MoboReader > Literature > Told in a French Garden / August, 1914


Told in a French Garden / August, 1914 By Mildred Aldrich Characters: 40956

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The Tale of a Virgin

It was on August 26th that we were first sure that the Allied forces and the German army had actually come in contact. It seemed impossible for us to realize it, but, in the afternoon the Doctor, the Lawyer, and the Youngster took one of the cars, and made a run to the northeast. The news they brought back did not at all coincide with the hopeful tone of the morning papers. In fact it was not only evident that the fall of Namur had been followed almost immediately by that of Mons and Charleroi, but that the German hordes were well over the French frontier, and advancing rapidly, and the Allied armies simply flying before them.

The odd part was, that though the Youngster said that they had only run out fifty miles, they had heard the guns, and "the Doctor thinks," he added, under his breath, "that we may be able to stick it out to the last day of the month. Anyway, I advise you girls to look over your kits. We may fly in a hurry-such of us as must fly."

However, we managed to get through dinner quite gaily. We simply could not realize the menace, and the Doctor evidently meant that we should not. He was in gayer spirits than he had been since the days of the great discussions, and after the few facts he had brought back were given us, he kept the talk on other matters, until the Sculptor, who had been lying back in his chair, blowing smoke rings in the air, stretched himself into his most graceful position, and called attention even to his pose, before he threw his cigarette far from him with a fine gesture, settled his handsome head into his clasped hands, and began:

* * *

I had been ten years abroad.

In all that time I had been idle, prosperous, and wretched.

Every time Fate wrenched my heart with one of her long thin pitiless hands, she recompensed me with what the world calls "good luck." Every hope I had cherished failed me. Every faith I had harbored deserted me. Every venture in which neither heart nor soul was concerned flourished and flaunted its success in the face of the world, where I was considered a very fortunate man.

In the ten years of my exile I had travelled much, had been in contact with all kinds of people, had served some, and tried in vain to be concerned for them while I served. If it had been my fate to make no friends, it was within my choice to be never alone.

I had that in my memory which I hoarded, and yet with which I would not allow myself to be deliberately alone. The most terrible hours of my life were those when, toward morning, the rest of the world-all the world save me-having no past to escape, no enticing phantom to flee, went peacefully off to bed, and I was left alone in the night to drug memory, fight off thought, outwit imagination by any means that I might-and some of them were desperate enough.

Ten years had passed thus.

Another tenth of August had come round!

Only a man who has but one anniversary in his life, the backward and forward shadows of which make an unbroken circle over the whole year, can appreciate my existence. One cannot escape such a date. You may never speak of it. You may forswear calendars, abjure newspapers, refuse to date a letter; you may even lose days in a drunken stupor. Still there is that in your heart and your brain which keeps the reckoning. The hour will strike, in spite of you, when the day comes round on the dial of the year.

I had been living for some time in a city far distant from my native land. Half the world stretched on either side between me and the spot I tried to forget, and which floated forever, like a vision, between me and reality.

I had remained longer than usual in this city, for the simple reason that it was the hot season, and while the natives could stand it by day, visitors, unused to the heat, were forced to sleep by day and wander abroad by night, a condition that made it possible for me to feel my fellowmen about me nearly the entire twenty-four hours.

It was night.

I was sitting alone on the balcony of my room, looking down on to the crowded bridges of the city where throngs were passing, and filled my eyes and mind.

It was the very hour at which I had last seen her. There was no clock in sight-I always guarded against that in selecting my room. I had long ceased to carry a watch.

Yet I knew the hour.

I had been sitting there for hours watching the crowd. I had not been drinking. I had long ago abandoned that. No stimulant could blur the fixed regret, no narcotic numb my full sense of it. Sleep, whether I rose to it, or fell to it-only brought me dreams of her. Desperate nourishing of a great misery, in a nature that resented it, even while cherishing it, had made me a conscious monomaniac. Fate had thwarted me, and distorted me. I had become jealous and morbid, bitterly reviling my hurt, but violently preventing its healing.

