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Chapter 2

The Eidolons of Brooks Alford


I should like to give the story of Alford’s experiences just as
Wanhope told it, sitting with us before the glowing hearth in the
Turkish room, one night after the other diners at our club had gone away
to digest their dinners at the theatre, or in their bachelor apartments
up-town, or on the late trains which they were taking north, south, and
west; or had hurried back to their offices to spend the time stolen from
rest in overwork for which their famished nerves would duly revenge
themselves. It was undoubtedly overwork which preceded Alford’s
experiences if it did not cause them, for he was pretty well broken from
it when he took himself off in the early summer, to put the pieces
together as best he could by the seaside. But this was a fact which
Wanhope was not obliged to note to us, and there were certain other
commonplaces of our knowledge of Alford which he could omit without
omitting anything essential to our understanding of the facts which he
dealt with so delicately, so electly, almost affectionately, coaxing
each point into the fittest light, and then lifting his phrase from it,
and letting it stand alone in our consciousness. I remember particularly
how he touched upon the love-affair which was supposed to have so much
to do with Alford’s break-up, and how he dismissed it to its
proper place in the story. As he talked on, with scarcely an
interruption either from the eager credulity of Rulledge or the doubt of
Minver, I heard with a sensuous comfort—I can use no other
word—the far-off click of the dishes in the club kitchen, putting
away till next day, with the musical murmur of a smitten glass or the
jingle of a dropped spoon. But if I should try to render his words, I
should spoil their impression in the vain attempt, and I feel that it is
best to give the story as best I can in words of my own, so far from
responsive to the requisitions of the occult incident.

The first intimation Alford had of the strange effect, which from
first to last was rather an obsession than a possession of his, was
after a morning of idle satisfaction spent in watching the target
practice from the fort in the neighborhood of the little fishing-village
where he was spending the summer. The target was two or three miles out
in the open water beyond the harbor, and he found his pleasure in
watching the smoke of the gun for that discrete interval before the
report reached him, and then for that somewhat longer interval before he
saw the magnificent splash of the shot which, as it plunged into the
sea, sent a fan-shaped fountain thirty or forty feet into the air. He
did not know and he did not care whether the target was ever hit or not.
That fact was no part of his concern. His affair was to watch the burst
of smoke from the fort and then to watch the upward gush of water,
almost as light and vaporous to the eye, where the ball struck. He did
not miss one of the shots fired during the forenoon, and when he met the
other people who sat down with him at the midday dinner in the hotel,
his talk with them was naturally of the morning’s practice. They
one and all declared it a great nuisance, and said that it had shattered
their nerves terribly, which was not perhaps so strange, since they were
all women. But when they asked him in his quality of nervous wreck
whether he had not suffered from the prolonged and repeated explosions,
too, he found himself able to say no, that he had enjoyed every moment
of the firing. He added that he did not believe he had even noticed the
noise after the first shot, he was so wholly taken with the beauty of
the fountain-burst from the sea which followed; and as he spoke the
fan-like spray rose and expanded itself before his eyes, quite blotting
out the visage of a young widow across the table. In his swift
recognition of the fact and his reflection upon it, he realized that the
effect was quite as if he had been looking at some intense light, almost
as if he had been looking at the sun, and that the illusion which had
blotted out the agreeable reality opposite was of the quality of those
flying shapes which repeat themselves here, there, and everywhere that
one looks, after lifting the gaze from a dazzling object. When his
consciousness had duly registered this perception, there instantly
followed a recognition of the fact that the eidolon now filling his
vision was not the effect of the dazzled eyes, but of a mental process,
of thinking how the thing which it reported had looked.

By the time Alford had co-ordinated this reflection with the other,
the eidolon had faded from the lady’s face, which again presented
itself in uninterrupted loveliness with the added attraction of a
distinct pout.

“Well, Mr. Alford!” she bantered him.

“Oh, I beg your pardon! I was thinking—”

“Not of what I was saying,” she broke in, laughingly,
forgivingly.

“No, I certainly wasn’t,” he assented, with such a
sense of approaching creepiness in his experience that when she
challenged him to say what he was thinking of, he could not, or
would not; she professed to believe that he would not.

In the joking that followed he soon lost the sense of approaching
creepiness, and began to be proud of what had happened to him as out of
the ordinary, as a species of psychological ecstasy almost of spiritual
value. From time to time he tried, by thinking of the splash and upward
gush from the cannon-shot’s plunge in the sea, to recall the
vision, but it would not come again, and at the end of an afternoon
somewhat distraughtly spent he decided to put the matter away, as one of
the odd things of no significance which happen in life and must be dealt
with as mysteries none the less trifling because they are
inexplicable.

