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Can't it go faster? If I'd realized what a trip this
was, I wouldn't have started."

"This is the route you all go," he replied with grim humor, and his
words pictured a ceaseless stream of divorcées.

She resented his classing her with the rest, but she simply said: "You
despise me, don't you? But what can we do? You can't expect us to live
with men we hate, can you? That would be worse than Mrs. Shellberg."

"No, I don't expect that of you. I'd issue a divorce coupon with every
marriage certificate, and done with it," he said, in desperate disgust.
"Then this whole cursed business would be done away with. It isn't a
question of our laxity of divorce laws," he said, after a pause, "it's a
question of the senseless severity of the laws in other States. That's
what throws this demoralizing business into our hands here."

"It pays, don't it? I know I've paid for everything I've had."

"Yes, that's the demoralizing thing. It draws a gang of conscienceless
attorneys here, and it draws us who belong here off into dirty work, and
it brings us into contact with men and women--I'm sick of the whole
business."

She had hardly followed him in his generalizations. She brought him back
to the personal.

"You're sick of me, I know you are!" She leaned her head on the window
pane. Her eyes closed. "Oh, I wish my heart would stop beating!" she
said, in a low tone.

Allen, sitting so close behind them, was forced to hear her, so
piercingly sweet was her voice. He trembled for fear some one else might
hear her. It seemed like profanation that any one but the woman's God
should hear this outcry of a quivering, writhing soul.

She faced her companion again. "You're the only man I know, now, that I
respect, and you despise me."

"No, I don't; I pity you."

"That's worse. I want you to help me. Oh, if you could go with me, or if
I could be with you!" Her gloved hands strained together in the agony of
her desire.

His calm lips did not waver. He did not smile even about the eyes. He
knew her cry sprang from her need of a brother, not from the passion of
a woman.

"Our home is yours, just as long as you can bear the monotony of our
simple lives," he said, in his quiet way, but it was deep-throated and
unmistakable in its sincerity.

She laid her hand on his arm and clasped it hard, then turned away her
head, and they rode in silence.

After they left the car, Allen sat with savage eyes and grimly set
mouth, going over the problem again and again. He saw that young and
helpless creature walking the gantlet between endless ranks of lustful,
remorseless men, snatching at her in selfish, bestial desire.

It made him bitter and despairing to think that women should be
helpless--that they should need some man to protect them against some
other man. He cursed the laws and traditions that had kept women
subordinate and trivial and deceptive and vacillating. He wished they
could be raised to the level of the brutes till, like the tigress or
she-wolf, they could not only defend themselves, but their young.

He tried to breathe a sigh of relief that she had gone out of his life
but--he could not. It was not so easy to shake off the shadow of his
responsibility. He followed her on her downward path till he saw her
stretching out her hands in pitiful need to casual acquaintances--alone
and without hope; still petite, still dainty in spite of all, still with
flashes of wit, and then----

He shuddered. "O my God! Upon whom does the burden of guilt lie?"

* * * * *

On the night of his return he sat among his romping babes debating
whether he should tell the story to his wife or not. As the little ones
grew weary, the noise of the autumn wind--the lonely, woeful, moaning
prairie wind--came to his ears and he shuddered. His wife observed it.

"What is it, Joe? Did you get a chill?"

"Oh, no. The wind sounds a little lonesome to-night, that's all." But he
took his little girl into his arms and held her close.


IV. THE PASSING STRANGER.

This was the story the mystic told:

It was about eleven o'clock of an October night. The street was one of
the worst of the city, but it was Monday--one of its quiet nights.

The saloons flared floods of feverish light upon the walk, and breathed
their terrible odors, like caverns leading downward into hell. Restless,
loitering crowds moved to and fro, with rasping, uncertain footsteps,
out of which the click of health had gone.

Policemen occasionally showed themselves menacingly, and the crowd
responded to their impact by action quickened, like a python touched
with a red-hot rod.

It was nearly time to close, and the barkeepers were beginning to betray
signs of impatience with their most drunken customers.

A dark, tall man in cloak and fez moved slowly down the street. His face
was serene but somber. In passing the window of a brilliantly lighted
drinking place he stopped and looked in.

