The Hidden Places
by Bertrand W. Sinclair
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With the coming of midwinter a somnolent period seemed also to occur in Hollister's affairs. One day succeeded another in placid routine. The work went on with clock-like precision. It had passed beyond a one-man struggle for economic foothold; it no longer held for him the feeling of a forlorn hope which he led against the forces of the wilderness. It was like a ball which he had started rolling down hill. It kept on, whether he tended it or not. If he chose to take his rifle and go seeking venison, if he elected to sit by his fire reading a book, the cedars fell, their brown trunks were sawn and split, the bolts came sliding down the chute in reckonable, profitable quantities, to the gain of himself and his men.

Mills remained, moody, working with that strange dynamic energy, sparing of words except that now and then he would talk to Hollister in brief jerky sentences, in a manner which implied much and revealed nothing. Mills always seemed on the point of crying out some deep woe that burned within him, of seeking relief in some outpouring of speech,—but he never did. At the most he would fling out some cryptic hint, bestow some malediction upon life in general. And he never slackened the dizzy pace of his daily labor, except upon those few occasions when from either Hollister or Lawanne he got a book that held him. Then he would stop work and sit in the bunk house and read till the last page was turned. But mostly he cut and piled cedar as if he tried to drown out in the sweat of his body whatever fever burned within.

Hollister observed that Mills no longer had much traffic with the Blands. For weeks at a time he did not leave the bolt camp except to come down to Hollister's house.

Lawanne seemed to be a favored guest now, at Bland's. Lawanne worked upon his book, but by fits and starts, working when he did work with a feverish concentration. He had a Chinese boy for house-servant. He might be found at noon or at midnight sprawled in a chair beside a pot-bellied stove, scrawling in an ungainly hand across sheets of yellow paper. He had no set hours for work. When he did work, when he had the vision and the fit was on and words came easily, chance callers met with scant courtesy. But he had great stores of time to spare, for all that. Some of it he spent at Bland's, waging an interminable contest at cribbage with Bland, coming up now and then with the Blands to spend an evening at Hollister's.

"It's about a man who wrecked his life by systematically undermining his own illusions about life," he answered one day Hollister's curious inquiry as to what the new book was about, "and of how finally a very assiduously cultivated illusion made him quite happy at last. Sound interesting?"

"How could he deliberately cultivate an illusion?" Doris asked. "If one's intelligence ever classifies a thing as an illusion, no conscious effort will ever turn it into a reality."

"Oh, I didn't say he cultivated the illusion," Lawanne laughed.

"Besides, do you really think that illusions are necessary to happiness?" Doris persisted.

"To some people," Lawanne declared. "But let's not follow up that philosophy. We're getting into deep water. Let's wade ashore. We'll say whatever is is right, and let it go at that. It will be quite all right for you to offer me a cup of tea, if your kitchen mechanic will condescend. That Chink of mine is having a holiday with my shotgun, trying to bag a brace of grouse for dinner. So I throw myself on your mercy."

"This man Bland is the dizzy limit," Lawanne observed, when the tea and some excellent sandwiches presently appeared. "He bought another rifle the other day—paid forty-five bones for it. That makes four he has now. And they have to manage like the deuce to keep themselves in grub from one remittance day to the next. He's a study. You seldom run across such a combination of physical perfection and child-like irresponsibility. He was complaining about his limited income the other day—'inkum' in his inimitable pronunciation. I suggested that right here in this valley he could earn a considerable number of shekels if he cared to work. He merely smiled amiably and said he didn't think he cared to take on a laborer's job. It left a chap no time for himself, you know. I suppose he'll vegetate here till he comes into that money he's waiting for. He refers to that as if it were something which pertained to him by divine right, something which freed him from any obligation to make any effort to overcome the sordid way in which they live at present."

"He doesn't consider it sordid," Hollister said. "Work is what he considers sordid—and there is something to be said for his viewpoint, at that. He enjoys himself tramping around with a gun, spending an afternoon to catch half a dozen six-inch trout."

"But it is sordid," Lawanne persisted. "Were you ever in their house?"

Hollister shook his head.

"It isn't as comfortable as your men's bunk house. They have boxes for chairs, a rickety table, a stove about ready to fall to pieces. There are cracks in the walls and a roof that a rat could crawl through—or there would be if Mrs. Bland didn't go about stuffing them up with moss and old newspapers. Why can't a gentleman, an athlete and a sportsman make his quarters something a little better than a Siwash would be contented with? Especially if he has prevailed on a woman to share his joys and sorrows. Some of these days Mr. Bland will wake up and find his wife has gone off with some enterprising chap who is less cocksure and more ambitious."

"Would you blame her?" Doris asked casually.

"Bless your soul, no," Lawanne laughed. "If I were a little more romantic, I might run away with her myself. What a tremendous jar that would give Bland's exasperating complacency. I believe he's a hang-over from that prehistoric time when men didn't believe that any woman had a soul—that a woman was something in which a man acquired a definite property right merely by marrying her."

Doris chuckled.

"I can imagine how Mr. Bland would look if he heard you," she said.

"He'd only smile in a superior manner," Lawanne declared. "You couldn't get Bland fussed up by any mere assertion. The only thing that would stir him deeply would be a direct assault on that vague abstraction which he calls his honor—or on his property. Then he would very likely smite the wrongdoer with all the efficiency of outraged virtue."

Hollister continued to muse on this after Lawanne went away. He thought Lawanne's summing up a trifle severe. Nevertheless it was a pretty clear statement of fact. Bland certainly seemed above working either for money or to secure a reasonable degree of comfort for himself and his wife. He sat waiting for a windfall to restore his past splendor of existence, which he sometimes indirectly admitted meant cricket, a country home, horses and dogs, a whirl among the right sort of people in London now and then. That sort of thing and that sort of man was what Myra had fallen in love with. Hollister felt a mild touch of contempt for them both.

His wife had also let her thoughts focus on the Blands.

"I wonder," she said, "if they are so very poor? Why don't you offer Bland a job? Maybe he is too proud to ask."

Bland was not too proud to ask for certain things, it seemed. About a week later he came to Hollister and in a most casual manner said, "I say, old man, can you let me have a hundred dollars? My quarterly funds are delayed a bit."

Hollister gave him the money without question. As he watched Bland stride away through the light blanket of snow, and a little later noticed him disappear among the thickets and stumps going towards the Carr camp, where supplies were sold as a matter of accommodation rather than for profit, Hollister reflected that there was a mild sort of irony in the transaction. He wondered if Myra knew of her husband's borrowing. If she had any inkling of the truth, how would she feel? For he knew that Myra was proud, sensitive, independent in spirit far beyond her capacity for actual independence. If she even suspected his identity, the borrowing of that money would surely sting her. But Hollister put that notion aside.

For a long time Myra had ceased to trouble him with the irritating uncertainty of their first meetings. She apparently accepted him and his mutilated face as part of Doris Hollister's background and gave him no more thought or attention. Always in the little gatherings at his house Hollister contrived to keep in the shadow, to be an onlooker rather than a participant,—just as Charlie Mills did. Hollister was still sensitive about his face. He was doubly sensitive because he dreaded any comment upon his disfigurement reaching his wife's ears. He had succeeded so well in thus effacing himself that Myra seemed to regard him as if he were no more than a grotesque bit of furniture to which she had become accustomed. All the sense of sinister possibilities in her presence, all that uneasy dread of her nearness, that consciousness of her as an impending threat, had finally come to seem nothing more than mere figments of his imagination. Especially since their son was born. That seemed to establish the final bond between himself and Doris. Myra, the past which so poignantly included Myra, held less and less significance. He could look at Myra and wonder if this was the same woman he had held in his arms, whose kisses had been freely and gladly bestowed upon him; if all the passion and pain of their life together, of their tearing apart, had ever really been. He had got so far beyond that it seemed unreal. And lately there had settled upon him a surety that to Myra it must all be just as unreal—that she could not possibly harbor any suspicion that he was her legal husband, hiding behind a mask of scars—and that even if she did suspect, that suspicion could never be translated into action which could deflect ever so slightly the current of his present existence.

He was working at the chute mouth when Bland came to ask for that loan. He continued to work there. Not long after he noticed Bland leave his own house and go down the flat, he saw Myra coming along the bank. That was nothing. There was a well-beaten path there that she traveled nearly every afternoon. He felt his first tentative misgiving when he saw that Myra did not stop at the house, that she walked past and straight towards where he worked. And this slight misgiving grew to a certainty of impending trouble when she came up, when she faced him. Movement and the crisp air had kindled a glow in her cheeks. But something besides the winter air had kindled an almost unnatural glow in her eyes. They were like dusky pansies. She was, he thought, with curious self-detachment, a strikingly beautiful woman. And he recalled that anger or excitement, any emotion that stirred her, always made her seem more alluring, always made her glow and sparkle as if in such moments she was a perfect human jewel, flashing in the sun of life.

