The weeks following the testing of the man had been to him very wonderful weeks. He seemed to be living in a new world, or, rather, for him, the same old world was wonderfully enriched and glorified. Never had he felt his manhood's strength stirring so within him. Never had his mind been so alert, his spirit so bold. He moved among men with a new power that was felt by all who came in touch with him; though no one knew what it was. He was conscious of a fuller mastery of his work; a clearer grasp of the world events. As one, climbing in the mountains, reaches a point higher than he has ever before attained and gains thus a wider view of the path he has traveled, of the surrounding country, and of the peak that is the object of his climb as well, so this man, in his life climb, had reached a higher point and therefore gained a wider outlook. It is only when men stay in the lowlands of self interest or abide in the swamps of self indulgence that their views of life are narrowly circumscribed. Let a man master himself but once and he stands on higher ground, with wider outlook, with keener vision, and clearer atmosphere.
The man had always seen Life in its relation to himself; he came, now, to consider his own life in its relation to all Life; which point of view has all the difference that lies between a low valley and the mountain peaks that shut it in. He felt his relation, too, not alone to all human life but to all created things. With everything that lived he felt himself kin. With the very dray horses on the street, dragging with patient courage their heavily loaded trucks; with the stray dog that dodged in and out among the wheels and hoofs of the crowded traffic; even with the sparrow that perched for a moment on the ledge outside the window near his desk, he felt a kinship that was new and strange. Had they not all, he reflected, horse and dog and sparrow and man—had they not all one thing in common—Life? Was not Life the one thing supreme to each? Were they not, each one, a part of the whole? Was not the supreme object of every life, of all life, to live? Is the life of a man, he asked himself, more mysterious than the life of a horse? Can science—blind, pretentious, childish science—explain the life of a dog with less uncertainty than it can explain the life of a man? Or can the scientist make a laboratory sparrow more easily than he can produce a laboratory man? With the very trees that lined the streets near where he lived, he felt a kinship for they, too, within their trunks and limbs, had life—they, too, were parts of the whole even as he was a part—they, too, belonged even as he belonged.
Thus the man saw Life from a loftier height than he had ever before attained. Thus he sensed, as never before, the bigness, the fullness, the grandness, the awfulness, of Life. And so the man became very humble with a proud humbleness. He became very proud with a humble pride. He became even as a child again.
And then, standing thus upon this new height that he had gained, the man looked back into the ages that were gone and forward into the ages that were to come and so saw himself and his age a link between the past and the future; linking that which had been to that which was to be. All that Life had ever been—the sum of all since the unknown beginning—was in the present. In the present, also, was all that Life could ever be, even unto the unknown end. Within his age and within himself he felt stirring all the mighty forces that, since the beginning, had wrought in the making of man. Within his age and within himself he felt the forces that would work out in the race results as far beyond his present vision as his age was beyond the ages of the most distant past.
Since the day when he had first realized his manhood, the working out of his dreams had been to the man the supreme object of his life. He had put his life, literally, into his work. For his work he had lived. But that Christmas eve, when his mind and heart were so filled with thoughts of childhood and those new emotions were aroused within him, he saw that the supreme thing in his life must be Life itself. He saw that not by putting his life into his work, would he most truly live, but by making his work contribute to his life. He realized that the greatest achievements of man are but factors in Life—that the one supreme, dominant, compelling, purpose of Life is to live—to live—to live—to express itself in Life—that the only adequate expression of Life is Life—that the passion of Life is to pass itself on—from age to age, from generation to generation, in a thousand thousand forms, in a thousand thousand ages, in a thousand thousand peoples, Life had passed itself on—was even then passing itself on—seeking ever fuller expression of itself; seeking ever to perfect itself; seeking ever to produce itself. He saw that the things that men do come out of their lives even as the plants come out of the soil into which the seed is dropped; and, that, even as the dead and decaying plant goes back into the earth from which it came, to enrich and renew the ground, so man's work, that comes out of his life, is reabsorbed again into his life to enrich and renew it. He realized, now, that the object of his life must be not his work but Life itself—that his effort must be not to do but to be—that he must accomplish not a great work but a great Life.
It was inevitable that the man should come to see, also, that the supreme glory of his manhood's strength was in this: the reproduction of his kind. The man life that ran so strongly in his veins, that throbbed so exultantly in his splendid body, that thrilled so keenly in his nerves—the man life that he had from his parents and from countless generations before—the life that made him kin to all his race and to all created things—this life he must pass on. This was the supreme glory of his manhood: that he could pass it on—that he could give it to the ages that were to come.
From the heights which he attained that Christmas eve, the man laughed at the empty, swelling, words of those who talk about the sacredness of work—who prattle as children about leaving a great work when they are gone—who gibber as fools about contributing a great work to the world.
If the men of a race will perfect the manhood strength of the race; if they will exalt their manhood power; if they will fulfill the mission of life by perfecting and producing ever more perfect lives; if they will endeavor to contribute to the ages to come stronger, better, men than themselves; why, the work of the world will be done—even as the plant produces its flowers and fruit, the work of the world will be done. In the exaltation of Life is the remedy for the evils that threaten the race. The reformations that men are always attempting in the social, religious, political, and industrial world are but attempts to change the flavor or quality of the fruit when it is ripening on the tree. The true remedy lies in the life of the tree; in the soil from which it springs; in the source from which the fruit derives its quality and flavor. In the appreciation of Life, in the passion of Life, in the production of Life, in the perfection of Life, in the exaltation of Life, is the salvation of human kind. For this, and this alone, man has right to live—has right to his place and part in Life.
All this the man saw that Christmas eve because the kiss of the little girl, on that night of his temptation, had awakened something in his manhood that was greater than the dreams he had been denying himself to work out. The friendship of the child had revealed to him this deeper truth of Life; that there are, for all true men, accomplishments greater than the rewards of labor. The baby had taught him that the legitimate fruit of love is more precious to Life, by far, than the wealth and honors that the world bestows—that, indeed, the greatest wealth, the highest honors, are not in the power of the world to give; nor are they to be won by toil. In his thinking, this man, too, was led by a little child.
The man's thoughts were interrupted by a knock at his door.
It was the little girl's mother; to tell him, as she had promised, that the child was safely asleep.
With his arms filled with presents, the man went softly down the stairs.
When all had been arranged for the morning, the man returned again to his room; but not to sleep. There was in his heart a feeling of reverent pride and gladness, as though he had been permitted to assist in a religious rite, and, with his own hands, to place an offering upon a sacred altar. And, if you will understand me, the man was right. Whatever else Christmas has come to mean to the grown up world, its true meaning can be nothing less than this.
Nor did the man again turn to his book or attempt to take up the train of thought that had so interfered with his reading. Something more compelling than any printed page—something more insistant than his own thoughts of Life and its meaning—lured him far away from his grown up days—took him back again into his days that were gone. Alone in his room that Christmas eve, the man went back, once more, to his Yesterdays—back to a Christmas in his Yesterdays.
Once again, his boyhood home was the scene of busy preparations for the Christmas gaieties. Once again, the boy, tucked snugly under the buffalo robe, drove with his parents away through the white fields to the distant town while the music in his heart kept time to the melody of the jingling bells. Once again, he experienced the happy perplexity of selecting—with mother's help—a present for father while father obligingly went to see a man on business and of choosing—with father's assistance—a gift for mother while she rested in a far corner of the store. And then, once again, he faced the trying question: what should he get for the little girl who lived next door. What, indeed, could he get for her but a beautiful new doll—one with brown hair, very like the little girl's own, and brown eyes that opened and closed as natural as life.
The next day the boy went, with his father and the little girl and her uncle, in the big sleigh, to the woods to find a tree for the Christmas "exercises" at the church; and, in the afternoon, in company with the older people, helped to make the wreaths of evergreen and deck the tree with glittering tinsel; while the little girl strung long strings of snowy pop corn and labored earnestly at the sweet task of filling mosquito bar stockings with candy and nuts.
Then came that triumphant Christmas eve, when, before the assembled Sunday school and the crowded church, the boy took part, with his class, in the entertainment and sat, with wildly beating heart, while the little girl, all alone, sang a Christmas carol; and proud he was, indeed, when the applause for the little singer was so long and loud. And then, when the farmer Santa Claus had distributed the last stocking of candy, the boy and the girl, with their elders, went home together, in the clear light of the stars; while, across the white fields, came the sound of gay laughter and happy voices mingled with the ringing music of the sleigh bells—growing fainter and fainter—as friends and neighbors went their several ways.
