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 Wheel Of Life - Part 2. Illusion - Chapter 1. Of Pleasure As The Chief End Of Man
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Wheel Of Life - Part 2. Illusion - Chapter 1. Of Pleasure As The Chief End Of Man Post by :Teresa Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :2603

Click below to download : The Wheel Of Life - Part 2. Illusion - Chapter 1. Of Pleasure As The Chief End Of Man (Format : PDF)

The Wheel Of Life - Part 2. Illusion - Chapter 1. Of Pleasure As The Chief End Of Man

PART II. ILLUSION
CHAPTER I. OF PLEASURE AS THE CHIEF END OF MAN

On the morning after his meeting with Adams, Arnold Kemper awoke at three minutes of nine o'clock, and lay for exactly the three minutes that were needed to make up the hour watching the hand as it moved on the face of the bronze clock upon his mantel. The clock, like everything in his rooms, was costly, a little ornate, and suggestive of an owner whose intention aimed frankly at the original.

Lying in his large mahogany bedstead, with his body outstretched between soft yet crisply ironed linen sheets, and his head placed exactly in the centre of the pillows, he waited, yawning, until the expected hour should strike. If by an effort of will he could have put back the minute hand for another quarter of an hour he felt that it would have been pleasant to doze off again, shutting his eyes to the sunlight which streamed through the window on the Turkish rug, and inhaling agreeably the aroma of boiling coffee which reached him through the open door of his sitting-room. With the thought he closed his eyes, stretched himself again and clasped his hands sleepily above his head; then, without warning, the clock struck in a deep, bronze-like tone, and with a vigorous movement, he sprang out of bed, flung his dressing-gown across his shoulders, and passed quickly to the cold plunge in his dressing-room. When he reappeared there was a fresh, healthy glow in his face, and the smile with which he knotted his green figured necktie before the mirror, stuck his black pearl scarf pin carefully in place, and twisted the short ends of his brown moustache, was that of a man who begins his day in a blithe and friendly humour.

In the dining-room, which opened from his sitting-room next door, his breakfast was already awaiting him, and beside his plate he found several letters and the morning papers. He read the letters first, but with a single exception they proved to be bills, and after glancing at these with a suspicious frown he tossed them aside and turned to the little square white envelope, which contained an invitation to dine from a woman whom he detested because she bored him with domestic complaints. His heavy brows gathered darkly over his impatient gray eyes, and he pushed the mail carelessly away to make room for his coffee, to which his man was adding a precise amount of cream and sugar.

"Don't let me forget to answer that, Wilkins," he said, in an annoyed tone; "the response must be sent this afternoon, too, without fail."

"I don't think you wrote the notes you spoke of yesterday, sir," observed Wilkins, with an English accent and a manner of respectful intimacy.

"Hang it all! I don't believe I did," returned Kemper, as he drew his chair up to the table and tapped his egg shell. "That comes of letting a thing you hate to do go over. I say, Wilkins, if I attempt to leave this room before I've answered those letters, you're to restrain me by force, do you hear?"

"Yes, sir; certainly, sir," replied Wilkins, as he went out to bring in the toast.

Kemper laid his napkin across his knees, leaned comfortably back in his chair, and unfolded one of the morning papers beside his plate. As he did so he expanded his lungs with a deep breath, while his glance travelled rapidly to the column which contained the day's reports of the stock market. He knew already that the Chericoke Valley Central in which he had invested had jumped thirty points and was still advancing, but he read the printed statements with the exhaustless interest with which a lover might return to a love letter he had already learned by heart. His faith in the Chericoke Valley Central stock was strong, and he meant to keep a close grip on it for some time to come.

Turning a fresh page presently, his eyes wandered leisurely over the staring headlines, and came suddenly to a halt before a trivial item inserted among the Western news. It was a brief notice of his divorced wife's marriage, and to his amazement the announcement caused him an annoyance that was almost like the ghost of a retrospective jealousy. It was quite evident to him that he did not want her for himself, yet he suffered a positive displeasure at the thought that she should now belong to another man. After the ten years since they had separated was she still so "awfully splendid?" he wondered, had she kept her figure, which was long, athletic, with a military carriage, and did she still wear her hair in the fashion of a German omelette? "Thank heaven I'm well out of it at any rate," he commented with feeling. "That comes of a man's marrying before he's twenty-five. He's turned cynic before he gets to forty"; and marriage appeared to him in his thoughts as a detestable and utterly boring institution, which interfered continually with a man's freedom and exacted from him a perpetual sociability. The most blissful sensation he had ever known, he told himself, was that of his recovered liberty; then his sincerity of nature compelled him to an honest contradiction--he had known one emotion more blissful still and that was the madness which had prompted him to his unfortunate marriage.

