HotFreeBooks.com
Jewel Weed
by Alice Ames Winter
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

JEWEL WEED

by

ALICE AMES WINTER

Author of "The Prize to the Hardy"

With Illustrations by Harrison Fisher



Grosset & Dunlap Publishers New York

Copyright 1906 The Bobbs-Merrill Company October



TO MY FATHER AND MOTHER CHARLES G. AND FANNY B. AMES



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I A Light from the Far East 1 II Mother and Son 28 III An Occidental Luminary 41 IV At Madeline's 54 V Salad Days 77 VI Jewel Weed 99 VII Lena's Progress 116 VIII The Falls 132 IX An Invitation 152 X Bitter-Sweet 173 XI Politics and Play 194 XII An Engagement 210 XIII An Awakening 222 XIV The Return of Ram Juna 242 XV The Honeymoon 269 XVI Lena's Friends 298 XVII Grape-Shot 324 XVIII Easter 344 XIX Oriental Rubies 365 XX A Light from the East Goes Out 391 XXI A Light in the West Goes Down 401 XXII Another Beginning 424



JEWEL WEED

CHAPTER I

A LIGHT FROM THE FAR EAST

In the mists of the infinite, events poise invisible, awaiting their opportunity to incarnate themselves. They fasten, each after his kind, on these human lives of ours, as germs find the culture soil they love; so it follows that to the commonplace comes a life of dull routine, foolish happenings seek out the sentimentalist, sordid events seek the sordid and on the mystic dawns the mysterious. Calamities wait there, too, until Fate points out a weak spot in character on which they may pounce relentless with the temptation that pierces it. As there are certain things that would scarcely dare to happen to certain people, so other greater events would hardly condescend to those whom they recognize as being their own inferiors.

Once in a while, particularly when a man is young or beginning a new phase of life, there come times when the things that are to be seem almost tangible. They press until he feels them crowd, while he waits with tense expectation for them to become visible to the crude eye of outer experience.

Perhaps it was due to a certain occultism in the atmosphere that Ellery Norris felt this pressure of the future on the afternoon of Mr. Early's reception to Ram Juna. Norris was a new young man in a new young city, and he had come West to live. However short and futile life may look to the old, it appears a big and long thing to twenty-three. Here in St. Etienne he was to work and work hard; among these people, now all strangers, he was to find the friends of his lifetime; here were to come all the experiences of struggle, failure, success, perhaps of love.

He turned and glanced with a little sense of relief at Richard Percival seated beside him. Dick was the one stanch thing out of his past; Dick he had known and loved at college; Dick was even now showing himself a friend; and all these other folk were but the ghosts of things to come. Then he laughed lightly at himself for his own fantasy, and returned to the survey of his surroundings.

The vast new hall in which they sat, a hall young in years but old Gothic in pretense, might have suggested a possessor of the stately and knightly type rather than a little cockatoo like Mr. Early; but man has this advantage over the snail, that, whereas, the snail is obliged to construct a home around its slimy little body, man may build his habitation to match his imagination and ambition. In the West, moreover, it is the custom to leave the low-vaulted past and build more stately mansions as fast as the increasing purse will permit.

The great room was cool, even on a glowing summer day. Its heavy walls shut out the heat and its narrow windows gave but a creeping light which lost itself in the vaulted spaces above. It was archaic in a modern fashion, too archaic to be quite convincing when combined with present-day ornaments and luxuries, too splendid to belong to any one except Mr. Early, and yet, withal, a satisfying place, dim and fragrant on this July afternoon. The pale summery gowns of the women and the sprinkling of dark coats of the few men present modified its gorgeousness.

To-day Mr. Early surely had reason to congratulate himself on his amplitude of space, for if ever a big background was needed, it was when the public had come in its hundreds to look upon the huge Hindu who stood beside the host, dwarfing him as well as the throng in front. Swami Ram Juna overtopped them all in inches, as in serenity.

Mr. Early, whose physique was of the Napoleonic order, just as much body as was necessary to incase a mighty soul, had, in spite of his few inches, an air of distinction which demanded and received attention. Ram Juna, on the other hand, betrayed no expectation of adulation. Rather was he utterly oblivious of it. Over the heads of those to whom he had been speaking his far-seeing eyes gazed into that nothingness which is popularly supposed to be full of spiritual significance. He was oblivious of the earth.

Here, then, before the group of guests, in fine contrast, like a tropical bird caught among thrushes, stood this big bronze creature, magnificently gowned in a long flame-colored garment touched upon its borders with strange embroideries and girdled about its ample waist with a wide sash of dull oriental red. The polished face was set off by a turban of snowy white, in whose center blazed, like a bloodshot eye, a single enormous ruby. Everything about Ram Juna was superlative—his size, his raiment, his rapt gaze, his doctrine.

But after all, though the Hindu occupied the position of honor in the social stage, Norris found it hard to keep his attention fixed on that bird of paradise, who, at best, was sure to be but a temporary interest in these western states of America, where facts, not theories, loom large. The new young man's eyes wandered to the audience, made up of people like himself. The unknown catches us for an instant, but our own kind are perennially absorbing. Since he and Dick were perched on a deep window-sill, which brought them at right angles to the row of chairs, he began to study the faces on this side and that.

A little in front of them a woman of thirty or more, exquisitely dressed in summer white, pretty and complacent, leaned back in her chair. Happening to catch Percival's eye he looked inquiry.

"Mrs. Appleton," whispered that young man, and lifted his eyebrows as if to express astonished admiration, then made a wry face. Norris smiled his understanding and glanced back at the self-satisfied prosperity beneath her filmy hat. Then, suddenly, at the far end of the room, another face caught him—a profile of a girl's head, outlined against a high bench-back, her dreamy eyes fixed on the speaker. It was a cameo-like face, not animated, but delicate and finely lined. Norris knew her in a flash. This was the girl whose photograph had stood on Dick's mantel at college and of whom Dick had sometimes spoken in those rare intimate hours when he talked of his mother or of his purposes in life. Ellery forgot the rest of the room and watched her until a sudden forward lunge of Mrs. Appleton's hat shut her off, and brought him back to consciousness of the place and the supposed interests of the day. He turned back with a sigh to Ram Juna, telling himself with some amusement that other minds than his own were wandering far afield, and that the attitude of polite interest came as much from the conviction that Esoteric Buddhism was "the thing," as from any real absorption.

Already the Hindu had been talking to them for an hour. His speech had that precision and purity both of word and of enunciation by which a foreigner, trained in our classics, often shames our slovenly every-day English. He spoke, not as one who wishes to convert others to his own point of view, but, rather, as though unconscious of their presence, he poured out the fullness of his meditations in self-communion. The upward-turned eyes were half closed. Occasionally there was a flicker of the eyelids or a touch of scorn when he contrasted the eastern ideal of eternal repose with the western reality of endless struggle. Then for a moment he seemed to realize the presence of his auditors, ashamed now of their telephones, their public schools and even of their philanthropies, in the face of this supreme contempt for the things that fade.

Suddenly he opened wide his great eyes.

"And you," he said, "you, with your guns, your armies and your ignorances, you think to rule us. Well, so be it! We grant to you dominion as a man gives to a child the sticks and straws for which it loudly clamors in its petty plays. But our treasures are the higher thoughts which alone are worthy of the man. These we reserve."

The great oriental ruby above his forehead seemed to burn more brilliantly than ever as if to shame the frivolous occidental jewels that twinkled before it.

"Yes," he went on, "these gems we do not submit to force. They are not to be ravished by blood and iron. Yet even these, our sacred treasures, we gladly share with those who, in humility and in the life of meditation, seek with us the universal truths. And truth, what is it? It eludes the scalpel of reason. It is the master and not the servant of logic. The only truths worthy to be known are those which are to be experienced by the soul in her hours of solitude. Then does she cease to think. Then does she cease to reason. Then does she know."

He was dogmatic and they fell under his sway. A hush deeper than silence lay upon his audience as the Swami stood for a moment as though lost in himself. Recalling his surroundings he spoke again.

"My friends in this land, who are coming to understand with us, and we are not numerous even in India—the land of inspiration—my friends, whom you call by some long name which I have forgotten, ask me to tell you a little of what we know concerning the order of the universe. I will unfold." As though giving instruction in elementary arithmetic, Swami Ram Juna began to sketch the adventures of the soul as it flies from one existence to another. His words were vivid and definite.

At this point Dick Percival's lips began to move with the cynical amusement of youth.

"Pretty positive, isn't he, about the things no mortal knows?" he whispered to Norris.

Softly spoken though the words were, Ram Juna instantly fixed his eyes upon the guilty youth. It was a habit of the Hindu to hear everything that rose above the sound of a thought.

"You think I speak of mysteries!" he demanded, suddenly breaking his discourse and leaning like a pine tree toward Percival. "You think that in a closet some one weaves a fantastic theory of life and lives. But no! What have I told you? What I speak, that has my soul known, as has many another soul. I tell of astral bodies. I have acquaintance with them as have you with the body of the young friend who sits beside you. I could show you—even you, whose eyes are covered with a film—I could show you! But no! It is too petty to demonstrate by a show."

He moved a step backward and looked in a half-questioning way at the silent group in front.

"Perhaps," he murmured hesitatingly, "perhaps it is by childish methods that one must teach the child."

