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THE CAPTURE IS COMPLETED
The shadow of a dark cloud had fallen upon the woods, and the voices of the birds were strangely hushed.
"There is a spell about this place for me," she said, and quoted--
"Here came I often, often in old days-- Thyrsis and I, we still had Thyrsis then!"
"Where is Thyrsis now?" she asked; and he smiled sadly, and responded:
"Ah me! this many a year My pipe is lost, my shepherd's holiday! Needs must I lose them, needs with heavy heart Into the world and wave of men depart!"
Section 1. They returned to the city early in October--not so much because they minded the cold in the tent, as because their money was gone, and it was not easy to do hack-work at a distance. One had to be on the spot, to interview the editors, to study their whims and keep one's self in their minds; otherwise some one else got the work.
So Thyrsis came back to his "world"; and he found this world up in arms against him. All the opposition that he had ever had to face was nothing to what he faced now. Society seemed to have made up its collective mind that he should give in; and every force it could use was brought to bear upon him--every person he knew joined in the assault upon him.
He was bound to admit that they had all the arguments on their side. He had gone his own obstinate way, in defiance of all advice and of all precedent; and now he saw what had come of it--exactly what every common-sense person had foreseen. He and Corydon had tried their "living as brother and sister"--and here she was with child! And that was all right, no one proposed to blame him for it; it was what people had predicted, and they were rather pleased to have their predictions come true--to see the bubble of his pretenses burst, and to be able to point out to him that he was like all other men. What they wanted now was simply that he should recognize his responsibility, and look out for Corydon's welfare. Living in tenement-rooms and in tents, like gypsies and savages, was all right by way of a lark; it was all very picturesque and romantic in a novel; but it would not do for a woman who was about to become a mother. Corydon had been delicately reared. She was used to the comforts and decencies of life; and to get her in her present plight and then not provide these things for her would be the act of a scoundrel.
All through his life the world had had but one message for Thyrsis: "Go to work!" From the world's point of view his languages and literatures, his music and writing were all play; to "work" was to get a "position". And now this word was dinned into his ears day and night, the very stones in the street seemed to cry it at him--"Get a position! Get a position!"
As chance would have it, the position was all ready. In the higher regions they were preparing to open a branch of a great family establishment abroad, and Thyrsis was invited to take charge of it. He would be paid three thousand dollars a year at the start, and two or three times as much ultimately; and what more could he want? He knew nothing about the work, but they knew his abilities--that if he would undertake it, and give his attention to it, he would succeed. He would meet people of culture, they argued, and be broadened by contact with men; as for Corydon, it would make her whole life over. Surely, for her sake, he could not refuse!
Thyrsis had foreseen just such things. He had braced himself to meet the shock, and the world found him with his hands clenched and his jaws set. There was no use in arguing with him, he had but one answer--"No! No! No!" He would not take that position, and he would not take any other position--neither now, nor at any future time. He was not a business-man, he was an artist; and an artist he would remain to the end. It might as well be understood at the outset; there was nothing that the world could do or say to him that would move him one inch. They might starve him, they might kill him, they might do what they could or would--but never would he give in.
"But--what are you going to do?" they cried.
He answered, "I am going to write my books."
"But you have already written two books, and nothing has come of them!"
"Something may come of them yet," he said. "And if it doesn't, I shall simply go on and write another, and another, and another. I shall continue to write so long as I have the strength left in me; I shall be trying to write when I die."
And so, while they argued and pleaded and scolded and wept, he stood in silence. They could not understand him--he smiled bitterly as he realized how impossible it was for them to understand even the simplest thing about him. There was the dapper corporation lawyer and his exquisite young wife, who came to argue about it; and Thyrsis asked them not to tell Corydon why they had come. He saw them look at each other significantly, and he could read their thought--that he was afraid of his wife's importunities. And how could he explain to them what he had really meant--that if they had told Corydon they had come to persuade him to give up his art, Corydon would probably have found it impossible to be even decently polite to them!
Section 2. So Thyrsis went away, carrying the burden of the scorn and contempt of every human soul he knew. It was in truth a dark hour in his life. He was at his wit's end for the bare necessities. He had reached the city with less money in his pocket than he had had the year before; and all the ways by which he had got money seemed to have failed him at once. All the editors who published book-reviews seemed to have a stock on hand; or else to know of people whose style of writing pleased their readers better. And none of them seemed to fancy any ideas for articles that Thyrsis had to suggest.
Worst of all, the editor of the '"Treasure Chest" turned down the pot-boiler which he had been writing up in the country. He would not say anything very definite about it--he just didn't like the story--it had not come up to the promise of the scenario. He hinted that perhaps Thyrsis was not as much interested in his work as he had been before. It seemed to be lacking in vitality, and the style was not so good. Thyrsis offered to rewrite parts of the story; but no, said the editor, he did not care for the story at all. He would be willing to have Thyrsis try another, but he was pretty well supplied with serials just then, and could not give much encouragement.
Corydon had yielded to her parents and gone to stay with them for a while; and Thyrsis had got his own expenses down to less than five dollars a week--including such items as stationery and postage on his manuscripts. And still, he could not get this five dollars. In his desperation he followed the cheap food idea to extremes, and there were times when an invitation to an honest meal was something he looked forward to for a week. And day after day he wandered about the streets, racking his brains for new ideas, for new plans to try, for new hopes of deliverance.
