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The streamlet tinkled on. She sat, gazing about her at each familiar tree and rock. And meanwhile he was reading again from the book--
"Here, too, our shepherd-pipes we first assay'd!"
"Is that from 'Thyrsis'?" she asked. "Read me those lines that we used, to love so much."
And so he turned the page, and read again--
"A fugitive and gracious light he seeks, Shy to illumine; and I seek it, too. This does not come with houses or with gold, With place, with honor, and a flattering crew: 'Tis not in the world's market bought and sold-- But the smooth-slipping weeks Drop by, and leave its seeker still untired; Out of the heed of mortals he is gone, He wends unfollow'd, he must house alone; Yet on he fares, by his own heart inspired."
Section 1. On the train Corydon was writing a letter to a friend, to say where she was going, and that Thyrsis was there. "I don't expect to see anything of him," she wrote. "He grows more egotistical and more contemptuous every day, and I cordially dislike him."
But when a man has spent three or four weeks with no company save the squirrels and the owls, there comes over him a mood of sociability, when the sight of a friendly face is an event. Thyrsis had now written several chapters of his book, and the first fury of his creative impulse had spent itself. So when Corydon stepped from the train, she found him waiting there to greet her; and he told her that he was laying in supplies for a feast, and that on the morrow she and her mother were to come out and see his fairy-palace and have a picnic dinner.
They came; and the May put on her finest raiment for their greeting. The sun shone warm and bright, and there was a humming and stirring in grass and thicket; one could feel the surge of the spring-time growth as a living flood. There was a glory of young green over the hill-sides, and a quivering sheen of white in the aspens and birches. Corydon clasped her hands and cried out in rapture when she saw it.
And Thyrsis, picturesque in his old corduroy trousers and his grey flannel shirt, played the host. He showed them his domestic establishment--wherein things were set in order for the first time since he had come. He told all his adventures: how the cold had crept in at night, and he had to fiddle to keep his courage up; how he had slept in a canvas-cot for the first time, and piled all the bedding on top, and wondered that he was cold; how he had left the pail with the freshly-roasted beef on the piazza, and a wild cat had carried off pail and all. He made fun of his amateur house-keeping-- he would forget things and let them burn, or let the fire go out; and he had tried living altogether on cold food, to the great perplexity of his stomach.
Then he gave a demonstration of his hard-won culinary skill. He boiled rice and raisins, and fried bacon and eggs; and they had fresh bread and butter, and jam and pickles, and a festive cake. And after they had feasted, Thyrsis stretched himself and leaned back against the trunk of a tree, and gazed up at the sky, quoting the words of a certain one-eyed Kalandar, son of a king, "Verily, this indeed is life! 'Tis pity 'tis fleeting!"
Afterwards he took Corydon for a walk. They climbed the hill where he came to battle with the stormwinds, and to watch the sunsets and the moon rising over the lake. And then they went down into the glen, where the mountain streamlet tumbled. Here had been wood-sorrel, and a carpet of the white trillium; and now there was adder's tongue, quaint and saucy, and columbine, and the pale dusty corydalis. There was soft new moss underfoot, and one walked as if in a temple.
Thyrsis pointed out a seat beside a deep bubbling pool. "Here's where I sit and write," he said.
"And how comes the book?" asked Corydon.
"Oh, I'm hammering at it--that's the best I can say."
"What is it?"
"Why--it's a story. I suppose it'll be called a romance, though I don't like the word."
Corydon pondered for a moment. "I wouldn't expect you to be writing anything romantic," she said.
Thyrsis, occupied with his own thoughts, observed, "I might call it a revolutionary romance."
"What is it about?"
He hesitated. "It happens in the middle ages," he said. "There's a minstrel and a princess."
"That sounds interesting," said Corydon.
Now in the period of pregnancy the artist's mood is one of secretiveness. But afterwards there comes a time for promulgation and rejoicing; and already there had been hints of this in the mind of Thyrsis. The great secret that he was cherishing--what would be the world's reception of it? And now suddenly a wild idea came to him. He had heard somewhere that it is the women who read fiction. And was not Corydon a perfect specimen of the average middle-class young lady, and therefore of that mysterious potentiality, "the public", to which he must appeal? Why not see what she would think of it?
He took the plunge. "Would you like me to read it to you?" he asked.
"Why, certainly," she replied, and then added, gently, "If it wouldn't be a desecration."
"Oh, no," said Thyrsis. "You see, when it's been printed, all sorts of people will read it."
So he went back to the house and brought the precious manuscript; and he placed Corydon in the seat of inspiration, and sat beside her and read.
