There were no ushers in that church of the Yesterdays for there would be no strangers save those who would come with their friends; but the preacher himself was at the door to greet his people or was moving here and there among them, asking with care for the absent ones. Neither was there a great organ to fill the air with its trembling tones; but, at the humble instrument that served as well, the mother of the little girl presided, while the boy's father led the country choir. And the sunlight of that Sunday streamed through the open windows, softened only by the delicate traceries of gently waving branches and softly rustling leaves.
And in the songs and prayers and sermons of that worship in the Yesterdays, the boy heard the same unknowable things that the man had heard that morning in the city church. Among those people, the boy felt stirring the same spirit that had moved the man. The old preacher was long ago resting in the cemetery on the hill, with the boy's parents, the mother of the little girl, and many, many, others of his flock. A new and more modern minister would be giving, now, to the children of that old congregation, the newest and most modern things that theologians do not know about Religion. But the same old spirit would he there still; doing the same work for the glory of the race. And the boy in the Yesterdays, as he listened to the songs and prayers and sermons, had wondered in his heart about the things he heard—even as the man, he had asked himself many unanswerable questions... But there had been no doubt in the questions of the boy. There had been no disbelief in his wonder. Because the girl's mother played the organ—because the boy's father sang in the choir—because his mother and the little girl were there beside him—the boy believed that which he could not understand.
"By their fruits"—it is a text as good for grown up children as for boys and girls.
What the preachers say about Religion matters little after all. It is the fathers and mothers and the little girls who keep the faith of the world alive. The words of those sermons and prayers and songs in his Yesterdays would go with the boy no farther than the church door; but that which was in the hearts of those who sang and preached and prayed—that which song and sermon and prayer attempted but could not express—that would go with the boy through all the years of his life. From that the man could never get wholly away. It became as much a part of him as his love for his parents was a part.
When church and Sunday school were over the boy went home to the miracle of the Sunday dinner. And, even as the unknowable things upon the Sunday dinner table contributed to his manhood's physical strength and health, so the things expressed by the day that is set apart from all other days contributed to that strength of manhood that is more vital than the strength of bone and muscle and nerve and sinew. In the book wherein it is written: "Man shall not live by bread alone," it is written, also: "Except ye become as little children."
Slowly the man arose. Slowly and regretfully he turned to leave his place under the great trees that, in the solemn, quiet, twilight of the old cemetery, locked their arms protectingly above the dead.
"Except ye become as little children."
Must men in Religion be always trying to grow up? Are the wisest and the greatest among scholars nearer the secrets of the unknowable power, that, through Religion, possesses the world, than the unthinking children are? As the man in the late afternoon went out through the ancient iron gates, between the vine covered columns of stone, he knew that his belief in Religion would not go as his faith in fairies had gone. Because of those companion graves and all that they meant to him—because of the little girl in his Yesterdays—his faith in Religion would not go.
* * * * *
The woman, alone in her room, sat at the open window looking out over the city. The long, spring, Sunday was drawing to its close. Above the roofs of the houses across the street, above the towering stories of the buildings in the down town districts, above factory chimneys, church steeples, temple dome, and cathedral spire, she saw the evening sky light with the glory of the passing day. Over a triumphant arch in the west, through which the sun had gone, a mighty cloud curtain of purple was draped, fold on fold, all laced and looped with silver and edged with scarlet flame. Above the curtain, far flung across the wide sky, banners of rose and crimson and gold flashed and gleamed; while, marching in serried ranks, following the pathway of the sun, went innumerable thousands of cloud soldiers in their uniforms of light. Slowly the procession passed—the gleaming banners vanished—the marching armies disappeared—the curtain in the west was drawn close. The woman at the window watched until the last of the light was gone and, in the still sky above, the stars hung motionless. Like a benediction, the sweet mystery of twilight had come upon the land. Like a softly breathed blessing from heaven, the night had come.
Because of the experience through which she had passed in the week just gone, that day, dedicated to Religion, had held for the woman a new meaning.
Looking into the darkness that hid the city from her eyes she shuddered. There were so many there to whom the night came not as a blessing, but as a curse. Out there, in the soft darkness into which the woman looked, dreadful crimes were being committed, horrid deeds were being planned. Out there, in the quiet night, wretched poverty, gaunt pain, and loathsome disease were pulling down their victims. Out there, in the blackness, hideous licentiousness, beastly passion, debasing pleasure were stalking their prey. Out there, murderers of souls were lying in wait; robbers of hearts were creeping stealthily; slayers of purity were watching; killers of innocence were lurking. To the woman at the window, that night, the twinkling lights of the city were as beacon fires on the outskirts of hell.
And to-morrow—to-morrow—she must go down into that hell. All that was there in the darkness, she must see, she must know, she must feel. All those things of evil would be watching her, crowding her, touching her, hungering for her; placing pitfalls in her way; longing for her to slip; waiting for her to fall; testing her, trying her, always ready with a damnable readiness; always hoping with a hellish hope. Into that she must go—even into that—this woman, who knew herself to be a woman, must go.
And what—what—of her dreams? Could she, she asked herself that night, could she go into that life, day after day, and still have a heart left for dreaming? Against the unclean strength that threatened her, where would she find the strength to keep her womanhood pure and strong for the holy mission of womanhood?
Clear and sweet from out the darkness of the night came the sound of a bell. Then another, and another, and another, until, from every quarter of the city, their music came, as though in answer to her question. Some, near at hand, rang loud, triumphant, peals as though rejoicing over victories already won; others, farther away, in softer tones, seemed to promise strength for present need; while still others, in more distant places, sounding soft and far away, seemed to gently warn, to beckon, to call, to plead. Lifting her tear filled eyes from the lights of the streets the woman looked at the stars, and, so looking, saw, lifting into the sky, the church spires of the city.
In a little, the music of the bells ceased. But the woman, at the window, sat still with her face upturned to the stars.
Gone, now, were the city lights that to her had seemed as beacon fires on the outskirts of hell. Gone, now, the horrors of that life to which night comes not as a benediction. Gone, now, her fears for her dreams. The woman lived again a Sunday evening in her Yesterdays.
It may have been the flaming glory of the sky; it may have been the music of the bells; it may have been the stars—whatever it was—the woman went again into the long ago. Once again she went back into her Yesterdays—to a Sunday evening in her Yesterdays.
The little girl was on the front porch of her home with mother. The sun was going down behind the great trees in the old churchyard at the cross roads while, across the valley, the voice of the bell was calling the people to evening worship. And, with the ringing of the bell, the boy and his mother came to sit with them while the men were gone to church.
Then, while the mothers, seated in their easy chairs, talked in low tones, the boy and the girl, side by side, on the steps of the porch, watched the light go out of the sky and tried to count the stars as they came. As the twilight deepened, the elms in the pasture across the road, the maples along the drive, and the willows down by the creek, became shadowy and indistinct. From the orchard, an owl sent forth his quavering call and was answered by his mate from the roof of the barn. Down in the shadow of the little valley, a whip-poor-will cried plaintively, and, now and then, a bat came darting out of the dusk on swift and silent wings. And there, in the darkness across the valley, shone the single light of the church. The children gave up trying to count the stars and grew very still, as, together, they watched the lights of the church. Then one of the mothers laughed, a low happy laugh, and the children began telling each other about God.
Many things the boy and the girl told each other about God. And who is there to say that the things they told were not just as true as many things that older children tell? Though, I suppose, as the boy and girl did not quarrel or become angry with each other that Sunday evening, their talk about God could scarcely be considered orthodox. Their service under the stars was not at all regular, I know. With childish awe and reverence—with hushed voices—they only told each other about God. They did not discuss theology—they were not church members—they were only children.
Then, by and by, the father and uncle came, and, with his parents, the boy went home, calling through the dark, as he went, many good nights—each call sounding fainter and farther away. And, when she could neither hear nor make him hear more, the little girl went with her mother into the house, where, when she was ready for bed, she knelt to pray that old familiar prayer of the Yesterdays—forgetting not in her prayer to ask God to bless and keep the boy.
