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The "Genius"

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Šrift:Väiksem АаSuurem Aa

CHAPTER XXIX

The dénouement of all this, as much as ever could be, was still two years off. By that time Suzanne was considerably more sobered, somewhat more intellectually cultivated, a little cooler – not colder exactly – and somewhat more critical. Men, when it came to her type of beauty, were a little too suggestive of their amorousness. After Eugene their proffers of passion, adoration, undying love, were not so significant.

But one day in New York on Fifth Avenue, there was a re-encounter. She was shopping with her mother, but their ways, for a moment, were divided. By now Eugene was once more in complete possession of his faculties. The old ache had subsided to a dim but colorful mirage of beauty that was always in his eye. Often he had thought what he would do if he saw Suzanne again – what say, if anything. Would he smile, bow – and if there were an answering light in her eye, begin his old courtship all over, or would he find her changed, cold, indifferent? Would he be indifferent, sneering? It would be hard on him, perhaps, afterwards, but it would pay her out and serve her right. If she really cared, she ought to be made to suffer for being a waxy fool and tool in the hands of her mother. He did not know that she had heard of his wife's death – the birth of his child – and that she had composed and destroyed five different letters, being afraid of reprisal, indifference, scorn.

She had heard of his rise to fame as an artist once more, for the exhibition had finally come about, and with it great praise, generous acknowledgments of his ability – artists admired him most of all. They thought him strange, eccentric, but great. M. Charles had suggested to a great bank director that his new bank in the financial district be decorated by Eugene alone, which was eventually done – nine great panels in which he expressed deeply some of his feeling for life. At Washington, in two of the great public buildings and in three state capitols were tall, glowing panels also of his energetic dreaming, – a brooding suggestion of beauty that never was on land or sea. Here and there in them you might have been struck by a face – an arm, a cheek, an eye. If you had ever known Suzanne as she was you would have known the basis – the fugitive spirit at the bottom of all these things.

But in spite of that he now hated her – or told himself that he did. Under the heel of his intellectuality was the face, the beauty that he adored. He despised and yet loved it. Life had played him a vile trick – love – thus to frenzy his reason and then to turn him out as mad. Now, never again, should love affect him, and yet the beauty of woman was still his great lure – only he was the master.

And then one day Suzanne appeared.

He scarcely recognized her, so sudden it was and so quickly ended. She was crossing Fifth Avenue at Forty-second Street. He was coming out of a jeweler's, with a birthday ring for little Angela. Then the eyes of this girl, a pale look – a flash of something wonderful that he remembered and then —

He stared curiously – not quite sure.

"He does not even recognize me," thought Suzanne, "or he hates me now. Oh! – all in five years!"

"It is she, I believe," he said to himself, "though I am not quite sure. Well, if it is she can go to the devil!" His mouth hardened. "I will cut her as she deserves to be cut," he thought. "She shall never know that I care."

And so they passed, – never to meet in this world – each always wishing, each defying, each folding a wraith of beauty to the heart.

L'ENVOI

There appears to be in metaphysics a basis, or no basis, according as the temperament and the experience of each shall incline him, for ethical or spiritual ease or peace. Life sinks into the unknowable at every turn and only the temporary or historical scene remains as a guide, – and that passes also. It may seem rather beside the mark that Eugene in his moral and physical depression should have inclined to various religious abstrusities for a time, but life does such things in a storm. They constituted a refuge from himself, from his doubts and despairs as religious thought always does.

If I were personally to define religion I would say that it is a bandage that man has invented to protect a soul made bloody by circumstance; an envelope to pocket him from the unescapable and unstable illimitable. We seek to think of things as permanent and see them so. Religion gives life a habitation and a name apparently – though it is an illusion. So we are brought back to time and space and illimitable mind – as what? And we shall always stand before them attributing to them all those things which we cannot know.

Yet the need for religion is impermanent, like all else in life. As the soul regains its health, it becomes prone to the old illusions. Again women entered his life – never believe otherwise – drawn, perhaps, by a certain wistfulness and loneliness in Eugene, who though quieted by tragedy for a little while was once more moving in the world. He saw their approach with more skepticism, and yet not unmoved – women who came through the drawing rooms to which he was invited, wives and daughters who sought to interest him in themselves and would scarcely take no for an answer; women of the stage – women artists, poetasters, "varietists," critics, dreamers. From the many approaches, letters and meetings, some few relationships resulted, ending as others had ended. Was he not changed, then? Not much – no. Only hardened intellectually and emotionally – tempered for life and work. There were scenes, too, violent ones, tears, separations, renouncements, cold meetings – with little Angela always to one side in Myrtle's care as a stay and consolation.

