THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1920
YEARBOOK OF THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY
EDITED BY EDWARD J. O'BRIEN
EDITOR OF "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1915" "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1916" "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1917" "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1918" "THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1919" "THE GREAT MODERN ENGLISH STORIES," ETC.
BOSTON SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1919, by Charles Scribner's Sons, The Pictorial Review Company, The Curtis Publishing Company, and Harper & Brothers.
Copyright, 1920, by The Boston Transcript Company.
Copyright, 1920, by Margaret C, Anderson, Harper & Brothers, The Dial Publishing Company, Inc., The Metropolitan Magazine Company, John T. Frederick, P. F. Collier & Son, Inc., Charles Scribner's Sons, The International Magazine Company, and The Pictorial Review Company.
Copyright, 1921, by Sherwood Anderson, Edwina Stanton Babcock, Konrad Bercovici, Edna Clare Bryner, Charles Wadsworth Camp, Helen Coale Crew, Katharine Fullerton Gerould, Lee Foster Hartman, Rupert Hughes, Grace Sartwell Mason, James Oppenheim, Arthur Somers Roche, Rose Sidney, Fleta Campbell Springer, Wilbur Daniel Steele, Ethel Dodd Thomas, John T. Wheelwright, Stephen French Whitman, Ben Ames Williams, and Frances Gilchrist Wood.
Copyright, 1921, by Small, Maynard & Company, Inc.
BY WAY OF ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Grateful acknowledgment for permission to include the stories and other material in this volume is made to the following authors, editors, and publishers:
To Miss Margaret C. Anderson, the Editor of Harper's Magazine, the Editor of The Dial, the Editor of The Metropolitan, Mr. John T. Frederick, the Editor of Scribner's Magazine, the Editor of Collier's Weekly, the Editor of The Cosmopolitan Magazine, the Editor of The Pictorial Review, the Curtis Publishing Company, Mr. Sherwood Anderson, Miss Edwina Stanton Babcock, Mr. Konrad Bercovici, Miss Edna Clare Bryner, Mr. Wadsworth Camp, Mrs. Helen Coale Crew, Mrs. Katharine Fullerton Gerould, Mr. Lee Foster Hartman, Major Rupert Hughes, Mrs. Grace Sartwell Mason, Mr. James Oppenheim, Mr. Arthur Somers Roche, Mrs. Rose Sidney, Mrs. Fleta Campbell Springer, Mr. Wilbur Daniel Steele, Mrs. A. E. Thomas, Mr. John T. Wheelwright, Mr. Stephen French Whitman, Mr. Ben Ames Williams, and Mrs. Frances Gilchrist Wood.
Acknowledgments are specially due to The Boston Evening Transcript for permission to reprint the large body of material previously published in its pages.
I shall be grateful to my readers for corrections, and particularly for suggestions leading to the wider usefulness of this annual volume. In particular, I shall welcome the receipt, from authors, editors, and publishers, of stories printed during the period between October, 1920 and September, 1921 inclusive, which have qualities of distinction, and yet are not printed in periodicals falling under my regular notice. Such communications may be addressed to me at Forest Hill, Oxfordshire, England.
E. J. O.
PAGE Introduction. By the Editor xiii
The Other Woman. By Sherwood Anderson 3 (From The Little Review)
Gargoyle. By Edwina Stanton Babcock 12 (From Harper's Magazine)
Ghitza. By Konrad Bercovici 36 (From The Dial)
The Life of Five Points. By Edna Clare Bryner 49 (From The Dial)
The Signal Tower. By Wadsworth Camp 66 (From The Metropolitan)
The Parting Genius. By Helen Coale Crew 83 (From The Midland)
Habakkuk. By Katharine Fullerton Gerould 90 (From Scribner's Magazine)
The Judgment of Vulcan. By Lee Foster Hartman 116 (From Harper's Magazine)
The Stick-in-the-Muds. By Rupert Hughes 148 (From Collier's Weekly)
His Job. By Grace Sartwell Mason 169 (From Scribner's Magazine)
The Rending. By James Oppenheim 187 (From The Dial)
The Dummy-Chucker. By Arthur Somers Roche 198 (From The Cosmopolitan)
Butterflies. By Rose Sidney 214 (From The Pictorial Review)
The Rotter. By Fleta Campbell Springer 236 (From Harper's Magazine)
Out of Exile. By Wilbur Daniel Steele 266 (From The Pictorial Review)
The Three Telegrams. By Ethel Storm 293 (From The Ladies' Home Journal)
The Roman Bath. By John T. Wheelwright 312 (From Scribner's Magazine)
Amazement. By Stephen French Whitman 320 (From Harper's Magazine)
Sheener. By Ben Ames Williams 348 (From Collier's Weekly)
Turkey Red. By Frances Gilchrist Wood 359 (From The Pictorial Review)
The Yearbook of the American Short Story, October, 1919, To September, 1920 375
Addresses of American Magazines Publishing Short Stories 377
The Bibliographical Roll of Honor of American Short Stories 379
The Roll of Honor of Foreign Short Stories in American Magazines 390
The Best Books of Short Stories of 1920: A Critical Summary 392
Volumes of Short Stories Published, October, 1919, to September, 1920: A Index 414
Articles on the Short Stories: An Index 421
Index of Short Stories in Books, November, 1918, to September, 1920 434
Index of Short Stories Published in American Magazines, October, 1919, to September, 1920 456
 The order in which the stories in this volume are printed is not intended as an indication of their comparative excellence; the arrangement is alphabetical by authors.
I suppose there is no one of us who can honestly deny that he is interested in one way or another in the American short story. Indeed, it is hard to find a man anywhere who does not enjoy telling a good story. But there are some people born with the gift of telling a good story better than others, and of telling it in such a way that a great many people can enjoy its flavor. Most of you are acquainted with some one who is a gifted story-teller, provided that he has an audience of not more than one or two people. And if you chance to live in the same house with such a man, I think you will find that, no matter how good his story may have been when you first heard it, it tends to lose its savor after he has become thoroughly accustomed to telling it and has added it to his private repertory.
A writer of good stories is really a man who risks telling the same story to many thousand people. Did you ever take such a risk? Did you ever start to tell a story to a stranger, and try to make your point without knowing what sort of a man he was? If you did, what was your experience? You decided, didn't you, that story-telling was an art, and you wondered perhaps if you were ever going to learn it.
The American story-teller in the magazines is in very much the same position, except that we have much more patience with him. Usually he is a man who has told his story a good many times before. The first time he told it we clapped him on the back, as he deserved perhaps, and said that he was a good fellow. His publishers said so too. And it was a good story that he told. The trouble was that we wanted to hear it again, and we paid him too well to repeat it. But just as your story became rather less interesting the twenty-third time you told it, so the stories I have been reading more often than not have made a similar impression upon me. I find myself begging the author to think up another story.
Of course, you have not felt obliged to read so many stories, and I cannot advise you to do so. But it has made it possible for me to see in some sort of perspective, just where the American short story is going as well as what it has already achieved. It has made me see how American writers are weakening their substance by too frequent repetition, and it has helped me to fix the blame where it really lies.
Now this is a matter of considerable importance. One of the things we should be most anxious to learn is the psychology of the American reader. We want to know how he reacts to what he reads in the magazine, whether it is a short story, an article, or an advertisement. We want to know, for example, what holds the interest of a reader of the Atlantic Monthly, and what holds the interest of the reader of the Ladies' Home Journal.
It is my belief that the difference between these various types of readers is pretty largely an artificial difference, in so far as it affects the quality of entertainment and imaginative interest that the short story has to offer. Of course, there are exceptional cases, and I have some of these in mind, but for the most part I can perceive no essential difference between the best stories in the Saturday Evening Post and the best stories in Harper's Magazine for example. The difference that every one feels, and that exists, is one of emphasis rather than of type. It is a difference which is shown by averages rather than one which affects the best stories in either magazine. Human nature is the same everywhere, and when an artist interprets it sympathetically, the reader will respond to his feeling wherever he finds it.
It has been my experience that the reader is likely to find this warmly sympathetic interpretation of human nature, its pleasures and its sorrows, its humor and its tragedy, most often in the American magazines that talk least about their own merit. We are all familiar with the sort of magazine that contents itself with saying day in and day out ceaselessly and noisily: "The Planet Magazine is the greatest magazine in the universe. The greatest literary artists and the world's greatest illustrators contribute to our pages." And it stops there. It has repeated this claim so often that it has come to believe it. Such a magazine is the great literary ostrich. It hides by burying its eyes in the sand.
