Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

She took the picture in silence, and for Miss Gaylord rose. “There are Gera long moment stared down at the soft ald and father looking for you," she said, little face, so fearless, so confident and "and I must go now.

She held out her gay, that smiled appealingly back at her. hand. "Thank you for letting me see Then she did something astonishing, her picture, and for everything you said something which seemed to him wholly about Captain Sherwood-for everything un-English,

and yet he thought it the remember-I want you to remember." sweetest thing he had ever seen. Cup- With a light pressure of her fingers she ping her strong hands about the picture was gone, slipping away through the with a quick protectiveness, she suddenly shrubbery, and he did not see her again. raised it to her lips, and kissed it lightly. "O little girl!" she cried, "I hope you

IV will be very happy!”

The little involuntary act, so tender, So he came to his last morning at Bishso sisterly and spontaneous, touched the opsthorpe; and as he dressed, he wished Virginian extremely.

it could have been different; that he were "Thanks, awfully," he said unstead- not still conscious of that baffling wall of ily. "She'll think a lot of that, just as I reserve between himself and Chev's peodo-and I know she'd wish you the ple, for whom, despite all, he had come same.”

to have a real affection. She made no reply to that, and as she In the breakfast-room he found them handed the picture back to him, he saw all assembled, and his last meal there that her hands were trembling, and he seemed to him as constrained and difficult had a sudden conviction that, if she had as any that had preceded it. It was been Sally Berkeley, her eyes would have over finally, however, and in a few minbeen full of tears. As she was Sybil utes he would be leaving. Gaylord, however, there were no tears “I can never thank you enough for the there, only a look that he never forgot. splendid time I've had here," he said as The look of one much older, protective,

he rose. "I'll be seeing Chev to-morrow, maternal almost, and as if she were gaz- and I'll tell him all about everything." ing back at Sally Berkeley and himself Then.he stopped dead. With a smothfrom a long way ahead on the road of ered exclamation, old Sir Charles had life. He supposed it was the way most stumbled to his feet, knocking over his English people felt nowadays. He had chair, and hurried blindly out of the surprised it so often on all their faces, room; and Gerald said, "Mother!" in a that he could not help speaking of it.

choked appeal. "You all think we Americans are aw- As if it were a signal between them fully young and raw, don't you ?” he Lady Sherwood pushed her chair back a questioned.

little from the table, her long delicate fin"Oh, no, not that,” she deprecated. gers dropped together loosely in her lap; "Young perhaps for these days, yes--but she gave a faint sigh as if a restraining it is more that you—that your country is mantle slipped from her shoulders, and, 30-0 unsuffered. And we don't want looking up at the youth before her, her you to suffer!" she added quickly. fine pale face lighted with a kind of

Yes, that was it! He understood now, glory, she said, "No, dear lad, no. You and, heavens, how fine it was! Old Eng- can never tell Chev, for he is gone." land was wounded deep-deep. What "Gone!" he cried. she suffered herself she was too proud to "Yes," she nodded back at him, just show; but out of it she wrought a great above a whisper; and now her face quivmaternal care for the newcomer. Yes, it ered, and the tears began to rush down was fine-he hoped his country would her cheeks. understand.

"Not dead!he cried. "Not Chev

not that! O my God, Gerald, not admired him, and would have followed that?

him anywhere-and of course if I had , Gerald said. “They got him known, I should have gone away at once.” two days after you left."

“Ah, but that was just what we were It was so overwhelming, so unexpected afraid of,” she said quickly. "We were and shocking, above all so terrible, that afraid you would go away and have a the friend he had so greatly loved and lonely leave somewhere. And in these admired was gone out of his life forever, days a boy's leave is so precious a thing that young Cary stumbled back into his that nothing must spoil itnothing," she seat, and, crumpling over, buried his face reiterated; and her tears fell upon his in his hands, making great uncouth gasps hands like a benediction. “But we didn't as he strove to choke back his grief. do it very well, I'm afraid,” she went on

Gerald groped hastily around the ta- presently, with gentle contrition. "You ble, and flung an arm about his shoulders. were too quick and understanding; you

“Steady on, dear fellow, steady,” he guessed there was something wrong. We said, though his own voice broke.

were sorry not to manage better," she "When did you hear ?" Cary got out apologized. at last.

