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THE BAIT IS SEIZED
They sat, gazing down the slope of the little vale. She was turning idly the pages of the book, and she read to him--
"Lovely all times she lies, lovely to-night!-- Only, methinks, some loss of habit's power Befalls me wandering through this upland dim. Once pass'd I blindfold here, at any hour; Now seldom come I, since I came with him."
"It was here we first read the poem," he said. "Every spot brings back some line of it."
"Even the old oak-tree where we used to sit," she smiled--
"Hear it, O Thyrsis, still our tree is there!"
Section 1. Thyrsis was half hoping that the next publisher would decline the manuscript; and he was only mildly stirred when he got a letter saying that although the publisher could not make an offer for the book, one of his readers was so much interested in it that he would like to have a talk with the author. Thyrsis replied that he was willing; and to his surprise he learned that the reader was none other than that Prof. Osborne, who in the university had impressed upon him his ignorance of the art of writing.
He paid a call at the professor's home, and they had a long talk. There was nothing said about their former interview. Evidently the other recognized that Thyrsis had succeeded in making good his claim to be allowed to hew his own way; and Thyrsis was content with that tacit surrender.
They talked about the book. The professor first assured him that it would not sell, and then went on to explain to him why; and so they came to a grapple.
"The thing is sincere, perhaps even exalted," said Prof. Osborne; "but it's overstrained and exaggerated."
"But isn't it alive?" asked Thyrsis.
The other pondered; he always spoke deliberately, choosing his words with precision. "Some people might think so," he said. "For myself, I have never known any such life."
"But what's that got to do with it?" cried Thyrsis.
"It has much to do with it--for me. One has to judge by what one knows--"
"But can't one be taught?"
The professor meditated again. "I have lived forty-five years," he said, "and you have lived less than half that. I imagine that I have read more, studied more, thought more than you. Yet you ask me to submit myself to your teaching!"
"No, no!" cried Thyrsis, eagerly. "It is not as if it were a matter of learning--of scholarship--of knowledge of the world. There is an intensity of experience that is not dependent upon time; in the things of the imagination--in matters of inspiration--surely one does not have to be old or learned."
"That might be true," admitted the other, hesitatingly.
"You read the poetry of Keats or Shelley, for instance. They were as young as I am when they wrote it, and yet you do not refuse to acknowledge its worth. Is it just because they are dead, and their poems are classics?"
So these two wrestled it out. Thyrsis could bring the other to the point of acknowledging that there might be genius in his work, but he could not bring him to the point of _doing_ anything about it. The poet went away, seeing the situation quite clearly. Prof. Osborne was an instructor; it was his business to know; and if he should abdicate before one of his pupils, then what would become of authority? He had certain models, which he set before his class; these models constituted literature. If anyone might disregard them and proceed to create new models according to his own lawless impulse--then what anarchy would reign in a classroom! Under such circumstances, it was remarkable that the professor had even been willing to admit of doubts; as Thyrsis walked home he clenched his hands and whispered to himself, "I'll get that man some day!"
Section 2. The road now lay clear before Thyrsis, and accordingly he set grimly to work. He had his document printed upon a long slip of paper, and got several packages for Corydon to address. And one evening they took them out and dropped them into the mailbox. "And now we'll see!" he said.
They soon saw. When he came in for lunch the next day, Corydon came to the door, in great excitement. "S-sh!" she whispered. "There's a reporter here!"
"A reporter!" he echoed.
"What does she want?"
"She wants an interview about the book."
"Where is she from?"
"She's from the 'Morning Howl'. She's read the circular."
"But I never sent it there!"
"I know; but she says a friend gave it to her. She knows all about it."
So Thyrsis went in, like a lamb to the slaughter. He was new to interviews, and he yielded to the graces of the friendly and sympathetic lady. Yes, he would be glad to tell about his book; and about where and how he had written it, and all the hopes he had based upon it.
"And your wife tells me you've just been married!" said the lady, with a winning smile, and she proceeded to question him about this. They had become good friends by that time, and Thyrsis told her many things that he would not have told save to a charming lady. And then she asked for his picture, explaining that she could give so much more space to the "story" if she had one. And then she begged for a picture of Corydon, and was deeply hurt that she could not have it.
She prolonged the interview for an hour or so, and came back again and again in the effort to get this picture of Corydon. Finally she rose to go; but out in the hall, as she was bidding them good-bye, she suddenly exclaimed that she had left her gloves, and went back and got them, and then hurried away. And it was not until an hour or two later that Thyrsis made the horrible discovery that the photograph of Corydon which had stood upon his bureau was standing upon his bureau no longer!
