THE ART OF DISAPPEARING
By John Talbot Smith
"SARANAC" "HIS HONOR THE MAYOR," "A WOMAN OF CULTURE," "SOLITARY ISLAND," "TRAINING OF A PRIEST," ETC., ETC.
NEW YORK, CINCINNATI, CHICAGO: BENZIGER BROTHERS PRINTERS TO THE HOLY APOSTOLIC SEE.
COPYRIGHT, 1902, BY JOHN TALBOT SMITH
All Rights Reserved
I. The Holy Oils 1
II. The Night at the Tavern 7
III. The Abysses of Pain 16
IV. The Road to Nothingness 25
V. The Door is Closed 33
AMONG THE EXILES.
VI. Another Man's Shoes 40
VII. The Dillon Clan 55
VIII. The Wearin' o' the Green 68
IX. The Villa at Coney Island 77
X. The Humors of Election 87
XI. An Endicott Heir 100
THE GREEN AGAINST THE RED.
XII. The Hate of Hannibal 107
XIII. Anne Dillon's Felicity 119
XIV. Aboard the "Arrow" 128
XV. The Invasion of Ireland 137
XVI. Castle Moyna 147
XVII. The Ambassador 158
AN ESCAPED NUN.
XVIII. Judy Visits the Pope 170
XIX. La Belle Colette 177
XX. The Escaped Nun 190
XXI. An Anxious Night 199
XXII. The End of a Melodrama 208
XXIII. The First Blow 218
XXIV. Anne Makes History 227
XXV. The Cathedral 236
XXVI. The Fall of Livingstone 248
THE TEST OF DISAPPEARANCE.
XXVII. A Problem of Disappearance 258
XXVIII. A First Test 266
XXIX. The Nerve of Anne 274
XXX. Under the Eyes of Hate 283
XXXI. The Heart of Honora 296
XXXII. The Pauline Privilege 304
XXXIII. Love is Blind 312
XXXIV. A Harpy at the Feast 320
XXXV. Sonia Consults Livingstone 327
XXXVI. Arthur's Appeal 335
XXXVII. The End of Mischief 344
XXXVIII. A Tale Well Told 351
XXXIX. Three Scenes 360
THE ART OF DISAPPEARING.
THE HOLY OILS.
Horace Endicott once believed that life began for him the day he married Sonia Westfield. The ten months spent with the young wife were of a hue so roseate as to render discussion of the point foolish. His youth had been a happy one, of the roystering, innocent kind: noisy with yachting, baseball, and a moderate quantity of college beer, but clean, as if his mother had supervised it; yet he had never really lived in his twenty-five years, until the blessed experience of a long honeymoon and a little housekeeping with Sonia had woven into his life the light of sun and moon and stars together. However, as he admitted long afterwards, his mistake was as terrible as convincing. Life began for him that day he sat in the railway carriage across the aisle from distinguished Monsignor O'Donnell, prelate of the Pope's household, doctor in theology, and vicar-general of the New York diocese. The train being on its way to Boston, and the journey dull, Horace whiled away a slow hour watching the Monsignor, and wondering what motives govern the activity of the priests of Rome. The priest was a handsome man of fifty, dark-haired, of an ascetic pallor, but undoubtedly practical, as his quick and business-like movements testified. His dark eyes were of fine color and expression, and his manners showed the gentleman.
"Some years ago," thought Horace, "I would have studied his person for indications of hoofs and horns—so strangely was I brought up. He is just a poor fellow like myself—it is as great a mistake to make these men demi-gods as to make them demi-devils—and he denies himself a wife as a Prohibitionist denies himself a drink. He goes through his mummeries as honestly as a parson through his sermons or a dervish through his dances—it's all one, and we must allow for it in the make-up of human nature. One man has his parson, another his priest, a third his dervish—and I have Sonia."
This satisfactory conclusion he dwelt upon lovingly, unconscious that the Monsignor was now observing him in turn.
"A fine boy," the priest thought, "with man written all over him. Honest face, virtuous expression, daring too, loving-hearted, lovable, clever, I'm sure, and his life has been too easy to develop any marked character. Too young to have been in the war, but you may be sure he wanted to go, and his mother had to exercise her authority to keep him at home. He has been enjoying me for an hour.... I'm as pleasant as a puzzle to him ... he preferred to read me rather than Dickens, and I gather from his expression that he has solved me. By this time I am rated in his mind as an impostor. Oh, the children of the Mayflower, how hard for them to see anything in life except through the portholes of that ship."
With a sigh the priest returned to his book, and the two gentlemen, having had their fill of speculation, forgot each other directly and forever. At this point the accident occurred. The slow train ran into a train ahead, which should have been farther on at that moment. All the passengers rose up suddenly, without any ceremony, quite speechless, and flew up the car like sparrows. Then the car turned on its left side, and Horace rolled into the outstretched arms and elevated legs of Monsignor O'Donnell. He was kicked and embraced at the same moment, receiving these attentions in speechless awe, as he could not recall who was to blame for the introduction and the attitude. For a moment he reasoned that they had become the object of most outrageous ridicule from the other passengers; for these latter had suddenly set up a shouting and screeching very scandalous. Horace wondered if the priest would help him to resent this storm of insult, and he raised himself off the Monsignor's face, and removed the rest of his person from the Monsignor's body, in order the more politely to invite him to the battle. Then he discovered the state of things in general. The overthrown car was at a stand-still. That no one was hurt seemed happily clear from the vigorous yells of everybody, and the fine scramble through the car-windows. The priest got up leisurely and felt himself. Next he seized his satchel eagerly.
"Now it was more than an accident that I brought the holy oils along," said he to Horace. "I was vexed to find them where they shouldn't be, yet see how soon I find use for them. Someone must be badly hurt in this disaster, and of course it'll be one of my own."
"I hope," said the other politely, "that I did you no harm in falling on you. I could not very well help it."
"Fortune was kinder to you than if the train rolled over the other way. Don't mention it, my son. I'll forgive you, if you will find me the way out, and learn if any have been injured."
The window was too small for a man of the Monsignor's girth, but through the rear door the two crawled out comfortably, Monsignor dragging the satchel and murmuring cheerfully: "How lucky! the holy oils!" It was just sundown, and the wrecked train lay in a meadow, with a pretty stream running by, whose placid ripplings mocked the tumult of the mortals examining their injuries in the field. Yet no one had been seriously injured. Bruises and cuts were plentiful, some fainted from shock, but each was able to do for himself, not so much as a bone having been broken. For a few minutes the Monsignor rejoiced that he would have no use for what he called the holy oils. Then a trainman came running, white and broken-tongued, crying out: "There was a priest on the train—who has seen him?" It turned out that the fireman had been caught in the wrecked locomotive, and crushed to death.
"And it's a priest he's cryin' for, sir," groaned the trainman, as he came up to the Monsignor. The dying man lay in the shade of some trees beside the stream, and a lovely woman had his head in her lap, and wept silently while the poor boy gasped every now and then "mother" and "the priest." She wiped the death-dew from his face, from which the soot had been washed with water from the stream, and moistened his lips with a cordial. He was a youth, of the kind that should not die too early, so vigorous was his young body, so manly and true his dear face; but it was only a matter of ten minutes stay beside the little stream for Tim Hurley. The group about him made way for Monsignor, who sank on his knees beside him, and held up the boy's face to the fading light.
"The priest is here, Tim," he said gently, and Endicott saw the receding life rush back with joy into the agonized features. With something like a laugh he raised his inert hands, and seized the hands of the priest, which he covered with kisses.
"I shall die happy, thanks be to God," he said weakly; "and, father, don't forget to tell my mother. It's her last consolation, poor dear."
"And I have the holy oils, Tim," said Monsignor softly.
Another rush of light to the darkening face!
"Tell her that, too, father dear," said Tim.
"With my own lips," answered Monsignor.
The bystanders moved away a little distance, and the lady resigned her place, while Tim made his last confession. Endicott stood and wondered at the sight; the priest holding the boy's head with his left arm, close to his bosom and Tim grasping lovingly the hand of his friend, while he whispered in little gasps his sins and his repentance; briefly, for time was pressing. Then Monsignor called Horace and bade him support the lad's head; and also the lovely lady and gave her directions "for his mother's sake." She was woman and mother both, no doubt, by the way she served another woman's son in his fatal distress. The men brought her water from the stream. With her own hands she bared his feet, bathed and wiped them, washed his hands, and cried tenderly all the time. Horace shuddered as he dried the boy's sweating forehead, and felt the chill of that death which had never yet come near him. He saw now what the priest meant by the holy oils. Out of his satchel Monsignor took a golden cylinder, unscrewed the top, dipped his thumb in what appeared to be an oily substance, and applied it to Tim's eyes, to his ears, his nose, his mouth, the palms of his hands, and the soles of his feet, distinctly repeating certain Latin invocations as he worked. Then he read for some time from a little book, and finished by wiping his fingers in cotton and returning all to the satchel again. There was a look of supreme satisfaction on his face.
