The Call of the Canyon by Zane Grey
Carley's edifice of hopes, dreams, aspirations, and struggles fell in ruins about her. It had been built upon false sands. It had no ideal for foundation. It had to fall.
Something inevitable had forced her confession to Rust. Dissimulation had been a habit of her mind; it was more a habit of her class than sincerity. But she had reached a point in her mental strife where she could not stand before Rust and let him believe she was noble and faithful when she knew she was neither. Would not the next step in this painful metamorphosis of her character be a fierce and passionate repudiation of herself and all she represented?
She went home and locked herself in her room, deaf to telephone and servants. There she gave up to her shame. Scorned--despised--dismissed by that poor crippled flame-spirited Virgil Rust! He had reverenced her, and the truth had earned his hate. Would she ever forget his look--incredulous-- shocked--bitter--and blazing with unutterable contempt? Carley Burch was only another Nell--a jilt--a mocker of the manhood of soldiers! Would she ever cease to shudder at memory of Rust's slight movement of hand? Go! Get out of my sight! Leave me to my agony as you left Glenn Kilbourne alone to fight his! Men such as I am do not want the smile of your face, the touch of your hand! We gave for womanhood! Pass on to lesser men who loved the fleshpots and who would buy your charms! So Carley interpreted that slight gesture, and writhed in her abasement.
Rust threw a white, illuminating light upon her desertion of Glenn. She had betrayed him. She had left him alone. Dwarfed and stunted was her narrow soul! To a man who had given all for her she had returned nothing. Stone for bread! Betrayal for love! Cowardice for courage!
The hours of contending passions gave birth to vague, slow-forming revolt.
She became haunted by memory pictures and sounds and smells of Oak Creek Canyon. As from afar she saw the great sculptured rent in the earth, green and red and brown, with its shining, flashing ribbons of waterfalls and streams. The mighty pines stood up magnificent and stately. The walls loomed high, shadowed under the shelves, gleaming in the sunlight, and they seemed dreaming, waiting, watching. For what? For her return to their serene fastnesses--to the little gray log cabin. The thought stormed Carley's soul.
Vivid and intense shone the images before her shut eyes. She saw the winding forest floor, green with grass and fern, colorful with flower and rock. A thousand aisles, glades, nooks, and caverns called her to come. Nature was every woman's mother. The populated city was a delusion. Disease and death and corruption stalked in the shadows of the streets. But her canyon promised hard work, playful hours, dreaming idleness, beauty, health, fragrance, loneliness, peace, wisdom, love, children, and long life. In the hateful shut-in isolation of her room Carley stretched forth her arms as if to embrace the vision. Pale close walls, gleaming placid stretches of brook, churning amber and white rapids, mossy banks and pine-matted ledges, the towers and turrets and ramparts where the eagles wheeled--she saw them all as beloved images lost to her save in anguished memory.
She heard the murmur of flowing water, soft, low, now loud, and again lulling, hollow and eager, tinkling over rocks, bellowing into the deep pools, washing with silky seep of wind-swept waves the hanging willows. Shrill and piercing and far-aloft pealed the scream of the eagle. And she seemed to listen to a mocking bird while he mocked her with his melody of many birds. The bees hummed, the wind moaned, the leaves rustled, the waterfall murmured. Then came the sharp rare note of a canyon swift, most mysterious of birds, significant of the heights.
A breath of fragrance seemed to blow with her shifting senses. The dry, sweet, tangy canyon smells returned to her--of fresh-cut timber, of wood smoke, of the cabin fire with its steaming pots, of flowers and earth, and of the wet stones, of the redolent pines and the pungent cedars.
