Gargoyle by Edwina Stanton Babcock
From Harper's Magazine
Gargoyle stole up the piazza steps. His arms were full of field
flowers. He stood there staring over his burden.
A hush fell upon tea-and card-tables. The younger women on the
Strang veranda glanced at one another. The girl at the piano hesitated
in her light stringing of musical sentences.
John Strang rose. Not now, Gargoyle, old man. Taking the flowers
from the thin hands, he laid them on the rug at his wife's feet, then
gently motioned the intruder away. Gargoyle flitted contentedly down
the broad steps to the smooth drive, and was soon hidden by masses of
rhododendron on the quadrangle.
Only one guest raised questioning eyebrows as Strang resumed his
seat. This girl glanced over his shoulder at the aimless child straying
off into the trees.
I should think an uncanny little person like that would get on Mrs.
Strang's nerves; he gives me the creeps!
Yes? Mrs. Strang is hardly as sensitive as you might suppose. What
do you say of a lady who enjoys putting the worms on her shrinking
husband's hook? Not only that, but who banters the worms, telling them
it's all for their own good?
The mistress of Heartholm, looking over at the two, shook a
deprecating head. But Strang seemed to derive amusement from the
Mockwood, where the Strangs lived, had its impressiveness partly
accounted for by the practical American name of residential park.
This habitat, covering many thousands of acres, gave evidence of the
usual New World compromise between fantastic wealth and over-reached
restraint. Polished automobiles gliding noiselessly through massed
purple and silver shrubberies, receded into bland glooms of
well-thought-out boscage. The architecture, a judicious mixture of
haughty roofs and opulent chimneys, preened itself behind exclusive
screens of wall and vine, and the entire frontage of Mockwood presented
a polished elegance which did not entirely conceal a silent
plausibility of expense.
At Heartholm, the Strangs' place, alone, had the purely conventional
been smitten in its smooth face. The banker's country home was built on
the lines of his own physical height and mental breadth. Strang had
flung open his living-rooms to vistas of tree branches splashing
against the morning blue. His back stairs were as aspiring as the
Apostles' Creed, and his front stairs as soaring as the Canticle to the
Sun. As he had laid out his seven-mile drive on a deer track leading to
a forest spring, so had he spoken for his flowers the word, which,
though it freed them from the prunes and prisms of a landscape
gardener, held them, glorified vassals, to their original masters, sun
Strang and his love for untrammeled nature were hard pills for
Mockwooders to swallow. Here was a man who, while he kept one on the
alert, was to be deplored; who homesteaded squirrels, gave rabbits
their own licentious ways, was whimsically tolerant of lichens,
mushrooms, and vagabond vines. This was also the man who, when his
gardener's wife gave birth to a deaf and dumb baby, encouraged his own
wife to make a pet of the unfortunate youngster, and when he could walk
gave him his freedom of the Heartholm acres.
It was this sort of thing, Mockwooders agreed, that explained the
Strangs. It was the desultory gossip of fashionable breakfast tables
how Evelyn Strang was frequently seen at the gardener's cottage,
talking to the poor mother about her youngest. The gardener's wife had
other children, all strong and hearty. These went to school, survived
the rigors of regents examinations, and were beginning to talk of
accepting positions. There would never be any position for little
Gargoyle, as John Strang called him, to accept.
Let the child run about, the village doctors had advised. Let him
run about in the sun and make himself useful.
But people who run about in the sun are seldom inclined to make
themselves useful, and no one could make Gargoyle so. It would have
been as well to try to train woodbine to draw water or to educate
cattails to write Greek. The little boy spent all of the day idling; it
was a curious, Oriental sort of idling. Callers at Heartholm grew
disapprovingly accustomed to the sight of the grotesque face and figure
peering through the shrubberies; they shrugged their shoulders
impatiently, coming upon the recumbent child dreamily gazing at his own
reflection in the lily-pond, looking necromantically out from the
molten purple of a wind-blown beech, or standing at gaze in a clump of
Strang with his amused laugh fended off all protest and neighborly
That's Gargoyle's special variety of hashish. He lives in a
flower-haremin a five-year-old Solomon's Song. I've often seen the
irises kowtowing to him, and his attitude toward them is distinctly
personal and lover-like. If that little chap could only talk there
would be some fun, but what Gargoyle thinks would hardly fit itself to
wordsbesides, thenStrang twinkled at the ideanone of us would
fancy having him around with those natural eyesthat undressed little
It was in good-humored explanations like this that the Strangs
managed to conceal their real interest in Gargoyle. They did not remind
people of their only child, the brave boy of seven, who died before
they came to Mockwood. Under the common sense that set the two
instantly to work building a new home, creating new associations, lay
the everlasting pain of an old life, when, as parents of a son, they
had seemed to tread springier soil, to breathe keener, more vital air.
And, though the Strangs adhered patiently to the recognized
technicalities of Mockwood existence, they never lost sight of a hope,
of which, against the increasing evidence of worldly logic, their human
hearts still made ceaseless frantic attestation.
