Part 5 out of 7
Day after day, at that same hour, Sibyl Andres came singing through the
orange grove, to stand in the golden sunlight among the roses, with hands
outstretched in greeting. Every day, Aaron King waited her coming--sitting
before his easel, palette and brush in hand. Each day, he worked as he had
worked that first day--with no thought for anything save for his picture.
In the mornings, he walked with Conrad Lagrange or, sometimes, worked with
Sibyl in the garden. Often, in the evening, the two men would visit the
little house next door. Occasionally, the girl and the woman with the
disfigured face would come to sit for a while on the front porch with
their friends. Thus the neighborly friendship that began in the hills was
continued in the orange groves. The comradeship between the two young
people grew stronger, hour by hour, as the painter worked at his easel to
express with canvas and color and brush the spirit of the girl whose
character and life was so unmarred by the world.
A11 through those days, when he was so absorbed in his work that he often
failed to reply when she spoke to him, the girl manifested a helpful
understanding of his mood that caused the painter to marvel. She seemed to
know, instinctively, when he was baffled or perplexed by the annoying
devils of "can't-get-at-it," that so delight to torment artist folk; just
as she knew and rejoiced when the imps were routed and the soul of the man
exulted with the sureness and freedom of his hand. He asked her, once,
when they had finished for the day, how it was that she knew so well how
the work was progressing, when she could not see the picture.
She laughed merrily. "But I can see _you_; and I"--she hesitated with that
trick, that he was learning to know so well, of searching for a word--"I
just _feel_ what you are feeling. I suppose it's because my music is that
way. Sometimes, it simply won't come right, at all, and I feel as though I
never _could_ do it. Then, again, it seems to do itself; and I listen and
wonder--just as if I had nothing to do with it."
So that day came when the artist, drawing slowly back from his easel,
stood so long gazing at his picture without touching it that the girl
called to him, "What's the matter? Won't it come right?"
Slowly he laid aside his palette and brushes. Standing at the open window,
he looked at her--smiling but silent--as she held the pose.
For an instant, she did not understand. "Am I not right?" she asked
anxiously. Then, before he could answer--"Oh, have you finished? Is it all
Still smiling, he answered almost sadly, "I have done all that I can do.
A moment later, she stood in the studio door.
Seeing her hesitate, he said again, "Come."
"I--I am afraid to look," she faltered.
He laughed. "Really I don't think it's quite so bad as that."
"Oh, but I don't mean that I'm afraid it's bad--it isn't."
The painter watched her,--a queer expression on his face,--as he returned
curiously, "And how, pray tell, do you know it isn't bad--when you have
never seen it? It's quite the thing, I'll admit, for critics to praise or
condemn without much knowledge of the work; but I didn't expect you to be
"You are making fun of me," she laughed. "But I don't care. I know your
work is good, because I know how and why you did it. You painted it just
as you painted the spring glade, didn't you?"
"Yes," he said soberly, "I did. But why are you afraid?"
"Why, that's the reason. I--I'm afraid to see myself as you see me."
The man's voice was gentle with feeling as he answered seriously, "Miss
Andres, you, of all the people I have ever known, have the least cause to
fear to look at your portrait for _that_ reason. Come."
Slowly, she went forward to stand by his side before the picture.
For some time, she looked at the beautiful work into which Aaron King had
put the best of himself and of his genius. At last, turning full upon him,
her eyes blue and shining, she said in a low tone, "O Mr. King, it is
too--too--beautiful! It is so beautiful it--it--hurts. She seems to,
to"--she searched for the word--"to belong to the roses, doesn't she? It
makes you feel just as the rose garden makes you feel."
He laughed with pleasure, "What a child of nature you are! You have
forgotten that it is a portrait of yourself, haven't you?"
She laughed with him. "I _had_ forgotten. It's so lovely!" Then she added
wistfully, "Am I--am I really like that?--just a little?"
"No," he answered. "But that is just a little, a very little, like you."
She looked at him half doubtfully--sincerely unmindful of the compliment,
in her consideration of its truth. Shaking her head, with a serious smile,
she returned slowly, "I wish that I could be sure you are not mistaken."
"You will permit me to exhibit the picture, will you?" he asked.
"Why, yes! of course! You made it for people to see, didn't you? I don't
believe any one could look at it seriously without having good thoughts,
"I'm sure they could not," he answered. "But, you see, it's a portrait of
you; and I thought you might not care for the--ah--" he finished with a
smile--"shall I say fame?"
"Oh! I did not think that you would tell any one that _I_ had anything to
do with it. Is it necessary that my name should be mentioned?"
"Not exactly necessary"--he admitted--"but few women, these days, would
miss the opportunity."
She shook her head, with a positive air. "No, no; you must exhibit it as a
picture; not as a portrait of me. The portrait part is of no importance.
It is what you have made your picture say, that will do good."
"And what have I made it say?" he asked, curiously pleased.
"Why it says that--that a woman should be beautiful as the roses are
beautiful--without thinking too much about it, you know--just as a man
should be strong without thinking too much about his strength, I mean."
"Yes," he agreed, "it says that. But I want you to know that, whatever
title it is exhibited under, it will always be, to me, a portrait--the
truest I have ever painted."
She flushed with genuine pleasure as she said brightly, "I like you for
that. And now let's try it on Conrad Lagrange and Myra Willard. You get
him, and I'll run and bring her. Mind you don't let Mr. Lagrange in until
I get back! I want to watch him when he first sees it."
When the artist found Conrad Lagrange and told him that the picture was
finished, the novelist, without comment, turned his attention to Czar.
The painter, with an amused smile, asked, "Won't you come for a look at
it, old man?"
The other returned gruffly, "Thanks; but I don't think I care to risk it."
The artist laughed. "But Miss Andres wants you to come. She sent me to
Conrad Lagrange turned his peculiar, baffling eyes upon the young man.
"Does _she_ like it?"
"She seems to."
"If she _seems_ to, she does," retorted the other, rising. "And that's
When the novelist, with his three friends, stood before the easel, he was
silent for so long that the girl said anxiously, "I--I thought you would
like it, Mr. Lagrange."
They saw the strange man's eyes fill with tears as he answered, in the
gentle tones that always marked his words to her, "Like it? My dear child,
how could I help liking it? It is you--you!" To the artist, he added, "It
is great work, my boy, great! I--I wish your mother could have seen it. It
is like her--as I knew her. You have done well." He turned, with gentle
courtesy, to Myra Willard; "And you? What is your verdict, Miss Willard?"
With her arm around the beautiful original of the portrait, the woman with
the disfigured face answered, "I think, sir, that I, better than any one
in all the world, know how good, how true, it is."
Conrad Lagrange spoke again to the artist, inquiringly; "You will exhibit
"Miss Andres says that I may--but not as a portrait."
The novelist could not conceal his pleasure at the answer. Presently, he
said, "If it is not to be shown as a portrait, may I suggest a title?"
"I was hoping you would!" exclaimed the painter.
"And so was I," cried Sibyl, with delight. "What is it, Mr. Lagrange?"
"Let it be exhibited as 'The Spirit of Nature--A Portrait'," answered
As the novelist finished speaking, Yee Kee appeared in the doorway. "They
come--big automobile. Whole lot people. Misse Taine, Miste' Lutlidge, sick
man, whole lot--I come tell you."
The artist spoke quickly,--"Stop them in the house, Kee; I'll be right
in,"--and the Chinaman vanished.
At Yee Kee's announcement, Myra Willard's face went white, and she gave a
"Never mind, dear," said the girl, soothingly. "We can slip away through
When Sibyl and the woman with the disfigured face were gone, Conrad
Lagrange and Aaron King looked at each other, questioningly.
Then the novelist said harshly,--pointing to the picture on the
easel,--"You're not going to let that flock of buzzards feed on this, are
you? I'll murder some one, sure as hell, if you do."
"I don't think I could stand it, myself," said the artist, laughing
grimly, as he drew the velvet curtain to hide the portrait.
When Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange entered the house to meet their
callers from Fairlands Heights, the artist felt, oddly, that he was
meeting a company of strangers.
The carefully hidden, yet--to him--subtly revealed, warmth of Mrs. Taine's
greeting embarrassed him with a momentary sense of shame. The frothing
gush of Louise's inane ejaculations, and the coughing, choking, cursing of
Mr. Taine,--whose feeble grip upon the flesh that had so betrayed him was,
by now, so far loosed that he could scarcely walk alone,--set the painter
struggling for words that would mean nothing--the only words that, under
the circumstances, could serve. Aaron King was somewhat out of practise in
the use of meaningless words, and the art of talking without saying
anything is an art that requires constant exercise if one would not commit
serious technical blunders. James Rutlidge's greeting was insolently
familiar; as a man of certain mind greets--in public--a boon companion of
his private and unmentionable adventures. Toward the great critic, the
painter exercised a cool self-restraint that was at least commendable.
While Aaron King, with James Rutlidge and Mr. Taine, with carefully
assumed interest, was listening to Louise's effort to make a jumble of
"ohs" and "ahs" and artistic sighs sound like a description of a sunset in
the mountains, Mrs. Taine said quietly to Conrad Lagrange, "You certainly
have taken excellent care of your protege, this summer. He looks
The novelist, watching the woman whose eyes, as she spoke, were upon the
artist, answered, "You are pleased to flatter me, Mrs. Taine."
She turned to him, with a knowing smile. "Perhaps I _am_ giving you more
credit than is due. I understand Mr. King has not been in your care
altogether. Shame on you, Mr. Lagrange! for a man of your age and
experience to permit your charge to roam all over the country, alone and
unprotected, with a picturesque mountain girl!--and that, after your
warning to poor me!"
Conrad Lagrange smiled grimly. "I confess I thought of you in that
connection several times."
She eyed him doubtfully. "Oh, well," she said easily, "I suppose artists
must amuse themselves, occasionally--the same as the rest of us."
"I don't think that, '_amuse_' is exactly the word, Mrs. Taine," the other
"No? Surely you don't meant to tell me that it is anything serious?"
"I don't mean to tell you anything about it," he retorted rather sharply.
She laughed. "You don't need to. Jim has already told me quite enough. Mr.
King, himself, will tell me more."
"Not unless he's a bigger fool than I think," growled the novelist.
Again, she laughed into his face, mockingly. "You men are all more or less
foolish when there's a woman in the case, aren't you?"
To which, the other answered tartly, "If we were not, there would be no
woman in the case."
As Conrad Lagrange spoke, Louise, exhausted by her efforts to achieve that
sunset in the mountains with her limited supply of adjectives, floundered
hopelessly into the expressive silence of clasped hands and heaving breast
and ecstatically upturned eyes. The artist, seizing the opportunity with
the cunning of desperation, turned to Mrs. Taine, with some inane remark
about the summers in California.
Whatever it was that he said, Mrs. Taine agreed with him, heartily,
adding, "And you, I suppose, have been making good use of your time? Or
have you been simply storing up material and energy for this winter?"
