The Anatomy of Love/Chapter 14
Whatever may have been Macraven's true feelings, during that silent walk with Anne and during the night that followed, he made no effort to give them utterance. About him, however, the next morning, Anne was able to detect a sense of repression, of careful and studious self-control. He confessed to her that he had not rested well. He thought perhaps it was getting his ankles wet in the heavy dew, or perhaps the closeness of the night, that had made his sleep so broken.
Anne, sniffing the morning air, said she was glad she wasn't in town on such a day. She was sorely troubled as to how the Birdwells' babies, who should be teething that month, would stand the heat.
“We're so fine and lazy and comfortable up here that we keep forgetting about the sufferings of other people,” she went on, leaning back in her capacious wicker rocker.
“But, after all, isn't it just as harrowing to watch other people being supremely happy—especially when you don't happen to be unusually happy yourself?”
Anne thought she knew the particular people to whom he was referring.
“I think we ought to study happiness just as carefully as we study sorrow,” she said with her habitual solemn headshake.
“But it's so hard to swallow—some one else's happiness,” pursued Macraven. “We get envious of it. We're always thinking of how much we're missing ourselves.”
“Then it ought to teach us the trick for our own use,” said Anne. “That's why I feel, so often, that Sybil—yes, and even young Dickie Sewell—is doing me such a lot of good.”
Macraven had never thought of Sybil, much less of young Sewell, as an instrument of inward reorganization. And he told Anne so, with no mincing of words.
“I think you're wrong there,” said truthful Anne. “She's really influencing you—even you—more than you imagine. She's showing you a side of life you never really saw before. She's opening your eyes—and mine, too—to the fact that the decorative side of existence is more enduring and more important than we really thought it was. For, in a way, I think it's possible to get too wise, in this world, don't you?”
Macraven was doubtful as to that point.
“Why, we'd almost forgotten there was anything but neutral tints in clothes, and in life as well,” pursued Anne, with the persistency of a person long silent, but at last determined to say, once for all, everything that had been groping for utterance. “And look at Sybil there just beyond the syringas! Just look at her in that green morning gown with white ruffles. She looks as cool and fresh as a bit of the ocean. And look at the great bunch of Jack roses she's holding! See what an eye for color and harmony she instinctively has! And she has the same instinct for the bright and warm feelings of life!”
“But how long would that childish sort of life appeal to you or me?” demanded Macraven, in defense of his ultimate dignities of existence.
“It might help to keep our hearts from getting macadamized,” responded Anne, with her eyes on the distant treetops.
“I suppose a life of effort does make us hard!” conceded the professor of anthropology.
“That's the blessing of children,” said the ingenuous Anne, “They keep the dust off the heart.”
Macraven had the feeling of a skater on exceedingly thin ice, and decided that a retreat to side issues would not be untimely.
“Surely she is a light and airy creature!” he exclaimed, as they caught a glimpse of the rose-burdened Sybil, in her gown of sea-green breaking into a foam of white at the edges, loitering about the shrubbery of the lower garden.
“She's waiting for Dickie,” asseverated intuitive Anne. She leaned forward, with her chin on her hand. “I envy that child her sense of color!”
Macraven looked at her with widened eyes, a little impatient, apparently, of the mood of gloomy self-disapprobation that had taken possession of them.
“Fine feathers don't always make fine—— Anne Appleby, I'm going down into that garden and get you a bunch of those Jack roses!”
And this he promptly did. Anne took them and pinned them on, with a little blush. Then she gazed at her own broken reflection in the long French window behind her. He almost excused her look of content.
“I believe you're getting vain!” declared the professor of anthropology. “As vain as Sybil!”
“Perhaps I am,” admitted Anne.
And although the young professor of anthropology scowled darkly at this evidence of growing frivolity in the old-time sober Anne, it was noticeable that all that morning, as he went up and down the bright parterres of color in the lower flower garden, he carried neither pocket microscope nor bug net, but from time to time stooped over the flowers and studied them intently.
