ELECTRA, in her excitement, found herself unable to stay upstairs at her accustomed tasks. She had to know what grandmother thought of this ill-bred woman. But speeding down, she saw grandmother in the garden paths with Billy Stark. There they walked intimately arm-in-arm, and grandmother talked. There was something eager in the pose of her head. Evidently what she had heard quite pleased her, if only because it was some new thing. And there was Peter at the door. Instantly the light sprang renewed into Electra’s eyes. Peter would do still better than grandmother to confirm her triumph, though at the moment even she charged herself to be lofty in her judgments and temperate in expressing them. Peter did not look at all like one who had himself heard unlovely news. His face glowed. There were points of light in his dark eyes. Rose had left them there, and Electra, with the sick certainty of the jealous, knew it. They went silently into the library, Peter holding, as well as he might, the lax hand hanging at her side. In the morning light of the room, they faced each other, and she asked her question, the one that, unbidden, came leaping to her lips.
“ Did you meet her ? ”
He knew whom she meant, for his thought, too, was full of her.
“Yes,” he said, and then swept even Rose aside as deflecting him from his purpose. “Electra, I have decided to go back to France.”
Immediately she thought she saw why. Rose was going and he had to follow.
“What did she tell you?” she cried sharply. The pang that came astonished her, it was so savage. Even in the haste of the moment, she had time for a passing surprise that she could be so moved by Peter. He was looking at her with innocent perplexity.
“Rose ?” he said. “Nothing. I told her I was coming here and she — ” He paused, for he was on the point of adding, “She sent me.” Peter could see how ill-judged that would be.
Electra, her proud glance on him, was considering, balancing probabilities. With his artist’s eye he saw how handsome she was, how like, in the outer woman, to his imperial lady. Such spirit in her could only, it seemed, be spent for noble ends.
“Has she told you?” asked Electra, and there was something, he saw, beyond what he suspected. Her voice rang out against her will: “ No, she has n’t. She means, for some reason, not to tell you. But she has had to tell me.”
Peter was staring at her.
“Has something happened to her?” he asked quickly. “I must know.”
That mysterious rage she was so unwilling to recognize in herself got possession of her again.
“It means a great deal to you,” she breathed.
“Of course it does,” said Peter honestly. “Don’t keep me dangling, Electra.”
Electra’s mouth seemed to harden before his eyes. She looked like some noble and beautiful image of justice or a kindred virtue.
“She thinks I shall not tell you,” she declared. “But I shall. It is no more right for you to be deceived than it was right for me. I shall tell you.”
“Don’t tell me anything she would n’t wish,” said Peter earnestly. He began to see the need of holding down the flaming spirit in her, lest it consume too much. “If there is anything she wants me to know, she will tell me.”
“My instinct was right,” said Electra, now with equal steadiness. “ She was not his wife. Tom never married her.”
Peter was tired of that issue. His controlled manner showed it.
“I know what you think about that, Electra,” he said. “You see we don’t agree. We must n’t talk about it.”
Electra answered him with a gracious certainty.
“That was what she told me, Peter. She told grandmother, too. For some reason she has abandoned her deception. She has a reason for ending it. That was what she said. Tom never married her.”
Peter’s face was blazing, the indignant blood in it, the light darting from his eyes. He straightened. His hands clenched. His voice was thick with anger.
“Tom never married her?”
“That was what she told us.”
“The damned scoundrel! ”
Electra had been regarding him in serene certainty of her own position and her ability to hold it. But human nature flashed out in her, the loyalty of blood.
“Are you speaking of my brother?” she demanded.
“I am speaking of your precious brother. And I might have known it.” Ire, gathering in him, suffused his face anew. “I might have known Tom Fulton would do the dastardly trick in any given situation. Of course he never married her.”
“You don’t seem to think of her,” she reminded him, under her breath.
“Not think of her! What else am I thinking of? Poor child! poor child!”
Electra was always having to feel alone in the world. Art left her desolate when other people sang and painted and she could only praise. Love and the fierce loyalty she coveted were always failing her and lavishing themselves elsewhere. She had one momentary impulse to speak for herself. “ Do you wonder now,” she said, “ that I would n’t accept her ? ”
“Not accept her, when she had been hurt? Good God, Electra! how monstrous it is. You, a delicate woman, fully believed he had wronged another woman as lovely as yourself, and yet the only impression it made on you was that you could not accept her.”
Electra resisted the impulse to turn away or put her hands to her face; the tears were coming. She held herself rigid for a moment, choking down the shuddering of her nerves, lest her lips quiver and betray her.
“I suppose,” — the words were almost inaudible, yet he heard them, — “I suppose that is because you have lived so long in France.”
“What, Electra ? ” He spoke absently, his mind with Rose.
“These things have ceased to mean anything to you. It is not a moral question. You see the woman is pretty and you — ”
“No, no! She is beautiful, but that’s not it. I can’t theorize about it, Electra, only the whole thing seems to me monstrous. That he should wrong her! That he should be able to make her care about him in the first place—a fellow like him —just because he was handsome as the devil and had the tongue of angels — but that he should wrong her, that she should come over here expecting kindness — ” It was Peter who put a hand before his eyes, not because there were tears there, but as if to shut her out from a knowledge of his too candid self. But in an instant he was looking at her again, not in anger, but sorrowfully.
“Is n’t it strange?” she exclaimed, almost to herself.
“ What, Electra ? ”
“Strange to think what power a woman has — a woman of that stamp.”
“Don’t, Electra. You must n’t classify her. You can’t.”
She was considering it with a real curiosity.
“You don’t blame her at all,” she said. “You know Tom did wrong. You don’t think she did.”
“Electra,” he said gently, “we can’t go back to that. It’s over and done with. Besides, it is between those two. It is n’t our business.”
“You could blame Tom! ” She clung to that. He saw she would not release her hold.
“Electra! ” He put out his hands and took her unwilling ones. Then he gazed at her sweetly and seriously; and when Peter was in gentle earnest he did look very good. “ Electra, can’t you see what she is ? ”
His appealingness had for the instant soothed that angry devil in her. She wrenched her hands free, with the one hoarse cry instinct with mental pain, —
“You are in love with her! ”
Peter stepped back a pace. His face paled. He could not answer. Electra felt the rush of an emotion stronger than herself. It swept her on, her poise forgotten, her rules of life snapping all about her.
“I have always known it, from the first day you spoke of her. She has bewitched you. Perhaps this is what she really came for — to separate us. Well, she has done it.”
Something seemed demanded of him, and he could only answer in her own words, —.
“Has she done it ? ”
Her heat had cooled. Her soberer self had the upper hand again, and she spoke now like the gracious lady called to some dignified dismissal.
“I find,” she said, “I must have intended to say this for days. We must give up — what we meant to do.”
“You must give me up, Electra?”
“I give you up.”
“I came to-day”— Peter’s voice sounded very honest in his endeavor to show how well he had meant. “I came to ask you to go back to France. We would live on a little. We would serve the Brotherhood — the chief says you have joined already” — Electra bowed her head slightly, still in a designed remoteness.
“ I shall go to France,” she said, “ later. But I shall never marry you. That is over. As you said of something else, it is over and done with.”
She glanced toward the door, but he kept his place. Peter was conscious that of all the things he ought to feel, he could not summon one. It did not seem exactly the woman he had loved who was dismissing him. This was a handsome and unfriendly stranger, and in the bottom of his heart surged a sweet new feeling that was like hope and pain.
“Let us not talk any more,” she was saying, with that air of extreme courtesy which still invited him to go.
Peter walked slowly to the door.
“I am wondering” — he hesitated. “Why do you say that, Electra? Why do you tell me I am in love with her?”
He looked as shy as a girl. It struck her full in the mind that even in this interview she had no part. She had refused a lover, and he was going away with his thoughts stirred by another woman.
“I said so,” she repeated clearly, “because it is true. You are in love with her. Good-by.”
Peter turned to her with one of his quick movements and held out his hand. She did not take it.
“Won’t you shake hands, Electra?” he asked. “I should think we might be friends.” Honest sorrow moved his voice. Now, at least, he was thinking of her only.