It is an axiom of human nature that the greatest men do not find it necessary or possible to talk about their own greatness. They are so busy that they have never had much time to think about it. And so it is with the best magazines, and with the best short stories. The man who wrote what I regard as the best short story published in 1915 was the most surprised man in Brooklyn when I told him so.
The truth of the matter is that we are changing very rapidly, and that a new national sense in literature is accompanying that change. There was a time, and in fact it is only now drawing to a close, when the short story was exploited by interested moneymakers who made such a loud noise that you could hear nothing else without great difficulty. The most successful of these noisemakers are still shouting, but their heart is in it no longer. The editor of one of the largest magazines in the country said to me not long ago that he found the greatest difficulty now in procuring short stories by writers for whom his magazine had trained the public to clamor. The immediate reason which he ascribed for this state of affairs was that the commercial rewards offered to these writers by the moving picture companies were so great, and the difference in time and labor between writing scenarios and developing finished stories was so marked, that authors were choosing the more attractive method of earning money. The excessive commercialisation of literature in the past decade is now turned against the very magazines which fostered it. The magazines which bought and sold fiction like soap are beginning to repent of it all. They have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.
This fight for sincerity in the short story is a fight that is worth making. It is at the heart of all that for which I am striving. The quiet sincere man who has something to tell you should not be talked down by the noisemakers. He should have his hearing. He is real. And we need him.
That is why I have set myself the annual task of reading so many short stories. I am looking for the man and woman with something to say,—who cares very much indeed about how he says it. I am looking for the man and woman with some sort of a dream, the man or woman who sees just a little bit more in the pedlar he passes on the street than you or I do, and who wishes to devote his life to telling us about it. I want to be told my own story too, so that I can see myself as other people see me. And I want to feel that the storyteller who talks to me about these things is as much in earnest as a sincere clergyman, an unselfish physician, or an idealistic lawyer. I want to feel that he belongs to a profession that is a sort of priesthood, and not that he is holding down a job or running a bucket shop.
I have found this writer with a message in almost every magazine I have studied during the year. He is just as much in earnest in Collier's Weekly as he is in Scribner's Magazine. I do not find him often, but he is there somewhere. And he is the only man for whom it is worth our while to watch. I feel that it is none of my business whether I like and agree with what he has to say or not. All that I am looking for is to see whether he means what he says and makes it as real as he can to me. I accept his substance at his own valuation, but I want to know what he makes of it.
Each race that forms part of the substance in our great melting pot is bringing the richest of its traditions to add to our children's heritage. That is a wonderful thing to think about. Here, for example, is a young Jewish writer, telling in obscurity the stories of his people with all the art of the great Russian masters. And Irishmen are bringing to us the best of their heritage, and men and women of many other races contribute to form the first national literature the world has ever seen which is not based on a single racial feeling. Why are we not more curious about the ragman's story and that of the bootblack and the man who keeps the fruit store? Don't you suppose life is doing things to the boy in the coat-room as interesting as anything in all the romances? Isn't life changing us in the most extraordinary ways, and do we not wish to know in what manner we are to meet and adapt ourselves to these changes? There is a humble writer in an attic up there who knows all about it, if you care to listen to him. The trouble is that he is so much interested in talking about life that he forgets to talk about himself, and we are too lazy to listen to any one who forgets to blow his own trumpet. But the magazines are beginning to look for him, and, wonderful to say, they are beginning to find him, and to discover that he is more interesting and humanly popular than the professional chef who may be always depended upon to cook his single dish in the same old way, but who has never had time to learn anything else.
Now what is the essential point of all that I have been trying to say? It is simply this. If we are going to do anything as a nation, we must be honest with ourselves and with everybody else. If we are story writers or story readers, and practically every one is either one or the other in these days, we must come to grips with life in the fiction we write or read. Sloppy sentimentality and slapstick farce ought to bore us frightfully, especially if we have any sense of humor. Life is too real to go to sleep over it.
To repeat what I have said in these pages in previous years, for the benefit of the reader as yet unacquainted with my standards and principles of selection, I shall point out that I have set myself the task of disengaging the essential human qualities in our contemporary fiction which, when chronicled conscientiously by our literary artists, may fairly be called a criticism of life. I am not at all interested in formulA , and organised criticism at its best would be nothing more than dead criticism, as all dogmatic interpretation of life is always dead. What has interested me, to the exclusion of other things, is the fresh, living current which flows through the best of our work, and the psychological and imaginative reality which our writers have conferred upon it.
No substance is of importance in fiction, unless it is organic substance, that is to say, substance in which the pulse of life is beating. Inorganic fiction has been our curse in the past, and bids fair to remain so, unless we exercise much greater artistic discrimination than we display at present.
The present record covers the period from October, 1919, to September, 1920, inclusive. During this period, I have sought to select from the stories published in American magazines those which have rendered life imaginatively in organic substance and artistic form. Substance is something achieved by the artist in every act of creation, rather than something already present, and accordingly a fact or group of facts in a story only attain substantial embodiment when the artist's power of compelling imaginative persuasion transforms them into a living truth. The first test of a short story, therefore, in any qualitative analysis is to report upon how vitally compelling the writer makes his selected facts or incidents. This test may be conveniently called the test of substance.
But a second test is necessary if the story is to take rank above other stories. The true artist will seek to shape this living substance into the most beautiful and satisfying form, by skilful selection and arrangement of his materials, and by the most direct and appealing presentation of it in portrayal and characterization.
The short stories which I have examined in this study, as in previous years, have fallen naturally into four groups. The first group consists of those stories which fail, in my opinion, to survive either the test of substance or the test of form. These stories are listed in the yearbook without comment or a qualifying asterisk. The second group consists of those stories which may fairly claim that they survive either the test of substance or the test of form. Each of these stories may claim to possess either distinction of technique alone, or more frequently, I am glad to say, a persuasive sense of life in them to which a reader responds with some part of his own experience. Stories included in this group are indicated in the yearbook index by a single asterisk prefixed to the title.
The third group, which is composed of stories of still greater distinction, includes such narratives as may lay convincing claim to a second reading, because each of them has survived both tests, the test of substance and the test of form. Stories included in this group are indicated in the yearbook index by two asterisks prefixed to the title.
Finally, I have recorded the names of a small group of stories which possess, I believe, an even finer distinction—the distinction of uniting genuine substance and artistic form in a closely woven pattern with such sincerity that these stories may fairly claim a position in our literature. If all of these stories by American authors were republished, they would not occupy more space than five novels of average length. My selection of them does not imply the critical belief that they are great stories. A year which produced one great story would be an exceptional one. It is simply to be taken as meaning that I have found the equivalent of five volumes worthy of republication among all the stories published during the period under consideration. These stories are indicated in the yearbook index by three asterisks prefixed to the title, and are listed in the special "Roll of Honor." In compiling these lists, I have permitted no personal preference or prejudice to consciously influence my judgment. To the titles of certain stories, however, in the "Rolls of Honor," an asterisk is prefixed, and this asterisk, I must confess, reveals in some measure a personal preference, for which, perhaps, I may be indulged. It is from this final short list that the stories reprinted in this volume have been selected.
It has been a point of honor with me not to republish an English story, nor a translation from a foreign author. I have also made it a rule not to include more than one story by an individual author in the volume. The general and particular results of my study will be found explained and carefully detailed in the supplementary part of the volume.
As in past years it has been my pleasure and honor to associate this annual with the names of Benjamin Rosenblatt, Richard Matthews Hallet, Wilbur Daniel Steele, Arthur Johnson, and Anzia Yezierska, so it is my wish to dedicate this year the best that I have found in the American magazines as the fruit of my labors to Sherwood Anderson, whose stories, "The Door of the Trap," "I Want to Know Why," "The Other Woman," and "The Triumph of the Egg" seem to me to be among the finest imaginative contributions to the short story made by an American artist during the past year.
Edward J. O'Brien.
Forest Hill, Oxon, England, November 8, 1920.
THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF 1920
Note.—The order in which the stories in this volume are printed is not intended as an indication of their comparative excellence; the arrangement is alphabetical by authors.
THE OTHER WOMAN
BY SHERWOOD ANDERSON
From The Little Review
"I am in love with my wife," he said—a superfluous remark, as I had not questioned his attachment to the woman he had married. We walked for ten minutes and then he said it again. I turned to look at him. He began to talk and told me the tale I am now about to set down.
