Copyright
Will Levington Comfort.

She buildeth her house online

. (page 7 of 23)
Online LibraryWill Levington ComfortShe buildeth her house → online text (page 7 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


market. But how generous the dear old multitude is - (if the
writer has suffered enough) - with its bed and board and
lamplight....

I have been scored and salted so many times that I heal like an
earth-worm. Tell me, can scar-tissue ever be so fine?
Fineness - that's the one excellent feature of being human!
There's no other reason for being - no other meaning or reason
for atomic affinity or star-hung space. True, the great
Conceiver of Refining Thought seems pleased to take all
eternity to play in....

You've made me think of you out of all proportion. I don't want
to help it. I'm very glad we hailed each other across the
distance. There's something so entirely blithe and wise and
finished about the personality I've builded from three little
letters and a critique - that I refresh myself very frequently
from them.... I think we must be old playmates. Perhaps we
plotted ghost-stories and pegged oranges at each other in
Atlantean orchards millenniums ago. I begin to feel as if I
deserve to have my playmate back.... Then, again, it is as
though these little letters brought to my garret window the
Skylark I have heard far and faintly so long in the higher
moments of dream. Just a note here and there used to come to me
from far-shining archipelagoes of cloud-land. I listen now and
clearly understand what you have sung so long in the
Heights.... You are winged - that's the word! Wing often to my
window - won't you? Life is peppering me with good things this
year, I could not be more grateful.

Letters like these made Paula think of that memorable first afternoon
with Grimm; and like it, too, the joy was so intense as to hold the
suggestion that there must be something evil in it all. She laughed at
this. What law, human or divine, was disordered by two human grown-ups
with clean minds communing together intimately in letters? Quentin
Charter might have been less imperious, or less precipitous, in writing
such pleasing matters about herself, but had he not earned the boon of
saying what he felt? Still, Paula would not have been so entirely
feminine, had she not repressed somewhat. She even may have known that
artful repression from without is stimulus to any man. Occasionally,
Charter forgot his sense of humor, but the woman five years younger,
never. The inevitable thought that in the ordinary sequence of events,
they should meet face to face, harrowed somewhat with the thought that
she must keep his ideals down - or both were lost. What could a mind like
his _not_ build about months of communion (eyes and ears strained toward
flashing skies) with a Skylark ideal?... She reminded Charter that
skylarks are little, brown, tame-plumaged creatures that only sing when
they soar. She could not forbear to note that he was a bit sky-larky,
too, in his letters, and observed that she had found it wise, mainly to
keep one's wings tightly folded in New York. She signed her next letter,
nevertheless, with a small pen-picture of the name he had given
her - full-throated and ascending. Also she put on her house address.
Some of the paragraphs from letters which came in the following weeks,
she remembered without referring to the treasured file:

... Bless the wings! May they never tire for long - since I
cannot be there when they are folded.... Often, explain it if
you can, I think of you as some one I have seen in Japan,
especially in Tokyo - hurrying through the dusk in the
Minimasakurna-cho, wandering through the tombs of the
Forty-seven Ronins. or sipping tea in the Kameido among the
wistaria blooms. Some time - who knows? I have made quite a
delightful romance about it.... Who is so wise as positively to
say, that we are not marvellously related from the youth of the
world? Who dares declare we have not climbed cliffs of Cathay
to stare across the sky-blue water, nor whispered together in
orient casements under constellations that swing more
perilously near than these?... We may be a pair of foolish
dreamers, but Asia must have a cup of tea for us - Asia, because
she is so far and so still. We shall _remember_ then....

And so you live alone? How strange, I have always thought of
you so? From the number, I think you must overlook the
Park - don't you?... It may strike you humorously, but I feel
like ordering you not to take too many meals alone. One is apt
to be neglectful, and women lose their appetites easier than
men. I used to be graceless toward the gift of health. Perhaps
I enjoy perfectly prepared food altogether too well for one of
inner aspirations. The bit of a soul in which you see such
glorious possibilities, packs rather an imperious animal this
trip, I fear. However, I don't let the animal carry _me_ - any
more.

I see a wonderful sensitiveness in all that you write - that's
why I suggest especially that you should never forget fine food
and plentiful exercise. Psychic activity in America is attained
so often at the price of physical deterioration. This is an
empty failure, uncentering, deluding. Remember, I say in
America.... Pray, don't think I fail to worship
sensitiveness - those high, strange emotions, the sense of
oneness with all things that live, the vergings of the mind
toward the intangible, the light, refreshing sleep of
asceticism, subtle expandings of solitude and the mystical
launchings, - anything that gives spread of wing rather than
amplitude of girth - but I have seen these very pursuits carry
one entirely out of rhythm with the world. The multitudes
cannot follow us when there are stars in our eyes - they cannot
see.

A few years ago I had a strange period of deep-delving into
ancient wisdom. A lot of big, simple treasures unfolded, but I
discovered great dogmas as well - the steel shirts, iron
shields, mailed fists and other junk which lesser men seem
predestined to hammer about the gentle spirit of Truth. I
vegetarianed, lived inside, practiced meditate, and became a
sensitive, as it seems now, in rather a paltry, arrogant sense.
The point is I lost the little appeal I had to people through
writing. It came to me at length with grim finality that if a
man means to whip the world into line at all, he must keep a
certain brute strength. He must challenge the world at its own
games _and win_, before he can show the world that there are
finer games to play. You can't stand above the mists and call
the crowd to you, but many will _follow_ you up through
them.... I truly hope, if I am wrong in this, that you will see
it instantly, and not permit the edge and temper of your
fineness to be coarsened through me. You are so animate, so
delicately strong, and seem so spiritually unhurt, that it
occurs to me now that there may be finer laws for you, than are
vouchsafed to me. I interpreted my orders - to win according to
certain unalterable rules of the world. Balzac did that. I
think some Skylark sang to him at the last, when he did his
Seraphita....

I cannot help but tell you again of my gratitude. I am no
impressionable boy. I know what the woman must be who writes to
me.... Isn't this an excellent world when the finer moments
come; when we can think with gentleness of past failures of the
flesh and spirit, and with joy upon the achievements of others;
when we feel that we have preserved a certain relish for the
rich of all thought, and a pleasure in innocence; when out of
our errors and calamities we have won a philosophy which makes
serene our present voyaging and gives us keen eyes to discern
the coast-lights of the future?... With lifted brow - I harken
for your singing.

Paula knew that Quentin Charter was crying out for his mate of fire. She
remembered that she had strangely felt his strength before there were
any letters, but she could not deny that it since had become a greater
and more intimate thing - her tower, white and heroic, cutting clean
through the films of distance, and suggesting a vast, invisible city at
its base. That she was the bright answer in the East for such a tower
was incredible. She could send a song over on the wings of the
morning - make it shine like ivory into the eyes of the new day, but she
dared not think of herself as a corresponding fixture. A man like
Charter could form a higher woman out of dreams and letter-pages than
the world could mold for him from her finest clays. Always she said
this - and forgot that the man was clay. A pair of dreamers, truly, and
yet there was a difference in their ideals. If Charter's vision of her
lifted higher, it was also flexible to contain a human woman. As for
hers - Paula had builded a tower. True, there were moments of flying fog
in which she did not see it, but clean winds quickly brushed away the
obscurations, and not a remnant clung. When seen at all, her tower was
pure white and undiminished.

Of necessity there were reactions. His familiarity with the petty
intensities of the average man often startled her. He seemed capable of
dropping into the parlance of any company, not as one who had listened
and memorized, but as an old familiar who had served time in all
societies. In the new aspect of personal letters, his book revealed a
comprehension of women - that dismayed. Of course, his printed work was
filled with such stuff as her letters were made of, but between a book
and a letter, there is the same difference of appeal as the lines read
by an actor, however gifted, are cold compared to a friend's voice.
Though she wondered at Charter giving his time to write such letters to
her, this became very clear, if his inclination were anything like her
own to answer them. All the thinking of her days formed itself into
compressed messages for him; and all the best of her sprang to her pen
under his address. The effort then became to repress, to keep her pages
within bounds, and the ultimate effort was to wait several days before
writing again. His every sentence suggested pleasure in writing; and as
a matter of fact, he repressed very little.... Was it through letters
like hers in his leisure months that Charter amassed his tremendous
array of poignant details; was it through such, that he reared his
imposing ranges of feminine understanding? This was a question requiring
a worldlier woman than Paula long to hold in mind. In the man's writing,
regarded from her critical training, there was no betrayal of the
literary clerk dependent upon data.

"I am no impressionable boy. I know what the woman must be who writes to
me." There was something of seership in his thus irrevocably affixing
his ideal to the human woman who held the pen.... His photograph was
frequently enough in the press - a big browed, plain-faced young man with
a jaw less aggressive than she would have imagined, and a mouth rather
finely arched for a reformer who was to whip the world into line. And
then there was a discovery. In a magazine dated a decade before, she ran
upon his picture among the advertising pages. Verses of his were
announced to appear during the year to come. He could not have been over
twenty for this picture, and to her it was completely charming - a boy
out of the past calling blithely; a poetic face, too, reminding her of
prints she had seen of an early drawing of Keats's head now in
London - eager, sensitive, all untried!... It was not without resistance
that she acknowledged herself _closer to the boy_ - that something of the
man was beyond her. There was a mystery left upon the face by the
intervening years, "while the tireless soul etched on...." Should she
ever know? Or must there always be this dim, hurting thing? Was it all
the etching of the _soul_ - that this later print revealed?... These were
but bits of shadow - ungrippable things which made her wings falter for a
moment and long for something sure to rest upon, but Reifferscheid's
first talk about Charter, the latter's book, and the letters - out of
these were reconstructed her tower of shining purity.

There were times when Paula's heart, gathering all its tributary
sympathies, poured out to the big figure in the West in a deep and
rushing torrent. Her entire life was illuminated by these moments of
ardor. Here was a giving, in which the thought of actual possession had
little or no part. Her finest elements were merged into one-pointed
expression. It is not strange that she was dismayed by the triumphant
force of the woman within her, nor that she recalled one of the first of
Madame Nestor's utterances, "Nonsense, Paula, the everlasting feminine
is alive in every movement of you." Yet this outpouring was lofty, and
noon-sky clear. An emotion like this meant brightness to every life that
contacted it.... But ruthlessly she covered, hid away even from her own
thoughts, illuminations such as these. Here was a point of tragic
significance. Out of the past has come this great fear to strong
women - the fear to let themselves love. This is one of the sorriest
evolutions of the self-protecting instinct. So long have women met the
tragic fact of fickleness and evasion in the men of their majestic
concentrations - that fear puts its weight against the doors that love
would open wide.

Almost unconsciously the personal tension of the correspondence
increased. Not infrequently after her letters were gone, Paula became
afraid that this new, full-powered self of hers had crept into her
written pages with betraying effulgence, rising high above the light
laughter of the lines. How she cried out for open honesty in the world
and rebelled against the garments of falsity which society insists must
cover the high as well as the low. Charter seemed to say what was in his
heart; at least, he dared to write as the woman could not, as she dared
not even to think, lest he prove - against the exclaiming negatives of
her soul - a literary craftsman of such furious zeal that he could tear
the heart out of a woman he had not seen, pin the quivering thing under
his lens, to describe, with his own responsive sensations.

So the weeks were truly emotional. Swiftly, beyond any realization of
her own, Paula Linster became full-length a woman. Reifferscheid found
it harder and harder to talk even bossily to her, but cleared his voice
when she entered, vented a few booky generalities, and cleared his voice
when she went away. Keen winter fell upon his system of emptied lakes;
gusty winter harped the sound of a lonely ship in polar seas among the
naked branches of the big elms above his cottage; indeed, gray winter
would have roughed it - in the big chap's breast, had he not buckled his
heart against it.... For years, Tim Reifferscheid had felt himself aloof
from all such sentiment. Weakening, he had scrutinized his new assistant
keenly for the frailties with which her sex was identified in his mind.
In all their talks together, she had verified not one, so that he was
forced to destroy the whole worthless edition. She was a discovery,
thrillingly so, since he had long believed such a woman impossible. Now
he felt crude beside her, remembered everything that he had done amiss
(volumes of material supposed to be out of print). Frankly, he was
irritated with any one in the office who presumed to feel himself an
equal with Miss Linster.... But all this was Reifferscheid's, and no
other - as far from any expression of his, as thoughtless kisses or
thundering heroics.




NINTH CHAPTER

PAULA IS DRAWN DEEPER INTO THE SELMA CROSS PAST AND IS BRAVELY WOOED
THROUGH FURTHER MESSAGES FROM THE WEST


Selma Cross frequently filled the little place of books across the hall
with her tremendous vibrations before the trial trip of her new play on
the road. Paula liked to have her come in, delighted in the great
creature's rapture over the hunch-back, Stephen Cabot, author of _The
Thing_. There was an indescribably brighter luster in the waxing and
waning of romantic tides, than the eyes of Paula had ever before
discovered, so that the confidences of the other were of moment. Selma
was terrified by some promise she had made years before in Kentucky. It
was gradually driven deep into the listener's understanding that no
matter how harsh and dreadful the intervening years had been, here was a
woman to whom a promise meant a promise. Paula was moved almost to tears
by the other's description of Stephen Cabot, and the first time she saw
him.

"I wonder if the long white face with the pain-lit eyes could ever mean
to any one else what it does to me?" Selma whispered raptly when they
talked together one Sunday night. "Why, to see him sitting there before
me at rehearsal - the finest, lowest head in all the chairs - steadies,
exalts me! I hold fast to repression.... It It was Vhruebert who brought
me to him, and the first words Stephen said were: 'Your manager is a
wizard, Miss Cross, to get you for this. Why, you are the woman I wrote
about in _The Thing_!'"

"Tell me more," Paula had whispered.

"We met in Vhruebert's office and forgot the manager entirely. I guess
two hours passed, as we talked, and went over the play together that
first time. Vhruebert sent in his office-boy finally to remind us that
he was still in the building. How we three laughed about it!... Then as
we started out for luncheon together, Stephen and I, Vhruebert took his
place at the door before us, and delivered himself of something like
this:

"'You two listen to the father of what you are to be,'" Selma Cross went
on, roughening her voice and tightening her nasal passages, to imitate
the old Hebrew star-maker. "'Listen to the soulless Vhruebert, who
brudalizes the great Amerigan stage. You two are Art. Very well, listen
to Commerce. It took me twenty-five years to learn that there must be
humor in a blay. This _T'ing_ would not lift the lip of a ganary-bird.
It took me twenty-five years to learn there must be joy at the end of a
blay - and wedding-bells. This _T'ing_ ends just about - over the hills to
the mad-house. Twenty-five years proved to me what I know the first
day - that women of the stage must be beautiful. Miss Gross is not. I say
no more. Here I have neither dramatist nor star. I could give the blay
by Gabot to Ellen Terry - or to Miss Gross, if Ibsen write it. As it is,
I have no name. There are five thousand people in this country writing
blays with humor and habby endings. There are ten thousand beautiful
women exbiring to spend it on the stage. Yet you two are the chosen of
Vhruebert. When you look into each other's eye and visper how
von-der-ful you are, with rising inflection; and say, "To hell with
Gommerce and the Binhead Bublic!" remember Vhruebert who advances the
money!'"

"And did you remember Vhruebert in that fairy luncheon together?" Paula
asked happily.

"No, I only saw the long white face of Stephen Cabot. I wanted to take
him in my arms and make him whole!"

For ten weeks Bellingham lay in one of the New York hospitals. "A woman
attends him," Madame Nestor informed. "She is young and has been very
beautiful. How well do I know her look of impotence and apathy - that
look of unresisting obedience." To Paula, the magician seemed back among
the dead ages, although Madame Nestor did not regard the present lull
without foreboding. Paula could not feel that her real self had been
defiled. The dreadful visitations were all but erased, as pass the
spectres of delirium. What was more real, and rocked the centres of her
being, was the conception of this outcast's battle for life. She could
not forget that it was in pursuing her, that he had been injured. Facing
not only death, but extinction, this idolater of life had, as one
physician expressed it, held together his shattered vitality by sheer
force of will, until healing set in. The only thought comparable in
terror to such a conflict, had to do with the solitudes and abject
frigidity of inter-stellar spaces.

The Skylark Letters, as she came to call them, were after all, the
eminent feature of the fall and winter weeks. There was a startling
paragraph in one of the December series: "I think it is fitting for you
to know (though, believe me, I needed no word regarding you from
without), that I am not entirely in the dark as to how you have
impressed another. I know nothing of the color of your hair or eyes,
nothing of your size or appearance, - only just how you _impressed
another_. This information, it is needless to say, was unsolicited...."
Just that, and no further reference. It was as though he had felt it a
duty to incorporate those lines. Portions of some of the later letters
follow:

Did you know, that without the upward spread of wings - there
can be no song from the Skylark? This, for me, has a fragrant
and delicate significance. It is true that the poor little
caged-birds sing, but how sorry they are, since they have to
flutter their wings to give forth sound, and cling with their
claws to the bars to hold themselves down!... I think you must
have been a little wing-weary when you wrote your last letter
to me. Perhaps the dusk was crowding into the Heights. No one
knows as I do how the Skylark has sung and sung!... You did
not say it, but I think you wanted the earth-sweet meadows. It
came to me like needed rain - straight to the heart of mine that
little plaint in the song. It made me feel how useless is the
strength of my arms.... You see, I manage pretty well to keep
you up There. I must. And because you are so wonderful, I
can.... An enthralling temperament rises to me from your
letters. I love to let it flood through my brain....

I do not feel at all sure that you know me truly. What a man's
soul appears to be, through the intimations of his higher
moments, is not the man altogether that humans must reckon
with. Nor must they reckon with the trampling violences of
one's past. I truly believe in the soul. I believe it is an
essence fundamentally fine; that great mothers brood it
beautifully into their babes; that it is nourished by the good
a man does and thinks. I believe in the ultimate victory of the
soul, against the tough, twisted fibres of flesh which rise to
demand a thousand sensations. I would have you think of me as
one _lifting_; happy in discoveries, the crown of which you
are; conscious of an integrating spirit; that sometimes in my
silences I answer your song as one glorified. But then, I
remember that you must not judge me by the brightest of my
work. Such are the trained, tense bursts of speed - the swift
expiration of the best. I think a man is about half as good as
his best work and half as bad as his most lamentable leisure.
Midway between his emotions and exaltations - is indicated his
valuation.... All men clinging to the sweep of the upward
cycle, must know the evil multitude at some time. Perhaps few
men have met and discarded so many personal devils as I, in a
single life. But I say to you as I write to-night, those devils
cast out seem far back among cannibal centuries. I worship the
fine, the pure, - thoughts and deeds which are expanded and
warmed by the soul's breath. And you are the anchorage of this
sweeter spirit which is upon me. Now, out of the logic which
life burns into the brain, comes this thought: (I set it down
only to fortify the citadel of truth in which our momentous
relation alone can prosper.) Are there fangs and hackles and
claws which I have not yet uncovered? Am I given the present
serenity as a resting-time before meeting a more subtle and
formidable enemy? Has my vitality miraculously been preserved
for some final battle with a champion of champions of the
flesh? Is it because the sting is gone from my scar-tissues
that I feel so strong and so white to-night? I cannot think
this, because I have heard - because I still hear - my Skylark
sing.

The personal element of the foregoing and the hint of years of "wrath
and wanderings," which she saw in his second photograph, correlated
themselves in Paula's mind. They frightened her cruelly, but did not put
Charter farther away. Remembering the effect of the passion which


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryWill Levington ComfortShe buildeth her house → online text (page 7 of 23)