He muttered a few unknown words with his eyes still fixed on guilty Dick Percival, then he turned to Mr. Early.

"My kind host," he said with a courteous gesture, "will you permit that I show to the unbelieving young gentleman an astral body?"

He turned and strode away toward dimness dimmer than that of the great hall, in the direction of that wing where rooms had been assigned him. A little rustle of pleased anticipation ran through the petticoats of the room. Interest ceased to be perfunctory and became genuine. This was more fun than doctrine, after all. Who wouldn't be gratified at the chance of meeting an astral body—at least in a crowd? Alone, in a dark room, at midnight, it might prove less enjoyable.

Presently the Hindu returned, carrying in his hand a strangely twisted retort and something that looked like a primitive brazier.

"Look," he said, "let us take some simple thing. I shall destroy the body of flesh and show you the body of shadow. I see roses in the strange jar yonder. You call them American beauties? Yes. Very well, I shall show you the ghost of an American beauty. Perhaps the unbelieving young gentleman will pluck one for me."

Dick rose, pulled one of the flowers from among its fellows and handed it across heads to the Swami, who took it gravely.

"Even this simple form of life," he explained, "has its astral existence. With seeing eyes it would be visible to you now, hidden inside the flesh of the flower. In order to make it the plainer, I shall destroy the body of the blossom and leave its spirit. That spirit you shall see. Look, I lay this beautiful rose upon this metal plate and cover it that the heat may be more intense. I consume it with the flame until the fire devours its shape and leaves only its ashes."

A tense silence fell upon the waiting room, as Ram Juna thrust the covered rose into the brazier. At last he lifted the cover and displayed a little gray shapeless heap.

"The rose is dead," he observed quietly. He turned now toward the glass phial, in the bottom of which lay a few grains of pinkish dust. Into this he poured the ashes of the burned flower. He lifted it high in air and surveyed it.

"The rose is dead," he repeated, "but under the right conditions you shall see what we may call its ghost. See. A gentle warmth. I hold it not too close to the devouring flame. A gentle warmth."

Those at the back of the room were rising now to peer over the hats of the more fortunate in front, but the hush remained unbroken. The dark eyes of the Hindu were bent on the glass before him, and a mystical smile played about his mouth.

In the bottom of the retort, in the bluish heap, began a movement, as though something alive were striving to free itself from bonds and rise. It heaved and struggled in the dusty mass, grew stronger, and instead of a shapeless writhing there came an upshooting pyramid, which gradually took upon itself form. A ghostly apparition of stem, of leaves, of a dusky red rose, grew more and more distinct until it glowed from its prison of glass, and Ram Juna smiled.

"The rose is dead!" he said for the third time.

A gasp of appreciation and awe passed through the room. The Swami turned to Dick Percival.

"That which I know, I speak," he said simply.

Then with a sudden abrupt movement he shook the phial away from the warmth and held it up.

"Now only the poor body of ashes is within," he went on. "The spirit is truly fled, until it shall find itself another incarnation, and we say that the flower is for ever dead. What then is this death with which we play and which plays with us? But I weary you with my too long discourse. Give me your pardon. I shall no more."

There rose the sound of moving skirts and loosening tongues. The spell of oriental mysticism was broken and this became but one of many entertaining things to be chattered about in moods that varied from credulity to amusement. The ordinary reception atmosphere took possession, and the tinkle of animated feminine voices filled the air.

On the outskirts of the throng, which pressed forward to greet the host and to press the fingers of the seer, lingered the two young men, one of whom had stirred the unstirable. Norris looked vaguely around as at unknown faces, and Dick nodded in this or that direction in that offhand manner which invites people to keep their distance rather than to seek further intercourse, but the woman who was handsome and thirty refused to be held at arm's length.

"How-do, Mr. Percival? Glad to see you back. You have the genius of distinction, even in small things. How natural that the Swami should single you out for notice and so announce your home-coming to the world!"

"Is this the world?"

"Our little world," Mrs. Appleton laughed; and as she spoke she peered curiously at Norris with the air of a naturalist who needs as many specimens of young men as possible for her collection. Dick smiled, whether with amusement or with cordiality it would be impossible to say.

"Mrs. Appleton, may I introduce Mr. Norris, who has come here as a new citizen. Apart from other considerations, we are grateful to anybody that swells the census, aren't we?"

"So glad!" she murmured. "Mr. Percival must bring you to my lawn-party next week."

But even while Norris expressed his thanks, Dick's eyes wandered, until, with a cheerful start, he caught his companion's arm.

"There she is, Ellery," he said. "This way."

Norris knew in his heart that he was waiting for that summons, and he turned and followed as Percival began a slow progress through the crowd toward that uncompromising stiff-lined bench of the kind that Mr. Early affected, where sat the girl like a cameo, beside a woman somewhat older than herself.

The younger woman lifted her eyes and caught from afar the greeting of the advancing men. That there should be no sudden illumination, no swift blush in her nod of recognition, gave Dick a slight feeling of irritation. He had regarded a little polite display of delight as in some way his right. But if she was undemonstrative, she had the virtues of her failing, for there was a certain serenity even in the broad curve with which her hair clung to her temples, and in the over-crowded room her smile was as refreshing as a draft from a cool spring. Both of these women were marked by a repose of manner which distinguished them from the eager crowd that was pushing toward the latest new apostle. It was the elder who put out a welcoming hand.

"Ah, Dick," she said, "you are at home at last. How good it is to see you! When did you come?"

"Last night. Mother sent me over here to-day with the promise that I should see you—and Madeline." His eyes traveled to the girl beyond. "And this, Mrs. Lenox, Miss Elton, is my good friend, Norris. You already know that we were lovely together in college, and in life we hope not to be divided. You'll be good to him, won't you?"

In Mrs. Lenox's greeting there was that mixture of kindliness with shrewd instant analysis that becomes a habit with women of the world, and Norris stiffened with fresh realization that he was raw and unaccustomed to her suave atmosphere. He would have liked to be his best self before Percival's friends, and he felt like an oyster. Even the gentle eyes of Miss Elton seemed to measure him. Fortunately they thought chiefly of Dick, and when did Dick's facile tongue fail him?

"Of course this would be the first spot on which to reappear. No one but Mr. Early would dare to give a reception in July," Mrs. Lenox exclaimed.

"And the absurd thing," Dick retorted, "is that you all come—back into town, leaving birds and waters—at Mr. Early's bidding."

"Yes, my respect for my sex rises when I see them so eager to prostrate themselves before a simple seeker after truth with a turban and a ruby. A turban and a ruby do so illuminate the search for truth!"

"You are a scoffer," laughed Dick. "Why are you here?"

"Foolish one, I came to scoff. I must see all there is to be seen. If there is an apple to be bitten, I must bite. I have floated in with the flood and out with the ebb of almost every fad from crystal-gazing to bridge. I always hope that one of them is going to be worth while."

"But you can't call the Swami's philosophy 'a fad'," objected Norris.

"No, perhaps that wasn't fair. Ram Juna is really very celestial in a ponderous kind of way, isn't he? When he talked the simple old truths I liked him, but not in the esoteric explanations and profounder mysteries. I have chased Mystery for more years than I shall own, and, so far as I can see, whenever you open the door on her secret chamber, she shuts a door on the other side and is gone into a further holy of holies. I've come to disbelieve in those who tell me that they have caged her at last."

"That's what I say," exclaimed Dick. "A man knows too much when he tells you that Mystery is five feet three, weighs a hundred and twenty-six pounds and eats no meat."

"It's too much like a mixture of legerdemain and theology."

"I always liked juggling!" exclaimed Miss Elton. "And I like the ruby. See it now, gleaming over the ranks of war-paint and hats."

"I believe the ruby interests you both more than the search for truth," Dick laughed.

"And well it may!" Mrs. Lenox flashed back. "Once it belonged to a magnificent rajah ancestor, who hugged it to his soul, and held it too precious to be worn by his favorite wife. But now Swami Ram Juna has renounced the pomps and indulgences of courts and become, as I said, an humble seeker. He, too, loves the ruby—not from any vulgar love of display—but because to his soul it is a mystic symbol of Adhidaiva—the life-giving energy, refulgent as the sun behind dark clouds. Isn't that a pointer for those of us who want diamonds and things? I believe I'll ask Mr. Lenox for a symbol or two this very evening."

"You seem well-informed."

"Oh, Mr. Early posted me. It's humiliating to think that perhaps he designed that as an easy way of getting the facts spread abroad and so preparing a way for the truth-seeker. And he also told me that they have very good copies of the Bagavad Gita at McClelland's for a quarter, so you may keep up with the advance guard at small expense. I have to know things in order to keep my husband posted with entertaining gossip. Men always want to know every little thing and then lay the blame of gossip at the door of women."

"I doubt if it is a difficult task for you to keep Mr. Lenox amused," said Norris, smiling at her.

"Moreover," added Percival, "I understand that when your frivolities cease to amuse, Mr. Lenox can divert himself by helping your father in the building of a new little railroad or something of that kind."

"True, but building new railroads, beguiling though it be, proves more wearing to the nerves than does my conversation, so I must still practise the art of rattling. But I needn't practise it on you," she went on, glancing at Miss Elton under her eyelids. "Now, Dick, I am going to give you my very uncomfortable seat on this bench and let you and Madeline talk over old times, and new times which are to be still better. Perhaps Mr. Norris will go about with me and meet some of the people—beard the western prairie-dog in his den, so to speak."

