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Title: Claire - The Blind Love of a Blind Hero, By a Blind Author
Author: Blades, Leslie Burton
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Claire - The Blind Love of a Blind Hero, By a Blind Author" ***

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Claire

by Leslie Burton Blades

THE BLIND LOVE OF A BLIND HERO

_BY A BLIND AUTHOR_



[Transcriber's Note: This novel was originally serialized in four
installments in All-Story Weekly magazine from October 5, 1918, to
October 26, 1918. The original breaks in the serial have been retained,
but summaries of previous events preceding the second and third
installments have been moved to the end of this e-book. The Table of
Contents which follows the introduction was created for this electronic
edition.]



On the editorial page of last week's ALL-STORY WEEKLY we announced a new
serial by a new author. "Claire" is a story of such subtle insight, of
so compassionate an understanding of human nature, and of so honest an
attack on the eternal problem of love and living, that it can well
afford to take its chances on its own merits. But _Lawrence Gordon_, the
blind hero of the triangle tragedy, which runs its inevitable course in
the mountain cabin of _Philip Ortez_, takes on a new interest, when we
learn that his creator is himself a blind man.

Born of mining people in Colorado, Blades lost two fingers and the sight
of both eyes when as a lad of nine years he refused to take the dare of
some playmates and set off a giant firecracker. While still a youth he
entered the Colorado State School for the Blind. Here he spent six
years. In the crash at Creede, when the bottom fell out of so many
mining fortunes, the Blades family lost their all. Then young Blades
took up the burden of his own keep. For two successful years he
maintained himself at the University of Colorado by teaching music. When
the family moved to Oregon, the indomitable Leslie followed. At Eugene
he entered the State University and continued to support himself by
music and lectures. After receiving his degrees of B.A. and M.A. he was
a substitute teacher in the English Department.

For some time he has made his home at San Dimas, where his regular
contributions on a variety of themes to the magazine section of _The
Express_ have brought him something more than local prestige. He is
deeply interested in the drama, and has several plays to his credit.
"When He Came Home," a play of his dealing with the return of a blind
soldier from the war, has become a favorite with one of the California
circuits.

"Claire" is his first novel, and though he is still on the sunny side of
thirty, this arresting story is a promising portent of what we may
expect from the powerful pen of this blind man with an artist's
vision.--THE EDITOR.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

I.        DISASTER.                             256
II.       THE WATER OF LIFE.                    260
III.      THE WAY OF THE PRIMITIVE.             262
IV.       MUTUAL DISLIKE.                       266
V.        THE FACE OF DEATH.                    269
VI.       THE STONE THREAT.                     274
VII.      PLAYING WITH FIRE.                    498
VIII.     THE TIGHTENING NET.                   501
IX.       CLAIRE'S ABASEMENT.                   505
X.        HOW SIMPLE THE SOLUTION!              509
XI.       THE MAKING OF A KNIGHT ERRANT.        513
XII.      THE UNHORSING OF A KNIGHT ERRANT.     697
XIII.     FAINT HEART AND FAIR LADY.            702
XIV.      PHILIP TO THE RESCUE.                 706
XV.       UTTER EXHAUSTION.                     711
XVI.      THE QUESTION ANSWERED.                714
XVII.     ANGLES OF A TRIANGLE.                 151
XVIII.    THE ROMANTIC REALIST.                 155
XIX.      THE LAST DISCUSSION.                  160
XX.       THE LAW OF LIFE.                      164
XXI.      INTO THE SUNLIGHT.                    168



CHAPTER I.

DISASTER.


In the confusion Lawrence stood still. Over the howling wind and
smashing sea, he heard thin voices shouting orders. Another mass of
water swept over the deck. Near him a woman screamed piteously.
Instinctively, the masculine desire to protect womanhood made him ache
to help her, but he bit his lip and clung to the rail. If he could only
see! Never before in his five years of blindness had he felt the full
horror of it. He had taught himself to forget his loss of sight. It is
useless to waste time in sentimental moping, he would say, but now--

"God, when will it end?" he muttered savagely.

The City of Panama lurched back and forth like a rocking-horse.
Somewhere forward they must be lowering the boats. He stumbled along the
deck, holding to the rail for support. The spray dashed in his face, and
he could feel the water from his hair trickling into his ears. He shook
his head and laughed grimly, but he could not hear his own laughter. The
terrific noise of the wind drowned everything else. It became
increasingly difficult to keep his hold on the rail. He was wet to the
waist. Each time the wave struck him higher, and he noticed that the
lurching grew heavier. He was strong, six feet of hard muscle, but the
water was stronger. His mouth was filled with it, and his ears seemed
bursting. His rugged features twisted into hard lines. As he struggled
forward, he raged at the blindness that kept him from seeing.

"Not a chance, not a chance," he repeated over and over, as he strained
to hold the deck. There was a lull in the wind, and he marveled at the
absence of human sound. Suddenly he divined the cause. His mind became a
chaos of rage and fear.

"They have left me," he cried; "left me without a thought." He shut his
teeth hard, then ducked as another heavy beating weight of water crashed
over him. It seemed it would never lift and leave him free to breathe.
His arms and feet no longer seemed a part of him. He wondered if the
vessel were under the surface, and nerved himself to let go. But he
could not. The rail was his only hope of life. Slowly the water began to
draw his fingers away from it. The next surge sent his body
out--somewhere. He struck forward with both hands and kicked his feet
mechanically. Was it the roar of the wind or the weight of the water
itself that beat into his ears? The sudden pain in his lungs, told him
that he had reached the surface. How good the air felt! Shaking the
water out of his ears, he listened. Nothing but the wind was audible.

It seemed to him that he had been swimming for hours in the icy waves.
Events on the ship, the shock of the boiler explosion, the rush for the
deck, all seemed to have happened long ago.

"If I could only see," he thought, "I might find the ship again." It
occurred to him that he might be swimming in a circle, and he resolved
to keep in one direction, but how? He remembered that he had always
tended to swim to the left, so he increased his right-arm stroke.
Suddenly a heavy timber struck him. He gasped with pain, and sank under
the surface. When he came up, his hand struck the same piece of wood.
With a desperate effort, he dragged himself up on it, twisting his arms
and legs about it to maintain his hold.

The water, swirled by the wind, lashed him as he lay on the timber.
"Land may be within sight," he thought, "and I shall never know." His
fear and the cold began to work upon his imagination. He had a clear
mental picture of a sandy beach backed with trees. He felt sure he was
being carried past it into the open sea.

Hours passed. He began to rave at the water, at life, at everything.
Mixed, tangled masses of images heaped themselves in utter disorder in
his brain: passages of verse, bits of his trained laboratory jargon,
phrases from half-forgotten books, the delicate curves of the Water
Sprite at the exposition, and, above all, a fierce gnawing pain in his
side.

Over the roar of the wind he heard something else. Was it the tumbling
of breakers? He listened, then concluded that it was his imagination.
But they came nearer, louder; he sat up on his plank, his nerves tense.
The board lurched sidewise, spurn around, and the swell it was riding
broke over him with a force that knocked him from his position. Over and
over he rolled, until, almost unconscious, he felt his body dragging
along the sand. The undertow was pulling at him. He fought furiously,
digging his hands into the sand, and clawing desperately up the steep
sloping beach. The next breaker caught him and rolled him past the
water-line. He scrambled to his feet, and ran shakily ahead, neither
knowing nor caring what was before him.

Behind him he heard the water sweeping in. He was out of its reach, but
still he ran. A rock caught him above the knees and sent him headlong
into the sand. He became unconscious, and lay still, half doubled up.

When he recovered consciousness and sat up, a fierce sun was beating
down upon him. His head ached, and he was hungry. "There may be people
within call," he thought. Rising unsteadily, the soreness of his muscles
coming home to him, he gave a prolonged "Hello-o." A faint echo was his
answer. He formed a trumpet of his hands and shouted louder. The echo
came back stronger. "Only cliffs," he concluded.

The gnaw of hunger increased. "Clams are my best chance," he reasoned,
and, turning, he groped his way to the water. When the incoming breakers
washed his knees, he stopped. The intense dread that his experience had
given him was crying retreat, but he stood his ground. Stooping over, he
began digging in the sand. His cut and bleeding hands burned with the
salt water, but he dug steadily, moving rapidly along the beach. At last
his fingers turned up a round, ridged object. Feeling the edge of it he
knew that he had found what he sought. He wanted to eat the clam at
once, but reluctantly dropped it into his pocket, and went on digging.

When he had filled his pocket he straightened up and started toward the
shore. As he waded through the last shallow wash of the wave, his foot
caught in something soft, and he fell. He rose, and then on second
thought stooped to feel what had tripped him. His hand touched a mass of
wet, tangled hair. He jerked it back hurriedly and screamed. The strain
he had been under was telling. Nerving himself, he reached again, and
touched a face.

"A woman! Another human being! Thank God!"

Then he clutched his throat in desperation. She might be dead. He
stooped and dragged the body up on the sand. He was afraid to find out
if she were dead or alive, and sat beside her, timidly touching her
hair.

"Fool!" he muttered at last. "If she is not dead, she soon will be." He
leaned over, listening for her breathing. At first there was only the
sound of the waves, then he heard her breathing come faintly. He took
off his coat, emptied out the clams, and dipped it in the ocean. Coming
back, he wrung it out over her face. He knelt beside her, and rubbed her
arms and throat.

His hands were his trained observers. As he worked over her, they gave
him a detailed picture which sank deep into his memory. She was
splendidly made. His fingers caught the delicate curve of her throat and
shoulders. Her skin was satin to his touch. He knew that the fine hair,
the smooth skin, the curve and grace of her body belonged to a beautiful
woman.

Taking her arms, he worked them vigorously. When he was beginning to
despair, she coughed, moaned a little, and turned over on her side.

He wondered if she had her eyes open. He dared not feel to see, and sat
silent, anxious, waiting for her to speak.

It seemed to him that eternity passed before she murmured, "Oh, oh!
Where am I?"

"I do thank God," he exclaimed earnestly.

"Where am I?" she repeated as she sat up.

"I do not know," he answered. "Presumably somewhere on the coast of
Chile." Her eyes opened very wide and gazed at him as she said, "Are we
the only ones?"

"I cannot tell," he replied, smiling a little. "I am blind, you see."

"Yes, I know," she said softly. "I saw you on shipboard."

"The first consciousness I had of you," he continued, "was when I
stumbled over you while getting my breakfast."

"Breakfast? Where is it?"

He laid one hand on the pile of clams. She looked down at them, and
burst out laughing, uncontrollably.

"It is not much," he said, "but we primitive people are simple in our
needs. I worked to get them, goodness knows."

She was looking around her, twisting her long brown hair in her hands.
At last she shuddered. "It's desperately lonely. Nothing but sea and
mountains. I'm afraid I can't walk," she said.

"Good God!" he exclaimed. "Can't walk?"

She turned toward him, smiling faintly. "I was struck when I washed
overboard, and my ankle, I think, is broken. I am sorry," she added.

Her tone was slightly apologetic, and he laughed nervously. "Oh, that's
all right," he said, assuringly, then stammered, "I mean--" He
hesitated, and she laughed.

"I mean that we can get along," he continued, stubbornly. "Heaven knows
I am sorry. But you can't realize what it means to have some one near
you who can see."

She did not answer for a minute, then said quietly: "Shall we breakfast
before beginning anything else?"

He reached in his pocket for his penknife. It was gone. The blank
expression of disgust on his face made her ask: "What is it?"

"My knife," he said. "It is gone."

They sat opposite each other, the clams between them. Each followed a
different trend of ideas. He was raging at this last mishap, and
considering means of opening the clams. She was conjecturing over the
fate of the City of Panama and wondering what she could do, alone here
with this blind man. Her night-gown and a heavy skirt had been all she
had worn when she had rushed on deck in the night. She looked around her
at the rocks and thought how foolish she had been to leave her shoes.

At last he rose and began to grope back along the beach.

Noticing that his hands were torn and bleeding, she said, hastily:
"Don't do that. What are you looking for, anyway?"

"Stones," he answered, stopping.

"I will direct you," she to him. "Left--right--a little ahead now."
Guided by her, he moved until his hand touched a small stone. He found
two of them and came back to her side.

She watched him while he tried to break a clam-shell between the two
rocks. "Let me," she said, taking hold of one of them. "Your hands are
too badly cut." He hesitated.

"Please," she said. "I can at least do the woman's part and prepare the
meal. Especially when you bring it to me."

He laughed and gave up the stones.

"I am desperately thirsty," she said, breaking open the shells.

"I feel as though my tongue were swelling fast," he admitted.

They dug the tiny clams from the shells, and ate for a few minutes in
silence, then she said: "I can't go any more of them."

He wondered if she were not hungry, but said nothing. After eating a few
more, he understood. Then he, too, stopped.

"I've got to find water," he said. He waited for her to speak.

At last she said: "I can see nothing that might indicate fresh water.
Where will you go?"

"Up the beach, I suppose."

"There are mountains up the beach, and back of us, too. You could never
find your way out." Her tone was despairing.

"True," he admitted.

There was a long pause. Then she said slowly: "It seems to be your only
hope, doesn't it? Well, I guess you had better go. God bless you!" she
concluded as though it were her last word.

Suddenly it occurred to him that he had been thinking and talking of
himself alone. The idea of parting from this woman who could see, whom
it seemed to him he had found as his own means of salvation, immediately
became impossible.

"I am going to take you with me," he stated quietly.

"You forget," she said, "I cannot walk."

He had forgotten it for the moment. Now it filled him with new terror.
He laid his hand on hers. "I can't help it," he said finally, "I can't
leave you. I will carry you."

"Oh, no!" Her protest was genuine.

He felt her fear that she would hamper him. "Don't be foolish," he said
as though he had known her for years, "I am not being gallant. This is
not a time for gallantry. I am simply being sensible. You can't sit
here, can you?"

"I can't help myself, can I? I can't walk."

"I can help it," he retorted.

"It would simply make your chance of escape impossible," she argued. "It
is preposterous. Why should you? Your life is worth to you as much as
mine is to me. I know what that means. I would not stay here if I could
help it. I would not sacrifice my life for yours. Neither shall you
sacrifice yours for mine."

"See here," he demanded, "who are you and where did you get that
attitude toward life?"

It was one he knew. It was the hard, relentless theory of the struggle
of animal survival which his thinking in college had led him to accept.
There was in it no touch of duty, no sense of obligation, and very
little pity. He had called himself a hard materialist, and had never
lived up to his theory. Now here beside him in this outlandish
situation was a woman quietly arguing his own philosophy of life to him
against herself.

She laughed. "It's my way of thinking, and I mean it," she said,
twisting her hair up on her head. "I got it out of four years of thought
and reading in a college, and I do not thank the college for it. I find
it very inconvenient, but it is my belief. I have tried to live by it."

"So is it mine," he said, "and I mean to live by it."

"Very well," she answered. "That aggressive tone against me is not
necessary. Go ahead and get through if you can. Good-by, my friend."

"I'm afraid you do not understand," he answered her steadily. "I want to
live. To do it, you are necessary to me. I need your eyes. Very well,
whether you like it or not, you are going with me."

He rose quickly, and stretched his muscles. His head ached, his whole
being cried for water. He knew he could not carry her far, but without
her he was powerless.

"Suppose," she suggested, her eyes flashing from hazel to deep-brown,
"suppose you do take me. Have you any assurance that my eyes will serve
you rightly?"

"Your own life, which is pleasant to you, will depend upon your eyes
serving me rightly," he said coldly, as he stooped over her.

She laid a restraining hand on his arm. "And in the long days that we
may have to go on together, what will you do in return for my eyes?"

"Carry you," he answered.

"Very well, but there are two things you must know," she said quietly.
"First, that I am married; second, that I am quite as steadfast in my
belief as I said. If you make one single attempt to establish more than
a frank comradeship, based on mutual support in our unforeseen
partnership, my eyes will serve you falsely."

He laughed a little as he picked her up. She gasped with pain.

"I can't help hurting you," he said gently.

"It's all right," she answered, putting her arm around his neck so that
he might the more easily bear her. "We are off on our great adventure.
The halt and the blind! Such a mad pair!"

He smiled, and started slowly up the beach.

"I shall have to develop a system of one word guides," she mused.

"Left--right--slow--ahead--all right--and so on," he admitted.

Suddenly she laughed out merrily. "My friend, a stranger pilgrimage the
world never knew. What is your name?"

"Lawrence," he said.

"Mine," she answered, "is Claire. Go a little to the left."

He turned slightly, and plodded through the sand.



CHAPTER II.

THE WATER OF LIFE.


Still exhausted from his recent battle with the waves, Lawrence was not
in the best condition for this new struggle. Before he had gone far, he
was forced to rest. He lowered Claire to the ground carefully and
dropped beside her. His effort in carrying her had made him breathe
hard, the sun was beating down on them, and his throat was dry and
parched. Speaking was becoming difficult.

"If we don't find water soon, we're ended," he managed to say.

"I'm afraid we are," she admitted. "Do you know, Lawrence, you shouldn't
try to carry me. I weigh over a hundred and thirty pounds. That is too
much for any man. Without me, you might make it, even though you
couldn't travel so steadily ahead."

"Perhaps," he agreed. "I've thought of that. But, you see, I would have
to feel my way. At best I'd get a lot of falls. I might walk off a
precipice. That doesn't appeal to me, now that I've set myself to
winning."

"And yet you are almost certain to wear yourself out to no purpose if
you carry me," she repeated. "If you could do it and get me through, I'd
never stop you. I've a husband in America who loves me, and I want to
get back to him, but you aren't equal to it. I see no advantage in
dying a mile or ten miles inland. For one's grave, this is as good a
place as any."

She spoke of dying in a matter-of-fact way that made him feel strange,
though he thought of it in exactly the same way himself. He believed
that he was a mere animal and that death was a mere cessation of energy.
"I wonder if she feels just as I do about it," he pondered. "Perhaps
not. But it can't matter anyway. Here we are, and death does seem fairly
certain."

He was breathing more regularly now, though his throat burned and his
tongue stuck to his mouth disagreeably.

"We'd better be moving," he said, rising with an effort.

"As you please," she assented.

Then, as he lifted her: "My ankle is swollen dreadfully. If we could
find water, I'd bathe it and put a stick splint on it."

He did not answer. Silence fell between them while he plodded ahead.
They started up the mountainside, and the way became increasingly
difficult. There was a dense undergrowth through which he was compelled
to shove his feet. There were rocks which she could not see, down which
he was constantly slipping. Her directions barely kept him from bumping
into the trees that grew closer and closer together. Occasionally she
pushed a branch aside from before him, and laughed as he stooped to pass
under, throwing her forward so that she had to cling to his neck to keep
her position.

On and on he forced his way, his teeth clenched, his breath broken by
the strain. She made herself as easy to carry as she could, but beyond
that she showed no sign of sympathy. Again and again he was obliged to
stop and put her down while he rested. His head was throbbing
frightfully. He gave up trying to talk.

During one of their frequent rests she had asked him quietly, her eyes
filled with a soft, calculative haze: "How much are you good for,
Lawrence?"

He had answered: "Till we find water." She had laughed a little at that,
and it had sounded unpleasant to him.

Now she said again: "You don't face facts, do you?" He made no answer.

She continued: "It's strange how we humans are always so overdetermined.
One ought to know by the time he is grown that he is a puppet in the
hands of circumstance. Now I go on hoping that you can carry me out to
life and my husband, and you plod determinedly on as if you were really
able to do it. Of course, you may, but it is entirely dependent upon
outside things."

He was too tired to answer, even to think. Besides, that was exactly his
view of the situation.

"You see," she went on, "here we are, two distinct groups of living
cells, each loving life and wanting it. Our pasts have been very
different, our futures would have been; but here we are. I am resentful,
because you are blind, because you are not stronger, because I cannot
walk. You are probably resenting the same things. Perhaps you resent my
saying what I do. You want me to reassure you and to promise success. If
I did, you would know in your real mind that I was lying to you for the
sake of getting you to do more. Yet both of us would feel happier if I
could do it. I can't."

He stood up and took her in his arms without a word.

"We are going a few yards farther," she laughed. "Well, if ever any
animal deserved life, you do."

He bit his lip and climbed on up the hill. In his mind he was saying
over and over: "Just a mere intellect, nothing more. That's all she is."
Yet in his arms she felt very feminine. The sense of her body so close
to him seemed strangely out of keeping with her talk.

He remembered a few other women of her type; he wondered what the end of
their daily association would be. Then gradually his thinking ceased to
be clear. His thirst more and more wove itself into his consciousness
until his mind was a blurred fantasmagoria, in which, repeating itself
over and over in the midst of strange ideas, would come the flashing
sound of unattainable water. He did not talk, he did not think. Through
the trees he wound his way with the grim determination of a beast
fighting against death.

The sun passed its zenith and sank slowly. It grew cooler in the forest
through which he lurched, but he was hardly aware of it. Claire, too,
was rapidly losing control over herself. She had ceased to talk, save to
utter dull, monosyllabic commands to him. The pain from her ankle and
her own thirst were blending into a dizzying maze of torture.

As darkness settled over the forest, she grew afraid. Ordinarily it
would have been a delight to her, here among the trees, but now the
shadowing night filled her with ideas of horror. She forgot her
theories, and clung to him so that he was the more hampered. She grew
afraid lest he should drop her, lest he should give up the fight, and
with that came an overwhelming desire to urge him on. She thought of
wild tales that she might tell to spur his faltering strength. At first
she resisted, then as her desire for life grew within her, she began to
lie to him. "It isn't far, just a little way to water," she whispered.

He struggled unsteadily forward. They had passed the top of the ridge
and were descending the other side. He was scarcely aware of his own
motion. He did not hear her directions, and stumbled against the trees.
When her ankle struck a bough, she realized in a flash of pain that he
was not listening to her. Then she felt him sinking down.

Gripping his shoulder, she shouted: "Go on! Water ahead!" He heard her,
his mouth opened, and he gathered himself up to stumble a few steps
farther through the darkness. They seemed to be deep in a wooded ravine.
He staggered again and fell.

She was thrown violently forward, and flung out a hand to save herself.
As she lay there, half-dazed, suddenly she felt her fingers grow cold
and wet. Water! A small stream, no larger than that from a hydrant, was
trickling over the rock.

Dragging herself to it, she drank greedily. She dipped her hands in it.
She laughed joyously and splashed. For a few minutes she played like a
child. Then she remembered Lawrence.

Lifting her hands full of water, she threw it on his face. His mouth was
open, and a few drops fell upon his black tongue. She threw another
handful, then took her skirt and, wetting it, wrung it into his mouth.
He twisted over on his side and muttered: "Water."

She gave him more, and as he sat up, she said eagerly: "Here, Lawrence,
here."

Taking his hand, she pulled him toward the stream. He drank ravenously,
plunging his face and hands into the little line of water, making queer
noises over it.

Claire began to grow cold, and her ankle pained her till she shook like
a fevered person. He turned and sat up.

"You cold?" he managed to mutter.

She wanted to say "No," but her will was worn out. "Yes," she answered,
"very cold."

He laughed a little guttural laugh as he drew off his coat. "Take it,"
he said, dropping it near her hand.

She took the coat and drew it on. Lawrence was drinking again from the
stream. She listened to him for a time, as she lay there in the
darkness, then gradually her suffering and the strain under which she
had been, won the victory over her consciousness, and she heard no more.

He lay where he was, half unconscious. At last he began to feel the
chill of the place and drew himself up toward Claire. She did not move.
"We've got to do the best we can," he thought, and moved close to her so
that their bodies might warm each other.



CHAPTER III.

THE WAY OF THE PRIMITIVE.


Claire was the first to wake. She sat up and gazed around her. The
morning sun was just breaking through a heavy fog that had drifted in
from the ocean. Her clothes were damp, and she was chilled through,
while her swollen and discolored ankle throbbed with steady pain. She
looked down at the sleeping man beside her, and her forehead gathered in
a little thoughtful frown. Then she looked around her again. Despite the
knowledge of their desperate situation, she could not help noticing the
beauty of the scene.

Great trees grew in massive profusion all about them. Heavy tropical
moss hung from the branches and trailed its green mat over the stones.
Birds were beginning to sing, their notes breaking the silence of the
place in sharp thrills. Then she studied her companion. Finally, she
laughed aloud.

"Lawrence," she said gaily.

He turned and sat up, yawning drowsily. "What is it?" he demanded.

"We are certainly the primitive pair."

"H-m, I suppose. Anyhow, I feel better for my sleep."

"It's beastly cold," returned Claire, "and my ankle is playing fits and
jerks with me."

"We'll have to do something about it," he said earnestly. She did not
answer.

"We can bind it up, I presume," he went on. "But it's a frightful
inconvenience."

"Admitted," she said quickly. "It can't be helped, however."

"I'm very much for a fire," he suggested, as though he had not noticed
the hints of hardness in her voice.

"Some twenty feet ahead is a flat rock. We might build one there. Have
you matches?"

He shook his head. "We'll have to go it primeval."

"But I don't see how," she began.

"Never mind," he answered, with a malicious grin. "I do know some few
things."

"Perhaps you also know how to find food when there isn't any," she
retorted.

He rose without replying.

"Well," she continued, "I see plenty of roots and stuff. We may as well
prepare to eat them. It's unbelievable that I should be here, and with
you. It's a horrible nightmare, this being stranded and lame out here
somewhere with a blind man."

He winced, but answered quietly: "I'm not especially charmed myself. I
could prefer other things."

She looked at him and smiled. "Don't ever let me repeat those
sentiments," she said, simply. "I'm sorry. Of course you aren't to
blame, and I shouldn't have said that."

He stepped forward timidly. "Will you suggest the best means of finding
dry wood?" he asked, as though the matter were forgotten.

She pursed her lips and looked around her. "This moss seems to be feet
deep," she said at last. "You might dig up some that is dry, and with
that as a starter you can add twigs."

He stopped and began to tear away the moss. His hands were stiff, but he
worked rapidly and before long he had a heap of the brown, dry stuff
from underneath.

She watched him silently. When he stopped, she said: "Straight to your
left is the rock. Get the fire started. Then you can move the invalid."

He took the moss and felt his way to the rock, which was eight or ten
feet square and practically flat, standing up almost a foot from the
ground.

"Now, for a dry stick or two," he said, cheerily.

She directed him, and at last he found what he thought would do. Then
began the age-old procedure of twisting a pointed stick between one's
hands, the point resting on another piece of wood, until friction
brought a flame. It was a long, hard experiment; several times he
stopped to rest; but the consciousness of the skeptical expression he
knew to be on her face sent him quickly back again to his task. At last
the moss began to burn. True, it smoked much and flamed little, but he
gathered twigs from the shrubs near by and in time had a good fire. Then
he carried Claire to the rock and set her down beside it. She leaned her
elbow on the edge and said, happily: "It's quite a success, Lawrence. I
really feel as though we were progressing."

"Our woodcraft will doubtless improve with experience," he answered.

"Next, I guess we had better bathe your ankle," he observed, as though
giving due care to the order of procedure.

"Very well," she replied.

At her suggestion he gathered moss and wet it in the tiny stream. She
wound it about her ankle and held it tightly.

"Now the surgeon orders splints and bandages," she said.

He brought several sticks, and with a strip which she tore from the
lining of his coat, she bound them fast.

"There," she said, sighing, for the pain was wearing. "That ought to
help. I wonder what our distant grandparents did in such cases."

"Made the best of it," he said cheerfully. "Many of them died, I
suppose."

"And we are back again at their game. Whether we can outwit the master
strategist and survive, is at least interesting to try."

"In any event, we'll have to eat to do it," he said shortly.

She studied the greenery about her, meditatively. "It's probable that
most any of these things are edible, but are they nourishing?"

"We'll try them. Which shall I get?" he asked.

"I hate to start in on roots or leaves. If we only had some berries!"

He got up determinedly. "I'll go down the ravine and hunt. If I get
mixed in directions, I'll shout."

She watched him go, and when he had disappeared through the trees she
felt strangely sadder and very much alone. She fell to wondering if he
were really so necessary to her. Sooner or later would come the
inevitable problem between them. Would he fall in love with her, and
would she, in the days that they might be alone together, find his
companionship growing into any really vital proportion in her life? That
she, Claire Barkley, rich and independent, whose life had been selfish
to a marked degree and who had never considered anything except from the
point of view of vigor, perfection, or beauty, should ever love a blind
man was incredible.

"No," she thought, "not even the closest of daily relationships with him
could ever make me really care. He is not of my life." She wondered how
much she would sacrifice for him if it were necessary in their
pilgrimage toward civilization, and she answered herself, frankly: "No
more than I must to maintain a balance in our forced business
partnership." She knew that was all this meant to her.

From down the ravine she heard him shouting lustily, and she answered,
her clear, rich voice waking pleasant echoes as she called. She waited
for some time before he came. In his arms he carried a bundle of
branches loaded with red berries, while in one hand was a clump of large
mushrooms.

Claire watched him as he approached, and was surprised at the ease with
which he walked. There was less hesitation in his stride than she had
thought, and he came briskly through the trees, dodging as though by
instinct.

When he reached the rock, it was characteristic of her that she said:
"You came through those trees remarkably well."

He laughed. "I have an uncanny way of feeling things on my face before
they touch me. I experimented somewhat with it in the laboratory at
college. It's a sort of tropism, perhaps, such as bugs have, that
enables them to keep between two planks or that turns plant-roots toward
the sun. Anyway, I've brought some breakfast. These berries may be good,
and these other things may be toadstools. I brought them along."

"How does one tell?" she asked.

"Oh, mushrooms are pink underneath and ribbed like a fan."

She examined them and said they might be mushrooms, they looked it. He
sat down again, but not until he had replenished the fire.

"They may be poison, both of them," he hazarded. "That's our sporting
chance. Will you try them?"

Claire took some of the berries and ate them. "I don't feel anything
yet," she announced after a minute's solemn munching.

"Oh, you probably won't for several hours anyway," he said lightly. Then
he continued: "If we could devise a way, we might heat water and cook
the mushrooms. Then, too, I've been thinking we might even catch a
bird."

"Neither sounds very simple."

"Nothing in life is simple," he replied. "At home, in America, where we
leave food-getting to the farmer, dress from a store, and go to heaven
by way of a minister, things are fairly well arranged, but here we
aren't even sure of salvation unless we mind the business of thinking."
He continued after a pause. "Of course, I don't especially remember that
I counted on heaven. It always seemed a bit distant in the face of
living and working. Perhaps, however, you counted it as vital."

"I was fairly occupied with more immediate things," she answered.
"However, that is a different world from this. What we did then can't
especially matter to us here. This is our place of business, so to
speak, and social life doesn't factor."

"I see." He accepted the snub thoughtfully. "But this business of ours
will grow exceedingly irksome without talk. I doubt if we can find the
means of escape an all-sufficient topic."

"We haven't boiled our water yet," she said. "And the bird is still free
to roam."

He did not carry on his line of thought aloud. If she had known what was
going on in his mind, she might have been angered. He was wondering just
how much thinking she was capable of. Certain that she was beautiful, he
had scarcely allowed that to occupy him. His experience had led him to
estimate people almost wholly by their ability to be open-minded. In his
struggle against blindness, he had concluded that open minds were rare
indeed, and persons who limited his freedom of action or tended to baby
him he had grown to dismiss with a shrug. Claire did not belong to that
class. "She has shown remarkable willingness to let me go my own pace,"
he thought, "but is this due to her mind or to mere indifference?" He
decided at last that the relationship would be tiresome for both of
them, and that she was not especially eager to prevent it from being so.
This conclusion led him to adopt a definite attitude toward her. She
could do as she pleased; he, for his part, would treat her simply as an
uninteresting person, a machine that furnished the eyes which he could
use in his travel to liberty.

He recalled how, when he had been displeased with convention, he had
thought of life in the wild as the best possible means of liberty, and
he laughed.

Claire looked up. "What is there amusing just now?"

"Myself, and you."

"Why, pray, am I amusing?" Then she was sorry she had said it.

"Because you are you."

"And are you other than yourself?" she asked scornfully.

"Not at all, but my own particular interests seem infinitely more
important to me than there is any possibility of yours doing."

"You mean to say that you are an egotist."

"Frankly, I am," he agreed. "One is an egotist, I suppose, when he finds
himself and his needs and whims essentially worth while. I'll admit I
find mine so. Perhaps you feel the same about yours. One scarcely knows
where egotism and vanity meet or end in a woman." He smiled, for he
meant that to provoke, and it did.

Claire's voice was edged when she replied. "A very penetrating remark.
With men generally, vanity seems to be a widely extended cloak to spread
over all things in a woman that they cannot dispose of in any other way.
If I find you dull, or if I am not struck with your ability, or if you
do not seem to me sufficiently fascinating, I am possessed of feminine
vanity."

"Precisely. And why not? If I choose to regard myself as all those
things which you deny, why shouldn't I find the fault in you rather than
in myself?"

"Because it may be in you," suggested Claire.

"It may, but that doesn't alter the case. I quite agree that you are
right, but none the less you are at fault, because I, Lawrence, am the
most important of all things to me."

She did not answer. The conversation seemed to her useless. She saw no
reason for arguing the matter, and she half suspected that he was simply
teasing her. Besides, she could not but feel that to sit here in his
coat and discuss egotism was a trifle ridiculous. He was merely trying
to establish a friendship in talk which she did not care to encourage.
That was her conclusion.

As he rose to gather more sticks, he asked: "Do you happen to see a rock
that flattens to an edge?"

Told where he might find one, he brought it and struck it hard against
their boulder. It did not break. "It may do," he said thoughtfully, and
began to grind it against the side of the other rock. He worked steadily
and long, and the result was a fairly good edge, which was nicked and
toothed, but still an edge. He laid it down with a sigh of contentment.

"My first tool," he commented.



CHAPTER IV.

MUTUAL DISLIKE.


All day Lawrence worked, and when night came he had hollowed out a piece
of log to a depth of some eighteen inches, leaving six inches of solid
wood in the bottom. Both were very well pleased with the result. With
the coming of darkness, he gathered more berries, and heated water in
his log kettle. They were able to cook the mushrooms and to bind her
ankle in moss soaked in hot water. The building of a shelter was
discussed, but both decided to resume their journey on the following
day, so they slept again in the heavy moss.

