The Shape Of Fear





TIM O'CONNOR -- who was de-

scended from the O'Conors with

one N -- started life as a poet

and an enthusiast. His mother

had designed him for the priesthood, and at

the age of fifteen, most of his verses had an

ecclesiastical tinge, but, somehow or other,

he got into the newspaper business instead,

and became a pessimistic gentleman, with a

literary style of great beauty and an income

of modest proportions. He fell in with men

who talked of art for art's sake, -- though

what right they had to speak of art at all

nobody knew, -- and little by little his view

of life and love became more or less pro-

fane. He met a woman who sucked his

heart's blood, and he knew it and made no

protest; nay, to the great amusement of the

fellows who talked of art for art's sake, he

went the length of marrying her. He could

not in decency explain that he had the tra-

ditions of fine gentlemen behind him and

so had to do as he did, because his friends

might not have understood. He laughed at

the days when he had thought of the priest-

hood, blushed when he ran across any of

those tender and exquisite old verses he had

written in his youth, and became addicted

to absinthe and other less peculiar drinks,

and to gaming a little to escape a madness

of ennui.



As the years went by he avoided, with

more and more scorn, that part of the world

which he denominated Philistine, and con-

sorted only with the fellows who flocked about

Jim O'Malley's saloon. He was pleased with

solitude, or with these convivial wits, and with

not very much else beside. Jim O'Malley

was a sort of Irish poem, set to inspiring

measure. He was, in fact, a Hibernian

Mæcenas, who knew better than to put bad

whiskey before a man of talent, or tell a trite

tale in the presence of a wit. The recountal

of his disquisitions on politics and other cur-

rent matters had enabled no less than three

men to acquire national reputations; and a

number of wretches, having gone the way of

men who talk of art for art's sake, and dying

in foreign lands, or hospitals, or asylums,

having no one else to be homesick for, had

been homesick for Jim O'Malley, and wept

for the sound of his voice and the grasp of

his hearty hand.



When Tim O'Connor turned his back upon

most of the things he was born to and took

up with the life which he consistently lived

till the unspeakable end, he was unable to

get rid of certain peculiarities. For example,

in spite of all his debauchery, he continued

to look like the Beloved Apostle. Notwith-

standing abject friendships he wrote limpid

and noble English. Purity seemed to dog his

heels, no matter how violently he attempted

to escape from her. He was never so drunk

that he was not an exquisite, and even his

creditors, who had become inured to his

deceptions, confessed it was a privilege to

meet so perfect a gentleman. The creature

who held him in bondage, body and soul,

actually came to love him for his gentleness,

and for some quality which baffled her, and

made her ache with a strange longing which

she could not define. Not that she ever de-

fined anything, poor little beast! She had

skin the color of pale gold, and yellow eyes

with brown lights in them, and great plaits

of straw-colored hair. About her lips was a

fatal and sensuous smile, which, when it got

hold of a man's imagination, would not let

it go, but held to it, and mocked it till the

day of his death. She was the incarnation

of the Eternal Feminine, with all the wifeli-

ness and the maternity left out -- she was

ancient, yet ever young, and familiar as joy

or tears or sin.



She took good care of Tim in some ways:

fed him well, nursed him back to reason after

a period of hard drinking, saw that he put

on overshoes when the walks were wet, and

looked after his money. She even prized

his brain, for she discovered that it was a

delicate little machine which produced gold.

By association with him and his friends, she

learned that a number of apparently useless

things had value in the eyes of certain con-

venient fools, and so she treasured the auto-

graphs of distinguished persons who wrote to

him -- autographs which he disdainfully tossed

in the waste basket. She was careful with

presentation copies from authors, and she

went the length of urging Tim to write a

book himself. But at that he balked.



"Write a book!" he cried to her, his gen-

tle face suddenly white with passion. "Who

am I to commit such a profanation?"



She didn't know what he meant, but she

had a theory that it was dangerous to excite

him, and so she sat up till midnight to cook

a chop for him when he came home that night.



He preferred to have her sitting up for him,

and he wanted every electric light in their

apartments turned to the full. If, by any

chance, they returned together to a dark

house, he would not enter till she touched the

button in the hall, and illuminated the room.

Or if it so happened that the lights were

turned off in the night time, and he awoke to

find himself in darkness, he shrieked till the

woman came running to his relief, and, with

derisive laughter, turned them on again. But

when she found that after these frights he lay

trembling and white in his bed, she began to

be alarmed for the clever, gold-making little

machine, and to renew her assiduities, and to

horde more tenaciously than ever, those valu-

able curios on which she some day expected to

realize when he was out of the way, and no

longer in a position to object to their barter.



O'Connor's idiosyncrasy of fear was a

source of much amusement among the boys

at the office where he worked. They made

open sport of it, and yet, recognizing him

for a sensitive plant, and granting that genius

was entitled to whimsicalities, it was their

custom when they called for him after work

hours, to permit him to reach the lighted cor-

ridor before they turned out the gas over his

desk. This, they reasoned, was but a slight

service to perform for the most enchanting

beggar in the world.



"Dear fellow," said Rick Dodson, who

loved him, "is it the Devil you expect to see?

And if so, why are you averse? Surely the

Devil is not such a bad old chap."



"You haven't found him so?"