In many ways this was a revolutionary romance. Thyrsis had not spent any of his time delving into other people's books for "local color"; he was not relying for his effects upon gabardines and hauberks, and a sprinkling of "Yea, sires," and "prithees." His castle was but the vaguely outlined background of a stage upon which living hearts wrought out their passions. One saw the banquet-hall, with its tapestries and splendor, and the master of it, the man of force; there were swift scenes that gave one a glimpse of the age-long state of things--
"Right forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne."
Here Thyrsis paused, and asked, "Are you interested?"
"Go on, go on," said Corydon.
So he read about his princess, who was the embodiment of all the virtues of the unknown goddess of his fancy. She was proud yet humble, aloof yet compassionate, and above all ineffably beautiful. And as for the minstrel--
"The minstrel was fair and young. His heart was of love and fire."
"Secrets of all future ages Hover in mine ecstasy; Treasures never known to mortals Hath my fancy hid for thee!"
"For thy soul a river flowing Swiftly, over golden sands, With the singing of the steersman Stealing into wonderlands!"
A thrill of pleasure went through the poet. "You like it, then?" he said.
"Oh, I like it!" she answered. And then she gazed at him, with wide-open eyes of amazement. "But you! You!" she exclaimed.
"Why not I?" he asked.
"How in the world did you do it? Where did you get it from?"
"It is mine," said Thyrsis, quickly.
"But I can't imagine it! I had no idea you were interested in such things!"
"But how could you know what I am interested in?"
"I see how you live--apart from everybody. And you spend all your time in books!"
Thyrsis suddenly recollected something which had amused him very much. Corydon had been reading "Middlemarch," and had told him that Dr. Casaubon reminded her of him. "And so I'm still just a bookworm to you!" he laughed.
"But isn't your interest in things always intellectual?" she asked.
"Then you suppose I'm doing this just as an exercise in technique?" he countered.
"It's taken me quite by surprise," said Corydon.
"We have three faculties in us," Thyrsis propounded--"intellect, feeling, and will; and to be a complete human being, we have to develop all of them."
"But you spend so much time piling up learning!"
"I need to know a great many things," he said. "I'm not conscious of studying anything I don't need for my purpose."
"What is the purpose?" she asked.
He touched the precious manuscript. "This," he said.
There was a pause.
"But you lose so much when you cut yourself off from the world," said Corydon. "And there are other people, whom you might help."
"People don't need my help; or at least, they don't want it."
"But how can you know that--if you never go among them?"
"I can judge by the lives they live."
"Ah!" exclaimed Corydon, quickly, "but people aren't to blame for the lives they live!"
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because--they can't help them. They are bound fast."
"They should break loose."
"That is easy for you to say," said Corydon. "You have no ties."
"I did have them--I might have them still. But I broke them."
"Ah, but you are a man!"
"What difference does that make?"
"It makes all the difference in the world. You can earn money, you can go away by yourself. But suppose you were a girl--shut up in a home, and told that that was your 'sphere'?"
"I'd fight," said Thyrsis--"I'd break my way out somehow, never fear. If one doesn't break out, it simply means that his desire is not strong enough."
Thyrsis had been surprised at the depth of Corydon's interest in his manuscript; he had not supposed that she would be so susceptible to anything of the imagination. And now he was surprised to see that her hands were clenched tightly, and that she sat staring ahead of her intently.
"Are you dissatisfied with your life?" he asked.
"Is there anything in it that I could be satisfied with?" she cried.
"I had no idea of that," he said.
"No," she replied; "that only shows how stupid you can be!"
"But--you never showed any signs--"
"Didn't you know that I was trying to prepare for college last year?"
"Yes; but you gave it up."
"What could I do? I had no help--no encouragement. I was groping like a blind person. And I told you about it."
"But I told you what to study," objected Thyrsis.
"Yes," said the girl; "but how could I do it? You know how to study--you've been taught. But I don't know anything, and I don't know how to find anything out. I began on the Latin, but I didn't even know how the words should be pronounced."
"Nobody else knows that," observed Thyrsis, somewhat inconsequently.
"It was all so dull and dreary," she went on--"everything they would have had me learn. I wanted things that had life in them, things that were beautiful and worth while--like this book of yours, for instance."
"I am really delighted that you like it," said Thyrsis, touched by that.
"Tell me the rest of it," she said.
Section 3. Thyrsis told his story at some length; in the ardor of her sympathy his imagination took fire, and he told it eloquently, he discovered new beauties in it that he had not seen before. And Corydon listened with growing delight and amazement.
"So that is the way you spend your time!" she exclaimed.
"That is the way," he said.
