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Title: Little Dinners With the Sphinx - and Other Prose Fancies
Author: Le Gallienne, Richard
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                            LITTLE DINNERS

                            WITH THE SPHINX

                                  AND

                          OTHER PROSE FANCIES



                            LITTLE DINNERS
                            WITH THE SPHINX

                                  AND

                          OTHER PROSE FANCIES

                                  By
                         RICHARD LE GALLIENNE

                               New York
                        MOFFAT, YARD & COMPANY
                                 1907


                          COPYRIGHT, 1907, BY
                        MOFFAT, YARD & COMPANY,
                               NEW YORK.

                      PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER, 1907.


                                TO EVA



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

   I. Little Dinners with the Sphinx

     1. On the Edge of the Starlight                                   3

     2. The Mysticism of Gastronomy                                    9

     3. On the Wearing of Opals                                       19

     4. New Loves for Old                                             29

  II. The Death of the Poet                                           41

 III. The Butterfly of Dreams                                         79

  IV. My Castle in Spain                                             105

   V. Once-upon-a-time                                               121

  VI. The Little Joys of Margaret                                    151

 VII. What’s in a Name                                               175

VIII. Revisiting the Glimpses of the Moon                            195

  IX. Eva, the Woodland and I                                        231

   X. The Dream Documents                                            253



Little Dinners With the Sphinx



I

ON THE EDGE OF THE STARLIGHT


The Sphinx and I had not met for quite a long time. We hadn’t dined
together for--O I should think--four years; and it was strange to both
of us to be sitting opposite to each other once more in the friendly
glitter of a little dinner table--that glitter which is made up of
skillfully mitigated electric light falling on various delicate objects
of pleasure: the slim, fluted crystal of the wineglasses, the lustral
linen, the tinkling ice in its silver jug, the moon-white roses, and the
opals on the Sphinx’s long fingers.

We were both a trifle conscious, and we looked at each other half
inquiringly across the table.

“Are we the same people?” presently asked the Sphinx.

“Of course, you are, my dear Sphinx; but I hope, for your sake, that I
am not.”

“For my sake?”

“I mean that it is a poor compliment to a woman one adores always to
bring the same man to dinner.”

“I see--you have haven’t changed a bit.... Yes, you have,” she added,
after a pause. “Why, you’re growing grey. How have you managed that at
your age?”

“‘Sorrows like mine would blanch an angel’s hair,’” I answered, with
pathos, quoting from a noble sonnet of our own time.

“Sorrows! If you said pleasures, you would be nearer the mark. It is
pleasure, not sorrow, that makes the butterfly’s wings turn grey.”

“One’s sorrows are one’s pleasures--are they not?” I retorted.

“Yes!” said the Sphinx, wistfully, “you are right. ‘Of our tears she
hath made us pearls, and of our sobbing she hath made unto us a
song’--who said that? Was it you?”

“Very likely,” said I.

“Yes! you are right,” she continued. “Our pleasures we could spare--but
not our sorrows--our beautiful sorrows.”

“Sorrows,” I ventured, “are the opals of the soul.”

Then the Sphinx stretched her opalled hand across the table and patted
mine and said, “You dear,” just as in the old days.

The tears came to my eyes.

“Mark your influence!” I said. “That is the first good thing I have said
for four years.”

“What appalling faithfulness!” laughed the Sphinx. “But I would rather a
man were faithful to me with his brain than with his heart. It means
more. Faithful hearts are comparatively common--but when a man is
faithful with his brain....”

“His hair turns grey,” I got in.

“Yes! Now tell me about your grey hair. I am sure you have some
beautiful explanation to offer, some picturesque excuse, some
vindicatory fancy.”

“Suppose I were to say that I grew it grey to please a girl who thought
she would like it so?”

“I should believe you--for I never knew a man who would do so much for a
woman as you!” answered the Sphinx, laughing. “And did--or rather
does--she like it?”

“No,” I answered sadly, “she thought she would, but she doesn’t. She
wants it brown again, but it is too late.”

“It will always be brown for me,” said the Sphinx.

Sentiment threatened us a moment, but the April cloud passed without
falling.

“Tell me another reason,” asked the Sphinx, “you have plenty more I am
sure.”

“To tell the truth there are several explanations,” I continued gravely.
“I hardly know which to choose. The scientific one is probably this:
Nature is beginning to retrench. She cannot afford any longer to keep up
so expensive a house of life. Her bank account of vitality is no longer
what it was. Time was when she poured her blood through one’s veins like
a spendthrift, and kept up ever so fine and flashing a style. One’s
members lived like princes in their pride, and there was colour and dash
for all and to spare. But now nature feels that she can no longer afford
this prodigality--she feels, as I said, the need of retrenchment. So,
looking about the house of life, she says to herself: ‘Here I can spare
a little,’ and ‘We can dispense with this,’ and ‘We can no longer afford
that.’ Then, coming to the hair, she says sorrowfully: ‘This brown
colour is very expensive, I can no longer afford it. We must be content
with grey.’ Soon she will find the eyes too expensive to keep up in
their present brightness, and the ears will have to be content with a
reduced supply of sound....”

“For Heaven’s sake, stop,” said the Sphinx. “You give one the creeps.
You are as bad as ‘Everyman,’ or ‘Holbein’s Dance of Death.’”

“Well, then, I’ll tell you the real reason,” I rejoined. “Two winters
ago I played snowball with a little child I love. She managed to hit me
here on my temple, and it hasn’t melted yet.”

“Just one more reason!”

“Well, the true reason is,” I said, really solemnly this time, “that I
am passing out of the sunlight into the starlight.... Will you come with
me?”

“I will,” said the Sphinx, after a pause, taking my hand.



II

THE MYSTICISM OF GASTRONOMY


“Even our digestion is governed by angels!” said William Blake--one of
those picturesque phrases with which he was wont to flash on us the
mystery that abides eternally just under the surface of the familiar. I
have often recalled the phrase as I sat at dinner with the Sphinx; and
not, of course, in any trivial, punning spirit, but seriously in regard
to that sensitive mood of harmony, and of keen exhilarating intimacy,
which seems to come over us when we thus sit at dinner together as it
never comes at any other time.

“Why is it,” I asked her recently, after our old friendly waiter had
welcomed us with the smile that we really believe he keeps just for us,
and had seen us comfortably settled in our own quiet corner, “why is it
that I always feel happier with you at dinner than at any other time?”

“You have the dinner as well,” answered the Sphinx, laughing, “on other
occasions you have only--me.”

“Admitting the profundity of your explanation,” I rejoined, “I think
there must be a still deeper one--but what it is I cannot say. For
instance, we are happy together when we take a walk through the woods,
or sit through the afternoon in the old garden, or read a book together.
How happy we have been on the sea together, with no one but we two under
the blue sky. Yet I have never felt so near to you, never so at harmony
with you, as when we have sat at this table and looked into each other’s
eyes over our wineglasses. Why is it?”

“Just what I say! Very evidently, by your own showing--it is dinner that
makes the difference. Not in the woods you say, not in the garden, not
with books, not on the sea--not anywhere but at dinner. _Ergo_, the
only possible explanation is--dinner.”

“I am inclined to think you are right,” said I, “if only you will give
the term dinner an inclusive significance, and not ascribe the whole
miracle to the cooking.”

“The cooking has much to do with it, I am convinced,” persisted the
Sphinx, looking more radiantly spiritual than I ever saw her look
before. “It is so good that its part in the process passes to some
extent unnoticed--though I trust the excellence of these mushrooms is
not lost upon you. Were the _chef_ to be changed for the worse, I’m not
so sure you would find that harmony you speak of.”

“Then I have owed more to the _chef_ than I have ever realised,” said I,
raising my glass to her, and making that salute to her eyes which,
however gay our mood, has always a curiously grave, almost sacramental,
quality. “Still,” I continued presently, “I am not entirely convinced.
Your argument has a negative force, I admit. Bad cooking, like any
other extraneous annoyance, might, of course, distract us a little, and
so superficially interrupt our harmony; but it is one thing to admit
that, and another to say that it follows because bad cooking might
destroy our harmony, good cooking therefore makes it. No, I am convinced
that the miracle comes of a conflux of pleasant influences, good food
and wine being amongst them, which never entirely meet together except
at the dinner-table. First of all, the day is over. Its work is behind
us. Its anxiety is locked up for the day. We meet the good hour in an
attitude of gayety, and we meet it in an atmosphere of other gay people
who have come to meet it in the same spirit. Then we meet it refreshed
by the lustration of the evening toilet, and arrayed with regard to the
pleasure of the eyes we specially aim to please....”

“Are they pleased to-night?” interrupted the Sphinx.

“Are they?” I rejoined. Then I continued my grave discourse: “As I said,
we are all free and gay and beautiful and our faces set on pleasure.
Then there is the music, the scarce-noted scents and the delicate shapes
and colours of flowers, the prismatic glitter of glass, and the
exhilarating snowiness of the table-linen....”

“Dave’s beaming smile,” added the Sphinx, referring to our waiter.

“Yes, calling up immediately all the happy dinners we have had at his
table. If we were to meet him elsewhere in years to come, how his face
would flash these evenings back to us! I believe I could count up the
times we have been here by the wrinkles of kindness on his face.”

“I wonder if he really cares about us,” said the Sphinx, wistfully
watching Dave as he expertly dismembered a roast duck at a side table.
Presently the excellence of the duck turned her thoughts back again to
our argument.

“Say what you will, with your conflux of pleasant influences,” she
resumed, “roast duck is the real explanation.”

“Who would take you for such a materialist,” said I, “to look at you
there, so radiantly delicate, so shiningly spirituelle?--”

“Roast duck,” laughed the Sphinx, “my spirituelle expression comes
entirely of roast duck, believe me.”

I could almost believe her in that moment.

“Materialist yourself!” she retorted presently. “You will force me to
turn metaphysician and expound to you the mysticism of gastronomy.”

“The metaphysics of duck!” I interjected.

“Precisely.”

“Proceed, then,” said I, and was silent.

“Well,” she began, “I am perfectly serious. It is you that are the
materialist, not I, for the reason that the familiarity of the process
of eating blinds you to its essentially mysterious nature; that process
of transmutation of gastronomic alchemy, by which food is changed into
genius and beauty, and the kitchen seen to be the power-house of the
soul. After all, my gastronomic theory of the soul is merely one side of
the same mystery which we see illustrated every day on another side by
the doctor and the chemist. When we take a dose of medicine to tonic our
nerves, we don’t laugh sceptically, or even give a thought to the wonder
of its operation. Yet surely it is mystery itself that distillations
from plants, and tinctures drawn from stones, should hold for us the
keys of life and death, and exalt or depress our immortal spirits. Have
you ever thought on the marvel that an almost infinitesimal quantity of
certain juices distilled from some innocent-faced meadow-flower, a mere
dewdrop of harmless-looking liquid, can shatter our life out of us like
a charge of dynamite?...”

“A little more duck, m’m?” intervened Dave.

“The dynamics of duck,” I whispered gently. “Go on.”

“Well,” continued the Sphinx, laughing bravely, “the operation of food
is exactly the same in its nature as the operation of medicines and
poisons. For some unexplained reason, medicines and poisons influence
us in certain ways. We don’t know how or why, we only know that they do.
The influence of wine again is a part of the same mysterious process.
Why should this Rudesheimer affect us differently from this water? Any
one unfamiliar with the difference between wine and water would say it
was absurd. But it is true for all that--and if you admit the influence
of wine, and the influence of various other foreign substances, animal,
vegetable and mineral, on the human organism, in the form of medicines,
stimulants, poisons and such like, you cannot logically deny the
possible influence, say, of duck. Therefore, I contend once more that
the harmony between us of which you spoke is a music first composed in
the kitchen, transferred to notation on the menu, and finally performed
by us in a skillful duet of digestion....”

“Again,” added the Sphinx hastily, as I was preparing to make some
comment;

“Again, you know that the intimate connection between supper and dreams
is a scientific fact. If supper produces night-dreams, why shouldn’t
lunch and dinner produce daydreams!”

“I surrender unconditionally to that,” I laughed, “you have won. We owe
it all to the _chef_. We are but notes in his music--‘helpless pieces of
the game he plays!’”

“A little more duck, sir?” intervened Dave, once more.

“Yes, Dave, I will,” said I, with emphasis.



III

ON THE WEARING OF OPALS


“How sad your eyes are to-night!” I said to the Sphinx a few evenings
ago.

“Are they?” she smiled. “But then you know we are never so sad as our
eyes.”

“Are you quite sure there is nothing wrong?” I asked.

“Perfectly.... I expect I have been looking too long at my opals.”

After a moment she added:

“I so often think of what you said about sorrows being the opals of the
soul.”

“Fancy your remembering that!” said I, with mock modesty.

“It is strange,” the Sphinx went on, “how sorrow continues to be
associated with the opal.”

“I have often marvelled at your courage in wearing so many. They gleam
on your fingers like a whole armory of sorrow.”

“Is there any danger a woman wouldn’t dare for beauty’s sake? And in
spite of the superstition, they are more fashionable than ever. Yet I
don’t think there is a woman who wears them who does not feel in her
heart that she is living under the rainbow of some beautiful doom, some
romantic menace. Some day the genius of the stone will touch her heart,
with its wand of sorrow, and her face will suddenly become like one of
her rings, mysteriously lit with pathos.”

“I believe,” said I, “that it is on that very account that women wear
them. It is the legend of the stone that attracts them almost more than
its beauty. It has for them something of the attraction of sorcery, and
suggests a commerce with those occult influences which in spite of
ourselves we involuntarily think of as ruling the romantic side of our
lives. There is just a spice of magic about all precious stones, and, as
in the old fairy tales, a certain ring was supposed to give control
over unseen powers, so even yet we unconsciously, or consciously,
continue to attach superstitious significance to the wearing of a ring.”

“That is true,” said the Sphinx, “and any woman who wears rings with
art, and not merely for indiscriminate display, sets a new ring on her
finger with a certain thoughtfulness, if not hesitation. If it does not
already mean something to her, it is going to mean something--and what
will that meaning be! A ring that means nothing to one, however
beautiful, hardly seems to belong to us. A ring is a personal possession
or nothing ... except diamonds,” the Sphinx added, laughing, some
particularly fine diamonds glittering at her throat; “diamonds are like
one’s carriage--a part of one’s _entourage_.”

“They are the Three-per-Cents of Romance,” said I.

“Yes; one wears diamonds as one wears shoes. They mean nothing to one
individually. They are social stones, even democratic. They are
impervious to association. They are like the sun--every one loves
sunlight, but no one has ever thought of sentimentally annexing the sun.
The sun is not romantic. It is a wholesome, prosperous presence in our
lives, but it is impossible to think of it as personally related to
ourselves--whereas the moon, on the other hand, means just ‘us’ and no
one else in the world to every romantic eye that looks up to it. The
diamond is the sun of precious stones, the opal is the moon.”

“But what of the pearl?”

“The pearl is the Evening Star.”

“Tell me,” I said, “if I may ask, do your opals stand for sorrows gone
by or for sorrows to come?”

“You mustn’t be so literal,” she answered, “one can hardly label one’s
sorrows like that. Sorrow is temperamental, not accidental; it is
attitude rather than history; it comes even more from within than from
without. Some natures attract it--as the moon draws the sea. When I
speak of my sorrows I do not mean my personal history--did you think my
opals stood for so many disappointments?”

She laughed disdainfully.

“No,” she continued, “few of us, alas! are real enough to achieve the
distinction of a great sorrow. A great sorrow is as rare as a great work
of art. To know a really beautiful sorrow of our own, one needs to have
a tragic simplicity of nature which belongs only to a few chosen
temperaments; and if, indeed, a beautiful sorrow should come into our
lives, who knows but that we should miss its beauty in its pain! Just as
we have musicians to make our music for us, we have to rely on others
for our sorrows.”

“It is strange how much more distinguished sorrow is than joy,” said I.

“Yes; and yet I suppose it is a part of what, resist it as we may, seems
to be the natural law of renunciation. The weak nature may be crushed
and lowered by renunciation, but the strong nature seems to be
mysteriously refined. Perhaps, indeed, it is scarcely correct to speak
of a weak nature renouncing. Things are taken from it rather than
renounced. Renunciation implies will, and the exercise of strength. And
thus to be able to do without implies an individual greatness and
sufficiency from the beginning. We probably never renounce anything that
we really need. Whatever the reason, however, there is no doubt that, as
you say, the world is conscious of a certain distinction, and even
romantic beauty attaching to sorrow which it does not associate with
joy. Sorrow seems to imply a certain initiation into the arcana of human
experience, a certain direct relation with the regent powers of our
destiny, august and hidden, and only revealing their supernatural faces
to this and that mortal here and there, henceforth stricken, and, so to
say, ‘enchanted’, as one touched by the sacred lightning and yet alive
among men.”

“I suspect,” said I, “that that is what, in a dim and trivial way,
people mean when they speak of So-and-So looking ‘interesting’--because
they look sad or even only ill.”

“No doubt. And, curious as it may sound, I don’t think we are ever quite
satisfied with happiness--not, at all events, till we have known sorrow.
Till then, in our happiest hours, we seem to be unconsciously waiting
for sorrow. Perhaps that is because we instinctively feel that the
rarest forms of joy can only be ours on the conditions of sorrow.
Intense, complete joy is only possible to the sorrowful temperament ...
to the nature sensitive to the sorrow that lives in all beautiful
things....”

“To the opal temperament,” said I. The Sphinx smiled and continued:

“There again is another mystery. Why does sadness seem to lie at the
heart of all beauty? Truth and Beauty seem indeed to be one in sadness.
All the rarest types of beauty have something sad about them, some
tragic look, or enigmatic wistfulness of expression, at the least a
touch of loneliness. The gayest music can never be quite happy. Indeed,
one might almost say that two qualities only are necessary to the
highest beauty--strangeness and sadness: perhaps we might say only one
and call it world-strangeness; a look of another world than ours, a look
of spiritual exile. Perhaps there is the secret of beauty--sadness.
Beauty is an exile in this world, a fallen spirit, and, whatever her
embodiment, be it a face, a flower, or a gem, it carries with it always
its look of exile.”

“Thus, again,” said I, smiling, “we see why opals are more beautiful
than diamonds. The diamond is the stone of this world. It has the
prosperous, contented look of that brilliant, unmysterious happiness
which comes of good health and a bank account. There is no sadness at
the cold heart of the diamond--just as there is no sadness in this glass
of champagne, and therefore no appeal to the imagination, as with the
sad distinguished wines. I doubt if people who wear opals should drink
champagne.”

“Ah! but you see I wear diamonds, too,” laughed the Sphinx.

“Yes, there you are. Always the best of both worlds....”

“True,” said the Sphinx sadly, “but the best is only in one of them....”

“Truth fully now,” I asked, “are you quite sure in which?”

The Sphinx refused to commit herself, but “My opals know,” she answered,
musingly turning them to the light.



IV

NEW LOVES FOR OLD


“How is it,” said the Sphinx one evening, “that you never bring a poem
with you to dinner nowadays? Have you quite given up writing them?”

“Almost,” I answered.

“But you shouldn’t. It is lazy of you.”

“I suppose,” said I, “it is a kind of laziness--but I hardly think it is
voluntary, or much under my control. In many ways I grow more active and
industrious as I grow older. I do more work and I work more regularly.
The laziness is certainly neither mental nor physical. It is rather
emotional--yes! a laziness of the emotional faculties.”

“You cannot mean that you have stopped falling in love?”

“I’m inclined to think I have,” I laughed; “but that, like the poetry,
is only one expression of the laziness I mean. Generally, while, as I
say, I am less lazy in doing than of old, and while, as doctors would
say, my mental faculties are active and unimpaired, I grow more and more
lazy in feeling.”

“Tell me some more....”

“Well, I mean that, while my brain grows year by year more catholic in
its sympathies, and sees more clearly all the time opportunities of
feeling old and new, my heart and senses seem less and less inclined to
second it with any energy of enthusiasm or excitement. The beauty of the
world, for example, never seemed more beautiful to me than it does now.
I can see far more beauty in it than I could when I was a boy,
appreciate far more its infinite variety; nor has it lost in wonder, or
mystery or holiness. All this I see, and thankfully accept--but it is
seldom that I am set in a fine glow, or that I fall into a dream about
it. My appreciation of it is no longer rapture. Yes, I have lost
rapture.”

“Poor old thing!” laughed the Sphinx derisively, “but go on.”

“Laugh,” said I, “but it’s all too true. Take another illustration: Some
noble cause, some ghastly wrong, some agonising disaster. Never has my
imagination been more alive to such appeals; never have they stirred me
to greater aspiration, indignation or pity--mentally. But while my
perceptive, imaginative side is thus more active than ever, it seems
unable to set going the motive forces of feeling, as it used to do. It
were as if I should say ‘Oh yes! indeed, I see it all--but I’ll feel
about it to-morrow.’ Something underneath seems to say: ‘What is the use
of being excited about it--of taking fire. It’s noble, it’s monstrous,
it’s pitiful--but what’s the use!--feeling won’t help.’ To think how
inspired, how savage, how wrought I should have been once--use or no
use! But now....”

“Tell me about falling in love,” interrupted the Sphinx, quizzically.
“How does this sad state of things affect that?”

“In just the same way. I see a beautiful face, or come in contact with
some romantic personality. I say to myself: ‘How wonderful she is! I
could spend my life looking into those strange eyes, and I am old enough
to know that I should never want to look into any others.’ I say to
myself: ‘I think I have but to set my heart on it, and that woman and I
might make life a fairy tale for each other!’ But I raise no hand. I am
content to see the possibility, content to admire the opportunity,
content to see it pass. I am too lazy even for romance.”

“And so you write no more poems?”

“Yes--or very staid ones. As it happens I have brought you one to-night,
which you will see is very evidently inspired by the muse of middle-age.
It has an unexceptionable moral, and is entitled ‘New Loves for Old.’
Shall I read it?”

“Go on,” said the Sphinx, and I proceeded to read the following:

    “‘New Loves for Old!’ I heard a pedler cry,
       ‘New Loves for Old!’ as down the street he passed,
     And from each door I noted with a sigh
     How all the people ran at once to buy--
       Bringing in hand the dimmed old loves that last.

    “‘New Loves for Old!’ O wondrous fair and bright
       Seem the new loves against the loves grown old,
     So flower-fresh and dewy with delight,
     And burning as with supernatural light--
       Ah yes! the rest were tinsel--this is gold!

    “‘New Loves for Old!’ the pedler went his way--
       Night fell, then in my window the bright spark
     Of my old love gave out its constant ray,
     ‘How burn the new loves that they bought to-day?’
       But all the other windows remained dark.”

“Do you mean it? Is it true?” asked the Sphinx when I had finished.

“Those are nice questions for a philosopher to ask!” I laughed. “Of
course, it is true for some people, true of some lives, and for those I
mean it.”

“But what is your own personal feeling in the matter?”

“I hardly know if I have any personal feeling about it.”

“But you wrote the poem. Why did you write it then?”

“One doesn’t write poems for oneself. One writes them for others. Poetry
is addressed, like certain legal proclamations, to all whom it concerns.
Do you remember those lines of Straton’s in the Greek Anthology:

    “‘Love-songs I write for him and her,
     Now this, now that, as Love dictates;
     One birthday gift alone the Fates
     Gave me, to be Love’s Scrivener.’

