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Title: Though One Rose From the Dead
Author: William Dean Howells
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Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
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Though One Rose From the Dead
William Dean Howells



Chapter I



You are very welcome to the Alderling incident, my dear Acton, if you
think you can do anything with it, and I will give it as
circumstantially as possible. The thing has its limitations, I should
think, for the fictionists, chiefly in a sort of roundedness which
leaves little play to the imagination. It seems to me that it would be
more to your purpose if it were less pat in its catastrophe, but you
are a better judge of all that than I am, and I will put the facts in
your hands, and keep my own hands off, so far as any plastic use of
the material is concerned.

The first I knew of the peculiar Alderling situation was shortly after
William James's Will to Believe came out. I had been telling the
Alderlings about it, for they had not seen it, and I noticed that from
time to time they looked significantly at each other. When I had got
through, he gave a little laugh, and she said, "Oh, you may laugh!"
and then I made bold to ask, "What is it?"

"Marion can tell you," he said. He motioned towards the coffee-pot and
asked, "More?" I shook my head, and he said, "Come out, and let us see
what the maritime interests have been doing for us. Pipe or cigar?" I
chose cigarettes, and he brought the box off the table, stopping on
his way to the veranda, and taking his pipe and tobacco-pouch from the
hall mantel.

Mrs. Alderling had got to the veranda before us, and done things to
the chairs and cushions, and was leaning against one of the slender,
fluted pine columns like some rich, blond caryatid just off duty, with
the blue of her dress and the red of her hair showing deliciously
against the background of white house-wall. He and she were an
astonishing and satisfying contrast; in the midst of your amazement
you felt the divine propriety of a woman like her wanting just such a
wiry, smoky-complexioned, blackbrowed, black-bearded, bald-headed
little man as he was.

Before he sat down where she was going to put him he stood stoopingly,
and frowned at the waters of the cove lifting from the foot of the
lawn that sloped to it before the house. "Three lumbermen, two
goodish-sized yachts, a dozen sloop-rigged boats: not so bad. About
the usual number that come loafing in to spend the night. You ought to
see them when it threatens to breeze up. Then they're here in flocks.
Go on, Marion."

He gave a soft groan of comfort as he settled in his chair and began
pulling at his short black pipe, and she let her eyes dwell on him in
a rapture that curiously interested me. People in love are rarely
interesting--that is, flesh-and-blood people. Of course I know that
lovers are the life of fiction, and that a story of any kind can
scarcely hold the reader without them. Yet lovers in real life are, so
far as I have observed them, bores. They are confessed to be
disgusting before or after marriage when they let their fondness
appear, but even when they try to hide it they are tiresome. Character
goes down before passion in them; nature is reduced to propensity.
Then, how is it that the novelist manages to keep these, and to give
us nature and character while seeming to offer nothing but propensity
and passion? Perhaps he does not give them. Perhaps what he does is to
hypnotize us so that we each of us identify ourselves with the lovers,
and add our own natures and characters to the single principle that
animates them. But if we have them there before us in the tiresome
reality they exclude us from their pleasure in each other and stop up
the perspective of our happiness with their hulking personalities,
bare of all the iridescence of potentiality which we could have cast
about them. Something of this iridescence may cling to unmarried
lovers, in spite of themselves, but wedded bliss is a sheer offense.

I do not know why it was not an offense in the case of the Alderlings
unless it was because they both, in their different ways, saw the joke
of the thing. At any rate, I found that in their charm for each other
they had somehow not ceased to be amusing for me, and I waited
confidently for the answer she would make to his whimsically abrupt
bidding. But she did not answer very promptly even when he had added,
"Wanhope, here, is scenting something psychological in the reason of
my laughing at you."

Mrs. Alderling stood looking at him, not me, with a smile hovering
about the corners of her mouth, which, when it decided not to alight
anywhere, scarcely left her aspect graver for its flitting. She said
at last in her slow, deep-throated voice, "I guess I will let you tell
him."

"Oh, I'll tell him fast enough," said Alderling, nursing his knee, and
bringing it well up toward his chin, between his clasped hands.
"Marion has always had the notion that I should live again if I
believed I should, and that as I don't believe I shall, I am not going
to. The joke of it is," and he began to splutter laughter round the
stem of his pipe, "she's as much of an agnostic as I am. She doesn't
believe she is going to live again, either."

Mrs. Alderling said, "I don't care for it in my case."

That struck me as rather touching, but I had no right to enter
uninvited into the intimacy of her meaning, and I said, looking as
little at her as I need, "Aren't you both rather belated?"

"You mean that protoplasm has gone out?" he chuckled.

"Not exactly," I answered. "But you know that a great many things are
allowed now that were once forbidden to the True Disbelievers."

"You mean that we may trust in the promises, as they used to be
called, and still keep the Unfaith?"

"Something like that."

Alderling took his pipe out, apparently to give his whole face to the
pleasure of teasing his wife. "That'll be a great comfort to Marion,"
he said, and he threw back his head and laughed.

She smiled faintly, vaguely, tolerantly, as if she enjoyed his
pleasure in teasing her.

"Where have you been," I asked, "that you don't know the changed
attitude in these matters?"

"Well, here for the last three years. We tried it the first winter
after we came, and found it was not so bad, and we simply stayed on.
But I haven't really looked into the question since I gave the
conundrum up twenty years ago, on what was then the best authority.
Marion doesn't complain. She knew what I was when she married me. She
was another. We were neither of us very bigoted disbelievers. We
should not have burned anybody at the stake for saying that we had
souls."

Alderling put back his pipe and cackled round it, taking his knee
between his hands again.

"You know," she explained, more in my direction than to me, "that I
had none to begin with. But Alderling had. His people believed in the
future life."

"That's what they said," Alderling crowed. "And Marion has always
thought that if she had believed that way, she could have kept me up
to it; and so when I died I should have lived again. It is perfectly
logical, though it isn't capable of a practical demonstration. If
Marion had come of a believing family, she could have brought me back
into the fold. Her great mistake was in being brought up by an uncle
who denied that he was living here, even. The poor girl could not do a
thing when it came to the life hereafter."

The smile now came hovering back, and alighted at a corner of Mrs.
Alderling's mouth, making it look, oddly enough, rather rueful. "It
didn't matter about me. I thought it a pity that Alderling's talent
should stop here."