This brought Louise out of the depths of that sunset, with a flop. She was
so sure that Mr. King had some inexpressibly wonderful work to show them.
Couldn't they go at once to the equally inexpressibly beautiful studio, to
see the inexpressibly lovely pictures that she was so inexpressibly sure
he had been painting in the inexpressibly grand and beautiful and
wonderfully lovely mountains?
The painter assured them that he had no work for them to see; and Louise
floundered again into the depths of inexpressible disappointment and
Nevertheless, a few minutes later, Aaron King found himself in his
studio, alone with Mrs. Taine. He could not have told exactly how she
managed it, or why. Perhaps, in sheer pity, she had rescued him from the
floods of Louise's appreciation. Perhaps--she had some other reasons.
There had been something said about her right to see her own picture, and
then--there they were--with the others safely barred from intruding upon
the premises sacred to art.
When there was no longer need to fear the eyes of the world, Mrs. Taine
was at no pains to hide the warmth of her feeling. With little reserve,
she confessed herself in every look and tone and movement.
"Are you really glad to see me, I wonder," she said invitingly. "All this
summer, while I have been forced to endure the company of all sorts of
stupid people, I have been thinking of you and your work. And, you see, I
have come to you, the first possible moment after my return home."
The man--being a man--could not remain wholly insensible to the alluring
physical beauty of the splendid creature who stood so temptingly before
him; but, to the honor of his kind, he could and did remain master of
The woman, true to her life training,--as James Rutlidge had been true to
his schooling when he approached Sibyl Andres in the mountains,--construed
the artist's manner, not as a splendid self-control but as a careful
policy. To her, and to her kind, the great issues of life are governed,
not at all by principle, but by policy. It is not at all what one is, or
what one may accomplish that matters; it is wholly what one may skillfully
_appear_ to be, and what one may skillfully provoke the world to say,
that is of vital importance. Turning from the painter to the easel, as if
to find in his portrait of her the fuller expression of that which she
believed he dared not yet put into words, she was about to draw aside the
curtain; when Aaron King checked her quickly, with a smile that robbed his
words of any rudeness.
"Please don't touch that, Mrs. Taine. I am not yet ready to show it."
As she turned from the easel to face him, he took her portrait from where
it rested, face to the wall; and placed it upon another easel, saying,
"Here is your picture."
With the painting before her, she talked eagerly of her plans for the
artist's future; how the picture was to be exhibited, and how, because it
was her portrait, it would be praised and talked about by her friends who
were leaders in the art circles. Frankly, she spoke of "pull" and
"influence" and "scheme"; of "working" this and that "paper" for
"write-ups"; of "handling" this or that "critic" and "writer"; of
"reaching the committees"; of introducing the painter into the proper
inside cliques, and clans; and of clever "advertising stunts" that would
make him the most popular portrait painter of his day; insuring thus
his--as she called it--fame.
The man who had painted the picture of the spring glade, and who had so
faithfully portrayed the truth and beauty of Sibyl Andres as she stood
among the roses, listened to this woman's plans for making his portrait of
herself famous, with a feeling of embarrassment and shame.
"Do you really think that the work merits such prominence as you say will
be given it?" he asked doubtfully.
She laughed knowingly, "Just wait until Jim Rutlidge's 'write-up' appears,
and all the others follow his lead, and you'll see! The picture is clever
enough--you know it as well as I. It is beautiful. It has everything that
we women want in a portrait. I really don't know much about what you
painters call art; but I know that when Jim and our friends get through
with it, your picture will have every mark of a great masterpiece, and
that you will be on the topmost wave of success."
"And then what?" he asked.
Again, she interpreted his words in the light of her own thoughts, and
with little attempt to veil the fire that burned in her eyes, answered,
"And then--I hope that you will not forget me."
For a moment he returned her look; then a feeling of disgust and shame for
her swept over him, and he again turned away, to stand gazing moodily out
of the window that looked into the rose garden.
"You seem to be disturbed and worried," she said, in a tone that implied a
complete understanding of his mood, and a tacit acceptance of the things
that he would say if it were not for the world.
He laughed shortly--"I fear you will think me ungrateful for your
kindness. Believe me, I am not."
"I know you are not," she returned. "But don't think that you had better
confess, just the same?"
He answered wonderingly, "Confess?"
"Yes." She shook her finger at him, in playful severity. "Oh, I know what
you have been up to all summer--running wild with your mountain girl!
Really, you ought to be more discreet."
Aaron King's face burned as he stammered something about not knowing what
She laughed gaily. "There, there, never mind--I forgive you--now that you
are safely back in civilization again. I know you artists, and how you
must have your periods of ah--relaxation--with rather more liberties than
the common herd. Just so you are careful that the world doesn't know _too_
At this frank revelation of her mind, the man stood amazed. For the
construction she put upon his relation with the girl whose pure and gentle
comradeship had led him to greater heights in his art than he had ever
before attained, he could have driven this woman from the studio he felt
that she profaned. But what could he say? He remembered Conrad Lagrange's
counsel when James Rutlidge had seen the girl at their camp. What could he
say that would not injure Sibyl Andres? To cover his embarrassment, he
forced a laugh and answered lightly, "Really, I am not good at
"Nor I at playing the part of confessor," she laughed with him. "But, just
the same, you might tell me what you think of yourself. Aren't you just a
The artist had moved to a position in front of her portrait; and, as he
looked upon the painted lie, his answer came. "Rather let me tell you what
I think of _you_, Mrs. Taine. And let me tell you in the language I know
best. Let me put my answer to your charges here," he touched her portrait.
Almost, his reply was worthy of Conrad Lagrange, himself.
"I don't quite understand," she said, a trifle put out by the turn his
answer had taken.
"I mean," he explained eagerly, "that I want to repaint your portrait. You
remember, I wrote, when I returned Mr. Taine's generous check, that I was
not altogether satisfied with it. Give me another chance."
"You mean for me to come here again, to pose for you?--as I did before?"
"Yes," he answered, "just as you did before. I want to make a portrait
worthy of you, as this is not. Let me tell you, on the canvas, what I
cannot--" he hesitated then said deliberately--"what I _dare_ not put into
The woman received his words as a veiled declaration of a passion he dared
not, yet, openly express. She thought his request a clever ruse to renew
their meetings in the privacy of his studio, and was, accordingly
"Oh, that will be wonderful!--heavenly!" she cried, springing to her feet.
"Can we begin at once? May I come to-morrow?"
"Yes," he answered, "come to-morrow."
"And may I wear the Quaker gown?"
"Yes, indeed! I want you just as you were before--the same dress, the same
pose. It is to be the same picture, you understand, only a better one--one
more worthy of us, both. And now," he continued hurriedly "don't you
think that we should return to the house?"
"I suppose so," she answered regretfully--lingering.
The artist was already opening the door.
As they passed out, she placed her hand on his arm, and looked up into his
face admiringly. "What a clever, clever man you are, to think of it! And
what a story it will make for the papers--when my picture is shown--how
you were not satisfied with the portrait and refused to let it go--and
how, after keeping it in your studio for months, you repainted it, to
satisfy your artistic conscience!"
Aaron King smiled.
The announcement in the house that the artist was to repaint Mrs. Taine's
picture, provoked characteristic comment. Louise effervesced a frothy
stream of bubbling exclamations. James Rutlidge gave a hearty, "By Jove,
old man, you have nerve! If you can really improve on that canvas, you are
a wonder." And Mr. Taine, under the watchful eye of his beautiful wife,
responded with a husky whisper, "Quite right--my boy--quite right!
Certainly--by all means--if you feel that way about it--" his consent and
approval ending in a paroxysm of coughing that left him weak and
breathless, and nearly eliminated him from the question, altogether.
When the Fairlands Heights party had departed, Conrad Lagrange looked the
artist up and down.
"Well,"--he growled harshly, in his most brutal tones,--"what is it? Is
the dog returning to his vomit?--or is the prodigal turning his back on
his hogs and his husks?"
Aaron King smiled as he answered, "I think, rather, it's the case of the
blind beggar who sat by the roadside, helpless, until a certain Great
Physician passed that way."
And Conrad Lagrange understood.
You're Ruined, My Boy
It was no light task to which Aaron King had set his hand. He did not
doubt what it would cost him. Nor did Conrad Lagrange, as they talked
together that evening, fail to point out clearly what it would mean to the
artist, at the very beginning of his career, to fly thus rudely in the
face of the providence that had chosen to serve him. The world's history
of art and letters affords too many examples of men who, because they
refused to pay court to the ruling cliques and circles of their little
day, had seen the doors of recognition slammed in their faces; and who,
even as they wrought their great works, had been forced to hear, as they
toiled, the discordant yelpings of the self-appointed watchdogs of the
halls of fame. Nor did the artist question the final outcome,--if only his
work should be found worthy to endure,--for the world's history
establishes, also, the truth--that he who labors for a higher wage than an
approving paragraph in the daily paper, may, in spite of the condemnation
of the pretending rulers, live in the life of his race, long after the
names to which he refused to bow are lost in the dust of their self-raised
The painter was driven to his course by that self-respect, without which,
no man can sanely endure his own company; together with that reverence--I
say it deliberately--that reverence for his art, without which, no worthy
work is possible. He had come to understand that one may not prostitute
his genius to the immoral purposes of a diseased age, without reaping a
prostitute's reward. The hideous ruin that Mr. Taine had, in himself,
wrought by the criminal dissipation of his manhood's strength, and by the
debasing of his physical appetites and passions, was to Aaron King, now, a
token of the intellectual, spiritual, and moral ruin that alone can result
from a debased and depraved dissipation of an artist's creative power. He
saw clearly, now, that the influence his work must wield upon the lives of
those who came within its reach, must be identical with the influence of
Sibyl Andres, who had so unconsciously opened his eyes to the true mission
and glory of the arts, and thus had made his decision possible. In that
hour when Mrs. Taine had revealed herself to him so clearly, following as
it did so closely his days of work and the final completion of his
portrait of the girl among the roses, he saw and felt the woman, not as
one who could help him to the poor rewards of a temporary popularity, but
as the spirit of an age that threatens the very life of art by seeking to
destroy the vital truth and purpose of its existence. He felt that in
painting the portrait of Mrs. Taine--as he had painted it--he had betrayed
a trust; as truly as had his father who, for purely personal
aggrandizement, had stolen the material wealth intrusted to him by his
fellows. The young man understood, now, that, instead of fulfilling the
purpose of his mother's sacrifice, and realizing for her her dying wish,
as he had promised; the course he had entered upon would have thwarted the
one and denied the other.
The young man had answered the novelist truly, that it was a case of the
blind beggar by the wayside. He might have carried the figure farther; for
that same blind beggar, when his eyes had been opened, was persecuted by
the very ones who had fed him in his infirmity. It is easier, sometimes,
to receive blindly, than to give with eyes that see too clearly.
