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   Chapter 22 A DISCONSOLATE LOVER AND A PAIR OF BLUE EYES

The Wheel of Life By Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow Characters: 8939

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


With that strange hunger of youth for the agony of experience, Trent allowed the news of Laura's engagement to plunge him into an imaginary despondency which was quite as vivid as any reality of suffering. For a week he persistently refused his meals, and he was even seized with a kind of moral indignation when his perfectly healthy appetite asserted itself at irregular hours. To eat with a broken heart appeared to him an act of positive brutality; and yet he was aware that, in spite of the sting of his wounded pride, the tragic ending of his first romance produced not the slightest effect upon his physical enjoyment. It was an instance where a purely ideal sentiment struggled against a perfectly normal constitution.

"You could never have cared for me, of course I always knew that," he remarked one day to Laura, "but I can't help wishing that you hadn't fallen in love with anybody else."

From the bright remoteness of her happiness she smiled down upon him. "But doesn't such a wish as that strike you as rather selfish?"

"I don't care-I want you back again just as you used to be-and now," he added bitterly, "you've even given up your writing."

"I shall never write again," she answered, quietly, without regret. It was a truth which she felt only intuitively at the time, for her reason as yet had hardly taken account of a fact that was perfectly evident to the subtler perceptions of her feeling. She would never write again-her art had been only the exotic flowering of a luxuriant imagination and she had lost value as a creative energy while she had gained in experience as a human soul.

"I was too young, that was the trouble," pursued Trent, "there were five years between us."

"My dear boy," she laughed merrily, "there was all eternity."

His bitterness, he felt, grew heavily upon him while he watched her. A new beauty had passed into her face; the mystery of a thousand lives was in her look, in her gestures, in her voice; and she appeared to him not as herself alone, but as the embodied essence of all former loves of which he had dreamed-of all the enchanting dead women of whom the poets wrote. Then he thought of Arnold Kemper, with his exhausted emotions, his superficial cleverness, his engrossing middle-age, and especially of his approaching baldness. Was love, after all, he questioned, only a re-quickened memory in particular brain cells as modern scientists believed? Was physical heredity, in truth, the fulfilling of the law of life? and was the soul merely a series of vibrations by which matter lived and moved?

All the way home his angry scepticism boiled over in his thoughts, and at the luncheon table, a little later, he met his mother's placid enquiries with an explosion of boyish despair.

"There's no use trying to persuade me-I can't eat," he said.

"But, my dear son, I fear you'll work yourself into an illness," returned Mrs. Trent, with her unshaken calm.

"I don't care," replied the young man desperately, "whether I die now or later, it is all the same."

"I suppose really it is," admitted his mother; but she added after a pause in which she had dipped mildly into a philosophic curiosity, "The way being in love effects one has always seemed to me the very strangest thing in life. I remember your uncle Channing lived exclusively on onions for a whole month after Mattie Godwin refused his offer. Why he selected onions I could never explain," she concluded, "unless it was that he had never been able to endure the taste of them, and he seemed bent upon making himself as miserable as it was possible to be."

While she went on placidly eating her hashed chicken, Trent tossed off a glass or two of claret, which he was perfectly aware, taken on his empty stomach, would immediately produce a racking headache. Since his passion was not sincere, it occurred to him that it might at least become dramatic; but he saw presently, with aggrieved surprise, that the impression made upon his mother by his violent behavior was far slighter than he had brought himself to expect. When next she spoke her thoughts appeared to have strayed utterly from the subject of his appetite.

"I couldn't sleep last night for thinking of that poor Christina Coles," she said, "the char-woman told me yesterday that the child had been obliged to go out and pawn some of her things in order to get the money to pay her room rent."

With a start his mind swung back from the dream life to

the actual. He had not seen Christina for more than a week, and the thought of her pierced his heart with a keen reproach.

"Good God, has it come to that?" he exclaimed.

"What hurts me most is not being able to do anything to help her," resumed Mrs. Trent, "she's so proud that I don't dare even ask her to a meal for fear she'll take offence."

"But if it's so bad as that why doesn't she go home-she must have a home."

"Oh, she has-but to go back, she feels, would mean that she's given up, and the char-woman declares that she'll never give up so long as she's alive."

"Well, she's a precious little fool," observed Trent, as he drank an extra glass of claret.

But the thought of Christina was not to be so lightly put from him, and before the afternoon was over he went up to the eighth landing and knocked in vain at her door. She was still out, as the little pile of rejected manuscript lying on her threshold bore witness; and he turned away and came down again with a disappointment of which he felt himself to be half ashamed. An hour later he ran against her when he was going out into the street, and as she turned with her constrained little bow and looked at him for an instant with her sincere blue eyes, he was almost overcome by the rush of pity which the sight of her evoked. How pale and thin she had grown! how shabby her little tan coat looked in the daylight; and yet what a charming curve there was to her brown head! He realised then for the first time that brown-warm, living brown with glints of amber-was the one colour for a woman's hair.

The next morning he rushed off indignantly to upbraid Adams.

"The girl's starving, I tell you-we can't let her starve," he exclaimed in an agony of remorse.

"Oh, yes we can," returned Adams with a cheerful brutality which enraged the younger man. "Starving isn't half so bad as writing trash. But you needn't look at me like that," he added, "she doesn't come here any longer now. She told me fiction was the field she meant to dig in."

"Well, you'll kill her among you," was Trent's threatening rejoinder; and filled with a righteous fury against literature he went back again to knock at the door of Christina's empty room. Once his mother came up also, but the girl, it appeared, was always out now, while the rejected manuscript thickened each morning upon the threshold. Several times Mrs. Trent arranged a little tray of luncheon and sent it up stairs by the old negro servant, but the message brought back was always that Christina was not at home. And then gradually, as the weeks went by, the dignity and the pathos of her struggle were surrounded in Trent's mind by a romantic halo. Her beauty borrowed from his poetic fancy the peculiar touch of atmosphere it lacked, and his thoughts dwelt more and more upon her slender, girlish figure, her smooth brown hair, and the flower-like sweetness of her face.

Then just as he had grown almost hopeless of ever seeing her again, he found her one evening in the elevator as he went up to his mother's rooms. The touch of her cold little hand on his sent a sudden shock to his heart, and while he looked anxiously into her face, he saw her go deadly pale and bite her lip sharply as if to bring back her consciousness by the sting of pain.

"You are ill," he said eagerly; "don't deny it, for haven't I eyes? Yes, you must, you shall come with me in to mother."

Even then she would have turned proudly away, but with his impulsive, lover's sympathy he led her from the elevator upon the landing on which he lived. "She is waiting for you-she wants you," he urged with passion; "and can't you see-oh, Christina, I want you, too!"

But his fervour only left her the more cold and shrinking, and she shook her head with a refusal that was almost angry.

"How dare you? Why did you make me come out?" she asked. "I must go back-I am not well-oh, I must go back!"

Over the angry tones of her voice he saw her entreating eyes shining like wet flowers, and as he looked into them it came to him in a revelation of knowledge that the meaning of everything that had been was made clear at last. He knew now why he had succeeded where Christina had failed-he knew why Laura had refused his love, and why, even in his misery, her refusal had left his heart untouched. And beyond all these things, he realised that now his boyhood was over and that from the experience of this one moment he had become a man.

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