Oh, he had been very much in love without a doubt! and while he sat peacefully drinking his two cups of coffee, eating his two eggs and his four pieces of toast with orange marmalade, he remembered, with a melancholy which in no wise affected his appetite, the first occasion upon which he had kissed the woman who had been his wife. The memory of her tall, erect figure, with its dashing military carriage, aroused in him an agreeable and purely physical regret--the kind of regret which is strong enough only to sweeten the knowledge of past pleasures; and he admitted with his accustomed frankness that if he had never kissed her again he should probably have continued to regard her with a charming, if impractical, sentiment. But marriage had brushed off the bloom of that early romance; and as he recognised this, he felt a keen resentment against nature which had cheated him into believing that the illusion of love would not vanish at the first touch of reality.

He had lived upon the surface of things and the surface had contented if it had not satisfied him. It had never entered his thoughts to question if he had had from life the best that it could offer, but he had sometimes wondered, in moments of nervous exasperation against small events, why it was that there could be no end under the sun to a man's pursuit of the fugitive sensation. When he looked back now over the breathless years of his life, he saw, almost with indignation, that whatever punishment fate had held in reserve for him, the avenger had inevitably appeared in the form his own gratified desire. He had withheld his hand from nothing; the thing that he had wanted he had taken without question--impulse and possession had flowed for him with a rhythmic regularity of movement--and yet in glancing back he could place his finger upon no past events and say of them "this brought me happiness--and this--and this." In retrospect his pleasures showed cheap and threadbare--woven of perishable colours, of lost illusions--and he felt suddenly that he had been cheated into a false valuation of life, that he had been deluded into a childish yet irretrievable error.

As he sat there over his paper, he remembered his impatient early love, his ecstatic marriage, and then the long years during which he had lived, as he put it to himself, in a "mortal funk" of the divorce court. Not moral obligation, but social cowardice, he admitted, had held him in a bondage from which his wife had at last liberated him by a single blow. Well, it was all over! he heaved a sigh of relief, emptied his coffee cup, and dismissed the subject, with its oppressive train of associations, from his mind.

But his temperamental blitheness had suffered in the chill of recollection, and he frowned down upon the staring headlines which ornamented the open page before him. His face, which recorded unerringly the slightest emotional change through which he passed, grew suddenly heavy and was over clouded by a momentary fit of gloom. He had not seen, had hardly thought of his former wife, once in the ten years since their separation, yet he found almost to his annoyance that the mere printed letters of her name reinvoked her image from the darkness in which his sentimental skeletons were laid. Two brief lines in a newspaper sufficed to produce her as an important factor in his present life.

And despite this she was nothing to him, had no proper business in his mind. He tried to think of the other women whom he had loved and remembered, or of the more numerous ones still whom he had loved only to forget. Well, he had lived a man's life, and the deuce of it was that women should have come into it at all. He had never wanted sentiment in the abstract, he told himself half angrily; he was bored to death by the deadly routine of what in his own mind he alluded to as "the business of love." It had always come to him without his sanction--even against his will, and he had never failed to combat the feeling with shallow cynicism, to exhaust it speedily in racing motors. There was no satisfaction in sentiment, of this he was quite convinced; and he remembered the voice of Madame Alta, with her peculiar high note of piercing sweetness, which entered like wine and honey into his blood. The hold she still kept upon his senses through his memory was strengthened by the knowledge which fretted him to the admission that she had wearied first--that while her fascination was still potent to work its spell upon him, she had fled in a half lyric, half devilish pursuit of the flesh she worshipped. To live life thoroughly, to get out of it all that it contained of pleasure or of experience, this was the germ of his applied philosophy; and it was only by some fortunate mental power of selection, some instinctive sense for comeliness, for a well-ordered, healthful physical existence, which had left him at the end of his forty years of pleasure with a perfectly sound and active mind and body. He himself was accustomed to declare that though he had lived gayly, he had lived decently, too, and he was even inclined at times to flatter his vanity rather upon the things which he had left undone than upon those more evident achievements which had stamped him to his social world. A religious instinct, which was hardly definite enough for a conviction, still survived in him, and it was entirely characteristic of the man that he should find cause for shame, not congratulation, in his old relations with Madame Alta.

