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The Damnation of Theron Ware, by Harold Frederic

Part 8 out of 8

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"Friday, the nineteenth."

"Wednesday--that would be the seventeenth. That was
the day ordained for my slaughter. On that morning,
I was the happiest man in the world. No king could
have been so proud and confident as I was. A wonderful
romance had come to me. The most beautiful young woman
in the world, the most talented too, was waiting for me.
An express train was carrying me to her, and it
couldn't go fast enough to keep up with my eagerness.
She was very rich, and she loved me, and we were to
live in eternal summer, wherever we liked, on a big,
beautiful yacht. No one else had such a life before
him as that. It seemed almost too good for me, but I
thought I had grown and developed so much that perhaps
I would be worthy of it. Oh, how happy I was! I tell
you this because--because YOU are not like the others.
You will understand."

"Yes, I understand," she said patiently. "Well--you
were being so happy."

"That was in the morning--Wednesday the seventeenth--
early in the morning. There was a little girl
in the car, playing with some buttons, and when I
tried to make friends with her, she looked at me,
and she saw, right at a glance, that I was a fool.
"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings," you know.
She was the first to find it out. It began like that,
early in the morning. But then after that everybody
knew it. They had only to look at me and they said:
'Why, this is a fool--like a little nasty boy; we won't
let him into our houses; we find him a bore.' That is
what they said."

"Did SHE say it?" Sister Soulsby permitted herself to ask.

For answer Theron bit his lips, and drew his chin under
the fur, and pushed his scowling face into the pillow.
The spasmodic, sob-like gasps began to shake him again.
She laid a compassionate hand upon his hot brow.

"That is why I made my way here to you," he groaned piteously.
"I knew you would sympathize; I could tell it all to you.
And it was so awful, to die there alone in the strange city--
I couldn't do it--with nobody near me who liked me,
or thought well of me. Alice would hate me.
There was no one but you. I wanted to be with you--
at the last."

His quavering voice broke off in a gust of weeping,
and his face frankly surrendered itself to the distortions
of a crying child's countenance, wide-mouthed and tragically
grotesque in its abandonment of control.

Sister Soulsby, as her husband's boots were heard
descending the stairs, rose, and drew the robe up to half
cover his agonized visage. She patted the sufferer
softly on the head, and then went to the stair-door.

"I think he'll go to sleep now," she said, lifting her voice
to the new-comer, and with a backward nod toward the couch.
"Come out into the kitchen while I get breakfast, or into
the sitting-room, or somewhere, so as not to disturb him.
He's promised me to lie perfectly quiet, and try to sleep."

When they had passed together out of the room, she turned.
"Soulsby," she said with half-playful asperity,
"I'm disappointed in you. For a man who's knocked
about as much as you have, I must say you've picked
up an astonishingly small outfit of gumption.
That poor creature in there is no more drunk than I am.
He's been drinking--yes, drinking like a fish; but it
wasn't able to make him drunk. He's past being drunk;
he's grief-crazy. It's a case of 'woman.' Some girl has
made a fool of him, and decoyed him up in a balloon,
and let him drop. He's been hurt bad, too."

"We have all been hurt in our day and generation,"
responded Brother Soulsby, genially. "Don't you worry;
he'll sleep that off too. It takes longer than drink,
and it doesn't begin to be so pleasant, but it can be
slept off. Take my word for it, he'll be a different man
by noon."

When noon came, however, Brother Soulsby was on his way
to summon one of the village doctors. Toward nightfall,
he went out again to telegraph for Alice.


Spring fell early upon the pleasant southern slopes of
the Susquehanna country. The snow went off as by magic.
The trees budded and leaved before their time. The birds
came and set up their chorus in the elms, while winter
seemed still a thing of yesterday.

Alice, clad gravely in black, stood again upon a kitchen-stoop,
and looked across an intervening space of back-yards and
fences to where the tall boughs, fresh in their new verdure,
were silhouetted against the pure blue sky. The prospect
recalled to her irresistibly another sunlit morning,
a year ago, when she had stood in the doorway of her
own kitchen, and surveyed a scene not unlike this;
it might have been with the same carolling robins,
the same trees, the same azure segment of the tranquil,
speckless dome. Then she was looking out upon surroundings
novel and strange to her, among which she must make herself
at home as best she could. But at least the ground
was secure under her feet; at least she had a home,
and a word from her lips could summon her husband out,
to stand beside her with his arm about her, and share
her buoyant, hopeful joy in the promises of spring.

To think that that was only one little year ago--the mere
revolution of four brief seasons! And now--!

