It is to make to leave him alone



Kendall Ware had set foot on the French liner bound for France early in May; he had landed at Bordeaux, May 19th. It was now the last of June. Less than two months had passed over his head, but the Kendall Ware who paced the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne this evening was years removed from the boy who walked the decks of the Rochambeau with Maude Knox. He was altered as only years of experience could have altered him in the times when men went about their business after the manner of rational human beings, when death was not a profession which engaged the world, when the dollar was the measure of success, when one day was like another, and meat could be eaten seven days in the week. The great modification in him was that he had learned it to be true that man is a thinking animal and that the brain may be used for something besides adding a column of figures or as a storage-house for the thoughts of a past generation. He had perceived that different theories of life existed in the world. He had been seized by events and forcibly fed with something which might crystallize into knowledge, and he had arrived at that unpleasant junction in the railroad system of life where he must choose between trains—whether he would board the one which went ahead swiftly through the Country of Responsible Individual Thought or the one which lagged backward through the Land of Swallowed Dogmas…. He was not happy.

He was making another discovery—namely, that one can theorize very comfortably, but that when one transmutes theory into accomplished fact, theory has become practice, and speculations upon its results may be exceedingly unpleasant. Within the last twenty-four hours Kendall had translated one theory into a fact, and another fact had arrived, needing no transmutation. The theory was the little-moment-of-happiness theory, and the fact was a letter from his mother.

That morning after he had left Andree he was rather disappointed to find that he suffered no remorse, experienced no sense of having done what he should have left undone. Andree was Andree, sweet, good, lovable. Because she was so, and because of his certainty of her cleanness of soul, he felt no sense of degradation or of having transgressed. He was even happy, rejoicing, boylike, in the sweetness of the gift of her love…. He found his mother’s letter at the office and, having read it, his romance was smirched with sordidness, its beauty was dulled by the intrusion of harsh, unsparing, cold convention. The Middle West had intruded upon Paris, and he was discovering that there was much Middle West remaining alive in him.

His mother’s letter had said, and he could visualize her face as she wrote, severe, unyielding, harsh, forbidding:

I am sorry to hear that you are stationed in Paris. They say that Paris is a wicked city. Everybody says the French are loose and immoral, which makes me worry about all our young men who are thrown with them. Your letter says that Paris is beautiful. It is not a good beauty, I have heard. Some one told me there were statues of naked women all over in the parks. I cannot understand how they allow such things; they must be bad, passionate men to allow it. I hope you will be very careful. You are young, and sometimes you are like your father, who is easily taken in. I am glad you do not speak that language, because you cannot get acquainted with French people. Those women have no morals; they are nasty creatures who just want to get hold of every penny you get. Some day you will want to marry a nice, clean American girl, and you have got to think about that. I don’t see why the war couldn’t have been some place else. Don’t ever look at one of them. They’re all atheists and that accounts for it….

There was more to the same effect. It reflected his mother perfectly, and the sentiments of the people among whom his mother lived; it represented, in extreme terms, the sentiment of his home community…. And over against it all stood Andree! That such words should be used to apply to her was sacrilege!… Yet … yet … she was—no matter what he might argue in her favor—in the language of his people, Andree was not an honest woman….

The effect of the letter upon him, however, had been uncanny. While he read he was again in Detroit. His sensations were almost exactly those which he always felt as he entered the Presbyterian church with his father and mother—not as he sat down in the accustomed pew, but as he passed through the crowded little vestibule where bald, smug elders and bearded, smug deacons and severe-faced chairwomen of missionary boards held their court before the service, shaking hands with all who entered with that religious affability, that hushed and somber and severe welcome, which strove to counterfeit open-heartedness…. It was that vestibule, and not the church, not the sermon, not the hymns nor the songs, which personified Kendall’s religion and what his religion meant…. He had grown up among those elders and deacons and chairwomen, and he knew them—in the church. It was incomprehensible to him that they could have any interests or activities outside the church. The practice of religion in that place seemed to him to be the sole occupations of their lives, and when he met one of them in the secular world of a week-day in the act of selling goods, or of handling money in a bank, or of anything else which savored of business and earning a living, Ken had the sort of feeling one has when he detects a person in something unusual and a bit discreditable. Why, those persons were the church!… And the thoughts of those persons were the thoughts of Kendall’s home world, thoughts among which he had been raised from babyhood…. So, as he read, he was transported to that vestibule—and that vestibule’s occupants smugly set the stain of guilt upon him and rolled eyes of horror at Andree…. He had been seeing Paris with something that approximated the eyes of Paris—now he was seeing it with the eyes of the vestibule of the Presbyterian church.