Very slowly, but very constructively, it had become a fierce though
governed passion with bothto learn something of the spiritual life
coursing back of the material universe. Equally slowly and inevitably
had the two come to believe that the little changeling at the lodge
held some wordless clue, some unconscious knowledge as to that outer
sphere, that surrounding, peopled ether, in which, under their apparent
rationality, the two had come to believe. Yet the banker and his wife
stood to Mockwooders for no special cult or fad; it was only between
themselves that their quest had become a slowly developing motive.
Gargoyle was under the rose-arbor this morning. It was according
to custom that Evelyn Strang would relate the child's latest phase. He
sat there without stirring such a long time that I was fascinated. I
noticed that he never picked a rose, never smelled one. The early sun
fell slanting through their petals till they glowed like thin little
wheels of fire. John dear, it was that scalloped fire which Gargoyle
was staring at. The flowers seemed to lean toward him, vibrating color
and perfumes too delicate for me to hear. I only saw and smelled
the flowers; Gargoyle looked as if he felt them! Don't laugh;
you know we look at flowers because when we were little, people always
said, 'See the pretty flower, smell the pretty flower,' but no one
said, 'Listen and see if you can hear the flower grow; be still and see
if you can catch the flower speaking.'
Strang never did laugh, never brushed away these fantastic ideas.
Settling back in his piazza chair, his big hands locked together, he
would listen, amusing himself with his pet theory of Gargoyle's
By the way, he said once, that reminds me, have you ever seen our
young Solomon of the flower-harem smile?
Of course I haven't; neither have you. Young Mrs. Strang averred
it confidently. He never has smiled, poor baby, nor criedhis mother
told me that long ago.
The banker kept his eyes on the treetops; he had his finger-tips
nicely balanced before he remarked, with seeming irrelevance:
You know that nest in the tree we call the Siegfried tree?
The other day a bird fell out of it, one of the young ones, pushed
out by a housecleaning mother, I suppose. It killed the poor little
feathered gawk. I saw Gargoyle run, quick as a flash, and pick it up.
He pushed open the closing eyes, tried to place the bird on a hollyhock
stalk, to spread its wings, in every way to give it motion. When, after
each attempt, he saw it fall to the ground, he stood still, looking at
it very hard. Suddenly, to my surprise, he seemed to understand
something, to comprehend it fully and delightedly. He laughed.
Strang stopped, looking intently at his wife.
I can imagine that laugh, she mused.
Strang shook his head. I don't think you can. Itit wasn't
pleasant. It was as uncanny as the rest of the little chapa long,
rattling, eerie sound, as if a tree should groan or a butterfly curse;
but waitthere's more. In his earnestness Strang sat up, adding,
Then Gargoyle got up and stretched out his hands, not to the sky, but
to the air all around him. It was as if Here Strang, the normal,
healthy man of the world, hesitated; it was only the father of the
little boy who had died who admitted in low tones: You would have
saidAt least even I could imagine that Gargoylewellthat he
saw something like a released principle of life fly happily back to
its main sourceas if a little mote like a sunbeam should detach
itself from a clod and, disembodied, dart back to its law of motion.
For a long time they were silent, listening to the call of an
oven-bird far back in the spring trees. At last Strang got up, filled
his pipe, and puffed at it savagely before he said, Of course the
whole thing's damned nonsense. He repeated that a little brutally to
his wife's silence before in softened voice he added, Only, perhaps
you're right, Evelyn; perhaps we, too, should be seeing that kind of
thing, understanding what, God knows, we long to understand, if we had
'undressed minds,' if we hadn't from earliest infancy been smeared all
over with the plaster-of-Paris of 'normal thinking.'
Time flew swiftly by. The years at Heartholm were tranquil and happy
until Strang, taken by one of the swift maladies which often come to
men of his type, was mortally stricken. His wife at first seemed to
feel only the strange ecstasy that sometimes comes to those who have
beheld death lay its hand on a beloved body. She went coldly, rigidly,
through every detail of the final laying away of the man who had loved
her to the utmost power of his man's heart. Friends waited helplessly,
dreading the furious after-crash of this unnatural mental and bodily
endurance. Doctor Milton, Strang's life-long friend, who had fought for
the banker's life, watched her carefully, but there was no catalepsy,
no tranced woman held in a vise of endurance. Nothing Evelyn Strang did
was odd or unnatural, only she seemed, particularly before the burial,
to be waiting intently for some revelation, toward which her desire
burned consumingly, like a powerful flame.
Just before the funeral Strang's sister came to Doctor Milton.
Evelyn! in whispered response to his concerned look. Oh, doctor,
I cannot think that this calmness is right for her The
poor, red-eyed woman, fighting hard for her own composure, motioned to
the room where, with the cool lattices drawn, and a wave of flowers
breaking on his everlasting sleep, the master of Heartholm lay. She
has gone in there with that little deaf-and-dumb child. I saw her
standing with him, staring all about her. Somehow it seemed to me that
Gargoyle was smilingthat he saw something!
