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Title: Going West
Author: King, Basil
Language: English
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  Books by

  BASIL KING

  GOING WEST
  THE CITY OF COMRADES
  ABRAHAM'S BOSOM
  THE LIFTED VEIL
  THE SIDE OF THE ANGELS
  THE LETTER OF THE CONTRACT
  THE WAY HOME
  THE WILD OLIVE
  THE INNER SHRINE
  THE STREET CALLED STRAIGHT
  LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER
  IN THE GARDEN OF CHARITY
  THE STEPS OF HONOR
  THE HIGH HEART

  HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK
  Established 1817



[Frontispiece]



  GOING WEST

  By

  Basil King

  _Author of
  "The City of Comrades" "Abraham's Bosom" etc._



  HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
  NEW YORK AND LONDON



  Going West

  Copyright, 1919, by Harper & Brothers
  Printed in the United States of America
  Published June, 1919



GOING WEST



GOING WEST


CHAPTER I

He was not a born fighter, in spite of a big, husky frame through which
the urge of physical life was strong. On the contrary, he was a
civilian and a business man in every nerve of his body. Eight
generations on American soil had bred a type essentially industrious,
notwithstanding all the fighting in which the family had been engaged.
His father had fought in the Spanish-American War; his grandfather in
the Civil War; his great-great-grandfather in the Revolution; farther
back, his ancestors in the Connecticut Valley had beaten off the French
and Indians for nearly a hundred years.

All that, however, had been alien to the main purposes of life. It had
been incidental, not professional. Its chief influence on Lester lay in
the assumption that, men being called for on the borders of Texas and
in Mexico, he had no choice but to go. True, he was just beginning,
after certain wayward years, to see success as a broker ahead of him;
and within the month he had become engaged to Molly Dove. But these
considerations could not weigh against the appeal of country, nor annul
those traditions of duty that had come to him from the past.

So in the course of time, and with the march of events, he found
himself in the enemy trenches, facing a burly blue-eyed Teuton holding
a rifle by the barrel and swinging the butt about his head, while he
himself held a bayonet in his hand. Amid the wreckage, the carnage, the
tumult, he was desperately trying to recall his instructions as to how
to stick the weapon in.

Before telling what happened then, let us go back and follow rapidly
the stages by which Lester found himself in a situation which two or
three years earlier he would have laughed out of the list of
possibilities.

The son of a well-to-do bookseller in a great Atlantic city, he was an
instance of that reaction against the paternal bent with which we are
all familiar. His father was a gentle, scholarly man who loved books as
books. The Spanish-American campaign had left him with one leg slightly
shorter than the other, and the air of a retired general. All his
longings had once focused themselves into the hope that his son would
enter into, and one day inherit, a business built up on years of
diligence and judgment--only to be disappointed.

Lester had no interest in books. He was not only an open-air fellow
with a zest for sports, but he had all the inclinations of a genial,
jovial soul. Taking wine, women, and song as kindred joys, he chose
brokerage as the profession that would give him closest touch with the
merry give and take of life.

As a broker he could steal all the time he needed to "root" at games,
after he had ceased to play them actively, while the same career
rendered him more free to marry a girl like Molly Dove, a waitress in
the café where he generally lunched, to whom his family bitterly
objected.

His mother was a small, square-shouldered woman, with a smile so bright
that it was difficult for the most penetrating eye to see behind it.
Lester had inherited her dark color, her beetling brows, and her
vigorous physique. A gay audacity, as real as it looked, was also not
the least among the legacies she passed on to her son.

Of his two sisters, Cora resembled the father and Ethelind the mother.
Ethelind, too, had that gay audacity, the most patent result of which
was to involve her in conflicting love-affairs. A wild-eyed thing, she
was formed on that permanent-seventeen model that came in with the
second decade of the twentieth century and induced all women, whatever
their time of life, to dress as school-girls. Cora, tall, dignified,
reserved, was the graduate of a woman's college, in which it was her
ambition one day to hold a professorship. To sisters as well as parents
the stalwart, wilful boy would have been the king among young men had
it not been for his entanglement with Molly Dove. They could pardon his
"wildness," knowing that it would pass, but they found it hard to
forgive his choice of a wife in a sphere so much below him. In fact,
they did not pardon it at all. In spite of his announcement that the
engagement had become definite, no one responded to his invitation to
make the acquaintance of the girl.

In the matter of his "wildness" there were already stirrings of a
change of heart, though they hardly rose to the level of active
consciousness. Such reforms as he made were avowedly in deference to
Molly Dove. In cutting out--the term was his--women, wine, and song, he
made it clear to himself that he did it, not in obedience to a moral
law, but because "Molly asked him to." Molly held the odd conviction
that such indulgences were wrong, chiefly because they came in between
him and a great mystery, of which he had heard vaguely all his life,
but from which instinctively he turned his mind away.

"There's really no mystery at all," she asserted, in that pretty way of
hers which he found at once tranquil and enthusiastic, "no more than
there's a mystery about the sun. When we fill the atmosphere with smoke
we can't see it; but that doesn't keep the sun from being there. Blow
the smoke away, and you find the sunshine as bright as ever."

