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too swiftly again. He ordered another drink, and Dengler winked
protestingly as he turned to call Lafe Schiel. The look said, "Don't buy
him another, or I won't get my cuspidors cleaned."

So Charter felt that he was out of range and alignment everywhere, and
the drink betrayed him, as it always does when in power. Not even in
Lafe Scheil was the devil surer of his power this day. The whiskey did
not brighten, but stimulated thought-terrors upon the subject of his own
shattering.... Dengler found him interesting - this man so strangely
honored by others; by certain others honored above politicians. He
wondered now why the other so recklessly plied the whip.... The change
that came was inevitable.

"There now, old fellow," Dengler remonstrated familiarly, "I don't like
to turn you down, but you can't - honest, you can't - stand much more."

This was at seven-thirty. Charter straightened up, laughed, and started
to say, "This is the first - - "

But he reflected that once before this same thing had happened
somewhere: he had been deemed too drunk to drink - somewhere before....
He wabbled in the memory, and mumbled something wide to the point of
what he had meant to say, and jerked out.... That buttoning of his coat
about his throat (on a brilliant summer morning); that walking out
swiftly with set jaw and unseeing eyes, was but one of many landmarks to
Dengler - landmarks on the down-grade. He had seen them all in his twenty
years; seen the whole neighborhood change; seen clean boys redden,
fatten, and thrive for a time; watched the abyss widen between young
married pairs, his own liquors running in the bottom; seen men leave
their best with him and take home their beast.... Dengler, yes, had seen
many things worth telling and remembering. They all owed him at the
last.... In some ways, this man, Charter, was different. He tried to
remember who it was who first brought Charter in, and who that party of
swell chaps were who, finding Charter there one day, had made a sort of
hero out of him and tarried for hours.... The beer-man, in his leather
apron, entered to spoil this musing. He put up the old square-face
bottle, and served for a "chaser" a tall shell of beer.... Even beer-men
could not last. Dengler had seen many who for a year or two "chased" gin
with beer at every call. There was Schultz, a year ago about this time.
He'd been driving a wagon for a couple of years. Schultz had made too
many stops before he reached Dengler's that day. A full half-barrel had
crushed him to the pavement just outside the door.

"Put two halves in the basement, and leave me a dozen cases of pints,"
Dengler ordered.

* * * * *

Charter was met at the door by his mother. She had expected to find him
suffering from nerves, but clean. He had always kept his word, and she
had waited for this day. She did not need to look at him twice, but put
on her bonnet and left the house. She returned within an hour with three
of Charter's men friends. Bob, whom she had left to take care of her
son, reported that he had a terrible time. Charter, unable to find his
six-shooter, had overturned the house and talked of conspiracy and
robbery. He had fallen asleep within the last few minutes. Strange that
the mother had thought to hide the six-shooter....

The men lifted him to a closed carriage. Charter was driven to a
sanatorium. One of the friends undertook to stay with him for a day or
two. Charter did not rightly realize where he was until evening. He
appeared to take the news very quietly. Whiskey was allowed him when it
was needed. Other patients in various states of convalescence offered
assistance in many ways. That night, when the friend finally fell asleep
in the chair at the bedside, Charter arose softly, went into a hall,
_where a light was burning_, and plunged down into the dark - twenty-two
brass-covered steps. His head broke the panel of the front door at the
foot. His idea was the same which had made him hunt for his six-shooter
the morning before. Besides the door, he broke his nose, his arm, and
covered himself with bruises, but fell short, years yet unnumbered, from
his intent. Under the care of experts after that, he was watched
constantly, and given stimulus at gradually lengthening intervals - until
he refused it himself on the seventh day. Three weeks later, still, he
left the place, a man again, with one hundred and twenty needle
punctures in the flesh of his unbroken arm.




