Here to return to
THE vision that came next was of a college student. The Christmas holidays were come again. They were still as much the event of the year as when he was a schoolboy. Once more he was on his way home accompanied by friends whom he had brought to help him enjoy the holidays, his enjoyment doubled by their enjoyment. Once more, as he touched the soil of his own neighborhood, from a companion he became a host. Once more with his friends he reached his old home and was received with that greeting which he never met with elsewhere. He saw his father and mother standing on the wide portico before the others with outstretched arms, affection and pride beaming in their faces. He witnessed their cordial greeting of his friends. “Our son’s friends, are our friends,” he heard them say.
Henry Trelane said afterwards, “Why, Livingstone, you have told me of your home and your horses, but never told me of your father and mother. Do you know that they are the best in the world?” Somehow, it had seemed to open his eyes, and the manner in which his friends had hung on his father’s words had increased his own respect for him. One of them had said, “Livingstone, I like you, but I love your father.” The phrase, he remembered, had not altogether pleased him, and yet it had not altogether displeased him either. But Henry Trelane was very near to him in those days. Not only was he the soul of honor and high-mindedness, with a mind that reflected truth as an unruffled lake reflects the sky, but he was the brother of Catherine Trelane, who then stood to Livingstone for Truth itself.
It was during a Christmas-holiday visit to her brother that Livingstone had first met Catherine Trelane; as he now saw himself meet her. He had come on her suddenly in a long avenue. Her arms were full of holly-boughs; her face was rosy from a victorious tramp through the snow, rosier at the hoped-for, unexpected, chance meeting with her brother’s guest; a sprig of mistletoe was stuck daringly in her hood, guarded by her mischievous, laughing eyes. She looked like a dryad fresh from the winter woods. For years after that Livingstone had never thought of Christmas without being conscious of a certain radiance that vision shed upon the time.
The next day in the holly-dressed church she seemed a saint wrapt in divine adoration. Another shift of the scene; another Christmas.
Reverses had come. His father, through kindness and generosity, had become involved beyond his means, and, rather than endure the least shadow of reproach, gave up everything he possessed to save his name and shield a friend. Livingstone himself had been called away from college.
He remembered the sensation of it all. He recalled the picture of his father as he stood calm and unmoved amid the wreck of his fortune and faced unflinchingly the hard, dark future. It was an inspiring picture: the picture of a gentleman, far past the age when men can start afresh and achieve success, despoiled by another and stripped of all he had in the world, yet standing upright and tranquil; a just man walking in his integrity; a brave man facing the world; firm as an immovable rock; serene as an unblemished morning.
Livingstone had never taken in before how fine it was. He had at one time even felt aggrieved by his father’s act; now he was suddenly conscious of a thrill of pride in him. If he were only living! He himself was now worth —! Suddenly that lantern-slide shot before his eyes and shut out the noble figure standing there.
Livingstone’s mind reverted to his own career.
He was a young man in business; living in a cupboard; his salary a bare pittance; yet he was rich; he had hope and youth; family and friends. Heavens! how rich he was then! It made the man in the chair poor now to feel how rich he had been then and had not known it. He looked back at himself with a kind of envy, strange to him, which gave him a pain.
He saw himself again at Christmas. He was back at the little home which his father had taken when he lost the old place. He saw himself unpacking his old trunk, taking out from it the little things he had brought as presents, with more pride than he had ever felt before, for he had earned them himself. Each one represented sacrifice, thought, affection. He could see again his father’s face lit up with pride and his mother’s radiant with delight in his achievement. His mother was handing him her little presents, — the gloves she had knit for him herself with so much joy; the shaving-case she had herself embroidered; the cup and saucer from the old tea-service that had belonged to his great-grandfather and great-grandmother and which had been given his mother and father when they were married. He glanced up as she laid the delicate piece of Sèvres before him, and caught her smile — That smile! Was there ever another like it? It held in it — everything.
Suddenly Livingstone felt something moving on his cheek. He put his hand up to his face and when he took it down his fingers were wet.
With his mother’s face, another face came to him, radiant with the beauty of youth. Catherine Trelane, since that meeting in the long avenue, had grown more and more to him, until all other motives and aims had been merged in one radiant hope.