So next morning, there were their two photographs upon the second page of the 'Morning Howl', and a, two-column headline:
"YOUTHFUL GENIUS OFFERS HIMSELF FOR SALE!"
They had been butchered to make a holiday for the readers of a yellow journal! "This is a wonderfully interesting world," the paper seemed to say--"well worth the penny it costs to read about it! Here on the first page is Antonio Petronelli, who cut up his sweetheart with a butcher-knife, and packed her in a trunk. And here are seven people burned in a tenement-house; and an interview with Shrike, the plunger, who made three millions out of the wheat-corner. But most diverting of all are these two little cherubs who ran away and got married, and now want the world to support them while they write masterpieces of literature!"
And could not one see the great public devouring the tale--the Wall Street clerks in the cars, and the shop-girls over their sandwiches and coffee, and the loungers in the cafes of the Tenderloin! Could not one picture their smiles--not contemptuous, but genial, as of people who have learned that it is indeed an interesting world, and well worth the penny it costs to read about it!
Section 3. Corydon shed tears of rage over this humiliation, and she wrote a letter full of bitter scorn to the newspaper woman. In reply to it came a friendly note to the effect that she had done the best thing in the world for them--that when they knew more about life and the literary game, they would recognize this!
The tangible results of the adventure were three. First there came a letter, written on scented note-paper, from a lady who commended their noble ideals and wished them success--but who did not sign her name. Second, there came a visit from a brother poet--a man about forty years of age, shabby and pitiful, with watery, light blue eyes and a feeble straggly moustache, and a manner of agonized diffidence. He stood in the doorway and shifted from one foot to the other, and explained that he had read the article, and had come because he, too, was an unrecognized genius. He had written two volumes of poetry, which were the greatest poetry ever produced in English--Milton and Shakespeare would be forgotten when the world had read these volumes. For ten years he had been trying to find some publisher or literary man to recognize him; and perhaps Thyrsis would be the man.
He came in and sat on the bed and unwrapped his two volumes--several hundred typewritten pages, elaborately bound up in covers of faded pink silk. And Thyrsis read one and Corydon the other, while the poet sat by and watched them and twisted his hands nervously. His poetry was all about stars and blue-bells and moonlight, about springtime and sighing lovers, about cold, rain-beaten graves and faded leaves of autumn--the subjects and the images which have been the stock in trade of minor poets for two thousand years and more. Thyrsis, as he read, could have marked fifty phrases which were feeble imitations of things in Tennyson and Longfellow and Keats; and he read for half an hour, in the vain hope of finding a single vigorous line.
This interview was a very painful one. He could not bear to hurt the poor creature's feelings, and he did not know how to get rid of him. The matter was made still more difficult by the presence of Corydon, who did not know the models, and therefore thought the poetry was good. She let the visitor go on to pour out his heart; until at last came a climax that Thyrsis had been expecting all along. The man explained that he was a bookkeeper, out of work, and with a wife and three children on the verge of starvation; and then he tried to borrow some money from them!
The third result was the important one. It was a letter from a publishing-house.
"We are on the lookout for vital and worth-while books," it read, "and we are not afraid to venture. We have been much interested in the account of your work, and we should be very glad if you would give us a chance to read it immediately."
Thyrsis had never heard of this publishing-house, but that did not chill his delight. He hurried downtown with the manuscript, and came back to report. The concern was lodged in two small rooms in an obscure office-building. The manager, a Mr. Taylor, was a man not particularly prepossessing in appearance, but he was a person of intelligence, and was evidently interested in the book. Moreover he had promised to read it at once.
And that same week came the reply--a reply which set the two almost beside themselves with happiness. "I have read your manuscript," wrote Mr. Taylor. "And I have no hesitation in pronouncing it a work of genius. In fact, I am not sure but what it is the greatest piece of literature it has ever been my fortune as a publisher to come upon. It is vital, and passionately sincere, and I will stake my reputation upon the prophecy that it will be an instantaneous success. I hope that we may become the publishers of it, and will be glad if you will come to see me at once and talk over terms."
Thyrsis read this aloud; and then he caught Corydon in his arms, and tears of joy and relief ran down her cheeks.
He went to see the publisher, and for ten or fifteen nunutes he listened to such a panegyric upon his book as made his cheeks burn. Visions of freedom and triumph rose before him--he had come into his own at last. An then Mr. Taylor proceeded to outline his business proposition--and as Thyrsis realized the nature of it, it was as if he had been suddenly plunged into an Arctic sea. The man wanted him to pay one-half the cost of the plates of his book, and in addition to guarantee to take one hundred copies at the wholesale price of ninety cents per copy!
"Is that--is that customary in publishing?" asked the other.
