THE THREAD of FLAME
The Story of a Man Who Lost His Identity
WITHOUT opening my eyes I guessed that it must be between five and six in the morning.
I was snuggled into something narrow. On moving my knee abruptly it came into contact with an upright board. At the same time the end of my bed rose upward, so that my feet were higher than my head. Then the other end rose, and my head was higher than my feet. A slow, gentle roll threw my knee once more against the board, though another slow, gentle roll swung me back to my former position. Far away there was a rhythmic throbbing, like the beating of a pulse. I knew I was on shipboard, and for the moment it was all I knew.
Not quite awake and not quite asleep I waited as one waits in any strange bed, in any strange place, for the waking mind to reconnect itself with the happenings overnight. Sure of this speedy reestablishment I dozed again.
On waking the second time I was still at a loss for the reason of my being at sea. I had left a port; I was going to a port; and I didn’t know the name of either. I might have been on any ocean, sailing to any quarter of the globe. How long I had been on the way, and how far I had still to go, were details that danced away from me whenever I tried to seize them. I retained a knowledge of continents
and countries; but as soon as I made the attempt to see myself in any of them my mind recoiled from the effort with a kind of sick dislike.
Nothing but a dull hint came to me on actually opening my eyes. An infiltration of grey light through the door, which was hooked ajar, revealed a mere slit in space, with every peg and corner utilized. A quiet breathing from the berth above my head told me that I shared the cabin with someone else. On the wall opposite, above a flat red couch piled with small articles of travel, two complete sets of clothing swung outwards, or from side to side like pendulums, according to the movement of the ship.
I closed my eyes again. It was clearly a cabin of the cheaper and less comfortable order, calling up a faintly disagreeable surprise. It was from that that I drew my inference. I judged that whoever I was I had traveled before, and in more luxurious conditions.
Through the partly open door, beyond which there must have been an open porthole, came puffs of salt wind, and the swish and roar of the ocean. Vainly I sought indications as to the point of the compass toward which we were headed. Imagination adapted itself instantly to any direction it was asked to take. In this inside cabin there was no suggestion from sun or cloud to show the difference between east and west.
Because I was not specially alarmed I did my best to doze again. Dozing seemed to me, indeed, the wisest course, for the reason that during the freedom of sub-consciousness in sleep the missing connection was the more likely to be restored. It would be restored, of course. I was physically well. I knew that by my general sensations. Young, vigorous, and with plenty of money, a mere lapse of memory was a joke.
Of being young and vigorous a touch on my body
was enough to give me the assurance. The assumption of having plenty of money was more subtle. It was habit of mind rather than anything more convincing. Certainly there was nothing to prove it in this cabin, which might easily have been second-class, nor yet in the stuff of my pajamas, which was thick and coarse. I noticed now, as I turned in my bunk, that it rasped my skin unpleasantly. With no effort of the memory I could see myself elegantly clad in silk nightclothing, fastened with silk frogs; and yet when I asked myself when and where that had been no answer was accorded me.
I MAY have slept an hour when I waked again.
From the sounds in the cabin I drew the conclusion that my overhead companion had got up.
Before looking at him I tested my memory for some such recollection as men sharing the same cabin have of their first meeting. But I had none. Further back than that waking between five and six o’clock I couldn’t think. It was like trying to think back to the years preceding one’s birth; one’s personality dissolved into darkness.
When I opened my eyes there was a man standing in the dim gray light with his back to me. Broad, muscular shoulders showed through the undershirt which was all he wore in addition to his trousers, of which the braces hung down the back. The dark hair was the hair of youth, and in a corner of the glass I caught the reflection of a chin which in spite of the lather I also knew to be young. Waiting till he had finished shaving and had splashed his face in the basin, I said, with a questioning intonation:
Turning slowly he lowered the towel from before his dripping face, holding it out like a propitiatory offer-
ing. He responded then with the slow emphasis of surprise.
you’ve waked up at last! the trip out.”
“Have I been asleep long?”
“Only since you came on board.”
It was on my tongue to ask, When was that? but a sudden prompting of discretion bade me seek another way.
“You don’t mean to say I’ve slept more than—more than—” I drew a bow at a venture—“more than twenty-four hours?”
He made the reckoning as he rubbed his shining face with the towel.
“Let me see! This is Friday. We came on board late Tuesday ! night. When John-M’rie, our bedroom steward, brought me down to the cabin about half past nine you were already in your bunk doing the opium act. John-M’rie passed it up that you were a Frenchman, because you’d spoken French to him; but now I see you’re just an American like myself.”
was an American but I could speak French. I could speak French sufficiently well for one Frenchman to mistake me for another. I stowed this data away, noting that if I had lost some of the power of memory the faculty of reasoning was unimpaired.
Weighing my questions so as to get the maximum of information with the minimum of betrayal I waited till he had finished polishing a face which had the handsome Ugliness of a pug before hazarding anything else.
“When do you think,” was my next diplomatic venture, “that we shall get. in?”
“Oh, hang!” The exclamation was caused by finding himself pawing at the foot of my berth in his search for the towel-rack. “Wednesday morning with good luck,” he went on, feeling along the wall till he touched a kind of rod behind which he tucked the towel. “With bad weather we’ll not pick up the Nantucket Lightship before Thursday night. The old bucket’s supposed to do it in eight days; but you know what that means these times.”