She nodded to Hollister, looked down on the cedar blocks floating in the cold river, stood a moment to watch the swift descent of other bolts hurtling down the chute and joining their fellows with successive splashes.

"You let Jim have some money this morning?" she said then; it was a statement as much as an interrogation.

"Yes," Hollister replied.

"Don't let him have any more," she said bluntly. "You may never get it back. Why should you supply him with money that you've worked for when he won't make any effort to get it for himself? You're altogether too free-handed, Robin."

Hollister stood speechless. She looked at him with a curious half-amused expectancy. She knew him. No one but Myra had ever called him that. It had been her pet name for him in the old days. She knew him. He leaned on his pike pole, waiting for what was to follow. This revelation was only a preliminary. Something like a dumb fury came over Hollister. Why did she reveal this knowledge of him? For what purpose? He felt his secure foundations crumbling.

"So you recognize me?"

"Did you think I wouldn't?" she said slowly. "Did you think your only distinguishing characteristic was the shape of your face? I've been sure of it for months."

"Ah," he said. "What are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing. Nothing. What is there to do?"

"Then why reveal this knowledge?" he demanded harshly. "Why drag out the old skeleton and rattle it for no purpose? Or have you some purpose?"

Myra sat down on a fallen tree. She drew the folds of a heavy brown coat closer about her and looked at him steadily.

"No," she replied. "I can't say that I have any definite purpose except—that I want to talk to you. And it seemed that I could talk to you better if we stopped pretending. We can't alter facts by pretending they don't exist, can we?"

"I don't attempt to alter them," he said. "I accept them and let it go at that. Why don't you?"

"I do," she assured him, "but when I find myself compelled to accept your money to pay for the ordinary necessaries of living, I feel myself being put in an intolerable position. I suppose you won't understand that. I imagine you think of me as a selfish little beast who has no scruples about anything. But I'm not quite like that. It galls me to have Jim borrow from you. He may intend to pay it back. But he won't; it will somehow never be quite convenient. And I've squandered enough of your money. I feel like a thief sometimes when I watch you work. You must hate me. Do you, Robin?"

Hollister stirred the snow absently with the pike-pole point. He tried to analyze his feelings, and he found it difficult.

"I don't think so," he said at last. "I'm rather indifferent. If you meddled with things I'd not only hate you, I think I would want to destroy you. But you needn't worry about the money. If Bland doesn't repay the hundred dollars it won't break me. I won't lend him any more if it disturbs you. But that doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is whether you are going to upset everything in some rash mood that you may sometime have."

"Do you think I might do that?"

"How do I know what you may do?" he returned. "You threw me into the discard when your fancy turned to some one else. You followed your own bent with a certain haste as soon as I was reported dead. I had ceased to be man enough for you, but my money was still good enough for you. When I recall those things, I think I can safely say that I haven't the least idea what you may do next. You aren't faring any too well. That's plain enough. I have seen men raise Cain out of sheer devilishness, out of a desperate notion to smash everything because they were going to smash themselves. Some people seem able to amuse themselves by watching other people squirm. Maybe you are like that. You had complete power over me once. I surrendered to that gladly, then. You appear to have a faculty of making men dance to any tune you care to play. But all the power you have now, so far as I'm concerned, is to make me suffer a little more by giving the whole ugly show away. No, I haven't the least idea what you may do. I don't know you at all."

"My God, no, you don't," she flung out. "You don't. If you ever had, we wouldn't be where we are now."

"Probably it's as well," Hollister returned. "Even if you had been true, you'd have faltered when I came back looking like this."

"And that would have been worse than what I did do," she said, "wouldn't it?"

"Are you justifying it as an act of mercy to me?" he asked.

Myra shook her head.

"No. I don't feel any great necessity for justifying my actions. No more than you should feel compelled to justify yours. We have each only done what normal human beings frequently do when they get torn loose from the moorings they know and are moved by forces within them and beyond them, forces which bewilder and dismay them. The war and your idea of duty, of service, pried us apart. Natural causes—natural enough when I look back at them—did the rest. We all want to be happy. We all grab at that when it comes within reach. That's all you and I have done. We will probably continue doing that the same as every one else."

"I have it," Hollister said defiantly. "That is why I don't want any ghosts of the old days haunting me now."

"If you have, you are very fortunate," she murmured. "But don't leave your wife alone in a city throbbing with the fevered excitement and uncertainty of war, where every one's motto is a short life and a merry one! Not if she's young and hot-blooded, if she has grown so accustomed to affection and caresses that the want of them afflicts her with a thirst like that of a man lost in a desert. Because if she has nothing to do but live from day to day on memories and hopes, there will be a time when some man at hand will obscure the figure of the absent one. That is all that happened to me, Robin. I longed for you. Then I began to resent your complete absorption by the war machine. Then you got dim, like the figure of a man walking away down a long road. Do you remember how it was? Leave once in six months or so. A kiss of welcome and a good-by right on its heels. There were thousands like me in London. The war took our men—but took no account of us. We were untrained. There were no jobs to occupy our hands—none we could put our hearts into—none that could be gotten without influence in the proper quarters. We couldn't pose successfully enough to persuade ourselves that it was a glorious game. They had taken our men, and there was nothing much left. We did not have to earn our keep. If you had only not stuck so closely to the front lines."

"I had to," Hollister said sharply. "I had no choice. The country——"

"The country! That shadowy phantasm—that recruiting sergeant's plea—that political abstraction that is flung in one's face along with other platitudes from every platform," Myra broke out passionately. "What does it really mean? What did it mean to us? Men going out to die. Women at home crying, eating their hearts out with loneliness, going bad now and then in recklessness, in desperation. Army contractors getting rich. Ammunition manufacturers getting rich. Transportation companies paying hundred per cent. dividends. One nation grabbing for territory here, another there. Talk of saving the world for democracy and in the same breath throttling liberty of speech and action in every corner of the world. And now that it's all over, everything is the same, only worse. The rich are richer and the poor poorer, and there are some new national boundaries and some blasted military and political reputations. That's all. What was that to you and me? Nothing. Less than nothing. Yet it tore our lives up by the roots. It took away from us something we had that we valued, something that we might have kept. It doesn't matter that you were sincere, that you wanted to serve, that you thought it a worthy service. The big people, the men who run things, they had no such illusions; they had their eye on the main chance all the time. It paid them—if not in money then in prestige and power. How has it paid you? You know, every time you look in a mirror. You know that the men that died were the lucky ones. The country that marched them to the front with speeches and music when the guns were talking throws them on the scrapheap when they come back maimed. I have no faith in a country that takes so much and gives a little so grudgingly. I've learned to think, Robin, and perhaps it has warped me a little. You have suffered. So have I, partly because I was ignorant of the nature I was born with, which you didn't understand and which I'm only myself beginning to understand—but mostly because the seats of the mighty were filled by fools and hypocrites seeking their own advantage. Oh, life is a dreary business sometimes! We want so to be happy. We try so hard. And mostly we fail."

Her eyes filled with tears, round drops that gathered slowly in the corners of her puckered lids and spilled over the soft curves of her cheek. She did not look at Hollister. She stared at the gray river. She made a little gesture, as if she dumbly answered some futile question, and her hands dropped idly into her lap.

"I feel guilty," she continued after a little, "not because I failed to play up to the role of the faithful wife. I couldn't help that. But I shouldn't have kept that money, I suppose. Still, you were dead. Money meant nothing to you. It was in my hands and I needed it, or thought I did. You must have had a hard time, Robin, coming back to civil life a beggar."

"Yes, but not for lack of money," Hollister replied. "I didn't need much and I had enough. It was being scarred so that everybody shunned me. It was the horror of being alone, of finding men and women always uneasy in my presence, always glad to get away from me. They acted as if I were a monstrosity that offended them beyond endurance. I couldn't blame them much. Sometimes it gave me the shivers to look at myself in the glass. I am a horrible sight. People who must be around me seem to get used to me, whether they like it or not. But at first I nearly went mad. I had been uprooted and disfigured. Nobody wanted to know me, to talk to me, to be friendly. However, that's past. I have got a start. Unless this skeleton is dragged out of the closet, I shall get on well enough."

"I shall not drag it out, Robin," she assured him with a faint smile. "Some day I hope I'll be able to give you back that money."

"What became of it?" He voiced a question which had been recurring in his mind for a year. "You must have had over forty thousand dollars when I was reported dead in '17."

Myra shrugged her shoulders.