“Well, you’ve got over it?” the widow joked him as
he drew up towards her, smiling from her rocker on the veranda after
supper. At first, all the women in the hotel had petted him; but with
their own cares and ailments to reclaim them they let the invalid fall
to the peculiar charge of the childless widow who had nothing else to
do, and was so well and strong that she could look after the invalid
Professor of Archaeology (at the Champlain University) without the
fatigues they must feel.

“Yes, I’ve got over it,” he said.

“And what was it?” she boldly pursued.

He was about to say, and then he could not.

“You won’t tell?”

“Not yet,” he answered. He added, after a moment,
“I don’t believe I can.”

“Because it’s confidential?”

“No; not exactly that. Because it’s
impossible.”

“Oh, that’s simple enough. I understand exactly what you
mean. Well, if ever it becomes less difficult, remember that I should
always like to know. It seemed a little—personal.”

“How in the world?”

“Well, when one is stared at in that way—”

“Did I stare?”

“Don’t you always stare? But in this case you
stared as if there was something wrong with my hair.”

“There wasn’t,” Alford protested, simple-heartedly.
Then he recollected his sophistication to say: “Unless its being
of that particular shade between brown and red was wrong.”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Alford! After that I must believe
you.”

They talked on the veranda till the night fell, and then they came in
among the lamps, in the parlor, and she sat down with a certain
provisionality, putting herself sideways on a light chair by a window,
and as she chatted and laughed with one cheek towards him she now and
then beat the back of her chair with her open hand. The other people
were reading or severely playing cards, and they, too, kept their tones
down to a respectful level, while she lingered, and when she rose and
said good-night he went out and took some turns on the veranda before
going up to bed. She was certainly, he realized, a very pretty woman,
and very graceful and very amusing, and though she probably knew all
about it, she was the franker and honester for her knowledge.

He had arrived at this conclusion just as he turned the switch of the
electric light inside his door, and in the first flash of the carbon
film he saw her sitting beside the window in such a chair as she had
taken and in the very pose which she had kept in the parlor. Her
half-averted face was lit as from laughing, and she had her hand lifted
as if to beat the back of her chair.

“Good Heavens, Mrs. Yarrow!” he said, in a sort of
whispered shout, while he mechanically closed the door behind him as if
to keep the fact to himself. “What in the world are you doing
here?”

Then she was not there. Nothing was there; not even a chair beside
the window.

Alford dropped weakly into the only chair in the room, which stood
next the door by the head of his bed, and abandoned himself a helpless
prey to the logic of the events.

It was at this point, which I have been able to give in
Wanhope’s exact words, that, in the ensuing pause, Rulledge asked,
as if he thought some detail might be denied him: “And what was
the logic of the events?”

Minver gave a fleering laugh. “Don’t be premature,
Rulledge. If you have the logic now, you will spoil everything. You
can’t have the moral until you’ve had the whole story. Go
on, Wanhope. You’re so much more interesting than usual that I
won’t ask how you got hold of all these compromising
minutiae.”

“Of course,” Wanhope returned, “they’re not
for the general ear. I go rather further, for the sake of the curious
fact, than I should be warranted in doing if I did not know my audience
so well.”

We joined in a murmur of gratification, and he went on to say that
Alford’s first coherent thought was that he was dreaming one of
those unwarranted dreams in which we make our acquaintance privy to all
sorts of strange incidents. Then he knew that he was not dreaming, and
that his eye had merely externated a mental vision, as in the case of
the cannon-shot splash of which he had seen the phantom as soon as it
was mentioned. He remembered afterwards asking himself in a sort of
terror how far it was going to go with him; how far his thought was
going to report itself objectively hereafter, and what were the
reasonable implications of his abnormal experiences. He did not know
just how long he sat by his bedside trying to think, only to have his
conclusions whir away like a flock of startled birds when he approached
them. He went to bed because he was exhausted rather than because he was
sleepy, but he could not recall a moment of wakefulness after his head
touched the pillow.

He woke surprisingly refreshed, but at the belated breakfast where he
found Mrs. Yarrow still lingering he thought her looking not well. She
confessed, listlessly, that she had not rested well. She was not sure,
she said, whether the sea air agreed with her; she might try the
mountains a little later. She was not inclined to talk, and that day he
scarcely spoke with her except in commonplaces at the table. They had no
return to the little mystery they had mocked together the day
before.

More days passed, and Alford had no recurrence of his visions. His
acquaintance with Mrs. Yarrow made no further advance; there was no one
else in the hotel who interested him, and he bored himself. At the same
time his recovery seemed retarded; he lost tone, and after a fortnight
he ran up to talk himself over with his doctor in Boston. He rather
thought he would mention his eidolons, and ask if they were at all
related to the condition of his nerves. It was a keen disappointment,
but it ought not to have been a surprise, for him to find that his
doctor was off on his summer vacation. The caretaker who opened the door
to Alford named a young physician in the same block of Marlborough
Street who had his doctor’s practice for the summer, but Alford
had not the heart to go to this alternate.