But, best of all—by far the best of all—was that Christmas morning at home. At the first hint of gray light in the winter sky, the boy was awake and out of bed to gather his Christmas harvest; hailing each toy and game and book with exclamations of delight and arousing all the house with his shouts of: "Merry Christmas."
The foolish, grown up, old world has a saying that we value most the things that we win for ourselves by toil and hardship; but, believe me, it is not so. The real treasures of earth are the things that are won by the toil of those who bring to us, without price, the fruits of their labor as tokens of their love.
Very early, that long ago Christmas morning, the boy went over to the little girl's house; for his happiness would not be complete until he could share it with her. And the man, who, alone in his bachelor room that Christmas eve, dreamed of his Yesterdays, saw again, with startling clearness, his boyhood mate as she stood in the doorway greeting him with shouts of, "Merry Christmas," as he went toward her through the snow; and the heart of the man beat quicker at the lovely vision—even as the heart of the boy—for she held, close in her little mother arms, the new addition to her family of dolls—his gift. The lonely man, that night, realized, as he had never realized before, how full, at that moment, was the cup of the boy's proud happiness. He realized and understood.
I wonder—do you, also, understand?
In the still house, the big clock in the lower hall struck the hour. The man in his lonely room listened, counting the strokes —nine—ten—eleven—twelve.
It was Christmas.
* * * * *
And the woman, also, when she had passed safely through her trial, looked out upon Life from a point higher than she had ever reached before. Never before had Life, to her, looked so wide.
But the woman did not feel stronger after the crisis through which she had passed; she felt, more keenly than before, her weakness. More than ever, she felt the need of a strength that she could not find within herself. More than ever, she was afraid of the Life, that, from where she now stood, seemed so wide. Nor did she feel a kinship with all Life. She stood on higher ground, indeed, but the wideness of the view, to her, only emphasized her loneliness. She sadly felt herself as one apart—as one denied the right of fellowship. More keenly than ever before, she felt, in the heart of her womanhood, the humiliation of the life that sets a price upon the things of womanhood while it refuses to recognize womanhood itself. More than ever, in her woman heart, she was ashamed. Neither could she feel that she was doing her part in Life—that she was taking her place—that she was a link joining the ages of the past to the ages that would come. She felt herself, rather, a parasite, attached to Life—not a part of—not belonging to—but feeding upon.
This woman who knew herself to be a woman saw, more clearly than ever before, that one thing, only, could give her full fellowship with the race. She saw that one thing, only, could make her a link between the ages that were gone and the ages that were to come. That one thing, only, could satisfy her woman heart—could make her feel that she was not alone.
That one thing which the woman recognized as supreme is the thing which the Master of Life has committed peculiarly to womanhood. Not to woman's skillful hands; not to her ready brain; not to the things of her womanhood upon which the world into which she goes alone to labor puts a price has the Master of Life committed this supreme thing; but to her womanhood—her sex. In the womanhood that is denied by the world that receives womankind alone, is wealth that may not be bought by any price that the world can pay. In the womanhood of women is that supreme thing without which human life would perish from the earth. The exercise of this power alone can give to woman the high place in Life that belongs to her by right divine. The woman saw that, for her, all other work in the world would be but a makeshift—a substitute; and, because of this, while Life had, never before seemed so large, she had, never before felt so small—so useless.
But still, for the woman, there was peace in her loneliness—there was a peace that she had not had before—there was a calmness, a quietness, that was not hers before her trial. It was the peace of the lonely mountain top to which one climbs from out a noisy, clamoring, village; the calmness of the deep sky uncrossed by cloud or marked by smoke of human industry; the quietness of the wide prairie, untouched by man's improvements. And this tranquil rest was hers because she knew—deep in her woman's heart she knew—that she had done well; that she had not been untrue to the soul of her womanhood.
The woman knew that she had done well because she had come to understand that, while life is placed peculiarly in the care and keeping of her sex, her sex has been endowed, for the protection, perfection, and perpetuation of Life, with peculiar instincts. She had come to understand that, while woman has been made the giver and guardian of Life, she, for that reason, is subject to laws that are not to be broken save with immeasurable loss to the race. To her sex is given, by Life itself, the divine right of selection that the future of the race may be assured. To her sex is given an instinct superior to reason that her choice may perfect human kind. For her, and for the Life of her kind, there is the law that if she permits aught but her woman instinct to influence her in selecting her mate her children and the children of her children shall mourn.
In the crisis of her life the woman had heard many voices—bold and tempting, pleading and subtle—urging her to say: "Yes." But always her instinct—her woman heart—had whispered: "No. This man is not your mate. This is not the man you would choose to be the father of your children. Better, far better, contribute nothing to the race than break the law of your womanhood. Better, far better, never cross the threshold of that open door than cross it with one who, in your heart of hearts you know, to be not the right one."
So the woman had peace. Even in her loneliness, she had peace—knowing that she had done well.
And the woman tried, now, to interest herself in the things that so many of the women of her day seemed to find so interesting. She listened to brave lectures by stalwart women on woman's place and sphere in the world's work. She heard bold talks by militant women about woman's emancipation and freedom. She attended lectures by intellectual women on the higher life, and the new thought, and the advanced ideas. She read pamphlets and books written by modern women on the work of women in the social, political and industrial fields. She became acquainted with many "new" women who, striving mightily with all their strength of body and soul for careers, looked with a kind of lofty disdain or pitying contempt upon those old-fashioned mothers whose children interfere with the duty that "new" women think they owe the world.
But this woman who knew herself to be a woman could not interest herself in these things to which she tried to give attention. She felt that in giving herself to these things she would betray Life. She felt the hollowness, the shallowness, the emptyness of it all in comparison with that which is divinely committed to womankind. She could not but wonder: what would be the racial outcome? When women have long enough substituted other ideals for the ideals of motherhood—other passions for the passions of their sex—other ambitions for the ambition to produce and to perfect Life—other desires for the desire to keep that which Life has committed to them—what then? "How," she asked herself, "would the world get along without mothers? Or how could the race advance if the best of women refused to bear children?" And then came the inevitable thought: are the best women, after all, refusing to bear children? Might it not be that the wisdom of Mother Nature is in this also, and that the refusal of a woman to bear children is the best evidence in the world that she is unfit to be a mother? Is it not better that the mothers of the race should be those who hold no ideal, ambition, desire, aim, or purpose in life higher than motherhood? Such women—such mothers—have, thus far, through their sons and daughters, won every victory in Life. It is they who have made every advance of the race possible. Will it not continue to be so, even unto the end? Is not this indeed the law of Life? If there be any work for women greater or of more value to the human race than the work of motherhood then, indeed, is the end of the world, for mankind, at hand.
From where she lay, the woman, when she first awoke that Christmas morning, could see the sun just touching the topmost branches of the tall trees that grew across the street.
It was a beautiful day. But the woman did not at first remember that it was Christmas. Idly, as one sometimes will when awakening out of a deep sleep, she looked at the sunshine on the trees and thought that the day promised to be clear and bright. Then, looking at the clock in the chubby arms of the fat cupid on the mantle, she noticed the time with a start of dismay. She must arise at once or she would be late to her work. Why, she wondered, had not someone called her. Then, a crumpled sheet of tissue paper and a bit of narrow ribbon on the floor, near the table, caught her eye and she remembered.
It was Christmas.
The woman dropped back upon her pillow. She need not go to work that day. She had not been called because it was a holiday. Dully she told herself again that it was Christmas.
The house was very quiet. There were no bare feet pattering down the hall to see what Santa Claus had left from his pack. No exulting shouts had awakened her. In the rooms below, there was no cheerful litter of toys and games and pop corn and candy and nuts with bits of string and crumpled paper from hastily opened parcels and shining scraps of tinsel from the tree. There were no stockings hanging on the mantle. At breakfast, there would be a few friendly gifts and, later, the postman would bring letters and cards with the season's greetings. That was all.
The sun, climbing higher above the tall buildings down town, peeped through the window and saw the woman lying very still. And the sun must have thought that the woman was asleep for her eyes were closed and upon her face there was the wistful smile of a child.
But the woman was not asleep though she was dreaming. She had escaped from the silent, childless, house and had fled far, far, away to a land of golden memories. She had gone back into her Yesterdays—to a Christmas in her Yesterdays.