The last remaining bit of toast and marmalade had vanished from his plate, and as he never allowed himself more than his usual number of slices, he carefully brushed the crumbs from his coat, and pushing back his chair, rose from the table. The movement, slight as it was, served to dispel his passing dejection, and as he gathered up his papers and passed into the adjoining sitting-room, he smiled at Wilkins with such genial brightness that the man was almost deluded into attributing the changed atmosphere to his own personal attentions instead of to the agreeable sensation following upon digestion. When he left the dining-room Kemper was already humming a little Italian air, and it was not until he was seated, with his cigar, in an easy chair upon his hearthrug, that he suddenly recognised the music as a favourite aria of Madame Alta's. He had heard her sing it a hundred times, and he recalled now that she had a trick of throwing her head back as the notes issued from her round, white throat, until her beautiful, though coarsened face, was seen in an admirable foreshortening, while her eyes were shadowed by her drooping lids, which were faintly tinted to look like rose-leaves. With the memory his expression was again overcast. Then a pleased smile chased the heaviness from his eyes, for he remembered suddenly that he held a firm grip on the promising Chericoke Valley Central stock. He lighted his cigar, tossed the match into the empty fireplace, and pushing the papers from his knees, relapsed for twenty minutes into an agreeable vacancy of mind.

The room in which he sat was essentially a man's room, furnished for comfort rather than for beauty, and one saw in it an unconscious striving after large effects, a disdain of useless bric-a-brac as of small decorations. On the mantel the solitary ornament was an exquisite bronze figure of a wrestler at the triumphant instant when he subdues his opponent, a spirited and virile study of the nude male figure, and just above it hung a portrait in oils of Madame Alta, painted in a large black hat with a falling feather which shadowed the golden aureole of her hair. Kemper seldom looked at the picture, and when he did so it was with the casual glance he bestowed upon a piece of household furniture; his emotion had been so bound up with the concrete fact of a fleshly presence that in the continued absence of the prima donna he had found it difficult even to realise the condition of her unchanged existence. In his whole life the past had never engrossed him to the immediate exclusion of the present.

When he had finished his cigar, he rose slowly to his feet, shook himself with an energetic movement as if to settle his body more comfortably in his clothes, and went into the hall to put on his overcoat before going out. Here he was overtaken by a remonstrance from Wilkins.

"You aren't going to the office, I hope, sir, until you've written those notes?"

Kemper stared at him silently an instant, one arm still in the sleeve of the overcoat he was putting on.

"Oh, I say, Wilkins, I'll do them at the club," he replied at last.

Wilkins shook his head with decision written in every line of his smooth-shaven English profile. He was faithful, he was even affectionate, but he had been in Kemper's service for fifteen years and he knew his man.

"You'd better get them off now, sir," he urged in a persuasive voice, "it won't take you a minute, and unless I post them myself, they are like to lie over."

"Well, I suppose you'll have your way with me, Wilkins," remarked Kemper, as he withdrew his arm from his overcoat, which his servant promptly took from him. "Most people do, you know." Then he turned back into his sitting-room and placing himself at his desk, took up his pen and accepted three invitations out of the round dozen he had to answer. This accomplished, the discreet Wilkins gave him his hat and coat and permitted him to depart rapidly upon his way.

By eleven o'clock he was due at the office of the Confidential Life Insurance Company, of which he was one of the directors, and as he walked toward Broadway with his brisk and energetic step, he kept his mind closely upon the business affairs which were immediately before him. This peculiar ability to concentrate his whole being upon a single instant, to apply himself with enthusiasm to the thing beneath his eyes, was the quality of all others which had worked most not only for his present worldly success, but for his personal happiness as well. When he came out of his rooms the brief despondency of the morning had vanished as utterly as if it had never been, and until his wife's name stared at him anew from a printed page, it was hardly probable that she would occur again to his thoughts. A feeling of peace, of perfect charity pervaded his breast, and had he been asked on the spot for an expression of his religious creed, he would, perhaps, have answered without hesitation, "to live in pleasure and let live with pleasantness." Naturally of a quick and humane heart there were moments when he felt an urgent desire to give out happiness, to add his proper share to the general sum of earthly contentment. He was a man, in fact, who might be infallibly counted on for the "generous thing," provided always that the "generous thing" was also the thing which he found it agreeable to perform. In ancient Rome he would have been, without doubt, a popular politician, in Greece a Cyrenaic philosopher, in the Middle Ages a churchman conspicuous for his purple, and during the American Revolution a believer in the cause that wore the most gold lace. It was not that he was lacking in patriotism, but that his patriotism responded best to a spectacular appeal.