The thing he had on his mind happened during what must have been the most eventful week of his life. He was to be married on Friday afternoon. On Friday of the week before he got a telegram announcing his appointment to a government position. Something else happened that made him very proud and glad. In secret he was in the habit of writing verses and during the year before several of them had been printed in poetry magazines. One of the societies that give prizes for what they think the best poems published during the year put his name at the head of their list. The story of his triumph was printed in the newspapers of his home city, and one of them also printed his picture.
As might have been expected, he was excited and in a rather highly strung nervous state all during that week. Almost every evening he went to call on his fiancA(C)e, the daughter of a judge. When he got there the house was filled with people and many letters, telegrams and packages were being received. He stood a little to one side and men and women kept coming to speak with him. They congratulated him upon his success in getting the government position and on his achievement as a poet. Everyone seemed to be praising him, and when he went home to bed he could not sleep. On Wednesday evening he went to the theatre and it seemed to him that people all over the house recognized him. Everyone nodded and smiled. After the first act five or six men and two women left their seats to gather about him. A little group was formed. Strangers sitting along the same row of seats stretched their necks and looked. He had never received so much attention before, and now a fever of expectancy took possession of him.
As he explained when he told me of his experience, it was for him an altogether abnormal time. He felt like one floating in air. When he got into bed after seeing so many people and hearing so many words of praise his head whirled round and round. When he closed his eyes a crowd of people invaded his room. It seemed as though the minds of all the people of his city were centered on himself. The most absurd fancies took possession of him. He imagined himself riding in a carriage through the streets of a city. Windows were thrown open and people ran out at the doors of houses. "There he is. That's him," they shouted, and at the words a glad cry arose. The carriage drove into a street blocked with people. A hundred thousand pairs of eyes looked up at him. "There you are! What a fellow you have managed to make of yourself!" the eyes seemed to be saying.
My friend could not explain whether the excitement of the people was due to the fact that he had written a new poem or whether, in his new government position, he had performed some notable act. The apartment where he lived at that time was on a street perched along the top of a cliff far out at the edge of the city and from his bedroom window he could look down over trees and factory roofs to a river. As he could not sleep and as the fancies that kept crowding in upon him only made him more excited, he got out of bed and tried to think.
As would be natural under such circumstances, he tried to control his thoughts, but when he sat by the window and was wide awake a most unexpected and humiliating thing happened. The night was clear and fine. There was a moon. He wanted to dream of the woman who was to be his wife, think out lines for noble poems or make plans that would affect his career. Much to his surprise his mind refused to do anything of the sort.
At a corner of the street where he lived there was a small cigar store and newspaper stand run by a fat man of forty and his wife, a small active woman with bright grey eyes. In the morning he stopped there to buy a paper before going down to the city. Sometimes he saw only the fat man, but often the man had disappeared and the woman waited on him. She was, as he assured me at least twenty times in telling me his tale, a very ordinary person with nothing special or notable about her, but for some reason he could not explain being in her presence stirred him profoundly. During that week in the midst of his distraction she was the only person he knew who stood out clear and distinct in his mind. When he wanted so much to think noble thoughts, he could think only of her. Before he knew what was happening his imagination had taken hold of the notion of having a love affair with the woman.
"I could not understand myself," he declared, in telling me the story. "At night, when the city was quiet and when I should have been asleep, I thought about her all the time. After two or three days of that sort of thing the consciousness of her got into my daytime thoughts. I was terribly muddled. When I went to see the woman who is now my wife I found that my love for her was in no way affected by my vagrant thoughts. There was but one woman in the world I wanted to live with me and to be my comrade in undertaking to improve my own character and my position in the world, but for the moment, you see, I wanted this other woman to be in my arms. She had worked her way into my being. On all sides people were saying I was a big man who would do big things, and there I was. That evening when I went to the theatre I walked home because I knew I would be unable to sleep, and to satisfy the annoying impulse in myself I went and stood on the sidewalk before the tobacco shop. It was a two story building, and I knew the woman lived upstairs with her husband. For a long time I stood in the darkness with my body pressed against the wall of the building and then I thought of the two of them up there, no doubt in bed together. That made me furious.
"Then I grew more furious at myself. I went home and got into bed shaken with anger. There are certain books of verse and some prose writings that have always moved me deeply, and so I put several books on a table by my bed.
"The voices in the books were like the voices of the dead. I did not hear them. The words printed on the lines would not penetrate into my consciousness. I tried to think of the woman I loved, but her figure had also become something far away, something with which I for the moment seemed to have nothing to do. I rolled and tumbled about in the bed. It was a miserable experience.
"On Thursday morning I went into the store. There stood the woman alone. I think she knew how I felt. Perhaps she had been thinking of me as I had been thinking of her. A doubtful hesitating smile played about the corners of her mouth. She had on a dress made of cheap cloth, and there was a tear on the shoulder. She must have been ten years older than myself. When I tried to put my pennies on the glass counter behind which she stood my hand trembled so that the pennies made a sharp rattling noise. When I spoke the voice that came out of my throat did not sound like anything that had ever belonged to me. It barely arose above a thick whisper. 'I want you,' I said. 'I want you very much. Can't you run away from your husband? Come to me at my apartment at seven to-night.'
"The woman did come to my apartment at seven. That morning she did not say anything at all. For a minute perhaps we stood looking at each other. I had forgotten everything in the world but just her. Then she nodded her head and I went away. Now that I think of it I cannot remember a word I ever heard her say. She came to my apartment at seven and it was dark. You must understand this was in the month of October. I had not lighted a light and I had sent my servant away.
"During that day I was no good at all. Several men came to see me at my office, but I got all muddled up in trying to talk with them. They attributed my rattle-headedness to my approaching marriage and went away laughing.
"It was on that morning, just the day before my marriage, that I got a long and very beautiful letter from my fiancA(C)e. During the night before she also had been unable to sleep and had got out of bed to write the letter. Everything she said in it was very sharp and real, but she herself, as a living thing, seemed to have receded into the distance. It seemed to me that she was like a bird, flying far away in distant skies, and I was like a perplexed bare-footed boy standing in the dusty road before a farm house and looking at her receding figure. I wonder if you will understand what I mean?
"In regard to the letter. In it she, the awakening woman, poured out her heart. She of course knew nothing of life, but she was a woman. She lay, I suppose, in her bed feeling nervous and wrought up as I had been doing. She realized that a great change was about to take place in her life and was glad and afraid too. There she lay thinking of it all. Then she got out of bed and began talking to me on the bit of paper. She told me how afraid she was and how glad too. Like most young women she had heard things whispered. In the letter she was very sweet and fine. 'For a long time, after we are married, we will forget we are a man and woman,' she wrote. 'We will be human beings. You must remember that I am ignorant and often I will be very stupid. You must love me and be very patient and kind. When I know more, when after a long time you have taught me the way of life, I will try to repay you. I will love you tenderly and passionately. The possibility of that is in me, or I would not want to marry at all. I am afraid but I am also happy. O, I am so glad our marriage time is near at hand.'
"Now you see clearly enough into what a mess I had got. In my office, after I read my fiancA(C)e's letter, I became at once very resolute and strong. I remember that I got out of my chair and walked about, proud of the fact that I was to be the husband of so noble a woman. Right away I felt concerning her as I had been feeling, about myself before I found out what a weak thing I was. To be sure I took a strong resolution that I would not be weak. At nine that evening I had planned to run in to see my fiancA(C)e. 'I'm all right now,' I said to myself. 'The beauty of her character has saved me from myself. I will go home now and send the other woman away.' In the morning I had telephoned to my servant and told him that I did not want him to be at the apartment that evening and I now picked up the telephone to tell him to stay at home.
"Then a thought came to me. 'I will not want him there in any event,' I told myself. 'What will he think when he sees a woman coming to my place on the evening before the day I am to be married?' I put the telephone down and prepared to go home. 'If I want my servant out of the apartment it is because I do not want him to hear me talk with the woman. I cannot be rude to her. I will have to make some kind of an explanation,' I said to myself.
"The woman came at seven o'clock, and, as you may have guessed, I let her in and forgot the resolution I had made. It is likely I never had any intention of doing anything else. There was a bell on my door, but she did not ring, but knocked very softly. It seems to me that everything she did that evening was soft and quiet but very determined and quick. Do I make myself clear? When she came I was standing just within the door, where I had been standing and waiting for a half hour. My hands were trembling as they had trembled in the morning when her eyes looked at me and when I tried to put the pennies on the counter in the store. When I opened the door she stepped quickly in and I took her into my arms. We stood together in the darkness. My hands no longer trembled. I felt very happy and strong.