He started down to his hotel on a late afternoon train that would
bring him to the station after dusk, and before he reached it the lamps
had been lighted in his car. Alford sat in a sparsely peopled smoker,
where he had found a place away from the crowd in the other coaches, and
looked out of the window into the reflected interior of his car, which
now and then thinned away and let him see the weeds and gravel of the
railroad banks, with the bushes that topped them and the woods that
backed them. The train at one point stopped rather suddenly and then
went on, for no reason that he ever cared to inquire; but as it slowly
moved forward again he was reminded of something he had seen one night
in going to New York just before the train drew into Springfield. It had
then made such another apparently reasonless stop; but before it resumed
its course Alford saw from his window a group of trainmen, and his own
Pullman conductor with his lantern on his arm, bending over the figure
of a man defined in his dark clothing against the snow of the bank where
he lay propped. His face was waxen white, and Alford noted how
particularly black the mustache looked traversing the pallid visage. He
never knew whether the man was killed or merely stunned; you learn
nothing with certainty of such things on trains; but now, as he thought
of the incident, its eidolon showed itself outside of his mind, and
followed him in every detail, even to a snowy stretch of the embankment,
until the increasing speed of the train seemed to sweep it back out of
sight.

Alford turned his eyes to the interior of the smoker, which, except
for two or three dozing commuters and a noisy euchre-party, had been
empty of everything but the fumes and stale odors of tobacco, and found
it swarming with visions, the eidolons of everything he remembered from
his past life. Whatever had once strongly impressed itself upon his
nerves was reported there again as instantly as he thought of it. It was
largely a whirling chaos, a kaleidoscopic jumble of facts; but from time
to time some more memorable and important experience visualized itself
alone. Such was the death-bed of the little sister whom he had been
wakened, a child, to see going to heaven, as they told him. Such was the
pathetic, foolish face of the girl whom long ago he had made believe he
cared for, and then had abruptly broken with: he saw again, with
heartache, her silly, tender amaze when he said he was going away. Such
was the look of mute astonishment, of gentle reproach, in the eyes of
the friend, now long dead, whom in a moment of insensate fury he had
struck on the mouth, and who put his hand to his bleeding lips as he
bent that gaze of wonder and bewilderment upon him. But it was not alone
the dreadful impressions that reported themselves. There were others, as
vivid, which came back in the original joyousness: the face of his
mother looking up at him from the crowd on a day of college triumph when
he was delivering the valedictory of his class; the collective gayety of
the whole table on a particularly delightful evening at his dining-club;
his own image in the glass as he caught sight of it on coming home
accepted by the woman who afterwards jilted him; the transport which
lighted up his father’s visage when he stepped ashore from the
vessel which had been rumored lost, and he could be verified by the
senses as still alive; the comical, bashful ecstasy of the good fellow,
his ancient chum, in telling him he had had a son born the night before,
and the mother was doing well, and how he laughed and danced, and
skipped into the air.

The smoker was full of these eidolons and of others which came and
went with constant vicissitude. But what was of a greater weirdness than
seeing them within it was seeing them without in that reflection of the
interior which travelled with it through the summer night, and repeated
it, now dimly, now brilliantly, in every detail. Alford sat in a daze,
with a smile which he was aware of, fixed and stiff as if in plaster, on
his face, and with his gaze bent on this or that eidolon, and then on
all of them together. He was not so much afraid of them as of being
noticed by the other passengers in the smoker, to whom he knew he might
look very queer. He said to himself that he was making the whole thing,
but the very subjectivity was what filled him with a deep and hopeless
dread. At last the train ceased its long leaping through the dark, and
with its coming to a stand the whole illusion vanished. He heard a gay
voice which he knew bidding some one good-bye who was getting into the
car just back of the smoker, and as he descended to the platform he
almost walked into the arms of Mrs. Yarrow.

“Why, Mr. Alford! We had given you up. We thought you
wouldn’t come back till to-morrow—or perhaps ever. What in
the world will you do for supper? The kitchen fires were out ages
ago!”

In the light of the station electrics she beamed upon him, and he
felt glad at heart, as if he had been saved from something, a mortal
danger or a threatened shame. But he could not speak at once; his teeth
closed with tetanic force upon each other. Later, as they walked to the
hotel, through the warm, soft night in which the south wind was roaming
the starless heavens for rain, he found his voice, and although he felt
that he was speaking unnaturally, he made out to answer the lively
questions with which she pelted him too thickly to expect them to be
answered severally. She told him all the news of the day, and when she
began on yesterday’s news she checked herself with a laugh and
said she had forgotten that he had only been gone since morning.
“But now,” she said, “you see how you’ve been
missed—how any man must be missed in a hotel full of
women.”