Oh, childish prayers of the Yesterdays! Made in the strength of a childish faith, what power divine is in them to keep the race from death! Oh, childish understanding of God, deep grounded in that wisdom to which scholars can never attain! Does the Master of Life still set little children among His disciples in vain?
The woman no longer feared that which lay in the darkness of the city. She knew, now, that she would have strength to keep the treasures of her womanhood safe for him should he come to lead her into the life of her dreams. She knew, now, what it was that would help her—that would enable her to keep that which Life had committed to her.
As she turned from the window, strength and peace were in her heart. As she knelt beside her bed to pray, her prayer was that prayer of her Yesterdays. The prayer of a child it was—the prayer of a woman who knows that she is a woman it was also.
It was summer time—growing time.
The children of the little brown birds that had nested in the hedge near the cherry tree, that year, were flying now, quite easily, away from their little brown mother's counsel and advice. Even to the top of the orchard hill, they went in search of brave adventure, rejoicing recklessly in their freedom. But, for the parent birds, the ties of the home in the hedge were still strong. And, every day, they examined with experienced eyes the cherries, that, on the near by tree, were fast nearing ripening time.
With every gesture expressing more clearly than any spoken word his state of mind, the man jerked down the top of his desk, slammed the door, jabbed the elevator bell, and strode grimly out of the building.
The man's anger was not one of those flash like bursts of wrath, that, passing as quickly as they come, leave the sky as clear as though no storm had crossed it. Nor was it the slow kindling, determined, anger, that, directed against a definite object, burns with steady purpose. It was rather that sullen, hopeless, helpless rage, that, finding nothing to vent itself upon, endures even while recognizing that its endurance is in vain. It was the anger of a captive, wild thing against the steel bars of its cage, which, after months of effort, it has found too strong. It was the anger of an explorer against the impassable crags and cliffs of a mountain range that bars his path. It was the anger of a blind man against the darkness that will not lift.
The man's work demanded freedom and the man was not free. In his dreams, at the beginning of his manhood, he had thought himself free to work out his dreams. He had said to himself: "Alone, in my own strength, I will work. Depending upon no man, I will be independent. Limited only by myself, I will be free." He said this because he did not, then, know the strength of the bars. He had not, at that time, seen the mountain range. He had not faced the darkness that would not lift. Difficulties, hardships, obstacles, dangers, he had expected to face, and, in his strength, to overcome. But the greatest difficulty, the severest hardship, the most trying obstacle, the gravest danger, he had not foreseen.
Little by little, as the days and months had passed and the man had made progress in his work, this thing had made itself felt. Little by little, this thing had forced itself upon him until, at last, he was made to realize the fact that he was not independent of but dependent upon all men. He found that he was limited not alone by himself but by others. He understood, now, that he was not free to work out his dreams. He saw, now, that the thing most difficult to overcome—the thing that forbade his progress and refused him freedom—was Tradition. On every side he met this: "It has never been done; it, therefore, can never be done. The fathers of our fathers believed this, therefore we must believe it. This has always been, therefore this must always be. Others do this, think this, believe this, therefore you must so do and think and believe." The man found, that, beyond a point which others could see, others denied him the right to go. The established customs and habits of others fixed the limit of the progress he could make with the approval of the world.
At first he had laughed—secure in his own strength, he had laughed contemptuously. But that was because he did not then realize the power of this thing. Later he did not laugh. He became angry with a sullen, hopeless, helpless, rage that accomplished nothing—that could accomplish nothing—but only weakened the man himself. As one shut in a cell exhausts himself beating against the walls, so he wearied himself.
Not until he was in the full swing of his work had this thing come upon him in force. At the beginning of his manhood life, when, in the strength of his first manhood dreams he had looked out upon the world as a conquering emperor upon the field of a coming battle, he had not seen this thing. When he was crying out to the world for something to do this thing had not made itself felt. Not until he had made noticeable progress—not until he was in the full swing of his work—did he find himself forced to reckon with what others had done or said or thought or believed.
And never had the man felt his own strength as he felt it now when face to face with this thing against which his strength seemed so helpless. If only he could have freedom! He asked nothing but that. As in the beginning he had asked of the world only room and something to do, he asked now only for freedom to do. And the world granted him the freedom of the child who is permitted to play in the yard but must not go outside the fence. He was free to do his work—to play out his dreams—only so far as the established customs and fixed habits—Tradition—willed. "Beyond the fence that shuts in the familiar home ground," said the world, "you must not go. If you dare climb over the fence—if you dare go out of the yard," said the world, "I will punish you—I will ridicule you, condemn you, persecute you, ostracize you. I will brand you false, a self-seeker, a pretender, a charlatan, a trickster, a rogue. I will cry you unsafe, dangerous, a menace to society and the race, an evil to all that is good, an unspeakable fool. Stay in the yard," said the world, "and you may do what you like."
Even in matters of personal habits and taste, the man found that he was not free. In his dress; in the things he ate and drank; in his pleasures; in the books he read, the plays he attended, the pictures he saw, the music he heard, he found that he was expected to obey the mandates of the world—he found that he was expected to conform to Tradition—to the established customs and habits of others. In religion, in politics, in society, in literature, in art—as in his work—the world said: "Don't go outside the yard."
I do not know what work it was that the man was trying to do. It does not matter what his work was. But this I know: in every work that man, since the beginning, has tried to do, man has been hindered as this man was hindered—man has been denied as this man was denied, freedom. Tradition has always blocked the wheels of progress. The world has moved ahead always in spite of the world. Just as the world has always crucified its saviors, so, always, it has hindered and held back its leaders.
And this, too, I know: after the savior is crucified, those who nail him to the cross accept his teaching. While the world hinders and holds back its leaders, it always follows them.
But the man did not think of this that day when he left the scene of his labor in such anger. He thought only of that which he was trying to do. When he went back to his work, the next day, he was still angry and with his anger, now, came discontent, doubt, and fear, to cloud his vision, to clog his brain and weaken his heart.
A friend, at lunch, said: "You look fagged, knocked out, done up, old man. You've been pegging away too long and too steadily. Why don't you let up for awhile? Lay off for a week or two. Take a vacation."
Again and again, that hot, weary, afternoon, the words of the man's friend came back to him until, by evening, he was considering the suggestion seriously. "Why not?" he asked himself. He was accomplishing little or nothing in his present mood. Why not accept the friendly advice? Perhaps—when he came back—perhaps, he could again laugh at the world that denied him freedom.
So he came to considering places and plans. And, as he considered, there was before him, growing always clearer as he looked, the scenes of his boyhood—the old home of his childhood—the place of his Yesterdays. There were many places of interest and pleasure to which the man might go, but, among them all, there was no place so attractive as the place of his Yesterdays. There was nothing he so wished to do as this: to go back to the old home and there to be, for a little while, as nearly as a man could be, a boy again.
If the man had thought about it, he would have seen in this desire to spend his vacation at the old home something of the same force that so angered him by hindering his work. But the man did not think about it. He wrote a letter to see if he might spend two weeks with the people who were living in the house where he was born and, when the answer came assuring him a welcome, quickly made his arrangements to go.
With boyish eagerness, he was at the depot a full half hour before the time for his train. While he waited, he watched the crowd, feeling an interest in the people who came and went in the never ending profession that he had not felt since that day when he had first come to the city to work out his dreams among men. In the human tide that ebbed and flowed through this world gateway, he saw men of wealth and men of poverty—people of culture and position who had come or were going in Pullman or private cars and illiterate, stupid, animal looking, emigrants who were crowded, much like cattle, in the lowest class. There were business men of large affairs; countrymen with wondering faces; shallow, pleasure seekers; artists and scholars; idle fools; vicious sharks watching for victims; mothers with flocks of children clinging to their skirts; working girls and business women; chattering, laughing, schoolgirls; and wretched creatures of the outcast life—all these and many more.