"You are all right now, Tim," he said cheerfully.
"All right, father," repeated the lad faintly, "and don't forget to tell mother everything, and say I died happy, praising God, and that she won't be long after me. And let Harry Cutler"—the engineer came forward and knelt by his side—"tell her everything. She knew how he liked me and a word from him was more——"
His voice faded away.
"I'll tell her," murmured the engineer brokenly, and slipped away in unbearable distress. The priest looked closer into Tim's face.
"He's going fast," he said, "and I'll ask you all to kneel and say amen to the last prayers for the boy."
The crowd knelt by the stream in profound silence, and the voice of the priest rose like splendid music, touching, sad, yet to Horace unutterably pathetic and grand.
"Go forth, O Christian soul," the Monsignor read, "in the name of God the Father Almighty, who created thee; in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who suffered for thee; in the name of the Holy Ghost, who was poured forth upon thee; in the name of the Angels and Archangels; in the name of the Thrones and Dominations; in the name of the Principalities and Powers; in the name of the Cherubim and Seraphim; in the name of the Patriarchs and Prophets; in the name of the holy Apostles and Evangelists; in the name of the holy Martyrs and Confessors; in the name of the holy Monks and Hermits; in the name of the holy Virgins and of all the Saints of God; may thy place be this day in peace, and thy abode in holy Sion. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
Then came a pause and the heavy sigh of the dying one shook all hearts. Endicott did not dare to look down at the mournful face of the fireman, for a terror of death had come upon him, that he should be holding the head of one condemned to the last penalty of nature; at the same moment he could not help thinking that a king might not have been more nobly sent forth on his journey to judgment than humble Tim Hurley. Monsignor took another look at the lad's face, then closed his book, and took off the purple ribbon which had hung about his neck.
"It's over. The man's dead," he announced to the silent crowd. There was a general stir, and a movement to get a closer look at the quiet body lying on the grass. Endicott laid the head down and rose to his feet. The woman who had ministered to the dying so sweetly tied up his chin and covered his face, murmuring with tears, "His poor mother."
"Ah, there is the heart to be pitied," sighed the Monsignor. "This heart aches no more, but the mother's will ache and not die for many a year perhaps."
Endicott heard his voice break, and looking saw that the tears were falling from his eyes, he wiping them away in the same matter-of-fact fashion which had marked his ministrations to the unfortunate fireman.
"Death is terrible only to those who love," he added, and the words sent a pang into the heart of Horace. It had never occurred to him that death was love's most dreaded enemy,—that Sonia might die while love was young.
THE NIGHT AT THE TAVERN.
The travelers of the wrecked train spent the night at the nearest village, whither all went on foot before darkness came on. Monsignor took possession of Horace, also of the affections of the tavern-keeper, and of the best things which belonged to that yokel and his hostelry. It was prosperity in the midst of disaster that he and Endicott should have a room on the first floor, and find themselves comfortable in ten minutes after their arrival. By the time they had enjoyed a refreshing meal, and discussed the accident to the roots, Horace Endicott felt that his soul was at ease with the Monsignor, who at no time had displayed any other feeling than might arise from a long acquaintance with the young man. One would have pronounced the two men, as they settled down into the comfort of their room, two collegians who had traveled much together.
"It was an excellent thing that I brought the holy oils along," Monsignor said, as if Endicott had no other interest in life than this particular form of excellence. To a polite inquiry he explained the history, nature, and use of the mysterious oils.
"I can understand how a ceremony of that kind would soothe the last hours of Tim Hurley," said the pagan Endicott, "but I am curious, if you will pardon me, to know if the holy oils would have a similar effect on Monsignor O'Donnell."
"The same old supposition," chuckled the priest, "that there is one law for the crowd, the mob, the diggers, and another for the illuminati. Now, let me tell you, Mr. Endicott, that with all his faith Tim Hurley could not have welcomed priest and oils more than I shall when I need them. The anguish of death is very bitter, which you are too young to know, and it is a blessed thing to have a sovereign ready for that anguish in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. The Holy Oils are the thing which Macbeth desired when he demanded so bitterly of the physician.
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow?
That is my conviction. So if you are near when I am going to judgment, come in and see how emphatically I shall demand the holy oils, even before a priest be willing to bring them."
"It seems strange," Horace commented, "very strange. I cannot get at your point of view at all."
Then he went on to ask questions rapidly, and Monsignor had to explain the meaning of his title, a hundred things connected with his priesthood, and to answer many objections to his explanations; until the night had worn on to bedtime, and the crowd of guests began to depart from the verandahs. It was all so interesting to Horace. In the priest and his conversation he had caught a glimpse of a new world both strange and fascinating. Curious too was the profound indifference of men like himself—college men—to its existence. It did not seem possible that the Roman idea could grow into proportions under the bilious eyes of the omniscient Saxon, and not a soul be aware of its growth! However, Monsignor was a pleasant man, a true college lad, an interesting talker, with music in his voice, and a sincere eye. He was not a controversialist, but a critic, and he did not seem to mind when Horace went off into a dream of Sonia, and asked questions far from the subject.
Long afterwards Endicott recalled a peculiarity of this night, which escaped his notice at the time: his sensitiveness to every detail of their surroundings, to the colors of the room, to the shades of meaning in the words of the Monsignor, to his tricks of speech and tone, quite unusual in Horace's habit. Sonia complained that he never could tell her anything clear or significant of places he had seen. The room which had been secured from the landlord was the parlor of the tavern; long and low, colonial in the very smell of the tapestry carpet, with doors and mantel that made one think of John Adams and General Washington. The walls had a certain terror in them, a kind of suspense, as when a jury sits petrified while their foreman announces a verdict of death. A long line of portraits in oil produced this impression. The faces of ancient neighbors, of the Adams, the Endicotts, the Bradburys, severe Puritans, for whom the name of priest meant a momentary stoppage of the heart, looked coldly and precisely straight out from their frames on the Monsignor. Horace fancied that they exchanged glances. What fun it would have been to see the entire party move out from their frames, and put the wearer of the Roman purple to shameful flight.
"I'll bet they don't let you sleep to-night," he said to the priest, who laughed at the conceit.
A cricket came out on the window-sill, chirped at Horace's elbow, and fled at the sound of near voices. Through the thick foliage of the chestnut trees outside he could see stars at times that made him think of Sonia's eyes. The wind shook the branches gently, and made little moans and whispers in the corners, as if the ghosts of the portraits were discussing the sacrilege of the Monsignor's presence. Horace thought at the time his nerves were strung tight by the incidents of the day, and his interest deeply stirred by the conversation of the priest; since hitherto he had always thought of wind as a thing that blew disagreeably except at sea, noisy insects as public nuisances to be caught and slain, and family portraits the last praiseworthy attempt of ancestors to disturb the sleep of their remote heirs. When he had somewhat tired of asking his companion questions, it occurred to him that the Monsignor had asked none in return, and might waive his right to this privilege of good-fellowship. He mentioned the matter.
"Thank you," said Monsignor, "but I know all about you. See now if I give you a good account of your life and descent."
He was promenading the room before the picture-jury frowning on him. He looked at them a moment solemnly.
"Indeed I know what I would have to expect from you," he said to the portraits, "if you were to sit upon my case to-night. Your descendant here is more merciful."
They laughed together.
"Well," to Horace, "you asked me many questions, because you know nothing about me or mine, although we have been on the soil this half century. The statesmen of your blood disdain me. This scorn is in the air of New England, and is part of your marrow. Here is an example of it. Once on a vacation I spent a few weeks in the house of a Puritan lady, who learned of my faith and blood only a week before my leaving. She had been very kind, and when I bade her good-by I assured her that I would remember her in my prayers. 'You needn't mind,' she replied, 'my own prayers are much better than any you can say.' This temper explains why you have to ask questions about me, and I have none to ask concerning you."
Horace had to admit the contention.