Once again a little girl, she lived those happy, busy, days of preparation when she had asked herself a thousand times each day: what would the boy give her for Christmas? And always, as she wondered, the little girl had tried not to wish that it would be a doll lest she should be disappointed. And always she was unable to wish, half so earnestly, for anything else. Again she spent the hours learning the song that she was to sing at the church on Christmas eve and wondered, often, if he would like her new dress that mother was making for the occasion. And then, as the day drew near, there was that merry trip to the woods to bring the tree, followed by that afternoon at the church. The little girl wondered, that night of the entertainment, if the boy guessed how frightened she was for him lest he forget the words of his part; or, when she was singing before the crowd of people that filled the church, did he know that she saw only him? And then the triumph—the beautiful triumph—of that Christmas morning!
The little girl in the Yesterdays needed no one to remind her what day it was. As soon as it was light, she opened her eyes, and, wide awake in an instant, slipped from her bed to steal down stairs while the rest of the household still slept. And there, in the gray of the winter morning, she found his gift. It was so beautiful, so lifelike, with its rosy cheeks and brown hair that, almost, the little girl was afraid that she was not awake after all; and she caught her breath with a gasp of delight when she finally convinced herself that it was real. She knew that it was from the boy—she knew. Quickly she clasped it in her arms, with a kiss and a mother hug; and then, back again she ran to her warm bed lest dolly catch cold. The other presents could wait until it was really, truly, daylight and uncle had made a fire; and she drew the covers carefully up under the dimpled chin of her treasure that lay in the hollow of her arm, close to her own soft little breast, as natural as life—as natural, indeed, as the mother life that throbbed in the heart of the little girl.
For women also it is written: "Except ye become as little children." If only women would understand!
All the other gifts of that Christmas time were as nothing to the little girl beside that gift from the boy. The other things she would enjoy all the more because the supreme wish of her heart had been granted; but, had she been disappointed in that, all else would have had little power to please. Under all her Christmas pleasure there would have been a longing for something more. Her Christmas would not have satisfied. Her cup of happiness would not have been full. So, all the treasures that the world can lay at woman's feet will never satisfy if the one gift be lacking. And that woman who has felt in her arms a tiny form moulded of her own flesh—who has drawn close to her breast a soft little cheek and felt upon her neck the touch of a baby hand—that woman knows that I put down the truth when I write that those women who deny the mother instinct of their hearts and, for social position, pleasure, public notice, wealth, or fame, kill their love for children, are to be pitied above all creatures for they deny themselves the heaven that is their inheritance.
Eagerly, that morning, the little girl watched for the coming of the boy for she knew that he would not long delay; and, when she saw him wading through the snow, flung open wide the door to shout her greeting as she proudly held his gift close to her heart; while on her face and in her eyes was the light divine. And great fun they had, that Christmas day, with their toys and games and books; but never for long was the new doll far from the little girl's arms. Nor did she need many words to make her happiness in his gift understood to the boy.
The sun was shining full in the window now; quite determined that the woman should sleep no longer. Regretfully, as one who has little heart for the day, she arose just as footsteps sounded outside her door. Then came a sharp rap upon the panel and—"Merry Christmas"—called her uncle's hearty voice.
Bravely the woman who knew herself to be a woman answered: "Merry Christmas."
And that winter's coat, also, began to appear thin and threadbare.
By looking carefully, one could see that the twigs of the cherry tree were brightening with a delicate touch of fresh color, while the tiny tips of the tender green buds were cautiously peeping out of their snug wrappings as if to ask the state of the weather. In the orchard and the woods, too, the Life that slept deep in the roots and under the bark of trunks and limbs was beginning to stir as though, in its slumber, it heard Spring knocking at its bedroom door.
I do not know what business it was that called the man to a neighboring city. The particular circumstances that made the journey necessary are of no importance whatever to my story. The important thing is this: for the first time the man was forced to recognize, in his own life and in his work, the fact of Death. He came to see that, in the most abundant life, Death cannot be ignored. Because Death is one of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life, this is my story: that the man was introduced to Death.
Hurriedly he arranged for his absence, and, rushing home, packed a few necessities of travel in his grip, snatched a hasty dinner, and thus reached the depot just in time to catch the evening train. He would make the trip in the night, devote the following day to the business that demanded his presence, and the next night would return to his home city.
The Pullmans were well filled, mostly with busy, eager, men who, like himself, were traveling at night to save the daylight for their work. But the man, perhaps because he was tired with the labor of the day or because he wished to have for the business of the morrow a clear, vigorous, brain, made no effort to find acquaintances who might be on the train or to meet congenial strangers with whom to spend a pleasant hour. When he had read the evening papers and had outlined in his mind a plan of operation to meet the situation that compelled him to make the hurried trip, he retired to his berth.
The low, monotonous, hum of the flying wheels on the heavy steel rails; the steady, easy, motion of the express as it flew over the miles of well ballasted track; the dim light of the curtained berth, and the quiet of the Pullman, soon lulled the tired traveler to sleep. Mile after mile and mile after mile was marked off, with the steady regularity of time itself, by the splendidly equipped train as it rushed through the darkness with its sleeping passengers. Hamlets, villages, way stations, signal towers, were passed with flash like quickness; while the veteran in the engine cab, with the schooling of thirty years in the hand that rested on the throttle, gazed steadily ahead to catch, with quick eye and clear brain, the messages of the signal lamps that, like bright colored dots of a secret code, appeared on the black sheet of night.
With a suddenness that defies description, the change came.
The trained eyes that looked from the cab window read a message from Death in the night ahead. In the fractional part of a second, the hand on the throttle responded, doing in flash like movements all that the thirty years had taught it to do. There was a frightful jarring, jolting crash of grinding, screaming, brakes, followed on the instant by a roaring, smashing, thundering, rending of iron and steel and wood.
The veteran, whose eye and brain and hand had been thirty years in service, lay under his engine, a mangled, inanimate mass of flesh; His fireman, who had looked forward to a place on the engineer's side of a cab as a young soldier dreams of sword and shoulder straps, lay still beside his chief. From the wrecked coaches, above the sound of hissing steam and crackling flames, came groans and shrieks and screams of tortured men and women and children.
Then, quickly, the hatless, coatless, and half dressed forms of the more fortunate ones ran here and there. Voices were heard calling and answering. There were oaths and prayers and curses mingled with sharp spoken commands and the sound of axes and saws and sledges, as the men, who a few minutes before were sleeping soundly in their berths, toiled with superhuman energy to free their fellows from that horrid hell.
To the man who had escaped from the trap of death that had caught so many of his fellow passengers and who toiled now with the strength of a giant among the rescuers, it all seemed a dream of terror from which he must presently awake. He did not think, then, of the Death that had come so close while he slept. He was not conscious of the danger that had threatened him. He did not feel gratitude for his escape. He could not think. He could only strive madly, with the strength of despair, in the fight to snatch others from the grip of an awful fate; and, as he fought, he prayed to be awakened from his dream.
It was over at last.
Hours later, the man reached his destination, and still, because his business was so urgent, there was no time for him to think of the Death that had come so close. Rarely does the business of life give men time to think of the Death that stands never far away. But, when his work was finished and he was again aboard the train, on his way home, there was opportunity for a fuller realization of the danger through which he had passed so narrowly—there was time to think. Then it was that the man realized a new thing in his life. Then it was that a new factor entered into his thinking—Death. Not the knowledge of Death; he had always had that of course. Not the fear of Death; this man was no coward. But the fact of Death—it was the fact of Death that he realized now as he had never realized it before.
All unexpected and unannounced—without sign of its approach or warning of its presence—Death had stood over him. He had looked into the eyes of the King. Death had touched him on the shoulder, as it were, and had passed on. But Death would come again. The one firmly fixed, undeniable, unalterable, fact in Life was, to him, now, that Death would come again. When or how; that, he could not know; perhaps not for many years; perhaps before the flying train could carry him another mile. How strange it is that this one fixed, permanent, unalterable, inevitable fact of Life—Death—is most commonly ignored. The most common thing in Life is Death; yet few there are who recognize it as a fact until it presents itself saying: "Come."
Going back into the years, the man recalled the death of his mother; and, later, when he was standing on the very threshold of his manhood, the death of his father. Those graves on the hillside were still in his memory but they had not realized Death for him. His grief at the loss of those so dear to him had overshadowed, as it were, the fact of Death itself. He thought of Death only as it had taken his parents; he did not consider it in thinking of himself. But now—now—he had looked into the eyes of the King. He had felt the touch of the hand that chills. He had heard the voice that cannot be disobeyed. Death had come into his life a fact.
