Produced by Charles Aldarondo, GF Untermeyer and PG Distributed Proofreaders
Fate Knocks At The Door
Will Levington Comfort
“Routledge Rides Alone,”
“She Buildeth Her House,” etc.
In speaking of the first four notes of the opening movement, Beethoven said, some time after he had finished the Fifth Symphony: “So pocht das Shicksal an die Pforte” (“Thus Fate Knocks at the Door”); and between that opening knock, and the tremendous rush and sweep of the Finale, the emotions which come into play in the great conflicts of life are depicted.
–From Upton’s _Standard Symphonies_.
THE MOTHERS OF MEN
I. ASIA. (_Allegro con brio_.)
First Chapter: The Great Wind Strikes Second Chapter: The Pack-Train in Luzon Third Chapter: Red Pigment of Service Fourth Chapter: That Adelaide Passion Fifth Chapter: A Flock of Flying Swans Sixth Chapter: That Island Somewhere
Seventh Chapter: _Andante con Moto_–Fifth Eighth Chapter: The Man from _The Pleiad_
II. NEW YORK. (_Andante con moto_.)
Ninth Chapter: The Long-Awaited Woman Tenth Chapter: The Jews and the Romans Eleventh Chapter: Two Davids Come to Beth Twelfth Chapter: Two Lesser Adventures Thirteenth Chapter: About Shadowy Sisters Fourteenth Chapter: This Clay-and-Paint Age Fifteenth Chapter: The Story of the Mother Sixteenth Chapter: “Through Desire for Her.” Seventeenth Chapter: The Plan of the Builder Eighteenth Chapter: That Park Predicament Nineteenth Chapter: In the House of Grey One Twentieth Chapter: A Chemistry of Scandal Twenty-first Chapter: The Singing Distances Twenty-second Chapter: Beth Signs the Picture Twenty-third Chapter: The Last Ride Together Twenty-fourth Chapter: A Parable of Two Horses
III. EQUATORIA. (_Allegro. Scherzo_.)
Twenty-fifth Chapter: Bedient for _The Pleiad_ Twenty-sixth Chapter: How Startling is Truth Twenty-seventh Chapter: The Art of Miss Mallory Twenty-eighth Chapter: A Further Note from Rey Twenty-ninth Chapter: At _Treasure Island Inn_ Thirtieth Chapter: Miss Mallory’s Mastery Thirty-first Chapter: The Glow-worm’s One Hour Thirty-second Chapter: In the Little Room Next Thirty-third Chapter: The Hills and the Skies Thirty-fourth Chapter: The Supreme Adventure Thirty-fifth Chapter: Fate Knocks at the Door
IV. NEW YORK. (_Allegro. Finale_.)
Thirty-sixth Chapter: The Great Prince House Thirty-seventh Chapter: Beth and Adith Mallory Thirty-eighth Chapter: A Self-Conscious Woman Thirty-ninth Chapter: Another _Smilax_ Affair Fortieth Chapter: Full Day Upon the Plain
FATE KNOCKS AT THE DOOR
_Allegro con brio_
THE GREAT WIND STRIKES
Andrew Bedient, at the age of seventeen, in a single afternoon,–indeed, in one moment of a single afternoon,–performed an action which brought him financial abundance for his mature years. Although this narrative less concerns the boy Bedient than the man as he approaches twice seventeen, the action is worthy of account, beyond the riches that it brought, because it seems to draw him into somewhat clearer vision from the shadows of a very strange boyhood.
April, 1895, the _Truxton_, of which Andrew was cook, found herself becalmed in the China Sea, midway between Manila and Hong Kong, her nose to the North. She was a smart clipper of sixty tons burden, with a slightly uptilted stern, and as clever a line forward as a pleasure yacht. She was English, comparatively new, and, properly used by the weather, was as swift and sprightly of service as an affectionate woman. Her master was Captain Carreras, a tubby little man of forty-five, bald, modest, and known among the shipping as “a perfect lady.” He wore a skull-cap out of port; and as constantly, except during meals, carried one of a set of rarely-colored meerschaum-bowls, to which were attachable, bamboo-stems, amber-tipped and of various lengths.
The little Captain was fastidious in dress, wearing soft shirts of white silk, fine duck trousers and scented silk handkerchiefs, which he carried in his left hand with the meerschaum-bowl. The Carreras perfume, mingled with fresh tobacco, was never burdensome, and unlike any other. The silk handkerchief was as much a feature of the Captain’s appearance as the skull-cap. To it was due the really remarkable polish of the perfect clays so regularly cushioned in his palm. Always for dinner, the Captain’s toilet was fresh throughout. Invariably, too, he brought with him an unfolded handkerchief upon which he placed, at the farther end of the table when the weather was fair (and in the socket of the fruit-bowl when the weather-frames were on), a ready-filled pipe. This he took to hand when coffee was brought.
His voice was seldom raised. He found great difficulty in expressing himself, except upon affairs of the ship; yet, queerly enough, there were times when he seemed deeply eager to say the things which came of his endless silences. As unlikely a man as you would find in the Pacific, or any other merchant-service, was this Carreras; a gentleman, if a very bashful one; a deeply-read and kindly man, although it was quite as difficult for him to extend a generous action, directly to be found out,–and his mind was continually furnishing inclinations of this sort,–as it was to express his thoughts. Either brought on a nervous tension which left him shaken and drained. The right woman would have adored Captain Carreras, and doubtless would have called forth from his breast a love of heroic dimension; but she would have been forced to do the winning; to speak and take the initiative in all but the giving of happiness. Temperate for a bachelor, clean throughout, charmingly innocent of the world, and a splendid seaman. To one of fine sensibilities, there was something about the person of Captain Carreras of softly glowing warmth, and rarely tender.
Bedient had been with him as cook for over a year, during which the _Truxton_ had swung down to Australia and New South Wales, and called at half the Asiatic and insular ports from Vladivostok to Bombay. Since he was a little chap (back of which were the New York memories, vague, but strange and persistent), there had always been some ship for Bedient, but the _Truxton_ was by far the happiest…. It was from the _Truxton_ just a few months before that he had gone ashore day after day for a fortnight at Adelaide; and a wee woman five years older, and a cycle wiser, had invariably been waiting with new mysteries in her house…. Moreover, on the _Truxton_, he had nothing to do with the forecastle galley–there was a Chinese for that–and Captain Carreras, fancying him from the beginning, had quartered him aft, where, except on days like this, when Mother Earth’s pneumatic cushion seemed limp and flattened, there was a breeze to hammock in, and plenty of candles for night reading.
Then the Captain had a box of books, the marvel of which cannot begin to be described. Andrew’s books were but five or six, chosen for great quantity and small bulk; tightly and toughly bound little books of which the Bible was first. This was his book of fairies, his Aesop; his book of wanderings and story, of character and mystery; his revelations, the source of his ideality, the great expander of limitations; his book of love and adventure and war; the book unjudgable and the bed-rock of all literary judgment. He knew the Bible as only one can who has played with it as a child; as only one can who has found it alone available, when an insatiable love of print has swept across the young mind. Nothing could change him now; this was his book of Fate.
Except for those vision-times in the big city, Andrew could not remember when he had not read the Bible, nor did he remember learning to read. He seemed to have forgotten how to read before he came to sea at seven, but when an old sailor pointed out on the stern of the jolly-boat, the letters that formed the name of his first ship–it had all come back to the child; and then he found his first Bible. Slowly conceiving its immensity, its fullness _for him_–he was almost lifted from his body with the upward winging of happiness. It was his first great exaltation, and there was a sacredness about it which kept him from telling anybody…. And now all the structures of the great Scripture were tenoned in his brain; so that he knew the frame of every part, but the inner meanings of more and more marvellous dimension seemed inexhaustible. Always excepting the great Messianic Figure–the white tower of his consciousness–he loved Saint Paul and the Forerunner best among the men….
There was also a big book in the Captain’s chest–_Life and Death on the Ocean_–quarto-sized and printed in agate. It was filled with mutiny, murder, storm, open-boat cannibalism and agonies of thirst, handspike and cutlass inhumanities. No shark, pirate nor man-killing whale had been missed; no ghastly wreck, derelict nor horrifying phantom of the sea had escaped the nameless, furious compiler. For four days and nights, Andrew glared consumingly into this terrible book, and when he came to the writhing “Finis,” involved in a sort of typhoon tailpiece–he was whipped, and never could bring himself to touch the book again. One reading had burned out his entire interest. It was not Life nor Death nor Ocean, as he had seen them in ten solid years at sea. He had given the book his every emotion, and discovered it gave nothing back; but had shaken, terrified, played furious _tarantellas_ upon his feelings–and replenished naught. So he turned for unguent to his Book of Books. Here was the strong steady light in contrast to which the other was an “angled spar.” True, here crawled hate, avarice, lust, flesh and its myriad forms of death–not in their own elemental darkness–but as scurrying vermin forms suddenly drenched with light…. There were other and really wonderful books in Captain Carreras’ chest–a bashful welcome to his cabin, and such eager lending from the Captain himself!
This had become a pleasant feature in the young man’s life–the queer kindly heart of the Captain. There were few confidences between them, but a fine unspoken regard, pleasing and permanent like the Carreras perfume. Bedient’s desire to show his gratitude and admiration was expressed in ways that could not possibly shock the Captain’s delicacy–in the small excellences of his art, for instance. To say that the boy was consummate in the limited way of a ship’s cook does not overstate his effectiveness. He did unheard-of things–even fruit and berry-pies, from preserves two years, at least, remote from vine and orchard. The two mates and boatswain, who also messed aft, bolted without speech, but marvelled between meals. To these three, the tension of the Captain’s embarrassment became insupportable, beyond four or five minutes; so that Carreras, a discriminating, though not a valiant trencherman, was always the last to leave the table.
And once after a first supper at sea out of Singapore (there had been a green salad, a fish baked whole, a cut of ham with new potatoes, and a peach-preserve tart), the Captain put down his napkin and coffee-cup, drank a _liqueur_, reached for his pipe and handkerchief, and suddenly encountering the eyes of Andrew, who lit a flare for him, jerked up decisively, as one encountering a crisis. His face became hectic, and the desperate sentence he uttered was almost lost in the frantic clearing of his throat:
“You’re a very prime and wonderful chap, sir!”
Moreover, Bedient’s arm had been pressed for an instant by the softest, plumpest hand seaman ever carried. Coughing alarmingly in the first fragrant cloud from his Latakia and Virginia leaf, the Captain beat forth to recover himself on deck.
* * * * *
The _Truxton_ was now six days out of Manila. For the past thirty-six hours, she might as well have been sunk in pitch, for any progress she made…. The ship’s bell had just struck four. Bedient had finished clearing away tiffin things, and stepped on deck. The planking was like the galley-range he had left, and the fresh white paint of the three boats raised in blisters. The sea had an ugly look, yellow-green and dead, save where a shark’s fin knifed the surface. The crew was lying forward under the awnings–a fiend-tempered outfit of Laskars and Chinese. Captain Carreras appeared on deck through the companion-way still farther aft and nodded to Bedient. Then both men looked at the sky, which was brassy above, but thickening in the North. It augmented darkly and streakily–like a tub of water into which bluing is added drop by drop…. A Chinese arose and tossed a handful of joss-tatters into the still air. And now the voice of the Captain brought the rest of the crew to its feet.
