How handsome you are to-night! How fair a lad you were! Such face and form and high-strung soul, the heart of an ancient knight come back to earth, I used to boast! God's grace is wonderful, His ways past finding out. When we seem forsaken, He is but preparing larger blessings on some grander plan whose end we do not see. He is my shepherd; I shall not want. He leadeth me—I rest in Him."
As the twilight wrapped the great city in its gray shadows, slowly deepening into night, he fell asleep.
THE WEDDING OF THE ANNUNCIATION
At the end of a year from the death of Gordon's father the divorce was granted, and Ruth elected to retain her married name.
The Temple of Man was rapidly rising. The building fronted three hundred feet on each cross street. Its great steel-ribbed dome, modeled on the capitol at Washington, was slowly climbing into the sky from the centre to dominate the architecture of the Metropolitan district.
The success of Gordon's meetings in the old Grand Opera House had been enormous. Its four thousand seats were filled and every inch of standing-room the police would allow. The religious element in Socialism had found in him its high priest. His eloquence, his magnetism, his daring, his aggressive and radical instinct for leadership made him at once their idol.
The prestige given him by the rapid building of his magnificent Temple in the heart of the wealth and splendour of the Metropolis, and the crush for admission by strangers who had read of him and his work, were adding daily to his power.
His bold avowal of love for Kate Ransom, and his determination to win and marry her by a new ceremony of "announcement," which should challenge the forms of civilisation, had stilled the tongue of gossip and made him the hero of the sentimental.
At the same time it had made him the object of bitter attack by the conservative forces of society, and the violence of these attacks daily added importance to his every act.
His triumphant appeal to the masses against the classes was making him a master spirit of the modern mob that has humbled king, emperor and pope, at whose breath statesmen tremble, and at whose feet coward and sycophant of every cult cringe and fawn.
With fierce enthusiasm he proclaimed, "Now is Eternity. To reach Heaven we must build a new earth, and lo! we are in Heaven."
The response from sullen working-men who had hitherto held aloof from Socialism and its leaders was remarkable. With the fiery zeal of the pioneer of a religious movement he preached in season and out of season his new faith, and proselyted with success even among those who scoffed.
He gave a new emphasis to the dogma of the Immanence of God, the charming Pantheism of which appealed to the childlike minds of the people. With mystic fervour he proclaimed the unity of life, and in all and over all and working through all—God! In bud and flower, in sun and storm, in dewdrop and star, in man and beast, in soul and body, the divine everywhere. As never before he glorified the body and its beauty as the incarnation of God, His veritable image. The advent of every child he hailed as great a miracle as the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem.
Life itself became an ever-growing wonder, and existence an infinite joy. Gradually he began to ridicule the theology of "Sin." "Sin" he declared a figment of the human mind. The sin which is the wilful and persistent violation of known law he ignored.
He proclaimed the advent of the Kingdom of Love universal, all embracing, all conquering.
His marriage to Kate Ransom by the new ceremony he had devised commanded the attention of the world. Its romance, and the tragedy of a broken heart behind it, at once interested the average mind; and its social and religious challenge appealed to the thoughtful.
It was announced to be a marriage without form or ceremony. It was celebrated on a Saturday evening, that his friends among the working-men might attend.
It was early in May. The grass was green behind the high iron bars of Gramercy Park, and the trees were putting on their new satin robes. The air was warm with the sensuous languor of spring. The rain poured in torrents, but the Ransom mansion was a blaze of light, and a canopy with rubber roof stretched down the high brownstone steps across the sidewalk to the curbing.
It was past the appointed time, the last carriage had long since snapped its silver lock beside the awning, and still the bride and groom tarried. The guests were assembled in the great parlours, and a band in the conservatory, from which floated the perfume of flowers in full bloom, was softly playing primitive love melodies, simple, tender and full of. mysterious beauty.
Besides the personal friends of the bride, the. guests assembled were a remarkable group.
A churchless clergyman who had become a Socialist, and whose church building was for sale, was on hand to make the "Announcement." A handsome poet, a disciple of William Morris and a man of international fame, was there. Socialists, Anarchists, Theosophists, Spiritualists, Buddhists, Communists, Single-Taxers, Walking Delegates, Presidents of Labour-Unions, editors of Radical papers, Ethical gymnasts, and lecturers mingled in the throng.
