THE DARK STAR
THE DARK STAR
By ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
Author of "The Girl Philippa," "Who Goes There," "The Hidden Children," Etc.
By W. D. STEVENS
A. L. BURT COMPANY
Published by Arrangement with D. Appleton & Company
Copyright, 1917, by
ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
Copyright, 1916, 1917, by the International Magazine Company
Printed in the United States of America
TO MY FRIEND EDGAR SISSON
Dans c'metier-la, faut rien chercher a comprendre. RENE BENJAMIN
Where are you going, Naia? Through the still noon— Where are you going?
To hear the thunder of the sea And the wind blowing!— To find a stormy moon to comfort me Across the dune!
Why are you weeping, Naia? Through the still noon— Why are you weeping?
Because I found no wind, no sea, No white surf leaping, Nor any flying moon to comfort me Upon the dune.
What did you see there, Naia? In the still noon— What did you see there?
Only the parched world drowsed in drought, And a fat bee, there, Prying and probing at a poppy's mouth That drooped a-swoon.
What did you hear there, Naia? In the still noon— What did you hear there?
Only a kestrel's lonely cry From the wood near there— A rustle in the wheat as I passed by— A cricket's rune.
Who led you homeward, Naia? Through the still noon— Who led you homeward?
My soul within me sought the sea, Leading me foam-ward: But the lost moon's ghost returned with me Through the high noon.
Where is your soul then, Naia? Lost at high noon— Where is your soul then?
It wanders East—or West—I think— Or near the Pole, then— Or died—perhaps there on the dune's dry brink Seeking the moon.
THE DARK STAR
"The dying star grew dark; the last light faded from it; went out. Prince Erlik laughed.
"And suddenly the old order of things began to pass away more swiftly.
"Between earth and outer space—between Creator and created, confusing and confounding their identities,—a rushing darkness grew—the hurrying wrack of immemorial storms heralding whirlwinds through which Truth alone survives.
"Awaiting the inevitable reestablishment of such temporary conventions as render the incident of human existence possible, the brooding Demon which men call Truth stares steadily at Tengri under the high stars which are passing too, and which at last shall pass away and leave the Demon watching all alone amid the ruins of eternity."
The Prophet of the Kiot Bordjiguen
Preface. Children of the Star
I. The Wonder-Box 1
II. Brookhollow 18
III. In Embryo 30
IV. The Trodden Way 38
V. Ex Machina 47
VI. The End of Solitude 60
VII. Obsession 71
VIII. A Change Impends 80
IX. Nonresistance 88
X. Driving Head-on 102
XI. The Breakers 112
XII. A Life Line 122
XIII. Letters from a Little Girl 137
XIV. A Journey Begins 157
XV. The Locked House 162
XVI. Scheherazade 180
XVII. A White Skirt 193
XVIII. By Radio 202
XIX. The Captain of the Volhynia 216
XX. The Drop of Irish 223
XXI. Method and Foresight 239
XXII. Two Thirteen 246
XXIII. On His Way 253
XXIV. The Road to Paris 261
XXV. Cup and Lip 280
XXVI. Rue Soleil d'Or 290
XXVII. From Four to Five 305
XXVIII. Together 312
XXIX. En Famille 325
XXX. Jardin Russe 337
XXXI. The Cafe des Bulgars 347
XXXII. The Cercle Extranationale 358
XXXIII. A Rat Hunt 377
XXXIV. Sunrise 395
XXXV. The First Day 410
THE DARK STAR
THE DARK STAR
CHILDREN OF THE STAR
Not the dark companion of Sirius, brightest of all stars—not our own chill and spectral planet rushing toward Vega in the constellation of Lyra—presided at the birth of millions born to corroborate a bloody horoscope.
But a Dark Star, speeding unseen through space, known to the ancients, by them called Erlik, after the Prince of Darkness, ruled at the birth of those myriad souls destined to be engulfed in the earthquake of the ages, or flung by it out of the ordered pathway of their lives into strange byways, stranger highways—into deeps and deserts never dreamed of.
Also one of the dozen odd temporary stars on record blazed up on that day, flared for a month or two, dwindled to a cinder, and went out.
But the Dark Star Erlik, terribly immortal, sped on through space to complete a two-hundred-thousand-year circuit of the heavens, and begin anew an immemorial journey by the will of the Most High.
What spectroscope is to horoscope, destiny is to chance. The black star Erlik rushed through interstellar darkness unseen; those born under its violent augury squalled in their cradles, or, thumb in mouth, slumbered the dreamless slumber of the newly born.
One of these, a tiny girl baby, fussed and fidgeted in her mother's arms, tortured by prickly heat when the hot winds blew through Trebizond.
Overhead vultures circled; a stein-adler, cleaving the blue, looked down where the surf made a thin white line along the coast, then set his lofty course for China.
Thousands of miles to the westward, a little boy of eight gazed out across the ruffled waters of the mill pond at Neeland's Mills, and wondered whether the ocean might not look that way.
And, wondering, with the salt sea effervescence working in his inland-born body, he fitted a cork to his fishing line and flung the baited hook far out across the ripples. Then he seated himself on the parapet of the stone bridge and waited for monsters of the deep to come.
* * * * *
And again, off Seraglio Point, men were rowing in a boat; and a corded sack lay in the stern, horridly and limply heavy.
There was also a box lying in the boat, oddly bound and clamped with metal which glistened like silver under the Eastern stars when the waves of the Bosporus dashed high, and the flying scud rained down on box and sack and the red-capped rowers.
* * * * *
In Petrograd a little girl of twelve was learning to eat other things than sour milk and cheese; learning to ride otherwise than like a demon on a Cossack saddle; learning deportment, too, and languages, and social graces and the fine arts. And, most thoroughly of all, the little girl was learning how deathless should be her hatred for the Turkish Empire and all its works; and how only less perfect than our Lord in Paradise was the Czar on his throne amid that earthly paradise known as "All the Russias."
Her little brother was learning these things, too, in the Corps of Officers. Also he was already proficient on the balalaika.
* * * * *
And again, in the mountains of a conquered province, the little daughter of a gamekeeper to nobility was preparing to emigrate with her father to a new home in the Western world, where she would learn to perform miracles with rifle and revolver, and where the beauty of the hermit thrush's song would startle her into comparing it to the beauty of her own untried voice. But to her father, and to her, the most beautiful thing in all the world was love of Fatherland.
* * * * *
Over these, and millions of others, brooded the spell of the Dark Star. Even the world itself lay under it, vaguely uneasy, sometimes startled to momentary seismic panic. Then, ere mundane self-control restored terrestrial equilibrium, a few mountains exploded, an island or two lay shattered by earthquake, boiling mud and pumice blotted out one city; earth-shock and fire another; a tidal wave a third.
But the world settled down and balanced itself once more on the edge of the perpetual abyss into which it must fall some day; the invisible shadow of the Dark Star swept it at intervals when some far and nameless sun blazed out unseen; days dawned; the sun of the solar system rose furtively each day and hung around the heavens until that dusky huntress, Night, chased him once more beyond the earth's horizon.
The shadow of the Dark Star was always there, though none saw it in sunshine or in moonlight, or in the silvery lustre of the planets.
A boy, born under it, stood outside the fringe of willow and alder, through which moved two English setters followed and controlled by the boy's father.
"Mark!" called the father.
Out of the willows like a feathered bomb burst a big grouse, and the green foliage that barred its flight seemed to explode as the strong bird sheered out into the sunshine.
The boy's gun, slanting upward at thirty degrees, glittered in the sun an instant, then the left barrel spoke; and the grouse, as though struck by lightning in mid-air, stopped with a jerk, then slanted swiftly and struck the ground.
"Dead!" cried the boy, as a setter appeared, leading on straight to the heavy mass of feathers lying on the pasture grass.
"Clean work, Jim," said his father, strolling out of the willows. "But wasn't it a bit risky, considering the little girl yonder?"
"Father!" exclaimed the boy, very red. "I never even saw her. I'm ashamed."
They stood looking across the pasture, where a little girl in a pink gingham dress lingered watching them, evidently lured by her curiosity from the old house at the crossroads just beyond.
Jim Neeland, still red with mortification, took the big cock-grouse from the dog which brought it—a tender-mouthed, beautifully trained Belton, who stood with his feathered offering in his jaws, very serious, very proud, awaiting praise from the Neelands, father and son.
Neeland senior "drew" the bird and distributed the sacrifice impartially between both dogs—it being the custom of the country.
Neeland junior broke his gun, replaced the exploded shell, content indeed with his one hundred per cent performance.
"Better run over and speak to the little girl, Jim," suggested old Dick Neeland, as he motioned the dogs into covert again.
So Jim ran lightly across the stony, clover-set ground to where the little girl roamed along the old snake fence, picking berries sometimes, sometimes watching the sportsmen out of shy, golden-grey eyes.
"Little girl," he said, "I'm afraid the shot from my gun came rattling rather close to you that time. You'll have to be careful. I've noticed you here before. It won't do; you'll have to keep out of range of those bushes, because when we're inside we can't see exactly where we're firing."
The child said nothing. She looked up at the boy, smiled shyly, then, with much composure, began her retreat, not neglecting any tempting blackberry on the way.
The sun hung low over the hazy Gayfield hills; the beeches and oaks of Mohawk County burned brown and crimson; silver birches supported their delicate canopies of burnt gold; and imperial white pines clothed hill and vale in a stately robe of green.