The China Sea can generate much deviltry to a square mile. The calm of death and the burn of perdition are in its bosom. Cholera, glutted with victims, steals to his couch in the China Sea; and since it is the pool of a thousand unclean rivers, the sins of Asia find a hiding-place there. It has ended for all time the voyages of brave mariners and mighty ships, and become a vault for the cargoes, and a tomb for the bones of men. The China Sea fostered the pirate, aided him in his bloody ways, and dragged him down, riches and all. Bed of disease, secret-place of the unclean, and graveyard of the seas; yet, this yellow-breasted fiend, ancient in devil-lore, can smile innocently as a child at the morning sun, and beguile the torrid stars to twinkling.
It was in this black heart that was first conceived the Tai Fung (typhoon), and there the great wind has its being to-day, resting and rising.
The Captain’s eyes were deep in the North. Bedient’s soul seemed to sense the awful solemnity on the face of the waters. He was unable afterward to describe his varying states of consciousness, from that first moment. He remembered thinking what a fine little man the Captain was; that their sailing together was done…. A sympathetic disorder was brewing deep down on the ocean floor; the water now had a charged appearance, and was foul as the roadstead along the mouths of the Godivari–a thick, whipped, yeasty look. The changes were very rapid. Every few seconds, Bedient glanced at the Captain, and as often followed his gaze into the churning, blackening North.
A chill came into the deathly heat, but it was the cold of caverns, not of the vital open. The heat did not mix with it, but passed by in layers–a novel movement of the atmospheres. Had the coolness been clean and normal, the sailors would have sprung to the rigging to breathe it, and to bare their bodies to the rain–after two days of hell-pervading calm–but they only murmured now and fell to work.
An unearthly glitter, like the coloring of a dream, wavered in the East and West, while the North thickened and the South lay still in brilliant expectation…. In some hall-way when Bedient was a little boy, he recalled a light like this of the West and East. There had been a long narrow pane of yellow-green glass over the front door. The light used to come through that in the afternoon and fill the hall and frighten him. It was so on deck now.
The voices of the sailors had that same unearthly quality as the light–ineffectual, remote. Out of the hold of the _Truxton_ came a ghostly sigh. Bedient couldn’t explain, unless it was some new and mighty strain upon the keel and ribs.
A moment more and the Destroyer itself was visible in the changing North. It was sharp-lined–a great wedge of absolute night–and from it, the last vestiges of day dropped back affrighted. And Bedient heard the voice of It; all that the human ear could respond to of the awful dissonances of storm; yet he knew there were ranges of sound above and below the human register–for they awed and preyed upon his soul…. He thought of some papers dear to him, and dropped below for them. The ship smelled old–as if the life were gone from her timbers.
Above once more, he saw a hideous turmoil in the black fabric–just wind–an avalanche of wind that gouged the sea, that could have shaken mountains…. The poor little _Truxton_ stared into the End–a puppy cowering on the track of a train.
And then It struck. Bedient was sprawled upon the deck. Blood broke from his nostrils and ears; from the little veins in his eyes and forehead. Parts of his body turned black afterward from the mysterious pressure at this moment. He felt he was being _born again into another world_…. The core of that Thing made of wind smashed the _Truxton_–a smash of air. It was like a thick sodden cushion, large as a battle-ship–hurled out of the North. The men had to breathe it–that seething havoc which tried to twist their souls free. When passages to the lungs were opened, the dreadful compression of the air crushed through, tearing the membrane of throat and nostril.
Water now came over the ship in huge tumbling walls. Bedient slid over the deck, like a bar of soap from an overturned pail–clutching, torn loose, clutching again…. Then the Thing eased to a common hurricane such as men know. Gray flicked into the blackness, a corpse-gray sky, and the ocean seemed shaken in a bottle.
Laskars and Chinese, their faces and hands dripping red, were trying to get a boat overside when Bedient regained a sort of consciousness. The _Truxton_ was wallowing underfoot–as one in the saddle feels the tendons of his mount give way after a race. The Captain helped a huge Chinese to hold the wheel. The sea was insane…. They got the boat over and tumbled in–a dozen men. A big sea broke them and the little boat like a basket of eggs against the side of the ship.
Another boat was put over and filled with men. Another sea flattened them out and carried the stains away on the surge. There were only nine men left and a small boat that would hold but seven. Bedient helped to make a rigging to launch this over the stern. He saw that the thing might be done if the small craft were not broken in two against the rudder.
The Captain made no movement, had no thought to join these stragglers. He was alone at the wheel, which played with his strength. His face was calm, but a little dazed. It did not occur to him other than to go down with his ship–the old tradition. The fatuousness of this appealed suddenly to Bedient. Carreras was his friend–the only other white man left. The two mates and boatswain had tried out the first two boats–eagerly.
Bedient ran to the wheel, tore the Captain from it and carried him in his arms toward the stern. A Chinese tried to knife him, but the man died, _as if_ struck by a flying bit of tackle. Bedient recaptured the Captain, who during the brief struggle had dumbly turned back to the wheel. It was all done in thirty seconds; Carreras was chucked into the stern-seat of the little boat, where he belonged. The body of a Laskar cushioned the craft from being broken against the rudder. And now they were seven.
The _Truxton_ had been broken above and below. She strangled–and was sucked down. Bedient saw her stern fling high like an arm; saw the big “X” in the centre of the name in the whitish light.
He remembered hearing that typhoons always double on their tracks; and that a ship is not done that manages to live through the first charge. This one never came back. They had five days of thirst and equatorial sun. Two men died; two fell into madness; Captain Carreras, Andrew Bedient and a Chinese made Hong Kong without fatal hurt.
Captain and cook took passage for London. The former declared he was through with the sea, except as a passenger. In twenty-five years he had never encountered serious accident before; he had believed himself accident-proof; and learning differently, did not propose to lose a second ship. He could bring himself to say very little about Bedient’s action of the last moment on deck, but he asked the young man to share his fortunes. Captain Carreras intended to stay for a while at his mother’s house in Surrey, but realized he could not stand that long…. Bedient told him he was not finished with Asia yet. On the day they parted, the Captain said there would be a letter for Bedient, on or before July first of every year, sent care the “_Marigold, New York_.”… The old embarrassment intervened at the last moment–but the younger man did not miss the Captain’s heart-break.
THE PACK-TRAIN IN LUZON
The first letter from Captain Carreras was a real experience for Bedient. Hours were needed to adjust the memories of his timid old friend to this flowing and affectionate expression. Captain Carreras, shut in a room with pen and white paper, loosed his pent soul in utterance. A fine fragrant soul it was, and all its best poured out to his memorable boy.
The letter had been written in England, of which the Captain was already weary. He must have more space about, he confessed; and although he did not intend to break his pledge on the matter of navigating, he was soon to book a passage for the Americas. He imagined there was the proper sort of island for him somewhere in those waters. He had always had a weakness for “natives and hot weather.” Bedient was asked to make his need known in any case of misfortune or extremity. This was the point of the first letter, and of all the letters….
At length Captain Carreras settled in Equatoria, a big island well out of travel-lines in the Caribbean. The second and third letters made it even plainer that the old heart valves ached for the young man’s coming. A mysterious binding of the two seems to have taken place in the months preceding the day of the great wind; and in that instant of stress and fury the Captain realized his supreme human relationship. It grew strong as only can a bachelor’s love for a man. Indeed, Carreras was probably the first to discover in Andrew Bedient a something different, which Bedient himself was yet far from realizing…. The latter wished that the letters from the West Indies would not always revert to the strength of his hands. It brought up a memory of the despoiled face of the Chinese with the knife, and of the inert figure afterward on the planking…. Bedient knew that sometime he would go to find his friend.
Three years after the great wind, the excitement in Manila called Bedient across the China Sea. There had been a _coup_ of the American fleet, and soldiers from the States were on the way to the Islands…. In the following weeks, there was much to do and observe around that low large city of Luzon, the lights of which Andrew had seen many times at night from the harbor and the passage–lights which seemed to lie upon still waters. When Pack-train Thirteen finally took the field from the big corral, to carry grub and ammunition to the moving forces and the few outstanding garrisons, Bedient had already been tried out and found excellent as cook of the outfit.
It is to be doubted if history furnishes a more picturesque service than that which fell to Luzon pack-trains throughout the following two years. It was like Indian fighting, but more compact, rapid and surprising. The actions were small enough to be seen entire; they fell clean-cut into pictures and were instantly comprehensive. As the typhoon confirmed Carreras, this Luzon service brought to Bedient an important relation–his first real friendship with a boy of his own age.
In the fall of 1899, David Cairns, the youngest of the American war-correspondents, stood hungry and desolate in the plaza of the little town of Alphonso, two days’ cavalry march below Manila–when Pack-train Thirteen arrived with provisions. The mules swung in with drooping heads and lolling tongues, under three-hundred-pound packs. The roars of Healy, the boss-packer, filled the dome of sky where a young moon was rising in a twilight of heavenly blue–dusk of the gods, indeed. A battalion of infantry in Alphonso had been hungry for three days–so the Train had come swiftly, ten hours on the trail, and forced going. It was a volunteer infantry outfit, and apt to be a bit lawless in the sight of food. Some of the men began pulling at the packs. Healy and his iron-handed, vitriol-tongued crew beat them back with the ferocity of devils–and had the battalion cowed and whimpering, before the officers withdrew the men and arranged an orderly issue of rations.
Meanwhile, David Cairns watched the tall, young cook, lean, tanned, and with an ugly triangle of fresh sunburn under his left shoulder-blade, where his shirt had been torn with a thorn that day. He loosed the _aparejos_ and _mantas_, containing the kitchen-kit; almost magically a fire was started. Water was heating a moment later and slabs of bacon began to writhe…. Savage as he was from hunger, it was marvellously colorful to the fresh-eyed Cairns–his first view of a pack-train. The mules, relieved of their burdens, were rolling on the dusty turf. Thirty mountain-mules, under packs one-third their own weight, and through the pressure of a Luzon day; dry, empty, caked with sweat-salt–yet there were not a few of those gritty beasts that went into the air squealing, and launched a hind-foot at the nearest rib or the nearest star, or pressed close to muzzle the bell-mare–after the restoring roll. Then, some of the packers drove them down to water, while others made ready the forage and grain-bags; infantry fires were lit; the provisions turned over; detachments came meekly forward for rations, and the lifting aroma of coffee enchanted the warm winds. Cairns remembered all this when the sharp profile of battle-fronts grew dull in memory.
And now Bedient had three great pans of bacon sizzling, a young mountain of brown sugar piled upon a _Poncho_, a big can of hard-tack broken open, and the coffee had come to boil under his hands–three gallons at least. The watered mules had to do just so much kicking, so much braying at the young moon; had to be assured just so often, through their queer communications, that the bell-mare was still in the land of picket-line–before nose-bags were fastened. Then, with all the pack rigging in neat piles before the picket-line, and the untouched stores covered and piled, the packers came in with their mess-tins and coffee-cups.
Bedient had seen the hunger in the eyes of David Cairns, the empty haversack, and noted that he was neither officer nor enlisted man. Bedient had plenty of water, but with a smile he offered the other a pail and pointed to the stream. This was a pleasantry for the eyes of Boss Healy. Cairns appeared presently through the infantry, and around the end of the picket-line–a correspondent serving mule-riders with all the enthusiasm of a pitifully-tightened belt…. The packers were at their pipes and cigarettes and were spreading blanket-rolls, and groups of “chucked” infantry had warmed into singing–when the two boys sat down to supper. The cook said:
“I’m Andrew Bedient–and are you a correspondent?”