Electra meant to show no resentment, no pain. But she had to be true.
“I can’t,” she said, in a low tone. “Good-by.”
And Peter, seeing the aversion in her face, not for him perhaps, but for the moment, got himself hastily out of the room and into the summer road. And there before he had walked three paces, Peter began to sing. He sang softly, not at all because melody was unfitted to the day, but as if what inspired it were too intimate a thing to be revealed. He looked above him, straight ahead, and on every side.
The world was beautiful to him at this moment, and he had a desire to drink it up, to be as young and as rich as Apollo. He did feel very rich, not only in his youth but in the unnamed possibilities trembling before him; and Peter denied himself no pleasure because it was inappropriate to the moment. It would have seemed to him a refusal of the good gifts of life and an affronting of the God who created plenty if, because he had lost Electra, he renounced the delight of a happiness he really felt. By and by he would remember Electra, how dignified she was, how irreproachable, in the moments when her virtues did not get the bit between their teeth and dash away with her; but now, under this abounding summer sun, with the leaves trembling, she withdrew into a gray seclusion like an almost forgotten task—one that had resolved itself into a beneficent fulfillment quite unlike what it had promised. Noble as it was, he had been excused from it, and he felt blissfully free. Something else that swam before him like the gleam of a vision did not look like another task. It was more like a quest for a hero’s arming. It fitted his dreams, it went hand in hand with the visions he had had years ago about his painting, when that was all possibility, not work. This was the worshipful righting of an innocent lady.
She was there in view when he got home, as if she had waited for him, under a tree, trembled about by the summer green, her white dress flickered upon by leaves. She was pale; her mouth looked piteous to him, and his heart beat hard in championship. She half rose from her chair, and let her unread book fall to the grass beside her.
There were two things Rose wanted very much to know: whether Electra had shocked him out of his trust in her, and why her father stayed so long in that visit to Osmond at the plantation. The last question was the great one, and she asked it first.
“What can my father be saying to him ? ”
“Osmond? I don’t know. Equal rights, labor, capital, God knows. Rose, don’t sit there. Please get up!”
She obeyed, wondering, brushed out her skirt and put her hair straight, and then glanced at him.
“What for?” she asked. “What do you want me to do ? ”
Peter looked to her about eighteen, perhaps, nothing but youth and gleam and gay good luck. She felt a thousand years older herself, yet she loved Peter dearly. She would do anything for him. This she told herself in the moment of smoothing down her hair. His face brimmed over with fun, with something else, too. The seriousness that dwells housemate to comedy was behind.
“I could n’t say it with you lying there and looking at me,” said Peter. “Nobody ever made a proposal to a lady in a steamer chair unless he was in another and the deck was level.”
“Peter,” she said gravely, “don’t make fun.”
Peter shook back the lock of hair he encouraged to tumble into his eyes. It was his small affectation. It kept him at one with his artistic brotherhood.
“I am rejected,” he said, and do what he might, he announced it exultingly, and not in the least with the dignity he would have admired in the lady who had refused him. But at that moment Peter had had enough of dignity and the outer form of things. He wanted to be himself, light or sad, bad or good, and speak the truth as the moment revealed it to him. “But I am rejected,” he continued, when she looked at him in a quick reproof, “turned down, jilted, smashed into a cocked hat. And I came just as quick as I could. Rose — ”
“Don’t!” she warned him. “Don’t say that, Peter.”
“Just as quick as I could get here without running — I could n’t run, there were so many pretty things to look at — to tell you, to beg of you” — Peter’s voice broke. He was behaving badly to conceal how much he was moved. “I came to offer it to you,” he said seriously, in a low tone. “Not what was given back to me, but something else, so much better you could n’t speak of ’em in the same day. When I think of what might be, it’s all light and color — and the leaves of the wood moving. It’s a great big dream, Rose, and you fit into it. You fit into the dream.” He was intoxicated with youth and life. She was not sure whether it was with her.
“I hope you haven’t quarreled,” she said soberly. She wished she might recall him. “But if you have and are patient — ”
Peter could not let her go on. He put out his quick, clever hands in an eager gesture, as if he pushed something away.
“Ah,” he said, “I don’t want to be patient! I want to be rash. I don’t want anything back. I want something new and beautiful. I want to tell you a million things in a minute — chiefly how much I love you.”
His voice had deepened. It swept her on a pace, in spite of herself, because it was like Osmond’s. For a moment she felt the kinship between them, the same swift blood, the picturesque betrayals. There was something at the heart of each that was dear to her, and Peter, for the moment, speaking in the sunshine with her eyes upon him, was also the voice out of the dark. But she had nevertheless to recall him.
“Have you really given each other up ? ” she asked.
“Yes,” said Peter, in the same glad acquiescence. “And what do you think she told me, the last thing of all?”
She shook her head.
“She told me I loved you. And I do, Rose. Oh, I do! I do!”
“But that mustn’t part you. Think what it is to me — to know my coming here has done it.”
“Oh, you had to come!” said Peter lightheartedly. “It was preordained. It’s destiny. I was a fool not to see it the first minute. She had to tell me.”
Rose, in spite of herself, smiled a little. But her thoughts settled gravely back upon her own hard task.
“Did she tell you — ” she hesitated, and then asked her question with a simple directness. “Did she tell you how much mistaken you are in me?”
“Please don’t,” said Peter. His face flushed. He looked his misery.
“You see she is the only one who was not mistaken in me. Those of you who believed in me — well, I must tell all of you. Even grannie, dear grannie! I am afraid — ”shestopped because she meant to show no emotion; but it seemed to her that grannie, in her guarded life, must view her harshly. “I was wrong, Peter, ever to let you mix yourself in this miserable coil. It I could lie, well and good. Let me do it and take the consequences. But I should have known better than to bring you into it.”
Peter stood thoughtfully regarding her in a very impersonal way, as if he debated how she could be moved.
“I wonder,” he said at last, “how it is possible to tell you how lovely you are to everybody, how perfectly splendid, you know, quite different from anybody else! And when you add to that that you’ve been wronged and — and insulted — oh, you’ve simply no conception how it makes a fellow feel! Why, I adore you, that’s all. I just adore you.”
He stretched out his hand like a bluff comrade and she put hers into it, as frankly.
“You’re a dear boy, Peter,” she said, and her eyes were wet.
He spoke perversely, when she had taken her hand away:—
“That’s all very well, you know, but I’m not a boy —not all the time. I love you awfully, Rose, in the real way, the bang-up old style, Tristan and all that, you know. I ’m going to keep on and you’ll have to listen.”
“Shall I, Peter ?” She was still smiling wistfully. Love, sweet, clean young love looked very beautiful to her. She wished she could see it crowning some head, not hers, some girl quite worthy of him. “Well, not to-day.”
“No, maybe not to-day,” Peter agreed obstinately, “but other days, all the days. I can’t give up the most beautiful thing there is, and you ’re that. You’re simply the most beautiful there is.”
“There’s grannie coming out on the veranda.” Then she added bitterly, “I wonder if she will think I am the most beautiful thing there is!”
MacLeod was not used to being summoned, except by high officials, and then, if the meeting would not advantage his cause, he was likely to take a journey in another direction. But when Osmond’s man invited him to go down to the shack that morning, he had agreed with a ready emphasis, and now walked along, smiling over the general kindliness of things. The change of air after his sea voyage was doing him good, and he had been able to command anew the sense of physical prosperity which had once been his habitual possession. That forbade him morbid premonitions and withdrawals relative to the bodily life. It hardly seemed possible, this robust guardian declared, that anything should happen to him, save after a very long period, when inevitable decay would set in. But in a harmonious mood such as this, even that prospect retreated so far that it might almost as well not threaten at all. He had no doubt that when change fell upon the aged, it was as beneficent in its approach as the oncoming of sleep. But of these things he need not think, except as they might be brought to his mind by the disasters of other people. Acquiesce in the course of nature, said his philosophy, and refuse to anticipate trouble as trouble. It could always be curbed or stamped out when it came. That abounding certainty was a part of his power. He found his way without difficulty. The neat rows of growing things led him in from the road, and directing his steps toward the shack, where he had understood Osmond lived, he saw a figure advancing to meet him, a man in a blue blouse, like a workman, beating his hands together as he came, to dust the soil from them. When they were at a convenient interval, the man looked at MacLeod with a measuring gaze, and MacLeod returned the challenge with what was, perhaps, too frank encouragement. He put out his hand, but Osmond shook his head. He opened his two palms, displaying them.