In later years he looked back upon it all--knowing then the depth of the pit into which he had fallen, knowing the full power of the forces that were ranged against him--and he marvelled that he had ever had the courage to hold out. But in truth the idea of surrender did not occur to him; the possibility of it did not lie in his character. He had his message to deliver. That was what he was in the world for, and for nothing else; and he must deliver what he could of it.
He would go alone, and his vision would come to him. It would come to him, radiant, marvellous, overwhelming; there had never been anything like it in the world, there might never be anything like it in the world again. And if only he could get the world to realize it--if only he could force some hint of it into the mind of one living person! It was impossible not to think that some day that person would be discovered--to believe otherwise would be to give the whole world up for damned. He would imagine that chance person reading his first book; he would imagine the publishers and their advisers reading "The Hearer of Truth"--might it not be that at this very hour some living soul was in the act of finding him out? At any rate, all that he could do was to try, and to keep on trying; to embody his vision in just as many forms as possible, and to scatter them just as widely as possible. It was like shooting arrows into the air; but he would go on to shoot while there was one arrow left in his quiver.
Section 3. Thyrsis reasoned the problem out for himself; he saw what he wanted, and that it was a rational and honest thing for him to want. He was a creative artist, engaged in learning his trade. When he had completed his training, he would not work for himself, he would work to bring joy and faith to millions of human beings, perhaps for ages after. And meantime, while he was in the practice-stage, he asked for the bare necessities of existence.
Nor was it as if he were an utter tyro; he had given proof of his power. He had written two books, which some of the best critics in the country had praised. To this people made answer that it was no one's business to look out for genius and give it a chance to live. But with Thyrsis it was never any argument to show that a thing did not exist, if it was a thing which he knew _ought_ to exist. He looked back over the history of art, and saw the old hideous state of affairs--saw genius perishing of starvation and misery, and men erecting monuments to it when it was dead. He saw empty-headed rich people paying fortunes for the manuscripts of poems which all the world had once rejected; he saw the seven towns contending for Homer dead, through which the living Homer begged his bread. And Thyrsis could not bring himself to believe that a thing so monstrous could continue to exist forever.
There was no other department of human activity of which it was true. If a man wanted to be a preacher, he would find that people had set up divinity-schools and established scholarships for which he could contend. And the same was true if he wished to be an engineer, or an architect, or a historian, or a biologist; it was only the creative artist of whom no one had a thought--the creative artist, who needed it most of all! For his was the most exacting work, his was the longest and severest apprenticeship.
Brooding over this, Thyrsis hit upon another plan. He drew up a letter, in which he set forth what he wanted, and stated what he had so far done; he quoted the opinions of his work that had been written by men-of-letters, and offered to submit the books and manuscripts about which these opinions had been written. He sent a copy of this letter to the president of each of the leading universities in the country, to find out if there was in a single one of them any fellowship or scholarship or prize of any sort, which could be won by such creative literary work. Of those who replied to him, many admitted that his point was well taken, that there should have been such provision; but one and all they agreed that none existed. There were rewards for studying the work of the past, but never for producing new work, no matter how good it might be.
Then another plan occurred to him. He wrote an anonymous article, setting forth some of his amusing experiences, and contrasting the credit side of the "pot-boiling" ledger with the debit side of the "real art" ledger. This article was picturesque, and a magazine published it, paying twenty-five dollars for it, and so giving him another month's lease of life. But that was all that came of it--there was no rich man who wrote to the magazine to ask who this tormented genius might be.
Then Thyrsis, in his desperation, joined the ranks of the begging letter-writers. He would send long accounts of his plight to eminent philanthropists--having no idea that the secretaries of eminent philanthropists throw out basketsful of such letters every day. He would read in the papers of some public-spirited enterprise--he would hear of this man or that woman who was famous for his or her interest in helpful things--and he would sit down and write these people that he was starving, and implore them to read his book. In later years, when he came to know of some of these newspaper idols, it was a comfort to him to feel certain that his letters had been thrown away unread.
Also he begged from everybody he met, under whatever circumstances he met them. If by any chance the person might be imagined to possess money, sooner or later would come some hour of distress, when Thyrsis would be driven to try to borrow. On one occasion he counted it up, and there were forty-three individuals to whom he had made himself a nuisance. With half a dozen of them he had actually succeeded; but always promising to return the money when his next check came in--and always scrupulously doing this. There was never anyone who rose to the understanding of what he really wanted--a free gift, for the sake of his art. There was never anyone who could understand his utter shamelessness about it; that fervor of consecration which made it impossible for a man to humiliate him, or to insult him--to do anything save to write himself down a dead soul.
People were quite clear in their views upon this question; a man must earn his own way in the world. And that was all right, if a man were in the world for himself. But what if he were working for humanity, and had no time to think about himself? Was that truly a disgraceful thing? Take Jesus, for instance; ought he to have kept at his carpenter's trade, instead of preaching the Sermon on the Mount? Or was it that his right to preach the Sermon was determined by the size of the collection he could take among the audience?