He liked to hear her talk in that way, though he was not won by her
beliefs. Far in the future he saw days when he would have shot the bolt
of his temptations and settled down with her into being the "good
fellow" she hoped to make of him. In the mean time--

But in the mean time came the call. It was the kind of call against
which his instincts and his interests both rebelled, but he took it
with no more analysis than he gave to the necessity of getting out of
bed on a winter's morning. There was no help for it; it was all in the
day's work.

His family took it in the same way. It was as much a matter of course
as when Ebenezer Lester shouldered his eighteenth-century musket to
defend the stockade against the Iroquois stealing down from Canada. It
was as much a matter of course as when Charles E. Lester, the
bookseller, rallied to President McKinley against Spain.

It was also a matter of course to Molly Dove. It would postpone the
wedding for which she had begun her simple preparations, but she had a
curious, secret facility for renouncing her own will. Her
right-about-face was made with smiling lips and glistening eyes, and no
effort that any one could see. To Lester she whispered:

"It's going to be all right, dear. Whatever the clash of human wills,
there's only one real Ruler in the universe. The closer we can keep in
touch with Him the nearer we shall be to the usefulness and happiness
which make up what we call our destiny."

"That's all very well." He smiled, patting her hand. "But suppose I'm
shot--or die of a fever?"

Her reply would have staggered him if he had not put it down to the
sweet and charming eccentricity which made her different from other
girls.

"Well, suppose it does happen that in the course of doing your duty
this mortal should 'put on immortality'--that's the way the Bible
expresses it, you know--wouldn't that be a gain for you? And what's a
gain for you couldn't be a loss for us."

He laughed with a great guffaw. "But perhaps we shouldn't be married."

"No; but marriage, after all, is only for time, whereas you and I are
bound by all sorts of ties which really belong to eternity."

He took no stock in that, he told her; but he liked her gleaming
earnestness in saying it. The aunt who had brought her up must have
been a quaint, religious character, he said, to have filled her head
with such other-worldly notions. Anyhow, they were different from the
anxiety and fear which the family hid behind their stoic calmness, and
of which he felt the twinges within himself as he wound up his affairs.



CHAPTER II

It was at the time when the possibility of a war with Mexico--or any
war at all--struck the imagination of the country as a calamity too
horrible to contemplate. There was no question as to the victory, but
neither was there a question as to the price that would be paid for it.
Men--young men--young Americans, O God!--would be killed--actually
killed. Fellows whose places were in shops and offices and factories
and banks, whose diversions were the stadium, the sea-shore, or the
woods, would be called on to make the extreme sacrifice at a time when
sacrifice of any kind was being pooh-poohed. It was not only monstrous,
it was unnatural, a trend of events in the teeth of fate, and against
what one might reasonably call the manifest will of God. Lester knew
that his family were feeling this, though they never mentioned it; he
was feeling it himself. Molly Dove alone seemed to ride on the wave of
events like a sea-bird on a storm, cradled, rocked, at ease in her
element, secure, serene, sure of both present and ultimate good,
whatever might befall.

So there came a Sunday when, after a mid-day dinner, the family
accompanied him to the station and he entrained for camp. He had said
good-by to Molly Dove during the forenoon. As no advance had been made
to her from the Lester side, she could make none on hers, and so judged
it wisest to keep out of sight. Her sweet self-effacement in doing this
made Lester swear that he would marry her at the first opportunity, as
he steamed away on this opening stage of what was to prove his long,
long, long way.

That way, at the beginning, struck many people as a tortuous, futile
way, leading no-whither. There was talk of saluting the flag; there was
the occupation of Vera Cruz; there was the withdrawal from Vera Cruz;
there were months when the daily head-lines bore the names Huerta,
Villa, Carranza; and few knew for what reason the young men did not
come home.

Then home they began to come, chiefly on furlough, to be sent
elsewhere. During one such interval Lester married Molly Dove. It meant
a breach with his family, none of whom appeared at the simple ceremony
or took any steps to acknowledge the bride. He was compelled to leave
her within a month.

In the mean while greater wars than any possibility with Mexico had
broken out, and the iron entered the whole world's soul. It was only
then that the end of the road on which Lester had started out that
Sunday when he had entrained came into sight--and he sailed for France.

His life after that could scarcely be distinguished from hundreds of
thousands of other lives. One overruling need had bound the manhood of
the race into a solidarity so tense that the individual was swallowed
up in it. Lester was no longer a son, a brother, a husband, the father
of a coming baby; he was an infinitesimal part of a huge machine, with
no more to say in matters of his life and death than the wheel to the
man who turns it round. He could only turn; he could only turn as he
was told; he could only turn as millions of other wheels were turning,
without volition, without knowledge, and, to a degree that surprised
him, without much preference or choice.

In minutes when conscious of himself he could see how little he was the
Lester of other days. When he woke up in the morning it was often with
a strange, dull wonder as to what he had become, and how and why he had
become it. It was like a rebirth--only it suggested a rebirth into
hell. In fits of moral nausea, after some phase of a "good time," at
any date within the past ten years, he had called down on himself some
such fate as that; but he had never looked for it so literally, and
right here on earth.