FOURTEENTH CHAPTER

THE SINGING OF THE SKYLARK CEASES ABRUPTLY; CHARTER HASTENS EAST TO FIND
A QUEER MESSAGE AT _THE GRANVILLE_


Charter, three years after the foregoing descent into realism, was
confessedly as happy a man as the Mid-West held. He accepted his
serenity with a full knowledge of its excellence, and according to his
present health and habits would not have been excited to find himself
still among those present, had the curtain been lifted thirty or forty
years away. In the year that followed the sanatorium experience, Charter
in reality found himself. There were a few months in which work came
slowly and was uncertain in quality. In his entire conception, nothing
worse could happen than an abatement of mental activity, but he did not
writhe, knowing that he richly deserved the perfect punishment. So
slowly and deeply did physical care and spiritual awakening restore the
forces of mind, however, that he did not realize an expansion of power
until his first long work had received critical and popular acclaim, and
he could see it, himself, in perspective. So he put off the last and
toughest shackle of King Fear - the living death.

As for drinking, that had beaten him. He had no thought to re-challenge
the champion. In learning that he could become abject, a creature of
paralyzed will, he had no further curiosity. This much, however, he had
required to be shown, and what a tender heart he had ever afterward for
the Lafe Schiels of this world. There were other vivid animals, strong
and agile, in his quiver of physical passions, but he discovered that
these could not become red and rending without alcohol. Such were
clubbed into submission accordingly. With alcohol, Charter could travel
any one of seven sorry routes to the gutter; without it, none. This was
his constant source of thankfulness - that he had refined his elements
without abating their dynamics. The forces that might have proved so
deadly in mastery, furnished a fine vitality under the lash.

All was sanative and open about him. Charter knew the ultimate dozen of
the hundred and forty-four thousand rules for health - and made these his
habit. The garret, so often spoken of, was the third-floor of his
mother's mansion. Since he slept under the sky, his sleeping-room was
also a solarium. There was a long, thickly-carpeted hall where he paced
and smoked meditatively; a trophy-room and his study and library.
Through books and lands, he had travelled as few men of his years, and
always with an exploring mind. In far countries, his was an eye of quick
familiarity; always he had been intensely a part of his present environ,
whether Typee or Tibet. Then, the God-taught philosophers of Asia and
Europe, and our own rousing young continent, were the well-beloved of
his brain, so that he saw many things with eyes lit by their prophecies.
As for money, he was wealthy, as Channing commends, rather than rich,
and for this competence of late, he had made not a single concession, or
subverted the least of his ideals, selling only the best of his
thoughts, the expression of which polished the product and increased the
capacity. He fitted nothing to the fancied needs of marketing. His
mother began truly to live now, and her external nature manifested below
in fine grains and finished services. Between the two, the old Charter
formalities were observed. She was royal steel - this white-haired
mother - and a cottage would have become baronial about her. Where she
was, there lived order and silence and poise.

After this enumeration of felicitous details, one will conclude that
this has to deal with a selfish man; yet his gruelling punishments must
not be forgotten, nor the Quentin spirit. It is true that he had emerged
miraculously unhurt from many dark explorations; but his appreciation of
the innate treachery and perversion of events was sound and keen. By no
means did he challenge any complication which might strip him to
quivering nakedness again. Rather his whole life breathed gratitude for
the goodly days as they came, and glided into untormented nights. Next
in importance to the discovery that his will could be beaten was this
which the drinking temperament so hesitatingly grants - that there are
thrilling hearts, brilliant minds, memorable conversations, and lovely
impulses among men and women who will not tarry long over the wine.
Simple as this seems, it was hard for a Charter to learn.... As he
contemplated the full promise of his maturity, the thought often
came - indeed, he expressed it in one of the Skylark letters - that this
was but a period of rest and healing in which he was storing power for
sterner and more subtle trials.

Such is an intimation of the mental and moral state of Quentin Charter
in his thirty-fourth year, when he began to open the Skylark letters
with more than curiosity.... He knew Reifferscheid, and admired him with
the familiar enthusiasm of one who has read the editor's work
intermittently for years. Charter, of course, was delighted with the
review of his second book. It did not occur to him that it could have
been written by other than the editor himself. Reifferscheid's reply to
Charter's letter of thanks for the critique proved the key to the whole
matter, since it gave the Westerner both focus and dimension for his
visioning.

I haven't read your book yet, old friend, but I'm going to
shortly. Your fine letter has been turned over to Miss Paula
Linster, a young woman who has been doing some reviews for me,
of late; some of the most important, in which lot your book, of
course, fell. The review which pleased you is only one of a
hundred that has pleased me. Miss Linster is the last word - for
fineness of mind. Incidentally, she is an illumination to look
at, and I haven't the slightest doubt but that she sings and
paints and plays quite as well as she writes book notices. If
she liked a work of mine as well as she likes yours, I should
start on a year's tramp, careless of returns from States yet to
be heard from. The point that interests me is that you could do
a great book about women, away off there in the Provinces - _and
without knowing her_.

You may wonder at this ebullition. Truth is, I'm backing down,
firmly, forcefully, an inclination to do an essay on the
subject. This is the first chance I ever had to express matters
which have come forth from the Miraculous in the past year. All
that she does has the ultimate feminine touch, - but I'll stop
before I get my sleeves up again about this new order of being.
Perhaps you deserve to know Miss Linster. You'd never be the
same afterwards, so I'm not so sure whether I'd better
negotiate it or not. I'm glad to see your book has left the
post so perfectly. Always come to see me when in town. Yours
solid, Reifferscheid.

And so she became the Skylark to Quentin Charter, because she was lost
in the heights over by the seaboard, and only her singing came out of
the blue.... There were fine feminine flashes in the letters Charter
received, rare exquisite matters which can be given to the world, only
through the one who inspires their warm delicacy and charm. The circuit
was complete, and the voltage grew mightier and mightier.

There was a royal fall night, in which Charter's work came ill, because
thoughts of her monopolized. Life seemed warm and splendid within him.
He turned off the electric bulb above his head, and the moonlight burst
in - a hunting moon, full and red as Mars. There was thrilling glory in
the purple south, and a sense of the ineffable majesty of stellar
management. He banished the night panorama with the electric button
again, and wrote to the Skylark. This particular letter proved the kind
which annihilates all sense of separateness, save the animal heaviness
of miles, and makes this last, extra carking and pitiless for the time.
It may have been that Charter would have hesitated to send this letter,
had he read it over again in the cool of morning, but it happened that
he yearned for a walk that night - and passed a mail-box, while the
witchery of the night still enchanted.

He felt dry, a bit burned the next morning, and saddled for a couple of
hours, transferring the slight strain of nerves to his muscles. There
was a note from the Skylark. She had found an old picture of his in a
magazine and commented on it deliciously.... "I wonder if you think of
me as I am - plain, _plain_?" she had asked.... No, he did not. Nor was
it Reifferscheid's words to the contrary that prevented him. It is not
in man to correlate plainness with a mystic attraction. She had never
appeared to him as beautiful exactly, but fine, vivid, electric - a
manifestation of eyes, lips, mind. All the poundage part of a human
being was utterly vague in his concept of the Skylark.... Charter
naturally lost his perspective and penetration in dealing with his own
interlacing emotions.

The present letter thralled him. It was blithe in intent, but
intuitively deep and keen. In a former letter, he had asked if there
were not a strain of Irish in her lineage, so mercurial did her
temperament play in all that she wrote. "No Irish," she had answered.
"Dutch - straight Dutch. Always New York - always Dutch. I praise
Providence for this 'monkey-wrench to hang upon my safety valve.'"

The "red moon" letter seemed to have caught her on the wing - at her
highest and happiest - for she answered it in fine faith and lightness.
Though it had carried her up and up; and though the singing came back
from golden azure, yet she had not forgotten her humor. There was a
suggestion of world-wisdom here, or was it world-wear?

For hours at a time, Charter was now stripped of his capacity for work.
This is fine torment. Mostly there was a sheet in his type-mill, but his
fingers only fluttered the space-bar. Let him begin a letter to the
Skylark, however, and inspiration came, indeed. His thoughts marshalled
like a perfect army then, and passed out from under his hand in flashing
review.... He ate little, slept little, but his vitality was prodigious.
A miracle matured in his breast. Had he not been more than usually
stubborn, he would have granted long before, that he loved a woman for
the first time in his life - and this a woman he had never seen.