The low, steady, hum and whirr of the wheels and the smooth, easy movement of the train told him of the flying miles. One by one, those miles that lay between him and the end of his journey would go until the last was gone and he would step from the coach to the platform of his home depot. And, then, all suddenly, to the man, those flying miles became as the years of his life. Even as the miles of his journey were passing so his years had gone—so his years were going and would go.
The man was a young man still. For the first time, he felt himself growing old. Involuntarily he looked at his hands; firm, strong, young hands they were, but the man, in his fancy, saw them shaking, withered, and parched, with prominent dull blue veins, and the skinny fingers bent and crooked with the years. He glanced down at his powerful, full moulded limbs, and, in fancy, saw them thin and shrunken with age. And, suddenly, he remembered with a start that the next day would be his birthday. In the fullness of his young manhood's strength, he had ignored the passing years even as he had ignored Death. As he had learned to forget Death, he had learned to forget his birthdays. It was strange how fast the years were going, thought the man. Scarcely would there be time for the working out of his dreams. And, once, it had been such a long, long, time between his birthdays. Once, he had counted the months, then the weeks, then the days that lay between. Once, he remembered—
Perhaps it was the thought of his birthday that did it; perhaps it was the memory of those graves in the old cemetery at home. Whatever it was, the man slipped back into his Yesterdays when birthdays were ages and ages apart and, more than anything else in the world, the boy wanted to grow up.
At seven, he had looked with envy upon the boy of nine while the years of grown up men were beyond his comprehension. At nine, fifteen was the daring limit of his dreams; so far away it seemed that scarcely he hoped to reach it. As for eighteen—one must be very, very, old, indeed, to be eighteen. How long the years ahead had seemed, then—and now, how short they were when looking back! And the birthdays—the birthdays that the man had learned to forget—how could he have learned to forget them! What days of triumph—what times of victorious rejoicing—those days once had been! And so, with the fact of Death so recently forced into his life, with the miles as years slipping under the fast whirring wheels that bore him onward, the man lived again a birthday in the long ago.
Weeks before that day the boy had planned the joyous occasion, for mother had promised that he should have a party. A birthday party! Joyous festival of the Yesterdays! What delightful hours were spent in anticipation! What innumerable questions were asked! What a multitude of petitions were formed and presented! What anxious consultations with the little girl who lived next door! What suggestions were offered, accepted and rejected, and rejected or accepted all over again! What lists of the guests to be invited were made, revised and then revised again! What counting of the days, and, as the day drew near, what counting of the hours; not forgetting, all the time, to hint, in various skillfully persuasive and suggestive ways, as to the presents that would be most fitting and acceptable! And at last, when the day had come, as all days must at last come, was there ever in the history of mortal man or boy such a day?
There was real wealth of love in mother's kiss that morning. There was holy pleasure in the pride that was in father's face and voice. There was unmarred joy when the little girl captured him and, while he pretended—only pretended—to escape, gave him the required number of thumps on the back with her soft little fist and the triumphant "one to grow on." Then came, at last, the crowning event: and so the man saw, again, the boys and girls who, that afternoon in his Yesterdays, helped to celebrate his birthday. Why had he permitted them to pass out of his life? Why had he gone out of their lives? Why must the years rob him of the friends of the Yesterdays?
With the birthday feast of good things and the games and sports of childhood the busy afternoon passed. Up and down the road and across the fields, the guests departed, with their party dresses soiled, their party combed hair disheveled, and their party cleaned faces smudged with grime; but with the clean, clean, joy of the Yesterdays in their clean, clean, childish hearts. Together the boy and the girl watched them go, with waving hands and good-bye shouts, until the last one had passed from sight and the last whoop and call had died away. And then, reluctantly, the little girl herself went home and the boy was left alone by the garden hedge.
Oh, brave, brave, day of the Yesterdays! Brave birthdays of the long ago when Death was not a fact but a fiction! When the years were ages apart, and the farthest reach of one's imagination carried only to being grown up!
From his Yesterdays the man came back to wonder: if Death should wait until he was wrinkled, bent, and old—until his limbs were palsied, his hearing gone, his voice cracked and shrill, and his eyes dim—if Death should let him stay until he had seen the last of his companions go home in the evening after that last birthday—would there be one to stand beside him—to watch with him as the others passed from sight? Would there be anyone to help him celebrate his last birthday, if Death should fail to come again until he was old?
* * * * *
Everyone was very kind to the woman that morning when the word came that her uncle had been killed in a railroad accident. All that kind hearts could do for her was done. Every offer of assistance was made. But there was really nothing that anyone could do just then. She must first go as quickly as she could to her aunt.
The man of authority, who had always seemed to understand her woman heart and who had paid to her the highest tribute possible for a man to pay a woman, had broken the news to her as gently as news of Death can be told, and, as soon as she was ready, his own carriage was waiting before the entrance in the street below. Nor did he burden her with talk as they were driven skillfully through the stream of the down town traffic and then, at a quicker pace, through the more open streets of the residence district.
There is so little that can be said, even by the most thoughtful, when Death enters thus suddenly into a life. The man knew that the woman needed him. He knew that, save for the invalid aunt, there was now no near relative to help her do the necessary things that must be done. There was no one to help her think what would be best to do. So he asked her gently, as they neared the house, if she would not permit him, for the next few days, to take the place in her life that would have been taken by an older brother. Kindly he asked that she trust him fully—that she let him think and do for her—be a help to her in her need—even as he would have helped her had she consented to come into his life as he wished her to come. And the woman, because she knew the goodness and honor of this man's heart, thanked him with gratitude too great for words and permitted him to do for her all that a most intimate relative would have done.
At last it was over. The first uncontrollable expressions of grief—the arrangements for the funeral—the service at the house and the long ride to the cemetery with the final parting and the return to the house that would never again be quite the same—all those hard, first, days were past and to-morrow—to-morrow—the woman would go back to her work. In the final going over of affairs, the finishing of unfinished business, the ending of undeveloped plans and prospects, the settling and closing of accounts, and the considering of new conditions enforced by Death, it had been made very clear that for the woman to work was, now, more than ever necessary. There was, now, no one but her upon whom the invalid aunt could depend for even the necessities of life.
And the woman was glad that she was able to provide for that one who had always been so gentle, so patient, in suffering and who, in her sorrow, was now so brave. Since the death of the girl's own mother, the aunt had taken, so far as she could, a mother's place in the life of the child; and, as the years had passed and the little girl had grown into young womanhood, she had grown into the heart of the childless woman until she was as a daughter of her own flesh. So the woman did not feel this added care that was forced upon her by the changed conditions as a burden other than a burden of love. But still, that afternoon, when it was all over, and she faced the new future that Death had set before her, she realized the fact of Death as she had never realized it before.
The years since her mother's death had not been many, and, it seemed to her, now, that they had passed very quickly. She was only a little girl, then, and her uncle and his wife had taken her so fully into their hearts that she had scarcely felt the gap in her life after the first weeks of the separation had passed. Her mother belonged to the days of her childhood and, though the years were not many as she looked back, those childhood days seemed far, far, away. Death had come to her, now, in the days of her womanhood. Suddenly, unexpectedly, with awful, startling, reality, the fact of Death had come into her life; forcing her to consider, as she had never considered before, the swiftly passing years.
What—she asked herself as she thought of the morrow—what, for her, lay at the farthermost end of that procession of to-morrows? When the best of her strength was gone with the days and weeks and months and years—what then? When Death should come for that one who was, in everything but blood, her mother and who was, now, her only companion—what then? To be left alone in the world—to go, alone, all the rest of the journey—this was the horror that Death brought to her. As she looked, that afternoon, into the years that were to come, this woman, who knew that she was a woman, and who was still in the glory and beauty of her young womanhood, felt suddenly old—she felt as though every day of the sad days just passed had been a year.
And then, at last, from her grief of the present and from her contemplation of the years that were to come, she turned wearily back to the long ago. In the loneliness and sorrow of her life she went, again, hack into her Yesterdays. There was, indeed, no other place for her to go but back into her Yesterdays. Only in the Yesterdays can one escape the sadness and loneliness that attend the coming of Death. Death has little power in the Yesterdays. In childhood life, Death is not a fact.
