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- His Sombre Rivals - 2/66 -
such niche for me, nor can I recall any place around which my memory lingers with especial pleasure."
In a gloomy and somewhat bitter mood, Alford Graham thus soliloquized as he paced the deck of an in-coming steamer. In explanation it may be briefly said that he had been orphaned early in life, and that the residences of his guardians had never been made homelike to him. While scarcely more than a child he had been placed at boarding-schools where the system and routine made the youth's life little better than that of a soldier in his barrack. Many boys would have grown hardy, aggressive, callous, and very possibly vicious from being thrown out on the world so early. Young Graham became reticent and to superficial observers shy. Those who cared to observe him closely, however, discovered that it was not diffidence, but indifference toward others that characterized his manner. In the most impressible period of his life he had received instruction, advice and discipline in abundance, but love and sympathy had been denied. Unconsciously his heart had become chilled, benumbed and overshadowed by his intellect. The actual world gave him little and seemed to promise less, and, as a result not at all unnatural, he became something of a recluse and bookworm even before he had left behind him the years of boyhood.
Both comrades and teachers eventually learned that the retiring and solitary youth was not to be trifled with. He looked his instructor steadily in the eye when he recited, and while his manner was respectful, it was never deferential, nor could he be induced to yield a point, when believing himself in the right, to mere arbitrary assertion; and sometimes he brought confusion to his teacher by quoting in support of his own view some unimpeachable authority.
At the beginning of each school term there were usually rough fellows who thought the quiet boy could be made the subject of practical jokes and petty annoyances without much danger of retaliation. Graham would usually remain patient up to a certain point, and then, in dismay and astonishment, the offender would suddenly find himself receiving a punishment which he seemed powerless to resist. Blows would fall like hail, or if the combatants closed in the struggle, the aggressor appeared to find in Graham's slight form sinew and fury only. It seemed as if the lad's spirit broke forth in such a flame of indignation that no one could withstand him. It was also remembered that while he was not noted for prowess on the playground, few could surpass him in the gymnasium, and that he took long solitary rambles. Such of his classmates, therefore, as were inclined to quarrel with him because of his unpopular ways soon learned that he kept up his muscle with the best of them, and that, when at last roused, his anger struck like lightning from a cloud.
During the latter part of his college course he gradually formed a strong friendship for a young man of a different type, an ardent sunny-natured youth, who proved an antidote to his morbid tendencies. They went abroad together and studied for two years at a German university, and then Warren Hilland, Graham's friend, having inherited large wealth, returned to his home. Graham, left to himself, delved more and more deeply in certain phases of sceptical philosophy. It appeared to him that in the past men had believed almost everything, and that the heavier the drafts made on credulity the more largely had they been honored. The two friends had long since resolved that the actual and the proved should be the base from which they would advance into the unknown, and they discarded with equal indifference unsubstantiated theories of science and what they were pleased to term the illusions of faith. "From the verge of the known explore the unknown," was their motto, and it had been their hope to spend their lives in extending the outposts of accurate knowledge, in some one or two directions, a little beyond the points already reached. Since the scalpel and microscope revealed no soul in the human mechanism they regarded all theories and beliefs concerning a separate spiritual existence as mere assumption. They accepted the materialistic view. To them each generation was a link in an endless chain, and man himself wholly the product of an evolution which had no relations to a creative mind, for they had no belief in the existence of such a mind. They held that one had only to live wisely and well, and thus transmit the principle of life, not only unvitiated, but strengthened and enlarged. Sins against body and mind were sins against the race, and it was their creed that the stronger, fuller and more nearly complete they made their lives the richer and fuller would be the life that succeeded them. They scouted as utterly unproved and irrational the idea that they could live after death, excepting as the plant lives by adding to the material life and well-being of other plants. But at that time the spring and vigor of youth were in their heart and brain, and it seemed to them a glorious thing to live and do their part in the advancement of the race toward a stage of perfection not dreamed of by the unthinking masses.
Alas for their visions of future achievement! An avalanche of wealth had overwhelmed Hilland. His letters to his friend had grown more and more infrequent, and they contained many traces of the business cares and the distractions inseparable from his possessions and new relations. And now for causes just the reverse Graham also was forsaking his studies. His modest inheritance, invested chiefly in real estate, had so far depreciated that apparently it could not much longer provide for even his frugal life abroad.
"I must give up my chosen career for a life of bread-winning," he had concluded sadly, and he was ready to avail himself of any good opening that offered. Therefore he knew not where his lot would be cast on the broad continent beyond the revolving light that loomed every moment more distinctly in the west.