I didn’t know, since these times did not distinguish themselves in my mind from any other times. But the Nantucket Lightship was a reference I understood. We were sailing for New York. As an American I was therefore on my way home, though no spot on the continent put forth a special claim on me. I made brief experiments in various directions; New York. Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Denver, Seattle. Nothing responded. The hills of New England, the mountains of California, the levees of Louisiana were alike easy for me to recall; but I was as detached from them as a spirit from another world.
Those ideas floated—I choose the phrase as expressive of something more nebulous than active thinking —these ideas floated across my brain as I watched the boy rinse his tooth-brush, replace the tumbler, and feel along the wall for the flannel shirt hanging on a peg. He turned to me then with the twinkling doggy look I w'as beginning to notice as a trait.
“Say, you’d eat a whale, wouldn’t you? Haven’t had a meal since Tuesday night, and now it’s Friday. Anyone would think you were up in the Ypres region before the eats got on to the time-table. Pretty good grub on board this old French tub, if you holler loud enough.”
YKTHILE he went on to suggest a menu for my break* ' fast I endeavored to deal with the new hints he had thrown out. He had spoken of Ypres. He had referred to short rations. I remembered that there was a war. Whether it was over, or whether it was going on, or whether I had taken part in it or not, I couldn’t say; but I'knew there had been, and perhaps that there still was, a war.
I tested myself as to that while I watched him button his collar and put on a tie; but all I drew forth was a vague, sickening sense of noise, multilation, and dirt, which might have been no more than the reaction from things I had read. Nothing personal to myself entered into these associations ; no scene of horror that I could construct took me in as an actor.
My light-hearted companion would not, however, allow me to follow my own train of thought.
“Say,” he laughed; “I know your name, but I don’t believe you know mine.” The laugh grew forced and embarrassed. “I’ve got the darnedest name for kidding a guy ever got stuck on him. Sometimes it makes me mad, and I think I’ll go to law and change it; and more times I get used to it, till some smart Aleck breezes in and begins to hang it all over me again. What do you think it is? Give a guess now.”
He said he knew my name—and I didn’t know it myself! That was the first of my queer discoveries that appalled me. If I didn’t know my own name. . . . But the boy laughed on.
“Give a guess now,” he coaxed, buttoning up his waistcoat. “I’ll give you two; but they must be awful funny ones.”
Nothing funnier than Smith and Jones having occurred to me, he burst out with :
“Drinkwater! Isn’t that the darnedest? I can’t look sidewise at anything that isn’t water before the other guys begin to kid me all over the lot. Many a time I ivould drink water—and don’t want anything but water to drink—and I’ll be hanged if I don’t feel ashamed to have them see me doing it—and me with that name! What do you know about that?” As I was too gravely pre-occupied to tell him what I knew about that he began once more his curious pawing along the wall, till he seized a cap which he pulled down on his head.
“Oh, hang!” he muttered then. “That’s yours.” This too was information, enabling me to assume that the clothing which hung on the same hook was mine also. I looked at it with some interest, but also with a renewed feeling of discomfort. It was the sort of suit in which I found it difficult to see myself. Of a smooth grey twill, sleek and provincial, there was that about it which suggested the rural beau.
Having momentarily lost his orientation the boy clawed in the air again, touching first this object and then that, fingering it, considering it, locating it, till once more he got his bearings. All this he did with a slowness and caution that forced on me the recognition of the fact, which I might have perceived before, that he was blind.
XJOTHING betrayed it but his motions. The starry 1 ^ eyes were apparently uninjured. Only, when you knew his infirmity, you noticed that the starriness was like that of an electric lamp, bright, but with a brightness not connected with his intelligence. It was an aimless brightness, directed at nothing. The blaze of the quick pupils was like that which a window flashes back to the sunset, all from outside, and due to nothing in the house.
Dressed now for leaving the cabin he still had something to tell me.
“Say, there’s one man on board who’ll be glad to hear you’ve waked up. That’s the doctor. Not the ship’s doctor,” he hastened to explain, “but my doctor. Say, he’s about the whitest.”
My questions were inspired not so much by sympathy with him, though that affected me, as by the hope of getting sidelights on myself.
“Do you travel with a doctor?”
“Came over with him just before the war. I was his stenog. Name of Aver ill. Been in and out to see you five and six times a day ever since we sailed. Tell you all about him after I’ve had my breakfast. Off now to send in John-M’rie. Don’t forget what I said about the griddle-cakes. They can give ’em to you good and greasy if you kick; but if you don’t they’ll just hand you out a pile of asbestos table-mats.”
DEFORE getting up to make the investigations on which I was so keen I waited to be rid of JeanMarie. He came in presently—small, black, wiry, not particularly clean, and with an oily smell, but full of an ingratiating kitidness. When I had trumped up an explanation of my abnormally long sleep I set him to separating my hand-luggage from my cabin-mate’s, nominally for the sake of convenience, but really that I might know which was mine.
The minute he had left with my order for breakfast I sprang from my bunk, searching first the pockets ©f my clothes. There was nothing in them but a handkerchief, a few French coins, and a card giving the number of a cabin, the number of a seat at table in the dining saloon, and ,the name of Mr. Jasper Soames. It was a name that to me meant nothing. Referring it to my inner self nothing vibrated, nothing rang. It was like trying to clink a piece of money on wool or cork or some other unresponsive material.
