Edward Payson Roe.

A Day of Fate online

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The Works of E. P. Roe






"Some shallow story of deep love."

- Shakespeare











































"Another month's work will knock Morton into 'pi,'" was a remark that
caught my ear as I fumed from the composing-room back to my private
office. I had just irately blamed a printer for a blunder of my own,
and the words I overheard reminded me of the unpleasant truth that I
had recently made a great many senseless blunders, over which I chafed
in merciless self-condemnation. For weeks and months my mind had been
tense under the strain of increasing work and responsibility. It was my
nature to become absorbed in my tasks, and, as night editor of a
prominent city journal, I found a limitless field for labor. It was
true I could have jogged along under the heavy burden with
comparatively little wear and loss, but, impelled by both temperament
and ambition, I was trying to maintain a racer's speed. From casual
employment as a reporter I had worked my way up to my present position,
and the tireless activity and alertness required to win and hold such a
place was seemingly degenerating into a nervous restlessness which
permitted no repose of mind or rest of body. I worked when other men
slept, but, instead of availing myself of the right to sleep when the
world was awake, I yielded to an increasing tendency to wakefulness,
and read that I might be informed on the endless variety of subjects
occupying public attention. The globe was becoming a vast
hunting-ground, around which my thoughts ranged almost unceasingly that
I might capture something new, striking, or original for the benefit of
our paper. Each day the quest had grown more eager, and as the hour for
going to press approached I would even become feverish in my intense
desire to send the paper out with a breezy, newsy aspect, and would be
elated if, at the last moment, material was flashed in that would
warrant startling head-lines, and correspondingly depressed if the
weary old world had a few hours of quiet and peace. To make the paper
"go," every faculty I possessed was in the harness.

The aside I had just overheard suggested, at least, one very probable
result. In printer's jargon, I would soon be in "pi."

The remark, combined with my stupid blunder, for which I had blamed an
innocent man, caused me to pull up and ask myself whither I was
hurrying so breathlessly. Saying to my assistant that I did not wish to
be disturbed for a half hour, unless it was essential, I went to my
little inner room. I wished to take a mental inventory of myself, and
see how much was left. Hitherto I had been on the keen run - a condition
not favorable to introspection.

Neither my temperament nor the school in which I had been trained
inclined me to slow, deliberate processes of reasoning. I looked my own
case over as I might that of some brother-editors whose journals were
draining them of life, and whose obituaries I shall probably write if I
survive them. Reason and Conscience, now that I gave them a chance,
began to take me to task severely.

"You are a blundering fool," said Reason, "and the man in the
composing-room is right. You are chafing over petty blunders while
ignoring the fact that your whole present life is a blunder, and the
adequate reason why your faculties are becoming untrustworthy. Each day
you grow more nervously anxious to have everything correct, giving your
mind to endless details, and your powers are beginning to snap like the
overstrained strings of a violin. At this rate you will soon spend
yourself and all there is of you."

Then Conscience, like an irate judge on the bench, arraigned me. "You
are a heathen, and your paper is your car of Juggernaut. You are
ceasing to be a man and becoming merely an editor - no, not even an
editor - a newsmonger, one of the world's gossips. You are an Athenian
only as you wish to hear and tell some new thing. Long ears are
becoming the appropriate symbols of your being. You are too hurried,
too eager for temporary success, too taken up with details, to form
calm, philosophical opinions of the great events of your time, and thus
be able to shape men's opinions. You commenced as a reporter, and are a
reporter still. You pride yourself that you are not narrow, unconscious
of the truth that you are spreading yourself thinly over the mere
surface of affairs. You have little comprehension of the deeper forces
and motives of humanity."

It is true that I might have pleaded in extenuation of these rather
severe judgments that I was somewhat alone in the world, living in
bachelor apartments, without the redeeming influences of home and
family life. There were none whose love gave them the right or the
motive to lay a restraining hand upon me, and my associates in labor
were more inclined to applaud my zeal than to curb it. Thus it had been
left to the casual remark of a nameless printer and an instance of my
own failing powers to break the spell that ambition and habit were

Before the half hour elapsed I felt weak and ill. The moment I relaxed
the tension and will-power which I had maintained so long, strong
reaction set in. Apparently I had about reached the limits of
endurance. I felt as if I were growing old and feeble by minutes as one
might by years. Taking my hat and coat I passed out, remarking to my
assistant that he must do the best he could - that I was ill and would
not return. If the Journal had never appeared again I could not then
have written a line to save it, or read another proof.

Saturday morning found me feverish, unrefreshed, and more painfully
conscious than ever that I was becoming little better than the presses
on which the paper was printed. Depression inevitably follows weariness
and exhaustion, and one could scarcely take a more gloomy view of
himself than I did.