"Now that is really good of you, Mrs. Lenox. You know this is the first time Madeline and I have come together since we got through college and have been recognized as grown up. In fact, I'm not used to her in long dresses yet."

He glanced at the smiling girl as Mrs. Lenox nodded and turned.

"How lovely Miss Elton is!" exclaimed Norris as they moved away together. "Of course I've seen her picture in Dick's room, but it did not do her justice."

"Lovely, indeed!" Mrs. Lenox answered heartily. "You have chosen the one word to be applied to Madeline Elton, both to her spirit and to her face—not thrilling, perhaps, but satisfying, which is better. She and Dick were inseparables through their childhood. It is rather a taken-for-granted affair, you know."

"I guessed as much, though Dick never said anything."

There was something so confidential and kindly in her manner that Norris forgot his awkwardness and felt moved to confidence in return.

"Dick was born to all good things," he went on. "I sometimes wonder how that feels." Then, seeing that she glanced at him inquiringly: "Dick always seems to me one who needs only to stand still, and Fortuna takes pains to hunt him up and offer him her choicest wares. Life looks to him more like a birthday party than like a battle-field. I say it not in envy, but with the awe of one who has had to scrabble and who sees endless scrabbling ahead. But I believe part of the charm that I feel about Dick is his manifest predestination to good luck."

"One piece of his luck, if I am not mistaken, is in your coming here. There is no friend like a college friend for every-day wear," she answered kindly.

"Well, I owe my position here to him," Norris went on. "When he found that I had an uncle back in Connecticut who owned a share in the St. Etienne Star, he began to pull wires both at that end and this to get me a place on the editorial staff. I'm afraid that nothing but wires would have got it for me. So here I am making my first bow to society under the shadow of his cloak."

"Of course you came here."

"What, really, is Mr. Early?"

"Apostle, expounder of the universe, business man, prophet."

Norris laughed.

"He's our display window. The way in which he manages to keep a little lion always roaring on the bargain-table astonishes us all every day. And when he runs short of foreign lions he roars a bit himself. Privately, I think he's more entertaining than the imported article. St. Etienne would be merely a western city without him.

"Now," she went on, "I'm going to introduce you to some other girls. To me, as to Dick, Miss Elton may be the bright particular star, but she is not the only light."

So Miss Elton and Percival were left alone in the crowd.

"Madeline," said the young man, "does this getting through college make you feel as though you had suddenly had your cellars taken away and your attics left foundationless in space? The question is 'what next?' That's what I used to ask you in the good old days when we played mumbly-peg together. What shall we play now?"

"I know what I shall play. There is home, with mother enraptured to have me at her beck and call again; and, of course, there are musical and social 'does'. They are going to be such fun that I do not know if I shall have room to tuck in a little study. But I suppose you must have a harder game. Yes, you must."

"And are you so contented with the dead level? I fancied you were going to be ambitious."

She turned her head and looked out through the narrow mullioned window beside her as though to avoid his eyes, but she answered quietly:

"If I have any ambitions, they are not very imposing. Let's talk about yours; or rather let's not talk about yours here. There are too many people and too much Swami. We are out at the lake, at the old summer home. Run out and dine with us to-morrow. Father is almost as anxious to see you as I am. You know you are his chief consolation for the fact that I am not a boy."

"Thanks. May I bring Norris? Not that I'm afraid of the dark by myself, but that I really want you to know him."

"Bring him of course, Dick," she said without enthusiasm.

"And now do you suppose I can get you a cup of coffee or a sherbet?"

"Hush, I don't know whether anything so vivid is possible. I believe, out of deference to Ram Juna, the refreshments are light almost to Nirvana. You can't insult a man who lives on a few grains of rice by making him watch the herd gorge on salads and ices, can you?"

"And do you really believe that great mountain of flesh was built out of little grains of rice?"

"Mrs. Appleton—you remember her?"

"She has pounced on me already. She remembers that I waltz like a dream."

"Dick," said Miss Elton scornfully, "don't make the mistake of considering yourself a plum. Mrs. Appleton told me that the Swami feeds on dew and flaming nebulae."

"Humph!" said Dick, "I think he's a big bronze fraud."

"Oh, come, men may be great without playing foot-ball," she laughed.

"Well, he's not for me. I can believe in almost any kind of a prophet except one that works miracles."

"Who knows? The Swami may be the molder of your destiny," said Madeline gaily, with youth's lightness in referring to the vague future.

"He may; but I'd lay long odds against it."

"I must be going." Miss Elton rose. "The crowd is thinning, and Mrs. Lenox looks impressively in my direction. We are going out together on the train. Their new country place is near us, you know. And you, ungrateful one, I suspect, have not even spoken to Mr. Early yet. Go and 'make your manners,' like a good boy. I'll expect you to-morrow afternoon. Mr. Norris, Dick has promised to bring you with him to dinner to-morrow. Till then, good-by."

"Come, Ellery, we'll face the music, now that the real attractions are gone," said Dick.

Mr. Early extended two hands, ponderous in proportion to the rest of his body, in fatherly greeting.

"Ah, Percival, my dear fellow, so you are done with Yale and back again in St. Etienne? I welcome you out of the fetters of mere bookishness into the freedom of real life, where it is man's business to serve, and not to absorb."

Dick blushed guiltily as several surrounding ladies turned their lorgnettes on him, but Mr. Early went on, undisturbed and very audible:

"I do not introduce you to Swami Ram Juna, because introductions belong to the world of conventionalities, and he lives in that world where real human relations are the only things that count; but I put your hand in his, in token of the contact in which your spirit may meet his great soul."

"Very good of you, I'm sure," murmured Dick, as the Swami bent his head and gave him a penetrating look.

"You, too, then, are a seeker?" Ram Juna inquired in a low tone, but with his delicate and distinct enunciation.

"Ah—I hope so," Dick answered hastily, and with an evident desire to push the topic no further. "And this, Mr. Early, is my old chum, Norris, who has come West to be on the editorial staff of the Star."

"The Star? It is the symbol of illumination. Is then your Star devoted to the enlightenment of mankind?" asked Ram Juna, transferring his fixed gaze.

"In a sense—yes," Norris faltered with a swift guilty recollection of certain head-lines in last night's edition.

"He who writes must think. He who thinks goes below the surface. He who goes below the surface is moving toward the center," said the Swami oracularly.

Mr. Early's broad face expanded into a benevolent smile, and an oncoming instalment swept the young men away.

"Does Mr. Early learn his remarks by heart?" asked Norris.

"I don't know. But let us be seekers. Let us seek dinner, and fresh air. Give me fresh air—anything but Nirvana!"



CHAPTER II

MOTHER AND SON

To have been captain of the foot-ball team, which some student of sociology has called the highest office in the free gift of the American people, might seem glory enough for one life; but Richard Percival was of such stuff that all past triumphs became dust and ashes. He was greedy of the future. Now that the doors of college were fairly closed, that career became to him but as a half-dreaming condition, before one wakes.

On this summer evening, however, it was easy to prolong the dream, since the hour was one for quiet of body and for wandering visions. The room was large and suffused with that restfulness which comes to homes where serene and thoughtful lives have been lived. There were long straight lines; there was a scarcity of knickknacks; there were pictures gathered because they were loved and not to fill a bare space on the wall; there were books and books and books, many of them with the worn covers of old friends. Here, clasped in the arms of another old friend of a chair, half-sat, half-lay his mother, and near her lounged Ellery Norris, the friend whose delicate mingling of love and admiration was as fragrant wine to Dick, who believed in himself because others had always believed in him. The dying twilight, laden with rose-spiciness and with the first shrill notes of the warm night, came in through high narrow windows. Everywhere was the sweet repose that comes after sweet activity, and the center of it was the fragile woman who lay back in her chair, caressing with light hand the head of the young man who sat upon the rug and leaned against her knee.

Norris was looking at Mrs. Percival with a kind of wondering admiration which the son saw with a touch of pity. Poor old Norris! It must have been tough to grow up without a home. As for this fragrant type of femininity, young Percival took it for granted—at least in the women that belong to a man; and the other women hardly count.

Everything made Dick feel very tender toward his past, very well satisfied with his present, very secure about his future. All would be good. That was the natural order of the universe. He had always found it easy to do things and to be a good deal of a personage.

He stared up silently at the space above the mantel where hung a portrait that gazed back at him, with features pale in the fading light. Singularly alike were the boyish face that looked up and the boyish face that looked down, though the painted Percival, a little idealistic about the eyes, wholly firm about the mouth, appeared the more determined of the two. Perhaps this came from the shoulder-straps, the blue uniform, and the military squareness of the shoulders.

"Yes, you are like him, Dick." Mrs. Percival spoke to his thoughts. The boy looked up startled.

"Am I?" he asked. "I wish I might be. I wish I might be half so much of a man."

"And I hope you will be more—no, not that. He was my all. I can hardly wish you to be more, but I hope you will do more. At least you don't have a drag on you from the beginning, as he had. Has Dick told you the story, Ellery?" She turned with a gentle smile toward the other man. "You see I can't help calling you Ellery. Dick's letters have made you partly mine already. We are not strangers at all."

Norris flushed and impulsively laid his firm square hand over the slender one that was stretched upon the chair arm nearest him.