"Although I have tried to make everything clear I have not told you what the woman I married is like. I have emphasized, you see, the other woman. I make the blind statement that I love my wife, and to a man of your shrewdness that means nothing at all. To tell the truth, had I not started to speak of this matter I would feel more comfortable. It is inevitable that I give you the impression that I am in love with the tobacconist's wife. That's not true. To be sure I was very conscious of her all during the week before my marriage, but after she had come to me at my apartment she went entirely out of my mind.
"Am I telling the truth? I am trying very hard to tell what happened to me. I am saying that I have not since that evening thought of the woman who came to my apartment. Now, to tell the facts of the case, that is not true. On that evening I went to my fiancA(C)e at nine, as she had asked me to do in her letter. In a kind of way I cannot explain the other woman went with me. This is what I mean—you see I had been thinking that if anything happened between me and the tobacconist's wife I would not be able to go through with my marriage. 'It is one thing or the other with me,' I had said to myself.
"As a matter of fact I went to see my beloved on that evening filled with a new faith in the outcome of our life together. I am afraid I muddle this matter in trying to tell it. A moment ago I said the other woman, the tobacconist's wife, went with me. I do not mean she went in fact. What I am trying to say is that something of her faith in her own desires and her courage in seeing things through went with me. Is that clear to you? When I got to my fiancA(C)e's house there was a crowd of people standing about. Some were relatives from distant places I had not seen before. She looked up quickly when I came into the room. My face must have been radiant. I never saw her so moved. She thought her letter had affected me deeply, and of course it had. Up she jumped and ran to meet me. She was like a glad child. Right before the people who turned and looked inquiringly at us, she said the thing that was in her mind. 'O, I am so happy,' she cried. 'You have understood. We will be two human beings. We will not have to be husband and wife.'
"As you may suppose, everyone laughed, but I did not laugh. The tears came into my eyes. I was so happy I wanted to shout. Perhaps you understand what I mean. In the office that day when I read the letter my fiancA(C)e had written I had said to myself, 'I will take care of the dear little woman.' There was something smug, you see, about that. In her house when she cried out in that way, and when everyone laughed, what I said to myself was something like this: 'We will take care of ourselves.' I whispered something of the sort into her ears. To tell you the truth I had come down off my perch. The spirit of the other woman did that to me. Before all the people gathered about I held my fiancA(C)e close and we kissed. They thought it very sweet of us to be so affected at the sight of each other. What they would have thought had they known the truth about me God only knows!
"Twice now I have said that after that evening I never thought of the other woman at all. That is partially true but sometimes in the evening when I am walking alone in the street or in the park as we are walking now, and when evening comes softly and quickly as it has come to-night, the feeling of her comes sharply into my body and mind. After that one meeting I never saw her again. On the next day I was married and I have never gone back into her street. Often however as I am walking along as I am doing now, a quick sharp earthy feeling takes possession of me. It is as though I were a seed in the ground and the warm rains of the spring had come. It is as though I were not a man but a tree.
"And now you see I am married and everything is all right. My marriage is to me a very beautiful fact. If you were to say that my marriage is not a happy one I could call you a liar and be speaking the absolute truth. I have tried to tell you about this other woman. There is a kind of relief in speaking of her. I have never done it before. I wonder why I was so silly as to be afraid that I would give you the impression I am not in love with my wife. If I did not instinctively trust your understanding I would not have spoken. As the matter stands I have a little stirred myself up. To-night I shall think of the other woman. That sometimes occurs. It will happen after I have gone to bed. My wife sleeps in the next room to mine and the door is always left open. There will be a moon to-night, and when there is a moon long streaks of light fall on her bed. I shall awake at midnight to-night. She will be lying asleep with one arm thrown over her head.
"What is that I am talking about? A man does not speak of his wife lying in bed. What I am trying to say is that, because of this talk, I shall think of the other woman to-night. My thoughts will not take the form they did the week before I was married. I will wonder what has become of the woman. For a moment I will again feel myself holding her close. I will think that for an hour I was closer to her than I have ever been to anyone else. Then I will think of the time when I will be as close as that to my wife. She is still, you see, an awakening woman. For a moment I will close my eyes and the quick, shrewd, determined eyes of that other woman will look into mine. My head will swim and then I will quickly open my eyes and see again the dear woman with whom I have undertaken to live out my life. Then I will sleep and when I awake in the morning it will be as it was that evening when I walked out of my dark apartment after having had the most notable experience of my life. What I mean to say, you understand, is that, for me, when I awake, the other woman will be utterly gone."
 Copyright, 1920, by Margaret C. Anderson. Copyright, 1921, by Sherwood Anderson.
By EDWINA STANTON BABCOCK
From Harper's Magazine
Gargoyle stole up the piazza steps. His arms were full of field flowers. He stood there staring over his burden.
A hush fell upon tea- and card-tables. The younger women on the Strang veranda glanced at one another. The girl at the piano hesitated in her light stringing of musical sentences.
John Strang rose. "Not now, Gargoyle, old man." Taking the flowers from the thin hands, he laid them on the rug at his wife's feet, then gently motioned the intruder away. Gargoyle flitted contentedly down the broad steps to the smooth drive, and was soon hidden by masses of rhododendron on the quadrangle.
Only one guest raised questioning eyebrows as Strang resumed his seat. This girl glanced over his shoulder at the aimless child straying off into the trees.
"I should think an uncanny little person like that would get on Mrs. Strang's nerves; he gives me the creeps!"
"Yes? Mrs. Strang is hardly as sensitive as you might suppose. What do you say of a lady who enjoys putting the worms on her shrinking husband's hook? Not only that, but who banters the worms, telling them it's all for their own good?"
The mistress of Heartholm, looking over at the two, shook a deprecating head. But Strang seemed to derive amusement from the guest's disapproval.
Mockwood, where the Strangs lived, had its impressiveness partly accounted for by the practical American name of "residential park." This habitat, covering many thousands of acres, gave evidence of the usual New World compromise between fantastic wealth and over-reached restraint. Polished automobiles gliding noiselessly through massed purple and silver shrubberies, receded into bland glooms of well-thought-out boscage. The architecture, a judicious mixture of haughty roofs and opulent chimneys, preened itself behind exclusive screens of wall and vine, and the entire frontage of Mockwood presented a polished elegance which did not entirely conceal a silent plausibility of expense.
At Heartholm, the Strangs' place, alone, had the purely conventional been smitten in its smooth face. The banker's country home was built on the lines of his own physical height and mental breadth. Strang had flung open his living-rooms to vistas of tree branches splashing against the morning blue. His back stairs were as aspiring as the Apostles' Creed, and his front stairs as soaring as the Canticle to the Sun. As he had laid out his seven-mile drive on a deer track leading to a forest spring, so had he spoken for his flowers the word, which, though it freed them from the prunes and prisms of a landscape gardener, held them, glorified vassals, to their original masters, sun and rain.
Strang and his love for untrammeled nature were hard pills for Mockwooders to swallow. Here was a man who, while he kept one on the alert, was to be deplored; who homesteaded squirrels, gave rabbits their own licentious ways, was whimsically tolerant of lichens, mushrooms, and vagabond vines. This was also the man who, when his gardener's wife gave birth to a deaf and dumb baby, encouraged his own wife to make a pet of the unfortunate youngster, and when he could walk gave him his freedom of the Heartholm acres.
It was this sort of thing, Mockwooders agreed, that "explained" the Strangs. It was the desultory gossip of fashionable breakfast tables how Evelyn Strang was frequently seen at the gardener's cottage, talking to the poor mother about her youngest. The gardener's wife had other children, all strong and hearty. These went to school, survived the rigors of "regents" examinations, and were beginning to talk of "accepting" positions. There would never be any position for little Gargoyle, as John Strang called him, to "accept."
"Let the child run about," the village doctors had advised. "Let him run about in the sun and make himself useful."
But people who "run about in the sun" are seldom inclined to make themselves useful, and no one could make Gargoyle so. It would have been as well to try to train woodbine to draw water or to educate cattails to write Greek. The little boy spent all of the day idling; it was a curious, Oriental sort of idling. Callers at Heartholm grew disapprovingly accustomed to the sight of the grotesque face and figure peering through the shrubberies; they shrugged their shoulders impatiently, coming upon the recumbent child dreamily gazing at his own reflection in the lily-pond, looking necromantically out from the molten purple of a wind-blown beech, or standing at gaze in a clump of iris.