"Not always," Mr. Taylor replied; "but it is our custom. You see, we are an unusual sort of publishing-house. We do not run after the best-sellers and the trash--we publish real books, books with a mission and a message for the world. And we advertise them widely --we make the world heed them; and so we feel justified in asking the author to help us with a part of the expense. We pay ten per cent. royalty, of course, and in addition the author has the hundred copies of his book, which he can sell to friends and others if he wishes."
"What would it cost for my book?" Thyrsis asked.
And the man figured it up and told him it could be done for about two hundred and fifty dollars. "I'll make it two hundred and twenty-five to you," he said--"just because of my interest in your future."
But Thyrsis only shook his head sadly. "I wish I could do it," he said, "but I simply haven't the money--that's all."
And so he took his departure, and carried his manuscript to another publisher, and then went home, crushed and sick.
Section 4. But the more Thyrsis thought of this plan, the more it came to possess him. If he could only get that book printed, it could not fail to make its impression! He had thought many times in his desperation of trying to publish it himself; and if he did that, he would have to pay the cost of the plates, of the printing and everything; whereas by this method he could get it for much less, and would have a hundred copies which he could send to critics and men of letters, in order to make certain of the book's being read.
When the manuscript came back from the next publisher, with a formal note of rejection, Thyrsis made up his mind that he would concentrate his efforts upon this plan. So he got down to another pot-boiler.
An old sea-captain had told him a story of some American college boys who had stolen a sacred idol in China. Thyrsis saw a plot in that, and the editor of the "Treasure Chest" considered it a "bully" idea. So he toiled day and night for a couple more weeks, and earned another hundred dollars. And then he did something he had never done in his life before--he went to some relatives to beg. He pleaded how hard he had worked, and what a chance he had; he would pay back the money out of the first royalties from the book--which could not possibly fail to earn the hundred dollars he asked for.
Besides this, he had some money left from his first story; and so he went to Mr. Taylor, who was affable and enthusiastic as ever, and paid his money and signed the contracts. He was told that his book would be ready for the spring-trade; which meant that he would have to possess his soul in patience for three months. Meantime he had forty dollars left--upon which he figured that he could have eight weeks of uninterrupted study.
But alas, for the best-laid plans of men! It was on a Tuesday morning that he paid out his precious two hundred and twenty-five dollars; and on the next Thursday morning, as he was glancing through the newspapers, he gave a cry of dismay.
"Corydon," he called. "What's the name of that lawyer, your trustee?"
"John C. Hammond," she replied.
"He shot himself in his office yesterday!" exclaimed Thyrsis; and he read her the account, which stated that Hammond had been speculating, and was believed to have lost heavily in the recent slump in cotton.
Corydon was staring at him with terror in her eyes. "What does it mean?" she cried.
"I don't know," said Thyrsis. "We'll have to inquire!"
They went out and telephoned to Corydon's father, and Thyrsis got hold of a college friend, a lawyer, and the four went to the office of the dead man. It was weeks before they became sure of the whole sickening truth, but they learned enough on that first day to make them fairly certain. John C. Hammond had got rid of everything--not only his own funds, but the funds belonging to the eight or ten heirs of the estate. The house in which he lived and everything in it was held in the name of his wife; and so there was not a penny to pay Corydon her four thousand dollars!
The girl was almost prostrated with misery; she vowed that she would go back to her parents, that she would go to work in an office. And poor Thyrsis could only hold her in his arms and whisper, "It doesn't matter, dear--it doesn't matter! The book will be out in the spring, and I can do pot-boilers for two!"
Section 5. But in the small hours of the night Thyrsis lay awake in his little room, and the soul within him was sick with horror. He was trapped--there was no use trying to dodge the fact, he was trapped! His powers were waning hour by hour, his vision was dying within him; every day he knew that he was weaker, that the grip of circumstance was tighter upon him. Ah, the hideous cruelty of the thing--it was like a murder in the night-time, like a torturing in some secret dungeon! He was burning up with his inward fires--there was a new book coming to ripeness within him, a book that would be greater even than his first one. And he could not write it, he could not even think about it! And there was the soul of Corydon calling to him, there were all the heights of music and poetry--and instead of climbing, he must torture his brain with hack-writing! He must go down to the editors, and fawn and cringe, and try to get books to review; he must study the imbecilities of the magazines and watch out for topics for articles; he must rack his brains for jokes and jingles--he, the master of life, the bearer of a new religion, the proud, high-soaring eagle, whose foot had never known a chain!
When such thoughts came to him, he would dig his nails into the palms of his hands, he would grit his teeth and curse the world. No, they should not conquer him! They should never bend him to their will! They might starve him, they might kill him--they might kill Corydon, also, but he would never give up! He would fight, and fight again, he would struggle to the last gasp--he would do his work, though all the powers of hell rose up to stop him!
