Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Inside Of The Cup - Volume 7 - Chapter 26. The Current Of Life
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 7 - Chapter 26. The Current Of Life Post by :shaulb Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :May 2012 Read :3050

Click below to download : The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 7 - Chapter 26. The Current Of Life (Format : PDF)

The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 7 - Chapter 26. The Current Of Life

VOLUME VII CHAPTER XXVI. THE CURRENT OF LIFE

I

The year when Hodder had gone east--to Bremerton and Bar Harbor, he had read in the train a magazine article which had set fire to his imagination. It had to do with the lives of the men, the engineers who dared to deal with the wild and terrible power of the western hills, who harnessed and conquered roaring rivers, and sent the power hundreds of miles over the wilderness, by flimsy wires, to turn the wheels of industry and light the dark places of the cities. And, like all men who came into touch with elemental mysteries, they had their moments of pure ecstasy, gaining a tingling, intenser life from the contact with dynamic things; and other moments when, in their struggle for mastery, they were buffeted about, scorched, and almost overwhelmed.

In these days the remembrance of that article came back to Hodder. It was as though he, too, were seeking to deflect and guide a force--the Force of forces. He, too, was buffeted, scorched, and bruised, at periods scarce given time to recover himself in the onward rush he himself had started, and which he sought to control. Problems arose which demanded the quick thinking of emergency. He, too, had his moments of reward, the reward of the man who is in touch with reality.

He lived, from day to day, in a bewildering succession of encouragements and trials, all unprecedented. If he remained at St. John's, an entire new organization would be necessary.... He did not as yet see it clearly; and in the meantime, with his vestry alienated, awaiting the bishop's decision, he could make no definite plans, even if he had had the leisure. Wholesale desertions had occurred in the guilds and societies, the activities of which had almost ceased. Little Tomkinson, the second assistant, had resigned; and McCrae, who worked harder than ever before, was already marked, Hodder knew, for dismissal if he himself were defeated.

And then there was the ever present question of money. It remained to be seen whether a system of voluntary offerings were practicable. For Hodder had made some inquiries into the so-called "free churches," only to discover that there were benefactors behind them, benefactors the Christianity of whose lives was often doubtful.

One morning he received in the mail the long-expected note from the bishop, making an appointment for the next day. Hodder, as he read it over again, smiled to himself... He could gather nothing of the mind of the writer from the contents.

The piece of news which came to him on the same morning swept completely the contemplations of the approaching interview from his mind. Sally Grover stopped in at the parish house on her way to business.

"Kate Marcy's gone," she announced, in her abrupt fashion.

"Gone!" he exclaimed, and stared at her in dismay. "Gone where?"

"That's just it," said Miss Grover. "I wish I knew. I reckon we'd got into the habit of trusting her too much, but it seemed the only way. She wasn't in her room last night, but Ella Finley didn't find it out until this morning, and she ran over scared to death, to tell us about it."

Involuntarily the rector reached for his hat.

"I've sent out word among our friends in Dalton Street," Sally continued. An earthquake could not have disturbed her outer, matter-of-fact calmness. But Hodder was not deceived: he knew that she was as profoundly grieved and discouraged as himself. "And I've got old Gratz, the cabinet-maker, on the job. If she's in Dalton Street, he'll find her."

"But what--?" Hodder began.

Sally threw up her hands.

"You never can tell, with that kind. But it sticks in my mind she's done something foolish."

"Foolish?"

Sally twitched, nervously.

"Somehow I don't think it's a spree--but as I say, you can't tell. She's full of impulses. You remember how she frightened us once before, when she went off and stayed all night with the woman she used to know in the flat house, when she heard she was sick?"

Hodder nodded.

"You've inquired there?"

"That woman went to the hospital, you know. She may be with another one. If she is, Gratz ought to find her... You know there was a time, Mr. Hodder, when I didn't have much hope that we'd pull her through. But we got hold of her through her feelings. She'd do anything for Mr. Bentley--she'd do anything for you, and the way she stuck to that embroidery was fine. I don't say she was cured, but whenever she'd feel one of those fits coming on she'd let us know about it, and we'd watch her. And I never saw one of that kind change so. Why, she must be almost as good looking now as she ever was."

"You don't think she has done anything--desperate?" asked Hodder, slowly.

Sally comprehended.

"Well--somehow I don't. She used to say if she ever got drunk again she'd never come back. But she didn't have any money--she's given Mr. Bentley every cent of it. And we didn't have any warning. She was as cheerful as could be yesterday morning, Mrs. McQuillen says."

"It might not do any harm to notify the police," replied Hodder, rising. "I'll go around to headquarters now."