The inevitable came at last. By stages such as have often been
described, he found himself in that section of the trenches known to
its occupants as Dead Cow Lane. Life there was much as he expected it
to be, though possibly not quite so bad. Its worst feature was in the
long, dull hours it allowed for thinking. He loathed sitting on the
fire-step with nothing but a slouch, a grouch, and the wit of his mates
to keep him company. All that was humanly repulsive he learned to
endure; but when he lounged idly on the fire-step, one leg swung across
the other, and a dead cigarette between his lips, he ate his heart out.
Molly, waiting for her baby, in a tiny apartment with a kitchenette,
was a vision against a background of eyes that seemed to watch for him.
His father's were grave; his mother's steely; Cora's earnest;
Ethelind's wild. They looked down at him, right there in Dead Cow Lane,
in a vigil that made him frantic. When the command came at last to go
over the top it brought with it not only terror, but a break in the
monotony.

What happened then was also along the lines he had been prepared for.
So many tales had been told him, and he had listened with such
eagerness that, from the minute of going up the death-ladder, he seemed
to have been through it all before. Everything went as if it had been
rehearsed. He had the lonely feeling on finding himself in the open
other men had described to him. As he ran through the lanes of barbed
wire his agony of haste was neither more nor less than theirs. The
"p'--p'--p'--p'--p'--p'" of the machine-guns; the crackling of bullets
through the air; the tottering and falling of his comrades, throwing up
their arms and tumbling clumsily on backs or faces, were all as if by
rule. He had no more consciousness than that. He was neither brave nor
afraid; he was only numb. It was something to be done, and he was doing
it. He might have been doing it in his sleep--in a nightmare.

On reaching the German trench, which the barrage fire had crumpled into
a welter of earth, cement, timbers, uniforms, dead and wounded men, and
pots and pans, he practically tumbled in. There was no horror in the
minute, because horror has its limits and this had passed beyond them.
A wounded German was crawling away to anything that would shelter him,
and in order to scramble up Lester had to step on the man's head. The
head gave way, with an oath or a groan, but Lester managed to keep his
feet. All round him there was shouting and yelling and cursing, and now
and then a demoniac laugh. Every American was trying to kill his
German, and the Germans were at bay. Lester, too, was trying to kill.
The infection had caught him. Out of the blank, out of the numbness,
out of the paralysis of the spirit in which he had run across No Man's
Land, something surged up of which he had no time to take account. It
didn't wait for him to take account of it. It seized him with a
maddening pang--a hate to which he had never supposed his nature could
be equal--a hate welling up from the depths of his subconscious self--a
hate of the enemy--a hate of the German--a hate of the very first
individual who came his way--with a wild accompanying frenzy to stick
his bayonet in a heart. "Give 'em hell," were the words with which he
had been sent over, and all his life and all his longings and all his
love were fused in one red flame to deal out hell as it had been dealt
out to him.

How he found himself face to face with a big, blond Bavarian, whose
blue eyes danced with a kind of bloodshot fire as he swung the butt of
his rifle like a club about his head, there is no way of telling. It
was one of those instances which war supplies by the million in which
world-rancors, race-rancors, and the suppressed irritations of
thousands of years sum themselves up in the hearts of two men who have
no personal quarrel and who have never set eyes on each other before.
It was like an unescapable destiny. The American broker and the
peasant-actor of Oberammergau had been projected toward each other by
an irresistible fate. Behind each were all the generations of rivalry
and covetousness and savagery and sin that had sent him forth. Neither
was moved by his own impulse. Each was but an instrument of the
passions of the past.

Lester was not sure whether or not he saw double--whether or not there
were two Bavarians swinging the butts of their rifles, or only one.
Those who told the story afterward were in similar doubt. Some declared
for two; some for one only; some saw three or four in that corner of
the trench. In any case Lester had found his man; and no emotion he had
ever known was half so sweet as this anguish of pain to get him.

Those who told the story afterward laughed as they pictured Lester
dancing this way and that to avoid the descending club and slip his
bayonet in under it. He dodged, they said, as if he were on springs.
Time and time again the Bavarian seemed about to sweep him with a blow
to the other end of the trench--but no! Lester was prancing as nimbly
as ever, watchful, alert, his aim always at the heart. No one could
tell how long this went on, for all observation was crazed. The only
thing known for certain was that in the end Lester got his weapon
in--and in--and in--to the hilt--to the heart--and that if he had had
time to go through the thick body he would have done it.

He didn't have time, and it was here that the testimony was in
conflict. One man paid that the Bavarian was able to deal a last blow
with superhuman strength. Another declared that a second Bavarian dealt
it. Of those who came back some supported one of these assertions, and
some the other; but there was no difference of opinion at all on the
point that Lester's skull was cracked with a sound like that of a
breaking egg-shell. His body and his opponent's lay tumbled together in
a fierce embrace--the one with a surprised horror in the wide-open blue
eyes, while the other--but they only said of Lester that his face was
"all bashed in."



CHAPTER III

Lester's face was "all bashed in," but Lester himself didn't know it.
The last thing he remembered was the queer, soft, mushy feeling as his
bayonet pierced the Bavarian's uniform and entered his body. His next
sensation was that of an emotion, a confused emotion, of sorrow, pity,
or disgust.