"And that is why you live like a hermit!"
"Yes, that is why."
"And you think that you would lose your vision if you went among people?"
"I know that I should."
"But how do you know?"
"I know because I have tried. You don't realize how hard I have to work over a thing like this. I have carried it in my mind for a year; I have lived for nothing else--I have literally had no other interest in the world. Every sentence I have read to you has been the product of work added to work--of one impulse piled upon another--of thinking and criticizing and revising. Just the little bit I have done has taken me a whole month, and I have hardly stopped to eat; it's been my first thought in the morning and my last at night. And when the mood of it comes to me, then I work in a kind of frenzy that lasts for hours and even days; and if I give up in the middle and fall back, then I have to do it all over again. It's like toiling up a mountain-side."
"I see," whispered Corydon. "And then, do you expect to have no human relationships as long as you live?"
Thyrsis pondered for a moment. "Did you ever read Mrs. Browning's poem, 'A Musical Instrument'?" he asked.
"No," she answered.
"It's a most beautiful poem," he said; "and it's hardly ever quoted or read, that I can find. It tells how the great god Pan came down by the river-bank, and cut one of the reeds to make himself a pipe. He sat there and played his music upon it--
'Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan! Piercing sweet by the river! Blinding sweet, O great god Pan! The sun on the hill forgot to die, And the lilies reviv'd, and the dragon-fly Came back to dream on the river.
'Yet half a beast is the great god Pan, To laugh as he sits by the river, Making a poet out of a man. The true gods sigh for the cost and pain,-- For the reed which grows nevermore again As a reed with the reeds in the river.'"
"Yes," said Corydon, "I see."
"'Making a poet out of a man!' That is one of the finest lines I know. And that's the way I feel about it--I have given up all other duties in the world. If I can write one book, or even one poem, that will be an inspiration to men in the future--why, then I have done far more than I could do by a lifetime given to helping people around me."
"I never understood before," said Corydon.
"That is the idea the minstrel tries to voice to the princess. At first he pours out his soul to her; but then, when he finds that she loves him, he is afraid, and tries to persuade her not to come with him. He tells her how lonely and stern his life is; and she has been born to a gentle life--she has her station and her duty in the world. But the more he pleads the hardness of his life, the more she sees she must go with him. Even if the end be death to her, still she will be an inspiration to him, and give wings to his music. 'Be silent,' she tells him--'let me fling myself away for a song! To do one deed that the world remembers, to utter one word that lives forever--that is worth all the failure and the agony that can come to one woman in her lifetime!'"
Corydon sat with her hands clasped. "Yes," she said, "that is the way she would feel!"
"I'm glad to hear you say that," remarked the other. "I must make it real; and I've been afraid about it. Would she really go with him?"
"She would go if she loved him," said Corydon.
"If she loved him. But she must love his art still more."
"She must love _him,"_ said Corydon.
Thyrsis shook his head. "It would not do for her to go with him for that," he said.
"Why not? Doesn't he love her?"
"Yes; but he is afraid to tell her so. They dare not let that sway them."
"I don't understand. Why not?"
"Because personal love is a limited thing, and comparatively an ignoble thing."
"I don't see how there can be anything more noble than true love between a man and a woman," declared Corydon.
"It depends on what you mean by 'true' love," replied Thyrsis. "If two people love each other for their own sakes, and go together, they soon come to know each other, and then they are satisfied--and their growth is at an end. What I conceive is that two people must lose themselves, and all thought of themselves, in their common love for something higher--for some great ideal, some purpose, some vision of perfection. And they seek this together, and they rejoice in finding it, each for the other; and so they have always progress and growth--they stand for something new to each other every day of their lives. To such love there is no end, and no chance of weariness or satiety."
"I had never thought of it just so," said the girl. "But surely there must be a personal love in the beginning."
"I don't know," he responded. "I hadn't thought about that. I'm afraid I'm impersonal by nature."
"Yes," she said, "that's what has puzzled me. Don't you love human beings?"
"Not as a rule," he confessed.
"But then--what is it you are interested in? Yourself?"
"People tell me that's the case. And there's a sense in which it's true--I'm wrapped up in the thought of myself as an art-work. I've a certain vision of the possibilities of my own being, and I'm trying to realize it. And if I do, then I can write books and communicate it to other people, so that they can judge it, and see if it's any better than the vision they have. It is a higher kind of unselfishness, I think."
"I see," said Corydon. "It's not easy to understand."
"No one understands it," he replied. "People are taught that they must sacrifice themselves for others; and they do it, blindly and stupidly, and never ask if the other person is worthy of the sacrifice--and still less if they themselves have anything worth sacrificing."
