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The Angel at the Grave

The House stood a few yards back from the elm-shaded village street,
in that semi-publicity sometimes cited as a democratic protest against
old-world standards of domestic exclusiveness. This candid exposure to
the public eye is more probably a result of the gregariousness which, in
the New England bosom, oddly coexists with a shrinking from direct social
contact; most of the inmates of such houses preferring that furtive
intercourse which is the result of observations through shuttered windows
and a categorical acquaintance with the neighboring clothes-lines. The
House, however, faced its public with a difference. For sixty years it had
written itself with a capital letter, had self-consciously squared itself
in the eye of an admiring nation. The most searching inroads of village
intimacy hardly counted in a household that opened on the universe; and a
lady whose door-bell was at any moment liable to be rung by visitors from
London or Vienna was not likely to flutter up-stairs when she observed a
neighbor "stepping over."

The solitary inmate of the Anson House owed this induration of the social
texture to the most conspicuous accident in her annals: the fact that she
was the only granddaughter of the great Orestes Anson. She had been born,
as it were, into a museum, and cradled in a glass case with a label;
the first foundations of her consciousness being built on the rock of
her grandfather's celebrity. To a little girl who acquires her earliest
knowledge of literature through a _Reader_ embellished with fragments
of her ancestor's prose, that personage necessarily fills an heroic space
in the foreground of life. To communicate with one's past through the
impressive medium of print, to have, as it were, a footing in every library
in the country, and an acknowledged kinship with that world-diffused clan,
the descendants of the great, was to be pledged to a standard of manners
that amazingly simplified the lesser relations of life. The village street
on which Paulina Anson's youth looked out led to all the capitals of
Europe; and over the roads of intercommunication unseen caravans bore back
to the elm-shaded House the tribute of an admiring world.

Fate seemed to have taken a direct share in fitting Paulina for her part as
the custodian of this historic dwelling. It had long been secretly regarded
as a "visitation" by the great man's family that he had left no son and
that his daughters were not "intellectual." The ladies themselves were the
first to lament their deficiency, to own that nature had denied them the
gift of making the most of their opportunities. A profound veneration for
their parent and an unswerving faith in his doctrines had not amended their
congenital incapacity to understand what he had written. Laura, who had her
moments of mute rebellion against destiny, had sometimes thought how much
easier it would have been if their progenitor had been a poet; for she
could recite, with feeling, portions of _The Culprit Fay_ and of the
poems of Mrs. Hemans; and Phoebe, who was more conspicuous for memory than
imagination, kept an album filled with "selections." But the great man
was a philosopher; and to both daughters respiration was difficult on the
cloudy heights of metaphysic. The situation would have been intolerable
but for the fact that, while Phoebe and Laura were still at school,
their father's fame had passed from the open ground of conjecture to the
chill privacy of certitude. Dr. Anson had in fact achieved one of those
anticipated immortalities not uncommon at a time when people were apt to
base their literary judgments on their emotions, and when to affect plain
food and despise England went a long way toward establishing a man's
intellectual pre-eminence. Thus, when the daughters were called on to
strike a filial attitude about their parent's pedestal, there was little
to do but to pose gracefully and point upward; and there are spines to
which the immobility of worship is not a strain. A legend had by this time
crystallized about the great Orestes, and it was of more immediate interest
to the public to hear what brand of tea he drank, and whether he took off
his boots in the hall, than to rouse the drowsy echo of his dialectic. A
great man never draws so near his public as when it has become unnecessary
to read his books and is still interesting to know what he eats for
breakfast.

As recorders of their parent's domestic habits, as pious scavengers of his
waste-paper basket, the Misses Anson were unexcelled. They always had an
interesting anecdote to impart to the literary pilgrim, and the tact with
which, in later years, they intervened between the public and the growing
inaccessibility of its idol, sent away many an enthusiast satisfied to have
touched the veil before the sanctuary. Still it was felt, especially by old
Mrs. Anson, who survived her husband for some years, that Phoebe and Laura
were not worthy of their privileges. There had been a third daughter so
unworthy of hers that she had married a distant cousin, who had taken her
to live in a new Western community where the _Works of Orestes Anson_
had not yet become a part of the civic consciousness; but of this daughter
little was said, and she was tacitly understood to be excluded from the
family heritage of fame. In time, however, it appeared that the traditional
penny with which she had been cut off had been invested to unexpected
advantage; and the interest on it, when she died, returned to the Anson
House in the shape of a granddaughter who was at once felt to be what Mrs.
Anson called a "compensation." It was Mrs. Anson's firm belief that the
remotest operations of nature were governed by the centripetal force of her
husband's greatness and that Paulina's exceptional intelligence could be
explained only on the ground that she was designed to act as the guardian
of the family temple.