There was a moon-just as there had been that night, only now it fell on a many bridged river across which were ghostly cypress trees, rising along the hillside to a strangely outlined church behind ruined fortifications. I was wondering, against my will, at what hour that moon rose over the distant New England village, which came before me in a vision that wiped out the wooded heights of reality.

Suddenly all the pain dropped away from me.

I drew a long breath in amazement.

Where was the weight under which I had staggered, mentally, all these years? Whence came the peace that had so suddenly descended upon me? In an instant it had passed, and I could only remember my bitter mood of ten years as if it had been a dream that I had lived so long unconsoled by that great healer, Time.

As the torturing jealousy dropped from me, a gentle sadness took its place. In an instant my mind was made up. I would go back.

This idea, which had never come to me in ten years, seemed now perfectly natural. I would return at once to that far off village where, for a brief hour, I had dwelt in a "Fool's Paradise," through which my way had lain but a brief span, and where I had passed, like the fabled bird, that "floats through Heaven, but cannot light."

* * *

I remember but little of the journey home, save that it was long, and that I slept much. But whether it was months or years I never knew. I seemed to be making up what I had lost in ten years. Time occupied itself in restoring the balance I had taken so much pains to upset.

It was night when I reached the place at last.

I found it as I had left it. Had a magic sleep settled there it could not have been less changed.

I was recognized in the small bare office of the one tavern. I felt that my sudden appearance surprised no one. But I did not wonder why.

Oddly enough, I never asked a question. I had not even questioned myself as to what I expected to find. Years afterward I was convinced, in reviewing the matter, that my soul had known from the first.

I dined alone, quite calmly, after which I stepped out into the starlight. I turned up the hill, and struck into the familiar road I had so often travelled in the old days. It led toward the river, and along the steep bank of the rapid noisy stream. The chill wind of an early autumn night moaned sadly in the tall trees, and the dead leaves under my feet rustled a sad accompaniment to my thoughts, which at last, unhooded, flew back to the past.

Below rushed the river, whose torrent had ever been an accompaniment to all my recollections of her-as inseparable from them as the color of her eyes, or the tones of her voice.

I could not but contrast my present calm with the mad humor in which I had last rushed down the slope I was so quietly climbing. As I went forward, I began to ask myself, "Why?" I could not answer that, but I began to hurry.

Suddenly I stopped.

The moon had emerged above the trees on the opposite side of the river. It struck and illumined something white above me. I was standing exactly where I had stood on that fatal tenth of August, so many years before.

I came to my senses as if by an electric shock.

At last everything was clear to me. At last I understood whence had gone all my vanity and jealousy. At last I understood the spell of peace that had settled on me in that moonlit tenth of August, in that far off city.

My burden had passed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with her-for I was standing at the door of her tomb!

I did not question. I knew, I comprehended.

In no other way could I have found such calm.

Though I flung myself on the shining marble steps that led in the moonlight up to the top of the knoll where the tomb stood, I had no tears to shed.

The present floated still further away.

Even the rush of the torrent died out of my ears.

Once more it seemed to me that lovely day in May when we three had marched, shoulder to shoulder, down the city street-that spring day in the early sixties, when the North was sending her flower to fight for a united country.

Again I felt the warm sunshine on my head.

Once more I heard the ringing cheers, saw the floating flags, and the faces of women who wept as well as women who smiled in the throngs that lined the street.

Just as in all my life it had been his emotions and his enthusiasms that led me, it was his excitement that impelled me forward at this moment. His was the hand that in my school days, at college, in our Bohemian days abroad, had swept my responsive nature as a master hand strikes a harp, and made harmonies or discords at his will-or, I should say, according to his mood.

I used to think in those days that he never willfully wronged any one, but I had to own also that he never deliberately sacrificed himself for any one. And, if I were the victim of his temperament, he was no less so. But he was an artist. I was not. All things either good or bad were merely material to him. With me it was different.

He and I were alone in the world. But beside us marched, that May morning, with the glory of youth on his handsome but weak face, one whose "baptism of fire" was to make him a hero, who had else been remembered a coward.

The story of the girl he had wronged, and fear of whom had even reconciled his family to his enlisting, was common property, and had been for several seasons. There was a child, too, a little daughter, fondly loved, but unacknowledged, the fame of whose childish beauty many a heedless voice had already sung.

