Part 8 out of 11
groping for the truth about these matters, had come to the
conclusion that the factor which gave dignity and meaning to
intercourse between a man and woman was the desire, or at any rate
the willingness, to create a child. Corydon was not sure that she
agreed with him in this; but so far as their own case was concerned,
it was quite clear that they could take no remotest chance of any
accident--another child would mean certain destruction for all three
of them. And so they had gone back to the "brother and sister"
arrangement with which they had begun life. This was a simple matter
for Thyrsis, who was utterly wrapped up in his book; it was not so
simple for Corydon, though neither of them realized it, nor could
have been brought to admit it. As usual, Corydon desired to be what
he was, and to feel what he felt; and so Thyrsis did not realize how
another side of her was being blighted. Hers was predominantly a
love-nature; it was intolerable to her that any one she loved should
not love her in return, and love her in the same way, and to the
same extent; and now, when her entire being went out to him, she
found herself obliged to suppress her emotions.
Sometimes the thing would break out in spite of her.
"Thyrsis," she would cry, "aren't you going to kiss me good-night?"
"Didn't I kiss you, dearest?" he would answer.
"Oh, but such a cold and perfunctory kiss!"
And so he would come and put his arms about her; but even while she
held him thus, she would feel the life go out of his caresses, and
see his eyes with a far-off expression. She would know that his
thoughts were away upon some battle-field.
"Tell me, Thyrsis," she would exclaim. "Do you really love me?"
"Yes, dear," he would reply. "I love you."
"But how _much_ do you love me?"
And then he would be dumb. What a question to ask him! As if he had
the time and the energy to climb to those heights, to speak again
that difficult language! Had he not told her a thousand times how
much he loved her! and could she not believe it and understand it?
"But why should it be so hard to tell me?" she would protest.
And he would answer that to him it was a denial of love to explain
or to make promises. He was as unchangeable as the laws of
nature--he could no more be faithless to her soul than he could to
"I want you to take that for granted," he would say; "to know it as
you know that the sun will rise to-morrow morning."
"But, Thyrsis," she would answer, when he used this metaphor, "don't
people sometimes like to go out and see the sun rise?"
Section 5. The summer passed; and Thyrsis found to his dismay that
his relentless muse had not yet permitted him to write a word. He
had not a sufficient grasp upon his mighty subject--nor for that
matter had he freedom to get by himself and wrestle it out. He
shrunk from that death-grapple, while they were in this unsettled
state. They could not stay in tents through the winter-time; and
where were they to go?
Thyrsis was consumed with the desire to build a tiny house in these
woods. He had roamed the country over, without finding any place
that was habitable; and besides, he did not want to pay rent--he
wanted a home of his own, however humble. He had meant to build one
with the money from "The Hearer of Truth"; but now there came a
statement from the publisher, showing that there would be due him on
the book a trifle over eleven dollars!
He tried a new plan. He wrote out a "scenario" of his projected
novel, and sent this to his publisher, to see if he could get a
contract in advance. He asked for five hundred dollars--with that he
could build the house he wanted, and live for another six months,
until the book was done. The publisher wrote him to come to the
city, where, after some parleying, he submitted a proposition; he
would advance the money and publish the book, paying ten per cent.
royalty; but he must also have the option to publish the author's
future writings for ten years upon the same basis.
This rather staggered Thyrsis. He was business-man enough by this
time to realize that if he ever had a real success he could get
fifteen or twenty per cent. upon his future work--there were even
some authors who got twenty-five per cent. And moreover, he did not
like to tie himself to this publisher, who was of the hard and
grasping type. He went home to think it over, and in the end he
wrote to Henry Darrell. He set forth the situation, and showed how
much money it might mean to him--money which he would otherwise be
able to devote to some useful purpose. It all depended upon what
Darrell could do in the emergency.
He waited three weeks, and then came Darrell's reply, saying that he
could not possibly do what Thyrsis wished. There were so many calls
upon him--the Socialist paper was in trouble, and so on. Thereupon
Thyrsis wrote to the publisher to say that he accepted the offer and
would sign the contract; but in a couple of days he received a curt
reply, to the effect that the publisher had changed his mind, and no
longer cared to consider the arrangement. He had, as Thyrsis found
afterwards, got rid of the enthusiastic young man who had inveigled
him into "The Hearer of Truth"; and perhaps also he had been reading
the ridicule which the critics were pouring out upon that unhappy
So once more Thyrsis wrote to Darrell--a letter of agonized
entreaty. He was at the most critical moment of his life; and now,
at the very culmination of his effort, to have to give up would be a
calamity he could simply not contemplate. If only he could finish
the task, he would be saved; for this was a book that would grip men
and shake them--that it should fail was simply unthinkable. He could
make out with two hundred dollars; and he besought his friend at any
sacrifice to stand by him. He asked him to cable; and when, a couple
of weeks later, the message came--"all right"--to Thyrsis it was
like waking up and escaping from the grip of some terrible dream.
Section 6. And so began the house-building. It was high time,
too--the latter part of September, and the nights were growing
chill. He sought out a carpenter to help him, and had an interview
with his friend the farmer, who agreed to rent a bit of land, in a
corner of his orchard, by the edge of the wood. It was under the
shade of a great elm-tree, and sufficiently remote from all the
world to satisfy the taste of any literary hermit.
For months before this he and Corydon had discussed the plans of
their future home; every square inch of it had been a subject of
debate. In its architectural style it was a compromise between
Corydon's aesthetic yearnings, and the rigid standards of economy
which circumstance imposed. It was to be eighteen feet long and
sixteen feet wide--six feet high at the sides and nine in the
centre. It was to be "weather-boarded", and roofed with paper,
instead of shingles--this being so much cheaper. Corydon heard with
dismay that it would be necessary to paint this roofing-paper
black; and Thyrsis, by way of compensation, agreed that the
weather-boards should have some "natural finish", instead of common
paint. There was to be a six-foot piazza in front, and a little
platform in back, with steps descending to the spring.
There had been long discussions about the method of heating the
mansion. Corydon had been observing the customs of her neighbors in
this typical "small-farming" district, and declared that they had
two leading characteristics: first, they were not happy until they
had had all their own teeth extracted, and a complete set of
"store-teeth" substituted; and second, as soon as they moved into a
house, they boarded over the open fire-place and covered the boards
with wall-paper. But Thyrsis, making investigations along practical
lines, found that the open fire-place had a bad reputation as a
consumer of fuel; and also, it would take a mason to build a
chimney, and the wages of masons were high. So Corydon had to
reconcile herself to a house with a stove, and a stove-pipe that
went through a hole in the wall!
Nevertheless this house-building time was one of the happiest
periods of their lives. For here was something constructive, in
which they could both be occupied. Thyrsis would be up and at work
early in the morning, before the carpenter came; and in between the
baby's various meals, Corydon would come also, and take part in the
operations. A miraculous thing it was to see the house of their
dreams coming into being, with every feature just as they had
planned it. And what a palatial structure it was--with so much space
and air! One could actually move about in it without danger of
striking one's head; coming into it from the tent, one felt as if he
were entering a cathedral!
They were so consumed with a desire to see it finished, that Thyrsis
would stay at the work until darkness came upon him, and sometimes
even worked by moon-light, or with a lantern. And how proud they
would be when the carpenter came next morning, and found the last
roof-boards laid, or the flooring all completed! Thyrsis learned the
mysteries of window-sills and door-frames, the excitements of
"weather-boarding," and the perils of roof-painting. He realized
with wonder how many achievements of civilization the privileged
classes take as a matter of course. What a remarkable thing it was,
when one came to think of it, that a door should swing true upon its
hinges, and fit exactly into its frame, and latch with a precise and
soul-satisfying snap! And that windows should slide up and down in
their frames, and stop at certain places with a spring-catch!
Corydon too was interested in these discoveries, and became skilled
at holding weather-boards while her husband nailed them, and at
helping to unroll and measure roofing-paper, and climbing up the
ladder and holding it in place. Even the baby became fired with the
spirit of achievement, and would get himself a hammer and a board,
and plague his parents until they started a dozen or so of nails for
him--after which he would sit and blissfully pound them into the
board, and all but pound them through the board in his enthusiasm.
Before long he even learned to start them himself; and a most
diverting sight it was to see this twenty-two-months old youngster
driving nails like an infant Hercules. For the fastening of the
roofing-paper they used little circular plates of tin called
"cotterels"; and these also Cedric must learn to use. So a new
phrase was added to the vocabulary of "dam-fool talk". "Bongie
cowtoos" was the name of the operation; for a couple Of years
thereafter, whenever Corydon and Thyrsis wished to be let alone to
discuss the problems of the universe, they would get the baby a
hammer and some nails and a board, and repeat that magic formula,
and the problem was solved.
Unfortunately, however, it was not all smooth sailing in the
carpentry-business. There were mashed thumbs and sawed fingers; and
then, in an evil hour, Thyrsis came upon an advertisement which told
of a wonderful new kind of wall-paper which could be applied
directly to laths--thus enabling one to dispense with plaster. He
sent for ten or twelve dollars' worth of this material, and he and
Corydon spent a whole morning making a mixture of glue and
flour-paste and water, and boiling it in an iron preserving-kettle.
But alas, the paper would not paste; and then they had a painful
time. Corydon gave up in disgust, and went away; but Thyrsis, to
whom economy was a kind of disease, would not give up, and was angry
with the other for urging him to give up. He spent a whole day
wrestling with the concoction, and gave himself a headache with the
ghastly odor. But in the end he had to dump it out, and clean the
kettle, and fasten the paper to the lathes with "bongie cowtoos". As
the strips of paper did not correspond with the studding, he found
himself driving nails into springy laths, an operation most trying
to the temper of any man of letters. One of the trials of this house
forever after was that upon the least jar a corner of the ceiling
was liable to fall loose; and then one would have to get a ladder,
and climb up into a hot region, and pound nails into a broken lath,
with dust sifting down into one's eyes, and the hammer hitting one's
sore thumb, and occasioning exclamations not at all suitable for the
ears of a two-year-old intelligence.
Section 7. When the doors were fitted, and the windows set in, and
the piazza laid, and the steps built, they got down to the
furniture, which was also to be home-made. Thyrsis was gratified
beyond telling by these tables and dressing-stands and shelves and
book-cases, which he could build of hemlock boards in an hour or
two, and which cost only thirty or forty cents apiece. He would
labor with Corydon to induce her to share this joy; but alas, he
would only succeed in losing his own joy, without increasing hers.