“A cub–and pretty nearly a starved cub…. There’s been nothing to buy, you know, and this outfit was hung up here grubless. The trails aren’t open enough to travel alone. Some of the officers might have taken me in—-“
“We have plenty. The packers hadn’t had their coffee when I gave you the pail,” Bedient whispered. “They hate the doughboys. I wanted them to see you weren’t enlisted…. I should say the trails _weren’t_ open for travelling alone. The niggers peppered at us all day. Healy rides through anything–says we make better time when the natives are shooting—-“
“I saw how he went through the bunch that started to help you unpack,” Cairns said laughing.
… Theirs was a quick love for each other. They had not known how lonely their hearts were, until they encountered this fine mutual attraction. Together they cleaned up the supper things, and spread their blankets side by side…. Later, when only the infantry sentries were awake, and the packers’ running guard (and a little apart, the interminable glow from Healy’s cigarettes), the two were still whispering, though the day had been terrific in physical expenditure. So aroused and gladdened by each other were they, that intimate matters poured forth in the fine way youths have, before the control and concealment is put on. Grown men imprison each other…. Their low tones trembled with emotion while the night whitened with stars. Cairns wished that something of terror or intensity might happen. He hated a knife to the very pith of his life, but now he would have welcomed a passage of steel in the dark–for a chance to defend the other.
And the cook had that absolute, laughing sort of courage. Cairns divined this–a courage so sure of itself that no boastful explanations were needed. They talked about men, books, their yearnings, the recent fights. Cairns was enthralled and mystified. Bedient did not seem to hope for great things in a worldly way, while the correspondent was driven daily by ambition and its self-dreams. Life apparently had shown this cook day by day what was wisest and easiest to do–the ways of little resistance. He appeared content to go on so; and this challenged Cairns to explain what he meant to do with the next few years. Bedient heard this with fine interest, but no quickening. Cairns was insatiable for details of a life that had been spent in Asia and upon ships of the Eastern seas. Everything that Bedient said had a shining exterior of mystery to the American. His vague memories of New York; the water-fronts that had since called his steps; different ships and captains; the men about him, Healy and the packers; his entire detachment from relatives, and his easy familiarity with the great unhasting years–all these formed into a luminous envelope, containing the new friend.
“I was always fed somehow,” Bedient whispered, as he told about the dim little lad that was himself. “There was always some one good to me. I ‘member one old sailor with rings in his ears—-“
The David Cairns of twenty likewise gave all gladly. Queerly enough, he found the other especially fascinated in anything he told of his mother and sisters, and the life at home in New York, made easy by the infinite little cushions of wealth and culture. A youth eight months away on his first campaign can talk with power on these matters. Here Cairns was wonderful and authoritative and elect to Bedient–particularly in the possession of a living, breathing Mother. This filled the cup of dreams in a way that the dominant exterior matters of the young correspondent’s mind–newspaper beats, New York honors, great war stories, and a writer’s name–could never have done. Bedient was clearly an inveterate idealist. His dreams were strangely lustrous, but distant, not to be touched nor handled–an impersonal kind of dreaming. Cairns was not so astonished that the other had been of uncommon quality in the beginning, but that his life had not _made_ him common was a miracle, no less.
Elements of glory were in this life he had lived, but those who belonged to it, whom Cairns had observed heretofore, were thick-skinned; men of unlit consciousness and hardened hearts, gruelling companions to whom there was no deadly sin but physical cowardice, and only muscular virtues. Bedient was not of these, neither in body, mind nor memory, aspiration, language nor manner. And yet _they_ believed in him, accepted him in a queer, tentative, subdued fashion; and he spoke to them warmly, and of them with affection. All this needed a deeper and more mellowed mind than Cairns’ to comprehend; though it challenged him from the first moment in that swiftly-darkening night. “It’s too good to be true,” was his oft-recurring sentence…. Though apart, Bedient was not scoffed. Could it be that he was so finished as a cook, as a friend, as an indefatigable–so rhythmically superior, that the packers took no offense at his aloofness? Certainly, Bedient felt no necessity of impressing his values upon his companions, as do those who have come but a little way in culture.
Somehow, Alphonso smelled of roses that night, as the two lay together in that little plaza, where the mules were picketed and the satisfied infantry slept. In the jungle (which seemed very close in the moonlight), bamboo stalks creaked soothingly and stroked each other in the soft night winds, and the zenith sky boiled with millions of white-hot worlds…. Are not the best dreams of this earth to be heard from two rare boys whispering in the night? They have not been frightened by their first real failure, and the latest, most delicate bloom of the race has not yet been brushed from their thoughts. Curled within their minds, like an endless scroll, are the marvellous scriptures of millenniums, and yet their brain-surfaces are fresh for earth’s newest concept…. What are they whispering? Their voices falter with emotion over vague bits of dreaming. They ask no greater stimulus to fly to the uttermost bounds of their limitations–than each other and the night. Reason dawns upon their stammered expressions, and farther they fly–thrilling like young birds, when their wings for the first time catch the sustaining cushions of air…. These are the vessels of the future–seals yet unbroken.
RED PIGMENT OF SERVICE
Bedient explained that he had come to the Philippines pleased with the thought of seeing his own people, the Americans. He realized that he was not seeing them at their best under martial law. The pair exchanged narratives of action. Cairns pictured his first time under fire, ending:
“… First you see the smoke; then you hear the bullets–then the _sound_ of the guns last—-“
“Yes, that’s the order,” said Bedient, who laughed softly, and presently was telling of a recent and terrible baptism of fire. The Pack-train had spurred to the rescue of a small party of sick and footsore, making their way to garrison.
“Why that was the Pony Pack Massacre!” Cairns exclaimed. “I heard about it–one of the worst affairs we’ve had over here–and you saw it?”
“I wish I hadn’t,” Bedient answered. “The little party of Americans were down when I first saw them. Six or seven of the sixteen were dead; nearly all the rest wounded. The natives had fired from three sides–and would have finished their work with knives, except for Thirteen. The American lieutenant in charge was clear-grained. He had been trying to withdraw toward the town and carry his wounded–think of that. There were not two others besides himself unscathed. I’ll never forget him–striding up and down praying and cursing–his first fight, you know–and his boy’s voice–‘Be cock sure they’re dead, fellows, before you leave ’em behind for the bolos!… For the love of God don’t leave your bunkies behind for the butchers!’
“In a half minute, I saw it all–what a thing for white men to be gathered for slaughter on a trail over here. The boys knew it–and fought horribly against it….”
Cairns started to say something about this, but the words didn’t come quickly enough, and Bedient went on:
“There is a picture of that day which always means _war_ to me. The soldier was hit mortally just as I got to him, but didn’t fall at once, as one does when the spine or brain is touched. As my hands went out to him, he got it again and lost his legs, as if they were shot from under. His body, you see, fell the length of his legs. This second bullet was a Remington slug that shattered his hip. He had a full canteen strung over his shoulder, infantry fashion. The bullet that dropped him sitting on the trail, had gone through this to his hip. The canteen was spurting water. Mind you, it was the other wound that was killing him. There he sat dying on the road. I felt like dying for him–felt that I couldn’t bear it if it took long. He was in my arms–and the canteen was emptying itself through the bullet-holes. Then he seemed to hear the water flopping out on the sand, and wriggled around to look at his hip, and I heard him mutter thickly: ‘Look–look at the b-bl-blood run!'”
Cairns felt that his companion suffered in this telling–that behind the dark, the face close to his was deadly pale. He couldn’t quite understand the depths of Bedient’s horror. It was war. All America was behind it. One boy can’t stand up against his nation. It was all very queer. He felt that Bedient had a crystal gameness, but here was the sensitiveness of a girl. Cairns thought of the heroes he had read of who were brave as a lion and gentle as a woman, and these memories helped him now to grasp his companion’s point of view…. Hesitating, Bedient finished:
“You know, to me all else was hushed when I felt that boy in my arms. It was like a shouting and laughing suddenly ceased–as when a company of boys discover that one of their playmates is terribly hurt…. I imagine it would be like that–the sudden silence and sickness. It was all so unnecessary. And that boy’s mother–he should have been in her arms, not mine. Poor little chap, he was all pimpled from beans, which are poison to some people. He shouldn’t have been hurt like that…. There was another who had needed but one shot. The Remington had gone into his throat in front the size of a lead-pencil–and come out behind like a tea-cup. The natives had filed the tip of the lead, so that it accumulated destruction in the ugly way. It was like some one putting a stone in a snow-ball–so vicious. You can’t blame the natives–but the war-game—-“
Boss Healy growled at them to go to sleep.
* * * * *
Cairns remained with the Pack-train after that until the Rains. Never did a boy have more to write about in three months. Every phase and angle of that service, now half-forgotten, unfolded for his eyes. And the impossible theme running through it all, was the carabao–the great horned sponge that pulls vastly like an elephant and dies easily like a rabbit–when the water is out…. They make no noise about their dying, these mountains of flesh, merely droop farther and farther forward against the yoke, when their skins crack from dryness; the whites of their eyes become wider and wider–until they lay their tongues upon the sand. The Chinese call them “cow-cows” and understand them better than the Tagals, as they understand better the rice and the paddies.
Once Thirteen was yanked out of Healy’s hand–as no volley of native shots had ever disordered. The mules were in a gorge trotting into the town of Indang. Natives in the high places about, were waiting for the Train to debouch upon the river-bank–so as to take a few shots at the outfit. Every one expected this, but just as the Train broke out of the gorge into the open, at the edge of the river-bed–there was a great sucking transfiguration from the shallows, a hideous sort of giving birth from the mud.
It was just a soaked carabao rising from his deep wallow in the stream, but that she-devil, the gray bell-mare, tried to climb the cliffs about it. The mules felt her panic, as if an electrode ran from her to the quick of every hide of them. When the fragments of the Train were finally gathered together in Indang, they formed an undone, hysterical mess. The packers were too tired to eat, but sat around dazed, softly cursing, and smoking cigarettes; as they did one day after a big fight, in which one of their number, Jimmy the Tough, was shot through the brain. For days the mules were nervous over the delicate condition of the bell.
Study of Andrew Bedient and weeks in which he learned, past the waver of a doubt, that his friend was knit with a glistening and imperishable fabric of courage, brought David Cairns to that high astonishing point, where he could say impatiently, “Rot!”–as his former ideals of manhood rose to mind. It was good for him to get this so young…. One morning something went wrong with Benton, the farrier. He had been silent for days. Bedient had sensed some trouble in the little man’s heart, and had often left Cairns to ride with him. Then came the evening when the farrier was missed. It was in the mountains near Naig. At length, just as the sun went down, the Train saw him gain a high cliff–and stand there for a moment against the red sky. Bedient reached over and gripped Cairns’ arm. Turning, the latter saw that his friend’s eyes were closed. The remarkable thing was that not one of the packers called to Benton–but all observed the lean tough little figure of one of the neatest men that ever lived afield–regarded in silence the hard handsome profile. Finally Benton drew out his pistol and looked at it, as if to see that the oil had kept out the dust from the hard day on the trail. Then he looked into the muzzle and fired–going over the cliff, as he had intended, and burying himself.