"I will escape from this city as if it were Sodom," I muttered, "and a
June day in the country will reveal whether I have a soul for anything
beyond the wrangle of politics and the world's gossip."

In my despondency I was inclined to be reckless, and after merely
writing a brief note to my editorial chief, saying that I had broken
down and was going to the country, I started almost at random. After a
few hours' riding I wearied of the cars, and left them at a small
village whose name I did not care to inquire. The mountains and scenery
pleased me, although the day was overcast like my mind and fortunes.
Having found a quiet inn and gone through the form of a dinner, I sat
down on the porch in dreary apathy.

The afternoon aspect of the village street seemed as dull and devoid of
interest as my own life at that hour, and in fancy I saw myself, a
broken-down man, lounging away days that would be like eternities,
going through my little round like a bit of driftwood, slowly circling
in an eddy of the world's great current. With lack-lustre eyes I
"looked up to the hills," but no "help" came from them. The air was
close, the sky leaden; even the birds would not sing. Why had I come to
the country? It had no voices for me, and I resolved to return to the
city. But while I waited my eyes grew heavy with the blessed power to
sleep - a boon, for which I then felt that I would travel to the Ultima
Thule. Leaving orders that I should not be disturbed, I went to my
room, and Nature took the tired man, as if he were a weary child, into
her arms.

At last I imagined that I was at the Academy of Music, and that the
orchestra were tuning their instruments for the overture. A louder
strain than usual caused me to start up, and I saw through the open
window a robin on a maple bough, with its tuneful throat swelled to the
utmost. This was the leader of my orchestra, and the whole country was
alive with musicians, each one giving out his own notes without any
regard for the others, but apparently the score had been written for
them all, since the innumerable strains made one divine harmony. From
the full-orbed song from the maple by my window, down to the faintest
chirp and twitter, there was no discord; while from the fields beyond
the village the whistle of the meadow-larks was so mellowed and
softened by distance as to incline one to wonder whether their notes
were real or mere ideals of sound.

For a long time I was serenely content to listen to the myriad-voiced
chords without thinking of the past or future. At last I found myself
idly querying whether Nature did not so blend all out-of-door sounds as
to make them agreeable, when suddenly a catbird broke the spell of
harmony by its flat, discordant note. Instead of my wonted irritation
at anything that jarred upon my nerves, I laughed as I sprang up,

"That cry reminds me that I am in the body and in the same old world.
That bird is near akin to the croaking printer."

But my cynicism was now more assumed than real, and I began to wonder
at myself. The change of air and scene had seemingly broken a malign
influence, and sleep - that for weeks had almost forsaken me - had
yielded its deep refreshment for fifteen hours. Besides, I had not
sinned against my life so many years as to have destroyed the
elasticity of early manhood. When I had lain down to rest I had felt
myself to be a weary, broken, aged man. Had I, in my dreams, discovered
the Fountain of Youth, and unconsciously bathed in it? In my rebound
toward health of mind and body I seemed to have realized what the old
Spaniard vainly hoped for.

I dressed in haste, eager to be out in the early June sunshine. There
had been a shower in the night, and the air had a fine exhilarating
quality, in contrast with the close sultriness of the previous

Instead of nibbling at breakfast while I devoured the morning dailies,
I ate a substantial meal, and only thought of papers to bless their
absence, and then walked down the village street with the quick glad
tread of one whose hope and zest in life have been renewed. Fragrant
June roses were opening on every side, and it appeared to me that all
the sin of man could not make the world offensive to heaven that

I wished that some of the villagers whom I met were more in accord with
Nature's mood; but in view of my own shortcomings, and still more
because of my fine physical condition, I was disposed toward a large
charity. And yet I could not help wondering how some that I saw could
walk among their roses and still look so glum and matter-of-fact. I
felt as if I could kiss every velvet petal.

"You were unjust," I charged back on Conscience; "this morning proves
that I am not an ingrained newsmonger. There is still man enough left
within me to revive at Nature's touch;" and I exultantly quickened my
steps, until I had left the village miles away.

Before the morning was half gone I learned how much of my old vigor had
ebbed, for I was growing weary early in the day. Therefore I paused
before a small gray building, old and weather-stained, that seemed
neither a barn, nor a dwelling, nor a school-house. A man was in the
act of unlocking the door, and his garb suggested that it might be a
Friends' meeting-house. Yielding to an idle curiosity I mounted a stone
wall at a point where I was shaded and partially screened by a tree,
and watched and waited, beguiling the time with a branch of sweetbriar
that hung over my resting-place.

Soon strong open wagons and rockaways began to appear drawn by sleek,
plump horses that often, seemingly, were gayer than their drivers.
Still there was nothing sour in the aspect or austere in the garb of
the people. Their quiet appearance took my fancy amazingly, and the
peach-like bloom on the cheeks of even well-advanced matrons suggested
a serene and quiet life.