At first it seemed all that had survived. He himself was
safe--somewhere--and the Bavarian had died. He didn't try to move, or
open his eyes, or seek to find out to what place they had carried him;
he was too comfortable for that. But--a man toward whom he had no
enmity on his own account, who was also perhaps a husband, with a
little wife waiting for a baby in an apartment with a kitchenette, that
man lay dead, with his, Lester's, bayonet wound in his heart. He was
sorry. He remembered his hate; he remembered his passion to kill; he
knew it as a blend of all the vengeances that had been stirring in his
blood since Belgium had been invaded, and the _Lusitania_ had been
sunk, and the awful things had begun to pile upon the awful things; but
it was a vengeance that began to seem to him beside the mark. It was
the kind of revenge man didn't know how to take; the kind of justice he
didn't know how to mete out. The innocent were being punished for the
guilty, as if a child were hanged because a man had committed a crime.
He couldn't say that he reproached himself for his part in that; he
knew he had been acting on orders from above; but he was conscious of a
deep regret that the world should have grown so stupid that such things
had to be.

Otherwise he was resting. He supposed that he must have been wounded,
though he could feel no pain. Oddly enough, when he tested himself for
pain he didn't know where to begin. But it was his own immunity, his
sense of well-being and security, that sent his thought the more
persistently toward the man he had kept from ever returning home.

Trying to fancy what that home was like, he found himself, suddenly but
naturally, in a village street, of which the bordering houses, of
plaster and timber, had low roofs and picturesque eaves. All round
there were mountains.

"This is Oberammergau," he heard in a language he understood. "Here is
my home. Let us go in."

They entered without the opening of doors, coming into a room with
rafters, small windows, and an air of antiquity. A woman was kneeling
beside a bed above which hung a carved wooden crucifix. On each side of
her knelt a quaintly dressed child, with hands stiffly pressed together.

"That is my wife," said the voice. "Those are my children. They're
praying for me and asking that I shall come home."

"Should you have liked to go home?"

It seemed natural to Lester to ask this question. Everything seemed so
natural that he had not yet reached the point of inquiring how it had
come about. The Bavarian reflected.

"I should have liked it before knowing what this is. I should like it
even now, for their sakes. But since death has to be destroyed in us
one at a time it's better for us to be here, don't you think?"

Lester began to be startled. "Here? Where?"

"Wherever it is we are. I don't quite know where that is. Do you? I'm
speaking," he continued, "in the old terms of place in the sense of
locality, because I don't know what else to do; but locality, of
course, is gone. We're in the universal, which makes it difficult for
us, after being used to so many limitations, to understand ourselves."

Lester was aware of fear, awe, and irritation all struggling in him
together.

"You may be in the universal, as you call it; but--but I've come
through."

"We've both come through. The marvel is that we've done it so easily.
It's as I expected--only more so."

"As you expected--in what way?"

"Every way; all my life. When your barrage fire began I prayed--"

"Do you fellows _pray_?" Lester asked, in astonishment.

"Oh, some of us--what we used to call prayer--the sort of thing my poor
wife and children are doing now--begging--pleading that this or that
shall be done--instead of resting in strength, as you and I are."

"I'm not--I'm not--resting in strength."

"Oh yes, you are! You are, without knowing it. It's what human beings
are always doing. They get every kind of good in their lives, and don't
know the source from which it comes. You won't know to what your
present actual comfort is due till--"

But the woman rose from her knees, and so did the children. Wiping away
their tears, they began the preparations for a frugal breakfast. As
Lester felt the presence that had accompanied him moving from his side
and enveloping all three in tenderness, he found himself alone with his
thought again.

There was no shock to him in the fact that, as Molly had expressed it,
the mortal had put on immortality; he had faced the possibility for too
long. Ever since the first entraining he had accepted it as an
eventuality of war. On sailing for France he knew there were increased
chances against his ever coming home. In the months that followed he
grew accustomed to death and more or less obtuse to it. He smoked and
chaffed is the morning with fellows who by noon had gone--who could
tell where? They used the euphemism of "going west"--into the sunset,
into the glory, into the great repose. It was the easiest thing to say,
and many a time he had said it of himself. "By this time next year I
may have gone west." Then it became: "By this time next month I may
have gone west." Later it was: "By this time tomorrow--" "Within an
hour--" "Within half an hour--" "Within ten minutes--" as the seconds
slipped away.

Well, he had gone west! The odd thing was that he had done it so
easily, so painlessly. The tedious hours in the trenches faded more or
less from recollection. The going over the top and all that followed
after it became nothing but a blur. Even the months in camp, in Texas,
behind the lines in France, dissolved like vapors when they mount into
the air. What was present to him most forcibly was the thought of the
dear ones he had left behind.

His own conditions were entirely a matter of course; he was perfectly
at home in them. Though he could not have described them, nor have
given an account of them, he knew that they were pleasant and that they
were profoundly rooted in nature. He was neither surprised at them nor
unduly curious.

