Chapter XI. Re-Creation.
 

From the very day of his decision, to which he had been so unexpectedly helped by Judy, Brian Kent was another man. The gloomy, despondent, undecided spirit that was the successor of the wretched creature that Judy had helped to Auntie Sue's that morning was now succeeded by a cheerful, hopeful, contented man, who went to his daily task with a song, did his work with a smile and a merry jest, and returned, when the day was done, with peace in his heart and laughter on his lips.

As the days of the glorious Ozark autumn passed, Brian's healthful, outdoor work on the timbered mountain-side brought to the man of the cities a physical grace and beauty he had lacked,--the grace of physical strength and the beauty of clean and rugged health. The bright autumn sun and the winds that swept over the many miles of tree-clad hills browned his skin; while his work with the ax developed his muscles and enforced deep breathing of the bracing mountain air, thus bringing a more generous supply of richer blood, which touched his now firmly rounded cheeks with color.

The gift of humor and the faculty of quaint and witty conversational twists, with the genius of storytelling that was his from his Irish mother, made quick friends for him of the mountain neighbors who welcomed this new pupil of their old school-teacher with whole-hearted pleasure, and quoted his jests and sayings throughout the country with never-failing delight. And Judy,--it is not too much to say that Judy became his most ardent admirer and devoted slave.

But the dear old mistress of the little log house by the river alone recognized that these outward changes in the human wreck that the river had brought to her were but manifestations of a more potent transformation that was taking place in the man's inner life; and it was this inner change that filled the teacher's loving heart with joy, and which she watched with keen and delighted interest.

It was not, after all, a new life that was coming to this man, Auntie Sue told herself; it was his own old and more real life that was reassuring itself. It was the real Brian Kent that had been sojourning in a far country that was now coming home to his own. It was the wealth of his heart and mind and soul which had been deep-buried under an accumulation of circumstances and environment that was now being brought to the surface.

Might it not be that Auntie Sue's genius for absorbing beauty and making truth her own had, in her many years of searching for truth and beauty in whatever humanity she encountered, developed in her a peculiar sensitiveness? And was it not this that had made her feel instinctively the real nature of the man in whom a less discerning observer would have recognized nothing worthy of admiration or regard? Without question, it was the true,--the essential,--the underlying,--elements in the character of the absconding bank clerk that had aroused in this remarkable old gentlewoman the peculiar sense of kinship--of possession--that had determined her attitude toward the stranger. The law that like calls to like is not less applicable to things spiritual than to things material. The birds of a feather that always flock together are not of necessity material birds of material feathers.

Nor was Brian Kent himself unconscious of his Re-Creation. The man knew what he was, as every man knows deep within himself the real self that is. And that was the horror of the situation which had set him adrift on the river that night when, in his last drunken despairing frenzy, he had left the world with a curse in his heart and had faced the black unknown with reckless laughter and a profane toast. It is to be doubted if there can be a hell of greater torment than that experienced by one who, endowed by nature with a capacity for great living, is betrayed by the very strength of his genius into a situation that is intolerable of his real self, and is forced, thus, to a continuous self-crucifixion and death.

In his new environment the man felt the awakening of this self which he had mourned as dead. Thoughts, emotions, dreams, aspirations, which had, as he believed, been killed, he found were not dead, but only sleeping; and in the quickening of their vitality and strength he knew a joy as great as had been his despair.

The beauty of nature, that had lost its power of appeal to his sodden soul, now stirred him to the very depth of his being. The crisp, sun-sweet air of the autumn mornings, when he went forth with his ax to the day's clean labor, was a draught of potent magic that set every nerve of him tingling with delight. The woodland hillside, where he worked, was a wonderland of beautiful creations that inspired a thousand glowing fancies. Sometimes, at his heavy task, he would pause for a moment's rest, and so would look out and away over the vast expanse of country that from his feet stretched in all its charm of winding river and wooded slopes, and tree-fringed ridges to the far, blue sky-line; and the very soul of him would answer to the call as he had thought he never could answer again. The very clouds that drifted past on their courses to unseen ports beyond the hills were freighted with meaning for him now. The winds that came laden with the subtly blended perfume of ten thousand varieties of trees and grasses and shrubs and flowers whispered words of life which he now could hear. The loveliness of the glowing morning skies, as he saw them when he rose for the day's work, and the glories of the sunsets, as he watched them with Auntie Sue from the porch when the day's task was accomplished, filled him with an exquisite gladness which he had never hoped to know again.

