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cisms that involved additional labor. As he plunged into the subject he found Walters watching him intently. There was an odd look in his eyes—his lips quivered into a queer smile; but he merely nodded.
"The chapters you refer to are?"
Welborn drew a memorandum from his pocket and explained the feeling he shared with Fenton that there were a few chapters in "The Heart of Life " that could be improved.
"I think you are right," Walters conceded, fingering his pipe nervously. "I think I get your idea—that the grip relaxes in those places. Very likely you are right. I shan't quarrel with you. I have other attempts at the same chapters that I can substitute."
In spite of this amiable acceptance of his suggestions, Welborn was aware of a distinct disappointment in Walters's manner of agreeing to the changes. He settled back in his big chair and a look of age and weakness crept into his face. He ignored Welborn's eager denial that he or his chief were disposed to insist upon alterations; it was alia matter of Walters's own feeling; they merely thought that he should have the benefit of their views.
"Oh, I see it; I saw it all along, I think!" Walters protested tamely. "I'll attend to it; I want it to be as good as it can be made. You see," he said, sitting upright again, "I believe myself capable of viewing the book with entire detachment; I wanted that kind of thing to be done, and I'm not considering myself— really I am not," he declared earnestly. "I felt that the iron in these hills, the sweat on the faces of thousands of men should be got into a book. It was in the effort to get the secret of this phase of life that I have lived here. I wanted to find out what men think whose backs are bent under heavy toil; I've spent many years trying to learn just that and I think possibly I know. I want it to be in that book. There are other attempts at the same thing; some earlier manuscripts. I want you to read 'The Iron Hand' Helen mentioned—I'll be curious to know what you think of that. But my other stuff I'm going to destroy—it's bloodless, colorless. There's none of the terrible passion of it all in those earlier things."
He was more roused now than at any Vol. LXII.—74
previous moment of the three hours Welborn had spent with him. He rested his arms on the table, clutching his pipe. Welborn's thoughts turned again to Harlow, and he was debating whether he should wire Fenton to join him on the morrow, to settle the question, when Walters, lowering his voice, made any appeal to Fenton unnecessary.
"I'm a sick man with little more time left me. I saw a doctor a month ago who warned me; my heart's gone bad. I may drop off at any time. There are one or two things I want to say to you—I'll be brief about it. My name is Harlow. Fenton knew me well in the old days; he was my best friend!"
The disclosure was so abrupt that Welborn was unable to frame any comment. He wished to urge Harlow to return with him to New York to see Fenton, to consult physicians—to seek a change of air and scene; but, with a sigh, Harlow continued:
"You will pardon me if I ask you a question I've been waiting to ask some one from—from the big world outside. It's about Helen. She knows no other life than this—" he indicated the town with a sweep of the arm. "She has had just such schooling as is open to any laborer's daughter. Her friends and acquaintances are limited to her schoolmates—our neighbors' sons and daughters. You will pardon me if—if I ask you just how she impresses you? I will put my question concretely—can you imagine her adjusting herself to other conditions, to the higher social levels, we will say?"
The question was dismayingly direct and Welborn hesitated; but Harlow's eyes were upon him with an intentness that brooked no evasion.
"She is very beautiful," he replied slowly; "and she bears all the marks of a cultivated woman. She has charm and distinction—she is wonderful!"
He hated himself for not finding better phrases with which to satisfy the parental pride, but Harlow continued, unheeding:
"Fenton and one or two others of our little group will look after Helen; I have no fears as to that. What bothers me— the thing I shrink from speculating about —is the effect on her of the change. It's going to mean a lot to her. I can't see through to the end of it. There's money, quite enough to take care of her. Tom Moreton, in Boston, another of my classmates, has had charge of my affairs ever since I went into exile. I couldn't stand seeing Fenton; but here's a letter I've written him." He took a long envelope from the table and handed it to Welborn. "Neither he nor Helen is to know, you understand—not till"
He waited for Welborn to thrust the packet into his pocket and continued, still pending across the table and clenching his cold pipe.