On many occasions he attempted such things as this; it was only
after long years that he came to realize that Corydon's temperament
was the one fixed fact in the universe with which he had to deal.
Two hundred and twenty-five dollars was the total cost of this
establishment when completed. And while the carpenter was putting
the finishing touches, Thyrsis was using up thirty dollars more of
lumber in constructing himself a "study" in the woods near by. Eight
by ten this cabin was to be; it was to have a door and a window, and
a little piazza in front, upon which the inhabitant might sit in
fair weather. Also Thyrsis built for it a table and a bookcase; and
as he had now eighty square feet instead of forty-nine, there was
room for a cot and a chair, and a coal-stove fourteen inches in
diameter. As fate would have it, there was some black paint left
over; and to Corydon's horror it was announced that this would be
used on the study. However, Thyrsis insisted that it was _his_
study; and besides, there was some red paint left, with which he
might decorate the window and the door-frame, and stripe the edges
of the roof and the corners. Surely that would be festivity enough
for the most exacting of Greek temperaments!
Then came the rapturous experience of moving into these new
mansions. The joy of having shelves to put things on, and hooks to
hang things from. Of being able to take books and manuscripts out of
their trunks, and not pile them under their beds. Of carrying over
their belongings, and having everything fit into the place that had
been made for it!
Thyrsis purchased an old stove, and also a kitchen-range from a
neighbor; he sank a barrel in the spring, and walled it round with
cement; he built a stand in the kitchen, and set up a sink and a
This was the time of year when there were held at various places in
the country what the neighbors called "vandews". He and Corydon
found it diverting to get the scarecrow nag and the one-horse shay,
and drive to some farm-house, where one might see the history of a
family for the last fifty years spread out upon the lawn. They would
stand round in the cold and snow while the auctioneer disposed of
the horses and cows and hay and machinery, waiting until he came to
the household objects upon which they had set their eye. So they
would invest in some stove-pipe, and a couple of ghastly chromos
(for the sake of the frames), and some odds and ends of crockery,
and a spade, and some old rope to make a swing for the baby. They
would get these things for five or ten cents each, and get in
addition all the excitements of the bargain-hunt.
Once they had a real adventure--they came upon a wonderful old
"grandfather's clock", about six feet high; and Corydon exclaimed in
rapture, "Oh Thyrsis I'd be happy for the rest of my life if we
could have that clock!" On such terms it appeared to Thyrsis that
the clock might be worth making a sacrifice for, and he got up the
courage to declare that he would offer as high as five dollars for
it. And so they stood, trembling with excitement, and waiting.
"Don't lose it, even if it's as high as six dollars!" whispered
Corydon; but alas, the first bid for the clock was twenty-five
dollars. They stood staring with dismay, until the treasure was sold
to a dealer from the city for the incredible sum of eighty-seven
dollars; and then they drove home, quite awe-stricken by this sudden
intrusion from the world of luxury outside their ken.
Section 8. However, this disappointment did not trouble them for
long; there were too many luxuries in their own home. Not very long
after it was finished, there fell a deluge of rain; and what a
delight it was to listen to it, and know that they were safe from
it! That not only did they have a dry roof over their head--but
they were able to move about, and to reach up their hands without
peril, and to sit down and read without a lamp! They would stand by
the window with their arms about each other, watching the rain
beating upon the fields, and dripping from the elm tree, and flowing
in torrents past the house; they would listen to it pounding
overhead and streaming off the roof before their faces. They were
dry, quite dry! All their belongings were dry--their shoes were not
mildewing, their books were not getting soft and shapeless, their
bed-clothing would be all right when night came!
The down-pour lasted for three whole days, yet they enjoyed it all.
It proved to be a memorable rain to Corydon, for it brought to her a
great occasion--the beginning of her poetical career. It happened
late one night, when, as usual, the cry of "hoodaloo mungie"
awakened her from a sound slumber. The day had been a particularly
hard one, and the heaviness of exhaustion was upon her. For a moment
she stared up into the darkness, listening to the rain close above
her, and trying to nerve herself to put out her arm in the cold. She
shuddered at the thought; there came to her a perfectly definite
impulse of hatred--hatred of the child, of its noise and its
demands. She had felt it before--sometimes as a dull, cold dislike,
sometimes as something passionate. Why should she have to sacrifice
herself to this insatiable creature, whom she did not love? What did
it matter to her if other women loved their children? She had wanted
life--and was this life? At that moment the cry of "hoodaloo-mungie"
symbolized for her all the sordid cares and nervous agony of her
And suddenly, unexpectedly, a daring impulse seized her. "No!" she
thought, and set her teeth--"I'll let him cry! I'll cure him of
this--and I'll do it to-night!" So she turned and told Cedric to go
to sleep; at which, of course, the child began to scream.
Corydon lay very still in the dark, her eyes wide and every nerve
tense. She could not feel, she could not think; it seemed as though
she were deprived of every sense except that of hearing; and in her,
through her, and around her rang a senseless din, piercing, intense,
increasing in volume every minute, and completely drowning out the
beating of the rain.
"Can I stand it?" she thought. "Or will his lungs burst? And yet, I
must, I must--this can't go on forever! "And so she clenched her
hands and waited. But the sounds did not diminish in the slightest;
ten minutes twenty minutes must have passed, and the baby only
seemed to gain increased power with each crescendo.
It seemed to Corydon at last as though she had always lain like
this, and as though she must for endless time. She found herself
getting used to it even; her muscles relaxed. There came to her a
sense of the ludicrous side of it. "He means to conquer me!" she
thought. "Can I hold out? If I only had something to think about,
then I'd be a match for him." And suddenly the inspiration came to
her. "I'll write a poem!"
What should it be about? The rain had been increasing in violence,
and she became conscious of the steady downpour; it fascinated her,
and she concentrated her attention upon it, and began---
"I am the rain, that comes in spring!"
So, after a while, she found herself in the throes of composition;
she was eager, excited--and marvel of marvels, utterly forgetful of
the baby! She had never tried to write verses before; but it did not
seem at all difficult to her now.
The poem was simple and optimistic--it told of the beneficent
qualities of rain, as it would appear to one whose roof did not
leak. Somewhere in the course of it there was this stanza:
"I am the rain that comes at night,
When all in slumber is folded light--
Save one by weary vigils worn
Who counteth the drops unto the morn."
This seemed to her an impressive bit, and she wondered what Thyrsis
would think of it.
There were eight stanzas altogether, and when she finished the last
of them the dawn was breaking, and it seemed hours since she had
begun. As for the baby, he was still crying. She turned and peered
at him; his eyelids drooped, and the crying came in spasms and
gasps--it sounded very feeble, and a trifle perfunctory. Obviously
he could not hold out much longer; Corydon would win, yes, she had
won already. She lay still, and thrills of happiness went through
her. Was it the poem, or the thought of her release, and the nights
of quiet sleep in the future?
When Thyrsis came in, an hour or two later, he found her huddled up
in blankets on the floor of the living-room, her cheeks bright, her
hair dishevelled. How fascinating she looked in such a guise! She
was eagerly pondering her poem; and the baby was sleeping quietly,
save for a few convulsive gasps, the last stragglers of his routed
"And oh, Thyrsis," she exclaimed, "to-morrow night he will only cry
half as long, and still less the next night. And soon he will go to
sleep quietly like any well brought-up, civilized baby. And, my
dear, I believe I'm going to be a poetess--I think that to-night I
was really inspired!"
So he made haste to build a fire, and then came and sat and listened
to the poem. How eagerly she waited for his verdict! How she hung
upon his words! And what should a man do in such a case--should he
be a husband or a critic? Should he be an amateur or a professional?
But even as he hesitated, the damage was done. "Oh, you don't like
it!" she cried. "You don't think it's good at all!"
"My dear," he argued, "poetry is such a difficult thing to write.
And there are so many standards--a thing can be good, and yet not
good! The heights are so far away--"
"But oh, how can I ever get there," wailed Corydon, "if nobody gives
me any encouragement?"
Section 9. The time had now come for Thyrsis to put his job through.
There was no longer any excuse for hesitation or delay. The book had
come to ripeness in him; the birth-hour was at hand, and he must go
and have it out with himself. He explained these things to Corydon,
sitting beside her and holding her hands; they ascended once more to
the heights of consecration; they renewed their vows of fortitude
and faith, and then he went away.
For weeks thereafter he would be like the ghost of a man in the
house, haggard and silent and preoccupied. All the work that he had
ever done in his life seemed but child's play in comparison. Before
this he had portrayed the struggles of men and women; but now he was
to portray the agony of a whole nation--his heart must beat with the
pulse of millions of suffering people. And the task was like a fiend
that came upon him in the night-time and laid hold of him, dragging
him away to sights of terror and madness. He was never safe from the
thing for a moment--he could never tell when it might assail him. He
might be washing the dishes, or wrestling with the refractory pump;
but the vision would come to him, and he would wander off into the
forest--perhaps to sit, crouching in the snow, trembling, and
staring at the pageant in his soul.
He lived in the midst of battles; the smoke of powder always in his
nostrils, the crash of musketry and the thunder of cannon in his
ears. He saw the cavalry sweeping over the plains, the infantry
crouching behind intrenchments; he heard the yells of the
combatants, the shrieks of the wounded and dying; he saw the mangled
bodies, and the ground slippery with blood. New aspects of the thing
kept coming to him--new glimpses into meanings yet untold. They
would come to him in great bursts of emotion, like tempests that
swept him away; and these things he had to wrestle with and master.
It meant toil, the like of which he had never faced before, a
tension of all his faculties, that would last for hours and hours,
and leave him bathed in perspiration, and utterly exhausted.
A scene would come to him, in some moment of insight; and he would
drop everything else, and follow it. He would go over it, at the
same time both creating and beholding it, at the same time both
overwhelmed by it and controlling it--but above all things else,
remembering it! He would be like Aladdin in the palace, stuffing his
pockets with priceless jewels; coming away so loaded down that he
could hardly stagger, and spilling them on every side. Then,
scarcely pausing to rest, he would go back after what he had lost;
he would grope about, gathering diamonds and rubies that he had all
but forgotten--or perhaps coming upon new vaults and new
So he would labor over a description, going over it and over it, not
so much working it out, as letting it work itself out and stamp
itself upon his memory. It made no difference how long the scene
might be, he would not write a word of it; it might be some battle-
picture, that would fill thirty or forty pages--he would know it all
by heart, as Demosthenes or Webster might have known an oration. And
only at the end would he write it down.
