Part 7 out of 7
solve the mystery of that automobile and Jim Rutlidge's disappearance."
A half mile from Granite Peak, they met Jack Carleton and, by dark, as
Brian Oakley had said, were safely down to the head of Clear Creek; having
come by routes, known to the Ranger, that were easier and shorter than the
roundabout way followed by the convict and the girl.
It was just past midnight when the three friends parted from young
Carleton and crossed the canyon to Sibyl's old home.
Facing the Truth
As Brian Oakley had predicted, the disappearance of James Rutlidge
occupied columns in the newspapers, from coast to coast. In every article
he was headlined as "A Distinguished Citizen;" "A Famous Critic;" "A
Prominent Figure in the World of Art;" "One of the Greatest Living
Authorities;" "Leader in the Modern School;" "Of Powerful Influence Upon
the Artistic Production of the Age." The story of the unknown mountain
girl's abduction and escape was a news item of a single day; but the
disappearance of James Rutlidge kept the press busy for weeks. It may be
dismissed here with the simple statement that the mystery has never been
Of the unknown man who had taken Sibyl away into the mountains, and who
had escaped, the world has never heard. Of the convict who died but did
not die in the hills, the world knows nothing. That is, the world knows
nothing of the man in this connection. But Aaron and Sibyl, some years
later, knew what became of Henry Marston--which does not, at all, belong
to this story.
Upon his return with Conrad Lagrange to their home in the orange groves,
Aaron King plunged into his work with a purpose very different from the
motive that had prompted him when first he took up his brushes in the
studio that looked out upon the mountains and the rose garden.
Day after day, as he gave himself to his great picture,--"The Feast of
Materialism,"--he knew the joy of the worker who, in his art, surrenders
himself to a noble purpose--a joy that is very different from the light,
passing pleasure that comes from the mere exercise of technical skill. The
artist did not, now, need to drive himself to his task, as the begging
musician on the street corner forces himself to play to the passing crowd,
for the pennies that are dropped in his tin cup. Rather was he driven by
the conviction of a great truth, and by the realization of its woeful need
in the world, to such adequate expression as his mastery of the tools of
his craft would permit He was not, now, the slave of his technical
knowledge; striving to produce a something that should be merely
technically good. He was a master, compelling the medium of his art to
serve him; as he, in turn, was compelled to serve the truth that had
Sometimes, with Conrad Lagrange, he went for an evening hour to the little
house next door. Sometimes Sibyl and Myra Willard would drop in at the
studio, in the afternoon. The girl never, now, came alone. But every day,
as the artist worked, the music of her violin came to him, out of the
orange grove, with its message from the hills. And the painter at his
easel, reading aright the message, worked and waited; knowing surely that
when she was ready she would come.
Letters from Mrs. Taine were frequent. Aaron King, reading them--nearly
always under the quizzing eyes of Conrad Lagrange, whose custom it was to
bring the daily mail--carefully tore them into little pieces and dropped
them into the waste basket, without comment.
Once, the novelist asked with mock gravity, "Have you no thought for the
day of judgment, young man? Do you not know that your sins will surely
find you out?"
The artist laughed. "It is so written in the law, I believe."
The other continued solemnly, "Your recklessness is only hastening the
end. If you don't answer those letters you will be forced, shortly, to
meet the consequences face to face."
"I suppose so," returned the painter, indifferently. "But I have my answer
ready, you know."
"You mean that portrait?"
The novelist laughed grimly. "I think it will do the trick. But, believe
me, there will be consequences!"
The artist was in his studio, at work upon the big picture, when Mrs.
Taine called, the day of her return to Fairlands.
It was well on in the afternoon. Conrad Lagrange and Czar had started for
a walk, but had gone, as usual, only as far as the neighboring house. Yee
Kee, meeting Mrs. Taine at the door, explained, doubtfully, that the
artist was at his work. He would go tell Mr. King that Mrs. Taine was
"Never mind, Kee. I will tell him myself," she answered; and, before the
Chinaman could protest, she was on her way to the studio.
"Damn!" said the Celestial eloquently; and retired to his kitchen to
ruminate upon the ways of "Mellican women."