"Oh, you wonderful, wonderful peo“We got the official notice just the ple!” he gasped. “Doing everything for day before you came-and Withers has my happiness, when all the time-all the written us particulars since."

time“And you let me come in spite of it! His voice went out sharply, as his mind And stay on, when every word I said flashed back to scene after scene: to Gerabout him must have-have fairly cruci- ald's long body lying quivering on the fied each one of you! Oh, forgive me! grass; to Sybil Gaylord wishing Sally forgive me!” he cried distractedly. He Berkeley happiness out of her own trasaw it all now; he understood at last. It gedy; and to the high look on Lady was not on Gerald's account that they Sherwood's face. They seemed to him could not talk of flying and of Chev, it themselves, and yet more than themselves was because-because their hearts were - shining bits in the mosaic of a great broken over Chev himself. “Oh, for- | nation. Disjointedly, there passed through give me!" he gasped again.

his mind familiar words—"these are they Dear lad, there is nothing to forgive," who have washed their garments—having Lady Sherwood returned. “How could come out of great tribulation.” No wonwe help loving your generous praise of der they seemed older. our poor darling? We loved it, and you Wewe couldn't have done it in for it; we wanted to hear it, but we were America,” he said humbly. afraid. We were afraid we might break He had a desperate desire to get away down, and that you would find out." to himself; to hide his face in his arms,

The tears were still running down her and give vent to the tears that were cheeks. She did not brush them away stilling him; to weep for his lost friend, now; she seemed glad to have them there and for this great heartbreaking heroism at last.

of theirs. Sinking down on his knees, he caught “But why did you do it?” he persisted. her hands. “Why did you let me do "Was it because I was his friend?” such horrible thing?” he cried. "Oh, it was much more than that," "Couldn't you have trusted me to under- Gerald said quickly. "It was a matter of stand? Couldn't you see I loved him the two countries. Of course, we jolly just as you did-No, no!" he broke down well knew you didn't belong to us, and humbly. “Of course I couldn't love him didn't want to, but for the life of us as his own people did. But you must we couldn't help a sort of feeling that have seen how I felt about him-how I vou did. And when America was in at

а

last, and you fellows began to come, you lips. “As long as I live, I shall never seemed like our very own come back after forget,” he said. “And others of us have many years, and,” he added, a throb in his seen it, too, in other ways—be sure Amervoice, "we were most awfully glad to see ica will never forget, either." you-we wanted a chance to show you She looked up at his untouched youth how England felt."

out of her beautiful sad eyes, the exalted Skipworth Cary rose to his feet. The light still shining through her tears. tears for his friend were still wet upon "Yes,” she said, "you see it was I don't his lashes. Stooping, he took Lady Sher- know exactly how to put it-but it was wood's hands in his and raised them to his | England to America.”

arms.

FOOTFALLS

WILBUR DANIEL STEELE Since 1915 Wilbur Daniel Steele (1886- ), a North Carolinian by birth, has been publishing with regularity short stories of unusual merit. While his impressionistic style and realistic detail seem to ally him with the modero Realists, the conscious design of his stories raises them as works of art above the productions of most of his contemporaries. Vivid projection of character, exceptional facility in motivating plot, and keen sensibility to artistic form character. ize his work.