Kate refused to allow Gordon to see or speak to her before her entrance. They had agreed to make no elaborate preparations. She was to prepare no traditional wedding trousseau. They were simply to stand by each other's side before their friends, greet them with the announcement of their love and unity of life, and receive their congratulations.
When she at length summoned Gordon, he was amazed to see her arrayed in the most magnificent conventional bridal dress he had ever seen.
A frown clouded his brow for an instant, and then melted into a smile as his eyes feasted on the barbaric splendour of her beauty.
She stood silent and thoughtful, with her arms folded in front across the lines of her voluptuous form, her head poised high, erect as an arrow. Her mass of dark red hair rolled upward in a great curling wave from her face. From its crest a bunch of orange blossoms gleamed, clasping the filmy veil which fell, a white cascade, over the wilderness of delicate lace forming her train. She had turned half around, and this great train of shimmering stuff enveloped her feet and swept out in graceful curve into the room. The collar, which completely covered her rounded neck, was made of rows of linked opals, and a necklace of pearls rested on her beautiful breast, spreading out in heart shape, with a single strand encircling the neck.
Her face was tragic in its seriousness. A new and charming melancholy shadowed her violet eyes, causing the heavy lashes to droop till their shadows showed on the creamy velvet of her cheek. Her mouth, with scarlet lips drawn close, was earnest and solemn as he had never seen it.
With the regal bearing of a queen she looked at him thoughtfully without a word. She was giving him his first lesson in perfect freedom and perfect equality of will. She had changed her mind at the last moment and determined to be the bride her girlhood dreams had pictured.
But the man saw only the ripened, luscious woman in the hour of supreme surrender, and gazed in rapture. So superb was her health, so rich and vital the splendid figure, no conventional art of bridal costumer could confine or conceal the glory of its beauty.
"You see, my beloved," she said. "I am not going to promise to obey, so I have chosen with this old conceit to disobey your first expressed wish. Do you like me thus?"
"You are glorious!" he answered, smiling.
"And my father will give me away, and you will place a ring on my hand when you make your little speech, before I respond."
He bowed gracefully. "As you will, my dear."
He would have promised anything.
As they entered the hall leading to the crowded parlours, the organ in the music-room suddenly burst into the strains of the Wedding March, and again she looked seriously into his face, and he laughed.
"My beautiful rebel, I'll tame you in due time, never fear!"
"And you're not angry?"
"Angry? I am more madly in love than ever."
And she flushed in triumph.
When they had entered the room, the invalid father rose, pale and trembling, and, in accordance with Kate's wishes, declared:
"My friends, I announce to you that I have given my daughter to be married unto this man."
Gordon took her hot hand in his massive grasp and said:
"We believe, friends, in fellowship. We have asked you to-night to share with us the sacrament of the unity of our lives which we thus announce. For years this unity has made us one. We thus make it manifest unto the world. In the woman I have chosen as my comrade, behold the living soul of serene-browed Grecian goddess and German seeress of old, whose untamed eyes of primeval womanhood, the equal and the mate of man, proclaim the end of slave-marriage and the dawn of perfect love."
He placed the ring on her hand, and Kate responded:
"This is the day and the hour that we have chosen to announce to you our union."
The Socialist preacher said:
"We are here to-day, called by a sacrament, not in the conventional sense, but in the elemental meaning of the word which reflects the mind and the being of the Eternal. Human life incarnates God. We are not met here to inaugurate a marriage. Words can add nothing to the sublime fact of the union of two souls. This is the supreme sacrament of human experience. It proclaims its inherent divinity. This oneness no more begins to-day than God does. Time loses its meaning, but there is no yesterday or to-morrow in the harmony and rhythm of two such souls. Love holds all the years that have been and are to be.
"This is a day of joy—overflowing, unsullied, serene, a day of hope, a day of faith. It is a day of courage and of cheer, and to the world it speaks a gospel of freedom and fellowship. It proclaims the dawn of a higher life for all, the sanctity and omnipotence of love. It asserts the elemental rights of man. These friends of ours announce to-day their marriage.