Mrs. Taine pushed open the door of the studio, so quietly, that the
painter, standing at his easel and engrossed with his work, did not notice
her presence. For several moments the woman stood watching him, paying no
heed to the picture, seeing only the man. When he did not look around, she
said, "Are you too busy to even _look_ at me?"
With an exclamation, he faced her; then, as quickly, turned again; with
hand outstretched to draw the easel curtain. But, as though obeying a
second thought that came quickly upon the heels of the first impulse, he
did not complete the movement. Instead, he laid his palette and brushes
beside his color-box, and greeted her with, "How do you do, Mrs. Taine?
When did you return to Fairlands? Is Miss Taine with you?"
"Louise is abroad," she answered. "I--I preferred California. I arrived
this afternoon." She went a step toward him. "You--you don't seem very
glad to see me."
The painter colored, but she continued impulsively, without waiting for
his reply. "If you only knew all that I have been doing for you!--the
wires I have pulled; the influences I have interested; the critics and
newspaper men that I have talked to! Of course I couldn't do anything in a
large public way, so soon after Mr. Taine's death, you know; but I have
been busy, just the same, and everything is fixed. When our picture is
exhibited next season, you will find yourself not only a famous painter,
but a social success as well." She paused. When he still did not speak,
she went on, with an air of troubled sadness; "I _do_ miss Jim's help
though. Isn't it frightful the way he disappeared? Where do you suppose he
is? I can't--I won't--believe that anything has happened to him. It's all
just one of his schemes to get himself talked about. You'll see that he
will appear again, safe and sound, when the papers stop filling their
columns about him. I know Jim Rutlidge, too well."
Aaron King thought of those bones, picked bare by the carrion birds, at
the foot of the cliff. "It seems to be one of the mysteries of the day,"
he said. "Commonplace enough, no doubt, if one only had the key to it."
Mrs. Taine had evidently not been in Fairlands long enough to hear the
story of Sibyl's disappearance--for which the artist mentally gave thanks.
"I am glad for one thing," continued the woman, her mind intent upon the
main purpose of her call. "Jim had already written a splendid criticism of
your picture--before he went away--and I have it. All this newspaper talk
about him will only help to attract attention to what he has said about
_you._ They are saying such nice things of him and his devotion to art,
you know--it is all bound to help you." She waited for his approval, and
for some expression of his gratitude.
"I fear, Mrs. Taine," he said slowly, "that you are making a mistake."
She laughed nervously, and answered with forced gaiety. "Not me. I'm too
old a hand at the game not to know just how far I dare or dare not go."
"I do not mean that"--he returned--"I mean that I can not do my part. I
fear you are mistaken in me."
Again, she laughed. "What nonsense! I like for you to be modest, of
course--that will be one of your greatest charms. But if you are worried
about the quality of your work--forget it, my dear boy. Once I have made
you the rage, no one will stop to think whether your pictures are good or
bad. The art is not in what you do, but in how you get it before the
world. Ask Conrad Lagrange if I am not right."
"As to that," returned the artist, "Mr. Lagrange agrees with you,
"But what is this that you are doing now? Will it be ready for the
exhibition too?" She looked past him, at the big canvas; and he, watching
her curiously stepped aside.
Parts of the picture were little more than sketched in, but still, line
and color spoke with accusing truth the spirit of the company that had
gathered at the banquet in the home on Fairlands Heights, the night of Mr.
Taine's death. The figures were not portraits, it is true, but they
expressed with striking fidelity, the lives and characters of those who
had, that night, been assembled by Mrs. Taine to meet the artist. The
figure in the picture, standing with uplifted glass and drunken pose at
the head of the table--with bestial, lust-worn face, disease-shrunken
limbs, and dying, licentious eyes fixed upon the beautiful girl
musician--might easily have been Mr. Taine himself. The distinguished
writers, and critics; the representatives of the social world and of
wealth; Conrad Lagrange with cold, cynical, mocking, smile; Mrs. Taine
with her pretense of modest dress that only emphasized her immodesty; and,
in the midst of the unclean minded crew, the lovely innocence and the
unconscious purity of the mountain girl with her violin, offering to them
that which they were incapable of receiving--it was all there upon the
canvas, as the artist had seen it that night. The picture cried aloud the
intellectual degradation and the spiritual depravity of that class who,
arrogating to themselves the authority of leaders in culture and art, by
their approval and patronage of dangerous falsehood and sham in picture or
story, make possible such characters as James Rutlidge.