And suddenly, clearly, amazingly, Carley beheld in her mind's sight the hard features, the bold eyes, the slight smile, the coarse face of Haze Ruff. She had forgotten him. But he now returned. And with memory of him flashed a revelation as to his meaning in her life. He had appeared merely a clout, a ruffian, an animal with man's shape and intelligence. But he was the embodiment of the raw, crude violence of the West. He was the eyes of the natural primitive man, believing what he saw. He had seen in Carley Burch the paraded charm, the unashamed and serene front, the woman seeking man. Haze Ruff had been neither vile nor base nor unnatural. It had been her subjection to the decadence of feminine dress that had been unnatural. But Ruff had found her a lie. She invited what she did not want. And his scorn had been commensurate with the falsehood of her. So might any man have been justified in his insult to her, in his rejection of her. Haze Ruff had found her unfit for his idea of dalliance. Virgil Rust had found her false to the ideals of womanhood for which he had sacrificed all but life itself. What then had Glenn Kilbourne found her? He possessed the greatness of noble love. He had loved her before the dark and changeful tide of war had come between them. How had he judged her? That last sight of him standing alone, leaning with head bowed, a solitary figure trenchant with suggestion of tragic resignation and strength, returned to flay Carley. He had loved, trusted, and hoped. She saw now what his hope had been-that she would have instilled into her blood the subtle, red, and revivifying essence of calling life in the open, the strength of the wives of earlier years, an emanation from canyon, desert, mountain, forest, of health, of spirit, of forward-gazing natural love, of the mysterious saving instinct he had gotten out of the West. And she had been too little too steeped in the indulgence of luxurious life too slight-natured and pale-blooded! And suddenly there pierced into the black storm of Carley's mind a blazing, white-streaked thought--she had left Glenn to the Western girl, Flo Hutter. Humiliated, and abased in her own sight, Carley fell prey to a fury of jealousy.
She went back to the old life. But it was in a bitter, restless, critical spirit, conscious of the fact that she could derive neither forgetfulness nor pleasure from it, nor see any release from the habit of years.
One afternoon, late in the fall, she motored out to a Long Island club where the last of the season's golf was being enjoyed by some of her most intimate friends. Carley did not play. Aimlessly she walked around the grounds, finding the autumn colors subdued and drab, like her mind. The air held a promise of early winter. She thought that she would go South before the cold came. Always trying to escape anything rigorous, hard, painful, or disagreeable! Later she returned to the clubhouse to find her party assembled on an inclosed porch, chatting and partaking of refreshment. Morrison was there. He had not taken kindly to her late habit of denying herself to him.
During a lull in the idle conversation Morrison addressed Carley pointedly. "Well, Carley, how's your Arizona hog-raiser?" he queried, with a little gleam in his usually lusterless eyes.
"I have not heard lately," she replied, coldly.
The assembled company suddenly quieted with a portent inimical to their leisurely content of the moment. Carley felt them all looking at her, and underneath the exterior she preserved with extreme difficulty, there burned so fierce an anger that she seemed to have swelling veins of fire.
"Queer how Kilbourne went into raising hogs," observed Morrison. "Such a low-down sort of work, you know."
"He had no choice," replied Carley. "Glenn didn't have a father who made tainted millions out of the war. He had to work. And I must differ with you about its being low-down. No honest work is that. It is idleness that is low down."
"But so foolish of Glenn when he might have married money," rejoined Morrison, sarcastcally.
"The honor of soldiers is beyond your ken, Mr. Morrison."
He flushed darkly and bit his lip.
"You women make a man sick with this rot about soldiers," he said, the gleam in his eye growing ugly. "A uniform goes to a woman's head no matter what's inside it. I don't see where your vaunted honor of soldiers comes in considering how they accepted the let-down of women during and after the war."
"How could you see when you stayed comfortably at home?" retorted Carley.
"All I could see was women falling into soldiers' arms," he said, sullenly.
"Certainly. Could an American girl desire any greater happiness--or opportunity to prove her gratitude?" flashed Carley, with proud uplift of head.
"It didn't look like gratitude to me," returned Morrison.
"Well, it was gratitude," declared Carley, ringingly. "If women of America did throw themselves at soldiers it was not owing to the moral lapse of the day. It was woman's instinct to save the race! Always, in every war, women have sacrificed themselves to the future. Not vile, but noble! . . . You insult both soldiers and women, Mr. Morrison. I wonder--did any American girls throw themselves at you?"
Morrison turned a dead white, and his mouth twisted to a distorted checking of speech, disagreeable to see.
"No, you were a slacker," went on Carley, with scathing scorn. "You let the other men go fight for American girls. Do you imagine one of them will ever marry you? . . . All your life, Mr. Morrison, you will be a marked man- -outside the pale of friendship with real American men and the respect of real American girls."
Morrison leaped up, almost knocking the table over, and he glared at Carley as he gathered up his hat and cane. She turned her back upon him. From that moment he ceased to exist for Carley. She never spoke to him again.
Next day Carley called upon her dearest friend, whom she had not seen for some time.
"Carley dear, you don't look so very well," said Eleanor, after greetings had been exchanged.
"Oh, what does it matter how I look?" queried Carley, impatiently.
"You were so wonderful when you got home from Arizona."
