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THE VICTIM APPROACHES
A silence had fallen upon them. She sat watching where the light of the sun flickered among the birches; and he had the book in his hand, and was turning the pages idly. He read--
"I know these slopes; who knows them if not I?"
And she smiled, and quoted in return--
"Here cam'st thou in thy jocund youthful time, Here was thine height of strength, thy golden prime! And still the haunt beloved a virtue yields."
Section 1. It was early one November afternoon, in his cabin in the forest, that Thyrsis wrote the last of his minstrel's songs. He had not been able to tell when it would come to him, so he had made no preparations; but when the last word was on the paper, he sprang to his feet, and strode through the snow-clad forest to the nearest farm-house. The farmer came with a wagon, and Thyrsis bundled all his belongings into his trunk, and took the night-train for the city.
He came like a young god, radiant and clothed in glory. All the creatures of his dreams were awake within him, all his demons and his muses; he had but to call them and they answered. There was a sound of trumpets and harps in his soul all day; he was like a man half walking, half running, in the midst of a great storm of wind.
He had fought the good fight, and he had conquered. The world was at his feet, and he had no longer any fear of it. The jangling of the street-cars was music to him, the roar and rush of the city stirred his pulses--this was the life he had come to shape to his will!
And so he came to Corydon, glorious and irresistible. His mind was quite made up--he would take her; he was master now, he had no longer any doubts or fears. He was thrilled all through him with the thought of her; how wonderful it was at such an hour to have some one to communicate with--some one in whose features he could see a reflection of his own exaltation! He recollected the words of the old German poet--
"Der ist selig zu begrussen Der ein treues Herze weiss!"
He came and took her hands in his, and gently touched her cheek with his lips. She stared at him dumbly.
"It's all right, sweetheart," he whispered. "It's all right." And she closed her eyes, and it seemed as if to breathe was all she could do.
"Come, dearest," he said. "Let us go out."
And half in a daze she put on her hat and coat, and they went out on the street. He took her arm to steady her.
"Well?" she asked.
"It's all right, dearest," he said.
"You got my letter?"
"Yes, I got it. And it was a wonderful letter. It couldn't have been better."
"And there's no more to be said. There's no refusing such a challenge. You shall come with me."
"But Thyrsis! Do you _want_ me to come?"
"Yes," he said, "I want you."
And he felt a tremor pass through her arm. He pressed it tightly to his side. "I love you!" he whispered.
"Ah Thyrsis!" she exclaimed. "How you have tortured me!"
"Hush, dear!" he replied. "Let's not think of that. It's all past now. We are going on! You have proven your grit. You are wonderful!"
They went into the park, and sat upon a bench in the sun.
"I've finished the book!" he said. "And in a couple more days it'll be copied. I've a letter of introduction to a publisher, and he wrote me he'd read it at once."
"It seems like a dream to me," she whispered.
"We won't have to wait long after that," he said. "Everything will be clear before us."
"And what will you do in the meantime?" she asked.
"Mother wants me to stay with her," he said. "I've only got ten dollars left. But I'll get some from the publisher."
"Are you sure you can?" she asked.
"Oh, Corydon!" he cried, "you've no idea how wonderful it is--the book, I mean. You'll be amazed! It kept growing on me all the time--I got new visions of it. That was why it took me so long. I didn't dare to appreciate it, while I was doing it--I had to keep myself at work, you know; but now that it's done, I can realize it. And oh, it's a book the world will heed!"
"When can I see it, Thyrsis?"
"As soon as it's copied--the manuscript is all a scrawl. But you know the minstrel's song at the end? My Gethsemane, I called it! I found a new form for it--it's all in free verse. I didn't mean it to be that way, but it just wrote itself; it broke through the bars and ran away with me. Oh, it marches like the thunder!"
He pulled some papers from his coat-pocket. "I was going over it on the train this morning," he said. "Listen!"
He read her the song, thrilling anew with the joy of its effect upon her. "Oh, Thyrsis!" she cried, in awe. "That is marvellous! Marvellous! How could you do it?"
And yet, for all the delight she expressed, Thyrsis was conscious of a chill of disappointment, of a doubt lurking in the background of his mind. It was inevitable, in the nature of things--how could the book mean to any human creature what it had meant to him? Seven long months he had toiled with it, he had been through the agonies of a child-birth for it. And another person would read it all in one day!--It was the old, old agony of the artist, who can communicate so small a part of what has been in his soul.
Section 2. He wanted to talk about his book, but Corydon wanted to talk about him. She had waited so long, and suffered so much--and now at last he was here! "Oh, Thyrsis!" she cried. "There's just no use in my trying--I can't do anything at all without you!"
"You won't have to do it any more," he said. "We shall not part again."