“Of course, this is not the whole truth about the artist, but it is a
good deal of it. In a sense the artist is the most unselfish of human
beings, for his whole life is living for, and feeling for, others. The
more lives and the more various he can live, the greater the number and
the diversity of his feelings, the greater his art. This many-mooded
nature leads those who misunderstand his function frequently to cry out
that he is insincere; the fact being that he is so sincere in so many
different ways that to hasty observers his imaginative sympathy has the
look of inconsistency.”

“But come now, you needn’t pretend to be so superior to our common human
nature as all that! If you yourself had to choose between one of your
dimmed old loves that last, and one of the peddler’s brilliant
novelties, which would you choose?”

“It would depend who I was at the moment.”

“Oh, nonsense--be serious.”

“But I am. It would depend, at all events, on what kind of love I felt
most in need of at the moment--one’s needs are so different from day to
day. Old loves give us certain satisfactions, and new loves give us
certain other satisfactions.”

“Well, tell me what those different satisfactions are.”

“Old Love brings you the sense of security, of shelter, of peace; it has
the warm-home charm of kindly long-known things, the beauty of beautiful
habit, the nimbus and the authority of religion. In fact, it has all
that belongs to the word ‘old’ used in the laudatory sense. Its value is
the value of the known--whereas the value of new love is largely the
value of the unknown.”

“You mean that the value of new love lies largely in its newness.”

“Certainly. Mere novelty, as the world admits on every hand, has real
value; the value of refreshment, at least. In fact, novelty is the
truest friend of old feeling, as it makes us feel the old feelings over
again--which might hardly happen without its assistance. Besides, love
is even more an imaginative than an emotional need, and the new love
speaks to the imagination. Love needs wonder to live on quite as much as
secure affection. The new love appeals to one’s sense of strangeness,
one’s spirit of adventure. As we stand silent upon that peak in
Darien--who knows, we say to our hushed expectant hearts, who knows but
that this is Eldorado at last....”

“We only say that when the old was not Eldorado,” put in the Sphinx.

“O of course!” I admitted hastily.



THE DEATH OF THE POET


The poet lay dying. He was not a good grey poet. Indeed, some of those
who pass judgments upon complex lives, with the spontaneity of simple
ignorance, would no doubt have called him the bad grey poet. Though he
was hardly forty, there were already snowdrifts here and there among his
thick locks.

For a long while he had known that he was soon to die. Dreams had told
him, and he had seen it written on the faces that looked at him in the
street. The foreknowledge did not in the least trouble him. Indeed,
while he was far from being a lachrymose sentimentalist, and life had
for him even more zest than when he was a boy, yet he had for some time
been weary of the long battle, and the news was less the threat of death
than the promise of rest.

And now the rest was coming. There was only one consideration that made
him cling to life, or, rather, suddenly rouse himself to wrest a short
reprieve. It was the last sentiment his numerous detractors would have
believed of him. Like all really great poets, he was much in debt. Debt,
indeed, had hovered like a raven, or rather a cloud of ravens, croaking
over the whole course of his life. In his secret heart, and even in
occasional outspoken utterance, he held that the world owed him far more
than he owed it; yet it should not be said of him that he died in debt!
Therefore he had girded himself up to one last tremendous orgie of
creation, so that his creditors should be paid to the uttermost
farthing. His friends, who knew nothing of the summons that had come to
him, for he looked like living for years, marvelled at the sudden
outburst of his energy. Sometimes, in a mood of fantastic irony, he
would say to them, “Do you know what keeps me alive?” And he would
answer, “My creditors”--to their shouts of derisive laughter. Imagine
Pagan Wasteneys giving a thought to his creditors!

But it was true for all that, as Wasteneys’s familiar doctor could
attest: for on one occasion Wasteneys, being taken with a sudden attack
of the heart and apparently near death, had burst into tears--not at the
thought of his wife, not at the thought of his two little girls, but at
the thought of his creditors. After all, he was to die in debt! That
thought alone obsessed him, leaving room for no other--tenderness.
However, oxygen granted him still another reprieve, and once more he
worked like a madman till at last he had written enough.

Then, laying down his pen upon the desk for the last time, he said, “I
am ready to die.”

Thereon his valet undressed him, taking away the clothes he had worn for
the last time, and the poet luxuriously stretched himself in the white
bed, from which no duty would ever call him to rise again.

For a long while he lay back dreamily enjoying the thought--of his
readiness to die. At last he had been able to wring from life the
privilege to die.

The faces of his creditors came back to him with a positive beauty,
haloed, so to speak, with this last shining achievement. Honest,
true-hearted men, he felt that he should care a little to look in their
faces once more and shake their hands. Indeed, he almost regretted that
he had to die when he thought of their honest faces. What a beautiful
world--when to the eyes of a dying poet his creditors even seem
beautiful!

Presently he sent for his lawyer--who had helped him through many a
difficult pass--and when the lawyer had come, he stretched out his hands
to him.

“Old friend,” he cried, “congratulate me. At last the bankrupt has his
discharge. The court allows me to die....”

“Rubbish!” answered the lawyer; “none of your death’s-head humour. But
you really mean that you have finished your book? I do indeed
congratulate you....”

“Yes! My last book. Unless I should be expected to write for my living
in some other world, I have written my last word, dipped my pen in ink
for the last time....”

The lawyer gently bantered him. “If only it were true,” he said, “what
good news for your readers!...”

“Laugh as much as you like ... but you will see. A very few days will
show.”

“You fantastic fellow ... what do you mean? You know there is nothing
whatever the matter with you. You cannot die without some disease, or by
some accident--unless you intend to be so commonplace as to commit
suicide....”

“No! none of those,” answered Wasteneys, with his odd smile; “I am going
to die--out of sheer weariness; and, by the way, I want you to insist
upon this epitaph being engraved upon my urn: ‘Pagan Wasteneys. Born
1866; bored to death--1905.’”

“Of course I will promise no such thing,” answered the lawyer.

“Well, then I must instruct some mortuary engraver myself.... But tell
me--you have brought with you the schedule of my debts? How much exactly
do they amount to?”

The lawyer drew a bulky paper from his pocket.

“Here is the schedule,” he said, and then glancing at the total of many
pages of figures, he answered, “They are close on ten thousand
pounds....”

“‘Tis a good round sum,” said the poet, “but in two years I have earned
it, every penny, and more besides.”

“It is marvellous,” said the lawyer.

“It sounds like a dream,” said the poet, “but it is true. Think what fun
one might have with ten thousand pounds--if one were not going to
die....”

“Or pay one’s debts at last,” laughed the lawyer.

“That reminds me that I have a fancy for the manner of paying them, in
which I hope you will humour me. I wish to pay each creditor in person,
and I wish to pay him in solid gold. I would, therefore, ask you to send
out a notice inviting them here at noon to-day week; that is, Wednesday
week--I shall not die till Friday.”

Though he was quite serious, the poet could not help laughing at this
final touch, and the lawyer joined in. “You humbug!” he exclaimed; but,
for all that, the poet was able to convince him of his seriousness after
a while.

“I would have them pass before me one by one, as I lie propped up on
pillows on my death-bed, and I shall expect each one first to bend down
and kiss my hand. Then a clerk will call out his name in a loud voice,
and the amount of the debt, and another clerk shall weigh out to him the
amount in gold.... I intend it to be a kind of triumphal lying in state.
But we can discuss the exact details later. I feel a little tired. The
shadows are already weighing down my eyelids....” and the poet laughed
again his sad sinister laugh; though, indeed, it was true enough, as
the lawyer, looking at him, could not fail to note.

“Good-night, old friend,” said the poet; “come and see me again
tomorrow;” and, when the lawyer had gone, he once more stretched himself
out in the bed, luxuriously murmuring the lines he had murmured nightly
for so many years:

    “If rest be sweet at close of day
       For tired hands and tired feet,
     How good at last to rest for aye--
       If rest be sweet.”

The lying in state, as the poet grimly called it, was conducted exactly
as he had conceived it. At first the lawyer had protested that to expect
your honest English tradesman to bow the knee and kiss the hand of one
of his debtors was out of the question.

“Take my word, friend,” said the poet, “when a tradesman is going to be
paid a debt he had given up for lost, he will not be particular as to
the manner in which he receives it. Indeed, he will be so thankful for
it that it will be a natural impulse to fall upon his knees.... And if
they demur,” he added, laughing his half-boyish, half-wicked, and quite
creepy laugh, “tell them that it is the fancy of a dying man.”

When the noon of Wednesday came, the poet lay in his great bed awaiting
his creditors. There had only been a week since his talk with his
lawyer, but even that good-natured sceptic had come to admit the truth
of his client’s prediction. No one could look on that weary form
stretched so straight and slim under the clothes, or upon that worn
ivory face, so worn and yet so strangely smiling, without reading the
unmistakable signs.

“Do you believe it now?” said the poet to his lawyer. “It is only a
jest--you must not take it too seriously. It is only death. Don’t be
unhappy, old friend. I wish I could make you know how good it feels--to
be dying.”

Then a little soft-voiced clock chimed twelve times.

“Now for the fun....” said the poet, looking up to his friend, with his
eyes filled with laughter.

It had been his whim to have his room draped in purple, and over his bed
hung a great wreath of laurel still in flower. At one side of the large
room was a table also covered in purple, on which were arranged twelve
great pyramids of gold pieces, and on two other tables close by were two
large bags of orange-coloured leather overflowing with silver.

As the clock chimed twelve, two footmen clad in a livery of dull-gold
silk, with sprigs of laurel worked upon the collars of their coats,
threw open the folding doors of the spacious room, and a crowd of awed
and almost sepulchral English tradesmen entered in a hushed and timorous
fashion. They were dressed appropriately, as for a funeral, and a few of
them wore crape round their hats. They trod softly, like butlers, and
were evidently a good deal overawed and indeed frightened.

And in truth it was a scene calculated to astonish. For as they entered,
there facing them in the middle of the room lay Wasteneys, with his
eyes closed and his hands crossed, and the great laurel wreath over his
head; and to his right, at one side of the room, stood the table heaped
with gold, which glittered still more brightly beneath the beams of
twelve immense candlesticks. If anything could gleam brighter, it was
the eyes of the creditors, whose expression was a mixture of gaping
astonishment at the piled-up gold and hushed wonder at the white
distinguished figure in the bed.

When they were seated on the gilded Empire chairs provided for them, a
secretary clad in black rose from a seat by the dying man’s side and
read a brief salutation, in which Pagan Wasteneys, a poet of the realm
of England, desired upon his death-bed to thank in person those
honourable mercers and general purveyors who had for so many years shown
him so great a consideration in respect of certain moneys which he owed
them, in exchange for certain necessities of existence--among which
necessities luxuries, of course, were included. Mr. Wasteneys desired
to add that his delay to satisfy these obligations had come of no
wilful neglect on his part, but had been occasioned by the many
sorrows--not to speak of the many expenses--incident to the profession
of a poet. He had invited them to meet him for the last time in this way
that he might personally express his gratitude to them--at the same
moment that he satisfied his indebtedness, with compound interest at
five per cent.

As the secretary concluded with this eloquent peroration, Wasteneys
opened his eyes for the first time, and raised his head from the pillow,
with a weary attempt at a bow, and motioned with his hand toward the
company--his hand thereafter lying white and fragile on the side of the
bed. For a moment a smile flickered over his lips, but only his lawyer
observed it, and, next moment, he was gravely prepared for the
conclusion of the ceremony.

Presently a clerk dressed in a prim costume of the finest broadcloth
rose and called out the name of Peter Allardyce, vintner--the names of
the creditors being called out in alphabetical order--at the same time
naming the sum of £763.19.7 as due to him, inclusive of interest at five
per cent. At the summons, a shy, ruddy man of country build rose from
his chair, and being led by one of the footmen to the dying man’s side,
bent down and kissed the frail hand on the coverlet. Wasteneys
acknowledged the courtesy with a tired smile, and Mr. Allardyce was then
conducted by the footman to the table piled with gold, where another
clerk, also dressed in broadcloth, like his fellow, weighed out to him
the amount of his debt, pouring the bright gold into a great bag of
purple leather.

“William Dimmock,” once more cried out the first clerk, “livery-stable
keeper, for carriage-hire, the sum of £378.10.3, inclusive of interest
at five per cent.”

A lean, horsy little man thereon rose from his chair and went through
the same ceremony as his predecessor, retiring also with a great bag of
purple leather bursting with gold pieces.

And so the odd ceremony proceeded. It would be tedious to follow it
through its details; though one may observe that of all the creditors
that followed, the heaviest were Peter Markham, florist, and Jasper
Dyce, jeweller, for flowers and gems lavished by the dying man on
forgotten women.

When it was all over, and Wasteneys was left alone with his lawyer and
his physician, he buried his face in the pillows, and laughed as if his
heart would break--laughed indeed so violently that his physician had to
warn him that such mirth was dangerous in his present state--unless,
indeed, he wished to die of laughter.

“No, indeed,” said Wasteneys; “I have other farewells to make. But, O
wasn’t it delicious! And think of it--like the village blacksmith, I owe
not any man! What honest, kind fellows they were! I am so glad to have
seen them before I die.”

“You must see no one else to-day,” said his physician, presently, “if
you wish to make those other farewells.”

“I have still to-morrow and most of Friday. I shall go out, like
Falstaff, ‘even at the turning of the tide,’” he said, laughing softly
at himself, as he had done all his life, and repeating to himself the
phrase that had romantically touched his fancy--“even at the turning of
the tide!... even at the turning of the tide!”

“What am I dying of, doctor?” he said, presently.

“I can see no reason why you should be dying at all,” answered the
physician, “unless it is pure whim.”

“Perhaps it is partly that,” said the poet, “but I think it is chiefly
because--I have lived. To live longer would be mere repetition. I have
just enjoyed the last new experience life had to give me--and I almost
think it was the most wonderful of all. It was the last touch of romance
needed to complete a romantic life--to have paid my debts! You are
right. That was indeed enough excitement for one day. I will sleep
now--the happiest man in the world.”

He had hardly finished speaking before he had fallen into one of those
sudden deep sleeps that come and go fitfully with the dying. He lay on
his back, his hands crossed, and a smile of infinite serenity and
thankfulness on his face. Over his head hung the great laurel wreath,
still in flower....

Still in flower!

“It is strange that he should choose so deliberately to die--for he has
still a great future in store for him,” said the physician to himself as
he went out, giving on his way certain instructions to the
nurse-in-waiting.

The physician, like the majority of human beings, confounded the length
of a man’s life with the success of it--as was, perhaps, peculiarly
natural in a man whose business was the lengthening of human existence.
To die before sixty was to him a form of failure, and he himself,
already sixty-three, was still, with childish eagerness, pursuing
certain prizes, professional and social, at which Wasteneys would indeed
have smiled. He dreamed, for instance, of a knighthood. Now one of
Wasteneys’s great fears had been that he should not be in a position to
die before he was knighted. That had in some degree accounted for the
fury of his production during the last two years. He would not indeed
have disdained to have been made a lord, but that necessitated living so
much longer, and writing so many more words--and really it was not worth
it. He regarded his life as completed--at least to his own satisfaction.
To take it up again would be to begin an entirely new career. Already,
as rich men are said to go through two or three fortunes, Wasteneys had
run through three careers. Three seemed enough. He had won all the
prizes he cared for. The rest could only be humorous. So, “Good-bye,
proud world; I’m going home!”

Next morning, when his toilet had been made for him by the beautiful
nurse-in-waiting and his faithful man servant, Wasteneys received his
physician and his lawyer; and then, as the little clock chimed the hour
of noon, he said:

“It is time for me to begin my farewells.”

He made it evident that he wished to be alone, except for his own friend
the lawyer. So, when the two were left together in the room, he turned
to the lawyer and said:

“Dear friend, bring me the Beautiful Face ...” adding, “the key is here
under my pillow.”

Taking the key, the lawyer unlocked an old cabinet in a shadowy corner
of the room, and presently returned to the bedside, carrying in his
hands a small urn of exquisite workmanship. Placing it on a low table
near to the poet’s hand, the lawyer, who had been the confidant of the
poet’s tragedy, made a sign of understanding, and left the room.

On the wall facing the end of the poet’s bed had hung for seven years
the picture of a marvellously beautiful girl. She was so exceptional in
her beauty that to attempt description of her would be futile. Suffice
it that her face--framed in night-black hair, and tragically lit by
enormous black eyes--was chiefly remarkable for the nobility of its
expression and for its sense of elemental power. It was a face full of
silence--a dark flower of a face, so to say, rooted deep down in the
mysterious strengths of nature. If one may use such an expression of a
thing so delicate, she seemed like a rock of beauty, against which a
whole world of men might dash their tribute hearts in vain. Other faces
might seem more attractive, more formally beautiful, but to few faces
had it been given to concentrate the cold imperialism of beauty as it
was concentrated in this exquisite face.

This face was the real meaning of the poet’s life. The rest was mere
badinage, screening a sad heart. This face was the real meaning of the
poet’s gladness at his approaching death. This life held no more
expectations for him--but the next? Who knows?--perhaps to-morrow night
he would be with her in Paradise.

Looking long at the picture of the Beautiful Face, he turned--to the
Beautiful Face itself; for it had now been silver dust for four years.
Drawing the urn to him, he read once more the name upon the little gold
plate let into the bronze:

    Meriel Wasteneys: Died March 16, 1900.

And underneath the name he read some lines inscribed in gold:

    “O Beauty, art thou also dust?
       These silver ashes--can it be
     That you, thus silting through my hand,
       Once made a madman out of me!”

“And a madman still,” he added, laughing sadly to himself.

Then raising the lid of the urn, he looked in. The white ash filled but
half the little urn. Gently thrusting in his hand, he let the ashes sift
through his long fingers over and over again, and as he did so he gazed
at the Beautiful Face upon the wall....

After a while he replaced the lid upon the urn, and lay back with closed
eyes--thinking of it all.

Presently the lawyer returned softly into the room, and fancying him
asleep, was about to leave again, but Wasteneys had heard him.

“Is that you?” he said. “Come to me. I have said good-bye. You know
where my ashes are to lie.”

The lawyer assented, locking the urn once more in the cabinet, and
bringing the key back again to Wasteneys. The little urn, as I have
said, was as yet only half filled.

The two friends sat silent together for a long time, saying nothing, for
there was nothing to say. Both knew all.

After a while the poet turned to his friend. “Will you ask Isabel, my
wife, to come to me?” he said. And presently there entered the room a
woman so fragilely beautiful that she seemed to be made of moonbeams.
She was indeed, compared to the Beautiful Face on the wall, as the moon
to the sun. That, alas! had been her place in the poet’s life. She had
been the moon to the Beautiful Face. And yet, in his strange way, the
poet had always loved her, deep down----

“Very deep down!” she used to say sometimes, with a sad smile.

As she came and sat beside him, he took her face tenderly in his hands,
and looked and looked into her fairy blue eyes without a word. A
curiously lined face it was for so young a woman--all beautiful silver
lines filled with delicate refinements of thought and feeling.
“Suffering,” said the ignorant world, attributing these silver lines to
the unfaithfulness of the poet. Yet, as a matter of fact, Isabel’s face
had been hardly less lined when she was twenty. The poet and the years
together had barely added half a dozen lines. In fact, nature had seemed
to intend, when making Isabel’s face, to show that beauty is something
more than velvet skin and dreamy eyes and rounded contours; to prove
that nothing is needed for the making of a beautiful face but--light.
Isabel’s face, indeed, seemed made of light. The lines in it were like
rays of brightness, and her eyes like deep springs of purest radiance.

There was, after all, something in Isabel’s face that the poet had seen
only there, something “fairy” that he had never ceased loving better
than anything else in the world. But Life had had its way with them.
Strong currents beyond the control of either had torn them apart,
brought them together again, and then again torn them apart. Still, they
had never really lost faith in each other’s natures, and though an
impertinent world had misunderstood their mutual forbearance, they had
never misunderstood each other.

“Isabel!” said the poet, still holding her face like a star in his
hands, “I am going to die, and I have called you to congratulate me--as
I know so wise a girl will. For we both know, better than any one, that
it is best.”

Isabel’s eyes filled with tears, and releasing her face from his hands,
she buried it in the bedclothes. Presently mastering her feeling, she
raised her head again, and looking with infinite pity into the poet’s
eyes, she said:

“O my dear boy--cannot you be human at last: just once before you die?
I have always thought of you like some Undine, a beautiful, gentle,
elemental being--lacking only a human soul. Indeed, sometimes I have
thought of you as a god--sitting aloof from our little every day
interests--but God knows I have loved you all the time, and you only
shall I love in all my life....”

The poet once more took her face in his hands, and looking into her
nereid eyes, he said: “Wife, dear wife--forgive the sorrow I have
brought you. If there was any joy, remember that. Life is very
difficult, very strange. It was all no fault of ours, not even mine. I
see it now very clearly--now that I am dying. I see how wrong I have
been--I see how right. I see how right you have been--I see how wrong.
Let us forgive each other. Let us be in love again before I die. Give me
your eyes. Let me kiss them once before I die....”

Then, a sudden thought taking him, “I wonder, dear,” he said, “if you
can find my “Euripides.” There is a passage I am thinking of in ‘The
Alcestis.’ It would comfort me to hear it again....”

Presently his wife brought him the volume, and turning over the pages,
the poet at last found the passage he was in search of.

“Yes! this is it,” he said:

“‘_Now have I moored my bark of life in a happier haven than before, and
so will own myself a happy man._’”

Then leaning back on his pillow, “Tell me Isabel,” he said, “why is
there so mysterious a comfort in words?”

“Alas! dear, it is for you to tell me,” she said, stroking his hair;
“you have loved words so well--and made so many beautiful words.”

“I know you think that I have loved nothing but words,” said the poet;
“I wonder if it is true?... I think not.”

“I think you meant to love life as well,” she answered, kissing his brow
gently.

She smoothed his hair a long while as they sat in silence together--the
past rolling over them like a river.

Presently Wasteneys broke the silence. “I have walked in a vague
course!” he said--“walked in a vague course!... if you will forgive,” he
added, presently, “my quoting once more. A dying man should not quote.
He is expected to say something original. Well, I will try
to-morrow....”

Then there fell over him once more that ante-lethal drowsiness of death,
and murmuring again, “I have walked in a vague course!” he fell asleep.

When she was sure he was asleep, his wife bent over him and kissed his
lips.

“After all,” she said, “he has never grown up. He is a baby still--just
a child, that is all....”

Wasteneys awoke after a little while, to find himself alone, save for
the silent presence of his lawyer.

“I fell asleep,” he said, “foolishly enough--for I have little time to
waste; and I shall soon have all the sleep I want....”

Then, after a pause, he added: “I wish to say good-bye to my little
girls. Will you have them brought to me?”

Presently there entered the room two beautiful children, one about
twelve years old, and the other five. They came hand in hand, laughing,
and ran across to their father’s bed, gleefully ignorant of the
significance of the still room, and the purple hangings, and the white
figure in the bed.

“Daddy! daddy!” they cried, climbing upon the bed. “What a time it is
since we saw you!... Tell us a story right away.”