"These are the people of all others with whom I would like to worship
to-day," I thought; "and I hope that that rotund old lady, whose face
beams under the shadow of her deep bonnet like a harvest moon through a
fleecy cloud, will feel moved to speak." I plucked a few buds from the
sweet-briar bush, fastened them in my button-hole, and promptly
followed the old lady into the meeting-house. Having found a vacant pew
I sat down, and looked around with serene content. But I soon observed
that something was amiss, for the men folk looked at each other and
then at me. At last an elderly and substantial Friend, with a face so
flushed and round as to suggest a Baldwin apple, arose and creaked with
painful distinctness to where I was innocently infringing on one of
their customs.

"If thee will follow me, friend," he said, "I'll give thee a seat with
the men folks. Thee's welcome, and thee'll feel more at home to follow
our ways."

His cordial grasp of my hand would have disarmed suspicion itself, and
I followed him meekly. In my embarrassment and desire to show that I
had no wish to appear forward, I persisted in taking a side seat next
to the wall, and quite near the door; for my guide, in order to show
his goodwill and to atone for what might seem rudeness, was bent on
marshalling me almost up to the high seats that faced the congregation,
where sat my rubicund old Friend lady, whose aspect betokened that she
had just the Gospel message I needed.

I at once noted that these staid and decorous people looked straight
before them in an attitude of quiet expectancy. A few little children
turned on me their round, curious eyes, but no one else stared at the
blundering stranger, whose modish coat, with a sprig of wild roses in
its buttonhole, made him rather a conspicuous contrast to the other men
folk, and I thought -

"Here certainly is an example of good-breeding which could scarcely be
found among other Christians. If one of these Friends should appear in
the most fashionable church on the Avenue, he would be well stared at,
but here even the children are receiving admonitory nudges not to look
at me."

I soon felt that it was not the thing to be the only one who was
irreverently looking around, and my good-fortune soon supplied ample
motive for looking steadily in one direction. The reader may justly
think that I should have composed my mind to meditation on my many
sins, but I might as well have tried to gather in my hands the reins of
all the wild horses of Arabia as to curb and manage my errant thoughts.
My only chance was for some one or something to catch and hold them for
me. If that old Friend lady would preach I was sure she would do me
good. As it was, her face was an antidote to the influences of the
world in which I dwelt, but I soon began to dream that I had found a
still better remedy, for, at a fortunate angle from my position, there
sat a young Quakeress whose side face arrested my attention and held
it. By leaning a little against the wall as well as the back of my
bench, I also, well content, could look straight before me like the

The fair profile was but slightly hidden by a hat that had a
perceptible leaning toward the world in its character, but the brow was
only made to seem a little lower, and her eyes deepened in their blue
by its shadow. My sweet-briar blossoms were not more delicate in their
pink shadings than was the bloom on her rounded cheek, and the white,
firm chin denoted an absence of weakness and frivolity. The upper lip,
from where I sat, seemed one half of Cupid's bow. I could but barely
catch a glimpse of a ripple of hair that, perhaps, had not been
smoothed with sufficient pains, and thus seemed in league with the
slightly worldly bonnet. In brief, to my kindled fancy, her youth and
loveliness appeared the exquisite human embodiment of the June morning,
with its alternations of sunshine and shadow, its roses and their
fragrance, of its abounding yet untarnished and beautiful life.

No one in the meeting seemed moved save myself, but I felt as if I
could become a poet, a painter, and even a lover, under the inspiration
of that perfect profile.



Moment after moment passed, but we all sat silent and motionless.
Through the open windows came a low, sweet monotone of the wind from
the shadowing maples, sometimes swelling into a great depth of sound,
and again dying to a whisper, and the effect seemed finer than that of
the most skilfully touched organ. Occasionally an irascible humble-bee
would dart in, and, after a moment of motionless poise, would dart out
again, as if in angry disdain of the quiet people. In its irate hum and
sudden dartings I saw my own irritable fuming and nervous activity, and
I blessed the Friends and their silent meeting. I blessed the fair June
face, that was as far removed from the seething turmoil of my world as
the rosebuds under her home-windows.

Surely I had drifted out of the storm into the very haven of rest and
peace, and yet one might justly dread lest the beauty which bound my
eyes every moment in a stronger fascination should evoke an unrest from
which there might be no haven. Young men, however, rarely shrink from
such perils, and I was no more prudent than my fellows. Indeed, I was
inclining toward the fancy that this June day was the day of destiny
with me; and if such a creature were the remedy for my misshapen life
it would be bliss to take it.

In our sweet silence, broken only by the voice of the wind, the twitter
of birds beguiling perhaps with pretty nonsense the hours that would
otherwise seem long to their brooding mates on the nests, and the hum
of insects, my fancy began to create a future for the fair stranger - a
future, rest assured, that did not leave the dreamer a calm and
disinterested observer.