Corydon had clenched her hands suddenly. "How I hate the religion of self-sacrifice!" she cried.
"Mine is a religion of self-development," said Thyrsis. "I am sacrificing myself for what other people ought to be."
Section 4. They came back after a time, to the subject of love; and to the ideal of it which Thyrsis meant to set forth in the book. It was the duty of every soul to seek the highest potentiality of which it had vision; and as one did that for himself, so he did it for the person he loved. There could be no higher love than this--to treat the thing beloved as one's self, to be perpetually dissatisfied with it, to scourge it to new endeavor, to hold it in immortal discontent.
This was a point about which they argued with eager excitement. To Thyrsis, love itself was a prize to be held before the loved one; whereas Corydon argued that love must exist before such a union could be thought of. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes shone as she maintained the thesis that the princess could not go with the minstrel unless his love was given to her irrevocably.
"If you mean by love a sense of oneness in the pursuit of an ideal, then I agree with you," said Thyrsis. "But if you mean what love generally means--a mutual admiration, the worshipping of another personality--then I don't."
"And are lovers not even to be interesting to each other?" cried Corydon.
But the poet did not shrink even from that. "I don't think a woman could be interesting to me--except in so far as she was growing. And she must always know that if she stopped growing, she would cease to be interesting. That is not a matter of anybody's will, it seems to me--it is a fact of soul-chemistry."
"I don't think you will find many women to love you on that basis," said Corydon.
"I never expected to find but one," was Thyrsis' reply; "and I may not find even one."
She sat watching him for a moment. "I had never realized the sublimity of your egotism," she said. "It would never occur to you to judge anyone else by your own standards, would it?"
"That is very well put," laughed Thyrsis. "As a matter of fact, I have a maxim that I count all things lost in the world but my own soul."
"Why is that?"
"Because I can depend on my own soul; and I have not yet met anything else in life of which I can say that."
Again there was a pause. "You are as hard as iron!" exclaimed the girl.
"I am harder than anything you can find for your simile," he answered. "I know simply that there is no force existing that can turn me from my task."
"You might meet some woman who would fascinate you."
"Perhaps," he replied. "I have done things I'm ashamed of, and I've a wholesome fear of doing more of them. But I know that that woman, whoever she might be, would wake up some morning and find me missing."
Then for a while he sat staring at the eddies in the pool below. "I have a vision of another kind of woman," he said--"a woman to whom my ideal would be the same compelling force that it is to me--a living thing that would drive her, that she was both master of, and slave to, as I am. So that she would feel no fears, and ask no favors! So that she would not want mercy, nor ask pledges--but just give herself, as I give myself, and take the chances of the game. Don't you think there may be just one such woman in the world?"
"Perhaps," was the reply. "But then--mightn't a woman be sure of your ideal, but not of you?"
"As to that," said Thyrsis, "she would have to know me.
"As to that," said Corydon, "she would have to love you."
And Thyrsis smiled. "As in most arguments," he said, "it's mainly a matter of definitions."
Section 5. At this point there came a call from the distance, and Corydon started. "There is mother," she exclaimed. "How the afternoon has flown!"
"And must you go home now?" he asked.
"I'm afraid so," she replied. "We have a long row."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I wanted to advise you about books to read. You must let me help you to find what you are seeking."
"Ah," said Corydon, "if you only will!"
"I will do anything I can," he said. "I am ashamed of not having helped you before."
They had risen and started towards the house. "Can't you come to-morrow, and we can talk it over," he said.
"But I thought you were going to work," she objected.
"I can spare another day," he replied. "A rest won't hurt me, I know. And it's been a real pleasure to talk to you this afternoon."
So they settled it; and Thyrsis saw them off in the boat, and then he went back to the little cabin.
On the steps he stood still. "Corydon!" he muttered. "Little Corydon!"
That was always the way he thought of her; not only because he had known her when she was a child, but because this expressed his conception of her--she was so gentle and peaceable and meek. She was now eighteen, and he was only twenty, but he felt towards her as a grandfather might. But now had come this new revelation, that astonished him. She had been deeply stirred by his work--she had loved it; and this was no affectation, it was out of her inmost heart. And she was not really contented at all--she had quite a hunger for life in her!
It had been like an explosion; the barriers had been destroyed between them, and he saw her as she really was. And he could hardly believe it--all through the adventures that followed he would find himself standing in the same kind of daze, whispering to himself-- "Corydon! Little Corydon!"
He did not try to do any work that evening. He thought about her, and the problem of her life. She had stirred him strangely; he saw her beautiful with a new kind of beauty. He resolved that he would put her upon the way to some of the joy she sought.