And, as he watched, perhaps because he was on his vacation, perhaps because of something in his heart awakened by the fact that he was going to his boyhood home, the man felt, as he had never felt before, his kinship with them all. With wealth and poverty, with culture and illiteracy, with pleasure and crime, with sadness and joy, as evidenced in the lives of those who passed in the crowd, the man felt a sympathy and understanding that was strangely new. And, more than this, he saw that each was kin to the other. He saw that, in spite of the wide gulf that separated the individuals in the throng, there was a something that held them all together—there was a force that influenced all alike—there was a something common to all. In spite of the warring elements of society; in spite of the clashing forces of business; in spite of the conflicting claims of industry represented in the throng; the man recognized a brotherhood, a oneness, a kinship, that held all together. And he felt this with a strange feeling that he had always known that it was there but had never recognized it before.
The man did not realize that this was so because he was not thinking of the people in their relation to his work. He did not know, that, because his heart and mind were intent upon the things of his Yesterdays, he saw the world in this new light. He did not, then, understand that the force which hindered and hampered him in his work—that denied him the full freedom he demanded—was the same force that he now felt holding the people together. Even as they all, whether traveling in Pullman, private car, or emigrant train, passed over the same rails, so they all, in whatever class they traveled on the road of Life, were guided by the Traditions—the established customs—the fixed habits—that are common to their race or nation. And the strength of a people, as a people, is in this oneness—this force that makes them one—the Traditions and customs and habits of life that are common to all. It is the fences of the family dooryards that hold the children of men together and make the people of a race or nation one.
So it was that the man, knowing it not, left his work behind and went, for strength and rest, back to the scenes of his Yesterdays in obedience to the command of the very thing that, in his work, had stirred him to such rage. For what, after all, are Traditions and customs and habits but a going back into the Yesterdays.
As the train left the city farther and farther behind, the man's thoughts kept pace with the fast flying wheels that were bearing him back to the scenes of his childhood. From the present, he retraced his steps to that day when he had dreamed his first manhood dreams and to those hard days when he was asking of the world only something to do. As, step by step, he followed his way back, incidents, events, experiences, people, appeared, even as from the car window he caught glimpses of the whirling landscape, until at last he saw, across the fields and meadows familiar to his childhood, the buildings of the old home, the house where the little girl had lived, the old church, and the orchard hill where he had sat that day when the smoke of a distant train moving toward the city became to him a banner leading to the battle front. Then the long whistle announced the station. Eagerly the man collected his things and, before the train had come to a full stop, swung himself to the depot platform where he was met by his kindly host.
As they drove past the fields and pastures, so quiet after the noisy city, the man grew very still. Past the little white church among its old trees at the cross roads; down the hill and across the creek; and slowly up the other side of the valley they went: then past the house where the little girl had lived; and so turned in, at last, to the home of that boy in the Yesterdays. And surely it was no discredit to the man that, when they left him alone in his old room to prepare for the evening meal, he scarce could see for tears.
Scenes of childhood! Memories of the old home! Recollections of the dear ones that are gone! No more can man escape these things of the Yesterdays than he can avoid the things of to-day. No more can man deny the past than he can deny the present. Tradition is to men as a governor to an engine; without its controlling power the race would speed quickly to its own destruction. One of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life is Tradition.
For two happy, healthful, restful, strengthening, inspiring weeks, the man lived, so far as a man can live, in his Yesterdays. In the cool shade of the orchard that once was an enchanted wood; under the old apple tree ship beside the meadow sea; on the hill where, astride his rail fence war horse, the boy had directed the battle and led the desperate charge and where the man had dreamed the first of his manhood dreams; in the garden where the castaway had lived on his desert island; in the yard near mother's window where the boy had builded the brave play house for the little girl next door; in the valley, below where the little girl lived, beside the brook that in its young life ran so pure and clear; at the old school house in the edge of the timber; in the ancient cemetery, beside the companion graves; through the woods and fields and pastures; beside the old mill pond with its covered bridge; the man lived again those days of the long ago.
But, in the places of his Yesterdays, the man found, already, many changes. The houses and buildings were a little more weather-beaten, with many of the boards in the porch floors and steps showing decay. The trees in the orchard were older and more gnarled with here and there gaps in their ranks. The fences showed many repairs. The little schoolhouse was almost shabby and, with the wood cleared away, looked naked and alone. The church, too, was in need of a fresh coat of white. And there were many new graves in the cemetery on the hill. As time had wrought changes in the man himself, even so had it altered the scenes of his boyhood. Always, in men and in things, time works changes.
But it is not the changes wrought by time that harms. These come as the ripening of the fruit upon the tree. It is the sudden, violent, transformations that men are ever seeking to make, both in things and in themselves, that menace the ripening life of the race. It is well, indeed, for the world to hold fast to its Traditions. It is well to cling wisely to the past.
Nor did the man live again in his Yesterdays alone. He could not. Always, she was there—his boyhood mate—the little girl who lived next door.
But the opening in the hedge that, at the lower end of the garden, separated the boy's home from the home of the little girl, was closed. Long and carefully the man searched; smiling, the while, at a foolish wish in his heart that time would leave that little gate of the Yesterdays always open. But the ever growing branches had woven a thick barrier across the green archway hiding it so securely that, to the man, no sign was left to mark where it had been.
With that foolish regret still in his heart, the man asked, quite casually, of the people who were living in the house if they knew aught about his playmate of the Yesterdays.
They could tell him very little; only that she lived in a city some distance from his present home. What she was doing; whether married or alone; they could not say.
And the man, as he stood, with bared head, under the cherry tree in the corner near the hedge, told himself that he was glad that the people could tell him nothing. In his busy, grown up, life there was no room for a woman. In his battle with the things that challenged his advance, he must be free to fight. It was better for him that the little girl lived only in his Yesterdays. The little girl who had helped him play out his boyhood dreams must not hinder him while he worked out the dreams of his manhood. That is what the man told himself as he stood, with bared head, under the cherry tree. With the memory of that play wedding and that kiss in his heart, he told himself that!
I wonder, sometimes, what would happen if men should chance to discover how foolish they really are.
No doubt, the man reflected—watching the pair of brown birds as they inspected the ripening cherries—no doubt she has long ago forgotten those childish vows. Perhaps, in the grown up world, she has even taken new and more binding vows. Would he ever, he wondered, meet one with whom he could make those vows again? Once he had met one with whom he thought he wished to make them but he knew, now, that he had been mistaken. And he knew, too, that it was well that he had found his mistake in time. Somehow, as he stood there again under the cherry tree, the making of such vows seemed to the man more holy, more sacred, than they had ever seemed before. Would he dare—He wondered. Was there, in all the world, a woman with whom he could—The man shrugged his shoulders and turned away. Yes, indeed, it was much better that she lived only in his Yesterdays. And still—still—in the man's heart there was regret that Time had closed that gateway of his Yesterdays.
And often, in the twilight of those evenings, after a day of wandering about the place, visiting old scenes, or talking with the long time friends of his people, the man would recall the traditions of his family; hearing again the tales his father would tell by the winter fireside or listening to the stories that his mother would relate on a Sunday or a stormy afternoon. Brave tales they were—brave tales and true stories of the man's forbears who had lived when the country was young and who had played no small part in the nation's building. And, as he recalled these traditions of his people, the man's heart thrilled with loyal pride while he determined strongly to keep the splendid record clean. As a sacred heritage, he would receive these traditions. As a holy duty he would be true to that which had been.
Reluctantly, but with renewed strength and courage, when the time came for his going, the man set his face away from his Yesterdays—set it again toward his work—toward the working out of his dreams. And, as he went, there was for the thing that checked his progress something more than anger—for the thing that forced him to go slowly there was patience.
Standing on the rear platform, as his train moved slowly away past an incoming train that had just pulled onto a siding, the man saw the neighbor who lived next door to his old home drive hurriedly up. The man in the carriage waved his hand and the man on the moving train, answering in like manner, wondered idly what had brought the neighbor there. Surely he had not come to bid one who was almost a stranger good-bye. And, strangely enough, as the man watched from the window for a last view of the scenes of his Yesterdays, there was in his heart, again, regret that the little opening in the hedge was closed.