At the luncheon hour, when he came out of his office to go to his club, he remembered that he had neglected to send roses to a woman with whom he had dined the week before she went to a hospital for a serious operation, and though the stop delayed his luncheon for half an hour, he left his car at the corner of Twenty-third Street to leave an order with his florist. Then, after a simple meal, he put in a pleasant hour at the club, during which he managed to interest a great occulist in a chap he knew who was threatened with blindness but too poor to pay for the operation necessary to his recovery. It was this conversation that recalled to him a friend who was ill with pneumonia in chambers just around the block, and he rushed off to enquire after him, before he attended to the unpacking of a new French motor car, and hurried to keep an engagement he had made with Gerty Bridewell to call on Laura Wilde. A week ago, when the engagement was made, he had been urgent with Gerty about going, but now that the hour drew near he began to feel the necessity of the visit to be a bore. Like all of his sensations, the impression Laura had made upon him had been vivid but easily effaced, and he was almost surprised at the disappointment he felt when, upon reaching the house, he found that she was not at home.

"It's too hard," commented Gerty, standing upon the front steps and glancing wistfully up at him from under the white feathers in her hat, "but there's no help for it unless you care to call on Uncle Percival."

"Uncle Percival?" he repeated, impatiently twirling his walking stick; "who's he?"

"He's a curiosity."

"What kind of curiosity? A live one?"

She nodded. "The kind of curiosity that plays a flute."

He began his descent of the steps, not replying until he stood with her upon the sidewalk before her carriage. "I might have put up with a poet," he remarked with his foreign shrug, "but I'm compelled to draw the line before a piper."

"Well, I thought you would," confessed Gerty, "or I shouldn't have suggested it."

"It seems, by the way, to be a family that runs to talent," he laughed, while she paused a moment before entering her carriage.

"I don't know that Uncle Percival is exactly a person of talent," she observed, "he plays very badly, I believe. Can't I drop you somewhere? Do let me."

He shook his head with a quizzical humour. "To tell the truth horses make me nervous," he returned. "I'm afraid of them--You never know what intentions they have in mind. No, I'll walk, thank you." His gaze was on her and she saw his eyes flash with admiration of her beauty.

"Oh, your dreadful, soulless automobiles!" she exclaimed, with disgust. "By the way, Laura hates them--she says they have the devil's energy without his intellect."

He laughed indifferently. "Does she? I'll teach her better."

Gerty looked back to protest as she stepped into her carriage. "But you'll never have a chance," she said.

"I'll make one," he persisted, gayly.

From the midst of her fur rugs she leaned out with a provoking little laugh, while he watched her green eyes narrow in an arch and fascinating merriment. "What would you say if I told you she was at home all the time?" she asked. Then before he could remonstrate or reply, she rolled off leaving him transfixed and questioning upon the sidewalk.

Was Laura Wilde really at home? The suspicion piqued him into a curiosity he could not satisfy, and because he could not satisfy it he found himself dwelling with a reawakened interest upon the woman who had avoided him. If she had in truth refused to receive his visit it could mean only that she entertained a dislike for his presence, and for a dislike so evident there must be surely some foundation either in fact or in intuition. No woman, so far as he could remember--and so unusual an occurence would not easily have slipped his memory--had ever begun his acquaintance with a distinctly expressed aversion, and the very strangeness of the experience was not without attraction for his eager and dominant temperament. What a queer little oddity she was, he thought as he glanced up at the grave old house before turning rapidly away--as light and sensitive as thistle-down, as vivid as flame. He tried to recall her delicately distinguished figure and profound dark eyes, but her charming smile seemed to come between him and her features, and her face was obscured for him in a mysterious radiance. Her features taken in themselves were plain, he supposed, certainly they were not beautiful, yet of her whole appearance his memory held only the fervent charm of her expression. It was a face with a soul in it, he though--all the mystery of flame and of shadow was in her smile, so what mattered the mere surface modelling or the tinting of the skin which was less ivory than pale amber. An hour ago he had been absolutely indifferent, almost forgetful of her existence, but his vanity if not his heart was stung now into an emotion which had in it something of the primitive barbarian ardour of pursuit. He cared nothing--less than nothing--for Laura Wilde herself, yet it was not in his nature that he should suffer in silence before a sudden and unreasonable affront.