Jim Neeland forgot the child—or remembered her only to exercise caution in the Brookhollow covert.
The little girl Ruhannah, who had once fidgeted with prickly heat in her mother's arms outside the walls of Trebizond, did not forget this easily smiling, tall young fellow—a grown man to her—who had come across the pasture lot to warn her.
But it was many a day before they met again, though these two also had been born under the invisible shadow of the Dark Star. But the shadow of Erlik is always passing like swift lightning across the Phantom Planet which has fled the other way since Time was born.
Allahou Ekber, O Tchinguiz Khagan!
A native Mongol missionary said to Ruhannah's father:
"As the chronicles of the Eighurs have it, long ago there fell metal from the Black Racer of the skies; the first dagger was made of it; and the first image of the Prince of Darkness. These pass from Kurd to Cossack by theft, by gift, by loss; they pass from nation to nation by accident, which is Divine design.
"And where they remain, war is. And lasts until image and dagger are carried to another land where war shall be. But where there is war, only the predestined suffer—those born under Erlik—children of the Dark Star."
"I thought," said the Reverend Wilbour Carew, "that my brother had confessed Christ."
"I am but repeating to you what my father believed; and Temujin before him," replied the native convert, his remote gaze lost in reflection.
His eyes were quite little and coloured like a lion's; and sometimes, in deep reverie, the corners of his upper lip twitched.
This happened when Ruhannah lay fretting in her mother's arms, and the hot wind blew on Trebizond.
* * * * *
Under the Dark Star, too, a boy grew up in Minetta Lane, not less combative than other ragged boys about him, but he was inclined to arrange and superintend fist fights rather than to participate in battle, except with his wits.
His name was Eddie Brandes; his first fortune of three dollars was amassed at craps; he became a hanger-on in ward politics, at race-tracks, stable, club, squared ring, vaudeville, burlesque. Long Acre attracted him—but always the gambling end of the operation.
Which predilection, with its years of ups and downs, landed him one day in Western Canada with an "Unknown" to match against an Athabasca blacksmith, and a training camp as the prospect for the next six weeks.
There lived there, gradually dying, one Albrecht Dumont, lately head gamekeeper to nobility in the mountains of a Lost Province, and wearing the Iron Cross of 1870 on the ruins of a gigantic and bony chest, now as hollow as a Gothic ruin.
And if, like a thousand fellow patriots, he had been ordered to the Western World to watch and report to his Government the trend and tendency of that Western, English-speaking world, only his Government and his daughter knew it—a child of the Dark Star now grown to early womanhood, with a voice like a hermit thrush and the skill of a sorceress with anything that sped a bullet.
* * * * *
Before the Unknown was quite ready to meet the Athabasca blacksmith, Albrecht Dumont, dying faster now, signed his last report to the Government at Berlin, which his daughter Ilse had written for him—something about Canadian canals and stupid Yankees and their greed, indifference, cowardice, and sloth.
Dumont's mind wandered:
"After the well-born Herr Gott relieves me at my post," he whispered, "do thou pick up my burden and stand guard, little Ilse."
"Thy sacred promise?"
* * * * *
The next day Dumont felt better than he had felt for a year.
"Ilse, who is the short and broadly constructed American who comes now already every day to see thee and to hear thee sing?"
"His name is Eddie Brandes."
"He is of the fight gesellschaft, not?"
"He should gain much money by the fight. A theatre in Chicago may he willingly control, in which light opera shall be given."
"Is it for that he hears so willingly thy voice?"
"It is for that.... And love."
"And what of Herr Max Venem, who has asked of me thy little hand in marriage?"
The girl was silent.
"Thou dost not love him?"
* * * * *
Toward sunset, Dumont, lying by the window, opened his eyes of a dying Laemmergeier:
"What has thou to this man said?"
"That I will be engaged to him if thou approve."
"He has gained the fight?"
"Today.... And many thousand dollars. The theatre in Chicago is his when he desires. Riches, leisure, opportunity to study for a career upon his stage, are mine if I desire."
"Dost thou desire this, little Ilse?"
"And the man Venem who has followed thee so long?"
"I cannot be what he would have me—a Hausfrau—to mend his linen for my board and lodging."
"And the Fatherland which placed me here on outpost?"
"I take thy place when God relieves thee."
"So ist's recht!... Grues Gott—Ilse——"
* * * * *
Among the German settlers a five-piece brass band had been organised the year before.
It marched at the funeral of Albrecht Dumont, lately head gamekeeper to nobility in the mountains of a long-lost province.
Three months later Ilse Dumont arrived in Chicago to marry Eddie Brandes. One Benjamin Stull was best man. Others present included "Captain" Quint, "Doc" Curfoot, "Parson" Smawley, Abe Gordon—friends of the bridegroom.
Invited by the bride, among others were Theodor Weishelm, the Hon. Charles Wilson, M. P., and Herr Johann Kestner, a wealthy gentleman from Leipsic seeking safe and promising investments in Canada and the United States.
* * * * *
A year later Ilse Dumont Brandes, assuming the stage name of Minna Minti, sang the role of Bettina in "The Mascotte," at the Brandes Theatre in Chicago.
A year later, when she created the part of Kathi in "The White Horse," Max Venem sent word to her that she would live to see her husband lying in the gutter under his heel. Which made the girl unhappy in her triumph.
But Venem hunted up Abe Grittlefeld and told him very coolly that he meant to ruin Brandes.
And within a month the latest public favourite, Minna Minti, sat in her dressing-room, wet-eyed, enraged, with the reports of Venem's private detectives locked in the drawer of her dressing table, and the curtain waiting.
* * * * *
So complex was life already becoming to these few among the million children of the Dark Star Erlik—to everyone, from the child that fretted in its mother's arms under the hot wind near Trebizond, to a deposed Sultan, cowering behind the ivory screen in his zenana, weeping tears that rolled like oil over his fat jowl to which still adhered the powdered sugar of a Turkish sweetmeat.
Allahou Ekber, Khodja; God is great. Great also, Ande, is Ali, the Fourth Caliph, cousin-companion of Mahomet the Prophet. But, O tougtchi, be thy name Niaz and thy surname Bai, for Prince Erlik speeds on his Dark Star, and beneath the end of the argument between those two last survivors of a burnt-out world—behold! The sword!
THE DARK STAR
As long as she could remember she had been permitted to play with the contents of the late Herr Conrad Wilner's wonder-box. The programme on such occasions varied little; the child was permitted to rummage among the treasures in the box until she had satisfied her perennial curiosity; conversation with her absent-minded father ensued, which ultimately included a personal narrative, dragged out piecemeal from the reticent, dreamy invalid. Then always a few pages of the diary kept by the late Herr Wilner were read as a bedtime story. And bath and bed and dreamland followed. That was the invariable routine, now once more in full swing.
Her father lay on his invalid's chair, reading; his rubber-shod crutches rested against the wall, within easy reach. By him, beside the kerosene lamp, her mother sat, mending her child's stockings and underwear.
Outside the circle of lamplight the incandescent eyes of the stove glowed steadily through the semi-dusk; and the child, always fascinated by anything that aroused her imagination, lifted her gaze furtively from time to time to convince herself that it really was the big, familiar stove which glared redly back at her, and not a dragon into which her creative fancy had so often transformed it.
Reassured, she continued to explore the contents of the wonder-box—a toy she preferred to her doll, but not to her beloved set of water-colours and crayon pencils.
Some centuries ago Pandora's box let loose a world of troubles; Herr Wilner's box apparently contained only pleasure for a little child whose pleasures were mostly of her own invention.
It was a curious old box, made of olive wood and bound with bands of some lacquered silvery metal to make it strong—rupee silver, perhaps—strangely wrought with Arabic characters engraved and in shallow relief. It had handles on either side, like a sea-chest; a silver-lacquered lock and hasp which retained traces of violent usage; and six heavy strap hinges of the same lacquered metal.
Within it the little child knew that a most fascinating collection of articles was to be discovered, taken out one by one with greatest care, played with discreetly, and, at her mother's command, returned to their several places in Herr Wilner's box.
There were, in this box, two rather murderous-looking Kurdish daggers in sheaths of fretted silver—never to be unsheathed, it was solemnly understood, except by the child's father.
There was a pair of German army revolvers of the pattern of 1900, the unexploded cartridges of which had long since been extracted and cautiously thrown into the mill pond by the child's mother, much to the surprise, no doubt, of the pickerel and sunfish.
There were writing materials of sandalwood, a few sea shells, a dozen books in German with many steel plate engravings; also a red Turkish fez with a dark blue tassel; two pairs of gold-rimmed spectacles; several tobacco pipes of Dresden porcelain, a case full of instruments for mechanical drawing, a thick blank book bound in calf and containing the diary of the late Herr Wilner down to within a few minutes before his death.
Also there was a figure in bronze, encrusted with tarnished gold and faded traces of polychrome decoration.
Erlik, the Yellow Devil, as Herr Wilner called it, seemed too heavy to be a hollow casting, and yet, when shaken, something within rattled faintly, as though when the molten metal was cooling a fissure formed inside, into which a few loose fragments of bronze had fallen.
It apparently had not been made to represent any benign Chinese god; the aspect of the yellow figure was anything but benevolent. The features were terrific; scowls infested its grotesque countenance; threatening brows bent inward; angry eyes rolled in apparent fury; its double gesture with sword and javelin was violent and almost humorously menacing. And Ruhannah adored it.