* * * * *
The city was sweltering in a summer heat wave. The sun shone through a dingy pall of vile smoke with a sickly, yellow, glare. From the pavement and gutter, wet by the sprinkling wagons, in a vain effort to lay the dust, a sticky, stinking, steam lifted, filling the nostrils and laving the face with a combination of every filthy odor. The atmosphere fairly reeked with the smell of sweating animals, perspiring humanity, rotting garbage, and vile sewage. And, in the midst of the hot filth, the people moved with languid, feeble manner; their faces worn and pallid; their eyes dull and weary; their voices thin and fretful.
The woman's heart was faint with the weight of suffering that she was helpless to relieve. Her quivering nerves shrieked with the horror of conditions that she could not change. Her brain ached with contemplation of the cruel necessity that tortured humankind. Her very soul was sick with the hopelessness of the gasping, choking, struggling, multitude who, in their poverty and blindness, toiled to preserve their lives of sorrow and pain and sought relief from their labors in pleasures more horrible and destructive, by far, than the slavery to which they gave themselves for the means to pay.
The woman was tired—very tired. Heart and nerves and brain and soul and body were tired with a weariness that, it seemed to her, would never pass. She was tired of the life into which she had gone because it was the custom of the age and because of her necessity—the life into which she had not wished to go because it denied her womanhood. Because she knew herself to be a woman, she felt that she was being robbed of the things of her womanhood. The brightness and beauty, the strength and joyousness of her womanhood were, by her, held as sacred trusts to be kept for her children and, through them, for the race. She wearied of the struggle to keep the things of her womanhood from the world that was taking them from her—that put a price upon them—that used them as thoughtlessly as it uses the stone and metal and wood that it takes from the earth. She was tired of the horrid life that crowded her so closely—that crushed itself against her in the crowded cars—that leered into her face on the street—that reached out for her from every side—that hungered for her with a fierce hunger and longed for her with a damnable, fiendish, longing. She was faint and weak from contact with the loathsome things that she was forced to know and that would leave their mark upon her womanhood as surely as the touch of pitch defiles. And she was weary, so weary, waiting for that one with whom she could cross the threshold of the old, old, open door.
Little time was left to her, now, for thought and preparation for the life of which she had dreamed. Little heart was left to her, now, for dreaming. Little courage was left for hope. But still her dreams lived. Still she waited. Still, at times, she hoped.
But the thing that most of all wearied the woman, who knew that she was a woman, was this: the restless, discontented, dissatisfied, uneasy, spirit of the age that, scorning Tradition in a shallow, silly pride, struggles for and seems to value only that which is new regardless of the value of the thing itself. The new in dress, regardless of beauty or fitness in the costume—the new in thought, regardless of the saneness of the thinking—the new in customs and manner of living—the new in the home, in marriage relation, in the education and rearing of children—new philosophy, new science, new religion, new art, new music, new books, new cooking, new women—it sometimes appears that the crime of crimes, the most degrading disgrace, these days, is to be held old-fashioned, behind-the-times, out-of-date, and that everything, everything, not new is old-fashioned—everything not of the times is behind-the-times— everything not down-to-date is out-of-date.
Patriotism, love of country, is old, very old, and is also—or therefore—quite out-of-date. To speak or write of patriotism, seriously, or to consider it a factor in life—to live it, depend upon it, or appeal to it, is to be considered very strange and sadly old-fashioned. The modern, down-to-date, age considers seriously not patriotism but "graft" and "price" and "boodle." These are the modern forces by which the nation is said to be governed; these are the means by which the nation strives to go ahead. To talk only of these things, to believe only in these things, to live only these things, is to be modern and down—low down—to-date. To work from any motive but the making of money is to be queerly behind-the-times. To write a book or paint a picture or sing a song, to preach a sermon, to do anything for any reason under heaven but for cash marks you a fanatic and a fool. To believe, even, that anyone does anything save for the money there is in it stamps you simple and unsophisticated, indeed. To profess such belief, save you put your tongue in your cheek, marks you peculiar.
Long, long, ago mankind put its best strength, its best thought, its best life, into its works, without regard for the price, simply because it was its work. And the work so wrought in those queer old-fashioned days has most curiously endured. There is little danger that much of our modern, down-to-date work will endure for the very simple reason that we do not want it to endure. "The world wants something new." Down-to-date-ism does not want its work to last longer than the dollar it brings. Never fear, the world is getting something new! But, though we have grown so bravely away from those queer, old-fashioned days we have not succeeded yet in growing altogether away from the works that those old-fashioned days produced. But, patience, old world—patience—down-to-date-ism may, in time, accomplish even this.
In those old, old, times, too, it was the fashion for men and women to mate in love. In love, they planned and builded their homes. In love, they brought forth children and reared them, with queer, old-fashioned notions about marriage, to serve the race. In those times, now so sadly old and out-of-date, men planned and labored for homes and children and women were home makers and mothers. But the world is now far from those ancient ways and out-of-date ideals. Marriage has little to do with home making these modern days. It has almost nothing to do with children. We have, in our down-to-date-ism, come to be a nation of childless wives and homeless husbands. We are dwellers in flats, apartments, hotels, where children would be in the way but dogs are welcome if only they be useless dogs. We live in houses that are always for sale or rent. It is our proud boast that we possess nothing that is not on the market for a price. The thought of selling a home is not painful for we do not know, the value of a home. We have, for convenience, to gratify our modern, down-to-date, ever changing tastes, popularized the divorce court as though a husband or wife of more than three seasons is old-fashioned and should be discarded for one of a newer pattern, more in harmony with our modern ideals of marriage.
From the down-to-date—the all-the-way-down-to-date woman, I mean—one gains new and modern ideas of the service that womankind is to render to the race. Almost it is as though God did not know what he was about when he made woman. To place a home above a club; a nursery above the public platform; a fireside above politics; the prattle of children above newspaper notoriety; the love of boys and girls above the excitement of social conquest; the work of bearing strong men and true women for the glory of the race above the near intellectual pursuits and the attainments of a shallow thinking; all this is to be sadly old-fashioned. All this is so behind-the-times that one must confess such shocking taste with all humiliation.
I hereby beg pardon of the down-to-date powers that be, and most humbly pray that they will graciously forgive my boorishness. I assure you that, after all, I am not so benighted that I do not realize how seriously babies would interfere in the affairs of those down-to-date women who are elevating the race. By all means let the race be elevated though it perish, childless, in the process. Very soon, now, womanhood itself will be out-of-date for the world, in this also, seems to be evolving something new.
So the woman, who knew herself to be a woman, most of all, was tired of things new and longed, deep in her heart, for the old, old, things that were built into the very foundation of the race and that no amount of gilding and trimming and ornamenting can ever cover up or hide; and no amount of disregarding or ignoring can do away with; lest indeed the race perish from the earth.
"And when do you take your vacation?" asked a fellow worker as they were leaving the building after the day's work.
"Not until the last of the month," returned the woman wearily. "And you?"
"Me, oh, I must go Monday! And it's such a shame! I've just received a charming invitation for two weeks later but no one cares to exchange time with me. No one, you see, can go on such short notice. I don't suppose that you—" she paused suggestively.
"I will exchange time with you," said the woman simply.
"Will you really? Now, that is clever of you! Are you sure that you don't mind?"
"Indeed, I will be glad to get away earlier."
"But can you get ready to go so soon?"
The woman smiled. "I shall do very little getting ready."
The other looked at her musingly. "No, I suppose not, you are so queer that way. Seems to me I can't find time enough to make new things. One just must keep up, you know."
"It is settled then?" asked the woman, at the corner where they parted.
"It will be so good of you," murmured the other.
The woman had many invitations to spend her brief vacation with friends, but, that night, she wrote a letter to the people who lived in her old home and asked if they would take her for two weeks, requesting that they telegraph their answer. When the message came, she wired them to meet her and went by the first train.
At the old home station, her train took a siding at the upper end of the yards to let the outgoing express pass. From the window where she sat the woman saw a tall man, dressed in a business suit of quiet gray, standing on the rear platform of the slowly moving outbound train and waving his hand to someone on the depot platform. Just a glimpse she had of him before he passed from sight as her own train moved ahead to stop at the depot where she was greeted by her host. Not until they were driving toward her old home did the woman know who it was that she had seen.
