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   Chapter 36 SEVEN. 36

A Fool There Was By Porter Emerson Browne Characters: 10971

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


THE PITY OF IT ALL.

Left alone, John Schuyler sat for long, never-ending moments. He was weak-weak unto the weakness of death. His soul was torn and tossed and twitched within him. At length he rose, slowly, to his feet. A dizziness- a nausea-overmastered him. He reached for the bottle on the table top. As he did so, his foot touched some object upon the floor…. He looked down. It was a bit of broken mirror…. He stooped and picked it up. The light upon the table was on. He turned it so that it might illumine with its merciless rays the last cruel line upon his face…. Slowly, holding the mirror so that eyes might see, he looked…. He fell to his knees…. This thing that he saw was he! He! John Schuyler!

Came to him at length strength to rise. Came to his heart great resolves. He would make atonement to the woman whom he had forsaken-the woman who had not forsaken him. He would make atonement in as far as it lay within possibility-and to the child that was of him and of her he would make atonement. He was but a young man; many years of life should lie before him; and of these years he would give, give all, and ask nothing. It was the sad wreck of a life that lay before him-a stinking, noisome wreck- yet there must be something in it that was neither foul nor unsightly. That thing he would find. He set his jaw. Leaden eyes became bright…. Then, he was near to being a man….

He had started toward the door, to leave forever the scene of his moral, mental, spiritual death-he was almost to the portal-another step would carry him through, and beyond-

She stood there. Red lips were parted in a little, inscrutable smile. White shoulders shimmered. Lithe muscles rippled beneath her gown with every movement of her delicate body. She was beautiful-beautiful as an animal is beautiful. And her eyes were upon his.

He staggered back, clutching at the door jamb for support.

She laughed a little, lightly:

"Just in time. You're going away. Bien. I trust you may have a very pleasant journey."

She swung into the room, lithely, eyes upon him, vivid lips smiling.

Rounded arms were clasped behind lissome back.

"And if I hadn't gone," he inquired, "you were about to go?"

She nodded.

"To another fool?"

She shook her head, merrily.

"Oh, no," she replied, red lips pursed. "To a man-this time."

He shrunk a little. The madness was not far behind.

"Well, squeeze him dry," he muttered. "Squeeze the honor and the manhood and the life and the soul out of him, won't you? And then Parmalee, and Rogers, and Van Dam will laugh at him from their hole in hell. And I'll laugh at all of you; for I'll be safe from you all. So squeeze him dry, won't you, you Vampire!"

Again she laughed, gaily. He was very amusing, at times-this thing that had been a man. She slid to the desk, seating herself upon it, swinging small, perfectly shod feet with slender silk-clad ankles.

"So it's all over," she remarked, musingly. "Yet it was sweet while it lasted, wasn't it, My Fool?-sometimes." She tossed at him contemptuously a glowing crimson blossom which she ripped from the great mass at her rounded breast. She went on:

"Those days on the Mediterranean, under the blue skies. And Venice, with the dim silence all about, and the soft night breezes whispering their strange secrets to us as we lay side by side under the rustling canopy- very romantic, for dreamers-and we did dream-didn't we, My Fool?-at least, you did." She laughed again; again she cast at him a crimson blossom, maliciously, tantalizingly. "And Paris. That was good, too- differently. The gay crowds on the Bois, and the races at Longchamps, and the little place in the Rue Notre Dame des Champs-and Saint Antoine, in the Norman hills-and the fuss they made over the newly-wedded couple! It was while we were there, if you will remember, Fool," she went on, in voice caressing but words that stung, "on the morning that we first had breakfast under the grape arbor, with its young green leaves and nodding promises of luscious yield, that there came the letter from your wife."

She laughed, long and merrily. He cried, hoarsely:

"Stop! Damn you, stop! You've tortured me enough!"

"Amedee served us that morning," she continued, unmindful; "or was it Francois?-no, Amedee. He spilt the coffee upon the table cloth twice, in his anxiety lest he embarrass us. And when you kissed me," with a little ripple of mirth, "he looked the other way, covering his lips with his hand. Oh, admirable Amedee! … The breeze was stirring that morning, Fool-do you remember?-and the dead leaves of yester-year fell about us- so!" She plucked a great handful of crimson petals from her breast and cast them above her head. They fell about him, and about her. "And I dipped sugar in my coffee and fed it to you, and you let me read your wife's letter." Again she laughed.

Through his clenched teeth came a muttered curse.

"It was interesting, drolly interesting…. that letter." she continued.

"She couldn't understand why your mission detained you so long!"

Yet again she laughed, merrily, ringingly. Suddenly she shifted, lithely, the poise of her body.

"Bah! I weary of this, and of you…. But before I go," she leaned far forward, eyes on his, vivid lips curved, bare breast shimmering, "a kiss, My Fool!"

"Why do you come here?" he cried, piteously. "Have you not done enough? Is there no pity in your heart-no sympathy-no human feeling of any kind?"