He, poor youngster, looked on his all that morning.

Once more I saw the flag draped house where his mother waved a brave farewell to him.

But there was another later picture in my mind. Again I heard the blare of the band before us as it flung its satire of "The Girl I Left Behind Me," into the spring air. I saw once more in my mind the child, with her floating red gold curls, raised above the crowd on the shoulders of tall men. Her eyes were too young for tears-and for that matter, tears came to her but seldom in later years-and the lips that shouted "bood-bye" smiled, unconscious of bravery, as she swung her hat with its symbolic colors above her shining head.

That was the picture that three of us carried to the front.

We left him-all his errors redeemed by a noble death-with his face turned up to the stars, as silent, as mysterious as they, after our first battle.

From the horrors of that night we two came away bound by an oath to care for that child.

* * *

Again my memory shifted to the days that found her a woman. Fair, beautiful, dainty, her father's daughter in looks, but inheriting from a rare mother a peculiar strength of character, a moral force rarely found with such a temperament and such beauty.

We had aided to raise her as became the child of her father, whose story she knew as soon as she was able to understand, but she knew it from the lips of the brave mother, who cherished his memory. Until she was a woman grown it was I, however, who, of her two self-appointed guardians, had watched over her. Children did not interest him.

He had married some years before that time, married well with an eye to a calm comfortable future, as became an artist who could not be hampered by the need of money.

Indeed, it was not until he knew that I was to marry her that he really looked at her.

And I, with all my experience of him, simply because I was never able to understand the dual nature, failed at that fatal hour when we stood together beside our protégée to apply to the situation the knowledge that years of experience should have taught me.

I was so bound up in my own feelings that I failed to remember that, until then, I had never had a great emotion that his nature had not acted as a lens in the kindling.

Then, too, there was a dense sense of the conventional-a logical enough birthright-in my make-up. I, who had known him so long, so well, seemed, nevertheless, when he married, to have fancied there was some hocus-pocus in the ceremony, which should make a definite change in a man's character, as well as a presumable change in his way of life.

It must have been that there, in the open, at the foot of the knoll, I slept, as one does the first night after a long awaited death, when the relief that pain is passed, and suspense ended, deadens grief. She was no longer in this world of torture. That helped me.

* * *

The next I knew, it was the sun, and not the moon which was shining on me.

The wind had stilled its sobbing in the trees.

Only the rushing of the river sounded in my ears.

I rose slowly, and mounted the steps.

A tiny white marble mosque of wonderful beauty-for he who erected it was one of the world's great artists, whose works will live to glorify his name and his art when all his follies shall have been forgotten-stood in a court paved with marble.

It was encircled with a low coping of the whitest of stone. Over this low wall vines were already growing, and the woodbine that was mingled with it was stained with those glorious tints in which Nature says to life, "Even death is beautiful."

The wide bronze doors on either side were open.

I accepted the fact without even wondering why-or asking myself who, in opening them, had discovered my presence!

I entered.

For a brief time I stood once more within the room where she lay.

An awful peace fell on my soul, as if her soul had whispered in the words we had so often read together:

"I lie so composedly

Now in my bed-"

I knew at last, as I gazed, that all her life, and all mine, as well, had been to his profit. That out of this, too, he had wrought some of his greatness.

The interior of the vault was of red marble, and, such of chiselling as there was done, seemed wonderful to me even in my frame of mind. I took it all in, through unwilling, though fascinated eyes.

I have never seen it since. I can never forget it.

Yet art is, and always has been, so much to me, that I could not help, even in my strangely wrought-up mental condition, comprehending and admiring his scheme and the masterly manner in which he had worked it out.

At my feet, as I stood on the threshold, was an elaborate scroll engraved on the stone and surrounded with a wreath of leaves, that vied with the tombs of the old world. As I gazed at it, and read the gothic letters in which it was set forth that this monument was erected in adoration of this woman, how well I remembered the day when we had crouched together over those stones in the crypt at Certosa, to admire the chiselling of Donatello which had inspired this.