With his love he had grown timid; he scarcely dared look into her eyes; yet now he braved the world for her; bore for her all the privations and hardships of life in its first struggle. Indeed, for her, privation was no hardship. He was poor in purse, but rich in hope. Love lit up his life and touched the dull routine of his work with the light of enchantment. If she made him timid before her, she made him bold towards the rest of the world. ‘T was for her that he had had the courage to take that plunge into the boiling sea of life in an unknown city, and it was for her that he had had strength to keep above water, where so many had gone down.
He had faced all for her and had conquered all for her. He recalled the long struggle, the painful, patient waiting, the stern self-denial. He had deliberately chosen between pleasure and success, — between the present and the future. He had denied himself to achieve his fortune, and he had succeeded.
At first, it had been for her; then Success had become dear to him for itself, had ever grown larger and dearer as he advanced, until now —. A thrill of pride ran through him, which changed into a shiver as it brought those accursed, staring, ghastly figures straight before his eyes.
He had great trouble to drive the figures away. It was only when he thought fixedly of Catherine Trelane as she used to be that they disappeared. She was a vision then to banish all else. He had a picture of her somewhere among his papers. He had not seen it for years, but no picture could do her justice: as rich as was her coloring, as beautiful as were her eyes, her mouth, her riante face, her slim, willowy, girlish figure and fine carriage, it was not these that came to him when he thought of her; it was rather the spirit of which these were but the golden shell: it was the smile, the music, the sunshine, the radiance which came to him and warmed his blood and set his pulses throbbing across all those years. He would get the picture and look at it.
But memory swept him on.
He had got in the tide of success and the current had borne him away. First it had been the necessity to succeed; then ambition; then opportunity to do better and better always taking firmer hold of him and bearing him further and further until the pressure of business, change of ambition and, at last, of ideals swept him beyond sight of all he had known or cared for.
He could almost see the process of the metamorphosis. Year after year he had waited and worked and Catherine Trelane had waited; then had come a time when he did not wish her to wait longer. His ideals had changed. Success had come to mean but one thing for him: gold; he no longer strove for honors but for riches. He abandoned the thought of glory and of power, of which he had once dreamed Now he wanted gold. Beauty would fade, culture prove futile; but gold was king, and all he saw bowed before it. Why marry a poor girl when another had wealth?
He found a girl as handsome as Catherine Trelane. It was not a chapter in his history in which he took much pride. Just when he thought he had succeeded, her father had interposed and she had yielded easily. She had married a fool with ten times Livingstone’s wealth. It was a blow to Livingstone, but he had recovered, and after that he had a new incentive in life; he would be richer than her father or her husband.
He had become so and had bought his house partly to testify to the fact. Then he had gone back to Catherine Trelane. She had come unexpectedly into property. He had not dared quite to face her, but had written to her, asking her to marry him. He had her reply somewhere now; it had cut deeper than she ever knew or would know. She wrote that the time had been when she might have married him even had he asked her by letter, but it was too late now. The man she might have loved was dead. He had gone to see her then, but had found what she said was true. She was more beautiful than when he had last seen her — so beautiful that the charm of her maturity had almost eclipsed in his mind the memory of her girlish loveliness. But she was inexorable. He had not blamed her, he had only cursed himself, and had plunged once more into the boiling current of the struggle for wealth. And he had won — yes, won!
With a shock those figures slipped before his eyes and would not go away. Even when he shut his eyes and rubbed them the ghastly line was there.
He turned and gazed down the long room. It was as empty as a desert. He listened to see if he could hear any sound, even hoping to hear some sound from his servants. All was as silent as a tomb.
He rubbed his eyes, with a groan that was almost a curse. The figures were still there. He suddenly rose to his feet and gave himself a shake. He determined to go to his club; he would find company there, — perhaps not the best, but it would be better than this awful loneliness and deadly silence.
He went through the hall softly, almost stealthily; put on his hat and coat; let himself quietly out of the door and stepped forth into the night.
It had stopped snowing and
the stars looked down from a clearing sky. The moon just above the housetops
was sailing along a burnished track. The vehicles went slowly by with a
muffled sound broken only by the creaking of the wheels in the frosty night.
From the cross streets, sounded in the distance the jangle of sleigh-bells.