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This Is the End by Stella Benson

Part 3 out of 3

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attached to her head. There are few discoveries more depressing than
this at the beginning of a day of movement.

The bells of St. Paul's began to sing. Little fairy bells dodged behind
and about the great notes. But Christina soon swept the sound into the
forgotten air behind her.

"I've got a lot to talk to you about," said Mr. Russell as he headed
Christina Hackney-way. He was conscious that he was taking his miracle
curiously for granted. I don't think he really believed in it yet. For
Mr. Russell all truth was haunted by the ghost of a clanking lie. He
discerned deceit on the part of Providence where no deceit was. "I'll
give you your brother's message first, because it interests me personally
least. He is gone. There was a sudden move across the Channel last week,
and he went--I suppose--ten days ago now. The message he hadn't time to
give you was an appeal to give up 'bus-conducting. He had an absurd idea
that you walked out with men-conductors in Victoria Park."

"Not at all absurd," said Jay. "Not half so absurd as the idea of driving
out with a casual fare. I know some delightful conductors and drivers;
we joke together when the traffic sticks. There is one perfect darling
called Edward; his only fault is that he drives a mere Steamer. But we
always bow, and once when a horse fell down and we got hung up for twenty
minutes in the Strand, he sang me a little song about a star."

Mr. Russell listened to all this very attentively, and then continued:
"Your brother wants you to go back to your Family. His last words to me
about it were that if you could manage to be ladylike for three years or
the duration of War, at the end of that time he and you would go and live
by your two selves in New Zealand, and if you liked you need wear no
skirts at all there, but riding breeches all the time."

"Ladylike!" snorted Jay. "What's the use of ladyliquity even for five
minutes? So Kew sent you as an antidote? I suppose he didn't know you
were one of my fares?"

"A fare," said Mr. Russell sententiously, "may, I suppose, be a wonderful
revelation, because you only see your fare's eyes for a second, and the
things you may see have no limit, and you never know the silly little
truth about him. Yet even so, there is more than a ticket and a look
between you and me, and you know it."

"Possibly there is a Secret World between you and me," said Jay. "But
that's a pretty big thing to divide us."

"Supposing it doesn't divide us?" said Mr. Russell, looking fiercely at
the road in front of him. "Supposing it showed me how much I love you?"

"How disappointing!" said Jay in the worst of possible taste. (She was
like that to-day.) "You're ceasing to be an Older and Wiser, and trying
to become an ordinary Nearah and Dearah."

("Oh, curse," she thought in brackets. "I shall kick myself to-night.")

"That's a horrid thing to say," said Mr. Russell. "But still I do
love you."

"It sounds very Victorian and nice," said Jay, wondering if he could
still see her through her veil of bad temper. "But, you know, in spite of
Secret Worlds, and secret souls, and centuries of secret knowledge, we
still have to keep up this 1916 farce, and leave something of ourselves
in sensible London. How do I know you're not married?"

Mr. Russell thought for a very long time indeed, and then said, "I am."

Jay was not very well brought up. She did not stop the car and step
out with dignity into respectable Hackney. She was just silent for a
long time.

"As you were," she said to herself, when she found herself able to think
again. "This is a bad day, but it will be over in something less than a
hundred years."

"You drive well," she said presently, looking with relief from Mr.
Russell's face to his hands. Christina the motor car and two 'buses were
just then indulging in a figure like the opening steps of the Grand
Chain. "You drive as though driving were poetry and every mile a verse."

"After all," she told herself, "the man loves me, and I must at least
take an intelligent interest in him."

"Are you a poet?" she added.

Nobody had ever asked Mr. Russell this question before, and not knowing
the answer to it, he did not answer.

"I have never written a line of poetry," said Jay. "Or rather, I have
several times written a line, but never another line to fit it. Yet
because I have a Friend,--I know in what curious and extended order the
verses come, and how the tunes come first, and the various voices next,
and the words last, and how a good rhyme warms you like a fire, and how
the tunes fall away when the thing is finished, and how ready-made it all
is really, and yet how tired you feel...."