“I did n’t expect you for a few minutes yet,” he said, “or I should have washed. I’m just out of the dirt. Come on down to the house. We won’t go in. There are some seats outside.”
MacLeod knew at once, through the keen sense that served him in his fellowship with men, that the excuse was a true one, yet that Osmond was glad he had it to offer. He evidently had no desire to shake hands. That seemed reasonable enough. The man was quite unlike other men in his unstudied speech, the clear, healthy, and yet childlike look of his eyes. It was as if, wanking in the earth, he had become a part of it. When they were in the shade of the great oaktree by the house, each in his rough chair, MacLeod stretched out his legs, with much enjoyment, and offered his host a cigar.
“No, thank you,” said Osmond. He felt briefly, and was ashamed of himself for entertaining it, a childish regret that he did not smoke. Every easy habit gave the man of the world an advantage the more. “Light up,” he said grimly, as MacLeod, after a questioning look which seemed also a commiserating one, was about to return the case to his pocket. “I like to see it — and smell it — rather.”
So MacLeod brought out his pipe and did light up.
“I smoke very little,” he explained. “That’s the way to skim the cream. It’s the temperate man for flavors. Know that ? ”
Osmond, temperate in all ways from necessity, hardly knew how he should have felt about it if desires and delight had presented themselves to him as companions, not as foes. He pulled himself up, with an effort. MacLeod’s effect on him was something for which he was not prepared. The man’s physical fitness, his self-possession in the face of anything that might be required of him, made hot blood in Osmond. There was no ground for them to meet upon. Temperance of life in order to enjoy the more keenly ? Then, to be honest, he would have to confess that for him temperance was his master, and that was a confidence he would not give. There could be no easy commonplaces. He spoke bluntly: —
“I wanted to see you.”
“I wanted to see you, too,” said MacLeod cordially. “Of course I know all about you. Peter talks about you by the yard.”
Osmond’s rebellious tongue formed the words, “I don’t believe it.” But he did not utter them.
“You’ve worked out a mighty interesting scheme down here,” MacLeod continued, taking his pipe out of his mouth and looking about him.
“We have worked,” said Osmond.
“It’s like the older peasant life of Europe.” MacLeod spoke rather at random, seeking about for some thoroughfare with his crusty host. “A sort of paternal government — ”
“Not in the least,” said Osmond. “My men are my neighbors. They work for me and I pay them.”
“I hope so. If I found a man doing half time and grumbling, I should kick him out.”
“They don’t combine? ”
“We all combine. I get good work. They get good wages. It’s a square deal.”
“Profit-sharing? ” “No, not exactly.”
“It strikes me as a sort of community,” said MacLeod. " Everybody at work and everything in common.”
“Now, why does it strike you that everything is in common ? The place is mine.”
“Ah, my dear fellow! ” MacLeod forgot the simplicity of the moment and put on his platform voice. “Nothing is ours.”
Osmond regarded him with a slow smile coming, — his perfect clothes, his white hand, his air of luxurious equipment.
“Is n’t it ?” he asked ironically. “Well, it looks mighty like it. But I have n’t any data. I know what goes on inside my own fences. I don’t know much more. Wdiat do you want of Peter ? ”
“To-day ? ”
“Any time. All the time. He has joined your league. What do you intend to do with him ? ”
MacLeod put his hands in his pockets and stretched his legs a little farther. He regarded the outer circle of hills, and then brought his gaze back over the pleasant rolling land between. Finally he looked at Osmond and smiled at him in what seemed a community of feeling.
“My dear fellow,” he said, “I am not considering the individual.”
“I am,” said Osmond, with an offensive bluntness. “I am considering Peter. What are you going to do with him ? ”
“Your brother joined us of his own free will.”
“Yes. But now you’ve got him, what do you want to do with him ? ”
“Is n’t it of any use for me to tell you that when a man joins us, he has passed beyond personal recognition or privilege ? Outside our circle, he is an individual; he counts. Inside — well, it is difficult to say what he is. We want him then to consider himself one of the drops that make a sea. The sea washes down things — even the cliffs. The drop of water is of no importance alone. With a million, million others, it moves. It crushes.” Osmond sat looking straight at him with eyes that burned. His hands, hanging at his side, were clenched. He recognized the might of the man, the crude physical power of him like an emanation, and he felt the despairing helplessness of trying to move a potency like that. Cliffs might be corroded by the sea; but a human force that respects no other cannot be easily invaded. He spoke without his own will, and heard himself speaking: —
“You have n’t any soul! ”
MacLeod was regarding him with as direct a gaze.
“What do you mean by that?” he asked, with a moderate interest. “Do you mean I have n’t any mercy, any kindness ? Is that what you mean ? ”
It was not what he meant. It was the indwelling spirit such as he saw in grannie, the mobile thing in Peter that, changing, blossoming in errant will here and there as the sun of life bade it, seemed in one form or another to proclaim itself undying. He shook his head.
“No,” he said, “that’s not what I mean.”
A smile ran over MacLeod’s face and moved it most delightfully.
“Well,” said he, “if we’re going to take inventories — have you a soul ? ”
Osmond shook his head again.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
“Well, then, what’s the use of slanging me ? If you’re in the same box yourself — Come, who has one ? has anybody ? ”
Osmond thought then of Rose, and of the fire of the spirit playing over her, that brightness he could neither classify nor define. Yet he must believe in it.
“Yes,” he said. “I have seen it.”
“You have? And you think I’m exempt. Why ? ”
Osmond was not getting anywhere. MacLeod and his own ineptitude of speech seemed to be forcing him into the solicitous fright of the mother, bent on shielding her child from the wolf.
“You are too powerful,” he said, and realized that he was using the evidence Rose had given him, thought for thought.
“I hope so. I ought to be. I’ve got to overturn power.”
“ What’s the use ? You ’re a czar yourself. You’re only another kind.”
MacLeod looked at him thoughtfully, as if struck by the form of words.
“My dear fellow,” he said, “is it possible you believe in the present state of things ? Do you want one man to possess everything and the next man nothing ? ”
Osmond frowned his negation. MacLeod, unfairly it seemed to him, made him feel young and inadequate to the matter. He had the eyes to see what cause was just, yet he had not the equipment to maintain any cause at all
“What is the use,” he essayed, “for you and men like you to head revolts ? It only means you are ruling instead of the rulers you overturn. It will all be done over again. The big man will rise to the top. The little man will go under. And in time you will have the same conditions repeated. It’s because you are not teaching love. You are teaching envy and hate.”
“How do you know I am?”
Osmond kept on as if he were speaking to himself, groping painfully for what he found.
“You are not preaching good work. You are preaching revolt against work— class hatred and discontent.”
“Do you believe in non-resistance?”
“Do you believe in Midas, king of gold, swelled up with power, sitting smiling on the throne he has forced others to build for him, and saying, ‘I am not as other men are’ ? ”
“No. But I believe in work. You must n’t take it out of a man, that certainty that his own work is the greatest privilege he’s got. Oh, you mustn’t do that! ”
There it was again, his hungry worship of achievement. It might even have seemed to him that oppression was not much to bear if, at the same time, a man had the glory of setting his hand to something and seeing it prosper. MacLeod, who knew something about his life, but nothing of its inward processes, began to feel that here was more than at first appeared, and answered rather temperately, —
“I don’t believe you know much about the general conditions under which work is done. Work means to you Peter’s painting a picture. Let it mean, for example, a great many Peters in a mine delving all day for some smug capitalist who wants to endow monuments to himself and get his children into society. What then? ” What then, indeed? Osmond could not answer; but a moment later he said again, tenaciously, —
“I don’t want you to destroy the idea of good work.”