Yet the habit of a lifetime reasserted itself, a few hours later, when he overheard the nervous cluck and chatter of two mating chipmunks in the tangled grapevines east of Sybil's arbor. He crept noiselessly in through the underbrush, pausing from time to time, the better to observe the strange advances and retreats, the strange allurements and evasions, flights and pursuits, of the tiny amative animals amid the tangled grapevine.
As he halted, for the tenth time, in his stealthy advance, he suddenly realized that he had crept upon more than two innocently mating chipmunks. For there, plain to his eye, yet quite unconscious of his presence, sat Sybil and young Sewell, in a little sheltered coign of the garden between a clump of cedar and a cluster of flowering sumac.
He hesitated, scarcely knowing whether to advance or to retreat, when the sound of their voices arrested all motion.
“He's really not such a bad sort, old Macraven,” the youth at Sybil's side was saying. “If we could only get him to help me along with the faculty a bit—then, angel, it would be November, at the latest.”
Macraven closed his eyes to the demonstration that followed. Then he heard the youth dolorously add:
“But Macraven's not the helping sort!”
What Sybil said to this he did not hear—did not care to hear; his only thoughts now were of opportune and silent escape.
“But not with him?” asked the unguarded voice of Sewell, almost disgustedly.
“And why not with him?” responded the rising voice of Sybil. “I think he's very nice. I don't know what mightn't have happened—if—well, if something else hadn't happened!”
“But he's so tall and thin—and—and threadbare. He's so confounded grinding and self-centered! Why, he's—he's as cold-blooded as a toad!” ejaculated Sewell.
“That's only because we don't know him and don't understand him. He's had to be that way—he's never been taught differently. And, anyway, he's not frivolous! And you say that just because you're jealous!”
“Jealous? Of poor old Macraven!” And the young man's ironic laughter echoed out across the quiet garden.
Honor forbade that the professor of anthropology should stand there and listen to more. He crept silently back through the shadowy underbrush and made his escape. He crept away like a bruised and stricken soul, his eyes wide with pain and wonder, his thin face white with some ever-increasing agony of mind.
As cold-blooded as a toad!
Like the stricken animal, too, he carried his wound back to his lair, to his oldest and most intimate surroundings. He went straight to the big crimson-curtained, gloomy, shelf-lined library, and locked himself in. It had always seemed to him that he could think more clearly and more coolly when surrounded by books.
It was no grim and moving dénouement, no tremendous and volcanic upheaval of spirit, that overtook him as he paced the worn and faded carpet of that silent library, But suddenly his whole career lay before him, as wide and gray and empty as a flat waste of sand. Out of that waste, here and there, seemed to grow a melancholy and lonely cactus of bitter accomplishment. Yet it lay there, an arid and empty waste, out of which he had never yet been taught to irrigate the alkali of egoism. From his birth, he had indeed been narrow and self-seeking. He had thought only of himself, of his advancement, of his success. The strong propulsions of comradeship, the quiet fires of friendship, the transfiguring glow of sacrifice—these were almost alien and unknown to him! The poor, the needy, the unhappy—and there were so many of them traveling the same long road along which he himself was fighting his way!—what had he done for them? Had he ever stopped and listened, had he ever stooped and made their lives his own? Had he ever felt their rags, in that imagination which should make all men brothers, on his own back? Had he ever walked in their worn and crippled shoes? Had he ever suffered and lived with them, even in thought? Had he ever felt their human cravings and needs sink into his own soul?
No, through it all, from first to last, he had been as cold-blooded as a toad.
All his world, he told himself in that flood of bitter self-abasement, all his world had been made up of self-glory. His mind had been filled with the problem of how he might evade the obligations of manhood, of friendship, of love itself. He had even been afraid of the natural man in himself, of his instinctive and timeless emotions. Even his affections had been affections of self-gain, and, above all things, his jealousies had been selfish jealousies. He had stooped to begrudge Sybil and her lover their passing romance, their youth dream, their first compelling passion!
Grimly and feverishly he strode back and forth, in that silent library, meeting and combating, face to face, this enemy who until then had never dared to fight him in the open.