Months passed of intense work.
Life was held captive by the strong grip of her will. It had to pull inward, to grow knowledge and mastery. But strong will is not strong against a deeper destiny. In will there is self; and only beyond self does the sea of destiny open, which is power and law rolling cyclically to restore endlessly ever-disturbed equilibrium. It was self in her that called for creation, for the throwing off of its plethoric wealth; self, the power that impels life into matter, that forces outward through the magic glamour of desire.
Months passed of studious work.
Richard Newell came back.
As Rania was drawing in strained fervor, the door opened and he entered. Seeing her, he stopped, apologized, and inquired after Johan. She told him the story of her comradeship with him, of his death. She asked when he would want her to move and to give him back the house, thanking him for all it had meant to her and to Johan. He looked at her, wondering, admiring. Oh! There was no hurry. He might not stay long in California. He could as well stay at the hotel. Was she living alone now? Was she an artist? Could he see more of her work? His voice was warm, metallic. His entire being vibrated as one who has dared much, lived much, forgotten much, who had seen many lands, frequented alien races. She remembered afterward he had struck her once as being, by blood and birth, a hunter, "a mighty hunter before the Lord." His body moved like an animal's, with inherent rhythm. It was a strong body, youthful, intensely male. A hunter.
Richard Newell came back.
* * * * *
Against such meetings no human force can claim the narrow will of its own selfhood. For the self is lost in the surge of blood which tears from the heart, washes out all dams, washes out all peace. The soul stands back aghast and wondering, unable to grasp any pattern as yet, any meaning in the downrush of the flood. The bird in the soul, freed, takes vast draughts of air, bends its wings upon the storm and rises above valleys and plains where houses are lit with quiescent fires. The dog in the soul howls, frantic to rouse the sleeping god. The tiger roves through the jungles of heat-tense body, clawing the wet humus with its electric thirst. The sage in the soul watches, feels the winds of destiny and smiles, studying the queer combustions of molecular humans.
They met with elemental richness. It was strong, intense, raw. In him there was no refinement, no subtlety. He was a hunter with terrific blood passions. He struck. There was nothing to be done, anymore than the earth could hide from the sun. She drank the sun. Her body vibrated to unknown feasts of life. It was beating into her with the insistent, precise, inescapable power of a huge sledgehammer. She had lost her body-self. It was all pelted into the furnace of the race-self demanding perpetuation. There was nothing left in her to resist. She had become the act. She had become sex; a partaker of cosmic infinities, of the unselved world of creative energy. With him she reflected life in its wholeness, in its parturient immensity. It was dissolution, then ecstasy, then life reborn — an assumption of power, perfectly harmonized blood, the race recreated, continued, triumphant.
There was triumph; yet, from afar, a vague, poignant sense of disaster. It was as if one had become identified with some volcanic element, had plunged into earth-caverns reaching to the very core of life; yet all the vast roar of flame and thunder suddenly blended into awful silence through which sighed the low whistling of sun-scented breezes moaning away — far, far above — for the departed Eurydice. In the magnificence of the many-limbed dance there came a moment when all life dissolved into a narrow little hollow, somewhere, everywhere. There, God must be found. But suddenly a great distress came, as if she no longer could desire God. The emptiness became excruciating; the hollow began to eat up all of her, weary, ever so weary. It spread all over her, till the heart ceased beating and she thought it was death. Then a great wind would blow from the rim, filling the cavity with liquid fire. The body would blaze forth, cling to strained muscles. And consciousness would stick to tiny little things, valueless, but magnified into importance, as to drowning men, floating wreckage is transformed into salvation.
When she was left alone she would try to think and evaluate. She would start back with some past experience, try comparison, opposition, the placing of the now into the pattern of the past completing its growth. But somehow the chain of events would rush off at some point in an inexplicable way. There was no causation, no sequence left. Something had happened which absorbed all past, because it had a glow of timelessness.
She was fulfilled, radiant — but silent. Richard at first had respected this silent aloofness, perhaps because he himself floated upon the same quiescent depth of repose, because intense rhythm had worn him out into negative response to her ecstasy. But he was of the hunter's race, never satiated with blood-fulfillment, a mad rover through forests of bodies straining fervent trunks and limbs to the sun. The trees answer possession of light with seeds. But what are seeds to the hunter? Only prey yet to be born.