My clothing itself was what I had guessed from the inspection made from my berth. It suggested having been bought ready to wear, a suggestion borne out by the label of what was apparently a big department store, the Bon Marché, at Tours. My cap had the same label, and my hard felt hat no maker’s name at all.
I began on the bags which Jean-Marie had segregated as my property. There were two, a handbag and a suitcase, neither of them tagged with a name. The handbag contained bottles, brushes, handkerchiefs, all of the cheaper varieties. Where there was anything to indicate the place at which they had been purchased it was always the Bon Marché at Tours. In the suitcase, which was unlocked, and which I opened feverishly, there was a suit almost identical with that hanging on the hook, a little linen, a few changes of underclothing, a small supply of socks, collars, and other such necessities, all more or less new, some of them still unworn, but with not so much as an initial to give a clue to the owner. It struck me—and I made the observation with a frightened inward laugh—that a man running away from detection for a crime would fit himself out in just this way.
Having re-packed the bags I stood at a loss, in the sense that for the first time I felt stunned. The position was promising to be more serious than I had thought it possible for it to become. There were so many things to think of that I couldn’t see them all before me at a glance.
Standing in the middle of the narrow floor, steadying myself by a hand on the edge of Drinkwater’s bunk, I suddenly caught my reflection in the glass. It was a new line to follow up. A look into my own eyes would reforge those links with myself that had trembled away. I went closer, staring at the man who now confronted me.
IT is an odd experience to gaze at yourself, and see a stranger; but that is what happened to me now. The face that gazed back at me was one which, as far as I could tell, I had never seen in my life. I had seen faces like it, hundreds of them, but never precisely this face. It was the typical face of the brown-eyed, brownhaired Anglo-Saxon, lean, leathery, and tanned; but I could no more connect it with my intimate self than I could Drinkwater’s face, or Jean-Marie’s.
It was that of a man who might have been thirty, but who possibly looked older. I mean by that that there was a haggardness in it which seemed to come of experience rather than from time. Had you passed this face in the street you would have said that it was that of a tall, good-looking young fellow with a brown moustache, but you would have added that the eyes had the queer, far-away luminosity of eyes that have “seen things.” They would have reminded you of Drinkwater’s eyes—not that they were like them, but only because of their fixed retention of images that have passed away from the brain.
My next thought was of money. So far I had found nothing but the few odd coins in my pockets; but that I had plenty of it somewhere I took as a matter of course. I know now by experience that people in tne habit of having money and people in the habit of not having it are guided by different “senses.” In the one case it is a sense of limitation; in the other of liberty. It is like the difference between the movements of a blind man and those of one who can see—a tactual feeling of every step in contrast with the ease to come and go. Of all the distinctions induced by poverty and wealth it is the one that appeals to me now as the most significant. Merely to do without things, or merely to possess things, is matter of little importance. A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the thing« which he possesseth, we are told on high
authority; but it does consist in his state of min To be always in a state of mind in which restrictio is instinctive is like always creeping as a baby an never learning to walk.
But as far as money went I v*as free. I had neve been without it. I had no conception of a life in whic I couldn’t spend as much as I reasonably wished. A I had been in Eui'ope I probably had a letter of credi somewhere, if I could only put my hand on it. O arriving in New York I should of course have accès to my bank account.
IT occurred to me to look under my pillow, and ther* sure enough, was a little leather purse. That i was a common little purse was secondary to the fac that it was well filled. Sitting on the edge of th couch I opened it with fingers that shook with ny excitement. It contained three five-hundred fran notes, two for a hundred, some hundred and fifty ii gold, and a little silver, nearly four hundred dollars ii all. I seemed to know that roughly it was the kint of sum I generally carried on my person when abroad After a hasty scrubbing up I crept back into bed and waited for Jean-Marie to bring my breakfast.
IT was my first thought that I must not let him se*
' that anything was wrong. I must let no one set that. The reason I had given him for my extra ordinary sleep, that of having long suffered from in somnia and being relieved by the sea-air, would have tc pass, too, with Drinkwater’s friend, the doctor, should he come to see me. No one, no one, must suspect that for so much as an hour the knowledge of my identity had escaped me. The shame I felt as to that—a shame I have since learned to be common to most victims of the same mishap—was overwhelming. Rather than confess it I could own to nearly anything in the nature of a crime.
But it was no one’s business but my own. I comforted myself with that reflection amid much that I found disturbing.
What I chiefly found disturbing was my general environment. I couldn’t understand this narrow cabin, these provincial foreign clothes. While I was sorry for Drinkwater’s blindness I disliked the closeness of contact with one I regarded as my inferior. I am not saying that I took this situation seriously. I knew that I could extricate myself from it on arriving in New York. The element in it that troubled me wa3 my inability to account for it. What had I been doing that I should find myself in conditions so distasteful? Why should I have wanted to obliterate my traces? It was obvious that I had done it, and that I had done it with deliberation. Being Somebody in the world I had made myself Nobody, and for that I must have had a motive. Was it a motive that would confront me as soon as I had become Somebody again? That I should have lost the sense of my identity was bad enough in itself; but that I should reappear in a rôle that was not my own, and with a name I was sure I had never borne, was at once terrifying and grotesque.