In "Footfalls,” which appeared in the Pictorial Review in 1920, the elements of character, plot, and setting are harmoniously blended, that of character predominating. Boaz Negro, with his "unquenchable exuberance" finally triumphant over tragic circumstance, is an unforgettable figure. This is not an easy story; not a road

He came into his shop singing. for tender or for casual feet. Better the His voice, strong and deep as the chest meadows. Let me warn you, it is as

from which it emanated, rolled out hard as that old man's soul and as sunless through the doorway and along the as his eyes. It has its inception in catas- street, and the fishermen, done with their trophe, and its end in an act of almost in- morning work and lounging and smoking credible violence; between them it tells along the wharfs, said, "Boaz is to work barely how one long blind can become already.” Then they came up to sit in also deaf and dumb.

the shop. He lived in one of those old puritan sea In that town a cobbler's shop is a club. towns where the strain has come down One sees the interior always dimly austere and moribund, so that his act thronged. They sit on the benches would not be quite unbelievable. Ex- watching the artisan at his work for cept that the town is no longer Puritan hours, and they talk about everything in and Yankee. It has been betrayed; it the world. A cobbler is known by the has become an outpost of the Portuguese

company he keeps. islands.

Boaz Negro kept young company. He This man, this blind cobbler himself, would have nothing to do with the old. was a Portuguese from St. Michael, in On his own head the gray hairs set the Western Islands, and his name was thickly. Boaz Negro.

He had a grown son.

But the benches He was happy. An unquenchable ex- in his shop were for the lusty and valiant uberance lived in him. When he arose

young, men who could spend the night in the morning he made vast, as it were

drinking, and then at three o'clock in the uncontrollable, gestures with his stout morning turn out in the rain and dark Reprinted by courtesy of Wilbur Daniel to pull at the weirs, sing songs, buffet

one another among the slippery fish in the

Steele.

[ocr errors]

poat's bottom, and make loud jokes about tone!” “Good night to you, Caleb che fundamental things, love and birth Snow!" and death. Harkening to their boasts To Boaz Negro it was still broad day. and strong prophecies his breast heaved Now, because of this, he was what and his heart beat faster.

He was a

might be called a substantial man. He arge, full-blooded fellow, fashioned for owned his place, his shop, opening on exploits; the flame in his darkness burned the sidewalk, and behind it the dwellingiigher even to hear of them.

house with trellised galleries upstairs and It is scarcely conceivable how Boaz Ne- down. gro could have come through this much of And there was always something for his life still possessed of that unquenchable his son, a "piece for the pocket," a dollar-, and priceless exuberance; how he would five-, even a ten-dollar bill if he had sing in the dawn; how, simply listening “got to have it.” Manuel was “a good to the recital of deeds in gale or brawl, boy." Boaz not only said this; he felt he could forget himself a blind man, tied that he was assured of it in his underto a shop and a last; easily make of standing, to the infinite peace of his himself a lusty young fellow breast- heart. ing the sunlit and adventurous tide of It was curious that he should be iglife.

norant only of the one nearest to him. He had had a wife, whom he had loved. Not because he was physically blind. Be Fate, which had scourged him with the certain he knew more of other men and initial scourge of blindness, had seen fit of other men's sons than they or their to take his Angelina away. He had had neighbors did. More, that is to say, of four sons. Three, one after another, had their hearts, their understandings, their been removed, leaving only Manuel, the idiosyncrasies, and their ultimate weight youngest. Recovering slowly, with agony, in the balance-pan of eternity. from each of these recurrent blows, his His simple explanation of Manuel was unquenchable exuberance had lived. And that Manuel "wasn't too stout.” To there was another thing quite as extra- others he said this, and to himself. Manordinary. He had never done anything uel was not indeed too robust. How but work, and that sort of thing may kill should he be vigorous when he never did the flame where an abrupt catastrophe anything to make him so ? He never fails. Work in the dark. Work, work, worked. Why should he work, when work! And accompanied by privation; existence was provided for, and when an almost miserly scale of personal econ- there was always that “piece for the omy. Yes, indeed, he had "skinned his

pocket"? Even a ten-dollar bill on a fingers,” especially in the earlier years. Saturday night! No, Manuel “wasn't When it tells most.

too stout.” How he had worked! Not alone in In the shop they let it go at that. The the daytime, but also sometimes, when misssteps and frailties of every one else orders were heavy, far into the night. It in the world were canvassed there with was strange for one, passing along that the most shameless publicity. But Boaz deserted street at midnight, to hear issu- Negro was a blind man, and in a sense ing from the black shop of Boaz Negro their host. Those reckless, strong young the rhythmical tap-tap-tap of hammer on fellows respected and loved him. It was wooden peg.

allowed to stand at that. Manuel was Nor was that sound all: no man in “a good boy."