The House, by the time Paulina came to live in it, had already acquired
the publicity of a place of worship; not the perfumed chapel of a romantic
idolatry but the cold clean empty meeting-house of ethical enthusiasms. The
ladies lived on its outskirts, as it were, in cells that left the central
fane undisturbed. The very position of the furniture had come to have a
ritual significance: the sparse ornaments were the offerings of kindred
intellects, the steel engravings by Raphael Morghen marked the Via Sacra
of a European tour, and the black-walnut desk with its bronze inkstand
modelled on the Pantheon was the altar of this bleak temple of thought.

To a child compact of enthusiasms, and accustomed to pasture them on the
scanty herbage of a new social soil, the atmosphere of the old house was
full of floating nourishment. In the compressed perspective of Paulina's
outlook it stood for a monument of ruined civilizations, and its white
portico opened on legendary distances. Its very aspect was impressive
to eyes that had first surveyed life from the jig-saw "residence" of a
raw-edged Western town. The high-ceilinged rooms, with their panelled
walls, their polished mahogany, their portraits of triple-stocked ancestors
and of ringleted "females" in crayon, furnished the child with the historic
scenery against which a young imagination constructs its vision of the
past. To other eyes the cold spotless thinly-furnished interior might have
suggested the shuttered mind of a maiden-lady who associates fresh air and
sunlight with dust and discoloration; but it is the eye which supplies the
coloring-matter, and Paulina's brimmed with the richest hues.

Nevertheless, the House did not immediately dominate her. She had her
confused out-reachings toward other centres of sensation, her vague
intuition of a heliocentric system; but the attraction of habit, the steady
pressure of example, gradually fixed her roving allegiance and she bent her
neck to the yoke. Vanity had a share in her subjugation; for it had early
been discovered that she was the only person in the family who could read
her grandfather's works. The fact that she had perused them with delight at
an age when (even presupposing a metaphysical bias) it was impossible for
her to understand them, seemed to her aunts and grandmother sure evidence
of predestination. Paulina was to be the interpreter of the oracle, and the
philosophic fumes so vertiginous to meaner minds would throw her into the
needed condition of clairvoyance. Nothing could have been more genuine than
the emotion on which this theory was based. Paulina, in fact, delighted in
her grandfather's writings. His sonorous periods, his mystic vocabulary,
his bold flights into the rarefied air of the abstract, were thrilling to
a fancy unhampered by the need of definitions. This purely verbal pleasure
was supplemented later by the excitement of gathering up crumbs of meaning
from the rhetorical board. What could have been more stimulating than
to construct the theory of a girlish world out of the fragments of this
Titanic cosmogony? Before Paulina's opinions had reached the stage when
ossification sets in their form was fatally predetermined.

The fact that Dr. Anson had died and that his apotheosis had taken
place before his young priestess's induction to the temple, made her
ministrations easier and more inspiring. There were no little personal
traits--such as the great man's manner of helping himself to salt, or the
guttural cluck that started the wheels of speech--to distract the eye
of young veneration from the central fact of his divinity. A man whom
one knows only through a crayon portrait and a dozen yellowing, tomes on
free-will and intuition is at least secure from the belittling effects of
intimacy.

Paulina thus grew up in a world readjusted to the fact of her grandfather's
greatness; and as each organism draws from its surroundings the kind of
nourishment most needful to its growth, so from this somewhat colorless
conception she absorbed warmth, brightness and variety. Paulina was the
type of woman who transmutes thought into sensation and nurses a theory in
her bosom like a child.

In due course Mrs. Anson "passed away"--no one died in the Anson
vocabulary--and Paulina became more than ever the foremost figure of the
commemorative group. Laura and Phoebe, content to leave their father's
glory in more competent hands, placidly lapsed into needlework and fiction,
and their niece stepped into immediate prominence as the chief "authority"
on the great man. Historians who were "getting up" the period wrote to
consult her and to borrow documents; ladies with inexplicable yearnings
begged for an interpretation of phrases which had "influenced" them, but
which they had not quite understood; critics applied to her to verify some
doubtful citation or to decide some disputed point in chronology; and the
great tide of thought and investigation kept up a continuous murmur on the
quiet shores of her life.