For long weeks Doctor Milton stayed on at Heartholm, caring for Mrs.
Strang. From time to time the physician also studied and questioned
Gargoyle. Questioned in verity, for the practised hand could feel rigid
muscles and undeveloped glands that answered more truthfully than
words. Whatever conclusions Milton arrived at, he divulged to no one
but Mrs. Strang. What he had to say roused the desolate woman as
nothing else could have done. To the rest of the world little or
nothing was explained. But, after the consent of the mother at the
gardener's cottage had been gained, Doctor Milton left Heartholm,
taking Gargoyle with him.
In the office of Dr. Pauli Mach, the professional tongue was freed.
Milton, with the half-quizzical earnestness habitual to him, told his
story, which was followed by the exchange of much interesting data.
The two fell back on the discussion of various schools where
Gargoyle might be put under observation. At last, feeling in the
gravely polite attention of the more eminent man a waning lack of
interest, Milton reluctantly concluded the interview.
I'll write to Mrs. Strang and tell her your conclusions; she won't
accept themher own husband humored her in the thing. What John Strang
himself believed I never really knew, but I think he had wisdom in his
Milton stood there, hesitating; he looked abstractedly at the
apathetic little figure of Gargoyle sitting in the chair.
We talk of inherent human nature, said the doctor, slowly, as if
we had all knowledge concerning the possibilities of that
nature's best and worst. Yet I have sometimes wondered if what we call
mentally askew people are not those that possess attributes which
society is not wise enough to help them use wiselymightn't such
people be like fine-blooded animals who sniff land and water where no
one else suspects any? Given a certain kink in a human brain, and there
might result capacity we ought to consider, even if we can't, in our
admittably systematized civilization, utilize it.
The Swiss doctor nodded, magnetic eyes and mouth smiling.
Meanwhilein his slow, careful speechmeanwhile we do what we
can to preserve the type which from long experience we know wears
Milton nodded. He moved to go, one hand on Gargoyle's unresponsive
shoulder, when the office door swung open.
Now this is real trouble, laughed a woman's fresh, deep-chested
voice. Doctor Mach, it means using one of your tall measuring-glasses
or permitting these lovely things to wilt; some one has inundated us
with flowers. I've already filled one bath-tub; I've even used the
buckets in the operating-room.
The head nurse stood there, white-frocked, smiling, her stout arms
full of rosy gladioli and the lavender and white of Japanese iris. The
two doctors started to help her with the fragrant burden, but not
before Gargoyle sprang out of his chair. With a start, as if shocked
into galvanic motion, the boy sat upright. With a throttled cry he
leaped at the surprised woman. He bore down upon her flowers as if they
had been a life-preserver, snatching at them as if to prevent himself
from being sucked under by some strange mental undertow. The
softly-colored bloom might have had some vital magnetizing force for
the child's blood, to which his whole feeble nature responded. Tearing
the colored mass from the surprised nurse's arms, Gargoyle sank to the
floor. He sat there caressing the flowers, smiling, making uncouth
efforts to speak. The arms that raised him were gentle enough. They
made no attempt to take from him his treasures. They sat him on the
table, watching the little thin hands move ardently, yet with a curious
deftness and delicacy, amid the sheaf of color. As the visionary eyes
peered first into one golden-hearted lily, then into another, Milton
felt stir, in spite of himself, Strang's old conviction of the
undressed mind. He said nothing, but stole a glance at the face of
his superior. Doctor Mach was absorbed. He stood the boy on the table
before him. The nurse stripped Gargoyle, then swiftly authoritative
fingers traveled up and down the small, thin frame.
* * * * *
Life at Heartholm went on very much the same. The tender-hearted
observer might have noted that the gardens held the same flowers year
after year, all the perennials and hardy blooms John Strang had loved.
No matter what had been his widow's courageous acceptance of modern
stoicism, the prevailing idea that incurable grief is merely morbid,
yet, in their own apartments where their own love had been lived, was
every mute image and eloquent trifle belonging to its broken arc. Here,
with Strang's books on occult science, with other books of her own
choosing, the wife lived secretly, unknown of any other human being,
the long vigil of waiting for some sign or word from the spirit of one
who by every token of religion and faith she could not believe
deadonly to her wistful earthly gaze, hidden. She also hid in her
heart one strangely persistent hopenamely, Gargoyle! Letters from
Doctor Milton had been full of significance. The last letter
Your young John Strang Berber, alias Gargoyle, can talk now,
only one drawback: as yet he doesn't know any words!
The rapidly aging mother at the gardener's cottage took worldly
pride in what was happening to her youngest.
I allus knowed he was smart, the woman insisted. My Johnny! To
think of him speaking his mind out like any one else! I allus took his
partI could ha' told 'em he had his own notions!