"Did you ever know anything like that?" he cried. "Perfectly willing
to thrust me out into a cold other-world, and leave me to struggle on
without her, when I had got used to her looking after me. Now I'm not
so selfish as that. I shouldn't want to have Marion living on through
all eternity if I wasn't with her. It would be too lonely for her."

He looked up at her, with his dancing eyes, and she put her hand down
over his shoulder into the hand that he lifted to meet it, in a way
that would have made me sick in some people. But in her the action was
so casual, so absent, that it did not affect me disagreeably.

"Do you mean that you haven't been away since you came here three
years ago?" I asked.

"We ran up to the theater once in Boston last winter, but it bored us
to the limit." Alderling poked his knife-blade into the bowl of his
pipe as he spoke, having freed his hand for the purpose, while Mrs.
Alderling leaned back against the slim column again. He said gravely:
"It was a great thing for Marion, though. In view of the railroad
accident that didn't happen, she convinced herself that her sole
ambition was that we should die together. Then, whether we found
ourselves alive or not, we should be company for each other. She's got
it arranged with the thunderstorms, so that one bolt will do for us
both, and she never lets me go out on the water alone, for fear I
shall watch my chance, and get drowned without her."

I did not trouble myself to make out how much of this was mocking, and
as there was no active participation in the joke expected of me, I
kept on the safe side of laughing. "No wonder you've been able to do
such a lot of pictures," I said. "But I should have thought you might
have found it dull--I mean dull together--at odd times."

"Dull?" he shouted. "It's stupendously dull! Especially when our
country neighbors come in to 'liven us up: We've got neighbors here
that can stay longer in half an hour than most people can in a week.
We get tired of each other at time, but after a call from the people
in the next house we return with rapture to our delusion that we are
interesting."

"And you never," I ventured, making my jocosity as ironical as
possible, "wear upon each other?"

"Horribly!" said Alderling, and his wife smiled contentedly, behind
him. "We haven't a whole set of china in the house, from exchanging it
across the table, and I haven't made a study of Marion--you must have
noticed how many Marions there were--that she hasn't thrown at my
head. Especially the Madonnas. She likes to throw the Madonnas at me."

I ventured still farther, addressing myself to Mrs. Alderling. "Does
he keep it up all the time---this blague?"

"Pretty much," she answered passively, with entire acquiescence in the
fact if it were the fact, or the joke if it were the joke.

"But I didn't see anything of yours, Mrs. Alderling," I said. She had
had her talent, as a girl, and some people preferred it to her
husband's--but there was no effect of it anywhere in the house.

"The housekeeping is enough," she answered, with her tranquil smile,

There was nothing in her smile that was leading, and I did not push my
inquiry, especially as Alderling did not seem disposed to assist.
"Well," I said, "I suppose you will forgive to science my feeling that
your situation is most suggestive."

"Oh, don't mind us!" said Alderling.

"I won't, thank you," I answered. "Why, it's equal to being cast away
together on an uninhabited island."

"Quite," he assented.

"There can't," I went on, "be a corner of your minds that you haven't
mutually explored. You must know each other," I cast about for the
word, and added abruptly, "by heart."

"I don't suppose he meant anything pretty?" said Alderling, with a
look up over his shoulder at his wife; and then he said to me, "We do;
and there are some very curious things I could tell you, if Marion
would ever let me get in a word."

"Do let him, Mrs. Alderling," I entreated, humoring his joke at her
silence.

She smiled, and softly shrugged, and then sighed.

"I could make your flesh creep," he went on, "or I could if you were
not a psychologist. I assure you that we are quite weird at times.

"As how?"

"Oh, just knowing what the other is thinking, at a given moment, and
saying it. There are times when Marion's thinking is such a nuisance
to me that I have to yell down to her from my loft to stop it. The
racket it makes breaks me all up. It's a relief to have her talk, and
I try to make her, when she's posing, just to escape the din of her
thinking. Then the willing! We experimented with it, after we had
first noticed it, but we don't, any more. It's too dead easy."

"What do you mean by the willing?"

"Oh, just wishing one that the other was there, and there he or she
is."

"Is he trying to work me, Mrs. Alderling?" I appealed to her, and she
answered from her calm:

"It is very unaccountable."

"Then you really mean it! Why can't you give me an illustration?"

"Why, you know," said Alderling more seriously than he had yet spoken,
"I don't believe those things, if they are real, can ever be got to
show off. That's the reason why your Quests in the Occult are mainly
such rubbish, as far as the evidences are concerned. If Marion and I
tried to give you an illustration, as you call it, the occult would
snub us. But is there anything so very strange about it? The wonder is
that a man and wife ever fail of knowing each what the other is
thinking. They pervade each other's minds, if they are really married,
and they are so present with each other that the tacit wish should be
the same as a call. Marion and I are only an intensified instance of
what may be done by living together. There is something, though, that
is rather queer, but it belongs to psychomancy rather than psychology,
as I understand it."

"Ah!" I said. "What is that?"

"Being visibly present when absent. It has not happened often, but it
has happened that I have seen Marion in my loft when she was really
somewhere else, and not when I had willed her or wished her to be
there."

"Now, really," I said, "I must ask you for an instance."

"You want to heap up facts, Lombroso fashion? Well, this is as good as
most of Lombroso's facts, or better. I went up one morning, last
winter, to work at a study of a Madonna from Marion, directly after
breakfast, and left her below in the dining-room, putting away the
breakfast things. She has to do that occasionally, between the local
helps, who are all we can get in the winter. She professes to like it,
but you never can tell, from what a woman says; she has to do it,
anyway." It is hard to convey a notion of the serene, impersonal
acquiescence of Mrs. Alderling in taking this talk of her. "I was
banging away at it when I knew she was behind me looking over my
shoulder rather more stormily than she usually does; usually, she is a
dead calm. I glanced up, and saw the calm succeed the storm. Then I
kept on, and after a while I was aware of hearing her step on the
stairs."

Alderling stopped, and smoked definitively, as if that were the end.

"Well," I said, after waiting a while, "I don't exactly get the unique
value of the incident."

"Oh," he said, as if he had accidentally forgotten the detail, "the
steps were coming up."