In the morning, Claire was glad indeed of the hot water, for it warmed
her, and her ankle felt much better. They decided to follow the little
stream which would doubtless wind its way somehow around the present
ridge back to the ocean. Accordingly, they kept down the ravine, which
cut across the ridge in a southerly direction.

For the whole of that day and the next they followed the stream, which
grew to a small creek. At noon of the third day they dropped suddenly
down a steep slope to find themselves at the juncture of their stream,
with a river which flowed through a deep gorge out to the ocean. They
determined to follow it up toward its head.

"Somewhere inland must be a town," argued Claire. "At any rate, it's the
only way we can go."

After living for four days on berries, they were beginning to feel
acutely the need of other food, but they discussed the problem at length
without arriving at any feasible solution. Two days later fortune
temporarily relieved their difficulty.

They were following along the side of a steep ridge overlooking the
river, when Claire suddenly stopped him and gave a cry of delight. Near
them a small, furry animal, caught in a tangled mass of wirelike
creepers, was struggling to free itself. He killed the creature with his
stone-edged tool, and after barbecuing it on the end of a stick, they
ate it ravenously. Each of them would have disliked the whole scene at
any other time, but now neither thought anything of it until after they
were satisfied.

Leaning back against a rock, Lawrence stroked his chin, rapidly becoming
invisible under a heavy beard. "I hadn't known I was so hungry for real
food," he laughed.

Brown as a gipsy, her hair filled with tiny green leaves, Claire looked
at him, her eyes shining with the warm light of satisfied hunger. "We
ate like two beasts," she remarked languidly, and laughed. "It was
simply disgraceful."

"I know," he began to muse, "it doesn't take long for the most polished
man--not that I ever was that--to become a savage."

"You look the part," she laughed. "I suppose I do, too. My hair is
matted hopelessly; the curliness makes it worse. My face, too, is
rapidly hardening under this sun. If only I had a few more clothes--"
She stopped and looked at him. "I feel the need of them," she finished
lamely.

Claire had worn his coat continuously from the first night, and his
undershirt was tearing from contact with bush and tree. He grinned
contentedly, however.

"If you approach nakedness as rapidly as I," he chuckled, "I fear we
both will have to avoid civilization. Undisguised humanity isn't
tolerated there."

She flushed warmly, then laughed.

"I wonder why people are so afraid of being seen," Lawrence went on. "Of
course, there's the warmth and natural protection of clothing, but one
would feel so much freer without the encumbrance of shirt-stud and
feathered plume."

"We need them to complete a personality," said Claire. "I know few
people who would inspire respect in their elemental state. Stripped of
advertising silk and diamond, they wouldn't be so suggestive of
wealth."

"But why be so eager to impress others with your power?"

She turned toward him with a faint smile. "If you didn't ask that as
mere conversation, I would think you childish. You know very well why.
It probably goes back to the days when the possession of a fish-hook,
more or less, meant surer life. It has come to mean, now, that the
decoration of an extra feather or white flannel trousers means
advantageous position, the place of more power, more pleasure; in short,
greater fulness of living."

"But we are living fully, goodness knows," he interrupted. "This last
week we have had to exert our wits and bodies in more ways than we ever
did before in all our lives. True, I do miss my modeling somewhat." He
spoke the last with a soft mellowness in his voice and a wistfulness
that made her look at him quickly.

"Modeling?" she asked.

He nodded slowly.

"What sort of modeling?" she insisted.

"Oh, probably poor, for the most part. I did some work that was
beginning to make its way, though."

"You mean sculpture?"

He nodded again.

She looked at him earnestly. Here was a new revelation. She had wondered
at this man's apparent keen sense of form, and his imaginative power
when he spoke of color or mentioned line, and she had been sure from his
occasional word that he was a wide student of literature.

"What did you do at home?" she asked abruptly.

"Oh, played with living," he said indifferently.

She felt irritated that he would not tell her more of his life, yet she
remembered that she had practically refused to discuss her own with him.

"See here, Lawrence," she said suddenly, "we aren't quite fair with each
other, are we?"

"Why not?" he answered quietly. "I carry you toward your old life, you
guide me toward mine. It's a fair business, with equal investment. I'm
not complaining."

She was silent and watched him as he lay on his back, dreaming of days
at home with his work. As he lay there, she studied his hands. They
were practically healed, and she noticed they were well-shaped, the
fingers long and tapering, yet with an appearance of unusual strength.
She knew already that they were sensitive; when he had cut out a piece
of wood to heat water in, she had seen that. So they were sculptor's
hands. What a revelation, and what a pity that he was blind! She fell to
wondering if he really was good at his work, or whether he merely
fancied he was and hewed away without real artistry, deceived by his
blindness. She studied his face in repose. Then her mind came back to
his hands, and she felt a sudden sense of displeasure, a little chagrin,
and some wonder, accompanied by the feeling that she wished he had not
carried her. She did not quite know why, yet the dependence on him made
her restless. Suddenly she wondered poignantly what he thought of her.
The more she wondered, the more she wanted to know, and at last she
ventured, "Are you asleep?"

"No, dreaming."

"Lawrence."

"What is it?" He sat up and waited.

"What do you think of me?" She was surprised to find herself waiting
eagerly for his answer.

He laughed outright, a gay, hearty laugh.

"Claire," he said merrily, "you embarrass me dreadfully. You see, I
haven't thought much about you. However, if you like, I'll study you for
a week and report."

Hot anger surged up in her. "You needn't bother," she said dryly. "Our
lives are so utterly different in every phase that nothing could be
gained."

He lay back carelessly. "So I had decided," he replied, and lapsed into
silence again.

She could have cried with vexation. For the first time in her life
Claire was utterly humiliated, and there grew within her an aggressive
dislike for this man, a determination to make him feel her power and to
punish him for his indifference. She did not want him to love her, by
any means, but he had never even shown her the courteous deference, the
admiration or regard that she was accustomed to receive from men. Her
mind went back over the past week, and she grew more humiliated, more
angry. Tears of vexation came to her eyes, but she brushed them away
fiercely.

"Shall we take the remains of our meat and move on toward the habitats
of men?" said Lawrence, sitting up.

She controlled herself to answer, "As you please."

He stooped to lift her into his arms. She flushed warm as his hands
slipped under her, and he straightened up. She hesitated, and wanted not
to do it, but realized the necessity, and put her arm around his neck.

"I shall be grateful when I can walk," was her comment.

"It will make our progress more rapid," he agreed, and she was angry
again. She knew that he thought only in terms of the most efficient
means of getting ahead. A longing possessed her to make him realize that
he was physically distasteful to her.

"We are so vastly different," she said, "it is disagreeable to be
carried this way."

Lawrence flushed, and she was pleased. At least he understood now.

"Of course," he admitted calmly, "it isn't pleasant, but I suppose one
must make the best of a bad bargain."

There was silence for a while, then he said suddenly, "I think I
realize, Claire, that a blind man is at best a poor companion for a
woman who is accustomed to being amused, and whose interests are those
of the society glow-worm."

Claire resented the picture, but she kept her voice steady. "Surely at
home you had your own social group," she said pleasantly.

"Of a sort, yes. We were all workers, not going in much for form,
entertainment, and that sort of thing. We generally sat in the gallery
at the opera, and did mostly as we pleased everywhere. None of us were
rolling in wealth. We worked for the love of it, and looked to the
future for pay."

"I see." She was thinking fast. "You were struggling young artists." Her
voice was sugar-coated.

"We were struggling young artizans," he answered, seemingly indifferent
to her irony.

As he made slower progress when he talked, she did not attempt to carry
on the conversation. The stops for rest were gradually lengthening out,
and he was getting hard and wiry so that his endurance was greater. He
was quicker at catching himself when he stumbled, and he did not puff so
hard between grades. Claire felt the easier swing of his body when he
walked, and noticed that he was growing surer of foot and more graceful
in movement, and she realized that except for his eyes he was a splendid
specimen of manhood. She now admitted all these things to herself, but
they only added to her feeling against him. She wondered if he had been
as indifferent to all women as he was to her, and was displeased that
she wondered.

Suddenly Lawrence stopped and put her down by his side. Claire looked up
at him and saw his forehead gathering in a frown.

"What is it?" she asked anxiously.

"You are letting your thoughts obstruct your eyes," he said simply. "I
have walked into three boulders without your knowing it."

"I am sorry," she said earnestly. "It was silly of me."

He laughed and sat down. "You see, as eyes you can't afford to think. At
other times perhaps I, too, should wander into abstractions, but at
present it won't work."

"I know it," she admitted contritely. "I won't repeat it."

"What," he asked, "is the subject of all this meditation?"

She blushed, and her eyes darkened. She wondered whether she should tell
the truth, started to do so, then changed her mind. "I was asking myself
what my husband was probably doing and thinking."

"Poor fellow!" Lawrence was sincerely thoughtful. "I can imagine what it
must be to him, supposing you lost at sea. Yes, he must be suffering
badly. I don't believe I would change places with him."

Claire started at Lawrence. "Are you flattering me?" she asked coldly.

"Not at all," he replied. "I am merely stating the truth. I have an
imagination, my dear lady. I can quite grasp your husband's position.
You would certainly be a loss to a man who loved you, and I shouldn't
care to be that man."

"Shouldn't you?" she said instinctively, and bit her lip for saying it.

"Not under the circumstances," answered Lawrence. "I never did fancy the
idea of death visiting my loved ones. I have never got over its having
done so."

"Oh"--her voice softened--"then you have lost your--" She waited.

"I am an orphan," he said bruskly.

She was ashamed of her relief. How ridiculous it was to have imagined
him, even for an instant, as a married man! He was so cold, so
impersonal; of course, he had never married, and never would. Well, that
was best; a blind man had no right to marry. He owed it to himself and
to any woman not to place her in the position of caring for him,
handicapped as he was, and so unable to give her the companionship, the
comradeship a woman deserved. She could see how he would treat a wife:
feed her well, clothe her, care for her comfort, and talk to her if she
desired, but he would never be tender, loving, sympathetic, or
understanding. No, he could not be; he was too self-centered, too much
the artist. That last seemed to her a correct estimate of him, and she
settled her mind on it as being final.

"So you are alone in the world?" Claire said, renewing the conversation.

"Quite," answered Lawrence. "I am as free from family hindrances as a
young wolf that runs his first season's hunt alone."

She thought how apt a comparison he had made. "So you regard the family
as a hindrance?"

"Oh--no and yes. One can never do quite as he pleases while a family and
its wishes, aims, and loves are concerned. They always hold him down to
some extent. He is an equal hindrance to them. They love each other, and
as a result they have to sacrifice their individual wishes. But the
family keeps man more social, more gregarious, and less selfish. If we
were as free from family love as is the wolf I mentioned, we would be
able to live our lives more completely, and, on the other hand, we would
die in greater numbers. The love of man and woman for each other and
their children lifts humanity out of its serfdom, but it also places
limitations. You ought to know more about that than I, however," he
laughed. "I merely theorize."

"So I noticed," Claire observed. "One can easily gather that you aren't
experienced."

"No. My parents died when I was small. I had to work my way through
school. The accident made it somewhat harder, but I got along." He was
plainly matter of fact.

"Oh!" She exclaimed at his words more forcefully than she had intended.

He smiled a little, comprehendingly. "Yes, it explains a lot, doesn't
it?" He spoke carelessly. "You doubtless can now understand my lack of
social grace."

She thought to deny it, but that seemed foolish. He was silent, and
there seemed little use in talking. Claire knew she understood him well
enough.



CHAPTER V.

THE FACE OF DEATH.


In the days that followed they talked but little. Lawrence had fallen
into the habit of speaking only when she seemed to desire conversation,
and his mind was occupied with planning their escape. If he thought of
her in any other way than merely as his eyes, he never showed it. Though
watchful of her comfort, in every act and word, he was markedly
impersonal.

Following the river, they had progressed steadily north and east over
increasingly higher and rougher ground. The tropical vegetation of
intertwining crimson was now changing to a faint gold. There were days
when they were forced to make long détours over broken ridges to get
around some deep gorge through which the gray-green stream dashed its
foamy way downward. They were well into the mountains, and above them
the higher Andes raised their snowy peaks in forbidding austerity. It
was daily growing colder, and their clothes were now only ragged strips.
Then came days when sharp, biting winds whipped through the cañon they
followed, or headed against them on some plateau, and they were forced
to face new issues. Food was less plentiful, and winter was at hand. To
be sure they were in the tropics, but on the mountains the air was cold,
and warmer clothes became imperative.

Claire's ankle was almost well. After weeks of pain, which she had borne
bravely, it was healing, and the time was near when she would be able to
walk. Shoes were absolutely essential for her. Furthermore, Lawrence's
own shoes were worn through, and his walking was becoming a continual
pain. In spite of Claire's increasingly careful guidance, he stepped on
small, sharp rocks that dug into his flesh. He did not complain, but
Claire knew that he was suffering. The times when he stepped out freely
became more and more seldom, and his face was usually taut.

They were, indeed, a pitiable couple. Lawrence's thin face was shaggy
with hair. Claire's once soft skin was now brown and hard. Both were
thin and wiry, with the gaunt lines of the undernourished showing
plainly.

One morning, to fight the frost that bit into them, they were forced to
build a fire long before dawn. As they sat huddled together over it,
Lawrence finally broached the subject that had been engrossing both
their minds for days.

"Claire," he said thoughtfully, "we can't make it through. We'll have to
find a place somewhere and prepare for winter. It's tough, but it's
inevitable. I hate to give up now, but it will be even worse for us if
we don't get meat, fur, and a house against the snow that will soon be
covering everything."

"I know," she said sadly, her thin hands supporting her chin. "It seems
as though we had played our long farce to its end. Death is as
inexorable in its demands as life." The circles under her eyes were
great half-moons.

"We have done well, though," he argued. "We've done better than well.
Who would have believed that a blind man and a crippled woman could have
come as far as this?"

"I didn't believe it, Lawrence," she said, and her voice and eyes were
full of a warmth that had grown of late to be fairly constant. "I
didn't believe it, and I wouldn't believe it now if I were told the
story back home."

"I'm not sure; I might have," Lawrence said proudly. "I know the blind
and their capabilities."

"I'm learning to know them," she admitted, and lapsed into silence.

"Shall we go into camp, then," he asked, as if they had not mentioned
anything else.

Claire hesitated, then said slowly: "It's our only chance. Are you
willing to spend a winter with me?" Her eyes glanced amusedly at him.

Catching the note in her voice, Lawrence laughed. "It seems inevitable,"
he said, "and, anyway, I couldn't ask for a better companion. You don't
disturb me, and I don't irritate you--that is, not especially."

She looked at him impatiently. "Don't you?" she said, meditatively.
"Well, I'm glad I don't bother you."

"Yes," he assented seriously. "You've been mighty open-minded, Claire,
and you haven't hampered me with incredulities."

"Oh, that is what you mean."

He moved uneasily, his muscles drawing a little. Claire saw and
wondered.

"Yes," Lawrence said shortly. "When morning comes, we'll hunt for a
location."

They ceased speaking, each occupied with his own thoughts.

Claire was asking herself what the winter would mean to her, spent with
this silent man, and he was questioning how long she would continue to
regard him as a mere imperfect carrier, devoid of the stuff that men are
made of. Sometimes when her body was in his arms, he had wondered if she
was capable of love, but always he had remembered her husband, her
social life, her assumption of superior reserve, and had forced himself
into a habitual attitude of indifference. The strain was telling on his
will, however, and often he longed to make this woman see him as he was.
He thought of the old days in his studio when he had proved himself
master of blindness in his power to imagine and carry the sense of form
into the carved stone. He recalled the praise of his comrades, and over
all else there surged in him the swift, warm blood of the artist.

"Lawrence," said Claire suddenly, "at what do you value human life?"

"That depends," he answered, "on whose life it is."

"Well, at what would you value mine?" she demanded.

"From varying points of view, at varying prices. From your husband's
point of view, it is invaluable. From your own, it is worth more than
anything else. From my point of view, it is worth as much as my own,
since without you mine ceases."

"Then your care of me and all your trouble is merely because you value
your own life."

"What else?" He moved uneasily.

She ignored that question. "If you could get through without me, would
you do it?"

"That depends on circumstances. If I could get through without you, and
do it quickly, and could not get through with you"--he paused--"I should
leave you behind."

"And suppose, when I can walk, I do that myself?"

He smiled. "As you please," he said quietly. "I advise you to make your
estimate well, however. My hands and strength are assets which you might
have trouble in doing without."

"And do you estimate the whole of our relationship on a carefully
itemized basis of material gain and loss?"

"Claire, isn't that your understanding, stated by yourself, of our
partnership?"

"Yes, but--well, it's hard to estimate human companionship."

"I know it." He shifted nearer the fire. "I've tried to estimate yours."

"Indeed?" Her voice was full of interest.

"I've failed. You are worth a great deal, potentially."

"Exactly what do you mean?"

"I mean just this"--he stood up suddenly and faced her, his shadow
covering her like an ominous cloud--"that as Mrs. Claire Barkley you are
worth nothing to me except eyes, and, therefore, your personality and
conversation are of value only as time-fillers."

"Go on," she said steadily.

"But as Claire, the almost starved, ragged human being who is living
with me through a prolonged war with death, you are worth everything to
me--everything that I value."

"But isn't that what I have been from the beginning?" she flashed.

He answered slowly. "Yes--in a way."

Once more they lapsed into silence. In turn she tried to estimate his
worth to her, but failed. She began to recall the men she knew, and
concluded that she was without a standard of measurement. One by one she
pictured them and cast them aside, as somehow not the scale by which to
evaluate this man. At last, she began to think of her husband. It had
not occurred to her to think of him in comparison with Lawrence before,
and it made her wonder at her doing so now.

She fell to dreaming of the man who had been her lover in girlhood, and
her husband and dear companion these past six years. He was surely at
home, aching, yearning for the little girl he had lost. She could see
him sitting before the fireplace in their big living-room, his head on
his hands, his tired face in repose, while he gazed into the flames and
longed and longed for her. The picture grew in clearness. She saw the
joy that would be his when they met again, and she felt around her those
dear arms, crushing her against him in a rapture of reunion. In sudden
contrast, she was again conscious of the cold, impersonal arms of the
man beside her. As she thought of the difference she hated Lawrence
wildly. At least, her husband knew her worth. He knew her golden
treasure-house of love; he knew her as she was.

This blind man before her there, unkempt, hard, expressionless, what did
he know of her? What could he know, born of poor people, and working his
way among inferiors? She almost laughed aloud. Why, at home this man,
who had carried her in his arms, would have been one of her wards, an
object of her charities. But would he? Lawrence was an artist. She
considered that.

"Isn't it light enough to get moving, Claire?" His rich, warm tones
broke in upon her thought like a shattering cataract. How musical and
vibrant his voice was!

"I think so." She stood up unsteadily.

"Good. We'd better go down nearer the river. We will want a sheltered
ravine for our winter camp."

"Very well." She threw her arm over his shoulder. "It isn't far down,
and it's clear going. When we start again, I'll be able to walk. And
then I'll lead you, Mr. Lawrence." She spoke half in jest.

"And if we are alive, I shall make it possible for you to do so
comfortably. I hope for something to make shoes of." He answered with a
frank, sincere joy at her being able to walk, and she was ashamed of her
anger. He was not to blame for being anxious to have her well, to have
felt otherwise would certainly have been to be a fool indeed. She should
rejoice with him, for then they could get home that much sooner, home to
her husband and her old life. She warmed at the idea, and felt a sense
of gratitude toward Lawrence that was good and wholesome. "I have been
silly," she thought. "He is really not to be expected to fall and adore
me, and certainly I ought not to blame him for being blind. He couldn't
help that, either."

"Lawrence," she said aloud, "I am a beastly unjust wretch."

"I don't see it," he protested.

"But you ought to see it. I don't play fair with you."

"You said that once before, I believe. I don't agree any more now that I
did then."

"But I think all sorts of beastly things." She could not understand her
frankness.

"Oh"--he paused. "So do I. But as I am not a Puritan, I scarcely hold
myself responsible to you for my thoughts. One's thoughts are his own,
and, as long as he keeps them to himself, he is entitled to as many as
he pleases, of whatever variety he prefers."

"Do you think so?"

"Of course, and so do you."

"Yes, I did--but it seemed to me," she faltered, "that in the present
case--oh, well, let it go." She laughed nervously, and said no more.

Lawrence wondered at her silence, and wanted to know very much what she
thought, but he told himself that after all it was none of his
business.

They had reached the river. The water rushed from the mouth of a gorge
in rapids that sent its every drop sparkling and flashing over a great
rock into a mass of white foam below.

"Oh," cried Claire, "it's beautiful, beautiful!"

He put her down and laughed. "It sounds as if it were leaping from
points of light into cloud-banked foam."

She stared at him in amazement. "It is," she said in a subdued tone.
"How did you know?"

"One learns," he said carelessly. "And how about a camp?"

Her admiration of him vanished into the commonplace.

"We can't find it here," she said, hiding her appreciation of the scene
under her professional-guide tone.

He frowned. "Nowhere close?"

"No. And what is worse, we'll have to go over a mountain. The stream
here is rushing right out from between cliff walls."

Lawrence's spirit sank, but he did not show it. "We'd better eat what
little we have left and then be off," he suggested simply.

That morning was the beginning of their hardest experience since they
first left the beach. Scarcely had they started to climb over the great
ridge, which broke into sheer precipice at the river, when a sharp wind
rose and cut through their unprotected bodies. Claire drew in against
him as close as she could, while he tried to give her more protection
with his arms. The slope was steep and filled with loose rocks so that
he lost ground at every step. They were forced to stop often, and by
noon he was worn out, and they were both bitterly cold. Claire thought
they were near the top, so Lawrence nerved himself to press on.

Night found them standing on the crest of the ridge, in the face of a
bitter wind; before them, across a small plateau, rose a still higher
mountain around the northern side of which a ravine cut its jagged gash
away from the river. Claire stared at the scene until her courage broke
down.

"We can never do it, Lawrence," she moaned, and her head sank wearily
against his shoulder. Her cry was the aching moan of a heart-broken
child. The proud, self-contained Claire was gone. It stirred Lawrence
strangely, and for the first time a warm tenderness for her came over
him. He drew her to him, and tried to comfort her. Her poor
undernourished body shook with the sobs that despair and the cold wrung
from her, and, though his own hands and body were blue, he tried to warm
her. Had he seen the ground ahead of them, he, too, might have given up,
but blindness was the barring wall of black which shut out even defeat.
He clenched his teeth firmly, and lifted Claire in his arms again
resolutely.

"We've got to do it, Claire," he said, "and we will."

She attempted to paint the scene before him in graphic detail, her words
broken by sobs. When she finished he started forward.

"We'll follow the gulf," he stated. "We must keep going, Claire. We
don't dare to stop."

"We can't. It's dark, and will be black soon," she answered.

"We've got to do it," Lawrence repeated. "It isn't the first night of my
life I've struggled against a black so dense its nothingness seemed
overpowering."

She strained her eyes through the gathering night to turn him into the
smoothest way, lapsing into jerky, habitual words of guidance.

In the darkness they entered the ravine and staggered down to its broken
bottom. The time soon came when she could see hardly anything until they
were almost upon it, and the white face of a boulder spotting the
endless black before her filled her with a vague dread. Often they
paused to rest, but the cold drove them on again. Claire almost ceased
to direct him, and Lawrence gritted his teeth till they hurt him and
forged ahead.

Once he slipped and fell, but got to his feet again and went on. Claire
was not injured beyond a few bruises, but she noticed that he limped
more than before and her fear increased.

How they ever fought that night through neither knew, but morning came
at last and found them still staggering down the ravine. They were
almost out of it now and were entering a rather heavy pine forest.
Fortunately the gulf they followed had turned around the mountain in the
direction of the river, and their desire for water drove them to keep
on. To their blue and shaking bodies all feeling had grown vague,
tingling, and uncertain. When Claire looked at Lawrence she could have
screamed. His lips were drawn back, and his hairy cheeks and sightless
eyes flashed before her the image of a dehumanized death mask. Her own
face must look like that, she thought, and buried her head on his
shoulder. Through that morning he struggled on, faltering, lurching,
resting a little, girding himself against the death now so surely at
hand. In his mind thought had ceased to be coherent; his starved body,
whipped by the cold, was beginning to play with the imagery.

He gurgled a grim little laugh, and all clear thought was at an end.
Claire heard and looked at him wonderingly. She knew that she was
freezing, and she had resigned herself, but this man, what was he doing?
He still lunged through the trees, where, at all events it seemed a
little warmer. She heard him muttering incoherent jargon that gradually
cleared to speech. "We'll go on, Claire. We'll go on to the end. I've
got to do it. I need my life. I need you!"

She started and listened, though even in her present state she grew
resentful. "So that was it," she thought; "he's waiting to get me out
before he breaks into his love. He wants his rescue as an argument."
Then her thinking was broken into detached images. She saw her husband
and cried aloud to him. She had pictures flashing in her mind of him, of
old scenes, parties, places they had been together, tenements she had
visited in her charity work, the beach that morning when Lawrence had
found her, and in and through it all she heard words falling from his
lips that recalled later, stung her to wrath.

"I need you, Claire," she heard him again, and then, "I shall use you,
Claire. You will be my masterpiece. It is you, proud, superior, human,
social, intellectual, sexed, vital, you, carrying in your being the
whole tumultuous riot of the ages gone, and hiding it under a guarded
social exterior, not knowing when in a sentence it breaks through, you,
you, Claire, you, the woman!"

He stumbled, regained his balance, and plunged through a fringe of
pines, staggered against one, then another, cursed, and went again
forward and out into a clearing. She saw it vaguely before them. At
first she doubted, then, as he let his hold on her slip, she gripped his
neck with arms that scarcely felt the body they closed around.

"Lawrence," she screamed in a voice that was shrill--"Lawrence, a cabin,
a cabin!"

He sank down with her clinging to him still. "I know," he muttered,
"I've got to find one." Then he lay quiet.

She freed herself and crept toward the house. She was at the back of it,
and she was obliged to crawl slowly on hands and knees around to the
front. There was a door, she pushed on it, but it did not open. She grew
angry at it, and beat against it with her fists, abusing it for its
obstinacy. When at last it opened she laughed wildly.

Before her, his tall body, clad in warm, heavy clothes, stood a man
whose dark eyes grew wet with tears of pity the instant they saw her. He
lifted her in his arms like a child and carried her inside. She had a
fleeting sense of being at home, she thought he was her husband and
threw her arms around him passionately, then, remembering Lawrence, she
murmured as he laid her down, "Out there--behind the cabin!" and was
unconscious.

The man turned and hurried out. In a few minutes he came back, carrying
Lawrence, and his face was lined with pity at the state of these two
human beings.

He laid them together on a wide berth at the side of the cabin and began
to work over them alternately. Swiftly and deftly he heated blankets and
prepared food. He wound them in the hot cloth, chafed their hands and
arms, and forced brandy down their throats.

Lawrence's eyelids drew back.

"The man is blind," muttered the stranger in Spanish.

Claire was looking at him dazedly and reaching greedily toward the
kettle that simmered over a great open fireplace.

He brought a bowl of hot savory soup and started feeding them. Lawrence
swallowed mechanically, but he could hardly get the spoon out of
Claire's mouth.

"Not too much, _señora_," he said, turning away.

When he looked again toward them they were both asleep. The utter
exhaustion of their long night claimed rest. He walked over to Claire
and stood looking down at her.

"She was beautiful," he thought. "And he is blind. Ah, well, for her,
beauty is again possible, but for him"--he shrugged his shoulders--"it
is bad, bad!" he said softly, and, turning to a shelf of books that
stood against the wall, he drew out a volume and sat down before the
fire to read.



CHAPTER VI.

THE STONE THREAT.


When Claire awoke she stared around her for a few minutes before the
events of their frantic struggle came back to her. Her eyes strayed to
the figure before the fireplace. Idly she noted the lustrous, wavy black
hair and deep brown eyes protected by unusually heavy lashes. It was
clearly the face of a thinker, a dreamer, yet there was something
sensual about the mouth, potentially voluptuous, abandoned, and
suggestive of tremendous passion that slumbered close beneath the brain
that was so actively awake. Claire ached, and her body tingled with the
unaccustomed warmth. She lay quiet, looking at the fire, her mind still
uncertain in its action, weaving sharp, dynamic images about this new
personality. While his appearance gripped and awed her strangely, at the
same time she felt drawn to him. She turned and threw out her hand. Her
host closed his book and looked up, smiling.

"Ah, _la señora se siente mejor_?" His deep, rich voice, although
lighter than Lawrence's, was full of music, but she did not understand
his words. Her blank expression told him, and he smiled again.

"I remember, you spoke English," he said with only the slightest accent.
"Are you better, _madame_?"

She answered his warm smile and said weakly: "Much better, thank you!"

"And your husband?" Claire saw that he was looking beyond her, and she
turned to find Lawrence at her side. Instinctively she resented his
being there. The warm blood rushed to her face.

"He--oh--he will be all right, I trust!" she stammered falteringly, and
her host looked puzzled. Her impulse was to tell him that Lawrence was
not her husband, but she thought better of it and said nothing about the
relationship.

"He had a long, desperate struggle to bring me here," she said instead.
"You see, I broke my ankle and he had to carry me."

"Oh!" The man rose, his face filled with respect as he looked at
Lawrence asleep beside her.

"From where did he carry you?" he asked.

"From the coast," she shuddered. "It has been terrible!"

His face expressed utter amazement as he repeated: "From the coast? It
is a miracle!"

She made no reply, for Lawrence stirred and tried to sit up.

"You'd better lie still," the stranger said kindly. "You deserve rest,
my friend." Then, as to himself, he added: "It is the first miracle in
which I can believe."

Claire stared at him, and he laughed softly. "Pardon, _madame_! I am an
unhappy seeker after truth," he apologized, throwing a log on the fire.

For Lawrence and Claire the days that followed were uneventful days of
recovery from their hardship. Slowly both of them grew stronger and
resumed their normal habits of thought and speech. Their host was a
gentle nurse, kindly and considerate. Claire assumed her wonted attitude
of the cultured woman, a guest in the house of a friend, and the
Spaniard met her with the polished courtesy of a cosmopolitan. Lawrence,
too, became the usual man that he was, careless of little niceties,
indifferent to form, but a charming companion and a delightful guest.

From the first he and Philip became intensely interested in each other.
They discovered early that each was a thinker and a searcher in his own
way for the one great solution of life.

During the first half-hour Claire had demanded of their rescuer where
they were and how soon they could get back to civilization. Philip had
laughed gently.

"You are on the borders of Bolivia," he told her, "and the nearest
railroad is two hundred miles away. It is impossible to get out until
spring. Long ere this snow will have barred the way through the one pass
that leads out and we are prisoners--the three of us. You will have to
accept the hospitality of Philip Ortez until the spring."

Lawrence had accepted the verdict with calm indifference.

"Oh, well," he said, "it's hard on you, but as far as I'm concerned, one
place is as good as another."

"I shall enjoy your company," their host laughed.

After voicing polite thanks, Claire, in her own thought, had rebelled
against the situation vehemently. She wanted to get home, she wanted to
get away from everything that suggested her last weeks of suffering, she
wanted to get away from these men. Her heart leaped to the
ever-recurring dream of the husband, whose arms should take her up and
hold her warmly against the memory of their separation.

"Then there is no way out?" she asked again.

"None, _madame_," and Philip Ortez bowed. "You will have to be the guest
of a humble mountaineer."

"I shall enjoy it, I am sure," she answered. "It is simply a woman's
natural desire for home which leads me to ask again."

His eyes clouded. Claire somehow found herself fancying a tragic mystery
in the life of this man, and then rebuked herself for romancing.
Certainly, such fancies were not her habit, and she wondered why they
were occurring to her.

The cabin stood on the very edge of the forest through which Lawrence
had carried Claire the last morning of their long march. Protected by
its pines, the little house fronted on a small lake, a place where the
river which they had followed widened to a half-mile, and stayed thus
with scarcely any current save directly through the center. All around
the lake the forest stretched its massed green, and here Philip trapped.
The lake, in its turn, provided him with fish.

The week after their arrival snow had heaped itself into the ravine and
piled up high around the cabin. Ice was beginning to form on the edge of
the lake, and their host was preparing for his winter's work. They were
too weak to go with him, and he left them in possession of the cabin.

At first there had been an unaccountable awkwardness between Lawrence
and Claire, and it had left a reserve which was difficult to overcome.
Lawrence had explained their situation to Philip; the Spaniard had been
apologetically gracious, but there was something in Claire's nature that
made her wish that Lawrence had never been thought of as her husband.
Dressed in Philip's clothes, and in the presence of a roof and fire, she
felt a desire to be free from the memory of the days when she had clung
about Lawrence's neck, and, above all, she felt that she was not able to
meet him with understanding. His blindness in these surroundings seemed
to set a sudden and impassable barrier between them, and made her ill at
ease when she was alone with him.

Lawrence was irritated that she should so immediately react into what he
called the old conventional habit toward blind people, and keep it
standing like a stupid but solid wall between all their talk. Now that
she was no longer dependent on him, she appeared to him more attractive.
He thought of her husband, and wondered if Claire's attitude toward
himself was tempered with the thought of the man at home. "Surely," he
told himself, "she can't be allowing that to come between us, for it is
so obviously quite unnecessary." Then he began to wonder how much of her
life was centered about her husband. What sort of man was he, and did
she love him devotedly? As he thought, there crept into his feeling a
sense of irritation against the unknown man who was obstructing his
friendship with the woman he had carried half through the Andes
Mountains.

Then the longing for his work came over him, and there were times when
he felt he must do something. He spoke needlessly sharp words to
Claire. Though she concealed her anger, there grew between them a
continuous straining born out of mutual misunderstanding and a great
submerged tangle of emotions.

One morning when Ortez in snow-shoes and fur had gone for the day to
look after his traps, Claire washed up the tin dishes they used, and sat
down before the fire opposite Lawrence. His head was in his hands and
his face was somber.

"You look sad this morning," she said casually.

"Do I?" he answered. "I'm not--especially. I was just planning a piece
of work, dreaming it out in outline."

