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used to acclaim another's prowess, she didn't know her
old lady. Madam Brooke smiled a little, then more and
more. She even seemed to be proffering Miss Bixby an
unbiased admiration.

" Dear me ! dear me ! " she said, " how much more in-
teresting life is than circulating libraries. Well, now, Miss


Bixby, you've been so frank about it admirable, I
call it do just tell me what you wanted the stuff for.
Because you thought it's worth money? '

" No," said Miss Bixby sulkily, as if, things being at
their worst with her, she might as well claim the dreary
satisfaction of even unavailing truth, " not altogether."

" Ah," said the old lady astutely, " then you admit you
did steal it. Now what for? '

Miss Bixby, lowering, stared at her.

" You never 'd understand," she said, " never in the

" Try me," said Madam Brooke hopefully. " I under-
stand about most things. Sometimes I understand too
much. That was where I came in on your automatic
writing. Mrs. Harvey didn't smell out the hocus-pocus
in it. I did."

" I know what you thought," said Miss Bixby. " You
thought I faked it."

" Well," said the old lady, " I'll give you the very
slight benefit of the smallest doubt. Some of it you did
fake, for I caught you."

" How did you catch me? "

" Never mind. I did. On the other hand, you may be
playing the devil's game and think you're doing God serv-
ice. I don't know. I only know it's a disorderly, mis-
leading, bedeviling sort of thing, and if you're an honest
girl only half honest you'd better get out of it."

" Madam Brooke," said the girl, in such earnest that
she was breathless over it, " how do you suppose I can sit
down and write things I never heard about in my life and
the pencil carrying my hand along with it driving it
and not my hand moving the pencil? "

" I don't know," said the old lady honestly, adding, with
a memory of Brooke, " Search me."


" And don't you think," the girl went on, still in impas-
sioned earnest, " if we find out that's so, we're in honor
bound to keep on and follow out the thing wherever it
leads us and see where it does lead us? '

" No, I don't," said Madam Brooke. " That I'm sure
of. You're only going to debase your energies and weaken
your will, forever questioning, forever whining for sym-
pathy and asking advice, setting up a higher tribunal
1 over there/ as you call it, and lying down on what you
think are higher intelligences than your own. No, my
girl, you fight it out on this line. Make your decisions,
meet your griefs, and toughen your will. That's what the
whole business here is for the mystery, the despair
to make a man of you and toughen your will."

Madam Brooke heard herself saying these things in a
wondering surprise. She hadn't known she possessed any
formulated philosophy, any more than a formulated reli-
gion, but now she caught her breath a little at the vision
before her, that vision which comes to man or woman at
least once in a doubting life, of the splendor of the quest
here in our darkness, the " ignorant armies " of the mind
and soul clashing against evil, to attain at last that un-
seen glory the freedom of the will. But she had not
revealed her vision to Miss Bixby.

" Why," said the girl, " don't you know what we're in
it for, all of us that are in it honestly this psychic
business? It isn't only because we've lost friends and
want to hear from 'em. It's because it's life."

" What is life? " asked Madam Brooke.

" It's life that drives us crazy. Why, Madam Brooke,
there's nothing to it."

" Nothing to it? " repeated the old lady, remembering
the unnumbered leaves in the book of years from time
unimagined to the present hour, hearing the winds of


destiny stirring the torn and gorgeous tapestries of the
world. " Nothing to life? "

"There's nothing to it," repeated Miss Bixby obsti-
nately. " There may be for you. You may make your-
self think there is. Your slippers and your silks, going
to the symphonies and reading Dante, that may carry
you along. But when you wake up at three in the morn-
ing and your feet are cold, don't you know there's nothing
to it then? "

" How the dickens," said the old lady, startled, as if
she'd been caught by conjuring, " do you know how I feel
when my feet are cold? '

" Because I feel just the same," said Miss Bixby. " It's
then I think about life, and I can't help it. And I know
it's because my feet are cold, but somehow that seems a
part of the whole business, making 'em cold, that awful
time in the morning, so the beasts can get me and I can't
fight 'em off. And I lie there and say to myself, ' This
is life, is it? Well, there's nothing to it.' "

" And then you turn over and get warm," said the old
lady, fascinated, " and snuggle a little shawl into bed
the one I packed just now is a nice one for that and you
drop off and wake at seven and you say, ' Well, life isn't
such a bad old party after all ! ' "

" Yes. And maybe there are popovers for breakfast,"
said Miss Bixby, at once feeling she had betrayed herself
and looking foolish.