"Yes?"

"She opened the door, which she had omitted to do before, and when she
came in she denied having been there already. She owned that she had
been hurrying through her work, and thinking of mine, so as to make me
do something, or undo something, to it; and then all at once she lost
her impatience, and came up at her leisure. I don't exactly like to
tell what she wanted."

He began to laugh provokingly, and she said, tranquilly, "I don't mind
your telling Mr. Wanhope."

"Well, then, strictly in the interest of psychomancy, I will confide
that she had found some traces of a model that I used to paint my
Madonnas from, before we were married, in that picture. She had slept
on her suspicion, and then when she could not stand it any longer, she
had come up in the spirit to say that she was not going to be mixed up
in a Madonna with any such minx. The words are mine, but the meaning
was Marion's. When she found me taking the minx out, she went quietly
back to washing her dishes, and then returned in the body to give me a
sitting."

We were silent a moment, till I asked, "Is this true, Mrs. Alderling?"

"About," she said. "I don't remember the storm, exactly."

"Well, I don't see why you bother to remain in the body at all," I
remarked.

"We haven't arranged just how to leave it together," said Alderling.
"Marion, here, if I managed to get off first, would have no means of
knowing whether her theory of the effect of my unbelief on my future
was right or not; and if she gave me the slip, she would always be
sorry that she had not stayed here to convert me.

"Why don't you agree that if either of you lives again, he or she
shall make some sign to let the other know?" I suggested.

"Well, that has been tried so often, and has it ever worked? It's open
to the question whether the dead do not fail to show up because they
are forbidden to communicate with the living; and you are just where
you were, as to the main point. No, I don't see any way out of it."

Mrs. Alderling went into the house and came out with a book in her
hand, and her fingers in it at two places. It was that impressive
collection of Christ's words from the New Testament called The Great
Discourse. She put the book before me first at one place and then at
another, and I read at one, "He that believeth on me shall never die,"
and at the other, "Except ye believe in me ye shall all likewise
perish." She did not say anything in showing me these passages, and I
found something in her action touchingly childlike and elemental, as
well as curiously heathenish. It was as if some poor pagan had brought
me his fetish to test its effect upon me. "Yes," I said, "those are
things that we hardly know what to do with in our philosophy. They
seem to be said as with authority, and yet somehow we cannot admit
their validity in a philosophical inquiry as to a future life. Aren't
they generally taken to mean that we shall be unhappy or happy
hereafter, rather than that we shall be or not be at all? And what is
believing? Is it the mere act of acknowledgment, or is it something
more vital, which expresses itself in conduct?"

She did not try to say. In fact, she did not answer at all. Whatever
point was in her mind she did not or could not debate it. I perceived,
in a manner, that her life was so largely subliminal that if she had
tried she could not have met my question any more than if she had not
had the gift of speech at all. But in her inarticulate fashion she had
exposed to me a state of mind which I was hardly withheld by the
decencies from exploring. "You know," I said, "that psychology almost
begins by rejecting the authority of these sayings, and that while we
no longer deny anything we cannot allow anything merely because it has
been strongly affirmed. Supposing that there is a life after this, how
can it be denied to one and bestowed upon another because one has
assented to a certain supernatural claim and another has refused to do
so? That does not seem reasonable, it does not seem right. Why should
you base your conclusion as to that life upon a promise and a menace
which may not really refer to it in the sense which they seem to
have?"

"Isn't it all there is?" she asked, and Alderling burst into his
laugh.

"I'm afraid she's got you there, Wanhope. When it comes to polemics
there's nothing like the passive obstruction of Mrs. Alderling. Marion
might never have been an early Christian herself--I think she's an
inexpugnable pagan--but she would have gone round making it awfully
uncomfortable for the other unbelievers."

"You know," she said to him, and I never could decide how much she was
in earnest, "that I can't believe till you do. I couldn't take the
risk of keeping on without you."

Alderling followed her indoors, where she now went to put the book
away, with his mock addressed to me, "Did you ever know such a
stubborn woman?"



Chapter II



One conclusion from my observation of the Alderlings during the week I
spent with them was that it is bad for a husband and wife to be
constantly and unreservedly together, not because they grow tired of
each other, but because they grow more intensely interested in each
other. Children, when they come, serve the purpose of separating the
parents; they seem to unite them in one care, but they divide them in
their employments, at least in the normally constituted family. If
they are rich and can throw the care of the children upon servants
then they cannot enjoy the relief from each other that children bring
to the mother who nurtures and teaches them and to the father who must
work for them harder than before. The Alderlings were not rich enough
to have been freed from the wholesome responsibilities of parentage,
but they were childless, and so they were not detached from the
perpetual thought of each other. If they had only had different
tastes, it might have been better, but they were both artists, she not
less than he, though she no longer painted. When their common thoughts
were not centered upon each other's being they were centered on his
work, which, viciously enough, was the constant reproduction of her
visible personality. I could always see them studying each other, he
with an eye to her beauty, she with an eye to his power.

He was every now and then saying to her, "Hold on, Marion," and
staying her in some pose or movement, while he made mental note of it,
and I was conscious of her preying upon his inmost thoughts and
following him into the recesses of his reveries, where it is best for
a man to be alone, even if he is sometimes a beast there. Now and then
I saw him get up and shake himself restively, but I am bound to say in
her behalf that her pursuit of him seemed quite involuntary, and that
she enjoyed it no more than he did. Twenty times I was on the point of
asking, "Why don't you people go in for a good long separation? Is
there nothing to call you to Europe, Alder--ling? Haven't you got a
mother, or sister, or something that you could visit, Mrs. Alderling?
It would do you both a world of good."

But it happened, oddly enough, that the Alderlings were as kinless as
they were childless, and if he had gone to Europe he would have taken
her with him, and prolonged their seclusion by the isolation in which
people necessarily live in a foreign country. I found I was the only
acquaintance who had visited them during the year of their retirement
on the coast, where they had stayed, partly through his inertia, and
partially from his superstition that he could paint better away from
the ordinary associations and incentives; and they ceased, before I
left, to get the good they might of my visit because they made me a
part of their intimacy instead of making themselves part of my
strangeness.