One thing became clear to him that night, they could not afford two rooms. They must get along with one, and with the dollar and a half one at that. The steam-radiator had proved a farce, anyway--there was never any steam, and they had had to use gas-heaters. And now, what things Corydon could not get into his room, she would have to send back to her parents. The cost of the other room was the price of a book-review, and that sometimes meant a whole day of his precious time.
He talked it over with his wife, and she agreed with him. And so they underwent the humiliation of telling their landlady, and they obtained permission to keep Corydon's trunk in the hall, as there was no place for it in the tiny room. Such things as would not go upon the little dressing-stand, or hang behind the door, they put into boxes and shoved under the bed. And now, when midnight came, Thyrsis would go out for a walk while Corydon went to bed; and then he would come in and make his own bed upon the floor, with a quilt which the landlady had given them, and a pair of blankets they had borrowed from home, and his overcoat and some of Corydon's skirts when it was cold. Sometimes it would be very cold, and then he would have to sleep in his clothing; for there was no room save directly under the window, and they would not sleep with the window down. In the morning Corydon would turn her face to the wall while Thyrsis washed and dressed; and then he would go out and walk, while she took her turn.
And so he parted with the last shred of his isolation. He had to do all his work now with his wife in the room with him. And though she would sit as still as a mouse for hours, still he could not think as before; also, when she was worn out at night, he had to stop work and let her sleep. Under such circumstances it was small wonder that he was sometimes nervous and irritable; and, of course, there could be nothing hid between them, and when he was out of sorts, Corydon would be plunged into a bottomless pit of melancholy.
Then the strain and worry, and the night and day toil, began to have effects upon their health. Thyrsis had a strong constitution, but now he began to have headaches, and sometimes, if he worked on doggedly, they grew severe. He blamed this upon their heater; he knew little about hygiene, but he had studied physics, and he knew that a gas-heater devitalized the air. They had tried living in the room without heat, but in mid-winter they could not stand it. So on moderate days they would sit with the window up and their overcoats on; and when it was too cold for this, they would burn the heater for an hour or so, and when they began to feel the effects of the poisons, they would go out and walk for a while and let the room air.
But then again, Thyrsis wondered if the headaches might not be due to the food he was eating. They were anxious to economize on food; but they did not know just how to set about it. Thyrsis had read the world's literature in English, French and German, in Italian, Latin and Greek; but in none of that reading had he found anything about the care of his own body. Such subjects had not been taught at school or college or university, and he knew of no books about them. Both he and Corydon had come from families which had the traditions of luxurious living, brought down from old days when there were plenty of negro servants, and when the ladies had been skilled in baking and preserving, and the men with chafing-dish and punch-bowl. At his grandfather's table Thyrsis had been wont to see a great platter of fried chicken at one end, and a roast beef at the other, and a cold ham on a side table; and he had hot bread three times a day, and cake and jam and ice-cream--and he had been taught to believe that such things were needed to keep up one's working-powers.
But now he had read how Thoreau had lived upon corn-meal mush; and he and Corydon resolved to patronize the less expensive foods. The price of meat and eggs and butter in the winter-time was in truth appalling; so they would buy potatoes and rice and corn-meal and prunes and turnips. They paid the landlady for the use of her gas-range, and would cook a sauce-pan full of some one of these things, and fill up with it three times a day. Then, at intervals, some one would invite them out to dinner; and because they were under-nourished they would gorge themselves--which was evidently not an ideal method of procedure. So in the end Thyrsis made up his mind to consult a physician about it; and this was a visit he never forgot--for it led directly to the most momentous events of his whole lifetime.
Section 6. The doctor announced that he had a little dyspepsia, and gave him a bottle full of a red liquid that would digest his food. Also he warned him to eat slowly, and to rest after meals. And Thyrsis, after thanking him, had started to go; when the doctor, who was an old friend of both families, asked the question, "How's Corydon?"
"She's pretty well," said Thyrsis.
"And are you expecting any children yet?" asked the other, with a smile.
Thyrsis started. "Heavens, no!" he said.
"Why not?" asked the doctor.
"We aren't going to have any."
"But why? Are you preventing it?"
Thyrsis hesitated a moment. "We're not living that way," he said.
The doctor stared at him. "Come here, boy," he said, "and sit down."
"Now tell me what you mean," said the other.
"I mean that we--we're just brother and sister," said Thyrsis.
"But--why did you get married?"
"We got married because we wanted to study."
"To study what?"
"Well, everything--music, principally."
"And how long do you expect to keep that up?"
"Oh, for a good many years--until we've accomplished something, and until we've got some money."
