Abbildungen der Seite

thing to have and a seemly thing to keep. Otherwise life is not worth the complex cost of reproduction. Fundamentally speaking, we fear death. It is the negation of everything we spend our breath and strength upon, the reductio ad absurdum of all our activity, the very contrary of all our attempts. Religion and philosophy have decked it out and given it an honorable place in the scheme of things. But the race saves its life if, according to its own code of decency, it can. Dying is something the race prefers not to do. 'I would rather die than ' is, in the common speech of the world, the ne plus ultra of aversion. All this is instinctive. When we develop inhibitions and complexities, there are many things in life to which death would be preferable. But if you listen only to the deepest voice within you, you fear death as spontaneously as you blink your eye to avoid the mote that seeks it. The man who throws his life away for nothing is a fool; but let us be absolutely honest: he is in some sort a pleasant incident. He has expressed an extraordinary and tonic


All subject peoples have been gladdened by the fool who defied the tyrant. To anyone who tells us that death is cheaper than life, we listen incredulously, but with joy. The person who has demonstrated that doing something totally unimportant is more fun than keeping alive makes the man in the street draw, for an instant, a freer breath. It makes him feel that death is only Mumbo-Jumbo, after all. To be sure, the man in the street will always say that the person who has done this for him is insane. But at the back of beyond

in his secret, savage heart — he will have liked it. He will not admit that he has liked it; for after that one blink, he becomes a citizen again. We judge so quickly, trained by the ages, that the sudden pleasure is gone almost before

we have enjoyed it. But the fact remains that, for a half-instant, the sensation has been pleasurable.

We like death to be insulted, though we have been taught to be very polite to him. Our rules and codes must of necessity be made up more out of our knowledge than out of our instincts. Yet into most of our conventions, including that of 'being a sport,' instinct must to some extent enter. Finding out is education; to feel delightfulness in danger is instinct. Primitive man knows that Nature is a brute. He will propitiate her, he must, — but if he can make an impudent gesture at her behind her back, he will surely do it. If he can defy the elements, he will defy them. If he can contrive a mechanism that flouts the law of gravity, he will patronize that mechanism in thousands. Romance - his only ally against Nature will steady his soul while he does it. In most cases, x is what you win from Nature when you have bluffed successfully. To be a sport in the finest sense, perhaps you must have the poker face.

[ocr errors]

Man's implacable resentment against the conditions of life lies at the heart of all this business. We become rational by canny observation of the bonds that restrain us. To be irrational is to pretend to ignore them. Real freedom does not lie that way, because our limitations bring us up very short. Real freedom is free will operating in a deterministic universe. Our philosophy professors used to explain it to us in college. Within the prison walls it is better to confine one's self to the hundred-yard dash. Surely you are happiest when you curb your desires within the bounds of possibility. No man but a fool enters for a Marathon race when the barbed wire is going to stop him so soon. But when we see him start as for his Marathon, we forget the barbed wire for an instant until he crashes into it, that

is, and we can all ask, why attempt the x
obviously impossible? Why defy com- if
mon sense? Why pretend to forget the
barbed wire? Yet Coney Island will
teach you, any day, how deep in human
nature lies the ache to be the master,
not the servant, of natural laws
- yes,
from Icarus down to the man who, since
I began this page, shattered himself to
pieces in the Niagara rapids.

Being a sport is, I suppose, going as far as there is any reasonable chance of your being allowed to go. That reasonable chance is sometimes a very difficult quantity to determine. But if the chance were not sometimes less than reasonable, there would be no thrill in being a sport. It is the dare-devil almost touching him just over the linethat makes the good sport an exciting person. The good sport must calculate

I think the Wheel was right. But were not sometimes incalculable, or nil, we should not bother about it, and good sports would be few. It is the hint of the madman in him that enthralls us. It is not enough, as I said, to face the inevitable danger gallantly: there must be the crook of an inviting finger toward the risk. The good sport must be a good guesser, yes; but if he is absolutely infallible, you suspect him of having looked up the answer in the key. A grade of a hundred per cent is very suspicious.

I do not know whether, between the bridge and the river, there is indeed time for an act of perfect contrition; but I do know that before the Ferris wheel can come full circle there is time for a lot of algebra. The pages written bear witness.



'So what did you do about the woman?' Mrs. Alison asked.