"I wanted my daughter to know life on this side of the barricade. My own lacks prompted that feeling. At thirty I felt acutely that I was a failure—a splendid sort of failure, I dare say they thought me; and then it flashed upon me that life—the heart and soul of it—I couldn't know, from the very nature of my upbringing and training. And so for twenty years I have lived in places like this, doing as nearly as I could a man's work—hard physical labor. Helen knows nothing of me that is not in her own memory. She used to ask questions; she is far too keen not to have surmised that I have known other ways of living. But for years she has seen me go daily to labor when the whistles blew. Strange to say, I developed a certain knack and skill that won me promotions; I was a foreman in the rail-mill you see off yonder. I might have gone higher, but I wouldn't have it—it was the taste of labor I wanted. I turned in my keys to the superintendent yesterday and I'm done with it all. But, Welborn, it has been sweet, a wonderfully broadening and inspiring experience! I have been enormously happy, except that I have troubled about Helen. And of course it's a grave question, now that it's all over, whether it's been fair to her. And yet she's amazing, astonishing in what she's got out of it. She has a wonderful mind —you can see she has the sense of things she has never seen. Her penetration is greater than mine; she has been a revelation to me in that. She knows all that I know—vastly more! My experiments with her have worked out exactly as I expected they would, or, that's the way it strikes me. She isn't handicapped by the memory of a different order of things
as I have been; she has lived the life, eaten the bread, worn the garb of a daughter of labor. Later she will see the other side—a reversal of my own experience, you know. If I had begun with what she has I might have gone far. As it is"
He shrugged his shoulders and turned his eyes upon the wall to avoid inviting any response from Welborn.
"As it is," said the young man gently, "'The Heart of Life' marks a new era in our literature; it plants the banner on a height nobody now in sight can reach."
"Now that I've got to leave her," Harlow resumed, earnestly, ."I see clearly that it was a great risk; that I had no right to drag her with me through my years of self-discipline and vicissitude. It wasn't fair; and yet I was honest about it—I wanted her to know the world's rough hand. It has been in my mind for years that if I was ever able to do some really big thing I would slip back into my old life and see her established. But it's too late now; I haven't the strength nor inclination to break with things here. I'm really a part of all this; my early years have faded out—all but the friendships— Fenton, Moreton, one or two others. I must leave her to Fenton: I knew his wife as a girl; she and my wife were brought up together, and she will understand Helen, and what her mother would have wanted for her."
Helen came up-stairs humming softly, paused at the door, and stole quietly into the rocker which Welborn placed for her by the table.
"I'll be selfish and take the only comfortable chair in the room," she laughed. "I can always manage papa better from my throne, as he likes to call it."
She had brought some sewing with which she busied herself. Her ignorance of her father's doom, the change imminent in her own affairs, Harlow himself, emerging from the depths that had long engulfed him, bearing a pearl in his hand, only to find death awaiting him— combined to the making of a situation so poignant in every aspect that Welborn wished to escape from it. But Helen's appearance had exerted a tonic influence upon Harlow. He reached across
table and caught her fingers, laughingly chiding her for her long delay. No further reference was made to the manuscript; he asked her, as though this were a part of a routine, established for their hours of leisure, about their neighbors and the town's affairs. A basket-ball match was impending between a team of Wycherly high-school girls and a rival in a near-by town. Helen had been acting as coach for Wycherly.
"Helen, you know, was a star athlete in her school-days. You can't imagine how strong she is. She could pitch us both out of the window, Welborn. But for the sad limitations of sex she would have been a great ball-player. The only serious trouble I ever had with her was in getting her to give up playing baseball with the boys."
He was prepared to dwell at length upon her prowess, in a vein of mockery that only veiled his pride, but she quickly turned the talk into other channels. The great lord of the mills had given money for a. new recreation building, and Harlow, it seemed, was one of the committee to plan it. Helen talked spiritedly of this; of the theatre in which she hoped they would be able to give plays without outside aid, and of a choral society over which she was particularly enthusiastic.
"Papa and I think the people in a town like this capable of doing almost anything in the way of self-expression if only they are encouraged to take the initiative. It's in them, you know." And then, as though fearing she were making too much of this, she laughingly added: "You know there's a piano in every house on this street!"
