Caroline H. Pemberton 1902
Published: International Socialist Review, Vol. 1, No. 9-12, Vol. 2 , No. 1-6 (1901); Vol 2, No. 7-8 (1902).
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2000; Skip Hulett for marxists.org in 2022.
IN an attic room in a wretched street, three children sat hugging a stove between grimy whitewashed walls, on which the dim light of a tallow candle threw awful suggestions of neglected childhood, in the shape of huge, tousled heads and cadaverous, stooping shoulders, vaguely but terribly outlined. At the other end of the room a woman lay in a drunken sleep, with her head on a mattress. A cheap pine table, a couple of chairs, and an old box completed the furniture of the room.
It was bitterly cold, and long past midnight. The candle had sunk to the rim of the candlestick and was a mere ghost of an illumination, and the one thing that seemed the most alive in that room was the old stove, for within its bosom a tiny handful of dying embers gleamed through the cracks of the heavy iron plates and warmed their rusty surfaces to the temperature of a living human body. The children laid their faces on it and hugged its heavy unresponsive angles. When the palms of their hands became thoroughly warmed they rubbed them slowly over their hearts and stomachs. The eldest of the trio, a girl of nine, sat on a broken chair clasping one of the little boys around the waist with a pair of thin arms, while he sprawled face downward on the stove. When opportunity offered, she loosened one hand from the other to lay it lovingly on the stove-lid, rubbing her cheek with it afterwards. It is not matter of much concern that the soot of the stove was transferred to the faces of these children until they looked as if ready to take part in a minstrel show.
“Hold me now, sissy,” muttered the older lad, a trifle larger than his brother, whom he pushed forcibly out of the girl’s arms. The little fellow who was deposed fell to embracing the stove from the opposite side, but quickly finding a better way, he climbed upon it with a feeble shout of exultation. There he sat, lost in profound reflection; a pretty child, with tangled curls, his deep-set dark-blue eyes looking out from a pallid baby countenance. His chin buried itself in his ragged jacket; his hands sought pockets and found holes, which he had always taken to be pockets, never having known any other variety. His sister eyed him tenderly and raised a hand to smooth the hair from his forehead.
“What’s the matter now, Tahm-my?” she questioned deferentially, desiring him to speak.
After a pause, with his blue eyes fixed on the blank wall opposite, in a thin, childish treble, he solemnly addressed an invisible choir:
“Wunst, we-uns had a big, big fire in ‘ere stove ! A long time ago-four-five-six-twenty-five years ago, and sixteen days. An’ we burned up all de coal to wunst! An’ we never have no more big fire now-never no more!”
“That was when pappy was home,” answered his sister, in a very grown-up, matter-of-fact tone; “an’ now he’s ‘way agin. We was good and warm twict las’ winter, Tahm-my; you ‘member the big hot fire las’ winter, when we had hash an’ fried ‘taters, an’ oysters, an’ agin when we had ginger cakes an’ onions an’ liver?”
“I don’t ‘member no oysters, Mah-ty.”
“Nor me neither,” chimed in the other boy.
“Nor ginger cake an’ liver, Mah-ty.”
“We ain’t had ‘em never!” corroborated his brother, fiercely. “Ye ain’t got mem'ries like ye was big an’ old! Little chillens forgits things; but we had ‘em, and ate ‘em-wunst, twict.”
“Was I ‘lowed to set on er stove, Mah-ty, when we-uns had oysters, an’ liver, an’ ginger cake?”
‘"Twould ‘a’ burnt ye; ‘twas a blazin’ hot stove-red hot, Tahm-my !”
“I don’t want no red-hot stove to burn me pants an’ legs. I likes to set a-top o’ de stove-like I’se a-settin’ now-an’ git warm froo and froo, Mah-ty.”
The child looked up radiantly into his sister’s face. He had forgotten what being warm was like, but his imagination for the moment was deeply gratified with the desperate expedient of sitting on the top of a stove that had a make-believe fire in its bosom.
“He ain’t got no sense, he ain’t!” cried the older boy, as he slapped the visionary philosopher.
Mattie interfered by dragging the scoffer back to her lap, where he continued to exhibit his displeasure by kicking Tommy’s legs.
The younger child, pursuing the policy of non-resistance that was natural to him, shivered and relapsed into his attitude of angelic contemplation. Mattie fixed her fond gaze upon him, and again waited for him to speak. His last observation had not been quite up to the mark, but words of deep import and beautiful baby cunning were undoubtedly hovering behind his lips. Suddenly he raised a warning finger.
“Somefin’s comin’ outside-it’s stopped!”
“A patrol wagon !” shrieked Jimmy, dashing from his sister’s arms to the window.
Mattie was about to follow joyfully, but stopped awe-struck by the expression on Tommy’s face. He sat staring, with eyes full of terror, his baby forefinger still uplifted.
“The Croolty’s a-comin’ up the stairs-for we-uns. It’s a-goin’ to put us away-to put us away.” The child’s voice rose to a shriek, and Mattie with a responsive scream flung her arms around him.
Jimmy, turning from the window, fled to his sister for safety, burying his face in her lap. The tramp of heavy feet was already on the stairway, the sounds coming nearer. The children shut their eyes and cowered together. The door was shaken by powerful hands from the outside; in a second the bolt gave way ,and two tall men in dark uniform burst into the room. In the agony of the moment, instinct blotted out experience, and with one voice the three children screamed piercingly:
“Mammy ! Mammy ! Mammy !”
But their God-given protector slept on in profound peace. One of the men examined her carefully and made a note of her condition. The other addressed a remark to the children:
“A good society’s a-goin’ to take charge of you-uns and give you good homes and an eddication. Come along.”
His strong hands grasped the arms of the little boys, who found themselves suddenly lifted to their feet with no power to resist. They stopped crying and stared at their sister in stupefaction.
“You come along too, sis,” added the officer, in a tone that was not unkind-"without you want to stay here and freeze to death. Say, do you mean to come along with these here boys or not?”
The girl’s back was turned in an attitude of stubborn resistance, but she now sprang quickly to her feet.
“I'm a-goin’ wherever Tahm-my an’ Jimmy’s a-goin’,” she answered shrilly, and cast a wild, Amazon-like glance upon her captor.
No further preparation was needed than to seize a ragged hood from a corner and thrust her arms into a woman’s jacket many sizes too large for her. The party left the room hastily, one officer saying to the other that he would send immediately for an ambulance to convey the insensible woman to the hospital.
Soon afterward, the scene shifted to the office of the “Cruelty” Society, and Mattie waited in breathless suspense for the next development in the “putting away” process.
Ever since she could remember this phrase had been sounded in her ears with bewildering variations of meaning. Sometimes it was used as a threat to awe disobedient children, but more frequently it conveyed the idea of calamity, pure and simple, in which the innocent suffered with the guilty, and children were “put away” because their parents could not afford to keep them. Still again, it signified a funeral and a big hole in the ground out somewhere in the suburbs.
The horrors of implacable fate, of dreadful retribution, and of icy death were combined in this terrible phrase, and all the children whom Mattie knew shook when they heard it, just as our primitive ancestors trembled when the motives of their gods and demigods became hopelessly obscured, and the innocent were in immediate danger of bringing upon themselves the wrath of heaven.
When little children disappeared in this sudden fashion from the neighborhood in which they lived, it was generally understood that they had been “put away.” In many cases they were never seen again by their playmates; but occasionally they returned, wearing an altered look and a crushed demeanor, as if they had been put through a wringing-out process. They were always reticent in regard to their experiences, but if perseveringly coaxed they managed to convey the impression that they had endured inexpressible hardships in a strange and terrible world, inhabited exclusively by “orphans” and supervised by deities known as matrons and managers. Their reticence was that of the shipwrecked mariner who dislikes to dwell on past sufferings, and it was respected accordingly. An organization known in the slums as the “Croolty Society” was associated with these ghastly disappearances. Its way of swooping down-vulture-like-upon little children who were known to be innocently happy in their gutter games and midnight rambles produced a sense of being long shadowed by a mysterious and awful power, which can be compared only to some of the horrors that were abroad when the songs of the Edda were first sung in the halls of the Scandinavian warriors.
The next day Mattie was dusting the office-to her mind, a perfectly meaningless service which she performed with cheerful alacrity. An austere-looking, gold-spectacled gentleman, who sat at a desk, addressed by name another man who sat at the other end of the room, observing that the McPherson boys were to go to the Orphans’ Home as soon as they could be got ready. The other man nodded, and Mattie stared from one to the other with a quaking heart.
Nothing further happened for some minutes, during which she went on dusting and pondering. To have asked either of these dignitaries what was meant by the remark she had overheard would have been equivalent to demanding of a printed almanac what it meant by heralding an eclipse of the sun for the 12th of next February. The officials were not beings with whom a little child could hold speech, and it could scarcely be said that a common language existed between them. She went on dusting, and only her eyes pleaded and questioned while she argued with the fear that was in her heart.
It fluttered and grew still when nothing seemed about to happen. It fluttered again as the man at the desk closed his ledger deliberately and put it away. He then arose from his chair and walked to the door, Mattie’s eyes following him. She noticed that he went upstairs, where her brothers were playing on the third floor. After a silence, she heard the footsteps of the man descending and little feet accompanying his. Into the office came Jimmy and Tommy, with their hats and coats on. Her fear was now clutching her by the throat. Wildly she gazed upon the children, but they appeared to be stupidly unconcerned at this great crisis in their lives.
“We-uns is a-goin’ to ride in er trolley cars !” said Jimmy, with a foolish smile.
“I want to go wiv’ my buwers,” cried the girl in a loud, abrupt voice, addressing nobody in particular.
“Hurry and get off,” said the gold-spectacled gentleman softly.
The agent caught both boys by the hand and pushed them hastily outside the door. Mattie flew after them and flung her arms around Tommy, who stood motionless and aggrieved at such behavior.
“I want to go wiv’ Jimmy and Tahm-my-wiv’ my buwers,” she sobbed in piteous accents.
Someone unclasped her hands from Tommy’s neck, and carried her back into the office, where she was placed upon a chair and held forcibly. Knowing then that she was separated from her brothers forever, the child broke from her habit of self-repression into sobs, yells and curses of despair. She continued to scream the names of her brothers until her voice weakened from exhaustion and she could only repeat them in a husky whisper. The agents then carried her upstairs and laid her on one of the beds in a small dormitory intended for sick children. An hour later they hoped she had cried herself to sleep, but as the superintendent turned to leave the room, a tremulous moan reached his ear, and he carried it home with him that night in spite of his efforts to shut it from memory:
“I want to go wiv’ Jim-my an’ Tahm-my. I want to go wiv’ Jim-my-an'-Tahm-m-m-m-y!”
It was the last day of the old year, and as the old superintendent recalled the fact, he made a mental note of another and more cheering fact which was that the capture of the three McPhersons carried the number of rescued children from 998 to 1,001-a splendid record for the year, and a glorious showing for the Annual Report! This meant “rescue” at the rate of two children and three-fourths of a child-roughly speaking-per day. In ten years it would mean 10,000 children-equal to the population of a good-sized town-all to be neatly and economically distributed among the various institutions of the city, which were hungrily clamoring for them. A beneficent world, indeed! he fell asleep soothed by this beautiful thought.
SEVERAL years later, a young man sat one afternoon in the office of another philanthropic establishment and became deeply absorbed in the contemplation of an open ledger. His dark, brilliant, expressive eyes were tracing condensed biographies. At the top of one page, under a printed heading of “Department of Waifs and Strays,” there was inscribed in large letters the name “Elizabeth Powtowska.” The narrative, which was written and not printed, described the first appearance in eleemosynary history of the young person with the high-sounding Polish name, the story beginning with the death of a Russian emigrant.
Julian Endicott-this was the name of the serious-eyed young man-had become the guardian of the Polish girl by accepting three years before the secretaryship of the “Association for Sociological Research"-an influential organization, liberally supported by people of wealth and culture in the city. Its proud boast was that its work was conducted on a strictly scientific basis, that it was admirably divided and sub-divided into departments wherein all suffering humanity might be accurately classified, tabulated and studied as specimens of social phenomena. Its object was not to abolish poverty, but to study it as one would study botany or geology. Nothing that met the eye in this office was in the least suggestive of alms-giving, for it held alms-giving in virtuous abhorrence. The ground-glass partitions, the handsome oak railings, the high rolling desks and cases filled with card catalogues, ledgers and filed pamphlets, together with the presence of numerous clerks busily writing or operating typewriting machines-all these were exactly what one might expect to find in a large banking house or flourishing law firm. Philanthropy, under the influence of the commercial spirit of the age, had turned herself into a boa-constrictor and was now engaged in swallowing up her two sisters, Faith and Hope, and proclaiming herself, with swollen self-importance, to be one of the exact sciences.
When young Endicott had accepted this call, the oddest part of his engagement seemed to be the fact that the management of the great association was in the hands of a board of women. There was not a representative of his sex among them. His assistants in the work were to be young women. At that time his curiosity and longing to begin his study of their wonderful work-for they had written him that there was no other like it in the world-had rivaled the aspirations of the adventurous heroes who visited, in disguise, the halls of Tennyson’s “Princess.”
It is true that in the Annual Report of the “Association” had long appeared the names of many eminent male citizens who were grouped on a separate page as a “Board of Advisors,” with a distinguished Episcopal clergyman conspicuously named as their president. But Julian was early informed that they were merely figureheads, and during the years of his labors for the cause they represented he had never known of their advice being asked, nor was he aware that they had ever attended a meeting. When he persistently sought out these gentlemen, as he did on one occasion, he discovered that several of them knew not on what street the “Association” was situated, and others knew not whether the organization they endorsed with their names was intended to shelter aged widows, to reform inebriates, to furnish soup for the starving, or to house, feed and educate homeless orphans.
But as a matter of fact, it experimented with all of these things and as many more as possible, for it was reaching out towards a wonderful ideal of a “University of Sociological Research,” and had just built a lecture hall wherein all students and workers in “charity” might meet to discuss their problems.
Julian had been frankly told from the first that his sex was considered a drawback which the gentle philosophers had agreed to overlook, being more reasonable than the “Princess” and her followers. He was young, handsome and a Harvard graduate; he had come to them for an exceedingly small salary. This was partly because he had studied for the ministry, and had afterward abandoned all thought of it in search of a kind of ministration that would hold him in close touch with his fellows, instead of setting him apart on a pinnacle of spiritual superiority. The cares of the “Association for Sociological Research” seemed the nearest to his ideal of any offer that he had received; while its managers believed fervently that in the equipment of a divinity student, all errors of sex might be considered as having been effaced in the white light of ecclesiastical scrutiny.
It is possible that they were not aware of the extent of Julian’s sacrifice, but they were certainly gratified that he was so entirely willing to bury himself alive in their service. He was, it is true, somewhat old-fashioned in his ideas of “charity,” but it was not to be supposed that the tool in the master’s hand ever fully appreciates all that is in the mind of the master, and Julian was regarded distinctively as the “tool” of the masterly minds that were directing the work of the Association. If he did not fully realize the secondary importance of the role he was playing, it was because his managers were well-bred, soft-voiced women whose first mission in life was to conform to a high standard of courteous speech and bearing.
Julian’s unceasing efforts had left him worn, thin and sallow of cheek, a mere shadow of his former self. So he looked as a rule when he sat studying those biographical pages. The Russian waif was now eighteen years of age, and he took a personal pride in contemplating this young person’s later history. For he had actually prepared her for something higher than a life-work of dishwashing; she had exchanged house work in a farmhouse for a high school and a business college, from both of which she had graduated with honors. Afterwards, she was employed as a clerk by a business firm.
But the page had to be turned, and now he read the name “Martha McPherson.” The blunders which had wrecked this young life-so he was told-had been caused by the wretched inexperience of former superintendents. Julian had himself failed to grasp the real degradation of the surroundings that had been selected for her until his rescue came too late. She had remained on a city truck farm until her nature had coarsened into a likeness of the soil in which her young feet had literally been planted. She had dug, scraped and ploughed during all that was left of her childhood, because, as the owners of her toil declared, “she was fit for nothing else.” Before this she had been dragged through several charitable institutions-each of which had left its mark upon her-but in the hands of the “Association” she had received the worst scars that can disfigure young womanhood, and Julian felt the burden of her wrongs now heaped upon his young shoulders. As secretary of the “Association” he felt responsible for all the makeshift efforts that had marred the young life but lately entrusted to his guidance.
The record was as dreadful as one of Ibsen’s plays-more tragic, indeed, than anything Ibsen ever wrote-thought Julian, as he bit his pencil and glowered at the hideous statements.
Rising from the desk under a sudden pressure of feeling, he walked to the window and looked out, seeing not the street, but a pathetic vision of a very young girl wearing a faded shawl and hugging to her breast an infant. This forlorn caricature of motherhood made even the beautiful image of the Madonna seem cheap. His sense of justice was now bewailing the mystery which Martha had flung around the child and herself; she wrapped herself in it as though it were a robe of spotless purity; she defied the world to pry into the secret of her child’s parentage!
Then he thought again of Elizabeth. A few days before, his visiting agent had reported the shocking information that the employer of Elizabeth Powtowska had twice presented her with a bunch of flowers. The agent had called at the office and was unfavorably impressed by the employer’s appearance; she thought it important that Julian should call on him immediately. Julian had promised to attend to it, but he bethought himself of another plan, and finally succeeded in getting the committees of the “Association” to consent to the employment of Elizabeth in their office as a supplementary clerk.
“I may venture to hope that she'll be safe here,” he thought with a ghost of a smile.
For a second he paused and contemplated with ironical gravity the singular features of his present career as a knight-errant, for the bald fact now stood forth clearly that all the relative advantages of his sex had been adroitly reversed by his female managers. This picture of himself was so keenly absurd that he turned from it quickly with a grimace, which expressed not only his consciousness of having failed to effect the pose of a hero, but his complete indifference to the fact.
With a sigh he recalled a ridiculous struggle that had to be carried on, week after week, with various committees of the board of managers. Every detail of every plan had to be argued and shoved through these committees by main force of will. It was like getting a bill through Congress. Some of these gentle women excelled as obstructionists, and all of them had always insisted on their right to decide every question in Julian’s work by a majority vote. He did not suspect that they flocked to the meetings because it offered them an hour of mental exercise, that they raised questions for the sole purpose of debating them, and not because it mattered in the least which argument carried. It was all play to them, but death to this poor lad’s elasticity of spirit. He was more depressed than ever after the meetings, not only on account of the great output of moral enthusiasm which left him exhausted, but because the fabric of their minds seemed to him every day to become more and more incomprehensible. One of his hardships was their failure to remember from week to week the few and simple facts on which their decision of a previous week depended. Their minds were formless, like jelly fish, nebulous like summer clouds, he thought; or were they only mentally indolent? Julian knew that he did all their thinking for them; he acted as an obliging memory; he persuaded, dragged and forced them to a conclusion, and accepted meekly this conclusion as their “instructions” for the coming week.
They were fashionable women and their superb air of worldly authority combined with heavenly omniscience for a long time had deeply impressed him. They evidently believed that they ruled with a diviner right than that of kings. But his faith was now no longer equal to theirs. He was country-born and bred, and the vantage ground of social privilege was as yet an undiscovered land to him.
With the consent of four separate committees at last secured, Elizabeth had begun her new duties only the day before. She had thanked Julian demurely, and asked whether in the future she was to consider herself an employee or a ward of the Association.
“Both, perhaps,” he had replied cautiously.
“Then I am still a waif, “she had murmured in a tragic voice, slowly walking back to the desk with her head lowered. Julian then repeated this remark, which both amused and puzzled him, to the managers, who argued from it that Elizabeth was an ungrateful girl. As it was impossible to disabuse their minds of this idea, he resolved this afternoon to be wary of repeating to them the strange sayings of the waifs.
It was nearly dark when Julian reached his boarding house. He ate his dinner mechanically, and was half way upstairs when a voice in his ear asked in a tone of affected anxiety if the philanthropic hens had been pecking worse than usual. He turned quickly to greet a fellow-boarder whose name was Cooper Denning.
Julian’s laughing protest on behalf of his female managers passed unquestioned, the speaker not being anxious to discuss the management of the “Association,” whose existence he was unable to regard in any other than a facetious light. He was a lawyer of moderate means to whom the profession of law served to pass away the tedious hours that lay between great social events. Julian found him arrayed usually in faultless evening dress.
Having drawn Julian almost forcibly into his chamber, Denning lit a cigar and settled himself in an easy chair which Julian had declined. He observed discontentedly:
“I believe half the delight you ascetics take in physical discomfort comes from the mental distress you know you are causing selfish brutes like myself.”
“Did you think I was seeking discomfort? I only wanted to get nearer your fire! Surround me with all the luxuries you own, – you'll find I'm no ascetic,” answered Julian so energetically that Denning laughed.
“Your face was so long at dinner I thought perhaps you had been renewing your vows.”
“I never made any. I'm sorry the study of social problems doesn’t interest you, Denning, but if you were to dive with me into the unfathomable depths of biology, psychology, and a few other mysteries-”
“Biology, psychology-unfathomable depths!-that sounds like woman!”
“That’s just what it is,” said Julian, clasping his hands over his crossed knees and contemplating the fire with thoughtful eyes. “That’s just what I've been studying, – woman.” He sighed.
“In love, boy?”
“Heaven forbid! It’s the incarnation-the feminine gender itself-that has been leading me such a dance. I believe it is one of the evil spirits from Pandora’s Box-the worst of the lot. I should like to box it up again and set it on your mantel piece.”
“My dear young friend, what on earth have you to do with the feminine gender outside of a lady manager-or a French grammar-unless you're in love?”
Julian gave a short sketch of his tragic experiences with the waifs. There seemed to be nowhere a spot on God’s earth where they were thoroughly safe.
“If I had a world to create,” he concluded gloomily, “I am sure I should find one sex enough. It would make life much simpler.”
“Which one would you leave out?” Asked the older man. As Julian did not reply, he smoked on in silence, while he contemplated his serious young guest with a becoming gravity. Finally he said:
“You dwell too much on the dismal side of life, Endicott. You are in danger of exaggerating every symptom of your youthful charges, because your experience is so frightfully limited. You want to gain knowledge of life; then you can sift out the whole business and estimate things in their right proportion. Touch, taste, devour all experiences. Of course I should not say this if I did not know you came of good stock.”
“Thanks; I think I have been gaining considerable experience of late.”
“Yes-all in one line. Your observations of the other sex, for instance, are confined to a single, wretched, degraded type.”
“Human nature is the same in all grades of society-I believe that.” Julian’s voice touched suddenly the deeper note of the enthusiast.
“I do not admit your generalization; you advance it as an article of faith-a dogma to take the place of a belief in the Trinity! It’s useless to argue with you.”
“I perceive that you have a logical mind, Denning, but I have no way of gaining the larger experience-or time either. I am willing to count myself a narrow, pent-up stream-perhaps a very shallow one-but still I hope to accomplish some good in my groove, like any other specialist.”
“Specialist is good-a fine word,” observed the lawyer,’ smiling. “I am going to think out a plan for you if you will have the extreme goodness to play something. Make a little music, won’t you ? We'll turn down the gas, as you always play better when you can hardly see the keys, and I'll lie here and meditate until I discover a short cut to experience for you.”
He turned down the light as he spoke and stretched himself on the lounge while Julian, with a boyish shrug and a laugh, went into his own room and opened the piano noiselessly and tenderly, as musicians handle the instrument they love. Through the doorway, the red glow of the fire from Denning’s room softened young Endicott’s serious profile into a beauty that was partly Greek and partly of a more modern type.
He struck a few chords absently and then began a musical reverie.
With the aid of the delicate phrases which Julian’s fingers seemed to be carving out of the silence, an idea came into Denning’s head, and he considered it with amused satisfaction while rings of smoke circled above him.
When the music stopped, he rose quickly and crossed the threshold to lay his hand on the other’s shoulder.
“I always enjoy your playing, but this time it has suggested wonderful ideas! I have a plan mapped out, an original and delightful method of obtaining the experience you need.”
Julian, striking chords softly, looked up with a dreamy expression. An amazing proposition was being presented to him. He was to be introduced into fashionable circles as a stranger from Boston, a young man fresh from college.
“I shall ask boldly for permission to take ‘my young friend’ with me while he is in the city; and after you are introduced properly, your stay is to be prolonged little by little until perhaps-”
“I come from New York state, not Boston-and I have been living in this city over three years. Would you have me ashamed of my birth and belongings? Really, I have no time for such things as you propose.”
“You have every night-it’s all I have.”
“Yes, I could go nights,” sighed Julian, relapsing into a barbarism that invoked memories of country sleighing parties, camp meetings, village sociables and the like. Denning smiled a little and went on unfolding his plan.
“You will have to buy a dress suit and a ten-cent white tie, and that will cover the whole expense.”
“I have both,"-Julian developed a faint show of interest, – "I'm not going in for any ridiculous deceptions-neither are you-but if I should go with you some evening in my own character and not as somebody else, I have a suit, and a stunning tie.” Pulling open a bureau drawer, he drew out a white satin butterfly tie for Denning’s inspection. The latter looked at it gravely; his expression became intensely solemn, – nay, he began to grow pale.
“It is very handsome,” he said in a low voice, as he laid it gently back in the drawer. “It’s quite a work of art and will do for some rare occasion. The little social affairs we get up in this city are not worthy of that tie just yet; ‘Solomon in all his glory-”
“It cost a quarter!” cried Julian, laughing. He gave a side glance at his friend’s face, and blushed deeply. Denning noting the blush, forgave him.
“You see your plan is impossible,” cried Julian, turning away in vexation. “I appreciate your goodness in wanting to introduce me to your world, but it would be a case of the wrong kind of tie all the way through. Thanks for your generosity.”
Denning laughed. “You can put me on a pedestal if you want to, for the worship of future philanthropists. I shall not give up the idea, though it’s too late to discuss it fully this evening. It’s time for me to dress-so good-night.”
With a nod and a wave of his hand, he disappeared into his room and closed the door, leaving Julian to continue his musings on the painful predilections of female waifs and strays.
MARTHA McPHERSON was causing trouble to the matron and managers of “St. Agnes’ Holy House”; Julian’s presence was needed there to quell the insubordinate outcast. This was the news that greeted him the following morning. In the afternoon he went out to the institution. Its managers were in friendly co-operation with the Association for Sociological Research.
He was led upstairs to a large apartment filled with cots and young women holding small bundles in their arms sitting beside the cots. Martha sat apart with her babe on her lap.
“We've had to keep her from the rest to prevent contamination,” the matron whispered; “she’s the worst we've got-shameless to a degree that makes me blush. Yes, sir! at my age and with all I've saw and knowed of the sinfulness of the world it makes me blush to behold her!”
Julian, glancing at the lady’s round, purple face and huge head growing out of immense shoulders, vaguely wondered if he should indeed attribute her chronic floridness to a too prolonged contemplation of the frail feminine humanity gathered under that roof.
“What has Martha done?” he asked.
“I'll give you a sample; she'll show herself off quick enough. Just take a seat. Martha, this is the gentleman from the good society that has looked after you like a loving parent since you was took away by the ‘Croolty’ from your first parents that misused you so dreadful.”
“They didn’t misuse me,” muttered the girl sullenly.
“They didn’t? Not when they spent all their money on drink and gave you nothin’ to eat and no clothes to put on your back?”
“That warn’t misusin’,” explained the Magdalen desperately. “Pappy was out o’ work, and me mammy ‘ddrink jes’ to keep up her sperrits. I've been misused worse since I left ‘em-abused more than they ever done. I'd go back right to-mor row if I knowed where they was.”
The matron shot a pleased glance at Julian.
“Now, you see the gratitude that’s in her? But that ain’t what we come to talk about. Martha, this here gentleman wants to know what we want to know; he’s taken the occasion to come on that errand and he can’t do no more for you till he knows all them particulars that you're holding back in your wicked heart. Now, I want you to confess to him the whole truth. I want you to open that heart of yours and let the light of the Lord Jesus shine into it for just this one brief moment. Don’t you know Him and this here gentleman is standin’ together an’ knockin’ at the door of that wicked heart o’ yourn?”
Julian considered whether he would dispute this representation of the Teacher of Men conspiring with himself to further the ends of a vulgar prosecutor of the defenceless, but he decided to await further developments.
“There ain’t nothin’ to confess,” replied the girl stubbornly.
“There, sir-that’s all the answer we get to our pleadings. Why, you wouldn’t believe the kindnesses that’s been showered on her! Every one of our managers has been here a-pleadin’ with her in turn. They come rollin’ up in their carriages and a-rustlin’ up in their silks and satins and their furs and velvets to waste their valuable time in this here sinful room, when they might be enjoyin’ theirselves at their afternoon teas and receptions! One sweet, religious lady, she got down on her knees on this very floor and prayed and sang two hymns by her side. But did she get out of her the name of that there child’s father? Not a bit of it-no more than you will now, sir!”
Julian was about to end the conversation by disclaiming indignantly any share of curiosity on the subject, when his attention was directed to Martha’s face. She sat straight in her chair with glazed eyes fixed on the blank, unpainted wall, Her head was raised; her expression had frozen into a kind of petrified horror, as if she were looking straight at some awful object. Had the mention of her child’s father raised a fearful apparition?
The matron laid a fat hand on Julian’s sleeve. “Now you see it,” she whispered triumphantly-"the look we've all been gettin'!” She raised her voice and addressed the girl threateningly, “You brazen-eyed creature! We've been castin’ our pearls before such as you long enough! This gentleman’s got the power to inflict proper punishment and he ain’t goin’ to take the lies from your mouth that-”
“Woman-be silent!” Julian turned upon her with a voice of command; he ordered her sternly and briefly to withdraw.
“I wish to speak to this girl alone.” He arose from his chair and faced the astounded matron without the shadow of an apology in his manner. She gasped for breath, her voluble speech failing her in such an extraordinary crisis. With a gesture of rage and consternation, she fled from the room.
Julian turned to Martha. She was no longer staring at the wall, but was bending over her child devotedly. Her expression had utterly changed.
“What do you call the little fellow?” Julian asked as he leaned forward to touch the child’s hand.
“His name is Tahmmy-an’ it’s Jimmy, too. Tahmmy-James. That’s his name. There was the two of ‘em, but they're gone now.”
“There were two,” repeated Julian, bewildered. “Two what?”
“Two boys-my bruvvers-Tahmmy an’ Jimmy. Their real names was Thomas an’ James. The Cruelty got ‘em. They was put away in a orphans’ home. I guess they're dead now. Tahmmy wouldn’t live long in a orphans’ home. He didn’t want to be no orphan, but he was took an’ made one-him an’ Jimmy-an’ me, too.”
“I never knew you had brothers.” Julian hung his head over the incomplete knowledge of the various associations that had exercised such omnipotent control over this young creature’s destiny. If they had known of the existence of the brothers, they had failed to pass it on.
“Could I find ‘em, do you s'pose, if I was to go an’ ask at all them houses where they has boy orphans an’ look ‘em over an’ p'int ‘em out to them as has ‘em in charge-supposin’ they ain’t dead ? I'd know ‘em wiv their hair cut off quick enough! Tahmmy’s got eyes like this here baby. You could tell they was all to one fam'bly. Look at my baby’s eyes.” She held the infant, who was now aroused from his slumbers, towards Julian, her pale young face full of pride and motherliness.
“The bittern standing in solitary possession of the ‘waste places and the pools of water’ might make a more appropriate show of family pride,” thought Julian. He expressed his appreciation of the baby’s eyes.
“He had eyes that looked like he was talkin’ back to the angels in heaven-Tahmmy had. But Jimmy was born with just common eyes. I darsn’t call my baby after Tahmmy an’ not after him too, ‘cause Jimmy was that jealous o’ Tahmmy he'd s'pose I did it to spite ‘im. I never made a pin’s diff'rence ‘tween'em, but it’s Tahmmy I seen always in my dreams after he was put away-lookin’ white an’ sorrowful. I used to wake up cryin’ from sich dreams; but I don’t have ‘em any more since this here one’s come. I ‘member when Tahmmy was a baby like this here one. He’s a-goin’ to be Tahmmy right over ag'in. Mebbe he’s sent a-purpose? Why did them dreams stop all to onct without he was sent a-purpose?”
Martha turned her tear-laden, colorless eyes full upon Julian. It was certainly best to pass over the inquiry. “I will try to find out what has become of your brothers; but now we must decide about the baby and how you can manage to support it.”
Martha looked cautiously around. “They want me to give him away, that’s what they want. Some would be glad to be rid of ‘im-but I ain’t one o’ that kind. I love my beautiful baby.” She kissed him tenderly. “They ask me every day who he looks like. Why, who is there for him to look like but me-without it’s Tahmmy? Just as if he had two parents like other folks!”
Was she merely protecting herself-as a flower shuts up its petals in the pelting rain? She was a simple creature-a mere child. Something very like innocence looked out of her eyes. She seemed to Julian to be obeying a mysterious, all-powerful instinct which forbade her contemplating for a second the evil that had surrounded her. She would live only in the present. She would not look into that degrading background. When forced to do so, it froze her young soul into the blank horror which he had witnessed in her eyes.
He moved swiftly to the conclusion that she should not remain another hour under that roof. The door opened to admit the matron, who came forward snorting. Julian stated his decision briefly. She poured forth a cataract of angry words.
“My lady managers will be told, sir, how their representative has been treated by the person wrongfully called a gentleman! Eleven matrons in sixteen years has been put in charge of this institution, the board o’ managers havin’ been a-strivin’ and a-strugglin’ in vain to obtain a lady of my experience and my respectability, which they was unable to do until I consented to sacrifice my worldly prospects and accept their paltry salary for the good of these poor creatures here below, an’ the hope of a reward in heaven; and when I tell them that I've been called ‘a woman’ to my face, sir-”
Julian’s wits wandered during this oration; he was trying to decide whether he saw before him Mrs. Bumble or Mrs. Squeers in the flesh. He repeated blandly his former statement: “I wish to remove the girl. Be kind enough to get her and the child ready to leave at once.”
“The child stays here,” said the official, stamping her foot and folding her arms defiantly. “You can take the girl, but the babe belongs to the institution.”
“I fail to understand, “murmured Julian, looking away. He thought it extraordinary that a board of refined women should retain such a woman as this in a position of authority. And did not her eleven predecessors only emphasize the capacity of these “boards” for hideous blundering? He could not bear to look at this preposterous and terrible personage. Her vulgar outlines only remotely suggested the coarseness of the spiritual fiber within, but they actually hurt his eyes; he turned them away in obedience to an instinct of delicacy-an exaggerated deference to her sex-which would not betray all the disgust that was mirrored in his soul. But the august lady moved herself into the direct range of his vision.
“It’s in the by-laws, sir! ‘In consideration of the care, nursing and attention given to the inmates, it is resolved that the legal control of their offspring belongs to the board of managers who hereby constitute themselves guardians of all children born in this institution'!”
She recited these words with gleaming eyes, and finished with a lunge of her head like an angry bull.
“Both ridiculous and illegal,” observed Julian coolly. “I shall remove Martha and the child immediately. Get your things on, Martha.”
The girl rose with a frightened air and moved with falter ing steps toward the door.
“Give me the child!” commanded the matron sternly.
“I'll take it,” interposed Julian audaciously, holding out his arms. Martha laid the babe against his shoulder and disappeared. Julian sat down, holding the child awkwardly. He turned crimson, conscious of the absurdity of the situation. The matron smiled scornfully and continued her oration. It passed rapidly into vulgar abuse and insinuation.
He was thankful that Martha returned promptly, tying the faded ribbons of an old woolen hood under her chin; a thin, shabby shawl hung over her right arm. Julian asked for a heavier wrap.
“If you choose to break the rules of the institution and insult her who is the head of it, you can all go out just as you came in,” was the vicious reply.
The two culprits descended the wide stairway, followed by the matron’s mocking laughter. Their exit was hasty and undignified; at the last they had all the appearance of fugitives fleeing from a justifiable prosecution.
Julian was obliged to wrap the infant in his overcoat to protect it from a penetrating wind. Hurriedly they caught a street car. Undoubtedly they were a curious looking pair, and many eyes were directed towards them as they sat side by side. Julian resisted a strong temptation to take a seat at a distance. He supposed that they passed for a family group, notwithstanding that Martha’s appearance was strongly suggestive of the poor-house. The cropped head and short skirt exaggerated the young matron’s distressing youthfulness, and surprised comments were audible among the passengers.
The office was not reached until after 5 o'clock. Unfortunately, only Elizabeth was there writing, the other agents having gone home. He would have to depend on Elizabeth’s aid in disposing of Martha and the babe for the night.
Elizabeth raised her head and took a long look at Martha’s forlorn figure. Her face assumed a peculiar rigidity. Martha looked back stolidly, her features slowly hardening into a similar expression.
“I guess you're one of the waifs,” she observed in a high thin voice, after a prolonged stare at Elizabeth.
The young clerk drew back panic-stricken. She turned toward Julian.
“We're all alike, she thinks-everybody thinks! I will not stay here; I will not be a waif all my life!” She arose in her excitement and stood against the wall facing Julian. Her little figure was swelling with anger.
Julian went over to her. “You are looking across an immeasurable gulf, “he said in a low voice. “I am sorry; I might have been a waif-but I cannot be a woman-and these two need a woman’s hand.”
Elizabeth glanced up into his face. Then she looked straight at Martha, her face growing solemnly, vaguely sympathetic.
“I hope you will do something to make her look like other people,” Julian added imploringly.
Elizabeth held out her hand. The young mother arose and followed without a word. As they reached the head of the stairs, Julian called after them:
“I am hoping you will give her a frock with lots of trimming on it, and a hat with feathers and flowers, and-bright blue ribbons.”
Elizabeth laughed silently in the darkness of the stairway. It was well known in the office that the board of managers had prohibited feathers and flowers for waifs, after discussing the subject at one special and two adjourned meetings, with sessions of three hours each. It was an accepted principle among them that the longer a subject was discussed the sounder was the conclusion reached.
Julian opened letters and wrote busily at his desk until he heard steps descending the stairs. He looked up to inspect the work of Elizabeth’s hands as Martha entered the room. She was arrayed in a neat brown dress. The transformation was startling. Elizabeth followed with an armful of antiquated hats and bonnets.
“Trimmed with velvet,” she murmured briefly, pointing to the brown dress.
“She gimme it, because we're both waifs,” cried Martha joyfully. Elizabeth nodded gravely.
‘We're both waifs,” she repeated in a low voice.
Julian looked at her inquiringly. There was something odd about her appearance. Her trim little figure was lost in a mass of black cashmere.
“She gimme her dress!” cried Martha with increasing enthusiasm, her pale eyes fixed upon Elizabeth.
Julian continued to scrutinize Elizabeth. A wave of color swept over her face. She looked down abashed.
“An old lady left the Association five black dresses. There’s nothing else up stairs. I know it’s too big-” She pulled at the quaint sleeves with her fingers.
“It’s very old fashioned!” cried Julian, laughing.
Elizabeth planted a battered hat on Martha’s head, and replaced it quickly with a gigantic bonnet. The effect was terrific. She tried them all, and at last gave up with an hysterical laugh.
“There’s mine; she can take it-but there’s no blue ribbon.” She clasped her hands in confusion.
Julian looked at the little brown turban with its waving plumes. It was hanging from a nail on the wall. It looked exactly like Elizabeth. He took it down and handed it to her.
“Put on your hat and go with this child to some store where you can buy a decent article.” He placed a bank note in her hand. “Buy a frock, too, and take yours back.”
“It’s hers now,” said Elizabeth immovably.
“Buy another for yourself then.”