"You don't know how glad I am to be yours, and to have you for mine," he said. "I never knew my mother."

"You know then how Minnesota was a pioneer state, and how she sent a fifth of her population to the war, and Dad among the first? You know how the First Minnesota held the hill and turned the day at Gettysburg, though few of them lived to tell of their own bravery? It makes the lump come up in my throat even to remember it, just as it did when I first heard the news and knew that my boy-lover was there."

There was silence a moment.

"Ah, Dick, you have a young body to match your heart," Mrs. Percival went on, "but Dad, before he was twenty, carried a bullet in his side. He had to conquer pain before he could spend strength on other things."

Dick rubbed his cheek with the mother's trembling hand.

"Yes," he said soberly, "it must have been harder to endure the sufferings that clung to him and killed him at last than it would have been to give everything in one swift sacrifice. Endurance,—that's a word I don't know, do I, mother?"

"No, dear, that's the word you know least; but you'll have to learn it."

"Ellery, I guess that's where you have the advantage of me." Dick looked up with a smile.

"If I have, it's been a dour lesson," Norris answered with a wry face.

"Well, if Dad gave his life to his country by dying, I mean to give mine by living," Dick went on. "There must be things that need doing."

"More than there are men to do them," said his mother softly. "You have his spirit and his genius. You have health, too. Don't put a bullet in your young manhood."

"What do you mean, mother?"

"There are a thousand wounds besides those from a gun. I'm counting on you to live his life as he would have liked to live it—to be his son, Dick."

"You mustn't expect the sun and the moon to stand still before me."

"Oh, well, I dare say I'm as foolish as other mothers." Mrs. Percival laughed as though she must do that or cry. "But you were certainly born to something, Dick. You've shown it ever since you organized your first militia company and whipped the five-year-olds in the next street."

"And he's kept right on bossing his particular gang ever since. Richard Dux," smiled Ellery.

The boy grinned up at them, and his mind traveled to those later days when that leadership of his was so easily acknowledged as to be axiomatic. He saw in panorama the stormy joys of college life with the victories of the field. He beheld again the quieter hours when the young men saw visions together and felt themselves called to put shoulder to the car of righteousness, while they discussed with the sublime self-sufficiency of inexperience the politics and sociology of the world. The fellows all believed in him as one of those who are destined to be prime pushers at the wheel. Perhaps he would be among those conquerors who climb aboard and ride, forgetful of the plodding crowd which toils at the drudgery of progress but does not taste its glory. So many oblivions go to make one reputation.

Dick knew that power was in him. To others it showed in his unconscious self-confidence of carriage, in his eyes that glowed, in the electric something that compelled attraction.

But now college visions were fading into "the light of common day". The boys had gone home to be men. Success began to look not like an aurora, but like a solid structure built of bricks that must be carried in hods. Hods are uninspiring objects.

Dick stared at the pile of unlit logs in the fireplace and felt the rhythmic strokes of his mother's hand upon his well-thatched head as she watched him in sympathetic silence; but he saw the eyes of his fellow classmen and felt their good-by hand-clasps. Again the train thumped with monotonous rolling as it brought him ever westward and homeward. Farm after farm, village and town, city upon city, long level prairies that cried out of fertility, the rush and roar and chaos of Chicago, and then more cities and rivers and hills and lakes, and now the blessed restfulness of home and twilight. He had seen it all many times before—two thousand miles of space to be covered between New Haven and St. Etienne. On this last journey it had taken on a new significance to his eyes,—a significance which matched his dreams. It was instinct with meaning of which he was a part.

This was his country, huge, half-formed, needing men. Its bigness was not an accident of geography, but a pregnant fact in the consciousness of a people as wide as itself. Thousands of redmen once covered it, and it was then only a big place, not a great country. It must be a mighty race who would master those miles of inert earth.

God breathed His spirit into the earth and it became a living man. Man—His image—must breathe the spirit into the earth and make it a living civilization.

His father, with a Gettysburg bullet bruising his life, had nevertheless played the part, and done his share toward turning a frontier village into a noble city. With a thrill Dick saw himself building the structure higher on its firm foundations, making it great enough to match the wide fertile acres that lay about it, and the dazzling Minnesota sky that hung above. So he built his castle of achievement in the air, where his own glory lay mistily behind his service to his fellow men. Already the thing seemed done—vague and yet, somehow, concrete.

"Pooh, what is time? A mere figment of the imagination!" exclaimed Dick suddenly. "Was it day before yesterday that I came home? Forty-eight hours have put a gulf between the old and the new me. Condensed time,—just add hot water and it swells to six times its original bulk."

His mother smiled indulgently at her son's vagaries of speech, and he went on:

"Moreover, I've been away four years,—years of vast importance, it seems to me. I come back and everything is going on in the same old way. Every one is interested in the same old things. They don't seem to think anything exciting has happened, except that the city has doubled in size and there has been another presidential election. They aren't a bit stirred up over me. They aren't even deeply moved because Ellery over there is wielding an inexperienced editorial pen. Everything is familiar, but I've forgotten it all. It's hard to pick up the threads."

"More than that, boys. The threads are not all done up in a neat bunch and handed to you as they are in New Haven. St. Etienne's point of view is not always that of the gentleman and the scholar. Its great men are not of the campus, but those who control the destinies of others, sometimes by wealth, oftener by the genius of power. But, after all, this is the real world."

Dick laughed again.

"And a world after my own heart, mother."

"Yes, I think you will fit in," she said with maternal complacency. "Both of you," she added with sudden remembrance.

"The fitting-in on my part will have to be a process of swelling, I guess," Norris said whimsically. "Small and narrow as is the berth I have at the Star office, I shall have to be bigger than I am before I fill it."

"Oh, you're all right. You're fundamentally all right, and that means you'll rise to every opportunity you get." Dick's voice took on some of the patronage of a leader for his follower. "I'd bank on Ellery Norris if the rest of the world turned sour."

"Thanks," said Ellery briefly, and their eyes met in that interchange of assurance which is the masculine American equivalent for embrace and eternal protestation. Mrs. Percival smiled to herself, amused yet pleased by the frank boyish affection.

"What kind of a time did you have at Mr. Early's reception?" she asked abruptly.

"Oh, it was a circus with three rings. In the middle ring there was a performing hippopotamus of a Hindu. He was really a sunburst. Then in the farthest ring there were a thousand women with big hats, all talking at once. But in the nearest there were just Madeline and Mrs. Lenox, and that was a good show. By Jove! Madeline is prettier than ever, and hasn't found it out yet. That's the advantage of sending a girl off to a women's college where there is no man to enlighten her."

"Pretty! That's not the word to describe Miss Elton. She's too simple and dignified," remonstrated Norris.

"Bowled over already, are you?" Dick jeered.

"Ellery is quite right," Mrs. Percival interrupted. "Madeline has something Easter-lily-like about her."

"You grow enthusiastic, mother."

"I love her very dearly, Dick."

"Norris and I are going out to see her to-morrow. We'll take the motor, I guess."

Mrs. Percival beamed down at him and gave his head an affectionate pat, and the son glanced up with a blandness that might easily have become a smirk. Yet his mother's complacent satisfaction with the inevitable irritated him. Madeline Elton might be the most admirable combination of the virtues and the graces, but he wanted to find it out for himself.

Mrs. Percival rose with the air of one who has heard and said what she desired.

"Good night, dear boy," she purred as Dick struggled to his long legs. "How good it is to have you to lean on and trust! These have been lonely years while you were away. Now I shall leave you two to your quiet smoke."

Dick kissed her hand and then her lips, as though to show both reverence and love. Norris, too, stooped and kissed her hand, and the two watched her as she moved in her slow way up the stairs. As she disappeared, Norris turned and laid an arm over Dick's shoulder.

"That's the kind of thing, Percival, that you do not wholly appreciate unless you've gone without it. I grew up without any atmosphere to speak of, and I've been gasping for breath all my life. I wonder if I shall ever get a full allowance of air to live in."

As they looked, friendly eye into friendly eye, Ellery seemed to review his own life in contrast with Dick's. Dick had background; he had to begin everything for himself. He had earned most of his way through college; he had earned his standing among the men as he had earned his standing in scholarship, by dogged persistence instead of by the right of eminent domain to which Dick was born. He had never envied Percival's readier brain, wider popularity, more profuse fortune; but something close to envy crept upon him now for this refinement of home, this delicate mother-love. This was a loss not to be made good by pluck or perseverance. Love was the gift of the gods.



CHAPTER III

AN OCCIDENTAL LUMINARY

Over next door, beyond the thick laurel hedge, on this same evening, Mr. Sebastian Early, now that the last of his guests had withdrawn the silken wonder of her reception skirts, was settling down to a quiet evening with his turbaned guest.

Now Mr. Sebastian Early is far too intricate a person to be dismissed, as Mrs. Lenox disposed of him, with a phrase and a laugh. In early life, it is true, he had seemed a commonplace and insignificant young man. His first appearance before the public was as the inventor of a hook-and-eye, but his hook-and-eye had such unusual merits that it seemed, according to the engaging pictures and verses in the street-cars, to simplify most of the sterner problems of every-day life. As its lineaments began to stare at passers-by from thousands of huge bill-boards over the length and breadth of the land, dimes turned to dollars in Mr. Early's ever-widening pockets, and for the time he felt himself a man of distinction. Yet in these later and regenerate days, Mr. Early sometimes had a moment's anguish as he remembered those miles of unesthetic bill-boards, which once marred the meadows and streams of his native land; for with a widening horizon, there had crept upon him a rising spirit of discontent.