"And you are sure you want me? You have no more doubts?"
"How could I have any doubts--after that letter. Ah, that was a brave letter, Corydon! It made me think of you as some old Viking's daughter! That is the way to go at the task!"
"And then I may feel certain!" she said.
"You may stop thinking all about it," he replied. "We'll waste no more of our time--we'll put it aside and get to work."
They spent the day wandering about in the park and talking over their plans. "I suppose it'll be all right now that I'm with you," said Thyrsis. "I mean, there's no great hurry about getting married."
"Oh, no!" she answered. "We dare not think of that, until you have money."
"How I wish we didn't have to get married!" he exclaimed.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because-why should we have to get anybody else's permission to live our lives? I've thought about it a good deal, and it's a slave-custom, and it makes me ashamed of myself."
"But don't you believe in marriage, dear?"
"I do, and I don't. I believe that a man who exposes a woman to the possibility of having a child, ought to guarantee to support the woman for a time, and to support the child. That's obvious enough--no one but a scoundrel would want to avoid it. But marriage means so much more than that! You bind yourself to stay together, whether love continues or whether it stops; you can't part, except on some terms that other people set down. You have to make all sorts of promises you don't intend to keep, and to go through forms you don't believe in, and it seems to me a cowardly thing to do."
"But what else can one do?" asked Corydon.
"It's quite obvious what _we_ could do. We don't intend to be husband and wife; and so we could simply go away and go on with our work."
"But think of our parents, Thyrsis!"
"Yes, I know--I've thought of them. But if every one thought of his parents, how would the world ever move?"
"But, dearest!" exclaimed Corydon, "if we didn't marry, they'd simply go out of their senses!"
"I know. But then, they might threaten to go out of their senses if we _did_ marry? And would that work also?"
"We must be sensible," said the girl. "It means so much to them, and so little to us."
"Yes, I suppose so," he answered. "But all the same, I hate it; when you once begin conforming, you never know where you'll stop."
"_We_ shall know," declared the other. "Whatever we may have to do to get married, we shall both of us know that neither would ever dream of wishing to hold the other for a moment after love had ceased. And that is the essential thing, is it not?"
"Yes," assented Thyrsis. "I suppose so."
"Well, then, we'll make that bargain between us; that will be _our_ marriage."
"That suits me better," he replied.
She thought for a moment, and then said, with a laugh, "Let us have a little ceremony of our own."
"Very well," said he.
"Are you ready for it now?" she inquired. "Your mind is quite made up?"
"Quite made up."
She looked about her, to make sure that no one was in sight; and then she put her hand in his. "I have been to weddings," she said. "And so I know how they do it.--I take thee, Thyrsis, to be the companion of my soul. I give myself to thee freely, for the sake of love, and I will stay so long as thy soul is better with me than without. But if ever this should cease to be, I will leave thee; for if my soul is weaker than thine, I have no right to be thy mate."
She paused. "Is that right?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, "that is right."
"Very well then," she said; "and now, you say it!"
And she made him repeat the words--"I take thee, Corydon, to be the companion of my soul. I give myself to thee freely, for the sake of love, and I will stay so long as thy soul is better with me than without. But if ever this should cease to be, I will leave thee; for if my soul is weaker than thine, I have no right to be thy mate."
"Now," she exclaimed, with an eager laugh--"now we're married!" And as he looked he caught the glint of a tear in her eyes.
Section 3. But the world would not be content to leave it on that basis. When they parted that afternoon, it was with a carefully-arranged program of work--they were to visit each other on alternate days and go on with their German and music. But in less than a week they had run upon an obstruction; there was no quiet room for them at Corydon's save her bedroom, and one evening when Thyrsis came, she made the announcement that they could no longer study there.
"Why not?" he asked.
"Well," explained Corydon, "they say the maid might think it wasn't nice."
She had expected him to fly into a rage, but he only smiled grimly. "I had come to tell you the same sort of thing," he explained. "It seems you can't visit me so often, and you're never to stay after ten o'clock at night."
"Why is that?" she inquired.
"It's a question of what the hall-boy might think," said he.
They sat gazing at each other in silence. "You see," said Thyrsis, at last, "the thing is impossible--we've got to go and get married. The world will never give us any peace until we do."
"Nobody has any idea of what we mean!" exclaimed Corydon.
"No idea whatever," he said. "They've nothing in them in anyway to correspond with it. You talk to them about souls, and they haven't any. You talk to them about love, and they think you mean obscenity. Everybody is thinking obscenity about us!"
"Everybody but our parents," put in Corydon.
To which he answered, angrily, "They are thinking of what the others are thinking."