She looked at him thoughtfully. His forehead was high and broad, she
thought, and his hands-- Their days in the wilderness rushed back over
her. She was angry at the memories they brought her, and doubly angry at
Lawrence, as if he only were responsible.

"It's inconceivable," she said calmly, "that you, without seeing, can
really carve anything true to form and line." In her voice was
incredulity and unbelief.

He rose suddenly, his face white, and said, with an intensity that
startled her: "That sentiment is as familiar to me as my name. I have
heard it from sight-bigoted people from the days when I made my first
attempt to go back to my school work. I am rather weary of it."

She sat staring at him for a moment, then she laughed. She could not
have told why she did it, and she was instantly sorry. The blood rushed
to his face.

"I shall create that which will forever assure you that I can carve true
to the most familiar form and line you know," he said fiercely.

Her face was as crimson as his now, though she felt ice cold.

"What do you mean?" she demanded, her voice unsteady.

He laughed bitterly. In his own heart a fierce volcanic surge was raging
which he did not attempt to control.

"Do you think that I, trained as I am to gather fact from touch, could
carry you through weeks of hell in my arms, against my breast, and not
know you, you as you are, Claire Barkley? I shall carve you, you with
your cold reserve suppressing the emotional chaos within you, and you
will not fail to recognize yourself."

Claire gripped the chair arms. Anger, fear, doubt, then the knowledge
that he could do as he said, swept over her in rapidly succeeding waves,
and gathered at last into a steel hate that she felt must last through
eternity.

"You, you would do that, after I guided you here! You would take
advantage of what I could not help, and--and--" she choked, and then
said swiftly--"so, under your indifferent exterior you used your touch
that way these days! Oh, you--you beast!"

Lawrence laughed coolly. "I could no more help it than I can avoid being
here."

"Lies!" she exclaimed. "A gentleman could help it!"

"Perhaps, but not an artist."

"And what of beauty, of your boasted purity of art, is there in that?"

"All," he said calmly. "If you knew, oh, if I could make you see what
every artist knows"--he was talking passionately now, his face illumined
in spite of his blind eyes--"you would realize, that I could not help
it, that I glory in it, and that it was and is the way of art."

He rose and walked the floor, pouring out his creed in a stream of
burning words. "I am a machine, a sensitive thing that registers what it
feels and knows, that is all. You touch me, my brain registers that
touch, and something in me, the will to live, the desire to create, the
insistent shout for expression says, 'Take that and carve it in stone.'
If I could see, if I were not blind, I would have been a painter. I
would have painted you, almost naked as you were, your eyes filled with
the hunger for life, your face tense with racing thoughts, I would have
painted you fully, all of you, as you were in night-gown and skirt there
in that forest, and you would have shouted to all the world from my
canvas, 'Look at me, I am the primitive, the wild, the passionate, the
tender, the selfish and unselfish living woman. See me as I am,
cultured, refined, educated, elemental withal, and the emblem of
humanity as it is, still stained with the traditional mud of
superstition and blood that marks its origin. Oh, I would have painted
you so, and now I shall carve you so!"

He stopped, and Claire looked at him wildly, her eyes aflame with hate
and admiration.

"You would use another human being that way?" she gasped.

"I would use any one, I would, I will, at any cost to them, to me, if
the outcome be a piece of art, a work that in its truth, its immortal
beauty, shall stand a lasting testimony that I, Lawrence Gordon, have
mastered blindness and registered life correctly."

A great light swept over her mind; that was the key to him. He would
sacrifice himself to conquer blindness--but would he, she wondered, and
instantly her thought found expression.

"Would you crush yourself to create that mastery of blindness?"

He laughed. "I have, I am doing it," he said. "I would go through all
the torment of the world if I might create something lasting, true, and
beautiful."

Claire leaned forward, her lips apart, her eyes bright. That she hated
this man she was sure, yet all her woman's soul was awed by what she now
saw behind his mask of blindness. Then a new thought came to her.

"Might it not be," she asked subtly, "if you hold suffering to be the
key to beauty that you would profit more at last by denying the impulse
to create the thing you are planning?"

He laughed again. "I hold that pain is only the spur to progress. I care
nothing for the sentimentalism you are talking now. I carried you
through the wilderness, I suffered and bore it, I staggered through
nights and days with your warm body against mine that I might live, and
now--now I know the value of life, I understand as never before the pain
our fathers paid. I know the bitter animal war against environment,
evolution whipped into action by pain, hunger, fear of death, and I
shall carve that, all that, into the statue of one woman."

"And what of me, me and you as such, Claire and Lawrence, who were there
through that struggle in the wilderness?" The speech leaped from
somewhere in her being before she knew it, and with it came knowledge
that stung her into tearful self-hate.

"We shall go back to our old lives, I suppose, and live them out."

It was what she had expected him to say, yet the calm matter-of-fact
statement hurt her as nothing he had ever said before.

Lawrence dropped into the arm-chair again, and rested his head on his
hand. He was calmer now, and, reviewing in his mind what he had said, he
was beginning to ask himself why had he given way to this sudden
resentment against Claire. If she doubted him because he was blind, was
that any more than others had done? He had never burst out against them.
What was the matter with him? He surveyed the whole trend of his life up
to this minute: how he had broken at late adolescence from a glowing
idealist to a wanderer through varying paths of thought; always stirred,
stimulated, and swept on by contact with other people, books he had
read, women for whom he had occasional fancies of love, until gradually
he settled into his assured manner. It was exercise he needed, that and
work.

He asked himself if he seriously loved Claire, and answered
unequivocally that he did not. He wanted her friendship very much,
indeed, but love, not at all. If she had been single, perhaps--but no,
he did not care about her that way, that was all. He had been too long
shut up here in the cabin with her and without work. He must get some
wood and amuse himself carving things with Ortez's knife; it would be
good practise, and, at the same time, relieve his nerves. He was sorry
he had let himself go; Claire must not be hurt.

"Claire," he said quietly, "if I wounded you, if I said things I ought
not, pardon me! I am getting nervous doing nothing, and I am not myself
these days."

She laughed calmly. "Oh, very well!" she said. "I wonder that we don't
come to blows, cooped up here as we are. I think next time Philip makes
his rounds I'll go with him."

"It would be a good thing," answered Lawrence. "I'd like it myself."

Claire did not keep up the talk. She, too, was thinking fast, and facing
new problems that demanded her attention. She was surprised to find that
her resentment toward Lawrence was completely gone. What would her
husband think of him? What would he do when she returned, when she told
him of her journey with this blind man through weeks and weeks of
wilderness when they were almost naked. She stopped, that was what
Lawrence had said, 'almost naked.' Her flesh tingled as she saw the
picture which he said he would like to paint of her.

What would she, Claire Barkley, do if such a picture were painted? She
buried her face deep in her hands, but in her heart she knew that she
would respect the man who painted it. And if Lawrence carved her so in
stone, and did it as he thought he could--she pondered over that for
some time.

"I think," she said aloud, and Lawrence raised his head, "that if I were
to stay shut up here alone as Philip does, I should go crazy before
spring."

"It all depends on how your mind is occupied," he laughed.

She blushed guiltily, and was glad he could not see her face.


TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK. Don't forget this magazine
is issued weekly, and that you will get the
continuation of this story without waiting a month.


WHAT LIBERTY BONDS MEAN

PATRIOTISM, VICTORY, THE SOUNDEST INVESTMENT IN THE
WORLD, A PERFECT MEANS OF SAVING

BUY ALL YOU CAN



Claire

by Leslie Burton Blades

THE BLIND LOVE OF A BLIND HERO

_BY A BLIND AUTHOR_


This story began in the All-Story Weekly for October 5.



CHAPTER VII.

PLAYING WITH FIRE.


In the late afternoon, Philip returned to find Lawrence still sitting
before the fire, his mind centered on ideas for his future work. Claire
had disappeared behind the canvas curtain which was stretched before her
bed.

"It is almost Christmas," announced Philip, as he entered.

Lawrence straightened up. "Back again?" he said, carelessly. "It's been
a beastly day."

Claire came out from her partition, laughing. "If you don't take one of
us with you next time," she said, "I won't answer for the tragedy that
may follow."

Philip laughed, and shook the snow from his big coat.

"Too much of your own continuous company?" he asked.

"Yes"--her tone was light, but he saw that she was in earnest--"we are
so accustomed to each other that we both need a rest." She drew up a
chair for Philip before the fire.

His dark eyes looked searchingly at her.

"If you knew the path to peace," he said, "you would be happier. I see
that I must take you out with me and teach you the hidden entrance to
that mystic roadway."

"You know one, then?" Lawrence's voice was amusedly skeptical.

"It lies through the heart of man into the heart of"--Philip
paused--"shall I say God?"

"You may as well, though it isn't especially clear." Lawrence smiled.
"God is a big, but vague, term."

"I find it so," Philip answered, seriously. "There are days, however,
and this was one of them, when I am sure of the meaning of that term.
Claire must go forth with me and see."

"Yes, do let me go," she said, eagerly. Then, with a little laugh: "If
your mystery out there is as discomforting as the Lawrence mystery in
here, I sha'n't worship him, however."

"He isn't." Philip arose and crossed to his books. "He is the mighty God
who speaks in solitude." He drew down a volume, and returned to his
chair.

"I find here in these mountains the medicine that _Hamlet_ should have
had. He would have been no _Hamlet_ had he ranged this plateau for a day
in winter."

"And the world would be the loser," Lawrence interposed.

Claire rose and started to prepare their evening meal. She had taken
over the duties of housekeeping from the time her ankle had allowed her
to walk.

"If you two are going to plunge the house into an argument such as that
one promises to be," she said gaily, "I am going to reenforce the inner
man so that at least you won't suffer from physical exhaustion."

Both men laughed, and one of them listened to her thoughtfully as she
moved about, while the other watched her, his dark eyes full of a keen
appreciation of her grace and her concise, accurate movements.

"How good it is to have her here," thought Philip. Aloud, he said,
seriously: "I do not think the world gains enough from _Hamlet_ to make
it worth the price he paid."

"Why not?" Lawrence was quick to respond. "Whatever his agony, whatever
his failures and his death, he left the world a picture of man's heroic
struggles to solve the riddle of the universe, his wisdom, his
strength--and his weakness."

"But that is just what we don't want--the picture of man's weakness. It
is made all the worse when it is presented with the power of a sublime
work."

Claire turned from the stove, and looked at Philip. His eyes were
burning with a deep, earnest fire that held her fascinated. She thought
him the most beautiful of all the men she knew. It was not his face, not
his appearance generally, but his eyes. Oh, the loss of such eyes! she
thought--yes, they are what makes him a finer man than Lawrence. Why
hasn't Lawrence such eyes?

"Believe me, friend," Philip was speaking again, "if I could erase from
my knowledge the weakness of man, I would not need to trail my feet
through these snow-buried forests to find an hour's rest from life."

Claire saw his fingers move nervously on the arms of his chair, and
thought: "That is it, then; I was right; he has his tragedy." She looked
at him again, and as she met his eyes she felt that she was sorrier for
him than she had ever been for Lawrence. Yes, she was sorrier for this
man whose soul burned out of his eyes than for that other whose soul was
always curtained by the expressionless mask that hid him.

"I can't quite agree with you," Lawrence was saying; "I, too, know the
weakness of man, but there is, nevertheless, the glory of sublime beauty
which alone stands, immortal. I should indeed mourn for man if he were
unable to be truly immortal even in his created work. That, it seems to
me, saves him."

"Or loses him," Philip added. "One golden life of unbroken sunshine,
dead at last and laid away in the memory of friends is worth more than
your greatest poem."

"I should call that sentimentality," Lawrence laughed.

"So it is," Philip flashed, "and why not? Must we kill sentiment and go
about with hearts of ice because our world is hard?"

"Is there no way to keep ourselves warm without poultices?" retorted
Lawrence.

Claire sat down at the table. "Come on and enjoy your venison, you two,
and have done with the ills of the universe."

The two men joined her. It was a strange trio: Claire, a dashing boy in
Philip's made-over corduroys; Lawrence wearing his host's summer serge
as though it were his own, and Philip looking at them, amusedly.

"I never quite recover from the charm of you in male attire," Ortez
remarked, looking into her face.

"I've tried at times since our fortunate misfortune to imagine her in
evening gowns and furs," said Lawrence; "but I always fail and end by
getting her into some sort of barbaric costume belonging to the distant
past."

"You are both flattering and both foolish," she told them. "It's my
business to look well in clothes, you know, and it's masculine to admit
my efficiency in a particularly feminine line."

"You were scarcely fascinatingly efficient in the garb in which you
first appeared to me." Philip laughed at the recollection.

"That isn't fair. I would have been if I had had enough to eat."

She looked at him, and her eyes sparkled gaily.

"I surrender," he said. "You would have been. Too fascinating!"

"That also depends on circumstances," said Lawrence. "She wouldn't be
fascinatingly efficient in that back-to-nature garb if she were doing
charity work at home or if she were taking a trip in an airplane."

"You carry your point," she agreed. "I shouldn't care to try."

"Which leads me," Lawrence went on, "to observe that our friend,
Shakespeare, was, after all, right in bequeathing _Hamlet_ to us. He
might not look well in our own castle, but as a portrait viewed in our
neighbor's house, or in a house unspecified, he is the high point of
subjective tragedy."

Ortez did not answer for a moment, then he said, quietly: "I had rather
lose my winter's work than lost _Hamlet_ from my memory, yet when I
think of what there is in life for a man, did he not have _Hamlet's_
doubt to face, I think perhaps we would all be better off for no
knowledge of that subjective war. Man has too much to do to lift himself
out of the still clinging primordial slough to dally with
subjectiveness. We should be acting, aggressive, strident in the
strength of the war we wage toward freedom."

"Of course," agreed Lawrence, "but that requires only one thing, the
master passion to do, because for us, doing is life. I cannot regret
_Hamlet's_ hesitating failure. It was his life. To every man there is
but one way, his way, and whether it be failure or success does not
depend upon an avenged wrong, a successful marriage, or even a great
work done for humanity. The test is, is his life worth the price he pays
to live it? I imagine _Hamlet's_ was."

"Fallacies!" interrupted Claire. "Why, then, the tragedy?"

"Because _Hamlet_ did not know that the governing laws to which he
strove to hold himself were not laws, not true, not necessary."

"You mean," Ortez inquired, "that he was not bound to avenge his father
and punish his mother?"

"I mean just that. Why should he? She was satisfied, his father was
dead, and _Hamlet_ gained nothing by his moral strutting and raving
against his own hesitating hand."

"But you have swept aside all moral law," protested Philip.

"What moral law is there that is external to me? What, indeed, is moral
law?"

"That which makes for life, perhaps, as some one has said," offered
Claire.

"For my life, yes. That which to me means life, is good. That which to
me means less life, is bad."

"Yet you carried Claire through the mountains," Philip's voice was hard.

"Because I needed her, because she was essential to my life."

"Then you would have left her, had she been a hindrance?"

"That depends," answered Lawrence slowly. "Had she made my life
uncertain when otherwise I might have lived, I think I would. Of course,
if her being there merely increased my trouble, I should have brought
her."

Claire was watching Philip's face. It was a study. On it there was
something that made her heart beat faster, she found herself unable to
tell why. She glanced at Lawrence. There he sat, his strong, stern face,
calm and soulless. She wondered why blindness robbed this man of his
rightful appearance. He had a soul, and it was a wild, beauty-loving
soul, she knew, but blindness quite mantled it. On the other hand,
Philip's was a mighty fire within, which shone in beauty through his
eyes. Lawrence had quietly spoken of how he would have left her under
other circumstances. Philip would have died at her side, she knew it.
What a difference between them!

"But if you feel as you declare, why take that extra trouble to save
her?" Philip asked.

"Because I have a certain dislike of death and don't care to cause it
myself if I can help it."

Claire laughed. "But death, you said once, is a mere stopping of animal
action. Why dread that?"

"Because I myself do not care to die, I would not care to cause your
death."

Philip rose and went to the fire. "I do not believe you could live by
your theory," he asserted.

"I do live by it. There is but one thing I dread worse than death. I
would die rather than give up my creative impulse."

"And he would sacrifice your life or mine for art's sake," merrily added
Claire. "It's a good thing he doesn't think we are hindrances to art."

Philip also laughed. "Well," he said, "there might come a time when I,
too, would want a thing enough to kill in order to obtain it."

"What, for example?" asked Lawrence. "That is the best way to determine
your value of life."

Philip did not answer for a few minutes, then his voice vibrated.

"The things that mean more than life to me. I know that one holds his
own life dear, but there are things, love, courage, honor, for example,
that he holds even above life."

"Would you kill me, for instance," asked Lawrence pleasantly, "if I
stood between you and Claire?"

"That is scarcely answerable," nervously interposed Claire. "You see,
you don't and the man who does--though it's all absurd, since we none of
us here are the least in love--is my husband."

"I had almost forgotten him," said Lawrence, his voice lingering softly
on the word "almost."

Philip laughed. "Why, yes, in the abstract, I should say that if
anything would make me kill you, it would be your standing between me
and the woman I loved. Of course, the case is fair, but scarcely
probable enough to make any of us worry."

"True"--Lawrence joined him at the fire--"and by the way, while I think
of it, I want a knife and a block of soft wood. I'm going to entertain
myself these days."

Quickly Claire looked up.

"And you shall entertain me, Philip," she said gaily.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE TIGHTENING NET.


Christmas was upon them. They gathered before the big fireplace in
silent meditation, while outside the wind whipped sheeted snow against
the walls and wailed dismally its endless journeying. They could not
help but feel the something melancholy in the air. The little cabin,
standing so far away from civilization and all the things they were
accustomed to know seemed somehow to set them apart from the rest of the
world and leave them stranded as it were, upon a barren stretch of
thought.

In keeping with the setting, solemn questions of destiny, death, and the
meaning of things took the place of the usual Christmas festival and
glitter.

In Lawrence's mind, Claire was growing more and more predominant. He
found her constant association weaving itself into his life until, when
he looked ahead toward the day when they must part, he discovered
himself asking what he could find that would take her place. Her voice,
her little habits of speech, the unexpected question that showed her
deep interest in him, in his work, and in his attitude toward her, these
had gradually stirred in him the desire to establish in his own mind a
definite relation toward her which he could maintain.

When Claire went out for a while with Philip, Lawrence spent the interim
in trying to reason out his problem. He told himself that he would feel
differently in his old environment with friends and work, but the answer
was not satisfactory. He knew that even there, he would miss the quick
sound of movement, the quick phrase that was Claire.

Did he love her then? He asked himself that, and could not answer. What
was love to him, anyway? He sought to think out a scheme of love that
would fit into his system of utter selfishness, and failed. The memory
of her in his arms came to him now with a warm, emotional coloring that
had been absent during the days of their journey.

Had he been so impersonal then at first? He remembered his first wild
joy at finding her there in the surf, and he admitted that even then
there had been a subtle heightening of his pleasure, because it was a
woman. Since his blindness he had been separated from the other sex even
more than from his own, and now he was to live with one daily, having
her alone to talk to, to watch, to be interested in, and to know--yes,
that had been a part of his feeling that morning. He remembered that he
had been slightly irritated at her when he had first decided that she
was cold and intellectual. He had wanted her to be warm, colorful,
vivid, and feminine. He had found later that she was all these things,
but not toward him. It was a man whom he had never known, her husband,
Howard Barkley, for whom she was wholly woman. Always when she spoke of
him her voice had warmed, grown softer, subtly shaded with color.

Claire opened the cabin door.

"Hello, Mr. Dreamer! Still in the land of to-morrow?" she called, taking
off her heavy wraps.

"Where's Philip?" Lawrence demanded gruffly, without moving.

"Working over a trap in the ravine. I was a little tired, so I didn't
wait."

Lawrence could hear her brushing her hair. He was glad she had returned
without Philip. Now at least they would have a few minutes alone.

"Snow bad?" he asked. If he could only have run his hands through that
curly mass! The memory of her hair brushing against his face made his
temples throb dully.

"Yes, my hair is filled with it. I caught my cap on a branch, and the
whole load of snow came down on top of me."

"How old are you, Claire?" he demanded suddenly.

She laughed. "Guess! Don't you know it isn't good form to ask a lady her
age?"

"Sometimes you are quite thirty, and other times--"

"Well, go on." Claire was standing at the opposite side of the fireplace
with her back to the flame.

"Other times, you are two," Lawrence continued calmly.

"I thought that was coming. Well, just to prove what a really nice
person I am, I'll tell you. I'm twenty-six."

"When were you married, Claire?" Her breath tightened at his question.

"Curiosity is a wonderful thing, and the impudence of man passeth all
understanding. I have been married exactly six years, three months, and
twenty-four days." The last sentence brought the catch into her voice
that Lawrence had expected.

"I know you miss your husband," he forced himself to say formally.

"Yes, you see"--Claire hesitated--"ours wasn't like some marriages one
hears about. Howard and I were both very much in love." She realized too
late the past tense. Had Lawrence noticed it? "I miss him dreadfully,"
she added desperately.

Lawrence said nothing. He had noticed Claire's slip, and the verb had
sent him into a thousand realized dreams. The next instant he was
cursing himself for a fool. "Fools, all of us," he thought. "Philip,
too, warming himself with dreams of Claire." Before the nearness of the
Spaniard's personality, Howard Barkley faded into the background.
Lawrence reviewed his own position moodily.

Blind, unable to do the work that Philip did, certainly unable to use
the million little ways of courtesy-building as Philip did, his chances
were unequal.

Did he want Claire for Claire, or was it only the fighting instinct, the
desire to overcome men not handicapped as he was? Would he still want
Claire after he had won her? After the intimacies of home life had made
her familiar as nothing else could, and had dispelled all romance, all
the alluring appeal that sprang from the deepest sex-prompted desire yet
unattained, would he still want her? That was the question, and he could
not say. The experience alone could tell him--and would that experience
ever come?

Claire watched Lawrence's face, the while her own thoughts raced on. It
had been love she felt for her husband. She was sure of that. Of course,
in the years of their life together, the old, wild passion had gradually
retired into its normal proportion, leaving them free to go about calmly
and untroubled. But it was there, as she well knew in the hours when
they became lovers again. Certainly those hours had been joyous, happy
ones, unclouded by any suspicion of mere gratification of impulse or
desire. Yes, they had been hours of love claiming its rightful
expression over the more constant hours of daily living.

Then she recalled her experience of the night before. She had been
dreaming of her husband, but he possessed Lawrence's features, illumined
with the glow of Philip's eyes, and she had started into full
wakefulness with a sudden sense of her position. Now she sat before the
fire, and resolved grimly that no matter what happened she would be
faithful to Howard. Of course, she would go with Philip to look after
his traps, the exercise was the best antidote to such morbid thoughts,
and he would never make advances to her, of that she was sure. As for
the days that she might spend alone with Lawrence, he was too
self-centered, too much wrapped up in his wood-carving, to think of a
woman--and she disregarded the little pang of discontent that
accompanied her thought.

Philip was hanging the skins over the door. Claire realized that she had
been too engrossed to notice his entrance.

"I break a six weeks' fast to-day"--and he turned toward Lawrence. "Do
you smoke?"

"Man!" said Lawrence, springing up, "if I'd known you had tobacco in
store I'd have murdered you long ago to get it. I would be a more
agreeable companion if I could taste tobacco now and then."

"Pardon me for not thinking to ask you. I was declaring a six months'
course in self-discipline for the good of my soul."

"Bring forth the smoke," said Lawrence joyously.

"Unfortunately"--Philip turned to Claire--"a bachelor's storehouse
contains no treat for a lady. Your visit was unexpected."

"I shall gain my pleasure through watching you two sink back into a
beloved vice," she answered.

"Horrible!" Lawrence sat down, and took the cigarette which Philip
produced. "To enjoy seeing one succumb to vice."

"Isn't it characteristic of scandal-loving humanity?" she rejoined.

"And on Christmas Day!" Philip chided her lightly. Then he went on,
seriously: "But one should really be above all things save love and
gratitude to God on this day."

"I suppose so," said Lawrence, "but it's difficult to determine just
where this object of gratitude abides and what He is."

"Is it necessary to locate Him?" asked Claire.

Lawrence breathed deeply with the satisfaction in his cigarette. "I
should hate to direct my gratitude toward some one who missed it, and
thus have it lost in desert space," he answered.

"It isn't that we need God so much as it is simply the good we gain
ourselves," said Philip slowly. "I still follow the old trail for my own
heart's sake."

"And does it get you anywhere?" Lawrence's question was characteristic.

"Yes, I think so. I find myself nearer to the source of that which is
worth while."

"What is worth while?" Claire asked.

The answers she obtained were the two men revealed.

"The fullest life possible for me," said Lawrence.

"The fullest heart possible for me," followed Philip.

"But you both mean the same thing, don't you?" asked Claire.

"I mean the fullest number of my own desires gratified," Lawrence
avowed.

Philip leaned back in his chair and looked at Claire, meditatively.

"If he did as he says, we should have to lock him up," he observed.

They all laughed.

"Not at all." Lawrence was amiably argumentative. "To be sure, if my
desires were gratified at your expense, as this smoke, for example"--he
laughed--"and on an all-inclusive scale, you might have to resort to
personal violence. But, in fact, many of my desires would bring you joy
in their gratification, you know."

"I do know," said Philip cordially, "but the danger in your point of
view is that it allows for no check. You would sacrifice both of us if
it were necessary to gratify your desires--that is, if you lived true to
your assertion."

"Perhaps I would. I don't know. There is the weak point in my whole
scheme. I evade it by failing to sacrifice you, but I support my theory
by saying there is no occasion to do so."

"I don't like your principles," Philip rejoined, "though I admit that my
own fail me more often than not."

"Exactly. We humans do fail, and the conclusion to which it brings me
is, why hold principles that you find unworkable? I prefer a standard to
which I can at least be true, in the main, and avoid self-condemnation,
pricks of conscience, and other little inconveniences."

"Such as a sense of duty?" interrupted Claire.

"That above all, Claire," he laughed.

"And obligation?"

"Yes, that too, if you mean a sense of being bound to one because of
something he has done in the past. For instance, I am obliged to Philip
for his food, his house, my life, and this cigarette, but I scarcely
feel that that would imply that I must sacrifice my greatest desire in
life as payment if necessary. Of course, it isn't necessary, but if it
were, I should refuse."

"I think you would not," asserted Philip.

"I know I would. I rather believe you would also, though it might be
that you would not."

"I would sacrifice anything to pay a debt of gratitude." Philip spoke
warmly.

"You would--perhaps--but in so doing would you not feel that gratitude
was the thing of supreme worth to yourself?"

"Not necessarily. I might even suffer all my life for having done so."

"Impossible. You would either redeem your sense of life's value by a new
belief, or you would die."

"Then you think a man can do as he pleases and maintain his
self-respect, his personal integrity?"

"He will find some way to make himself feel worth while, or he will
cease to be."

"You think that a criminal, or perhaps better, a person abandoned to
vice, feels justified?"

"Yes. He creates a belief by which his abandonment is not destructive to
himself, or he is converted, which is simply a convulsion of nature for
the same end, to preserve his life and make it seem valuable to him."

"Could you, for instance, murder a man, and do it believing that
afterward you would somehow make it seem right, or at least so necessary
that you would feel as self-respecting and sin-free as before?" Philip
was speaking earnestly.

"I should not do so unless I were forced to it, but if I were, I know
that I would somehow reconstruct my mental life so that I would still
feel existence worth the price."

Claire leaned forward. "Lawrence," she said jestingly, "you have swept
away the bulwark of the home, made infidelity easy, and numberless
separated families inevitable with your bold, bad talk. Aren't you sorry
for all those tragedies?"

He laughed. "Very," he said, "though it was watching such proceedings
take place so frequently that led me to accept my theory. Think of the
men and women who are unfaithful, who leave their wedded partner for
another, and still find life worth while."

"But that is their failure to live true to their principles," said
Philip. "It is commonly called sin, my friend."

"It may be, according to their light, but they generally get a new light
afterward. You see, I do not believe that God joins men and women. I am
persuaded that a very natural physical desire does so, and it doesn't
follow that the first is the only or best union."

"My husband would simply dread me if I held your view, and I should feel
very wary if I were your wife, Lawrence," remarked Claire.

That was the central point in the whole discussion, though none of them
were aware of it. Vaguely they felt that they were groping their way
toward the future, but they did not allow the feeling to reach a
conscious state, and Philip laughingly broke up the talk.

"Here we are," he said, yawning, "the fire is making us all sleepy,
we're talking foolishness, and we need exercise. Why not get it? I think
we might all of us go out and face the wind for a quarter of an hour,
then let it blow us back to camp like three children. I have the skis
for us all."

"Great!" Claire clapped her hands in applause.

"It's a splendid idea," agreed Lawrence, and they set forth.

It was hard going against the wind; Philip was the only one who managed
his skis very satisfactorily, and Lawrence, of course, had to be
assisted, but the crust was smooth and clear, and they made great sport
of it. The two men placed Claire between them and crossed hands in front
of her, like skaters. The fresh snow-filled air blew into their lungs,
and they laughed like boys on a holiday. Claire glanced at the two and
thought: "What a pair to be between!" Then laughed again. All the
morbidity was gone, she was not thinking follies now, and neither of
them was more than a good friend. Philip was thinking that Claire was
good to see as she moved along between them, her graceful stroke
carrying her over the snow, her cheeks stung red in the wind. Lawrence
was not thinking at all. He was simply moving, deeply enjoying the wind
and the exercise and the soft, strong little hand upon his own, helping
to guide him through his darkness.

When they turned and stood close together, the wind caught them like a
sail and sent them skimming before it. The sense of tobogganing was
keenly exhilarating. Home, problems, worries, the future, all seemed
very simply, very easy, and not at all a matter for long conversations
before a hot fire.



CHAPTER IX.

CLAIRE'S ABASEMENT.


The following days and even weeks passed quickly, carried on the wave of
light-hearted play which Philip had so wisely started that Christmas
night. February came with clear sun that set the snow glittering like a
field of crystal under the dark pines, and they laughed with exuberance
of spirit as they swept over it on their skis. Even Lawrence became an
adept as long as he had one of their guiding hands to hold. All
speculation was gone for the time being. Lawrence and Claire gave
themselves up to a frank comradeship, in which Philip formed a splendid
third, so that they seemed a trio of happy, healthy animals whose lives
flowed without a break in the mere pleasure of living.

But one morning early in the month, Philip said after breakfast, over
his coffee and cigarette, "I'm going for the day to my farthest traps
across the river. Claire, would you care to go? We'll get back late this
evening."

"I would," she said promptly. "I'll be ready in a few minutes."

Lawrence did not say anything, but to his sudden surprise he felt his
heart sink. An insistent inner voice was saying, "I wish she wouldn't
go."

He heard her, back of the curtain, dressing for the trip, and his little
petulant thought grew into gloom at the prospect of her being away. He
felt irritated at Philip for suggesting that she go.

"You'll have to leave me a good spread, Claire," he said finally when
she emerged into the room.

"I'll fix you up a great meal," she laughed. "You can eat all day, if
you like." In her voice there was an unusual warmth, for at his words
she felt suddenly as though she were thoughtless of him in going. For a
minute she pondered giving up the trip, then concluded that to do so
would seem ridiculous, and set about preparing his lunch.

Philip rose and, putting on his heavy coat, said carelessly, "You can
carve us a new wooden image, Lawrence."

The words were casual and without intention, but they angered. Lawrence
felt as though both of them were trying to make amends to him for their
going, as though, being blind, he must of course stay at home, but ought
to have something to occupy his time. His resentment grew stronger as he
continued to think of their supposed condescension.

When the lunches were ready Claire and Philip started. At the door she
paused and said gaily: "Keep the house warm for our returning,
Lawrence."

He was sullenly angry and made no reply. The frank way in which she
spoke of herself and Philip somehow recalled to his mind other couples,
married lovers starting out somewhere, and his heart tightened
perceptibly. After they were gone he sat thinking for a long time, and
his impulsive feeling clarified into certainty. Claire and Philip were
in love. Perhaps they did not know it yet themselves, and had not
spoken, perhaps they had; at any rate, they were in love. It had grown
between them in his very presence, and he, doubly blind fool, had not
known. If he could have seen, it would have been clear to him, of
course.

He thought of Claire's husband, and grew virtuously angry at Claire.
Howard Barkley would mourn his days out, never knowing that his beloved
wife was living in Bolivia with a Spanish trapper! He saw Claire going
about the cabin as Philip's wife and doing for love the things she now
did out of a desire to be of use, and his rage grew. Was it not for love
that she did them now? But she was just as thoughtful of him as she was
of Philip. "Of course, idiot," he muttered, "she pities you; you poor,
abandoned, blind man, you are to be cared for, don't you see?" He strove
to shake himself into a different mood by self-ridicule. Was this the
philosopher who made life a matter of calm acceptance of circumstances
which he knew to be his master? He laughed at himself, but the laugh was
bitter, and he knew that he was not willing to accept this particular
turn of circumstances.

But what right had he to judge what she did? She was not his wife nor
the woman who would be his wife. She could never be his wife. There was
her husband. No, it was not her husband that counted, but Philip!
Suddenly Lawrence realized the point that he had reached.

He loved Claire Barkley.

The admission of that at last in frank, utter avowal set him dreaming of
the joys she might have been to him. He thought of a thousand little
intimacies, cares, thoughtfulnesses, that she might have given him and
received from him, and they were all made vital, real, by the now ardent
memory of her in his arms, of the hands he had held in his own so often
of late in the open.

In the afternoon he grew disgusted with himself. He had moped all day in
his chair, moving only to replenish the fire or get a cigarette, and he
now shook himself vigorously free from his thoughts. "You love her, yes,
and she obviously does not love you," he told himself. "Why, then, make
the best of it, if you can't do better, and at least don't be a beast in
your treatment of your host when he comes back to his own hearth."

With that he dragged out a block of wood, took his knife, and went to
work. As was his way, he was soon unconscious of everything but the
piece of wood beneath his hand. He had never done wood-carving before,
and he was learning the technique that made it very different from clay.
He had gone at this piece without any special intent and was shaping it
into a cherub merely out of whim, but he was giving to the task every
atom of his skill, and his hands worked with every nerve strained to
detect and keep line and proportion.