"Inasmuch as Frank Gordon and Kate Ransom are thus united in love, I announce that they are husband and wife by every law of right and truth, and pray for them the abiding gladness that dwells in the heart of God forever."
Kate's mother kissed her and cried in the old-fashioned way, and they sailed next day for a bridal tour abroad.
AN OLD SWEETHEART
Ruth had fulfilled Gordon's prediction. She had lifted up her head and serenely entered her new and trying life.
The year had brought many bitter days, but she had bravely met each crisis. She had hoped to maintain her membership in the Pilgrim Church, and with humility and earnestness returned to her duties. The new pastor had given her a hearty greeting, but the task was beyond her strength. She found that she no longer held her former social position—in fact, that she had no social status. The best people of the church were coolly polite and clumsily sympathetic. She preferred their coolness. The poorer people were frankly afraid of her. The innocent victim of a tragedy, the world held that she was somehow to blame—perhaps was equally guilty with the man. She suddenly found herself outside the pale of polite society.
She was stunned at first by this brutal attitude of the world. To women of weaker character such a blow had often proved fatal in this defenseless hour. To her it was a stimulus to higher things. She fled to the solitude of her home and found refuge in the laughter of her children. She cried an hour or two over it, and then swept the thought from her heart, lifted up her proud little head and moved on the even tenor of her way.
But greater troubles awaited. She had no business training and met with misfortune in the management of her property.
Morris King had been her attorney, since she first came to New York, in the management of a small trust estate. He had always refused any fee, and she had accepted this mark of his faithfulness to their youthful romance simply and graciously. Secure in Gordon's love, she had long since ceased to consider the existence of any other man as a being capable of love. Marriage had engulfed her whole being and life, past, present, future.
But the tender light in King's eyes when he called to see her on her arrival from the South was unmistakable.
She was startled and annoyed, curtly dismissed him as her attorney and undertook the management of her own business affairs.
Within six months she had invested her estate in stocks that had ceased to pay an income and were daily depreciating.
When her support failed, she advertised for pupils to teach in her home, obtained two scholars, and they were from parents whose ability to pay was a matter of doubt. But she had bravely begun and hoped to succeed.
When King saw her pathetic little advertisement he threw aside his pride and called promptly to see her.
He was a muscular young bachelor of thirty-seven. A heavy shock of black hair covered his head, and his upper lip was adorned by a handsome black moustache.
He was a leader of the Tammany Democracy, a member of a firm of lawyers, and had served one term in Congress.
He had made himself famous in a speech in the National Convention in which he had attacked the reform element of his own party seeking admission with such violence, such insolent and fierce invective, he had captured the imagination of his party in New York. He was slated as the machine candidate for Governor of the Empire State and was almost certain of election. Visions of the White House, ghosts which ever haunt the Executive Mansion at Albany, were already keeping him awake at night.
He was a man of strong will, of boundless personal ambitions, and in politics he was regarded as the most astute, powerful and unscrupulous leader in the state. His personal habits were simple and clean to the point of aceticism. His political enemies declared in disgust that he had no redeeming vices. He was a teetotaler, and yet the champion of the saloon and the idol of the saloon-keepers' association. He did not smoke or gamble, and was never known to call on a woman except as a business duty.
In his profession he was honest, dignified, purposeful and successful. He had landed in New York fourteen years before with ten cents in his pocket, and his income now was never less than twenty thousand dollars a year. He had received a single fee of fifty thousand dollars in a celebrated case.
Before coming to New York he was a poor young lawyer in the village of Hampton, Virginia, just admitted to the bar. But the law did not seriously disturb his mind. His real occupation was making love to Ruth Spottswood, who lived across the street in a quaint old Colonial cottage. If any client ever attempted to get into his office, it was more than he knew. He was too busy with Ruth to allow other people's troubles to interfere with the work of his life.
He had taken her to the ball at the Hygeia the night she met Gordon, little dreaming that this long-legged Yankee parson from the West, who did not even know how to dance, would hang around the edges of the ballroom and take her from him. They were engaged after the child fashion of Southern girls and boys—always with the tacit understanding that if they saw anybody they liked better it could be broken at an hour's notice.