"Life began for you near the river that turned the wheel of the old sawmill. Ah, that river! It was the beginning of history, of time, of life! It came from the beyond and it went over the rim of the wonderful horizon, singing and laughing like a child. How often you dreamed of following it to its end, where you were certain a glory, felt only in your dreams, filled the land. The fishes only could do that, for they had no feet to be tired by walking. Your first mystery was that wheel which the water turned: a monstrous thing, a giant, ugly and deadly, whose first movement sent you off in terror. How could it be that the gentle, smiling, yielding water, which took any shape from a baby hand, had power to speed that giant! The time came when you bathed in the stream, mastered it, in spite of the terror which it gave you one day when it swallowed the life of a comrade. Do you remember this?"
Monsignor held up his hand with two fingers stretched out beyond the others, and gave a gentle war-whoop. Horace laughed.
"I suppose every boy in the country invited his chums to a swim that way," he said.
"Just so. The sign language was universal. The old school on the village green succeeded the river and the mill in your history. Miss Primby taught it, dear old soul, gentler than a mother even, and you laughed at her curls, and her funny ways, which hid from child's eyes a noble heart. It was she who bound up your black eye after the battle with Bouncer, the bully, whose face and reputation you wrecked in the same hour for his oppression of the most helpless boy in school. That feat made you the leader of the secret society which met at awful hours in the deserted shanty just below the sawmill. What a creep went up and down your spine as in the chill of the evening the boys came stealing out of the undergrowth one by one, and greeted their chief with the password, known by every parent in town. The stars looked down upon you as they must have looked upon all the great conspirators of time since the world began. You felt that the life of the government hung by a thread, when such desperate characters took the risk of conspiring against it. What a day was July the Fourth—what wretches were the British—what a hero was General Washington! What land was like this country of the West? Its form on the globe was a promontory while all others lay very low on the plane."
"In that spirit you went to Harvard and ran full against some great questions of life. The war was on, and your father was at the front. Only your age, your father's orders, and your mother's need held you back from the fight. You were your mother's son. It is written all over you,—and me. And your father loved you doubly that you were his son and owned her nature. He fell in battle, and she was slain by a crueller foe, the grief that, seizing us, will not let us live even for those we love. God rest the faithful dead, give peace to their souls, and complete their love and their labors! My father and mother are living yet—the sweetest of blessings at my time of life. You grieved as youth grieves, but life had its compensations. You are a married man, and you love as your parents loved, with the fire and tenderness of both. Happy man! Fortunate woman!"
He stopped before the nearest portrait, and stared at it.
"Well, what do you think of my acquaintance with your history?" he asked.
"Very clever, Monsignor," answered Horace impressed. "It is like necromancy, though I see how the trick is done."
"Precisely. It is my own story. It is the story of thousands of boys whom your set will not regard as American boys, unless when they are looking for fighting material. Everything and anything that could carry a gun in the recent war was American with a vengeance. The Boston Coriolanus kissed such an one and swore that he must have come over in the Mayflower. But enough—I am not holding a brief for anybody. The description I have just given you of your life and mine is also——"
"One moment—pardon me," said Horace, "how did you know I was married?"
"And happy?" said Monsignor. "Well, that was easy. When we were talking to-night at tea about the hanging of Howard Tims, what disgust in your tone when you cried out, there should be no pity for the wretch that kills his wife."
"And there should not."
"Of course. But I knew Tims. I met him for an hour, and I did not feel like hanging him."
"You are a celibate."
"Therefore unprejudiced. But he was condemned by a jury of unmarried men. A clever fellow he is, and yet he made some curious blunders in his attempt to escape the other night. I would like to have helped him. I have a theory of disappearing from the sight of men, which would help the desperate much. This Tims was a lad of your own appearance, disposition, history even. I had a feeling that he ought not to die. What a pity we are too wise to yield always to our feelings."
"But about your theory, Monsignor?" said Horace. "A theory of disappearing?"
"A few nights ago some friends of mine were discussing the possible methods by which such a man as Tims might make his escape sure. You know that the influences at his command were great, and tremendous efforts were made to spare his family the disgrace of the gallows. The officers of the law were quite determined that he should not escape. If he had escaped, the pursuit would have been relentless and able. He would have been caught. And as I maintained, simply because he would never think of using his slight acquaintance with me. You smile at that. So did my friends. I have been reading up the escapes of famous criminals—it is quite a literature. I learned therein one thing: that they were all caught again because they could not give up connection with their past: with the people, the scenes, the habits to which they had been accustomed. So they left a little path from their hiding-place to the past, and the clever detectives always found it. Thinking over this matter I discovered that there is an art of disappearing, a real art, which many have used to advantage. The principle by which this art may be formulated is simple: the person disappearing must cut himself off from his past as completely as if he had been secretly drowned in mid-ocean."
"They all seem to do that," said Horace, "and yet they are caught as easily as rats with traps and cheese."
"I see you think this art means running away to Brazil in a wig and blue spectacles, as they do in a play. Let me show some of the consequences a poor devil takes upon himself who follows the art like an artist. He must escape, not only from his pursuers—that's easy—but from his friends—not so easy—and chiefly from himself—there's the rub. He who flies from the relentless pursuit of the law must practically die. He must change his country, never meet friend or relative again, get a new language, a new trade, a new place in society; in fact a new past, peopled with parents and relatives, a new habit of body and life, a new appearance; the color of hair, eyes, skin must be changed; and he must eat and drink, walk, sleep, think, and speak differently. He must become another man almost as if he had changed his nature for another's."
"I understand," said Horace, interested; "but the theory is impossible. No one could do that even if they desired."
"Tims would have desired it and accomplished it had I thought of suggesting it to him. Here is what would have happened. He escapes from the prison, which is easy enough, and comes straight to me. We never met but once. Therefore not a man in the world would have thought of looking for him at my house. A week later he is transferred to the house of Judy Trainor, who has been expecting a sick son from California, a boy who disappeared ten years previous and is probably dead. I arrange her expectation, and the neighbors are invited to rejoice with her over the finding of her son. He spends a month or two in the house recovering from his illness, and when he appears in public he knows as much about the past of Tommy Trainor as Tommy ever knew. He is welcomed by his old friends. They recognize him from his resemblance to his father, old Micky Trainor. He slips into his position comfortably, and in five years the whole neighborhood would go to court and swear Tims into a lunatic asylum if he ever tried to resume his own personality."
The two men set up a shout at this sound conclusion.
"After all, there are consequences as dark as the gallows," said Horace.
"For instance," said the priest with a wave of his hand, "sleeping under the eyes of these painted ghosts."
"Poor Tim Hurley," said Horace, "little he thought he'd be a ghost to-night."
"He's not to be regretted," replied the other, "except for the heart that suffers by his absence. He is with God. Death is the one moment of our career when we throw ourselves absolutely into the arms of God."
The two were getting ready to slip between the sheets of the pompous colonial bed, when Horace began to laugh softly to himself. He kept up the chuckling until they were lying side by side in the darkened room.
"I am sure, I have a share in that chuckle," said Monsignor.
"Shades of my ancestors," murmured Horace, "forgive this insult to your pious memory—that I should occupy one bed with an idolatrous priest."
"They have got over all that. In eternity there is no bigotry. But what a pity that two fine boys like us should be kept apart by that awful spirit which prompts men to hate one another for the love of God, and to lie like slaves for the pure love of truth."
"I am cured," said Horace, placing his hand on the Monsignor's arm. "I shall never again overlook the human in a man. Let me thank you, Monsignor, for this opening of my eyes. I shall never forget it. This night has been Arabian in its enchantment. I don't like the idea of to-morrow."
"No more do I. Life is tiresome in a way. For me it is an everlasting job of beating the air with truth, because others beat it with lies. We can't help but rejoice when the time comes to breathe the eternal airs, where nothing but truth can live."
Horace sighed, and fell asleep thinking of Sonia rather than the delights of eternity. The priest slept as soundly. No protest against this charming and manly companionship stirred the silence of the room. The ghosts of the portraits did not disturb the bold cricket of the window-sill. He chirped proudly, pausing now and then to catch the breathing of the sleepers, and to interpret their unconscious movings. The trained and spiritual ear might have caught the faint sighs and velvet footsteps of long-departed souls, or interpreted them out of the sighing and whispering of the leaves outside the window, and the tread of nervous mice in the fireplace. The dawn came and lighted up the faces of the men, faces rising out of the heavy dark like a revelation of another world; the veil of melancholy, which Sleep borrows from its brother Death, resting on the head which Sonia loved, and deepening the shadows on the serious countenance of the priest. They lay there like brothers of the same womb, and one might fancy the great mother Eve stealing in between the two lights of dawn and day to kiss and bless her just-united children.