Swiftly under his knife the child's body grew in shape, and he caressed
the rough form tenderly. He would polish it later, and then what
pleasure it would represent! It would make a great decoration for the
cabin--for her cabin. He winced--yes, for hers and Philip's cabin.
"Fool!" he ejaculated. "Forget it!" He bent again to his work, but it
did not go so smoothly. Out there she and Philip would be laughing
merrily together, skimming over the snow in long, sweeping strides, hand
in hand. Would they think of him? Probably not, or if they did it would
be to say, "Poor Lawrence! It's a pity he's blind. He has real talent."

He gritted his teeth. Well, he had real talent, and they should know it.
She should know it. He would show her such carving as she had never
thought possible. After all, was her love to him, Lawrence the artist,
the capable, blindness-conquering artist? "I am reconstructing my life,"
he thought, "so that I can still find it valuable without the woman I
want." He again laughed bitterly and said to himself, "You poor, blind,
groveling beast, you, what a poor excuse for life you have, and what a
tawdry substitute you would offer Claire for the vast joy that is hers!
Oh, it is contemptible!"

He bent over his work again, and the door opened.

Claire came across the room and leaned over him, her body radiating a
cool, healthy perfume as she laid her hand on his shoulder.

"Oh, what a splendid piece of work, Lawrence!"

Her voice was joyous, triumphant, and his heart beat desperately against
his chest. "They've declared their love," he thought, and then he said
simply, his voice vibrant with the emotion he did not otherwise show,
"It's been beastly lonesome to-day, Claire."

She laughed gaily, while her eyes clouded. Then she noticed the
untouched food on the table.

"Why, Lawrence, didn't you like the lunch I fixed for you?"

"It was bully, Claire," he answered quickly, "but I wasn't very hungry
to-day--I don't know why."

The emotional coloring in his voice set her whole being atremble. She
had come in, radiant with the day's pleasure, and he had met her with
his need. He had been too blue even to eat. She was suddenly seized with
pity for him, as she thought of his long day alone. But more than that,
over and over in her heart she kept saying, with a joy she could not
conceal from herself, "He loves me! He loves me!"

Philip came in and bent over them both to look at the wooden child.

"_Caramba!_ it is a marvelous thing!" he exclaimed. The unconscious use
of the Spanish word showed the genuineness of his admiration.

Claire laughed joyously. She was glad that Philip knew the power of this
blind man who loved her, and a vague feeling came over her that she was
now somehow safe from Philip. Instantly she wondered at her feeling the
need of safety from him. Glancing back over Lawrence's head, she met
Ortez's eyes and read in their look a tenderness that he did not know
was there. Her heart leaped unsteadily, and her lashes dropped. She was
saying to herself, "How wonderful he is!"

Then she turned and almost ran behind the curtain that walled her room.
On the edge of her bed she sat, her face in her hands, hot tears burning
her eyes, while over and over the blood rushed into her cheeks and out
again.

"Claire! Claire! What sort of a woman are you?" she moaned.

Her heart beat irregularly under the surge of emotion that shook her.
She was glad, glad that Lawrence loved her. She had looked into the eyes
of Philip Ortez, and her own had dropped, while her mind had leaped into
admiration of him, warm, yielding admiration. What was it that had swept
her on the discovery of one man's love to a deep, vibrant gladness--that
another man's eyes had been filled with tenderness for her? Was she so
changed from the Claire of old? Was she utterly degraded? Did she want
both men to love her? Did she love either of them? What of her husband?
She sank down on the bed and wept silently.

They were talking out there in the cabin. She heard Lawrence say
laughingly: "One gets accustomed to hearing your voices around, and to
hearing Claire do things, so that a day alone seems endless."

"Hearing Claire do things"--that was it--and suppose he knew what she
was, would he want to hear her then?

"Oh, I know," Philip was answering. "It gets to be a sort of necessity,
doesn't it, when we have so many associations and memories all among
ourselves? I shall find the place dreary next winter, I am afraid, when
you are back among your friends, and Claire"--he paused slightly--"will
be going about as ever, doing things for her husband somewhere up there
in the States."

Would her husband ever imagine or discover what she was? If he did, he
would leave her. She remembered a girl in the slums at home who had
refused to be uplifted. "Aw, one fellow ain't enough. A plain ham is all
right for some, but I want a club-sandwich." She shuddered now at the
memory of the girl's words, and shrank together on her bed. Was she
another of that sort, abnormal, degenerate, whose life must find its
level at last in the sordid riot of promiscuity, disguising itself as
love? If Claire had never touched the bed-rock of self-abasement before,
she was doing it now, there in that cabin.

She heard Ortez starting to get supper, and she sat up quickly. With
stern control she forced herself to seem composed and quiet, while
within her passions raged like a tornado. Self-contempt, wonder,
amazement, pity for her husband, for Lawrence, and hatred for Philip
Ortez swept round and round in her brain like a maelstrom.

She stepped through her curtain and said gaily: "You're preempting my
privilege, Philip."

He laughed. "I thought perhaps you were tired," he said.

"She ought to be," remarked Lawrence from his chair, and in her present
state she imagined in his voice a tenderness, a worry for her, and a
distrust of her.

She took up the kettle, and hung it on its hook in the fireplace. "I
never in my life imagined myself cooking over an open fire in this way,"
she said as she turned toward the little storeroom adjoining.

"You like it?" Philip asked carelessly.

She felt sure that his eyes had read her heart and that he was looking
toward the future, his future with the wanton mistress he had found.

She could have screamed, "I hate you! I hate you!" but she said only,
"It's great fun for a while; I wouldn't fancy it as a permanent thing."

"It surely must be different from the conveniences of your home."

"Rather," she laughed as she began cutting from the smoked meat that
hung in the storeroom.

Now it was Lawrence who was speaking. "I guess she'd surprise us if we
could supply her with a chafing-dish. I'd like to see her at work over
one in my studio with the bunch around waiting hungrily for results."

Would these men never stop saying things that made her want to scream?
What was the matter, that all at once the beauty of her day should be
smashed into a discolored memory of self-hatred? Was there nothing in
all the world but sordid thoughts of oneself and of men who, causing
them, said things to make them worse?

After they had eaten she went to bed as soon as possible, leaving the
men to smoke before the fire. She had pleaded weariness, and they had
laughingly told her to get to sleep. They were out there now, talking in
subdued tones so as not to disturb her--as if their voices did not ring
through her suffering mind like clarions of evil! What should they say
if she should suddenly spring before them and shout out her mad fancies?
For a moment she had the wildest of impulses to laugh aloud, then
suddenly she turned on her face as she recalled the emotion that had
swept her when she saw Philip looking at her over Lawrence's head. Sleep
finally stopped her tears.

The two men went to bed, and there was silence in the cabin. Lawrence
was smiling, as he felt Philip's body there beside him in the darkness.
"I could kill you now," he was thinking ironically, "and end all
question of your loving Claire."

Philip, too, was awake. He had seen the hot flush that came into
Claire's face that evening, and he knew that she had been troubled
during the supper. He wondered if she were ill. Then suddenly he asked
himself, "Is she in love with one of us?" He immediately tried to
dismiss the thought as unworthy of her. She was not the kind of woman
to forget her marriage vows. But what a home she could make for the man
she loved! If he had only known her in time!

But there was still friendship--yes, surely she could give that.
Complete understanding and perfect sympathy would be the basis of a
lasting attachment. "Who knows?" he pondered. "It may be that fate has
sent her to me to teach me what a great self-denying love can be. In
Claire I may find my dream-star again."



CHAPTER X.

HOW SIMPLE THE SOLUTION!


When Claire awoke the next morning her whole being seemed gathered into
a tense strain that made her feel as though the least thing might snap
the taut nerves in her body and leave her broken and stranded on some
far, emotional shoal. Her heart beat unevenly, while her lips and hands
felt dry and hot, as if she had spent hours in a desert wind. She did
not experience the bitter anguish of the night before; such storms are
too wild to last, but it had left her deadly heavy within, and she was
unable to recover her usual calm.

One great determination dominated her, to prevent these men, at any
cost, from knowing her real feelings. It was a determination born out of
the sheer force that was carrying her on, a struggle that came from the
very strength of the tide she sought to resist.

She had been awakened by a sudden and clear image, the result of her
unsettled mind. Her husband was beside her, leaning over the bed and
looking down at her with a great love and a greater pity shining in his
eyes. She thought that she had thrown up her arms to close about him
with the frantic joy of a rescued person, only to have them meet in
empty air and fall listless at her sides again.

Beyond the curtain she heard Philip saying cheerfully: "It is a great
day outside, one of Claire's days for play."

"Good!" Lawrence answered. "We'll go out, then, and play."

A rush of self-pity, anger against her situation, fear of she knew not
what, and a gnawing desire to escape blended in her thoughts, while her
heart warmed at the sound of Lawrence's words.

"Oh," she thought, "I can never, never stand this day!"

She got out of bed and began to dress, her nervous hands fumbling at the
buttons on her clothes. Her eyes, deeper and shadowed in dark rings,
stared vacantly at the white canvas before her. Lawrence was talking
again, and she listened. Presently he started across the room and bumped
into a chair. The incident was one which had become long familiar to
her, and ordinarily she would have thought nothing of it, but this
morning she flushed with sudden anger that a chair should have been left
in his way. Then she realized that she was foolish, stepped through the
curtain, and said before she thought:

"Lawrence, I do wish that you'd look where you are going!"

He laughed merrily. "So do I," he rejoined. "For some years failure to
do so has kept me with at least one skinned shin. But just think of the
cost of stockings had I been blind as a boy!"

Suddenly she had a vivid picture of him as a ragged, little fellow,
stumbling about through his unfathomable darkness, bumping into things
and leaving jagged holes in his child's black stockings. Whether she
wanted to laugh or cry she did not know, but a great, warm surge of
motherliness came over her for the child she imaged, and she said aloud,
"Poor little urchin!"

Philip turned and looked at her, smiling. "It would have been a picture
indeed," he said.

"I had enough troubles during my rebellious childhood at the orphanage
without adding imaginary woes," Lawrence went on, amusedly
retrospective. "I remember one day when I was at the awkward stage. I
was all dressed for church and happened to stumble over another boy
lying in the grass. I fell against a bench, my trousers caught on a
projecting nail, and ripped dreadfully. The matron gave me a scolding
and sent me to bed for the day."

"Brought up in an orphanage!" thought Claire. "No wonder he is
pessimistic."

"I didn't mind missing church," Lawrence continued; "but it struck me as
a piece of gross injustice that I should be punished for a boy's lack of
muscular coordination. I've experienced the same fate over my blindness.
It seems to be a special trick people have, and they play it
incessantly. I should think it would get as tiresome to them by and by
as it did to me some years ago."

Claire felt as if she were included in his casual criticism of mankind,
and wondered just how she had been addicted to the practise. A dozen
different instances came to her, and she felt very penitent.

"It's because we're all so thoughtless," she said.

"Perhaps. I rather choose to state it differently. It's for the same
reason that I do thousands of things, because I'm more interested in
myself than I am in any one else. I'm selfish, and so is the rest of
humanity."

"But we aren't deliberately so," Philip protested. "Isn't it rather that
we are short-sighted and unimaginative?"

"It may be. The end is the same. If I am too short-sighted, too
unimaginative to know how a fellow being feels, I can do nothing but
blunder along. He may be hurt by me. I may do him an injustice, I may
even cheat him of his chance at life, but it can't be helped, and again
the result amounts to my being selfish."

As she worked over her biscuit dough, Claire listened to their talk
resentfully. She wished they would keep still, but she said nothing.
They went ahead, demonstrating, she thought bitterly, the truth of
Lawrence's argument.

"I suppose mankind generally does the best it can," Philip said
thoughtfully. "If you ask a man, if you really talk with him, you will
find him kindly, inclined to be generous, and willing to do what he can
for another. I have always found that true."

"So have I, in a way. He is kindly, he is inclined to be generous, and
he is willing to do what he can for another. The trouble is, he makes a
maudlin sentiment of his kindliness, a self-flattering charity of his
generous inclinations, and is unable to do what he can for another
because he is quite sincerely persuaded that he can't do anything."

"My friend, I have had men help me when it cost them trouble to do it.
We all have. Without it, we would none of us accomplish anything of
value."

"I, too, have had them help me, from the lending of money down to
guiding me across a traffic-blurred street, but I have never yet found
more than three or four whose imagination was keen enough and whose
judgment clear enough to give me a square deal at living."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that the same man who will help me across the street, lend me
money, and be a splendid comrade, stops short when he comes to the field
of self-support. He will say sympathetically, 'I don't see how you can
do it,' or 'I admire your grit, old man, and I'd like to see you do it,'
and then begin scheming around to direct my interests, aspirations, and
efforts into some other channel from where I want them, as though, out
of his own great wisdom, he knew much better than I what a blind man
could do. If you want to learn just how small the imagination of mankind
is and how obstructive to progress is their fool good-heartedness, go
among them as a capable mind with a physical handicap. You'll size them
up, yourself included, as the most blindly wall-butting set of
blundering organisms that ever felt their way through an endlessly
obstructed universe."

"Breakfast!" Claire broke in with an unwonted sharpness in her tone.
"And do let the biscuits stop the argument."

They laughed and sat down to a silent meal. When it was ended, and the
men took their cigarettes to the fireplace, she said: "I wish you would
both do me a favor to-day."

"We will! Name it!" They spoke at the same time.

She turned toward them with an earnestness which she had scarcely meant
to betray.

"Go out, both of you, and leave me here alone a while."

Lawrence was silent. Her words and her tone sent a sharp pain through
him, and he wondered if she were ill. He wanted to say something to her,
started to do so, checked himself, and laughed embarrassedly.

Philip stared at her. He noticed the pale face and the dark rings under
her eyes.

"Why, certainly," he said, and rose. "You aren't looking well, Claire.
Is anything seriously wrong?" He looked at her again with the same
unconsciously tender warmth in his eyes.

She saw it, flushed angrily, wanted to scream at him, and said simply,
"No, I just want to think, and want it quiet. You two talk too much
about yourselves and about things that you don't understand."

"Very true"--Lawrence also had risen--"if I did understand them, I'd
show humanity how to stop being animals and be men."

"While as it is," she said nervously, "you allow them to blunder along
and help the good work out by making plenty of trouble for them by your
own blind shortness of vision."

He stood, wondering at her. How had he unintentionally hurt her, and
what exactly did she mean?

Philip laughed heartily. "A just judgment on him for his sorry view of
the world," he commented, opening the door.

"We'll tramp back into the hills," he said to Lawrence when they were
both outside, "and see what there is of deficient imagination in them."

"There isn't," Lawrence said quietly; "they and the ocean are
testimonials to the real potential power of an otherwise very faulty
artist."

Left alone, Claire worked furiously at setting the house to rights. Her
nervous state led her to throw herself into the work with an energy that
kept her from thinking. She sought for things to do with the desperation
of a person whose only escape from the furies that followed him is utter
physical exhaustion. When the cabin had been arranged and rearranged
until there was no possible excuse for further effort, she took her
heavy man's coat from its place and stepped out upon the snow-covered
plateau before the house.

Along its edges the lake shone milk-white in the sun, while farther out
the ice glinted a clear, watery blue that made a gleaming jewel set in
the sparkling snow around it. She stood gazing across the ice to the
forest beyond. Its still beauty crept over her, and she breathed deeply
of the cold, crisp air. Her head ached dully, and her chest felt tight
as though trying to expand beyond its limit to make room for the trouble
that filled her being. After standing motionless for a few moments, she
started briskly across the snow toward the far side of the lake. She
walked carefully over the ice and into the trees beyond. In her mind was
one thought, to escape--but escape from what? From herself, she
answered, and then suddenly, with a panicky bursting of the tension, she
thought that is done only through death.

She stopped and let the word "death" fill her mind, as a word sometimes
does, growing and growing until its increasing weight oppresses the
brain with a sense of physical pressure. "Death"--is it an escape? She
tried to imagine herself dead, and failed. She could find no adequate
image to express oblivion, and she gave up trying, while she began to
wonder if she actually were immortal, and if she were, what would she
say to herself beyond the edge of life?

She thought of herself as standing, naked of soul, unbodied, in some far
etherealized atmosphere, and she shuddered. "I would still be Claire,
loving these two men and fearing a third." Tears crept down her cheeks.
No, she did not want to be immortal and have no escape from herself.

If she would only be able to endure the months still remaining before
she got home, then everything would be settled. But would it? Did she
want Lawrence to go out of her life, did she want to lose him? She could
have him still as a friend, her home open to him always, her husband as
glad to welcome him as she herself--yes, that would be best.

She was walking again now, rapidly, thinking as she moved, and it all
seemed very clear to her. She would tell her husband how Lawrence had
suffered, how brave he had been, and how he had carried her on and on,
when death seemed inevitable. Howard would owe Lawrence a tremendous
debt of gratitude, and would make existence easier for him. Lawrence had
had a hard life, his bitter attitude showed that he deserved a less
obstructed road, and she would give it to him. In their home all three
would talk, laugh, and be, oh, so happy, while Lawrence could work
better with his studio near her, perhaps in her own house where care
could be taken of him. He would create great art there, and his
bitterness would end. She would show him that her husband was
understanding and imaginative. Again she stopped suddenly.

But Lawrence--would he accept? He was so independent, so doggedly
determined to fight his life out while his very battling made him
ironical and darkly pessimistic. She tried to imagine him agreeing to
her plan, and instead she heard him say, "I'm sorry, Claire, but I can't
do it. I've got to go it alone and win or go under. I can't accept the
charity you offer me in place of love. Gratitude, I know, prompts you,
but you owe me nothing, you paid your debt by being eyes for me. No, if
we can't be lovers, we can't be anything else. I know my limitations."

Why had she put in that about "lovers"? He had never said anything to
lead her to think he would say that. She answered herself that it was
because she would want him to say it. And if he did say it, what would
she answer? She would say--no, she couldn't do that--she would want to
say, "Then let us be lovers!" But that was impossible. In her own
husband's home!

And what would she think of Philip when she was again in her old world?
He, also, was deserving of gratitude. She stamped her foot in the snow.
She hated him, hated him, and he would drop out of her life, utterly and
forever. She would be glad when she saw the last of him with his
seductive eyes. Those eyes--why did he, and not Lawrence, have them?
They should have been Lawrence's. It was one more instance of the
endless ironic humor of the universe.

Lawrence--Lawrence and her husband! She turned wearily back toward the
cabin.

It was nearly noon when she reached home again, and Lawrence, a worried
look on his face, was standing in the door of the cabin.

"You beat me back," Claire said, as she approached, and her heart leaped
at the look of relief that came into his face.

"Claire, you ought to be punished," he said in gay, tender tones.

"What sentence would you pass, Mr. Judge?" she questioned.

He stepped out toward her.

"Perhaps your fate needs a good washing in cold snow," he laughed.

"Perhaps it does," she said, caressingly. "Do you think you could
administer it?"

"I know I could."

He stooped and took up a handful of snow.

She did the same and said gaily, "Two washed faces seem inevitable."

Lawrence laughed and caught her around the waist. Her blood tingled, and
her throat hurt as if she would choke. She began to struggle
desperately, frightened at her own emotion. He laughed, and held her
tighter with one arm while he tried to reach her face with the other
hand. She was pressed against him, and they swayed back and forth, while
Philip laughed from the doorway. Her heart was beating trip-hammer blows
against her breast, she gasped for breath, and her eyes closed. His hand
reached her face, and she ducked against his shoulder.

"Lawrence! Lawrence!" she sobbed. Her voice startled him. Its pleading,
yielding intensity sent his own blood racing. He let her go, and stepped
back quickly while his breath came short.

"Pardon me, Claire," he muttered, and turned away.

Claire saw Philip watching them, in his eyes a strange, new glitter. She
rushed past him to the cabin and into her little room.

It was a silent dinner they ate that day.

Claire was deeply, bitterly humiliated, and she kept seeing again and
again with exaggerated clearness that look in Philip's eyes when she had
staggered free from Lawrence's arms. It burned in her mind like an
unquenchable coal, and she revolted at it. She was utterly unable to
collect her thoughts. She fancied she could still feel the warm pressure
of Lawrence's body while she suffered untold agony of soul for having
been carried away by his touch. She reproached herself with a scorn that
seared for having ever allowed herself to engage in that silly scuffle.

She could scarcely bear to sit at the table with Philip, and she did not
once look in his direction. In her heart there was no anger against
Lawrence, only a dull, aching dread, tempered with a longing she did not
attempt to analyze.

Dominating her thought was the one phrase, "Why need Philip have seen?"

That look in his eyes--oh, God! would she have to go on day after day
facing those eyes that compelled her in spite of herself? Must she feel
his glances burning through her when her soul was filled with hatred for
him? But was it hatred? Surely his eyes, those lights that made her
marvel, were the windows to a high and noble soul. Yes, he was fine, yet
she wished he was not there, that she had never known him. She asked
herself if she would rather have perished, and she knew she would not.
Better to have lived forever with Philip's eyes piercing into her than
to give up life when Lawrence was with her, needing her, and--she
stopped--loving her, yes, loving her. It was true. She remembered his
voice when he had released her, and thrilled again at the tense note.

He did love her! And Philip? She felt her heart sink, and then a
strange, subtle warmth came over her. It was good to be loved by two men
so powerful, so worth while, each in his own way.

Of course, she could never care for Philip. He was beyond her power to
love; besides her heart was filled with Lawrence. But her husband, yes,
she had loved her husband. Her many days of happiness with him proved
that. She could never have lived with him as she had if love had not
been between them. She must remember that, and be true to him. It would
be hard to see Lawrence go out of her life, but it was her duty, she
owed it to herself, to her husband, and to society.

If she could only get through the remaining months without allowing
Lawrence to hope! She must not give him another opportunity to want her
or to discuss his feelings with her. She would be very, very careful.

She must plan it as easily for him as possible. The way to accomplish
that was not to be with him. This would necessitate her associating more
with Philip. After all, why shouldn't she? He was good and strong, and
not really in love with her. Of course, he might be, if she allowed it,
but she would stop that. She would show him by word, look, and act that
any such love was inconceivable. He would understand and forget his
earlier feeling, for after all he was not yet alive to the situation. It
was merely circumstances that had brought that look into his eyes.

Disliking him as she did, it would be hard to associate with him. She
studied this last problem carefully, and at last arrived at a new state
of mind. She did not dislike him, it was merely the natural unconscious
trend of male and female that she hated. He was not to blame, neither
was she, and they were, fortunately, beings with mind and will. They
could use their God-given power to talk it out and face the situation.
Then Philip's natural nobility would make the solution easy. They would
be on a splendid footing of frank understanding; their foresight would
have saved them from a ridiculous and criminal mistake.

In these mountains she would have found two real friends and a higher
ground of life. After the first painful talk with Philip they would go
out from the cabin, warm comrades, with nothing to regret.



CHAPTER XI.

THE MAKING OF A KNIGHT ERRANT.


Silently, Lawrence rose and went to his work-chair. The zeal with which
he began to cut his wood showed more clearly than any of them quite
knew, the turbulent state of his mind. He was carried far into
speculative possibilities that shook him with their power. He was
absolutely in love with Claire, that was undoubted. He knew it, and he
was determined to tell her so. To continue living in this uncertainty,
with the memory of her pressed against him always compelling him to put
out his arms and draw her again to himself, was intolerable. He would
speak, and settle it once for all, nor would he take any compromising
negative as a reply. That tone she had used could indicate but one
thing, she loved him, and whether she knew it or not, whether she wanted
to know it or not, should not matter. He would argue it out with her,
showing her with the inexorable logic back of their whole experience how
she was his, his in spite of her husband, in spite of blindness, in
spite of everything. Without her, life was useless, barren, and dead. He
must have her!

He carved viciously but accurately, while his mind and body yearned
toward the hour when she would be in his arms, yielding, abandoned,
loving.

Claire watched him from her place at the table in calmness of mind that,
following her day of tumult, she could not understand. Peace, the peace
that comes when one thinks he has settled something forever, was hers.

"Philip," she said, "our artist has buried himself in his work. Shall we
go forth on a chance adventure?"

Lawrence choked back a whirl of jealous suspicion that swept to his
lips, and said from his corner, "Do! I'll have a surprise for your
return."

He wanted to say, "No, stay here, Claire. I wish to tell you something,
to make you see that I love you, that this Philip is not for you, that
he is outside our real lives," but his tongue refused to obey his will.

"It sounds inviting," said Philip, rising. "Suppose we do."

They were gone.

Lawrence worked savagely, his mind grasping at impossible thoughts which
kept struggling for expression. He was afraid, afraid till it chilled
him, lest, after all, she loved Philip. If her voice had sounded so
intense that noon, it had been because she resented his holding her
while her real lover looked on.

Meanwhile Claire and Philip tramped through the pines in silence. She
was wondering why she had come. She hesitated before speaking to him as
she had determined. Perhaps he would be hurt at her imagining he could
think of making any advances to a married woman, he would feel that she
had suspected and accused him of a thing of which he was incapable.

Speech was difficult, so she trudged along, feeling very uncomfortable.
Her heart ached as she saw again the lonely look on Lawrence's face
bending over his work back there in the cabin.

"The adventure is slow in coming," Philip said, genially.

"Perhaps we don't know how to find it," she answered, not heeding her
words especially. "To find adventure, one must be awake to
possibilities."

"True," he mused, looking at her. "So much depends on a man's
experience, knowledge, and imagination."

"I suppose life itself may set us, even calmly walking here, in the
heart of an adventure."

"I have no doubt it does," he said.

Claire looked at him in faint alarm.

"Why," she stammered, "I didn't imagine it was true when I spoke."

"To him who has faith, the wildest dreams are always possibilities."

"Do you believe that, Philip?"

"I have found it to be quite true. I often dreamed of good company here
in my wilderness and a charming woman about my cabin. It has happened."

"But even that has its very strong drawbacks, hasn't it?"

"What, for example?" He looked at her, earnestly.

"Oh," she hesitated, laughed, and said, "the rapidly depleted food
supply, your time for thought broken, and all the rest."

"One sometimes finds a relief from thought very agreeable."

She wanted to laugh at the force with which his words struck her. "I'm
sure that depends on the thought, as Lawrence would say," she answered,
smiling.

"It does. And there is nothing I would not give to escape from my
present thoughts." His voice was pitched low.

Her heart failed her, but she said bravely, "Perhaps you need a
confessor, Sir Philip."

"I do, a gracious one, who can listen well."

"Then a woman would never serve," Claire laughed. "She would want to
talk, you know."

Philip stopped, and looked at her. As far as he could see, she was calm,
indifferent, the lady making talk.

"Perhaps," he said, lightly. "They have that reputation, I know."

"Now, I"--she laughed--"I, also, need a confessor."

"You?" His look searched her, incredulously. "What in the name of all
the saints have you to confess?"

"Oh! Many things. Misunderstandings, social follies, mistakes in
character reading, mean thoughts, lots of things."

"Absurd!" His tone was amused. "Who of us is not a sinner in those
things?"

"But suppose," she ventured, hesitant--"suppose I had misjudged you?
Suppose I had suspected you of things you were not at all guilty of?"

"I should be sorry if you told me of them."

It was impossible, she thought, to go on. He would indeed be sorry, and
how foolish she had been! But what had he meant a moment before?

"Is your confession worse?" she asked.

"I think so. A man is so apt to be a mad fool," he said, and lapsed into
silence.

They walked some distance before either spoke. Then Claire laughed
suddenly. "Philip," she said, "we all three need a change of scene."

He turned, and his face was crimson as he looked at her. "It will be
here soon. We can go out in April."

He had answered her dully, with a heavy sadness in his voice. It was her
golden opportunity; and she took it.

"Splendid!" she cried--"splendid! I so want to get back to my husband. I
am scarcely able to wait at all."

"I suppose," he said, "it seems a long time that you have been
separated."

"Oh, so long," she answered, softly. "And I do so want him."

He walked on, slowly. "I shall miss you very much."

Her manner and expression were those of a pleased, frank child when she
answered. "Really, I was so afraid I had been stupid company, and I owe
so much to you. My husband will want to come clear back here to thank
you for your winter's hospitality."

"It would hardly be worth his while. The debt is more than paid."

"I shall be sorry--in a way," she went on. "We have become such good
friends, such good comrades with not the least bit of unpleasantness to
remember. I shall always be glad of that."

"Yes," he said. "I am glad, indeed, that you feel so."

"If any one had ever told me that I should find so rare a gentleman
here"--she laughed--"I would have thought they were talking medieval
gallantry."

"Thank you. A gentleman is always himself when a lady is a lady."

Claire flushed a little, and said nothing.

"I shall remember you with pleasure and regret," continued Philip, his
head high.

Her eyes opened wide, like a child's. "Oh, with regret, too?"

"Yes. Regret that you did not come to my cabin sooner, freer, and to
stay longer."

"You are a consummate flatterer, Philip," she chided.

"I suppose it seems artificial; one can scarcely imagine that I should
be in earnest," he said, a little bitterly.

Her conscience hurt her, though she did not know why. She could have
said those things before and thought nothing of them. Why did she feel
sorry now?

"I didn't mean that," she said, earnestly. "Believe me, I did not."

"No," he replied, "you answered out of mere indifference."

"But I am not indifferent to you, Philip. I like you very much." She was
afraid she had hurt his feelings, and she, herself, was so tense, so
troubled, that she was uncertain of her emotional attitudes these days.
She felt that somehow she had been cruel and very ungracious toward the
man to whom she owed so much.

"I know," he said, "one is interested, of course, in a novel, foreign
mountaineer."

She was beginning to feel achy, and tears were near the surface.

"Philip, why do you misunderstand me?" she cried. "It isn't that at all.
I like you for the man you are."

He smiled sadly. "And did it ever occur to you that I might love you for
the woman you are?" he said suddenly, his good resolutions all gone.

She stopped and her breath quickened. Over her rushed a tide of fear,
regret, sorrow. Even then she wondered that it was pity and not anger
which moved her.

"I do not believe that. How could you?" she said swiftly.

"You cannot even conceive of my loving you?"

"I--I can, Philip--it isn't that, I--I"--she was floundering among her
own emotions--"I can under other circumstances, different conditions.
Oh, don't you see--think of"--she had almost said "Lawrence," but
hastily substituted--"my husband."

"I have thought of him. From the day you came, he has haunted my
footsteps. But after all, he thinks you are dead."

"But I love him. Think of that, too."

"Oh, Claire, Claire, I have seen you when I felt perhaps you
might--might learn to love me."

"Philip, it is impossible!" she cried. "Please don't let's spoil
everything now. I so wanted to be just friends."

His faced kindled and his deep eyes glowed with a fire that both
terrorized and fascinated her.

"We cannot be that, Claire." His voice vibrated with growing passion.
They stood, facing each other, and she trembled like a reed in the wind.

"I saw you this morning in his arms," he was tense and speaking rapidly,
"and I knew then that I loved you. Loved you with all the soul of me. I
could have killed him, I tell you. Claire, Claire, I love you! You must
not deny me love."

She did not, could not answer, her tongue refused to move, and her dry,
hot mouth felt as if she would smother. She looked into his eyes and
said nothing, while she shook violently.

"Claire!" he cried. "Claire! I love you!" His arms closed around her
and he held her tightly. His eyes burned into her own with a flame that
was contagious in its intensity. She gasped, trembled, and did not
struggle, though in her mind she was crying, anguished, "Lawrence!
Lawrence!"

He pressed her more tightly, and his body against her own stirred in her
a passion beyond the control of will. Her eyes lighted warmly and then
closed. She felt suffocated, weak, and her senses reeled. His head bent,
and his lips were pressed fiercely against her own parted ones, stopping
the cry that rose to her throat. He held her fast, keeping his lips
against her own until she felt her strength giving. She half leaned
against him, letting the weight of her body sink into his arms.

A savage joy sprang into his eyes. She opened her own and saw. Throwing
up her hands wildly, she struck his face, twisted her body free, and
shoving him from her, stood, white, defiant, and determined.

She was not angry with Philip, only with herself, but the storm of
self-reproach that swept over her burst into bitter, scorching words
against him.

"You, you coward! You dare to touch me, to take me that way! If I had
only known what sort of a thing you were, you, you viper! Oh, to be here
with you!"

His dark eyes flashed with sudden rage, and he moved to seize her. She
stood defiantly before him, her white face cold as outraged chastity
itself, and his anger died. Into his face came the dejected, suffering
look of a man whose passion ebbs before the compelling force of a
woman's scorn.

"Forgive me, Claire," he moaned, "forgive me. I was mad, mad."

She knew he was sincere, and she smiled sadly.

"I know, Philip," she said. "I understand, but you must realize that it
is impossible. Won't you see that? It was, perhaps, partly my fault.
Forgive me if it was, and let us be friends. Philip, I want a friend,"
she continued. "I need one, a big, strong man whom I can trust, whom I
know to be my loyal friend and my husband's friend."

He put out his hand, shame and love mingling in his face.

"I will be that friend, Claire," he said, earnestly.

She took his hand, her mind breaking with relief. She felt she was going
to cry, and she leaned forward to hide her filling eyes.

"Oh, Philip, God bless you! You do not know what this means to me! You
will never know. I thank you, I thank you!"

The tears rushed down her cheeks and dropped upon their clasped hands.

"Claire, don't, please--please don't," Philip pleaded, anguish in his
tone.

She stopped, forced back her sobs, and smiled at him.

"Philip Ortez," she said, "I shall make you glad of this."

Deep in his heart, the words gave him hope. He grasped at them as a
drowning man at a life-belt, but he did not voice the hope.

"I want to spend much of my time with you, Philip, in the out-of-doors.
I must do it, and it is such a relief to know that I can do it
without--without fear. You will be just my friend, won't you?"

"If it is in my power, I will." He spoke as a knight of old, taking a
holy vow, and in his heart was the deep, sacred sense of the spirit that
still moved in his idealistic soul.

Claire laughed joyously, almost hysterically, with the peace that came
over her at the sound of his words. She was sure that all was well. If
she had known that already he was building on the promise of frequent
days alone, she would have been more afraid than ever. But she did not
know that, neither did she know that in her very promise she was
preparing a more difficult situation for her own struggle with herself
than any she had ever faced in her life. She was only aware of the
crisis passed and the peace that was now hers.