The next day when he called Ruth said with a laugh:
"Well, Morris, our engagement ends at three o'clock this afternoon. A handsomer man is going to call. You must clear out and attend to your business."
"Oh, hang the law, Ruth. I'll sit out under the trees and write you a poem till this Yankee goes."
"No, I don't propose to be handicapped. We are not engaged any more, and you can't come till I tell you."
He put up a brave fight, selling his law books to buy candy and pay the livery bill for buggy rides, but it was all in vain.
At last, when she told him she was going to marry Gordon and the day had been fixed, he turned pale, looked at her long and tenderly and stammered:
"I hope you will be very happy, Ruth. But you've killed me."
"Don't be silly," she cried. "Go to work and be a great man."
He closed his law office and went over to Norfolk, debating the question of suicide or murder. He walked along the river-front to pick out a place to jump overboard, but the water looked too black and filthy and cold. He saw a steamer loading, boarded her, and landed in New York with ten cents in his pocket and not a friend on earth that he knew.
He had never spoken a word of love to a woman since. Ambition was his god, and yet, mingled with its fierce cult, its conflicts and turmoil, he had cherished a boyish loyalty to Ruth's last words as she dismissed him.
"Be a great man," she had said. He would—and he had dreamed that some day, perhaps, he might say to her: "Behold, I am your knight of youthful chivalry. Your command has been my law. It is all yours."
The day she had curtly dismissed him as her attorney he was elated with the first assurance his associates had given him that he would be the next Governor of New York. Her unexpected rebuff had cut his pride to the quick. The old hurt was bruised again, and by a woman who had been deserted by a cavalier husband. He had sworn in the wrath of a strong man he would go this time and never return. And now he was hurrying back to her side and cursing himself for being a fool.
She greeted him cordially.
"I'm glad to see you, Morris," she frankly said—she had always called him by his first name. "I've gotten into deep waters since I sent you away so foolishly. I would have sent for you, but I was afraid you were angry and would not come. I've had about as many humiliations as I can bear for awhile."
He looked at her reproachfully.
"You did treat me shamefully, Ruth, after years of faithful service. I don't know why. I might guess if I tried. When I saw that pitiful card this morning, I knew what it meant. So I've come back to take charge of your business. And you can't run me away with a stick. I am going to look after your property and make it earn you a living."
"It is very good of you, and I am grateful," she replied, gently.
"How much are your stocks worth?"
"About forty thousand dollars, I'm told. But I can't sell them. They are not listed on the Exchange."
"I'll sell them for you, and by the end of the week have your money paying you an income of two hundred dollars a month. Send those two children home. You were not made for a school-teacher."
He looked at her with intensity, and she lowered her eyes in embarrassment.
He sprang to his feet and walked swiftly to the window, and then came back and sat down beside her.
"Ruth," he said, impulsively, "it's no use in my trying to lie to you. We might as well understand one another at once. Of course, I know why you sent me away."
"Please, Morris, don't say any more," she pleaded.
"Yes, I will," he cried. "I love you. How could I keep you from seeing it in my eyes, when you were free at last, and I knew you might be mine?"
"You must not say this to me!" she protested.
He scowled and pursed his lips.
"I will. I am coming to this house when I please. I am going to give you the protection of my life. Every dollar I have, every moment of my time shall be yours if you need it. Ah, Ruth, how I have loved you through the desolate years since you sent me away! Men have called me cold and selfish and ambitious, when I was lying awake at night eating my heart out dreaming of you. Every hour of work, every step I've climbed in the struggle of life, was with your face smiling on me from the past. All my hopes and ambitions I owe to you. The last message you spoke to me has been my guiding star. And when this man threw you from him as a cast-off garment—you, the beautiful queen of my soul—I would have killed him but for the fierce joy that now I could win you!"
She shook her head and a look of pain overspread her face.