Elizabeth turned away quickly and began tying on the baby’s bonnet. She helped Martha with her hood and shawl, drew on her own coat, picked up a bundle and steered Martha out of the door with a resolute air.
Julian saw them depart, and then hastened to his boarding house, feeling tired and discouraged.
Denning greeted him with cordiality. “I've secured for you an invitation to the Charity Ball to-night,” he said brightly, “and I've left a pile of white neckties on your bureau.”
“Ah-white neckties!” repeated Julian absently. He was more familiar with old ladies’ bonnets, he thought, as he turned the linen ties over in his fingers. He decided, however, that he would go to the ball in deference chiefly to Denning’s plea that he needed the larger experience. Denning assured him that the Charity Ball was a promiscuous affair of which no one need stand in the slightest awe. Otherwise, he could not have obtained the invitation for Julian, – but of course he did not add this explanation.
DENNING talked very pleasantly that evening for a couple of hours on the subjects of balls and young girls. He explained much concerning the social life of the great city that to many minds remains shrouded in mystery, but it is doubtful if Julian understood much of what was said. His mind was in fact only half detached from the scenes and incidents of the day just ended. Until they reached the ball room he was still building hedges around his frail female waifs and rescuing others from situations of extraordinary peril.
Denning steered him onward into the very heart of the fairy like scene. They paused for a moment beside a fluted pillar garlanded with leaves and roses, while Denning, bowing right and left to young girls and older women as they entered, looked about him for someone to whom he might introduce Julian.
“Don’t let anything these young things happen to say disconcert you,” he observed, “because it is a well-known fact that they don’t know in the least what they're saying for more than a year after they come out. Sometimes they lose their heads, too, and we older men have to look after them or there'd be the devil of a talk. As you do not dance you will have to ask a girl to sit out a dance with you. There are plenty of corners for a chat. But if you get tired talking, the next best thing is to stand by the door and regard these frivolities with a grand, gloomy air, – as if you were some very distinguished person-a foreign ambassador, perhaps-you don’t look unlike something of that sort. Here comes Miss Melville, to whom I shall introduce you. You cannot be with her long, for she’s in great demand to-night; but there'll be time for a stroll through the corridors perhaps.”
A few minutes later, Julian found himself walking by the side of a young beauty gowned in white and gold of such delicate texture that it might have been made of butterflies’ wings. She carried an armful of large bouquets made up of roses. There were so many of them and they were in such danger of slipping from her that she handed Julian three of the largest to carry. She led the way herself and was busy casting smiles and nods in every direction, while she poured into Julian’s ear a stream of daintily extravagant comments and exclamations. He listened as a man might do who finds himself swimming in green depths by the side of a mermaid whose discourse might be of interest to the curious-possibly of distinct scientific value to the learned-but is of too ethereal and incomprehensible a nature to elicit a reply. His unconcerned, yet very direct scrutiny reached the fair maid through the dazzling medium of her own glory, and passed happily for the nonchalance of a young man of the world.
The smooth, long face and slightly bald head of Cooper Denning suddenly appeared from a doorway. When not smiling he reminded one of an austere priest; but at this moment he was laughing gaily and addressing a young girl by his side with an air of chivalrous devotion. They stopped beside Julian and formed a group.
Half a dozen young men approached to speak to Miss Melville. The next moment, Julian found himself walking in the opposite direction, not quite understanding how he had lost Miss Melville, or who had relieved him of her flowers. The young lady by his side appeared to be just as beautiful, however, though she had fewer bouquets, so it did not much matter; and in a few moments she was talking into his ear a brilliant continuation of Miss Melville’s remarks.
Presently she spoke of Denning. He had introduced to her “quantities” of men, so that all her dances were engaged. He had told her from the first not to be afraid, and had ad vised what kind of a gown to wear. They had talked it over several weeks ago and he had insisted on white with pearl and silver trimming. Otherwise she might have worn pink. Mr. Denning had prophesied exactly the kind of time she was going to have-it was remarkable how he always knew. He was wonderfully kind, always doing the most unselfish things imaginable. Julian recalled that Miss Melville had sung Denning’s praises almost in the same words.
There was another turn in the social wheel. Julian’s companion and her bouquets were again torn from him, and he was’ soon escorting a third young lady, who was burdened with only one bouquet.
In reply to her direct questions, Julian explained in explicit sentences that he did not dance; he knew not the name of the waltz that was being played; he did not know the man who was leading the German;a string of negatives seemed to have become the sum and substance of his conversational resources.
The girl consulted her program; she lifted her head and threw a glance distractedly around.
“It is the fourth dance!” she cried in a trembling voice, and looked at Julian, who in searching through the annals of his experience for a precedent to guide his actions could think of nothing more definite than a scene in “Alice in Wonderland.'’
“You seem troubled; can I be of any assistance?” he asked quickly.
“Troubled!” repeated the girl. “I should think I was! I wish I were dead; I wish I had never been born!”
She turned to him in desperate appeal.
“Take me to some corner where I can hide myself, where no one will see me. There’s nothing else that you can do-apparently.”
Julian led her hastily to a small sofa partly concealed by tall plants blooming in gilded pots. Was the girl ill? Was she going to faint? Or was he beginning to figure in a role fashioned after the escapades of heroes who accept mysterious missions intended for somebody else, and are led into situations of marvelous complexity, from which they escape only by taking wildly impossible risks? Or was this last experience in the nature of a fantastic joke-a young girl’s effort to amuse herself by the indulgence of an extravagant imagination?
Julian begged her again to tell him what was the matter. She answered with unexpected irritation:
“You are dreadfully obtuse! Do you want me to say in the plainest of English that I'm not engaged for the German-or anything? Why, if you wanted to help me you would go out into the highways and bring up all the men you knew or ever heard of-you would bring up quantities of men to be introduced to me! How can I be expected to know all the men of this city when I have been living in Baltimore?”
Julian sat scowling at what seemed to him the indelicacy of this speech. In all his encounters with the “forwardness” of waifs and strays he had never met anything more repugnant to his taste.
“Unfortunately,” he replied, eyeing her with coldness, “I cannot be your knight errant, for like yourself, I know no one at this ball-I know only one man here.”
“Mr. Denning, I suppose-I saw you with him. It would be of no use for you to speak to him; he doesn’t choose that I shall have a lovely time.” Her tone was bitter. She went on with a sudden pathos that seemed to bring her suddenly within the range of a more chivalrous consideration:
“All the other girls are having such a good time-all but poor little me, left out in the cold! My beautiful sister forgets about me as usual-she is having a magnificent time herself, of course. It means that I am a dead failure. I shall have to hide my head somewhere and take to works of charity-Sunday schools and horrors of that kind. I shall have to wear clothes that don’t fit and poke about in the slums, talking to horrid, ill-smelling poor people.”
“You might try a convent,” suggested Julian, thoughtfully-bringing all his kindly wits to bear upon the unusualness of her case-"but the slums are now altogether too fashionable; you would meet more of your successful rivals there than would be comfortable, I fear-from your standpoint-I mean-of a social failure.”
The young girl turned upon him a stare of haughty astonishment; his cold-blooded candor had brought a deep blush to her cheeks.
“I have always heard,” she observed with a shrug of her bare shoulders and an irrelevance that was intended to convey a pointed rebuke, “that the men of this city were a set of odious antiques. I've heard they think it improper to be alone with a girl anywhere; they haven’t the faintest idea what a stair-case is made for; if they make use of it at all, they all go and sit there together in a crowd-these absurd, odious little men!”
“You mean they leave the girls alone in the parlor?” asked Julian, who was beginning to feel sleepy.
“Oh! The girls go, too, of course! The point is that they all sit together. I never had to explain so much in my life before. There’s just one nice man living in this whole town, a friend of mine says-she means Cooper Denning.”
“He seems to be a great favorite.”
“Yes, he leads everything. She told me an amusing story about him. He was dancing once with a very wild girl-a perfect madcap. She had been flirting with him desperately somewhere, just before he asked her to dance, and she was furious at him. She had been daring him to kiss her-setting him almost crazy-and she was furious because he would not try. Now what do you suppose that girl did? Why, she stopped suddenly while they were waltzing in the middle of the room-right before everybody-and shrieked at the top of her voice, and then cried out: ‘He kissed me!’ Just imagine how the poor man felt when he hadn’t! And what on earth do you suppose he did? What would you have done in his place?”
“I can’t imagine-”
“Why, he pretended that he had! He did that just to save her! Wasn’t it splendid of him? But, the truth leaked out afterward, for it seems that somebody overheard her daring him to kiss her and gave the whole thing away. Wasn’t it a shame?”
“I don’t know-” The ethics of such a situation were rather too much for Julian; his eyelids, moreover, were heavy-he was frightfully sleepy. The young girl went on mercilessly:
“I am going to tell you something funny. I was sitting on the staircase once, having a perfectly heavenly time with a man I had just met. We were perfectly absorbed in each other, and never noticed that another pair had seated themselves above us with plates of ice cream in their laps. They became perfectly absorbed in each other too-violently absorbed, I should say. The girl leaned to one side and suddenly sprang up-forgetting the ice cream on her lap. Down it came on the back of my neck! My dress was cut down to a point in the back, and the ice cream went down-down-to the belt of my dress-it actually did! Just imagine what a plate of ice cream would feel like on your spinal column! I had a chill right there on the spot. My teeth chattered, and the two men had to ram their silk handkerchiefs down my back-I made them-to get it all out. They were so scared, too-the poor men ! I mean-I suppose they were afraid I was going to have pneumonia.”
Julian knew not what comment to make on this anecdote and remained dismally silent. He was wondering if he would have to spend the night in the society of this terrible young person and if the ball was likely to last until morning. Immediately afterwards, however, she became absorbed in watching three figures that were approaching, one of them being Cooper Denning. As they drew near she leaned forward with eagerness-trembling, apparently, between hope and fear.
“Marian, are you looking for me at last?”
The palm leaves were pushed apart and revealed a young woman clad in iridescent silk of pale sea-green with a border of white flowers encircling her arms and shoulders. The face was one of great loveliness, and Julian rightly guessed that its chief charm lay in a wonderful radiance of expression.
Julian stood with his back against the fluted pillar, while his companion and her sister hastily exchanged explanations, apologies and ripples of laughter, to which Denning and the other man added dextrous compliments implying that they had been searching vainly for this particular young lady all the evening. Julian was conscious of a vague impression that the face of the sister was not new to him. Had he seen it in his dreams? It appeared to him miraculously as a composite reproduction of all the fair faces that one might imagine adorning the art galleries of the world. Its charm of perfect familiarity-as if it had always existed and was in fact as old as the hills in its eternal freshness and beauty-blended mysteriously with its claim to a positive uniqueness. As he gazed, its likeness to a secretly cherished ideal became more and more pronounced, until suddenly the lovely eyes fell upon him with a glance that was almost one of recognition.
A murmuring of names in which his own was omitted while he learned that of his companion to be Vaughn-her sister addressing her as Gertrude-broke the spell. Miss Vaughn, instantaneously transformed into a nymph of mirth and jollity -somewhat to the loss of her air of qualified prettiness-withdrew, chatting gaily with Denning and his friend, whom it now appeared he had brought up for the sole purpose of effecting an introduction, thus providing a bashful youth and a forlorn maiden with partners for the “German.” She looked back to utter a laughing farewell, and her glance, sweeping past Julian, expressed very distinctly the wish that she might never see him again. It did not ruffle his vanity, because in a second he realized that he was left alone with the beautiful sister whose first name he knew to be Marian; it vibrated in his ear as a name full of music and grace.
His sense that he was not of this new bewildering world into which he seemed to have stumbled from sheer lack of will to direct his steps that particular evening, began to dissolve into a consciousness that just now he was fitting into something that was both harmonious and interesting. Without embarrassment he waited for her to speak.
She spoke first with her eyes-so sweetly and reassuringly that Julian felt drawn at once into intimacy.
“My sister has left me without mentioning your name.” Her voice was like a flute!
“She did not know or care who I was-I could not dance,” laughed Julian.
“Gertrude thinks only of a shoulder to cling to and an arm to whirl her around. You might be the greatest lion in America, but Gertrude would have none of you unless you were willing to dance yourself to pieces for her benefit-but I should like to know what to call you-I am Mrs. Starling.”
Julian told his name, after which it was natural to tell where he came from and as much of his history as he thought necessary for identification. He described his country home in the lake-studded county of New York with an inward smile over his wanton destruction of Cooper Denning’s deceptive little scheme. To his surprise, he found himself elaborating all the reasons that had led him into a choice of what he called rather pathetically his “subterranean profession.” Suddenly looking into her face he saw that it was illumined by a glow of feeling. It was like looking at an exquisitely wrought porcelain vase in which a lighted taper was burning.
She seized the theme that was the mainspring of his life-his enthusiasm for humanity, his desire to diminish sin and suffering-and adorned it with her tender fancies.
Julian abandoned his idea of the flute; her voice was like the chime of silver bells; he almost forgot the meaning of her words while searching for this simile. A sudden inspiration overpowered him.
“I am sure you sing!” He blushed at the irrelevance of his remark. She turned to him with an arch expression.
“And I am sure you love music!” It was almost as if she had sung the words. “You play some instrument-the violin, perhaps ?”
Julian admitted that he had studied music-at one time with intense ardor. His eyes shone with a peculiar light; his dark, clear-cut face looked all at once strikingly handsome as the blood rose to his cheek. Marian’s eyes rested upon him thoughtfully.
“And I sing-a little,” she echoed in a low voice. She grew grave and cast down her eyes, for Julian was gazing at her as if searching for a glimpse of the bird in her throat. He no longer felt sleepy or bored.
Later on they talked of other things, but frequently they came back to the subject of music which both of them loved. Once they stopped talking to listen to the playing of the orchestra, which they quickly agreed was not worth listening to. They did not concern themselves about supper, but walked once or twice through the corridors looking for Gertrude. It was not hard to find her; she was bent on dancing herself and her partners into the early morning hours, and it was a long time before Marian could persuade her that the cock was really about to crow. The sisters finally withdrew into the dressing-room. Julian waited outside where he was bidden to stand, and escorted them later to their carriage. He shut the door softly and watched the carriage roll down the street until out of sight.
As he could not find Denning, he walked home alone, hoping that Denning was already fast asleep in bed. He was a little ashamed at having stayed at the ball so late. As he looked with wide-open eyes at the stars which were still visible through the window, he smiled at the grey dawn. He tried to arrange and critically survey his impressions of the ball, but they merged into one definite charming recollection-beyond which all was confused and of no importance. His thoughts were now touching the deep, vast, incomprehensible verities-they were incommunicable, he believed; they melted rapidly, however, into pleasant dreams and profound slumber.
THE next day, when Julian told the story of his adventures at the ball and repeated somewhat drolly the tragic plaint of Miss Gertrude Vaughn, Denning said, with evident concern:
“That was really too bad-too bad! You should have come to me at once-I would have helped her out sooner, had I known-although my hands were dreadfully full during the early part of the evening.”
“I saw you in a new role,” said Julian, laughing; “the Don Quixote of the ball room, and as romantic a knight errant as myself! It would not do, though, for us to exchange worlds.”
Denning looked down modestly. “I do what I can; I like to see young things enjoy themselves. The trouble with the little Vaughn girl is that she has never been introduced properly. The Vaughns were a good old family in their day, but the sister-well, no one knows the family she married into at all. Of course, the doctor is known professionally-but this is not Philadelphia.”
“Isn’t it possible for Mrs. Starling to shine a little-by her own light?”
“She is beautiful, and she gives charming musicales, I am told. It will do you no harm to go there.” Denning’s tone was indulgent; his smile gleamed with kindliness, albeit he had spoken of social lines more definitely than he cared to; the subject was painful-to be very explicit, was a vulgarity. Within certain prescribed limits, he strove always to be the chivalrous knight which the secret tenderness of his heart had evolved as an ideal of manly excellence. It was a queer little world for a knight to roam in-about as romantic as a Swiss toy village with painted green shavings for trees, and red and white blocks for houses-but such as it was Denning made the most of it and compressed his knightly spirit into the narrow situation without misgiving, with such old-fashioned simplicity and such entire absence of any desire to create an effect, that no one suspected him of anything more than a very commonplace kindness of heart.
A week later he urged Julian to attend a large reception on the opening night of an art exhibition, and as there was a promise of good music and pictures, Julian donned broadcloth and fine linen again with docility.
He began to speculate with sudden interest on the probability of meeting Mrs. Starling during the evening.
He did not meet her until the evening was nearly over. His legs had now become weary with tramping through the galleries, and his head dizzy from looking simultaneously at rows of oil paintings and the faces of a constantly moving crowd of people. The effort produced sensations similar to those experienced in falling from the top of a very high church steeple.
Landing suddenly upon his feet after turning a sharp corner -as if he had really completed a successful somersault-Julian beheld the object of his search seated upon a low divan. Her upturned face was seriously regarding two fair-haired youths who were standing over her in an attitude of adoration. Julian put himself in the line of vision with her eyes and waited for a glance of recognition. It was bestowed with such lighting up of welcome that he did not hesitate to station himself shoulder to shoulder with the adoring youths, whose dissatisfaction became instantly apparent.
Conversation being blocked by the anxiety of the first-comers to monopolize it, Julian stood by Marian’s side in grave contemplation, until she demanded the reason of his silence.
“I have been wondering if I shall ever hear you sing,” he answered, with such simple directness that she felt compelled to give him her undivided attention for three minutes. The brief interview resulted in Marian’s agreeing to sing for him, provided he should call on an evening specified, which he promised to do. He left the reception soon afterwards, and went home to lay his dizzy head on a pillow whereon he tossed sleeplessly until morning.
Julian remembered soon afterward his promise to search for the younger brothers of Martha McPherson. He set about it rather listlessly at first, confining his efforts to mailing a series of inquiries to the institutions which he believed might have received them.
After two weeks of search he succeeded in tracing the elder boy as far as a reformatory; but here his history became a blank, for he had been given away to a farmer in Delaware, and both the boy and the farmer had disappeared. Letters sent to the address of the farmer had been returned with the inscription, “Name unknown.” The other child-the beatific and beautiful “Tahmmy"-he learned had contracted, while in an Orphans’ Home, a contagious disease of the eyes; this had caused him to be transferred to the poorhouse where, after becoming totally blind, he had died of inanition six months later.
Julian knew, not only by report but by personal inspection, that this particular “Orphans’ Home” was always overcrowded.
He had every reason to believe that its inmates were half-starved, yet every year a steady stream of “rescued” children poured-benevolently-from the “Cruelty Society’s” office into this den of wretched, sore-eyed standings.
The little Princes of theTower were smothered quickly. Why, O ye managers, why was it necessary to put out little “Tahm-my’s” eyes with slow, exquisite torture? Julian was in misery as he regarded these victims of philanthropy. His vocation seemed to have turned into a demon’s opportunity. In fact, the charity of a Christian public could hardly be said to have exhibited a much higher sense of responsibility toward these children than their drunken mother had formerly evolved. If left to herself, might she not have done as well? Might she not have risen to the benign tenderness of flinging one child into the mill-grind of a reformatory and the other over the blank wall of a city poorhouse-even though she groped her way without the moral stimulus of adding two more children to the thousands rescued to adorn the pages of an Annual Report? These reflections made Julian very sick at heart. And as for Martha-ah, poor Martha!
He was glad she was far away in the home of a Mennonite widow, who was now instructing her in the duties of motherhood and the mysteries of the multiplication table at a cost to the Association of two dollars per week. He could postpone the painful news that one brother was lost and the other dead until it was time to visit her. In the meantime, Martha, without knowing it, was relieved of the burden of self support, and was given time for moral and mental growth, the arrangement being the result of a vigorous wrestling match between Julian and his conscientious managers, who had not yet lived down a deeply rooted conviction that their first duty to the public was to get something for nothing; the second being to invest a large balance in mortgages at the end of every year. Julian argued that society owed Martha for those early years of toil on a truck farm during which she had borne all the burdens of life. He figured it out in dollars and cents, showing a large balance in Martha’s favor.
“Society,” he explained with cunning plausibility, “had robbed her of her childhood and had then mortgaged her future to cover the cost of her board and lodging while she was yet a child. Her present helpless condition expressed the terms of the mortgage-with the interest added.”
This was convincing, because many of the managers knew a great deal more about mortgages than they did about homeless children-though this does not imply that their knowledge of financial operations was extensive. They felt a renewed confidence in their young secretary who could thus reduce the moral problems of the world to terms comprehensible to a commercial intelligence, and they repeated his remarks to their husbands, who nodded approval with the dull stare that they always bestowed on philanthropic schemes which they felt bound-for some inexplicable reason-to support.
Julian made his plans to call on Marian Starling at the appointed time. As he drew near the house, the light of a street lamp revealed a physician’s sign on the windowsill. He looked at the initials which he was aware were those of Marian’s husband. Her delicate personality did not harmonize in his mind with the idea of a husband-even in the abstract. There was about her a subtle air of detachment which seemed to assert that she belonged exclusively to herself.
He was shown into an apartment at the head of the first flight of stairs, where he found Marian seated by an open piano. Gertrude was also in the room, reading a novel by the light of a rose-shaded lamp. She accosted him, but quickly disappeared, throwing a peculiar glance over her shoulder at her sister to express commiseration for martyrs who are to be subjected to the terrors of boredom; but it awakened no shadow of response in her sister’s face, which remained sweetly and hospitably eloquent.
Julian was aware of the presence of flowers in odd corners, of rare pictures looking down from the walls, of rich rugs under his feet, and of books and portfolios of music lying open and accessible. His eyes fastened immediately on the white-robed figure of Marian advancing to meet him-surely a tender, beautiful incarnation of womanhood, if not a holy priestess at the shrine of music!
Marian greeted him in a low voice, as if shy of revealing the world of expression that lay in her fuller tones. They stood together by the piano before which Julian begged her to be re-seated. He asked her to go on with the song she had been practicing.
There was no reason why Marian should have blushed deeply when she began to sing before this unsophisticated young man. It was not because she feared his criticism or distrusted her control over her highly cultivated voice. She had sung at public concerts without embarrassment. Perhaps she became con scious that she was addressing a nature that might recognize her gift of song as a personal revelation. All her life she had felt that her song had fallen on deaf ears-it was as if she had been offering flowers to the blind, and incense to the insensible-but now it seemed that she was speaking face to face and eye to eye in a language that was understood. All this she explained to Julian afterward. Never before had the exquisite and touching quality of her voice carried such meaning; as it mounted from lower note to higher it seemed to gather up all the pathos of life.
“Behold the sorrows of the universe!” it said. “Behold my secret sorrow-and yours!” it cried to Julian. The lament was not in the words; neither was it wrought by the composer into the phrases of his music; it was the message of the voice itself. As Julian listened, all that he had felt and suffered in his chosen work rushed back to him; humanity’s passionate cry clutched his heart as if he were indeed a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
But when Marian ceased singing and turned her eyes upon him with a rather wistful smile, not as if she sought applause, but rather as if she wanted to escape from the emotions she had raised within herself, the sorrows of the world-the irony of civilization’s boastfully recorded charities-its unnumbered cruelties-faded away like a dream. He held his breath, and as he followed with his eyes the hand she laid upon the bosom of her gown-she was plucking it in an embarrassment that was new to her-he was mindful only of the supreme claims of the individual to escape the universal destiny.
“Music is the speech of the unhappy,” Marian said, suddenly pushing herself from the piano. “The joyousness in it is only the joy we have missed.”
“Few of us know what we have missed,” said Julian; but he knew that he was merely repeating something he had read, and he blushed for the truism.
“Happy are they who never find out!” she answered, looking into his eyes. She asked if he could play an accompaniment. He offered to try, and they began a serenade together. It was as if they had started on a flight through the upper harmonies, and could look down upon strife and sin below, the echoes of which reached their ears without disturbing their enjoyment.
“It is hateful to sing to one’s own accompaniment,” Marian sighed softly.
“It is hateful to play alone,” said Julian, thinking of the cheaply hired piano that stood in his lonely bed chamber. Later in the evening it was disclosed that Julian had studied the violin and flute, though sadly out of practice on either, and Marian knew several lovely trios.
Another engagement was made for another musical evening; and when Julian stepped out into the night he felt with a wave of thankfulness that he had at last returned to a world of art and beauty after a long period of suspended animation underground. He would be glad to return to his work on the morrow, but the discovery that it was unwholesome to remain always buried alive in one’s task was surely significant and prophetic of great results.
THE WEEKS flew by; Julian was now living in two worlds,with but consciousness of a dual personality. In truth he was not much given to self-analysis. He was accustomed to say that he hoped he had a soul, but so far, it had never manifested itself in the way psychologists delight to describe. He did not know that it might not rise into consciousness some day like an old-fashioned, punctilious ghost, whose time for appearing and disappearing had been set between the tolling of the bell and the crowing of the cock; but neither of these signals had as yet been sounded in his experience. Or it might be, he said, that a soul like a healthy organ in a healthy body could give no hint of its existence until affected by some unhappy malady, and by this hypothesis it were better to leave well enough alone.
The champions of moral progress are not often of a subjective cast of mind. When one imagines that one is made use of as a regenerating force, self-love is imperiled; there is little time for self-culture, and the sweet graces that win popularity are too often left to take care of themselves. Whatever charm of personality existed in Julian he had done all in his power to destroy by overwork and anxiety.
But now his youthfulness blossomed suddenly into an ar tist’s intense enjoyment. Into his starved musician’s soul came the joy of sharing things of beauty with a lover of beauty as reverent as himself.
Many evenings were spent in Marian’s parlor by the side of the open piano, and often in the unobtrusive presence of an old music teacher who played a piano accompaniment whenever Julian chose to experiment on the flute or violin. These attempts were sometimes provocative of laughter from Marian; but her tuneful nature-even in its merriest moments-never laughed at, but always with her comrades, and thus added archly to the general harmony. But often they drew from her eyes a quick look of wonder and appreciation, while the grey-haired master gave a nod of approval to many a passage which Julian executed with fire and delicacy.
Life seemed to be arranging itself on a basis of scales, chromatic chords and discords, out of which Julian found himself evolving delicious harmonies. A fatiguing, running accompaniment of heavy work, including much painful scrutiny of pitiful life tragedies, affected him as would a series of complicated arpeggios requiring flying leaps of action, such as Chopin builds for his exquisite and most difficult nocturnes; to his artistic soul this seemed a masterful groundwork, above which now soared the new and lovely melodies of his life-like the song of birds in the tree tops of a dense forest.
Never, however, did he go to Marian’s house unbidden, except on one occasion when he was not admitted, although her voice floated distinctly down the stairway to his ear. His visits were arranged to avoid interference with her other engagements, of which he knew she had many. Thus he avoided an awkward meeting of strangers, and Marian was able to give him her undivided attention for whole evenings. On Sunday he met her often on the street, sometimes walking with a tall, dark man whose deep-set, fierce-looking eyes were fixed upon her face. Julian supposed him to be her husband until he met Dr. Starling soon afterward in his own house. Their intercourse was formal and infrequent. He often heard the doctor’s footsteps about the house, and occasionally his voice addressing patients in tones that were depressingly cold and measured. Marian told him that the doctor had no comprehension of music and was rather annoyed by it than otherwise. So the parlor door was generally closed when the music lovers played their trios.
The tall dark man sank into ignominy when Marian explained that he was a morbid creature who could find nothing in the world worth living for, and was bored to the point of extinction even when she exerted herself heroically to interest him. It was her kindly ambition to bring him to a sense of obligation to the world around him, but so far her efforts had been unsuccessful. But one day she startled Julian by alluding to the bored stranger as her “evil genius,” to which Julian replied playfully that he had supposed her role to be that of an admonitory angel; it was confusing to picture supernatural beings holding such involved relationships! One should eliminate the other.
“Have you never pitied Mephistopheles?” asked Marian looking away from him with a dreamy expression. “Suppose an angel had descended to help that wretched, sin-satiated creature?”
“To fight him, you mean,” said Julian, laughing, but glancing behind her somewhat uneasily, as if half expecting to discover a shadowy form at the back of her chair.
“He is not there,” she said, smiling; “but if he were, this would put him to flight.”
She struck the opening chords of the celebrated largo of Handel’s, and Julian picking up his violin to accompany her, dismissed his uncomfortable fancies. At any rate, the evil genius could not play a note of Handel’s; he would not live alone in boredom if music were within his reach.
In Julian’s other world, it might be said that the shadows were not quite as black as they had been. Emergencies were not as much the order of the day as formerly; misfortunes were to be expected, but it was certainly the part of wisdom to introduce a little philosophy into one’s contemplation of them. The woes of humanity which Julian carried so close to his heart had become a somewhat more adjustable burden;the load could now be shifted about, and there were times when it could be shoved altogether out of sight.
It was odd that among his assistants, Elizabeth should stand forth as the most helpful. More and more Julian began to depend upon her for the performance of difficult tasks. If a runaway boy were to be apprehended, Elizabeth was found to be the one who could be counted upon to return with the boy held fast by the hand. If there were crying children to be soothed, Elizabeth, detached from her writing and sent upstairs, produced a dove-like peace in three minutes. When it was a question of eliciting confidences, it was Elizabeth’s ear that received the pitiful tale or the long-hidden, childish ambition to break down barriers and achieve the impossible. And yet one could not discern what was the Russian maid’s secret of power. So silent-so self-repressed was she-a quick glance of her eyes was often her only response when she arose to execute Julian’s commands. Her stock of sympathy could not be described as abundant; or possibly her ability to express it was weak. In dealing with children she may have found channels of expression unknown to other adult mortals; but when Julian followed her, as he did once through curiosity, he found the same inexpressive Elizabeth; the children were crowding fearlessly against her, but her only form of communication with them seemed to be a series of abrupt questions and answers, such as shy, strange children address to each other when they first meet.
Julian found it often convenient to require heavier tasks of Elizabeth than he would have deemed prudent to ask of any other assistant. She never rebelled, and he thought it probable that she suffered less through her sympathies than the others. She was not given to headaches, she was innocent of hysterics, and she appeared to be indifferent to the length of a day’s service. It was only when summer had set in, that Julian noticed with some remorse that her color was fading and her young face looking thin and tired.
It was the season for holidays, but on broaching the subject, he discovered that Elizabeth’s only plan was to visit a farmer’s wife with whom she had once lived in a state of partial servitude, and whom she personally disliked. Julian then appealed to his mother, and drew such a pathetic picture of Elizabeth’s friendlessness, that the good lady wrote back promptly inviting Elizabeth to spend two weeks with her. This was a charitable offer, and Julian exerted himself to bring about its acceptance. Finding the young Russian disposed to demur, he asserted the authority of a guardian and asked her to prepare a letter of acceptance. He made some corrections; the letter was mailed, and a few days later Elizabeth was put on the train that was to carry her to Julian’s quiet country home in the interior of New York state.
ROLLING hills, little lakes and patches of hop vineyards lay around the white homestead of the Endicotts in a country bearing an Indian name. The house lay between two well-known summer resorts-one sixteen miles off and the other many more.
Sometimes, adventurous coaches filled with gay city folk followed the hilly road past the home of the widow Endicott, whose old-fashioned, profusely filled flower garden beyond the white fence often attracted the. careless wonder of the passengers. Their acquaintance with country people being confined to the heroes and heroines of certain New England stories, their imaginations peopled the smiling landscape with the types which such tales have made familiar. To their minds such cold, dry folk could have nothing in common with the bright flowers which must have sprung up of their own sweet will, in spite of the withering glances cast upon them by the unlovely beings whose homes they adorned.
But it was to escape the barrenness of the New England soil that so many of her sons had settled on the highlands of the two great middle states of the Union. When they transformed the forest-clad slopes into velvety pastures and yellow fields, of grain-audaciously standing on end as if the hills had pitched them forward in a peal of laughter-they had no intention of reproducing the hard conditions of their forefathers.
The pulse of the national life bounded through them warmly and abundantly; the sunniness of their new home planted flowers inside and out; it carpeted the floors and curtained the windows; it built the frequent school house and its cheerful neighbor with the spire pointing a white finger towards a sky that was mirrored in the valleys and on the hills in countless little lakes. Their social life was blossoming into a rustic culture as simple and hardy as the flowers by the roadside. Their newspapers and periodicals were keeping them in touch with the world’s progress; their numerous well-fed horses-home raised, the pride of every household-carried families from village to county seat, from sociable to picnic and camp meeting, and made lectures, concerts and political meetings no longer forbidden fruit to the women.
In their growing fastidiousness, the farmers threw their barns across the road and often to a considerable distance, in striking contrast to the fashion of their Massachusetts cousin, whose buildings are still hugged to his heart as if he fears an unfriendly fate is waiting a chance to rob him.
The sweet, wholesome goodness of Julian’s mother was entirely in keeping with these surroundings. She was as much a product of them as the red-cheeked apples in her orchard, or the aromatic hop vines that climbed tall poles in rectangular profusion across the road. There was nothing about her to indicate the remotest relationship to the grim, angular countrywoman whose bleak countenance we contemplate so wearily in fiction. Equally far removed was she from the vulgar, florid personage who “calkerlates” everything in our literature, from the quality of her pumpkin pies to the limitations of God’s mercy. Is it true, O ye authors, that God can make a sunflower and a clever sort of hollyhock to adorn a country landscape, but that the violet, the narcissus and the rose are to be gathered only in the hot-houses of man, between glaring city walls and sun-baked brick pavements echoing with the tramp of commercial feet?
Not being manufactured to sell to the magazines, but having grown up at random, as it were, with no one to select a dialect for her from the pages of a successful novel, Julian’s mother appeared at middle age as a cheery, soft-eyed gentlewoman with an impulsive manner toward friends and a shy air of reserve toward strangers, in whose presence she blushed and fluttered like a timid school girl. It is true that her vocabulary was limited. She was accustomed to say that she knew the meaning of many long words when she came across them in reading that she presumed she wouldn’t feel acquainted with if she were to meet them in a spelling book; but this only proved that she read intelligently in spite of a limited scholarship. Nearly every other day brought a part of her library by mail-a bi-weekly from the great city newspapers, or a Farmer’s Home Journal, or a Floral Cultivator, a Poultry Fancier, or a local record of events in the county. All of these she diligently perused in the evening by the light of the hanging-lamp. A system of exchange with neighbors brought other periodicals within reach, so that her stock of reading material was really extensive, though it was not exactly academic in style, and did not include a knowledge of life based chiefly on disproportion. It may be, however, as profitable to study an improved diet for chickens or a new scourge for rose bugs, as to contemplate the lives of impossible young persons whose sole business in life being to make love, do it so badly that five hundred pages are too few to tell the sad mess they make of it.
Julian’s father had possessed the tastes of a naturalist and he had acquired during his lifetime considerable skill as a taxidermist. Julian remembered him as a thoughtful, spare man, whose kind, observant eyes saw more in the fields than his prospective crops. The house was still full of his treasures; motionless squirrels cracked nuts from corner shelves in bed room and parlor; beavers, lizards, raccoons, robins, woodpeckers and owls crowded every closet and book shelf, their glass eyes staring a steady surprise at the intruder.
When Elizabeth arrived, she spent much of her time examining these curiosities, and she found a strange delight in stroking the furry backs and shining plumage of wild things that no longer started from her in terror. There were drawers full of Indian relics and cases of beetles and butterflies, carefully numbered and named, and the widow was greatly pleased at Elizabeth’s notice of them. While she was busily spelling out the names, the widow was studying the little maid with something of the loving care that her husband had been used to bestow on a new specimen from his fields. She was seeking not to classify but to understand Elizabeth. In her eyes it was no fault to be silent, for she was accustomed to the presence of dumb creatures. Elizabeth was an undomesticated young thing and perhaps might be wooed into nearness by much the same methods one uses toward a wood pigeon. All the young Russian’s life had been spent among strangers-with them, yet not of them-a member of the household, but not of the home. But as she now felt the difference in her surroundings, she became more inscrutable than ever.
The widow planned little excursions for her, and when Julian arrived a few days later she often sent them away to seek entertainment together. But Elizabeth’s shy dark eyes still continued to make an appeal which the widow was unable to understand.
Back of the house and at the end of the orchard there was a little lake, nameless except for its association with an old hermit, who many years ago had lived in a cabin by the water’s edge. It was a solitary piece of water; Julian’s boat was almost the only one to be found on its shores except when the fisher men came in the early fall to catch bass.
Julian had been rowing Elizabeth one afternoon from one end of this lake to the other. He was glad to rest his oars while she reached after water lilies that were growing near.
Elizabeth arranged her flowers and Julian fixed his eyes across the water on a distant meadow in the center of which an elm tree reared its feathery outlines against the sky. It was a familiar landmark; he had often wondered at its suggestion of loneliness and poetic feeling. Like himself, it seemed to have strayed from its fellows; it stood as if lost in spiritual contemplation, between earth and sky. But just now Julian failed to notice the beauty of this tree; in fact the whole landscape was like a curtain that shut off a picture on which his thoughts constantly dwelt.
Beyond the curtaining landscape lay the real scene of his thoughts-a conventional garden with a narrow white path leading between heavily laden rose bushes to the low bay window of a country house. It was Marian’s country home, a few miles out of the city, where Julian had spent many happy hours before dragging himself away to visit his mother. There, on a rustic bench, he could distinctly see the form of Marian-now with the moonlight falling on her face. Her voice-her exquisite speaking voice-was in his ear. But why should the thought of that spot, the remembrance of the voice and even the scent of the roses cause him an anguish to which every added detail brought an extra pang?
Julian’s mother an hour before had alluded playfully to his bringing home a young wife to share their simple interests. The words had shocked him inexpressibly. A wife-a stranger-to intrude into his life-and Marian left standing alone in her garden with a smile on her lips-what a revolting thought! A step forward saw Marian revealed as if by a flash of lightning-in his arms as the bride of his mother’s fancy! An impossible vision-an unholy dream-he knew it to be.
In anguish, Julian broke up this tableau of his unruly imagination, and saw himself-still in sight of the garden-making one of a lingering procession of sorrowful figures whose wistful eyes were fixed like his on a beloved, unattainable object. Had he then joined the ranks of the unfortunates who share the hopeless passion of the Petrarchs, the Tassos, the Dantes of history? As he gazed longingly at his rose garden and its occupant, he caught his breath sharply and turned his eyes away from the hills and meadow, beyond which his boyish soul saw stretching out before him an appalling fate.
His strained look fell suddenly upon Elizabeth’s face-he was startled by its expression. She was looking at him with the same intense absorption that was in his own eyes when they were gazing across the lake. Her young face was full of pain, as if indeed she saw that same procession which had filled his soul with dismay. Quickly their eyes met; they both looked away. Julian’s heart leaped with kindness towards the desolate young creature. He exerted himself to distract her thoughts.
“How decidedly grown up you look this summer,” he said with an effort at brightness and careless of what he said. “The next thing will be that I shall be asked to give you away in marriage-what a dreadful possibility, Elizabeth!”
“Do the waifs ever marry?” she asked with what seemed to him a rather unnatural gravity. “The managers say they are not to have lovers-it’s one of their rules that I copied in typewriting.”
Julian frowned a little. “While they're very young and inexperienced such rules are necessary, but of course we know that they cannot remain children all their lives.” It was a point of etiquette, but an exceedingly tiresome one, to assume that all the views of the managers were his own.
“But they remain waifs all their lives-nobody ever forgets thatI Nobody ever will forget as long as I live that I was one of the waifs!”
Julian was startled at the energy of her tone. Her face was as pale as the wet lillies in her hand.