Strang with his amused laugh fended off all protest and neighborly advice.
"That's Gargoyle's special variety of hashish. He lives in a flower-harem—in a five-year-old Solomon's Song. I've often seen the irises kowtowing to him, and his attitude toward them is distinctly personal and lover-like. If that little chap could only talk there would be some fun, but what Gargoyle thinks would hardly fit itself to words—besides, then"—Strang twinkled at the idea—"none of us would fancy having him around with those natural eyes—that undressed little mind."
It was in good-humored explanations like this that the Strangs managed to conceal their real interest in Gargoyle. They did not remind people of their only child, the brave boy of seven, who died before they came to Mockwood. Under the common sense that set the two instantly to work building a new home, creating new associations, lay the everlasting pain of an old life, when, as parents of a son, they had seemed to tread springier soil, to breathe keener, more vital air. And, though the Strangs adhered patiently to the recognized technicalities of Mockwood existence, they never lost sight of a hope, of which, against the increasing evidence of worldly logic, their human hearts still made ceaseless frantic attestation.
Very slowly, but very constructively, it had become a fierce though governed passion with both—to learn something of the spiritual life coursing back of the material universe. Equally slowly and inevitably had the two come to believe that the little changeling at the lodge held some wordless clue, some unconscious knowledge as to that outer sphere, that surrounding, peopled ether, in which, under their apparent rationality, the two had come to believe. Yet the banker and his wife stood to Mockwooders for no special cult or fad; it was only between themselves that their quest had become a slowly developing motive.
"Gargoyle was under the rose-arbor this morning." It was according to custom that Evelyn Strang would relate the child's latest phase. "He sat there without stirring such a long time that I was fascinated. I noticed that he never picked a rose, never smelled one. The early sun fell slanting through their petals till they glowed like thin little wheels of fire. John dear, it was that scalloped fire which Gargoyle was staring at. The flowers seemed to lean toward him, vibrating color and perfumes too delicate for me to hear. I only saw and smelled the flowers; Gargoyle looked as if he felt them! Don't laugh; you know we look at flowers because when we were little, people always said, 'See the pretty flower, smell the pretty flower,' but no one said, 'Listen and see if you can hear the flower grow; be still and see if you can catch the flower speaking.'"
Strang never did laugh, never brushed away these fantastic ideas. Settling back in his piazza chair, his big hands locked together, he would listen, amusing himself with his pet theory of Gargoyle's "undressed mind."
"By the way," he said once, "that reminds me, have you ever seen our young Solomon of the flower-harem smile?"
"Of course I haven't; neither have you." Young Mrs. Strang averred it confidently. "He never has smiled, poor baby, nor cried—his mother told me that long ago."
The banker kept his eyes on the treetops; he had his finger-tips nicely balanced before he remarked, with seeming irrelevance:
"You know that nest in the tree we call the Siegfried tree?"
"The other day a bird fell out of it, one of the young ones, pushed out by a housecleaning mother, I suppose. It killed the poor little feathered gawk. I saw Gargoyle run, quick as a flash, and pick it up. He pushed open the closing eyes, tried to place the bird on a hollyhock stalk, to spread its wings, in every way to give it motion. When, after each attempt, he saw it fall to the ground, he stood still, looking at it very hard. Suddenly, to my surprise, he seemed to understand something, to comprehend it fully and delightedly. He laughed." Strang stopped, looking intently at his wife.
"I can imagine that laugh," she mused.
Strang shook his head. "I don't think you can. It—it wasn't pleasant. It was as uncanny as the rest of the little chap—a long, rattling, eerie sound, as if a tree should groan or a butterfly curse; but wait—there's more." In his earnestness Strang sat up, adding, "Then Gargoyle got up and stretched out his hands, not to the sky, but to the air all around him. It was as if—" Here Strang, the normal, healthy man of the world, hesitated; it was only the father of the little boy who had died who admitted in low tones: "You would have said—At least even I could imagine that Gargoyle—well—that he saw something like a released principle of life fly happily back to its main source—as if a little mote like a sunbeam should detach itself from a clod and, disembodied, dart back to its law of motion."
For a long time they were silent, listening to the call of an oven-bird far back in the spring trees. At last Strang got up, filled his pipe, and puffed at it savagely before he said, "Of course the whole thing's damned nonsense." He repeated that a little brutally to his wife's silence before in softened voice he added, "Only, perhaps you're right, Evelyn; perhaps we, too, should be seeing that kind of thing, understanding what, God knows, we long to understand, if we had 'undressed minds,' if we hadn't from earliest infancy been smeared all over with the plaster-of-Paris of 'normal thinking.'"
Time flew swiftly by. The years at Heartholm were tranquil and happy until Strang, taken by one of the swift maladies which often come to men of his type, was mortally stricken. His wife at first seemed to feel only the strange ecstasy that sometimes comes to those who have beheld death lay its hand on a beloved body. She went coldly, rigidly, through every detail of the final laying away of the man who had loved her to the utmost power of his man's heart. Friends waited helplessly, dreading the furious after-crash of this unnatural mental and bodily endurance. Doctor Milton, Strang's life-long friend, who had fought for the banker's life, watched her carefully, but there was no catalepsy, no tranced woman held in a vise of endurance. Nothing Evelyn Strang did was odd or unnatural, only she seemed, particularly before the burial, to be waiting intently for some revelation, toward which her desire burned consumingly, like a powerful flame.
Just before the funeral Strang's sister came to Doctor Milton.
"Evelyn!" in whispered response to his concerned look. "Oh, doctor, I cannot think that this calmness is right for her——" The poor, red-eyed woman, fighting hard for her own composure, motioned to the room where, with the cool lattices drawn, and a wave of flowers breaking on his everlasting sleep, the master of Heartholm lay. "She has gone in there with that little deaf-and-dumb child. I saw her standing with him, staring all about her. Somehow it seemed to me that Gargoyle was smiling—that he saw something——!"
For long weeks Doctor Milton stayed on at Heartholm, caring for Mrs. Strang. From time to time the physician also studied and questioned Gargoyle. Questioned in verity, for the practised hand could feel rigid muscles and undeveloped glands that answered more truthfully than words. Whatever conclusions Milton arrived at, he divulged to no one but Mrs. Strang. What he had to say roused the desolate woman as nothing else could have done. To the rest of the world little or nothing was explained. But, after the consent of the mother at the gardener's cottage had been gained, Doctor Milton left Heartholm, taking Gargoyle with him.
In the office of Dr. Pauli Mach, the professional tongue was freed. Milton, with the half-quizzical earnestness habitual to him, told his story, which was followed by the exchange of much interesting data.
The two fell back on the discussion of various schools where Gargoyle might be put under observation. At last, feeling in the gravely polite attention of the more eminent man a waning lack of interest, Milton reluctantly concluded the interview.
"I'll write to Mrs. Strang and tell her your conclusions; she won't accept them—her own husband humored her in the thing. What John Strang himself believed I never really knew, but I think he had wisdom in his generation."
Milton stood there, hesitating; he looked abstractedly at the apathetic little figure of Gargoyle sitting in the chair.
"We talk of inherent human nature," said the doctor, slowly, "as if we had all knowledge concerning the possibilities of that nature's best and worst. Yet I have sometimes wondered if what we call mentally askew people are not those that possess attributes which society is not wise enough to help them use wisely—mightn't such people be like fine-blooded animals who sniff land and water where no one else suspects any? Given a certain kink in a human brain, and there might result capacity we ought to consider, even if we can't, in our admittably systematized civilization, utilize it."
The Swiss doctor nodded, magnetic eyes and mouth smiling.
"Meanwhile"—in his slow, careful speech—"meanwhile we do what we can to preserve the type which from long experience we know wears best."
Milton nodded. He moved to go, one hand on Gargoyle's unresponsive shoulder, when the office door swung open.
"Now this is real trouble," laughed a woman's fresh, deep-chested voice. "Doctor Mach, it means using one of your tall measuring-glasses or permitting these lovely things to wilt; some one has inundated us with flowers. I've already filled one bath-tub; I've even used the buckets in the operating-room."