When they were parting after breakfast, Monsignor said gayly.
"If at any time you wish to disappear, command me."
"Thanks, but I would rather you had to do the act, that I might see you carry out your theory. Where do you go now?"
"To tell Tim Hurley's mother he's dead, and thus break her heart," he replied sadly, "and then to mend it by telling her how like a saint he died."
"Add to that," said Horace, with a sudden rush of tears, which for his life he could not explain, "the comfort of a sure support from me for the rest of her life."
They clasped hands with feeling, and their eyes expressed the same thought and resolution to meet again.
THE ABYSSES OF PAIN.
Horace Endicott, though not a youth of deep sentiment, had capacities in that direction. Life so far had been chiefly of the surface for him. Happiness had hidden the deep and dangerous meanings of things. He was a child yet in his unconcern for the future, and the child, alone of mortals, enjoys a foretaste of immortality, in his belief that happiness is everlasting. The shadow of death clouding the pinched face of Tim Hurley was his first glimpse of the real. He had not seen his father and mother die. The thought that followed, Sonia's beloved face lying under that shadow, had terrified him. It was the uplifting of the veil of illusion that enwraps childhood. The thought stayed his foot that night as he turned into the avenue leading up to his own house, and he paused to consider this new dread.
The old colonial house greeted his eyes, solemn and sweet in the moonlight, with a few lights of human comfort in its windows. He had never thought so before, but now it came straight to his heart that this was his home, his old friend, steadfast and unchanging, which had welcomed him into the world, and had never changed its look to him, never closed its doors against him; all that remained of the dear, but almost forgotten past; the beautiful stage from which all the ancient actors had made irrevocable exit. What beauty had graced it for a century back! What honors its children had brought to it from councils of state and of war! What true human worth had sanctified it! Last and the least of the splendid throng, he felt his own unworthiness sadly; but he was young yet, only a boy, and he said to himself that Sonia had crowned the glory of the old house with her beauty, her innocence, her devoted love. In making her its mistress he had not wronged its former rulers, nor broken the traditions of beauty. He stood a long time looking at the old place, wondering at the charm which it had so suddenly flung upon him. Then he shook off the new and weird feeling and flew to embrace his Sonia of the starry eyes.
Alas, poor boy! He stood for a moment on the threshold. He could hear the faint voices of servants, the shutting of distant doors, and a hundred sweet sounds within; and around him lay the calmness of the night, with a drowsy moon overhead lolling on lazy clouds. Nothing warned him that he stood on the threshold of pain. No instinct hinted at the horror within. The house that sheltered his holy mother and received her last breath, that covered for a few hours the body of his heroic father, the house of so many honorable memories, had become the habitation of sinners, whose shame was to be everlasting. He stole in on tiptoe, with love stirring his young pulses. For thirty minutes there was no break in the silence. Then he came out as he entered, on tiptoe, and no one knew that he had seen with his own eyes into the deeps of hell. For thirty minutes, that seemed to have the power of as many centuries, he had looked on sin, shame, disgrace, with what seemed to be the eyes of God; so did the horror shock eye and heart, yet leave him sight and life to look again and again.
In that time he tasted with his own lips the bitterness which makes the most wretched death sweeter by comparison than bread and honey to the hungry. At the end of it, when he stole away a madman, he felt within his own soul the cracking and upheaving of some immensity, and saw or felt the opening of abysses from which rose fearful exhalations of crime, shapes of corruption, things without shape that provoked to rage, pain and madness. He was not without cunning, since he closed the doors softly, stole away in the shadows of the house and the avenue, and escaped to a distant wood unseen. From his withered face all feeling except horror had faded. Once deep in the wood, he fell under the trees like an epileptic, turned on his face, and dug the earth with hands and feet and face in convulsions of pain.
The frightened wood-life, sleeping or waking, fled from the great creature in its agony. In the darkness he seemed some monster, which in dreadful silence, writhed and fought down a slow road to death. He was hardly conscious of his own behavior, poor innocent, crushed by the sins of others. He lived, and every moment was a dying. He gasped as with the last breath, yet each breath came back with new torture. He shivered to the root of nature, like one struck fatally, and the convulsion revived life and thought and horror. After long hours a dreadful sleep bound his senses, and he lay still, face downward, arms outstretched, breathing like a child, a pitiful sight. Death must indeed be a binding thing, that father and mother did not leave the grave to soothe and strengthen their wretched son. He lay there on his face till dawn. The crowing of the cock, which once warned Peter of his shame, waked him. He turned over, stared at the branches above, sat up puzzled, and showed his face to the dim light. His arms gathered in his knees, and he made an effort to recollect himself. But no one would have mistaken that sorrowful, questioning face; it was Adam looking toward the lost Eden with his arms about the dead body of his son. A desolate and unconscious face, wretched and vacant as a lone shore strewn with wreckage.
He struggled to his feet after a time, wondering at his weakness. The effort roused and steadied him, his mind cleared as he walked to the edge of the wood and stared at the old house, which now in the mist of morning had the fixed, still, reproachful look of the dead. As if a spirit had leaped upon him, memory brought back his personality and his grief together. Men told afterwards, early laborers in the fields, of a cry from the Endicott woods, so strange and woful that their hearts beat fast and their frightened ears strained for its repetition. Sonia heard it in her adulterous dreams. It was not repeated. The very horror of it terrified the man who uttered it. He stood by a tree trembling, for a double terror fell upon him, terror of her no less than of himself. He staggered through the woods, and sought far-away places in the hills, where none might see him. When the sun drifted in through dark boughs he cursed it, the emblem of joy. The singing of the birds sounded to his ears like the shriek of madmen. When he could think and reason somewhat, he called up the vision of Sonia to wonder over it. The childlike eyes, the beautiful, lovable face, the modest glance, the innocent blushes—had nature such masks for her vilest offspring? The mere animal senses should have recognized at the first this deadly thing, as animals recognize their foes; and he had lived with the viper, believing her the peer of his spotless mother. She was his wife! Even at that moment the passionate love of yesterday stirred in his veins and moved him to deeper horror.
He doubted that he was Horace Endicott. Every one knew that boy to be the sanest of young men, husband to the loveliest of women, a happy, careless, wealthy fellow, almost beside himself with the joy of life. The madman who ran about the desolate wilds uttering strange and terrible things, who was wrapped within and without in torments of flame, who refrained from crime and death only because vengeance would thus be cheaply satisfied, could hardly be the boy of yesterday. Was sin such a magician that in a day it could evolve out of merry Horace and innocent Sonia two such wretches? The wretch Sonia had proved her capacity for evil; the wretch Horace felt his capabilities for crime and rejoiced in them. He must live to punish. A sudden fear came upon him that his grief and rage might bring death or madness, and leave him incapable of vengeance. They would wish nothing better. No, he must live, and think rationally, and not give way. But the mind worked on in spite of the will. It sat like Penelope over the loom, weaving terrible fancies in blood and flame! the days that had been, the days that were passing; the scenes of love and marriage; the old house and its latest sinners; and the days that were to come, crimson-dyed, shameful; the dreadful loom worked as if by enchantment, scene following scene, the web endless, and the woven stuff flying into the sky like smoke from a flying engine, darkening all the blue.
The days and nights passed while he wandered about in the open air. Hunger assailed him, distances wearied him, he did not sleep; but these hardships rather cooled the inward fire, and did not harm him. One day he came to a pool, clear as a spring to its sandy bottom, embowered in trees, except on one side where the sun shone. He took off his clothes and plunged in. The waters closed over him sweet and cool as the embrace of death. The loom ceased its working a while, and the thought rose up, is vengeance worth the trouble? He sank to the sandy bed, and oh, it was restful! A grip on a root held him there, and a song of his boyhood soothed his ears until it died away in heavenly music, far off, enticing, welcoming him to happier shores. He had found all at once forgetfulness and happiness, and he would remain. Then his grip loosened, and he came to the surface, swimming mechanically about, debating with himself another descent into the enchanted region beneath.