But everybody seemed to have to think something, and that was the aspect of the matter that puzzled them most. Why did everybody find it necessary to be thinking about it at all? Why did everybody consider it his business? As Thyrsis phrased it--"Why the hell can't they let us alone?"
"We've got to get married," said she. "That's the only way to get the best of them."
"But is that really getting the best of them?" he objected. "Isn't that their purpose--to make us get married?"
This was a pregnant question, but they did not follow it up just then. They went on to the practical problem of where and when and how to accomplish their purpose.
"We can go to a court," said he.
"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "We'd have to meet a lot of men, and I couldn't stand it."
"But surely you don't want to go to a church!" he said.
"Couldn't we get some clergyman to marry us quietly?"
"But then, there's a lot of rigmarole!"
"But mightn't he leave it out?" she asked.
"I don't know," he said. "They generally believe in it, you see."
He decided to make an attempt, however.
"Let's go to-morrow morning," he said. "I'm going over to have the sound-post set in my violin, and that'll take an hour or so. Perhaps we can finish it up in the meantime."
"A good idea," said Corydon. "It'll give me to-night to tell mother and father."
Section 4. So behold them, the next morning, emerging from the little shop of the violin-dealer, and seeking for some one to fasten them in the holy bonds of matrimony! They were walking down a great avenue, and there were many churches--but they were all rich churches. "I never thought about it before," said Thyrsis. "But I wonder if there are any poor churches in the city!"
They stopped in front of one brown-stone structure that looked a trifle less elaborate. "It says Presbyterian," said Corydon, reading the sign. "I wonder how they do it."
"I don't know," said he. "But he'd want a lot of money, I'm sure."
"But mightn't he have a curate, or something?"
"Goose," laughed Thyrsis, "there are no Presbyterian curates!"
"Well, you know what I mean," she said--"an assistant, or an apprentice, or something."
"I don't know," said he. "Let's go and ask."
So, with much trepidation, they rang the bell of the parsonage on the side-street. But the white-capped maid who answered told them that the pastor was not in, and that there were no curates or apprentices about.
They went on.
"How much do you suppose they charge, anyway?" asked Thyrsis.
"I don't know--I think you give what you can spare. How much money have you?"
"I've got eight dollars to my name."
"Have you got it with you?"
"Yes--all of it."
"I get my twenty-five to-morrow," she added.
"Do you really get it?" he asked. "You can depend on it?"
"Oh yes--it comes the middle of each month."
"I've heard of people getting incomes from investments, and things like that, but it always seemed hard to believe. I never thought I'd meet with it in my own life."
"It's certainly very nice," said Corydon.
"Where does it come from?"
"There's a trustee of the estate who sends it. It's Mr. Hammond."
"That bald-headed man I met once?"
"Yes, he's the one. He's quite a well-known lawyer, and they say I'm fortunate to have him."
"I see," said Thyrsis. "I'll have to look into it some day. You know you have to endow me with all your worldly goods!"
They went on down the avenue, and came to a Jewish temple with a gilded dome. "I wonder how that would do," said Corydon.
"I don't think it would do at all," said Thyrsis. "We'd surely have to believe something there."
So they went on again. And on a corner, as they stopped to look about them, a strange mood came suddenly to Thyrsis. It was as if a veil was rent before him--as if a bolt of lightning had flashed. What was he going to do? He was going to bind himself in marriage! He was going to be trapped--he, the wild thing, the young stag of the forest!
"What is it?" asked Corydon, seeing him standing motionless.
"I--I was just thinking," he said.
"I was afraid, Corydon, I wondered if we were sure--if we realized--"
"If we _realized!_" she cried.
"You know--it'll be forever--"
"Why, Thyrsis!" she exclaimed, in horror.
And so he started, and laughed uneasily. "It was just a queer fancy that came to me," he said.
"But how _could_ you!" she cried.
"Come, dearest," he said, hurriedly--"it's nothing. It seems so strange, that's all."
In the middle of the block they came to another church. "Unitarian!" he exclaimed. "Oh, maybe that's just the thing!"
And so they went in, and found a friendly clergyman, Dr. Hamilton by name, to whom they explained their plight. They answered his questions--yes, they were both of age, and they had told their parents. Also, with much stammering, Thyrsis explained that his worldly goods amounted to eight dollars.
"But--how are you going to live?" asked Dr. Hamilton.
Thyrsis was tempted to mention the masterpiece, but he decided not to. "I'm going to earn money," he said.
"Well," responded the other, "I suppose it's all right. I'll marry you."
And so the sexton was called in for a witness, and the clergyman stood before them and made a little speech, and said a prayer, and then joined their hands together and pronounced the spell. The two trembled just a little, but answered bravely, "I do," in the proper places, and then it was over. They shook hands with the doctor, and promised to come hear one of his sermons; and with much trepidation they paid him two dollars, which he in turn paid to the sexton. And then they went outside, and drew a great breath of relief. "It wasn't half as bad as I expected," the bridegroom confessed.