“I thought you had outgrown that morbid fancy, Elizabeth,” he answered reproachfully. “You are self-supporting and capable of making your way anywhere. I-that is, the Association-have advised your employment in the office because we wish to stand between you and the cold world a little longer. We are very proud of you-you mustn’t forget that, Elizabeth -you do us infinite credit.”
“I ought to be put in a case,” she interrupted with an odd, shy smile, that had only the barest suggestion of mirth in it. “I know that’s why they want me there-to point me out to strangers as one of the results of their work.”
“What nonsense!” Julian cried half angrily; but he could not contradict her because he knew it to be true.
“Why should you look upon it as a degradation to have been under our care? It has been our greatest happiness to do the little we have done! You have brightened our existence; why can’t you be generous enough to accept what we have given as though it came from your parents?”
In his spirit of self-abnegation, Julian had schooled himself to credit all his performances to the Association-which was not as great a hardship as shouldering all their blunders-but this transfer of feeling and sentiment to an impersonal organization was stretching a transparent fiction to ridiculous limits, and Elizabeth evidently felt it to be so. She raised her head a little and looked at him with an air of childish defiance.
“I could never have had eighteen parents!”
“Eighteen? Oh, yes-I see; but why stop there? If you count the managers separately, you must also count the twelve trustees, and add to them the twelve hundred regular subscribers and the six hundred or so irregular contributors-eighteen hundred and thirty-and I may add my humble, unworthy self, may I not?-making eighteen hundred and thirty-one parents. Well, I agree with you, that is rather a cumbersome lot to regard with filial devotion!”
“Well, you see, then,"-Elizabeth looked at him with her queer little wistful smile, ignoring his attempt to be merry. “You see they can’t be the-same-as parents.”
“No, not precisely the same, you child. But if we do our best, Elizabeth, to make up for our unhappy mongrel, plural condition, may we not receive just a scrap of consolation from the fact that you are a little better off than you would have been without us?” He bent toward her, but the “us” evidently hurt her.
She turned her face toward the meadow and looked steadily at the elm tree. Julian looked at it also, and as he gazed he slowly forgot his part in the conversation as the overwhelming pain of his thoughts returned to him. As he looked at the tree, it appeared to him strangely as an emblem of suffering-almost as significant as the cross itself! In some strange manner, the elm seemed to communicate from one to the other the sorrow and loneliness that were in the hearts of these two young persons. Julian turned upon Elizabeth his sad eyes. Elizabeth suddenly faced him with quivering lips.
“I cannot love the whole eighteen hundred and thirty-one-not even if you tell me I must,” she broke out passionately. The poor child was trembling with suppressed feeling.
“I never expected you to, Elizabeth; I was only making a very sorry jest at your expense. Forgive me, I know-I understand all that you have lost and suffered.” He was very much stirred and deeply ashamed of his callousness in having wounded her.
“I am not ungrateful, but I am grateful only to you, for it is you who have done everything for me. I could love you as I would my parents, but the others-never!”
“I know well enough what the human heart craves,” Julian answered, looking at her with a kind of dejected seriousness. “I know well enough what you have missed. God grant that you may find something someday to take its place. He surely has that compensation in store for you.” His eyes took in her neat, graceful figure as he spoke, her delicate profile with its background of dark heavy hair-but he had already said more on the subject of lovers than was discreet in addressing a waif-so he fell back on more commonplace consolation.
“You have my warmest gratitude for the assistance you give me in the office; nobody can fill your place there, Elizabeth. You are my real right hand. Is it any wonder that I do not want you to escape from the clutch of the eighteen hundred and thirty-one parents ? No, not for a long while yet!”
Elizabeth smiled with joy, a faint color warming her cold face into positive beauty.
“You do not understand what it is to be a waif, but I am willing to remain one if I can be a help to you. I am not going to mind so much being called a waif in the future. I will remember that you want me to be one, for of course I shall always have to be one while I stay in the office.”
“It seems best for you to stay there,” he answered with some faint appreciation that her spirit of self-sacrifice was too great for the occasion-too great for her own good-too great for the development of that so-called “self-reliance” which philanthropy affects to cultivate in the minds of the poor-yet had he not been trying to force from her an acknowledgment of her dependence on the good intentions of the Association?
“How difficult it is to preserve just the right attitude toward the object of our benevolence,” he thought; “and how much more difficult it must be for the object to attain the point of view acceptable to the philanthropist!”
He felt uncomfortable and hypocritical under Elizabeth’s sweet glance of gratitude; he took for granted that it expressed only gratitude. Her air of childlike purity and candor forbade any other interpretation, and no other occurred to him. To distract her thoughts and his own, he rowed her to another part of the lake, where she was soon busy selecting a variety of pink water lillies which called from her ardent exclamations of delight. Never had he seen Elizabeth so free from self-restraint, so gaily happy, so much like other pretty young girls as she now appeared to him-so little like a waif!
As he observed her with a kind of melancholy interest in which his own pain was not wholly forgotten, he resolved that this shy, lovely, young girl should have all the chivalrous protection that he could throw around her, and surely she must remain in that office under his own watchful gaze, for how else could he protect her thoroughly? In fact, she had no other background than that afforded by the Association. It was an artificial setting for her young life, but she was cut off from all natural relationships and this was all that was left to her. Moreover, out of it grew all his rights as her guardian. It was pleasant to think of himself as her guardian and he was glad that she had at last accepted the situation as the best one for her, under the circumstances.
That afternoon, Julian harnessed up the horses and took his mother and Elizabeth to a Sunday school picnic in a neighboring woods. They sat upon roughly-made plank benches and listened to the usual singing of hymns, extemporaneous prayers and addresses. The proceedings were tiresome enough to Julian. The speakers said the same things over and over, and said them badly. Their phraseology was as loose and ill-fitting as their clothes, he thought. It was remarkable how badly country people contrived to dress. He looked around on the assembly and contrasted them with the civilians he had just left. If all their clothing were thrown into a heap and each man were to pick out a suit that fitted him, no doubt in the general exchange many would appear to better advantage. That stout man over yonder, for instance, would look comparatively well if dressed in his right-hand neighbor’s suit, for his own was unquestionably too small for him.
Julian happened to glance toward the platform and looked into the familiar, kindly old face of his father’s life-long friend and neighbor, Israel Hilton, who had been speaking for some minutes and was now looking directly into Julian’s eyes. The old man was giving utterance to the identical thoughts that were occupying Julian’s mind at that moment.
“I do not want to take up your time, friends, with apologies for my poor speaking. You all know how bad it is; but you're used to it like you are to the sight of my Sunday clothes, and you can make allowances for you know what I am trying to get at, else you wouldn’t have asked me to speak. But when we have among us a young man who’s used to city ways, even though he’s no stranger to any of us, then my tongue is bound to stumble more than common, and I don’t seem to get hold of any words that fit the idea any more than this old suit, that lies in the camphor chest all week, fits me when I get into it for an occasion like this.” He looked about him with a pathetic half smile. His flushed, weather-beaten, finely-cut old face became suddenly illumined. He looked again at Julian, his blue eyes bright with feeling.
“But I'm done with my foolish apologies; they're the token of the love we bear ourselves-we poor old farmers ! Ah! we're a selfish, cold-blooded set! There’s no love for humanity in our hearts. An’ right now I'm lookin’ into the face of one who went out from us a few years ago a mere boy, an’ made his way to that great City o’ Sin, an’ took right holt an’ wrestled with wrong and spread love and joy into human hearts. You all know who I mean. It’s him you want to hear from, not me. We're all proud of him. We know his goodness is the genuine article; for we know he comes by it honestly through his father an’ mother. Step right up here, Julian Endicott! You that knows how to turn the love of God into the love of man, you step up here an’ tell us old fellows how to get away from the selfishness of Cain. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ we says to ourselves. That ain’t what Julian says! Come up here an’ let the beautiful holy light from the good works of the Good Samaritans stream into our selfish hearts! With tears in his eyes the feeble old farmer waved to Julian to ascend the platform and reluctantly Julian obeyed.
He was not embarrassed at the thought of addressing this rural multitude, for they were old acquaintances from the days of his early childhood. He stood in awe of none of them. Yet he hung his head as he faced an audience palpably glowing with the expectation of hearing noble deeds recounted, an exalted altruism preached to them as a new gospel. He leaped to the amiable determination that he would not lie to these simple-minded rustics.
He began to speak quickly, his words coming easily with gestures natural and simple. Half conscious was he that he might have made a success of any profession that afforded scope for his oratorical powers-his mother had always prayed that he might be a clergyman-why, then, had he chosen the trade of professional philanthropy? The hateful term was a drag to his thoughts-nay, it was filling his throat and threatening to choke him. He hardly knew what he was saying, so filled was he with self-disgust. He came to a stop and his eyes fell on the upturned, devoted faces of his mother and Elizabeth. He looked into the face of the young girl and read therein a poem of tender reverence and gratitude. No speech of hers had ever been half as articulate as that upward look. It touched and thrilled his foolish pride, his manly egotism, and then its white flame of faith burned his soul into truthfulness. So he went on:
“Mr. Hilton has spoken of my vocation in exalted terms. Well, I am going to tell you the truth about it. In the city, there are the two extremes of the rich and the poor, as far apart as the poles. The rich want to help the poor, but they can’t even touch them with the tips of their fingers. Now what am I? A connecting link-a creature hired by the rich to administer the personal touch of which you hear so much cant in charitable circles. Friends, my part is a humble one! I distribute another man’s bounty with all the Christian grace I can command. Isn’t that a noble vocation? But if I am ever of any service to humanity I shall owe it to this community in which I grew up-seeing charity administered by the charitable themselves and not by hirelings; seeing men judged by their personal sacrifices and not by the amount of money they contribute to a cause. All my best inspirations come from these scenes, so do not depreciate your simple lives to me! I do not know what would become of me if I had not the remembrance of them in my heart! I want to be worthy of your friendship always. This-this will be the light on my path when I return! The only light to keep me from straying after false gods!”
Julian sprang abruptly from the platform to the ground. He told his mother in a hurried aside that he was going to look after the horses-it was time to feed them-and he withdrew into the woods some distance from the crowd, conscious that he left a mystified and disappointed audience behind him.
After the horses were fed and watered, Julian stood stroking their noses and patting their necks. Suddenly he struck his hand forcibly against the rough bark of the tree to which the horses were tied. The action and the hurt relieved the tension of his thoughts, for he smiled grimly at his bruised hand and went on stroking the horses’ noses.
“Why did I not tell them the truth? All my zeal for humanity is centered in her-in Marian-another man’s wife! Good God! what a situation! I wanted to shout it out to the crowd yonder. I feel as if it were written on my forehead in letters of fire. How strange that no one knows it! No-not even she herself; she shall never know it!”
A band of young people rushed forward and dragged Julian back with them to partake of lemonade and cake, and to share their country games. They treated him as if he were a superior being, which increased his desperate shamefacedness. He was glad when the time came to hitch the horses to his mother’s wagon and start for home.
The next morning Julian told his mother that he believed manual labor to be the best cure for an overtaxed brain, and he plunged into haymaking with something of the zest of his boyhood days. He put on a blue gingham shirt, drew on overalls that he had not worn for years, and pulled on a pair of farmer’s boots in which he could ford a stream without wetting his feet. Elizabeth eyed with wonder this transformation of the young secretary into a field hand.
“We farmers look better in our working clothes,” he said, in indifferent response to her shy comments. “It takes a leisure class to look well in its Sunday suit. In fact, one needs to make a business of Sunday clothes and wear them every day in the week to look as well in them as they do in the city.” His neat, well-fitting civilian’s suit seemed to bear a certain relation to his morbid self-consciousness, his newly attained conviction of sin. He chose to regard it with scorn as it hung from a nail in his bed chamber.
His mother rejoiced at the brownness of his cheeks and the return of his appetite. When she laid before him the problems which had been accumulating for his consideration for several months he solved them with the same off-hand readiness that had always characterized his judgment of such matters. It was forever to be relied on; many a Gordian knot of buttermaking, sheepraising, seeding, planting and harvesting was cut during their homely evening talks. Yet how he knew all these things so unerringly was one of the mysteries over which she had long pondered.
The day came for Elizabeth’s return to the city, and Julian and his mother drove with her to the station. Elizabeth’s shyness had worn off to the extent of returning a girlish smile for the gentle smile of the widow. When the latter took possession of her hand as she sometimes did when they sat side by side, Elizabeth suffered it to remain and returned the pressure timidly.
She had been very silent in the carriage and when Julian lifted her out she turned a cold, pale cheek to his mother, who kissed her good-bye. Julian called to her to follow him as the train was in sight. She obeyed, but stopped suddenly to look back; she hesitated, and in an instant was at the widow’s side with her arms around her neck. Her young heart was as lonely as the steppes of Russia, but she was used to loneliness. What spring of feeling within her had given way to cause such passionate tears? She was still sobbing when Julian led her away and placed her on board the train. He was touched, of course, by her emotion. He returned to his mother as the train moved slowly off. They both watched it sadly as it vanished with Elizabeth into the distant hills.
WHEN Julian returned to the city he was inexorably determined to break away from the enchanting comradeship which he now saw was fatal to his peace of mind. But his resolution was soon modified by a subtle change in their relationship. Marian was beginning to look to him for advice and sympathy, the dependence of her attitude placing him in the position of intending to remove a support from a beloved object in a selfish desire to save himself future suffering. The brutality of this thought smote him deeply. It was not so much that Marian desired his companionship as that she seemed to stand in positive need of help that he alone could give. Her intense spiritual isolation was indicated by her silence concerning her married life, and by her averted looks when forced to mention him whose name she bore.
“My husband thinks differently,” she would sometimes say with a tremor in her voice; and Julian knew then that he was touching the edge of a tragedy, the pages of which he was for bidden to read. But they both knew well that they were themselves the leading characters in the tragedy which was hastening day by day toward its sorrowful climax.
Autumn came, but the breath of summer still lingered. Julian was spending what would probably be his last evening in the garden of her country home, for it would soon be too cold to sit out of doors.
“Come, my shepherd, play me a merry tune,” Marian had said as they seated themselves. Julian forced a gay tune from his flute, but stopped in the middle of it.
“It’s not in this flute to be merry to-night. It must be the moonlight that affects its temper. It’s ridiculous for an instrument to be so sensitive to light and sound, isn’t it?”
It was one of their little affectations to ascribe variations of feeling to their instruments instead of to themselves-a hidden way of communicating the secrets of their own souls.
“Let me try it,” said Marian, taking the flute in her hands. She began to blow through it, but succeeded in producing only a few discordant notes.
“Surely it is unhappy; speak out, you poor wooden thing! Oh, make it speak and tell its miseries!”
“That’s just what ails it,” replied Julian, taking it from her-"that it cannot speak out-and you force it to be merry when it is heavy hearted; its thoughts are too sad for speech often enough.”
“But not for music-it is the language God has left us,” Marian answered in a low voice as she picked up a guitar which she had bought for an out-of-door accompaniment, and began a song in a minor key. It swelled into a passionate appeal as her voice rose toward a clear, high note.
Julian had started to accompany her, but he soon stopped. He sat motionless during her singing with his head bent low. Whatever his thoughts were he did not intend to communicate them. He had made up his mind that a lifetime of anguish was before him, but at that moment duty seemed to be demanding a sacrifice greater than that of life itself.
When Marian stopped singing, her hands dropped to her side with the air of exhaustion that betokens a broken spirit.
“I am not like you-I cannot live down my own thoughts ! Oh, my friend-Julian-are we placed in this world only to test our power of suffering? Is life to go on like this forever?”
The young man started to his feet at the sound of his Christian name from her lips; his emotion was so great that he could hardly speak.
“Don’t-don’t!” he stammered, his self-accusing spirit wringing the words from him in defiance of his longing to hear her say more.
“You think it wrong for me even to think these thoughts that are killing me? What would you have me do?”
She spoke not bitterly, but with an appealing mournfulness that went straight to his heart. Her white-robed figure drooped toward him as if it were too frail to brave alone the blows that fate had in store for her. His longing to comfort her became suddenly the overwhelming command of a duty unperformed-the duty that the strong owe to the weak; surely it transcends all earthly conventionalities!
“It grieves my very soul to see you suffer,” he whispered, taking her hand. Tears were shining in his eyes; she saw them as she looked into his face.
“We must be brave-we must pray for strength to do what is right,” he faltered, still holding her hand.
“How can I tell what is right? I am in darkness!” came from her lips in a quiver of pain, as if it were the cry of her soul. She moved a step forward and swayed as if about to fall. Julian caught her in his arms. He turned his face to the sky.
“Marian, there is a God in heaven-beloved-look up!” He hardly knew what he said.
The stars were shining down upon them with a peculiarly solemn light. Julian drew a long breath, and put the clinging form gently from him, although her hand still remained within his. He began to speak with a strange, quiet eloquence.
“In the fulfillment of God’s mysterious purpose, we have been brought together-like two children-living in paradise-thinking no evil, created to love one another, but condemned to live apart! Marian, our love according to the laws of man is a sin-but in the sight of God it is-it must be-a sanctification, or else why should He have put it in our hearts?”
“A sanctification?” she repeated softly.
“Yes, for are we not spirits? And is not love immortal? It will lift us above earthly temptation; surely it will give us patience to wait until our souls can come together-sometime -somewhere.”
“When the stars lose their light, dearest, for us-I suppose-when the morning of another world dawns.”
“Then the light will have gone out of your eyes, too,” she whispered.
“Never while you live,” he answered, quietly. “I do not ask much, Marian; the earth seems small to me because you are on it and I share it with you. I ask only to see your face sometimes-to know that you are here.”
“And you will be-where?” she asked dejectedly.
“What does it matter where? You know what is in my heart. I can see the future stretching out before us-my own life as sad and lonely as that star up there-the symbol of self-abnegation-but Oh, my God-why was it made like this?” He had begun with the ecstasy of a poet, but the grief and passion of the lover suddenly overcame him and he covered his face with his hands.
In a moment, however, Julian steadied himself and went on. The poet had surely triumphed. His young soul believed itself to be trampling temptation under foot. He spoke with rapture; he held a mystic ideal before her; their love was to be the very spirit of renunciation; only dimly was she able to perceive through it all, the suppressed passion of the man.
“Perhaps God will deal mercifully with us-pray to Him, Marian, to heal our pain,” he concluded brokenly.
“I will,” she answered faintly, and turned to clasp his hand as she withdrew into the deep recess of the low bay window.
“Is it to be good-bye-like this? Come nearer, Julian!” He stepped close to the window and knelt at her feet. She kissed him on the forehead and disappeared. The kiss seemed to seal up his happiness and his youth, and to dedicate him to a future of eternal loneliness and sorrow.
The exaltation of the moment vanished with the withdrawal of Marian. The night grew chilly; the stars began to fail in their inspiration. What nonsense had he been uttering in the face of this tragedy that was breaking their hearts and wrecking their lives?
As he reached the station and waited for the train which was to bear him to the city, he found to his surprise that it was still early in the evening. The last two hours had compassed an eternity of feeling, but life was carrying forward its burden of monotonous detail with the same punctilious care of the minutes and seconds as before-as if it mattered, as if life could ever be measured by the sun-dial again! “Ah, not when the sun eternally sets upon the horizon of one’s hopes-as it has set upon mine,” thought Julian.
As the train drew up, a tall dark form issued from it and passed Julian swiftly on the platform. He caught a glimpse of the man’s face. It was that of the moody stranger whom Marian had once described as her evil genius.
JULIAN spent the next three days in alternate moods of delirious happiness because he knew now that Marian loved him, and sickening depression over the ruin which this fact seemed to make of his life, his aspirations-his obligations to the moral law.
He was then astonished to receive a note from Gertrude Vaughn asking him to call upon her at her sister’s home in the city, the house being open. The request was so urgent that Julian felt a vague alarm. In his haste to obey Gertrude’s summons he swallowed only a mouthful of lunch and hurried up-town that he might find Gertrude at home shortly after the mid-day meal.
As he reached the steps, the door opened for Dr. Starling to pass out and enter his carriage, which stood by the curb stone. Julian bowed without looking at him, but he was aware of a haggard, downcast face passing by, and some strange instinct told him in that brief second of the presence of mental suffering.
He did not wait long in the darkened parlor to which the summer outfit of linen covering gave a curiously unfamiliar look. The piano was closed and the music folios put away. The curtains had been taken down and the room was bare and cheerless.
Gertrude entered quickly. Her face was pale and showed traces of recent tears.
“I sent for you,” she began hastily, omitting all formal greeting, “because you saw my sister Monday night and I wanted to ask you if-if she said anything about her plans-about what she was going to do.”
Julian blushed deeply. The question seemed to refer to sacredly cherished memories locked securely within his breast and which he felt must be as carefully guarded within Marian’s. “Your sister is surely able to inform you herself in regard to her plans,” he answered coldly. “She did not mention them to me. Why do you question me about her? Is she ill?” His voice became suddenly sharp with anxiety.
“Ill!” repeated Gertrude, looking at him in amazement. “Don’t you know what has happened-has no one told you? It is in the papers this morning!'’ She clasped her hands tightly across her eyes as if to shut out a terrible picture.
Julian crossed the floor and stood in front of her.
“Is she dead?” he asked quietly. “Worse-far worse than dead!"Gertrude screamed.” Read this!” She put into his hands a scrap cut from a morning newspaper.
It was a cold-blooded statement of what appeared to be the most damnable calumny he had ever read in his life. In the language of the scandal-loving press, Mrs. Starling had left her husband’s home on Tuesday morning to “elope with the son of a well-known millionaire.” Her husband would undoubtedly begin proceedings for a divorce.
Julian sank into a chair. Of the brief interview that followed he retained afterwards only a confused recollection. Gertrude’s reply to his passionate questions and denunciations was a rambling, incoherent lament over the wreck that her sister had made of both their lives.
They had been looking forward to a happy winter; there were to have been dinners and receptions for her benefit; “Victor” was to have given them a box at the opera, and a supper on the opening night-but now everything was in chaos. They could never appear together again in public, although Marian had written a letter (which she handed Julian to read) intimating that all the conventionalities had been observed in her flight; she was merely visiting a friend until the divorce should be obtained, and meanwhile “Victor” was calling upon her only in a formal way. She begged Gertrude to use her influence with her husband to secure the divorce speedily.
“As if I could influence him!"moaned Gertrude. “As if all the servants did not know that Victor had seen Marian Monday evening and that he met her the next morning at the station. As if all the world did not know every circumstance already!”
“And here I am,” she sobbed, “left in her deserted husband’s house with nowhere to go and nothing before me-absolutely nothing!”
Julian, staring distractedly at the limp figure in the arm chair, listened with agonized attention. When would she begin to clear up the mystery of that lying attack on the fair name of her sister?
What was she saying? Her selfish reproaches were the blackest accusations; she admitted everything that could condemn her sister’s conduct. Julian in a frenzy demanded to know who “Victor” was.
He was the dark stranger whom Julian had passed on the platform of the station on Monday night, and whose “evil genius” had been shadowing Marian’s path for many months.
In the eyes of the world it was a frightful picture of ruin, deception and callousness to duty. But Julian saw only that influences which he could not understand but which seemed allied to demoniacal possession had caught up the fair form of Marian and flung her into a whirlpool of evil. Had she then lost her reason? What was the nature of that “influence” which had done such terrible work? He was dazed as he recalled her words and actions on the fateful evening in the garden. It was impossible to reconcile them with what had happened since-nay, with what must have happened later that same evening.
Good God! Could he believe that Marian, after kissing him on the forehead, had received half an hour later another visitor at whose bidding she had made arrangements to forsake home and honor the following morning? It was impossible-yet it was true. He was unable to condemn; he sat stunned before the facts presented to him.
A maddening desire to escape from the sounds of Gertrude’s thin, complaining murmur of talk seized him. He staggered to the door without looking at her, and fled from the house as from a tomb.
The September sunlight was very bright on the street, but it cast at his feet black shadows that looked like demons and vampires in his path. Before his eyes a beautiful world had been given over to the devil. Goodness and purity were words without sense; the powers of darkness had proven themselves victorious over the children of light; the fairest of the daughters of light had thrown herself to the lions in the amphitheatre of the social world!
FIVE months passed by. A great international tragedy had taken place. The battleship “Maine” was blown up in the harbor of Havana. There was an immediate prospect of war; the nation, while breathing hard, was struggling for calmness; but everyone knew this was merely preparatory to striking a blow.
Julian resolved that if war should come he would offer himself as a volunteer. In all ages, men had found on battlefields the one solace that exists for broken hearts-the kind of solace that a red-hot iron administers to the bite of a mad dog. His work for humanity had lost its power to bind his thoughts; he craved an overpowering distraction; and lastly, he declared to himself that he had always sympathized with the Cubans in their struggle for liberty.
During those long months Julian had been summoning his spirit before a tribunal which sat in perpetual session; with perverse ingenuity he had been pleading a defense of Marian which carried with it an indictment of himself. The incidents of his acquaintance with her now assumed the proportions of a tragedy, in which she appeared to him as driven, persecuted-overwhelmed by an unhappy destiny.
He recalled her appeal to him on the evening when he last saw her. He remembered the strange dejection of her replies which grew fainter as he insisted with the rapture of the idealist that he could find happiness in any world that held both himself and her. The world which had seemed so small to him no doubt appeared as illimitable space to her. His mood took on a bitter self-reproach. Marian at that moment was appealing to him to save her, and he had cast her from him when she stood alone on the edge of a precipice, looking down. Might she not have thrown herself as willingly on a sacrificial altar if he had so commanded? But he had given her no word of guidance-no help of any kind.
There was a chance for his mood to turn into derision of her pitiable weakness; but Julian shut the door of his mind on this view of the question. Pity of the most tender and exalted kind sat in the judgment seat of his soul when the image of Marian rose before it.
In some way he believed he might have saved her; he knew not how, but his confidence in his own integrity was strong and conclusive. He might have protected her, had he tried, from the “influence” that was pursuing her with such malignancy. The being to whom she had decided to link her future had now lost personality and become a mere personification of evil, and as Julian contemplated the ugly abstraction his jealous anger died to the ground.
He knew now that his words during their last interview had been uttered in the secret faith that their lives were really intertwined and could not be separated. He had meant her to understand that the spiritual bond between them, invisible to all the world outside, was destined to hold them together, mysteriously, irrevocably! Marian was expected to read between the lines of his elevated discourse the sweet, vague hope which inspired his own soul and gave it courage to face the future, but she had not so read. The poor child had accepted her fate literally as he had spoken it; she had succumbed to the unutterable horror and loneliness of her position. Thus had she fallen a victim to the terrible power which had not scrupled to drag her into the depths of misery and dishonor.
So argued Julian from one long day to the next; he completed his moral surrender by lapsing into a condition of hopeless, irrepressible longing to behold once more the object of his thoughts. Would she have fled with him? was his secret question. At intervals he tried conscientiously-desperately-to bury himself again in his work.
The “Association” was now exhibiting a praiseworthy activity in opening its lecture hall for a series of profound discussions on Human Brotherhood. The chairman of each committee in charge of each department was to deliver an address on the subject from her special point of view, and afterwards there were to be discussions in which a fashionable, feminine and generally youthful audience was expected to take part.
Julian had been present at these meetings only when required to address them himself. He was frequently out of the city, and his work left him little time for theoretical sociology. During the week of a heavy blizzard, however, he found himself unable to carry out his plans in any direction, and his restless spirit drove him one day into the lecture room while an animated debate was in progress.
The audience was small in number but great in enthusiasm. The fair, fur-wrapped students who had braved the storm-swept streets sat gazing at the matronly chairman with rapture in their eyes; they laid brilliantly flushed cheeks against their costly fur collars and made of themselves pretty pictures of soulful womanhood. When called upon to express their opinions on the views of former speakers, their speech and bearing were at once elevated, earnest and parliamentary. Dogmatic assertion was a bugbear each was determined to avoid. Their attitude of devotion-not bigotry-to a lofty, disinterested ideal had almost the effect of a religious inspiration. It was heightened possibly by a soft light falling on their faces through stained-glass windows; it was indeed both aesthetic and convincing.
Julian, sitting in a corner near the presiding officer’s desk, looked and listened in dull wonder. The sympathetic voices, the refined pronunciation, the delicate phraseology, and the soft appeals of “Does any one agree with me?” or “I should like to know the feeling of the meeting on this point,” fell pleasantly and persuasively on his ear. It made a pleasing contrast to a meeting he had attended the night before of Single Tax enthusiasts, where everybody disagreed with everybody else, “on principle"-where each man could see nothing but his own principles violated in every verbal change suggested for a petition that was being drawn up for the reformation of society. Such radicals were far too much in earnest to be entertaining.
Julian was more than ever impressed by the extraordinary aptitude of the female mind for organization. Had he ever before thoroughly appreciated the abilities of his lady managers in this direction? He resolved now to listen more attentively. What was the point under discussion? He had not quite discovered it, but evidently it bore some relation to the noble theme of universal brotherhood-a phrase that was for ever floating on the air within the walls of the “Association,” for as his managers repeatedly said, it was the underlying basis of their work.
Accordingly, when the next speaker rose from the audience to turn toward the Chair a young, chiseled face beneath a dark purple hat covered with waving plumes, she commanded Julian’s undivided attention.
“A point I should like to emphasize is one that has not been touched upon yet. No doubt it is on the program, but will the Chair give me permission to mention it now?”
The chairman nodded graciously.
“It is one that troubles me a great deal in visiting the poor; I think I really need to hear the subject discussed thoroughly. Please tell me if any other student in sociology feels as I do. When in the homes of the miserably poor, a morbid dread that I am doing these poor creatures more harm than good constantly overpowers me with a feeling almost of guilt.”
“I think we need always to have that doubt in our minds, do we not?” suggested the chairman, with gentle, reproachful emphasis.
“Speaking generally, of course, I quite agree with you. But the thought borne in upon me is that we should avoid exciting envy in the minds of our unfortunate sisters when we go among them. I ask myself, do they look at my dress and vainly long to imitate it? When we tell them that we come as sisters, believing in the universal brotherhood-that we are all sons and daughters of God-ought we not to take every precaution to prevent the rise of wicked thoughts in their hearts? Dear friends, you have no idea how much better I feel when I leave my carriage at home and wear my plainest gown! The thought I wish to suggest for your consideration-and I hope I may hear from all of you on the subject-is this: Ought we not to adopt a particular style of gown for our visiting-something severely simple and perhaps-ah-tailor-made-that would pass on the street for any other tailor-made costume, but would impress the idea of simplicity and economy on the minds of the improvident poor?”
Another fair student rose gently to her feet.
“This seems to me a very important suggestion. We certainly wish to do good and not harm, and no detail is too trifling for us to consider. But may I ask, merely for information, as I have done so little visiting myself, do not many of our less fortunate sisters know that tailor-made gowns are just as expensive as frills and furbelows-take the sewing-women, for example?”
“I have no doubt the sewing-women do,” admitted the former speaker in a tone of extreme sadness; “perhaps they all do; one tells another, of course. Do you think a long, dark cloak would answer the purpose better? Is there not some way by which we might avoid suggesting the awful gulf that exists between the rich and the poor in this world? It is dreadfully depressing to have it blazoned forth by everything I wear! Take the weather of to-day, for instance. Of course, I had to take my boa and muff, and wear my sealskin besides, to get here at all. Well, on my way-it is only a step, you know, and I wanted the exercise-on the way I met two poor women that I visit. They were clad in the thinnest of shawls, and really, really I did wish I had left some of my furs behind! They must have felt the difference, poor old things-and how they did stare at me!”
A beautiful young matron stood up to make reply. She gazed at the ceiling with a heavenly expression.
“I think we are all in danger of falling into a very common error through our sympathies,” she began softly. “We are constantly making the mistake of judging the poor by ourselves. Just here we need more faith, more enlightenment. I am sure all of us believe that there is a law of compensation in the divine economy, do we not? I think we need to apply it in a practical way. We must not assume that the poor like what we like, and feel just as we feel in every particular. We know that they do not. As they cannot rise to the heights of refined enjoyment over the things that we enjoy, neither can they sorrow over the tragedies of life as we sorrow over them. You see they have not the same sensibilities. We ought to be thankful they have not! It should increase our faith in God’s wisdom and goodness every day!”
This eloquent plea produced a sensation. A rustle went through the audience and a look of relief was visible on nearly every face. But the young girl wearing the purple hat said doubtfully:
“But the cold-surely they feel cold and hunger just as we should?”
The young matron turned upon her the look of a seraph; no artist has ever yet achieved on painted canvas such a look of angelic tenderness-combining with it all the philosophy of the ages-as this beautiful young matron now cast upon the assembly.
“Certainly they do not! We must believe more firmly in the divine economy and realize that it is we who suffer for them; it is we who discuss their grievances and who build these halls that the wrongs of suffering humanity may be heard and adjusted! I often wonder if the poor who pass these doors would have any stirring of gratitude in their hearts if they should come to realize that these discussions are conducted solely for their benefit? But we need to bear in mind the great fact that if we permit our discussions to drift from the academic standpoint we shall certainly lose the power to benefit those whose cause lies in our hands. We must not descend to-” The speaker’s tone was becoming sonorous and her expression transcendental as she gazed vaguely about the room, which was perhaps the reason why there came a timely interruption from the tactful chairman.
“Speaking of the ‘academic tone’ reminds me that the next meeting will be on the ‘Negro Problem’ and that we shall need all our wits to preserve the tone of such a meeting, if we permit colored delegates to be present. The wife of a brave Confederate officer is to address us, you will remember, on the ‘Causes of Lynchings and the Retrogression of the Negro Since theWar.’ Now I have here several petitions from colored persons who want to read papers ‘in rebuttal,’ they say; but it stands to reason that they cannot refute evidence that has not yet been presented. Shall we or shall we not allow these papers to be read?”
“At a meeting on the negro problem that I once attended,” observed a soberly dressed little lady, “all the colored delegates present asked permission to present their grievances, and the whole time of the meeting was taken up with listening to a recital of them, so that not a single white person had a chance to say a word! The meeting was an absolute dead failure so far as any illumination of mind was concerned. Those colored delegates went home without obtaining a single ray of light on their own problem-poor things!-and we were obliged to listen to the most tiresome examples of false reasoning. They had all schemed apparently to say the same thing: ‘How is the negro to become industrious and self-supporting if he is persistently refused employment?’ They seemed to be actually hinting at us to employ them! Imagine! And the result was that I had no chance to present my plea for ‘Special Schools to Train Negroes in Habits of Industry'-none whatever!”
“I am sure we all thank the speaker for this graphic account of her experience which may well serve as a guide to us,” said the chairman with gracious firmness. “We do not meet here to employ the negro-but merely to discuss him in a truly academic spirit-and this we can only do by keeping him out in person. When he realizes that we have his interests at heart-”
After the words “interests at heart” Julian heard no more; the speakers had begun to bewilder him with the usual doubt as to whether they could possibly be in earnest. Do the angels in heaven laugh or cry over such discussions? This one had passed the brink of the ludicrous and entered tragedy, he thought-and then the speaker, their theme and their absurdities were suddenly forgotten and swept out of sight.
A stranger, simply and unobtrusively clad, had stolen noiselessly into the rear of the audience. Her face was in shadow, although the richly-colored light from the casement fell on her bonnet and shoulders. Her profile drooped away from the audience; her cheek touched her gloved hand in an attitude of sorrowful meditation. Julian started as his eye fell upon her face. It was Marian!
She seemed to him to wear the air of one who indesperation seeks refuge in a sanctuary to escape the tortures of conscience. How sad, how mournful her whole expression! When she raised her eyes and looked directly at Julian, her glance said distinctly:
“I am unhappy-forgive-comfort me! Is there any comfort for me under heaven?”
Her glance smote him with all its former beauty and power. He groaned inwardly; he bowed his head, and sat without looking at her for some minutes. Why had Marian returned to the city? Why had she entered that lecture-room? Was she seeking him? And was he so bound by conventionalities that he could not speak to this conscience-stricken woman, that he could not offer her a word of guidance, that he could not stretch out a hand to help her-though it might be in his power to save her, even at this late hour?
His young cheek burned like a passionate coal on the hand upon which he was leaning it; while his veins were thrilling from that one look at her face, he resolved that he would not look again. He would wait until he had regained control over himself. There would be time to speak to her after the meeting. But through all his self-control and his averted looks, his pulses were bounding with joy-with the unutterable joy of seeing her again. No wonder that he heard not a single word more of those mellifluent discussions! He was deaf and blind to everything but that one lovely presence.
Once more he turned and looked in the direction of Marian. She was not there-she had disappeared! Had she misunderstood his downcast looks? He would find her and explain!
The chairman was saying blandly as she looked at Julian, who was moving swiftly and silently toward the door of the lecture-room, “I think the discussion to-day has been most helpful; I only wish more could have heard it-and we still have time for a word from Mr. Endicott-”
FORCED to stop, Julian turned quickly, conscious in spite of his disappointment that something within him was dimly rejoicing that his pursuit of Marian was now made out of the question.
He retraced his steps and ascended the platform, taking the position assigned to him by the chairman. An indignant protest was already in his heart against the assumption of inherent superiority which he recognized as the key-note of the discussions he had just overheard. It was indeed the cherished dogma on which the whole fabric of class distinctions are built. Could he not pierce the hide-bound complacency of these worldlings? At least he would try. So he poured forth his soul with an intense scorn of the detestable cant he had been listening to, quite regardless of the effect his words might produce on the audience or on the minds of his managers.
He asked them how they could presume to measure the needs of the poor if they regarded them as beings of a totally different order? Where and by whom had they been created different? What meaning was then left in their magnificent phrase, “the brotherhood of man?” And if they denied the fact of brotherhood themselves, how dared they preach it to the poor as a new gospel? Could any one present say that she had ever investigated the truth of this arbitrary ruling of the caste spirit? He could assure them that not a day passed that the poor did not investigate it to its utmost limits, and prove their own power to suffer all that humanity can suffer in this world.
“Let the poor be called in to testify in their own behalf what hunger and cold feel like-what overwork and disease and hopeless poverty feel like!” he cried with eyes flashing and a tumult of angry shame in his heart that he had chosen to be the hireling of these idle theorists.
“I beg of you to abandon this cruel philosophy which teaches that God has made you different because he has permitted you to be more fortunate. Your long cloaks and your tailor-made gowns can never conceal the proud disdain in your hearts which works vastly more injury to the minds of the poor than the sight of your silks and furs can possibly do. If you go into the slums to learn the lesson of their patience, their strange acceptance of poverty and suffering as their lot in life, you will understand that these people do not feel less than you, but more. You will discover that they are making the same allowance for your lack of sensibility that you make for theirs-only I really believe with more real charity in their hearts than is found in yours!”
Now surely he had pierced the class egotism of these idle women. Surely he had rebuked them as becomes a moral reformer! Alas! Only too clearly was it made apparent that his words reached their ears as the mere lifeless formulas of his craft; they were no more to these women than the set phrases with which they repented in church of their sins-acknowledging that they like sheep had gone astray!
“Next Friday,” interrupted the chairman with an apologetic smile for Julian, while she pointed to the blackboard on which were outlined the studies of various classes for the coming week-"next Friday has been set apart for a tour through the slums-’to Inspect the Tenement Life of the Abject Poor,’ during which we shall also give our course of free lectures on ‘How to Live on 15 Cents a Day’ and distribute our recipes for making ‘Soups without Meat,’ and ‘For Stewing Turnips and Cabbages without Causing Unpleasant Odors in the House.’ (She was quoting from the headlines on the blackboard). Having heard our secretary’s eloquent plea for a more sympathetic application of our principles of human brotherhood, it is hoped that all will embrace this opportunity and that we shall have the benefit of Mr. Endicott’s instruction besides. We really cannot think of making the tour without him.”