He was glad of the excuse for action. He could not have sat still. And as he walked rapidly across Burton Street he realized with a pang how much his heart had been set on Kate Marcy's redemption. In spite of the fact that every moment of his time during the past fortnight had been absorbed by the cares, responsibilities, and trials thrust upon him, he reproached himself for not having gone oftener to Dalton Street. And yet, if Mr. Bentley and Sally Grower had been unable to foresee and prevent this, what could he have done?

At police headquarters he got no news. The chief received him deferentially, sympathetically, took down Kate Marcy's description, went so far as to remark, sagely, that too much mustn't be expected of these women, and said he would notify the rector if she were found. The chief knew and admired Mr. Bentley, and declared he was glad to meet Mr. Hodder... Hodder left, too preoccupied to draw any significance from the nature of his welcome. He went at once to Mr. Bentley's.

The old gentleman was inclined to be hopeful, to take Sally Grower's view of the matter.. He trusted, he said, Sally's instinct. And Hodder came away less uneasy, not a little comforted by a communion which never failed to fortify him, to make him marvel at the calmness of that world in which his friend lived, a calmness from which no vicarious sorrow was excluded. And before Hodder left, Mr. Bentley had drawn from him some account of the more recent complexities at the church. The very pressure of his hand seemed to impart courage.

"You won't stay and have dinner with me?"

The rector regretfully declined.

"I hear the bishop has returned," said Mr. Bentley, smiling.

Hodder was surprised. He had never heard Mr. Bentley speak of the bishop. Of course he must know him.

"I have my talk with him to-morrow."

Mr. Bentley said nothing, but pressed his hand again....

On Tower Street, from the direction of the church, he beheld a young man and a young woman approaching him absorbed in conversation. Even at a distance both seemed familiar, and presently he identified the lithe and dainty figure in the blue dress as that of the daughter of his vestryman, Francis Ferguson. Presently she turned her face, alight with animation, from her companion, and recognized him.

"It's Mr. Hodder!" she exclaimed, and was suddenly overtaken with a crimson shyness. The young man seemed equally embarrassed as they stood facing the rector.

"I'm afraid you don't remember me, Mr. Hodder," he said. "I met you at Mr. Ferguson's last spring."

Then it came to him. This was the young man who had made the faux pas which had caused Mrs. Ferguson so much consternation, and who had so manfully apologized afterwards. His puzzled expression relaxed into a smile, and he took the young man's hand.

"I was going to write to you," said Nan, as she looked up at the rector from under the wide brim of her hat. "Our engagement is to be announced Wednesday."

Hodder congratulated them. There was a brief silence, when Nan said tremulously:

"We're coming to St. John's!"

"I'm very glad," Hodder replied, gravely. It was one of those compensating moments, for him, when his tribulations vanished; and the tributes of the younger generation were those to which his heart most freely responded. But the situation, in view of the attitude of Francis Ferguson, was too delicate to be dwelt upon.

"I came to hear you last Sunday, Mr. Hodder," the young man volunteered, with that mixture of awkwardness and straightforwardness which often characterize his sex and age in referring to such matters. "And I had an idea of writing you, too, to tell you how much I liked what you said. But I know you must have had many letters. You've made me think."

He flushed, but met the rector's eye. Nan stood regarding him with pride.

"You've made me think, too," she added. "And we intend to pitch in and help you, if we can be of any use."

He parted from them, wondering. And it was not until he had reached the parish house that it occurred to him that he was as yet unenlightened as to the young man's name....

His second reflection brought back to his mind Kate Mercy, for it was with a portion of Nan Ferguson's generous check that her board had been paid. And he recalled the girl's hope, as she had given it to him, that he would find some one in Dalton Street to help....

II

There might, to the mundane eye, have been an element of the ridiculous in the spectacle of the rector of St. John's counting his gains, since he had chosen--with every indication of insanity--to bring the pillars of his career crashing down on his own head. By no means the least, however, of the treasures flung into his lap was the tie which now bound him to the Philip Goodriches, which otherwise would never have been possible. And as he made his way thither on this particular evening, a renewed sense came upon him of his emancipation from the dreary, useless hours he had been wont to spend at other dinner tables. That existence appeared to him now as the glittering, feverish unreality of a nightmare filled with restless women and tired men who drank champagne, thus gradually achieving--by the time cigars were reached--an artificial vivacity. The caprice and superficiality of the one sex, the inability to dwell upon or even penetrate a serious subject, the blindness to what was going on around them; the materialism, the money standard of both, were nauseating in the retrospect.

How, indeed, had life once appeared so distorted to him, a professed servant of humanity, as to lead him in the name of duty into that galley?

