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The One Woman By Thomas Dixon Characters: 10258

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Gordon walked rapidly with the quick stride of the trained athlete.

Walking was a pet exercise.

His mind was now in a whirl of fury. He had never before given away to passion in a quarrel with his wife. They had been married twelve years, and, up to the birth of their boy, four years before, had lived as happily as possible for two people of strong wills. Discord had slowly grown as his fame increased. His wife was now jealous of almost every woman who spoke to him.

They had quarreled before, but he had always kept a clear head and laughed her out of countenance. These quarrels had ended with tears and kisses and were forgotten until the next.

To-night somehow every thrust found his most sensitive spots. He wondered why? Dimly conscious of a curious interest in the woman who had spoken so sweetly to him at the close of his service, he wondered if his wife divined the fact by some subtle power their long association had developed and sharpened.

His enthusiasm for the Socialistic ideal was fast becoming an absorbing passion, and was destined to lead him into strange company.

His wife felt this, resented it, and, becoming more and more conservative, the gulf between them daily widened and deepened.

He cared nothing for her ridicule of his blond locks. He wore them half in defiance of conventionality and half in whimsical love for the picture of a beautiful mother from whom he had inherited them.

"What could have possessed her to-night?" he slowly muttered as he emerged from Central Park and swung into Fifth Avenue. "Am I really losing my grasp of truth because I am giving up traditional dogmas? Has God given to her soul the power to look inside my heart and find its secret thoughts? Why does she keep asking me if I have lost faith in marriage? Never in word or deed have I hinted at such a thing."

And yet the memory of that beautiful woman, with a voice like liquid music, friendly, soothing, reassuring, kept echoing through his soul.

As the tumult of passion died in the glow of the walk in the open air he became conscious of the life of the city again. The avenue was a blaze of light. Its miles of electric torches flashed like stars in the milky way.

He passed under dozens of awnings before palatial homes in front of which stood lines of carriages. The old Dutch and English ancestors of these people were once faithful observers of the Sabbath. Now they went to church in the mornings as a form of good society and held their receptions in the evenings. Some of them employed professional vaudeville artists to enliven their Sunday social bouts.

New York, proud imperial Queen of the Night, seemed just waking to her real life, a strange new life in human history-a life that had put darkness to flight, snuffed out the light of moon and star, laughed at sleep, twin sister of Death, and challenged the soul of man to live without one refuge of silence or shadow.

And yet the warmth and glow, the splendour and beauty of it all stirred his imagination and appealed to his love.

At length he stood before the old church that had been the arena of his struggles and triumphs for the past ten years, and was destined to be for him the scene of a drama more thrilling than any he had known or dreamed in the past.

He passed into the auditorium, ascended the pulpit, and sat down in the armchair where but a few hours before he had held the gaze of thousands. The electric lights glimmering through the windows of the gable showed the empty pews in sharp outline.

"I wonder if they know when they go they sometimes leave my soul as empty and as lonely as those vacant pews? I give, give, give forever of thought, sympathy and life and never receive, until sometimes my heart cries to a passing dog for help!

"I'd build here to God a temple whose sheer beauty and glory would stop every huckster on the street, lift his eyes to heaven and melt his soul into tears. It must-it shall come to pass!"

He sat there for nearly two hours, dreaming of his plans of uplifting the city, and through the city as a centre reaching the Nation and its millions with pen and tongue of fire. Gradually the sense of isolation from self enveloped him, and the thought of human service challenged the highest reach of his powers.

He opened the face of his watch and felt the hands, a habit he had formed of telling the time in the dark. It was one o'clock.

He thought of his wife and their quarrel. He had forgotten it in larger thoughts, and his heart suddenly went out in pity to her. He had not meant what he said. He loved her in spite of all harsh words and bitter scenes. She was the mother of his two lovely children, a girl of ten and a boy of four. The idea of a night apart from her, he, and theirs came with a painful shock. He felt his strength and was ashamed that he had left her so cruelly. He hurried to the Twenty-third Street elevated station and boarded a car for his home.

When his wife recovered from the first horror of his leaving, she was angry. With a nervous laugh she went into the nursery, kissed the sleeping chil-dren and we

nt to bed. She tossed the first hour, thinking of the quarrel and many sharp thrusts she might have given him. Perhaps she would renew the attack when he came in and attempted to make up. The clock struck eleven and she sprang up, walked to her window and looked out.