She came early the next morning, and they sat by the lake-shore and talked. They talked about the things she needed to study, and how she should study them; about the books she had read and the books she was to read next. And from this they went on to a hundred questions of literature and philosophy and life. They became eager and excited; their thoughts took wings, and they lost all sense of time and place. There were so many things to be discussed!
Corydon, in spite of all her anti-clericalism, believed in immortality; she laid claim to intuitions and illuminations concerning it. And to Thyrsis, on the other hand, the idea of immortality was the consummation of all unfaith. To him life was a bubble upon the stream of time, a shadow of clouds upon the mountains; there was nothing about it that could be or should be immortal.
"The act of faith," he cried, "is to give ourselves into the arms of life, to take it as it comes, to rejoice in its infinite unfoldment, the 'plastic dance of circumstance'; to behold the budding flower and the new-born suns as equal expressions of the joy of becoming. But people are weak, they love themselves, and they set themselves up as the centre of existence!"
But Corydon was personal, and loved life; and she stood out that death was unthinkable--that she had the sense of infinity within her. Thyrsis strove to make her see that one was to wreak one's hunger for infinity at each moment, and not put it off to any future age; that life was a thing for itself, and needed no sequel to justify it. "It is a free gift, and we have no claim upon it; we must take it on the terms of the giver."
From that they came to religion. Thyrsis loved the forms of the old faiths, because of the poetry there was in them; and so he wrestled with Corydon's paganism. He tried to show her how one could read "Paradise Lost" and the English prayer-book, precisely as one read Virgil and Homer; to which Corydon answered that she had been to Sunday-school.
"But you once believed in Santa Claus!" he retorted. "And does that make you quarrel with him now? Every time you read a novel, don't you pretend to believe in people who never existed?"
He went on to show her how much she lost of the sublime and inspiring things of the past. He took the story of Jesus. It mattered not in the least if it was fiction or fact--it was there, as an achievement of the human spirit. He showed her the man of the gospels--not the stained-glass god with royal robes and shining crown, but the humble workingman, with his dream of a heaven nearby, and a father who loved his children without distinction. He went about among the poor and humble, the world's first revolutionist; teaching the supremacy of the soul--a doctrine which was to be as dynamite beneath the pillars of all established institutions. He lived as a tramp and an outcast, and he died the death of a criminal; and now those who had murdered him were using his doctrines to enslave the world!--All this was a new idea to Corydon, and she resolved forthwith that she would begin her readings with the New Testament.
Section 6. So it went, until Thyrsis looked up with a start, and saw that the shadows were falling. It was five o'clock, and they had not stopped to eat! Even so, they had no time to cook, but made a cold meal--and talked all the time they were eating.
Then Corydon said, "I must start for home."
"You won't want any supper," said Thyrsis. "Let's see the sunset first."
"But mother will be expecting me," she objected.
"She'll know you're all right," he replied.
So they climbed the hill, and sat and watched the sunset and the rising full moon. The air was clear, and the sky like opal, and the pale, pearly tints of the clouds were ravishing to behold. To Thyrsis it seemed that these colors were an image of the soul that was disclosed to him. He would have been at a loss for words to describe the extraordinary sense of purity that Corydon gave to him; it was not simply her maidenhood--it was something far more rare than that. Here was an utterly perfect human soul; a soul without speck or blemish--without a base idea, with no trace of a vanity, unaware what a pretense might be. The joy and wonder of life welled spontaneously in her, she moved to a noble impulse as a cloud moves before the wind. She was like a creature from the skies they were watching.
And here, in the silver moonlight, a memorable hour came to them. Thyrsis told her of his consecration, and why he lived his hermit-life. He had known for years that he was not as other men; and now every hour it was becoming clearer to him. He shrunk from the word, because it had been desecrated by the world; but it was Genius. More and more frequently there was coming to him this strange ecstasy, the source of which he could not guess; it was like the giving way of flood-gates within him--the pouring in of a tide of wonder and joy. It made him tremble like a leaf, it made him cry aloud and fall down upon the ground exhausted. And yet, whatever the strain might be, he never lost his grip upon himself; rather, all the powers of his mind seemed to be multiplied--it seemed as if all existence became one with his soul.
Never before had he uttered a word of this to anyone. No one could understand the burden it had laid upon him. For this was the thing that all the world was seeking, for the lack of which the world was dying; and it was his to give or to withhold, to lose or to save. He had to forge it and shape it, he had to embody it, to set it forth in images and symbols. And that meant a terrific labor, a feat of mental and emotional endurance quite indescribable. He must hold it, though it burned like fire; he must clutch it to his bosom, though it tore at his heart-strings.