Perhaps it was that divine discontent, which William Morris celebrates, that makes men yearn for higher things. Department stores still rolled out their multitudinous cards of hooks-and-eyes, but the person of Sebastian Early passed unnoticed in the crowd. He yearned for fame, not for his product, but for himself, and the same ability that led him to serve the wants of the public in hooks now drove him to study its social demands. Like many another unfortunate, he began to perceive that dollars alone were not enough of a key to unlock the magic door. In this over-fed land, people with money are growing too common. Therefore to gold one must add power and distinction, if one would keep one's head above the herd. This must one do and not leave the other undone.

Sebastian determined to make himself interesting. The public has a fawning respect for fame. One or two abortive attempts convinced Mr. Early that his literary efforts would bring him not even the distinction of infamy. At last he hit upon an idea. He would be a patron of the Arts—not one of your little ordinary buyers, but a man whose purse was, so to speak, regilded by mind. He spent six months of hard work as a student of the situation and then he made his debut. He selected a few gems of half-forgotten eighteenth century literature—gems that deserved to be given life-preservers on that stream of oblivion into which they were too surely being sucked. These he brought forth in tiny volumes, wide-edged and thick-papered, illuminated as to capitals and bound in ooze or in old brocade on which were scattered a few decorations, calculated, so unthinkable were they, to upset the reasoning power of the average reader, and thus prepare him for the literary matter which he should find within.

These books naturally "took." They invited no man to read, but they were interesting to look at and therefore particularly adapted to those occasions when one must make a small gift to a friend. Scarce a center-table in the country but held at least one. The beauty of it was that the literary matter cost him nothing, and the books were their own advertising bill-boards; for wherever they went they lay in conspicuous places.

From books Mr. Early passed on to furniture; and he begot strange shapes, wherein forgotten Gothic forms were commingled with forms that never man saw before; and these also took. So the circle widened, until glass pottery and rugs were gathered into the potpourri of Mr. Early's genius.

Finally he established his magazine, The Aspirant, for he began to feel the need of explaining things—chiefly himself—to his expanding circle. The Aspirant had covers of butcher's paper; and the necessity for self-defense at last developed in Mr. Early that literary style which he had found it impossible to cultivate while he still had nothing to say. He grew a peculiar ability for self-glorification and for slugging the other man. Particularly caustic did his pen become in respect to those, whether painters, musicians, poets, novelists or reformers, who had endeared themselves to the great mass of the public. The Aspirant always called the public "the rabble," and you can't damn humanity more easily and cheaply than by calling it "the rabble." Naturally every one hastened to buy Mr. Early's furniture, his rugs and his pottery, and diligently to read The Aspirant, in order that he or she might escape the universal condemnation. Be outre and you'll be right; be right and you'll be outre; be outre anyway: was the simple creed.

To those penniless celebrities to whom purchase of Mr. Early's commodities was over-expensive, there was another way out from under. They might visit Mr. Early's hospitable home, and so contribute their mite to the halo of distinction that surrounded him. The great ones came to St. Etienne. They ate and drank and were exhibited to an admiring throng. They gave lectures, introduced from the platform by Mr. Sebastian Early; they went away and The Aspirant chronicled their satellite excellences. No such ex-guest need fear a blow in the face upon its pages. All these things came before the public—more and more before the public every year. They kept Mr. Early's growing corps of assistants busy, inventing new furniture and new forms of invective.

It is needless to say that the hook-and-eye was never included in the illustrious list of Mr. Early's productions. That gentleman frequently blessed himself in private that his first commodity had been put upon the market as the "Imperial," and not as the "Bright and Early" as he had once half-resolved. Only a few knew who was responsible for the bill-boards.

Still even his new enterprises paid. He was a good business man, and he shared with "the rabble" an appetite for cold cash. Nor did the crafty Arts exhaust either his abilities or his desires; for though he had no wish to pose before the world in the over-done role of a millionaire, still he needed money and ever more and more money. To get it he kept his hand in many a business enterprise and his eye on many a speculation of which the gaping world did not dream. Even his right-hand editorial writer knew not of his left-handed dip into an electric light company here or a paving contract there, for his left hand had assistants too,—quiet, unobtrusive, even shy,—men who could lobby a bill "on the quiet," or wreck an opposing company, even though they did not know the difference between Hafiz and chutney. And Mr. Early's mind was of such a broad catholicity that it would be hard to tell which side of his career he most enjoyed, the variety-show or the still-hunt.

Thus it will be seen that this great man, who was a credit to the new art movement of our time, and of whom St. Etienne, a young western city, felt justly proud, was in his usual element when he introduced to the society, in which he was now a fixed star, a light from the Far East. And Swami Ram Juna seemed so sure that he himself was right and all the rest of the world was wrong, that Mr. Early felt him to be a kindred spirit.

The impression deepened as he found himself alone with the Hindu. He had rather dreaded the strange demands and customs that might meet him; but the man of bronze and the snowy turban proved himself to be the best of table companions, suave, courteous and sympathetic. He seemed even to take a kindly interest in such matters of a day as Mr. Early's incursions into the realms of art and literature. Through dinner they chatted almost gaily, and afterward, while Mr. Early smoked, the Swami joined him in the slow sipping of a liqueur.

There is a frankness of those who have nothing to hide; there is a frankness which makes a mask for him who is, below the surface, all mystery. As Sebastian studied his companion, he told himself that this simple creature was after all a man, perhaps adapting himself to public demands as any clever fellow would; and, as this thought occurred to him, Mr. Early's benevolence increased.

"You ought to write a book," he said with the air of one projecting a novel thought. "With your gift for expression, and your—ah—insight into realities, you couldn't fail to make a success of it."

"It is my intention," said the Hindu.

Mr. Early looked a little taken aback, but brightened again with a new suggestion.

"Why not do it here?" he asked. "Come, where could you find a more fitting place? You have your rooms in a wing of the house all to yourself. That gives you perfect solitude. I should be delighted to have you for my guest while you do your work; and when you finish, I know enough of the tricks of the trade to help you push it a bit."

"Of a certainty truth is self-vigorous, and needs no tricks to keep it living."

"Ah, yes," the man of business answered cheerfully. "But one may boost it,—one may boost it, my dear fellow."

The Swami bent his great head and appeared to meditate. When he looked up, his spiritual eyes were narrowed to a speculative slit, and he studied the face on the other side of the comfortable log fire.

"My friend, you are generous. You offer me a home, and I am fain to accept it, if I may put the offer in another form. For the present I must return to India. Too long already have I been away from the atmosphere which is to me life. I must see some of the brothers of my soul. I must saturate myself with repose and with the underlying—with Karma. Also, in this too-vigorous country, that is unattainable. But here, in this place, one who is filled with the message might give it forth to his brothers—or perhaps to the sisters, who appear the more anxious for it. Here the very energy of the air says 'give' rather than 'grow'. If I might a year—six months hence—accept your hospitality?" He looked tentatively at Mr. Early.

"My home is yours. Do what you like with it," said Mr. Early benignly. He was thinking how well a picturesque cut of the Hindu's head would look on the covers of The Aspirant, combined with a judicious puff within.

The Swami smiled serenely.

"I observe," he went on in his delicate voice, "that the wing on the ground floor, in which you have given me room, has two apartments, divided by a little passage, and that the little passage gives not upon the public highway, but upon a garden, quiet and lovely, that faces the sun and is shut in by brick walls and hedges. The farther one of these rooms is bare and but slightly furnished, though my bedroom is sumptuous like that of a maha-rajah. Still the bare small room pleases me best. If I might have this room when I come again! If I might keep the bare room sacred to my meditations, all unentered save by myself! It means to me much that no alien mind, no soul of a common servant, should mar the serenity of the atmosphere in that spot where I sit alone with myself. I would have it dedicated to the greater Me. It would be the cap-sheaf—do you not so say in this land of great harvests?—thus to give shelter not only to my body, but to my soul, in this bare and quiet little room."

"Why, certainly, certainly!" Mr. Early could not help thinking that a guest who spent most of his time alone in an empty room would prove no great tax upon his entertainer.

"I thank you," said Ram Juna, rising and making a salaam of curious dignity and courtesy. "You bid me lecture. You bid me write and instruct in the sacred truths. That will I do when I come again; and my consolation shall be the unblemished hours when I sit alone in the little room which faces the sun. You comprehend me? You understand?"

And Mr. Early, who never, if he could help it, spent a half-hour in either solitude or idleness, answered again:

"Why, certainly, certainly."

"In some months, then, I may return, noble friend. And now I will bid you farewell until the dawn."

The Swami, with marvelous lightness of foot in spite of his huge body, made off for his own domain. If Mr. Early, who now sat and yawned alone by the dying fire, could have peeped in on the excellent Ram Juna, he would have been much gratified by the evident satisfaction with which the Oriental surveyed the quarters which were one day to be his. The Swami strode at once across the bedroom, across the little passage that opened into the garden, into the unused room beyond. Here with a swift thrust he turned on the electric light, then moved from window to window, opened them, examined the heavy wooden shutters which he closed and unclosed, craning his bull-neck through the opened sashes. Around and under each piece of furniture he peered, nodding and smiling his approbation of everything. As he came out, he paused for some moments to examine the lock on the door.