The woman was interested in all that the people had to tell about her old playmate and asked not a few questions but she was glad that he had not known of her coming. She was glad that he was gone. The man and the woman were strangers and the woman did not wish to meet a stranger. The boy lived, for her, only in her Yesterdays and the woman told herself that she was glad because she feared that the man, if she met him, would rob her of the boy. She feared that he would be like so many that she had been forced to know in the world that denied her womanhood. She had determined to be for two weeks, as far as it is possible for a woman to be, just a girl again and she wanted no company other than the little boy who lived only in the long ago.
As soon as supper was over she retired to her room—to the little room that had been hers in her childhood—where, before lighting the lamp, she sat for awhile at the open window looking out into the night, breathing long and deep of the pure air that was sweetly perfumed with the odor of the meadows and fields. In the brooding quiet; in the soft night sounds; in the fragrant breeze that gently touched her hair; she felt the old, old, forces of life calling to her womanhood and felt her womanhood stir in answer. For a long time she sat there giving free rein to the thoughts and longings that, in her city life, she was forced to suppress.
Rising at last, as though with quick resolution, she lighted her lamp and prepared for bed; loosening her hair and deftly arranging the beautiful, shining, mass that fell over her shoulders in a long braid. Then, smiling as she would have smiled at the play of a child, she knelt before her trunk and, taking something from its depth, quickly put out the light again and once more seated herself in a low rocking chair by the open window.
Had there been any one to see, they would not have understood. Who is there, indeed, to understand the heart of womanhood? The woman, sitting in the dark before the window in that room so full of the memories of her childhood, held close in her arms an ancient doll whose face had been washed so many times by its little mother that it was but a smudge of paint.
That night the woman slept as a child sleeps after a long, busy, happy, childhood day—slept to open her eyes in the morning while the birds in the trees outside her window were heralding the coming of the sun. Rising she looked and saw the sky glorious with the light of dawning day. Flaming streamers of purple and scarlet and silver floated high over the buildings and trees next door. The last of the pale stars sank into the ocean of blue and, from behind the old orchard above the house where the boy lived, long shafts of golden light shot up as if aimed by some heavenly archer hiding behind the hill.
When the day was fully come, the woman quickly dressed and went out into the yard. The grass was dew drenched and fragrant under her feet. The flowers were fresh and inviting. But she did not pause until, out in the garden, at the farther corner, close by the hedge, she stood under the cherry tree—sacred cathedral of her Yesterdays.
When she turned again to go back to the house, the woman's face was shining with the light that glows only in the faces of those women who know that they are women and who dream the dreams of womanhood.
So the woman spent her days. Down in the little valley by the brook, that, as it ran over the pebbly bars, drifted in the flickering light and shade of the willows, slipped between the green banks, or crept softly beneath the grassy arch, sang its song of the Yesterdays: up in the orchard beyond the neighboring house where so many, many, times she had helped the boy play out his dreams; on the porch, in the soft twilight, watching the stars as they blossomed above while up from the dusky shadows in the valley below came the call of the whip-poor-will and the bats on silent wings flitted to and fro; out in the garden under the cherry tree in the corner near the hedge—in all the loved haunts of the boy and girl—she spent her days.
And the tired look went out of her eyes. Strength returned to her weary body, courage to her heart, and calmness to her over-wrought nerves. Amid those scenes of her Yesterdays she was made ready to go back to the world that values so highly things that are new, and, in the strength of the old, old, things to keep the dreams of her womanhood. And, as she went, there was that in her face that all men love to see in the face of womankind.
Poor old world! Someday, perhaps, it will awake from its feverish dream to find that God made some things in the heart of the race too big to be outgrown.
The heights of Life are fortified. They are guarded by narrow passes where the world must go single file and where, if one slip from the trail, he falls into chasms of awful depths; by cliffs of apparent impassable abruptness which, if in scaling, one lose his head he is lost; and by false trails that seem to promise easy going but lead in the wrong direction. Not in careless ease are those higher levels gained. The upward climb is one of strenuous effort, of desperate struggle, of hazardous risk. Only those who prove themselves fit may gain the top.
Somewhere in the life of every man there is a testing time. There is a trial to prove of what metal he is made. There is a point which, won or lost, makes him winner or loser in the game. There is a Temptation that to him is vital.
To pray: "Lead us not into temptation," is divine wisdom for Temptation lies in wait. There is no need to seek it. And, when once it is met, there is no dodging the issue or shifting the burden of responsibility. In the greatest gifts that men possess are the seeds which, if grown and cultivated, yield poisonous fruit. In the very forces that men use for greatest good are the elements of their own destruction. And, whatever the guise in which Temptation comes, the tempter is always the same—Self. Temptation spells always the mastery of or the surrender to one's self.
Once I stood on a mighty cliff with the ocean at my feet. Ear below, the waves broke with a soothing murmur that scarce could reach my ears and the gray gulls were playing here and there like shadows of half forgotten dreams. In the distance, the fishing boats rolled lazily on the gentle swell and the sunlight danced upon the surface of the sea. Then, as I looked, on the far horizon the storm chieftain gathered his clans for war. I saw the red banners flashing. I watched the hurried movements of the dark and threatening ranks. I heard the rumbling tread of the tramping feet. And, like airy messengers sent to warn me, the gusts of wind came racing and wailed and sobbed about the cliff because I would not heed their warning. The startled boats in the offing spread their white wings and scurried to the shelter of their harbor nests. The gray gulls vanished. The sunlight danced no more upon the surface of the sea. And then, as the battle front rolled above my head, the billows, lashed to fury by the wind and flinging in the air the foam of their own madness, came rushing on to try their strength against the grim and silent rock. Again and again they hurled their giant forms upon the cliff, until the roar of the surf below drowned even the thunder in the clouds above and the solid earth trembled with the shock, but their very strength was their ruin and they were dashed in impotent spray from the stalwart object of their assault. And at last, when the hours of the struggle were over; when the storm soldiers had marched on to their haunts behind the hills; when the gulls had returned to their sports; and the sun shone again on the waters; I saw the bosom of the ocean rise and fall like the breast of an angry child exhausted with its passion while the cliff, standing stern and silent, seemed to look, with mingled pride and pity, upon its foe now moaning at its feet.
Like that cliff, I say, is the soul of a man who, in temptation, gains the mastery of himself. The storm clouds of life may gather darkly over his head but he shall not tremble. The lightning of the world's wrath and the thunder of man's disapproval shall not move him. The waves of passion that so try the strength of men shall be dashed in impotent spray from his stalwart might. And when, at last, the storms of life are over—when the sun shines again on the waters as it shone before the fight began—he shall still stand, calm and unmoved, master of himself and men.
Because those things are true, I say: that Temptation is one of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life.
And the man knew these things—knew them as well as you know them. In the full knowledge of these things he came to his testing time. To win or to lose, in the full knowledge of all that victory or defeat meant to him, he went to his Temptation.
It was early winter when his time came but he knew that first morning after he had returned from his vacation that it was coming. The moment he entered the room to take up again the task of putting his dreams into action, he saw her and felt her power for she was one of those women who compel recognition of their sex as the full noonday sun compels recognition of its light and heat.
An hour later her duties brought her to him, and, for a few moments, they stood face to face. And the man, while he instructed her in the work that she was to do, felt the strength of her power even as a strong swimmer feels the current of the stream. Through her eyes, in her voice, in her presence, this woman challenged the man, made him more conscious of her than of his work. The subtle, insinuating, luring, strength of her beat upon him, enveloped him, thrilled him. As she turned to go back to her place, his eyes followed her and he knew that he was approaching a great crisis in his life. He knew that soon or late he would be forced into a battle with himself and that tremendous stakes would be at issue. He knew that victory would give him increased power, larger capacity, and a firmer grip upon the enduring principles of life or defeat would make of him a slave, with enfeebled spirit, humiliated and ashamed.
