Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/285

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PROGRESS

251

tirely oblivious; the women belonged to no species with which he was cognizant; to him they were not human beings but strange exotics, unfitted for the storm and stress of out-of-doors.

Only with the guides who piloted him about the palaces and cathedrals did he exchange conversation, and from them, since he was generous with tips, he won especial attention and privileges. And though Angelo, Giotto, Correggio, and Giorgione were less than names to Jem Brown the sincerity of their achievements were as a bridge to carry him back home; a sculptured tracery of leaves reminded him of certain trees on the windy ridges above Guayule and brought a lump in his throat; details of clear colour in a world-famous window danced like the deep sparkle of sunlight in the pool at Cypress Falls—and blurred before his gaze; the starred ceiling of an Italian chapel was but a pale imitation of the night sky above Guayule; the gentle eyes of a painted madonna were not so gentian-blue as Jenny's. . . . In a moment of panic he wondered if she was safe beneath the cypresses—coyotes were such inquisitive marauders—then sternly dismissed the thought. Jenny had planned this visit, had wanted him to see the cathedrals; he must go back to her with the assurance of their beauty—and what was it that the book had named as indivisible from true beauty? . . . Sincerity? . . . Truth? . . . Power? . . . Ah, yes: Sacrifice!

But at dawn on the morning after his return to Guayule he awakened to see the first pure light filter down through the pine branches, to smell the incense of the balsams, and to hear the lilting ecstasy of a choir of meadow-larks; looking and listening, Jem Brown breathed a deep sigh of ineffable content. He was safe at last, safe. He never reopened the cache below the spring—from which he had taken out the ore which paid for his journey abroard; in his mind that gold was consecreated to cities, to confusion, to progress. Jem Brown had done what Jenny asked—but he had finished forever with progress.


Ruskin had said in Jenny's book: "Men tire as they finish"; and Jem Brown, stumbling up the slope of Guayule, was increasingly convinced of the truth and wisdom of this statement. He, who had thought himself immune and impervious