That longed to ’scape the rock-stream where she lived,
And thaw herself within the lukewarm brine
O' the lazy sea her stream thrusts far amid,
A crystal spike ’twixt two warm walls of wave;
Only she ever sickened, found repulse
At the other kind of water, not her life,
(Green-dense and dim-delicious, bred o’ the sun)
Flounced back from bliss she was not born to breathe,
And in her old bounds buried her despair,
Hating and loving warmth alike.”
ARTHUR DIGBY lay stretched at ease in a reading-chair, under the shade of tender new vine leaves, turning the pages of a summer novel; dividing his time fairly between the woes of his heroine, the capricious fluttering of shadows in the air over his head, the coming and going of his uncle on the shaded veranda, and his own sensation of general well-being.
Through a happy consciousness of fortunate circumstances, as of summer weather, beauty of prospect, bodily ease, quiet, amusement, flowed a strong undercurrent of full, energetic, rather strenuous life ; life of the intellect, of the affections, of hopes, memories, impressions, opinions, and habits. All this made a sort of music in his ears, blended and may be intricate, but with nothing now strongly discordant. Suddenly he felt an arrest of the tide of sensation and thought, as if some one had touched, with the tip of a finger, the spring which set all these energies in motion. He closed the book, sat erect, broke off abruptly his connection with objective existence, ceased auditing his own being, as it were, and took on a state of keen expectation. In a moment the whole disposition of his consciousness was changed. The agreeable circumstances remained, but now, instead of making part of an idly shifting panorama, they took the place of scenery and appointment, fixed and subordinate, other interests filling the field of his attention.
He rose, tossed aside the book, stood two or three minutes in a state of intense absorption ; then took up his hat, spoke a few words with his uncle, went across the lawn, along the garden walks, through a short field path, and reached a rustic gate opening into thick pine forest. Here he paused, not as weighing whether he should proceed, but as having matter to consider that needed fuller attention. He was, in fact, adjusting himself to a new situation.
Those experiences which have stirred us pleasantly or deeply, and which seem to have floated far behind and been lost in the rush of the present, do but withdraw from the intrusive presence of urgent interests, and bide their time to press upon the spirit ; giving, where they muster in force and come without call, an odd sense of life within life, as when lights are turned down on the stage, revealing another set of larger energies going on outside the narrow action of the scene, — much as if we suddenly realized that higher intelligences were watching our rather petty proceedings and wondering at us. Those who connect the most insignificant or trivial circumstances with some spiritual import, whose impressions reach through sense to soul, will be occasionally overtaken by this sort of visitation from their accumulated experiences. To the young and happy they come, if at all, like a “ sudden glory,” bewildering but sweet. To the old and sad the experience is sometimes half a frenzy, too terrible to be borne. But the past has its rights, its existence, more real than the future ; and though we turn away our eyes from beholding it, it is always with us, rolled away like a scroll in unsuspected depths of our being.
A young man’s capabilities of feeling have usually established such relations with the susceptibilities of other young people as to have produced abundant matter for summer afternoon reverie, and to have so preëmpted his conscience that he instinctively turns to his emotional relations to account for and justify any unusual commotion of spirit. This was the case with Digby. He knew well enough where the summons came from which had interrupted his dégagé interlude. It meant the rather importunate return of a condition which he had put off a year ago, with some resolution, and which had since stood in apparently willing abeyance to interests agreeable enough, and seemingly able to replace it. The scene was now suddenly shifted, the change following close upon his return to a locality associated with the former rule, as might have been anticipated. His surprise lay in the fact that he had not voluntarily or consciously reverted to what had gone before, but had been abruptly confronted with a return of his old mental conditions, as if they had in themselves power and will to push aside what had come between them and his attention. But the transformation, if complete, was not yet disturbing; and though the mood toward which his face was set, upon whose threshold he stood, in fact, was not one to be lightly esteemed, he walked among his ancestral groves in a temper as unagitated as their own.
Deep into the woods, by a broad, winding avenue, which had been so long closed to wheels that their marks were wholly effaced, and the thick carpet of dried pine needles had covered the road bed ; with sudden near gleams of shining water, before, at the right, behind, according as the way wound; with noises growing fainter and remoter; with deep glades opening across his path ; with wide, level stretches, where the trees stood in ranks like guests at a ceremony, and the light broke through and lay in broad patches, where bees and butterflies swarmed ; into thick, green glooms unwarmed by the mild air ; up or down steep slopes where the tips of the upper branches almost touched the sharply-tilted ground ; with the whole catalogue of movement, odor, color, form, light, shade, expression, promise, and suggestion, combining, shifting, opening, and disappearing about him, weaving that magic web which can only, from default of language, be inadequately named the charm of the woods, — through and past all this he went, alive to the influences and significancies of his entourage, but also aware of his progress into a set of influences as absorbing, as elevated, as elusive and incomprehensible, as the elements which soothed, charmed, and mocked his physical sense; a set of emotional circumstances exactly parallel to the true, healing, friendly spirit of the woods, infinite to please, but never yielding, never to be seized and possessed, never to be subordinated or engrossed; a translation of the attributes and influences of nature into what it pleases us to call a higher form, namely, into human passions and powers.
The outer world and the inner kept time. Presently he came where both worlds seemed to invite him to stop and give them audience, — a small chamber in the wide extent of the estate, where the forest was particularly silent and clean, as if long undisturbed by human presence. A natural boundary of conformation and growth gave a sense of seclusion to the spot. The eye took in all, and was not teased with a desire to investigate beyond. Gentle slope and elevation varied the surface with that exquisiteness of natural proportion which disguises actual extent; satisfying the desire for breathing room, but not displaying large, distracting distances.
The ground was elastic with a fine, strong grass, like green hair, growing through the thick deposit from the pines. Patches of vivid green alternated with spaces of rich reddish-brown, here and there dimly flecked with a rain of sunlight, which the ground seemed to drink in, and again give out in a dark, pervading brightness. The trees stood in rows, like self-possessed, silent men under inspection.
Digby stood a while, conscious of the beauty of the spot, des Waldes Heiligkeit. It was unspeakably restful and inviting, like a quiet inner room, to which one is led by favor of the host, He took possession, throwing himself down upon the ground. Far above his head the tree-tops swayed in a soft, strong breeze, which also blew intermittently among their trunks, and softly fanned him ; tall, slender birches rocked in the upper half of their height, with that motion of unconscious ease and elegance which nothing can counterfeit, as if they rocked from inward impulse to the swell of their own thoughts. Sounds in all keys and motions of every gentle character made him feel as if a presence filled the wood, strong and sympathetic, but too large and wise to encroach, or be encroached upon. That sense of summer and beauty which cannot be shut out from vigorous nerves, flowed round him, and a thousand exquisite thoughts softly burst into blossom, in the quiet reaches of his mind, like sleeping lilies on a lake at the first touch of the morning sun.
