Late one brilliant April afternoon
Professor Lucius Wilson stood
at the head of Chestnut Street,
looking about him with the pleased
air of a man of taste who does
not very often get to Boston.
He had lived there as a student,
but for twenty years and more,
since he had been Professor of
Philosophy in a Western university,
he had seldom come East except
to take a steamer for some foreign
port. Wilson was standing quite
still, contemplating with a whimsical
smile the slanting street, with
its worn paving, its irregular,
gravely colored houses, and the
row of naked trees on which the
thin sunlight was still shining.
The gleam of the river at the
foot of the hill made him blink
a little, not so much because
it was too bright as because
he found it so pleasant. The
few passers-by glanced at him
unconcernedly, and even the children
who hurried along with their
school-bags under their arms
seemed to find it perfectly natural
that a tall brown gentleman should
be standing there, looking up
through his glasses at the gray
The sun sank rapidly; the silvery
light had faded from the bare
boughs and the watery twilight
was setting in when Wilson at
last walked down the hill, descending
into cooler and cooler depths
of grayish shadow. His nostril,
long unused to it, was quick
to detect the smell of wood smoke
in the air, blended with the
odor of moist spring earth and
the saltiness that came up the
river with the tide. He crossed
Charles Street between jangling
street cars and shelving lumber
drays, and after a moment of
uncertainty wound into Brimmer
Street. The street was quiet,
deserted, and hung with a thin
bluish haze. He had already fixed
his sharp eye upon the house
which he reasoned should be his
objective point, when he noticed
a woman approaching rapidly from
the opposite direction. Always
an interested observer of women,
Wilson would have slackened his
pace anywhere to follow this
one with his impersonal, appreciative
glance. She was a person of distinction
he saw at once, and, moreover,
very handsome. She was tall,
carried her beautiful head proudly,
and moved with ease and certainty.
One immediately took for granted
the costly privileges and fine
spaces that must lie in the background
from which such a figure could
emerge with this rapid and elegant
gait. Wilson noted her dress,
too,--for, in his way, he had
an eye for such things,--particularly
her brown furs and her hat. He
got a blurred impression of her
fine color, the violets she wore,
her white gloves, and, curiously
enough, of her veil, as she turned
up a flight of steps in front
of him and disappeared.
able to enjoy lovely things
that passed him on the
wing as completely and deliberately
as if they had been dug-up marvels,
long anticipated, and definitely
fixed at the end of a railway
journey. For a few pleasurable
seconds he quite forgot where
he was going, and only after
the door had closed behind her
did he realize that the young
woman had entered the house to
which he had directed his trunk
from the South Station that morning.
He hesitated a moment before
mounting the steps. "Can that," he
murmured in amazement,--"can
that possibly have been Mrs.
When the servant admitted him,
Mrs. Alexander was still standing
in the hallway. She heard him
give his name, and came forward
holding out her hand.
"Is it you,
indeed, Professor Wilson? I
was afraid that you
might get here before I did.
I was detained at a concert,
and Bartley telephoned that he
would be late. Thomas will show
you your room. Had you rather
have your tea brought to you
there, or will you have it down
here with me, while we wait for
Wilson was pleased to find
that he had been the cause of
her rapid walk, and with her
he was even more vastly pleased
than before. He followed her
through the drawing-room into
the library, where the wide back
windows looked out upon the garden
and the sunset and a fine stretch
of silver-colored river. A harp-shaped
elm stood stripped against the
pale-colored evening sky, with
ragged last year's birds' nests
in its forks, and through the
bare branches the evening star
quivered in the misty air. The
long brown room breathed the
peace of a rich and amply guarded
quiet. Tea was brought in immediately
and placed in front of the wood
fire. Mrs. Alexander sat down
in a high-backed chair and began
to pour it, while Wilson sank
into a low seat opposite her
and took his cup with a great
sense of ease and harmony and
"You have had a long journey,
haven't you?" Mrs. Alexander
asked, after showing gracious
concern about his tea. "And I
am so sorry Bartley is late.
He's often tired when he's late.
He flatters himself that it is
a little on his account that
you have come to this Congress
"It is," Wilson assented, selecting
his muffin carefully; "and I
hope he won't be tired tonight.
But, on my own account, I'm glad
to have a few moments alone with
you, before Bartley comes. I
was somehow afraid that my knowing
him so well would not put me
in the way of getting to know
"That's very nice of you." She
nodded at him above her cup and
smiled, but there was a little
formal tightness in her tone
which had not been there when
she greeted him in the hall.
I said something awkward? I live
very far out of the world, you
know. But I didn't mean that
you would exactly fade dim, even
if Bartley were here."
laughed relentingly. "Oh,
I'm not so vain! How terribly
discerning you are."