Some happy change had touched him. He felt the velvety waters grasp his body and rejoiced in it; the little waves which he sent to the reedy bank made him smile with their huddling and back-rushing and laughing; he held up his arm as he swam to see the sun flash through the drops of water from his hand. What a sweet bed of death! No hard-eyed nurses and physicians with their array of bottles, no hypocrites snuffling sympathy while dreaming of fat legacies, no pious mummeries, only the innocent things direct from the hand of God, unstained by human sin and training, trees and bushes and flowers, the tender living things about, the voiceless and passionless music of lonely nature, the hearty sun, and the maternal embrace of the sweet waters. It was dying as the wild animals die, without ceremony; as the flowers die, a gentle weakening of the stem, a rush of perfume to the soft earth, and the caressing winds to do the rest. Yes, down to the bottom again! Who would have looked for so pleasant a door to death in that lonely and lovely pool!
He slipped his foot under the root so that it would hold him if he struggled, put his arms under his head like one about to sleep, and yielded his senses to that far-off, divine music, enticing, welcoming.... It ceased, but not until he had forgotten all his sorrows and was speeding toward death. Sorrow rescued sorrow, and gave him back to the torturers. The old woman who passed by the pond that morning gathering flowers, and smiling as if she felt the delight of a child—the smile of a child on the mask of grief-worn age—saw his clothes and then his body floating upward helpless from the bottom. She seized his arm, and pulled him up on the low bank. He gasped a little and was able to thank her.
"If I hadn't come along just then," she said placidly, as she covered him decently with his coat, "you'd have been drownded. Took a cramp, I reckon?"
"All I remember is taking a swim and sinking, mother. I am very much obliged to you, and can get along very well, I think."
"If you want any help, just say so," she answered. "When you get dressed my house is a mile up the road, and the road is a mile from here. I can give you a cup of tea or warm milk, and welcome."
"I'll go after a while," said he, "and then I'll be able to thank you still better for a very great service, mother."
She smiled at the affectionate title, and went her way. He became weak all at once, and for a while could not dress. The long bath had soothed his mind, and now distressed nature could make her wants known. Hunger, soreness of body, drowsiness, attacked him together. He found it pleasant to lie there and look at the sun, and feel too happy to curse it as before. The loom had done working, Penelope was asleep. The door seemed forever shut on the woman known as Sonia, who had tormented him long ago. The dead should trouble no one living. He was utterly weary, sore in every spot, crushed by torment as poor Tim Hurley had been broken by his engine. This recollection, and his lying beside the pool as Tim lay beside the running river, recalled the Monsignor and the holy oils. As he fell asleep the fancy struck him that his need at that moment was the holy oils; some balm for sick eyes and ears, for tired hands and soiled feet, like his mother's kisses long ago, that would soothe the aching, and steal from the limbs into the heart afterwards; a heavenly dew that would aid sleep in restoring the stiffened sinews and distracted nerves. The old woman came back to him later, and found him in his sleep of exhaustion. Like a mother, she pillowed his head, covered him with his clothes, and her own shawl, and made sure that his rest would be safe and comfortable. She studied the noble young head, and smoothed it tenderly. The pitiful face, a terrible face for those who could read, so bitterly had grief written age on the curved dimpled surface of youth, stirred some convulsion in her, for she threw up her arms in despair as she walked away homeward, and wild sobs choked her for minutes.
He sat on the kitchen porch of her poor home that afternoon, quite free from pain. A wonderful relief had come to him. He seemed lifted into an upper region of peace like one just returned from infernal levels. The golden air tasted like old wine. The scenes about him were marvelous to his eyes. His own personality redeemed from recent horror became a delightful thing.
"It is terrible to suffer," he said to Martha Willis. "In the last five days I have suffered."
"As all men must suffer," said the woman resignedly.
"Then you have suffered too? How did you ever get over it, mother?"
She did not tell him, after a look at his face, that some sorrows are indelible.
"We have to get over everything, son. And it is lucky we can do it, without running into an insane asylum."
"Were your troubles very great, mother?"
"Lots of people about say I deserved them, so they couldn't be very great," she answered, and he laughed at her queer way of putting it, then checked himself.
"Sorrow is sorrow to him who suffers," he said, "no matter what people say about it. And I would not wish a beast to endure what I did. I would help the poor devil who suffered, no matter how much he deserved his pain."
"Only those who suffered feel that way. I am alone now, but this house was crowded thirty years ago. There was Lucy, and John, and Oliver, and Henry, and my husband, and we were very happy."
"And they are all gone?"
"I shall never see them again here. Lucy died when I needed her most, and Henry, such a fine boy, followed her before he was twenty. They are safe in the churchyard, and that makes me happy, for they are mine still, they will always be mine. John was like his father, and both were drunkards. They beat me in turn, and I was glad when they took to tramping. They're tramping yet, as I hear, but I haven't seen them in years. And Oliver, the cleverest boy in the school, and very headstrong, he went to Boston, and from there he went to jail for cheating a bank, and in jail he died. It was best for him and for me. I took him back to lie beside his brother and sister, though some said it was a shame. But what can a mother do? Her children are hers no matter if they turn out wrong."
"And you lived through it all, mother?" said the listener with his face working.
"Once I thought different, but now I know it was for the best," she answered calmly, and chiefly for his benefit. "I had my days and years even, when I thought some other woman had taken Martha Willis' place, a poor miserable creature, more like the dead than the live. But I often thought, since my own self came back, how lucky it was Lucy had her mother to close her eyes, and the same for poor Henry. And Oliver, he was pretty miserable dying in jail, but I never forgot what he said to me. 'Mother,' he said, 'it's like dying at home to have you with me here.' He was very proud, and it cut him that the cleverest of the family should die in jail. And he said, 'you'll put me beside the others, and take care of the grave, and not be ashamed of me, mother.' It was the money he left me, that kept this house and me ever since. Now just think of the way he'd have died if I had not been about to see to him. And I suppose the two tramps'll come marching in some day to die, or to be buried, and they'll be lucky to find me living. But anyway I've arranged it with the minister to see to them, and give them a place with their own, if I'm not here to look after them."
"And you lived through it all!" repeated Horace in wonder.
Her story gave him hope. He must put off thinking until grief had loosened its grip on his nerves, and the old self had come uppermost. He was determined that the old self should return, as Martha had proved it could return. He enjoyed its presence at that very moment, though with a dread of its impending departure. The old woman readily accepted him as a boarder for a few days or longer, and treated him like a son. He slept that night in a bed, the bed of Oliver and Henry,—their portraits hanging over the bureau—and slept as deeply as a wearied child. A blessed sleep was followed by a bitter waking. Something gripped him the moment he rose and looked out at the summer sun; a cruel hand seized his breast, and weighted it with vague pain. Deep sighs shook him, and the loom of Penelope began its dreadful weaving of bloody visions, while the restful pool in the woods tempted him to its cool rest. For a moment he gave way to the thought that all had ended for him on earth. Then he braced himself for his fight, went down to chat cheerfully with Martha, and ate her tasty breakfast with relish. He saw that his manner pleased the simple heart, the strong, heroic mother, the guardian of so many graves.
THE ROAD TO NOTHINGNESS.
"Whatever trouble you're a-sufferin' from," said Martha, as he was going, "I can tell you one sure thing about it. Time changes it so's you wouldn't think it was the same trouble a year afterwards. Now, if you wait, and have patience, and don't do anything one way or another for a month, you'll be real glad you waited. Once I would have been glad to die the minute after sorrow came. Now I'm glad I didn't die, for I've learned to see things different somehow."
His heart was being gnawed at that moment by horrible pain, but he caught the force of her words and took his resolve against the seduction of the pool, that lay now in his vision, as beautiful as a window of heaven.
"I've come to the same thought," he answered. "I'll not do anything for a month anyway, unless it's something very wise and good. But I'm going now to think the matter over by myself, and I know that you have done me great service in helping me to look at my sorrows rightly."
She smiled her thanks and watched him as he struck out for the hills two miles away. Often had her dear sons left the door for the same walk, and she had watched them with such love and pride. Oh, life, life!
By the pool which tempted him so strongly Horace sat down to study the problem of his future.
"You are one solution of it," he thought, as he smiled on its beautiful waters. "All others failing to please, you are here, sure, definite, soft as a bed, tender as Martha, lovely as a dream. There will be no vulgar outcry when you untie the knot of woe. And because I am sure of you, and have such confidence in you, I can sit here and defy your present charm."
He felt indeed that he was strong again in spite of pain. As one in darkness, longing for the light, might see afar the faint glint of the dawn, he had caught a glimpse of hope in the peace which came to him in Martha's cottage. It could come again. In its light he knew that he could look upon the past with calmness, and feel no terror even at the name of Sonia. He would encourage its return. It was necessary for him to fix the present status of the woman whom he had once called his wife. He could reason from that point logically. She had never been his wife except by the forms of law. Her treason had begun with his love, and her uncleanness was part of her nature; so much had he learned on that fearful night which revealed her to him. His wealth and his name were the prizes which made her traitor to lover and husband. What folly is there in man, or what enchantment in beauty, or what madness in love, that he could have taken to his arms the thing that hated him and hated goodness? Should not love, the best of God's gifts, be wisdom too? Or do men ever really love the object of passion?