For a little while the child played her usual game of frightening her doll with the Yellow Devil and then rescuing her by the aid of a fairy prince which she herself had designed, smeared with water-colours, and cut out with scissors from a piece of cardboard.
After a time she turned to the remaining treasures in the wonder-box. These consisted of several volumes containing photographs, others full of sketches in pencil and water-colour, and a thick roll of glazed linen scrolls covered with designs in India ink.
The photographs were of all sorts—landscapes, rivers, ships in dock, dry dock, and at sea; lighthouses, forts, horses carrying soldiers armed with lances and wearing the red fez; artillery on the march, infantry, groups of officers, all wearing the same sort of fez which lay there in Herr Wilner's box of olive wood.
There were drawings, too—sketches of cannon, of rifles, of swords; drawings of soldiers in various gay uniforms, all carefully coloured by hand. There were pictures of ships, from the sterns of which the crescent flag floated lazily; sketches of great, ugly-looking objects which her father explained were Turkish ironclads. The name "ironclad" always sounded menacing and formidable to the child, and the forbidding pictures fascinated her.
Then there were scores and scores of scrolls made out of slippery white linen, on which had been drawn all sorts of most amazing geometrical designs in ink.
"Plans," her father explained vaguely. And, when pressed by reiterated questions: "Plans for military works, I believe—forts, docks, barracks, fortified cuts and bridges. You are not yet quite old enough to understand, Ruhannah."
"Who did draw them, daddy?"
"A German friend of mine, Herr Conrad Wilner."
"I think his master sent him to Turkey to make those pictures."
"For the Sultan?"
"No; for his Emperor."
"I don't exactly know, Rue."
At this stage of the conversation her father usually laid aside his book and composed himself for the inevitable narrative soon to be demanded of him.
Then, although having heard the story many times from her crippled father's lips, but never weary of the repetition, the child's eyes would grow round and very solemn in preparation for her next and inevitable question:
"And did Herr Wilner die, daddy?"
"Well, it was when I was a missionary in the Trebizond district, and your mother and I went——"
"And me, daddy? And me, too!"
"Yes; you were a little baby in arms. And we all went to Gallipoli to attend the opening of a beautiful new school which was built for little Mohammedan converts to Christianity——"
"Did I see those little Christian children, daddy?"
"Yes, you saw them. But you are too young to remember."
"Tell me. Don't stop!"
"Then listen attentively without interrupting, Rue: Your mother and you and I went to Gallipoli; and my friend, Herr Wilner, who had been staying with us at a town called Tchardak, came along with us to attend the opening of the American school.
"And the night we arrived there was trouble. The Turkish people, urged on by some bad officials in the Sanjak, came with guns and swords and spears and set fire to the mission school.
"They did not offer to harm us. We had already collected our converts and our personal baggage. Our caravan was starting. The mob might not have done anything worse than burn the school if Herr Wilner had not lost his temper and threatened them with a dog whip. Then they killed him with stones, there in the walled yard."
At this point in the tragedy, the eagerly awaited and ardently desired shivers passed up and down the child's back.
"O—oh! Did they kill him dead?"
"Was he a martyr?"
"In a way he was a martyr to his duty, I suppose. At least I gather so from his diary and from what he once told me of his life."
"And then what happened? Tell me, daddy."
"A Greek steamer took us and our baggage to Trebizond."
"And what then?"
"And then, a year later, the terrible massacre at our Trebizond mission occurred——"
That was what the child was waiting for.
"I know!" she interrupted eagerly. "The wicked Turks and the cruel Kurds did come galloping and shouting 'Allah!' And all the poor, converted people became martyrs. And God loves martyrs, doesn't He?"
"And then they did kill all the poor little Christian children!" exclaimed the child excitedly. "And they did cut you with swords and guns! And then the kind sailors with the American flag took you and mamma and me to a ship and saved us by the grace of our Lord Jesus!"
"That is all——"
"No; you walk on two crutches, and you cannot be a missionary any more because you are sick all the time! Tell me, daddy!"
"Yes. And that is all, Rue——"
"Oh, no! Please! Tell me!... And then, don't you remember how the brave British sailors and our brave American sailors pointed their cannon at the I-ronclads, and they said, 'Do not shoot or we shall shoot you to pieces.' And then the brave American sailors went on shore and brought back some poor little wounded converted children, and your baggage and the magic box of Herr Wilner!"
"Yes, dear. And now that is enough tonight——"
"Oh, daddy, you must first read in the di-a-ry which Herr Wilner made!"
"Bring me the book, Rue."
With an interest forever new, the Carew family prepared to listen to the words written by a strange man who had died only a few moments after he had made the last entry in the book—before even the ink was entirely dry on the pages.
The child, sitting cross-legged on the floor, clasped her little hands tightly; her mother laid aside her sewing, folded it, and placed it in her lap; her father searched through the pencilled translation which he had written in between the lines of German script, found where he had left off the time before, then continued the diary of Herr Conrad Wilner, deceased:
March 3. My original plans have been sent to the Yildiz Palace. My duplicates are to go to Berlin when a messenger from our Embassy arrives. Murad Bey knows this. I am sorry he knows it. But nobody except myself is aware that I have a third set of plans carefully hidden.
March 4. All day with Murad's men setting wire entanglements under water; two Turkish destroyers patrolling the entrance to the bay, and cavalry patrols on the heights to warn away the curious.
March 6. Forts Alamout and Shah Abbas are being reconstructed from the new plans. Wired areas under water and along the coves and shoals are being plotted. Murad Bey is unusually polite and effusive, conversing with me in German and French. A spidery man and very dangerous.
March 7. A strange and tragic affair last night. The heat being severe, I left my tent about midnight and went down to the dock where my little sailboat lay, with the object of cooling myself on the water. There was a hot land breeze; I sailed out into the bay and cruised north along the coves which I have wired. As I rounded a little rocky point I was surprised to see in the moonlight, very near, a steam yacht at anchor, carrying no lights. The longer I looked at her the more certain I became that I was gazing at the Imperial yacht. I had no idea what the yacht might be doing here; I ran my sailboat close under the overhanging rocks and anchored. Then I saw a small boat in the moonlight, pulling from the yacht toward shore, where the crescent cove had already been thoroughly staked and the bottom closely covered with barbed wire as far as the edge of the deep channel which curves in here like a scimitar.
It must have been that the people in the boat miscalculated the location of the channel, for they were well over the sunken barbed wire when they lifted and threw overboard what they had come there to get rid of—two dark bulks that splashed.
I watched the boat pull back to the Imperial yacht. A little later the yacht weighed anchor and steamed northward, burning no lights. Only the red reflection tingeing the smoke from her stacks was visible. I watched her until she was lost in the moonlight, thinking all the while of those weighted sacks so often dropped overboard along the Bosporus and off Seraglio Point from that same Imperial yacht.
When the steamer had disappeared, I got out my sweeps and rowed for the place where the dark objects had been dropped overboard. I knew that they must be resting somewhere on the closely criss-crossed mesh of wires just below the surface of the water; but I probed for an hour before I located anything. Another hour passed in trying to hook into the object with the little three-fluked grapnel which I used as an anchor. I got hold of something finally; a heavy chest of olive wood bound with metal; but I had to rig a tackle before I could hoist it aboard.
Then I cast out again; and very soon my grapnel hooked into what I expected—a canvas sack, weighted with a round shot. When I got it aboard, I hesitated a long while before opening it. Finally I made a long slit in the canvas with my knife....
She was very young—not over sixteen, I think, and she was really beautiful, even under her wet, dark hair. She seemed to be a Caucasian girl—maybe a Georgian. She wore a small gold cross which hung from a gold cord around her neck. There was another, and tighter, cord around her neck, too. I cut the silk bowstring and closed and bound her eyes with my handkerchief before I rowed out a little farther and lowered her into the deep channel which cuts eastward here like the scimitar of that true believer, Abdul Hamid.
Then I hoisted sail and beat up slowly toward my little dock under a moon which had become ghastly under the pallid aura of a gathering storm——
"A poor dead young lady!" interrupted the child, clasping her hands more tightly. "Did the Sultan kill her, daddy?"
"It seems so, Ruhannah."
"I don't know. He was a very cruel and wicked Sultan."
"I don't see why he killed the beautiful poor dead lady."
"If you will listen and not interrupt, you shall learn why."
"And was the chest that Herr Wilner pulled up the very same chest that is here on the floor beside me?" insisted the child.
"The very same. Now listen, Rue, and I shall read a little more in Herr Wilner's diary, and then you must have your bath and be put to bed——"
"Please read, daddy!"
The Reverend Wilbour Carew turned the page and quietly continued:
March 20. In my own quarters at Trebizond again, and rid of Murad for a while.
A canvas cover and rope handles concealed the character of my olive wood chest. I do not believe anybody suspects it to be anything except one of the various boxes containing my own personal effects. I shall open it tonight with a file and chisel, if possible.
March 21. The contents of the chest reveal something of the tragedy. The box is full of letters written in Russian, and full of stones which weigh collectively a hundred pounds at least. There is nothing else in the chest except a broken Ikon and a bronze figure of Erlik, a Yildiz relic, no doubt, of some Kurdish raid into Mongolia, and probably placed beside the dead girl by her murderers in derision. I am translating the letters and arranging them in sequence.
