Elia W. Peattie.

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the country were fostered and protected, why should not the most
valuable product of all interests, human creatures, be given at least an
equal amount of consideration. In her own way, which by a happy
instinct never included what was hackneyed, she drew a picture of the
potentialities of the child considered merely from an economic point of
view, and in impulsive words she made plain the need for a bureau, which
she suggested should be virtually a part of the governmental structure,
in which should be vested authority for the care of children, - the
Bureau of Children, she denominated it, - a scientific extension of

It seemed a part of the whole stirring experience that she should be
asked with several others to lunch at the White House with the President
and his wife. The President, it appeared, was profoundly interested. A
quiet man, with a judicial mind, he perceived the essential truth of
Kate's propaganda. He had, indeed, thought of something similar himself,
though he had not formulated it. He went so far as to express a desire
that this useful institution might attain realization while he was yet
in the presidential chair.

"I would like to ask you unofficially, Miss Barrington," he said at
parting, "if you are one to whom responsibility is agreeable?"

"Oh," cried Kate, taken aback, "how do I know? I am so young, Mr.
President, and so inexperienced!"

"We must all be that at some time or other," smiled the President. "But
it is in youth that the ideas come; and enthusiasm has a value which is
often as great as experience."

"Ideas are accidents, Mr. President," answered Kate. "It doesn't follow
that one can carry out a plan because she has seen a vision."

"No," admitted the President, shaking hands with her. "But you don't
look to me like a woman who would let a vision go to waste. You will
follow it up with all the power that is in you."

* * * * *

It happened that Kate's propaganda appealed to the popular imagination.
The papers took it up; they made much of the President's interest in it;
they wrote articles concerning the country girl who had come up to town,
and who, with a simple faith and courage, had worked among the
unfortunate and the delinquent, and whose native eloquence had made her
a favorite with critical audiences. They printed her picture and
idealized her in the interests of news.

A lonely, gruff old man in Silvertree read of it, and when the drawn
curtains had shut him away from the scrutiny of his neighbors, he walked
the floor, back and forth, following the worn track in the dingy
carpet, thinking.

They talked of it at the Caravansary, and were proud; and many men and
women who had met her by chance, or had watched her with interest,
openly rejoiced.

"They're coming on, the Addams breed of citizens," said they. "Here's a
new one with the trick - whatever it is - of making us think and care and
listen. She's getting at the roots of our disease, and it's partly
because she's a woman. She sees that it has to be right with the
children if it's to be right with the family. Long live the
Addams breed!"

Friends wired their congratulations, and their comments were none the
less acceptable because they were premature. Many wrote her; Ray McCrea,
alone, of her intimate associates, was silent. Kate guessed why, but she
lacked time to worry. She only knew that her great scheme was
afoot - that it went. But she would have been less than mortal if she had
not felt a thrill of commingled apprehension and satisfaction at the
fact that Kate Barrington, late of Silvertree and its gossiping,
hectoring, wistful circles, was in the foreground. She had had an Idea
which could be utilized in the high service of the world, and the most
utilitarian and idealistic public in the world had seized upon it.

So, naturally enough, the affairs of Honora Fulham became somewhat
blurred to Kate's perception. Besides, she was unable to decide what to
do. She had heard that one should never interfere between husband and
wife. Moreover, she was very young, and she believed in her friends.
Others might do wrong, but not one's chosen. People of her own sort had
temptations, doubtless, but they overcame them. That was their
business - that was their obligation. She might proclaim herself a
democrat, but she was a moral aristocrat, at any rate. She depended upon
those in her class to do right.

She was a trifle chilled when she returned to find how little time
Honora had to give to her unfolding of the great new scheme. Honora had
her own excitement. Her wonderful experiment was drawing to a
culmination. Honora could talk of nothing else. If Kate wanted to
promulgate a scheme for the caring for the Born, very well. Honora had a
tremendous business with the Unborn. So she talked Kate down.


Then came the day of Honora's victory!

It had been long expected, yet when it came it had the effect of a
miracle. It was, however, a miracle which she realized. She was
burningly aware that her great moment had come.

