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And thus the thought he most hated obtrudeditself unbidden-was there a hereafter?
Alice rose before him. He hid his face in hishands. Could this woman, the very thought ofwhom he revered and loved more than lifeitself-could she now be mere dissolving clay-or didshe live? Was it but breathing clay that once hadcalled into life every good impulse in his nature?
He rose and found himself before his mother'spicture. How completely he had forgotten hismother, whose agony had given him life! He lookedlong and tenderly into her eyes. When he turnedaway, dawn was beating at the drawn shades.The night was gone. Without even asking whathad swayed him he put his design away.
Kimberly took up the matters of the newday heavy with thought. But he sent nonethe less immovably for Nelson and the troublesomecodicil for the school was put under immediateway. He should feel better for it, he assuredhimself, even in hell. And whether, he reflected, itshould produce any relief there or not, it wouldsilence criticism. With his accustomed reticencehe withheld from Nelson the name of the beneficiariesuntil the final draught should be ready, and in the afternoon rode out alone.
McCrea and Cready Hamilton came out laterwith the treasurer. They had brought a messengerwho carried balance sheets, reports, and estimatesto be laid before Kimberly. He kept his partnersfor dinner and talked with them afterward of theaffairs most on their minds. He told them hewould go over the estimates that night alone andconsult with them in the morning. Thetype-written sheets were spread with some necessaryexplanations on his table in the library upstairsand after his usual directions for their comfortfor the night he excused his associates.
He closed his door when they had gone. Thetable lamp was burning and its heavy shadeshrouded the beamed ceiling and the distantcorners of the sombre room. But the darkness suitedKimberly's mood. He seated himself in a loungingchair to be alone with his thoughts and satmotionless for an hour before he moved to thetable and the papers. The impressive totals offigures before him failed to evoke any possibleinterest; yet the results were sufficient to justifyenthusiasm or, at least, to excite a glow ofsatisfaction. He pushed the reports back and as hestared into the gloom Alice's deathbed rose beforehim. He heard her sharp little cry, the only cryduring that fortnight of torture. He saw her graspthe crucifix from Annie's hand and heard Annie'sanswering cry, "Christ, Son of God, have mercy!"
Christ, Son of God! Suppose it were true?The thought urged itself. He walked to awindow and threw it open. The lake, the copses andfields lay flooded with moonlight, but his eyes wereset far beyond them. What if it were true? Heforced himself back to the lamp and doggedly tookup the figures.
Mechanically he went over and over them. Oneresult lost its meaning the moment he passed tothe next and the question that had come upon himwould not down.It kept knocking disagreeablyand he knew it would not be put away until theanswer was wrung from him.
The night air swept in cool from the lake andlittle chills crept over him. He shook them offand leaned forward on the table supporting hishead with his hands. "It is not true," he criedstubbornly. There was a savage comfort in thewords. "It is not true," he muttered. Hishands tightened and he sat motionless.
His head sank to the table, and supporting iton his forearm, with the huge typewritten sheetscrumpled in his hands, he gave way to theexhaustion that overcame him. "It is not true," hewhispered. "I never will believe it. He is not theSon of God. There is no God."
Yet he knew even as he lost consciousness thatthe answer had not yet come.
When Charles came over in the morning,Robert made a pretence of discussing thebudget with his associates. It was hardly morethan a pretence. Figures had palled upon himand he dragged himself each day to his work byforce of will.
The city offices he ceased to visit. Everymatter in which his judgment was asked or uponwhich his decision was needed was brought toThe Towers. His horses were left to fret in thestables and he walked, usually alone, among thevilla hills.
Hamilton, even when he felt he could notpenetrate the loneliness of Kimberly's moods, cameout regularly and Kimberly made him to knowhe was welcome. "It isn't that I want to bealone," he said one night in apology to the surgeon."The only subjects that interest me condemn meto loneliness. Charles asked me to meet a Chicagofriend of his last night-and he talked books tome and pictures! How can I talk pictures andbooks? McCrea brought out one of our Westerndirectors the other day," as Kimberly continuedhis chin went down to where it sank when mattersseemed hopeless, "and he talked railroads!"
"Go back to your books," urged Hamilton.
"Books are only the sham battles of life."
"Will you forego the recreation of the intellect?"
"Ah! The intellect. We train it to bring useverything the heart can wish. And when ourfairy responds with its gifts the appetite to enjoythem is gone. Hamilton, I am facing aninsupportable question-what shall I do with myself?Shall I stop or go on? And if I go on, how?This is why I am always alone."
"You overlook the simplest solution. Take uplife again; your difficulties will disappear."