March 25. I have translated the letters. The dead girl's name was evidently Tatyana, one of several children of some Cossack chief or petty prince, and on the eve of her marriage to a young officer named Mitya the Kurds raided the town. They carried poor Tatyana off along with her wedding chest—the chest fished up with my grapnel.
In brief, the chest and the girl found their way into Abdul's seraglio. The letters of the dead girl—which were written and entrusted probably to a faithless slave, but which evidently never left the seraglio—throw some light on the tragedy, for they breathe indignation and contempt of Islam, and call on her affianced, on her parents, and on her people to rescue her and avenge her.
And after a while, no doubt Abdul tired of reading fierce, unreconciled little Tatyana's stolen letters, and simply ended the matter by having her bowstrung and dumped overboard in a sack, together with her marriage chest, her letters, and the Yellow Devil in bronze as a final insult.
She seems to have had a sister, Naia, thirteen years old, betrothed to a Prince Mistchenka, a cavalry officer in the Terek Cossacks. Her father had been Hetman of the Don Cossacks before the Emperor Nicholas reserved that title for Imperial use. And she ended in a sack off Gallipoli! That is the story of Tatyana and her wedding chest.
March 29. Murad arrived, murderously bland and assiduous in his solicitude for my health and comfort. I am almost positive he knows that I fished up something from Cove No. 37 under the theoretical guns of theoretical Fort Osman, both long plotted out but long delayed.
April 5. My duplicate plans for Gallipoli have been stolen. I have a third set still. Colonel Murad Bey is not to be trusted. My position is awkward and is becoming serious. There is no faith to be placed in Abdul Hamid. My credentials, the secret agreement with my Government, are no longer regarded even with toleration in the Yildiz Kiosque. A hundred insignificant incidents prove it every day. And if Abdul dare not break with Germany it is only because he is not yet ready to defy the Young Turk party. The British Embassy is very active and bothers me a great deal.
April 10. My secret correspondence with Enver Bey has been discovered, and my letters opened. This is a very bad business. I have notified my Government that the Turkish Government does not want me here; that the plan of a Germanised Turkish army is becoming objectionable to the Porte; that the duplicate plans of our engineers for the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli Peninsula have been stolen.
April 13. A secret interview with Enver Bey, who promises that our ideas shall be carried out when his party comes into power. Evidently he does not know that my duplicates have been stolen.
Troubles threaten in the Vilayet of Trebizond, where is an American Mission. I fear that our emissaries and the emissaries of Enver Bey are deliberately fomenting disorders because Americans are not desired by our Government. Enver denies this; but it is idle to believe anyone in this country.
April 16. Another interview with Enver Bey. His scheme is flatly revolutionary, namely, the deposition of Abdul, a secret alliance, offensive and defensive, with us; the Germanisation of the Turkish army and navy; the fortification of the Gallipoli district according to our plans; a steadily increasing pressure on Serbia; a final reckoning with Russia which is definitely to settle the status of Albania and Serbia and leave the Balkan grouping to be settled between Austria, Germany, and Turkey.
I spoke several times about India and Egypt, but he does not desire to arouse England unless she interferes.
I spoke also of Abdul Hamid's secret and growing fear of Germany, and his increasing inclination toward England once more.
No trace of my stolen plans. The originals are in the Yildiz Palace. I have a third set secreted, about which nobody knows.
April 21. I have been summoned to the Yildiz Palace. It possibly means my assassination. I have confided my box of data, photographs, and plans, to the Reverend Wilbour Carew, an American missionary in the Trebizond sanjak.
There are rumours that Abdul has become mentally unhinged through dread of assassination. One of his own aides-de-camp, while being granted an audience in the Yildiz, made a sudden and abrupt movement to find his handkerchief; and Abdul Hamid whipped out a pistol and shot him dead. This is authentic.
April 30. Back at Tchardak with my good missionary and his wife. A strange interview with Abdul. There were twenty French clocks in the room, all going and all striking at various intervals. The walls were set with French mirrors.
Abdul's cordiality was terrifying; the full original set of my Gallipoli plans was brought in. After a while, the Sultan reminded me that the plans were in duplicate, and asked me where were these duplicates. What duplicity! But I said pleasantly that they were to be sent to General Staff Headquarters in Berlin.
He pretended to understand that this was contrary to the agreement, and insisted that the plans should first be sent to him for comparison. I merely referred him to his agreement with my Government. But all the while we were talking I was absolutely convinced that the stolen duplicates were at that moment in the Yildiz Kiosque. Abdul must have known that I believed it. Yet we both merely smiled our confidence in each other.
He seemed to be unusually good-natured and gracious, saying that no doubt I was quite right in sending the plans to Berlin. He spoke of Enver Bey cordially, and said he hoped to be reconciled to him and his friends very soon. When Abdul Hamid becomes reconciled to anybody who disagrees with him, the latter is always dead.
He asked me where I was going. I told him about the plans I was preparing for the Trebizond district. He offered me an escort of Kurdish cavalry, saying that he had been told the district was not very safe. I thanked him and declined his escort of assassins.
I saw it all very plainly. Like a pirate captain, Abdul orders his crew to dig a secret hole for his treasure, and when the hole is dug and the treasure hidden, he murders the men who hid it for him, so that they shall never betray its location. I am one of those men. That is what he means for me, who have given him his Gallipoli plans. No wonder that in England they call him Abdul the Damned!
May 3. In the Bazaar at Tchardak yesterday two men tried to stab me. I got their daggers, but they escaped in the confusion. Murad called to express horror and regret. Yes; regret that I had not been murdered.
May 5. I have written to my Government that my usefulness here seems to be ended; that my life is in hourly danger; that I desire to be more thoroughly informed concerning the relations between Berlin and the Yildiz Palace.
May 6. I am in disgrace. My Government is furious because my correspondence with Enver Bey has been stolen. The Porte has complained about me to Berlin; Berlin disowns me, disclaims all knowledge of my political activities outside of my engineering work.
This is what failure to carry out secret instructions invariably brings—desertion by the Government from which such instructions are received. In diplomacy, failure is a crime never forgiven. Abandoned by my Government I am now little better than an outlaw here. Two courses remain open to me—to go back in disgrace and live obscurely for the remainder of my life, or to risk my life by hanging on desperately here with an almost hopeless possibility before me of accomplishing something to serve my Government and rehabilitate myself.
The matter of the stolen plans is being taken up by our Ambassador at the Sublime Porte. The British Embassy is suspected. What folly! I possess a third set of plans. Our Embassy ought to send to Trebizond for them. I don't know what to do.
May 12. A letter I wrote May 10 to the German Embassy has been stolen. I am now greatly worried about the third set of plans. It seems safest to include the box containing them among the baggage of the American missionary, the Reverend Wilbour Carew; and, too, for me to seek shelter with him.
As I am now afraid that an enemy may impersonate an official of the German Embassy, I have the missionary's promise that he will retain and conceal the contents of my box until I instruct him otherwise. I am practically in hiding at his house, and in actual fear of my life.
May 15. The missionary and his wife and baby travel to Gallipoli, where an American school for girls is about to be opened.
Today, in a cafe, I noticed that the flies, swarming on the edge of my coffee cup, fell into the saucer dead. I did not taste my coffee.
May 16. Last night a shot was fired through my door. I have decided to travel to Gallipoli with the missionary.
May 18. My groom stole and ate an orange from my breakfast tray. He is dead.
May 20. The Reverend Mr. Carew and his wife are most kind and sympathetic. They are good people, simple, kindly, brave, faithful, and fearlessly devoted to God's service in this vile land of treachery and lies.
May 21. I have confessed to the Reverend Mr. Carew as I would confess to a priest in holy orders. I have told him all under pledge of secrecy. I told him also that the sanctuary he offers might be violated with evil consequences to him; and that I would travel as far as Gallipoli with him and then leave. But the kind, courageous missionary and his wife insist that I remain under the protection which he says the flag of his country affords me. If I could only get my third set of plans out of the country!
May 22. Today my coffee was again poisoned. I don't know what prevented me from tasting it—some vague premonition. A pariah dog ate the bread I soaked in it, and died before he could yelp.
It looks to me as though my end were inevitable. Today I gave my bronze figure of Erlik, the Yellow Devil, to Mrs. Carew to keep as a dowry for her little daughter, now a baby in arms. If it is hollow, as I feel sure, there are certain to be one or two jewels in it. And the figure itself might bring five hundred marks at an antiquary's.
May 30. Arrived at the Gallipoli mission. Three Turkish ironclads lying close inshore. A British cruiser, the Cobra, and an American cruiser, the Oneida, appeared about sunset and anchored near the ironclads. The bugles on deck were plainly audible. If a German warship appears I shall carry my box on board. My only chance to rehabilitate myself is to get the third set of plans to Berlin.
June 1. In the middle of the religious exercises with which the new school is being inaugurated, cries of "Allah" come from a great crowd which has gathered. From my window where I am writing I can see how insolent the attitude of this Mohammedan riffraff is becoming. They spit upon the ground—a pebble is tossed at a convert—a sudden shout of "Allah"—pushing and jostling—a lighted torch blazes! I take my whip of rhinoceros hide and go down into the court to put a stop to this insolence——
Her father slowly closed the book.
"Daddy! Is that where poor Herr Wilner died?"