"Quite inadequate, quite inadequate," he muttered with a frown. "We must do better than that."

He stood and thought a moment, then put out the light, stepped to the garden door and disappeared into the night.

With so light a tread did he come back that Mr. Early, should he have been listening, could have heard no warning footstep to tell him that his guest was returning.

Back in his own bedroom, Ram Juna peeped into the luxurious bath-room with placid delight.

"So much water, so easily hot," he said. "It is admirable. All is admirable." He sank in a heap, cross-legged, in the middle of the floor, with large hands folded over his stomach, and large eyes narrowed, while a kindly smile spread over his face, and his head nodded at rhythmic intervals, for all the world like a benevolent Buddha. The ruby glowed and sparkled like a living thing in the light and movement; and thus he sat for some hours.



CHAPTER IV

AT MADELINE'S

"Now," said Richard Percival, as he and Norris stowed themselves away in his automobile, "we shall leave the city, in which are contained how many loves and struggles and silk umbrellas at reasonable prices, and go to the lake where there is no civilization to bother and distract. The lake is 'The Lake' par excellence to St. Etienne. It was created by Providence for summer homes. Therefore it was placed only ten miles from the Falls. Providence was a good business woman. Generations of savages lived and died—chiefly died—here. They came where the Father of Waters roared and tumbled and they made their prayers to the Great Spirit, but the sight never suggested to them a great city. Then came the Anglo-Saxon, whatever he is, and harnessed the power of the river, and built ugly gray mills, dusty with flour, and turned his log huts into houses of brick and stone, and erected saloons and department stores. And when he had worked like Daedalus—and you've probably forgotten who Daedalus was, now that you have been a few weeks out of college—when he had worked like Daedalus, I say, and got the hardest of it done, he began to look at something besides the Falls and to pine for means of dalliance. Behold then at his hand, Lake Imnijaska! And now Madeline Elton is the best thing on its shore. Gee up, old motor!"

They sped along and Dick took up the tale. He was used to talking while Norris listened and appreciated.

"Evidently you don't know who Daedalus was or you would have answered back. What kind of an omniscient editor are you going to make, think you? Never mind, Daedalus is dead; and, anyway, Edison has beaten him by six holes.

"The lake, as I was saying, twists and turns so that it gets in more shore to the square inch than any other known sheet of water. Therefore the real-estate dealer loves it. And if you elevate your longshore nose and sniff at our lake because no salt codfish dry upon smelly wharves and no sea anemones or crabs appear and disappear with the tides, then will the entire population of St. Etienne rise and howl anathemas at you. They will run you out of town on the Chicago Express, and as you fly for your life they will shriek after you, 'Well, anyway, we feed the world with flour!' Yes, sir, that is the way we Westerners argue."

Dick halted at the top of the hill up which the faithful motor had coughed, and the two looked down on the shimmering blue that stretched below them with arms of broken opals sprawling for miles, now here, now there. Long tortuous passages opened out anew into ever more bays, as though the water were greedy to explore. Around it rolled the woodland in billows of intense green with sandy beaches in the troughs and straight cliffs at the crests. The green islands were vivid in color. So was the sky above, like the flash in a sapphire. A half-dozen sails fluttered gull-like, and as many launches darted along, suggesting living water creatures.

"By Jove!" Ellery exclaimed, moving uneasily. "When you sniff this air it makes you want to stand on tiptoe on a hilltop and shout. And when you look at these colors, they are too brilliant to be true."

"Even you, you old conservative slow-poking duffer!" cried Dick. "This is the land to wake you up. It calls 'harder—harder!' every-day."

"It's a different kind of beauty from what I'm used to." Ellery sobered down again. "I've been trying to analyze it ever since I came West. It wouldn't appeal to the tired or the world-weary. Its charm is for the vigorous and the confident and the hopeful—for the young."

"For us, my boy," Dick said.

"At Madeline's," as Dick called it, with that obliviousness of the older generation shown by the younger, Norris felt as they entered, as he had felt at Mrs. Percival's, that he was in a candid, human, refined home, with a full appreciation of the finer sides of life. They passed through the drawing-room and by long glass doors to the broad piazza, with every invitation to laziness, easy chairs, cushions, magazines, all made fragrant by a huge jar of roses and another of sweet peas. And there was not too much. The veranda in turn gave upon a wide expanse of green that stretched steeply down to that cool wet line where the lapping waters met the lawn. The trees whispered softly around. Every prospect was pleasing, and only man was vile; for there was another man, sitting in the most comfortable of chairs and engaging Madeline all to himself, as he contentedly sipped the cup of tea that he had taken from her hand. This other man, whose name was Davison, was making himself agreeable after the fashion of his kind, a fashion quite familiar to every girl who has been so unfortunate as to get a reputation, however little deserved, for superior brains.

"Afternoon," he said, "I didn't suppose any other fellows except myself were brave enough, to call on Miss Elton. I hear she's so awfully clever, you know. Taken degrees and all that sort of thing. Give you my word it comes out in everything around her. Why, this very napkin she gave me has a Greek border. Everything has to be classic now."

"Not everything, Mr. Davison," said Madeline indulgently. "You know I am delighted to have you here." She turned abruptly to the new-comers as though she had already had a surfeit of this subject. It is a pleasant thing to have had a good education, but one does not care to spend one's time thinking about it, any more than about how much money there is in one's pocket.

"You had a fine ride out?" Madeline asked.

"Great!" answered Dick. "To be young, on a summer day, seated in a good motor with a thoroughly tamed and domesticated gasoline engine, and to be coming to see you—what more could we ask of the gods?"

"You see Percival feels that he must lard the gods into his intercourse with you, Miss Elton," Mr. Davison interjected.

"That's because the gods have become nice homey things," retorted Dick. "Even in the West we couldn't keep house without Dionysius assisted by Hebe to superintend our afternoon teas, and Hercules as a patron of baseball."

Madeline laughed and cast a grateful look in his direction.

"You see how pleasant it is to feel familiar with the gods so that you can use them freely," she said.

"So you don't think it's necessary, in order to be clever, to despise everything that's done nowadays, because the Greeks used up all the ideas first?" asked Davison.

"Not at all. Nature conducts a vast renovating and cleaning establishment, and whenever any old ideas look the least bit frayed or soiled around the edges, pop, in they go, and come out French dry-cleaned and as fresh as ever. They're sent home in a spick-span box and you couldn't tell 'em from new."

"If we don't get anything new I hope that we, at least, get rid of some of the old things—fears and superstitions," said Madeline. "Things that are holy rites in one age are so apt to be holy frights in the next."

"Say, did you ever go down the streets of Boston and notice the number of signs of palmists and astrologers and vacuum cures?" exclaimed Davison. "But perhaps it ain't fair to take Boston for a standard."

Ellery, a true New Englander, stared at him in astonishment, as one who heard sacred things lightly spoken of.

"Most of us can see how funny we are," Davison pursued.

"Can we?" murmured Dick.

"But Boston," he went on calmly, "has lost her sense of humor. She peers down at everything she does and says, 'This is very serious.' That's why she takes astrologers in earnest. They're in Boston. Anyway, I think you were mighty sensible to come back to us, Miss Elton, rather than to stay in the unmarried state, alias Massachusetts. A girl really has a much better chance in the West."

"Yes, that's where Miss Elton showed a long head," said Dick with evident glee.

"But really now, joking apart," Davison went on, having made his opening, "don't you think it's unsettling to a girl to do too much studying?"

"I hope you are not deeply agitated over the eradication of womanliness," Madeline remonstrated. "Really, Mr. Davison, it isn't an easy thing to stop being a woman—when you happen to be born one."

"But there are plenty of unwomanly women," he objected.

"That's true," she answered, "but I believe womanliness is killed—when it is killed—not through the brain, but through the heart. It's not knowledge, but hard-heartedness that makes the unwomanly woman."

She glanced up and met Norris' eyes. It was not easy for him to join in the chatter of the others, but he was thinking how she illuminated her own words. Manifestly she was not lacking in mind, and quite as evidently her brain was only the antechamber of her nature. She gave him the impression of "the heart at leisure from itself". There was the unconsciousness of sheltered girlhood, but already, in bud, the suggestion of that big type of woman who, as years mellow her, touches with sympathy every life with which she comes in contact. What she now was, promised more in the future, as though Fate said, "I'm not through with her yet. I've plenty in reserve to go to her making."

"Intelligence," said Dick pompously, "is the tree of life in man, and the flower in woman—and one does not presume to criticize flowers."

Mr. Davison changed his method of attack.

"Oh, of course I'm up against it," he said, "with you three fresh from the academic halls. But I can tell you you'll feel pretty lonely out here. The street-car conductors don't talk Sanskrit in the West. They talk Swede."

"Oh, this,—this is home!" cried Madeline, springing up as if to shake off the conversation. "You don't know how I love it! It's fresh and vigorous and its face is forward." She flung out her arms and smiled radiantly down on the three young men, as though she were an embodiment of the ozone of the Northwest.

"Sing to us, please, Madeline," said Dick.