Aaron King, watching Mrs. Taine as she looked at the picture on the easel,
saw a look of doubt and uncertainty come over her face. Once, she turned
toward him, as if to speak; but, without a word, looked again at the
canvas. She seemed perplexed and puzzled, as though she caught glimpses of
something in the picture that she did not rightly understand Then, as she
looked, her eyes kindled with contemptuous scorn, and there was a
pronounced sneer in her cold tones as she said, "Really, I don't believe I
care for you to do this sort of thing." She laughed shortly. "It reminds
one a little of that dinner at our house. Don't you think? It's the girl
with the violin, I suppose."
"There are no portraits in it, Mrs. Taine," said the artist, quietly.
"No? Well, I think you'd better stick to your portraits. This is a great
picture though," she admitted thoughtfully. "It, it grips you so. I can't
seem to get away from it. I can see that it will create a sensation. But
just the same, I don't like it. It's not nice, like your portrait of me.
By the way"--and she turned eagerly from the big canvas as though glad to
escape a distasteful subject--"do you remember that I have never seen my
picture yet? Where do you keep it?"
The painter indicated another easel, near the one upon which he was at
work, "It is there, Mrs. Taine."
"Oh," she said with a pleased smile. "You keep it on the easel, still!"
Playfully, she added, "Do you look at it often?--that you have it so
"Yes," said the artist, "I must admit that I have looked at it
frequently." He did not explain why he looked at her portrait while he was
working upon the larger picture.
"How nice of you," she answered "Please let me see it now. I remember when
you wanted to repaint it, you said you would put on the canvas just what
you thought of me; have you? I wonder!"
"I would rather that you judge for yourself, Mrs. Taine," he answered, and
drew the curtain that hid the painting.
As the woman looked upon that portrait of herself, into which Aaron King
had painted, with all the skill at his command, everything that he had
seen in her face as she posed for him, she stood a moment as though
stunned. Then, with a gesture of horror and shame, she shrank back, as
though the painted thing accused her of being what, indeed, she really
Turning to the artist, imploringly, she whispered, "Is it--is it--true? Am
I--am I _that_?"
Aaron King, remembering how she had sent the girl he loved so nearly to a
shameful end, and thinking of those bones at the foot of the cliff,
answered justly; "At least, madam, there is more truth in that picture
than in the things you said to Miss Andres, here in this room, the day you
Her face went white with quick rage, but, controling herself, she said,
"And where is the picture of your _mistress_? I should like to see it
"Gladly, madam," returned the artist. "Because you are a woman, it is the
only answer I can make to your charge; which, permit me to say, is as
false as that portrait of you is true."
Quickly he pushed another easel to a position beside the one that held
Mrs. Taine's portrait, and drew the curtain.
The effect, for a moment, silenced even Mrs. Taine--but only for a moment.
A character that is the product of certain years of schooling in the
thought and spirit of the class in which Mrs. Taine belonged, is not
transformed by a single exhibition of painted truth. From the two
portraits, the woman turned to the larger canvas. Then she faced the
"You fool!" she said with bitter rage. "O you fool! Do you think that you
will ever be permitted to exhibit such trash as this?" she waved her hand
to include the three paintings. "Do you think that I am going to drag
you up the ladder of social position to fame and to wealth for such
reward as that?" she singled out her own portrait. "Bah! you are
impossible--impossible! I have been mad to think that I could make
anything out of you. As for your idiotic claim that you have painted the
truth--" She seized a large palette knife that lay with the artist's tools
upon the table, and springing to her portrait, hacked and mutilated the
canvas. The artist stood motionless making no effort to stop her. When the
picture was utterly defaced she threw it at his feet. "_That_, for your
truth, Mr. King!" With a quick motion, she turned toward the other
But the artist, who had guessed her purpose, caught her hand. "That
picture was yours, madam--this one is mine." There was a significant ring
of triumph in his voice.
Neither Aaron King nor Mrs. Taine had noticed three people who had entered
the rose garden, from the orange grove, through the little gate in the
corner of the hedge. Conrad Lagrange, Myra Willard and Sibyl were going to
the studio; deliberately bent upon interrupting the artist at his work.