"What life? The one behind me? I havebeen over that ground. I should start out verywell-with commendable resolutions to let amemory guide me. And I should end-in the old way.I tell you I will never do it. There is a short cutto the end of that road-one I would rather takeat the beginning. I loathe the thought of whatlies behind me; I know the bitterness of theflesh." His hands were stretched upon the table and heclenched them slowly as he drew them up withhis words, "I never will embrace or endure it again."
"Yet, for the average man," he went on, "onlytwo roads lie open-Christianity or sensuality-andI am just the average man. I cannot calmlyturn back to what I was before I knew her. Shechanged me. I am different. Christians, youknow," his voice dropped as if he were musing,"have a curious notion that baptism fixes anindelible mark on the soul. If that is so, Alice wasmy baptism."
"Then your choice is already made, Robert."
"Why do you say that? When I choose I shallno longer be here. What I resent is being forcedto choose. I hate to bow to law. My life hasbeen one long contempt for it. I have set myselfoutside every law that ever interfered with mydesires or ambitions. I have scorned law andignored it-and I am punished. What can aman do against death?"
"Even so, there is nothing appalling in Christianity.Merely choose the form best adapted toyour individual needs."
"What would you have me do? Fill myself withsounding words and echoing phrases? I am doingbetter than that where I am. There is only oneessential form of Christianity-you know whatit is. I tell you I never will bow to a law that isnot made for every man, rich or poor, cultured orcrude, ignorant or learned. I never will take upthe husks of a 'law adapted to individualneeds.' That is merely making my own law over again, and I am leaving that. I am sick of exploitingmyself. I despise a law that exploits the individual.I despise men in religious thought thatexploit themselves and their own doctrines. I needwholly another discipline and I shall never bringmyself to embrace it."
"You are closer to it than you think. Yet, formy part, I hate to see you lose your individuality-tolet some one else do your thinking for you."
"A part of my individuality I should be gainerfor losing. A part of it I wish to God some onehad robbed me of long ago. But I hate to seeyou, Hamilton, deceive yourself with phrases.'Let some one else do your thinking for you,'"Kimberly echoed, looking contemptuously away."If empty words like that were all!"
"You are going a good way, Robert," said thesurgeon, dryly.
"I wish I might go far."
"Parting company with a good many seriousminds-not to say brilliant ones."
"What has their brilliancy ever done for me?I am tired of this rubbish of writing and words.Francis was worth libraries. I esteem what hedid with his life more than I do the written wordsof ten thousand. He fought the real battle."
"Did he win?"
Kimberly's hand shot out. "If I knew! If Iknew," he repeated doggedly. And then moreslowly. "If I knew-I would follow him."
Kimberly no longer concealed from hisfamily the trend of his thinking nor thatwhich was to them its serious import. Dolly cameto him in consternation. "My dear brother!"she wept, sitting down beside him.
His arm encircled her. "Dolly, there isabsolutely nothing to cry about."
"Oh, there is; there is everything. How canyou do it, Robert? You are turning your backon all modern thought."
"But 'modern thought,' Dolly, has nothingsacred about it. It is merely present-day thoughtand, as such, no better than any other day thought.Every preposterous thought ever expressed wasmodern when it first reached expression. Thedifficulty is that all such 'modern' thought delightsin reversing itself. It was one thing yesterday andis wholly another to-day; all that can withcertainty be predicated of it is, that to-morrow itwill be something quite else. Present day modernthought holds that what a man believes is of nomoment-what he does is everything. Fourhundred years ago 'modern' thought announced thatwhat a man did was of no moment, what hebelieved was everything. Which was right?"
"Well, which was right?" demanded Dolly, petulantly. "You seem to be doing the sermonizing."
"If you ask me, I should say neither. I shouldsay that what a man believes is vital and what hedoes is vital as well. I know-if my experiencehas taught me anything-that what men do willbe to a material degree modified by what theybelieve. It is not I who am sermonizing, Dolly.Francis often expressed these thoughts. I haveonly weighed them-now they weigh me."
"I don't care what you call it. Arthur says itis pure medi?valism."
"Tell Arthur, 'medi?valism' is precisely whatI am leaving. I am casting off the tatters ofmedi?val 'modern' thought. I am discarding the ragsof paganism to which the modern thought of thesixteenth century has reduced my generation andam returning to the most primitive of all religiousprecepts-authority. I am leaving the stonydeserts of agnosticism which 'modern' thought fourhundred years ago pointed out as the promisedland and I am returning to the path trodden bySt. Augustine. Surely, Dolly, in this there isnothing appalling for any one unless it is for theman that has it to do."