After a day or two their queer experiences began to resume themselves
unabashed by my presence. These were mostly such as they had already
more than hinted to me: the thought-transferences, and the unconscious
hypnotic suggestions which they made to each other, There was more
novelty in the last than the first. If I could trust them, and they
did not seem to wish to exploit their mysteries for the effect on me,
they were with each other because one or the other had willed it. She
would say, if we were sitting together without him, "I think Rupert
wants me; I'll be back in a moment," and he, if she were not by, for
some time, would get up with, "Excuse me, I have got to go to Marion;
she's calling me."

I had to take a great deal of this on faith; in fact, none of it was
susceptible of proof, but I have not been able since to experience all
the skepticism which usually replaces the impression left by sympathy
with such supposed occurrences. The thing was not quite what we call
uncanny; the people were so honest, both of them, that the morbid
character of like situations was wanting. The events, if they could be
called so, were not invited, I was quite sure, and they were varied by
such diversions as we had in reach. I went blueberrying with Mrs.
Alderling in the morning, after she had got her breakfast dishes put
away, in order that we might have something for dessert at our midday
dinner; and I went fishing off the old stone crib with Alderling in
the afternoon, so that we might have cunners for supper. The
farmerfolks and fisherfolks seemed to know them and to be on tolerant
terms with them, though it was plain that they still considered them
probational in their fellow-citizenship. I do not think they were
liked the less because they did not assume to be of the local sort,
but let their difference stand, if it would. There was nothing
countrified in her dress, which was frankly conventional; the short
walking-skirt had as sharp a slant in front as her dinner-gown would
have had, and he wore his knickerbockers--it was then the now-faded
hour of knickerbockers--with an air of going out golfing in the
suburbs. She had stayed on with him through the first winter in the
place they had taken for the summer, because she wished to be with
him, rather than because she wished to be there, and he had stayed
because he had not found just the moment to break away, though
afterwards he pretended a reason for staying. They had no more
voluntarily cultivated the natural than the supernatural; he kindled
the fire for her, and she made the coffee for him, not because they
preferred, but because they must; and they had arrived at their common
ground in the occult by virtue of being alone together, and not by
seeking the solitude for the experiment which the solitude promoted.
Mrs. Alderling did not talk less nor he more when either was alone
with me than when we were all together; perhaps he was more silent and
she not quite so much; she was making up for him in his absence as he
was for her in her presence. But they were always hospitable and
attentive hosts, and though under the peculiar circumstances of Mrs.
Alderling's having to do the housework herself I necessarily had to do
a good many things for myself, there were certain little graces which
were never wanting from her hands: my curtains were always carefully
drawn, and my coverlet triangularly opened, so that I did not have to
pull it down myself. There was a freshly trimmed lamp on the stand at
my bed-head, and a book and paper-cutter put there, with a decanter of
whisky and a glass of water. I note these things to you, because they
are touches which help remove the sense of anything intentional in the
occultism of the Alderlings.

I do not know whether I shall be able to impart the feeling of an
obscure pathos in the case of Mrs. Alderling, which I certainly did
not experience in Alderling's. Temperamentally he was less fitted to
undergo the rigors of their seclusion than she was; in his liking to
talk, he needed an audience and a variety of listening, and she in her
somewhat feline calm could not have been troubled by any such need.
You can be silent to yourself, but you cannot very well be loquacious,
without danger of having the devil for a listener, if the old saying
is true. Yet still, I felt a keener poignancy in her sequestration.
Her beauty had even greater claim to regard than his eloquence. She
was a woman who could have commanded a whole roomful with it, and no
one would have wanted a word from her.

I am not able to say now how much of all this is observation of
previous facts and how much speculation based upon subsequent
occurrences. At the best I can only let it stand for characterization.
In the same interest I will add a fact in relation to Mrs. Alderling
which ought to have its weight against any undue appeal I have been
making in her behalf. Without in the least blaming her, I will say
that I think Mrs. Alderling ate too much. She must have had naturally
a strong appetite, which her active life sharpened, and its indulgence
formed a sort of refuge from the pressure of the intense solitude in
which she lived, and which was all the more a solitude because it was
solitude  deux. I noticed that beyond the habit of cooks she partook
of the dishes she had prepared, and that after Alderling and I had
finished dinner, and he was impatient to get at his pipe, she remained
prolonging her dessert.

At the risk of giving the effect of something sensuous, even sensual,
in her, I find myself insisting upon this detail, which did not lessen
her peculiar charm. As far as the mystical quality of the situation
was concerned, I fancy your finding that rather heightened by her
innocent gourmandise. You must have noticed how inextricably, for this
life at least, the spiritual is trammeled in the material, how
personal character and ancestral propensity seem to flow side by side
in the same individual without necessarily affecting each other. On
the moral side Mrs. Alderling was no more to be censured for the
refuge which her nerves sought from the situation in overeating than
Alderling for the smoking in which he escaped from the pressure they
both felt from one another: and she was no less fitted than he for
their joint experience.



Chapter III



I do not suppose it was with the notion of keeping her weight down
that Mrs. Alderling rowed a good deal on the cove before the cottage;
but she had a boat, which she managed very well, and which she was out
in, pretty much the whole time when she was not cooking, or eating, or
sleeping, or roaming the berry-pastures with me, or sitting to
Alderling for his Madonnas, He did not care for the water himself; he
said he knew every inch of that cove, and was tired of it; but he
rather liked his wife's going, and they may both have had an
unconscious relief from each other in the absences which her
excursions promoted. She swam as well as she rowed, and often we saw
her going down waterproofed to the shore, where we presently perceived
her pulling off in her bathing-dress. Well out in the cove she had the
habit of plunging overboard, and after a good swim she rowed back, and
then, discreetly waterproofed again, she climbed the lawn back to the
house. Now and then she took me out in her boat, but so far as I
remember Alderling never went with her. Once I ventured to ask him if
he never felt anxious about her. He said no, he should not have been
afraid to go with her, and she could take better care of herself than
he could. Besides, by means of their telepathy they were in constant
communion, and he could make her feel at any sort of chance, that he
did not wish her to take it, and she would not. This was the only
occasion when he treated their peculiar psychomancy boastfully, and
the only occasion when I felt a distinct misgiving of his sincerity.