She left the lights flaring in the laboratory, and, merely stopping to
put the catch on the door, ran down the steps, fastening her linen coat
over her working dress as she went. David would be at home. He would be
resting, perhaps, - she hoped so. For days he had been feverish and
strange, and she had wondered if he were tormented by that sense of
world-stress which was forever driving him. Was there no achievement
that would satisfy him, she wondered. Yes, yes, he must be satisfied
now! Moreover, he should have all the credit. To have found the origin
of life, though only in a voiceless creature, - a reptile, - was not that
an unheard-of victory? She would claim no credit; for without him and
his daring to inspire her she would not have dreamed of such an

Of course, she might have telephoned to him, but it never so much as
occurred to her to do that. She wanted to cry the words into his ear: -

"We have it! The secret is ours! There _is_ a hidden door into the house
of life - and we've opened it!"

Oh, what treasured, ancient ideas fell with the development of this new
fact! She did not want to think of that, because of those who, in the
rearrangement of understanding, must suffer. But as for her, she would
be bold to face it, as the mate and helper of a great scientist should
be. She would set her face toward the sun and be unafraid of any glory.
Her thoughts spun in her head, her pulses throbbed. She did not know
that she was thinking it, but really she was feeling that in a moment
more she would be in David's arms. Only some such gesture would serve to
mark the climax of this great moment. Though they so seldom caressed,
though they had indulged so little in emotion, surely now, after their
long and heavy task, they could have the sweet human comforts. They
could be lovers because they were happy.

Perhaps, after all, she would only cry out to him: - "It will be yours,
David - the Norden prize!" That would tell the whole thing.

People looked after her as she sped down the street. At first they
thought she was in distress, but a glance at her shining face, its
nobility accentuated by her elation, made that idea untenable. She was
obviously the bearer of good tidings.

Dr. von Shierbrand, passing on the other side of the street, called
out: -

"Carrying the good news from Ghent to Aix?"

An old German woman, with a laden basket on her arm nodded cheerfully.

"It's a baby," she said aloud to whoever might care to corroborate.

But Honora carried happiness greater than any dreamed, - a secret of the
ages, - and the prize was her man's fame.

She reached her own door, and with sure, swift hands, fitted the key in
the lock. The house wore a welcoming aspect. The drawing-room was filled
with blossoming plants, and the diaphanous curtains which Blue-eyed Mary
had hung at the windows blew softly in the breeze. The piano, with its
suggestive litter of music, stood open, and across the bench trailed one
of Mary's flowered chiffon scarfs.

"David!" called Honora. "David!"

Two blithe baby voices answered her from the rear porch. The little ones
were there with Mrs. Hays, and they excitedly welcomed this variation in
their day's programme.

"In a minute, babies," called Honora. "Mamma will come in a minute."

Yes, she and David would go together to the babies, and they would "tell
them," the way people "told the bees."

"David!" she kept calling. "David!"

She looked in the doors of the rooms she passed, and presently reached
her own. As she entered, a large envelope addressed in David's writing,
conspicuously placed before the face of her desk-clock, caught her eye.
She imagined that it contained some bills or memoranda, and did not stop
for it, but ran on.

"Oh, he's gone to town," she cried with exasperation, "and I haven't an
idea where to reach him!"

Closing her ears to the calls of the little girls, she returned to her
own room and shut herself in. She was completely exasperated with the
need for patience. Never had she so wanted David, and he was not
there - he was not there to hear that the moment of triumph had come for
both of them and that they were justified before their world.

Petulantly she snatched the envelope from the desk and opened it. It was
neither bills nor memoranda which fell out, but a letter. Surprised, she
unfolded it.

Her eyes swept it, not gathering its meaning. It might have been written
in some foreign language, so incomprehensible did it seem. But something
deep down in her being trembled as if at approaching dissolution and
sent up its wild messages of alarm. Vaguely, afar off, like the shouts
of a distant enemy on the hills, the import besieged her spirit.

"I must read it again," she said simply.

She went over it slowly, like one deciphering an ancient hieroglyph.

"My DEAR HONORA: - " (it ran.)