Such was the burden of his thought when the homelike front of the Goodrich house greeted him in the darkness, its enshrouded windows gleaming with friendly light. As the door opened, the merry sound of children's laughter floated down the stairs, and it seemed to Hodder as though a curse had been lifted.... The lintel of this house had been marked for salvation, the scourge had passed it by: the scourge of social striving which lay like a blight on a free people.

Within, the note of gentility, of that instinctive good taste to which many greater mansions aspired in vain, was sustained. The furniture, the pictures, the walls and carpets were true expressions of the individuality of master and mistress, of the unity of the life lived together; and the rector smiled as he detected, in a corner of the hall, a sturdy but diminutive hobby-horse--here the final, harmonious touch. There was the sound of a scuffle, treble shrieks of ecstasy from above, and Eleanor Goodrich came out to welcome him.

"Its Phil," she told him in laughing despair, "he upsets all my discipline, and gets them so excited they don't go to sleep for hours..."

Seated in front of the fire in the drawing-room, he found Alison Parr. Her coolness, her radiancy, her complete acceptance of the situation, all this and more he felt from the moment he touched her hand and looked into her face. And never had she so distinctly represented to him the mysterious essence of fate. Why she should have made the fourth at this intimate gathering, and whether or not she was or had been an especial friend of Eleanor Goodrich he did not know. There was no explanation....

A bowl of superb chrysanthemums occupied the centre of the table. Eleanor lifted them off and placed them on the sideboard.

"I've got used to looking at Phil," she explained, "and craning is so painful."

The effect at first was to increase the intensity of the intimacy. There was no reason--he told himself--why Alison's self-possession should have been disturbed; and as he glanced at her from time to time he perceived that it was not. So completely was she mistress of herself that presently he felt a certain faint resentment rising within him,--yet he asked himself why she should not have been. It was curious that his imagination would not rise, now, to a realization of that intercourse on which, at times, his fancy had dwelt with such vividness. The very interest, the eagerness with which she took part in their discussions seemed to him in the nature of an emphatic repudiation of any ties to him which might have been binding.

All this was only, on Hodder's part, to be aware of the startling discovery as to how strong his sense of possession had been, and how irrational, how unwarranted.

For he had believed himself, as regarding her, to have made the supreme renunciation of his life. And the very fact that he had not consulted, could not consult her feelings and her attitude made that renunciation no less difficult. All effort, all attempt at achievement of the only woman for whom he had ever felt the sublime harmony of desire--the harmony of the mind and the flesh--was cut off.

To be here, facing her again in such close proximity, was at once a pleasure and a torture. And gradually he found himself yielding to the pleasure, to the illusion of permanency created by her presence. And, when all was said, he had as much to be grateful for as he could reasonably have wished; yes, and more. The bond (there was a bond, after all!) which united them was unbreakable. They had forged it together. The future would take care of itself.

The range of the conversation upon which they at length embarked was a tacit acknowledgment of a relationship which now united four persons who, six months before, would have believed themselves to have had nothing in common. And it was characteristic of the new interest that it transcended the limits of the parish of St. John's, touched upon the greater affairs to which that parish--if their protest prevailed--would now be dedicated. Not that the church was at once mentioned, but subtly implied as now enlisted,--and emancipated henceforth from all ecclesiastical narrowness.... The amazing thing by which Hodder was suddenly struck was the naturalness with which Alison seemed to fit into the new scheme. It was as though she intended to remain there, and had abandoned all intention of returning to the life which apparently she had once permanently and definitely chosen....

Bedloe Hubbell's campaign was another topic. And Phil had observed, with the earnestness which marked his more serious statements, that it wouldn't surprise him if young Carter, Hubbell's candidate for mayor, overturned that autumn the Beatty machine.

"Oh, do you think so!" Alison exclaimed with exhilaration.

"They're frightened and out of breath," said Phil, "they had no idea that Bedloe would stick after they had licked him in three campaigns. Two years ago they tried to buy him off by offering to send him to the Senate, and Wallis Plimpton has never got through his head to this why he refused."

Plimpton's head, Eleanor declared dryly, was impervious to a certain kind of idea.

"I wonder if you know, Mr. Hodder, what an admirer Mr. Hubbell is of yours?" Alison asked. "He is most anxious to have a talk with you."

Hodder did not know.

"Well," said Phil, enthusiastically, to the rector, "that's the best tribute you've had yet. I can't say that Bedloe was a more unregenerate heathen than I was, but he was pretty bad."

This led them, all save Hodder, into comments on the character of the congregation the Sunday before, in the midst of which the rector was called away to the telephone. Sally Grover had promised to let him know whether or not they had found Kate Marcy, and his face was grave when he returned.... He was still preoccupied, an hour later, when Alison arose to go.

"But your carriage isn't here," said Phil, going to the window.