The father took the long brown-gold curls of the elder girl in his
hands, and stroked the sunshine head of the little one. “Kiddies,” he
said, after a while, “your daddy is going on a long journey. Will you
think of him and love him while he is gone?”

“Where are you going, daddy?” asked the two young voices.

“O ever so far! It’s a country called ‘East of the Sun and West of the
Moon.’”

“O take us with you, daddy. It sounds such a lovely place.”

“I cannot take you with me, kiddies--but perhaps mother and you and I
will meet there one of these days ... if we’re all very good!”

“I wish we could go with you now, daddy,” said the elder girl; and the
younger, out of sheer reverence for her elder sister, repeated her.

“I wish we could go with you now, daddy,” she said.

“No,” said the father; “you must stay behind and look after Little
Mother. She would be so lonely without you.”

The children, with the volatility of their age, accepted this
explanation, and presently once more turned to their father with a
demand for a story.

“No!” he said; “it is your turn to tell me a story. I am tired to-day.
You, Pervenche, must say for me ‘The Three Kings,’ and you, Golla, must
say ‘The White Bird.’ I haven’t heard you say them for quite a long
time. And each standing up in turn, like a corporal saluting his
captain, Pervenche and Golla recited their little pieces; and as they
recited, the tears rolled down their father’s cheeks.

“You are crying, daddy,” suddenly exclaimed the little one. “What are
you crying for?”

The poet was crying because, among all the many human experiences he had
missed, he had missed his children too.

Their nurse near at hand rescued him from the dilemma. “Daddy is tired,”
she said; “bid him good-bye....”

And, wonderingly, the little creatures obeyed; but the tiny Golla,
already a sturdy sceptic, kept asking, when they were once more in the
nursery, “I wonder why daddy cried!”

When his little girls had gone, Wasteneys turned to his lawyer.

“What time is high tide to-day?”

He asked the question wearily, almost querulously; for, after all, he
was seriously dying.

“I will look in the newspaper,” said the lawyer; and having looked, he
answered, “At three minutes past four.”

“When will the tide turn?” asked the dying poet.

“It keeps at full for perhaps a quarter of an hour, and then begins to
ebb.”

“That gives us from now about four hours,” said the poet. “Four hours.
At the turning of the tide. Four hours ... and then!”

Wasteneys lay still after this, with his eyes closed.

Presently he roused himself. “I have one more farewell to make,” he
said; “will you ask them to bring me my children?...”

“Your children?” The lawyer, good friend as he was, did not at first
understand.

“Yes! My children. Please have them bring me my children.”

Wasteneys’s servant, happening to come into the room at the moment,
beckoned the lawyer, and explained his master’s meaning.

“Yes!” answered the lawyer, soothingly, after this informatory pause,
“they shall be brought to you.”

Then presently there entered two men servants carrying two high piles of
books. Placing them on a table, they left the room, returning in a few
moments with two more piles. Once more they went out and returned, their
arms still laden with books.

Meanwhile a new life seemed suddenly to have animated the poet’s frame.
His eyes shone, and he struggled to raise himself in the bed. The lawyer
packed the pillows at his back, and he sat up.

“Put them at the end of the bed,” he said; “let me see them all, let me
touch them....”

When his wish had been carried out, and the servants departed, he leaned
over the books and stroked them affectionately again and again.

“So you are really mine--really my children,” he said.

“Did I really write them?” he said, presently, turning to his friend.
“So many?”

“Yes! dear friend, you wrote them all,” answered the lawyer, too
solemnised to jest; for he saw that it was close on the turning of the
tide.

“How many are there?” asked Wasteneys, leaning back, already weary with
the excitement.

“I will count them ...” said his friend, and presently announced that
there were fifty-three volumes.

“Fifty-three!” exclaimed Wasteneys; “and how old am I?”

“Thirty-nine, next month,” said the lawyer.

“Next month!” said the poet.

Then he turned again to his friend.

“Read me a page here and there,” he said; “I will be my own critic. Even
a critic at the point of death may be expected to tell the truth. Read
to me that I may know before I die that something in all those
fifty-three volumes may perhaps be worth while.”

“What shall I read?” asked the lawyer.

“Read me ‘What of the Darkness?’”

And the lawyer read:

    “What of the Darkness? Is it very fair?
     Are there great calms, and find ye silence there?
     Like soft-shut lilies, all your faces glow
     With some strange peace our faces never know,
     With some great faith our faces never dare,
     Dwells it in Darkness? Do ye find it there?

    “Is it a Bosom where tired heads may lie?
     Is it a Mouth to kiss our weeping dry?
     Is it a Hand to still the pulse’s leap?
     Is it a Voice that holds the runes of sleep?
     Day shows us not such comfort anywhere--
     Dwells it in Darkness? Do ye find it there?

    “Out of the day’s deceiving light we call--
     Day that shows man so great, and God so small,
     That hides the stars, and magnifies the grass--
     O is the Darkness too a lying glass?
     Or, undistracted, do ye find truth there?
     What of the Darkness? Is it very fair?”

“Are you quite sure that I wrote that?” Asked the poet. “Look carefully.
Is it really my book?”

“It is, indeed. Printed when you were twenty.”

“I am so happy,” said the poet--“so happy to think I wrote that. Time
itself cannot rob me of that.”

Very soon it was plainly to be seen that the poet was on the very
border-line of life and death.

“Is there no one you would care to see?” asked the lawyer, gently.

“No, no one,” answered the poet.

“Not your physician?” asked the lawyer.

“O no, indeed,” answered the poet, with a flash of his odd smile. “Give
him my love. But tell him that I want to die--not to be killed.”

“What time is it?” he asked, presently.

“Five minutes to four.”

The poet lay silent a while, and then he turned to his lawyer with the
look of an old friendship. Indeed, his friendship for his lawyer, was,
odd as it may sound, one of the realities of his unearthly life.

“Friend,” he said, “I am afraid it is almost time for us also to say
good-bye. God bless you--for all. Look after--them, won’t you?” and he
waved his hand toward his wife’s quarters. “Good-bye....”

“But,” said his friend, “will you have no one with you?”

“Don’t you hear the turning of the tide?” answered the poet.

“No one?” reiterated the lawyer, agonised out of his professional
demeanour.

“No one!” answered Wasteneys, rising commandingly in his bed, and
sweeping his hand across the volumes at its foot--“No one--but my
children!”



THE BUTTERFLY OF DREAMS


It was said that a tragic disappointment accounted for young Lord
Laleham’s curious passion for butterflies. Actually there was no such
explanation, or, of course, any need of it; but pursuits out of the
common naturally demand uncommon excuses--for the common mind; and it
was evident to the watchful critics of Lord Laleham’s career that
nothing short of a great sorrow could have driven him to so trivial a
means of alleviation. According to others, this dainty passion--which
might well have subjected him to the contempt of his fellows, had he not
been able to give a somewhat formidable physical account of himself--was
to be put down as due to one of those strains of freakishness liable to
break out in old families. No one, of course, dreamed that Laleham could
care for butterfly-hunting for its own sake, except those entomologists
for whom his collection was famous throughout the world, authoritative,
classical; for Lord Laleham was one of the handsomest and richest of
young English peers, and as difficult for match-making mothers to catch
as one of his own butterflies--surely the last man in the world to seek
the humble laurel of the lepidopterist.

And, indeed, it was true that butterflies were something more to Laleham
than entomology. They were rather a poetic than a scientific passion.
There was a strong vein of the mystic and poetic in his nature to which
in some way, mysterious even to himself, these strange little painted
things had from childhood appealed. As the smallest boy, he had proved
himself a passionist of the solitudes of nature, by lone woodland
truancies and long tramps through that gipsy wilderness, which England,
with all its lawns and market-gardens and nurseries, has so remarkably
preserved. And, from the first moment that he found himself alone,
hushed and watching and listening, and a little afraid, in the belt of
mighty beeches that was perhaps the chief honour of his pedigree, there
had seemed a spell, an enchantment, over these lonely leaves, these
gnome-like shapes of mottled bole, and these twisted roots that seemed
to have become so through some mysterious agonies of ancient
torture--though indeed, to most folk there was nothing there but leaves
and the famous Laleham covers.

He had never forgotten the day when that spell of exquisite silence and
dappled sunshine--the whole woodland with its finger on its lip--had
suddenly become embodied in a tiny shape of coloured velvet wings that
came floating zig-zag up the dingle, swift as light, aery as a perfume,
soft and silent as the figured carpet in some Eastern palace. With what
awe he watched it, as at length it settled near him on a sunlit weed,
with what a luxury of observation his eyes noted its sumptuous unearthly
markings, and what an image of wonder and exquisite mystery it there and
forever left upon his mind. In a moment it was up and away upon its
uncharted travel through the wood. Instinctively, he ran in pursuit. But
it was too late. He had lost his first butterfly.

For Laleham, from that moment, all the beauty of the world, and the
mystery and the elusiveness of it, were symbolised in a butterfly. From
that moment it seemed to him that the success of life was--the catching
of a certain butterfly.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was now thirty years old and had caught many butterflies, caught them
in every part of the world, and the adventures he had met with in the
apparently insignificant chase, were they to be written, would fully
justify the defence he sometimes made of what the world called his
whimsical hobby. “You must not look upon my butterflies as trivial,” he
would say. “The study of much smaller things has made modern science;
and a butterfly may well lead you to the ends of the earth--and even
lose you among the stars. You never know where it may take you. There
is no hunting more full of exciting possibilities. If you dare follow a
butterfly, you dare go anywhere; and no quarry will lead you into
stranger places, or into such beautiful unexpected adventures.”

At thirty he was still unmarried. Life was still for him a lonely
woodland, through which he chased the one butterfly he had never been
able to capture. The butterflies of the world were in his marvellously
arranged cabinets,--rainbow upon rainbow of classified wings--but one
butterfly was not there. The butterfly, indeed, might possibly have been
had by exchange with other collectors, though it was one so rare, and so
beyond equivalent in any form, that the man who had been fortunate
enough to come into possession of it seldom cared to part with it.

Besides, though occasionally Laleham had resorted to this means of
supplying a missing species, it was a course he seldom took. Nearly
every butterfly in his vast flower-garden of shimmering wings had been
caught by his own hand. There was no country in the world he had not
visited in his determined dream of being, one might say, the Balzac of
the butterfly; and it was only the commoner sort of butterfly he had
occasionally obtained by exchange. The butterfly that was missing from
his collection he made it a point of honour, and indeed, in course of
time, a sort of superstition, to capture for himself. To the ordinary
and non-entomological observer, untouched by Laleham’s mystic passion,
there would seem little enough to account for his preoccupation in the
quite insignificant object of it, a tiny blue butterfly, to ordinary
eyes not differing from any other tiny blue butterfly, and in fact only
to be known for what it was by a mystic marking almost imperceptible,
hidden beneath its wings. Not even the collector himself could be sure
of what he was pursuing, on account of the butterfly’s resemblance to
another species comparatively common, exactly like, except for that
hidden signature, that distinguishing hall-mark. If one were to
depreciate the value of this illustrious insect, and say that its sole
distinction was that of rarity, the collector would only smile, and
could afford to, perhaps. Rarity! only rarity! Was not that enough! Had
not mankind agreed, throughout recorded history, that rarity alone,
unaccompanied by any other precious characteristic, is of all
qualifications, the qualification of immortality; and is not rarity of
all values the ideal value, a value not measurable by the eye, or any
method of external judgment, a value of the soul. Besides, what are the
highest prizes in any chase or contest whatsoever--a simple wreath of
laurel, the antlers of a deer, objects in themselves only symbolically
valuable. Why, therefore, should not the ambitious pursuing spirit of
man stake its fortunes on a butterfly--for what could be more typical of
its own wandering course and ever changing goal.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Laleham butterfly, as it is now called, and as not seldom happens
with other rare things in nature--this being, I may add, not the least
of nature’s mysterious whims--had never been found except in one remote
corner of England, a fenny country producing a hardly less rare variety
of flowering rush on which its caterpillar alone could feed. It was a
country of boundless marshy levels, and peaty solitudes, a country of
herons, and long dark-eyed pools, which, flashing every few yards under
the boundless sky, filled the loneliness with magic mirrors. For the gay
it was a dreary land, but for those who have found “nought so sweet as
melancholy” it was melancholy only as great music is melancholy, and its
loneliness was that of some splendid raven-haired widow with her tragic
gaze upon the sky. It was a thinly populated region, with here and there
an inn and a few cottages taking shelter under the wing of some
mouldering grange. It was, in short, one of the sad beautiful ends of
the earth. Here it was, and here alone, that Laleham’s butterfly had
chosen to dwell, to secret itself, indeed, as though in a place so
remote it might hope to preserve its fragile aristocratic race from
extinction. Yet, though it was known to inhabit this solitude, not a
dozen living people had ever seen it, and only two had caught it for
many years; for there again it illustrated another mystery of nature,
the persistent survival of a rare type, in such unchangeably small
numbers as almost to risk extinction, as it were, for the purpose of
aristocracy. For at least two hundred years, as long as it had been
known at all, the Laleham butterfly had existed apparently in the same
small family, only propagating itself sufficiently to keep its race and
name upon the earth, and no more. It had not become rare by process of
extinction, but because nature apparently had made few of it from the
beginning. Happily this aristocratic law of nature is not only applied
to butterflies. In fact one might justly say the same of the family that
had dwelt in an old embattled house which had stood here sinking deeper
and deeper into the solitude since the days of Richard II. Noctorum, the
house was called, as was the cluster of cottages around it--a name
appropriately dark and mysterious, like the cry of owls at night across
the fen.

In this old house of Noctorum, which had been built by his ancestors and
inhabited by Fantons ever since, lived studious old Sir Gilbert Fanton,
Baronet, alone most of the year round with his gout and his books, and
one beautiful daughter hardly yet a woman. A young wife, dead now many
years, had left him with two sons, both soldiers, and therefore seldom
at home, and one great-eyed little girl, who, far from finding the
solitude of her life irksome, had taken kindly to it, and had more and
more, year by year, seemed to embody the solemn beauty of her melancholy
surroundings. Laleham had been a friend of young Christopher Fanton’s at
Oxford, and had, several years before, come down to Noctorum with the
young soldier in quest of the butterfly which was the legendary glory of
the district.

Though Sir Gilbert was a much older man than himself, he had found in
him a scholar with mystic tendencies similar to his own, and, when the
sons had gone to the wars, Laleham continued to come down to visit the
father, and incidentally to pursue the quest of his butterfly. Then he
had taken a trip about the world, visiting the tropical haunts of his
hobby, which had lasted so long that when again he returned to England
it had been three years since he had visited his old friend. Besides, he
had once more returned from his pilgrimage without that mystic butterfly
which continued still to evade his persevering pursuit. In every part of
the world he had sought it, but still, so far as he could hear, the one
place in which it might be found was the marshes of Noctorum. So,
thinking less of his quest than of his friend, he determined to run down
and see what progress Sir Gilbert was making with his great book on the
folk-lore of the fens--for fairies and hobgoblins were Sir Gilbert’s
particular substitute for idleness. He found Sir Gilbert boyishly happy
over his recent discovery of an indigenous and heretofore unrecorded
variant of the story of Cupid and Psyche.

“Think of it!” exclaimed the old scholar, “here in this land of clods
and pitchforks, uncouth in form indeed, but still the old dainty fancy,
the old Greek fairy tale in homespun. Isn’t it strange how these frail
shapes of story, frail as moonbeams, are still hardy enough to make
their way from land to land, and take on the disguises of the peoples,
rough or gentle, among which, like a thistledown, they happen to
settle.”

“Yes!” answered Laleham smiling, “they are like the butterflies of the
imagination--frail but indestructible.”

Sir Gilbert laughed at this reminder that there were other hobbies than
his own.

“Forgive me,” he said, “I am afraid I am selfishly riding my own hobby;
and in my Psyche, forgetting yours. Tell me about your Psyche.”

Laleham shook his head, and proceeded to tell of his varying fortune in
foreign lands, and how he had come back with all the butterflies of the
world, except the one butterfly. Sir Gilbert gave him the sympathy of a
fellow collector.

“But surely,” he said, “you haven’t given up the chase--at your age.”

“Almost,” answered Laleham, “I am too old. The wildest enthusiasm--for
butterflies--can hardly outlive thirty. I think I shall take up some
serious study--like yours.”

Both the friends laughed, and Sir Gilbert said:

“But, seriously, I have heard of your butterfly having been seen within
a mile or two from here no longer than a week ago. There were two
fellows staying at the inn last month who called to see me, enthusiasts
like yourself, and they were positive that they had seen it over by the
Black Ditches--of course, you know the place. But they missed it, all
the same.”

“The worst of the beast is,” said Laleham, “that you cannot be sure, so
to say, that it is itself till you have it in your hand. The other brute
is so like it.”

“Yet you were once sure enough, dear friend,” answered Sir Gilbert.

“True,” said Laleham sadly, “but who knows, I may have been wrong.”

“Anyhow, here you are,” said Sir Gilbert, “in the best season of the
year. You never had a better opportunity. If you don’t catch your
butterfly this time, you never will. This is your home, you know, and
you know too that I shall treat you with no ceremony. You can go about
your butterflies, and I shall go about my fairies, and if I seem to
neglect you, Mariana will make up for me.”

Mariana entered at that moment, and stood by her father. When Laleham
had last seen her hers were still those reluctant feet of maidenhood of
which the great poet has sung. Now she was a woman; a very young woman,
it is true, but a woman. That grave beauty of the melancholy fens, of
which I have spoken as having “passed into her face,” was there now in a
still more decided presence. Her hair was black as English hair seldom
is, her skin was an exquisite olive, and her eyes were like those
strange pools which flashed darkly in the evening light outside the
library window. Her black eyelashes were so thick that you could not
help thinking of them as rushes guarding the secrecies of the strange
mirrors inside. And, not externally only did she seem the very
embodiment of her surroundings, but her spirit seemed also to have
absorbed their passionate silence. Perhaps no landscape says so little,
and is yet so richly eloquent, as the elegiac landscape of a fen
country. How beyond all speech is its silence, how beyond the shallow
spectacular changes of showier natural effects is its solemn art of
imperturbability. Mariana was strangely silent--but indeed not
speechless. The lesson of the nature about her seemed to have entered
into her whole being, the lesson that such silence must only be broken
by very significant, very beautiful, words--as though silence were an
exquisite unsullied sky only now and again to be interrupted by stars.

Laleham had observed her but little on his former visits, for, as I have
said, she was hardly more than a child; and, besides, was it the cloud
of his butterflies, or was it some other unforgotten face that veiled
for him the faces of women, so that all these years he had passed
unscathed through all the battalions of beautiful faces. Be that as it
may, it was on the occasion of this visit that he saw the beauty of
Mariana Fanton for the first time, and, as the days went by, he found
that beauty making an even stronger appeal to his imagination, which, as
always is the case with such natures as his, lay very near to his heart.
As Sir Gilbert had ‘threatened,’ it was on Mariana that he had to rely
for companionship on those days when he was not out alone with his net
across the fens; for Sir Gilbert was so hard at work upon a paper for
the Folk-Lore Society on his recent discovery that he could only spare
his evenings for his friend. As his visit lengthened into weeks, the
days he spent alone grew less, and the days he spent with Mariana grew
more, and the butterfly remained uncaught. Sometimes Mariana would go
hunting it with him, but oftener they would go out on long aimless walks
together, saying little, but always coming nearer and nearer through
that language of expressive silence which both had been born to speak
and understand. When Mariana did speak, what a heavenly animation swept
its sunlight over her face; but her silence, as someone has said of her,
was like a sky full of stars.

Laleham’s stay at Noctorum was nearing its end. So far as his old friend
was concerned, he could, of course, have stayed there forever.

“If I were you,” said Sir Gilbert, “I would not leave this place till I
had caught it.”

“The continued presence of such a determined huntsman might frighten it
from the district altogether,” answered Laleham. “I will use stratagem,
let it rest in security a while, and come again.”

It was the hour after dinner when the friends usually smoked their pipes
together, and Sir Gilbert was genuinely sorry to lose his friend, but
the proofs of his pamphlet on Cupid and Psyche had just arrived by the
evening post, and his fingers were itching to open them. Besides,
Laleham was to be with them yet a day or two longer. Presently Sir
Gilbert’s proofs became irresistible, and turning to his friend he said:

“Do you mind, old man, but I am just dying to look at these silly proofs
of mine--pride of authorship, you know--suppose you look up Mariana--she
is out there, I see, on the veranda--and talk astronomy to her for a few
minutes. Then we can have a talk....”

“With all my heart,” said Laleham, laughing as he opened the door on to
the starlit veranda, and left the old man to himself.

As Laleham took a chair by Mariana’s side, her recognition of his
presence would have been imperceptible to anyone who did not understand
her language of silence. Her eyes remained fixed on the stars, and he
sat down near her without attempting even to join her reverie. He was
well content to look at her and know that she was near. Presently,
without turning her head, with her eyes still among the stars, she said
in her curious deep sudden voice:

“You have not found your butterfly?”

“No.”

“Do you still hope to find it?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever seen it?”

“Yes.”

“How often?”

“Twice.”

“Twice!” she exclaimed, at length turning and looking at him. “Twice!
and you lost it both times....”

Before he could answer, she raised her hand to the stars. “Look!” she
said. “I sometimes think that the soul is like a butterfly, and that it
goes from star to star, as a butterfly goes from flower to flower....”
then, with another of her sudden, and often disconcerting, transitions,
she turned again to Laleham:

“Will you tell me about those times you saw your butterfly?” she said.

“It is an odd story,” Laleham began, “and I am afraid you may think me
superstitious. But you mustn’t think that it accounts for my
butterflies, for I have loved them, for some unexplained reason, since I
was a boy....”

“Perhaps,” he added, “some tastes are prophetic;” and then he went on.
“The first time I saw it was one morning about eight years ago. I was
hunting it among country similar to this, and suddenly it rose out of a
bed of reeds. It was so near me that I made sure it was mine, so sure
that I was in no haste to strike with my net, but watched it and studied
it a while, was quite carelessly certain of it in fact ... and then, just
as I held my net ready to capture it, away it went on the wind, not
quite out of sight, but always keeping a coquettish distance, near
enough to lure me on, far enough away to escape....”

“It rather served you right for being so sure, didn’t it?” said
Mariana.

“You see I was only a young butterfly-hunter then,” said Laleham, “I
have learnt wisdom since.”

“Go on,” prompted Mariana.

“Well, it led me on in this way for quite two hours, till we came to the
end of the wild country, and suddenly dropped down into a small village.
You will laugh at what follows, though it had its sad side for me. We
had come on the village at the end where there stands the parish
church....”

“I know the village,” said Mariana, absently, as if she were saying
nothing. Laleham shot a troubled look at her, but continued.

“The churchyard was filled with a throng of people gaily dressed as for
a wedding. What should my butterfly do but dash amongst them, and I
after it, for it was too precious to lose. Soaring over the heads of the
crowd, it dashed for shelter into the church, and I again after it,
forgetting all but my butterfly--and there were two young people
kneeling at the altar. My abrupt entrance naturally made a sensation
which brought me to myself, and, dropping on my knees in a pew, I
watched my butterfly flicker up the aisle till it settled itself on the
clasped hands of the kneeling bride. In surprise, she turned her head,
and....”