“Well, now! ” MacLeod spoke impatiently. He realized that here was not a man whom his torrent of bloody facts would move, but who demanded also a more persuasive rhetoric. “Well, now, you acknowledge the world is upside down. Shall we leave it so ? ”
Osmond shook his head dumbly. “Shall we say the great scheme counteracts its own abuses, and we won’t interfere ? When an empire gets sufficiently corrupt, it tumbles apart of its own rottenness ? Or when we see just cause, shall we go to war? ”
“Grannie has the whole secret of it in her hand.” This he said involuntarily, for he had no idea of talking to MacLeod about grannie. But the subject had passed beyond their predilections of what was best to say. “Science won’t do it — war won’t do it. Religion will.” “Ah! You are an enthusiast.”
“No. But there is something beyond force and beyond reason.”
“Religion, you mean.”
“You can call it that. It is what has made that old woman up there at the house live every day of her life as if she were the multi-millionaire of the universe — without a thought of herself, without a doubt that there is an inexhaustible reservoir, and that everybody can dip into it and bring up the water of life. Sometimes when she told me that — how rich we all are, if we only knew it — I used to see the multitudes of hands dipping in for their drop — old wrinkled hands, children’s hands.”
He was musing now, and yet admitting the other man to his confidence. It was proof of MacLeod’s charm that even Osmond, who kept his true self to himself, and who started by hating a girl’s oppressor, had nevertheless fallen into a maze of self-betrayal. MacLeod spoke softly, as if he recognized the spell and would not break it: —
“Yet, the Founder of her religion said, ’I came not to send peace, but a sword.’ ”
“How do you know who the Founder of her religion is ? I don’t know it myself. I don’t know but she dug it out of the ground, or breathed it out of the air. She has her sword, too, grannie has. You never saw her licking a boy for torturing a rat. I have.”
“What shall we do ? ”
Osmond roused himself a little from his muse.
“I read something the other day in a book — about the town of Abdera. I suppose you know it.”
MacLeod shook his head.
“In the town of Abdera they suddenly began to love one another, that’s all. They went round chanting, ‘O Cupid, prince of God and men! ’ ”
“Is that going to obviate all the difficulties ? ”
Osmond looked at him with dog’s eyes, the eyes that seek and wonder out of their confusion of incomplete knowledge.
“Every man would refuse to rest,” he said, “while any other man was hungry. They would all be humble, the rich as well as the poor. Now, one’s as cocky as the other. I don’t know that the cockiness of the ignorant is any more picturesque than the cockiness of the privileged.”
MacLeod was smiling a little. These, he saw, were pretty dreams, but hardly of the texture to demand destruction. They would fall to pieces, in good time, of their own flimsiness.
“Do you believe in kings ? ” he asked idly.
“I know it’s a mighty pity not to,” he said. “Some people have got to be fostered chiefly because they have gifts. If you don’t draw a little circle round them, you lose the gifts maybe, and you certainly lose the fun of adoring them. I’d like to be a soldier of Alexander — if I could n’t be Alexander himself. But you’ll never get anywhere smashing round and yelling that one man’s better than another because he works with his hands. No! the man that brings peace will bring it another way.”
MacLeod regarded him for a moment curiously.
“But why,” he said, at length, “why won’t you trust me to bring it precisely that way ? ”
Osmond smiled faintly.
“No,” he said, “you could n’t.”
“But why? You say I am extremely powerful. You rather accuse me of it. I am too powerful, in fact. Was n’t that what you said ? ”
“Well, why not trust me to administer your great awakening ? ”
Osmond kept his ironic smile of unbelief.
“You are not the man,” he said. “You would not believe in it. You would n’t live it. You are very powerful. But your mastery would n’t serve you. That’s where you can’t pretend.”
“Now where have you got your idea of me?” MacLeod was looking at him sharply. “You never saw me before today. Yet your idea was already formed before I came down here. Who’s been talking to you ? ”
Osmond had entrenched himself at last in his customary reserve.
“You are a public character,” he said indifferently.
“Has Peter been talking about me? ”
“Yes. He speaks of you.”
“But not in this fashion. Peter believes in me, over head and ears.”
“Yes. He believes in you. I wish he did n’t.”
“Ah! ” MacLeod drew a deep breath. “My daughter! Do you know my daughter ? ”
The question was too quick, and Osmond quivered under the assault of it. He felt the blood in his face. His heart choked him. And MacLeod’s eyes were upon him.
“Do you know her? ” MacLeod was asking sharply.
“Yes,” Osmond heard himself answering, in a moved voice. “I have seen her.”
MacLeod spoke with what seemed to the other man an insulting emphasis. Yet Osmond had not time to calm himself by the reminder that he was not used to hearing Rose spoken of at all as mortal woman. In his dreams she was something more than that.
“My daughter,” MacLeod was saying, “has an intemperate habit of speech. If she has talked me over with you she has inevitably made your opinions. For Rose is a very beautiful woman. I need n’t tell you that.”
Then something strange happened to Osmond. He experienced a sensation which he had accepted as a form of words, and had only idly believed in. He saw red. A rush and surge were in his ears. And as if it were a signal, known once but ignored through years of tranquil living, he as instantly obeyed. He was on his feet, his fists clenched, and MacLeod, also risen, was regarding him with concern and even, Osmond thought in fury, with compassion. The red deepened into black and Osmond felt the suffocation and nausea of a weakness MacLeod instantly formulated for him.
“My dear fellow,” he was saying, “sit down here. You’re faint.”
But Osmond would neither sit nor accept the cup of water MacLeod had brought him from the pail left on the bench for the workmen. He stood, keeping his grip on himself and battling back to life. Presently he was conscious that Peter was there, calling him affectionately. Now again he felt the blood in his face, the wetness of the hair above his forehead, and he knew he was not the man he had been. MacLeod was speaking, in evident solicitude.
“Your brother has had an ill turn. He’s all right now, are n’t you, Grant ? ”
Osmond looked at him, smiling grimly. MacLeod seemed to him his foe not only for the sake of Rose, but because the man, great insolent child of good fortune as he was, represented the other side of the joy of fight. Osmond almost loved him, because it was through him that he had been inducted into a knowledge of that unknown glory. MacLeod picked up his pipe from the bench, tapped it empty, and pocketed it. He gave them a pleasant inclusive nod of fellowship.
“I’ll trot along,” said he. “See you at dinner, Peter.”
“What was it, Osmond? What was it?” Peter was asking, in a worried voice.
Osmond suddenly looked tired. He passed his hand over his forehead, and put back his matted hair.
“Pete,” he said, “I suppose it was a hundred things. But all it really was, was the rage for fight, plain fight. But whatever it was, I’ve got something out of it.”
“What ? ”
“I know how men — other men — feel.”
“Other men don’t want to tackle one another, as a general thing, like bulldogs.”
“Oh, yes! they recognize the instinct. They’re ready to stamp on it. I was n’t ready. I ’m glad to have met that instinct. It’s a healthy old devil of an instinct. I respect it.”
Peter was staring as if he did not know him. “What was it, Osmond?” he asked again.
Osmond shook his head and laughed.
“I’ll wash my hands,” he said. “I feel as if there were dirt on them and the touch of clothes that are not mine.” He stopped on his way to the bench where there was a basin and towel for hasty use. “Pete,” he said, “you don’t want to scrap a little, do you ? ”
He did not look like the same man. Light was in his face, overlying the flush of simple passions. He looked almost joyous. It was Peter who was distraught, older with a puzzled sadness.
“Don’t!” he said. “Don’t think of such devilment. There’s no good in it. Why, we get over that when we are under twenty — except in an emergency.”
“Ah, but this is an emergency,” said Osmond, coming out of his washing with clean hands and a dripping face. “It was an emergency for me, if it was n’t for him.”
MacLeod kept his thoughtful way on to Electra’s gate. There he turned in with no lack of decision, and walked up to her door. She had seen him, and came forward from the shaded sitting-room. It was as if she had been expecting him. Whether she had acknowledged that to herself or not, it was true that Electra had never felt so strong a desire for the right companionship as at that moment. As soon as she saw him and he had put out his hand to her, she felt quieted and blessed. He was, as he had been from the first, the completion of her mood. As he looked at her, MacLeod, little as he knew her face, noted the change in it. She seemed greatly excited and yet haggard, as if this disturbance were nothing to what bad preceded it. And her bright eyes fed upon him with a personal appeal to which he was well used: that of the lower vitality involuntarily demanding the support of his own magnetic treasury.