There was no doubt as to Gargoyle's having the notions. As the
slow process of speech was taught and the miracle of fitting words to
things was given unto John Berber, alias Gargoyle, it was hard for
those watching over him to keep the riotous perceptions from retarding
the growing mechanistics. Close-mouthed the boy was, and, they said,
always would be; but watchful eyes and keen intuitions penetrated to
the silent orgies going on within him. So plainly did the fever of his
education begin to wear on his physical frame that wary Doctor Mach
shook his head. Here I find too many streams of thought coursing
through one field, said the careful Swiss. The field thus grows stony
and bears nothing. Give this field only one stream that shall be
For other supernormal developments that one stream might have been
music or sports. For Gargoyle it happened to be flowers. The botanist
with whom he was sent afield not only knew his science, but guessed at
more than his science. His were the beatitudes of the blue sky; water,
rocks, and trees his only living testament. Under his tutelage, with
the eyes of Doctor Mach ever on his growing body, and with his own
special gifts of concentration and perception, at last came to Gargoyle
the sudden whisper of academic sanctionnamely, genius.
He himself seemed never to hear this whisper. What
thingssuperimposed on the new teeming world of material
actualitieshe did hear, he never told. Few could reach Berber;
among fellow-students he was gay, amiable, up to a certain point even
frivolous; then, as each companion in turn complained, a curtain seemed
to drop, a colorless wrap of unintelligibility enveloped him like a
chameleon's changing skin; the youth, as if he lived another life on
another plane, walked apart.
Doctor Milton, dropping into the smoking-room of a popular
confrÃ¨re, got a whiff of the prevailing gossip about his protÃ©gÃ©.
I'll be hanged if I can associate psychics with a biceps like
Berber's; somehow those things seem the special prerogative of anemic
women in white cheese-cloth fooling with 'planchette' and 'currents.'
You've got another guess, a growling neurologist volunteered. Why
shouldn't psychic freaks have biceps? We keep forgetting that we've
dragged our fifty-year-old carcasses into an entirely new agea
wireless, horseless, man-flying, star-chasing age. Why, after shock
upon shock of scientific discovery, shouldn't the human brain, like a
sensitive plate, be thinned down to keener, more sensitive,
Some one remarked that in the case of Berber, born of a simple
country woman and her uneducated husband, this was impossible.
Another man laughed. Berber may be a Martian, or perhaps he was
originally destined to be the first man on Jupiter. He took the wrong
car and landed on this globe. Why not? How do we know what agency
carries pollen of human life from planet to planet?
Milton, smiling at it all, withdrew. He sat down and wrote a
long-deferred letter to Mrs. Strang.
I have asked John Berber if he would care to revisit his old
It seemed never to have occurred to him that he had a
I suggested the thing he followed it up eagerly, as he does
new idea, asking me many keen questions as to his relatives,
had paid for his education, etc. Of the actual facts of his
knows little except that there was special functioning out of
and that now the wheels have been greased. Doctor Mach is
desperately proud of him, especially of the way in which he
responds to normal diversion-environments and
must instruct his mother very carefully as to references to
former condition. It is best that he should not dwell upon the
former condition. Your young friend, Gargoyle, sees no more
He is rapidly developing into a very remarkable and
The first few days at Mockwood were spent at the little gardener's
cottage, from which the other youngsters had flown. Berber, quietly
moving about the tiny rooms, sitting buried in a scientific book or
taking long trips afield, was the recipient of much maternal flattery.
He accepted it all very gently; the young culturist had an air of quiet
consideration for every one and absolutely no consciousness of himself.
He presumed upon no special prerogatives, but set immediately to work
to make himself useful. It was while he was weeding the box borders
leading to the herb-gardens of Heartholm that Mrs. Strang first came
upon him. Her eyes, suddenly confronted with his as he got to his feet,
dropped almost guiltily, but when they sought his face a second time,
Evelyn Strang experienced a disappointment that was half relief. The
sunburnt youth, in khaki trousers and brown-flannel shirt, who knelt by
the border before her was John Strang Berber, Doctor Mach's human
masterpiece; this was not Gargoyle.
That is hardly suitable work for a distinguished horticulturist,
the mistress of Heartholm smiled at the wilting piles of pusley and
White teeth flashed, deep eyes kindled. Berber rose and, going to a
garden seat, took up some bits of glass and a folded paper. He showed
her fragments of weed pressed upon glass plates, envelopes of seeds
preserved for special analyzation. There's still a great undiscovered
country in weed chemistry, he eagerly explained, perhaps an anodyne
for every pain and disease.
Yes, and deadly poisons, too, for every failure and grief. The
mistress of Heartholm said it lightly as she took the garden seat,
thinking how pleasant it was to watch the resolute movements and
splendid physical development of the once weazened Gargoyle. She began
sorting out her embroidery silks as Berber, the bits of glass still in
his hand, stood before her. He was smiling.
Yes, deadly poisons, too, agreeing with a sort of exultation, so
blithely, indeed, that the calmly moving fingers of the mistress of
Heartholm were suddenly arrested. A feeling as powerful and associative
as the scent of a strong perfume stole over Evelyn Strang.
