With the preceding preachment I wish I might end the story. For what follows--which is my own little part in the story of Felix Kennaston--is that discomfortable sort of anticlimax wherein the key to a mystery, by unlocking unsuspected doors, discloses only another equally perplexing riddle.Kathleen Kennaston died in her sleep some eleven months after her husband discovered the missing half of the sigil....
"I have a sort of headache," she said, toward nine o'clock in the evening. "I believe I will go to bed, Felix. "So she kissed him goodnight, in just that emotionless preoccupied fashion that years of living together had made familiar; and so she left him in the music-room, to smoke and read magazines. He never saw her living any more.
Kathleen stopped in the hall, to wind the clock. "Don't forget to lock the front door when you come up, Felix. "She was out of sight, but he could hear her, as well as the turning of the clock key. "I forgot to tell you I saw Adele Van Orden to-day, at Greenberg's. They are going down to the Beach Thursday. She told me they haven't had a cook for three days now,and she and old Mrs. Haggage have had to do all the work. She looked it, too--I never saw any one let themselves go all to pieces the way she has--""How--? Oh, yes," he mumbled, intent upon his reading; "it is pretty bad. Don't many of them keep their looks as you do, dear--"
And that was all. He never heard his wife's voice any more. Kennaston read contentedly for a couple of hours, and went to bed. It was in the morning the maid found Mrs. Kennaston dead and cold. She had died in her sleep, quite peacefully, after taking two headache powders, while her husband was contentedly pursuing the thread of a magazine story through the advertising columns....
Kennaston had never spoken to her concerning the sigil. Indeed, I do not well see how he could have dared to do so, in view of her attitude in a world so opulent in insane asylums. But among her effects, hidden away as before in the press in her bathroo m, Kennaston found both the pieces of metal. They were joined together now, forming a perfect circle, but with the line of their former separation yet visible.
He showed me the sigil of Scoteia, having told this tale....
I thought from the first there would prove to be supernal double-dealing back of all this. The Wardens of Earth sometimes unbar strange windows, I suspect--windows which face on other worlds than ours: and They permit this-or-that man to peer out fleeti ngly, perhaps, just for the joke's sake; since always They humorously contrive matters so this man shall never be able to convince his fellows of what he has seen or of the fact that he was granted any peep at all. The Wardens without fail arrange what w e call--gravely, too--"some natural explanation."
Kennaston showed me the sigil of Scoteia, having told this tale....
"You are interested in such things, you see--just as Kathleen said. And I have sometimes wondered if when she said, 'Perhaps Mr. Harrowby could tell you,'the words did not mean more than they seemed then to mean--?"
I was interested now, very certainly. But I`knew that Kathleen Kennaston had referred not at all to my interest in certain of the less known sides of existence, which people loosely describe as "occult."
And slowly, I comprehended that for the thousandth time the Wardens of Earth were uncompromised; that here too They stayed unconvicted of negligence in Their duty: for here was at hand the "natural explanation. "Kennaston's was one of those curious, but not uncommon, cases of self-hypnosis, such as Fehlig and Alexis Bidoche have investigated and described. Kennaston's first dream of Ettarre had been an ordinary normal dream, in no way particularly remarkable; and afterward, his will to dream again of E ttarre, co-operating with his queer reading, his temperament, his idle life, his belief in the sigil, and co-operating too--as yet men may not say just how--with the hypnotic effect of any small bright object when gazed at steadily, had been sufficient to induce more dreams. I could understand how it had all befallen in consonance with hackneyed laws, insane as was the outcome.
And the prelate and the personage had referred, of course, to the then-notorious ninteenth and twentieth chapters of Men Who Loved Alison,in which is described the worship of the sigil of Scoteia--and which chapters they, in common with a great man y other people, considered unnecessarily to defile a noble book. The coincidence of the mirrors was quaint, but in itself came to less than nothing; for as touches the two questions as to white pigeons, the proverb alluded to by the personage, concerning the bird that fouls its own nest, is fairly familiar, and the prelate's speech was the most natural of prosaic inquiries. What these two men had said and done, in fine, amounted to absolutely nothing until transfigured, in the crucible of an ardent imag ination, by the curious literary notion that human life as people spend it is purposeful and clearly motivated.
For what Kennaston showed me was the metal top of a cold cream jar. I am sure of this, for Harrowby's Creme Cleopatre is one of the most popular articles our firm manufactures. I hesitate to tell you how many thousand husbands may find at will among the ir wives' possessions just such a talisman as Kennaston had discovered. I myself selected the design for these covers when the stuff was first put in the market. They are sealed on, you may remember, with gray wax, to carry out the general idea that we are vending old Egyptian secrets of beauty. And the design upon these covers, as I have since been at pains to make sure, is in no known alphabet. P. N. Flaherty (the artist implicated) tells me he "just made it up out of his head"--blending meaningless curlicues and dots and circles with an irresponsible hand, and sketching a crack accross all, "just to make it look ancient like. "It was along this semblance of a fracture--for there the brittle metal is thinnest--that the cover first picked up by Kenn aston had been broken. The cover he showed me was, of course, complete.... So much for Mr. Flaherty's part in the matter; and of hieroglyphic lore, or any acquaintance with heathenry beyond his gleanings from the moving pictures, I would be the last per son to suspect him.