And the doctor sank back and drew his breath. "I don't wonder your stomach's out of order!" he said.
"What do you mean?" asked Thyrsis.
But the man did not answer that question. Instead he asked, "Don't you realize what you'll do to Corydon?"
"You'll wreck her whole life--her health, to begin with."
"But how, doctor? She's perfectly happy. It's what we both want to do."
"But doesn't she love you?"
"Why, yes--but not that way."
The doctor smiled. "How do you know?" he asked.
"Because--she's told me so."
"And if it was otherwise--do you think she'd tell you that?"
"Why, of course she would."
"My boy," said the man, "she'd die first!"
Thyrsis was staring at him, amazed.
"Let me tell you a little about a good woman," said the other. "I've been married for thirty years--really married, I mean; we've got five children. And in all those thirty years my wife has never made an advance of that sort to me!"
After which the doctor went on to expound his philosophy of sex. "Love is just a little thing to you," he said; "you've got your books and your career. And you want it to be the same with Corydon--you've succeeded in persuading her that that's what she wants also. You're going to make her a copy of yourself! But you simply can't do it, boy--she's a woman. And a woman's one interest in the world is love--it's everything in life to her, the thing she's made for. And if you deprive her of love, whole love, I mean, you wreck her entirely. Just now is the time when she ought to be having her children, if she's ever to have any--and you're trying to satisfy her with music and philosophy!"
"But," cried Thyrsis, horrified, "I know she doesn't feel that way at all!"
"Maybe not," said the other. "Her eyes are not opened. It's your business to open them. What are you a man for?"
"But--she's all right as she is---"
"Isn't she nervous?"
"Isn't she sometimes melancholy? And doesn't she like you to kiss her? Doesn't she show she's happy when you hold her in your arms."
Thyrsis sat mute.
"You see!" said the other, laughing. "The girl is in love with you, and you haven't sense enough to know it."
Again Thyrsis could find no words. "But if we had a child it would ruin us!" he cried, wildly. "I've not a cent, and my whole career's at stake!"
"Well," said the other, "if it's as bad as that, don't have any children yet."
"But--but how _can_ we?"
"Don't you know how to control it?"
Thyrsis was staring at him, open-eyed. "Why, no!" he said.
"Good lord!" laughed the other. "Where have you been keeping yourself?"
And then the doctor proceeded to explain to him the "artificial sterilization of marriage." No whisper of such a thing had ever come to the boy before, and he could hardly credit his ears. But the doctor spoke of it as a man of the world, to whom it was a matter of course; he went into detail as to the various methods that people used. And when finally Thyrsis rose to leave he patted him indulgently on the shoulder, and laughed, "Go home to your wife, my boy!"
Section 7. The effect of this conversation upon Thyrsis was alarming to him. At first he tried to put the thing aside, as being something utterly inconceivable between him and Corydon. But it would not be put aside.
The doctor had planted his seed with cunning. If he had told Thyrsis that he was doing harm to himself, Thyrsis would have said that it was not true, and stood by it; for he knew about himself. But the man had made his statements about Corydon--and how could he be sure about Corydon?
The crucial point was that it set him to thinking about her in this new way; a way which he had not dreamed of previously. And when once he had begun to think about her so, he found he could not stop. For hitherto in his life, whenever he had thought of passion it had been as a temptation; he had known that it was wrong, and all that was best in him had risen up to oppose it. But now all that was changed--the image of Corydon the doctor had called up was one that broke down all resistance, and left him at the mercy of his impulses.
These impulses awoke--and with a suddenness and force that terrified him. He thought of her as his wife, and this thought was like a rush of flame upon him. His manhood leaped up, and cried aloud for its rights. He discovered, almost instantly, that he loved her thus, that he desired her completely. This was true now, and it had been true from the beginning; he had been a fool to try to persuade himself otherwise. What else had been the meaning of the passionate protests in his letters to her? Of the images he had used--of carrying her away in his arms, of breaking her to his will? And she loved him, too--she desired him completely! Why else had it been that those passages were precisely the ones that satisfied her? Why was it that she was always most filled with joy when he was aggressive and masterful?
Ah God, what an inhuman life it was they had been living all these months! In that inevitable proximity--shut up in a little room! And with the most intimate details of her life about him--with her kisses always upon his lips, her arms always about him, the subtle perfume of her presence always in his senses! Was it any wonder that they were nervous and restless--always sinking into tenderness, and exchanging endearments, and then starting up to scourge themselves?
He went home, and there was Corydon preparing supper. He went to her and caught her in his arms and kissed her. "I love you, sweetheart!" he whispered. And as she yielded to his embraces, he kissed her again and again, upon her lips and upon her cheeks and upon her neck. Ah, she loved him--else how could she let him kiss her like that!
