Part 10 out of 11
oil-can, and the usual supply of beans and bacon and rice and
corn-meal and prunes. Also he had built himself a rustic table, and
unpacked a trunkful of blankets and dishes and writing-pads and
books. So once more his life was his own, and a thing of delight to
He had promised himself to live off the country, as he had before;
but the principal game here was the wild turkey, and the wild turkey
proved itself a shy and elusive bird. It was not occupied with
meditations concerning literary masterpieces; and so it had a great
advantage over Thyrsis, who would forget that he had a gun with him
after the first half-hour of a "hunt".
Section 2. It had now become clear to Thyrsis that he had nothing
more to expect from his novel; it had sold less than two thousand
copies, which meant that it had not earned the money which had
already been advanced to him. But all that was now ancient
history--the entrenchments and graveyards of the Wilderness
battlefield were not more forgotten and overgrown with new life than
was the war-book in Thyrsis' mind. He had had enough of being a
national chronicler which the nation did not want; he had come down
to the realities of the hour, to the blazing protest of the new
For ten years now Thyrsis had been playing at the game of
professional authorship; he had studied the literary world both high
and low, and had seen enough to convince him that it was an
impossible thing to produce art in such a society. The modern world
did not know what art was, it was incapable of forming such a
concept. That which it called "art" was fraud and parasitism--its
very heart was diseased.
For the essence of art was unselfishness; it was an emotion which
overflowed, and which sought to communicate itself to others from an
impulse of pure joy. It was of necessity a social thing; the supreme
art-products of the race had been, like the Greek tragedy and the
Gothic cathedral, a result of the labor of a whole community. And
what could the modern man, a solitary and predatory wolf in the
wilderness of _laissez_ _faire_--what could he conceive of such a
state of soul? What would happen to a man who gave himself up to
such a state of soul, in a community where the wolf-law and the
A grim purpose had been forming itself in Thyrsis' mind. He would
suppress the artist in himself for the present--he would do it, cost
whatever agony it might. He would turn propagandist for a while;
instead of scattering his precious seed in barren soil, he would set
to work to make the soil ready. There was seething in his mind a
work of revolutionary criticism, which would sweep into the
rubbish-heap the idols of the leisure-class world.
It was his idea to go back to first principles; to study the bases
of modern society, and show how its customs and institutions came to
be, and interpret its art as a product of these. He would show what
the modern artist was, and how he got his living, and how this
moulded his work. He would take the previous art-periods of history
and study them, showing by what stages the artist had evolved, and
so gaining a stand-point from which to prophesy what he would come
to be in the future. Only once had an attempt ever been made to apply
to questions of art the methods of science--in Nordau's "Degeneration".
But then Nordau's had been pseudo-science--three-quarters impertinence
and conceit. The world still waited to understand its art-products in
the light of scientific Socialism.
Such was the task which Thyrsis was planning. It would mean years of
study, and how he was to get the means to do it, he could not guess.
But he had his mind made up to do it, though it might be the last of
his labors, though everything else in his life might end in
shipwreck. He went about all day, possessed with the idea; it would
be a colossal work, an epoch-making work--it would be the
culmination of his efforts and the vindication of his claims. It
would save the men who came after him; and to save the men who came
after him had now become the formula of his life.
Section 3. Thyrsis would come back from a sojourn such as this with
all his impulses of affection and sympathy renewed; he would have
had time to miss Corydon, and to realize how closely he was bound to
her. He would be eager to tell her all his adventures, and the
wonderful plans which he had formed.
But this time it was Corydon who had adventures to narrate. He
realized as soon as he saw her that she had something upon her mind;
and at the first occasion she led him off to his own study, and shut
the door. He got a fire going, and she sat opposite him and gazed at
"Thyrsis," she said, "I hardly know how to begin."
It was all very formal and mysterious. "What is it, dear?" he asked.
"It's something terrible," she whispered. "I'm afraid you're going
to be angry."
"What is it?" he repeated, more anxiously.
"I was angry myself, at first," she said; "but I've got over it now.
And I want you please to be reasonable."
"Go on, dear."
"Thyrsis," she whispered, after a pause, "it's Harry."
"Harry Stuart, you know."
"Oh," said he. He had all but forgotten the young drawing-teacher,
whom he had left doing Socialist cartoons.
"Well?" he inquired.
"You see, Thyrsis, I always liked him very much. And he's been
coming up here--quite a good deal. I didn't see why he shouldn't
come--Delia liked him too, and she was with us most of the time. Was
it wrong of me to let him come?"
"I don't know," said he. "Tell me."
"Perhaps it's silly of me," Corydon continued, hesitatingly--"but
I'm always imagining things about people. And he seemed to me to
have such possibilities. He has--how shall I say it--"
"I recall your saying he had soulful eyes," put in Thyrsis.
"You'll make fun of it all, of course," said Corydon. "But it's
really very tragic. You see, he's never met a woman like me before."
"I can believe that, my dear."
"I mean--a woman that has any real ideas. He would ask me questions
by the hour; and we talked about everything. So, of course, we
talked about love; and he--he asked if I was happy."
"I see," said Thyrsis, grimly. "Of course you said that you were
"I didn't say much. I told him that your work was hard, and that my
courage wasn't always equal to my task. Anyone can see that I have
"Yes, dear," said Thyrsis, "of course. Go on."
"Well, one day--it was last Friday--he came up with a carriage to
take us driving. And Delia had a headache, and wanted to rest, and
so Harry and I went alone. I--I guess I shouldn't have gone, but I
didn't realize it. It was a beautiful afternoon, and we both had a
good time--in fact, I don't know when I have been so contentedly
happy. We stopped to gather wild flowers, and once we sat by a
little stream; and of course, we talked and talked, and before I
realized it, twilight was falling, and we were a long way from
"Go on," said Thyrsis, as she hesitated.
"We started out. I recollected later, though I didn't seem to notice
it at the time--that Harry's voice seemed to grow husky, and he
spoke indistinctly. He had let the horse have the reins, and his arm
was on the back of my seat. I hadn't noticed it; but then--then--fancy
"It happened--all of a sudden." Corydon stammered, her cheeks
turning scarlet. "I felt his arm clasp me; and I turned and stared,
and his face was close to mine, and his eyes were fairly shining."
There was a pause. "What did you do?" asked the other.
"I just looked at him calmly, and said, 'Oh, how _could_ you?' And
at that he took his arm away quickly, and sat up stiff and straight,
with a terribly hurt expression. 'Forgive me,' he said. 'I was
mad.' And we neither of us spoke a word all the way home. And when
we came to the house, I jumped out of the carriage without saying
Corydon sat staring at her husband, with her wide-open, anxious
eyes. "And was that all?" he asked.
"To-day I had a letter from him. He said he was going away, over the
Christmas holidays. He said that he was very much ashamed of
himself, and he hoped that I would be able to forgive him. And
They sat for a while in silence. "You won't be too angry?" asked
"I'm not angry at all," he said. "But naturally it's disturbing. I
don't like to have such things happen to you."
"It's strange, you know," said Corydon, "but I haven't seemed to
stay very indignant. He was so hurt, you know--and I can realize how
unhappy he's been. Curiously enough, I've even found myself thinking
that I'd like to see him again. And that puzzled me. I felt that I
ought to be quite outraged. That he should imagine he could hug
me--like any shop-girl!"
They spent many hours discussing this adventure; in fact it was a
week or two before they had disposed of it entirely. Thyrsis was
hoping that the experience might be utilized to persuade Corydon to
modify her utopian attitude towards young men with soulful eyes and
waving brown hair. He was at some pains to set forth to her the
psychology of the male creature--insisting that he knew more about
this than she did, and that his remarks applied to drawing-teachers
as well as to all other arts and professions.
The main question, of course, was as to their attitude towards
Harry Stuart when he returned. Corydon, it became clear, had
forgiven him; the phraseology of his letter was touching, and he was
now invested in the glamor of penitence. She insisted that the
episode might be overlooked, and that their friendship could go on
as before. But Thyrsis argued vigorously that their relationship
could never be the same again, and declared that they ought not to
"But then," Corydon protested, "he'll be at the Jennings! And I
can't snub him!"
"What does Delia think about it?" he asked.
"Dear me!" Corydon exclaimed. "I haven't told Delia a word of it!"
"Haven't told her! But why not?"
"Because she'd be horrified. She'd never speak to Harry Stuart
"But then you want _me_ to speak to him! And even to be cordial to
him! You want to go ahead and carry on a sentimental flirtation with
"Oh, Thyrsis!" she protested.
"But that's what it would come to. And how much peace of mind do you
suppose I'd have, while I knew that was going on?"
At which Corydon sighed pathetically. "I'm a fine sort of
emancipated woman!" she said. "Don't you see you're playing the role
of the conventional jealous husband?"
But as she thought over the matter in the privacy of her own mind
she was filled with perplexity, and wondered at herself. She found
herself actually longing to see Harry Stuart. She asked herself,
"Can it really be I, Corydon, who am capable of being interested in
any other man besides my husband?" She could not bring herself to
face the fact that it was true.
Section 4. Thyrsis went away, and took to wandering about the
country, wrestling with his new book. After the fashion of every
work that came to possess him, it seemed to possess him as no other
work had ever done before. His mind was in a turmoil with it, his
thoughts racing from one part to another; he would stop in the midst
of pumping a bucket of water or bringing in a supply of wood, to jot
down some notes that came to him. Each day he realized more fully
the nature of the task. Seated alone at night in his tiny cabin, his
spirit would cry out in terror at the burden that had been heaped
He had decided upon the title of the book--"Art and Money: an Essay
in the Economic Interpretation of Literature". And then, late one
night, as he was pondering it, there had flashed over him the form
into which he should cast the work; he would make it, not only an
exposition of his philosophy, but the story of his life, the cry of
his soul. There had come to him an introductory statement; it was a
smashing thing--a thing that would arrest and stun! Disraeli had
said that a critic was a man who had failed as a creative writer;
and Thyrsis would take that taunt and make it into his battle-cry.
"I who write this," he would say--"I am a failure; I am a murdered
artist! I sit by the corpse of my dead dreams, I dip my pen into the
heart's blood of my strangled vision!" So he would indict the forces
that had murdered him, and through the rest of the book he would
pursue them--he would track them to their lair and corner them, and
slay them with a sharp sword.