"We were married six months after that. Jim has some rather well-to-do people over there. They were all very nice to me. I imagine they thought he was marrying money. Perhaps he thought so himself. He had nothing except a quarterly pittance. He has no sense of values, and I was not much better. There is always this estate which he will come into, to discount the present. He had seen service the first year of the war. He was wounded and invalided home. Then he served as a military instructor. Finally, when the Americans came in, he was allowed to resign. So we came across to the States. We went here and there, spending as we went. We cut a pretty wide swath too, most of the time. There were several disastrous speculations. Presently the money was all gone. Then we came up here, where we can live on next to nothing. We shall have to stay here another eighteen months. Looking back, the way we spent money seems sheer lunacy. The fool and his money—you know. And it wasn't our money. That hurts me now. I've begun to realize what money means to me, to you, to every one. That's why when Jim calmly told me that he had borrowed a hundred dollars from you I felt that was a little more than I could stand. That's piling it on. I wondered why you gave it to him—if you let him have it in a spirit of contemptuous charity. I might have known it wasn't that. But don't lend him any more. He really doesn't need it. Borrowing with Jim is just like asking for a smoke. He's queer. If he made a bet with you and lost he'd pay up promptly, if he had to pawn his clothes and mine too. Borrowed money, however, seems to come in a different category. When this estate comes into his hands perhaps I shall be able to return some of this money that we wasted. I think that—and the fact that I'm just a little afraid to break away and face the world alone—is chiefly what keeps me faithful to him now."

"Is it as bad as that?" Hollister asked.

"Don't misunderstand me, Robin," she protested. "I'm not an abused wife or anything like that. He's perfectly satisfied, as complacent as an English gentleman can be in the enjoyment of possession. But he doesn't love me any more than I love him. He blandly assumes that love is only a polite term for something else. And I can't believe that—yet. Maybe I'm what Archie Lawanne calls a romantic sentimentalist, but there is something in me that craves from a man more than elementary passion. I'm a woman; therefore my nature demands of a man that he be first of all a man. But that alone isn't enough. I'm not just a something to be petted when the fit is on and then told in effect to run along and play. There must be men who have minds as well as bodies. There must be here and there a man who understands that a woman has all sorts of thoughts and feelings as well as sex. Meanwhile—I mark time. That's all."

"You appear," Hollister said a little grimly, "to have acquired certain definite ideas. It's a pity they didn't develop sooner."

"Ideas only develop out of experience," she said quietly. "And our passions are born with us."

She rose, shaking free the snow that clung to her coat.

"I feel better for getting all that steam off my chest," she said. "It's better, since we must live here, that you and I should not keep up this game of pretence between ourselves. Isn't it, Robin?"

"Perhaps. I don't know." The old doubts troubled Hollister. He was jealous of what he had attained, fearful of reviving the past, a little uncertain of this new turn.

"At any rate, you don't hold a grudge against me, do you?" Myra asked. "You can afford to be indifferent now. You've found a mate, you're playing a man's part here. You're beating the game and getting some real satisfaction out of living. You can afford to be above a grudge against me."

"I don't hold any grudge," Hollister answered truthfully.

"I'm going down to the house, now," Myra said. "I wanted to talk to you openly, and I'm glad I did. I think and think sometimes until I feel like a rat in a trap. And you are the only one here I can really talk to. You've been through the mill and you won't misunderstand."

"Ah," he said. "Is Charlie Mills devoid of understanding, or Lawanne?"

She looked at him fixedly for a second.

"You are very acute," she observed. "Some time I may tell you about Charlie Mills. Certainly I'd never reveal my soul to Archie Lawanne. He'd dissect it and gloat over it and analyze it in his next book. And neither of them will ever be quite able to abandon the idea that a creature like me is something to be pursued and captured."

She turned away. Hollister saw her go into the house. He could picture the two of them there together. Doris and Myra bending over young Robert, who was now beginning to lie with wide-open blue eyes, in which the light of innocent wonder, of curiosity, began to show, to wave his arms and grope with tiny, uncertain hands. Those two women together hovering over his child,—one who was still legally his wife, the other his wife in reality.

How the world would prick up its donkey ears—even the little cosmos of the Toba valley—if it knew. But of course no one would ever know. Hollister was far beyond any contrition for his acts. The end justified the means,—doubly justified it in his case, for he had had no choice. Harsh material factors had rendered the decision for him. Hollister was willing now to abide by that decision. To him it seemed good, the only good thing he had laid hold of since the war had turned his world upside down and inside out.

He went about his work mechanically, deep in thought. His mind persisted in measuring, weighing, turning over all that Myra had said, while his arms pushed and heaved and twisted the pike pole, thrusting the blocks of cedar into an orderly arrangement within the boom-sticks.


Hollister had gone down to Lawanne's with a haunch of venison. This neighborly custom of sharing meat, when it is to be had for the killing, prevails in the northern woods. Officially there were game seasons to be observed. But the close season for deer sat lightly on men in a region three days' journey from a butcher shop. They shot deer when they needed meat. The law of necessity overrode the legal pronouncement in this matter of food, as it often did in other ways.

While Hollister, having duly pleased Lawanne's China-boy by this quarter of venison, sat talking to Lawanne, Charlie Mills came in to return a book.

"Did you get anything out of that?" Lawanne asked.

"I got a bad taste in my mouth," Mills replied. "It reads like things that happen. It's too blamed true to be pleasant. A man shouldn't be like that, he shouldn't think too much—especially about other people. He ought to be like a bull—go around snorting and pawing up the earth till he gets his belly full, and then lie down and chew his cud."

Lawanne smiled.

"You've hit on something, Mills," he said. "The man who thinks the least and acts the most is the happy man, the contented man, because he's nearly always pleased with himself. If he fails at anything he can usually excuse himself on the grounds of somebody else's damnfoolishness. If he succeeds he complacently assumes that he did it out of his own greatness. Action—that's the thing. The contemplative, analytical mind is the mind that suffers. Man was a happy animal until he began to indulge in abstract thinking. And now that the burden of thought is laid on him, he frequently uses it to his own disadvantage."

"I'll say he does," Mills agreed. "But what can he do? I've watched things happen. I've read what some pretty good thinkers say. It don't seem to me a man's got much choice. He thinks or he don't think, according to the way he's made. When you figure how a man comes to be what he is, why he's nothing but the product of forces that have been working on all the generations of his kind. It don't leave a man much choice about how he thinks or feels. If he could just grin and say 'It doesn't matter', he'd be all right. But he can't, unless he's made that way. And since he isn't responsible for the way he's made, what the hell can he do?"

"You're on the high road to wisdom when you can look an abstraction like that in the face," Lawanne laughed. "What you say is true. But there's one item you overlook. A man is born with, say, certain predispositions. Once he recognizes and classifies them, he can begin to exercise his will, his individual determination. If our existence was ordered in advance by destiny, dictated by some all-conscious, omnipotent intelligence, we might as well sit down and fold our hands. But we still have a chance. Free will is an exploded theory, in so far as it purposes to explain human action in a general sense. Men are biologically different. In some weakness is inherent, in others determination. The weak man succumbs when he is beset. The strong man struggles desperately. The man who consciously grasps and understands his own weaknesses can combat an evil which will destroy a man of lesser perception, lesser will; because the intelligent man will avoid what he can't master. He won't butt his head against a stone wall either intellectually, emotionally, or physically. If the thing is beyond him and he knows it is beyond him, he will not waste himself in vain effort. He will adapt himself to what he can't change. The man who can't do that must suffer. He may even perish. And to cling to life is the prime law. That's why it is a fundamental instinct that makes a man want to run when he can no longer fight."

Hollister said nothing. He was always a good listener. He preferred to hear what other men said, to weigh their words, rather than pour out his own ideas. Lawanne sometimes liked to talk at great length, to assume the oracular vein, to analyze actions and situations, to put his finger on a particular motive and trace its origin, its most remote causation. Mills seldom talked. It was strange to hear him speak as he did now, to Lawanne.

Mills walked back through the flat with Hollister. They trudged silently through the soft, new snow, the fresh fall which had enabled Hollister to track and kill the big deer early that morning. The sun was setting. Its last beam struck flashing on the white hills. The back of the winter was broken, the March storms nearly at an end. In a little while now, Hollister thought, the buds would be bursting, there would be a new feel in the air, new fragrant smells arising in the forest, spring freshets in the rivers, the wild duck flying north. Time was on the wing, in ceaseless flight.

Mills broke into his reflections.

"Come up in the morning, will you, and check in what cedar I have piled? I'm going to pull out."

"All right." Hollister looked his surprise at the abrupt decision. "I'm sorry you're going."

Mills walked a few paces.

"Maybe it won't do me any good," he said. "I wonder if Lawanne is right? It just struck me that he is. Anyway, I'm going to try his recipe. Maybe I can kid myself into thinking everything's jake, that the world's a fine sort of place and everything is always lovely. If I could just myself think that—maybe a change of scenery will do the trick. Lawanne's clever, isn't he? Nothing would fool him very long."