There was a space left for the signature of the artist, which would, I knew, some day be written there boldly enough!

In the centre stood the sarcophagus.

I felt its presence, though my eyes avoided it.

Above, on the wall, were the words borne along by carved angels:

"My love she sleeps: Oh, may her sleep

As it was lasting, so be deep."

And I seemed to hear her voice intone the words as I had heard them from her lips so many times.

And then my eyes fell-on her! Aye! On her, stretched at full length in her warm and glorious tomb. For above her mortal remains slept her effigy wrought with all the skill of a great art.

I had feared to look upon it, but having looked, I felt that I could never tear myself away from its peace and loveliness.

The long folds of the drapery fell straight from the small, round throat to the tiny unshod feet, and so wonderfully was it wrought, that it seemed as if the living beautiful flesh of the slender body was still quick beneath it. The exquisite hands that I knew so well-so delicate, and yet so strong-were gently crossed upon her breast, and her arms held a long stemmed lily, emblem of purity, and it looked to me there like a martyr's palm.

Perhaps it was the pale reflection from the red walls, but the figure seemed too real to be mere stone!

I forgot the irony of the fact that I was merely seeing her through his eyes-the eyes of the man who had robbed me. I felt only her presence. I fell on my knees. I flung my arms across the beautiful form-no colder to my embrace than had been the living woman! As I recoiled from the death-like touch, my eyes fell on the words carved on the face of the sarcophagus, and once more, it was like the voice that was hushed in my ears.

"I pray to God that she may lie

Forever with unopened eye

While the dim sheeted ghosts go by."

"Amen," I said, with all my heart, to the words he had carved above her, for what, after the fever of such a life, could be so welcome to her as dreamless, eternal silence, in which there would be no more passion, no more struggling, no more love?

And, if I wished with all my soul, that the great surprise of death might, for her, have been peace and silence, did I not bar myself as well as him from the hope of Heaven?

How long I stood there, with hungry eyes devouring the marble effigy of her I so loved-now tortured by its fidelity, now punished by its coldness-I never knew.

Sometimes I noticed the changing of the light, the shifting of the shadows, as the sun swung steadily upward, but it was a subconscious observation which did not recall me to myself and the present.

Back, back turned my thoughts to the past.

Here, where she now lay in her gorgeous tomb, had then stood an arbor, and below had roared the rushing river.

It was the night of our wedding.

Then, as now, on this very spot, I had looked down on that fair pale face, and then it had given me back a gaze as lifeless as this.

I had missed my bride from the little throng in the quaint house beyond. I had stolen out to seek her. Instinctively I had turned to the old arbor above the river, where her hours of meditation had always been passed.

It was there I had found her as a child, when I came to bring her father's dying message. It was there I had asked her to become my wife. It was there we three had first stood together.

For a week before the wedding she had been in a strange mood, tearless, but nervous, and sad! Still, it had not seemed to me an unnatural mood in such a woman, on the eve of her marriage.

Fate is ironical.

I remembered that I was serenely happy as I sped up the hill in search of her, and so sure that I knew where to find her. Light scudding clouds crossed the track of the moon, which, with a broadly smiling face, rolled up the heavens at a spinning pace, now appearing, now disappearing behind the flying clouds.

I was humming gaily as I strode along the narrow path. Nothing tugged at my heart strings to warn me of approaching sorrow. There was no signal in all nature to prepare me for the end in a complete shipwreck of all my dreams. The peace about me gave no hint of its cynicism. Nothing, either within or without, hinted that my hours of happiness and content were running out rapidly to the last sand!

I had reached the shallow steps that led up the knoll to the arbor!

At that moment the clouds were swept off from the face of the moon, and the white light fell full on her.

But she was not alone. She rested in the arms of my friend, as, God help me, she had never rested in mine-in an abandon that was only too eloquent.

What was said?

Who but God knows that now?

What do men like us, who have thought themselves one in all things, until one love rends them asunder, say at such a time? As for me, I cannot reca

ll a word!

I did not even see his face.

I think he saw mine no more.

We seemed to see into the soul of each other, through the very heart of that frail woman between us, that slender creature in the bridal dress, who sank down before us, as if the colliding passions of two strong men had killed her.