“Some awful inner hunger,” Bedient whispered hours afterward. “You see, he couldn’t talk–as you and I do…. I’ve noticed it so long–that these men can’t talk to one another–only swear and joke.”
Early the next morning Cairns awoke, doubtless missing Bedient subconsciously. It was in the first gray, an hour before Healy kicked his outfit awake. Bedient was back in camp in time to start breakfast, having made a big detour to reach the base of the gorge. It wasn’t a thing to speak about, but he had made a pilgrimage to the pit where the farrier had fallen…. Another time, Cairns awoke in the same way. It was the absence of Bedient, not the actual leaving, that aroused him. The Train had camped in a little nameless town. Cairns, this time, found his companion playing with a child, at the doorway of one of the shacks of the village. Inside, was an old man sick with _beri-beri_–swollen, features erased, unconscious; and an old woman who also had been too weak to flee before the American party. These two, the child, and a few pariah dogs were all that remained. You could have put the tiny one in a haversack comfortably. A poor little mongrel head that shone bare and scabby in places, but big black eyes, full of puzzles and wonderings; and upon his arms and legs, those deep humors which come from scratching in the night. The infant sat upon a banana leaf–brown and naked and wonderful as possible–and Bedient knelt before him smiling happily, and feeding hard-tack that had been softened in bacon-gravy.
Cairns saw the old woman’s face. It was sullen, haggard. The eyes were no strangers to hunger nor hatred. She watched the two Americans, as might a crippled tigress, that had learned at last how weak was her fury against chains. He saw that same look many times afterward in the eyes of these women of the riverbanks–as the white troops moved past. There was not even a sex-interest to complicate their hatred.
One day Thirteen overtook a big infantry column making a wide ford in the river before Bamban. It was high noon, but they found during the hold-up, a bit of shade and breeze on a commanding hill. Cairns and Bedient kicked off their shoes into the tall, moist grass, and luxuriously poked their feet into the coolness; and presently they were watching unfold a really pretty bit of action.
A thin glittering cloud of smoke across the river showed where the trenches of the natives were. The Americans in the river, held their rifles and ammunition-belts high, and wriggled their hips against the butting force of the stream. It all became very business-like. The battalion first across, set out to flank the native works; a rapid-fire gun started to boom from an opposite eminence, and the infantry took to firing at the emptying trenches. The Tagals were poked out of their positions, and in a sure leisurely way that held the essence of attraction.
After all, it was less the actual bits of fighting that cleared into memories of permanence, than certain subtleties of the campaign: a particular instant of one swift twilight, as in the plaza at Alphonso; a certain moment of a furious mid-day, when the sun was a python pressure, so that the scalp prickled with the congested blood in the brain, and men lifted their hats an inch or two as they rode, preserving the shade, but permitting the air to circulate; some guttural curse from a packer who could not lift his voice in the heat, nor think, but only curse, and grin in sickly fashion….
There were moments, reminders of which awoke Cairns in a sweat for many nights afterward: One day when he was badly in need of a fresh mount, he saw just ahead of the Train–a perfect little sorrel stallion fastened to the edge of the trail. He dismounted to change saddles. The Train was straggling along under an occasional fire. Cairns found that the pony was held by a tough wire, that led into the jungle. Such was the braiding at the throat, that only a sapper could have handled it. The correspondent started to follow the wire into the thicket–when Bedient caught him by the shoulder and half-lifted him from the ground. There was strength in that slim tanned hand that had nothing to do with the ordinary force of men. The cook smiled, but disdained explanation. It all dawned upon Cairns a second later. He would have followed the wire to the end in the jungle–where the trap of knives would spring…. The bolo-men need but a moment…. It was only two or three days later that one of the packers dropped behind the Train to tighten a cinch. No one had noticed, and Thirteen filed on.
“For Christ’s sake–don’t!” they heard from behind.
Wheeling, they found that the man had seen the end–as he had called out in that horrible echoing voice. He was not more than fifty yards behind the rear packer–and pinned to the trail. A bolo had been hammered with a stone–through the upper lip and the base of the brain, two or three inches into the earth…. He had been butchered besides.
At the end of a terrific ten days, Thirteen was crawling at nightfall into the large garrison at Lipa. Men and mules had been lost in the recent gruelling service. The trails and the miles had been long and hard; much hunger and thirst, and there was hell in the hearts of men this night. Even Bedient was shaking with fatigue; and Cairns beside him, felt that there wasn’t the brain of a babe in his skull. His saddle seemed filled with spikes. His spur was gone, and for hours he had kept his half-dead, lolling-tongued pony on the way, by frequent jabbing from a broken lead-pencil…. And here was Lipa at last, the second Luzon town, and a corral for the mules. As they passed a nipa-shack, at the outer edge, a sound of music came softly forth. Some native was playing one of the queer Filipino mandolins. The Train pushed on, without Cairns and Bedient. All the famine and foulness and fever lifted from these two. They forgot blood and pain and glaring suns. The early stars changed to lily-gardens, vast and white and beautiful, and their eyes dulled with dreams.
They did not guess, at least Cairns did not, that the low music brought tears that night–because they were in dreadful need of it, because they were filled with inner agony for something beautiful, because they had been spiritually starved. And all the riding hard, shooting true and dying game–those poor ethics of the open–had not brought a crumb, not a crumb, of the real bread of life. Nor could mountains of mere energy nor icebergs of sheer nerve! In needing the bread of life–they were different from the others, and so they lingered, unable to speak, while a poor little Tagal–“one of the niggers”–all unconsciously played. “Surely,” they thought, “his soul is no dead, dark thing when he can play like that.”
* * * * *
… So often, Bedient watched admiringly while Cairns wrote. The correspondent didn’t know it, but he was bringing a good temporal fame to Thirteen and himself in these nights. He had a boy’s energy and sentiment; also a story to tell for every ride and wound and shot in the dark. The States were attuned to boyish things, as a country always is in war, and a boy was better than a man for the work…. Often Bedient would bring him a cup of coffee and arrange a blanket to keep the wind from the sputtering candles. The two bunks were invariably spread together; and Bedient was ever ready for a talk in the dark, when Cairns’ brain dulled and refused to be driven to further work, even under the whip of bitter-black coffee…. They were never to forget these passionate nights–the mules, the mountains, nor the changing moon. Cairns was tampering with a drug that is hard to give up, in absorbing the odor and color of the oriental tropics. It filled his blood, and though, at the time, its magic was lost somewhat in the great loneliness for the States, and his mother and sisters–still, he was destined to know the craving when back on consecrated ground once more, and the carnal spirit of it all, died from his veins.
The most important lesson for Cairns to grasp was one that Andrew Bedient seemed to know from the beginning. It was this: To make what men call a good soldier means the breaking down for all time of that which is thrillingly brave and tender in man.
Healy is a type–a gamester, a fiend, a catapult. With a yell of “Hellsfire!” like a bursting shell, he would rowel his saddle-mule and lead the Train through flood or flame. His was a curse and a blow. He seemed a devil, condemned ever to pound miles behind him–bloody miles. Sometimes, there was a sullen baleful gleam in the black eye, shaded by a campaign hat, but more often it was wide-open and reckless like a man half-drunk. Rousingly picturesque in action, a boy would exclaim, “Oh, to be a man like that!” but a _man_ would look at him pityingly and murmur, “God forbid!”… No other had the racy oaths of this boss-packer. Here was his art. Out of all his memories of Healy and the Train, one line stands out in the mind of Cairns, bringing the picture of pictures:
Again, it was a swift twilight among the gorges between Silang and Indang. It was after the suicide of the farrier, and there were sores and galls under the packs. If one cannot quickly start the healing by first intention, a sore back, in this climate, will ruin a mule. In a day or two, one is all but felled by the stench and corruption of the worm-filled wound–when the _aparejo_ is lifted…. Just before the halt this night, an old gray mule, one of the tortured, had strayed from the bell; sick, indeed, when that jangle failed to hold her to the work. Something very strange and sorrowful about these mighty creatures. If they can but muzzle the flanks of the bell-mare once in twenty-four hours, often stopping a jolt from the heels of this temperamental monster–the mules appear morally refreshed for any fate.
Miraculous toilers, sexless hybrids–successful ventures into Nature’s arcanum of cross-fertilization–steady, humorous, wise, enduring, and homely unto pain! The bond of their whole organization is the bell. It is the source inseparable in their intelligence from all that is lovely and of good report–not the sound, but what the sound represents. And this is the mystery: mare or gelding doesn’t seem to matter, nor age, color, temper; just something set up and smelling like a horse. Thirteen’s crest-jewel was an old roan Jezebel that smothered with hatred at the approach of the least or greatest of her slaves. She had a knock-out in four feet–but Beatrice, she was, to those mules.
When Healy found the old gray missing, he remembered she was badly off under the packs. It was an ordeal to halt and search, for Silang meant supper and pickets. But the boss led the way back–and his eye was first to find her…. There she was, silhouetted against the sunset as poor Benton had been–seventy or eighty feet above the trail. Her head was down, her tongue fallen. The old burden-bearer seemed to have clambered up the rocks–through some desperate impulse for a breeze–or to die! She lifted her head as the hoofs rang below–but still looked away toward some Mecca for good mules. You must needs have been there to get it all–the old gray against the red sky–and know first-hand the torture of the trails, the valor of labor, the awfulness of Luzon. To Cairns and Bedient there was something deep and heady to the picture, as they followed the eyes of Healy–and then his yell that filled the gorges for miles:
“Come down here–you scenery-lovin’ son of—-“
That was just the _vorspiel_. Mother Nature must have fed color to Healy. He did not paint, play nor write, but the rest of that curse dropped with raw pigment, like a painting of Sorolla. Prisms of English flashed with terrible attraction. It was a Homeric curse of all nations. Parts of it were dainty, too, as a butterfly dip. Cairns was hot and courageous under the spell. The whole train of mules huddled and fell to trembling. A three-legged pariah-dog sniffed, took on a sudden obsession, and went howling heinously dawn the gorge. Healy rolled a cigarette with his free hand, and the old gray let herself down, half-falling….
And then–the end of campaigning. The rains began gradually that season, so that the last days were steamy and sickening with the heavy sweet of tropical fragrance. Between clouds at night, the stars broke out more than ever brilliant and near, in the washed air. There were moments when the sky appeared ceiled with phosphor, which a misty cloud had just brushed and set to dazzling. Something in the soil made them talk of girls–and Bedient drew forth for Cairns (to see the hem of her garment)–a certain hushed vision named Adelaide…. At last, the Train made Manila, wreck that it was, after majestic service; and the great gray mantle, a sort of moveless twilight, settled down upon Luzon and the archipelago. Within its folds was a mammoth condenser, contracting to drench the land impartially, incessantly, for sixty days or more. And now the fruition of the rice-swamps waxed imperiously; the carabao soaked himself in endless ecstasy; the rock-ribbed gorges of Southern Luzon filled with booming and treachery. Fords were obliterated. Hundreds of little rivers, that had not even left their beds marked upon the land, burst into being like a new kind of swarm; and many like these poured into the Pasig, which swelled, became thick and angry with the drain of the hills, the overflow of the rice-lands, and the filth and fever-stuff of the cities. At last, the constant din of the rain became a part of the silence.