They sometimes--as Conrad Lagrange put it--made, thus, a life-saving crew
of three; dragging the painter to safety when the waves of inspiration
were about to overwhelm him. Czar, of course, took an active part in these
As the three friends approached the trellised arch that opened from the
garden into the yard, a few feet from the studio door, the sound of Mrs.
Taine's angry voice, came clearly through the open window.
Conrad Lagrange stopped. "Evidently, Mr. King has company," he said,
"It is Mrs. Taine, is it not?" asked Sibyl, quietly, recognizing the
"Yes," answered the novelist.
The woman with the disfigured face said hurriedly, "Come, Sibyl, we must
go back. We will not disturb Mr. King, now, Mr. Lagrange. You two come
over this evening." They saw her face white and frightened.
"I believe I'll go back with you, if you don't mind," returned Conrad
Lagrange, with his twisted grin; "I don't think I want any of that in
there, either." To the dog who was moving toward the studio door, he
added; "Here, Czar, you mustn't interrupt the lady. You're not in her
They were moving away, when Mrs. Taine's voice came again, clearly and
distinctly, through the window.
"Oh, very well. I wish you joy of your possession. I promise you, though,
that the world shall never hear of this portrait of your mistress. If you
dare try to exhibit it, I shall see that the people to whom you must look
for your patronage know how you found the original, an innocent, mountain
girl, and brought her to your studio to live with you. Fairlands has
already talked enough, but my influence has prevented it from going too
far. You may be very sure that from now on I shall not exert myself to
The artist's friends in the rose garden, again, stopped involuntarily.
Sibyl uttered a low exclamation.
Conrad Lagrange looked at Myra Willard. "I think," he said in a low tone,
"that the time has come. Can you do it?"
"Yes. I--I--must," returned the woman. She spoke to the girl, who, being a
little in advance, had not heard the novelist's words, "Sibyl, dear, will
you go on home, please? Mr, Lagrange will stay with me. I--I will join you
At a look from Conrad Lagrange, the girl obeyed.
"Go with Sibyl, Czar," said the novelist; and the girl and the dog went
quickly away through the garden.
In the studio, Aaron King gazed at the angry woman in amazement. "Mrs.
Taine," he said, with quiet dignity, "I must tell you that I hope to make
Miss Andres my wife."
She laughed harshly. "And what has that to do with it?"
"I thought that if you knew, it might help you to understand the
situation," he answered simply.
"I understand the situation, very well," she retorted, "but you do not
appear to. The situation is this: I--I was interested in you--as an
artist. I, because my position in the world enabled me to help you,
commissioned you to paint my portrait. You are unknown, with no name, no
place in the world. I could have given you success. I could have
introduced you to the people that you must know if you are to succeed. My
influence would insure you a favorable reception from those who make the
reputations of men like you. I could have made you the rage. I could have
made you famous. And now--"
"Now," he said calmly, "you will exert your influence to hinder me in my
work. Because I have not pleased you, you will use whatever power you have
to ruin me. Is that what you mean, Mrs. Taine?"
"You have made your choice. You must take the consequences," she replied
coldly, and turned to leave the studio.
In the doorway, stood the woman with the disfigured face.
Conrad Lagrange stood near.
Marks of the Beast
When Mrs. Taine would have passed out of the studio, the woman with the
disfigured face said, "Wait madam, I must speak to you."
Aaron King recalled that strange scene at the depot, the day of his
arrival in Fairlands.
"I have nothing to say to you"--returned Mrs. Taine, coldly--"stand aside
But Conrad Lagrange quietly closed the door. "I think, Mrs. Taine," he
remarked dryly, "than you will be interested in what Miss Willard has to
"Oh, very well," returned the other, making the best of the situation.
"Evidently, you heard what I just said to your protege."
The novelist answered, "We did. Accept my compliments madam; you did it
"Thanks," she retorted, "I see you still play your role of protector. You
might tell your charge whether or not I am mistaken as to the probable
result of his--ah--artistic conscientiousness."
"Mr. King knows that you are not. You have, indeed, put the situation
rather mildly. It is a sad fact, but, never-the-less, a fact, that the
noblest work is often forced to remain unrecognized and unknown to the
world by the same methods that are used to exalt the unworthy. You
undoubtedly have the power of which you boast, Mrs. Taine, but--"
"But what?" she said triumphantly. "You think I will hesitate to use my
"I _know_ you will not use it--in this case," came the unexpected answer.