“You know I do not approve of intruding into these people’s homes,” protested Julian with distressful earnestness, “and by what standard of justice do we strive to teach them to make bricks without straw?-’soups without meat'-indeed!”
“We go to study their needs, and not one of them has ever raised an objection to our coming; and you know we never give them anything!”
“That is only their courtesy-their unfailing grace of hospitality. Good heavens, how blind, how totally blind is this spirit of class privilege! You seem to see the world upside down by it!”
“Class privilege?” repeated the chairman with a puzzled smile;” I really believe this is the first time we have heard those words in our halls. It reminds me that I am negotiating with an eminent college professor to lecture next month on the ‘False Reasoning of the Socialists,’ so we may as well make ourselves familiar with the term ‘class privilege,’ for I believe it is one that the socialists constantly employ.” She cast her eyes down for a second and then continued with careful deliberation:
“We must guard against the use of misleading terms. We appreciate"-she turned to Julian with a smile-"your enthusiasm-it is of inestimable value in our work. But you have often told us that your early life was passed where there was no poverty except that which was shared by all-the community-and consequently there was no organized helpfulness such as we find so important in the higher civilization of today. It is perhaps inevitable that you are hardly prepared to enter fully into that higher sense of obligation of which we are so deeply conscious. The only ‘class privilege’ that we know anything about is the privilege of ministering to the unfortunate! Some day you may understand this more fully than you do now. But in carrying out the aims of the Association our secretary (she now turned to her audience with a smile) has shown the deepest devotion to our ideals-an incredible amount of self-sacriflce! It is unavoidable that coming in such close contact as he does with the poor and the working classes, he should sometimes see things a little out of their true perspective; whereas it is our aim to see everything in right proportion, and in the highest harmony with the Divine will. When we do this in the true academic spirit, we are the better able to realize the meaning of the words, ‘The poor ye shall have always with you,’ for without them, how should we ever attain the true standard of disinterested devotion to the cause of humanity? Think how selfish and mean and horrible our lives would be if we had not the poor beside us always to make our hearts tender and stir within us the noble impulse to study their problems and needs! But all things have their uses, and I believe that our secretary can fulfil his part better if he does not quite comprehend the whole meaning of the great plan he is carrying out in our name. I assure you, his zeal and personal enthusiasm are quite indispensable to us.” She finished by announcing that the meeting would now adjourn.
Julian stood where he was on the platform pondering her words. Had he been rebuked or praised-and why did she apologize for him? But presently the lady approached him with extended hand and her kindliest greeting.
“Do not, I beg of you, let anything I said trouble you for an instant,” she entreated. “We would not have you different from what you are. It was a little awkward that I had to explain your attitude to them. You see I was afraid that it might be misunderstood-that we might be misunderstood, I mean. It all works together for the best-you being as you are is just what we want-what we must have.”
“But our point of view seems different,” objected Julian.
“Of course! It naturally would be, don’t you see? You would not be useful to us otherwise.”
“As a connecting link between you and the poor, it is better that I should be different?” questioned Julian in melancholy study.
“Exactly-different from us-not necessarily different from the others.” She smiled sweetly as if to lighten the harsh construction he might put on her words.
“Created as a different order of being, I may yet serve your aims without comprehending them because I am not so far removed as you are from the ‘lower classes'? Yes, I see-I understand. You are entirely right!-I am a different order of being from you-I am, I am!” They shook hands with every appearance of hearty good will, the lady not being in the slightest degree embarrassed by the wide-open stare of Julian’s eyes as he fixed them on her face. He parted from her with the remark:
“How delightful that you not only recognize this fact but accept it as proof of my increasing usefulness! I take this as evidence of great breadth of spirit on your part.”
“That is something we must all strive for,” she murmured, withdrawing rather hastily, perhaps vaguely suspicious of sarcasm in the young man’s words.
Julian then went home in great wretchedness of spirit. He was dissatisfied with himself, disgusted with the attitude of the Association and more than ever inclined to doubt the wisdom of his choice of philanthropy as a vocation. Very soon he fell to thinking about Marian and became supremely agitated, downcast and rebellious against fate for the remainder of that afternoon and evening.
Then to his delight he read in an evening paper that Mrs. Starling was a guest in the city and that her hostess had issued invitations for a box party at the opera the following week.
Resolutely as he set himself the next day to solve the problems of his work, the picture of Marian in an opera box, within sight of himself, formed a background on which all the realities of life painted themselves only to be extinguished by this alluring vision. He determined that he would attend the opera, but he would not go alone. He must see Marian, he must speak to her, but to fortify himself against the temptation of staying too long by her side he would take a companion, but whom?
Julian reached this conclusion while sitting behind the desk in the society’s office. He raised his eyes and found Elizabeth regarding him with that singular expression of absorbed anxiety which he had noticed before.
Elizabeth’s head drooped as her glance met his; she was merely absorbed in her work-her manner seemed to say-she was soon too deeply preoccupied to observe Julian’s intense gaze. Her face cooled; she wrote more vigorously than ever. She belonged to a race that had borne heavy burdens. She could endure great self-repression and still live.
Julian was pleased with the thought that his guardianship over her had been of the most practical, beneficent kind. A brother could not have done more. She seemed to him an ideal younger sister, looking with affectionate eyes into her brother’s face, and always ready to glow with pride over his achievements.
Elizabeth being such a good, helpful little sister should accompany him to the opera. It was hardly necessary to ask her consent before purchasing the tickets, for never yet had she refused a request of Julian’s.
When he showed her the tickets her eyes opened very wide; she seemed on the verge of giving expression to some thought that stirred her deeply-probably it was gratitude-but she thought better of it, or perhaps could find no words suitable for an occasion so great. At any rate, she turned away abruptly and closed the interview.
Julian’s country breeding left him unconscious of social transgression in thus planning to take Elizabeth to the opera. He had never been told the decree of the Eastern civilian-that young men and maidens may attend concerts together, but never operas without a chaperone. And of course Elizabeth, who had never known a chaperone in her life, was even more ignorant of conventional standards.
So the next week, Elizabeth and Julian attended the music-dramas which make up Wagner’s Trilogy. In that enchanting world, like two unsophisticated children, they sorrowed together over the unhappy loves of Sigamund and Sigalinda. They wandered through the woods with the innocent Siegfried in his search for Brunhilde on the fire-encircled rock; they thrilled with poetic delight when the maid awoke to sing her beautiful invocation to light in response to his kiss. Finally, they mourned with her over his dead body and refused to be comforted when she cast herself upon his funeral pyre. Julian could not analyze his own bewildered absorption in the dominant and splendidly constructive power of the orchestra, by which he was delivered bodily into the hands of the supremest of all the arts and carried to the very mountain tops of poetic inspiration. The relief of getting out of himself was great, however, and the intensity of feeling portrayed suited well his overwrought imagination.
But during those three long evenings Julian caught only a momentary, unsatisfactory glimpse of Marian. He did not discover her box until he left his seat during one of the intermissions and swept the lower house repeatedly with his glasses. Unfortunately her face remained turned from him. Should he descend and speak to her? Might he not at least stand near by to gaze stealthily upon the beloved features, and if she had a message for him, would she not beckon to him that he might approach and help her? What was there to prevent? He happened to look back at Elizabeth. She had turned her face toward him. Her dark eyes seemed to be entreating his return. Slowly he went back to her.
Again he bought tickets for another night, and took pains to select seats in a part of the house facing the box in which Marian had been seated. He felt sure she would be there again, for “Tannhauser” was to be played next, and he knew it to be her favorite opera.
ON THE evening of the performance of “Tannhauser,” Julian and Elizabeth mounted the stairs of the upper gallery and took their seats in one of the cheap stalls against the wall. The house was dark at first, but presently the dazzling electric lights revealed the fashionable throng of a great city. Julian watched with a shame-faced eagerness a certain box downstairs, until its occupants began to arrive as the orchestra started to play the overture.
From his safe retreat in this unfashionable part of the house he was able to stare unobserved through his opera glasses upon the face and form of Marian, whom he discovered in the rear of the box as if shrinking from the world’s gaze. He thought she looked paler than usual. But presently she turned her head to respond to a greeting back of her, and a beautiful flush spread itself over her cheek; her smile shone as sweetly and spontaneously as ever. Apparently her eyes were full of the joyous light that Julian could not recall without a thrill of pain; they were looking into the eyes of a man whom he recognized at once as her “evil genius.”
Breathlessly he watched every expression of her face. It was like looking at one who has risen from the dead-alas! who has not yet risen and is still among the dead-no, it was worse, for the dead do not smile with an exquisite tenderness meant for others; though they make fountains of our eyes they have not the power to stab to the heart as every play of Marian’s features now stabbed Julian.
In the anguish of the moment, he turned away and looked into the face of Elizabeth. The startled expression of her large eyes held his gaze mysteriously for a second. He opened the libretto of the opera and began to relate mechanically the story of “Tannhauser.” But neither the printed page nor Elizabeth’s eyes could hold his attention long. His heartsick glance flung itself once more across the house; it transcended space and gathered the beloved object close to his heart-and still, it was a thousand miles away ! In the consciousness of eternal separation, he beheld Marian as distant and inaccessible-as beautiful and as near to him-as the lovely evening lamp of Venus when it touches the horizon.
To his relief the lights were suddenly lowered and Marian’s face disappeared in the gloom of the amphitheatre. The curtain rose on the brilliant interior of the cave Venus. Julian had not seen this opera before. He knew that it was composed on more conventional lines than Wagner’s later works, and he imagined that he would enjoy it less. Its very title seemed vulgarized by association with rival breweries and street corner saloons. He looked and listened indifferently while he held the libretto between himself and Elizabeth, to whom he pointed out the English meaning of the German verse that the tenor was singing. The fame of this tenor was world wide; his voice and acting were magnificent and Tannhauser was said to be his greatest part.
Julian’s eyes wandered mournfully over the darkened house in which a bejeweled and glittering audience still shone with a subdued glory, as if conscious that its right to dazzle was only momentarily suspended to enable a mimic stage to hold its own without danger of an eclipse. As his gaze passed from one row of dim, silent human beings to the next, – from the parquet to the parquet circle and on to the first tier above-he seemed to be looking down from a great altitude upon the human race of the nineteenth century.
What were they all but spectres, he thought, masquerading for an hour in the flesh and color of life? How strange they should ever forget that their home was under the ground-their natural lineaments those of the death’s head and skeleton! How preposterous were all efforts to forget this fact! He for one in this assembly of living ghosts would not forget it. He knew that Marian and himself were spectres-nothing more; an immortal love might have made them worthy of immortal life-but now they sat as it were among the dead, drinking in the breath of decay with every heart throb; waiting their turn with the rest to descend into the arms of the vast, hated, hideous majority.
A sudden clap of thunder and the immediate darkness of the stage roused Julian from this unwholesome reverie. The song of the shepherd followed in the peaceful valley of Tannhauser’s home. The scene was one of great beauty. Julian’s eyes, riveted on the silent figure of the knight in the foreground, were slowly captivated by its human personality. The chanting of the pilgrims in the distance chastened his heavy heart. When the knight kneeling before the footlights broke into his incoherent, remorseful cry: “Great are the marvels of Thy mercy, O God!” Julian felt that he was listening to the cry of the human soul in all ages; the great struggle between good and evil was apparent, and the noble theme carried the drama forward to its intense climax.
In passionate self-consciousness, Julian now entered into every pang of unavailing remorse that marked the backward gaze of the hero into his past revels. He forgot the young Elizabeth by his side in his absorbed contemplation of Elizabeth on the stage. He did not forget Marian, but he avoided looking at her more than once between the acts, when his eyes fixed themselves reluctantly and curiously upon her. Had the wonderful theme awakened no response in her soul? If he judged correctly the charming gaiety of her face and manner, it had not. There was absolutely no change in her expression. As he watched her, a chill fell upon him and he could not bear to look at her again.
The orchestra’s mystic and deeply tragic prelude to the third act was like a voice speaking to Julian from the depths of the spirit world. Accusing memories of his neglected work assailed him with piercing cries. Through his infatuation, his high ideal of self-consecration had been dragging in the dust for many months!
But as the curtain rose upon the scene of Elizabeth clinging to the shrine, his egotistic self-abasement slowly forgot itself in the triumph of the religious principle. During Elizabeth’s exquisite song, “Er Kehrt nicht zurück,” even the worldliness of the audience stood abashed before the climax of earthly sorrow and heavenly purification. Blasphemous now seemed to Julian the mouldy materialism which had spread itself like an ill-smelling pall over his thoughts early in the evening. Life had again triumphed over the eternal nothingness; the spirit having lifted man above the temptations of the flesh, self-sacrifice once more seemed glorious and set its shining seal upon renunciation as the secret of life.
Remembering Elizabeth by his side, Julian turned to her with a smile of comfort in the thought that she was still there. He looked at her; her eyes were full of tears. Her hands were clasped together; she had hardly stirred during the performance except to look from the libretto to the stage, backward and forward from time to time. It might be the death of Elizabeth-her namesake-that affected her so profoundly; the deep meaning of the opera that overwhelmed his guilty soul was surely lost upon this innocent girl. He hoped it was.
AS THE street cars were running only at long intervals when Julian and his companion started up the street that led to Elizabeth’s home, they followed the dark, silent avenue on foot, Julian tramping along in such haste that he hardly felt the earth beneath his nervous feet, and Elizabeth walking breathlessly to keep up with him. Julian’s mental image of himself was that of a heavily shrouded figure fleeing from an accusing finger, with head bowed, and face concealed by a monk’s cowl. But Elizabeth saw him only as a kind of sun-god, radiating light and happiness in all directions.
When they reached the ugly brick dwelling which could be distinguished from its comrades in the long row only by its number -even the blinds were exactly alike-Julian was surprised as he looked at his watch to discover the lateness of the hour. They rang the bell and waited; they rang repeatedly and waited with the same result. Nobody came.
Elizabeth had no key; the shutters were closed tightly, the house was silent as though deserted. Each time that Julian pulled the bell, they could hear its noisy reverberations inside. “It ought to awaken somebody,” he observed absently.
“I guess she’s awake,” said Elizabeth, in her curiously suppressed young voice, “but she doesn’t like to have to wait on me; she doesn’t like my going out so many nights; it leaves her all the children to put to bed. She said charity girls didn’t go to theatres and operas.” Elizabeth’s voice was becoming a little more expressive in the darkness. Julian could barely see the resolute young profile and the shining of the great dark eyes under the brim of her hat.
“Don’t wait,” she cried impatiently waving her hand, “she'll open the door when she gets ready. I hear her coming-Good night, Mr. Endicott, I thank you very much-Good night!”
Julian was looking down the street. His eyes were fixed in astonishment on a female figure standing at the street corner in the glare of an electric light. With his eyes on this figure, he retreated from the steps, his careless ears hearing only Elizabeth’s “Good night” and her light, upward step into the recess of the door. He supposed that she had entered the house.
Calling out a hasty “Good night” he tore rapidly away in the direction of the female figure which stood forth radiantly, as if lighted by a hundred footlights. A dainty blue gown that was only partly concealed by a long black cloak lined with fur, recalled the general appearance of Marian Starling at the opera; this effect was heightened by yellow curls, exceedingly pink cheeks and a pair of distinctly penciled eyebrows-all (from a distance) being suggestive of Marian standing with a lace scarf drawn over her curls and under her chin in an attitude of timid expectation.
Julian did not discover that the face was not Marian’s until he reached the young woman’s side. He had again hastily assumed that Marian needed his help, and with beating heart he had rushed to her aid only to find himself peering into the face of a stranger.
“Pardon me,” he murmured, turning away in sickening disappointment and marveling that a combination of strangely colored hair, red cheeks and black eyebrows could have suggested the ethereal beauty of Marian Starling-even at the distance of half a block. His next feeling was one of partial relief, and then of shame that an uncontrollable impulse should have brought him so abruptly to the side of this stranger.
“A thousand pardons for my mistake,” he repeated turning again and bowing low as he moved away. “I mistook you for some one else.” ,
“I am someone else-so I am perhaps just the one you are looking for!” the stranger replied with a smile and an arch expression which faintly recalling Marian, caused Julian to look at her more intently. He now saw that her yellow hair was artificially colored and her cheeks heavily rouged. It needed no great discernment to classify this young person. He regarded her gravely.
“You were waiting here to speak to me? Are you not afraid-of the police?”
“Not when they're well paid, my good sir-but it’s a shame that I have to pay so much, isn’t it?”
“Ah-this is our boasted civilization! To what depths are we descending!” cried Julian with deep feeling.
“Come and see!” replied the young woman laughing and extending her hand. “Come and see the depths! You can’t moralize without experience in this world, my young gentleman. Come with me to a hall over yonder where we can order iced champagne, and enjoy the most beautiful experiences in dancing, and after that-you can present me with a Bible if you want to.”
“I have already had all the experiences I want, thanks-and I have no Bibles in my pocket.”
“You might find a chance to pray for me-”
“Are there not some who are doing that for you already, my poor girl? And with what results!”
The young woman drew herself up and looked at him curiously. “Now, if you are not a parson, what are you ?”
“It doesn’t matter what, I hope I'm enough of a friend to see you home, and safe away from music halls for one night in your life.”
“Home-home!” repeated the young woman with a burst of shrill laughter, “if you're a-goin’ to take me home we'll have to board a train and travel together two days and a night-and I won’t be admitted when I get there!”
“Ah! That is the sad part of it-that is what makes it so difficult-so impossible!” murmured Julian in deep dejection. They were now walking side by side, but slowly. The young woman stole a side glance at him.
“Do you mean you would like to reform a girl like me-in real earnest-you really would?” she asked in a penetrating, breathless whisper.
“ I should like to believe it a part of my vocation-if I could only see the way-a little way ahead.”
“I guess it does look awful dark and muddy,” she said with a forced laugh. “An’ you're not like the ‘Social Liberty Leaguers’ for they see the whole d——-d road ahead, and they ain’t afraid even of undertaking me-and all like me! I hope some day they'll have a chance to try something, don’t you?”
“I haven’t given their schemes much thought,” Julian answered, surprised and disconcerted by such a question. “I did not know they had invented any special panacea for a case like yours.”
“You're really settin’ out to be a reformer?” she questioned him with a curious eagerness.
He continued to explain. “I have not had time to study any Utopian schemes; work has been of the most practical kind; organized relief and rescue work does not leave one much time for idle dreaming.”
“So, you're a worker in charity-by the side of them high-steppin’ charity ladies pickin’ their way thro’ the mud! ‘Course, you think charity’s good enough for the poor ‘stead o’ justice-'course
“I do not,” replied Julian sternly. “Every day I grow more dissatisfied-but what else can one do?”
“What does charity offer to girls like me? The rich play with the business of elevatin’ the poor; they build reformatories for us poor girls, and when we come out we're worse than when we went in. I know all about your charities. You need not offer to put me in any of their holes-where you're herded together and branded as outcasts-a lot of rats in a trap! I've been in them-I know, I know!”
“What would your Liberty League advise?” asked Julian forlornly; he seemed to feel the hypocritical guilt of all these reformatory palliatives weighing heavily upon him.
“Oh, I can’t tell you-I can’t remember their talk-I just happened in onc’t-twic’t to their meetin’s,” the girl answered, twisting her fingers together absently, “but it was beautiful! Oh, my, but you ought to hear them! They made me feel good-an’ innocent-all the time I sat there-more'n I ever did in church, I can tell you! They kinder explained that it warn’t all my fault, but it was the fault of everybody-everybody else-an’ ‘specially the rich folks. It’s the fault of society-that’s what they said.”
“That’s what they all say, my good girl-there’s nothing new in that! It’s a figure of speech, nothing more.” His tone was dull with disappointment. Had he really expected this poor creature to unfold a splendid vision of a new social order?
“But them folks meant what they said,” she persisted, “an’ the way they had it fixed was that there wasn’t to be any rich people or any poor people any more, but everybody would go to work and get good pay and be sure of it-an’ there wouldn’t be any idle rich fellows lyin’ ‘round lookin’ for us poor girls to be ruined with their money-for all the rich and poor is to be a-workin’ together-side by side-an’ not too hard work either, but divided up even betwixt ‘em-like as if they were all in the pay of the government.”
Julian laughed dismally. “It would have to be a very good government, I guess, and a pretty brave one to undertake such a contract as that. I guess this administration hasn’t got it on its program. In the meantime, what are you going to do? Why are you still here-on the streets-living this life? How can you stay here, if you have any desire to lead the purer, happier life your friends promise?”
“What would you have me do, sir? Who’s to give me work now?” She flashed back at him in sudden passion. “If I could get married, an’ be taken care of, I'd be all right. Sir, if you want to reform me, an’ you a young bachelor, why don’t you marry me yourself? Am I any worse at heart than some o’ them fine ladies ridin’ about in carriages? Some gets taken care of and pertected when they're as wild as-as wild geese-an’ nobody’s the wiser. Sir, if you don’t believe in the League’s way, why don’t you try the other way-I mean the way they pertect the girls in the upper ten? Ain’t all them young men banded together to pertect them foolish young girls, an’ keep ‘em fenced in even when they lose their silly little heads, till somebody gets ready to marry ‘em and take ‘em off the hands of their fathers and brothers? But who’s banded together to take care of me and to pertect me? Them young men ain’t-not much! I'm fair game for them-that’s all I am-just game to be run down and catched!”
“I wish I could believe you were lying,” said Julian, catching his breath,"but I cannot; God knows, it’s the truth.”
“If you know it’s the truth, why ain’t you willing to save me? Ain’t you a reformer? Ain’t you willin’ to give the poor a chance? Ah! good, good young man-you have it writ all over your face that you're kind and good-begin with me-give me a chance-a chance! What I never had in my life! I'm the worst and the lowest, I know, but what’s that to you if you're tryin’ to save sinners? Marry me an’ take me out o’ this-hell of a life-I can’t get tooken out any other way-an’ I will leave all my wickedness behind-you can trust me, I will!”
Large tears were rolling down her rouged cheeks, as she made this desperate appeal with both hands clasped hysterically under her chin.
Julian, feeling keenly the absurdity of the situation, turned away, and promptly turned back, remembering his vocation.
“You know it’s not possible-what you propose.” He strove to speak gravely and with kindness, concealing his disgust. “It’s beyond the bounds of reason. Marriage is for those who love each other. Unless I could marry all I wanted to save, why should I marry you?” He thought this argument unanswerable.
“To set an example to the rest of the world!” she retorted quickly, seeing her advantage in thus having the question laid open for discussion. “You'd be a-showin’ the world you believed there was good in me, sir-you do believe that, don’t you?-a little?”
“I do-yes-I do,” he observed, with a hesitation that served only to give his words the effect of deliberate conviction.
“Well then! Do you set the example, kind sir, an’ save me, and let others foller along an’ save the rest-there’s the way to save all us poor sinners!”
Her tone was almost triumphant, as if she believed the young man’s willingness to sacrifice his career really depended on presenting to his mind these logical deductions from an altruist’s public professions. And, in fact, Julian felt the weight of her logic. Her monstrous proposition assumed for the moment the form of a challenge to his sincerity. From the background of his consciousness there came again that sharp sting of shame and remorse for his neglected work, which he had been pushing along for many months without zeal or real love for humanity. Had he not become a mere machine to execute the orders of a philanthropic corporation? Was this a chance then to prove his own repentance-as well as this poor creature’s?
What if he should consider it a “chance"? How the world would howl and shriek over the evil appearance of such a sacrifice! Never, of course, could it understand the motive that might prompt the deed. To live for others! This would be living for others with a vengeance. And his managers-what would they say? At the thought of them, Julian’s scorn leaped to defiance. In a spirit of recklessness he might take this step, but he would never be deterred from it by the fear of what those preposterous managers might say-and did they not represent the whole conventional world to him?
He wondered what would be the amount of the sacrifice required? Where might a limit be fixed to one’s self-abnegation in such a case? Suppose he should choose to do this thing, could he do it by merely arranging means for her support? Would that satisfy-redeem her?
He was standing quite close to the woman and looking down into her face. She had taken hold of his sleeve during her final appeal, but she relinquished that and was nervously patting the heavy cape of his overcoat, holding it between her palms and softly rubbing it.
“I would like to be good-that is all there is in it-I would like to be good!” she whispered in a last, desperate effort. It was like the cry of a grown-up child-an unreasoning, wild demand for everything that another human being could give. But it affected the young man powerfully-it swayed him into a grave consideration of her proposal and all its consequences. At any rate he could not leave her now.
“Let us walk a little further,” he suggested. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-five,” she answered, with a smile. “My name is May.”
Julian decided that he had asked a foolish question, and he felt that he did not care to know her name. How could he believe anything she said? He became silent and they walked on for another block.
A revulsion of feeling began to sweep over him-a violent protest against the awful sacrifice proposed. It now filled him with horror. The insolent demand of the Anglo-Saxon-regardless of his own moral status-for absolute purity in the woman he chooses to honor or even to treat with decent respect-asserted its hold over him. He wanted to rid himself of her presence; he wanted to thrust this courtesan from his sight-anywhere-so that he might not look at her or think of her again. Instinctively and brutally, he loathed her for what she was; with all that was masculine and assertive in his nature, he loathed and despised this “woman of the town"-significantly so called, as if the town could not get along without her. And because he did loathe her, he hung his head and concerned himself with a wonderful pretense of being deeply interested in her moral welfare. He asked her a string of questions without looking at her, and accepted all her replies as undoubtedly false. Then he wheeled around upon her as they reached a street corner.
“It’s impossible for me to do what you ask-I cannot take your view of it-but I am going to help you another way. Yes, you must let me, I want you to.” He was going to do a foolish thing perhaps, to offer her money to pay for a night’s lodging in some respectable shelter-he hardly knew what his plans were-but before he had time to explain them, the woman turned from him with a cry of astonishment-
“God in Heaven! What’s this a-comin’ after us?”
Julian turned also and saw Elizabeth’s slight figure flying towards him-she was running as fast as possible to overtake him,with one hand stretched out to attract his attention. In a moment she had reached his side-panting, breathless-all but speechless.
“The door was locked-I could not get in after you left.” She was desperately confused and ashamed as if the fault had been wholly hers.
Julian, horror-stricken, stood looking at her.
“I thought you were safely in-doors !” he stammered.
“I guess you'd both better make up your minds to come with me now to the music hall,” said the street woman, looking from one to the other.
“I bid you good evening.” Julian bowed to her with formal politeness, while he took Elizabeth’s cold hand within his own. “I will find you shelter somewhere-don’t worry, Elizabeth.”
“So he’s got the two of us on his hands!” cried the painted creature, looking hard at Elizabeth. “Maybe he knows more'n he looks to. Say, what’s he reformed you out of?”
Elizabeth disengaged her hand from Julian’s arm and withdrew a few paces from him. She looked steadfastly at the street woman. Her cheeks were slightly flushed, Julian noted, as he turned a surprised glance upon her, and her expression was one of rapt attention, deepening slowly into a whole-souled comprehension of what that bedizened female figure stood for in the common parlance of the world. Yes-he told himself-she understands-Elizabeth understands.
With a deepening intensity in her eyes, Elizabeth looked and looked-as tho’ a veil were obscuring her sight-while the street woman pursued her ranting, loose-jointed talk. With the white electric light falling on her face, Elizabeth stood there-a contrasting image of purity beside that other female figure.
Elizabeth’s eyes were full of mystery-darkness-and again full of light; now they were black with a penetrating earnestness-a wanting to know of the spirit; then, her brow clearing, her eyes were star-lit by some deep emotion that slowly intensified itself into a radiance of thought and feeling. She looked at Julian, and he felt a flash of purity-reverence-a holy enthusiasm seemed to emanate from her. What was in the mind of this strange child? The voice of the street woman was still in his ears. Her naked talk seemed to fly harmlessly past Elizabeth; it did not disturb her absorbed contemplation. Still looking thus intently, she stepped closer to the woman and laid her hand on her sleeve.
“So he prefers your innocence to my experience-what’s he knows about me, I'd like to know?” the painted creature was snarling.
“Go and sin no more-no more!” whispered Elizabeth, with tender solemnity, unconsciously using the words of the Nazarine.
“Bible talk’s nothing new to me, young woman.”
“I am telling you what he says-” looking at Julian. “He would save you if he could-if you would only let him!”
“A Salvation Army lass? I've nothing to say to you.”
“Oh, I'm not that-we're neither of us anything like that!” Elizabeth had blundered into using the phraseology of a revival meeting, with which she was so drearily familiar that it had sprung to her lips unbidden. Expression was to her always a difficult task-all language being to her more or less like a foreign tongue. But she cast about with determination for more suitable phrases.
“It’s your humanity that he sees-and the divine, too-the divine in the human. Oh, let me tell you! His mission is to go about among the downcast and trodden and the oppressed-and to lift them up-up into something higher! Don’t you want to lead a better life? Don’t you want to? He will help you-he will -he has helped me.”
“Who-what are you? “ cried the street woman derisively.
“A charity girl-that’s all I am.” Elizabeth spoke shyly, turning her head away and looking down. She raised her eyes to look at Julian.
“Don’t!” he cried as if she had hurt him. “You must come with me-come, Elizabeth!”
But she went on with the same gentle enthusiasm-holding the woman’s hand in both of hers.
“Do you not want a friend? He will be a friend such as you can always trust. Do you think he is like other men? He is not. He is far, far above them. He lives only for others-to do good and to save the world. Oh, how can you be so wicked, when he asks you to turn from your wickedness and live?” Again the revival of reminiscences were overpowering her limited gifts of speech but she rallied and shook herself free. “How can you lead this life, I mean, when he is ready to show you the way to a better one? Won’t you come with us?”
Elizabeth looked at Julian. “Where?” she repeated softly, and waited his reply with calm faith.
Julian, looking at her, measured her moral height with that of the street woman, and rejoiced that the poor, bedizened wretch sank into immeasurable depths of infamy beside this sweet vision of purity. Putting his hand in his pocket, he drew out two silver dollars which he held out to the street woman.
“Where?” he repeated in an aside to Elizabeth! “How do 1 know where to take her-and you, too-Elizabeth? Good Heavens!” Then aloud to the street woman: “Please oblige me by taking this money and going to some decent place-I beg you to take it.”
The street woman started back, stung to the quick. She flung the money aside with a scornful gesture.
“I can git all the money I want-thanks-guess I know where to go for it. I didn’t ask you for any before she come, did I? You know well enough it warn’t money I was after-from you! I took you for what you was pretendin’ to me you really was-a friend o’ the poor outcast, or I wouldn’t a-said what I did. Now, I know you're no better than the parsons -you're just a fool reformer, stirrin’ up the mud with a stick and takin’ good care to git none of it on your own self.” Her eyes gleamed angrily. She stepped back a pace or two and drew herself up with a semblance of dignity-nay, it was a real dignity, tho’ her lip trembled like a child’s and the tears falling from her lashes were streaking her painted cheeks.
“If there ain’t really no good in me, what’s the use of your wasting your time pretendin’ it is worth while to save such as me? But you don’t want to save me, or any like-you think there’s got to be girls like me-and there’s got to be girls like her -an’ there’s got to be fine ladies to take off your hat to, ‘cause, ‘cause they can’t do nothin’ wrong if they tried. That’s what you think-but it ain’t true! No, sir! I don’t need you to tell me what I am-or her neither.”
She stepped nearer, with her hand on her breast; she was speaking low and vehemently, with all the passion of real tragedy. “I know what I am, sir-just how vile I seem when I'm a-standin’ aside o’ her, but if it’s the last breath I have to speak with, I'll tell you to your face, there’s good in me, real good that’s worth savin’, though it ain’t you as'll ever do it, for you'd rather be a-stirrin’ up the mud with a stick than savin’ sinners like me! I ain’t in your line, I guess. Maybe the Lord’s got somebody picked out to save me yet-but it won’t be no fool reformer. You kin go your ways, sir; an’ I'll go mine, alone-as I’se always gone since I was fourteen, when I was took and made what I am now. Yes, sir-fourteen. Good night, to the two o’ ye’s.”
She turned quickly away, drawing her long cloak about her with the cheap, forlorn kind of grace that seemed to belong to her vocation. In a moment she had vanished around the corner. Julian started after her, and then checking the impulse, he returned slowly to Elizabeth’s side.
“She has gone!” he murmured, in a tone of intense relief; “there’s nothing for us to do but to go on our way; let us hurry, Elizabeth.”
“She did not want your money,” whispered the young girl, as she took his arm.
“No; I was wrong to have offered it-I am a fool-'a poor, common fool reformer, stirring up the mud with a stick'-ha! She sized me up neatly, Elizabeth.”
“It was because I came and interfered; ‘you had the two of us on your hand,’ as she said. I ought to have stayed away when I saw you with her.”
“Everbody would have interfered-with her plan of rescue, Elizabeth-the whole world would have interfered with it! Ah! that’s the trouble-the world always interferes when we try to undo a wrong-to make atonement of any kind-and then we interfere ourselves-our hateful inner selves spring up like snarling wolves. It seems impossible to do any real good except by the sacrifice of everything we are or have-or wish to be.”
“It was not so with me,” breathed Elizabeth softly, hiding her face in his overcoat sleeve. “The world did not interfere with you saving me.”
Julian looked down upon her with great tenderness. He was intensely proud of his good work in Elizabeth’s behalf, but he forced himself to say humbly:
“You never needed any saving. You would have done just as well without me as with me-without the Association, I mean. Do not class yourself with her.” He tightened his hold on her arm. She looked up gratefully-but shook her head. Her devoted appreciation of his efforts was balm to his broken spirit. He was eager to believe that she spoke truly and he did not contradict her again.
A street car came up and they boarded it hastily. After they had seated themselves, Julian scanned the young girl’s face to see if she had lost any of that exalted estimate of himself which he accepted-man like-as an exquisite trait in her character. She returned his scrutiny with an upward, eloquent glance that for the moment satisfied his self-love.
“She was dressed so as to look as if she had been to the opera; I could almost think I'd seen her there.” Elizabeth’s thoughts were still on the woman whom she believed Julian had been endeavoring to save.
“A very superficial imitation-it’s wretched how all classes imitate our social butterflies-the harm they do is immense,” Julian spoke in sore irritation, he hardly knew why. The words of the courtesan were ringing in his ears unpleasantly. “Turning over the mud with a stick,” was a phrase she had doubtless caught from her socialist friend, and it rankled in his mind even while her championship of their theories spread an unsavory atmosphere around all such visionary schemes.
“We get out here,” he said wearily.
Soon afterward they reached the steps of his boarding house. It was the only alternative he could think of that would be safe for Elizabeth and he had enough confidence in the kindheartedness of his landlady to feel sure that he could trust the girl to her tender mercies.
He opened the door with his latch-key and admitted Elizabeth to a dark parlor where he left her while he sought the landlady. He returned shortly to tell Elizabeth there was a room she could have for the night on the third floor-so the landlady had said. He bade her good night and retired to his own chamber.
Julian poked up the fire in his little stove and sank heavily into an arm chair. Now that he was bereft of Elizabeth’s sustaining presence, and the idolatry of her eyes-the experience of the evening spread themselves out before him as detestable; not less so was that hated image of himself as he reviewed his actions and counted up the pitiable weaknesses which they revealed. The embarrassment which had resulted from taking Elizabeth to the opera was of small moment beside the episode of the bedizened young woman. The hateful poison which this adventure poured into his soul at first seemed to centre in the haunting, satirical suggestion of Marian’s lovely presence behind the painted features of the street woman. To the strained vision of the young moralist, their spiritual identity was unquestionably complete. And not less terrible than Marian’s was his own duplicity in appearing before the world as a protector of the weak and a regenerator of the slums. This vision of the double role he had been playing piled up the agony of self-accusation mountain high.
He sprang to his feet suddenly and began to pace the floor.
His mental suffering had brought him to the point where a way out must be found. What could he do to strengthen his moral purpose, to free himself from this scourging of conscience? After a long pause, he lighted the gas and took down his flute and violin which he laid on the table. He regarded them steadily.
“These are the things which have misled me! I have been false-an eye-servant-a hypocrite!” He covered his face with his hands. When he looked up there was a strange light in his eyes. He took his bow quietly in his hands and broke it in two: he pushed the violin with the strings loosened and awry into the darkest corner of the cupboard. In the same deliberate manner he unscrewed his flute and put the mouth-piece in the stove, covering it up carefully with ashes; he locked the piano and put the key into his pocket; he would return the instrument to the dealer without delay. For a moment he stood pale and motionless, his lips set, his eyes dilating.
He recalled the street woman and her biting comments on his sincerity and the worth of his work. She had seemed to him to point satirically to a gaping tomb, inviting him to lay his young life down there among those awful shapes of rottenness, as proof of that his altruism was anything more than condescension. Can the living consort with the dead for the good of either? With contempt he classed her among the dead and rejected her plea that there was “good in her"-enough good to warrant the sacrifice she asked.
But it remained still firmly fixed in his mind that self-sacrifice was the price he would have to pay for the regeneration of the spirit that he hungered for-that quit-claim of conscience that would make good his title to the peace that passeth all understanding. He must have that peace.
What other sacrifices, then, could he make? These things that he had given up were trifles; on what altar should he fling the wretched remnant of his life? He reflected deeply. Certain mental reservations on points of religious dogma-as yet hardly thought out but still distinct bridges to be crossed-shut out all question of the monastic orders. Besides, the god of his soul was humanity, not Christian organization. He could serve humanity only through the needs of the individual; therefore, it was on behalf of some individual that he must sacrifice himself-but what living fellow-creature stood most in need of the devotion he craved to give?
He shook himself and smiled as the picture of a great and costly-yet entirely practicable-sacrifice loomed suddenly before him. The image of the young girl, Martha McPherson, standing in eternal loneliness, with the finger of scorn pointed at her babe, rose before him. He saw himself standing beside her as the self-appointed protector of Martha and the fatherless child. He would take upon himself this burden of another’s sin; he would make what vicarious atonement he could for the wrongs heaped on those defenseless young heads. The cruel fact of their double illegitimacy-as if God and man had joined hands to disinherit them-had always cut him to the heart.
This should be his atonement! It would lead him in ways of humility more isolated than any that are to be found in the cloister; it would require moral courage of a high order, for he would still be out in the world battling with the foes of the reformer, enduring the cold stare of the scornful, the ridicule of the thoughtless. He would encircle these two helpless beings with his tender protection, his life long constancy; from that centre, his life would radiate into noble service for all humanity. Self-abnegation must always be the watchword of the reformer, but it should begin at the hearth-stone. His life should be consistent, if nothing else.
Throwing himself again in his arm chair, Julian leaned his elbow on the table; a book fell to the floor; he picked it up to replace it. It was a copy of Hall Caine’s Christian, which Denning had persuaded him to buy and which he had finished reading a few days before. Julian pitched it violently back on the table; then he caught it up again with a groan and turned over its pages. Denning had discussed with him the merits of this novel and they had found themselves unable to agree over it. Julian had declared it to be devoid of moral power and illustrative only of the groveling, degenerate tendencies of modern English fiction. The writer, he had insisted, was without spiritual insight and yet he had dared to portray the highest struggles of the spirit. But Denning had contended that the story represented life as it was, and he considered it a masterpiece of realistic art.
To Julian’s overwrought imagination, the career of John Storm was now suddenly revealed to him as a caricature of his own life. The thought filled him with a despairing rage. He tossed the volume into the stove that already held the remnants of his musical instruments, and closed his eyes to the sight of the flames consuming it.