"I don't know," Hollister said. "Lawanne's a man with a pretty keen mind and a lively imagination. He's more interested in why people do things than in what they do. But I dare say he might fool himself as well as the rest of us. For we all do, now and then."

"I guess it's the way a man's made," Mills reflected. "But it's rather a new idea that a man can sort of make himself over if he puts his mind to it. Still, it sounds reasonable. I'm going to give it a try. I've got to."

But he did not say why he must. Nor did Hollister ask him. He thought he knew—and he wondered at the strange tenacity of this emotion which Mills could not shake off. A deep-rooted passion for some particular woman, an emotion which could not be crushed, was no mystery to Hollister. He only wondered that it should be so vital a force in the life of a man.

Mills came down from the hill camp to settle his account with Hollister in the morning. He carried his blankets and his clothes in a bulky pack on his sturdy shoulders. When he had his money, he rose to go, to catch the coastwise steamer which touched the Inlet's head that afternoon. Hollister helped him sling the pack, opened the door for him,—and they met Myra Bland setting foot on the porch step.

They looked at each other, those two. Hollister knew that for a second neither was conscious of him. Their eyes met in a lingering fixity, each with a question that did not find utterance.

"I'm going out," Mills said at last. A curious huskiness seemed to thicken his tongue. "This time for good, I hope. So-long."

"Good-by, Charlie," Myra said.

She put out her hand. But either Mills did not see it or he shrank from contact, for he passed her and strode away, bent a little forward under his pack. Myra turned to watch him. When she faced about again there was a mistiness in her eyes, a curious, pathetic expression of pity on her face. She went on into the house with scarcely a glance at Hollister.

In another week spring had ousted winter from his seasonal supremacy. The snow on the lower levels vanished under a burst of warm rain. The rain ceased and the clouds parted to let through a sun fast growing to full strength. Buds swelled and burst on willow and alder. The soil, warmed by the sun, sent up the first shoots of fern and grasses, a myriad fragile green tufts that would presently burst into flowers. The Toba rose day by day, pouring down a swollen flood of snow-water to the sea.

And life went on as it always did. Hollister's crew, working on a bonus for work performed, kept the bolts of cedar gliding down the chute. The mill on the river below swallowed up the blocks and spewed them out in bound bundles of roof covering. Lawanne kept close to his cabin, deep in the throes of creation, manifesting strange vagaries of moroseness or exhilaration which in his normal state he cynically ascribed to the artistic temperament. Bland haunted the creeks where the trout lurked, tramped the woods gun in hand, a dog at his heels, oblivious to everything but his own primitive, purposeless pleasures.

"I shouldn't care to settle here for good," he once said to Hollister. "But really, you know, it's not half bad. If money wasn't so dashed scarce. It's positively cruel for an estate to be so tied up that a man can't get enough to live decently on."

Bland irritated Hollister sometimes, but often amused him by his calm assurance that everything was always well in the world of J. Carrington Bland. Hollister could imagine him in Norfolk and gaiters striding down an English lane, concerned only with his stable, his kennels, the land whose rentals made up his income. There were no problems on Bland's horizon. He would sit on Hollister's porch with a pipe sagging one corner of his mouth and gaze placidly at the river, the hills, the far stretch of the forest,—and Hollister knew that to Bland it was so much water, so much up-piled rock and earth, so much growing wood. He would say to Myra: "My dear, it's time we were going home", or "I think I shall have a go at that big pool in Graveyard Creek to-morrow", or "I say, Hollister, if this warm weather keeps on, the bears will be coming out soon, eh?", and between whiles he would sit silently puffing at his pipe, a big, heavy, handsome man, wearing soiled overalls and a shabby coat with a curious dignity. He spoke of "family" and "breeding" as if these were sacred possessions which conferred upon those who had them complete immunity from the sort of effort that common men must make.

"He really believes that," Myra said to Hollister once. "No Bland ever had to work. They have always had property—they have always been superior people. Jim's an anachronism, really. He belongs in the Middle Ages when the barons did the fighting and the commoners did the work. Generations of riding in the bandwagon has made it almost impossible for a man like that to plan intelligently and work hard merely for the satisfaction of his needs."

"I wonder what he'd do if there was no inheritance to fall back on?" Hollister asked.

"I don't know—and I really don't care much," Myra said indifferently. "I shouldn't be concerned, probably, if that were the case."

Hollister frowned.

"Why do you go on living with him, if that's the way you feel?"

"You seem to forget," she replied, "that there are very material reasons! And you must remember that I don't dislike Jim. I have got so that I regard him as a big, good-natured child of whom one expects very little."

"How in heaven's name did a man like that catch your fancy in the first place?" Hollister asked. He had never ceased to wonder about that. Myra looked at him with a queer lowering of her eyes.

"What's the use of telling you?" she exclaimed petulantly. "You ought to understand without telling. What was it drove you into Doris Cleveland's arms a month after you met her? You couldn't know her—nor she you. You were lonely and moody, and something about her appealed to you. You took a chance—and drew a prize in the lottery. Well, I took a chance also—and drew a blank. I'm a woman and he's a man, a very good sort of a man for any woman who wants nothing more of a man than that he shall be a handsome, agreeable, well-mannered animal. That's about what Jim is. I may also be good-looking, agreeable, well-mannered—a fairly desirable woman to all outward appearances—but I'm something besides, which Jim doesn't suspect and couldn't understand if he did. But I didn't learn that soon enough."

"When did you learn it?" Hollister asked. He felt that he should not broach these intimately personal matters with Myra, but there was a fascination in listening to her reveal complexes of character which he had never suspected, which he should have known.

"I've been learning for some time; but I think Charlie Mills gave me the most striking lesson," Myra answered thoughtfully. "You can imagine I was blue and dissatisfied when we came here, to bury ourselves alive because we could live cheaply, and he could hunt and fish to his heart's content while he waited to step into a dead man's shoes. A wife's place, you see, is in the home, and home is wherever and whatever her lord and master chooses to make it. I was quite conscious by that time that I didn't love Jim Bland. But he was a gentleman. He didn't offend me. I was simply indifferent—satiated, if you like. I used to sit wondering how I could have ever imagined myself going on year after year, contented and happy, with a man like Jim. Yet I had been quite sure of that—just as once I had been quite sure you were the only man who could ever be much of a figure on my horizon. Do you think I'm facile and shallow? I'm not really. I'm not just naturally a sensation-seeker. I hate promiscuity. He convinced me of that."

She made a swift gesture towards Mills' vanishing figure.

"I ran across him first in London. He was convalescing from a leg wound. That was shortly after I was married, and I was helping entertain these stray dogs from the front. It was quite the fashion. People took them out motoring and so on. I remembered Mills out of all the others because he was different from the average Tommy, quiet without being self-conscious. I remembered thinking often what a pity nice boys like that must be killed and crippled by the thousand. When we came here, Charlie was working down at the settlement. Somehow I was awfully glad to see him—any friendly face would have been welcome those first months before I grew used to these terrible silences, this complete isolation which I had never before known.

"Well, the upshot was that he fell in love with me, and for awhile—for a little while—I thought I was experiencing a real affection at last, myself; a new love rising fine and true out of the ashes of old ones.

"And it frightened me. It made me stop and think. When he would stare at me with those sad eyes I wanted to comfort him, I wanted to go away with him to some distant place where no one knew me and begin life all over again. And I knew it wouldn't do. It would only be the same thing over again, because I'm made the way I am. I was beginning to see that it would take a good deal of a man to hold my fitful fancy very long. Charlie's a nice boy. He's clean and sensitive, and I'm sure he'd be kind and good to any woman. Still, I knew it wouldn't do. Curious thing—all the while that my mind was telling me how my whole existence had unfitted me to be a wife to such a man—for Charlie Mills is as full of romantic illusions as a seventeen-year-old girl—at the same time some queer streak in me made me long to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. But I could never convince myself that it was anything more than sex in me responding to the passion that so deeply moved him. That suspicion became certainty at last. That is why I say Charlie Mills taught me something about myself."

"I think it was a dear lesson for him," Hollister said, remembering the man's moods and melancholy, the bitterness of frustration which must have torn Mills. "You hurt him."

"I know it, and I'm sorry, but I couldn't help it," she said patiently. "There was a time just about a year ago when I very nearly went away with him. I think he felt that I was yielding. But I was trying to be honest with myself and with him. With all my vagaries, my uncertain emotions, I didn't want just the excitement of an affair, an amorous adventure. Neither did he. He wanted me body and soul, and I recoiled from that finally, because—I was afraid, afraid of what our life would become when he learned that truth which I had already grasped, that life can't be lived on the peaks of great emotion and that there was nothing much else for him and me to go on."