He began pounding her with endless questions: "Are you happy? Why don't you speak? Am I boring you?"
She glowed into love, smiled, kissed him, fondled him like a mother. The male resents this mothering in his depth. It shields the home. The conquered woman turns back as a mother to draw him in, more and more in to herself, to her warm quiescent hearth, to the unborn. The hunter rebels. It is then that brutality begins. He essays violence, cruelty, because he senses himself weak before the indrawing suction of the bewifed woman. Fighting with shivering heart, he loses his head and his temper. Jealousy, men call this. But it is the rancor of the male losing ground, of his blood-self fearful of being stretched into the family self, of being expanded beyond the obvious cycle of desire, tension and release.
The release never fully comes. Tension gnaws from within. While the woman dreams from the race depth, or listens to the waxing moans of her supernal self sighing under the stars, the male sours into distrust, ferments in the locked barrel of a haunted mind; orgasms turn into meaningless soundings, kniving back the soul staring helplessly.
Rania was soon aware of the strain. She thought of the usual remedy for this fear of indrawal in man; travel. She had become pregnant. To protect the future, she had asked marriage. She was Mrs. Newell now. It sounded strange, somewhat ghostlike. But she smiled it off, thinking of the one who was to come. They would have to travel, to have passports, to behave socially. She could not bear lying. She had met that destiny. Whatever it would mean, she was game and would fulfill it, until freed for greater tasks.
Thus they went, eastward. Once more, after many years, she visited the huge, blackened cities of the plains. She had groped through them, shadowed by her father's cravings or the common greed of music hall mobs. She was driving through a seeded earth with overbearing clouds that soon would turn into hurricanes. Some great life cycle was nearing completion. She had reached her twenty-seventh year.
* * * * *
Old world teeming with dead beautiful forms, with mental alertness and vivacity of speech and composure. Elegance born of long adaptation to social living, to the slowing pulse of racial blood turning into nerves. Nerve-subtleties, nerve-debauch, nerve-heroism, nerve-love. Old world feeding for centuries on polluted roots, built upon lies and crimes and the refusal to confront life save through the fallacious patterns of brain-born dogmatism. A feudal world in disguise, with motion picture castles dismantled, all facades; but with intellectual partitions and sophisticated ruthlessness. A world of autumnal splendor, with pungent leaves, now nearly shed, humus-making, softly sinking into alcoholic fermentations, into dream fabrics under the lashing of winds and the drowning of endless rains washing clean the black trunks, patterns of beauty against velvet skies.
A life growing within.
She wanted to surround this birth with all the wealth of past magnificences, so that, having absorbed this past while still in her, the child could start life as a striving toward a future which would grow normally out of such a prenatal assimilation. She wanted to make her blood rich with cultural atoms ingathered, filtered through the sieve of her discriminating mind. Profoundly, intently, she was synthesizing in her body a cycle of centuries into a unique moment of consciousness and rebirth. If there was life worth remembering in this past it should be gathered, molded into the form of a beginning. She stood as a living link between that which had been and that which might be. She offered her body and soul as a meeting ground for the past's ascent and the future's descent. She was conscious of great tensions, of accumulating power at each pole. Would the spark create the great noble human she had willed with all her passions?
A life growing within.
Against the life, hatred.
Richard hated that thing waxing in her. He hated it for her withdrawal and her consecration to the seed. A deep resentment flared up in him as he touched the curving muscles doming the birth-to-be. He was no hierophant of hallowed mysteries, but one who sees, feels, touches and breaks into submission. A hunter. He craved her, because she refused herself. His looks gnawed into her body, tearing her aloofness, that he might make her clean of all but him, of all but his love embittered into nerve-rending passion.
He fed with alcohol his hatred.
Tense struggle between two wills.
He could hardly touch her without making her shiver as if burnt by strong acid. Dark desires beat upon her. She would resist, sneer at him, shame him with biting sarcasms. He would leave, helpless, pass away the night, drinking, drugged perhaps. The fever of the decadent city was eating into his nerves. He looked haggard. He wanted her; he wanted her. He would cry as a baby begging her. It would not hurt the thing. She loved him; she could see it was wrong; it would end wrong. He could not stand it. She stared at him, with contempt.
Tense struggle through long weeks.