“ You are tired,” he said, as she drew her hand away and they sat down.
“No,” returned Electra. “I am not tired.”
“Tell me what has done it! ”
The tender disregard of her denial broke down reserve. She looked at him eloquently. It seemed to her that he had a right to know. She answered faintly,—
“I have been through such scenes.”
“Scenes? With whom ? ”
“Your daughter has told me — ” She hesitated for a moment, and then, still confident that his worship of the truth must be as exalted as her own, ended with unstinted candor, “She says she was not my brother’s wife.”
Electra was looking at him, and it appeared to her now as if, in a bewildering way, his gaze absorbed hers. It was very strange, how he seemed to draw the intelligence of the eye into his and hold it unresisting. She hardly knew how he looked, whether surprised or sympathetic, or whether he was moved at all. But she was conscious of being gripped by some communion in which she acquiesced. After a moment he leaned forward and took her hand.
“Will you promise me something?” he asked.
“Anything! ” The quickness of the answer was as eloquent as its force.
“Promise me that this thing—this subject — shall never come between you and me.”
“We won’t talk of it.”
“We won’t ask each other how it seems to us.”
“There! ” He released her hand, and seemed also to free her, in some subtle way. He was smiling at her, and she felt a keen gladness, like a child who is told he has been good.
“Then we can be friends,” he said, with a spontaneous relief, it seemed to her, like her own. “The best of friends.”
“Yes. The best of friends.”
Electra felt rich. Her heart swelled, as now she reflected that here was one who understood her. She had that warm consciousness common to all MacLeod’s partisans that his world and hers were alike. Each was mysteriously prevented by other people from enjoying the full freedom of that world, because each had been, until now, uncompanioned. But they had met at last. The path was plain. All sorts of gates were opening to them.
“Was that all ? ” MacLeod was asking her. “Were there other scenes? ”
Immediately she wished to tell him everything. Yet this was difficult. She hesitated.
“I am — ” she flushed redly. “I am not engaged to Peter. He does n’t care about me.”
“My dear lady! He would say you do not care for him.”
Then Electra saw her good fortune. She was enchanted with the freedom which had fallen upon her in time for her to accept a more desirable bondage. She lifted her head and looked at him in a proud happiness.
“No,” she said, “I do not care for him. I never did. I see it now. I am free.”
“Are you glad to be free? ”
MacLeod had a way of asking women persuasive questions. Though they were interrogative, they had the force of suggestion, of the clinching protest he might make in answer, when confession came. And they only noted, long after, that he never did answer. Electra did not know that form of communion, and it struck her as something holy. She looked him in the eyes, with a clear and beautiful gaze.
“ Yes,” she said, “I am very glad. Now I am free to devote myself to the most wonderful things, to worship them if I like.”
There was passionate sincerity in her tone. It would have made a smaller thing of her vow if she could have said she was free to worship him.
“I am going to tell you something. You must not repeat it.” “I never will.”
“I am going back to France,”
“You have been summoned! ”
He smiled at her and shook his head slightly, as if the manner of it were the only thing he could deny. She followed with another question, rather faintly, for his news left her shivering.
“To France, you said ? ”
“That is all I can say,” he assured her. “It will be France first.”
“You will be in danger! ” She did not put that as a question. It was an assertion out of her solemn acceptance of his task. But that he did not seem to hear.
“When are you coming to France?” he asked her.
Electra had now no more doubt of the unspoken pact between them than if it had been sealed by all the most blessed vows. It would have cheapened it rather if he had delegated her to the classified courts of sympathy. Instead it left them a universe to breathe in. It pointed to undiscovered cities beyond the marge of time. It made her his in a way transcending mutual promises. This same full belief rose passionately to assert itself, and perhaps to soothe that small sharp ache in her heart, the kind that rises in woman when man, though he takes the cup, yet offers none in turn.
“Immediately,” she answered without question. “Or, when you tell me to come.”
“Will you write to me there?” He scribbled a street and number on a blank card and gave it to her. “I shall not get word from you for a month, at least. Perhaps not until the late autumn. But I shall get it. And if I don’t answer, you will know I shall answer by coming —when I can.”
Even that seemed enough. It was evident that until he came she should be upholding something for him, keeping the faith. It was beautiful in a still, noble way, one that left her indescribably uplifted. Her eyes were wet when he looked at her. Seen thus, Electra was a fine creature, her severity of outline softened into womanly charm. It seemed unnecessary to claim from him any high assurance of what he had for her to do, yet she did say, for the pleasure of saying it, —
“You are going to let me help you ? ”
“What else is there for either of us to do.” he said quickly, “but to help everybody ? ”
The blood rushed swiftly to her face and showed her in a glow. She leaned toward him in a timid and what seemed to her, for a moment, an ignoble confidence, because it touched such sordid things.
“I have some money. I will give that —and anything I have. You must teach me. I have everything to learn.”
He seemed to promise that, as he seemed to promise other things, partly by his answering smile, partly by the inexplicable current of persuasion pouring from him. He rose.
“Now,” he said, “I must go. It is nearly noon.”
“You won’t stay to luncheon ? ”
“Won’t the others be here? ”
“My grandmother and Mr. Stark.”
She was hardly urging him, because it seemed to her. too, a doubtful pleasure, if it must be shared.
“Not to-day, then. But I shall see you again.”
“ Before you go.”
Her face called upon him like a messenger beseeching news.
“Many, many times,” he told her smilingly. “Many times, even if they have to be within a few days. Now, good-by.”
She watched him down the walk, and as if he knew that, he turned, as the shrubbery was closing about him, and waved his hat to her. That seemed another bit of prescience, — to know she was to be there. Electra was very happy. She sat down again in a swoon of the reason and a mad hurry of what cried to her as the higher part of her nature, unrecognized until now, and thought of her exalted fortune.
MacLeod found Rose ready to question him. She was at the gate, to have her word immediately. He noted the signs of apprehension in her face, and, taking her hand, swung it as they walked.
“Has anything happened ? ” she asked irrepressibly.
“I’ve been down to—what do they call it ? — the plantation.”
“What did you talk about? ”
“Oh, crops! ”
“You don’t know anything about crops! ”
“Well, the other man did. I can always listen.”
“Have you been there all the time? ”
“No. I went in to see Electra ? ”
Rose stopped short in the path between the banks of flowers. It was a still day, and the summer hush of the plot — a velvet stillness where the garden held its breath — made the time momentous to her. Unconsciously she gripped her father’s hand.
“She has told you! ” she breathed. Her eyes sought his face. MacLeod was looking at her smilingly, fondly even. She shuddered.
“You are a goose, Rose,” he said lightly. He released his fingers from the clasp of hers and gave her hand a little shake before he dropped it. “But I can’t help it. If you will go on tipping over your saucer of cream, why, you must do it, that’s all.”
They walked on, and at the steps she paused again, though she heard Peter’s voice within.
“You ’re terribly angry with me, are n’t you ? ” she said, in a low tone, seeming to make it half communion with herself.
“Angry, my girl! Don’t say a thing like that.”
“You look exactly as you did the night Ivan Gorof defied you — and the next day he died.”
MacLeod laughed again, so humorously that Peter, coming forward from the library, his own face serious with unwelcome care, smiled involuntarily and returned to his everyday mood of belief that, on the whole, things go well.
“I didn’t kill him,” MacLeod was saying, as he mounted the steps.
Rose shivered a little.
“No,” she insisted. “But he died.”
MacLeod was beguilingly entertaining at dinner that day, and in the afternoon he and Peter went to drive. At supper, too, he was in his best mood, and that evening, Rose, worn out by the strain of his persistent dominance, escaped to her own room. There she sat and counseled her tense nerves. She was afraid. Then when she heard the closing of grannie’s door, she slipped downstairs to her tryst. The night was dark and there was a grumble of thunder from the west. In her excitement she took swift steps, as if all her senses were more keenly awake than they had been in the light, and kept the path unerringly. She had no doubt that he was there, but he called to her before she could ask. His voice vibrated to the excitement in her own heart.