In the small stall, near the window and behind the counter, sat three
women and two men. All had mugs of beer in their hands. The women were
all young, and one of them was handsome. They were dressed nattily,
jauntily, in modish, girlish hats, and their dainty jackets fitted
closely to their slight figures.

Their liquor had just been served, and their voices were ringing with
wild laughter. Their white teeth shone from their rouged faces with a
mirth which met no answering smile from the strange young man without.
He stood like a shadow against the pane.

The smile on the face of the youngest girl stiffened into a strange
contortion. Her eyes looked straight ahead into the eyes of the
stranger.

Her smile smoothed out. Her face paled; her eyes expanded with wonder
till they lost their insane glitter, and grew sad and soft and dark.

"What is it, Nell?" the others asked.

She did not hear them. She seemed to listen. Her eyes seemed to see
mountains--or clouds. A land like her childhood's home with the sunset
light over it. Her mug fell with a crash to the table. She rose. Her
hand silenced them, with beautiful finger raised:

"Listen! Don't you hear him? His eyes are calling me. It is Christ."

The others looked, but they saw only a tall figure moving away. He wore
a long black cloak like a priest.

"Some foreign duffer lookin' in. Let 'im look," said one of the other
girls.

"One o' them Egyptian jugglers," said another.

"What's the matter of ye, Nell? You look as if you'd seen a ghost of y'r
grandmother. Set down an' drink y'r beer."

The girl brushed her hand over her eyes. "I'm going home," she said in a
low voice from which all individuality had passed. Her face seemed
anxious, her manner hurried.

"What's the matter, Nell? My God! Look at her eyes!--I'm going with
her."

The girl put him aside with a gesture. Her look awed him.

One of the others began to laugh.

"Stop! You fool," one of the girls cried. They sat in silence as the
younger girl went out, putting aside every hand stretched out to touch
her. She walked like one in stupor--her face ghastly. The arch of her
beautiful eyebrows was like that of Ophelia in her bitterest moment.

The others watched her go in silence.

One of them drew a sigh and said: "I'm going home, too; I don't feel
well."

"I'll go with ye," one of the men said.

"Stay where you are!" said the girl sharply.

* * * * *

Once on the street, the younger girl hurried on the way the stranger had
gone. His face seemed before her.

She could see it; she should always see it. It was the face of a young
man. A firm chin, a strong mouth with a feminine curve in it, a face
with a clear pallor that seemed foreign somehow. But the eyes--oh, the
eyes!

They were deep and brown, and filled with an infinite sadness--for her.
She felt it, and the knot of pain in the forehead, that was also for
her. Something sweet and terrible went out from his presence. A
knowledge of infinite space and infinite time and infinite compassion.

No man had ever looked at her like that. There was something divine in
the penetrating power of his eyes.

Some way she knew he was not a priest, though his cloak and turban cap
looked like it. He seemed like a scholar from some strange land--a man
above passion, a man who knew God.

His eyes accused her and pitied her, while they called her.

No smile, no shrinking of lips into a sneer--nothing but pity and
wonder, and something else----

And a voice seemed to say: "You are too good to be there. Follow me."

As she thought of him he seemed to stand on an immeasurable height
looking down at her.

She had laughed at him--O God!--she flushed hot with shame from head to
foot--but his eyes had not changed. His lips had kept their pitying
droop, and his somber eyes had burned deep into the sacred places of
her thought, where something sweet and girlish lay, unwasted and
untrampled.

"He called me. He called me."

* * * * *

Under the trees where the moonlight threw tracing of shadows she came
upon him standing, waiting for her. She held out her hand to him like a
babe. He was taller than she thought.

He took her hands silently and she grew calm at once. All shame left
her. She forgot her city life; she remembered only the sweet, merry life
of the village where she was born. The sound of sleigh bells and song,
and the lisp of wind in the grass, and songs of birds in the maples came
to her.

His voice began softly:

"You are too good and sweet to be so devoured of beasts. In your little
Northern home they are waiting for you. To-morrow you will go back to
them."

He placed his hand, which was soft and warm and broad, over her eyes.
His voice was like velvet, soft yet elastic.

"When you wake you will hate what you have been. No power can keep you
here. You will go back to the simple life from which you should never
have departed. You will love simple things and the pleasures of your
native place."

Her face was turned upward, but her eyelids had fallen.

"When you wake you will not remember your life here.



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