Though Dharma Tarry Long
HELEN E. WILLIAMS
THE man stood on the brow of the cliff, where the strong seabreeze, blowing saltily imand, ruffled and bent backward the overlapping tiers of juniper and sweet fern. There were many more comfortable spots beneath. Cosy, sequestered nooks, which seemed especially made for idlers in Arcady, many of whom had found their own, if fluttering white caps and glints of scarlet and brown were construed aright. But it was typical of the man to choose the top, and stand there— alone.
Away to the left stretched miles of shining beach, black in spots, with little insect-like dots, that constantly moved about and emitted a vague buzz, which floated up to the man, pierced with an occasional lighter sound which might have been laughter. The tide was coming in, leaping over the outstanding rocks, throwing itself in streams of billowy lace over glistening barnacled and green-draped ledges, rushing thunderously up the gorges all along the coast, springing like some victorious live thing upon the gray, wave-like shoulder of the cliff. The spectacle never lost its interest for the man. He followed each fresh onslaught breathlessly, and gloried in the power which sent the spray sprinkling in drops about him. But at the turn—when the receding wave fell back, beaten, into the churning cauldron, when the shir-r-r-r of backward drawn pebbles became audible through the din of battle, when the surf put up such a brave show of C
being unchanged, even in the act of submission to the stronger will—the man always left abruptly.
Usually the remainder of the afternoon was spent in his room at the VSparhawk,” resting, in accordance with his physician’s orders, which he did not care to disregard. But whether some suggestiveness of comparison had come to him on the height, or the old yearning for his kind, which was wont to seize him at times, proved too strong, to-day he passed the plank walk, and following the Marginal Way round, lost himself in the gay medley on the beach.
He looked eagerly about him on all sides, as if he were taking up a thread dropped long ago, listening to catch the note of a familiar tune, whose memory itself had grown dim. He might have been one of the cave men depicted in Plato’s Republic, turning from the world of reflected shadows to the world of veritable flesh and blood. Coming from a totally different life, and encrusted with long years of toil, he had grown too big, as it were, to shrink back into anything so small and blessed as mere happiness. He looked blindly, longingly, helplessly for the soul in it all ; and when he could not find it, when nothing within him responded, when the emotions he had with iron will trained to impassivity gave no latent throb, then he recognized in a cold philosophic way that he was hearing a key turned that would forever more make what lay on the other side as though it were not, then he knew that another penalty, which was yet not the supreme penalty, had been exacted.
The five-seated yellow beach wagguns returned again and again with contingents, which were immediately swallowed up in the gay, inconsequent crowd. The afternoon bathers were tiptoeing and skipping down to the breakers, shrieking in affected alarm at the first chilly contact. The man passed by childish creators of wondrous sand architecture, and turned aside to look down upon some boys spreading star-fish on the sand to dry, along with such other treasures as hermit crabs, devil's aprons, and curious shells. Here and there prosperous-looking men with threads of silver in their hair raised their hats deferentially as he went by. And more than one handsome woman, who was seldom accused of exerting herself overmuch, bowed with the nicest homage in her eyes. Into nearly every face that turned carelessly toward him there flashed the instantaneous recognition of who he was. On the outskirts of the throng he looked so intently at one isolated couple. ineffectually screened by a gaudy toy of a parasol, that he attracted the girl’s atention.
“Do you know who that man was?" she asked.
The boy shrugged a negative.
“The most celebrated eye specialist in the world.”
“No! was it?” Then with an admiring look at the pretty face beside him, “Well, his celebrity looked as if he envied me.”
“ 1 he most celebrated eye specialist” walked on. No. Another penalty had been exacted, but not the supreme penalty. Still, when his wonderful efforts of brain and nerve elicited some eloquent tribute, he must exert a yet greater power to avoid wincingat the thought of the look that would come into his interlocutor’s face, if he knew. Ile was not exempt from that, nor from the mocking voice in his ear, whispering when the world’s praise rang loudest: “Oh, that is all very well, but they don’t know, you on
see. But you know, and what a fraud you are with your ‘nobility,’ and your ‘beneficences’ and your ‘self-sacrifices,’ ha! ha! Don't deceive yourself. Is that enough, do you imagine? When you have given the light of a lifetime, gone out into the utter darkness—’’
He had now outstripped the last stroller. In the tidal river on the other side of the sedgy dunes an old clam-digger could be seen, bent double, gathering the tidal harvest.