To Mr. Russell it all seemed true, and part of the miracle. He had
nothing to add, and therefore added nothing.

"Obviously you are a poet," said Jay. "You have a poetic look."

"What look is that?" asked Mr. Russell, much pleased. It was twenty years
since he had even remembered that he possessed a look of his own.

"A silly sullen look," said Jay. Presently she added: "But it must have
been disappointing to find yourself a poet in Victorian times. I always
think of you Olders and Wisers as coming out of your stuffy nineteenth
century into our nice new age with a sigh of relief."

"Oh no," said Mr. Russell. "You must remember that when we were born
into it, it became our nice new age, and therefore to us there is no
age like it."

"It seems incredible," said Jay. "Did Older and Wiser people ever live
violently, ever work--work hard--until their brains were blind and they
cried because they were so tired? Did they ever get drowned in seas full
of foaming ambitions? Did they ever fight without dignity but with joy
for a cause? Did they ever shout and jump with joy in their pyjamas in
the moonlight? Did they ever feel just drunk with being young, and in at
the start? And were Older and Wiser people's jokes ever funny?"

"We were fools often," said Mr. Russell. "Once, when I was fifteen, I bit
my hand--and here is the scar--because I thought I had found a new thing
in life, and I thought I was the first discoverer. But as to jokes, you
are on very dangerous ground there. One's sense of humour is a more
tender point than one's heart, especially an Older and Wiser sense of
humour. You know, we think the jokes of your nice new age not half so
funny as ours. But as neither you nor I make jokes, that obstacle need
not come between us."

"Oh, I think difference of date is never in itself an obstacle," said
Jay. "Time is not important enough to be an obstacle."

"You and I know that," said Mr. Russell.

A little unnoticed knot of Salvationists surprised Jay at a distance by
singing the tune of a sentimental song popular five years ago, and then
they surprised her again, as she passed them, and heard the words to
which the tune was being sung. Brimstone had usurped the place of the
roses in that song, and the love left in it was not apparently the kind
of love that Hackney understands.

"Why don't they sing the old hymn tunes?" asked Jay. "Or tunes like
'Abide with Me'--not very old or very good, but worn down with
devotion like the steps of an old church? Why do they take the drama
out of it all?"

Chloris at that moment introduced drama into the drive by jumping out of
the back seat of Christina. I must, I suppose, admit that Chloris was not
Really Quite a Lady. On the contrary, motor 'buses were the only motors
she knew. She mistook the estimable Christina for a deformed motor 'bus,
and when she smelt Victoria Park, she jumped out. Even for Chloris this
was an unsuccessful day. A flash of yelping lightning caught the tail of
Jay's eye, and she looked round to see her dignified dog, upside down,
skid violently down a steep place into the gutter, and there disappear
beneath the skirt of a female stranger who was poised upon the kerb.
Unhurt, but probably blushing furiously beneath her fur over her own
vulgarity, Chloris was retrieved, and spent the rest of the drive in
wiping all traces of the accident off her ribs on to the cushions of
Christina. I am glad that Mr. Russell's Hound was not there to witness
poor Chloris's unsophisticated confession of caste.

"Where are we going?" asked Jay, when she was calm again.

"God knows where ..." said Mr. Russell.

"I'm always coming across districts of that name," said Jay severely. "I
often direct my enquiring fares to the region of God Knows Where. It is
most unsatisfying. Where are we going?"

"On for ever," said Mr. Russell. "Out of the world. To the House
by the Sea."

"Then will you please set me down at Baker's Arms?" said Jay. "Do you
know, by the way, that Anonyma always says 'Stay' to a 'bus, if she
remembers in time not to say 'Hi, stop,' like a common person."

She was talking desperately against failure, but it seemed a doomed day,
and nothing she could think of seemed worth saying.

"I want to talk to you about your House by the Sea," said Mr. Russell.
"You know I found it."