Section 5. Thyris invested in a newspaper, and as they went back to get the violin they read the advertisements of furnished rooms. In respectable neighborhoods which they tried they found that the prices were impossible for them; but at last, upon the edge of a tenement district, they found a corner flat-house, with a saloon underneath, where there were two tiny bedrooms for rent in an apartment. The woman, who was a seamstress, was away a good deal in the day, and Corydon learned with delight that she might use the piano in the parlor. The rooms were the smallest they had ever seen, but they were clean, and the price was only fifty cents a day--a dollar and a half a week for Thyrsis' and two dollars for Corydon's, because there was a steam-radiator in it.
There was a racket of school-children and of streetcars from the avenue below, but they judged they would get used to this; and having duly satisfied the landlady that they were married, and having ascertained that she had no objection to "light housekeeping," they engaged the rooms and paid a week's rent in advance.
"That leaves us two and a half to start life on!" said Thyrsis, when they were on the street again. "Our housekeeping will be light indeed!"
They walked on, and sat down in the park to talk it over.
"It's not nearly so reckless as it would seem," he argued. "For I have to earn money for myself any-how. And then there's the book."
"When will you hear about it?"
"I called the man up the day before yesterday. He said they were reading it."
"Have you said anything to him about money?"
"Will they pay something in advance?"
"They will, I guess, if they like the story. I don't know very much about the business end of it."
"We mustn't let them take advantage of us!" exclaimed Corydon.
"No, of course not. But I hate to have to think about the money side of it. It's a cruel thing that I have to sell my inspiration."
"What else could you do?" she asked.
"It's something I've thought a great deal about," said he. "It kept forcing itself upon me all the time I was writing. Here I am with my vision--working day and night to make something beautiful and sacred, something without taint of self. And I have to take it to business-men, who will go out into the market-place and sell it to make money! It will come into competition with thousands of other books--and the publishers shouting their virtues like so many barkers at a fair. I can hardly bear to think of it; I'd truly rather live in a garret all my days than see it happen. I don't want the treasures of my soul to be hawked on the streets."
"But how else could people get them?" asked Corydon.
"I would like to have a publishing-house of my own, and to print my books with good paper and strong bindings that would last, and then sell them for just what they cost. So the whole thing would be consistent, and I could tell the exact truth about what I wrote. For I know the truth about my work; I've no vanities, I'd be as remorseless a critic of myself as Shelley was. I'd be willing to leave it to time for my real friends to find me out--I'd give up the department-store public to the authors who wanted it. And then, too, I could sell my books cheaply, so that the poor could get them. I always shudder to think that the people who most need what I write will have it kept away from them, because I am holding it back to make a profit!"
"We must do that some day!" declared Corydon.
"We must live very simply," he said, "so we can begin it soon. Perhaps we can do it with the money we get from this first book. We could get everything we need for a thousand dollars a year, and save the balance."
The other assented to this.
"I've got the prospectus of my publishing-house all written," Thyrsis went on. "And I've several other plans worked out--people would laugh if they saw them, I guess. But before I get through, I'm going to have a reading-room where anyone can come and get my books. It'll be down where the poor people are; and I'm going to have travelling libraries, so as to reach people in the country. That is the one hope for better things, as I see it--we must get ideas to the people!"
Thus discoursing, they strolled back to the home of Thyrsis' mother, and he went in to get his belongings together. Corydon went with him; and as they entered, the mother said, "There's an express package for you."
So Thyrsis went to his room, and saw a flat package lying on the bed. He stared at it, startled, and then picked it up and read the label upon it. "Why--why!--" he gasped; and then he seized a pair of scissors and cut the string and opened it. It was his manuscript!
With trembling fingers he turned it over. There was a letter with it, and he snatched it up. "We regret," it read, "that we cannot make you an offer for the publication of your book. Thanking you for the privilege of examining it, we are very truly yours." And that was all!
"They've rejected the book!" gasped Thyrsis; and the two stared at each other with consternation and horror in their eyes.
That was a possibility that had never occurred to Thyrsis in his wildest moment. That anyone in his senses could reject that book! That anyone could read a single chapter of it and not see what it was!
"They only had it five days!" he exclaimed; and instantly an explanation flashed across his mind. "I don't believe they read it!" he cried. "I don't believe they ever looked at it!"
But, read or unread, there was the manuscript--rejected. There was no appeal from the decision; there was no explanation, no apology--they had simply rejected it! It was like a blow in the face to Thyrsis; he felt like a woman whose love is spurned.
"Oh the fools! The miserable fools!" he cried.