IT occurred to me that I could escape some of my embarrassment by asking Drinkwater to stop his friend the doctor from looking in on me; but before I had time to formulate this plan, and while I was sitting up cross-legged in my berth eating from^th^ tray which Jean-Marie had laid on my knees, tlvere was a sharp rap on the door. As I could do nothing but say, Come in, the doctor was before me.
“Good!” he said, quietly, without greeting or selfintroduction. “Best thing you could be doing.”
The lack of formality nettled me. I objected to his assumption of a right to force himself in uninvited.
I said, frigidly: “I shall be out on deck presently.
If you want to see me, perhaps it would be easier there.”
“Oh, this is alright.” He made himself comfortable in a corner of the couch, propping his body against the rolling of the ship with a fortification of bags. “Glad you’re able to get up and dress. I’m Dr. Averill.”
To give him to understand that I was not communicative, I took this information in silence. My coldness apparently did not impress him, and sitting in the corner diagonally opposite to mine he watched me eat.
He was one of those men in whom personality disappears in the scientific observer. His features, manners, clothing, were mere accidents. He struck you as being wise, though with a measure of sympathy in his wisdom. Small in build, the dome of his forehead would have covered a man of twice his stature. A small dark moustache was no more consciously a point of personal adornment than a patch of stonecrop bo a rock. When he took off his cap, his baldness, though more extensive than you would have expected in a man who couldn’t have been older than forty-five, was the finishing touch of the staid.
“You’ve been having a long sleep.”
“Making up for lost time?”
“Been at the front?”
TT was this kind of question I was afraid of. I knew that if I said Yes, I should have to give details, and so I said No.
“Look as if you had been.”
“Often leaves some sort of hang-over-”
“It couldn’t do that in my case because I wasn’t there.”
He tried another avenue of approach. “Drinkwater told me you were a Frenchman.”
“That seems to have been a mistake of our steward.” “But you speak the language.”
“Yes I speak it.”
“You must speak it very well.”
“Have you lived much in France?”
“Oh, on and off.” %
“Had a position over there?”
It seemed to be my turn to ask a question. I shot him a quick glance. “What sort of position do you mean?”
“Oh, I didn’t know but what you might have been
in a shop or an office -”
So I looked like that! It was a surprise to me. I had thought he might mention the Embassy. My sense of superior standing was so strong that I expected another man of superior standing to see it at a glance. Contenting myself with a shake of the head I felt his eyes on me with a greater stare.
“Must have found it useful to speak French so well, especially at a time like this.”
I allowed that to pass without challenge.
“If we should ever go into the war a fellow like you could make himself handy in a lot of ways.”
We were therefore not in the war, I was glad to
add that to my list of facts. “I should try,” I assented, feeling that the words committed me to nothing.
“Wonder you weren’t tempted to pitch in as it was. A lot of our young Americans did—chaps who found themselves over there.”
“I wasn’t one of them.”
“Poor Drinkwater now—he went over with me as my stenographer in the spring of that year; and when the thing broke out-”
“Yes, he went.”
“And didn’t get much good from it.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. Depends, doesn’t it?
on what we mean by good. You fellows -” I shot
him another glance, but I don’t think he noticed that I objected to being classed with Drinkwater. “You fellows -” he began again.
I never knew how he meant to continue, for a shuffling and pawing outside the door warned us that Drinkwater, having finished his breakfast, was feeling his way in.
The doctor spoke as the boy pushed the door open and stumbled across the threshold.
“Morning, Harry! Your friend here seems to have waked up in pretty good condition. Look at the breakfast he’s been making away with.” He rose to leave, since the cabin had not room enough for two men on foot at the same time. “See you on deck by and by,” he added, with a nod to me; “then we can have a more satisfactory talk.”
I waited till he was out of earshot. “Who is he anyhow?”
IN giving me a summary of Averill’s history, Drinkwater couldn’t help weaving in a partial one of his own. It was in fact most of his own, except that it included no reference to his birth and parentage.
Drinkwater had worked his way through one of the great universities when laboratory research had thrown him in contact with Boyd Averill. The latter was not a practising physician but a student of biology. He was the more at liberty to follow one of the less lucrative lines of scientific work because of being a man of large means. Sketching the origin of this fortune my companion informed me that from his patron's
democratic ways no one would ever suppose him the only son, and except for a sister, the only heir, of the biggest banker in the State of New Jersey. By one of those odd freaks of heredity, which neither Sir Francis Galton nor the great Ploekendorff had been able to explain Boyd Averill had shown a distaste for banking from his cradle, and yet with an interest equally difficult to account for in bacteria.
On the subject of Averill’s more personal life all my friend could tell me was ¿hat he had married MissLulu Winfield, once well known on the concert stage.
“And, say,” he went on, enthusiastically, “she’s about the prettiest. You’ll see for yourself when you come up on deck. She’ll speak to you. Oh, yes, she will,” he hastened to assure me, when I began to demur. “She won’t mind. She’s not a bit aristocratic, and Misa Blair says the same.”
To make conversation I asked him who was Mies Blair, learning that she was the young lady whom Mias Averill had brought over to Europe to act as stenographer to her brother when Drinkwater had gone to the war.