After a silence his wife said thoughtfully:
"I have always considered it very strange that the German Government did not send for Herr Wilner's papers."
"Probably they did, Mary. And very probably Murad Bey told them that the papers had been destroyed."
"And you never believed it to be your duty to send the papers to the German Government?"
"No. It was an unholy alliance that Germany sought with that monster Abdul. And when Enver Pasha seized the reins of government such an alliance would have been none the less unholy. You know and so do I that if Germany did not actually incite the Armenian massacres she at least was cognisant of preparations made to begin them. Germany is still hostile to all British or American missions, all Anglo-Saxon influence in Turkey.
"No; I did not send Herr Wilner's papers to Berlin; and the events of the last fifteen years have demonstrated that I was right in withholding them."
His wife nodded, laid aside her work basket, and rose.
"Come, Ruhannah," she said with decision; "put everything back into the wonder-box."
And, stooping, she lifted and laid away in it the scowling, menacing Yellow Devil.
* * * * *
And so, every month or two, the wonder-box was opened for the child to play with, the same story told, extracts from the diary read; but these ceremonies, after a while, began to recur at lengthening intervals as the years passed and the child grew older.
And finally it was left to her to open the box when she desired, and to read for herself the pencilled translation of the diary, which her father had made during some of the idle and trying moments of his isolated and restricted life. And, when she had been going to school for some years, other and more vivid interests replaced her dolls and her wonder-box; but not her beloved case of water-colours and crayon pencils.
The mother, shading the candle with her work-worn hand, looked down at the child in silence. The subdued light fell on a freckled cheek where dark lashes rested, on a slim neck and thin shoulders framed by a mass of short, curly chestnut hair.
Though it was still dark, the mill whistle was blowing for six o'clock. Like a goblin horn it sounded ominously through Ruhannah's dream. She stirred in her sleep; her mother stole across the room, closed the window, and went away carrying the candle with her.
At seven the whistle blew again; the child turned over and unclosed her eyes. A brassy light glimmered between leafless apple branches outside her window. Through the frosty radiance of sunrise a blue jay screamed.
Ruhannah cuddled deeper among the blankets and buried the tip of her chilly nose. But the grey eyes remained wide open and, under the faded quilt, her little ears were listening intently.
Presently from the floor below came the expected summons:
"Oh, please, mother!"
"It's after seven——"
"I know: I'll be ready in time!"
"It's after seven, Rue!"
"I'm so cold, mother dear!"
"I closed your window. You may bathe and dress down here."
"B-r-r-r! I can see my own breath when I breathe!"
"Come down and dress by the kitchen range," repeated her mother. "I've warm water all ready for you."
The brassy light behind the trees was becoming golden; slim bluish shadows already stretched from the base of every tree across frozen fields dusted with snow.
As usual, the lank black cat came walking into the room, its mysterious crystal-green eyes brilliant in the glowing light.
Listening, the child heard her father moving heavily about in the adjoining room.
Then, from below again:
"I'm going to get up, mother!"
"Rue! Obey me!"
"I'm up! I'm on my way!" She sprang out amid a tempest of bedclothes, hopped gingerly across the chilly carpet, seized her garments in one hand, comb and toothbrush in the other, ran into the hallway and pattered downstairs.
The cat followed leisurely, twitching a coal-black tail.
"Mother, could I have my breakfast first? I'm so hungry——"
Her mother turned from the range and kissed her as she huddled close to it. The sheet of zinc underneath warmed her bare feet delightfully. She sighed with satisfaction, looked wistfully at the coffeepot simmering, sniffed at the biscuits and sizzling ham.
"Could I have one little taste before I——"
"Come, dear. There's the basin. Bathe quickly, now."
Ruhannah frowned and cast a tragic glance upon the tin washtub on the kitchen floor. Presently she stole over, tested the water with her finger-tip, found it not unreasonably cold, dropped the night-dress from her frail shoulders, and stepped into the tub with a perfunctory shiver—a thin, overgrown child of fifteen, with pipestem limbs and every rib anatomically apparent.
Her hair, which had been cropped to shoulder length, seemed to turn from chestnut to bronze fire, gleaming and crackling under the comb which she hastily passed through it before twisting it up.
"Quickly but thoroughly," said her mother. "Hasten, Rue."
Ruhannah seized soap and sponge, gasped, shut her grey eyes tightly, and fell to scrubbing with the fury of despair.
"Don't splash, dear——"
"Did you warm my towel, mother?"—blindly stretching out one thin and dripping arm.
Her mother wrapped her in a big crash towel from head to foot.
Later, pulling on stockings and shoes by the range, she managed to achieve a buttered biscuit at the same time, and was already betraying further designs upon another one when her mother sent her to set the table in the sitting-room.
Thither sauntered Ruhannah, partly dressed, still dressing.
By the nickel-trimmed stove she completed her toilet, then hastily laid the breakfast cloth and arranged the china and plated tableware, and filled the water pitcher.
Her father came in on his crutches; she hurried from the table, syrup jug in one hand, cruet in the other, and lifted her face to be kissed; then she brought hot plates, coffeepot, and platters, and seated herself at the table where her father and mother were waiting in silence.
When she was seated her father folded his large, pallid, bony hands; her mother clasped hers on the edge of the table, bowing her head; and Ruhannah imitated them. Between her fingers she could see the cat under the table, and she watched it arch its back and gently rub against her chair.
"For what we are about to receive, make us grateful, Eternal Father. This day we should go hungry except for Thy bounty. Without presuming to importune Thee, may we ask Thee to remember all who awake hungry on this winter day.... Amen."
Ruhannah instantly became very busy with her breakfast. The cat beside her chair purred loudly and rose at intervals on its hind legs to twitch her dress; and Ruhannah occasionally bestowed alms and conversation upon it.
"Rue," said her mother, "you should try to do better with your algebra this week."
"Yes, I do really mean to."
"Have you had any more bad-conduct marks?"
Her father lifted his mild, dreamy eyes of an invalid. Her mother asked:
"For wasting my time in study hour," said the girl truthfully.
"Were you drawing?"
"Rue! Again! Why do you persist in drawing pictures in your copy books when you have an hour's lesson in drawing every week? Besides, you may draw pictures at home whenever you wish."
"I don't exactly know why," replied the girl slowly. "It just happens before I notice what I am doing.... Of course," she explained, "I do recollect that I oughtn't to be drawing in study hour. But that's after I've begun, and then it seems a pity not to finish."
Her mother looked across the table at her husband:
"Speak to her seriously, Wilbour."
The Reverend Mr. Carew looked solemnly at his long-legged and rapidly growing daughter, whose grey eyes gazed back into her father's sallow visage.
"Rue," he said in his colourless voice, "try to get all you can out of your school. I haven't sufficient means to educate you in drawing and in similar accomplishments. So get all you can out of your school. Because, some day, you will have to help yourself, and perhaps help us a little."
He bent his head with a detached air and sat gazing mildly at vacancy—already, perhaps, forgetting what the conversation was about.
"What am I going to do to earn my living?"
"I don't know."
"Do you mean I must go into the mill like everybody else?"
"There are other things. Girls work at many things in these days."
"What kind of things?"
"They may learn to keep accounts, help in shops——"
"If father could afford it, couldn't I learn to do something more interesting? What do girls work at whose fathers can afford to let them learn how to work?"
"They may become teachers, learn stenography and typewriting; they can, of course, become dressmakers; they can nurse——"
"Could I choose the business of drawing pictures? I know how!"
"Dear, I don't believe it is practical to——"
"Couldn't I draw pictures for books and magazines? Everybody says I draw very nicely. You say so, too. Couldn't I earn enough money to live on and to take care of you and father?"
Wilbour Carew looked up from his reverie:
"To learn to draw correctly and with taste," he said in his gentle, pedantic voice, "requires a special training which we cannot afford to give you, Ruhannah."
"Must I wait till I'm twenty-five before I can have my money?" she asked for the hundredth time. "I do so need it to educate myself. Why did grandma do such a thing, mother?"
"Your grandmother never supposed you would need the money until you were a grown woman, dear. Your father and I were young, vigorous, full of energy; your father's income was ample for us then."
"Have I got to marry a man before I can get enough money to take lessons in drawing with?"
Her mother's drawn smile was not very genuine. When a child asks such questions no mother finds it easy to smile.
"If you marry, dear, it is not likely you'll marry in order to take lessons in drawing. Twenty-five is not old. If you still desire to study art you will be able to do so."
"Twenty-five!" repeated Rue, aghast. "I'll be an old woman."
"Many begin their life's work at an older age——"
"Mother! I'd rather marry somebody and begin to study art. Oh, don't you think that even now I could support myself by making pictures for magazines? Don't you, mother dear?"
"Rue, as your father explained, a special course of instruction is necessary before one can become an artist——"
"But I do draw very nicely!" She slipped from her chair, ran to the old secretary where the accumulated masterpieces of her brief career were treasured, and brought them for her parents' inspection, as she had brought them many times before.
Her father looked at them listlessly; he did not understand such things. Her mother took them one by one from Ruhannah's eager hands and examined these grimy Records of her daughter's childhood.
There were drawings of every description in pencil, in crayon, in mussy water-colours, done on scraps of paper of every shape and size. The mother knew them all by heart, every single one, but she examined each with a devotion and an interest forever new.