Before she could speak Berber had resumed his weeding. It's good to
get dictatorship over all this fight of growing, looking up for her
sympathy with hesitance, which, seen in the light of his acknowledged
genius, was the more significant. You don't mind my taking Michael's
place? He was very busy this morning. I have no credentials, but my
mother seems to think I am a born gardener.
This lack of conceit, this unassuming practicality, the sort of
thing with which Gargoyle's mind had been carefully inoculated for a
long time, baffled, while it reassured Mrs. Strang. Also the sense of
sacred trust placed in her hands made her refrain from any psychic
For a long while she found it easy to exert this self-control. The
lonely woman, impressed by the marvelous cure of John Berber,
magnetized by his youth and sunny enthusiasms back to the old dreaming
pleasure in the Heartholm gardens, might in the absorbed days to come
have forgottenonly there was a man's photograph in her bedroom,
placed where her eyes always rested on it, her hand could bring it to
her lips; the face looking out at her seemed to say but one thing:
You knew meI knew you. What we knew and were to each other had
not only to do with our bodies. Men call me 'dead' but you know that I
am not. Why do you not study and work and pray to learn what I am
become, that you may turn to me, that I may reach to you?
Mockwooders, dropping in at Heartholm for afternoon tea, began to
accustom themselves to finding Mrs. Strang sitting near some flower-bed
where John Berber worked, or going with him over his great books of
specimens. The smirk the fashionable world reserves for anything not
usual in its experience was less marked in this case than it might have
been in others. Even those who live in residential parks are
sometimes forced (albeit with a curious sense of personal injury) to
accept the idea that they who have greatly suffered find relief in
queer ways. Mockwooders, assisting at the Heartholm tea-hour, and
noting Berber among other casual guests, merely felt aggrieved and
For almost a year, with the talking over of plans for John Strang's
long-cherished idea of a forest garden at Heartholm, there had been no
allusion between mistress and gardener to that far-off fantasy, the
life of little Gargoyle. During the autumn the two drew plans together
for those spots which next spring were to blossom in the beech glade.
They sent to far-off countries for bulbs, experimented in the Heartholm
greenhouses with special soils and fertilizers, and differences of heat
and light; they transplanted, grafted, and redeveloped this and that
woodland native. Unconsciously all formal strangeness wore away,
unconsciously the old bond between Gargoyle and his mistress was
Thus it was, without the slightest realization as to what it might
lead, that Evelyn Strang one afternoon made some trifling allusion to
Berber's association with the famous Doctor Mach. As soon as she had
done so, fearing from habit for some possible disastrous result, she
tried immediately to draw away from the subject. But the forbidden
spring had been toucheda door that had long been closed between them
swung open. Young Berber, sorting dahlia bulbs into numbered boxes,
looked up; he met her eyes unsuspiciously.
I suppose, thoughtfully, that that is the man to whom I should
feel more grateful than to any other human being.
The mistress of Heartholm did not reply. In spite of her tranquil
air, Evelyn Strang was gripped with a sudden apprehension. How much,
how little, did Berber know? She glanced swiftly at him, then bent her
head over her embroidery. The colored stream of Indian summer flowed
around them. A late bird poured out his little cup of song.
My mother will not answer my questions. Young Berber, examining
two curiously formed bulbs, shook the earth from them; he stuffed them
into his trousers pocket. But Michael got talking yesterday and told
meDid you know, Mrs. Strang? I was thought to be an idiot until I was
twelve years oldborn deaf and dumb?
It was asked so naturally, with a scientific interest as impersonal
as if he were speaking of one of the malformed bulbs in his pocket,
that at first his mistress felt no confusion. Her eyes and hands
busying themselves with the vivid silks, she answered.
I remember you as a little pale boy who loved flowers and did such
odd, interesting things with them. Mr. Strang and I were attracted to
your mysterious plays.... No, you never spoke, but we were not sure you
could not hearanddrawing a swift little breathwe were always
interested in whatin whatyou seemedto see!
There was a pause. He knelt there, busily sorting the bulbs.
Suddenly to the woman sitting on the garden bench the sun-bathed
October gardens seemed alive with the myriad questioning faces of the
fall flowers; wheels and disks like aureoled heads leaned toward her,
mystical fire in their eyes, the colored flames of their being blown by
passionate desire of revelation. This is your moment, the flowers
seemed to say to her. Ask him now.
But that she might not yet speak out her heart to John Berber his
mistress was sure. She was reminded of what Strang had so often said,
referring to their lonely questthat actual existence was like a
forlorn shipwreck of some other life, a mere raft upon which, like
grave buffoons, the ragged survivors went on handing one another
watersoaked bread of faith, glassless binoculars of belief, oblivious
of what radiant coasts or awful headlands might lie beyond the
enveloping mists. Soon, the wistful woman knew, she would be making
some casual observations about the garden, the condition of the soil.
Yet, if ever the moment had come to question him who had once been
Gargoyle, that moment was come now!
Berber lifted on high a mass of thickly welded bulbs clinging to a
single dahlia stalk. He met her gaze triumphantly.