"Don't tell me any facts," implored Jay. "Don't tell me you pressed half
a crown into the palm of the oldest and wisest inhabitant, and found out
facts about some nasty young man who was born in seventeen something, and
lived in a place called Atlantic View, and wore curls and a choky stock,
and fought at Waterloo, and lies in the village church under a stone
monstrosity. Don't tell me facts, because I know they will bar me for
ever out of my House by the Sea. Facts are contraband there."

"There is no House by that Sea now," said Mr. Russell. "A slate quarry
has devoured the headland on which it used to stand. Where the House used
to be there is air now. I daresay the ghosts you knew still trace out the
shape of the House in the air."

"The ghosts I know," corrected Jay. "Don't put it in the past."

"It's all in the past," said Mr. Russell. "It's all a dream, and an echo,
and the ghost of the day before yesterday."

"How do you know?" asked Jay. "How can you tell it's not 1916 that's
the ghost?"

She had been taught by her Friend to take very few things for granted,
and time least of all.

"I asked you to tell me no facts," she added.

"I'll only tell you two," persisted Mr. Russell. "One is that they have
in the church near the quarry a dark wooden figure of a saint, with the
raised arm broken, and straight draperies. I saw it, and they told me
what I knew already, that it came out of the hall of a house that was
drowned in the sea. The other fact is a story that the tobacconist told
me, about a wriggly ladder, and stone balls, and the Law. In the
tobacconist's childhood they found the stone balls at the foot of the
cliff in the sand. That story, too, I knew already. Quite apart from
your letters, you little secret friend, I knew the face of that sea
directly I saw it."

"But how did you know? How dared you know?"

"Oh well," said Mr. Russell, "you asked me to tell you no facts."

Mr. Russell was not observant. He was not sufficiently alive to be
observant. He was much occupied in remembering phantom yesterdays, and I
do not think he listened very much to what the 'bus-conductor said. He
only enjoyed the sound of her voice, which he remembered. So he did not
know that she was unhappy.

They came presently to a separate part of the forest, which is impaled
upon a straight white road. The earth beneath the trees was caught in a
mesh of shadows. The trees are high and vaulted there, but the forest is
very reticent. The detail of its making is so small that you can only
see it if you lie down on your face. Do this and you can see the green
threads of the earth's material woven across the skeletons of last year's
leaves. You can see the little lawns of moss and weeds, too small to
name, that make the way brilliant for the ants. You can watch the heroic
armoured beetles defying their world. You can cover with a leaf the great
open-air public meeting-places of six-legged things. You can see the
spiders at work on their silver cranes, you can watch the bold elevated
activities of the caterpillars. You can feel the scattered grasses stroke
your eyelids, you can hear the low songs of fairies among the roots of
the trees. All these things you may enjoy if you lie down, but the forest
does not show them to you. The forest pays you the great compliment of
ignoring you, and it does not care whether you see its intimate
possessions or not. I think perhaps no day is really unsuccessful that
gives you forest earth against your forehead, and forest grass between
your fingers, and high forest trees to stand between you and the ultimate
confession of failure.

Jay and Mr. Russell boarded out Christina the motor car for the day at
an inn, and then they sat and gradually introduced themselves to the
forest. Showers fell on their hatless heads, and they did not notice. A
mole rose like a submarine from the waves of the forest earth, and they
did not notice. The butterflies danced like little tunes in the sunlit
clearing, and they did not notice. And from a long way off, near the
swings, holiday shrieks trailed along the wind, and they did not notice.

Jay told Mr. Russell, one by one, small unmattering things that she
remembered out of her Secret World, and each time when she had told him
he wondered with regret why he had not remembered it by himself. He had
never thought it worth while to remember before; his imagination was
crippled, and needed crutches. He had not thought it worth while to think
much about the time when he was young, the time when his past had been as
big and shining as his future. The longer we live, it seems, the less we
remember, and no men and few women normally possess a secret story after
thirty. It would not matter so much if you only lost your story, a worse
fate than loss befalls it--you laugh at it. It is curious how the world
draws in as one gets older and wiser. The past catches one up, the future
burns away like a candle. I used to think that growing up was like
walking from one end of a meadow to the other, I thought that the meadow
would remain, and one had only to turn one's head to see it all again.
But now I know that growing up is like going through a door into a little
room, and the door shuts behind one.