But it was not so quickly that the inhibitions of a lifetime could be overcome. A sudden fear took hold of Thyrsis. What was he doing? No, she must have no idea of this--at least not until he had reasoned it out, until he had made up his mind that it was right.
So he drew back--and as he did so he noticed in her eyes a look of surprise. He did not often greet her in that way!
"I'm hungry as a bear," he said, to change the subject; and so they sat down to their supper.
Thyrsis had important writing to do that evening, and he tried his best, but he could not put his mind upon anything. He was all in a ferment. He pleaded that he had to think about his work, and went out for a long walk.
A storm was raging, and the icy gale beat upon him. It buffeted him, it flung him here and there; and he set himself to fight it, he drove his way through it, lusty and exultant. And music surged within him, lusty and exultant music. All the pent-up passion of his lifetime awoke in him, the blood ran hot in his veins; from some hidden portion of his being came wave after wave of emotion, sweeping him away--and he spread his wings to it, he rose to the heights upon it, he laughed and sang aloud in the glory of it. He had known such hours in his own soul's life, but never anything like it with Corydon. He cried out, what a child he had been! He had taken her, he had sought to shape her to his will; and he had failed, she was not yet his--and all because he had left unused the one great power he had over her, the one great hold he had upon her. But now it would be changed--she should have him! And as he battled on with the elements there came to him Goethe's poem of passion:
"Dem Schnee, dem Regen, Dem Wind entgegen!"
He went upstairs, and found that she was asleep. So he crept into his little bunk; but sleep would not come to him. The image of her haunted him. He listened to her breathing--he was as close to her as that, and still she was not his!
It was nearly day before he slept, and so he awoke tired and restless. And then came rage at himself--he went out and walked again, and stormed and scolded. He would not permit this, he had work to do. And he made up his mind that he would not allow himself to think about the matter for three days. By that time the truth would be clearer to him; and he meant to settle this question with his reason, and not with his blind desire.
He adhered to his resolution firmly. But when the three days were past, and he tried to think about it, it was only to be swept away in another storm of emotion. It seemed that the more tightly he pent this river up, the fiercer was its rush when finally it broke loose. For always his will was paralyzed by that suggestion that he might be doing harm to Corydon!
At last he made up his mind that he must speak to her; and one afternoon he came and knelt beside her and put his arms about her. "Sweetheart," he said, "I've something to ask you about."
Now to Corydon the mind of Thyrsis was like an open book. For days she had known that something was disturbing him. But also she had known that he was not ready to tell her. "What is it?" she asked.
"It's something very important," he said.
"You know, I went to see the doctor the other day."
"And he told me--he thinks we are doing each other harm by the way we are living."
"What way, Thyrsis?"
"By not being really married. He says you are suffering because of it."
"But Thyrsis!" she cried, in astonishment. "I'm not!"
"He says you wouldn't know it, Corydon. It would keep you nervous and upset."
"But dear," she said, "I'm perfectly happy!"
"Are you sure of it?"
"And--and if it was ever otherwise--you would tell me?"
"And are you sure of _that_?"
She hesitated; and when she tried to answer, her voice was a whisper--"I think so, dear."
There was a pause. "Thyrsis," she exclaimed, suddenly, "I would have a child!"
"No, you needn't," he said; and he told her what the doctor had said.
It was quite as new to her as it had been to him, and even more startling. "I see," she said, in a low voice.
"Listen, Corydon," he whispered, "do you think you love me at all that way?"
"I don't know," she answered. "I never thought of such a thing."
"Do you think you could learn to love me so?"
"How can I tell, Thyrsis? It's so strange to me. It--it frightens me."
He looked up at her; and he saw that a flush was mottling her throat, and spreading over her cheeks. He saw the wild look in her eyes also; and he turned away.
"Very well, dearest," he said. "I don't want to disturb you."
So he tried to go back to his work. But he could not do his real work at all. He could practice the violin or read German with Corydon, but when he tried to plan his new book--that involved turning his thoughts loose to graze in a certain pasture, and they would not stay in that pasture, but jumped the fence and came back to her. And so he found himself taking more long journeys, in which he walked in the midst of the storm of his desire.
So, of course, all the former naturalness was gone between them. No longer could they kiss and toy with one another as children in a fairy-world. They had suddenly become man and woman--fighting the age-long duel of sex. They would talk about the question; and the more they talked about it, the more it came to dominate the thoughts of both of them; and this broke down the barriers between them--Thyrsis became bolder, and more open in his speech. He lost his awe of her maidenhood and her innocence--he wooed her, he lured her on; he rejoiced in his power to agitate her, to startle her, to speak to her about secret things. He would clasp her in his arms and shower his kisses upon her; and she would yield to him, almost fainting with bliss--and then shrink from him in sudden alarm.