Madam Brooke gazed at her in a consuming sympathy.
Popovers! this volcanic person with a crust of ice could be
reconciled to the mysterious gods, for a fleeting hour in
the morning, by popovers. She broke into a laugh, and
Miss Bixby, whose mind may have followed hers through
that satiric commentary, laughed also, though grimly.

" Now," said the old lady, " just what do you find in


your psychic business? What do you think it's going to
do for you? '

" Why," said Miss Bixby, now in an absolute agony of
wanting to make herself understood, " it's what you said
yourself. It's the tribunal. It's knowing there's some-
where where the accounts are kept and things are justified
and the reasons known. It isn't leaving these awful
loose ends flying. They're gathered up. They're knit
into a web."

Madam Brooke, looking at her, shrewdly suspected she
wanted the universe reduced to a system of obvious order
conformable to her own exactness with the tools of her

"And there's the animals," said Miss Bixby, sitting
still, though, in some undesigned way, giving an impres-
sion of mentally writhing in these agonies she disclosed.
" There's got to be something to account for them. Why,
don't you know how they suffer? They suffer all the

" There's the Society," said Madam Brooke weakly,
knowing this was no answer and yet proffering it as the
only palliative at hand.

" It isn't that," said Miss Bixby scornfully. She seemed
to be repudiating the mere parochial system of seeing an-
imals through their pain, and sweeping out into the waste
places of the world on wings of wrathful questioning.
" Why, it isn't only we that abuse 'em. They hunt each
other and crunch each other's bones and suck each other's
blood, and there isn't one of 'em that isn't afraid mor-
tally afraid of something else. What's your tribunal
going to say about that? If it's got anything to say I
want to hear it, and if automatic writing'll tell me so
much as one word a word here and a word there that I
can piece together into something that means something
well, I want it, that's all."


Madam Brooke sought about in her mind for those as-
suagements she had herself often dismissed as platitudes
but which, it seemed to her now, had their uses.

" Of course," said she, " it isn't possible for us to under-
stand. We must believe. They tell us so. They tell
us we must have faith."

" Yes," said Miss Bixby, dismissing faith with the
monosyllable, " but faith isn't anything. It's a lazy man's
religion, that's all. You don't know, so you give it up.
It's just exactly as if you were doing arithmetic and you
said, ' I can't find an answer to this, and so I can't plan
the measurements of the bridge IVe got to design or the
ship I'm going to build, but it's a great deal more satis-
factory than if I could/ Lord ! '

The invocation was not irreverent. It seemed to be an

"Do you go to church? " asked Madam Brooke, in a
small voice.

" No," said Miss Bixby shortly. " My Sundays are
full. I mend my stockings and rest my back."

" Have you," again Madam Brooke ventured, " any
near family? "

" I've got nobody," said the girl. " They died years
and years ago, and they might have died sooner for all
I'm concerned. All but mother; but she died before I'd
begun to earn, so I could give her things. And now you'll
say, l Well, if you fell in love you'd feel differently. Or
if you'd married, and had children you'd feel differently/
No, I shouldn't. I should only feel more so. Suppose I
fell in love, suppose somebody fell in love with me. Not
likely, but suppose it, just for fun." It was a bleak word
to use at that point, and she used it bleakly. No one
could imagine her doing anything for fun. "Would it
last? You know it wouldn't. Madam Brooke, there's



nothing to it. Suppose I had children and thought they'd
make up to me for my husband's forgetting he'd been in
love with me. Would that last? No! if we, were poor,
they'd want to get rid of me as soon as I was helpless and
old. If we were rich " She remembered there that
Madam Brooke herself was old, and qualified it " Well,
if you're rich, you can manage to play the game. But
there's nothing to it."

Madam Brooke sat looking at her and thinking so hard
it made her tired head ache. The smooth surface of the
girl's face was broken up and seamed by the fighting
forces within. Her black eyes burned. She was one fire
of need and hunger from top to toe.