And Tina Metcalfe answered: 'I kept her. I had a talk with the other servants first, and they were quite willing to give her another chance. I must say, they've been nice about it, never throwing her trouble up to her but just trying to help-'

'I wonder if people in our class could be so decent to each other,' Mildred Peryn broke in. 'I've never known whether we were more hard-hearted or whether we feel responsible for the moral code and don't dare make exceptions.'

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

ried and settled in the same city. It happened that they were all intimate friends, and, when their husbands left them for club dinners at their old university, the women put on tea-gowns and sallied forth for a genial evening. To-night, Tina Metcalfe had given them a delicious dinner, and they had made themselves comfortable in her beautiful great library, a bridge table waiting for some enthusiasts in the corner, with fresh packs and shaded light in readiness.

But apparently the hostess had some story worth waiting for. They were all women in early middle life, though one would not have thought of them in connection with any definite number of years, so alert, so soignées, so powerful they seemed in their splendid confidence

not, to be sure, the joyous confidence of youth, strong because it is untested, but the solid self-assurance of satisfactory accomplishment.

Mrs. Metcalfe threw away her cigarette and clasped her lovely, slender hands about her knee, leaning forward that she might look into the fire and avoid the curious faces of her guests.

'I'll have to go way back,' she said, 'to the fall directly after it happened. I had taken out my Christmas list and was going over it. You know the way it's arranged -Jim's family, my family, children, personal friends, and so forth and the very first name under "friends" was Violet Osborne. I've often wondered what it was about her that made hers the first name on any list; but I am sure, with all of us, the first person we thought of for a big dinner or a tête-à-tête lunch or a Christmas present was Violet.

'Well, anyway, I was checking the list, and almost involuntarily I started to cross off her name. Then it occurred to me what a ghastly thing it was to do

as if she were dead; and she was not dead, and her name where it was showed


what she had meant to me. It started me thinking about it for the first time all alone like that. Of course, I'd talked it over and talked it over with all of you and with Jim, and we'd always come back to the same point if only there'd been some excuse! If only Harry Osborne had been a brute, cruel or unfaithful to her, or even awfully unattractive or horribly poor — anything would have done, so that we could honestly have said, "Poor Violet!" But there was n't any. She was young, she was beautiful, she was adored; furthermore, Harry Osborne was rich and worshiped her.


"Then suddenly I realized that all that was the very excuse for Violet. If Harry has been a beast, it would have been her job to stick it out for his sake and the children's after all, if she had been unhappy, she would have renounced very little. But this this giving up of everything that she valued so tremendously, must be something more than mere passion. We speak of dying for a person we love — it's practically what Violet did for Cyril when she went away with him, not away from a brutal husband and sordid home, but away from the most congenial atmosphere that ever surrounded a gay and fascinating woman. As for leaving Harry and the children, it was of course horrible, but she left them to the pity and affection of countless friends and each other for herself, outer darkness and Cyril Stanton.

'I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. At the time the lack of any circumstances which would have made the world more charitable toward what Violet had done suddenly glorified her act to me, and she stood out in my mind, superhuman, capable of so much more than we who judge. It seems rather an anticlimax to add that I did n't scratch her name off the list. Instead, I sent her a little lacquer match

box, and months later I had a funny little scrawl from her, from somewhere in Spain. Apparently it had pleased


No one spoke for the few moments Mrs. Metcalfe remained silent. Each of the women conjured visions of themselves busily erasing the name of Violet Osborne off their various lists, and each of them realized why Tina Metcalfe meant more to them than any of the others. Her low, pleasant voice continued:

"The second part of my story takes us to when we were caught in Europe after the war broke out. We were lucky in getting to England, where Jim found he could be of service to our Embassy, so we stayed on. Thanks to a succession of foreign governesses in my faraway childhood and a natural linguistic ability, I was able to be of some use, too; but the excitement and one harrowing story after another rather did me up, and Jim insisted I take a week off or else give up entirely. We compromised on my going to Sevenoaks for a weekend. I had spent a summer there once, when I was a little girl and my family were on the continent. I remembered the Crown Hotel, and that there was a lovely garden behind it, and Knoll House with a great park full of browsing deer. I thought it would be rather fun to renew associations after so many years at least it would be restful, after London and my work there.

'Jim motored me down from town on Saturday afternoon; but as he had to hurry back to the Embassy, he left me feeling frightfully lonely and depressed, and I felt for a few moments that Jim was right, and that I was indeed "all in." That made me want to cry; but after a bit I got hold of myself, and I asked one of the waiters if I could n't have a sort of tea-supper in the garden, as I did n't feel fit enough to stay up for the late dinner.