What can mortal do at such a banquet but feed thankfully, and fall to peaceful rest ? To feed and sleep are ever the two great processes of healthy existence, whether of soul or of body. Digby fell into a peace so profound that his very spirit slept; but it was that transparent sleep through which any outside influence may penetrate, provided it be elemental, and in harmony with the influences which have produced the state, — the sleep in which the body does not obstruct the spirit, but lends it its perceptions.
To such a state impressions come like dreams. For a long time he seemed to have floated free of physical sensations, and to have known only from within that the sky was blue, the breeze soft and strong, the motion of the tree-tops like that of grass under water, and the varied soft sounds music in his own brain. And for what seemed a long time an impression had made itself felt, hanging in the firmament of his mood like a cloud in the blue sky, silent and motionless. It began presently to transform itself into an idea, a hope, a belief, a knowledge, at last an actual presence. As softly as a shadow lies upon a meadow this presence lay on his consciousness.
His perception, which had seemed to widen until it lay outside the whole world of sense, now shrank to his own physical dimension. In other words, the body regained its control, and the man could use his eyes. And there, at the far end of the narrow, bridge-like neck of land which led into the distance, slowly gliding across the narrow spaces where dim light showed between the trees, melting from one altitude to another between them, showing almost unnaturally tall, like the statue of a saint in a niche, approaching him and seeming to bring the distance with her, who but Helen Birney, somehow grown out of the fitness of the situation. Bringing the distance with her; not the distance alone, but the past, — the past, which had somehow grown a little unfamiliar, like a garment found in a wardrobe after a year’s forgetting. Arthur Digby was not yet out of his trance as to his will. Volition wakes late in such a passive mood. He watched idly while the lady moved toward him; half feeling that he saw her through his closed lids, but in reality watching her with wide-open eyes, that seemed to have been lately filled with dreams. She walked onward, as if she were entering her parlor to receive him, came quite up to him, smiled a little, seriously, looking down upon him.
“ Hic jacet,” said she. Then, as he made no motion, “ Shall I help you to rise ? ”
He got up hastily. “ I was under some kind of a spell. How do you do ? ”
“ How do you do ? ”
“The ship rocks badly, you see,” said he, stumbling over a little knoll.
“ Have you so lately returned ? ”
“ Twenty-four hours ago I was in that berth which, to me, is very like death. The ground takes unhandsome advantage of me. It is your ground, too, I believe.”
“ No, this is yours. The line is just over there.”
“ You had ever a keen sense of our boundaries. If this is really my land, I may curse it, may I not ? ” he said, having tumbled back over the same knoll. “ Will you sit down upon my land? If we both sit upon it, perhaps it won’t tip about so.”
“ You make me laugh.”
“ I wish I could make you cry. Don’t be alarmed if I make sudden and unseemly lurches toward you. I feel that we ought to shake hands.”
“Is it safe? Sit down, and I will come and shake hands with you.”
“No, indeed! On my own terra infirma, I must do the honors with such staggering grace as I can muster. I will come round this knoll. I will circumvent it. Once more, how do you do ? ”
They shook hands, without the usual compliments.
“ I am dazzled at beholding you, — an effect you are accustomed to produce, but it disconcerts me a little. I do not know what to say next. Let us sit down and glare at each other a little while. Some faint intelligence may come to me in that way.”
“ You had better lean against a tree.”
“ The trees seem disposed to lean against me. However, I am recovering, secondarily, so to speak, and I think I can maintain an unstable equilibrium while you sit, — if you will sit.”
“ Oh, yes, with pleasure.” She sat upon the ground, and leaned against a huge pine trunk. Arthur seated himself a little farther down, where he could look up at her, and where she could, if she wished, see over his head, without appearing to avoid him. They watched each other in silence for a while.
“ I made a mistake. I should n’t like to make you cry.”
“ No,” she said, “ I am sure you would n’t.”
“ You almost make me cry. I had forgotten that I should see you in black.”
“ But you knew ” —
“ I knew immediately that you had lost your brother. It has been very hard for you.”
She had to wait a minute before she could answer, “ Yes, it has been very hard for us.”
“It has changed you.”
“ Do I seem much changed ? ”
“You are less intense, more serene.”
“ Less as if thinking of myself, more as if regardful of others.”
“You can never have been taken up with yourself in any common sense.”
“ I live more outside of myself than I used. Perhaps I am less ready to trust myself than formerly.”
“ Sorrow brings us nearer others, or others nearer to us,” said Digby, with a sudden realization of the economic relation of this truth to his own case, as on the wrong side of the account.
“ Yes, I care more for people than I did a year ago.”
“ Then it must be well with you in a very important sense.”
She turned away, and, with an air he did not fathom, replied, “Yes, it is well with me in many senses.”
He said to himself that she was taking it beautifully.
“Could you tell me something” — A half-startled inquiry in her eyes checked him. “ Do not! It would pain you too much.”
“ It was sudden, shocking — No ! I am afraid I cannot speak of it.”
“ I have no right to ask it; but I sympathize with you deeply.”
“ Thank you. I could count upon your kindness for that.”
“I wish you had felt like saying friendship, instead of kindness.”
“ With your warrant, I shall certainly say it, next time.”
“ Have I been away so long ? ”
“ I did n’t mean to be unfriendly, but I am always afraid of assuming too much.”
“ That is unfriendly, whether you mean it or not. The test of friendship is the extent to which you count upon your friends.”
“ Perhaps it is, with men. But I think I have no sense of proportion. If I give myself liberty, it is apt to become license.”
“ License ! Oh, try it on me ! ”
“ Not for worlds and worlds ! ”
“ You make me feel as if time and space had indeed come between us. What was that old superstition,— that if water came between friends the friendship was drowned ? ”
“ A year is a long time, if much happens.”
“ I wish I had been here ! ”
A very faint shade of confusion showed itself in her countenance. She said, a little hurriedly, “ Thank you for the wish, but you could not have changed anything.”
“ Do you mean that I should have been nothing to you ? ”
“We saw no one, of course, — at first; and then my uncle came from England immediately. We were taken care of. People were very kind. I am glad you escaped the sadness of it.”
He felt his conscience accuse him that he had indeed escaped the sadness of it, and that he should have felt better at that moment if, not having been permitted to share her grief, he had at least borne her company in heaviness of his own exclusion from her sorrow ; and said, as compounding with his regret, “ A man might like to share the sadness of his friends.”
“ A man feels bound to do it, perhaps ; but it is every way better that people should be spared sorrow whenever it is possible.”
“ Next to knowing that our friends have no griefs is the wish to lighten what they have.” A handsome generalization, to be sure, but Digby had an instant feeling that it might ring rather false. There was a guilty consciousness of a kind of insincerity, though he certainly meant at least as much as he said. He was hampered a little by certain rather conflicting considerations, and feared to become involved in embarrassments ; feared, too, to involve his companion in embarrassment. He had, however, hoped that his remark might stand in her mind as a proposition from which deductions might be drawn at convenience.
There had been no need of a reply, but after a minute of silence she said, as if selecting the most non-committal phrase, “ You are very good, I’m sure.”
Plainly, the handsome generalization had not been taken home.
“ Tell me about your journey.”
“ Quite the same old story. Or, no; not quite the same, because my uncle enjoyed it so much. That gave a new color to much of it,” he added, with a knowledge that he was not reporting, and could not report, all the hues that had been thrown over his year’s wandering.
“ How is Dr. Digby ? ”
“ Better. Quite well, in fact. He is to call upon your mother this afternoon. Does she see any one ? ”
“ She will see him. You must come home with me, too.”
“ Thank you. I was, in fact, on my way there.”
“ I heard of you, occasionally. You know May Dudley is a great friend of mine. She wrote to me constantly, and spoke of meeting you.”
“ Indeed ! Then you know some of the places we visited. Their route was nearly the same as ours. She came over in the ship with us, and has gone to New York.”
“ Yes, I know. We had letters not two hours ago.”
Arthur felt a little jar in these commonplace phrases, which touched something he had in his mind. He wondered whether Helen had anything in her mind.
“ Do you know ” — She hesitated with an evident reluctance to finishing what she had begun ; then began again : “ Do you know — of course you do not know. My mother and I sail in four weeks.”
“ You are going away ? Just as I return ! No, I have not been told it.”
“ We go for some time, — in the Servia. You came in the Servia, did n’t you ? ”
“ Yes; but there was nothing about the ship to tell me that you would go away in her. ‘ Across the water drowns friendship.’ I must go back with you, or— The moment I put my foot on land, you go away. No one told me that you — However, I saw no one but Atwood, who came down in the train with me, last night. And by the way, Atwood is going in the Servia. Confound Atwood ! That is why he smirked so. He used to frown at me, a year ago. So he is going ! And in a sea-voyage there are so many influences and opportunities ! ”
“ You speak not only as one having authority, but also as the scribes.”
“ The scribes have, perhaps, written something on my behalf,” he quickly replied, aware that much might well have been said. “ But I envy Atwood. In fact, I hate him. He will do no end of things for you. You ’ll let him, I suppose.”
“ Yes,” she replied, with an inscrutable smile. “ I shall let him be kind to me if he will.”
“ I think I will hire a man to throw him overboard. The tables are turned, to be sure. I used to fancy myself in his way.”
“You are looking very well indeed. I am glad to see it.”
“ London tailor, may be ; and then I am heavier, and I am a little calmer,— at least, I was an hour ago. I don’t give bonds for good behavior, mind you. Recollect the load-stone mountain of Sindbad. My principles and props of all sorts will begin to fly presently, no doubt, as they used. But I had gained. I have learned that distance has a deadening effect, and that if some people keep away from some other people — I am curious to see how long it will take you to turn me into a helpless, incoherent, distracted, desperate wretch, without wheel or compass.”
“ You ought to be ashamed of your metaphor, if nothing else. You look much better. It is partly the tailor, I think. I am very fond of fine clothes for men, and you always look so complete. But you look happy, too, as if you had had a good time.”
“ But I am not a happy man, — under your eyes.”
“ You are an idle man. No man is good for much without an absorbing occupation. I wish you would ‘ settle down,’ as they say. Depend upon it, you will become a nervous invalid, an emotional hypochondriac. I wish you had to earn your bread.”
“ So do I. I have wished it a hundred times. And I really mean to go in for something,—something tough. You think I ’ve been long making up my mind. So I have; but the mind has been a-making, all the same. In the three years I have spent stirring the ingredients of my nature, I have learned enough to last me some time. I ’m dead sick of myself, and I am going in for work. Perhaps I had better marry. They say it takes the nonsense out of a man.”
“ Yes, do ! ” she said fervently.
“I have thought of marrying — you must recommend some one — that is — I think I will marry your friend, May Dudley, if ” —
“ You couldn’t do better! She’s the sweetest girl living.”
“ She’s the very sweetest girl living,” said Digby soberly, with an utter change of manner. “ She makes me calm and satisfied. I am not afraid of her. If it were not profane to say it, I could imagine her adoring— A man likes to be adored. He is fond of thinking that women were made to adore. That shocks you.”
“ By no means ! I see nothing wrong in your feeling that a woman should adore — her — the man she — adores.”
Digby tormented himself for a moment with the possibility of being adored by Helen Birney, and for another moment with the probability of her adoring another man. But he had already so drawn upon his imagination for sensations of this variety that the answering shock was short-lived and dull. Moreover, through most of what she had said, he had felt a little of that draught which blows between two people, when one of them has that in his mind, unknown to the other, bearing upon their mutual relation, which throws a side (perhaps slightly sinister) light upon what is said. He seemed to feel that the key had changed, and continued: —
“ Did you ever think the woods were haunted ? I feel a sudden sense of unreality, and could doubt my senses without effort. As I look at you, the rays of light reflected from you stretch out into long, visible lines, dazzling like northern lights. I have to grasp my intellectual conviction that there is such a person, to keep from floating away into bewilderment. I can half fancy myself about to wake into a reality, and find all this a dream.”
“ You are not quite waked.”
“ I will give you a better and altogether more scientific and interesting explanation. The usual current of impressions setting in from without toward the seat of consciousness is met on the threshold of my mind by a tidal wave, traveling in the other direction, which wave has its origin in the interior, — a sort of earthquake wave, arising from a vague doubt or foreboding that begins to take possession of me. The two currents meet and fill my nerves with confusion and trouble.”
“ That is, in effect, saying that you are not yet waked, or that you are going to be ill.”
“ I will give you another explanation. This is almost demonstrable, and so rational that you will be pleased with me. The combination of nerves which reports you to my brain, and that consequent play of powers evolving ideas and speculations in regard to you, is completely worn out with over-work. They have become unable to perform their duty, and the impressions stop short of the centre, as in defective vision.”
“Oh,” said she, half vexed, “you make me so ridiculous that I almost lose patience! ”
“ I will tell you something to restore the balance. There were days and days when I forgot you as absolutely as if there were no such being in the world.”
“ Bravo! ”
“ N' est-ce pas ? ” said Digby, ironically. Then, after a little while, “ ‘ Lo, where it comes again ! ’ ”
“ What comes again ? ”
“ The old creeping discontent, the sense of failure and ignominy, hard to bear for a man of my complexion.”
“ No one feels a sense of defeat who has not proposed to triumph. You are not a chivalrous man. You would willingly lay a conquest at the feet of a woman, but it must be a conquest of herself.”
“You are too clever for me. You ought to make allowance. It is long since I have been in court, and I had fallen into a lazy habit of trading with any loose change I happened to find in my intellectual pockets. You make a man draw on his capital.”
“ Dear me ! ”
“ Yes ; I always seem on the brink of a sensation when I think of you or talk with you. I begin to stand upon the defensive as soon as we meet.”
“ I have noticed it.”
“ In yourself ? ”
“ In you.”
“Oh!” said Digby, with a whole gamut of significance. “ Then you do not find yourself disturbed ? ”
“ Yes, reflexively.”
“ I am thankful for the smallest crumb. Since I cannot move you on your own account (a long, tentative pause), I am glad, at least, to stir you on mine.”
“ How unfriendly ! But I do not think I really feel worried about you. I only wonder ” —
“ Come ! that is something ! Keep wondering about me ! I ’ll do the maddest things, if you will only keep on wondering.”
“ Why can’t you feel comfortable with me? — for you can’t. I can feel you. I can almost see you, rousing yourself into opposition. Oh, it is quite evident, I assure you ! I doubt if you ever acquiesce inwardly in what I say. I have tried to see through it, but I cannot. Depend upon it, there is something deeply, fundamentally inimical in our natures. I can imagine you hating me bitterly. If we were of a low grade, I can imagine you hurting me.”
“ Don’t talk like that! God knows, I’d hurt myself to the last and deadliest degree, before I could have you touched. Thank Heaven, I could not hurt you, if I would ! ”
This touch of genuine feeling seemed to bring them a little nearer each other. Digby went on : —
“ I never took such pains for anything in my life as I take to appear well in your eyes. Do you know, you sort of put a man upon his mettle, some way. He is always straining to be superior, always trying to get your approval; always trying, you know, and apparently never succeeding.”
“ I know wliat you mean : always trying to triumph.”
“ Oh, not so bald and brutal as that, I ’m sure ! I suppose, if a man tries to please a woman, he may like to succeed.”
“ For the sake of pleasing her, or for the sake of compelling her to be pleased ? ”
“ Ah ! If you are going into things like that, just tell me what sort of man it is that does n’t want a woman to feel that he can give as well as take.”
“ Well,” she said, rather slyly, “ perhaps not the sort of man that you are.”
“ Perhaps you can tell me what sort of a woman it is that will not let a man show how very low down he could get in the dust, if ” —
“ If she would first show him that she wanted him to do so.”
“ If she would let him follow his impulses.” He could not see why she should laugh. “ Oh, be fair ! I mean, be honest! You can’t help being fair.”
“ Do you, then, feel checked in anything you wished to say ? I had thought that you felt quite unconstrained. No one — that is, you always said openly such extraordinary things that I have been driven to placing our conversations on a wholly different footing from the usual one. You make me laugh when you talk of not being let to follow your impulses. Can it be that you have overshot your impulses, and are trying to urge them on to your expression of them ? ”
“ You are doing me a very great injustice,” he said, gravely. “ Perhaps you mean that you wish it were true.”
“ I did n’t mean to hurt you! ” she cried, with a woman’s quick and disproportionate tenderness at the sight of pain.
“ What do you mean by putting our acquaintance upon a different footing?”
“ I said ‘ conversations.’ ”
“ I am afraid it’s all one with us.”
“ I mean that other men do not think of talking to me as you did, and that I had to — how shall I say ? — take you on a different plan; enlarge the ordinary scale of meanings. Both of us, perhaps, use a large liberty of speech,” she added, hastily.
“ Do you mean that I did n’t believe what I said, or that I said what I did n’t mean ? ”
She made no reply.
“ You filled all my thoughts ! ” he cried, vehemently. “ You ruled my imagination. You absorbed me. You kept me discontented, expectant, unquiet. I don’t think you had the smallest notion of your effect on me. I was piqued, spurred, confounded — Shame upon me! What a ranter I have become ! Yes, I meant all I said. You were, and you are, the most beautiful and fascinating woman I ever knew, and able to make me wretched and almost despairing. What more could you wish ? ”
“ Oh,” she replied, a little coolly, “ it is not more that I should wish.” This rather set him back in the excitement he was unconsciously fostering. “ Have you seen the Daphne ? ” she asked, inconsequently.
“ Daphne ? What is that. Steamer, statue, plant ? ”
“ I think you can’t have seen it, or you would know at once what I mean.”
“ I decline to commit myself. The ground about you is always honeycombed with pitfalls. You are waiting to see me discomfited.”
“ No, indeed! It is a bona fide question. It is your own Daphne.”
“ Have I a Daphne of my very own? You make me tremble. Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral ? Can I get rid of it ? Can I plead any sort of a statute ? Can I utterly and forever repudiate it? It is a fearful point to have a Daphne, and not to know whether you should put it in a stable, or wear it in your button-hole.”
“ If you would stop looking at me, you would see her.”
“ Ah ! if I could, indeed, stop looking at you, I might see ” —
“ Look over my head, to the left, far up the ravine.”
“ Sure enough ! In a desperate hurry, having just escaped from your premises in hot haste. She shall be restored, without delay. Madam, allow me to reassure you, and to point out that we do things better nowadays. Under the modern method, that conceited young person who annoyed you would find himself presented with a ticket to Coventry, second class, and no return.”
“ She makes believe not to understand.”
“ She always makes believe not to understand. A New England Daphne, in willow, is unpleasant. Our own metempsychoses are disturbing enough, Heaven knows ! What shall I do with it? I hate to have a thing like that hacked. Makes me think of Dante’s trees calling out, ' Why tearest thou me? Wherefore pluckest me thus ? ’ ”
“ Bury it.”
“ Good ! I have times of feeling in the burying mood ; or, rather, in need of a burying-place.”
“ Begin with Daphne.”
“ And yet, if I once begin to bury, who knows where it may end?”
Looking at her with a half-wistful expression, he saw tears in her eyes. Her own light word had pierced to a reality of bereavement so recent that it lay just below the surface.
“I wish I could comfort you!” he cried, making a movement as if to rise, and checking himself.
“ Let us talk of something else.”
“ Let us not talk at all, for a little. Do you not remember how many times, in these same woods, we have sat without speaking, listening to the sound the silence makes ? I should like to compare notes again. Will you try it ? ”
“ If you like.”
“ Begin, then, and count the sounds for ten minutes.”
For a little space, that seemed a long space, they were silent. Then Arthur said abruptly, “ Why don't you answer ? ”
“ What do you mean ? ” she cried, starting up.
“You didn’t listen. I heard a hundred voices, in all accents, calling yourname. The place is full of them. They say, ' Helen ! Helen ! Helen ! ’ Or can it be that I was listening to my own blood ? Try again ! ”
“ Oh, you are too bad! Let us be rational, or let us go and call upon my mother.”
“ By all means, let us be rational first, and call upon your mother afterwards. But what did you hear ? ”
“ What did I hear ? I — did n’t — I can’t tell you what I heard,” she said, blushing vividly, and drooping her head.
“ Ah, you are unfair ! ”
“ Excuse me, I forgot! Pray, excuse me, and let us try over again. I will do better, — indeed, I will. To please me, try again.”
“ To please you, anything.”
They were silent for a long while; for so long that Helen, waiting in vain for Arthur to interrupt, as was his wont, turned toward him, and found him watching her closely, and with a sort of wistful excitement.
“ I hear nothing,” she said, smiling rather wanly ; “ that is, I heard only a noise in my own ears.”
“ ‘ I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.’ Do the words seem different to you ? I feel as if something were missing, but can’t tell what.”
“ You can never go back to anything and find it what you left it, you know.”
“ You say that as calmly as if it were not the crudest thing ever spoken.”
“ You forget that we bring our own moods here and everywhere into life.”
“ I wish,” he said, after a pause, “ that we knew any language which would deal adequately with our feelings and moods, with our spiritual relations to each other. I always feel the clumsiness of words when I talk to you. There is always something which clamors to be expressed, but which refuses to form itself into speech.”
“ I thought we got on wonderfully as to speech. What hindered you ? ”
“ Who knows ? I was afraid of you.”
“ That you were not. There was nothing in the way of outrageous, egregious flattery, and not much in the way of vague, ill-founded, and almost unkind criticism, as a wholesome tonic, may be, which you did not find courage to say.”
By which remark it will be seen that meteorological disturbances had existed in the intercourse of Miss Birney and Mr. Digby.
“ I never could get your attention,” he said, justifying himself. “ There was always something I could not reach. However joyfully we met, we always parted with a wide and widening distance between us. My very efforts to approach you seemed to take me farther and farther away. At this moment, when we are both in dead earnest, our very seriousness drives us farther apart. Of course, I rebelled against it, chafed at it. I am not a philosopher. You are a woman whose attention I, for two years, earnestly desired to engross. I did my possible to engross it. I threw myself headlong into the delight of intercourse with you. I had found the very supreme gift of heaven, — a mind and nature I could not exhaust. But I was like a man who is shown treasures he may have if he can but reach them, and who misses by the length of his hand. Something came between us, and I could but feel that it was yourself. So I raged against fate, myself, and you. It seemed incredible that there should be between man and woman so entire an interchange of thought, sympathy, opinion, and so absolute a repelling force. Ah,” he added, with a half-bitter sigh, “people should not try to fly. They get beyond their humanity. The joy of life is in the small, sweet habits of mutual dependence ; those simple, innocent, homely delights, that penetrate the heart and make it run over with content; the feeling of pressing close to each other’s side, the sense of contact, the missing and being missed. From that to abstractions, and not from abstractions to that, is the true progress. We call the beginnings common and narrow. They are the true wisdom and beauty. It is better, it is far better, to build low.”
“ Perhaps you looked for too much. Instead of taking the sympathy between us for the firmament, you took it for a starting-point, and looked for something beyoud, wide in proportion.”
“ I made a mistake of some sort, — who knows what ? ”
“You have been — is it possible for you to believe in my kindness, my friendliness, my — my ” —
“ You are never going to say ‘ tenderness,’ ” he said, with a sad smile. “ That I could not believe in. Your charity is what you mean, unknown to yourself.”
“ Believe in my unwillingness to wound you ever so slightly,” she said, turning rather pale. “You have been too subtle. You have looked at me through your own ideals, too fastidiously magnanimous to examine how we really stood. You do not understand your sense of incompleteness and failure, when it comes to a question of my adjustment to your theories. It means that your feeling is truer than your intelligence ; and it is your intelligence, and not your feeling, which is disappointed at this moment.”
“ If I had been more complete, more determined, more”— He broke off suddenly, and then began : “ There is one overwhelming reason why you were not made for me. I ought not to ask anything more convincing. It is that I am always at my worst with you, always perturbed, — always perturbing, perhaps,” he added remorsefully.
“ Yes, I suppose we have disturbed each other a good deal.”
“ It is well,” he said, after a pause, “ that you did not let me know that sooner. My stumbling-block has been that the attraction was all on one side.”
“ I always liked you immensely, you know.”
“ Oh, don’t! Let us be, for once, ourselves.”
“ That was not a platitude. I liked you better than you knew. In fact, I liked you so much that I wondered why I did not like you more. You have your theories; I had to have mine, to understand my position. This is it. Both of us started with a fixed idea, — I might say, a fixed ideal, — fully equipped, and always before our eyes. We measured people by them, more or less indifferently, perhaps, until we met each other. You came very near my measure ; I came near enough to yours. We then felt logically bound to take the next step. But the whole thing being factitious, there was no impulse toward another step. We were puzzled between loyalty to our ideals and a lack of - of the right kind of attraction. I came to see it, after a long time; but you, with a man’s persistence, and a man’s added sense of chivalry, would not, or could not.”
“ Do you mean to say that you considered the character of our acquaintance,— that you saw a personal quality in it ? ”
“ How could I help it ? ”
“ And that you watched your own interest in it, to see — whether — it became — stronger ? ”
She flushed a little, but said bravely, “ I watched to see it become — what it did not become.”
Digby rose to his feet, and stood looking down at her, mortified, regretful, bitter, fascinated, and repelled, all at once. Fervent, passionate words crowded to his lips. A really mighty impulse was upon him to utter such words as men sometimes dream of saying to women. Time and place adhered, the situation, and apparently the mastery of the situation; but though the words hung vivid and urgent in his mind, sending a strong thrill all over him, he did not pronounce them. Something lacked. The altar was ready, the sacrifice was laid upon it, but the fire did not come down from heaven. A cold breath from his judgment blew upon the impulse, and he let it die. It took him a sensible time to find his way back to a safe generalization. “ Depend upon it, a sense of incompleteness is the secret of attraction. It is the instinct for self-preservation, a desperate, blind clutch for something that will insure existence. That sums it up, to my mind.”
“You had better say, to your present mood.”
“ To my present mood, if you will; for that is to be the key-note to my future. We tried for something more than life gives. Whether too much or too little, something holds us apart. If it is distance to be explored, or difference to be brushed away, I know not. It only makes you more beautiful and more unattainable, and stamps me, let us tamely say, incomplete. Wherever my fragments may be, wherever in the spiritual universe my own is kept from me — ah, well ! How idle to try to set the wind to a tune! You and I together are more than one, and, may be, less than two. The lack is in me.”
He watched her in silence for a while, and began again : —
“ I have been like a stupid fly, madly butting against a pane, unable to understand that I cannot follow where I see. Do you know what has been booming in my head for half an hour ? A quotation from Browning,—
“ ' God of eclipse and each discolored star, Why do I linger here ? ’ ”
“ You are making the worst of it. I should like to see you take it better.”
“ For your sake, I put myself in joint with the times,” he said dryly.
“I can’t have a man doing for me what he will not do for himself. I don’t count you among those who need bribes.”
He smiled rather ruefully. “ You forget to take yourself into account when you scorn bribes. You are yourself the most stupendous bribe, though insensible of that, as of everything.”
“ Don’t call it insensibility ! Would it gratify you to know that I was unhappy or shaken ? The thing was so plain. We should have hated each other, and had an ugly blot upon our memories for a great while, perhaps forever.”
“ And so you advised me to travel, and I traveled.”
“ Ah, you jest! But, in my mind, the thing lies on so high a plane that I could n’t jest about it.”
“ The highest plane ; that is, the topmost shelf, as I realized when you gently intimated that I was spending too much time studying our spiritual nonaffinities.”
“ You were doing yourself injustice. It was right that you should have a change of thought. I wished that some one else should interest you ; and I wish now ” —
“ Wish nothing for me, except that I may forget you speedily and utterly.”
“ Pray do not — I do not like to think of you — thinking of it so.”
“ And what do you suppose, what do you suppose, is in a man’s mind, when he knows, as I have known, such a woman as you are ? — knows by heart a thousand lovely ways, graces and virtues without number ? Do you imagine that his thoughts keep primly to the outside of things ? Do you suppose he does not imagine situations, words, looks ? Why, even a school-girl has a more robust sentimentality than that. She imagines the boy holding her hand, clasping her, kissing her. You, if you are not ” —
“ Never ! Never, upon my faith ! How dare you ? Never did I dream — Oh, how can you ? ”
“ Then you are not capable of judging me, for I have imagined — No : I will not distress you. Cui bono? It is mainly cui bono with us, now.
‘ Shrunk to the measure of two little words,’ and all that sort of thing. I traveled. I realize it now. Yet my thought keeps beating upon that transparent, impenetrable something. Why ? why? why? Perpetually, why ? ”
Helen rose, and stood for a moment, with an expression of pain and indecision ; then moved slowly along, as he, with gathering disquiet, which forced him into movement, walked up and down before her. He followed, and they came, slowly walking through the spicy air, out upon the high bank, which, like an artificial terrace, bordered a noble stream. A path ran along the edge, protected by a railing. They leaned upon this, and looked down into the narrow strip of glassy water, which made a burnished frame for the rippled stream. Before them, the river, sweeping round a sharp turn, broadened almost into a bay, leaving high rocky walls crowned with trees, that made a stately way like a cathedral aisle, and spreading out between slightly lower banks, where the current had made space for its crowded waters, set its own edge thick with a bordering of meadow grasses, lush, green, sensuous, and was taking its more leisurely way to the sea, which lay, a shining line, over the low sand-bars on the southern horizon. The spirit of summer afternoon lay upon the scene, which was unusually beautiful. The river was full to its brim, the shining waters marching and countermarching, streams from the sea dividing the ranks of the outflowing currents, and both volumes breaking up into narrow files, threading their way, or eddying into spiral motion, till the effect was of two armies meeting, breaking ranks, and mingling together, each man making his way as best he might. It was a wonderful scene of activity and brilliancy, contrasting sharply with the sombre, reserved spirit of the wood. At the near edge a line of still water made silent, almost invisible, progress upward ; and on the other bank, where a little inlet was set thick with herbage, paraded gayly downward a small company of dancing wavelets, that threw back the glitter of the sun, and smiled farewell to whispering reeds.
While they waited and watched, in that incomplete, half - satisfied mood, where on the one hand is something to be said, and on the other so much that must not be said, there came in sight, as far up the river as could be seen, a beautiful sail boat, all new and white, taking its first taste of motion from the ways to the sea. Of all inanimate objects, nothing comes so near sentiency and volition as a ship, in any size. Statues and temples are only stocks and stones; but anything in the form of a launch has its own being, is a thing which its very maker and builder must share with the elements, with forces which may snatch it from his hands and dash it to atoms, but which has its attributes, not bestowed by man, and not denied by wind or wave.
Down between the river walls came sailing this dainty craft, white as snow but for a crimson pennant fluttering at its peak; taking the water proudly, like a bride, every plank laid, every beam shaped, every sail set, every capacity gauged and balanced for one purpose, every fibre from stem to stern instinct with one meaning and one impulse, created to one end, — to press forward. The river bore it gladly along ; the little breezes ran beside and over it, urging it on with soft, encouraging pressure upon its sails. One might imagine it gathering and fusing all the thought of its builder, all the adaptability of its own shape and equipment, all the consent and stress of circumstance; beginning to thrill to the first pulse of conscious life, with a passionate dream of ocean’s wild delights warming its grain, moving of its own will and gathering its energies to make the final leap that should launch it into its element, into its own divine right of union with the boundless, joyful life of the sea.
They watched it gliding down toward them with a half-prophetic expectancy, due to repressed intelligences and impulses. At a point where it should have turned the sharp promontory, and triumphantly swept forward with the open water in view, it seemed all at once as if the river ceased to flow, and the banks, stealing its motion from the stream, drew backward to the hills. The boat quivered, rose on the wave, dipped slowly to one side, sank, rose and leaned far forward, swayed from side to side, spread its wings wider and beat the air, shook off, with a toss, something that seemed to hinder its will, darted forward a length, and again stopped; rising on the waters, fluttering its wings, turning from side to side, shaken with the conflict between its onward impulse and something that suddenly sprang into existence to counteract or paralyze it. The crimson pennant streamed forward eagerly ; the west wind’s kisses changed to churlish blows. Mysterious powers had met its keel and buffeted it about. The poor thing trembled and shrunk, and grew bewildered at a force undreamed of in its short, happy progress. It tried all its new powers in vain, the opposition was too strong.
With one thought Helen and Arthur turned toward each other.
“ The tide ! ” she exclaimed. “ You forgot the tide. If you live near the sea, body or soul, you must take account of the tide. There is the answer to your perpetual ‘ why ? ’ ”
“ I cannot bear to think of anything so inexorable! ” he cried, with something so near anguish that she caught her breath. She had to remind herself that his pride, his man’s desire to conquer, would send forth as agonized a cry as wounded love. He went on : —
“ I cannot bear to think that the wine of life is not for me; that I must dilute — But wait! She will take the eddies, and work along down in spite of the tide.”
It was hard for a man, strong and confident in his demands upon life, accustomed to finding circumstances waiting upon him, able to bend them to his pleasure, by no means too nice to take his full share of good, and to take it in a man’s fashion, — it was hard for him to find himself so balked in the thing he had most desired, and that not from any outward circumstance, but from a falling short in his own inclination. It was as if all his powers and perceptions were leagued together to show him that he could not rise to the level of what destiny had put within his reach. Proud and emulous of all forms of superiority, he did not relish the thought that there was in him a spot which did not ring true; that he was unable to yield himself to an influence which he could yet not bring himself to renounce. For Digby was not quite up to the mark of trusting everything he was even to himself, — the vice that comes from overrefinement, over-analysis of sentiment; not quite able to see that mistrust of destiny is weakness, and not strength.
Still, his disappointment was by no means light in degree, and by no means to be scorned in kind. A commonminded man would have made no such failure, because too dull to comprehend subtle matters like sympathetic influences. Moreover, his embarrassment was extreme, for he had committed himself to much, without the warrant or the summons to commit himself to all, and was really cruelly divided between loyalty to his own ideal, bewilderment that his wishes did not more ardently embrace that ideal, a certain drawing in another direction, with a perverse reluctance to yield even to that new (and pleasant) attraction.
It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that his mood should grow a little reckless, and that something of his perturbation should show itself. He had, at first, felt the sweet spell of an influence which always swayed him on coming into her presence ; but, as ever, he had presently felt the glory fading, — felt something rising in himself which drove him into a spirit of unrest and opposition.
“ If there is a man in the world more profoundly mortified and disgusted with himself than I am with myself, he has my heartfelt sympathy. I am expected, I suppose, to take all these incidental brushes amiably, overlooking the imputations.”
“ There are surely no imputations. These things do not go by merit.”
“ No ! Kissing goes by favor, which makes lack of kisses the deadlier slight. I am, as it were, flouted by Fate; and Fate is of the feminine gender, as you know. I suppose I am too slight a man to please her ladyship. Atwood, now, he’s a solid fellow, — what you may call a cumulative man ; every year a little stronger in some way, gradually harnessing Destiny to his chariot; while I am like that particular class of vegetable that has to be planted over every year, and does n’t take deep root. I seem to see very delicate motions of assent in your brain, which you carefully ignore.”
“ You think I underrate you. Let me say something accusing.”
“ Do, by all means ! ”
“ You try to make me out almost a monster. You impute all sorts of unkindness to me, without really trying to know what I do think of you. You seem afraid to let me say what I think.”
“ It won’t be what I wish. I had as lief you called me a turnip as what you call other men, — ‘charming,’ ‘bright,’ ‘ gentlemanly,’ ‘ interesting.’ I have heard you put a whole, live, grand man into one of those confounded, smirking, cant epithets, and lay him on the shelf with that label, as if he were born to be tagged and classified, and there an end. I’d rather be the gnat that teases you, and is honestly execrated and finally exterminated. It makes me mad. Your cool, complacent patronage makes me mad ! You do not know what a man is. You have n’t the faintest conception of the feeling, the power, the worth, the everlasting significance, of the creatures who flock around you, and whom you half glance at, and settle with one of your pretty conventional phrases. By heaven, I should like you to feel the power of one of them. I should like to see you on your knees to some man ” —
The angry blaze in his eyes was reflected in hers by a soft, glowing spark of pride. Her color deepened, her head was slightly raised, and a delicate scorn curved her lips.
“ You probably never will,” she said, in a quiet tone, that sounded as if it might penetrate to any distance.
“ No ! ” he cried, bitterly. “ Nothing of that sort will reach you. I have had ample opportunity of learning that.”
A moment passed, while he controlled his anger, and she put aside her natural resentment, By and by she went on.
“ You ought to hear my side. But it has always been your habit to take part against me, always easier for you to accuse than to excuse me. However, you will say the same things of other women, and it will be as unjust to them as it is to me. You accuse me of not appreciating men. What do you say of those women who let you see how much they appreciate men ? You think I have no sense of the dignity and power of men, — a perfectly gratuitous assumption on your part. And if it were true ? What business have I, even in my thoughts, to weigh, and compare, and appraise the worth of men ? It is the first article in your own code that a woman should have this particular regard to only one man out of all the world. You call it coldness if a woman is n’t touched by every man who comes into her horizon; you call it familiarity or vulgarity if she is. Men have no business to complain of the coldness of any woman but one. I defy you to say that I am unkind to any one within proper limits. And I will not let it pass, that I do not understand the value of manly character and virtue and achievement, because I do not spend myself in pondering particular illustrations of them. What you call insensibility in women may have a better name; it may be delicacy. You are quite, quite in the wrong,” she concluded abruptly, and with a sudden dissolution of her indignant warmth into kindly expostulation.
“ I am always in the wrong where you are concerned. It is only another way of stating the sad incompatibility between us.”
“ What you really wish is to see me humiliated. That would console you for anything. It is nice and liberal in you to call it incompatibility.”
“ Oh,” he retorted, with a hollow laugh, “my coarse malice is nothing to the calm, dispassionate cruelty with which you put yourself in the right.”
“ Let us shake hands,” she cried, hurriedly. “ Forgive me, do ! ” And as they clasped hands strongly, she said, with half angry, half tender insistence, “ You must not let me see that you are hurt by what I say. It is n’t kind of you.”
He could but smile at the womanishness of this, yet his eyes were moist.
“ You make me quarrel. You attack me, and then show that you are hurt. That is the same as crying for mercy,” she said, looking half ready to cry herself.
He smiled again. “ Yes, you are a woman. You can bear to hurt, but you cannot bear to see that you hurt.”
“You have hurt my feelings — you have trampled upon my feelings a thousand times, without the faintest idea of what you were doing, and I never flinched. I suppose you could n’t imagine my being wounded at your forever unappeased desire to let me know how ill you think of me.”
“ I believe there is n’t another woman in the world who would take such a thing so coldly.”
“ Excuse me ! You forget how many times you have told me the same thing. In my place, what should you do? What can a woman answer to such talk, except to say nothing ? What is there to do ? Shall I cry ? Shall I simper ? Don’t you see that I could n’t do or say anything ? ”
“ I talk plainly enough.”
“What is the answer to such plain talk ? If you could imagine me saying the very thing you most wished to hear, what would that be ? I believe you do not know what you wish to hear. You reproach me. You feel that I wrong you in some way. You do not see that no woman could answer you, because — Don’t be offended. I will do for you what I could hardly do for another man. You must not be angry with me ; we were good friends, and — and — don’t look at me. I — it is difficult to begin.”
“Never mind. I am a brute to annoy you. I did not mean to ; in fact, I meant not to. You are all right, and I, probably, am all wrong. Men are obtuse. Let us say no more about it.”
But in that moment she had regained her composure, and augmented it with a resolve. “ Let us go to the bottom of it, now. There will never be another chance. You will always feel dissatisfied, else. It is much better to talk a thing out plainly. Forgive me in advance.”
“ No, indeed ; not I! ”
“ So much the better. Yes, I agree that you meant what you said ; but you said too much, considering that you could n’t say more. You were, in effect, telling me, for the better part of two years, that you were about to — to ” —
“ To fall in love with you.”
“In point of fact, you expected such a consummation, and it never came. At this moment you know and I know that something hindered you. It hinders you still, even if I would permit you to say what must not be said. That makes it unwise and improper for us to talk as we have done. You have found me disquieting, — I cannot explain why, — but there never was a moment when you felt that I could be otherwise than disturbing to you. I believe in my heart that you could have no thought of me that did not represent me as in some way antagonistic. I never soothed you ; you never turned to me with any expectation or desire of repose. I could have told you this long ago, but you would not let me. It is only now, under these circumstances, that I feel we ought to understand one another entirely. We do not, we never did, care for each other to the exclusion of ourselves.”
“ ‘ Under these circumstances ? ' ”
“ You think of marrying my friend, May Dudley, and I — am going to marry your friend, Mr. Atwood.”
If Digby had been given time to consider the emotional value of this announcement, if he had had opportunity to exploit his dramatic susceptibilities, he might have experienced a real shock, or, at least, a good imitation of one. Coming wholly unexpectedly, it appealed to the natural integrity of his intelligence, and sounded only with a faroff clang, as of a matter which might have concerned him, or which he might even have to reckon with hereafter. He held his breath a moment, half expecting to be overtaken by some whirlwind of feeling. Nothing came but a sense of rather wearisome unreality, as when one has pondered an anxious matter till the brain has grown tired and sick. Perhaps he turned a little paler.
“ I have intruded upon you,” he said.
With one accord they took their way to the broad avenue leading to Helen Birney’s home, closing forever the volume of their mingled thoughts and recollections. In an hour, mother and daughter, uncle and nephew, stood at the entrance to the forest path on the Birney grounds, as the two men took their leave. Mrs. Birney and Dr. Digby had stepped aside, to consult upon some neighborly interest. Looking at the young people, the lady said, —
“All our pains and hopes are wasted. They have missed each other. I feared it. They got to over-refining. I begin to see the use and safety of commonmindedness. One may deal in ideals and subtleties till one destroys one’s sense of actualities and values. It is better to walk on the earth while we are of the earth.”
“ We missed each other thirty years ago because of stubborn material facts. Our children have missed from equally stubborn idealities. There is a half whimsical pathos in it. If we could go back, Eleanor, what should you do ? ”
“ I should follow my heart,” she said, without affectation or timidity. “ This is my formula, now : Follow your heart, and lift the rest of your life up to it.”
“It is a pity we cannot start in life as we end. Well, there is a joy of which age and fortune and failure cannot rob us.”
“ ' Welcome, Disappointment. Thy hand is cold and hard, but it is the hand of a friend,’ ” quoted Mrs. Birney, in serene tones.
He held out his hand, and she put her thin fingers into it.
“ Good-by, and God bless you.”
Walking rather silently back through the long winding way, now sentineled by shadows, the disappointment of the elder man so weighed upon him that he could not help speaking of it.
“ I thought you made for each other.”
“ Apparently we were not made for each other,” said Arthur as lightly as possible. “I admit that I thought so once, and I wished it, too. It seemed to me that there were materials for a first-class combustion, but — well, it was not to be. I shall find some one to love me better than Helen could, one of these days. That is the thing, sir, — to have a woman love you wholly.”
“You talk like a tired man. Don’t make a mistake. The delight of being loved is undeniable, but there is one thing better, — the joy of loving. This waiting to be loved seems to me the woman’s part. It is a dangerous thing for a man to stop at that. If a woman can’t make you unhappy, depend upon it she cannot make you happy.”
“ I have been through something of it, sir,” said Arthur, with the lofty superiority of youth.
“It is a pity a man can’t be challenged for saying ' Hm ! ’ even if he is your own lawful uncle. But a man need n’t be an uncle to know two or three things about his own feelings.”
“ How old are you, my little man ? ”
“ When you are thirty-nine, you ’ll wish you had.”
“ Dear old man,” said Arthur, laying his arm across the doctor’s shoulder, “do not grieve. It was n’t to be. She’s going to marry Atwood. I shall come to you very soon for your blessing,— on one knee, perhaps. And now, let us not speak of it again for a month.”
But as they passed the place where he had lain in a half sleep, and watched her walk toward him as if from another world, he said to himself,—
“ She lets him love her because he demands nothing more. Perhaps my uncle is right: that it is the woman’s part to be loved, and the man’s to have all the pain of loving. Will the passive part satisfy her ? ”
No one of us can say of his own experience that it is quite unique. The history of feeling between Arthur Digby and Helen Birney has, no doubt, many parallels, which have their bearing upon the discussion of the operation of attractions between young people. It is hard to say of an educated, finished, prosperous person of either sex how much is investiture and how much is original creation. We live so much in outward assumption, we so unconsciously wear the robes of opinion, custom, amiability, self-surrender to a hundred small demands, that it is possible never to stand upon the solid ground of our own natures. It may happen to even highly endowed minds to become merely the motive power for keeping in operation the conventionalisms of life. So whether, in this case, the attraction lay at the root of their natures, and was overlaid and hindered by cultivation of the exterior, or whether there was central antagonism, overcome, for a time, by community of taste and training, we do not know.
It had been, at one time, a drawn game, though Helen came out of it finally with no regrets and no doubts. She had, as she acknowledged, given audience to the suggestion that they might fall in love with each other, and was a little surprised that they did not. There was disappointment enough in the surprise to make her speculate over the reason, and linger a little over the conclusion. She had held him back a little, perhaps, but with the full knowledge that a genuine passion would find her irresponsiveness no serious obstacle, and with the fixed determination that he should have fair play It is the woman’s part to be prudent.
She had told herself that if he became unmistakably in love with her, it might kindle her own feelings to reciprocity, and for a time she had felt herself in supposititious peril ; a wholly fantastic attitude, which had the absurd and unphilosophical result of an effect without a real cause, since the same degree of timidity and reserve was added to her manner as would have followed from her actually finding herself especially interested in him.
But it had not entered her mind that the manifestation of a strong passion in him might have had a diametrically opposite effect, and that no amount of amiable acquiescence constitutes a real love. True, she had had a great, almost absorbing, admiration for him, — an admiration which, with a less exacting woman, might have been mistaken for affection; but Helen was too much accustomed to living in the contemplation of superior qualities, to mistake admiration for a deeper feeling.
May it, without profanity, be doubted whether a woman of her composition is likely to experience a love quite up to her intellectual and spiritual level ? Many a woman loves far, far above her mental grasp; but since there is an undoubted law of compensation at work, may it not be that a strong, aspiring woman is best suited in a love on a simpler plane ?
Why consider the point at all, since it has none of the material for a story or a drama ?
First, because it was a nine days’ wonder ; and therefore, secondly, because it is a curious point, and one well worth considering for a half hour, whether we may not weave of our sophistications a shroud for the happiness which might fairly have been ours ; and again, whether there be not a safer and broader road to elevation of soul and life than that which leads from a refined self-seeking. And it is legitimate matter for apprehension when two people, apparently qualified and undeniably disposed to find in each other such complete fitness for joyful participation in the best that life affords, should repel each other at the very point when their final fusion might almost be taken for granted.
That is said to be the music of heaven where different voices join in the same song. Lucky the souls on earth who, missing the high concord of unison, fall, like the two we have spoken of, upon such happy differences as make a pleasant harmony.