She looked straight at Wilson,
and he felt that this quick,
frank glance brought about an
understanding between them.
He liked everything about her,
he told himself, but he particularly
liked her eyes; when she looked
at one directly for a moment
they were like a glimpse of fine
windy sky that may bring all
sorts of weather.
"Since you noticed something," Mrs.
Alexander went on, "it must have
been a flash of the distrust
I have come to feel whenever
I meet any of the people who
knew Bartley when he was a boy.
It is always as if they were
talking of someone I had never
met. Really, Professor Wilson,
it would seem that he grew up
among the strangest people. They
usually say that he has turned
out very well, or remark that
he always was a fine fellow.
I never know what reply to make."
and leaned back in his chair,
left foot gently. "I expect the
fact is that we none of us knew
him very well, Mrs. Alexander.
Though I will say for myself
that I was always confident he'd
do something extraordinary."
shoulders gave a slight movement,
of impatience. "Oh, I should
think that might have been a
safe prediction. Another cup,
"Yes, thank you. But predicting,
in the case of boys, is not so
easy as you might imagine, Mrs.
Alexander. Some get a bad hurt
early and lose their courage;
and some never get a fair wind.
Bartley"--he dropped his chin
on the back of his long hand
and looked at her admiringly--"Bartley
caught the wind early, and it
has sung in his sails ever since."
Mrs. Alexander sat looking
into the fire with intent preoccupation,
and Wilson studied her half-averted
face. He liked the suggestion
of stormy possibilities in the
proud curve of her lip and nostril.
Without that, he reflected, she
would be too cold.
"I should like to know what
he was really like when he was
a boy. I don't believe he remembers," she
said suddenly. "Won't you smoke,
a cigarette. "No,
I don't suppose he does. He was
never introspective. He was simply
the most tremendous response
to stimuli I have ever known.
We didn't know exactly what to
do with him."
A servant came in and noiselessly
removed the tea-tray. Mrs. Alexander
screened her face from the firelight,
which was beginning to throw
wavering bright spots on her
dress and hair as the dusk deepened.
"Of course," she said, "I
now and again hear stories
things that happened when he
was in college."
"But that isn't what you want." Wilson
wrinkled his brows and looked
at her with the smiling familiarity
that had come about so quickly. "What
you want is a picture of him,
standing back there at the other
end of twenty years. You want
to look down through my memory."
her hands in her lap. "Yes,
yes; that's exactly what I
At this moment
they heard the front door shut
with a jar, and
Wilson laughed as Mrs. Alexander
rose quickly. "There he is. Away
with perspective! No past, no
future for Bartley; just the
fiery moment. The only moment
that ever was or will be in the
The door from
the hall opened, a voice called "Winifred?" hurriedly,
and a big man came through the
drawing-room with a quick, heavy
tread, bringing with him a smell
of cigar smoke and chill out-of-doors
air. When Alexander reached the
library door, he switched on
the lights and stood six feet
and more in the archway, glowing
with strength and cordiality
and rugged, blond good looks.
There were other bridge-builders
in the world, certainly, but
it was always Alexander's picture
that the Sunday Supplement men
wanted, because he looked as
a tamer of rivers ought to look.
Under his tumbled sandy hair
his head seemed as hard and powerful
as a catapult, and his shoulders
looked strong enough in themselves
to support a span of any one
of his ten great bridges that
cut the air above as many rivers.
After dinner Alexander took
Wilson up to his study. It was
a large room over the library,
and looked out upon the black
river and the row of white lights
along the Cambridge Embankment.
The room was not at all what
one might expect of an engineer's
study. Wilson felt at once the
harmony of beautiful things that
have lived long together without
obtrusions of ugliness or change.
It was none of Alexander's doing,
of course; those warm consonances
of color had been blending and
mellowing before he was born.
But the wonder was that he was
not out of place there,-- that
it all seemed to glow like the
inevitable background for his
vigor and vehemence. He sat before
the fire, his shoulders deep
in the cushions of his chair,
his powerful head upright, his
hair rumpled above his broad
forehead. He sat heavily, a cigar
in his large, smooth hand, a
flush of after-dinner color in
his face, which wind and sun
and exposure to all sorts of
weather had left fair and clearskinned.
"You are off
for England on Saturday, Bartley,
"Yes, for a
few weeks only. There's a meeting
engineers, and I'm doing another
bridge in Canada, you know."
one knows about that. And it
was in Canada that
you met your wife, wasn't it?"
Yes, at Allway.