By New Year's there was no dissembling. No day passed now in which he
did not battle down an impulse to take a train for New York. This was
real living. The destiny which had ruled him through so many dark
wanderings, had waited until his soul was roused to dominance, before he
was permitted to enter earth's true treasury. It was now that he
remembered his past, and many a mile and many an hour he paced the dim
hall - wrestling to be clean of it. This was a Soul which called. He did
not dare to answer while a vestige of the old taints lingered.... He was
seldom troubled that she might prove less inspiring than he pictured. He
staked every reliance in that he had lived thirty-three years and
encountered nothing comparable with this before. Passions, fascinations,
infatuations, were long put behind; these were classed now in his mind
beneath decent and frictionless partnerships between men and women.

The vision which inspired his romantic loneliness was all that
Reifferscheid had suggested, and infinitely more which his own dreamings
had supplied. She was an adult frankly challenged by the mysteries of
creation; often shocked by its revelations, never above pity nor beneath
humor, wonderful in her reality of culture, and wise above men with a
woman's divination. But particularly, her ultimate meaning was for
_him_; his quest, she was; his crown, to be. The world had preserved her
singing, until he was ready; and though singing, she must ever feel the
poverty of unfulfilment in her own breast, until he came. This was the
stately form of the whole enchantment.

That there existed in creation a _completing_ feminine for all his
lonely and divided forces; that there lived one woman who could evenly
ignite his body, brain, and spirit; that there was hidden in the
splendid plan of things, a Union of Two to form One; all this which had
been drifting star-stuff before, became sparks now for new and terrific
energies of mind; energies, however, which could be trained and directed
only in her presence.

Man cannot live altogether in the altitudes. There were brief periods
wherein Charter remembered the mad, drink-tainted trifler with lyrics
and women. It had been a past, surely, filled with soul-murdering
illusions. Those who had known him then, would have had to see him now
to find faith. There had been letters about his recent books from men
and women who had known him in the darker, less-spacious days. Failing
to adjust this new and lusty spirit with the man they had known, they
had tried to bring a laugh from him and answers to futile questions.

Charter could not forget that there come to the desk of a review-editor
many personal notices concerning one whose work is being talked about.
Indeed, such are handled as a matter of routine. The Skylark could not
be expected always to wing aloof from these. All that was vague and
indefinite did not matter; such might even be accounted as admirable
specializations in life, but his acquaintance had been prodigious, and
many clippings came home to him which he was not pleased to read....
Still, in the main, he relied upon Paula's solid sense of justice; and
every fresh letter lifted him higher and higher. In his own letters, he
did not fail to incorporate a buffer against indefinite revelations.
Moreover, he had never ceased to call it wonderful - this capacity, of
even the purest women, to lock the doors against the ugliest
generalities of a man's past, and to reckon only with specific
instances. It is here that the mother looks out through the eyes of a
maid.

One April morning, he encountered a depression more formidable in
vitality than ever before. Beth had just had her shoes set, and Charter
tried to ride off the blue devil. He steadied his mount out of town,
until she struck the ringing country road. The instant she felt her
calks bite into the frosty turf, the mare flirted her head, took the
bit, and became a veritable glowing battery of beautiful energy. Twelve
miles he gave her, but the blue devil rode equally well and sat down
again with Charter in his study. It was like a desert-island loneliness,
this which beset him, as if his ship were sinking into the horizon; only
it was a more poignant than physical agony - a sense of spiritual
isolation.

This study had become to him the place of his dearest revelations of
life. Here, of late especially, he had found refuge from every discord,
and here invariably were opened the letters from the Skylark. The place
of a man's work becomes a grand, quiet solace as he grows older, but
calm and poise were wrested from the room to-day. He fought the
depression with every trained faculty, but was whipped by it. Color and
sunlight were gone from within; the zeal from future work, the warmth
from every promise, the changing lustre from words, and the excellent
energy of thought which impels their weaving. Twilight in mid-afternoon.
He turned on the lights impatiently. Meaning and beauty were bereft from
all his possessions, as buoyancy was gone from his own breast. There was
something pitifully boyish in the trophies he had treasured - so much of
the college cub, and the youth who refuses to permit his travels to be
forgotten. He regarded his past work, as one grown out of it, regretting
that it had ever attracted the materials of permanence. Smugness in his
teachings; cold intellectuality brazen in all his attainments;
everything about him suddenly become sinister from the old life!... He
looked into the East - his country of singing, of roses, cedars, and
fountains - but the gray-black twilight was a damnable intervention....
It was in this spirit, or lack of it, that he wrote the letter which
revealed to Paula his inner responsiveness, as she was tossed in The
High Tide.

The letter which she had written almost at the same time, reached him on
the second morning thereafter; and his suffering in the interval he
could only liken to one of the old sieges of reaction after dissipation.
The fine, angular writing, which he never regarded without a sense of
the darting swiftness of her hand; the thin, tough sheets that crinkled,
came like bounty to the starving; yet he was deathly afraid.

Something of the long ago has just come to me - to my very
rooms. It would not have been believed, had I sought it. I
might have endured it, if _you_ had told me. It is dreadful to
play with illusions. Oh, why must we keep our gods so far
away - lest we lose them? Had I waited longer, I could not have
written. It seems now that you have a right to know - before my
pride dries up all expression. You are not to blame - except
that you were very reckless in adding happinesses one upon the
other. It was all quite ridiculous. I trusted my
intuition - allowed myself to think of a table spread in the
wilderness of the world with you. My intuitions! I used to be
so proud of them. I see now that sometimes they're quite as
fallible as plain thinking, after all.

I always felt you alone. I seemed to know your voice after
centuries. Yes, I am sure it was that which affected me so
deeply in your work and made me answer your letters with such
faith. _I knew your voice._ I thought of you alone - your spirit
hungry.... It makes one feel so common, when one's intuitions
betray this way. The heart for writing further is cold and
heavy. Once, down the wind, came a fragrant pollen, but the
blowing summer is gone from my garden....

No signature.

She had not penned a skylark with a folded or broken wing. Charter sat
thinking for several moments, but only because he knew there was ample
time to catch the noon-train for New York. That he should do this had
formed in mind before he had read five lines of the letter. This thought
of action steadied him; and the proof that he had sensed her agony and
reflected it throughout the past forty-eight hours made the call of the
East instant and irresistible. It did not come to him at first that he
was now entering the greater conflict, for which Nature had trained him
in tranquillity and fed his soul unto replenishment during three
years.... His first quick thought came out of old habits of mind: _An
hour with her, and her heart will be healed!_ Here was the old trifler.
He suffered for this instant faltering of the brighter manhood. Man's
fineness is not accentuated by the fact that a woman sacrifices her
power within him, when she falls to pleading a little. Charter could
have torn out the old mental fibres upon which played the thought of her
swiftly renewed happiness by his presence.

The reality of her suffering slowly penetrated his mind. He perceived
that she could not express the actuality; that her thoughts had winged
ineffectually about the immovable disorder - like bees over the clumsy
corpse of a rodent in the hive. It was not to be lifted, and the
inspiration hermetically to seal the monster and resume activities as
well as possible, had not yet come.... "I might have endured it, if
_you_ had told me!"

He wasted no energy trying to think exactly what had happened. It was
all he could bear to grasp the full meaning that this inspiring creature
who had soared and sung so long, was crushed and cold. Every sentence in
her letter revealed the bruise of her heart, the absence of
spontaneity.... She was as different from other women he had known - the
women who had been healed by his word or his caress - as he was different
in this attraction. He telegraphed that he was coming, begged that she
would see him the following evening, and instructed her to leave word
for him at the _Granville_. Then he packed his bag and told his mother.
She laughed quietly.

"On the spur of the moment as usual, Quentin.... It will be good for


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Online LibraryWill Levington ComfortShe buildeth her house → online text (page 12 of 23)