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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter23)

2006-08-28 23:39

    CHAPTER 23

    "And what are the names of the Fortunate Isles, Lo! duty and love and a large content; And these are the Isles of the watery miles That God let down from the firmament.

    Lo! duty and love and a true man's trust, Your forehead to God and your feet in the dust: Lo! duty and love and a sweet babe's smiles, And these, O friends, are the Fortunate Isles."

    AND LARKS FOR THE REBEL

    Beneath a sky faintly pink with the warning of the coming sunrise Jeff walked an old logging trail that would take him back to camp from his morning dip. Ferns and blackberry bushes, heavy with dew, reached across the road and grappled with each other. At every step, as he pushed through the tangle, a shower of drops went flying.

    His was the incomparable buoyant humor of a lover treading a newborn world. A smile was in his eyes, tender, luminous, cheerful. He thought of the woman whom he had not seen for many months, and he was buoyed up by the fine spiritual edge which does not know defeat. Win or lose, it was clear gain to have loved her.

    With him he carried a vision of her, young, ardent, all fire and flame. One spoke of things beautiful and her face lit from within. Her words, motions, came from the depths, half revealed and half concealed dear hidden secrets. He recalled the grace of the delicate throat curve, little tricks of expression, the sweetness of her energy.

    The forest broke, opening into a clearing. He stood to drink in its beauty, for the sun, peeping over a saddle in the hills, had painted the place a valley of gold and russet. And while he waited there came out of the woods beyond, into that splendid setting, the vision that was in his mind.

    He was not surprised that his eyes were playing him tricks. This was after all the proper frame for the picture of his golden sweetheart. Lance-straight and slender, his wood nymph waded knee deep through the ferns. Straight toward him she came, and his temples began to throb. A sylph of the woods should be diaphanous. The one he saw was a creature of color

    and warmth and definiteness. Life, sweet and mocking, flowed through her radiantly. His heart sang within him, for the woman he loved out of a world of beautiful women was coming to him, light-footed as Daphne, the rhythm of the morning in her step.

    She spoke, commonplace words enough. "Last night I heard you were here."

    "And I didn't know you were within a thousand miles."

    "We came back to Verden Thursday and are up over Sunday," she explained.

    He was lost in the witchery of the spell she cast over him. Not the drooping maidenhair ferns through which she trailed were more delicate or graceful than she. But some instinct in him played surface commonplaces against the insurgent emotion of his heart.

    "You like Washington?"

    "I like home better."

    "But you were popular at the capital. I read a great deal in the papers about your triumphs."

    The dye in her cheeks ran a little stronger. There had been much gossip about a certain Italian nobleman who had wooed her openly and madly. "They told a lot of nonsense."

    "And some that wasn't nonsense."

    "Not much." She changed the subject lightly. "You read all about the wedding, of course."

    He quoted. "Miss Alice Frome as maid of honor preceded the bride, appearing in a handsome gown of very delicate old rose satin with an overdress of——"

    "Very good. You may go to the head of the class, sir. Valencia was beautiful and your cousin never looked more handsome."

    "Which is saying a good deal."

    "And we're all hoping they will live happy ever after."

    "You know he is being talked of for United States Senator already."

    "You will oppose him?" she asked quickly.

    "I shall have to."

    "Still an irreconcilable." Her smile could be vivid, and just now it was.

    "Still a demagogue and a trouble maker," he admitted.

    "You've won the recall and the direct primary since I left."

    "Yes. We've been busy."

    "And our friends——how are they?"

    "You should see Jefferson Davis Farnum Miller. He's two months old and as fat as a dumpling."

    "I've seen him. He's a credit to his godfather."

    "Isn't he? That's one happy family."

    "I wonder who's to blame for that," she said, the star flash in her eyes.

    "Nellie told you?"

    "She told me."

    "They exaggerate. Nobody could have done less than I."

    "Or more." She did not dwell upon the subject. "Tell me about Mr. Marchant."

    He went over for her the story of the little poet's gentle death. She listened till he made an end.

    "Then it was not hard for him?"

    "No. He had one of his good, eager days, then guietly fell asleep."

    "And passed to where, beyond these voices, there is rest and peace," she quoted, ever so softly.

    "Yes."

    "Perhaps he knows now all about his Perfect State." Her wistful smile was very tender.

    "Perhaps."

    They walked together slowly across the valley.

    "It is nearly six months since I have seen you."

    "Five months and twenty-seven days." The words had slipped out almost without her volition. She hurried on, ashamed, the color flying in her cheeks, "I remember because it was the day we ran down your cousin and that old gentleman. It has always been a great comfort to me to know that he was not seriously injured."

    "No. It was only the shock of his fall."

    "What was his name? I don't think I heard it."

    There was just an instant's silence before he pronounced, "Farnum——Mr.

    Robert Farnum."

    "A relative of yours?"

    "Yes."

    Across her brain there flashed a fugitive memory of three words Jeff had spoken to his cousin the day of the accident. "It's your father."