Then he would go out into the night and battle again with the wintry winds. That frightened shrinking of hers puzzled him. Everything was so strange to him; and how could he be sure what was right? He wanted to do what was right, with all his soul he wanted it; if he were to do wrong, or to make her think less of him, he could never forgive himself all his life. But then would come the wild surge of his longing, and his man's power would cry out within him. It was his business to overcome her shrinking, to compel her to yield. The question of the doctor rang in his ears as a taunt--"Why are you a man?" Why _was_ he a man?
Section 9. In the end these emotions reached a point where Thyrsis could no longer bear them. They were a torment to him, they deprived him of all rest and sleep. One afternoon he had held her a long time in his arms, and it hurt him; he turned away, and put his hands to his forehead. "Dearest," he cried, "I can't stand this any longer!"
"Why?" she asked. "What do you mean?"
"I mean it's just tearing me to pieces!"
She stared at him in fright. "Thyrsis!" she exclaimed. "You are unhappy!"
He sunk down upon the bed and hid his face in his arms. "Yes," he whispered, "I am unhappy!"
And so, all at once, he broke down her resistance. What had swayed him had been the thought of her suffering; and the thought of his suffering now conquered her.
Only she did not take days to debate it. She fled to him instantly, and wrapped her arms about him.
"Thyrsis," she whispered, "listen to me! I had no idea of that!"
"No, sweetheart," he said. "I'm sorry--I'm ashamed of myself--"
"No, no!" she cried, vehemently. "Don't say that! I love you, Thyrsis! I love you, heart and soul!"
He turned and gazed at her with his haggard eyes.
"I will do anything for you," she rushed on. "You shall have me! I will be your wife!"
Then, however, as he clasped her to him, there came once more the shrinking. "Only give me a little time, dear," she whispered. "Let me get used to it. Let it come naturally."
But the only way he could have given her time would have been to go away. Here he was, in her room--with every reminder of her about him, with every incitement to his desire. And he had but two things to choose between--to go out and walk and think about her, or to come home and sit with her and talk about their love.
They had their supper, and then again she was in his arms. He told her about this trouble--he showed how the love of her was consuming him. Far into the night they sat talking, and he poured out his heart to her, he bore her with him to the mountain-tops of his desire. He took down a book of Spenser's, and read her the "Epithalamium"; he read her Shelley's "Epip sychidion," which they both loved. All the power of Thyrsis' genius was turned now to passion, and the hidden forces of him were revealed as never had they been revealed to her before. He became eloquent; he talked to her as he had lived with himself; he awed her and frightened her, as he had that evening upon the hill-top. Then at last, as the tide of his feeling swept him away again, he clasped her to him tightly, and hid his face in her neck. "I love you! Oh, I love you!" he cried.
She had sunk back and closed her eyes. "My Thyrsis!" she whispered.
"You love me?" he asked. "You are quite sure?"
"I am quite sure!" she said.
He kissed her; again and again he kissed her, until he had made sure of her desire. Then suddenly, he began with trembling fingers to unfasten the neck of her dress.
For a moment she did not comprehend what he meant. Then she gave a start. "Thyrsis!" she cried.
And she sprang up, staring at him with fright in her eyes.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Thyrsis!" she gasped. "What--what were you going to do?"
And at her question, shame swept over him. He was horrified at himself. How could he find words to tell her what he had been going to do?
He turned away with a moan, and put his hands over his face. "Oh God, I can't stand this!" he exclaimed.
Suddenly he went to his hat and coat. "I must go out!" he said.
"What do you mean?" cried Corydon.
"I mean I've got to go somewhere!" he replied. "I can't stand it--I can't stay here."
"Thyrsis!" she cried, wildly. And she sprang to him and flung her arms about him. "No, no!" she cried. "No!"
"But what am I to do?"
And she pressed him tightly to her. "Thyrsis!" she whispered. "Can't you understand? Don't be so stupid, dear!"
"Yes, sweetheart--can't you see? I'm only a child! And it's so strange! It frightens me! Try to realize how I feel!"
"But what am I to do?"
"Do? Why you must _make_ me, Thyrsis!" And as she said this she hid her face upon his shoulder and sobbed. "You are a man, Thyrsis, you are a man, and I am only a girl! Do what you want to! Don't pay any attention to me!"
And those words to Thyrsis were like the crashing of a peal of thunder. He clutched her to him, with a force that crushed her, that made her cry out. The soul of the cave-man awoke in him--he lifted his mate in his arms and bore her away to a secret place.
