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IN THE WILDERNESS
HERMES AND THE CHILD
Amedeo Dorini, the hall porter of the Hotel Cavour in Milan, stood on the pavement before the hotel one autumn afternoon in the year 1894, waiting for the omnibus, which had gone to the station, and which was now due to return, bearing–Amedeo hoped–a load of generously inclined travelers. During the years of his not unpleasant servitude Amedeo had become a student of human nature. He had learnt to judge shrewdly and soundly, to sum up quickly, to deliver verdicts which were not unjust. And now, as he saw the omnibus, with its two fat brown horses, coming slowly along by the cab rank, and turning into the Piazza that is presided over by Cavour’s statue, he prepared almost mechanically to measure and weigh evidence, to criticize and come to a conclusion.
He glanced first at the roof of the omnibus to take stock of the luggage pile there. There was plenty of it, and a good deal of it was leather and reassuring. Amedeo had a horror of tin trunks–they usually gave such small tips. Having examined the luggage he sent a searching glance to two rows of heads which were visible inside the vehicle. The brawny porters hurried out, the luggage chute was placed in position, the omnibus door was opened, and the first traveler stepped forth.
A German of the most economical type, large, red and wary, with a mouth like a buttoned-up pocket, was followed by a broad-waisted wife, with dragged hair and a looped-up gown. Amedeo’s smile tightened. A Frenchman followed them, pale and elaborate, a “one-nighter,” as Amedeo instantly decided in his mind. Such Frenchmen are seldom extravagant in hotels. This gentleman would want a good room for a small price, would be extremely critical about the cooking, and have a wandering eye and a short memory for all servants in the morning.
An elderly Englishwoman was the fourth personage to appear. She was badly dressed in black, wore a tam-o’-shanter with a huge black-headed pin thrust through it, clung to a bag, smiled with amiable patronage as she emerged, and at once, without reason, began to address Amedeo and the porters in fluent, incorrect, and too carefully pronounced Italian. Amedeo knew her–the Tabby who haunts Swiss and Italian hotels, the eternal Tabby drastically complete.
A gay Italian is gaiety in flight, a human lark with a song. But a gloomy Italian is oppressive and almost terrible. Despite the training of years Amedeo’s smile flickered and died out. A ferocious expression surged up in his dark eyes as he turned rather bruskly to scrutinize without hope the few remaining clients. But suddenly his face cleared as he heard a buoyant voice say in English:
“I’ll get out first, Godfather, and give you a hand.”
On the last word, a tall and lithe figure stepped swiftly, and with a sort of athletic certainty, out of the omnibus, turned at once towards it, and, with a movement eloquent of affection and almost tender reverence, stretched forth an arm and open hand.
A spare man of middle height, elderly, with thick gray hair, and a clean-shaven, much-lined face, wearing a large loose overcoat and soft brown hat, took the hand as he emerged. He did not need it; Amedeo realized that, realized also that he was glad to take it, enjoyed receiving this kind and unnecessary help.
“And now for Beatrice!” he said.
And he gave in his turn a hand to the girl who followed him.
There were still two people in the omnibus, the elderly man’s Italian valet and an Englishman. As the latter got out, and stretched his limbs cramped with much sitting, he saw Amedeo, with genuine smiles, escorting the two girls and the elderly man towards the glass-roofed hall, on the left of which was the lift. The figure of the girl who had stepped out first was about to disappear. As the Englishman looked she vanished. But he had time to realize that a gait, the carriage of a head and its movement in turning, can produce on an observer a moral effect. A joyous sanity came to him from this unknown girl and made him feel joyously sane. It seemed to sweep over him, like a cool and fresh breeze of the sea falling through pine woods, to lift from him some of the dust of his journey. He resolved to give the remainder of the dust to the public garden, told his name, Dion Leith, to the manager, learnt that the room he had ordered was ready for him, had his luggage sent up to it, and then made his way to the trees on the far side of the broad road which skirts the hotel. When he was among them he took off his hat, kept it in his hand, and, so, strolled on down the almost deserted paths. As he walked he tasted the autumn, not with any sadness, but with an appreciation that was almost voluptuous. He was at a time of life and experience, when, if the body is healthy, the soul is untroubled by care, each season of the year holds its thrill for the strongly beating heart, its tonic gift for the mind. Falling leaves were handfuls of gold for this man. The faint chill in the air as evening drew on turned his thoughts to the brightness and warmth of English fires burning on the hearths of houses that sheltered dear and protected lives. The far-off voices of calling children, coming to him from hidden places among the trees, did not make him pensive because of their contrast with things that were dying. He hailed them as voices of the youth which lasts in the world, though the world may seem to be old to those who are old.
Dion Leith had a powerful grip on life and good things. He was young, just twenty-six, strong and healthy, though slim-built in body, alert and vigorous in mind, unperturbed in soul, buoyant and warmly imaginative. Just at that moment the joy of life was almost at full flood in him, for he had recently been reveling in a new and glorious experience, and now carried it with him, a precious memory.
He had been traveling, and his wanderings had given him glimpses of two worlds. In one of these worlds he had looked into the depths, had felt as if he realized fully for the first time the violence of the angry and ugly passions that deform life; in the other he had scaled the heights, had tasted the still purity, the freshness, the exquisite calm, which are also to be found in life.
He had visited Constantinople and had sailed from it to Greece. From Greece he had taken ship to Brindisi, and was now on his way home to England.
What he had thought at the time to be an ill chance had sent him on his way alone. Guy Daventry, his great friend, who was to go with him, had been seized by an illness. It was too late then to find another man free. So, reluctantly, and inclined to grumble a little at fate, Dion had set off in solitude.
He knew now that his solitude had given him keen sensations, which he could scarcely have felt with the best of friends. Never, in any company, had he been so repelled, enticed, disgusted, deeply enchanted, as on these lonely wanderings which were now a part of his life.
How he had hated Constantinople, and how he had loved Greece! His expectation had been betrayed by the event. He had not known himself when he left England, or the part of himself which he had known had been the lesser part, and he had taken it for the greater. For he had set out on his journey with his hopes mainly fixed on Constantinople. Its road of wildness and tumult, its barbaric glitter, its crude mixture of races, even its passions and crimes–a legend in history, a solid fact of to-day–had allured his mind. The art of Greece had beckoned to him; its ancient shrines had had their strong summons for his brain; but he had scarcely expected to love the country. He had imagined it as certainly beautiful but with an austere and desolate beauty that would be, perhaps, almost repellent to his nature. He had conceived of it as probably sad in its naked calm, a country weary with the weight of a glorious past.
But he had been deceived, and he was glad of that. Because he had been able to love Greece so much he felt a greater confidence in himself. Without any ugly pride he said to himself: “Perhaps my nature is a little bit better, a little bit purer than I had supposed.”
As the breeze in the public garden touched his bare head, slightly lifting his thick dark hair, he remembered the winds of Greece; he remembered his secret name for Greece, “the land of the early morning.” It was good to be able to delight in the early morning– pure, delicate, marvelously fresh.
He at down on a bench under a chestnut tree. The children’s voices had died away. Silence seemed to be drawing near to the garden. He saw a few moving figures in the shadows, but at a distance, fading towards the city.
The line of the figure, the poise of the head of that girl with whom he had driven from the station, came before Dion’s eyes.
One winter day in 1895–it was a Sunday–when fog lay thickly over London, Rosamund Everard sat alone in a house in Great Cumberland Place, reading Dante’s “Paradiso.” Her sister, Beatrice, a pale, delicate and sensitive shadow who adored her, and her guardian, Bruce Evelin, a well-known Q.C. now retired from practice, had gone into the country to visit some friends. Rosamund had also been invited, and much wanted, for there was a party in the house, and her gaiety, her beauty, and her fine singing made her a desirable guest; but she had “got out of it.” On this particular Sunday she specially wished to be in London. At a church not far from Great Cumberland Place–St. Mary’s, Welby Street–a man was going to preach that evening whom she very much wanted to hear. Her guardian’s friend, Canon Wilton, had spoken to her about him, and had said to her once, “I should particularly like /you/ to hear him.” And somehow the simple words had impressed themselves upon her. So, when she heard that Mr. Robertson was coming from his church in Liverpool to preach at St. Mary’s, she gave up the country visit to hear him.
Beatrice and Bruce Evelin had no scruples in leaving her alone for a couple of days. They knew that she, who had such an exceptional faculty for getting on with all sorts and conditions of men and women, and who always shed sunshine around her, had within her a great love of, sometimes almost a thirst for, solitude.