Oh, he had loved her! Not a doubt but that he loved her still! Sonia, Sonia! The pool wrinkled at the sound of her name, as he shrieked it in anguish across the water. There was nothing in the world so beautiful as she. Her figure rose before him more entrancing than this fairy lake with its ever-changing loveliness. Its shadows under the trees were in her eyes, its luster under the sun was the luster of her body! Oh, there was nothing of beauty in it, perfume, grace, color, its singing and murmuring on the shore, that this perfect sinner had not in her body!
He steadied himself with the thought of old Martha. A dread caught him that the image of this foul beauty would haunt him thus forever, and be able at any time to drive joy out of him and madness into him. Some part of him clung to her, and wove a thousand fancies about her beauty. When the pain of his desolation gripped him the result was invariable: she rose out of the mist of pain, not like a fury, or the harpy she was, but beautiful as the morning, far above him, with glorious eyes fixed on the heavens. He thought it rather the vision of his lost happiness than of her. If she were present then, he would have held her under the water with his hands squeezing her throat, and so doubly killed her. But what a terror if this vision were to become permanent, and he should never know ease or the joy of living again! And for a thing so worthless and so foul!
He steadied himself again with the thought of old Martha, and fixed his mind on the first fact, the starting-point of his reasoning. She had never been his wife. Her own lips had uttered that sentence. The law had bound them, and the law protected her now. But she enjoyed a stronger guard even: his name. It menaced him in each solution of the problem of his future life. He could do little without smirching that honored name. He might take his own life. But that would be to punish the innocent and to reward the guilty. His wealth would become the gilding of adultery, and her joy would become perfect in his death. Imagine him asleep in the grave, while she laughed over his ashes, crying to herself: always a fool. He might kill her, or him, or both; a short punishment for a long treason, and then the trail of viperous blood over the name of Endicott forever; not blood but slime; not a tragedy, but the killing of rats in a cellar; and perhaps a place for himself in a padded cell, legally mad.
He might desert her, go away without explanation, and never see her again. That would be putting the burden of shame on his own shoulders, in exile and a branded man for her sake. She would still have his name, his income, her lover, her place in society, her right to explain his absence at her pleasure. He could ruin her ruined life by exposing her. Then would come the divorce court, the publicity, the leer of the mob, the pointed fingers of scorn. Impossible! Why could he not leave the matter untouched and keep up appearances before the world? Least endurable of any scheme. He knew that he could never meet her again without killing her, unless this problem was settled. When he had determined on what he should do, he might get courage to look on her face once more.
He wore the day out in vain thought, varying the dulness by stamping about the pond, by swimming across it, by studying its pleasant features. There was magic in it. When he stripped off his clothes and flung them on the bank part of his grief went with them. When he plunged into the lovable water, not only did grief leave him, but Horace Endicott returned; that Horace who once swam a boy in such lakes, and went hilarious with the wild joy of living. He dashed about the pool in a gay frenzy, revelling in the sensation that tragedy had no part in his life, that sorrow and shame had not yet once come nigh him. The shore and the donning of his garments were like clouds pouring themselves out on the sunlit earth. He could hardly bear it, and hung about listlessly before he could persuade himself to dress.
"Surely you are my one friend," he said to the quiet water. "Is it that you feel certain of giving me my last sleep, my last kiss as you steal the breath from me? None would do it gentlier. You give me release from pain, you alone. And you promise everlasting release. I will remember you if it comes to that."
The pool looked up to him out of deep evening shadows cast upon it by the woods. There was something human in the variety of its expression. As if a chained soul, silenced forever as to speech, condemned to a garment of water, struggled to reach a human heart by infinite shades of beauty, and endless variations of sound. The thought woke his pity, and he looked down at the water as one looks into the face of a suffering friend. Here were two castaways, cut off from the highway of life, imprisoned in circumstances as firmly as if behind prison grills. For him there was hope, for the pool nothing. At this moment its calm face pictured profound sadness. The black shadow of the woods lay deep on the west bank, but its remotest edge showed a brilliant green, where the sun lingered on the top fringes of the foliage. Along the east bank, among the reeds, the sun showed crimson, and all the tender colors of the water plants faded in a glare of blood. This savage brilliance would soon give way to the gray mist of twilight, and then to the darkness of night. Even this poor dumb beauty reflected in its helplessly beautiful way the tragedies of mankind.
As before with the evening came peace and release from pain. Again he sat on Martha's porch after supper, and thought nothing so beautiful as life; and as he listened to further details of her life-story, imparted with the wise intention of binding him to life more securely, he felt that all was not yet lost for him. In his little room while the night was still young, he opened an old volume at the play of Hamlet and read the story through. Surely he had never read this play before? He recalled vaguely that it had been studied in college, that some great actor had played it for him, that he had believed it a wonderful thing; memories now less real than dreams. For in reading it this night he entered into the very soul of Hamlet, lived his tortures over again, wept and raved in dumb show with the wretched prince, and flung himself and his book to the floor in grief at the pitiful ending. He was the Hamlet; youth with a problem of the horrible; called to solve that which shook the brains of statesmen; dying in utter failure with that most pathetic dread of a wounded name.
Oh, good Horatio, what a wounded name. Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me. If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, Absent thee from felicity awhile, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, To tell my story.
For a little he had thought there could not be in the world such suffering as his; how clear now that his peculiar sorrow was strange to no hour of unfortunate time; an old story, innocence and virtue—God knew he had no pride in his own virtue—preyed upon by cunning vice. He read Hamlet again. Oh, what depth of anguish! What a portrayal of grief and madness! Horace shook with the sobs that nearly choked him. Like the sleek murderer and his plump queen, the two creatures hatefulest to him lived their meanly prosperous lives on his bounty. What conscience flamed so dimly in the Danish prince that he could hesitate before his opportunity? Long ago, had Horace been in his place, the guilty pair would have paid in blood for their lust and ambition. Hamlet would not kill himself because the Almighty had "fixed his canon 'gainst self-slaughter;" or because in the sleep of death might rise strange dreams; he would not kill his uncle because he caught him praying; and he was content with preaching to his mother. Conscience! God! The two words had not reached his heart or mind once since that awful night. No scruples of the Lord Hamlet obscured his view or delayed his action.
He had been brought up to a vague respect of religious things. He had even wondered where his father and mother might now inhabit, as one might wonder of the sea-drowned where their bodies might be floating; but no nearer than this had heaven come to him. He had never felt any special influence of religion in his life. In what circumstances had Hamlet been brought up, that religious feeling should have so serious an effect upon him? Doubtless the prince had been a Catholic like his recent acquaintance the Monsignor. Ah, he had forgotten that interesting man, who had told him much worth remembrance. In particular his last words ... what were those last words? The effort to remember gave him mixed dreams of Hamlet and the Monsignor that night.
In the morning he went off to the pool with the book of Hamlet and the echo of those important but forgotten words. The lonely water seemed to welcome him when he emerged from the path through the woods; the underbrush rustled, living things scurried away into bush and wave, the weeds on the far bank set up a rustling, and little waves leaped on the shore. He smiled as if getting a friend's morning salute, and began to talk aloud.
"I have brought you another unfortunate," he said, "and I am going to read his thoughts to you."
He opened the book and very tenderly, as if reciting a funeral service, murmured the words of the soliloquy on suicide. How solemnly sounded in that solitude the fateful phrase "but that the dread of something after death!" That was indeed the rub! After death there can be anything; and were it little and slender as a spider's web, it might be too much for the sleep that is supposed to know no waking and no dreams. After all, he thought, how much are men alike; for the quandary of Hamlet is mine; I know not what to do. He laid aside the book and gave himself to idle watching of the pool. A bird dipped his wing into it midway, and set a circle of wavelets tripping to the shore. One by one they died among the sedges, and there was no trace of them more.
"That is the thing for which I am looking," he said; "disappearance without consequences ... just to fade away as if into water or air ... to separate on the spot into original elements ... to be no more what I am, either to myself or others ... then no inquest, no search, no funeral, no tears ... nothing. And after such a death, perhaps, something might renew the personality in conditions so far from these, so different, that now and then would never come into contact."