The child stirring. Another rhythm asserting, strange, helpless, irregular rhythm of a caged life which had known the vast expanses of solar fields. The little hollow contracting, moving with the dance of fists and feet, swaying, absorbing, quieting. joy mixed with queer fright, with tense expectancy. Long brooding, dream-making, holding thoughts that might not mar the growth, trying to be calm, loving, compassionate; the alembic and the old alchemist watching the fluidic mass turn into strange shapes, merging into humanhood.
The storm struck.
He could not stand it. To know that the thing moved, that another rhythm was beating at this womb, he could not stand that. He went wild, menacing, his mind frantic with the sense of her, remote, absorbed in the unborn. Familiar things sneered at him. He would kill himself, make an end of this miserable farce. Then she could be alone with her child; alone, alone! A fool, forced to beg love, to beg men, to beg, to beg . . . . Enough of that! He was going. He slammed the door, tramped downstairs. Her blood froze. She felt him demented, blood-crazy. She rushed after him. In the rain she called for a taxi, following his. The hunt, the hunt . . . . He stopped in front of a house. She caught him as he stepped in. "Richard! What are you doing? You are mad. You are mad! I will be good to you. Come back." He sneered. Ah!, now she was talking sense. But he was through, through. A woman had come. He asked for a room, whiskey, everything. Rania clung to him. He dragged her to the brothel room. He seized her wrists, he crushed them till she screamed, broken, sobbing. A great disgust, a great pity streamed over her. Useless, useless. Such ugliness, such poor, helpless misery! She looked at him with big, opened eyes, sad, very sad-pitying. He shuddered. A distorted look writhed through his face. He reeled away as if struck. Her body dropped, bent against a couch, flabby, unnerved. Something broke in him. Something sharp knived him through the heart. He groaned like a beaten beast, fell toward the door which burst open, and ran, ran . . . far away, far away.
The storm had struck.
A sharp pain roused her. The woman of the house was near the bed, anxiously watching. "What happened, dearie? Did he hurt you?" She was afraid of scandal. Rania understood. The pain in her womb increased. The shock had been too much. The thing had broken loose.
"Quick! To the hospital. . ." She clenched her fingers in supreme defiance. Perhaps it could be saved. She must be strong. She reached the hospital; she swooned upon the bed while the thing was born, faintly crying to useless life.
It was a girl; but she did not live long. A few weeks afterward, as normal birth should have occurred, it was all over. One dream more that crumbled, one more death, one more failure.
* * * * *
Richard, after a day of mad raving, had found from the woman of the house where Rania had gone. He had attempted seeing her, but stubbornly she had refused. After a couple of weeks she had been well again but stayed near the little helpless contorted body, tense with the giving of life. After it had died and had become but a small imperceptible heap of ashes, she went back to the hotel where she lived with Richard, at a time when she felt quite certain of not finding him. She gathered quickly her clothes, books, jewels, money available and left on the table addressed to him an envelope containing the hospital bill with a few words: "This is for the birth and burial of your daughter, whom you killed. Good-bye." She had reserved by phone a few days before a cabin on a steamer. She caught a fast train to Cherbourg, boarded westward, arrived in New York and left after two days for Hollywood.
After discovering the letter and his wife's flight, Richard had gathered from information snatched from the hotel boys and from a diligent search in steamship offices Rania's boat. He cabled: "Am coming. Please wait for me at Plaza Hotel. Forgive me. Love." He cabled also to a private detective firm in New York to watch for her at the pier and follow her moves. As he reached the city a few days later, the detective informed him of her departure and destination. He hastened to the airfield and flew at full speed across the continent. He reached Hollywood a few hours before her, drove to their home, had it cleaned in a hurry, filled it with flowers, bought a Buick roadster and waited for her.
She did not come the first night. She rested at the Roosevelt Hotel as he soon learnt from the man shadowing her. But the next day she walked to the canyon. She hesitated a moment when she saw a car in the garage, but knocked at the door. Richard opened it. The room was warm with a huge burning fire, fragrant with roses and carnations. She stood amazed. She could not understand.
"You were waiting for me? How did you come here?"
He laughed jokingly. "Air mail of course. Does it not feel good to be home again?"
He wanted her to forget. He had his best manners; whimsical, childlike, cajoling. She did not speak; she did not smile. She had not expected he would dare to come back, not so soon. Her steel-colored eyes were filled with fog, huge icebergs melting from behind the pupil.