THAT ADELAIDE PASSION
Andrew Bedient did not call at all these Asiatic and insular ports and continue to meet only men. Indeed, he did not fail to encounter those white women who follow men to disrupted places, where blood is upon the ground,–nor those native women inevitably present. A man fallen to the dregs usually finds a woman to keep him company, but it is equally true that man never climbs so high that, looking upward, he may not see a woman there.
A little before the _Truxton’s_ last voyage, the clipper had remained in port for a fortnight at Adelaide, New South Wales. A woman in that city was destined to mean a great deal to the boy of seventeen…. It would be very easy to say that here was a creature whose way is the way of darkness. The striking thing is that Adelaide (in the thoughts of Bedient afterward, she gradually appropriated the name of her city) did not know she was evil…. Such a woman, it is curious to note, has appeared in the boyhood of many men of power and eminent equipment.
Adelaide was small and fragrant. Though formerly married, she was true to her kind in being childless. All her interests were in senses of her own; or in the senses of men and women who fell beneath her eye; pale, narrow temples were hers, but crowded with what sensational memories! A hundred and a few odd pounds, every ounce vivid with health and rhythmic with desire; every thought a kiss loved, missed, or hoped for; a frail little flame that needed only time to destroy an arena of gladiators. Curving, pearly nails with flecks of white in them, a light low laugh, a sweet low voice! Perhaps this was her charm, a sort of _samosen_ tone–low lilting minors that have to do with dusk and gardens and starlight….
There is not even a laughing pretense here that Adelaide was a real woman; but real women, even in this era of woman, often fail to remember what pure attractions to man, are their silences and their minor tones.
Just a fortnight–but what a tearing it was to leave her! Old Mother Nature must have writhed at this parting–groaned at the sight of the boy staring back from the high stern of the _Truxton_, at the stars lowering over the city and the woman, Adelaide. Possibly she retained something from the depth of his individuality…. Bedient would not have said so; but there is no doubt that her importance in his life was that of a _mannequin_ upon which to drape his ideals. Had he seen her, in the later years, he would have met the dull misery of disillusionment. Adelaide was a boy’s sensational trophy. Her distant beauty and color was the art and pigment of his own mind.
A soul rudiment, a mental bud, and a beautiful prophylactic body–such was her equipment. He dreamed of her as a love flower of inextinguishable sweetness. The mere abstraction of her sex,–colorless enough to most grown men,–was a sort of miracle to the boy. He made it shining with his idealism…. Frail arms held out to him; cool arms that turned electric with fervor. Unashamed, she took him as her own….
Exquisite devourer, yet she had much to do in bringing forth from the latent, one of the rarest gifts a boy can have–lovelier than royalty and fine as genius–the blue flower of fastidiousness. Adelaide, all unconcerned, identified herself with this, and it lived in the foreground of his mind. She became his Southland, his isle of the sea. Winds from the South were her kisses–almost all the kisses he knew for years afterward. Living women were less to him than her memory. Facing the South, through many a hot-breathed night, he saw her–and the little house…. And what a drowsy-head she was! Nothing to do with the morning light, had she, save when it awakened, to shut it out impatiently, and turn over to the dimmest of walls until afternoon. She had never been truly alive until afternoon. How he had laughed at her for that!… A creature of languors; a mere system of inert dejected cells when alone, pure destructive principle, if you like,–yet she held this boy’s heart to her, without a letter, possibly with little or no thought of him, across a thousand leagues of sea–and this, through those frequently ungovernable years in which so many men become thick and despicable with excess.
Bedient often questioned himself–why he had not given up his berth on the _Truxton_ and remained longer in Adelaide. There were a dozen ships in the harbor to take him forth when he cared. This thought had not come to him at the time. Quite as remarkable was the formidable _something_ which arose in his brain at the thought of going back. This was not to be fathomed then–nor willed away. The roots of his integrity were shaken at the thought of return. Andrew Bedient at thirty-four understood. His was a soul that could thrive on dreams and denials. Even half-formed, this soul was the source of a strange antagonism, against which the fleshly desire to return was powerless. Poise, indeed, for a cook among sailors and packers.
The time came when he heard other women–blessed women–speak of the Adelaide type of sister as the crowning abomination; he watched their eyes harden and glitter as only a mother-bird’s can, in the circling shadow of a hawk; he lived to read in the havoc of men’s faces that the ways of such women were ways of death; he believed all this–yet preserved something exquisite. Ten years afterward, winds from the South brought him the spirit of fragrance from her shoulders and hair. From his own ideals, he had focussed upon that Emptiness, the beauty and dimension of a Helen.
Other experiences, up to the real romance–and these were surprisingly few–were episodes, brief quickenings of the old flame…When the first American soldiers were being lightered ashore in Manila harbor, in fact, shortly after the cannonading in the harbor, a certain woman came over from the States and took a house in Manila. It was known as the Block-House. Some months afterward, and just before the long trip of the Train in which Cairns featured, Bedient met this woman on the _Escolta_. It was at dusk, and she was crossing the narrow pavement from the post-office entrance to her carriage-door. Their eyes met frankly. She was wise, under thirty, very slender, perfectly dressed; pretty, of course, but more than that; her little perfections were carried far beyond the appreciation of any but women physically faultless as herself.
Bedient was impressed with something passionate and courageous, possibly dangerous. He could not have told the source of this impression. It was not in the contour, in the white softness of skin, in the full brown eyes, fair brow, nor in the reddened arch of her lips. It was something from the whole, denoted possibly in the quick dilation of her delicate nostrils or in the startling discovery of such a woman in Manila…. She lowered her eyes, started for her carriage–then turned again to the tall figure of Bedient in fresh white clothing. Or it may have been that her deep nature found delight in the excellent boyishness of the tanned face.
“Wouldn’t you like to drive with me on the _Luneta_?” she asked pleasantly, and there was a low tone in her voice which made her instantly different.
“Why, yes, I should like to.”
Her carriage was a _victoriette_, small to match the ponies–black stallions, noteworthy for style and spirit even in Manila, where one’s equipage is the measure of fortune…. Bedient found that he could be silent without causing an abatement of her pleasure. And, indeed, she seemed a little embarrassed, too, although he did not accept this. Vaguely he was ruffled by the thought that he had merely been chosen as the principal of a nightly adventure…. This was untrue.
It was before the time of native concerts on the sea-drive, but in the night itself, and in the soft undertone from the sea, there was ardent atmosphere–with this woman beside him. The deeper current of his thoughts rushed with memories, but upon the surface played the adorable present, swift with adjustments as her swiftly-moving arms. The wonder of Womanhood was ever-new to him. Mighty gusts of animation surged through his body. He spoke from queer angles of consciousness, and did not remember. She could laugh charmingly…. To her, the Hour uprose. Here was clear manhood of twenty (and such an unhurt boy he had proved to be)–to make her very own!… She had taught herself to live by the hour; had forfeited the right to be loved long. She knew the time would soon come, when she could not hold nor attract men. It comes always to women who dissipate themselves among the many. Yet she loved the love of an hour; was a connoisseur of the love-tokens of men to her; no material loss was counted in the balance against a winning such as this promised to be. Here was a big intact passion which she called unto herself with every art; her developed senses felt it pouring upon her; this was a drug to die for. It made her brave and filled her mind with dreams–as wine does to some men. Already he was giving her love–of a sort that older men withhold from her kind. She put her hand upon his wrist–and told the native to drive them home.
… They sat in a hammock together on the rear balcony of the Block-House. It had been a dangerous moment passing through the house. There had been embarrassments, the telltale artifices of the establishment, but she would not suffer the work of the ride to be torn down. She held him in enchantment by sheer force of will; and now they were alone, and she was building again. There was wine. Over the balcony rail, they watched the Pasig running wickedly below; and across, stretching away to where the stars lay low in the rim of the horizon, the wet teeming rice-lands brooded in the night-mist…. The piano, which had seemed unstrung from the voyage, as he passed through the house, sounded but faintly now through several shut doors. The fragments were mellifluous….
She knew he was a civilian from his dress, and asked his work in Luzon. He told her he was cook of Pack-train Thirteen, just now quartered in the main corral. She laughed, but didn’t believe. He was not the first to conceal his office from her. It was unpleasant; apt to be dangerous. She did not ask a second time…. There was just one other perilous moment. They had been together on the balcony but a half-hour, when she turned her face to him, her eyes shut, and said:
“You’re a dear boy!… I haven’t kissed anyone like that–oh, in long, long!… It makes me feel like a woman–how silly of me!”
Her face and throat looked ghastly white for a moment in the sheltered candles. “Isn’t it silly of me–isn’t it–_isn’t it_?” she kept repeating, picking at his fingers, and touching his cheeks in frightened fashion…. She was reaching amazing deeps of him. The best of her was his, for she could give greatly. It was wonderful, if momentary. He felt the terrific strength of his hands, as if his fingers must strike sparks when he touched her flesh. The need of her flamed high within him. She was delight in every movement and expression; and so slender and fervent and sweet-voiced…. She had banished the one encroachment of sordidness. The high passion of this moment was builded upon basic attractions, as with children. Some strong intuition had prevailed upon her so to build. They had come to an end of words….
A knock at the door broke the _notturno appassionato_. She had left word not to be called for any reason. Furiously now she rushed across the room…. Bedient did not see the female servant at the door, but heard the frightened voice uttering the word, “Brigadier—-.” The answer from the woman who had left his arms was mercifully vague, but the voice at the door whimpered, “Only it was _the General_—-!”…
It was all hideously clear. Bedient was left sterile, polar. The door slammed shut; the woman faced him–and understood. There was no restoring _this_ ruin…. She now damned military rank and her establishment in a slow, dreadful voice. Her knuckles seemed driven into her temples. She wanted to weep, to be soothed and petted–to have her Hour brought back, but she saw that her beauty was gone from him–and all the mystery which had been in their relation a minute before…. Her rebellion, so far hard-held, now became fiendish. It was not against him, but herself. So vivid and terrible was her concentration of hatred upon the cause, that Bedient caught the picture of the Brigadier in her mind. He _saw_ the man afterward–a fat and famous soldier…. She spat upon the floor. Her lower lip was drawn in and the small white teeth snapped upon it.
There was nothing in the Block-House ever to bring him back. Her last vestige of attraction for him had disintegrated. Bedient had nothing to say; he caught up her clenched hand and kissed it…. And in the street he heard feminine voices rising to the pitch of hysteria. A servant rushed forth for a surgeon. The woman had fallen into “one of her seizures.”…
Pack-train Thirteen took the field a day or two afterward. Bedient was not at all himself…. In all the months that followed meeting David Cairns in Alphonso, the Block-House incident was too close and horrible for words–though Bedient spoke of Adelaide and the great wind and a hundred other matters.
There was another slight Manila experience, which took place after the first parting with David Cairns, the latter being called to China by rumors of uprising. Pack-train Thirteen had rubbed itself out in service–was just a name. Bedient was delighting in the thought of hunting up Cairns in China…. It was dusk again, that redolent hour. Bedient had just dined. So sensitive were his veins–that coffee roused him as brandy might another. His health was brought to such perfection, that its very processes were a subtle joy, which sharpened the mind and senses. Bedient had been so long in the field, that the sight of even a Filipino woman was novel. Strange, forbidding woman of the river-banks–yet in the twilight, and with the inspired eyes of young manhood, that dusk-softened line from the lobe of the ear to the point of the shoulder–a passing maid with a tray of fruit upon her head–was enough to startle him with the richness of romance. It was not desire–but the great rousing abstraction, Woman, which descends upon full-powered young men at certain times with the power of a psychic visitation. His heart poured out in a greeting that girdled the world, to find the Woman–somewhere.