"Very well, I will," she said. "I'll sing you a song I made myself yesterday, when I was happy because I was at home again. Perhaps it will tell you how I feel, for it's a song of Minnesota." She turned and nodded to Mr. Davison, and then slipped through the doors to the room where the piano stood.

The long shadows of afternoon lay across the lawn, and the grass, more green than ever in the level light, clasped the dazzling blue of the quiet waters. The three men stretched themselves in their easy chairs, as a stroked kitten stretches itself, with a lounging abandon which is forbidden to their sisters, as Madeline's voice rose fresh and true and touched with the joy of youth.

"Ho, west wind off the prairie; Ho, north wind off the pine; Ho, myriad azure lakes, hill-clasped, Like cups of living wine; Ho, mighty river rolling; Ho, fallow, field and fen; By a thousand voices nature calls, To fire the hearts of men.

"Ho, fragrance of the wheat-fields; Ho, garnered hoards of flax; Ho, whirling millwheel, 'neath the falls; Ho, woodman's ringing ax. Man blends his voice with nature's, And the great chorus swells. He adds the notes of home and love To the tale the forest tells.

"Oh, young blood of the nation; Oh, hope in a world of need; The traditions of the fathers Still be our vital seed. Thy newer daughters of the West, Columbia, mother mine, Still hold to the simple virtues Of field and stream and pine."

The song stopped abruptly, and Dick sprang to his feet.

"Good, Madeline!" he exclaimed. "You make me feel how great it is to be part of it."

"Do I?" she said. "I thought of you when I wrote it. Oh, here come father and mother back from their drive."

Mr. Davison rose hastily.

"I'd no idea it was so late," he said. "I must be going. Miss Elton, I didn't mean a word of all that about your being so clever. You're all right."

"Thanks for the tribute," Madeline smiled as he disappeared down the drive. "Dick, I wish you'd always be on hand when he comes. He makes my brain feel like a woolly dog."

"Rummy chap," said Norris.

The older people came in to greet the boy they had known all his life, to ask the innumerable usual questions, to say the inevitable things through dinner.

Afterwards, when the last fragments of sunset burned through and across the water, they gathered on the piazza. It was that dreamy hour when women find it easy to be silent and men to talk. Madeline and her mother sat close, with hands restfully clasped in their joy at being together. Mr. Elton eyed the two young men from his vantage of years of shrewd wisdom. Both the boys were clean-shaven, after the manner of the day, a fashion that seems to become clean manliness, vigorous and self-controlled. Both were good to look at; but here the resemblance ended, for Dick's long slender face and body lithe with its athletic training, was alive and restless, as though he found it difficult to keep back his passion for activity; Ellery, big but loosely joined, had the dogged look of one that held some of his energy in reserve. A good pair, Mr. Elton concluded, and felt a sudden spasm of longing for a son—not that he would have exchanged Madeline for any trousered biped that walked, but it would be a great thing to own one such well of young masculine vigor as these.

"It's going to be great fun for us old fellows to sit back and watch you young ones," the elder man ejaculated. "There are several good-sized jobs waiting for you."

"That's a good thing," said Dick. "When there's nothing to do, nobody'll do it."

"And it will be a tame sort of a world, eh? Well, thank the Lord, it's none of our responsibility any longer. You've got to tackle it. The new phases of things are too much for me, with a brain solidified by years."

"You might at least help us by stating the problem," said Norris.

"You see, it's like this. Until a few years ago every census map of the United States was seamed by a long line marked 'frontier.' That line is gone. That's the situation in a nutshell. Our work, the subjugation of the land, is about done, and the question is now up to you; what are you going to do with it? You know the old story of the man who said he had a horse who could run a mile in two-forty. And the other fellow asked, 'What are you going to do when you get there?' We've done the running and our children are there. Now what? You must develop a whole set of new talents—not trotting talents, but staying talents."

"I suppose," said Norris slowly, for Dick was silent, "circumstances bring out abilities. That's the law that operated in the case of the older generation, and we'll have to trust to it in ours."

"That's true. But I sometimes wonder if, after all, we are helping you to the best preparation. We send you back to get the old education. The tendency of old communities is to rehash the traditions until they become authority. New communities have to face problems for themselves and solve them by new ways. The first kind of training makes scholars. The second brings out genius. The old makes men think over the thoughts of others. Heaven knows we need men who will think for themselves!"

"Well, 'old and young are fellows'," said Dick. "To-day grows out of yesterday."

"Yes, if it grows. The growing is the point. It mustn't molder on yesterday. You must have enough books to get your thinkers going, but not more. You must not feast on libraries until you get intellectual gout and have to tickle your palate with dainties. A good deal of stuff that's written nowadays seems to me like literary cocktails,—something to stir a jaded appetite. That's my friend Early's specialty—to serve literary cocktails. But the appetite you bolster up isn't the equivalent of a good healthy hunger after a day out-of-doors."

"When nature wants a genius, I suppose she has to use fresh seed," said Dick.

"And genius is creative," Mr. Elton went on. "So far, the genius this country has developed is that which takes the raw material of forest and river and creates civilization. And let me tell you that's a very different job from heaping up population."

Silence fell on the little group and they became suddenly aware of lapping waters and the sleepy twitter of birds, and even of a long slender thread of pale light that struck across the lake from a low-lying star. Madeline gave a little sigh and pressed her mother's hand.

Dick flushed and hesitated in the darkness, with youth's confidence in its own great purposes and youth's craving for sympathy in its ambitions. Mr. Elton's combination of kindness and shrewdness seemed to draw him out.

"It sounds impertinent and conceited for a young fellow like me to talk about what he means to do."

"Fire away. I knew your father, Dick."

"Then you'll know what I mean when I say that it has always been my ambition to live up to his traditions—his ideal of a man's public duties."

Mr. Elton nodded and Dick went on, while Ellery eyed him with some of the old college respect, and Madeline leaned eagerly forward.

"I don't mean any splurge, you understand, but the same quiet service he gave. Father left his affairs in such good order that there isn't any real necessity for me to try to add to my income. Of course, it isn't a great fortune, but it's more than enough; and my ambitions don't lie that way. There's a certain amount of business in taking care of it as it stands. Mother is glad to turn the burden of it over to me. She's done nobly—dear little woman—but—"

"I understand. It's a man's business."

"Yes," said Dick, with the simple masculine superiority of four and twenty. "That's enough of a background for life, you see; but I long since made up my mind that public affairs—affairs that concern the whole community—are to be my real interest."

"So you're going into politics, Dick?" said the older man slowly.

"Well, not to scramble for office," Percival answered with a flush. "We fellows have been well-enough taught, haven't we, Ellery? to know that it is rather an ugly mess—I mean municipal affairs in this country. The local situation, here in St. Etienne, I have yet to study; and I don't mean to lose any time in beginning."

Mr. Elton made no reply for a moment, and when he spoke there was an unpleasant cynicism in his voice that galled Dick's pride.

"The young reformer! Well, I suppose a decent man with a little ability could do something here, if he knew what he was going to do. It's a good thing to get on your sea-legs before you try to command a ship."

"Father!" Madeline cried out, unable to contain herself. "Don't you be a horrid wet blanket!"

The three looked at her to see her face aglow with the lovely feminine belief in masculinity that also belongs to the early twenties.

"That's all right," said the elder Elton unemotionally. "I wasn't wet-blanketing—I know things are needed. There's plenty of corruption wanting to be buried, and most of us are content to hold our noses and let it lie. Or perhaps we give an exclamation of disgust when it is served up in the newspapers. Reform if you must, but don't reform all day and Sundays too; and build your cellars before you begin your attics."

Then he went on a shade more heartily: "It's a mighty good thing for some of you young fellows to be going into politics; perhaps that's the chief work for the next generation. And Norris—what of you?"

Ellery started. It had been a silent evening for him, but his silence had glowed with interest, not so much in the conversation as in his own thoughts. Two things had forced themselves home,—the first when he looked down on that expanse of vivid water, vivid sky, vivid green. Here a man, even a young man, might waken to all his faculties and make something of life. He need not plod dully through years, to reach success only when he is old and tired. The landscape poured like wine into Ellery Norris' veins.

And now here was the other side. He had watched with fascination the restfulness of Miss Elton's hands, the one that held her mother's, the one that lay quietly in her lap. He watched her steady eyes that kept upon her father and Dick as they talked. He saw her face glow with sympathy and interest and yet remain calm, as if secure in the goodness of the world; and he told himself that he was glad this wonderful thing belonged to Dick. Dick's restlessness would be held in leash, as it were, by this steadfastness.

Once she half turned as though she felt his scrutiny, and queer pains darted through his body when her eyes met his.

Now when Mr. Elton attacked him, he came back from his far-away excursion with a sense of surprise that there was a present, but he smiled cheerfully.

"Oh, I'm not a very important person. I'm just beginning to learn the trade of a newspaper man, and I'm afraid I shan't be able to think about much but city news and bread and butter for the next few years."

"No telling what may happen, with his Honor, the mayor here, backed up by the power of the press. We'll make St. Etienne a model city in the sight of gods and men, eh, boys?" said Mr. Elton good-humoredly, but rising as if to cut short the conversation.

"Can't we take a walk before Ellery and I go back to town?" asked Dick.

"Go, you kid things. I haven't seen the evening paper yet, and that's more to my old brain than moonlight strolls." Mr. Elton dismissed them.