It was he who raised her up. His hands placed her in my arms. No need to say that she was blameless. I knew all that.

It was only Fate after all, that I blamed, yet the fatalist is human. He suffers in living like other men-sometimes more, because he refuses to struggle in the clutches of Chance!

As I gazed down into her white face, I heard the steps of my friend, even above the roaring of the river, as he strode down the hillside, out of my life! And I know not even to-day which was the bitterest grief, the loss of my faith in being loved, or the passing from my heart of that man!

Of the pain of the night that followed, only the silence and our own hearts knew.

Love and passion are so twinned in some hours of life that one cannot distinguish in himself the one from the other.

Into my keeping "to have and to hold," the law had given this beautiful woman, "until death should us part." I loved her! But, out of her heart, at once stronger and weaker than mine, my friend had barred me.

It is not in hours like these, that all men can be sane.

I thought of what might have been, if they had not met that night, and my ignoble side craved ignorance of that Chance, or the brutality to ignore it.

I looked down into that cold face as I laid her from the arms that had borne her down the hill-laid her on what was to have been her nuptial couch-and closed the door between us and all the world.

We were together-alone-at last!

I had dreamed of this hour. Here was its realization. I watched the misery of remembrance dawn slowly on her white face. I pitied her as I gazed at her, yet my whole being cried out in rage at its own pity. On her trembling lips I seemed to see his kisses. In her frightened eyes I saw his image. The shudder that shook her whole body as her eyes held mine, confessed him-and that confession kept me at bay.

All that night I sat beside her.

What mad words I uttered a merciful nature never let me recall.

In the chill dawn I fled from her presence.

The width of the world had lain between us, me-and this woman whom I had worshipped, of whom a consuming jealousy had made ten years of my life a mad fever, which only her death had cured. Saner men have protested against the same situation that ruined me-and yet, even in my reasoning moments, like this, I knew that to have rebelled would have been to have forced a tragic climax before the hour at which Fate had fixed it.

* * *

When something-I know not what-recalled me again to the present, I found that I had sat by her a day, as, on our last meeting, I watched out the night. The sun, which had sent its almost level rays in at the east door of the tomb when I entered, was now shining in brilliant almost level rays in at the west.

The day was passing.

A shadow fell from the opposite door. I became suddenly conscious of his presence, and, once more, across her body, I looked into my friend's eyes.

Between us, as on that dreadful night, she was stretched!

But she was at peace.

Our colliding emotions might rend us, they could never again tear at her gentle heart. That was at rest.

Over her we stood once more, as if years had not passed-years of silence.

Above the woman we had both loved, we two, who had stood shoulder to shoulder in battle, been one in thought and ambition until passion rent us asunder, met as we parted, but she was at peace!

We had severed without farewells.

We met without greetings.

We stood in silence until he waved me to a broad seat behind me, and sank into a similar niche opposite.

We sat in the shadow.

She lay between us in the level light of the setting sun, which fell across her from the wide portal, and once more our eyes met on her face, but they would not disturb her calm.

His influence was once more upon me.

In the silence-for it was some time before he spoke, and I was dumb-my accursed eye for detail had taken in the change in him. Yet I fancied I was not looking at him. I noted that he had aged-that this was one of the periods in him which I knew so well-when a passion for work was on him, and the fever and fervor of creation trained him down like a race-horse, all spirit and force. I noted that he still wore the velveteens and the broad hat and loose open collar of his student days.

Sitting on either side of the tomb he had built to enshrine her, on carved marble seats such as Tuscan poets sat on, in the old days, to sing to fair women, with our gaze focussed on the long white form between us-ah, between us indeed!-his voice broke the long silence.

He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and the broad brim of his soft hat swept the marble floor with a gentle rhythmic swish, as it swung idly from his loosened grasp. I heard it as an accompaniment to his voice.

His eyes never once strayed from her face.

"You think you are to be pitied," he said. "You are wrong! No one who has not sinned against another needs pity. I meant you no harm. Fate-my temperament, your immobility, the very gifts that have made me what I am were to blame-if blame there were. Every one of us must live out his life, according to his nature. I, as well as you!