Before him stretched the magnificent avenue, crowded, as dusk descended, with pleasure-seeking Parisians: he regarded it—regarded it as a spectator, an utter outsider. It was as if he looked at the scene from a window in the Presbyterian church. The two worlds stood starkly facing each other, challenging each other—the civilization that was Paris and the civilization that had its expression in the occupants of the church vestibule. Kendall saw, with something very like to fear, that they could not be reconciled, that neither contained a starting-point which would lead to understanding of the other…. And yet he, springing from the one, felt that he understood both. He was drawn to the one while the other clung to him tenaciously.

It was not that his mother’s letter made him feel guilt; it was rather that it made him feel as if he ought to be conscious of wrong-doing. He ought to feel wicked and degraded, but he could not, and the fact that he could not seemed in itself to convict him of sin…. It was only when he thought of Andree that any semblance of stability came upon his thinking. There could be no argument about Andree. He had studied her, known her, loved her—and she was good. No church vestibule, no dogmatic elder, not even his mother, should say Andree was anything but good. He got some happiness out of that thought; Andree was an oasis of safety for him. He was capable of distinguishing between evil and virtue, he thought, and he had studied Andree as he had never studied any other living being. From the first moment of their acquaintance he had not perceived in her one quality, one emotion, one tendency that was not sweet, womanly, kindly, lovable, springing from a heart of purity…. How could a girl, proved to his intelligence to be good, be otherwise than good? How was it that any act of hers might be brought into question? Why was he questioning his righteousness because of his relations with her when her righteousness because of her relations with him were not open to question? It was very confusing. Could two individuals share an act and one of them be good and the other bad because of it? That sounded like a violation of some natural law as, for instance, that two solids cannot occupy the same space at the same instant…. Or was he wholly wrong? Could his judgment of her and of Paris and of the whole French nation be mistaken?… It might even be that Paris was not beautiful, as he had seen it beautiful, or that the French nation was not really sturdy, glowing with virility, heroic, as its deeds had seemed to prove it to be, but squalid, decadent….

He began to walk rapidly, as was his custom when in mental difficulty, and as he walked he knew the keen discomfort of a soul in turmoil…. He tried not to think about it, to put it out of his mind, and to find pleasure in the evening and in the dusk-softened beauties of the city, but his mind would not obey. He had a sensation of being terribly awake, of the blinding glow as of a tremendously powerful white light inside his head. His thoughts seemed to function independently of him, and himself to be an audience present to observe and listen to their activities. There was something ghastly about it, something unreal….

He strode around the Arc de Triomphe and thence down the Champs Élysées until he reached the Palais des Beaux-Arts, and there he turned to his right, crossing the Pont Alexandre III, marvelously beautiful in the half-light. He did not pause to admire the river and the city’s sky-line as he had so often done, but turned again, this time to his left, and followed the Quai d’Orsay, clinging to the bank of the Seine until he was opposite the Cité and in the familiar open space of the Place St.-Michel.

Again he turned and followed the broad boulevard up which he had walked again and again with Andree. Perhaps that was why he had come to the locality, drawn subconsciously into a region of such associations. Perhaps there had been hidden in some recess of his mind the hope that he might encounter her, and so feel her presence and sense her goodness and verify his judgment.

At the corner of the Boulevard St.-Michel and the equally broad rue Soufflot is a café whose tables and chairs crowded the sidewalk. It was still light enough to distinguish the crowd of people who patronized the place, sipping coffee from small goblets or drinking wine or that strange beverage kept in bottles which Paris believes to be lemonade…. He glanced carelessly at the café, then he stopped, peered again intently with a sudden up-leap of the pulse, for at a table near the end sat a girl in white, wearing a white tam-o’-shanter. This alone would not have halted Kendall, rather it would have urged him forward with eager haste, but the girl was not alone. A man occupied the chair at her side, bending over her with that eagerness which is not to be mistaken in a young man, that eagerness which apprises all the watching world that he is in the act of making love….

At the end of the café were a number of small potted trees reaching almost to the awning above. Kendall, unconscious that it was jealousy that dictated his movements, drew near cautiously to peer over the foliage at that adjacent table, to assure himself if it were Andree or not…. It was Andree, and her companion was Monsieur Robert, of the Comédie Française….