"I am off and away with Mary Morrison. Will this come to you
as a complete surprise? I hardly think so. You have been my
good comrade and assistant; but Mary Morrison is my woman. I
once thought you were, but there was a mistake somewhere.
Either I misjudged, or you changed. I hope you'll come across
happiness, too, sometime. I never knew the meaning of the
word till I met Mary. You and I haven't been able to make
each other out. You thought I was bound up heart and soul in
the laboratory. I may as well tell you that only a fractional
part of my nature was concerned with it. Mary is an unlearned
person compared with you, but she knew that, and it is the
great fact for both of us.

"It is too bad about the babies. We ought never to have had
them. See that they have a good education and count on me to
help you. You'll find an account at the bank in your name.
There'll be more there for you when that is gone.


The old German woman was returning, her basket emptied of its load, when
Honora came down the steps and crossed the Plaisance.

"My God," said the old woman in her own tongue, "the child did not

Honora walked as somnambulists walk, seeing nothing. But she found her
way to the door of the laboratory. The white glare of the chemical
lights was over everything - over all the significant, familiar litter of
the place. The workmanlike room was alive and palpitating with the
personality which had gone out from it - the flaming personality of
David Fulham.

The woman who had sold her birthright of charm and seduction for his
sake sat down to eat her mess of pottage. Not that she thought even as
far as that. Thought appeared to be suspended. As a typhoon has its calm
center, so the mad tumult of her spirit held a false peace. She rested
there in it, torpid as to emotion, in a curious coma.

Yet she retained her powers of observation. She took her seat before the
tanks in which she had demonstrated the correctness of David's amazing
scientific assumption. Yet now the creatures that he had burgeoned by
his skill, usurping, as it might seem to a timid mind, the very function
of the Creator, looked absurd and futile - hateful even. For these
things, bearing, as it was possible, after all, no relation to actual
life, had she spent her days in desperate service. Then, suddenly, it
swept over her, like a blasting wave of ignited gas, that she never had
had the pure scientific flame! She had not worked for Truth, but that
David might reap great rewards. With her as with the cave woman, the
man's favor was the thing! If the cave woman won his approval with base
service, she, the aspiring creature of modern times, was no less the
slave of her own subservient instincts! And she had failed as the cave
woman failed - as all women seemed eventually to fail. The ever-repeated
tragedy of woman had merely been enacted once more, with herself for the
sorry heroine.

Yet none of these thoughts was distinct. They passed from her mind like
the spume puffed from the wave's crest. She knew nothing of time. Around
her blazed and sputtered the terrible white lights. The day waned; the
darkness fell; and when night had long passed its dark meridian and the
anticipatory cocks began to scent the dawn and to make their discovery
known, there came a sharp knocking at the door.

It shattered Honora's horrible reverie as if it had been an explosion.
The chambers of her ears quaked with the reverberations. She sprang to
her feet with a scream which rang through the silent building.

"Let me in! Let me in!" called a voice. "It's only Kate. Let me in,
Honora, or I'll call some one to break down the door."

* * * * *

Kate had mercy on that distorted face which confronted her. It was not
the part of loyalty or friendship to look at it. She turned out the
spluttering, glaring lights, and quiet and shadow stole over the room.

"Well, Honora, I found the note and I know the whole of your trouble.
Remember," she said quietly, "it's your great hour. You have a chance to
show what you're made of now."

"What I'm made of!" said Honora brokenly. "I'm like all the women. I'm
dying of jealousy, Kate, - dying of it."

"Jealousy - you?" cried Kate. "Why, Honora - "

"You thought I couldn't feel it, I suppose, - thought I was above it?
I'm not above anything - not anything - " Her voice straggled off into a
curious, shameless sob with a sound in it like the bleating of a lamb.

"Stop that!" said Kate, sharply. "Pull yourself together, woman. Don't
be a fool."

"Go away," sobbed Honora. "Don't stay here to watch me. My heart is
broken, that's all. Can't you let me alone?"

"No, I can't - I won't. Stand up and fight, woman. You can be
magnificent, if you want to. It can't be that you'd grovel, Honora."

"You know very little of what you're talking about," cried Honora,
whipped into wholesome anger at last. "I've been a fool from the
beginning. The whole thing's my fault."

"I don't see how."