But he could not bring much comfort to his soul by that method. The seriousness of it remained. The publishing-house was one of the largest and most prosperous in the country; and if they were fools, how many more fools might there not be among those who stood between him and the public? And if so, what would he do?
Section 6. So these two began their life under the shadow of a cloud. At the very first hour, when they should have been all rapture, there had come into the chamber of their hearts this grisly spectre--that was to haunt them for so many years!
But they clenched their hands grimly, and put the thought aside, and moved their worldly goods to the two tiny rooms. When they had got their trunks in, there was no place to sit save on the beds; and though Corydon had cast away all superfluities for this pilgrimage, still it was a puzzle to know where to put things.
But what of that--they were together at last! What an ecstasy it was to be actually unpacking, and to be mingling their effects! A kind of symbol it was of their spiritual union, so that the most commonplace things became touched with meaning. Thyrsis thrilled when the other brought in an armful of books to him--all this wealth was to be added to his store! He owned no books himself, save a few text-books, and some volumes of poetry that he knew by heart. Other books he had borrowed all his life from libraries; and he often thought with wonder that there were people who would pay a dollar or two for a book which they did not mean to read but once!
Also there were a hundred trifles which came from Corydon's trunk, and which whispered of the intimacies of her life; the pictures she put upon her bureau, the sachet-bags that went into the drawer, the clothing she hung behind the door. It disturbed him strangely to realize how close she was to be to him from now on.
And then, the excursion to the corner-grocery, and the delight of the plunge into housekeeping! A pound of butter, and some salt and pepper, and a bunch of celery; a box of "chipped beef", and a dozen eggs, and a quart of potatoes; and then to the baker's, for rolls and sponge-cakes--did ever a grocer and a baker sell such ecstasies before? They carried it all home, and while Corydon scrubbed the celery in the bath-room, Thyrsis got out his chafing-dish and set the beef and eggs to sizzling, and they sat and sniffed the delicious odors, and meantime munched at rolls and butter, because they were so hungry they could not wait.
What an Elysian festivity they made of it! And then to think that they would have three such picnics every day! To be sure, the purchases had taken one half of Thyrsis' remaining capital; but then, was it not just that spice of danger that gave the keen edge to their delight? What was it that made the sense of snugness and intimacy in their little retreat, save the knowledge of a cold and hostile world outside?
The next morning Thyrsis took his manuscript to another publisher, and then they went at their work. Corydon laughed aloud with delight as they began the German--for what were all its terrors now, when she had Thyrsis for a dictionary! They fairly romped through the books. In the weeks that followed they read "Werther" and "Wilhelm Meister" and "Wahlverwandschaften"; they read "Undine" and "Peter Schlemil" and the "Leben eines Taugenichts"; they read Heine's poems, and Auerbach's and Freitag's novels, and Wieland's "Oberon"--is there anybody in Germany who still reads Wieland's "Oberon?" Surely there must somewhere be young couples who delight in "Der Trompeter von Sekkingen," and laugh with delight over "der Kater Hidigeigei!"
Also they went at music. Corydon had been taught to play as many "pieces" as the average American young lady; but Thyrsis had tried to persuade her to a new and desperate emprise--he insisted that there was nothing to music until one had learned to read it at sight. So now, every day when their landlady had gone out, he moved his music-stand into the little parlor, and they went at the task. Thyrsis proposed to achieve it by a _tour_ _de_ _force_--the way to read German was to read it, and the way to read music was to read music. He would set up a piece they had never seen before, and they would begin; and he would pound out the time with his foot, and make Corydon keep up with him--even though she was only able to get one or two notes in each bar, still she must keep up with him. At first this was agony to her--she wanted to linger and get some semblance of the music; but Thyrsis would scold and exhort and shout, and pound out the time.
And so, to Corydon's own amazement, it was not many weeks before she found that she was actually reading music, that they were playing it together. In this way they learned Haydn's and Mozart's sonatas, they even adventured Beethoven's trios, with the second violin left out. Then Thyrsis subscribed to a music-library, and would come home twice a week with an armful of new stuff, good and bad. And whenever in all their struggles with it they were able to achieve anything that really moved them as music, what a rapture it brought them!
Section 7. This was indeed the nearest they could ever come to creative achievement together; this was the one field in which their abilities were equal. In all other things there were disharmonies--they came upon many reefs and shoals in these uncharted matrimonial seas.
Thyrsis was swift and impatient, and had flung away all care about external things; and here was Corydon, a woman, with all a woman's handicaps and disabilities. She was like a little field-mouse in her care of her person--she must needs scrub herself minutely every morning, and have hot water for her face every night; her hair had to be braided and her nails had to be cared for--and oh, the time it took her to get her clothes on, or even to get ready for the street! She would struggle like one possessed to accomplish it more quickly, while Thyrsis chafed and growled and agonized in the next room. There was nothing he could do meantime--for were they not going to do everything together?
