第76章 BOOK III:THE HEART OF MAN(29)
"Mr.Sweetwater has just left for New York,Mr.Brotherson.He will carry with him,no doubt,the full particulars of your great success."Orlando bowed,this time with distinguished grace.Not a flicker of relief had disturbed the calm serenity of his aspect,yet when a moment later,he stepped among his shouting admirers in the street,his air and glance betrayed a bounding joy for which another source must be found than that of gratified pride.Achain had slipped from his spirit,and though the people shrank a little,even while they cheered,it was rather from awe of his bearing and the recognition of that sense of apartness which underlay his smile than from any perception of the man's real nature or of the awesome purpose which at that moment exalted it.But had they known -could they have seen into this tumultuous heart -what a silence would have settled upon these noisy streets;and in what terror and soul-confusion would each man have slunk away from his fellows into the quiet and solitude of his own home.
Brotherson himself was not without a sense of the incongruity underlying this ovation;for,as he slowly worked himself along,the brightness of his look became dimmed with a tinge of sarcasm which in its turn gave way to an expression of extreme melancholy -both quite unbefitting the hero of the hour in the first flush of his new-born glory.Had he seen Doris'youthful figure emerge for a moment from the vine-hung porch he was approaching,bringing with it some doubt of the reception awaiting him?Possibly,for he made a stand before he reached the house,and sent his followers back;after which he advanced with an unhurrying step,so that several minutes elapsed before he finally drew up before Mr.Scott's door and entered through the now empty porch into his brother's sitting-room.
He had meant to see Doris first,but his mind had changed.If all passed off well between himself and Oswald,if he found his brother responsive and wide-awake to the interests and necessities of the hour,he might forego his interview with her till he felt better prepared to meet it.For call it cowardice or simply a reasonable precaution,any delay seemed preferable to him in his present mood of discouragement,to that final casting of the die upon which hung so many and such tremendous issues.It was the first moment of real halt in his whole tumultuous life!Never,as daring experimentalist or agitator,had he shrunk from danger seen or unseen or from threat uttered or unuttered,as he shrank from this young girl's no;and something of the dread he had felt lest he should encounter her unaware in the hall and so be led on to speak when his own judgment bade him be silent,darkened his features as he entered his brother's presence.
But Oswald was sunk in a bitter revery of his own,and took no heed of these signs of depression.In the re-action following these days of great excitement,the past had re-asserted itself,and all was gloom in his once generous soul.This,Orlando had time to perceive,quick as the change came when his brother really realised who his visitor was.The glad "Orlando!"and the forced smile did not deceive him,and his voice quavered a trifle as he held out his packet with the words:
"I have come to show you what the world says of my invention.We will soon be great men,"he emphasised,as Oswald opened the letters.
"Money has been offered me and -Read!read!"he urged,with an unconscious dictatorialness,as Oswald paused in his task."See what the fates have prepared for us;for you shall share all my honours,as you will from this day share my work and enter into all my experiments.Cannot you enthuse a little bit over it?Doesn't the prospect contain any allurement for you?Would you rather stay locked up in this petty town -""Yes;or -die.Don't look like that,Orlando.It was a cowardly speech and I ask your pardon.I'm hardly fit to talk to-day.
"Not that name!"he harshly interrupted."You must not hamper your life with useless memories.That dream of yours may be sacred,but it belongs to the past,and a great reality confronts you.When you have fully recovered your health,your own manhood will rebel at a weakness unworthy one of our name.Rouse yourself,Oswald.Take account of our prospects.Give me your hand and say,'Life holds something for me yet.I have a brother who needs me if I do not need him.Together,we can prove ourselves invincible and wrench fame and fortune from the world.'"But the hand he reached for did not rise at his command,though Oswald started erect and faced him with manly earnestness.
"I should have to think long and deeply,"he said,"before I took upon myself responsibilities like these.I am broken in mind and heart,Orlando,and must remain so till God mercifully delivers me.
I should be a poor assistant to you -a drag,rather than a help.
Deeply as I deplore it,hard as it may be for one of your temperament to understand so complete an overthrow,I yet must acknowledge my condition and pray you not to count upon me in any plans you may form.I know how this looks -I know that as your brother and truest admirer,I should respond,and respond strongly,to such overtures as these,but the motive for achievement is gone.
She was my all;and while I might work,it would be mechanically.
The lift,the elevating thought is gone."
Orlando stood a moment studying his brother's face;then he turned shortly about and walked the length of the room.When he came back,he took up his stand again directly before Oswald,and asked,with a new note in his voice:
"Did you love Edith Challoner so much as that?"A glance from Oswald's eye,sadder than any tear.
"So that you cannot be reconciled?"
A gesture.Oswald's words were always few.
Orlando's frown deepened.
"Such grief I partly understand,"said he."But time will cure it.
Some day another lovely face -"
"We'll not talk of that,Orlando."
Anna Katharine Green