Some hours later, when he sat with Adams at dinner, the subject occurred to him again, and he broke in upon a discussion of the varied fortunes of their fellow classmen to allude directly to the cause of his inquietude.

"By the way, I had the pleasure of meeting a protegee of yours the other afternoon," he said.

Adams met the remark with his whimsical laugh. "Of mine? Thank heaven I haven't any," he retorted, "but I suppose you mean young Trent, who has just come up from Virginia."

"I've heard something of him from Mrs. Bridewell, I believe," answered Kemper across the centrepiece of red carnations, "but I haven't met him as yet--I was thinking of Miss Wilde when I spoke. I wish you'd try this sherry--it's really first rate--I brought it over myself."

When Wilkins had filled his glass, Adams lifted it against the light and looked at the colour of the wine a moment before drinking. "First rate--I should say so. It's exquisite," he observed as he touched it to his lips in answer to Kemper's glance of enquiry. "Yes, she's done some rather fine things," he resumed presently, returning to the subject of Laura, "but she'll hardly make a popular appeal, I fancy, unless she turns her talent to patriotic airs. The only poetry we tolerate to-day is the poetry that serves some definite material purpose--it must either send us into battle or set us to building churches. The simple spirit of contemplation we've come to regard as a pauperising habit and it puts us out of patience. Great poetry grows out of quiet and nobody is quiet any longer--a thought no sooner creeps into our head than we begin to talk about it at the top of our voice."

The branched candlestick at the end of the table shed a glimmering, pearly light upon his face, and Kemper, as he watched him critically, was struck suddenly by the fact that Adams was no longer young. He could not be over forty, yet his features had the drawn and pallid look of a man who has known, not only ill health, but the shock of emotional catastrophes. Physically he appeared worn to the point of exhaustion, but if there was pathos in the slight, elastic figure, there was also an impression of power for which the other found it impossible to account. By mere bodily force Kemper could have thrown Adams from the window with one hand, he realised with a perfectly amiable self-congratulation--yet in Adams' presence he invariably felt himself to be the weaker man, and the attitude he unconsciously adopted showed an almost boyish recognition of a superior intelligence. Something in Roger Adams--a quality which was neither brute strength nor imperious personality--exerted a power which Kemper generously admitted to be greater even than these. Nothing in the man was conspicuous--he exercised no dominant magnetism--but the invisible spirit which controlled his life, controlled also, in a measure, the thoughts of those who came directly beneath his influence. Was it true, Kemper now wondered, as Perry Bridewell had once declared with unspeakable mirth, that the thing he liked in Adams was, after all, merely simple goodness in a manifest form? Goodness in a masculine personality had always appeared to Kemper to be ridiculously out of place--a masquerading feminised virtue--but at this instant as he drank to Adams' health across the carnations, he felt again the power of an attraction which possessed a sweetness that made his past "wine and honey" sicken in his memory. "Is it possible that what I admire in this man is the quality I have laughed at all my life?" he found himself asking suddenly; and the power of self-restraint, the grace of denial, the strength which could do without, though it could not take the thing it wanted, the quietness of sacrifice, the sweetened humour that is learned only in sorrow--these showed to him at the moment in a singularly new and vivid light. "I know nothing of his life except that he has had courage," he thought again, "yet because of this one thing--and because, too, of a quality which I recognise, though I cannot name it, I would trust him sooner than any man or woman whom I know--sooner, by Jove, than I would trust myself." Among his many generous traits was the ability to appreciate keenly where he could not follow, to apprehend almost instinctively the finer attributes of the spirit, and though he himself preferred the pleasures of the senses to the vaguer comforts of philosophy, he was not without a profound admiration for the man who, as he believed, had deliberately chosen to forfeit the joy of life. Roger Adams impressed him to-night as a peculiarly happy man--not with the hectic happiness he himself had sought--but with a secure, a reposeful, an indestructible possession--the happiness which comes not through the illusion of desire, but which is bound up in the peace of an eternal reconciliation. The man beyond the carnations, he knew by an intuition surer than knowledge, had never even for an hour dallied in the primrose path where his own pursuit of delight had begun and ended--he could not imagine Adams' control yielding to a fleeting impulse of passion--yet had not the very power he recognised come to his friend in the stony places through which he had been constrained to walk with God? Sitting there Kemper was brought suddenly for the first time in his life face to face with the profoundest truth that lies hidden in the deeps of knowledge--that renunciation may become the richest experience in the consciousness of man; that to renounce for the sake of goodness is not merely to refrain from sin but to achieve virtue; and that he who gives up his happiness and is still happy has gained not only the beauty of his forfeited joys, but has added to his own a strength that is equal to the strength of his unfulfilled desire. Kemper had always believed himself strong because he had attained, yet he knew now that Adams was stronger than he inasmuch as he had gone without for the sake of his own soul.