" How much did you ever get out of the things you
thought you wanted so you'd sell your soul for them? '
she was asking fiercely. " Nothing, in the end. You
know you didn't. Nobody ever does, only they haven't
always the sense to see it or the courage to own up.
There's nothing to it, I tell you, nothing."

" So you don't believe," the old lady ventured, " there's
anything splendid in fighting here in the dark for the
sake of what seems to you good, though you don't know
what it is nor exactly why you think it's good? You
don't think there's anything fine in crawling along over
the stony roadway, trying to smooth it out a little with
your bare hands so somebody else will find it easier? '

" I don't know whether it's fine or not," said Miss
Bixby. " I know it's heart-breaking. It's a mean game
they're playing with us, they knowing all the cards and we
putting 'em down any old way because we haven't been
told what's trumps."

" Oh yes, we have," said Madam Brooke. " We do
know what's trumps."

" Well, in a Poor Richard sort of way, I suppose w do,


B. Franklin, ' honesty is the best policy ' and all that.
But to know, really to know! just you think of that. To
put up with this hole of an earth because we know there's
another one, all '

She hesitated and Madam Brooke supplied, smiling a

" Gold streets and golden slippers."

" I believe in bookkeeping myself," said Miss Bixby,
so emphatically that she seemed to be reciting her earthly
creed and closing the covers with a bang. " I believe
there's got to be something to explain this, or it's going to
keep on making us sick, every child that's born into it,
till the end of time. And wouldn't that be a mean trick
to play on us? " she asked frankly, with no shade of
humor. " Shut us up here and forbid us to peek and
keep generation after generation of us finding out there's
nothing to it."

" Miss Bixby," said Madam Brooke frankly, " I wish
you and I had got acquainted before. Why didn't you
ever talk."

" I wasn't hired to talk," said Miss Bixby coldly. " I
did my work. You do, you know."

" But now," said Madam Brooke, " if my grandson
comes back with the elixir of life, or whatever it is, and
we hand it over to the owner and no questions asked
and you oblige Mr. Harvey by giving up the automatic
writing it upsets my daughter very much, you know
don't you think you could stay on and try to find some-
thing a little more satisfactory with us than you have
yet? "

Miss Bixby stared at her.

" Give up automatic writing? " she repeated. " Why,
that's what I'm going to New York for. It wasn't only
to run off with the camera case, though that did start me


off to-day. I'm going to launch out. I'm going to open
an office and give sittings and write myself blind and crazy
but what I'll find out what there is to it."

" That's what you'll do," said Madam Brooke.
" You'll addle your brains and weaken your will and
you'll get that look they all have that sly, superior sorb
of smile that says they don't care how soon this old planet
goes to pieces so long as they're in on the ground floor of
another one."

The girl rose from her chair. She had ordinarily no
personal presence, but now Madam Brooke was surprised
to see how tall she looked.

" I tell you," she said, " I don't care that " she
snapped her wiry fingers into the air " what happens
to me. I'm as much of an adventurer as the men that
sailed out discovering continents, two or three hundred
years ago. They didn't care that either." And again she
snapped the capable fingers. " And they weren't afraid
of being roasted by cannibals or drowned in the sea.
Why, what's discontent, the eating kind of discontent that
made them start out and throw their lives overboard when
they had to? They knew there was nothing to it. That's
what discontent is. And they were trying to find the
other end of things, same as I am and that old Mr. Dove.
He's trying, too. Only w r hat we're doing is to find the end
that's snarled up off there round Orion or the Milky Way
and it's an awful long ways off."

" My Lord ! ' said Madam Brooke, staring at her.
" My Lord above ! '

The fire in the girl's face died as suddenly as if a wind
had puffed it out. Her body relaxed into a dispirited

" There's Lieutenant Harvey," she said indifferently.
" He's just come in. You'd better go down and meet him


and start him off to Mr. Dove with the stolen goods.
I've got to finish packing. If I don't look out, I sha'n't
be off to-night."

Madam Brooke rose and went to the door, unlocked it
and stood there waiting. Brooke came up in a hurry and
he carried the case.

" I suppose," he said " this is all right. It has Mr.
Dove's name on the bottom and a New York address."