And for a little he stood there between those symbols of pleasure and work, shut out of both, an alien, drinking the dregs of a cup he had thought to have drained. With a lagging step he passed on. After curving along by cottages bearing the names, “U-needa-rest Cottage,” "Bleak House," “The Anchorage,” “Haven Cottage,” and the like, the beach again rises into cliffs. Scaling these the man stood there silhouetted against the afternoon skv, looking out to sea. Several people on the beach saw him there, and interrupted their lively varbiage to point out the “eminent oculist of world-wide renown, who has never been known to lad, my dear, whose name is the synonym for success.” lie must have appeared in much the same light to a slim, youngish-looking man. who let himself out of an unpainted, shabby house set back from the cliff a number of rods. Upon seeing the solitary figure he looked, came a little nearer, and shielding his eyes against the sun, looked again. Then he started quickly forward, stopped, hesitated, turned on his heel and walked away, head bent, only to wheel back an instant later, with a muttered ejaculation. He had to speak twice before the other heard.
“1 beg your pardon! Were vou addressing me?"
The very young man was plainly embarrassed.
"You are Dr. StarrYou have been pointed out to me in the village. 1 believe 1 am not mistaken?"
“I am Dr. Starr."
The very young man, a country doctor, impelled by his own impotence in the face of urgent need, plunged with a sort of desperate eloquence into a tale identical with manv another poured into his learned colleague's ear. He described the family’s almost degrading poverty and dependence upon the widow’s work, and the fearsome thing growing over her eye, enlarging upon the dire consequences which must follow without immediate and skilled attention, interrupting himself with a deprecatory, “but you know that, sir,” and ending with an earnest appeal that he would undertake the operation. As he caught the drift of the conversation a peculiar, whitish hue settled on the man’s face, and ITs hand went out as if to steady himself. Then, Dr. Miles, looking eagerly for some trace of human feeling and yielding in that granite countenance, saw what in another's might have been called excitement—if so slight a manifestation could be designated by so strong a word. A minute passed, two minutes, three, four. A little backward jerk of the head, and flash of the gray eyes—did he fancy it, or was there defiance in the look? and eagerness? then—
“We had better go at once,” he said, “while the light lasts, yes, while the light lasts.”
Once inside the hut he seemed a different being. Beneath his magnetic touch the woman’s nervous twitches ceased, and the lines of anxious foreboding smoothed themselves from her face. Bending eagerly over the instruments the younger man spread before him, he gave little grunts of approval as he examined some, or dub’ous shakes of the head as he laid aside others. While they prepared for the operation with such sorry makeshifts as were at hand. Dr. Starr gave minute directions as to the exact care to be taken of the eye afterwards, adding that he would, of course, himself come in. Then the children were put out : and as the inexperienced man followed, breathless-
ly, each steady, unerring movement of the master’s hand, he forgot even the marvel of such mastery of one’s self and one’s art, under the spell of the thing itself going forward. Once, only, had the doctor spoken. Raising his head when half through, he drew his hand across his eyes with the troubled gesture of one who would brush something away.
“How dark it gets,” he muttered, “how dark!”
Dr. Miles looked in astonishment at the red reflection of a most spectacular sunset flooding the room, but again forgot all in the drama being enacted before him.
It was done.
The woman’s future was redeemed from one long night of dependence upon those but ill-fitted to take care of themselves. She lay in a stupor in the front room, while the young man, suddenly become self-conscious, strove to find words befitting the occasion. But the other was speaking himself —with surpressed excitement, it would seem.
“He was wrong!” he exclaimed, and broke into a laugh, jubilant, and yet tinged with something not unlike regret. “I never did better work in my life. Old Gifford was wrong. He said I would never live th—”
A change passed over his face. He swayed a little where he stood— and stopped laughing. Again his hand went to his head with the old gesture he had first used months before, when, in the midst of an operation, his patient’s face, without an instant’s warning, melted away from him, and when he at last succeeded in rubbing away the mist, it was to see Dr. Gifford bending anxiously over him. and to hear, in response to an imperious demand for the truth —his ultimatum.
“How dark it grows—like becoming blind—T think—T have paid—at—last—
Dr. Miles caught him as he fell.