Yet Kimberly deferred a step against whichevery inclination in his nature fought. It was onlya persistent impulse, one that refused to be whollysmothered, that held him to it. He knew thatthe step must be taken or he must do worse, andthe alternative, long pondered, was a repellent one.
Indeed, the alternative of ignoring a deepeningconviction meant, he realized, that he must partwith his self-respect. He went so far as seriouslyto ask himself whether he could not face puttingthis away; whether it was not, after all, afanciful thing that he might do better without. Heconsidered that many men manage to get on verywell in this world without the scruple of self-respect.
But honesty with himself had been too long thecode of his life to allow him to evade anunanswered question and he forced himself graduallyto the point of returning to the archbishop.One night he stood again, by appointment, in hispresence.
"I am at fault in not having written you,"Kimberly said simply. "It was kind of you toremember me in my sorrow last summer. Throughsome indecision I failed to write."
"I understand perfectly. Indeed, you had noneed to write," returned the archbishop."Somehow I have felt I should see you again."
"The knot was cruelly cut."
The archbishop paused. "I have thought ofit all very often since that day on the hill," hesaid. "'Suppose,' I have asked myself, 'he hadbeen taken instead. It would have been easierfor him. But could he really wish it? Could he, knowing what she once had suffered, wish thatshe be left without him to the mercies of thisworld?'" The archbishop shook his head. "Ithink not. I think if one were to be taken, youcould not wish it had been you. That wouldhave been not better, but worse."
"But she would not have been responsible formy death. I am for hers."
"Of that you cannot be certain. What wentbefore your coming into her life may have beenmuch more responsible."
"I am responsible for another death-my ownnephew, you know, committed suicide. And Iwould, before this, have ended my mistakes andfailures," his voice rose in spite of hissuppression " – put myself beyond the possibility of more-butthat she believed what you believe, that Christis the Son of God."
The words seemed wrung from him. "It isthis that has driven me to you. I am sickened ofstrife and success-the life of the senses. It isDead Sea fruit and I have tasted its bitterness.If I can do nothing to repair what I have alreadydone, then I am better done with life."
"And do not you, too, believe that Christ is theSon of God?"
"I do not know what I believe-I believenothing. Convince me that He was the Son of Godand I will kneel to him in the dust."
"My dear son! It is not I, nor is it another, that can convince you. God, alone, extends thegrace of faith. Have you ever asked for it?"
Kimberly started from his apathy. "I?" Herelapsed again into moodiness. "No." Thethought moved him to a protest. "How can Ireach a far-off thing like faith?" he demandedwith angry energy-"a shadowy, impalpable, evasive, ghostly thing? How can I reach, how canI grasp, what I cannot see, what I cannot understand?"
"You can reach it and you can grasp it. Suchquestions spring from the anger of despair; despair has no part in faith. Faith is the death ofdespair. From faith springs hope. It is despairthat pictures faith to you as a far-off thing."
"Whatever it may be, it is not for me. I haveno hope."
"What brought you to-night? Can you not seeHis grace in forcing you to come against your owninclination? His hope has sustained you whenyou least suspected it. It has stayed your handfrom the promptings of despair. Faith a far-offthing? It is at your side, trembling and invisible.It is within your reach at every moment. Youhave but to put forth your hand to touch it."
Kimberly shook his bowed head.
"Will you stretch forth your hand-will youtouch the hem of His garment?"
Kimberly sat immovable. "I cannot evenstretch forth a hand."
"Will you let me stretch forth mine?" Hissilence left the archbishop to continue. "Youhave come to me like another Nicodemus, andwith his question, unasked, upon your lips. Youhave done wrong-it is you who accuse yourself, not I. Your own words tell me this and theycan spring only from an instinct that has accusedyou in your own heart.
"Christianity will teach you your atonement-nothingelse can or will. You seem to picturethis Christianity as something distant, somethingof an unreal, shadowy time and place. It is not.It is concrete, clear, distinct, alive, all about youevery day, answering the very questions you haveasked in your loneliness. It is hidden in the heartof the servant that waits at your call, locked in thebreast of the man that passes you in the street. Itis everywhere, unseen, unapprehended about you.I am going to put it before you. Stay with meto-night. In that room, my own little chapel," thearchbishop rose as he indicated the door, "spend thetime until you are ready to sleep. You have givenmany years to the gratification of yourself. Give onehour to-night to the contemplation of God. MayI tell you my simple faith? The night before Hesuffered, He took bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to His disciples. And He said, insubstance, 'Take and eat of this, for this is my body, broken for your sins. And as often as ye shalldo this, do it in commemoration of me.' And onthese words I ground my faith in this mysteryof His presence; this is why I believe He is hereto-night, and why I leave you with Him in thistabernacle before you. If you feel that you havedone wrong, that you want to atone for it, askHim to teach you how."