There were many pictures of the cat; many of her parents, too—odd, shaky, smeared portraits all out of proportion, but usually recognisable.
A few landscapes varied the collection—a view or two of the stone bridge opposite, a careful drawing of the ruined paper mill. But the majority of the subjects were purely imaginary; pictures of demons and angels, of damsels and fairy princes—paragons of beauty—with castles on adjacent crags and swans adorning convenient ponds.
Her mother rose after a few moments, laid aside the pile of drawings, went to the kitchen and returned with her daughter's schoolbooks and lunch basket.
"Rue, you'll be late again. Get on your rubbers immediately."
The child's shabby winter coat was already too short in skirt and sleeve, and could be lengthened no further. She pulled the blue toboggan cap over her head, took a hasty osculatory leave of her father, seized books and lunch basket, and followed her mother to the door.
Below the house the Brookhollow road ran south across an old stone bridge and around a hill to Gayfield, half a mile away.
Rue, drawing on her woollen gloves, looked up at her mother. Her lip trembled very slightly. She said:
"I shouldn't know what to do if I couldn't draw pictures.... When I draw a princess I mean her for myself.... It is pleasant—to pretend to live with swans."
She opened the door, paused on the step; the frosty breath drifted from her lips. Then she looked back over her shoulder; her mother kissed her, held her tightly for a moment.
"If I'm to be forbidden to draw pictures," repeated the girl, "I don't know what will become of me. Because I really live there—in the pictures I make."
"We'll talk it over this evening, darling. Don't draw in study hour any more, will you?"
"I'll try to remember, mother."
* * * * *
When the spindle-limbed, boyish figure had sped away beyond sight, Mrs. Carew shut the door, drew her wool shawl closer, and returned slowly to the sitting-room. Her husband, deep in a padded rocking-chair by the window, was already absorbed in the volume which lay open on his knees—the life of the Reverend Adoniram Judson—one of the world's good men. Ruhannah had named her cat after him.
His wife seated herself. She had dishes to do, two bedrooms, preparations for noonday dinner—the usual and unchangeable routine. She turned and looked out of the window across brown fields thinly powdered with snow. Along a brawling, wintry-dark stream, fringed with grey alders, ran the Brookhollow road. Clumps of pines and elms bordered it. There was nothing else to see except a distant crow in a ten-acre lot, walking solemnly about all by himself.
... Like the vultures that wandered through the compound that dreadful day in May ... she thought involuntarily.
But it was a far cry from Trebizond to Brookhollow. And her husband had been obliged to give up after the last massacre, when every convert had been dragged out and killed in the floating shadow of the Stars and Stripes, languidly brilliant overhead.
For the Sublime Porte and the Kurds had had their usual way at last; there was nothing left of the Mission; school and converts were gone; her wounded husband, her baby, and herself refugees in a foreign consulate; and the Turkish Government making apologies with its fat tongue in its greasy cheek.
The Koran says: "Woe to those who pray, and in their prayers are careless."
The Koran also says: "In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful: What thinkest thou of him who treateth our religion as a lie?"
Mrs. Carew and her crippled husband knew, now, what the Sublime Porte thought about it, and what was the opinion of the Kurdish cavalry concerning missionaries and converts who treated the Moslem religion as a lie.
She looked at her pallid and crippled husband; he was still reading; his crutches lay beside him on the floor. She turned her eyes to the window. Out there the solitary crow was still walking busily about in the frozen pasture. And again she remembered the vultures that hulked and waddled amid the debris of the burned Mission.
Only that had been in May; and above the sunny silence in that place of death had sounded the unbroken and awful humming of a million million flies....
* * * * *
And so, her husband being now hopelessly broken and useless, they had come back with their child, Ruhannah, to their home in Brookhollow.
Here they had lived ever since; here her grey life was passing; here her daughter was already emerging into womanhood amid the stark, unlovely environments of a country crossroads, arid in summer, iron naked in winter, with no horizon except the Gayfield hills, no outlook save the Brookhollow road. And that led to the mill.
She had done what she could—was still doing it. But there was nothing to save. Her child's destiny seemed to be fixed.
Her husband corresponded with the Board of Missions, wrote now and then for the Christian Pioneer, and lived on the scanty pension allowed to those who, like himself, had become incapacitated in line of duty. There was no other income.
There was, however, the six thousand dollars left to Ruhannah by her grandmother, slowly accumulating interest in the Mohawk Bank at Orangeville, the county seat, and not to be withdrawn, under the terms of the will, until the day Ruhannah married or attained, unmarried, her twenty-fifth year.
Neither principal nor interest of this legacy was available at present. Life in the Carew family at Brookhollow was hard sledding, and bid fair to continue so indefinitely.
* * * * *
The life of Ruhannah's father was passed in reading or in gazing silently from the window—a tall, sallow, bearded man with the eyes of a dreaming martyr and the hands of an invalid—who still saw in the winter sky, across brown, snow-powdered fields, the minarets of Trebizond.
In reading, in reflection, in dreaming, in spiritual acquiescence, life was passing in sombre shadows for this middle-aged man who had been hopelessly crushed in Christ's service; and who had never regretted that service, never complained, never doubted the wisdom and the mercy of his Leader's inscrutable manoeuvres with the soldiers who enlist to follow Him. As far as that is concerned, the Reverend Wilbour Carew had been born with a believing mind; doubt of divine goodness in Deity was impossible for him; doubt of human goodness almost as difficult.
Such men have little chance in a brisk, busy, and jaunty world; but they prefer it should be that way with them. And of these few believers in the goodness of God and man are our fools and gentlemen composed.
On that dreadful day, the Kurd who had mangled him so frightfully that he recovered only to limp through life on crutches bent over him and shouted in his face:
"Now, you Christian dog, before I cut your throat show me how this Christ of yours can be a god!"
"Is it necessary," replied the missionary faintly, "to light a candle in order to show a man the midday sun?"
Which was possibly what saved his life, and the lives of his wife and child. Your Moslem adores and understands such figurative answers. So he left the Reverend Mr. Carew lying half dead in the blackened doorway and started cheerfully after a frightened convert praying under the compound wall.
A child on the floor, flat on her stomach in the red light of the stove, drawing pictures; her mother by the shaded lamp mending stockings; her father reading; a faint odour of kerosene from the glass lamp in the room, and the rattle of sleet on roof and window; this was one of her childhood memories which never faded through all the years of Ruhannah's life.
Of her waking hours she preferred that hour after supper when, lying prone on the worn carpet, with pencil and paper, just outside the lamp's yellow circle of light, her youthful imagination kindled and caught fire.
For at that hour the magic of the stove's glowing eyes transformed the sitting-room chairs to furtive watchers of herself, made of her mother's work-table a sly and spidery thing on legs, crouching in ambush; bewitched the ancient cottage piano so that its ivory keys menaced her like a row of monstrous teeth.
She adored it all. The tall secretary stared at her with owlish significance. Through that neutral veil where lamplight and shadow meet upon the wall, the engraved portrait of a famous and godly missionary peered down at her out of altered and malicious eyes; the claw-footed, haircloth sofa was a stealthy creature offering to entrap her with wide, inviting arms; three folded umbrellas leaned over the edge of their shadowy stand, looking down at her like scrawny and baleful birds, ready to peck at her with crooked handles. And as for Adoniram, her lank black cat, the child's restless creative fancy was ever transforming him from goblin into warlock, from hydra to hippogriff, until the earnestness of pretence sent agreeable shivers down her back, and she edged a trifle nearer to her mother.
But when pretence became a bit too real and too grotesque she had always a perfect antidote. It was merely necessary to make a quick picture of an angel or two, a fairy prince, a swan, and she felt herself in their company, and delightfully protected.
* * * * *
There was a night when the flowing roar of the gale outside filled the lamplit silence; when the snow was drifting level with the window sills; when Adoniram, unable to prowl abroad, lay curled up tight and sound asleep beside her where she sat on the carpet in the stove radiance. Wearied of drawing castles and swans, she had been listening to her father reading passages aloud from the book on his knees to her mother who was sewing by the lamp.
Presently he continued his reading:
"I asked Alaro the angel: 'Which place is this, and which people are these?'
"And he answered: 'This place is the star-track; and these are they who in the world offered no prayers and chanted no liturgies. Through other works they have attained felicity.'"
Her mother nodded, continuing to sew. Ruhannah considered what her father had read, then:
"Yes——" He looked down at her absently.
"What were you reading?"
"A quotation from the Sacred Anthology."
"Isn't prayer really necessary?"
Her mother said:
"Then how did those people who offered no prayers go to Heaven?"
Her father said:
"Eternal life is not attained by praise or prayer alone, Ruhannah. Those things which alone justify prayer are also necessary."
"What are they?"
"What we really think and what we do—both only in Christ's name. Without these nothing else counts very much—neither form nor convention nor those individual garments called creed and denomination, which belief usually wears throughout the world."
Her mother, sewing, glanced gravely down at her daughter:
"Your father is very tolerant of what other people believe—as long as they really do believe. Your father thinks that Christ would have found friends in Buddha and Mahomet."
"Do such people go to Heaven?" asked Ruhannah, astonished.
"Listen," said her father, reading again:
"'I came to a place and I saw the souls of the liberal, adorned above all other souls in splendour. And it seemed to me sublime.
"'I saw the souls of the truthful who walked in lofty splendour. And it seemed to me sublime.