"Put down the light," she whispered, and he did this. And then again he began to unfasten her dress.
She submitted at first, she let him have his way. But later, when his hands touched the soft garment on her bosom, he felt a sharp tremor pass through her.
"Thyrsis!" she whispered.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Wait dear, wait!"
"Why wait?" he cried.
"Just a moment--please, dear!"
But he answered her--"No! Not a moment! No!"
She clung to him, trembling, pleading. "Please, dearest, please! I'm afraid, Thyrsis."
But nothing could stop him now. She was his--his to do what he pleased with! And he would bend her to his will! The voice of his manhood shouted aloud to him now, and it was like the clashing of wild cymbals in his soul.
He went on with what he was doing. She shrunk away from him, but he followed her, he held her fast.
Then she began to sob--"Oh Thyrsis, wait--spare me! I can't bear it! No, Thyrsis--no!"
But he answered her, "Be still! I love you! You are mine." And for every sob and every shudder and every moan of fear he had but one response--"I love you! You are mine!"
He knew that he loved her now--and he knew what his love meant. Before this they had been strangers; but now he would penetrate to the secret places, to the holy of holies of her being.
Never in all his life had Thyrsis known woman. To him woman had been the supreme mystery of life, a creature of awe and sacredness--not to be handled, scarcely even to be thought about. Now the awful ban was lifted, the barriers were down; what had been hidden was revealed, what had been forbidden was permitted. So all the chained desire of a lifetime drove him on; it was almost more than he could bear. The touch of her warm breasts, the faint perfume of her clothing, the pressure of her soft, white limbs--these things set every nerve of him a-tremble, they turned a madness loose in him. A blinding whirl of emotion seized him, he was like a leaf swept away in a gale; his words came now in wild sobs, "I love you! I love you!"
So with quivering fingers he stripped her before him; and she crouched there, cowering and weeping. He took her in his arms; and that clasp there was no misunderstanding, for all the mastery of his will was in it. Nor did she try to resist him--she lay still, but shaking like a leaf, and choking with sobs. And so it was that he wreaked his will upon her.
Section 10. And then came the reaction--the most awful experience of his life. Thyrsis was sitting upon the bed, and staring in front of him, dazed. He was exhausted, faint, shuddering with horror. "Oh, my God, my God!" he whispered.
What had he done? Corydon, the gentle and pure--she had trusted herself to him, and how had he treated her? He had tortured her, he had defiled her! Oh, it was sickening; brutal, like a butchery! He sunk down in a heap, moaning, "My God! I can't bear it! I can't bear it!"
And then a strange thing happened--the strangest of all strange things! An unforeseeable, an unimaginable thing!
Corydon had started up, and was listening; and now suddenly he felt her arms stealing about him. "Thyrsis!" she whispered. "Thyrsis!"
"Oh, what shall I do?" he sobbed.
"What's the matter?"
"Oh, it was so horrible! horrible!"
"Thyrsis!" she panted, swiftly. "Don't say that!"
"How could I have done it?" he rushed on. "What a monster I am!"
"No! no!" she cried. "You don't understand, I love you! Don't you know that I love you?"
And she tightened her clasp about him, she stole into his arms again. "Forgive me!" she whispered. "Please, please--forgive me, Thyrsis!"
He stared at her, dazed. "Forgive _you_?"
"I had no right to behave like that!" she cried. "I was afraid--I couldn't control myself. But oh, Thyrsis, I love you!"
And she pressed herself upon him convulsively; she was troubled no longer. "Yes!" she panted. "Yes! I don't mind it any more! I am yours! I am yours! You may do whatever you please to me, Thyrsis--I love you!"
She covered him with kisses--his face, his neck, his body. She drew him down to her again, whispering in ecstasy, "_My husband!_"
He was lost in amazement. Could this be Corydon, the gentle and shrinking? No, she was gone; and in her stead this creature of desire--tumultuous and abandoned! She was like some passion-goddess out of the East, shameless and terrible and destroying! She was like a tigress of the jungle, calling in the night for its mate. She locked him fast in her arms--she was swept away in a whirlwind of emotion, as he had been swept before. And all her being rose up in one song of exultation--"Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!"
"Ah, Thyrsis!" she cried. "My Thyrsis! I belong to you now! You can never escape me now! You can never leave me--my love, my love!"
And as Thyrsis listened to this song, his passion died. Reason awoke again, and a cold fear struck into his heart! What was the meaning of _this?_
Long hours afterward, as she lay, half-asleep, in his arms, she felt him give a sudden start and shudder.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Nothing," he said--"I just happened to think of something. Something that frightened me."
"What was it?"
"I was thinking, dear--_suppose I should become domestic!_"
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