Kate was getting her to talk; was pulling her up out of the pit of shame
and anguish into which she had fallen. She sat down in a deal chair
which stood by the window, and Honora, without realizing it, dropped
into a chair, too. The neutral morning sky was beginning to flush and
the rosiness reached across the lead-gray lake, illuminated the windows
of the sleeping houses, and tinted even the haggard monochrome of the
laboratory with a promise of day.

"Why, it's my fault because I wouldn't take what was coming to me. I
wouldn't even be what I was born to be!"

"I know," said Kate, "that you underwent some sort of a transformation.
What was it?"

She hardly expected an answer, but Honora developed a perfervid

"Oh, Kate, you've said yourself that I was a very different girl when
you knew me first. I was a student then, and an ambitious one, too; but
there wasn't a girl in this city more ready for a woman's rôle than I. I
longed to be loved - I lived in the idea of it. No matter how hard I
tried to devote myself to the notion of a career, I really was dreaming
of the happiness that was going to come to me when - when Life had done
its duty by me."

She spoke the words with a dramatic clearness. The terrific excitement
she had undergone, and which she now held in hand, sharpened her
faculties. The powers of memory and of expression were intensified. She
fairly burned upon Kate there in the beautiful, disguising light of the
morning. Her weary face was flushed; her eyes were luminous. Her
terrific sorrow put on the mask of joy.

"You see, I loved David almost from the first - I mean from the beginning
of my University work. The first time I saw him crossing the campus he
held my attention. There was no one else in the least like him, so
vivid, so exotic, so almost fierce. When I found out who he was, I
confess that I directed my studies so that I should work with him. Not
that I really expected to know him personally, but I wanted to be near
him and have him enlarge life for me. I felt that it would take on new
meanings if I could only hear his interpretations of it."

Kate shivered with sympathy at the woman's passion, and something like
envy stirred in her. Here was a world of delight and torment of which
she knew nothing, and beside it her own existence, restless and eager
though it had been, seemed a meager affair.

"Well, the idea burned in me for months and years. But I hid it. No one
guessed anything about it. Certainly David knew nothing of it. Then,
when I was beginning on my graduate work, I was with him daily. But he
never seemed to see me - he saw only my work, and he seldom praised that.
He expected it to be well done. As for me, I was satisfied. The mere
fact that we were comrades, forced to think of the same matters several
hours of each day, contented me. I couldn't imagine what life would be
away from him; and I was afraid to think of him in relation to myself."


"Afraid - I mean just that. I knew others thought him a genius in
relation to his work. But I knew he was a genius in regard to life. I
felt sure that, if he turned that intensity of his upon life instead of
upon science, he would be a destructive force - a high explosive. This
idea of mine was confirmed in time. It happened one evening when a
number of us were over in the Scammon Garden listening to the
out-of-door players. I grew tired of sitting and slipped from my seat
to wander about a little in the darkness. I had reached the very outer
edge of seats and was standing there enjoying the garden, when I
overheard two persons talking together. A man said: 'Fulham will go far
if he doesn't meet a woman.' 'Nonsense,' the woman said; 'he's an
anchorite.' 'An inflammatory one,' the man returned. 'Mind, I don't say
he knows it. Probably he thinks he's cast for the scientific rôle to the
end of his days, but I know the fellow better than he does himself. I
tell you, if a woman of power gets hold of him, he'll be as drunk as
Abélard with the madness of it. Over in Europe they allow for that sort
of thing. They let a man make an art of loving. Here they insist that it
shall be incidental. But Fulham won't care about conventionalities if
the idea ever grips him. He's born for love, and it's a lucky thing for
the University that he hasn't found it out.' 'We ought to plan a sane
and reasonable marriage for him,' said the woman. 'Wouldn't that be a
good compromise?' 'It would be his salvation,' the man said."

Honora poured the words out with such rapidity that Kate hardly could
follow her.

"How you remember it all!" broke in Kate.