"When, on this very spot where we last parted, you told me that you loved her, I swear to you, if need be, that I rejoiced. I was glad that she would have you to make the future smooth for her. Later I grew to envy you. It was for your safety, as well as mine and hers, that I decided to see neither of you again until she had been some time your wife. No word of love, no confidence of any kind, had ever passed between us. When I wrote you that I should not be here to see you married, and when not even your reproaches could move me, I had already engaged my passage on a sailing ship bound for the Azores. I had planned to put a long uncertain voyage between you and any possibility that I might mar your chances for happiness, for the nearer the day came, the more-in spite of myself-I resented it!

"My good intentions were thwarted by-Fate.

"For some reason, forgotten and unimportant, the Captain deferred lifting anchor for a whole week. I called myself unpretty names for thinking that I could not even see her without danger. I despised myself for the judgment that accused me of being such a scamp as to think I would do anything to rob her of the protection and safety you could give her, and I could not, and an egoist for being possessed with the idea that I could if I would.

"Suddenly I felt quite sure of myself.

"Yet I had meant to see her without being seen, when I hurried so unexpectedly down here on your wedding night. I fancied I only longed to see what a lovely bride she would make-she who as a child, a girl, a maiden, had been in your eyes the most exquisite creature you had ever known; she whom I had avoided for years, because I, of all men, could least afford to take a place in her life! I longed to see those eyes, still so pure, under her bridal veil.

"I came in secret! I saw her-and all prudence fled out of me, leaving but one instinct.

"Was it my fault that, alone, she fled from the house? That, with her veil thrown over her arm, she ran directly by me, like a sprite in the moonlight, to this spot?

"The rest you know.

"It is not you who need pity!

"You have the pain of an imperishable loyalty in your soul. It is like a glory in your face, in spite of all you have suffered. As I look at you, it seems but yesterday that all was well between us.

"I lost much in losing you.

"Nor am I sure that you were right to go! But that was for your own nature to decide. In your place I should have fought Fate, I expected you to do it.

"I loved her first, because she satisfied my eyes. I loved her the more that she was denied to me! Yet I knew always that this love was not in me what it was in you. With me it was, like many other emotions of a similar sort-a sentiment that would pass. I tried to think otherwise. But I had awakened her heart, and you, to whom the law had given her, were gone!

"I waited long for your return, or for some sign.

"You neither came nor spoke.

"I argued that something must be done. I owed it to her to offer her my protection.

"I came back here. I met her on this very spot. I said to her, 'You are alone in the world-your mother has married-she has other children. I have saddened your life with my love. Let me at least help to cheer it again. You need affection. Here it is-in my arms!'

"And, while I waited for her answer, I prayed with all my soul that she might deny me.

"God bless her! She did! I turned away from her with a glad heart, and in that heart I enshrined this woman, who, loving me, had denied me. There I set up her image, pure and inviolate. Two long years I stayed away from her, and as I worked, I worshipped her, and out of that worship I wrought a great thing.

"With time, however, her real image grew faint within me. Other emotions, other experiences seemed to blur and dim it. In spite of myself, I returned here. Once more I stood on this spot, within the gaze of her deep eyes. I began to believe that a love everlasting, all enduring, had been given me! But still it was passion that pleaded for possession, and still it was self-knowledge that looked on in fear.

"Passion bade me plead: 'You love me! You need me! Come to me!' And fear kept my heart still, in dread of her consent.

"But she looked up into my face with eyes that seemed to widen under mine, and simply whispered, 'My mother.' The heart that knew and understood now all that sad history seemed to feel that her act might re-open the mother's old wound; that the verdict 'like mother, like daughter' would turn virtue back to sin again.

"Once more I went out into the world with a light heart! Her virtue, her strength, seemed to be mine. I went back to my work with renewed spirit, back to my life with no new self-reproach.

"But once more I swung round the circle. With a perversity that, dreading success, and conscious of fear, yet longs to strive for what it dreads to win, I returned to her again. The death of her mother was my new excuse.