She stopped and looked at Hollister.

"I wonder if you think I'm a little mad?" she asked.

"No. I was just wondering what it is about you that makes men want you," he returned.

"You should know," she answered bluntly.

"I never knew. I was like Mills: a victim of my emotions. But one outgrows any feeling if it is clubbed hard enough. I daresay all these things are natural enough, even if they bring misery in their wake."

"I daresay," she said. "There is nothing unnatural in a man loving me, any more than it was unnatural for you to love Doris, or for Doris to have a son. Still you are inclined to blame me for what I've done. You seem to forget that the object of each individual's existence, man or woman, is not to bestow happiness on some one else, but to seek it for themselves."

"That sounds like Lawanne," Hollister observed.

"It's true, no matter who it sounds like," she retorted.

"If you really believe that, you are certainly a fool to go on living with a man like Jim Bland," Hollister declared. It did not occur to him that he was displaying irritation.

"I've told you why and I do not see any reason for changing my idea," she said coolly. "When it no longer suits me to be a chattel, I shall cease to be one. Meantime—paxpax

"Where is Doris and the adorable infant?" Myra changed the subject abruptly. "I don't hear or see one or the other."

"They were all out in the kitchen a minute ago, bathing the kid," he told her, and Myra went on in.

Hollister's work lay almost altogether in the flat now. The cut cedar accumulating under the busy hands of six men came pouring down the chute in a daily stream. To salvage the sticks that spilled, to arrange the booms for rafting down stream, kept Hollister on the move. At noon that day Myra and Doris brought the baby and lunch in a basket and spread it on the ground on the sunny side of an alder near the chute mouth, just beyond the zone of danger from flying bolts. The day was warm enough for comfortable lounging. The boy, now grown to be a round-faced, clear-skinned mite with blue eyes like his father, lay on an outspread quilt, waving his chubby arms, staring at the mystery of the shadows cast upon him by leaf and branch above.

Hollister finished his meal in silence, that reflective silence which always overtook him when he found himself one corner of this strange triangle. He could talk to Myra alone. He was never at a loss for words with his wife. Together, they struck him dumb.

And this day Doris seemed likewise dumb. There was a growing strangeness about her which had been puzzling Hollister for days. At night she would snuggle down beside him, quietly contented, or she would have some story to tell, or some unexpectedness of thought which still surprised him by its clear-cut and vigorous imagery. But by day she grew distrait, as if she retreated into communion with herself, and her look was that of one striving to see something afar, a straining for vision.

Hollister had marked this. It had troubled him. But he said nothing. There were times when Doris liked to take refuge in her own thought-world. He was aware of that, and understood it and let her be, in such moods.

Now she sat with both hands clasped over one knee. Her face turned toward Myra for a time. Then her eyes sought her husband's face with a look which gave Hollister the uneasy, sickening conviction that she saw him quite clearly, that she was looking and appraising. Then she looked away toward the river, and as her gaze seemed to focus upon something there, an expression of strain, of effort, gathered on her face. It lasted until Hollister, watching her closely, felt his mouth grow dry. It hurt him as if some pain, some terrible effort of hers was being communicated to him. Yet he did not understand, and he could not reach her intimately with Myra sitting by.

Doris spoke at last.

"What is that, Bob?" she asked. She pointed with her finger.

"A big cedar stump," he replied. It stood about thirty feet away.

"Is it dark on one side and light on the other?"

"It's blackened by fire and the raw wood shows on one side where a piece is split off."

He felt his voice cracked and harsh.

"Ah," she breathed. Her eyes turned to the baby sprawling on his quilt.

Myra rose to her feet. She picked up the baby, moved swiftly and noiselessly three steps aside, stood holding the boy in her arms.

"You have picked up baby. You have on a dress with light and dark stripes. I can see—I can see."

Her voice rose exultantly on the last word. Hollister looked at Myra; she held the boy pressed close to her breast. Her lips were parted, her pansy-purple eyes were wide and full of alarm as she looked at Hollister.

He felt his scarred face grow white. And when Doris turned toward him to bend forward and look at him with that strange, peering gaze, he covered his face with his hands.


"Everything is indistinct, just blurred outlines. I can't see colors only as light and dark," Doris went on, looking at Hollister with that straining effort to see. "I can only see you now as a vague form without any detail."

Hollister pulled himself together. After all, it was no catastrophe, no thunderbolt of fate striking him a fatal blow. If, with growing clarity of vision, catastrophe ensued, then was time enough to shrink and cower. That resiliency which had kept him from going before under terrific stress stood him in good stead now.

"It seems almost too good to be true," he forced himself to say, and the irony of his words twisted his lips into what with him passed for a smile.

"It's been coming on for weeks," Doris continued. "And I haven't been able to persuade myself it was real. I have always been able to distinguish dark from daylight. But I never knew whether that was pure instinct or because some faint bit of sight was left me. I have looked and looked at things lately, wondering if imagination could play such tricks. I couldn't believe I was seeing even a little, because I've always been able to see things in my mind, sometimes clearly, sometimes in a fog—as I see now—so I couldn't tell whether the things I have seen lately were realities or mental images. I have wanted so to see, and it didn't seem possible."

Asking about the stump had been a test, she told Hollister. She did not know till then whether she saw or only thought she saw. And she continued to make these tests happily, exulting like a child when it first walks alone. She made them leave her and she followed them among a clump of alders, avoiding the trunks when she came within a few feet, instead of by touch. She had Hollister lead her a short distance away from Myra and the baby. She groped her way back, peering at the ground, until at close range she saw the broad blue and white stripes of Myra's dress.

"I wonder if I shall continue to see more and more?" she sighed at last, "or if I shall go on peering and groping in this uncertain, fantastic way. I wish I knew."

"I know one thing," Myra put in quickly. "And that is you won't do your eyes any good by trying so hard to see. You mustn't get excited about this and overdo it. If it's a natural recovery, you won't help it any by trying so hard to see."

"Do I seem excited?" Doris smiled. "Perhaps I am. If you had been shut up for three years in a room without windows, I fancy you'd be excited at even the barest chance of finding yourself free to walk in the sun. My God, no one with sight knows the despair that the blind sometimes feel. And the promise of seeing—you can't possibly imagine what a glorious thing it is. Every one has always been good to me. I've been lucky in so many ways. But there have been times—you know, don't you, Bob?—when it has been simply hell, when I struggled in a black abyss, afraid to die and yet full of bitter protest against the futility of living."

The tears stood in her eyes and she reached for Hollister's hand, and squeezed it tightly between her own.

"What a lot of good times we shall have when I get so that I can see just a little better," she said affectionately. "Your blind woman may not prove such a bad bargain, after all, Bob."

"Have I ever thought that?" he demanded.

"Oh, no," she said smiling, "but I know. Give me the baby, Myra."

She cuddled young Robert in her arms.

"Little, fat, soft thing," she murmured. "By and by his mother will be able to see the color of his dear eyes. Bless its little heart—him and his daddy are the bestest things in this old world—this old world that was black so long."

Myra turned her back on them, walked away and stood on the river bank. Hollister stared at his wife. He struggled with an old sensation, one that he had thought long put by,—a sense of the intolerable burden of existence in which nothing was sure but sorrow. And he was aware that he must dissemble all such feelings. He must not let Doris know how he dreaded that hour in which she should first see clearly his mutilated face.

"You ought to see an oculist," he said at last.

"An oculist? Eye specialists—I saw a dozen of them," she replied. "They were never able to do anything—except to tell me I would never see again. A fig for the doctors. They were wrong when they said my sight was wholly destroyed. They'd probably be wrong again in the diagnosis and treatment. Nature seems to be doing the job. Let her have her way."

They discussed that after Myra was gone, sitting on a log together in the warm sun, with the baby kicking his heels on the spread quilt. They continued the discussion after they went back to the house. Hollister dreaded uncertainty. He wanted to know how great a measure of her sight would return, and in what time. He did not belittle the oculists because they had once mistaken. Neither did Doris, when she recovered from the excitement engendered by the definite assurance that her eyes were ever so slightly resuming their normal function. She did believe that her sight was being restored naturally, as torn flesh heals or a broken bone knits, and she was doubtful if any eye specialist could help that process. But she agreed in the end that it would be as well to know if anything could be done and what would aid instead of retard her recovery.

"But not for awhile," she said. "It's just a glimmer. Wait a few days. If this fog keeps clearing away, then we'll go."

They were sitting on their porch steps. Doris put her arms around him.

"When I can see, I'll be a real partner," she said happily. "There are so many things I can do that can't be done without eyes. And half the fun of living is in sharing the discoveries one makes about things with some one else. Sight will give me back all the books I want to read, all the beautiful things I want to see. I'll be able to climb hills and paddle a canoe, to go with you wherever you want to take me. Won't it be splendid? I've only been half a woman. I have wondered sometimes how long it would be before you grew weary of my moods and my helplessness."