'He was most sympathetic and arranged everything beautifully, and I was beginning to feel much less forlorn, when I suddenly looked up. There, silhouetted against the dark square of the open door, stood Violet Osborne. She did n't see me. I had a succession of the queerest feelings sitting there looking up at her. The first was curiosity, pure and simple-what did she look like? But the answer was obvious lovelier than ever; and then a funny feeling, almost anger, came over me. I thought of myself and all of you, and how we, who had honored our marriage-vows and the many responsibilities of our complicated lives, had grown into middle-age, careful of our figures and skin and hair, while Violet, who had shirked everything, remained the embodiment of Youth. She was leaning against the casement of the door, talking to someone in the room inside; and when she smiled and her face lit up in that glorious way it used to, something in me melted, and I wanted nothing so much as one of those smiles for myself.

'But I was shy about approaching, - shy as if I had been the social outcast, and something warned me, as I looked at her, that, unless I could make the spirit in which I went to her intelligible to her, she would have none of me. One hint of patronage, of curiosity, and she would be up in arms. So I waited, and finally it seemed that her companion was no longer in the room, for she talked no more. Soon she stepped out on to the path and came slowly toward me. My heart contracted with each step, but she never looked my way and soon she was next my little table. So then I said the most inane thing that ever came into a human head; but I was delighted to hear my voice sound quite natural. "I double two no trumps," I said.

'Of course she turned, and in a minute we were in each other's arms, laugh

ing, crying, talking in a ridiculous, hys- have given much for some sign of sym

terical way.

'Finally, she gasped, "You darling, you always did double me."

"And I said, "But you did play such rotten bridge, Vi. It must have been very expensive for you.'

She nodded solemnly and adorably. "It was, frightfully," she said, "but you would all play, and I had to be with you all."

"This from the woman who had left us all, you understand, fully realizing what it would mean. She sat with me a while, and I explained why I was at Sevenoaks, and about my tea-supper; and she told me that she had taken a small house near-by, and that, owing to some hitch in her household, they were short of Sunday provisions and she had driven in to town, preferring to wait at the Crown while the stable boy collected packages.

""I try to get away for a little, every day," she said. And then she told me how very ill Cyril had become. That was the first time she had mentioned him and her face seemed transfigured. "Tina," she said, "he suffers most awfully, and yet he never complains. I feel it must be a relief to him to have me away, so he can give in for a little while."

'It was time then for her to go back; and as she stood up, I marveled, but quite without anger, at her beauty and virility. I asked if I might see her and Cyril, and it was settled I should lunch with them the following day.'

Mrs. Metcalfe paused again. She was trying to create an effect upon her hearers, and she doubted if she was succeeding. Also, from now on, her story was more difficult and less dramatic. She relinquished her position before the fire and leaned back in her chair, smoking again, and giving an occasional spasmodic kick with her crossed foot, which betrayed her nervousness. She would

pathy or appreciation from some one of her audience; but except for Esther Davis, she had no idea how her story was being received. They were interested, she knew, and she had no fear that they would criticize her own actions; but whether or not she was arousing their old affection for Violet Osborne she could not tell.

'I drove out to their place on Sunday,' she continued. 'It was very much what you'd expect: shabby, picturesque, and inconvenient, with Violet's taste everywhere, in the chintz, the ornaments, the flowers, but nothing in the least luxurious. Violet herself was in wonderful spirits, and she amused Cyril and myself all through lunch, so that our laughter removed any possible embarrassment. After lunch she sent him to lie down on a long chair in the sun, and she and I started out for a walk. And at once her gayety fell away from her, leaving something terribly tragic and earnest beneath. She asked me how Cyril seemed to me.

""He's thin," I said, "but otherwise in excellent form. Surely you're not seriously worried, Vi."

"The doctors think he may live a year," she said, quite simply and with so little emotion in her voice that it sounded flat and harsh. I started to speak but she interrupted me. “Don't please talk about it, Tina, darling except for this one thing that I've got to say. I want you to know always that in what I did the question of right or wrong does n't enter it was the only thing possible. I'm sorry about hurting Harry and the children; but I have n't had time to be sorry very much. I'll have all the rest of my life for that; but while I've got Cyril, I'm glad every minute, and I can't wish anything different that might affect the wonder of the present. And I want you to know that I'd rather have had these few

« ZurückWeiter »