"She came to me-here, as usual. But this time she came leading by the hand her little sister, and I felt her armored against me even before I spoke.

"You, who used to believe in a merciful God, can you explain to me why he has left in the nature of man, created-so you believe-in His own image-that impulse to destroy that which he loves? I loved her for exactly what she was. I loved her because she had the courage to resist me. Yet from each denial so ardently desired, so thankfully received, my soul sprang up strengthened in desire. Safe above me I worshipped her. Once in my arms, I knew, only too well, that even that love would pass as all other emotions had done. I knew I should put her aside, gently if I could, urgently, if I must, and pass on. That is my Fate! Everything that enters my life leaves something I need-and departs! For what I have not, I hunger. What I win soon wearies me. It is the price life exacts for what it gives me.

"So, when August of this year came round, I found myself once more standing here.

"Ten years had passed since we stood here with her between us-ten years that had laid their richest gifts on her beauty. This time she was indeed alone. As I looked into her face, I somehow thought of Agamemnon's fair daughter doomed to die a virgin. You can see my 'Iphigenia' in the spring, if you chance to be in Paris.

"This time, self-knowledge deserted me. The past was forgotten. The future was undreaded. The passion in my heart spoke without reserve or caution! I no longer said: 'You need me! You love me!' I cried out: 'I can no longer live without you!' I no longer said, 'Come to me!' I pleaded, 'Take me to your heart. There, where my image is, let me rest at last. I have waited long, be kind to me.'

"I saw her sway toward me as once before she had done. It was too late to look backward or forward. I had conquered. In my weakness I believed it was thus ordained-that I deserved some credit for waiting so long.

"Yet, when she left me here alone, having promised, with downcast eyes that avoided mine, to place her hand in mine, and walk boldly beside me down the forbidden path of the world, I fell down on the spot her feet had pressed, and wept bitterly, as I had never done before in all my life. Wept over the shattered ideal, the faith I had so wilfully torn down, the miserable victory of my meanest self.

"I thought the end was come. Fate was merciful to me, however!

"I had myself fixed the following Thursday as the day for our departure. As I dated a letter to her that night my mind involuntarily reckoned the days, and I was startled to find that Thursday fell on that fatal tenth of August.

"I had not thought I could be so tortured in my mind as I was by the dread that she should notice the dire coincidence.

"She did!

"The hour that should have brought her to me, brought a note instead. It was dated boldly 'August tenth.' It was without beginning or signature. It said-I can repeat every word-'Of the two roads to self-destruction open to me, I have chosen the one that will, in the end, give the least pain to you. I love you. I have always loved you since I was a child. I do not regret anything yet! Thank God for me that I depart without ever having seen a look of weariness in the eyes that gazed so lovingly into mine when we parted, and thank Him for yourself that you will never see a look of reproach in mine. I know no time so fitting to say a long farewell for both of us as this-Farewell, then.'

"I knew what I should find when I went up the hill.

"The doctors said 'heart disease.' She had been troubled with some such weakness. I alone knew the truth! As I had known myself, she had known me!

"You think you suffer-you, who might, but for me, have made her happy, as such women should be, in a world of simple natural joys! My friend, loss without guilt is pain-but it is not without the balm of virtuous compensation. You have at least a right to grieve.

"But I! I am forced to know myself. To feel myself borne along in spite of myself; and to realize that she who should have worn a crown of happy womanhood, lies there a sacrifice, to be bewailed like Jepthah's one fair daughter; and to sit here in full dread of the ebbing of even this great emotion, knowing too well that it will pass out of my life when it shall have achieved its purpose, leaving only as evidence this-another great work, crystalized into immortality in everlasting stone. I know that I cannot long hold it here in my heart. The day will come-perhaps soon-when I shall stand outside that door, and recognize this as my work, and be proud of it, without the power to grieve, as I do now; when I shall approve my own handiwork, and be unable to mourn for her who was sacrificed to achieve it. What is your pain to mine?"

And I saw the hot tears drop from his eyes. I saw them fall on the marble floor, and they watered the very spot where his name was so soon to spring up in pride to confess his handiwork.