She laughed mockingly, "And why not? What will prevent?"
"The one thing on earth, that you fear, madam"--answered Conrad
Lagrange--"the eyes of the world."
Aaron King listened, amazed.
"I don't think I understand," said Mrs. Taine, coldly.
"No? That is what Miss Willard proposes to explain," returned the
She turned haughtily toward the woman with the disfigured face. "What can
this poor creature say to anything I propose?"
Myra Willard answered gently, sadly, "Have you no kindness, no sympathy at
all, madam? Is there nothing but cruel selfishness in your heart?"
"You are insolent," retorted the other, sharply. "Say what you have to say
and be brief."
Myra Willard drew close to the woman and looked long and searchingly into
her face. The other returned her gaze with contemptuous indifference.
"I have been sorry for you," said Myra Willard slowly. "I have not wished
to speak. But I know what you said to Sibyl, here in the studio; and I
overheard what you said to Mr. King, a few minutes ago. I cannot keep
"Proceed," said Mrs. Taine, shortly. "Say what you have to say, and be
done with it."
Myra Willard obeyed. "Mrs. Taine, twenty-six years ago, your guardian, the
father of James Rutlidge won the love of a young girl. It does not matter
who she was. She was beautiful and innocent That was her misfortune.
Beauty and innocence often bring pain and sorrow, madam, in a world where
there are too many men like Mr. Rutlidge, and his son. The girl thought
the man--she did not know him by his real name--her lover. She thought
that he became her husband. A baby was born to the girl who believed
herself a wife; and the young mother was happy. For a short time, she was
"Then, the awakening came. The girl mother was holding her baby to her
breast, and singing, as happy mothers do, when a strange woman appeared in
the open door of the room. She was a beautiful woman, richly dressed; but
her face was distorted with passion. The young mother did not understand.
She did not know, then, that the woman was Mrs. Rutlidge--the true wife of
the father of her child. She knew that, afterward. The woman, in the
doorway lifted her hand as though to throw something, and the mother,
instinctively, bowed her head to shield her baby. Then something that
burned like fire struck her face and neck. She screamed in agony, and
"The rest of the story does not matter, I think. The injured mother was
taken to the hospital. When she recovered, she learned that Mrs. Rutlidge
was dead--a suicide. Later, Mr. Rutlidge took the baby to raise as his
ward; telling the world that the child was the daughter of a relative who
had died at its birth. You must understand that when the disfigured mother
of the baby came to know the truth, she believed that it would be better
for the little one if the facts of its birth were never known. The wealthy
Mr. Rutlidge could give his ward every advantage of culture and social
position. The child would grow to womanhood with no stain upon her name.
Because she felt she owed her baby this, the only thing that she could
give her, the mother consented and disappeared.
"Madam," finished Myra Willard, slowly, "a little of the acid that burned
that mother's face fell upon the shoulder of her illegitimate baby."
"God!" exclaimed the artist.
Throughout Myra Willard's story, Mrs. Taine stood like a woman of stone.
At the end, she gazed at the woman's disfigured face, as though fascinated
with horror, while her hands moved to finger the buttons of her dress.
Unconscious of what she was doing, as though under some strange spell,
without removing her gaze from Myra Willard's marred features she opened
the waist of her dress and bared to them her right shoulder. It was marked
by a broad scar like the scars that disfigured the face of her mother.
Myra Willard started forward, impelled by the mother instinct. "My baby,
my poor, poor girl!"
The words broke the spell. Drawing back with an air of cold, unconquerable
pride, the woman looked at Conrad Lagrange. "And now," she said, as she
swiftly rearranged her dress, "perhaps you will be good enough to tell me
why you have done this."
Myra Willard turned away to sink into a chair, white and trembling. Aaron
King stepped quickly to her side, and, placing his hand gently on her
shoulder waited for the novelist to speak.
"Miss Willard told you this story because I asked her to," said Conrad
Lagrange. "I asked her to tell you because it gives me the power to
protect the two people who are dearer to me than all the world."
"Still in your role of protector, I see," sneered Mrs. Taine.
"Exactly, madam. It happens that I was a reporter on a certain newspaper
when the incidents just related occurred. I wrote the story for the press.