“You see,” he continued to explain, “Averill’s been white with me from the start. When I left him in the lurch—after he’d paid my expenses over to Europe and all that—because the war broke out, he didn’t kick any more than a straw dummy. When I told him 1 felt mean, but that this war couldn’t be going on and me not in it, he said that at my age he’d have felt the same. One of these days I’ve got to pay him back that fare. I’ll do that when I’ve got to work in New York and saved a bit of dough.”
I asked him what he meant to work at.
“Oh, t.herc’11 be things. There always are. Misa Blair wants me to learn the touch system and go in for big stenography. Says she’ll teach me. Say, she s some girl. I want you to know her.” He reverted to the principal theme. “Big money in piano-tuning too, though what I’m really out for is biology. But after all, what’s biology but the science of life? and you can pick that up anywhere. Oh, I’m all right. I’ve had
the darnedest good luck, when I’ve seen my pals -”
He left this sentence unfinished, going on to say: “That was the way when I got mir.c at Bois Robert. Shell came down—and gee whiz! Nothing left of a bunch of six or eight of us but me—and I only got this.”
À TOSS of his hand was meant to indicate his eyes, after which he went on to tell how marvellously he had been taken care of, with the additional good luck of running across Boyd Averill in hospital. Best luck of all was now that he was able to go home, the Averills were coming too, and had been willing to have him sail by their boat and keep an eye on him. He spoke as if they were his intimate friends, while I had only to appear on deck to have them become mine.
“In the jewelry business?” he asked me, suddenly.
I stared in an amazement of which he must have recognized the tones in my voice. “What made you ask me that?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Speak like it. Thought you might have been in that—or gents’ furnishings.”
After he had gone on deck, and Jean-Marie had taken away the tray, I got up and dressed. I did it slowly, with a hatred to my clothes that grew as I put them on. How I dressed in the previous portion of my life I couldn’t, of course, tell; but now I was something between a country barber and a cheap Latin Quarter Bohemian. In conjunction with my patently AngloSaxon face, nothing could have been more grotesque.
I thought of trunks. I must have some in the hold. Ringing for Jean-Marie, I asked if it would not be possible to have one or two of them brought up. If so, I could go back to bed again till I found something more presentable. The steward, wilh comic compassion stealing into his eye as he studied me, said that of course it was possible to have monsieur’s trunks brought up if monsieur would give him the checks o r receipts, which would doubtless be in monsieur’s pockets. But a search revealed nothing. The bags and my purse revealed nothing. My dismay at the fact that I had come on board without other belongings than those on the couch almost betrayed me to the little man watching me so wistfully. I was obliged to invent a story of hurried wartime travelling in order to get him out.
\yfY predicament was ■*A growing more absurd. I sat down on the couch and considered it. It would have been easy to become excited, frantic, frenzied, with my ridiculous inability. Putting my hands on my head I could have torn it asunder to wrest from my atrophied brain the secret it guarded so maliciously. “None of that!” I warned myself; and my hands came down. Whatever I did I must do coolly. So not long after the eight bells of noon I dragged myself to the deck.
All at once I began to find something like consolation. The wild beauty of sky and water beat in on me like love. I must have travelled often enough before, so that it was not new to me; but it was all the more comforting for that. I had come back to an old, old friendship —the friendship of wind and color and scudding clouds and glinting horizons and the mad squadrons of the horses of Neptune
shaking then* foamy manes. Amid the raging tempests of cloud there were tranquil islands of a blue such as was never unfolded by a flower. In the long sweeping hollows of the waves one’s eye could catch all the hues in pigeons’ necks. Before a billow broke it climbed to a tip of that sea-water green more ineffable than any of the greens of grass, jades, or emeralds. From every crest, and in widening lines from the ship’s sides as we ploughed along, the foam trailed into shreds that seemed to have been torn from the looms of a race more deft and exquisite than ours.
Not many men and women love beauty for its own sake. Not many see it. To most of us it is only an adjunct to comfort or pride. It springs from the purse, or at best from the intellect; but the hidden man of the heart doesn’t care for it. The hidden man of the heart has no capacity to value the cloud or the bit of jewel-weed. These things meet no need in him ; they inspire no ecstasy. The cloud dissolves and the bit of jewel-w’eed goes back to earth; and the chances are that no human eye has noted the fact that each has externalized God in one of the myriad forms of His appeal to us. Only here and there, at long intervals, is there one to whom line and color and invisible forces like the wind are significant and sacred, and as essential as food and drink. It came to me now that somewhere in my past, beauty had been the dominating energy—that beauty was the thread of flame which, if I kept steadily hold of it, would lead me back whence I came.
T7R0M the spectacle of sea and sky I turned away a* last, only because my senses could take in no more Then I saw beauty in another form.
A girl wTas advancing down the deck who embodied the evanescence of the cloud and the grace of the bit of jewel-weed in a way I could never convey to you You must see me as standing near the stern of the boat, and the long clean line of the deck, with an irregular fringe of people in deck-chairs, as empty except fothis slender solitary figure. The rise and fall of the ship was a little like that of a bough in the wind, while she was a bird on it. She advanced serenely, s' her hands jauntily in the pockets of an ulste1’ which was grey, with cuffs and collar of sage-green. A sage-green tam o’shanter was fastened to a mass of the living fair hair which, for wTant of a better term, we call golden. H-. r awareness of herself almost amounted to indifference; and as she passed under the row of onlookers’ eyes she seemed to fling out a chai lenge which was not defiant but good-natured.