Funerals were nothing more than events of surpassing interest in those days—a subdued, intense, interest that must not be too openly expressed, it is true, but that nevertheless could not be altogether suppressed. Absorbed in her play the little girl would hear, suddenly, the ringing of the bell in the white church across the valley; and it would ring, not joyously, cheerily, interestingly, as on Sundays but with sad, solemn, measured, notes, that would fill her childish heart with hushed excitement. And then—it mattered not where he was or what he was doing—the little boy would come, rushing with eager haste, to join her at the front gate where they always watched together for the procession and strove for the honor of sighting first the long string of vehicles that would soon appear on one of the four roads leading to the church. And oh, joy of joys, if it so happened that the procession came by the way that led past the place where they danced with such eager impatience!
First would come, moving with slow feet and drooping head, the old gray horse and time worn phaeton of the minister; and they would feel a little strange and somewhat hurt because the man of God, who usually greeted them so cheerily, would not notice them as he passed. But the sadness in their hearts would be forgotten the next moment as they gazed, with excited interest and whispered exclamations, at the shining, black, hearse with its beautiful, coal black, horses that, stepping proudly, tossing their plumed heads, and shaking the tassels on the long nets that hung over their glossy sides, seemed to invite the admiration that greeted them. And then, through the glass sides of the hearse, the boy and the girl, with gasps of interest, would discover the long black coffin half hidden by its load of flowers; or, perhaps, the hearse, the horses, and the coffin, would all be snow white which, the little girl thought, was prettiest of all. Then would follow the long line of carriages, filled with people who wore their Sunday clothes; and the boy and the girl, recognizing a friend or acquaintance, here and there, would wonder to themselves how it would seem to be riding in such a procession. One by one, they would count the vehicles and recall the number in the last funeral they had watched; gleefully triumphant, if this procession were longer than the last; scornfully disappointed, if it were not so imposing. And then, when the last carriage had gone up the hill on the other side of the creek and had disappeared from sight among the trees that half hid the church, they would wait for the procession to reappear after the services and would watch it crawling slowly along the distant road on its way to the cemetery.
And the next day they would play a funeral.
Even as they had played a wedding, they would play a funeral. Only, they played a wedding but that once, while they played funerals many, many, times.
Sometimes it would be a doll's funeral when the chief figure in the solemn rites would be taken from the grave, after it was all over, and would be rocked to sleep with the other dollies, none the worse, apparently, for the sad experience. Again, the part of the departed would be taken by a mouse that had met a violent death at the hands of the cook; or, perhaps, they would find a baby bird that had fallen from its nest before its wings were strong. But the grandest, most triumphant, most successful funeral of the Yesterdays was a kitten that had most opportunely died the very day a real grown up funeral had passed the house. What a funeral that was—with an old shoe box for a coffin, the boy's wagon draped with pieces of black cloth borrowed from the rag bag for a hearse, the shepherd dog for a proudly stepping team, and all the dolls in their carriage following slowly behind! In a corner of the garden, not far from the cherry tree, they dug a real grave and set up a real tombstone, fashioned by the boy, to mark the spot. And the little girl was so earnest in her sorrow that she cried real tears at which the boy became, suddenly, very gay and boisterous, as boys will upon such occasions, and helped her to forget right quickly.
Oh, boy of the Yesterdays, who would not let his little girl mate grieve but made her laugh and forget! Where was he now? The woman wondered. Had Death come into his life, too? Were the years ever, to him, as a funeral procession? Did ever he feel that he was growing old? Could he, now, make her forget her grief—could he help her to laugh again—or had his power gone even as those Yesterdays when Death, too, was only a pleasing game?
From the next room, a gentle voice called softly and the woman arose to go to her aunt. For that one who was left dependent upon her she would be brave and strong—she would go back to her work in the morning.
Only children are privileged to play with the fact of Death. Only in the Yesterdays are funerals events of merely passing interest. Only in the Yesterdays does Death go always past the door.
And that year, also, went to join the years of the Yesterdays.
It is as though Life, bringing to man every twelve months a new year, bids him try again. Always, it is necessary for man to try again. Indeed Life itself is nothing less than this: a continual trying again.
In the world laboratory, mankind is conducting a series of elaborate experiments—always on the verge of the great discovery but never quite making it—always thinking that the secret is about to be revealed but never quite uncovering it—always failing in his experiments but always finding in the process something that leads him, with hope renewed, to try again.
The man had failed.
Sadly, sternly, with the passing of the year, he admitted to himself that he had failed. Humiliated and ashamed, with the coming of the new year, he admitted that he must begin again. Bitterly he called himself a fool. And perhaps he was—more or less. Most men are a little foolish. The man who has never been forced to swallow his own folly has missed a bitter but wholesome tonic that, more than likely, he needs. This man was not the kind of a man who would blame any one but himself for his failure. If he had been that particular kind of a fool his failure would have been of little value either to him or to any one. Neither would there be, for me, a story.
I do not know the particulars of this man's failure—neither the what, the why, nor the how. I know only that he failed—that it was necessary for him to fail. Nor is this a story of such particulars for they are of little importance. A man can fail in anything. Some, even, seem to fail in everything. This, therefore, is my story: that as Failure enters into the life of every man it came into the life of this man. In some guise or other Failure seems to be a necessity. It is one of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life. But the man did not, at that time, understand that his failure was a necessity. That understanding came to him only with Success.
You may say that this man was too young to accomplish a real Failure. But you need not bother about that, either. One is never too young to experience Failure. And Failure, to the one who fails, is always, at the time, very real.
So this man saw the castles that he had toiled so hard to build come tumbling down about him. So he was awakened from his bright dreams to find that they were only dreams. So he came to see his work as idleness and folly. Sorrowfully he looked at the ruin of his building. Hopelessly he recalled his dreams. Despairingly he looked upon his fruitless labor. With his fine manhood's strength dead within him, he bitterly felt himself to be but a weakling; fit only to be pushed aside by the stronger, better, men among whom he went, now, with lifeless step and downcast face. There was left in his heart no courage and no hope. He saw himself a most miserable coward, and, ashamed and disgraced in his own sight, he shrank from the eyes of his fellows and withdrew into himself to hide.
And the only thing that saved the man was this: he did not pity himself. Self-pity is debilitating. It is the dry rot that weakens the life lines. It is the rust that eats the anchor chains. At the last analysis, a man probably knows less about himself than he knows about others. The only difference is that what he knows about others is sometimes right while that which he thinks he knows about himself is nearly always wrong. Salvation is in pitying someone else. If one must have pity he should accept it from strangers only. The pity of strangers is harmless to the object of it and very gratifying—to the strangers. Self-accusation, self-censure, self-condemnation: these are the antidotes for the poison that sometimes enters the soul through Failure. But these antidotes must be administered with care. Self-accusation has, usually, a very low percentage of cause. Self-censure, undiluted, is dangerous to self-respect. And self-condemnation is rarely to be had pure. When one brings himself to trial before himself his chance for justice is small—the judge is nearly always prejudiced, the jury packed, and the evidence incomplete.
The man, when he had withdrawn into himself, saw the world moving on its way without him as though his failure mattered, to it, not at all. He was forced to realize that the work of the world could be done without him. He was compelled to see that the sum of human happiness and human woe would be neither less nor more because of him. The world did not really need his success—he needed it. The world did not suffer from his failure—he suffered. He did not understand, then, that no man is in line for success until he understands how little either his success or his failure matters to the world. He did not know, then, how often a good strong failure is the corner stone of a well builded life.
A child is not crippled for life because it falls when it is learning to walk; neither has a man come to the end of his upward climb because he "stubs his toe." The man knew this later but just then he was too sore at heart to think of even trying to get up again. All those first months of that new year he did nothing but the labor that was necessary for him to do in order to live. And, in that which he did, he had no heart but toiled as a dumb beast toils in obedience to its master. The joy of work which is the reward of labor was gone.
So the spring came. The air grew warm and balmy. The grass on the lawns and in the parks began to look soft and inviting to feet that were weary with the feel of icy pavements. The naked trees were being clothed in spring raiment, fresh and green. The very faces of the people seemed to glow with a new warmth as though a more generous life was stirring in their veins. As the sun gathered strength, and the coldness and bleakness of winter retreated farther and farther before the advance of summer, the manner and dress of the crowds upon the streets marked the change as truly as the habits of the birds and flowers, until, at last, here and there, straw hats appeared and suddenly, as bluebirds come, barefooted boys were playing marbles in the alleys and fishing tackle appeared in the windows of the stores.