"Let us go back," she said gaily.

They found Lawrence smoothing his little carved child with a stone.
Claire was effervescent with joy. Her great plan seemed sure of
success, and she greeted him with a gaiety that was as abnormal as her
despondency had been before.

"Lawrence," she cried, "we have had such a walk! And here you have
finished for us this beautiful cherub as the symbol of our little home."

Her words stung him with savage pain, filling him with a great fear born
of love and jealousy. For a minute he did not know what he was doing or
saying, and he was scarcely aware of the words that fell from him.

"Cherubs are said to be symbols of the greatest love." He laughed
tonelessly. "It belongs to you, Claire. Take it."

The child was carved standing upon a stump with wings outspread. In the
form and face of the figure there was so much of benevolence, love, and
charity that the imaginative power of this blind artist filled Claire
with awe. She stood reverently before it, her heart singing with pride
in the handiwork of the man she loved. She interpreted his words as a
confession that he had carved it for her as a symbol of his love, and
she was humbled before him, before his work. She wanted to throw herself
in his arms and to tell him with the gift of her unreserved self how
grateful she was for his gift, but she only said, very softly, taking
both his hands: "Thank you, Lawrence."

The words struck his ear with a strangely mixed power in their sound. He
wanted to laugh at the bitter mockery that swept into him. He had made
the image for love of her, and he presented it to her as a symbol of her
love for Philip. It was cruel, but he could endure it. Oh, yes, he was
accustomed to life's little jokes. He did not answer her thanks, only
gripped her hands in his own capable ones till he hurt her.

To Philip, the child brought still other suggestions. Moved by his
present feeling of great, chivalrous guardianship of the woman who had
said she needed him, he felt that it was a symbol of the great
sacrificial love which he was privileged to know, and at the same time
he felt that it was a symbol of hope.


TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK. Don't forget this magazine
is issued weekly, and that you will get the
continuation of this story without waiting a month.



Claire

by Leslie Burton Blades

THE BLIND LOVE OF A BLIND HERO

_BY A BLIND AUTHOR_


This story began in the All-Story Weekly for October 5.



CHAPTER XII.

THE UNHORSING OF A KNIGHT ERRANT.


Between men and women who have established what they believe to be an
unemotional friendship there nearly always springs up a relation
franker than any which is otherwise possible. Such was the experience
of Philip and Claire during the days that followed. They took many walks
together, and their conversation grew daily more exclusive and more
personal.

Lawrence, through ignorance of their situation and jealousy of Philip,
grew daily more dissatisfied. He would hear the intimate ring in their
voices and writhe within. The artist felt keenly that he was being set
aside, and his eager determination to live and be in the front rank of
warring manhood made him determine to win Claire against this man who,
it seemed to him, was taking her from him by mere advantage of sight. He
felt that they were shelving him as a blind man, a very nice fellow, but
quite outside the possibility of any relation with their real lives. He
now thought that Claire was kind to him as one is to those whose
situation makes them objects of pity.

There were days when he sat alone before the fire in the cabin brooding
until he was filled with savage hatred of Philip. He would think of all
sorts of impossible means of eliminating this Spaniard from Claire's
life; then Philip would come in, talk to him, seem so very normally
friendly as man to man, that his reason mastered his fancies and he
laughed at himself. He ridiculed his own thoughts with an irony that
inwardly grew in bitterness with his growing love for Claire, and he
would end by admitting that Philip was only doing what he himself would
like to do.

In his fair-minded moments he did not blame his friend. "I should be a
fool to expect him to act differently," he told himself. "In this
struggle for meat and mate which we all wage, he is doing what any one
would do. I who am losing must at least be just to him." He resolved to
be just, and in a little while was again ensnaring himself in his own
notions. "She is throwing herself away upon this Spaniard," he thought,
"while I sit by. If I were not blind, she would see that after all I am
the better man. I put all my power into the carving of that little
statue, and she knows it is good, better than anything he has done or
can do, and yet--she loves him."

He would rise and walk the floor in his tension, knocking into the
chairs recklessly. His thoughts would gain speed from his bodily
movement, and soon he would rage against the man whose guest he was,
against Claire, against life, fate, and blindness. Then suddenly his
ever self-questioning mind would demand of him, "Why are you doing
nothing, then?" He did nothing because he could do nothing. That was
his answer, no sooner made than contradicted, no sooner contradicted
than to be restated, "I do nothing because I will do nothing."

Several times he refused to go with them on tramps or skiing trips. When
they were gone he would revile himself for his stubbornness and ache
because Claire could not see that he had refused with a petulant boy's
hope that she would stay with him. "Why should she stay with me?" There
was no reason, he told himself, and again he would be off on a mental
whirlwind that carried him still farther from reason. He became
perpetually sullen, irritable, and discontented. He realized it, thought
that Claire would certainly grow to dislike him if he continued so
disagreeable, and with the thought became even more disagreeable.

Claire, however, was not growing to dislike him. She avoided him in
pursuance of her settled policy, but she thought of him all the more.

One morning when she and Philip were out in the pines together, she
observed, casually, "Lawrence doesn't seem to be doing any work these
days."

Philip glanced at her carelessly. "Yes. I'm very sorry for the poor
fellow."

His pity angered her a little. Lawrence did not need his sympathy. "I
think he must be feeling badly," she replied.

"I believe he is moody by nature."

"Oh, do you? I hadn't thought so," she objected.

"It is not strange," Philip went on; "he is so limited by his blindness
and so ambitious that the effect is almost sure to be a disgruntled
mind. He cannot hope to overcome his blindness, and he ought to realize
it. I think that is the cause of his odd philosophy. He certainly would
be happier if he could get a more sunlit view of things. He needs
optimism, and he ought to practise it."

For a moment, Claire was silent. She was not willing to admit that
Lawrence was unable to conquer blindness or even that his beliefs were
altogether wrong. She had more often disagreed with him than not, but
now for some reason she found herself desiring to support his
convictions.

"I don't agree with you," she answered Philip, a little shortly.

"Well then, what is my lady's diagnosis?" He had not noticed her curt
reply, for he was thinking of something else and was not really
interested in Lawrence as a topic of conversation.

Claire was unable to answer; she disliked both his tone and his
expression, but she had nothing to substitute for his explanation.

They walked on in silence for a few minutes through the trees before she
ventured a little lamely, "I don't know what to say."

Philip looked up, smilingly. "To say about what, Claire?" Then he
remembered, and continued hastily, "Oh, pardon me. I know, of course.
About Lawrence. If I could suggest anything to do, I would. He is an
interesting friend, but I have nothing to offer. It seems to me that we
can do no more than to let him alone. He will work it out for himself.
If he does not, we cannot help. He would not expect us to do so."

"That's no reason we shouldn't try," she flashed, "unless, of course,
you quite agree with his argument after all."

Philip colored slightly and said, "I admit the fault, Claire, but what
can we do?"

"Couldn't you get him to tell what's the matter?" she asked, groping for
something to say.

"No more than you could. Perhaps even less easily. You know him better
than I and understand him better."

She laughed, a little satisfaction warming her at his words. "Sometimes
I think I understand him, sometimes I know I don't. As he himself would
say, it is merely a matter of blind psychology, is it not?"

"It is not," she answered positively. "It's more a matter of artist
psychology, I think."

"Perhaps," he admitted; "certainly the combination is difficult."

"I do wish we could do something for him."

"He would be better off if he would come out with us, but since he will
not, he will not." Philip's tone showed clearly that he was inclined to
let the matter drop.

But not so Claire. "You are willing to help me, aren't you, Philip?"

"Why yes, if there is any way in which I can be of service."

"We might stay and talk with him more."

"That is useless, I fear," he said abruptly, his own wishes revolting
against sacrificing his companionship with Claire or against sharing it
with Lawrence.

"He was unhesitating in his care for me those days we wandered," she
remarked simply.

"Pardon me again. I forgot for the time that you owed him anything."

"He doesn't consider that I owe him anything. It's simply that I want
him to be as happy as possible shut up here with us away from his own
kind of life."

"Oh!" Philip looked at her thoughtfully. "Do you think he could be
happier with other people?"

"I'm afraid so," she answered, a little regretfully.

Philip's eyes searched her face. "I should think you could satisfy any
one's need for companionship," he said, quietly.

"Don't flatter, Philip. That was a very silly speech."

"Was it? It was not flattery at any rate. It is my feeling about you."

"Please," she said, stopping, "let's not go into that again."

"Very well, but why cannot my lady extend her charity? There are other
unfortunates besides Lawrence who have troubles to face."

"Oh, Philip, you really haven't any troubles. You merely imagine you
have."

He laughed, a little bitterly. "I suppose a life's happiness is a small
thing."

"It isn't, Philip," she protested. "But you can get out and tramp and
trap and see things, and, after all, you don't really love me as you
thought you did. We've settled all that."

"I know we have," he agreed. "That is, you have."

She looked him over, angrily. "So this is the outcome! I ask you to
think of another person who needs our care, and you disregard him for
your own little troubles!"

Philip looked down and flushed crimson. "Well, it does seem as if I
were selfish. I am afraid I am. But I do not mean to be. I can talk to
him if you wish."

"You needn't," she said, angered still more. "It isn't charity I'm
asking you to bestow on him. He doesn't need that, and you ought to know
it."

She had laid more emphasis than she intended on the word "he," and
Philip's face darkened.

"I see," he said coldly. "It is I after all to whom you are charitable.
Thank you."

Tears of vexation came to Claire's eyes. "Oh, I do wish you'd be
reasonable," she said, half angrily, half pleadingly. "Don't you
understand that I am giving you more frank friendship than ever I gave
any man in my life? Isn't that of any value to you? Don't you realize
how unfair you have been to Lawrence?"

His face grew suddenly white, as he said, "Do you love him, Claire?"

She did not look away from him. "If I did, would it concern you?"

He took one step toward her, then stopped.

"Yes, it would," he answered.

Her anger almost mastered her, but she controlled herself.

"Philip, are we two irrational animals going to spoil everything? I had
hoped you might at least allow our companionship to live."

He looked at her without answering. Finally, he choked, "Don't--don't,
Claire, I have the right to know."

"If I promise to tell you when there is anything to tell, will you be
satisfied?" She felt no scruple of conscience at her pretense of
indifference to Lawrence, only a sense of protection for him. She did
not know from what she was protecting him, but the feeling gave her a
strange pleasure.

"I will," Philip returned, simply.

"And in the mean time will you help me pull him out of his slough of
despond?" she asked, smiling with the old, frank, intimate manner.

"Surely I will, though I confess I do not see the way."

"Then shall we go at once and begin our cheering process, my friend?"
she said, as though she were conferring a favor by the use of the word.

He winced at her immediate application of his promise.

"Perhaps we would better," he answered sadly, and turned toward the
cabin.

As she walked by his side she had already dismissed him from her
attention and was busy planning what she might do to make Lawrence
happy.

When they entered the cabin, Claire looked eagerly about the room. As
she glanced around, her face clouded. Lawrence was gone. His coat and
hat were not on the rack, and the cane which he had carved one day from
a stick which she had brought him from the woods was also missing.

Claire walked slowly into the room, her mind filled with an
unaccountable apprehension.

"Why, how abandoned the place seems without Lawrence! Where is he, I
wonder?" She tried to appear casual.

Philip followed her in and placed a chair for her. His mind, already
touched with the potential jealousy that Claire's talk had begun, leaped
ahead at her words and he felt more than ever doubtful of her attitude
toward Lawrence. Though he quickly dispelled his fear, the thought left
behind, as such things do, the readier soil for a stronger weed to
spring up in.

"He has gone out for a walk, I suppose. Doubtless, he will be back
soon." His voice was indifferent. "Will you not sit down, Claire? You
stand there looking about you as though you had lost something."

She was on the point of saying she had, but checked herself, and
accepted the chair.

"It's so unusual. He never did this before." Claire forced a smile.

"Well, he will be the better for it; I am glad that he has gone out,"
Philip answered.

"I know, but it is so difficult for him to find his way through the
snow," she said. "He told me it muffles sounds until he is almost
helpless in it. His feet can't feel the ground, and he doesn't know
which way to turn."

"He cannot possibly go far, and he cannot get lost." Philip's tone was
becoming a little edged.

"All the same, it worries me to have him out this way."

Philip started toward the door.

"Shall I go search for him?" His voice, unknown to himself, was heavy.

Claire glanced at him quickly. Her intuition told her he was jealous,
and she saw he was angry. She wanted to shout at him, "Go find
Lawrence!" and she was surprised at the sudden panicky nervousness that
seized her. But she rose calmly and crossed to the fireplace, saying as
she sat down, "No, thank you; I think he is able to take care of
himself."

Philip also seated himself.

"I think he is," he said. "Certainly he thinks so, and comes near enough
to proving his assertion."

She was both angry and pleased with his words.

"I never saw a man less handicapped by misfortune," she remarked.

"He does do very well."

"Lawrence seems all capable sense-nerves, and he is so very efficient
with his touch. What a keen appreciation of beauty he has!"

"I think he does remarkably well."

"In the hills he used to describe scenes to me, and do it accurately
just from their sound; running water and wind in the trees," she went
on, not noticing Philip's short replies.

"Yes, that is quite surprising."

"He certainly has taught me a great deal about blindness."

"Association with him does do that."

"Do you know, I believe he is one of the most unusual men I have ever
known."

Philip rose quickly.

"Doubtless. He is not the only topic of conversation our friendship
permits, is he, Claire?"

She looked up at him, and rose immediately, her eyes flashing.

"I think you are more selfish with your theories of altruism than he
with his egoism."

Philip looked quietly back at her.

"Perhaps I am where the woman I love is concerned."

Claire turned away and walked angrily toward her room.

"I see you can't maintain a friendship," she exclaimed.

"Meaning, you cannot." Philip's voice was bitter.

She turned quickly and looked at him.

"What do you mean?" she asked him, fearing.

"I mean that you are unfair. You ask me not to talk of my love, you wish
to talk friendship, while you are forcing me by your every word and act
to think of my own misery."

Claire stood aghast before him. His words seemed to her to be an
accusation so grossly false that she was stunned beyond anger.

"I don't understand," she said anxiously.

"You ought to understand. I love you, I cannot help but love you, fight
it as I will. You say you cannot love me because of your husband. Yet
your talk is not of your husband, but of this blind man. You say you
desire friendship, yet you allow me all that a woman allows her accepted
suitor."

Claire was appalled. She stared at him in amazement, faltering.

"Why, Philip, I--what is the matter? I don't do any such thing."

He laughed.

"Of course not," he replied. "You look at me with that warm light in
your eyes, because you think I am not human. I am a mere duenna, a
chaperon, perhaps."

She sank into a chair and covered her face. "I didn't think," she
moaned, and could say no more. A thousand memories of her intimate
treatment of Philip swept through her mind. She had considered him as
one of her own family, without thought, without intent, because she had
believed so strongly in his assurance of friendship. After a pause, she
gathered her thoughts.

"Philip, I may have done as you say," she spoke slowly, "but it was not
because I was not conscious of your manhood. It was because I thought
you stronger than you are. I believed you could be my friend and not ask
more."

He stood quietly looking at her where she sat.

"And what of him?" he asked, steadily.

"I am worried about him because he is blind, nothing more." She lied,
looking straight into his eyes, then rose and stepped behind the
curtain.

"Claire," he almost sang. "I am deeply, humbly, a thousand times sorry.
You cannot know how your talk of Lawrence made me wild. I am a fool, I
will admit, but I cannot think of your loving him, blind, selfish,
egoistic, intolerant of other people, I cannot."

"You needn't," she returned, coldly. Her whole soul was filled with
rage. She was recalling that he had said her eyes were alight when she
looked at him, and she told herself that it was not true.

"Won't you give me a chance to show myself as I am, Claire? I want to
prove to you that I am not a selfish beast."

She thought of Lawrence's cynical view of Philip's sentiments, and she
laughed.

Philip groaned, and then said again, "Aren't you fair enough to do that,
Claire?"

"And what will you read in my eyes next?" she inquired icily.

"Whatever is there?" he answered.

"But your imagination spoils your sight," she returned.

"Perhaps. I will not deny that I am not myself where you are concerned.
But I ask only for one more trial. And I will do my best."

Claire was growing more and more worried about Lawrence. What could have
happened to him?

"Then go and find Lawrence," she said suddenly.



CHAPTER XIII.

FAINT HEART AND FAIR LADY.


Claire heard Philip leave the house, and she sat down on her bed to wait
and think. It seemed ages that she sat there, her imagination busy with
a hundred possible calamities. When she finally heard the door open she
was almost afraid to look.

"Lawrence!" Her voice was full of warm gladness.

He was hanging his hat in its place.

"Hello, Claire. Back, are you?" His voice held the impersonal, sullen
note that he used of late. "Where is Philip?"

"Why, didn't he find you?"

Lawrence was immediately angry. He thought, "Why should Philip be
hunting for me? I don't need his care. Can't I even go out without a
guardian?"

"I didn't see him," he returned, aloud.

"I sent him to find you." She was standing looking at him, her whole
figure expressing love and relief at his return.

He was too angry to catch the fine warmth of her voice, and his
inability to see handicapped him more at that moment than at any time in
his life.

"I sent him to find you," she said again.

"He didn't. I came back as I went, alone."

"Lawrence, what is the matter with you?" she asked, pleadingly, with
tears in her voice.

He felt the emotion in her words, and was suddenly contrite. If he had
known it, he was acting like the sentimentalists whom he ridiculed, but
he suffered from the egotist's fate, he did not recognize his own
failing.

"I don't know that there is anything the matter, Claire. It angered me
to think that you still imagine that because I am blind I need a
guardian," he said, dropping into a chair.

She came over toward him, impulsively.

"That isn't the idea at all," she said, still very worried. "It was
simply that you told me yourself that you were helpless in the snow."

"I didn't ask to be cared for," he snapped.

"I wasn't caring for you--nor about you," she retorted, in sudden
irritation. "I didn't want you to be lost, that's all."

"I should think you'd be glad to see me gone." He was a little ashamed
of his own words, but he did not try to remedy the speech.

"What do you mean?"

He smiled ironically. "Even a blind man sometimes sees too much of
lovers."

Claire sank into a chair and struggled against the starting sobs. It
seemed to her that her whole life was becoming one continual argument
wherein she was accused and in return forced to demand explanations.

"What in the world do you mean?" she faltered. "Are you saying that
Philip and I are lovers?"

"Aren't you?"

"Of course not! It isn't like you to say that. And what if we were?"

"It wouldn't be any of my business, would it?" He was bitter.

"I suppose not," she said, weakly.

"You needn't be hesitant about admitting it. It's true," he went on.
"Why shouldn't it be? I am a mere piece of excess baggage which you are
too kind-hearted to eliminate. I know that, too. Why shouldn't you
eliminate me?" He smiled, satirically. "If I were Philip Ortez, loving
you and loved in return, I would feel like killing the blind man, whose
presence hampered."

She stared at him, wondering if he were in earnest.

"Then it's fortunate that you haven't the opportunity to feel that way."

"Obviously." He laughed, sullenly. "I sha'n't, because you couldn't love
a blind man."

Claire only sat and looked at him, thrilled with the knowledge that he
was about to tell her he loved her. She was trembling and desperately
afraid of herself. She moved uneasily, and against her will; her lips
said, "I could love a blind man, Lawrence."

He sat up and clenched his hands together quickly. The tone of her voice
in itself was a direct confession. But his deep skepticism of blindness
would not let him believe that he was right.

"Do you mean that you do love me?" he demanded.

She wanted to say "Yes," but she thought of Philip and was afraid of
what he might do, should he learn of her lie. Then, too, there was her
resolution to go back to Howard. Strange that her long-planned friendly
explanation of her own attitude did not occur to her, but it did not.

Lawrence rose and came toward her, his hands out. He was determined to
know, once and for all. The gathering emotion in his breast was growing
into an unbearable pain.

"Claire," he said, coming nearer and nearer. "Could you love me?"

His hands were almost to her. She saw them coming; terror, love,
happiness, anguish, and the desire to be his paralyzed her will. She did
not move.

"Yes," she whispered, "I could."

He put his arms around her and lifted her until she was crushed against
him.

"Do you love me, Claire?" he asked, tensely.

She did not answer, but her head sank against his shoulder.

Outside the cabin, she heard Philip's step in the snow.

"No!" she cried frantically, filled with dread. "No, no! Let me go!"

Lawrence, too, heard, and released her, stepping back indifferently, as
though just going toward a chair.

The door opened, and Philip entered.

"Oh, you're back, I see." The artist was coldly cordial in his greeting.

"And I see you, which is more important," Philip laughed.

"I suppose so." Lawrence sat down, thoughtfully. "Claire has just
scolded me for going out. She doesn't like to have me add to the bother
I am already."

Claire was still under the spell of her own emotion, and she resented
Lawrence's sang-froid. He was as cold as a block of stone. Her heart
cried out against him because he could not see why she had said "No" to
him, because he believed her! She wanted to cry, but did not dare.

"I told him we were worried," she said, indifferently.

"So we were." Philip was cheerful and friendly.

Lawrence buried himself from them both, and sat brooding, clothed in the
blackness that blindness brought when it suddenly loomed before him as
the wall between him and his life's desires. The brief instant Claire
had been in his arms had made him feel that his life was intolerable
without her, and that blindness was the curse of a double living death.
She had told him that she did not love him. She had struggled to be
free.

Lawrence failed to read Claire aright because he had not seen her, and
because his blindness made him uncertain of himself.

That was the truth of it all, the awful truth of his life.

He was always uncertain of himself because he was afraid of blindness.
He strutted, boasted, lied, and above all pretended to himself that he
believed his hard philosophy because he was afraid, afraid of failing to
do the things he wanted to do. He saw himself clearly now, he was a
coward, a deceiving ape, a monkey caught in the terror of tangling
roots, and denying it. He barked like a frightened dog, at the thing
that was his master. He was gripped by life, tortured by life, denied
death by life, and cheated by life of living. His imagination, fired by
his passion, leaped into play, and he felt himself a thousand times a
slave, a chained prisoner in the hand of circumstance.

Philip was laughing gaily, and talking to Claire, who listened,
answered, and was all the while lost in her own thought. When he had
entered, Philip had looked quickly at the two to see if there was aught
between them, and had found Lawrence colder, more despondent than ever.
He told himself that Lawrence had evidently pleaded with Claire for her
love and been denied. At least, this blind man had not been successful,
and Philip could afford to be good-humored. The more agreeable he was,
the more Claire would turn to him from that dark, ungracious form
yonder. His would be the victory of pleasant manners. Therefore he
talked, gladly, smilingly, while Claire listened, or seemed to listen.

She was rebellious at the fear which had made her cry "No" to Lawrence,
and at the same time glad that she had done so, afraid of the future,
exasperated with Philip for coming in at the supreme moment, and angry
with Lawrence for his stupidity.

Perhaps these tangled relations might have been cleared had it not been
for a piece of folly more stupendous than any they had yet experienced.
This event occurred the day after Lawrence's walk in the snow.

Philip had stepped out for a few minutes to look at a near-by trap, and
Claire and the artist were left alone for the first time since her
denial. She wanted him to renew his suit, feared that he would, and sat
waiting for him to speak.

But he remained silent, and at last she said, "Lawrence."

"Well?" He did not move.

The psychology of woman has been too often commented upon and attempted
by those who thought they could explain. Why Claire was doing and saying
what she did, she herself could not tell.

"Lawrence, don't you ever, ever act as you did yesterday again."

He smiled. "It would be dangerous if your gallant should come in less
slowly." He was filled with a desire to hurt her.

Claire was angry with him for saying what was so utterly far from her
mind and so different from what she wanted him to say.

"If my gallant should come in," she thrust coldly, "he would scarcely
appreciate the melodrama you are playing."

Lawrence sat up with a jerk, his rage near the boiling point.

"What do you mean?" he demanded. "I have not interfered with your
delightful episode, have I?"

"No, and you couldn't. I mean that my husband--he is my lover--for I
know that is what you intend by 'gallant'--would scarcely appreciate the
type of man who mopes and abuses the woman who does not care to lie in
his arms."

Lawrence sat still, while a fierce, uncontrollable rage consumed him. He
felt that to take this woman and whip her into submission would be a
pleasure. He thought of the lash he had in his studio at home and wished
it were in his hand. With the thought he rose and stepped swiftly toward
Claire, his teeth set.

She saw him, and rose.

"I have one way of showing you who is master," he began, and stopped.

She had stepped forward and was standing almost against him.

"Even blindness does not allow you the freedom to threaten."

He shrank back and dropped once more into his chair.

Claire was talking rapidly, savagely. Later she was to be thrown into a
despairing self-hate that kept her many a night in tears, but now she
went on.

"Do you think I will overlook everything in you because I pity you?
There have been times when your impositions, so carelessly thrust upon
me, because you were selfish, because you knew I must accept them from
you, were almost unbearable. The touch of your thief-trained hands to
steal from everything its beauty and self-respect has galled me beyond
all endurance. My body has received its last vile grasp from you."

She stopped, appalled at his expression. She did not know, neither of
them knew, that love, the ever-changing impulse of creation within men
and women, speaks its desire through bitter scorn and abuse, when softer
words are too slow in finding their way.

He was sitting there, white, anguished, cowering under her tongue, his
whole life shaken. Her words made him feel that the thing she said was
true. He had always feared it, realizing that in a measure it was
inevitable, and his great strength was now turned against himself,
against his bitter handicap, and he was in that tremendous upheaval that
requires a rebuilding of one's faith. His belief in himself was broken.
His belief in his power was gone. Coming after weeks of thought and fear
about blindness, Claire's words tore him asunder and made him feel that
there was nothing for him but abject misery and dependence upon charity.

Instinctively, his hand went up as if to shield him from a blow, and he
murmured, "For God's sake, Claire!"

There was to come a time, later, when experience would have taught him
that there is a wild strain in the nature of human hearts which abuses
out of a desire to be conquered. He did not yet realize that he had
spoken truly when he said that this woman had hidden in her the savage
warring sexed tumult of all the struggling ages.

She saw him there, his hand up, and suddenly her emotion changed. It was
love, still love crying out for expression, but now she was all
compassion, tenderness, and fear. She read in his face what she had
done, and her heart was gray with the pain at her own failure.

Now all love for her was buried, perhaps dead, under his shattered
selfhood, slain in the wrecking earthquake that she had brought to pass
with the ardor of her passion. She had meant to sting him into taking
her in his arms and forcing her to love him, and instead--"Oh, God!" she
whispered, and slipped behind the curtain to throw herself on her bed
and weep with heart wrung by self-condemnation and loving pity for the
man whom she had clubbed with his own dread weakness. She had shattered
into chaos the strong soul of the man she loved, with the only weapon he
would have felt, and she realized now that it was her love, her desire
to be his, to be his utterly, that had led her to do it.

Lawrence was too hurt to move. His mind repeated again and again the
words she had spoken. He kept saying to himself: "Blindness has made me
that, an egotist beggar." He did not reproach Claire. She had swept him
too far from his habitual moorings for that. There was no rebellion
against her, none, indeed, against life. Over him rolled wave after wave
of self-contempt, distrust, and anguish that shook him with an agony
that only the assured man knows when the one he loves most of all on
earth strikes dead his faith in himself. He thought of a multitude of
things that stabbed anew, but not once did he move in the interminable
period that passed before Philip returned.

When he did come, the Spaniard was amazed at the crouching, white-faced
man whom he found before a dying fire. There was something so sad in the
blind face that Philip felt no suspicion and no anger. He looked for
Claire, but she was not visible. He stirred the fire and set about
preparing supper while his mind began digging at the problem which he
saw in the attitude of the man there in the chair. Claire did not come
out to help. She was too exhausted from the storm that had swept over
her. In her bed she could hardly smother the scream that kept rising to
her lips. She wanted to spring up and cry aloud to Lawrence for
forgiveness. She was scarcely aware of Philip as he moved about.

She could have thrown herself at Lawrence's feet and pleaded with him.
She was discovering that her whole wild outbreak was a strange
expression of her physical desire for this man whom she loved, and the
discovery made her as self-detesting as she had been violent in her
outbreak. It seemed to her that there was nothing, nothing she would not
do to make amends to Lawrence for what she had said. She wanted to tell
him what it had been that prompted her, but she dared not lest in
revulsion at her viciousness he turn on her and kill her.

"God, God," she muttered, "what have I done!"

Philip was calling her to supper. She steadied her voice, and said
humbly: "I can't come out. I'm not feeling very well. Go on without me,
please."

She heard him speak to Lawrence, and she strained her ears to catch the
answering movement toward the table, but there was none. At last Philip
spoke again in a voice that was full of anxiety: "Lawrence, what in
God's name has happened?"

Lawrence was moving now, and she waited with bated breath for his
answer. He walked to the table and sat down. His voice was heavy. "I've
found myself out, Philip. That's all. I know what I am."

There was a moment of silence. Claire covered her mouth with her hand to
suppress a cry. She wanted to shout: "No, no, no, not that, but what I
am, my beloved, my adored one."

"What do you mean?" Philip's voice seemed stern.

"I mean that I am indebted to you and Claire for the truth I needed."

Behind the curtain Claire turned on her face and burst into sobs.

Philip arose abruptly. "Lawrence," he said quietly, "I do not know what
has happened to you this afternoon; I do not know what you mean; but
this I do know: I am deeply sorry if anything I have done or said has
made you feel that you are an unwelcome guest in my home."

Lawrence stood up and gathered his scattered senses.

"Philip, I beg your pardon, old man. It isn't that at all. The truth
is"--and his voice broke--"I have lied to myself and to the world these
many years. Much of it hasn't been my fault, but I must pay the price
just the same. I am blind. That has led me to a sort of clamorous egoism
which carried me on and on until I came to feel that I was really doing
something. At last, I know that I am a narrow human parasite, worthless,
utterly worthless. A blind, clinging, grasping, vagrant beast, fed upon
the mercy of too kind-hearted humanity. I am sorry. It isn't my fault,
but it is so."

Philip stood for a few minutes in silence. "You're ill, Lawrence," he
said finally. "Get back to yourself if you can. Things do not stay at
this point in human abasement. I know of what I speak. I have been
through that myself. I cannot say anything comforting. No one can."

They went to bed with but a few commonplace remarks, and the cabin
became silent. Lawrence lay awake through that night. Claire, unknown to
him, spent her vigil in a great readjustment of her life.



CHAPTER XIV.

PHILIP TO THE RESCUE.


It is always the little things in human relations that have the most
far-reaching results. Claire might have avoided much trouble with a few
well-chosen words to Lawrence, but her own mental state prevented her
from speaking.

On his part, Lawrence was so shaken by her outburst that his love for
her was driven deep into his subconscious self, and for the time it lay
there dormant. After the sudden volcanic upheaval of his entire
universe, he was utterly absorbed in the immediate task of
reconstructing his faith in himself. The primitive stages of his
thinking did not allow for any relation between himself and the woman
who had released the dam of self-abasement. She was unavoidably at hand,
reminding him of her speech, and that alone delayed what otherwise would
have been an unconscious process.

Claire was not able to forget the intense desire which, she now
realized, had prompted her terrible diatribe. Humiliation held her in
its throes, and she was reserved, distant, and unnatural toward him.

Philip saw it all, and his mind was filled with conjectures which made
him less and less charitable toward Lawrence, more jealous, and more
hopeful of a happy issue of his love for Claire. She turned to him
eagerly for companionship. Instinctively she sought refuge from her own
thoughts--and from Lawrence--by talking to Philip.

The morning after the incident between Lawrence and Claire there had
been an austere reserve in the cabin. Claire had fled from the
oppressive gloom into the open. Outside Philip joined her, and they
walked together in silence. He was determined not to ask Claire what had
happened, although he was extending her a silent sympathy which she felt
and a little resented.

Lawrence, left alone in the cabin, gave small heed to their departure.
He had risen with a frightful headache and a fever. He lay on the bed
and thought of his situation, his past life, and his future chances, in
bitter, heartrending, self-condemnatory sarcasm which made his condition
even less tolerable than it would have been otherwise.

"I am a miserable groveler at the feet of humanity," he thought,
"clutching at shrinking shoestrings for a piece of bread in pity's name.
If I could see, God, if I only could!"

He thought of all the little things which his blindness made it
absolutely necessary for others to do for him, and his excited mind
magnified them into colossal proportions. If his landlady in New York
had removed a spot from his clothes, as she had often done, that was a
proof of his despised state. He fell to imagining that he was unkempt,
dirty, disgustingly unclean, and that people had tolerated it because
they had pitied him. At last, with a cry of anguish, he thought: "And my
work, too, it is a botched mess which they are amused at and do not dare
to tell me the truth about. It, too, is a jest that the world is having
at my expense." He remembered praise and prizes that he had won in
contests with other students, and he was too excited to see the folly of
his answer: "That was charity, the award of kindness to me. I know now
what they thought--that for a blind man the thing was nearly enough
correct to be interesting and quite amusing."

His body felt hot, and he went outside to prowl about in the wind and
snow, like a despairing beast. His mind kept up its terrible work, and
he did not notice the continual drop in temperature. Round and round the
cabin he walked, instead of going into the forest, as he would have done
the day before. In his mind was a sudden doubt of his own ability, and
he said that Claire had been right to keep him in. She was more aware of
his pitiable weakness than he. At last, however, from sheer weariness he
went inside. He was chilled through, but instead of rebuilding the fire
and warming himself, he rolled up in a blanket and lay on the bed,
chilling and burning by turns.

In the mean time Claire and Philip were discussing the man in the cabin.
Philip had finally broken the silence by saying: "Claire, you needn't
feel so about whatever has happened. Remember he is blind and must be
treated less critically than other men."

She knew that that was just what had made Lawrence so deadly white when
she had spoken, and it filled her with sickening pain. She answered
unsteadily: "That isn't true. It isn't Lawrence, anyway, it's myself who
should be condemned."

Philip was thoughtful. "It is like you to take the blame on yourself.
You are so kind-hearted that way."

In her present state, his words seemed like a reproach. "Philip, don't,"
she said sadly. "I know better than that."

He persisted. "No, you do not. You are too sympathetic, and you let your
heart get the better of you."