"a good boy." Which did not prevent town could get far past that shop in his them, by the way, from joining later in nocturnal wandering unobserved. No the general condemnation of that father's more than a dozen footfalls, and from the laxity-"the ruination of the boy!" darkness Boaz's voice rolled forth, fra- "He should have put him to work, ternal, stentorian, "Good night, An- that's what."

A

"He should have said to Manuel, Trade, there was a "Good night, Mr. ‘Look here, if you want a dollar, go earn Negro!” it first.'”

On Boaz's part, his attitude toward As a matter of fact, only one man ever his lodger was curious and paradoxical. gave Boaz the advice direct. That was He did not pretend to anything less than Campbell Wood. And Wood never sat reverence for the young man's position; in that shop.

precisely on account of that position he In every small town there is one young was conscious toward Wood of a vague man who is spoken of as “rising.” As distrust. This was because he was an often as not he is not a native, but “from uneducated fellow. away."

To the uneducated the idea of large In this town Campbell Wood was that finance is as uncomfortable as the idea of man. He had come from another part the law. It must be said for Boaz that, of the state to take a place in the bank. responsive to Wood's unfailing civility, He lived in the upper story of Boaz he fought against this sensation of dim Negro's house, the ground floor now do- and somehow shameful distrust. ing for Boaz and the meagre remnant of Nevertheless his whole parental soul his family. The old woman who came in was in arms that evening, when, returnto tidy up for the cobbler looked after ing from the bank and finding the shop Wood's rooms as well.

empty of loungers, Wood paused a moDealing with Wood, one had first of ment to propose the bit of advice already all the sense of his incorruptibility. referred to. little ruthless perhaps, as if one could "Haven't you ever thought of having imagine him, in defense of his integrity, Manuel learn the trade?" cutting off his friend, cutting off his own A suspicion, a kind of premonition, hand, cutting off the very stream flowing lighted the fires of defense. out from the wellsprings of human kind- "Shoemaking," said Boaz, "is good ness. An exaggeration, perhaps.

enough for a blind man." He was by long odds the most eligible "Oh, I don't know. At least it's betyoung man in town; good looking in a ter than doing nothing at all.” spare, ruddy, sandy-haired Scottish fash- Boaz's hammer was still. He sat ion; important, incorruptible, "rising." silent, monumental. Outwardly. For But he took good care of his heart. Pre- once his unfailing response had failed cisely that; like a sharp-eyed duenna to him, "Manuel ain't too stout, you his own heart. One felt that here was know.” Perhaps it had become sudthe man, if ever was the man, who held denly inadequate. his destiny in his own hand. Failing, of He hated Wood; he despised Wood; course, some quite gratuitous and unfore- more than ever before, a hundred fold seeable catastrophe.

more, quite abruptly, he distrusted Wood. Not that he was not human, or even How could a man say such things as incapable of laughter or passion. He was, Wood had said? And where Manuel

.

might hear!

Where Manuel had heard! Boaz's other hand, he never failed to speak. Not other emotions-hatred and contempt and even to Boaz.

overshadowed. Sitting Returning from the bank in the after- in darkness, no sound had come to his noon, he had always a word for the cob- ears, no footfall, no infinitesimal creaking bler. Passing out again to supper at his of a floor-plank. Yet by some sixth unboarding-place, he had another, about the canny sense of the blind he was aware weather, the prospects of rain. And if that Manuel was standing in the dusk of Boaz were at work in the dark when he the entry joining the shop to the house. returned from an evening at the Board of Boaz made a Herculean effort. The

distrust-were

« AnteriorContinuar »