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Will Levington Comfort.

She buildeth her house online

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way - how near I am? Oh, come - now - come to me now!"

Again and again the little sentences fell upon her mind, until its
surface stirred against reiteration, as one, thoroughly understanding,
resents repeated explanations.... It was right now for her to go. She
had been rebellious and headstrong to conjure such evils about the name
of a famous physician. The world called him famous. Only she and Madame
Nestor had stood apart, clutching fast to their ideas of his deviltry.
He had taken the trouble to call her to him - to prove that he was good.
The degradation which she had felt at the first moment of his
summons - was all from her own perversity.... Clearly she saw the street
below, Cathedral Way; a turn north, then across the Plaza to the brown
ornate entrance of _The Maidstone_.... There was no formality about the
going. Her hat and coat had not been removed.... She was in the hall;
the elevator halted at her floor while the man pushed a letter and some
papers under the door of the Selma Cross apartment.... In the street,
she turned across the Plaza from Cathedral Way to _The Maidstone_. The
real Paula Linster marshalled a hundred terrible protests, but her voice
was muffled, her strength ineffectual as Josephine's beating with white
hands against the Emperor's iron door. Real volition was locked in the
pitiless will of the physician, to whom she hastened as one hoping to be
saved.

She inquired huskily of the man at the hotel-desk.

"The Doctor is waiting on the parlor-floor - in F," was the answer.

Paula stepped from the elevator, and was directed to the last door on
the left.... The sense of her need, of her illness, hurried her forward
through the long hall. Sometimes she seemed burdened with the body of a
woman, very tired and helpless, but quite obedient.... The figure "F" on
a silver shield filled her eyes. The door was ajar. Her entrance was not
unlike that of a lioness goaded with irons through a barred passage into
an arena. She did not open the door wider, but slipped through sideways,
gathering her dress closely about her.... Bellingham was there. His face
was white, rigid from long concentration; yet he smiled and his arms
were opened to her.... The point here was that he so marvelously
understood. His attitude to her seemed that of a physician of the soul.
She could not feel the fighting of the real woman.... Dazed and broken
for the moment, she encountered the soothing magnetism of his hands.

"How long I have waited!" he quietly exclaimed. "Hours, and it was
bitter waiting - but you are a wreath for my waiting - how grateful you
are to my weariness!... Paula Linster, Paula Linster - what deserts of
burning sunshine I have crossed to find you - what dark jungles I have
searched for such fragrance!"

His arms were light upon her, his voice low and lulling. He dared not
yet touch his lips to her hair - though they were dry and twisted with
his awful thirst. Craft and patience altogether feline was in the art
with which he wound and wove about her mind thoughts of his own,
designed to ignite the spark of responsive desire.... And how softly he
fanned - (an incautious blast would have left him in darkness
altogether) - until it caught.... Well, indeed, he knew the cunning of
the yet unbroken seals; and better still did he know the outraged forces
hovering all about her, ready to defeat him for the slightest error - and
leave him to burn in his own fires.

"This is peace," he whispered with indescribable repression. "How soft a
resting-place - and yet how strong!... Out of the past I have come for
you. Do you remember the rock in the desert on which you sat and waited
long ago? Your eyes were weary when I came - weary from the blazing light
of noon and the endless waning of that long day. On a great rock in the
desert you sat - until I came, _until I came_. Then you laughed because I
shut the feverish sun-glow from your strained eyes.... Remember, I came
in the skin of a lion and shut the sunset from your aching eyes - my
shoulders darkening the west - and we were alone - and the night came
on...."

Clearly was transferred to hers, the picture in his own brain. One of
the ancient and mystic films of memory seemed brought after ages to the
light - the reddening sands, the city far behind, from which she had fled
to meet her hero, deep in the desert - the glow of sunset on his
shoulders and in his hair, tawny as the lion's skin he wore.... The
heart quickened within her; the savage ardor of that long-ago woman grew
hot in her breast. Strong as a lion he was, this youth of the Sun, and
fleet the night fell to cover them. She ate the dried grapes he gave
her, drank deep from his skin of wine, and laughed with him in the swift
descending night.... She felt his arms now, her face was upraised, her
eyelids tensely shut. Downward the blood rushed, leaving her lips icy
cold. She felt the muscles of his arms in her tightening fingers, and
her breast rose against him. This was no Twentieth Century magician who
thralled her now, but a glorious hero out of the desert sunset; - and the
woman within her was as one consuming with ecstasy from a lover's last
visit....

And now Bellingham changed the color and surface of his advances. It was
his thought to make such a marvellous sally, that when he retired and
the mistress once again commanded her own citadel, she would perceive
the field of his activities strewn, not with corpses, but with garlands,
and in their fragrance she must yearn for the giant to come yet again.
The thing he now endeavored to do was beyond an ordinary human
conception for devilishness; and yet, that it was not a momentary
impulse, but a well considered plan, was proven by the trend of his talk
of the day before.... The flaw in his structure was his apparent
forgetting that the woman in his arms breathing so ardently, in her own
mind was clinging to a youth out of the sunset - a youth in the skin of a
lion.

"Wisdom has been given to my eyes," Bellingham resumed with surpassing
gentleness. "For years a conception of wonderful womanhood has lived and
brightened in my mind, bringing with it a promise that in due time, such
a woman would be shown to me. The woman, the promise and the miracle of
its later meaning, I perceived at last were not for my happiness, but
for the world's awful need. You are the fruits of my wonderful
vision - you - Paula Linster. You are the quest of my long and weary
searching!"

His utterance of her name strangely disturbed her night-rapture of the
desert. It was as if she heard afar-off - the calling of her people.

"On the night you entered the Hall," he said, and his face bent closer,
"I felt the sense of victory, before these physical eyes found you. My
thoughts roved over a world, brightened by a new hope, fairer for your
presence. And then, I saw your fine white brow, the ignited magic of
your hair and eyes, your frail exquisite shoulders.... It seemed as
though the lights perished from the place - when you left."

The word "magic" was a sudden spark around which the thoughts of the
woman now groped.... She had lost her desert lover, passion was drained
from her, and there was a weight of great trouble pressing down ...
"Magic" - she struggled for its meaning.... She was sitting upon a rock
again, but not in the desert - rather in a place of cooled sunlight,
where there were turf roads and grand, old trees - a huge figure
approaching with a powerful swinging stride - yesterday, Bellingham, the
Park - the Talk!... Paula lifted her shoulders, felt the binding arms
around them and heard the words uttered now in the meridian of human
passion:

"Listen, Paula Linster, you have been chosen for the most exalted task
ever offered to living woman. The Great Soul is not yet in the world,
and He must come soon!... It is you who have inspired this - you, of
trained will; a mind of stirring evolution, every thought so essentially
feminine; you of virgin body and a soul lit with stars! You are brave.
The burden is easy to one of your courage, and I should keep you free
from the world - free from the burns and the whips of this thinking
animal, the world. All that I have won from the world, her mysteries,
her enchantments, I shall give you, all that is big and brave and wise
in song and philosophy and nature, I shall bring to your feet, as a
hunter with trophies to his beloved - all that a man, wise and tender,
can think and express to quicken the splendor of fertility - - "

Paula was now fully conscious - her self restored to her. The Yesterday
and the To-day rose before her mind in startling parallel. Her primary
dread was that she might lose control again before Bellingham was put
away. The super-devilishness of his plan - hiding a blasphemy in the
white robe of a spiritual consecration - had changed him in her sight to
a ravening beast. The thing which he believed would cause her eagerly to
bestow upon him the riches of her threefold life had lifted her farther
out of his power that moment, than even she realized. Bellingham had
over-reached. She was filled with inner nausea.... The idea of escape,
the thought of crippling the magician's power over her forever - in the
stress of this, she grew cold.... She was nearest the door. It stood
ajar, as when she had entered.

"Meditation - in the place I have prepared," he was whispering,
"meditation and the poetic life, rarest of fruits, purest of white
garments - cleansed with sunlight and starlight, you and I, Paula
Linster, - the sources of creation which have been revealed to me - for
you! Wonderful woman - all the vitalities of heaven shall play upon you!
We shall bring the new god into the world - - "

She pushed back from his arms and faced him - white-lipped and loathing.

"You father a son of mine," she said, in the doorway. "You - are
dead - the man's soul is dead within you - you whited sepulchre!"

His face altered like a white wall which an earthquake disorders at the
base. White rock turned to blown paper; the man-mask rubbed out; Havoc
featured upon an erect thing, with arms pitifully outstretched.