Neither was he lonely. His sufficiency was such that companionship as
he had always conceived of it was not a consideration. The condition in
itself was companionship to a degree he could not understand. It was
vibrant with life; there was speech in it. Had he been forced to make
explanations, he would have said there was intelligence in it, and
comprehension. He let himself sink into the enjoyment of it as a baby
rests without questioning in the love by which it is enlapped. No; he
wasn't lonely; he didn't know what loneliness was.

But he felt care--the care for Molly, the fear of the blow that would
fall on his father and mother and sisters. Now that he knew what had
happened, his thought fixed itself on finding some way by which he
could help them.

On this point he wondered why, if the Bavarian could return to his home
and whisper something of comfort, he could not return to his. Distance
was not a factor, since it was no part of the universal. Even the gulf
between the material and the non-material could in a measure be
crossed. Why, then, could he not cross it?

"Is it because I've been such a bad fellow?" he asked himself.

"Not entirely," the Bavarian answered, as if the words had been
addressed to him. "It isn't a question of what we've done so much as it
is of what we know. It's a matter of thought, of consciousness. When
we've learned that everything exists in a great mind, that mind itself
becomes the medium of intercourse. Give up the idea that the people you
love live in one sphere and you in another. We all live together in one
great intelligence that understands all our needs. Meet your needs not
by your own efforts, but by co-operation with that intelligence, and
what you want will be done."

Lester reflected on that. "What do you mean by co-operation?"

"Trust, in the first place--till trust becomes knowledge."

"But if this intelligence knows already what I need--?"

"It will do the wise thing, only you won't be associated with it. What
you want is the association, to have your part. You don't get your
part, you don't have the association, because you isolate yourself.
Your mind is closed to the powers and activities that are all about
you. When you understand what they are you will have your share in
them."

"But why should my mind be closed if yours is open?"

"It's a matter of habit. We go on here from the very point at which we
left off there. I had the habit already. Our life at Oberammergau bred
it into one. You didn't have it. Your thoughts were limited to a
physical world and a physical body and a physical way of doing
everything. Now you have it all to learn, very much as you had in your
physical childhood."

"Then I'm not being punished for my sins?"

He asked the question in some uneasiness.

"You are. Don't you see? The punishment is that you're not more
advanced. You've been like the idle boy in school; and now you find it
hard to catch up. If it were not for the great thing you've done you'd
be farther behind than you are."

"The great thing I've done? I don't understand you."

"Every good act helps us onward; and among things that are good love is
the greatest. Of that you've given the highest proof there is."

Lester was astounded.

"I?"

"You gave the most precious things you had--your business, your
happiness, your family, your wife, your life. You held nothing back.
You not only gave without reserve, but you gave without complaining.
You didn't do it for yourself, but for a great cause--as men conceive
of causes--and you did it of your own free will."

"And so did you."

"No; I waited to be taken. If I hadn't been taken I shouldn't have
gone. I didn't offer myself up; I was seized against my will. You were
the more like Jesus of Nazareth, Who laid down His life for His
friends, and so, as He said Himself, losing your life you have found
it."

"Oh, but I didn't do it in that way at all," Lester protested.

"It doesn't take anything away from right that we do it as a matter of
course. We don't have to know the infinite intelligence to have the
infinite intelligence know us. Isn't it a case of 'He that doeth the
Will'? If we do the Will instinctively we can't fail of the protection
of Him whose Will is done; and if we don't know Him already we can be
sure He will make Himself known."

Communication once more came to an end, not abruptly, but by natural
cessation, because the thought had been expressed.

But Lester was left with a clue to follow, and little by little he
followed it. The immediate gain was a new kind of perception. It was as
if some faculty already possessed, but paralyzed within him, had been
freed. He could not have said that this endowment existed in hearing,
or sight, or any of the senses, or in all of them together, or in none
of them. All he could say was that it gave him a new use of power, of
power to which he had a right, but of which, for a reason that escaped
him, he had hitherto been deprived.



CHAPTER IV

As with this power there came freedom, expansion, and growth, he found
himself able to reconstruct out of thought the house he had formerly
called home.

He was back in it all at once--without effort, without coming from a
distance, without journeying through space, without meeting the
discords between timelessness and time. He was simply there, walking
about the rooms and halls as he had done ever since his childhood.

He judged it to be evening, for his father was at home. It was what he,
Lester, had wanted. His appeal was to be for Molly, that the family
should pity her, should take her in, should make her one of themselves,
and help her through the time that was ahead of her. He knew his
appearing might be a shock to them, but it would be a shock to his
father least of all.

The father was seated in the dining-room, reading a book by an electric
lamp. When the supper was cleared away, he could have this room to
himself. It was a cheerful room, with deep-red curtains drawn, and a
deep-red cloth on the table. Lester entered without journeying through
space, much as he had been in the habit of entering all his life. His
sense of presence, of vitality, was so strong that he wondered his
father did not look up.

"Father!"

But the father kept on reading.

"Father!"

There was no indication that he had been heard.

He went nearer. He placed himself where he must be seen. He spoke with
more force.

"Father! I want to talk to you about Molly."

The father turned a page. Lester could hear the rattle of the paper. He
could hear the little cough when his father cleared his throat. He
could see the dark shade in his father's cheeks which showed he needed
shaving. There was nothing about that well-known face obscure or
unfamiliar; but he could make no sign of his coming that could be
recognized.