"If I was wonderful and am now commonplace you can thank your old New York for it."
"Carley, don't you care for New York any more?" asked Eleanor.
"Oh, New York is all right, I suppose. It's I who am wrong."
"My dear, you puzzle me these days. You've changed. I'm sorry. I'm afraid you're unhappy."
"Me? Oh, impossible! I'm in a seventh heaven," replied Carley, with a hard little laugh. "What 're you doing this afternoon? Let's go out--riding--or somewhere."
"I'm expecting the dressmaker."
"Where are you going to-night?"
"Dinner and theater. It's a party, or I'd ask you."
"What did you do yesterday and the day before, and the days before that?"
Eleanor laughed indulgently, and acquainted Carley with a record of her social wanderings during the last few days.
"The same old things-over and over again! Eleanor don't you get sick of it?" queried Carley.
"Oh yes, to tell the truth," returned Eleanor, thoughtfully. "But there's nothing else to do."
"Eleanor, I'm no better than you," said Carley, with disdain. "I'm as useless and idle. But I'm beginning to see myself--and you--and all this rotten crowd of ours. We're no good. But you're married, Eleanor. You're settled in life. You ought to do something. I'm single and at loose ends. Oh, I'm in revolt! . . . Think, Eleanor, just think. Your husband works hard to keep you in this expensive apartment. You have a car. He dresses you in silks and satins. You wear diamonds. You eat your breakfast in bed. You loll around in a pink dressing gown all morning. You dress for lunch or tea. You ride or golf or worse than waste your time on some lounge lizard, dancing till time to come home to dress for dinner. You let other men make love to you. Oh, don't get sore. You do. . . . And so goes the round of your life. What good on earth are you, anyhow? You're just a--a gratification to the senses of your husband. And at that you don't see much of hint."
"Carley, how you rave!" exclaimed her friend. "What has gotten into you lately? Why, everybody tells me you're--you're queer! The way you insulted Morrison--how unlike you, Carley!"
"I'm glad I found the nerve to do it. What do you think, Eleanor?"
"Oh, I despise him. But you can't say the things you feel."
"You'd be bigger and truer if you did. Some day I'll break out and flay you and your friends alive."
"But, Carley, you're my friend and you're just exactly like we are. Or you were, quite recently."
"Of course, I'm your friend. I've always loved you, Eleanor," went on Carley, earnestly. "I'm as deep in this--this damned stagnant muck as you, or anyone. But I'm no longer blind. There's something terribly wrong with us women, and it's not what Morrison hinted."
"Carley, the only thing wrong with you is that you jilted poor Glenn--and are breaking your heart over him still."
"Don't--don't!" cried Carley, shrinking. "God knows that is true. But there's more wrong with me than a blighted love affair."
"Yes, you mean the modern feminine unrest?"
"Eleanor, I positively hate that phrase 'modern feminine unrest!' It smacks of ultra--ultra--Oh! I don't know what. That phrase ought to be translated by a Western acquaintance of mine--one Haze Ruff. I'd not like to hurt your sensitive feelings with what he'd say. But this unrest means speed-mad, excitement-mad, fad-mad, dress-mad, or I should say undress-mad, culture-- mad, and Heaven only knows what else. The women of our set are idle, luxurious, selfish, pleasure-craving, lazy, useless, work-and-children shirking, absolutely no good."
"Well, if we are, who's to blame?" rejoined Eleanor, spiritedly. "Now, Carley Burch, you listen to me. I think the twentieth-century girl in America is the most wonderful female creation of all the ages of the universe. I admit it. That is why we are a prey to the evils attending greatness. Listen. Here is a crying sin--an infernal paradox. Take this twentieth-century girl, this American girl who is the finest creation of the ages. A young and healthy girl, the most perfect type of culture possible to the freest and greatest city on earth-New York! She holds absolutely an unreal, untrue position in the scheme of existence. Surrounded by parents, relatives, friends, suitors, and instructive schools of every kind, colleges, institutions, is she really happy, is she really living?"
"Eleanor," interrupted Carley, earnestly, "she is not. . . . And I've been trying to tell you why."