Every day, in the weeks that followed, the man was forced to see her—to talk with her—to feel her strength. And every day he felt himself carried irresistibly onward toward the testing that he knew must come. He was conscious, too, that the woman, also, knew and understood and that it pleased her so to use her power. She willed that he should feel her presence. In a thousand subtle forms she repeated her challenge. In ways varied without number she called to him, lured him, led him. To do this seemed a necessity to her. She was one of those women whose natures seem to demand this expression of themselves. Instinctively, she made all men with whom she came in contact feel her power and, instinctively—unconsciously, perhaps—she gloried in her strength.
If the man could have had other things in common with her it would have been different. If there had been, as well, the appeal of the intellect—of the spirit—if the beauty of her had been to him an expression of something more than her sex—if there had been ideals, hopes, longings, fears, even sorrow or regret, common to both, it would have been different. But there was nothing. Often the man sought to find something more but there was nothing. So he permitted himself to be carried onward by a current against which, when the time should come, he knew he would need to fight with all his might. And always, as the current swept him onward toward the point where he must make the decisive struggle, he felt the woman's power over him growing ever greater.
At last it came.
It was Saturday. The man left the place where he worked earlier than usual that he might walk to his rooms for he felt the need of physical action. He felt a strong desire to run, to leap, to use his splendid muscles that throbbed and exulted with such vigorous life. As he strode along the streets, beyond the business district, he held his head high, he looked full into the faces of the people he met with a bold challenging look. The cool, bracing air, of early winter was grateful on his glowing skin and he drank long deep breaths of it as one would drink an invigorating tonic. Every nerve and fiber of him was keenly, gloriously, alive with the strength of his splendid manhood. Every nerve and fiber of him was conscious of her and exulted in that which he had seen in her eyes when she had told him that she would be at home that evening and that she would be glad to have him call. With all his senses abnormally alert, he saw and noted everything about him. A thousand trivial, commonly unseen things, along his way and in the faces, dress, and manner, of the people whom he met, caught his eye. Yet, always, vividly before him, was the face of her whose power he had felt. Under it all, he was conscious that this was his testing time. He knew—or it would have been no Temptation—it would have been no trial. Impatiently he glanced at his watch and, as he neared the place where he lived, quickened his stride, springing up the steps of the house at last with a burst of eager haste.
In the front hall, at the foot of the stairs, the little daughter of his landlady greeted him with shouts of delight and, with the masterful strength of four feminine years, dragged him, a willing captive, through the open door to her mother's pleasant sitting room. She was a beautiful, dainty, little miss with hair and eyes very like that playmate of the man's Yesterdays and it was his custom to pay tribute to her charms in the coin of childhood as faithfully and as regularly as he paid his board.
Seated now, with the baby on his lap and the smiling mother looking on, he produced, after the usual pretense of denial and long search through many pockets, the weekly offering. And then, as though some guardian angel willed it so, the little girl did a thing that she had never done before. Putting two plump and dimpled arms about his neck she said gravely: "Mamma don't like me to kiss folks, you know, but she said she wouldn't care if I kissed you" Whereupon a sweet little rosebud mouth was offered trustingly, with loving innocence, to his lips.
A crimson flame flushed the man's face. With a laugh of embarrassment and a quick impulsive hug he held the child close and accepted her offering.
Then he went quickly upstairs to his room.
It was sometime later when the man began to prepare for the evening to which he had looked forward with such eagerness and all his fierce and driving haste was gone. The mad tumult of his manhood strength was stilled. He moved, now, with a purpose, sullen, grim, defiant. The fight was on. While he was still vividly conscious of the woman whose compelling power he felt, he felt, now, as well, the pure touch of those baby lips. While he still saw the light in the woman's eyes and sensed the meaning of her smile, he saw and sensed as clearly the loving innocence that had shown in the little girl's face as it was lifted up to his. Upon his manhood's strength lay the woman's luring spell. Upon his manhood the baby's kiss lay as a seal of sacredness—upon his lips it burned as a coal of holy fire. The fight was on.
The man's life was not at all an easy life. Beside his work and his memories there was little to hold him true. Since that day when he stood face to face with Life and, for the first time, knew that he was a man, he had been, save for a few friends among the men of his own class, alone. The exacting demands of his work had left him little time or means to spend in seeking social pleasures or in the delights of fellowship with those for whose fellowship he would have cared, even had the way to their society been, at that period of his life, open to him. He told himself, always, that sometime in the future, when he had worked out still farther his dreams, he would find the way to the social life that he would enjoy but until then, he must, of necessity, live much alone. And now—now—the testing time—the crisis in his life—had come. Even as it must come to every man who knows his manhood so it had come to him.
The man was not deceived. He knew the price he would pay in defeat. But, even while he knew this—even while he knew what defeat would mean to him, so great was her power that he went on making ready to go to her. With the kiss of the little girl upon his lips he made ready to go to the woman. It was as though he had drifted too far and the current had become too strong for him to turn back. Thus do such men yield to such temptations. Thus are men betrayed by the very strength of their manhood.
With mad determination he waited the hour. Uneasily he paced his room. He tried to read. He threw himself into a chair only to arise and move about again. Every few moments he impatiently consulted his watch. At every step in the hall, without his door, he started as if alarmed. He became angry, in a blind rage, with the woman, with himself and even with the little girl. At last, when it was time to go, he threw on his overcoat, took his hat and gloves, and, with a long, careful look about the room, laid his hand on the door. He knew that the man who was going out that evening would not come hack to his room the same man. He knew that that man could never come back. He felt as though he was giving up his apartments to a stranger. So he hesitated, with his hand upon the door, looking long and carefully about. Then quickly he threw open the door and, down the hall and down the stairs, went as one who has counted the cost and determined recklessly.
The man had opened the front door and was about to pass out when a sweet voice called: "Wait, oh, wait."
Turning, he saw a tiny figure in white flying toward him.
The little girl, all ready for bed, had caught sight of him and, for the moment, had escaped from her mother's attention.
The man shut the door and caught her up. Two dimpled arms went around his neck and the rosebud mouth was lifted to his lips.
Then the mother came and led her away while the man stood watching her as she went.
Would he ever dare touch those baby lips again he wondered. Could he, he asked himself, could he face again those baby eyes? Could he ever again bear the feeling of that soft little body in his arms?
At the farther end of the hall, she turned, and, seeing him still there, waved her hand with a merry call: "Good-bye, good-bye."
Then she passed from his sight and, in place of this little girl of rosy, dimpled, flesh, the startled man saw a dainty maiden of his Yesterdays, standing under a cherry tree with fallen petals of the delicate blossoms in her wayward hair, and with eyes that looked at him very gravely and a little frightened as, for the shaggy coated minister, he spoke the solemn words: "I pronounce you husband and wife and anything that God has done must never be done any different by anybody forever and ever, Amen." By some holy magic the kiss of the little girl became the kiss of his play wedding wife of the long ago.
Very slowly the man went up the stairs again to his room; there to spend the evening not as he had planned, when he was in the mastering grip of self, but safe in the quiet harbor of the Yesterdays where the storms of life break not or are felt only in those gentle ripples that scarce can stir the surface of the sea.
The fierce passion that had shaken the very soul of him passed on as the storm clouds pass. In the calm of the days that were gone, he rested as one who has fought a good fight and, safe from out the turmoil and the danger, has come victoriously into the peace that passeth all understanding.
In the sweet companionship of his childhood mate, with the little girl who lived next door, the man found again, that night, his better self. In the boy of the long-ago, he found again his ideals of manhood. In his Yesterdays, he found strength to stand against the power of the temptation that assailed him.
Blessed, blessed Yesterdays!
* * * * *
It was the time of the first snow when, again, the woman sat alone in her room before the fire, with her door fast locked and the shades drawn close, even as on that other night—the night when her womanhood began in dreams.
In the soft dusk, while the shadows of the flickering light came and went upon the walls, and the quiet was broken only by the tick, tick, tick, of the timepiece held in the chubby arms of the fat cupid on the mantle, the woman sat very still. Face to face with her Temptation, she sat alone and very still.