She took charge of him when they got to the house, and said if he
would go boldly into the dining-room, where they detected, as they
approached, one lamp scantly shining from the else darkened windows, she
would beard the lioness in her den, by which she meant the cook in the
kitchen, and see what she could get him for supper. Apparently she could
get nothing warm, for when a reluctant waitress appeared it was with
such a chilly refection on her tray that Alford, though he was not very
hungry, returned from interrogating the obscurity for eidolons, and
shivered at it. At the same time the swing-door of the long, dim room
opened to admit a gush of the outer radiance on which Mrs. Yarrow
drifted in with a chafing-dish in one hand and a tea-basket in the
other. She floated tiltingly towards him like, he thought, a pretty
little ship, and sent a cheery hail before.

“I’ve been trying to get somebody to join you at a
premature Welsh-rarebit and a belated cup of tea, but I can’t tear
one of the tabbies from their cards or the kittens from their gambols in
the amusement-hall in the basement. Do you mind so very much having it
alone? Because you’ll have to, whether you do or not. Unless you
call me company, when I’m merely cook.”

She put her utensils on the table beside the forbidding tray the
waitress had left, and helped lift herself by pressing one hand on the
top of a chair towards the electric, which she flashed up to keep the
dismal lamp in countenance. Alford let her do it. He durst not, he felt,
stir from his place, lest any movement should summon back the eidolons;
and now in the sudden glare of light he shyly, slyly searched the room
for them. Not one, fair or foul, showed itself, and slowly he felt a
great weight lifting from his heart. In its place there sprang up a
joyous gratitude towards Mrs. Yarrow, who had saved him from them, from
himself. An inexpressible tenderness filled his breast; the tears rose
to his eyes; a soft glow enveloped his whole being, a warmth of hope, a
freshness of life renewed, encompassed him. He wished to take her in his
arms, to tell her how he loved her; and as she bustled about, lighting
the lamp of her chafing-dish, and kindling the little spirit-stove she
had brought with her to make tea, he let his gaze dwell upon every pose,
every motion of her with a glad hunger in which no smallest detail was
lost. He now believed that without her he must die, without her he could
not wish to live.

“Jove,” Rulledge broke in at this point of
Wanhope’s story, which I am telling again so badly, “I think
Alford was in luck.”

Minver gave a harsh cackle. “The only thing Rulledge finds
fault with in this club is ‘the lack of woman’s nursing and
the lack of woman’s tears.’ Nothing is wanting to his
enjoyment of his victuals but the fact that they are not served by a
neat-handed Phyllis, like Alford’s.”

Rulledge glanced towards Wanhope, and innocently inquired, “Was
that her first name?”

Minver burst into a scream, and Rulledge looked red and silly for
having given himself away; but he made an excursion to the buffet
outside, and returned with a sandwich with which he supported himself
stolidly under Minver’s derision, until Wanhope came to his relief
by resuming his story, or rather his study, of Alford’s strange
experience.

Mrs. Yarrow first gave Alford his tea, as being of a prompter brew
than the rarebit, but she was very quick and apt with that, too; and
pretty soon she leaned forward, and in the glow from the lamp under the
chafing-dish, which spiritualized her charming face with its thin
radiance, puffed the flame out with her pouted lips, and drew back with
a long-sighed “There! That will make you see your grandmother, if
anything will.”

“My grandmother?” Alford repeated.

“Yes. Wouldn’t you like to?” Mrs.. Yarrow asked,
pouring the thick composition over the toast (rescued stone-cold from
the frigid tray) on Alford’s plate. “I’m sure I should
like to see mine—dear old gran! Not that I ever saw
her—either of her—or should know how she looked. Did you
ever see yours—either of her?” she pursued, impulsively.

“Oh yes,” Alford answered, looking intently at her, but
with so little speculation in the eyes he glared so with that he knew
her to be uneasy under them.

She laughed a little, and stayed her hand on the bail of the teapot.
“Which of her?”

“Oh, both!”

“And—and—did she look so much like
me?” she said, with an added laugh, that he perceived had
an hysterical note in it. “You’re letting your rarebit get
cold!”

He laughed himself, now, a great laugh of relaxation, of relief.
“Not the least in the world! She was not exactly a phantom of
delight.”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Alford. Now, it’s your tea’s
getting cold.”