When Mrs. Taine went to the artist, in the studio, the next day, she found
him in the act of re-tying the package of his mother's letters. For nearly
an hour, he had been reading them. For nearly an hour before that, he had
been seated, motionless, before the picture that Conrad Lagrange had said
was a portrait of the Spirit of Nature.
When Mrs. Taine had slipped off her wrap, and stood before him gowned in
the dress that so revealed the fleshly charms it pretended to hide, she
indicated the letters in the artist's hands, with an insinuating laugh;
while there was a glint of more than passing curiosity in her eyes. "Dear
me," she said, "I hope I am not intruding upon the claims of some absent
Aaron King gravely held out his hand with the package of letters, saying
quietly, "They are from my mother."
And the woman had sufficient grace to blush, for once, with unfeigned
When he had received her apologies, and, putting aside the letters, had
succeeded in making her forget the incident, he said, "And now, if you are
ready, shall we begin?"
For some time the painter stood before the picture on his easel, without
touching palette or brush, studying the face of the woman who posed for
him. By a slight movement of her eyes, without turning her head, she could
look him fairly in the face. Presently as he continued to gaze at her so
intently, she laughed; and, with a little shrug of her shoulders and a
pretense as of being cold, said, "When you look at me that way, I feel as
though you had surprised me at my bath."
The artist turned his attention instantly to his color-box. While setting
his palette, with his eyes upon his task, he said deliberately, "'Venus
Surprised at the Bath.' Do you know that you would make a lovely Venus?"
With a low laugh, she returned, daringly. "Would you care to paint me as
the Goddess of Love?"
He, still, did not look at her; but answered, while, with deliberate care,
he selected a few brushes from the Chinese jar near the easel, "Venus is
always a very popular subject, you know."
She did not speak for a moment or two; and the painter felt her watching
him. As he turned to his canvas--still careful not to look in her
direction--she said, suggestively, "I suppose you could change the face so
that no one would know it was I who posed."
The man remembered her carefully acquired reputation for modesty, but held
to his purpose, saying, as if considering the question seriously, "Oh, as
for that part; it could be managed with perfect safety." Then, suddenly,
he turned his eyes upon her face, with a gaze so sharp and piercing that
the blood slowly colored neck and cheek.
But the painter did not wait for the blush. He had seen what he wanted and
was at work--with the almost savage intensity that had marked his manner
while he had worked upon the portrait of Sibyl Andres.
And so, day after day, as he painted, again, the portrait of the woman who
Conrad Lagrange fancifully called "The Age," the artist permitted her to
betray her real self--the self that was so commonly hidden from the world,
under the mask of a pretended culture, and the cloak of a fraudulent
refinement. He led her to talk of the world in which she lived--of the
scandals and intrigues among those of her class who hold such enviable
positions in life. He drew from her the philosophies and beliefs and
religions of her kind. He encouraged her to talk of art--to give her
understanding of the world of artists as she knew it, and to express her
real opinions and tastes in pictures and books. He persuaded her to throw
boldly aside the glittering, tinsel garb in which she walked before the
world, and so to stand before him in all the hideous vulgarity, the
intellectual poverty and the moral depravity of her naked self.
At times, when, under his intense gaze, she drew the cloak of her
pretenses hurriedly about her, he sat before his picture without touching
the canvas, waiting; or, perhaps, he paced the floor; until, with
skillful words, her fears were banished and she was again herself. Then,
with quick eye and sure, ready hand, he wrought into the portrait upon the
easel--so far as the power was given him--all that he saw in the face of
the woman who--posing for him, secure in the belief that he was painting a
lie--revealed her true nature, warped and distorted as it was by an age
that, demanding realism in art, knows not what it demands. Always, when
the sitting was finished, he drew the curtain to hide the picture;
forbidding her to look at it until he said that it was finished.
Much of the time, when he was not in the studio at work, the painter spent
with Mrs. Taine and her friends, in the big touring car, and at the house
on Fairlands Heights. But the artist did not, now, enter into the life of
Fairlands' Pride for gain or for pleasure--he went for study--as a
physician goes into the dissecting room. He justified himself by the old
and familiar argument that it was for his art's sake.
Sibyl Andres, he seldom saw, except occasionally, in the early morning, in
the rose garden. The girl knew what he was doing--that is, she knew that
he was painting a portrait of Mrs. Taine--and so, with Myra Willard,
avoided the place. But Conrad Lagrange now, made the neighboring house in
the orange grove his place of refuge from Louise Taine, who always
accompanied Mrs. Taine,--lest the world should talk,--but who never went
as far as the studio.
But often, as he worked, the artist heard the music of the mountain girl's
violin; and he knew that she, in her own beautiful way, was trying to help
him--as she would have said--to put the mountains into his work. Many
times, he was conscious of the feeling that some one was watching him.
Once, pausing at the garden end of the studio as he paced to and fro, he
caught a glimpse of her as she slipped through the gate in the Ragged
Robin hedge. And once, in the morning, after one of those afternoons when
he had gone away with Mrs. Taine at the conclusion of the sitting, he
found a note pinned to the velvet curtain that hid the canvas on his
working easel. It was a quaint little missive; written in one of the
girl's fanciful moods, with a reference to "Blue Beard," and the assurance
that she had been strong and had not looked at the forbidden picture.
As the work progressed, Mrs. Taine remarked, often, how the artist was
changed. When painting that first picture, he had been so sure of himself.
Working with careless ease, he had been suave and pleasant in his manner,
with ready smile or laugh. Why, she questioned, was he, now, so grave and
serious? Why did he pause so often, to sit staring at his canvas, or to
pace the floor? Why did he seem to be so uncertain--to be questioning,
searching, hesitating? The woman thought that she knew. Rejoicing in her
fancied victory--all but won--she looked forward to the triumphant moment
when this splendid man should be swept from his feet by the force of the
passion she thought she saw him struggling to conceal. Meanwhile she
tempted him by all the wiles she knew--inviting him with eyes and lips and
graceful pose and meaning gesture.
And Aaron King, with clear, untroubled eye seeing all; with cool brain
understanding all; with steady, skillful hand, ruled supremely by his
purpose, painted that which he saw and understood into his portrait of
So they came to the last sitting. On the following evening, Mrs. Taine was
giving a dinner at the house on Fairlands Heights, at which the artist was
to meet some people who would be--as she said--useful to him. Eastern
people they were; from the accredited center of art and literature;
members of the inner circle of the elect. They happened to be spending the
season on the Coast, and she had taken advantage of the opportunity to
advance the painter's interests. It was very fortunate that her portrait
was to be finished in time for them to see it.
The artist was sorry, he said, but, while it would not be necessary for
her to come to the studio again, the picture was not yet finished, and he
could not permit its being exhibited until he was ready to sign the
"But I may see it?" she asked, as he laid aside his palette and brushes,
and announced that he was through.
With a quick hand, he drew the curtain. "Not yet; please--not until I am
"Oh!" she cried with a charming air of submitting to one whose wish is
law, "How mean of you! I know it is splendid! Are you satisfied? Is it
better than the other? Is it like me?"
"I am sure that it is much better than the other," he replied. "It is as
like you as I can make it."
"And is it as beautiful as the other?"
"It is beautiful--as you are beautiful," he answered.
"I shall tell them all about it, to-morrow night--even if I haven't seen
it. And so will Jim Rutlidge."
Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange spent that evening at the little house next
door. The next morning, the artist shut himself up in his studio. At lunch
time, he would not come out. Late in the afternoon, the novelist went,
again, to knock at the door.
The artist called in a voice that rang with triumph, "Come in, old man,
come in and help me celebrate."
Entering, Conrad Lagrange found him; sitting, pale and worn, before his
picture--his palette and brushes still in his hand.
And such a picture!
A moment, the novelist who knew--as few men know--the world that was
revealed with such fidelity in that face upon the canvas, looked; then,
with weird and wonderful oaths of delight, he caught the tired artist and
whirled him around the studio, in a triumphant dance.
"You've done it! man--you've done it! It's all there; every rotten,
stinking shred of it! Wow! but it's good--so damned good that it's almost
inhuman. I knew you had it in you. I knew it was in you, all the time--if
only you could come alive. God, man! if _that_ could only be exhibited
alongside the other! Look here!"
He dragged the easel that held Sibyl Andres' portrait to a place beside
the one upon which the canvas just finished rested, and drew back the
curtain. The effect was startling.
"'The Spirit of Nature' and 'The Spirit of the Age'," said Conrad
Lagrange, in a low tone.
"But you're ruined, my boy," he added gleefully. "You're ruined. These
canvases will never be exhibited Her own, she'll smash when she sees it;
and you'll be artistically damned by the very gods she has invoked to
bless you with fame and wealth. Lord, but I envy you! You have your chance
now--a real chance to be worthy your mother's sacrifice.
"Come on, let's get ready for the feast."
The Hand Writing on the Wall
It was November. Nearly a year had passed since that day when the young
man on the Golden State Limited--with the inheritance he had received from
his mother's dying lips, and with his solemn promise to her still fresh in
his mind--looked into the eyes of the woman on the platform of the
observation car. That same day, too, he first saw the woman with the
disfigured face, and, for the first time, met the famous Conrad Lagrange.
Aaron King was thinking of these things as he set out, that evening, with
his friend, for the home of Mrs. Taine. He remarked to the novelist that
the time seemed, to him, many years.
"To me, Aaron," answered the strange man, "it has been the happiest
and--if you would not misunderstand me--the most satisfying year of my
life. And this"--he added, his deep voice betraying his emotion--"this has
been the happiest day of the year. It is your independence day. I shall
always celebrate it as such--I--I have no independence day of my own to
celebrate, you know."
Aaron King did not misunderstand.
As the two men approached the big house on Fairlands Heights, they saw
that modern palace, from concrete foundation to red-tiled roof, ablaze
with many lights. Situated upon the very topmost of the socially graded
levels of Fairlands, it outshone them all; and, quite likely, the
glittering display was mistaken by many dwellers in the valley below for a
new constellation of the heavenly bodies. Quite likely, too, some lonely
dweller, high up among the distant mountain peaks, looked down upon the
sparkling bauble that lay for the moment, as it were, on the wide lap of
the night, and smiled in quiet amusement that the earth children should
attach such value to so fragile a toy.
As they passed the massive, stone pillars of the entrance to the grounds,
Conrad Lagrange said, "Really, Aaron, don't you feel a little ashamed of
yourself?--coming here to-night, after the outrageous return you have made
for the generous hospitality of these people? You know that if Mrs. Taine
had seen what you have done to her portrait, you could force the pearly
gates easier than you could break in here."
