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Linda Condon by Joseph Hergesheimer

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them. Here, she repeated, was when affection, generously radiated
through life, should have reflected over her a tranquil and
contented joy. She had never given it, and she was without the
ability to receive. She admitted to herself, with a little annoyed
laugh, that her old desire for inviolable charm, for the integrity
of a memorable slimness, was unimpaired. It was, she thought, too
ridiculously inappropriate for words.

Yet it had changed slightly into the recognition that what so often
had been called her beauty was all she now had for sustenance, all
she had ever had. Her mind returned continually to Pleydon, and--
deep in the mystery of his passion--she was suddenly invaded by an
insistent desire to see the monument at Cottarsport. She spoke to
Arnaud at once about this; and alone, through his delicacy of
perception, Linda went to Boston the following day.

The further ride to Cottarsport followed the sea--a brilliant serene
blue, fretted on the landward side by innumerable bare promontories,
hideous towns and factories, but bowed in a far unbroken arc at the
immaculate horizon. She left the train for a hilly cluster of
houses, gray and low like the rock everywhere apparent, dropping to
a harbor that bore a company of motionless boats with half-spread
drying sails.

The day was at noon, and the sky, blue like the sea, held, still as
the anchored schooners, faint, chalky symmetrical clouds. Linda
found the Common without guidance; and at once saw, on its immovable
base of rugged granite, the bronze statue of Simon Downige. It stood
well in advance of what, evidently, was the court-house, the white
steeple Dodge had described. She found a bench by a path in the thin
grass; and there, her gloved hands folded, at rest in her lap, her
gaze and longing were lifted to the fixed aspiration.

From where she sat the seated figure was projected against the sky;
Simon's face was turned toward the west; the West that, for him, was
the future, but which for Linda represented all the past. This
conviction flooded her with unutterable sadness. A sense of failure
weighed on her, no less heavy for the fact that it was perpetually
vague. Her thoughts gathered about Dodge himself; and she recalled
the curious vividness of his vision of her as a child, perhaps ten.
She, too, tried to remember that time and age. It was almost in her
grasp, but her realization was spoiled by absurd mental fragments--
the familiar illusion of a leopard and a rider with bright hair, a
forest with the ascending voices of angels, and an ominous squat
figure with a slowly nodding plumed head.

The vista of a hotel returned, a fleet recollection of marble
columns and a wide red carpet ... the white gleam and carbolized
smell of a drug-store ... a thick magazine in a brown cover. These,
changed into emotions of mingled joy and pain, shifted in bright or
dim colors and sensations. There was a slow heavy plodding of feet,
now above her head, the passage of a carried weight; and, in a flash
of perception, she knew it was a coffin. She raised her clasped
hands to her breast, crying into the sunny silence, to the figure of
Simon Downige lost in dream:

"He died that night, at the Boscombe, after he had told me about the
meadows with silk tents--"

Her memory, thrilling with the echoed miraculous chord of the child
of ten, sitting gravely, alone, among the shrill satins and caustic
voices of a feminine throng, was complete. She saw herself, Linda
Condon, as objectively as Pleydon's described vision: there was a
large bow on her straight black hair, and, from under the bang, her
gaze was clear and wondering. How marvelously young she was! The
vindictive curiosity of the questioning women, intent on their
rings, brought out her eager defense of her mother, the effort to
explain away the ugly fact that--that Mr. Jasper was married.

She saw Linda descending the marble stairs to the lower floor where
the games were kept in a somber corridor, and heard a voice halting
her irresolute passage:

"Hello, Bellina."

That wasn't her name, and she corrected him, waiting afterward to
listen to a strange fairy-like tale. The solitary, sick-looking man,
with inky shadows under fixed eyes, was so actual that she
recaptured the pungent drift of his burning cigarette. He talked
about love in a bitter intensity that hurt her. Yet, at first, he
had said that she was lovely, a touch of her ... forever in the
memory. Mostly, however, he spoke of a beautiful passion. It had
largely vanished, his explanation continued; men had come to worship
other things. Plato started it.

