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some surviving vanity in Leaven that the only human relation she should have referred to spontaneously was his to her. The others were lost in that mist of kindness which was settling each day a little more impenetrably upon her soul. For it was a mist, through which the lamps shone ever fainter and fewer. Morphine took care of that, since a point of light would now be a point of pain.
April was a veiled month. The sun rode higher and more kindly, and Leaven, as I have said, could see from his windows life returning to the world. But within the grayness deepened. The sound of that difficult breathing kept on through the days and nights, incessant, natural as a hidden watercourse close at hand. When Leaven went forth into the streets, he missed it at the heart of the din. He was neither impatient nor sad. He would not have hastened or delayed Cordelia's death by the lifting of a secret finger. She must not suffer: of that he would make sure. But the thought of her passing brought no relief. He was consciously under, no strain. What he had wanted had been vouchsafed him; and the months would not add to the gift. Nothing else, ever in all his lif e, could happen to him now.
Yet when the doctor told him the next days would see the end, he bestirred himself a little from his peace. He must be there at hand, every moment, lest in some last lucid instant she should wish to speak to him. He knew that the final unconsciousness would come before the heart stopped beating, and he drugged himself with coffee that he might not sleep at all. The doctor's advice he brushed aside as he would have rejected a spurious painting. He sat for hours, listening to the raucous familiar breathing, watching her closed eyelids.
On this day of late April, the sun was driving a level band of light through the western windows. He motioned to the nurse not to draw the curtain. The light was not yet upon Miss Wheaton's face, and something in his tradition craved sunlight for her at the end. As he bent over her, never taking his eyes from her closed eyelids, his mind went straying a little. . He thought of the beneficiaries—all those people to whom this
woman here had given the key of the fields. He was glad they would not know the moment of her passing—that they were so utterly barred out from knowledge of her. Then it came to him, with a slow insistent rush of conviction, that he himself was still in Cordelia's debt. Nothing he had done for her in this season of slow dying could equal the beauty of her complete abandoning of herself to his care. She had not troubled him with thanks, with questions, with deprecations. She had not even—oh, blessed abstention !—stated her case. She had taken him as simply as one takes God. She had been beautiful, that is, without intention; because to the very core of her, no matter what grotesqueries of creed overlaid her spirit, as grotesqueries of flesh overlaid her pure heart, she trusted him. She was unconscious of charity, whether hers or his, thereby creating a charity that he could never match.
Never? The sun turned its wide finger of light upon her eyes. They opened into what must have been'to her relaxed vision, a great golden mist. Some early irrelevant moment of her life resumed her in her weakness.
"Heaven?" she murmured.
Leaven bent his face close to hers, passionately careful not to touch her or to intercept the sun.
"Nirvana," he murmured back, with a lingering clearness. "Nirvana." It was with no passion of sympathy, no blur of emotion, that he spoke. Leaven had never been colder than when he grasped, ostensibly, the hoarded sum of his contempt and flung it down there in the sunlight, to pay his debt. "Nirvana," he repeated, deliberate, insistent as a mesmerist.
The faintest smile, as if some little, some infinitesimal thing had been set straight, brushed across Cordelia's mouth. The sacrifice of his lips' integrity had not been made in vain. She had touched and remitted. . . . Then her eyes closed again, and the nurse, at a gesture from him, drew down the shade.
An hour later, in the twilight, the head dropped, and the breathing, long since almost inaudible, turned to silence. The nurse nodded; and Leaven rose.
|NE does forget, doesn't one, in this individualistic, egotistical age, the essential fact that the plans of the gods, no matter how up2tting they may seem at first, have continuity and in the end bring ultimate good? We are so impatient; we have become so little willing to abide the final happening. So it was that in the beginning I resented bitterly the scurvy trick fate had played on Mansfield Carston; so it was that in the beginning I resented with not much less bitterness that I should first have become cognizant of this trick during my one month of a long-anticipated holiday. Only recently, with increasing perspective, has a sense of method back of all this occurred to me; a realization that perhaps if I had not been on a holiday, had not come straight from a lonely country, where one's senses grow
keener, the fine shades of the drama I witnessed might have been lost upon me. City dwellers apprehend things by their width; the dweller in lonely places apprehends them by their sharpness. Only .recently, too, has it begun to dawn upon me that possibly, after all, Mansfield Carston has not lost everything; instead, that he may have gained much. Already, in actual production, in the painting of lovely pictures that will not be forgotten, he had accomplished greatly; whether he had accomplished patience, whether he had accomplished that fine inner sense of things without which in the end achievement to the person who achieves is but a crippled hawk, brooding dissatisfaction, I cannot say. I do not think he had. Has he learned by now? And if he has, is his personal gain commensurate with the loss to^the world? These are difficult questions to answer. I shall go back again to the beginning. In the beginning . . .