The artist laughed. "To tell the truth, I don't feel exactly at home. But
what the deuce can I do? After my intimacy with them, all these months, I
can't assume that they are going to make my picture a reason for refusing
to recognize me, can I? As I see it, they, not I, must take the
initiative. I can't say: 'Well, I've told the truth about you, so throw me
The novelist grinned. "Thus it is when 'Art' becomes entangled with the
family of 'Materialism.' It's hard to break away from the flesh-pots--even
when you know you are on the road to the Promised Land. But don't
worry--'The Age' will take the initiative fast enough when she sees your
portrait of her. Wow! In the meantime, let's play their game to-night, and
take what spoils the gods may send. There will be material here for
pictures and stories a plenty." As they went up the wide steps and under
the portal into the glare of the lights, and caught the sound of the
voices within, he added under his breath, "Lord, man, but 'tis a pretty
show!--if only things were called by their right names. That old
Babylonian, Belshazzar, had nothing on us moderns after all, did he? Watch
out for the writing upon the wall."
When Aaron King and his companion entered the spacious rooms where the
pride of Fairlands Heights and the eastern lions were assembled, a buzz of
comment went round the glittering company. Aside from the fact that Mrs.
Taine, with practised skill, had prepared the way for her protege, by
subtly stimulating the curiosity of her guests--the appearance of the two
men, alone, would have attracted their attention The artist, with his
strong, splendidly proportioned, athletic body, and his handsome,
clean-cut intellectual face--calmly sure of himself--with the air of one
who knows that his veins are rich with the wealth of many generations of
true culture and refinement; and the novelist--easily the most famous of
his day--tall, emaciated, grotesquely stooped--with his homely face seamed
and lined, world-worn and old, and his sharp eyes peering from under his
craggy brows with that analyzing, cynical, half-pathetic half-humorous
expression--certainly presented a contrast too striking to escape notice.
For an instant, as comrades side by side upon a battle-field might do,
they glanced over the scene. To the painter's eye, the assembled guests
appeared as a glittering, shimmering, scintillating, cloud-like mass that,
never still, stirred within itself, in slow, graceful restless
motions--forming always, without purpose new combinations and groupings
that were broken up, even as they were shaped, to be reformed; with the
black spots and splashes of the men's conventional dress ever changing
amid the brighter colors and textures of the women's gowns; the warm flesh
tints of bare white arms and shoulders, gleaming here and there; and the
flash and sparkle of jewels, threading the sheen of silks and the filmy
softness of laces. Into the artist's mind--fresh from the tragic
earnestness of his day's work, and still under the enduring spell of his
weeks in the mountains--flashed a sentence from a good old book; "For what
is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and
then vanisheth away."
Then they were greeting, with conventional nothings their beautiful
hostess; who, with a charming air of triumphant--but not too
triumphant--proprietorship received them and passed them on, with a low
spoken word to Aaron King; "I will take charge of you later."
Conrad Lagrange, before they drifted apart, found opportunity to growl in
his companion's ear; "A near-great musician--an actress of divorce court
fame--an art critic, boon companion of our friend Rutlidge--two free-lance
yellow journalists--a poet--with leading culture-club women of various
brands, and a mob of mere fashion and wealth. The pickings should be
good. Look at 'Materialism', over there."
In a wheeled chair, attended by a servant in livery, a little apart from
the center of the scene,--as though the pageant of life was about to move
on without him,--but still, with desperate grip, holding his place in the
picture, sat the genius of it all--the millionaire. The creature's wasted,
skeleton-like limbs, were clothed grotesquely in conventional evening
dress. His haggard, bestial face--repulsive with every mark of his wicked,
licentious years--grinned with an insane determination to take the place
that was his by right of his money bags; while his glazed and sunken eyes
shone with fitful gleams, as he rallied the last of his vital forces, with
a devilish defiance of the end that was so inevitably near.
As Aaron King, in the splendid strength of his inheritance, went to pay
his respects to the master of the house, that poor product of our age was
seized by a paroxysm of coughing, that shook him--gasping and
choking--almost into unconsciousness. The ready attendant held out a glass
of whisky, and he clutched the goblet with skinny hands that, in their
trembling eagerness, rattled the crystal against his teeth. In the
momentary respite afforded by the powerful stimulant, he lifted his
yellow, claw-like hand to wipe the clammy beads of sweat that gathered
upon his wrinkled, ape-like brow; and the painter saw, on one bony,
talon-like finger, the gleaming flash of a magnificent diamond.
Mr. Taine greeted the artist with his husky whisper "Hello, old chap--glad
to see you!" Peering into the laughing, chattering, glittering, throng he
added, "Some beauties here to-night, heh? Gad! my boy, but I've seen the
day I'd be out there among them! Ha, ha! Mrs. Taine, Louise, and Jim tried
to shelve me--but I fooled 'em. Damn me, but I'm game for a good time yet!
A little off my feed, and under the weather; but game, you understand,
game as hell!" Then to the attendant--"Where's that whisky?" And, again,
his yellow, claw-like hand--with that beautiful diamond, a gleaming point
of pure, white light--lifted the glass to his grinning lips.
When Mrs. Taine appeared to claim the artist, her husband--huddled in his
chair, an unclean heap of all but decaying flesh--watched them go, with
hidden, impotent rage.
A few moments later, as Mrs. Taine and her charge were leaving one group
of celebrities in search of another they encountered Conrad Lagrange.
"What's this I see?" gibed the novelist, mockingly. "Is it 'Art being led
by Beauty to the Judges and Executioners'? or, is it 'Beauty presenting an
Artist to the Gods of Modern Art'?"
"You had better be helping a good cause instead of making fun, Mr.
Lagrange," the woman retorted. "You weren't always so famous yourself that
you could afford to be indifferent, you know."
Aaron King laughed as his friend replied, "Never fear, madam, never
fear--I shall be on hand to assist at the obsequies."
In the shifting of the groups and figures, when dinner was announced, the
young man found himself, again, within reach of Conrad Lagrange; and the
novelist whispered, with a grin, "Now for the flesh-pots in earnest. You
will be really out of place in the next act, Aaron. Only we artists who
have sold our souls have a right to the price of our shame. _You_ should
dine upon a crust, you know. A genius without his crust, huh! A devil
without his tail, or an ass without his long ears!"
Most conspicuous in the brilliant throng assembled in that banquet hall,
was the horrid figure of Mr. Taine who sat in his wheeled chair at the
head of the table; his liveried attendant by his side. Frequently--as
though compelled--eyes were turned toward that master of the feast, who
was, himself, so far past feasting; and toward his beautiful young
wife--the only woman in the room, whose shoulders and arms were not bare.
At first, the talk moved somewhat heavily. Neighbor chattered nothings to
neighbor in low tones. It was as though the foreboding presence of some
grim, unbidden guest overshadowed the spirits of the company But gradually
the scene became more animated The glitter of silver and crystal on the
board; the sparkle of jewels and the wealth of shimmering colors that
costumed the diners; with the strains of music that came from somewhere
behind a floral screen that filled the air with fragrance; concealed, as
it were, the hideous image of immorality which was the presiding genius of
the feast. As the glare of a too bright light blinds the eyes to the ditch
across one's path, so the brilliancy of their surroundings blinded the
eyes of his guests to the meaning of that horrid figure in the seat of
highest honor. But rich foods and rare wines soon loose the tongues that
chatter the thoughts of those who do not think. As the glasses were filled
and refilled again, the scene took color from the sparkling goblets.
Voices were raised to a higher pitch. Shrill or boisterous laughter rang
out, as jest and story went the rounds. It was Mrs. Taine, now, rather
than her husband, who dominated the scene. With cheeks flushed and eyes
bright she set the pace, nor permitted any laggards.
Conrad Lagrange watched, cool and cynical--his worn face twisted into a
mocking smile; his keen, baffling eyes, from under their scowling brows,
seeing all, understanding all. Aaron King, weary with the work of the past
days, endured--wishing it was over.
The evening was well under way when Mrs. Taine held up her hand. In the
silence, she said, "Listen! I have a real treat for you, to-night,
friends. Listen!" As she spoke the last word, her eyes met the eyes of the
artist, in mocking, challenging humor. He was wondering what she meant,
when,--from behind that screen of flowers,--soft and low, poignantly sweet
and thrilling in its purity of tone, came the music of the violin that he
had learned to know so well.
Instantly, the painter understood. Mrs. Taine had employed Sibyl Andres to
play for her guests that evening; thinking to tease the artist by
presenting his mountain comrade in the guise of a hired servant. Why the
girl had not told him, he did not know. Perhaps she had thought to enjoy
his surprise. The effect of the girl's presence--or rather of her music,
for she, herself, could not be seen--upon the artist was quite other than
Mrs. Taine intended.
Under the spell of the spirit that spoke in the violin, Aaron King was
carried far from his glittering surroundings. Again, he stood where the
bright waters of Clear Creek tumbled among the granite boulders, and where
he had first moved to answer the call of that music of the hills. Again,
he followed the old wagon road to the cedar thicket; and, in the little,
grassy opening with its wild roses, its encircling wilderness growth, and
its old log house under the sheltering sycamores, saw a beautiful girl
dancing with the unconscious grace of a woodland sprite, her arms upheld
in greeting to the mountains. Once again, he was painting in the sacred
quiet of the spring glade where she had come to him with her three gifts;
where, in maidenly innocence, she had danced the dance of the butterflies;
and, later, with her music, had lifted their friendship to heights of
purity as far above the comprehension of the company that listened to her
now, as the mountain peaks among the stars that night were high above the
house on Fairlands Heights.
The music ceased. It was followed by the loud clapping of hands--with
exclamations in high-pitched voices. "Who is it?" "Where did you find
him?" "What's his name?"--for they judged, from Mrs. Taine's introductory
words, that she expected them to show their appreciation.
Mrs. Taine laughed, and, with her eyes mockingly upon the artist's face
answered lightly, "Oh, she is a discovery of mine. She teaches music, and
plays in one of the Fairlands churches."
"You are a wonder," said one of the illustrious critics, admiringly. And
lifting his glass, he cried, "Here's to our beautiful and talented
hostess--the patron saint of all the arts--the friend of all true
In the quiet that followed the enthusiastic endorsement of the
distinguished gentleman's words, another voice said, "If it's a girl,
can't we see her?" "Yes, yes," came from several. "Please, Mrs. Taine,
bring her out." "Have her play again." "Will she?"
Mrs. Taine laughed. "Certainly, she will. That's what she's here for--to
amuse you." And, again, as she spoke, her eyes met the eyes of Aaron King.
At her signal, a servant left the room. A moment later, the mountain girl,
dressed in simple white, with no jewel or ornament other than a rose in
her soft, brown hair, stood before that company. Unconscious of the eyes
that fed upon her loveliness; there was the faintest shadow of a smile
upon her face as she met, in one swift glance, the artist's look; then,
raising her violin, she made music for the revelers, at the will of Mrs.
Taine. As she stood there in the modest naturalness of her winsome
beauty--innocent and pure as the flowers that formed the screen behind
her; hired to amuse the worthy friends and guests of that hideously
repulsive devotee of lust and licentiousness who, from his wheeled chair,
was glaring at her with eyes that burned insanely--she seemed, as indeed
she was, a spirit from another world.