And Hollister could only pat her cheek and tell her that he loved her, that her eyes made no difference. He could not voice the fear he had that her recovered sight would make the greatest difference, that the reality of him, the distorted visage which peered at him from a mirror would make her loathe him. He was not a fool. He knew that people, the women especially, shrank from the crippled, the disfigured, the malformed, the horrible. That had been his experience. It had very nearly driven him mad. He had no illusions about the men who worked for him, about his neighbors. They found him endurable, and that was about all. If Doris Cleveland had seen him clearly that day on the steamer, if she had been able to critically survey the unlovely thing that war had made of him, she might have pitied him. But would she have found pleasure in the sound of his voice, the touch of his hand? Hollister's intelligence answered "No." For externally his appearance would have been a shock, would have inhibited the pleasant intimacy at which they so soon arrived.

Doris made light of his disfigurement. She could comprehend clearly many things unseen—but not that. Hollister knew she must have created some definite image of him in her mind; something, he suspected, which must correspond closely to her ideal of a man, something that was dear to her. If that ideal did not—and his intelligence insisted that he could not—survive the reality, then his house was built on sand and must topple.

And he must dig and pry at the foundations. He must do all that could be done for her eyes. That was her right,—to see, to be free of her prison of darkness, to be restored to the sight of beauty, to unclouded vision of the world and all it contained, no matter what the consequence to him. He would play the game, although he felt that he would lose.

A cloud seemed to settle on him when he considered that he might lose everything that made life worth while. And it would be an irrevocable loss. He would never again have courage to weave the threads of his existence into another such goodly pattern. Even if he had the courage, he would never have the chance. No such fortuitous circumstances would ever again throw him into the arms of a woman,—not such a woman as Doris Cleveland.

Hollister looked at her beside him, and his heart ached to think that presently she might not sit so with her hand on his knee, looking up at him with lips parted in a happy smile, gray eyes eager with anticipation under the long, curving, brown lashes. She was so very dear to him. Not alone because of the instinctive yearning of flesh to flesh, not altogether because of the grace of her vigorous young body, the comeliness of her face, the shining coils of brown hair that gave him a strange pleasure just to stroke. Not alone because of the quick, keen mind that so often surprised him by its sureness. There was some charm more subtle than these, something to which he responded without knowing clearly what it was, something that made the mere knowledge of her presence in his house a comfort, no matter whether he was beside her or miles away.

Lawanne once said to him that a man must worship a God, love a woman, or find a real friendship, to make life endurable. God was too dim, too nebulous, for Hollister's need. Friendship was almost unattainable. How could a man with a face so mutilated that it was grotesque, repellent, cultivate the delicate flower of friendship? Doris loved him because she could not see him. When she could see, she would cease to love. And there would be nothing left for him—nothing. He would live on, obedient to the law of his being, a sentient organism, eating and sleeping, thinking starkly, without joy in the reluctant company of his fellows, his footsteps echoing hollowly down the long corridor of the years, emptied of hope and all those pleasant illusions by which man's spirit is sustained. But would he? Would it be worth while?

"I must go back to work," he said at last.

Doris rose with him, holding him a moment.

"Presently I shall be able to come and watch you work! I might help. I know how to walk boom-sticks, to handle timber with a pike pole. I'm as strong as an ox. See!"

She put her arms around him and heaved, lifting the hundred and eighty pounds of his weight clear of the ground. Then she laughed, a low, pleased chuckle, her face flushed with the effort, and turned into the house.

Hollister heard her at the piano as he walked away, thundering out the rollicking air of the "Soldier's Chorus", its naive exultance of victory, it seemed to Hollister, expressing well her mood,—a victory that might mean for him an abyss of sorrow and loneliness out of which he might never lift himself.


For a week Hollister nursed this fear which so depressed him, watching the slow return of his wife's vision, listening to her talk of all they could do together when her sight was fully restored. From doubt of ocular treatment she changed to an impatient desire of whatever benefit might lie in professional care. A fever of impatience to see began to burn in her.

So Hollister took her out to Vancouver, thence to Seattle, on to San Francisco, passing from each city to a practitioner of higher standing in the next, until two men with great reputations, and consulting fees in proportion, after a week of observation announced their verdict: she would regain normal vision, provided so and so—and in the event of such and such. There was some mystery about which they were guarded. They spoke authoritatively about infusions into the vitreous humor and subsequent absorption. They agreed in language too technical for a layman to understand that the cause of Doris' blindness was gradually disappearing. Only when they put aside the formal language of diagnosis and advised treatment did Hollister really fathom what they were talking about. What they said then was simple. She must cease to strain for sight of objects. She must live for a time in neutral lights. The clearing up of her eyes could perhaps be helped by certain ray treatments, certain forms of electrical massage, which could be given in Vancouver as well as anywhere.

Whereupon the great men accepted their fees and departed.

So too did Hollister and his wife depart for the North again, where they took a furnished apartment overlooking the Gulf of Georgia, close to a beach where Robert junior could be wheeled in a pram by his nurse. And Hollister settled himself to wait.

But it was weary work to nurse that sense of impending calamity, to find his brain ceaselessly active upon the forecast of a future in which he should walk alone, and while he was thus harassed still to keep up a false cheerfulness before Doris. She was abnormally sensitive to impressions. A tone spoke volumes to her. He did not wish to disturb her by his own anxiety at this critical period.

All the while, little by little, her sight was coming She could distinguish now any violent contrast of colors. The blurred detail of form grew less pronounced. In the chaos of sensory impressions she began to distinguish order; and, when she began to peer unexpectedly at the people she met, at the chubby boy in his cot, at her husband's face, Hollister could stand it no longer. He was afraid, afraid of what he might see in those gray eyes if she looked at him too long, too closely.

He was doubly sensitive now about his face because of those weeks among strangers, of going about in crowded places where people stared at him with every degree of morbid curiosity, exhibiting every shade of feeling from a detached pity to open dislike of the spectacle he presented. That alone weighed heavily on him. Inaction rasped at his nerves. The Toba and his house, the grim peaks standing aloof behind the timbered slopes, beckoned him back to their impassive, impersonal silences, those friendly silences in which a man could sit and think—and hope. A man doomed to death must prefer a swift end to a lingering one. Hollister gradually came to the idea that he could not possibly sit by and watch the light of comprehension steal slowly into his wife's eyes. Better that she should fully regain her sight, and then see with what manner of man she had lived and to whom she had borne a son. Then if she could look at him without recoiling, if the essential man meant more to her than the ghastly wreckage of his face, all would be well. And if not,—well, then, one devastating buffet from the mailed fist of destiny was better than the slow agony of daily watching the crisis approach.

So Hollister put forth the plausible fact that he must see about his affairs and took the next steamer for the Toba.

Lawanne, expecting letters, was at the float to meet the steamer. Hollister went up-stream with him. They talked very little until they reached Lawanne's cabin. There was a four-mile current to buck, and they saved their breath for the paddles. Myra Bland waved as they passed, and Hollister scarcely looked up. He was in the grip of a strange apathy. He was tired, physically weary. His body was dull and heavy, sluggish. So was his mind. He was aware of this, aware that a nervous reaction of some sort was upon him. He wished that he could always be like that,—dull, phlegmatic, uncaring. To cease thinking, to have done with feeling, to be a clod, dead to desires, to high hopes and heart-numbing fears.

"Come in and have a cup of tea and tell me the latest Vancouver scandal," Lawanne urged, when they beached the canoe.

Hollister assented. He was as well there as anywhere. If there were an antidote in human intercourse for what afflicted him, that antidote lay in Archie Lawanne. There was no false sentiment in Lawanne. He did not judge altogether by externals. His was an understanding, curiously penetrating intelligence. Hollister could always be himself with Lawanne. He sat down on the grass before the cabin and smoked while Lawanne looked over his letters. The Chinese boy brought tea and sandwiches and cake on a tray.

"Mrs. Hollister is recovering her sight?" Lawanne asked at length.

Hollister nodded.

"Complete normal sight?"

Hollister nodded again.

"You don't seem overly cheerful about it," Lawanne said slowly.

"You aren't stupid," Hollister replied. "Put yourself in my place."

It was Lawanne's turn to indicate comprehension and assent by a nod. He looked at Hollister appraisingly, thoughtfully.

"She gains the privilege of seeing again. You lose—what? Are you sure you stand to lose anything—or is it simply a fear of what you may lose?"

"What can I expect?" Hollister muttered. "My face is bound to be a shock. I don't know how she'll take it. And if when she sees me she can't stand me—isn't that enough?"