I looked on her calm face. I knew she did not regret her part! I rose, and, without a word, I passed out at the wide door, and, without looking back, I passed down the slope in the dusk, and left them together-the woman I had loved, and the friend I had lost!

* * *

As his voice died away, he sat upright quickly, threw a glance about the circle, and, with another fine gesture said: "Et voila!"

The Doctor was the only one to really laugh, though a broad grin ran round the circle.

"Well," remarked the Doctor, who had been leaning against a tree, and indulging in shrugs and an occasional groan, which had not even disconcerted the story teller, "I suppose that is how that very great man, your governor, did the trick. I can see him in every word."

"That is all you know about it," laughed the Sculptor. "That is not a bit how the governor did it. That is how I should have done it, had I been the governor, and had the old man's chances. I call that an ideal thing to happen to a man."

"Not even founded on fact-which might have been some excuse for telling it," groaned the Critic. "I'd love to write a review of that story. I'd polish it off."

"Of course you would," sneered the Sculptor. "That's all a critic is for-to polish off the tales he can't write. I call that a nice romantic, ideal tale for a sculptor to conceive, and as the Doctor said the other night, it is a possible story, since I conceived it, and what the mind of mortal can conceive, can happen."

"The trouble," said the Journalist, "with chaps like you, and the Critic, is that your people are all framework. They're not a bit of flesh and blood."

"I'd like to know," said the Sculptor, throwing himself back in his chair, "who has a right to decide that?"

"What I'd like to know," said the Youngster, "is, what did she do between times? Of course he sculpted, and earned slathers of money. But she-?"

"Oh, ouch-help!" cried the Sculptor. "Do I know?"

"Exactly!" answered the Critic, "and that you don't sticks out in every line of your story."

"Goodness me, you might ask the same thing about Leda, or Helen of Troy."

"Ha! Ha!" laughed the Doctor. "But we know what they did!"

"A lot you do. It is because they are old classics, and you accept them, whereas my story is quite new and original-and you were unprepared for it, and so you can't appreciate it. Anyway, it's my first-born story, and I'll defend it with my life."

Only a laugh replied to the challenge, and the attitude of defense he struck, as he leaped to his feet, though the Journalist said, under his breath, "It takes a carver in stone to think of a tale like that!"

"But think," replied the Doctor, "how much trouble some women would escape if they kept on saying A B C like that-for the A B C is usually lovely-and when it was time to X Y Z-often terrible, they just slipped out through the 'open door.'"

"On the other hand, they risk losing heaps of fun," said the Journalist.

"What I like about that story," said the Lawyer, "is that it is so aristocratic. Every one seems to have plenty of money. They all three do just what they like, have no duties but to analyze themselves, and evidently everything goes like clockwork. The husband enjoys being morbid, and has the means to be gloriously so. The sculptor likes to carve Edgar Allan Poe all over the place, and the fair lady is able to gratify the tastes of both men."

"You can laugh as much as you please," sighed the Sculptor, "I wish it had happened to me."

"Well," said the Doctor, "you have the privilege of going to bed and dreaming that it did."

"Thank you," answered the Sculptor. "That is just what I am going to do."

"What did I tell you last night?" said the Doctor, under his breath, as he watched the Sculptor going slowly toward the house. "Bet he has been telling that tale to himself under many skies for years!"

"I suppose," laughed the Journalist, "that the only reason he has never built the tomb is that he has never had the money."

"Oh, be fair!" said the Violinist. "He has not built the tomb because he is not his father. The old man would have done it in a minute, only he lacked imagination. You bet he never day-dreamed, and yet what skill he had, and what adventures! He never saw anything but the facts of life, yet how magnificently he recorded them."

"It is a pity," sighed the Violinist, "that the son did not seek a different career."

"What difference does it make after all?" remarked the Doctor. "One never knows when the next generation will step up or down, and, after all, what does it matter?"

"It is all very well for you to talk," said the Critic.

"I assure you that the great pageant would have been just as interesting from any other point of view. It has been a great spectacle,-this living. I'm glad I've seen it."

"Amen to that," said the Divorcée. "I only hope I am going to see it again-even though it hurts."

* * *

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