"I wish you wouldn't talk that way," she repeated. "You wouldn't, if you
knew the truth."

"Of course, I do not know what happened," he said, "but I do know
you--even better than you know yourself."

"Do you know what I've done?"

"No, and I do not care. It was right, I am sure. The queen can do no
wrong." He was intensely serious.

"Isn't there any common sense left in you, Philip?" she railed. "Have
you gone clear back into medieval nonsense in your feeling toward me? I
tell you, you are indulging in foolishness."

"Am I?" He smiled. "Well, if that is the best I have to give--"

"I don't want you to give me anything."

"But I cannot help it, neither can you."

"I have killed a man's love before this," she answered bitterly.

"But you cannot kill mine. I love you, whether you love me or not. I am
proud to acknowledge my unreturned love."

"As you please." Claire stopped suddenly. "Are we apt to get anywhere
with this subject?" she asked ironically.

"I don't know. I earnestly hope so."

She looked at Philip thoughtfully. Perhaps the truth about her own
weakness might cure him.

"Suppose I allowed you to love me, and you found that you had won a
woman whose passions were her whole life. Suppose she should prove to be
a mere bundle of sex, all polished over with other people's ideas, a
social manner, and a set of morals which she did not really feel, which
were deceiving ornaments hiding her soul. What would you think of your
prize?"

"I should not love such a woman. I could not."

"But suppose you were deceived and thought her other than she was."

"I hardly expect such a thing to happen. Why suppose?"

"Because if I were your wife you might find it to be true."

Philip laughed aloud. "Claire, how preposterous! Are you trying to kill
my love for you with such terrifying pictures of depravity?"

"I wasn't trying to do anything. I just wanted to know."

"Have you been answered?"

"Yes, you are like all of your type; you are in love with what your own
desire chooses as an ideal, and then you shout, 'Behold, I am not a
sensual lover!'"

He stared at her in amazement. "What sort of a thing do you think I am?"

She laughed carelessly. "A man. And what do you think I am?"

"A very strange woman, but a dear one," he said earnestly.

"Why strange, Philip?"

"Because you talk of love as Lawrence might."

She winced. "He would know," she said. "He does know, perhaps." She was
talking to herself, and her voice was pathetic.

Philip's eyes grew fierce with anger. "What do you mean?"

"Not what your very ideal mind thinks," she said coldly.

He flamed scarlet, and looked away. "Claire," he said softly, "will you
never have done stirring up suspicions no man could avoid, and then
condemning them?"

"I didn't stir them up," she mocked.

"Who did, then?"

Claire was undergoing a developing reconstruction, but that she did not
know. She thought she was degenerating, and the immediate result was to
make her careless and ironical.

"Oh, the devil, perhaps," she hazarded.

"What are you, Claire?" Philip demanded hoarsely.

Suddenly her suffering broke into tears. To his utter amazement, she
began to cry unrestrainedly.

Over and over she sobbed: "I don't know, I don't know."

For a moment Philip stood motionless, bewildered, then his love and
natural tenderness swept over him, and he said tenderly, "Don't, Claire,
please."

She only cried harder, weakened the more by his pity. He took her in his
arms as he would a child, and comforted her. She was tempted to
struggle, but her need for sympathy prevailed, and she did not resist
him. He held her in his arms, pouring out his love, his anxiety, his
tenderness, and in her momentary condition she listened and made no
protest. In her aching mind she kept repeating, "I have killed
Lawrence's love with my bestial talk"--and she wanted love. She did not
think of her husband. He was too far away. In her present attitude she
exalted Lawrence to the unattainable, and, without formulating the
thought, she was willing to lie in Philip's arms and take what he could
give. They were two of a kind, she thought scornfully. In her
bitterness, the bleak, snow-covered land, with its drooping pines,
seemed in its cold monotony a fitting background for two such worthless
derelicts.

In the Spaniard's mind was but one thought--to comfort Claire and
restore her to her usual self. Vaguely he knew that love was already
promised by the unresisting body in his arms, but there was no thought
of immediately pressing his suit. He petted and talked until she stopped
crying, then he stood her on her feet, and said, with a tender laughter
in his words: "There, you are all right again. We would better go in.
You are cold."

Silently she walked beside him back to the cabin. She was indifferent,
she thought, as to whether he did or did not continue his appeals for
love. She was under her own deep, unexplained, emotional control which
led her forward. She was finding herself, but before she would be safe
she would have to throw off a mass of traditional views, beliefs, and
teachings. If Philip chose to press his suit while her knowledge of
herself still seemed vile and abnormal, she would be surely his. Claire
thought herself lost. She had revealed her terrible state to Lawrence,
killed his love, filled him with abhorrence, and struck at his life's
source.

With silent turmoil in her brain she entered the cabin beside Philip.
When she saw Lawrence, a sharp pain went through her. He was white as
death save for the red spots that marked his fever. She took off her
coat and snow-cap hurriedly.

"Lawrence," she said softly, going toward him.

He lifted his head slightly.

"What is it, Claire?"

"I want to do something for you. You're ill."

His face clouded. "No, thanks," he said. "You've done too much for me
already."

"Won't you do anything for yourself?" she begged.

"I'll be all right. It's just a cold, I guess."

Philip came and stood looking down at Lawrence scrutinizingly, while
Claire went to the fire and heated water.

"I am going to fill you up with quinin," he announced. "It is never
missing from my medicine-chest."

"All right," Lawrence laughed. "It isn't bitter compared to what I'm
filling myself with."

"Are you not making a fool of yourself?" Philip asked plainly.

"Yes. I know it. That doesn't keep me from doing it, though."

Claire turned and looked at them, her eyes sternly reproachful toward
Philip.

"One can't help thinking," she said. "I can't."

"I shouldn't want you to," Lawrence returned. "Indeed, I'm grateful to
you for making me think, too."

"She started you off, did she?" Philip smiled.

Lawrence did not answer, and Philip sat down by the fire where he could
watch Claire as she worked.

After a time Lawrence said thoughtfully: "If one could establish some
sort of a relation between himself and the ultimate first cause of all
this blind snowstorm we call life, things might get shaped with some
measure for perspectives."

"Yes," Philip assented. "I manage to establish one, though I confess it
isn't clearly logical."

"What is it?" Lawrence asked.

"Simply having faith; hope, if you prefer it."

"But faith in what, and what do you base it on?"

"Oh, on my experience."

"I wonder if we really matter at all to the rest of the scheme," Claire
voiced.

"I am inclined to think not," replied Lawrence. "We matter only to
ourselves, and what we can do with the universe around us."

"We matter to God, I think," said Philip. "I don't mean in the old
accepted sense; but we must matter to Him in some way, perhaps as your
statue here matters to you."

Lawrence chuckled weakly. "It mattered tremendously when I was doing
it. Now it doesn't in the least matter. I shouldn't care if you burned
it as firewood."

"But you must care," Claire protested, feeling that he was losing
interest in his work because of her.

"I don't see why. I haven't any real assurance as to its value. It may
be good, more likely it isn't; in any case, I have turned it loose to
shift for itself. It can survive or not; its doing so is immaterial.
Perhaps as immaterial as my existence is to the Great Artist who
conceived the botched job called me."

"But, Lawrence, why insist that you don't matter to Him?"

"Oh, because I am scarcely aware of Him at all; indeed, I am not aware
of Him, and I am sure He isn't aware of me."

"You have not any way to prove that," declared Philip.

"True, except that I can imaginatively comprehend the size of time and
space, and all that is therein. I know my own size, and I can readily
imagine that the creator of the whole is no more aware of me than I am,
say, of a small worm that may be in the heart of my cherub there."

"We do seem pretty small in the face of the stars," said Claire.

"Yes, and so impossible," added Lawrence. "I didn't realize until to-day
how utterly impossible I really am."

"But, impossible or not, here you are," Philip laughed.

"Yes, here I am and there I may be, but in either place I am not
especially possible. You are; you can go out and make a definite,
independent impression on life; that makes you possible in that you are
forcing recognition of power and capability. I can't do that. The
impression I make is one of incapability. For myself I am impossible,
and for others more so."

"Which has nothing to do with God," said Philip, in his tone a touch of
distaste.

Lawrence recognized it and became silent.

Claire made him take the quinin and heated bricks for his feet. Philip
went out to cut wood for the fire, leaving her alone with the sick man.
She was so full of her own wickedness, as she conceived it, that she
dared not tell him her thoughts. She wanted to explain that she loved
him, that she had loved him all along, but she could not. She looked at
him, and felt sure that he had now no love for her.

Lawrence was trying to follow out in his mind a searching inquiry as to
his relation to life. "If I could only establish that," he thought, "I
could get myself straight and there would be something to start from. If
I knew which way to move!" But he was unable to do any coherent
thinking. His head ached, his lips burned with fever, and his body kept
him busy with the sensation of pain. It seemed to him that illness made
his state more detestable, but it also offered him a chance of escape
from the whole drab business. He was quite sure that he wanted to
escape, and he would not have believed it if any one had told him that
he would resist death to the uttermost; yet deep within him was that
will to live which had made him the creative artist. It was working,
unknown to him, now, toward the reconstruction he so needed.

He turned restlessly, and muttered something about his foolishness.
Claire came and sat beside him silently. She was wondering what would
happen if she should tell him of her discovery of herself.

"Claire!" Lawrence spoke. "Is it possible for any one to get his life
platform built so that it will stand without that first great plank?"

"What plank?"

"God."

"I don't know."

"It seems to me that you couldn't have shaken me so yesterday if I had
been built up right."

"Lawrence," she said piteously, "I didn't mean to do that, to say that."

He waved her words aside. "Never mind, Claire, it did me good. I was not
realizing, quite, just what I was. I'm finding it out, and when I get
right I'll be all the better for it."

"But you don't know why I did it."

"Yes, I do, but it doesn't matter, anyway. What was behind your words
doesn't count so long as you told the truth."

"But it does count, and I didn't tell the truth."

"I'm afraid you did. Please don't try to cover it with kind fibs now."

"I sha'n't, but you don't understand."

"Well, Claire, it doesn't matter, as I said. What is it to me what you
do or don't do, so long as you bring me face to face with more truth?"

She thought he was telling her that he cared nothing for her. She did
not blame him, yet there was a tiny streak of pride that said, "At least
Philip finds me worth while."

"It is simply my own salvation that is involved," Lawrence went on.

"Well, I hope you find it," she said simply.

"I must find it to live," he answered.

"And how do you propose to find it?"

"I don't know. I wish I did."

"You might find it, as you once said, in creative work."

"No, that isn't a salvation. I must have a platform from which to work.
Don't you see that, Claire?"

"I don't understand anything about it."

"Pardon me, I didn't intend to force this upon you."

"That isn't what I mean, Lawrence." Her eyes were moist. "What I meant
was that you live above me entirely."

"Nonsense," he said wrathfully. "You talk like a silly girl, Claire."

"Do I? Well, I am perhaps less worth while than you think."

"Oh, I guess not," he returned carelessly.

She covered her face with her hands.

"I know you are worth all that I think you are," he continued. "But I am
afraid that just now I am too interested in my own salvation to think of
you at all correctly."

"Yes," she observed wearily.

She was thinking of Philip as he had comforted her that morning, and his
tenderness, compared to this cold statement from Lawrence, seemed
attractive beyond measure. She admitted that all hope of Lawrence's
loving her was dead, and she said to herself: "It is what I wanted. I
can go back to my husband." But she did not want to go back to Howard.
She received this discovery calmly. She would never go back. But why
shouldn't she? She could not tell for certain. She thought it was
because she had found herself unworthy, but deep within her was the
knowledge that she no longer loved him. It would be useless to go back
to him in any event. He could never be the same to her after hearing of
her long months with this blind man in the wilderness.

What months they had been! She thought them over, day by day, and she
saw what might have been a great joy sink, after a glimpse, into utter
darkness. Before her she saw the endless gray years beside Philip. Yes,
she would stay with him. At least he loved her, and she could help him.
If she did not love him, what of it? She would be an able wife to him.
She could keep him from ever knowing that her heart was away with
Lawrence, who would be back in the world at home and have forgotten her.

"Claire!" Lawrence was speaking. "We have certainly reaped a strange
harvest from our months of sowing in the wilderness."

"Yes."

"Whatever brought it about?"

"I don't know."

"Perhaps it was fate, that you should teach me where I stand in life."

"Perhaps."

"And perhaps you, too, will find that I have been of some value when we
are separated."

"It may be."

"I wish things might have gone differently."

"They didn't."

"No, and they can't. Well, let them be as they are."

"I guess we'll have to, Lawrence."

A few minutes later, when she looked at him, he was asleep.



CHAPTER XV.

UTTER EXHAUSTION.


Claire rose and slipped quietly to her own bed. All the aching pain of
her proposed future came over her with its dirty sordidness. She could
never stand it, she thought, and clenched her teeth. Well, it was not
necessary. When Lawrence was gone, there was the lake. That would be her
way out of it all. No one need ever know. The thought of death seemed
very sweet to her.

Philip came in, saw Lawrence asleep, and stole across the room to peep
in at her. She met his glance.

"I beg your pardon," he murmured.

"Never mind," she answered dully. "Come in if you like."

He hesitated, then stepped through, and let the curtain fall behind him.

"May I sit here?" he asked, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Why not?" Her voice was colorless. "Only please speak softly. Don't
wake Lawrence."

"He'll feel better after his sleep, I think."

"I hope so."

He sat looking down into her dark, clouded eyes. There was something so
tragic, so sad, and so submissive in them that he was filled with utter
tenderness.

"Claire," he whispered, "what is the matter?"

"Nothing. I'm quite well."

"You look absolutely desolate."

"I don't especially feel so."

"Are you happy?"

"I don't know."

He stooped over her, studying her face. She did not move, only her deep,
dark eyes looked up coldly into his. He took the hand which she did not
draw away, and whispered: "Claire, let me make you happy."

She did not answer. He bent nearer. Her eyes did not shift from his, she
saw that he was going to kiss her, but she did not move. If the whole
world had come crashing down upon her, she could not have made the
slightest effort to escape.

He pressed his lips against hers. She did not return his kiss, but she
did not protest. He slipped his arm around her waist and drew her up.
Still she made no objection. He held her more closely, kissing her again
and again. She remained impassive, unable to summon sufficient willpower
to resist. Besides, had she not decided to be this man's wife?

He was pouring into her ears short, whispered words of endearment,
giving his love free rein.

"Claire--Claire," he whispered passionately, "you do love me! Say you
love me!"

"Oh, must I say that?" she asked languidly.

He laid her head back on the pillow tenderly.

"Why shouldn't you?" he demanded. "You do, or you wouldn't let me act
this way. Oh, Claire, isn't that true?"

"Doesn't your own heart tell you, Philip?" She could not lie easily.

"Yes, of course. I just wanted to hear you say it, dear."

"Why?"

"Because--because it means so much to me."

"How does it mean any more than my unresisting lips?" She wanted to be
fair to Philip. Would he want a wife without love?

He looked at her, puzzled by her calm question.

"Because, dear, it would mean that you put your seal on our divine
betrothal."

"I gave you my lips, you held me in your arms, doesn't that mean love to
you?"

"Claire, why do you talk that way?"

"Why shouldn't I? Isn't it true?"

"Yes, but you--you seem so unlike the woman you are."

"Oh, I see. But you haven't told me fully why you wanted me to say I
loved you."

He stood up nervously and moved a few paces away, but the patient,
self-reproachful gaze in Claire's eyes brought him back again.

"Why talk of that at all, dearest?" he whispered. "We have each other.
Isn't that enough?"

"Perhaps not. You asked me to say it, you know."

"Yes, but I don't care. I won't plague you. I know you do love, me." He
kissed her again and then looked at her. Her lips had been cold.

"What is the matter, Claire? Don't you love me? Is that why you wouldn't
give me your word?"

It was coming at last. How could she make Philip see, and yet be fair to
him, too?

"I don't know what you mean by love." Her voice was carefully toneless.

Philip's eyes lighted. "Don't you want me here beside you? Don't you
warm to my kisses? Isn't there an awakened tenderness in you at my
touch? Isn't there, dearest?"

Claire's hands moved nervously up and down the edge of the comforter.
"If I should stay here with you, that would be the highest proof that I
loved you, wouldn't it?"

"What else?" He looked at her, hope giving his face a renewed glow.

Was that all that love meant to him? "Is that what your years of thought
have taught you?" she said aloud.

"Why, yes, Claire, the return of passion for passion, of warmth for
warmth, of tenderness for tenderness, must be the last test, mustn't
it?"

Despite her resolution her eyes narrowed ironically.

Philip started, and stared at her.

"Would you ever be jealous of my husband?" she asked, slowly.

His head dropped. "No--and yes. Of course, I wish he hadn't been your
husband, but we can't help what fate has decreed." He raised his eyes,
and then suddenly he smiled. "Claire, is it because of him that you are
unwilling to tell me you love me?" he asked softly. "I think I can
understand. You'll have to be freed from him in some way, and we must be
married, of course."

"I am free from him. To him, I am dead. Isn't that enough?"

"Yes," he answered judiciously, "if your own conscience is satisfied."

She smiled a little, her eyebrows lifting in amusement. "Oh, my own
conscience dictates my every act, Philip."

"I know it does," he agreed, earnestly. "But your lips were cold to my
kiss." He bent over to test the truth of his remark.

"Do you forget Lawrence so easily?" Claire raised a hand over her face.
"Certainly I cannot."

"I beg your pardon," Philip said, rising hastily. "Of course he is to
be remembered. We will wait until we are alone to talk of our future."

"Yes," she said. "I should prefer that greatly."

He touched his lips to her forehead tenderly, then stepped silently into
the room beyond.

She heard him as he moved quietly to replenish the fire, and it seemed
to her that he made enough noise to echo from the mountains across the
lake. She must think her situation through. She was studying the look
she had read on Philip's face, and was angry with herself, yet she could
not help thinking of it and its meaning. Suddenly she remembered the
same expression on her husband's face, and she shuddered. She had
thought it beautiful then, why not now? And why should she be so
contemptuous when probably the same look had been in her own eyes when
she had raged at Lawrence because he had not taken her in his arms.
Philip was sitting out there beyond the curtain dreaming ecstatically of
the days when they would be alone in the cabin, and she smiled
ironically. After all, there was but one way out. He would find little
comfort in her ghost, and her drowned body would scarcely fire him to
passion.

She rose and slipped out into the room. Lawrence was still asleep. She
did not even glance toward Philip because she foresaw his look of
proprietorship. She went straight to Lawrence, and bending over him as
if to arrange something about his blanket, she whispered softly:
"Beloved, when I am alone with him, I shall be more with you."

Philip came and stood beside her, his hand resting lightly on her
shoulder.

"It looks like a serious fever," he said softly.

Claire listened to Lawrence's breathing and felt his temperature. She
stood up, gray with anxiety. "I'm afraid for him," she said, and there
was that in her voice which Philip did not understand.

They ate their supper in silence. Claire glanced at Philip occasionally
and found in his eyes the anticipated look of tender ownership. She let
him slip out of her mind while she thought again of the afternoon when
Lawrence had declared his creative principle. How dearly she would love
to help him, to have him model his statue of her. He had said that she
was savage and elemental underneath her polish. He had known, then, all
the time. What a man he was! If only she knew how to find his love, to
reawaken it. But no, he would never forget. Well, he would not have been
able to care for her, anyway, she was so utterly sensual despite all her
training in culture. He would want a more spiritual woman to fire his
imagination to do great work. She tried to imagine what sort of woman
would be best for his wife.

Lawrence stirred restlessly. She rose and went quickly to the bed. He
was still asleep and she stood looking down at him. In her heart was a
great tenderness and a great fear. What if he should die? Memories of
their days in the woods swept over her in waves of love.

Abruptly she turned to Philip and said quietly: "Philip, until I am your
wife you must not touch me again."

He looked up, startled, then smiled. "I understand, my dear," he said,
"I will not."

She sat down at the table to wait for Lawrence's waking. It was late
when he did, and immediately they realized that he was worse. Claire
gave him some hot soup made from dried meal and helped Philip get him
undressed and into bed.

"I'll put some blankets here and sleep on the floor beside him," Philip
whispered. "I don't in the least mind, and I can help him if he wants
help during the night."

"Thank you," Claire said gratefully. She felt indebted to this man for
every kindness shown Lawrence.

Long before morning she was aroused by the sound of movements out there
in the room.

"What is it?" she called softly.

"I am looking for something in which to heat water," came Philip's
voice.

She scrambled out of bed, drew on a few clothes, and went out. Lawrence
was tossing on his bed and breathing heavily. She set to work heating
the water herself, and sent Philip back to his blankets. There was a
pleasure in doing this nursing for Lawrence. She felt glad that hers
was the chance to care for him.

"You're to have the best nursing a sick man ever got, Lawrence," she
said, stooping over him tenderly.

He smiled faintly and whispered: "Good, Claire."

"You'll be well so quick you won't remember being ill."

"I know," he murmured huskily.

"What do you know?" she asked eagerly.

"I know, it's natural for you, this kindness."

"Is that all you know, Lawrence?"

"About all, Claire. About all, yet."

"Why do you say 'yet'?"

"I haven't thought it out yet."

"What, Lawrence?"

"My platform, my work-bench for the future."

She laughed, a little sadly. "You would better stop thinking about that
for a day or so, wouldn't you?"

"Perhaps. I can't, though."

She drew up a chair and sat beside him. "I'm going to become a regular
guard, and if you don't sleep and let thinking wait, I'll scold
dreadfully."

He tossed uneasily and turned toward her, his cheeks brilliant with
fever.

"I like to hear you scold, Claire," he said. "I shall go my limit."

She rubbed her cool hand across his forehead for answer.

When he at last slept, she continued to watch by his side, rocking
slowly in her chair. It was peace for her to sit there and dream. There
was rest from her ceaseless questionings, and it was welcome rest.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE QUESTION ANSWERED.


During the days that followed Claire's attitude grew into one of
motherhood. She watched over Lawrence for the least thing she might do,
the least promise of returning health. There were times when he raved in
delirium, and she listened with a swelling heart.

One morning he began suddenly talking of himself. In broken sentences,
shapeless phrases, half finished thoughts, he unfolded a strange tale.
Claire was glad that Philip was away at work with his traps. She sat
beside Lawrence, her hands clasped, and did not miss a word.

"You see," he began one day without preliminaries, "you see, I wasn't
just given the best of chances. That was the beginning of it all. I
wasn't fairly treated." She tried to comfort him into sleep, but he did
not know she was talking to him and went on earnestly with his
unconscious revelation.

"The whole business was a squalid sort of thing banked by mountains so
grand in their rugged strength that I never got used to the dirty, dusty
little half-civilized town there on the plateau. Even as a child I felt
the intolerable difference between the place and its surroundings. Men
ought to be better up there, but they aren't. They just magnify faults
with the bigness of the hills around. Lots of it was romantic, lots of
it ought never to be lost, the frank freedom, the vital living, the joy
of uncertain victory over the dirt of the mines. It made men wild, wild
to the last degree, that ever possible stumbling into gold, pure,
glittering gold. Why, I saw it as a kid, shining like stars all over the
side of the tunnel. It made even the children mad, I think. When I
modeled rude little figures out of the red clay, I was always on the
outlook for a possible gold-mine."

He laughed, then went on seriously. "I didn't have the chance to grow up
learning things gradually. There was no dividing-line between vice and
virtue, all of it spread out there, street behind street, in a glow of
abandoned riot. Even virtue flashed with a loose frankness that deceived
a growing boy. It was a grand drama. Fifty thousand mad men and women!"

She looked at him in amazement. This was something beyond her knowledge.
What was it all that he was talking about?

"There was Josey; she didn't know. I didn't. We saw love played with in
hilarious open passion. We thought it was the thing to do. Children
oughtn't to see it quite that way."

Claire felt guilty, but he stopped and when he began again he was on a
different line of old memories.

"Why, when I sold papers down on the main street I could see the girls
of the district standing around, one block below, in their business
regalia. I thought at first they were angels."

Claire sat in wonder and listened.

"The first time I ever went down there I was eight. Eight years old, and
one of them called me from the open door of her house. When I stepped to
the door, she was coming down a stairway, her white dress open and
spread like wings at either side of her naked body. I was sure she was
an angel out of my Sunday-school book. I could scarcely take the dime
she gave me. I never forgot her kissing me and patting my head when I
stared so at her."

Claire felt a strangely tender pity for the little chap she was seeing
now in her imagination.

"And the fighting, dirty, freckled sons of those women--they kept me
hard at it, keeping the money I got. After that day, I went down there
often. Traded a paper with a golden-haired angel for a box of
cigarettes, the first I ever owned. It was great, wonderful, to have her
cigarettes. I smoked them with a sense of reverence.

"Wright and I played hooky, and the girls hid us all day in their
shacks, played with us, teased us about sex, and taught us things we
oughtn't to have known. Poor old Wright! They sent him to the pen for
burglary after I had been gone years and was blind. I wonder if I'd have
followed him. Most likely would.

"And, oh, the hills! There was old Pisga, pined to its cone point, and a
race-track, with a saloon, at its foot. I ran away out there once at a
big Fourth of July barbecue. It rained like the devil and I lounged in
the bar with jockeys and sporting girls, listening to their ribald talk.

"I don't know--a street urchin in a camp, that was all I was. If I got
licked, and I did, I was a coward for years and had to give up my
pennies. I used strategy, cunning, because I was afraid to fight till I
whipped Red. That made a difference. If the old fellow I liked so hadn't
given Red a quarter to lick me, I'd have been a coward yet. It made me
so mad I licked Red."

Lawrence laughed again merrily.

"That started me fighting, and I fought daily without provocation.
Dirty, scaly fisted little rat, whose stockings sagged around his shoes,
fighting for money in the saloons! The men liked me, too. All of them
called me their kid. I used to stand big-eyed and watch the faro-table
stacked with gold. There were days, too, when I went out alone over the
hills. I was ashamed of my little figures and afraid lest the boys find
my mud-pies, as Red had called a tiny dog that fell out of my pocket in
a fight.

"One day in an electric storm I saw a man and his horse killed by
lightning. I was awed, and electricity became my god. I worshiped it
like a little heathen. I even bought penny suckers and stuck them up in
the ground where the lightning played in stormy weather.

"It always seemed that the only things about the whole camp that fitted
with the hills were that girl in white and an old mountaineer who fought
with his fists alone against a gang of drunks. I don't know why. They
just belonged."

He stopped and lay a long time in silence. Claire thought over what he
had said, and her heart went out to this man as if he were still the
little gamin of the hills.

"Poor little chap," she murmured aloud.

Lawrence half raised himself in bed, talking again, and she was obliged
to push him back.

"It was all paradise, though, compared to that school where the Women's
Club sent me. I didn't want an education. Freedom was taken from me. I
was chained with discipline. I had seen too much and I told the other
marveling boys. They talked, and I was punished as a degenerate little
villain. I couldn't see why. That first winter was hell. They all
misunderstood me, and I them. I ached for my mountains again, and when
they sent me to the camp for the summer I whooped for joy.

"I must have been thirteen at that time. The men in camp paid the Widow
Morgan to keep me through the summer. She had a daughter seventeen or
thereabouts. Georgia had curly hair and blue eyes. She didn't pay much
attention to me at first. I didn't care.

"Then one night the widow went off to a lodge-meeting and left us alone.
Pearly and the gang came around and began throwing rocks at the house
and demanding that Georgia let them in. I was furious, and she was
nearly scared to death. She got her mother's pistol and asked me to
shoot it. I took it and, opening the door, fired into the night. The
gang slunk off, but Georgia was still frightened.

"We slipped out of our clothes in trembling silence and huddled together
in her mother's bed. She was crying, and I felt very brave. I put my
arms around her and comforted her. She became quiet by and by and
slipped her arms around me. After that we found ourselves.

"She said we were in love, and I guess we were. That night was the
beginning of my rebellious manhood. Her mother abused us roundly for
immoral little whiffits. I was put out, and after that the county kept
me. Georgia hated me, for she said I was to blame.

"I suppose that was all right, too, but it made me bitter against what
seemed to me an unjust world. I went back to school, hating. I never
stopped hating as long as I was there. It was misunderstanding from
first to last. I never ceased rebelling against punishment for
rebellion.

"It was a hopeless snarl, but it made me what I was when I entered
college, distant, sullen, and ferocious. My only joy was in my work, and
I spent all my spare time in the studio. Then the second summer I shot
off the gunpowder, and blindness came."

Lawrence lay back silent, then began again.

"After the accident it was a thousand times worse. I thought people
didn't like me because I was blind. They only pitied and misunderstood.
Misunderstood--that word might be my epitaph. It could certainly be
placed over my childhood's grave.

"It was in college that I started thinking. Thought out my plan of
militant egoism. It seemed to succeed, but all the time I was afraid it
was only pity that sold my work. You know, Claire, as you said, I've got
to do it all over again. All of it, building a new platform, a new
work-bench. I've got to allow for things. I've got to understand."

In her tension, Claire walked the floor. Would he never stop? That
glimpse into his life at the widow's--who was Pearly?--and what a tough
little gang he must have grown up with! Poor boy!

He did not talk much for a long time, then he kept repeating: "I must
build a new work-bench, Claire. That's the thing to do."

She felt at times that she must scream at him, then she would be all
motherly tenderness. "Lawrence," she would whisper, "do it, my man. You
can, my laddie."

He tossed, and chided an unseen man or woman for having helped him
through charity under the garb of admiration. He was misunderstanding
again. He thought everything was charity, pity for his blindness, and he
raved. She began to see that this sudden bitterness which poured from
his lips was the outcome of years of sorrow, the product of a
deep-burning fire to see the beauty his soul craved.

"Lawrence," she cried, "God knows if I could I would give you my eyes!"

She knew that he was consumed with the pain of his struggle to
comprehend more beauty. Even exaggerating his hunger for sight, she wept
beside him. Her whole soul yearned to help him, to give him more of the
beauty which seemed the prime need of his nature.

Sometimes he prayed for it, addressing Fate, Nature, Chance, anything,
everything but God.

After a silence that was beginning to frighten Claire, he began again.
At first his words were indistinct, but as she leaned closer, they
cleared of guttural sounds. She listened spellbound.

"You see, I hadn't done my thinking with allowance for the whole of
human character, Claire. That was what was wrong with me. I'm doing that
now. I'm finding myself again. It is back with the beginning of things I
must start. Back with the first squirm of life in the primordial mud.
It's no use trying further back than that. No use at all. Back of that
lies only conjecture.

"There was existence, perhaps, inert unconscious existence waiting to
become suddenly aware of itself, aware of its parts and its difference
from other things. Well, existence struggling, dreaming of
self-knowledge, found in a wriggling, oozing spot of protoplasm--that's
the start of it all. Feeding without hunger, moving without knowledge to
food, reproducing mechanically by division, living without instinct,
without emotion, without death. For me, that must be the beginning.

"Whether death came, or what it was--a long period without food,
perhaps--that started this stuff to changing, I do not know. Maybe it
was existence following the way of greatest pressure toward selfhood.
Anyway, it started and began its journey. Up and up, out of the mud and
ooze, into light and dry dirt.

"The glory of light must have been a great thing then. Think of it,
coming into light, out of wet, dark mud. I know what it would be better
than you. Light, the first great discovery of life! It must have
hastened growth--warmth, sunrays, heat, cold at night and dark again.
The glory of it breaking at dawn over the squirming, groping blind
existence of things!

"God said let there be light, and there was light.

"Existence demanding the thing it craved. Was that it, or existence
finding light and learning to crave it? No matter--light, a thousand
miracles of warmth and wonder! Growth was inevitable, Claire.

"Then the craving learned by experience broke into new form. I don't
know what it was; a two-celled bug, perhaps--only that it was craving
that did it. Hunger and thirst after light.

"Pain came at the very start of things. Wants unsatisfied drove with the
scourge of hell, forcing eyes, ears, stomach, sex into being, and out of
the squalor of it all, still goaded by incessant want, there heaved the
gigantic scaly carcass of the dinosaur. Still unaware of things, but
driven to move, to grow, to expand. Existence demanding more expression
of its awareness of self.

"The beast didn't know what it was. He only grew and grew and grew, till
he spread his ugly, yearning life over hundreds of feet of ground. Eye
and ear and touch and a peace of filled belly lay basking in the light,
glorying in what they found. Life was good, riotously good, finding
things, finding itself out. They fought, fed, killed, bred, all in the
effort of existence to know.

"What a blood-drenched chaotic struggle for self it was, Claire!

"And so, on and on and on. Touch didn't satisfy the incessant taste for
more knowledge, more life. Bodies rising like hills out of the marshes
couldn't give the keen joy that existence craved for itself.

"New things again: changed, altered products of the old, bearing in
their frames the history, the memory of the old--it all came, and out of
it at last, hunger-driven for more keen life, sprang a biped, hairy,
tusked, savage, bloody, lustful, eager to live, live, live!

"He was a glorious beast. In his flattened head that held the little
bloodshot eyes were memory, products of the past, things that harked
back for confirmation of present things. He had instincts--that's what
they are, instincts, memories of past sufferings--that whipped the
organism to go on into keener living. He was sexed, he was hungry, he
was vicious, he slept and ate, he bred consciously, carrying on the
eager shout within his being for more, more of life. More of existence
aware of itself!

"If he killed, he gloried in the hot blood that drenched his hairless
nose, and he learned to laugh through the pleasure of a filled belly. He
learned to cry when he went hungry. Tears came, and emotions, a more
specialized instinct.

"He was learning something else, too. But pain still whipped him on,
filled him with fear of non-life, and he grew cowardly. Nature had
created a new thing, a brain, a specialized mass of cells that can
comment, realize, criticise, warn, appreciate, choose better food, get
it easier, help to conquer and promote life; the biped used this new
thing to understand why he ran from the fingers that clutched at him in
the dark and he became afraid. If it brought him new pain, it also
brought him new pleasure. It was a great toy that could be used to enjoy
oneself with.

"It can have the joy of bodily sensations and then recall them, study
them, comment on them, on its own instincts, its own memories. It can
dream of ways for procuring fuller life, and put the dreams into any
desired shape. Man struts from his jungle, laughing aloud, with lust for
life and joy at his fulness thereof. But all the while, pain, the
darkness, the still inert unconsciousness in existence that oppresses
and drags back into its own dead inertness, is laughing still more
heartily.