Staggering to his bedside, he fell on his knees and cast his soul into prayer. When he arose, his face wore the wasted look of the ascetic; but it was beautiful with the unearthly passion that has so often consumed its earthly prototype-that strange passion which since the beginning of the world has inspired the most heroic deeds and the darkest crimes of history; which has wasted countless noble lives and ennobled many feeble ones.
Julian now felt free-purified-uplifted.
THE NEXT morning Julian rose early and took a train that carried him into the interior of Pennsylvania. On the way he looked squarely in the face his determination of the night before. When he shrank from it as quixotic he argued with himself that the unhallowed infatuation from which he now believed himself free demanded this act of expiation. His repentance would be insincere without a more positive result than mere freedom from a sense of guilt; he wanted to punish himself and make his escape into a forbidden paradise an impossibility. He would therefore deliberately assume the highest of moral obligations and make of them a wall of Troy to surround his soul. He believed that he needed such a wall and he planned the building of it with a melancholy satisfaction.
While in the train his thoughts returned to the illusive personality of Marian, for no longer could there be danger in such reflections. The image that he contemplated was an inglorious one; its brightness had fled, and its halo was wanting. Julian had once visited the interior of a Catholic reformatory, and as he recalled the procession which he had witnessed of heavy-eyed, down-cast young women, all wearing the garb of the penitent and the hopeless look of those whom the world has forgotten, he seemed to see Marian standing in the ranks with the Magdalen’s coarse white cap covering her bright hair. It was a distressing fancy, but less repulsive than the image of the street woman with whom she had seemed permanently associated the night before. Feeling himself at last free from the spell of Marian’s loveliness, and removed to the safe hill-top of a philanthropist’s attitude of benevolent contemplation, as far as the street woman was concerned, the vague aspirations of the courtesan now appealed to him as deeply pathetic. Her appeal for more just social conditions stirred within him much uneasiness and dissatisfaction. He regretted that he had made no effort to aid or advise her.
His reflections were cut short by his arrival at a wayside station, where he engaged a buggy and driver and was soon far from the dust and noise of the railroad. The part of Pennsylvania which he had entered was settled chiefly by a class of religious separatists known as Mennonites.
The driver whom he had engaged entertained him with stories of their quaint customs. They practiced medieval charity very far removed from the principles of the well organized associations with which Julian was familiar; they fed every hungry traveler that passed by with the religious zeal of the monks of the middle ages; already their neat lanes threatened to become the highways of a great army of tramps. They discarded buttons from their clothing-even the men wearing hooks and eyes on their outer garments-and all ornamentation from their wagons and harness; they even washed each other’s feet in the excess of their pious humility.
Trade had not had a chance to sharpen their faculties by long practice driving hard bargains. They were purely agricultural in their instincts, as simple within as they were without, yet they had prospered. There were no finer farms to be seen than theirs; no more magnificent barns or handsomer cattle or cozier homes.
When Julian alighted for the seventh time to inspect one of his juvenile charges, the dark-haired Mennonite matron who met him on the threshold looked the twin sister of the dame from whom he had just parted down the road. The large, soft, black eyes, the olive skin and long oval face undoubtedly reproduced the sixteenth century type of continental Europe. The long hair, the solemn mien, the quaint, broad-brimmed, flat-crowned hats of the men were suggestive of the days of fierce persecutions. The record of prolonged suffering was still to be read in the gentle mournfulness of their faces, which had not yet acquired the placid, self-satisfied expression of the modern Quakers.
One of the seven small refugees from the horrors of a county poorhouse had been intrusted to a worthy woman who met Julian at her side door. The poorhouse had left its brand upon each one of the seven; in fact, each prodigy was a manufactured article constructed on the plan of perpetual pauperism and warranted not to lose any flavor of original sin or any shade of the besotted boorishness which it is the peculiar privilege of poorhouses to bestow. This Mennonite woman shook her head with a woe-begone air, exactly as six other matrons in Mennonite-land had shaken their heads when questioned about the behavior of the transplanted seven.
“He does not listen,” she said, in a plaintive, high-pitched voice, her accent being decidedly German and not what is known as “Pennsylvania Dutch.” “I would like him to be a good boy and stay with us, but he will not listen. Yesterday he ran off,and my husband ran behind him a great many miles and brought him back. We did not chastise him because he is little, and my husband is a big man and might hurt him. We asked him with calmness where it was he wanted to go, and he said it was to the poor-house ! We would like a child that will do as other children do-play and talk and love my husband and me. But this boy-why does he want to go to the poorhouse?”
“Because he lived there nine years,” explained Julian severely. “He is used to the society of idiots and crazy people. He misses them. I wish you would try him a little longer-I know you are kind people.”
“Oh yes, we are kind people,” she agreed, innocently, as if kindness were too common an attribute to deserve comment. “If he would listen-if Clarence would only listen-we would like him very well-oh yes!” Her countenance brightened at the bare possibility of there coming a day of grace in Clarence’s calendar.
“This Mowgli-this American wolf-child,” mused Julian as he drove on-"finds even the simplest form of our civilization a succession of man-traps. No wonder he turns and runs-it is just exactly what many of us would gladly do if we dared!” He sighed heavily.
It was now late in the afternoon. The blood-red clouds around the setting sun recalled to his mind a picture in an old Bible of a sacrificial altar. His imagination leaped back to the thought of his renunciation-his self-sacrifice. The words seemed to be written upon the heavens in fiery letters. Both victim and priest would he have to be. He looked around upon the quiet Pennsylvania scenery, now robbed of its leafy bloom and blossom, and more than ever suggestive of soberness of thought. On every side the happy homes of the Mennonite people were preaching powerfully the doctrine of peace through self-abnegation-through the world and its standards passionately forsaken-and obedience to the religious and domestic affections accepted as the whole duty of man.
“How easily might one pursue an ascetic ideal in such a paradise of simplicity as this,” thought Julian, and a well-worn quotation from the New England seer passed through his mind: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
“But I am not seeking greatness,” cried out his fretful spirit, “but only purity of life. Why cannot I find a reasonable standard?”
He drew down his brows and looked sternly at the sunset. He read again in the brilliant rays the word “self-sacrifice.” Already the prospect frightened him. “If I could but live here-among these innocent people,” he thought restlessly, and reproached himself quickly for cowardice in wishing to flee from the world’s opinions.
The driver pulled up suddenly before a modest cottage. He announced that it was here that the Mennonite widow lived whom Julian was in search of. It was the home of Martha MePherson and her fatherless babe. Here, then, the great sacrifice was to have its beginning.
IN RESPONSE to his knock a child’s small face peered out and drew back with a shriek at the sight of a stranger. Julian pushed the door open and followed the fleeing child quickly into a plainly furnished sitting-room. The little one buried his face in the folds of his mother’s skirts. It was Martha’s child, and it was she who rose calmly to meet Julian, her pale eyes staring at him through steel-rimmed spectacles.
Julian surveyed the clinging child with some emotion.
“How changed he is-how changed both of you are!” He had forgotten that it was a baby’s business to grow. But Martha’s spiritual self seemed also to have grown unaccountably. She extended her hand with an astonishing air of country-bred composure, but disappeared quickly from the room, leaving Julian holding the tiny fist of the small “Thomas James.”
The boy was pretty and fair-haired. He studied Julian’s face with a gentle gravity. Evidently it puzzled him, for he put up a small hand to Julian’s cheek, passing it slowly over his ear. He then shook his head and backed into a corner of the room, where he stood with his gingham pinafore in his mouth, regarding Julian dubiously.
A soft tap on the door diverted his attention. The door opened to admit a tall rustic wearing the costume of the Mennonites. His long black hair, beneath a shovel-shaped felt hat, reached almost to his shoulders. He carried a long riding whip and wore high boots in which he trod so heavily that the thin planks creaked with his weight. His clothes were severely plain, of cheap homespun, and splashed with mud. His face was beardless, but rough and weatherbeaten; he had a long, straight nose and great black, gentle eyes.
No sooner had the newcomer advanced well into the room than the child, with a scream of delight, ran and flung himself into his arms. The Mennonite lifted the boy high into the air and surveyed him with a smile of grave sweetness. He then sat down with the child on his knee. After saluting Julian he became absorbed in contemplation of the child. Julian observed the pair in silence. There was evidently great love between them.
Martha came in and took her stand behind the Mennonite’s chair; no greeting passed between them and Julian wondered if he were a member of the household.
But now the widow entered and hastened to welcome Julian with confused apologies.
“It’s good you've come. Oh, yes, we're glad to see you come, but there is a great deal to tell. Perhaps you will get angry with me for not telling you sooner, but none of us do write good enough to say so much in a letter. Oh, yes, he can write; he’s a good scholar, Ephraim is, but his fingers get stiff with the hold of the reins. He drives the stage from White Horse to Bird-in-Hand every day in the week.”
“Twice a day,” corrected Martha.
“And he’s been mail carrier here for ten year and more; ain’t that so, Ephraim?”
Ephraim nodded, but Martha corrected her again-"Twelve year, mother.”
“Well, that’s what I said-twelve’s more than ten, according to arithmetic.” She took breath hurriedly and went on with signs of increasing nervousness.
“He has a house, too, Ephraim has, near the White Horse village; it has got five rooms. He owns it all to himself and ten acres around.”
“Why, there’s nearly eleven acres, mother, but there’s no more than four rooms to the house, without you count the woodshed.” The subject was too serious to be treated with inexactness.
“Well, I guess you'll make me out a story-teller next! Is not the woodshed as good as a room when it has both the doors and the windows?”
“He put them in himself,” observed Martha softly, as she patted her boy’s curls.
“Yes, yes! He put them in himself,” repeated the widow, brightening considerably. “He’s handy with his hands, Ephraim is, ain’t that so, Ephraim?”
“He can build a house or a barn, and he can plough a field and raise grain; he owns a reaping machine, too.”
“He lets it out in summer,” added Martha, “and gets good pay for it.”
“Ephraim gets good pay for all things-that he does; everyone will tell you that. You can ask all along the road from White Horse to Lancaster and you will hear no word spoken against Ephraim here.”
“That’s the truth, mother,” agreed Martha, with an air of happy finality. She leaned both elbows on the back of Ephraim’s chair. Julian looked from one to the other. Was there any point to this story of Ephraim and his incomparable virtues? Something more must be coming.
“I don’t know but what Ephraim acts as if he were fond of children,” Julian observed slowly, with an easy assumption of rustic placidity; its effect was reassuring.
The widow clasped her hands.
“Ah! He is so kind and so good-just like the Saviour does he like little children. He loves the child, Thomas James, as much as I do. He will make himself a good father to the boy. Oh, yes! And if he has his way he will make a good husband to our Martha here.”
“A husband?” Julian looked up with deepening interest.
“I will tell you-Ephraim is no talker-I will tell you how it is come to be done. Well-it’s not done yet, but it’s going to be, with your consent and your blessing-and the blessing of the Heavenly Father. It was this way. The little Thomas James fell sick about three month back-Oh, yes! A very sick child he was. We put onions on his stomach and I made him tea from three kinds of herbs, and we got the Hoo-doo woman to come, and she cut off a piece of his hair and his finger nail and buried them with a prayer; and she laid her hands on the boy three times; but he got no better, and eat his food he would not. We sent for the doctor that lives a mile across the fields, but his medicine did him no good. He said the Hoo-doo woman had hurt the child, which we knew was a wicked lie, and we told him so to his face. Then one day Martha had a bad dream, and she fell to crying all day about the child. Then she took it in her head that the doctor at the White Horse might cure him, for the folks speak good of him behind his back and everywhere else; so she goes to the store and leaves word for the stage to call for her and the baby by the next morning.”
The widow stopped and looked hard at Ephraim, as if desiring him to take up the narrative, but with a gesture he signified his wish for her to proceed. She went on with cheeks glowing and eyes sparkling.
“Ephraim being the stage driver, he heard the sick child was to take the long cold ride, and him out o’ doors for so long and his mother so sad over him, so over he brings with him a great shawl that once belong to his mother, and a hot brick for the feet of Martha to keep her warm also. Oh, yes! He was good to Martha and the child when he took them to the White Horse!” She looked at the Mennonite, who said nothing.
“So Martha, so full of sorrow with her trouble, heavy in her heart-Ephraim knew all about that from the folks around here.” She looked at him again, and he nodded assent. “She sat herself down by the side of him with Thomas James in her arms. There she sat, holding her boy like this and her head down so.” She folded her arms and bent her head over an imaginary child, glancing at Ephraim, who assumed a slightly different posture with an air of having corrected an important detail.
“Oh, yes-that was the way she sat; I was forgetting! She spoke no word on the road, and Ephraim he looked far away from her; but he covered her in warm, and he made his horses go faster than they ever did go before. They got there safe, and found the doctor, and he told Martha the child was not to live long. That was what he said, but he wanted she should come to him two times the week with the child for to get the treatment and the medicine; and when Martha got back to the stage and sat herself down again by the side of Ephraim she was crying for the fear of losing her child. She was crying hard. And Ephraim he looked now at Martha after he had covered her in so warm and so good; and he looked again; and when he looked at her now for the third time-only the third time-it was as I tell you-his heart was filled with compassion. It was filled with compassion for her and the child! I have told the Lord’s truth, Ephraim?”
The Mennonite inclined his head to indicate that he was satisfied. She went on with tender deliberation:
“Martha she looked up and saw the compassion in the eyes of Ephraim, and she was pleased that he had not been bold to speak to her. Is that not so, Martha?”
“He acted the part of a modest behaved man with me,” said Martha, looking around proudly at Julian, “and he saw that I behaved like a modest girl every time-in spite of my trouble-that’s what he said.”
Ephraim corroborated this statement fully by nodding twice.
“Yes-Oh, yes! Every time!” cried the widow eagerly; “and it was many times she went with him to the doctor, and all the times it was just the same!”
“Until I spoke unto her,” said the Mennonite, opening his lips for the first time to pronounce these words in a deep, guttural voice and leaning forward while he looked earnestly at the widow.
“Yes, yes!-until you spoke unto her! And in the beginning you spoke just three times. The first time you said the boy she held in her arms was worthy of a good mother; and the second time you said you had a dream like that the child was to get well-and Martha believed it was a true dream, for she knew Ephraim was a good, religious man. Then you said for the third time that the child was fair enough to have a good father-as well as to have a good mother.”
“Two times I spoke that,” corrected Ephraim, holding up two fingers.
“Yes, two times, Ephraim, in the same words always; and Martha came home and told me every word as you said it. I knew the Lord was working in your heart, but to Martha I said nothing that would matter.”
“You said that he was a man of a kind heart-and full of grace -that was all you said, mother, and I thought nothing until Ephraim—”
“Until Ephraim spoke one cold, cold day, when the rain was falling and he was more full of compassion than ever-Ephraim spoke to Martha: ‘Folks say your child has no father; is that the truth before the Lord?’ And Martha looked at him and she says: ‘It is the truth; I am both his father and his mother!'”
“Then says Ephraim, in a kind voice, ‘He has a Father in Heaven.’ So the tears came fast into Martha’s eyes for that. She could not answer Ephraim all for a moment.”
“No, not all for a moment,” repeated Martha, speaking quickly, with a tremor in her voice. “But soon my voice come to me, and I said that I loved my boy just twice as much because he had no father on earth; and I kissed him. Then Ephraim says: ‘Let me kiss him for the sake of his Father in Heaven.’ So I let Ephraim kiss him. Then he says: ‘It is not fair for you to have to love him for two.’ And I said the child must have the love. And he says: ‘I will love him up to the half that you love him.’ And I-what more did I say, Ephraim?”
“You said, sorrowful, that no one but a father could do that. Then I told you right there that I his father would be. But your voice shook when you began for to speak the answer, and all I did hear with mine ears was to come in-to come into this house; so in come I, and led you by the hand to her,” pointing to widow.
“Yes, and they did not need to speak the word, for I understood !” cried the widow. “I saw what was in their eyes-the love of the one for the other, and the child running up to the two of them! It was a happy day!” Ephraim kissed the child on the forehead.
“And I will become Amish,” Martha declared, “and wear the Amish dress.”
“Not Mennonite, but Amish,” explained Ephraim; “that is to be like unto myself.”
“Go get the dress and show the gentleman how it will become you to look when you are once married,” said the widow. Martha obeyed quickly, and returned clad in the severely plain costume of the stricter branch of the Mennonites; a white kerchief was crossed over her bosom and a flat white cap covered her young head.
It was not a bridal costume, but the happiness in Martha’s eyes made up for the sombreness of her attire. Her young face was almost pretty. Her grey eyes beamed merrily through her spectacles. She smiled fearlessly upon Julian, then caught up her child and kissed him extravagantly.
“He has brought to thee a husband,” whispered the widow, in quaint German.
“And to me a good wife—so shall she be by my side when the Lord Jesus has come here for the second time,” said Ephraim, in solemn tones, sitting down heavily beside Julian and looking intently at him. Martha and the widow hushed their voices and the little one’s prattle and sat down quickly with their hands clasped before them. Their faces suddenly put on the expression that people wear in church. They waited in reverent silence for Ephraim to proceed.
‘Tor the second time,” he repeated slowly, “but that is not so long away. It has been told to me in the night how that the Lord is to come soon-immediately soon-both the rich and the poor will He judge. But first, I tell you,” holding up a thick forefinger, “it is to the poor first that He will come-first, before all the rest.”
“Ephraim here has hearkened always to the voice of the Lord-that is why the truth is to him revealed-even to him before the ministers,” whispered the widow to Julian. “When the Lord wills it he can speak good.”
“Why will He judge the poor first?” asked Julian. “Are their sins heavier than the others?” Ephraim shook his head.
“Not the sins of them, but their burdens are the heavier. It is for this that He is to come so soon. For now we do live in the last watch. And the Lord Jesus will soon come to take into His hands the governments of the world, and with His hands He will make over those governments, so that it will no longer be that two, three-a dozen of men-will make the many thousands of dollars, and all the other men look unto those men for the day’s work, so that they can buy bread for their children-a little bread for the one day only! No! The Lord Jesus Christ will make those rich men to work and the poor He will make to work-but the pay-it will be the same pay for the one as for the other! This is what was told unto me of nights.”
“I trust He will not forgot the wicked cities,” said Julian, surprised at hearing from a simple countryman this new version of the street-walker’s socialist programme.
“To the wicked cities He will come, rest assured!” The eyes of the Mennonite flashed darkly, his hands clenched on his knees. “I will tell you how it is to be done with those wicked cities. The Lord Jesus will come and His winnowing fan He will bring in His hand, and He will raise His hand so, and all those cities will He scatter to the four winds of His earth! He will scatter the cities and the people will flee-and flee before Him, as do the hares in a wind storm!”
“But all are not equally guilty, my friend; will He not remember the poor people in our cities?”
‘’said I that the Lord will destroy those cities? No, I said it as it was told unto me; I said He will scatter them. Scattered they will be like the leaves when once they have fallen from the tree! The people will be scattered and scattered, and forth they will go into the country, where no cities are. For the Lord Jesus will drive them forth like leaves from the tree! And they will build them new homes in a country like unto this. But also the rich, they will be scattered even as the poor, and they will no more call unto the poor and say, ‘Come, work for us for a little money-as little as we choose to give-lest ye starve!’ For all will work together for the same pay and much happiness will come-aye, and to the rich, for they will find peace in hearts-and deep happiness to Martha and me will come, if we do but abide in the faith; and to thee, and to all the world will come love and peace! I have said it as the Lord hath told me.”
When Ephraim finished he wore the look of one who has done exactly as he is bidden and is content-having no responsibility-beyond obedience. Julian, rising to take his leave, clasped the enthusiast’s hand warmly.
“I like you and your religion. I am glad to leave Martha in your hands. Is it not a good thing that the Lord’s winnowing fan has driven her forth already from the wicked city?”
“Yes, it is good. All the signs pointed to the Lord’s coming again soon, and one of the first signs was she.”
“Yes, yes!” assented the widow, looking with cheerful approval at Martha. “I said it was the beginning of the Lord’s work when I laid my eyes for the first time upon Martha here, for it was after I had heard the Lord’s prophecy by the tongue of Ephraim, and I was looking about me for a sign.”
“I was driven forth often enough before,” explained Martha, clasping her hands thoughtfully before her, “but it was different this time. I had my child with me, and it was the Lord drove me forth.”
“Like Hagar in the wilderness came she here-with the child fast in her arms,” said Ephraim softly. He sat down again, spreading his hands on his knees, and motioned to Julian to sit beside him. After studying the floor carefully for a moment he said:
“I tell you it is in the mind of the Lord Jesus to bring nearer the markets to our people here. They go far to sell their hay and wheat in the city, but when the Lord comes He will bring the markets to the farmers, and every man to his neighbor will sell what he has. This is what I behold is yet to come. Is it not a good thing?”
He looked with eager simplicity at Julian, as if to note the effect of this striking proof of the Lord Jesus’ commercial wisdom.
“Isn’t it written,” asked Julian, as he rose a second time to go, “that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light?”
“That is why He is to come for the second time. Ah, yes, the children of this world are wise-much too wise!” agreed the Mennonite, in no wise disconcerted.
Julian departed, secretly rejoicing that there had been no moment when he could have imparted to Martha the sad fate of Tommy and Jimmy. She would have to learn the truth someday, but now that her cup was running over with a new happiness he would leave her to the full enjoyment of it.
THE SACRIFICIAL altar had taken itself out of Julian’s reach. Another had stepped in, and without dreaming of condescension or self-sacrifice, had wrapped those two despised ones of the earth in the secure love of his simple heart. He had given the substance in place of the shadow that Julian, with much trepidation and many misgivings, had been bracing himself to offer. It was very wonderful- in the nature of a miracle-this love-story of Martha’s, and he could not but feel that he had himself acted the part of a special Providence in bringing this miracle to pass, – or was it only that the girl’s life had blossomed into loveliness as soon as she was removed from the grinding pressure of poverty and the blighting touch of Charity? It would seem, then, that the beneficiary must needs be moved as far as possible from the benefactor, – the farther the better- and the relations between them reduced to purely economic ones with all sentimental considerations left out, but this did not accord with his original ideal of Charity, nor did it leave room for the exaction of that tribute coin, gratitude, which his managers invariably claimed.
As he recalled the enthusiasm of the Mennonite fanatic over the new social order that Christ was to introduce at His second coming, he fell to dreaming himself of an improved condition of things which should eliminate pauperism (he remembered with a pang that all Charity workers agree in detesting pauperism while they adore the squalid poverty of “the poor”) and provide the helpless ones with means of support in some impersonal way by the State, and on a grandly munificent scale of justice to each individual. It was odd that the Mennonite’s vision should coincide with that of the wretched street woman. It would seem that such problems were in the air- floating about for every child of misery or lonely thinker to catch at- and waiting for a solution. How long, O Lord, how long would the waiting have to be?
The question pursued him during his waking hours; it hung over his bedside at night and robbed him of sleep at pleasant country inns until the reflection of his haggard face in the morning mirror became a mere ghostly personification of that reproachful Question.
After spending nearly three weeks in visiting country almshouses, jails and other abodes of misery- all tabulated by the State under the mocking head of “Charitable and Reformatory Institutions''- Julian at last turned his careworn face away from their concentrated horrors and boarded a train that would carry him swiftly to the city, where lay stretched out at its full length the great Question- still unanswered- aye, even untouched!
He tried again to set himself to the task of solving the Problem on a basis of alms-giving organized and directed by the State, but this brought him face to face with the sad inconsistency of having the State reward incompentency, drunkenness and neglect of paternal duty, while it left the industrious poor to struggle along unaided. Then came the awful question of taxation. He felt the Problem to be too much for him. The only conclusion he could come to was that private alms-giving and care of the poor were a dismal failure anyway, even when looked at from their brightest side. Elizabeth’s career was a shining light shedding glory on the Association, but could his Managers claim honor for their long series of blunders in Martha’s case, even though a miracle had been performed at the last? And then the divided responsibility which several organizations shared for the cruelties inflicted on Martha’s brothers- did this not pull down the scales on the other side and leave many philanthropic managers in the position of creating a keener misery than that which they had started out to relieve?
Suddenly, the current of his thoughts changed. His absorption in the Mennonite idyl was blotted out by the cries of the newsboys on the train as it approached the city. He now learned that war had been declared between the United States and Spain; the President was about to issue a call for volunteers; the regulars, it was said, were already on their way to protect the southern coast!
This then was the meaning of the great excitement he had observed at every station along the route; men were to be seen talking in groups everywhere; flags were being displayed with a fierce patriotism that was burning to avenge the “Maine.” All the young men were said by the newspapers to be eager to enlist in a war that was proudly proclaimed to be undertaken solely in the interests of humanity. It was of course understood that America could enter the arena only in defense of a noble cause. But was not the avenging of the “Maine” a noble cause- at least about as noble as taking up arms in behalf of those miserable little Cubans- suggested some of the papers.
Julian’s blood turned to fire in his veins.
Notwithstanding those confused cries of “vengeance” and “humanity” by the yellow journals, Julian felt that here indeed was a chance for self-sacrifice on a large scale- demanding his life -all he had!
Moreover, it offered him a blessed release from that hopeless effort to solve the Riddle which our modern Sphinx- like a frenzied madwoman- was persistently bawling in his ears.
It was eight o'clock in the evening when he stepped off the train, but there was time to visit several armories. Before the evening was over he had registered his name as a volunteer to be called upon if needed. He passed the physical examination and discovered that he lacked two pounds of the requisite weight of a United States soldier.
“Eat hearty and maybe you'll fill out in a few days,” said the recruiting officer. It was a militia regiment, well disciplined and neat, but of no great social pretensions. The rank and file were industrious clerks, bookkeepers and salesmen, with a sprinkling of mechanics and laborers. There were some vacancies in the membership and Julian’s unmarried state was in his favor. On the whole it was likely they might send for him soon. At two other armories he had received distinct discouragement; in one organization known to be composed of the higher social elements of the city, the membership list was far from complete, – but they expected to fill it out with their personal friends.
“It’s a kind of club, you know, and of course the fellows want to be together,'’ someone had ventured to explain. Julian thought this perfectly natural; it meant that they wanted to die together, if die they had to on the field of battle. It would of course be vastly more comfortable to be shot down in the company of one’s friends and to expire in their arms, than to die among strangers. He looked searchingly at the members of the regiment he hoped to join and weighed their prospective merits as death-bed companions. He decided that they looked good enough to die among. Their comradeship seemed to be built on very human lines, he thought, – and he was glad the others had rejected him.
The next morning when he reached the office of the “Association” he found another war raging. It had been reported to the Managers that Elizabeth had disappeared from the boarding-house they had selected for her, and no one knew where she had spent the night following her departure. She had been hastily summoned before a Committee of Managers to whom she explained that she had spent the evening at the Opera, and after finding herself locked out had sought refuge at another boarding establishment.
This incomplete statement had produced an extraordinary sensation. It was clevely surmised that Elizabeth had not revealed the whole truth. Following some inexplicable instinct she had suppressed all mention of Julian’s name, which of course increased the mystery of her conduct. A series of meetings were held for the purpose of fixing the exact degree of wrongdoing for which Elizabeth should be held responsible; to this was added the enormous guilt of an intention to deceive.
Julian found the Managers holding a star chamber session, and profoundly enjoying their task of probing Elizabeth’s faltering admissions and denials with their penetrating logic. But their wonderful air of holy disinterestedness, their attitude of angelic tolerance for each other’s opinions (a state of mind presumably evolved from an abiding confidence in the superiority of their social station) all this had vanished, and his astonished eyes now beheld the Board room turning rapidly into a camp of furious Amazons. In vain did Julian insist that the responsibility for Elizabeth’s transgressions was wholly his. The situation had become too strained to admit of new testimony. The Board had split into warring factions, and those who believed Elizabeth guilty of gross impropriety represented an aggressive majority. The minority which had originally been composed of several feebly expostulating members, dwindled at every meeting, until it was finally reduced to a group of three. The three developed at last an undaunted courage; they retired from the shock of battle with wet eyes, rumpled hair and the general appearance of high-bred chickens fleeing from a storm of wind and rain, but they gathered themselves together afterwards and returned to the charge with unflinching heroism.
They took Julian into their confidence one day, and explained to him the real nature of the combat. It was not, they said, a difference of opinion on Elizabeth’s behavior. The real issue was a question of leadership. Dissatisfaction had been brewing for a long time; the leader of the majority had jumped at the opportunity offered by the report of Elizabeth’s alleged improprieties to utter her famous war-cry: “The principles of Human Brotherhood are at stake!” It was meaningless, but powerful in rallying the weaker sisters. With cutting irony the trio dissected the motives and characteristics of the triumphant young Amazon whose bidding they now refused. But the only result of their incisive thrusts was the development of a new theory (on the part of their adversaries) which demanded the immediate dismissal of Elizabeth.
To his astonishment, Julian found himself set aside in the discussions that followed. Nothing that he could say made the slightest impression; the majority had no fault to find with him; he was ruled out of the argument by skillful sophistry, and denied admission to the meetings. He was not consulted about Elizabeth’s dismissal. When he complained of this treatment, the defeated ones told him she had been dismissed simply to drive her three faithful champions from the Board. It was the last move of the game.
“Why do they not dismiss me?” cried Julian, eagerly.
The forlorn leader of the minority smiled.
“Their theory now is,” she replied, “that you have fallen a victim to Elizabeth’s wiles. Your welfare is supposed to be endangered by her presence in the office. You see you forced them into this position when you proved so clearly that she was absolutely blameless in the matter.”
Her two colleagues joined her in ladylike, delicately suppressed screams of bitter laughter at the conclusion of this statement, which was a correct exposition of their adversaries’ line of argument, – the climax of misrepresentation and false reasoning. Julian turned away in sharp disgust.
That same day Julian was notified to hold himself in readiness to join his regiment at a few hours’ notice. He sought Elizabeth immediately. The undeserved disgrace into which she had fallen was now stinging him to the quick. He could'not permit this helpless young creature to suffer the consequences of his own selfishness and lack of worldly wisdom. Some way must be found to extricate her from the humiliation of her position. He believed that the Managers would never have taken such a view of her conduct if she had not been one of the waifs. Alas! would she never be released from waifdom? Could he not cut her loose with one blow?- and after that the war, – and probably death! His life was his country’s, but he could give Elizabeth his name and a home with his mother who he believed loved and understood her. In the face of war, marriage seemed now a very trifling obligation. As for love- his heart was dead within him- he would not deceive her.
It was near the close of the day’s work. Julian expressed a wish for Elizabeth to remain afterwards. When they were left alone he motioned to the young girl to draw near, and he placed her chair beside his. She sat down obediently.
“You have not said a word to me about the trouble with the Managers- not a word,” he began abruptly, “I'm afraid they have worried you terribly?” Elizabeth tried to speak, but tears choked her. She laid her hand on the desk in an effort to steady herself.
Julian looked at the small hand on his desk; it bore the stamp of toil in childhood, the roughness of the needle’s pricking and a lately acquired inky stain. He was moved to put his own hand swiftly over it, and to hold it in a light, firm grasp.
“I have not been a very wise guardian- or a very good friend to you- have I?” he cried, impulsively.
“You have been good to me, – always!” she replied. He dismissed a sudden impulse to draw Elizabeth nearer to him.
“I should like to be good to you always,” he assured her with a kind smile. Elizabeth raised her eyes. Julian observed with an unaccountable pang in his heart the peculiar charm of her face; a suggestion of Semitic origin in the delicate arch of her nose accentuated the pathetic gravity of her expression. But he be thought himself suddenly of another face- a thousand times more lovely. He drew his breath quickly and withdrew his hand from Elizabeth’s. The change in his attitude cast a chill over the young girl. He went on with a rapid utterance and an air of determination, but the impulsiveness of his manner vanished.
“I do indeed wish to be good to you. Elizabeth, I am going to the war- I have enlisted—-” The girl uttered a faint exclamation. Julian noting her agitation went on hurriedly, “That may mean nothing more than a holiday excursion- or I may never come back, – of course no one can tell what we are going into, or how long it will last. I want to leave you provided for. I want you to be happily situated in every respect.” Having reached this point, Julian ceased to look at the girl and began to draw imaginary circles and geometrical designs on his desk with the end of an ivory paper-cutter. His face was still expressive of unalterable resolution. He went on:
“I have thought over what is best for you, from every point of view. I am not satisfied to leave you to the mercies of those female dragons. I do not want to see you working for strangers, either. I cannot bear the thought of your going out into the world by yourself. You are so young; I hate to see such needless exposure of a young life—-” He dug the paper knife into a groove in the desk, and then laid it suddenly down. “So I have come to this conclusion, Elizabeth, – that the way out of it, – the best way for both of us- is for you to marry me before Igo to the war.”
Elizabeth stood before him; her lips parted with a breathless, bewildering realization of joy unspeakable. She tried to speak, but no sound came forth. Julian looked at her gravely, – with an odd shyness. Elizabeth struggled again for speech and at last found her voice. She said with an innocent directness:
“Do you mean that you love me ?”
Julian picked up the paper cutter and returned to his geometrical designs. How could this child know anything about love?
“Love means all things to all people, Elizabeth. I think with me it means everything in life- everything holy and beautiful. I love humanity- but the larger element swallows up the lesser, the more personal. Elizabeth, I once believed that my life was dedicated to service; without any cant, I wanted to give all of myself to my work. When I chose that path it did not leave much room for the purely personal affections, – at least it should not. I'm not making my meaning clear. What I want to say is—-” He frowned and studied the desk a moment; he remembered he had not lived up to his creed: he did not want to sail under false colors in Elizabeth’s eyes. Then his face cleared and his voice fell to a persuasive note.
“But the greater includes the less-that is what Imeant to say. ‘Greater love hath no man than this- that he should lay down his life for his friend'- as I would for you, – ay, a thousand times over again! But my life is dedicated also to those who need me, – just now to my country. Elizabeth, will you-be satisfied with what I have to give you?”
His attitude was not that of a lover; even to her inexperienced young soul this much was revealed. But he looked with a most ingenuous expression from the desk to her face; his youthful magnetism and the look in his eyes of passionate exaltation made their own appeal.
She turned to him artlessly. “I know you have others to think of as well as me- I am satisfied.” Satisfied? She was in paradise!
The eyes of these two very unworldly young persons met. The world was nothing to either of them; it knew them not or had long since forgotten what little it once knew concerning them. A worker in a charitable organization and a waif under his care- surely, two such insignificant human molecules might plan their lives to suit themselves! So thought Julian with a suppressed, sober joy in his heart.
He held out his hand. Elizabeth placed hers within it. An impulse to kiss her entered his mind, but he put it aside with sternness. The occasion was so very solemn! The agonies and the glories of war were staring him in the face; they were mating for a parting. He must think of Elizabeth’s future and arrange for his probable death. He helped her on with her coat, and took down her hat.
“To-morrow we shall be married- and then- my regiment may leave any day. Elizabeth, I have something I want to leave with you-this package. I wish to leave these things in your care – and I know you will keep them safely until I ask for them?”
“I will- I will,” she whispered. Julian opened his desk and took out an oddly shaped parcel. It contained what remained of his flute and violin. He placed the package in her hands.
“You are going to the war-to be killed!” Casting the package aside, she turned toward him with a sob. Julian drew her to him and did his best to console her. His tone was kind, as usual.
“You can stay with my mother until I come back,” he suggested, gently; then coldly- “my mother loves you, Elizabeth.”
For at that moment a vision was rising unbidden before him. He saw a similar scene in a rose garden ; the exquisite face of Marian floated before his eyes. He shuddered. She had stepped between them and paralyzed the newly awakened tenderness that was springing up in his heart for Elizabeth.
The situation became suddenly intolerable; he was panic-stricken at the complexity of his emotions. The next instant, he tore himself from Elizabeth with incoherent excuses that he must attend to his new duties; he must telegraph to his mother; he must seek the armory and the Managers of the Association- a thousand things were to be attended to without delay- he must leave her.
Dismayed at his own abruptness- conscious of deplorable failure in his effort to speak with tenderness and act with consistency – Julian left Elizabeth and rushed out into the street.
THAT evening, Julian was on his knees in his bed-room tying up in a borrowed army blanket the few articles of clothing he expected to take with him to the State Camp. He was not thinking, however, of military matters, but of a comment Denning had made on Elizabeth’s good looks during her short stay in his boarding-house.
Coupled with the thought of Denning’s careless admiration was the embarrassing fact which a clergyman had explained to him, that Elizabeth being still a minor, the consent of a parent or guardian would have to be obtained before her marriage could take place. In the absence of parents, Julian would have to sanction her marriage with himself and receive the bride- from his own hands.
The more he considered it the more did it seem that an element of unfairness had entered the situation. Was Elizabeth acting solely from her own choice when she accepted her benefactor as her husband? Was she not limited by her isolation and dependency to a much narrower choice than should fall to the lot of a young, pretty, well-educated girl? Lastly, in marrying an attractive young woman “for her own good,"- so Julian now sarcastically phrased it- was he not guilty of hypocrisy when he assumed that her welfare was his only consideration? Was he not taking advantage of her inexperience and deceiving himself while deceiving her? He forgot that he had treated her with coldness in their last interview; he could hardly analyze his sensations of those last few moments at the office.
It now seemed clear to him that it was unnecessary to have insisted on Elizabeth’s marrying him in order to save her from the spiteful tongue of slander. Such a desperate remedy might be the only alternative for one who sat enthroned on the high chair of conventionality in the glaring publicity of American social life, but for this obscure little fledgling, the simpler- nay, the more manly and considerate- course, would have been to have removed her quietly beyond the reach and knowledge of the female dragons and let her marry whom she pleased. It was as easy to change her environment- poor little roofless, rootless outcast that she was-as for a bird to hop from the dark retreat of one leafy bush into the inviting black mystery of another.
It was significant that the idea of self-sacrifice did not enter in the least into Julian’s calculations for Elizabeth’s future. The sacrificial altar had in fact retreated again to a safe distance, and now loomed indistinctly on the horizon as a fiery pillar enveloped in the black smoke of war.
His disagreeable doubts pressed more heavily as the hours went by. Meanwhile the wraith of his unhappy first love had again been exorcised, and for the present ceased to trouble him.
The door opened during his meditations to admit Denning, who wanted to borrow twine. He expressed no surprise at the nature of Julian’s task, but threw his door open wide as he returned to his room, revealing a pile of shirts, underwear, vests and trousers, toppling uncertainly in the middle of an army blanket that was spread upon the floor. The two men looked at each other. Neither had spoken a word on the subject before.
“You surprise me,” said Julian as he tugged vigorously to get his bundle into shape. “Often I've heard you say that you did not believe in going to war to help another people- and you hate the Cubans.”
“A war for humanity is nonsense,” answered Denning with contempt. “I am not going for the sake of those yellow Cubans, – or to avenge the Maine. The Navy can avenge its own wrongs, I fancy, without the assistance of citizen volunteers, who don’t know which end of a gun the bullet is going to come out of. I'm not going, either, I can tell you, to oblige a set of rascally politicians who call themselves ‘the government’ and who get up a war to further their own ends and fill their own pockets—-”
“I don’t see why on earth you don’t stay at home,” observed Julian, energetically.
“I could stay honorably enough, for I've never been a member of any military organization, – the one I always wanted to join permanently is too expensive, – too many balls and dress uniforms, – and you have to keep your own horse, too.”
“There seems to be no obligation of any kind.”