Over some of the scenes in this new book he labored thus for two or
three weeks at a stretch; there would be literally not a moment of
the day, nor perhaps of the night, when the thing was not working in
some part of his mind. He would think about it for hours before he
fell asleep; and when he opened his eyes it would be waiting at his
bedside to pounce upon him. If he tried for even a few minutes to
rest, or to divert his mind to some other work, he would find
himself ill at ease and troubled, with a sense as of something
pulling at him, calling to him. And if anything came to interrupt
him, then he would be like a baker whose oven grows cold before the
bread is half done--it would be a sad labor making anything out of
that batch of bread.
Section 10. And this work he had to do as a married man, the father
of a family and the head of a household; living with a child who was
one incessant and irrepressible demand for attention, and a wife who
was wrestling with weakness and sickness--eating out her heart in
cruel loneliness, and cowering in the grip of fiends of melancholia
He had thought that when they moved into the new home, their
domestic trials would be at an end. But now the cruel winter fell
upon them. They had never known what a winter in the country was
like; they came to see why the farmer had protested against their
building in such a remote place. There were many days when they
could not get to town, and some when they could not even get to the
farm-house. Also there was the pump, which was continually freezing,
and necessitating long and troublesome operations before they could
get any water.
It was, as fate would have it, the worst winter in the oldest
inhabitant's memory. The farmer's well froze over on three
occasions, and it had never frozen before, so he declared. For such
weather as this they were altogether unprepared; they had only a
wood-stove, and could not keep a fire all night; and the cheap
blankets they had bought were made all of cotton, and gave them
almost no protection. They would not sleep with the windows down;
and so, for weeks at a time, they would go to bed with their
clothing, even their overcoats on; and would pile curtains and rugs
upon these--and even so, they would waken at two or three o'clock in
the morning, shivering and chilled to the bone.
And in this icy room they would have to get up and build a fire; and
it might be half an hour before they could get the house warm. Also,
they had no facilities for bathing; and so little by little they
began to lose their habits of decency--there were days when Corydon
left her face unwashed, and forgot to brush her hair. Everyday, it
seemed, they slipped yet further down the grade. Thyrsis would work
until he was faint and exhausted, and then he would come over, and
find there was nothing ready to eat. By the time that he and Corydon
had cooked a meal, they would both of them be ravenous, and they
would sit and devour their food like a couple of savages. Then,
because they had over-eaten, they would have to rest before they
cleared things away; and like as not Thyrsis would get to thinking
about his work, and go off and leave everything--and the dishes and
the food might stay up on the table until the next meal. There was
nearly always a piled-up mass of dishes and skillets and sauce-pans
in the house--to Thyrsis these soiled dishes were the original
source of the myth of Sisyphus and his labor.
And then there was the garbage-pail that he had forgotten to empty,
and the lamps he had neglected to fill, and the slop-pails and the
other utensils of domesticity. There were the diapers that somebody
had to wash--and outside was always the bitter, merciless cold,
that drove them in and shut them up with all this horror. The time
came, as the winter dragged on, when the house which they had built
with so many sacrifices, and into which they had moved with such
eager anticipations, came to seem to them like a cave in which a
couple of wild beasts cowered for shelter.
Section 11. There was another great change which this cold weather
effected in their lives; it broke down the barriers they had been at
such pains to build up between them. It was all very well for them
to agree that they were "brother and sister," and that it was
impossible for them ever to think of anything else. But now came a
time when night after night the thermometer went to ten or fifteen
degrees below zero; and first Thyrsis gave more bedding to
Corydon--because she was able to suffer more than he; and he would
go over to his cold hut alone, and crawl into a cold bed, and lie
there the whole night through without a wink of sleep. But then, as
the cold held on for a week or more, the resistance of both of them
was broken down--they were like two animals which crawl into the
same hole to keep each other from freezing. They piled all their
bedding upon one narrow cot; and sleeping thus, they could be warm.
Even then, they tried to keep to the resolution they had made; but
this, it seemed, was not within the power of flesh and blood; and
so, once more, the sex-factor was introduced into the complications
of their lives.
To Thyrsis this thing was like some bird of prey that circled in the
sky just above him--its shadow filling him with a continual fear,
the swish of its wings making him cringe. He was never happy about
it; there was no time in his life when he was not in a state of
inward war. His intellect rebelled; and on the other hand, there was
a part of his nature that craved this sex-experience and welcomed
it--and this part, it seemed, was favored by all the circumstances
of life. There was no chance to settle the matter in the light of
reason, to test it by any moral or aesthetic law; blind fate decreed
that one part of him should have the shaping of his character, the
determining of his needs.
He tried to make clear to himself the basis of his distrust. Sexual
intercourse as a habit--this was the formula by which he summed it
up to himself. To be right, to win the sanction of the intellect and
the conscience, the sex-act must be the result of a supreme creative
impulse. Its purpose was the making of a new soul--and this could
never be right until those who took that responsibility had used
their reasons, and determined that circumstances were such that the
new soul might be a sound and free and happy and beautiful soul. And
how different was this from the customs which prevailed under the
sanction of the "holy bonds of matrimony"! When sexual intercourse
became a self-indulgence, like the eating of candy, or the drinking
of liquor; a thing of the body, and the body alone; a thing
determined by physical propinquity, by the sight and contact of the
flesh, the dressing and undressing in the same room!
Then again, the means which they had to use to prevent
conception--which destroyed all spontaneity in their relationship,
and dragged the thing out into the cold light of day! And the
continual fear that they might have made another blunder! Something
of this sort was always happening, or seeming to have happened, or
threatening to have happened, so that they waited each month in
suspense and dread. It was this which made the terror of the whole
matter to Thyrsis, and had so much to do with his repugnance. They
were like people drawing lots for a death-sentence; like people who
ate from dishes, one of which they knew to contain poison. What was
the tragic destiny that hung over them--the Nemesis that gripped
them, and forced them to take such a chance?
But the barriers were down, and there was no building them up again;
Thyrsis never even tried, because of the revelation which came to
him from Corydon's side. Corydon was craving, reaching out hungrily
for something which she had not in herself, and which life did not
give her in sufficiency. She called this thing "love"; and she had
no hesitations and no limits to her demand for it. To Thyrsis this
"love" was something quite else--it was sustenance and support. To
demand it was an act of weakness, and to yield it was a kind of
spiritual blood-transfusion. It was the first law of his life-code
that every soul must stand upon its own feet and walk its own way;
and to surrender that spiritual autonomy was the one blunder for
which there could be no pardon.
But then--he would argue with himself--what folly it was to talk of
such things in their position! They not souls at all--the life of
the soul was not for them, the laws of the soul had nothing to do
with them. They were two bodies--two miserable and cold and sick and
tormented bodies; and with yet a third body, utterly helpless and
dependent upon them--in defiance of all the most high-sounding
pronouncements about "the soul"!
So Thyrsis would mock himself into subjection once more, and go on
to play his part as husband and father and head of a household of
bodies. He would play the game of "love" as Corydon wanted it
played; he would yield to her demands, he would gratify her
cravings, he would force himself to take her point of view. But then
the other mood would come upon him--the mood that he knew to be the
real expression of himself. He would begin the battle of his genius
again; he would "hear the echoes afar off, the thunder of the
captains and the shouting". If one gave one's self up to the body,
and accepted the regimen and the laws of the body, how should the
soul ever come to be free? To make such a concession was to pass
upon it a sentence of life-imprisonment!
So would come to Thyrsis again that sense of the awful tragedy that
was impending in their lives. Some day, he knew, he would break out
of this prison. Some day, he knew, he would have to be himself, and
live his own life!
And meanwhile, how pitiful were Corydon's attempts to shape him to
her needs, and to persuade herself that she was succeeding in doing
it! She would set forth to him elaborately how much he had improved;
how much gentler and more human he was--in contrast with that blind
and stupid and egotistical and impossible person she had first
known. And with what bitterness Thyrsis would hear this--and how he
had to struggle to suppress his feeling! For he knew that those
qualities which were so hateful to her, were but the foam cast up to
the surface of his soul by the seething of his genius within. When
it had ceased altogether, how placid and still would be the pool-and
what a beautiful mirror it would make for Corydon to behold her own
Section 12. In later years they used to discuss this problem, and
they could never be sure what would have happened in their
lives--what would have been the reaction of their different
temperaments--if they had been given any fair chance to live and
grow as they wanted to. But here they were, mashed together in this
stew-pot of domesticity, with all the most unlovely aspects of
things forced continually upon their attention. Each was in some way
a handicap and a torment to the other--a means which fate used to
limit and crush and destroy the other; and as ever, they had in
their hours of anguish no recourse save to sit down and reason it
out together, and absolve each other from blame.
Thyrsis invented a phrase whereby he might make this point clear to
Corydon, and keep it in her thoughts. The phrase was "the economic
screw"; it pressed upon him, and through him it crushed her. All
things that he sought to be and could not be, all things that he
would not be and was; all that was hard and unloving in him--his
irritability and impatience, his narrowness and bitterness--in all
this he showed her that cruel force that was destroying them both.
It was a hard rôle for Thyrsis, to be the judge and the jury and the
executioner of the stern will of this "economic screw". There was,
for instance, the episode of the "turkey-red table-cover", which
became a classic in their later lives. Corydon was always chafing at
the bareness of their little home; and going into the shops in the
town, and discovering things which might have made it lovely. One
evil day she went alone; and when she came back, Thyrsis, as usual,
pounced upon his mail, and came upon a letter from a magazine-editor
whom he had been trying to please with an article, and who now
scolded him mercilessly for his obstinacy and his egotism and his
didacticism, and all his other unpublishable qualities. Then came
the unwrapping of the bundles, and Corydon's guileless and joyful
announcement that she had come upon a wonderful bargain in the
dry-goods store, a beautiful piece of "turkey-red" cloth which would
serve as the table-cover for which her soul had been pining--and
which she had obtained for the incredibly small sum of thirty cents!
Whereupon, of course, Thyrsis began to exclaim in dismay. Thirty
cents was a third of all they had to live upon for a day! And to pay
it for a fool piece of rag for which they had no earthly need! So
Corydon sank down in the middle of the floor and dissolved in floods
of tears; and at the next trip into town the "turkey-red
table-cover" was returned, and over the bare board table there were
new expositions of the theory of the "economic screw"!