They laughed together, and he gave himself to his victual with a
relish that she visibly enjoyed. When that question of his grandmother
had been pushed he thought of an awful experience of his childhood,
which left on his infant mind an indelible impression, a scar, to remain
from the original wound forever. He had been caught in a lie, the first
he could remember, but by no means the last, by many immemorable
thousands. His poor little wickedness had impugned the veracity of both
these terrible old ladies, who, habitually at odds with each other, now
united, for once, against him. He could always see himself, a mean
little blubbering-faced rascal, stealing guilty looks of imploring at
their faces, set unmercifully against him, one in sorrow and one in
anger, requiring his mother to whip him, and insisting till he was led,
loudly roaring, into the parlor, and there made a liar of for all time,
so far as fear could do it.

When Mrs. Yarrow asked if he had ever seen his grandmother he
expected instantly to see her, in duplicate, and as a sole refuge, but
with little hope that it would save him, he kept his eyes fast on hers,
and to his unspeakable joy it did avail. No other face, of sorrow or of
anger, rose between them. For the time his thought was quit of its
consequence; no eidolon outwardly repeated his inward vision. A warm
gush of gratitude seemed to burst from his heart, and to bathe his whole
being, and then to flow in a tide of ineffable tenderness towards Mrs.
Yarrow, and involve her and bear them together heavenward. It was not
passion, it was not love, he perceived well enough; it was the utterance
of a vital conviction that she had saved him from an overwhelming
subjective horror, and that in her sweet objectivity there was a
security and peace to be found nowhere else.

He greedily ate every atom of his rarebit, he absorbed every drop of
the moisture in the teapot, so that when she shook it and shook it, and
then tried to pour something from it, there was no slightest dribble at
the spout. But they lingered, talking and laughing, and perhaps they
might never have left the place if the hard handmaiden who had brought
the tea-tray had not first tried putting her head in at the swing-door
from the kitchen, and then, later, come boldly in and taken the tray
away.

Mrs. Yarrow waited self-respectfully for her disappearance, and then
she said, “I’m afraid that was a hint, Mr.
Alford.”

“It seemed like one,” he owned.

They went out together, gayly chatting, but she would not encourage
the movement he made towards the veranda. She remained firmly attached
to the newel-post of the stairs, and at the first chance he gave her she
said good-night and bounded lightly upward. At the turn of the stairs
she stopped and looked laughing down at him over the rail. “I hope
you won’t see your grandmother.”

“Oh, not a bit of it,” he called back. He felt that he
failed to give his reply the quality of epigram, but he was not unhappy
in his failure.

Many light-hearted days followed this joyous evening. No eidolons
haunted Alford’s horizon, perhaps because Mrs. Yarrow filled his
whole heaven. She was very constantly with him, guiding his wavering
steps up the hill of recovery, which he climbed with more and more
activity, and keeping him company in those valleys of relapse into which
he now and then fell back from the difficult steeps. It came to be
tacitly, or at least passively, conceded by the other ladies that she
had somehow earned the exclusive right to what had once been the common
charge; or that if one of their number had a claim to keep Mr. Alford
from killing himself by all sorts of imprudences, which in his case
amounted to impieties, it was certainly Mrs. Yarrow. They did not put
this in terms, but they felt it and acted it.

She was all the safer guardian for a delicate invalid because she
loathed manly sports so entirely that she did not even pretend to like
them, as most women, poor things, think themselves obliged to do. In her
hands there was no danger that he would be tempted to excesses in golf.
She was really afraid of all boats, but she was willing to go out with
him in the sail-boat of a superannuated skipper, because to sit talking
in the stern and stoop for the vagaries of the boom in tacking was such
good exercise. She would join him in fishing from the rotting pier, but
with no certainty which was a cunner and which was a sculpin, when she
caught it, and with an equal horror of both the nasty, wriggling things.
When they went a walk together, her notion of a healthful tramp was to
find a nice place among the sweet-fern or the pine-needles, and sit down
in it and talk, or make a lap, to which he could bring the berries he
gathered for her to arrange in the shallow leaf-trays she pinned
together with twigs. She really preferred a rocking-chair on the veranda
to anything else; but if he wished to go to those other excesses, she
would go with him, to keep him out of mischief.

There could be only one credible reading of the situation, but Alford
let the summer pass in this pleasant dreaming without waking up till too
late to the pleasanter reality. It will seem strange enough, but it is
true, that it was no part of his dream to fancy that Mrs. Yarrow was in
love with him. He knew very well, long before the end, that he was in
love with her; but, remaining in the dark otherwise, he considered only
himself in forbearing verbally to make love to her.

“Well!” Rulledge snarled at this point, “he
was a chump.”

Wanhope at the moment opposed nothing directly to the censure, but
said that something pathetically reproachful in Mrs. Yarrow’s
smiling looks penetrated to Alford as she nodded gayly from the car
window to him in the little group which had assembled to see her off at
the station when she left, by no means the first of their happy hotel
circle to go.