Quick suspicion is a natural result of the thing that the vestibule of the Presbyterian church, as Kendall knew it, stood for. Intolerance has for its favorite child Suspicion, Acute Suspicion, which convicts without trial and, if subsequent trial goes against it, asserts that the jury was tampered with. It was one of Kendall’s inheritances. He had been raised under the influence of constant suspicion. He himself had been suspected; he was used to seeing the most trivial events suspected. His mother, for instance, knew instantly that any happening which came under her eye and about which she was not fully informed meant something bad. It was never the way of that body of society in which he had been brought up to think the best when a trifle of imagination would enable it to think the worst—and to-night Kendall was peculiarly under the influence of his inheritances…. He suspected. A natural jealousy deepened his suspicion. Monsieur Robert’s profession deepened it further, and Andree’s often stated ambition to become an actress carried it to more profound depths. Suspicion may own a specious logic: Andree declared it was necessary for her to undertake a stage career. To do so it was necessary to enter the Académie. To enter the Académie it was necessary to interest the influence of some actor of prominence, and she had more than once hoped for this intervention. Ken himself had introduced her to this Monsieur Robert with that end in view…. And Jacques, perhaps in jest, perhaps in earnest, had warned him to beware of Monsieur Robert, or that handsome young actor would steal Andree from him. Hence Robert must have that sort of reputation…. And, therefore, Robert was with Andree at this moment for that purpose…. Again, what more natural and logical than that Andree should be willing to purchase her career, and that, even at this very moment, the agreement was being made…. Or, perhaps, had been made before, and he had been deceived already! Undoubtedly that was it….

The part of him inherited from his mother was in complete control now; he was narrow, certain in suspicion, hard, willing to be cruel. All that was worst in Roundhead, Puritan, Pilgrim Father was apparent in him. He had seen, and, in the instant of seeing, the pendulum of his character had swung to the uppermost point of its arc on the side opposed to tolerance, a reasonable philosophy, and the wider things toward which he had been growing since he came to France….

“Mother was right,” he said to himself, “they were all right. I’ve been fooled and I’ve been a fool…. And I thought she was good!… This damn, miserable country—if ever I can get out of it back to where decent people live….”

Almost exactly twenty-four hours ago he had held Andree in his arms, loving her and believing in her love. He remembered it, recalled the sweetness of last evening, Andree’s tender sweetness, which could have been nothing but designing and duplicity…. And now this…. He despised her and he despised himself. A beautiful dream had become a sordid reality….

How much of all this was due to a sudden perception of right and how much to boyish jealousy and a sharp hurt to a boyish heart he did not know. It did not occur to him to ask…. He had been made a fool of. He was furious with what he took to be righteous anger; what he did not know was that as soon as she passed there would come the most poignant grief he had ever known; the grief that comes only when a beautiful something has crept into one’s life to be snatched away brutally, leaving in its nest something squalid, unsightly, disgusting.

For a moment he was on the point of confronting Andree and Monsieur Robert, but he restrained himself. There would be a scene; probably he would thrash Robert—and to what good?… He glared at them a moment longer, then turned away and almost ran down the boulevard…. He was not thinking now, only suffering.

Presently he found himself repeating over and over to himself: “Andree, how could you?… Andree, how could you?…” Rage was departing, grief and disillusionment were taking its place. Presently he came to a Metro station and plunged downward. The train would carry him home faster than he could walk, and he wanted to be home, to shut himself up, to be alone. He wanted to feel that doors and walls were between him and all the world…. It was the sort of feeling which, long continued, drives men into religious orders, makes of them Trappists, Cistercians…. Shelter and silence were what Kendall wanted—to crawl away into some hiding-place where he might make the most of his suffering.

He ran up the stairs of the apartment, snatched the key from under the rug, and threw open the door. The apartment was lighted. He paused. Madeleine and Bert were in the salon, and both appeared in the door to greet him. They called to him gaily, but Kendall did not reply. He scowled at them and flung himself past them without a word, to disappear in his room and slam the door.

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” exclaimed Madeleine, and then laughed. “Beaucoup zigzag!”

“No,” said Bert, staring after his friend, “he doesn’t drink. Something’s up. Something’s happened.”

“It is Andree,” Madeleine said, with a shake of her head. “I know. Oui…. It is plain to read. Jaloux. Oh yes. I know the signs. Pauvre enfant! He is ver’ jealous. There is no other anger like it—none.”

“What had I better do?”

“Not anything. That is best…. He mus’ be lef’ alone—him…. But I do not theenk—Andree love heem. I could see. He is not glad…. But what would you? It is not nice to be jealous. One suffers. But I theenk he make the mistake—yes.”

“Anyhow, he’s in an awful stew. Seems like I ought to do something.”

“No—he would behave like one sauvage. It is to make to leave him alone. To-morrow, perhaps….”

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