She was visiting her great-aunt
there. A most
remarkable old lady. I was working
with MacKeller then, an old Scotch
engineer who had picked me up
in London and taken me back to
Quebec with him. He had the contract
for the Allway Bridge, but before
he began work on it he found
out that he was going to die,
and he advised the committee
to turn the job over to me. Otherwise
I'd never have got anything good
so early. MacKeller was an old
friend of Mrs. Pemberton, Winifred's
aunt. He had mentioned me to
her, so when I went to Allway
she asked me to come to see her.
She was a wonderful old lady."
"Like her niece?" Wilson
Bartley laughed. "She
had been very handsome, but
not in Winifred's
way. When I knew her she was
little and fragile, very pink
and white, with a splendid head
and a face like fine old lace,
somehow,--but perhaps I always
think of that because she wore
a lace scarf on her hair. She
had such a flavor of life about
her. She had known Gordon and
Livingstone and Beaconsfield
when she was young,--every one.
She was the first woman of that
sort I'd ever known. You know
how it is in the West,--old people
are poked out of the way. Aunt
Eleanor fascinated me as few
young women have ever done. I
used to go up from the works
to have tea with her, and sit
talking to her for hours. It
was very stimulating, for she
couldn't tolerate stupidity."
"It must have been then that
your luck began, Bartley," said
Wilson, flicking his cigar ash
with his long finger. "It's curious,
watching boys," he went on reflectively. "I'm
sure I did you justice in the
matter of ability. Yet I always
used to feel that there was a
weak spot where some day strain
would tell. Even after you began
to climb, I stood down in the
crowd and watched you with--well,
not with confidence. The more
dazzling the front you presented,
the higher your facade rose,
the more I expected to see a
big crack zigzagging from top
to bottom,"--he indicated its
course in the air with his forefinger,-- "then
a crash and clouds of dust. It
was curious. I had such a clear
picture of it. And another curious
thing, Bartley," Wilson spoke
with deliberateness and settled
deeper into his chair, "is that
I don't feel it any longer. I
am sure of you."
Alexander laughed. "Nonsense!
It's not I you feel sure of;
it's Winifred. People often make
"No, I'm serious,
Alexander. You've changed.
You have decided
to leave some birds in the bushes.
You used to want them all."
chair creaked. "I
still want a good many," he said
rather gloomily. "After all,
life doesn't offer a man much.
You work like the devil and think
you're getting on, and suddenly
you discover that you've only
been getting yourself tied up.
A million details drink you dry.
Your life keeps going for things
you don't want, and all the while
you are being built alive into
a social structure you don't
care a rap about. I sometimes
wonder what sort of chap I'd
have been if I hadn't been this
sort; I want to go and live out
his potentialities, too. I haven't
forgotten that there are birds
in the bushes."
Bartley stopped and sat frowning
into the fire, his shoulders
thrust forward as if he were
about to spring at something.
Wilson watched him, wondering.
His old pupil always stimulated
him at first, and then vastly
wearied him. The machinery was
always pounding away in this
man, and Wilson preferred companions
of a more reflective habit of
mind. He could not help feeling
that there were unreasoning and
unreasonable activities going
on in Alexander all the while;
that even after dinner, when
most men achieve a decent impersonality,
Bartley had merely closed the
door of the engine-room and come
up for an airing. The machinery
itself was still pounding on.
Bartley's abstraction and Wilson's
reflections were cut short by
a rustle at the door, and almost
before they could rise Mrs. Alexander
was standing by the hearth. Alexander
brought a chair for her, but
she shook her head.
thank you. I only came in to
see whether you and
Professor Wilson were quite comfortable.
I am going down to the music-room."
"Why not practice
here? Wilson and I are growing
We are tired of talk."
"Yes, I beg you, Mrs. Alexander," Wilson
began, but he got no further.
"Why, certainly, if you won't
find me too noisy. I am working
on the Schumann `Carnival,' and,
though I don't practice a great
many hours, I am very methodical," Mrs.
Alexander explained, as she crossed
to an upright piano that stood
at the back of the room, near
Wilson followed, and, having
seen her seated, dropped into
a chair behind her. She played
brilliantly and with great musical
feeling. Wilson could not imagine
her permitting herself to do
anything badly, but he was surprised
at the cleanness of her execution.
He wondered how a woman with
so many duties had managed to
keep herself up to a standard
really professional. It must
take a great deal of time, certainly,
and Bartley must take a great
deal of time. Wilson reflected
that he had never before known
a woman who had been able, for
any considerable while, to support
both a personal and an intellectual
passion. Sitting behind her,
he watched her with perplexed
admiration, shading his eyes
with his hand. In her dinner
dress she looked even younger
than in street clothes, and,
for all her composure and self-sufficiency,
she seemed to him strangely alert
and vibrating, as if in her,
too, there were something never
altogether at rest. He felt that
he knew pretty much what she
demanded in people and what she
demanded from life, and he wondered
how she squared Bartley. After
ten years she must know him;
and however one took him, however
much one admired him, one had
to admit that he simply wouldn't
square. He was a natural force,
certainly, but beyond that, Wilson
felt, he was not anything very
really or for very long at a
Wilson glanced toward the fire,
where Bartley's profile was still
wreathed in cigar smoke that
curled up more and more slowly.