“Somebody,” Rulledge burst out again, “ought to
have kicked him.”

“What’s become,” Minver asked, “of all the
dear maids and widows that you’ve failed to marry at the end of
each summer, Rulledge?”

The satire involved flattery so sweet that Rulledge could not perhaps
wish to make any retort. He frowned sternly, and said, with a face
averted from Minver: “Go on, Wanhope!”

Wanhope here permitted himself a philosophical excursion in which I
will not accompany him. It was apparently to prepare us for the dramatic
fact which followed, and which I suppose he was trying rather to work
away from than work up to. It included some facts which he had failed to
touch on before, and which led to a discussion very interesting in
itself, but of a range too great for the limits I am trying to keep
here. It seems that Alford had been stayed from declaring his love not
only because he doubted of its nature, but also because he questioned
whether a man in his broken health had any right to offer himself to a
woman, and because from a yet finer scruple he hesitated in his poverty
to ask the hand of a rich woman. On the first point, we were pretty well
agreed, but on the second we divided again, especially Rulledge and
Minver, who held, the one, that his hesitation did Alford honor, and
quite relieved him from the imputation of being a chump; and the other
that he was an ass to keep quiet for any such silly reason. Minver
contended that every woman had a right, whether rich or poor, to the man
who loved her; and, moreover, there were now so many rich women that, if
they were not allowed to marry poor men, their chances of marriage were
indefinitely reduced. What better could a widow do with the money she
had inherited from a husband she probably did not love than give it to a
man like Alford—or to an ass like Alford, Minver corrected
himself.

His reductio ad absurdum allowed Wanhope to resume with a laugh,
and say that Alford waited at the station in the singleness to which the
tactful dispersion of the others had left him, and watched the train
rapidly dwindle in the perspective, till an abrupt turn of the road
carried it out of sight. Then he lifted his eyes with a long sigh, and
looked round. Everywhere he saw Mrs. Yarrow’s smiling face with
that inner pathos. It swarmed upon him from all points; and wherever he
turned it repeated itself in the distances like that succession of faces
you see when you stand between two mirrors.

It was not merely a lapse from his lately hopeful state with Alford,
it was a collapse. The man withered and dwindled away, till he felt that
he must audibly rattle in his clothes as he walked by people. He did not
walk much. Mostly he remained shrunken in the arm-chair where he used to
sit beside Mrs. Yarrow’s rocker, and the ladies, the older and the
older-fashioned, who were “sticking it out” at the hotel
till it should close on the 15th of September, observed him, some
compassionately, some censoriously, but all in the same conviction.

“It’s plain to be seen what ails Mr. Alford,
now.”

“Well, I guess it is.”

I guess so.”

“I guess it is.”

“Seems kind of heartless, her going and leaving him
so.”

“Like a sick kitten!”

“Well, I should say as much.”

“Your eyes bother you, Mr. Alford?” one of them chanted,
breaking from their discussion of him to appeal directly to him. He was
rubbing his eyes, to relieve himself for the moment from the intolerable
affliction of those swarming eidolons, which, whenever he thought of
this thing or that, thickened about him. They now no longer displaced
one another, but those which came first remained fadedly beside or
behind the fresher appearances, like the earlier rainbow which loses
depth and color when a later arch defines itself.

“Yes,” he said, glad of the subterfuge. “They annoy
me a good deal of late.”

“You want to get fitted for a good pair of glasses. I kept
letting it go, when I first began to get old-sighted.”

Another lady came to Alford’s rescue. “I guess Mr. Alford
has no need to get fitted for old sight yet a while. You got little
spidery things—specks and dots—in your eyes?”

“Yes—multitudes,” he said, hopelessly.

“Well, I’ll tell you what: you want to build up. That was
the way with me, and the oculist said it was from getting all run down.
I built up, and the first thing I knew my sight was as clear as a bell.
You want to build up.”

“You want to go to the mountains,” a third interposed.
“That’s where Mrs. Yarrow’s gone, and I guess
it’ll do her more good than sticking it out here would ever have
done.”

Alford would have been glad enough to go to the mountains, but with
those illusions hovering closer and closer about him, he had no longer
the courage, the strength. He had barely enough of either to get away to
Boston. He found his doctor this time, after winning and losing the
wager he made himself that he would not have returned to town yet, and
the good-fortune was almost too much for his shaken nerves. The cordial
of his friend’s greeting—they had been chums at
Harvard—completed his overthrow. As he sank upon the professional
sofa, where so many other cases had been diagnosticated, he broke into
tears. “Hello, old fellow!” the doctor said, encouragingly,
and more tenderly than he would have dealt with some women.
“What’s up?”