"Sometimes," he said, "I fail and have to give up; and then I have nothing but a memory without words--or perhaps a few broken phrases that seem mere nonsense. Then I am like a man who has seen some loved one drowned or burned to death before his eyes. It is a thing so ineffable, so precious; and some power seeks to tear it away from me, to bear it into oblivion forever. I can't know, of course--it might come to some one else--or it might never come again. The feeling I have is like that of a mother for an unborn child; if I do not give it life, no one ever will. And don't you see--compared with that, what does anything else count? I would lie down and be crushed to pieces, if that would help; truly, I would suffer less than I suffer in what I try to do. And so, the things that other men care for--they simply don't exist for me. I must have a little money, because I have to have something to eat, and a place to work in. But I don't want position or fame--I don't shrink from any ridicule or humiliation. It seems like a mad thing to say, but I have nothing to do either with men's evil or with their good. I am not bound by any of their duties; I can't have any country or any home, I can't have wife or children--I can hardly even have any friends. Don't you see?"
"Yes," whispered Corydon, deeply moved, "I see."
"Look," he went on--"see all the vice and misery in the world--the cruelty and greed and hate. And see all the stupid and petty things, the narrow motives, the vanities and the jealousies! And all that is because people haven't this thing that has come to me; they don't know the possibilities of life, they lack the sense of its preciousness and sacredness. And they seek and seek--and go astray! Take drunkenness, for instance; that brings them joy, but it's a false scent, it leads them over a precipice. I've been down at the bottom of it--you know why I have to go there, and what I've seen. And that is where the best of men's faculties go--yes, it's literally true! The men who are dull and plodding, they are contented; it's the men who are adventurous and aspiring who come to that precipice. I walk down an avenue and see the lines of saloons with their gleaming lights, and that thought is like a scream of anguish in my soul; there came a phrase to me once, that I wanted to cry out to people--'the graveyards of your genius! the graveyards of your genius!'"
Corydon was gazing at his uplifted face. She said, "That is how Jesus must have felt, when he wept over Jerusalem."
"Yes," said Thyrsis. "It is a new religion trying to be born. Only nowadays they don't persecute you, they just ignore you. They don't hang you up on a cross and make you conspicuous and picturesque-- they ridicule you and let you starve. And that is what I face, you see. I've saved a hundred dollars--just barely enough to buy me food until I've written the book!"
"And other people have so much!" cried Corydon.
"So much--and no idea what to do with it. They just fling it away, in a drunken frenzy. And down below are the poor, who slave to make civilization possible. Such lives as they have to live--I can't ever get the thought out of my mind, not in any happiest moment! I feel as if I were a man who had escaped from a beleaguered city, and it all depended upon me to carry the tidings and bring relief. I'm their one hope, and if I fail them I'm a traitor, an accursed being! They are ignorant and helpless, and their cry comes to me like some great storm-wind of grief and despair. Oh, some day I mean to utter words that will reach them--I can't fail! I can't fail!"
"No!" whispered Corydon. "You must not fail!"
They sat in silence for a while.
"How I wish that I could help you!" she said.
"Who can tell?" he answered. "Perhaps you may. A true friend is a rare thing to find."
"I would do anything in the world to share in such a work."
"You really mean that? As hard as it is?"
"I would bear anything," she said. "I would go to the ends of the earth for it. I would fling away the whole world--just as you have done."
"Ah, but are you strong enough? Could you stand it?"
"I don't know that--I'm only a child. But I wouldn't mind dying."
And so it came. It came as the dawn comes, unheralded, unheeded--spreading wider, till the day is there. Months afterwards they talked about it, and Thyrsis asked, "When did I propose to you?"
"I don't think you ever proposed to me," she answered. "It just came. It had to come--there was no other way."
"But when did I first kiss you?" he asked.
"I don't know even that," she said, and pondered.
"Did I kiss you that night when we sat on the hill?" he asked.
"I wouldn't have known it if you had," said Corydon. "It was as natural for you to kiss me as it was for me to draw my breath."
Section 7. The moon was high when they went down the hill, and he rowed her home. They were silent with the awe that was upon them. They found the people at home in a panic, but they scarcely knew this--and they scarcely troubled to explain.
Then Thyrsis went home, and spent half the night roaming about in excitement. And early in the morning he was sitting on the edge of his canvas-cot, whispering to himself again, "Corydon! Little Corydon!"
He could not think of work that day, but set out to walk to the village by the lonely mountain-road; and half-way there he met the girl, coming in the other direction. There was a light of wonder in her eyes; and also there was perplexity. For all that morning she had been whispering to herself, "Thyrsis! Thyrsis!"