Most of all, did the river speak to him; not, indeed, as it had spoken that dreadful night, when, from the window of his darkened room, he had listened to its call: the river spoke, now, in the full day as his eye followed its winding length through the hills in all its varied beauty of sunshine and shadow;--of gleaming silver and living green and russet-brown. It talked to him in the evening when the waters gave back the glories of the sky and the deepening twilight wrapped the world in its dusky veil of mystery. It spoke to him in the soft darkness of the night, as it swept on its way under the stars, or in the light of the golden moon. And, in time, some of these things which the river said to him, he, in turn, told to Auntie Sue.

And Auntie Sue, delighted with the man's awakening self, and charmed with his power of thought and his gift of expression, led him on. With artful suggestion and skilful question and subtle argument, she stimulated his mind and fancy to lay hold of the truths and beauties that life and nature offered. But ever the rare old gentlewoman was his teacher, revealing himself to himself; guiding him to a fuller discovery and knowledge of his own life and its meaning, which, indeed, is the true aim and end of all right teaching.

So the days of the autumn passed. The hills changed their robes of varied green for costumes of brown and gold, with touches here and there of flaming scarlet and brilliant yellow. And then winter was at hand, and that momentous evening came when Auntie Sue said to her pupil, after an hour of most interesting talk, "Brian, why in the world don't you write a book?"

"'A book'!" exclaimed Brian, in a startled tone.

Judy laughed. "He sure ought ter. Lord knows he talks like one."

"I am in earnest, Brian," said Auntie Sue, her lovely old eyes shining with enthusiasm and her gentle voice trembling with excitement. "I have been thinking about it for a long time, now, and, to-night, I just can't keep it to myself any longer. Why don't you give to the world some of the thoughts you have been wasting on Judy and me?"

"Hit's sure been a-wastin' of 'em on me," agreed Judy. "'Fore God, I don't sense what he's a-talkin' 'bout, more'n half the time."

Brian laughed. "Judy is prophetic, Auntie Sue. She voices perfectly the sentiment of the world toward any book I might write."

Auntie Sue detected a note of bitterness underlying the laughing comment, and wondered.

Judy spoke again as she arose to retire to her room for the night: "I reckon as how there's a right smart of things youuns talk that'd be mighty fine if a body only had the learnin' ter sense 'em. An' there must be heaps of folks where youuns come from what would know Mr. Burns's meaning if he was to write hit all out plain. Everybody ain't like me. Hit's sure a God's-blessin' they ain't, too."

"And there, Brian, dear, is your answer," said Auntie Sue, as Judy left the room. "Any book has meaning only for those who have the peculiar sympathy and understanding needed to interpret it. A book that means nothing to one may be rich in meaning for another. Every writer writes for his own peculiar readers, just as every individual has his own peculiar friends."

"Or enemies," said Brian.

"Or enemies," agreed Auntie Sue.

Brian went to the window, and stood for some time, looking out into the night. Then turning, with a nervous gesture, he paced uneasily up and down the room; while Auntie Sue watched him in silence with an expression of loving concern on her dear old face.

At last, she spoke: "Why, Brian, what is the matter? What have I said? I did not mean to upset you like this. Come, sit down here, and tell me about it. What is it troubles you so?"

With a short laugh, Brian came and stood before her. "I suppose it had to come sooner or later, Auntie Sue. I have been trying for days to muster up courage enough to tell you about it. You have touched the one biggest thing in my life."