Michael says he planted only a few of this variety, the soft,
gold-hearted lavender. See what increase. The youth plunged supple
fingers into the balmy-scented loam, among the swelling tuber forms. A
beautiful kind of ugliness, he mused. I remember I used to think
The young gardener, as if he felt that the eyes fixed upon him were
grown suddenly too eager, broke abruptly off.
Go on, John Berber. What you have to say is always interesting.
It was said calmly, with almost maternal encouragement, but the
fingers absorbed in the bright silks fumbled and erred. Used to
thinkwords such as these filtered like sunlight to the hope lying
deep in Evelyn Strang's heart.
But young Berber leaned upon his garden fork, looking past her. Over
the youth's face crept a curious expression of wrapt contemplation, of
super-occupation, whether induced by her words or not she could not
tell. Furtively Mrs. Strang studied him.... How soon would he drop that
mystical look and turn to her with the casual educated expression she
had come to know so well?
Suddenly, nervousness impelling her, she broke in upon his revery:
How wonderful, with such dreams as you must have had, to be
educated! How very grateful you must be to Doctor Mach.
She heard her own words helplessly, as if in a dream, and, if the
unwisdom of this kind of conversation had impressed the mistress of
Heartholm before, now she could have bitten off her tongue with that
needless speech on it. Young Berber, however, seemed hardly to have
heard her; he stood there, the Gargoyle look still in his eyes,
gazing past his mistress into some surrounding mystery of air element.
It was to her, watching him, as if those brooding, dilated pupils might
behold, besides infinitesimal mystery of chemical atoms, other
mysteriescolorless pools of air where swam, like sea anemones,
radiant forms of released spirit; invisible life-trees trembling with
luminous fruit of occult being!
When Berber turned this look, naked as a sword, back to Evelyn
Strang, she involuntarily shivered. But the boy's face was unconscious.
His expression changed only to the old casual regard as he said, very
You see, I wish they had not educated me!
The confession came with inevitable shock. If she received it with
apparent lightness, it was that she might, with all the powers a woman
understands, rise to meet what she felt was coming. The barrier down,
it was comparatively easy to stand in the breach, making her soft note
of deprecation, acknowledging playfully that the stress of so-called
normal life must indeed seem a burden to one who had hitherto talked
with flowers, played with shadows. Berber, however, seemed hardly to
hear her; there was no tenseness in the youth's bearing; he merely
gazed thoughtfully past her efforts, repeating:
NoI wish they had not taught me. I have not really gained
knowledge by being taught.
Mrs. Strang was genuinely puzzled. Yet she understood; it was merely
theories about life that he had gained. Again she called to mind a
sentence in Doctor Milton's letter: I know that you have followed the
case in such a way as to understand what would be your responsibility
toward this newly made human soul. Was it right to question
Berber? Could it be actually harmful to him to go on? And yet was it
not her only chance, after years of faithful waiting?
Trying to keep her voice steady, she reproached him:
No? With all that being educated means, all the gift for humanity?
The young fellow seemed not to get her meaning. He picked up the
garden fork. Thoughtfully scraping the damp earth from its prongs, he
repeated, All that it means for humanity?
Why noturging the thing a little gliblywhy not? You can do
your part now; you will help toward the solving of age-long mysteries.
You must be steward ofofMrs. Strang hesitated, then continued,
lamelyof your special insight. Whyalready you have begunThink of
the weed chemistry. Had he noticed it? There was in her voice a
curious note, almost of pleading, though she tried to speak with
John Berber, once called Gargoyle, listened. The youth stood
there, his foot resting upon the fork but not driving it into the
ground. He caught her note of anxiety, laughing in light, spontaneous
reassurance, taking her point with ease.
OhI know, shrugging his shoulders in true collegian's style. I
understand my lesson. Berber met her look. I had the gift of mental
unrestraint, if you choose to call it that, he summed up, and was
of no use in the world. Now I have the curse of mental restraint
and can participate with others in their curse. Suddenly aware of her
helpless dismay and pain, the boy laughed again, but this time with a
slight nervousness she had never before seen in him. Why, we are not
in earnest, dear Mrs. Strang. It was with coaxing, manly respect that
he reminded her of that. We are only joking, playing with an idea....
I think you can trust me, added John Berber, quietly.
The surprised woman felt that she could indeed trust him; that
Berber was absolutely captain of the self which education had given
him; but that from time to time he had been conscious of another self
he had been unwise enough to let her see. She silently struggled with
her own nature, knowing that were she judicious she would take that
moment to rise and leave him. Such action, however, seemed impossible
now. Here was, perhaps, revelation, discovery! All the convictions of
her lonely, brooding life were on her. Temptation again seized her.
With her longing to have some clue to that spirit world she and her
husband had believed in, it seemed forewritten, imperative, inevitable,
that she remain. Trying to control herself, she fumbled desperately on:
When you were little, Mr. Strang and I used to noticewe grew to
thinkthat because you had been shut away from contact with other
minds, because you had never been told what to see, as children
are told, 'Look at the fire,' 'See the water,' and so forever regard
those things in just that way, not seeingother thingsOh, we thought
It was futile, incoherent; her tongue seemed to dry in her mouth.