An explorer of another kind disembarked there one day in the shape
of a young man to whom Paulina was primarily a kissable girl, with an
after-thought in the shape of a grandfather. From the outset it had been
impossible to fix Hewlett Winsloe's attention on Dr. Anson. The young man
behaved with the innocent profanity of infants sporting on a tomb. His
excuse was that he came from New York, a Cimmerian outskirt which survived
in Paulina's geography only because Dr. Anson had gone there once or twice
to lecture. The curious thing was that she should have thought it worth
while to find excuses for young Winsloe. The fact that she did so had not
escaped the attention of the village; but people, after a gasp of awe, said
it was the most natural thing in the world that a girl like Paulina Anson
should think of marrying. It would certainly seem a little odd to see a
man in the House, but young Winsloe would of course understand that the
Doctor's books were not to be disturbed, and that he must go down to the
orchard to smoke--. The village had barely framed this _modus vivendi_
when it was convulsed by the announcement that young Winsloe declined to
live in the House on any terms. Hang going down to the orchard to smoke!
He meant to take his wife to New York. The village drew its breath and
watched.

Did Persephone, snatched from the warm fields of Enna, peer
half-consentingly down the abyss that opened at her feet? Paulina, it must
be owned, hung a moment over the black gulf of temptation. She would have
found it easy to cope with a deliberate disregard of her grandfather's
rights; but young Winsloe's unconsciousness of that shadowy claim was as
much a natural function as the falling of leaves on a grave. His love was
an embodiment of the perpetual renewal which to some tender spirits seems a
crueller process than decay.

On women of Paulina's mould this piety toward implicit demands, toward
the ghosts of dead duties walking unappeased among usurping passions,
has a stronger hold than any tangible bond. People said that she gave up
young Winsloe because her aunts disapproved of her leaving them; but such
disapproval as reached her was an emanation from the walls of the House,
from the bare desk, the faded portraits, the dozen yellowing tomes that no
hand but hers ever lifted from the shelf.


II

After that the House possessed her. As if conscious of its victory, it
imposed a conqueror's claims. It had once been suggested that she should
write a life of her grandfather, and the task from which she had shrunk as
from a too-oppressive privilege now shaped itself into a justification of
her course. In a burst of filial pantheism she tried to lose herself in the
vast ancestral consciousness. Her one refuge from scepticism was a blind
faith in the magnitude and the endurance of the idea to which she had
sacrificed her life, and with a passionate instinct of self-preservation
she labored to fortify her position.

The preparations for the _Life_ led her through by-ways that the most
scrupulous of the previous biographers had left unexplored. She accumulated
her material with a blind animal patience unconscious of fortuitous risks.
The years stretched before her like some vast blank page spread out to
receive the record of her toil; and she had a mystic conviction that she
would not die till her work was accomplished.

The aunts, sustained by no such high purpose, withdrew in turn to their
respective divisions of the Anson "plot," and Paulina remained alone with
her task. She was forty when the book was completed. She had travelled
little in her life, and it had become more and more difficult to her to
leave the House even for a day; but the dread of entrusting her document to
a strange hand made her decide to carry it herself to the publisher. On the
way to Boston she had a sudden vision of the loneliness to which this last
parting condemned her. All her youth, all her dreams, all her renunciations
lay in that neat bundle on her knee. It was not so much her grandfather's
life as her own that she had written; and the knowledge that it would come
back to her in all the glorification of print was of no more help than, to
a mother's grief, the assurance that the lad she must part with will return
with epaulets.

She had naturally addressed herself to the firm which had published her
grandfather's works. Its founder, a personal friend of the philosopher's,
had survived the Olympian group of which he had been a subordinate member,
long enough to bestow his octogenarian approval on Paulina's pious
undertaking. But he had died soon afterward; and Miss Anson found herself
confronted by his grandson, a person with a brisk commercial view of his
trade, who was said to have put "new blood" into the firm.

This gentleman listened attentively, fingering her manuscript as though
literature were a tactile substance; then, with a confidential twist of his
revolving chair, he emitted the verdict: "We ought to have had this ten
years sooner."