"Oh, I preferred to, walk," she told him, "it isn't far."

III

A blood-red October moon shed the fulness of its light on the silent houses, and the trees, still clinging to leaf, cast black shadows across the lawns and deserted streets. The very echoes of their footsteps on the pavement seemed to enhance the unreality of their surroundings: Some of the residences were already closed for the night, although the hour was not late, and the glow behind the blinds of the others was nullified by the radiancy from above. To Hodder, the sense of their isolation had never been more complete.

Alison, while repudiating the notion that an escort were needed in a neighbourhood of such propriety and peace, had not refused his offer to accompany her. And Hodder felt instinctively, as he took his place beside her, a sense of climax. This situation, like those of the past, was not of his own making. It was here; confronting him, and a certain inevitable intoxication at being once, more alone with her prevented him from forming any policy with which to deal with it. He might either trust himself, or else he might not. And as she said, the distance was not great. But he could not help wondering, during those first moments of silence, whether she comprehended the strength of the temptation to which she subjected him....

The night was warm. She wore a coat, which was open, and from time to time he caught the gleam of the moonlight on the knotted pearls at her throat. Over her head she had flung, mantilla-like, a black lace scarf, the effect of which was, in the soft luminosity encircling her, to add to the quality of mystery never exhausted. If by acquiescing in his company she had owned to a tie between them, the lace shawl falling over the tails of her dark hair and framing in its folds her face, had somehow made her once more a stranger. Nor was it until she presently looked up into his face with a smile that this impression was, if not at once wholly dissipated, at least contradicted.

Her question, indeed, was intimate.

"Why did you come with me?"

"Why?" he repeated, taken aback.

"Yes. I'm sure you have something you wish to do, something which particularly worries you."

"No," he answered, appraising her intuition of him, "there is nothing I can do, to-night. A young woman in whom Mr. Bentley is interested, in whom I am interested, has disappeared. But we have taken all the steps possible towards finding her."

"It was nothing--more serious, then? That, of course, is serious enough. Nothing, I mean, directly affecting your prospects of remaining--where you are?"

"No," he answered. He rejoiced fiercely that she should have asked him. The question was not bold, but a natural resumption of the old footing "Not that I mean to imply," he added, returning her smile, "that those prospects' are in any way improved."

"Are they any worse?" she said.

"I see the bishop to-morrow. I have no idea what position he will take. But even if he should decide not to recommend me for trial many difficult problems still remain to be solved."

"I know. It's fine," she continued, after a moment, "the way you are going ahead as if there were no question of your not remaining; and getting all those people into the church and influencing them as you did when they had come for all sorts of reasons. Do you remember, the first time I met you, I told you I could not think of you as a clergyman. I cannot now--less than ever."

"What do you think of me as?" he asked.

"I don't know," she considered. "You are unlike any person I have ever known. It is curious that I cannot now even think of St. John's as a church. You have transformed it into something that seems new. I'm afraid I can't describe what I mean, but you have opened it up, let in the fresh air, rid it of the musty and deadening atmosphere which I have always associated with churches. I wanted to see you, before I went away," she went on steadily, "and when Eleanor mentioned that you were coming to her house to-night, I asked her to invite me. Do you think me shameless?"

The emphasis of his gesture was sufficient. He could not trust himself to speak.

"Writing seemed so unsatisfactory, after what you had done for me, and I never can express myself in writing. I seem to congeal."

"After what I have done for you!" he exclaimed: "What can I have done?"

"You have done more than you know," she answered, in a low voice. "More, I think, than I know. How are such things to be measured, put into words? You have effected some change in me which defies analysis, a change of attitude,--to attempt to dogmatize it would ruin it. I prefer to leave it undefined--not even to call it an acquisition of faith. I have faith," she said, simply, "in what you have become, and which has made you dare, superbly, to cast everything away... It is that, more than anything you have said. What you are."

For the instant he lost control of himself.

"What you are," he replied. "Do you realize--can you ever realize what your faith in me has been to me?"

She appeared to ignore this.

"I did not mean to say that you have not made many things clear, which once were obscure, as I wrote you. You have convinced me that true belief, for instance, is the hardest thing in the world, the denial of practically all these people, who profess to believe, represent. The majority of them insist that humanity is not to be trusted..."

They had reached, in an incredibly brief time, the corner of Park Street.

"When are you leaving?" he asked, in a voice that sounded harsh in his own ears.

"Come!" she said gently, "I'm not going in yet, for a while."

The Park lay before them, an empty, garden filled with checquered light and shadows under the moon. He followed her across the gravel, glistening with dew, past the statue of the mute statesman with arm upraised, into pastoral stretches--a delectable country which was theirs alone. He did not take it in, save as one expression of the breathing woman at his side. He was but partly conscious of a direction he had not chosen. His blood throbbed violently, and a feeling of actual physical faintness was upon him. He was being led, helplessly, all volition gone, and the very idea of resistance became chimerical....