Besides, the abashed woman needs must pause before a silence that to
her strained sense seemed rebuking. She glanced furtively up at the
youth standing there. It troubled the mistress of Heartholm to realize
that her protÃ©gÃ© was staring gravely at her, as if she had proposed
some guilty and shameful thing.
At last Berber, with a boyish sigh, seemed to shake the whole matter
off. He turned to his bulbs; half at random he caught up a
pruning-knife, cutting vindictively into one of them. For the moment
there was silence, then the young gardener called his mistress's
attention to the severed root in his hand.
A winy-looking thing, isn't it? See those red fibers? Why shouldn't
such roots, and nuts like those great, burnished horse-chestnuts
thereyes, and cattails, and poke-berries, and skunk cabbages, give
forth an entirely new outfit of fruits and vegetables? Berber smiled
his young ruminating smile; then, with inevitable courtesy, he seemed
to remember that he had not answered her question. I am not surprised
that you and Mr. Strang thought such things about me. I wonder that you
have not questioned me beforeonly you see nowI can't
answer! The boy gave her his slow, serious smile, reminding her.
You must remember that I am like a foreigneronly worse off, for
foreigners pick up a few words for their most vital needs, and I have
no words at allfor whatfor what vital things I used to knowso
that perhaps in time I shall come to forget that I ever knew anything
different fromother persons' knowledge. Berber paused, regarding his
mistress intently, as if wistfully trying to see what she made of all
this. Then he continued:
One of our professors at college died, and the men of his class
were gloomy; some even cried, others could not trust themselves to
speak of him.... I noticed that they all called him 'poor'
Landworth.... I could see that they felt something the way I do when I
miss out on a chemical experiment, or spoil a valuable specimenonly
more soa great deal more. The boy knit his brows, puzzling it all
out. Well, it's queer. I liked that professor, too; he was very kind
to mebut when I saw him dead I felt gladglad! WhyBerber looked
at her searchinglyI grew to be afraid some one would find out how
The young fellow, still anxiously searching her face, dropped his
voice. You are the only person I dare tell this tofor I understand
the world She noted that he spoke as if the world were a kind of
plant whose needs he had fathomed. But after that, concluded Berber,
speaking as if quite to himselfafter that I somehow came to see that
I had beenwell, educated backward.
She moved impatiently; the youth, seeing the question in her face,
answered the demand of its trembling eagerness, explaining:
Do you not seeI havesometimes known, not 'guessed' nor
'believed,' but known that death was a wonderful, happy thinga
fulfilment, a satisfaction to him who diesbut I have been educated
backward into a life where people cannot seem to help regarding it as a
sad thing. And
Yes?Yes? breathed the eager woman. Tell metell me
But he had come suddenly to a full stop. As if appalled to find only
empty words, or no words at all, for some astounding knowledge he would
communicate to her, he stammered painfully; then, as if he saw himself
caught in guilt, colored furiously. Evelyn Strang could see the
inevitable limitations of his world training creep slowly over him like
cement hardening around the searching roots of his mind. She marveled.
She remembered Strang's pet phrase, the plaster of Paris of so-called
'normal thinking.' Then the youth's helpless appeal came to her:
Do you not think that I am doing wrong to speak of these things?
Berber asked, with dignity.
The mistress of Heartholm was silent. Recklessly she put by all
Doctor Mach's prophecies. She could not stop here; her whole soul
demanded that she go further. There were old intuitionsthe belief
that she and Strang had shared together, that, under rationalized
schemes of thought, knowledge of inestimable hope was being hidden from
the world. Here was this boy of the infinite vision, of the
backward educated mind, ready to tell miraculous things of a hidden
universe. Could she strike him dumb? It would be as if Lazarus had come
forth from the open grave and men were to bandage again his ecstatic
Suddenly, as if in answer to her struggle, Berber spoke. She was
aware that he looked at her curiously with a sort of patient disdain.
The world is so sure, so contented, isn't it? the youth demanded
of her, whether in innocence or irony she could not tell. People are
trained, or they train themselves, by the millions, to think of things
in exactly one way. He who had once been Gargoyle looked piercingly
into the eyes of this one being to whom at least he was not afraid to
Anything you or I might guess outside of what other people might
accept, the boy reminded her, austerely, could be called by just one
unpleasant name. He regarded the face turned to his, recognizing the
hunger in it, with a mature and pitying candor, concluding: After
to-day we must never speak of these things. I shall never dare, you
must never dareand so He who had once been Gargoyle suddenly
dropped his head forward on his breast, mutteringand so, that is
Evelyn Strang rose. She stood tall and imperious in the waning
afternoon light. She was bereaved mother, anguished wife; she was a
dreamer driven out of the temple of the dream, and what she had to do
was desperate. Her voice came hard and resolute.