In Eugene one saw an artist who, pagan to the core, enjoyed reading the Bible for its artistry of expression, and Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Spinoza and James for the mystery of things which they suggested. In his child he found a charming personality and a study as well – one whom he could brood over with affectionate interest at times, seeing already something of himself and something of Angela, and wondering at the outcome. What would she be like? Would art have any interest for her? She was so daring, gay, self-willed, he thought.

"You've a Tartar on your hands," Myrtle once said to him, and he smiled as he replied:

"Just the same I'll see if I can't keep up with her."

One of his occasional thoughts was that if he and Angela, junior, came to understand each other thoroughly, and she did not marry too soon, he could build a charming home around her. Perhaps her husband might not object to living with them.

The last scene of all may be taken from his studio in Montclair, where with Myrtle and her husband as resident housekeepers and Angela as his diversion he was living and working. He was sitting in front of his fireplace one night reading, when a thought in some history recalled to his mind a paragraph somewhere in Spencer's astonishing chapters on "the unknowable" in his "Facts and Comments," and he arose to see if he could find it. Rummaging around in his books he extracted the volume and reread it, with a kind of smack of intellectual agreement, for it suited his mood in regard to life and his own mental state in particular. Because it was so peculiarly related to his own viewpoint I quote it:

"Beyond the reach of our intelligence as are the mysteries of the objects known by our senses, those presented in this universal matrix are, if we may say so, still further beyond the reach of our intelligence, for whereas, those of the one kind may be, and are, thought of by many as explicable on the hypothesis of creation, and by the rest on the hypothesis of evolution, those of the other kind cannot by either be regarded as thus explicable. Theist and Agnostic must agree in recognizing the properties of Space as inherent, eternal, uncreated – as anteceding all creation, if creation has taken place. Hence, could we penetrate the mysteries of existence, there would still remain more transcendent mysteries. That which can be thought of as neither made nor evolved presents us with facts the origin of which is even more remote from conceivability than is the origin of the facts presented by visible and tangible things… The thought of this blank form of existence which, explored in all directions as far as eye can reach, has, beyond that, an unexplored region compared with which the part imagination has traversed is but infinitesimal – the thought of a space, compared with which our immeasurable sidereal system dwindles to a point, is a thought too overwhelming to be dwelt upon. Of late years the consciousness that without origin or cause, infinite space has ever existed and must ever exist produces in me a feeling from which I shrink."

"Well," said Eugene, turning as he thought he heard a slight noise, "that is certainly the sanest interpretation of the limitations of human thought I have ever read" – and then seeing the tiny Angela enter, clad in a baggy little sleeping suit which was not unrelated to a Harlequin costume, he smiled, for he knew her wheedling, shifty moods and tricks.

"Now what are you coming in here for?" he asked, with mock severity. "You know you oughn't to be up so late. If Auntie Myrtle catches you!"

"But I can't sleep, Daddy," she replied trickily, anxious to be with him a little while longer before the fire, and tripping coaxingly across the floor. "Won't you take me?"

"Yes, I know all about your not being able to sleep, you scamp. You're coming in here to be cuddled. You beat it!"

"Oh, no, Daddy!"

"All right, then, come here." And he gathered her up in his arms and reseated himself by the fire. "Now you go to sleep or back you go to bed."

She snuggled down, her yellow head in his crook'd elbow while he looked at her cheek, recalling the storm in which she had arrived.

 

"Little flower girl," he said. "Sweet little kiddie."

His offspring made no reply. Presently he carried her asleep to her couch, tucked her in, and, coming back, went out on the brown lawn, where a late November wind rustled in the still clinging brown leaves. Overhead were the star – Orion's majestic belt and those mystic constellations that make Dippers, Bears, and that remote cloudy formation known as the Milky Way.

"Where in all this – in substance," he thought, rubbing his hand through his hair, "is Angela? Where in substance will be that which is me? What a sweet welter life is – how rich, how tender, how grim, how like a colorful symphony."

Great art dreams welled up into his soul as he viewed the sparkling deeps of space.

"The sound of the wind – how fine it is tonight," he thought.

Then he went quietly in and closed the door.

THE END