Sister Soulsby, wiping her hands on her apron, came briskly
out upon the stoop. Some cheerful commonplace was on
her tongue, but a glance at Alice's wistful face kept
it back. She passed an arm around her waist instead,
and stood in silence, looking at the elms.

"It brings back memories to me--all this," said Alice,
nodding her head, and not seeking to dissemble the tears
which sprang to her eyes.

"The men will be down in a minute, dear," the other
reminded her. "They'd nearly finished packing before I
put the biscuits in the oven. "We mustn't wear long
faces before folks, you know."

"Yes, I know," murmured Alice. Then, with a sudden
impulse, she turned to her companion. "Candace," she
said fervently, "we're alone here for the moment;
I must tell you that if I don't talk gratitude to you,
it's simply and solely because I don't know where to begin,
or what to say. I'm just dumfounded at your goodness.
It takes my speech away. I only know this, Candace:
God will be very good to you."

"Tut! tut!" replied Sister Soulsby, "that's all right,
you dear thing. I know just how you feel. Don't dream
of being under obligation to explain it to me, or to thank
us at all. We've had all sorts of comfort out of the thing--
Soulsby and I. We used to get downright lonesome, here all
by ourselves, and we've simply had a winter of pleasant
company instead, that s all. Besides, there's solid
satisfaction in knowing that at last, for once in our lives
we've had a chance to be of some real use to somebody
who truly needed it. You can't imagine how stuck up
that makes us in our own conceit. We feel as if we were
George Peabody and Lady Burdett-Coutts, and several other
philanthropists thrown in. No, seriously, don't think
of it again. We're glad to have been able to do it all;
and if you only go ahead now, and prosper and be happy,
why, that will be the only reward we want."

"I hope we shall do well," said Alice. "Only tell
me this, Candace. You do think I was right, don't you,
in insisting on Theron's leaving the ministry altogether?
He seems convinced enough now that it was the right thing
to do; but I grow nervous sometimes lest he should find
it harder than he thought to get along in business,
and regret the change--and blame me."

"I think you may rest easy in your mind about that,"
the other responded. "Whatever else he does, he will
never want to come within gunshot of a pulpit again.
It came too near murdering him for that."

Alice looked at her doubtfully. "Something came near
murdering him, I know. But it doesn't seem to me
that I would say it was the ministry. And I guess you
know pretty well yourself what it was. Of course,
I've never asked any questions, and I've hushed up
everybody at Octavius who tried to quiz me about it--
his disappearance and my packing up and leaving, and all that--
and I've never discussed the question with you--but--"

"No, and there's no good going into it now," put in
Sister Soulsby, with amiable decisiveness. "It's all
past and gone. In fact, I hardly remember much about it
now myself. He simply got into deep water, poor soul,
and we've floated him out again, safe and sound.
That's all. But all the same, I was right in what I said.
He was a mistake in the ministry."

"But if you'd known him in previous years," urged Alice,
plaintively, "before we were sent to that awful Octavius.
He was the very ideal of all a young minister should be.
People used to simply worship him, he was such a perfect preacher,
and so pure-minded and friendly with everybody, and threw
himself into his work so. It was all that miserable,
contemptible Octavius that did the mischief."

Sister Soulsby slowly shook her head. "If there
hadn't been a screw loose somewhere," she said gently,
"Octavius wouldn't have hurt him. No, take my word
for it, he never was the right man for the place.
He seemed to be, no doubt, but he wasn't. When pressure
was put on him, it found out his weak spot like a shot,
and pushed on it, and--well, it came near smashing him,
that's all."

"And do you think he'll always be a--a back-slider,"
mourned Alice.

"For mercy's sake, don't ever try to have him pretend
to be anything else!" exclaimed the other. "The last
state of that man would be worse than the first.
You must make up your mind to that. And you mustn't show
that you're nervous about it. You mustn't get nervous!
You mustn't be afraid of things. Just you keep a stiff
upper lip, and say you WILL get along, you WILL be happy.
That's your only chance, Alice. He isn't going to be
an angel of light, or a saint, or anything of that sort,
and it's no good expecting it. But he'll be just an
average kind of man--a little sore about some things,
a little wiser than he was about some others. You can get
along perfectly with him, if you only keep your courage up,
and don't show the white feather."

"Yes, I know; but I've had it pretty well taken out of me,"
commented Alice. "It used to come easy to me to be cheerful
and resolute and all that; but it's different now."

Sister Soulsby stole a swift glance at the unsuspecting
face of her companion which was not all admiration,
but her voice remained patiently affectionate.
"Oh, that'll all come back to you, right enough.
You'll have your hands full, you know, finding a house,
and unpacking all your old furniture, and buying new things,
and getting your home settled. It'll keep you so busy you
won't have time to feel strange or lonesome, one bit.
You'll see how it'll tone you up. In a year's time you won't
know yourself in the looking-glass."

