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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter16,part4)

2006-08-28 23:39

    PART 4

    Farnum, pacing the deck as he munched at an apple, heard himself hailed from the bridge above. He looked up, to see Alice Frome, caught gloriously in the wind like a winged Victory. Her hair was parted in the middle with a touch of Greek simplicity and fell in wavy ripples over her temples beneath the jaunty cap. She put her arms on the railing and leaned forward, her chin tilted to an oddly taking boyish piquancy.

    "I say, give a fellow a bite."

    By no catalogue of summarized details could this young woman have laid claim to beauty, but in the flashing play of her expression, the exquisite golden coloring, one could not evade the charm of a certain warm witchery, of the passionate beat of innocent life. The wonder of her lay in the sparkle of her inner self. Every gleam of the deep true eyes, every impulsive motion of the slight supple body, expressed some phase of her infinite variety. Her flying moods swept her from demure to daring, from warm to cool. And for all her sweet derision her friends knew a heart full of pure, brave enthusiasms that would endure.

    "I don't believe in indiscriminate charity," Jeff explained, and he took another bite.

    "Have you no sympathy for the deserving poor?" she pleaded. "Besides, since you're a socialist, it isn't your apple any more than it is mine. Bring my half up to me, sir."

    "Your half is the half I've already eaten. And if you knew as much as you pretend to about socialism you'd know it isn't yours until you've earned it."

    Her eyes danced. He noticed that beneath each of them was a sprinkle of tiny powdered freckles. "But haven't I earned it? Didn't I blister my hands pulling you aboard?"

    He promptly shifted ground. "We're living under the capitalistic system. You earn it and I eat it," he argued. "The rest of this apple is my reward for having appropriated what didn't belong to me."

    "But that's not fair. It's no better than stealing."

    "Sh——h! It's high finance. Don't use that other word," he whispered. "And what's fair hasn't a thing to do with it. It's my apple because I've got it."

    "But——"

    He waved her protest aside blandly. "Now try to be content with the lot a wise Providence has awarded you. I eat the apple. You see me eat it.

    That's the usual division of profits. Don't be an agitator, or an anarchist."

    "Don't I get even the core?" she begged.

    "I'd like to give it to you, but it wouldn't be best. You see I don't want to make you discontented with your position in life." He flung what was left of the apple into the sea and came up the steps to join her.

    Laughter was in the eyes of both, but it died out of hers first.

    "Mr. Farnum, is it really as bad as that?" Before he could find an answer she spoke again. "I've wanted for a long time to talk with some one who didn't look at things as we do. I mean as my father does and my uncle does and most of my friends. Tell me what you think of it——you and your friends."

    "That's a large order, Miss Frome. I hardly know where to begin."

    "Wait! Here comes Lieutenant Beauchamp to take me away. I promised to play ring toss with him, but I don't want to go now." She led a swift retreat to a spot on the upper deck shielded from the wind and warmed by the two huge smokestacks. Dropping breathless into a chair, she invited him with a gesture to take another. Little imps of mischief

    flashed out at him from her eyes. In the adventure of the escape she had made him partner. A rush of warm blood danced through his veins.

    "Now, sir, we're safe. Begin the propaganda. Isn't that the word you use? Tell me all about everything. You're the first real live socialist I ever caught, and I mean to make the most of you."

    "But I'm unfortunately not exactly a socialist."

    "An anarchist will do just as well."

    "Nor an anarchist. Sorry."

    "Oh, well, you're something that's dreadful. You haven't the proper bump of respect for father and for Uncle Joe. Now why haven't you?"

    And before he knew it this young woman had drawn from him glimpses of what life meant to him. He talked to her of the pressure of the struggle for existence, of the poverty that lies like a blight over whole sections of cities, spreading disease and cruelty and disorder, crushing the souls of its victims, poisoning their hearts and bodies. He showed her a world at odds and ends, in which it was accepted as the natural thing that some should starve while others were waited upon by servants.

    He made her see how the tendency of environment is to reduce all things to a question of selfinterest, and how the great triumphant fact of life is that love and kindness persist. Her interest was insatiable. She poured questions upon him, made him tell her stories of the things he had seen in that strange underworld that was farther from her than Asia. So she learned of Oscar Marchant, coughing all day over the shoes he half-soled and going out at night to give his waning life to the service of those who needed him. He told her——without giving names——the story of Sam Miller and his wife, of shop girls forced by grinding poverty to that easier way which leads to death, of little children driven by want into factories which crushed the youth out of them.

    Her eyes with the star flash in them never left his face. She was absorbed, filled with a strange emotion that made her lashes moist. She saw not only the tragedy and waste of life, but a glorious glimpse of the way out. This man and his friends set the common good above their private gain. For them a new heart was being born into the world. They were no longer consumed with blind greed, with love of their petty selves.

    They were no longer full of cowardice and distrust and enmity. Life was a thing beautiful to them. It was flushed with the color of hope, of fine enthusiasms. They might suffer. They might be defeated. But nothing could extinguish the joy in their souls. They walked like gods, immortals, these brothers to the spent and the maimed. For they had found spiritual values in it that made any material profit of small importance. Alice got a vision of the great truth that is back of all true reforms, all improvement, all progress.

    "Love," she said almost in a whisper, "is forgetting self."

    Jeff lost his stride and pulled up. He thought he could not have heard aright. "I beg your pardon?"

    "Nothing. I was just thinking out loud. Go on please."

    But she had broken the thread of his talk. He attempted to take it up again, but he was still trying for a lead when Alice saw Mrs. Van Tyle and Beauchamp coming toward them.

    She rose. Her eyes were the brightest Jeff had ever seen. They were filled with an ardent tenderness. It was as if she were wrapped in a spiritual exaltation.

    "Thank you. Thank you. I can't tell you what you've done for me."

    She turned and walked quickly away. To be dragged back to the commonplace at once was more than she could bear. First she must get alone with herself, must take stock of this new emotion that ran like wine through her blood. A pulse throbbed in her throat, for she was in a passionate glow of altruism.

    "I'm glad of life——glad of it——glad of it!" she murmured through the veil she had lowered to screen her face from observation.

    It had come to her as a revelation straight from Heaven that there can be no salvation without service. And the motive back of service must be love. Love! That was what Jesus had come to teach the world, and all these years it had warped and mystified his message.

    She felt that life could never again be gray or colorless. For there was work waiting that she could do, service that she could give. And surely there could be no greater happiness than to find her work and do it gladly.

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