Presently Cora came in and sat down. She began to talk about the book
in her father's hands. To Lester it was like something on the stage,
something done by human beings, but not part of life's reality. It
struck him for the first time that mortal happenings pass in a realm of
illusion.

From the fact that Cora was in colors he inferred that the news from
France had not yet reached them.

"Cora," he said, "I want to talk to you about Molly."

"Oh, it's interesting enough," Cora admitted, in response to something
said by her father, "especially the first part; but so trivial. If the
dead really do live again I should think they'd find some better
occupation than playing with a ouija-board."

"A ouija-board," the father argued, "might be only the simplest means
they can find of getting their messages over."

"Then, since they're so limited in what they can do, why shouldn't they
tell us something worth our knowing, when they've got the opportunity?
This boy"--she waved her hand toward the book--"does no more than
describe the same old life on earth--with variations."

"But perhaps with variations they live the same old life on earth."

"Then I don't want to believe in it." Cora's manner was decisive and
professional as such manners are depicted by actresses. "As a matter of
fact," she summed up, "the more I think, and the more I read, the less
I'm inclined to accept a life beyond the grave as a possibility. Such
books"--again she indicated that in her father's hand--"express a
natural human yearning, as do also the myths of the New Testament,
but--" She left her sentence there. The father, too, left it there, as
if at heart he agreed with her.

"I wonder where mother is," Lester asked himself, and immediately was
in her room upstairs.

She was seated before a mirror, trying on a hat. Another hat was on a
chair beside her. Two bandboxes with a disarray of silver paper stood
beside her on the floor. Ethelind, short-skirted, and moving with
nimble, sylphlike feet, was standing back to get the effect.

"I think I like that one the better of the two," she was saying, "and
yet I don't know but--"

"Oh, they're awful, both of them," the mother complained. "It's funny I
can never get a hat that suits me but the same old thing."

Lester went forward. He meant that she should see him first in the
mirror. The reflection would startle her, of course, but he should be
able to reassure her.

It was he who was startled first, since, standing before the mirror, he
didn't get his own reflection. He felt so solid, so warm, so full of
energy, that it seemed to him impossible that a reflection should not
be cast. But there was nothing--nothing but the image of his mother
casting her bright eyes up at the cockatoo crest on a hat that
suggested a Mephistopheles.

"Mother, I want to talk to you about Molly."

"Oh, dear, what an old hag I'm beginning to look!"

"Oh no, you're not, mother dear," Ethelind returned, cheerfully.
"That's just worry. One of these days the war will be over and he'll be
coming back a great general--"

"What's the use of the war being over and his coming back a great
general, when that creature will have the first say in him?"

Ethelind came behind her mother, to give the hat a twitch to a more
effective angle.

"Mother dear, I don't believe he'd like to have you talk in that way."

Lester appealed to his sister.

"Ethelind, I want you to help me. I want you all to think of Molly. I'm
not coming home; but I'm well and happy. That is, I could be happy if I
only knew that she was being taken care of and that you were good to
her."

But Ethelind only twitched the hat again, and the subject dropped. As
it did a curtain seemed to come down on the scenes that had meant home
to him, once more suggesting the action of a play.

There followed for Lester a further phase of unfolding thought, though
with no solution of some of his perplexities.

"But it's always so," the Bavarian explained to him. "We can go to them
more easily than they can come to us. The spiritual can to some slight
degree re-embody the material; but spiritual things are only
spiritually discerned. Jesus of Nazareth after His Resurrection could
at times reincarnate Himself before His disciples; but they could not
spiritualize themselves so as to follow Him when He disappeared. That
can only be accomplished in proportion as they lay off the mortal and
temporary by degrees, or burst out of it with a bound, as you and I
did."

And yet in Lester's consciousness the vibrancy of life in his
surroundings grew more tense. It was as if he were rising and ever
rising on a mounting wave of vitality, but always riding on the top.
Something like this energy he had felt in running, or rowing, or
swimming, or on horseback, or in one or another of the sports in which
he had excelled; but never with this joyousness of strength. The
physical had given some sign of it, though it had been no more than as
the single note of a shepherd's pipe to the fullness of an orchestra,
or as the tramp of a lone step to the onrush of a million men.

And in one such swelling, exultant, glorious moment he came where Molly
was in her little living-room in the apartment with a kitchenette. She
was sitting at a table, with two or three books before her. One of them
was open and to it from time to time she dropped her eyes. She raised
them soon again to look straight into the air, as if she saw beyond
walls into the reality where he was. There was no trouble in her eyes,
nor sorrow, nor anxiety. In every feature there was peace, with the
look of expectation.

He did not try at once to enter into communication with her. It was
enough for him to study the pure face with its expression of repose.
But he followed her thought as her eyes fell to the page of the book
again. It was as if he were reading the words himself:


"And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your
sins. . . . If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all
men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become
the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by
man came also the resurrection of the dead."


She lifted her eyes and reflected on that. He drew nearer, bending over
and about her.

"Molly, I'm here."

He saw her expression brighten. It was almost as if she had said, "Yes,
I know."

"I want you to know, darling, that I'm not coming home."

Whatever was passing through her mind, she nodded, though no shade fell
on her bright face.