“Good child, to come! ”
She found her chair and sank into it,
“I had to come.” At once she felt lighthearted. There seemed to be no bounds to his protection of her. “I have told Electra.”
“I knew you would.”
“She has told Peter. They know it now,—all but grannie, —dear grannie.”
“She can wait. She won’t flicker. She won’t vary. Nothing can shake grannie’s old heart.”
“What did he say to you to-day? ”
Osmond laughed. It was a low note of pleasure.
“Platitudes,” he rejoined.
“And what did you say to him?”
“Platitudes again. He said his kind, I said mine. I learned a few truths.”
“About his business ? — that’s what it is. I can say it when I’m not in the same room with him — business.”
“About me. I learned what other fellows know when they are boys.”
“Did he teach you ? ”
“He? No. Yes. Through my hatred of him.” “Ah, then you hated him! Was it because I taught you to ? ”
“Partly. Partly because he is an insolent animal. He is kind because he is well-fed. Yet I think it was chiefly because he has ill-used you.”
“Yes,” she owned sadly. “I betrayed him to you.”
But Osmond had escaped from recollection of the day into a mood half meditative, half excited fancy.
“I have been thinking back, since he left me,” he said, “ever so many years. I see I have n’t had any life at all.”
“Ah! ” It was a quick breath of something sweeter than pity. It could not hurt.
“I have been turning away from things all my life, because they were not for me. But now I think — what if I did n’t turn away ? What if I met them face to face ? ”
“What, playmate? You puzzle me.”
“Grannie indulged Peter. Even in his eating, she could n’t refuse him anything.”
“But she loved you best! ”
“No doubt of it. But he was well. He could have anything, even hunks of cake. Grannie hates to deny pleasures to any living thing. ‘I guess it won’t hurt you! ’ I’ve heard her say it to him over and over. But to me— ”
“To you ? ”
“Why, to me she never varied. ‘Son,’ she’d say, ‘that is n’t the way to do. We can’t risk it.’ So I turned aside and ate good crusty bread and drank milk. I did n’t want cake. I did n’t want Peter’s coffee. But I wonder how it would seem to have ridden them all bareback, all vices, all indulgences, and conquered them after I ’d known them — not turned aside and gone the other way.”
In that mood she hardly knew him. The clean, sweet, childlike quality had gone; it had fled before this breath of the passion of life. She felt vaguely how wrong he was. He was idealizing the world as he did not know it and the conquest of the world as it appeared in her father, the master of all its arts. “Playmate,” she said, though she was doubtful of her own wisdom.
“There is n’t anything desirable in evil knowledge. I’ve heard him say — you know — ”
“Tom Fulton ? ”
“Yes. I’ve heard him say he wanted to know everything about life — bad and good. He was black with knowledge. I might have learned it from him. I thank God he spared me that. I wish you would be grateful for your clean life. I wish you’d see there’s no magic in the things my father knows, for instance. It’s better to make a lily grow.”
“Ah, but I’ve discovered things in myself that are exactly like the things in other men — and other men are used to them. So when an ugly beast puts up its head, the man gives it a crack and knocks it silly. Then it lies down a spell, and the man goes about his business. He gets used to its growling and clawing away at intervals. He’s only to knock it down. But I don’t fully know yet what is in that pit of mine. I discovered something to-day.”
“What ? ”
“The lust for fight.”
“I was n’t prepared for it. Another time I should be. It was an ugly devil — but I loved it.”
She was silent, and after a moment he asked her, in his old anxious, friendly tone, “Have I hurt you?”
“No. But somehow it seems as if you’d gone away.”
“I know. I’m still communing with that brute in me — the fighting brute. I must be honest with you. I can’t help thinking he’d give me a special kind of pleasure.”
“Would he? ” She asked it wistfully, He had opened the windows of their house to strange discords from without. “What kind of pleasure? ”
He was glad to tell. The magnitude and newness of his emotion that day made it something to be flaunted while the disturbed currents of his blood kept their fervor. Later he might put it to the test of equable judgment. Now it was all a glory of hot action.
“Playmate,” he said, “I wanted to kill him.”
“My father ? Oh, why, why ?”
“Maybe for your sake. Yes! there was an instant when I said I would kill him and free you from him.” She could not answer. He heard the rustle of her dress and added quickly, “Now, don’t go. Of all nights, to-night is the night I can’t spare you.”
“I thought it was the one when you did n’t need me.”
“I need you to listen. I’m a blaring, trumpeting egotist to-night. Please understand me! Stop being a woman a minute, and see how it would seem to be a man — not like me, but free to live and sin and refuse to sin.”
“You are free,” she said, in her low, pained voice. “You have refused all the ignoble things.”
“Ah, but I did n’t even parley with them. I wish I could feel I’d whacked them and broken their skulls instead of going the other way.”
“Playmate,” she cried, “you are all wrong. You must not parley with them. You must refuse to look at them.”
“Refuse to look at the worm that eats the root ? No. Find him and stamp on him. The worst of it is, I begin to be rather terrified. I see that life is a bigger thing than I thought.”
“Not to grannie. To her it’s big and simple.”
“Because she knows the way. Well, what if there are many ways, — not like hers, not the true way, — but ways we ought to look at before we can say we know life at all ? Think of it, playmate. You are a woman, younger than I, delicate as a rose; yet you know more about life than I. You know how to meet men and women. There are n’t surprises you can’t master.”
She sat wondering what it was that had moved him, and whether it was not simply the power of MacLeod’s personality, equally compelling to love or hate. But Osmond was going on in that fierce monologue.
“I feel as if I had been waked up. Once I had my riding dream. Now I have a million dreams. Did I tell you my riding dream ? Some nights — chiefly when there’s a moon — I wake and lie there and fancy I am on a horse. There’s the smell of the horse and the leather, the creak of the saddle, and we are riding like the devil or the wind, always over plains that stretch out into more miles, however far I ride. I am bent over the saddle, peering forward. That’s what I had when my blood moved too fast for me. Now I shall dream of fight. Playmate, what is it?”
“It is n’t anything. I did n’t speak.”
“Yes, but there was that quick little breath. I keep hurting you somehow. Do you suppose I want any of it except for you ? I want to ride to you. I want to fight because I could fight for you.”
“Ah,” she said sadly, “you think so now for a minute. But you had forgotten me.”
“Yes, I had,” he owned. “That’s being a man, too. We have to forget you or we could n’t ride and we could n’t fight. But it’s all for you.”
There was the thunder again.
“I must go back,” she said.
“Yes, it’s going to rain. You must go. One minute. It won’t come yet. Does he know you have told Electra ? ”
“My father? Yes.”
“What did he say? ”
“He — accepted it.” For some reason, she dared not tell him how that acceptance troubled her. Osmond himself seemed like an unknown force as ready to bring confusion as calm.
But he knew.
“You are afraid of him,” he said. “Dear child, don’t be afraid. Sit down hard and say ‘no’ and ‘no,’ whatever he demands. You are here with us. Grannie is an angel of light. She’ll send for shining cohorts and they’ll camp round about you. There’s Peter — your Peter. And I’ll die for you.”
“No! no! ” The assurance of his tone was terrifying to her. She saw him dying in unnecessary sacrifice. “Nobody must die for me. We must all live and be good children and do what grannie would want us to.”
“Then the first thing is to run home and go to bed. The storm is coming. Good-night, dear playmate. I’ll follow on behind and see you don’t get lost.”
“One minute!” She paused, not knowing how to say it. “Can’t you take it back?” she adventured. “What you said about my father?”
He laughed, with an undertone of wild emotion.
“Not even for you! I did want to kill him. If I got my hands on him I should want it again. But it was for you.”
She was going, and he called after her.
“What shall I remember? ”
She halted, hopefully, and the old kind voice was near her: —
“Remember I would die for you.”