Bedient did not know at this time of the heart emptiness of the world’s women–a longing so vast, so general, that interstellar space is needed to hold it all. Still, he had so much to give, it seemed that in the creative scheme of things there must be a woman to receive and ignite all these potentials of love…. In this mood his mind reverted to that isle of the sea–the woman, and the room that was her house…. He was sitting in the plaza before the _Hotel d’Oriente._ A little bamboo-table was before him and a long glass of claret and fruit-juice. The night was still; hanging-lanterns were lit, though the darkness was not yet complete. There was a mingling of mysterious lights and shadows among the palm-foliage that challenged the imagination–like an unfinished picture…. Only a few of the tables were occupied. The native servants were very quiet. Bedient heard a girlish voice out of the precious and perilous South.
… It was not Adelaide. He had only started to turn, when his consciousness told him that. But the voice was much like hers–the same low and lazy loveliness in the formation of certain words. The appeal was swift. Bedient did not turn, though he sat tingling and attentive…. At this time not a few of the American officers had been joined by their wives in Manila, and most of these were quartered at the _Oriente_…. He knew the man’s voice, too, but in such a different way–the voice of a soldier heard afield.
What was said had little or no significance–a man’s tolerant, sometimes laughing monosyllables; and silly, cuddling, unquotable nothings from his companion. It was the ardor in her tones–the sort of completion of sensuous happiness–and the strange kinship between her and the woman he had known–these, that brought to Bedient a sudden madness of hunger to hear such words for his own….
The man had but recently come in from field-work. The woman was fresh from a transport voyage from the States. He talked laughingly of the “niggers” his company had met–of small, close fighting and surprises. She wanted to hear more, more,–but alone. She was pressing him, less with words than manner, to come into the hotel and relate his adventures, where they could be quite alone…. She had been so passionately lonely without him–back in Washington … and the long voyage…. Her voice enthralled Bedient.
They were married. The man laughed often. The tropics had enervated him, though he made no such confession. He wanted drink and lights. To him, the present was relishable. Their chairs scraped the tiles before Bedient turned…. They had not risen. She caught his eyes. Hers were not eyes of one who would be lonely in Washington nor during a long transport voyage. She was very young, but a vibrant feminine, her awakening already long-past. There was just a glimpse of light hair, a red-lipped profile and slow, shining dark eyes. She was not even like Adelaide, but a blood sister in temperament. Bedient saw this in her hands, wrists, lips and skin, in the pure elemental passion which came from her every tone and motion. One of the insatiate–yet frail and lovely and scented like a carnation; a white flower, red-tipped–sublimate of earthy perfume.
Bedient had seen the man in the field, a young West Point product, with a queer, rabbit face, lots of men friends, the love of his company, and a remarkable kind of physical courage–a splendid young chap, black from the heats, who was being talked about for his grisly humor under fire. This officer had seen his men down–and stayed with them…. His was a different and deeper love. He did not hurry. It seemed as if she would take his hand, after all, and lead him into the hotel. Just a little girl–little over twenty.
For the first time it struck Bedient that he must leave. He was startled that he had not left. His only palliation for such a venture into two lives–was the memories her voice roused. His lips tightened with scorn of self. And yet the thought became a fury as he walked rapidly through the dark toward the river–what it would mean to have a woman want him that way!…. His thoughts did not violate the soldier’s domain. Quite clean, he was, from that; yet she had shown him afresh what was in the world. It was nearing midnight; sentries of the city, still under martial law, ordered him off the streets before he realized passing time…. And the hours did not bring to his mind the woman of the Block-House, nor anyone of those flaming desert-women who love so fiercely and so fruitlessly; whose relations with men do not weave, but only bind the selvage of the human fabric….
* * * * *
Bedient was glad to get away to sea…. David Cairns, overtaken in China, had changed a little. It appears that the very best of young men must change when they begin to wear their reputation. Riding with Thirteen had made easily the best newspaper fodder which the Luzon campaigns furnished, and the sparkling wine of recognition eventually found its own. It must be repeated that only a boy-mind can depict war in a way that fits into popular human interest.
The David Cairns whom Bedient met at the Taku forts, near the mouth of the Pei-ho, had a bit of iron tonic in his veins. His sentences were shorter, less faltering and more frequent. He _knew_ things that he had formerly held tentatively. His conceptions (during night-talks) were called in quickly from the dream-borders, and given the garb and weight of matter. The stamina of decision had hardened. He was eager to call Bedient his finest friend, but he had forgotten for the time the amazing subtleties which at first had deepened and broadened this wanderer’s place in his inner life. A touch of success and the steady drive of ambition had gradually moved the abiding place of Cairns’ consciousness from his heart to his brain. Few would have detected other than manliness and improvement. Bedient did not trust himself to think much about it, for fear he would do his friend an injustice. The fact that he could not see Cairns differently in the latter’s first fame-flush, and observing past doubt, that he was lifted for the world’s eyes, helped Bedient to realize that he was a bit weird in judgment. At all events, something was gone from the friendship. He was sore at heart, more than ever alone…. The two separated a second time in Peking after the relief of the Legations. Bedient went to Japan, where he made the acquaintance of an old Buddhist priest–a scabby, long-nailed Zarathustra who roamed the boxwood hills above Nikko, and meditated.
Bedient was farther from such things now, but he could not avoid noting that Japan is an old and easy shoe for the passions. The women of Japan are but finished children, preserving a sense of innocence in their bestowals. Many little Adelaides in fragrance, without will, without high hopes, only momentary and baby hopes–children happy in the little happinesses they give and take. This is the extraordinary feature of an empire of dangerous half-grown men. Moreover, above the delicate charm of sex, these little creatures are so remote and primitive in race and idea, so intrinsically foreign and undeveloped–that one leaves the fairest with a mitigated pang…
Bedient never repeated an action which once had brought home to him the sense of his own evil. The emotions here narrated are but moments in years. He accounted them quite as legitimate in the abstract as the strange visionings of his higher life, as yet untold. These latter have to do with his maturity, as wars and passions have to do with the approach to maturity in the life of men. To Bedient, evil concerned itself with the unclean. Wherever uncleanness (to him a pure destructive principle) revealed itself there was a balance of power in his nature which turned him from it, despite any concomitant attraction. The original Adelaide was a superb answer to the more earthy of his three natures; so utterly confined to her one plane as to be innocent of others. In the two Manila twilights which saw the dominance of his physical being, it was the Adelaide element which roused; and the scars they left behind marked the scorch of memories.
The fact that there were moments in which Bedient smoldered helplessly in a world of possible women is significant in the character of one destined to fare forth on the Supreme Adventure. It is true, he was preserved in comparative purity though he roamed unbridled around the world. Perhaps it was the same instinct which held him apart from men in their lower moments of indulgence. He could linger where there was wine until the dregs of the company were stirred by the stimulus. All delight left him then, and he found himself alone. His leaving was quite as natural as the departure from a stifling room of one who has learned to relish fresh air…. It was during his Japan stay that Bedient pleased himself often with the thought that somewhere in the world was a woman meant for him–a woman with a mind and soul, as well as flesh. If the waiting seemed long–why should he not be content, since she was waiting, too? He would know her instantly. The slightest errant fancy of doubt would be enough to assure him that she was _not_ the One….
Send a boy out on a long journey (even to Circe and Calypso, and past the calling rocks of the sea), but if his mother has loved into his life, the rare flower of fastidiousness, he will come back, with innocence aglow beneath the weathered countenance. It is the sons of strong women who have that fineness which makes them choice, even in their affairs of an hour. A beautiful spirit of race guardianship is behind this fastidiousness…. Miraculously, it seems to appear many times in the sons of women who have failed to find their own knight-errants. Missing happiness, they have taken disillusionment from common man; yet so truly have they held to their dreams, that _ever_ their sons must go on searching for the true bread of life.
A FLOCK OF FLYING SWANS
One day (it was before he knew David Cairns) Bedient picked up the _Bhagavad Gita_ from a book-stand in Shanghai. It was limp, little, strong, and looked meaty. As he raised his eyes wonderingly from a certain sentence, he encountered the glance of the fat old German dealer.
“Will this little book stand reading more than once, sir?” Bedient asked.
“Ja–but vat a little-boy question! Ven you haf read sefen times the year for sefen years–you a man vill haf become.”
Bedient had been through the Song of the Divine One many times before he heard of it from anyone else. He had liked to think of it as a particular treasure which he shared with the queer old German, sick with fat. Now, it was the old Japanese sage who had turned the young man’s mind to the comparative moderns–Carlyle, Emerson, Thoreau, and several others–and it was with a shock of joy he discovered that almost all of these light-bringers had _lived_ with his little book. So queerly things happen…. However, the _Bhagavad Gita_ gave him a brighter sense of the world under his feet, of a Force other than its own balance and momentum, and of its first fruits–the soul of man…. _In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth_–that morning star of Hebrew revelation was not at all dimmed; indeed, it shone with fairer lustre in the more spacious heavens of the Farther East.
Directly from his old Japanese teacher, and subtly from the _Bhagavad Gita_ and the modern prophets, Bedient felt strongly urged to India. This culminated in 1903, when he was twenty-five years old. Hatred of Russia was powerfully fomenting through the Japanese nation at this time. Bedient grew sick at the thought of the coming struggle, but delayed leaving for several weeks, in the hope of seeing David Cairns, who, surely enough, was one of the first of the war-correspondents to reach Tokyo late that year. Cairns had put on pounds and power, and only Bedient knew at the end of certain fine days together, that the beauty of their first relation had not returned in its fullness…. They parted (a third time during five years) in the wintry rain on the water-front at Yokohama, Cairns remaining and Bedient taking ship for Calcutta.
Up into the Punjab he went with the new year; and there, all but lost trace of time and the world. _He seemed to have come home_–an ineffable emotion. When they told him quite seriously that the Ganges was sent from heaven, and had wandered a thousand years in the hair of Shiv before flowing down upon the plains with beauty and plenty and healing for sin-spent man–Bedient instantly comprehended the meaning of the figure: that the hair of Shiv was the Himalayas, whose peaks continually rape the rain-clouds. And the lotos–name, fragrance and sight of this flower–started a little lyrical wheel tinkling in his mind, turning off snatches of verses that sung themselves; and fluttering bits of romance, half-religious and altogether impersonal; and strange pictures, lovely, though all but effaced.
Indeed, he was one with the Hindus in a love for the bees, the silence, the mountains, rivers, the moon, and the heaven-protected cattle, in whose great soft eyes he found the completion of animal peace…. The legend that the bees had come from Venus, with the perfect cereal, wheat, as patterns of perfection from that farther evolved planet–fascinated, became the _leit-motif_ of his thoughts for weeks. Earth had earned a special dispensation, it was said, and bright messengers came with a swarm and a sheaf, each milleniums advanced beyond any species of its kind here.