"My dear, let me get a word in, will you," complained Eleanor. "You don't know it all. There are as many different points of view as there are people. . . . Well, if this girl happened to have a new frock, and a new beau to show it to, she'd say, 'I'm the happiest girl in the world.' But she is nothing of the kind. Only she doesn't know that. She approaches marriage, or, for that matter, a more matured life, having had too much, having been too well taken care of, knowing too much. Her masculine satellites--father, brothers, uncles, friends, lovers--all utterly spoil her. Mind you, I mean, girls like us, of the middle class--which is to say the largest and best class of Americans. We are spoiled. . . . This girl marries. And life goes on smoothly, as if its aim was to exclude friction and effort. Her husband makes it too easy for her. She is an ornament, or a toy, to be kept in a luxurious cage. To soil her pretty hands would be disgraceful! Even f she can't afford a maid, the modern devices of science make the care of her four-room apartment a farce. Electric dish-washer, clothes-washer, vacuum-cleaner, and the near-by delicatessen and the caterer simply rob a young wife of her housewifely heritage. If she has a baby--which happens occasionally, Carley, in spite of your assertion--it very soon goes to the kindergarten. Then what does she find to do with hours and hours? If she is not married, what on earth can she find to do?"
"She can work," replied Carley, bluntly.
"Oh yes, she can, but she doesn't," went on Eleanor. "You don't work. I never did. We both hated the idea. You're calling spades spades, Carley, but you seem to be riding a morbid, impractical thesis. Well, our young American girl or bride goes in for being rushed or she goes in for fads, the ultra stuff you mentioned. New York City gets all the great artists, lecturers, and surely the great fakirs. The New York women support them. The men laugh, but they furnish the money. They take the women to the theaters, but they cut out the reception to a Polish princess, a lecture by an Indian magician and mystic, or a benefit luncheon for a Home for Friendless Cats. The truth is most of our young girls or brides have a wonderful enthusiasm worthy of a better cause. What is to become of their surplus energy, the bottled-lightning spirit so characteristic of modern girls? Where is the outlet for intense feelings? What use can they make of education or of gifts? They just can't, that's all. I'm not taking into consideration the new-woman species, the faddist or the reformer. I mean normal girls like you and me. Just think, Carley. A girl's every wish, every need, is almost instantly satisfied without the slightest effort on her part to obtain it. No struggle, let alone work! If women crave to achieve something outside of the arts, you know, something universal and helpful which will make men acknowledge her worth, if not the equality, where is the opportunity?"
"Opportunities should be made," replied Carley.
"There are a million sides to this question of the modern young woman--the fin-de-siecle girl. I'm for her!"
"How about the extreme of style in dress for this remarkably-to-be-pitied American girl you champion so eloquently?" queried Carley, sarcastically.
"Immoral!" exclaimed Eleanor with frank disgust.
"You admit it?"
"To my shame, I do."
"Why do women wear extreme clothes? Why do you and I wear open-work silk stockings, skirts to our knees, gowns without sleeves or bodices?"
"We're slaves to fashion," replied Eleanor, "That's the popular excuse."
"Bah!" exclaimed Carley.
Eleanor laughed in spite of being half nettled. "Are you going to stop wearing what all the other women wear--and be looked at askance? Are you going to be dowdy and frumpy and old-fashioned?"
"No. But I'll never wear anything again that can be called immoral. I want to be able to say why I wear a dress. You haven't answered my question yet. Why do you wear what you frankly admit is disgusting?"
"I don't know, Carley," replied Eleanor, helplessly. "How you harp on things! We must dress to make other women jealous and to attract men. To be a sensation! Perhaps the word 'immoral' is not what I mean. A woman will be shocking in her obsession to attract, but hardly more than that, if she knows it."
"Ah! So few women realize how they actually do look. Haze Ruff could tell them."
"Haze Ruff. Who in the world is he or she?" asked Eleanor.
"Haze Ruff is a he, all right," replied Carley, grimly.
"Well, who is he?"
"A sheep-dipper in Arizona," answered Carley, dreamily.
"Humph! And what can Mr. Ruff tell us?"
"He told me I looked like one of the devil's angels--and that I dressed to knock the daylights out of men."
"Well, Carley Burch, if that isn't rich!" exclaimed Eleanor, with a peal of laughter. "I dare say you appreciate that as an original compliment."
"No. . . . I wonder what Ruff would say about jazz--I just wonder," murmured Carley.
"Well, I wouldn't care what he said, and I don't care what you say," returned Eleanor. "The preachers and reformers and bishops and rabbis make me sick. They rave about jazz. Jazz--the discordant note of our decadence! Jazz--the harmonious expression of our musicless, mindless, soulless materialism!--The idiots! If they could be women for a while they would realize the error of their ways. But they will never, never abolish jazz-- never, for it is the grandest, the most wonderful, the most absolutely necessary thing for women in this terrible age of smotheration."