She might forgive, but how to forget? Crimes may be brushed aside; but a certain kind of moral ugliness cannot. As she stared at him, facing like a stone his forced eagerness to please and to be loved, his clear-cut features seemed to alter and swell into a lurid sneering face. A horrible twitch distorted the mouth that was outwardly speaking with baby tones as a naughty child begging the mother forgiveness. The eyes were shallow and half-closed, sick with covetousness.
She shuddered. She hid her face in her hands, convulsive. He stopped talking, frightened. He knelt near her, taking her arms in his hands that were moist, hot. She pushed him back. He wouldn't understand. He came closer, nearly touching her face. Oh!, again, the wolves' hunger! The beast snarling, writhing with brute hunger. Would she never be free, free from male bestiality, free and pure and clean, clean like snow, that snow which fell upon her mother's corpse, far away on the mountains, that fell upon her own strained body clinging desperately to the salvation of the tree, above the pack of beasts gorging themselves with flesh?
So vividly the past rose, that she seemed to hear the dying voice cry out to her, "Hold fast!! Have no fear . . . I am strong yet! Be brave, my love." And she saw the woman back against the tree, lashing furiously the wolves crowding in upon her, falling, legs half torn, yet lashing, lashing until a black monster jumped at her throat and stilled the mad courage of that soul.
And Rania violently sprang upon her feet, throwing off the body that clenched her limbs with repressed greed. She ran to the fire in front of which wood was piled, She snatched a long twig, another, another. Richard ran to her: "What are you doing?"
She laughed, insanely. "Show you what you are — a beast, a beast!"
She beat him over the shoulders, over the breast. A blood-fury took her.
His eyes dilated, aghast, enraged. "You are mad."
She cried with laughter. "Murderer! . .
He took her arms; she snatched herself away. She slashed him in the face. She beat him, until he stumbled, haggard, half-unconscious.
She stood, petrified, for a moment. Flames burned into her eyes like molten steel. She stood. She heard him groan, moan, like a hurt beast crawling to its lair. Sneering, she caught her coat and bag lying on a chair, opened the door jerkily, jumped into the car in the garage, and drove away.
Hearing the motor start roused Richard from his stupor. With bleeding face he rushed out. The detective who had watched Rania met him in a car.
"Shall I follow her, still? She went up the pass in the Buick." Richard glanced at the car, a Buick too. He laughed bitterly.
"Get out of here," he yelled, "I shall follow myself. Watch the house." And he sped madly toward Cahuenga Pass.
* * * * *
Race in the night along the hot valley cooling with stars, along the sharp turns of the canyon up and down the ridge. Race through the thickening fog spreading its wet fume across the Ventura Valley . . . Santa Barbara. He thought he had seen the car, but was not sure. The streets were gaily lighted. He had to stop. He would try the coast route. A vague fateful instinct seemed to guide him, this road, that road. He stopped at several stations; they might have noticed her. He knew she would have to fill the tank soon after Santa Barbara. She might forget and be stalled. Or did she turn around and come back? He would try a little longer. He had been speeding; he should overtake her.
He asked once more at the station near San Luis Obispo. Yes, she had stopped; a girl with dark hair in a steel-colored Buick. She was all out of gas, had the tank filled and darted away at awful speed.
Race in the night . . . Blood had coagulated in his hair, stuck to the cap he had put on to hide it. He tried to pull it. A sharp pain tore through the skin. He swore; had to stop a moment. He was lame. The fool must be rushing over sixty an hour. He had lost time, asking people on the way. By God! He must catch her. No child now to go soft over. He had been taken aback when she struck him. Damned female! If he could only grab her, grab her pliant, resistant body! She would know this time. . . .
Morning. He asks again. Yes, a car has been racing a while before; couldn't see who was in it. She must be aiming at San Francisco. On, on with the race. In front of him, dust swells. It must be she. The car refuses to go faster. King City. The long windy stretch. He is held back by some stupid truck blocking the road. Five minutes lost. He tramples the road, raging. The way is cleared. He charges on. This time it is the car. It has slowed down. Perhaps she is worn out.