"'I saw the souls of teachers and inquirers; I saw the friendly souls of interceders and peacemakers; and these walked brilliantly in the light. And it seemed to me sublime——'"
He turned to his wife:
"To see and know is sublime. We know, Mary; and Ruhannah is intelligent. But in spite of her faith in what she has learned from us, like us she must one day travel the common way, seeking for herself the reasons and the evidences of immortality."
"Perhaps her faith, Wilbour——"
"Perhaps. But with the intelligent, faith, which is emotional, usually follows belief; and belief comes only from reasoning. I think that Ruhannah is destined to travel the way of all intelligence when she is ready to think for herself."
"I am ready now," said the girl. "I have faith in our Lord Jesus, and in my father and mother."
Her father looked at her:
"It is good building material. Some day, God willing, you shall build a very lofty temple with it. But the foundation of the temple must first be certain. Intelligence ultimately requires reasons for belief. You will have to seek them for yourself, Ruhannah. Then, on them build your shrine of faith; and nothing shall shake it down."
"I don't understand."
"And I cannot explain. Only this; as you grow older, all around you in the world you will become aware of people, countless millions and millions of people, asking themselves—ready with the slightest encouragement, or without it, to ask you the question which is the most vital of all questions to them. And whatever way it is answered always they ask for evidence. You, too, will one day ask for evidence. All the world asks for it. But few recognise it as evidence when it is offered."
He closed his book and dropped a heavy hand upon it.
"Amid the myriad pursuits and interests and trades and professions of the human race, amid their multitudinous aspirations, perplexities, doubts, passions, endeavours, deep within every intelligent man remains one dominant desire, one persistent question to be answered if possible."
"What desire, father?"
"The universal desire for another chance—for immortality. Man's never-ending demand for evidence of an immortality which shall terminate for him the most tremendous of all uncertainties, which shall solve for him the most vital of all questions: What is to become of him after physical death? Is he to live again? Is he to see once more those whom he loved the best?"
Ruhannah sat thinking in the red stove light, cross-legged, her slim ankles clasped in either hand.
"But our souls are immortal," she said at last.
"Our Lord Jesus has said it."
"Then why should anybody not believe it?"
"Try to believe it always. Particularly after your mother and I are no longer here, try to believe it.... You are unusually intelligent; and if some day your intelligence discovers that it requires evidence for belief seek for that evidence. It is obtainable. Try to recognise it when you encounter it.... Only, in any event, remember this: never alter your early faith, never destroy your childhood's belief until evidence to prove the contrary convinces you."
"No.... There is no such evidence, is there, father?"
"I know of none."
"Then," said the girl calmly, "I shall take Christ's evidence that I shall live again if I do no evil.... Father?"
"Is there any evidence that Adoniram has no soul?"
"I know of none."
"Is there any that he has a soul?"
"Yes, I think there is."
"Are you sure?"
"I wonder," mused the girl, looking gravely at the sleeping cat.
It was the first serious doubt that Ruhannah had ever entertained in her brief career.
That night she dreamed of the Yellow Devil in Herr Wilner's box, and, awaking, remembered her dream. It seemed odd, too, because she had not even thought of the Yellow Devil for over a year.
But the menacing Mongol figure seemed bound to intrude into her life once more and demand her attention as though resentful of long oblivion and neglect; for, a week later, an old missionary from Indo-China—a native Chinese—who had lectured at the Baptist Church in Gayfield the evening previous, came to pay his respects to the Reverend Wilbour Carew. And Rue had taken the Yellow Devil from the olive-wood box that day and was busily making a pencil drawing of it.
At sight of the figure the native missionary's narrow almond eyes opened extremely wide, and he leaned on the table and regarded the bronze demon very intently.
Then he took from his pocket and adjusted to his button nose a pair of large, horn spectacles; and he carefully examined the Chinese characters engraved on the base of the ancient bronze, following them slowly with a yellow and clawlike forefinger.
"Can you read what is written there?" inquired the Reverend Mr. Carew.
"Yes, brother. This is what is written: 'I am Erlik, Ruler of Chaos and of All that Was. The old order passes when I arrive. I bring confusion among the peoples; I hurl down emperors; kingdoms crumble where I pass; the world begins to rock and tip, spilling nations into outer darkness. When there are no more kingdoms and no more kings; no more empires and no emperors; and when only the humble till, the blameless sow, the pure reap; and when only the teachers teach in the shadow of the Tree, and when the Thinker sits unstirring under the high stars, then, from the dark edges of the world I let go my grasp and drop into those immeasurable deeps from which I came—I, Erlik, Ruler of All that Was.'"
After a silence the Reverend Mr. Carew asked whether the figure was a very old one.
"It is before the period called 'Han'—a dynasty during which the Mongols were a mighty people. This inscription is Mongol. Erlik was the Yellow Devil of the Mongols."
"Not a heathen god, then?"
"No, a heathen devil. Their Prince of Darkness."
Ruhannah, pencil in hand, looked curiously at this heathen Prince of Darkness, arrived out of the dark ages to sit to her for his scowling portrait.
"I wonder what he thinks of America," she said, partly to herself.
The native missionary smiled, picked up the Yellow Devil, shook the figure, listening.
"There is something inside," he said; "perhaps jewels. If you drilled a hole in him you could find out."
The Reverend Mr. Carew nodded absently:
"Yes; it might be worth while," he said.
"If there is a jewel," repeated the missionary, "you had better take it, then cast away the figure. Erlik brings disaster to the land where his image is set up."
The Reverend Mr. Carew smiled at his Chinese and Christian confrere's ineradicable vein of superstition.
THE TRODDEN WAY
There came the indeterminate year when Ruhannah finished school and there was no money available to send her elsewhere for further embellishment, no farther horizon than the sky over the Gayfield hills, no other perspective than the main street of Gayfield with the knitting mill at the end of it.
So into Gayfield Mill the girl walked, and found a place immediately among the unskilled. And her career appeared to be predetermined now, and her destiny a simple one—to work, to share the toil and the gaieties of Gayfield with the majority of the other girls she knew; to marry, ultimately, some boy, some clerk in one of the Gayfield stores, some farmer lad, perhaps, possibly a school teacher or a local lawyer or physician, or possibly the head of some department in the mill, or maybe a minister—she was sufficiently well bred and educated for any one of these.
* * * * *
The winter of her seventeenth year found her still very much a child at heart, physically backward, a late adolescent, a little shy, inclined to silences, romantic, sensitive to all beauty, and passionately expressing herself only when curled up by the stove with her pencil and the red light of the coals falling athwart the slim hand that guided it.
She went sometimes to village parties, learned very easily to dance, had no preferences among the youths of Gayfield, no romances. For that matter, while she was liked and even furtively admired, her slight shyness, reticence, and a vague, indefinite something about her seemed to discourage familiar rustic gallantry. Also, she was as thin and awkward as an overgrown lad, not thought to be pretty, known to be poor. But for all that more than one young man was vaguely haunted at intervals by some memory of her grey eyes and the peculiar sweetness of her mouth, forgetting for the moment several freckles on the delicate bridge of her nose and several more on her sun-tanned cheeks.
She had an agreeable time that winter, enchanted to learn dancing, happy at "showers" and parties, at sleigh rides and "chicken suppers," and the various species of village gaiety which ranged from moving pictures every Thursday and Saturday nights to church entertainments, amateur theatricals at the town hall, and lectures under the auspices of the aristocratic D. O. F.—Daughters of the Old Frontier.
But she never saw any boy she preferred to any other, never was conscious of being preferred, excepting once—and she was not quite certain about that.
It was old Dick Neeland's son, Jim—vaguely understood to have been for several years in Paris studying art—and who now turned up in Gayfield during Christmas week.
Ruhannah remembered seeing him on several occasions when she was a little child. He was usually tramping across country with his sturdy father, Dick Neeland of Neeland's Mills—an odd, picturesque pair with their setter dogs and burnished guns, and old Dick's face as red as a wrinkled winter apple, and his hair snow-white.
There was six years' difference between their ages, Jim Neeland's and hers, and she had always considered him a grown and formidable man in those days. But that winter, when somebody at the movies pointed him out to her, she was surprised to find him no older than the other youths she skated with and danced with.
Afterward, at a noisy village party, she saw him dancing with every girl in town, and the drop of Irish blood in this handsome, careless young fellow established him at once as a fascinating favourite.
Rue became quite tremulous over the prospect of dancing with him. Presently her turn came; she rose with a sudden odd loss of self-possession as he was presented, stood dumb, shy, unresponsive, suffered him to lead her out, became slowly conscious that he danced rather badly. But awe of him persisted even when he trod on her slender foot.
He brought her an ice afterward, and seated himself beside her.
"I'm a clumsy dancer," he said. "How many times did I spike you?"
She flushed and would have found a pleasant word to reassure him, but discovered nothing to say, it being perfectly patent to them both that she had retired from the floor with a slight limp.
"I'm a steam roller," he repeated carelessly. "But you dance very well, don't you?"
"I have only learned to dance this winter."
"I thought you an expert. Do you live here?"
"Yes.... I mean I live at Brookhollow."
"Funny. I don't remember you. Besides, I don't know your name—people mumble so when they introduce a man."
"I'm Ruhannah Carew."
"Carew," he repeated, while a crease came between his eyebrows. "Of Brookhollow—— Oh, I know! Your father is the retired missionary—red house facing the bridge."