And then, while he pondered this problem of "earning one's own way," Thyrsis was noting the lives of the people who were preaching it. What were _they_ doing to earn the luxuries they enjoyed? Even granting that one recognized their futile benevolence as justifying them personally--what about the tens of thousands of others who lived in utter idleness, squandering in self-indulgence and ostentation huge fortunes of which they had never earned a penny? The boy could not go upon the streets of the city without having this monstrous fact flaunted in his face in a thousand forms. So many millions for folly and vice, and not one cent for his art! This was the thing upon which he was brooding day and night--and filling his soul with an awful bitterness which was to horrify the world in later years.
Section 4. He might not come to see Corydon in her home; but she would meet him in the street, and they would walk in the park, a pitiful and mournful pair. They had to walk slowly, and often he would have to help her, for her burden had now become great. She had altered all her dresses, and she wore a long cape, and even then was not able to hide the disfigurement of her person. They would sit upon a bench in the cold, and talk about the latest aspects of his struggle, what he was doing and what he hoped to do. Corydon would bring him the opinions of a few more members of the bourgeois world, and they would curse this world and these people together. For there was no more thought of giving up on Corydon's side than there was on his; it was not for nothing that he had talked to her upon the hill-top in the moonlight.
Meanwhile, however, time was passing, and the prospect of her approaching confinement hung over them like a black thunder-cloud. It came on remorselessly, menacingly. The event was due about Christmas time, and there must be some money then--there must be some money then! But where was it to be found?
Thyrsis had tried another story for the "Treasure Chest," but the editor had not liked his plot. Also he was taking "The Hearer of Truth" from one place to another; but with less and less hope, as he learned from various editors and publishers how radical and subversive they considered it. He took it now mechanically, as a matter of form--making it his rule always to count upon rejection, so that he might never be disappointed.
One of Corydon's rich friends had told her of a certain famous surgeon, and Corydon had gone to see him. He had a beautiful private hospital, and his prices were unthinkable; but he had seemed to be interested in her, and when she told him her circumstances, he had said that he would try to "meet her halfway." But even with the reductions he quoted, it would cost them nearly a hundred and fifty dollars; and how could Thyrsis get such a sum? Even if the surgeon were willing to wait--what prospect was there that he could ever get it?
This again was the curse of their leisure-class upbringing. They did not know how poor women had their babies, and they shrunk from the thought of finding it out. Corydon had met this man, and had been impressed by him; and Thyrsis realized, even if she did not, that she had got her heart set upon the plan. And if he did not make it possible, and then anything were to go wrong with her, how would he ever be able to forgive himself? This event would come but once, and might mean so much to them.
So he said to himself that he would "raise the money". But the days passed and became weeks, and the weeks became months, and there was no sign of the raising. And then suddenly came one of those shafts of sunlight through the clouds--one of those will-o'-the-wisps that were forever luring Thyrsis into the swamps. Another editor liked "The Hearer of Truth"; another editor said that it was a great piece of literature, and that he would surely use it! So Thyrsis went to the great surgeon and told him that he would be able to pay him in a little while; and the arrangement was made for Corydon to come. And then the editor put the "great piece of literature" away in his desk, and forgot all about it for a month--while Thyrsis waited, day by day, in an agony of suspense.
The appointed time had come--the day when Corydon must go to the hospital; and still the editor had not reported, and there was only fifteen or twenty dollars, earned by weeks of verse-writing and reviewing. So in desperation Thyrsis made up his mind to give up his violin. He had paid ninety dollars for it three years before; and now, after taking it round among the dealers, he sold it for thirty-five dollars.
So, to the very gateway of life itself, Thyrsis was hounded by these spectres of want; even to the hospital they came, and followed him inside. Here was a beautiful place, a revelation to him of the possibilities of civilization and science. But it was all for the rich and prosperous, it was not for him; he felt that he had no business to be there.
What a contrast it all made with the tenement-room in which he had to house! Here were glimpses to be had of rich women, soft-skinned and fair, clad in morning-gowns of gorgeous hue; here were baskets of expensive fruits and armfuls of sweet-scented flowers; and here was he with his worn clothing and his haggard face, his hungry stomach and still hungrier heart! Must not all these people know that he had had to ask for special rates, and then for credit on top of that? Must they not all know that he was a failure--that most worthless of all worthless creatures, the man who cannot support his family? What did it mean to them if he had written masterpieces of literature--what would it avail with them that he was the bearer of a new religion! Thyrsis had heard too much of the world's opinion of him; he shrunk from contact with his fellow-creatures, reading an insult into every glance. He was like a dog that has been too much beaten, and cringes even before it is struck.
Section 5. But these thoughts were for himself; he did not whisper them to Corydon. However people might despise him, they did not blame her, and there was no need of this bitterness in her cup. Corydon was beautiful--ah God, how beautiful she looked, lying there in the snowy bed, with the snowy lace about her neck and arms! How like the very goddess of motherhood she looked, a halo of light about her forehead. She, too, must have flowers, to whisper to her of hope and joy; and so he had brought her three pitiful little pinks, which he had purchased from a lame girl upon the corner. The tears started into Corydon's eyes as she saw these--for she knew that he had gone without a part of his dinner in order to bring them to her.