When a man has been driving cattle in blizzards, -or muffling his mouth against the yellow dust of summer days for an uninterrupted period of three years, there conies a time, no matter how much he may love his little cow-ponies, and gray expanses of sage-brush, and all the poignant moments of the country in which he lives, when he wants gayety and plenty of it, gayety unshaken by the sterner facts of life. I had reached this point. For certain things I had been thirsting as a man thirsts for dusk in August; streets, for instance, with a veil of fog giving mystery to a thousand blinking electric signs; crowds, so that you hear the high, whispering accumulation of voices, feel the insistent elbows, smell the curious, sodden, inspiring smell of slightly damp, not very good clothes. And then, from all this, I wanted to come back to the unexpected quiet and aloofness of a club; to low-voiced, well-scrubbed servants; to a bed of cool sheets; to a morning of a valet and a porcelain tub and new and beautifulclothes. In short, I wanted to touch again for a while the thrilling magic of material comforts. And, particularly, I didn't want to think. I had been back a week; I was just settling down to a full enjoyment of the things I have described; life, meanwhile, with its incurable sardonicism, was taking not the least account of what I wanted or did not want. Out of the warm, tree-scented dusk of a May evening the sinister and the unexpected strolled in upon me. Its messenger, of all people in the world, was Pritchard— Pritchard, blond, bland, bred to the now archaic school that gentlemen should never show their feelings.
He—Pritchard—greeted me with the harmless condescension he practises; he placed one beautiful brown, begaitered boot on the foot-rail of the bar; in a disinterested voice he admitted a desire for a cocktail; in the same disinterested voice he informed me that the Carstons were back in New York, Mansfield Carston invalided from the trenches in Flanders, where, for the past two years, he had been. Fate seems to prefer for the conveying of its more tragic messages couriers with about them a touch of the futilitv of
a Pritchard. For a moment the full significance of the information I had just received failed to come home to me; I was merely glad at the prospect of seeing, contrary to expectation, the Carstons so soon; merely greatly relieved that Mansfield Carston, with that brain of his so sensitive to beauty, those eyes with back of them so many pictures yet to be painted, was out of the hideous uncertainties of war. Inspiring as had been his sacrifice in enlisting, it had always seemed to me a sacrifice too great. Then, suddenly, a realization of the oddity of it all touched me. Although I saw them only at rare intervals, the Carstons were amongst the very best friends I had in New York; were amongst the few people whose movements I followed from my isolation in Wyoming. I had loved them both—and I use the much-abused word advisedly—ever since, ten years before, they had come, half without knowing why, to New York. I had watched them develop, from a shy, slim, gracefully awkward young British painter of portraits, and a shy, slim, auburn-haired young wife, into the winged sort of people they now were: the direct, dexterous-minded man; the delicately resilient, mistily beautiful woman. These attributes of Alice Carston—this quality of delicate resilience, this quality of misty beauty—need bearing in mind, for in the eyes of most of her friends the latter attribute far outweighed the former. I had never thought so. She had always given me the impression of sunset across cornfields—strength, you perceive; brooding thought; and I had always been sure that it was she who had directed the somewhat errant stream of her impatient husband's nature into the broad channel of accomplishment. Women are constantly doing this: making little dams along leaky banks; pulling out of the way dangerous driftwood; very alert; persistently anxious; and men seldom know about it.
Filaments of all these associated thoughts crossed my mind as I stared at Pritchard and grew into a definite perplexity. Why hadn't I known that the Carstons were back? Why hadn't I known that Mansfield Carston was wounded? Why had there been no mention of his return in the papers? Through all the anxiety that was hers, through all the difficulties that surround war-time mails, Alice Carston had, during her two years' stay in England, written me at intervals of a month. Her last letter had reached me only a couple of weeks before.
"They're not searching out their friends," said Pritchard.
I trust I am not given to premature apprehension—a middle-aged man in the cattle business shouldn't be—but at the moment a little, unexpected sense of oppression, of the untoward, blew upon me like a cold draft from a hidden crack. I do not like oppression, I do not like the untoward; I am averse to mystery. I attempted to corner Pritchard. It was curious to see embarrassment, hesitation, uncertainty struggle for possession of his careful, negative face. He pushed aside his glass; then he turned to me in sudden decision.
"I can tell you nothing," he said; "not a thing. I am as perplexed as you. I only know there is something hidden and out of the way, something beyond my experience. You see, I only saw the Carstons for a few minutes the other night, and "— he interrupted himself and stared vaguely at the wall opposite—"it happened to be fairly dark." I wondered what this had to do with what he was saying and why it was so carefully emphasized, but I had no time to question him, for he immediately proceeded; he proceeded, for Pritchard, with extreme volubility. I gathered that here were injured feelings. After all, he asked, he was one of the earliest and best friends the Carstons had, wasn't he? A little consideration was due him, wasn't it? Yes, just a little consideration. Hadn't he bought the first picture Mansfield Carston had ever sold in New York? Yes, that girl with the oranges. And now, here they were acting in a way he couldn't understand. Not a word to him of their being back; not a word. He had come across Alice Carston merely by chance in the street, and he had noticed right away an odd aloofness in her manner, an odd lack of cordiality, when he announced, as of course any one would have announced under the circumstances, his intention of calling at once.
"But I don't understand you," I insisted. "I don't know what you mean. Do you think there's something disgraceful?" I faced about on him. "What are you talking about, anyhow? Do you mean to imply that Carston isn't really wounded?"