The day before I left Mrs. Alderling went down about eleven in the
morning to her boat, and rowed out into the cove. She rowed far toward
the other shore, whither, following her with my eye from Alderling's
window, I saw its ridge blotted out by a long low cloud. It was
straight and level as a wall, and looked almost as dense, and I called
Alderling.

"Oh, that fog won't come in before afternoon," he said. "We usually
get it about four o'clock. But even if it does," he added dreamily,
"Marion can manage. I'd trust her anywhere in this cove in any kind of
weather."

He went back to his work, and painted away for five or six minutes,
Then he asked me, still at the window, "What's the fog doing now?"

"Well, I don't know," I answered. "I should say it was making in."

"Do you see Marion?"

"Yes, she seems to be taking her bath."

Again he painted a while before he asked, "Has she had her dip?"

"She's getting back into her boat."

"All right," said Alderling, in a tone of relief "She's good to beat
any fog in these parts ashore, I wish you would come and look at this
a minute."

I went, and we lost ourselves for a time in our criticism of the
picture. He was harder on it than I was. He allowed, "C'est un bon
portrait as the French used to say of a faithful landscape, though I
believe now the portrait can't be too good for them. I can't say about
landscape. But in a Madonna I feel that there can be too much Marion,
not for me, of course, but for the ideal, which I suppose we are bound
to respect. Marion is not spiritual, but I would not have her less of
the earth earthy, for all the angels that ever spread themselves 'in
strong level flight'."

I recognized the words from The Blessed Damozel and I made bold to be
so personal as to say, "If her hair were a little redder than 'the
color of ripe corn' one might almost feel that the Blessed Damozel had
been painted from Mrs. Alderling. It's the lingering earthiness in her
that makes the Damozel so divine."

"Yes, that was a great conception. I wonder none of the fellows do
that kind of thing now."

I laughed, and said, "Well, so few of them have had the advantage of
seeing Mrs. Alderling. And besides, Rossettis don't happen every day.

"It was the period, too. I always tell her that she belongs among the
later eighteen-sixties. But she insists that she wasn't even born
then. Marion is tremendously single-minded."

"She has her mind all on you."

He looked askance at me. "You've noticed--"

He suddenly flung his brush from him, and started up, with a loudly
shouted, "Yes, yes! I'm coming," and hurled himself out of the garret
which he used for his studio, and cleared the stairs with two bounds.

By the time I reached the outer door of the cottage he was a dark blur
in the white blur of the fog which had swallowed up the cove, and was
rising round the house-walls from the grass. I heard him shouting,
"Marion!" and a faint mellow answer, far out in the cove, "Hello!" and
then "Where are you?" and her answer, "Here!" I heard him jump into a
boat, and the thump of the oars in the rowlocks, and then the rapid
beat of the oars, while he shouted, "Keep calling!" and she answered,
"I will!" and called, "Hello! Hello! Hello!"

I made my mental comment that this time their mystical means of
communication was somehow not working. But after her last hello no
sound broke the white silence of the fog except the throb of
Alderling's oars, She was evidently resting on hers, lest she should
baffle his attempts to find her by trying to find him. I suppose ten
minutes or so passed, when the dense air brought me the sound of low
laughing that was also like the sound of low sobbing, and then I knew
that they had met somewhere in the blind space. I began to hear rowing
again, but only as of one boat, and suddenly out of the mist, almost
at my feet, Alderling's boat shot up on the shelving beach, and his
wife leaped ashore and ran past me up the lawn, while he pulled her
boat out on the gravel. She must have been trailing it from the stern
of his.



Chapter IV



I was abroad when Mrs. Alderling died, but I heard that it was from a
typhoid fever which she had contracted from the water in their well,
as was supposed. The water-supply all along that coast is scanty, and
that summer most of the wells were dry, and quite a plague of typhoid
raged among the people drinking the dregs. The fever might have gone
the worse with her because of her overfed robustness; at any rate it
went badly enough. I first heard of her death from Minver at the club,
and I heard with still greater astonishment that Alderling was down
there alone where she had died. Minver said that somebody ought to go
down and look after the poor old fellow, but nobody seemed to feel it
exactly his office. Certainly I did not feel it mine, and I thought it
rather a hardship when a few days after I found a letter from
Alderling at the club quite piteously beseeching me to come to him. He
had read of my arrival home in a stray New York paper, and he was
firing his letter, he said, at the club with one chance in a thousand
of hitting me with it. I hesitated a day out of self-respect, or self-
assertion, and then, the weather coming on suddenly hot, in the
beginning of September, I went.

Of course I had meant to go, all along, but I was not so glad when I
arrived, as I might have been if Alderling had given me a little
warmer welcome. His mood had changed since writing to me, and the
strongest feeling he showed at seeing me was what affected me very
like a cold surprise.

If I had broken in on a solitude in that place before, I was now the
intruder upon a desolation, Alderling was living absolutely alone
except for the occasional presence of a neighboring widow--all the
middle-aged women there are widows, with dim or dimmer memories of
husbands lost off the Banks, or elsewhere at sea--who came in to get
his meals and make his bed, and then had instructions to leave. It was
in one of her prevailing absences that I arrived with my bag, and I
had to hammer a long time with the knocker on the open door before
Alderling came clacking down the stairs in his slippers from the top
of the house, and gave me his somewhat defiant greeting. I could
almost have said that he did not recognize me at the first bleared
glance, and his inability, when he realized who it was, to make me
feel at home, encouraged me to take the affair into my own hands.

He looked frightfully altered, but perhaps it was the shaggy beard
that he had let grow over his poor, lean muzzle that mainly made the
difference. His clothes hung gauntly upon him, and he had a weak-kneed
stoop. His coat sleeves were tattered at the wrists, and one of them
showed the white lining at the elbow. I simply shuddered at his shirt.

"Will you smoke?" he asked huskily, almost at the first word, and with
an effect of bewilderment in his hospitality that almost made me shed
tears.

"Well, not just yet, Alderling," I said. "Shall I go to my old room?"

"Go anywhere," he answered, and he let me carry my bag to the chamber
where I had slept before.