All his life the man had been an ardent fisherman. And so, when his eyes were attracted that noon, as he was passing one of those windows filled with rods and reels and lines and hooks and nets and all things dear to the angler's heart, he paused. His somber face brightened. His form, that was already stooped a little, straightened. His listless eyes, for a moment, shone with their old time fire. Then he went on to his work.
But, less than ever, that afternoon, was the man's heart in his labor. While his hands mechanically performed their appointed tasks and his brain as mechanically did its part, the man himself was not there. He had gone far, far, away into his Yesterdays. Once again, in his Yesterdays, the man went fishing.
The boy was a very small boy when first he went fishing. And he fished in the brook that ran through the valley below the little girl's house. His hook was only a pin, bent by his own fingers; his line, a bit of string or thread borrowed from mother's work basket; and his rod, a slender branch of willow or a green shoot from one of the trees in the orchard, or, it might be, a stalk of the tall pigweed that grew down behind the barn; and for bait, those humble friends of boyhood, the angle worms. How the boy shouted and danced with glee when he found a big one; even though he did shudder a little as he picked it up, squirming and wiggling, to drop it into the old baking powder can he called his bait box! And how the little girl shrieked with fear and admiration! Very proud was the boy that he had courage to handle the crawling things—though many of them did escape into their tiny holes before he could bring himself quite to the point of catching them and pulling them out. "Only girls are afraid of worms and toads and bugs. Boys can bait their own hooks." Manfully, too, did he hide his thoughts when conscience pricked him, even as he the worm. "Do worms have feelin's?" He wondered. "Does it hurt?" Half frightened, he had laughed, one day, when the little girl asked: "What if some wicked giant should catch you and stick you on a great hook and swing you through the air, kicking and squirming, and drop you into the water where it's deep, and leave you there till some great fish comes along to swallow you like the man in the Bible that mother reads about?"
But the boy in his Yesterdays carried home no fish from that little brook; though he spent many hours in the hot summer sun watching eagerly for a bite. He knew there must be fish there—great big fellows—there were such lovely places for them under the grassy banks—if only they would come out—but they never did. Not until he was older did the boy understand the real reason of this failure. The water was not deep enough. He learned, in time, that big fish are not found in shallow streams.
I do not know, but perhaps, the man, even as the boy, was fishing in a too shallow stream.
As he grew older, the boy wandered farther down the creek. A "sure 'nough" fishhook took the place of the bent pin and a real "boughten" line, with a sinker, was tied to the hook though he still used the slender willow rods. And, now, he sometimes brought home a fish or two from the deeper water down in the pasture lot; and no success in after life would ever bring to the man the same thrill of delight that was felt by the boy when he landed a tiny "chub" or "shiner." No Roman general, returning in triumph from the wars with captives chained to his chariot, ever moved with a prouder spirit than he, when he went home to mother with his little string of captured fishes.
Then there came a day that was the proudest in his life—the day when he was given a larger hook, a longer line, a cane pole, and permission to go to the mill pond. No more fishing for him in the brook now! He had outgrown all that. How small the little stream seemed, now, as he crossed it on his way down the road! Could it be possible, he asked himself, that he was ever content to fish there, and with a bent pin, at that? And he felt carefully in his pocket to see if those extra hooks were safe; and took another peep at the big worms in his bait box—an old tomato can this time. There would be no twinge of conscience when he baited his hook that day. And proudly he tried to take longer steps in the dusty road; almost breaking into a run as he neared the turn where he knew that he would see the pond.
Often, the boy wondered if there could be anywhere in all the world such another body of water as that old mill pond. Often, he wondered how deep it was down by the dam in the shadow of the giant elms that half hid the mill. Many times, he questioned: "Where did all the water come from anyway?" Surely it could not all come from the tiny stream that flowed down the valley below the little girl's house! Why, he could wade in that and there were boats on this!
Once again, the man, in his Yesterdays, stood at that turn in the road; under his bare, boyish, feet the hot, hot, dust; over his head the blue, blue, sky; before him the beautiful water that mirrored back the trees, the clouds, and the buildings. Once again, he sat in the shadow of the old covered bridge, fish pole in hand, and, with boyish delight and pride, hailed each addition to the string of catfish and suckers that swam near by, safely anchored to the bank. He could hear the drowsy hum of the mill across the pond and the merry shout of the miller hailing some passer-by. And, now and then, would come, the clatter of horses' hoofs and the rumble of a farmer's wagon on the planks above his head and he would idly watch the ever widening circles in the water as some bit of dirt, jarred from the beams above, marred the glassy surface. The swallows were wheeling here and there in swift, graceful motions; one moment lightly skimming the surface of the pond and the next, high in air above the trees and buildings. A water snake came gliding toward an old log close by. A turtle was floating lazily in the sun. And a kingfisher startled him with its harsh, discordant, rattle as it passed in rapid flight toward the upper end of the pond where the tall cat-tails were nodding in the sunlight and the drooping willows fringed the bank with green.
The shadows of the giant elms near the dam grew longer and longer. A workman left the mill and started across the pasture toward his home. A farmer stopped on his way from the field to water his team. The frogs began to call shrilly from the reeds and rushes. The swallows, twittering, sought their nests beneath the bridge. It was time that the boy was going home.
Slowly, reluctantly, the little fisherman drew his line from the water and wrapped it carefully round the pole. Then, picking up his string of fish, he inspected them thoughtfully—admiring the largest and wishing that the others were like him—and, casting one last glance at the water, the trees, the mill, started down the road toward home.
He must hurry now. It was later than he thought. Mother would be watching and waiting supper for him. How pleased she would be to see his fish. He wished that the string were longer. How quickly the night was coming on. It was almost dark. And then, as the boy went down into the deepening dusk of the valley, he saw, on the other side, the light in the windows. He was almost home.
Tired little fisherman. Wearily he crossed the creek and made his way up the gentle slope toward the lights that gleamed so brightly against the dark mass of the orchard hill, while high above, the first stars of the evening were coming out. And then, as in the gloaming he reached at last the gate where the little girl lived, he found her waiting—watching anxiously—eager to greet him with sweet solicitude. "Did you catch anything?"
Proudly the boy exhibited his catch—wishing again in his heart that the string were longer. Sadly, he told how the biggest fish of all had dropped from his hook just when he had it almost landed. And sometimes—the man remembered—sometimes the boy was forced to answer that he had caught nothing at all. But always, then, would he bravely declare that he would have better luck next time.
Tired little fisherman—going home with his catch in the evening! Always—disappointed little fisherman—wishing that his string were longer! Always-brave-to-try-again little fisherman—when his day was a day of failure!
The man came back from his Yesterdays, that afternoon, to wonder: when the shadows of his life grew longer and longer—when his sun was slowly setting—when he reluctantly withdrew, at last, from the busy haunts of men—when he went down the road toward home, as it grew darker and darker until he could not see the way, would there be a light in the window for him? Would he know that someone was waiting and watching? And would he wish that his string of fish were longer? However great his catch, would he not wish that the string were longer? And might it not be, too, that always in life the largest fish would be the one that he had almost landed?
And it was so that the old fire came again into the man's eyes to stay. He stood once more erect before men. Again his countenance was lighted with courage and with hope. With the brave words of the little fisherman who had caught nothing, the man, once again, faced the world to work out his dreams.
* * * * *
And the woman who knew herself to be a woman was haunted by the thought of Failure.
After Death had come with such suddenness into her life, she had gone back to her work, and, in spite of the changes that Death had wrought, the days had gone much as the days before. But, because of the new conditions and the added responsibilities, she gave herself, now, somewhat more fully to that work than she had ever done before. She left for herself less time for the dreams of her womanhood—less time for waiting beside that old, old, door beyond which lay the life that she desired with all the strength of her woman heart.
And that world in which she labored—that life to which she now gave herself more and more—rewarded her more and more abundantly. Because she was strong in body with skillful hands and quick brain; because she was superior in these things to many who labored beside her; she received a larger reward than they. For the richness, the fullness, of her womanhood, she received nothing. From love, the only thing that can make that which a woman receives fully acceptable to her, she received nothing.
There were many who, now, congratulated the woman upon what they called her success. And some, who knew the measure of the reward she received from the world that set a price upon the things of her womanhood, envied her; wishing themselves as fortunate as she. She was even pointed out and spoken of triumphantly, by certain modern, down-to-date, ones, as an example of the successful woman of the age. Her success—as it was called—was cited as a triumphant argument for the right of women to sell their womanhood for a price: to put their strength of mind and flesh and blood, their physical and intellectual vigor, their vitality and life, upon a market that cannot recognize their womanhood; even though by so doing they rob the race of the only contribution they can make that will add to its perfection.