“There is an obligation,” said Denning, slowly, “but one you probably cannot understand. The troop I am going with contains nearly all the men I know and constantly meet. I don’t mean that they are all my personal friends- but they go where I go, they visit the houses that I visit; we dance with the same girls, eat at the same tables and belong to the same club- whatever befalls them is going to befall me. Of course most of the fellows are young and crazy with the excitement of the thing. They look upon it as a jolly lark. I'm an older man and I have a long head on me when I choose to give it a show. I may keep some of the crazy heads out of mischief or help them out afterwards. At any rate, I'm going because they're going. That’s all there is in it that’s explainable. You can call it by any fine name you want-patriotism, for example.”
Julian laughed. “I never heard it dissected so frankly before. If you believe in the principles of popular government isn’t there some inspiration in helping a weak, oppressed neighbor to throw off the yoke that we threw off and bidding her follow in our footsteps ?”
“Popular government be d- d ! I never believed in it, – help me screw up this package, won’t you?” was Denning’s retort. He apologized goodnaturedly for his profanity by saying that he was practicing what military graces he could call his own,— “I don’t know how to climb a horse, and I never shot anything off in my life, except fire-crackers, toy pistols, pop-guns and the like, when I was a boy.” He stood a moment in anxious meditation, pulling a very slight mustache, which he had lately been cultivating.
“I guess I can manage a rifle, but I hope- I do hope I may find a brute that I can have confidence in. Whoa, – Rozinante!” He sat astride a chair, and looked with a troubled countenance at Julian, while he pulled imaginary reins. “I say- wouldn’t it be a bad business for the beast to bolt from the field with me on its back-just as the fellows were about to charge the enemy! But there seems to be an unwritten law that gentlemen’s sons must be troopers, – queer isn’t it?”
“I never heard it before,” said Julian, ingenuously, “but I suppose they do look more dignified on horseback- as if they were a little above the vulgar herd- even if they have to use the same old common earth to ride over.”
“As long as they keep together, it’s all right- so it doesn’t matter much where they ride or what they ride over- they're all gentlemen together, and it’s a regular jolly club life- the swellest one in America.”
“Are they all such men of culture?” asked Julian, with respect.
“ Bless you-no-many of them never open a book, and it was all some of the fellows could do to get through college. No-I cannot say that they sparkle with culture- though there are a few book worms among them- but we have managed to keep out the vulgar herd.”
“Well, then, why such exclusiveness? I don’t understand exactly what your aristocracy is based on.”
“How can I explain these subtle distinctions? They are inherent-hereditary very often-and absolutely vital to the preservation of the best society, but you are determined to deny their existence, so what is the use of discussing them?” Denning spoke with irritation.
“I am not denying their existence, I am only trying to investigate the nature of mysteries that I seem to be constantly running up against. You say culture or learning is not the basis-then it must be delicacy of feeling, refinement-something of that sort?
“Well- you know, some of the fellows do make most shocking beasts of themselves- it’s a pity there’s so much drinking, – tho’ it’s not always a question of drinking, only.”
“Of course you put them out?” Julian looked up quickly.
“If they break the rules- yes- sometimes- of course it rarely happens.”
“I mean out of this- not the troop, but your higher social fellowship of gentlemen’s sons? Of course you cease to associate with them when they sink to such a level?”
“Now, my dear young friend, an aristocracy does not exist to exploit any vulgar Sunday School morality. That is the one thing I insist upon, – that a gentleman cannot by his actions cease to be what he is by birth, by nature, – he cannot put himself outside the pale if he tries! Why, if you look at it in any other way, where are you? Any cad can conduct himself ‘like a gentleman,’ and claim admission on the score of his virtues or his learning, or his acquired good manners! Or a chambermaid might go to school and pick up knowledge and good breeding that might be a very good imitation of the real thing. Oh, no, we have to draw the line very strictly indeed- and it is better to have it an invisible line- visible of course to ourselves.”
“Denning, you are a most irrational being! You are denying the very premises you started out with, – actually leveling the walls that make your aristocracy possible !” cried Julian in astonishment.
“Not at all!” said Denning quickly. “I admit nothing of the kind. But you can never understand this thing from the outside. If you got inside you would understand it as I do.”
“How could I possibly get ‘inside’ of social lines that are hereditary and inherent- and absolutely vital?” laughed Julian.
“Those are the standards, of course-but in this country, they have to be modified to suit our preposterous democratic conditions. We have to recruit from the outside, but I don’t know that it’s any worse than the British way of conferring titles for merit or selling them outright, – (one being as bad as the other in my opinion and equally lowering to the ideal of an hereditary aristocracy). Of course, we all assume that society is composed of men and women who are born ladies and gentlemen, – not made-this is our assumption to start with, but the real fact is that we do recruit from the outside.”
“Well, then, – another contradiction?”
“A paradox, rather,” answered Denning, smiling with pleasure over the word. “Society, you see, is composed of paradoxes of all kinds, which answer the useful purpose of baffling idle curiosity and defying the unholy zeal of sociological investigators like yourself. Many would not admit it,but I have lived long enough in this world to see things as they are, and I am perfectly aware that social recruits can and do acquire by contact and association all-or nearly all-that the first comers possess by a higher right; that is, they can do this after they're inside, but never, while they remain as strangers outside the gates-never-remember that!’
He seemed to be throwing out a gracious warning to Julian, who sat staring at him in a kind of stupefaction.
“I have offered,” continued Denning in a tone of gentle reproach, “to take you with me and get you really inside, but you never seemed exactly to appreciate what I was planning for you. But there is no reason why you shouldn’t have been ‘well in’ by this time-like the two little girls who lived at the bottom of the treacle well-you know.”
“And hauled treacle out of it, living both in it and out of it, – a good comparison is this for your paradoxical society. Thanks, but have you forgotten that I am only a farmer’s son, and may go back to farming myself?”
“When you are once ‘in it,'” said Denning with his most reassuring smile, “all the little differences that now distinguish you from the very ‘best butter’ will soon disappear, if you give yourself up wholly to mastering the fine arts of social expression. But the essential thing, my dear boy, is to cultivate the right spirit! It’s a mental attitude, more than anything else, I really believe. Some are born with this correct mental attitude, – but as I said before, it can be acquired-a sort of new birth unto righteousness. The chief thing is to have a deep underlying consciousness"-he stopped and looked severely at Julian, who, looking at him earnestly in return, mechanically repeated his words, – "a deep underlying consciousness?”
“A deep underlying consciousness that you are different from the outsiders! You must let yourself be thoroughly saturated with this idea. It must permeate your whole being. It will thus influence everything you do, say and think. Then all you have to do next is to observe carefully and follow the example of those around you-and there you are!”
He was entirely serious-so much so that Julian felt compelled to restrain his laughter, as he rose to his feet.
“You mean the whole thing is a make-believe-a gigantic hoax-this paradoxical castle of yours that you're inviting me to enter? Don’t you see the absurdity of it all?”
Denning rose also with an air of sadness.
“I knew I couldn’t make you understand-I was a fool to try to explain things that are better not talked about. We never do talk about them as a rule-it’s horribly bad form, but you are such a paradox yourself-”
“That you thought I might be made over and fitted into your castle of lying assumptions? Excuse the term-I'm a thousand times obliged to you. And have you forgotten that we're both going to be killed and that I've joined a regiment that is going on foot and has no ‘paradoxes’ in it? But I can tell you one thing, Denning-when I found a superior social order, – a ruling class-it’s going to have a sounder basis for its existence that yours!”
Denning laughed as he withdrew to his room. He shouted back his reply:
“You may found it on the most sublime ideals that the human race has ever yet conceived, but you will find that what I call the ‘mental attitude’ is the only thing in it that will outlast a generation-it’s the only thing that counts, after all.”
“I suppose he really thinks, – confound it-that he has the best of the argument!” groaned Julian, as he banged his empty bureau drawers shut one after another.
By evening, Julian had attended to all the various little matters that have to be arranged before one can take unto one’s self a wife, or fight the glorious battles of the republic, but it was then too late for him to visit Elizabeth at her boarding house. He did not see her again until he entered his office the next morning.
Having examined and dissected his quixotic impulses in the cold light of reason, Julian now felt prepared to act with absolute justice toward his defenceless ward. He was conscious of having himself triumphantly well in hand as his eyes rested calmly on Elizabeth’s face. Her deep blush was followed by a delicate pallor; again he was aware that she did not lack the mysterious gift of beauty. Certainly she was worthy to be wooed as other girls are wooed, – and won through the perfect freedom of her own choice! This thought turned the young idealist cold with disgust of himself. As she rose from her chair to greet him, he turned his eyes away so hastily that it gave the effect of displeasure. He spoke to her frigidly- his frigidity and displeasure being all for himself. He failed to note the appeal that was in her glance, and the meaning of her subsequent pallor was lost on him.
When Elizabeth reseated herself, she was trembling from head to foot. A keen disappointment benumbed her heart; she was conscious of a desperate sense of shame in which the glittering prospects of a new and perfect happiness withered and fell to the ground like the pasteboard scenes of a theater on fire. Her young soul bowed itself to the earth in distressing self-humiliation. Julian had determined to marry her from an exalted sense of duty in keeping with his god-like character, – but Julian did not love her; alas! alas! He was already shrinking from the sacrifice!
The young Russian could hardly breathe; to conceal her agitation she bent over her work, but found herself unable to write evenly. Julian moved in and out of the room several times during the morning; when he passed by her desk she turned cold and sick; she was unable to look at him, or to speak to him.
Julian had been waiting for the lunch hour for an opportunity to speak to her alone, but when the moment came, Elizabeth disappeared so quickly that he was obliged to postpone the interview.
He was much disconcerted that she failed to return at the expiration of the lunch hour. As she did not reappear during the afternoon, he went to her boarding house to open a frank discussion of the situation as it now appeared to him. He would confess that he had taken too much for granted in his interview with her of the day before. It must have seemed to Elizabeth that he felt very secure of her love. Moreover, while he had not actually repulsed her, when she had clung to him in such agitation, he now began to realize that his manner had been anything but loverlike; he had detached himself from her embrace with a haste that must have seemed extraordinary. While there was much to explain in his conduct, there was also much that would have to appear inexplicable-for the present. The best he could hope for was the establishment of a more natural relationship in place of the artificial tie of waif and benefactor which had none of the dignity of a legal guardianship. What a ridiculous, degrading mockery of a tie it was, to be sure!
Julian reached Elizabeth’s boarding house only to learn that the young girl had gone out an hour before. He repeated his visit twice during the evening; he waited in a much upholstered parlor until eleven o'clock that night without seeing her. Where was Elizabeth? He went home with a chill in his heart.
The next morning he received a letter. It was from the Russian. It began with expressions of gratitude for his long continued kindness. The closing paragraph said:
“There is a limit to self-sacrifice, and I cannot accept from you what you have just offered. You do not need to marry me for my protection. I am able to care for myself, and I am going where I shall not be known as a waif. It is not right for you to marry one of the waifs of the Association- a charity girl-especially when you do not love her. But as for me, I shall never forget you; I shall remember your goodness always, and I will pray that you may return safely. I hope you will not try to find me. You must never think again of, Elizabeth Powtowska.”
Never think of her again? She became instantly the one woman in the world-the only woman in the world-that he would ever think of again! The image of Marian was blotted out on the spot as if it had never existed. He would discover immediately Elizabeth’s whereabouts and then-then, he would make known to her the place she was to hold in his life-his hopes-his heart-forever!
A WEEK later, Julian clad in the uniform of the United States soldier, was seated in a crowded train that was bearing his regiment to its temporary quarters within the State. Painfully he reviewed on the way all the steps he had taken in his desperate and determined search for Elizabeth. It had not seemed possible at first that she could vanish out of his life as instantaneously as a snow-flake melts out of sight in a muddy street. He had looked for her first in the Russian and Jewish quarter of the city, remembering that she had once expressed a longing to return to her own people. He had haunted sweat-shops and tenement houses only to be convinced that Elizabeth was not likely to have found a resting place in such rookeries. Their poverty and squalor would disgust her; she could not speak any of the numerous dialects of the strange people who knew so many languages and knew so little else-nor could she speak Hebrew. Individually she had no claim on them; as a class they could do nothing for her.
Whither had she flown? In God’s name-what had she done with herself? He tried to consider with judicial calmness the awful possibility of her self-destruction. His heart nearly stopped beating at the thought, but he came back to it again and again because this theory had been thrust at him at every turn. In his despair he had finally sought advice from a Detective Bureau before which he laid the facts of the mysterious disappearance of a young woman, whose name he withheld.
He recalled the cross questioning of the Chief on the subject of Elizabeth’s associates. It was of vital importance to this official that he should know if she had a lover. Julian believed himself to have been Elizabeth’s only lover, – wretched hypocrite and bungler as he must have appeared when he condescended to make her an offer of marriage -it could hardly have been called making love; but could he be absolutely sure that Elizabeth had no other lover? Was he sure that she loved no one else? He was sure of nothing.
The Chief had demanded next if there were reason to believe that any one of Elizabeth’s supposititious lovers had slighted her. Had Julian slighted her? Or had Elizabeth slighted Julian? The young man in heaviness of spirit had been asking himself these distracting questions ever since. He believed himself to be the one keen sufferer and solitary mourner in Elizabeth’s highly successful performance of the “disappearance act,"-but might there not be ground for wounded feeling on her side? Had he not shown her only too plainly that he regarded her as classified-imprisoned-within the iron-boundaries of caste? Had he not made her feel that it was an outcast he was offering to marry?
Before answering the Chief, Julian had tried to view his behavior from an impartial standpoint, and particularly from the standpoint of a young, sensitive girl who might have had other and more attractive lovers, if she had not been planted in the dreary deserts of waifdom by an impracticable guardian representing a Board of Managers and two thousand “regular subscribers!” The result of his reflections was the opinion,which he had attempted with awkwardness to express, that there had been no intentional slight so far as he knew on the part of any lover, but there might have been an appearance of neglect or-indifference-that might have been construed-
“They're great on construing,” the Chief had interrupted, dryly, “that’s what drives ‘em to it-construing what he meant and what he didn’t mean-but most of ‘em do it for cause; they have cause enough, I guess, when it comes to the real thing, – jumping right in you know-not pretending. But they generally leave some word behind, – a note or something. Now, young man, if you have a letter or anything of that kind it’s your business to produce it, and not waste my valuable time talking about a case and holding back the evidence.”
Julian remembered that he had felt not only reproached for his lack of candor, but actually laid open and illumined by an eagle-like glance to the depths of his inside coat pocket, where the note lay concealed. Reluctantly he had produced it, and the Chief after glancing over it hastily had tossed it back to him with a contemptuous expression.
“That’s no suicide. There’s not a word in it to harrow up the feelings-which is the only object of a left-behind note. Now if she had said she was going to drown herself sure and you would never see her again alive, – she might or she mightn’t be going to do it, – there'd be something to reckon on both ways. But no suicide ever left a letter with nothing in it of a harrowing nature. It’s unhuman.”
Although Julian had disputed this view with the detective on the ground that the missing Elizabeth was different from the average love-lorn young woman (a plea that had caused the official to smile superciliously at his fingernails as if he were reading Julian’s words inscribed thereon in ancient hieroglyphics) he was now glad to take refuge in the universal application which the detective claimed for his theory. In his bewilderment he could no longer trust his own insight into Elizabeth’s character and motives; he clung with all his might to this cold, rocky rule of general human probability, because it offered the only argument on which to base the hope that Elizabeth still lived.
If Elizabeth were still alive, he could in time forgive himself for his stupid, cruel creatment of her; he could forgive her for the swift, terrible punishment she had inflicted on him; for if she were alive, Julian believed firmly that some day he would find her. But fate was as cruel to him as was Elizabeth in compelling him at this crisis to forsake his search through the city and become a part of the machinery of war with no power to guide his actions or control his time.
The shock of Elizabeth’s disappearance was already dimming the first fresh ardor of his patriotism. On reaching the State camp he found himself occasionally annoyed by the restraints of army life and again sharply disgusted by its vulgar excesses. But these were pin-pricks compared to the chafing of his spirit because he was obliged to leave to strangers the indefatigable search which he believed might result in the discovery of Elizabeth’s hiding-place.
To cool his heated emotions and the patriotism of the whole army, the rain began to pour steadily down; the tents were pitched in acres of mud and the soldiers wallowed in mud. They were soon soaked to their skins; the next day and for many days afterwards the water poured down their faces and made water spouts of their shoulders and elbows in the same unconcerned way that it gushes over the bronze and marble heroes that adorn landscape gardening. It was the first test of heroism and it was bravely borne with rough jokes, playful groans, shrugs and curses. An Irish stone-cutter who with three other men, shared Julian’s small tent, observed that never again would he l'ave a stone monument out in the rain if it had as much as half a face carved on it-without it might be the face of his enemy. He turned with a wink to a dignified young Cuban patriot.
“ When it comes the turn of the Imerald Isle, my compatriots will be in no sich haste to shove forward their job lot o’ wet an’ dry saisons to present with left-handed compliments to this fool av a nation!”
The Cuban, who disliked jokes on serious subjects, muttered gloomily:
“This worse than Koo-bah,” and glared angrily at the sodden sky. His mind’s eye could see nothing but a long, straggling, adorable, pink and yellow island in the middle of a white page dotted with smaller islands. A very wet map of it was in his pocket, and a very much more correct one was burned into the tissues of his brain. He spent his days in correcting the one, and his nights in climbing the mountains of the other in ceaseless pursuit of jeering Spaniards who fled in droves from a Springfield rifle.
Every few days Julian received from the Detective Bureau photographs of females under arrest as runaway tramps or pick pockets, whose identity with Elizabeth he hastened distressfully to disclaim. The Bureau had developed a facile ingenuity for running down clues which were hopelessly wrong and which often led into absurd entanglements with other people’s lives, with highway robberies and murder mysteries. After it had traced Elizabeth to Chicago, Liverpool and Quebec, had married her successively to an old pork merchant, and a traveling acrobat, besides causing her to elope with an attendant from a private lunatic asylum, Julian claimed the right to direct its search into more probable channels.
By looking up the addresses given in newspaper advertisements of “Help wanted,” on the date of Elizabeth’s disappearance and for several days subsequently, it was at length ascertained that a young woman answering to her description even down to several minute details of dress, had been engaged for general housework in a certain household in an obscure street and had remained there for a week under the name of “Betty.” But unfortunately, Betty had left without telling whither she was going, and her employer could remember only that she had said something about hoping to be a child’s nurse. Persistent following up of “Nurses wanted” and other vacancies in domestic service failed to reveal “Betty” in any household that the detective visited. It was like following tracks in a wilderness that led to the water’s edge and stopped there. Had Elizabeth’s feet led, also to the water’s edge, and did they stop there, in a city half surrounded by water that was arched by dark bridges with twinkling lights? Those lights and those dark curves so inviting to the feet of the heavy-hearted and the sorrowful-had they persuaded Elizabeth to give up the struggle?
But when the rain ceased falling, as it did in the course of time, and the stiff-jointed volunteers shook themselves, wrung themselves and laid themselves out in the spring sunshine to dry-to talk jubilantly of how Dewey took Manila before breakfast, of the battles they expected to fight in the near future on the Island of Cuba, and the good times they were going to have partaking of the fruits that grew on that tropical island, – it was not possible to escape the general hopefulness that was in the atmosphere. Julian recovered his cheerfulness and made himself believe for two whole days that Elizabeth was safe. At the end of that time he received another message from the detectives
amounting to elaborate variations of “nothing further,"-to which was added a bill of such stupendous size that it took half of his savings to pay it. He then dismissed the detectives, which meant giving up the search.
That night Julian lay on his blanket outside of his tent; it was close and uncomfortable within, and he was following the example of many who desired to live up to the popular ideal of the uncomplaining soldier. His clothes were dry and his body comparatively comfortable, except for a vague gnawing at his stomach, which refused ungratefully to be satisfied with bacon and hardtack. He struck a match, lit a pipe to keep off mosquitoes, and drawing forth Elizabeth’s crumpled note, he read for the hundredth time the sentence : “But as for me, I shall never forget you; I shall remember your goodness always, and I will pray that you may return safely.”
He felt comforted by the thought that Elizabeth undoubtedly intended to insure his safe return through her prayers; could she afford then to pass a single night without offering up her petition to Heaven? The picture of Elizabeth kneeling to pray for his return became tenderly and powerfully reassuring, seeming as it did to keep her alive for his sole benefit. He closed his eyes in an ecstacy of conviction that Elizabeth lived, – ay, that Elizabeth loved him.
After that, at the hour when she would naturally be preparing for her night’s rest, – however impossible it might be to imagine her career during the day or even the nature of her surroundings-it was always possible for the young volunteer to reproduce this holy vision of Elizabeth on her knees-praying for him. He would fling his arms restlessly over his head, and then fold them with a sigh across his breast;he prayed with all his heart for Elizabeth’s safe keeping; and so night after night he fell asleep.
AFTER their wretched experience in being soaked and flooded for so many days in the State camp, the still jubilant volunteers looked with satisfaction on the order for their removal to the warm, sunny camping fields of the South. So far, they had not enjoyed to the full many of the heroic sensations ascribed to soldiers in time of war, except the one of extreme discomfort.
Julian’s regiment had not yet received rifles or arms of any description. The act of drilling with canes and sticks had become a shame-famed performance, over which the volunteers blushed in the privacy of their tents and fervently prayed that the standing armies of Europe might not learn of their degradation. One of Julian’s comrades-a tall, thin fellow, who had been a clerk in a retail dry-goods store, and whose colorless social experiences had revolved round a small Baptist Sunday School-uttered a cry of loyal rage when he read in a daily paper a ludicrous account of the overpowering of a brace of sentinels by a trio of tramps who were armed and who knew that the volunteers were not.
“Hound them out of the country-the traitors!'* he exclaimed. “They would betray the secrets of their government for half a column’s pay!” He meant the reporters-not the tramps-and the whole regiment echoed the sentiment.
There was still a glorious uncertainty in the matter of food, which was sometimes abundant and on other occasions exceedingly scarce, but these hitches in the commissary department served only to demonstrate the immense size of the American army. They were proud to belong to a nation that could call out in a single day an army too large to be fed on a day’s or a w eek’s or even a month’s notice !
Breaking camp was a labor of love hilariously performed. The Southern railroads were soon carrying the precious freight of American manhood, and breaking the bones of not a few individuals in collisions-accidentally, of course-or was it conscientiously done to accustom them to the spilling of blood? They looked so young-these warriors-they were much too light-hearted to be bearing on their shoulders the destinies of nations. Nothing could dampen their spirits. The mysterious lethargy of the railroads in producing the breakfast of the great American army-"regularly the day after tomorrow by the clock"-as the German Undertaker’s Son. who also shared Julian’s tent, expressed it-served only to elicit jokes and sarcasms and was therefore useful in sharpening the wits of America’s most loyal sons.
“We need to be hardened,” sighed the Dry Goods Clerk, looking down at his long white fingers which had never done anything heretofore but fold up ribbons and children’s underclothing. He expounded a theory that the Government in its superhuman wisdom was secretly ordering all these hardships to occur that the flower of American youth might learn to endure the vicissitudes of war before the shock of battle should descend upon it. This theory was pleasing to many because, like witch craft, it explained what otherwise was inexplicable. A few grumblers arose to mutter that the Government had better leave pedagogy alone in dealing with the American people, but nobody paid much attention to these fellows, who were sadly out of tune, and were generally regarded as cranks who liked to play at being traitors.
There was in the ranks a singular individual who from the first had aroused a mild curiosity. This was a fair-haired youth of some twenty-three summers-he did not appear to have experienced many winters-who was observed to adopt, in the fulfillment of his duties, a lonely, languid pose, which suggested some heavy disquietude of mind. It was variously attributed to haughtiness, homesickness, a deep-seated grief, a lover’s melancholy-an indisposition to conform to the military ideal. It excited sympathy to see a man so out of touch with his fellows for no reason that could be understood, and numerous overtures were made to bring the inaccessible being into the familiar intercourse which they all enjoyed. But these overtures were declined with an air of patient tolerance-a sort of hasty gathering together of the inner man as though the refusal to accept dainties, or the loan of books and newspapers, were a test of moral character which he had determined to bear bravely. His faint, forced smile on such occasions conveyed more accurately than his chary speech, a distinct impression of secret grief.
What ailed the fellow? Was he in love? He sat apart, but his attitude was not sentimental. His gentleness of manner now and again disarmed criticism. It was generally agreed that he was a man of unusual reserve. Thus he could not change his nature, and such a manner-many said-often indicated extraordinary force of character. He was accordingly treated with more than usual respect and a long-continued show of kindliness-some of the men even going so far as to take upon themselves certain of his daily chores, which it was observed he performed with unusual awkwardness. These kindly offices he accepted with a weary graciousness of manner, which was at first impressive but afterward seemed to lack spontaneity. It was a stale kind of graciousness and seemed finally to imply that his burden of gratitude was a mere figure of speech, however strenuously it might be expressed in words. He was evidently a weakling in physical strength, but this fact was regarded indifferently and inspired no disrespect.
Finally, one day, it was noticed that the reserved one had a visitor-a jaunty young fellow whose shining full-dress uniform was that of a trooper. The two strolled about together smoking cigarettes, and sat down to drink wine and play cards. And now some of the older men feared that the tempter had taken possession of their silent comrade. They watched him with concern as he arose from the table. No longer was he silent, for even before the wine had been brought his loquacity was strikingly in evidence; but his bearing was erect enough, as, with his arm on the trooper’s shoulder, he clung to him like a loving brother. Thus they passed and repassed the Undertaker’s Son, who was standing on guard that day on the parade ground. The youth was not drunk; he was merely talking earnestly, passionately, his words rushing forth like a dammed-up stream broken loose; the wine he had taken served only to give color to his cheek and a thrill of righteous indignation to his voice. He seemed not to care who heard the tale of woe which he was pouring into the trooper’s sympathetic ear. After he had somewhat exhausted his passion, he became plaintively appealing. Constantly he repeated the phrase,” And I am the only one-the only one in the regiment!” with moving effect. It evidently stirred his friend profoundly, for he muttered always in reply: “An outrage-a brutal outrage!”
“Now what ‘outrage’ is being perpetrated on our forlorn comrade?” queried the Undertaker’s Son, “that all of us do not share in the way of privations and general discomfort?”
But again the trooper and the unhappy lad were coming that way, and their voices plainly indicated that they were lost to the outside world. For now they were painfully explicit. Quoth the youth with the sorrowful countenance:
“It’s just as I have described-I can stand it no longer. I have made the most careful observations and I assure you I do not exaggerate in the least when I say that I am the only gentleman in the regiment-the only one, damn it!”
His voice broke into a sob. It was such a distinct wail of grief mingled with rage, and caused such concern to the listening trooper that he stopped abruptly in his walk and dug his spurred heel hard into the sand.
“A damned beastly shame! I declare, it’s awful! But how did it ever happen that you got here ?”
The other winked away a tear, took out his handkerchief and blew his nose violently.
“I was in a great hurry and I'd had a drink or two that morning-and fellows told me I was certain of being promoted, so I just rushed ahead-and now they won’t let me resign any more than if I really belonged to the herd! But it’s not the best way out, even if I could get discharged on the plea of ill-health. Fellows might say things-afterward, you know.”
“Yes-they might. You must get promoted-that’s the thing to do-get promoted at once.”
“I know that well enough,” cried the Solitary One, brightening and smiling, “but how can I? It takes outside influence-a tremendous damned lot of it! But if I were an officer, you know I could associate with officers outside, and there are several I know.”
“Whatever it takes, I'll guarantee to get it for you. I understand something of politics, and I know a man who can pull more wires than you ever dreamed of, so just bear up for the present, I'll explain the situation to the troop and we'll pull together and get you out of this-trough!”
He was deeply in earnest as he shook the hand of his friend and sealed his promise with another splendid oaih. After he had taken his departure the gentle youth looked visibly cheered and retired to his tent with elastic step and beaming eye.
But the mystery of his solitary habits was now revealed to the Undertaker’s Son, who explained it to his comrades without loss of time. Some were dense of comprehension. They could not make out why the gentility of the fair-haired youth should cause him acute suffering. Might he not have found in the whole regiment at least one of sufficiently elevated tastes to be worthy of his companionship? Had not several of their best educated comrades-really gifted and intellectual men-offered to lend him rare books which he had invariably declined? What did he want, anyway? Couldn’t they all play cards and drink wine, if they wanted to, and swear prodigious oaths, if they wanted to, just as well at that trooper? Why, then, this voluntary isolation-why this shrinking from all of them as if they had the plague?
“He’s a gentleman’s son, I tell you-the only real one among us,” replied the Undertaker’s Son, smiling grimly.
“I refer you to Julian, who has had long experience with the ways of fashionable exclusives. The only specimens I've had a chance to examine were dead ones-perhaps they change after death, for I could not discover that they were differently constructed from the rest of us. But of course they must be! Strange isn’t it, that the Lord made us so different? Perhaps Julian can explain why this was necessary for the economic good of all.”
Julian said he had given up trying to define the spirit of class egotism. He had been told that it was a mental attitude. ‘’seems like the attitude of the tortoise, doesn’t it? Standing on nothing and supporting an elephant with a world of impenetrable conceit on his back-but it’s such a very little world!” It was a religion of intolerance, he explained, requiring no basis of fact-none whatever.
“If humanity,” he added with sudden enthusiasm, “if humanity be an ocean with bays, inlets and rivers sharing its tidal forces, then I call pride of caste the wave that throws itself far up on the beach-lying there a shallow, shrinking pool, evaporating day by day. And it dares to imagine itself superior to the great ocean from which it came-this miserable, stagnant little puddle whose day will soon be done! The winds and the sunlight of God’s truth will soon make short work of it!”
“That’s capital!” cried the Undertaker’s Son, clapping his hands with satisfaction, “Bellamy himself could not have put it better. It’s a true picture-a serviceable simile that will stand thinking about. Don’t envy that pool, don’t try to copy it or to live up to its morbid standards. Just let it alone, and some bright day in the future it will evaporate entirely from our American life. We belong to the ocean, hey, Julian? We still feel the force of its waves and currents; they make our destiny great and glorious, and the winds of God are blowing through our hearts. Thanks be to Him forever for having made us as we are-just common folks!”
“Amen,” said Julian, and they all cheered lustily and felt quite happy and very superior for a few moments, during which they were able to look with a sublime pity on the denizens of the “stagnant pool.”
“But I want you to understand that I am no believer in your Utopian theories,” said Julian afterward, with great earnestness, to the Undertaker’s Son, whom he had chosen to class as a “theorist” from several long talks they had had together. “Humanity interests me and I love it, and I want to serve it, but I have no use for ‘Patton’s Priceless, Painless Panacea'-either in philosophy or medicine.”
“Names count for little,” rejoined the young German, smiling with a superior air, “but I have a book that will interest you by one of your own countrymen; wait a moment and I'll get it for you, for I think you'll find it about covers your case, and I'd like your opinion on its merits.” He disappeared into his tent and came out with several volumes under his arms. He handed one to Julian, who opened it gingerly. “Oh, Howells!'’ he exclaimed, in a tone of relief. “Yes, I like his stories, and I've not seen this one before, ‘A Traveler from Altruria.'”
“Here’s another, as that is very short-also by William D.-'A Hazard of New Fortunes;’ take them both and don’t be in a hurry to return them. I offered them to the” LonelyOne’ (’the Only One’, I think we shall have to call him), but he said he did not care for Howells’ novels, and he thanked me very kindly.”
They both laughed at the well-worn expression.
Henceforth the disconsolate youth was known as the ‘Only One,’ and studiously avoided as becomes a person of rank thrown into forced association with his inferiors. He was carefully watched, however, in consequence of his ambition to be advanced beyond his just deserts, and it was soon evident that some outside power was already acting as a lever to his fortunes, for not many days later he was made clerk of the company and soon after that he was promoted to the position of sergeant.
The question of breakfast was again shoved into the background when reports of the appearance of a Spanish fleet began to multiply. “Spook ships” kept both the army and the navy guessing for several weeks in a frenzy of excitement, until the discovery of Cervcra’s fleet led to the spreading of the news from camp to camp that the great American army was at last to embark for Cuba.
The grand scale of preparation that followed this announcement was enough to silence not only the noisiest of grumblers, but the hungriest of volunteers. They forgot their empty stomachs-or, rather, they did not forget them, but they argued that to be hungry in the enemy’s country after a battle in which they had completely routed the Spaniards would prove the necessity of enduring the same hardships in the home camps with a Spartan calmness of mien-unfortunately not as yet successfully achieved by a large majority. Some of the toughest of the grumblers accepted this view.
Haviag now received their weapons and uniforms, they hugged Springfield rifles to their hearts with a lofty indifference to tales of Mauser rifles and smokeless powder in the hands of the enemy. Orders and rumors of orders for this regiment and that to prepare for embarkation were flying thick and fast between Tampa, Chickamauga and Washington. Julian’s regiment was scheduled to sail on a certain transport on a certain Wednesday, and found itself after vexatious delays at last in readiness to depart. Wagons, mules, guns, ammunition, clothing and rations were piled in promiscuous and inextricable confusion on the vessel, and it looked as if nothing but a few miles of salt water lay between that regiment and glory.
Something, however, intervened in the shape of a countermanding order from Washington. Like a thunderbolt it fell upon the regiment, and every man felt struck in the breast by the hand of his government, and personally accused of cowardice and military unworthiness to fight the battles of the Republic. The transport sailed without them.
It was in vain that the officers explained to the men the many plausible theories advanced for the shelving of their regiment. It was useless to point out that other regiments had received their arms at an earlier date, and were consequently better drilled and in better fighting condition. The men sullenly asked whose fault it was that they had not received their weapons sooner? Was not the government aware of the length of time they had practised with sticks and rifles when it issued the order for their embarkation? Had some friend maligned them and whispered lies into the ear of the war department after the order was issued? Their angry murmurs grew so loud that on the Sunday following the chaplain preached a special sermon on the subject. He pointed out that several cases of drunkenness and theft occurring recently might have injured the standing of the regiment, and the immediate adoption of a higher moral standard would perhaps cause them to be sent to the front at the earliest possible moment.
This argument availed little because, as the men stated to each other in bitter comment afterward, their reputation for sobriety and good behavior was the best in the brigade, while the regiment which had taken the place of their own on the transport was notorious for its disorderly conduct.
It was not long before they understood that political influence was at the bottom of the matter; they learned that their Colonel, a gallant, painstaking gentleman, was without the political backing which would have assured him a chance to serve his country as he was fitted to do. He was too good to be removed, and too unimportant-politically-to be sent to the front; shelving was best for him. This summary of the facts checked the murmurs for the time being, the average American being accustomed to regard the evil deeds of politicians with the same silent tolerance with which loyal subjects behold the wild revels of disreputable monarchs. It caused the Colonel, however, to be regarded with a pitying, brotherly affection, as one whom lack of appreciation -or worse-had reduced to their own level of despised excellence.
The excitement occasioned by the destruction of Cervera’s fleet produced a temporary reaction, during which the regiment forgot its grievances in the general rejoicing over the brilliancy of American valor. This was quickly followed by the news of battles fought on Cuban soil; of heroism displayed by black and white Americans-regulars and volunteers-of loss of life, suffering, starvation, and all the attendant horrors of a campaign in the enemy’s country.
Julian read the name of Cooper Denning among the list of killed and learned that he had been struck by a bullet of a Spanish sharpshooter, just as he was in the act of dragging from the field a wounded comrade. To the last he had been faithful; he was loyalty itself to the obligations that he understood. His social dogmas had limited his sympathies to the fellowship of which he had formed so significant a part, but had not loyal souls in the early days of heroism always limited their allegiance to the narrowest of patriarchal or feudal obligations? Perhaps the spirit of exclusiveness in his class was after all nothing worse than a retrogression to more primitive instincts-a lapsing into a prehistoric stage of barbarism? Denning’s social instincts had always seemed to him to be purely tribal.
“Humanity moves in a circle; when a man tries to get away from his brother, he finds that he has only moved round to the other side of himself-to a more ancient type of himself. He is just a little nearer a savage perhaps than he was ever before,” thought Julian. Denning’s heroic death awed him; he mourned for him as one whom the world could ill afford to lose-he generously composed apologetic epitaphs on the caste spirit.
Meanwhile, the slighted regiment was being sent hither and thither on delusive expeditions, the object of which has not been revealed to this day. Three times it was packed on trains and sent a distance of one hundred miles to another camp, where it waited patiently for its breakfast, which twice passed it on the road back. Once it lay side-tracked for many days by a way station in the blistering glare of a Southern summer sun, apparently forgotten by the authorities at Washington. Some newspapers reported facetiously in startling headlines that it was lost; this recalled to the absent-minded War Department the fact of its existence, and the order came at last for its return to headquarters.
But on their return the men found their old camping ground occupied by another regiment which was enjoying the clear spring water which Julian and some of his comrades had carefully walled in and decorated with an improvised filter designed by the Undertaker’s Son. Another place was assigned to them, a low piece of ground which had just been deserted by troopers. Their Colonel expressed his indignation to the authorities, who promised amiably to restore them to their former camping ground. Nothing was done about it, however; in a few weeks they beheld it reduced to the condition of a pig sty. They were forced to conclude that they would do better to stay where they were.
Their new camp was supplied with water by a stream which, skirting the entire army on its right for several miles, was little better than a sewer. To drink from it was suicidal, nevertheless men were drinking from it, contrary to the Colonel’s orders, every day. Cases of fever were rapidly developing; many cf these were of a persistent malarial type. An attempt was made to dig for pure water, but the ground was low and bordered on a marsh.
It was unfortunate that the Captain of Julian’s company fell ill also, for the “Only One” was now being shoved forward with such rapidity that in a short time he was appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the other’s resignation. This appointment the Colonel sternly resented. It caused much ill-disguised friction between them. The “Only One’s” ignorance of both military and sanitary matters was so great that he was obliged to rely on his subordinates in issuing orders. His Lieutenants guessed often enough what orders he meant to give, but sometimes they guessed wrong and were reprimanded, with the result that when the order was repeated every volunteer guessed for himself what was meant, and obeyed accordingly. An attack of chills and fever at last laid the yellow-haired laddie on his back for three weeks, and when he returned to his duties he had forgotten all that he ever knew or had learned of military matters, and it seemed impossible to recuperate his memory. He began to drink heavily. To make matters worse, the Colonel next fell seriously ill, and during his absence the unhappy regiment floundered indeed.
By midsummer it represented a ragged, hollow-eyed, hungry set of men, who had not one grievance, but many. Sickness had depleted their ranks. Improper food had starved out their patriotism and greatly reduced the weight of every man in the regiment. Their rations were plentiful but unsuitable. It was a common saying that they threw away enough to feed another regiment. Occasionally the meat was tainted for days at a time, and the biscuits mouldy; there was no water fit to drink except that which was brought from a distance by men who staggered after it in the merciless glare of a sunshine which had become to the American volunteer an expression of the wrath of God. The condition of the regiment was alarming. The strongest and bravest of its members gathered one night around Julian’s tent to discuss the situation.
Julian made a short address. It was vain he told them to look to Washington for help; their Colonel had already done all in his power in that line, and his appeals received either no response or promises of help which never came. It was also vain to expect improved sanitary regulations from their own officers, many of whom were on the sick list, and whose orders on such matters were of the most perfunctory kind.
“The military ideal seems to me an anachronism any way, in this day and generation,” said Julian, “if we were not such a peace-loving nation, I believe we would long ago have invented a more sensible system-one more in keeping with our democratic principles. But we've dragged our grandfather’s heavy musket down from the dust and cobwebs of the lumber room and we are shouldering the same old stupid form of despotism that men have been shouldering for centuries. However, we've taken it up voluntarily for the honor of our country and in the name of humanity, so we're bound to make the best of it; only, do let’s put our democratic wits to work to save our lives when we can.”