She hears him or senses him. She looks back; and furious speed shatters again the steel monsters. He wants to stop her, passes her, yelling to her. She takes a sudden turn to the left and dashes on unheeding. Lost time. He follows her, on to Salinas, way past. Again he overtakes her. Will she not stop? He is afraid to bar the road. He must wait for some obstruction, for her to slow down. Thick rolling fog dampens the awesome ride. She must have steel nerves to go on at such a pace without rest. Big dunes, fields of artichokes, the Monterey Bay. He passes her, signals to stop. The road is wet, slippery, as he twists himself at the wheel he does not see a sharp turn; one wheel hits the sand, the others skid; the car bounces over, upturned lightning. The panting mass hits crosswise Rania's car which roars over, writhes up, collapses, a huge dead monster, into the sand.
When farmers who had heard the explosion of steel came, they found Rania lying with torn metal half-crushing her legs. The other car was on fire; later only a charred body was discovered under it.
Rania was taken to Monterey. The surgeon did his best to cope with an almost hopeless condition. The bones of hips and legs were broken into bits, even the lower vertebrae were hurt. There must have been inner contusions; a broken mass.
Yet she did not lose consciousness. She told her name, asked for Richard. They lied to her and said he was very severely wounded. She gave the address of her bank, of her lawyer. Another surgeon was summoned from San Francisco. They tried operation after operation. She was stretched on the bed, bound up tight. She could not move. She was but a big feverish knot of pain. They gave her morphine. But the pain merely went a little distance away. She could not sleep. She was very calm though, strangely lucid. She was dreaming, tensely, passionately dreaming. Some connection had broken somewhere within. She could not control her thoughts. She did not think, but dreamed endless, vivid, ecstatic dreams, as one dead. She dreamt of dancing, of wild movements against the winds, of swaying rhythms as of wings. It flowed through her, this rich, powerful dreaming, a cataract of waters shattered over broken boulders. She felt everything tearing apart in her body, a huge crumbled cliff. Pains, sharp and explosive, would burn through. They would come from afar, like thunder clouds, heavy, stirring; they madly burst forth into lightnings, excruciating. Perspiration would run down her forehead. She had to close her eyes. She could not move. The nurse would try and soothe her. A little morphine.
The nurse was a lovely woman, the daughter of Mrs. Falkner living in Carmel — a quiet, peace-loving woman devoted to the study of philosophy and ancient religions. After many unfortunate experiences mother and daughter had found shelter in a rustic cottage, reading, dreaming, though actively interested in all the new things coming into the small but intensely alive community. Hilda was nursing, on and off, to help her mother. She usually did not do it much at a stretch; but she had been impressed by the heroism of the poor broken girl whose soul she felt so strong and real, bearing the ordeal with stoic quietness, never complaining, smiling, even when tears of pain would roll over her rigid head cramped into immobility. She stood at Rania's side for weeks, for months.
Five operations were performed. But the fractures could hardly mend normally. They tried grafting bone. But in spite of all, it seemed impossible that she should ever walk again freely. Internal lesions had also caused much trouble and recovery might never be complete.
Months passed in absolute immobility. They ceased giving her morphine. Then the most terrible weeks began. The body tense, struggling for action, for freedom —aching with the drug's desire. Not even the absorbing acuity of pain. No longer the steady flow of dreams. The soul bound again into the body, encased by bandages, by weights pulling the neck, the feet, pulling day after day, week after week, of caged life.
Mrs. Falkner came often to visit her, brought friends. Someone loaned a victrola with many records. The brave soul roused a rich, beautiful sympathy. Hilda would read to her for hours. Time ebbed away.
At last the doctors let her go, deciding nothing more could be done. Little by little, she learned to move again. The stone became vegetable. The vegetable grew aching legs that needed heavy crutches to begin again the weary conquest of space; huge crutches, ugly weight while the flesh sags and crawls, jerkily rises. It was pitiful. She would never be without them. She would never move much, nor bear any strain. The hurt had struck deep. It had knifed the vitals. The strong plethoric life had been broken, wasted. Now the will of soul would have to pull up and stretch the loose strings.
Rania's mind was clear. She saw the task. She was game. At first she laughed at it. But the laughter became strained and bitter. As she left the hospital and agreed to spend the first few months of recovery at Mrs. Falkner's home, as she began to face herself alive and free amid alive and free people, far from the subtle distortions of reality that cling to sickroom walls, a terrific reaction set in and blackness covered her, pall of bitter despair, of tortured rebellion.