“Well?”

“I saw her face.”

“And the butterfly?”

“Escaped by the belfry.”

“Quite a fairy tale,” said Mariana, after a pause. “Now tell me about
the second time you saw your butterfly.”

“I hardly care to speak of it, Mariana--unless you care very much to
hear.”

“Would you rather not speak of it?”

“I would speak of it to no one but you.”

“Do you wish to speak?”

“I do. Do you wish me to speak?”

“Yes, speak of it--to me,” said Mariana gently.

“It is a very short story, Mariana--almost the same, excepting the end;
for, three years afterwards, once more my butterfly rose out of the
reeds in almost exactly the same spot, and once more it coquetted with
me for miles, and once more it dashed into that little churchyard ... but
this time it did not vanish into the church, but went from grave to
grave, as you say the soul perhaps wanders from star to star, and
presently it stopped at one of the graves. I thought that now it was
surely mine, and raised my net to strike, but, as I did so, I read a
name upon a stone....”

In the darkness Mariana reached out her hand and took Laleham’s, and,
after a silence, she said:

“I know the grave,” and, after another silence, she said:

“I have heard that she was very beautiful.”

Then the two sat on, saying no more in the starlight, and all the while,
though neither knew of it till they returned to the library lamps, a
little blue butterfly had been hiding in Mariana’s hair.



MY CASTLE IN SPAIN


Perhaps the dream which a man gives up hardest is that of his ideal
home, the dream-house builded just as he and Love would build it to
dwell in together--had he and Love the money!--the dream-house which in
every sensitive particular would be the appropriate habitation of his
spirit; in short his castle-in-Spain. Castles in Spain are not
necessarily expensive. A cottage in Spain is just as good as a castle if
you think so; and if you know the secret you can make a castle in Spain
out of one-room-and-bath in a New York apartment house. I myself have
never done it. I have never been happy enough for that.

No, I am afraid I should need money for my castle-in Spain. It would
cost a fortune to build and many fortunes to run. For it would be a real
castle, and real castles have always been expensive, even in feudal
days when labour was somewhat cheaper than it is now. I want no
cloud-castle built of moonbeams and rainbows for me and Love to dwell
in, but a real earth-castle like that of an old French troubadour, with
walls 34 feet thick--to keep Love safe from other troubadours--a donjon
190 feet high and 100 feet in diameter, and other massive visible
particulars. I see no reason why it should not be literally situated in
Spain somewhere at the eastern end of the Pyrenees, but I confess a
softness for Provence, perhaps on account of the name. A situation
almost equally Spanish might be found for it there on a toppling crag,
somewhere up among those strange rock villages of the Maritime Alps,
filled with Moorish ghosts, in the nearness all chasms and parched
shadows and the thirsty sun, in the distance forests of cork-oak,
silhouettes of eucalyptus and cypress. Then olives and olives and the
Mediterranean Sea.

I choose Provence because the situation of one’s castle-in-Spain is
almost more important than the castle itself. Environment and
association count for so much in the matter of one’s dream-house. You
may build the most wonderful castle-in-Spain, but it will go for
nothing, seem indeed almost ridiculous, a parody, if you build it in
some absurdly wrong place. No offence to Omaha, no offence to Liverpool,
no offence to Glasgow--but the most beautiful castle-in-Spain would be
wasted in any one of those animated capitals of industry. As the setting
of a jewel is hardly less important than the jewel itself, so is the
situation of one’s castle-in-Spain. Stonehenge or Westminster Abbey
would be as much at home transported, numbered stone by stone, to Herald
Square or Michigan Avenue--and American capital has dreamed some such
dream--as one’s castle-in-Spain built in any one of those, or such,
cities as I have mentioned.

As Keats has written:

    “.... the trees
     That whisper round a temple become soon
     Dear as the temple’s self.”

One indeed might add that without the trees there is no temple. I use
trees here as symbolic of environment, but, literally speaking, it is
impossible to exaggerate the importance of trees to one’s
castle-in-Spain. Ancient trees have always brought distinction to their
possessors. It is the old park and the avenues--the setting--that give
many an English house its imposing significance. To cut down the trees
would be like shaving the head of a beautiful woman.

So my castle-in-Spain must be almost lost amid miles of mysterious
trees, surrounded on every side by haunted forests, the home of
wood-demons and the wild boar and the hunting horn and the bearded
robber and the maiden in distress; and, like lanes of silver trumpets,
six avenues of lime-trees shall sweep up to its six drawbridges in the
air.

Of course my castle would be fortified against a world which would
naturally wish to rob me of my happiness. It would be armed to the teeth
with quick-firing guns of the latest pattern, and these would be manned
by Japanese gunners of the quaintest size and shape. I may say--in
parenthesis--that my valets would not be Japanese, but English. Each
nation has its own special gift to give us, and England still remains
famous for its valets. I should need volumes in folio adequately to
describe my castle-in-Spain, and at least three of them would be needed
to tell about my garden. Ah, what a garden there would be in my
castle-in-Spain! Perhaps, aside from other fancies which I should expect
to indulge, there would only be three on which I would really set my
heart:

    (1) A garden.
    (2) A library.
    (3) A private chapel.

I should not hope, nor even could I wish, to be original in my garden;
for man’s early desire of gardens had developed into a learned
convoluted art even before Solomon wrote:

     “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a
     fountain sealed. My plants are an orchard of pomegranate, with
     pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard, spikenard with saffron;
     calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and
     aloes, with all the chief spices: A fountain of gardens, a well of
     living waters, and streams from Lebanon. Awake, O north wind; and
     come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may
     flow out.”

My garden would, first of all, be made of dew; next of grass, and then
of very old trees. Oak-trees, poplars and beeches, would dominate my
garden; and, as for the other trees, they would all be trees of
veritably _living_ green--chestnuts and sycamores and willows. There
would be no so-called _ever_-greens in my garden, trees that are
ever-green because they are never-green--except one: the only ever-green
tree in my garden would be the laurel. Nothing but freshness and sap and
leafage of transparent emerald would be trees in my garden; and the
flowers of my garden would be all spring and summer: snowdrop, crocus
and daffodil; violet, rose and honeysuckle. There would be no autumn in
my garden. September with its paper flowers, chrysanthemum and dahlia,
and all its knife-scented funereal blooms, must not walk in my garden;
nor shall the white feet of winter tread down my shining lawns.

Here are but, so to say, the first principles of my garden. As I said,
it would take volumes in folio adequately to tell about my garden. But
this much further I may say: that among the many divisions and
sub-divisions of my garden, there would be three. First there would be
my star-garden. In this would be planted flowers that bloom only under
the influence of the stars; flowers that open at the setting of the
moon, and close with the rising of the morning star. For these flowers I
should build a high hanging garden, dizzily thrust up into the morning
sky, on the summit of some cloud-encircled turret of my castle. The
flowers in this garden would be whiter than snow and purer than my first
love.

Then there would be my sun-garden. In this would be planted the
warm-breathed, earth-coloured flowers, the yellow and scarlet flowers,
the purple and saffron, the orange and crimson, all the hot and savage
flowers of the sun.

And, again, there would be my moon-garden, a subterranean realm of pale
leaves and ghostly flowers, a dim garden of excavated terraces
descending beneath the dungeoned foundations of my castle, irrigated
from its green-mantled moat, and fed through slanting shafts of hollowed
stone--with the surreptitious light of the moon.

I should allow but few birds in my garden. The eagle should nest, if it
would, on some crag-like corner of my battlements, and the hawk would be
welcome to soar and swoop about my towers. But I would have no
nightingales in my gardens, those birds of make-believe melodious song,
those posturing troubadours of the air. Only the simple sincere-throated
birds should sing in my garden: the thrush and the black-bird and the
robin; the starling with his simple-minded whistle, the curlew with his
lost broken-hearted call; and, at twilight, the nightjar should make his
rugged music amid the fern. And the swallow and the sparrow should be
made welcome in every corner of my dominions. Generally, I should
encourage the quiet birds, the working, building, fighting birds, the
birds that sing no more than is necessary, or natural.

Everywhere in my garden shall be heard the sound of running water,
brooks making their way unseen under secret boughs, and fountains
whispering to themselves on solitary lawns. There shall be such a rustle
of fresh boughs in my garden, and such a ripple of streams, that you
shall hardly be able to tell whether the leaves or the brooks are
talking. Also there shall be pools hidden away in sanctuaries of the
garden, pools sacred with water-lilies, and visited only of the
dragon-fly and the lonely bee.

And there shall be other ponds in my garden, green mossy ponds as old as
the foundations of my castle, fish-ponds, the ancestral home of monastic
carp, strange ancient fish with wise ugly faces, and gold collars round
their necks, telling how some old king caught them and threw them back
again into the pond two hundred years ago.

My library would, first of all, be vast and multitudinous, a mysterious
collection of books without beginning and without end, a romantic
infinitude of learning and fragrance of old leather. It should go
uncatalogued as the wilderness. No human index in the form of a
librarian should tame it into prim classification. It should grow wild
as the virgin forest, and unlooked-for adventures of the soul should lie
in ambush in every alcove and lonely backwater of its haunted shelves.
No less than a thousand rooms, big and little, winding in and out,
wandering here and there, would be needed to contain it. There are many
book-lovers who will hardly understand this Gargantuan passion for a
huge library. A small and sensitively chosen collection of books is
their ideal. For me, however, a few books are no more a library than a
few trees are a forest, or a few gallons of water an ocean. A library is
the firmament of the soul, and each particular star gains in
significance from being a shining unit in all that celestial mystery.

While I should aim to have a library coextensive with the mental history
of humanity, from the clay books of Babylon to the latest French novel,
the learned rooms I should oftenest loiter in would be those rainbowed
with the gold and purple of monkish manuscripts, the rooms mysterious
with grimoires and herbals and ancient treatises on the occult sciences,
the rooms of black-letter and the types of Aldus and those other first
printers through whose magic Virgil and Catullus and Horace rose again
from the grave. And I would have my library built with innumerable
secret chambers and sliding panels and hidden passages--so that,
whenever it was my desire, I could shut myself up with a favourite
author for a week at a time, and domestic search for me be quite in
vain.

My chapel will need few words. It would be merely a crucifix, silence,
and sunlight.

I said that there would be no librarian in my library, similarly there
would be no gardener in my garden, no priest in my chapel. The places
of the soul need no custodians. The worshippers are the priests.

Of course, I should expect to indulge many an idle fancy and picturesque
whim in my castle-in-Spain but they would take too long to tell of. Here
I have but set down what I conceive to be the reasonable necessities of
a dream. I have said nothing, for example, of my treasure-caves beneath
the castle, vaults lit by enormous carbuncles, and filled with countless
coffers of bronze, overflowing with ancient coins and precious stones.
Nor have I spoken of my paradise of butterflies, a great enclosed garden
where I would rear all the flower-winged things that, like illuminated
letters or the painted souls of Japanese girls, flit and flicker through
the sunlit world. Nor have I told of my palace of serpents, where python
and cobra and all the ringed, gliding, spangled creatures that hiss and
sting should coil about tropical trees, and sleep their mysterious
sleep, or fall down like lightning on their paralysed prey. Then, too, I
might tell of my great aquarium where, at ease in my luxurious
diving-bell, I would lie all day watching iridescent fishes all flounced
and frilled with rainbows, and slow-moving elemental shapes that brood
eternally at the bottom of the sea.

A hundred other such fancies I shall hope to indulge in my
castle-in-Spain, and one more I must not forget, for no castle would be
complete without it--the oubliette. Into that I would fling all my
sorrows and cares, and all--unwelcome visitors.



ONCE-UPON-A-TIME


When I was a child there grew at the back of my father’s house a deep
wood. It may not have been so vast in extent as it seemed to me; but to
my childish imagination it seemed boundless, endless, dark and dense,
and infinitely mysterious. It frightened me, yet the fear was full of
fascination. Delicious was the thrill with which sometimes in my lonely
rambles I would venture a few steps further within its haunted recesses
than I was wont to have courage for. As a rule, I restricted my
explorations to its sunlit margins, and, so soon as I found myself among
the shadows, would fly back with a beating heart into the sun.

Never, said I to my childish heart, had the foot of man penetrated into
these solitudes, on which lay so deep a spell of beautiful terror; and,
so far back as I can remember, this wood was the wonderland which I
peopled with all the fancies of a child’s imagination. All the heroes
and heroines of my nursery-books lived somewhere in my wood. It was the
scene of all their adventures, and, like a stage, was capable of
supplying an ever-varying _mise-en-scéne_. Sometimes when the moon was
up I thought of it as peopled by fairies, and was certain that, if only
the hardihood were mine to dare its fantastic shadows, I should surely
come upon a fairy revel in full swing. When in the daytime I came upon
rings of toadstools with their quaint kobold hats, I knew that they were
trolls who took that form during the day, and that if only I were to
hide behind a tree and wait for night, I would see them suddenly, at the
first touch of the wand of the moon, waken up as if nothing had
happened, and once more set their merry wheels a-spinning. But then
there was the old witch with the red hood to fear, and the ogre with the
six heads, not to speak of the wolves and bears and various other wild
beasts that roamed the woods after dark. Not only wolves--but
were-wolves too!

As I grew older, I grew braver, and, persuading myself that I was one of
those who bore a charmed life, I found courage to push my explorations
further and further into the interior. Thus I became the discoverer of
glades and dingles exquisitely lonely with sunshine and haunted flowers,
brooding solitudes of silent fern, hidden springs brimming up through
the hushed moss, and little rivers dripping from rock to rock in the
stillness, like the sound of falling pearls.

But the spell over the wood was above all the spell of beauty, the spell
of a breathless enchantment, a spell so deep that the wild-rose growing
there seemed other than the wild-rose that grew outside, seemed indeed
enchanted, and the very blackberries growing on the great cages of
bramble, humming with bees and flickering with butterflies, seemed a
magic fruit--which I ate with a beautiful fear that I should be changed
into a milk-white fawn, or suddenly find myself a little silver fish in
the stream yonder, with the Princess’s lost wedding ring in my inside.

The Princess! Why was it that almost from the first I associated the
wood with a beautiful princess? I seemed always to be expecting her at
some turning of the green pathways, riding upon a white palfrey. Of
course, she would be riding upon a white palfrey. Or, perhaps I should
come upon her suddenly in one of the sunny openings of the wood, combing
her black hair with a golden comb. Or, perhaps she was dead, and this
wild-rose was growing up out of her pure wild heart. I made up many
stories about her, but this was the story that took strongest hold of my
fancy--that she had lost her way in the wood, and at last, worn out with
weariness and hunger, had lain her down and died--just here where this
rose-bush had drawn its fragrance from her last sweet breath, and its
bloom from her fading cheek. I used to sit for hours by the rose-bush,
and picture her lying beneath with her eyes closed and a gold crown
upon her head, and at morning when the roses were filled with dew, I
would say to myself: “O the beautiful Princess! She has been weeping in
the night.” And then I would drink her tears out of the little pearl
cups of the rose; but I was careful never to mar the tender petals, lest
the Princess should feel the pain of it down in the aromatic mould.

One day, however, my fancy took another turn, and I said to myself that
perchance if I were to pluck one of her roses, the Princess would wake
from her enchanted sleep, and stand before me with her strange
death-sleepy eyes, and ask me the way back to her lost castle. So one
morning when the roses were more than usually drenched with the tears of
the Princess, I took heart and plucked the most beautiful rose, saying
as I plucked it: “Arise, little Princess and I will take you back to
your castle.” Then I waited, and presently I seemed to hear a sigh of
happiness, like a spring zephyr, just behind me. I turned, and there
stood a maiden with black hair, and eyes the colour of which I could
not rightly discern, because they seemed filled with moonlight.

“Are you the Princess?” I asked.

“Yes!” she answered, “I am the Princess, and my name is
Once-Upon-a-Time.”

“Beautiful Princess,” I said, “may I take you back to your castle?”

“Are you sure you know the way, little man?” she said, “for I have been
asleep so long that I have quite forgotten it.”

“O yes!” I answered eagerly, though really I was far from sure--but I
knew that I had friends in the wood on whom I could rely, if by chance I
took the wrong turning. So, “O yes!” I answered, “I have in my
wanderings passed by your castle many a time. It stands high among the
rocks in the middle of the wood, so high among the summer clouds that it
makes one dizzy to look up at it, with its donjons and keeps and
draw-bridges and battlements, glittering with men-at-arms, and here and
there, blowing loose among the stone towers, the bright hair of some
beautiful waiting-woman, watching the dark avenues of the woods for the
returning huntsmen, and one loved face among the merry horns. All around
the castle grow the oldest trees of the wood, very close and dark, and
seeming to touch the sky; and thereabout are grim rocks, and hollow
caves haunted by dragons and many another evil thing. In one of these a
giant lives, so terrible that the bravest knights have gone up against
him--only to leave their bones to whiten at the mouth of his cave. And
by the castle walls runs an enchanted river, in which live beautiful
water-witches, that sing in the moonlight, and draw the lonely
home-returning knight down into their watery bowers. In the castle
itself is one tower loftier than all the rest, with windows on every
side, through which you can see, as in a magic glass, the whole wide
earth, with its cities and its roads and all its hidden places. And
there, all day long, sits an aged wizard listening to the world, and
weaving his spells----”

“Yes!” said the Princess, perhaps a little impatient at my long
description. “That is my castle. But are you quite sure that you know
the way?”

At that moment there came and perched upon a bough close by one of those
friends, on whom, as I said, I was relying to help me out if I should
lose my way. It was a Blue-Bird, with which I had become well-acquainted
in my rambles in the wood.

“Wait a moment, Princess,” I said. “To make quite sure, I will consult
this friend of mine here.”

Now I must explain that the Blue-Bird, being himself a singer, it is
necessary to address him in song. Plain prose he is quite unable to
understand. So, if I had said: “Blue-Bird, please tell me the way to the
Castle of Princess Once-Upon-a-Time,” he would have shaken his head like
a deaf man. Therefore, I spoke to him in this fashion instead; or,
rather, I should say that this is the grown-up meaning of what I
sang--for the actual song I have forgotten:

    O Blue-Bird, sing the hidden way
      To Once-Upon-a-Time;
    We know you cannot speak in prose,
      So answer us in rhyme.

    Blue-Bird of Dreams, alone you know
      The way the dream-folk take,
    O tell us the right way to go,
      Before, Blue-Bird, we wake.

    Dreamers, we seek the way of dreams--
      O you that know so well
    Each twist and turning of the way,
      Blue-Bird, will you not tell?

    Blue-Bird, if aught that we possess
      Has any worth to you,
    O take it, Blue-Bird, here it is,
      But tell us what to do.

    The way of dreams, the wonder-way,
      Wonder and winding streams,
    Blue-Bird, two dreamers ask of you
      To point the way of dreams.

    The way is dangerous, we know,
      And much beset with dread;
    But then, it is the only way,
      Blue-Bird, we care to tread.

    For this we know: no fact or fear
      Of the dream-world we seek
    Can be so terrible to us
      As those that, week by week,
    Day in, day out, bleach and benumb
      The sacred self sincere,
    The death domestic who hath faced
      Hath faced the whole of fear.

    We are so fearful we may lose
      The thrill and scent of things,
    Forget the way to smell a flower,
      Hear a bird when it sings.

    O Blue-Bird, sing us on our way
      Beyond the world that seems--
    Two dreamers who have lost their way--
      Back to the world of dreams.

To this the Blue-Bird made answer in a song, which, as before, I
translate into grown-up language:

    The way of dreams--the Blue-Bird sang--
      Is never hard to find,
    So soon as you have really left
      The grown-up world behind.

    So soon as you have come to see
      That what the others call
    Realities, for such as you,
      Are never real at all;

    So soon as you have ceased to care
      What others say or do,
    And understand that they are they,
      And you--thank God!--are you.

    Then is your foot upon the path,
      Your journey well begun,
    And safe the road for you to tread,
      Moonlight, or morning sun.

    Pence of this world you shall not take,
      Yea! no provision heed;
    A wild-rose gathered in the wood
      Will buy you all you need.

    Hungry, the birds shall bring you food,
      The bees their honey bring;
    And, thirsty, you the crystal drink
      Of an immortal spring.

    For sleep, behold how deep and soft
      With moss the earth is spread,
    And all the trees of all the world
      Shall curtain round your bed.

    Enchanted journey! that begins
      Nowhere and nowhere ends,
    Seeking an ever-changing goal,
      Nowhither winds and wends.

    For destination yonder flower,
      For business yonder bird,
    Aught better worth the travelling to
      I never saw or heard.

    O long dream-travel of the soul!
      First the green earth to tread--
    And still yon other starry track
      To travel when you’re dead.

With directions so explicit, it was next to impossible to miss the way.
So, with little hesitation, Princess Once-Upon-a-Time and I stepped out
through the old wood on the way to her castle. As we went along, she
told me many things that I have never forgotten, for all of them have
come true; but it is necessary for the reader to be reminded that I was
still quite a boy, little more than a child, and was, therefore, too
inexperienced to give the proper value to what she told me. This speech
of hers particularly has remained with me. She said it as we were
nearing the end of our walk together, and the turrets of her castle were
coming in sight.

“This is not the last time we shall meet,” she said, “indeed, we shall
meet many times. In a sense we shall be always meeting, though you may
not recognise me; for you are one of those who are born my subjects. You
are one of those for whom there is no Present, no Future. Your life will
always be lived as a dream of What-Might-Have-Been, or What-Once-Was.
Your happiness will always be--once-upon-a-time! You are of those who
are foredoomed to love the shadow of joy, and the dream of love. Nothing
real will ever happen to you--for the reason that your experience will
be forever haunted by the more beautiful things that might have
happened, or once-upon-a-time did happen to more fortunate men. No
beauty will ever seem beautiful enough--for your eyes will be always
upon Helen of Troy, or Cleopatra of Egypt. However bright your fortune,
the will-o’-the-wisp of a brighter fortune will continually flicker
before you. Your dream can never be fulfilled--because it is so entirely
a dream. All your days you shall be possessed of old stories, and
forgotten fancies, and you shall love only the face you shall never
find.”

And, as she ended, Princess Once-Upon-a-Time bade me farewell, for by
this we had come to the gate of her castle.

I went back home through the wood, with her eyes in my heart, and her
words talking to-and-fro in my brain. Twice I lost my way, but the
friends on whom I relied did not forsake me. Once it was a beautiful
little snake that zig-zagged in front of me till we came to the right
turning. And once it was a chipmunk that seemed to know everything. By
the time I came to the home-end of the wood, the stars were rising, and
the little creatures of the night were creaking and whirring about me.
The windows of home were shining with lamps--welcome beacons, no doubt
you will say--and yet, strange as it may sound, I was rather sorry to
come upon them so easily. They seemed so safe and comfortable--bed at
nine and oatmeal porridge in the morning. I knew that so soon as I
lifted the latch all mystery was at an end. Even the punishment that
would surely fall upon me for my truancy was quite unmysterious--almost
as familiar as my porridge. Bed and porridge--and those voices in the
wood! O anti-climax of a wonderful day. How truly had the Princess
spoken. What was home to me--with its trimmed lamps, and its quiet
carpets and its regular hours; what was home compared with those
night-voices and the rising moon.