"This day," I said mentally, "proves that there is a kindly and
superintending Providence, and men are often led, like children in the
dark, to just the thing they want. The wisdom of Solomon could not have
led me to a place more suited to my taste and need than have my blind,
aimless steps; and before me are possibilities which suggest the vista
through which Eve was led to Adam."

My constant contact with men who were keen, self-seeking, and often
unscrupulous, inclined me toward cynicism and suspicion. My editorial
life made me an Arab in a sense, for if there were occasion, my hand
might be against any man, if not every man. I certainly received many
merciless blows, and I was learning to return them with increasing
zest. My column in the paper was often a tilting-ground, and whether or
no I inflicted wounds that amounted to much, I received some that long
rankled. A home such as yonder woman might make would be a better
solace than newspaper files. Such lips as these might easily draw the
poison from any wound the world could make. Wintry firelight would be
more genial than even June sunlight, if her eyes would reflect in into
mine. With such companionship, all the Gradgrinds in existence would
prose in vain; life would never lose its ideality, nor the world become
a mere combination of things. Her woman's fancy would embroider my
man's reason and make it beautiful, while not taking from its strength.
Idiot that I was, in imagining that I alone could achieve success!
Inevitably I could make but a half success, since the finer feminine
element would be wanting. Do I wish men only to read our paper? Am I a
Turk, holding the doctrine that women have no souls, no minds? The
shade of my mother forbid! Then how was I, a man, to interpret the
world to women? Truly, I had been an owl of the night, and blind to the
honest light of truth when I yielded to the counsel of ambition, that I
had no time for courtship and marriage. In my stupid haste I would try
to grope my way through subjects beyond a man's ken, rather than seek
some such guide as yonder maiden, whose intuitions would be unerring
when the light of reason failed. In theory, I held the doctrine that
there was sex in mind as truly as in the material form. Now I was
inclined to act as if my doctrine were true, and to seek to double my
power by winning the supplemental strength and grace of a woman's soul.

Indeed, my day-dream was becoming exceedingly thrifty in its character,
and I assured ambition that the companionship of such a woman as yonder
maiden must be might become the very corner-stone of success.

Time passed, and still no one was "moved." Was my presence the cause of
the spiritual paralysis? I think not, for I was becoming conscious of
reverent feeling and deeper motives. If the fair face was my Gospel
message, it was already leading me beyond the thoughts of success and
ambition, of mental power and artistic grace. Her womanly beauty began
to awaken my moral nature, and her pure face, that looked as free from
guile as any daisy with its eye turned to the sun, led me to ask, "What
right have you to approach such a creature? Think of her needs, of her
being first, and not your own. Would you drag her into the turmoil of
your world because she would be a solace? Would you disturb the
maidenly serenity of that brow with knowledge of evil and misery, the
nightly record of which you have collated so long that you are callous?
You, whose business it is to look behind the scenes of life, will you
disenchant her also? It is your duty to unmask hypocrisy, and to drag
hidden evil to light, but will you teach her to suspect and distrust?
Should you not yourself become a better, truer, purer man before you
look into the clear depths of her blue eyes? Beware, lest thoughtlessly
or selfishly you sully their limpid truth."

"If she could be God's evangel to me, I might indeed be a better man,"
I murmured.

"That is ever the way," suggested Conscience; "there is always an 'if'
in the path of duty; and you make your change for the better depend on
the remote possibility that yonder maiden will ever look on you as
other than a casual stranger that caused a slight disturbance in the
wonted placidity of their meeting hour."

"Hush," I answered Conscience, imperiously; "since the old Friend lady
will not preach, I shall endure none of your homilies. I yield myself
to the influences of this day, and during this hour no curb shall be
put on fancy. In my soul I know that I would be a better man if she is
what she seems, and could be to me all that I have dreamed; and were I
tenfold worse than I am, she would be the better for making me better.
Did not Divine purity come the closest to sinful humanity? I shall
approach this maiden in fancy, and may seek her in reality, but it
shall be with a respect so sincere and an homage so true as to rob my
thoughts and quest of bold irreverence or of mere selfishness. Suppose
I am seeking my own good, my own salvation it may be, I am not seeking
to wrong her. Are not heaven's best gifts best won by giving all for
them? I would lay my manhood at her feet. I do not expect to earn her
or buy her, giving a quid pro quo. A woman's love is like the grace of
heaven - a royal gift; and the spirit of the suitor is more regarded
than his desert. Moreover, I do not propose to soil her life with the
evil world that I must daily brush against, but through her influence
to do a little toward purifying that world. Since this is but a dream,
I shall dream it out to suit me.

Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeA Day of Fate → online text (page 1 of 25)