Welborn realized that she had, indeed, understanding and penetration, but he was aware also that she was acquainted with the thought, hostile and friendly, of the world beyond the iron circle that hemmed her in. His eyes had swept the shelves that lined the room; they were crammed with books of the twentieth century, many of them recognizable as the comment and opinion of the ablest critics of the social structure.
Welborn mentioned socialism, and as Harlow was dreaming again she answered for her father that he had carefully
avoided suggesting any remedy for the evils pictured in "The Heart of Life."
"What papa has tried to do is to tell the truth; he has no ambition to become a propagandist." And then, with humor kindling in her eyes: "You ought to hear him abuse the purpose novel! All he wants is to make the cinders burn his pages; he thinks that if people don't see and understand it's not his affair to drop a hot one down their backs to make them sit up!"
"There is one problem in which all other problems merge," observed Harlow with a sad wistfulness. "It's the small matter of making happiness possible for the greatest number. We shall never realize that until the barriers between the classes are beaten- down. I'm not a Joshua to trumpet under the walls; my aim is merely to show what's on the other side. I was disposed to make a concession to popular taste in putting what you call heart interest into the story, but Helen wouldn't have it! no sentiment; no moonlit love scenes! She said all the characters must walk through the fiery furnace!"
"Don't believe him, Mr. Welborn! Papa never flinches when it comes to strict realism. Whenever I suggested cheering up the picture he became very cross and scolded me horribly!"
It was four o'clock when Welborn rose to go, explaining that he was running into Pittsburgh to spend the night with friends, but that he would return the next afternoon.
"I'll attend to those changes we were speaking of," said Harlow as they parted. "Helen will help me and we can probably give you most of the manuscript to carry back with you."
Helen accompanied Welborn to the door and gave him her hand on the threshold, smiling happily. He turned away from her thanks and walked the few feet of brick walk that led to the gate bewildered and awed by the day's occurrences. As he looked back she stood framed in the doorway, the embodiment of youth and strength, with the September sunlight falling goldenly upon her fair head. His heart stirred strangely not only for what she was—her pictorial values, her wit, her understanding of things, to which Harlow had testified—but her potentialities, the effect upon her of the new world that would open to her when Harlow should be gone.
Welborn found it necessary to visit Wycherly frequently in the ensuing months. Harlow had been unable to conceal his illness and spent many days in bed. The compression and alterations Welborn had suggested were made, however, and Helen, he found, was reading the galley proof aloud to her father on days when his weakened condition permitted.
With many misgivings and not without much difficulty, Welborn had withheld from Fen ton the fact that "The Heart of Life" was Harlow's work. The secret was to be kept, Harlow insisted, until after his death. He offered no reason for this save that he was unequal to the strain of facing old friends, and when Welborn tried to reason him out of this attitude, promising that he should not be disturbed, he answered with a wan smile that Fenton and Moreton were not fellows who would suffer him to pass out of existence without making an effort to see him.
He died, very suddenly, one morning when Welborn was in the house expediting the return of the last proofs. He wired Fenton, asking him to come immediately to Wycherly and directing him to Harlow's letter, which he had deposited in the safe of the publishing-house against just such an emergency. . . .
A year passed, and "The Heart of Life," after scoring the magazine success of the year, was launched in book form with Harlow's name on the title-page. First the newspapers and then the more leisurely literary periodicals were filled with Harlow's strange history, in which Helen, too, inevitably figured. The Fentons had shielded her as far as possible from publicity, but she had insisted that it was due her father's memory that nothing should be kept back; he had done a magnificent thing—he had written the most impressive American novel since "The Scarlet Letter"; and the curious
world should be denied no essential fact that enhanced the achievement.
The Fentons, who were childless, lived the year round at Stamford, and they had installed Helen as a permanent member of their household. Before the end of the year it was apparent that Welborn had dropped his r61e of friend and adviser for that of lover. He was in Fenton's study one night talking of Helen and taking counsel of him as to whether the time had arrived when he might declare himself.
"It doesn't seem fair; I'm the only man she has known outside of Wycherly. I think—I think perhaps she cares, and you know what she means to me. I was hard hit the first time I saw her—and since she came to you you've seen how it's gone with me."
