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Sir George Tressady, Vol. II by Mrs. Humphry Ward

Part 6 out of 6

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me your hand. Good-bye. You and I--The world's a queer place--I wish I'd
turned you back at the pit's mouth. I wanted to show I bore no malice.
Well--at least I know--"

The words broke off incoherently. Burrows caught the word "suffering,"
and some phrase about "the men," then Tressady's head slipped back
against the wall, and he spoke no more.

But the mind was active long afterwards. Again and again he seemed to
himself standing in a bright light, alive and free. Innumerable illusions
played about him. In one of the most persistent he was climbing the slope
of a Swiss meadow in May. Oh! the scent of the narcissus, heavy still
with the morning dew--the brush of the wet grass against his
ankles--those yellow anemones shining there beneath the pines--the roar
of the river in the gorge below--and beyond, far above, the grey peak,
sharp and tall against that unmatched brilliance of the blue. In another
he was riding alone in a gorge aflame with rhododendrons, and far down in
the plain--the burnt-up Indian plain--some great fortified town, grave on
its hill-top, broke the level lines--"A rose-red city, half as old as
time." Or, again, it was the sea in some glow of sunset, the white
reflections of the sails slipping down and down through the translucent
pinks and blues, till the eye lost itself in the infinity of shades and
tints, which the breeze--oh, the freshness of it!--was painting each
moment anew at its caprice--painting and blotting, over and over again,
as the water swung under the ship.

But all through these freaks of memory some strange thing seemed to have
happened to him. He carried something in his arms--on his breast. The
anguish of his inner pity for Letty, piercing through all else, expressed
itself so.

But sometimes, as the brain grew momentarily clearer, he would wonder,
almost in his old cynical way, at his own pity. She seemed to have come
to love him. But was it not altogether for her good that his flawed,
contradictory life should be cut violently from hers? Could their
marriage, ill-planted, ill-grown, have come in the end to any tolerable
fruit? His mind passed back, with bitterness, over the nine months of it;
not bitterness towards her--he seemed to be talking to her all the time,
as she lay hidden on his shoulder--bitterness towards himself, towards
the futility of his own life and efforts and desires.

But why his more than any other? The futility, the insignificance of all
that man desires, all that waits on him--that old self-scorn, which began
with the race, tormented him none the less, in dying, for the myriads it
had haunted so before. An image of human fate, which had struck him in
some book, recurred to him now--an image of daisied grass, alive one
moment in the evening light--a quivering world of blades and dew, insects
and petals, a forest of innumerable lines, crossed by the innumerable
movements of living things--the next withdrawn into the night, all
silenced, all effaced.

So life. Except, perhaps, for pain! His own pain never ceased. The only
eternity that seemed conceivable, therefore, was an eternity of pain. It
had become to him the last reality. What a horrible quickening had come
to him of that sense for misery, that intolerable compassion, which in
life he had always held to be the death of a man's natural energy! Again
and again, as consciousness still fought against the last surrender, it
seemed to him that he heard voices and hammerings in the mine. And while
he painfully listened, from the eternal darkness about him, dim tragic
forms would break in a faltering procession--men or young boys, burnt and
marred and slain like himself--turning to him faces he remembered. It was
as though the scorn for pity he had once flung at Marcella Maxwell had
been but the fruit of some obscure and shrinking foresight that he
himself should die drowned and lost in pity; for as he waited for death
his soul seemed to sink into the suffering of the world, as a spent
swimmer sinks into the wave.

One perception, indeed, that was not a perception of pain, this piteous
submission to the human lot brought with it. The accusing looks of hungry
men, the puzzles of his own wavering heart, all social qualms and
compunctions--these things troubled him no more. In the wanderings of
death he was not without the solemn sense that, after all, he, George
Tressady, a man of no professions, and no enthusiasms, had yet paid his
share and done his part.

Was there something in this thought that softened the dolorous way?
Once--nearly at the last--he opened his eyes with a start.

"What is it? Something watches me. There is a sense of something that
supports--that reconciles. If--_if_--how little would it all matter! _Oh!
what is this that knows the road I came_--_the flame turned cloud, the
cloud returned to flame_--_the lifted, shifted steeps, and all the way!_"
His dying thought clung to words long familiar, as that of other men
might have clung to a prayer. There was a momentary sense of ecstasy, of
something ineffable.

And with that sense came a rending of all barriers, a breaking of long
tension, a flooding of the soul with joy. Was it a passing under new
laws, into a new spiritual polity? He knew not; but as he lifted his
sightless eyes he saw the dark roadway of the mine expand, and a woman,
stepping with an exquisite lightness and freedom, came towards him.
Neither shrank nor hesitated. She came to him, knelt by him, and took
his hands. He saw the pity in her dark eyes. "_Is it so bad, my friend?
Have courage--the end is near." "Care for her--and keep me, too, in your
heart_," he cried to her, piteously. She smiled. Then light--blinding,
featureless light--poured over the vision, and George Tressady had
ceased to live.

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