A few days later found him at the residence of Mrs. Mayburn, a pretty cottage in a suburb of an eastern city. This lady was his aunt by marriage, and had long been a widow. She had never manifested much interest in her nephew, but since she was his nearest relative he felt that he could not do less than call upon her. To his agreeable surprise he found that time had mellowed her spirit and softened her angularities. After the death of her husband she had developed unusual ability to take care of herself, and had shown little disposition to take care of any one else. Her thrift and economy had greatly enhanced her resources, and her investments had been profitable, while the sense of increasing abundance had had a happy effect on her character. Within the past year she had purchased the dwelling in which she now resided, and to which she welcomed Graham with unexpected warmth. So far from permitting him to make simply a formal call, she insisted on an extended visit, and he, divorced from his studies and therefore feeling his isolation more keenly than ever before, assented.
"My home is accessible," she said, "and from this point you can make inquiries and look around for business opportunities quite as well as from a city hotel."
She was so cordial, so perfectly sincere, that for the first time in his life he felt what it was to have kindred and a place in the world that was not purchased.
He had found his financial affairs in a much better condition than he had expected. Some improvements were on foot which promised to advance the value of his real estate so largely as to make him independent, and he was much inclined to return to Germany and resume his studies.
"I will rest and vegetate for a time," he concluded. "I will wait till my friend Hilland returns from the West, and then, when the impulse of work takes possession of me again, I will decide upon my course."
He had come over the ocean to meet his fate, and not the faintest shadow of a presentiment of this truth crossed his mind as he looked tranquilly from his aunt's parlor window at the beautiful May sunset. The cherry blossoms were on the wane, and the light puffs of wind brought the white petals down like flurries of snow; the plum-trees looked as if the snow had clung to every branch and spray, and they were as white as they could have been after some breathless, large- flaked December storm; but the great apple-tree that stood well down the path was the crowning product of May. A more exquisite bloom of pink and white against an emerald foil of tender young leaves could not have existed even in Eden, nor could the breath of Eve have been more sweet than the fragrance exhaled. The air was soft with summer- like mildness, and the breeze that fanned Graham's cheek brought no sense of chilliness. The sunset hour, with its spring beauty, the song of innumerable birds, and especially the strains of a wood-thrush, that, like a _prima donna_, trilled her melody, clear, sweet and distinct above the feathered chorus, penetrated his soul with subtle and delicious influences. A vague longing for something he had never known or felt, for something that books had never taught, or experimental science revealed, throbbed in his heart. He felt that his life was incomplete, and a deeper sense of isolation came over him than he had ever experienced in foreign cities where every face was strange. Unconsciously he was passing under the most subtle and powerful of all spells, that of spring, when the impulse to mate comes not to the birds alone.
It so happened that he was in just the condition to succumb to this influence. His mental tension was relaxed. He had sat down by the wayside of life to rest awhile. He had found that there was no need that he should bestir himself in money-getting, and his mind refused to return immediately to the deep abstractions of science. It pleaded weariness of the world and of the pros and cons of conflicting theories and questions. He admitted the plea and said:--
"My mind _shall_ rest, and for a few days, possibly weeks, it shall be passively receptive of just such influences as nature and circumstances chance to bring to it. Who knows but that I may gain a deeper insight into the hidden mysteries than if I were delving among the dusty tomes of a university library? For some reason I feel to- night as if I could look at that radiant, fragrant apple-tree and listen to the lullaby of the birds forever. And yet their songs suggest a thought that awakens an odd pain and dissatisfaction. Each one is singing to his mate. Each one is giving expression to an overflowing fulness and completeness of life; and never before have I felt my life so incomplete and isolated.
"I wish Hilland was here. He is such a true friend that his silence is companionship, and his words never jar discordantly. It seems to me that I miss him more to-night than I did during the first days after his departure. It's odd that I should. I wonder if the friendship, the love of a woman could be more to me than that of Hilland. What was that paragraph from Emerson that once struck me so forcibly? My aunt is a woman of solid reading; she must have Emerson. Yes, here in her bookcase, meagre only in the number of volumes it contains, is what I want," and he turned the leaves rapidly until his eyes lighted on the following passage:--
"No man ever forgot the visitations of that power to his heart and brain which created all things new; which was the dawn in him of music, poetry, and art; which made the face of nature radiant with purple light, the morning and the night varied enchantments; when a single tone of one voice could make the heart bound, and the most trivial circumstance associated with one form was put in the amber of memory; when he became all eye when one was present, and all memory when one was gone."
"Emerson never learned that at a university, German or otherwise. He writes as if it were a common human experience, and yet I know no more
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