Then there was another stumbling-block--the newspapers! Thyrsis had to know what was going on in the world. He had learned to read the papers and magazines like an exchange-editor; his eye would fly from column to column, and he would rip the insides out of one in two or three minutes. To Corydon it was agony to see him do this, for it took her half an hour to read a newspaper. She besought him to read it out loud--and was powerless to understand the distress that this caused him. He stood it as long as he could, and then he took to marking in the papers the things that she needed to know; and this he continued to do religiously, until he had come to realize that Corydon never remembered anything that she read in the papers.
This was something it took him years to comprehend; there were certain portions of the ordinary human brain which simply did not exist in his wife. She had lived eighteen years in the world, and it had never occurred to her to ask how steam made an engine go, or what was the use of the little glass knobs on the telegraph-poles. And it was the same with politics and business, and with the thousand and one personalities of the hour. When these things came up, Thyrsis would patiently explain to her what she needed to know; and he would take it for granted that she would pounce upon the information and stow it away in her mind--just as he would have done in a similar case. But then, two or three weeks later, the same topic would come up, and he would see a look of sudden terror come into Corydon's eyes--she had forgotten every word of it!
He came, after a long time, to honor this ignorance. People had to bring some real credentials with them to win a place in Corydon's thoughts; it was not enough that they were conspicuous in the papers. And it was the same with facts of all sorts; science existed for Corydon only as it pointed to beauty, and history existed only as it was inspiring. They read Green's "History of the English People" in the evenings; and every now and then Corydon would have to go and plunge her face into cold water to keep her eyes open, The long parliamentary struggle was utter confusion to her--she had no joy to watch how "freedom slowly broadens down from precedent to precedent." But once in a while there would come some story, like that Of Joan of Arc--and there would be the girl, with her hands clenched, and hot tears in her eyes, and the fires of martyrdom blazing in her soul!
These were the hours which revealed to Thyrsis the treasure he had won--the creature of pure beauty whose heart was in his keeping. He was humbled and afraid before her; but the agony of it was that he could not dwell in those regions of joy with her--he had to know about stupid things and vulgar people, he had to go out among them to scramble for a living. So there had to be a side to his mind that Corydon could not share. And it did not suffice just to tolerate the existence of such things--he had to be actively interested in them, and to take their point of view. How else could he hold his place in the world, how could he win in the struggle for life?
This, he strove to persuade himself, was the one real difficulty between them, the one thing that marred the perfection of their bliss. But as time went on, he came to suspect that there was something else--something even more vital and important. It seemed to him that he had given up that which was the chief source of his power--his isolation. The center of his consciousness had been shifted outside of himself; and try as he would, he could never get it back. Where now were the hours and hours of silent brooding? Where were the long battles in his own soul? And what was to take he place of them--could conversation do it, conversation no matter how interesting and worth while? Thyrsis had often quoted a saying of Emerson's, that "people descend to meet." And when one was married did not one have to descend all the time?
He reasoned the matter out to himself. It was not Corydon's fault, he saw clearly; it would have been the same had he married one of the seraphim. He did not want to live the life of any seraph--he wanted to live his own life. And was it not obvious that the mere physical proximity of another person kept one's attention upon external things? Was not one inevitably kept aware of trivialities and accidents? Thyrsis had an ideal, that he should never permit an idle word to pass his lips; and now he saw how inevitably the common-place crept in upon them--how, for instance, their conversation had a way of turning to personality and jesting. Corydon was sensitive to external things, and she kept him aware of the fact that his trousers were frayed and his hair unkempt, and that other people were remarking these things.
Such was marriage; and it made all the more difference to an author, he reasoned, because an author was always at home. Thyrsis had been accustomed, when he opened his eyes in the morning, to lie still and let images and fancies come trooping through his mind; he would plan his whole day's work in that way, while his fancy was fresh and there was nothing to disturb him. But now he had to get up and dress, thus scattering these visions. In the same way, he had been wont to walk and meditate for hours; but now he never walked alone. That meant incidentally that he no longer got the exercise he needed--because Corydon could never walk at his pace. And if this was the case with such external things, how much more was it the case with the strange impulses of his inmost soul! Thyrsis was now like a hunter, who starts a deer, and instead of putting spurs to his horse and following it, has to wait to summon a companion--and meanwhile, of course, the deer is gone!
From all this there was but one deliverance for them, and that was music. Music was their real interest, music was their religion; and if only they could go on and grow in it--if only they could acquire technique enough to live their lives in it! This would take years, of course; but they did not mind that, they were willing to work every day until they were exhausted--if only the world would give them a chance! But alas, the world did not seem to be minded that way.