"Everywhere it checks, but man in his egotism forgets that he is a
slave, bound and hampered, and boasts himself master. Death sweeps in,
lightning kills, thunder crashes over him, and filled with fear, with
something bigger than he can grasp, he falls upon his knees, and cries,
'God!'

"Then begins the mess, the tangled, detestable, bloody, dirty, riotously
glorious, sublime mystery that is me. Me and you, Claire. Here we are."

Claire leaned over him, her breath suspended in her eagerness.

"Me, the man, specialized, sex-specialized, made to record, to enjoy, to
remember, to create, and to die at last from sheer wearing out myself
seeking life.

"And you, you the woman, deeper, more vitally sexed, more complete in
your memory of the past, more true in your record of it, less a sport,
more a true seeker and knower of life--you, the embodiment of it all,
memory, instinct, fear, passion, tenderness, hate--cunning, strong,
wise, far-seeing, and altogether mistress of the whole brute world,
mistress of everything in life and destiny save death. You, too, worn
out by struggling to live more fully, but not until your lust for life
has sent children out to carry on the struggle.

"Oh, Claire, it is you the woman, demanding at any cost that your child
live, who gives us our great knowledge, our beauty, our selfishness, and
our strident sex, our pain."

Claire caught her breath and sobbed: "Lawrence, Lawrence!"

"Yes," he went on, "that is the end of it all. I see it now. You,
unknown to yourself, demanding your child, stung to fear of death
without it here in the wilderness, you love me--I know it, you love me.
And I--I love you. It was that which drove you to speak as you did. I
see. I love you!"

She sank down on the pillow beside him. In her heart was a great relief
which carried her away in a flood of tears. Lawrence talked on unheeded
by her. He had made everything clear, and she was utterly happy.

When Philip came in he found her sitting quietly, in her eyes a deep,
calm peace that filled him with wonder.

He smiled at her, thoughtfully, and remarked: "Well, Claire, you look
happier than you have for months."

"I am," she said simply.

They did not carry on the conversation. He was satisfied that it was
love for him which made her so distant, and he was content to wait until
she should be his wife. He sat by the fire, watching her earnestly, and
she was too deep in her new-found joy even to think of him or of her
promise to him.


TO BE CONCLUDED NEXT WEEK. Don't forget this magazine
is issued weekly, and that you will get the
continuation of this story without waiting a month.



Claire

by
Leslie Burton Blades

THE BLIND LOVE OF A BLIND HERO

_BY A BLIND AUTHOR_


This story began in the All-Story Weekly for October 5.



CHAPTER XVII.

ANGLES OF A TRIANGLE.


It was well into April before Lawrence was able to walk again. His
convalescence had been slow, and he was still very weak. They had
planned to start out by the end of April, but they were compelled to
postpone the journey until the middle of May. Philip was fired with
impatience. He wanted to get out to a priest and be married to Claire.
She, on her part, was glad of the delay. She dreaded the hour when she
should have to tell Philip that she would not marry him. Her joy in her
love for Lawrence was too great, however, to allow for much thought
about the matter.

She looked back upon her yielding to Philip as upon a terrible
nightmare, but she still liked him and could not bring herself to limit
the intimate ways which had sprung up between them. He did not imagine,
therefore, that there had been any change in her.

Claire had never told Lawrence of what he had said during his illness,
but her treatment of him was very different from what it had been
before. He had come out of his illness with a calm assurance of his
future, and he knew that he loved Claire. He did not know her feeling,
but as soon as he should be well he meant to tell her of his love once
more.

The days passed in quiet serenity. Outside the cabin the plateau flowed
under the pines into green and white and gold with dark patches of blue
flowers that filled Claire's heart with song. The lake was open and
glistened in the warm sun, while fish leaped in it, sending up sparkling
rainbow drops. Claire took to wandering along the shore with Lawrence or
Philip, or both, talking gaily all the while. She never mentioned her
husband, it was only of their return to civilization that she spoke and
of the great time the three of them would have in celebration. They
laughed agreement with her words.

As Lawrence grew more and more like himself there came a time, however,
when Philip could not but see that Claire was giving the artist a
tenderness, a sweetness of companionship, and a carefully guarded joy
which he had never known. It was impossible for him to say to himself
longer that it was only her nursing manner.

He took to watching her eyes, and again and again he caught them filled
with a deep light which they had never held for him. He now realized
that he had always feared Claire might love Lawrence, that he had feared
it even on the day of her confession. A fierce desire of possession
gripped him, and he swore to have this woman as his wife, in spite of
Lawrence, in spite of herself, if need be. It was this last frame of
mind which gained in constancy until he became a danger to Claire's
happiness.

She saw it in his dark expression, and her heart cried out against
herself for the time of weakness. Then a great doubt would assail her.
Lawrence had never spoken of love since he had regained his
consciousness, and she wondered if, after all, his talk had been mere
delirium, without basis in his normal mind. She determined to find out,
and then tell Philip the frank truth. She was sure that he would receive
it as a gentleman should, and let her moment of weakness pass forgiven.
She went over all their experience together, and she came to feel that,
in any case, she could never live with him. Even though Lawrence did not
care, she told herself, she could go out into the world and find her
place.

One evening she came into the house and found Philip alone, sitting
darkly over his book. She felt sorry for him, and, wanting to leave him
friendly memories, if she could, she walked quietly over to him and laid
her hand on his shoulder.

He looked up and smiled faintly, though his face remained clouded.

"Philip," she said, "you look worried!"

"I dare say I do," he returned quietly, but there came into his eyes a
fierce light that frightened her.

"Why should you?" she asked.

"Claire!" He stood up and faced her. "I do not know what you think of
Lawrence. I do not know what he thinks of you. I do not care. I will
tell you one thing. You lay in my arms yonder and said that you would be
my wife. If you did not mean it"--he hesitated--"then you are scarcely
the type of woman to be allowed to live. Don't lead me to suspect that
such is the case."

Claire gasped, realized her situation, and for the moment was carried
beyond all power of speech. She sank in a chair and stared at him. Then,
suppressing her rising fear, she said calmly: "Philip, would you have me
yours against your will?"

His eyes flashed fire at her.

"Would you say you wanted to be mine and not mean it?"

"No," she faltered, "I--I might have meant it then."

"Does your heart change with the passing breeze?"

She was feeling panicky. Her throat was dry and hot.

"I hope not," she said faintly.

"Bah! Does it?" he demanded.

"No," she said, even more faintly.

"Very well. You lay in my arms there and told me you would be my wife.
Years ago, before you came into my life, another woman played with me.
You shall not. I do not know what has happened to bring about the change
in you. It cannot alter my will. You are mine by your own lips. It is
best for us both that I hold you to your promise. When we go out of this
place to a priest you shall become my wife. You dare not be untrue to
yourself!"

She was afraid to answer him. His dark, threatening face told her that
he was beyond reason, and she sank wearily back in her chair. In her
heart she was determined never to be his, but her lips played her false.
Despite her will they whispered submissively, "Very well, Philip. I
understand."

He laughed aloud. "What in Heaven's name made you act like that,
Claire?" he asked, once more kindly and agreeable.

"A woman's whim!" she said, and hated herself for saying it.

"I don't understand women," he laughed softly.

"Neither do I." It was Lawrence's voice. He had come in, just in time to
hear the last words. "Nor men, either--except in one thing."

"What is the one thing?" asked Claire eagerly.

"That, given a normal, healthy mind, they will sacrifice all their idols
for life. Life is the one eternally insistent thing."

Philip chuckled. "You are yourself again, I see."

"Yes, and stronger than ever in my faith," said Lawrence, sitting down.
"I know the price I would pay for life. It is the price every human
being would pay, if demanded."

"What is that price?" Philip asked.

"The whole of one's faith in God and man!"

"Nonsense!" Philip spoke curtly. "I would die before forfeiting a dozen
ideals I hold dear!"

"Would you?" Lawrence looked at him quizzically. "Would you sacrifice
your own life before you would the love of your sweetheart, for
instance, if you had one?"

The conversation was similar to those which they had had months before,
but the fire was nearer the surface now.

"Yes." Philip's answer came swiftly.

"Then you are a sex-maddened mountaineer!"

"And you are talking like the beast you are not. I know you do not
believe that."

"I know I do. I would only die for a woman if she were my life."

"But any real love finds her so."

"Folly! I find my work, my future, my dream of a single immortal statue
more my life than any woman!" Lawrence exclaimed.

"I wonder if you really do," Claire mused, half to herself.

"Yes," Lawrence insisted, "although she might be necessary to that
statue. At least I believe she might--and I would feel sure of it if I
wanted her badly enough," he ended amusedly.

"That merely means that you are still utterly selfish!" said Claire.

"Yes, I am." Lawrence was thoughtful. "It is a paradox, I am so selfish
that, although I would sacrifice myself to the last degree for a person
I loved, yet I would all the time feel that I was a fool, that I was
doing an absurd thing when life was so good."

"I see," Claire observed. "And I know I would do the same."

"I would do it," Philip said, "but I would not feel a fool. It would
seem to me right."

Claire looked straight into his eyes. "You would not, Philip," she
declared softly. "Your own happiness would come first--and you know it."

The Spaniard's gaze shifted, and there was silence in the cabin. When he
looked up his eyes had changed their expression.

"Yes," he agreed steadily, "I admit it. Hereafter I mean to have what I
want from life at any cost."

"Yet you will go on talking ideals," Lawrence mocked.

"Yes--and thinking them, too."

"While Lawrence will make the sacrifice and go on talking his
selfishness," Claire added.

Both men laughed constrainedly.

"And I," Claire continued, "if it is necessary, will lie to preserve my
will, and, having it secure, will use it to obtain what I want."

"We are at last three delightfully frank, insufferable, unpleasant, and
very natural, likable human beings!" Lawrence laughed.

"And on that basis we will work out our fates," murmured Claire.

"We will do just that," Lawrence answered gaily.

"Be they good or bad, we will meet our futures with perfect
self-knowledge," contributed Philip.

"Then most likely they will be bad," Claire added with conviction.

They gave up talking, and each abandoned himself to his own reflections.
In the minds of the two men these thoughts assumed widely differing
words, though they were the same thoughts.

Philip was garbing his impulses, desires, and determinations in clothes
that furnished his habitual mental wardrobe. With their marriage, he
thought, Claire would learn the real Philip. He would treat her with
such deference, such tender respect, and such devotion that she would
see the wisdom of her choice. He would prove to her that sex mattered
little, was altogether secondary. It was her great companionship, her
dear thoughtfulness, her charming personality that he loved. Respect,
first of all: happy married life depended on respect; then, common
interest, friendship between two human beings, and, last and least
important, that wonderful emotion springing out of the divine God-given
reproductive life of both.

Lawrence was thinking very different words to the same end. He thought
of her as his mate, his comrade, and his equal. He admired her brain,
smiled at the thought of their hours of intellectual pleasure, dreamed
of her as the stimulus to creation which her mind should help shape into
master work.

He loved her beauty and her measureless well of bubbling energy. What a
help she could be to him! She was the greatest of all women; he wanted
her, needed her. Could he realize his dream? That was the point. Well,
no matter, or, at least, no use in speculating. He would try. If she
were willing, what a life of joy and accomplishment lay before them! If
not, he had lived alone until this time, and he could continue to live
alone. Meantime, was Philip the barrier that would keep him from her? He
hoped not. He did not believe that she loved Philip. If she did, he
would be a good loser and wish her joy. His heart ached at the thought.
But, after all, one doesn't die over such things, and he would recover.

"I'm going to get the supper," said Claire somewhat abruptly. She rose
and set to work.

Here the thoughts of the two men flowed into an identical channel. It
was certainly good to sit and listen to her. That sound would be very
agreeable, indeed, at the end of a day, in one's own home. As for her
husband, he was out of the question. If Claire went back to him, she
might find him married or in love again, unwilling to receive her after
her long months with two men in the wilderness, suspicious of such a
thing being possible without more intimacies than he would care to
overlook. No, her husband did not matter. She would be justified and
safe in remarrying. Of course, not safe if she returned to America, but
that she would not do.

At this point their thoughts diverged. Philip was seeing Claire as the
continued inmate of his cabin. Lawrence was painting a delightful mental
picture of Claire as the ever-present fairy of his studio in some South
American town, or perhaps in Paris. He preferred France; it was a land
of more brilliance, more freedom, and certainly much more appreciation
of the things in which they were interested. Besides, his work would
carry more prestige in the world if it came from Europe.

He thanked the memory of old Roger Burton, of Cripple Creek, and he
rejoiced that he would be able to give Claire the home to which she was
entitled. He smiled as his thoughts went back to the mines and the dirty
little newsboy an old man had befriended. Burton's quarter to Red had
kept Lawrence, the boy, from becoming a coward, and Burton's slender
provision for the college graduate would now insure happiness for
Lawrence the man. Many times before he had laughed scornfully at the
untouched interest from the miner's bonds. He could make his own living.
But now there would be Claire. The old man would have been glad to see
his protégé happy in the love of such a woman.

Meanwhile Claire was doing her work automatically. In her mind there was
pleasure at the thought that Lawrence was listening to her movements.
But she was filled with a dead weight that seemed likely to break her
down with its dreadful pressure. Vaguely she wished that she had never
seen Philip, even that she had never seen Lawrence, or that she had
perished with him in the mountains.

How had she ever placed herself in the position she was now in? She had
come by the way of a terrible road and, looking ahead, she could see
nothing but sadness, anguish, and a life of dull discontent with
Philip--that or death!

Lawrence had had time and opportunity since his recovery to declare
himself, and he had not done so. She had had time and opportunity to
tell him frankly of her own feeling, but she had not done so. She did
not know why. Now she could not. Philip had given her to understand his
desperate determination to marry her, and, after all she had said and
done, she had no right to refuse him. If she told him the truth he might
kill Lawrence or her, or both of them. These tragic idealists, she
exclaimed to herself, what a tangle they can make out of life!

Oh, what a noose she had managed to fasten around her own neck! Would
the problem never be settled, one way or the other?

What would she do if Philip tried to force her to marry him? Kill him?
Was she, then, so primitive, so savage, so much the slave of her own
desires that she would slay to gain her end? She remembered Lawrence's
talk when he was ill, "We killed those days, Claire, killed because we
wanted fuller life, fuller knowledge, fuller expansion of our own vital
existence; we were gropers after more light!"

"Supper!" she said dully, and then sat down.

They ate in silence save for the occasional necessary word, and
afterward went immediately to bed.

Claire soon fell asleep, with the last thought in her mind--to live as
she wanted to live she would pay any price!



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE ROMANTIC REALIST.


It was the 1st of May when Lawrence at last found himself alone with
Claire and decided to speak. The instant he thought of declaring himself
he was surprised at his own mental state. A panic seized him, his heart
beat unsteadily, his mouth grew dry, and he could think of nothing to
say.

They were out on the lake shore. Philip had left them on his last long
trip across the plateau before starting for civilization. The warm
spring wind blew around them, laden with scent of pine and flower. At
their feet the water rippled and cooed little melodies. Claire sat very
still, gazing wistfully at the man beside her. Her heart was a lead
weight, and her brain ached with the strain of her problem.

It was late afternoon. All day she had wandered with Lawrence in
comparative silence, wishing that he would speak, and observing that
something troubled him.

Finally she moved uneasily, took her hand from her cheek, and said
half-dreamily, "You aren't a bit talkative."

He gulped, swallowed, and laughed. "I'm too busy trying to think of
something to say," he told her amusedly.

"Oh!" She was provoked in the extreme. "Have I ceased to suggest
conversation? You are very tired of me, then."

"Quite the contrary. So far from it, you paralyze my tongue."

"How complimentary!" she said. "Then I suppose your excessive arguments
with Philip denote your weariness of him?"

"They do."

"I suppose, if you were really fond of a person, you would never talk at
all?"

"Perhaps. I don't know but that you are right."

She laughed gaily. "Lawrence," she said, "you are certainly amusing when
you attempt to be flattering!"

He grew warm and uncomfortable.

"I wasn't trying to flatter. Can't you see that?" He was almost wistful.

"I don't see it. No, if you weren't trying to flatter you were surely
doing the unintended in a most intricately original manner."

He shifted his position and did not answer.

"Of course," she said, "although you aren't accustomed to flattering,
you've taken to doing it almost constantly."

"Well, why shouldn't I?" he asked curiously.

"Why not, if you care to?" Her reply was as gentle as if she were a
submissive object of his whims.

He felt that now was the time to speak, but he could not bring himself
to the point. The thought of his blindness killed all confidence.

"Hang it all," he broke out, quite as if it were a part of their
previous talk, "blindness certainly does rob one of his will!"

She looked at him apprehensively. "I thought you had decided you were
the master of that."

"I had, but it seems I was mistaken."

Claire laid her hand on his arm tenderly. Her eyes were dazzling.

"Lawrence, you must master that, you know."

"Why?" he said thoughtfully. "If I shouldn't, it would mean only one
more human animal on the scrap heap!"

"But you don't want to be there."

"Of course not. No one does. I don't imagine any one chooses it."

"If you go there it will be because you choose it."

"I wish I saw things your way," he observed. "At times I feel as sure of
success as if it were inevitable, and then suddenly down sweeps the
black uncertainty, and I am afraid, timid, and unnerved."

She looked at him sadly.

"Don't you believe in your work, Lawrence?"

"Yes, that is about all I do believe in."

"Then what is the matter?"

"It is that, after all, thousands of men have believed in their work to
no avail. One can never know whether he is a fad or a real artist. It
isn't only that, either. One's work, when it is his life, requires so
much besides to make it possible. It is that which gives me the blue
fear you see. I always imagine that the thing I want just then is
absolutely essential to my better work. Perhaps it is. I don't know. I
know only that I am persuaded that it is. Then I set about to get that
thing and I fail."

"But do you always fail?" Claire was unconsciously pleading her own
cause.

"Not always. Just often enough to scare me to death when the biggest
need of my life seems just out of reach."

"Nonsense, Lawrence," she laughed. "When you were sick you talked as if
you could reach out and pull down the stars, if you needed them in an
endeavor to complete your life."

"Sometimes I think I could, then the reality of life comes crashing
through the walls of my dream-palace, and, behold, I am standing
desolate and abandoned, grasping at lights which are even too far away
to be seen! I am clawing darkness for something I fancied I could reach,
while, as far as I am concerned, it is clear out of space and time."

She sat pensively looking across the lake.

"Yet you keep on reaching, don't you?"

"Yes--and no. I always wish I could. There are times, Claire, when I
don't want to be a realist, don't want to face life as it is, when it
seems too tawdry to be valuable just as it is; then I reach out into the
night and cry, 'Let me be the maddest of dreamers, the wildest of
idealists, a knight of fancy seeking the illusive dream!'"

Claire laughed aloud as she said, "And don't you know, dear man, that
that is just what you do become at times?"

"I know it. That's the joke of it. All the while I mock myself for being
a romancing idiot!"

"What a state of mind!" she exclaimed.

"It isn't pleasant. Then, worse than that, when I attain my star, I
spoil it with too much scrutiny."

She started. "What do you mean?"

"Just that. I make a mess of it."

"Still I don't understand."

He thought for a moment, then said sadly: "Take the cherub I carved
there"--he nodded in the direction of the house--"I was wild with
creative fervor when I did that. I put into it a thousand little
thoughts that flashed with imaginative fire. I dreamed things, felt
things that should have made a masterpiece beyond all masterpieces, and
at last the thing was finished. Still under the heat of enthusiasm, I
felt of it, tested it, and found it good. Well, a week later, when the
imaginative flame was gone, I went back and looked at it again. It was
poor, cold, imperfect, not at all what it should have been. I dreamed a
star and made a block of poor wooden imagery."

"But you underestimate your work. To me the cherub is still a star."

He laughed. "It is what others see of good in my work that makes me hope
that sooner or later I will do the thing that will stand eternally a
star of the first magnitude."

"And you will, Lawrence," she said earnestly.

"Perhaps." He was pensive. "Perhaps not. That is where the rest of life
enters in. I want many things; they seem necessary if I am to attain my
eternal star. I am afraid I shall never get them!"

"Have you tried?"

"No, I haven't the courage. If they should be beyond my grasp, if
obtaining them, they should prove to be wrong and not the real things I
need, after all, what then?"

"I don't know." She waited to watch a little colored cloud float by, and
then continued: "Isn't the real interest in life the game you play?"

"I suppose it is, but it's hard on other people."

"Why--and how?"

"Suppose," Lawrence said slowly, "you were the one thing I thought I
needed."

Claire leaned toward him, her lips apart, her heart beating wildly.

"Suppose I were sure of it, and set about to make you part of my life,
well, if I succeeded and then"--he smiled sadly--"found that you were
not the necessity, not the answer to my need, what of you? It would be
an inferno for you, and none the less equally terrible for me! We
couldn't help it. Under such circumstances you would be right in saying
that I had been unfair. I don't know, certainly you would be right in
charging your possible unhappiness to me."

"Under your supposition, Lawrence," she answered evenly, "if you
obtained my love, wouldn't it then be my game, my risk in the great
gamble for deeper life? Wouldn't it be my mistake for having thought you
were what I needed?"

"What if you still thought you needed me after I was sure that I did not
need you?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "I am too fond of life and too eager to know
its possibilities to let that hurt me long. Possibly I should weep, be
cynical, maybe even do something desperate, but at last I would come up
smiling, calm in the faith that my life was deeper, richer for the
experience, and that yours was, too. Or if it proved that yours was not,
I should be amused at the shallowness of the Claire that was, for having
been so simple a dunce as to imagine that you were worth while. I should
thank you for teaching the present Claire to forsake that shallow one,
and should find you a rung on my ladder of life!"

He laughed merrily. "You are strong in your faith, Claire."

"Yes. This winter and you have made me strong," she answered.

"I have made you strong in it?"

"Yes. Last summer, when you dragged me out of the surf, I was full of a
number of ideas I no longer possess."

"But what have I done?"

"You have lived stridently all your life."

"Perhaps so. What of it?"

"I see that is the thing most worth doing."

"What will your husband say to such a doctrine?"

"I don't know. I am not going back to him. We are not the same people we
were a year ago, and he would no more love the present Claire than I
should love the present Howard."

The sky deepened from pink to crimson, but Claire's eyes were staring
blankly on the ground.

"Claire, what do you think is essential to great work?"

"I don't know. To keep at it most likely." She was digging with a little
stick in the grass.

"Perhaps you're right," he agreed. "But sometimes I think it is a lot of
other things; romantic wandering over the earth, a deep and lasting
love, any number of such external factors."

"You don't call love external, do you?"

"I mean a permanent love," he laughed.

"Oh, well, perhaps those are necessary, certainly they would be a help
to you, they would be to any one. But, after all, even a woman isn't
absolutely essential to a man in order that he create great art."

"I think she is," Lawrence insisted.

"Very well, perhaps she is, but"--Claire laughed skeptically--"I know
that she is not the all in all, the alpha and omega, the 'that without
which nothing,' that she is so often told she is by seeking males."

"No," he agreed slowly, "in rare cases of great love that may be true,
but in most cases it isn't."

"It is more likely that what you, the abstract male, really mean is that
you must have some woman as wife and housekeeper."

"Perhaps that is so, although even that needs qualifying."

"I know," she said, "but why not be frank about it both ways; that is
precisely her situation as well as his. There ought to be less
sentimental rubbish and more plain sense about all of it. Women would
suffer less from shattered illusions, they would grow accustomed to
reality, and be considerably less idiotic in their romantic caperings."

"I admit it," Lawrence said, smiling; "and yet"--he paused--"I want to
be the maddest of romanticists, I want to say those things to the woman
I love, I want to think them about her, I want to feel them all, all
those dear, false romantic deceptions. I do, in fact, even though my
brain agrees with you."

"So should I, and I would." Then she added softly under her breath, "I
do."

Lawrence turned a little toward her, his fingers gripping the grass in
front of him.

"Claire," he said slowly, "I--I want to say them, think them, believe
them about and with you."

She did not move. Over her there swept a great joy, and her thinking
stopped. She was feeling all the dear things she had just condemned, and
she looked at her lover. He was blind. He could not see what was in her
face, and he was not sure that he interpreted her silence correctly. He
was waiting, anguishing, for her answer. She realized then what it was
he needed more than he himself knew.

"Lawrence," she cried joyfully, slipping into his arms, "I know what you
need, beloved!"

He laughed exultantly as he showered kisses upon her eagerly upturned
face.

"I guess you do, sweetheart," he consented. "What is it?"

She settled down with a sigh of content, her head against his shoulder,
and announced, very much like a child saying what it knows to be wisely
true: "You need a woman who is keen enough to think with you and be eyes
for you, natural and unspoiled by conventional sham enough to be your
heart's answer, self-willed enough to be herself and deny you and your
selfishness, and, above all, mother enough to care for you as she would
a child. I believe I am that woman, dearest boy!"

He held her tight in his arms and smiled.

"I not only think, I know you are."

For a long time they sat in silence, dreaming, loving, enjoying, and
caring nothing for all the rest of the world. At last Claire raised her
head from his shoulder and whispered, "Lawrence, before I would be
separated from you, I am afraid I would kill!"

He chuckled merrily. "Good!" he said. "That sounds proper. So would I.
We are alive because our ancestors killed to live, they fought to mate,
so shall we, if need be."

She remembered Philip and shuddered slightly.

"What is the matter, Claire?" Lawrence drew her closer.

She did not answer. She was wondering how to tell him about Philip, and
afraid.

"Are you filled with terror at the mere thought of murder!" he asked.

She moved uneasily in his arms. "No, but I can't say I like to even
think of such a possibility."

"Don't, then. It isn't very likely to happen," he comforted.

She remained silent, but her pleasure was not untroubled. Her whole
impulse was to wait, but her brain kept demanding that she tell him now,
and she gathered herself for the effort.

"Lawrence"--she hesitated--"I--I have something I must tell you."

"All right. Go ahead; but confessions never do much good."

She drew away from him tenderly.

"Because my whole being wants to be in your arms, I will not--not while
I tell you," she said, sitting beside him. "I want you to hear and think
without my body in your arms as a determining factor in your answer."

"Very well. Go ahead. I promise to be an emotionless judge."

"Can you?" she asked quickly.

"No," he said, "but I will."

They both laughed, and she nerved herself to talk.

"It's about Philip," she said timidly.

He started.

"Don't tell me about him, Claire," he said. "It can't do any good, and
it's hard for you, I see. Whatever you are or were to Philip doesn't
matter to me in the least. The Claire of this morning wasn't my mate. It
is only Claire from now on that counts, and she is not in any way bound
to Philip for whatever may have occurred in the past."

"Oh, I wish that were true!" she moaned.

"It is true," he asserted.

"But you don't understand. Let me go on, please."

"Surely," he answered. "Say as much or as little as you wish."

She told him then, falteringly, sometimes wondering at his calm,
expressionless face as she talked. She was filled with dread, for he sat
as still as death, without a word, without a change of expression to
show her what he was thinking. She made many corrections to her
explanation, and supplied bits of comment in an effort to discover
herself how it all had happened. There was nothing of apology in her
attitude, however, and she finally concluded with an account of that
afternoon in her bedroom, and what she had said to Philip since that
day.

"Now," she said at last, "you know all about it. You can do as you
please, of course. If you choose to go on, we will have to find some
solution together. Philip will not take it easily. Of that I am sure. He
is more than likely to become desperate."

She waited. Lawrence did not move. His face was seriously thoughtful,
and she was filled with a growing fear that made it harder and harder to
wait for him to speak.

When she could stand it no longer, she shook his arm.

"Lawrence, why don't you say something?" she cried.

He read the fear in her voice, and laughed caressingly, as he took her
in his arms.

"I thought you knew it wouldn't alter our futures," he said. "I was only
trying to think out a just solution unpersuaded by your body in my
arms."

"Oh!" She laughed comfortably. He was making fun of her, and she was not
averse to it.

"It certainly looks as if Philip were up against a bad future," he went
on, amusedly.

"Philip!" she cried, startled. "Are you pitying him all this time?"

"Whom else?" Lawrence demanded. "We don't need pity, do we?"

"Oh, you selfish lover!" she chided. "I have been needing and do need
it. Philip worries me."

"I see," he mused. "Well, accept my condolences, and prepare to pass
them on to Philip. Poor devil! When you and I are back in our world, he
will indeed need pity."

"Suppose he takes steps to see that I don't go back?" she chanced.

"He can scarcely compel you to live with him."

"He can, and he will. He isn't as civilized as he appears. If need be,
he would keep me locked up here and make me his by force, or kill me.
He told me so."

Lawrence shrugged his shoulders.

"Romantic raving for effect!" he exclaimed. "But if he should happen to
try that, well, I think my argument might be as effective as his."

"But how do you propose to stop him? I tell you, he is in earnest."
Claire was insistent.

"Why, in whatever way is necessary. If it is my life against his, I'll
give him the best I've got."

She looked at Lawrence in wonder. He was as calm as if he had been
making small talk at a theater-party.

"Can you plan it so--so carelessly, like that?" she asked.

"Why not? I could hardly allow him to take you by force. I wouldn't
choose a fight as a diversion, but once in, I wouldn't stop short of his
life. And I wouldn't feel any compunction afterward, either."

"Well," she said quickly, "it won't be necessary."

"I think not." He smiled. "We need say nothing about our plans. Once we
get into town, all the world is ours, and we can quietly depart, leaving
Philip Ortez a very pleasant memory."

They both laughed heartily.

Neither of them allowed for that vast portion of human character which
lies beyond the knowledge of the most keen-visioned. Claire was more
familiar with the distinctly male phases of Philip than
Lawrence--perhaps a woman always is--but they were too happy to give the
matter any real consideration, and, after the fashion of all lovers,
they shut out the third person from their little self-bound universe.

The whole world seemed a friendly sphere whose entire action was merely
to bring them together, and they were utterly oblivious to Philip and
his new attitude. It seemed so impossible that anything serious could
arise to separate them from each other.

It was late when Philip returned, and he was instantly aware of the
change in his guests. The old, serious silence was gone from Lawrence;
he was not the speculative man to whom Philip was accustomed. His talk
was light, pleasantly humorous, and very genial. He was, in short, the
lover. Claire, too, shone with a new radiance.

Doubt rearose in Philip's heart, and grew rapidly into suspicion. He
became less responsive to their chatter. His dark eyes grew somber with
misgiving, and love swelled into longing that made him feel sure that
Claire was necessary to his life. Without her there could be no living
for him. He wondered if she and Lawrence had found love. "If they have,"
he argued, "there can be but one explanation. Claire is unreliable,
vicious, and dangerous." His aching desire to possess her did not
lessen, however. It became deeper, in fact, with each succeeding thought
of her as a wanton at heart, and he set his teeth over his will,
assuring himself that all would be well when Lawrence was gone.

He took to avoiding absences, and to watching furtively for some
confirmation of his suspicion. Claire was instinctively cautious, and he
saw nothing that could actually be construed against her. He was of that
type of man whose love, burning into jealousy, does battle with ideals
which stand against his suspicions and demand actual physical proof
before retiring and allowing the beast to run riot.

He knew no middle ground. Once he had seen that which would condemn
Claire, he would be utterly savage. His soul anguished to bitterness at
every thought against her purity and truth. He could not accept her as
she was. His suspicion painted her black with the sticky ink of a morbid
idealist, while his faith, rising from the same ideals, made her seem
almost ethereal. His longing for her was an acute physical pain, and he
never allowed his ideals to stop his romancing. He insisted that his
desire be stated in masking phrases and deceiving glories of chivalrous
prattle. He was so torn by his conflicting emotions and ideals that he
was fast arriving at a state where his action would be that of a wounded
beast at bay. He did not know and would not admit that his own distorted
view of Claire was back of his own condition. True to his type, he
carried this war in silence, and sought support for his fast-weakening
ideals in argument. He was wise. Defend your faith if you would keep it
glowing.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE LAST DISCUSSION.


The time of their departure was at hand. There had been two days of
intense packing of the food and clothing necessary for their
two-hundred-mile walk. Now that was behind them, and after a short trip
which Philip must take the following morning, they would be off for the
ten or fifteen miles they hoped to cover that day.

When night came they were overjubilant, and they sat before the cabin
watching the lake as it shimmered in the moonlight. Claire was pensively
silent, though her heart sang. She was dreaming out her days, painting
them on the moonlit water, and she paid very little heed to the two men,
though unconsciously her whole personality leaned toward Lawrence. What
they were saying she did not at first know, but gradually her attention
was caught and she listened earnestly with an ever-growing fear in her
heart.

She saw the deep fire that burned in Philip's eyes, and she realized
that Lawrence was unaware of how his provocative, half-humorous ironies
were stirring the volcano within the man who sat beside him.

"No man has a right," Philip was saying, "to think of a woman in his
house unless he can think of her as altogether trustworthy, pure, and
beyond temptation. If he does think of her differently, he is a beast,
and wants a mistress, not a wife."

Lawrence laughed carelessly. "The average man wants both in one," he
said. "Personally, so far as your talk about suspicion goes, who needs
to think either way? I'm sure I don't. I'm quite content to live with a
woman, giving and taking what we can enjoy together, and not asking that
she limit her time and devotion to me. She may have various outside
interests of her own. In fact, I would prefer that life should hold a
separate work for her."

"Oh, you do not care. You are too selfish to feel any responsibility
for a woman's soul. I would feel depraved if I did not guard my wife's
soul by my very faith in her."

"Why should you guard her soul? Isn't the average woman intelligent
enough to look out for herself? What she does, she does because she
wants to, and for Heaven's sake, man, let her have the right to freedom
of being."

"But real freedom of being lies in her dependence on me as the head of
the house," Philip protested.

"If you happen to be the head of the house," Lawrence added jestingly.

"But I would be the head of the house. It is my right and my duty."

"Poor Mrs. Ortez, if there ever is one," Lawrence continued, joking.
"She is to be guarded by a great, aggressive, possessing husband. What
if she happens to want something you don't approve of?"

"She won't. A good woman doesn't."

"But suppose your woman isn't good, and does?"

"I should have to explain to her her mistake."

"And then when she says, 'But I don't regard it as a mistake, I think it
was quite right,' what will you do?"