"Why, what do you mean, Brian?"

"I mean just what we have been talking about,--writing," answered Brian.

"Oh!" she cried, with quick and delighted triumph. "Then I AM right. You have been thinking about it, too."

"Thinking about it!" he echoed, and in his voice she felt the nervous intensity of his mood. "I have thought of nothing else. All day long when I am at work, I am writing, writing, writing. It is the last thing on my mind when I go to sleep. I dream about it all night. And, it is the first thing I think about in the morning."

Auntie Sue clasped her hands to her heart with an exclamation of joyous interest.

Brian, with a quiet smile at her enthusiasm, went on: "I know exactly what I want to say, and why I want to say it. There is a world of people, Auntie Sue, whose lives have been broken and spoiled by one thing or another, and who have more or less cut themselves loose from everything, and are just drifting, they don't care a hang where, because they think they have failed so completely that there is nothing more in life for them. People like me,--I don't mean thieves and criminals necessarily,--who have had that which they know to be the best and biggest and truest part of themselves tortured and warped and twisted and denied and smashed and beaten and betrayed and killed; and who, because they feel that their real selves are dead within them, don't care what happens to that part which is left."

He was walking the floor again now, and speaking with a depth of feeling which he had never before revealed to his gentle companion.

"It is not so much the love of wrong-doing that makes people turn bad,"--he continued,--"it is having their real selves misunderstood and doubted and smothered and their realest loves and dreams and aspirations never recognized, or else distorted and twisted and made to appear as something they hate. I want to make the people--and there are many thousands of them--who are suffering in the living hell that tormented me, feel that I know and understand. And then, Auntie Sue, then I want to tell them about you and your river.

"I would teach them the things you have taught me. I would say to every one that I could persuade to listen: 'It doesn't in the least matter what your experience is, the old river is still going on to the sea. No matter if every woman you ever knew has proved untrue, virtuous womanhood still IS. No matter if every man you ever knew has proved false, true manhood still IS. If every friend you ever had has betrayed your friendship, loyal friendship still IS. If you have found nothing in your experience but dishonesty and falsehood and infidelity and hypocrisy, it is only because you have been unfortunate in your experience; because honesty and fidelity and sincerity are existing FACTS. They are the very foundation facts of life, and can no more fail life than the river can fail to reach the sea.

"'Your little individual experience, my little individual experience,--what are they? They are nothing more than the tiny bubbles, swirls, ripples, and breaks on the surface of the great volume of water that flows so inevitably onward. The bit of foam, the tiny wave caused by twig or branch or blade of water-grass, or the great rocks and cliffs that make the roaring whirlpools and rapids,--do they stay the waters, or turn the river back on its course, or in any way prevent its onward flow? No more can the twigs of circumstances, or the boughs of environment, or the grasses of accident that make the tiny waves of our individual experiences,--or even the great rocks and cliffs of national or racial import,--such as wars, and pestilence, and famine,--finally check or stay the river of life in its onward flow toward the sea of its final and infinite meaning.'"

He went again to the window, and stood looking out into the night as though listening to the voices.

"Why, Auntie Sue," he said, turning back to the old gentlewoman,--and his face was radiant with the earnestness of this thought,--"Auntie Sue, there are as many currents in our river out there as there are human lives. A comparatively few great main or dominant currents in the river flow--a comparatively few great dominant currents in the river flow of life. But if you look closer, you will see that in each one of those established principal currents there are countless thousands--millions--of tiny currents all turning and twisting across, and back, and up, and down in every direction,--weaving themselves together,--pulling themselves apart,--criss-crossing, clashing,--interlacing,--tangled and confused,--and these are the individual lives. And no matter what the conflict or confusion; no matter what direction they take for the moment, they all, ALL, go to make up the river;--they, all together, ARE the river,--and they all together move onward,--ceaselessly, inevitably, irresistibly."

He paused to stand smiling down at her, as she sat there in her low chair beside the table with the lamplight on her silvery hair,--there in the little log house by the river.