“I need to be alone now and then,” they had heard her say; “it’s like drinking water to me.”
Sitting quietly by the fire with her delightful edition of Dante, her left hand under her head, her tall figure stretched out in a low chair, Rosamund heard a bell ring below. It called her from the “Paradiso.” She sprang up, remembering that she had given the butler no orders about not wishing to be disturbed. At lunch-time the fog had been so dense that she had not thought about possible visitors; she hurried to the head of the staircase.
“Lurby! Lurby! I’m not at–“
It was too late. The butler must have been in the hall. She heard the street door open and a man’s voice murmuring something. Then the door shut and she heard steps. She retreated into the drawing-room, pulling down her brows and shaking her head. No more “Paradiso,” and she loved it so! A moment before she had been far away.
The book was lying open on the arm-chair in which she had been sitting. She went to close it and put it on a table. For an instant she looked down on the page, and immediately her dream returned. Then Lurby’s dry, soft voice said behind her:
“Mr. Leith, ma’am.”
“Oh!” She turned, leaving the book.
Directly she looked at Dion Leith she knew why he had come.
“I’m all alone,” Rosamund said. “I stayed here, instead of going to Sherrington with Beattie and my guardian, because I wanted to hear a sermon this evening. Come and sit down by the fire.”
“What church are you going to?”
“St. Mary’s, Welby Street.”
“Shall I go with you?”
Rosamund had taken up the “Paradiso” and was shutting it.
“I think I’ll go alone,” she said gently but quite firmly.
“What are you reading?”
She put the book down on a table at her elbow.
“I don’t believe you meant me to be let in,” he said bluntly.
“I didn’t know it was you. How could I know?”
“And if you had known?”
She hesitated. His brows contracted till he looked almost fierce.
“I’m not sure. Honestly I’m not sure. I’ve been quite alone since Friday, when they went. And I’d got it into my head that I wasn’t going to see any one till to-morrow, except, of course, at the church.”
Dion felt chilled almost to the bone.
“I can’t understand,” he almost burst out, in an uncontrolled way that surprised himself. “Are you completely self-sufficing then? But it isn’t natural. Could you live alone?”
“I didn’t say that.”
She looked at him steadily and calmly, without a hint of anger.
“But could you?”
“I don’t know. Probably not. I’ve never tried.”
“But you don’t hate the idea?”
His voice was almost violent.
“No; if–if I were living in a certain way.”
But she did not answer his question.
“I dare say I might dislike living alone. I’ve never done such a thing, therefore I can’t tell.”
“You’re an enigma,” he exclaimed. “And you seem so–so–you have this extraordinary, this abnormal power of attracting people to you. You are friends with everybody.”
“Indeed I’m not.”
“I mean you’re so cordial, so friendly with everybody. Don’t you care for anybody?”
“I care very much for some people.”
“And yet you could live alone! Shut in here for days with a book”–at that moment he was positively jealous of old Dante, gone to his rest five hundred and seventy-four years ago–“you’re perfectly happy.”
“The ‘Paradiso’ isn’t an ordinary book,” she said, very gently, and looking at him with a kind, almost beaming expression in her yellow- brown eyes.
“I don’t believe you ever read an ordinary book.”
“I like to feed on fine things. I’m half afraid of the second-rate.”
“I love you for that. Oh, Rosamund, I love you for so many things!”
He got up and stood by the fire, turning his back to her for a moment. When he swung round his face was earnest but he looked calmer. She saw that he was making a strong effort to hold himself in, that he was reaching out after self-control.
“I can’t tell you all the things I love you for,” he said, “but your independence of spirit frightens me. From the very first, from that evening when I saw you in the omnibus at the Milan Station over a year ago, I felt your independence.”
“Did I manifest it in the omnibus to poor Beattie and my guardian?” she asked, smiling, and in a lighter tone.
“I don’t know,” he said gravely. “But when I saw you the same evening walking with your sister in the public garden I felt it more strongly. Even the way you held your head and moved–you reminded me of the maidens of the Porch on the Acropolis. I connected you with Greece and all my–my dreams of Greece.”
“Perhaps if you hadn’t just come from Greece–“
“Wasn’t it strange,” he said, interrupting her but quite unconscious that he did so, “that almost the first words I heard you speak were about Greece? You were telling your sister abut the Greek divers who come to Portofino to find coral under the sea. I was sitting alone in the garden, and you passed and I heard just a few words. They made me think of the first Greek Island I ever saw, rising out of the sunset as I voyaged from Constantinople to the Piraeus. It was wonderfully beautiful and wonderfully calm. It was like a herald of all the beauty and purity I found in Greece. It was–like you.”
“How you hated Constantinople!” she said. “I remember you denouncing its noise and its dirt, and the mongrel horrors of Pera, to my guardian in the hotel where we made friends. And he put in a plea for Stamboul.”
“Yes, I exaggerated. But Constantinople stood to me for all the uproar of life, and Greece for the calm and beauty and happiness, the great Sanity of the true happiness.”
He looked at her with yearning in his dark eyes.
“For all I want in my own life,” he added.
He paused; then an expression of strong, almost hard resolution made his face look suddenly older.
“You told me at Burstal, on the Chilton Downs, after your debut in ‘Elijah,’ that you would give me an answer soon. I have waited a good while–some weeks—-“
“Why did you ask me just that day, after ‘Woe unto them’?”
“I felt I must,” he answered, but with a slight awkwardness, as if he were evading something and felt half-guilty. “To-day I decided I would ask you again, for the last time.”
“You would never—-“
“No, never. If you say ‘Wait, and come later on and ask me,’ I shall not come.”
She got up restlessly. She was obviously moved.
“Dion, I can’t tell you to-day.”
“I don’t know. I just feel I can’t. It’s no use.”
“When did you mean to tell me?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you mean ever to allude to the matter again, if I hadn’t?”
“Yes, I should have told you, because I knew you were waiting. I–I– often I have thought that I shall never marry any one.”
She looked into the fire. Her face had become almost mysterious.
“Some women don’t need–that,” she murmured.
The fire played over her pale yellow hair.
“Abnormal women!” he exclaimed violently.
“Hush! You don’t know what you are saying. It isn’t abnormal to wish to dedicate—-“
“What?” he said.
“Don’t let us talk of these things. But you must not judge any woman without knowing what is in her heart. Even your own mother, with whom you have lived alone ever since your father’s death–do you know very much of her? We can’t always show ourselves plainly as we are. It may not be our fault.”
“You will marry. You must marry.”
He gazed at her. As she met his eyes she reddened slightly, understanding his thought, that such a woman as she was ought not to avoid the great vocation of woman. But there was another vocation, and perhaps it was hers. She felt confused. Two desires were struggling within her. It was as if her nature contained two necessities which were wholly irreconcilable the one with the other.
“You can’t tell me?” he said, at last.
“Then I am going, and I shall never ask you again. But I shall never be able to love any one but you.”
He said nothing more, and went away without touching her hand.
Words of Dante ran in Rosamund’s head, and she repeated them to herself after Dion had gone.
“/La divina volontate/!” She believed in it; she said to herself that she trusted it absolutely. But how was she to know exactly what it was? And yet, could she escape from it even if she wished to? Could she wander away into any path where the Divine Will did not mean her to set foot? Predestination–free will. “If only I were not so ignorant,” she thought.
Soon after six she went up to her bedroom to put on her things for church.
Her bedroom was very simple, and showed plainly an indifference to luxury, a dislike of show and of ostentation in its owner. The walls and ceiling were white. The bed, which stood against the wall in one corner, was exceptionally long. This fact, perhaps, made it look exceptionally narrow. It was quite plain, had a white wooden bedstead, and was covered with a white bedspread of a very ordinary type. There was one arm-chair in the room made of wickerwork with a rather hard cushion on the seat, the sort of cushion that resolutely refuses to “give” when one sits down on it. On the small dressing-table there was no array of glittering silver bottles, boxes and brushes. A straw flagon of eau-de-Cologne was Rosamund’s sole possession of perfume. She did not own a box of powder or a puff. But it must be acknowledged that she never looked “shiny.” She had some ivory hair-brushes given to her one Christmas by Bruce Evelin. Beside them was placed a hideous receptacle for–well, for anything–pins, perhaps, buttons, small tiresomenesses of that kind. It was made of some glistening black material, and at its center there bloomed a fearful red cabbage rose, a rose all vulgarity, ostentation and importance. This monstrosity had been given to Rosamund as a thank-offering by a poor charwoman to whom she had been kind. It had been in constant use now for over three years. The charwoman knew this with grateful pride.