"Certainly," he said, taking another look at her; "you're the little girl daddy and I used to see across the fields when we were shooting woodcock in the willows."
"I remember you," she said.
"I remember you!"
She coloured gratefully.
"Because," he added, "dad and I were always afraid you'd wander into range and we'd pepper you from the bushes. You've grown a lot, haven't you?" He had a nice, direct smile though his speech and manners were a trifle breezy, confident, and sans facon. But he was at that age—which succeeds the age of bumptiousness—with life and career before him, attainment, realisation, success, everything the mystery of life holds for a young man who has just flung open the gates and who takes the magic road to the future with a stride instead of his accustomed pace.
He was already a man with a profession, and meant that she should become aware of it.
* * * * *
Later in the evening somebody told her what a personage he had become, and she became even more deeply thrilled, impressed, and tremulously desirous that he should seek her out again, not venturing to seek him, not dreaming of encouraging him to notice her by glance or attitude—not even knowing, as yet, how to do such things. She thought he had already forgotten her existence.
But that this thin, freckled young thing with grey eyes ought to learn how much of a man he was remained somewhere in the back of Neeland's head; and when he heard his hostess say that somebody would have to see Rue Carew home, he offered to do it. And presently went over and asked the girl if he might—not too patronisingly.
In the cutter, under fur, with the moonlight electrically brilliant and the world buried in white, she ventured to speak of his art, timidly, as in the presence of the very great.
"Oh, yes," he said. "I studied in Paris. Wish I were back there. But I've got to draw for magazines and illustrated papers; got to make a living, you see. I teach at the Art League, too."
"How happy you must be in your career!" she said, devoutly meaning it, knowing no better than to say it.
"It's a business," he corrected her, kindly.
"But—yes—but it is art, too."
"Oh, art!" he laughed. It was the fashion that year to shrug when art was mentioned—reaction from too much gabble.
"We don't busy ourselves with art; we busy ourselves with business. When they use my stuff I feel I'm getting on. You see," he admitted with reluctant honesty, "I'm young at it yet—I haven't had very much of my stuff in magazines yet."
After a silence, cursed by an instinctive truthfulness which always spoiled any little plan to swagger:
"I've had several—well, about a dozen pictures reproduced."
One picture accepted by any magazine would have awed her sufficiently. The mere fact that he was an artist had been enough to impress her.
"Do you care for that sort of thing—drawing, painting, I mean?" he inquired kindly.
She drew a quick breath, steadied her voice, and said she did.
"Perhaps you may turn out stuff yourself some day."
She scarcely knew how to take the word "stuff." Vaguely she surmised it to be professional vernacular.
She admitted shyly that she cared for nothing so much as drawing, that she longed for instruction, but that such a dream was hopeless.
At first he did not comprehend that poverty barred the way to her; he urged her to cultivate her talent, bestowed advice concerning the Art League, boarding houses, studios, ways, means, and ends, until she felt obliged to tell him how far beyond her means such magic splendours lay.
He remained silent, sorry for her, thinking also that the chances were against her having any particular talent, consoling a heart that was unusually sympathetic and tender with the conclusion that this girl would be happier here in Brookhollow than scratching around the purlieus of New York to make both ends meet.
"It's a tough deal," he remarked abruptly. "—I mean this art stuff. You work like the dickens and kick your heels in ante-rooms. If they take your stuff they send you back to alter it or redraw it. I don't know how anybody makes a living at it—in the beginning."
"I? No." He reddened; but she could not notice it in the moonlight. "No," he repeated; "I have an allowance from my father. I'm new at it yet."
"Couldn't a man—a girl—support herself by drawing pictures for magazines?" she inquired tremulously.
"Oh, well, of course there are some who have arrived—and they manage to get on. Some even make wads, you know."
"W-wads?" she repeated, mystified.
"I mean a lot of money. There's that girl on the Star, Jean Throssel, who makes all kinds of wealth, they say, out of her spidery, filmy girls in ringlets and cheesecloth dinner gowns."
"Yes, Jean Throssel, and that Waythorne girl, Belinda Waythorne, you know—does all that stuff for The Looking Glass—futurist graft, no mouths on her people—she makes hers, I understand."
It was rather difficult for Rue to follow him amid the vernacular mazes.
"Then, of course," he continued, "men like Alexander Fairless and Philip Lightwood who imitates him, make fortunes out of their drawing. I could name a dozen, perhaps. But the rest—hard sledding, Miss Carew!"
"Is it very hard?"
"Well, I don't know what on earth I'd do if dad didn't back me as his fancy."
"A father ought to, if he can afford it."
"Oh, I'll pay my way some day. It's in me. I feel it; I know it. I'll make plenty of money," he assured her confidently.
"I'm sure you will."
"Thank you," he smiled. "My friends tell me I've got it in me. I have one friend in particular—the Princess Mistchenka—who has all kinds of confidence in my future. When I'm blue she bolsters me up. She's quite wonderful. I owe her a lot for asking me to her Sunday nights and for giving me her friendship."
"A—a princess?" whispered the girl, who had drawn pictures of thousands but was a little startled to realise that such fabled creatures really exist.
"Is she very beautiful?" she added.
"She's tremendously pretty."
"Her—clothes are very beautiful, I suppose," ventured Rue.
"Well—they're very—smart. Everything about her is smart. Her Sunday night suppers are wonderful. You meet people who do things—all sorts—everybody who is somebody."
He turned to her frankly:
"I think myself very lucky that the Princess Mistchenka should be my friend, because, honestly, Miss Carew, I don't see what there is in me to interest such a woman."
Rue thought she could see, but remained silent.
"If I had my way," said Neeland, a few moments later, "I'd drop illustrating and paint battle scenes. But it wouldn't pay, you see."
"Couldn't you support yourself by painting battles?"
"Not yet," he said honestly. "Of course I have hopes—intentions——" he laughed, drew his reins; the silvery chimes clashed and jingled and flashed in the moonlight; they had arrived.
At the door he said:
"I hope some day you'll have a chance to take lessons. Thank you for dancing with me.... If you ever do come to New York to study, I hope you'll let me know."
"Yes," she said, "I will."
He was halfway to his sleigh, looked back, saw her looking back as she entered the lighted doorway.
"Good night, Rue," he said impulsively, warmly sorry for her.
"Good night," she said.
The drop of Irish blood in him prompted him to go back to where she stood framed in the lighted doorway. And the same drop was no doubt responsible for his taking her by the waist and tilting back her head in its fur hood and kissing her soft, warm lips.
She looked up at him in a flushed, bewildered sort of way, not resisting; but his eyes were so gay and mischievous, and his quick smile so engaging that a breathless, uncertain smile began to edge her lips; and it remained stamped there, stiffening even after he had jumped into his cutter and had driven away, jingling joyously out into the dazzling moonshine.
* * * * *
In bed, the window open, and the covers pulled to her chin, Rue lay wakeful, living over again the pleasures of the evening; and Neeland's face was always before her open eyes, and his pleasant voice seemed to be sounding in her ears. As for the kiss, it did not trouble her. Girls she went with were not infrequently so saluted by boys. That, being her own first experience, was important only in that degree. And she shyly thought the experience agreeable. And, as she recalled, revived, and considered all that Neeland had said, it seemed to her that this young man led an enchanted life and that such as he were indeed companions fit for princesses.
"Princess Mistchenka," she repeated aloud to herself. And somehow it sounded vaguely familiar to the girl, as though somewhere, long ago, she had heard another voice pronounce the name.
After she had become accustomed to the smell of rancid oil and dyestuffs and the interminable racket of machinery she did not find her work at the knitting mill disagreeable. It was like any work, she imagined, an uninteresting task which had to be done.
The majority of the girls and young men of the village worked there in various capacities; wages were fair, salaries better, union regulations prevailed. There was nothing to complain of.
And nothing to expect except possible increase in wages, holidays, and a disquieting chance of getting caught in the machinery, which familiarity soon discounted.
As for the social status of the mill workers, the mill was Gayfield; and Gayfield was a village where the simpler traditions of the Republic still survived; where there existed no invidious distinction in vocations; a typical old-time community harbouring the remains of a Grand Army Post and too many churches of too many denominations; where the chance metropolitan stranger was systematically "done"; where distrust of all cities and desire to live in them was equalled only by a passion for moving pictures and automobiles; where the school trustees used double negatives and traced their ancestry to Colonial considerables—who, however, had signed their names in "lower case" or with a Maltese cross—the world in miniature, with its due proportion of petty graft, petty squabbles, envy, kindness, jealousy, generosity, laziness, ambition, stupidity, intelligence, honesty, hypocrisy, hatred, affection, badness and goodness, as standardised by the code established according to folk-ways on earth—in brief, a perfectly human community composed of the usual ingredients, worthy and unworthy—that was Gayfield, Mohawk County, New York.
Before spring came—before the first robin appeared, and while icy roads still lay icy under sunlit pools of snow-water—a whole winter indoors, and a sedentary one, had changed the smoothly tanned and slightly freckled cheeks of Rue Carew to a thinner and paler oval. Under her transparent skin a tea-rose pink came and went; under her grey eyes lay bluish shadows. Also, floating particles of dust, fleecy and microscopic motes of cotton and wool filling the air in the room where Ruhannah worked, had begun to irritate her throat and bronchial tubes; and the girl developed an intermittent cough.