It is not all, the woman doggedly insisted. The voiceless
woe of one who had lost a comrade by death was on her. In her eyes was
fever let loose, a sob, like one of a flock of imprisoned wild birds
fluttered out from the cage of years. Oh nono! the woman pleaded,
more as if to some hidden power of negation than to the boy before
herOh nono, this cannot be all, not for me! The world must
never be toldit could not understand; but I must know, I
must know. She took desperate steps back and forth.
John Berber, if there is anything in your memory, your knowledge;
even if it is only that you have imagined thingsif they are so
beautiful or so terrible that you can never speak of themfor
fearfor fear no one would understand, you might, you might, even
then, tell meDo you not hear? You might tell me. I authorize
it, I command it.
The woman standing in the autumn gardens clenched her hands. She
looked round her into the clear air at the dense green and gold
sunshine filtering through the colored trees, the softly spread patens
of the cosmos, the vivid oriflammes of the chrysanthemums. Her voice
was anguished, as if they two stood at a secret door of which Berber
alone had the key, which for some reason he refused to use.
Iof all the world, her whisper insisted. If you might never
speak againI should understand.
Berber, his face grown now quite ashen, looked at her. Something in
her expression seemed to transfix and bind him. Suddenly shutting his
teeth together, he stood up, his arms folded on his broad chest. The
afternoon shadows spread pools of darkness around their feet, the
flowers seemed frozen in shapes of colored ice, as his dark, controlled
eyes fixed hers.
Youyou dare? the youth breathed, thickly.
She faced him in her silent daring. Then it seemed to her as if the
sky must roll up like a scroll and the earth collapse into a handful of
dust falling through space, for she knew that little Gargoyle of the
undressed mindlittle Gargoyle, looking out of John Berber's trained
eyes as out of windows of ground glass, was flitting like a shadow
across her own intelligence, trying to tell her what things he had
always known about life and death, and the myriads of worlds spinning
back in their great circles to the Power which had set them spinning.
Not until after the first halting, insufficient words, in which the
boy sought to give his secret to the woman standing there, did she
comprehend anything of the struggle that went on within him. But when
suddenly Berber's arms dropped to his sides and she saw how he
shivered, as if at some unearthly touch on his temples, she was alert.
Color was surging into his face; his features, large, irregular, took
on for the instant a look of speechless, almost demoniac power; he
seemed to be swimming some mental tide before his foot touched the
sands of language and he could helplessly stammer:
I cannotItit will not comeIt is as I told youI have been
taught no wordsI cannot say what I know.
His powerful frame stood placed among the garden surroundings like
that of a breathing statue, and his amazed companion witnessed this
miracle of physical being chained by the limitations of one
environment, while the soul of that being, clairaudient, clairvoyant,
held correspondence with another environment. She saw Berber smile as
if with some exquisite sense of beauty and rapture that he understood,
but could not communicate, then helplessly motion with his hands. But
even while she held her breath, gazing at him, a change came over the
radiant features. He looked at her again, his face worked; at last John
Berber with a muffled groan burst into terrible human tears.
She stood there helpless, dumfounded at his agony.
Youyou cannot speak? she faltered.
For answer he dropped his face into his strong hands. He stood
there, his tall body quivering. And she knew that her dream was over.
She was forced to understand. John Berber's long and perfect world
training held him in a vise. His lips were closed upon his secret, and
she knew that they would be closed for evermore.
They remained, silently questioning each other, reading at last in
each other's speechlessness some comfort in this strange common
knowledge, for which, indeed, there were no human words, which must be
forever borne dumbly between them. Then slowly, with solemn tenderness,
the obligation of that unspoken knowledge came into Evelyn Strang's
face. She saw the youth standing there with grief older than the grief
of the world stabbing his heart, drowning his eyes. She laid a quiet
hand on his shoulder.
I understand. With all the mother, all the woman in her, she tried
to say it clearly and calmly. I understand; you need never fear
meand we have the whole world of flowers to speak for us. She gazed
pitifully into the dark, storming eyes where for that one fleeting
instant the old look of Gargoyle had risen, regarding her, until
forced back by the trained intelligence Of John Berber, which had
always dominated, and at last, she knew, had killed it. We will make
the flowers speakfor us. Again she tried to speak lightly,
comfortingly, but something within the woman snapped shut like a door.
Slowly she returned to the garden seat. For a moment she faltered,
holding convulsively to it, then her eyes, blinded from within, closed.
Yet, later, when the mistress of Heartholm went back through the
autumnal garden to the room where were the books and treasures of John
Strang, she carried something in her hand. It was a lily bulb from
which she and Berber hoped to bring into being a new and lovely flower.
She took it into that room where for so many years the pictured eyes of
her husband had met hers in mute questioning, and stood there for a
moment, looking wistfully about her. Outside a light breeze sprang up,
a single dried leaf rustled against the window-pane. Smiling wistfully
upon the little flower-pot, Mrs. Strang set it carefully away in the
Copyright, 1920, by Harper &Brothers. Copyright, 1921, by Edwina