He urged them to live up to a standard of their own and read them a set of rules which had been written out by the Undertaker’s Son, who was believed to be well up on sanitation, his father having been Secretary of a Board of Health. Sick and discouraged as the men were, they listened, nevertheless, with a pathetic show of interest, and agreed to stop argument on the question of whom to blame for their sufferings, and to undertake as far as possible the care of their own lives in the future.
“Now that peace has been proclaimed,” said the German, “it is not likely that we shall be wanted as food for powder-but we may be needed as citizens in the near future to preserve some of the ideals of this Republic. It is every man’s duty to study how to circumvent disease-and-starvation.”
He lowered his voice at the last word, but it was nevertheless distinctly uttered, and every man present heard it. There was an immediate rush of exclamations and angry protests, the men demanding to know of what use were sanitary measures when they were being deliberately starved to death?
“Amer—r—ican r-reconcentrados!” hissed the Cuban, rolling his r’s in scathing invective, and pointing in the direction where lay the larger part of the American army. He was immediately set upon by the Dry-Goods Clerk, who wound his long arms about him and dragged him with much effort beyond the outer circle of the meeting.
“You peoples is not a military nation!” the Cuban was heard to shout mockingly, as he disappeared into the darkness.
The Dry-Goods Clerk returned panting, and climbed upon a packing box. He addressed the meeting breathlessly:
“You have heard the voice of treason from the lips of that ingrate-now listen to your fellow-countryman! We are a lot of pampered children, overfed all our lives; stuffed with dainties until we have lost our taste for wholesome food. That’s what’s the matter; the fault lies with us; the rations are good, better than we deserve-better than any other government provides for its soldiers! What do you expect in time of war-to make no sacrifices? Are you looking for fried oysters and feather beds on a battlefield?”
“We have seen no war!” cried several voices, derisively. “We don’t know what a battlefield looks like-this is peace-not war ! We're in our own land, hungry in the midst of plenty-treated worse than the prisoners of Libby and Andersonville!”
“Shame on you-shame-shame!” screamed the Clerk; a violent emotion shook his whole frame; on his sunken cheeks were two brilliant scarlet spots; he beat his breast with both hands.
“Look at me-I am going to swear to God’s truth! I have eaten nothing but the rations provided by the government, and every penny I have received has gone to keep my poor mother. Look at me, I say! I've gained six pounds by eating army rations-six pounds, God be praised!” He raised his arms high over his head in his emotion.
“If ye be bearin’ testimony to a miracle, ye've a right to be listened to an’ not otherwise,” cried the Irish Stonecutter, with bitter emphasis. “Them that can live without eatin’ is allowed to be no example for the ordinary.”
“Look at him-his bones and his skin are held together by his uniform, an’ he darsent take his jacket off at night for fear his ribs ‘l1 roll away!” yelled another volunteer.
“I was always thin-always,” protested the Clerk, still pounding his chest and coughing distressingly in consequence, “but I'm broader and stronger than ever I used to be, owing to the Government’s care of me. We need to be hardened, my comrades. The Government has its plans for us; trust the Government, that’s all we have to do. I'll sign no petition for better food or new filters-I'll take no part in your fool sanitary precautions. I tell you, the Government knows what’s best for us.” His husky voice had become plaintively appealing; his tall, thin figure swayed heavily, so that some of the men who had most violently disputed his assertions were now eying him pityingly. Julian and the Undertaker’s Son helped him off the box.
“Look out for yourself,” whispered Julian. “You need to see the doctor, my friend-just as soon as possible.”
“I guess the Government’s plans for this saint are mapped out in Kingdom Come,” observed the Undertaker’s Son in a dry undertone. “The syndicates have found a new way to make money out of us:-instead of fattening on our labor, they are now fattening on our decaying bodies. This war promises to be a great commercial success to somebody.”
The Clerk was persuaded to sit down wrapped in a blanket, with his back against the box on which he had been standing. The poor fellow took no further notice of his comrades, but produced from his pocket what remained of his day’s rations and began with great deliberation to munch a stale biscuit.
Julian climbed on the box to say that without bitterness in their hearts, or carping criticisms on their lips, it was necessary at this crisis to take thought for themselves, for they knew it to be a fact that there was hardly a well man among them. He then re-read the rules which forbade the men to drink condemned water, and to do a number of other things known to be foolhardy.
Permission had been obtained to dig a well and to drain the camp of its sewerage. They were all to assist in this work. They were to contribute towards the purchase of quinine and a few other simple drugs; they were to avoid the canteen and the purchase of cheap, unwholesome cakes and fruits from the railroad stands. The same amount of money wisely spent would provide them with rice and fresh meat, both of which were necessary articles of diet in a Southern climate. Finally he told them a secret: -he had recently communicated with a Northern newspaper which had published a statement of their needs; a car-load of canned goods and fruit would soon be on its way South, contributed by the anxious friends of the regiment.
This piece of news produced a cheer and the meeting broke up in a more hopeful spirit. After the men had dispersed, Julian, the Undertaker’s Son, and the Stonecutter turned to look at the Volunteer, who was still absorbed in the patriotic task of eating the meal provided for him by his government.
“ Holy Mother of men and angels -take it from him! Do you see the maggots?” shouted the Stonecutter, holding a lighted pine fagot to the can of beef which the unfortunate Dry-Goods Clerk was about to dip into with his biscuit.
“What if there are maggots?” answered the Patriot in sepulchral tones. “Are there more here than there were in the beef that our boys ate in the trenches before Petersburg? A soldier must learn to-to think nothing of maggots-they harden the flesh so that he can look into a cannon’s mouth without shivering.”
Julian groaned and turned away; he leaned against a post and felt desperately ill for fifteen minutes. The Undertaker’s Son snatched the can from the Clerk’s hand and flung it away. The emaciated volunteer sat up and stared about him haughtily.
“You are not soldiers, but unworthy dogs in the manger-unworthy dogs ! I shall not sleep anywhere near you; I am a soldier, and I refuse to lie down with dogs.”
Off he staggered, and Julian, finding him afterwards lying on the damp earth and breathing heavily, rolled him on a blanket and covered him up with a striped shawl which his mother had sent him.
THE donation of food and dainties from the North was long on the way. In the meantime, the quality of the army ration had improved. Good food began to be plentiful, but to Julian, good food now suddenly ceased to be the object of such pitiful, heartfelt concern. Since the moment when he beheld the Drygoods Clerk dipping into his can of spoilt beef and fresh maggots, the business of eating had become horridly distasteful, and a matter of the very least importance.
The Drygoods Clerk was observed to be growing daily worse, but he still contrived to make himself a person of exceedingly great unpopularity. His discourses on the excellence of the army ration and the paternal care vouchsafed to the American soldier by his government, produced symptoms of immediate nausea; every group promptly broke up when his gaunt spectral figure appeared with finger raised and hollow eyes burning in fierce invective against the babyishness of the pampered volunteer. There were indeed times when he stood in danger of personal violence, but on such occasions, he was found to be under the protection of Julian, whose tent he shared, and whose good humor in listening to a crank’s illogical rhapsodies was accepted as an example of heroic patience-Julian himself being regarded somewhat as a leader among them.
It was observed that the Patriot Clerk was becoming more incoherent as his strength waned. Finally in a mood of strange ecstasy, he announced that he had the camp fever and was going to the Division Hospital.
Possibly the reputation of this hospital was exaggerated by imperfect knowledge, but it was whispered that even the surgeon of the regiment had broadly hinted to sick men not to go there. The men of Julian’s company had pledged their word to stand by each other and keep their sick comrades out of the hospital. It was far better, they said, to stay in the regimental hospital or to die in their own tents or in the open fields-looking into the faces of their comrades bending in pity over them-than to die in loneliness under a roof of authorized neglect. Eagerly they besought the suffering Clerk to stay where he was, to give up the morning drill and all other duties and remain in his tent under the care of the regimental surgeon. They would buy milk, ice and quinine for him; with their own hands they would sponge him twice a day with cold springwater. What more could he desire?
“I desire,” said the sufferer, grandly, lifting himself on his elbow and speaking with the panting utterance of heavy fever, “I desire the beneficent care of my government. I am a soldier and in a soldier’s hospital I will receive the attention I deserve. They will send for me to-night.” He sank back exhausted and lay for the rest of the afternoon in a stupor. At six o'clock,the hospital ambulance arrived and bore him away.
After his departure the men spoke of him with the tenderness which we bestow on the dead, whose virtues we failed to appreciate in life. The thought of his extravagant loyalty to the government whose uniform he wore now affected them to tears. Bitterly they reproached themselves that they had ever spoken to him harshly; in their thoughts he was canonized as a saintly hero.
A whirlwind of indignation was now sweeping through the country over the treatment accorded to the soldiers of the great Republic. The alms of the nation were falling upon them like the gentle rain from heaven; the freight trains were bringing them countless gifts of food and clothing from men and women of all conditions of life. The cry wrung from suffering which the soldiers were actually beginning to believe they should have borne mutely had at last touched the hearts of the people and the response was generous.
But now that the condition of the rank and file of the American army was the theme of every tongue in the land, the sufferers discovered that it was their duty to maintain a stiff-necked silence in accordance with their archaic military ideal. Apparently the men of this regiment forgot all that they had suffered; certainly they blushed that they had ever complained. They remembered only that they were soldiers born for heroism and an immortal death, and every patriot resolved simultaneously to seal his lips forever on the subject of his regiment’s wrongs-while he munched the potted chicken, the sweetmeats, the stale cake and the jellies so injudiciously but prodigally provided by the ministering angels of the nation-and wore pajamas which did not fit, and which he did not want to wear even when they did, in recognition of the joy that he was thus giving to the angels at home.
“This is a wholly new experience to me,” said Julian, leaving his seat on a keg of canned sardines and languidly testing an experiment of mouldy biscuits spread over with orange marmalade. He threw himself on his blanket. “I have been administering charity to others for three years with patrician grace-it seems odd enough to have the situation reversed.”
“It is most disgusting to have to stand in the sun waiting our turn to get a share of the delicacies! And the waste over there-how horribly you do things in this country! The many boxes and barrels piled up by the station and rotting under our eyes-our noses, rather! It makes me very ill to go near that place. “
It was the ungrateful Cuban who voiced this complaint, but his unpatriotic comrades encouraged him with passionate grunts of assent. They were still a little group of dissenting pilgrims on military matters-but anyway, this was charity, and not the military ideal they were discussing.
“You are describing two very familiar aspects of ‘out-door relief,’ my friend,” replied Julian; “first, the enforced humiliation; secondly, the wonderful ingenuity that contrives to compass every possible inconvenience to balk the poor applicant’s search for relief, and break his spirit. This is all as it should be. We are merely getting the usual dose.”
“What very disagreeable words you Anglo-Saxons use,'’ said the Cuban, frowning. “ ‘Out-door r-relief,’ because I suppose you first turn them out of doors and then keep them standing in the cold or in the sun while you bestow upon them dry morsels of stale bread? Is this the picture you want to present-you benevolent peoples?”
“I don’t know anything about your accursed works of charity,” interrupted the Undertaker’s Son, savagely, “but I do know there’s wretched mismanagement somewhere in this business. It ought to be organized on a proper basis-but you Americans-we Americans, I mean-can never organize anything without fraud and corruption.”
“For heaven’s sake,” cried Julian, with a burst of hollow laughter, “don’t suggest ‘organizing’ the thing any further! Let’s take our charity as we can get it and be thankful. Why, if this outdoor relief department were organized any more than it is, we shouldn’t get any thing at all! We really shouldn’t! We should be investigated and faithfully recorded-the annals of our lives would be written out on card catalogues-the short and simple annals of the poor are short and simple no longer, my friends-thousands of clerks would be paid to write us up with all our ancestors and all their diseases-and we shouldn’t get a thing to eat-not a thing ! And last of all, we should have to submit to the Friendly Visitor, to teach us how to endure our poverty and starve with nobility of mind!”
The Stonecutter sat up with a look of inspiration.
“It just comes to me now that it must have been a Frindly Visitor that called to pay her respects to me wife the day mesilf and me broken leg was carted off togither in the orspital. A gran’ young lady she war, an’ she comes to the door o’ me little home an’ siz she-peekin’ in at me wife a-washin’ up the dishes, ‘It’s surprised I am,’ sez she, ‘to see the likes o’ ye a-washin’ up yer breakfast things at this late hour o’ the mornin’,’ sez she. Me wife was that struck dumb wid shame that she sat down in a heap and beganst to cry, an’ it was one o’ the childer-a long-legged slip of a lass with a tongue as long as her leg-that spake up an’ give it back to the lady. ‘It ain’t the breakfast things me Ma’s washin’ up,’ sez she, ‘these here be the dinner dishes,’ sez she. ‘We-uns has dinner at twelve,’ sez she, ‘an’ we-uns has breakfast while you-uns is a-lyin’ in bed,’ sez she. The lady turned red as a turkey cock an’ took out her teenty-bit o’ a watch to see if me gurrl was for tellin’ her a lie. An’ thin she casts her eye roun’ the room an’ she axes me wife what she be a-doin’ to support all them childer. Me Maria, she shakes her head, spaachless like, an’ me gurrl squeaks up again’ : ‘She ain’t a-doin’ nawthin'!’ sez she. An’ the young lady she looks rale mad, an’ she sez quick and sharp, ‘Ye had ought to take in washin’,’ sez she, ‘an’ help yer own selves an’ not be axin’ we-uns to help yez along,’ sez she. Me Maria wor a-sittin’ wid her two weeks old baby in its bit o’ a cradle ‘long side o’ her, an’ her heart mos’ broke wid bad luck an’ misfortune, but she cut her tongue loose for the wonst, an’ sez she, ‘Me good man ain’t o’ the same mind as yersel’, ma-am, in regards to me a-takin’ in the wash-nor the docthor nayther-wid me babe jist born into this sorrowful worrld yesterday two weeks back. I give me man the word that I'd not be for takin’ in the wash this time till me babe’s a month old,’ sez she.
“How is it that yez kin kape clear o’ debt the whiles?"sez me gran’ lady-a-liftin’ up her satin petticoat, an’ holdin’ her pretty head higher an’ higher, ‘ye’s must kape clear o’ debt,’ sez she, ‘or ye'll git no coal from we-uns,’ sez she. (I disremember the words o’ her discourse, but I'm for givin’ ye the manin’ straight.)
“I ain’t axed nobody to help we-uns but thim that has coal to sell chape to the poor,’ sez Maria, firin’ up at the last. ‘An’ its in debt we be, an’ in debt we'll stay to the butcher an’ the grocer an’ the landlord, till me good man gits out o’ the ‘orspital, ma'am! There’s reasonable folks in the wurruld who'll not press a poor body in misfortune, an’ glad I be to have ‘em thrust me the while instid o’ starvin’ the childer! But if the likes o’ ye has got a mind to lift the debt, ye’s kin pay me bills any day that suits yer pleasure, ma'am, an’ I'll warn ye, me furniture ain’t paid for nayther-no more'n the food we put in our mouths, ma'am.’ Whin that there young lady heerd them words, she took hersel’ off in a gran’ rustle o’ ahurry, an’ me Maria an’ the childer sot there an’ laughed an’ cried till they mos’ busted their sides-that’s what they did-an’ there ain’t been no Frindly Visitor ‘round since that there day.”
“It sounds like the genuine article,” Julian admitted drearily, after the laugh had subsided.
“The theory at first struck me as very fine, but it works out just as our friend has described in the vast majority of cases. Of course, there is great improvidence among poor people, and it did seem as if a system of friendly visitation might prove a help.”
“I am deeply impressed,” said the Undertaker’s Son with heavy sarcasm, “with the brilliant spectacular satire that our Anglo-Saxon friends put upon the stage for the benefit of suffering humanity! Who else but the English would have thought of setting idle and extravagant women of fashion to teach lessons of thrift and self-denial to the starving? And of course, you Ameri- we Americans, I mean-have copied this beautiful ideal from the from the virtuous British female herself.”
“The good these well-meaning people might do is negatived by their assumption that the poor are made of different clay from themselves-this is what I used to come against at every turn,” said Julian sadly, “it used to make me sick of the whole wretched business of philanthropy.”
“Don’t you see,” said the Undertaker’s Son, leaning upon his elbow and regarding his comrade with great earnestness by the dim light of the stars-they were all lying on their blankets with the sky for a tent-"don’t you see that this assumption is really necessary to tender-hearted people who wish to preserve their sanity and still live under our abominable social system? The assumption does credit to their hearts-it makes me think better of them!”
The whole thing does seem an abominable system, true enough,” said Julian, slowly, after a puzzled silence, “but what else is there to hope for except that men may become more merciful, as long as justice is out of the question?”
“It is not out of the question,” retorted the German, angrily, “what right have you to assume that justice among men is always to be regarded as a Utopian scheme, – what right have you to sneer at those who see the possibility of an ideal justice working out into a perfect social state? Your pessimism seems to me immoral and revolting!”
“I do not sneer-you mistake me,” returned Julian with surprising gentleness. “I confess that I have never given much thought to the Utopian visions you speak of-but I am very far from looking on them with contempt. The very worst that you can say of me is that I regard them with-with a kind of melancholy curiosity-nothing more.”
The young German laughed. “I will put your ‘melancholy curiosity’ to the test some day, my young friend. By the way, did you read those books I gave you of Howells?”
“They delighted and charmed me-I had no idea Howells had gone so deeply into the question of our social inequalities. In many of his books he seemed to be to be always hovering around the edge of the problem-yet really evading it. But with what delicate irony this little tale shows up the hypocrisy of our Christian civilization!”
“But the remedy-the remedy-what do you think of that?” asked the impatient German.
“The remedy?” repeated Julian, somewhat vaguely, “do you mean that our novelist was really in earnest when he pictured the ideal commonwealth of the Altrurians? I took it that he meant to show us by force of contrast how miserably selfish and insincere our lives are-but I've not yet finished the story.”
“Poor Howells,” murmured the Undertaker’s Son, with something between a laugh and a groan, – "this comes of having too much art-it takes the heavy skill of a blacksmith, I fancy, to break an idea into the American mind. So you put his best efforts aside as worthy of a Sunday School moralist, hey? Have you never read Bellamy’s ‘Looking Backward?’ “
“Years ago-but not very carefully, – it was before I had had any experience in social problems.”
“Read it again, by all means, and ‘Equality’ also-it is just out. I have a copy and you shall have it next. Each country has its own prophet and Bellamy is yours-ours, I mean. His minutely inventive genius just suits a nation of wheel worshippers-a people who are content to stand open-mouthed before the problems of their own existence, seeing nothing but the wheels going round-not wanting to see anything else. I fear you have ignored all your prophets-and do you call yourself a student of social conditions?”
“I assure you I've studied the very best authorities,” protested Julian, laughing.
“Will ye’s shut up an’ let other folks git a wink o’ sleep afore sunrise?” grumbled the Stonecutter. The Cuban murmured a polite endorsement to this request and the German consented to shut up forthwith and continue the discussion by daylight. He turned over on his blanket, tilted his hat over his face and was apparently soon fast asleep.
Julian tried to follow his example, but his brain seemed to be on fire, and sleep was out of the question. He lay on his back staring at the stars-thinking deeply. He tried to recall the chief features of the industrial commonwealth in “Looking Backward” and pieced out what he could not remember by what he did remember of “The Traveler from Altruria,” and he wondered why he had given the subject such superficial attention. It must be because he had unconsciously accepted the misery of the poor as their normal condition; he had worked only to palliate evils, never to remove them! His attitude of complacency was as culpable as that of the “privileged classes"-nay, he was more culpable, for he had not their excuse of self-interest.
The tenderness for humanity that was the life-giving spirit of the Altrurian stole into his soul and painted a fresh vision of a new social state more perfect than any that he had ever conceived of before. In this vision, poverty was practically abolished and all men were grouped as workers and lovers upholding together a noble ideal of brotherhood. The sweet picture of Elizabeth stood as the center piece of this vision. Elizabeth, removed from the degradation of the proletariat and the withering clutch of charity, stood engrossed apparently in some light and pleasing task, her face turned smilingly toward him and her eyes tender with love and happiness. In the light that radiated from her in every direction, the background was distinctly visible, stretching out far away from her, and it was wonderful to see the slums and city streets-receding-receding-as if in accordance with the young Mennonite’s prophecy-and finally giving place to the woods, fields and hills of the open country, where men and women were meeting and strolling about arm in arm in blissful enjoyment of a new freedom. Their pale faces showed plainly that they had but lately passed out from the slums. Ah! If this could be true, if it could only be true! Why should men torment themselves with such visions if there were no truth in them, – if they were indeed incapable of prophecy ?
A great pain smote Julian in the forehead; the incandescent lamp in his brain seemed to have gone out suddenly with a kind of explosion. He raised himself on his elbow, and looked towards the east. The red streaks of early dawn were burning into his eyes; they penetrated his eyeballs. He turned away in great pain, shut his eyes and lay still. His head was aching horribly. All the insects of the Southland were tuning their instruments and screaming like a discordant orchestra in his ear.
THE NEXT day the four comrades sat on one side of their tent, moving only when the march of the sun withdrew from them foot by foot the tent’s shadow, when they languidly arose and moved with it. Julian and the German had been taking turns reading aloud, and a pile of English authors lay around them.
“I am tired of playing sun dial,” said the Undertaker’s Son, with pathos, throwing down the book he had been shading his eyes with, “for how many weeks have we been revolving round this blamed tent? I wish I were at home fixing up dead people-everything cold and plenty of ice, you know.”
“Ah, ice!” sighed Julian, with a restless glance at their keg of drinking water which was now low and warm, the dearly prized lump of ice having disappeared from its depths early in the day. Ice was the only thing he craved and the mention of it made him frantic. He was lying on his side, a yellow-faced, hollow-eyed image of a recumbent soldier, – but indeed they were all of the same order.
“Let us talk of the Anglo-American alliance,” he suggested with an attempt at a smile, the subject being already worn threadbare.
The Stonecutter raised a clenched fist.
“'Is it not enough for the ‘Merikin gouverment that we be baked by slow degrees in our own land, to the dr-ri-edupness of dr-r-ied cod-fish without bein’ slung to the tail of a Baste av a Briton and slapped in the face of all the nations av Europe-in-cludin’ them that has been fri'nds to us since the beginnin’ o’ the wurruld?”
The others grinned spectrally to express their satisfaction at the Stonecutter’s loyalty to the traditions of his race-all except the Cuban, who had not smiled since the pacific blockade of Cuba was begun in the spring.
“What’s wrong with the Englishman?” he asked disdainfully. “Is he anyways different from the American in his treatment of what he is pleased to call an inferior race? My friends, you have not studied well the lesson England is trying to teach you-the lesson of calling heaven to witness the purity of your intentions, while you put your hand into the pocket of your unfortunate neighbor to steal from him all that he holds dear! What you call the deceit of the Latin races is childlike simplicity in comparison with the hypocrisy of that Pecksniff among nations! Ah! but you will learn rapidly-you Anglo-Saxons! you know already how to go to war ‘for humanity’s sake'-yes-and to rescue a starving people-after waiting until they are all dead!”
He turned abruptly and gazed through bitter tears in the direction of Cuba. No one answered him for a moment. They pitied him deeply for they knew that in Cuba he had left two sisters living with an aunt near Havana, and he had received no word from them for many months. They looked at each other in perplexed distress, and then Julian said shortly:
“I deny that we are Anglo-Saxons. I am an American.”
“And I-and I!” asserted the other two with unnecessary emphasis; they were in no danger of being mistaken for Anglo-Saxons.
The Cuban laid his head down wearily and said no more. As the Undertaker’s Son expressed it, his company was about as cheerful as the blowing of the wind on the back of your neck in a graveyard. He was nothing now but a moan circulating about on two legs.
“Does the Anglo-Saxon lack anything whatever?” asked Julian with his eyes shut, his head aching madly. “Is he not about as near perfection as a mortal race can get? Tell us, – you of German blood-tell him how different we are from the Anglo-Saxons-we imperfect, misunderstood Americans.”
The Undertaker’s Son sat up and looked about him dreamily. He was several years older than Julian; a close intimacy already existed between them, notwithstanding that he was a “theorist.”
“Must I gratify your national vanity which you label patriotism? Behold, I am going to lay my highest principles at your feet! I believe the Continentals consider the Briton an out and out materialist with gross instincts constantly breaking loose. Look you, – with all his opportunity for culture and after centuries of contact with artistic races, he has proved himself incapable of creating a national music. Even your negroes here-our negroes, I mean-have developed original forms of melody characteristic of their menial and moral development, – an outpouring of their sufferings during slavery, their hope of freedom-all their history congealed into folk-song. But where are the folk-songs-where are the great composers of England?”
“Music is itself a thing of the senses; it is no evidence of morality,” objected Julian. He thought of his instruments which he had broken and laid away. He was glad they were in Elizabeth’s keeping.
“No, but it is an evidence of ideality-that is, the highest kind of music is-and there can be no high morality without a still higher idealism to beckon it onward.”
Julian, lifting himself painfully on his elbow, looked anxiously at the young German.
“But we are not a musical people, either, my friend, – we are as bad as the English.”
“No one knows what you may become, – we, I mean. America is young. She has lately been too much under the influence of English thought for her own good. What literature she once could claim as her own-that is the best of it-was strongly tinged with idealism. Take Hawthorne, and Emerson, the Transcendentalist-take any one of the American poets, nearly all of whom were governed by ideas rather than external impressions. And then American history, – look what terrible wars have been fought for abstract principles. Oh, yes, there is hope for America! There is even hope that she may evolve a music of her own some day, – when she has learnt how to control the spirit of commercialism which threatens now to strangle all her best impulses. But after commercialism has introduced militarism, my friends, into isolated, independent, free America-stretching from ocean to ocean-then she will understand at last that her democracy has been built upon quicksands! She needs to learn this lesson, and after she has mastered it, she will overthrow her idols of stone and brass; she will teach the world the meaning of the word-democracy. Not for nothing does that statue of liberty stand looking across the ocean. It is a symbol of the future, – for liberty has not yet come to America.”
A silence followed this remark, broken only by a groan from the Stonecutter, until Julian observed demurely-his eyes still closed and a half-smile on his lips:
“I know you want to tell us about those glorious possibilities of the Industrial Commonwealth. But why have you set me to study the poetic details of the ideal social state from a lot of degenerate, materialistic Anglo-Saxons-why is this, my friend?”
“I really believe that national types are even more influenced by environment than individual ones,” observed the German with an indirectness of thought that amounted to an evasion. “Remember that these islanders have been conquered and reconquered so many times in their history that they have learned at last the hard lesson of submission to the inevitable. To live as a nation, they have had to become a nation of materialistic producers. Many things that might have belonged to them have been lost in the struggle for existence.”
“A race of mongrels-this is what they are, “sneered the Cuban, – "mongrel puppy dogs!”
“Who can say what is the national type? Does not the same soil produce the towering spruce and the delicate white birch side by side? The idealist and the poet live in the shadow of the British factory; they are choked by the smoke that is incense to the nostrils of the manufacturer. They are powerless to influence this acquired national type-but their influence is felt in other lands.”
“Perhaps a few strains of pure native blood have remained separate from the general mixture,” suggested Julian. “Who knows but these radicals may be the descendants of some unconquered and unconquerable ancient Briton?”
“Must you always go back to heredity to justify your conservatism?” asked the German severely. “Why do you seek to bolster up the theory of an inherited, inherent superiority which can be handed down from father to son like an entailed estate? It is the theory on which aristocracies are formed, and it is false to nature-utterly false.”
“A thousand pardons,” laughed Julian, “I had no idea that I was suggesting anything approaching an aristocracy. Let me tell you that I am never happier than when you rip up my unconscious conservatism-it is like letting in a breath of pure air-a mountain breeze.”
The Undertaker’s Son smiled grimly.
“I confess that I do not know what to say to you sometimes. What stuff are you really made of? You are so absurdly unscientific. You seem to me to choose fancy rather than fact-always.”
“But the Irishman “ interrupted the Stonecutter, explosively, “he ain’t no Briton, – ye can’t make that out! Ireland’s no part and parcel o’ them British Isles-she’s jist held there by the spirrits o’ contrarinis in them blasted British-an’ some fine mornin’ she'll cut loose and sail off by her own self!” He had been listening for some time with an air of smouldering displeasure, and he felt now that the moment for self-assertion had come.
“You're just a little more of an ancient Briton than all the rest put together-a true son of a Briton, I call you!” repeated the German, with tantalizing deliberation.
“I ain’t no mongrel!” protested the Stonecutter, scowling with dreadful fierceness at his comrades.
“You're right, you ain’t-perfectly right,” agreed the German, laughing, “that’s just where the trouble comes in, I fancy. Look you, Julian, – here’s your pure strain that won’t mix. How does it fit your pretty theory?”
Julian hastened to change the subject.
“When I look at this question of race antagonism I have a fancy “ He turned with a wan smile to the Undertaker’s Son -"pray excuse the term and the occasion for it; my poor overheated brain won’t spin anything more tangible than these cobwebs of thought-I have a fancy that nations have sex characteristics as well as individuals. I place the Anglo-Saxon in the masculine gender along with several other European types, all showing the same overmastering brutal strength and determination to conquer nature. Then the Oriental races, and in fact nearly all dark-skinned people, I class as feminine, – they are emotional, artistic and submissive to nature, instead of being bent on conquering her. All of these live the indoor life as it were-life in a tropical country being like a woman’s life indoors. They are consequently softer, gentler and more given to cultivating pleasing manners. They fascinate the Anglo-Saxon brute just as the individual woman fascinates the individual man-often to her own undoing-sometimes to his, when he gives up his own ideals for hers.”
“He does that never-never, I say!” interrupted the Cuban, passionately. “When he reaches the shore of the dark-skinned peoples, then you may see the same drama that takes place in your streets, – the maid giving all she has to her seducer, and receiving nothing but his hatred and contempt He has no ideals to exchange-none, – and he would destroy all of hers!”
“What a frightful mix-up you have made with your metaphors,” cried the German, impatiently. “Why can’t you speak a plain language, Julian, and leave metaphors to those who seek to confuse thought? God in heaven! Isn’t the problem of sex enough by itself without mixing it up with ethnology and world politics? How little you seem to understand the true nature of things! The false system under which we live-the false economic basis, I mean-is the underlying cause of our unjust sex distinctions. It is also the cause of all the hideous orgies in history. Commercial wars are a necessity if the rule of the few over the many is to be maintained. The question you will not answer to my satisfaction is this: Do you believe in maintaining this system and wringing from the laborer all the wealth that he produces save the pittance that is necessary to sustain him for the next day’s work? Answer, my friend-answer!”
“How can I answer such a question?” said Julian, irritably. “You might as well ask me if I believe in retaining death in the world-or sin-or disease, – when there is no chance of doing away with any of them.”
“Now, do give a straight answer! The question is not whether you can do away with this system-but, whether or not you would do away with it if it were possible? Now, come, my boy, – would you do away with it if you could?”
“Would I do away with it-with poverty-and inequality-and injustice-and wrong?” repeated Julian slowly. “Oh, my friend, why ask me such a question! Certainly I would do away with it to-morrow if I could-to-day!”
“And you would be willing to give the laborer his just share of what his toil has produced?”
“Yes-but what do you call his just share?”
“All that he produces.”
“All-all, do you say? But-the laborers produce only half-capital produces the other half.”
“Does not labor create the capital? Why, then, is it not entitled to what it creates? What you call ‘capital’ is the gigantic ‘steal’ of the commercial exploiter. It is a heap of stolen goods-nothing more.”
“You are leaving out the brains that go with capital to direct its enterprises. It takes great brain power to create wealth and it directs both capital and labor. I have discovered the fallacy in your argument-and I am sorry for it,” returned Julian in mournful tones.
“Not yet, – you haven’t yet,” smiled the German, who was now in his element and supremely happy.
“You have only defined another class of laborers who have been made more conspicuous by our wretched system than they deserve to be. They are entitled to their just share of what they help to produce, certainly-just like any other laborers.”
“Where then is the difference? They now take what they consider to be a ‘just share’ and what is left but a pittance for the ignorant laborer?'’
“Picture to yourself, Julian, – you are so fond of pictures-a somewhat different order of things. Picture the laborers no longer ignorant, but educated because they have leisure and means for education. Picture to yourself these men-collectively-holding the reins of power by electing their own representatives. Picture a government existing for the benefit of all workers-not for their exploitation. Think of this government as created to control and direct the economic functions of the people, instead of representing merely the ascendancy of one political party over another. Think of it as owning-holding the title deed to all the industrial activities of the people and administering them not for the enrichment of a few, but for the benefit of all, the profits to be shared by all the workers instead of being locked up in a treasury for the benef it of a few capitalists. Picture to yourself-”
“I see it-I see what you mean. Say no more! You are picturing again the Ideal Commonwealth, – that heavenly vision!” Julian, lying on his back, stared unblinkingly for a second into the dazzlingly blue sky over head and shut his eyes in pain and ecstasy.
“I am like a starving man in a desert, gazing at a beautiful mirage, – why do you continually bring it before my eyes while we lie rotting in this sunlight-unable to stir a finger to help on the progress of the world, or to stem the tide of human misery?”
“We are undergoing only another form of exploitation, my young friend, – and if you only realize that it is a question of embalmed beef all the way through life with the laborer, – you will not have eaten it in vain. But I am tired of your metaphors. A mirage-indeed ! Can’t you get down to a scientific study of the facts as they are, and let metaphors and daydreams alone? I almost wish I had never given you any fiction on the subject, for you do not seem able to separate fact from fancy anymore. Ah, Marx, – my Marx-should I have plunged you head-foremost into the hands of this perverse boy? He would have turned you into a Midsummer Night’s Dream, and peopled your world of fact with his fairies!”
“I am an ill man-that is the truth,” said Julian in a low voice, while he struggled with great difficulty to his feet. “My head feels queer-as if it were not my own and I decline to be held responsible for anything it may make me do or say. I can’t think anymore. I have only fancies to express-illusions, perhaps. But I tell you all, I do see a light gleaming ahead-I see it clearly over there-and I am going out to meet it.”
He looked around at his comrades and pulled his hat over his eyes. He pointed with his thin right hand to the horizon.
“Whatever that is-that beautiful picture over yonder you've painted for me-whether it’s a dream or a coming reality, I know not and I don’t care-I don’t care, I say! It ought to be there if it isn’t. It’s what I'm going to work for and believe in for the rest of my life. I dedicate myself to yonder picture or mirage-or paradise on earth-and I'll stake my hope of heaven on its becoming a reality someday. I say, God bless the coming of that Ideal Commonwealth!” He took off his hat and waved it wildly at the horizon.
“I'd rather die a penniless dreamer believing in that picture of human justice than live a millionaire with no use for my fellows but to exploit them. I'm going to set out to find that lovely temple-that mirage in the desert-who'll go with me?”
“Count me with you-and me,” shouted the Stonecutter and the Cuban, waving their hats deliriously.
“Don’t act like an idiot, Julian! You two fellows ought to have more sense ! Don’t you see the man’s got fever and is almost out of his head? Stop, Julian-I want to feel your pulse. Heavens! How hot your hand is! Look here, my friend, your eyes look terribly queer, – they're bloodshot-and you're shaking all over!”
“I've strained my eyes looking at that mirage-they'll be all right soon. I never felt better in my life!”
“Bathe your head and eyes in this cold water-do, Julian!”
There isn’t any cold water there-it’s boiling hot, thanks. All my fault. I forgot I was to go to the spring to-day. The sun’s under a cloud, thank heaven, so I'll make hay while it doesn’t shine. I'm going now-I'm going to get you boys some water.” He grabbed the pail with feverish energy.
“You're not fit-let someone else go,” cried the others, but Julian paid no heed to them and staggered off to find a wheel barrow. They soon saw him trundling it along the road. He smiled at them-a vague boyish smile-very wan, shrunken and waxen he looked in the dusty sunlight.
“I'm off to find the Temple of Justice, – I'll get there some day -some day!”
He waved his arms at them.
“We want to know what it’s like-don’t stay long, Julian,” they called after him. Julian answered gravely that he would tell them all about it-when he got back.
The spring was nearly two miles distant, and Julian followed a dusty road between cotton fields. He walked in unsteady haste, dreading the reappearance of the sun’s rays. His pulses were fluttering and his temples throbbing; but the worse he felt the faster he hurried towards the spring which he knew was concealed in the depths of a small pine wood.
When he reached it he dropped panting by its grassy slope. Having recovered his breath, he drank greedily of the water. The process of filling the can by dipping into the spring with a smaller pail, was tedious indeed, but it was at last accomplished and he refreshed himself by pouring the cold water over his head and shoulders. The desire to return to his comrades as speedily as possible grew with the consciousness that his limbs were shaking beneath him. He hastened with his heavy load out of the wood and found the road lying in brilliant sunshine. There was nothing to do but to go on. The distance seemed interminable. After a desperate struggle to keep up at a rapid pace, he was forced to stop and rest.
Julian started forward again, now wheeling the barrow slowly. It would not run straight, but ambled from side to side, like a drunken man. He kept on for half a mile further and by this time the sun had dried his hair and his wet jacket. His breath came in gasps; his heart was jumping about in his chest like a cannon ball thrashing across a cornfield. A deadly nausea seized and overpowered him. He stopped, reeled and fell forward on his face by the side of the road.
An hour later, an ambulance came rumbling slowly along. It stopped by the side of the fallen volunteer;a surgeon sprang out, examined him, and in a trice, the insensible form was lifted into the ambulance and the vehicle went on its way.
WHEN Julian regained consciousness, he found himself on a mattress by the side of many other prostrate forms whose heavy breathing and inarticulate groans and mutterings oppressed him dismally. The atmosphere was stifling; bad odors offended his nostrils; he panted for breath, and cried aloud repeatedly for water. What manner of place was this into which he had fallen? What had happened to him? Slowly the events of the day arranged themselves in his memory. He traveled over again, step by step, his journey to the spring; he remembered filling the can and the agonizing struggle of the homeward march. He was horror-stricken at the thought that his comrades through his weakness were deprived of means wherewith to quench their thirst. He must return to the spot where he had left the barrow and the can, and in the coolness of the night air he could surely reach the camp of his regiment. His effort to raise himself from the mattress produced an overpowering giddiness; he sank back on the pillow. A heavy sleep soon took possession of him.
When he opened his eyes for the second time, the light of early morning made his surroundings distinctly visible. The fever in his veins had moderated somewhat; his brain felt clearer. He sat up, took account of all that had happened, separated his painful dreams from the still more depressing realities, and divined that he was in one of the wards of the Division Hospital. Feeling very weak, he looked about for food and for the nurses and attendants which one associates with a hospital. Someone at the other end of the ward was moving about with a tray on which was gathered a number of tin cups and earthenware bowls. Julian looked eagerly towards this man, who finally approached him and laid a cupful of liquid by his side. He inquired of the attendant for the examining surgeon, but the man, who was an unshaven, unkempt-looking creature, shook his head and moved off stupidly.
Julian devoted himself with interest to the contents of his cup; taking it up with a trembling hand he put it to his lips and tasted a greasy, unpalatable soup. An anxious inspection revealed the presence of half a dozen flies floating on its surface. He put the cup down hastily and lay back on his couch. His eyes sought the canvas overhead and he was disconcerted to observe that it was black with torturing insects. These detestable creatures were already beginning to stir themselves in anticipation of a renewed assault on the unhappy victims who lay below. As the sunlight streamed in, some of the patients covered their heads, others fought the flies off by waving in the air emaciated arms and hands, cursing hoarsely meanwhile; others turned heavily on their faces and lay still. Julian beat the air with the rest until exhausted.