"I shouldn't worry, if I were you," Lawanne encouraged. "Your wife is a little different from the ordinary run of women, I think. And, take it from me, no woman loves her husband for his Grecian profile alone. Nine times out of ten a man's looks have nothing to do with what a woman thinks of him, that is if she really knows him; whereas with a man it is usually the other way about, until he learns by experience that beauty isn't the whole works—which a clever woman knows instinctively."

"Women shy away from the grotesque, the unpleasant," Hollister declared. "You know they do. I had proof of that pretty well over two years. So do men, for that matter. But the women are the worst. I've seen them look at me as if I were a loathsome thing."

"Oh, rats," Lawanne returned irritably. "You're hyper-sensitive about that face of yours. The women—well, take Mrs. Bland as an example. I don't see that the condition of your face makes any great difference to her. It doesn't appear to arouse any profound distaste on her part."

Hollister could not counter that. But it was an argument which carried no weight with him. For if Myra could look at him without a qualm, Hollister knew it must be because her mind never quite relinquished the impression of him as he used to be in the old days. And Doris had nothing like that to mitigate the sweeping impression of first sight, which Hollister feared with a fear he could not shake off by any effort of his will.

He went on up to his own house. The maple tree thrust one heavy-leaved branch over the porch. The doors were shut. All about the place hung that heavy mantle of stillness which wraps a foresaken home, a stillness in which not even a squirrel chattered or a blue-jay lifted his voice, and in which nothing moved. He stood amid that silence, hearing only a faint whisper from the river, a far-off monotone from the falls beyond the chute. He felt a heaviness in his breast, a sickening sense of being forsaken.

He went in, walked through the kitchen, looked into the bedroom, came back to the front room, opening doors and windows to let in the sun and air and drive out the faint, musty odor that gathers in a closed house. A thin film of dust had settled on the piano, on chairs, on the table. He stood in the middle of the room, abandoned to a horrible depression. It was so still, so lonely, in there. His mind, quick to form images, likened it to a crypt, a tomb in which all his hopes laid buried. That was the effect it had on him, this deserted house. His intelligence protested against submitting to this acceptance of disaster prior to the event, but his feelings overrode his intelligence. If Doris had been lying white and still before him in her coffin, he could not have felt more completely that sense of the futility of life, of love, of hope, of everything. As he stood there, one hand in his pocket, the other tracing with a forefinger an aimless pattern in the dust on the piano, he perceived with remarkable clarity that the unhappiness he had suffered, the loneliness he had endured before he met Doris Cleveland was nothing to what now threatened, to what now seemed to dog his footsteps with sinister portent.

In the bedroom occupied by their housekeeper stood the only mirror in the house. Hollister went in there and stood before it, staring at the presentment of himself in the glass. He turned away with a shiver. He would not blame her if with clear vision she recoiled from that. He could expect nothing else. Or would she endure that frightful mien until she could first pity, then embrace? Hollister threw out his hands in a swift gesture of uncertainty. He could only wait and see, and meanwhile twist and turn upon the grid. He could not be calm and detached and impersonal. For him there was too much at stake.

He left all the doors and windows wide and climbed the hill. If he were to withstand the onslaught of these uncertainties, these forebodings which pressed upon him with such damnable weight, he must bestir himself. He must not sit down and brood. He knew that. It was not with any particular enthusiasm that he came upon his crew at work, that his eye marked the widening stump-dotted area where a year before the cedars stood branch to branch, nor when he looked over the long ricks of bolts waiting that swift plunge down the chute.

Bill Hayes gave a terse account of his stewardship during Hollister's absence. So many cords of bolts cut and boomed and delivered to the mill. Hollister's profits were accelerating, the fruit of an insatiable market, of inflated prices. As he trudged down the hill, he reflected upon that. He was glad in a way. If Doris could not or would not live with him, he could make life easy for her and the boy. Money would do that for them. With a strange perverseness, his mind dwelt upon the most complete breaking up of his domestic life. It persisted in shadowing forth scenes in which he and Doris took part, in which it was made plain how and why they could no longer live together. In Hollister's mind these scenes always ended by his crying despairingly "If you can't, why, you can't, I suppose. I don't blame you." And he would give her the bigger half of his funds and go his way. He would not blame her for feeling like that. Nevertheless, Hollister had moments when he felt that he would hate her if she did,—a paradox he could not understand.

He slept—or at least tried to sleep—that night alone in his house. He cooked his breakfast and worked on the boom until midday, then climbed the hill to the camp and ate lunch with his men. He worked up there till evening and came down in the dusk. He dreaded that lonely house, those deserted rooms. But he forced himself to abide there. He had a dim idea of so disciplining his feelings, of attaining a numbed acquiescence in what he could not help.

Some one had been in the house. The breakfast dishes were washed, the dust cleared away, the floor swept, his bed made. He wondered, but gave credit to Lawanne. It was like Archie to send his Chinese boy to perform those tasks.

But it was Myra, he discovered by and by. He came off the hill in mid-afternoon two days later and found her clearing up the kitchen.

"You don't mind, do you?" she asked. "I have nothing much to do at home, and it seems a shame for everything here to be neglected. When is Doris coming back?"

"I don't know exactly. Perhaps two or three weeks, perhaps as many months."

"But her eyes will be all right again?"

"So they say."

Hollister went out and sat on the front doorstep. His mind sought to span the distance to Vancouver. He wondered what Doris was doing. He could see her sitting in a shaded room. He could see young Robert waving fat arms out of the cushioned depths of his carriage. He could see the sun glittering on the sea that spread away westward, from beneath the windows of the house where they lived. And Doris would sit there anticipating the sight of all those things which had been hidden in a three-year night,—the sea rippling in the sun, the distant purple hills, the nearer green of the forest and of grass and flowers, all the light and color that made the world beautiful. She would be looking forward to seeing him. And that was the stroke which Hollister dreaded, which made him indifferent to other things.

He forgot Myra's presence. Six months earlier he would have resented her being there, he would have been uneasy. Now it made no difference. He had ceased to think of Myra as a possible menace. Lately he had not thought of her or her affairs at all.

She came now and sat down upon the porch step within arm's length of him, looking at him in thoughtful silence.

"Is it such a tragedy, after all?" she said at last.

"Is what?"

He took refuge in refusal to understand, although he understood instantly what Myra meant. But he shrank from her intuitive penetration of his troubled spirit. Like any other wounded animal, he wanted to be left alone.

"You know what I mean," she said. "You are afraid of Doris seeing you. That's plain enough. Is it so terrible a thing, after all? If she can't stand the sight of your face, you're better off without her."

"It's easy to be philosophic about some one else's troubles," Hollister muttered. "You can be off with one love and be reasonably sure of another before long. I can't. I'm not made that way, I don't think. And if I were, I'm too badly handicapped."

"You haven't a very charitable opinion of me, have you, Robin?" she said reflectively. "You rather despise me for doing precisely what you yourself have done, making a bid for happiness as chance offered. Only I haven't found it, and you have. So you are morally superior, and your tragedy must naturally be profound because your happiness seems threatened."

"Oh, damn the moral considerations," he said wearily. "It isn't that. I don't blame you for anything you ever did. Why should I? I'm a bigamist. I'm the father of an illegitimate son. According to the current acceptance of morality, I've contaminated and disgraced an innocent woman. Yet I've never been and am not now conscious of any regrets. I don't feel ashamed. I don't feel that I have sinned. I merely grasped the only chance, the only possible chance that was in reach. That's all you did. As far as you and I are concerned, there isn't any question of blame."

"Are you sure," she asked point-blank, "that your face will make any difference to Doris?"

"How can it help?" he replied gloomily. "If you had your eyes shut and were holding in your hands what you thought was a pretty bird and suddenly opened your eyes and saw it was a toad, wouldn't you recoil?"

"Your simile is no good. If Doris really loved you, it was not because she pictured you as a pretty bird. If she could love you without seeing you, if you appealed to her, why should your marred face make her turn away from you?"

But Hollister could not explain his feeling, his deep dread of that which seemed no remote possibility but something inevitable and very near at hand. He did not want pity. He did not want to be merely endured. He sat silent, thinking of those things, inwardly protesting against this miraculous recovery of sight which meant so great a boon to his wife and contained such fearful possibilities of misery for himself.

Myra rose. "I'll come again and straighten up in a day or two."

She turned back at the foot of the steps.

"Robin," she said, with a wistful, uncertain smile, "if Doris does will you let me help you pick up the pieces?"

Hollister stared at her a second.

"God God!" he broke out. "Do you realize what you're saying?"


"You're a strange woman."

"Yes, I suppose I am," she returned. "But my strangeness is only an acceptance, as a natural fact, of instincts and cravings and desires that women are taught to repress. If I find that I've gone swinging around an emotional circle and come back to the point, or the man, where I started, why should I shrink from that, or from admitting it—or from acting on it if it seemed good to me?"