There was a little minute of silence before Pritchard answered; when he did, he said an astonishing thing. "Yes," he said, "that's just it! I don't know whether he's wounded or not."
He allowed me a pause for this announcement to sink in. "That's just it," he continued; "just it! When you see a man sitting in a chair apparently as well as he's ever been, when he talks quite frankly about everything else in the world except what's the matter with him, but when, at the same time, from the moment you enter a room until you leave it, you are clearly aware of an atmosphere of reserve—reserve about real things, that is— and that on the part of two old friends whom you haven't seen for months, you wonder, that's all. You wonder, and you don't know."
He drew himself up. "I wouldn't talk this way," he observed, with a return to his old, muffled manner, "except to you and a few other of Mansfield Carston's friends. No, I wouldn't talk this way at all. I don't approve of conjecture, anyhow—and particularly about Mansfield Carston." He ate an olive apprehensively. "I've ne"ver met a man," he resumed, "so proud and so sensitive; have you? Never. No, I never met a man like him. And, do you know—it's queer, it's queer, but I've always had about him the feeling that if you were to say behind his back things he didn't like he'd know about it the next time you saw him." He looked at me anxiously. "Did you ever feel that way?" he asked. "He's—he's the most pervading man I've ever met." He wiped his mustache with a handkerchief of fine linen. "Going to dine here?" he concluded, with evident relief at the change of subject.
I shook my head. "No," I said. "No." As a matter of fact, it had been my intention to do so, but I felt that at the moment I could get along very well without further conversation with Pritchard. I wanted to think, and, although the Pritchards of the world may occasionally start one thinking, they seldom aid in the furtherance of the task.
Not far off was a small and fairly quiet hotel. I sought its down-stairs restaurant and chose a table in a corner. I proceeded to piece together what I had heard. It seemed to have no relation to fact. It was quite possible to imagine Mansfield Carston doing a foolish thing, but wellnigh impossible to imagine him doing a shameful one. A man who gives up a career, gives up a life it has taken him ten years to make, draws back from the very threshold of fame, submerges an impatient, shining individuality in the great anonymity of war, because of the adventi- tious gift of being born an Englishman, begins bravely, quixotically. A high degree of sensitiveness, of imagination, is necessary for such an act. And the highly imaginative man may be afraid— in fact, always is afraid—but he is more afraid of fear than of death. And Carston had gone on bravely. In Wyoming word had reached me of his promotion, of a second promotion, of a mention in despatches. I remember at the time trying to visualize him in his new, so strange surroundings; his thin, freshly colored face, with its shy, brown, humorous eyes—eyes that had in them that look of perspective instantly grasped the eyes of painters are so likely to have; his mouth, under its close-cropped black mustache; and particularly I saw his hands, those beautiful, proficient hands. I imagined them hanging, with their slim, strong wrists showing, from the sleeves of a tunic too short for him. He was excessively long-boned. Somehow, one thought of him most as peering out at night above barricades, wondering if here, or perhaps there, or perhaps over there, beauty was to be found amidst all the hideous litter of war. He would be sure to find beauty somewhere. And I remembered later on going into the house and finding there a magazine lately come and in it a poem. One stanza seemed peculiarly apt to the news I had just received.
"For two things" [said the poem] ''have altered
Since ever the world began—
The glory of the wild green earth— and the bravery of man! No, they had not altered—either of them. It was extraordinary—all these years; it was very heartening as well. It made a queer, splendid little shiver run across your shoulders; a fine, cold feeling touch your jaws.
Now, as I sat at my table in the restaurant, I recalled the poem and the thoughts it had given me. No, whatever it was that Carston was concealing, I felt sure that here was no ordinary secret of the wreck of war. The decision to see the Carstons—or to attempt to see them— grew in me. I have a theory that assistance, sincerely offered, no matter how much resented it may be at first, is in the end invariably welcome.
I paid my bill and went out into the street. In the main dining-room above the grill where I had been, the orchestra was playing a waltz. The windows, set with flowers in long boxes, were open, and the strains of the music drifted into the soft warmth of the spring night. The incredible wistfulness of waltzes struck me afresh. They are constantly reaching after a gayety their very real beauty prevents them ever from attaining. Life wants so much to be gay; and life has always to be satisfied instead with beauty, that antithesis of gayety. Suddenly I found myself laughing with rather dreary amusement at the way my holiday, so pleasantly begun, was beginning to end.
And yet the human mind is a confused affair. At first, when I arrived at the Carstons', I experienced distinct disappointment; felt greatly let down; a little bit silly. Everything seemed perfectly natural, perfectly ordinary, exactly what I remembered it to have been three years before. I don't know what I had been expecting; one never does know exactly what one expects when one has a sense of disaster; but to find apparent outward peace is invariably disconcerting. That it is usual makes no difference. We cannot accustom ourselves, despite experience, to the persistent anticlimaxes of life. We hear of tragedy, but when we hurry to where it is we find, as a rule, existence going on much as usual; perhaps a red nose or two, that's all. We expect pomp and banners; we very seldom get