Upon the mantelpiece there were other gifts of a similar kind: a photograph frame made of curly shells, a mug with “A present from Greenwich” written across it in gold letters, a flesh-colored glass vase with yellow trimmings, a china cow with its vermilion ears cocked forward, lying down in a green meadow which just held it, and a toy trombone with a cord and tassels. There were also several photographs of poor people in their Sunday clothes. On the walls hung a photograph of Cardinal Newman, a good copy of a Luini Madonna, two drawings of heads by Burne-Jones, a small painting–signed “G. F. Watts”–of an old tree trunk around which ivy was lovingly growing, and one or two prints.
The floor was polished and partially covered by three good-sized mats. There was a writing-table on one side of the room with an ebony-and- gold crucifix standing upon it. Opposite to it, on the other side of the room near the fireplace, was a bookcase. On the shelves were volumes of Shakespeare, Dante, Emerson, Wordsworth, Browning, Christina Rossetti, Newman’s “Dream of Gerontius” and “Apologia,” Thomas a Kempis, several works on mystics and mysticism, a life of St. Catherine of Genoa, another of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola’s “Spiritual Exercises,” Pascal’s “Letters,” etc., etc. Over the windows hung gray-blue curtains.
Into this room Rosamund came that evening; she went to a wardrobe and began to take down a long sealskin coat. Just then her maid appeared– an Italian girl whom she had taken into her service in Milan when she had studied singing there.
“Shan’t I come with you, Signorina?” she asked, as she took the jacket from her mistress and held it for Rosamund to put on.
“No, thank you, Maria. I’m going to church, the Protestant church.”
“I could wait outside or come back to fetch you.”
“It’s not far. I shall be all right.”
“But the fog is terrible. It’s like a wall about the house.”
“Is it as bad as that?”
She went to one of the windows, pulled aside the curtains, lifted the blind and tried to look out. But she could not, for the fog pressed against the window panes and hid the street and the houses opposite.
“It is bad.”
She dropped the blind, let the curtains fall into place and turned round.
“But I’d rather go alone. I can’t miss the way, and I’m not a nervous person. You’d be far more frightened than I.” She smiled at the girl.
Apparently reassured, or perhaps merely glad that her unselfishness was not going to be tested, Maria accompanied her mistress downstairs and let her out. It was Lurby’s “evening off,” and for once he was not discreetly on hand.
Church bells were chiming faintly in this City of dreadful night as Rosamund almost felt her way onward. She heard them and thought they were sad, and their melancholy seemed to be one with the melancholy of the atmosphere. Some one passed by her. She just heard a muffled sound of steps, just discerned a shadow–that was all.
To-morrow she must give an answer to Dion Leith. She went on slowly in the fog, thinking, thinking. Two vertical lines showed in her usually smooth forehead.
It was nearly half-past six when she turned into Welby Street. The church was not a large one and there was no parish attached to it. It was a proprietary chapel. The income of the incumbent came from pew rents. His name was Limer, and he was a first-rate preacher of the sensational type, a pulpit dealer in “actualities.” He was also an excellent musician, and took great pains with his choir. In consequence of these talents, and of his diligent application of them, St. Mary’s was generally full, and all its pews were let at a high figure. To-night, however, because of the fog, Rosamund expected to find few people.
One bell was mournfully ringing as she drew near and presently saw a faint gleaming of light through long narrow windows of painted glass. “Ping, ping, ping!” It was a thin little summons to prayer. She passed through a gateway in some railings of wrought ironwork, crossed a slippery pavement and entered the church.
It was already more than three parts full, and there was a large proportion of men in the congregation. A smart-looking young man, evidently a gentleman, who was standing close to the door, nodded to Rosamund and whispered:
“I’ll put you into Lady Millingham’s seat. You’ll find Mrs. Chetwinde and Mr. Darlington there.”
“Oh, I’d rather–” began Rosamund.
But he had already begun to move up the aisle, and she was obliged to follow him to a pew close to the pulpit, in which were seated a smartly dressed woman with a vague and yet acute expression, pale eyes and a Burne-Jones throat; and a thin, lanky and immensely tall man of uncertain age, with pale brown, very straight hair, large white ears, thick ragged eyebrows, a carefully disarranged beard and mustache, and an irregular refined face decorated with a discreet but kind expression. These were Mrs. Willie Chetwinde, who had a wonderful house in Lowndes Square, and Mr. Esme Darlington, bachelor, of St. James’s Square, who was everybody’s friend including his own.
Rosamund just recognized them gravely; then she knelt down and prayed earnestly, with her face hidden against her muff. She still heard the little bell’s insistent “Ping, ping, ping!” She pressed her shut eyes so hard against the muff that rings of yellow light floated up in her darkness, forming, retreating, melting away.
The bell ceased; the first notes of the organ sounded in a voluntary by Mendelssohn, amiable and charming; the choir filed in as Rosamund rose from her knees. In the procession the two last figures were Mr. Limer and Mr.–or, as he was always called in Liverpool, Father– Robertson.
Mr. Limer was a short, squat, clean-shaven but hairy dark man, with coal-black hair sweeping round a big forehead, a determined face and large, indignant brown eyes. The Liverpool clergyman was of middle height, very thin, with snow-white hair, dark eyes and eyebrows, and a young almost boyish face, with straight, small features, and a luminous, gentle and yet intense look. He seemed almost to glow, quietly, definitely, like a lamp set in a dark place, and one felt that his glow could not easily be extinguished. He walked tranquilly by the side of Mr. Limer, and looked absolutely unselfconscious, quietly dignified and simple.
When he went into the pulpit the lights were lowered and a pleasant twilight prevailed. But the preacher’s face was strongly illuminated.
Mr. Robertson preached on the sin of egoism, and took as the motto of his sermon the words–“/Ego dormio et cor meum vigilat/.” His method of preaching was quiet, but intense; again the glow of the lamp. Often there were passages which suggested a meditation–a soul communing with itself fearlessly, with an unyielding, but never violent, determination to arrive at the truth. And Rosamund, listening, felt as if nothing could keep this man with the snow-white hair and the young face away from the truth.
He ranged over a wide field–egoism being wide as the world–he exposed many of the larger evils brought about by egoism, in connexion with the Arts, with politics, with charity, with religious work in great cities, with missionary enterprises abroad; he touched on some of the more subtle forms of egoism, which may poison even the sources of love; and finally he discussed the gains and the losses of egoism. “For,” he said, “let us be honest and acknowledge that we often gain, in the worldly sense, by our sins, and sometimes lose by our virtues.” Power of a kind can be, and very often is, obtained by egoists through their egoism. He discussed that power, showed its value and the glory of it. Then he contrasted with it the power which is only obtained by those who, completely unselfish, know not how to think of themselves. He enlarged on this theme, on the Kingdom which can belong only to those who are selfless. And then he drew to the end of his sermon.
“One of the best means I know,” he said, “for getting rid of egoism is this: whenever you have to take some big decision between two courses of action–perhaps between two life courses–ask yourself, ‘Which can I share?’–which of these two paths is wide enough to admit of my treading it with a companion, whose steps I can help, whose journey I can enliven, whose weariness I can solace, and whose burden I can now and then bear for a little while? And if only one of the paths is wide enough, then choose that in preference to the other. I believe profoundly in ‘sharing terms.'”
He paused, gazing at the congregation with his soft and luminous eyes. Then he added:
“/Ego dormio et cor meum vigilat/. When the insistent /I/ sleeps, only then perhaps can the heart be truly awake, be really watchful. Then let us send the insistent I to sleep, and let us keep it slumbering.”
He half-smiled as he finished. There had been something slightly whimsical about his final words, about his manner and himself when he said them.
Silence and the fog, and Rosamund walking homewards with her hands deep in her muff. All those bodies and minds and souls which had been in the church had evaporated into the night. Mrs. Chetwinde and Esme Darlington had wanted to speak to Rosamund, but she had slipped out of the church quickly. She did not wish to talk to any one.
“/Ego dormio et cor meum vigilat/.”
What an odd little turn, or twist, the preacher had given to the meaning of those words! “Whenever you have to take some big decision between two life courses, ask yourself, ‘Which can I share?’ and if you can only share one, choose that.”
Very slowly Rosamund walked on, bending a little above the big muff, like one pulled forward by a weight of heavy thoughts. She turned a corner. Presently she turned another corner and traversed a square, which could not be seen to be a square. And then, quite suddenly, she realized that she had not been thinking about her way home and that she was lost in the impenetrable fog.