Miss Anson took the words as an allusion to the repressed avidity of her
readers. "It has been a long time for the public to wait," she solemnly
assented.

The publisher smiled. "They haven't waited," he said.

She looked at him strangely. "Haven't waited?"

"No--they've gone off; taken another train. Literature's like a big
railway-station now, you know: there's a train starting every minute.
People are not going to hang round the waiting-room. If they can't get
to a place when they want to they go somewhere else."

The application of this parable cost Miss Anson several minutes of
throbbing silence. At length she said: "Then I am to understand that the
public is no longer interested in--in my grandfather?" She felt as though
heaven must blast the lips that risked such a conjecture.

"Well, it's this way. He's a name still, of course. People don't exactly
want to be caught not knowing who he is; but they don't want to spend
two dollars finding out, when they can look him up for nothing in any
biographical dictionary."

Miss Anson's world reeled. She felt herself adrift among mysterious forces,
and no more thought of prolonging the discussion than of opposing an
earthquake with argument. She went home carrying the manuscript like a
wounded thing. On the return journey she found herself travelling straight
toward a fact that had lurked for months in the background of her life,
and that now seemed to await her on the very threshold: the fact that
fewer visitors came to the House. She owned to herself that for the last
four or five years the number had steadily diminished. Engrossed in her
work, she had noted the change only to feel thankful that she had fewer
interruptions. There had been a time when, at the travelling season, the
bell rang continuously, and the ladies of the House lived in a chronic
state of "best silks" and expectancy. It would have been impossible then to
carry on any consecutive work; and she now saw that the silence which had
gathered round her task had been the hush of death.

Not of _his_ death! The very walls cried out against the implication.
It was the world's enthusiasm, the world's faith, the world's loyalty that
had died. A corrupt generation that had turned aside to worship the brazen
serpent. Her heart yearned with a prophetic passion over the lost sheep
straying in the wilderness. But all great glories had their interlunar
period; and in due time her grandfather would once more flash full-orbed
upon a darkling world.

The few friends to whom she confided her adventure reminded her with
tender indignation that there were other publishers less subject to the
fluctuations of the market; but much as she had braved for her grandfather
she could not again brave that particular probation. She found herself,
in fact, incapable of any immediate effort. She had lost her way in a
labyrinth of conjecture where her worst dread was that she might put her
hand upon the clue.

She locked up the manuscript and sat down to wait. If a pilgrim had come
just then the priestess would have fallen on his neck; but she continued
to celebrate her rites alone. It was a double solitude; for she had always
thought a great deal more of the people who came to see the House than of
the people who came to see her. She fancied that the neighbors kept a keen
eye on the path to the House; and there were days when the figure of a
stranger strolling past the gate seemed to focus upon her the scorching
sympathies of the village. For a time she thought of travelling; of going
to Europe, or even to Boston; but to leave the House now would have
seemed like deserting her post. Gradually her scattered energies centred
themselves in the fierce resolve to understand what had happened. She was
not the woman to live long in an unmapped country or to accept as final
her private interpretation of phenomena. Like a traveller in unfamiliar
regions she began to store for future guidance the minutest natural signs.
Unflinchingly she noted the accumulating symptoms of indifference that
marked her grandfather's descent toward posterity. She passed from the
heights on which he had been grouped with the sages of his day to the lower
level where he had come to be "the friend of Emerson," "the correspondent
of Hawthorne," or (later still) "the Dr. Anson" mentioned in their letters.
The change had taken place as slowly and imperceptibly as a natural
process. She could not say that any ruthless hand had stripped the leaves
from the tree: it was simply that, among the evergreen glories of his
group, her grandfather's had proved deciduous.

She had still to ask herself why. If the decay had been a natural process,
was it not the very pledge of renewal? It was easier to find such arguments
than to be convinced by them. Again and again she tried to drug her
solicitude with analogies; but at last she saw that such expedients were
but the expression of a growing incredulity. The best way of proving her
faith in her grandfather was not to be afraid of his critics. She had no
notion where these shadowy antagonists lurked; for she had never heard of
the great man's doctrine being directly combated. Oblique assaults there
must have been, however, Parthian shots at the giant that none dared face;
and she thirsted to close with such assailants. The difficulty was to
find them. She began by re-reading the _Works_; thence she passed to
the writers of the same school, those whose rhetoric bloomed perennial
in _First Readers_ from which her grandfather's prose had long
since faded. Amid that clamor of far-off enthusiasms she detected no
controversial note. The little knot of Olympians held their views in common
with an early-Christian promiscuity. They were continually proclaiming
their admiration for each other, the public joining as chorus in this
guileless antiphon of praise; and she discovered no traitor in their midst.