Meantime Delia Gordon had gone back to her studies, and Corydon had
settled down to her lonely task. She washed and dressed and fed the
baby, and satisfied what she could of his insatiable demands for
play. Thyrsis would come and help to get the meals and wash the
dishes; but even then he was poor company--he was either tired out,
or lost in thought, and his nerves were in such a state that he
could not bear to be criticized. It was getting to be harder for him
to endure the strain of hearing complaints; and so Corydon shrunk
more and more into herself, and took to pouring out her soul in long
letters and journals.
"Is it possible," she wrote to Delia, "that to some people life is a
continuous expiation--an expiation of submerged hereditary sins, as
well as of conscious ones? A great deal of the time life seems to me
a hopeless puzzle; I am so utterly unfitted for the roles I labor to
play. Is it that I am too low for my environment? Or can it be that
I am too high? Surely there must some day be other things that women
can do in the world besides training children. I try to love my
task, but I have no talent for it, and it is a frightful strain upon
me. After one hour of blocks and choo-choo cars, I am perfectly
prostrated. I have been cheated out of the joys of motherhood, that
is the truth--the spring was poisoned for me at the very beginning.
"You must not mind my lamentations, dear Delia," she wrote in
another letter. "You can't imagine how lonely my life is--no, for it
is different when you are here. Oh, I am so weary! so weary! It
didn't use to be like this. Every moment of leisure I had I would
run and try to study; I would read something--I was always eager and
hungry. But now I am dull--I do not follow my inspirations. If only
Thyrsis and I might sometimes read together! I love to be read to,
but he cannot bear it--he reads three times as fast to himself, he
says. He will do it if I am sick; but even then it makes him
nervous, and I cannot help but know that, however he tries to hide
it. It is one of our troubles, but we know each other's states of
"Oh, Delia, was there ever a tragedy in the world like that of our
love? (Almost everything in our lives is pain, and so we are coming
to stand for pain to each other!) I ask myself sometimes if any two
people who love could stand what we have to stand. Sometimes I think
they could, if their love was different; but then that thought
breaks my heart! Why cannot our love be different, I ask!
"I had one of my frightful fits of unhappiness to-day. It was
nothing--it was my fault, I guess. I am very sensitive. But I think
it is a tendency of Thyrsis' temperament to try instinctively to
overcome mine. Apparently the only thing that will conquer him is
seeing me suffer; then he will give way--he will promise anything I
want, blame himself for his rigidity, scourge himself for his
blindness, do anything at all I ask. So I tell myself, everything
will be different now; the last problem is solved! I see how good
and kind he is, how noble his impulses are; he has never failed me
in the big things of life.
"I suppose Mr. Harding writes you about us. He was up here this
afternoon. He was very gentle and kind to me; he talked about his
religion. Did you tell him much about me? It is a singular thing,
how he seems to understand without being told. I realized to-day
that whenever we talk about my life, we take everything for granted.
Also, it seems strange that he does not blame me; generally people
who are conventional think that I am selfish, that I ought to be
loving my baby, instead of struggling with my pitiful soul.
"I wrote a little stanza the other night, dear Delia. Doesn't it
seem strange, that when I am at the last gasp with agony, I should
find myself thinking of lines of poetry? I called it 'Life'; you
will say that it is too sombre--
"'A lonely journey in a night of storm, Lighted by flashes of
inconstant faith, Goaded by multitudes of vague desires, And mocked
by phantoms of remote delight!'"
Section 5. Just at this time Corydon found herself the victim of
backaches and fits of exhaustion, for which there was no cause to be
discovered. Each attack meant that Thyrsis would have to drop his
work, and come and be housekeeper and nurse; he would have to
repress every slightest sign of the impatience, which, was burning
him up--knowing that if he gave vent to it, he would drive Corydon
half-wild with suffering. After two or three such crises, he made up
his mind that it was impossible for him to go on, until there was
some one to help her in these emergencies.
As a result of their farm-hunting expeditions, they had in mind a
place which was a compromise between their different requirements.
It had a good barn and plenty of fruit, and at the same time a view,
and a house with comfortable rooms, and wall-paper that was not
altogether unendurable. It was offered for four thousand dollars, of
which nearly three-quarters might remain upon mortgage; so they had
agreed that their future happiness would depend upon the war-book's
bringing them in a thousand dollars. Since this hope had failed, he
had applied to Darrell, and to Paret, but neither of them had the
money to spare. It now fell out, that just as he was at the point of
desperation, he received a letter from the clergyman who had married
them, Dr. Hamilton. This worthy man had been reading Thyrsis'
manuscripts and following his career; and he now wrote to tell how
greatly he had been impressed by the new novel. Whereupon the author
was seized by a sudden resolve, and packed up a hand-satchel and set
out for the city, with all the forces of his being nerved for an
assault upon this ill-fated clergyman.
Dr. Hamilton sat in his little office, looking pale and worn, his
face deeply seamed with lines of care. As the poet thought of it in
later years, he realized that this man's function in life was to be
a clearing-house for human misery--the wrecks of the competitive
system in all classes and grades of society came to him to pour out
their troubles and beg for help. It was not so very long afterwards
that he went to pieces from overwork and nervous strain; and Thyrsis
wondered with a guilty feeling how much his own assault had
contributed to this result. Assuredly it could not happen often that
a clergyman had to listen to a more harrowing tale than this
"murdered artist" had to tell.
The doctor heard it out, and then began to argue: like the
philanthropist in Boston, he was greatly troubled by the fear of
"weakening the springs of character". Being an "advanced" clergyman,
he was familiar with the pat phrases of evolutionary science--his
mind was a queer jumble of the philosophy of Herbert Spencer and
that of Thomas à Kempis. But Thyrsis just now was in a mood which
might have moved even Spencer himself; he was almost frantic because
of Corydon, whom he had left half-ill at home. He was not pleading
for himself, he said--he could always get along; but oh, the horror
of having to kill his wife for the sake of his books! To have to sit
by day by day and watch her dying! He told about that night when
Corydon had tried to kill herself; and now another winter was upon
them, and he knew that unless something were done, the spring-time
would not find her alive.
The suicide story turned the balance with the clergyman; Herbert
Spencer was put back upon the shelf, and Thomas à Kempis ruled the
day. Dr. Hamilton said that he would see one of his rich
parishioners, and persuade him to take a second mortgage on the
farm. And so Thyrsis went back, a messenger of wondrous tidings.
A few days later came the check. The deed had been got ready; and
Thyrsis drove to the farm, and carried off the farmer and his wife
to the nearest notary-public. The old man pleaded to stay in his
home until the new year, but Thyrsis was obdurate, allowing him only
a week in which to get himself and his belongings to another place.
And meantime he and Corydon were packing up. They drove to another
"vandew", and purchased more odds and ends of household stuff; and
Thyrsis had his little study loaded upon a wagon, and taken to the
A wonderful adventure was this moving! To enter a real house, with
two stories, and two pairs of stairs, and eight rooms, and a cellar,
and regular plastered walls, and no end of closets and shelves and
such-like domestic luxuries! To be able to set apart a whole room in
which the baby might spread himself with his toys and marbles and
dolls and picture-books--and without any one's having to stumble
over them, and break their owner's heart! To have a real parlor,
with a stove to sit by, and a table for a lamp, and shelves for
books; and yet another room to eat in, and another to cook in! To be
able to have a woman come to wash the dishes without making a bosom
friend of her, and having her hear all the conversation! To be able
to walk through fields and orchards and woodland, and know that they
belonged to one's self, and would some day shed their coat of snow
and blossom into new life! Thyrsis wished that he could have the
book out of his mind for a month, so that he might be properly
thrilled by this experience.
It was at the Christmas season, and therefore an appropriate times
for celebrating. He went down into the "wood-lot"--their own
"wood-lot"--and cut a spruce tree, and set it up in the dining-room;
they hung thereon all the contrivances which the associated
grandparents had sent down to commemorate an occasion which was not
only Christmas and house-warming, but the baby's third birthday as
well. Because of the triple conjunction, they invested in a fat
goose, to be roasted in the new kitchen-range; and besides this
there were some spare-ribs and home-made sausages with which a
neighbor had tempted them. It was a regular storybook Christmas,
with a snow-storm raging outside, and the wind howling down the
chimney, and an odor of molasses-taffy pervading the house.
Section 6. After which festivities Thyrsis bid farewell to his
family once more, and went away to wrestle with his angel. Weeks of
failure and struggle it cost him before he could get back what he
had lost--before he could recall those phrases that had once blazed
white-hot in his brain, and could see again the whole gigantic form
and figure of his undertaking. Many an hour he spent pacing his
little eight-foot piazza--four steps and a half each way, back and
forth; many a night he would sit before his little fourteen-inch
stove, so lost in his meditations that the stove would lose its
red-hot glow, and the icy gale which raged outside and rattled the
door would steal in through the cracks and set him to shivering.
Other times he would trudge through the snow and mud to the town,
spending the day in the library, and then bringing out an armful of
books to last him through the night. Thyrsis had read pretty
thoroughly the literature of the six languages he knew; but now--
this was the appalling nature of his task--he had to go back and
read it over again. He did not realize, until he got actually at the
work, what an utter overturning there would be in all his ideas. How
strange it was to return and read the "classics" of one's youth!
What oceans of futility one discovered, what mountains of
pretense--and with what forests of scholarship grown over them! It
seemed to Thyrsis that everywhere he turned the search-light of his
new truth, the structure of his opinions would topple like a house
of cards. Truly, here was a _"Götzendämmerung"_, an _"Umwertung
The worst of it was that he had to read, not only literature, but
also history--often his own kind of history, that had not yet been
written. If he wished to know the Shakespearean dramas as a product
of the aristocratic and imperialist ideal in the glory and
intoxication of its youth, he had to study, not only Shakespeare's
poetry, but the cultural and social life of the Elizabethan people.
And he could not take any man's word for the truth; he had to know
for himself. The thing that would avail him in this battle was not
eloquence and fervor, not the flashes of his irony and the white-hot
shafts of his scorn. What he must have were facts, and more
facts--and then again facts!
The facts were there, to be had for the gathering. Thyrsis again
could only compare himself to Aladdin in his palace. Could it be
believed that so many ideas had been left for one man to discover?
It seemed to him, that the kingdoms of literature lay at his mercy;
he was like a magician who has discovered a new spell, which places
his rivals in his power. He knew that this book, if he could ever
finish it, would alter the aspect of literary criticism, as a blow
changes the pattern in a kaleidoscope.
Thyrsis had failed many times before, but this time he felt that
success was in his hands; he knew the bookworld now, he was master
of the game. This would set them to thinking, this would stir them
up! He had got under the armor of his enemy at last, and he could
feel him wince and writhe at each thrust that he drove home. So he
wrought at his task, in a state of tense excitement, living always
in imagination in the midst of the battle, following stroke with
stroke and driving a rout before him.--So he would be for weeks; and
then would come the reaction, when he fell back exhausted, and
realized that his victory was mere phantasy, that nothing of it
really counted until he had completed his labor. And that would take
two years! Two years!