Still, being hungry, I chose the kitchen door, and by a friendly
domestic was smuggled away to bed--with a stomach full of pleasant
dreams.

Such was my first meeting with Once-Upon-a-Time.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next time I met her my boyhood was gone by, and my fancy was no longer
occupied with the nursery-stories of which the Blue-Bird had sung.
Giants and dragons were receding from my imagination, and my fancy, I
must confess, was beginning to take a more sentimental turn. The wood
still remained my wonderland, but the wonders I sought there were of a
different, if scarcely less dangerous, character. By this I had
exchanged my nursery-books for the Mort D’Arthur and Spenser and
Shakespeare and such like romantic literature; and my head was,
therefore, full of the beautiful ladies and noble lovers of old time. I
fear there is no denying that I had by this become quite bookish, and
you could scarcely have encountered me in the wood or elsewhere, without
some poet or some old playbook under my arm. Ah, how happy were those
long summer mornings when I would lie upon a green bank, absorbed in
some honeyed tale of lovers dead and gone, with the green boughs above
sunnily silhouetted on the page. And, just as when a boy the wood had
been the scene of all my old nursery-stories, so still it served me as
the stage for all my romantic heroes and heroines. It was by turns every
wood mentioned in my poets. Of course, it was, first and foremost the
Forest of Arden; and one particular glade presided over by a giant oak
was easily identified by me as the green courtroom of the banished Duke.
As for Jacques, I felt myself his very brother, and replenished the
woodland streams with sentimental tears, with no less enjoyment of my
own melancholy than he. Rosalind, of course, I was expecting to meet
with every moment, and did not fail to inscribe the tree-trunks with
sundry rhymes which I hoped might catch her eye. Of these I may have a
story to tell later. When the wood was in darker moods, when it wore its
tragic mask of thunder and lightning, or put on some sinister witchery
of twilight, I would say that Macbeth was on his way to meet the weird
sisters. Sometimes, it was “a wood near Athens,” or at others,
remembering my Keats, it was that “forest on the shores of Crete,” where
Lycius met the snake-woman Lamia. The wood, indeed, was filled with
memories of Keats, and if any one in the world knew where the lover of
Isabella had been buried by her murderous brothers, surely it was I. I
too had discovered the hollow oak where Merlin lay entranced; and many a
night, hidden behind the bole of some gigantic beech, had watched Selene
bend in a bright crescent above her sleeping shepherd lad.

But it is time I told you of my second meeting with Once-Upon-a-Time. I
was lying in a bower of wild-roses which I had purposely trained to
resemble the bower in which Nicolete slept the night when she fled from
the castle of Beaucaire, as we have all read in the delectable history
of the loves of Aucassin and Nicolete. It was the golden end of
afternoon, and the shadows were still made half of gold. I was lying
face down over my book, when suddenly I seemed aware of a new presence
near me--as one is conscious that a bird had alighted on a bough close
by, or a flower newly opened. Being accustomed to such companions, I did
not look up. I was too deep in the loves of my book folk, and too
anxious to finish the long euphuistic chapter before the setting sun
should warn me of dinner-time. But presently a low laugh sounded behind
me, and the sweetest of voices said:

“Young sir, you are very selfish with that great book there”--I may say
that it was a folio _Arcadia_ of Sir Philip Sidney--“it is so big that I
am sure that there is room for two pairs of eyes--”

“Come read with me,” said I, looking up and blushing.

“Nay, I am no Francesca,” she answered; “I would not interrupt your
reading, young Paolo.”

“But I am tired of reading,” I said, closing the old book.

“The sun will soon be gone,” she answered. “Had you not better finish
your chapter?”

“I would rather finish it by moonlight,” I answered, looking into her
eyes.

“You are a saucy stripling,” she said. “I should not be surprised if you
wrote these lines I just found on yonder tree.”

“What lines?” I asked; for the trees, to tell the truth, were tattooed
with my verses.

“These,” she answered.

“O these!” I said, laughing.

“Read them to me,” she said.

“But they are so long,” I hesitated, “no less than a chant-royal--a
Prayer to the Queen of Love, in five long verses, and an _envoi_! Are
you quite sure you can support so much verse at one sitting--”

“I have not lived at the Court of King Renée for nothing,” she replied,
laughing.

“The Court of King Renée!” I exclaimed, looking at her in amazement.
“You have really lived there? How wonderful! Tell me about it.”

“Indeed, I have!” she answered, with a mocking expression that seemed
strangely at variance with her romantic privileges. “O yes! No doubt it
is a wonderful place for you ballad-making gentlemen. There you can
strum and hum all day to your heart’s content, and your poor bored
mistresses must listen to all your magniloquent nonsense, without a
yawn--besides being quite sure that you don’t mean a single word of it.
Yes! No woman can live at the Court of King Renée unless she is prepared
for poetry morning, noon and night--Yes! and far into the middle of the
night--and even, when at last you have fallen asleep again, after being
awakened by some long-winded serenade, you are barely off, when, with
the first break of dawn, comes another fool beneath your window with his
lute and his falsetto singing you an ‘aubade!’ An aubade, indeed! And
you at last so beautifully asleep. As you would have your lady love you,
dear youth--never sing her an aubade!”

“I marvel that, with such a distaste for song-craft,” I said, “that you
should bid me read you a chant-royal, a form so much longer than the
aubade----”

“O that is different! It is not made use of to wake beautiful ladies
from their sleep at unreasonable hours, but reminds one of dreamy old
orchards in summer afternoons, and the drowsy bees and the flitting
butterflies, and the sea a flickering riband of blue in the distance. It
is like the murmur of a beautiful voice talking low to a beautiful lady
in the still summer afternoon. The sound of the voice is soothing, and
one pays no heed to the words. Besides,” she ended, laughing, “I like
the poet, and that makes a great difference----”

At this I bent low and kissed her hand, and without further parley began
to read:

    O mighty Queen, our Lady of the fire,
      The light, the music, and the honey, all
    Blent in one power, one passionate desire
      Man calleth Love--‘Sweet Love,’ the blessed call--
    I come a sad-eyed suppliant to thy knee,
    If thou hast pity, pity grant to me;
      If thou hast bounty, here a heart I bring
      For all that bounty thirst and hungering;
    O Lady, save thy grace, there is no way
      For me, I know, but lonely sorrowing--
    Send me a maiden meet for love, I pray!

    I lay in darkness, face down in the mire,
      And prayed that darkness might become my pall;
    The rabble rout roared round me like some quire
      Of filthy animals primordial;
    My heart seemed like a toad eternally
    Prisoned in stone, ugly and sad as he;
      Sweet sunlight seemed a dream, a mythic thing,
      And life some beldam’s dotard gossiping:
    Then Lady, I bethought me of thy sway,
      And hoped again, rose up this prayer to wing--
    Send me a maiden meet for love, I pray!

    Lady, I bear no high resounding lyre
      To hymn thy glory, and thy foes appal
    With thunderous splendour of my rhythmic ire;
      A little lute I lightly touch, and small
    My skill thereon: yet, Lady, if it be
    I ever woke ear-winning melody,
     Twas for thy praise I sought the throbbing string,
      Thy praise alone--for all my worshipping
    Is at thy shrine, thou knowest, day by day;
      Then shall it be in vain my plaint to sing?
    Send me a maiden meet for love, I pray!

    Yea! Why of all men should this sorrow dire
      Unto thy servant bitterly befall?
    For, Lady, thou dost know I ne’er did tire
      Of thy sweet sacraments and ritual;
    In morning meadows I have knelt to thee,
    In noontide woodlands hearkened hushedly
      Thy heart’s warm beat in sacred slumbering,
      And in the spaces of the night heart ring
    Thy voice in answer to the spheral lay:
      Nowneath thy throne my suppliant life I fling--
    Send me a maiden meet for love, I pray!

    I ask no maid for all men to admire,
      Mere body’s beauty bath in me no thrall,
    And noble birth, and sumptuous attire,
      Are gauds I crave not--yet shall have withal,
    With a sweet difference, in my heart’s own She,
    Whom words speak not, but eyes know when they see,
      Beauty beyond all glass’s mirroring,
      And dream and glory hers for garmenting;
    Her birth--O Lady, wilt thou say me nay?--
      Of thine own womb, of thine own nurturing--
    Send me a maiden meet for love, I pray!

                 ENVOI

    Sweet Queen who sittest at the heart of spring,
      My life is thine, barren or blossoming;
   Tis thine to flush it gold or leave it grey:
      And so unto thy garment’s hem I cling--
    Send me a maiden meet for love, I pray.

“I wonder,” I said after a little while, when she had praised my verses,
and I sat by her side holding her hands and looking into her strange
far-away eyes, “I wonder if you are the answer to my prayer--for so soon
as I looked upon you, I gave you all my love, and, if you cannot give me
yours in return, my heart will break--”

She shook her head sadly, and her eyes seemed to grow still more
far-away, but she made no answer more, for all my entreaties, till at
last the day had gone, and the moon was rising through the wood--and she
still sitting by my side like a spirit in the spectral light. Once I
seemed to hear her moan in the silence, and a shiver passed through her
body. Then she turned her eyes upon me--they seemed like wells brimming
with stars:

“I love you,” she said, “but we can never be each other’s. My name is
Once-Upon-a-Time.”

At this I threw myself at her feet face down in the grass and wept
bitterly, and I felt her hand soothingly laid upon my hair, and heard
her voice softly bidding me be comforted. And for a long time it was so
with us, till methinks I must have fallen asleep of the sweet soothing
of her hand on my hair, and the murmur of her sweet voice--for, when I
raised my head from the grass, the place was empty and the dawn was
stealing with feet of pearl through the wood.

The dawn!

“She feared,” I cried, bitterly, “she feared that I might sing her my
aubade!”

But this, of course, was only the lip-cynicism of my sad young heart,
stricken with the arrows of that haunted beauty.

Once-Upon-a-Time! Thus had the Princess met me again as she had said,
and often as I grew up to be a man, and walked but seldom in that old
wood of dreams, her words would come back to me: “You are of those who
are foredoomed to love the shadow of joy, and the dream of love. Your
happiness will always be--Once-Upon-a Time.” For, as I walked the ways
of the world, I saw that my old wood had only been a dream picture of
the real world outside, and that the real world itself, in which my
manhood was now called on to play its part, was no less a dream of
beauty and terror, of love and death, of good and evil, than my old wood
itself; and, like my old wood, it seemed haunted for me by the face of a
Princess--some dear, desired face of woman lost amid these drifting
faces, as in my boyhood it had been lost among the leaves of the wood.
Beautiful faces, beautiful faces, drifting by in the crowded
streets--but never my face among all the faces. Hints of my face, even
glimpses perhaps--sometimes almost the certainty that it is she
yonder--but a sudden turn of the head, and alas! It is not she! Yet a
day did come at last, when the mob of unmeaning faces seemed suddenly to
open, as the clouds fall away right and left before the moon; or as in a
wilderness of leaves without a blossom, one should come upon the
breathless beauty of some lonely flower.

Yes! It was my face at last.

We looked at each other but for a moment in the street, which her beauty
had suddenly made silent for me as the desert--but for a moment, yet
Eternity must be like that look we gave each other.

Then, though she spoke no audible word, my heart heard her say:

“Look in my face; my name is Might-Have-Been; I am also called No-More,
Too-Late, Farewell.”

On one of her beautiful fingers my sad eyes had caught the glimmer of a
small gold band--and, once more as we passed away from each other, my
bitter heart mocked at its own bitterness, and remembering my boyish
fairy-tales, I said to myself:

“The Princess has found her wedding ring!”

And that was my last meeting with Princess Once-Upon-a-Time.



THE LITTLE JOYS OF MARGARET


Margaret had seen her five sisters one by one leave the family nest to
set up little nests of their own. Her brother, the eldest child of a
family of seven, had left the old home almost beyond memory and settled
in London. Now and again he made a flying visit to the small provincial
town of his birth, and sometimes he sent two little daughters to
represent him--for he was already a widowed man and relied occasionally
on the old roof-tree to replace the lost mother. Margaret had seen what
sympathetic spectators called her “fate” slowly approaching for some
time--particularly when, five years ago, she had broken off her
engagement with a worthless boy. She had loved him deeply, and, had she
loved him less, a refined girl in the provinces does not find it easy
to replace a discarded suitor--for the choice of young men is not
excessive. Her sisters had been more fortunate, and so, as I have said,
one by one they left their father’s door in bridal veils. But Margaret
stayed on, and at length, as had been foreseen, became the sole nurse of
a beautiful old invalid mother, a kind of lay sister in the nunnery of
home.

She came of a beautiful family. In all the big family of seven there was
not one without some kind of good looks. Two of her sisters were
acknowledged beauties, and there were those who considered Margaret the
most beautiful of all. It was all the harder, such sympathizers said,
that her youth should thus fade over an invalid’s couch, the bloom of
her complexion be rubbed out by arduous vigils, and the lines
prematurely etched in her skin by the strain of a self-denial proper, no
doubt, to homely girls and professional nurses, but peculiarly wanton
and wasteful in the case of a girl so beautiful as Margaret.

There are, alas! a considerable number of women predestined by their
lack of personal attractiveness for the humbler tasks of life.
Instinctively we associate them with household work, nursing, and the
general drudgery of existence. One never dreams of their having a life
of their own. They have no accomplishments, nor any of the feminine
charms. Women to whom an offer of marriage would seem as terrifying as a
comet, they belong to the neutrals of the human hive, and are,
practically speaking, only a little higher than the paid domestic.
Indeed, perhaps, their one distinction is that they receive no wages.

Now for so attractive a girl as Margaret to be merged in so dreary,
undistinguished, a class was manifestly preposterous. It was a stupid
misapplication of human material. A plainer face and a more homespun
fibre would have served the purpose equally well.

Margaret was by no means so much a saint of self-sacrifice as not to
have realised her situation, with natural human pangs. Youth only comes
once--especially to a woman; and

     No hand can gather up the withered fallen petals of the Rose of
     youth.

Petal by petal, Margaret had watched the rose of her youth fading and
falling. More than all her sisters, she was endowed with a zest for
existence. Her superb physical constitution cried out for the joy of
life. She was made to be a great lover, a great mother; and to her, more
than most, the sunshine falling in muffled beams through the lattices of
her mother’s sick-room came with a maddening summons to--live. She was
so supremely fitted to play a triumphant part in the world outside
there, so gay of heart, so victoriously vital.

At first, therefore, the renunciation, accepted on the surface with so
kind a face, was a source of secret bitterness and hidden tears. But
time, with its mercy of compensation, had worked for her one of its many
mysterious transmutations, and shown her of what fine gold her
apparently leaden days were made. She was now thirty-three; though, for
all her nursing vigils, she did not look more than twenty-nine, and was
now more than resigned to the loss of the peculiar opportunities of
youth--if, indeed, they could be said to be lost already. “An old maid,”
she would say, “who has cheerfully made up her mind to be an old maid,
is one of the happiest, and, indeed, most enviable, people in all the
world.”

Resent the law as we may, it is none the less true that renunciation
brings with it a mysterious initiation, a finer insight. Its discipline
would seem to refine and temper our organs of spiritual perception, and
thus make up for the commoner experience lost by a rarer experience
gained. By dedicating herself to her sick mother, Margaret undoubtedly
lost much of the average experience of her sex and age, but almost
imperceptibly it had been borne in upon her that she made some important
gains of a finer kind. She had been brought very close to the mystery of
human life, closer than those who have nothing to do beyond being
thoughtlessly happy can ever come. The nurse and the priest are
initiates of the same knowledge. Each alike is a sentinel on the
mysterious frontier between this world and the next. The nearer we
approach that frontier, the more we understand, not only of that world
on the other side, but of the world on this. It is only when death
throws its shadow over the page of life that we realise the full
significance of what we are reading. Thus, by her mother’s bedside,
Margaret was learning to read the page of life under the illuminating
shadow of death.

But, apart from any such mystical compensation, Margaret’s great reward
was that she knew her beautiful old mother better than any one else in
the world knew her. As a rule, and particularly in a large family,
parents remain half mythical to their children, awe-inspiring presences
in the home, colossal figures of antiquity, about whose knees the
younger generation crawls and gropes, but whose heads are hidden in the
mists of pre-historic legend. They are like personages in the Bible.
They impress our imagination, but we cannot think of them as being quite
real. Their histories smack of legend. And this, of course, is natural;
for they had been in the world, had loved and suffered, so long before
us that they seem a part of that ante-natal mystery out of which we
sprang. When they speak of their old love-stories, it is as though we
were reading Homer. It sounds so long ago. We are surprised at the
vividness with which they recall happenings and personalities past and
gone before, as they tell us, we were born. Before we were born! Yes!
They belong to that mysterious epoch of time--“before we were born”; and
unless we have a taste for history, or are drawn close to them by some
sympathetic human exigency, as Margaret had been drawn to her mother, we
are too apt, in the stress of making our own, to regard the history of
our parents as dry-as-dust.

As the old mother sits there so quiet in her corner, her body worn to a
silver thread, and hardly anything left of her but her indomitable
eyes; it is hard, at least for a young thing of nineteen, all aflush and
aflurry with her new party gown, to realise that that old mother is
infinitely more romantic than herself. She has sat there so long,
perhaps, as to have come to seem part of the inanimate furniture of
home, rather than a living being. Well! the young thing goes to her
party, and dances with some callow youth who pays her clumsy
compliments, and Margaret remains at home with the old mother in her
corner. It is hard on Margaret! Yes; and yet, as I have said, it is thus
she comes to know her old mother better than any one else knows
her--society perhaps not so poor an exchange for that of smart, immature
young men of one’s own age.

As the door closes behind the important rustle of youthful laces, and
Margaret and her mother are left alone, the mother’s old eyes light up
with an almost mischievous smile. If age seems humorous to youth, youth
is even more humorous to age.

“It is evidently a great occasion, Peg,” the old voice says, with the
suspicion of a gentle mockery. “Don’t you wish you were going?”

“You naughty old mother!” answers Margaret, going over and kissing her.

The two understand each other.

“Well, shall we go on with our book?” says the mother, after a while.

“Yes, dear, in a moment. I have first to get you your diet, and then we
can begin.”

“Bother the diet!” says the courageous old lady; “for two pins I’d go to
the ball myself. That old taffeta silk of mine is old enough to be in
fashion again. What do you say, Peg, if you and I go to the ball
together?”

“O it’s too much trouble dressing, mother. What do you think?”

“Well, I suppose it is,” answers the mother. “Besides, I want to hear
what happens next to those two beautiful young people in our book. So be
quick with my old diet, and come and read.”

There is perhaps nothing so lovely, or so well worth having, as the
gratitude of the old towards the young that care to give them more than
the perfunctory ministrations to which they have long since grown sadly
accustomed. There was no reward in the world that Margaret would have
exchanged for the sweet looks of her old mother, who, being no merely
selfish invalid, knew the value and the cost of the devotion her
daughter was giving her.

“I can give you so little, my child, for all you are giving me,” her
mother would sometimes say; and the tears would spring to Margaret’s
eyes.

Yes! Margaret had her reward in this alone--that she had cared to
decipher the lined old document of her mother’s face. Her other sisters
had passed it by more or less impatiently. It was like some ancient
manuscript in a museum, which only a loving and patient scholar takes
the trouble to read. But the moment you begin to pick out the words, how
its crabbed text blossoms with beautiful meanings and fascinating
messages! It is as though you threw a dried rose into some magic water,
and saw it unfold and take on bloom and fill with perfume, and bring
back the nightingale that sang to it so many years ago. So Margaret
loved her mother’s old face, and learned to know the meaning of every
line on it. Privileged to see that old face in all its private moments
of feeling, under the transient revivification of deathless memories,
she was able, so to say, to reconstruct its perished beauty and realise
the romance of which it was once the alluring candle. For her mother had
been a very great beauty, and if, like Margaret, you are able to see it,
there is no history so fascinating as the bygone love-affairs of old
people. How much more fascinating to read one’s mother’s love-letters
than one’s own!

Even in the history of the heart recent events have a certain crudity,
and love itself seems the more romantic for having lain in lavender for
fifty years. A certain style, a certain distinction, beyond question go
with antiquity, and to spend your days with a refined old mother is no
less an education in style and distinction than to spend them in the air
of old cities, under the shadow of august architecture, and in the
sunset of classic paintings.

The longer Margaret lived with her old mother, the less she valued the
so-called “opportunities” she had missed. Coming out of her mother’s
world of memories, there seemed something small, even common, about the
younger generation to which she belonged--something lacking in
significance and dignity.

For example, it had been her dream, as it is the dream of every true
woman, to be a mother herself: and yet, somehow--though she would not
admit it in so many words--when her young married sisters came with
their babies, there was something about their bustling and complacent
domesticity that seemed to make maternity bourgeois. She had not dreamed
of being a mother like that. She was convinced that her old mother had
never been a mother like that. “They seem more like wet-nurses than
mothers,” she said to herself, with her wicked wit.

Was there, she asked herself, something in realisation that inevitably
lost you the dream? Was to incarnate an ideal to materialise it? Did the
finer spirit of love necessarily evaporate like some volatile essence
with marriage? Was it better to remain an idealistic spectator such as
she--than to run the risks of realisation?

She was far too beautiful, and had declined too many offers of
commonplace marriage, for such questioning to seem the philosophy of
disappointment. Indeed, the more she realised her own situation, the
more she came to regard what others considered her sacrifice to her
mother as a safeguard against the risk of a mediocre domesticity.
Indeed, she began to feel a certain pride, as of a priestess, in the
conservation of the dignity of her nature. It is better to be a vestal
virgin than--some mothers.

And, after all, the maternal instinct of her nature found an ideal
outlet in her brother’s children--the two little motherless girls, who
came every year to spend their holidays with their grandmother and their
aunt Margaret.

Margaret had seen but little of their mother, but her occasional
glimpses of her had left her with a haloed image of a delicate,
spiritual face that grew more and more Madonna-like with memory. The
nimbus of the Divine Mother, as she herself had dreamed of her, had
seemed indeed to illumine that grave young face.

It pleased her imagination to take the place of that phantom mother,
herself--a phantom mother. And who knows but that such dream-children,
as she called those two little girls, were more satisfactory in the end
than real children? They represented, so to say, the poetry of children.
Had Margaret been a real mother, there would have been the prose of
children as well. But here, as in so much else, Margaret’s seclusion
from the responsible activities of the outside world enabled her to
gather the fine flower of existence without losing the sense of it in
the cares of its cultivation. I think that she comprehended the wonder
and joy of children more than if she had been a real mother.

Seclusion and renunciation are great sharpeners and refiners of the
sense of joy, chiefly because they encourage the habit of attentiveness.

“Our excitements are very tiny,” once said the old mother to Margaret,
“therefore we make the most of them.”

“I don’t agree with you, mother,” Margaret had answered. “I think it is
theirs that are tiny--trivial indeed, and ours that are great. People in
the world lose the values of life by having too much choice; too much
choice--of things not worth having. This makes them miss the real
things--just as any one living in a city cannot see the stars for the
electric lights. But we, sitting quiet in our corner, have time to
watch and listen when the others must hurry by. We have time, for
instance, to watch that sunset yonder, whereas some of our worldly
friends would be busy dressing to go out to a bad play. We can sit here
and listen to that bird singing his vespers as long as he will sing--and
personally I wouldn’t exchange him for a prima donna. Far from being
poor in excitements, I think we have quite as many as are good for us,
and those we have are very beautiful and real.”