For several months, the woman had seen her testing time approaching. That day when, looking into her eyes, the man of authority had so kindly bidden her leave her work for the afternoon, she had known that this time would come. In the passing weeks she had realized that the day was approaching when she must decide both for him and for herself. She had not sought to prevent the coming of that day. She had knowingly permitted it to come. She was even pleased in a way to watch it drawing near. Not once, in those weeks, had he failed to be very kind or ceased to make her feel that he understood. In a hundred ways, as their work called them together and gave opportunity, he had told her, in voice and look and the many ways of wordless speech, that the time was coming. He had been very careful, too—very careful—that, in their growing friendship, the world should have no opportunity to misjudge. And the woman, seeing his care, was grateful and valued his friendship the more.
So had come at last that Saturday when, with low spoken words, at the close of the day's work, he had asked if he might call upon her the following evening; saying gravely, as he looked down into her face, that he had something very important to tell her. And she had gravely said that he might come; while her blushes to him confessed that she knew what it was of importance that he would say.
Scarcely had she reached her home that afternoon when a messenger boy appeared with a great armful of roses and, as she arranged the flowers on her table, burying her flushed face again and again in their fragrant coolness, she had told herself that to-morrow, when he asked her to cross with him the threshold of that old, old door, she would answer: yes. But, even as she so resolved, she had been conscious of something in her heart that denied the resolution of her mind.
And so it was that, as she sat alone before her fire that night, she knew that she was face to face with a crisis in her life. So it was that she had come to the testing time and knew that she must win or lose alone. In the sacred privacy of her room, with the perfume of his roses filling the air and the certainty that when he came on the morrow she must answer, she looked into the future to see, if she might, what it held for her and for him if she should cross with him the threshold of that old, old, door.
He was a man whose love would honor any woman—this she knew. And he was a man of power and influence in the world—a man who could provide for his mate a home of which any woman would be proud to be the mistress. Nor could she doubt his love for nothing else could have persuaded such a man to ask of a woman that which he was coming to ask of her.
Beginning with her answer on the following evening the woman traced, in thought, all that would follow. She saw herself leaving the life that she had never desired because it could not recognize her womanhood and, in fancy, received the congratulations of her friends. She lived, in her imagination, those busy days when she would be making ready for the day that was to come. Very clearly, she pictured to herself the wedding; it would be a quiet wedding, she told herself, but as beautiful and complete as cultured taste and wealth could make it. Then they would go away, for a time, to those cities and lands beyond the sea that, all her life, she had longed to visit. When they returned, it would be to that beautiful old home of his family—the home that she had so often, in passing, admired; and in that home, so long occupied by him alone, she would be the proud mistress. And then—then—would come her children—their children—and so all the fulfillment of her womanhood's dreams.
But the woman's face, as she looked into a future that seemed as bright as ever woman dared to dream, was troubled. As she traced the way that lay so invitingly before her, this woman, who knew herself to be a woman, was sad. Her heart, still, was as an empty room—a room that is furnished and ready but without a tenant. Deep within her woman heart she knew that this man was not the one for whom she waited by the open door. She did not know who it was for whom she waited. She knew only that this man was not the one. And she wished—oh, how she wished—that this was not so. Because of her longing—because of the dreams of her womanhood—because of her empty heart—she was resolved to cross with this man, who was not the man for whom she waited, the threshold that she could not cross alone. Honor, regard, respect, the affection of a friend, she could give him—did give him indeed—but she knew that this was not enough for a woman to give the man with whom she would enter that old, old, door.
Rising, the woman went to her mirror to study long and carefully the face and form that she saw reflected there. She saw in the glass, a sweet, womanly, beauty, expressing itself in the color and tone of the clean carved features; in the dainty texture of the clear skin and soft, brown, hair; and in the rounded fullness and graceful lines of the finely moulded body. Perfect physical strength and health was there—vital, glowing, appealing. And culture of mind, trained intelligence, thoughtfulness, was written in that womanly face. And, with it all, there was good breeding, proud blood, with gentleness of spirit.
This woman knew that she was well equipped to stand by this man's side however high his place in life. She was well fitted to become the mistress of his home and the mother of his children. She had guarded well the choicest treasures of her womanhood. She had squandered none of the wealth that was committed to her. She had held it all as a sacred trust to be kept by her for that one with whom she should go through the old, old door. And she had determined that, to-morrow evening, she would give herself, with all the riches of her womanhood, to this one who could give her, in return, the home of her dreams. While her heart was still as an empty room, she had determined to cross, with this man, the threshold over which no woman may again return.
Turning from her mirror, slowly the woman went to the great bunch of roses that stood upon her table. They were his roses; and they fitly expressed, in their costly beauty, the life that he was coming to offer to her. Very deliberately she bent over them, burying her face in the mass of rich color, inhaling deeply their heavy fragrance. Thoughtfully she considered them and all that, to her, they symbolized. But there was no flush upon her cheek now. There was no warmth in the light of her eyes. No glad excitement thrilled her. There was no trembling in her touch—no eager joyousness in her manner.
Suddenly, some roisterer, passing along the street with his companions, laughed a loud, reckless, half drunken, laugh that sounded in the quiet darkness with startling clearness.
The woman sprang back from the flowers as though a poisonous serpent, hidden in their fragrant beauty, had struck her. With a swift look of horror on her white face she glanced fearfully about the room.
Again the laugh sounded; this time farther down the street.
The woman sank into her chair, trembling with a nameless fear. To her, that laugh in the dark had sounded as the laughter of the crowd that day when she was forced so close to the outcast women who were in the hands of the police.
"But those women," argued the frightened woman with herself, "sell themselves to all men for a price."
"And you," answered the heart of her womanhood, "and you, also, will sell yourself to one man, for a price. The wealth of womanhood committed to you—all the treasures that you have guarded so carefully—you will sell now to this good man for the price that he can pay. If he could not pay the price—if he came to you empty handed—would you say yes?"
"But I will be true to him," argued the woman. "I will give myself to him and to him only as wife to husband."
"You are being false to him already," replied her woman heart, "for you are selling yourself, not giving yourself to him. You are planning to deceive him. You would make him think that he is taking to himself a wife when, for a price, you are selling to him—something higher than a public woman, it is true—but something, as true, very much lower than a wife. What matter whether the price be in gold and silver or in property and social position—it is a price. Except he pay you your price he could not have you."
And what, thought the woman, what if—after she had crossed the threshold with this good man—after she had entered with him into the life that lay on the other side that door—what if, then, that other one should come? What if the one for whom her empty heart should have waited were to come and stand alone before that door through which she could not go back? And the children—the dear children of her dreams—what of them? Had not her unborn children the right to demand that they be born in love? And if she should say, "no," to this man—if she should turn once more away from the open door, through which he would ask her to go with him—what then? What if that one who had delayed his coming so long should never come?
And then the woman, who knew herself to be a woman, saw the lonely years come and go. While she waited without the door that led to the life of her womanhood's dreams, she saw the beauty that her mirror revealed slowly fading—saw her firm, smooth, cheeks become thin and wrinkled, her bright eyes grow dim and pale, her soft, brown, hair turn thin and gray, her body grow lean and stooped. All the wealth of her womanhood that she had treasured with such care she saw become as dust, worthless. All the things of her womanhood she would be forced to spend in that life that denied her womanhood, and then, when she had nothing left, she would be cast aside as a worn out machine. Never to know the joy of using her womanhood! Never to have a home! Never to feel the touch of a baby hand! To lay down the wealth of her woman life and go empty and alone in her shriveled old age! With an exclamation, the woman sprang to her feet and stretched out her arms. "No, no, no," she whispered fiercely, "anything, anything, but that. I will be true to him. I will be a faithful wife. He shall never know. He shall not feel that he is cheated. And perhaps—" she dropped into her chair again and buried her face in her hands as she whispered—"perhaps, bye and bye, God will let me love him. Surely, God will let me love him, bye and bye."