"I'm well," he continued. "You must think of me as happy and as taken
care of."

Again there was that nod, as if she assented to something she had
heard. Presently she began to read again:


"Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to
God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all
authority and power. For he must reign, all he hath put all enemies
under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."


"That enemy is destroyed, Molly. I've proved it. There's no death;
there's nothing but life. There's not even a shock, or a minute of
unhappiness. There's nothing but life, and then more life, and then
life again. I was never so alive as I am at this instant, or so capable
of doing things. Except for you, Molly, sweet one, and the baby that's
coming, and the family, I wouldn't go back."

If her eyes grew grave it was with thought and not with foreboding. She
returned once more to her book:


"For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must
put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on
incorruption and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall
be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in
victory."


"Yes," he said to her, "that is what has happened to me. Death has been
swallowed up in victory. If strength and energy and safety and joy
constitute victory, then I'm victorious. If it were not for you, O my
love--"

But she closed her book suddenly and rose. As she did so he could hear
the words she uttered, almost aloud.

"I must do that," she said, with determination. "It's what he'd like. I
must take it on myself."



CHAPTER V

He lost her for a while, and when he saw her again she was in the open
air. He was with her, though not exactly by her side. As far as he
could judge he was both leading her and following after her. He was
above her, and also holding her hand. If he could have been everywhere
about her at one and the same instant, it was that.

It seemed to be Sunday. There was no work going on in the streets, and
there was the Sunday air of leisure. Molly walked rapidly, her eyes
toward the ground. Her whole little figure expressed concentration of
purpose.

He knew the suburb. The shady streets, the trim green lawns, the low
stone walls with vines tumbling over them, the wooden houses painted
for the most part in dull tones of red and yellow, were those with
which he had always been familiar. High on a knoll he saw the deep
verandas of his own old home. Molly did not hesitate. She turned in at
the gate.

There was a short driveway, between clumps of shrubbery and under elms.
At a sudden turning she met Ethelind. The two girls stopped and looked
at each other as they came face to face.

"You're Ethelind, aren't you?" Molly said, without trembling or
awkwardness.

Ethelind's wild eyes were all ablaze.

"Yes, and you're Molly. I'm--I'm so glad you've come. I've wanted to
know you. I was coming one day to see you--I don't care what any one
says. I know it's what my brother would want me to do. We--we miss him
so."

"Thank you," Molly said, with a gentle smile. "I'm glad you thought of
me so kindly. Just now there's something I want to say to your father
or mother. Do you think either of them would see me?"

Ethelind's face fell.

"I--I can't say--for sure. They're--Oh, I don't know!--But my brother--"

"Yes, I know all that; but this is something important."

The girl seized the sister-in-law's arm. "It--it isn't--anything
you've--you've heard?"

"It's nothing I've heard; it's only something that I feel I know."

But they had been seen from the window. The mother came running out,
all her gay audacity transformed, as a lamp is transformed when,
instead of giving light, it becomes the center of conflagration.

"Oh, what is it? What is it?" she cried, as she hurried toward them.

"It's nothing very definite, Mrs. Lester," Molly replied, calmly. "It's
only something I feel so strongly that--"

"Oh, feel!" Mrs. Lester exclaimed, impatiently. "Don't frighten us with
feelings when--"

"Is Mr. Lester in? I should like to talk to him as well."

The mother led the way toward the house. Molly followed, Ethelind
clinging to her arm. It did not occur to any of them that no farther
explanation had been made as to who Molly was. That seemed to take
itself for granted.

The father was in the hall at the foot of the stairs. Cora was coming
down them. Both had been summoned by the sense of something wrong.
Molly went straight to her husband's father.

"Oh, I want to tell you, Mr. Lester; I feel I have a message."

"Feel you have a message?" he echoed, with a kind of tremulous
severity. "What do you mean by that?"

"I don't know what I mean; only this morning he--he seemed to come and
stand beside me--"

"Nonsense!" It was Cora who said that, from the position in which she
had come to a standstill half-way down the stairs. To Molly she seemed
very magisterial and commanding. "Nonsense!" she repeated. "This is
pure nervousness--or hysterics."

"No, it isn't, Miss Lester," Molly contradicted, not rudely, but with
imploring earnestness. "I'm sure he did come. He spoke to me.
_Something_ spoke to me."

"Did you hear anything?" the mother demanded.

"No, it wasn't in words; or if it was in words it was only as it turned
itself into words in my own mind. It was more like--like a
conviction--an intense conviction--that came to me from outside."

"And what did your conviction say?" Cora inquired, icily.

"It said-- Oh, you must forgive me!--I shouldn't come if I didn't feel
it so strongly!--It's as hard for me as it is for you--"

The father backed away to the baluster. His face had grown gray. The
mother dropped to a hall chair. Ethelind was crying already, but
standing by as if to give aid. Cora was still commanding and severe. It
was she who interrupted.

"Yes; we understand all that. But tell us what you've come to say."

Under this authority and severity Molly began to grow nervous. She
clasped and unclasped her hands, sometimes twisting her fingers.

"You see, it was this way. I was reading the Bible and--and
thinking--and trying to understand what it meant---when all at once
he--he seemed to be with me--and to be saying things."