It was natural that Mrs. Kennaston should have used Harrowby's Creme Cleopatre habitually; for indeed, as my wife had often pointed out, Mrs. Kennaston used a considerable amount of toilet preparations. And that Mrs. Allardyce should have had a jar of Ha rrowby's Creme Cleopatre in her handbag was almost inevitable: there is no better restorative and cleanser for the complexion, after the dust and dirt of a train journey, as is unanimously acknowledged by Harrowby & Son's advertisements.
But there is the faith that moves mountains, as we glibly acknowledge with unconcernment as to the statement's tremendous truth; and Felix Kennaston had believed in his talisman implicitly from the very first. Thus, through his faith, and through we know not what soul-hunger, so many long hours, and--here is the sardonic point--so many contented and artistically-fruitful hours of Kennaston's life in the flesh had been devoted to contemplation of a mirage. It was no cause for astonishment that he had mor e than once surprised compassion and wonder in his wife's eyes: indeed, she could hardly have failed to suspect his mind was affected; but, loving him, she had tried to shield him, as is the way of women.... I found the whole matter droll and rather hea rt-breaking. But the Wardens of Earth were uncompromised, so far as I could prove. Whatever windows had or had not been unbarred, there remained no proof....
So I shook my head. "Why, no," said I, with at worst a verbal adhesion to veracity. "I, for one, do not know what the design means. Still, you have never had this deciphered, "I added, gently. "Suppose--suppose there had been some mistake, Mr. Kennast on--that there was nothing miraculous about the sigil, after all--?"
I cannot tell you of his expression; but it caused me for the moment to feel disconcertingly little and obtuse.
"Now, how can you say that, I wonder! "he marvelled--and then, of course, he fidgeted, and crossed his legs the other way--"when I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me--that everything in life is mir aculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonder fulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No, Harrowby, the common names we call things do not matter--except to show how very dull we are," he ended, with that irritating nois e that was nearly a snigger, and just missed being a cough.
And I was sorely tempted.... You see, I never liked Felix Kennaston. The man could create beauty, to outlive him; but in his own appearance he combined grossness with insignificance, and he added thereto a variety of ugly senseless little mannerisms. H e could evolve interesting ideas, as to Omnipotence, the universe, art, life, religion, himself, his wife, a candlestick or a comet--anything--and very probably as to me; but his preferences and his limitations would conform and color all these ideas unti l they were precicely what he desired to belive, no more or less; and, having them, he lacked means, or courage, to voice his ideas adequately, so that to talk with him meant a dull interchange of common-places. Again, he could aspire toward chivalric lo ve, that passion which sees in womankind High God made manifest in the loveliest and most perfect of his creations; but in the quest he had succeeded merely in utilizing womenfolk either as toys to play with and put by or as drudges to wait on him; yet, w ith all this, he could retain unshaken his faith in and his worship of that ideal woman. He could face no decision without dodging; no temptation without compromise; and he lied, as if by instinct, at the threatened approach of discomfort or of his fello ws' dissaproval: yet devils, men and seraphim would conspire in vain in any effort to dissuade him from his self-elected purpose. For, though he would do no useful labor he could possibly avoid, he could grudge nothing to the perfection of his chosen ar t, in striving to perpetuate the best as he saw it.
In short, to me this man seemed an inadequate kickworthy creature, who had muddled away the only life he was quite sure of enjoying, in contemplation of a dream; and who had, moreover, despoiled the lives of others, too, for the dream's sake. To him that dream alone could matter--his proud assurance that life was not a blind and aimless business, not all a hopeless waste and confusion; and that he, this gross and weak animal, could be strong and excellent and wise, and his existence a pageant of beauty a nd nobility. To prove this dream was based on a delusion would be no doubt an enjoyable retaliation, for Kennaston's being so unengaging to the eye and so stupid to talk to; but it would make the dream no whit less lovely or dear to him--or to the rest o f us, either.
For it occurred to me that his history was, in essentials, the history of our race, thus far. All I advanced for or against him, equally, was true of all men that have ever lived.... For it is in this inadequate flesh that each of us must serve his drea m; and so, must fail in the dream's service, and must parody that which he holds dearest. To this we seem condemned, being what we are. Thus, one and all, we play false to the dream, and it evades us, and we dwindle into responsible citizens. And yet a lways thereafter--because of many abiding memories--we know, assuredly, that the way of flesh is not a futile scurrying through dining-rooms and offices and shops and parlors, and thronged streets and restaurants, "and so to bed."...
It was in appropriate silence, therefore, that I regarded Felix Kennaston, as a parable. The man was not merely very human; he was humanity. And I reflected that it is only by preserving faith in human dreams that we may, after all, perhaps some day mak e them come true.