“You are a brave child,” answered her mother. “Come and kiss me,” and
she took the beautiful gold head into her hands and kissed her daughter
with her sweet old mouth, so lost among wrinkles that it was sometimes
hard to find it.

“But am I not right, mother?” said Margaret.

“Yes! you are right, dear, but you seem too young to know such wisdom.”

“I have to thank you for it, darling,” answered Margaret, bending down
and kissing her mother’s beautiful grey hair.

“Ah! little one,” replied the mother, “it is well to be wise, but it is
good to be foolish when we are young--and I fear I have robbed you of
your foolishness.”

“I shall believe you have if you talk like that,” retorted Margaret,
laughingly taking her mother into her arms and gently shaking her, as
she sometimes did when the old lady was supposed to have been “naughty.”

       *       *       *       *       *

So for Margaret and her mother the days pass, and at first, as we have
said, it may seem a dull life, and even a hard one, for Margaret. But
she herself has long ceased to think so, and she dreads the inevitable
moment when the divine friendship between her and her old mother must
come to an end. She knows, of course, that it must come, and that the
day cannot be far off when the weary old limbs will refuse to make the
tiny journeys from bedroom to rocking-chair which have long been all
that has been demanded of them; when the brave, humorous old eyes will
be so weary that they cannot keep open any more in this world. The
thought is one that is insupportably lonely, and sometimes she looks at
the invalid-chair, at the cup and saucer in which she serves her
mother’s simple food, at the medicine-bottle and the measuring-glass, at
the knitted shawl which protects the frail old form against draughts,
and at all such sad furniture of an invalid’s life, and pictures the day
when the homely, affectionate use of all these things will be gone
forever; for so poignant is humanity that it sanctifies with endearing
associations even objects in themselves so painful and prosaic. And it
seems to Margaret that when that day comes, it would be most natural for
her to go on the same journey with her mother--and still be her loving
nurse in Paradise!

       *       *       *       *       *

For who shall fill for her her mother’s place on earth--and what
occupation will be left for Margaret when her “beautiful old _raison
d’être_,” as she sometimes calls her mother, has entered into the sleep
of the blessed? She seldom thinks of that, for the thought is too
lonely, and, meanwhile, she uses all her love and care to make this
earth so attractive and cosey that the beautiful mother-spirit, who has
been so long prepared for her short journey to heaven, may be tempted to
linger here yet a little while longer. These ministrations, which began
as a kind of renunciation, have now turned into an unselfish
selfishness. Margaret began by feeling herself necessary to her mother;
now her mother becomes more and more necessary to Margaret. Sometimes
when she leaves her alone for a few moments in her chair, she laughingly
bends over and says, “Promise me that you won’t run away to heaven while
my back is turned.”

And the old mother smiles one of those transfigured smiles which seem
only to light up the faces of those that are already half over the
border of the spiritual world.

Winter is, of course, Margaret’s time of chief anxiety, and then her
efforts are redoubled to detain her beloved spirit in an inclement
world. Each winter passed in safety seems a personal victory over death.
How anxiously she watches for the first sign of the returning spring,
how eagerly she brings the news of early blade and bud, and, with the
first violet, she feels that the danger is over for another year. When
the spring is so afire that she is able to fill her mother’s lap with a
fragrant heap of crocus and daffodil, she dares at last to laugh and
say:

“Now confess, mother, that you won’t find sweeter flowers even in
heaven.”

And when the thrush is on the apple bough outside the window, Margaret
will sometimes employ the same gentle raillery.

“Do you think, mother,” she will say, “that an angel could sing sweeter
than that thrush?”

“You seem very sure, Margaret, that I am going to heaven,” the old
mother will sometimes say, with one of her arch old smiles; “but do you
know that I stole two peppermints yesterday?”

“You did!” says Margaret.

“I did indeed!” answers the mother, “and they have been on my conscience
ever since.”

“Really, mother! I don’t know what to say,” answers Margaret. “I had no
idea that you are so wicked.”

Many such little games the two play together, as the days go by; and
often at bedtime, as Margaret tucks her mother into bed, she asks her:

“Are you comfortable, dear? Do you really think you would be much more
comfortable in heaven?”

Or sometimes she will draw aside the window-curtains and say:

“Look at the stars, mother.... Don’t you think we get the best view of
them down here?”

So it is that Margaret persuades her mother to delay her journey a
little while.



WHAT’S IN A NAME


When Juliet made her immortal remark concerning the unimportance of
names, she was very evidently labouring under great excitement; and it
is pertinent to remark too that, being a woman, she came of a sex
accustomed from time immemorial to change its name. Besides, in spite of
her exclamation: “O Romeo, Romeo--wherefore art thou Romeo?” it is clear
from the context that she was really thinking of her lover’s surname,
rather than his Christian name:

    “Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
     Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
     And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”

In fact, like any woman in love, she had already forgotten her own
surname, and desired, above all things in the world, to write her name,
and work it in stitchery as: _Juliet Montague_. There is little doubt
that in the seclusion of her chamber, she had already dipped her
seldom-used quill into her ink-horn, and written it over thus many
times:

    _Juliet Montague_
    _Juliet Montague_
    _Juliet Montague_
.......
.......
.......

And, if I be wrong in this, of this I am quite sure--that for Romeo, at
all events, there was only one name by which to call a woman, the name
of Juliet. Indeed, I would venture almost to say that true love knows
its affinity by no other sign so surely as the first sound of the
destined name. You remember how in Paradise, Rossetti heard the lovers

    “Saying each to each
     Their heart-remembered names.”

“Their souls were in their names!” says George Meredith, when Richard
cried out the name of “Lucy,” and Lucy the name of “Richard.” Their
souls--and their inexorable futures!

So was it with Dante when he first saw her who was called “‘Beatrice’ by
those who knew not wherefore.” And so, I believe, it is with every man
and woman. In fact, I should hardly count it a fancy if it were told me
that in our cradles some spirit whispers into the still sensitive
porcelain of our ears the name to which our lives shall answer as to the
master-word of some dead magician.

We do not know the name--till we hear it, and, meanwhile, may have many
mistaken fancies about it. Some beautiful girl of our acquaintance may
be so full of charm for us as to cause us so to fall in love with her
that we imagine hers to be the destined name. But, after a while that
prescience in our ears saves us from the illusion. The ear does not give
back that fairy chime when we hear her name, which it can give only to
the sound of the name of names. Often our ears seem on the point of
vibrating, as a woman tells us her name for the first name, but, after
all--it was a false alarm of beauty, and we still go on seeking for the
sound that alone can ring true. It may be that, in despair of ever
hearing it, we content ourselves with another name; but that is a
dangerous course, for one never knows when the fairy name may be spoken
in our ears, calling us irresistibly to follow.

Thus I have known of men who were quite sure that their fate-name was
Ann, tired out with waiting to hear it, marry another of the name of
Mary--and then on their honeymoon, at last hear the name of Ann calling
in their ears, with cruel unpunctuality. If only Ann had appeared and
spoken her mystic name a month before--how different all would have
been! And one could give others examples of other names heard too late.

One of the strangest stories of the kind is that of a friend of mine,
which I propose to tell. From a mere boy the name of Irene had for him a
prophetic beauty. Whenever he saw a beautiful face he felt certain that
the only name worthy of it must be--Irene. He said to himself that he
would marry no woman whose name was not Irene, and, that if a little
girl-child should come to them she must be called Irene. It will not in
any way spoil my story to say that he is long since happily married to a
wife whose name is--not Irene, and that his offspring consisting only of
three boys, he has had no opportunity to make use of his name beautiful.
But this is merely a parenthesis. Long before life brought him to these
conclusions, he dreamed of, and even deliberately sought, his Irene.
Strange as it may sound nowadays, among all his researches he never came
upon a girl whose name was Irene; nor did any gentle accident ever bring
a single Irene into his orbit. Every other woman’s name in the appendix
to the dictionary he seemed, at one time or another, to encounter--but
Irene never!

You can hardly wonder that this negation of Irenes in his experience
tended to deepen his original superstition; and make him more certain
than ever that life was thus sifting out for him the other names one by
one, till at last no other name was left but--Irene.

Meanwhile, he carried ever in his heart a picture of what the girl
answering to the name of Irene would be like. The name to him suggested
a combination of tall lithe grace, exquisite refinement, blonde hair in
coiled masses of gold, blue eyes domestically kind, a gift for arranging
flowers--and a hundred other ideal characteristics which may best be
symbolised by an Easter lily.

An Easter lily--with a light upon it seeming to fall from some hidden
window in heaven: in fact a creature exquisitely blended of celestial
purity and skillful house-wifery.

How much more the name Irene meant to him I need not say--because I
cannot; for the name of every man’s love is as we have quoted before, as
that of Dante’s Beatrice. She is called Jane or Elizabeth or Kate--or
Irene--by those who know not wherefore. Only one man in the world knows
why Jane is called Jane, only one man knows why Irene is called Irene.

The least superstitious must admit it strange that, with all his eager
listening for his predestined name, even, one might say, with all his
experimental pursuit of it, he never met it till at last.... Well, I am
anticipating. Being a man of leisure, he visited many countries, seeking
his name; there was not a country of Europe in which he had not sought
it, and even in Asia he had pursued it like a rare butterfly.

Common materialistic friends of his maintained that it was quite a
common name. “If it be so common,” he said, “how is it that in all my
wanderings I have never yet met a woman with that name?”

At last a friend suggested that he had not tried America!

“America!” he exclaimed, “America! wonderful country I know--but is it
likely that in so new a world, a world so busy making its own beautiful
names, that I shall find this rare old name of an ancient world? Surely
I might as well expect to dig up a Roman coin in some back garden in
Omaha!”

“Never mind!” said the friend of my friend. “Try America.”

So it was that my friend came at last to America, seeking his beautiful
name.

Being a man of some public significance, he was asked, upon landing,
what his business was in The Land of Promises; and, being a man of
simple mind, he answered that he came seeking a woman of the name
of--Irene. The assembled reporters shook their heads, and looked at him,
as though he was crazy. No such name had ever been heard of in America.
Of course, he was crazy; and so the papers had a day’s fun with the
eccentric Englishman, and then his numerous excellent introductions
started him upon that most generous pilgrimage in the world--the
pilgrimage of the American Continent.

His introductions, I say, were excellent. I wonder if that was the
reason why, though the best and most beautiful homes of America were
thus thrown open to him, visiting here and visiting there, he never once
heard the name he was journeying to hear.

At length three months had gone by, and no name remotely resembling the
name he loved had sounded in his ears. He was indeed planning to sail
back to Europe in a few days, when in a great Western town--I may as
well say Chicago--a circumstance occurred which changed his intention.

No one who has visited America can fail to have been struck by the
number and quality of the beautiful homes, so generously thrown open to
him, and by the singular purity of atmosphere which pervades them; a
purity so entirely free from priggishness--no negative purity, but a
purity which one might call elemental, a purity, so to say, of joyous
power, a purity as full of laughter and strength as a racing upland
breeze. One has sometimes heard that there is no American home. To one
sojourner in America at least this means the strangest of
misrepresentations; for, on the contrary, one might almost go so far as
to say that in no other country in the world is there such a genuine
home-life as in America. And I venture to think that in no American
city is this home-life to be found in fairer development than in
Chicago. In such a home, one never-to-be-forgotten evening, my friend
found himself a guest. Those who talk of American bad taste, of American
ignorance of, or disregard for, the beautiful things of life should be
taken to see that home. The gracious order of it, the unobtrusive
richness, the organic beauty of it, as distinct from a conscious
æstheticism, immediately impressed a nature very sensitive to such
conditions; and the moment my friend met the only daughter of the
household he knew at once from whom all this harmony proceeded. His host
and hostess were charming simple people, the polo-playing son-and-heir
was a delightful fellow; but it was evident that the harmony did not
proceed from them.

No! it very evidently came from this tall, lithe girl, with that heavy
crown of gold upon her head, those kind blue domestic eyes, and that
supernal light upon her exquisitely blonde features. As my friend
looked at her, sitting by her side at the dinner-table, he felt that
here at last was the woman he had been seeking so long, for, in every
particular she answered to the dream of his long-sought Irene. In her
father’s introduction to him, however, he had not quite caught her name;
so he sat through dinner in a fever of attention, hoping every moment to
hear it pronounced again. But by one of those exceptions to the usual
which do occur, no occasion for the direct use of her name occurred
throughout the dinner, and he being as yet so new an acquaintance, and
afraid besides lest he should hear the wrong name, had not courage to
ask it. However, after dinner, it being a summer night, coffee was
served on the veranda, and here he found both his courage and his
opportunity. There was a sentimental crescent moon in the sky, and the
veranda was filled with romantic lights and shadows. Miss Stanbery and
my friend had found themselves a little away from the rest. She had
seemed hardly less drawn to him than he to her, and at last he felt
that, without violating the proprieties of a guest, he might ask her
Christian name.

She bent her beautiful head, with a lovely shyness, and answered that
her name was--

“Ireen.”

“Ireen?” said my friend, leaning toward her beauty in the twilight.

“It is a beautiful name.”

To himself he was saying how strangely like, and yet how strangely
unlike, it was to the name of which she seemed the ideal embodiment.

“Ireen,” he said over to himself, and the drums of his ears almost
chimed back--but alas! failed quite to chime.

“Ireen? Ireen?” he said over and over to himself, trying to make the
name sound right, and, when he found it impossible, he looked again at
her young loveliness, and wondered to himself if her name was not near
enough to the name he loved.

But in the end his superstition prevailed, and reluctantly he bade
good-bye to Ireen Stanbery, and took train for New York, and boarded
his liner, and sailed back to Europe sad at heart.

A year went by, and having given up all hopes of finding his Irene, he
married, as I have said, a lady of the name of----, and was very
happy--that is as happy as a man or woman can be who has married the
wrong name.

He had been married about three years, when he chanced one evening to be
dining in London with an American gentleman.

They compared notes on America.

“Do you know the Stanberys of Chicago?” asked my friend, among other
questions.

“O yes! aren’t they delightful people? And what a beautiful girl Irene
is--she was married six months ago by the way.”

“What name did you call her?” asked my friend.

“Irene.”

“Irene! Why I thought they called her _Ireen_!”

“So they do--but didn’t you know that that is the American way of
pronouncing ‘Irene’?”

“Indeed, I didn’t,” gasped my friend, and in his soul he said “O that I
had known!”

The moral of which is that it is very hard to lose one’s love through a
mispronunciation.



REVISITING THE GLIMPSES OF THE MOON


Sid Norton could not recall a time when he had not been in love. From
his earliest boyhood, falling in love had been a habit with him; and his
heart, if he might be said to retain possession of an organ that was
always being lost to some new face, was a sort of sentimental graveyard,
a veritable necropolis of dead love-affairs--dead, but unforgotten; for,
incorrigible lover as Sid was, his memory would sometimes go flitting
from grave to grave, like a butterfly, philandering even with the past.

In spite of these excursions, and in defiance of the apparent paradox of
the statement, Sid Norton found himself in love--for the first and last
time. This he said of himself gravely, not only in private to the lady
who was credited with this marvel but also in public to his intimate
friends. He said it, and there was no doubt that he meant it.

Now Rosamund Lowther was an exceedingly clever young woman, an adept in
the management of the emotional male, and easily Sid Norton’s match in
experienced flirtation. The friends of both watched the progress of
their sudden volcanic attachment with cynical expectancy, and when,
after six months of a trance-like courtship, during which it might be
said that the infatuated pair had never taken their eyes off each other,
Sid Norton suddenly sailed for Europe, you can imagine the sensation and
comment it caused. Neither vouchsafed any explanation; their engagement
remained intact, at all events there was no formal bulletin to the
contrary; and the thing was a piquant mystery to all but the two
concerned. For them it was their whimsical secret.

One late summer afternoon a week or two before, the two enamoured ones
had been seated side by side in the old orchard of the Lowther country
home. Both were very evidently happy, but Sid’s face was absolutely
idiotic with bliss. The something so “utter” in Sid’s look touched
Rosamund’s elfish sense of humour, and, though she was just as much in
love herself, she could not refrain from a gay little teasing laugh.

“Is he so happy, little boy?” she said, lifting up his chin, and looking
whimsically into his face.

Sid’s answer was silent and long, and when it was ended, Rosamund
continued, holding his face at arm’s length, and looking into it with
quizzical seriousness.

“But, aren’t you just a little frightened sometimes?”

“Frightened?”

“Yes! when you think that--it’s for _life_!”

“Ah! thank God,” answered Sid rapturously.

“No, but think--for life! No more pretty flirtations, no more butterfly
by-paths--only me--_me_--till the end. Be honest--doesn’t that make cold
shivers run up and down your back?”

“You angel,” exclaimed the abject one, attempting to answer her as
before.

“No, no; listen to me. I am serious. Do you realise that you are in a
cage, my cage, for life--that escape is impossible--that it will be in
vain to beat on the bars--that only I have the key--that you are there
for better or for worse--that you are there, I repeat, for life--that
there is no help for it--nothing to do but make the best of it--do you
realise that?”

The sense of certitude, of absolute possession, which Rosamund, comedian
as she was, infused into her voice, was irresistible, and Sid laughed,
laughed for joy that the girl he loved had such attractive brains as
well.

“What a delightful fancy!” he exclaimed.

“Fancy, do you call it? Try and escape, my boy, and you will see how
much of a fancy it is.”

“Divine, adorable fact, of course, I mean. O Rosamund, how glad I am
that it is true. Let us take the key and throw it into the river. I
never want to be free again as long as I live!”

“No use if you did!” with a saucy toss of the confident little head.

“My poor boy,” she went on presently, in a caressing motherly tone, “I
really can’t help being rather sorry for you, you who have been so used
to your freedom; you such a wicked, wicked wanderer. How will you ever
endure it? Tell me the truth now--man to man, as they say--right at the
bottom of your heart, aren’t you just a tiny bit wistful sometimes for
the old freedom?”

“Never,” answered Sid, with portentous sincerity.

“Never! Quite sure? Don’t you ever feel a little homesick for some one
of your old loves, and wonder what it would be like to see her again?”

Sid shook his head with emphasis.

Rosamund, and for that matter, all Sid’s world, was well acquainted with
the main lines of his amatorious history, and knew something of the
various divinities who had figured in it. Besides, Sid, a promising
young lawyer, with known literary leanings, had put his heart on record
beyond withdrawal by the publication of a volume of verse entitled “The
Nine Muses.” The volume consisted of love-verses addressed to various
ladies to whom Sid had from time to time, or simultaneously, been
devoted; and though, of course, they figured under fanciful names, their
identities were no secret to the learned gossips of Sid’s circle. This
book had been a thorn in Sid’s side since he had met and loved Rosamund,
a thorn which she sometimes amused herself by using to his discomfiture.
She had the volume with her this afternoon, and as she turned to it,
with malicious merriment in her eye, Sid knew that she meditated some of
her merciless raillery.

“I do wish, Rosamund, you would let me forget that wretched book. I wish
it were at the bottom of the sea. I’ll have the whole edition destroyed.
I will, to-morrow....”

“O that would be sacrilege!” interrupted Rosamund, mockingly; “besides,
I should still have my copy.”

“I will manage to get it from you,” retorted Sid, making a clutch at his
printed past.

“Even if you should,” answered Rosamund, retaining possession of the
book, “I should still remember some of the poems by heart. They are so
beautiful.... This, for instance, to ‘Myrtilla’....”

“Do be quiet, Rosamund....”

“No, I insist, ... I don’t think you know how beautiful they are
yourself. Listen:

    I know a little starlit spring--
      Last night I leaned upon the brink,
    And to the dimpled surface pressed
      My hallowed lips to drink.

    And now the sun is up, and I
      Am with a dream athirst;
    O was it good to drink that spring,
      Or was the spring accurst?

    Accurst, that he who drinks therein
      Shall long, even as I,
    To drink again, yet never drink
      Again until he die.

“Truly now,” Rosamund continued, “doesn’t hearing that make you a bit
thirsty again for your little starlit spring? It is not too late. I am
sure that if you were to go back to her, she would let you drink all you
want.... I happen to know that she isn’t married yet?”

Sid sat dumb under the raillery, with set, gloomy face. Turning over a
page or two, Rosamund began again.

“Here is one of my favourites,” she said, ignoring Sid’s silence. “It is
to Meriel:

    Was there a moon in the sky,
      Was there a wind in the tree,
    I only remember that you and I
      Sat somewhere with you and me.

    I only remember the joy--the joy--
      And the ache of going away:
    O little girl, here’s a little boy
      Will love you till Judgment Day.”

As she finished reading this, Rosamund let the book close in her lap,
and her mood seemed suddenly to have changed to a thoughtful
seriousness. She repeated, as if to herself, the last two lines.

    “O little girl, here’s a little boy
      Will love you till Judgment Day--”

she said over slowly, as though weighing every word; and there was
something in her voice that might have suggested that in playfully
pressing this thorn into Sid’s side, she had unexpectedly pricked
herself. Sid sat on in the same attitude of patient gloom. Presently,
observing her silence, he turned to her.

“Are you finished?” he said.

“Yes!” she answered. “Yes!” with a certain aloofness in her voice, which
Sid, with the painful sensitiveness of a lover, did not miss.

“Is there anything the matter?” he asked.

“No,” she answered, speaking slowly, and with the same serious quietness
of tone, as though she were thinking hard. “No! but I’ve got an idea.
That last poem has set me thinking....”

“Curse the poem,” exclaimed Sid desperately, seizing hold of the volume.

“You can take it,” said Rosamund, to his surprise, “I don’t think I want
to see it again either.”

“But surely, you are not allowing it to trouble you. It is all past and
gone, and one cannot have reached thirty without some experiences. Even
you, dear....”

“O yes, I know, but there’s a peculiarly deep ring about those last two
lines, Sid--

    O little girl, here’s a little boy
      Will love you till Judgment day--

whatever you may say, you meant them pretty badly, Sid,” she added,
turning upon him eyes whose recent mirth was replaced by a questioning
gravity.

“Of course I meant them at the time, or thought I meant them. Besides,
poetry always exaggerates,” answered Sid, writhing with explanation.

“No, Sid, don’t belittle your old feelings. That doesn’t help. Rather
the reverse,” and then once more she repeated the lines musingly as if
to herself. Then she turned to Sid with a sudden decision of manner, as
if her mind was made up.

“Sid, that was a very deep feeling. How do you know that it is not still
alive?”

Sid made the usual despairing protestations. Rosamund regarded them but
little.

“I wonder,” she continued, “if you really know your own mind. I wonder.
You think you love me now, but then you thought you loved her then--till
Judgment Day. Sid! Now see, I’m going to tell you my idea....”

Sid looked at her expectantly, waiting with anxious eyes. Then, with
something of a return to her gayer manner, she went on:

“You remember what we were saying just now about your cage. Well, I’m
going to let you out for a month or two.”

She waved aside a remonstrant ejaculation from Sid.