To these arguments Corydon would listen and assent. With her
intellect she was at one with him, and she strove to make this
intellect supreme. But always, deep underneath, was the other side
of her being, that had nothing to do with intellect, but was pure
primitive impulse--and that pushed and drove in her always, and
carried her away the moment that intellect loosened its brake.
Corydon was ashamed of this primitive self--she was always
repudiating it, always shutting her eyes to it. There was no way to
wound her so deeply as to posit its reality and identify it with
She was always fighting to make her temperament like Thyrsis'; she
despised her own temperament utterly, and set up his qualities as
her ideal. He was self-contained and masterful; he knew what he
wanted and how to get it; he was not dependent upon anyone else, he
needed no one's approval or admiration; he could control his
emotions, and destroy those that inconvenienced him. So Corydon must
be these things also; she _was_ these things, and no one must
gainsay it! And if ever she had felt or wished or said or done
anything else--that was all misunderstanding or delusion or
accident; she would repudiate it with grief and indignation, and
proclaim herself the creature of pure reason that every person ought
But then would come something that appealed to her emotions--to her
love of beauty, her craving for joy; and there in a flash was the
primitive self again. The task of compelling Corydon to economy
reminded her husband of a toy which had been popular in his
childhood days. The name of it was "Pigs in Clover"; there were five
little balls which you had to coax into a narrow entrance, and while
you were getting the last one in, the other four were almost certain
to roll out. It was a labor of hours to get Corydon to recognize an
unpleasant fact; and then--the next day she had forgotten it. There
were some things about himself and his life that he could never get
her to understand; for instance, his preoccupation with the
newspaper--that symbol of all that was hateful in life. Just then
was the beginning of the Russian revolution; and to Thyrsis the
Russian revolution was like the coming of relief to a shipwrecked
mariner. It was a personal thing to him--the overthrow of a horror
that pressed upon the life of every human being upon earth. And so
each day he hungered for the news, and when the paper came he would
pounce upon it.
"Now dearest," he would say, "please don't disturb me. I want to
"All right," she would answer; and five minutes would pass.
Then--"Do you want potatoes for supper, Thyrsis?"
"Yes, dear. But I'm reading now."
"All right." And then another five minutes.
"Thyrsis, who was Boadicea?"
"I'm reading now, dearest."
"Oh yes." And then another five minutes.
"Thyrsis, do you spell choke with an a?"
At which Thyrsis would put down the paper. "Tell me, Corydon--isn't
there something I can do so that you won't interrupt me?"
Instantly a look of pain would sweep across her face. "Do you have
to speak to me like that, Thyrsis? If you'd only just tell me,
kindly and pleasantly--"
"But I've told you three or four times!'
"Thyrsis! How can you say that?"
"But didn't I?"
"Why, of course not!"
And then they would have an argument. He would bring up each case
and confront her with it; and how very unloving a procedure was
that--and how exasperating was his manner as he did it!
Section 13. Then again, Corydon would be going into town to do some
shopping; and he would ask her to bring out the afternoon paper. It
would be the day of the October massacre, for instance; and he be on
fire for the next batch of news. He would explain this to her; he
would tell her again and again--whatever else she forgot, she must
remember the afternoon paper. He would walk out to meet her, burning
with impatience; and he would ask for the paper, and see a blank
look come over her face.
Then, of course, he would scold. He had certain phrases--"How
perfectly unspeakable! Perfectly paralyzing!" How she hated these
"I had so many things to get!" she would exclaim.
"But only one thing for me, Corydon!"
"Everything is for you--just as much as for myself! All these
groceries--look at the bundles! I haven't had a single moment--"
"But how many moments does it take to buy a newspaper?"
"And how many times would I have to tell you? Have I got to go into
town myself, just for the sake of a newspaper?"
"I tell you I tried my very best to remember it--"
"But what's the matter with you? Is your mind getting weak?"
And then like as not Corydon would burst into tears. "Oh, I think
you are a brute!" she would cry. "A perfect brute!"
Or else, perhaps, she would grow angry, and they would rail at each
other, exchanging recriminations.
"I think I have burdens enough in my life," he would exclaim. "I've
a right to some help from you."
"You have no sense of proportion!" she would answer. "You are
impossible! You would drive any saint to distraction."
"Perhaps so. But I can't drive you anywhere, and I'm sick of
"Oh, if you only weren't such a talker! You talk--talk--talk!"
And all the while they did this, what grief was in the depths of
them! And afterwards, what ghastly wounds in Corydon's soul, that
had to be bound up and tended and healed! The pity of it; the shame
of it--that they should be able to descend to such sordidness! That
their love, which they had planned as a noble temple, should turn
out an ugly hovel!
"Oh Thyrsis!" the girl would cry. "The idea that you should think
less of my soul than of an old newspaper!"
"But that is not so, dearest," he would answer. He would try to
explain to her how much the newspaper had meant to him, and just why
his annoyance had got the better of him. So they would rehearse the
scene over again; and like as not their irritation would sweep over
them, and before they realized it they would find themselves
disputing once more.
Thyrsis would be making a desperate attempt to bring her to a
realization of his difficulties; he would be in the midst of pouring
out some eloquence, when she would interrupt him.
"But Thyrsis, wait a moment--you do not understand!"
"I am speaking!" he would say.
"I am speaking!" He would not be interrupted.
But then would come a time when they sat down together and talked
all this out, perceiving it as one more aspect of the disharmony of
their temperaments. It no fault of either of them, they would agree;
it was just that they were different. Thyrsis had a simile that he
used--"It's a marriage between a butterfly and a hippopotamus. You
don't blame the butterfly because it can't get down into the water
and snort; and on the other hand, when the hippopotamus tries to
flap his wings and flit about among the flowers, he doesn't make a
success of it."
There would be times when he took Corydon's point of view entirely.
She was beautiful and good; her naïveté and guilelessness were the
essence of her charm and how preposterous it was to expect her to
think about newspapers, or to be familiar with the price of
beefsteaks! As for him--he was a blundering creature, dull and
pragmatical; he was a great spiny monster that she had drawn up from
the ocean-depths. She would cut off his spines, but at once they
grew out again; she could do nothing with him at all!
But then she would protest--"It's not so bad as that, Thyrsis. You
have your work."
"Yes, that's it," he would answer. "My work! I'm just a
thinking-machine. I'm fit for nothing else. And here I am--married!"
He would say that, and he would mean it; he would try to act upon
the conviction. Of course Corydon's nature was a thing more lovely
than his; and, of course, it ought to have its way, to grow in
freedom and joy. But alas--there was "the economic screw"! His
qualities--hateful though they might be--were the product of stern
conditions; they were the qualities which had to dominate in their
lives, if they were to survive in the grim struggle for life.
Section 14. It was, as always, their tragedy that they had no means
of communicating, except through suffering; they had no work, and
they had no art, and they had no religion. To Thyrsis it seemed that
this last was the supreme need of their lives; but it was quite in
vain that he tried to supply it. He had no theologies to offer, but
he had a rough working faith that served his needs. He had a way of
prayer--informal prayers, to the undiscovered gods--"Oh infinite
Holiness of life, I seek to be reminded of Thee!" He would
contemplate their failures and agonies and despairs, and floods of
pity would well up in him; and then he would come back to Corydon,
seeking to make these things real to her. But this he could never
do--he could never carry her with him, he could never find anything
with her but failure and disappointment.
This was, in part, the outrage that the creed-mongers had done to
her; with their dead formulas and their grotesque legends and their
stupid bigotries they had sullied and defaced all the symbols of
religion--they had made a noble temple into a sepulchre of dead
bones. They had taken her by force, when she was a child, and
dragged her into it, and filled her with terror and loathing. To
abandon the language of metaphor, they had sent her to a
Protestant-Episcopal Sunday-school, where a vinegary spinster had
taught her the catechism and the ten commandments. And so forever
after the whole content of Christianity was a thing alien and
hateful to her.
But also, in their disharmony was something even more fundamental.
Corydon's emotions did not come in the same way as her husband's.
With her a joy had to be a spontaneous thing; there could be no
reasoning about it, and it was not the product nor the occasion of
any act of will. In fact, if anyone were to say to Corydon, "Come,
let us experience a certain emotion"--then straightway it would
become certain that she might experience any emotion in the world,
save only that one.
Thyrsis told himself that he was to blame for this having destroyed
her spontaneity in the very beginning But how was he to have known
that, understanding as he did no temperament but his own, being
powerless to handle any tools but his own? The process of his soul's
life was to tell himself all his vices over; and so he would become
filled with hatred of himself, and would forthwith evolve into
something different. But with Corydon, this method produced, not
rage and resolution, but only black despair. The process of
Corydon's soul-life was that some one else should come to her, and
tell her that she was radiant and exquisite; and straightway she
would become these things, and yet more of them; and until such a
person came to her, all her soul's life stood still.
This was illustrated whenever there was any misunderstanding between
them, any crisis of unhappiness or fit of melancholia. It was quite
in vain at such times that Thyrsis would ask her to sweep these
things aside and forget them; it was disastrous to suggest that she
put any blame upon herself, or scold herself into a different
attitude. He might take days to make up his mind to do what he had
to do--yet that fit of misery would last until he had come and done
it. He had to put his arms about her, and make her realize that she
was precious to him, that she was necessary to him, that he loved
her and appreciated her and believed in her; so, and so only, would
the current of her life begin once more to flow.
And why could he not do this more quickly? Why did he have to wait
until she had suffered agonies? Why did he have to be dragged to it
by the hair of his head, as it were--as a means of keeping her from
going insane from misery? Was it that he did not really love her?
Mocking voices in his soul told him that was it--but he knew it was
not so. He loved her; but he loved her in his way, and that was not
her way. And how shall one explain that strange impulse in the heart
of man, that makes it impossible for him to be content with anything
that is upon the earth--that makes him restless in the presence of
beauty and love and joy, and all those things with which he so
obviously ought to be content?
It is so clearly irrational and unjustifiable; and yet that impulse
continues to drive him forth, as it drove him to destroy the statues
in the Athenian temples, and to burn the silken robes and the
jewelled treasures in the public-squares of Venice. One contemplates
the thing in its most unlovely aspects--in the form of Simeon
Stylites upon his pillar, devoured by worms, or of Bernard Gui, with
his racks and his thumb-screws and his "secular arm"--and it seems
the very culmination of all human madness and horror. And yet, it
does not cease to come; and he upon whom it seizes may not free
himself by any power of his will, by any cunning of his wit; and no
agony of yearning and grief may be sufficient to enable him to love
a woman as a woman desires to be loved.