Not defiant but good-natured was the gaze she fixed on me, a gaze as lacking in self-consciousness as it was in hesitation. A child might have looked at you in this way, or a dog, or any other being not afraid of you. Of a blue which could only be compared to that in the rifts in the clouds overhead her eyes never wavered in their long calm regard till they were turned on me obliquely as she passed by. She did not. however look back; and reaching the end of the promenade shf
r-ounded the corner and went up the other way Thinking of her merely as a vision seen by chance I was the more surprised when she entered the dining saloon helping my friend Drinkwater. I had purposely got to my place before anyone else, so as to avoid the awkwardness of arriving unknown among people who must already have made each other’s acquaintance.
Moreover, the table being near to one of the main entrances, my corner allowed me to take notes on all who came in. Not that I was interested in , my fellow - passengers otherwise than as part of my self-defence. Selfdefence, the keeping anyone from suspecting the mischance that had befallen me, seemed to me, for the moment, even more important than finding out who I was.
HpRANS - ATLANTIC A travel having already become difficult, those who entered were few in number; and as people are always at their wrorst at sea they struck me as mere bund 1 e s of humanity. Among the first to pass my table" was Boyd Averill, who gave me a friendly nod. After him came a girl of per haps twenty-five, grave, sensible, and so indifferent to appearances, that I put her down as his sister. Last of all was she whom Drinkwater had summed up as “one of the prettiest.” She was; yet not in the way in which the vision on the deck had been the same. The vision on the deck had had no more self-consciousness than the bit of jewel-weed. This richly colored beauty', with eyes so long and almond-shaped that they were almost Mongolian, was self-conscious in the grain—luxurious, expensive, langorous.
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Continued from page 16
My table companions began to gather, turning my attention chiefly on myself. I had travelled enough to know the chief steward as a discriminating judge of human nature. Those who come asking for seats at table he sizes up in a flash, associating like with like, and rarely making a mistake. On journeys of which no record remained with me I had often admired this classifying instinct, doubtless because any7 discrimination it may have contained was complimentary to myself. To-day I had occasion to find it otherwise.
On coming on board I must have followed the routine of other voyages. Before turning into my bunk for my long sleep I had apparently asked to be assigned a seat at table, and given the name of Jasper Soames. Guided by his intuitive social flair, the chief-steward liad adjudicated me to a side 7;able in a corner, where to-day my first companion was a lady’s maid. The second was a yroung man whom I had no difficulty in diagnosing as a chauffeur, after whom Drinkwater and the vision of the deck came gaily along together. She probably informed him that I was already in my place, for as he passed me to reach his chair at the head of the table, he clapped me on the shoulder with a glad salute.
“So, old scout, you’ve got ahead of us. Bully for you! Knew you’d eat like a v.hale when once you got started. Say7, what we’d all like to sit down to now is a good old-fashioned dinner of corned beef and cabbage, instead of ail this
French stuff.” He had not, however, forgotten the courtesies of the occasion. “Miss Blair, let me make you acquainted with Mr. Soames. Mr. Soames, Miss Mulberry; Mr. Finnegan, Mr. Soames.”
For the ladies I half rose, with a bow; for Mr. Finnegan I made a nod suffice. Mr. Finnegan seemed scarcely to think I merited a nod in return. Miss Mulberry acknowledged me coldly7. As for Miss Blair she inclined her head with the grace of the lilium Canadense of the nodding trinity-flower. In the act there was that shade of negligence which tells the worldly-wise that friendliness is not refused but postponed.
We three formed a group at one end of the table—Drinkwater having Miss Blair on his right and myself on his left —while Mr. Finnegan and Miss Mulberry foregathered at the other. The table being set for eight, there was a v acant seat between Miss Mulberry and Miss Blair, and two between myself and Mr. Finnegan. This breaking into sets was due, therefore, to the chief-steward, and not to any sense of affinity or rejection among ourselves.
A FTER a few polite generalities as * .to the run and other sea-going topics the conversation broke into dialogues—Mr. Finnegan and Miss Mulberry, Mr. Drinkwater and Miss Blair. This seeming to be the established procedure it remained for me to take it as a relief.
For again it gave me time to ask why ~ I was graded as I found myself to be.
A man who knows he is a general and wakes up to see himself a private, with everyone taking it for granted that lie is a private and no more, would experience the same bewilderment. What had I done that such a situation could have come about? What had I been-? How long was my knowledge to depend on a group of shattered brain-cells?
I had not followed the conversation of Mr. Drinkwater and Miss Blair, even though I might have overheard it; but suddenly the lady glanced up with a clear, straightforward look from her myosotis eyes.
“Mr. Soames, have you ever lived in Boston?”
The husky, veiled voice was of that bantering quality for which the French word gouailleur is the only descriptive term. In Paris it would have been called une voix de Montmartre, and as an expression of New York, it might best be ascribed to Third Avenue. It was jolly, free-and-easy, common, and sympathetic, all at once.
My instinct for self-defence urged me to say, No; and I said it promptly.
I said, No, again, and for the same reason. I couldn’t be pinned down to details. If I said, Yes, I should be asked when and where and how, and be driven to invention.
“Were you ever in Salt Lake City?”