A great new fear began to brood over her soul.

"No, no, he could not have meant it-he is not a brute!" she cried, as she began to nervously clasp her hands and turn her wedding ring over and over again on her tapering finger, until it seemed a band of fire to her fevered nerves.

As she stood by the window in her scarlet silk robe she made a sharp contrast in person to the woman whose shadow had fallen to-night across her life. She was a petite brunette of distant Spanish ancestry, a Spottswood from old Tidewater Virginia. To the tenderest motherhood she combined a passionate temper with intense jealousy. The anxious face was crowned with raven hair. Her eyes were dark and stormy, and so large that in their shining surface the shadows of the long lashes could be seen.

Her nature, for all its fiery passions, was refined, shy and tremulous. A dimple in her chin and a small sensitive mouth gave her an expression at once timid and childlike. Her footstep had feline grace, delicacy and distinction. She had a figure almost perfect, erect, lithe, with small hands and feet and tiny wrists. Her voice was a soft contralto, caress-ing and full of feeling, with a touch of the languor and delicate sensuousness of the Old South. About her personality there was a haunting charm, vivid and spiritual, the breath of a soul capable of the highest heroism if once aroused.

At twelve o'clock she relighted the gas and went downstairs to stand at the parlour window to scan more clearly every face that might pass, and-yes, she would be honest with herself now-to spring into his arms the moment he entered, smother him with kisses and beg him to forgive the bitter words she had spoken in anger.

She was sure he would come in a moment. He must have gone on one of his long walks. She could see the elevated cars on their long trestle, count the stations, and guess how many minutes it would take him to climb the hill and rush up the steps. Over and over she did this, and now it was one o'clock and he had not come.

What if he had been stricken suddenly with mortal illness! His face had looked so weary and drawn. She began to cry incoherently, and sank on her knees.

"Lord, forgive me. I am weak and selfish, and I was wicked to-night.

Hear the cry of my heart. Bring him to me quickly, or I shall die!"

As the sobs choked her into silence, she sprang to her feet, both hands on her lips to keep back a scream of joy, for she had heard his footstep on the stoop.

The latch clicked, and he was in the hall.

There was a flash of red silk and two white arms were around his neck, her form convulsed with a joy she could not control or try to conceal.

He soothed her as a child, and, as he kissed her tenderly, felt her lips swollen and wet with the salt tears of hours of weeping.

"You will not remember the foolish things I said to-night, dear?" she pleaded. "There, there, I'll blot them out with kisses-one for every harsh word, and one more for love's own sake. But you must promise me, Frank, never to leave me like that again." A sob caught her voice, and her head drooped.

"You may curse me, strike me, do anything but that. Oh, the loneliness, the agony and horror of those hours when I realised you were gone in anger and might not come back to-night-dear, it was too cruel. Such wild thoughts swept my heart! You do forgive me?"

He stooped and kissed her.

"Why ask it, Ruth?"

"I know I am selfish and fretful and wilful," she said, with a sigh. "I was only a spoiled child of nineteen when you took me by storm, body and soul. You remember, on our wedding day, when I looked up into your handsome face and the sense of responsibility and joy crushed me for a moment, I cried and begged you, who were so brave and strong, to teach me if I should fail in the least thing? And you promised, dear, so sweetly and tenderly. Do you remember?"

"Yes, I remember," he slowly answered.

"And now, somehow, you seem to have drawn away from me as though the task had wearied you. Come back closer! When I am foolish you must be wise. You can make of me what you will. You know I am afraid of this Socialism. It seems to open gulfs between us. You read and read, while I can only wait and love. You cannot know the silent agony of that waiting for I know not what tragedy in our lives. Frank, teach and lead me-I will follow. I love you with a love that is deathless. If you will be a Socialist, make me one. Show me there is nothing to fear. I've thought marriage meant only self-sacrifice for one's beloved. I've tried to give my very life to you and the children. If I'm making a mistake, show me."

"I will try, Ruth."

She ran her tapering fingers through his hair, smiled and sighed.

"How beautiful you are, my dear! I know it is a sin to love any man so. One should only love God like this."

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