He sighed. What a disappearance that would be. And at that moment the words of the Monsignor came back to him:
"If at any time you wish to disappear, command me."
A thrill leaped through his dead veins, as of one rising from the dead, but he lay motionless observing the pool. Before him passed the details of that night at the tavern; the portraits, the chirping cricket, the vines at the window, the strange theory of the priest about disappearing. He reviewed that theory as a judge might review a case, so he thought; but in fact his mind was swinging at headlong speed over the possibilities, and his pulses were bounding. It was possible, even in this world, to disappear more thoroughly behind the veil of life than under the veil of death. If one only had the will!
He rose brimming with exultant joy. An intoxication seized him that lifted him at once over all his sorrow, and placed him almost in that very spot wherein he stood ten days ago; gay, debonair, light of heart as a boy, untouched by grief or the dread of grief. It was a divine madness. He threw off his clothes, admired his shapely body for a moment as he poised on the bank, and flung himself in headlong with a shout. He felt as he slipped through the water but he did not utter the thought, that if this intoxication did not last he would never leave the pool. It endured and increased. He swam about like a demented fish. On that far shore where the reeds grew he paddled through the mud and thrust his head among the sedges kissing them with laughter. In another place he reached up to the high bank and pulled out a bunch of ferns which he carried about with him. He roamed about the sandy bottom in one corner, and thrust his nose and his hands into it, laying his cheek on the smooth surface. He swallowed mouthfuls of the cool water, and felt that he tasted joy for the first time. He tired his body with divings, racings, leapings, and shouting.
When he leaped ashore and flung himself in the shade of the wood, the intoxication had increased. So, not for nothing had he met the priest. That encounter, the delay in the journey, the stay in the village, the peculiar character of the man, his odd theory, were like elements of an antidote, compounded to meet that venom which the vicious had injected into his life. Wonderful! He looked at the open book beside him, and then rose to his knees, with the water dripping from his limbs. In a loud voice he made a profession of faith.
"I believe in God forever."
THE DOOR IS CLOSED.
Even Martha was startled by the change in him. She had hoped and prayed for it, but had not looked for it so soon, and did not expect blithe spirits after such despair. In deep joy he poured out his soul to her all the evening, but never mentioned deeds or names in his tragedy. Martha hardly thought of them. She knew from the first that this man's soul had been nearly wrecked by some shocking deviltry, and that the best medicine for him was complete forgetfulness. Horace felt as a life-prisoner, suddenly set free from the loathsomest dungeon in Turkestan, might feel on greeting again the day and life's sweet activities. The first thought which surged in upon him was the glory of that life which had been his up to the moment when sorrow engulfed him.
"My God," he cried to Martha, "is it possible that men can hold such a treasure, and prize it as lightly as I did once."
He had thought almost nothing of it, had been glad to get rid of each period as it passed, and of many persons and scenes connected with childhood, youth, and manhood. Now they looked to him, these despised years, persons, and scenes, like jewels set in fine gold, priceless jewels of human love fixed forever in the adamant of God's memory. They were his no more. Happily God would not forget them, but would treasure them, and reward time and place and human love according to their deserving. He was full of scorn for himself, who could take and enjoy so much of happiness with no thought of its value, and no other acknowledgment than the formal and hasty word of thanks, as each soul laid its offering of love and service at his feet.
"You're no worse than the rest of us," said Martha, "I didn't know, and very few of my friends ever seemed to know, what good things they had till they lost 'em. It may be that God would not have us put too high a price on 'em at first, fearin' we'd get selfish about 'em. Then when they're gone, it turns our thoughts more to heaven, which is the only place where we have any chance to get 'em back."
When he had got over his self-scorn, the abyss of pain and horror out of which God had lifted him—this was his belief—showed itself mighty and terrible to his normal vision. Never would he have believed that a man could fall so far and so awfully, had he not been in those dark depths and mounted to the sun again. He had read of such pits as exaggerations. He had seen sorrow and always thought its expression too fantastic for reality. Looking down now into the noisome tunnel of his own tragedy, he could only wonder that its wretched walls and exit did not carry the red current of blood mingled with its own foul streaks. Nothing that he had done in his grief expressed more than a syllable of the pain he had endured. The only full voice to such grief would have been the wrecking of the world. Strange that he could now look calmly into this abyss, without the temptation to go mad. But its very ghastliness turned his thought into another channel. The woman who had led him into the pit, what of her? Free from the tyranny of her beauty, he saw her with all her loveliness, merely the witch of the abyss, the flower and fruit of that loathsome depth, in whose bosom filthy things took their natural shape of horror, and put on beauty only to entrap the innocent of the upper world. Yes, he was entirely freed from her. Her name sounded to his ears like a name from hell, but it brought no paleness to his cheeks, no shock to his nerves, no stirring of his pulses. The loom of Penelope was broken, and forever, he hoped.
"I am free," he said to Martha the next morning, after he had tested himself in various ways. "The one devil that remained with me is gone, and I feel sure she will never trouble me again."
"It is good to be free," said Martha, "if the thing is evil. I am free from all that worried me most. I am free from the old fear of death. But sometimes I get sad thinking how little we need those we thought we could not do without."
"How true that sounds, mother. There is a pity in it. We are not necessary to one another, though we think so. Every one we love dies, we lose all things as time goes on, and when we come to old age nothing remains of the past; but just the same we enjoy what we have, and forget what we had. There is one thing necessary, and that is true life."
"And where can we get that?" said Martha.
"Only from God, I think," he replied.
She smiled her satisfaction with his thought, and he went off to the pool for the last time, singing in his heart with joy. He would have raised his voice too, but, feeling himself in the presence of a stupendous thing, he refrained out of reverence. If suffering Hamlet had only encountered the idea of disappearing, his whole life would have been set right in a twinkling of the eye. The Dane had an inkling of the solution of his problem when in anguish he cried out,
Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
But he had not followed his thought to its natural consequence, seeing only death at the end of reasoning. Horace saw disappearance, and he had now to consider the idea of complete disappearance with all its effects upon him and others. What would be the effect upon himself? He would vanish into thin air as far as others were concerned. Whatever of his past the present held would turn into ashes. There would be no further connection with it. An impassable void would be created across which neither he nor those he loved could go. He went over in his mind what he had to give up, and trembled before his chum and his father's sister, two souls that loved him. Death would not be more terrible. For him, no; but for them? Death would leave them his last word, look, sigh, his ashes, his resting-place; disappearance would rob them of all knowledge, and clothe his exit with everlasting sadness. There was no help for it. Many souls more loving suffered a similar anguish, and survived it. It astonished and even appalled him, if anything could now appal him, that only two out of the group of his close friends and near acquaintances seemed near enough in affection and intimacy to mourn his loss. Not one of twenty others would lose a dinner or a fraction of appetite because he had vanished so pitifully. How rarer than diamonds is that jewel of friendship!
He had thought once that a hundred friends would have wept bitter tears over his sorrow; of the number there were left only two!
It was easy for him to leave the old life, now become so hateful; but there was terror in putting on the new, to which he must ally himself as if born into it, like a tree uprooted from its native soil and planted far from its congenial elements in the secret, dark, sympathetic places of the earth. He must cut himself off more thoroughly than by death. The disappearance must be eternal, unless death removed Sonia Westfield before circumstances made return practically impossible; his experience of life showed that disagreeable people rarely die while the microbe of disagreeableness thrives in them.
What would be the effect of his disappearance on Sonia and her lover? The question brought a smile to his wan face. She had married his name and his money, and would lose both advantages. He would take his property into exile to the last penny. His name without his income would be a burden to her. His disappearance would cast upon her a reproach, unspoken, unseen, a mere mist enwrapping her fatally, but not to be dispelled. Her mouth would be shut tight; no chance for innuendoes, lest hint might add suspicion to mystery. She would be forced to observe the proprieties to the letter, and the law would not grant her a divorce for years. In time she would learn that her only income was the modest revenue from her own small estate; that he had taken all with him into darkness; and still she would not dare to tell the damaging fact to her friends. She would be forced to keep up appearances, to spend money in a vain search for him, or his wealth; suspecting much yet knowing nothing, miserably certain that he was living somewhere in luxury, and enjoying his vengeance.