From his reflections, which were dimly like these, Kemper came back abruptly to his memory of Laura. "Do you know," he said, speaking to himself rather than to his companion, "that she really interests me very much indeed."

"Well, she is interesting," laughed Adams, "in spite of the fact that Perry finds her rather dull. He complains that she doesn't talk like a book, which is a trifle odd when you consider that he has never read one."

"What I like about her is that she's different," said Kemper. "She is, isn't she?"

"Different from other people? Yes, I dare say she is, but all the Wildes are that, you know. She comes of an eccentric stock. Did you ever happen to meet her aunt, Mrs. Payne?"

Kemper nodded as he leaned forward to make a division in the centre of the intervening carnations, "The old lady who looks like a chorus girl in her dotage? Yes, I've had the pleasure and I found her decidedly better than she looked. Her husband, by the way, is a great old chap, isn't he? He held the biggest share in iron last spring and I guess he has made a pretty figure."

"He's a philosopher who got into the stock market by mistake," observed Adams. "I believe he would have been perfectly happy if he could have owned a single farm, a cow or two and a pair of horses to his plough, but he's condemned to bear the uncongenial weight of millions, and I hear that he has even to give his charities in secret. I never look at him that I don't think of Marcus Aurelius oppressed by the burden of the whole Roman Empire."

Kemper was peeling a pear, which he had taken from a dish upon the table, and he laid down his knife for a moment to push aside his cup of coffee.

"Has he any children?" he asked abruptly.

"Two--both sons and gay young birds, I'm told."

"Then Miss Wilde will hardly come in for a share of the burden?"

"Hardly. The sons will probably dissipate a good half of it before it reaches them."

"It's a pity," said Kemper thoughtfully; and having finished his pear, he dipped his fingers in his finger bowl, moistened his short moustache, and turned to take a cigar from the little silver tray which Wilkins held before him. "Do you know I can't imagine a greater happiness than the quick accumulation of wealth," he observed in his hearty voice.

Adams laughed aloud with a merriment that was almost boyish. "Well, I dare say you come in for your part of it," he returned, while he flicked the ashes from his cigar.

"I?" Kemper shook his head without a smile. "Oh, I accumulate nothing except habits. I make and I spend--I win and I lose--and on my word I'm no richer to-day than I was ten years ago. I've made a fortune in a day," he added regretfully, "to lose it in an hour."

A glow had sprung to his face, and as he spoke he leaned his elbow on the table, and closing his eyes inhaled the delicious aroma of his cigar. Finance interested him always--wealth in its material mass had a tremendous attraction for him, and he loved not only the sound of figures but the clink of coin. Though he was a lavish liver when it suited his impulses, the modern regard for money as a concrete possession--a personal distinction--was strong in his blood; but here, as in other ways, he was redeemed from positive vulgarity by the very candour with which he confessed his weakness. He drifted presently into stocks, and they sat talking until eleven o'clock, when Adams, after glancing in surprise at the hour, remarked, with a laugh, that he had forgotten he no longer boasted the constitution of his college days. It had been a pleasant evening to both, and as Kemper threw off his coat a little later, he found himself reflecting, not without wonder, that the quiet--the absolute inaction of the last few hours had refreshed rather than bored him. On the whole he was inclined to admit that he liked Adams better than any man he knew--liked his assured self-possession, his indifference to small creature comforts; liked, too, the quiet tolerance which characterised his human relations--and he impulsively determined that he would arrange to see him often during the next few years. It was time now, he concluded with an admirable midnight resolution, while he struggled in exasperation to unfasten his collar, that he himself should begin to pay a due regard to his health--to restrict his indulgences; and he drew an agreeable picture of the consolation that Adams' friendship might afford to an abstemious man of middle age. "By Jove--confound this button--there, I've twisted it like the deuce--by Jove, it is refreshing to be thrown with a chap who is interested in something besides women and horses--who finds other objects--or subjects if you choose--suffice for his entertainment." For the first time in his life he found himself wishing regretfully that at least a share of his own enjoyments had assumed a character which belonged less exclusively to the external world. The joy in knowledge, the delight in contemplation were unknown to him, though he was dimly aware that for another man they might prove to be an unfailing, a permanent solace. But his virtues were the magnificent virtues of the animal, and amid the many warring impulses of the body there was but little room for a more gracious development of the soul. He had lived for the world and the world had repaid him as she repays all her lovers with the fruit which is rarely bitter before the fortieth year.