"If I remember anything, wouldn't it be that? As I say, it confirmed me
in what I already had guessed. I felt fierce to protect him. My jealousy
was awake in me. I watched him more closely than ever. His daring in the
laboratory grew daily. He talked openly about matters that other men
were hardly daring to dream of, and his brain seemed to expand every
day like some strange plant under calcium rays. I thought what a
frightful loss to science it would be if the wilder qualities of his
nature got the upper hand, and I wondered how I could endure it if - "

She drew herself up with a horror of realization. The thing that so long
ago she had thought she could not endure was at last upon her! Her teeth
began to chatter again, and her hands, which had been clasped, to twist
themselves with the writhing motion of the mentally distraught.

"Go on!" commanded Kate. "What happened next?"

"I let him love me!"

"I thought you said he hadn't noticed you."

"He hadn't; and I didn't talk with him more than usual or coquette with
him. But I let down the barriers in my mind. I never had been ashamed of
loving him, but now I willed my love to stream out toward him like - like
banners of light. If I had called him aloud, he couldn't have answered
more quickly. He turned toward me, and I saw all his being set my way.
Oh, it was like a transfiguration! Then, as soon as ever I saw that, I
began holding him steady. I let him feel that we were to keep on working
side by side, quietly using and increasing our knowledge. I made him
scourge his love back; I made him keep his mind uppermost; I saved him
from himself."

"Oh, Honora! And then you were married?"

"And then we were married. You remember how sudden it was, and how
wonderful; but not wonderful in the way it might have been. I kept guard
over myself. I wouldn't wear becoming dresses; I wouldn't even let him
dream what I really was like - wouldn't let him see me with my hair down
because I knew it was beautiful. I combed it plainly and dressed like a
nurse or a nun, and every day I went to the laboratory with him and kept
him at his work. He had got hold of this dazzling idea of the extraneous
development of life, and he set himself to prove it. I worked early and
late to help him. I let him go out and meet people and reap honors, and
I stayed and did the drudgery. But don't imagine I was a martyr. I liked
it. I belonged to him. It was my honor and delight to work for him. I
wanted him to have all of the credit. The more important the result, the
more satisfaction I should have in proclaiming him the victor. I was
really at the old business of woman, subordinating myself to a man I
loved. But I was doing it in a new way, do you see? I was setting aside
the privilege of my womanhood for him, refraining from making any merely
feminine appeal. You remember hearing Dr. von Shierbrand say there was
but one way woman should serve man - the way in which Marguerite served
Faust? It made me laugh. I knew a harder road than that to walk - a road
of more complete abnegation."

"But the babies came."

"Yes, the babies came. I was afraid even to let him be as happy in them
as he wanted to be. I held him away. I wouldn't let him dwell on the
thought of me as the mother of those darlings. I dared not even be as
happy myself as I wished, but I had secret joys that I told him nothing
about, because I was saving him for himself and his work. But at what a
cost, Kate!"

"Honora, it was sacrilegious!"

Honora leaped to her feet again.

"Yes, yes," she cried, "it was. And now all has happened according to
prophecy, and he's gone with this woman! He thinks she's his mate, but,
I - I was his mate. And I defrauded him. So now he's taken her because
she was kind, because she loved him, because - she was beautiful!"

"She looks like you."

"Don't I know it? It's my beauty that he's gone away with - the beauty I
wouldn't let him see. Of course, he doesn't realize it. He only knows
life cheated him, and now he's trying to make up to himself for what
he's lost."

"Oh, can you excuse him like that?"

The daylight was hardening, and it threw Honora's drawn face into
repellent relief.

"I don't excuse him at all!" she said. "I condemn him! I condemn him!
With all his intellect, to be such a fool! And to be so cruel - so
hideously cruel!"

But she checked herself sharply. She looked around her with eyes that
seemed to take in things visible and invisible - all that had been
enacted in that curious room, all the paraphernalia, all the
significance of those uncompleted, important experiments. Then suddenly
her face paled and yet burned with light.

"But I know a great revenge," she said. "I know a revenge that will
break his heart!"

"Don't say things like that," begged Kate. "I don't recognize you when
you're like that."

"When you hear what the revenge is, you will," said Honora proudly.

"We're going now," Kate told her with maternal decision. "Here's your

"Home?" She began trembling again and the haunted look crept back into

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Online LibraryElia W. PeattieThe Precipice → online text (page 11 of 23)