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THE VISION SPLENDID (17)

2006-08-28 22:51

    All sorts of absurd assumptions pass current as fixed and non-debatable standards. We might be free, and we tie ourselves to the slavery of rutted convention. Afraid of ideas, we come to no definite philosophy of life that is the result of clear and pellucid thinking.

    We must get rid of our bonds, but only in order to take on new ones. For our convictions will shackle us. The difference is that then we shall be servants of Truth and not of dead Tradition. ——From the Note Book of a Dreamer.

    THE CHAPERONE EXPLAINS THAT THE REBEL IS IMPOSSIBLE AND THE CHAPERONED BEGS LEAVE TO DIFFER

    "And why mustn't I?" Alice demanded vigorously.

    Her cousin regarded her with indolent amusement. "My dear, you are positively the most energetic person I know. It is refreshing to see with what interest you enter into a discussion."

    Miss Frome, very erect and ready for argument, watched her steadily from the piano stool of their joint sitting room. "Well?"

    "I didn't say you mustn't, my dear. I know better than to deal in imperatives with Miss Alice. What I did was mildly to suggest that you are going rather far. It's all very well to be civil, but——" Mrs. Van Tyle shrugged her shoulders and let it go at that. She was leaning back in an easychair and across its arm her wrist hung. Between the fingers, polished like old ivory to the tapering pink nails, was a lighted cigarette.

    "Why shouldn't I be——pleasant to him? I like him." Her color deepened, but the eyes of the girl did not give way. There was in them a little flare of defiance.

    "Be pleasant to him if you like, and if it amuses you. But——" Again Valencia stopped, but after a puff or two at her cigarette she added presently: "Don't get too interested in him."

    "I'm not likely to," Alice returned with a touch of scorn. "Can't I like a man and admire him without wanting to marry him? I think that's a hateful way to look at it."

    "It's your interpretation, not mine," Mrs. Van Tyle answered with perfect good humor. "Of course you couldn't want to marry him under any circumstances. His station in life——his anarchistic ideas——his reputation as a confirmed libertine——all of them make the thought of such a thing impossible."

    Miss Frome's mind seized on only one of the charges. "I don't believe it. I don't believe a word of it. Anybody can throw mud——and some of it is bound to stick. He's a good man. You can see that in his face."

    "You can perhaps. I can't." Valencia studied her beneath a droop of eyelids behind which she was very alert. "Those things aren't said about a man unless they are true. Moreover, it happens we don't have to depend on hearsay."

    "What do you mean?"

    "Do you remember that night we saw the Russian dancers?"

    "Yes."

    "On the way home our car passed him. He was helping a woman out of a cab in front of the building where he rooms. She was intoxicated, and-his arm was round her waist."

    "I don't believe it. It was somebody else," the young woman flamed.

    "His cousin recognized him. So did I."

    "There must be some explanation. I'll ask him."

    "Ask him!" Valencia's level eyebrows lifted "Really, I don't think that will do. Better quietly eliminate him."

    "You mean treat him as if he were guilty when, I am sure he is not."

    Mrs. Van Tyle's little laugh rippled out. "You're quite dramatic about it, my dear. The man's of no importance. He's a _poseur_, a demagogue, and one with a vicious streak in him. I understand, of course, that you're interested only because he different from the other men you know. That merely a of his pose."

    "I'm sure it isn't."

    "You're romantic, my dear. I'll admit his arrival on this ship was dramatic. No doubt you're imagining him a knight going back to save gallantly a day that is lost. He's only a politician, and so far as I can

    understand they are almost all a bad lot."

    "Including Father and Uncle Joe and Ned Merrill?" Alice asked acidly.

    "They are not politicians, but business men. They are in politics merely to protect their interests. But I didn't intend to start a discussion about Mr. Farnum. I ask you to remember that as your chaperone I'm here to represent your father. Would he wish you to be friendly with this man?"

    Alice was silent. What her father would think was not a matter of doubt.

    "The man's impossible," Mrs. Van Tyle went on pleasantly. "And it's just as well to be careful. Not that I'm very prudish myself. But if you're going to marry Ned Merrill——"

    She had struck the wrong note. Like a flash Alice answered.

    "I'm not. That's definitely decided."

    "Really! I thought it was rather arranged," Valencia smiled blandly.

    It was all very well for Alice to protest, but in the end she would be a good girl and do as she was told. Not that her cousin objected to her having a little fling before the fatal day. But why couldn't the girl do her flirting with Beauchamp instead of with this wild socialist?

    Valencia reflected that at any rate she had done her duty.

    Jeff was tramping the deck, his hands in his coat pockets, waiting for the trumpeter to fling out the two bars of music that would summon him to breakfast. He walked vigorously? drawing in deep breaths of the salt sea air. His thoughts were of Alice Frome. He was a lover, and in his imagination she embodied all things beautiful. Her charm flowed through him, pierced him with delight. When he heard music his mind flew to her. It voiced the rhythm of her motions and the sound of her warm laughter. The sunshine but reflected the golden gleams of light in her wavy hair.

    As he swung round the smoking saloon Jeff came face to face with Alice. He turned and caught step with her. The coat she wore came to her ankles, but it could not conceal her light, strong tread nor the long lines of the figure that gave her the grace of a captured wood nymph. "Only five hundred miles from Verden. By night we ought to be in wireless communication," he suggested.

    Her glance flashed at him. "You'll be glad to get home."

    "I will and I won't. There's work for me to do there. But it's the first real vacation I ever had in my life that lasted over a week. You can't think how I've enjoyed it."