Section 8. Thyrsis had waited a week, and then written the second publisher, and received a reply to the effect that at least two weeks were needed for the consideration of a manuscript. And meantime his last penny was gone, and he was living on Corydon's money. It was clear that he must earn something at once; and so he had to leave her to study and practice in her own room, while he cudgelled his brains and tormented his soul with hack-work.
He tried his verses again; but he found that the spring had dried up in him. Life was now too sombre a thing, the happy spontaneous jingles came no more. And what he did by main force of will sounded hollow and vapid to him--and must have sounded so to the editors, who sent them back.
Then he tried book-reviewing; but oh, the ghastly farce of book-reviewing! To read futile writing and sham writing of a hundred degrading varieties--and never dare to utter a truth about them! To labor instead to put one's self in the place of the school-girl reader and the tired shop-clerk reader and the sentimental married-woman reader, and imagine what they would think about the book, and what they would like to have said about it! To take these little pieces of dishonesty to an office, and sit by trembling while they were read, and receive two dollars apiece for them if they were published, and nothing at all if one had been so lacking in cunning as to let the editor think that the book was not worth the space!
However, Thyrsis had cunning enough to earn the cost of his room and his food for two weeks more. Then one day the postman brought him a letter, the inscription of which made his heart give a throb. He ripped the envelope open and read a communication from the second publisher:
"We have been interested in your manuscript, and while we do not feel that we can undertake its publication, we should like an opportunity to talk with you about it."
"What does _that_ mean?" asked Corydon, trembling.
"God knows," he answered. "I'll go and see them this morning."
When he came back, it was to sink into a chair and stare in front of him with a savage frown. "Don't ask me!" he said, to Corydon. "Don't ask!"
"Please tell me!" cried the girl. "Did you see them?"
"Yes," said Thyrsis--"I saw a fat man!"
"A fat man!"
"Yes--a fat man. A fat body, and a fat mind, and a fat soul."
"Please tell me, Thyrsis!"
"He said my book wouldn't sell, because the public had got tired of that sort of thing."
"That sort of thing!"
"It seems that people used to buy 'historical romances', and now they've stopped. The man actually thought my book was one of that kind!"
"I see. But then--couldn't you tell him?"
"I told him. I said, 'Can't you see that this book is original--that it's come out of a man's heart?' 'Yes,' he said, 'perhaps. But you can't expect the public to see it.' And so there you are!"
Thyrsis sat with his nails dug into his palms. "It's just like the book-reviews!" he cried. "He knows better, but that doesn't count--he's thinking about the public! And he's got to the point where he doesn't really care--he's a fat man!"
"And so he'll not publish the book?"
"He'll not have anything more to do with me. He hates me."
"Yes. Because I have faith, and he hasn't! Because I wouldn't stoop to the indignity he offered!"
"What did he offer?"
"He says that what the public's reading now is society novels--stories about up-to-date people who are handsome and successful and rich. They want automobiles and theatre-parties and country-clubs in their novels."
"But Thyrsis! You don't know anything about such things!"
"I know. But he said I could find out. And so I could. The point he made was that I've got passion and color--I could write a moving love-story! In other words, I could use my ecstasy to describe two society-people mating!"
There was a pause. "And what did you do with the manuscript?" asked Corydon, in a low voice.
"I took it to another publisher," he answered.
"And what are you going to do now?"
"I've been to see the editor of the 'Treasure Chest.'"
The "Treasure Chest" was a popular magazine of fiction, a copy of which Thyrsis had seen lying upon the table of their landlady. He had glanced through the first story, and had declared to Corydon that if he had a stenographer he could talk such a story at the rate of twenty thousand words a day.
"And did the editor see you?"
"Yes. He's a big husky 'advertising man'--he looks like a prize-fighter. He said if I could write, to go ahead and prove it. He pays a cent for five words--a hundred dollars for a complete serial. He pays on acceptance; and he said he'd read a scenario for me. So I'm going to try it."
"What's it to be about?" asked Corydon.
"I'm going to try what they call a 'Zenda' story," said Thyrsis. "The editor says the readers of the 'Treasure Chest' haven't got tired of 'Zenda' stories."
And so Thyrsis spent the afternoon and evening wandering about in the park; and sometime after midnight he wrote out his scenario. The advantage of a "Zenda" story was that, as the adventures happened in an imaginary kingdom, there would be no need to study up "local color". As for the conventional artificial dialect, he could get it from any of the "romances" in the nearby circulating library. He did not dare to take the scenario the next day, but waited a decent interval; and when he returned it was to report that the story was considered to be promising, and that he was to write twenty thousand words for a test.