“Yes! and you are to spend the last breath of freedom in finding out if
there is still any truth left in these old impassioned statements. That
is, you will go to Myrtilla, and see if you still want to drink of that
‘little starlit spring,’ and you will go to Meriel and see, well ...
about Judgment Day! And, while you are on pilgrimage, there are one or
two other ‘muses’ it might be well to make quite sure about.”

Sid interrupted with impatient incredulity, not believing her serious.
But the more he expostulated, the firmer she became.

“I declare, the idea grows on me!” she said. “I wonder it never occurred
to me before. Now that it has, I must insist on your carrying it
out--for my sake. When I think of your nature, in the light of all this
printed experience, I should not really feel safe otherwise. Of course,
your cage is strong, I know. So long as I care to keep the key, your
escape is impossible. But then, I should not like to find some day in
the future, that, secure as you were, you were in secret pining to be
off after some little starlit spring on the other side of the bars. So,
Sid, I’m sorry, but you must pack up right away, and go on pilgrimage.”

In vain Sid protested that it was preposterous, that he was incapable of
seriously undertaking any such fanciful absurdity. Rosamund remained
obdurate. She would never marry him, she said, till he had subjected
himself to the proposed ordeal.

“Besides, if you refuse,” she continued, “I shall always feel that you
were afraid of it, secretly afraid that the temptations of it would be
too strong for your faith.”

To this Sid made a singularly blundering retort, which he tried in vain
to take back as he uttered it, to the effect that, however certain one
was of one’s love, there was no sense in playing with fire. This settled
the matter.

“Fire!” laughed Rosamund mercilessly--he admitted the danger then!

After that there was no argument--and this is the explanation of Sid
Norton’s sudden departure for Europe.

       *       *       *       *       *

Say what you will, the test was a little unfair. So Sid Norton said to
himself, as he paced the moonlit deck in mid-ocean, and strove to
analyse his feelings toward the situation in which Rosamund’s whim had
placed him. He thought of the lady of old time who had thrown her glove
into the arena. Of course, no lover could decline such a challenge ...
but he hastily dismissed the image as unfortunate, for he was not
allowed to admit the existence of the lions. To recognise any
possibility of danger in his present so-called ordeal was in itself an
unfaithfulness. To admit that there was any element of an ordeal in his
fantastic adventure was to fail right away. To confess any temptation in
the circumstances was a sufficient backsliding. And yet would any man in
a like situation, dealing honestly with his own thoughts, declare
confidently that there was no danger here to a true love? The answer of
theory and idealism would of course be that there could evidently be
none. The words “true love” imply that, and a certain old writer has
disparaged “a fugitive and cloistered virtue” that shrinks from taking
the open field against temptation. Which is all very beautiful, but
another saying as to the relation of discretion to valour comes nearer
to the truth of a human nature, which, with the best will in the world,
is apt to be sorely tripped up in the very moment of its strength by
some half-forgotten weakness.

Sid Norton’s love for Rosamund Lowther was no less real and deep than he
deemed it. She was for him the divine event toward which his whole life
had deviously moved. To lose her love would be loss irremediable. She
was that final joy and enchantment which he had pursued from face to
face, yet found only at last in hers. She was the fairy tale of life
come true. He had no wish, no hope, no aim, beyond her. With his meeting
her life had at last seriously begun. Its future success was to be the
making perfect this love which she had brought him. This was the serious
truth about Sid Norton; it represented the serious responsible self
which had at length asserted its domination over the warring minor
selves that had preceded it--the self he seriously wished to go on
being. But alas! in this multiple being called man those minor selves,
though conquered and perhaps mortally wounded, are apt to die hard, and
occasionally one of them, in a last dying flash of vitality, will gain
the upper hand, and, in some fleeting but fatal moment, tragically belie
the self that is real and lasting. Sid, who was learned in his own
psychology, knew himself, or rather him-selves, too well to be
vaingloriously confident that no such disastrous aberration on the part
of one or other of his dead or dying selves might not in some unguarded
moment betray him. He did not, of course, seriously fear it, and it
seemed impossible indeed, as out there on the midnight ocean he lifted
up his eyes to the moon, as though she were the silver spirit of his
love.

Still, like a wise soldier, he prayed hard that night not to be led into
temptation.

In this spirit of discreet valour, he had, on embarking, after making a
survey of his fellow-passengers, congratulated himself on the singular
unseductiveness of the array feminine. As in the days of Odysseus, the
siren remains one of the most dreaded dangers of those that go down to
the sea in ships, and Sid’s previous crossings had not been uneventful
in this respect.

On coming on deck rather late next forenoon, Sid was immediately aware,
before he traced his impression to its cause, of a subtle attractive
change in the human atmosphere--just, as in early spring, suddenly, one
morning, we come out into the air, and know, before we have seen them,
that there are flowers in the garden. So poor Sid’s terribly sensitive
instinct warned him immediately of the unexpected presence of a
beautiful woman. Casting his eyes along the prosaic line of deck chair
mummies, he saw that his instinct had not been at fault. A beautiful
woman had blossomed there in the night. With the vividness of almond
stars among the bare boughs, she shone among the other passengers, an
apparition of fragrance, all dew and danger. One of the chairs had
remained vacant up till this morning. It was the chair next to Sid’s
own, and it was with a quick thrill in which pleasure was quaintly
blended with alarm, that he realised that it was in this chair that the
apparition was sitting.

“So it is,” sighed Sid, with an inward smile, “that heaven leads us not
into temptation.”

He did not seat himself at once, but walked the deck several turns,
partly to reconnoitre the fair enemy, and partly with the heroic resolve
of seeking out the deck steward and having his chair removed to a less
perilous position. This extreme measure, however, struck him as both
eccentric as well as cowardly, and the reconnaissance finally decided
the matter. After all, the voyage so far had been dull enough, and his
love for Rosamund surely called for no such fanatical self-denial.

So presently he found himself seated by the side of the apparition,
pleasantly enveloped in a delicate exhalation of violets, and
luxuriously conscious of the proximity of a beautiful, breathing woman.
For a while the first conventional reserves protected him. He took up
his book and appeared absorbed in it. She, too, was reading. One of
those modern novels sufficiently artistic and emotionally speculative to
arouse one’s interest in the personality of its reader, and to afford a
ready freemasonry of communication between strangers not unwilling to
make each other’s acquaintance.

After a brief preoccupation with literature, both readers lost interest
in their books at the same moment, and both, with a bored sigh, allowed
them to decline upon their steamer-rug knees, with an artfully
synchronised sympathy. Then their eyes met, and two of a kind recognised
each other and smiled. Nature had created them fully equipped flirts.
They only needed to look at each other to know it; and, straightway,
headlong, with the good excuse of marine ennui upon them, they followed
the law of their natures--Sid, however, with a strong brake on, a
restraint, which, with the comprehension of sorceresses, his companion
felt and interpreted, and inwardly resolved to overcome.

“Strange, how everything is a bore at sea! even the most interesting
book,” said the siren.

“Even the sea,” assented Sid.

“Have you really the courage to say that you think the sea ridiculously
overrated?”

Sid had.

“I love courage,” she answered, looking at him in a laughing,
challenging way.

“You necessitate it,” was the answer, according to the eternal formula;
and so the sea began to be less of a bore, and continued being less and
less so each succeeding day, till the last evening of the voyage had
come.

They were nearing the sad shores of the shamrock, and they had escaped
from the after-dinner promenade, and had made themselves cosey near the
bow of the ship, in some nook of windlass and sailing tackle close to
the bulwark, where they could watch the phosphorescent spume of the
ship’s course, and speak of it, if necessary.

So far, though not entirely satisfied with himself, Sid had combined
faithfulness with flirtation in a blending so adroit that the ache of
his conscience was just bearable; and, he told himself, that Rosamund,
of all women, would be the last to withhold her admiration from so
brilliant a feat of sentimental tight-rope walking. Any student of the
_ars amatoria_ knows how fine is the line between faithfulness and
unfaithfulness, finer far than a hair from the beloved’s head; and Sid
had the right to congratulate himself with his deft-footed adhesion to
that moonbeam of a path. The siren was too expert herself in such
perilous experiment not to have observed and admired Sid’s achievement,
and, naturally, she was piqued by it to a special effort of conquest
this last evening. Not, of course, that she really cared for Sid, any
more than he cared for her. It was merely two flirts making a trial of
strength, the old eternal duel between man and woman; but, for once, the
man had most to lose--and that Sid kept reiterating to himself: for this
momentary diversion he might lose Rosamund, lose his whole life, and the
meaning of it--for this!

The siren, who had not known him for three days without knowing all
about him, estimated accurately with what she had to contend. For the
woman flirt there is no incentive like--Another Woman! It was not this
quite attractive man whose scalp she was after. It was the woman to whom
he was so ridiculously constant that she burned to humiliate.

Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way. I said that the line is fine,
and often, to sincere observers, the adherence to it has a somewhat
technical value. Was it casuistry or simplicity in Sid that made him
feel that his faith was still intact so long as he had not
actually--kissed the siren? We live in a legal, concrete world, a world
that judges us by our definite completed actions rather than by our
feelings, or our cunningly restricted evasions of the penalty. A
kiss--whatever the motive--is a concrete decisive act. A kiss is
evidence. The desire to kiss, however powerful, is not. Now Sid had not
yet kissed the siren. According to any external tribunal, Sid was still
faithful to his Rosamund.

This unkissed kiss, so to say, was the key of the castle; at all events
from the siren’s point of view. Sid’s heart, to tell the truth, ached
with a sincerer standard; but, at all events, be its value what it
might, this unkissed kiss was the redoubt on which he had hoisted his
colours, to fly or fall. And it was to be no easy fight, he realised, as
the siren nestled herself into a comfortable position in that sheltered
nook of windlass and sailing-tackle, and phosphorescence and gold-dust
stars, and the importunate surge of the sea.

He braced himself with the thought of Rosamund as with a prayer. He
crossed himself with the remembrance of his last look as they had
parted. It may sound laughable that anyone should arm himself so
cap-à-pie against a kiss, yet the stakes in any contest are represented
by some apparently trivial symbol. A kiss was the symbol here; and the
siren, at all events, did not under-rate its symbolic value. She fought
for it as though it had been the cross of the Legion of Honour, fought
with all the delicate skill of an artist, and she laughed softly now and
again as she came near winning, winning--the kiss that belonged to
another woman.

She was terribly beautiful was the siren, terribly everything that a
seductive woman can be. The atmosphere about her was a dreamy whirlpool,
of which the vortex was her lips, and Sid felt himself being drawn
closer and closer to that vortex. How he longed to throw up his arms and
drown--but, instead, suddenly, brusquely, rudely, he sprang up.

“I won’t,” he cried abruptly, and left her.

It was not gracefully done, but it was the only way he could do it.
Victories are seldom graceful. In the thick of battle it is occasionally
necessary to be impolite. Suddenly Sid had seen, as it were, luridly
embodied the moment he had told himself might some day come--the moment
of temptation. Here was he face to face with it at last, one of those
terrible moments of trial which divide the past from the future, and
challenge us to decide then and there, once and for all, what we really
mean about ourselves; one of those moments that cannot be postponed, but
must be met and fought just how and when they come; and, as Sid realised
all the moment meant, those perfumed alluring lips so dangerously near
to his filled him with a veritable terror, and his heart almost stopped
beating with dread of succumbing. Poor Sid, he had been so accustomed to
take such kisses as they came with a light heart; but now suddenly, as
in a lightning flash, he seemed to see the meaning of those mysterious
standards by which the faith of men and women has been immemorially
judged, a meaning he had never suspected before; and he saw, too, the
divine beauty of them; and the vivid revelations thus made to him, not a
moment too soon, had given him that strength to cry out “I won’t,” and
tear himself away.

As with a burning heart, he arraigned himself before himself in the
solitude of his stateroom, it seemed at first that his victory had been
but a poor one, a victory only in name. He had desired to kiss the
siren--it was impossible to deny that; and surely the very wish to do so
was unfaithfulness; and the only reason that had restrained him--was it
not the fear of losing Rosamund? No, it was more than that, and with the
realisation that it was really more than that--a real aspiration,
however feeble, toward the better way of loving, a repugnance for the
old way, and a genuine preference, very young and tender indeed as yet,
for a finer ideal--he grew a little comforted. Yes, it had been a
victory, a greater one than it had seemed. He had not really wanted to
kiss the siren, after all, in spite of compromising appearances--not
really deep down. It was only an old habit of the surface that had
momentarily got the better of him! And, though it may sound like
casuistry, it was not so. Poor boy, it might not have seemed a brilliant
victory to the looker-on. But flirtation is a habit that dies hard, and,
till he had known Rosamund, the mere idea of faithfulness to a woman
had never remotely entered into his mind. This passage with the siren,
however, had proved him so far on the road to regeneration as to have
developed an actual preference for being faithful! He was himself
surprised at the feeling, and it filled him with a certain awe, made him
almost a little frightened, though curiously happy. Did he really love
one woman like that at last? Just one woman, out of all the women in the
world? Yes, just one woman. It was a wonderful feeling.

       *       *       *       *       *

The temptation of the siren had been the gross one of the senses. The
finer and subtler trial had yet to come. Rosamund had so far compromised
with her original decree as to consent to limit Sid’s ordeal to one out
of his nine muses. She would be content, she said, with his seeing
Meriel, she, whom you may remember he was to love till Judgment Day; for
Rosamund was right in thinking that, of all Sid’s previous feelings, his
love for Meriel had been most serious. Indeed, it had been a feeling
apart from all others, and it had always shone wistfully in Sid’s memory
as a lost sacred thing that had come into his life too early, before his
heart had been ready for it. A magic gift of loving it had been, but he
had taken it carelessly with the rest, and realised all it had been only
when it was far away. He recalled looks out of Meriel’s eyes which told
him long after that she had known he was not ready for the love she
could give him, and, unconsciously, the occasional thought of this old
shortcoming of his had prepared him for--Rosamund, of whom Meriel came
to seem in his mind a beautiful prophecy. Thus old love dies that new
may live, or rather lives on in giving its life to the new. Certainly,
Sid could never have loved Rosamund more had he not loved Meriel so
much.

Yet, what if it should prove that Rosamund in her turn had only been
developing him toward repossession of his old dream! Love moves in a
mysterious way. How strange if this interval of experience had been
meant to bring him back, at last worthy of them, to Meriel’s arms at
last. He could not deny that his love for Rosamund had been haunted
sometimes by moonlit memories of Meriel’s face, though he could with
equal truth say that the new love was greater than the old one, because
of its inclusion of stable human elements which his fairy dream of
Meriel had lacked. Meriel had been a dream-woman, but hardly a human
woman; but Rosamund was both. Yet, almost without his knowing it, there
had been lurking in the background of his consciousness a vague
curiosity--it was hardly more--as to what it would seem like to see
Meriel again; what her face would seem like, how her voice would sound.
He did not for a moment fear the result, yet he sometimes felt that he
would like to try the experiment; but all these feelings had been of the
very shadowiest, hardly rippling the surface of consciousness; so when
Rosamund had suddenly made her odd proposal, they had seemed phantom
nothings indeed compared with the aching reality of a month’s exile from
her side.

All that had been Meriel had passed into Sid’s love for Rosamund. Meriel
herself could only be a ghost, however beautifully visible and audible,
a fair house of dreams from which the dreams had departed. Yet, for all
that, it was not without some agitation that Sid found himself at length
in the quaint little seaside town, whence a ferryboat would take him to
a village across the bay, high over which Meriel and her mother lived,
looking over the sea. Her ghost began to grow more and more luminous
with memories, as a pale moon fills with silver as the night deepens. He
stood on the deck of the little boat, and as it drew near to the
landing-place he could see clearly on the hillside the old white house
with its trellises and its terraced gardens descending the hill. He
could see plainly the little bower where one summer evening they had sat
together, and she had suddenly put her hand in his and said, “My life is
in your hands.”

His heart beat fast as his memories crowded in upon him, and it made him
almost frightened to think that in a few short moments he would really
be looking at her again. He felt as though he were about to see someone
who had been dead a long time, and had come to life again startlingly,
as in dreams. Then there suddenly floated over the water from the
village music very mournful and sweet, and he could see a long line of
dark figures moving slowly up the tortuous village street. At the first
strains of the music a great foreboding had swept through Sid’s heart.
What if Meriel were dead, and, as in a fairy tale, he had come to meet
her--carried through the streets to the tomb. The idea pleased his
fancy, with its picturesque pathos; but no! that music was not for
Meriel. It was a soldier’s death music, yet its solemn valedictory
chords seemed to Sid’s ears to be playing the requiem of a great
passion, fitly ushering him with their voluptuous melancholy to the
grave of his beautiful love.

He took his way thoughtfully up through the climbing village, but there
was a subdued excitement in his face which Rosamund might have construed
as an undue eagerness to face his coming ordeal. At last he turned the
well-known corner of the lane, and there was the house, facing the aery
infinite of the sea. How poignantly familiar it all was; yet, why
instantly did something tell him, something blank about the expression
of the very windows, that--Meriel was not there.

Her mother met him as he turned into the garden, but Meriel was not
there. She had been married--yesterday.

That is what the music had meant.

       *       *       *       *       *

“So ‘Judgment Day’ is married!” said Rosamund, when Sid had once more
returned to his cage to report himself. “It’s too bad of her,” she
continued, “for she has quite spoiled my little plan. My test has been
no test at all.”

“It was all I needed,” answered Sid. He was thinking of the siren, about
whom, like a wise lover, he had kept silence. Too much confession is a
dangerous weakness, and we are usually the best judges of our own
actions. The siren had been but the process of an experiment. All that
concerned Rosamund was the result.

“I wish I could have seen you, Sid, when you heard about ‘Judgment Day.’
I’d give anything to know what you really felt; but, of course, you’ll
never tell me.”

Sid smiled, but said nothing.

“Weren’t you disgusted with her for daring to do it without your
consent? The bare idea of a woman who had loved you daring to have any
new life on her own account! I am sure you had pictured her spending her
days looking dreamily over the sea--waiting for your return. I know you
had.”

As a matter of fact Sid had, and his feelings on hearing of Meriel’s
marriage had been exceedingly mixed. It was perhaps as well that
Rosamund had no record of them.

“Won’t you tell me what you really felt--just for fun? You can be
honest, I shan’t mind.”

But Sid was too wise to be honest. He knew where these heart-to-heart
confessions, just for fun, were apt to lead.

“I had no feelings. My one thought from beginning to end was to get back
to my cage--and never go out of it again.”

“You were relieved then? You had been a little frightened, eh? Yes, you
know you had, and you were glad to be let off the ordeal--now, weren’t
you?”

Sid certainly had been, but he steadily refused to be drawn. And then
Rosamund suddenly changed her tactics.

“But you haven’t asked anything about me during your retrospective
pilgrimage!” she said.

“You!” exclaimed Sid, a look of peculiarly masculine surprise coming
into his face.

“O yes, me! I suppose you imagined me during your absence sitting here,
_à la_ ‘Judgment Day’, docilely awaiting your return.”

“What do you mean, Rosamund?” asked Sid, anxiously.

“I mean that you seem to forget that I, too, had made previous
engagements for Judgment Day. When you were off pilgrimaging in the
past--what was to hinder me from doing the same?”

“O Rosamund, you didn’t.”

“Didn’t I! I’d often wondered what it would be like to kiss Jack Meriden
again, so your being away on your own affairs gave me a good
opportunity.”

“You kissed him!” exclaimed Sid, in angry astonishment, all his
masculine proprietorship in his face.

“Why not!” she answered, nodding her head affirmatively.

“You--kissed--him,” Sid repeated, grasping her wrists fiercely.

Rosamund shook herself free, with mocking laughter.

“Ah! there talks the man--the lord of creation. The man is to be allowed
to go off and flirt with whom he pleases, but the woman, O no! While
the man is engaged in these pleasing diversions, she must sit at home
faithfully darning his socks. No, sir! I did kiss Jack Meriden, and it
was a very nice kiss, too.”

“You did,” repeated Sid slowly, in an anguish of jealousy.

“You must remember, Sid,” she answered mockingly, “what a serious affair
it was between us--quite a Judgment-Day affair. Those old memories die
hard, as you, of all people, should know.”

“I only know that you--kissed--Jack--Meriden,” repeated Sid, rising to
his feet; “and that I am going.”

He strode savagely across the lawn, making as if to leave the garden.
Rosamund let him go some distance, and then called him back.

“Why should I come back?” he asked, sulkily.

“I want to tell you something,” she said in a caressing voice.

He came back to her side, and stood there.

“Well, what is it?” he asked stiffly.

“You must sit down. I can’t tell you that way.”

Sid sat down, with non-committal aloofness. She put her arm around his
rigid shoulders, and whispered.

“You are the greatest goose that ever lived. I never kissed Jack
Meriden. I love you--not as a man loves, but as a woman loves.”

“I love you the same way,” answered Sid, the storm-clouds suddenly swept
from his face, “there is only one way of--loving. The other thing needs
another name.”

And, with that, Rosamund snapped to the door of his cage forever.



EVA, THE WOODLAND AND I


Whenever I ought to be working especially hard at my desk in the middle
of the woodland, where I have built myself a little log house for my
books, and my pictures and my pen--because the household down at the
bottom of the hill does not want a man indoors writing all day when
there are all kinds of important domestic operations afoot, which, when
he is there, have to be done softly, with hushed voices and muffled
tread, lest the serenity of the great brain with the pen be
ruffled--whenever, I say, I ought to be working especially hard up there
in the wood, among the pines and the bracken and the dancing leaves and
the whistle of birds that seem to call, “What a sin it is to be working
on such a day!” there often comes a tiny figure and looks in at the
window with three-year-old baby eyes, and watches the mysterious person
there at the desk, with, for all her affected innocent look, a definite
purpose of seduction in her baby heart. I know too well what she is up
to. It is a day all aromatic sunshine, and she wants us to play truant
together, hunting butterflies and wild flowers, instead of having to
behave properly with nurse, and sitting there at that stupid desk.

She knows perfectly well that she is doing the sweet forbidden thing,
for her mother has impressed upon her again and again, with much
solemnity, that she must on no account interrupt father when he is
busy--on masterpieces. Eva has always listened with an air of enigmatic
innocence on her little broad indomitable face. Her blue eyes have worn
a look of what I might call stubborn obedience, and then--Well, I am
sorry to say that on the first opportunity, when nurse’s back is turned,
she has made off as fast as her sturdy little legs will carry her, up
among the secrecies of the fern, till at last she has arrived at my
window--a baby Eve, offering me the wild apple of idleness and
sunshine.

I pretend not to see, I bow my head more sternly over my task in
profound absorption; but Eva is not to be taken in by such cheap
devices. She knows that she has only to stand long enough at the
window--cleverly making no sign, not tapping or calling, but just
silently there--for me to give in, and, throwing down my pen, catch her
in my arms and carry her up to the gorse-lit moorland that spreads its
boundless horizon at the top of our little wood.

The sun has been calling me all day, and the leaves have been whispering
invitations upon the pane; but I have found it comparatively easy to
resist them. The eternal temptation of the birds calling and calling me
away I have steeled my heart to resist also. But Eva! No, I cannot
resist her. So, after a sham fight of a few moments, she and I are on
our way up the woods as fast as we can, for fear nurse or mother may
catch sight of us before we really escape.