It was quite as his wife would have arranged it, even to the detail of
a triangular portion of the bedding turned down as she used to do it
for me. The place was well aired and dusted and gave me the sense of
being as immaculately clean and fresh as Alderling was not. He sat
down in a chair by the window, and he remained while I laid out my
things, and made my brief toilet, unabashed by those incidents for
which I did not feel it necessary to banish him, if he liked staying.

We had supper by-and-by, a very well-cooked meal of fried fresh cod
and potatoes, with those belated blackberries which grow so sweet when
they hang long on the canes into September. There was a third plate
laid, and I expected that when the housekeeper had put the victuals on
the table, and brought in the tea, she would sit down with us,
country-fashion, but she did not reappear till she came with the
dessert and coffee. Alderling ate hungrily, and much more than I had
remembered his doing, but perhaps I formerly had the impression of
Mrs. Alderling's fine appetite so strongly in mind that I had failed
to note his. Certainly, however, there was a difference in one sort
which I could not be mistaken in, and that was his not talking. Her
mantle of silence had fallen upon him, and whereas he used hardly to
give me a chance in the conversation, he now let me do all of it. He
scarcely answered my questions, and he asked none of his own; but I
saw that he liked being talked to, and I did my best, shying off from
his sorrow, as people foolishly do, and speaking banalities about my
trip to Europe, and the Psychological Congress in Geneva, and the
fellows at the in club, and heaven knows what rot else.

He listened, but I do not know whether he heard much of my clack, and
I got very tired of it myself at last. When I had finished my
blackberries, he asked mechanically, in an echo of my former visit,
with a repetition of his gesture towards the coffee-pot, "More?" I
shook my head, and he led the way out to the veranda, stopping to get
his pipe and tobacco from the mantel. But when we sat down in the
early falling September twilight outside, he did not light his pipe,
letting me smoke my cigarette alone.

"Are you off your tobacco?" I asked.

"I don't smoke," he answered, but he did not explain why, and I did
not feel authorized to ask.

The talk went on as lopsidedly as before, and I began to get sleepy. I
made bold to yawn, but Alderling did not mind that, and then I made
bold to say that I thought I would go to bed. He followed me indoors,
saying that he would go to bed, too. The hall was lighted from a
hanging-lamp and two clear-burning hand-lamps which the widow had put
for us on a small table. She had evidently gone home, and left us to
ourselves. He took one lamp and I the other, and he started upstairs
before me. If he were not coming down again, he meant to let the
hanging-lamp burn, and I had nothing to say about that; but I
suggested concerning the wide-open door behind me, "Shall I close the
door, Alderling?" and he answered without looking round, "I don't shut
it." He led the way into my room, and he sat down as when I had come,
and absently watched my processes of getting into bed. There was
something droll, and yet miserable, in his behavior. At first, I
thought he might be staying merely for the comfort of a human
presence, and again, I thought he might be afraid, for I felt a little
creepy myself, for no assignable reason, except that Absence, which he
must have been incomparably more sensible of than I. From certain
ineffectual movements that he made, and from certain preliminary
noises in his throat, which ended in nothing.

I decided that he wished to say something to me, tell me something,
and could not. But I was selfishly sleepy, and it seemed to me that
anything he had on his mind would keep there till morning, at least,
and that if he got it off on mine now, it might give me a night of
wakeful speculation. So when I got into bed and pulled the sheet up
under my chin, I said, "Well, I don't want to turn you out, old
fellow."

He started, and answered, "Oh!" and went without other words, carrying
his lamp with him and moving with a weak-kneed shuffle, like a very
old man.

He was going to leave the door open behind him, but I called out, "I
wish you'd shut me in, Alderling," and after a hesitation he came back
and closed the door.



Chapter V



We breakfasted as silently on his part as we had supped, but when we
had finished, and I was wondering what he was going to let me do with
myself, and on the whole what the deuce I had come for, he said in the
longest speech I had yet had from him, "Wouldn't you like to come up
and see what I've been doing?"

I said I should like it immensely, and he led the way upstairs, as far
as his attic studio. The door of that, like the other doors in the
house, stood open, and I got the emotion which the interior gave me,
full force, at the first glance. The place was so startlingly alive
with that dead woman on a score of canvases in the character in which
he had always painted her that I could scarcely keep from calling out;
but I went about, pretending to examine the several Madonnas, and
speaking rubbish about them, while he stood stoopingly in the midst of
them like the little withered old man he looked.

I glanced about for a seat, and was going to take that in which Mrs.
Alderling used to pose for him, but he called out with sudden
sharpness, "Not that!" and without appearing to notice I found a box,
which I inverted, and sat down on.

"Tell me about your wife, Alderling," I said, and he answered with a
sort of scream:

"I wanted you to ask me! Why didn't you ask me before? What did you
suppose I got you here for?"

With that he shrank down, a miserable heap, in his own chair, and
bowed his hapless head and cried. It was more affecting than any
notion I can give you of it, and I could only wait patiently for his
grief to wash itself out in one of those paroxysms which come to
bereavement and leave it somehow a little comforted when they pass.

"I was waiting, for the stupid reasons you will imagine, to let you
speak first," I said, "but here in her presence I couldn't hold in any
longer."

He asked with strange eagerness, "You noticed that?"

I chose to feign that he meant in the pictures. "Over and over again,"
I answered.

He would not have my feint. "I don't mean in these wretched
caricatures!"

"Well?" I assented provisionally.

"I mean her very self, listening, looking, living--waiting!"

Whether I had insanity or sorrow to deal with, I could not gainsay the
unhappy man, and I only said what I really felt: "Yes, the place seems
strangely full of her. I wish you would tell me about her," He asked
with a certain slyness, "Have you heard anything about her already? At
the club? From that fool woman in the kitchen?"

"For heaven's sake, no, Alderling!"

"Or about me?"

"Nothing whatever!"

He seemed relieved of whatever suspicion he felt, but he said finally,
and with an air of precaution, "I should like to know just how much
you mean by the place seeming full of her."

"Oh, I suppose the association of her personality with the whole
house, and especially this room. I didn't mean anything preternatural,
I believe."

"Then you don't believe in a life after death?" he demanded with a
kind of defiance.