Everybody had come to love her already, he could see. How gentle and kind they were to her; and how skillfully they did everything for her! His heart was full of thankfulness that he had been able to bring her to this haven of refuge. And resolutely he put aside all thoughts of his own humiliation--he swept his mind clear of everything else, and went with her to face this new and supreme experience of her life.
"You will stay with me?" she had pleaded; and he had promised that he would stay. She could not bear to have him out of her sight at all, and so they made him a bed upon the couch, and he spent the night there; and through the next day he sat with her and read to her. But now and then he would know that her thoughts had wandered, and he would look at her and see her eyes wide with fear. "Oh, Thyrsis," she would whisper, "I'm only a child; and I'm not fit to be a mother!"
He would try to comfort her and soothe her. But in truth, he too was full of fears and anxieties. He had felt the dome-like shape within her abdomen, which they said was the head of the child; and he could not conceive how it was ever to be got out. But they told him that the thing had happened before. There was nothing for either of them to do but to wait;
They were in the hands of Nature, who had brought them thus far, who had had her will with them so utterly. And now her purpose was to be revealed to them--now they were to know the wherefore of all that they had done. They were like two children, travelling through a dark valley; they walked hand in hand, lifting their eyes to the mountain-tops, and seeking the first signs of the coming light.
Section 6. Outside, whenever they opened the window, they could hear the noise of the busy city; and it seemed so strange that street-cars should jangle on, and news-boys shout, and tired men hurry home to their dinners--while such a thing as this was preparing. Thyrsis gave utterance to the thought; and the doctor, who was in the room, smiled and responded, "It happens twice every second in the world!"
This was the house-physician, who was to take charge of the case; a young man, handsome and rather dapper. He went about his work with an air of its being an old story to him--an air which was at once reassuring and disturbing. The two sat and watched him, while he made his preparations.
He had two white-gowned nurses with him, and he spoke to them for the most part in nods. One of them was elderly and grey-haired, and apparently his main reliance; the other was young and pretty, and her heart went out to Corydon. She sat by the bedside and confided to her that she was a pupil, and that this was only her third "case".
"Will it hurt me much?" the girl asked, weakly.
And then suddenly, before there was time for an answer, she turned white, and clutched Thyrsis' hand with a low cry.
"What's the matter?" he whispered.
Her fingers closed upon his convulsively, and she started up, crying aloud.
The doctor was standing by the window, opening a case of instruments. He did not even turn.
"Doctor!" Thyrsis cried, in alarm.
He put the case down and came toward the bed. "I guess there is nothing wrong," he said, with a slight smile. He laid his hand upon the shuddering girl.
"It is all right," he said, "I shall examine her in a few moments."
He turned away, while Thyrsis and the young nurse held Corydon's hand and whispered to her soothingly.
She sank back and lay tossing from side to side, moaning; and meantime the doctor went quietly on, arranging his basins and bottles, and giving his orders. Then finally he came and made his examination.
"She is doing very well," he said, "and now, Miss Mary, I have an engagement for the theatre for this evening. I think there will be no need of me for some hours."
Thyrsis started, aghast. "Doctor!" he cried.
"What is it?" asked the other.
"Something might happen!" he exclaimed.
"I shall be only two or three blocks away," was the reply--"They will send for me if there is need."
"But this pain!" cried Thyrsis, excitedly. "What is she to do?"
The man stood by the bedside, washing his hands. "You cannot have a child-birth without pain," he said. "These are merely false pains, as we call them; the real birth-pains may not come for hours--perhaps not until morning. There are membranes which have to be broken, and muscles which have to be stretched--and there is no way of doing it but this way."
He stood with his hand on the doorknob. "Do not be worried," he said. "Whatever happens, the attendant will know what to do."
"The theatre!" It seemed so strange! To be sure, it was unreasonable--if a man had several cases each week to attend to, he could not be expected to suffer with each one. But at least he need not have mentioned the theatre! It gave one such a strange feeling of isolation!
Section 7. However, he was gone, and Thyrsis turned to Corydon, who lay moaning feebly. It was like a knife cutting her, she said; she could not bear to lie down, and when she tried to sit up she could not endure the weight of her own body. She found it helped her for Thyrsis to support her, and so he sat beside her, holding her tightly, while she wrestled with her task. The nurse fanned her brow, on which the sweat stood in drops.
Thyrsis' position strained every muscle in his body; it made each minute seem an hour. But he clung there, till his head reeled. Anything to help her--anything, if only he could have helped her!
But there was no help; she was gone alone into the silent chamber of pain, where there comes no company, no friend, no love. His spirit cried out to her, but she heard him not--she was alone, alone! Is there any solitude that the desert or the ocean knows, that is like the solitude of suffering?
It would come over her in spasms, and Thyrsis could feel her body quiver; it would be all he could do to hold her. And minute after minute, hour after hour, it was the same, without a moment's respite--until she broke into sobbing, crying that she could not bear it, that she could not bear it! She clutched wildly at Thyrsis' hand, and her arms shook like a leaf.
He ran in fright for the elder nurse, who had left the room. She came and questioned Corydon, and shook her head. "There is nothing to be done," she said.