There was a seat under a tree, beside a still lake burnished by the moon. It seemed as though he could not bear the current of her touch, and yet the thought of its removal were less bearable... For she had put her own hand out, not shyly, but with a movement so fraught with grace, so natural that it was but the crowning bestowal.

"Alison!" he cried, "I can't ask it of you. I have no right--"

"You're not asking it," she answered. "It is I who am asking it."

"But I have no future--I may be an outcast to-morrow. I have nothing to offer you." He spoke more firmly now, more commandingly.

"Don't you see, dear, that it is just because your future as obscure that I can do this? You never would have done it, I know,--and I couldn't face that. Don't you understand that I am demanding the great sacrifice?"

"Sacrifice!" he repeated. His fingers turned, and closed convulsively on hers.

"Yes, sacrifice," she said gently. "Isn't it the braver thing?"

Still he failed to catch her meaning.

"Braver," she explained, with her wonderful courage, "braver if I love you, if I need you, if I cannot do without you."

He took her in his arms, crushing her to him in his strength, in one ineffable brief moment finding her lips, inhaling the faint perfume of her smooth akin. Her lithe figure lay passively against him, in marvellous, unbelievable surrender.

"I see what you mean," he said, at length, "I should have been a coward. But I could not be sure that you loved me."

So near was her face that he could detect, even under the obscurity of the branches, a smile.

"And so I was reduced to this! I threw my pride to the winds," she whispered. "But I don't care. I was determined, selfishly, to take happiness."

"And to give it," he added, bending down to her. The supreme quality of its essence was still to be doubted, a bright star-dust which dazzled him, to evaporate before his waking eyes. And, try as he would, he could not realize to the full depth the boy of contact with a being whom, by discipline, he had trained his mind to look upon as the unattainable. They had spoken of the future, yet in these moments any consideration of it was blotted out... It was only by degrees that he collected himself sufficiently to be able to return to it... Alison took up the thread.

"Surely," she said, "sacrifice is useless unless it means something, unless it be a realization. It must be discriminating. And we should both of us have remained incomplete if we had not taken--this. You would always, I think, have been the one man for me,--but we should have lost touch." He felt her tremble. "And I needed you. I have needed you all my life--one in whom h might have absolute faith. That is my faith, of which I could not tell you awhile ago. Is it--sacrilegious?"

She looked up at him. He shook his head, thinking of his own. It seemed the very distillation of the divine. "All my life," she went on, "I have been waiting for the one who would risk everything. Oh, if you had faltered the least little bit, I don't know what I should have done. That would have destroyed what was left of me, put out, I think, the flickering fire that remained, instead of fanning it into flame. You cannot know how I watched you, how I prayed! I think it was prayer--I am sure it was. And it was because you did not falter, because you risked all, that you gained me. You have gained only what you yourself made, more than I ever was, more than I ever expected to be."

"Alison!" he remonstrated, "you mustn't say that."

She straightened up and gazed at him, taking one of his hands in her lithe fingers.

"Oh, but I must! It is the truth. I felt that you cared--women are surer in such matters than men. I must conceal nothing from you--nothing of my craftiness. Women are crafty, you know. And suppose you fail? Ah, I do not mean failure--you cannot fail, now. You have put yourself forever beyond failure. But what I mean is, suppose you were compelled to leave St. John's, and I came to you then as I have come now, and begged to take my place beside you? I was afraid to risk it. I was afraid you would not take me, even now, to-night. Do you realize how austere you are at times, how you have frightened me?"

"That I should ever have done that!" he said.

"When I looked at you in the pulpit you seemed so far from me, I could scarcely bear it. As if I had no share in you, as if you had already gone to a place beyond, where I could not go, where I never could. Oh, you will take me with you, now,--you won't leave me behind!"

To this cry every fibre of his soul responded. He had thought himself, in these minutes, to have known all feelings, all thrills, but now, as he gathered her to him again, he was to know still another, the most exquisite of all. That it was conferred upon him to give this woman protection, to shield and lift her, inspire her as she inspired him--this consciousness was the most exquisite of all, transcending all conception of the love of woman. And the very fulness of her was beyond him. A lifetime were insufficient to exhaust her....

"I wanted to come to you now, John. I want to share your failure, if it comes--all your failures. Because they will be victories--don't you see? I have never been able to achieve that kind of victory--real victory, by myself. I have always succumbed, taken the baser, the easier thing." Her cheek was wet. "I wasn't strong enough, by myself, and I never knew the stronger one....