"I know what you will say," he went on rapidly. "You need not protest. I will be patient. I will wait, but I will win you. I've sworn it by every oath that can bind the soul. I have no other purpose in life. I'm going to be the Governor of New York simply because I'm going to lift you from the shame this man has heaped upon you and make you the mistress of the Governor's mansion of this mighty state. Washington is but one step from Albany. My dream is for you. I will be to you the soul of deference and of tender honour. Your slightest wish will be my law, I will be silent if you command. But you cannot keep me away. If you leave me, I will follow you to the ends of the earth."
Ruth was softly crying.
"You must not cry, my love. I will make your life glorious, and light every shadow with the tenderness of a strong man's worship."
"And you love me like this when another has robbed my soul and body of their treasures and cast me aside?" she asked, wistfully.
His mouth suddenly tightened and his eyes flashed.
"Yes, and I'd love you so if you were broken and every trace of beauty gone. My love would be so warm and tender and true it would bring back the light into your eyes, the roses to your cheeks, and life even to your dead soul."
"How strange the ways of God!" she exclaimed, through her tears.
He looked at her with yearning tenderness.
"But you are not old or broken, Ruth. You have grown more beautiful. This great sorrow has smoothed from your face every line of fretfulness and worry, and lighted it with the mystery and pathos of an unearthly beauty. It shines from your heroic soul until your whole being has come into harmony with it. I loved you in the past; I worship you now."
She turned on him a look of gratitude.
"Worry and jealousy did exhaust me. I am glad you see in my face and form the change reflected from within. It is very sweet to me, this flattery you pour on my broken heart. I thank you, Morris. You have restored my self-respect and given me strength. It is an honour to receive such love from an honest man. You must not think ill of me if I tell you I cannot love you."
"I'll make you!" he cried, fiercely. "You cannot cling to the memory of a man so base and false."
"He is my husband. I love him."
King flushed with anger.
"He is not your husband. He has deserted you, lured by the beauty of another woman."
A gleam of fire flashed from her eyes, melting into a soft light.
"Yes, I know, marriage is an ideal, the noblest, most beautiful. We have not yet attained its purity in life. Man is only struggling toward its perfection. We will not attain it by lowering the ideal, but by lifting up those who are struggling toward it. Another marriage while Frank lives would be possible for me only when I ceased to feel the meaning of sin and shame. I will never regret my life. I have cast all bitterness out of my heart. Better the happiness and pain of a glorious love than never to have known its joy. I have lived."
"And I will yet teach you to live more deeply," he firmly said.
She shook her head and looked at him sadly out of her dark eyes from which the storm had cleared at last. They beamed now with the steady light of a deep spiritual tenderness.
FREEDOM AND FELLOWSHIP
The six months abroad which Gordon and Kate had spent in love's dreaming and drifting had been the fulfilment to the man of the long-felt yearnings of his fierce subconscious nature.
To the woman it had been the revelation of a new heaven and a new earth. She had found herself, the real self, at whose first meeting in the kiss of a man she had trembled. She was no longer afraid. The elemental clear-eyed goddess had taken possession. She had claimed her own, the throne of a queen, and the man who had dreamed of kingship was her courtier.
She was smiling at him in conscious power, her violet eyes flashing with mystery and magic, the sunlight of Italy gleaming through her dark red hair, her full lips half parted with dreamy tenderness, and her sinuous body moving with indolent grace.
"To be your slave is crown enough for man," he cried.
"And I am in heaven," she answered, proudly.
"Only, thus, in perfect freedom," he said, in rapture, "is the fulness of life. Beauty and harmony and love are of God. Surely this is communion with Him—the joy of embraces, the touch of sunlight, the glory of form and colour, the magic of music, the poetry of love, the ecstacy of passion, the kiss of the senses—He is in all and over all."
"Can such happiness be eternal?" she asked, under her breath.
He kissed her softly.
"If God be infinite."
They reached New York the first week in November, and Gordon returned to his work with renewed zeal.
The success of his movement was a source of continued surprise and fear to the more thoughtful students of social and religious life.
But Gordon had found on his return an increasing amount of friction between opposing groups in his church which was a source of intense surprise and annoyance. Two factions had broken into an open quarrel in his absence. He found it necessary to devote a large part of his time to smoothing out these quarrels between men who had come together with the principles of unity and fellowship as the foundation of their association. He saw with disgust that he was gathering a crowd of cranks, conceited and stupid, vain and ambitious for fame and leadership. It was all he could do to prevent a battle of Kilkenny cats.