" Yes," said Miss Bixby. The exchange was as com-
monplace as if nothing emotional had ever blown through
the quiet room. " It's quite all right. You'd better take
it down to them at once. I suppose they're worried."

Brooke looked at his grandmother and she nodded her
assent, at which he hurried off, his mind full of Andrea.
Presently they heard the door close below. Miss Bixby
was stirring about the room with her capable, deft move-
ments picking up smaller articles and putting them in the
tray of her trunk. Madam Brooke turned to her, was
about to speak and waited. It was evident that Miss
Bixby, smiling rather satirically, was also about to

" Didn't I tell you," she said composedly, meeting
Madam Brooke's glance, " there's nothing to it? There's
nothing to anything on this beastly earth. Now this
here I thought I'd got my hands on something that would
move. I knew that old man hadn't enough life left in
him for anything but muddling away the thing, even if
there's anything to it. I knew I could find a way to get
it looked into by the right kind of man. And here you
take it away from me, back to him, and he'll sit and stare
at it till he drops into his grave. And what'll become of
it then? The girl will marry and her children will want
the case to play with and pour the stuff out into the back
yard. There's nothing to it, I tell you life. Or if


there is, they've sworn to keep their secret. They're
bound we sha'n't know."

The bitterness of this was so poignant that Madam
Brooke could not answer even with the last poor palliative
on her lips. She turned and went gravely away to her
own room on the floor below. But Miss Bixby had not
finished packing when she was back again. She came
slowly, for she was tired, and she bore in both hands, as
if it were a precious offering to be carried ceremoniously,
an oblong package done up in soft white paper.

" You look here, my dear," she said, dropping into a
chair and resting the parcel on her knees. " I bought
this for Beatrice Hayden, about the beginning of the war.
They'd just imported it. And then the war began and
Phil went off and Bee hadn't any heart for clothes. And
I thought I'd keep it till she began to live again. The
young do, you know. They must. But now I want to
give it to you."

She lifted the folds of paper, and Miss Bixby drew a
quick breath at the beauty of the fabric gleaming up at
them, gold in hue and of a texture almost impalpable
where it was not crusted by the rich embroidery of flowers
and leaves. It was queens' covering in the days when
queens were what they can never be again.

" What could I do with it? " asked Miss Bixby, in a tone
of sad wonder that anybody could think of its pertaining
in any propriety to her. " Where could I wear it? '

" You could wear it in your room," said Madam Brooke
hopefully. " It would be something to build up from.
You must have more pleasures, my dear, more of the
things that take our minds off the bad things in the world.
They do keep their secrets, the Ones that arranged the
world. I know that, just as well as you do. I don't
know that I blame Them. They must have their reasons.


But you can't dwell on it. If we dwell on it, we get queer.
Buy you a flower to smell, or hear some music, or wear a
pretty frock. When I look at some of those things
They've given us, I find I can believe They're not so un-
friendly to us, after all. Now I'm going to put this in the
top of your trunk. You hang it on a chair in the sun
and see how it makes you feel." She got up, laid the
package in the tray, and gave it a little affectionate pat
of loving farewell. Then she held out her hand. " I'm
going to lie down awhile," she said. " Perhaps I sha'n't
see you again."

Miss Bixby took the fragile hand that had yet such
strength of will in it, and involuntarily bent her head a
little over it. It looked as if she wanted to kiss it. She
did want to, but she simply couldn't do it. The ice of
habit had begun to form again about her heart.

But Madam Brooke did not rest for any space of time.
She was lying on her bed, hands folded, her tired body
inert, when Brooke knocked and, when she bade him,
came in and shut the door behind him. He still carried
the case and he looked worried.

" See here," said he, " what am I going to do with it?
I've knocked and knocked at her door and nobody an-


" Keep it till morning then," she said, " unless you think
it'll be too much of a strain for her to wait."

" Oh, she'll know," said Brooke, " when she comes home.
I tucked a card under the door and told her it was found."

" Open it, dear," said Madam Brooke. She called on
her patient inner forces for one thrill more. " I want to
see how the thing looks."

" I can't," said Brooke. " It's locked."