“Jim,” Alford found voice to say, “I’m afraid
I’m losing my mind.”

The doctor smiled provisionally. “Well, that’s
one of the signs you’re not. Can you say how?”

“Oh yes. In a minute,” Alford sobbed, and when he had got
the better of himself he told his friend the whole story. In the direct
examination he suppressed Mrs. Yarrow’s part, but when the doctor,
who had listened with smiling seriousness, began to cross-examine him
with the question, “And you don’t remember that any outside
influence affected the recurrence of the illusions, or did anything to
prevent it?” Alford answered promptly: “Oh yes. There was a
woman who did.”

“A woman? What sort of a woman?”

Alford told.

“That is very curious,” the doctor said. “I know a
man who used to have a distressing dream. He broke it up by telling his
wife about it every morning after he had dreamt it.”

“Unluckily, she isn’t my wife,” Alford said,
gloomily.

“But when she was with you, you got rid of the
illusions?”

“At first, I used to see hers; then I stopped seeing
any.”

“Did you ever tell her of them?”

“No; I didn’t.”

“Never tell anybody?”

“No one but you.”

“And do you see them now?”

“No.”

“Do you think, because you’ve told me of them?”

“It seems so.”

The doctor was silent for a marked space. Then he asked, smiling:
“Well, why not?”

“Why not what?”

“Tell your wife.”

“How, my wife?”

“By marriage.”

Alford looked dazed. “Do you mean Mrs. Yarrow?”

“If that’s her name, and she’s a widow.”

“And do you think it would be the fair thing for a man on the
verge of insanity—a physical and mental wreck—to ask a woman
to marry him?”

“In your case, yes. In the first place, you’re not so bad
as all that. You need nothing but rest for your body and change for your
mind. I believe you’ll get rid of your illusions as soon as you
form the habit of speaking of them promptly when they begin to trouble
you. You ought to speak of them to some one. You can’t always have
me around, and Mrs. Yarrow would be the next best thing.”

“She’s rich, and you know what I am. I’ll have to
borrow the money to rest on, I’m so poor.”

“Not if you marry it.”

Alford rose, somewhat more vigorously than he had sat down. But that
day he did not go beyond ascertaining that Mrs. Yarrow was in town. He
found out the fact from the maid at her door, who said that she was
nearly always at home after dinner, and, without waiting for the evening
of another day, Alford went to call upon her.

She said, coming down to him in a rather old-fashioned, impersonal
drawing-room which looked distinctly as if it had been left to her:
“I was so glad to get your card. When did you leave
Woodbeach?”

“Mrs. Yarrow,” he returned, as if that were the answer,
“I think I owe you an explanation.”

“Pay it!” she bantered, putting out her hand.

“I’m so poverty-stricken that I don’t know whether
I can. Did you ever notice anything odd about me?”

His directness seemed to have a right to directness from her.
“I noticed that you stared a good deal—or used to. But
people do stare.”

“I stared because I saw things.”

“Saw things?”

“I saw whatever I thought of. Whatever came into my mind was
externated in a vision.”

She smiled, he could not make out whether uneasily or not. “It
sounds rather creepy, doesn’t it? But it’s very
interesting.”

“That’s what the doctor said; I’ve been to see him
this morning. May I tell you about my visions? They’re not so
creepy as they sound, I believe, and I don’t think they’ll
keep you awake.”

“Yes, do,” she said. “I should like of all things
to hear about them. Perhaps I’ve been one of them.”

“You have.”

“Oh! Isn’t that rather personal?”

“I hope not offensively.”

He went on to tell her, with even greater fulness than he had told
the doctor. She listened with the interest women take in anything weird,
and with a compassion for him which she did not conceal so perfectly but
that he saw it. At the end he said: “You may wonder that I come to
you with all this, which must sound like the ravings of a
madman.”

“No—no,” she hesitated.

“I came because I wished you to know everything about me
before—before—I wouldn’t have come, you’ll
believe me, if I hadn’t had the doctor’s assurance that my
trouble was merely a part of my being physically out of kilter, and had
nothing to do with my sanity—Good Heavens! What am I saying? But
the thought has tormented me so! And in the midst of it I’ve
allowed myself to—Mrs. Yarrow, I love you. Don’t you know
that?”

Alford may have had a divided mind in this declaration, but after
that one word Mrs. Yarrow had no mind for anything else. He went on.

“I’m not only sick—so sick that I
sha’n’t be able to do any work for a year at least—but
I’m poor, so poor that I can’t afford to be sick.”

She lifted her eyes and looked at him, where she sat oddly aloof from
those possessions of hers, to which she seemed so little related, and
said, with a smile quivering at the corners of her pretty mouth,
“I don’t see what that has to do with it.”