Section 9. So Thyrsis shut himself up and went to work. Sometimes he wrote with rage seething in his heart, and sometimes with laughter on his lips. This latter was the case when he did the love-scenes--because of the "passion and color" he bestowed upon the fascinating countess and the clever young American engineer. He could have written the twenty thousand words in three days; but he waited ten days, so that the editor might not think that he was careless. And three days later he went back for the verdict.
The editor said it was good, and that if the rest was like it he would accept the story. So Thyrsis went to work again, and finished the manuscript, and put it away until time enough had elapsed. And meanwhile came a letter from the literary head of the third publishing-house, regretting that he could not accept the book.
It was such a friendly letter that Thyrsis went to call there, and met a pleasant and rather fine-souled gentleman, Mr. Ardsley by name, who told him a little about the problems he faced in life.
"You have a fine talent," he said--"you may even have genius. Your book is obviously sincere--it's _vÍcu,_ as the French say. I suspect you must have been in love when you wrote it."
"In a way," said Thyrsis, flushing slightly. He had not intended that to show.
The other smiled. "It's overwrought in places," he went on, "and it tends to incoherency. But the main trouble is that it's entirely over the heads of the public. They don't know anything about the kind of love you're interested in, and they'd laugh at it."
"But then, what am I to do?" cried Thyrsis.
"You'll simply have to keep on trying, till you happen to strike it."
"But--how am I to live?"
"Ah," said Mr. Ardsley, "that is the problem." He smiled, rather sadly, as he sat watching the lad. "You see how _I've_ solved it," he went on. "I was young once myself, and I tried to write novels. And in those days I blamed the publishers--I thought they stood in my way. But now, I see how it is; a publisher is engaged in a highly competitive business, and he barely makes interest on his capital; he can't afford to publish books that won't pay their way. Here am I, for instance--it's my business to advise this house; and if I advise them wrongly, what becomes of me? If I take them your manuscript and say, 'It's a real piece of work,' they'll ask me, 'Will it pay its way?' And I have to answer them, 'I don't think it will.'"
"But such things as they publish!" exclaimed the boy, wildly.
And Mr. Ardsley smiled again. "Yes," he said. "But they pay their way. In fact, they save the business."
So Thyrsis went out. He saw quite clearly now the simple truth--it was not a matter of art at all, but a matter of business. It was a business-world, and not an art-world; and he--poor fool--was trying to be an artist!
For three days more he toiled at his pot-boiler; and then, late at night, he went out to get some fresh air, and to try to shake off the load of despair that was upon him. And so came the explosion.
Perhaps it was because the wind was blowing, and Thyrsis loved the wind; it was a mirror of his own soul to him, incessant and irresistible and mysterious. And so his demons awoke again. He had gone through all that labor, he had built up all that glory in his spirit--and it was all for naught! He had made himself a flame of desire--and now it was to be smothered and stifled!
He had written his book, and it was a great book, and they knew it. But all they told him was to go and write another book--and to do pot-boilers in the meantime! But that was impossible, he could not do it. He would win with the book he had written! He would make them hear him--he would make them read that book!
He began to compose a manifesto to the world; and towards morning he came home and shut himself in and wrote it. He called it "Business and Art;" and in it he told about his book, and how he had worked over it. He told, quite frankly, what the book was; and he asked if there was anywhere in the United States a publisher who published books because they were noble, and not because they sold; or if there was a critic, or booklover, or philanthropist, or a person of any sort, who would stand by a true artist. "This artist will work all day and nearly all night," he wrote, "and he wants less than the wages of a day-laborer. All else that ever comes to him in his life he will give for a chance to follow his career!"
Then Corydon awoke, and he read it to her. She listened, thrilling with amazement.
"Oh, Thyrsis!" she cried. "What are you going to do with it?"
"I'm going to have it printed," he said, "and send it to all the publishers; and also to literary men and to magazines."
"And are you going to sign your name to it?" she cried.
"I've already signed my name to it," he answered.
"And when are you going to do it?"
"As soon as the book comes back from the next publisher."
Then he sat down to breakfast; and afterwards, without resting, he finished the pot-boiler, and took it to the editor. After a due interval he went again, trembling and faint with anxiety. He had sold only one book-review, and he was using Corydon's money again. People who hated him had predicted that he would do just that, and he had answered that he would die first!
He came home, radiant with delight. "He says he'll take it!" he proclaimed. "Only I've got to do a new ending for the fourth installment--he wants something more exciting. So I'm going to have the countess caught in a burning tower!"
And he wrote that, and went yet again, and came home with a hundred dollars buttoned tightly in his inside vest-pocket. He was like a man who has escaped from a dungeon. The field was clear before him at last! His manifesto was going out to the world!
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