Fenton looked at him oddly, then rose and crossed the room before he spoke.
"Harlow didn't tell you—didn't tell you all that's in that letter he left for me?"
"Well, no," Welborn replied, surprised by Fenton's gravity; "nothing beyond the confession that he was Harlow and his reasons for hiding himself as he did."
"I think you ought to know the rest of it. If his story, as the world has heard it, is the strangest you and I are ever likely to know, it's staggering when you know the whole. This must die with us, Welborn; I rather advise you against ever letting Helen know you have any notion of it—but that of course is not my affair. We've established Harlow's fame. 'The Heart of Life' plants a white stone that will never be forgotten or neglected in American literature. But"—he spoke slowly with his hand on Welborn's shoulder—"I have his word for it that he did not write the novel—it's Helen's work!"
Welborn stared helplessly, then passed his hand slowly across his face.
"Harlow couldn't do it," Fenton continued; "he frankly and unequivocally states that. She was precocious—astonishingly so, and he taught her to write. She caught something of his style, but the free, broad sweep is hers. They tried working together, and those chapters we thought weak were his own; he mentions them specifically, and the chapters he substituted were hers; hers, mind you! In their joint labors she wanted to retain as much of his work as possible—pretended to forget the individual authorship and all that. Our quick detection of the difference probably broke his poor tired heart. The ties between them were unusual. Her love for him was half-maternal; she was like a mother who wants a child to have the thing he craves most and willingly sacrifices herself that he may gain it. She had enjoined silence upon him; she knew how much success meant to him; her joy in it all was the happiness of seeing him succeed, and she thought she was deceiving him into believing she was merely his assistant and copyist. But he knew he couldn't do it! With all his genius, his fineness, his sense of the big thing, he was only an observer and a teacher. Perhaps here and there something stands that is really his—but only a paragraph—an occasional sentence. I've spent many a night over the book and I think I can point out the places, but I challenge any one else to do it."
"Helen has never, by a word, never by any hint—" began Welborn.
"Ah, she would not be his daughter if she told! I admit the tragedy of it all. The whole thing has its embarrassments and they are multiplying," Fenton continued impatiently. "I'm in the position of lending myself to a gigantic fraud! Poor Harlow, of course, realized how it would be; he was a man of strictest honor. He expressed in his letter the hope that Helen would tell the truth. But if I know her she will never acknowledge it. She wanted him to have the fame he coveted, and she got it for him—she conferred immortality upon him! There are aspects of the thing that I don't like, and Harlow would have hated the whole business. Why, Moreton is going to give the college a dormitory in Harlow's memory. It's rather nasty when you think of it.
Harlow couldn't straighten it out himself; he left it to me to settle with Helen; he expected me to make it right, but, my God, I can't mention it to her. I can't do it; I don't see that you can ever do it. We can't take the risk of spoiling the joy of her sacrifice!"
"It's absurd, preposterous!" cried Welborn. "But there's that other manuscript !' The Iron Hand' is wholly worthy to stand with 'The Heart of Life.' There are splendid heights in it."
Fenton shook his head. "That's all Helen's; Harlow made no pretense of even helping! We're going through with the publication as another Frederic Harlow book, and it will add materially to his fame. That chapter 'The Crooked Shoulders' alone would make a reputation; it's the sort of thing that will get into school readers—it's perfect writing; it's classic!"
With bent head Welborn pondered.
"It's not possible," he began earnestly, "that a woman who could do such things would stop writing; it's against all the laws that govern creative genius. Harlow tutored her too well! She knows too much to be content with lifelong suppression. She's bound to go on! We've got to persuade her to acknowledge 'The Iron Hand.'"
"It's impossible to approach her about it," said Fenton soberly. "The individuality of 'The Iron Hand' is too marked; she wouldn't dare claim it; she'd be afraid of giving the whole thing away."
"But we can't encourage her to hide the finest genius in America, to bury it forever!" Welborn cried. "We should be endangering her happiness. I can't imagine it; I can think of nothing that would compensate for so enormous a renunciation!"
"Her love for him," said Fenton softly; and averted his eyes.