“What do you mean?” He stared at her hard.

“Am I in duplicate or triplicate, this time?”

“No, you’re only one, and there’s none like you! I
could never see any one else while I looked at you!” he cried,
only half aware of his poetry, and meaning what he said very
literally.

But she took only the poetry. “I shouldn’t wish you
to,” she said, and she laughed.

He could not believe yet in his good-fortune. His countenance fell.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand, or that you
don’t. It doesn’t seem as if I could get to the end of my
unworthiness, which isn’t voluntary. It seems altogether too base.
I can’t let you say what you do, if you mean it, till you know
that I come to you in despair as well as in love. You saved me from the
fear I was in, again and again, and I believe that without you I
shall—Ah, it seems very base! But the doctor—If I could
always tell some one—if I could tell you when these
things were obsessing me—haunting me—they would
cease—”

Mrs. Yarrow rose, with rather a piteous smile. “Then, I am a
prescription!” She hoped, woman-like, that she was solely a
passion; but is any woman worth having, ever solely a passion?

“Don’t!” Alford implored, rising too.
“Don’t, in mercy, take it that way! It’s only that I
wish you to know everything that’s in me; to know how utterly
helpless and worthless I am. You needn’t have a pang in throwing
such a thing away.”

She put out her hand to him, but at arm’s-length. “I
sha’n’t throw you away—at least, not to-night. I want
to think.” It was a way of saying she wished him to go, and he had
no desire to stay. He asked if he might come again, and she said,
“Oh yes.”

“To-morrow?”

“Not to-morrow, perhaps. When I send. Was it young
Doctor Enderby?”

They had rather a sad, dry parting; and when her door closed upon him
he felt that it had shut him out forever. His shame and his defeat were
so great that he did not think of his eidolons, and they did not come to
trouble him. He woke in the morning, asking himself, bitterly, if he
were cured already. His humiliation was such that he closed his eyes to
the light, and wished he might never again open them to it.

The question that Mrs. Yarrow had to ask Dr. Enderby was not the
question he had instantly forecast for her when she put aside her veil
in his office and told him who she was. She did not seem anxious to be
assured of Alford’s mental condition, or as to any risks in
marrying him. Her inquiry was much more psychological; it was almost
impersonal, and yet Dr. Enderby thought she looked as if she had been
crying.

She had a difficulty in formulating her question, and when it came it
was almost a speculation.

“Women,” she said, a little hoarsely, “have no
right, I suppose, to expect the ideal in life. The best they can do
seems to be to make the real look like it.”

Dr. Enderby reflected. “Well, yes. But I don’t know that
I ever put it to myself in just those terms.”

Then she remarked, as if that were the next thing:
“You’ve known Mr. Alford a long time.”

“We were at school together, and we shared the same rooms in
Harvard.”

“He is very sincere,” she added, as if this were
relevant.

“He’s a man who likes to have a little worse than the
worst known about him. One might say he was excessively sincere.”
Enderby divined that Alford had been bungling the matter, and he was
willing to help him out if he could.

Mrs. Yarrow fixed dimly beautiful eyes upon him. “I don’t
know,” she said, “why it wouldn’t be ideal—as
much ideal as anything—to give one’s self absolutely
to—to—a duty—or not duty, exactly; I don’t mean
that. Especially,” she added, showing a light through the mist,
“if one wanted to do it.”

Then he knew she had made up her mind, and though on some accounts he
would have liked to laugh with her, on other accounts he felt that he
owed it to her to be serious.

“If women could not fulfil the ideal in that way—if they
did not constantly do it—there would be no marriages for
love.”

“Do you think so?” she asked, with a shaking voice.
“But men—men are ideal, too.”

“Not as women are—except now and then some fool like
Alford.” Now, indeed, he laughed, and he began to praise Alford
from his heart, so delicately, so tenderly, so reverently, that Mrs.
Yarrow laughed too before he was done, and cried a little, and when she
rose to leave she could not speak; but clung to his hand, on turning
away, and so flung it from behind her with a gesture that Enderby
thought pretty.

At this point, Wanhope stopped as if that were the end.

“And did she let Alford come to see her again?” Rulledge,
at once romantic and literal, demanded.

“Oh yes. At any rate, they were married that fall. They
are—I believe he’s pursuing his archaeological studies
there—living in Athens.”

“Together?” Minver smoothly inquired.

At this expression of cynicism Rulledge gave him a look that would
have incinerated another. Wanhope went out with Minver, and then, after
a moment’s daze, Rulledge exclaimed: “Jove! I forgot to ask
him whether it’s stopped Alford’s illusions!”


William Dean Howells

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