A memory of a big grey building, with the Angel Moroni on the top of it, of broad straight streets, of distant mountains, of a desert twisted and suffering, of a lake that at sunset glowed with the colors old artists burnt into enamels—a memory of all this came to me, and I said, Yes. I said it falteringly, wondering if it would commit me to anything. It committed me to nothing, as far as I could see, but a glance of Miss Blair’s heaven-colored eyes toward her friend, as though I had corroborated something she had said. She had forgotten for the moment that Drinkwater was blind, so that of this significant look I alone got the benefit. What it meant I, of course, didn’t know; I could only see it meant something.
The obvious thing for it to mean was that Miss Blair knew more about me than I knew myself. While it was difficult to believe that, it nevertheless remained as part of the general experience of life which had not escaped me that one rarely went among any large number of people without finding someone who knew who one was. That had happened to me many a time, especially on steamers, though I could no longer fix the occasions. I decided to cultivate Miss Blair, and if possible get a clue from her.
THAT which, in my condition, irked me more than anything was the impossibility of being by myself. The steamer was a small one, with all the passengers of one class. Those who now crossed the Atlantic were doing it as best they could; and to be thrown pellmell into a second-rate ship like the Auvergne was better in the opinion of most people than not to cross at all. It was a matter of eight or ten days of physical discomfort, with home at the other end.
I knew now that the-month was September, and the equinox not far away. It was mild for the time of year, and though the weather was rough it was not dirty. With the winds shifting quickly from west to northwest and back again, the clouds were distant and dry, lifting from time to time for bursts of stormy sunshine. For me it was a pageant. I could forget myself in its contemplation. It was the vast, and I was only the infinitesimal; it was the ever-varying eternal, and I was the sheerest offspring of time, whose affairs were of no moment.
Nevertheless I had pressing instant needs, or needs that would become pressing as soon as we reached Newr York. Between now and then there were five or six days during which I might recover the knowledge that had escaped me; but if I didn’t I should be in a difficult situation. I should be unable to get money; I should be unable to go home. I should be lost. Unless someone found me I should havi to earn a living. To earn a living there must be something I could do. and I didn’t know that I could do anything.
Of all forms of exasperation this bo-
o-an to be the most maddening. I must
have had a profession; and yet there was no profession I could think of from which I didn’t draw back with the peculiar sick recoil I felt the minute I approached whatever was personal to mvself. In this there were elements contradictory to each other. I wanted to know—and vet I shrank from knowing If I could have had access to what money I needed I should have been content to drift into the unknown without
But there was a reserve even here. It attached to the word home. On that word the door had *iot been completely shut that a glimmer didn’t leak through. 1 knew I had a hbme. I longed for it without knowing what I longed for. I could see myself arriving in New York, fulfilling the regular dock routine—ami going somewhere. But I didn’t know where. Of some ruptured brain-cell enough remained to tell me that on the American continent a spot belonged to me; but it told me no more than the fact that the spot had love in it. I could feel the love and not discern the object. As to whether I had father or mother or wife or child I knew no more than I knew the same facts of the captain of the ship. Out of this darkness there came only a vision of flaming eyes which might mean anything or nothing.
I WAS unable to pursue this line of thought because Miss Blair came strolling by with the same nonchalant air with which she had passed me before lunch. I can hardly say she stopped; rather she commanded, and swept me along.
“Don’t you want to take a walk, Mr. Soames? You’d better do it now, because we’ll be rolling scuppers under by and by.”
For making her acquaintance it was too good an opportunity to miss. In spite of my inability to play up to her gay cheerfulness I found myself strolling along beside her.
I may say at once that I never met a human being with whom I was more instantly on terms of confidence. The sketch of her life which she gave me without a second’s hesitàtion came in response to my remark that from her questions to me at table I judged her to have travelled.
“I was born on the road, and I suppose I shall never get off it. My father and mother had got hitched to a theatrical troupe on tour.”
A distaste acquired as a little girl on tour had kept her from trying her fortunes on the boards. She had an idea that her father was acting still, though after his divorce from her mother they had lost sight of him. Her mother had died six years previously, since which time she had looked after herself, with some ups and downs of experience. She had been a dressmaker, a milliner, and a model, with no more liking for any of these professions than she had for the theatrical. In winding up this brief narrative she astounded me with the statement:
“And now I’m going to be an adventuress.”
“A what?” I stopped in the middle of the deck to stare at her.
She repeated the obnoxious noun, continuing to walk on.
“But I thought you were a stenographer.”
“That’s part of it. I’m deceiving poor Miss Averill. She’s my dupe. I make use of people in that way—and throw them aside.”
“But doing the work for Dr. Averill in the meantime.”
“Oh, that’s just a pretext.”
“A pretext for what?”
“For being an adventuress. Goodness knows what evil I shall do in that family before I get out of it.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, well, you’ll see. If you’re born baleful—well, you’ve just got to be baleful ; that’s all. Did you ever hear of an adventuress who didn’t wreck homes?” I said I had not much experience of adventuresses, and didn’t quite know the point of their occupation.
“Well, you stay around where I am and you’ll see,”
“Have you wrecked many homes up : to the present?” I ventured to enquire. “This is the first one I have ever had a chance at. I only decided to be an adventuress about the time when Miss Averill came along.”
