She sat down and wrote a list on a slip, and arose and handed it to him.
She was gazing at him again, gazing at the tragic face. Then she whispered:
“I believe in you.... Is there anything else?”
And again she reached out her hand and he clasped it. Her fine faith smote something hard in him, shriveled it like fire, and all at once, miraculously, divinely, a little liquid gush of lovely joy, of wonderful beatitude began to rise from his heart, to rise and overflow and fill him. He was being cleansed, he had expiated his guilt by confessing it to his accuser and receiving her strange and gentle forgiveness; tears came to his eyes, came and paused on the lashes and trickled down. He gulped a sob.
“I can go on now,” he said.
She looked at him, wondering.
“You can!” she whispered.
And he went out, a free man again, at the beginning of a new life.
Life has an upspringing quality that defies pain. Something buoyant throbs in the heart of the world—something untamed and wild—exultant in the flying beauty of romping children, glinting in the dawn-whitened sea, risen, indeed, through man into triumphant cities and works, and running like a pulse through his spirit. San Francisco is shattered, and there is death and sorrow and destruction: a whole population is homeless—whereupon the little human creatures come down from the hills like laughing gods and create but a more splendid city. Earth itself forges through its winters with an April power that flushes a continent with delicate blossoms and tints.
Joe had come home from Sally Heffer a man renewed. From some clear well in his nature sprang a limpid stream of soft, new joy; a new exhilarating sense of life; a new creative power that made him eager for action. His heart was cleansed, and with the exquisite happiness of a forgiven child he “took up the task eternal.” Hereafter he was a man dedicated, a man consecrated to a great work.
His mother noticed the change in him, a new wisdom, a sweet jocularity, and, withal, the return of much of his old nature—its rough camaraderie, its boyish liveliness and homely simplicity. For her this was a marvelous relief, and she could only watch him and wonder at the change. He seemed very busy again, and she did not disturb him in these sensitive days of growth; she waited the inevitable time when he would come to her and tell her what he was going to do, whether he would re-establish his business or whether he had some new plan. And then one day, tidying up his room, she stumbled on a heap of books. Her heart thrilled and she began to surreptitiously borrow these books herself.
Already the great city had forgotten its fire horror—save the tiny, growing stir of an agitating committee—and even to those most nearly concerned it began to fade, a nightmare scattered by the radiance of new morning. One could only trust that from those fair and unpolluted bodies had sprung a new wave of human brotherliness never to be quite lost. And Joe’s mother had had too much training in the terrible to be long overborne. She believed in her son and stood by him.