He tried to think coherently and calculate his chances of life. All that he had heard of the horrors of this hospital returned to his mind with appalling distinctness. He longed for the sound of a friendly voice-someone to encourage or advise him. He thought of the Drygoods Clerk, who was still a patient here. He would look for him and learn his experience and what to expect in the way of treatment and nursing.
Finding himself still clad in his soldier’s uniform, with even his shoes on his feet, Julian decided that there was nothing to prevent his making a tour of the ward in search of his comrade. He swallowed a few mouthfuls of soup by sheer force of will, and managed to get on his feet. He then started on his pilgrimage by slow stages, holding sometimes to the ropes of the tent, and sometimes to the cots on which a minority of the patients lay. He went to the end of the ward and back again without discovering the object of his search. Then he concentrated his attention on a long, motionless outline that lay on a mattress in a corner apart from the other patients. A bony hand extending outside the cover looked familiar. Julian approached this figure. The face turned upward, revealed in sharp outline the high promontory of nose, brow and cheekbone which identified the Drygoods Clerk. The mouth was wide open, the jaw fallen. The expression of the face was one of terrible irony. Julian in tremulous tones called him by name.
“Robert-Robert!” There was no reply.
Julian touched him to see if he were alive. Yes, he was breathing-he still lived. As he bent over him, he made a ghastly discovery: the poor fellow’s mouth was black with flies; they were not only around it, but they swarmed inside and half way down his throat. Trembling from head to foot, Julian raised the discolored sheet and gazed upon Robert’s wasted limbs; he dropped the sheet hastily and fell on his knees with his arms around the insensible figure of his comrade. He burst into tears.
“Robert-you patriot-you lion-hearted fellow-is this the way they have served you? Open your eyes and look into a comrade’s face!”
He drove the flies away with a fierce gesture and laid his hand on Robert’s forehead to smooth it repeatedly. The caressing touch seemed to reach the consciousness which Julian’s voice had failed to penetrate. Robert stirred slightly, he sighed, his eyelids quivered for a brief second. Though his condition was one of coma, he seemed to feel the presence of a friend. His expression became more and more peaceful; it wore soon an air of noble repose.
Julian glanced about him for restoratives. On a chair by Robert’s side was a can of condensed milk. Seizing a spoon,he dipped into the thick liquid and poured a few drops cautiously into Robert’s mouth. But Robert was incapable of swallowing. Julian seated himself on the edge of the bed and devoted himself to brushing away the persistent flies. He swayed heavily when he tried to sit upright, and for the most part leaned on his elbow, on which he strove to support his dizzy head. Thus he lay in great misery until a merciful oblivion overtook him.
It was late in the afternoon when he awoke with a wail of self-reproach in his heart for having fallen asleep in his watch over Robert. What had happened in the meantime? He found himself lying in bed. But why was he at this end of the ward? An attendant was passing with a pail of water in his hand.
Julian called to him and with great difficulty framed a sentence of inquiry, in which nouns and verbs were strangely jumbled. The fellow was pulling off his orderly’s jacket, which he carelessly flung across one of the cots.
“He’s dead-and taken away. You can have his bed now, if you don’t fret. Lie still, and content yourself there till the doctor comes,” was the answer.
He was lying in Robert’s bed-in which Robert had just died. He was put there to die just as Robert had died, with the black-flies ready to cluster down his throat!
The cunning that illumines the perceptions of the insane now evolved in Julian’s clouded brain an almost superhuman forethought. He waited in apparent acquiescence until the attendant had withdrawn to the other end of the ward; then he crawled cautiously out of bed with his eyes fixed on the doorway. All of his senses and what remained of his intelligence were concentrated on a determination to live-to make a break for life—health-happiness, and Elizabeth!
The thought of her gave him a fierce strength.
Perhaps no one would hinder his departure from the ward, but stationed outside was a sentinel who passed backward and forward. Julian’s glance traveled uncertainly from the ward to the sentinel; his eye fell on the jacket which the attendant had just discarded, owing to the intense heat. A disguise was what he needed; he staggered towards it, joyfully recognizing the stripes of the hospital orderly as he pushed his arms into the sleeves. By the door stood an empty pail. He clutched this with a trembling hand, reached up to a peg on the wall and removed a felt hat belonging to one of the patients. He set it on his head, pulled it well over his eyes and stumbled towards the opening of the tent.
Summoning all his wits and energies he started on a run. He waved his bucket at the sentinel, held his fluttering jacket together at his throat with the other hand, and shouted:-
“A man’s dying in there for water-water!” and dashed by the astonished guard, to whom such zeal on behalf of the dying was more than a nine days’ wonder.
The unnatural strength which had come to his aid lasted until he reached the road which led to his regiment. Then his legs gave way and he fell in a heap; but he was so filled with exultation over the success of his escape that he recovered strength enough to scramble up again and run on. In this manner, now stumbling, running, falling and reeling from side to side, he continued his flight. On meeting an officer he had enough presence of mind left to walk slowly and give the salute.
It was nearly dark; strange fancies were crowding his brain; he seemed to have parted from his body and to be flying through space on a spirit’s wings. Not far ahead he saw the lights of his regiment, and he knew exactly which were those of his company; brighter and brighter they gleamed as he drew towards them. He passed tent after tent which was not his own. His heart was bursting with the thought of a mission yet to be performed on behalf of Robert. He knew now why he has escaped from the hospital!
Suddenly he came upon his own tent, beside which were lying his three comrades and several other men on blankets. By the starlight he could just distinguish their faces. He stopped before them and raised both hands high above his head.
“Robert is dead-dead! We must give him a military funeral, for he is a greater hero than Hobson or Dewey. He died of neglect, I assure you. The flies were his nurses. Get up all of you and fire a salute for Robert!”
The three men looked at him in amazement. Julian, gasping for breath, pushed back his cap and stared wildly at them. He thought their looks indicated reproach.
“I did the best I could-I tried to-I tried to-”
Speech and memory failed him. He could not remember what he had tried to do for Robert. The reproachful gaze of his comrades was piercing his heart. He clasped his hands over his eyes in anguish. The stars overhead, the tents surrounding him, and the men at his feet whirled suddenly together in black confusion. The cold, silent rage of his comrades was frightful to behold; they would next seize the stars from Heaven to throw at him; the tents of the entire regiment were collapsing; earth and sky were shaking and shuddering at him because he had deserted his friend! With a cry, Julian staggered towards the Undertaker’s Son and fell at his feet.
“Good God! Endicott! Julian!” The men, all of whom were ill themselves, scrambled to their feet with words of affectionate welcome. But Julian’s superhuman effort had come to an end and he lay like a log.
Several hours later, as the three sick and weary occupants of the tent sat together by the side of their insensible comrade, they saw coming up the road in the dusty glare of the sunlight another flying figure which reminded them strangely of Julian’s dramatic approach of the night before. It proved to be the regimental surgeon. He held in his hand a paper which he waved frantically.
“Goodnews!” he exclaimed, breathlessly. “Let me have your temperatures, every man of you-I've got the whole regiment down all except this end of it and what’s in the hospital. Look at this schedule-I've been at work since two o'clock taking temperatures; there’s not one down here below one hundred and two and five-eighths, and all the way up to one hundred and six-and God knows what! Something great is coming from Philadelphia-my native city; a hospital train-chuck full of doctors and nurses, ice-bags and bath-tubs! God bless them all!”
His voice broke and he began to sob hysterically.
“Do you think I haven’t-I haven’t-suffered, too? Confound it all, to think I worked my way through hospitals, dissecting rooms and dispensaries in that Quaker village to stand still like this! Do you think I'm that kind of a fool, you idiots? Why, what could I do when I hadn’t the medicines or anything?”
The men looked at each other mournfully.
“He’s got off his head, too,” they whispered.
“No, I haven’t,” shouted the surgeon, “I'm not out of my head yet-I'm only drunk-that’s what I am-drunk! I've known for a week I was in for typhoid, and last night I knew I had just a few hours left to keep on my feet and that hospital train coming forty-five miles an hour, so I filled up this morning with whisky and quinine-forty-four grains of quinine and a lot of whisky-enough to make a man as drunk as a lord, and that’s what I am. But I'm not too drunk to take your temperatures all right! Come, you yellow-faced rascal, hold this thing in your mouth just three minutes. Fetch me that stool to sit on-and get me a pail of water.” He seated himself and mopped his forehead, on which great beads of perspiration were gathered. His face, usually a boyish, clean red and white, was now darkly flushed, his eyes staring and bloodshot. He went on talking rapidly while noting the temperature of each and writing it down.
“This is purely mechanical-like a deadbeat letting himself in with his latch-key; but you needn’t fear I'm not getting it down all right. It’s d—d right! The Philadelphians will open their eyes when they see these temperatures walking about on two legs! It’s heroism, nothing else. What ails that boy lying there?” pointing to Julian.
The Stone-cutter undertook to reply with his hand on Julian’s forehead.
“He’s another hero done for. It’s his last breath he’s drawin’, and praise be to God that he’s drawin’ it in sight of his comrades and frieds, who'll close his eyes with respectability. A fine lad he was, doctor-with a grand turn for righteousness, and the love of humanity strong in him; those were his traits and his specialties, as we knowed that loved him.”
The young surgeon moved to Julian’s side, feeling first for his heart, his pulse, then parting his eyelids gently with his fingers.
“Get ice, quick-plenty of it.” The men looked dismally at their keg of drinking water, in which was an extra lump, bought to cool the water for Julian’s forehead. “Do you hear what I say? Crack up that ice and put it in a handkerchief, quick!” They brought him the ice as directed. He spread it like a cap over Julian’s head and wrapped a blanket around it.
“You'll soon have ice in plenty when the hospital comes. It’s due here at five o'clock; it’s got the right of way with a Baldwin locomotive in front and a Pennsylvania engineer running it for all his life’s worth. Do you think we deal in track-jumpers and dilly-dallies in my State ? Get out of the road, I say! It’s five minutes of five now. Don’t you hear the bells ringing and the whistles blowing? It’s coming ‘round the curve. Three cheers for the Philadelphia Hospital Train! I'm off to flag it right here and get the sick of my regiment on board before any others have as how to crowd you out. You'll be on board before it pulls up to the station! Hurrah! Here she comes! I've got all your temperatures and I'm running this show now, till we get to the Quaker meeting.”
He started off on a full run towards the track of the railroad, which lay to their left about half a mile distant. The men watched him, amazed, incredulous, sorrowfully convinced that overwork and fever had dethroned the poor fellow’s reason. They knew nothing of any hospital train coming to their rescue, and ‘they could hear neither whistle blowing nor bell ringing. They followed him with their eyes, however, and groaned when they saw him stumble and fall. But he was soon up again and on his way cheering and hurrahing. Soon he had reached the railroad, and they saw his figure clearly defined against the evening sky, his cap off, his arms waving.
Was he really insane? The depressing thought turned them ill-iller than they had been before. They looked at each other in sickening fear. Was everybody going crazy?
Then a sound-wave of wonderful import reached their ears. A long, piercing shriek stabbed the silence, followed by the clanging of a locomotive bell. A train was coming-a train which they knew was not on the time-table of that railroad. It had rounded the curve-it was coming into sight. Great heavens, there it was in full view, stopping at the bidding of the young surgeon!
Every man started to his feet. They ran forward and backward; they cheered and waved their hands, they threw their hats into the air; they embraced each other, and wept.
“It’s too good to be true! many of them cried. Some of them stumbled forward to get on the train; others did the same but returned hastily, remembering friends too ill to walk whom they could not desert; among these latter were Julian’s three comrades. Deliberately the trio waited in stoical patience while they sat in a group around Julian. The Undertaker’s Son tied a large handkerchief to the end of his rifle and hoisted it as a signal of distress.
From the train numerous persons were now emerging and forming a procession, carrying stretchers, bottles, baskets, and what not.
“Look!” cried the Stonecutter, “women! God bless them!”
“Why are they all dressed in white?” asked the Cuban, fearfully; might it not be after all but another visitation from one of America’s queer religious sects?
“They're trained nurses, you fool! Oh, God be thanked! How beautiful they are-how beautiful-how celestial!” Staggering to his feet the Undertaker’s Son stood gazing at the procession with streaming eyes and arms extended. Hats were already off and all the men who were able to stand were on their feet to greet the deliverers.
The procession drew near and stopped by the side of Julian. He was lifted to a stretcher and carried swiftly to the train; wonderful appliances were set in motion to restore him, through all of which he remained unconscious.
By nine o'clock that night all the sick of the regiment were on board the Flying Hospital, including the plucky surgeon, who was put into the first cot. The bell rang, the whistle sounded, the soldiers outside cheered their heartiest. The Philadelphia Hospital Train turned its blazing eyeball about and started its great caterpillar feet of incredible swiftness-its long, low line of cheerful light-mercifully to the North.
THE rumble of the wheels and the roaring, rushing noises of an express train running at full speed suggested to Julian’s oppressed senses the booming of artillery and the clashing arms of two great forces. The skill of the physicians and the lavish attentions of the nurses had so far reduced his temperature only one degree; nourishment in small quantities restored him, however, to a semi-consciousness which was less dangerous than the stupor in which he lay at first. But toward evening, delirium set in, and the unnatural muscular strength which often accompanies high fever soon taxed to the utmost the resources of nurses and doctors.
Julian was now distinctly aware that he was lying on a field from which the smoke of battle had not yet lifted. As the train began to run more easily, the mad fury of the conflict began to wane; the defeated army was hastening its retreat, and the victors had withdrawn with their prisoners and their wounded, leaving him alone on the battle-field, overlooked and forgotten!
He struggled to rise from the grassy mound on which he lay, but found himself held down by firm bands, which he divined to be tangled ropes of broad-bladed grass; they had grown to an extraordinary length during the battle and were entwined in inextricable knots across his breast. His screams for help failed to reach his rejoicing comrades, who were still firing their guns in honor of the victory.
“My God, must I perish thus miserably-a prey to vultures and wild beasts!” he shrieked in tones that rang through the car and imposed silence on a group of eager talkers.
Something fluttered over him-something that he did not wish to see and closed his eyes against; yet he caught a glimpse of a flashing of white as it might be a vision of a great bird with breast and pinions of white hovering over him. He shuddered. Were the vultures upon him already? He tried to recall the appearance of these birds from his early lessons in natural history, but he could not decide for a certainty that they were authorized to wear wings faced with shining white. The doubt raised a faint hope in his breast.
To his bewilderment, a soft hand clasped his firmly; a voice spoke in his ear in clear accents, bidding him not to be afraid; that everything would be well with him, if he would only not resist their efforts to save him-he was being taken home.
The shape that was bending over him was not that of a bird; Julian divined this even before he opened his eyes to catch in an obscure glance the outlines of a white helmet, – a fair cheek and shell-like ear. By intuition he knew now what had happened: he was numbered among the slain and the radiant creature bending over him was a Valkyrie intent on rescuing the dead heroes of battle-to bear them away to a remote region in the skies! The thought impressed him with solemnity, but inspired no terror; confidence and gratitude took possession of him, and he lay back smiling and peaceful in the face of this wholly new, supernatural experience. The fact that it bore no relation to any scheme of Christian theology as yet revealed did not disturb his serenity, for he reflected that the pastors and preachers of the Christian world would simply proceed with renewed zeal to reconcile their doctrines with this very late manifestation of the truth of Scandinavian myth. It would not be half so difficult as the harmonizing of their views with the teachings of modern science-a feat which they had long ago professed to have achieved with amazing success.
The Valkyrie maiden laid her hand upon his.
“ Do not be afraid-it is cold, – but it will not hurt you,” she said, tenderly. He shut his eyes and waited. The splashing of water sounded in his ears, and knowing that a novel and perhaps terrible experience was to be undergone, he determined to bear it with the fortitude of a hero.
He was lifted from his grassy couch and let down-down-down into what he felt must be a watery grave-there was no other name for it. It yawned to receive him and he wondered if the waves were to close over him forever, or if earth and rocks were to be piled on top of him, shutting out eternally the light of day?
But the hand of the Valkyrie was still holding his; he clasped it convulsively as the icy waters touched him and flowed over his body. Rivulets from unseen sources trickled down his forehead and splashed into his face. He gasped for breath; he shivered and clung with all his might to the Valkyrie’s hand.
There was something about the hand that was strangely familiar; it brought to his mind a moment when he had laid his own over a girlish one that was like this in smallness and in the delicate tapering of the fingers. There should go with the touch of that hand, the tones of a young voice that held an echo of loneliness, some mystery of passion not as yet identified with love, – an all-pervading note of self-repression. While Julian was pondering these memories in confusion, he felt himself gently withdrawn from the waters and laid back on his couch wrapped in something exceedingly warm, comfortable and reassuring to one who has been an inmate of a grave-and a grave full of water at that.
The Valkyrie spoke again tremulously;
“Let go my hand, please.”
He was still holding it tightly. With joy he recognized that the hand and the voice went together. They belonged to Elizabeth! He opened his eyes and stared into the face of the Valkyrie. It was Elizabeth, but wearing the white helmet of a daughter of the gods-completely clad in white was she, like an angel!
Julian gave no sign of recognition, but closed his eyes, after making this great discovery. Elizabeth had died then; her spirit had taken the form of a Valkyrie, and she had come to his aid. How miraculous, how beautiful, how agonizing was the thought!
Some kind of burning liquid was put to his lips. He swallowed it mechanically; it sent a warm thrill through his veins. Gently the Valkyrie tried to disengage her hand, but Julian resisted. She laid her other hand, which was cool and light, on his forehead.
“Sleep-then-you must sleep.” Her tone was one of command, as becomes a being wearing the shining radiance of another world. His hold on her hand loosened; he began to breathe softly, regularly; soon he was asleep.
“We've pulled it down three degrees and a half,” said the doctor, looking at the clinical thermometer in his hand. “I thought we'd better take what risk there was without losing time, -of course, it won’t stay down long.”
Julian’s cot was at one end of the car and at the other lay the young surgeon of the regiment; his tongue now running like a galloping horse in spite of the efforts of the nurses to keep him quiet.
“When we get to my village,” he was saying, with mingled scorn and pride, about the time that Julian was lifted out of his bath, “you will see a place where the pedestrians have the right of way, – that is its chief characteristic, – the pedestrians have the right of way, – not by law so much as by custom, – it’s not carried out anywhere else,you know. That’s my experience. The pedestrians represent the plain people. In Philadelphia, we live in houses; we're not Cliff-dwellers. But we're primitive. It’s the Quaker spirit among us; it gives us a kind of primeval simplicity. I cannot begin to tell you how simple-minded we are! We think the only way to do a thing is just to go and do it, – and when we've done it, what attitude do you suppose we take? By the holy apostles! Do you know what we think about it afterward? Why, we never think about it at all! We never do. It’s not worth mentioning-thanks. If any other city had done this thing, had sent one hospital train after another to care for thousands of sick soldiers from all parts of the Union-this is the tenth, I believe-the whole world would have been rung up by telephone to stand still and admire. But we Philadelphians-this is the way we have been behaving: right along since the town was first laid out. It makes me tired!” He stopped because a nurse laid her hand over his mouth. He kissed it impulsively.
“It’s good to see some of you girls again,” he said, and closed his eyes with a sigh of deep satisfaction.
The train drew up to a station shortly after daybreak. There was a great crowd waiting to greet the returning soldiers. A cheer went up.
Said the Stonecutter: “These rustic fellow-citizens is makin’ a grand mistake, – they allow it’s the heroes returnin’ from Cuba they're beholdin'!”
The Undertaker’s Son poked his head out of the window; the crowd sent up another shout at the sight of his yellow face.
“We're not the ones you think, we haven’t seen a battlefield-we haven’t been out of the country,” he explained, shamefacedly.” We haven’t done a thing but live in our tents and eat government rations all summer.”
“God knows that’s enough!” roared a countryman. “By the looks o’ ye, ye've seen worse than battles!”
They cheered more loudly than ever as the train moved off. Similar experiences awaited them all along the route, – "their progress was a continued ovation,” the newspapers said.
Finally the traveling hospital reached its destination, and rattled through the city over an elevated railroad. The young surgeon, who had been quiet for several hours, raised himself on his elbow and began to chatter afresh-his eyes sparkling, his cheeks flushed.
“Now you'll have a chance to see my fellow citizens in all their glory! The entire village will turn out-they'll be standing by the gates. I guess they've been here for hours already-the simpletons! Don’t be disappointed: they won’t have sense enough to send up a cheer for us, – they're so taken up doing the thing itself just right-that’s their way, as I've already explained. Half the population are doctors and the other half simpletons-that’s why the politicians have such a fine time of it. Oh, I forgot about those politicians-they all but turn the people out of doors! I'll tell you about them another time. And that’s why I moved out, – but I'll admit it was mostly on account of the doctors. Do you see that cluster of lights high up in the heavens? It’s not a constellation; it’s the statue of William Penn on the top of the Public Buildings. He preached the doctrine of non-resistance to evil, – that’s why they don’t resist anything in Philadelphia-anything evil. The corporations have a splendid time of it in consequence. The Philadelphians despise that statue-that’s another of their peculiarities; they're a most singular people! They despise everything they have, – they despise themselves, and each other, – and every reformer that gets up-and yet, O Lord! they're called the City of Brotherly Love!”
“This up-town fellow is a disgrace to his profession,” muttered the Only One to a fellow officer. “The profession ought to be restricted to gentlemen.” Both officers were very drunk.
“A city of brotherly love!” echoed the Cuban, with glowing eyes. He occupied the cot next to the Surgeon, and he was holding an ice-bag luxuriously to his burning forehead.
“A city of love-in the cold North? Yes,I see the light, – I see it. Does it shine all the way to Koobah?” He continued to murmur, “A City of Brotherly Love” with intense fervor, but no one thought it worthwhile to pay the least attention to a Latin degenerate, who could not pronounce the name of his own island.
There was indeed a vast crowd pressing against the gates of the depot as the train rolled in. The young doctor was right: his sober-faced citizens did not honor the regiment with a cheer; they started to do so, but the sound died away quickly as the stretchers were carried past to the ambulances, which were waiting in the street. The sight of so many prostrate forms indistinctly outlined beneath heavy blankets, with their faces mostly hidden from view, as are the faces of the dead, was enough to choke the heartiest cheer in the throats of the bravest. Few of the men in the throng removed their hats; they simply bowed their heads, while the women wept silently.
Two hours later found the suffering regiment comfortably distributed through the wards of well-equipped hospitals. The great city of rectangular highways and parallel courts and byways, with its thousands of right-angled, pigeon-box homes for the proletariat, – in its mediaeval, shortsighted fashion had again put forward its modest claim to deserve the ancient Greek title which the great ethical and Quaker romanticist had selected, – knowing perhaps in his heart that no people on God’s earth had as yet deserved it.
INDESCRIBABLE torments of fever enveloped Julian for many days in flames of anguish. During this interval, consciousness pursued its retreat like a hunted animal vanishing into a hole in the ground. Finally his sense of identity-that which seemed to be his real self-became a mere speck, and to this greatly reduced speck came occasional glimmerings from the outside world when a temporary lowering of his temperature would part the heavy medium of his sufferings.
In one of these glimmerings, Julian looked up and saw with a fearful sense of personal loss the face of Marian bending over him. The thought flashed through him that the apparition of Elizabeth, which he so distinctly remembered, must have been an illusion or an impersonation, – probably the latter, due to Marian’s skill as a sorceress. He flung himself with all his strength away from her, shouting incoherently that he would not have her weaving spells over him.
But for many days the enchantress hovered near. Her golden hair touched his brow when she stooped to administer nourishment; she smiled upon him always with an air of tender triumph. Julian passionately resented her presence by his side when he lay thus in inexplicable misery. His fever raged more violently than before and his moments of consciousness became blurred and less frequent. Alternating with the face of Marian came the sad, tearful face of his mother, but Julian distrusted this vision also and treated both with equal disdain. The troubled face withdrew finally without receiving a look of recognition.
Julian lay in a darkened alcove, his bed carefully shut off from the rest of the ward by large screens. There had been a change of doctors at the hospital and the nurses were awaiting instructions from a new arrival, who had offered his services on behalf of the soldier patients from his own city.
Through indistinct flittings of consciousness, Julian heard as in a dream, voices, low-pitched and agitated; said one which he recognized as Marian’s:
“You have no right to order me to leave! Why may I not perform my duty faithfully here, and receive from you the courtesy due to a stranger?”
A deep bass voice uttered an exclamation of scorn.
“Duty! What right have you to use that word? I say I will not have you intruding yourself into my field of service; Iwould not trust you to perform the most trifling obligation of a nurse with faithfulness!”
“You are cruelly unjust, as you always were-always!” the silvery chimes of this voice rang through Julian’s oppressed senses like the sound of a bell in a fog at sea. “You deprive me of my only chance to earn a living.”
“The arms to which you fled in preference to mine are still open, I fancy,” said the other in a harsh sneer.
“I call upon Heaven-God will surely strike you down for uttering that slander! 1 do not expect you to believe me-you have always given a free rein to every low suspicion that your imagination could invent. I fled to no man’s arms-I fled only from you.”
The voice of the woman had lost its delicate modulations and was now a gasping appeal.
“Be careful-you will disturb the patients. You must be perfectly aware of the interpretation the world puts on your action.'” He spoke with a slow heaviness.
“Ah, you care only for the world’s opinion! Have you no pride-you never had real love for me-to make you wish to protect the name I bear because it is your name?”
“I struggled all my married life to protect your name and mine, and succeeded until-the end came. At this moment my home is open to you"-he corrected himself with bitterness, – "my house is open to you-I have no home-whenever you choose to return to it.”
“How magnanimous!-why may I not stay here to do the work that I love dearly?”
The man drew a deep breath; after a pause he spoke hoarsely.
“I could not stand-I could not stand seeing you day after day. I can do my work by forgetting-I have others to think of-not myself alone.”
Two or three steps forward were taken by small feet.
“Think of me, for once-Gilbert. Perhaps-perhaps, in this service I may find a chance-to expiate-to expiate-”
“Expiate, Marian? that word-on your lips-”
“Ah! Let me stay! I am seeking expiation-expiation!” The beautiful tones of her voice were more like the sighing of a summer’s breeze than anything human, yet faint as they were, they reached Julian’s ears. “I wish to bury myself from the world, – forever. I do not forget the wrongs I have heaped upon you, all the unhappiness I have caused. Do not misunderstand me-I am seeking Heaven’s forgiveness, not yours, Gilbert. No, no, – not yours, not yours!” The last words ended in a sob; were they smothered in an embrace? There was silence. Julian, turning his head impatiently, passed again into the interior of that strange region to the border of which the voices within the alcove had recalled him.
Not long afterward, a physician sat holding Julian’s wrist lightly within his fingers; his deeply furrowed brow was bent heavily forward; his air of abstraction betrayed that he was not thinking of his patient. Julian stirred and passed a thin hand over his face.
“I knew she would weave her spells over me while I slept,” he murmured irritably. “I wish you would take away the sorceress! I feel her cobwebs across my face already-I do not dare to sleep!”
The doctor started and looked sharply at his patient; perhaps he became aware that he had seen the face before. A dark flush mounted to his forehead, but he clasped the wrist that he held with a reassuring firmness.
“You can rest easily; the sorceress is not here. She will weave no more spells-over you.” His voice broke; he hung his head in profound agitation, and remained in this attitude for some minutes. Recovering his self-possession, he walked quietly from bed to bed and continued his professional duties.
His words, however, planted themselves securely in Julian’s troubled brain; it mattered not by whom they were pronounced, they conveyed an impression of truth, and were further corroborated when he opened his eyes and saw with relief that the beautiful face of Marian was no longer hovering near.
Night came; the hour arrived when Julian’s delirium was bound to increase; he spent his feeble strength tossing from side to side in single-handed combat with dreadful phantoms and nameless terrors. He tried to stifle his shrieks that he might not betray the unmanly fear that was paralyzing his heart. A light which he knew was not that of day burst forth somewhere near him; was it a torch? He opened his eyes and beheld Elizabeth. She had turned on an electric jet.
In an instant, the grisly shapes vanished; all the horrors withdrew their ugly heads; the storm died down. He knew himself to be in a woodland scene of singular peacefulness and beauty. There were moss-covered rocks, too, of much grandeur, and on one of these he was lying. He looked up at Elizabeth with a strange light in his eyes.
“You have found your way to me at last, you daughter of the North! I have just discovered how wonderful you are. Your hand can strike music, – you can uplift art and make it sacred because you are touched with the holy fire that belongs to all these races. You look strangely like Elizabeth, my dear, young Valkyrie.”
“I am Elizabeth,” said the young girl, trembling. What new fancy had seized his poor brain?
“Elizabeth is dead,” replied Julian, smiling sadly. “You are her spirit-in the form of Brunhilde, perhaps; it does not matter how it happened; the legend does not explain such details, and it is not for me to inquire too rashly. I am a miserable mortal, still clinging to the bedraggled garments of flesh. Oh, worse-I am a wretched Anglo-Saxon, – untouched by holy fire. I lied when I said I was no Anglo-Saxon!” He raised himself in bed; his eyes, glowing like coals of fire, were fixed on her face. Elizabeth with a cry of despair rushed to him; she flung her arms around him to give his frail body support. But to compel Julian to lie down was beyond her strength. He continued to rhapsodize piteously, –
“I could not reconcile art and morality; so I gave up art; I made the sacrifice, – do you remember that I gave them into your keeping-my musical instruments? I broke them purposely-thinking that I would cheat my conscience, – and that I would live-the higher life afterward. But I did wrong! In my gross materialism I struck at the defenseless instruments and silenced them forever, – forever! Being an Anglo-Saxon, I silenced the voices in me and in the instruments, and for that I am left here to die-without hope of favor or forgiveness.” He paused, groaned and closed his eyes; then opened them to utter softly this petition:
“Will you kiss me before I die?”
He permitted himself to be laid back gently on his pillows. Elizabeth summoning to her aid all the mother-wit and romance that were mingled in her with the blood of two races, leaned toward him, determined to master his disordered fancies; her young face was illumined with inspiration.
“Listen to me! If I were to kiss you, you would never, never die! You would be immortal, – do you know that?”
“It would be the kiss of death!” murmured Julian, again closing his eyes.
“No, – the kiss of life! You must believe what I say, for I am far wiser than you, – what are you but a gross materialist? You cannot hope to understand the things I know.”
“You are right-I cannot;” he was already impressed.
“And the instruments! They are broken no longer; I mended them with just one touch of my hand! I am full of that holy fire-even to my finger tips!” She looked at him anxiously to sec if he would swallow this pretentious assertion. He accepted it with entire conviction, so she went on:
“Yes, – they are entirely restored and ready for you to play on. How you must have missed them all this time-when you were starved without music; starved-as I was-when I was Elizabeth.”
“When you were Elizabeth-yes, 1 remember you,” he spoke as if she had been dead a long while, long enough to be almost forgotten.
“That is w h y I came to-night, to tell you that you are to be broken no longer by suffering! You are to live to be restored-like the instruments!”
“Do I have to live?” he whispered, and closed his eyes again wearily. It seemed to her that she had failed. There was no need then for her to kiss him. Julian had already forgotten his request.
He did not appear to be sleeping, for he soon began to roll his head from side to side. Elizabeth was then forced to leave him to attend to the wants of several other patients in the long ward. When she returned she found Julian sitting up in bed, gesticulating violently.
“They are at me again-I knew they were only hiding from you! Why does that hideous hag point her bony finger at me? She smells of the poorhouse horribly, the old pauper! The purple-faced one with her hair hanging down is coming at me again with her crutch. If she tries to hit me again, I'll take it from her. What do I know of her multitude of diseases? I'd cure them if I could-but what can I do when she hasn’t had enough to eat? Ah! She’s got the children hiding behind her; I knew they were there, – 1 tell you, I can’t stand the sight of their faces again, and their sore eyes-how frightful!”
“There is no one here but myself. Don’t you know me-Elizabeth?”
“They're asking me for bread-bread-Elizabeth-when I have none for them. What’s to be done when they ask for bread like this? It’s because the wheels are stopped and the mills are shut down. Can’t you get them open for a little while-just a little while? These people, these hideous creatures are coming here to show me the human brotherhood! They're the ones we're supposed to love, but I loathe them.”
“Do try to rest-there is no one here-no one.”
“Who is that young creature with the painted face? I know her! She said her name was May. There is good in her, – at least there was once, before I turned my back on her cry. I was angry because she would not take my money. She found me out as a hypocrite. What else can an Anglo-Saxon be? It’s in our blood, Elizabeth. The Hypocrites of England-how glorious they be! I can’t sing any more-now. This May-I must do something for her. I must try to save her. It is not too late. Let me up, Elizabeth. I must get up. I tell you I will get up. Why do you try to hinder me?”
He struggled violently against the pressure of her hands. Elizabeth looked around frantically for the other nurse, but she was nowhere within call.
“You cannot find May,” she said at last, with desperate firmness. “She is not to be found in this world. She is gone-she is at rest.”
“Ah-she is dead, too, – how terrible, how terrible this is for me!” He covered his face with his hands.
“I was with her when she died-I will tell you about her if you will lie quietly with your eyes shut.” She saw that she would have to yield to his mood in the hope of finally controlling it.
Julian composed himself quickly and closed his eyes.
“When I hear your voice, Elizabeth,1 can rest easily. Go on-tell me about May.”
Elizabeth, sitting sideways on the bed and holding Julian’s hand, began her narrative in a low, monotonous voice. She told him she had met the unfortunate May in the street when she herself was penniless and out of work, and that it was May who had directed her to a decent boarding-house and the next day left an envelope with money in it for her. Every week the envelope was left at the door and Elizabeth could only guess at first that it came from May. Finally a message came that a patient in the hospital erected for the city’s poor wished to see Elizabeth at once. She went immediately and found May dying. At her request Elizabeth started out late at night to seek an elderly man, who had at one time befriended May, having met her in the halls of a socialistic club. Elizabeth described minutely her interview with this white-haired stranger; how she had trembled with the fear that he would refuse her request, and how kindly of purpose she had found him. Together they had hurried to the bedside of the dying courtesan and stayed with her until long after midnight. May had died just before the dawn.
Long before the story was finished-and Elizabeth told it in a whisper that grew fainter and fainter-Julian’s breathing had become calm and regular. Once or twice he smiled as if in his sleep, and repeated her last words in a whisper. She did not know whether their meaning really reached his brain, but at any rate, she had soothed and calmed him. When she left him, he was sleeping peacefully.
JULIAN being now convalescent, was longing to see Elizabeth.
Why was she not with him as before? He called to an attendant who was moving about the ward and asked to see the nurse who had had charge of him during his illness. The attendant mentioned several nurses whose names were unfamiliar. There were also the night nurses, whose names she did not know. He braced himself to await nightfall with patience.
But when evening came and the change of nurses was made, Elizabeth did not appear. This caused him frightful alarm. Had she fled from him again? What mad thing had he said to her in his delirium? But surely she would not hold him responsible for the ravings of fever!
Then slowly there passed before his mind a panorama of past days. He saw himself a follower of false ideals, a deluded egoist whose bubbles were being pricked and burst, one by one. What would be more fitting than that Providence should now crown his wasted efforts with the total obliteration of his dearest hopes! Thus did the gods delight always to punish presumptuous men, in place of reasoning with them to persuade them of their folly!
In the depression caused by great physical weakness, the cruel philosophy of the fatalist took possession of his reason and convinced him that Elizabeth was dead. After restoring him to life through her tender care, she had been seized by a sudden malady and swept out of life as he was returning to it. His attendants were afraid to tell him the truth, but he divined it, – Elizabeth was dead!
Crushed by the force of this terrible conviction, which was intensified by the memories of his dreams, Julian lay staring at the wall, reading in its blankness the death sentence of his life, as convicted criminals read theirs in the white-washed walls of their narrow cells. So one of his attendants found him an hour later, and though she persistently strove to arouse him to cheerfulness. Julian made no answer, nor did he ask a question.
The busy chirp of the irrepressible Philadelphia sparrow awoke him the next day at early dawn; it heralded the spring and poured into his ear a tale of daily duties, incessant vigilance, and everlasting reform (the sparrows being the only successful reformers in Philadelphia).
The awakening brought back only the dreadful sense of loss, – the loss of Elizabeth. The morning was very early; the chatter of the sparrows soon ceased, and Julian’s sad memories faded again into sleep.
When he awoke later, the sunlight was streaming through the window. He seemed to have been listening to strains of noble music through which sounded great trumpet blasts such as occur unexpectedly in Raff’s Winter Symphony.
The music was set to heroic verses and their splendor still lingered in his ear. The words came struggling back like a disorderly procession that had forgotten how to march: “Sunrise of the Centuries-Freedom of the Common Fields-Purple shadows of the East-Hushed Voices-Earth’s Sobbing-Shameful Markets that sell the Lillies of Righteousness - Oh, Maker of Men. where art Thou, and Thy great overshadowing wings?” Fragments of broken thoughts were they - confused and disarranged like his own life.
He struggled to put them together and to bind them to that glorious melody. It was all in vain; the art that had once woven them together was not of this world; their mystic meaning could not be chained to any form known to earth, and yet they laid a heavy command upon him. What was it?
The sorrowful world was calling to him to forget himself-his happiness-his love. In place of relieving those whom society had wronged, he was to bear arms against the wrongs themselves. This was surely the meaning of that great trumpet blast in his soul!
Vividly there came before him the picture of that new and glorious future which his friend the Undertaker’s Son had so persistently held before his eyes. Not for nothing-indeed-had he endured the degradation and horrors of military life, – over which, surely, all the demons of the universe must have been shrieking during his delirium! Even now, their satanic laughter was ringing through his soul. With a cry, he turned passionately toward the great Ideal which seemed to be beckoning him forward imperiously, – commanding him to give up everything in life that he loved to work for the fulfillment of its promise.
“I accept-I give up everything - even Elizabeth,” he murmured, believing that his self-renunciation was now complete. The old theology of sacrifice and atonement still held lingering possession.
When night came, Julian felt that he had lived fifty years in that one day. The screen had been pushed a little aside and he could see from his cot all the way down the long ward. He heard a light, familiar step. Who was coming toward him? He saw and recognized her in the dim light; Elizabeth was coming straight to him, wearing the halo of the resurrected! In her arms were his musical instruments.
She walked evenly, but her depression was increasing at every step. No longer was she the Valkyrie; no longer did she wear the dazzling helmet of Brunhilde. The poor child knew she was shorn of all that unreal glory. She was a slight, young creature, even in the nurse’s stiff, white gown; her head was bent and held a little to one side, – an evidence of her accumulating self-distrust. As she reached the edge of the screen, she stopped, raised her head and looked at Julian. He remembered that there was about her always that curious air of self-forgetfulness which contained the very denial of expectation - a negation least of all to be looked for in such a young face. He thought the absence of self-love was told in the very contour of her pale cheek. He adored her for it, – and yet, the glance of her large, dark eyes was wistfulness itself.
He sat up; he leaned forward with eyes sparkling. He called her by name:
The look that came into Elizabeth’s eyes brought back vividly his dream of the Valkyrie. An illumination as beautiful as it was tender shone through her pallor as if her soul were speaking through the network of veins in her body; but she stood motionless; she did not move from her stand by the screen.
“Elizabeth!” he cried-this time with rapture, with entreaty. She moved quickly-she flew toward him and sank on her knees in the attitude that was natural to her as a nurse.
Julian stretched out his arms. They kissed each other tenderly.