THAT, it seemed, had been at the Settlement, to which Miss Blair had retired after some trying situations as a model. Stenography being taught at the Settlement she had taken it up on hearing of several authenticated cases of girls who had gone into offices and married millionaires. The discouraging side presented itself later in the many more cases of girls who had not been so successful. It was in this interval of depression on the part of Miss Blair that Mildred Averill had appeared at the Settlement with all sorts of anxious plans about doing good. “If she wants to do good to anyone let her do it to me,” Miss Blair had said to her intimates. “I’m all ready to be adopted by any old maid that’s got the wad.” That, she explained to me, was not the language she habitually used. It was mere pleasantry between girls, and not up to the standard of a really high-class adventuress. Moreover, Miss Averill was not an old maid, seeing she was but twentyfive, though she got herself up like forty. All the same, Miss Averill having come on the scene and having taken a fancy to Miss Blair, Miss Blair had decided to use Miss Averill for her own malignant purposes.
For by this time the seeming stenographer had chosen her career. A sufficient course of reading had made it clear that of all the women in the world the adventuress had the best of it. She went to the smartest dressmakers; she stayed at the dearest hotels; her jewels and furs rivalled those of duchesses; her life was the perpetual third act of a play. Furthermore, Miss Blair had yet to hear of an adventuress who didn’t end in money, marriage, and respectability.
Having been so frank about herself I could hardly be surprised when she became equally so about me. As the wind rose she slipped into a protected angle, where I had no choice but to follow her. She began her attack after propping herself in the coiner, her hands deep in her pockets, and her pretty shoulders hunched.
“You’re a funny man; do you know it?”
Though inwardly aghast I strove to conceal my agitation. “Funny in what way?”
“Oh, every way. Anyone would think -”
“What would anyone think?” I insisted, nervously, when she paused.
“Oh, well! I shan’t say.”
“Because you’re afraid to hurt my teefings ?”
“I’m a good sort—especially among people of our own class. For the others
-” she shrugged her shoulders
charmingly—“I’m an anarchist and a socialist and all that. I don’t care who T bring down, if they’re up. But when people are down already—I’m—I’m a friend.”
AS there was a measure of invitation in these wôrds I nerved myself to approach the personal.
“Are you friend enough to tell me why you thought you had seen me in Salt Lake City?”
She nodded. “Sure; because I did think so—there—or somewhere.”
“Then you couldn’t swear to the place?”
“I couldn’t swear to the place; but I could to you. I never forget a face if I give it the twice-over. The onceover—well, then I may. But if I’ve studied a man—the least little bit—I’ve got him for the rest of my life.”
“But why should you hâve studied me?—assuming that it was me.”
“Assuming that that water s the ocean I study it because there’s nothing else to look at. We were opposite each other at two tables in a restaurant.’
“Was there nobody there but just you and rhe?”
“Yes; there was a lady.
My heart gave a thump. “At your table or at mine?”
“Did she -” I was aware of the
foolish wording of the question without being able to put it in any other way— “Did she have large dark eyes?”
“Not in the back of her head, which was all I saw of her.”
Once more I expressed myself stupidly. “Did you—did you think it was— my wife—or just a friend?”
She burst out laughing. “How could I tell? You speak as if you didn’t know.
You’re certainly the queerest kid -’
I tried to rcover my lost ground. “1
do know, but-”
“Then, what are you asking me for? “Because you seem to have watched
me -” . .
“I didn’t watch you,” she denied, indignantly. “The idea! You sure have your nerve with you. I couldn’t help seeing a guy that was right under my
eyes, could I? Besides which -” ?
“Yes? Besides which -?” I in-
She brought the words out with an air of chaffing embarrassment. “Well, you weren’t got up as you are now; do you knowr it?”
As I reddened and stammered something about the war, she laid her hand on my arm soothingly.
“There now! There now! That’s all right. I never give anyone away. You can see for yourself that I can’t have knocked about the world like I’ve done without running up against this
sort of things a good many times -’’
“What sort of thing?”
“Oh, well, if you don’t know I needn’t tell you. But I’m your friend, kid. That’s all I want you to know. That’s why I told you about myself. I wanted you to see that we’re all in the same boat. Harry Drinkwater’s your friend too. He likes you. You stick by us and we’ll stick by you and see the thing through.”
It was on my lips to say, “What thing?” but she rattled on again.
“Only you can’t wear that sort of clothes and get away with it, kid; do you know it? Another fellow might, but you simply can’t. It shows you up at the first glance. The night you came on board you might just as well have marched in carrying a blue silk banner. For heaven’s sake if you’ve got anything else in your kit go and put it on.”
“Haven’t? What on earth have you done with all the swell things you must have had? Burnt ’em?”
The question was so direct, and the good-will behind it so evident, that I felt I must give an answer. “Sold them.”
“Got down to that, did you? What do you know? Poor little kid! Funny, isn’t it? A woman can carry that sort of thing off nine times out of ten; but a fat-head of a man—”
She kept the sentence suspended while gazing over my shoulder. The lips remained parted as in uttering the last word. I was about to turn to see what so entranced her, when she said in a tone of awe, or joy, I was not sure which :
“There’s that poor little blind boy coming down the deck all by himself. You’ll excuse me, won’t you? if I run and help him.”
So she ran.
(To be Continued)