THE next step before Andrea was into the brambly
thicket of the tortured truth. Yet she took it without
hesitating as she would have taken a bigger leap into more
dubious ground to serve her father. He must, at all costs,
at least until she heard from Brooke, be spared the shock
of finding out about Miss Bixby and the olympium.
When he came home, he would go at once into the labor-
atory, and his first glance would be for the case on the
table. She must be away, out of reach of questioning.
He had told her to look for rooms at the West End. That
would account for her. She set out bread and fruit the
only food she could persuade him now to touch and left
a written message for him in his room. She had gone out,
she told him, and it seemed to her safer to take the olym-
pium with her. It was, she reminded him, what they used
to do. Andrea smiled a little, as she read over the mes-
sage, a least little smile that had no mirth in it, remember-
ing, but without emotion, the straight lines of her old in-
tegrity. Once the truth meant naked fact. It still did,
for others more heroic than she who had built their houses
on that rock where, however the winds beat and the floods
come, they fall not. But, as it seemed to her now, when
you rest the tottering pillars of your house upon a lie, it
is a small matter if you top it with a disorderly brick the
more. You build as you can, propping the shameful pile
where you must, in the terrified hope of its lasting briefly,



but aware that, in the end, foredoomed, it falls. And she
had seen enough of Nemesis to believe that, when it does
topple to its ruin, with a savage honesty inherent in even
the false work of man it traps and crushes him who built
it. But that was beside the purpose. She had done her
deed and she was ready for her punishment. She went
out and up the street the way Brooke would come if he
had news for her, walked past the Harveys to the block
above and paced up and down, keeping watch of their
door and the car before it. Finally, when her tired mind
fell into doubt and told her she had somehow missed him,
Brooke ran out, got into the car and drove away. She
followed and saw it turn to the right at Arlington Street,
not to the left, as if he were going to her. Dispirited, she
walked back to a corner within sight of her own house,
lingered there a little and, with a perfunctory design of
accounting to her father for her absence, wandered about
the West End for an hour, looking for rooms. Her mind
was no longer keen; she could not even set it to work at
guessing what might happen. It was too dull and stiff-
ened. The sight of Brooke whirling away from her had
looked final; it did not seem likely that he would return.
She had her luncheon and wandered about again. With
the early dusk she was suddenly tired all over, not her
mind only but her whole body, and then she did go home
and found his card with the message saying the case was
found. That was good, she thought, that was temporary
comfort, though she would have to explain it all to her
father; and how that was to be done, with her mind so
tired, she could not see. But he had not come yet, and
she got something to eat and arranged a tray for him, hop-
ing he would lie down and let her bring it to him. And
as the dusk deepened and she began to find, with the
strength food gave her, that she was strong enough to


balance possibilities of accident and yet not strong enough
to fight them off, he came. He was tired, more tired even
than she had expected. He carried the little box, and he
seemed in excellent spirits. He gave her a nod but no
word, and went on, as she expected, into the laboratory,
and at once she heard him laugh. Had he seen the case
was gone? He must have, at the instant of entering.
The light from the street lamp was enough to show up
every corner. She crept nearer the door and listened,
and still he laughed, snatches of low amused laughter, and
hummed a little in the intervals between.

"Andrea! " he called, and now she knew he would tell
her and she must explain to him all that had happened
and that the case was safe with Brooke. She braced her-
self for it, but he called again, lightly, pleasantly, as she
hardly remembered he could speak:

" I'll have a bite of supper now."

That was reprieve for her and she was glad. She had
it ready shortly, and he came out and sat down to it. He
was eating with determination, not as if the food ap-
pealed to him but knowing he must hearten himself, and
she wondered if everything was going to frighten her now :
for it did frighten her to guess what he might be hearten-
ing himself for. When he had finished, he sat a moment
looking down at his plate and her pulse answered with a
leap of fear. He was going, she knew, to tell her some-
thing for which she was not prepared. He looked up at
her, and she shrank a little before the amused, satiric
gleam in his black eyes.

" So," he said, " they've got it, haven't they, just as I
thought they would? '

" Who? " she managed to ask.

" The woman that came here, the one that told me it
was worth thousands of dollars. Or Peter Harvey. He's

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Online LibraryAlice BrownThe wind between the worlds → online text (page 15 of 17)