"But something is wrong!" Thyrsis cried. He had been reading a book, and his mind was full of images of all sorts of accidents and horrors, of monstrosities and "false presentations." "You must send for the doctor," he repeated, "I know there _must_ be something wrong!"
"I will send for the doctor if you wish," was the reply. "But you must order it. The birth has not yet begun, you know--when it does the character of the pains will change altogether, and she will know. Meantime there is nothing whatever for the doctor to do."
"He might give her an opiate!" Thyrsis exclaimed.
"If he did," said the woman, "that would stop the birth. And it must come."
So they turned once more to the task. Thyrsis bore it until it seemed to him that his body was on fire; then he asked the nurse to take his place. He reeled as he tried to walk to the sofa; he flung himself down and lay panting. Outside he could still hear the busy sounds of the street--the world was going on its way, unknowing, unheeding. There came a chorus of merry laughter to him--his soul was black with revolt.
He went back to his post, biting his lips together.
She was only a child--she was too tender; it was monstrous, he cried. Why, she was being torn to pieces! She writhed and quivered, until he thought she was in convulsions. And then, little by little, all this faded from his thoughts; he had his own pain to bear. He must hold her just so, with the grip of a wrestler; his arms ached, and his temples throbbed, and he fought with himself and whispered to himself--he would stay there until he dropped.
Would the doctor never come? It was preposterous for him to leave her like this. The time passed on; he was wild with impatience, and suddenly Corydon sank back and burst into tears. He could stand it no more, and sent for the nurse again.
"You must send for the doctor!" he cried.
"He has just come in," the woman answered; "I heard him close the door."
The doctor entered the room, softly. He was perfectly groomed, clad in evening-dress, and with his gloves and his silk hat in his hand. Thyrsis hated him at that moment--hated him with the fury of some tortured beast. He was only an assistant; and were not assistants notoriously careless? Why had the great surgeon himself not come to see to it?
"How does she bear it?" he said, to the nurse; and he took off his overcoat and coat, and rolled up his sleeves, while she reported progress. Then he felt Corydon's pulse, and after washing his hands, made another examination. Thyrsis watched him with his heart in his mouth.
He rose without saying anything.
"Has it presented?" the nurse asked.
"Not yet," he said, and turned to look at the temperature of the room.
It was so, then--there was nothing to be done! Thyrsis was dazed--he could hardly believe it. He had never dreamed it could be anything like this.
"How long is this to last, doctor?" he cried. "She is suffering so horribly!"
"I fear it will be until morning," he said--"it is a question of the rigidity of certain muscles. But you need not be alarmed, she is doing very well."
He spoke a few words to the patient, and then turned towards the door. "I shall sleep in the next room," he said to his assistant; "you may call me at any time."
Section 8. So the two went apart again; and the leaden-footed hours crept by, and the girl still wrestled with the fiend. The young nurse was asleep on the couch, and the elder sat dozing in her chair; the two were alone--all alone! One of the window-shades was raised, and Thyrsis could see far over the tops of the buildings. Somewhere out there was another single light, where perhaps some other soul counted the fiery pulses of torture. A death--or another birth, perhaps! The doctor had said it happened twice every second!
Thyrsis was unskilled in pain, and perhaps he bore it ill; he feared that the nurses thought so too--that Corydon called too often for something, or cried out too much in mere aimless misery.
But the time sped on, and at last a faint streak of day appeared in the sky, and the shadows began to pale in the room. Thyrsis started, realizing that it was morning. He had given up the morning, as a thing that would never come again. He insisted upon sending for the doctor, who came, striving not to yawn, but to look pleased. Once more he shook his head; there was nothing to do.
The street began to waken. The milkman came, his cans rattling; now and then he shouted to his horse, or whistled, or banged upon a gate. Then the sun came streaming into the room. The newsboys began to call--the young nurse woke up and began to straighten her hair. The elder nurse also opened her eyes, but did not stir; she seemed to challenge anyone to assert that she had ever been asleep.
"Perhaps, Miss Mary," ventured the young nurse, timidly, "we had best prepare the patient."
Corydon seemed to rest a little easier now, and they carried her and laid her on the couch. They made the bed, with many sheets and with elaborate care; and then they brought her back and dressed her, putting a short gown upon her, and drawing long white bags over her limbs. Ah, how white she was, and what fearful lines of suffering had been graven into her forehead!
She lay in a kind of stupor, and Thyrsis, exhausted, began to doze. He knew not how long a time had passed--it had been an hour, perhaps two, when suddenly he opened his eyes and sat up with a bound galvanized into life by a cry from Corydon. She had started forward, grasping around her wildly, uttering a series of rising screams. He clutched her hand, and stared around the room in fright.
They were alone. He leaped up; but the nurse ran into the room at the same instant. She gazed at the girl, whose face had flushed suddenly purple; she came to her, and took her hand.
"You feel some pain?" she asked.
Corydon could not speak, but she nodded; a moment later she sunk back with a gasp.
"A kind of bearing-down pain?" said the nurse. "Different from the other?"
Corydon gasped her assent again.
"That is the birth," the nurse said. "The doctor will be here in a moment."