"See what my trust in you has been! I knew that you would not refuse me in spite of the fact that the world may misunderstand, may sneer at your taking me. I knew that you were big enough even for that, when you understood it, coming from me. I wanted to be with you, now, that we might fight it out together."

"What have I done to deserve so priceless a thing?" he asked.

She smiled at him again, her lip trembling.

"Oh, I'm not priceless, I'm only real, I'm only human--human and tired. You are so strong, you can't know how tired. Have you any idea why I came out here, this summer? It was because I was desperate--because I had almost decided to marry some one else."

She felt him start.

"I was afraid of it;" he said.

"Were you? Did you think, did you wonder a little about me?" There was a vibrant note of triumph to which he reacted. She drew away from him. a little. "Perhaps, when you know how sordid my life has been, you won't want me."

"Is--Is that your faith, Alison?" he demanded. "God forbid! You have come to a man who also has confessions to make."

"Oh, I am glad. I want to know all of you--all, do you understand? That will bring us even closer together. And it was one thing I felt about you in the beginning, that day in the garden, that you had had much to conquer--more than most men. It was a part of your force and of your knowledge of life. You were not a sexless ascetic who preached a mere neutral goodness. Does that shock you?"

He smiled in turn.

"I went away from here, as I once told you, full of a high resolution not to trail the honour of my art--if I achieved art--in the dust. But I have not only trailed my art--I trailed myself. In New York I became contaminated,--the poison of the place, of the people with whom I came in contact, got into my blood. Little by little I yielded--I wanted so to succeed, to be able to confound those who had doubted and ridiculed me! I wasn't content to wait to deny myself for the ideal. Success was in the air. That was the poison, and I only began to realize it after it was too late.

"Please don't think I am asking pity--I feel that you must know. From the very first my success--which was really failure--began to come in the wrong way. As my father's daughter I could not be obscure. I was sought out, I was what was called picturesque, I suppose. The women petted me, although some of them hated me, and I had a fascination for a certain kind of men--the wrong kind. I began going to dinners, house parties, to recognize, that advantages came that way.... It seemed quite natural. It was what many others of my profession tried to do, and they envied me my opportunities.

"I ought to say, in justice to myself, that I was not in the least cynical about it. I believed I was clinging to the ideal of art, and that all I wanted was a chance. And the people I went with had the same characteristics, only intensified, as those I had known here. Of course I was actually no better than the women who were striving frivolously to get away from themselves, and the men who were fighting to get money. Only I didn't know it.

"Well, my chance came at last. I had done several little things, when an elderly man who is tremendously rich, whose name you would recognize if I mentioned it, gave me an order. For weeks, nearly every day, he came to my studio for tea, to talk over the plans. I was really unsophisticated then--but I can see now--well, that the garden was a secondary consideration.... And the fact that I did it for him gave me a standing I should not otherwise have had.... Oh, it is sickening to look back upon, to think what an idiot I was in how little I saw....

"That garden launched me, and I began to have more work than I could do. I was conscientious about it tried--tried to make every garden better than the last. But I was a young woman, unconventionally living alone, and by degrees the handicap of my sex was brought home to me. I did not feel the pressure at first, and then--I am ashamed to say--it had in it an element of excitement, a sense of power. The poison was at work. I was amused. I thought I could carry it through, that the world had advanced sufficiently for a woman to do anything if she only had the courage. And I believed I possessed a true broadness of view, and could impress it, so far as I was concerned, on others....

"As I look back upon it all, I believe my reputation for coldness saved me, yet it was that very reputation which increased the pressure, and sometimes I was fairly driven into a corner. It seemed to madden some men--and the disillusionments began to come. Of course it was my fault--I don't pretend to say it wasn't. There were many whom, instinctively, I was on my guard against, but some I thought really nice, whom I trusted, revealed a side I had not suspected. That was the terrible thing! And yet I held to my ideal, tattered as it was..."

Alison was silent a moment, still clinging to his hand, and when she spoke again it was with a tremor of agitation.

"It is hard, to tell you this, but I wish you to know. At last I met a man, comparatively young, who was making his own way in New York, achieving a reputation as a lawyer. Shall I tell you that I fell in love with him? He seemed to bring a new freshness into my life when I was beginning to feel the staleness of it. Not that I surrendered at once, but the reservations of which I was conscious at the first gradually disappeared--or rather I ignored them. He had charm, a magnificent self-confidence, but I think the liberality of the opinions he expressed, in regard to women, most appealed to me. I was weak on that side, and I have often wondered whether he knew it. I believed him incapable of a great refusal.