"Oh, my health is good enough," said Alice; "but I can't
help thinking, suppose Theron should be taken sick again,
away out there among strangers. You know he's never
appeared to me to have quite got his strength back.
These long illnesses, you know, they always leave a mark
on a man."

"Nonsense! He's strong as an ox," insisted Sister Soulsby.
"You mark my word, he'll thrive in Seattle like a green bay-tree."

"Seattle!" echoed Alice, meditatively. "It sounds
like the other end of the world, doesn't it?"

The noise of feet in the house broke upon the colloquy,
and the women went indoors, to join the breakfast party.
During the meal, it was Brother Soulsby who bore the
burden of the conversation. He was full of the future
of Seattle and the magnificent impending development
of that Pacific section. He had been out there,
years ago, when it was next door to uninhabited.
He had visited the district twice since, and the changes
discoverable each new time were more wonderful than
anything Aladdin's lamp ever wrought. He had secured
for Theron, through some of his friends in Portland,
the superintendency of a land and real estate company,
which had its headquarters in Seattle, but ambitiously linked
its affairs with the future of all Washington Territory.
In an hour's time the hack would come to take the Wares
and their baggage to the depot, the first stage in their
long journey across the continent to their new home.
Brother Soulsby amiably filled the interval with reminiscences
of the Oregon of twenty years back, with instructive
dissertations upon the soil, climate, and seasons of Puget
Sound and the Columbia valley, and, above all, with helpful
characterizations of the social life which had begun to take
form in this remotest West. He had nothing but confidence,
to all appearances, in the success of his young friend,
now embarking on this new career. He seemed so sanguine
about it that the whole atmosphere of the breakfast room
lightened up, and the parting meal, surrounded by so many
temptations to distraught broodings and silences as it was,
became almost jovial in its spirit.

At last, it was time to look for the carriage. The trunks
and hand-bags were ready in the hall, and Sister Soulsby
was tying up a package of sandwiches for Alice to keep
by her in the train.

Theron, with hat in hand, and overcoat on arm, loitered restlessly
into the kitchen, and watched this proceeding for a moment.
Then he sauntered out upon the stoop, and, lifting his head
and drawing as long a breath as he could, looked over at the elms.

Perhaps the face was older and graver; it was hard to tell.
The long winter's illness, with its recurring crises and
sustained confinement, had bleached his skin and reduced
his figure to gauntness, but there was none the less
an air of restored and secure good health about him.
Only in the eyes themselves, as they rested briefly upon
the prospect, did a substantial change suggest itself.
They did not dwell fondly upon the picture of the lofty,
spreading boughs, with their waves of sap-green leafage
stirring against the blue. They did not soften and glow
this time, at the thought of how wholly one felt sure
of God's goodness in these wonderful new mornings
of spring.

They looked instead straight through the fairest
and most moving spectacle in nature's processional,
and saw afar off, in conjectural vision, a formless
sort of place which was Seattle. They surveyed
its impalpable outlines, its undefined dimensions,
with a certain cool glitter of hard-and-fast resolve.
There rose before his fancy, out of the chaos of these
shapeless imaginings, some faces of men, then more behind
them, then a great concourse of uplifted countenances,
crowded close together as far as the eye could reach.
They were attentive faces all, rapt, eager, credulous to
a degree. Their eyes were admiringly bent upon a common
object of excited interest. They were looking at HIM;
they strained their ears to miss no cadence of his voice.
Involuntarily he straightened himself, stretched forth
his hand with the pale, thin fingers gracefully disposed,
and passed it slowly before him from side to side,
in a comprehensive, stately gesture. The audience rose at him,
as he dropped his hand, and filled his day-dream with a
mighty roar of applause, in volume like an ocean tempest,
yet pitched for his hearing alone.

He smiled, shook himself with a little delighted tremor,
and turned on the stoop to the open door.

"What Soulsby said about politics out there interested
me enormously," he remarked to the two women. "I shouldn't
be surprised if I found myself doing something in that line.
I can speak, you know, if I can't do anything else.
Talk is what tells, these days. Who knows? I may turn
up in Washington a full-blown senator before I'm forty.
Stranger things have happened than that, out West!"

"We'll come down and visit you then, Soulsby and I,"
said Sister Soulsby, cheerfully. "You shall take us to
the White House, Alice, and introduce us."

"Oh, it isn't likely I would come East," said Alice, pensively.
"Most probably I'd be left to amuse myself in Seattle.
But there--I think that's the carriage driving up to the door."

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