Really, if the customs and necessities of this age of "down-to-date-ism" are to take the world's mothers, then it would seem that this age of "down-to-date-ism" should find, for the perpetuation and perfection of the race, a substitute for women. The age should evolve a better way, a more modern method, than the old-fashioned way that has been in vogue so long. For, just as surely as the laws of life are beyond our power to repeal, so surely will the operation of the laws of life not change to accommodate our newest thinking and the race, by spending its best woman strength in work that cannot recognize womanhood, will bequeath to the ages to come an ever lowering standard of human life.
The woman felt this—she felt that she could most truly serve the race by being true to the dreams of her womanhood. She felt that the work she was doing was not her real work but a makeshift to be undertaken under protest and discarded without regret when her opportunity to enter upon the real work of her life should present itself. But still, even while feeling this, gradually there had come to be, for her, an amount of satisfaction in knowing that she was succeeding in that which she had set her hand to do. In the increasing reward she received, in the advanced position she occupied, in the deference that was shown her, in the authority that was given her, in the larger interests that were intrusted to her, and even in the attitude of those who held her to be a convincing example of the newest womanhood, there was coming to be a kind of satisfaction.
Then came that day when the woman expressed a little of this satisfaction to the man who had always understood and who had been always so kind. In this, too, the woman felt that he understood.
The man had not sought to take advantage of the intimacy she had granted him in those trying days when Death had come into her life. He had never failed in being kind and considerate in the thousand little things of the work that brought them together and that gave her opportunity to learn his goodness and the genuine worth of his manhood. Nor had he failed to make her understand that still he hoped for the time when she would go with him into the life beyond the old, old, door. But that day, when she made known to him, a little, her growing satisfaction in that which the world called her success, she saw that he was hurt. For the first time he seemed to be troubled and afraid for her.
Very gravely lie looked down into her eyes. Very gravely he congratulated her. And then, quietly and convincingly, with words of authority, he pointed out to her the possible heights she might reach—would reach—if she continued. He told her of the place that she, if she chose, might gain. He spoke of the reward that would be hers. And, as he talked to her of these things, he saw the light of interest and anticipation kindling in her eyes. Sadly he saw it. Then, pausing—hesitating—he asked her slowly: "Do you really think that it is, after all, worth while? For you, I mean, do you think that it would be a satisfying success?" He did not wish to interfere with her career, he said—and smiled a little at the word. He would even help her if—if—she was sure that such a career would bring her the real happiness he so much wanted her to have.
And the woman, as the man looked into her eyes and as she saw the trouble in his thoughtful face and listened to his gravely spoken words, felt ashamed. Remembering, again, the dreams of her womanhood, she was ashamed. From that day, the woman was haunted by the thought of Failure.
Why, she asked herself, why could she not open the door of her heart to this man who had been so good to her—so true to her and to himself? If he had taken advantage in any way, if he had sought to use his power, she would not have cared so much. But because she knew him so well; because she had seen his splendid character, his fine manhood, his kindness of heart, and his strength; because of the dreams of her womanhood; she had tried to open the door and bid him take possession of her heart that was as an empty room furnished and ready. But she could not. She seemed to have lost the key. Why—why—could she not give this man what he asked? Why could she not go with him into the life of her dreams? What was it that held her back? What was it that held shut the door of her womanhood against him? Could it be that, after all, she was fit only for the career upon which she was already entered? Could it be that she was not worthy to enter into the life her womanhood craved—the life for which she had longed with such passionate longing—the life she had desired with such holy desire? Could it be that she was unworthy of her womanhood?
Bitterly this woman, who knew herself to be a woman, who had dreamed the dreams of womanhood, and who was pointed out as a successful woman—bitterly she felt that she had failed.
She knew that her failure could not be because she had squandered the wealth of her womanhood. Very carefully had she kept the treasures of her womanhood for the coming of that one for whom she waited—knowing not who he was but only that she would know him when he came. Might it be that he had come and she did not know him? Might it be that the heart of her womanhood did not know? If this was so then, indeed, Life itself is but an accident and must trust to blind chance the fulfillment of its most sacred mission—the perpetuation and perfection of itself.
That the Creator should give laws for the right mating of all his creatures except man—leaving men and women, alone, with no guide to lead them aright in this relationship that is most vital to the species—is unthinkable. Deeply implanted in the hearts of men and women there is, also, an instinct; an instinct that is superior to the dictates of the social, financial, or ecclesiastical will. And it is this natural instinct of mate selection that should govern the marriages of human kind as truly as it marries the birds of the fields and the wild things that mate in the forests.
The woman knew, instinctively, that she should not give herself to this man. She felt in her heart that to do so would make her kin to her sisters in the unnamable profession. The church would sanction, the state would legalize, and society would accept such a union—does accept such unions—but only the divine laws of Life, given for the protection of Life, can ever make a man and a woman husband and wife. The laws that govern the right mating of human kind are not enacted by organizations either social, political, or religious, but are written in the hearts of those who would, in mating, fulfill the purpose of Life. These laws may be broken by man but they cannot by him be repealed; and the penalty that is imposed for their violation is very evident to all who have eyes to see and who observe with understanding.
The woman knew, also, that, in respect and honor and gratitude to this man, she dared not do this thing against which the instinct of her heart protested. But still she asked herself: "Why? Why was the door shut against him? Why was it not in her power to do that which she so longed to do?"
And still, the thought of Failure haunted her.
And so it was, that, in asking, "why"—in seeking the reason of her failure, the woman was led back even to the years of her childhood. Back into her Yesterdays she went in search of the key that kept fast locked the door of her heart against the man whom she would have so gladly admitted. And, all the way back, as she retraced the steps of her years, she looked for one who might have the key. But she found no one. And in her Yesterdays she found only a boy who had entered her heart when it was the heart of a little girl.
That the boy of her Yesterdays lived still in the heart of the woman, she knew. But surely—surely—the boy was not strong enough to hold her woman heart against the man who sought admittance. The boy could not hold the door against the man and against the woman herself. Those vows, made so solemnly under the cherry tree, were but childish vows. It was but a play wedding, after all. And the kiss that had sealed the vows—the kiss that was so different from other kisses—it was but a childish kiss ... In the long years that had come between that boy and girl the vows and the kiss had become but memories—even as the games they played—even as her keeping house and her family of dolls. That child wedding belonged only to the Yesterdays.
The woman was haunted by the thought of Failure.
The world said that he was a young man to have achieved so notable a Success. And he was. But years have, really, little to do with a man's age. It is the use that a man makes of his years that ages him or keeps him young.
This man knew that he was a man. He knew that manhood is not a matter of years. And, knowing this, he had dreamed a man's dream. In the world he had found something to do—a man's work—and from his Occupation he had gained Knowledge. He had learned the value of Ignorance and, behind the things that men have hung upon and piled about it, he had come to recognize Religion. He knew both the dangers and the blessings of Tradition. He had gained the heights that are fortified by Temptation and from those levels so far above the lowlands had looked out upon Life. Death he knew as a fact and through Failure he had passed as through a smelting furnace. It is these things, I say, that count for more in life than years. So, although he was still young, the man was ready for Success. He was in the fullness of his manhood strength. The tide of Life, for him, was just reaching its height.
I do not know just what it was in which the man achieved Success. Just what it was, indeed, is not my story; nor does it matter for Success is always the same. My story is this: that the man achieved Success while he was still young and strong to rejoice in the triumph.
The dreams that he had dreamed on the hilltop, when first he realized his manhood, were, in part, fulfilled. He was looked upon by the world as one not of the common herd—as one not of the rank and file. He was accepted, in the field of his work, as a leader—a master. He was held as one having authority and power. The world pointed him out to its children as an example to be followed. The mob, that crowds always at the foot of the ladder, looked up and cursed or begged or praised as is the temper of such mobs. His name was often in the papers. When he appeared on the streets or in public places he was recognized. The people told each other who he was and what he had done. He was received as a companion by those who were counted great by the world. Doors that were closed to the multitude, and that had been closed to him, were opened readily. Opportunities, offered only to the few, were presented. The golden stream of wealth flowed to his feet. By the foolish hangers-on of the world he was sought—he was offered praise and admiration. All that is called Success, in short, was his; not in so great a measure as had come to some older than he, it is true; but it was genuine; it was merited; it was secure; and, with the years, it would increase as a river nearing the sea.