The archbishop opened the chapel door. Inthe darkness of the cool room, the red sanctuarylamp gleamed above the altar. The archbishopknelt for a moment beside his questioner; thenhe withdrew, closing the door behind him, andthe silence of the night remained unbroken.
An acolyte, entering in the gray of the earlymorning, saw on the last of the kneeling benchesa man resting with bowed head. In the adjoiningroom the archbishop himself had slept, withincall, in his chair. He entered the chapel and anassistant robed him to say his mass before hissingle auditor. The service over, he made histhanksgiving, walked to where the man knelt and, touching him on the shoulder, the two left theroom together.
The apprehension that had long waited uponRobert Kimberly's intentions weighed uponhis circle. It was not enough for those abouthim to assure themselves that their affairs ofbusiness or of pleasure must move on whether Robertshould determine to move on with them or not.His aloofness carried with it an uncertainty thatwas depressing.
If he were wholly gone it would be one thing; butto be not gone and not of them was quite another.When Nelson brought the codicil providing forthe school, satisfactorily framed, Kimberly hadchanged his intention and resolved, instead ofincorporating the foundation in his will, to makeimmediate provision for an endowment. Whenthe details were worked out, Nelson left to bringhis wife home from Paris. Lottie's first visit wasto Dolly's home, and there she found Imogeneand Fritzie. She tiptoed in on the surprisedgroup with a laugh.
They rose in astonishment, but Lottie looked sotrim and charming in her French rig that shedisarmed criticism. For a moment every one spokeat once. Then Dolly's kind heart gave way asshe mentally pronounced Lottie faultless.
"You never looked so well in your life," sheexclaimed with sincerity. "I declare, Lottie, youare back to the sprightliness of girlhood. Pariscertainly agrees with you."
Lottie smiled. "I have had two great rejuvenatorsthis year-Paris and a good conscience."
Fritzie could not resist. "Do they go together,Lottie?" she asked.
Lottie responded with perfect ease: "Onlywhen one is still young, dear. I shouldn't darerecommend them to mature persons."
"You felt no risk in the matter yourself?"suggested Fritzie.
"Not in the least," laughed Lottie, pushingdown her slender girdle. But she was too happyto quarrel and had returned resolved to have onlyfriends. "You must tell me all about poorRobert." She turned, as she spoke to Dolly, with asudden sympathy in her tender eyes. "I havethought so much about his troubles. And I amjust crazy to see the poor fellow. What is he doing?"
"He is in town for a few days, just now. Buthe has been away for two months-with the yacht."
"No one knows. Somewhere along the coast,I suppose."
Lottie threw her eyes upward. "What doeshe mean? What do you all mean by letting himget into such a rut? Such isolation; suchloneliness! He needs to be cheered up, poor fellow.Dolly, I should think you would be frightened todeath-"
"What could I possibly do that I haven't done?"demanded Dolly. "No one can do a thing withRobert when he is set. I have simply had togive up."
"You mustn't give up," protested Lottiecourageously. "It is just the giving up that ruinseverything. Personally, I am convinced that noone can long remain insensible to genuine andsincere sympathy. And certainly no one couldaccuse poor Robert of being unresponsive."
"Certainly not-if you couldn't," retortedFritzie.
Lottie turned with amiability. "Now, Fritziedear, you are not going to be unkind to me. I putmyself entirely out of the case. It is somethingwe ought all to work for together. It is our duty,I think."
She spoke very gently but paused to give thenecessary force to her words. "Truly, it wouldbe depressing to any one to come back to a gaycircle and find it broken up in the way ours is.We can't help the past. Its sorrows belong to italone. We must let the dead bury the dead andall work together to restore the old spirit wheneverybody was happy-don't you feel so, Arthur?"she asked, making that sudden kind of an appealto Arthur De Castro to which it is difficult torefuse assent.
"Certainly we should. And I hope you will besuccessful, Lottie, in pulling things together."
"Robert is at home now, isn't he?"
"He has been at home a fortnight," returnedArthur, "but shut up with the new board ofdirectors all the time. MacBirney walked theplank, you know, last fall when Nelson went onthe board."
"I think it was very nice of Robert to confersuch an honor on Nelson," observed Lottiesimply, "and I intend to tell him so. He is alwaysdoing something for somebody," she continued, rising to go. "And I want to see what theconstant kindness he extends to others will do ifextended to him."
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