James Rutlidge, his heavy features flushed with drink, was gazing at the
girl with a look that betrayed his sensual passion. The face of Conrad
Lagrange was dark and grim with scowling appreciation of the situation.
Mrs. Taine was looking at the artist. And Aaron King, watching his girl
comrade of the hills as she seemed to listen for the music which she in
turn drew from the instrument, felt,--by the very force of the contrast
between her and her surroundings he had never felt before, the power and
charm of her personality--felt--and knew that Sibyl Andres had come into
his life to stay.
In the flood of emotions that swept over him, and in the mental and
spiritual exultation caused by her music and by her presence amid such
scenes; it was given the painter to understand that she had, in truth,
brought to him the strength, the purity, and the beauty of the hills; that
she had, in truth, shown him the paths that lead to the mountain heights;
that it was her unconscious influence and teaching that had made it
impossible for him to prostitute his genius to win favor in the eyes of
the world. He knew, now, that in those days when he had painted her
portrait, as she stood with outstretched hands in the golden light among
the roses, he had mixed his colors with the best love that a man may offer
a woman. And he knew that the repainting of that false portrait of Mrs.
Taine, with all that it would cost him, was his first offering to that
The girl musician finished playing and slipped away. When they would have
recalled her, Mrs. Taine--too well schooled to betray a hint of the
emotions aroused by what she had just seen as she watched Aaron
King--shook her head.
At that instant, Mr. Taine rose to his feet, supporting himself by holding
with shaking hands to the table. A hush, sudden as the hush of death, fell
upon the company. The millionaire's attendant put out his hand to steady
his master, and another servant stepped quickly forward. But the man who
clung so tenaciously to his last bit of life, with a drunken strength in
his dying limbs, shook them off, saying in a hoarse whisper, "Never mind!
Never mind--you fools--can't you see I'm game!"
In the quiet of the room, that a moment before rang with excited voices
and shrill laughter, the man's husky, straining, whispered boast sounded
like the mocking of some invisible, fiendish presence at the feast.
Lifting a glass of whisky with that yellow, claw-like hand upon which the
great diamond gleamed--a spot of flawless purity; with his repulsive
features twisted into a grewsome ugliness by his straining effort to force
his diseased vocal chords to make his words heard; the wretched creature
said: "Here's to our girl musician. The prettiest--lassie that I--have
seen for many a day--and I think I know a pretty girl--when I see one too.
Who comes bright and fresh--from her mountains, to amuse us--and to add,
to the beauty--and grace and wit and genius--that so distinguishes this
company--the flavor and the freedom of her wild-wood home. Her music--is
good, you'll all agree--" he paused to cough and to look inquiringly
around, while every one nodded approval and smiled encouragingly. "Her
music is good--but I--maintain that she, herself, is better. To me--her
beauty is more pleasing to the eye--than--her fiddling can possibly--be to
the ear!" Again he was forced to pause, while his guests, with hand and
voice, applauded the clever words. Lifting the glass of whisky toward his
lips that, by his effort to speak, were drawn back in a repulsive grin, he
leered at the celebrities sitting nearest. "I suppose to-morrow--if we
desire the company of these distinguished artists--we will have to
follow--them to the mountains. I don't blame you, gentlemen--if I was
not--ah--temporarily incapacitated--I would certainly--go for a little
trip to the inspiring hills--myself. Even if I don't know--as much about
_music_ and _art_ as some of you." Again his words were interrupted by
that racking cough, the sound of which was lost in the applause that
greeted his witticism. Lifting the glass once more, he continued, "So
here's to our girl musician--who is her own--lovely self so much more
attractive than any music--she can ever make." He drained the glass, and
sank back into his chair, exhausted by his effort.
Aaron King was on the point of springing to his feet, when Conrad Lagrange
caught his eye with a warning look. Instantly, he remembered what the
result would be if he should yield to his impulse. Wild with indignation,
rage, and burning shame, he knew that to betray himself would be to invite
a thousand sneering questions and insinuations to besmirch the name of
the girl he loved.
In the continued applause and laughter that followed the drinking of the
millionaire's toast, the artist caught the admiring words, "Bully old
sport." "Isn't he game?" "He has certainly traveled some pace in his day."
"The girl is a beauty." "Let's have her in again." This last expression
was so insistently echoed that Mrs. Taine--who, through it all, had been
covertly watching Aaron King's face, and whose eyes were blazing now with
something more than the effect of the wine she had been drinking--was
forced to yield. A servant left the room, and, a moment later, reappeared,
followed by Sibyl.
The girl was greeted, now, by hearty applause which she, accepting as an
expression of the company's appreciation of her music, received with
smiling pleasure. The artist, his heart and soul aflame with his awakening
love, fought for self-control. Conrad Lagrange, catching his eye, again,
silently bade him wait.
Sibyl lifted her violin and the noisy company was stilled. Slowly, under
the spell of the music that, to him, was a message from the mountain
heights, Aaron King grew calm. His tense muscles relaxed. His twitching
nerves became steady. He felt himself as it were, lifted out of and above
the scene that a moment before had so stirred him to indignant anger. His
brain worked with that clearness and precision which he had known while
repainting Mrs. Taine's portrait. Wrath gave way to pity; indignation to
contempt. In confidence, he smiled to think how little the girl he loved
needed his poor defense against the animalism that dominated the company
she was hired to amuse. With every eye in the room fixed upon her as she
played, she was as far removed from those who had applauded the suggestive
words of the dying sensualist as her music was beyond their true
Then it was that the genius of the artist awoke. As the flash of a
search-light in the darkness of night brings out with startling clearness
the details of the scene upon which it is turned, the painter saw before
him his picture. With trained eye and carefully acquired skill, he studied
the scene; impressing upon his memory every detail--the rich appointments
of the room; the glittering lights; the gleaming silver and crystal; the
sparkling jewels and shimmering laces; the bare shoulders; the
wine-flushed faces and feverish eyes; and, in the seat of honor, the
disease-wasted form and repulsive, sin-marked countenance of Mr. Taine
who--almost unconscious with his exertion--was still feeding the last
flickering flame of his lustful life with the vision of the girl whose
beauty his toast had profaned: and in the midst of that
company--expressing as it did the spirit of an age that is ruled by
material wealth and dominated by the passions of the flesh--the center of
every eye, yet, still, in her purity and innocence, removed and apart from
them all; standing in her simple dress of white against the background of
flowers--the mountain girl with her violin--offering to them the highest,
holiest, gift of the gods--her music. Upon the girl's lovely, winsome
face, was a look, now, of troubled doubt. Her wide, blue eyes, as she
played, were pleading, questioning, half fearful--as though she sensed,
instinctively the presence of the spirit she could not understand; and
felt, in spite of the pretense of the applause that had greeted her, the
rejection of her offering.
Not only did the artist, in that moment of conception see his picture and
feel the forces that were expressed by every character in the composition,
but the title, even, came to him as clearly as if Conrad Lagrange had
uttered it aloud, "The Feast of Materialism."
Sibyl Andres finished her music, and quickly withdrew as if to escape the
noisy applause. Amid the sound of the clapping hands and boisterous
voices, Mr. Taine, summoning the last of his wasted strength, again
struggled to his feet. With those claw-like hands he held to the table for
support; while--shaking in every limb, his features twisted into a horrid,
leering grin--he looked from face to face of the hushed and silent
company; with glazed eyes in which the light that flickered so feebly was
still the light of an impotent lust.
Twice, the man essayed to speak, but could not. The room grew still as
death. Then, suddenly--as they looked--he lifted that yellow, skinny hand,
to his wrinkled, ape-like brow, and--partially loosing, thus, his
supporting grip upon the table--fell back, in a ghastly heap of diseased
flesh and fine raiment; in the midst of which blazed the great
diamond--as though the cold, pure beauty of the inanimate stone triumphed
in a life more vital than that of its wearer.
His servants carried the unconscious master of the house from the room.
Mrs. Taine, excusing herself, followed.
In the confusion that ensued, the musicians, hidden behind the floral
screen, struck up a lively air. Some of the guests made quiet preparations
for leaving. A group of those men--famous in the world of art and
letters--under the influence of the wine they had taken so freely, laughed
loudly at some coarse jest. Others, thinking, perhaps,--if they could be
said to think at all,--that their host's attack was not serious, renewed
conversations and bravely attempted to restore a semblance of animation to
the interrupted revelries.
Aaron King worked his way to the side of Conrad Lagrange, "For God's sake,
old man, let's get out of here."
"I'll find Rutlidge or Louise or some one," returned the other, and
As the artist waited, through the open door of an adjoining room, he
caught sight of Sibyl Andres; who, with her violin-case in her hand, was
about to leave. Obeying his impulse, he went to her.
"What in the world are you doing here?" he said almost roughly--extending
his hand to take the instrument she carried.
She seemed a little bewildered by his manner, but smiled as she retained
her violin. "I am here to earn my bread and butter, sir. What are you
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I did not mean to be rude."
She laughed, then, with a troubled air--"But is it not right for me to be
here? It is all right for me to play for these people, isn't it? Myra
didn't want me to come, but we needed the money, and Mrs. Taine was so
generous. I didn't tell you and Mr. Lagrange because I wanted the fun of
surprising you." As he stood looking at her so gravely, she put out her
hand impulsively to his arm. "What is it, oh, what is it? How have I done
"You have done no wrong, my dear girl," he answered "It is only that--"
He was interrupted by the cold, clear voice of Mrs. Taine, who had entered
the room, unnoticed by them. "I see you are going, Miss Andres.
Good-night. I will mail you a check to-morrow. Your music was very
satisfactory. An automobile is waiting to take you home. Good night."
Before Aaron King could speak, the girl was gone.
"Mr. Lagrange and I were just about to go," said the artist, as the woman
faced him. "I hope Mr. Taine has not suffered severely from the excitement
of the evening?"
The woman's cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were bright with feverish
excitement. Going close to him, she said in a low, hurried tone, "No, no,
you must not go. Mr. Taine is all right in his room. Every one else is
having a good time. You must not go. Come, I have had no opportunity, at
all, to have you to myself for a single moment. Come, I--"
As she had interrupted Aaron King's reply to Sibyl Andres, the cool,
sarcastic tones of Conrad Lagrange's deep voice interrupted her. "Mrs.
Taine, they are hunting for you all over the house. Your husband is
calling for you. I'm sure that Mr. King will excuse you, under the
In the Same Hour
In a splendid chamber, surrounded by every comfort and luxury that dollars
could buy, and attended by liveried servants, Mr. Taine was dying.
The physician who met Mrs. Taine at the door, answered her look of inquiry
with; "Your husband is very near the end, madam." Beside the bed, sat
Louise, wringing her hands and moaning. James Rutlidge stood near. Without
speaking, Mrs. Taine went forward.
The doctor, bending over his patient, with his fingers upon the
skeleton-like wrist, said, "Mr. Taine, Mr. Taine, your wife is here."