"All right, Eleanor, we understand each other, even if we do not agree," said Carley. "You leave the future of women to chance, to life, to materialism, not to their own conscious efforts. I want to leave it to free will and idealism."
"Carley, you are getting a little beyond me," declared Eleanor, dubiously.
"What are you going to do? It all comes home to each individual woman. Her attitude toward life."
"I'll drift along with the current, Carley, and be a good sport," replied Eleanor, smiling.
"You don't care about the women and children of the future? You'll not deny yourself now, and think and work, and suffer a little, in the interest of future humanity?"
"How you put things, Carley!" exclaimed Eleanor, wearily. "Of course I care--when you make me think of such things. But what have I to do with the lives of people in the years to come?"
"Everything. America for Americans! While you dawdle, the life blood is being sucked out of our great nation. It is a man's job to fight; it is a woman's to save. . . . I think you've made your choice, though you don't realize it. I'm praying to God that I'll rise to mine."
Carley had a visitor one morning earlier than the usual or conventional time for calls.
"He wouldn't give no name," said the maid. "He wears soldier clothes, ma'am, and he's pale, and walks with a cane."
"Tell him I'll be right down," replied Carley.
Her hands trembled while she hurriedly dressed. Could this caller be Virgil Rust? She hoped so, but she doubted.
As she entered the parlor a tall young man in worn khaki rose to meet her. At first glance she could not name him, though she recognized the pale face and light-blue eyes, direct and steady.
"Good morning, Miss Burch," he said. "I hope you'll excuse so early a call. You remember me, don't you? I'm George Burton, who had the bunk next to Rust's."
"Surely I remember you, Mr. Burton, and I'm glad to see you," replied Carley, shaking hands with him. "Please sit down. Your being here must mean you're discharged from the hospital."
"Yes, I was discharged, all right," he said.
"Which means you're well again. That is fine. I'm very glad."
"I was put out to make room for a fellow in bad shape. I'm still shaky and weak," he replied. "But I'm glad to go. I've pulled through pretty good, and it'll not be long until I'm strong again. It was the 'flu' that kept me down."
"You must be careful. May I ask where you're going and what you expect to do?"
"Yes, that's what I came to tell you," he replied, frankly. "I want you to help me a little. I'm from Illinois and my people aren't so badly off. But I don't want to go back to my home town down and out, you know. Besides, the winters are cold there. The doctor advises me to go to a little milder climate. You see, I was gassed, and got the 'flu' afterward. But I know I'll be all right if I'm careful. . . . Well, I've always had a leaning toward agriculture, and I want to go to Kansas. Southern Kansas. I want to travel around till I find a place I like, and there I'll get a job. Not too hard a job at first--that's why I'll need a little money. I know what to do. I want to lose myself in the wheat country and forget the--the war. I'll not be afraid of work, presently. . . . Now, Miss Burch, you've been so kind--I'm going to ask you to lend me a little money. I'll pay it back. I can't promise just when. But some day. Will you?"
"Assuredly I will," she replied, heartily. "I'm happy to have the opportunity to help you. How much will you need for immediate use? Five hundred dollars?"
"Oh no, not so much as that," he replied. "Just railroad fare home, and then to Kansas, and to pay board while I get well, you know, and look around."
"We'll make it five hundred, anyway," she replied, and, rising, she went toward the library. "Excuse me a moment." She wrote the check and, returning, gave it to him.
"You're very good," he said, rather low.
"Not at all," replied Carley. "You have no idea how much it means to me to be permitted to help you. Before I forget, I must ask you, can you cash that check here in New York?"
"Not unless you identify me," he said, ruefully, "I don't know anyone I could ask."
"Well, when you leave here go at once to my bank--it's on Thirty-fourth Street--and I'll telephone the cashier. So you'll not have any difficulty. Will you leave New York at once?"
"I surely will. It's an awful place. Two years ago when I came here with my company I thought it was grand. But I guess I lost something over there. . . . I want to be where it's quiet. Where I won't see many people."
"I think I understand," returned Carley. "Then I suppose you're in a hurry to get home? Of course you have a girl you're just dying to see?"
"No, I'm sorry to say I haven't," he replied, simply. "I was glad I didn't have to leave a sweetheart behind, when I went to France. But it wouldn't be so bad to have one to go back to now."
"Don't you worry!" exclaimed Carley. "You can take your choice presently. You have the open sesame to every real American girl's heart."