Section 7. From visions such as this Thyrsis came back to wrestle
with all the problems of a household; with pumps that froze and
drains that clogged, with stoves that went out and ashes that
spilled, with milk-boys that were late and kitchen-maids that were
snow-bound. He would leave his work at one or two o'clock in the
morning, and make his way through the snow and the storm to the
house, and crawl into bed, and then take his chances of being
awakened by the baby, or by some spell of agony with Corydon.
He might not sleep alone; that supreme symbol of domesticity Corydon
could not give up, and he soon ceased to ask for it. It seemed such
a little thing to yield; and yet it meant so much to him! The room
where he slept came to seem to him a chamber of terror, a place to
which he went "like the galley-slave at night, scourged to his
dungeon". It was a place where a crime was enacted; where the vital
forces of his being were squandered, and the body and soul of him
were wrung and squeezed dry like a sponge. This was marriage--it
was the essence of marriage; it was the slavery into which he had
delivered himself, the duty to which he was bound. And in how many
millions of homes was this same thing going on--this licensed
preying of one personality upon another? And the nightmare thing was
upheld and buttressed by all the forces of society--priests were
saying blessings over it and moralists were singing the praises of
it--"the holy bonds of matrimony", it was called!
It was all the worse to Thyrsis because there was that in him which
welcomed this animal intimacy. So he saw that day by day their lives
were slipping to a lower plane; day by day they were discovering new
weaknesses and developing new vices in themselves. Corydon was now a
good part of the time in pain of some sort; and the doctors had
accustomed her to stave off these crises with various kinds of
drugs, so that she had a set of shelves crowded with pills and
powders and bottles. She had learned to rely upon them in
emergencies, to plead for them when she was helpless; and so Thyrsis
saw her declining into an inferno. He would argue with her and plead
with her and fight with her; he would spend days trying to open her
eyes to the peril, to show her that it was better to suffer pain
than to resort to these treacherous aids.
Section 8. They still had their hours of enthusiasm, of course,
their illuminations and their resolutions. During the summer, while
browsing among the English magazines in the library, Thyrsis had
stumbled upon an astonishing article dealing with the subject of
health. He read it in a state of great excitement, and then took it
home and read it to Corydon. It told of the achievements of a
gentleman by the name of Horace Fletcher, who had once possessed
robust health, and lost it through careless living, and had then
restored it by a new system of eating. To Thyrsis this came as one
of the great discoveries of his life. For years every instinct of
his nature had been whispering to him that his ways of eating were
vicious; but he had been ignorant and helpless--and with all the
world that he knew in opposition to him. As he read the article, he
recalled a talk he had had with his "family doctor", way back before
his marriage, when he had first begun to notice symptoms of
stomach-trouble. He had suggested timidly that there might be
something wrong with his diet, and that if the doctor would tell him
exactly what he ought to eat, and how much and how often, he would
be glad to adopt the regimen. But the doctor had only laughed and
answered, "Nonsense, boy--don't you get to thinking about your
food!" And so Thyrsis had gone away, to follow the old plan of
eating what he liked. Health, it would seem, must be a spontaneous
and accidental thing, it could not be a deliberate and reasoned
But now he and Corydon became smitten with a passion of shame for
all their stupidity and their gluttony; they invested in Fletcher's
books, and set out upon this new adventure. They would help
themselves to a very small saucerful of food; and they would take of
this a very small spoonful--and chew--and chew--and chew. Mr.
Fletcher said that half an hour a day was enough for the eating of
the food one needed; but they, apparently, could have chewed for
hours, and still been hungry. They labored religiously to stop as
soon as they could pretend to be satisfied; the result of which was
that Thyrsis lost fourteen pounds in as many days--and it was many a
long year before he got those fourteen pounds back! He became still
more "spiritual" in his aspect; until finally he and Corydon set out
for a walk one day, and coming up a hill to their home they gave out
altogether, and first Thyrsis had to crawl up the hill and get
something to eat, and then take something down to Corydon!
However, in spite of all their blunders, this new idea was of
genuine benefit to them; at least it put them upon the right
track--it taught them the relationship between diet and disease.
They saw the two as cause and consequence--they watched the food
they ate affecting their bodies as one might watch a match affecting
a thermometer. They were no longer victims of the idea that health
must be a spontaneous and accidental thing--they were set
definitely to thinking about it, as something that could be achieved
by will and intelligence.
But the right knowledge lay far in the future; and meantime they
were groping in ignorance, and disease was still a mysterious
visitation that came upon them out of the night. "Thus saith the
Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt; and all
the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die. And there shall be a
great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there hath been
none like it, nor shall be like it any more."
Their own firstborn had low been on the _regime_ of the "child
specialist" for a year and a half. He was big and fat and rosy, and
according to all the standards they knew, a picture of health. He
was the pride of his parents' hearts--the one success they had
achieved, and to which they could turn their eyes. He was a
frightful burden to them--the most noisy and irrepressible of
children. But they struggled and worried along with him, and were
proud of him--and even, in a stormy sort of way, were happy with
him. But now a calamity fell upon him, bringing them the most
terrible distress they had yet had to face in their lives.
Section 9. It was all the worse because they laid the blame upon
themselves. They were accustomed to attribute sickness to this or
that trivial cause--if Corydon caught a cold, it was because she had
sat in a draught, and if Thyrsis was laid up with tonsilitis, it was
because he had gone out for kindling-wood without his hat. It had
been their wont to bundle the child up and turn him out to play; and
one very cold day he had stood a long time under the woodshed, and
had got chilled. So that night his head was hot, and he was fretful;
and in the morning he would not eat, and apparently had a fever.
They sent off in haste for the doctor; and the doctor came and
examined him, and shook his head and looked very grave. It was
pneumonia, he said, and a serious case.
So Corydon and Thyrsis had to put all things else aside, and gird
themselves for a siege. There were medicines to be administered
every hour, and minute precautions to be taken to keep the patient
from the slightest chill; he must be in a warm room, and yet with
some ventilation. All these things they attended to, and then they
would sit and gaze at the sufferer, dumb with grief and fear.
Through the night Thyrsis sat by the bedside, while Cedric babbled
and raved in delirium; and no suffering that he had ever experienced
was equal to this.
How he loved this baby, how passionately, how cruelly! How he clung
to him, blindly and desperately--the thought of losing him simply
tore his heart to pieces! He would hold the hot hands, he would
touch the little body; how he loved that body, that was so beautiful
and soft and white! How many times he had bathed it and dressed it
and hugged it to him! He would sit and listen to the fevered
prattle, full of childish phrases which brought before him the
childish soul--the wonderful, lovable thing, so merry and eager, so
full of mischief and curiosity; with strange impulses of tenderness,
and flashes of intelligence that thrilled one, and opened long
vistas to the imagination. He was all they had, this baby--he was
all they had saved out of the ruin of their lives, out of the
shipwreck of their love. What sacrifices they had made for him--what
agonies he represented! And now, the idea that they might never see
him, nor touch him, nor hear his voice again!
Also would come agonies of remorse. Thyrsis would face the blunder
they had made--it might have been avoided so easily, and now it was
irrevocable! His whole body would shake with silent sobbing. Ah,
this curse of their lives, this hideous shame--that they had not
even been able to take proper care of their child! This wrong, too,
the world meant to inflict upon them--this supreme vengeance, this
Section 10. The doctor came next morning, and found the patient
worse. This was the crisis, he said; if the little one lived through
the night--And there he paused, seeing the agony in the eyes of the
mother and father. They would do all they could, he said; they must
hope for the best.
So the siege went on. Thyrsis sat through the night again--and
Corydon, who could not rest either, would come into the room every
little while, and listen and watch. They would hold each other's
hand for hours, dumb with suffering; ghostly presences seemed to
haunt the sick-chamber and set them to trembling. Thyrsis found
himself thinking of that most terrible of all ballads, "The
Erl-King". How he had shuddered once, hearing it sung!--
"Dem Vater grauset's, er reitet geschwind!"
All through the night he seemed to hear the hammer-strokes of the
horse's hoofs echoing through his soul.
The child lived through the night, but the crisis was not yet over.
The fever held on; the issue of life and death seemed to hang upon
the flutter of an eyelid. There was one more night to be sat through
and Thyrsis, whose restless intellect must needs be dealing with all
issues, had by then fought his way through this terror also. They
must get control of themselves at all hazards, he said; they must
face the facts. If so the child should die--
He tried to say something of the sort to Corydon, seeking to steady
her. But Corydon became almost frantic at his words. "You must not
say such a thing, you must not think such a thing!" she cried.
Corydon had been reading about "new thought", and she insisted that
would be "holding the idea" of death over the child. "The thing for
us to do," she said, "is to make up our minds--he must live, we must
_know_ that he will live!"--It was no time to argue about
metaphysics, but Thyrsis found this proposition a source of great
perplexity. How could a man make himself know what he did not know?
The crisis passed, and the child lived. But the illness continued
for a couple of weeks--and how pitiful it was to see their baby,
that had been so big and rosy, and was now pale and thin and weak!
And when at last he got up and went outdoors again, he caught a
cold, and there was a relapse, and another siege of the dread
disease; the doctor had not warned them sufficiently, it seemed. So
there was a week or two more of watching and worrying; and then they
had to face the fact that little Cedric would be delicate for a long
while--would need to be guarded with care all through the spring.
Thyrsis blamed himself for all that had happened; the weight of it
rested upon him forever afterwards, as if it were some crime he had
committed. Sometimes when he was overwrought and overdriven, he
would lie awake in the small hours of the morning, and this spectre
would come and sit by him. He had made a martyr of the child he
loved, he had sacrificed it to what he called his art; and how had
he dared to do it?
It was hard to think of a more cruel question to put to a man.
Himself, no doubt, he might scourge and drive and wreck; but this
child--what were the child's rights? Thyrsis would try to weigh them
against the claims of posterity. What his own work might be, he
knew; and to what extent should he sacrifice it to the unknown
possibilities of his son? Some sacrifice there had to be--such was
the stern decree of the "economic screw."
So Thyrsis once more was a field of warring motives; once more he
faced the curse of his life--that he could not be as other men, he
could not have other men's virtues. It was the latest aspect, and
the most tragic, of that impulse in him which had made him fight so
hard against marriage; which had made him quote to Corydon the lines
of the outlaw's song--
"The fiend whose lantern lights the mead
Were better mate than I!"