In response, the eyes, deep sunken under the wrinkled brow, opened; the
loosely hanging, sensual lips quivered.
The physician spoke again; "Your wife is here, Mr. Taine."
A sudden gleam of light flared up in the glazed eyes. The doctor could
have sworn that the lips were twisted into a shadow of a ghastly, mocking
smile. As if summoning, by a supreme effort of his will, from some
unguessed depths of his being, the last remnant of his remaining strength,
the man looked about the room and, in a hoarse whisper, said, "Send the
others away--everybody--but her."
"O papa, papa!" exclaimed poor Louise, protestingly.
"Never mind, daughter," came the whispered answer from the bed. "Try to be
game, girl--game as your father. Take her away, Jim."
As the physician passed Mrs. Taine, who had thus far stood like a statue,
seemingly incapable of thought or feeling or movement, he said in a low
tone, "I will be just outside the door, madam; easily within call."
When only the woman was left in the room with her husband, the dying man
spoke again; "Come here. Stand where I can see you."
Mechanically, she obeyed; moving to a position near the foot of the bed.
After a moment's silence, during which he seemed to be rallying the very
last of his vital forces for the effort, he said, "Well--the game is
played--out. You think--you're the winner. You're--wrong--damn you--you're
wrong. I wasn't--so drunk to-night that--I couldn't see." His face twisted
in a hideous, malicious grin. "You--love--that artist fellow.
Your--interest in his art is--all rot. It's _him_ you want--and you--you
have been thinking--you'd get him--with my money--the same as I got you.
But you won't. You've--lost him already. I'm glad--you love him--damn
glad--because--I know that after--what he's seen of me--even if he didn't
love--that mountain--girl, he wouldn't wipe--his feet on you. You've
tortured me--you've mocked--and sneered and laughed--at me--in my
suffering--you fiend--and I've--tried my damnedest--to pay you back. What
I couldn't do--the man you love--will--do for me. You'll suffer--now in
earnest. You thought you'd be a--sure winner--as soon--as I was out
of--the game. But you've lost--you've lost--you've lost! I saw your love
for him--in your--face to-night--as I have seen--it every time--you two
were together. I saw his love--for the girl--too--and I--saw--that
you--saw it. I--I--wouldn't--wouldn't die--until I'd told you--that I
knew." He paused to gather his strength for the last evil effort of his
The woman--who had stood, frozen with horror, her eyes fixed upon the face
of the dying man, as though under a dreadful spell--cowered before him,
livid with fear. Cringing, helpless--as though before some infernal
monster--she hid her face; while her husband, struggling for breath to
make her hear, called her every foul name he could master--derided her
with fiendish glee--mocked her, taunted her, cursed her--with words too
vile to print. With an oath and a profane wish for her future upon his
lips, the end came. The sensual mouth opened--the diseased wasted limbs
shuddered--the insane light in the lust-worn eyes went out.
With a scream, Mrs. Taine sank unconscious upon the floor beside the bed.
From the lower part of the house came the faint sounds of the few
* * * * *
When Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange left the house on Fairlands Heights
that night, they walked quickly, as though eager to escape from the
brilliantly lighted vicinity. Neither spoke until they were some distance
away. Then the novelist, checking his quick stride, pointed toward the
shadowy bulk of the mountains that heaved their mighty crests and peaks in
solemn grandeur high into the midnight sky.
"Well, boy," he said, "the mountains are still there. It's good to see
them again, isn't it?"
Reaching home, the older man bade his friend good night. But the artist,
declaring that he was not yet ready to turn in, went, with pipe and Czar
for company, to sit for a while on the porch.
Looking away over the dark mass of the orange groves to the distant peaks,
he lived over again, in his thoughts, those weeks of comradeship with
Sibyl Andres in the hills. Every incident of their friendship he
recalled--every hour they had spent together amid the scenes she
loved--reviewing every conversation--questioning searching, wondering,
Later, he went out into the rose garden--her garden--where the air was
fragrant with the perfume of the flowers she tended with such loving care.
In the soft, still darkness of the night, the place seemed haunted by her
presence. Quietly, he moved here and there among the roses--to the little
gate in the Ragged Robin hedge, through which she came and went; to the
vine-covered arbor where she had watched him at his work; and to the spot
where she had stood, day after day, with hands outstretched in greeting,
while he worked to make the colors and lines upon his canvas tell the
secret of her loveliness. He remembered how he had felt her presence in
those days when he had laughingly insisted to Conrad Lagrange that the
place was haunted. He remembered how, even when she was unknown to him,
her music had always moved him--how her message from the hills had seemed
to call to the best that was in him.
So it was, that, as he recalled these things,--as he lived again the days
of his companionship with her and realized how she had come into his life,
how she had appealed always to the best of him, and satisfied always his
best needs,--he came to know the answer to his questions--to his doubts
and fears and hopes. There, in the rose garden, with its dark walls of
hedge and vine and grove, in the still night under the stars, with his
face to the distant mountains, he knew that the mountain girl would not
deny him--that, when she was ready, she would come to him.
In the hour when Mr. Taine, with the last strength of his evil life,
profanely cursed the woman that his gold had bought to serve his
licentious will--and cursing--died; Aaron King--inspired by the character
and purity of the woman he loved, and by whom he knew he was loved, and
dreaming of their comradeship that was to be--dedicated himself anew to
the ministry of his art and so entered into that more abundant life which
belongs by divine right to all who will claim it.
But it was not given Aaron King to know that before Sibyl Andres could
come to him he must be tested by a trial that would tax his manhood's best
strength to the uttermost. In that night of his awakened love, as he
dreamed of the days of its realization, the man did not know that the days
of his testing were so near at hand.
As the World Sees
It was three days after the incidents just related when an automobile from
Fairlands Heights stopped at the home of Aaron King and the novelist.
Mrs. Taine, dressed in black and heavily veiled, went, alone, to the
house, where Yee Kee appeared in answer to her ring.
There was no one at home, the Chinaman said. He did not know where the
artist was. He had gone off somewhere with Mr. Lagrange and the dog.
Perhaps they would return in a few minutes; perhaps not until dinner time.
Mrs. Taine was exceedingly anxious to see Mr. King. She was going away,
and must see him, if possible, before she left. She would come in, and, if
Yee Kee would get her pen and paper, would write a little note,
explaining--in case she should miss him. The Chinaman silently placed the
writing material before her, and disappeared.
Before sitting down to her letter, the woman paced the floor restlessly,
in nervous agitation. Her face, when she had thrown back the veil,
appeared old and worn, with dark circles under the eyes, and a drawn look
to the weary, downward droop of the lips. As she moved about the room,
nervously fingering the books and trifles upon the table or the mantle,
she seemed beside herself with anxiety. She went to the window to stand
looking out as if hoping for the return of the artist. She went to the
open door of his bedroom, her hands clenched, her limbs trembling, her
face betraying the agony of her mind.
With Louise, she was leaving that evening, at four o'clock, for the
East--with the body of her husband. She could not go without seeing again
the man whom, as Mr. Taine had rightly said, she loved--loved with the
only love of which--because of her environment and life--she was capable.
She still believed in her power over him whose passion she had besieged
with all the lure of her physical beauty, but that which she had seen in
his face as he had watched the girl musician the night of the dinner,
filled her with fear. Presently, in her desperation, when the artist did
not return, she seated herself at the table to put upon paper, as best she
could, the things she had come to say.
Her letter finished, she looked at her watch. Calling the Chinaman, she
asked for a key to the studio, explaining that she wished to see her
picture. She still hoped for the artist's return and that her letter would
not be necessary. She hoped, too, that in her portrait, which she had not
yet seen, she might find some evidence of the painter's passion for her.
She had not forgotten his saying that he would put upon the canvas what he
thought of her, nor could she fail to recall his manner and her
interpretation of it as he had worked upon the picture.
In the studio, she stood before the easel, scarce daring to draw the
curtain. But, calling up in her mind the emotions and thoughts of the
hours she had spent in that room alone with the artist, she was made bold
by her reestablished belief in his passion and by her convictions that
were founded upon her own desires. Under the stimulating influence of her
thoughts, a flush of color stole into her cheeks, her eyes grew bright
with the light of triumphant anticipation. With an eager hand she boldly
drew aside the curtain.
The picture upon the easel was the artist's portrait of Sibyl Andres.
With an exclamation that was not unlike fear, Mrs. Taine drew back from
the canvas. Looking at the beautiful painting,--in which the artist had
pictured, with unconscious love and an almost religious fidelity, the
spirit of the girl who was so like the flowers among which she stood,--the
woman was moved by many conflicting emotions. Surprise, disappointment
admiration, envy, jealousy, sadness, regret, and anger swept over her.
Blinded by bitter tears, with a choking sob, in an agony of remorse and
shame, she turned away her face from the gaze of those pure eyes. Then, as
the flame of her passion withered her shame, hot rage dried her tears, and
she sprang forward with an animal-like fierceness, to destroy the picture.
But, even as she put forth her hand, she hesitated and drew back, afraid.
As she stood thus in doubt--halting between her impulse and her fear--a
sound at the door behind her drew her attention. She turned to face the
beautiful original of the portrait Instantly the woman of the world had
herself perfectly in hand.
Sibyl Andres drew back with an embarrassed, "I beg your pardon. I
thought--" and would have fled.
But Mrs. Taine, with perfect cordiality, said quickly, "O how do you do,
Miss Andres; come in."
She seemed so sincere in the welcome that was implied in her voice and
manner; while her face, together with her somber garb of mourning, was so
expressive of sadness and grief that the girl's gentle heart was touched.
Going forward, with that natural, dignity that belongs to those whose
minds and hearts are unsullied by habitual pretense of feeling and sham
emotions, Sibyl spoke a few well chosen words of sympathy.
Mrs. Taine received the girl's expression of condolence with a manner that
was perfect in its semblance of carefully controlled sorrow and grief, yet
managed, skillfully, to suggest the wide social distance that separated
the widow of Mr. Taine from the unknown, mountain girl. Then, as if
courageously determined not to dwell upon her bereavement, she said, "I
was just looking, again, at Mr. King's picture--for which you posed. It is
beautiful, isn't it? He told me that you were an exceptionally clever
model--quite the best he has ever had."
The girl--disarmed by her own genuine feeling of sympathy for the
speaker--was troubled at something that seemed to lie beneath the kindly
words of the experienced woman. "To me, it is beautiful," she returned
doubtfully. "But, of course, I don't know. Mr. Lagrange thinks, though,
that it is really a splendid portrait."
Mrs. Taine smiled with a confident air, as one might smile at a child.
"Mr. Lagrange, my dear, is a famous novelist--but he really knows very
little of pictures."
"Perhaps you are right," returned Sibyl, simply. "But the picture is not
to be shown as a portrait of me, at all."
Again, that knowing smile. "So I understand, of course. Under the
circumstances, you would scarcely expect it, would you?"