And the man, as he looked back to that day of his dreams, was glad with an honest gladness. As he looked back to the time when he had asked of the world only something to do, he was proud with a just pride. As he looked back upon the things out of which he had builded his Success and saw how well he had builded, he was satisfied. But still in his gladness and pride and satisfaction there was a disappointment.
In his dreams, when he had looked out upon the world as a conquering emperor, the man had seen only the deeds of valor—the exhibitions of courage, of heroism, of strength—he had seen only the victories—the honors. But now, in the fulfillment of his dreams—when he had won the victory—when the honors were his—he knew the desperate struggle, the disastrous losses, the pitiful suffering. He had felt the dangers grip his heart. He had felt the horrid fear of defeat striking at his soul. Upon him were the marks of the conflict. His victory had not been won without effort. Success had demanded a price and he had paid. Perhaps no one but the man himself knew how great was the price he had paid.
The man found also that Success brought cares greater than he had ever known in the days of his struggle. Always there are cares that wait at the end of the battle and attend only upon the victor. Always there are responsibilities that come only when the victory is won—that are never seen in the heat of the conflict.
Once let it be discovered that you have the strength and the willingness to carry burdens and burdens will be heaped upon you until you stagger, fainting, under the load. Life has never yet bred a man who could shoulder the weight that the world insists that he take up in his success. And, when the man could not carry all the burdens that the world brought because his strength and endurance was only that of a mortal, the world cursed him—called him selfish, full of greed, heartless, an oppressor caring nothing for the woes of others. Those who had offered no helping hand in the time of his need now clamored loudly for a large part of his strength. Those who had cared nothing for his life in the times of his hardships now insisted that he give the larger part of his life to them. Those who had held him back now demanded that he lift them up to a place beside him. Those who had shown him only indifference—coldness—contempt, now begged of him attention—friendship—honors—aid.
And from all these things that attended his success the man found it impossible to escape. The cares, the burdens, the responsibilities that Success forced him to take up rested heavily upon him. So heavy indeed were these things that he had little strength or will left for the enjoyment of that which he had so worthily won.
And the victory that he had so hardily gained, the place that he now held, the man found that he could keep only by the utmost exertion of his strength. The battles he had fought were nothing in comparison to those he must now fight. The struggle he had made was nothing to the effort he must continue to make. Temptations multiplied and appeared in many new and unexpected forms. The very world that pointed him out as an example watched eagerly for excuse to condemn. Those who sought him with honors—who praised and flattered him, in envy, secretly hoped for his ruin. Those who followed him like dogs for favors would howl like wolves on his trail if he turned ever so little aside. Those who opened for him the doors of opportunities would flock like vultures to carrion if he should fall. The world, that, without consideration, heaped upon him its burdens, would trample him beneath its feet if he should slip under the weight. Nor had he in Success won freedom. His very servants were freer than he, to come and go, to seek their peculiar pleasures.
The chains with which Success had fettered the man were unusually galling and heavy upon him that day, when, on his way to an important appointment, his carriage was checked in a crowded street. The man's mind was so absorbed in the business waiting his attention that he did not notice how dense was the crowd that barred the way. Impatiently—with overwrought nerves—he spoke sharply, commanding his man to drive on.
The man begged pardon but it was impossible.
"Impossible," still more sharply, "what's the matter?"
The driver ventured a smile, "It's the circus parade, sir."
"Then turn around."
But that, too, was impossible. The traffic had pushed in behind hemming them in.
Then, down the street that crossed in front of the crowded jam of vehicles, came the familiar sound of trumpets and the gorgeously attired heralds at the head of the procession appeared, followed by the leading band with its crashing, smashing, music.
As gilded chariot followed gilded chariot, each drawn by many pairs of beautiful horses, gaily plumed and equipped—as the many riders, in glittering armor and flashing, spangled, costumes, rode proudly past; followed by the long line of elephants and camels with the cages of their fellow captives; and, in turn, by the chariot racers, the clowns, and the wagons of black faced fun makers; and at last by the steam calliope with its escort of madly shouting urchins—the man in the carriage slipped away from the cares and burdens of the present into the freedom of his Yesterdays. He escaped from the galling chains that Success had put upon him and lived again a circus day in the long ago.
Weeks before the date of the great event, the barns and sheds and every available wall in the little village, to which the boy often went with his father, would be covered with gorgeous pictures announcing the many startling, stupendous, wonders, to be seen for so small a price. There was a hippopotamus of such size that a boat load of twenty naked savages was not for him a mouthful. There were elephants so huge that the house where the boy lived was but a play house beside them. There were troops of aerial artists, who, on wires and rings and trapeze and ladders and ropes, did daring, dreadful, death defying, deeds, that no simian in his old world forest would ever think of attempting. There was a great, glittering, gorgeous, procession, of such length that the farther end was lost beyond the distant horizon and tents that covered more acres of ground than the boy could see from the top of the orchard hill.
Wonderful promises of the billboards! Wonderful! Wonderful promises of the billboards of Life! Wonderful!
Then would follow the days of waiting—the endless days of waiting—when the boy, with the help of the little girl, would try to be everything that the billboards pictured, from the roaring lion in his cage to the painted clown who cut such side splitting capers and the human fly that, with her gay Japanese parasol, walked upside down upon a polished ceiling. When circus day was coming, the fairies and knights and princes and soldiers and all their tried and true companions were forced to go somewhere—anywhere—out of the boy's way. There was no time, in those busy days, even for fishing. The old mill pond had no charm that was not exceeded by the promises of the billboards. The earth itself, indeed, was merely a place upon which to pitch a circus tent. The charms of the little girl, even, were almost totally eclipsed by the captivating loveliness of those ladies who, in spangled tights of blue and pink and red, hung by their teeth at dizzy heights, bestrode glittering wheels upon slack wires, or were shot from cannon to soar, amid black smoke and lurid flame, like angels, far above the heads of the common people.
There was no lying in bed to be called the third time the morning of that day; when at last it came. Scarcely had the sun peeped through the orchard on the hill when the boy was up and at the window anxiously looking to see if the sky was clear. Very early the start for town was made for there is much on circus day that is not pictured on the billboards—that, of course, the boy knew. And, as they drove through the fresh smelling fields, the boy would wonder if the long journey would ever come to an end and would ask himself, with sinking heart: "What if they had mistaken the day? What if something had happened that the circus could not materialize the promises of the billboards? What, if the hippopotamus, the elephants, the beautiful ladies in spangles and tights, and all the other promises of the billboards should fail?" And somewhere, deep within his being, the boy would feel a thrill of gladness that the little girl was so close beside him. If anything should happen that the promises of the billboards should fail he would need the little girl. While, if nothing happened—if it was all as pictured—still it would not be enough if the little girl were not there.
It was all over at last. The spangled riders galloped out of the ring; the trapeze performers made their last death defying leap; the clown cracked his last joke and cut his last caper; the last peanut in the sack was devoured by the elephant; and, at the close of the long day, the boy and the girl went back through the quiet fields to their homes; tired with the excitement and wonder of it all but with sighs of content and happiness. And, deep in his heart, that night, the boy resolved that he would grow up to travel with a circus. He would be very sorry to leave father and mother and the little girl but nothing in the world—nothing—should keep him from such a glorious career.
The man knew, now, that the promises of those billboards in his Yesterdays were never fulfilled. He knew, now, that the golden chariots were not gold at all but only gilded. He knew, now, that those wondrous beings who wore the glittering, spangled, costumes, were only very common and very ordinary men and women. He did not, now, envy the riders in the procession or the performers in the tent. He knew that to have a place in the parade or to perform in the ring, is to envy those whose applause you must win. The quiet of the old fields; the peaceful home under the orchard hill; the gentle companionship of the little girl; these were the things that in the man's life endured long after the glamor of the circus was gone.
Through the circus day crowd the man was driven on to his appointment but his mind was not now occupied with the business that awaited him. His thoughts were not with the crowd that filled the streets. His heart was in his Yesterdays. The music of the circus band, the sight of the parade that so stirred his memories of childhood, had awakened within him a hunger for the old home scenes. He longed to escape from Success—to get away from the circus parade of Life in which he found himself riding. He was weary of performing in the ring. He wanted to go home through the quiet fields. Perhaps—perhaps—amid the scenes of his Yesterdays, he might find that which Success had not brought.