I think Mr. Russell's point of difference from most older and wiser
people was that he had not forgotten the excitement of writing down
snatches of his secret story as it came to him, and the passion of
tearing up the thing that he wrote, and the delight of finding that he
could not tear it out of his heart. He was a silent person, and a
rather neglected person, and unbusinesslike, and unsuccessful, and
uncultured, and unsociable, and unbeautiful. So there was nothing
worse than emptiness where his secret story used to be. He had not
found it worth while to fill the space. He had not found it worth
while to shut the door.

"Do you remember that Christmas," said Jay, "when there was a blizzard,
and a great sea, and the foam blinded the western windows of the House,
and the children went out to sing 'Love and joy come to you'? (Those
aren't real words any more now, are they? only pretty caricatures.) And
when the children came in with snow and foam plastered up their windward
sides, do you remember that one of them said, 'Is this what Lot's wife
felt like?'"

"I can just remember Love and Joy mixed up with the wind at the window,"
said Mr. Russell. "But always best of all I can remember the way you
looked on ..."

"Me?" said Jay. "I wasn't there."

"Oh yes you were, and that's what you forget. You were there always, and
when I was looking for the House I believe it was always you I was
expecting to find there."

"Me! Me, with this same old face?" gasped Jay. "Oh, excuse me, but you
lie. You never recognised me in my 'bus."

"I knew without knowing I knew. I remembered without remembering that I
remembered. We haven't made a psychical discovery, Jay, we have done
nothing to write a book about. Only you remember so well that you have
reminded me."

"I don't believe that can be true," said Jay. "I know I wasn't there."

"Why can't you see the truth of it?" asked Mr. Russell, sighing for
so many words wasted. "In that House by the Sea, who was your
Secret Friend?"

"My Friend," said Jay, "is young and very full of youth. He is like a
baby who knows life and yet finds it very amusing, and very new. He is
without the gift of rest, but then he does not need it, the world in
which he lives is not so tired and not so muddling as our world. In him
my only belief and my only colour and my last dregs of romance, and
certainly my youth survive. We never bother about reserve, and we never
mind being sentimental in my Secret World. We just live, and we are never
tortured by the futility of knowledge."

"Well," said Mr. Russell, "I had a Secret Friend in my House, and she was
wonderful because she was so young that she knew nothing. She never
asked questions, but she thought questions. She knew nothing, she was
waiting to grow up. She had little colour, only peace and promise. I knew
she would grow up, but I also knew she would never grow old. I knew she
would learn much, but I also knew she would never become complete and ask
no more questions. That voice of hers would always end on a questioning
note. You see, I have found my Secret Friend, grown-up, grown old enough
to enjoy and understand a new and more vital youth."

"Shall I find my Friend?" asked Jay.

"Yes," said Mr. Russell in a very low voice. "You can find him if you
look. You can find him, grown very old and ugly and tired. There are
different ways of growing up, and your Secret Friend was rash in using up
too great a share of his sum of life in the House by the Sea."

Then Jay was suddenly enormously happy, and the veil of failure fell away
from the day and from her life. She held in her hand incredible
coincidences. The angle of the forest, the upright trees upon the sloping
earth, the bend of the sky, the round bubble shapes of the clouds upon
their appointed way, the agreement of the young leaves one with another,
the unfailing pulse of the spring,--all these things seemed to her a
chance, an unlikely and perfect consummation, that had been reached only
by the extraordinary cleverness of God. All love and all success were
pressed into a hair's-breadth, and yet the target was never missed.