"He agreed, if I consented to marry him, that I should have my freedom--freedom to live in my own life and to carry on my profession. Fortunately, the engagement was never announced, never even suspected. One day he hinted that I should return to my father for a month or two before the wedding.... The manner in which he said it suddenly turned me cold. Oh," Alison exclaimed, "I was quite willing to go back, to pay my father a visit, as I had done nearly every year, but--how can I tell you?--he could not believe that I had definitely given up-my father's money....

"I sat still and looked at him, I felt as if I were frozen, turned to stone. And after a long while, since I would not speak to him, he went out... Three months later he came back and said that I had misunderstood him, that he couldn't live without me. I sent him away.... Only the other day he married Amy Grant, one of my friends....

"Well, after that, I was tired--so tired! Everything seemed to go out of life. It wasn't that I loved him any longer,--all had been crushed. But the illusion was gone, and I saw myself as I was. And for the first time in my life I felt defenceless, helpless. I wanted refuge. Did you ever hear of Jennings Howe?"

"The architect?"

Alison nodded. "Of course you must have--he is so well known. He has been a widower for several years. He liked my work, saw its defects, and was always frank about them, and I designed a good many gardens in connection with his houses. He himself is above all things an artist, and he fell into the habit of coming to my studio and giving me friendly advice, in the nicest way. He seemed to understand that I was going through some sort of a crisis. He called it 'too much society.' And then, without any warning, he asked me to marry him.

"That is why I came out here--to think it over. I didn't love him, and I told him so, but I respected him.

"He never compromised in his art, and I have known him over and over to refuse houses because certain conditions were stipulated. To marry him was an acknowledgment of defeat. I realized that. But I had come to the extremity where I wanted peace--peace and protection. I wanted to put myself irrevocably beyond the old life, which simply could not have gone on, and I saw myself in the advancing years becoming tawdry and worn, losing little by little what I had gained at a price.

"So I came here--to reflect, to see, as it were, if I could find something left in me to take hold of, to build upon, to begin over again, perhaps, by going back to the old associations. I could think of no better place, and I knew that my father would, be going away after a few weeks, and that I should be lone, yet with an atmosphere back of me,--my old atmosphere. That was why I went to church the first Sunday, in order to feel more definitely that atmosphere, to summon up more completely the image of my mother. More and more, as the years have passed, I have thought of her in moments of trouble. I have recovered her as I never had hoped to do in Mr. Bentley. Isn't it strange," she exclaimed wonderingly, "that he should have come into both our lives, with such an influence, at this time?"

"And then I met you, talked to you that afternoon in the garden. Shall I make a complete confession? I wrote to Jennings Howe that very week that I could not marry him."

"You knew!" Hodder exclaimed: "You knew then?"

"Ah, I can't tell what I knew--or when. I knew, after I had seen you, that I couldn't marry him! Isn't that enough?"

He drew in his breath deeply.

"I should be less than a man if I refused to take you, Alison. And--no matter what happens, I can and will find some honest work to support you. But oh, my dear, when I think of it, the nobility and generosity of what you have done appalls me."

"No, no!" she protested, "you mustn't say that! I needed you more than you need me. And haven't we both discovered the world, and renounced it? I can at least go so far as to say that, with all my heart. And isn't marriage truer and higher when man and wife start with difficulties and problems to solve together? It is that thought that brings me the greatest joy, that I may be able to help you.... Didn't you need me, just a little?"

"Now that I have you, I am unable to think of the emptiness which might have been. You came to me, like Beatrice, when I had lost my way in the darkness of the wood. And like Beatrice, you showed me the path, and hell and heaven."

"Oh, you would have found the path without me. I cannot claim that. I saw from the first that you were destined to find it. And, unlike Beatrice, I too was lost, and it was you who lifted me up. You mustn't idealize me."... She stood up. "Come!" she said. He too stood, gazing at her, and she lifted her hands to his shoulders.... They moved out from under the tree and walked for a while in silence across the dew-drenched grass, towards Park Street. The moon, which had ridden over a great space in the sky, hung red above the blackness of the forest to the west.

"Do you remember when we were here together, the day I met Mr. Bentley? And you never would have spoken!"

"How could I, Alison?" he asked.

"No, you couldn't. And yet--you would have let me go!"

He put his arm in hers, and drew her towards him.

"I must talk to your father," he said, "some day--soon. I ought to tell him--of our intentions. We cannot go on like this."

"No," she agreed, "I realize it. And I cannot stay, much longer, in Park Street. I must go back to New York, until you send for me, dear. And there are things I must do. Do you know, even though I antagonize him so--my father, I mean--even though he suspects and bitterly resents any interest in you, my affection for you, and that I have lingered because of you, I believe, in his way, he has liked to have me here."

"I can understand it," Hodder said.