Section 15. Thyrsis would work over the book until he was utterly
exhausted; and then, limp as a rag, he would come back to the world
of reality and face these complications. He needed to rest, he
needed to be soothed and comforted and sung to sleep; he needed to
receive--and instead he had to give. Sometimes he wondered vaguely
if this might not have been otherwise; he knew nothing about
women--but surely there might have been, somewhere in the world,
some woman who would have understood, and would have asked nothing
from him. But he dwelt on that thought but seldom, for it seemed a
kind of treason; he was not married to any such hypothetical
woman--he was married to Corydon, and it was Corydon he had to save
from the wolves.
So, time after time, he would come back to her, and take the cup of
her pain in his trembling hands, and put it to his lips and drain it
to the dregs. He would sit with her, and hear the tale of her
struggles, he would fan the sparks of his exhausted emotions into
flame, so that she might warm herself by the glow. And when the
burden became too great for him, when the black floods of anguish
and despair which she poured out upon him threatened to engulf him
altogether--then he would tramp away into the forest, or out upon
the snow-encrusted hills, and call up the demons of his soul once
more, and proclaim himself unconquered and unconquerable. He would
spread his wings to the glory of his vision; he would feel again the
surge and sweep of it, he would sing aloud with the power of it, and
pledge himself anew to live for it--if need be even to die for it.
The world was trying to crush it in him; the world hated it and
feared it, and was bound that it should not live; and Thyrsis had
sworn to save it--and so the issue was joined. He would hearten
himself for the struggle--he would fling himself into the thick of
it, again and again; he would summon up that thing which he called
his Genius, that fountain of endless force that boiled up within
him. Whatever strength they brought against him, he could match it;
he might be knocked down, trampled upon, left for dead upon the
field, but he could rise and renew the conflict! He would talk to
himself, he would call aloud to himself, he would repeat to himself
formulas of exhortation, cries of defiance, proclamations of
resolve. He would summon his enemies before him, sometimes in hosts,
sometimes as individuals--all those who ever in his life had mocked
and taunted him, scolded him and threatened him. He would shake his
clenched fists at them; they might as well understand it--they could
never conquer him, not all the power they could bring would suffice!
He would call upon posterity also; he would summon his friends and
lovers of the future, to give him comfort in his sore distress. Was
it not for them that he was laboring--that they might some day feed
their souls upon his faith?
Thyrsis would think of the "Song of Roland", recalling that heroic
figure and his three days' labor: when he had read that poem, his
heart had seemed to throb with pain every time that Roland lifted
his sword-arm. He would think of the old blind "Samson Agonistes";
he would think of the Greeks at Thermopylae, of the siege of
Haarlem. History was full of such tales of the agonies that men had
endured for the sake of their faith; and why should he expect
exemption, why should he shrink from the fiery test?
Section 16. So he lived and fought two battles, one within and one
without; and little by little these two became merged in his
imagination. He had conceived a figure which should embody the War;
and that figure had come to be himself.
The War of which he was writing had come upon a people unsuspecting
and unprepared; they had not sought it nor desired it, they did not
love it, they did not understand it. But the nation must be
preserved; and so they set out to forge themselves into a sword.
They had wealth, and they poured it out lavishly; and they had
enthusiasm--whole armies of young men came forward. They were
uniformed and armed and drilled and one after another they marched
out, with banners waving, and drums rolling, and hearts beating high
with hope; and one after another they met the enemy, and were
swallowed up in carnage and destruction, and came reeling back in
defeat and despair. It happened so often that the whole land moaned
with the horror of it--there was Bull Run and then again Bull Run,
and there was the long Peninsula Campaign--an entire year of
futility and failure; and there was the ghastly slaughter of
Fredericksburg, and the blind confusion of Chancellorsville, and the
bitter, disappointment of Antietam.
Thyrsis wished to portray all this from the point of view of the
humble private, who got none of the glory, and expected none, but
only suffering and toil; whose lot it was to march and countermarch,
to delve and sweat in the trenches, to be stifled by the heat and
drenched by the rain and frozen by the cold; to wade through seas of
blood and anguish, to be wounded and captured and imprisoned, to be
lured by victory and blasted by defeat. And into it all he was
pouring the distillation of his own experiences. For there was not
much of it that he had not known in his own person. Surely he had
known what it was to be cold and hungry; surely he had known what it
was to be lured by victory and blasted by defeat. He had watched by
the death-bed of his dearest dreams, he had listened to the moaning
of multitudes of imprisoned hopes. He had known what it was to set
before him a purpose, and to cling to it in spite of obloquy and
hatred; he had known what it was to suffer until his forehead
throbbed, and all things reeled and swam before his eyes. He had
known also what it was to sacrifice for the sake of the future, and
to see others, who thought of no one but themselves, preying upon
him, and upon the community, and living in luxury and enjoying
Little by little, as he studied this War, Thyrsis had come upon a
strange and sinister fact about it. Roughly speaking, the population
of the country might have been divided into two classes. There were
those to whom the Union was precious, and who gave their labor and
their lives for it; they starved and fought and agonized for it, and
came home, worn, often crippled, and always poor. On the other hand
there were some who had cared nothing for the Union, but were
finding their chance to grow rich and to establish themselves in the
places of power. They were selling shoddy blankets and paper shoes
to the government; they were speculating in cotton and gold and
food. There were a few exceptions to this, of course; but for the
most part, when one came to study the gigantic fortunes which were
corrupting the nation, he discovered that it was just here they had
So this was the curious and ironic fact; the nation had been
saved--but only to be handed over to the money-changers! And these
now possessed it and dominated it; and a new generation had come
forward, which knew not how these things had come to be--which knew
only the money-changers and their power. And who was there to tell
them of the War, and all that the War had meant? Who was there to
make that titan agony real to them, to point them to the high
destinies of the Republic?
Along with his war-books, Thyrsis was reading his daily newspaper,
which came to him freighted with the cynicism of the hour. It was
when the revelations of corruption in business and political affairs
were at their flood; high and low, in towns and cities, in states
and in the nation itself, one saw that the government of the country
had been bought. Everywhere throughout the land Mammon sat upon the
throne, and men cringed before him--there was only persecution and
mockery for those who believed in the things for which America stood
to all the world.
And this new Lord, who had purchased the people, and held them in
bond, was extracting a toll of suffering and privation, of accident
and disease and death, that was worse than the agony of many wars.
The whole land was groaning and sweating beneath the burden of it;
and Thyrsis, who shared the pain, and knew the meaning of it, was
sick with the responsibility it put upon him, yearning for a
thousand voices with which he might cry the truth aloud.
Some one must bring America face to face with its soul again; and
who was there to do it--who was there that was even trying? Thyrsis
had seen the statues of St. Gaudens, and he knew there was one man
who had dreamed the dream of his country. But who was there to put
it into song, or into story, that the young might read? Like the
newspapers and the churches, the authors had sold out; they were
writing for matinée-girls, and for the Pullman-car book-trade; and
meantime the civilization of America was sliding down into the pit!
So here again was War! Here again were pain and sickness, hunger and
cold, solitude and despair, to be endured and defied; death itself
to be faced--madness even, and soul-decay! Armies of men had gone
out, had laid themselves down and filled up the ditches with their
bodies, to make a bridge for Freedom to pass on. And the ditches
were not yet full--another life was needed!
Nor must he think himself too good for the sacrifice; there had been
greater men than he, no doubt, burned up in the Wilderness, and
blown to pieces by the cannon at "Bloody Angle"; there had been
dreamers of mighty dreams among them--and they were dead, and all
their dreams were dead. And neither must he love his own too dearly;
there had been women who had suffered and died in that War, and
babes who had perished by tens of thousands; and they, too, had been
born with agony, had been loved and yearned for, and wept and prayed
So, out of the dead past, were voices calling to Thyrsis; he heard
them in the night--time as one mighty symphony of grief. They had
died for nothing, unless the Republic should be saved, unless their
dream of freedom and justice could be made real. And for what was
the poet but that? So that the new generations might know what their
fathers had done--that the youth of America might be roused and
thrilled once more! Surely it could not be that the land was all
sunk in selfishness and unfaith--that there were no longer any
generous souls who could be stirred by a trumpet-call, and led forth
to strike a new blow for the great hope of Humanity!
Section 17. The long winter dragged by, and the fury of it seemed to
increase; they were as if besieged by demons of cold and storm.
There came another blizzard, and the snows drifted down to their
hollow by the edge of the woods, so that it was two days before they
could get out, even to the farm-house. And there was no place for
them to walk--a path from their house to Thyrsis' study was a labor
of half a day to dig. Also Corydon caught a cold, which ran in due
course through the little family, and added to their misery and
The snow seemed to be symbolical, walling them in from all the
world. "There is no help", it seemed to say to them; whatever
strength they got they must wring out of their own hearts. Here in
this place, it seemed to Thyrsis, he learned the real meaning of
Winter; he saw it as primitive man had seen it, a cruel and
merciless assailant, a fiend that came ravening, dealing destruction
and death. He thought of the ode by Thomas Campbell--
"Archangel! Power of desolation!
Fast descending as thou art,
Say, hath mortal invocation
Spells to touch thy stony heart?"
Surely no Runic Odin, who "howled his war-song to the gale", no
Lapland savage who cowered in his hut, ever panted for the respite
of the spring-time more than these two lovers in their tiny cottage.
It was evident that Corydon was going down-hill under the strain.
She became more and more nervous and wretched, her headaches and her
fits of exhaustion were more frequent. Then, too, her old mental
trouble, the habit of "thinking things", was plaguing her again--
She would come to Thyrsis with long accounts of her psychological
entanglements, and he would patiently unravel the skein. Or
sometimes, if he was very tired, he might give some signs of a
desire to escape the ordeal; and then he would see a look of terror
stealing into Corydon's eyes. So these things were real after
all--they were real even to Thyrsis!
One morning he opened his eyes, and looked from his study-window, to
find that another heavy snow had fallen; and when he had dressed and
gone over to the house, he found Corydon in bed. She complained of a
headache, and had had chills during the night, and was now quite
evidently feverish. He was alarmed, and after he had made her as
comfortable as he could, he dressed the baby and took him upon his
shoulder, and made his way with difficulty to the farm-house. He
left the baby there, and with a horse and sleigh set out for town.
The horse had to walk all the way, and several times the sleigh was
upset in the drifts, so that it was two hours before he reached his
destination. As the doctor was out upon his rounds, he had to wait a
couple of hours more--and then only to learn that the man could not
possibly attempt the trip. He had several patients who were
dangerously ill, and he had to be on hand.
He sent Thyrsis to another doctor, but this one said exactly the
same; and so the boy spent the day wandering about the town. The
thought of Corydon's lying there alone, helpless and suffering, made
him wild; but everywhere he met with the same response--the cold
weather had apparently brought an epidemic of disease, and there was
no doctor in the place who could spare three or four hours to make
the long journey in the snow.
So there was nothing for him to do but go back. The farmer's wife
offered to take care of the baby over night, and he went down to the
cottage alone where he found Corydon much worse. He sat and held her
hand, a terror clutching at his heart; and all night long he sat and
tended her--he filled hot water bottles when she was chilled, and
got ice when she was hot, and made cool lemonade, and prepared
tidbits and tempted her to eat. He would whisper to her and soothe
her; and later, when she fell into a doze, he sat nodding in his
chair and shivering with cold, but afraid to touch the fire for fear
of disturbing her.
Then, towards dawn, she wakened; and Thyrsis was almost beside
himself with anguish and fear--for she was delirious, and did not
know where she was, or what she was doing. She kept talking as if to
the baby--in their baby-talk. Thyrsis would listen, until he would
choke up with tears.
He left her, and went up to the farm, and got the horse and sleigh
again, and drove to another town. It made no difference what doctor
he got--to Thyrsis all doctors were alike, the keepers of the keys
of health. After several hours' pursuit he found that this man also
was busy. All he could say was that he would try to get out that
So Thyrsis went back again, to find his wife with flushed face, and
beads of perspiration upon her forehead; now sitting up and babbling
aimlessly, now sinking back exhausted. He sat once more through a
night of torment, holding her hot hands in his, and praying in vain
for the coming of the doctor.
It was afternoon of the next day before the man finally came, and
brought some relief to Thyrsis' soul, and perhaps also to Corydon's
body. He took her temperature and listened to her breathing, and
pronounced it a severe attack of grippe, with a touch of
bronchitis; and he laid out an assortment of capsules and liquids,
and promised to come again if Thyrsis sent for him.
And so the boy set out in the double role of trained nurse and
mother's assistant. He gave Corydon her medicines, and brought fresh
water for her, and smoothed her pillows and talked to her, and
prepared some delicacies for her when she wished to eat; also he
dressed and bathed the baby, and cooked his complex meals and fed
them to him; he put on his rubbers and his leggings and his mittens,
and the overcoat and peaked hood (which Corydon had devised for him
out of eighty cents' worth of woolly red cloth), and turned him out
to "bongie cowtoos" in the snow. Likewise he got his own meals and
washed the dishes, and tended the fires and emptied the ashes and
filled the lamps and swept the floors; and in the interim between
these various duties he fought new battles within himself, and got
new side-lights upon Chickamauga and "Bloody Angle".
Section 18. It was two weeks before this siege was lifted, and
Corydon was able to take up her burdens once more. It was then
March, and the snow had given place to cold sleety rains, and the
fields and the ground about their home were miniature swamps full of
mud. Thyrsis would tramp through this to the hill-tops where the
storm-winds howled, and there vow defiance to his foes, and come
home to pour new hope and courage and resolution into a bottomless
He was finishing his vision of the field of Gettysburg--the
three-days' grapple between two titan armies, that meant to him
three weeks of soul-terrifying toil. Men had said that Gettysburg
meant the turning Of the tide, that victory was certain; and yet
there had followed Sherman's long campaign, and all the horror of
the Wilderness fighting, and Mine Run and Cold Harbor and the
ghastly siege of Petersburg. And now Thyrsis had to fight his way
through this. He saw the figure that he had dreamed, and that
possessed him; a soldier who was the rage of the War incarnate, the
awakened frenzy of the nation. He was a man lifted above pain and
cold and hunger; he was gaunt and wild of aspect, restless and
impatient, driving, driving to the end. He went about the duties of
the camp like one in a dream; he marched like an automaton--for
hours, or for days, as need might be--his thoughts flying on to
those moments that alone were real to him, to the charge and the
fury of the conflict, the blows that were the only things that
counted. He lived amid sights and sounds of horror, with groans and
weeping in his ears, with a mist of blood and cannon-smoke before
his eyes; he drove on, grim and implacable, the very ground about
him rocking and quivering in a delirium of torment. He was the War!
Meantime Corydon was growing paler, and more wretched than ever. For
her, too, this winter was symbolized as a battle-ground. To him it
was a field in which armies clashed, and the issue was uncertain;
but to her it was a field of inevitable defeat, strewn with the
corpses of her hopes. For hours she would lie upon her couch in the
night-watches, silent, alone, staring out of the window at the wide
waste of snow in the pitiless moonlight.
Thyrsis would have preferred to sleep in his own study, as he worked
so late at night; but Corydon begged him not to do this, she would
rather be wakened, she said.
So, on one occasion, he came over at about two o'clock in the
morning, and found her sleeping, as he thought, and crawled into his
own cot. He was just dozing off to sleep, when he heard what he
thought was a stifled sob.
He listened; he thought that she was crying in her sleep. But then,
as the sound grew clearer, he sat up. The moonlight was shining in
upon her, and Thyrsis caught a bright glint of steel. Swift as a
flash the meaning of that swept over him. He had provided her with a
revolver, that she might feel safe when she was left alone; and now
he bounded out of bed and sprang across the room, and found her with
the weapon pointed at her head.
He struck it away; and Corydon, with a terrified cry, clutched at
him and collapsed in his arms.
"Oh Thyrsis!" she wailed. "Save me! Save me!"
"What is it?" he gasped.
"I couldn't do it!" she cried, choking. "I couldn't! I tried--I
tried so hard!"
"Sweetheart", he whispered, in terror.
"Don't let me do it!" she sobbed. "Oh, Thyrsis, you must save me!"
He pressed her to his bosom, shuddering with dread, and trying to
soothe her hysterical outburst. So, little by little, he dragged the
story from her. For three days she had been making up her mind to
shoot herself, and she had chosen that night for the time.
"I've been sitting here for an hour," she whispered--"with the
revolver in my hand. And I couldn't get up the courage to pull the
He clasped her, white with horror.
"I heard you coming," she went on. "I lay and pretended to sleep.
Then I tried again--but I can't, I can't! I'm a coward!"
"Corydon!" he cried.
"There was only one thing that stopped me. You would have got on
"Don't say that, dearest!"
"You would--I know it! I'm only in your way. But oh, my baby! I
loved him so, and I couldn't bear to leave him!"
She clung to him convulsively. "Oh, Thyrsis," she panted, "think
what it meant to me to leave him. He'd have been without a mother
all his life! And something might have happened to you, and he'd
have had no one to love him at all!"
"Why did you want to do it?" he cried.
"Oh Thyrsis, I've suffered so! I'm weary--I'm worn out--I'm sick of
the fight. I can't stand it any more--and what can I do?"
"My poor, poor girl," he whispered, and pressed her to his heart in
a paroxysm of grief. "Oh, my Corydon! My Corydon!"
The horror of the thing overwhelmed him; he began to weep
himself--his frame was shaken with tearless, agonizing sobs. What
could he do for her, how could he help her?
But already he had helped her; it was not often that she saw him
weeping, it was not often she found that she could do something for
_him_. "Thyrsis, do you really _want_ me?" she whispered. "Do you
truly love me that much?"
"I love you, I love you!" he sobbed.
And she replied, "Then I'll stay. I'll bear anything, if you need
me--if I can be of any use at all."
Section 19. So their tears were mingled; so once more, being
sufficiently plowed up with agony, they might behold the deeps of
each other's souls. Being at their last gasp, and driven to
desperation, they would make the convulsive effort, and break the
crust of dullness and commonplace, and reveal again the mighty
forces hidden in their depths. At such hours he beheld Corydon as
she was, the flaming spirit, the archangel prisoned in the flesh. If
only he could have found the key to those deep chambers, so that he
could have had access to them always!
But alas, they knew only one path that led to them, and that through
the valley of despair. From despair it led to anguished struggle,
and from struggle to defiance, to rage and denunciation--and thence
to visions and invocations, raptures and enthralments. So this
night, for instance, behold Corydon, first holding her husband's
hands, and shuddering with awe, and pledging her faith all over
again; and then, later on, when the dawn was breaking, sitting in the
cold moonlight with a blanket flung about her, her wild hair tossing,
and in her hand the revolver with which she had meant to destroy
herself. Behold her, making sport of her own life-drama--turning
into wildest phantasy her domestic ignominies, her inhibitions and
her helpmate's blunderings; evoking the hosts of the future as to
a festival, rehearsing the tragedy of her soul with all posterity
as her audience. When once these mad steeds of her fancy were turned
loose, one could never tell where their course would be; and strange
indeed were the adventures that came to him who rode with her!
There seemed to be no limit to the powers of this subliminal woman
within Corydon. Her cheeks would kindle, her eyes would blaze, and
eloquence would pour from her--the language of great poetry, fervid
and passionate, with swift flashes of insight and illumination,
tumultuous invocations and bursts of prophecy. Thyrsis would listen
and marvel. What a mind she had--sharp, like a rapier, swift as the
lightning-flash! The powers of penetration and understanding, and
above all the sheer splendors of language--the blazes of metaphor,
the explosions of coruscating wit! What a tragic actress she might
have made--how she would have shaken men's souls, and set them to
shuddering with terror! What an opera-singer she could have been,
with that rich vibrant voice, and the mien of a disinherited
It was out of such hours that the faith of their lives was made; and
it was out of them also that Thyrsis formed his idea of woman. To
him woman was an equal; and this he not only said with his lips, he
lived it in his feelings. The time came when he went out into the
world, and learned to understand the world's idea, that woman meant
vanity and pettiness and frivolity; but Thyrsis let all this pass,
knowing the woman-soul. Somewhere underneath, not yet understood and
mastered, was pent this mighty force that in the end would
revolutionize all human ideas and institutions. Here was faith, here
was vision, here was the power of all powers; and how was it to be
delivered and made conscious, and brought into the service of life?
Most women liked Thyrsis, because they divined in some vague way
this attitude; and some men hated him for the same reason. These
men, Thyrsis observed, were the slave-drivers; they held that woman
was the weaker vessel, and for this they had their own motives.
There were women, too, who liked to be ruled; but Thyrsis never
argued with them--it was enough, he judged, to treat any slave as a
free man, or any servant as a gentleman, and sooner or later they
would divine what he meant, and the spirit of revolt would begin to
THE MASTERS OF THE SNARE
_They stood upon the porch of the little cabin, listening to the
silence of the night.
"How far away it all seems!" she said--
"How many a dingle on the loved hill-side
Hath since our day put by
The coronals of that forgotten time!"
"It makes one feel old," he said--"like the coming of the night!"
"The night!" she repeated, and went on--
"I feel her finger light
Laid pausefully upon life's headlong train;--
The foot less prompt to meet the morning dew,
The heart less bounding at emotion new,
And hope once crush'd less quick to spring again!"_
Section 1. Throughout this long winter of discontent came to them
one ray of hope from the outside world. "The Genius" was given in
the little town in Germany, and Thyrsis' correspondent sent the
twenty-five dollars, and wrote that it had made a great impression,
and that more performances were to be expected. Then, after an
interval, Thyrsis was surprised to receive from his clipping-bureau
some items to the effect that his play was to be produced in one of
the leading theatres in Berlin. He wrote to his correspondent for an
explanation, and learned to his dismay that his play had been
"pirated"; it was, of course, not copyright in Germany, and so he
had no redress, and must content himself with what his friend
referred to as "the renowns which will be brought to you by these
The play came out, in the early spring, and apparently made a
considerable sensation. Thyrsis read long reviews from the German
papers, and there were accounts of it in several American papers. So
people began to ask who this unknown poet might be. The publishers
of "The Hearer of Truth" were moved to venture new advertisements of
the book--whereby they sold perhaps a hundred copies more; and
Thyrsis was moved to pay some badly--needed money to have more
copies of the play made, so that he might try to interest some other
manager. He carried on a long correspondence with a newly-organized
"stage society", which thought a great deal about trying the play at
a matinée, but did nothing.
Also, Thyrsis received a letter from one of the country's popular
novelists, who had heard of the play abroad, and asked to read it.
When he had read it and told what an interesting piece of work it
was, Thyrsis sat down and wrote the great man about his plight, and
asked for help; which led to correspondence, and to the passing
round of the manuscript among a group of literary people. One of
these was Haddon Channing, the critic and essayist, who was
interested enough to write Thyrsis several long letters, and to read
the rest of his productions, and later on to call to see him. Which,
visit proved a curious experience for the family.
He arrived one day towards spring, when it chanced that Corydon was
in town visiting the dentist. Thyrsis had just finished his dinner
when he saw two people coming through the orchard, and he leaped up
in haste to put the soiled dishes away, and make the place as
presentable as possible. Mr. and Mrs. Channing had come in their car
(they lived in Philadelphia), and were followed by an escort of the
farmer's children--since an automobile was a rare phenomenon in that
neighborhood. The entrance to the peach-orchard proved not wide
enough for the machine, so they had to get out and walk; and this
they found annoying, because the ground was wet and soft. All of
which seemed to emphasize the incongruity of their presence.
Haddon Channing might have been described as a dilettante radical.
He employed a highly-wrought and artificial style, which
scintillated with brilliant epigram; one had a feeling that it
rather atoned for the evils in human life, that they became the
occasion of so much cleverness in Channing's books. Perhaps that was
the reason why most people did not object to the vagueness of his
ideas, when it came to any constructive suggestion. In fact he
rather made a point of such vagueness--when you tried to do anything
about a social evil, that was politics, and politics were vulgar.
One could never pin Channing down, but his idea seemed to be that in
the end all men would become free and independent spirits, able to
make their own epigrams; after which there would be no more evil in
And here he was in the flesh. It seemed to Thyrsis as if he must
have made a study of his own books, and then proceeded to fit his
person and his clothing, his accent and his manner, to make a proper
setting thereto. He was tall and lean, immaculate and refined; he
spoke with airy and fastidious grace, pouring out one continuous
stream of cleverness--any hour of his conversation was equivalent to
a volume of his works at a dollar and a quarter net.
Also, there was Mrs. Channing, gracious and exquisite, looking as if
she had stepped out of one of Rossetti's poems. She was a poetess
herself; writing about Acteon, and Antinoüs, and other remote
subjects. Thyrsis assumed that there must be something in these
poems, for they were given two or three pages in the thirty-five-cent
magazines; but he himself had never discovered any reason why he
should read one through.
Section 2. They seated themselves upon his six-foot piazza; and
Thyrsis, who had very little sense of personality, and was
altogether wrapped up in ideas, was soon in the midst of a free and
easy discussion with them. It seemed ages since he had had an
opportunity to exchange opinions with anyone except Corydon. With
these people he roamed over the fields of literature; and as they
found nothing to agree about anywhere, the conversation did not
A strange experience it must have been to them, to come to a lonely
shanty in the woods, and encounter a haggard boy, in a cotton-shirt
and a pair of frayed trousers, who was all oblivious of their
elegance, and unawed by their reputation, and who behaved like a
bull in the china-shop of their orderly opinions. Mrs. Channing, it
seemed, was completing her life-work, a volume which was to
revolutionize current criticism, and lead the world back to artistic
health; to her, modern civilization was a vast abortion, and in
Greek culture was to be sought the fountain-head of health. She sang
the praises of Athenian literature and art and life; there was
sanity and clarity, there was balance and serenity! And to compare
it with the jangled confusion and the frantic strife of modern
To which Thyrsis answered, "We'd best let modern times alone. For
here you've all facts and no generalization; and in the case of the
Greeks you've all generalization and no facts."
And so they went at it, hot and heavy. Mrs. Channing, her Greek
serenity somewhat ruffled, insisted that she had studied the facts
for herself. The other proceeded to probe into her equipment, and
found that she knew Homer and Sophocles, but did not know
Aristophanes so well, and did not know the Greek epigrams at all.
Thyrsis maintained that the dominant note in the Greek heritage was
one of bewilderment and despair; in support of which alarming
opinion he carried the discussion from the dreams of Greek
literature to the realities of Greek life. Did Mrs. Channing know
how the Greeks had persecuted all their great thinkers?
Did she know anything about the cruelties of their slave-code?
"Have you ever studied Greek politics?" he asked. "Do you realize,
for instance, that it was the custom of statesmen and generals who
were defeated by their political rivals, to go over to the enemy and
lead an expedition against their homes?"
"Isn't that putting it rather strongly?" asked Mrs. Channing.
"I don't think so," he answered. "Didn't the conquerors of both
Salamis and Platasa afterwards sell out to the Persian king? And
then you talk about the noble ideal of woman which the Greeks
developed! Don't you know that it was nothing but a literary
"I had never understood that," said Mrs. Channing.
To which the other answered: "It was handed down from imaginary
Homeric days. The Greek lady of the Periclean age was a domestic
prisoner and drudge."
Section 3. Then, late in the afternoon, came Corydon; and this part
of the adventure must have seemed stranger yet to the Channings.
Corydon wore a shirt-waist and a ten-cent straw hat, trimmed with
some white mosquito-netting, and an old blue skirt which she had
worn before her marriage, and had enlarged little by little during
the period of her pregnancy, and had taken in again after the baby
was born. Also she was pale and sad-looking, much startled by the
sight of the automobile, and the sudden apparition of elegance. She
got rid of her armfuls of groceries and bundles, and seated herself
in an inconspicuous place, and sat listening while the argument went
on. For a full hour she never uttered a word; only once during the
controversy over the "Greek lady", Mrs. Channing turned to her and
asked, "Don't you agree with me?" But Corydon could only answer, "I
don't know, I have not read much history." And who was there to tell
the visitor that this strange, wide-eyed girl knew more about the
tragedies and terrors of the Greek temperament than she with all her
culture and her college-degrees could have learned in many
The two stayed to supper, and Corydon and Thyrsis set out the meal
upon the rustic outdoor table; they apologized for their domestic
inadequacies, but Mrs. Channing declared that she "adored
picknicking". The evening was spent in more discussion; and finally
it was decided that the visitors should stay over night at the hotel
in town, and come out again in the morning.
Thyrsis concluded, as he thought the matter over, that the two must
have been fascinated by this domestic situation, and curious to look
deeper into it. Perhaps they saw "material" in it; or perhaps it was
that Haddon Channing was really impressed by Thyrsis' powers, and
sought to understand his problems and help him. Whatever may have
been the motive for it, when they came the next morning, the critic
took Thyrsis for a walk in the woods and proceeded to discuss his
affairs. And meanwhile his wife had set herself to the task of
probing the innermost corners of Corydon's soul.
The burden of Channing's discourse was Thyrsis' impatience and lack
of balance, his fanaticism and his too great opinion of his own
work. "My dear fellow, he said, "you are the most friendless human
being I have ever encountered upon earth. How can you expect to
interest men if you don't get out into the world and learn what they
"That means to get a position, I suppose?" said Thyrsis.
"No, not necessarily--" began the other.
"But I haven't money to live in the city otherwise."
That was too definite for Channing, and he went off on another tack.
He had been reading "The Higher Cannibalism", and he could not
forgive it. A boy of Thyrsis' age had no right to be seething with
such bitterness; there must be some fundamental and terrible cause.
He was destroying himself, he was eating out his heart in this
isolation; he was so wrapped up in his own miseries, his own
wrongs--in all the concerns of his own exaggerated ego!
They were seated beside a little streamlet in the woods. "What you
need is something to get you out of yourself," the critic was
saying--"something to restore your sanity and balance. It'll come to
you some day. Perhaps it'll be a love-affair--you'll meet some woman
who'll carry you away. I know the sort you need--they grow in the
West--the great brooding type of woman-soul, that would fold you in
her arms and give you a little peace."
Thyrsis was silent for a space. "You forget," he said, in a low
voice, "that I am already married."
The other shrugged his shoulders. "Such things have happened, even
so," he said.
Thyrsis had taken his part in the conversation before this,
defending himself and setting forth his point of view. But now he
fell silent. The words had cut him to the quick. It seemed to him an
insult and a bitter humiliation; here, at his home, almost in the
presence of his wife! What was the man's idea, anyway?
And suddenly he turned upon Channing with the question, "You think
that I've married a doll?"
The other was staggered for a moment. "I don't know what you've
married," he replied.
"No," said Thyrsis. "Then how can you advise me in such a matter?"
"I see that you're not happy--" the other began.
"Yes," said the boy. "But I don't want any more women."
There was a pause, while Thyrsis sat pondering, Should he try to
explain to this man? But he shook his head. No, it would be useless
to try. "She is not in your class," he said.
"How do you mean?" asked the other.
"She has none of your culture, none of your social graces. She can't
write, and she can't sing--she can't do anything that your wife
"I'm afraid," said Channing, in a low voice, "you don't take my
remarks in the right spirit."
"Even suppose that she were not what you call a 'great woman-soul',"
persisted Thyrsis--"at least she has starved and suffered for me;
and wouldn't common loyalty bind me to her?"
"I have tried to do something very difficult," said the other, after
a silence. "I have tried to talk to you frankly. It is the most
thankless task in the world to tell a man his own faults."
"I know," said Thyrsis. "And that's all right--I'm perfectly
willing. I don't mind knowing my faults."
"It is evident that you have resented it," declared the other.
Thyrsis answered with a laugh, "Don't you admit of replies to your
criticisms? Suppose I'm pointing out some of your faults--your
faults as a critic?"
Channing said that he did not object to that.
"Very well, then," said Thyrsis. "I simply tell you that you have
missed the point of my trouble. There's nothing the matter with me
but poverty and lack of opportunity; and there's nothing else the
matter with my wife. We're doing our best, and it's the simple fact
that we've endured and dared more than anybody we've ever met. And
that's all there is to it."
It was evident that Channing was deeply hurt. He turned the
conversation to other matters, and pretty soon they got up and
strolled on. When they came near to the house, he went off to see
his chauffeur, and Thyrsis stood watching him, and pondering over
It was the same thing that had happened to him in the city; it was
the thing that would be happening to him all the time. He saw that
however wretched he might be with Corydon, he would always take her
part against the world. Whatever her faults might be, they were not
such as the world could judge. Rather would he make it the test of a
person's character, that they should understand and appreciate her,
in spite of her lack of that superficial thing called culture--the
ability to rattle off opinions about any subject under the sun.
So it was that loyalty to Corydon held him fast. So her temperament
was his law, and her needs were his standards; and day by day he
must become more like her, and less like himself!
Section 4. He returned to the house, entering by the rear door. The
baby was lying in the room asleep, and out upon the piazza, he could
hear Corydon and Mrs. Channing. Corydon was speaking, in her intense
"The trouble with me," she was saying, "is that I have no
confidence! Other women are sure of themselves--they are
self-contained, serene, satisfied."
"But why shouldn't you be that way?" Thus Mrs. Channing.
"I aim too high," said Corydon. "I want too much. I defeat myself."
"Yes," said the other, "but why--"
"It's been the circumstances of all my life! I've been
defeated--thwarted--repressed! Everything drives me back into
myself. There is nothing I can _do_--I can only endure and suffer
and wait. So all the influences in my life are negative--
'I was sick with the Nay of life--
With my lonely soul's refrain!'"
"What is that you are quoting?" asked Mrs. Channing.
"It's from a poem I wrote," said Corydon.
"Oh, you write poetry?"
"I couldn't say that," was the reply. "I have no technique--I never
studied anything about it."
"But you try sometimes?"
"I find it helps me," said Corydon--"once in a great while I find
lines in my mind; and I put them together, so that I can say them
over, and remind myself of things."
"I see," said Mrs. Channing. "Tell me the poem you quoted."
"I--I don't believe you'd think much of it," said Corydon,
hesitating. "I never expected anybody--
"I'd be interested to hear it," declared her visitor.
So Corydon recited in a low voice a couple of stanzas which had come
to her in the lonely midnight hours. Thyrsis listened with
interest--he had never heard them before:
"What matters the tired heart,
What matters the weary brain?
What matters the cruel smart
Of the burden borne again?
I was sick with the Nay of life--
With my lonely soul's refrain;
But the essence of love is strife,
And the meaning of life is pain."
There was a pause. "Do you--do you think that is worth while at
all?" asked Corydon.
"It is evidently sincere," replied Mrs. Channing. "I think you ought
to study and practice."
"I can't make much effort at it--"
But the other went on: "What concerns me is the attitude to life it
shows. It is terrible that a young girl should feel that way. You
must not let yourself get into such a state!"
"But how can I help it?"
"You must have something that occupies your mind! That is what you
need, truly it is! You've got to stop thinking about yourself--you've
got to get outside yourself, somehow!"
Thyrsis caught his breath. He could tell from the tone of the
speaker's voice that she was laboring with Corydon, putting forth
all her energies to impress her. He was tempted to step forward and
cry out, "No, no! That's not the way! That won't work!"
But instead, he stood rooted to the spot, while Mrs. Channing went
on--"This unhappiness comes from the fact that you are so
self-centred. You must get some constructive work, my dear, if it's
only training your baby. You must realize that you are not the only
person who has troubles in the world. Why, I know a poor
washerwoman, who was left a widow with four children to care for--"
And then suddenly Thyrsis heard a voice cry out in anguish, "Oh, oh!
stop!" He heard his wife spring up from her chair.
"What's the matter?" asked Mrs. Channing.
"I can't listen to you any more!" cried Corydon. "You don't know
what you're saying!--You don't understand me at all!"
There was a pause. "I'm sorry you feel that," said Mrs. Channing.
"I had no right to talk to you!" exclaimed the other. "There's no
one can understand! I have to fight alone!"
At this point Thyrsis went into the kitchen, and made some noise
that they would hear. Then he called, "Are you there, dearest?"
"Yes," said Corydon; and he went out upon the piazza. He saw her
standing, white and tense.
"Are you still talking?" he said, with forced carelessness.
And as Mrs. Channing answered "Yes," Corydon said, quickly, "Excuse
me a moment," and went into the house.
So the poet sat and talked with his guest about the state of the
weather and the condition of the roads; until at last her husband
arrived, saying that it was time they were starting. Corydon did not
appear again, and so finally Thyrsis accompanied them out to their
car, and saw them start off. They promised to come again, but he
knew they would not keep that promise.
Section 5. He went back to the house, and after some search he found
Corydon down in the woods, whither she had fled to have out her
"Has that woman gone?" she panted, when he came near.
"Yes, dear," he said. "She's gone."
"Oh!" cried Corydon. "How dared she! How dared she!"
"Get up, sweetheart," said Thyrsis. "The ground is wet."
"She's gone off in her automobile!" exclaimed the girl,
passionately. "She spent last night at a hotel that charged twelve
dollars a day, and then she told me about her washerwoman! Now she's
gone back to her beautiful home, with servants and a governess and a
piano and everything else she wants! And she talked to me about
'occupation'! What _right_ had she to come here and trample on my
"But why did you let her, dearest?"
"How could I _help_ myself? I had no idea--"
"But how did you get started?"
"I've nobody to confide in--nobody!" cried Corydon. "And she wanted
to know about me--she led me on. I thought she sympathized with
me--I thought she understood!"
"She's a woman of the world, my dear."
"She was just pulling me to pieces! She wanted to see how I worked!
Don't you see what she was looking for, Thyrsis--she thought I was
"She only writes about the Greeks," said Thyrsis, with a smile.
"I'm a horrible example! I'm neurasthenic and self-centred--I'm the
modern woman! She read me a long lecture like that! I ought to get
"Dearest!" he pleaded, trying to soothe her.
"Busy"! repeated Corydon, laughing hysterically. "Busy! I wash and
dress and amuse a baby! I get six meals a day for him, I get three
meals for us, and clean up everything. And the rest of the day I'm
so exhausted I can hardly stand up, and a good part of the time I'm
sick besides. And then, if I think about my troubles, it's because
I've nothing to do!"
"My dear," Thyrsis replied, "you should not have put yourself at her
"How I hate her!" cried Corydon. "How I _hate_ her!"
"You must learn to protect yourself from such people, Corydon."
"I won't meet them at all! I'm not able to face them--I've none of
their weapons, none of their training. I don't want to know about
them, or their kind of life! They have no souls!"
"It isn't easy for them to understand," said Thyrsis. "They have
never been poor--"
"That woman talks about the Greek love of beauty! What sacrifice has
she ever made for beauty--what agony has she ever dared for it? And
yet she can prattle about it--the phrases roll from her! She's been
educated--polished--finished! She's been taught just what to say!
And I haven't been taught, and so she despises me!"
"It's deeper than that, my dear," he said. "You have something in
you that she would hate instinctively."
"What do you mean?"
"I've told you before, dearest. It's genius, I think.
"Genius! But what use is it to me, if it is? It only unfits me for
life. It eats me up, it destroys me!"
"Some day," he said, "you will find a way to express it. It will
come, never fear.--But now, dear, be sensible. The ground is wet,
and if you sit there, you will surely be laid up with rheumatism."
He lifted her up; but she was not to be diverted. Suddenly she
turned, and caught him by the arms. "Thyrsis!" she cried. "Tell me!
Do you blame me as she does? Do you think I'm weak and incompetent?"
Whatever answer he might have been inclined to make, he saw in her
wild eyes that only one answer was to be thought of. "Certainly not,
my dear!" he said, quickly. "How could you ask me such a question?"
"Oh, tell me! tell me!" she exclaimed. And so he had to go on, and
sing the song of their love to her, and pour out balm upon her
But afterwards he went alone; and then it was not so simple. Little
demons of doubt came and tormented him. Might it not be that there
was something in the point of view of the Channings? He took Corydon
at her own estimate--at the face value of her emotions; but might it
not be that he was deluding himself, that he was a victim of his own
He would ponder this; he tried to have it out with himself for once.
What did he really think about it? What would he have told Corydon
if he had told her the bald truth? But such doubts could not stay
with him for long. They brought shame to him. He was like a man
travelling across the plains, who comes upon the woman he loves,
being tortured by a band of Apaches; and who is caught and bound
fast, to watch the proceedings. Would such a man spend his time
asking whether the woman was weak and incompetent? No--his energies
would be given to getting his arms loose, and finding out where the
guns were. He would set her free, and give her a chance; and then it
would be time enough to measure her powers and pass judgment upon
Section 6. It was a long time before the family got over that
visitation. Corydon burned all Channing's books and she wrote a long