"That is what you have made your river mean to me, Auntie Sue; and that is what I would give to the world."

With trembling hands, the gentle old teacher reached for her handkerchief, which lay in the sewing-basket on the table beside her. Smilingly, she wiped away the tears that filled her eyes. Lovingly, she looked up at him,--standing so tall and strong before her, with his reddish hair tumbled and tossed, and his Irish blue eyes lighted with the fire of his inspiration.

"Well," she said, at last, "why don't you do it, Brian?"

As a breath of air puts out the light of a candle, so the light went from Brian Kent's face. Dropping into his chair, he answered hopelessly, "Because I am afraid."

"Afraid?" echoed Auntie Sue, troubled and amazed. "What in the world are you afraid of, Brian?"

And the bitter, bitter answer came, "I am afraid of another failure."

Auntie Sue's quick mind caught the significance of his words. "ANOTHER failure, Brian? Then you,--then you have written before?"

"Yes," he returned. And not since his decision to remain with her had she seen him so despondent. "To write was the dream and the passion of my life. I tried and tried. God, how I worked and slaved at it! The only result from my efforts was the hell from which you dragged me."

Alter a little silence, Auntie Sue said gently: "I don't think I understand, Brian. You have never told me about your trouble, you know."

"It is an old, old story," he returned. "I am only one of thousands. My wretched experience is not at all uncommon."

"I know," she answered. "But don't you think that perhaps you had better tell me? Perhaps, in the mere telling of it to me, now that it is all over, you may find the real reason for--for what happened to you."

Wise Auntie Sue!--wise in that rarest of all wisdom,--the sympathetic understanding of human hearts and souls.

"You know about my earlier life," he began; "how, in my boyhood, after mother's death, I worked at anything I could do to keep myself alive, and how I managed to gain a little schooling. I was always dreaming of writing, even then. I took the business course in a night-school, not because I liked it, but because I thought it would help me to earn a living in a way that would give me more time for what I really wanted to do. And after I finished school, and had finally worked up to a good position in that bank, I did have more time for my writing. But,"--he hesitated--"I--well,--other interests had come into my life,--and--"

Auntie Sue said, softly, "She did not understand, Brian."

"No, she did not understand," he continued, accepting Auntie Sue's interpretation without comment. "And when my writing brought no money, because no publisher would accept my stuff, and the conditions under which I wrote became intolerable because of misunderstanding and opposition and disbelief in my ability and charges of neglect, I--I--stole money from my employers to gain temporary relief until my writing should amount to something. You see, I could not help believing that I would succeed, in time. I suppose all dreamers have more or less confidence in their dreams: they must, you know, or their dreams would never be realized. I always expected to pay back the money I took with the money I would earn by my pen. But I failed to earn anything, you see; and then--then the inevitable happened, and the river brought me to you."

"But, my dear boy!" cried Auntie Sue, "all this that you have told me is no reason why you should fear to write now. Indeed, it is a very good reason why you should not fear."

He looked at her questioningly, and she continued: "You have given every reason in the world why you failed. Your whole life was out of tune. How could you expect to produce anything worthy from such a jangling discord? You should have been afraid, indeed, to write THEN. But, NOW,--now, Brian, you are ready. You are a long, long way down the river from the place of your failures. The disturbing, distracting things are past,--just as in the quiet reach of the river below Elbow Rock the turmoil of the rapids is past. You say that you know exactly what you want to write, and why you want to write it--and you do know--and because you know,--because you have suffered,--because you have learned,--because you can do this thing for others,--it is yours to do, and so you must do it. What you really mean when you say you are 'afraid to write' is, that you are AFRAID NOT TO," she finished with a little laugh of satisfaction.

And Brian Kent, as he watched her glowing face and felt the sincerity and confidence that vibrated in her voice, was thrilled with a new courage. The fires of his inspiration shone again in his eyes, as he answered, with deep conviction, "Auntie Sue, I believe you are right. What a woman you are!"