In fact, it was the story that gave me my start in yellow journalism, from
which I graduated the novelist of your acquaintance. I know the newspaper
game thoroughly, Mrs. Taine. I know the truth of this story that you have
just heard. Permit me to say, that I know how to write in the approved
newspaper style, and to add that my name insures a wide hearing. Proceed
to carry out your threats, and I promise you that I will give this
attractive bit of news, in all its colorful details, to every newspaper in
the land. Can't you see the headlines? 'Startling Revelation,' 'The Secret
of the Beautiful Mrs. Taine's Shoulders,' 'Why a Leader in the Social
World makes Modesty her Fad,' 'The Parentage of a Social Leader.' Do you
understand, madam? Use your influence to interfere with or to hinder Mr.
King in his work; or fail to use your influence to contradict the lies
you have already started about the character of Miss Andres; and I will
use the influence of my pen and the prestige of my name to put you before
the eyes of the world for what you are."
For a moment the woman looked at him, defiantly. Then, as she grasped the
full significance of what he had said, she slowly bowed her head.
Conrad Lagrange opened the door.
As she went out, the woman with the disfigured face started forward,
holding out her hands appealingly.
Mrs. Taine did not look back, but went quickly toward the big automobile
that was waiting in front of the house.
Aaron King's Success
The winter months were past.
Aaron King was sitting before his finished picture. The colors were still
fresh upon the canvas that, to-day, hangs in an honored place in one of
the great galleries of the world. To the last careful touch, the artist
had put into his painted message, the best he had to give. Back of every
line and brush-stroke there was the deep conviction of a worthy motive.
For an hour, he had been sitting there, before the easel, brush and
palette in hand, without touching the canvas. He could do no more.
Laying aside his tools, he went to his desk, and took from the drawer,
that package of his mother's letters. He pushed a deep arm-chair in front
of his picture, and again seated himself. As he read letter after letter,
he lifted his eyes, at almost every sentence from the written pages to his
work. It was as though he were submitting his picture to a final test--as,
indeed, he was. He had reached the last letter when Conrad Lagrange
entered the studio; Czar at his heels.
Every day, while the picture was growing under the artist's hand, his
friend had watched it take on beauty and power. He did not need to speak
of the finished painting, now.
"Well, lad," he said, "the old letters again?"
The artist, caressing the dog's silky head as it was thrust against his
knee, answered, "Yes, I finished the picture two hours ago. I have been
having a private exhibition all on my own hook. Listen." From the letter
in his hand he read:
"It is right for you to be ambitious, my son. I would not have you
otherwise. Without a strong desire to reach some height that in the
distance lifts above the level of the present, a man becomes a laggard on
the highway of life--a mere loafer by the wayside--slothful,
indolent--slipping easily, as the years go, into the most despicable of
places--the place of a human parasite that, contributing nothing to the
wealth of the race, feeds upon the strength of the multitude of toilers
who pass him by. But ambition, my boy, is like to all the other gifts that
lead men Godward. It must be a noble ambition, nobly controlled. A mere
striving for place and power, without a saving sense of the responsibility
conferred by that place and power, is ignoble. Such an ambition, I
know--as you will some day come to understand--is not a blessing but a
curse. It is the curse from which our age is suffering sorely; and which,
if it be not lifted, will continue to vitiate the strength and poison the
life of the race.
"Because I would have your ambition, a safe and worthy ambition, Aaron, I
ask that the supreme and final test of any work that comes from your hand
may be this; that it satisfy you, yourself--that you may be not ashamed to
sit down alone with your work, and thus to look it squarely in the face.
Not critics, nor authorities, not popular opinion, not even law or
religion, must be the court of final appeal when you are, by what you do,
brought to bar; but by you, _yourself_, the judgment must be rendered. And
this, too, is true, my son, by that judgment and that judgment alone, you
will truly live or you will truly die."
"And that"--said the novelist--so famous in the eyes of the world, so
infamous in his own sight--"and that is what she tried to make me believe,
when she and I were young together. But I would not. I would not accept
it. I thought if I could win fame that she--" he checked himself suddenly.
"But you have led me to accept it, old man," cried the artist heartily.
"You have opened my eyes. You have helped me to understand my mother, as I
never could have understood her, alone."
Conrad Lagrange smiled. "Perhaps," he admitted whimsically. "No doubt good
may sometimes be accomplished by the presentation of a horrible example.
But go on with your private exhibition. I'll not keep you longer. Come,
In spite of the artist's protests, he left the studio.
While the painter was putting away his letters, the novelist and the dog
went through the rose garden and the orange grove, straight to the little
house next door. They walked as though on a definite mission.
Sibyl and Myra Willard were sitting on the porch.
"Howdy, neighbor," called the girl, as the tall, ungainly form of the
famous novelist appeared. "You seem to be the bearer of news. What is the
latest word from the seat of war?"
"It is finished," said Conrad Lagrange, returning Myra's gentle greeting,
and accepting the chair that Sibyl offered.
"The picture?" said the girl eagerly, a quick color flushing her cheeks.
"Is the picture finished?"
"Finished," returned the novelist. "I just left him mooning over it like a
mother over a brand-new baby."
They laughed together, and when, a moment later, the girl slipped into the
house and did not return, the woman with the disfigured face and the
famous novelist looked at each other with smiling eyes. When Czar, with
sudden interest, started around the corner of the house, his master said
suggestively, "Czar, you better stay here with the old folks."
Passing through the house, and out of the kitchen door, Sibyl ran,
lightly, through the orange grove, to the little gate in the corner of the
Ragged Robin hedge. A moment she paused, hesitating, then, stealing
cautiously into the rose garden, she darted in quick flight to the shelter
of the arbor; where she parted the screen of vines to gain a view of the
Between the big, north window and the window that opened into the garden,
she saw the artist. She saw, too, the big canvas upon the easel. But Aaron
King was not, now, looking at his work just finished. He was sitting
before that other picture into which he had unconsciously painted, not
only the truth that he saw in the winsome loveliness of the girl who posed
for him with outstretshed hands among the roses, but his love for her as
With a low laugh, Sibyl drew back. Swiftly, as she had reached the arbor,
she crossed the garden, and a moment later, paused at the studio door.
Again she hesitated--then, gently,--so gently that the artist, lost in his
dreams, did not hear,--she opened the door. For a little, she stood
watching him. Softly, she took a few steps toward him. The artist, as
though sensing her presence, started and looked around.
She was standing as she stood in the picture; her hands outstretched, a
smile of welcome on her lips, the light of gladness in her eyes.
As he rose from his chair before the easel, she went to him.
* * * * *
Not many days later, there was a quiet wedding, at Sibyl's old home in the
hills. Besides the two young people and the clergyman, only Brian Oakley,
Mrs. Oakley, Conrad Lagrange and Myra Willard were present. These friends
who had prepared the old place for the mating ones, after a simple dinner
following the ceremony, returned down the canyon to the Station.
Standing arm in arm, where the old road turns around the cedar thicket,
and where the artist had first seen the girl, Sibyl and Aaron watched them
go. From the other side of roaring Clear Creek, they turned to wave hats
and handkerchiefs; the two in the shadow of the cedars answered; Czar
barked joyful congratulations; and the wagon disappeared in the wilderness
Instead of turning back to the house behind them, the two, without
speaking, as though obeying a common impulse, set out down the canyon.
A little later they stood in the old spring glade, where the alders bore,
still, in the smooth, gray bark of their trunks, the memories of long-ago
lovers; where the light fell, slanting softly through the screen of leaf
and branch and vine and virgin's-bower, upon the granite boulder and the
cress-mottled waters of the spring, as through the window traceries of a
vast and quiet cathedral; and where the distant roar of the mountain
stream trembled in the air like the deep tones of some great organ.
Sibyl, dressed in her brown, mountain costume, was sitting on the boulder,
when the artist said softly, "Look!"
Lifting her eyes, as he pointed, she saw two butterflies--it might almost
have been the same two--with zigzag flight, through the opening in the
draperies of virgin's-bower. With parted lips and flushed cheeks, the girl
watched. Then--as the beautiful creatures, in their aerial waltz, whirled
above her head--she rose, and lightly, gracefully,--almost as her winged
companions,--accompanied them in their dance.
The winged emblems of innocence and purity flitted away over the willow
wall. The girl, with bright eyes and smiling lips--half laughing, half
serious--looked toward her mate. He held out his arms and she went to him.