    But how could that be? She had always understood that both the parents of James were dead. The lawyer had denied knowing the man whose life he had saved. And yet she had been sure of the words and of a furtive, frightened look on the face of James. According to the story of the _Herald_ the father of Jefferson, a former convict, was named Robert. But once, when she had made some allusion to it Captain Chunn had exploded into vigorous denial. It was a puzzle the meaning of which she could not guess.

    "He has several times mentioned his wish to thank you for your kindness," Jeff mentioned.

    "I'll be glad to meet him." Swiftly she flashed a question at him. "Is he James Farnum's father?"

    "Haven't you read the papers? He is said to be mine."

    "But he isn't. He isn't. I see it now. James was ashamed to acknowledge a father who had been in prison. Your enemies made a mistake and you let it go."

    "It's all long since past. I wouldn't say anything about it to anybody."

    "Of course you wouldn't," she scoffed. Her eyes were very bright. She wanted to laugh and to weep at her discovery.

    "You see it didn't matter with my friends. And my reputation was beyond hope anyhow. It was different with James."

    She nodded. "Yes. It wouldn't have improved his chances with Valencia," her cousin admitted.

    Jeff permitted himself a smile. "My impression was that he did not have Mrs. Van Tyle in mind at the time."

    They had waded through the wet ferns to the edge of the woods. As her eyes swept the russet valley through which they had passed Alice drew a deep breath of pleasure. How good it was to be alive in such a world of beauty! A meadow lark throbbed its three notes at her joyfully to

    emphasize their kinship. An English pheasant strutted across the path and disappeared into the ferns. Neither the man nor the woman spoke. All the glad day called them to the emotional climax toward which they were racing.

    Womanlike, Alice attempted to evade what she most desired. He was to be her mate. She knew it now. But the fear of him was in her heart.

    "Were you so fond of him? Is that why you did it for him?" she asked.

    "I didn't do it for him."

    "For whom then?"

    He did not answer. Nor did his eyes meet hers. They were fixed on the moving ferns where the pheasant had disappeared.

    Alice guessed. He had done it for the girl because he thought her in love with his cousin. A warm glow suffused her. No man made such a sacrifice for a woman unless he cared for her.

    The meadow lark flung out another carefree ecstasy. The theme of it was the triumphant certainty that love is the greatest thing in the world. Jeff felt that it was now or never.

    "I love you. It's been hidden in my heart more than eight years, but I find I must tell you. All the arguments against it I've rehearsed a thousand times. The world is at your feet. You could never love a man like me. To your friends I'm a bad lot. They never would consider me a moment."

    Gently she interrupted. "Is it my friends you want to marry?"

    The surprise of it took him by the throat. His astonished eyes questioned for a denial. In that moment a wonderful secret was born into the world. She held out both hands with a divine frankness, a sweetness of surrender beyond words.

    "But your father——your people!"

    "'Where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people."' She murmured it with a broken little laugh that was a sob.

    Even then he did not take her in his arms. The habit of reverence for her was of many years' growth and not to be broken in an instant.

    "You are sure, dear——quite sure?"

    "I've been sure ever since the day of our first talk on the _Bellingham._"

    Still he fought the joy that flooded him. "I must tell you the truth so that you won't idealize me . . . and the situation. I am enlisted in this fight for life. Where it will lead me I don't know. But I must follow the road I see. You will lose your friends. They will think me a crank, an enemy to society; and they will think you demented. But even for you I can't turn back."

    A tender glow was in her deep eyes. "If I did not know that do you think I would marry you?"

    "But you've always had the best things. You've never known what it is to be poor."

    "No, I've never had the best things, never till I knew you, dear. I've starved for them and did not know how to escape the prison I was in. Then you came . . . and you showed me. The world is at my feet now. Not the world you meant, of idleness and luxury and ennui . . . but that better one of the spirit where you and I shall walk together as comrades of all who work and laugh and weep."

    "If I could be sure!"

    "Of me, Jeff?"

    "That I can make you happy. After all it's a chance."

    "We all live on a chance. I'll take mine beside the man I love. There is one way under heaven by which men may be saved. I'm going to walk that way with you, dear."

    Jeff threw away the reins of a worldly wise prudence.

    "For ever and ever, Alice," he cried softly, shaken to his soul.

    As their lips met the lark throbbed a betrothal song.

    。 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    They went slowly through the wet ferns, hand in hand. It was amazingly true that he had won her, but Jeff could scarce believe the miracle. More than once he recurred to it.

    "You saw what no other young woman of your set in Verden did, the human in me through my vagabondage. But why? There's nothing in my appearance to attract."

    "Valiant in velvet, light in ragged luck," she laughed. "And I won't have you questioning my taste, sir. I've always thought you very good

    looking, if you must have it."

    "If you're as far gone as that!" His low laughter rang out to meet hers, for no reason except the best of reasons——that they walked alone with love through a world wonderful.

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