I thought this rather droll, seeing what his own position had been,
but that was not the moment for the expression of my amusement. "The
tendency is to a greater tolerance of the notion," I said. "Men like
James and Royce, among the psychologists, and Shaler, among the
scientists, scarcely leave us at peace in our doubts, any more, much
less our denials."

He said, as if he had forgotten the question, "They called it a very
light case, and they thought she was getting well, In fact, she did
get well, and then--there was a relapse. They laid it to her eating
some fruit which they allowed her."

Alderling spoke with a kind of bitter patience, but in my own mind I
was not able to put all the blame on the doctors. Neither did I blame
that innocently earthy creature, who was of no more harm in her strong
appetite than any other creature which gluts its craving as simply as
it feels it. The sense of her presence was deepened by the fact of
those childlike self-indulgences which Alderling's words recalled to
me. I made no comment, however, and he asked gloomily, as if with a
return of his suspicion, "And you haven't heard of anything happening
afterwards?"

"I don't know what you refer to," I told him, "but I can safely say I
haven't, for I haven't heard anything at all."

"They contended that it didn't happen," he resumed indignantly. "She
died, they said, and by all the tests she had been dead a whole day.
She died with her hand in mine. I was not trying to hold her back; she
had a kind of majestic preoccupation in her going, so that I would not
have dared to detain her if I could, You've seen them go, and how they
seem to draw those last, long, deep breaths as if they had no thought
in the world but of the work of getting out of it. When her breathing
stopped I expected it to go on, but it did not go on, and that was
all. Nothing startling, nothing dramatic, just simple, natural, like
her! I gave her hand back, I put it on her breast myself, and crossed
the other on it. She looked as if she were sleeping, with that faint
color hovering in her face, which was not wasted, but I did not make-
believe about it; I accepted the fact of her death. In your Quests in
the Occult," Alderling broke off, with a kind of superiority that was
of almost the quality of contempt, "I believe you don't allow yourself
to be daunted by a diametrical difference of opinion among the
witnesses of an occurrence, as to its nature, or as to its reality,
even?"

"Not exactly that," I said. "I think I argued that the passive
negation of one witness ought not to invalidate the testimony of
another as to this experience. One might hear and see things, and
strongly affirm them, and another absorbed in something else, or in a
mere suspense of the observant faculties, might quite as honestly
declare that so far as his own knowledge was concerned, nothing of the
kind happened. I held that in such a case counter-testimony should not
be allowed to invalidate the testimony for the fact."

"Yes, that is what I meant," said Alderling. "You say it more clearly
in the book, though."

"Oh, of course."

He began again, more remotely from the affair in hand than he had left
off, as if he wanted to give himself room for parley with my possible
incredulity. "You know how it was with Marion about my not believing
that I should live again. Her notion was a sort of joke between us,
especially when others were by, but it was a serious thing with her,
in her heart. Perhaps it had originally come to her as a mere fancy,
and from entertaining it playfully she found herself with a mental
inmate that finally dispossessed her judgment. You remember how
literally she brought those Scripture texts to bear on it?"

"Yes. May I say that it was very affecting?"

"Affecting!" Alderling repeated in a tone of amaze at the inadequacy
of my epithet. "She was always finding things that bore upon the
point. After a while she got to concealing them, as if she thought
they annoyed me. They never did; they amused me; and when I saw that
she had something of the sort on her mind, I would say, 'Well, out
with it, Marion!' She would always begin, 'Well, you may laugh!"' and
as he repeated her words Alderling did laugh, forlornly, and as I must
say, rather blood-curdlingly.

I could not prompt him to go on, but he presently did so himself,
desolately enough. "I suppose, if I was in her mind at all in that
supreme moment, when she seemed to be leaving this life behind with
such a solemn effect of rating it at nothing, it may have been a pang
to her that I was not following her into the dark, with any ray of
hope for either of us, She could not have returned from it with the
expectation of convincing me, for I used to tell her that if one came
back from the dead I should merely know that he had been mistaken
about being dead, and was giving me a dream from his trance. She once
asked me if I thought Lazarus was not really dead, with a curious,
childlike interest in the miracle, and she was disheartened when I
reminded her that Lazarus had not testified of any life hereafter, and
it did not matter whether he had been really dead or not when he was
resuscitated, as far as that was concerned. Last year, we read the
Bible a good deal together here, and to tease her I pretended to be
convinced of the contrary by the very passages that persuaded her. As
she told you, she did not care for herself. You remember that?"

"Distinctly," I said.

"It was always so. She never cared. I was perfectly aware that if she
could have assured life hereafter to me she would have given her life
here to do it. You know how some women, when they are married,
absolutely give themselves up, try to lose themselves in the behoof of
their husbands? I don't say it rightly; there are no words that will
express the utterness of their abdication."

"I know what you mean," I said, "and it was one of the facts which
most interested me in Mrs. Alderling."

He took up the affair at a quite different point, and as though that
were the question in hand.

"That gift, or knack, or trick, or whatever it was, of one compelling
the presence of the other by thinking or willing it was as much mine
as hers, and she tried sometimes to get me to say that I would use it
with her if she died before I did; and if she were where the
conditions were opposed to her coming to me, my will would help her
overcome the hindrance: our united wills would form a current of
volition that she could travel back on against all obstacles. I don't
know whether I make myself clear?" he appealed.

"Yes, perfectly," I said. "It is very curious."

He said in a kind of muse, "I don't know just where I was." Then he
began again, "Oh, yes! It was at the ceremony--down there in the
library. Some of the country people came in; I suppose they thought
they ought, and I suppose they wanted to; it didn't matter to me. I
had sent for Doctor Norrey, as soon as the relapse came, and he was
there with me. Of course there was the minister, conducting the
services. He made a prayer full of helpless repetitions, which I
helplessly noticed, and some scrambling remarks, mostly misdirected at
me, affirming and reaffirming that the sister they had lost was only
gone before, and that she was now in a happier world.