Sibyl, not in the least understanding what the woman meant, answered
doubtfully, "No. I--I did not wish it shown as my portrait."
Mrs. Taine, studying the girl's face, became very earnest in her kindly
interest; as if, moved out of the goodness of her heart, she stooped from
her high place to advise and counsel one of her own sex, who was so wholly
ignorant of the world. "I fear, my dear, that you know very little of
artists and their methods."
To which the girl replied, "I never knew an artist before I met Mr. King,
this summer, in the mountains."
Still watching her face closely, Mrs. Taine said, with gentle solicitude,
"May I tell you something for your own good, Miss Andres?"
"Certainly, if you please, Mrs. Taine."
"An artist," said the older woman, carefully, with an air of positive
knowledge, "must find the subjects for his pictures in life. As he goes
about, he is constantly on the look-out for new faces or figures that
are of interest to him--or, that may be used by him to make pictures
of interest. The subjects--or, I should say, the people who pose for
him--are nothing at all to the artist--aside from his picture, you
see--no more than his paints and brushes and canvas. Often, they are
professional models, whom he hires as one hires any sort of service,
you know. Sometimes--" she paused as if hesitating, then continued
gently--"sometimes they are people like yourself, who happen to appeal
to his artistic fancy, and whom he can persuade to pose for him."
The girl's face was white. She stared at the woman with pleading,
frightened dismay. She made a pitiful attempt to speak, but could not.
The older woman, watching her, continued, "Forgive me, dear child. I do
not wish to hurt you. But Mr. King is _so_ careless. I told him he should
be careful that you did not misunderstand his interest in you. But he
laughed at me. He said that it was your _innocence_ that he wanted to
paint, and cautioned me not to warn you until his picture was finished."
She turned to look at the picture on the easel with the air of a critic.
"He really _has_ caught it very well. Aaron--Mr. King is so good at that
sort of thing. He never permits his models to know exactly what he is
after, you see, but leads them, cleverly, to exhibit, unconsciously, the
particular thing that he wishes to get into his picture."
When the tortured girl had been given time to grasp the full import of her
words, the woman said again,--turning toward Sibyl, as she spoke, with a
smiling air that was intended to show the intimacy between herself and the
artist,--"Have you seen his portrait of me?"
"No," faltered Sibyl. "Mr. King told me not to look at it. It has always
been covered when I have been in the studio."
Again, Mrs. Taine smiled, as though there was some reason, known only to
herself and the painter, why he did not wish the girl to see the portrait.
"And do you come to the studio often--alone as you came to-day?" she
asked, still kindly, as though from her experience she was seeking to
counsel the girl. "I mean--have you been coming since the picture for
which you posed was finished?"
The girl's white cheeks grew red with embarrassment and shame as she
answered, falteringly, "Yes."
"You poor child! Really, I must scold Aaron for this. After my warning
him, too, that people were talking about his intimacy with you in the
mountains It is quite too bad of him! He will ruin himself, if he is not
more careful." She seemed sincerely troubled over the situation.
"I--I do not understand, Mrs. Taine," faltered Sibyl. "Do you mean that
my--that Mr. King's friendship for me has harmed him? That I--that it is
wrong for me to come here?"
"Surely, Miss Andres, you must understand what I mean."
"No, I--I do not know. Tell me, please."
Mrs. Taine hesitated as though reluctant. Then, as if forced by her sense
of duty, she spoke. "The truth is, my dear, that your being with Mr. King
in the mountains--going to his camp as familiarly as you did, and spending
so much time alone with him in the hills--and then your coming here so
often, has led people to say unpleasant things."
"But what do people say?" persisted Sibyl.
The answer came with cruel deliberateness; "That you are not only Mr.
King's model, but that you are his mistress as well."
Sibyl Andres shrank back from the woman as though she had received a blow
in the face. Her cheeks and brow and neck were crimson. With a little cry,
she buried her face in her hands.
The kind voice of the older woman continued, "You see, dear, whether it is
true or not, the effect is exactly the same. If in the eyes of the world
your relations to Mr. King are--are wrong, it is as bad as though it were
actually true. I felt that I must tell you, child, not alone for your own
good but for the sake of Mr. King and his work--for the sake of his
position in the world. Frankly, if you continue to compromise him and his
good name by coming like this to his studio, it will ruin him. The world
may not care particularly whether Mr. King keeps a mistress or not, but
people will not countenance his open association with her, even under the
pretext that she is a model."
As she finished, Mrs. Taine looked at her watch. "Dear me, I really must
be going. I have already spent more time than I intended. Good-by, Miss
Andres. I know you will forgive me if I have hurt you."
The girl looked at her with the pain and terror filled eyes of some
gentle wild creature that can not understand the cruelty of the trap that
holds it fast. "Yes--yes, I--I suppose you know best. You must know more
than I. I--thank you, Mrs. Taine. I--"
When Mrs. Taine was gone, Sibyl Andres sat for a little while before her
portrait; wondering, dumbly, at the happiness of that face upon the
canvas. There were no tears. She could not cry. Her eyes burned hot and
dry. Her lips were parched. Rising, she drew the curtain carefully to hide
the picture, and started toward the door. She paused. Going to the easel
that held the other picture, she laid her hand upon the curtain. Again,
she paused. Aaron King had said that she must not look at that
picture--Conrad Lagrange had said that she must not--why? She did not know
Perhaps--if the mountain girl had drawn aside the curtain and had looked
upon the face of Mrs. Taine as Aaron King had painted it--perhaps the rest
of my story would not have happened.
But, true to the wish of her friends, even in her misery, Sibyl Andres
held her hand. At the door of the studio, she turned again, to look long
and lingeringly about the room. Then she went out, closing and locking the
door, and leaving the key on a hidden nail, as her custom was.
Going slowly, lingeringly, through the rose garden to the little gate in
the hedge, she disappeared in the orange grove.
Aaron King and Conrad Lagrange, returning from a long walk, overtook Myra
Willard, who was returning from town, just as the woman of the disfigured
face arrived at the gate of the little house in the orange grove. For a
moment, the three stood chatting--as neighbors will,--then the two men
went on to their own home. Czar, racing ahead, announced their coming to
Yee Kee and the Chinaman met them as they entered the living-room. Telling
them of Mrs. Taine's visit, he gave Aaron King the letter that she had
left for him.
As the artist, conscious of the scrutinizing gaze of his friend, read the
closely written pages, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment and shame.
When he had finished, he faced the novelist's eyes steadily and, without
speaking, deliberately and methodically tore Mrs. Taine's letter into tiny
fragments. Dropping the scraps of paper into the waste basket, he dusted
his hands together with a significant gesture and looked at his watch.
"Her train left at four o'clock. It is now four-thirty."
"For which," returned Conrad Lagrange, solemnly, "let us give thanks."
As the novelist spoke, Czar, on the porch outside, gave a low "woof" that
signalized the approach of a friend.
Looking through the open door, they saw Myra Willard coming hurriedly up
the walk. They could see that the woman was greatly agitated, and went
quicklv forward to meet her.
Women of Myra Willard's strength of character--particularly those who have
passed through the furnace of some terrible experience as she so
evidently had--are not given to loud, uncontrolled expression of emotion.
That she was alarmed and troubled was evident. Her face was white, her
eyes were frightened and she trembled so that Aaron King helped her to a
seat; but she told them clearly, with no unnecessary, hysterical
exclamations, what had happened. Upon entering the house, after parting
from the two men at the gate, a few minutes before, she had found a letter
from Sibyl. The girl was gone.
As she spoke, she handed the letter to Conrad Lagrange who read it and
gave it to the artist. It was a pitiful little note--rather vague--saying
only that she must go away at once; assuring Myra that she had not meant
to do wrong; asking her to tell Mr. King and the novelist good-by; and
begging the artist's forgiveness that she had not understood.
Aaron King looked from the letter in his hand to the faces of his two
friends, in consternation. "Do you understand this, Miss Willard?" he
asked, when he could speak.
The woman shook her head. "Only that something has happened to make the
child think that her friendship with you has injured you; and that she has
gone away for your sake. She--she thought so much of you, Mr. King."
"And I--I love her, Miss Willard. I should have told you soon. I tell you
now to reassure you. I love her."
Aaron King made his declaration to his two friends with a simple dignity,
but with a feeling that thrilled them with the force of his earnestness
and the purity and strength of his passion.
Conrad Lagrange--world-worn, scarred by his years of contact with the
unclean, the vicious, and debasing passions of mankind--grasped the young
man's hand, while his eyes shone with an emotion his habitual reserve
could not conceal. "I'm glad for you, Aaron"--he said, adding
reverently--"as your mother would be glad."
"I have known that you would tell me this, sometime Mr. King," said Myra
Willard. "I knew it, I think, before you, yourself, realized; and I, too,
am glad--glad for my girl, because I know what such a love will mean to
her. But why--why has she gone like this? Where has she gone? Oh, my girl,
my girl!" For a moment, the distracted woman was on the point of breaking
down; but with an effort of her will, she controlled herself.
"It's clear enough what has sent her away," growled Conrad Lagrange, with
a warning glance to the artist. "Some one has filled her mind with the
notion that her friendship with Aaron has been causing talk. I think
there's no doubt as to where she's gone."
"You mean the mountains?" asked Myra Willard, quickly.
"Yes. I'd stake my life that she has gone straight to Brian Oakley. Think!
Where else _would_ she go?"
"She has sometimes borrowed a saddle-horse from your neighbor up the road,
hasn't she, Miss Willard?" asked Aaron King.
"Yes. I'll run over there at once."
Conrad Lagrange spoke quickly; "Don't let them think anything unusual has
happened. We'll go over to your house and wait for you there."
Fifteen minutes later, Myra Willard returned. Sibyl had borrowed the
horse; asking them if she might keep it until the next day. She did not
say where she was going. She had left about four o'clock.
"That will put her at Brian's by nine," said the novelist.
"And I will arrive there about the same time," added Aaron King, eagerly.
"It's now five-thirty. She has an hour's start; but I'll ride an hour
"With an automobile you could overtake her," said Myra Willard.
"I know," returned the artist, "but if I take a horse, we can ride back
He started through the grove, toward the other house, on a run.
The Mysterious Disappearance
By the time Aaron King had found a saddle-horse and was ready to start on
his ride, it was six o'clock.
Granting that Conrad Lagrange was right in his supposition that the girl
had left with the intention of going to Brian Oakley's, the artist could
scarcely, now, hope to arrive at the Ranger Station until some time after
Sibyl had reached the home of her friends--unless she should stop
somewhere on the way, which he did not think likely. Once, as he realized
how the minutes were slipping away, he was on the point of reconsidering
his reply to Myra Willard's suggestion that he take an automobile. Then,
telling himself that he would surely find Sibyl at the Station and
thinking of the return trip with her, he determined to carry out his first
But when he was finally on the road, he did not ride with less haste
because he no longer expected to overtake Sibyl. In spite of his
reassuring himself, again and again, that the girl he loved was safe, his
mind was too disturbed by the situation to permit of his riding leisurely.