Adams, meanwhile, had walked rapidly home, thinking with enthusiasm that Kemper was a thoroughly good fellow. His social pleasures were few, and he had enjoyed the fine wine and the choice cigars as a man enjoys a taste for luxury which he seldom gratifies. He had expected to find Connie still out, but to his surprise there was a sound on the staircase as he entered the front door, and she came rapidly to meet him, her blonde hair hanging upon her shoulders and the soiled white silk dressing-gown she wore trailing on the carpeted steps behind her.

"I was all alone and I've been so frightened," she said with a sob.

He took her hand, which felt dead and cold, and grasped it warmly while he turned to fasten the outer door.

"Why, I thought you were at the theatre," he responded. "I've been to dine with Kemper, but heaven knows I'd have stayed at home if you'd told me you meant to keep me company."

A shudder ran through her, and he saw when he turned to look at her, that her face was pinched and blue as if from cold. In her white gown, under her tangled fair hair, she had a ghastly look like one just awakened from a fearful dream. But she was very little--so little in her terror and her blighted prettiness that his heart contracted as it would have done at the sight of a suffering child.

"I say, little girl, what is it all about?" he asked gently, and as she swayed unsteadily, he put his arm around her and drew her against his side. "Wait a minute while I turn out the light," he added cheerfully, pressing the electric button with his free hand. Then holding her closer in a steadying support, they ascended together the darkened staircase.

"I went to the theatre, but I was so ill I couldn't stay," she said, and he felt the heavy breaths that laboured through the thin figure within his arm. "Oh, I am in agony--in agony and I am so afraid."

She began crying in loud, uncontrollable sobs as a child cries when it is hurt, protesting that she was afraid--that she was fearfully afraid. He felt her terror struggling like a live thing within her--like an imprisoned animal that could not find an escape into the light. Her hysteria was almost akin to madness, and the form it took was one of a blind presentiment of evil--as if she felt always in the air about her the presence of an invisible, unspeakable horror. Half dragging, half carrying her, he crossed the hall to her room, and laid her upon the bed, which was tumbled as if she had lain tossing wildly there for hours. Every electric jet was blazing high, and Connie's evening clothes were lying in a huddled heap upon the floor. There was a sickening smell of perfume in the room, and he saw that she had broken a bottle of extract and spilled its contents upon the carpet.

"Tell me what it is--tell me, Connie," he commanded, rather than pleaded, sitting beside the bed and laying his hand upon her shuddering body.

"It is nothing--but it is everything," she gasped, clutching his hand with fingers which were cold and moist. "I am not in pain--at least not physically, but I feel--I believe--I know that I am going mad. I see horrible things and I can't keep them away--I can't--I can't. They come in flashes--in coloured flashes, all red and green, and there is something dreadful about to happen to me. Oh, don't let it, don't let it!"

She clung to him, shuddering, sobbing, imploring, moaning again that she was afraid, beseeching him to keep off the horror--not to let it come any nearer--not to let it look her in the eyes. The spasm ended at last in a wild burst of tears, while she shrieked out frantically in a terror that was pitiable and abject. Her hallucinations seemed to have got entirely beyond the control of reason, and as she crouched, with drawn up knees and quivering arms, among the pillows she looked like some small helpless, distracted mortal in the grasp of the avenging furies. At the moment she seemed to him less his wife than his child.

"Listen to me, Connie," he said presently in a voice whose quiet authority silenced for an instant her despairing moans. "You haven't a trouble on earth that I am not willing to share and I am sharing this--I have made it mine this very minute. Whatever there is to face, I'll face it for you, so get this into your head and go to sleep. Nothing can get to you--neither man nor devil--until it has first passed by me. There, now--don't sob so; don't, you'll hurt yourself. There's nothing to cry about--it's all a false alarm."