The head nurse stood there, white-frocked, smiling, her stout arms full of rosy gladioli and the lavender and white of Japanese iris. The two doctors started to help her with the fragrant burden, but not before Gargoyle sprang out of his chair. With a start, as if shocked into galvanic motion, the boy sat upright. With a throttled cry he leaped at the surprised woman. He bore down upon her flowers as if they had been a life-preserver, snatching at them as if to prevent himself from being sucked under by some strange mental undertow. The softly-colored bloom might have had some vital magnetizing force for the child's blood, to which his whole feeble nature responded. Tearing the colored mass from the surprised nurse's arms, Gargoyle sank to the floor. He sat there caressing the flowers, smiling, making uncouth efforts to speak. The arms that raised him were gentle enough. They made no attempt to take from him his treasures. They sat him on the table, watching the little thin hands move ardently, yet with a curious deftness and delicacy, amid the sheaf of color. As the visionary eyes peered first into one golden-hearted lily, then into another, Milton felt stir, in spite of himself, Strang's old conviction of the "undressed mind." He said nothing, but stole a glance at the face of his superior. Doctor Mach was absorbed. He stood the boy on the table before him. The nurse stripped Gargoyle, then swiftly authoritative fingers traveled up and down the small, thin frame.
* * * * *
Life at Heartholm went on very much the same. The tender-hearted observer might have noted that the gardens held the same flowers year after year, all the perennials and hardy blooms John Strang had loved. No matter what had been his widow's courageous acceptance of modern stoicism, the prevailing idea that incurable grief is merely "morbid," yet, in their own apartments where their own love had been lived, was every mute image and eloquent trifle belonging to its broken arc. Here, with Strang's books on occult science, with other books of her own choosing, the wife lived secretly, unknown of any other human being, the long vigil of waiting for some sign or word from the spirit of one who by every token of religion and faith she could not believe dead—only to her wistful earthly gaze, hidden. She also hid in her heart one strangely persistent hope—namely, Gargoyle! Letters from Doctor Milton had been full of significance. The last letter triumphantly concluded:
Your young John Strang Berber, alias Gargoyle, can talk now, with only one drawback: as yet he doesn't know any words!
The rapidly aging mother at the gardener's cottage took worldly pride in what was happening to her youngest.
"I allus knowed he was smart," the woman insisted. "My Johnny! To think of him speaking his mind out like any one else! I allus took his part—I could ha' told 'em he had his own notions!"
There was no doubt as to Gargoyle's having the "notions." As the slow process of speech was taught and the miracle of fitting words to things was given unto John Berber, alias Gargoyle, it was hard for those watching over him to keep the riotous perceptions from retarding the growing mechanistics. Close-mouthed the boy was, and, they said, always would be; but watchful eyes and keen intuitions penetrated to the silent orgies going on within him. So plainly did the fever of his education begin to wear on his physical frame that wary Doctor Mach shook his head. "Here I find too many streams of thought coursing through one field," said the careful Swiss. "The field thus grows stony and bears nothing. Give this field only one stream that shall be nourishing."
For other supernormal developments that "one stream" might have been music or sports. For Gargoyle it happened to be flowers. The botanist with whom he was sent afield not only knew his science, but guessed at more than his science. His were the beatitudes of the blue sky; water, rocks, and trees his only living testament. Under his tutelage, with the eyes of Doctor Mach ever on his growing body, and with his own special gifts of concentration and perception, at last came to Gargoyle the sudden whisper of academic sanction—namely, "genius."
He himself seemed never to hear this whisper. What things—superimposed on the new teeming world of material actualities—he did hear, he never told. Few could reach Berber; among fellow-students he was gay, amiable, up to a certain point even frivolous; then, as each companion in turn complained, a curtain seemed to drop, a colorless wrap of unintelligibility enveloped him like a chameleon's changing skin; the youth, as if he lived another life on another plane, walked apart.
Doctor Milton, dropping into the smoking-room of a popular confrA"re, got a whiff of the prevailing gossip about his protA(C)gA(C).
"I'll be hanged if I can associate psychics with a biceps like Berber's; somehow those things seem the special prerogative of anemic women in white cheese-cloth fooling with 'planchette' and 'currents.'"
"You've got another guess," a growling neurologist volunteered. "Why shouldn't psychic freaks have biceps? We keep forgetting that we've dragged our fifty-year-old carcasses into an entirely new age—a wireless, horseless, man-flying, star-chasing age. Why, after shock upon shock of scientific discovery, shouldn't the human brain, like a sensitive plate, be thinned down to keener, more sensitive, perceptions?"
Some one remarked that in the case of Berber, born of a simple country woman and her uneducated husband, this was impossible.
Another man laughed. "Berber may be a Martian, or perhaps he was originally destined to be the first man on Jupiter. He took the wrong car and landed on this globe. Why not? How do we know what agency carries pollen of human life from planet to planet?"
Milton, smiling at it all, withdrew. He sat down and wrote a long-deferred letter to Mrs. Strang.
I have asked John Berber if he would care to revisit his old home. It seemed never to have occurred to him that he had a home! When I suggested the thing he followed it up eagerly, as he does every new idea, asking me many keen questions as to his relatives, who had paid for his education, etc. Of the actual facts of his cure he knows little except that there was special functioning out of gear, and that now the wheels have been greased. Doctor Mach is desperately proud of him, especially of the way in which he responds to normal diversion-environments and friendships. You must instruct his mother very carefully as to references to his former condition. It is best that he should not dwell upon the former condition. Your young friend, Gargoyle, sees no more spooks. He is rapidly developing into a very remarkable and unconceited horticulturist!
The first few days at Mockwood were spent at the little gardener's cottage, from which the other youngsters had flown. Berber, quietly moving about the tiny rooms, sitting buried in a scientific book or taking long trips afield, was the recipient of much maternal flattery. He accepted it all very gently; the young culturist had an air of quiet consideration for every one and absolutely no consciousness of himself. He presumed upon no special prerogatives, but set immediately to work to make himself useful. It was while he was weeding the box borders leading to the herb-gardens of Heartholm that Mrs. Strang first came upon him. Her eyes, suddenly confronted with his as he got to his feet, dropped almost guiltily, but when they sought his face a second time, Evelyn Strang experienced a disappointment that was half relief. The sunburnt youth, in khaki trousers and brown-flannel shirt, who knelt by the border before her was John Strang Berber, Doctor Mach's human masterpiece; this was not "Gargoyle."
"That is hardly suitable work for a distinguished horticulturist," the mistress of Heartholm smiled at the wilting piles of pusley and sorrel.
White teeth flashed, deep eyes kindled. Berber rose and, going to a garden seat, took up some bits of glass and a folded paper. He showed her fragments of weed pressed upon glass plates, envelopes of seeds preserved for special analyzation. "There's still a great undiscovered country in weed chemistry," he eagerly explained, "perhaps an anodyne for every pain and disease."
"Yes, and deadly poisons, too, for every failure and grief." The mistress of Heartholm said it lightly as she took the garden seat, thinking how pleasant it was to watch the resolute movements and splendid physical development of the once weazened Gargoyle. She began sorting out her embroidery silks as Berber, the bits of glass still in his hand, stood before her. He was smiling.
"Yes, deadly poisons, too," agreeing with a sort of exultation, so blithely, indeed, that the calmly moving fingers of the mistress of Heartholm were suddenly arrested. A feeling as powerful and associative as the scent of a strong perfume stole over Evelyn Strang.
Before she could speak Berber had resumed his weeding. "It's good to get dictatorship over all this fight of growing," looking up for her sympathy with hesitance, which, seen in the light of his acknowledged genius, was the more significant. "You don't mind my taking Michael's place? He was very busy this morning. I have no credentials, but my mother seems to think I am a born gardener."
This lack of conceit, this unassuming practicality, the sort of thing with which Gargoyle's mind had been carefully inoculated for a long time, baffled, while it reassured Mrs. Strang. Also the sense of sacred trust placed in her hands made her refrain from any psychic probing.
For a long while she found it easy to exert this self-control. The lonely woman, impressed by the marvelous "cure" of John Berber, magnetized by his youth and sunny enthusiasms back to the old dreaming pleasure in the Heartholm gardens, might in the absorbed days to come have forgotten—only there was a man's photograph in her bedroom, placed where her eyes always rested on it, her hand could bring it to her lips; the face looking out at her seemed to say but one thing:
"You knew me—I knew you. What we knew and were to each other had not only to do with our bodies. Men call me 'dead' but you know that I am not. Why do you not study and work and pray to learn what I am become, that you may turn to me, that I may reach to you?"