She recalled Plato, as well, in connection with Dodge; now, it
appeared to her, that remote name had always been at the back of her
consciousness. There were other names, other men, of an age long ago
in Italy. Their ideal, religion, was contained in the adoration of a
woman, but not her body--it was a love of her spirit, the spirit
their purity of need recognized, perhaps helped to create. It was a
passion as different as possible in essence from all she had
observed about her. It was useless for common purposes, withheld
from Arnaud Hallet.

The man, seriously addressing the serious uncomprehending interest
of ten, proceeded with a description of violins--but she had heard
them through all her life--and a parting that left only a white
glove for remembrance. Then he had repeated that line, in Italian,
which, not long back, her husband had recalled. The old gesture
toward the stars, the need to escape fatality--how she had suffered
from that!

Yet it was a service of the body, a faith spiritual because, here,
it was never to be won, never to be realized in warm embrace. It had
no recognition in flesh, and it was the reward of no prayer or
humility or righteousness. Only beauty knew and possessed it. His
image grew dim like the blurring of his voice by pain and the shadow
of death. Linda's thoughts and longing turned again to Dodge; it
seemed to her that he no more than took up the recital where the
other was silent.

Pleydon--was it at Markue's party or later?--talking about "Homer's
children" had meant the creations of great artists, in sound or
color or words or form, through that supreme love unrealized in
other life. The statue of Simon Downige, towering before her against
the sky and above the sea, held in immutable bronze his conviction.
The meager bundle and crude stick rested by shoes clogged with mud;
Simon's body was crushed with weariness; but under the sweat-plastered
brow his gaze pierced indomitable and undismayed to the vision of a
place of truth.

She was choked by a sharp rush of joy at Dodge's accomplishment, an
entire understanding of the beauty he had vainly explained, the
deathless communication of old splendid courage, an unshaken divine
need, to succeeding men and hope. This had been hers. She had always
felt her presence in his success; but, until now, it had belonged
exclusively to him. Dodge had, in his love, absorbed her, and that
resulted in the statues the world applauded. She, Linda thought, had
been an element easily dismissed. It had hurt her pride almost
beyond endurance, the pride that took the form of an inner necessity
for the survival of her grace--all she had.

She had even asked him, in a passing resentment, why he had never
directly modeled her, kept, with his recording genius, the shape of
her features. She had gone to him in a blinder vanity for the
purpose of stamping her participation in his triumph on the stupid
insensibility of their world. How incredible! But at last she could
see that he had preserved her spirit, her secret self, from
destruction. He had cheated death of her fineness. The delicate
perfection of her youth would never perish, never be dulled by old
age or corrupted in death. It had inspired and entered into
Pleydon's being, and he had lifted it on the pedestal rising between
the sea and sky.

She was in the Luxembourg, in that statue of Cotton Mather, the
somber flame, about which he had written with a comment on the
changing subjects of his creations. From the moment when he sat
beside her on the divan in that room stifling with incense, with the
naked glimmer of women's shoulders, she had been the source of his
power. She had been his power. Linda smiled quietly, in retrospect,
at her years of uncertainty, the feeling of waste, that had robbed
her of peace. How complete her mystification had been! And, all the
while, she had had the thrill of delight, of premonition, born in
her through the forgotten hour with the man who had died.

The sun, moving in celestial space, shifted the shadow about the
base of Simon Downige's monument. The afternoon was advancing. She
rose and turned, looking out over the sea to the horizon as brightly
sharp as a curved sword. The life of Cottarsport, below her,
proceeded in detached figures, an occasional unhurried passage. The
boats in the harbor were slumberous. It was time to go. She gazed
again, for a last view, at the bronze seated figure; and a word of
Pleydon's, but rather it was Greek, wove its significance in the
placid texture of her thoughts. Its exact shape evaded her, a
difficult word to recall--_Katharsis_, the purging of the
heart. About her was the beating of the white wings of a Victory
sweeping her--a faded slender woman in immaculate gloves and a small
matchless hat--into a region without despair.


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