Again the horrible spasm seized the girl, and brought her to a sitting posture; again her hand clutched Thyrsis' with a grip like death, and again the veins on her forehead leaped out. Like the surging of an ocean billow, it seemed to sweep over her; and then suddenly she screamed, and sank back upon the pillow.
Thyrsis was wild with alarm; but the doctor entered, placid as ever. "So they've come?" he said.
Nothing seemed to disturb him. He was like a being out of another region. He took off his coat and bared his arms; he put on a long white apron, and washed his hands elaborately again, and then once more examined his patient. His face was opposite to Thyrsis, and the latter watched his expression, breathless with dread. But the doctor only said, "Ah, yes."
He turned to Corydon. "These pains that you feel," he said, "are from the compressing of the womb. Don't let them frighten you--everything is just as it should be. You will find that you can help at each pang by holding your breath; just as soon as you cry out, it releases the diaphragm, and the pressure stops, and the pain passes. You must bear each one just as long as you can. I don't want you to faint, of course--but the longer the pressure lasts, the sooner it will all be over."
The girl was staring at him with her wild eyes--she looked like a hunted creature in a trap. It sounded all so very simple--but the horror of it drove Thyrsis mad. Ah, God, it was monstrous--it was superhuman--it was a thing beyond all thinking! It wrung all his soul, it shook him as the tempest shakes a leaf--the sight of this awful agony.
It was like the sudden closing of a battle; the shock of squadrons, the locking of warriors in a grip of death. There was no longer time for words now, no longer time for a glance about him; the spasms came, one after another, relentless, unceasing, inevitable--each trooping upon the heels of the last; they were uncounted--uncountable--piling upon one another like waves upon the sea, like the gusts of a raging storm. And this girl, this child, that he had watched over so hungrily, that was so tender and so sensitive--it was like wild horses tearing her apart! The agony would flame up in her, he would see her body turn rigid, her face flush scarlet, her teeth become set and her gums fleshed. The muscles would stand out in her cheeks, the perspiration start upon her forehead. She would grip Thyrsis' hand until all the might of both his arms was not enough to match her.
On the other side of the bed knelt the young nurse, wrestling with the other hand; and Thyrsis could see her face flush too, each time--until at last a cry seem to tear its way from the girl's throat, and would sink back, faint and white.
It was a new aspect of life to Thyrsis, a new revelation of being; it was pain such as he had never dreamed it was horror the like of which was unknown in his philosophy. All the suffering of the night was nothing to a minute of this; it came upon her with the rush of a flood of waters--it seized her--instant, insistent, relentless as the sweep of the planets. Thyrsis had been all unprepared for it; he cried out for time to think--to realize it. But there was no time to think or to realize it. The thing was here--now! It glared into his eyes like a fiend of hell; it was fiery, sharp as steel--and it had to be seized with the naked hands!
The pangs came, each one worse than the last. They built themselves up in his soul in a symphony of terror; they lifted him out of himself, they swept him away beyond all control, like a leaf in the autumn wind. He had never known such a sensation before--his soul seemed whirled into pieces. His feeling was apart from his action; he could not control his thoughts; he was going mad! He loved her so--she was so beautiful; and to see her thus, in the grip of horror!
He tried to get hold of himself again--he talked to himself, pinning his attention on the task of his hands. Perhaps maybe it was his fancy--it did not really hurt her so! Maybe--
He spoke to her, calling to her, in between the crises. She turned her eyes upon him, looking unutterable agony; she could not speak. And then again came the spasm, and she reared herself to meet it. She seemed to loom before his eyes; she was no longer human, but in her agony transfigured. She was the suffering of being, made flesh; a figure epic, colossal, worthy of an Angelo; the mighty mother herself, the earth-mother, from whose womb have come the races!
And then--"Perhaps she would be more comfortable with another pillow," said the doctor, and the spell was broken.
Corydon shook her head with swift impatience. This was her conflict, the gesture seemed to say. They had only to let her alone--she had no words to spare for them.
"How long does this last?" Thyrsis asked, his voice trembling. The doctor made a motion to him to be silent--evidently he did not wish Corydon to hear the answer to that question.
Section 9. For the girl's soul was rising within her; perhaps from the deeps of things there came comfort to her, from the everlasting, universal motherhood of life. Nature must have told her that this at least was pain to some purpose; something was being accomplished. And she shut her jaws together again, and closed with it--driving, driving, with all the power of her being. A feeling of awe stole over Thyrsis as he watched her--a feeling the like of which he had never known in his life before. She was a creature consecrated, made holy by suffering; she was the sacredness of life incarnate, a thing godlike, beyond earth. It came as a revelation, changing the whole aspect of life to him. It was hard to realize--that woman, woman who endured this, was the same being that he had met in the world all his life--laughing and talking, careless and commonplace. This--this was woman's _fate_! It was the thing for which woman was made, and the lowest, meanest of them might have to bear it! He swore vows of reverence and knighthood; he fell upon his knees before her, weeping, his soul white-hot with awe. Ah what should he do that he might be worthy to live upon the earth with a woman?