"And what is that?" he asked, with a blush.
"Your service to your country," she said, gravely.
"Well," he said, with a singular bluntness, "considering I didn't get any medals or bonuses, I'd like to draw a nice girl."
"You will," replied Carley, and made haste to change the subject. "By the way, did you meet Glenn Kilbourne in France?"
"Not that I remember," rejoined Burton, as he got up, rising rather stiffly by aid of his cane. "I must go, Miss Burch. Really I can't thank you enough. And I'll never forget it."
"Will you write me how you are getting along?" asked Carley, offering her hand.
Carley moved with him out into the hall and to the door. There was a question she wanted to ask, but found it strangely difficult of utterance. At the door Burton fixed a rather penetrating gaze upon her.
"You didn't ask me about Rust," he said.
"No, I--I didn't think of him--until now, in fact," Carley lied.
"Of course then you couldn't have heard about him. I was wondering."
"I have heard nothing."
"It was Rust who told me to come to you," said Burton. "We were talking one day, and he--well, he thought you were true blue. He said he knew you'd trust me and lend me money. I couldn't have asked you but for him."
"True blue! He believed that. I'm glad. . . . Has he spoken of me to you since I was last at the hospital?"
"Hardly," replied Burton, with the straight, strange glance on her again.
Carley met this glance and suddenly a coldness seemed to envelop her. It did not seem to come from within though her heart stopped beating. Burton had not changed--the warmth, the gratitude still lingered about him. But the light of his eyes! Carley had seen it in Glenn's, in Rust's--a strange, questioning, far-off light, infinitely aloof and unutterably sad. Then there came a lift of her heart that released a pang. She whispered with dread, with a tremor, with an instinct of calamity.
The winter came, with its bleak sea winds and cold rains and blizzards of snow. Carley did not go South. She read and brooded, and gradually avoided all save those true friends who tolerated her.
She went to the theater a good deal, showing preference for the drama of strife, and she did not go anywhere for amusement. Distraction and amusement seemed to be dead issues for her. But she could become absorbed in any argument on the good or evil of the present day. Socialism reached into her mind, to be rejected. She had never understood it clearly, but it seemed to her a state of mind where dissatisfied men and women wanted to share what harder working or more gifted people possessed. There were a few who had too much of the world's goods and many who had too little. A readjustment of such inequality and injustice must come, but Carley did not see the remedy in Socialism.
She devoured books on the war with a morbid curiosity and hope that she would find some illuminating truth as to the uselessness of sacrificing young men in the glory and prime of their lives. To her war appeared a matter of human nature rather than politics. Hate really was an effect of war. In her judgment future wars could be avoided only in two ways--by men becoming honest and just or by women refusing to have children to be sacrificed. As there seemed no indication whatever of the former, she wondered how soon all women of all races would meet on a common height, with the mounting spirit that consumed her own heart. Such time must come. She granted every argument for war and flung against it one ringing passionate truth--agony of mangled soldiers and agony of women and children. There was no justification for offensive war. It was monstrous and hideous. If nature and evolution proved the absolute need of strife, war, blood, and death in the progress of animal and man toward perfection, then it would be better to abandon this Christless code and let the race of man die out.
All through these weeks she longed for a letter from Glenn. But it did not come. Had he finally roused to the sweetness and worth and love of the western girl, Flo Hutter? Carley knew absolutely, through both intelligence and intuition, that Glenn Kilbourne would never love Flo. Yet such was her intensity and stress at times, especially in the darkness of waking hours, that jealousy overcame her and insidiously worked its havoc. Peace and a strange kind of joy came to her in dreams of her walks and rides and climbs in Arizona, of the lonely canyon where it always seemed afternoon, of the tremendous colored vastness of that Painted Desert. But she resisted these dreams now because when she awoke from them she suffered such a yearning that it became unbearable. Then she knew the feeling of the loneliness and solitude of the hills. Then she knew the sweetness of the murmur of falling water, the wind in the pines, the song of birds, the white radiance of the stars, the break of day and its gold-flushed close. But she had not yet divined' their meaning. It was not all love for Glenn Kilbourne. Had city life palled upon her solely because of the absence of her lover? So Carley plodded on, like one groping in the night, fighting shadows.
One day she received a card from an old schoolmate, a girl who had married out of Carley's set, and had been ostracized. She was living down on Long Island, at a little country place named Wading River. Her husband was an electrician--something of an inventor. He worked hard. A baby boy had just come to them. Would not Carley run down on the train to see the youngster?