He no longer thought of vengeance. He did not desire it. The mills of the gods grind out vengeance enough to glut any appetite. By the mere exercise of his right to disappear he gave the gods many lashes with which to arm the furies against her. He was satisfied with being beyond her reach forever. Now that he knew just what to do, now that with his plan had come release from depression, now that he was himself again almost, he felt that he could meet Sonia Westfield and act the part of a busy husband without being tempted to strangle her. In her very presence he would put in motion the machinery which would strip her of luxury and himself of his present place in the world.
The process took about two months. The first step was a visit to Monsignor O'Donnell, a single visit, and the first result was a single letter, promptly committed to the flames. Then he went home with a story of illness, of a business enterprise which had won his fancy, of necessary visits to the far west; which were all true, but not in the sense in which Sonia took these details. They not only explained his absence, but also excused the oddity of his present behavior. He hardly knew how he behaved with her. He did not act, nor lose self-confidence. He had no desire to harm her. He was simply indifferent, as if from sickness. As the circumstances fell in with her inclinations, though she could not help noticing his new habits and peculiarities, she made no protest and very little comment. He saw her rarely, and in time carried himself with a sardonic good humor as surprising to him as inexplicable to her. She seemed as far from him as if she had suddenly turned Eskimo. Once or twice a sense of loathing invaded him, a flame of hatred blazed up, soon suppressed. He was complete master of himself, and his reward was that he could be her judge, with the indifference of a dignitary of the law. The disposal of his property was accomplished with perfect secrecy, his wife consenting on the plea of a better investment.
So the two months came to an end in peace, and he stood at last before that door which he himself had opened into the new future. Once closed no other hand but his could open it. A time might come when even to his hand the hinge would not respond. Two persons knew his secret in part, the Monsignor and a woman; but they knew nothing more than that he did not belong to them from the beginning, and more than that they would never know, if he carried out his plan of disappearance perfectly. Whatever the result, he felt now that the crisis of his life had come.
At the last moment, however, doubts worried him about thus cutting himself off from his past so utterly, and adopting another personality. Some deep-lying repugnance stirred him against the double process. Would it not be better to live under his own name in remote countries, and thus be ready, if fate allowed, to return home at the proper time? Perhaps. In that case he must be prepared for her pursuit, her letters, her chicanery, which he could not bear. Her safety and his own, if the stain of blood was to be kept off the name of Endicott, demanded the absolute cessation of all relationship between them. Yet that did not contain the whole reason. Lurking somewhere in those dark depths of the soul, where the lead never penetrates, he found the thought of vengeance. After all he did wish to punish her and to see her punishment. He had thought to leave all to the gods, but feared the gods would not do all their duty. If they needed spurring, he would be near to provide new whips and fresher scorpions. He shook off hesitation when the last day of his old life came, and made his farewells with decision. A letter to his aunt and to his friend, bidding each find no wonder and no worry about him in the events of the next month, and lose no time in searching for him; a quiet talk with old Martha on her little verandah; a visit to the pool on a soft August night; and an evening spent alone in his father's house; these were his leave-takings.
They would never find a place in his life again, and he would never dare to return to them; since the return of the criminal over the path by which he escaped into secrecy gave him into the hands of his pursuers. The old house had become the property of strangers. The offset to this grief was the fact that Sonia would never dishonor it again with her presence. Just now dabbling in her sins down by the summer sea, she was probably reading the letter which he had sent her about business in Wisconsin. Later a second letter would bear her the sentence of a living death. The upright judge had made her the executioner. What a long tragedy that would be! He thought of it as he wandered about the lovely rooms of his old home; what long days of doubt before certainty would come; what horror when bit by bit the scheme of his vengeance unfolded: what vain, bitter, furious struggling to find and devour him; and then the miserable ending when time had proved his disappearance absolute and perfect!
At midnight, after a pilgrimage to every loved spot in the household shrine, he slipped away unseen and struck out on foot over the fields for a distant railway station. For two months he lived here and there in California, while his beard grew and his thoughts devoured him. Then one evening he stepped somewhat feebly from the train in New York, crawled into a cab, and drove to No. 127 Mulberry Street. The cabman helped him up the steps and handed him in the door to a brisk old woman, who must have been an actress in her day; for she gave a screech at the sight of him, and threw her arms about him crying out, so that the cabman heard, "Artie, alanna, back from the dead, back from the dead, acushla machree." Then the door closed, and Arthur Dillon was alone with his mother; Arthur Dillon who had run away to California ten years before, and died there, it was supposed; but he had not died, for behold him returned to his mother miraculously. She knew him in spite of the changes, in spite of thin face, wild eyes, and strong beard. The mother-love is not to be deceived by the disguise of time. So Anne Dillon hugged her Arthur with a fervor that surprised him, and wept copious tears; thinking more of the boy that might have come back to her than of this stranger. He lay in his lonely, unknown grave, and the caresses meant for him had been bought by another.
ANOTHER MAN'S SHOES.
As he laid aside his outer garments, Horace felt the joy of the exhausted sailor, entering port after a dangerous voyage. He was in another man's shoes; would they fit him? He accepted the new house and the new mother with scarcely a comment. Mrs. Anne Dillon knew him only as a respectable young man of wealth, whom misfortune had driven into hiding. His name and his history she might never learn. So Monsignor had arranged it. In return for a mother's care and name she was to receive a handsome income. A slim and well-fashioned woman, dignified, severe of feature, her light hair and fair complexion took away ten from her fifty years; a brisk manner and a low voice matched her sharp blue eyes and calm face; her speech had a slight brogue; fate had ordained that an Endicott should be Irish in his new environment. As she flew about getting ready a little supper, he dozed in the rocker, thinking of that dear mother who had illumined his youth like a vision, beautiful, refined, ever delightful; then of old Martha, rough, plain, and sad, but with the spirit and wit of the true mother, to cherish the sorrowful. In love for the child these mothers were all alike. He felt at home, and admired the quickness and skill with which Anne Dillon took up her new office. He noted everything, even his own shifting emotions. This was one phase of the melancholy change in him: the man he had cast off rarely saw more than pleased him, but the new Arthur Dillon had an alert eye for trifles.
"Son dear," said his mother, when they sat down to tea, "we'll have the evenin' to ourselves, because I didn't tell a soul what time you were comin', though of course they all knew it, for I couldn't keep back such good news; that after all of us thinkin' you dead, you should turn out to be alive an' well, thank God. So we can spend the evenin' decidin' jist what to do an' say to-morrow. The first thing in the mornin' Louis Everard will be over to see you. Since he heard of your comin', he's been jist wild, for he was your favorite; you taught him to swim, an' to play ball, an' to skate, an' carried him around with you, though he's six years younger than you. He's goin' to be a priest in time with the blessin' o' God. Then his mother an' sister, perhaps Sister Mary Magdalen, too; an' your uncle Dan Dillon, on your father's side, he's the only relative you have. My folks are all dead. He's a senator, an' a leader in Tammany Hall, an' he'll be proud of you. You were very fond of him, because he was a prize-fighter in his day, though I never thought much of that, an' was glad when he left the business for politics."
"And how am I to know all these people, mother?"
"You've come home sick," she said placidly, "an' you'll stay in bed for the next week, or a month if you like. As each one comes I'll let you know jist who they are. You needn't talk any more than you like, an' any mistakes will be excused, you've been away so long, an' come home so sick."
They smiled frankly at each other, and after tea she showed him his room, a plain chamber with sacred pictures on the walls and a photograph of Arthur Dillon over the bureau.
"Jist as you left it ten years ago," she said with a sob. "An' your picture as you looked a month before you went away."
The portrait showed a good-looking and pugnacious boy of sixteen, dark-haired and large-eyed like himself; but the likeness between the new and the old Arthur was not striking; yet any one who wished or thought to find a resemblance might have succeeded. As to disposition, Horace Endicott would not have deserted his mother under any temptation.
"What sort of a boy was—was I at that age, mother?"
"The best in the world," she answered mildly but promptly, feeling the doubt in the question. "An' no one was able to understan' why you ran away as you did. I wonder now my heart didn't break over it. The neighbors jist adored you: the best dancer an' singer, the gayest boy in the parish, an' the Monsignor thought there was no other like you."
"I have forgotten how to sing an' dance, mother. I think these accomplishments can be easily learned again. Does the Monsignor still hold his interest in me?"
"More than ever, I think, but he's a quiet man that says little when he means a good deal."
At nine o'clock an old woman came in with an evening paper, and gave a cry of joy at sight of him. Having been instructed between the opening of the outer door and the woman's appearance, Arthur took the old lady in his arms and kissed her. She was the servant of the house, more companion than servant, wrinkled like an autumn leaf that has felt the heat, but blithe and active.