And this was no mere fine emotion; there was no room for imagination in it--the reality exceeded all imagination. Overwhelming it was, furious, relentless; his thoughts strove to roam, but it seized him by the hair and dragged him back. Here--_here!_
She was wrung and shaken with her agony, her eyes shut, her face uplifted, her muscles turned to stone. And the minutes dragged out into hours--there was no end to it--there was no end to it! There was no meaning--it was only naked, staring terror. It beat him up again and again; he would sink back exhausted, thinking that he could feel no more; but it dragged him up once more--to agony without respite! The caverns of horror were rent open; they split before his eyes--deeper, deeper--in vistas and abysses from which he shrunk appalled. Here dwelt the furies, despair and madness--here dwelt the demon-forces of being, grisly phantoms which come not into the light of day. Their hands were upon him, their claws were in his flesh; and over their chasms he shuddered--he scented the smoke of that seething pit of life, whose top the centuries have sealed, and into which no mortal thing may gaze and live.
Life--life--here was life, he felt. What had he known of it before this?--the rest was pageantry and sham. Beauty, pleasure, love--here they were in the making of them--here they were in the real truth of them! Raw, naked, hideous it was; and it was the source of all things else! His being rose in one titan throb of rebellion. It was monstrous--it was unthinkable! He wanted no such life--he had no right to it! Let there be an end of it! No life that ever was could be worth such a price as this! It was a cheat, a horror--there could be no justice in such a thing! There could be no God in it--it was oppression, it was wrong! He thought of the millions that swarmed on the earth--they had all come from this! And it was happening every hour--every second! He saw it, the whole of it--the age-long agony, the universal birth-pang of being. And he hated it, hated it with a wild, raging hatred--he would have annihilated it with one sweep of his arm.
And yet--there was no way to annihilate it! It was here--it was inevitable. And it was everlasting--it was an everlasting delusion, an everlasting madness. It was a Snare!
Yes, he came back to the thought--that was the image for it! It mattered not how much you might cry out, you were in it, and it held you! It held you as it held Corydon, in throb after throb of torment. She moaned, she choked, she tossed from side to side; but it held her. It seemed to him that the storm of her agony beat upon her like the tempest upon a mountain pine-tree.
Section 10. The doctor's hands were red with blood now, like a butcher's. He bent over his work, his lips set. Now and then he would speak to the young nurse, whom he was teaching; and his words would break the spell of Thyrsis' nightmare.
"You can see the head now," he said once, turning to the boy.
And Thyrsis looked; through the horrible gaping showed a little patch, the size of a dollar--purplish black, palpitating, starting forward when the crises shook the mother. "And that is a head!" he whispered, half aloud.
"But how can it ever get out?" he cried suddenly with wildness.
"It will get out," the doctor answered, smiling. "Wait--you will see."
"But the baby will be dead!" he panted.
"It is very much alive," replied the other. "I can hear its heart beating plainly."
All the while Thyrsis had never really believed in the child--it was too strange an idea. He could think only of the woman, and of her endless agony. Every minute seemed a life-time to him--the long morning had come and gone, and still she lay in her torment. He was sick in body, and sick in soul; she had exerted the strength of a dozen men, it seemed to him.
But now her strength was failing her, he was certain; her moans were becoming more frequent, her protests more vehement. The veins stood out on the doctor's forehead as he worked with her--muscular, like a pugilist. Gigantic, he seemed to Thyrsis--terrible as fate. Time and again the girl screamed, in sudden agony; he would toil on, his lips set. Once it was too much even for him--her cries had become incessant, and he nodded to the nurse, who took a bottle from the table, and wetting a cloth with it, held it to Corydon's face. Then she shouted aloud, again and again--wildly, and more wildly, laughing hysterically; she began flinging her arms about--and then calling to Thyrsis, as her eyes closed, murmuring broken sentences of love, "babbling o' green fields." It was too much for the boy--there was a choking in his throat, and he rushed from the room and sank down upon a chair in the hall, crying like a child.
After a while he rose up. He paced the hall, talking to himself. He could not go on acting in this way--he must be a man. Others had borne this--he would bear it too; he would get himself together. It would all be over before long, and then how he would be ashamed of himself!
He went back. "It is the chloroform that makes her do that," said the young nurse, soothingly. "She is out of pain when she cries out so."
Corydon was coming back from her stupor; the strife began again. She cried out for its end, she could bear no more. "Help me! Help me!" she moaned.
The head was the size of a saucer now--but each time that she screamed it would go back. Thyrsis stood up to get the strength to grip her hand; her face stared up into the air, looking like the face of a wolf. And still there was no end--no end!
There was an hour more of that--the room seemed to Thyrsis to reel. Corydon was crying, moaning that she wished to die. There was now in sight a huge, bulging object--black, monstrous--rimmed with a band of bleeding, straining flesh, tight like the top of a drum. The doctor was bent over, toiling, breathless.
"No more! No more!" screamed the girl. "Oh, my God! my God!"
And the doctor answered her, panting: "Once more! once more! Now! now!" And so on, for minute after minute; luring her on, pleading with her, promising her, lying to her--"Once more! Once more! This will be the last!" He called to her, he rallied her; he signalled to Thyrsis to help him--to inspire her, to goad her to new endurance.