She stood still and listened. She heard nothing. Traffic seemed stopped in this region. On her left there were three steps. She went up them and was under the porch of a house. Light shone dully from within, and by it she could just make out on the door the number “8.” At least it seemed to her that probably it was an “8.” She hesitated, came down the steps, and walked on. It was impossible to see the names of the streets and squares. But presently she would come across a policeman. She went on and on, but no policeman bulked shadowy against the background of night and of the fog which at last seemed almost terrible to her.
Rosamund was not timid. She was constitutionally incapable of timidity. Nor was she actively alarmed in a strong and definite way. But gradually there seemed to permeate her a cold, almost numbing sensation of loneliness and of desolation. For the first time in her life she felt not merely alone but solitary, and not merely solitary but as if she were condemned to be so by some power that was hostile to her.
It was a hideous feeling. Something in the fog and in the night made an assault upon her imagination. Abruptly she was numbered among the derelict women whom nobody wants, whom no man thinks of or wishes to be with, whom no child calls mother. She felt physically and morally, “I am solitary,” and it was horrible to her. She saw herself old and alone, and she shuddered.
How long she walked on she did not know, but when at last she heard a step shuffling along somewhere in front of her, she had almost–she thought–realized Eternity.
The step was not coming towards her but was going onwards slowly before her. She hastened, and presently came up with an old man, poorly dressed in a dreadful frock-coat and disgraceful trousers, wearing on his long gray locks a desperado of a top hat, and carrying, in a bloated and almost purple hand, a large empty jug.
“Please!” said Rosamund.
The old gentleman shuffled on.
“Could you tell me–/please/–can you tell me where we are?
She had grasped his left coat-sleeve. He turned and, bending, she peered into the face of a drunkard.
“Close to the ‘Daniel Lambert,'” said an almost refined old voice.
And a pair of pathetic gray eyes peered up at her above a nose that was like a conflagration.
“Where’s that? What is it?”
“Don’t you know the ‘Daniel Lambert’?”
The voice sounded very surprised and almost suspicious.
“It’s well known, very well known. I’m just popping round there to get a little something–eh!”
The voice died away.
“I want to find Great Cumberland Place.”
“Well, you’re pretty close to it. The ‘Daniel Lambert’s’ in the Edgware Road.”
“Could you find it?–Great Cumberland Place, I mean?”
“I wish you would. I should be so grateful.”
The gray eyes became more pathetic.
“Grateful to me–would you, miss? I’ll go with you and very glad to do it.”
The old gentleman took Rosamund home and talked to her on the way. When they parted she asked for his name and address. He hesitated for a moment and then gave it: “Mr. Thrush, 2 Albingdon Buildings, John’s Court, near Edgware Road.”
“Thank you. You’ve done me a good turn.”
At this moment the front door was opened by the housemaid.
“Oh–miss!” she said.
Her eyes left Rosamund and fastened themselves, like weapons, on the old gentleman’s nose. He lifted his desperado of a hat and immediately turned away, trying to conceal his jug under his left arm, but inadvertently letting it protrude.
“Good night, and thank you very much indeed!” Rosamund called after him with warm cordiality.
“I’m glad you’ve got back, miss. We were in a way. It’s ever so late.”
“I got lost in the fog. That dear old man rescued me.”
“I’m very thankful, miss, I’m sure.”
The girl seemed stiffened with astonishment. She shut the street door automatically.
“He used to be a chemist once.”
“Did he, miss?”
“Yes, quite a successful one too; just off Hanover Square, he told me. He was going round to get something for his supper when we met.”
Rosamund went upstairs.
“Yes, poor old man,” she said, as she ascended.
Like most people in perfect health Rosamund slept well; but that night she lay awake. She did not want to sleep. She had something to decide, something of vital importance to her. Two courses lay open to her. She might marry Dion Leith, or she might resolve never to marry. Like most girls she had had dreams, but unlike most girls, she had often dreamed of a life in which men had no place. She had recently entered upon the career of a public singer, not because she was obliged to earn money but because she had a fine voice and a strong temperament, and longed for self-expression. But she had always believed that her public career would be a short one. She loved fine music and enjoyed bringing its message home to people, but she had little or no personal vanity, and the life of a public performer entailed a great deal which she already found herself disliking. Recently, too, her successful career had received a slight check. She had made her festival debut at Burstal in “Elijah,” and no engagements for oratorio had followed upon it. Some day, while she was still young, she meant to retire, and then—-
If she married Dion Leith she would have to give up an old dream. On the other hand, if she married him, perhaps some day she would be a mother. She felt certain–she did not know why–that if she did not marry Dion Leith she would never marry at all.
She thought, she prayed, she thought again. Sometimes in the dark hours of that night the memory of her sensation of loneliness in the fog returned to her. Sometimes Mr. Robertson’s “Which can I share?” echoed within her, in the resonant chamber of her soul. He had been very quiet, but he had made an enormous impression upon her; he had made her hate egoism much more than she had hated it hitherto.
Even into the innermost sanctuary of religion egoism can perhaps find a way. The thought of that troubled Rosamund in the dark. But when the hour of dawn grew near she fell asleep. She had made up her mind, or, rather, it had surely been made up for her. For a conviction had come upon her that for good or for evil it was meant that her life should be linked with Dion Leith’s. He possessed something which she valued highly, and which, she thought, was possessed by very few men. He offered it to her. If she refused it, such an offering would probably never be made to her again.
To be a lonely woman; to be a subtle and profound egoist; to be loved, cherished, worshiped; to be a mother.
Many lives of women seemed to float before her eyes.
Just before she lost consciousness it seemed to her, for a moment, that she was looking into the pathetic eyes of the old man whom she had met in the fog.
“Poor old man!” she murmured.
On the following morning she sent this note to Dion Leith:
“MY DEAR DION,–I will marry you.
In the following spring, Rosamund and Dion were married, and Dion took Rosamund “to the land of the early morning.”
They arrived in Greece at the beginning of May, when the rains were over and the heats of summer were at hand. The bed of Ilissus was empty. Dust lay white in the streets of Athens and along the road to Phaleron and the sea. The low-lying tracts of country were desert-dry, and about Athens the world was arrayed in the garb of the East. Nevertheless there was still a delicate freshness in the winds that blew to the little city from the purple Aegean or from the mountains of Argolis; stirring the dust into spiral dances among the pale houses upon which Lycabettos looks down; shaking the tiny leaves of the tressy pepper trees near the Royal Palace; whispering the antique secrets of the ages into the ears of the maidens who, unwearied and happily submissive, bear up the Porch of the Erechtheion; stealing across the vast spaces and between the mighty columns of the Parthenon. The dawns and the twilights had not lost the pure savor of their almost frail vitality. The deepness of slumber still came with the nights.
Greece was, perhaps, at her loveliest. And Greece was almost deserted by travelers. They had come and gone with the spring, leaving the land to its own, and to those two who had come there to drink deep at the wells of happiness. And, a little selfish as lovers are, Rosamund and Dion took everything wonderful and beautiful as their possession.
The yellow-green pines near the convent of Daphni threw patches of shade on the warm earth because they wanted to rest there; the kingfisher rose in low and arrow-like flight from the banks of Khephissus to make a sweet diversion for them; they longed for brilliance, and the lagoons of Salamis were dyed with a wonder of emerald; they asked for twilight, and the deep and deserted glades of Academe gave it them in full measure. All these possessions, and many others, they enjoyed almost as children enjoy a meadow full of flowers when they have climbed over the gate that bars it from the high road. But the Acropolis was the stronghold of their joy. Only when their feet pressed its silvery grasses, and trod its warm marble pavements, did they hold the world within their grasp.
For some days after their arrival in Greece they almost lived among the ruins. The long-coated guardians smiled at them, at first with a sort of faint amusement, at last with a friendly pleasure. And they smiled at themselves. Each evening they said, “To-morrow we will do this–or that,” and each morning they said nothing, just looked at each other after breakfast, read in each other’s eyes the repetition of desire, and set out on the dear dusty road with which they were already so familiar.
Had there ever before been a honeymoon bounded by the precipices of the Acropolis? They sometimes discussed that important question, and always decided against the impertinent possibility. “What we are doing has never been done before.” Dion went further than this, to “What I am feeling has never been felt before.” His youth asserted itself in silent, determined statements which seemed to him to ring with authentic truth.
It was a far cry from the downs of Chilton to the summit of the Acropolis. Dion remembered the crowd assembled to hear “Elijah”; he felt the ugly heat, the press of humanity. And all that was but the prelude to this! Even the voice crying “Woe unto them!” had been the prelude to the wonderful silence of Greece. He felt marvelously changed. And Rosamund often seemed to him changed, too, because she was his own. That wonderful fact gave her new values, spread about her new mysteries. And some of these mysteries Dion did not attempt to fathom at first. Perhaps he felt that some silences of love are like certain ceremony with a friend–a mark of the delicacy which is the sign-manual of the things that endure. In the beginning of that honeymoon there was a beautiful restraint which was surely of good augury for the future. Not all the doors were set violently open, not all the rooms were ruthlessly visited.
Dion found that he was able to reverence the woman who had given herself to him more after he had received the gift than before. And this was very wonderful to him, was even, somehow, perplexing. For Rosamund had the royal way of bestowing. She was capable of refusal, but not of half-measures or of niggardliness. There was something primitive in her which spoke truth with a voice that was fearless; and yet that very primitiveness seemed closely allied with her purity. Dion only understood what that purity was when he was married to her. It was like the radiant atmosphere of Greece to him. Had not Greece led him to it, made him desire it with all that was best in his nature? Now he had brought it to Greece. Actually, day after day, he trod the Acropolis with Rosamund.
Greece had already, he believed, put out a hand and drawn them more closely together.
“Love me, love the land I love.”
Laughingly, yet half-anxiously too, Dion had said that to Rosamund when they left Brindisi and set sail for Greece. With her usual sincerity she had answered:
“I want to love it. Do you wish me to say more than that, to make promises I may not be able to keep?”
“No,” he had answered. “I only want truth from you.” And after a moment he had added, “I shall never want anything from you but your truth.”
She had looked at him rather strangely, like one moved by conflicting feelings, and after a slight hesitation she had said:
“Dion, do you realize all the meaning in those words of yours?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then if you really mean them you must be one of the most daring of human beings. But I shall try a compromise with you. I shall try to give you my best truth, never my worst. You deserve that, I think. Indeed, I know you do.”
And he had left it to her. Was he not wise to do that? Already he trusted her absolutely, as he had never thought to trust any one.
“I could face any storm with you,” he once said to Rosamund.
Rosamund had wanted to love Greece, and from the first moment of seeing the land she had loved it.
In the beginning of their stay she had scarcely been able to believe that she was really in Athens. A great name had aroused in her imagination a conception of a great city. The soft familiarity, the almost rustic simplicity and intimacy, the absolutely unpretentious brightness and homely cheerfulness of the small capital of this unique land had surprised, had almost confused her.
“Is this really Athens?” she had said, wondering, as they had driven into what seemed a village set in bright bareness, sparsely shaded here and there by small pepper-trees.
And the question had persisted in her mind, had almost trembled upon her lips, for two or three days. But then had come a mysterious change, brought about, perhaps, by affection. Quickly she had learnt to love Athens, and then she had the feeling that if it had been in any way different from what it was she could not have loved it. Its very smallness delighted her, and she would not permit its faults to be mentioned in her presence. Once, when Dion said that it was a great pity the Athenians did not plant more trees, and a greater pity they so often lopped off branches from the few trees they had, she exclaimed:
“You mustn’t run down my Athens. It likes to give itself to the sun generously. It’s grateful, as it well may be, for all the sun has done for it. Look at the color of that marble.”
And Dion looked at the honey color, and the wonderful reddish-gold, and, laughing, said:
“Athens is the one faultless city, and the dogs tell us so every night and all night long.”
“Dogs always bark when the moon is up,” she answered, with a semi- humorous gravity.
“As they bark in Athens?” he queried.
“Yes, of course.”
“If I am ever criticized,” he asked, “will you be my defender?”
“I shan’t hear you criticized.”
“How do you know that?”
“I do know it,” she said, looking at him with her honest brown eyes; “nobody will criticize you when I am there.”
He caught hold of her hand.
“And you? Don’t you often criticize me silently? I’m sure you do. Why did you marry me, Rosamund?”
They were sitting on the Acropolis when he put that question. It was a shining day. The far-off seas gleamed. There was a golden pathway to Aegina. The brilliant clearness, not European but Eastern, did not make the great view spread out beneath and around them hard. Greece lay wrapped in a mystery of sunlight, different from, yet scarcely less magical than, the mystery of shadows and the moon. Rosamund looked out on the glory. She had taken off her hat, and given her yellow hair to the sunlight. Without any head-covering she always looked more beautiful, and, to Dion, more Greek than when her hair was concealed. He saw in her then more clearly than at other times the woman of all the ages rather than the woman of an epoch subject to certain fashions. As he looked at her now, resting on a block of warm marble above the precipice which is dominated by the little temple of Athena Nike, he wondered, with the concealed humility of the great lover, how it was that she had ever chosen to give herself to him. He had sworn to marry her. He had not been weak in his wooing, had not been one of those men who will linger on indefinitely at a woman’s feet, ready to submit to unnumbered refusals. But now there rose up in the depths of him the cry, “What am I?” and the answer, “Only a man like thousands of other men, in no way remarkable, in no way more worthy than thousands of others of the gift of great happiness.”
Rosamund turned from the shining view. There was in her eyes an unusual vagueness.
“Why did you?”
“Why did I marry you, Dion?”
“Yes. When I found you with your ‘Paradise’ I don’t think you meant ever to marry me.”
“I always liked you. But at first I didn’t think of you in that way.”
“But you had known for ages before Burstal—-“
“Yes, of course. I knew the day I sang at Mr. Darlington’s, at that party he gave to introduce me as a singer. I knew first from your mother. She told me.”
“By the look she gave me when you introduced me to her.”
“Was it an—- How d’you mean?”
“I can scarcely explain. But it was a look that asked a great many questions. And they wouldn’t have been asked if you hadn’t cared for me, and if she hadn’t known it.”
“What did you think when you knew?”
“That it was kind of you to care for me.”
“Yes. I always feel that about people who like me very much.”
“And did you just go on thinking me kind until that day at Burstal?”
“I suppose so. But I felt very much at home with you.”
“I don’t know whether that’s a compliment to a man who’s still young, or not?”
“Nor do I. But that’s just how it was.”
He said nothing for a little while. When he spoke again it was with some hesitation, and his manner was almost diffident.
“Rosamund, that day at Burstal, were you at all inclined to accept me?”
“Yes; I think, perhaps, I was. Why?”
“Sometimes I have fancied there was a moment when—-“
He looked at her and then, for once, his eyes fell before hers almost guiltily. They sat in silence for a moment. Behind them, on a bench set in the shadow of a mighty wall, was a guardian of the Acropolis, a thin brown man with very large ears sticking out from his head. He had been dozing, but now stirred, shuffled his feet, and suddenly cleared his throat. Then he sighed heavily.
“And if there was, why did you think it came, Dion?” said Rosamund suddenly, with an almost startling swiftness of decision.
“Why don’t you like to tell me?”
“Oh, well–things go through the mind without our wishing them to. You must know that, Rosamund. They are often like absurd little intruders. One kicks them out if one can.”
“What kind of intruder did you kick out, or try to kick out, at Burstal?”
She spoke half-laughingly, but half-challengingly.
He drew a little nearer to her.
“Sometimes I have fancied that perhaps, that day at Burstal, you suddenly realized that love might be a more powerful upholder of life than ambition ever could be.”
“Sometimes? And you thought it first on the downs, or at any rate after the concert?”
“I think I did.”
“Do you realize,” she said slowly, and as if with an effort, “that you and I have never discussed my singing in ‘Elijah’?”
“I know we never have.”
“Let us do it now,” she continued, still seeming to make a strong effort.
“But why should we?”
“I want to. Didn’t I sing well?”
“I thought you sang wonderfully well.”
“Then what was it that went wrong? I’ve never understood.”
“Why should you think anything went wrong? The critics said it was a remarkable performance. You made a great effect.”
“I believe I did. But I felt for the first time that day that I was out of sympathy with my audience. And then”–she paused, but presently added with a certain dryness–“I was never offered any engagement to sing in oratorio after Burstal.”
“I believe a good many people thought your talent would show at its best in opera.”
“I shall never go on the stage. The idea is hateful to me, and always has been. Would you like me to sing on the stage?”
“Dion, why don’t you tell me what happened that day at Burstal?”
“I scarcely could.”
“I wish you would try.”
“Well–I think it was a mistake for you to begin your public career in oratorio by singing ‘Woe unto them.'”
“It’s an unsympathetic thing. It’s a cruel sort of thing.”
“Cruel? But it’s one of the best-known things in oratorio.”
“You made it quite new.”
“It sounded fanatical when you sang it. I never heard it sound like that before.”
“Fanatical?” she said, and her voice was rather cold.
“Rosamund,” he said, quickly and anxiously, “you asked me to tell you exactly what I meant, what I felt, that is—-“
“Yes, I know. Go on, Dion. Well? It sounded fanatical—-“
“To me. I’m only telling you my impression. When I’ve heard ‘Woe unto them’ before it has always sounded sad, piteous if you like, a sort of wailing. When you sang it, somehow it was like a curse, a tremendous summoning of vengeance.”
“Why not? Are not the words ‘Destruction shall fall upon them’?”
“I know. But you made it sound–to me, I mean–almost as if you were rejoicing personally at the thought of the destruction, as if you were longing almost eagerly for it to overwhelm the faithless.”
“I see. That is what you meant by fanatical?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
After a long pause she said:
“Nobody has told me that till now.”
“Perhaps others didn’t feel it as I did.”
“I don’t know. What does one know about other people? Not even my guardian said anything. I never could understand—-“
She broke off, then continued steadily:
“So you think I repelled people that day?”
“It seems impossible that you–“
But she interrupted him.
“No, Dion, it isn’t at all impossible. I think if we are absolutely sincere we repel people very often.”
“But you are the most sincere person I have ever seen, and you must know how beloved you are, how popular you are wherever you go.”
“When I’m being sincere with the part of me that’s feeling kind or affectionate. Let us go to the Parthenon.”
She got up, opened her white sun-umbrella and turned round, keeping her hat in her left hand. As she stood there in that setting of marble, with the sun caught in her hair, and the mighty view below and beyond her, she looked wonderfully beautiful, Dion thought, but almost stern. He feared perhaps he had hurt her. But was it his fault? She had told him to speak.
Rosamund did not return to the subject of her debut at Burstal, but in the late afternoon of that day she spoke of her singing, and of the place it might have in their married life. Dion believed she did this because of their conversation near the Temple of Nike.
They had spent most of the day on the Acropolis. Both had brought books: she, Mahaffy’s “History of Greek Literature”; he, a volume of poems written by a young diplomat who loved Greece and knew her well. Neither of them had read many pages, but as the strong radiance began to soften about them on the height, and the breeze from the Saronic Gulf came to them with a more feathery warmth and freshness over the smiling bareness of the Attic Plain, Dion, who had been half-dreamily turning the leaves of his little book, said:
“Look at the sea and the mountains of Trigania, those far-off mountains”–he pointed–“and the outpost of Hydra.”
She looked and said nothing. Then he read to her these lines of the young diplomat-poet:
“A crescent sail upon the sea,
So calm and fair and ripple free
You wonder storms can ever be;
A shore with deep indented bays,
And o’er the gleaming water-ways
A glimpse of Islands in the haze;
A face bronzed dark to red and gold, With mountain eyes that seem to hold
The freshness of the world of old;
A shepherd’s crook, a coat of fleece, A grazing flock;–the sense of peace,
The long sweet silence,–this is Greece!”
Rosamund gazed before her at Greece in the evening light.
“‘The freshness of the world of old,'” she repeated, and her voice had a thrill in it. “‘The sense of peace, the long sweet silence,–this is Greece.’ If there was music with the music of those words I should love to sing them.”
“And how you could sing them. Like no other.”
“At any rate my heart would be in them. ‘The freshness of the world of old–the sense of peace, the long sweet silence.'”
She was standing now near the edge of the sacred rock, looking out over the tawny plain flanked by gray Hymettos, and away to the sea. There were no voices rising from below. There was no sound of traffic on the white road which wound away down the slope to the hidden city. Her contralto voice lingered on the words; her lips drew them out softly, lengthening the sounds they loved.
“Freshness, that which belonged to the early world, long sweet silence, peace. Oh, Dion, if you know how something in me cares for freshness and for peace!”
Her glad energies were strangely stilled; yet there was a kind of force in her stillness, the force that is in all deep truths of whatever nature they may be. He felt that he was near to perhaps the most essential part of her, to that which was perhaps more truly her than even the radiant and buoyant humanity by means of which she drew people to her.
“Could you live always out of the world?” he asked her.
“But it wouldn’t be out of the world.”
“Away from people–with me?”
She looked at him for a moment almost as if startled. Then there came into her brown eyes a scrutiny that seemed half-inward, as if it were partially applied to herself.
“It’s difficult to be certain what one could do. I suppose one has several sides.”
“Ah! And your singing side?”
“I want to speak about that.”
Her voice was suddenly more practical, and her whole look and manner changed, losing in romance and strangeness, gaining in directness and energy.
“We’ve never discussed it.”
She sat down on a slab of rock at the edge of the precipice, and went on:
“You don’t mind your wife being a public singer, do you, Dion?”
“Suppose I do?”
“You’re so energetic I doubt if you could be happy in idleness.”
“I couldn’t in England.”
“And in Greece? But we are only here for such a short time.”
He took her hand in his.
“Learning the lessons of happiness.”
“Good lessons for us!” she said, smiling.
“The best there are. I believe in the education of joy. It opens the heart, calls up all the generous things. But your singing; can I bear your traveling about perpetually all over England?”
“If I get engagements.”
“You will. You had a good many for concerts last winter. You’ve got several for June and July. You’ll get many more. But who’s to go with you on your travels?”
“Beattie, of course. Why do you look at me like that?”
“How do we know Beatrice won’t marry?”
Rosamund looked grave.
“Why shouldn’t she?” asked Dion.
“She may, of course.”
“D’you think she’ll remain your apanage now?” he asked, with a hint of smiling sarcasm that could not hurt her.
“Hasn’t she been something like that?”
“Perhaps she has. But Beattie always sinks herself in others. She wouldn’t be happy if she didn’t do that. Of course, your friend Guy Daventry’s in love with Beattie.”
“But I’m not at all sure that Beattie–“
She paused abruptly. After a moment she continued:
“You asked me to-day why I married you. I didn’t answer you and I’m not going to answer you now–entirely. But you’re not like other men, most other men.”
“In what way?”
“A way that means very much to me,” she answered, with a delicious purity and directness. “Women feel such things very soon when they know men. I could easily have never married, but I could never, never have married a man who had lived, as I believe most men have lived.”
“I think I always knew that from the first moment I saw you.”
“Did you? I’m glad. I care tremendously for /that/ in you, Dion–more than you will ever know.”
“That’s my great, too great reward,” he said soberly, almost with a touch of deep awe. Then, reddening and looking away, he added, “You were the very first.”
“Yes, but–but you mustn’t think that it was a religious feeling, anything of that kind, which kept me back from–from certain things. It was more the desire to be strong, healthy, to have the sane mind in the sane body, I think. I was mad about athletics, all that sort of thing. Anyhow, you know now. You were the first. You will be the only one in my life.”
There was a long silence between them. Then Rosamund said, with a change of manner to practical briskness:
“If Beattie ever should marry, I could take a maid about with me.”
“Yes. An hotel in Liverpool with a maid! In Blackpool, in Huddersfield, in Wolverhampton, in Glasgow, when there’s a heavy thaw on, with a maid! Oh, how delightful it will be! Manchester on a wet day in early spring with a–“
“Hush!” she put one hand on his lips gently, and looked at him with a sort of smiling challenge in her eyes. “Do you mean to forbid me?”
“I don’t think I could ever forbid you to do anything.”
“We shall see in England.”
“But, Rosamund”–there was no one in sight, and he slipped one arm round her–“if something came to fill your life, both our lives, to the brim?”
“Ah, then,”–a very remote expression came into her eyes,–“then it would all be different.”
“Yes. Everything would be quite different then.”
“Not our relation to each other?”
“Yes, even that. Perhaps that most of all.”
“I–I hardly like to hear you say that,” he said, struggling against a perhaps stupid, or even hateful, feeling of depression mingled with something else.
“But wouldn’t it? Think!”
“I don’t want that to change. I should hate any change in that.”
“What we want, and what we hate, doesn’t affect what has to be. And I expect at the end we shall be thankful for that. But, Dion, yes, /if/ what you say, I could give it all up. Public singing! What would it matter then? I’m a woman, not a singer. But perhaps it will never come.”
“Who knows?” he said.
And he sighed.
She turned towards him, leaned one hand on the stone and looked at him almost anxiously.
“What is the matter, Dion?”
“Why? There is nothing the matter.”
“Would you rather we never had that in our lives?”
“Yes, a child.”
“I thought I longed for that,” he answered.
“Do you meant that you have changed and don’t long any more?”
“I suppose it’s like this. When a man’s very happy, perfectly happy, he doesn’t–perhaps he can’t–want any change to come. If you’re perfectly happy instinctively you almost fear any change. Till to-day, till this very minute perhaps, I thought I wanted to have a child– some day. Perhaps I still do really, or perhaps I shall. But–you must forgive me, I can’t help it!–this evening, sitting here, I don’t want anything to come between us. It seems to me that even a child of ours would take some of you away from me. Don’t you see that?”
She shook her head.
“That’s a man’s feeling. I can’t share it.”
“But think–all the attention you would have to give to a child, all the thoughts you would fasten on it, all the anxieties you’d have about it!”
“One only has a certain amount of time. You’d have to take away a good deal, a great deal, of the time you can now give to me. Oh, it sounds too beastly, I know! Perhaps I scarcely mean it! But surely you can see how a man who loves a woman very much might, without being the least bit unnatural, think, ‘I’d like to keep every bit of her for myself. I’d like to have her all to myself!’ I dare say this feeling will pass. Remember, Rose, we’re only just married, and we’re in Greece, right away from every one. Don’t think me morbidly jealous, or a beast. I’m not. I expect lots of men have felt as I do, perhaps even till the first child came.”
“Ah, then it would be all right,” she said. “The natural things, the things nature intends, are always all right.”
“How blessedly sane and central you are!”
“If we had a child–Dion, you must believe me!–we should be drawn ever so much nearer together by it. If we ever do have one, we shall look back on this time–you will–and think ‘We were much farther apart then than we are now.'”
“I don’t like to hear you say that,” he said gravely, almost with pain.
Could a woman like Rosamund be driven by an instinct blindly? She was such a perfect type of womanhood. It would be almost a tragedy if she –such a woman–died childless. Perhaps instinct had obscurely warned her of that, had taught her where to look for a mate. He, Dion, had always lived purely. That day she had acknowledged that she had divined it. Was that, perhaps, her real, her instinctive reason for marrying him? But a man wants to be married for one thing only, because the woman longs for him. And Dion was just an ordinary man with very strong feelings.
“Let’s take one more stroll before we go down,” he said.
“Yes, to the maidens,” she answered.
Her voice sounded relieved. She pushed her arm gently through his as they moved away, and he felt all his body thrill. The mystery of love was almost painful to him at that moment. He realized that a great love might grow to have an affinity with a disease. “I must be careful. I must take great care with this love of mine,” he thought.
They went slowly over the slabs of marble and the gray rocks and passed before the west front of the Parthenon. Dion felt slight resistance in Rosamund’s arm, and stopped. In the changing light the marble was full of warm color, was in places mysterious and translucent almost as amber. The immense power, the gigantic calm of the temple, a sort of still breathing of Eternity upon Time, confronted a glory which was beginning to change in the face of its changelessness. Soon the seas that held their dream under the precipices of Sunion, and along the shores of Aegina, where the tall shepherd boys in their fleeces of white lead home the flocks in the twilight, would lose the wonder of their shining, and the skies the rapture of their diffused light. In the quietly austere Attic Plain, through the whispering groves of Academe, and along the sacred way to Eleusis, a very delicate vagueness was beginning to travel, like a wanderer setting forth to greet the coming of the night. The ranges of hills and mountains, Hymettos and Pentelicus, Parnes stretching to the far distance, Mount Corydallus, the peak of Salamis, the exquisitely long mountains of Trigania–“the greyhounds of their tribe,” Rosamund loved to call them–were changing almost from moment to moment, becoming a little softer, a little more tender, putting off their distinct hues of the day for the colors of sleep and forgetting. But the great Doric columns fronting them, the core of the heart of this evening splendor, seemed not to defy, but to ignore, all the processes of change. In its ruin the Parthenon seemed to say, “I have not changed.” And it was true. For the same soul which had confronted Pericles confronted the two lovers who now stood at the foot of the temple.
“I wonder how many thousands of people of all nations have learnt the same lesson here,” Rosamund said at last.
“The Doric lesson, you mean?”
“Yes, of strength, simplicity, endurance, calmness.”
“And I wonder how many thousands have forgotten the lesson.”
“Why do you say that, Dion?”
“I don’t know. Great art is a moral teacher, I’m sure of that. But men are very light-minded as a rule, I think. If they lived before these columns they might learn a great deal, they might even develop in a splendid direction, I believe. But an hour, even a few hours, is that enough? Impressions fade very quickly in most people.”
“Not in you. You never forget the Parthenon, and I shall never forget it.”
She stood for some minutes quite still gazing steadily up at the temple, gaining–it seemed to her–her own stillness from its tremendous immobility.
“The greatest strength is in silence,” she thought. “The greatest power is in motionlessness.”
She thought of the raging of the great sea. But no! There was more of the essence of strength, of the stern inwardness of power, in that which confronted life and Time in absolute stillness; in a mountain, in this temple. And the temple spoke to something far down within her; to something which desired long silences and deep retirement, to something mystic which she did not understand. The temple was Pagan and she knew that. But that in her to which it spoke was not Pagan. Before she left Athens she meant to realize that the soul of man, when it speaks through mighty and pure effort, of whatever kind, always speaks to the same Listener, to but one, though man may not know it.
“Doric!” she said at last. “I have always known that for me that would be the greatest. The simplest thing is the most sublime thing. That temple is like the Sermon on the Mount to me. Didn’t you bring me here because it meant so much to you?”
“Not entirely. No, Rosamund, I think I brought you here because I felt that you belonged here.”
“This satisfies me.”
She sighed deeply, still gazing at the temple.
“You aren’t only in Greece, you are of Greece. Come to the maidens.”
As they went on slowly the acid voices of the little birds which fly perpetually among the columns of the Parthenon followed them, bidding them good night.
They descended over the uneven ground and came to the famous Porch of the Caryatides, jutting out from the little Ionic temple which is the handmaid of the Parthenon. Not far from the Porch, and immediately before it, was a wooden bench. Already Rosamund and Dion had spent many hours here, sometimes sitting on the bench, more often resting on the warm ground in the sunshine, among the fragments of ruin and the speary, silver-green grasses. Now Rosamund sat down and Dion stood by her side.
“Rosamund, those maidens are my ideal of womanhood shown in marble,” he said.
“They are almost miraculously beautiful. And one scarcely knows why. But I know that every time I see them the mystery of their beauty seems more ineffable to me, and the meaning of it seems more profound. How did men get so much meaning into marble?”
“By caring so much for what is beautiful in womanhood, I suppose.”
He sat down close beside her.
“I sometimes wonder whether women have any idea what some men, many men, I believe, seek in women.”
“What do they seek?”
“What do those maidens that hold up the Porch suggest to you?”
“All that’s calm without a touch of coldness, and strong without a touch of hardness, and noble without a touch of pride, and obedient without a touch of servility.”
“Brave sweetness, too, and protectiveness. They are wonderful, and so are some women. When I saw you in the omnibus at Milan I thought of these maidens immediately.”
“Isn’t it?” she said, gazing at the six maidens in their flowering draperies of marble, who, upon their uncovered heads, bore tranquillity up the marble architrave. “How wonderfully simple and unpretending they are!”
“Are not you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t believe I think about it.”
“I do. Rosamund, sometimes I feel that I am an unique man–just think of a fellow in a firm on the Stock Exchange being unique!–because I have had an ideal, and I have attainted to it. When I was here alone, I conceived for the first time an ideal of woman. I said to myself, ‘In the days of ancient Greece there must have been such women in the flesh as these maidens in marble. If I could have lived and loved then!’ And I came away from Greece carrying a sort of romantic dream with me. And now I sit here with you; I can’t think why I, a quite ordinary man, should be picked out for perfect happiness.”
“Is it really perfect?” she asked, turning to him.
“I think so. In such a place with you!”
As the evening drew on, a little wind came and went over the rocky height, but it had no breath of cold in it. Two Greek soldiers passed by slowly behind them–short young men with skins almost as dark as the skins of Arabs of the South, black eyes and faces full of active mentality. They were talking eagerly, but stopped for a moment to look at the English, and beyond them at the six maidens on their platform of marble. Then they went on talking again, but presently hesitated, came back, and stood not far off, gazing at the Porch with a mixture of reverence and quiet wistfulness. Dion drew Rosamund’s attention to them.
“They feel the beauty,” he said.
“Yes, I like that.”
She looked at the two young men with a smile. One of them noticed it, and smiled back at her almost boyishly, and with a sort of confidential simplicity.
The light began to fail. The six maidens were less clearly seen, but the deep meaning of them did not lessen. In the gathering darkness they and their sweet effort became more touching, more lovable. Their persistence was exquisite now that they confronted with serenity the night.
“They are beautiful by day, but at night they are adorable,” said Rosamund.
“Don’t you know why I thought of them when I met you?” he whispered.
She got up slowly. The Greek soldiers moved, turned, and went down the slope towards the Propylae. Their quick voices were heard again. Then there was the sound of a bell.
“Time to go,” said Rosamund.
As they followed the soldiers she again put her arm through her young husband’s.
“Dion,” she said, “I think I’m a little afraid of your ideals. I understand them. I have ideals too. But I think perhaps mine are less in danger of ever being shattered than yours are.”
“Why? But I know mine are not in danger.”
“How can you say that?”
“It’s no use trying to frighten me. But what about your ideals? What is the nature of the difference between yours and mine, which makes yours so much less vulnerable than mine?”
But she only said:
“I don’t believe I could explain it. But I feel it, and I shall go on feeling it.”
They went down the steep marble steps, gave the guardian at the foot of them good night, and walked almost in silence to Athens.
After that day Rosamund and Dion often talked of the child who might eventually come into their lives to change them. Rosamund indeed, now that such a possibility had been discussed between them, returned to it with an eagerness which she did not seek to conceal. She was wonderfully frank, and her frankness seemed to belong naturally to her transparent purity, to be an essential part of it. Dion’s momentary depression that evening on the Acropolis had evidently stirred something in her which would not let her rest until it had expressed itself. She had detected for the first time in her husband a hint of something connected with his love for her which seemed to her morbid. She could not forget it and she was resolved to destroy it if possible. When they next stood together on their beloved height she said to him:
“Dion, don’t you hate anything morbid?”
“Yes, loathe it!” he answered, with hearty conviction. “But surely you know that. Why d’you ask me such a thing? How dare you?”
And he turned to her his brown face, bright this morning with good spirits, his dark eyes sparkling with hopefulness and energy.
It was a pale morning, such as often comes to Athens even at the edge of the summer. They were standing on the little terrace near to the Acropolis Museum, looking down over the city and to helmet-shaped Lycabettos. The wind, too fond of the Attic Plain, was blowing, not wildly, but with sufficient force to send the dust whirling in light clouds over the pale houses and the little Byzantine churches. Long and narrow rivulets of dust marked the positions of the few roads which stretched out along the plain. The darkness of the groves which sheltered the course of the Kephisos contrasted strongly with the flying pallors and seemed at enmity with them. The sky was milky white and gray, broken up in places by clouds of fantastic shapes, along the ruffled edges of which ran thin gleams of sunshine like things half timorous and ashamed. Upon the flat shores near Phaleron the purple seas broke in spray, and the salty drops were caught up by the wind and mingled with the hurrying grains of dust. It was not exactly a sad day, but there was an uneasiness abroad. The delicate calm of Greece was disturbed. Nevertheless Dion was feeling gay and light-hearted, inclined to enjoy everything the world about him offered to him. Even the restlessness beneath and around them accorded with his springing spirits. The whirling spirals of dust suggested to him the gaiety of a dance. The voice of the wind was a joyous music in his ears.
“How dare you?” he repeated with a happy pretense of indignation.
“Because I think you were almost morbid yesterday.”
“When we spoke of the possibility of our some day having a child.”
“I had a moment of thinking that too,” he agreed. “Yes, Rose, the thought went through my mind that a great love, such as mine for you, might become almost a disease if one didn’t watch it, hold it in.”
“If it ever did become like that, do you know what would happen?”
“Instead of rejoicing in it I should shrink from it.”
“That’s enough for me!”
He spoke gaily, confidently.
“Besides, I don’t really believe I’m a man to love like that. I only imagined I might for a moment, perhaps because it was twilight. Imaginings come with the twilight.”
“I could never bear to think, if a child came, that you didn’t want it, that you wished it out of the way.”
“I never should. But I expect lots of young married people have queer thoughts and feelings which they keep entirely to themselves–I blurted mine out. You’ve got a dangerously sincere husband, Rose. The whole matter lies in your own hands. If we ever have a child, love it, but don’t love it more than me.”
“I should love it so differently! How could maternal love interfere with the love of woman for man?”
“No, I don’t suppose it could.”
“Of course it never could.”
“Then that’s settled. Where shall we go to get out of the wind? It seems to be rising.”
After searching for a place of shelter in vain they eventually took refuge in the Parthenon, under the shadow of the great western wall. Perhaps in consequence of the wind the Acropolis was entirely deserted. Only the guardians were hidden somewhere, behind columns, in the Porch of the Museum, under the roof of their little dwelling at the foot of the marble staircase which leads up to the Propylae. The huge wall of the Parthenon kept off the wind from the sea, and as Rosamund and Dion no longer saw the whirling dust clouds in the plain they had, for the moment, almost an illusion of peace. They sat down on the guardian’s bench, just beneath some faint fragments of paintings which dated from the time when the temple was made use of as a church by Greek Christians; and immediately Rosamund went on talking about the child. She spoke very quietly and earnestly, with the greatest simplicity, and by degrees Dion came to see her as a mother, to feel that perhaps only as a mother could she fulfil herself. The whole of her beauty would never be revealed unless she were seen with a child of her own. Hitherto he had thought of her chiefly in relation to himself, as the girl he longed to win, then as the girl he most wonderfully had succeeded in winning. She put herself before him now in a different light, and he saw in her new and beautiful possibilities. While she was talking his imagination began to play about the child, and presently he realized that he was thinking of it as a boy. Then, in a moment, he realized that on the previous evening he had thought of a male, not of a female child. With this in his mind he said abruptly:
“What sort of a child do you wish to have, Rosamund?”
“What sort?” she said, looking at him with surprise in her brown eyes.
“What do you mean? A beautiful, strong, healthy child, of course, the sort of child every married woman longs to have, and imagines having till it comes.”
“Beautiful, strong, healthy!” he repeated, returning her look. “Of course it could only be that–your child. But I meant, do you want it to be a boy or a girl?”
She paused, and looked away from him and down at the uncemented marble blocks which form the pavement of the Parthenon.
“Well?” he said, as she kept silence.
“If it were to be a girl I should love it.”
“You wish it to be a girl?”
“I didn’t say that. The fact is, Dion”–and now she again looked at him, “I have always thought of our child as a boy. That’s why your question almost startled me. I have never even once thought of having a girl. I don’t know why.”
“I think I do.”
“The thought was born of the desire. You wanted our child to be a son and so you thought of it as a son.”
“Perhaps that was it.”
He spoke with a certain pressure. She remained silent for a moment, and two little vertical lines appeared in her forehead. Then she said:
“Yes, I believe it was. And you?”
“I confess that when yesterday we spoke of a child I was thinking all the time about a boy.”
She gazed at him with something visionary in her eyes, which made them look for a moment like the eyes of a woman whom he had not seen till now. Then she said quietly:
“It will be a boy, I think. Indeed, if it weren’t perhaps absurd, I should say that I know it will be a boy.”
He said nothing more just then, but at that moment he felt as if he, too, knew, not merely hoped, or guessed, something about their joint future, knew in the depths of him that a boy-child would some day be sent to Rosamund and to him, to influence and to change their lives.
The wind began to fail almost suddenly, the sky grew brighter, a shaft of sun lay on the marble at their feet.
“It’s going to be fine,” Dion said. “Let’s be active for once. The wind has made me restless. Suppose we get a couple of horses and ride out to the convent of Daphni!”
She got up at once.
“Yes. I’ve brought my habit, and haven’t had it on once.”
As they left the Great Temple she looked up at the mighty columns and said;
“Doric! If we have a boy let us bring him up to be Doric.”
“Yes, Rosamund,” he said quietly and strongly. “We will.”
Afterward he believed that it was then, and only then, that he caught something of her deep longing to have a child. He began to see how a man’s child might influence him and affect his life, might even send him upwards by innocently looking up to him. It would be bad, very bad, to fail as a husband, but, by Jove! it would be one of the great tragedies to fail as a father. Mentally Dion measured the respective heights of himself and a very small boy; saw the boy’s trusting eyes looking, almost peering, up at him. Such eyes could change, could become very attentive. “It wouldn’t do to be adversely criticized by your boy,” he thought. And one day he said to Rosamund, but in almost a casual way:
“If we ever do have a boy, Rose, and want him to be Doric, we shall have to start in by being Doric ourselves, eh?”
“Yes,” she answered, “I’ve thought that, too.”
“D’you think I could ever learn to be that?”