THE BREAK FOR FREEDOM
_The scarlet flush of morning was in the sky; and they stood upon the
hill again, and watched the color spreading.
"We must go," she was saying. "But it was worthwhile to come."
"It was all worth-while," he said--"all!"
And she smiled, and quoted some lines from the poem--
"Thou too, O Thyrsis, on like quest wast bound;
Thou wanderedst with me for a little hour!
Men gave thee nothing; but this happy quest,
If men esteem'd thee feeble, gave thee power,
If men procured thee trouble, gave thee rest!"_
Section 1. This illness of the baby's had been a fearful drain upon
their strength; and Thyrsis perceived that they had now got to a
point where they could no longer stand alone. There must be a
servant in the house, to help Corydon, and do for the baby what had
to be done. It was a hard decision for him to face, for his money
was almost gone, and the book loomed larger than ever. But there was
no escaping the necessity.
They would get a married couple, they decided--the man could pay
for himself by working the farm. So they put an advertisement in a
city paper, and perused the scores of mis-spelled replies. After due
correspondence, and much consultation, they decided upon Patrick and
Mary Flanagan; and Thyrsis hired a two-seated carriage and drove in
to meet them at the depot.
It was all very funny; years afterwards, when the clouds of tragedy
were dispersed, they were able to laugh over the situation. Thyrsis
had been used to servants in boyhood, but that was before he had
acquired any ideas as to universal brotherhood and the rights of
man. Now he hated all the symbols and symptoms of mastership; he
shrunk from any sort of clash with unlovely personalities--he would
be courteous and deprecating to the very tramp who came to his door
to beg. And here were Patrick and Mary, very Irish, enormously
stout, and devotedly Roman Catholic, having spent all their lives as
caretakers of "gentlemen's country-places". They had most precise
ideas as to what gentlemen's country-places should be, and how they
should be equipped, and how the gentlemen of the country-places
should treat their servants. And needless to say, they found nothing
in this new situation which met with their approval. There were
signs of humiliating poverty everywhere, and the farm-outfit was
inadequate. As to the master and mistress, they must have been
puzzling phenomena for Patrick and Mary to make up their minds
about--possessing so many of the attributes of the lady and
gentleman, and yet being lacking in so many others!
Patrick was a precise and particular person; he wanted his work laid
out just so, and then he would do it without interference. As for
Mary--he stood in awe of Mary himself, and so he accepted the idea
that Corydon and Thyrsis should stand in awe of her too. Mary it was
who announced that their dietary was inadequate; she took no stock
at all in Fletcher and Chittenden--she knew that working-people
must have meat at least four times a week. Also Mary maintained that
their room was not large enough for so stout a couple. Also she
arranged it that Corydon and Thyrsis should get the dinner on
Sundays--the Roman Catholic church being five miles away, and the
hour of mass being late, and the horse very old and slow.
For two months Corydon and Thyrsis struggled along under the dark
and terrible shadow of the disapproval of the Flanagan family. Then
one day there came a violent crisis between Corydon and
Mary--occasioned by a discussion of the effect of an excess of
grease upon the digestibility of potato-starch. Corydon fled in
tears to her husband, who started for the kitchen forthwith, meaning
to dispose of the Flanagans; when, to his vast astonishment, Corydon
experienced one of her surges of energy, and thrust him to one side,
and striding out upon the field of combat, proceeded to deliver herself
of her pent-up sentiments. It was a discourse in the grandest style of
tragedy, and Mary Flanagan was quite dumbfounded--apparently this was
a "lady" after all! So the Flanagan family packed its belongings and
departed in a chastened frame of mind; and Corydon turned to her
spouse, her eyes still flashing, and remarked, "If only I had talked
to her that way from the beginning!"
Section 2. Then once more there was answering of advertisements, and
another couple was spewed forth from the maw of the metropolis--"Henery
and Bessie Dobbs", as they subscribed themselves. "Henery" proved to
be the adult stage of the East Side "gamin"; lean and cynical, full
of slang and humor and the odor of cigarettes. He was fresh from a
"ticket-chopper's" job in the subway, and he knew no more about farming
than Thyrsis did; but he put up a clever "bluff", and was so prompt
with his wits that it was hard to find fault with him successfully.
As for his wife, she had come out of a paper-box factory, and was as
skilled at housekeeping as her husband was at agriculture; she was
frail and consumptive, and told Corydon the story of her pitiful
life, with the result that she was able to impose upon her even more
than her predecessor had done.
"Henery" was slow at pitching hay and loading stone, but when the
season came, he developed a genius for peddling fruit; he was always
hungry for any sort of chance to bargain, and was forever coming
upon things which Thyrsis ought to buy. Very quickly the
neighborhood discovered this propensity of his, and there was a
constant stream of farmers who came to offer second-hand buggies,
and wind-broken horses, and dried-up cows, and patent hay-rakes and
churns and corn-shellers at reduced values; all of which rather
tended to reveal to Thyrsis the unlovely aspects of his neighbors,
and to weaken his faith in the perfectibility of the race.
Among Henery's discoveries was a pair of aged and emaciated mules.
He became eloquent as to how he could fatten up these mules and what
crops he could raise in the spring. So Thyrsis bought the mules, and
also a supply of feed; but the fattening process failed to take
effect-for the reason, as Thyrsis finally discovered, that the mules
were in need of new teeth. When the plowing season began, Henery at
first expended a vast amount of energy in beating the creatures with
a stick, but finally he put his inventive genius to work, and
devised a way to drive them without beating. It was some time before
Thyrsis noted the change; when he made inquiries, he learned to his
consternation that the ingenious Henery had fixed up the stick with
a pin in the end!
At any time of the day one might stand upon the piazza of the house
and gaze out across the corn-field, and see a long procession
marching through the furrow. First there came the mules, and then
came the plow, and then came Henery; and after Henery followed the
dog, and after the dog followed the baby, and after the baby
followed a train of chickens, foraging for worms. Little Cedric was
apparently content to trot back and forth in the field for hours;
which to his much-occupied parents seemed a delightful solution of
a problem. But it happened one day when they had a visit from Mr.
Harding, that Thyrsis and the clergyman came round the side of the
house, and discovered the child engaged in trying to drag a heavy
arm-chair through a door that was too small for it. He was wrestling
like a young titan, purple in the face with rage; and shouting, in a
perfect reproduction of Henery's voice and accent, "Come round here,
God damn you, come round here!"
There were many such drawbacks to be balanced against the joys of
"life on a farm". Thyrsis reflected with a bitter smile that his
experiences and Corydon's had been calculated to destroy their
illusions as to several kinds of romance. They had tried "Grub
Street", and the poet's garret, and the cultivating of literature
upon a little oatmeal; they had not found that a joyful adventure.
They had tried the gypsy style of existence; they had gone back "to
the bosom of nature"--and had found it a cold and stony bosom. They
had tried out "love in a cottage", and the story-writer's dream of
domestic raptures. And now they were chasing another will o' the
wisp--that of "amateur farming"! When Thyrsis had purchased half the
old junk in the township, and had seen the mules go lame, and the
cows break into the pear-orchard and "founder" themselves; when he
had expended two hundred dollars' worth of money and two thousand
dollars' worth of energy to raise one hundred dollars' worth of
vegetables and fruit, he framed for himself the conclusion that a
farm is an excellent place for a literary man, provided that he can
be kept from farming it.
Section 3. As the result of such extravagances, when they had got as
far as the month of February, Thyrsis' bank-account had sunk to
almost nothing. However, he had been getting ready for this
emergency; he had prepared a _scenario_ of his new book, setting
forth the ideas it would contain and the form which it would take.
This he sent to his publisher, with a letter saying that he wanted
the same contract and the same advance as before.
And again he waited in breathless suspense. He knew that he had here
a work of vital import, one that would be certain to make a
sensation, even if it did not sell like a novel. It was, to be sure,
a radical book--perhaps the most radical ever published in America;
but on the other hand, it dealt with questions of literature and
philosophy, where occasionally even respectable and conservative
reviews permitted themselves to dally with ideas. Thyrsis was hoping
that the publisher might see prestige and publicity in the
adventure, and decide to take a chance; when this proved to be the
case, he sank back with a vast sigh of relief. He had now money
enough to last until midsummer, and by that time the book would be
more than half done--and also the farm would be paying.
But alas, it seemed with them that strokes of calamity always
followed upon strokes of good fortune. At this time Corydon's
ailments became acute, and her nervous crises were no longer to be
borne. There were anxious consultations on the subject, and finally
it was decided that she should consult another "specialist". This
was an uncle of Mr. Harding's, a man of most unusual character, the
clergyman declared; the latter was going to the city, and would be
glad to introduce Corydon.
So, a couple of days later came to Thyrsis a letter, conveying the
tidings that she was discovered to be suffering from an abdominal
tumor, and should undergo an immediate operation. It would cost a
hundred dollars, and the hospital expenses would be at least as
much; which meant that, with the bill-paying that had already taken
place, their money would all be gone at the outset!
But Thyrsis did not waste any time in lamenting the inevitable. He
was rather glad of the tidings, on the whole--at least there was a
definite cause for Corydon's suffering, and a prospect of an end to
it. Both of them had still their touching faith in doctors and
surgeons, as speaking with final and godlike authority upon matters
beyond the comprehension of the ordinary mind. The operation would
not be dangerous, Corydon wrote, and it would make a new woman of
"If I could only have Delia Gordon with me," she added, "then my
happiness would be complete. Only think of it, she left for Africa
last week! I know she would have waited, if she'd known about this.
"However, I shall make out. Mr. Harding is going to be in town for
more than a week--he is attending a conference of some sort, and he
has promised to come and see me in the hospital. I think he likes to
do such things--he has the queerest professional air about it, so
that you feel you are being sympathized with for the glory of God.
But really he is very beautiful and good, and I think you have never
appreciated him. I am happy to-day, almost exhilarated; I feel as if
I were about to escape from a dungeon."
Section 4. Such was the mood in which she went to her strange
experience. She liked the hospital-room, tiny, but immaculately
clean; she liked the nurses, who seemed to her to be altogether
superior and exemplary beings--moving with such silence and
assurance about their various tasks. She slept soundly, and in the
morning they combed and plaited her hair and prepared her for the
ceremony. There came a bunch of roses to her room, with a card from
Mr. Harding; and these were exquisite, and made her happy, so that,
when the doctor arrived, she went almost gaily to the operating-room.