Mockwooders, dropping in at Heartholm for afternoon tea, began to accustom themselves to finding Mrs. Strang sitting near some flower-bed where John Berber worked, or going with him over his great books of specimens. The smirk the fashionable world reserves for anything not usual in its experience was less marked in this case than it might have been in others. Even those who live in "residential parks" are sometimes forced (albeit with a curious sense of personal injury) to accept the idea that they who have greatly suffered find relief in "queer" ways. Mockwooders, assisting at the Heartholm tea-hour, and noting Berber among other casual guests, merely felt aggrieved and connoted "queerness."
For almost a year, with the talking over of plans for John Strang's long-cherished idea of a forest garden at Heartholm, there had been no allusion between mistress and gardener to that far-off fantasy, the life of little Gargoyle. During the autumn the two drew plans together for those spots which next spring were to blossom in the beech glade. They sent to far-off countries for bulbs, experimented in the Heartholm greenhouses with special soils and fertilizers, and differences of heat and light; they transplanted, grafted, and redeveloped this and that woodland native. Unconsciously all formal strangeness wore away, unconsciously the old bond between Gargoyle and his mistress was renewed.
Thus it was, without the slightest realization as to what it might lead, that Evelyn Strang one afternoon made some trifling allusion to Berber's association with the famous Doctor Mach. As soon as she had done so, fearing from habit for some possible disastrous result, she tried immediately to draw away from the subject. But the forbidden spring had been touched—a door that had long been closed between them swung open. Young Berber, sorting dahlia bulbs into numbered boxes, looked up; he met her eyes unsuspiciously.
"I suppose," thoughtfully, "that that is the man to whom I should feel more grateful than to any other human being."
The mistress of Heartholm did not reply. In spite of her tranquil air, Evelyn Strang was gripped with a sudden apprehension. How much, how little, did Berber know? She glanced swiftly at him, then bent her head over her embroidery. The colored stream of Indian summer flowed around them. A late bird poured out his little cup of song.
"My mother will not answer my questions." Young Berber, examining two curiously formed bulbs, shook the earth from them; he stuffed them into his trousers pocket. "But Michael got talking yesterday and told me—Did you know, Mrs. Strang? I was thought to be an idiot until I was twelve years old—born deaf and dumb?"
It was asked so naturally, with a scientific interest as impersonal as if he were speaking of one of the malformed bulbs in his pocket, that at first his mistress felt no confusion. Her eyes and hands busying themselves with the vivid silks, she answered.
"I remember you as a little pale boy who loved flowers and did such odd, interesting things with them. Mr. Strang and I were attracted to your mysterious plays.... No, you never spoke, but we were not sure you could not hear—and"—drawing a swift little breath—"we were always interested in what—in what—you seemed—to see!"
There was a pause. He knelt there, busily sorting the bulbs. Suddenly to the woman sitting on the garden bench the sun-bathed October gardens seemed alive with the myriad questioning faces of the fall flowers; wheels and disks like aureoled heads leaned toward her, mystical fire in their eyes, the colored flames of their being blown by passionate desire of revelation. "This is your moment," the flowers seemed to say to her. "Ask him now."
But that she might not yet speak out her heart to John Berber his mistress was sure. She was reminded of what Strang had so often said, referring to their lonely quest—that actual existence was like a forlorn shipwreck of some other life, a mere raft upon which, like grave buffoons, the ragged survivors went on handing one another watersoaked bread of faith, glassless binoculars of belief, oblivious of what radiant coasts or awful headlands might lie beyond the enveloping mists. Soon, the wistful woman knew, she would be making some casual observations about the garden, the condition of the soil. Yet, if ever the moment had come to question him who had once been "Gargoyle," that moment was come now!
Berber lifted on high a mass of thickly welded bulbs clinging to a single dahlia stalk. He met her gaze triumphantly.
"Michael says he planted only a few of this variety, the soft, gold-hearted lavender. See what increase." The youth plunged supple fingers into the balmy-scented loam, among the swelling tuber forms. "A beautiful kind of ugliness," he mused. "I remember I used to think——" The young gardener, as if he felt that the eyes fixed upon him were grown suddenly too eager, broke abruptly off.
"Go on, John Berber. What you have to say is always interesting."
It was said calmly, with almost maternal encouragement, but the fingers absorbed in the bright silks fumbled and erred. "Used to think"—words such as these filtered like sunlight to the hope lying deep in Evelyn Strang's heart.
But young Berber leaned upon his garden fork, looking past her. Over the youth's face crept a curious expression of wrapt contemplation, of super-occupation, whether induced by her words or not she could not tell. Furtively Mrs. Strang studied him.... How soon would he drop that mystical look and turn to her with the casual "educated" expression she had come to know so well?
Suddenly, nervousness impelling her, she broke in upon his revery:
"How wonderful, with such dreams as you must have had, to be educated! How very grateful you must be to Doctor Mach."
She heard her own words helplessly, as if in a dream, and, if the unwisdom of this kind of conversation had impressed the mistress of Heartholm before, now she could have bitten off her tongue with that needless speech on it. Young Berber, however, seemed hardly to have heard her; he stood there, the "Gargoyle" look still in his eyes, gazing past his mistress into some surrounding mystery of air element. It was to her, watching him, as if those brooding, dilated pupils might behold, besides infinitesimal mystery of chemical atoms, other mysteries—colorless pools of air where swam, like sea anemones, radiant forms of released spirit; invisible life-trees trembling with luminous fruit of occult being!
When Berber turned this look, naked as a sword, back to Evelyn Strang, she involuntarily shivered. But the boy's face was unconscious. His expression changed only to the old casual regard as he said, very simply:
"You see, I wish they had not educated me!"
The confession came with inevitable shock. If she received it with apparent lightness, it was that she might, with all the powers a woman understands, rise to meet what she felt was coming. The barrier down, it was comparatively easy to stand in the breach, making her soft note of deprecation, acknowledging playfully that the stress of so-called "normal" life must indeed seem a burden to one who had hitherto talked with flowers, played with shadows. Berber, however, seemed hardly to hear her; there was no tenseness in the youth's bearing; he merely gazed thoughtfully past her efforts, repeating:
"No—I wish they had not taught me. I have not really gained knowledge by being taught."
Mrs. Strang was genuinely puzzled. Yet she understood; it was merely theories about life that he had gained. Again she called to mind a sentence in Doctor Milton's letter: "I know that you have followed the case in such a way as to understand what would be your responsibility toward this newly made human soul." Was it right to question Berber? Could it be actually harmful to him to go on? And yet was it not her only chance, after years of faithful waiting?
Trying to keep her voice steady, she reproached him:
"No? With all that being educated means, all the gift for humanity?"
The young fellow seemed not to get her meaning. He picked up the garden fork. Thoughtfully scraping the damp earth from its prongs, he repeated, "All that it means for humanity?"
"Why not"—urging the thing a little glibly—"why not? You can do your part now; you will help toward the solving of age-long mysteries. You must be steward of—of"—Mrs. Strang hesitated, then continued, lamely—"of your special insight. Why—already you have begun—Think of the weed chemistry." Had he noticed it? There was in her voice a curious note, almost of pleading, though she tried to speak with authority.
John Berber, once called "Gargoyle," listened. The youth stood there, his foot resting upon the fork but not driving it into the ground. He caught her note of anxiety, laughing in light, spontaneous reassurance, taking her point with ease.
"Oh—I know," shrugging his shoulders in true collegian's style. "I understand my lesson." Berber met her look. "I had the gift of mental unrestraint, if you choose to call it that," he summed up, "and was of no use in the world. Now I have the curse of mental restraint and can participate with others in their curse." Suddenly aware of her helpless dismay and pain, the boy laughed again, but this time with a slight nervousness she had never before seen in him. "Why, we are not in earnest, dear Mrs. Strang." It was with coaxing, manly respect that he reminded her of that. "We are only joking, playing with an idea.... I think you can trust me," added John Berber, quietly.
The surprised woman felt that she could indeed "trust" him; that Berber was absolutely captain of the self which education had given him; but that from time to time he had been conscious of another self he had been unwise enough to let her see. She silently struggled with her own nature, knowing that were she judicious she would take that moment to rise and leave him. Such action, however, seemed impossible now. Here was, perhaps, revelation, discovery! All the convictions of her lonely, brooding life were on her. Temptation again seized her. With her longing to have some clue to that spirit world she and her husband had believed in, it seemed forewritten, imperative, inevitable, that she remain. Trying to control herself, she fumbled desperately on:
"When you were little, Mr. Strang and I used to notice—we grew to think—that because you had been shut away from contact with other minds, because you had never been told what to see, as children are told, 'Look at the fire,' 'See the water,' and so forever regard those things in just that way, not seeing—other things—Oh, we thought that perhaps—perhaps——"
It was futile, incoherent; her tongue seemed to dry in her mouth. Besides, the abashed woman needs must pause before a silence that to her strained sense seemed rebuking. She glanced furtively up at the youth standing there. It troubled the mistress of Heartholm to realize that her protA(C)gA(C) was staring gravely at her, as if she had proposed some guilty and shameful thing.