"Tim, by heaven, you know, you ought to

explain to me. A citizen of the world and

a student of its purlieus, like myself, ought to

know what there is to know! Now you're a

man of sense, in spite of a few bad habits --

such as myself, for example. Is this fad of

yours madness? -- which would be quite to

your credit, -- for gadzooks, I like a lunatic!

Or is it the complaint of a man who has gath-

ered too much data on the subject of Old

Rye? Or is it, as I suspect, something more

occult, and therefore more interesting?"



"Rick, boy," said Tim, "you're too -- in-

quiring!" And he turned to his desk with a

look of delicate hauteur.



It was the very next night that these two

tippling pessimists spent together talking about

certain disgruntled but immortal gentlemen,

who, having said their say and made the world

quite uncomfortable, had now journeyed on

to inquire into the nothingness which they

postulated. The dawn was breaking in the

muggy east; the bottles were empty, the cigars

burnt out. Tim turned toward his friend with

a sharp breaking of sociable silence.



"Rick," he said, "do you know that Fear

has a Shape?"



"And so has my nose!"



"You asked me the other night what I

feared. Holy father, I make my confession

to you. What I fear is Fear."



"That's because you've drunk too much --

or not enough.



"'Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring

Your winter garment of repentance fling --'"



"My costume then would be too nebulous

for this weather, dear boy. But it's true what

I was saying. I am afraid of ghosts."



"For an agnostic that seems a bit --"



"Agnostic! Yes, so completely an agnostic

that I do not even know that I do not know!

God, man, do you mean you have no ghosts

-- no -- no things which shape themselves?

Why, there are things I have done --"



"Don't think of them, my boy! See,

'night's candles are burnt out, and jocund

day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain

top.'"



Tim looked about him with a sickly smile.

He looked behind him and there was nothing

there; stared at the blank window, where the

smoky dawn showed its offensive face, and

there was nothing there. He pushed away

the moist hair from his haggard face -- that

face which would look like the blessed St.

John, and leaned heavily back in his chair.



"'Yon light is not daylight, I know it, I,'"

he murmured drowsily, "'it is some meteor

which the sun exhales, to be to thee this

night --'"



The words floated off in languid nothing-

ness, and he slept. Dodson arose preparatory

to stretching himself on his couch. But first

he bent over his friend with a sense of tragic

appreciation.



"Damned by the skin of his teeth!" he mut-

tered. "A little more, and he would have

gone right, and the Devil would have lost a

good fellow. As it is" -- he smiled with his

usual conceited delight in his own sayings,

even when they were uttered in soliloquy -- "he

is merely one of those splendid gentlemen one

will meet with in hell." Then Dodson had a

momentary nostalgia for goodness himself,

but he soon overcame it, and stretching him-

self on his sofa, he, too, slept.



That night he and O'Connor went together

to hear "Faust" sung, and returning to the

office, Dodson prepared to write his criti-

cism. Except for the distant clatter of tele-

graph instruments, or the peremptory cries of

"copy" from an upper room, the office was

still. Dodson wrote and smoked his inter-

minable cigarettes; O' Connor rested his head

in his hands on the desk, and sat in perfect

silence. He did not know when Dodson fin-

ished, or when, arising, and absent-mindedly

extinguishing the lights, he moved to the

door with his copy in his hands. Dodson

gathered up the hats and coats as he passed

them where they lay on a chair, and called:



"It is done, Tim. Come, let's get out of

this."



There was no answer, and he thought Tim

was following, but after he had handed his

criticism to the city editor, he saw he was

still alone, and returned to the room for his

friend. He advanced no further than the

doorway, for, as he stood in the dusky cor-

ridor and looked within the darkened room,

he saw before his friend a Shape, white, of

perfect loveliness, divinely delicate and pure

and ethereal, which seemed as the embodi-

ment of all goodness. From it came a soft

radiance and a perfume softer than the wind

when "it breathes upon a bank of violets

stealing and giving odor." Staring at it,

with eyes immovable, sat his friend.



It was strange that at sight of a thing so

unspeakably fair, a coldness like that which

comes from the jewel-blue lips of a Muir

crevasse should have fallen upon Dodson, or

that it was only by summoning all the man-

hood that was left in him, that he was able

to restore light to the room, and to rush to

his friend. When he reached poor Tim he

was stone-still with paralysis. They took

him home to the woman, who nursed him out

of that attack -- and later on worried him into

another.



When he was able to sit up and jeer at

things a little again, and help himself to the

quail the woman broiled for him, Dodson,

sitting beside him, said:



"Did you call that little exhibition of yours

legerdemain, Tim, you sweep? Or are you

really the Devil's bairn?"



"It was the Shape of Fear," said Tim, quite

seriously.



"But it seemed mild as mother's milk."



"It was compounded of the good I might

have done. It is that which I fear."



He would explain no more. Later -- many

months later -- he died patiently and sweetly

in the madhouse, praying for rest. The little

beast with the yellow eyes had high mass cele-

brated for him, which, all things considered,

was almost as pathetic as it was amusing.



Dodson was in Vienna when he heard of it.



"Sa, sa!" cried he. "I wish it wasn't so

dark in the tomb! What do you suppose Tim

is looking at?"



As for Jim O'Malley, he was with diffi-

culty kept from illuminating the grave with

electricity.





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