His shoulders were sunk deep
in the cushions and one hand
hung large and passive over the
arm of his chair. He had slipped
on a purple velvet smoking-coat.
His wife, Wilson surmised, had
chosen it. She was clearly very
proud of his good looks and his
fine color. But, with the glow
of an immediate interest gone
out of it, the engineer's face
looked tired, even a little haggard.
The three lines in his forehead,
directly above the nose, deepened
as he sat thinking, and his powerful
head drooped forward heavily.
Although Alexander was only forty-three,
Wilson thought that beneath his
vigorous color he detected the
dulling weariness of on-coming
The next afternoon, at the
hour when the river was beginning
to redden under the declining
sun, Wilson again found himself
facing Mrs. Alexander at the
tea-table in the library.
"Well," he remarked, when he
was bidden to give an account
of himself, "there was a long
morning with the psychologists,
luncheon with Bartley at his
club, more psychologists, and
here I am. I've looked forward
to this hour all day."
smiled at him across the vapor
from the kettle. "And
do you remember where we stopped
"Perfectly. I was going to
show you a picture. But I doubt
whether I have color enough in
me. Bartley makes me feel a faded
monochrome. You can't get at
the young Bartley except by means
of color." Wilson paused and
deliberated. Suddenly he broke
out: "He wasn't a remarkable
student, you know, though he
was always strong in higher mathematics.
His work in my own department
was quite ordinary. It was as
a powerfully equipped nature
that I found him interesting.
That is the most interesting
thing a teacher can find. It
has the fascination of a scientific
discovery. We come across other
pleasing and endearing qualities
so much oftener than we find
"And, after all," said Mrs.
Alexander, "that is the thing
we all live upon. It is the thing
that takes us forward."
she spoke a little wistfully. "Exactly," he
assented warmly. "It builds the
bridges into the future, over
which the feet of every one of
us will go."
"How interested I am to hear
you put it in that way. The bridges
into the future-- I often say
that to myself. Bartley's bridges
always seem to me like that.
Have you ever seen his first
suspension bridge in Canada,
the one he was doing when I first
knew him? I hope you will see
it sometime. We were married
as soon as it was finished, and
you will laugh when I tell you
that it always has a rather bridal
look to me. It is over the wildest
river, with mists and clouds
always battling about it, and
it is as delicate as a cobweb
hanging in the sky. It really
was a bridge into the future.
You have only to look at it to
feel that it meant the beginning
of a great career. But I have
a photograph of it here." She
drew a portfolio from behind
a bookcase. "And there, you see,
on the hill, is my aunt's house."
up the photograph. "Bartley
was telling me something about
your aunt last night. She must
have been a delightful person."
Winifred laughed. "The
bridge, you see, was just at
of the hill, and the noise of
the engines annoyed her very
much at first. But after she
met Bartley she pretended to
like it, and said it was a good
thing to be reminded that there
were things going on in the world.
She loved life, and Bartley brought
a great deal of it in to her
when he came to the house. Aunt
Eleanor was very worldly in a
frank, Early-Victorian manner.
She liked men of action, and
disliked young men who were careful
of themselves and who, as she
put it, were always trimming
their wick as if they were afraid
of their oil's giving out. MacKeller,
Bartley's first chief, was an
old friend of my aunt, and he
told her that Bartley was a wild,
ill-governed youth, which really
pleased her very much. I remember
we were sitting alone in the
dusk after Bartley had been there
for the first time. I knew that
Aunt Eleanor had found him much
to her taste, but she hadn't
said anything. Presently she
came out, with a chuckle: `MacKeller
found him sowing wild oats in
London, I believe. I hope he
didn't stop him too soon. Life
coquets with dashing fellows.
The coming men are always like
that. We must have him to dinner,
my dear.' And we did. She grew
much fonder of Bartley than she
was of me. I had been studying
in Vienna, and she thought that
absurd. She was interested in
the army and in politics, and
she had a great contempt for
music and art and philosophy.
She used to declare that the
Prince Consort had brought all
that stuff over out of Germany.
She always sniffed when Bartley
asked me to play for him. She
considered that a newfangled
way of making a match of it."
came in a few moments later,
he found Wilson
and his wife still confronting
the photograph. "Oh, let us get
that out of the way," he said,
laughing. "Winifred, Thomas can
bring my trunk down. I've decided
to go over to New York to-morrow
night and take a fast boat. I
shall save two days."