"You shall go down to the House by the Sea," said Jay. "You shall go when
the moon is next full over the sea that drowned our house. You shall come
from the east, along the rocky path, as you used to come, between the
foxgloves; you shall play at being a god, coming between the stars and
the sea. And I will play at being a goddess, as I used to play at being a
ghost, and I will run to meet you from the west, and the high grasses and
the ferns shall whip my knees, and the thistles shall bow to me, and the
sea shall be very calm and say no word, and there shall be no ship in
sight. And we will go down the steep path to the shore, and we will stand
where the sand is wet, and look up to where our drowned House used to
be. And there shall be no facts any more, only the ghosts, and the
dreams. Oh, surely it has never happened before--this meeting of Secret
Friends--and surely no friend ever loved her friend as I love you, and
surely there never was so little room for sin and disappointment in any
love as there is in ours. Surely there are no tears in the world any
more, and no Brown Borough, and no War. I don't care if I go hungry every
day till we meet, I don't care if I have nothing but hated clothes to
wear in my Secret World. I don't care if there are six changes on the
journey to the sea, and at every change I miss my connection. I don't
care if the end lasts only a minute, because the minute will last for
ever, there are no facts any more. Because of you the little bothers of
the world are gone, and the big bothers never did exist, because of you.
Oh, I can say what I mean at last, and if it's nonsense--I don't care,
because of you...."

Presently she said, "And now I wonder if I am very proud or very much
ashamed of having spoken."

"You said once," Mr. Russell reminded her, "that life was just a bead
upon a string. Well, does it much matter whether one bead is the colour
of pride or the colour of shame? Does one successful bead more or less
matter, my dear? I think it's all a succession of explanations, more or
less lucid, and all different and all confusing. A string of beads more
or less beautiful, and all unvalued. We don't know that any of the
explanations are true, we don't know that any of the beads have any
worth. We only know that they are ours...."

"I don't care if I trample my beads in the mud," said Jay. "Now let's go
home and think."

When she and Chloris got home that evening to Eighteen Mabel Place,
Chloris barked at a man who was waiting outside the door. He was a young
man in khaki, with one star; he looked very white, and was reading
something from his pocket-book.

"Great Scott, Bill," said Jay. "I thought you were busy sapping in
France. Were you anywhere near Kew?"

I do not know if you will remember the name of young William Morgan. I
think I have only mentioned him once or twice.

"I got back on leave two hours ago," said Mr. Morgan. "I have been
waiting here thirty-two minutes. I saw Kew every day last week, and I was
with him when he died, three hours before I came away yesterday."

Jay was silent. She opened the door, and in the sitting-room she
placed--very carefully--two chairs looking at each other across
the table.

"Jay," said William Morgan, "I am deadly afraid of doing this badly. Kew
and I talked a good deal before it happened, and there was a good deal he
wanted me to tell you. All the way back in the train and on the boat I
have been writing notes to remind me what I had to say to you. I hope you
don't mind. I hope you don't think it callous."

"No," said Jay.

"He was very anxious you should know the truth about it, because he said
he had never lied to you. He was always sure that if he were shot it
would be in the back while he was lacing his boots, or at some other
unromantic moment. And in that case he said he could lie to Anonyma and
your cousin vicariously through the War Office, which would write to
them about Glory, and Duty, and Thanks Due. But he wanted me to write to
you, and tell you how it happened, and tell you that death was just an
ordinary old thing, no more romantic than anything else, without a
capital letter, and that one died as one had lived--in a little ordinary
way--and that there was no such thing as Glory between people who didn't
lie to each other. I am telling you all this from my notes. I should
never have thought of any of it for myself, as you know. I hope you
don't mind."

"No," said Jay. She heard what he said, yet she was not listening. Her
mind was listening to things heard a very long time ago. She heard
herself and Kew in confidential chorus, saying those laboriously simple
prayers that Anonyma used to teach them. She heard again the swishing
that their feet used to make in the leaves of Kensington Gardens. Kew's
was the louder swish by right. She thought of him as an admirable big
brother of eight, with a round face and blunt feet and very hard hands.
She heard the comfortable roar of the nursery fire, and the comfortable
sound of autumn rain baffled by the window; she saw the early winter
breakfast by lamplight, and the red nursery carpet that had an oblong
track worn away round the table by the frequent game of "Little Men
Jumping." She heard the voice of Kew clamouring against the voice of Nana
because he would not eat his bacon-fat. On those days there was a horrid
resurrection at luncheon of the bacon-fat uneaten at breakfast.

"As it happened," continued Mr. Morgan, no longer white, but very red,
"he wasn't killed in an advance, or anything grand. He told me to tell
you, so I am telling you. He was killed by a sniper while he was setting
a trap of his own invention to catch the rats as they came over the
parapet. He was shot in the chest very early yesterday morning, and he
lived about four hours. He was not in much pain, he even laughed a little
once or twice to think he should have lived and died so consistently. He
told me that he had never seen a moment's real romantic fighting; he had
never once felt patriotic or dramatic or dutiful, he said. He wandered a
little, I think, because he seemed worried about the rats that might be
caught in the trap he had set. He seemed to mix up the rats and the
Boches. He said that these creatures didn't know they were vermin, they
just thought they were honest average animals doing their bit, and then
suddenly killed by a malignant chaos. My notes are very hurried. I am
afraid I am repeating myself."

Jay remembered the mouse they once caught, and kept in a bottle for a
day, and the palace they made for it out of stones and mud and moss, and
the sun-bath of patted mud they made by the door of the palace. But the
mouse, when it was installed, flashed straight out of the front door, and
jumped the sun-bath, and knocked down a daisy, and was never seen again.
But Jay and Kew used to believe that on moonlit nights it came back to
the palace, and brought its wife and children, and was grateful to the
palace builders.

"A few days before he was killed," said Mr. Morgan, "he told me that he
had lied so successfully all his life that quite a lot of people thought
him a most admirable young man. He said Anonyma once brought him into a
book, and when he read that book he saw how lying paid, as long as one
didn't lie to absolutely everybody. He said if he died Anonyma would
write something very nice upon his memorial brass about a pure heart or
everlasting life, and he thought you would smile a little at that. He
said that he remembered going home with you in a 'bus and seeing on the
window of the 'bus a text that promised everlasting life on certain
conditions. He said the remembrance of that text tired him still. He said
he had had too much of himself, he had known himself too well, and when
death came, he wanted it to be an honest little death with no frills, and
after that an everlasting sleep with no dreams. I am putting it all in
the wrong order. I shall make you despise me. You talk so well yourself."

Jay was remembering the "Coos" they used to have in the big armchair in
the nursery. When they found that they suddenly loved each other
unbearably, they had a Coo, they tied themselves up in a little tangle
together, and sang Coo in soft voices. And then they felt relieved. Jay
remembered the last Coo. It happened when Kew's voice was breaking ten
years ago, and he found that he could no longer coo except in a funny
falsetto. So, rather than become farcical, the Coos ceased.

"I don't know quite why Kew wanted me to tell you all this," said Mr.
Morgan, "except that he said you knew so much about him that you might as
well get as near as possible to knowing everything. He never thought he
would be killed, in fact I gave him a lot of messages of my own to give
to my mother in case I went. But at the last, when he knew he was dying,
he was desperately anxious you should know that he did not die a
'Stranger's death,' as he said. He thought any hint of drama about his
death would spoil your friendship. He said you knew more than most people
about friends, and he thought that in this way you could find for him a
certain 'secret immortality' which would make the soil of France comfier
for him to sleep in. And then he said, 'If I'm too poetic--like a
swan--don't report me too accurately.' He seemed to go to sleep for some
time after that, and every now and then he laughed very faintly in his
sleep. I had to leave him for a bit, and when I came back he was still
asleep. The only thing he said after that was: 'This is awfully
exciting.' He said that about ten minutes before he died. I hope I'm not
making it too painful for you, dear little Jay.'"

"No," said Jay. Quite irrelevantly, she had found her Secret Friend. She
found a little dark wood, burnt and broken by fire, in a grey light, and
there was a wet ditch that skirted the edge of it. She saw the hopeless
and regretful sky, there was neither night nor morning in it, there was
neither sun nor moon. These things she noticed, but more than all she saw
her Secret Friend, lying crouched upon his side close to the ditch, with
his arms about his face. She saw the slow leaves fall upon him from the
ruined trees, she saw the damp air settle in beads upon his clothes. His
feet were in the undergrowth, and above them the dripping net of the
spider was flung. She had never seen her Friend quite still before. All
her life her Secret Friend and her Secret Sea had kept her soul awake
with movement. But her Friend was dead, and there was no more sea. The
very fine rain blew across her Secret World, and blotted it out. The very
distant sound of guns--which was not so much a sound as an indescribable
vacuum of sound--shattered the walls of her bubble enchantment.

"Oh, darling Jay," said Mr. William Morgan, "I wish I could help you. I
can't go away and leave you like this. I wish I could help you."

She found she had her forehead on the table, and her hands were knotted
in her lap. And where once the Gate to the House had been, there was only
London now. No more would the drum of the sea beat in her heart, there
was nothing left but the throbbing of distant trams.

"So it's all lies ..." she said quietly. "There really is a thing called
death after all. People die...."

"Jay, darling, don't," sobbed Mr. Morgan. "For God's sake marry me, and
I'll comfort you. I won't die--I swear I won't. And after all, it's
Spring. There's no real death in the Spring. Kew can't have died."

"Oh, what's the use of these eternal seasons?" said Jay. "There is
a thing called death. And death has no romance and no reason. The
rats died, and Kew died, and the secret world died, and there is
nothing left...."

It was young David, lord of sheep and cattle,
Pursued his Fate, the April fields among,
Singing a song of solitary battle,
A loud mad song, for he was very young.

Vivid the air--and something more than vivid,--
Tall clouds were in the sky--and something more,--
The light horizon of the spring was livid
With a steel smile that showed the teeth of War.

It was young David mocked the Philistine.
It was young David laughed beside the river.
There came his mother--his and yours and mine--
With five smooth stones, and dropped them in his quiver.

You never saw so green-and-gold a fairy.
You never saw such very April eyes.
She sang him sorrow's song to make him wary,
She gave him five smooth stones to make him wise.

The first stone is love, and that shall fail you.
The second stone is hate, and that shall fail you.
The third stone is knowledge, and that shall fail you.
The fourth stone is prayer, and that shall fail you.
The fifth stone shall not fail you.

For what is love, O lovers of my tribe?
And what is love, O women of my day?
Love is a farthing piece, a bloody bribe
Pressed in the palm of God, and thrown away.

And what is hate, O fierce and unforgiving?
And what shall hate achieve, when all is said?
A silly joke, that cannot reach the living,
A spitting in the faces of the dead.

And what is knowledge, O young men who tasted
The reddest fruit on that forbidden tree?
Knowledge is but a painful effort wasted,
A bitter drowning in a bitter sea.

And what is prayer, O waiters for the answer?
And what is prayer, O seekers of the cause?
Prayer is the weary soul of Herod's dancer,
Dancing before blind kings without applause.

The fifth stone is a magic stone, my David,
Made up of fear and failure, lies and loss.
Its heart is lead, and on its face is graved
A crooked cross, my son, a crooked cross.

It has no dignity to lend it value;
No purity--alas--it bears a stain.
You shall not give it gratitude, nor shall you
Recall it all your days except with pain.

Oh, bless your blindness, glory in your groping!
Mock at your betters with an upward chin!
And, when the moment has gone by for hoping,
Sling your fifth stone, O son of mine, and win.

Grief do I give you--grief and dreadful laughter.
Sackcloth for banner, ashes in your wine.
Go forth, go forth, nor ask me what comes after.
The fifth stone shall not fail you, son of mine.


There were a few very warm days and nights in the west last spring. It
was at the time of the full moon.

There were so few clouds in the sky that when the sun went down it found
no canvas on which to paint its picture. So it went down unpictured into
a bank of grey heat that hid the horizon of the sea, and no one thought
it worth watching except a man coming alone along the cliff from the
northeast. The moon came up and filled the quarry with ghosts, and with
confused and blinded memories. The sea advanced in armies of great smooth
waves, but under the moon the wind went down, and the waves went down,
and there was less and less sound in the air.

One man watched the dwindling waves troop into the cove near the quarry.
There was only one pair of eyes in the whole world that tried that night
to trace in the air the shape of a drowned house. There was only one
shadow by the quarry for the moon to cast upon the thyme. There was no
voice but the voice of the sea. No passing but the peaceful passing of
the lambs disturbed the thistles and the foxgloves.

The sea rose like a wall across the night, a wall that shut half of life
away. The sky fell like a curtain on the land, but there was no piece to
be played, so the curtain was never raised.

One man waited all the night through, like a child waiting for the
fairies. The sea grew calmer and calmer, the tide went down, and the cove
spread out its long sands like fingers into the sea. There was a shadow
on the sands below the quarry, and it may have been the shadow of a
house. And perhaps when the tide came up at dawn it devoured old
footprints upon the shore, the prints of feet that will never come back.
I think that when the moon fled away into oblivion, it was not only the
moon that fled, but also a bubble world, full of dead secrets.

How foolish to wait for the culmination of a secret story! How foolish
of a man to wait all night for the redemption of an old promise, for the
resurrection of a forgotten romance! There are no secret stories, there
is no secret world, there are no secret friends. The House by the Sea has
been drowned, and even its ghosts have forgotten it. After all, there was
nothing to remember. The gate to the House is barred, not by a lock but
by a laugh. Reality and not adversity has blown the bubble away.

I remember the moment when Jay found four-fifths of her life proved
false. I remember that she besieged the world with tears; I remember that
she bruised her hands against the iron gate. How foolish to bruise one's
hands against nothingness!


"It is well," sighed Anonyma, "that our little Jay has at last found
Romance. Since first she came to my arms--a toddling sceptic of four--I
have seen what she lacked, I have prayed that I--who possessed it--might
perhaps be inspired to give her the Clue.... Yet to young Bill Morgan it
was given to show her the way ... to unlock the door.... Oh! Russ, we
grow older and wiser and are left behind. The young reap where we have
sown.... Is this always to be the end of our youth?"

Mr. Russell laughed a little. "Yes," he said. "This is the end."

The finest fruit God ever made
Hangs from the Tree of Heaven blue.
It hangs above the steel sea blade
That cuts the world's great globe in two.

The keenest eye that ever saw
Stares out of Heaven into mine,
Spins out my heart, and seems to draw
My soul's elastic very fine.

The greatest beacon ever fired
Stands up on Heaven's Hill to show
The limit of the thing desired
Beyond which man may never go.

* * * * *

At midnight, when the night did dance
Along the hours that led to morning,
I saw a little boat advance
Towards the great moon's beacon warning.

(The moon, God's Slave, who lights the torch,
Lest men should slip between the bars,
And run aground on Heav'n and scorch
To death upon a bank of stars.)

The little boat, on leaning keel,
Sang up the mountains of the sea,
Bearing a man who hoped to steal
God's Slave from out eternity.

My love, I see you through my tears.
No pity in your face I see.
I have sailed far across the years:
Stretch out, stretch out your arms to me.

My love, I have an island seen,
So shadowed, God's most piercing star
Shall never see where we have been,
Shall never whisper where we are.

There we will wander, you and I,
Down guilty and delightful ways,
While palm-trees plait their fingers high
Against your God's enormous gaze.

For oh--the joy of two and two,
Your Paradise shall never see
The ecstasy of me and you,
The white delight of you and me.

I know the penalty--the clutch
Of God's great rocks upon my keel.
Drowned in the ocean of Too Much--
So ends your thief--yet let me steal....

The Slave of God she froze her face,
The Slave of God she paid no heed,
And thund'ring down high Heaven's space
Loud angels mocked the sailor's greed.

The diamond sun arose, and tossed
A billion gems across the sea.
"The Slave of God is lost, is lost,
The Slave of God is lost to me...."

He grounded on the common beach,
He trod the little towns of men,
And God removed from his reach
The cup of Heaven's passion then,
And gave him vulgar love and speech,
And gave him threescore years and ten.

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