What then had happened? Was it simply that the main current of thought
had set another way? Then why did the others survive? Why were they still
marked down as tributaries to the philosophic stream? This question carried
her still farther afield, and she pressed on with the passion of a champion
whose reluctance to know the worst might be construed into a doubt of his
cause. At length--slowly but inevitably--an explanation shaped itself.
Death had overtaken the doctrines about which her grandfather had draped
his cloudy rhetoric. They had disintegrated and been re-absorbed, adding
their little pile to the dust drifted about the mute lips of the Sphinx.
The great man's contemporaries had survived not by reason of what they
taught, but of what they were; and he, who had been the mere mask through
which they mouthed their lesson, the instrument on which their tune was
played, lay buried deep among the obsolete tools of thought.

The discovery came to Paulina suddenly. She looked up one evening from her
reading and it stood before her like a ghost. It had entered her life with
stealthy steps, creeping close before she was aware of it. She sat in the
library, among the carefully-tended books and portraits; and it seemed to
her that she had been walled alive into a tomb hung with the effigies of
dead ideas. She felt a desperate longing to escape into the outer air,
where people toiled and loved, and living sympathies went hand in hand. It
was the sense of wasted labor that oppressed her; of two lives consumed in
that ruthless process that uses generations of effort to build a single
cell. There was a dreary parallel between her grandfather's fruitless
toil and her own unprofitable sacrifice. Each in turn had kept vigil by a
corpse.


III

The bell rang--she remembered it afterward--with a loud thrilling note. It
was what they used to call the "visitor's ring"; not the tentative tinkle
of a neighbor dropping in to borrow a sauce-pan or discuss parochial
incidents, but a decisive summons from the outer world.

Miss Anson put down her knitting and listened. She sat up-stairs now,
making her rheumatism an excuse for avoiding the rooms below. Her interests
had insensibly adjusted themselves to the perspective of her neighbors'
lives, and she wondered--as the bell re-echoed--if it could mean that Mrs.
Heminway's baby had come. Conjecture had time to ripen into certainty, and
she was limping toward the closet where her cloak and bonnet hung, when her
little maid fluttered in with the announcement: "A gentleman to see the
house."

"The _House_?"

"Yes, m'm. I don't know what he means," faltered the messenger, whose
memory did not embrace the period when such announcements were a daily part
of the domestic routine.

Miss Anson glanced at the proffered card. The name it bore--_Mr. George
Corby_--was unknown to her, but the blood rose to her languid cheek.
"Hand me my Mechlin cap, Katy," she said, trembling a little, as she laid
aside her walking stick. She put her cap on before the mirror, with rapid
unsteady touches. "Did you draw up the library blinds?" she breathlessly
asked.

She had gradually built up a wall of commonplace between herself and her
illusions, but at the first summons of the past filial passion swept away
the frail barriers of expediency.

She walked down-stairs so hurriedly that her stick clicked like a girlish
heel; but in the hall she paused, wondering nervously if Katy had put a
match to the fire. The autumn air was cold and she had the reproachful
vision of a visitor with elderly ailments shivering by her inhospitable
hearth. She thought instinctively of the stranger as a survivor of the days
when such a visit was a part of the young enthusiast's itinerary.

The fire was unlit and the room forbiddingly cold; but the figure which, as
Miss Anson entered, turned from a lingering scrutiny of the book-shelves,
was that of a fresh-eyed sanguine youth clearly independent of any
artificial caloric. She stood still a moment, feeling herself the victim of
some anterior impression that made this robust presence an insubstantial
thing; but the young man advanced with an air of genial assurance which
rendered him at once more real and more reminiscent.

"Why this, you know," he exclaimed, "is simply immense!"

The words, which did not immediately present themselves as slang to Miss
Anson's unaccustomed ear, echoed with an odd familiarity through the
academic silence.

"The room, you know, I mean," he explained with a comprehensive gesture.
"These jolly portraits, and the books--that's the old gentleman himself
over the mantelpiece, I suppose?--and the elms outside, and--and the whole
business. I do like a congruous background--don't you?"