Beyond the outskirts of the city, with his horse warmed to its work, the
artist pushed his mount harder and harder until the animal reached the
limit of a pace that its rider felt it could endure for the distance they
had to go. Over the way that he and Conrad Lagrange had walked with Czar
and Croesus so leisurely, he went, now, with such hot haste that the
people in the homes in the orange groves, sitting down to their evening
meal, paused to listen to the sharp, ringing beat of the galloping hoofs.
Two or three travelers, as he passed, watched him out of sight, with
wondering gaze. Those he met, turned their heads to look after him.
Aaron King's thoughts, as he rode, kept pace with his horse's flying feet.
The points along the way, where he and the famous novelist had stopped to
rest, and to enjoy the beauty of the scene, recalled vividly to his mind
all that those weeks in the mountains had brought to him. Backward from
that day when he had for the first time set his face toward the hills, his
mind traveled--almost from day to day--until he stood, again, in that
impoverished home of his boyhood to which he had been summoned from his
studies abroad. As he urged his laboring horse forward, in the eagerness
and anxiety of his love for Sibyl Andres, he lived again that hour when
his dying mother told her faltering story of his father's dishonor; when
he knew, for the first time, her life of devotion to him, and learned of
her sacrifice--even unto poverty--that he might, unhampered, be fitted for
his life work; and when, receiving his inheritance, he had made his solemn
promise that the purpose and passion of his mother's years of sacrifice
should, in him and in his work, be fulfilled. One by one, he retraced the
steps that had led to his understanding that only a true and noble art
could ever make good that promise. Not by winning the poor notice of the
little passing day, alone; not by gaining the applause of the thoughtless
crowd; not by winning the rewards bestowed by the self-appointed judges
and patrons of the arts; but by a true, honest, and fearless giving of
himself in his work, regardless alike of praise or blame--by saying the
thing that was given him to say, because it was given him to say--would he
keep that which his mother had committed to him. As mile after mile of the
distance that lay between him and the girl he loved was put behind him in
his race to her side, it was given him to understand--as never
before--how, first the friendship of the world-wearied man who had,
himself, profaned his art; and then, the comradeship of that one whose
life was so unspotted by the world; had helped him to a true and vital
conception of his ministry of color and line and brush and canvas.
It was twilight when the artist reached the spot where the road crosses
the tumbling stream--the spot where he and Conrad Lagrange had slept at
the foot of the mountains. Where the road curves toward the creek, the
man, without checking his pace, turned his head to look back upon the
valley that, far below, was fast being lost in the gathering dusk. In its
weird and gloomy mystery,--with its hidden life revealed only by the
sparkling, twinkling lights of the towns and cities,--it was suggestive,
now, to his artist mind, of the life that had so nearly caught him in its
glittering sensual snare. A moment later, he lifted his eyes to the
mountain peaks ahead that, still in the light of the western sun, glowed
as though brushed with living fire. Against the sky, he could distinguish
that peak in the Galena range, with the clump of pines, where he had sat
with Sibyl Andres that day when she had tried to make him see the train
that had brought him to Fairlands.
He wondered now, as he rode, why he had not realized his love for the
girl, before they left the hills. It seemed to him, now, that his love was
born that evening when he had first heard her violin, as he was fishing;
when he had watched her from the cedar thicket, as she made her music of
the mountains and as she danced in the grassy yard. Why, he asked himself,
had he not been conscious of his love in those days when she came to him
in the spring glade, and in the days that followed? Why had he not known,
when he painted her portrait in the rose garden? Why had the awakening not
come until that night when he saw her in the company of revelers at the
big house on Fairlands Heights--the night that Mr. Taine died?
It was dark before he reached the canyon gates. In the blackness of the
gorge, with only the light of a narrow strip of stars overhead, he was
forced to ride more slowly. But his confidence that he would find her at
the Ranger Station had increased as he approached the scenes of her
girlhood home. To go to her friends, seemed so inevitably the thing that
she would do. A few miles farther, now, and he would see her. He would
tell her why he had come. He would claim the love that he knew was his.
And so, with a better heart, he permitted his tired horse to slacken the
pace. He even smiled to think of her surprise when she should see him.
It was a little past nine o'clock when the artist saw, through the trees,
the lights in the windows at the Station, and dismounted to open the gate.
Hiding up to the house, he gave the old familiar hail, "Whoo-e-e." The
door opened, and with the flood of light that streamed out came the tall
form of Brian Oakley.
"Hello! Seems to me I ought to know that voice."
The artist laughed nervously. "It's me, all right, Brian--what there is
left of me."
"Aaron King, by all that's holy!" cried the Ranger, coming quickly down
the steps and toward the shadowy horseman. "What's the matter? Anything
wrong with Sibyl or Myra Willard? What brings you up here, this time of
Aaron King heard the questions with sinking heart. But so certain had he
come to feel that the girl would be at the Station, that he said
mechanically, as he dropped wearily from his horse to grasp his friend's
hand, "I followed Sibyl. How long has she been here?"
Brian Oakley spoke quickly; "Sibyl is not here, Aaron."
The artist caught the Ranger's arm. "Do you mean, Brian, that she has not
been here to-day?"
"She has not been here," returned the officer, coolly.
"Good God!" exclaimed the other, stunned and bewildered by the positive
words. Blindly, he turned toward his horse.
Brian Oakley, stepping forward, put his hand on the artist's shoulder.
"Come, old man, pull yourself together and let a little light in on this
matter," he said calmly. "Tell me what has happened. Why did you expect to
find Sibyl here?"
When Aaron King had finished his story, the other said, still without
excitement, "Come into the house. You're about all in. I heard Doctor
Gordan's 'auto' going up the canyon to Morton's about an hour ago. Their
baby's sick. If Sibyl was on the road, he would have passed her. I'll
throw the saddle on Max, and we'll run over there and see what he knows.
But first, you've got to have a bite to eat."
The young man protested but the Ranger said firmly, "You can eat while I
saddle; come. I wish Mary was home," he added, as he set out some cold
meat and bread. "She is in Los Angeles with her sister. I'll call you when
I'm ready." He spoke the last word from the door as he went out.
The artist tried to eat; but with little success. He was again mounted and
ready to go when the Ranger rode up from the barn on the chestnut.
When they reached the point where the road to Morton's ranch leaves the
main canyon road, Brian Oakley said, "It's barely possible that she went
on up to Carleton's. But I think we better go to Morton's and see the
Doctor first. We don't want to miss him. Did you meet any one as you came
up? I mean after you got within two or three miles of the mouth of the
"No," replied the other. "Why?"
"A man on a horse passed the Station about seven o'clock, going down.
Where did the Doctor pass you?"
"He didn't pass me."
"What?" said the Ranger, sharply.
"No one passed me after I left Fairlands."
"Hu-m-m. If Doc left town before you, he must have had a puncture or
something, or he would have passed the Station before he did."
It was ten o'clock when the two men arrived at the Morton ranch.
"We don't want to start any excitement," said the officer, as they drew
rein at the corral gate. "You stay here and I'll drop in--casual like."
It seemed to Aaron King, waiting in the darkness, that his companion was
gone for hours. In reality, it was only a few minutes until the Ranger
returned. He was walking quickly, and, springing into the saddle he
started the chestnut off at a sharp lope.
"The baby is better," he said. "Doctor was here this afternoon--started
home about two o'clock. That 'auto' must have gone on up the canyon.
Morton knew nothing of the man on horseback who went down. We'll cut
across to Carleton's."
Presently, the Ranger swung the chestnut aside from the wagon road, to
follow a narrow trail through the chaparral. To the artist, the little
path in the darkness was invisible, but he gave his horse the rein and
followed the shadowy form ahead. Three-quarters of an hour later, they
came out into the main road, again; near the Carleton ranch corral, a mile
and a half below the old camp in the sycamores behind the orchard of the
It was now eleven o'clock and the ranch-house was dark. Without
dismounting, Brian Oakley called, "Hello, Henry!" There was no answer.
Moving his horse close to the window of the room where he knew the rancher
slept, the Ranger tapped on the sash. "Henry, turn out; I want to see you;
A moment later the sash was raised and Carleton asked, "What is it, Brian?
"Is Sibyl stopping with you folks, to-night?"
"Sibyl! Haven't seen her since they went down from their summer camp.
What's the matter?"
Briefly, the Ranger explained the situation. The rancher interrupted only
to greet the artist with a "howdy, Mr. King," as the officer's words made
known the identity of his companion.
When Brian Oakley had concluded, the rancher said, "I heard that 'auto'
going up, and then heard it going back down, again, about an hour ago. You
missed it by turning off to Morton's. If you'd come on straight up here
you'd a met it."
"Did you see the man on horseback, going down, just before dusk?" asked
"Yes, but not near enough to know him. You don't suppose Sibyl would go up
to her old home do you, Brian?"
"She might, under the circumstances. Aaron and I will ride up there, on
"You'll stop in on your way back?" called the rancher, as the two horsemen
"Sure," answered the Ranger.
An hour later, they were back. They had found the old home under the giant
sycamores, on the edge of the little clearing, dark and untenanted.
Lights were shining, now, from the windows of the Carleton ranch-house.
Down at the corral, the twinkling gleam of a lantern bobbed here and
there. As the Ranger and his companion drew near, the lantern came rapidly
up the hill. At the porch, they were met by Henry Carleton, his two sons,
and a ranch hand. As the four stood in the light of the window, and of the
lantern on the porch, listening to Brian Oakley's report, each held the
bridle-reins of a saddle-horse.
"I figured that the chance of her being up there was so mighty slim that
we'd better be ready to ride when you got back," said the mountain
ranchman. "What's your program, Brian?" Thus simply he put himself and his
household in command of the Ranger.
The officer turned to the eldest son, "Jack, you've got the fastest horse
in the outfit. I want you to go down to the Power-House and find out if
any one there saw Sibyl anywhere on the road. You see," he explained to
the group, "we don't know for sure, yet, that she came into the mountains.
While I haven't a doubt but she did, we've got to know."
Jack Carleton was in the saddle as the Ranger finished The officer turned
to him again. "Find out what you can about that automobile and the man on
horseback. We'll be at the Station when you get back." There was a sharp
clatter of iron-shod hoofs, and the rider disappeared in the darkness of
The other members of the little party rode more leisurely down the canyon
road to the Ranger Station. When they arrived at the house, Brian Oakley
said, "Make yourselves easy, boys. I'm going to write a little note." He
went into the house where, as they sat on the porch, they saw him through
the window, his desk.
The Ranger had finished his letter and with the sealed official envelope
in his hand, appeared in the doorway when his messenger to the Power-House
returned. Without dismounting, the rider reined his horse up to the porch.
"Good time, Jack," said the officer, quietly.