Peter was early at Osmond’s door. He did not find him working, though the other men had been many hours afield, but standing still gazing off into the distance. Osmond was pale. He looked as if he had not slept, and the lines about his mouth hinted at decisions.
“I want to speak to you,” said Peter abruptly.
“Yes. I want to speak to you, too.” The answer was gravely and almost unwillingly given. “Come out under the tree.”
They took their way silently to the apple-tree, but there neither could, after old custom in a talk, throw himself on the ground to luxuriate and, in moments of doubt, chew a blade of grass. Peter walked back and forth, a short tether. Osmond, fixed in some unexplained reserve, awaited him. Peter spoke first, nervously.
“Electra has given me up.”
“Well, it was bound to come.”
“Why was it ? ”
“It was a dream, Pete. You dreamed it when you were a boy. It was the best you had then.”
“Well, there’s something else. That’s not a dream. But I don’t know that I can talk of it yet. What was it you wanted to say to me ? ”
At intervals all night Osmond had been wondering how to broach it.
“You know, boy,” he began at last, “it is n’t good for you any more to have me send you money.”
“But it’s our money,” he said.
Osmond too stared, but not at him. He was wondering whether Peter could possibly fail to see that the money, all these years, had not come by favor, that it had been earned by Osmond’s own arduous grappling with the earth, that struggle out of which the man had gained strength and the earth had yielded her fruits.
“You see, boy,” he hesitated, “there is n’t anything but the place, and that’s grannie’s.”
“Yes, but the place earns something.”
“Not without a good deal put into it.”
“Ah! ” Peter drew a breath of pure surprise. “You’re tired of overseeing, old boy. I don’t wonder. Of course you must let up.”
Again Osmond waited, not so much to commune with himself as from sheer disinclination to face the awkwardness of speech. It was impossible to say, “I am not tired of serving you, but you must not be served. You must carry your pack.”
“You see,” he began again, “the place must stand intact while grannie lives. After that, we don’t know. But now — Pete, you must paint your pictures.”
“ Of course ! ” But the response was wavering. Peter smiled, radiantly. “Come, old chap,” he said, “ you’re not going to make rules for me, because it’s better for the white man to bear his burden.”
Osmond, too, tried to smile, and failed in it.
“I don’t know but I am,” he said, with a wry face. “Pete, I want you to go in and conquer — earn your fame, earn your bread. I don’t want you to depend on anybody, even on me.”
Peter was wrinkling his brows. He was delightfully good-tempered, and money meant very little to him save as a useful medium of which there was sure to be enough. He had never regarded it as a means of moral discipline.
“That’s very awkward,” he said, “because— Osmond, I want to marry.”
“To marry! You said she had given you up!”
“O, Electra!” That issue had withdrawn into a dim past. “Osmond, I have spoken to Rose.”
“Rose! ” Now again Osmond felt the blood beating in his ears. Was it the impulse of fight, he asked himself, or another, as savage ? But this time he did not mean to be overborne. Peter was speaking simply and boyishly, with a great sincerity.
“I see now there never was anybody but Rose, from the minute we met. I told her yesterday.”
“So you are — engaged.” Osmond brought out the commonplace word with a cold emphasis.
Peter looked at him, surprised.
“No. She’s not to be had for the asking. I had to tell her. But I’ve got to earn her. If you knew her as I do, you d see that.”
Osmond’s brain was in a maze of longing to hear what she had said, and with it a fierce desire to escape that knowledge. Also he was overborne by a passionate recoil from his own suggestion of cutting off his brother’s income. At least he might have some share in their happiness. He could work here like a gnome underground, delving for the gold to deck their bridal. And underneath was that new pain at the heart: that earth pang so sickening that it might well threaten to stop the heart’s beating altogether.
“There never was anything like her,” said Peter, out of his new dream. “She needs happiness, sheer happiness, after what she has been through. That settles it about living abroad.” He looked up brightly. “We must be in Paris.”
“You think she would wish it? ”
“We should be near her father, near headquarters. For of course we should be working for the Brotherhood.”
Osmond turned abruptly.
“I must get to hoeing,” he said.
Peter followed him. Something in the air struck him with a new timidity.
“ You know,” he qualified, when they were well into the field, “she has n’t accepted me.”
“I’m not the man for her, in many ways. Who is? But by the powers! I bet I could make her happy.” He took off his hat to strike at a butterfly, not to destroy it but to prove his good-will, and Osmond, without glancing at him, knew exactly how he looked, and thought bitterly that to Peter Rose was only one of a hundred beautiful things that made the earth a treasury. And to Osmond there was but one, and that was Rose.
Peter took the path homeward, and Osmond kept on across the field. At the farthest bound, he stepped over the stone wall into the bordering tangle on the other side, and crossed that field also and went on into the pasture, to the pines. This land was his, and the deep woods, stretching forth in a glimmering twilight, had been in many moods his best resort. He Hid not enter far, but sat down in a little covert where in spring there were delicate flowers. There he faced himself.
Everything brought its penalty, even life. This he knew at last. He could not feed on what he called his kinship with Rose and escape the suffering from a bond unfulfilled. Instead of halting outside the garden of being, smelling its fragrance and thankful for a breath, he was inside with other men who owned the garden and felt free to eat the fruit. He had never really been outside the garden at all. He had merely been turning away from the blossoming trees, denying himself the certainty of what the fruit might be, working carefully about the roots and learning the unseeing patience of the earthworm. And the one flower had bloomed in the garden at last, so sweet he could not ignore it, so white it lighted the air like a lamp that was stronger than the sun. He had bade himself never to forget that he was not like other men; but he was exactly like other men, for he loved a woman.
As he sat there, overcome by this conviction of the tyranny of the universe, one thought pierced him like the light of stars. He could have made her happy. A sweet exultancy told him that her nature turned to him as irrevocably as the needle to the north. He could sway and dominate her. He could comfort her with the unconsidered tenderness that, when he thought of her, came with his breath. As by a revelation he understood what she had meant when she told him how love had been her waiting dream. In a passion of sympathy he saw her trailing through sad undergrowths in pursuit of that luring light — now stumbling in the bog of earthy desires other hands had led her to, now pricked by thorns of disappointment, but never for a moment sullied through that wretched progress; and when the marsh was past, washing her garments and her feet in the water of life — that unquenchable spring of belief in the mystery. That was what it was, the divine mystery, the force that led through all appearance to the real, through all false glitter to the light. It was a heavenly vision, the possibility as she saw it: the rounded life, the two bound in a mutual worship, carrying their full cup carefully to the altar where they would make their vows. He saw how lesser desires could be wiped out by one pure passion, how no price is too great to pay for the soul’s treasure, not so much the possession of it, but the guarding it for all the uses of the world.
While he lay there, the scent of the pines in his nostrils, it seemed to him that he was living through the progress of his completed life with her. There was not only the overwhelming passion of it, but the intimate communion of quiet days. She would turn to him for counsel and for sustenance, as he would turn to her. This would be the interchange of needs and kindnesses. There would be funny little queernesses of the day to keep them laughing; and they would be kind, not forgetful in their castle of content, but kind, the stronger that they had multiplied their strength by union.
And then settled upon him again his wonder at the inexorability of things, that a man could not escape the general laws because he willed to live outside them. He was bound round by necessity. Merely because he would not take a mate, he was not exempt from crying out for her. And as the day went on and the vividness of his first high vision faded, his mind went back to Peter and the incredible truth that Peter also knew he could make her happy. The cloud of jealousy darkened again, and he met earth pangs and strangled them. But as he slew them, more were born, and lying there in the fern he hated his brother and his brother’s body, born to regnancy. MacLeod, too, appeared before his inward vision, wholesome, well-equipped, riding the earth as Apollo drives the horses of the sun. Him, too, he hated, and for Rose’s sake longed again to put him away with his own hands out of the air she breathed. Spent by his passions, he lingered there in the coolness of the unheeding woods while the afternoon gloomed into night.
Madam Fulton sat on the veranda, thinking sadly. She found herself puzzled by one thing most of all. Several times a day she had asked Billy Stark, “Do you really believe there’s anything in that notion about money’s being tainted ? ”
“Don’t fret yourself,” he counseled her, in his kind voice; but she would sit wrinkling her brows and putting the question again to herself, if not to him.