There was a marshmallow toast on the beach that night. From a distance it looked like the performance
of some bizarre pagan rite. As the leaping tongues of flame brought out in bold relief first one, then another, flitting shadow, the effect was as if the earth and air were full of such phantasmagoric shapes, needing but a little more driftwood to make them visible. During the early part of the evening conversation was restricted to tete-a-tetes, for which the toasting afforded an excellent excuse, if any were required. But as the moon majestically rose into the heraldic glow, which had for some time been sheddinga weird light over the horizon, they threw their improvised forks into the blaze, and watched the spectacle in a silence at first broken only by an occasional word of comment. Then someone began a story, and someone else suggested that they sliould each in turn tell one, while a piece of driftwood was burning. So they sat round in characteristic attitudes on upturned boxes, and bleached logs. Several colleges were represented in the group about the fire, and the constant peals of laughter testified that the rigorosities of the curriculum had in no wise sobered aspiring youth, nor put a stop to their pranks. The oldest member of the party stirred uneasily when, upon the heels of a particularly diverting escapade came an expectant, “Your turn, old man.”
“But I don’t know anything clever, or ingenious, or even amusing,” he protested, “I’ve been out of that sort of thing so long. I would just spoil the effect of the rest of vour wit bv something malapropos. I move we adiourn.”
But they would not hear of it. 1 íe could not get out of it that way. He had listened. ITc must bear his part of the entertainment. All the better if be had something different to tell So they piled on more wood, and turned attentive, (lame-flecked visages toward him, and he. perforce, yielded.
“You won’t like it.” he began, “but if you will have it. your disappointment be upon your own heads.”
Then he was silent so long that one of the boys sang out, “Oh, I say, Fletcher ; stage effects not allowed here.”
He began at once.
“Most of you, I think, were on the beach this afternoon when Dr. Starr went by. At least, you all know of him by reputation—what he stands for in the world to-day. W hat 1 am going to tell you dates back to the time when the name Starr spelled nothing to anyone who was anyone. How 1 came to know signifies nothing, is. as Kipling would say, another story, but—well, I know, and that’s enough.”
He went on quickly in a narrative voice.
“He was an orphan, as you may have heard, brought up and educated by a wealthy uncle. He had an average record at college, but did not especially distinguish himself. Went in more for a good time—the sort of thing you fellows have been telling about to-night, sports, theatre-parties, getting up plays, giving dinners —you know the life. Well, he made himself pretty popular, though you'd hardi}imagine it now. Just “squeaked through” his final year in medicine. to use his uncle’s phraseologv. But he didn’t care. Nothing worried him much-—then. Tn his native vil-
lage he was given his first case. It was to take out a bov’s diseased eve. in order to save the other. The people were poor and couldn't well afford an abler man ; and he had taken a special course along those lines, and was qualified to do the work, if he kept his wits about him. As it turned out he didn’t. No one ever quite knew how it happened. Some said he was not responsible that day, had over-indulged. Others that he lost his head. Everyone had a different theory—and aired it. The fact remains he took out the good eye by mistake, practical!}making the bov blind. Everyone. nearly, has forgotten it now : but at the time it created quite a sensation in the papers. They all took it up .and made it out. as. of course, it
was, inexcusable. Still, no one
thought it would break young Starr up the way it did. As a matter of fact it quite bowled him over. You sec, he had known the little chap all his life, and—well, it struck him hard.
“He was to have been married in a few days. The girl’s trousseau was all made, the wedding presents had been on exhibition, guests invited,
berths written for. Well, that nicht he went to her and told her, straight, that he could not marry her. I don't know how he worded it. but I gathered that he felt he had by his mistake forfeited all right to personal happiness, and must, in expiation, devote all his life to curing people, who would otherwise be uncured. The girl understood—she was that kind—and sa'd what might have been expected of such a girl : but he wouldn’t hear of it. He had always seemed easygoing and placable, in his licht-hearted. lovable way, but—well. T suppose, he loved her, and knew what the life would mean. Anyway, he went away alone.
“For a time no one heard anything of him, though his uncle, in answer to inquiries, said he was studying in England and Germany. It must have been nearly ten years before accounts of him began to be copied into our papers from the foreign press. Still later, he came back—famous, and, I guess you know the rest.”