"I'm so afraid," she repeated over and over again, as she clung to him. "Promise not to leave me an instant--not to take your hands off of me. If I am left alone again I shall die of fear."

"You shall not be alone, I swear it," he answered with cheerful assurance. "Lie quiet and I'll sit here the whole blessed night if it's any comfort."

"It is a comfort," she answered; and her words entered his ears with a piercing sweetness, which was not unlike the sweetness of love. Love it was indeed, he knew now, but a love so sexless, so dispassionate that its joys were like the joys of religion. The tenderness that flooded his breast was less the emotion of man for woman than of the soul for the soul, and the wife whom he had ceased to love in the world's way was nearer to him, more closely, more divinely his, than she had been in the hour of his greatest ecstasy. The appeal she made to him now, lying there helpless, distraught and unlovely, was an appeal which is woven of the strongest fibres in the heart of man--the appeal to the immortal soul to arise and discover its immortality. Connie cried out to him to save her--to save her from the world, from herself, from the hovering powers of evil, and he knew now that his joy in the hour of her salvation would be as the joy of the angels in heaven. He would fight for her as he had never fought for his own life, and he felt suddenly that there was nothing upon the earth nor in the sky that was strong enough to contend against the power of his compassion. All lesser desires or emotions shrank before it and vanished utterly away--his ambition, his longing for health wherewith to work, the increasing ardour of his love for Laura--these were as naught before the bond which united him to the terrified, small soul that trembled beneath his hands. And immediately that goodness at which Kemper or Perry Bridewell would have laughed--the goodness which is spirit, which both builds and destroys, which knows no law except the divine law of its own being; in which there is neither the whitened surface nor the loud self-glorification of the Pharisee--the goodness which is a pure flame, a consuming passion--this appeared to his eyes in all its alluring beauty. The way of it was hard, he knew, a way of service, of self-sacrifice, and yet the one way of happiness as well. This lesson he had learned from himself--for it is the thing that no man can teach another--and because it had come to him from himself he knew that it had come to him from God.

"I made a plan on the way home to-night," he said, keeping his firm touch upon her throbbing temples. "To-morrow I shall arrange for a fortnight's absence at the office and the next day I'll take you South. There you'll stay out of doors and get well again. The flesh will come back to your body and the colour to your cheeks.

"I shall never be pretty again--never," she moaned, as he held her.

"Nonsense. You're a trifle pale and fagged that's all--but we'll have you a beauty again before two weeks are up."

And so through the long night he sat with his touch, which compelled quiet, upon her body, for when, after she had fallen at last into a fitful slumber, he arose and lowered the lights, she started up with a scream and called out that she was "alone--fearfully alone!" Then, as he returned to his chair, she reached for him in the darkness and clung desperately to his outstretched arm, drawing it presently across her shoulders until she lay as if shielded by the soothing familiar presence.

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

The Wheel Of Life - Part 2. Illusion - Chapter 5. Shows The Dangers... The Wheel Of Life - Part 2. Illusion - Chapter 5. Shows The Dangers...

The Wheel Of Life - Part 2. Illusion - Chapter 5. Shows The Dangers...
PART II. ILLUSION CHAPTER V. SHOWS THE DANGERS AS WELL AS THE PLEASURES OF THE CHASEWhen Kemper looked at his watch on Laura's steps, he found that he had time only to pay a promised call on Gerty Bridewell before he must hurry home to get into his dinner clothes. In his pocket, carelessly thrust there as he left his rooms, was a note from Gerty begging him to drop in upon her for a bit of twilight gossip; and though the request was made with her accustomed lightness, he knew instinctively that she had sought him less for diversion than
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Wheel Of Life - Part 1. Impulse - Chapter 11. In Which A Lie Is The Better Part Of Truth The Wheel Of Life - Part 1. Impulse - Chapter 11. In Which A Lie Is The Better Part Of Truth

The Wheel Of Life - Part 1. Impulse - Chapter 11. In Which A Lie Is The Better Part Of Truth
PART I. IMPULSE CHAPTER XI. IN WHICH A LIE IS THE BETTER PART OF TRUTHAt breakfast Connie did not appear--she had seemed to be asleep when he went into his dressing-room--and it was not until one o'clock that he had a chance to speak to her again. Luncheon was already on the table when he entered the dining-room, and Connie, in a green velvet gown and a little green velvet hat ornamented by a twinkling aigrette, was standing by the window looking out restlessly at the falling snow. As he came in she went over to the table and began making
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT