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When the sun burst upon The Towers inthe freshness of the morning, Kimberly'seyes wore another expression. The pleading ofher words still rang in his ears. The tears in hervoice had cost him his courage. Before anothernight fell they told him but a slender hoperemained. He seemed already to have realized it.
After the doctors had spoken and all knew,Annie crept into Kimberly's room. His head wasbowed on the table between his arms. With herlittle wet handkerchief and her worn beads crushedin her hands, she ventured to his side. Her sobsaroused him. "What is it, Annie?"
"Oh, Mr. Kimberly; she is so sick!"
"Don't you think you should call a priest for her?"
"A priest?" He opened his eyes as if to collecthis thoughts.
"Oh, yes, a priest, Mr. Kimberly."
"Go yourself for him, Annie."
Tears were streaming down the maid's cheeks.She held out an ivory crucifix. "If her eyes shouldopen, dear Mr. Kimberly, won't you give this toher? It is her own." Kimberly took the crucifixin silence and as Annie hurried away he buriedhis head again in his arms.
The timid young clergyman from the villageresponded within half an hour. Hamilton spokekindly to him and explained to him Alice'scondition; for unless consciousness should returnHamilton knew that nothing could be done.
After trying in vain to speak to her the priestasked leave to wait in an adjoining room. Hisyouthfulness and timidity proved no detriment tohis constancy, for he sat hour after hour relievedonly by Annie's messages and declining to give up.In the early morning finding there had been nochange he left, asking that he be sent for ifconsciousness should return.
With a strength that the doctors marvelled at,Alice rallied after the bad night. She so held herimprovement during the day that Hamilton atnightfall felt she still might live.
While the doctors and the family were at dinnerKimberly was kneeling upstairs beside Alice.She lay with her eyes closed, as she had lainthe night she was stricken, but breathing morequietly. The racking pain no longer drew herface. Kimberly softly spoke her name and bentover her. He kissed her parched lips tenderly andher tired eyes opened. A convulsion shook him.It seemed as if she must know him, but hispleading brought no response.
Then as he looked, the light in her eyes began tofade. With a sudden fear he took her in his armsand called to Annie on the other side of the bed.The nurse ran for Hamilton. Annie with a sobthat seemed to pierce Alice's stupor held up theivory crucifix and the eyes of her dying mistressfixed upon it.
Reason for an instant seemed to assert itself.Alice, her eyes bent upon the crucifix, and tryingto rise, stretched out her hands. Kimberly, transfixed, supported her in his arms. Annie held thepleading symbol nearer and Alice with a heart-rendinglittle cry clutched it convulsively andsank slowly back.
She died in his arms.In the stillness theyheard her name again and again softly spoken,as if he still would summon her from the apathyof death. They saw him, in their sobbing, waitundiscouraged for his answer from the lips thatnever would answer again.
If he had claimed her in her life he claimedher doubly in her death; now, at least, she wasaltogether his. He laid her tenderly upon thepillow and covering her hands, still clasping thecrucifix, in his own hands he knelt with his faceburied in the counterpane.
Day was breaking when he kissed her and roseto his feet. When Dolly went to him in themorning to learn his wishes she found him in his room.Alice was to lie, he said, with the Kimberlys on thehill, in the plot reserved for him. His sisterassented tearfully. As to the funeral, he askedDolly to confer with the village priest. He directedthat only Annie and her own women should makeAlice ready for the burial and forbade that anystranger's hand should touch his dead.
She lay in the sunshine, on her pillow, afterAnnie had dressed her hair, as if breathing.Kimberly went in when Annie came for him. Hesaw how the touch of the maid's loving hands hadmade for her dead mistress a counterfeit of sleep; how the calm of the great sleep had already comeupon her, and how death, remembering the sufferingof her womanhood, had restored to her face itsgirlish beauty. Hamilton, who was with him, followed him into the room. Kimberly broke thesilence.
"What is First Communion, Hamilton?" he asked.
Hamilton shook his head.
"I think," Kimberly said, pausing, "it must bethe expression upon her face now."
During the day he hardly spoke. Much of thetime he walked in the hall or upon the belvedereand his silence was respected. Those of hishousehold asked one another in turn to talk withhim. But even his kindness repelled communication.
In the early morning when the white couch hadbeen placed to receive her for the grave hereturned to the room with Dolly and they stoodbeside Alice together.
"This is my wedding day, Dolly. Did youremember it?"
"I tried for once to do better; to treat Alice asa woman should be treated. This is my reward-mywedding day."
He lifted her in his arms like a child and as helaid her in her coffin looked at her stonily. "Mybride! My Alice!"
Dolly burst into tears. The harshness of hisdespair gave way as he bent over her for the lasttime and when he spoke again the tenderness ofhis voice came back. "My darling! With you Ibury every earthly hope; for I take God to witness,in you I have had all my earthly joy!" Hewalked away and never saw her face again.
The unintelligible service in the church did notrouse him from his torpor and he was only aftera long time aware of a strange presence on thealtar. Just at the last he looked up into thesanctuary. Little clouds of incense rising from aswinging thurible framed for an instant the faceof a priest and Kimberly saw it was the archbishop.
The prelate stood before the tabernacle facingthe little church filled with people. But his eyeswere fixed on the catafalque and his lips weremoving in prayer. Kimberly watched with astrange interest the slender, white hand rise ina benediction over the dead. He knew it wasthe last blessing of her whom he had loved.
Dolly had dreaded the scene at the grave butthere was no scene. Nor could Kimberly everrecollect more than the mournful trees, the greenturf, and the slow sinking of a flowered pall intothe earth. And at the end he heard only thewords of the archbishop, begging that they whoremained might, with her, be one day receivedfrom the emptiness of this life into one that is bothbetter and lasting.
In the evening of the day on which they hadburied Alice, and the family were all at TheTowers, Dolly, after dinner, asked DoctorHamilton to walk with her. Robert Kimberly had dinedupstairs and Hamilton upon leaving Dolly wentup to Kimberly's rooms.
The library door was closed. Hamilton, picking up a book in an adjoining room, made a placeunder the lamp and sat down to read. It was latewhen Kimberly opened the closed door. "Do youwant to see me, doctor?" he asked abruptly.
"Not particularly. I am not sleepy."
Kimberly sat down in the corner of adavenport. "Nor am I, doctor. Nor am Italkative-you understand, I know."
"I have been reading this pretty little Frenchstory." Hamilton had the book in his hand."Mrs. MacBirney gave it to you. I have beenthinking how like her it seems-the storyitself-elevated, delicate, refined-"
"It happens to be the only book she ever gave me."
Hamilton looked again at the inscription on thefly-leaf, and read in Alice's rapid, nervous hand:
"From Alice, To Robert."
"What slight chances," the doctor went on,"contribute sometimes to our treasures. You willalways prize this. And to have known and lovedsuch a woman-to have been loved by her-somuch does not come into every man's life."
Kimberly was silent. But Hamilton had cometo talk, and disregarding the steady eyes bentsuspectingly upon him he pursued his thought. "Tomy mind, to have known the love of one womanis the highest possible privilege that can cometo a man. And this is the thought I find in thisbook. It is that which pleases me. Whatsurprises me in it is the light, cynical view that theman takes of the responsibility of life itself."
"All sensualists are cynical."
"But how can a man that has loved, or treasures,as this man professes to treasure, the memory ofa gifted woman remain a sensualist?"
Kimberly shrugged his shoulders. "Men areborn sensualists. No one need apologize for beinga sensualist; a man should apologize for beinganything else."
"But no matter what you and I are born, wedie something other."
"You mean, we progress. Perhaps so. Butthat we progress to any more of respect for man orfor life, I have yet to learn. We progress from amoment of innocence to an hour of vanity, andfrom an hour of vanity to an eternity of ashes."
"You are quoting from the book."
"It is true."
"She did not believe it true. She died clingingto a crucifix."
Kimberly shrank under the surgeon's blade.
"A memory is not vanity," persisted Hamilton."And the day some time comes when it embodiesall the claim that life has upon us; but it is nonethe less a valid claim. In this case," the surgeonheld up the book, "Italy and work proved such a claim."
"My work would be merely more money-getting.I am sickened of all money-getting. And my Italylies to-night-up there." His eyes rolled towardthe distant hill. "I wish I were there with her."
"But between the wishing and the reality,Robert-you surely would not hasten the momentyourself."
Kimberly made no answer.
"You must think of Alice-what would shewish you to do? Promise me," Hamilton, rising, laid his hand on Kimberly's shoulder, "thatto-night you will not think of yourself alone. Suicideis the supreme selfishness-remember your ownwords. There was nothing of selfishness in her.Tell me, that for to-night, you will think of her."
"That will not be hard to do. You are verykind. Good-night."
In the morning Kimberly sent for Nelson andlater for Charles. It was to discuss detailsconcerning their business, which Robert, conferringwith his brother, told him frankly he must nowprepare to take up more actively. Charles, uneasy, waited until they had conferred some time andthen bluntly asked the reason for it.
Kimberly gave no explanation beyond what hehad already given to Nelson, that he meant totake a little rest. The two worked until Charles, though Robert was quite fresh, was used up. Herose and going to an open window looked out onthe lake, saying that he did not want to workany longer.
The brothers were so nearly of an age that thereseemed no difference in years between them.Robert had always done the work; he liked to doit and always had done it. To feel that he wasnow putting it off, appalled Charles, and he hidhis own depression only because he saw themental strain reflected in Robert's drawn features.
Charles, although resolutely leaving the tableand every paper on it, looked loyally back aftera moment to his brother. "It's mighty good ofyou, Bob," he said slowly, "to explain these thingsall over again to me. I ought to know them-I'mashamed that I don't. But, somehow, you alwaystook the load and I like a brute always let youtake it. Then you are a lot brainier than I am."
Robert cut him off. "That simply is not true,Charlie. In matter of fact, that man has the mostbrains who achieves happiness. And you havebeen supremely happy."
"While you have done the work!"
"Why not? What else have I been good for?If I could let you live-if even one of us couldlive-why shouldn't I?"
The elder brother turned impulsively. "Why?Because you have the right to live, too. Becausesunshine and bright skies are as much for you asthey are for me."
They were standing at the window together.Robert heard the feeling in the words.
"Yes," he answered, "I know the world is fullof sunshine, and flowers are always fresh and lifeis always young and new hands are alwayscaressing. This I well know, and I do not complain.The bride and the future are always new. ButCharlie," he laid his hand on his brother'sshoulder, "we can't all play the game of life with thesame counters; some play white but some mustplay black. It's the white for you, the black forme. The sun for you, the shadow for me. Don'tspeak; I know, I have chosen it; I know it is myfault. I know the opportunities wasted. I mighthave had success, I asked for failure. But it allcomes back to the same thing-some play thewhite, some the black."
A second shock within a week at TheTowers found Kimberly still dazed. In theconfusion of the household Uncle John failed onemorning to answer Francis's greeting. No wordof complaint had came from him. He lay as hehad gone to sleep.
Hamilton stood in the room a moment withKimberly beside his dead uncle.
"He was an extraordinary man, Robert," saidthe surgeon, breaking the silence at last. "A greatman."
"He asked no compromise with the inevitable,"responded Kimberly, looking at the stern foreheadand the cruel mouth. "I don't know" – he added, turning mechanically away, "perhaps, there isnone."
After the funeral Dolly urged Robert to takeHamilton to sea and the two men spent a weektogether on the yacht. Between them there existed acommunity of mental interest and materialachievement as well as a temperamental attraction.Hamilton was never the echo of any expression ofthought that he disagreed with. Yet he was acuteenough to realize that Kimberly's mind workedmore deeply than his own and was by this stronglydrawn to him.
Moreover, to his attractive independenceHamilton united a tenderness and tact developed bylong work among the suffering-and the suffering, like children, know their friends. Kimberly, whilehis wound was still bleeding, could talk toHamilton more freely than to any one else.
The day after their return to The Towers thetwo men were riding together in the deep woodsover toward the Sound when Kimberly spoke forthe first time freely of Alice. "You know," hesaid to Hamilton, "something of the craving of aboy's imagination. When we are young we dreamof angels-and we wake to clay. The imaginationof childhood sets no bounds to its demands, and poor reality, forced to deliver, is left bankrupt.From my earliest consciousness my dreams wereof a little girl and I loved and hungered for her.She was last in my sleeping and first in mywaking thoughts.
"It grew in me, and with me, this picturedcompanion of my life. It was my childish happiness.Then the time came when she left me and I couldnot call her back. An old teacher rebuked meonce. 'You think,' said he, 'that innocence isnothing; wait till you have lost it.'
"I believed at last, as year after year slippedaway, that I had created a being of fancy toolovely to be real. I never found her-in all thewomen I have ever known I never found heruntil one night I saw Alice MacBirney. Dollyasked me that night if I had seen a ghost. Shewas my dream come true. Think of what itmeans to live to a reality that can surpass theimagination-Alice was that to me.
"To be possessed of perfect grace; that alonemeans so much-and grace was but one of hernatural charms. I thought I knew how to lovesuch a woman. It was all so new to her-ourlife here; she was like a child. I thought mylove would lift me up to her. I know, too late,it dragged her down to me."
"You are too harsh. You did what you believedright."
"Right?" echoed Kimberly scornfully. "Whatis right? Who knows or cares? We do what weplease-who does right?"
They turned their horses into a bridle-pathtoward the village and Kimberly continued tospeak. "Sometimes I have thought, what possibilitieswould lie in moulding a child to your ownideas of womanhood. It must be pleasing tocontemplate a girl budding into such a flower asyou have trained her to be.
"But if this be pleasing, think what it is tofind such a girl already in the flower of herwomanhood; to find in her eyes the light thatmoves everything best within you; to read inthem the answer to every question that springsfrom your heart. This is to realize the mostpowerful of all emotions-the love of man for woman."
The horses stopped on the divide overlookingthe lakes and the sea. To the left, the village layat their feet, and beyond, the red roofs of theInstitute clustered among clumps of green trees.The sight of the Institute brought to Kimberly'smind Brother Francis, who, released from hischarge at The Towers, had returned to it.
He had for a time wholly forgotten him. Hereflected now that after Hamilton's departure thecompanionship of Francis might help to relieve hisinsupportable loneliness. The men rode togetherpast the village and parted when they reachedthe lake, Hamilton returning to The Towers andKimberly riding south to the Institute to take, ifpossible, Brother Francis home with him. Heexpected some objection, but was prepared toovercome it as he dismounted at the door of theinfirmary and rang. A tall, shock-haired brotheranswered.
"I have come to see Brother Francis."
"You mean Brother Francis, who was at TheTowers? He has gone, I am sorry to say."
"Where has he gone?"
"Brother Francis has gone to the leper missionat Molokai."
Kimberly stared at the man: "Molokai! Francisgone to Molokai? What do you mean?"
A wave of amazement darkening Kimberly'sfeatures startled the red-haired brother. "Whosent him?" demanded Kimberly angrily. "Whywas I not notified? What kind of managementis this? Where is your Superior?"
"Brother Ambrose is ill. I, Mr. Kimberly, amBrother Edgar. No one sent Brother Francis.Surely you must know, for years he has wished togo to the Molokai Mission? When he was oncemore free he renewed his petition. The day afterit was granted he left to catch the steamer. Hewent to The Towers to find you to say good-by.They told him you had gone to sea."
Kimberly rode slowly home. He was unwillingto admit even to himself how hateful what hehad now heard was to him and how angrily andinexplicably he resented it.
He had purposed on the day that he made Alicehis wife to give Brother Francis as a foundation forthose higher schools that were the poor Italian'sdream, a sum of money much larger than Francishad ever conceived of. It was to have been one ofthose gifts the Kimberlys delighted in-of royalmunificence, without ceremony and without theslightest previous intimation; one of those overwhelmingsurprises that gratified the Kimberly pride.
Because it was to have been in ready moneyeven the securities had previously been converted, and the tons of gold lay with those other uselesstons that were to have been Alice's on the sameday-in the bank vaults. And of the two whowere to have been made happy by them, one layin her grave and the other with his own hand hadopened the door of his living tomb.
Kimberly in the weariness of living returned tothe empty Towers. Dolly and her husband hadgone home and Hamilton now returning to townwas to dine with Charles Kimberly. Robert, welcoming isolation, went upstairs alone.
His dinner was brought to his room and wassent down again untasted. He locked his doorsand sat down to think. The sounds about thehouse which at best barely penetrated the heavywalls of his apartment died gradually away. Aclock within the room chiming the hour annoyedhim and he stopped it. His thoughts ran overhis affairs and the affairs of his brother and hissister and partners and turned to those in variousmeasure dependent upon his bounty.
His sense of justice, never wholly obscured, because rooted in his exorbitant pride, was keenlyalive in this hour of silent reckoning. Noinjustice, however slight, must be left that could beurged against his memory, and none, he believed, could now thus be urged. If there were a shockon the exchanges at the news of his death, if thestocks of his companies should be raided, noharm could come to the companies themselves.The antidote to all uneasiness lay in the unnecessarilylarge cash balances, rooted likewise in theKimberly pride, that he kept always in hand forthe unexpected.
His servants, to the least, had been rememberedand he was going over his thought of them when, with a pang, he reflected that he had completelyforgotten the maid, Annie. It was a humiliationto think that of all minor things this couldhappen-that the faithful girl who had been closerthan all others to her who was dearest to himcould have been neglected. However, this couldbe trusted to a letter to his brother, and going toa table he wrote a memorandum of the provisionshe wished made for Annie.
Brother Francis and his years of servitude cameto his mind. Was there any injustice to this manin leaving undone what he had fully intended todo in providing for the new school? He thoughtthe subject over long and loosely. What wouldFrancis say when he heard? Could he, strickensometime with a revolting disease, ever think ofKimberly as unjust?
The old fancy of Francis in heaven and Divesbegging for a drop of water returned. But thethought of lying for an eternity in hell without adrop of water was more tolerable than the thoughtof this faithful Lazarus' accusing finger pointing toa tortured Dives who had been in the least matterunjust. If there were a hereafter, pride hadsomething at stake in this, too.
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