Everything there aroused her curiosity; the pure white walls and
ceiling, shining with matchless cleanness, the glittering
instruments arranged carefully on glass tables, the attentive and
pleasant-faced nurses, standing also in pure white, and the doctor
in his vestments, smiling reassuringly. In the centre of the room
was a large glass table, long enough for a reclining body, and
through the sky-light the sun poured a pleasing radiance over all.
"How beautiful!" exclaimed Corydon; and the nurses exchanged
glances, and the old doctor failed to hide an expression of
"I wish all my patients felt like that," said he. "Now climb up on
Corydon promptly did so, and another doctor who was to administer
the anaesthetic came to her side. "Take a very deep breath, please,"
he said, as he placed over her mouth a white, cone-shaped thing that
had a rather suffocating odor. Corydon was obedience itself, and
In a moment her body seemed to be falling from her. "Oh, I don't
like it!" she gasped.
"Breathe deeply, and count as far as you can," came a voice from far
"Stop!" whispered Corydon. "Oh, I don't want--I want to come back!"
Then she began to count--or rather some strange voice, not hers,
seemed to count for her; as the first numbness passed, farther and
farther away she seemed to dissolve, to become a disembodied
consciousness poised in a misty ether. And at that moment--so she
told Thyrsis afterwards--the face of Mr. Harding seemed to appear
just above her, and to look at her with a pained and startled
expression. It was a beautiful face, she thought; and she knew that
everything she felt was being immediately registered in Mr.
Harding's mind. They were two affinitized beings, suspended in the
centre of a cosmos; "their soul intelligences were all that had been
left of the sentient world after some cataclysm.
"I always knew that about us," thought Corydon, and she realized
that the face before her understood, even though at the moment it,
too, was dissolving. "I wonder why"--she mused--"why--" And then the
little spark went out.
Two hours later the doctor was bending over her, anxiously
scrutinizing her passive face. "Nurse, bring me some ice-water," he
was saying. "She takes her time coming to." And sharply he struck
her cheek and forehead with his finger-tips; but she showed no sign.
Deep down in some mysterious inner chamber, beneath the calm face,
there was being enacted a grim spirit-drama. Corydon's soul was
making a monstrous effort to return to its habitation; Corydon felt
herself hanging, a tortured speck of being, in a dark and
illimitable void. "This may be Hell," she thought. "I have neither
hands nor feet, and I cannot fight; but I can _will_ to get back!"
This effort cost her inexpressible agony.
A strange incessant throbbing was going on in the black pit over
which she seemed suspended. It had a kind of rhythm--metallic, and
yet with a human resonance. It began way down somewhere, and
proceeded with maddening accuracy to ascend through the semi-tones
of a gigantic scale. Each beat was agony to her; it ascended to a
certain pitch in merciless crescendo, then fell to the bottom again,
and began anew its swift, maddeningly accurate ascent. Each time it
ascended a little higher, and always straining her endurance to the
uttermost, and bringing a more vivid realization of agony. "Will you
stop here," it seemed to pulsate. "No, no, I will go on," willed
Corydon. "You shall not keep me, I must escape, I must _get out_."
But it kept up incessantly, ruthlessly, its strange, formless,
soundless din, until the spirit writhed in its grasp.
Finally it seemed to Corydon that she was getting nearer--nearer to
something, she knew not what. The blackness about her seemed to
condense, and she found herself in what was apparently the middle of
a lake, and some dark bodies with arms were trying to drag her down.
"No, no," she willed to these forms, "you _shall_ not. I do not
belong here, I belong up--up!" And by a violent effort she
escaped--into sensations yet more agonizing, more acute. The
vibrations were getting faster and faster, whirling her along,
stretching her consciousness to pieces. "Will it never end?" she
thought. "Have mercy!" But after an eternity of such repetition, she
found a bright light staring at her, and a frightful sense of
heaviness, like mountains piled upon her. Also, eating her up from
head to foot, was a strange, unusual pain; yes, it must be pain,
though she had never felt anything like it before. She moaned; and
there came a spasm of nausea, that seemed to tear her asunder.
The doctor was standing by her. "She gave me quite a fright," he was
saying. "There, that's it, nurse. She'll be sleeping sweetly in a
minute." The nurse hurried forward, and Corydon felt a stinging
sensation in her side, and then a delightful numbness crept over
her. "Oh, thank you, doctor," she whispered.
Section 5. The next week held for Corydon continuous suffering,
which she bore with a rebellious defiance--feeling that she had
been betrayed in some way. "If you had only told me," she wailed, to
the doctor. "I would rather have stayed as I was before!" For answer
he would pat her cheek and tell her to go to sleep.
The days dragged on. Every afternoon her mother came and read to her
for several hours; and in the afternoons Mr. Harding would come, and
sit by her bedside in his kind way and talk to her. Sometimes he
only stayed a few minutes, but often he would spend an hour or so,
trying to dispel the clouds of gloom and despondency that were
hanging over her. Corydon told him of her vision in the
operating-room, and strange to say he declared that he had known it
all; also he said that he had helped her to fight her way back to
He seemed to understand her every need, and from his sympathy gave
her all the comfort he could. But he little realized all that it
meant to her--how deeply it stirred her gratitude and her liking for
him. During the day she would find herself counting the hours until
the time he had named; and when the expected knock would come, and
his tall figure appear at the door, her heart would give a sudden
jump and send the blood rushing to her head. Her lips would tremble
slightly as she held out her hand to him; and as he sat and looked
at her, she would become uncomfortably conscious of the beating of
her heart; in fact at times it would almost suffocate her, and her
cheeks would become as fire.
She wondered if he noticed it. But he seemed concerned only for her
welfare, and anxiously inquired how she felt. She was not doing
well, it seemed, and the doctor was greatly troubled; her
temperature had not become normal since the operation, and they
could not account for it, as she was suffering no more than the
usual amount of pain. To Corydon this was a matter of no importance;
she was willing to lie there all day, if only the hour of Mr.
Harding's visit would come more quickly. She was beginning to be
alarmed because she had such difficulty in controlling her
The magic hour would strike, and the door of hope open, and there
upon the threshold he would appear, in all his superb manhood.
Corydon thought she had never before met a man who gave her such an
impression of vitality. He was splendid; he was like a young Viking,
who brought into the room with him the pure air of the Northern
mountains. When he looked at her, his eyes assumed a wonderful
expression, a "golden" expression, as Corydon described it to
herself. And day after day she clothed this Viking in more lustrous
garments, woven from the threads of her imagination, her innermost
desires and her dreams. And always at sight of him, her heart beat
faster, her head became hotter; until the bed she lay upon became a
bed of burning coals. She realized at last what had happened to her,
that she loved--yes, that she loved! But she must not let her Viking
see it; that would be unpardonable, it would damn her forever in his
sight. And so she struggled with her secret. At night she slept in
fitful starts, and in the morning she lay pale and sombre. But when
he came she was all brilliancy and animation.
Section 6. Each night the doctor would look anxiously at his
thermometer; it was a source of great worry to him and to Corydon's
parents that the fever did not abate. Also, needless to say, the
news worried Thyrsis; all the more, because it meant a long stay in
the hospital, and more of their money gone. At last he came up to
town to see about it; and Corydon thought to herself, "This is very
wrong of me. It is Thyrsis I ought to be interested in, it is his
sympathy I ought to be craving."
She brought the image of Thyrsis before her; it seemed vague and
unreal. She found that she remembered mostly the unattractive
aspects of him. And this brought a pang to her. "He is good and
noble," she told herself; she forced herself to think of generous
things that he had done.
He came; and then she felt still more ashamed. He had been working
very hard, and was pale and haggard; it was becoming to him to be
that way. Recollections came back to her in floods; yes, he was
truly good and noble!
He sat by her bedside, and she told him about the operation, and
poured out the hunger of her soul to him. He stayed all the morning
with her, and he came again and spent the afternoon with her. He
read to her and kissed her and soothed her--his influence was very
calming, she found. After he had gone for the night, Corydon lay
thinking, "I still love him!"
How strange it was that she could love two men at once! It was
surely very wrong! She would never have dreamed that she, Corydon,
could do such a thing. She thought of Harry Stuart, and of the
unacknowledged thrill of excitement which his presence had brought
to her. "And now here it is again," she mused--"only this time it is
worse! What _can_--be the matter with me?"
Then she wondered, "Do I really love Mr. Harding? Haven't I got over
it now?" But the least thinking of him sufficed to set her heart to
thumping again; and so she shrunk from that train of thought. She
wanted to love her husband.
He came again the next morning, and Corydon found that she was very
happy in his presence. Her fever was slightly lower, and she
thought, "I will get well quickly now."
But alas, she had reckoned in this without Thyrsis! To sit in the
hospital all day was a cruel strain upon him; the more so as he had
been entirely unprepared for it. Corydon had assured him that the
operation would be nothing, and that she would not need him; and so
he had just finished a harrowing piece of labor on the book. Now to
stay all day and witness her struggle, to satisfy her craving for
sympathy and to meet and wrestle with her despair--it was like
having the last drops of his soul-energy squeezed out of him. He did
not know what was troubling Corydon, but the _rapport_ between them
was so close, that he knew she was in some distress of mind.
He stood the ordeal as long as he could, and then he had to beg for
respite. Cedric was down on the farm, with no one but the servants
to care for him; so he would go back, and see that everything was
all right, and after he had rested up for two or three days, he
would come again. Corydon smiled faintly and assented--for that
morning she had received a note from Mr. Harding, saying that he
would be in town the next day, and would call.
So Thyrsis went away, and Corydon lay and thought the problem over
again. "Yes, I love my husband; but it's such an effort for him to
love me! And why should that be? I don't believe it would be such an
effort for Mr. Harding to love me!"
So again she was seized by the thought of the young clergyman. And
she was astonished at the difference in her feelings--the flood of
emotion that swept over her. Her heart began to beat fast and her
cheeks once more to burn. He was coming up to the city on purpose,
this time; it must be that he wanted to see her very much!
That night was an especially hard one for her; she felt as though
the frail shell that held her were breaking, as though her endurance
were failing altogether. The fever had risen, and her bed had seemed
like the burning arms of Moloch. Once she imagined that the room was
stifling her, and in a sudden frenzy of impatience she struggled
upon one elbow and flung her pillow across the room. In that instant
she had noticed a new and sharp pain in her side; it did not leave
her, though at the time she thought little about it.
She was all absorbed in the coming of Mr. Harding; by the time
morning had come she had made up her mind that her one hope of
deliverance was in confession. She must tell him, she must make
known to him her love; and he would forgive her, and then her heart
would not beat so violently at sight of him, her fever would abate
and she might rest.
But when he sat there, talking to her, and looking so beautiful and
so strange, she trembled, and made half a dozen vain efforts to
begin. Finally she asked, "Have you ever read that poem of Heine's--
'Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen, Die hat einen Andern erwählt?'"
"Oh, yes," he answered; then they were silent again. Finally Corydon
nerved herself to yet another effort. "Mr. Harding," she said, "will
you come a little nearer, please. I have something very important to
say to you." And then, waveringly and brokenly, now in agonized
abashment, now rushing ahead as she felt his encouragement and
sympathy, she gave him the whole story of her suffering and its
cause. When she came to the words "because I love you", she closed
her eyes and her spirit sank back with a great gasp of relief.
When she opened them again, his head was bowed in his hands and he
did not move. "Mr. Harding," she whispered, "Mr. Harding, you
forgive me, do you not? You do not hate me?"
He roused himself with an effort. "Dear child," said he, and as he
looked at her she thought she had never seen a face so sad, so
exquisite--"it is I who ask forgiveness."
He rose and came to her bedside, and took her hand in both of his.
"It would not be right for me to say to you what you have said to
me. We must not speak of this any more. You will promise me this,
and then you will rest, and to-morrow you will be better. Soon you
will be well; and how glad your husband will be--and all of us."
With that he pressed her hand firmly, and left the room; and Corydon
turned her face to the wall, and whispered happily to herself, "Yes,
he loves me, he loves me! And now I shall rest!"
Section 7. For a while she slept the sleep of exhaustion, nor did
there fall across her dreams the shadow of the angel of fate who was
even then placing his mark upon her forehead. Toward morning she was
awakened suddenly with the sharp pain in her side; but it abated
presently, and Corydon thought blissfully of the afternoon before.
He would come again to her, she would see him that very day; and so
what did pain matter? She was really happy at last. But as the day
advanced, she became uneasy; her fever had not diminished, and the
pain was becoming more persistent.
The nurse was anxious, too. Her mother came and regarded her in
alarm. But she was thinking of Mr. Harding. He was coming; he might
arrive at any moment.
There was a knock upon the door. Corydon's pulse fluttered, and she
whispered, "Here he is!" She could scarcely speak the words, "Come
in". But when the door opened, she saw that it was the doctor. Her
heart sank, and she closed her eyes with a moan of pain. Could it be
that he was not coming? Could it be that she had been mistaken--that
he did not love her after all? She must see him--she must! She could
not endure this suspense; she could not endure these interruptions
by other people.
The doctor came and sat by her. "I must see what is the matter
here," he said. "Why do you not get well, Corydon?"
He questioned her carefully and looked grave. "I must have a
consultation at once," he said.
Corydon's hand caught at his sleeve. "No, no!" she whispered.
"Don't be afraid," said the doctor. "It won't hurt."
"It isn't that," said Corydon. She all but added, "I must see Mr.
She was wheeled into the operating-room, but this time there was no
interest in her eyes as she regarded the smooth table and the
shining instruments. As they lifted her upon it, she shuddered. "Oh
I cannot, I cannot!" she wailed.
"There, there," said the doctor. "Be brave. We wish simply to see
what the matter is. It won't take long."
And they put the cone to her mouth. Corydon struggled and gasped,
but it was no use, she was in the clutches of the fiend again; only
this time there was no ecstasy, and no vision of Mr. Harding.
Instead there was instant and sickening suffocation. Again she
descended into the uttermost depths of the inferno; and it seemed as
though this time the brave will was not equal to the battle before
The surgeons made their examination, and they discovered more
diseased tissue, and a slowly spreading infection. So there was
nothing for it but to operate again--they held a quick consultation,
and then went ahead. And afterwards they labored and sweated, and by
dint of persistent effort, and every device at their command, they
fanned into life once more the faint spark in the ashen-grey form
that lay before them. But it was a feeble flame they got; as
Corydon's eyelids fluttered, the only sign of recognition that came
from her lips was a moan, and from her eyes a look of dazed
stupidity. But there was hope for her life, the doctors said; and
they sent a telegram which Thyrsis got three days later, when he had
fought his way to the town through five miles of heavy snow-drifts.
Meantime the grim fight for life was going on. In the morning
Corydon opened her eyes to a burning torture, the racked and twisted
nerves quivering in rebellion. It did not come in twinges of pain,
it was a slow, deadening, persistent agony, that pervaded every inch
of her body. She wondered how she could bear it, how she could live.
And yet, strangely, inexplicably, she wanted to live. She did not
know why--she had been outraged, she had been deserted by all, she
was but a feeble atom of determination in the centre of a hostile
universe. And yet she would pit her will against them all, God, man,
and devil; they should not conquer her, she would win out.
So she would clench her teeth together and fight. For hours she
would stare at the wall, the blank, unresponsive, formless wall
before her; and then, when the shadows of the evening fell, and they
saw she was fainting from exhaustion, they would come with the
needle of oblivion, and the dauntless soul would die for the night,
and return in the morning to its pitiless task.
Section 8. Thyrsis received a couple of letters at the same time as
the telegram, and he took the next train for the city. It is said
that a drowning man sees before him in a few moments the panorama of
his whole life; but to Thyrsis were given three hours in which to
recall the events of his love for Corydon. He had every reason to
believe that he would find her dying; and such pangs of suffering as
came to him he had never known before. He was in a crowded car, and
he would not shed a tear; but he sat, crouched in a heap and staring
before him, fairly quivering with pent-up and concentrated grief.
God, how he loved her! What a spirit of pure flame she was--what a
creature from another sky! What martyrdom she had dared for him, and
how cruelly she had been punished for her daring! And now, this was
the end; she was dying--perhaps dead! How was he to live without
her--in the bare and barren future that he saw stretching out before
Flashes of memory would come to him, waves of torment roll over
him. He would recall her gestures, the curves of her face, the tones
of her voice, the songs that she had sung; and then would come a
choking in his throat, and he would clench his hands, as a runner in
the last moments of a desperate race. He thought of her as he had
seen her last. He had gone away, careless and unthinking--how blind
he had been! The things that he had not said to her, and that he
might have said so easily! The love he had not uttered, the pardons
he had not procured! The yearnings and consecrations that had
remained unspoken all through their lives--ah God, what a tragedy of
impotence and failure their lives had been!
Then before his soul came troops of memories, each one a fiend with
a whip of fire; the words of anger that he had spoken, the acts of
cruelty that he had done! The times when he had made her weep, and
had not comforted her! Oh, what a fool he had been--what a blind and
wanton fool! And now--if he were to find her dead, and never be able
to tell her of his shame and sorrow--he knew that he would carry the
memories with him all his days, they would be like blazing scars
upon his soul.
She was still alive, however; and so he took a deep breath, and went
at his task. There was no question now of what he could bear to do,
but of what he must do; she must be saved, and who could do it but
himself? Who else could take her hands and whisper to her, and fill
her with new courage and hope; who else could bid her to live--to
live; could rouse the fainting spirit, and bid it rise up and set
forth upon the agonizing journey?
So out of the very abyss they came together. But when at last the
fight was won, when the doctors an-nounced that she was out of
danger, Thyrsis was fairly reeling with exhaustion. When he left her
in the afternoon, he would go to his hotel-room and lie down,
utterly prostrated; he would lie awake the whole night through,
wrestling with the demons of horror that he had brought with him
from her bedside.
So he realized that he was on the verge of collapse, and that cost
what it would, he must get away. Corydon's mother was with her, and
when she was strong enough to be moved, she would be taken back to
the farm. He mentioned this to Corydon, and she replied that she
would be satisfied. There would be Mr. Harding also, she said; Mr.
Harding wrote that he would come up to the city, and do what he
could to help her in her dire distress.
Section 9. There came from the higher regions a pass upon a steamer
to Florida; and so Thyrsis sailed away. With a determined effort he
took all his cares, and locked them back in a far chamber of his
mind. He would not think about Corydon, nor about what he would do
for money when he came home; more important yet, he would clear the
book out of his thoughts--he would not permit it to gnaw at him all
day and all night.
And by these resolves he stood grimly. He walked the deck for hours
every day; he watched the foaming green waters, and the gulls
wheeling in the sky, and the sun setting over the sea, and the new
moon showering its fire upon the waves. Gradually the air grew warm,
and ice and snow became as an evil dream. A land of magic it seemed
to which Thyrsis came--the beauty of it enfolded him like a clasp of
love. He saw pine-forests, and swamps with alligators in them, and
live oaks draped with trailing grey moss. The clumps of palmettos
fascinated him--he had seen pictures of such trees in the tropics,
and would hardly have been astonished to see a herd of elephants in
He found a beach, snow-white and hard, upon which he walked for
uncounted miles. He gathered strange shells and crabs, and watched
the turkey-buzzards on the shore, and the slow procession of the
pelicans, sailing past above the tops of the breakers. He saw the
black fins of the grampuses cutting the water, and thought that they
were sharks. He stood for hours at a time up to his waist in the
surf, casting for sea-bass; he got few fish, but joy and excitement
he got in abundance.
Then, back upon the hammocks--to walk upon the hard shell roads, and
see orange and lemon-groves, and gardens filled with roses and
magnolias, and orchards of mulberry and fig-trees. Truly this must
have been the land which the poet had described--
"Where every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile."
Thyrsis stayed in a humble boarding-house, but nearby was one of the
famous winter-resorts of the Florida East Coast, and he was free to
go there, and wander about the lobbies and piazzas of the palatial
hotels, and watch the idle rich at their diversions. A strange
society they were--it seemed as if the scum of the civilization of
forty-five states had been blown into this bit of back-water. Here
were society women, jaded with dissipation; stock-brokers and
financiers, fleeing from the strain of the "Street"; here were
parasites of every species, who, having nothing to do at home--or
perhaps not even having any home--had come to this land of warmth to
prolong their orgies. They raced over the roads and beaches in
autos, and over the water in swift motor-boats; they dressed
themselves half a dozen times a day, they fed themselves upon rich
and costly foods, they gambled and gossiped and drank and wantoned
their time away. As he watched them it was all that Thyrsis could do
to keep himself from beginning another manifesto for the "Appeal to
Reason". Oh, if only the toilers of the nation could be brought
here, and shown what became of the wealth they produced!
As if to complete his study of winter-resort manners and morals,
Thyrsis encountered a college acquaintance whose father had become
enormously rich through a mining speculation, and was here with a
party of friends in a private-train. So he was whirled off in one of
half a dozen automobiles, and rode for a hundred miles or so to an
inland lake, and sat down to an _al fresco_ luncheon of such
delicacies as _paté de fois gras_ and jellied grouse and champagne.
Afterwards the young people wandered about and amused themselves,
and the elders played "bridge", in the face of all the raptures of
this wonderland of nature.
A strange and sombre figure Thyrsis must have seemed to these
people, with his brooding air and his worn clothing; he rode home in
an auto with half a dozen youths and maidens, and while they flashed
by lakes and rivers that gleamed in the golden moon-light, and by
orchards and gardens from which the mingled scents of millions of
blossoms were wafted to them, these voung people jested together and
laughed and sang.
And Thyrsis lay back and watched them and studied them. Their music
was what is called "rag-time"--they had apparently found nothing
better to do with their lives than to learn hundreds of verses and
melodies, of which the subject-matter was the whims and moods of the
half-tamed African race--their vanities and their barbarous
impulses, and above all their hot and lustful passions. Song after
song they poured forth, the substance of which was summed up in one
line that Thyrsis happened to carry away with him--
"Ah lubs you, mah honey, yes, Ah do!"
It seemed to him such a curious and striking commentary upon the
stage which leisure-class culture had reached, in the course of its
reversion to savagery.
Section 10. Thyesis came home after three weeks, browned and
refreshed, and ready to take up the struggle again. He came with the
cup of his love and sympathy overflowing; eager to see Corydon, and
to tell her his adventures, and to share with her his store of new
He found her reclining on the piazza of the farm-house. The April
buds were bursting upon the trees, and the odor of spring was in the
air; also, the flush of health was stealing back into Corydon's
cheeks. How beautiful she looked, and how soft and gentle was her
caress, and what wistfulness and tenderness were in the smile with
which she greeted him!
There was the baby also, tumultuous and excited. Thyrsis took him
upon his knee, and while he fondled him and played with him, he told
Corydon about his trip. But in a short while it became evident to
him that she had something on her mind; and finally she sent the
baby away to play, and began, "There is something I have to tell
"Yes, dear?" he said.
"It is something very, very important."
"Yes?" he repeated.
"I--I don't know just how to begin," said Corydon. "I hope you are
not going to be angry."
"I can't imagine myself being angry just now," he replied; and then,
struck by a sense of familiarity in this introduction, he asked,
with a smile, "You haven't been seeing Harry Stuart, have you?"
Corydon frowned at the words. "Don't speak of that!" she said,
quickly. "I am not joking."
He saw that she was agitated, and so he fell silent.
"I hesitated a long time about telling you," she went on. "But you
must know. I am sure it's right to tell you."
"By all means, dearest," he answered.
"It's a long story," she said. "I must go back to my first
operation." And then she began, and told him how she had found
herself thinking of Mr. Harding, and of the strange vision she had
had; she told of all her fevered excitements, and of her confession
to him. When she finished she was trembling all over, and her face
and throat were flushed.
Thyrsis sat for a while in silence, looking very grave. "I see," he
"You--you are not angry with me?" she asked.
"No, I'm not angry," he replied. "But tell me, what has been going
"Well," said Corydon, "Mr. Harding has been coming here to see me.
He saw I needed help, and he couldn't refuse it. It was--it was his
duty to come."
"Yes," said the other. "Go on."
"Well, I think he had an idea that the whole thing was a product of
my sickness; and when I was well again, it would all be over."
"And is it, Corydon?"
She sat staring in front of her; her voice sank to a whisper. "No,"
she said. "It--it isn't."
"And does he know that?" asked Thyrsis.
"He knows everything," she replied. "I don't need to tell him
"But have you talked about it with him?"
"A little," she said. "That is, you see, I had to explain to him--to
apologize for what I had done in the hospital. I wanted him to know
that I wouldn't have said anything to him, if I hadn't been so very
"I see," said Thyrsis.
"And I want you to understand," added Corydon, quickly-"you must not
blame him. For he's the soul of honor, Thyrsis; and he can't help
how he feels about me-any more than I can help it. You must know
"Yes, I know that."
"He's been so good and so noble about it. He thinks so much of you,
Thyrsis--he wouldn't do you wrong, not by a single word. He said
that to me---over and over again. He's frightened, you know, that
either of us might do wrong. He's so sensitive-I think he takes
things more seriously than anybody we've ever known."
"I understand," said Thyrsis; and then, after a pause, he inquired,
"But what's to come of it?"
"How do you mean?" she asked.
"What are you going to do?"
"Why, I don't know that there's anything to do, Thyrsis. What would
"But are you going on being in love with him forever?"
"I--I don't see how I can tell, Thyrsis. Would it do any harm?"
"It might grow on you," he said, with a slight smile. "It sometimes
"Mr. Harding said we ought never to speak of it again," said she.
"And I guess he's right about that. He said that our lives would
always be richer, because we had discovered each other's souls; that
it would help us to grow into a nobler life."
"I see," said Thyrsis. "But it's a trifle disconcerting at first.
I'll need a little time to get used to it."
"Mr. Harding is very anxious to know you better," remarked Corydon.
"But you see, he's afraid of you, Thyrsis. You are so direct--you
get to the point too quickly for him."
"Um--yes," said he. "I can imagine that."
"And he thinks you distrust him," she went on--"just because he's
orthodox. But he's really not half as backward as you think. His
faith means a great deal to him. I only wish I had such a faith in
my own life."
To which Thyrsis responded, "God knows, my dear, I wish you had."
Section 11. The young clergyman came to call the next afternoon, and
the three sat upon the lawn and talked. They talked about Florida,
and then about Socialism--as was inevitable, after Thyrsis had
described the population of the East Coast hotels. But he felt
constrained and troubled--he did not know just how a man should
conduct himself with his wife's lover; and so in the end he excused
himself and strolled off.
He came back as Mr. Harding was leaving; and it seemed to him that
the other's face wore a look of pain and distress. Also, at supper
he noted that Corydon was ill at ease.
"Something has gone wrong with your program?" he inquired.
To which Corydon answered, "Mr. Harding thinks he ought not to come
"Not come any more?"
"He says I don't need him now. And he thinks--he thinks it isn't
right. He's afraid to come."
And so a week passed, and the young clergyman was not seen again.
Thyrsis noticed that his wife was silent a great deal; and that when
she did talk, she talked about Mr. Harding. His heart ached to see
her as she was, so pitifully weak and appealing. She was scarcely
able to walk alone yet; and she complained also that her mind had
been weakened by the frightful ordeal she had undergone. It
exhausted her to do any thinking at all; and she seemed to have
forgotten nearly all she knew--there were whole subjects upon which
her mind appeared to be a blank.
So he gave up trying to think about his book, and went about all day
pondering this new problem. It was one of the laws of the marriage
state that he must suffer whenever she suffered. It was never
permitted to him to question the reality of any of her emotions; if
they were real to her, they were real in the only sense that
counted; and he must take them with the entire tragic seriousness
that she took them, he must regard them as inevitable and fatal. For
himself, he could change or suppress emotions--that ability was the
most characteristic fact about him; but Corydon could not do it, and
so he was not permitted to do it. That would be to manifest the
"cold" and "stern" self, which was to Corydon an object of
abhorrence and fear.
So now he went about all day, brooding over this trouble. He would
come to Corydon and see her gazing across the valley with a
melancholy look upon her features; he would see her, with her sweet
face as if suffused with unshed tears. And what was he to do about
it? Was he to rebuke her--however gently--and urge her to suppress
this yearning? To do that would be to plunge her into abysses of
grief. Or was he to come to her, and utter his own love to her, and
draw her to him again? He knew that he could do that--he was
conceited enough to believe that with his eloquence and his power of
soul, he could have wiped Mr. Harding clean out of her thoughts in a
few days. But then, when he had done it, he would have to go back to
the task of revolutionizing the world's critical standards; and what
would become of Corydon after that? What she needed, he told
himself, was a love that was not a will o' the wisp and a fraud, but
a love that was real and unceasing; she needed the love of a man,
and not of an artist!
Here were two young people who were in love with each other; and
according to the specifications of the moral code, they had their
minds made up to sublime renunciation. But then, Thyrsis had a moral
code of his own, and in it renunciation was not the only law of
It was only when he thought of losing Corydon, that he realized to
the full how much he loved her. Then all their consecrations and
their pledges would come back to him; he would hold her as the
greatest human soul that he had ever met. But it was a strange
paradox, that precisely the depth of his love for her made him
willing to think of losing her. He loved her for herself, and not
for anything she gave him; he wanted her to be happy, he wanted her
to grow and achieve, and in order to see her do this he would make
any sacrifice in the world. In how many hours of insight had it
become clear to him that he himself could never make her happy--that
he was not the man to be her husband! Now it seemed as if the time
had come for him to prove that he meant what he had said--that he
was willing to stand by his vision and to act upon it.
So after one day of especial unhappiness, he made up his mind to a
desperate resolve; and at night, when all the household was asleep,
he went over to his lonely study and sat down with a pen in his
hand, and summoned the spirit of Mr. Harding before him.
"I have concluded to write you a letter," he began. "You will find
it a startling and unusual one. I can only beg you to believe that I
have written it after much hesitation, and that it represents most
earnest and prayerful thought upon my part.
"Since my return, I have become aware of the situation which has
developed between yourself and my wife. Her welfare is dearer to me
than anything else in the world; and after thinking it over, I
concluded that her welfare required that I should explain to you the
relationship which exists between us. It seems unlikely that you
could know about it otherwise, for it is a very unusual
"I suppose there is no need for me to tell you that Corydon is not
happy. She never has been happy as my wife, and I fear that she
never will be. She is by nature warm-hearted, craving affection and
companionship. I, on the other hand, am by nature impersonal and
self-absorbed--I am compelled by the exigencies of my work to be
abstracted and indifferent to things about me. I perceived this
before our marriage, but not clearly enough to save her; it has been
her misfortune that I have loved her so dearly that I have been
driven to attempt the impossible. I am continuually deceiving myself
into the belief that I am succeeding--and I am continually deceiving
Corydon in the same way. It has been our habit to talk things out
between us frankly; but this is a truth from which we have shrunk
instinctively. I have always seen it as the seed of what must grow
to be a bitter tragedy.
"The possibility that Corydon might come to love some other man was
one that I had not thought of--it was very stupid of me, no doubt.
But now it has happened; and I have worked over the problem with all
the faculties I possess. A man who was worthy of Corydon's love
would be very apt, under the circumstances, to feel that he must
crush his impulses towards her. But when we were married, it was
with the agreement that our marriage should be binding upon us only
so long as it was for the highest spiritual welfare of both; and by
that agreement it is necessary that we should stand at all times. My
purpose in writing to you is to let you know that I have no claim
upon Corydon which prohibits her from continuing her acquaintance
with you; and that if in the course of time it should become clear
that Corydon would be happier as your wife than as mine, I should
regard it as my duty to step aside. Having said this, I feel that I
have done my part. I leave the matter in your hands, with the
fullest confidence in your sincerity and good faith."
Thyrsis wrote this letter, and read it a couple of times. Then he
decided to sleep over it; and the next morning he wakened, and read
it again--with a shock of surprise. He found it a startling letter.
It opened up vistas to his spirit; vistas of loneliness and grief--
and then again, vistas of freedom and triumph. If he were to mail
it, it would be irrevocable; and it would probably mean that he
would lose Corydon. And _could_ he make up his mind to lose her? His
swift thoughts flew to their parting; there were tears in his eyes--
his love came back to him, as it had when he thought she was dying.
But then again, there came a thrill of exultation; the captive lion
within him smelt the air of the jungle, and rattled his chains and
Throughout breakfast he was absent-minded and ill at ease; he bid
Corydon a farewell which puzzled her by its tenderness, and then
started to walk to Bellevue with the letter. Half way in, he
stopped. No, he could not do it--it was a piece of madness; but then
he started again--he _must_ do it. He found himself pacing up and
down before the post office, where for nearly an hour he struggled
to screw his courage to the sticking-point. Once he started away,
having made up his mind that he would take another day to think the
matter over; but after he had walked half a mile or so, he changed
his mind and strode back, and dropped the letter in the box.
And then a pang smote him. It was done! All the way as he walked
home he had to fight with an impulse to go back, and persuade the
postmaster to return the letter to him!
Section 12. Thyrsis figured that the fatal document would reach Mr.
Harding that afternoon; and the next morning in his anxiety he
walked a mile or two to meet the mail-carrier on his way. Sure
enough, there was a reply from the clergyman. He tore it open and
read it swiftly:
"I received your letter, and I hasten to answer. I cannot tell you
the distress of mind which it has caused me. There has been a most
dreadful misundertanding, and I can only hope that it has not gone
too far to be corrected. I beg you to believe me that there has been
nothing between your wife and myself that could justify the
inference you have drawn. Your wife was in terrible distress of
spirit, and I visited her and tried to comfort her--such is my duty
as a clergyman, as I conceive it. I did nothing but what a clergyman
should properly do, and you have totally misunderstood me, and also
your wife, who is the most innocent and gentle and trusting of
souls. She is utterly devoted to you, and the idea that the help I
have tried to give her should be the occasion of any misunderstanding
between you is dreadful for me to contemplate.
"I must implore you to believe this, and dismiss these cruel
suspicions from your mind. If I were to be the cause of breaking up
your home, and wrecking Corydon's life, it would be more than I
could bear. I have a most profound belief in the sanctity of the
institution of marriage, and not for anything in the world would I
have been led to do, or even to contemplate in my own thoughts,
anything which would trespass upon its obligations. I repeat to you
with all the earnestness of which I am capable that your idea is
without basis, and I beg you to banish it from your mind. You may
rely upon it that I will not see your wife again, under any
Thyrsis read this, and then stared before him with knitted brows.
"Why, what's the matter with the man?" he said to himself. And then
he read the letter over again, weighing its every phrase. "Did he
think my letter was sarcasm?" he wondered. "Did he think I was
He went to his study and got the rough draft of his own letter, and
reread and pondered it. No, he concluded, it was not possible that
Mr. Harding had thought he was angry. "He's trying to dodge!" he
exclaimed. "He can't bring himself to face the thing!"
But then again, he wondered. Could it be that the man was right;
could it be that Corydon had misunderstood him and his attitude? Or
had he perhaps experienced a reaction, and was now trying to deny
For several hours Thyrsis pondered the problem; and then he went and
sat by her, as she was reading on the piazza. "You haven't heard
anything more from Mr. Harding, have you?" he asked.
"Nothing," said Corydon.
"What do you suppose he intends to do?"
"I--I don't know," she said. "I don't think he means to come back."
"But why not, dear?"
"He's afraid to trust himself, Thyrsis."
"You think he really cares for you, then?"
"But, how can you be sure?" he asked.
At which Corydon smiled. "A woman has ways of knowing about such
things," she said.
"I wish you'd tell me about it," said he.
But after a little thought, she shook her head. "Maybe some day, but
not now. It wouldn't be fair to him. It isn't going any further, and
that's enough for you to know."
"He must be unhappy, isn't he?" said Thyrsis, artfully.
"Yes," she answered, "he's unhappy, I'm sure. He takes things very
Thyrsis paused a moment. "Did he tell you that he loved you?" he
"No," said Corydon. "He--he wouldn't have permitted himself to do
that. That would have been wrong."
"But then--what did he do?"
"He looked at me," she said.
"When he went off the other day--did he know how you still felt?"
"Yes, Thyrsis; why do you ask?"
"I thought you might have been deceiving yourself."'
At which she smiled and replied, "I wouldn't have bothered to tell
you in that case."
Section 13. So Thyrsis strolled away, and after duly considering the
matter, he sat himself down to compose another letter to the young
"My dear Mr. Harding:
"I read your note with a great deal of perplexity. It is evident to
me that I have not made the situation clear to you; you probably do
not find it easy to realize the frankness which Corydon and I
maintain in our relationship. I must tell you at the outset that she
has narrated to me what has passed between you, and so I am not
dealing with 'cruel suspicions', but with facts. Can I not persuade
you to do the same?
"It is difficult for me to be sure just what is in your mind. But
for one thing, let me make certain that you are not trying to read
anything between the lines of what I write you. Please understand I
am not angry, or jealous, or suspicious; also, I am not unhappy--at
least not so unhappy but that I can stand it. I have stood a good
deal of unhappiness in my life, and Corydon has also.
"You tell me about your attitude towards my wife. Of course it may
be that as you come to look back upon what has passed between you,
it seems to you that your feeling for her was not deep and
permanent, and that you would prefer not to continue your
acquaintance with her. That would be your right--you have not
pledged yourself in any way. All that I desire is, that in
considering the state of your feelings, you should deal with them,
and not with any duty which you may imagine you owe to _me_. I have
no claim in the matter, and any that I might have, I forego.
"The crux of the whole difficulty I imagine must lie in what you say
about your 'profound belief in the sanctity of the institution of
marriage'. That is, of course, a large question to attempt to
discuss in a letter. I can only say that I once had such a belief,
and that as a result of my studies I have it no longer. I see the
institution of marriage as a product of a certain phase of the
economic development of the race, which phase is rapidly passing, if
it be not already past. And the institution to me seems to share in
the evils of the economic phase; indeed I am accustomed, when
invited to discuss the institution of marriage, to insist upon
discussing what actually exists--which is the institution of
"Our economic system affords to certain small classes of men--to
capitalists, to merchants, to lawyers, to clergymen--opportunities
of comfort and dignity and knowledge and health and virtue. But to
certain other classes, and far larger classes-to miners, to steel-
workers, to garment-makers--it deals out misery and squalor and
ignorance and disease and vice. And in the case of women it does
exactly the same; to some it gives a sheltered home, with comfort
and beauty and peace; while to others it gives a life of loneliness
and sterility, and to others a life of domestic slavery, and to yet
others only the horrors of the brothel. And when you come to
investigate, you find that the difference is everywhere one of
economic advantage. The merchant, the lawyer, the clergyman, has
education and privilege, he can wait and make his terms; but the
miner, the steel-worker, the sweat-shop-toiler, has to sell his
labor for what will keep him alive that day. And in the same way
with women--some can acquire accomplishments, virtues, charms; and
when it comes to giving their love, they can secure the
life-contract which we call marriage. But the daughter of the slums
has no opportunity to acquire such accomplishments and virtues and
charms, and often she cannot hold out for such a bargain--she sells
her love for the food and shelter that she needs to keep her alive.
"This will seem radical doctrine to you, I suppose; I have noticed
that you take our institutions at their face-value, and do not ask
how much in them may be sham. But it seems to me there is no need to
go into that matter here, for no trespass upon the marriage
obligation is proposed. The conventions undoubtedly give me the
right to be outraged because my wife is in love with another man; I
can denounce him, and humiliate her. But if I am willing to forego
this right, if I do not care to play Othello to her Desdemona, what
then? Who can claim to be injured by my renunciation?
"Of course I know it is said that marriages are made in Heaven, and
that what God hath joined together, no man may put asunder. But it
is difficult for me to imagine that an intelligent man would take
this attitude at the present day. If I were dead, you would surely
recognize that Corydon might remarry; you would recognize it, I
presume, if I were hopelessly insane, or degenerate. What if I were
in the habit of getting drunk and maltreating her--would you claim
that she was condemned to suffer this for life? Or suppose that I
were found to be physically impotent? And can you not recognize the
fact that there might be impotence of an intellectual and spiritual
sort, which could leave a woman quite as unhappy, and make her life
quite as barren and futile?
"Let us suppose, for the sake of the argument, that I have stated
correctly the facts between Corydon and myself; that there exists
between us a fundamental difference in temperament, which makes it
certain that, however much we might respect and admire, and even
love each other, we could never either of us be happy as man and
wife; and suppose that Corydon were to meet some other man, with
whom she could live harmoniously; and that she loved him sincerely,
and he loved her; and that I were to recognize this, and be willing
that she should leave me--do you mean that you would maintain that
such a course was wrong? And if it were, with whom would the blame
be? With her, because she did not condemn herself to a lifetime of
failure? Or with me, because I did not desire her to do
this--because I did not wish to waste my life-force in trying to
content a discontented woman?
"I might add that I have said nothing to Corydon about having
written to you; she has no idea that I have thought of such a thing,
and she would be horrified at the suggestion. I have taken the
responsibility of doing it, realizing that there was no other way in
which you could be made acquainted with the true situation. There is
much more that I could say about all this, but it seems a waste of
time to write it. Can we not meet sometime, and get at each other's
point of view? I am going to be in town the day after to-morrow, and
unless I hear from you to the contrary, I will drop in to see you
some time in the morning."
Section 14. Thyrsis read this letter over two or three times; and
then, resisting the impulse to elaborate his exposition of the
economic bases of the marriage institution, he took it in to town
and mailed it. He waited eagerly for a reply the next day; but no
The morning after that, he walked down to town as he had agreed to,
and called at Mr. Harding's home. The door was opened by his
housekeeper, Delia Gordon's aunt. "Is Mr. Harding in?" asked