"I'

ve heard you say so, in other days," she smiled.

"Let me go," he begged. "Haven't you done enough? There is no misery that I have not suffered-no degradation that I have not reached-no depths to which I have not sunk-no dishonor that I have not felt. Great God! What more do you want of me?"

He was a pitiful object, sunken, shrivelled, abject. She looked on him with eyes that revealed only amusement-amusement, and power.

She asked, lightly:

"What more could I want of you? What more have you to give, My Fool?"

"There's a chance for me," he pleaded, hysterically; "a little, pitiful chance. Can't you find in that dead thing you call a heart just one shred of pity that I may have that chance that is held out to me? I don't ask much in return for all that I have given-just to be let alone…. Ah, go! Go! Please, please go!"

He was on his knees now, thin hands raised in beseeching. She looked down on him from where she sat, upon the desk, little feet swinging. She raised delicate, arched brows.

"Anyone would think," she declared, "that I had done wrong by you."

He struggled erect.

"By God, I'll have my chance!" he cried. "I'll have it in spite of you!

Do you hear? Go!"

"In good time, My Fool," she returned, easily. "When you shall have ceased to amuse me."

"You'll go now," he insisted, frenziedly. "Now!"

He stumbled forward, to grasp the white, rounded arms. She caught his wrists, holding him easily.

"You're not so strong as you were, you know," she said, lightly. Suddenly she thrust him from her, reeling. Her eyes flashed; her lips curved, in scorn.

"You sicken me." And then: "You asked me if I had had all I wanted of you. I have, and more. And now I'll go, and leave you to your 'chance!' But not until-"

She had risen, and gone to the great chair. Into it she sank. He was before her…. She leaned forward, eyes heavy lidded, white arms extended, white teeth glowing, white shoulders shimmering. She hissed, sibilantly:

"A kiss, My Fool!"

He turned from her…. Turned half back again….

"No!" he gasped, weakly…. "No."

She hissed again:

"Kiss me, My Fool!"

The scarlet roses at her breast moved a little. Her lips were parted….

Her eyes were on his….

He cried, thickly, agonizedly:

"I'm free of you! Free, I tell you! I'm going back to wife-to child-to home-to honor! I'm free!"

Her lips curved. Her breast heaved. Her arms glowed. And her eyes were on his…. He came a step nearer-another step-yet another…. He was nearer, now…. She leaned back a little, in the great chair….

He was not a man, now. He was a Thing, and that Thing was of her. Hands hung slack, loose, at his sides; jaw drooped; lips were pendulous. Only, in his eyes was that light that she, and she alone, knew how to kindle…. He was hers, soul, and body, and brain….

Then, suddenly, came of the things that are Unknown. Perhaps came to his ears a voice-to his heart an aid unknown…. His hands stiffened a little…. And then he leaped upon her.

She saw; she had half risen…. Back they went over the great chair, his body on hers, his fingers clutching at her rounded throat. For a moment, they writhed. She screamed, once…. Then, suddenly, his twisted fingers relaxed…. His head fell back. His body, inert, rolled from hers, turned again as it struck the chair, and fell, a thing crushed and dead, at her feet….

She rose, breathing hoarsely from between red, parted lips. There were marks upon her throat…. Perhaps, again, she had overestimated her power…. And yet it were not to be sure of this….

Her skirt-hem lay beneath his body. She stooped, lithely, disengaging it. His fingers clutched torn petals of crimson roses…. She looked…. Then vivid lips parted, and she laughed, a little.

Of that which is known, she knew but little; of that which is unknown, she knew much. Perhaps it is a small thing, after all, to wreck a life.

* * * * *

When they came back, they found him there, alone. He lay prone, on the rug, before the great chair. The moonlight was upon his face; which was not well. Crimson petals, like drops of blood, were upon it; and the redness was crushed between his clutching fingers.

Muriel did not see; for the friend such as few men may ever hope to have and, having, may pray to keep, had thrust the child behind him.

For a long, long time they stood there…. Then slowly, the woman that had been wife turned-her head sunk forward…. She had suffered much, and yet there was in her still the power to suffer; but it was now the suffering of pity-of utter, utter pity…. Head sunk forward, she reeled a little. The man, standing beside her, caught her in strong arm, that she might not fall…. For a tiny moment she rested there-the only rest that she had known since It had come into her life. And who shall say that she was wrong? or he?

Side by side they stood, and gazed upon their dead. They held the little child that she might not see…. Then slowly they turned, and left…. And in the end, perhaps, came to them of God the happiness that they deserved from Him. Perhaps, even it was a happiness refined of the suffering through which they both had passed; for, to know great happiness one must have known great sorrow.

Upon the Altar of Things are made, oft-times, strange sacrifices- sacrifices that we cannot understand, made in a way that we do not comprehend. For God has shown us, even the wisest of us, but little of the world in which we live.

THE END.

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