From a little boy he had loved the bees. Afternoons long ago (this was clear to him as the memory of that sinister hall-way of yellow-green light which returned on the afternoon of the great wind) he had lain upon the grass somewhere, and heard the hum of the honey-gatherers in thistle and clover. The hum was like the far singing of a child-choir, and the dreamings it started then were altogether too big for the memory mechanism of a little boy’s head; but the vastness and wonder of those dreamings left a kind of bushed beauty far back in his mind. He had loved the bees as he had loved the _Bhagavad Gita_, thinking it peculiarly his own attraction, but when the world’s great poets and prophets became known to him through their writings, he discovered, again with glad emotion, that bees had stirred the fancy of each, stimulated their conceptions of service and communistic blessedness; furnished their symbols for laws of beauty and cleanliness, brotherhood, race-spirit, the excellence of sacrifice–a thousand perfect analogies to show the way of human ethics and ideal performance…. But beyond all their service to literature, he perceived that these masters among men had _loved_ the bees. This was the only verb that conveyed Bedient’s feelings for them; and he found that they literally swarmed through Hindu simile in its expressions of song and story and faith.
Northward, he made his leisure way almost to the borders of Kashmir, before he found his place of abode–Preshbend, a little town of many Sikhs, which clung like a babe to the sloping hip of a mountain. He was taken on by the English of the forestry service, and liked the ranging life; liked, too, the rare meetings with his fellow-workers and superiors, quiet, steady-eyed men, quick-handed and slow of speech. With all his growth and knowledge of the finer sort, Bedient carried no equipment for earning a living–except through his hands. There was no hesitation with him in making a choice–between patrolling a forest, and the columns of a ledger. All the indoor ways of making money that intervene between the artisan and artist were to him out of the question. When asked his occupation, he had answered, “Cook.”
One week in each month he spent in the town, and he came to love Preshbend and the people; the tall young men, many taller than he, and the great lean-armed, gaunt-breasted Sikh women. The boys were so studious, so simple and gentle, compared with the few others he had known, and the women such adepts at mothering! Then the shy, slender girls, impassable ranges between him and any romantic sense; yet, he was glad to be near them, glad to hear their voices and their laughter in the evenings…. He loved the long shadow of the mountains, the still dusty roads where the cattle moved so softly that the dust never rose above their knees; the smell of wood-smoke in the dusk, the legends of the gods, scents of the high forest, the thoughts which nourished his days and nights, and the brilliant stars, so steady and eternal, and so different from the steaming constellations of Luzon;–he loved it all, and saw these things, as one home from bitter exile.
And then with the cool dark and the mountain winds, after the long, pitiless day of fierce, devouring sunlight, the moon glided over the fainting world with peace and healing–like an angel over a battle-field…. The two are mystic in every Indian ideal of beauty, and alike cosmic–woman and the moon.
There was a certain trail that rose from Preshbend, and ended after an hour’s walk in a high cliff of easy ascent. Bedient often went there alone when the moon was full–and waited for her rising. At last through a rift in the far mountains, a faint ghost would appear, and waveringly whiten the glacial breast of old _God-Mother_–the highest peak in the vision of Preshbend. Just a nucleus of light at first, like a shimmering mist, but it steadied and brightened–until that snowy summit was configured in the midst of her lowlier brethren on the borders of Kashmir–and Bedient, turning from his deep reflections, would find the source of the miracle, trailing her glory up from the South.
Often he lost the sense of personality in these meditations. His eyes turned at first upon that dead, dark mountain, which presently caught the reflection of the moon (in itself a miracle of loveliness); then the moon which held the reflection of the hidden sun, which in its turn reflected the power of All; and he, a bit of suppressed animation among the rocks of the cliff, audaciously comprehending that chain of reflections and adding his own! The marvel of it all carried him a dimension beyond the responsiveness of mere brain-tissue, and for hours in which he was not Bedient, but _one_ with some Unity that swept over the pageant of the universe, his body lay hunched and chill in the cold of the heights…. That was his first departure, and he was in his twenty-eighth year.
Another time, as he watched old _God-Mother_, he suddenly felt _himself_ an instrument upon which played the awful yearning of the younger peoples of Europe and America. Greatly startled, he saw them hungering for this vastness, this beauty and peace; yet enchanted among little things, condemned to chattering and pecking at each other, and through interminable centuries to tread dim hot ways of spite and weariness, cruelty and nervous pain. He, Bedient, had found peace here, but it was not for him to take always. He seemed held by that awful yearning across the world; as if he were an envoy commissioned to find Content–to bring back the secret that would break their enchantment…. No, he was not yet detached from his people; he could only accept tentatively these mighty virtues of wonder and silence, gird his loins with them and finally take back the rich tidings…. Was he dwelling in silence to walk in power over there? This excited and puzzled him at first. Bedient as a bearer of light was new….
Yet hunger was growing within for his own people; a passion to tell them; rather to make them see that all their aims and possessions were not worth one moment, such as he had spent, watching the breast of old _God-Mother_ whiten, with the consciousness of God walking in the mountain-winds, the scent of camphor, lotos, sandal and wild-honey in His garments. A passion, indeed, grew within him to make his people see that real life has no concern with wrestlings in fetid valleys, but up, up the rising roads–poised with faith, and laughing with power–until through a rift in the mountains, they are struck by the light of God’s face, and shine back–like the peaks of Kashmir to the moon.
And another night it came to him that he had something to say to the women of his people. This thought emerged clean-cut from the deeps of abstraction, and he trembled before it, for his recent life had kept him far apart from women. And now, the thought occurred that he was better prepared to inspire women–because of this separateness. He had preserved the boyish ideal of their glowing mystery, their lovely cosmic magnetism. India had stimulated it. All the lights of his mind had fallen upon this ideal, all the colors of the spectrum and many from heaven–certain swift flashes of glory, such as are brought, in queer angles of light, from a butterfly’s wing. He had been mercifully spared from moving among the infinitudes of small men who hold such a large estimate of the incapacity and commonness of women…. Even among the Sikh mothers (Bedient did not dream how his spirit prospered during these Indian years) his ideal was strengthened. He found among the mothers of the Punjab a finer courage than ever the wars had shown him–the courage that bends and bears–and an answering sweetness for all the good that men brought to their feet….
So one night at last he found himself thanking God in the great silence–that he could see the natural greatness of women; that he was alive to help them; that he could pity those who knew only the toiling, not the mystic, hands of women; pity those–and tell them–who knew her only as a sense creature…. And swiftly he wanted to tell women–how high he held them–that one man in the world had kept his vision of them brighter and brighter in substance and spirit. He had the queer, almost feminine, sense, of their needing to know this, and of impatience to give them their happiness. Perhaps they did not continually hold this in mind; perhaps the men of their world had taught them to forget…. They would be happier for his coming. He would put into each woman’s heart–_as only a man could do_–a quickened sense of her incomparable importance; make her remember that mothering is the loveliest of all the arts; that only in the lower and savage orders of life the male is ascendant; that as the human race evolves in the finer regions of the spirit–when growth becomes centred in the ethereal dimension of the soul–woman, invariably a step nearer the great creative source, must assume supremacy…. Among the dark mountains the essence of all these thoughts came to him during many nights.
He would make women happier by restoring to them–their own. He must show how dreadful for them to forget for an instant–that they are the real inspirers of man; that they ignite his every conception; that it is men who follow and interpret, and the clumsy world is to blame because the praise so often goes to the interpreter, and not to the inspiration. But praise is a puny thing. Women must see that they only are lovely who remain true to their dreams, for of their dreams is made the spiritual loaf, the real vitality of the race; that by remaining true to their dreams, though starved of heart, the sons that come to them will be the lovers they dream of–and bring the happiness _they_ missed, to the daughters of other women. For love is spirit–the stuff of dreams–and love is Giving…. He must bring to women again, lest they forget, this word: that never yet has man sung, painted, prophesied, made a woman happy, nor in any way woven finer the spirit of his time, but that God first covenanted with his mother for the gift–and, more often than not, the gift was startled into its supreme expression by the daughter of another…. All in a sentence, it summed at last, to Bedient alone,–a flaming sentence for all women to hear: _Only through the potential greatness of women can come the militant greatness of men_.
And so things appeared unto him to do, as he watched the miracle of the moon bringing forth the lineaments of the old _God-Mother_; and so the cliff became his Sinai. On this last night, for a moment at least, he felt as must an immortal lover who has seen clearly the way of chivalry–the task which was to be, as the Hindus say, the fruit of his birth…. Thus he would go down, face glowing with new and luminous resolves…. And once dawn was breaking as he descended, and the whir of wings aroused him. Looking upward he saw (as did Another of visions), in the red beauty of morning–a flock of swans flying off to the South.
* * * * *
Gobind must not be forgotten–old Gobind, who appeared in Preshbend at certain seasons, and sat down in the shade of a camphor-tree, old and gnarled as he; but a sumptuous refuge, as, in truth was Gobind in the spirit. The natives said that the austerities of Gobind were the envy of the gods; that he could hold still the blood in his veins from dusk to dawn; and make the listener understand many wonderful things about himself and the meaning of life.
The language had come to Bedient marvellously. Literally it flowed into his mind, as in the rains a rising river finds its old bed of an earlier season.
“This is your home, Wanderer,” Gobind told him. “Long have you travelled to and fro and long still must you wander, but you will come back again to the cool shadows, and to these–” Gobind lifted his hand to point to the roof of the world. The yellow cloth fell away from his arm, which looked like a dead bough blackened from many rains. “For these are your mountains and you love these long shadows. All Asia and the Islands you have searched for these shadows, and here you are content, for your soul is Brahman…. But you are not ready for Home. You are not yet tired. Long still must you wander. Some sin of a former birth caused you to sink into the womb of a woman of the younger peoples. You have yet to return to them–as one coming down from the mountains, after the long summer, brings a song and a story for the heat-sick people of the plains to hear at evening—-“
This was the substance of many talks. It was always the same when Gobind shut his eyes.
“You say I shall come back here, good Gobind?” Bedient asked.
“Yes, you will come back here to abandon the body—-“
Bedient was filled with grave questions. One can always put a mystic meaning to the direct saying of a Hindu holy man, but there seemed no equivocation here. The young man was slow to believe that all his dreaming must come to naught. It seemed as if his whole inner life had been built about the dream of a woman; and of late she had seemed nearer than ever, and different from any woman, he had ever known–the mate of his mind and soul and flesh. For a long time he progressed no farther than this, for falling into his own thoughts, he would find only the aged body of Gobind before him–the rest having stolen away on night-marches of deep moment, while he, Bedient, had tried to realize his life loneliness. At last he could think of nothing else throughout the long day, and he went early in the semi-light and sat before the holy man. The dusk darkened, and a new moon rose, but Gobind did not rise to mere physical consciousness that night, though Bedient sat very still before him for hours. The bony knees of the old ascetic, covered with dust, were moveless as the black roots of the camphor-tree; and a dog of the village sat afar off on his haunches and whined at intervals, waiting for the white man to go, that he might have the untouched supper, which a woman of Preshbend had brought to Gobind’s begging-bowl.
And again the next night Bedient came, but Gobind was away playing with the gods of his youth–just the old withered body there–and the dog whining.
But the third night, the eyes of Gobind filled with his young friend—-
“You say, good father Gobind,” Bedient said quickly, “that I shall come back here alone to die?”