"The singing and the praying and the preaching came to an end, and
then there was that soul--sickening hush, that exanimate silence, of
which the noise of rustling clothes and scraping feet formed a part,
as the people rose in the hall, where chairs had been put for them,
leaving me and Norrey alone with Marion. Every fiber of my frame
recognized the moment of parting and protested. A tremendous wave of
will swept through me and from me, a resistless demand for her
presence, and it had power upon her. I heard her speak, and say, as
distinctly as I repeat the words, 'I will come for you!' and the youth
and the beauty that had been growing more and more wonderful in her
face, ever since she died, shone like a kind of light from it. I
answered her, 'I am ready now!' and then Norrey scuffled to his feet,
with a conventional face of sympathy, and said, 'No hurry, my dear
Alderling,' and I knew he had not heard or seen anything, as well as I
did afterwards when I questioned him. He thought I was giving them
notice that they could take her away. What do you think?"

"How what do I think?" I asked.

"Do you think that it happened?"

There was something in Alderling's tone and manner that made me,
instead of answering directly that I did not, temporize and ask,
"Why?"

"Because--because," and Alderling caught his breath like a child that
is trying to keep itself from crying, "because I don't." He broke into
a sobbing that seemed to wrench and tear his poor little body, and if
I had thought of anything to say I could not have said it to his
headlong grief with any hope of assuaging it. "I am satisfied now," he
said, at last wiping his wet face, and striving for some composure of
its trembling features, "that it was all a delusion, the effect of my
exaltation, of my momentary aberration, perhaps. Don't be afraid of
saying what you really think," he added scornfully, "with the notion
of sparing me. You couldn't doubt it or deny it more completely than I
do."

I confess this unexpected turn struck me dumb. I did not try to say
anything, and Alderling went on.

"I don't deny that she is living, but I can't believe that I shall
ever live to see her again; or, if you prefer, die to see her. There
is the play of the poor animal instinct, or the mechanical persistence
of expectation in me, so that I can't shut the doors without the sense
of shutting her out, or put out the lights without feeling that I am
leaving her in the dark. But I know it is all foolishness, as well as
you do, all craziness. If she is alive it is because she believed she
should live, and I shall perish because I didn't believe. I should
like to believe, now, if only to see her again, but it is too late. If
you disuse any member of your body, or any faculty of your mind it
withers away, and if you deny your soul your soul ceases to be."

I found myself saying, "That is very interesting," from a certain
force of habit, which you have noted in me, when confronted with a
novel instance of any kind. "But," I suggested, "why not act upon the
reverse of that principle, and create the fact by affirmation which
you think your denial destroys?"

"Because," he repeated wearily, "it is too late. You might as well ask
the fakir who has held his arm upright for twenty years, till it has
stiffened there, to restore the dry stock by exercise. It is too late,
I tell you."

"But, look here, Alderling," I pursued, beginning to taste the joy of
argument. "You say that your will had such power upon her after you
knew her to be dead that you made her speak to you?"

"No, I don't say that now," he returned. "I know now that it was a
delusion.

"But if you once had that power of summoning her to you, by strongly
wishing for her presence, when you were both living here, why doesn't
it stand to reason that you could do it still, if she is living there
and you here?"

"I never had any such power," he replied, with the calm of absolute
tragedy. "That was a delusion too. I leave the door open, night and
day, because I must, but if she came I should know it was not she."

Of course you know your own business, my dear Acton, but if you think
of using the story of the Alderlings--and there is no reason why you
should not, for they are both dead, without kith or kin surviving, so
far as I know, unless he has some relatives in Germany, who would
never penetrate the disguise you could give the case--it seems to me
that here is your climax. However, you shall be the judge of what it
is best for you to do, when you have the whole story, and I will give
it you without more ado, merely premising that I have a sort of shame
for the aptness of the catastrophe.

I stayed with Alderling nearly a week, and I will own that I bored
myself In fact, I am not sure but we bored each other. At any rate
when I told him, the night before I intended going, that I meant to
leave him in the morning, he seemed resigned or indifferent, or
perhaps merely inattentive. From time to time we had recurred to the
matter of his experience, or his delusion, but with apparently
increasing impatience on his part, and certainly decreasing interest
on mine; so that at last I think he was willing to have me go. But in
the morning he seemed reluctant, and pleaded with me to stay a few
days longer with him. I alleged engagements, more or less unreal, for
I was never on such terms with Alderling that I felt I need make any
special sacrifice to him. He gave way, suspiciously, rather, and when
I came down from my room, after having put the last touches to my
packing, I found him on the veranda looking out to seaward, where a
heavy fogbank hung.

You will sense here the sort of patness which I feel cheapens the
catastrophe; and yet as I consider it, again, the fact is not without
its curious importance, and its bearing upon what went before. I do
not know but it gives the whole affair a relief which it would not
otherwise have.

He was to have driven me to the station, some miles away, before noon,
and I supposed we should sit down together, and try to have some sort
of talk before I went. But Alderling appeared to have forgotten about
my going, and after a while took himself off to his studio, and left
me alone to watch the inroads of the fog. It came on over the harbor
rapidly, as on that morning when Mrs. Alderling had been so nearly
lost in it, and presently the masts and shrouds of the shipping at
anchor were sticking up out of it as if they were sunk into a body as
dense as the sea under them.

I amused myself watching it blot out one detail of the prospect after
another, while the foghorn lowed through it, and the bell-buoy, far
out beyond the light-house ledge, tolled mournfully. The milk-white
mass moved landward, and soon the air was blind with the mist which
hid the grass twenty yards away. There was an awfulness in the
silence, which nothing broke but the lowing of the horn, and the
tolling of the bell, except when now and then the voice of a sailor
came through it, like that of some drowned man sending up his hail
from the bottom of the bay.

Suddenly I heard a joyful shout from the attic overhead. "I am coming!
I am coming!" Alderling called out through his window, and then a cry
came from over the water, which seemed to answer him, but which there
is no reason in the world to believe was not a girlish shout from one
of the yachts, swallowed up in the fog. His lunging descent of the
successive stairways followed, and he burst through the doorway beside
me, and ran bareheaded down the sloping lawn. I followed, with what
notion of help or hindrance I should not find it easy to say, but
before I reached the water's edge--in fact I never did reach it, and
had some difficulty making my way back to the house--I heard the rapid
throb of the oars in the rowlocks as he pulled through the white
opacity.

You know the rest, for it was the common property of our enterprising
press at the time, when the incident was fully reported, with my
ineffectual efforts to be satisfactorily interviewed as to the nothing
I knew. The oar-less boat was found floating far out to sea after the
fog lifted.



THE END



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