That was a strong and trenchant call. Carley went. She found indeed a country village, and on the outskirts of it a little cottage that must have been pretty in summer, when the green was on vines and trees. Her old schoolmate was rosy, plump, bright-eyed, and happy. She saw in Carley no change--a fact that somehow rebounded sweetly on Carley's consciousness. Elsie prattled of herself and her husband and how they had worked to earn this little home, and then the baby.
When Carley saw the adorable dark-eyed, pink-toed, curly-fisted baby she understood Elsie's happiness and reveled in it. When she felt the soft, warm, living little body in her arms, against her breast, then she absorbed some incalculable and mysterious strength. What were the trivial, sordid, and selfish feelings that kept her in tumult compared to this welling emotion? Had she the secret in her arms? Babies and Carley had never become closely acquainted in those infrequent meetings that were usually the result of chance. But Elsie's baby nestled to her breast and cooed to her and clung to her finger. When at length the youngster was laid in his crib it seemed to Carley that the fragrance and the soul of him remained with her.
"A real American boy!" she murmured.
"You can just bet he is," replied Elsie. "Carley, you ought to see his dad."
"I'd like to meet him," said Carley, thoughtfully. "Elsie, was he in the service?"
"Yes. He was on one of the navy transports that took munitions to France. Think of me, carrying this baby, with my husband on a boat full of explosives and with German submarines roaming the ocean! Oh, it was horrible!"
"But he came back, and now all's well with you," said Carley, with a smile of earnestness. "I'm very glad, Elsie."
"Yes--but I shudder when I think of a possible war in the future. I'm going to raise boys, and girls, too, I hope--and the thought of war is torturing."
Carley found her return train somewhat late, and she took advantage of the delay to walk out to the wooded headlands above the Sound.
It was a raw March day, with a steely sun going down in a pale-gray sky. Patches of snow lingered in sheltered brushy places. This bit of woodland had a floor of soft sand that dragged at Carley's feet. There were sere and brown leaves still fluttering on the scrub-oaks. At length Carley came out on the edge of the bluff with the gray expanse of seat beneath her, and a long wandering shore line, ragged with wreckage or driftwood. The surge of water rolled in--a long, low, white, creeping line that softly roared on the beach and dragged the pebbles gratingly back. There was neither boat nor living creature in sight.
Carley felt the scene ease a clutching hand within her breast. Here was loneliness and solitude vastly different from that of Oak Creek Canyon, yet it held the same intangible power to soothe. The swish of the surf, the moan of the wind in the evergreens, were voices that called to her. How many more miles of lonely land than peopled cities! Then the sea-how vast! And over that the illimitable and infinite sky, and beyond, the endless realms of space. It helped her somehow to see and hear and feel the eternal presence of nature. In communion with nature the significance of life might be realized. She remembered Glenn quoting: "The world is too much with us. . . . Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." What were our powers? What did God intend men to do with hands and bodies and gifts and souls? She gazed back over the bleak land and then out across the broad sea. Only a millionth part of the surface of the unsubmerged earth knew the populous abodes of man. And the lonely sea, inhospitable to stable homes of men, was thrice the area of the land. Were men intended, then, to congregate in few places, to squabble and to bicker and breed the discontents that led to injustice, hatred, and war? What a mystery it all was! But Nature was neither false nor little, however cruel she might be.
Once again Carley fell under the fury of her ordeal. Wavering now, restless and sleepless, given to violent starts and slow spells of apathy, she was wearing to defeat.
That spring day, one year from the day she had left New York for Arizona, she wished to spend alone. But her thoughts grew unbearable. She summed up the endless year. Could she live another like it? Something must break within her.
She went out. The air was warm and balmy, carrying that subtle current which caused the mild madness of spring fever. In the Park the greening of the grass, the opening of buds, the singing of birds, the gladness of children, the light on the water, the warm sun--all seemed to reproach her. Carley fled from the Park to the home of Beatrice Lovell; and there, unhappily, she encountered those of her acquaintance with whom she had least patience. They forced her to think too keenly of herself. They appeared carefree while she was miserable.
Over teacups there were waging gossip and argument and criticism. When Carley entered with Beatrice there was a sudden hush and then a murmur.
"Hello, Carley! Now say it to our faces," called out Geralda Conners, a fair, handsome young woman of thirty, exquisitely gowned in the latest mode, and whose brilliantly tinted complexion was not the natural one of health.