At last Berber, with a boyish sigh, seemed to shake the whole matter off. He turned to his bulbs; half at random he caught up a pruning-knife, cutting vindictively into one of them. For the moment there was silence, then the young gardener called his mistress's attention to the severed root in his hand.
"A winy-looking thing, isn't it? See those red fibers? Why shouldn't such roots, and nuts like those great, burnished horse-chestnuts there—yes, and cattails, and poke-berries, and skunk cabbages, give forth an entirely new outfit of fruits and vegetables?" Berber smiled his young ruminating smile; then, with inevitable courtesy, he seemed to remember that he had not answered her question. "I am not surprised that you and Mr. Strang thought such things about me. I wonder that you have not questioned me before—only you see now—I can't answer!" The boy gave her his slow, serious smile, reminding her.
"You must remember that I am like a foreigner—only worse off, for foreigners pick up a few words for their most vital needs, and I have no words at all—for what—for what vital things I used to know—so that perhaps in time I shall come to forget that I ever knew anything different from—other persons' knowledge." Berber paused, regarding his mistress intently, as if wistfully trying to see what she made of all this. Then he continued:
"One of our professors at college died, and the men of his class were gloomy; some even cried, others could not trust themselves to speak of him.... I noticed that they all called him 'poor' Landworth.... I could see that they felt something the way I do when I miss out on a chemical experiment, or spoil a valuable specimen—only more so—a great deal more." The boy knit his brows, puzzling it all out. "Well, it's queer. I liked that professor, too; he was very kind to me—but when I saw him dead I felt glad—glad! Why"—Berber looked at her searchingly—"I grew to be afraid some one would find out how glad!"
The young fellow, still anxiously searching her face, dropped his voice. "You are the only person I dare tell this to—for I understand the world—" She noted that he spoke as if "the world" were a kind of plant whose needs he had fathomed. "But after that," concluded Berber, speaking as if quite to himself—"after that I somehow came to see that I had been—well, educated backward."
She moved impatiently; the youth, seeing the question in her face, answered the demand of its trembling eagerness, explaining:
"Do you not see—I have—sometimes known, not 'guessed' nor 'believed,' but known that death was a wonderful, happy thing—a fulfilment, a satisfaction to him who dies—but I have been educated backward into a life where people cannot seem to help regarding it as a sad thing. And——"
"Yes?—Yes?" breathed the eager woman. "Tell me—tell me——"
But he had come suddenly to a full stop. As if appalled to find only empty words, or no words at all, for some astounding knowledge he would communicate to her, he stammered painfully; then, as if he saw himself caught in guilt, colored furiously. Evelyn Strang could see the inevitable limitations of his world training creep slowly over him like cement hardening around the searching roots of his mind. She marveled. She remembered Strang's pet phrase, "the plaster of Paris of so-called 'normal thinking.'" Then the youth's helpless appeal came to her:
"Do you not think that I am doing wrong to speak of these things?" Berber asked, with dignity.
The mistress of Heartholm was silent. Recklessly she put by all Doctor Mach's prophecies. She could not stop here; her whole soul demanded that she go further. There were old intuitions—the belief that she and Strang had shared together, that, under rationalized schemes of thought, knowledge of inestimable hope was being hidden from the world. Here was this boy of the infinite vision, of the "backward educated" mind, ready to tell miraculous things of a hidden universe. Could she strike him dumb? It would be as if Lazarus had come forth from the open grave and men were to bandage again his ecstatic lips!
Suddenly, as if in answer to her struggle, Berber spoke. She was aware that he looked at her curiously with a sort of patient disdain.
"The world is so sure, so contented, isn't it?" the youth demanded of her, whether in innocence or irony she could not tell. "People are trained, or they train themselves, by the millions, to think of things in exactly one way." He who had once been "Gargoyle" looked piercingly into the eyes of this one being to whom at least he was not afraid to speak.
"Anything you or I might guess outside of what other people might accept," the boy reminded her, austerely, "could be called by just one unpleasant name." He regarded the face turned to his, recognizing the hunger in it, with a mature and pitying candor, concluding: "After to-day we must never speak of these things. I shall never dare, you must never dare—and so—" He who had once been "Gargoyle" suddenly dropped his head forward on his breast, muttering—"and so, that is all."
Evelyn Strang rose. She stood tall and imperious in the waning afternoon light. She was bereaved mother, anguished wife; she was a dreamer driven out of the temple of the dream, and what she had to do was desperate. Her voice came hard and resolute.
"It is not all," the woman doggedly insisted. The voiceless woe of one who had lost a comrade by death was on her. In her eyes was fever let loose, a sob, like one of a flock of imprisoned wild birds fluttered out from the cage of years. "Oh no—no!" the woman pleaded, more as if to some hidden power of negation than to the boy before her—"Oh no—no, this cannot be all, not for me! The world must never be told—it could not understand; but I must know, I must know." She took desperate steps back and forth.
"John Berber, if there is anything in your memory, your knowledge; even if it is only that you have imagined things—if they are so beautiful or so terrible that you can never speak of them—for fear—for fear no one would understand, you might, you might, even then, tell me—Do you not hear? You might tell me. I authorize it, I command it."
The woman standing in the autumn gardens clenched her hands. She looked round her into the clear air at the dense green and gold sunshine filtering through the colored trees, the softly spread patens of the cosmos, the vivid oriflammes of the chrysanthemums. Her voice was anguished, as if they two stood at a secret door of which Berber alone had the key, which for some reason he refused to use.
"I—of all the world," her whisper insisted. "If you might never speak again—I should understand."
Berber, his face grown now quite ashen, looked at her. Something in her expression seemed to transfix and bind him. Suddenly shutting his teeth together, he stood up, his arms folded on his broad chest. The afternoon shadows spread pools of darkness around their feet, the flowers seemed frozen in shapes of colored ice, as his dark, controlled eyes fixed hers.
"You—you dare?" the youth breathed, thickly.
She faced him in her silent daring. Then it seemed to her as if the sky must roll up like a scroll and the earth collapse into a handful of dust falling through space, for she knew that little Gargoyle of the "undressed mind"—little Gargoyle, looking out of John Berber's trained eyes as out of windows of ground glass, was flitting like a shadow across her own intelligence, trying to tell her what things he had always known about life and death, and the myriads of worlds spinning back in their great circles to the Power which had set them spinning.
Not until after the first halting, insufficient words, in which the boy sought to give his secret to the woman standing there, did she comprehend anything of the struggle that went on within him. But when suddenly Berber's arms dropped to his sides and she saw how he shivered, as if at some unearthly touch on his temples, she was alert. Color was surging into his face; his features, large, irregular, took on for the instant a look of speechless, almost demoniac power; he seemed to be swimming some mental tide before his foot touched the sands of language and he could helplessly stammer:
"I cannot—It—it will not come—It is as I told you—I have been taught no words—I cannot say what I know."
His powerful frame stood placed among the garden surroundings like that of a breathing statue, and his amazed companion witnessed this miracle of physical being chained by the limitations of one environment, while the soul of that being, clairaudient, clairvoyant, held correspondence with another environment. She saw Berber smile as if with some exquisite sense of beauty and rapture that he understood, but could not communicate, then helplessly motion with his hands. But even while she held her breath, gazing at him, a change came over the radiant features. He looked at her again, his face worked; at last John Berber with a muffled groan burst into terrible human tears.
She stood there helpless, dumfounded at his agony.
"You—you cannot speak?" she faltered.
For answer he dropped his face into his strong hands. He stood there, his tall body quivering. And she knew that her dream was over.
She was forced to understand. John Berber's long and perfect world training held him in a vise. His lips were closed upon his secret, and she knew that they would be closed for evermore.
They remained, silently questioning each other, reading at last in each other's speechlessness some comfort in this strange common knowledge, for which, indeed, there were no human words, which must be forever borne dumbly between them. Then slowly, with solemn tenderness, the obligation of that unspoken knowledge came into Evelyn Strang's face. She saw the youth standing there with grief older than the grief of the world stabbing his heart, drowning his eyes. She laid a quiet hand on his shoulder.