They sat by the roadside to talk it over.
"Corydon," he began, "I've been thinking about what we said last night, and it frightens me horribly. And I want to ask you please not to think about it any more. I could not take anyone else into my life--before God, I couldn't be so cruel. I have been shuddering at the thought of it. Oh please, please, run away from me--before it is too late!"
"Is that the way it seems?" she asked.
"Corydon!" he cried. "I am a tormented man! There can't be any happiness in the world for me. And you are so beautiful and so pure and so good--I simply dare not think of it! You must be happy, Corydon!"
"I have never yet been happy," she said.
"Listen," he went on--"there is a stanza of Walter Scott's that came to me this morning--an outlaw song. It seemed to sum up all my feeling about it:
"'Maiden! a nameless life I lead, A nameless death I'll die; The fiend whose lantern lights the mead Were better mate than I!'"
Now Thyrsis had set out with mighty battlements reared about him; and not all the houris and the courtesans of all the ages could have found a way to breach them. But before those simple sentences of Corydon's, uttered in her gentle voice, and with her maiden's gaze of wonder--the battlements crumbled and rocked.
And that was always the way of it. There were endless new explanations and new attitudes, new excursions and discoveries. They would part with a certain understanding, but they never knew with what view they would meet in the morning. They were swung from one extreme to the other, from certitude to doubt, from joy to dismay and despair. And so, day after day they would sit and talk, for uncounted hours. Corydon would come to the little cabin, or Thyrsis would come to the village, and they would wander about the roads or the woods, forgetting their meals, forgetting all the world. Once they wandered away into the mountains, and they sat until the dusk closed round them; they were almost lost that night.
"Of course," Thyrsis had been saying, "we should not be married like other men and women."
"No," said Corydon, "of course not."
"We should be brother and sister," he said.
"Yes," she assented.
"And it would not be real marriage--I mean, it would be just for the world's eyes."
"So I don't see how it could hinder you," Corydon added. "Whatever I did that was wrong, you would tell me. And then too, about money. I shouldn't be any burden; for I have twenty-five dollars a month of my own."
"I had no idea of that," said Thyrsis.
"I've only had it for a year," said Corydon. "An aunt left me nearly four thousand dollars. I can't touch the principal until I'm thirty, but I have the income, and that will buy me everything I need. And so it would be just as if you didn't have me to think of."
"I don't think the money side matters so much," was his reply. "It's only this summer, you see--until I've finished the book."
Section 8. The key to all the future was the book; but alas, the book was not coming on. How could one write amid such excitement? This was a new kind of wine in Thyrsis' blood. This was reality! And before it his dream-phantoms seemed to have dissolved into nothingness.
They would make a compact for so many days, and he would start to work; but he would find himself thinking of Corydon, and new problems would arise, and he would take to writing her notes--and finally realize in despair that he might as well go and see her.
Meantime Corydon would be wrestling with tasks of her own. They had talked over her development, and agreed that what she needed was discipline. And because Thyrsis had read her some of Goethe's lyrics, she had decided to begin with German. Thyrsis had wasted a great deal of time with German courses in college, and so he was able to tell her everything not to do. He got her a little primer of grammar, just enough to make clear the language-structure; and then he set her to acquiring a vocabulary. He had little books full of words that he had prepared for himself, and these she drilled into her brain, all day and nearly all night. She stopped for nothing but to eat--in the woods when the weather was fair and in her room when it rained, she studied words, words, words! And she made amazing progress--while Thyrsis was wrestling with his angels she read Grimm's fairy tales, and some of Heyse's "Novellen," and "Hermann and Dorothea," and "Wilhelm Tell."
But these were children's tasks, and her pilgrimage was one of despair. Above were the heights where Thyrsis dwelt, inaccessible, almost invisible; and how many years must she toil to reach them! She would come to him with tears in her eyes--tears of shame for her ignorance and her stupidity. And then Thyrsis would kiss the tears away, and tell her how many brilliant and clever women he had met, who had the souls of dolls behind all their display of culture.
So Corydon would escape that unhappiness--but alas, only to fall into another kind. For she was a maiden, beautiful and tender, and ineffably precious to Thyrsis; and when they met, their hands would come together--it was as natural for them to embrace as for the flowers to grow. And this would lead to moods of weakness and satisfaction--not to that divine discontent, that rage of impatience which Thyrsis craved. It seemed to him that Corydon grew more and more in love with him, and more willing to cling to him; and he was savage because of his own complaisance. They would spend hours, exchanging endearments and whispering youthful absurdities; and then, the next day, he would write a note of protest, and Corydon would be wild with misery, and would tear up his love-notes, and vow in tears that he should never touch her hand again. Now and then he would try to suggest to her that what she needed for the fulfillment of her life was not a madman like himself, but a husband who would love her and cherish her, as other women were loved and cherished; and there was nothing in all the world that galled her quite so much as this.