* * * * *

Paula, alone in the long hall, ran to the marble stairs, hurried down
and into the street - swiftly to her house. There, every thread of
clothing she had worn was gathered into a pile for burning. Then she
bathed and her strength returned.




SEVENTH CHAPTER

PAULA BEGINS TO SEE MORE CLEARLY THROUGH MADAME NESTOR'S REVELATIONS,
AND WITNESSES A BROADWAY ACCIDENT


In mid-afternoon Paula obeyed an impulse to call upon Madame Nestor. She
wanted to talk with the only human being in New York who could quite
understand. Madame's room was west of Eighth Avenue in Forty-fourth
Street - the servant's quarter in a squalid suite, four flights up. The
single window opened upon a dim shaft, heavy with emanations from many
kitchens. There was not even a closet. Madame's moulted plumage was hung
upon the back of the outer and only door. Books were everywhere, on the
floor, in boxes, on the cot.

"My dear Paula, you felt the need of me?... I should have come to you.
This does very well for me, but I dislike my poverty to be known, dear.
It is not that I am the least proud, but the psychic effects of pity are
depressing."

"Please, Madame Nestor, don't think of me pitying anybody! I did feel
the need of you. The day has been horrible. But first, I want to tell
you that I am very sorry for what I said - when you were in my rooms the
other day - - "

The elder woman leaned forward and kissed Paula's dress at the shoulder.
There was something sweet and mild and devotional in the action,
something suggestive of a wise old working-bee pausing an instant to
caress its queen.

"You have been impelled to go to him, Paula?"

"Yes. It came over me quite irresistibly. I could not have been
altogether myself.... I think I shall leave the city!"

Madame Nestor asked several questions, bringing out all she cared to
know of Paula's experience that day. Her eyes became very bright as she
said:

"I dare not advise you _not_ to go away. Still, don't you see it - how
wonderful was your victory to-day?"

"I can't always defeat him!" Paula cried. "His power comes over me and I
move toward him - just as reptiles must follow a blind impulse started
from without. Each time I follow, I must be weaker."

"But, Paula, each time something happens to restore you to yourself,
thwarting his purpose, his projections are weakened."

"But if I should go far away?"

"He could only put it in your mind to return."

When Paula remembered the accidents which had preserved her, even when
in the same city with the Destroyer, she could not doubt the salvation
in putting a big stretch of the planet's curve between her and this
dynamo.... Certain unfinished thinking could only be cleared through a
friend like Madame Nestor.

"This physical consciousness which he has made me feel seems
indescribably more sinister in erect human beings than the mating
instinct in animals and birds," Paula declared with hesitation. "Can it
be that women in general encounter influences - of this kind?"

"It is man's fault that women have broken all seasons," the Madame said
bitterly. "Man has kept woman submerged since the beginning of time.
Always eager to serve; and blest - or cursed - with the changeless passion
to be _all_ to one man - her most enduring hope to hold the exclusive
love of one man - woman has adapted herself eagerly to become the
monogamic answer to man's polygamic nature. Bellingham is but the
embodiment of a desire which exists in greater or less degree in every
man. This desire of man has disordered women. We have lost the true
meaning of ourselves - I mean, as a race of women - and have become merely
physical mates."

"I can hardly believe it - that even women of the streets should ever be
degraded by such a horrible force," Paula said desperately. "And the
sweet calm faces of some of the women we know - - "

"Behind the mask of innocence, often, is a woman's terrible secret,
Paula. For most women obey. Even the growth of the maid is ruthlessly
forced by hot breaths of passion, until motherhood - so often a domestic
tragedy - leaves the imprint of shame in her arms. The man of unlit soul
has made this low play of passion his art. Woman as a race has fallen,
because it is her way to please and obey. Man has taught us to believe
that when he comes to our arms, we are at our highest.... And, listen,
Paula, certain men of to-day, a step higher in evolution, blame woman
because she has not suddenly _unlearned_ her training of the
ages - lessons man has graven in the very bed-rock of her nature. In the
novelty of their new-found austerity, they exclaim: 'Avoid woman. She is
passion rhythmic. It is she who draws us down from our lofty regions of
endeavor.'"

Terrific energy of rebellion stirred Paula's mind. "But the promise is
that woman's time shall come!" she exclaimed. "The Child, Jesus, said to
his Mother, 'Thy time is not yet come,' but it is promised that the heel
of woman shall crush the head of the Serpent. We have always borne the
sin, the agony, the degradation, but our time must be close at hand! I
think this is the age - and this the country - of the Rising Woman!"

Madame Nestor arose from the cot and stood before Paula, her eyes
shining with emotion.

"Bless you, my beloved girl, my whole heart leaps to sanction that! I
have symbolized the whole struggle of our race in your personal
struggle - don't you see this, Paula?... Bellingham is the concentrate of
devourers - and you the evolved woman who overcomes him! My hope for the
race lies in you, and your victory to-day has filled my cup with
happiness!... You say you do not dare to pray. I tell you, child, - the
God of women gave you strength to-day. He is close to harken unto your
need - for you are among the first of the elect to bring in the glory of
the new day!... The animal in man has depleted the splendid energies of
the Spirit. Passions of the kind you defeated to-day are overpowering
women everywhere at this hour - lesser passions of lesser Bellinghams.
Man's course to God has been a crawl through millenniums, instead of a
flight through decades, because woman has bowed - obeyed. God is patient,
but woman is aroused!... Above the din of wars, the world has heard the
wailing of the women; out of the ghostly silence of famine and from
beneath the debris of fallen empires - always the world has heard her cry
for pity - her cry for pity now _become a Voice of Power_! All her
tortured centuries have been for this - and the signs are upon us!
Woman's demand for knowledge, her clamor for suffrage, her protest
against eternally paying for man's lust with unblessed babes - all these
are signs! But you, Paula Linster, - and what I know of this day - is the
most thrilling sign of all to me!... Ah, woman is evolving; she is
aroused! How shall she repay man for brutalizing her so long?"

"By bringing him back to God!" Paula answered.

They wept together and whispered, while the night fell about and covered
the squalid room.

* * * * *

It was one of her emancipated nights. Paula's spirit poured out over the
city, for her mind was lit with thoughts of the ultimate redemption of
her race. Bellingham could not have found her in his world that hour....
Emerging from Broadway to Forty-fourth Street, at eight in the evening,
she passed under the hot brilliance of a famous hotel-entrance. As it
never would have occurred to her to do in a less exalted moment, Paula
glanced at a little knot of men standing under the lights. The eyes of
one were roving like an unclean hand over her figure. Suddenly
encountering her look, a bold, eager, challenge stretched itself upon
his face. In the momentary panic, her glance darted to the others
instinctively for protection - and found three smiling corpses.... Here
were little Bellinghams; here, the sexual drunkenness which has made
Man's course "a crawl through millenniums" to God, instead of a flight
through decades. What a pitiless revelation!... She clung to her big
Ideal in the West. It came to her for a second like a last and single
hope - that Charter was not like that.... "God is patient and woman is
aroused!" she whispered.

And farther up, a little way into Forty-seventh, Paula found a Salvation
Army circle under the torch. A man with a pallid, shrunken face turned
imploring eyes from one to another of the company, exclaiming: "I tell
you, man's first work here below is to save his soul! I pray you - men
and women, here to-night - to save your souls!"

Paula tossed her purse upon the big drum, as she passed swiftly. Luckily
there was carfare in her glove, for she had not thought of that. Never
before had she felt in such fullness her relation to the race....

A hansom-cab veered about the edge of the Salvation circle, swift enough
to attract her eye. The horse had started before the driver was in the
seat. The latter was fat and apoplectic. It was all he could do to
regain his place, so that the reins still dangled. The possibility of a
cab-horse becoming excited held only humor for the crowd, which parted
to let the vehicle by. The horse, feeling his head, started to run just
as the driver seized one of the lines and jerked his beast into the
curb. There was an inhuman scream. A strange, boneless effigy of a man
with twisted, waving arms - went down before the plunging horse, so
suddenly swerved.... A hush seemed to have fallen upon the noisy
Broadway corner. Paula was not blind in the brief interval which
followed, but the world seemed gray and still, like a spectral dawn, or
the unearthly setting of a dream.

"The shaft bored into him, and the horse struck him after he fell," a
voice explained.

They lifted him. There was particular dreadfulness in the quantity of
fluid evenly sheeted on the pavement as from a pail carefully
overturned. Startling effrontery attached to the thought of man's
heaven-aspiring current swimming like this upon a degraded city road.
The horse, now held by the bit, snorted affrightedly at the odor. They
had carried the unfortunate to the sidewalk under the lights of a
tobacco-shop window. The upper part of his head and face was indefinite
like a crushed tin of dark paint. But mouth and nose and chin of the
upturned face left an imperishable imprint upon her mind. It was
Bellingham.... Paula fled, her lips opening in a sick fashion. It seemed
hours before she could reach the sanctuary of her room, where she sobbed
in the dark.




EIGHTH CHAPTER

PAULA MAKES SEVERAL DISCOVERIES IN THE CHARTER HEART-COUNTRY, AND IS
DELIGHTED BY HIS LETTERS TO THE SKYLARK


The morning paper stated that Dr. Bellingham had suffered a fracture of
the skull and internal injury, but might live. A note to Paula from
Madame Nestor late the next day contained the following paragraph: "I
called at the hospital to inquire. A doctor told me that the case is
likely to become a classic one. Never in his experience, he stated, had
he witnessed a man put up such a fight for life. It will be long,
however, before he is abroad again. He must have been following you
quite madly, because there never was a man more careful in the midst of
city-dangers than Bellingham. Why, a scratched finger completely upset
him - in the earlier days. Inscrutable, but thrilling - isn't it, my dear
Paula?"

* * * * *

"Did you follow _Moby Dick's_ whale tracks around the wet wastes of the
world?" Reifferscheid asked several mornings later, as Paula entered.

Her face was flushed. A further letter from Quentin Charter had just
been tucked into her bag. "Yes, and Mr. Melville over trans-continental
digressions," she answered. "He surely is Neptune's own _confrère_."

"Did you get the leviathan alongside and study the bewildering chaos of
a ninety-foot nervous system?" Reifferscheid went on with delight.

"Exactly, and colored miles of sea-water with the emptyings of his vast
heart. Then, there was an extended process of fatty degeneration, which
I believe they called - blubber-boiling."

They laughed together over the old whale-epic.

"They remember Melville up in Boston and Nantucket," he added, "but he's
about as much alive as a honey-bee's pulse elsewhere. The trouble is,
you can't rectify this outrage by law. It isn't uxoricide or
sheep-stealing - not to know Melville - but it's the deadly sin of
ingratitude. This is a raw age, we adorn - not to rock in the boat of
that man's soul. Why, he's worthy to stand with the angels on the point
of the present."

The big editor always warmed her when he enthused. Here, in the midst of
holiday books pouring in by scores, he had time to make a big personal
and public protest against a fifty-year-old novel being forgotten.

"But isn't Melville acknowledged to be the headwaters of inspiration for
all later sea-books?" Paula asked.

"Yes, to the men who do them, he's the big laughing figure behind their
work, but the public doesn't seem to know.... Of course, Herman has
faults - Japan currents of faults - but they only warm him to a white
man's heart. Do you know, I like to think of him in a wide, windy room,
tearing off his story long-hand, upon yard square sheets, grinning like
an ogre at the soul-play, the pages of copy settling ankle-deep upon the
floor. There's no taint of over-breeding in the unborn thing, no curse
of compression, no aping Addison - nothing but Melville, just blown in
with the gale, reeking with a big story which must be shed, before he
blows out again, with straining cordage booming in his ears. He
harnesses Art. He man-handles Power, makes it grovel and play circus.
'Here it is,' he seems to say at the end. 'Take it or leave it. I'm
rotting here ashore.'"

"You ought to dictate reviews like that, Mr. Reifferscheid," Paula could
not help saying, though she knew he would be disconcerted.

He colored, turned back to his work, directing her to take her choice
from the shelf of fresh books.... On the car going back, Paula opened
Charter's letter. Her fingers trembled, because she had been in a happy
and daring mood five or six days before when she wrote the letter to
which this was the reply.

... Do you know, I really like to write to you? I feel
untrammelled - turned loose in the meadows. It seems when I
start an idea - that you've grasped it as soon as it is clear to
me. Piled sentences after that are unnecessary. It's a real joy
to write this way, as spirits commune. It wouldn't do at all
for the blessed multitude. You have to be a mineral and a
vegetable and an animal, all in a paragraph, to get the whole


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Online LibraryWill Levington ComfortShe buildeth her house → online text (page 6 of 23)