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   Chapter 6 No.6

Everyman's Land By A. M. Williamson Characters: 7706

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

That is the story, Padre, as far as it has gone. No sign from you, no look in your eyes, could show me myself in a meaner light than shines from the mirror of my conscience. If Jim hadn't loved me, it would be less shameful to trade on the trust of these kind people. I see that clearly! And I see how hateful it is to make Brian an innocent partner in the fraud.

I'm taking advantage of one man who is dead, and another who is blind. And it is as though I were "betting on a certainty," because there's nobody alive who can come forward to tell the Becketts or Brian what I am. I'm safe, brutally safe!

You'll see from what I have written how Brian turned the scales. The plan he proposed developed in the Becketts' minds with a quickness that could happen only with Americans-and millionaires. Father Beckett sees and does things on the grand scale. Perhaps that's the secret of his success. He was a miner once, he has told Brian and me. Mrs. Beckett was a district school teacher in the Far West, where his fortune began. They married while he was still a poor man. But that's by the way! I want to tell you now of his present, not of his past: and the working out of our future from Brian's suggestion. Ten minutes after the planting of the seed a tree had grown up, and was putting forth leaves and blossoms. Soon there will be fruit. And it will come into existence ripe! I suppose Americans are like that. They manage their affairs with mental intensive culture.

The Becketts are prepared to love me for Jim's sake; but Brian they worship as a supernatural being. Mr. Beckett says he's saved them from themselves, and given them an incentive to live. It was only yesterday that they answered my S. O. S. call. Now, the immediate future is settled, for the four of us; settled for us together.

Father Beckett is asking leave to travel en automobile through the liberated lands. In each town and village Jim's parents will decide on some work of charity or reconstruction in his memory, above all in places he knew and loved. They can identify these by the letters he wrote home from France before the war. His mother has kept every one. Through a presentiment of his death, or because she couldn't part from them, she has brought along a budget of Jim's letters from America. She carries them about in a little morocco hand-bag, as other women carry their jewels.

The thought of Brian's plan is for the two old people like an infusion of blood in emptied veins. They say that they would never have thought of it themselves, and if they had, they would not have ventured to attempt it alone, ignorant of French as they are. But this is their generous way of making us feel indispensable! They tell us we are needed to "see them through"; that without our help and advice they would be lost. Every word of kindness is a new stab for me. Shall I grow callous as time goes on, and accept everything as though I really were what they call me-their "daughter"? Or-I begin to think of another alternative. I'll turn to it if I grow desperate.

The bright spot in my darkness is the joyful change in the Becketts. They feel that they've regained their son; that Jim will be with them on their journey, and that they've a rendezvous with him at "his chateau," when they reach the journey's end. They owe this happiness not to me, but to Brian. As for him, he has the air of calm content that used to enfold him when he packed his easel and knapsack for a tramp. Blindness isn't blindness for Brian. It's only another kind of sight.

"I shan't see the wreck and misery you others will have to see," he says. "Horrors don't exist any more for my eyes. I shall see the country in all its beauty as it was before the war. And who knows but I shall find my dog?" (Brian lost the most wonderful dog in the world when he was wounded.) He is al

ways hoping to find it again!

He doesn't feel that he accepts charity from the Becketts. He believes, with a kind of modest pride, that we're really indispensable. Afterward-when the tour is over-he thinks that "some other scheme will open." I think so too. The Becketts will propose it, to keep us with them. They will urge and argue, little dreaming how I drew them, with a grappling-hook resolve to become a barnacle on their ship!

To-morrow we move to the Ritz. The Becketts insist. They want us near them for "consultations"! This morning the formal request was made to the French authorities, and sent to headquarters. On the fourth day the answer will come, and there's little doubt it will be "yes."

Can I bear to go on deceiving Jim Beckett's father and mother, or-shall I take the other alternative? I must decide to-night.

* * *

Since I wrote that last sentence I have been out, alone-to decide. Padre, it was in my mind never to come back.

I walked a long, long way, to the Champs-élysées. I was very tired, and I sat down-almost dropped down-on a seat under the high canopy of chestnut trees. I could not think, but I had a sense of expectation as if I were waiting for somebody who would tell me what to do. Paris in the autumn twilight was a dream of beauty. Suddenly the dream seemed to open, and draw me in. Some one far away, whom I had known and loved, was dreaming me! What I should decide about the future, depended no longer on myself, but upon the dreamer. I didn't know who he was; but I knew I should learn by and by. It was he who would come walking along the road of his own dream, and take the vacant place by me on the seat.

Being in the dream, I didn't belong to the wonderful, war-time Paris which was rushing and roaring around me. Military motors, and huge camions and ambulances were tearing up and down, over the gray-satin surface of asphalt which used to be sacred to private autos and gay little taxis bound for theatres and operas and balls. For every girl, or woman, or child, who passed, there were at least ten soldiers: French soldiers in bleu horizon, Serbians in gray, Britishers and a sprinkling of Americans in khaki. There was an undertone of music-a tune in the making-in the tramp, tramp, of the soldiers' feet, the rumble and whirr of the cars-of-war, the voices of women, the laughing cries of children.

I thought how simple it would be, to spring up and throw myself under one of the huge, rushing camions: how easily the thing might be taken for an accident if I stage-managed it well. The Becketts would be angels to Brian when I was gone! But the dreamer of the dream would not let me stir hand or foot. He put a spell of stillness upon me; he shut me up in a transparent crystal box, while outside all the world moved about its own affairs.

The mauve light of Paris nights filtered up from the gleaming asphalt, as if through a roof of clouded glass over a subterranean ballroom lit with blue and purple lanterns. Street lamps, darkly shaded for air-raids, trailed their white lights downward, long and straight, like first-communion veils. Distant trees and shrubs and statues began to retreat into the dusk, as if withdrawing from the sight of fevered human-folk to rest. Violet shadows rose in a tide, and poured through the gold-green tunnel of chestnut trees, as sea-water pours into a cave. And the shadow-sea had a voice like the whisper of waves. It said, "The dream is Jim Wyndham's dream." I felt him near me-still in the dream. The one I had waited for had come.

I was free to move. The transparent box was broken.

* * *

What the meaning of my impression was I don't know. But it must have a meaning, it was so strong and real. It has made me change my mind about-the other alternative. I want to live, and find my way back into that dream.

* * *

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