"I wouldn't have a woman who would hold such views."

"What is it you want for a wife, Philip? A brainless feminine body who
is content to be your slave?"

"I should be ashamed to speak of any woman I cared for in those terms.
One doesn't marry a woman who can be thought of in terms of sex."

"Perhaps 'one doesn't.' I would. I should want her to be very well aware
of her exact physical potentialities, and to think enough about them to
understand herself."

"Then you would want an unwholesome wife, my friend."

"Not at all. I want a natural one, that's all. Moreover," he added
joyously, "I shall have one."

Philip glanced at him quickly. Into his mind flashed the memory of
Claire's words in the room that fatal afternoon.

"I shall never marry such a woman," he declared, and added: "But I mean
to have one whose devotion is so pure that even her talk to me of such
things will be holy."

Lawrence laughed heartily.

"Philip," he said, still chuckling, "you seem to think we human beings
are half supernatural and half stinking dirt. Why, in Heaven's name,
don't you once see us as plain, healthy, intelligent animals?"

"Because we're half gods, half beasts."

"So I was once told by the son of an ancient mind whose farthest mental
frontier reached A.D. 1123."

Philip rose and faced Lawrence, then looked shamefacedly at Claire, and
sat down again.

"You think you are advanced because you are still unaware of anything
but beasthood!"

Lawrence grinned complacently.

"I am always amused at the way men speak of beasts as if they were
something base," he said. "'Beast' should not be a term of opprobrium.
The average dog or elephant, for example, is fairly wholesome and quite
naturally proper in his fulfilment of instincts. It is more than one can
say for men. Yes, I am a beast, if by that you you mean a physical
being; and if humanity ever does get anywhere in quest for a soul I
suspect it will have to start from that very admission."

"Of course"--Philip hesitated a little--"we are animals in that sense.
But who can think of us as nothing more? Take Claire, for example. We
both know her better than any one else. I could scarcely think of her as
an animal, subject only to its instincts. Even allowing that she is a
very intelligent animal, it isn't all or even the better part of her,
any more than it is of any good woman."

The speech was self-revealing, and Lawrence smiled.

"Now, it is strange," he observed; "that is precisely the way I should
think of Claire if I wanted to see her in the best possible light, as
the most splendidly intelligent, healthy animal I ever knew."

"You are more insulting than you intend. I am glad that you do not mean
to be," Philip growled.

"Tra-la-la. I shouldn't insult her for a good deal."

"Yet your attitude is debasing," Philip retorted.

"Oh, well, perhaps. She has my apology if she thinks so."

"But you can't actually mean what you say," Philip went on. "Your
attitude would lead you to make a cave of your home, and a mere lair of
your bed."

"Which, by the way, very elaborately arranged, and embellished with
thousands of psychological phases, products of the most highly
specialized part of me, is exactly what my home would be."

"Well, I certainly should deplore your household."

"Go as far as you like. It ought to be a fairly comfortable home, with
its basis on frankness, oughtn't it, Claire?"

Philip's eyes flashed.

Claire hesitated, fearing lest she provoke him further, and said
cautiously: "Yes, it ought to be based on frankness."

"But frankness doesn't mean an attitude of mind like that," Philip
protested.

"What does it mean?" Lawrence asked.

"It means an established order where love makes it possible for two
beings to speak their thoughts freely one to the other," Philip said,
with the air of defining infinity.

"Does it? Well, if that is frankness by definition, I have known many
women with whom I was in love, but neither they nor I knew it until this
minute."

Lawrence laughed. Philip flushed, shrugged his shoulders, and stood up.

"I thank goodness I do not see things as you do," he said.

"Even the parable of the Pharisee has its modern aspect," Lawrence
murmured chucklingly.

Philip stood looking moodily across the lake, and fortunately did not
catch his words.

"I think I shall walk a little," he said coldly. "I can't sleep until I
have walked some of your conversation out of my soul."

"Go to it," Lawrence said with a smile. "I didn't mean to corrupt you."

"You didn't. You simply make me angry. I'm sorry, but you do."

"Yes? So am I. However, it won't last much longer, Philip."

Both men smiled at the thoughts that came with those words.

"I think I shall go in," Lawrence went on. "I shall want sleep for the
big start to-morrow."

Philip looked hopefully at Claire. She rose with a sigh of weariness,
pretending not to see him.

"So shall I," she said. "Good night, both of you."

She was gone into the cabin, and Philip looked disappointed. He turned
down the lake shore, dreaming of the end of his journey, rebelling at
the necessity for Claire to listen to Lawrence's talk, and rejoicing at
how different his life with her would be.

Inside the cabin, Lawrence closed the door and stepped into the room.
Claire stood waiting silently before him, and when he came to her, she
threw her arms happily around his neck. He laughed and caught her up.

"So you lie in wait for me, do you?" he teased.

"Why not? I want to capture my man," she said softly.

"You have him, dearest. And, by the way"--he sat down and drew her on to
the arm of his chair--"permit me to extend you my sympathy for the
suffering you must have experienced at the thought of living with
Philip."

She shuddered a little, and laughed.

"Such frankness as his home would permit!" she said. "I'm afraid our
hearth would not radiate warmth."

"Nothing could warm such a home into anything like the real thing,"
Lawrence mused. "It was my privilege when in college to stay for a time
in a home where the people had really attained the ideal. It was the
only home that ever made me envious."

"I shall make you such a home, dear," she whispered.

"No, we will have a mere cave, a lair," he laughed.

She shook her long hair down over his face playfully.

"Will you be a savage old cave man?" she asked.

"I shall. As savage as they ever made them in the golden age," he
answered, and drew her down against him.

"I shall like that," she said, her eyes full of a warm, dreamy light.

"You will be terribly abused by your beast husband," Lawrence said
gaily.

"I think sometimes, Lawrence, that I could enjoy being hurt by your
hands--having them really cause me pain."

He gripped her tightly against him and his hands tightened.

"Claire," he said, "a man never knows what there is in his nature till a
woman like you whispers in his ear. You make me afraid at what I feel
within me."

"I know," she said. "I'm afraid, too, of what there is in you, but just
the same I'm going to be the happiest woman in the world."

"I hope so," he said. "But you will have to defend yourself against
selfishness."

"I have to do that already," she laughed, "but I don't mind. I can, and
that is the main thing. Besides, when you really want anything very
much, you have a way of forcing me to want it, too, my master-lover!"

He laughed joyously. "Claire," he said, "if we ever do go to smash, you
and I, there will have been a glorious day and a glorious house to smash
with. It won't be a petty breaking of toy dishes!"

"No," she whispered, "it will be the breaking of life's foundations."

She slipped from his arms and into her room. Philip was coming in.
Lawrence sat down in a chair and Philip threw himself on his bed in
silence.

He was caught in the inevitable result of his beliefs. He had argued
with Lawrence because he was troubled. His whole being was filled with a
great fear. Remembering how Lawrence and Claire had acted lately, he had
been thrown into a fever of jealous rage. He was utterly beyond his
depth now, and he was silent because to speak would have meant to break
into accusation. His imagination had pictured Claire in Lawrence's arms
while he was gone; if he had actually known the truth it would have been
less agonizing than the picture.

He lay there filled with his own thoughts and dreading the moment when
Lawrence would come and lie down beside him. Behind her curtain he heard
Claire moving about, humming a little song, and it added to his torture.
He turned restlessly on his bed and groaned.

Lawrence raised his head. He, too, was dreaming of Claire, but his
imaginings, vividly alluring in their appeal, were filled with the
content of happiness. Claire was his. That was certain, and those sweet
dreams should be fulfilled again and again in his life, with a growing
depth that would make them the more beautiful. What a creature of wonder
she was--and she was his--his, to love, to enjoy, to master, and to work
for. Yes, and to work with. He would find her the needed impulse and
idea to form his great work. She would make him the creative artist, the
sculptor that he felt he had the power to be.

Philip muttered something, and Lawrence turned toward him.

"Feeling bad?" he asked genially.

Philip did not answer.

"You aren't ill, are you?" Lawrence's voice was full of real concern. He
was thinking that it would be bad if they had to stay here a while
longer.

"No. Only in spirit. I will be all right to-morrow."

Philip turned over, and Lawrence sat down again to dream.

For a long time he remained there, meditating, and at last he arose to
go to bed. Philip was asleep and breathing heavily. Claire was moving a
little. Lawrence stopped to listen. The curtain parted, her arms slipped
around his neck, and silently there in the darkness she kissed him
passionately, eagerly. He held her tightly, her soft, warm figure
thrilling him with joy.

Philip turned restlessly, and she hastily drew back, stealing a last
swift kiss. Lawrence walked toward his bed. He heard a low, stifling
little laugh, then all was still in the cabin. Claire had laughed for
very joy at her love. He smiled tenderly. Dear little woman, she was
indeed a wealth untold to him. What a life theirs would be after they
got away from Philip!

Poor Philip, his would indeed be a sad fate, with his ideals here to
worry him after they were gone. Well, he wasn't the sort that one could
help. Let him work out his own destiny. Lawrence lay down comfortably,
and sending a thousand dear thoughts flying across the silent room, he
fell asleep while he smiled at his own romancing.



CHAPTER XX.

THE LAW OF LIFE.


The last morning at the cabin was bright and sunny, with the warm
mystery of the day promising an infinity of strength for the future. All
three of them felt it and were carried along in dreams of anticipated
relief. Breakfast over, Philip helped Lawrence and Claire get their
packs ready. When everything was done, he said cheerily: "I will be gone
less than an hour in getting that farthest trap--I am going to make
quick speed--and then we will be off."

They laughed with the joy that was filling their hearts.

"Don't be longer than you can help, Philip," Claire admonished, and
Lawrence added: "Every minute that divides us from our life ahead seems
an eternity."

Claire smiled at the dear thoughts his words provoked.

"Good," said Philip in the doorway. "I'll hurry." And he was gone.

Claire and Lawrence stood in the doorway while Philip went singing down
the lake shore. Her eyes filled with a warm light, and she slipped her
hand into Lawrence's.

"At this moment, dear," she said, "I feel only pity for him. He is going
to be hurt."

"Who wouldn't be, dearest, at losing you?"

"Always flattering," she teased. They stood arm in arm, leaning against
the door-casing.

"Claire," he said, "let's take a last walk around our estate. The place
where I first found the real, you will always be beautiful to me. I'm
less blind this morning than I've been in my life."

"Of course you are," she said gaily. "You've acquired two good eyes."

"And two dear hands and a very wonderful personality that makes me
doubly able," he said softly.

They wandered out across the plateau in the direction from which they
had first entered it. Their conversation was broken and often
meaningless, but eminently pleasing to them both.

"Dear heart," Claire mused softly, "you don't know what that poor,
freezing, underfed woman in your naked arms felt when she heard you
muttering that you needed her, as you stumbled down this ravine."

"How did she feel?"

Claire was dreaming back, and she wanted to tell him, but she found her
emotions too complex and too rapid for expression.

"And then when you added that it was to use her as a subject for a stone
image," laughed Claire, "she was furious with you, and yet she was very
sure that she didn't want you to care about her in any other way."

"Then perhaps I am making a mistake," he jested.

"Perhaps, my dearest, but I am so glad of it that I don't care if you
are."

He caught her in his arms. They were very near the great point in
lovers' lives when emotions always tend to break all restraint. She
clung to him passionately, her lips yielding and holding his in a
rapture of love. Together they swayed toward a great tree and sat down.

When they returned to the cabin, they were surprised to find Philip
still gone. With the whimsicality of lovers, they dismissed him from
their thoughts and sat down in the armchair together, laughing and
talking of the past. Their conversation ran gradually into a clearly
defined discussion in which both minds were compelled to think quickly,
and they found new joy in their love. Even now, when their whole minds
were swayed by emotion, they were able to think, to talk, and to be
alive to everything in the world of intellect.

Art, religion, and life, all in a grand mix-chaotic tangle. Lawrence
was talking for the joy of his thought to the woman who he knew would
enjoy it.

"You see, Claire," he said after a long discussion, "in the religious
instinct we find very little besides a fear of the unknown. What else
there is in it is the more valuable part, and it is this lesser section
that we can develop and use to advantage."

"What is this lesser section?" she asked.

"The vital desire to create for our God's sake. If we could build that
into its real place, stimulated as it is by the overwhelming
appreciation of beauty in nature, we could establish something far more
worth while than a mere deceiving of men about their own kind, their
faults, and their relations."

"You aren't quite fair, Lawrence," she protested. "In so far as the
church makes for a stronger socialization, it is a good."

"But does it always promote that very effectively? Most of the
socialization could be better carried on where really educated people
were educators. The few of them there are in our schools now are
hampered as much as they are helped by the church."

"I don't agree," she said. "The church does hamper education in higher
branches, undoubtedly, but in the kindergartens and grades it is a
good."

"I don't know," he responded; "I never saw it."

"Well," she cried suddenly, and laughed, "whatever we think of the
church, I agree that religion isn't always there, and when it is,
barring a few liberal exceptions, it is generally misdirected."

"And here you and I sit in the Andes Mountains talking when we might be
making love," he laughed.

"And here we are making love under the pretense of being intellectual,"
she rejoined. "What would we do without the dear deceptions that make us
such pitiably delightful animals?"

"We'd be a hopelessly unimaginative set of eaters." His answer was
quick. "I am convinced that it is our very power to deceive, plan grand
follies, though petty in deeds, that makes us artists, dreamers,
thinkers, and statesmen."

"Perhaps," she agreed, and then slipped her arms around him suddenly.
"Is that what makes us able lovers, too?"

He laughed. "By Jove, I believe it is!" he exclaimed. "Well, old
universal tangle, I do truly thank you for the power to be a foolish,
deceived, human being. Hurrah for the instinct that makes me call you my
divine necessity, Claire."

She laughed happily and leaned against his shoulder.

"For any instinct or deception that makes you more enjoyable, let us
give thanks," he repeated.

"And for all the dear bodily claims that make me your adored one I do
give thanks, Lawrence," she whispered.

Their lips met again. She drew back startled, and sprang to her feet
with a cry of terror.

Philip stood in the doorway, looking at them with a face from which all
human sentiment was gone. He was a raging beast.

"Lawrence," she screamed. "Philip!"

Her lover sprang to his feet. Now he realized his blindness and its true
handicap. Philip was there, somewhere before him, thinking what he could
not know. He waited, every muscle strained with expectant fear and
anger.

Claire was staring at Philip with abject terror in her face. Lawrence
could not know that, he only heard her breathing heavily, and
instinctively his arm went out to her.

"Don't be afraid, dear," he said tenderly.

The man in the door uttered an exclamation. "So"--and his words were
sharp as icicles--"that is your damned wanton way. You are the second
harlot I have loved."

Lawrence started forward angrily.

"Fool!" he ejaculated.

Claire's warning scream gave him just time to brace his body. Philip had
sprung at him like a wild beast, and the impact of his weight sent
Lawrence staggering backward. In that moment the Spaniard's hand closed
on his throat. The blind man was paying the price of his defect in his
long-talked-of primitive battle for life.

Even then he thought of the scene as it must be, and smiled bitterly,
while his hand went to his throat and tore at the wrist that was
steeling itself to rob him of breath.

Had he been able to see, the fight would still have been unequal. Philip
was taller, wirier, and quicker on his feet. Lawrence's one advantage
lay in his keen, quick response to touch sensation, and that gave him
his sense of direction and ability to move rightly.

With one hand he tore at Philip's wrist, while with the other he reached
steadily for Philip's face.

They had knocked over the chairs and were staggering against the table.

From the corner by the fireplace Claire watched them in an agony of
dread. It was indeed her time of test.

She saw Lawrence's hand clutching at the flesh of Philip's cheek. They
were panting like two beasts. It was the primitive battle of males for
the female of their choice.

Philip's hand was torn free from Lawrence's throat. The blind man
laughed as his lungs filled with air. She heard him mutter between
clenched teeth: "By God, I'll spoil your advantage."

They were struggling again for throat holds.

Lawrence was protecting his own, but the hand he had wrenched free
closed around his arm, bending it back slowly, irresistibly toward the
point where it must break. She screamed and covered her eyes for a
second at what her lover was doing--she saw him deliberately gouge at
Philip's eyes with his thumb held hard.

She heard both men fall, and looked again in spite of herself. They were
on the floor writhing, their bodies against each other, clawing,
striking, digging, and biting like two wild gorillas.

Now Lawrence was on top, now underneath, but she could not help but see
that Philip was slowly gaining. Though badly injured in one eye, he
still fought on unhesitatingly, forcing Lawrence nearer and nearer to
death. The artist was even now ceasing to resist, his struggle had
become spasmodic. Her lover was being choked to death. She sprang to her
feet.

"Lawrence!" she screamed. "Lawrence!"

He was being killed in a battle for the possession of her. Could she
stand still and see the man she loved murdered? Her hair fell about her
shoulders in a mass. She swept it back from her face, looked frantically
around her, then rushed to the wall-cupboard on the other side of the
cabin and drew out a long meat-knife.

The touch of the steel in her hand carried her out beyond the last
barrier of civilized thought. For a moment she was the savage through
and through. With a scream like that of a wounded lioness whose cub is
in danger, she sprang toward them, the knife uplifted.

Then she stopped. Something paralyzed her--generations of inherited
inhibition, conscience, what you will. "O God!" she moaned miserably, as
the weapon fell from her hand.

It clattered on the wooden floor close beside the two men. Philip looked
up, and his white teeth gleamed in a grim smile. Claire realized what
she had done--she had placed the means of certain triumph within reach
of her lover's enemy. She stooped to regain the knife, but it was too
late. Philip released his grip on Lawrence's throat, leaned over, and
seized the blade.

It was a mistake. Lawrence was far past consciousness of what he was
doing, but his body still instinctively obeyed his will. As the weight
from his chest was eased for a moment, he writhed his body into a freer
position and his arms struck out wildly.

Philip saw his danger and raised the knife. The scene passed in a
second, but to Claire it was as if they were petrified for hours in that
position--she half-kneeling there, her arm outstretched, and Philip
astride Lawrence's body, holding the knife in midair. In that last
picture, carved upon Claire's agonized gaze, all the Spaniard's beauty
was gone forever--he was a monster, his face distorted, one eye closed,
his smile broadening into a hideous dog-like grin.

Philip's arm came down. As it did so, it was struck from above by
Lawrence's, swinging aimlessly in a wide sweep. The blade, deflected
with double force, entered deep into Philip's breast.

For just one instant an expression of angry and almost ludicrous
surprise leaped across the Spaniard's face as his teeth snapped shut.
Then his whole body twisted round violently, rolled over, and lay still
beside Lawrence's equally motionless form.

Claire tottered back into a chair, and stared at them stupidly. Silence
reigned in the cabin where there had been chaos. Slowly from under
Philip's body a red line spread to a blotch on the floor. Lawrence was
lying there, his head almost touching it.

Claire gazed and gazed, while she felt as if she must faint from the
dreadful illness which seized her. Suddenly Lawrence was sitting up, his
blackened face growing less terrible to look upon. He put his hands to
his throat, and then, as the pain in his lungs decreased, he rose
unsteadily. For a moment he balanced himself carefully, rubbing his
throat.

Then he cried hoarsely: "Claire!"

She moistened her lips with her tongue, but could not answer.

He stooped and began to feel across the floor. She saw his hands, those
sensitive hands, move toward Philip's dead body. They would be in his
blood presently.

She started forward. "Lawrence!" she screamed.

He stopped abruptly. Her tone had filled him with dread wonder.

"What is it, Claire?" he whispered.

She stood a moment, silently looking at him.

He straightened and stepped toward her, "What is it?" he demanded.

She swayed unsteadily and sank into his arms, sobbing, her body wrenched
with the agony.

"Take me outside," she whispered fearfully.

He lifted her and carried her out into the sunlight.

She sat down on the ground and wept bitterly, while he sat silently
beside her, seeking to comfort her with his arms.

At last she said in an awed tone: "Lawrence, he is dead. Killed by his
own blow--with his own knife. But I might have done it. I--I thought of
it."

She remembered the touch of the knife in her hands, the sight of
Philip's blood seeping out around his own body.

"It is terrible," she moaned. "I--I might have done it."

Her lover's hands tightened spasmodically. His face went white, then
became normal again. She watched him, hypnotized. Would he tell her that
she was as good as a murderer, that he could not love her now?

He wet his lips, then suddenly laughed aloud. Claire could have screamed
at the sound. She clutched his arm and shook him.

"Stop it!" she commanded. "What is it, Lawrence?"

He stood up and lifted her beside him.

"I must have a drink," he said calmly.

She stared at him, then brought him some water from beside the cabin. He
drank it easily, but with some pain. Finally he dropped the cup at his
feet.

"Life is a wonderful thing, Claire."

She was still too shaken to do aught but gaze at him.

"What now?" she asked at last, falteringly.

He heard the fear, half anguish and half hope, in her voice, and
suddenly he caught her to him and cried buoyantly: "What now? Life,
Claire, life! We have the whole world before us. It was my life or his.
I am glad it was not mine." He smiled. "Well, we have staged the great
animal stunt. I have fought for the possession of life."

She let her head fall on his shoulder.

"Then--then I am not repulsive to you?" she choked.

"Repulsive! Why?" His voice was full of wonder.

"I--I thought of murdering him," she whispered.

"Claire," he answered tenderly, "human beings think many things they
don't and can't do. That is part of our old heritage. But let's get away
from here, Claire. Staying here won't do either of us any good. What is
done is done. We cannot help it. Very well, then the best thing to do is
to forget it. Shall we start?"

She stepped back and looked at him. He was all energy,
clear-countenanced, free, frank, and normal.

"Yes, I am ready."

She stooped and took up her pack from beside the door. He took his and
threw it over his shoulder. Hand-in-hand they started forward and out
toward civilization.



CHAPTER XXI.

INTO THE SUNLIGHT.


All that day they talked little. Both were occupied with their own
thoughts. Lawrence was dreaming of his work, his future with Claire, and
the home that was to be. Claire was pondering Lawrence's words, "Human
beings think many things they don't and can't do." To her these words
had been both a great comfort and a startling awakening. Almost
instantly had returned an idea which she had thought forever gone, and
all day it kept growing.

That night they camped beside a stream under great trees where tiny blue
flowers winked up at them from the deep grass. After supper they sat
beside their fire dreaming. At last Lawrence took her in his arms, and
she laid her shoulder against his.

"Lawrence," she said thoughtfully, "isn't it strange how little we know
ourselves when we think we know most?"

"Yes, I sometimes think we are nearer folly then than at any other
time."

"Do you know what I have been thinking to-day?"

"No. But I know what I have been thinking." He drew her tight, laughing.
"I have thought of you, always you, my wife to be."

She patted his hand tenderly.

"I can scarcely wait till we get out, Claire."

"I know, dear."

They listened to the purling of the stream and dreamed.

Days followed in uneventful sequence. Each brought them nearer to the
railroad, towns, and escape. Lawrence was freely merry. At times Claire
was caught in his gaiety, but more and more often he noticed that she
was quiet. He attributed her silences at first to the charming strain of
diffidence he had learned to know as part of this woman, but gradually
he grew fearful lest all was not well.

"If she wants me to know, she will tell me," he thought.

She seemed to divine what he was thinking, but she did not speak. She
wanted to be sure of herself before she said anything. Lawrence's words
came again and again, and each time they brought with them a stronger
feeling that there was yet one thing they must do. This feeling
increased as they neared the town toward which they journeyed. The night
came when they were more than ever silent.

"To-morrow," Lawrence said at last. "To-morrow we reach civilization.
Oh, Claire, Claire, with civilization come you, home, our real life!"

She moved uneasily. There was a sudden overwhelming sense of her need,
and she resolved to tell him everything.

"Lawrence," she began, "to-morrow we do reach civilization, and I--I am
finding out things about myself."

He knew she was going to tell him what troubled her. For an instant he
was filled with terror lest she say she could not love him after all.
Perhaps his fight with Philip had sickened her, killed her love. Tense
and fearful, he waited.

"Go on, Claire. I have noticed something."

"It isn't that I don't love you," she cried, seeing his fear in his
drawn face. "Oh, I do love you!"

He laughed with relief.

"Then speak away. Nothing else in the world can frighten me."

"I'm afraid that it will displease you."

"Not if it is something real to you."

"Well then--oh, it seems so hard to explain. I--I am finding myself
out."

"That ought to be pleasant."

"Yes, it is--yet, I don't know--you see, back there in the wilderness I
thought nothing mattered but you. It was so hard and uncertain. The
future was so far off. But now it's different. Every day I have neared
civilization I have grown less sure that our way is the right way."

"Why not? It all seems clear to me."

"But, Lawrence, are we quite fair? Are we quite right with ourselves?"

"I try to be. I certainly try to be fair to you."

"I know. That's it. You would want me to be fair to--to every one,
wouldn't you, and above all, to myself?"

"You must be that, Claire."

She did not continue at once. He waited, holding her hand very tight
between his own.

"Go on, Claire."

The deep earnestness of the faith in her that rang through his words
gave her courage.

"It is Howard and--and my vows to him."

Lawrence sat, his brows knit. She watched him.

"I see," he answered. "I see, but--"

"After all, I promised to be his wife forever, you know."

"But you don't love him now."

"No. I love you--and for your sake as well as my own I've got to
straighten things out between Howard and myself."

"I thought they were straight. He thinks you are dead."

"But I know that I'm not dead, and all my life I would know that I had
been unfair to myself as well as to him. I must go and get things right
before--before I marry you."

Her voice dropped and lingered caressingly yet with gracious reverence
over these last words, as one's does in speaking of holy things.

"I see," he said. Her tone told him more than her words.

"I think you do."

"Yes, I do. But when did you begin thinking of this?"

"When you said, 'Human beings think many things they don't and can't
do.'"

"I understand." He threw back his head.

"You see, dearest, it is that everything in our lives may be clean."

"Good enough, Claire." He was hearty in his agreement. To his alert mind
the problem seemed very clear.

"Yes," he went on, "you are right. It isn't going to be easy. It will
hurt him to have you tell him that you no longer love him, but I suppose
it can't be helped, and it is best."

"I knew you would say so." Her cry was full of relief.

"To-morrow morning we'll start early," he laughed. "Noon will get us to
the railroad if Ortez was right about distances, and then--home and the
last clearing-up before we start life."

The matter was settled. Claire lay down in her blankets happily. She did
not sleep at once, however. Gazing through the fire, she let her eyes
rest tenderly on the strong face of the sleeping man opposite. She had
seen much of him, and always he was fair, just, and she loved him. Her
eyes filled with tears as she thought of the suffering she must cause
her husband, yet it was right and she could do no less. She would tell
him everything. He was big and he would understand. Since her whole
nature, primal and spiritual, cried out that Lawrence was her mate,
Howard would free her. She fell asleep sure that everything would work
out right, and then--life and love, as Lawrence said with that exuberant
lift in his voice.

At noon of the next day they stopped on the brow of a high hill.

"Lawrence," Claire cried exultantly. "It is there--below us--a town!"

"Hurrah!"

They laughed like children who had discovered a long-sought treasure,
then hand-in-hand as they had walked so far, they dropped down the steep
slope and into a quaint mining village.

The sound of men, the scent of smoke, and above all, the clang and puff
of a locomotive, sent their blood racing. Too happy to speak, they ran
along the street scarcely noticing the people, and found the station.

That night they were speeding toward the coast, and a few days later
found them northward-bound on a liner.

It was decided that Lawrence should not go with her to her home. He
would wait in San Francisco till she had seen her husband and was free.
They parted with eager yet hesitating hearts in that city. Claire found
it harder than she had imagined to go alone, but her will was master and
she did not falter. To Lawrence, waiting for word from her, time was
dead and moved not at all.

When Claire arrived, the old familiar city seemed strangely desolate.
She found herself wondering with a little flush of shame how she could
have loved it so. Then came her testing time. She had arrived late at
night and gone to a hotel. No one had noticed her. The next morning as
she went into the breakfast-room, some one rose hastily, with an
exclamation. It was her husband's business partner.

How she ever got through her own explanations she did not know, then she
heard him speaking.

"Yes, Mrs. Barkley, we had given you up for lost with the others on that
fated ship. And I cannot express my regret at the sorrow you have
returned to meet."

"I--sorrow--why?" She stared at him wonderingly.

He looked surprised, then understood. Claire listened silently to his
brief, sincere sympathy as he told her how her husband had died during
the winter of pneumonia.

"It has been nearly six months now," he finished, "and, of course, I am
very sorry for you. If I can do anything to help you, don't hesitate to
call on me, please."

"Thank you. I--I won't."

She heard her own voice change. Stifled, she fled up-stairs.

Her grief was sincere, unshaded by any selfish thought that it made her
own course easier or more justifiable in the eyes of society. To her,
Howard Barkley's death changed nothing save that the man whom she had
once loved sincerely was now no more.

But the living remained, and to the call of the living her life was
henceforth joyfully dedicated.


(The end.)



[Transcriber's Note: The following typographical errors present in the
original edition have been corrected.]

In Chapter V, "tenements she had visted in her charity work" was changed
to "tenements she had visited in her charity work".

In Chapter VII, a missing quotation mark was added after "What, indeed,
is moral law?"

In Chapter IX, "disdiscover what she was" was changed to "discover what
she was".

In Chapter X, "Disliking him as he did" was changed to "Disliking him as
she did".

In Chapter XI, "as abnormal as her depondency had been before" was
changed to "as abnormal as her despondency had been before".

In Chapter XVIII, "I promise to an emotionless judge" was changed to "I
promise to be an emotionless judge", and "harded and harder to wait" was
changed to "harder and harder to wait".

In Chapter XX, "clearly defined discusion" was changed to "clearly
defined discussion", and "the overwelming appreciation of beauty in
nature" was changed to "the overwhelming appreciation of beauty in
nature".



[Transcriber's Note: The following summary originally appeared at the
beginning of the serial's second installment.]


PRECEDING CHAPTERS BRIEFLY RETOLD

When the City of Panama foundered off the coast of Chile, Lawrence
Gordon suddenly realized he had been left, in the frenzy of the
disaster, alone on the deck.

Then, before he had fully recovered from the lash of the wind and the
violence of the waves, he was swept overboard and into the seething
maelstrom of an angry sea.

As he came up from the depths he struck a heavy timber, and with the
strength of desperation he dragged his weight up on it and clung fast.

"Land may be in sight," was his thought, "and I shall never know!"
Lawrence Gordon was blind.

Hours had passed. The wind-lashed water beat him as he lay on the
timber. Fear and the cold drove him to rave at life and death alike.
Finally, over the roar of the wind, he caught the tumbling of breakers.
His plank was spun round, the swell lifted him from his position, and
the next breaker rolled him past the water-line.

Once with the feel of the sand beneath his feet he ran until a rock
caught him above the knees and sent him headlong.

When he regained consciousness he returned to the water to hunt for
clams. As he came ashore again he tripped over an object that on
investigation proved a woman.

Claire Barkley answered to his ministrations, and recognized the blind
man she had observed on the boat. She could furnish the eyes for an
investigation of their situation inland, but her ankle had been sprained
in the wreck and she was unable to walk.

When months after, just as they had reached the limit of human
endurance--what with hunger, the cold, and privation--they stumbled into
the cabin of Philip Ortez. The Spanish mountaineer declared it no less
than a miracle that a blind man should have carried a woman in his arms
half across the Andes--from the coast to the borders of Bolivia.

Then they settled down to spend the winter in Philip's cabin. And now
the latent antagonism of the woman, who was so curiously stirred by the
apparent coldness of this blind sculptor to her charm, began to plan the
man's punishment.



[Transcriber's Note: The following summary originally appeared at the
beginning of the serial's third installment. The summary at the
beginning of the serial's fourth installment, if one was present, was
not available when preparing this electronic edition.]


PRECEDING CHAPTERS BRIEFLY RETOLD

When Lawrence Gordon, numb with cold and hunger, after weeks of weary
wandering through the mountains in a desperate effort to find a
habitation, came in sight of the mountaineer's little cabin, he dropped
the woman from his breaking arms and fell, exhausted and unconscious, in
the snow.

Flung into the sea when the ship foundered, he had eventually found his
way to the beach, and here he stumbled on the unconscious form of Claire
Barkley.

Mrs. Barkley's ankle had been sprained in the wreck and she was unable
to walk. The man was strong, dominant, and unafraid; but he was blind.

Carrying the woman in his arms the blind man had stumbled half across
the Andes, for the boat was wrecked off the coast of Chile, and Philip
Ortez, whose cabin they had reached, declared they were on the borders
of Bolivia, about two hundred miles from the nearest railroad station.

This Spanish scholar, gentleman, and recluse readily welcomed two such
promising guests for the winter. A charming woman of twenty-six, with a
mind as well as emotions, and a man not much older, who was both a
philosopher and an artist, promised no end of diversion for the winter.

And diversion, not to say, drama, came--the eternal triangle.

Lawrence was slow in admitting his love for Claire, even to himself. And
Claire, who was affronted by the seeming cold and calculating
indifference of this big, blind god, suddenly realized his apparent
coldness held the very heart of passion itself.

In the playful scramble of a snow-fight before the cabin, Lawrence had
taken her by the waist to wash her face with snow, and the contact of
her tightly held body betrayed the tensity of the man's feeling. Claire
broke from his grasp to look into the eyes of Philip, who had stood in
the doorway to watch the fun. In the eyes of the Spaniard she detected
the emotion she felt in the touch of the blind sculptor.

The next day, to relieve the suppressed passion in her own as well as
Lawrence's soul, she proposed to go with Philip, as she sometimes did,
when he went out to spend the day with his traps.

On the return journey, when the conversation was fast drifting into the
personal, Philip, carried off his feet by the nearness of the woman and
the madness in his blood, snatched Claire up in his arms and covered her
full lips with his kisses.

The indignant woman brought him to an abject apology after his wild
confession of love, and entered into a compact of friendship with him.

Reaching the cabin, the blind man, whose acute soul and senses had long
told him of Philip's passion, held out the finished carving he had been
at work on all these weeks--a winged cherub.

In his eyes it was the symbol of his love for her. But her words of
acceptance made him think in her eyes it was rather a symbol of her love
for the mountaineer.

To Philip it was a symbol of hope.





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