His hostess was silent. No one but Hewlett Winsloe had ever spoken of her
grandfather as "the old gentleman."

"It's a hundred times better than I could have hoped," her visitor
continued, with a cheerful disregard of her silence. "The seclusion, the
remoteness, the philosophic atmosphere--there's so little of that kind
of flavor left! I should have simply hated to find that he lived over
a grocery, you know.--I had the deuce of a time finding out where he
_did_ live," he began again, after another glance of parenthetical
enjoyment. "But finally I got on the trail through some old book on Brook
Farm. I was bound I'd get the environment right before I did my article."

Miss Anson, by this time, had recovered sufficient self-possession to seat
herself and assign a chair to her visitor.

"Do I understand," she asked slowly, following his rapid eye about the
room, "that you intend to write an article about my grandfather?"

"That's what I'm here for," Mr. Corby genially responded; "that is, if
you're willing to help me; for I can't get on without your help," he added
with a confident smile.

There was another pause, during which Miss Anson noticed a fleck of dust on
the faded leather of the writing-table and a fresh spot of discoloration in
the right-hand upper corner of Raphael Morghen's "Parnassus."

"Then you believe in him?" she said, looking up. She could not tell what
had prompted her; the words rushed out irresistibly.

"Believe in him?" Corby cried, springing to his feet. "Believe in Orestes
Anson? Why, I believe he's simply the greatest--the most stupendous--the
most phenomenal figure we've got!"

The color rose to Miss Anson's brow. Her heart was beating passionately.
She kept her eyes fixed on the young man's face, as though it might vanish
if she looked away.

"You--you mean to say this in your article?" she asked.

"Say it? Why, the facts will say it," he exulted. "The baldest kind of a
statement would make it clear. When a man is as big as that he doesn't need
a pedestal!"

Miss Anson sighed. "People used to say that when I was young," she
murmured. "But now--"

Her visitor stared. "When you were young? But how did they know--when the
thing hung fire as it did? When the whole edition was thrown back on his
hands?"

"The whole edition--what edition?" It was Miss Anson's turn to stare.

"Why, of his pamphlet--_the_ pamphlet--the one thing that counts, that
survives, that makes him what he is! For heaven's sake," he tragically
adjured her, "don't tell me there isn't a copy of it left!"

Miss Anson was trembling slightly. "I don't think I understand what you
mean," she faltered, less bewildered by his vehemence than by the strange
sense of coming on an unexplored region in the very heart of her dominion.

"Why, his account of the _amphioxus_, of course! You can't mean that
his family didn't know about it--that _you_ don't know about it? I came
across it by the merest accident myself, in a letter of vindication that
he wrote in 1830 to an old scientific paper; but I understood there were
journals--early journals; there must be references to it somewhere in the
'twenties. He must have been at least ten or twelve years ahead of Yarrell;
and he saw the whole significance of it, too--he saw where it led to. As
I understand it, he actually anticipated in his pamphlet Saint Hilaire's
theory of the universal type, and supported the hypothesis by describing
the notochord of the _amphioxus_ as a cartilaginous vertebral column.
The specialists of the day jeered at him, of course, as the specialists in
Goethe's time jeered at the plant-metamorphosis. As far as I can make out,
the anatomists and zoologists were down on Dr. Anson to a man; that was why
his cowardly publishers went back on their bargain. But the pamphlet must
be here somewhere--he writes as though, in his first disappointment, he had
destroyed the whole edition; but surely there must be at least one copy
left?"

His scientific jargon was as bewildering as his slang; and there were even
moments in his discourse when Miss Anson ceased to distinguish between
them; but the suspense with which he continued to gaze on her acted as a
challenge to her scattered thoughts.

"The _amphioxus_," she murmured, half-rising. "It's an animal, isn't
it--a fish? Yes, I think I remember." She sank back with the inward look of
one who retraces some lost line of association.