"It's because you are bigger than I, although he has quarrelled with you so bitterly. I don't know what definite wrongs he has done to other persons. I don't wish to know. I don't ask you to tell me what passed between you that night. Once you said that you had an affection for him--that he was lonely. He is lonely. In these last weeks, in spite of his anger, I can see that he suffers terribly. It is a tragedy, because he will never give in."

"It is a tragedy." Hodder's tone was agitated.

"I wonder if he realizes a little" she began, and paused. "Now that Preston has come home--"

"Your brother?" Hodder exclaimed.

"Yes. I forgot to tell you. I don't know why he came," she faltered. "I suppose he has got into some new trouble. He seems changed. I can't describe it now, but I will tell you about it.... It's the first time we've all three been together since my mother died, for Preston wasn't back from college when I went to Paris to study...."

They stood together on the pavement before the massive house, fraught with so many and varied associations for Hodder. And as he looked up at it, his eye involuntarily rested upon the windows of the boy's room where Eldon Parr had made his confession. Alison startled him by pronouncing his name, which came with such unaccustomed sweetness from her lips. "You will write me to-morrow," she said, "after you have seen the bishop?"

"Yes, at once. You mustn't let it worry you."

"I feel as if I had cast off that kind of worry forever. It is only--the other worries from which we do not escape, from which we do not wish to escape."

With a wonderful smile she had dropped his hands and gone in at the entrance, when a sound made them turn, the humming of a motor. And even as they looked it swung into Park Street.

"It's a taxicab!" she said. As she spoke it drew up almost beside them, instead of turning in at the driveway, the door opened, and a man alighted.

"Preston!" Alison exclaimed.

He started, turning from the driver, whom he was about to pay. As for Hodder, he was not only undergoing a certain shock through the sudden contact, at such a moment, with Alison's brother: there was an additional shock that this was Alison's brother and Eldon Parr's son. Not that his appearance was shocking, although the well-clad, athletic figure was growing a trifle heavy, and the light from the side lamps of the car revealed dissipation in a still handsome face. The effect was a subtler one, not to be analyzed, and due to a multitude of preconceptions.

Alison came forward.

"This is Mr. Hodder, Preston," she said simply.

For a moment Preston continued to stare at the rector without speaking. Suddenly he put out his hand.

"Mr. Hodder, of St. John's?" he demanded.

"Yes," answered Hodder. His surprise deepened to perplexity at the warmth of the handclasp that followed.

A smile that brought back vividly to Hodder the sunny expression of the schoolboy in the picture lightened the features of the man.

"I'm very glad to see you," he said, in a tone that left no doubt of its genuine quality.

"Thank you," Hodder replied, meeting his eye with kindness, yet with a scrutiny that sought to penetrate the secret of an unexpected cordiality. "I, too, have hoped to see you."

Alison, who stood by wondering, felt a meaning behind the rector's words. She pressed his hand as he bade her, once more, good night.

"Won't you take my taxicab?" asked Preston. "It is going down town anyway."

"I think I'd better stick to the street cars," Hodder said. His refusal was not ungraceful, but firm. Preston did not insist.

In spite of the events of that evening, which he went over again and again as the midnight car carried him eastward, in spite of a new-born happiness the actuality of which was still difficult to grasp, Hodder was vaguely troubled when he thought of Preston Parr.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 8 - Chapter 27. Retribution The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 8 - Chapter 27. Retribution

The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 8 - Chapter 27. Retribution
VOLUME VIII CHAPTER XXVII. RETRIBUTIONI The Bishop's House was a comfortable, double dwelling of a smooth, bright red brick and large, plate-glass windows, situated in a plot at the western end of Waverley Place. It had been bought by the Diocese in the nineties, and was representative of that transitional period in American architecture when the mansard roof had been repudiated, when as yet no definite types had emerged to take its place. The house had pointed gables, and a tiny and utterly useless porch that served only to darken the front door, made of heavy pieces of wood fantastically curved.
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 7 - Chapter 25. 'Rise, Crowned With Light!' The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 7 - Chapter 25. "Rise, Crowned With Light!"

The Inside Of The Cup - Volume 7 - Chapter 25. 'Rise, Crowned With Light!'
VOLUME VII CHAPTER XXV. "RISE, CROWNED WITH LIGHT!"I The Church of St. John's, after a peaceful existence of so many years, had suddenly become the stage on which rapid and bewildering dramas were played: the storm-centre of chaotic forces, hitherto unperceived, drawn from the atmosphere around her. For there had been more publicity, more advertising. "The Rector of St. John's will not talk"--such had been one headline: neither would the vestry talk. And yet, despite all this secrecy, the whole story of the suspension of Hodder's salary was in print, and an editorial (which was sent to him) from a popular
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT