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The Precipice by Elia Wilkinson Peattie

Part 6 out of 6

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something perfect to which to cling."

"Nonsense! A Clarinda dream! There's nothing perfect about me! The whole
truth is that you don't know whether you'll change or not!"

"Well, say that I change! Say that I pass from shimmering moonlight to
common sunlight love! Say that we walk a heavy road and carry burdens
and that our throats are so parched we forget to turn our eyes toward
each other. Still we shall be side by side, and in the end the dust of
us shall mingle in one earth. As for our spirits--if they have triumphed
together, where is the logic in supposing that they will know

"You will give me love," said Kate, "changing, faulty, human love! I ask
no better--in the way of love. I can match you in faultiness and in
changefulness and in hope. But now what else can you give me--what
work--what chance to justify myself, what exercise for my powers? You
have your work laid out for you. Where is mine?"

Wander stared at her a moment with a bewildered expression. Then he
leaped from his horse and caught Kate's bridle.

"Where is your work, woman?" he thundered. "Are you teasing me still or
are you in earnest? Your work is in your home! With all your wisdom,
don't you know that yet? It is in your home, bearing and rearing your
sons and your daughters, and adding to my sum of joy and your own. It is
in learning secrets of happiness which only experience can teach. Listen
to me: If my back ached and my face dripped sweat because I was toiling
for you and your children, I would count it a privilege. It would be the
crown of my life. Justify yourself? How can you justify yourself except
by being of the Earth, learning of her; her obedient and happy child?
Justify yourself? Kate Barrington, you'll have to justify yourself
to me."

"How dare you?" asked Kate under her breath. "Who has given you a right
to take me to task?"

"Our love," he said, and looked her unflinchingly in the eye. "My love
for you and your love for me. I demand the truth of you,--the deepest
truth of your deepest soul,--because we are mates and can never escape
each other as long as we live, though half the earth divides us and all
our years. Wherever we go, our thoughts will turn toward each other.
When we meet, though we have striven to hate each other, yet our hands
will long to clasp. We may be at war, but we will love it better than
peace with others. I tell you, I march to the tune of your piping; you
keep step to my drum-beats. What is the use of theorizing? I speak of
a fact."

"I am going to turn my horse," she said. "Will you please stand aside?"

He dropped her bridle.

"Is that all you have to say?"

She looked at him haughtily for a moment and whirled her horse. Then she
drew the mare up.

"Karl!" she called.

No answer.

"I say--Karl!"

He came to her.

"I am not angry. I know quite well what you mean. You were speaking of
the fundamentals."

"I was."

"But how about me? Am I to have no importance save in my relation to

"You cannot have your greatest importance save in your relation to me."

She looked at him long. Her eyes underwent a dozen changes. They taunted
him, tempted him, comforted him, bade him hope, bade him fear.

"We must ride home," she said at length.

"And my question? I asked you if you were willing to stay here with me?"

"The question," she said with a dry little smile, "is laid very
respectfully on the knees of the gods."

He turned from her and swung into his saddle. They pounded home in
silence. The lines of "The Last Ride" were besetting her still.

"Who knows what's fit for us? Had fate
Proposed bliss here should sublimate
My being; had I signed the bond--
Still one must lead some life beyond,--
Have a bliss to die with, dim-descried.
This foot once planted on the goal,
This glory-garland round my soul,
Could I descry such? Try and test?"

She gave him no chance to help her dismount, but leaping to the ground,
turned the good mare's head stableward, and ran to her room. He did not
see her till dinner-time. Honora was at the table, and occupied their
care and thought.

Afterward there was the ten-mile ride to the station, but Kate sat
beside Honora. There was a full moon--and the world ached for lovers.
But if any touched lips, Karl Wander and Kate Barrington knew nothing of
it. At the station they shook hands.

"Are you coming back?" asked Wander. "Will you bring Honora back home?"

In the moonlight Kate turned a sudden smile on him.

"Of course I'm coming back," she said. "I always put a period to my

"Good!" he said. "But that's a very different matter from writing a
'Finis' to your book."

"I shall conclude on an interrupted sentence," laughed Kate, "and I'll
let some one else write 'Finis.'"

The great train labored in, paused for no more than a moment, and was
off again. It left Wander's world well denuded. The sense of aching
loneliness was like an agony. She had evaded him. She belonged to him,
and he had somehow let her go! What had he said, or failed to say? What
had she desired that he had not given? He tried to assure himself that
he had been guiltless, but as he passed his sleeping village and
glimpsed the ever-increasing dumps before his mines, he knew in his
heart that he had been asking her to play his game. Of course, on the
other hand--

But what was the use of running around in a squirrel cage! She was gone.
He was alone.


The Federation of Women's Clubs!

Two thousand women gathered in the name of--what?

Why, of culture, of literature, of sisterhood, of benevolence, of music,
art, town beautification, the abolition of child-labor, the abolition of
sweat-shops, the extension of peace and opportunity.

And run how? By politics, sharp and keen, far-seeing and combative.

The results? The cooeperation of forceful women, the encouragement of
timid ones; the development of certain forms of talent, and the
destruction of some old-time virtues.

The balance? On the side of good, incontestably.

"Yes, it's on the side of good," said Honora, who was, after all, like a
nun (save that her laboratory had been her cell, and a man's fame her
passion), and who therefore brought to this vast, highly energized,
capable, various gathering a judgment unprejudiced, unworldly, and
clear. As she saw these women of many types, from all of the States,
united in great causes, united, too, in the cultivation of things not
easy of definition, she felt that, in spite of drawbacks, it must be
good. She listened to their papers, heard their earnest propaganda. A
distinguished Jewess from New York told of the work among the
immigrants and the methods by which they were created into intelligent
citizens; a beautiful Kentuckian spoke of the work among the white
mountaineers; a very venerable gentlewoman from Chicago, exquisitely
frail, talked on behalf of the children in factories; a crisp, curt,
efficient woman from Oregon advocated the dissemination of books among
the "lumber-jacks." They were ingenious in their pursuit of
benevolences, and their annual reports were the impersonal records of
personal labors. They had started libraries, made little parks,
inaugurated playgrounds, instituted exchanges for the sale of women's
wares, secured women internes in hospitals, paid for truant officers,
founded children's protective associations, installed branches of the
Associated Charities, encouraged night schools, circulated art exhibits
and traveling libraries; they had placed pictures in the public schools,
founded kindergartens--the list seemed inexhaustible.

"Oh, decidedly," Kate granted Honora, "the thing seems to be good."

Moreover, there was good being done of a less assertive but equally
commendable nature. The lines of section grew vague when the social
Georgian sat side by side with the genial woman from Michigan. Mrs.
Johnson of Minnesota and Mrs. Cabot of Massachusetts, Mrs. Hardin of
Kentucky and Mrs. Garcia of California, found no essential differences
in each other. Ladies, the world over, have a similarity of tastes. So,
as they lunched, dined, and drove together they established
relationships more intimate than their convention hall could have
fostered. If they had dissensions, these were counterbalanced by the
exchange of amenities. If their points of view diverged in lesser
matters, they converged in great ones.

And then the women of few opportunities--the farmers' wives representing
their earnest clubs; the village women, wistful and rather shy; the
emergent, onlooking company of few excursions, few indulgences--what of
the Federation for them? At first, perhaps, they feared it; but
cautiously, like unskilled swimmers, they took their experimental
strokes. They found themselves secure; heard themselves applauded. They
acquired boldness, and presently were exhilarated by the consciousness
of their own power. If the great Federation could be cruel, it could be
kind, too. One thing it had stood for from the first, and by that thing
it still abided--the undeviating, disinterested determination
to help women develop themselves. So the faltering voice was
listened to, and the report of the eager, kind-eyed woman from the
little-back-water-of-the-world was heard with interest. The Federation
knew the value of this woman who said what she meant, and did what she
promised. They sent her home to her town to be an inspiration. She was a
little torch, carrying light.

Day succeeded day. From early morning till late at night the great
convention read its papers, ate its luncheons, held its committee
meetings--talked, aspired, lobbied, schemed, prayed, sang, rejoiced!
Culture was splendidly on its way--progress was the watchword! It was
wonderful and amusing and superb.

The Feminine mind, much in action, shooting back and forth like a
shuttle, was weaving a curious and admirable fabric. There might be some
trouble in discerning the design, but it was there, and if it was not
arrestingly original, at least it was interesting. In places it was even
beautiful. Now and then it gave suggestions of the grotesque. It was
shot through with the silver of talent, the gold of genius. And with all
of its defects it was splendid because the warp thereof was purpose and
the woof enthusiasm.

* * * * *

Kate's day came. The great theater was packed--not a vacant seat
remained. For it was mid-afternoon, the sun was shining, and the day was
the last one of the convention.

The president presided with easy authority. It became her--that seat.
Her keen eyes expressed themselves as being satisfied; her handsome head
was carried proudly. Her voice, of medium pitch, had an accent of
gracious command. She presented to the eye a pleasing, nay, an artistic,
picture, and the very gown she wore was a symbol of efficiency--sign to
the initiate.

Kate's heart was fluttering, her mouth dry. She greeted her chairwoman
somewhat tremulously, and then faced her audience.

For a moment she faltered. Then a face came before her--Karl's face.
She did not so much wish to succeed for him as in despite of him. He had
said she would reach her greatest importance through her relationship to
him. At that moment she thrilled to the belief that, independently of
him, she was still important.

The great assemblage had ears for her. The idea of an extension of
motherhood, an organized, scientific supervision of children, made an
appeal such as nothing else could. For, after all, persistently--almost
irritatingly, at times--this great federation, which was supposed to
concern itself with many fine abstractions, swung back to that concrete
and essentially womanly idea of the care of children. Women who had
brought to it high messages of art and education had known what it was
to be exasperated into speechlessness by what they were pleased to
denominate the maternal obsession.

Kate swung them back to it now, by means of impersonal rather than
personal arguments. She did not idealize paternity. She was bitterly
well aware by this time that parents were no better than other folk, and
that only a small proportion of those to whom the blessing came were
qualified or willing to bear its responsibilities. She touched on
eugenics--its advantages and its limitations; she referred to the
inadequacy of present laws and protective measures. Then she went on to
describe what a Bureau of Children might be.

"The business of this bureau," she said, "will be the removal of

"Is the child blind, deaf, lame, tubercular, or possessed of any sorry
inheritance? The Bureau of Children will devise some method of easing
its way; some plan to save it from further degeneration. Is the child
talented, and in need of special training? Has it genius, and should it,
for the glory of the commonwealth and the enrichment of life, be given
the right of way? Then the Bureau of Children will see to it that such
provision is made. It will not be the idea merely to aid the deficient
and protect the vicious. Nor shall its highest aspiration be to serve
the average child, born of average parents. It would delight to reward
successful and devoted parents by giving especial opportunity to their
carefully trained and highly developed children. As the Bureau of
Agriculture labors to propagate the best species of trees, fruit, and
flowers, so we would labor to propagate the best examples of
humanity--the finest, most sturdily reared, best intelligenced boys
and girls.

"We would endeavor to prevent illness and loss of life among babies and
children. Our circulars would be distributed in all languages among all
of our citizens. We would employ specialists to direct the feeding,
clothing, and general rearing of the children of all conditions. We
would advocate the protection of children until they reached the age of
sixteen; and would endeavor to assist in the supervision of these
children until they were of legal age. My idea would be to have all
young people under twenty-one remain in a sense the wards of schools. If
they have had, at any early age, to leave school and take the burdens of
bread-winning upon their young shoulders and their untried hearts, then
I would advise an extension of school authority. The schools should be
provided with assistant superintendents whose business it would be to
help these young bread-winners find positions in keeping with their
tastes and abilities, thus aiding them in the most practical and
beneficent way, to hold their places in this struggling, modern world.

"It is an economic measure of the loftiest type. It will provide against
the waste of bodies and souls; it is a device for the conservation and
the scientific development of human beings. It is part and parcel of the
new, practical religion--a new prayer.

"'Prayer,' says the old hymn, 'is the soul's sincere desire.'

"Many of us have lost our belief in the old forms of prayer. We are
beginning to realize that, to a great extent, the answer to prayer lies
in our own hands. Our answers come when we use the powers that have been
bestowed upon us. More and more each year, those who employ their
intellects for constructive purposes are turning their energies toward
the betterment of the world. They have a new conception of 'the world to
come.' It means to them our good brown Mother Earth, warm and fecund and
laden with fruits for the consumption of her children as it may be
under happier conditions. They wish to increase the happiness of those
children, to elevate them physically and mentally, and to give their
spirits, too often imprisoned and degraded by hard circumstance, a
chance to grow.

"When you let the sunlight in to a stunted tree, with what exultant
gratitude it lifts itself toward the sun! How its branches greet the
wind and sing in them, how its little leaves come dancing out to make a
shelter for man and the birds and the furred brothers of the forest! But
this, wonderful and beautiful as it is, is but a small thing compared
with the way in which the soul of a stunted child--stunted by evil or by
sunless environment--leaps and grows and sings when the great spiritual
elements of love and liberty are permitted to reach it.

"You have talked of the conservation of forests; and you speak of a
great need--an imperative cause. I talk of the conservation of
children--which is a greater need and a holier right.

"Mammalia are numerous in this world; real mothers are rare. Can we lift
the mammalia up into the high estate of motherhood? I believe so. Can we
grow superlative children, as we grow superlative fruits and animals?
Oh, a thousand times, yes. I beg for your support of this new idea. Let
the spirit of inspiration enter into your reflections concerning it. Let
that concentration of purpose which you have learned in your clubs and
federations be your aid here.

"Most of you whom I see before me are no longer engaged actively in the
tasks of motherhood. The children have gone out from your homes into
homes of their own. You are left denuded and hungry for the old sweet
vocation. Your hands are too idle; your abilities lie unutilized. But
here is a task at hand. I do not say that you are to use this extension
to your motherhood for children alone, or merely in connection with this
proposed Bureau. I urge you, indeed, to employ it in all conceivable
ways. Be the mothers of men and women as well as of little children--the
mothers of communities--the mothers of the state. And as a focus to
these energies and disinterested activities, let us pray Washington to
give us the Bureau of Children."

She turned from her responsive audience to the chairwoman, who handed
her a yellow envelope.

"A telegram, Miss Barrington. Should I have given it to you before? I
disliked interrupting."

Kate tore it open.

It was from the President of the United States. It ran:--

"I have the honor to inform you that the Bureau of Children will become
a feature of our government within a year. It is the desire of those
most interested, myself included, that you should accept the
superintendence of it. I hope this will reach you on the day of your
address before the Federation of Women's Clubs. Accept my

It was signed by the chief executive. Kate passed the message to the

"May I read it?" the gratified president questioned. Kate nodded. The
gavel fell, and the vibrant, tremulous voice of the president was heard
reading the significant message. The women listened for a moment with
something like incredulity--for they were more used to delays and
frustrations than to cooeperation; then the house filled with the curious
muffled sounds of gloved hands in applause. Presently a voice shrilled
out in inarticulate acclaim. Kate could not catch its meaning, but two
thousand women, robed like flowers, swayed to their feet. Their
handkerchiefs fluttered. The lovely Californian blossoms were snatched
from their belts and their bosoms and flung upon the platform with
enthusiastic, uncertain aim.


Afterward Kate took Honora down to the sea. They found a little house
that fairly bathed its feet in the surf, and here they passed the days
very quietly, at least to outward seeming. The Pacific thundered in upon
them; they could hear the winds, calling and calling with an immemorial
invitation; they knew of the little jewelled islands that lay out in the
seas and of the lands of eld on the far, far shore; and they dreamed
strange dreams.

Sitting in the twilight, watching the light reluctantly leave the sea,
they spoke of many things. They spoke most of all of women, and it
sometimes seemed, as they sat there,--one at the doorway of the House of
Life and one in a shaded inner chamber,--as if the rune of women came to
them from their far sisters: from those in their harems, from others in
the blare of commercial, Occidental life; from those in chambers of
pain; from those freighted with the poignant burdens which women bear in
their bodies and in their souls.

As the darkness deepened, they grew unashamed and then reticences fell
from them. The eternally flowing sea, the ever-recurrent night gave them
courage, though they were women, to speak the truth.

"When I found how deeply I loved David," said Honora, "and that I could
serve him, too, by marrying him, I would no more have put the idea of
marriage with him out of my mind than I would have cast away a hope of
heaven if I had seen that shining before me. I would no more have turned
from it than I would have turned from food, if I had been starving; or
water after I had been thirsting in the desert. Why, Kate, to marry him
was inevitable! The bird doesn't think when it sings or the bud when it
flowers. It does what it was created to do. I married David the
same way."

"I understand," said Kate.

They sat on their little low, sand-swept balcony, facing the sea. The
rising tide filled the world with its soft and indescribable cadence.
The stars came out into the sky according to their rank--the greatest
first, and after them the less, and the less no more lacking in beauty
than the great. All was as it should be--all was ordered--all was fit
and wonderful.

"So," went on Honora, after a silence which the sea filled in with its
low harmonies, "if you loved Karl--"

"Wait!" said Kate. So Honora waited. Another silence fell. Then Kate
spoke brokenly.

"If to feel when I am with him that I have reached my home; if to suffer
a strangeness even with myself, and to feel less familiar with myself
than with him, is to love, then I love him, Honora. If to want to work
with him, and to feel there could be no exultation like overcoming
difficulties with him, is love, then truly I love him. If just to see
him, at a distance, enriches the world and makes the stream of time turn
from lead to gold is anything in the nature of love, then I am his
lover. If to long to house with him, to go by the same name that he
does, to wear him, so to speak, carved on my brow, is to love, then
I do."

"Then I foresee that you will be one of the happiest women in the

"No! No; you mustn't say that. Aren't there other things than love,
Honora,--better things than selfish delight?"

"My dear, you have no call to distress yourself about the occult
meanings of that word 'selfish.' Unselfish people--or those who mean to
be so--contrive, when they refuse to follow the instincts of their
hearts, to cause more suffering even than the out-and-out selfish ones."

"But I have an opportunity to serve thousands--maybe hundreds of
thousands of human beings. I can set in motion a movement which may have
a more lasting effect upon my country than any victory ever gained by it
on a field of battle; and perhaps in time the example set by this land
will be followed by others. Dare I face that mystic, inner ME and say:
'I choose my man, I give him all my life, and I resign my birthright of
labor. For this personal joy I refuse to be the Sister of the World; I
let the dream perish; I hinder a great work'? Oh, Honora, I want him, I
want him! But am I for that reason to be false to my destiny?"

"You want celebrity!" said Honora with sudden bitterness. "You want to
go to Washington, to have your name numbered among the leading ones of
the nation; you are not willing to spend your days in the solitude of
Williston Ranch as wife to its master."

"I will not say that you are speaking falsely, but I think you know you
are setting out only a little part of the truth. Admit it, Honora."

Honora sighed heavily.

"Oh, yes," she said at length, "I do admit it. You must forgive me,
Kate. It seems so easy for you two to be happy that I can't help feeling
it blasphemous for you to be anything else. If it were an ordinary
marriage or an ordinary separation, I shouldn't feel so agonized over
it. But you and Karl--such mates--the only free spirits I know! How you
would love! It would be epic. And I should rejoice that you were living
in that savage world instead of in a city. You two would need room--like
great beautiful buildings. Who would wish to see you in the jumble of a
city? With you to aid him, Karl may become a distinguished man. Your
lives would go on together, widening, widening--"

"Oh!" interrupted Kate with a sharp ejaculation; "we'll not talk of it
any more, Honora. You must not think because I cannot marry him that he
will always be unhappy. In time he will find another woman--"

"Kate! Will you find another man?"

"You know I shall not! After Wander? Any man would be an anticlimax to
me after him."

"Can you suspect him of a passion or a fealty less than your own? If you
refuse to marry him, I believe you will frustrate a great purpose of
Nature. Why, Kate, it will be a crime against Love. The thought as I
feel it means more--oh, infinitely more--than I can make the words
convey to you; but you must think them over, Kate,--I beg you to think
them over!"

In the darkness, Kate heard Honora stealing away to her room.

So she was alone, and the hour had come for her decision.

"'Bitter, alas,'" she quoted to the rising trouble of the sea, '"the
sorrow of lonely women.'" The distillation of that strange duplex soul,
Fiona Macleod, was as a drop of poisoned truth upon her parched tongue.

"We who love are those who suffer;
We who suffer most are those who most do love."

She went down upon the sands. The tongues of the sea came up and lapped
her feet. The winds of the sea enfolded her in an embrace. For the first
time in her life, freely, without restraint, bravely, as sometime she
might face God, she confronted the idea of Love. And a secret, wonderful
knowledge came to her--the knowledge of lovely spiritual ecstasies, the
realization of rich human delights. Sorrow and cruel loss might be on
their way, but Joy was hers now. She feigned that Karl was waiting for
her a little way on in the warm darkness--on, around that
scimitar-shaped bend of the beach. She chose to believe that he was
running to meet her, his eyes aflame, his great arms outstretched; she
thrilled to the rain of his kisses; she thought those stars might hear
the voice with which he shouted, "Kate!"

Then, calmer, yet as if she had run a race, panting, palpitant, she
seated herself on the sands. She let her imagination roam through the
years. She saw the road of life they would take together; how they would
stand on peaks of lofty desire, in sunlight; how, unfaltering, they
would pace tenebrous valleys. Always they would be together. Their
laughter would chime and their tears would fall in unison. Where one
failed, the other would redeem; where one doubted, the other would hope.
They would bear their children to be the vehicle of their ideals--these
fresh new creatures, born of their love, would be trained to achieve
what they, their parents, had somehow missed.

Then her bolder thought died. She, who had forced herself so
relentlessly to face the world as a woman faces it, with the knowledge
and the courage of maturity, felt her wisdom slip from her. She was a
girl, very lonely, facing a task too large for her, needing the comfort
of her lover's word. She stretched herself upon the sand, face downward,
weeping, because she was afraid of life--because she was wishful for
the joy of woman and dared not take it.

* * * * *

"Have you decided?" asked Honora in the morning.

"I think so," answered Kate.

Honora scrutinized the face of her friend.

"Accept," she said, "my profound commiseration." Her tone seemed to
imply that she included contempt.

After this, there was a change in Honora's attitude toward her. Kate
felt herself more alone than she ever had been in her life. It was as if
she had been cast out into a desert--a sandy plain smitten with the
relentless Sun of Life, and in it was no house of refuge, no comfortable
tree, no waters of healing. No, nor any other soul. Alone she walked
there, and the only figures she saw were those of the mirage. It gave
her a sort of relief to turn her face eastward and to feel that she must
traverse the actual desert, and come at the end to literal combat.


Two dragons, shedding fire, had paused midway of the desert. One was the
Overland Express racing from Los Angeles to Kansas City; its fellow was
headed for the west. Both had halted for fuel and water and the
refreshment of the passengers. The dusk was gathering over the
illimitable sandy plain, and the sun, setting behind wind-blown buttes,
wore a sinister glow. By its fantastic light the men and women from the
trains paced back and forth on the wide platform, or visited the
luxurious eating-house, where palms and dripping waters, roses and
inviting food bade them forget that they were on the desert.

Kate and Honora had dined and were walking back and forth in the deep
amber light.

"Such a world to live in," cried Kate admiringly, pressing Honora's arm
to her side. "Do you know, of all the places that I might have imagined
as desirable for residence, I believe I like our old earth the best!"

She was in an inconsequential mood, and Honora indulged her with smiling

"I couldn't have thought of a finer desert than this if I had tried,"
she went on gayly. "And this wicked saffron glow is precisely the color
to throw on it. What a mistake it would have been if some supernal
electrician had dropped a green or a blue spot-light on the scene! Now,
just hear that fountain dripping and that ground-wind whispering! Who
wouldn't live in the arid lands? It's all as it should be. So are you,
too, aren't you, Honora? You've forgiven me, too, I know you have; and
you're getting stronger every day, and making ready for happiness,
aren't you?"

She leaned forward to look in her companion's face.

"Oh, yes, Kate," said Honora. "It really is as it should be with me. I'm
looking forward, now, to what is to come. To begin with, there are the
children shining like little stars at the end of my journey; and there's
the necessity of working for them. I'm glad of that--I'm glad I have to
work for them. Perhaps I shall be offered a place at the University of
Wisconsin. I think I should be if I gave any indication that I had such
a desire. The president and I are old friends. Oh, yes, indeed, I'm very
thankful that I'm able to look forward again with something like

The words died on her lips. She was arrested as if an angry god had
halted her. Kate, startled, looked up. Before them, marble-faced and
hideously abashed,--yet beautiful with an insistent beauty,--stood Mary
Morrison, like Honora, static with pain.

It seemed as if it must be a part of that fantastic, dream-like scene.
So many visions were born of the desert that this, not unreasonably,
might be one. But, no, these two women who had played their parts in an
appalling drama, were moving, involuntarily, as it seemed, nearer to
each other. For a second Kate thought of dragging Honora away, till it
came to her by some swift message of the spirit that Honora did not wish
to avoid this encounter. Perhaps it seemed to her like a
fulfillment--the last strain of a wild and dissonant symphony. It was
the part of greater kindness to drop her arm and stand apart.

"Shall we speak, Mary," said Honora at length. "Or shall we pass on in

"It isn't for me to say," wavered the other. "Any way, it's too late for
words to matter."

"Yes," agreed Honora. "Quite too late."

They continued to stare at each other--so like, yet so unlike. It was
Honora's face which was ravaged, though Mary had sinned the sin. True,
pallor and pain were visible in Mary's face, even in the disguising
light of that strange hour and place, but back of it Kate perceived her
indestructible frivolity. She surmised how rapidly the scenes of Mary's
drama would succeed each other; how remorse would yield to regret,
regret to diminishing grief, grief to hope, hope to fresh adventures
with life. Here in all verity was "the eternal feminine," fugitive,
provocative, unspiritualized, and shrinking the one quality, fecundity,
which could have justified it.

But Honora was speaking, and her low tones, charged with a mortal grief,
were audible above the tramping of many feet, the throbbing of the
engines, and the talking and the laughter.

"If you had stayed to die with him," she was saying, "I could have
forgiven you everything, because I should have known then that you loved
him as he hungered to be loved."

"He wouldn't let me," Mary wailed. "Honestly, Honora--"

"Wouldn't let you!" The scorn whipped Mary's face scarlet.

"Nobody wants to die, Honora!" pleaded the other. "You wouldn't
yourself, when it came to it."

A child might have spoken so. The puerility of the words caused Honora
to check her speech. She looked with a merciless scrutiny at that face
in which the dimples would come and go even at such a moment as this.
The long lashes curled on the cheeks with unconscious coquetry; the
eyes, that had looked on horrors, held an intrinsic brilliance. The
Earth itself, with its perpetual renewals, was not more essentially
expectant than this woman.

Honora's amazement at her cousin's hedonism gave way to contempt for it.

"Oh," she groaned, "to have had the power to destroy a great man and to
have no knowledge of what you've done! To have lived through all that
you have, and to have got no soul, after all!"

She had stepped back as if to measure the luscious opulence of Mary's
form with an eye of passionate depreciation.

"Stop her, Miss Barrington," cried Mary, seizing Kate's arm. "There's
no use in all this, and people will overhear. Can't you take her away?"

She might have gazed at the Medusa's head as she gazed at Honora's.

"Come," said Kate to Honora. "As Miss Morrison says, there's no use in
all this."

"If David and I did wrong, it was quite as much Honora's fault as mine,
really it was," urged "Blue-eyed Mary," her childish voice choking.

Kate shook her hand off and looked at her from a height.

"Don't dare to discuss that," she warned. "Don't dare!"

She threw her arm around Honora.

"Do come," she pleaded. "All this will make you worse again."

"I don't wish you ill," continued Honora, seeming not to hear and still
addressing herself to Mary. "I know you will live on in luxury somehow
or other, and that good men will fetch and carry for you. You exude an
essence which they can no more resist than a bee can honey. I don't
blame you. That's what you were born for. But don't think that makes a
woman of you. You never can be a woman! Women have souls; they suffer;
they love and work and forget themselves; they know how to go down to
the gates of death. You don't know how to do any of those things,
now, do you?"

She had grown terrible, and her questions had the effect of being
spoken by some daemonic thing within her--something that made of her
mouth a medium as the priestesses did of the mouths of the
ancient oracles.

"Miss Barrington," shuddered Mary, "I'm trying to hold on to myself, but
I don't think I can do it much longer. Something is hammering at my
throat. I feel as if I were being strangled--" she was choking in the
grasp of hysteria.

Kate drew Honora away with a determined violence.

"She'll be screaming horribly in a minute," she said. "You don't want to
hear that, do you?"

Honora gave one last look at the miserable girl.

"Of course, you know," she said, throwing into her words an intensity
which burned like acid, "that he did not die for you, Mary. He died to
save his soul alive. He died to find himself--and me. Just that much I
have to have you know."

At that Kate forced her to go into the Pullman, and seated her by the
window where the rising wind, bringing its tale of eternal solitude,
eternal barrenness, could fan her cheek. A gentleman who had been pacing
the platform alone approached Mary and seemed to offer her assistance
with anxious solicitude. She drooped upon his arm, and as she passed
beneath the window the odor of her perfumes stole to Honora's nostrils.

"How dare she walk beneath my window?" Honora demanded of Kate. "Isn't
she afraid I may kill her?"

"No, I don't think she is, Honora. Why should she suspect anything
ignoble of you?"

Silence fell. A dull golden star blossomed in the West.

"All aboard! All aboard!" called the conductors. The people began
straggling toward their trains, laughing their farewells.

"Hope I'll meet you again sometime!"

"East or West, home's the best."

"You're sure you're not going on my train?"

"Me for God's country! You'll find nothing but fleas and flubdub on the

"You'll be back again next year, just the same. Everybody comes back."

"All aboard! All aboard!"

"God willing," said Honora, "I shall never see her again."

Suddenly she ceased to be primitive and became a civilized woman with a
trained conscience and artificial solicitude.

"How do you suppose she's going to live, Kate? She had no money. Will
David have made any arrangement for her? Oughtn't I to see to that?"

"You are neither to kill nor pension her," said Kate angrily. "Keep
still, Honora."

The fiery worms became active, and threshed their way across the
fast-chilling and silent plain. On the eastbound one two women sat in
heavy reverie. On the westbound one a group of solicitous ladies and
gentlemen gathered about a golden-haired daughter of California offering
her sal volatile, claret, brandy-and-water. She chose the claret and
sipped it tremblingly. Its deep hue answered the glow in the great ruby
in her ring. By a chance her eye caught it and she turned the jewel
toward her palm.

"A superb stone," commented one of the kindly group. "You purchased it
abroad?" The inquiry was meant to distract her thoughts. It did not
quite succeed. She put the wine from her and covered her face with her
hands, for suddenly she was assailed by a memory of the burning kisses
with which that gem had been placed upon her finger by lips now many
fathoms beneath the surface of the sun-warmed world.


Kate and Honora left the train at the station of Wander, and the man for
whom it was named was there to meet them. If it was summer with the
world, it was summer with him, too. Some new plenitude had come to him
since Kate had seen him last. His full manhood seemed to be realized. A
fine seriousness invested him--a seriousness which included, the
observer felt sure, all imaginable fit forms of joy. Clothed in gray,
save for the inevitable sombrero, clean-shaven, bright-eyed, capable,
renewed with hope, he took both women with a protecting gesture into his
embrace. The three rejoiced together in that honest demonstration which
seems permissible in the West, where social forms and fears have not
much foothold.

They talked as happily of little things as if great ones were not
occupying their minds. To listen, one would have thought that only
"little joys" and small vexations had come their way. It would be by
looking into their faces that one could see the marks of passion--the
passion of sorrow, of love, of sacrifice.

As they came out of the pinon grove, Honora discovered her babies. They
were in white, fresh as lilies, or, perhaps, as little angels, well
beloved of heavenly mothers; and they came running from the house,
their golden hair shining like aureoles about their eager faces. Their
sandaled feet hardly touched the ground, and, indeed, could they have
been weighed at that moment, it surely had been found that they had
become almost imponderable because of the ethereal lightness of their
spirits. Their arms were outstretched; their eyes burning like the eyes
of seraphs.

"Stop!" cried Honora to Karl in a choking voice. He drew up his
restless, home-bound horses, and she leaped to the ground. As she ran
toward her little ones on swift feet, the two who watched her were
convinced that she had regained her old-time vigor, and had acquired an
eloquence of personality which never before had been hers. She gathered
her treasures in her arms and walked with them to the house.

Kate had not many minutes to wait in the living-room before Wander
joined her. It was a long room, with triplicate, lofty windows facing
the mountains which wheeled in majestic semicircle from north to west.
At this hour the purple shadows were gathering on them, and great peace
and beauty lay over the world.

There was but one door to this room and Wander closed it.

"I may as well know my fate now," he said. "I've waited for this from
the moment I saw you last. Are you going to be my wife, Kate?"

He stood facing her, breathing rather heavily, his face commanded to a
tense repose.

"My answer is 'no,'" cried Kate, holding out her hands to him. "I love
you as my life, and my answer is 'no.'"

He took the hands she had extended.

"Kiss me!" He gathered her into his arms, and upon her welcoming lips he
laid his own in such a kiss as a man places upon but one woman's lips.

"Now, what is your answer?" he breathed after a time. "Tell me your
answer now, you much-loved woman--tell it, beloved."

She kissed his brow and his eyes; he felt her tears upon his cheeks.

"You know all that I have thought and felt," she said; "you know--for I
have written--what my life may be. Do you ask me to let it go and to
live here in this solitude with you?"

"Yes, by heaven," he said, his eyes blazing, "I ask it."

Some influence had gone out from them which seemed to create a palpitant
atmosphere of delight in which they stood. It was as if the spiritual
essence of them, mingling, had formed the perfect fluid of the soul, in
which it was a privilege to live and breathe and dream.

"I am so blessed in you," whispered Karl, "so completed by you, that I
cannot let you go, even though you go on to great usefulness and great
goodness. I tell you, your place is here in my home. It is safe here. I
have seen you standing on a precipice, Kate, up there in the mountain. I
warned you of its danger; you told me of its glory. But I repeat my
warning now, for I see you venturing on to that precipice of loneliness
and fame on which none but sad and lonely women stand."

"Oh, I know what you say is true, Karl. I mean to do my work with all
the power there is in me, and I shall be rejoicing in that and in
Life--it's in me to be glad merely that I'm living. But deep within my
heart I shall, as you say, be both lonely and sad. If there's any
comfort in that for you--"

"No, there's no comfort at all for me in that, Kate. Stay with me, stay
with me! Be my wife. Why, it's your destiny."

Kate crossed the room as if she would move beyond that aura which
vibrated about him and in which she could not stand without a too
dangerous delight. She was very pale, but she carried her head high
still--almost defiantly.

"I mean to be the mother to many, many children, Karl," she said in a
voice which thrilled with sorrow and pride and a strange joy. "To
thousands and thousands of children. But for the Idea I represent and
the work I mean to do they would be trampled in the dust of the world.
Can't you see that I am called to this as men are called to honorable
services for their country? This is a woman's form of patriotism. It's a
higher one than the soldier's, I think. It's come my way to be the
banner-carrier, and I'm glad of it. I take my chance and my honor just
as you would take your chance and your honor. But I could resign the
glory, Karl, for your love, and count it worth while."


"But the thing to which I am faithful is my opportunity for great
service. Come with me, Karl, my dear. Think how we could work together
in Washington--think what such a brain and heart as yours would mean to
a new cause. We'd lose ourselves--and find ourselves--laboring for one
of the kindest, lovingest ideas the hard old world has yet devised. Will
you come and help me, Karl, man?"

He moved toward her, his hands outspread with a protesting gesture.

"You know that all my work is here, Kate. This is my home, these mines
are mine, the town is mine. It is not only my own money which is
invested, but the money of other men--friends who have trusted me and
whose prosperity depends upon me."

"Oh, but, Karl, aren't there ways of arranging such things? You say I am
dear to you--transfer your interests and come with me--Karl!" Her voice
was a pleader's, yet it kept its pride.

"Kate! How can I? Do you want me to be a supplement to you--a hanger-on?
Don't you see that you would make me ridiculous?"

"Would I?" said Kate. "Does it seem that way to you? Then you haven't
learned to respect me, after all."

"I worship you," he cried.

Kate smiled sadly.

"I know," she said, "but worship passes--"

"No--" he flung out, starting toward her.

But she held him back with a gesture.

"You have stolen my word," she said with an accent of finality. "'No'"
is the word you force me to speak. I am going on to Washington in the
morning, Karl.

They heard the children running down the hall and pounding on the door
with their soft fists. When Kate opened to them, they clambered up her
skirts. She lifted them in her arms, and Karl saw their sunny heads
nestling against her dark one. As she left the room, moving unseeingly,
she heard the hard-wrung groan that came from his lips.

A moment later, as she mounted the stairs, she saw him striding up the
trail which they, together, had ascended once when the sun of their hope
was still high.

She did not meet him again that day. She and Honora ate their meals in
silence, Honora dark with disapproval, Kate clinging to her spar of
spiritual integrity.

If that "no" thundered in Karl's ears the night through while he kept
the company of his ancient comforters the mountains, no less did it beat
shatteringly in the ears of the woman who had spoken it.

"No," to the deep and mystic human joys; "no" to the most holy privilege
of women; "no" to light laughter and a dancing heart; "no" to the
lowly, satisfying labor of a home. For her the steep path, alone; for
her the precipice. From it she might behold the sunrise and all the
glory of the world, but no exalted sense of duty or of victory could
blind her to its solitude and to its danger.

Yet now, if ever, women must be true to the cause of liberty. They had
been, through all the ages, willing martyrs to the general good. Now it
was laid upon them to assume the responsibilities of a new crusade, to
undertake a fresh martyrdom, and this time it was for themselves.
Leagued against them was half--quite half--of their sex. Vanity and
prettiness, dalliance and dependence were their characteristics. With a
shrug of half-bared shoulders they dismissed all those who, painfully,
nobly, gravely, were fighting to restore woman's connection with
reality--to put her back, somehow, into the procession; to make, by new
methods, the "coming lady" as essential to the commonwealth as was the
old-time chatelaine before commercialism filched her vocations and left
her the most cultivated and useless of parasites.

Oh, it was no little thing for which she was fighting! Kate tried to
console herself with that. If she passionately desired to create an
organization which should exercise parental powers over orphaned or
poorly guarded children, still more did she wish to set an example of
efficiency for women, illustrating to them with how firm a step woman
might tread the higher altitudes of public life, making an achievement,
not a compromise, of labor.

Moreover, no other woman in the country had at present had an
opportunity that equaled her own. Look at it how she would, throb as she
might with a woman's immemorial nostalgia for a true man's love, she
could not escape the relentless logic of the situation. It was not the
hour for her to choose her own pleasure. She must march to battle
leaving love behind, as the heroic had done since love and combat were
known to the world.


Morning came. She was called early that she might take the train for the
East, and arising from her sleepless bed she summoned her courage
imperatively. She determined that, however much she might suffer from
the reproaches of her inner self,--that mystic and hidden self which so
often refuses to abide by the decisions of the brain and the
conscience,--she would not betray her falterings. So she was able to go
down to the breakfast-room with an alert step and a sufficiently gallant
carriage of the head.

Honora was there, as pale as Kate herself, and she did not scruple to
turn upon her departing guest a glance both regretful and forbidding.
Kate looked across the breakfast-table at her gloomy aspect.

"Honora," she said with some exasperation, "you've walked _your_ path,
and it wasn't the usual one, now, was it? But I stood fast for your
right to be unusual, didn't I? Then, when the whole scheme of things
went to pieces and you were suffering, I didn't lay your misfortune to
the singularity of your life. I knew that thousands and thousands of
women, who had done the usual thing and chosen the beaten way, had
suffered just as much as you. I tried to give you a hand
up--blunderingly, I suppose, but I did the best I could. Of course, I'm
a beast for reminding you of it. But what I want to know is, why you
should be looking at me with the eyes of a stony-hearted critic because
I'm taking the hardest road for myself. You don't suppose I'd do it
without sufficient reason, do you? Standing at the parting of the ways
is a serious matter, however interesting it may be at the moment."

Honora's face flushed and her eyes filled.

"Oh," she cried, "I can't bear to see you putting happiness behind you.
What's the use? Don't you realize that men and women are little more
than motes in the sunshine, here for an hour and to-morrow--nothing! I'm
pretty well through with those theories that people call principles and
convictions. Why not be obedient to Nature? She's the great teacher.
Doesn't she tell you to take love and joy when they come your way?"

"We've threshed all that out, haven't we?" asked Kate impatiently. "Why
go over the ground again? But I must say, if a woman of your
intelligence--and my friend at that--can't see why I'm taking an uphill
road, alone, instead of walking in a pleasant valley with the best of
companions, then I can hardly expect any one else to sympathize with me.
However, what does it matter? I said I was going alone so why should I

Her glance fell on the fireplace before which she and Karl had sat the
night when he first welcomed her beneath his roof. She remembered the
wild silence of the hour, the sense she had had of the invisible
presence of the mountains, and how Karl's love had streamed about her
like shafts of light.

"I've seen nothing of Karl," said Honora abruptly. "He went up the trail
yesterday morning, and hasn't been back to the house since."

"He didn't come home last night? He didn't sleep in his bed?"

"No, I tell you. He's had the Door of Life slammed in his face, and I
suppose he's pretty badly humiliated. Karl isn't cut out to be a beggar
hanging about the gates, is he? Pence and crumbs wouldn't interest him.
I wonder if you have any idea how a man like that can suffer? Do you
imagine he is another Ray McCrea?"

"Pour my coffee, please, Honora," said Kate.

Honora took the hint and said no more, while Kate hastily ate her
breakfast. When she had finished she said as she left the table:--

"I'd be glad if you'll tell the stable-man that I'll not take the
morning train. I'm sorry to change my mind, but it's unavoidable."

The smart traveling-suit she had purchased in Los Angeles was her
equipment that morning. To this she added her hat and traveling-veil.

"If you're going up the mountain," said the maladroit Honora, "better
not wear those things. They'll be ruined."

"Oh, things!" cried Kate angrily. She stopped at the doorway. "That
wasn't decent of you, Honora. I _am_ going up the mountain--but what
right had you to suppose it?"

The whole household knew it a moment later--the maids, the men at the
stables and the corral. They knew it, but they thought more of her. She
went so proudly, so openly. The judgment they might have passed upon
lesser folk, they set aside where Wander and his resistant sweetheart
were concerned. They did not know the theater, these Western men and
women, but they recognized drama when they saw it. Their deep love of
romance was satisfied by these lovers, so strong, so compelling, who
moved like demigods in their unconcern for the opinions of others.

Kate climbed the trail which she and Wander had taken together on the
day when she had mockingly proclaimed her declaration of independence.
She smiled bitterly now to think of the futility of it. Independence?
For whom did such a thing exist? Karl Wander was drawing her to him as
that mountain of lode in the Yellowstone drew the lightnings of heaven.

In time she came to the bench beside the torrent where she and Wander
had rested that other, unforgettable day. She paused there now for a
long time, for the path was steep and the altitude great. The day had
turned gray and a cold wind was arising--crying wind, that wailed among
the tumbled boulders and drove before it clouds of somber hue.

After a time she went on, and as she mounted, encountering ever a
steeper and more difficult way, she tore the leather of her shoes, rent
the skirt of her traveling-frock, and ruined her gloves with soil
and rock.

"If I have to go back as I came, alone," she reflected, "all in tatters
like this, to find that he is at the mines or the village, attending to
his work, I shall cut a fine figure, shan't I? The very gods will
laugh at me."

She flamed scarlet at the thought, but she did not turn back.

Presently she came to a place where the path forked. A very narrow,
appallingly deep gorge split the mountain at this point, each path
skirting a side of this crevasse.

"I choose the right path," said Kate aloud.

Her heart and lungs were again rebelling at the altitude and the
exertion, and she was forced to lie flat for a long time. She lay with
her face to the sky watching the roll of the murky clouds. Above her
towered the crest of the mountain, below her stretched the abyss. It was
a place where one might draw apart from all the world and contemplate
the little thing that men call Life. Neither ecstasy nor despair came to
her, though some such excesses might have been expected of one whose
troubled mind contemplated such magnificence, such terrific beauty.
Instead, she seemed to face the great soul of Truth--to arrive at a
conclusion of perfect sanity, of fine reasonableness.

Conventions, pettiness, foolish pride, waywardness, secret egotism,
fell away from her. The customs of society, with what was valuable in
them and what was inadequate, assumed their true proportions. It was as
if her House of Life had been swept of fallacy by the besom of the
mountain wind. A feeling of strength, courage, and clarity took
possession of her. There was an expectation, too,--nay, the
conviction,--that an event was at hand fraught for her with vast

The trail, almost perpendicular now, led up a mighty rock. She pulled
herself up, and emerging upon the crown of the mountain, beheld the
proud peaks of the Rockies, bare or snow-capped, dripping with purple
and gray mists, sweeping majestically into the distance. Such solemnity,
such dark and passionate beauty, she never yet had seen, though she was
by this time no stranger to the Rockies, and she had looked upon the
wonders of the Sierras. She envisaged as much of this sublimity as eye
and brain might hold; then, at a noise, glanced at that tortuous
trail--yet more difficult than the one she had taken--which skirted the
other side of the continuing crevasse.

On it stood Karl Wander, not as she had seen him last, impatient, racked
with mental pain, and torn with pride and eager love. He was haggard,
but he had arrived at peace. He was master over himself and no longer
the creature of futile torments. To such a man a woman might well
capitulate if capitulation was her intent. With such a chieftain might
one well treat if one had a mind to maintain the suzerainty of
one's soul.

The wind assailed Kate violently, and she caught at a spur of rock and
clung, while her traveling-veil, escaped from bounds, flung out like a
"home-going" pennant of a ship.

"A flag of truce, Kate?" thundered Wander's voice.

"Will you receive it?" cried Kate.

Now that she had sought and found him, she would not surrender without
one glad glory of the hour.

"Name your conditions, beloved enemy."

"How can we talk like this?"

"We're not talking. We're shouting."

"Is there no way across?"

"Only for eagles."

"What did you mean by staying up here? I was terrified. What if you had
been dying alone--"

"I came up to think things out."

"Have you?"



"Kate, we must be married."

"Yes," laughed Kate. "I know it."


"Yes," called Kate, "that's it. But--"

"But you shall do your work: I shall do mine."

"I know," said Kate. "That's what I meant to say to you. There's more
than one way of being happy and good."

"Go your way, Kate. Go to your great undertaking. Go as my wife. I stay
with my task. It may carry me farther and bring me more honor than we
yet know. I shall go to you when I can: you must come to me--when you
will. What more exhilarating? A few years will bring changes. I hear
they may send me to Washington, after all. But they'll not need to send
me. Lead where you will, I will follow--on condition!"

"The condition?"

She stood laughing at him, shining at him, free and proud as the
"victory" of a sculptor's dream.

"That you follow my leadership in turn. We'll have a Republic of Souls,
Kate, with equal opportunity--none less, none greater--with high
expediency for the watchword."

"Yes. Oh, Karl, I came to say all this!"

"Then some day we'll settle down beneath one roof--we'll have a

"Yes," cried Kate again, this time with an accent that drowned forever
the memory of her "no."

"Turn about, Kate; turn about and go down the trail. You'll have to do
it alone, I'm afraid. I can't get over there to help."

"I don't need help," retorted Kate. "It's fine doing it alone."

"Follow your path, and I will follow mine. We can keep in sight almost
all the way, I think, and, as you know, a little below this height, the
paths converge."

Kate stood a moment longer, looking at him, measuring him.

"How splendid to be a man," she called. "But I'm glad I'm a woman," she
supplemented hastily.

"Not half so glad as I, Kate, my mate,--not a thousandth part so glad as

She held out her arms to him. He gave a great laugh and plunged down the
path. Kate swept her glance once more over the dark beauty of the
mountain-tops--her splendid world, wrought with illimitable joy in
achievement by the Maker of Worlds,--and turning, ran down the great
rock that led to the trail.


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