But for one particular day, of which at the moment I am thinking, I am
afraid I cannot lay the blame on her. No, it was all my fault. I believe
that that day she had meant to be a really good girl. I must take the
blame of luring her from her arduous duties with her dolls. And yet I
cannot blame myself very sincerely; for the forenoon had been so full of
sunshine and wafting perfume that I could not have regarded myself as a
human being had I stayed at my desk, merely writing, while the sun was
shining and the birds singing and the wild-rose opening its dewy heart
to the sky.

Deliberately I had decided that I would not work, and strolled up
through the green, sun-ascending perfumes to the gorse and heather at
the top of the pine wood. As I emerged into the broad, brooding
sunshine, a swift rustle stirred in the underbrush, and a zigzag of
silver flashed away from my feet, threshing its way, with sinuous,
sinister beauty, to shelter in an old bank hard by. I had disturbed an
adder taking his noonday sun bath.

Snakes are hardly more common in England than they are said to be in the
island of Saint Patrick. When occasionally surprised, they startle one
with something like the thrill of an apparition, something of the fear
and fascination of the supernatural. They seem to belong to the
beautiful wicked side of nature, that at once repels and ensnares.
Though I had lived much in the country, I had not previously seen three
snakes in my life; so this fleeing, flashing adder was quite an event in
my morning’s walk, and my first thought was: If only Eva were here to
see it too!

Presently the adder himself gave me my opportunity, by gliding into a
hole in the bank, from which there was no outlet except by the way he
had entered. I could see him sitting there coiled in the darkness, with
his vicious head erect, ready, tiny worm, after all, as he was, to fight
the whole big world. He sat there and watched me, unmoving; and then,
noticing a big stone that lay near, I closed with it the door of his
little cave, and made his imprisonment safe with earth. Then I went down
the wood again to bring Eva. I caught sight of her through the garden
hedge, sitting on the grass playing with alphabetical bricks. Nurse sat
a short way off sewing.

Nurse is such an old friend of ours and so clothed with vice-maternal
authority that I am almost as much afraid of her in regard to Eva’s and
my truancies as I am of Eva’s mother. Men rightly enough, by natural
law, are allowed little to say in the rearing of their own babies, and,
however much the master of the house you may deem yourself, your
authority stops with the good woman who guards your child. There is
something sacred about a nurse--a mother nurse, I mean; not a
nursemaid--which it would be profanity, even impertinence, for a mere
father to disregard. When the mother is not there, the nurse is the
mother, and her word is law.

Realising this, I could not dare openly to cross the lawn and take Eva
away with me, as though I had every right to do so. Had I dared to do
that, I should have been speedily humiliated by that mysterious
authority which is said to rock the cradle and to rule the world. In
other words, nurse and I would have had a spirited fight, in which I
would have been speedily worsted.

Therefore, I lay in ambush a while behind the hedge of flowering laurel,
wondering how to catch Eva’s attention. Presently I found a simple way.
Within reach of my hand grew a red rose bush, weighted with fat, heavy
roses. One of these I plucked, and threw it with a dexterity on which I
prided myself right into Eva’s lap. If there is one thing I love about
her, it is the calm way she takes surprises. She looked silently at the
rose a moment, then with her strong, quiet eyes gazed around to see
where it could have come from. As she did that, I gently shook the
rose-bush. She watched it shaking a moment, and then caught sight of
me. Even then she kept her presence of mind; but an indefinable twinkle
in her eyes, momentarily illuminating her little imperturbable baby
face, telegraphed to me that she had understood.

Fortunately for us, nurse was not only deep in her sewing, but deep in
some old memories, so that she did not miss Eva till we were both safe
together on the woodland side of the garden hedge. Once safe there, we
made haste to cover as fast as possible, and, when we had reached one of
our secret hiding places in a little hollow of fern surrounded by
birches, I set Eva down and told her to wait there and play with the
sunbeams, while I ran back down the hill for something which, it had
just occurred to me, might make us a little more fun in our truancy.
This was nothing more wonderful than a wide-mouthed glass jar, once
poignant with pickles, which surreptitiously I procured from the cook
with fear and trembling, and the purpose of which will soon appear.
Returning up the wood, I found Eva contemplating the red rose I had
thrown to her with a quite philosophical absorption.

“Daddy,” she said, “why are some roses red and some white?”

It was the ancient unanswerable question of the mystery of colour. Who
is there that has answered or can answer it? A mother might have done
better, but what could a mere father do but temporise?

“I will tell you, Eva,” I said, “when you can tell me why sister’s hair
is black and yours is golden.”

This sibylline answer, I was relieved to find, made a profound
impression upon Eva, and as we continued up the wood she was evidently
pondering it in the unfathomable deeps of her baby brain. Her
meditation, however, soon gave place to curiosity and questioning about
everything that grew or sang or moved in the wood. Every child is a
naturalist, and the great charm of naturalists is that they always
remain children, never losing their sense of wonder at the little
elusive things that run and hop and chirp in the grass, or float
flower-like upon the air. The naturalist has come nearer to the secret
of eternal youth--which is mainly eternal enthusiasm--than any poet, and
he who at fifty still pursues a rare species with unabated ardour need
never fear old age.

I can make no pretense of being a learned naturalist, and the names of
many a bird and flower I love often escape me--as one often forgets the
name of some charming acquaintance, whom none the less one is delighted
to meet again. I am content to go up the wood in entire ignorance of the
Latin and even English names of the various presences that fill it with
leafage and perfume and song; but Eva is of a different temper. She is
an exact scientist, and insists on knowing the name and the how and the
why of every leaf and flower and insect that crosses our path. She even
expects me to know what the birds are saying, as though I were the old
Virgilian Asylas, who talked the language of birds as easily as some old
scholar can read Latin; or Melapus:

    With love exceeding a simple love of the things
      That glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck;
    Or change their perch on a beat of quivering wings
      From branch to branch, only restful to pipe and peck.

When I am a little indefinite in my explanations, she gives me a look
which makes me tremble for her continued belief in my omniscience; and
so, when for the third time she asked me what a certain bird was saying,
I felt that I must do something to retain her respect. So I
extemporised.

“This is what he is saying,” I answered: “Be quick--Be
quick--Be quick--Quick! Be quick!... Sweet!--Sweet!--Sweet!...
Sweet-i-ki!--Sweet-i-ki!--Sweet-i-ki!...
Chuck-chuck!--Twe-ey--Twe-ey--Twe-ey!”

This translation seemed entirely satisfactory to Eva, and she made me
repeat it several times, so that with her rapacious baby memory she
might get it by heart. She presently disconcerted me, however, by
asking me to tell her what that other bird on the bough there was
saying.

“It doesn’t sound the same as the other,” she said, or meant in more
babylike words. (The realism of baby talk I am obliged to leave to
greater writers.)

“It means just the same, though,” I said. “All the birds are saying the
same thing, only they say it in different languages.”

I must explain that Eva has been somewhat of a traveller, and realises
that you can ask for the same thing in English, French, or Italian.
Therefore, the explanation seemed to bring her some, though I could see
not entire, conviction.

However, I was saved further embarrassment by our arriving at our scene
of operations. Really I don’t know which of us was more quietly excited
as we stood in front of the bank where the angry little prisoner churned
his venom in the darkness. Eva, who had been given an illustrated
natural history for a present the Christmas before, was evidently
expecting a boa constrictor--that, or a beautiful serpent, such as a
luridly pictured Bible sent her by a pious aunt had taught her to
associate with the garden of Eden.

With almost as much caution as though Eva’s imaginations were likely to
be realised, and some winged dragon snorting flame was ready to leap out
upon us, I removed the stone and peered into the tiny dungeon, Eva
standing at my side, her blue eyes serious with expectancy. Yes, my
prisoner was still there! Apparently he had not moved since I had shut
him in, and his small wicked eyes gleamed at me with concentrated hate
out of the darkness. He showed no disposition to escape, so there was no
difficulty in my using my glass pickle jar, as I had proposed to myself
when I stole with it from the kitchen.

Placing its broad mouth in the entrance to the little cave, I banked it
securely round with earth; Eva, meanwhile, an admiring, mystified
spectator. Thus the adder had no choice but to stay where he was or to
remove into the glass jar, the hospitality of which, however, he showed
no disposition to accept. He still sat on, mystic, unmoving, making no
sign. Eva and I watched him a long while in silence, and then at length,
his immobility growing monotonous, I cut a stout twig from a
neighbouring bush, and, pushing it through the soft earth at the side of
the jar, poked him gently with it. Even then he would not stir, but his
black tongue went in and out of his tiny jaws like black lightning.
There was something quite pathetic in his miniature fury at this
indignity being put upon him.

“My! but he is cross! Isn’t he, Daddy?” exclaimed Eva, peering with me
at the angry little creature. Presently he moved farther into the
darkness, away from the tormenting twig, but, as it could still reach
him there, his patience at last became exhausted, and suddenly he had
uncoiled himself and was gliding, with all the grace of his evil beauty,
into the glass jar.

Eva gave a little scream of delight and clapped her hands. “O isn’t he
pretty?” she cried. “Let me take hold of him.” Snakes were evidently
among the multitude of things of which Eva knows no fear. However, as
Eva is not Saint Paul--though in my heart I had a feeling that her
courageous innocence would have protected her--I had to deny her that
indulgence; one of the few I ever denied her, for I know of few with
which she is not strong enough to be intrusted--though that, I suppose,
is a father’s point of view.

As we went down the wood with our captive securely shut in his glass
cage, I explained to Eva why it was just as well not to hold snakes in
your hand, and when we reached my log hut I illustrated my explanation
by the old familiar method. Cutting a forked stick from a tree hard by,
I set the jar down on the grass, and when the adder, believing that
freedom had come at last, began to glide through the loophole I had made
for him, I pinned him down to the earth at the back of his wicked head.
In vain he lashed his body like a silver whip with rage; and while I
thus held him I took my penknife and forced open his cruel mouth, so
that Eva could see his evil forked tongue. Then we let him go back into
his bottle, and dropped green leaves down to him, so that he might feel
comfortable, and looked about for beetles and such small insects as we
thought might appeal to his appetite and console him for his captivity.
But these attentions he received with sullen indifference. Whether it
was that he was too angry to eat, or that we had made a mistake in his
diet, our limited knowledge of natural history did not enable us to
decide.

Nor were we left much more time to consider; for, suddenly as we knelt
together side by side on the grass, our eyes intent on our captive, and
the alarmed scrambling of the various small insects tumbling over each
other to get out of his way, we heard a voice behind us.

“Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?” the voice said.

Eva and I looked at each other. It was her mother’s voice. We were
caught! In our hearts we were not in the least ashamed; but we bent our
heads in mock penitence, pretending that we were afraid to look up.

“Really I don’t know which is the biggest baby,” the voice continued,
with direct personal application to myself.

Then Eva and I took courage and looked up into the bluebell eyes above
us, and all three of us broke into laughter.

“It’s all very well to laugh,” said Eva’s mother, with a sudden
affectation of severity, mindful of the necessity of impressing Eva,
“but this is a very demoralising little girl. Haven’t I told you, Eva,
that you were not to disturb father at his work?”

Eva was a brick and didn’t give me away. She kept a set little face of
respectful rebellion, imperturbable, unapologetic. She wasn’t going to
betray me.

“Really it was not her fault,” I said shamefacedly; “it was all mine.
Punish me, if you must; but not her.” And then we laughed again.

“What are you going to do with this poor beast here?” asked Eva’s
mother, pointing to the glass jar. “Let him go, I suppose,” I said.

I saw Eva’s eyes light up for a moment. There was just one last bit of
fun left before she must return to the humdrum of the nursery.

So then we took the lid from the jar, and presently the adder, sniffing
the air, stole cautiously out on the grass, and then at length,
realising that he was really at liberty, flashed his way from our sight
into the underbrush, with the joy of all natural things at being free
once more--a bird released from his cage, or a happy fish thrown back
into the stream. The beetles and the various other bugs seemed no less
to appreciate their freedom.

Alas! it was poor Eva’s turn to go back into captivity. Mine too, for my
desk gloomed there inside. We gave each other a parting look, as her
mother took her off down the wood. So two exiles condemned to Siberia
might exchange glances of sympathy. But all the same we had had a good
time, and we both knew that, in spite of all law and authority, we
intended to have many more up there in the woodland, Eva and I.



THE DREAM DOCUMENTS


The dream has come to an end, and I have just received a letter asking
for a return of the dream documents. In other words, Miranda has written
asking me to send back her letters. She is going to be married soon.
Incidentally, so am I.

Our dream came to an end quite a while ago. But it was a very long and
beautiful dream--dreams seldom last so long--and I did hope that Miranda
would allow me to keep its beautiful records. But no! I have to send all
that brilliant writing back again; all the fancy and wit and tenderness
which make such a living history of a fairy tale.

Perhaps Miranda wants to read the fairy tale over again, and is not
satisfied with my poor records of it. That may be the reason why she
wants those letters back. It can hardly be any common reason, such as
actuates common lovers when they make a like demand. She knows how I
reverence the memory of our dream, and I think she is almost as proud to
have dreamed it as I am.

We are not bitter or jealous toward each other, but, on the contrary,
each of us is glad that the other is so happy with--some one else. Such
sorrow as remains to us is the abstract, wistful sorrow which natures,
such as ours--and O Miranda, how alike we were!--feel at the passing of
any beautiful thing. The pathos of “_The grass withereth, the flower
fadeth_”....

Ah! Miranda, how can we confidently complete that solemn sentence, when
so seemingly everlasting a thing as our love has passed away? If that is
gone, can there really be anything in the universe that endureth
forever!

I suppose that it is the humiliated sense of this transitoriness of what
had seemed an immortal feeling that makes men and women who have loved
and lost each other, as Miranda and I, return those letters, which have
thus come to seem the ludicrously earnest records of an illusion.

The two people feel that they have been tricked into these solemn
utterances of the heart, as if Life had been playing a game with them,
which they, unsuspecting, had taken seriously. They feel a little silly,
as one does when some jocular friend, as we say, takes us in with some
mock-serious story. We sit, attentive and eager, while he talks, and
believe every word, and then suddenly the stealing smile upon his face
tells us that we have been fooled. So we sit and listen to Love telling
his old tale, as if he had never told it before, with such lit young
eyes and such irresistible persuasion; and then, suddenly--there comes
the smile stealing over his face, and we look at each other and know
that we have been fooled.

This is not my view of the matter, but I conceive that it is the view of
those who, like Miranda, wish to obliterate the records of an old dream.
For my part, the fact of a feeling passing away is nothing against the
reality of that feeling. All feelings must sooner or later pass away:

    The sunrise blooms and withers on the hill
      Like any hill-flower, and the noblest troth
    Dies here to dust....

That the rose must shed its petals and turn to a lonely autumn berry is
surely nothing against the reality of the rose. It was real enough in
June.

Yes, it is because I feel so deeply the reality of this dream that has
passed away that I wish Miranda would let me keep her beautiful record
of it. If it had been real no other way, it would be real in her words,
for beautiful words make all things real, and are, perhaps, the longest
lived of all realities. So long as Miranda’s letters survive, our dream
is not dead. It has only ascended into the finer life of words. But once
her letters are gone, the dream is dead indeed; for, even though my poor
letters should survive--well! I never could write a love-letter. The
writing of love-letters is a woman’s art, and Miranda, in these
precious pages which she demands of me, has proven herself a great
artist.

As I think of this, of the art I mean, with which she has embodied our
dream, I wonder if I have any right to return her letters; whether, in
fact, it is not my duty, in defiance of misapprehension, to retain and
guard them in the interests of art, and, even, humanity. For, you see,
there is but one fate for Miranda’s letters the moment they leave my
hands to return to hers--the crematorium. She will probably burn them
with charming fanciful rites, after her whimsical, picturesque nature;
load the bier on which they are consumed with cassia and myrrh and all
the chief spices--but, however sweet-smelling the savour with which they
return to the elemental spaces from which they drew down their radiant
energy, there will, none the less, remain of them upon the earth, but a
little fluttering pile of perfumed ashes--the ashes of a dream.

Now, have I the right to allow such destruction of a beautiful thing,
such a holocaust of heavenly words? My mind misgives me no little as to
this. Meanwhile, I shall temporise with Miranda, make some plausible
excuse for delay, if only that I may read through the fairy tale once
more from beginning to end, before, if needs must, I send it back to
her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another problem: I am wondering, as I turn over page after page of our
brilliantly written past, whether Miranda will expect me to return also
the many flowers that every now and again fall out from between the
fragrant sheets. Even supposing that she can remember every letter she
has written to me, and is capable of detecting me should I filch a
single one, she can hardly remember the flowers of eight summers! Yes,
eight summers. I said that our dream was a very long and beautiful one;
and, indeed, it is hard to understand why, when a dream has lasted so
long, it should not last forever. But such is the way of dreams, and
surely Miranda and I were fortunate in that ours lasted so long.

Here is a flower I certainly shall keep, whatever happens. This
arrowhead, with its keen, beautiful leaf beside it. Do you remember the
day we gathered this, Miranda? How I climbed down from the little
bridge, and picked my way over the stones of the brook that went singing
out of the sun into the cool darkness? It grew right in the shadow of
the rough stone arch, and when I came out with it in my hand, there were
you standing on a stepping-stone just behind me; and some treacherous
gold pin had loosened the wheatsheaf of your hair, and, as we stood
together on those quaking stones in the middle of the little stream, we
looked into each other’s eyes. And just then a catbird began singing in
a meadow nearby. Do you remember? And may I keep this arrowhead,
Miranda?

And this flower, too--this strange, waxen flower that made us a little
afraid because we said it looked beautiful as death, not knowing then
how near we had come to its name. We found it growing in the depths of
the woods, a haunted, lonely thing, and we plucked it as one might pluck
mandragora, almost expecting weird cries and lamentations rising from
the ground. The innocent children call it “Indian’s-pipe.” Some call it
“corpse-flower.” What shall we call it, Miranda?

And here again is a flower no one shall rob me of. A simple, childish
flower indeed. Only a spray of Crimson Rambler. At least you will let me
keep that, Miranda. You will not deprive me of that.

I have just found something else pressed between the pages of a letter:
another kind of flower--a butterfly. A great, yellow butterfly with
tails to his wings. I caught it for fun, not meaning to hurt it; and
then suddenly an impulse came over me, and I crushed it between the
pages of a book we were reading, as though one should capture a sunbeam
of some summer-day on which we were very happy. When I opened the book
again--Do you remember the book?--the flower wings were quiet as any
other petals, and we both looked at each other with a feeling of fear,
of omen. We who hated cruelty and abhorred death had killed a little,
beautiful, innocent creature; and we felt afraid, and said little as we
went homeward; but our eyes said:

“Suppose it were love we killed to-day, that ‘Psyche,’ that frail
butterfly thing--_Animula, Vagula, blandela_!”

I wonder again, as the little wings fall from the folded sheet. At all
events, that was our last day together in the fields. Since then the
arrowhead has flowered in the brook--but not for us. That was our last
summer-day.

Our last summer-day! I let your letters fall from my hands, Miranda, as
I say over to myself, “Our last summer-day”--for it is again summer, “a
summer-day in June.” How strange it seems, after all: summer again, and
no Miranda. I could almost say with the sad Irish poet:

    “Has summer come without the rose,
      And left the bird behind?”

For you, Miranda, seemed very summer herself. The sun-goddess you
seemed, the blonde young mother of the green boughs and the knee-deep
grass. When you looked upon the meadows they filled like the sky at
evening with blue flowers, and when you spoke, the woods rang with a
thousand birds. The very fish leaped up out of the talking stream to
catch a glimpse of your shining hair. Wherever you passed life sprang
up, abundant, blossoming, filled with the laughter of immortal summer.

Ah! to what enchanted youth, this “summer-day in June,” in what
Broceliande of green boughs, or nymph-haunted secrecy of rocky pools,
are you teaching the lesson of summer?

“A summer-day in June!” As I say those words over to myself, do you
wonder, Miranda, that I should sorrow to part with the beautiful history
of eight summers?

I suppose that I must send that history back, whatever my feelings as an
art custodian may be. Miranda loves someone else and feels it only
right to him. And I love someone else, and should, I suppose, feel it
only right to her. Actually I have neither feeling. On the contrary, I
hold that new love should be grateful to the old love for the lesson in
loving which it has taught.

One might adapt the old song and say:

    “I could not love thee so, dear love,
        Had I not loved before.”

So, I confidently believe that Miranda could not have loved her new love
so adequately had she not loved me inadequately before. And, on the
other hand, I am well aware that I could never have loved my true love
as I do, had it not been for my eight years apprenticeship to Miranda.

Love is a mysterious spiritual training, and we are apt to learn its
lessons too late to apply them. Surely it is not too late for Miranda. I
can only hope that it is not too late for me.

       *       *       *       *       *

Having finally decided, both against my heart and my artistic judgment,
that Miranda’s request for her letters must be acceded to, I am not yet
out of the wood. One more problem, and that not the least, remains to be
solved. By what method of transportation shall I transmit so precious
and so distinguished a consignment?

I am well aware that there are men alive to-day, who, in all the simple
Philistinism of their natures, would commit Miranda’s letters to the
care of a stoutly-stringed, brown paper parcel, under the insured
promise of a responsible express company. We all have our ways of doing
things. That would, of course, be an absolutely secure way. Miranda
would surely get her letters back that way, or claim the insurance. No
doubt this method of transportation would be as satisfactory to Miranda
as any other, for the letters we write mean so little to us--when they
come back.

However, I cannot reconcile myself to returning Miranda’s letters in any
such commonplace way. I simply couldn’t return Miranda’s letters in a
brown paper parcel.

How then shall I return them?

I have thought of three ways.

Remember that these letters are to me more precious, more important,
than the secret messages of kings. They must be delivered with
appropriate ceremony.

Three ways have I thought of:

First, I thought that I would place them in an urn of bronze wreathed
round with laurel, and that six white horses should bring them to
Miranda’s door.

Then I wondered if this way would not be the best: That a thousand
carrier pigeons should fly to Miranda’s window in the dawn, each with a
letter in his beak.

But the way I should like best, and I think that it might appeal to
Miranda, too, would be for me to deliver them myself at the address of a
certain oak tree in a certain unforgotten woodland, “East of the Sun and
West of the Moon.” I have already found for them a beautiful coffin, a
little carved chest in which a long-dead queen of Arabia kept the sweet
smelling essences and unguents of her beauty. The box is fragrant yet
with memories of her rose-petal face. In this box I will place
Miranda’s letters, and there will still be room enough left for mine.

Then, if Miranda will consent, I will meet her in that woodland at the
rising of the moon, and, if she will bring with her my letters, we will
place them in the same box with hers, and then I will dig a grave
beneath the oak tree, and in it we will place the box together and cover
it over with the fragrant summer mould, and leaves, and blossoms, and
tears; and we will go our way, she through one green gate of the wood
and I through another.

And great Nature, who gave us our dream, will thus take it back into her
bosom; and Miranda’s lovely thoughts will blossom again in anemone and
violet, and out of that grave of beautiful words, as spring follows
spring, two young oak trees will grow, inextricably entwined in root and
branch, and there the birds will sing more sweetly than in any other
part of the wood, and there the silence will be like the silence of a
temple, and to those who sit and listen there will come soothing
messages of the spirit out of the stillness.



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