“Yes,” the _Sannyasin_ answered simply, but a moment later, he shivered, and seemingly divined all that was in the young man’s mind, for he added: “You will learn to look _within_ for the woman…. You would not find favor–in finding her without…. It is not for you–the red desire of love!”
* * * * *
It was during these years in India that Bedient began to put down the thoughts which delighted him during the long rides through the forest; and something of the thrill of his reflections, as he watched old _God-Mother_ from his cliff. He found great delight in this, and his mind was integrated by expression. He recalled many little pictures of the early years–not the actions, but the reflections of action. It was fascinating. He found that his journal would bulk big presently, so he took to polishing as he went along; chose the finest, toughest Indian parchment–and wrote finely as this print–for it was clear to him that he had entered upon what was to prove a life-habit.
The letters from Captain Carreras had become more frequent in late years; in fact, there was almost always a letter en route either from Preshbend or Equatoria…. The Captain wanted him to come; stronger and stronger became the call. So far as money was concerned, he had done extraordinarily well. He always wrote of this half-humorously…. At last when Bedient was beginning his seventh year in the Punjab, there came a letter which held a plaint not to be put aside.
Bedient was in his thirty-second year; and just at this time old Gobind left his body for a last time beneath the camphor-tree. The young man had sat before him the night before, and the holy man had told him in symbolism–that the poor murky river of his life had made its last bend through the forests, and was swiftly flowing into the sea of time and space. Though he sat long after silence had settled down, Bedient did not know (so softly and sweetly did the old saint depart) that the _Sannyasin_ was tranced in death instead of meditation. It was not until the next morning, when he heard the Sikh women of the village weeping–one above all–that he understood. It was not a shock of grief to these women, for such is their depth that the little matters which concern all flesh and which are inevitable, cannot be made much ado of. Still it was feminine and beautiful to him, their weeping; and possibly the one who wept loudest had mothered old Gobind in her heart, and there was emptiness in the thought that she could not fill his begging-bowl again. Bedient, as well as others of the village, knew that to Gobind, death was a long-awaited consummation; that he was gone only from the physical eye of the village. _That_ missed him–as did Bedient, who had loved to sit at the fleshly feet of the holy man…. But he loved all Preshbend, too.
And at length, he set out on foot for Lahore–often looking back.
THAT ISLAND SOMEWHERE
ALL these impressive years, from seventeen to thirty-two, had brought Andrew Bedient nothing in the civilized sense of success. It is quickly granted that he was a failure according to such standards. He had never been in want nor debt, nor so poor that he could not cover another’s immediate human need if presented; yet the reserve energy of all these years, in fact, of his whole life, as represented in gold, amounted to less than three hundred dollars. Probably, outside of Asia, there was not a white man who had accumulated three hundred dollars with less thought; certainly in Asia there was none, white or black, who carried this amount with less vital concern. Up the years, he had given no thought to the oft-expressed eagerness of Captain Carreras to help him in a substantial way. He had always felt that he would go to his friend–at times had hungered for him–and now he answered the call.
Fifteen years since he had taken the hand of Captain Carreras and laughingly refused to share the other’s fortunes! Bedient remembered how bashfully, but how genuinely, that had been suggested. Then the Captain’s manner had become crisp and nervous to hide his heart-break, and the order was given with all the authority of the quarter-deck, that Bedient must never fail in any extremity to make known his need. But there had been no need–save for the friendship….
Strange old true heart that could not forget! Bedient felt it in every letter. Thousands of acquaintances, but not a friend nor relative! He thought about Bedient every day; an old man’s heart turned to the boy whose hands had suddenly fallen upon him with such amazing power. Occasionally in the letters, there was an obvious effort to cover this profundity of affection with a surface of humor, but it always broke through before a page was blotted…. Equatoria, and his really remarkable acquisitions there, were invariably matters for light touches. He had picked up big lands for almost nothing; and he found himself presently in strong favor with what was probably the most stable government Equatoria had ever known. The Captain’s original purpose of acquiring the mineral rights of certain rich rivers had greatly prospered. Yes, there was gold in the river-beds…. Incidentally, to keep his hands “from mauling the natives,” he had caused to be planted at different times, several thousand acres of cacao trees, all of which were now bearing. The Captain explained naively that these had turned out rather handsomely, since the natives harvested the nuts for him at a ludicrously low figure, and Holland sent ships twice a year for the product. “Just suggest anything to this soil, and the answer is perennials. We can’t bother with stuff that has to be planted more than once,” he observed. Bedient returned many times to the letter that told about the goats. Part of it read:
“There was a rocky strip of land in the fork of two rivers–several thousand acres–that almost shut itself off, so narrow and rocky was the neck…. For a long time this big bottle of land troubled me–couldn’t think of any use to put it to–until somebody mentioned goats. In a fit of industry, I shipped over a few goat families from Mexico, turned them loose in the natural corral–and forgot all about them for a couple of years. You see, the natives are fruit-eaters, and it’s too hot for skins. My men occasionally brought me word that the goats were doing well. Finally, I sent a party over to pile a few more rocks at the mouth. They came back pale and awed, begging me to come and look. I went. I tell you, boy, there were parades, caravans, pageants of goats in there–all happy in the stone-crop…. I haven’t dared to look for a year or more, but with a good marine-glass from the upper window of the _hacienda_, you can see a portion of the tract. They’re hopping about over there–thick as fleas!… That’s the way everything multiplies. Come and extricate me from the goat problem!… Dear lad, I do need you–not for goats, nor for fruit, nor mining, nor chocolate interests, not to be my cook–forgive the mention of a delightful memory–but as a lonely old man needs a boy–his boy.”
* * * * *
Only a half-day in New York on the way down to Equatoria, or the alternative of waiting over a ship, meaning eight days later with Captain Carreras. Bedient could not bring his mind to the latter delay at this stage of the journey, though the metropolis called to him amazingly. Here he had been born; and here was the setting of many early memories, now seen through a kind of faery dusk. With but an hour or so in lower Manhattan, he swept in impressions like a panorama-film, his mind held to no single thought for more than an instant. The finest outer integument had never been worn from his nerves, so that nothing of the pandemonium distressed; but what his oriental training called the illusion of it all–really dismayed. It seemed as if the millions were locked in some terrible slavery, which they did not fully understand, only that they must hurry, and never cease the devouring toil. In the hideous walled cities of China, the same thought had often come to Bedient–that these myriads had been condemned by the sins of their past lives, blindly to gather together and maim each others’ souls.
Still there was some big meaning for him in New York. Bedient realized that sooner or later he would return. Toward the end of the afternoon, as he looked back from the deck of the Dryden steamer _Hatteras_, he realized that New York had dazed him; that something of the grand gloom, something of the granite, had entered his heart. Perhaps it was well for him to have these glimpses, and to hurry away to adjust himself in the silence–before he took up his place in New York again.
A week later the _Hatteras_ awaited dawn, sixty miles off the northern coast of Equatoria. Treacherous coral reefs extend that far out to sea, and the lights of the passage into port are few. This is an ugly part of the Caribbean in high seas. Moreover, the coral has a way of changing its ramifications; its spires build rapidly in the warm surface water.
All the forenoon the liner crawled in toward the harbor, and at last through the blazing noon, Bedient saw Coral City in a foreground of palm-decked hills. Certain fresh-tinned roofs close to the water-front reflected the sun like a burning-glass. Nearer still, a few white buildings on the seaward slopes shone through the heat haze with the vividness of jewels–whitened walls gleaming among the palms and colorful turrets of pure Spanish line. The strip of beach, white as a road of shells, lost itself on either side of the city in its own dazzling light. Films of heat danced upon the painted roofs. The sky was a blinding azure that tranced the hills and harbor with its brilliance, silence and magic.
Clouds of yellow mud boiled up from the bottom of the oozy harbor as the _Hatteras_ dropped her hook; and the sharks moved about, all the more shuddery in their tameness. Two launches were making for the steamer, and Bedient, sheltering his eyes from the light, discovered the little Captain standing well-forward on the nearest–a puffy, impatient face, pathetically unconscious of its own workings in anxiety. Bedient’s uplifted hand caught the other’s eye as the launch neared. The old adventurer needed a second or two to take in the tall figure and the changed countenance–then a look of gladness, full, deep and tender with embarrassment, crowned the years and the long journey.
Bedient had to remember hard, after dozens of fluent and delightful letters, that he must encounter the old bashfulness again…. Plainly the Captain showed the years. There was the dark dry look of some inner consuming, and the trembling mouth was lined and assertive where formerly it was unnoticed in the general cheer. There was a break in rotundity. Perhaps this, more than anything else, put a strange hush upon the meeting. Bedient was glad he had not delayed longer; and he saw he must break through the embarrassment, as the boy and the cook of years ago would not have thought of doing. The old perfume sought his nostrils delicately with a score of memories.
The Captain seemed to have an absurd number of natives at his disposal. Bedient’s small pieces of baggage were prodigiously handled. A carriage was provided, and the two drove up the main thoroughfare, _Calle Real_. The little city was appointed and its streets named by the Spanish. Parts of it were very old, and Bedient liked the setting, which was new to him–the native courtesy and the mellowness of architecture which that old race of conquerors has left in so many isles of the Western sea.
At the head of the rising highway shone a gilded dome, a sort of crown for the city. Bedient had seen it shining from the harbor, and supposed it to be the capitol. The building stood upon an eminence like a temple. _Calle Real_ parted to the right and left at its gates. Their carriage passed to the right, and within the walls were groves of palms, gardens of rose, rhododendron, jasmine, flames of poinsettia, and a suggestion of mystic glooms where orchids breathed–fruit, fragrance, fountains.
“The Capitol?” laughed the Captain. “No, my boy, those little rain-rotted, stone buildings near the water-front are the government property. However, you never can tell about Equatoria. There are folks who believe that this stone palace of Senor Rey is fated to become the Capitol. It might happen in two ways. Senor Rey might overturn the government and move headquarters to his own house. You see, he loves fine things too well to reside back yonder. Or, the government overturning Celestino Rey–would ultimately move up here on the hill.”
Bedient laughed softly. It was all delightfully young to him. “Then Senor Rey aspires?”
“That’s the idea–only we put it ‘conspires’ down here…. It is really a remarkable institution–this of Senor Rey’s,” Carreras went on. He forgot himself in a narrative. “Now, if you were in New York and had a hundred thousand dollars of another man’s money, and wanted to relax–you would come here to Equatoria, and put up with Celestino Rey. To all appearances, _The Pleiad_ is a hotel, but in reality it’s just a club for those who have taken the short cut to fortune–the direct and amiable way of loot. There’s so much red tape in Equatoria that a New York warrant for arrest would be about as compelling in our city as a comic valentine.
“So you see, Andrew, those who used to fly to Mexico now come here. This is the most interesting colony of crime-cultured gentlemen in the world–ex-cashiers, penmen, promoters and gamblers, all move in those great halls and gardens. There are big games. Senor Rey is an artist in many ways, not only as a master of gambling chances. His palace is filled with art treasures from all lands. He was a pirate in these waters–yes, within your years. I heard of him in Asia as the most murderous pirate the Caribbean had ever known–and this was the Spanish Main. Of course, stories build about a picturesque figure. The Senor must be seventy years old now, but a man of mystery, fabulously rich…. Just a little while ago, he brought over a fresh bride from South America. They say she’s a thriller to look at. The Spaniard calls her his ‘Glow-worm’—-“