Sometime later, the woman did a strange thing. Going to her desk, softly, as a thief might go, she unlocked a drawer and took from it a small jewel case. For several moments she stood under the light holding the little velvet box in her hand unopened. Then, lifting the lid, she looked within and, presently, from among a small collection of trinkets that had no value save to her who knew their history, took a tiny brass ring. Placing the box on the dresser, she tried, musingly, to fit the little ring on her finger. On each finger in turn she tried, but it would go only part way on the smallest one; and she smiled sadly to see how she had grown since that day under the cherry tree.
Turning again, she went slowly across the room to the fire that now was a bed of glowing coals. For a little she stood looking down into the fire. Then, slowly, she stretched forth her hand to drop the ring. But she could not do it. She could not.
Returning the little circle of brass to its place among the trinkets in the jewel box, the woman prepared for bed.
The timepiece in the arms of the fat cupid ticked loudly now in the darkness that was only faintly relieved by the glowing embers of the fire.
With sleepless eyes the woman who had determined to give herself without love lay staring into the dusk. But she did not see the darkness. She did not see the grotesque and ghostly objects in the gloom. Nor did she see the somber shadows that came and went as the dying fire gained fitful strength. The woman saw the bright sun shining on the meadows and fields of the long ago. She saw again the scenes of her childhood. Again, as she stood under the cherry tree that showered its delicate blossoms down with every puff of air, she looked with loving confidence into the face of the brown cheeked boy who spoke so seriously those childish vows. Again, upon her lips she felt that kiss of the childhood mating.
The soft light of the fire grew fainter and fainter as the embers slowly turned to ashes. Could it be that the woman, in her temptation, would let the sacred fire of love burn altogether out? Must the memories of her Yesterdays turn to ashes too?
The last faint glow was almost gone when the woman slipped quickly out of her bed and, in the darkness, groped her way across the room to the desk where she found the little jewel case.
And I think that the fat cupid who was neglecting his bow and arrows to wrestle with time must have been pleased to see the woman, a little later, when the dying fire flared out brightly for a moment, lying fast asleep, while, upon the little finger of the hand that lay close to her smiling lips, there was a tiny circle of brass.
In childhood, the Master of Life exalts Life. A baby in its mother's arms is the fullest expression of Divinity.
It was Christmas time; that season of the year when, for a brief period, the world permits the children to occupy the place in the affairs and thoughts of men that is theirs by divine right.
In the birth of that babe in Bethlehem, the Giver of Life placed the seal of his highest approval upon childhood and decreed that, until the end of time, babies should be the true rulers of mankind and the lawful heirs of heaven. And it is so, that the power of Mary's babe, from his manger cradle throne, has been more potent on earth in the governments of men than the strength of many emperors with their armed hosts.
It is written large in Nature's laws that mankind should be governed by love of children. The ruling purpose and passion of the race can be, with safety, nothing less than the purpose and passion of all created things—of even the trees and plants—the purpose to reproduce its kind—the passion for its offspring. The world should be ruled by boys and girls.
But Mammon has usurped the throne of Life. His hosts have trampled the banners of loyal love in the dust. His forces have compelled the rightful rulers of the world to abdicate. But, even as gross materialism has never succeeded in altogether denying Divinity, so, for a few days each year, at Christmas time, childhood asserts its claims and compels mankind to render, at least a show, of homage.
Poor, blind, deceived and betrayed, old world; to so fear a foolish and impotent anarchism that spends its strength in vain railings against governments while you pay highest honors and present your choicest favors to those traitors who filch your wealth of young life under pretense of loyal service. The real anarchists, old world, are not those who loudly vociferate to the rabble on the street corners but those who, operating under the laws of your approval, betray their country in its greatest need—its need of children. The real anarchists, old world, are those whose banners are made red by the blood of babies; who fatten upon the labor of their child slaves; and who seek to rule by the slaughter of children even as that savage of old whose name in history is hated by every lover of the race. Regicides at heart, they are, for they kill, for a price, the God ordained rulers of mankind. A child is nearer, by many years, to God than the grown up rebel who traitorously holds his own mean interests superior to the holy will of Life as vested in the sacred person of a boy or girl.
To prate, in empty swelling words, of the sacredness of life, the power of religion, the dignity of state, the importance of commercial interests and the natural wealth of the nation, while ignoring the sacredness, power, dignity, importance, and wealth of childhood, is evidence of a criminal thoughtlessness.
Children and Life are one. They are the product, the producers, and the preservers of Life. They exalt Life. They interpret Life. Without them Life has no meaning. The child is no more the possession of its parents than the parents are the property of the child. Children are the just creditors of the human race. Mankind owes them everything. They owe mankind nothing. A baby has no debts.
Nor is the passion for children satisfied only in bearing them. A woman who does not love all babies is unsafe to trust with one of her own flesh. A man who does not love all children is unfit to father offspring of his own blood. One need not die to orphan a child. One need only refuse to care for it. One need only place other interests first. Men and women who desire to become parents will not go unsatisfied in a world that is so full of boys and girls for whom there are neither fathers nor mothers.
The Master of Life said: "Except ye become as little children." His false disciple—world—teaches: "Except ye become grown up." But the laws of Life are irrevocable. If a man, heeding the world, grows up to possess the earth, his holdings, at the last, are reduced—if he be one of earth's big men—to six feet of it, only; while the man who never grows up inherits a heaven that the false kings of earth know not.
When the man left his work, at close of the day before Christmas, he was as eager as he had been that Saturday when he faced the crisis of his life. With every sense keenly alive, he plunged into the throng of belated shoppers that filled the streets and crowded into the gaily decked stores until it overflowed into the streets again. Nearly everyone was carrying bundles and packages for it was too late, now, to depend upon the overworked delivery wagons. In almost every face, the Christmas gladness shone. In nearly every voice, there was that spirit of fellowship and cheery good will that is invoked by Christmas thoughts and plans. Through the struggling but good natured crowd, the man worked his way into a store and, when he forced his way out again, his arms, too, were full. For a moment he waited on the corner for a car then, with a look of smiling dismay at the number of people who were also waiting, he turned away, determined to walk. He felt, too, that the exercise in the keen air would be a relief to the buoyant strength and gladness that clamored for expression.
As he swung so easily along the snowy pavement, with the strength of his splendid manhood revealed in every movement and the cleanness of his heart and mind illuminating his countenance, there were many among those he met who, while they smiled in sympathy with his spirit, passed from their smiles to half sighs of envy and regret.
With the impatient haste of a boy, the man dashed up the steps of his boarding house and ran up stairs to his room; chuckling in triumph over his escape from the watchful eyes of the little daughter of the house. For the first time since his boyhood the man was to have the blessed privilege of sharing the Christmas cheer of a home.
When the evening meal was over and it was time for his little playmate to go to sleep, he retired again to his room, almost as excited, in his eager impatience for the morning, as the child herself. Safe behind his closed door, he began to unwrap his Christmas packages and parcels that he might inspect again his purchases and taste, by anticipation, the pleasure he would know when on the morrow the child would discover his gifts. Very carefully he cut the strings from the last and largest package and, tenderly removing the wrappings, revealed a doll almost as tall as the little girl herself. It was as large, at least, as a real flesh and blood baby.
The wifeless, homeless, man who has never purchased a doll for some little child mother has missed an educational experience of more value than many of the things that are put in text books to make men wise.
Rather awkwardly the man held the big doll in his arms, smoothing its dress and watching the eyes that opened and closed so lifelike; cautiously he felt for and found that vital spot which if pressed brought forth a startling: "papa—mama."
As the dear familiar words of childhood sounded in the lonely bachelor room, the man felt a queer something grip his heart. Tenderly he laid the doll upon his big bed and stood for a little looking down upon it; a half-serious, half-whimsical, expression on his face but in his eyes a tender light. Then, adjusting his reading lamp, he seated himself and attempted to busy his strangely disturbed mind with a book. But the sentences were meaningless. At every period, his eyes turned to that little figure on the bed, with its too lifelike face and hair and form while the thoughts of the author he was trying to read were crowded out by other thoughts that forced themselves upon him with a persistency and strength that would not be denied.