He discovered that many things glittered at a banquet to celebrate universal brotherhood which did not pan out pure gold in the experiment of life. He had heard at such a love feast an aristocratic poet extoll in harangue the unwashed Democracy, a Walking Delegate read a poem, a Jew quote the Koran with unction, a Mohammedan eulogise Monogamy, a Single-Taxer declare himself a Democrat, a Socialist glorify Individualism, and an Anarchist express his love for Order.
But he found next day that as a rule the Egyptian resumed the use of garlic and the hog went back to his wallow.
He found to his chagrin that mental freedom could be made a cloak for the basest mental slavery, and that the most hide-bound dogmatist on earth is the modern crank who boasts his freedom from all dogmas. He found the Liberal to be the most illiberal and narrow man he had ever met.
The absurdity of allowing this mob of Kilkenny cats any authority in his church he saw at once. His dream of triumphant Democracy faded.
He seized the helm at once.
Without a moment's hesitation he threw out twenty ringleaders of as many factions and restored order. Under such conditions he dared not even incorporate his society under the laws of the state as a religious body lest these incongruous elements control its property and wreck its work. He continued to expend the vast funds needed for his Temple in his wife's name, leaving its legal ownership vested in her as before.
Within a few months the extraordinary beauty and vivacity of his wife made their house on Gramercy Park the rendezvous of a brilliant group of free-lances and Bohemians. Her mother and father had moved to a house on the opposite side of the park. Men and women of genius in the world of Art and Letters who cared nought for conventions had crowded her receptions. She was nattered with the pleasant fiction that she had restored the ancient Salon of France on a nobler basis.
The increase of her social duties required more and more of her time at the dressmaker's, and left less and less for work in Gordon's congregation.
At first he had watched this social success with surprise and pride, and then with an increasing sense of uneasiness for its significance in the development of her character.
The sight of half a dozen handsome men bending over her, enchanted by her beauty, and the ring of her laughter at their wit, irritated him. He had not been actor enough to conceal from her the gleam of, worry in his eyes and the accent of fret in his voice at these functions. She observed, too, that he attended them with regularity, however important might be the work which called him outside.
He was anxious for her to cultivate a few of his intimate friends, but this crowd of strange men and women bored him.
He was especially anxious that she should meet Overman, and by her magnetism and beauty crush him into the acknowledgment of the sanity and right of his course.
But Overman had promised without coming.
Gordon was at his bank on Wall Street again urging him to call.
"It's no use to talk, Frank," he said, testily. "All I ask of women is to be let alone."
"But, you fool, I want you to meet my wife. She's not a woman merely. She's the wife of an old college chum, the better half by far."
Overman pulled his moustache, a humorous twinkle in his eye.
"Well, how many halves are there to you? I've met the other half once before. This makes one and a half," he said, peering at his friend with his single eye.
"Yes, I am large."
"I've my doubts whether you're quite large enough for the job you've undertaken."
"You're a pessimist."
Overman's face brightened and his mouth twisted.
"Yes, the more I see of men, the more stock I take in chickens. I've a rooster at home now that can whip anything that ever wore feathers, and he's so ugly I love him like a brother."
"Shut up about roosters," Gordon growled. "Will you come to see me and meet my wife?"
Overman turned his eye on his friend, frowning.
"Frank, I'm afraid of the atmosphere. There's enough dynamite in 'Freedom and Fellowship' to blow up several houses. I don't like to get mixed up with women in any sort of fellowship—to say nothing about freedom and fellowship."
"Well, I've asked my wife to call by the bank here for me to-day and I'm going to introduce you."
Overman did not hear this statement, for his head was turned to one side and he was peering out of his window on Broad Street with excited interest.
He sprang to his feet, suddenly exclaiming:
"Well, what the devil is the matter?"
"What is it?" Gordon asked, stepping to the window.
It had begun to snow on an inch of ice which was still clinging to the stone pavements. At the corner of Broad and Wall Streets the ground dips sharply, forming a difficult crossing.