    "So have I. More than anything I can remember." They stopped to look at a steamer which lay low on the distant horizon line. After they had fallen into step again she continued at the point where they had been interrupted: "And after we reach home? Are you going to come and see me? Are you going to let me meet your friends, those dear people who are giving themselves to make life less hideous and harsh for the weak? Shall I meet Mr. Mifflin . . . and Mr. Miller and your little Socialist poet? Or are you going to desert me?"

    He smiled a little at her way of putting it, but he was troubled none the less. "Are you sure that your way is our way? One can give service on the Hill just as much as down in the bottoms. There's no moral grandeur in rags or in dirt. Isn't your place with your friends?"

    "Haven't I a right to take hold of life for myself at first hand? Haven't I a right to know the truth? What have I done that I should be walled off from all these people who earn the bread I eat?"

    "But your friends . . . your father. . ."

    Her ironic smile derided him. "So after all you haven't the courage of your convictions. Because I'm Peter C. Frome's daughter I'm not to have the right to live."

    "No, it's your right to take hold of life with both hands. But surely you must live it among your own people."

    "I've got to learn how to live it first, haven't I?

    Most of my friends are not even aware there a problem of poverty. They thrust the thought of it from them. Our wealthy class has no social consciousness. Take my father. He thinks the submerged are lost because they are thriftless and that all would be right if they wouldn't drink. To him they are just a waste product of civilization.

    "But can you study the life of the people without growing discontented with the life you must lead?"

    "There is a divine discontent, you know. I've got to see things for myself. Why should all my opinions, my faith, be given to me ready-made. Why must I live by a formula I have never examined? If it isn't true I want to know it. And if it is true I want to know it." She had been looking straight before them toward the rising sun but now her gaze swept round on him. "Don't blame yourself for giving me new thoughts. I suppose all new ideas are likely to make trouble. But I've been working in this direction for years. Ever since I've been a little girl my heresies have puzzled my father. Meeting you has shown me a short cut. That's all."

    Something she had said recalled to him a fugitive memory.

    "Do you know, I think I saw you once when you were a little bit of a thing?"

    "Where?"

    "On the doorstep of your old place. I was rather busy at the time fighting Edward Merrill."

    She stopped, looking at him in surprise. "Were you that boy?"

    "I was that boy."

    "You fought him to help a little ragged girl. She was a foreigner."

    "I've forgotten why I fought him. The reason I remember the occasion is that I met then for the first time two of my friends."

    She claimed a place immediately. "Who was the other one?"

    "Captain Chunn."

    Presently she bubbled into a little laugh. "How did the fight come out? My nurse dragged me into the house."

    "Don't remember. I know the school principal licked me next day. I had been playing hookey."

    They made another turn of the deck before she spoke again.

    "So we're old acquaintances, and I didn't know it. That was nearly eighteen years ago. Isn't it strange that after so long we should meet again only last week?"

    Jeff felt the blood creep into his face. "We met once before, Miss Frome."

    "Oh, on the street. I meant to speak." "So did I."

    "When?"

    With his eyes meeting hers steadily Jeff told her of the time she had found him in the bushes and mistaken him for a sick man. He could see that he had struck her dumb. She looked at him and looked away again.

    "Why do you tell me this?" she asked at last in a low voice.

    "It's only fair you should know the truth about me."

    They tramped the circuit once more. Neither of them spoke. The trumpeter's bugle call to breakfast rang out.

    At the bow she stopped and looked down at the waters they were furrowing. It was a long time before she raised her head and met his eyes. The color had whipped into her cheeks, but she put her question steadily.

    "Are you telling me. . . that I must lose my friend?"

    "Isn't that for you to say?"

    "I don't know." She faltered for words, but not the least in her intention. "Are you——what I have always heard you are?"

    "Can you be a little more definite?" he asked gently.

    "Well——dissipated! You're not that?"

    "No. I've trodden down the appetite. I'm a total abstainer."

    "And you're not. . . those worse things that the papers say?"

    "No."

    "I knew it." Triumph rang in her voice. She breathed a generous trust. To know him for a true man it was necessary only to look into his fearless eyes set deep in the thin tanned face. It was impossible for anything unclean to survive with his humorous humility and his pervading sympathy and his love of truth. "I didn't care what they said. I knew it all the time."

    Her sweet faith was a thing to see with emotion. He felt tears scorch the back of his eyes.

    "The thing you know is bad enough."

    "Oh, that! That is nothing . . . now. It doesn't matter."

    Lieutenant Beauchamp emerged from a saloon and bore down upon them.

    "Mrs. Van Tyle has sent me to bring you to breakfast, Miss Frome. Mornin', Mr. Farnum."

    "And I'm ready for it, We've been round the deck ever so many times. Haven't we, Mr. Farnum?"

    She nodded lightly to Jeff and walked away with the Englishman. The sunshine of her warm vitality was like quicksilver in Farnum's veins. What a gallant spirit, at once delicate and daring, dwelt in that vivid slender form! A snatch of Chesterton came to his mind:

    Her face was like an open word When brave men speak and choose, The very colors of her coat Were better than good news.

    "It is the hour of man: new purposes, Broad shouldered, press against the world's slow gate; And voices from the vast eternities Publish the soul's austere apostolate.

    Man bursts the chains that his own hands have made; Hurls down the blind, fierce gods that in blind years He fashioned, and a power upon them laid To bruise his heart and shake his soul with fears." ——Edwin Markham.

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