She came back to where Hollister sat on the steps. She put her hand on his knee, looked searchingly into his face. Her pansy-blue eyes met his steadily. The expression in them stirred Hollister.

"Mind you, Robin, I don't think your Doris is superficial enough to be repelled by a facial disfigurement. She seems instinctively to know and feel and understand so many things that I've only learned by bitter experience. She would never have made the mistakes I've made. I don't think your face will make you any the less her man. But if it does—I was your first woman. I did love you, Robin. I could again. I could creep back into your arms if they were empty, and be glad. Would it seem strange?"

And still Hollister stared dumbly. He heard her with a little rancor, a strange sense of the futility of what she said. Why hadn't she acquired this knowledge of herself long ago? It was too late now. The old fires were dead. But if the new one he had kindled to warm himself were to be extinguished, could he go back and bask in the warmth that smoldered in this woman's eyes? He wondered. And he felt a faint irritation, as if some one had accused him of being faithless.

"Do you think it's strange that I should feel and speak like this?" Myra persisted. "Do people never profit by their mistakes? Am I so unlovable a creature? Couldn't you either forget or forgive?"

He shook his head.

"It isn't that." His voice sounded husky, uncertain. "We can't undo what's done, that's all. I cross no more bridges before I come to them."

"Don't mistake me, Robin," she said with a self-conscious little laugh. "I'm no lovesick flapper. Neither am I simply a voluptuous creature seeking a new sensation. I don't feel as if I couldn't live without you. But I do feel as if I could come back to you again and it would be a little like coming home after a long, disappointing journey. When I see you suffering, I want to comfort you. If she makes you suffer, I shall be unhappy unless I can make you feel that life still holds something good. If I could do that, I should perhaps find life good myself. And it doesn't seem much good to me, any more. I'm still selfish. I want to be happy. And I can't find happiness anywhere. I look back to our old life and I envy myself. If the war marred your face and made you suffer, remember what it has done to me. Those months and months that dragged into years in London. Oh, I know I was weak. But I was used to love. I craved it. I used to lie awake thinking about you, in a fever of protest because you could not be there with me, in a perfect passion of resentment at the circumstances that kept you away; until it seemed to me that I had never had you, that there was no such man, that all our life together was only a dream. Think what the war did to us. How it has left us—you scarred and hopeless; I, scarred by my passions and emotions. That is all the war did for any one—scarred them, those it didn't kill. Oh, Robin, Robin, life seems a ghastly mockery, sometimes. It promises so much and gives so little."

She bent her head. Her shoulders shook with sobs she tried to strangle. Hollister put his hand on the thick coils of honey-colored hair. He was sorry for her—and for himself. And he was disturbed to find that the touch of her hair, the warm pressure of her hands on his knee, made his blood run faster.

The curious outbreak spent itself. She drew herself away from him, and rising to her feet without a word she walked rapidly away along the path by the river.

Hollister looked after her. He was troubled afresh, and he thought to himself that he must avoid scenes like that. He was not, it appeared, wholly immune from the old virus.

And he was clearly conscious of the cold voice of reason warning him against Myra. Sitting there in the shadow of his silent house, he puzzled over these new complexities of feeling. He was a little bewildered. To him Doris meant everything that Myra had once been. He wanted only to retain what he had. He did not want to salvage anything from the wreckage of the past. He was too deeply concerned with the dreadful test that fully restored eyesight would impose on Doris. He knew that Doris Cleveland's feeling for him had been profound and vital. She had given too many proofs for him to doubt that. But would it survive? He did not know. He hoped a little and feared much.

Above this fear he found himself now bewildered by this fresh swirl of emotion. He knew that if Myra had flung herself into his arms he would have found some strange comfort in that embrace, that he could not possibly have repulsed her. It was a prop to his soul—or was it, he asked himself, merely his vanity?—that Myra could look behind the grimness of his features and dwell fondly on the essential man, on the reality behind that dreadful mask.

Still, Hollister knew that to be only a mood, that unexpected tenderness for a woman whom he had hated for betraying him. It was Doris he wanted. The thought of her passing out of his life rested upon him like an intolerable burden. To be in doubt of her afflicted him with anguish. That the fires of her affection might dwindle and die before daily sight of him loomed before Hollister as the consummation of disaster,—and he seemed to feel that hovering near, closely impending.

That they had lived together sixteen months did not count. That she had borne him a child,—neither did that count. That she had pillowed her brown head nightly in the crook of his arm—that he had bestowed a thousand kisses on her lips, her hair, her neck—that she had lain beside him hour after hour through the long nights, drowsily content—none of these intimacies counted beside vision. He was a stranger in the dark. She did not know him. She heard his voice, knew his tenderness, felt the touch of him,—the unseen lover. But there remained for her the revelation of sight. He was still the mysterious, the unknown, about which her fancies played.

How could he know what image of him, what ideal, resided tenaciously in her mind, and whether it would survive the shock of reality? That was the root of Hollister's fear, a definite well-grounded fear. He found himself hoping that promise of sight would never be fulfilled, that the veil would not be lifted, that they would go on as they were. And he would feel ashamed of such a thought. Sight was precious. Who was he to deny her that mercy,—she who loved the sun and the hills and the sea; all the sights of earth and sky which had been shut away so long; she who had crept into his arms many a time, weeping passionate tears because all the things she loved were forever wrapped in darkness?

If upon Hollister had been bestowed the power to grant her sight or to withhold it, he would have shrunk from a decision. Because he loved her he wished her to see, to experience the joy of dawn following that long night in which she groped her way. But he dreaded lest that light gladdening her eyes should mean darkness for him, a darkness in which everything he valued would be lost.

Then some voice within him whispered suggestively that in this darkness Myra would be waiting with outstretched hands,—and Hollister frowned and tried not to think of that.


At noon next day Hollister left the mess-house table and went out to sit in the sun and smoke a pipe beyond the Rabelaisian gabble of his crew. While he sat looking at the peaks north of the valley, from which the June sun was fast stripping even the higher snows, he saw a man bent under a shoulder pack coming up the slope that dropped away westward toward the Toba's mouth. He came walking by stumps and through thickets until he was near the camp. Then Hollister recognized him as Charlie Mills. He saw Hollister, came over to where he sat, and throwing off his pack made a seat of it, wiping away the sweat that stood in shining drops on his face.

"Well, I'm back, like the cat that couldn't stay away," Mills said.

The same queer undercurrent of melancholy, of sadness, the same hint of pain colored his words,—a subtle matter of inflection, of tone. The shadowy expression of some inner conflict hovered in his dark eyes. Again Hollister felt that indefinable urge of sympathy for this man who seemed to suffer with teeth grimly clenched, so that no complaint ever escaped him. A strange man, tenacious of his black moods.

"How's everything?" Mills asked. "You've made quite a hole here since I left. Can I go to work again?"

"Sure," Hollister replied. "This summer will just about clean up the cedar here. You may as well help it along, if you want to work."

"It isn't a case of wanting to. I've got to," Mills said under his breath. Already he was at his old trick of absent staring into space, while his fingers twisted tobacco and paper into a cigarette. "I'd go crazy loafing. I've been trying that. I've been to Alaska and to Oregon, and blew most of the stake I made here in riotous living." He curled his lip disdainfully. "It's no good. Might as well be here as anywhere. So I came back—like the cat."

He fell silent again, looking through the trees out over the stone rim under which Bland's house stood by the river. He sat there beside Hollister until the bolt gang, moving out of the bunk house to work, saw and hailed him. He answered briefly. Then he rose without another word to Hollister and carried in his pack. Hollister saw him go about selecting tools, shoulder them and walk away to work in the timber.

That night Hollister wakened out of a sound sleep to sniff the air that streamed in through his open windows. It was heavy with the pungent odor of smoke. He rose and looked out. The silence of night lay on the valley, over the dense forest across the river, upon the fir-swathed southern slope. No leaf stirred. Nothing moved. It was still as death. And in this hushed blackness—lightened only by a pale streak in the north and east that was the reflection of snowy mountain crests standing stark against the sky line—this smoky wraith crept along the valley floor. No red glow greeted Hollister's sight. There was nothing but the smell of burning wood, that acrid, warm, heavy odor of smoke, the invisible herald of fire. It might be over the next ridge. It might be in the mouth of the valley. It might be thirty miles distant. He went back to bed, to lie with that taint of smoke in his nostrils, thinking of Doris and the boy, of himself, of Charlie Mills, of Myra, of Archie Lawanne. He saw ghosts in that dusky chamber, ghosts of other days, and trooping on the heels of these came apparitions of a muddled future,—until he fell asleep again, to be awakened at last by a hammering on his door.

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