"Say what, Geralda?" asked Carley. "I certainly would not say anything behind your backs that I wouldn't repeat here."
"Eleanor has been telling us how you simply burned us up."
"We did have an argument. And I'm not sure I said all I wanted to."
"Say the rest here," drawled a lazy, mellow voice. "For Heaven's sake, stir us up. If I could get a kick out of anything I'd bless it."
"Carley, go on the stage," advised another. "You've got Elsie Ferguson tied to the mast for looks. And lately you're surely tragic enough."
"I wish you'd go somewhere far off!" observed a third. "My husband is dippy about you."
"Girls, do you know that you actually have not one sensible idea in your heads?" retorted Carley.
"Sensible? I should hope not. Who wants to be sensible?"
Geralda battered her teacup on a saucer. "Listen," she called. "I wasn't kidding Carley. I am good and sore. She goes around knocking everybody and saying New York backs Sodom off the boards. I want her to come out with it right here."
"I dare say I've talked too much," returned Carley. "It's been a rather hard winter on me. Perhaps, indeed, I've tried the patience of my friends."
"See here, Carley," said Geralda, deliberately, "just because you've had life turn to bitter ashes in your mouth you've no right to poison it for us. We all find it pretty sweet. You're an unsatisfied woman and if you don't marry somebody you'll end by being a reformer or fanatic."
"I'd rather end that way than rot in a shell," retorted Carley.
"I declare, you make me see red, Carley," flashed Geralda, angrily. "No wonder Morrison roasts you to everybody. He says Glenn Kilbourne threw you down for some Western girl. If that's true it's pretty small of you to vent your spleen on us."
Carley felt the gathering of a mighty resistless force, But Geralda Conners was nothing to her except the target for a thunderbolt.
"I have no spleen," she replied, with a dignity of passion. "I have only pity. I was as blind as you. If heartbreak tore the scales from my eyes, perhaps that is well for me. For I see something terribly wrong in myself, in you, in all of us, in the life of today."
"You keep your pity to yourself. You need it," answered Geralda, with heat. "There's nothing wrong with me or my friends or life in good old New York."
"Nothing wrong!" cried Carley. "Listen. Nothing wrong in you or life today-nothing for you women to make right? You are blind as bats--as dead to living truth as if you were buried. Nothing wrong when thousands of crippled soldiers have no homes--no money--no friends--no work--in many cases no food or bed? . . . Splendid young men who went away in their prime to fight for you and came back ruined, suffering! Nothing wrong when sane women with the vote might rid politics of partisanship, greed, crookedness? Nothing wrong when prohibition is mocked by women--when the greatest boon ever granted this country is derided and beaten down and cheated? Nothing wrong when there are half a million defective children in this city? Nothing wrong when there are not enough schools and teachers to educate our boys and girls, when those teachers are shamefully underpaid? Nothing wrong when the mothers of this great country let their youngsters go to the dark. motion picture halls and night after night in thousands of towns over all this broad land see pictures that the juvenile court and the educators and keepers of reform schools say make burglars, crooks, and murderers of our boys and vampires of our girls? Nothing wrong when these young adolescent girls ape you and wear stockings rolled under their knees below their skirts and use a lip stick and paint their faces and darken their eyes and pluck their eyebrows and absolutely do not know what shame is? Nothing wrong when you may find in any city women standing at street corners distributing booklets on birth control? Nothing wrong when great magazines print no page or picture without its sex appeal? Nothing wrong when the automobile, so convenient for the innocent little run out of town, presents the greatest evil that ever menaced American girls! Nothing wrong when money is god--when luxury, pleasure, excitement, speed are the striven for? Nothing wrong when some of your husbands spend more of their time with other women than with you? Nothing wrong with jazz--where the lights go out in the dance hall and the dancers. jiggle and toddle and wiggle in a frenzy? Nothing wrong in a country where the greatest college cannot report birth of one child to each graduate in ten years? Nothing wrong with race suicide and the incoming horde of foreigners? . . . Nothing wrong with you women who cannot or will not stand childbirth? Nothing wrong with most of you, when if you did have a child, you could not nurse it? . . . Oh, my God, there's nothing wrong with America except that she staggers under a Titanic burden that only mothers of sons can remove! . . . You doll women, you parasites, you toys of men, you silken-wrapped geisha girls, you painted, idle, purring cats, you parody of the females of your species-- find brains enough if you can to see the doom hanging over you and revolt before it is too late!"