"What sort of things?"

"I don't exactly know, Miss Lester. I knew he was there--and that he
was telling me how beautiful it was with him--but I can't explain how
he made me understand it--"

"No," Cora interrupted again, "nobody ever can explain. Once they get
notions into their heads, they seem to think explanations are not
important." She came down to the second lowest step, but still stood
over the trembling young wife in her attitude of authority. "This is
all nerves, my dear--and excitement. The book you were reading--oh,
yes, it's a very good book, and full of the wisdom of the ages and all
that!--But it reacted on you in such a way that you've conjured up
these frightening things--"

"But I'm not frightened at all," Molly burst out. "That's the wonderful
part of it. If he hadn't come and told me beforehand, and made me feel
how happy he is, I should have been. But I'm not now; and I don't want
you to be. That's why I came."

"Yes; no doubt," Miss Lester agreed, coldly. "But now that you've come,
you'll do well to run home again and try to calm yourself and be
sensible. If my brother has been"--she stumbled at the word, but forced
herself to utter it--"if my brother has been--k-killed--we shall hear
of it from the proper authorities."

"Cora, that's not fair," Ethelind cried, indignantly. "Molly's come
over here to warn us, and even if she's wrong--" She broke off to make
another sort of appeal. "Father, can't you say something? Here's your
son's wife--the mother of the child he's expecting--"

But Mrs. Lester rose, still clinging to her chair.

"If this is a ruse for getting into our house and making our
acquaintance whether we would or no--"

"Mother, how can you?" came from Ethelind. "You deserve that your son
should never be given back to you. Father, can't you say anything at
all?"

But what the father did say was uttered brokenly. "I don't--I don't
believe it. He's not--not dead. She's come here to get us to own
her--to take her in--"

"And if we don't," Ethelind cried, "and she goes away again, I'll go
with her. Whether he comes back or not I shall be there."

It was extraordinary to Lester that he could look on at this scene
without conscious pain. It Was exactly as if he had watched them
rehearsing a play in which emotions were simulated but not experienced.
When the rehearsal was over they would become their actual selves
again. Beyond hardness, and suffering, and misunderstanding he could
see the end.

He could see the end as Molly cast an imploring look around her and
prepared to depart. Ethelind, who was already in street clothes, gave
all the signs of going with her. Over them both Lester threw the
protection of his love, which apparently gave them nerve. Neither of
them flinched; but it was in Molly that the real valor shone. She was
both quiet and firm as she took her few steps toward the door, Ethelind
clinging to her arm.

But at the door there was a ring, and on the porch outside there stood
a boy with a telegram in his hand.

"Charles E. Lester live here?"

Ethelind seized the envelope, while with feverish fingers Cora signed
for it. The father took it in his hands and held it helplessly.

The mother uttered one great cry.

"Open it!"

He opened it--read it--and let it flutter to the floor.

Cora snatched it up; but she, too, dropped it after a hurried glance.
She stood as if turned to stone.

The mother took it--sat down deliberately--read it carefully--read it
again--read it again--and folding it, slipped it into the bosom of her
gown.

Molly and Ethelind had not waited. They had not needed to hear the
news. Rather they were eager to run away. It was Molly, however, who
pressed onward, dragging the other with her--out to the porch--down the
steps--on to the driveway.

The three in the hallway remained as if paralyzed, without tears,
without words, seemingly without thoughts.

The mother came first to the possession of her faculties.

"Stop her," she cried, in a deep, tragic voice a little like a man's.
"Stop her. Bring her back." She struggled to her feet, hurrying toward
the door. "She's my dead son's wife. He spoke to her. He's not dead.
He's alive. If he wasn't alive he couldn't have come to her. Stop her.
Call her back. She's my child. Nothing shall take her away from me."

Lester saw the two girls pause, while Ethelind whispered:

"Go back. She's calling you."

Slowly Molly turned round. Slowly she mounted the steps of the veranda.
The vision faded out as Lester saw his mother's arms go round the neck
of his young wife and draw her close.

But it faded out in radiance. It also faded out in confidence. He was
not only at peace, he was at peace with the certainty of a vast
readjustment.

It was readjustment in himself first of all--the adaptation of the
"fan" at ball-games, and of the broker of The Street, to the eternities
of which he could just discern the beginnings.

Then it would be the readjustment of his family--to each other--to
Molly--to their memory of him. A new kind of tenderness would settle
down among them with a new and farther outlook.

It would be the readjustment, too, of his country--to a new
world-position--to a wider world responsibility. In the ending of
enmities it would play a ruling part.

And it would be the readjustment of nations to nations, and of men to
men. The blind hatreds that had hurled him against the Bavarian and the
Bavarian against him would cease. Their folly would be recognized. Of
the blood that had been shed, and was still to be shed, this would be
the recompense. It would be shed to its highest purpose when it should
be shown that it had been shed in vain.

Soon those who were in the turmoil that mortals create for one another
would have come west like himself--into the sunset, into the glory,
into the great repose. They would come into the great activities, too,
where work never ceases, and strength never tires, and love never
wanes. And as he turned into the radiance he felt content to wait
patiently for that.


THE END





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