The three young people set out upon a path that twisted by the lake shore, bordered on its inner side by trees that had become in the darkness mere shapeless masses out of which an occasional mysterious thread of light brought into sight some uncanny shape. The purple of the evening zenith had sunk into deeper and deeper blue, pricked here and there with stars. Bats were wheeling in mysterious circles among the tree-tops, and the air was full of sounds that seem to come only at twilight.

"Isn't it strange that though every one of those trees is an old friend, I should be frightened at the very idea of being alone among them at night? And yet there's nothing in the dark that isn't in the day," said Madeline.

"Oh, yes, there is," Dick rejoined. "There's more being afraid in the dark."

She laughed and they went on in silence.

"Who's been building a new house, just on the very spot I always meant to own some day—right here next to your father?" Dick demanded, stopping abruptly.

"Oh, you haven't seen that, have you?" said Madeline. "Let's sit down on this log and look at the stars. That's Mr. Lenox's new house; and I'm so sorry for them!"

"Why grieve for the prosperous? Reserve your tears for the suffering."

"Why, you know, in town, they live with Mr. Windsor, who is Mrs. Lenox's father, and he's a multimillionaire; and it's a great establishment; and the world is necessarily very much with them. So when Mr. Lenox proposed that they should build a country house of their own and spend their summers here, I think he wanted to get out to some primitive simplicity, where the children could go barefoot if they wanted to. But as soon as it was suggested, Mr. Windsor presented his daughter with a big tract, and insisted on building this great palace, and they have to keep so many servants that Mr. Lenox says it is a regular Swedish boarding-house. And there are so many guest-rooms that it would be a shame not to have them occupied; and extra people run out in their motors every day; and the children have to be kept immaculate all the time. So they've brought the world out with them. Mr. Lenox has to dress for dinner, instead of putting on old slippers and going out to weed the strawberry-bed, which is what he would like to do when he gets out on the evening train."

"Poor things, in bondage to their house!" said Norris, and they all looked solemnly at the multitude of lights shining through the trees.

"There are ever so many disadvantages about being among the few very rich people in a western town, where most of your friends aren't opulent," Madeline went on. "When Mrs. Lenox makes a call, she has to wait while the woman changes her dress. And nobody says to her, 'Oh, do stay to lunch,' when they've nothing but oysters or beefsteak, but they wait till they get in an extra chef and then send her a formal invitation. I believe ours is one of the half-dozen houses where people don't pretend to be something quite different from what they are when Mrs. Lenox appears. And yet she's the most simple-minded and genuine person, and would rather have beefsteak and friendship than pate de fois gras and good gowns any day."

"Poor things!" said Dick again.

"I think they are out on the terrace now. Would you like to go over and see them?" Madeline asked.

"No, thank you," said Dick politely. "We won't make their life any more complicated. Besides, I prefer the society of you and the stars to that of the miserable too-rich. And they are not alone."

"Of course not. They never are. But Mrs. Lenox said yesterday that late this fall, when every one else has gone into winter quarters, she is going to ask you and me and perhaps one or two others to visit her; and we'll have a serene and lovely time."

"Do you think that there is any hope that they will have lost part of their money by that time?" asked Dick.

"Father says Mr. Windsor has forgotten how to lose money, and of course Mr. Windsor and Mr. Lenox are all one."

"I must see to it that I don't marry a millionaire's daughter," said Dick.



CHAPTER V

SALAD DAYS

The most desirable thing in life is to have the sense of doing your duty without the trouble of doing it. Therefore days of preparation are always delicious days. There is the mingling of repose with all the joys of activity. To be planning to do things has in it more of triumph than the actual doing. It carries the irradiating light of hope and purpose, without the petty pin-prick of detail which comes when reality parodies ideals.

Dick's first summer at home was a period of delight. He absorbed ideas and so felt that he was doing something in this city of his birth which now, in his manhood, came back to him as something new and strange. The weeks drifted by and he seemed to drift with them, though both mind and body were alert. All the things he learned and all the things he meant to do were tripled and quadrupled in interest when he passed them on to his two counselors-in-chief, Norris, solid and appreciative, Madeline, even more believing and more sympathizing, but glorified by that charm of sex which gilds even trifling contact of man and maid, making her friendship not only gilt but gold.

So he spent his days in prowling about and meeting all sorts and conditions of men, while Ellery slaved in a dirty and noisy office; but when Saturday came and the Star went to press at three, Norris, with the blissful knowledge that there was no Sunday edition, would meet Percival, stocked with a week's accumulation of experiences. In the hearts of both would be deep rejoicing as, at week-end after week-end, they stowed themselves in Dick's motor and betook themselves lakeward, nominally to go to the Country Club and play golf, but with the subconsciousness for both that the lake meant Madeline.

There were, to be sure, other people, girls agreeable, pretty and edifying, men of their own type and age, older men who did less sport and more business, but all of these were neither more nor less than a many-colored background to the little three-cornered intimacy which, as Dick said, "was the real thing."

It came to be understood that the three should spend their Sunday afternoons together, not on the cool piazza, where intrusion in its myriad forms might come upon them, but off somewhere, either on the bosom of the waters or on the bosom of the good green earth, who whispers her secret of eternal vitality to every one that lays an ear close to her heart.

The season was like the placid hour before the world wakes to its daily comedy and tragedy; and yet, with all its superficial serenity, this summer carried certain undercurrents of emotion that hardly rose to the dignity of discontent, but which, nevertheless, troubled the still waters of the soul. At first Madeline half resented the continual presence of Norris at these sacred conclaves. He seemed so much an outsider. Dick she had known all her life and she could talk to him with perfect freedom, but his friend often sat silent during their chatter, as though he were an onlooker before whom spontaneity was impossible. Yet as Sunday after Sunday the two young men strode up together, she grew to accept Ellery. First he became inoffensive; then she became aware that his eyes spoke when his lips were dumb; and finally, when words did come, they were the words of a friend who understood moods and tenses. In some ways it was a comfort to have this buffer between her and Dick. It helped to prolong the period of uncertain certainty.

Dick never spoke of love, but the way was pointed not only by the easy restfulness of their comradeship, but in the very atmosphere that surrounded them. She read it half-consciously in the looks of father and mother as they met and accepted Dick's intimacy in the house, in the warmth of Mrs. Percival's motherly affection when Madeline ran in for one of her frequent calls. Life was full of it, like the gentle half-warmth that comes before the sun has quite peeped over the horizon on a summer morning; and it was well that this dawn to their day should be a long one. Madeline had been away the greater part of four years, and she was now in no hurry to cut short her reunion with the old home life. Dick, too, had his beginnings to make, man-fashion, and they ought to be made before he took on himself the full life of a man. So she was happily content to drift, conscious in a vague dreamy way that the drift was in the right direction, feeling the situation without analyzing it. It was a condition of affairs like Madeline herself, gently affectionate, but not passionate or deeply emotional. She was not of the type of women who rise up and control destiny.

Norris, for all his passive exterior, had undercurrents that were fervid and powerful, and this first summer in the West, unruffled on its surface, stirred them and sent his life whirling along their irresistible streams. He never lost the sense that he was an outsider, admitted on sufferance to see the happiness of others and allowed to pick up their crumbs. If hard work, oblivion and lovelessness were to be his lot, the hardest of these was lovelessness. Much as he loved Dick he continually resented that young man's careless acceptance of the good things of life, and most of all did his irritation grow at Percival's way of taking Madeline for granted, enjoying her beauty, her sympathy, the grace that she threw over everything, and yet, thought Ellery, never half appreciating them. He himself bowed before them with an adoration that was framed in anguish because these things were, and were not for him. More and more cruel grew the knowledge that the currents of his life were gall and wormwood, flowing through wastes of bitterness.

Yet, along with the new grief came a new awakening, at first dimly felt by Madeline alone, then read with greater and greater clearness.

But of all undercurrents, Dick, prime mover and chief talker, remained unconscious, absorbed in his own dawning career, delighting in his two friends chiefly as hearers and sympathizers with his multitudinous ideas.

So it happened that one August afternoon, when it was late enough for the sun to have lost its fury, a not too strenuous breeze drove their tiny yacht through a channel which stretched enticingly between a wooded island and the jutting mainland.

"Let's land there," Madeline exclaimed suddenly. "It looks like a jolly place."

She pointed toward a stretch of beach caught between the arms of trees that came to the very water's edge, and enshrined in a great wild grape-vine that had climbed from branch to branch until it made a tangled canopy.

Dick turned sharply inward and ran their prow into the twittering sand.

"Thou speakest and it is thy servant's place to obey," he said.

"How does it feel to keep slaves? I've often wondered," Ellery said as he jumped ashore and Dick began tossing him rugs and cushions.

"Very comfy, thank you, and not at all un-Christian," she answered saucily. "Dick, don't throw the supper basket, under penalty of liquidating the sandwiches. I think there's a freezer of ice-cream under the deck, if you'll pull it out. Now, are you ready for me?"

She stepped lightly forward under Dick's guidance, took Ellery's outstretched hands and sprang to the shore, where a kind of throne was built for her against a prostrate log,—all this help not because it was necessary, but as the appropriate pomp of royalty.

"I suspect," said Dick, looking about him with great satisfaction, "that this was a favorite picnic place for Gitche Manito and Hiawatha, in the morning of days."

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse