Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
They sat in the little cabin, where she had been reading some lines from the poem again--
"O easy access to the hearer's grace When Dorian shepherds sang to Proserpine!"
"Ah, yes!" he said. "But our lot was cast in a different time."
She put her hand upon his. "Even so," she said; and then turned the page, and read once more--
"What though the music of thy rustic flute Kept not for long its happy, country tone; Lost it too soon, and learnt a stormy note Of men contention-tost, of men who groan, Which task'd thy pipe too sore, and tired thy throat-- It failed, and thou wast mute! Yet hadst thou always visions of our light!"
Section 1. The _mise-en-scéne_ of their new adventure in domesticity was a tent eighteen feet by twelve; but as the side-walls were low, they could walk only in the centre, and must range their belongings at the sides. To the left, as one entered the tent, there stood a soapbox with a tiny oil-stove upon it; and then a stand, made out of a packing-box, to hold their dishes, their cooking-utensils and their limited supply of provisions. Next down the line came a trunk, and in the corner the baby's crib--which had been outgrown by the farmer's children, and purchased by Thyrsis for a dollar. At the rear was a folding-table, and above it a board from which Corydon hung her clothing; along the other wall were her canvas cot, and a little stand with some books, and a wash-stand and another trunk.
Some distance off in the woods stood a second tent, seven feet square, in which Thyrsis had a cot for himself, and also a canvas-chair in which he sat to receive the visits of his muse. They got their drinking water from a spring near by; there was a tiny stream beside the tent which provided their washing-water. In this stream Thyrsis hollowed out a flat basin, in which they might set their butter-crock, and a pail of milk, and a larger pail that held their meat. Below that was a deeper pool from which they dipped water, and lower yet a third pool, with a board on which Corydon might sit and wash diapers, to her heart's content and her back's exhaustion.
The tent had been old when Thyrsis got it, and as this was the third season he had used it, it was dark and dun of hue. They had not noticed this at the outset as they had put it up on a bright, sunshiny day, and also before the trees had put out all their foliage. But now, when rain came, they found that they had to light a lamp in order to read in the tent; and, of course, it was on rainy days that they had to be inside. Thyrsis did not realize the influence which this tent had upon his wife's spirits; it was only after he saw her made physically ill by having to live in a room with yellow wall-paper, that he came to understand the power which her surroundings had over Corydon.
If they'so much as touched a finger to the roof of the tent while it was raining, a steady dripping would come through at that point. Then, as the rains grew heavier, water took to running down the pole that stood in the centre of the tent, and formed a pool in the middle of the floor, so that Thyrsis had to get the axe and cut a hole there. And, of course, there was no way to dry anything; the woods, which were low, were turned into a swamp, and one's shoes became caked with mud, and there was no keeping the tent-floor clean.
In this place they had to keep an able-bodied, year-and-a-half-old baby! There was no other place to keep him. He could not be allowed on the damp floor, nor where he could touch the top of the tent; so Thyrsis set up sticks at all four corners of his crib, and tied strong twine about them, making a little pen; and therein they put the baby, and therein he had to stay. He had his rattle and his rubber-doll and his blocks and the rest of his gim-cracks; and after he had howled long enough to satisfy himself that there was no deliverance from his prison, he settled back and accepted his tragic fate. There came occasions when Corydon was sick, and unable to move; then Thyrsis would put up his umbrella and take Cedric to his own tent, where he would draw a chalk-line across the floor. One-half of the forty-nine square feet of space was his, and in it he would sit and read and study; in the other half the baby would play. After long experience he came to realize that at such times Papa would not pay any attention to him, and that crossing the chalk-line involved getting one's "mungies" spanked.
There were other troubles that fell upon them. At first, it being April, it was cold at night; and they had no stove, and no room for a stove. Later on the ceaseless rains brought a plague of mosquitoes; and so Thyrsis had to rig up a triangular door and cover the entrance to the tent with netting; and when the weather grew better, he had to get more netting and construct a little house, in which the baby could play outdoors. And then there had to be more spankings of "mungies", to teach the infant that this mysterious mosquito-bar must not be walked through, nor pulled at, nor poked with sticks, nor even eaten.
They prayed for fair days, and a little sunshine; and it seemed as if the weather-demons had discovered this, and were playing with them. There would come a bright morning, and they would spread a rug in the baby's cage, and hang out all their damp belongings to dry; and then would come a sudden shower, and baby and rug and belongings would all have to pile back into the tent. And then it would clear again, and everything would go out once more; and they would prepare dinner, and be comfortably settled to eat, when it would begin to sprinkle again. They would move in the clothing and the baby, and when it began to rain harder, they would move in the table and the food; and forthwith the rain would cease. Because it was poor fun eating in a dark tent by lamp-light, amid the odor of gas-stove and cooking, they might move out once more--but only to repeat the same experience over again.
For six weeks after their arrival there was not a day without rain, and it would rain sometimes for half a week without ceasing. So everything they owned became damp and mouldy--all their clothing, their food, the very beds upon which they slept. One of their miseries was the lack of place to keep things; all their odds and ends had to be stowed away under the cots--where one might find clothing, and books, and manuscripts, and a hammock, and an umbrella, and some shoes, and a box of prunes, and a sack of potatoes, and half a ham. When water got in at the sides of the tent and wet all these objects, and the bedclothing hung over the floor and got into them, it was trying to the temper to have to rummage there.
Section 2. Before she left the city Corydon had taken the baby to consult a famous "child-specialist"--at five dollars per consultation; she had received the dreadful tidings that Cedric was threatened with the "rickets". So she had come out to the country with one mighty purpose in her soul. "Under-nourishment", the doctor had said; and he had laid out a regular schedule. Six times daily the unhappy infant was to be fed; and each time some elaborate concoction had to be got ready--practically nothing could be eaten in a state of nature. The first meal would consist of, say a poached egg on a piece of toast, and the juice of an orange, with the seeds carefully excluded; the next of some chicken broth with a cracker or two, and the pulp of prunes with the skins removed; the next of some beef chopped up and pounded to a pulp and broiled, together with a bit of mashed potato or some other cooked vegetable; the next of some gruel, with cream and sugar, and some more prunes.
And these operations, of course, took the greater part of Corydon's day; she would struggle at them until she was ready to drop, and when she had to give up they would fall to Thyrsis. Some of them fell to him quite frequently--for instance, the pounding of the meat. It had to have all the fat and gristle carefully cut out; and there had to be a clean board, and a clean hammer, both of which must be scraped and washed afterwards; and whenever by any chance Corydon let the meat stay on the fire a second too long, so that it got hard, the whole elaborate operation had to be gone over again--was not the baby's life at stake?
It was quite vain for him to protest as to the pains that Corydon took to remove every tiniest fragment of the skin of a stewed prune. "Surely, dearest," he would argue, "the internal arrangements of a baby are not so delicate as to be torn by a tiny bit of prune-skin!"
But to Corydon the internal arrangements of babies were mysterious things--to be understood only by a child-specialist at five dollars per visit. "He told me what to do," she would say; "and I am going to do it."
So she would prepare the concoctions, and would sit and feed them to the baby, spoonful by spoonful; and long after the little one had been stuffed to the bursting-point, she would hold the spoon poised in front of its mouth, making tentative passes, and seeking by some device to cajole the mouth into opening and admitting one last morsel of the precious nutriment. The child had a word of its own inventing, wherewith it denoted things that were good to eat. "Hee, gubum, gubum!" he would exclaim; and Corydon would hold the spoon and repeat "Gubum, gubum,"--long after the baby had begun to sputter and gasp and make plain that it was no longer "gubum".
Also, under the instructions of the specialist, they made an attempt to break the child of the "hoodaloo mungie" habit. A baby should lie down and go to sleep without handling, the authority had declared; and now that there was all outdoors for him to cry in, they resolved that he should be taught. So they built up the fence about the crib, and laid the baby in for his afternoon nap, and started to go away. And the baby gave one look of perplexity and dismay, and then began to cry. By the time they had got out of the tent he was screaming like a creature possessed; and Corydon and Thyrsis sat outside and stared at each other in wonder and alarm. When she could stand it no more, they went away to a distance; but still the uproar went on. Now and then they would creep back and peep in at the purple and choking infant; and then steal away again, and discuss the phenomenon, and wish that the "child-specialist" were there to advise them. Finally, when the crying had gone on for two hours without a moment's pause, they gave up, because they were afraid the baby might cry itself into convulsions. And so the "hoodaloo mungie" habit went on for some time yet.
Under the "stuffing regime" the infant at first thrived amazingly; he became fat and rosy, and Corydon's heart beat high with joy and pride. But then came midsummer, and the hot season; and first of all a rash broke out upon the precious body, and in spite of powders and ointments, refused to go away. Later on came the "hives", with which the baby was spotted like the top of a pepper-crust. And then, as fate willed it, the family of a woman who did some laundry for Corydon developed the measles; and Corydon found it out too late--and so they were in for the first of a long program of "children's diseases".
It was a siege that lasted for a month and more--a nightmare experience. The child had to be kept in a dark place, under pain of losing its eyesight; and when it was very hot in the tent, some one had to sit and fan it. It could not sleep, but writhed and moaned, now screaming in torment, now whimpering like a frightened cur--a sound that wrung Thyrsis' very heart. And oh, the sight of the little body--purple, a mass of eruptions, and with beads of perspiration upon it! Corydon's mother came to help her through this ordeal, and would sit for hours upon hours, rocking the wailing infant in her arms.
Section 3. But there were ups as well as downs in this tenting adventure. There came glorious days, when they took long tramps over the hills; or when Thyrsis would carry the child upon his shoulder, and they would wander about the meadows, picking daisies and clover, and making garlands for Corydon. Once Cedric sat down upon a bumble-bee, and that was hard upon him, and perhaps upon the bee. But for the most part the little one was enraptured during these excursions. He was fascinated with the flowers, and continually seeking for an opportunity to devour some of them; while he was doing it he would wear such a roguish smile--it was impossible not to believe that he understood the agitation which these abnormal appetites occasioned in his parents. Corydon would be seized with a sudden access of affection, and she would clutch him in her arms and squeeze him, and fairly smother him with kisses. Of course the youngster would protest wildly at this, and so not infrequently the demonstration would end tragically.
"I can't have any joy in my baby at all!" she would lament; and Thyrsis would have to soothe the child, and plead with her to find more practical ways of demonstrating her maternal devotion.
Cedric was beginning to make determined efforts to talk now, and he had the most original names for things. His parents would adopt these into their own speech, which thus departed rapidly from established usage. They had to bring themselves to realize that if they went on in that fashion, the child would never learn to speak so that any one else could understand him. The grandmothers were most strenuous upon this point, and would laboriously explain to the infant that chickens and pigeons and sparrows were not all known as "ducky-ducks"; they would plead with it to say "bottle of milk", while its reckless parents were delighting themselves with such perversions as "bobbu mookie-mook."
Two or three times each week the farmer would bring their mail; and once a week they would hire an old scare-crow of a horse, and a buggy which might have passed for the one-horse shay in its ninety-ninth year, and drive to a town for provisions. It was amazing what loads of provisions a family of three could consume in the course of a week--especially when one of them was following the "stuffing regime". There had to be a lot of figuring done to get it for the sum of thirty dollars a month; and this put another grievous burden upon Thyrsis. Corydon, alas, had no talents for figuring, and was cursed with a weakness for such superfluities as clean laundry and coffee with cream. This was one more aspect of the difference between the Hebrew and the Greek temperament; and sometimes the Hebrew temperament would lose its temper, and the Greek temperament would take to tears. The situation was all the more complicated because of their pitiful ignorance. They really did not know what was necessity and what was luxury. For instance, Thyrsis had read somewhere that people could live without meat; but Corydon had never heard of such an idea, and insisted with vehemence that it was an absurdity.
However, there was no evading the issue of poverty; for the thirty dollars was all they had. "The Hearer of Truth" had been out several months now, and had not sold a thousand copies; and so it was to be doubted if Thyrsis would ever get another dollar from that. Also, he had heard from the translator of "The Genius", and had agreed to accept twenty-five dollars as an "honorarium" for the production of his play in Germany--this princely sum to be paid when the play came out during the following winter.
Meantime, of course, he was driving away at his new work. Domestic duties took up most of his morning; but he would get away into the woods in the afternoons, and in the evenings, when the family was asleep, he would work until far after midnight. He was bringing out basketfuls of books from the library of the university; and he lived another life in these--sharing, in a hundred different forms, the agony of the War. He was not writing yet; he was filling up his soul with the thing, making it a reservoir of impressions. Some times it would seem that the reservoir was nearly full, and he would be seized with a hunger to be at work; he would go about possessed by it--absent-minded, restless, nervous when he was spoken to. It was hard for a man who listened all night to the death-groans of the thousands piled up before "Bloody Angle", to get up in the morning and be satisfactory in the rôle of "mother's assistant".
Here, again was the torment of this matrimonial bond to a man who wished to be an artist. He had to live two lives, when one was more than he could attend to; he had to be always aware of another soul yearning for him, reaching out to him and craving his attention. To be sure, Corydon was interested in what he was doing; she even made heroic efforts to read the books that he was reading. But she had so many duties, and so many headaches; and when night came she was so tired! She would ask him to tell her about his vision; and was not the thing untellable? Why else did he have to labor day and night, like a man possessed? He would explain this to her, and she would bid him go on and do his work and not mind her. But when he would take her at her word, and there would follow a week or two of indifference and preoccupation--then he would discover that she was again unhappy.
Section 4. This never ceased to be the case between them; but perhaps it was intensified at this time by the fact that their sex-life had to be suppressed. This was a problem which they had talked out between them before they came away. Thyrsis, who was groping for the truth about these matters, had come to the conclusion that the factor which gave dignity and meaning to intercourse between a man and woman was the desire, or at any rate the willingness, to create a child. Corydon was not sure that she agreed with him in this; but so far as their own case was concerned, it was quite clear that they could take no remotest chance of any accident--another child would mean certain destruction for all three of them. And so they had gone back to the "brother and sister" arrangement with which they had begun life. This was a simple matter for Thyrsis, who was utterly wrapped up in his book; it was not so simple for Corydon, though neither of them realized it, nor could have been brought to admit it. As usual, Corydon desired to be what he was, and to feel what he felt; and so Thyrsis did not realize how another side of her was being blighted. Hers was predominantly a love-nature; it was intolerable to her that any one she loved should not love her in return, and love her in the same way, and to the same extent; and now, when her entire being went out to him, she found herself obliged to suppress her emotions.
Sometimes the thing would break out in spite of her.
"Thyrsis," she would cry, "aren't you going to kiss me good-night?"
"Didn't I kiss you, dearest?" he would answer.
"Oh, but such a cold and perfunctory kiss!"
And so he would come and put his arms about her; but even while she held him thus, she would feel the life go out of his caresses, and see his eyes with a far-off expression. She would know that his thoughts were away upon some battle-field.
"Tell me, Thyrsis," she would exclaim. "Do you really love me?"
"Yes, dear," he would reply. "I love you."
"But how _much_ do you love me?"
And then he would be dumb. What a question to ask him! As if he had the time and the energy to climb to those heights, to speak again that difficult language! Had he not told her a thousand times how much he loved her! and could she not believe it and understand it?
"But why should it be so hard to tell me?" she would protest.
And he would answer that to him it was a denial of love to explain or to make promises. He was as unchangeable as the laws of nature--he could no more be faithless to her soul than he could to his own.
"I want you to take that for granted," he would say; "to know it as you know that the sun will rise to-morrow morning."
"But, Thyrsis," she would answer, when he used this metaphor, "don't people sometimes like to go out and see the sun rise?"
Section 5. The summer passed; and Thyrsis found to his dismay that his relentless muse had not yet permitted him to write a word. He had not a sufficient grasp upon his mighty subject--nor for that matter had he freedom to get by himself and wrestle it out. He shrunk from that death-grapple, while they were in this unsettled state. They could not stay in tents through the winter-time; and where were they to go?
Thyrsis was consumed with the desire to build a tiny house in these woods. He had roamed the country over, without finding any place that was habitable; and besides, he did not want to pay rent--he wanted a home of his own, however humble. He had meant to build one with the money from "The Hearer of Truth"; but now there came a statement from the publisher, showing that there would be due him on the book a trifle over eleven dollars!
He tried a new plan. He wrote out a "scenario" of his projected novel, and sent this to his publisher, to see if he could get a contract in advance. He asked for five hundred dollars--with that he could build the house he wanted, and live for another six months, until the book was done. The publisher wrote him to come to the city, where, after some parleying, he submitted a proposition; he would advance the money and publish the book, paying ten per cent. royalty; but he must also have the option to publish the author's future writings for ten years upon the same basis.
This rather staggered Thyrsis. He was business-man enough by this time to realize that if he ever had a real success he could get fifteen or twenty per cent. upon his future work--there were even some authors who got twenty-five per cent. And moreover, he did not like to tie himself to this publisher, who was of the hard and grasping type. He went home to think it over, and in the end he wrote to Henry Darrell. He set forth the situation, and showed how much money it might mean to him--money which he would otherwise be able to devote to some useful purpose. It all depended upon what Darrell could do in the emergency.
He waited three weeks, and then came Darrell's reply, saying that he could not possibly do what Thyrsis wished. There were so many calls upon him--the Socialist paper was in trouble, and so on. Thereupon Thyrsis wrote to the publisher to say that he accepted the offer and would sign the contract; but in a couple of days he received a curt reply, to the effect that the publisher had changed his mind, and no longer cared to consider the arrangement. He had, as Thyrsis found afterwards, got rid of the enthusiastic young man who had inveigled him into "The Hearer of Truth"; and perhaps also he had been reading the ridicule which the critics were pouring out upon that unhappy book.
So once more Thyrsis wrote to Darrell--a letter of agonized entreaty. He was at the most critical moment of his life; and now, at the very culmination of his effort, to have to give up would be a calamity he could simply not contemplate. If only he could finish the task, he would be saved; for this was a book that would grip men and shake them--that it should fail was simply unthinkable. He could make out with two hundred dollars; and he besought his friend at any sacrifice to stand by him. He asked him to cable; and when, a couple of weeks later, the message came--"all right"--to Thyrsis it was like waking up and escaping from the grip of some terrible dream.
Section 6. And so began the house-building. It was high time, too--the latter part of September, and the nights were growing chill. He sought out a carpenter to help him, and had an interview with his friend the farmer, who agreed to rent a bit of land, in a corner of his orchard, by the edge of the wood. It was under the shade of a great elm-tree, and sufficiently remote from all the world to satisfy the taste of any literary hermit.
For months before this he and Corydon had discussed the plans of their future home; every square inch of it had been a subject of debate. In its architectural style it was a compromise between Corydon's aesthetic yearnings, and the rigid standards of economy which circumstance imposed. It was to be eighteen feet long and sixteen feet wide--six feet high at the sides and nine in the centre. It was to be "weather-boarded", and roofed with paper, instead of shingles--this being so much cheaper. Corydon heard with dismay that it would be necessary to paint this roofing-paper black; and Thyrsis, by way of compensation, agreed that the weather-boards should have some "natural finish", instead of common paint. There was to be a six-foot piazza in front, and a little platform in back, with steps descending to the spring.
There had been long discussions about the method of heating the mansion. Corydon had been observing the customs of her neighbors in this typical "small-farming" district, and declared that they had two leading characteristics: first, they were not happy until they had had all their own teeth extracted, and a complete set of "store-teeth" substituted; and second, as soon as they moved into a house, they boarded over the open fire-place and covered the boards with wall-paper. But Thyrsis, making investigations along practical lines, found that the open fire-place had a bad reputation as a consumer of fuel; and also, it would take a mason to build a chimney, and the wages of masons were high. So Corydon had to reconcile herself to a house with a stove, and a stove-pipe that went through a hole in the wall!
Nevertheless this house-building time was one of the happiest periods of their lives. For here was something constructive, in which they could both be occupied. Thyrsis would be up and at work early in the morning, before the carpenter came; and in between the baby's various meals, Corydon would come also, and take part in the operations. A miraculous thing it was to see the house of their dreams coming into being, with every feature just as they had planned it. And what a palatial structure it was--with so much space and air! One could actually move about in it without danger of striking one's head; coming into it from the tent, one felt as if he were entering a cathedral!
They were so consumed with a desire to see it finished, that Thyrsis would stay at the work until darkness came upon him, and sometimes even worked by moon-light, or with a lantern. And how proud they would be when the carpenter came next morning, and found the last roof-boards laid, or the flooring all completed! Thyrsis learned the mysteries of window-sills and door-frames, the excitements of "weather-boarding," and the perils of roof-painting. He realized with wonder how many achievements of civilization the privileged classes take as a matter of course. What a remarkable thing it was, when one came to think of it, that a door should swing true upon its hinges, and fit exactly into its frame, and latch with a precise and soul-satisfying snap! And that windows should slide up and down in their frames, and stop at certain places with a spring-catch!
Corydon too was interested in these discoveries, and became skilled at holding weather-boards while her husband nailed them, and at helping to unroll and measure roofing-paper, and climbing up the ladder and holding it in place. Even the baby became fired with the spirit of achievement, and would get himself a hammer and a board, and plague his parents until they started a dozen or so of nails for him--after which he would sit and blissfully pound them into the board, and all but pound them through the board in his enthusiasm. Before long he even learned to start them himself; and a most diverting sight it was to see this twenty-two-months old youngster driving nails like an infant Hercules. For the fastening of the roofing-paper they used little circular plates of tin called "cotterels"; and these also Cedric must learn to use. So a new phrase was added to the vocabulary of "dam-fool talk". "Bongie cowtoos" was the name of the operation; for a couple Of years thereafter, whenever Corydon and Thyrsis wished to be let alone to discuss the problems of the universe, they would get the baby a hammer and some nails and a board, and repeat that magic formula, and the problem was solved.
Unfortunately, however, it was not all smooth sailing in the carpentry-business. There were mashed thumbs and sawed fingers; and then, in an evil hour, Thyrsis came upon an advertisement which told of a wonderful new kind of wall-paper which could be applied directly to laths--thus enabling one to dispense with plaster. He sent for ten or twelve dollars' worth of this material, and he and Corydon spent a whole morning making a mixture of glue and flour-paste and water, and boiling it in an iron preserving-kettle. But alas, the paper would not paste; and then they had a painful time. Corydon gave up in disgust, and went away; but Thyrsis, to whom economy was a kind of disease, would not give up, and was angry with the other for urging him to give up. He spent a whole day wrestling with the concoction, and gave himself a headache with the ghastly odor. But in the end he had to dump it out, and clean the kettle, and fasten the paper to the lathes with "bongie cowtoos". As the strips of paper did not correspond with the studding, he found himself driving nails into springy laths, an operation most trying to the temper of any man of letters. One of the trials of this house forever after was that upon the least jar a corner of the ceiling was liable to fall loose; and then one would have to get a ladder, and climb up into a hot region, and pound nails into a broken lath, with dust sifting down into one's eyes, and the hammer hitting one's sore thumb, and occasioning exclamations not at all suitable for the ears of a two-year-old intelligence.
Section 7. When the doors were fitted, and the windows set in, and the piazza laid, and the steps built, they got down to the furniture, which was also to be home-made. Thyrsis was gratified beyond telling by these tables and dressing-stands and shelves and book-cases, which he could build of hemlock boards in an hour or two, and which cost only thirty or forty cents apiece. He would labor with Corydon to induce her to share this joy; but alas, he would only succeed in losing his own joy, without increasing hers. On many occasions he attempted such things as this; it was only after long years that he came to realize that Corydon's temperament was the one fixed fact in the universe with which he had to deal.
Two hundred and twenty-five dollars was the total cost of this establishment when completed. And while the carpenter was putting the finishing touches, Thyrsis was using up thirty dollars more of lumber in constructing himself a "study" in the woods near by. Eight by ten this cabin was to be; it was to have a door and a window, and a little piazza in front, upon which the inhabitant might sit in fair weather. Also Thyrsis built for it a table and a bookcase; and as he had now eighty square feet instead of forty-nine, there was room for a cot and a chair, and a coal-stove fourteen inches in diameter. As fate would have it, there was some black paint left over; and to Corydon's horror it was announced that this would be used on the study. However, Thyrsis insisted that it was _his_ study; and besides, there was some red paint left, with which he might decorate the window and the door-frame, and stripe the edges of the roof and the corners. Surely that would be festivity enough for the most exacting of Greek temperaments!
Then came the rapturous experience of moving into these new mansions. The joy of having shelves to put things on, and hooks to hang things from. Of being able to take books and manuscripts out of their trunks, and not pile them under their beds. Of carrying over their belongings, and having everything fit into the place that had been made for it!
Thyrsis purchased an old stove, and also a kitchen-range from a neighbor; he sank a barrel in the spring, and walled it round with cement; he built a stand in the kitchen, and set up a sink and a little pump.
This was the time of year when there were held at various places in the country what the neighbors called "vandews". He and Corydon found it diverting to get the scarecrow nag and the one-horse shay, and drive to some farm-house, where one might see the history of a family for the last fifty years spread out upon the lawn. They would stand round in the cold and snow while the auctioneer disposed of the horses and cows and hay and machinery, waiting until he came to the household objects upon which they had set their eye. So they would invest in some stove-pipe, and a couple of ghastly chromos (for the sake of the frames), and some odds and ends of crockery, and a spade, and some old rope to make a swing for the baby. They would get these things for five or ten cents each, and get in addition all the excitements of the bargain-hunt.
Once they had a real adventure--they came upon a wonderful old "grandfather's clock", about six feet high; and Corydon exclaimed in rapture, "Oh Thyrsis I'd be happy for the rest of my life if we could have that clock!" On such terms it appeared to Thyrsis that the clock might be worth making a sacrifice for, and he got up the courage to declare that he would offer as high as five dollars for it. And so they stood, trembling with excitement, and waiting.
"Don't lose it, even if it's as high as six dollars!" whispered Corydon; but alas, the first bid for the clock was twenty-five dollars. They stood staring with dismay, until the treasure was sold to a dealer from the city for the incredible sum of eighty-seven dollars; and then they drove home, quite awe-stricken by this sudden intrusion from the world of luxury outside their ken.
Section 8. However, this disappointment did not trouble them for long; there were too many luxuries in their own home. Not very long after it was finished, there fell a deluge of rain; and what a delight it was to listen to it, and know that they were safe from it! That not only did they have a dry roof over their head--but they were able to move about, and to reach up their hands without peril, and to sit down and read without a lamp! They would stand by the window with their arms about each other, watching the rain beating upon the fields, and dripping from the elm tree, and flowing in torrents past the house; they would listen to it pounding overhead and streaming off the roof before their faces. They were dry, quite dry! All their belongings were dry--their shoes were not mildewing, their books were not getting soft and shapeless, their bed-clothing would be all right when night came!
The down-pour lasted for three whole days, yet they enjoyed it all. It proved to be a memorable rain to Corydon, for it brought to her a great occasion--the beginning of her poetical career. It happened late one night, when, as usual, the cry of "hoodaloo mungie" awakened her from a sound slumber. The day had been a particularly hard one, and the heaviness of exhaustion was upon her. For a moment she stared up into the darkness, listening to the rain close above her, and trying to nerve herself to put out her arm in the cold. She shuddered at the thought; there came to her a perfectly definite impulse of hatred--hatred of the child, of its noise and its demands. She had felt it before--sometimes as a dull, cold dislike, sometimes as something passionate. Why should she have to sacrifice herself to this insatiable creature, whom she did not love? What did it matter to her if other women loved their children? She had wanted life--and was this life? At that moment the cry of "hoodaloo-mungie" symbolized for her all the sordid cares and nervous agony of her existence.
And suddenly, unexpectedly, a daring impulse seized her. "No!" she thought, and set her teeth--"I'll let him cry! I'll cure him of this--and I'll do it to-night!" So she turned and told Cedric to go to sleep; at which, of course, the child began to scream.
Corydon lay very still in the dark, her eyes wide and every nerve tense. She could not feel, she could not think; it seemed as though she were deprived of every sense except that of hearing; and in her, through her, and around her rang a senseless din, piercing, intense, increasing in volume every minute, and completely drowning out the beating of the rain.
"Can I stand it?" she thought. "Or will his lungs burst? And yet, I must, I must--this can't go on forever! "And so she clenched her hands and waited. But the sounds did not diminish in the slightest; ten minutes twenty minutes must have passed, and the baby only seemed to gain increased power with each crescendo.
It seemed to Corydon at last as though she had always lain like this, and as though she must for endless time. She found herself getting used to it even; her muscles relaxed. There came to her a sense of the ludicrous side of it. "He means to conquer me!" she thought. "Can I hold out? If I only had something to think about, then I'd be a match for him." And suddenly the inspiration came to her. "I'll write a poem!"
What should it be about? The rain had been increasing in violence, and she became conscious of the steady downpour; it fascinated her, and she concentrated her attention upon it, and began---
"I am the rain, that comes in spring!"
The poem was simple and optimistic--it told of the beneficent qualities of rain, as it would appear to one whose roof did not leak. Somewhere in the course of it there was this stanza:
"I am the rain that comes at night, When all in slumber is folded light-- Save one by weary vigils worn Who counteth the drops unto the morn."
There were eight stanzas altogether, and when she finished the last of them the dawn was breaking, and it seemed hours since she had begun. As for the baby, he was still crying. She turned and peered at him; his eyelids drooped, and the crying came in spasms and gasps--it sounded very feeble, and a trifle perfunctory. Obviously he could not hold out much longer; Corydon would win, yes, she had won already. She lay still, and thrills of happiness went through her. Was it the poem, or the thought of her release, and the nights of quiet sleep in the future?
When Thyrsis came in, an hour or two later, he found her huddled up in blankets on the floor of the living-room, her cheeks bright, her hair dishevelled. How fascinating she looked in such a guise! She was eagerly pondering her poem; and the baby was sleeping quietly, save for a few convulsive gasps, the last stragglers of his routed forces.
"And oh, Thyrsis," she exclaimed, "to-morrow night he will only cry half as long, and still less the next night. And soon he will go to sleep quietly like any well brought-up, civilized baby. And, my dear, I believe I'm going to be a poetess--I think that to-night I was really inspired!"
So he made haste to build a fire, and then came and sat and listened to the poem. How eagerly she waited for his verdict! How she hung upon his words! And what should a man do in such a case--should he be a husband or a critic? Should he be an amateur or a professional?
But even as he hesitated, the damage was done. "Oh, you don't like it!" she cried. "You don't think it's good at all!"
"My dear," he argued, "poetry is such a difficult thing to write. And there are so many standards--a thing can be good, and yet not good! The heights are so far away--"
"But oh, how can I ever get there," wailed Corydon, "if nobody gives me any encouragement?"
Section 9. The time had now come for Thyrsis to put his job through. There was no longer any excuse for hesitation or delay. The book had come to ripeness in him; the birth-hour was at hand, and he must go and have it out with himself. He explained these things to Corydon, sitting beside her and holding her hands; they ascended once more to the heights of consecration; they renewed their vows of fortitude and faith, and then he went away.
For weeks thereafter he would be like the ghost of a man in the house, haggard and silent and preoccupied. All the work that he had ever done in his life seemed but child's play in comparison. Before this he had portrayed the struggles of men and women; but now he was to portray the agony of a whole nation--his heart must beat with the pulse of millions of suffering people. And the task was like a fiend that came upon him in the night-time and laid hold of him, dragging him away to sights of terror and madness. He was never safe from the thing for a moment--he could never tell when it might assail him. He might be washing the dishes, or wrestling with the refractory pump; but the vision would come to him, and he would wander off into the forest--perhaps to sit, crouching in the snow, trembling, and staring at the pageant in his soul.
He lived in the midst of battles; the smoke of powder always in his nostrils, the crash of musketry and the thunder of cannon in his ears. He saw the cavalry sweeping over the plains, the infantry crouching behind intrenchments; he heard the yells of the combatants, the shrieks of the wounded and dying; he saw the mangled bodies, and the ground slippery with blood. New aspects of the thing kept coming to him--new glimpses into meanings yet untold. They would come to him in great bursts of emotion, like tempests that swept him away; and these things he had to wrestle with and master. It meant toil, the like of which he had never faced before, a tension of all his faculties, that would last for hours and hours, and leave him bathed in perspiration, and utterly exhausted.
A scene would come to him, in some moment of insight; and he would drop everything else, and follow it. He would go over it, at the same time both creating and beholding it, at the same time both overwhelmed by it and controlling it--but above all things else, remembering it! He would be like Aladdin in the palace, stuffing his pockets with priceless jewels; coming away so loaded down that he could hardly stagger, and spilling them on every side. Then, scarcely pausing to rest, he would go back after what he had lost; he would grope about, gathering diamonds and rubies that he had all but forgotten--or perhaps coming upon new vaults and new treasure-chests.
So he would labor over a description, going over it and over it, not so much working it out, as letting it work itself out and stamp itself upon his memory. It made no difference how long the scene might be, he would not write a word of it; it might be some battle- picture, that would fill thirty or forty pages--he would know it all by heart, as Demosthenes or Webster might have known an oration. And only at the end would he write it down.
Over some of the scenes in this new book he labored thus for two or three weeks at a stretch; there would be literally not a moment of the day, nor perhaps of the night, when the thing was not working in some part of his mind. He would think about it for hours before he fell asleep; and when he opened his eyes it would be waiting at his bedside to pounce upon him. If he tried for even a few minutes to rest, or to divert his mind to some other work, he would find himself ill at ease and troubled, with a sense as of something pulling at him, calling to him. And if anything came to interrupt him, then he would be like a baker whose oven grows cold before the bread is half done--it would be a sad labor making anything out of that batch of bread.
Section 10. And this work he had to do as a married man, the father of a family and the head of a household; living with a child who was one incessant and irrepressible demand for attention, and a wife who was wrestling with weakness and sickness--eating out her heart in cruel loneliness, and cowering in the grip of fiends of melancholia and despair!
He had thought that when they moved into the new home, their domestic trials would be at an end. But now the cruel winter fell upon them. They had never known what a winter in the country was like; they came to see why the farmer had protested against their building in such a remote place. There were many days when they could not get to town, and some when they could not even get to the farm-house. Also there was the pump, which was continually freezing, and necessitating long and troublesome operations before they could get any water.
It was, as fate would have it, the worst winter in the oldest inhabitant's memory. The farmer's well froze over on three occasions, and it had never frozen before, so he declared. For such weather as this they were altogether unprepared; they had only a wood-stove, and could not keep a fire all night; and the cheap blankets they had bought were made all of cotton, and gave them almost no protection. They would not sleep with the windows down; and so, for weeks at a time, they would go to bed with their clothing, even their overcoats on; and would pile curtains and rugs upon these--and even so, they would waken at two or three o'clock in the morning, shivering and chilled to the bone.
And in this icy room they would have to get up and build a fire; and it might be half an hour before they could get the house warm. Also, they had no facilities for bathing; and so little by little they began to lose their habits of decency--there were days when Corydon left her face unwashed, and forgot to brush her hair. Everyday, it seemed, they slipped yet further down the grade. Thyrsis would work until he was faint and exhausted, and then he would come over, and find there was nothing ready to eat. By the time that he and Corydon had cooked a meal, they would both of them be ravenous, and they would sit and devour their food like a couple of savages. Then, because they had over-eaten, they would have to rest before they cleared things away; and like as not Thyrsis would get to thinking about his work, and go off and leave everything--and the dishes and the food might stay up on the table until the next meal. There was nearly always a piled-up mass of dishes and skillets and sauce-pans in the house--to Thyrsis these soiled dishes were the original source of the myth of Sisyphus and his labor.
And then there was the garbage-pail that he had forgotten to empty, and the lamps he had neglected to fill, and the slop-pails and the other utensils of domesticity. There were the diapers that somebody had to wash--and outside was always the bitter, merciless cold, that drove them in and shut them up with all this horror. The time came, as the winter dragged on, when the house which they had built with so many sacrifices, and into which they had moved with such eager anticipations, came to seem to them like a cave in which a couple of wild beasts cowered for shelter.
Section 11. There was another great change which this cold weather effected in their lives; it broke down the barriers they had been at such pains to build up between them. It was all very well for them to agree that they were "brother and sister," and that it was impossible for them ever to think of anything else. But now came a time when night after night the thermometer went to ten or fifteen degrees below zero; and first Thyrsis gave more bedding to Corydon--because she was able to suffer more than he; and he would go over to his cold hut alone, and crawl into a cold bed, and lie there the whole night through without a wink of sleep. But then, as the cold held on for a week or more, the resistance of both of them was broken down--they were like two animals which crawl into the same hole to keep each other from freezing. They piled all their bedding upon one narrow cot; and sleeping thus, they could be warm. Even then, they tried to keep to the resolution they had made; but this, it seemed, was not within the power of flesh and blood; and so, once more, the sex-factor was introduced into the complications of their lives.
To Thyrsis this thing was like some bird of prey that circled in the sky just above him--its shadow filling him with a continual fear, the swish of its wings making him cringe. He was never happy about it; there was no time in his life when he was not in a state of inward war. His intellect rebelled; and on the other hand, there was a part of his nature that craved this sex-experience and welcomed it--and this part, it seemed, was favored by all the circumstances of life. There was no chance to settle the matter in the light of reason, to test it by any moral or aesthetic law; blind fate decreed that one part of him should have the shaping of his character, the determining of his needs.
He tried to make clear to himself the basis of his distrust. Sexual intercourse as a habit--this was the formula by which he summed it up to himself. To be right, to win the sanction of the intellect and the conscience, the sex-act must be the result of a supreme creative impulse. Its purpose was the making of a new soul--and this could never be right until those who took that responsibility had used their reasons, and determined that circumstances were such that the new soul might be a sound and free and happy and beautiful soul. And how different was this from the customs which prevailed under the sanction of the "holy bonds of matrimony"! When sexual intercourse became a self-indulgence, like the eating of candy, or the drinking of liquor; a thing of the body, and the body alone; a thing determined by physical propinquity, by the sight and contact of the flesh, the dressing and undressing in the same room!
Then again, the means which they had to use to prevent conception--which destroyed all spontaneity in their relationship, and dragged the thing out into the cold light of day! And the continual fear that they might have made another blunder! Something of this sort was always happening, or seeming to have happened, or threatening to have happened, so that they waited each month in suspense and dread. It was this which made the terror of the whole matter to Thyrsis, and had so much to do with his repugnance. They were like people drawing lots for a death-sentence; like people who ate from dishes, one of which they knew to contain poison. What was the tragic destiny that hung over them--the Nemesis that gripped them, and forced them to take such a chance?
But the barriers were down, and there was no building them up again; Thyrsis never even tried, because of the revelation which came to him from Corydon's side. Corydon was craving, reaching out hungrily for something which she had not in herself, and which life did not give her in sufficiency. She called this thing "love"; and she had no hesitations and no limits to her demand for it. To Thyrsis this "love" was something quite else--it was sustenance and support. To demand it was an act of weakness, and to yield it was a kind of spiritual blood-transfusion. It was the first law of his life-code that every soul must stand upon its own feet and walk its own way; and to surrender that spiritual autonomy was the one blunder for which there could be no pardon.
But then--he would argue with himself--what folly it was to talk of such things in their position! They not souls at all--the life of the soul was not for them, the laws of the soul had nothing to do with them. They were two bodies--two miserable and cold and sick and tormented bodies; and with yet a third body, utterly helpless and dependent upon them--in defiance of all the most high-sounding pronouncements about "the soul"!
So Thyrsis would mock himself into subjection once more, and go on to play his part as husband and father and head of a household of bodies. He would play the game of "love" as Corydon wanted it played; he would yield to her demands, he would gratify her cravings, he would force himself to take her point of view. But then the other mood would come upon him--the mood that he knew to be the real expression of himself. He would begin the battle of his genius again; he would "hear the echoes afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting". If one gave one's self up to the body, and accepted the regimen and the laws of the body, how should the soul ever come to be free? To make such a concession was to pass upon it a sentence of life-imprisonment!
So would come to Thyrsis again that sense of the awful tragedy that was impending in their lives. Some day, he knew, he would break out of this prison. Some day, he knew, he would have to be himself, and live his own life!
And meanwhile, how pitiful were Corydon's attempts to shape him to her needs, and to persuade herself that she was succeeding in doing it! She would set forth to him elaborately how much he had improved; how much gentler and more human he was--in contrast with that blind and stupid and egotistical and impossible person she had first known. And with what bitterness Thyrsis would hear this--and how he had to struggle to suppress his feeling! For he knew that those qualities which were so hateful to her, were but the foam cast up to the surface of his soul by the seething of his genius within. When it had ceased altogether, how placid and still would be the pool-and what a beautiful mirror it would make for Corydon to behold her own features in!
Section 12. In later years they used to discuss this problem, and they could never be sure what would have happened in their lives--what would have been the reaction of their different temperaments--if they had been given any fair chance to live and grow as they wanted to. But here they were, mashed together in this stew-pot of domesticity, with all the most unlovely aspects of things forced continually upon their attention. Each was in some way a handicap and a torment to the other--a means which fate used to limit and crush and destroy the other; and as ever, they had in their hours of anguish no recourse save to sit down and reason it out together, and absolve each other from blame.
Thyrsis invented a phrase whereby he might make this point clear to Corydon, and keep it in her thoughts. The phrase was "the economic screw"; it pressed upon him, and through him it crushed her. All things that he sought to be and could not be, all things that he would not be and was; all that was hard and unloving in him--his irritability and impatience, his narrowness and bitterness--in all this he showed her that cruel force that was destroying them both.
It was a hard rôle for Thyrsis, to be the judge and the jury and the executioner of the stern will of this "economic screw". There was, for instance, the episode of the "turkey-red table-cover", which became a classic in their later lives. Corydon was always chafing at the bareness of their little home; and going into the shops in the town, and discovering things which might have made it lovely. One evil day she went alone; and when she came back, Thyrsis, as usual, pounced upon his mail, and came upon a letter from a magazine-editor whom he had been trying to please with an article, and who now scolded him mercilessly for his obstinacy and his egotism and his didacticism, and all his other unpublishable qualities. Then came the unwrapping of the bundles, and Corydon's guileless and joyful announcement that she had come upon a wonderful bargain in the dry-goods store, a beautiful piece of "turkey-red" cloth which would serve as the table-cover for which her soul had been pining--and which she had obtained for the incredibly small sum of thirty cents!
Whereupon, of course, Thyrsis began to exclaim in dismay. Thirty cents was a third of all they had to live upon for a day! And to pay it for a fool piece of rag for which they had no earthly need! So Corydon sank down in the middle of the floor and dissolved in floods of tears; and at the next trip into town the "turkey-red table-cover" was returned, and over the bare board table there were new expositions of the theory of the "economic screw"!
To these arguments Corydon would listen and assent. With her intellect she was at one with him, and she strove to make this intellect supreme. But always, deep underneath, was the other side of her being, that had nothing to do with intellect, but was pure primitive impulse--and that pushed and drove in her always, and carried her away the moment that intellect loosened its brake. Corydon was ashamed of this primitive self--she was always repudiating it, always shutting her eyes to it. There was no way to wound her so deeply as to posit its reality and identify it with her.
She was always fighting to make her temperament like Thyrsis'; she despised her own temperament utterly, and set up his qualities as her ideal. He was self-contained and masterful; he knew what he wanted and how to get it; he was not dependent upon anyone else, he needed no one's approval or admiration; he could control his emotions, and destroy those that inconvenienced him. So Corydon must be these things also; she _was_ these things, and no one must gainsay it! And if ever she had felt or wished or said or done anything else--that was all misunderstanding or delusion or accident; she would repudiate it with grief and indignation, and proclaim herself the creature of pure reason that every person ought to be!
But then would come something that appealed to her emotions--to her love of beauty, her craving for joy; and there in a flash was the primitive self again. The task of compelling Corydon to economy reminded her husband of a toy which had been popular in his childhood days. The name of it was "Pigs in Clover"; there were five little balls which you had to coax into a narrow entrance, and while you were getting the last one in, the other four were almost certain to roll out. It was a labor of hours to get Corydon to recognize an unpleasant fact; and then--the next day she had forgotten it. There were some things about himself and his life that he could never get her to understand; for instance, his preoccupation with the newspaper--that symbol of all that was hateful in life. Just then was the beginning of the Russian revolution; and to Thyrsis the Russian revolution was like the coming of relief to a shipwrecked mariner. It was a personal thing to him--the overthrow of a horror that pressed upon the life of every human being upon earth. And so each day he hungered for the news, and when the paper came he would pounce upon it.
"Now dearest," he would say, "please don't disturb me. I want to read."
"All right," she would answer; and five minutes would pass.
Then--"Do you want potatoes for supper, Thyrsis?"
"Yes, dear. But I'm reading now."
"All right." And then another five minutes.
"Thyrsis, who was Boadicea?"
"I'm reading now, dearest."
"Oh yes." And then another five minutes.
"Thyrsis, do you spell choke with an a?"
At which Thyrsis would put down the paper. "Tell me, Corydon--isn't there something I can do so that you won't interrupt me?"
Instantly a look of pain would sweep across her face. "Do you have to speak to me like that, Thyrsis? If you'd only just tell me, kindly and pleasantly--"
"But I've told you three or four times!'
"Thyrsis! How can you say that?"
"But didn't I?"
"Why, of course not!"
And then they would have an argument. He would bring up each case and confront her with it; and how very unloving a procedure was that--and how exasperating was his manner as he did it!
Section 13. Then again, Corydon would be going into town to do some shopping; and he would ask her to bring out the afternoon paper. It would be the day of the October massacre, for instance; and he be on fire for the next batch of news. He would explain this to her; he would tell her again and again--whatever else she forgot, she must remember the afternoon paper. He would walk out to meet her, burning with impatience; and he would ask for the paper, and see a blank look come over her face.
Then, of course, he would scold. He had certain phrases--"How perfectly unspeakable! Perfectly paralyzing!" How she hated these phrases!
"I had so many things to get!" she would exclaim.
"But only one thing for me, Corydon!"
"Everything is for you--just as much as for myself! All these groceries--look at the bundles! I haven't had a single moment--"
"But how many moments does it take to buy a newspaper?"
"And how many times would I have to tell you? Have I got to go into town myself, just for the sake of a newspaper?"
"I tell you I tried my very best to remember it--"
"But what's the matter with you? Is your mind getting weak?"
And then like as not Corydon would burst into tears. "Oh, I think you are a brute!" she would cry. "A perfect brute!"
Or else, perhaps, she would grow angry, and they would rail at each other, exchanging recriminations.
"I think I have burdens enough in my life," he would exclaim. "I've a right to some help from you."
"You have no sense of proportion!" she would answer. "You are impossible! You would drive any saint to distraction."
"Perhaps so. But I can't drive you anywhere, and I'm sick of trying."
"Oh, if you only weren't such a talker! You talk--talk--talk!"
And all the while they did this, what grief was in the depths of them! And afterwards, what ghastly wounds in Corydon's soul, that had to be bound up and tended and healed! The pity of it; the shame of it--that they should be able to descend to such sordidness! That their love, which they had planned as a noble temple, should turn out an ugly hovel!
"Oh Thyrsis!" the girl would cry. "The idea that you should think less of my soul than of an old newspaper!"
"But that is not so, dearest," he would answer. He would try to explain to her how much the newspaper had meant to him, and just why his annoyance had got the better of him. So they would rehearse the scene over again; and like as not their irritation would sweep over them, and before they realized it they would find themselves disputing once more.
Thyrsis would be making a desperate attempt to bring her to a realization of his difficulties; he would be in the midst of pouring out some eloquence, when she would interrupt him.
"But Thyrsis, wait a moment--you do not understand!"
"I am speaking!" he would say.
"I am speaking!" He would not be interrupted.
But then would come a time when they sat down together and talked all this out, perceiving it as one more aspect of the disharmony of their temperaments. It no fault of either of them, they would agree; it was just that they were different. Thyrsis had a simile that he used--"It's a marriage between a butterfly and a hippopotamus. You don't blame the butterfly because it can't get down into the water and snort; and on the other hand, when the hippopotamus tries to flap his wings and flit about among the flowers, he doesn't make a success of it."
There would be times when he took Corydon's point of view entirely. She was beautiful and good; her naïveté and guilelessness were the essence of her charm and how preposterous it was to expect her to think about newspapers, or to be familiar with the price of beefsteaks! As for him--he was a blundering creature, dull and pragmatical; he was a great spiny monster that she had drawn up from the ocean-depths. She would cut off his spines, but at once they grew out again; she could do nothing with him at all!
But then she would protest--"It's not so bad as that, Thyrsis. You have your work."
"Yes, that's it," he would answer. "My work! I'm just a thinking-machine. I'm fit for nothing else. And here I am--married!"
He would say that, and he would mean it; he would try to act upon the conviction. Of course Corydon's nature was a thing more lovely than his; and, of course, it ought to have its way, to grow in freedom and joy. But alas--there was "the economic screw"! His qualities--hateful though they might be--were the product of stern conditions; they were the qualities which had to dominate in their lives, if they were to survive in the grim struggle for life.
Section 14. It was, as always, their tragedy that they had no means of communicating, except through suffering; they had no work, and they had no art, and they had no religion. To Thyrsis it seemed that this last was the supreme need of their lives; but it was quite in vain that he tried to supply it. He had no theologies to offer, but he had a rough working faith that served his needs. He had a way of prayer--informal prayers, to the undiscovered gods--"Oh infinite Holiness of life, I seek to be reminded of Thee!" He would contemplate their failures and agonies and despairs, and floods of pity would well up in him; and then he would come back to Corydon, seeking to make these things real to her. But this he could never do--he could never carry her with him, he could never find anything with her but failure and disappointment.
This was, in part, the outrage that the creed-mongers had done to her; with their dead formulas and their grotesque legends and their stupid bigotries they had sullied and defaced all the symbols of religion--they had made a noble temple into a sepulchre of dead bones. They had taken her by force, when she was a child, and dragged her into it, and filled her with terror and loathing. To abandon the language of metaphor, they had sent her to a Protestant-Episcopal Sunday-school, where a vinegary spinster had taught her the catechism and the ten commandments. And so forever after the whole content of Christianity was a thing alien and hateful to her.
But also, in their disharmony was something even more fundamental. Corydon's emotions did not come in the same way as her husband's. With her a joy had to be a spontaneous thing; there could be no reasoning about it, and it was not the product nor the occasion of any act of will. In fact, if anyone were to say to Corydon, "Come, let us experience a certain emotion"--then straightway it would become certain that she might experience any emotion in the world, save only that one.
Thyrsis told himself that he was to blame for this having destroyed her spontaneity in the very beginning But how was he to have known that, understanding as he did no temperament but his own, being powerless to handle any tools but his own? The process of his soul's life was to tell himself all his vices over; and so he would become filled with hatred of himself, and would forthwith evolve into something different. But with Corydon, this method produced, not rage and resolution, but only black despair. The process of Corydon's soul-life was that some one else should come to her, and tell her that she was radiant and exquisite; and straightway she would become these things, and yet more of them; and until such a person came to her, all her soul's life stood still.
This was illustrated whenever there was any misunderstanding between them, any crisis of unhappiness or fit of melancholia. It was quite in vain at such times that Thyrsis would ask her to sweep these things aside and forget them; it was disastrous to suggest that she put any blame upon herself, or scold herself into a different attitude. He might take days to make up his mind to do what he had to do--yet that fit of misery would last until he had come and done it. He had to put his arms about her, and make her realize that she was precious to him, that she was necessary to him, that he loved her and appreciated her and believed in her; so, and so only, would the current of her life begin once more to flow.
And why could he not do this more quickly? Why did he have to wait until she had suffered agonies? Why did he have to be dragged to it by the hair of his head, as it were--as a means of keeping her from going insane from misery? Was it that he did not really love her? Mocking voices in his soul told him that was it--but he knew it was not so. He loved her; but he loved her in his way, and that was not her way. And how shall one explain that strange impulse in the heart of man, that makes it impossible for him to be content with anything that is upon the earth--that makes him restless in the presence of beauty and love and joy, and all those things with which he so obviously ought to be content?
It is so clearly irrational and unjustifiable; and yet that impulse continues to drive him forth, as it drove him to destroy the statues in the Athenian temples, and to burn the silken robes and the jewelled treasures in the public-squares of Venice. One contemplates the thing in its most unlovely aspects--in the form of Simeon Stylites upon his pillar, devoured by worms, or of Bernard Gui, with his racks and his thumb-screws and his "secular arm"--and it seems the very culmination of all human madness and horror. And yet, it does not cease to come; and he upon whom it seizes may not free himself by any power of his will, by any cunning of his wit; and no agony of yearning and grief may be sufficient to enable him to love a woman as a woman desires to be loved.
Section 15. Thyrsis would work over the book until he was utterly exhausted; and then, limp as a rag, he would come back to the world of reality and face these complications. He needed to rest, he needed to be soothed and comforted and sung to sleep; he needed to receive--and instead he had to give. Sometimes he wondered vaguely if this might not have been otherwise; he knew nothing about women--but surely there might have been, somewhere in the world, some woman who would have understood, and would have asked nothing from him. But he dwelt on that thought but seldom, for it seemed a kind of treason; he was not married to any such hypothetical woman--he was married to Corydon, and it was Corydon he had to save from the wolves.
So, time after time, he would come back to her, and take the cup of her pain in his trembling hands, and put it to his lips and drain it to the dregs. He would sit with her, and hear the tale of her struggles, he would fan the sparks of his exhausted emotions into flame, so that she might warm herself by the glow. And when the burden became too great for him, when the black floods of anguish and despair which she poured out upon him threatened to engulf him altogether--then he would tramp away into the forest, or out upon the snow-encrusted hills, and call up the demons of his soul once more, and proclaim himself unconquered and unconquerable. He would spread his wings to the glory of his vision; he would feel again the surge and sweep of it, he would sing aloud with the power of it, and pledge himself anew to live for it--if need be even to die for it.
The world was trying to crush it in him; the world hated it and feared it, and was bound that it should not live; and Thyrsis had sworn to save it--and so the issue was joined. He would hearten himself for the struggle--he would fling himself into the thick of it, again and again; he would summon up that thing which he called his Genius, that fountain of endless force that boiled up within him. Whatever strength they brought against him, he could match it; he might be knocked down, trampled upon, left for dead upon the field, but he could rise and renew the conflict! He would talk to himself, he would call aloud to himself, he would repeat to himself formulas of exhortation, cries of defiance, proclamations of resolve. He would summon his enemies before him, sometimes in hosts, sometimes as individuals--all those who ever in his life had mocked and taunted him, scolded him and threatened him. He would shake his clenched fists at them; they might as well understand it--they could never conquer him, not all the power they could bring would suffice! He would call upon posterity also; he would summon his friends and lovers of the future, to give him comfort in his sore distress. Was it not for them that he was laboring--that they might some day feed their souls upon his faith?
Thyrsis would think of the "Song of Roland", recalling that heroic figure and his three days' labor: when he had read that poem, his heart had seemed to throb with pain every time that Roland lifted his sword-arm. He would think of the old blind "Samson Agonistes"; he would think of the Greeks at Thermopylae, of the siege of Haarlem. History was full of such tales of the agonies that men had endured for the sake of their faith; and why should he expect exemption, why should he shrink from the fiery test?
Section 16. So he lived and fought two battles, one within and one without; and little by little these two became merged in his imagination. He had conceived a figure which should embody the War; and that figure had come to be himself.
The War of which he was writing had come upon a people unsuspecting and unprepared; they had not sought it nor desired it, they did not love it, they did not understand it. But the nation must be preserved; and so they set out to forge themselves into a sword. They had wealth, and they poured it out lavishly; and they had enthusiasm--whole armies of young men came forward. They were uniformed and armed and drilled and one after another they marched out, with banners waving, and drums rolling, and hearts beating high with hope; and one after another they met the enemy, and were swallowed up in carnage and destruction, and came reeling back in defeat and despair. It happened so often that the whole land moaned with the horror of it--there was Bull Run and then again Bull Run, and there was the long Peninsula Campaign--an entire year of futility and failure; and there was the ghastly slaughter of Fredericksburg, and the blind confusion of Chancellorsville, and the bitter, disappointment of Antietam.
Thyrsis wished to portray all this from the point of view of the humble private, who got none of the glory, and expected none, but only suffering and toil; whose lot it was to march and countermarch, to delve and sweat in the trenches, to be stifled by the heat and drenched by the rain and frozen by the cold; to wade through seas of blood and anguish, to be wounded and captured and imprisoned, to be lured by victory and blasted by defeat. And into it all he was pouring the distillation of his own experiences. For there was not much of it that he had not known in his own person. Surely he had known what it was to be cold and hungry; surely he had known what it was to be lured by victory and blasted by defeat. He had watched by the death-bed of his dearest dreams, he had listened to the moaning of multitudes of imprisoned hopes. He had known what it was to set before him a purpose, and to cling to it in spite of obloquy and hatred; he had known what it was to suffer until his forehead throbbed, and all things reeled and swam before his eyes. He had known also what it was to sacrifice for the sake of the future, and to see others, who thought of no one but themselves, preying upon him, and upon the community, and living in luxury and enjoying power.
Little by little, as he studied this War, Thyrsis had come upon a strange and sinister fact about it. Roughly speaking, the population of the country might have been divided into two classes. There were those to whom the Union was precious, and who gave their labor and their lives for it; they starved and fought and agonized for it, and came home, worn, often crippled, and always poor. On the other hand there were some who had cared nothing for the Union, but were finding their chance to grow rich and to establish themselves in the places of power. They were selling shoddy blankets and paper shoes to the government; they were speculating in cotton and gold and food. There were a few exceptions to this, of course; but for the most part, when one came to study the gigantic fortunes which were corrupting the nation, he discovered that it was just here they had begun.
So this was the curious and ironic fact; the nation had been saved--but only to be handed over to the money-changers! And these now possessed it and dominated it; and a new generation had come forward, which knew not how these things had come to be--which knew only the money-changers and their power. And who was there to tell them of the War, and all that the War had meant? Who was there to make that titan agony real to them, to point them to the high destinies of the Republic?
Along with his war-books, Thyrsis was reading his daily newspaper, which came to him freighted with the cynicism of the hour. It was when the revelations of corruption in business and political affairs were at their flood; high and low, in towns and cities, in states and in the nation itself, one saw that the government of the country had been bought. Everywhere throughout the land Mammon sat upon the throne, and men cringed before him--there was only persecution and mockery for those who believed in the things for which America stood to all the world.
And this new Lord, who had purchased the people, and held them in bond, was extracting a toll of suffering and privation, of accident and disease and death, that was worse than the agony of many wars. The whole land was groaning and sweating beneath the burden of it; and Thyrsis, who shared the pain, and knew the meaning of it, was sick with the responsibility it put upon him, yearning for a thousand voices with which he might cry the truth aloud.
Some one must bring America face to face with its soul again; and who was there to do it--who was there that was even trying? Thyrsis had seen the statues of St. Gaudens, and he knew there was one man who had dreamed the dream of his country. But who was there to put it into song, or into story, that the young might read? Like the newspapers and the churches, the authors had sold out; they were writing for matinée-girls, and for the Pullman-car book-trade; and meantime the civilization of America was sliding down into the pit!
So here again was War! Here again were pain and sickness, hunger and cold, solitude and despair, to be endured and defied; death itself to be faced--madness even, and soul-decay! Armies of men had gone out, had laid themselves down and filled up the ditches with their bodies, to make a bridge for Freedom to pass on. And the ditches were not yet full--another life was needed!
Nor must he think himself too good for the sacrifice; there had been greater men than he, no doubt, burned up in the Wilderness, and blown to pieces by the cannon at "Bloody Angle"; there had been dreamers of mighty dreams among them--and they were dead, and all their dreams were dead. And neither must he love his own too dearly; there had been women who had suffered and died in that War, and babes who had perished by tens of thousands; and they, too, had been born with agony, had been loved and yearned for, and wept and prayed for.
So, out of the dead past, were voices calling to Thyrsis; he heard them in the night--time as one mighty symphony of grief. They had died for nothing, unless the Republic should be saved, unless their dream of freedom and justice could be made real. And for what was the poet but that? So that the new generations might know what their fathers had done--that the youth of America might be roused and thrilled once more! Surely it could not be that the land was all sunk in selfishness and unfaith--that there were no longer any generous souls who could be stirred by a trumpet-call, and led forth to strike a new blow for the great hope of Humanity!
Section 17. The long winter dragged by, and the fury of it seemed to increase; they were as if besieged by demons of cold and storm. There came another blizzard, and the snows drifted down to their hollow by the edge of the woods, so that it was two days before they could get out, even to the farm-house. And there was no place for them to walk--a path from their house to Thyrsis' study was a labor of half a day to dig. Also Corydon caught a cold, which ran in due course through the little family, and added to their misery and discomfort.
The snow seemed to be symbolical, walling them in from all the world. "There is no help", it seemed to say to them; whatever strength they got they must wring out of their own hearts. Here in this place, it seemed to Thyrsis, he learned the real meaning of Winter; he saw it as primitive man had seen it, a cruel and merciless assailant, a fiend that came ravening, dealing destruction and death. He thought of the ode by Thomas Campbell--
"Archangel! Power of desolation! Fast descending as thou art, Say, hath mortal invocation Spells to touch thy stony heart?"
It was evident that Corydon was going down-hill under the strain. She became more and more nervous and wretched, her headaches and her fits of exhaustion were more frequent. Then, too, her old mental trouble, the habit of "thinking things", was plaguing her again-- She would come to Thyrsis with long accounts of her psychological entanglements, and he would patiently unravel the skein. Or sometimes, if he was very tired, he might give some signs of a desire to escape the ordeal; and then he would see a look of terror stealing into Corydon's eyes. So these things were real after all--they were real even to Thyrsis!
One morning he opened his eyes, and looked from his study-window, to find that another heavy snow had fallen; and when he had dressed and gone over to the house, he found Corydon in bed. She complained of a headache, and had had chills during the night, and was now quite evidently feverish. He was alarmed, and after he had made her as comfortable as he could, he dressed the baby and took him upon his shoulder, and made his way with difficulty to the farm-house. He left the baby there, and with a horse and sleigh set out for town. The horse had to walk all the way, and several times the sleigh was upset in the drifts, so that it was two hours before he reached his destination. As the doctor was out upon his rounds, he had to wait a couple of hours more--and then only to learn that the man could not possibly attempt the trip. He had several patients who were dangerously ill, and he had to be on hand.
He sent Thyrsis to another doctor, but this one said exactly the same; and so the boy spent the day wandering about the town. The thought of Corydon's lying there alone, helpless and suffering, made him wild; but everywhere he met with the same response--the cold weather had apparently brought an epidemic of disease, and there was no doctor in the place who could spare three or four hours to make the long journey in the snow.
So there was nothing for him to do but go back. The farmer's wife offered to take care of the baby over night, and he went down to the cottage alone where he found Corydon much worse. He sat and held her hand, a terror clutching at his heart; and all night long he sat and tended her--he filled hot water bottles when she was chilled, and got ice when she was hot, and made cool lemonade, and prepared tidbits and tempted her to eat. He would whisper to her and soothe her; and later, when she fell into a doze, he sat nodding in his chair and shivering with cold, but afraid to touch the fire for fear of disturbing her.
Then, towards dawn, she wakened; and Thyrsis was almost beside himself with anguish and fear--for she was delirious, and did not know where she was, or what she was doing. She kept talking as if to the baby--in their baby-talk. Thyrsis would listen, until he would choke up with tears.
He left her, and went up to the farm, and got the horse and sleigh again, and drove to another town. It made no difference what doctor he got--to Thyrsis all doctors were alike, the keepers of the keys of health. After several hours' pursuit he found that this man also was busy. All he could say was that he would try to get out that night.
So Thyrsis went back again, to find his wife with flushed face, and beads of perspiration upon her forehead; now sitting up and babbling aimlessly, now sinking back exhausted. He sat once more through a night of torment, holding her hot hands in his, and praying in vain for the coming of the doctor.
It was afternoon of the next day before the man finally came, and brought some relief to Thyrsis' soul, and perhaps also to Corydon's body. He took her temperature and listened to her breathing, and pronounced it a severe attack of grippe, with a touch of bronchitis; and he laid out an assortment of capsules and liquids, and promised to come again if Thyrsis sent for him.
And so the boy set out in the double role of trained nurse and mother's assistant. He gave Corydon her medicines, and brought fresh water for her, and smoothed her pillows and talked to her, and prepared some delicacies for her when she wished to eat; also he dressed and bathed the baby, and cooked his complex meals and fed them to him; he put on his rubbers and his leggings and his mittens, and the overcoat and peaked hood (which Corydon had devised for him out of eighty cents' worth of woolly red cloth), and turned him out to "bongie cowtoos" in the snow. Likewise he got his own meals and washed the dishes, and tended the fires and emptied the ashes and filled the lamps and swept the floors; and in the interim between these various duties he fought new battles within himself, and got new side-lights upon Chickamauga and "Bloody Angle".
Section 18. It was two weeks before this siege was lifted, and Corydon was able to take up her burdens once more. It was then March, and the snow had given place to cold sleety rains, and the fields and the ground about their home were miniature swamps full of mud. Thyrsis would tramp through this to the hill-tops where the storm-winds howled, and there vow defiance to his foes, and come home to pour new hope and courage and resolution into a bottomless pit.
He was finishing his vision of the field of Gettysburg--the three-days' grapple between two titan armies, that meant to him three weeks of soul-terrifying toil. Men had said that Gettysburg meant the turning Of the tide, that victory was certain; and yet there had followed Sherman's long campaign, and all the horror of the Wilderness fighting, and Mine Run and Cold Harbor and the ghastly siege of Petersburg. And now Thyrsis had to fight his way through this. He saw the figure that he had dreamed, and that possessed him; a soldier who was the rage of the War incarnate, the awakened frenzy of the nation. He was a man lifted above pain and cold and hunger; he was gaunt and wild of aspect, restless and impatient, driving, driving to the end. He went about the duties of the camp like one in a dream; he marched like an automaton--for hours, or for days, as need might be--his thoughts flying on to those moments that alone were real to him, to the charge and the fury of the conflict, the blows that were the only things that counted. He lived amid sights and sounds of horror, with groans and weeping in his ears, with a mist of blood and cannon-smoke before his eyes; he drove on, grim and implacable, the very ground about him rocking and quivering in a delirium of torment. He was the War!
Meantime Corydon was growing paler, and more wretched than ever. For her, too, this winter was symbolized as a battle-ground. To him it was a field in which armies clashed, and the issue was uncertain; but to her it was a field of inevitable defeat, strewn with the corpses of her hopes. For hours she would lie upon her couch in the night-watches, silent, alone, staring out of the window at the wide waste of snow in the pitiless moonlight.
Thyrsis would have preferred to sleep in his own study, as he worked so late at night; but Corydon begged him not to do this, she would rather be wakened, she said.
So, on one occasion, he came over at about two o'clock in the morning, and found her sleeping, as he thought, and crawled into his own cot. He was just dozing off to sleep, when he heard what he thought was a stifled sob.
He listened; he thought that she was crying in her sleep. But then, as the sound grew clearer, he sat up. The moonlight was shining in upon her, and Thyrsis caught a bright glint of steel. Swift as a flash the meaning of that swept over him. He had provided her with a revolver, that she might feel safe when she was left alone; and now he bounded out of bed and sprang across the room, and found her with the weapon pointed at her head.
He struck it away; and Corydon, with a terrified cry, clutched at him and collapsed in his arms.
"Oh Thyrsis!" she wailed. "Save me! Save me!"
"What is it?" he gasped.
"I couldn't do it!" she cried, choking. "I couldn't! I tried--I tried so hard!"
"Sweetheart", he whispered, in terror.
"Don't let me do it!" she sobbed. "Oh, Thyrsis, you must save me!"
He pressed her to his bosom, shuddering with dread, and trying to soothe her hysterical outburst. So, little by little, he dragged the story from her. For three days she had been making up her mind to shoot herself, and she had chosen that night for the time.
"I've been sitting here for an hour," she whispered--"with the revolver in my hand. And I couldn't get up the courage to pull the trigger."
He clasped her, white with horror.
"I heard you coming," she went on. "I lay and pretended to sleep. Then I tried again--but I can't, I can't! I'm a coward!"
"Corydon!" he cried.
"There was only one thing that stopped me. You would have got on without me--"
"Don't say that, dearest!"
"You would--I know it! I'm only in your way. But oh, my baby! I loved him so, and I couldn't bear to leave him!"
She clung to him convulsively. "Oh, Thyrsis," she panted, "think what it meant to me to leave him. He'd have been without a mother all his life! And something might have happened to you, and he'd have had no one to love him at all!"
"Why did you want to do it?" he cried.
"Oh Thyrsis, I've suffered so! I'm weary--I'm worn out--I'm sick of the fight. I can't stand it any more--and what can I do?"
"My poor, poor girl," he whispered, and pressed her to his heart in a paroxysm of grief. "Oh, my Corydon! My Corydon!"
The horror of the thing overwhelmed him; he began to weep himself--his frame was shaken with tearless, agonizing sobs. What could he do for her, how could he help her?
But already he had helped her; it was not often that she saw him weeping, it was not often she found that she could do something for _him_. "Thyrsis, do you really _want_ me?" she whispered. "Do you truly love me that much?"
"I love you, I love you!" he sobbed.
And she replied, "Then I'll stay. I'll bear anything, if you need me--if I can be of any use at all."
Section 19. So their tears were mingled; so once more, being sufficiently plowed up with agony, they might behold the deeps of each other's souls. Being at their last gasp, and driven to desperation, they would make the convulsive effort, and break the crust of dullness and commonplace, and reveal again the mighty forces hidden in their depths. At such hours he beheld Corydon as she was, the flaming spirit, the archangel prisoned in the flesh. If only he could have found the key to those deep chambers, so that he could have had access to them always!
But alas, they knew only one path that led to them, and that through the valley of despair. From despair it led to anguished struggle, and from struggle to defiance, to rage and denunciation--and thence to visions and invocations, raptures and enthralments. So this night, for instance, behold Corydon, first holding her husband's hands, and shuddering with awe, and pledging her faith all over again; and then, later on, when the dawn was breaking, sitting in the cold moonlight with a blanket flung about her, her wild hair tossing, and in her hand the revolver with which she had meant to destroy herself. Behold her, making sport of her own life-drama--turning into wildest phantasy her domestic ignominies, her inhibitions and her helpmate's blunderings; evoking the hosts of the future as to a festival, rehearsing the tragedy of her soul with all posterity as her audience. When once these mad steeds of her fancy were turned loose, one could never tell where their course would be; and strange indeed were the adventures that came to him who rode with her!
There seemed to be no limit to the powers of this subliminal woman within Corydon. Her cheeks would kindle, her eyes would blaze, and eloquence would pour from her--the language of great poetry, fervid and passionate, with swift flashes of insight and illumination, tumultuous invocations and bursts of prophecy. Thyrsis would listen and marvel. What a mind she had--sharp, like a rapier, swift as the lightning-flash! The powers of penetration and understanding, and above all the sheer splendors of language--the blazes of metaphor, the explosions of coruscating wit! What a tragic actress she might have made--how she would have shaken men's souls, and set them to shuddering with terror! What an opera-singer she could have been, with that rich vibrant voice, and the mien of a disinherited goddess!
It was out of such hours that the faith of their lives was made; and it was out of them also that Thyrsis formed his idea of woman. To him woman was an equal; and this he not only said with his lips, he lived it in his feelings. The time came when he went out into the world, and learned to understand the world's idea, that woman meant vanity and pettiness and frivolity; but Thyrsis let all this pass, knowing the woman-soul. Somewhere underneath, not yet understood and mastered, was pent this mighty force that in the end would revolutionize all human ideas and institutions. Here was faith, here was vision, here was the power of all powers; and how was it to be delivered and made conscious, and brought into the service of life?
Most women liked Thyrsis, because they divined in some vague way this attitude; and some men hated him for the same reason. These men, Thyrsis observed, were the slave-drivers; they held that woman was the weaker vessel, and for this they had their own motives. There were women, too, who liked to be ruled; but Thyrsis never argued with them--it was enough, he judged, to treat any slave as a free man, or any servant as a gentleman, and sooner or later they would divine what he meant, and the spirit of revolt would begin to flicker.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.