Gradually the distance cleared, the details started into life. In her
researches for the biography she had patiently followed every ramification
of her subject, and one of these overgrown paths now led her back to
the episode in question. The great Orestes's title of "Doctor" had in
fact not been merely the spontaneous tribute of a national admiration;
he had actually studied medicine in his youth, and his diaries, as his
granddaughter now recalled, showed that he had passed through a brief phase
of anatomical ardor before his attention was diverted to super-sensual
problems. It had indeed seemed to Paulina, as she scanned those early
pages, that they revealed a spontaneity, a freshness of feeling somehow
absent from his later lucubrations--as though this one emotion had reached
him directly, the others through some intervening medium. In the excess of
her commemorative zeal she had even struggled through the unintelligible
pamphlet to which a few lines in the journal had bitterly directed her. But
the subject and the phraseology were alien to her and unconnected with her
conception of the great man's genius; and after a hurried perusal she had
averted her thoughts from the episode as from a revelation of failure.
At length she rose a little unsteadily, supporting herself against the
writing-table. She looked hesitatingly about the room; then she drew a key
from her old-fashioned reticule and unlocked a drawer beneath one of the
book-cases. Young Corby watched her breathlessly. With a tremulous hand she
turned over the dusty documents that seemed to fill the drawer. "Is this
it?" she said, holding out a thin discolored volume.

He seized it with a gasp. "Oh, by George," he said, dropping into the
nearest chair.

She stood observing him strangely as his eye devoured the mouldy pages.

"Is this the only copy left?" he asked at length, looking up for a moment
as a thirsty man lifts his head from his glass.

"I think it must be. I found it long ago, among some old papers that my
aunts were burning up after my grandmother's death. They said it was of no
use--that he'd always meant to destroy the whole edition and that I ought
to respect his wishes. But it was something he had written; to burn it was
like shutting the door against his voice--against something he had once
wished to say, and that nobody had listened to. I wanted him to feel that I
was always here, ready to listen, even when others hadn't thought it worth
while; and so I kept the pamphlet, meaning to carry out his wish and
destroy it before my death."

Her visitor gave a groan of retrospective anguish. "And but for me--but for
to-day--you would have?"

"I should have thought it my duty."

"Oh, by George--by George," he repeated, subdued afresh by the inadequacy
of speech.

She continued to watch him in silence. At length he jumped up and
impulsively caught her by both hands.

"He's bigger and bigger!" he almost shouted. "He simply leads the field!
You'll help me go to the bottom of this, won't you? We must turn out all
the papers--letters, journals, memoranda. He must have made notes. He
must have left some record of what led up to this. We must leave nothing
unexplored. By Jove," he cried, looking up at her with his bright
convincing smile, "do you know you're the granddaughter of a Great Man?"

Her color flickered like a girl's. "Are you--sure of him?" she whispered,
as though putting him on his guard against a possible betrayal of trust.

"Sure! Sure! My dear lady--" he measured her again with his quick confident
glance. "Don't _you_ believe in him?"

She drew back with a confused murmur. "I--used to." She had left her
hands in his: their pressure seemed to send a warm current to her heart.
"It ruined my life!" she cried with sudden passion. He looked at her
perplexedly.

"I gave up everything," she went on wildly, "to keep him alive. I
sacrificed myself--others--I nursed his glory in my bosom and it died--and
left me--left me here alone." She paused and gathered her courage with a
gasp. "Don't make the same mistake!" she warned him.

He shook his head, still smiling. "No danger of that! You're not alone, my
dear lady. He's here with you--he's come back to you to-day. Don't you see
what's happened? Don't you see that it's your love that has kept him alive?
If you'd abandoned your post for an instant--let things pass into other
hands--if your wonderful tenderness hadn't perpetually kept guard--this
might have been--must have been--irretrievably lost." He laid his hand on
the pamphlet. "And then--then he _would_ have been dead!"

"Oh," she said, "don't tell me too suddenly!" And she turned away and sank
into a chair.

The young man stood watching her in an awed silence. For a long time she
sat motionless, with her face hidden, and he thought she must be weeping.

At length he said, almost shyly: "You'll let me come back, then? You'll
help me work this thing out?"

She rose calmly and held out her hand. "I'll help you," she declared.

"I'll come to-morrow, then. Can we get to work early?"

"As early as you please."

"At eight o'clock, then," he said briskly. "You'll have the papers ready?"

"I'll have everything ready." She added with a half-playful hesitancy: "And
the fire shall be lit for you."

He went out with his bright nod. She walked to the window and watched his
buoyant figure hastening down the elm-shaded street. When she turned back
into the empty room she looked as though youth had touched her on the lips.

Edith Wharton

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