“But what became of his fiancee?” demanded one of the cirls, “That’s no place to stop. What happened to ber?”
The oldest member’s eves were fixed on the path of moonbeams, now spanning the ocean from rim to rim. The moon, herself, had paled silver, and lost something of romance the higher she climbed ; but the privileged mieht pass into realms enchanted on this fairv bridge.
“Do go on !”
“You are a dreadful storv-teller !”
“Isn’t his action what the critics call slow ?”
“Didn't she ever see him again?”
“Or o^et married?”
‘T believe not.” And as the air seemed charged with the expectation of more to follow, he added, “She became a nurse—is a nurse now.”
“I think he might have devoted perhaps ten years to his incurables and then come back,” burst out the girl who had spoken first. “You were right. I don’t like your story, Mr. Fletcher. It’s too—too—”
“Much life life?”
“Too idiotic, outrageous, unnecessary! Didn’t he ever go back?”
“I’ve heard not.”
“Perhaps he forgot?”
“Perhaps he did.”
When the silence which ensued threatened to grow embarrassing one of the bovs shook himself into an upright position, demanding if they had forgotten that they had pledged their word as decorous resorters to enliven the dance at their hotel with their presence, and the group dissolved as by magic, amid a chorus of half-distinguishable ejaculations.
The man called Fletcher excused himself, and walked out over the hard, wet, crinkled stretch of beach to where scalloping wavelets broke with musical insistance. Forget her? There were those who had tried and could not. those who had urged upon her the duty, the advantages of forgetting. Presently he turned and walked along—toward a shaft of light issuing from a cottage on one of the farther points.
Something less than an hour later a lounger in the office at the “Sparhawk” accosted a man who had been filling out a telegraph blank.
“Is it true? Will Starr have to pay the piper at last?”
“It amounts to about that.” The man’s tone was curt, his manner preoccupied. “Pm wiring for Gifford, but it’s only as a matter of form.” “Well,” philosophized the other, “he’s human, after all—he made one doubt it, you know.”
He sauntered off. The man called Fletcher turned back to the desk.
Drawing another blank toward him he began to write.
Within the cottage along the beach the woman had come out of her stupor and was sleeping peacefully. In the back room the figure on the bed was wearing itself out with incessant babblings. The monotonous voice, trailing endlessly on, evoked strange pictures in that rude room. Now, the great oculist was expounding his views before an assemblage of the most learned and critical men in the medical world. Now, he was reliving that hour of surgical triumph which the papers in two hemispheres chronicled in glowing headlines. And now lie was in the hospital, oblivious of the hard day’s work behind him, and of the one no less arduous awaiting him on the morrow, tenderly performing the ordinary offices of nurse for one of his proteges, who, he had discovered too late, was only provided with an incompetent attendant.
On, on, the demon of work drove him—till the darkness he had dispelled for others pressed sorely upon himself, and he perceived a vast concourse of people about him, all going the same way. Some, he saw. rebelled and held back, and he wondered to find himself among them. Then a man’s face rose before him. strained, dead-white. “T'll wait for you. Doctor. Rest a bit and come back.
God! You must come back!" Something impelled him forward. The face passed. But other faces crowded into its place, each with fear indelibly printed on it. He recalled the peculiar circumstances of each ; their several stories ended alike in the wail, “and there is no one that can take your place.” He struggled, but the Something urged him on. And so they, too—passed—
I fc felt a vague pity for the inert form he was deserting in the little back room, but as he advanced farther into the Land of Pain. it. and other regrets, grew less—were left behind—Ear. far off voices came— and went—and came again. A-ah ! He was in a large, pleasant room. Through the window, stirring the lace curtains, came the night-scented breath of Narcissi. Steps, running down the stairs. A voice, calling him by a name no one else used. Her voice !
And he had got to tell her !
Now she was in the room. Now she was— Suddenly he struggled as never before—
He opened his eyes.
Somewhere a man’s voice was saying that the crisis was past—that he would live. And by his side knelt the woman, who. absent, had been ever present at the working out of the equal retribution, and present, had won him back to enjoy the reward which had tarried long.
DONT think that because the boss has a roll-top desk and a private office that he also has a cinch. The man who carries the responsibilities is the man whose shoulders first grow bent.—Frank Farrington.