Again he laughed, “The criticism,” he suggested, “is not altogether original. And Science, no less than War, must have her unsung heroes. You must remember,” he continued, more seriously, “that any great work must have as its foundation the achievements of unknown men. I fancy that Cheops did not lay every brick in his pyramid with his own hand; and I dare say Nebuchadnezzar employed a few helpers when he was laying out his hanging gardens. But time cannot chronicle these lesser men. Their sole reward must be the knowledge that they have aided somewhat in the unending work of the world.”
Her face had altered into a pink and white penitence which was flavored with awe.
“I—I forgot,” she murmured, contritely; “I—forgot you were—like him—about your genealogies, you know. Oh, Olaf, I’m very silly! Of course, it is tremendously fine and—and nice, I dare say, if you like it,—to devote your life to learning, as you and he have done. I forgot, Olaf. Still, I am sorry, somehow, for that beautiful boy,” she ended, with a disconsolate glance at the portrait.
Long after Miss Stapylton had left him, the colonel sat alone in his study, idle now, and musing vaguely. There were no more addenda concerning the descendants of Captain Thomas Osborne that night.
At last, the colonel rose and threw open a window, and stood looking into the moonlit garden. The world bathed in a mist of blue and silver. There was a breeze that brought him sweet, warm odors from the garden, together with a blurred shrilling of crickets and the conspiratorial conference of young leaves.
“Of course, it is tremendously fine and—and nice, if you like it,” he said, with a faint chuckle. “I wonder, now, if I do like it?”
He was strangely moved. He seemed, somehow, to survey Rudolph Musgrave and all his doings with complete and unconcerned aloofness. The man’s life, seen in its true proportions, dwindled into the merest flicker of a match; he had such a little while to live, this Rudolph Musgrave! And he spent the serious hours of this brief time writing notes and charts and pamphlets that perhaps some hundred men in all the universe might care to read—pamphlets no better and no more accurate than hundreds of other men were writing at that very moment.
No, the capacity for originative and enduring work was not in him; and this incessant compilation of dreary footnotes, this incessant rummaging among the bones of the dead—did it, after all, mean more to this Rudolph Musgrave than one full, vivid hour of life in that militant world yonder, where men fought for other and more tangible prizes than the mention of one’s name in a genealogical journal?
He could not have told you. In his heart, he knew that a thorough digest of the Wills and Orders of the Orphans’ Court of any county must always rank as a useful and creditable performance; but, from without, the sounds and odors of Spring were calling to him, luring him, wringing his very heart, bidding him come forth into the open and crack a jest or two before he died, and stare at the girls a little before the match had flickered out.