Section 9. There came a time when all these happenings could no longer be hid from parents. This unthinkable "engagement" had to be announced, and the furies of grief and rage and despair unchained. No one could realize the change that had come over Corydon--Cory-don, the meek and long-suffering, who now was turned to granite, and immovable as the everlasting hills. As for Thyrsis, all kinds of madness had come from him, and were expected from him. But even he was appalled at the devastation which this thunderbolt caused.
"You have ruined your career! You have ruined your career!" was the cry that rang in his ears all day. And he knew what the world meant by this. Young men of talent who wished to rise in the world did not burden themselves with wives at the age of twenty; they waited until their careers were safe--and meantime, if they felt the need, they satisfied their passions with the daughters of the poor. And it was for some such "eligible man" as this that the world had been preparing Corydon; it was to save her for his coming that her sheltered life had been intended. Her beauty and tenderness would appeal to him, her innocence would bring a new thrill to his jaded passions; and when he offered his hand, there would be no whisper of what his past might have been, there would be no questions asked as to any vices or diseases he might bring with him. There would be trousseaus and flowers and wedding-cake, rice and white ribbons and a honeymoon-journey; and then an apartment in the city, or perhaps even a whole house, with a butler and a carriage--who could tell? With wealth pouring into the metropolis from North and West and South, such things fell often to beautiful and innocent maidens in sheltered homes.
And here was this one, flinging herself away upon a penniless poet who could not support her, and did not even propose to try! "Does he mean to get some work?" was the question; and gently Corydon explained that they intended "to live as brother and sister." And that capped the climax--that proved stark, raving madness, if it did not prove downright knavery and fraud.
In the end, being utterly baffled and helpless with dismay, the mothers turned upon each other; for to each of them, the virtues of her own offspring being so apparent, it was clear that this hideous tragedy must have come from the machinations of the other. One day Thyrsis and his mother, walking down a road, met Corydon and her mother, upon a high hill where the winds blew wildly; and here they poured out their grief, and hurled their impeachments against the storm. To Thyrsis they assumed heroic proportions, they towered like queens of tragedy; in after-history this was known as the Meeting of the Mothers, and he likened it to the great contest in the Nibelungenlied between Brunhild and Kriemhild.
Then, on top of it all, there came another calamity. In the boarding-house with Corydon lived some elderly ladies, who had a remarkable faculty for divining the evil deeds of other people. They had divined the evil deeds of Corydon and Thyrsis, and one of them was moved to come to Corydon's mother one day, and warn her lest others should divine them too. And so there was more agony; the discovery was made that Corydon had become a social outcast to all the maids and matrons of the summer population--a girl who went to visit a poet in his lonely cabin, and stayed until unknown hours of the night. And so there came to Thyrsis a note saying that Corydon must come no more to the cabin; and later in the day came Corydon herself, to bring the tidings that a telegram had come from the city, and that she and her mother were to leave the place the next day.
Thyrsis was aflame with anger, and was for going to the nearest parson and having the matter settled there and then. But Corydon dissuaded him from this.
"I've been thinking it over," she said, "and it's best that I should go. You must finish the book--everything depends upon that, and you know that if I came here now you couldn't do it. But if I go away, there'll be nothing to disturb you. I can study meantime; and when we meet in the city in the fall, everything will be clear before us."
She came and put herself in his arms. "You know, dear heart," she said, "it won't be easy for me to go. But I'm sure it's for the best!"
And Thyrsis saw that she was right, and so they settled it. She spent that day with him--their last day; and floods of tenderness welled up in their hearts, and the tears ran down their cheeks. It was only now that she was going that Thyrsis realized how precious she had become to him, and what a miracle of gentleness and trust she was.
They agreed that here, and not in the village, was the place for their parting. So they poured out their love and devotion, and made their pledges for the future; and towards sundown he kissed her good-bye, and put her in the boat, and stood watching until it was a mere speck down the lake. Then he went back to the house, with a great cavern of loneliness in his soul.
And in spite of all resolves, he was up with the dawn next day, and walking to the village--he must see her once again! He went to the depot with her, and upon the platform they said another farewell; thereby putting a seal upon Corydon's damnation in the eyes of the maids and matrons of the summer population.
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