“The trouble is, Billy,” she had said, this morning, “I get so puzzled. It’s like trying to learn a new language when you’re old. My eyes are too blurred to see the accents. My ears are dulled. There’s that girl that comes looking like an angel and says she’s a sinner. I thought she might be a comfort; but no, if you please. She just looks Electra in the face and says, ‘ I’m as good as the best, only I prefer to do things in my own way.’ I wish Electra had n’t made me so frightfully self-conscious.”
But smile at it all as she might, something had wrought upon her. She looked older and more frail, a pathetic figure now, leaning forward in a ruminating dream, and reminding Billy Stark, in a hundred unconsidered ways, of the shortness of the time before she should be gone. His heart ached. He had truly loved her in his youth, and afterwards, in other fashions, for many years.
As she sat there in her daze of past and present, she was aware that a tall white figure stood before her in the sun. She recalled herself with a start from those never-to-be-explored bounds, and came awake, humorously frightened at the thought that here, judging from the height and whiteness, was an angel come to make remarks upon tainted money. But it was only Electra.
“The next thing to it,” said Madam Fulton, with her broad-awake smile.
“What did you say, grandmother?” asked Electra.
“Nothing, my dear. What were you going to say ? Sit down. You dazzle me in that sun.”
Electra sat down and considered how she should speak, having triumphant news to tell. Then, in the midst of her reflection, the news got the better of her. She began with an eloquent throb in her voice.
“Grandmother, I am going abroad.”
“So Peter has spoken, has he? When is it to be ? ”
“I am not going with Peter. That is all over.”
“Well, you ’re a silly girl. You never’ll get such a nice boy again. Peter could make a woman laugh from morning till night, if she’d have the sense to please him.”
“I am going for a year. At least, I say a year. I put no limit to it in my own mind. Do you want to go with me, grandmother ? ”
“No, I’m sure I don’t. If I go with anybody, it will be Billy Stark.”
“Then I must go alone.” A high determination ruled her voice.
“Alone ! Mercy, Electra ! you’re a young woman. Don’t you know you are ?”
“ I am glad I am young,” said Electra. Her eyes were shining. “I shall have the more years to devote to it,”
“You don’t mean to say you propose crossing alone? Did you want to drag me out of my coffin to see you landed there respectably ? ”
“I am quite willing to go alone,” said Electra, still with her air of beatific certainties. “I shall be the more unhampered. You must stay here all you want to, grandmother. Keep the house open. Act exactly as if it were yours.”
A remembrance of the time when she had thought the place not altogether her own tempered the warmth of that permission. Some severity crept into her demeanor, and Madam Fulton, recognizing its birth, received it humbly as no more than she had earned.
“When are you going, Electra? ” she asked.
“In about a month. Grandmother! ” Electra in her worship of the conduct of life, hardly knew how to express strong emotions without offense to her finer instincts. “I don’t forget, grandmother,” she hesitated, “that I ought to be with you.”
“ Why ought you ? ”
“Because — grandmother, have n’t I a duty to you? ”
“A duty! ” the old lady muttered. “The devil fly away with it! ”
“I beg your pardon, grandmother? ”
“I beg yours, my dear. Never swear before a lady! No, no. You have n’t any duty towards me.”
“But there are other calls.” Electra struggled to find words that should not tell too much. She ended lamely, “There are calls I cannot disregard.” There rose dimly before her mind some of the injunctions that bid men leave father and mother for the larger vision.
“There’s Billy Stark,” said the old lady, with a quickened interest. “Fancy! he’s been away all day.”
Electra rose and went in again. She was not sensitive now to the ironies of daily life, but it did occur to her that her grandmother was more excited at seeing Billy Stark home after a dayin town than by her own great conclusion. Electra had thought solemnly about the magnitude of the decision she was making when she gave up the care of grandmother to follow that larger call, but again she found herself outside the line of recognized triumphs. She had announced her victory and nobody knew it.
Billy Stark had brought his old friend a present: a box of the old-fashioned peppermints she liked. She took off the string with a youthful eagerness.
“My dear,” said she, “what do you think has happened now?”
“I know what has happened to me,” said Billy. He threw himself into a chair with an explosive sigh, half heat and half regret. “I’ve had business letters. I’ve got to be off.”
“Off! ” She regarded him in a frank dismay. “Billy, you break my heart!”
“I break my own heart,” said Billy gallantly. “I’ve taken my passage. Say the word, dear girl, and I’ll take it for two.” She looked at him in silent trouble. Tears had dimmed her eyes.
“Well, Billy,” she said at last, “this is the pleasantest summer I shall ever have.”
“Say the word,” he admonished her again. “We’ve got more summers before us.”
She smiled at him, and winked away the tears.
“Then come back and spend them here. Electra’s going, too, — like a stowaway. You won’t let her cross with you, and see at least that she does n’t hold services on board ? ”
“God forbid!” said Billy. “I’m afraid of her.”
“I don’t blame you. Billy, I suppose we ought to be saying solemn things to each other if you’re really going.”
“Clip ahead, old lady. What do you want to say ? ”
“I’d like to clear up my accounts a little. I want to get my books in order. I don’t intend to die in a fog. Billy, how much of it was real ? ”
“How much of what. Florrie? ”
“Of life? Of the things we thought and felt ? Is there such a thing as love, Billy? ”
He got up under the necessity of thought and stood, hands in his pockets and legs apart, looking over the garden beds. He might have been gazing out to sea for the Islands of the Blest.
“Florrie,” he said at length, “I guess there is.”
“Did you love me, Billy? No compliments. We’re beyond them.”
“Yes,” said Billy, after another pause. “I think I did. You were a great deal to me at that time. And when I found it was no use, other people were a great deal to me, one after another. Several of ’em. I looked upon it then as a kind of a game. But they did n’t last, Florrie. You did. You always give me a kind of a queer feeling; you’re all mixed up in my mind with pink and blue and hats with rosebuds on ’em and college songs.”
It was not much like a grand passion, but it was something, the honest confession of a boy.
“I thought it was a game, too,” she said musingly. “Do you suppose it was, Billy? Or were we wrong? ”
Billy whirled about and faced her.
“Dead wrong! No, Florrie, it never was meant for a game. It’s earnest. The ones that take it so are the ones that inherit the earth. No, not that — but they go in for all they’re worth and they’ve something left to show for it. They don’t put their money into tinsel and see it fade.”
“Well, what else? Did Charlie Grant love me ? ”
“Yes. No doubt of it.”
“But he loved Bessie afterwards.”
“Yes. She lived the thing through with him. She built up something, I fancy. He probably remembered you as I did, all pink ribbons and fluff; but she helped him rear his house of life.”
“And my husband did n’t love me and I did n’t love my husband,” the old lady mused. “Well, Billy, it’s almost the end of the play. I wish I understood it better. And I’ve written a naughty book, and I ’m going to be comfortable on the money from it. And you wish I had n’t, don’t you ? ” He saw how frail she looked and answered mercifully, —
“I don’t care much about the book, dear. Don’t let’s talk of that.”
“You wish I had n’t written it! ”
“I wish you had n’t been so infernally bored as to think of writing it.”
“And I ’ll bet a dollar you wish you’d come back and found me reconciled to life and death and reading daily texts out of little pious books, and knitting mufflers for sailors, instead of seething with all sorts of untimely devilishnesses. Don’t you, Billy? ”
What Billy thought he would not tell himself, and he said with an extreme honesty, —
“You’re the greatest old girl there is, Florrie, or ever was, or ever will be.”
“Ah, well! ” she sighed, and laughed a little. “I can’t help wishing there were n’t so many good folks. It makes me uncommonly lonesome. For you’re good, too, Billy, you sinner, you! ”
He read the gleam in her eyes, the reckless courage, the unquenched love of life; after all, there was more youth in her still than there had ever been in him or in a hundred like him. He laughed, and said, —
“Oh, I do delight in you! ”
(To be continued.)
- Copyright 1907, by ALICE BROWN.↩