And then another titan effort, and suddenly--incredibly--there burst upon Thyrsis' sight an apparition. Sick at heart, numb with horror, dazed--he scarcely knew what it was. It happened so swiftly that he had hardly time to see; but something leaped forth something enormous, supernatural! It came--it came--there seemed never to be an end to it! He started to his feet, staring, crying out; and at the same moment the doctor lifted the thing aloft, with a cry of exultation. He held it dangling by one leg. Great God! It was a man!
A man! A thing with the head of a man, the body of a man, the legs and arms, the face of a man! A thing hideous--impish--demoniac! A thing purple and dripping with blood--ghastly--unthinkable-- monstrous--a spectre of nightmare dreams!
And suddenly the doctor lifted his hand and smote it; and the mouth of the thing opened, and there came forth a purplish froth--and then a cry! It was a sound like a tin-pan beaten--a sound that was itself a living presence, an apparition; a thing superhuman, out of another world--like the wailing of a lost spirit, terrifying to every sense! With Thyrsis it was like the falling down of towers within him--his whole being collapsed, and he sunk down upon the bed, sobbing, choking, convulsed.
Section 11. When he looked up again the elder nurse had the baby in her arms; and there was a wan smile on Corydon's face.
The doctor's hand was in the ghastly wound, and he was talking to the young nurse, giving her instruction, in a strange, monotonous tone. "The placenta," he was saying, "often has to be removed; we do it by twisting it round and round--very gently, of course. Then it comes--so!"
There came a rush of blood, and Thyrsis turned away his head.
"Give me the basin," said the doctor. "There!--And now the next thing is to see that the uterus contracts immediately. We assist it by compressing the walls, thus. It must be tightly bandaged."
Thyrsis had turned to see the child. He looked at it, and clenched his hands to control his emotions. Yes, it was a man! it was a man! Not a monster, not a demon--a baby!
His boy! himself! God, what a ghastly thing to realize! It had his forehead, it had his nose! It was a caricature of himself! A caricature grotesque and impish, and yet one that no human being could mistake--a caricature by the hand of a master!
And it was a living thing! It had power of motion--it twisted and writhed, it bent its arms and legs! It winked its eyelids, it opened and shut its mouth, it breathed and made sounds! And it had feeling, too! It had cried out when it was struck!
Gently, with one finger, he touched it; and the contact with its flesh sent a shudder through every nerve of him. His child! His child! And a living child! A creature that would go on; that would eat and sleep and grow, that would learn to make sounds, and to understand things! That would come to think and to will! That would be a man!
"Is it--is it all right?" he asked the nurse, in a trembling whisper.
"It's a magnificent boy," she said. And then she struck a match, and held the light in front of its eyes; and the eyes turned to follow the light. "He sees!" she said.
Yes, he could see! And Thyrsis had already heard that he could speak! What could it not do--this marvellous object! It was Nature's supreme miracle--it was the answer to all the riddles, the solution of all the mysteries! It was a vindication of the subterfuges, a reward for the sacrifices, a balm for the pain! It was the thing for which all the rest had been, it was the crown and consummation of their love--it was Life's supreme shout of triumph and exultation!
The nurse was holding the child up before Corydon; and she was gazing at it, she was feeding her eyes upon it. And oh, the smile that came upon her face--the ineffable smile! The pride, and the relief, and the beatific happiness! This thing she had done--it was her act of creation! Her battle that had been fought, her victory that had been won; and now they brought her the crown and the guerdon! To Thyrsis there came suddenly the words of Jesus: "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour hath come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world." And he sunk down beside the bed, and caught the woman's hand in his, and began to sob softly to himself.
Section 12. Later on he went into the street. Evening was come again--for twenty-two hours that siege had lasted! And the boy had eaten nothing since noon of the day before, and he was weak and dizzy.
But how strange the world seemed to him all at once! Peopled with phantom creatures, that came he knew not whence, and went he knew not whither! Creatures of awe and horror, who came out of chaos, and went back into annihilation! Who were flung here and there by cosmic forces, played with by tragic destinies! And all of them without any sense of the perpetual marvel of their own being! They ate and dressed and slept, they laughed and played and worked, they hated and loved and got and spent, with no thought of the wonder of their lightest breath, with no sense of the terrors that ringed them about--the storms that swept them hither and thither, the million miracles that were wrought for them every instant of their lives!
He went into a restaurant, and sat down; and in the seat beside him, close at his elbow, was a man. He was a fat man--eating roast pork, and apple-sauce, and mashed potatoes, and bread. And Thyrsis looked at him with wondering eyes. "Man," he imagined himself saying, "do you know how you came into this world? A thing impish, demoniac--purple and dripping with blood--a spectre of nightmare dreams?"
"W-what?" the man gasped.
"And you know nothing of the pain that it cost! You have no sense of the strangeness of it! You never think what your coming meant to some woman!"
And then--in the seat opposite was a woman; and Thyrsis watched her.
"You!" he thought, "a woman! Can it be that you know what you are? The fate that you play with--the power that dwells in you! To create new life, that may be handed down through endless ages!"
Thyrsis did not say these things; they were what he wanted to say--what he thought that he ought to say. But then he reminded himself that these things were forbidden; these mighty facts of child-birth, of life-creation--they might not be spoken about! They must be kept hidden, veiled with mystery--if one wished to refer to them, he must employ metaphors and polite evasions.
And as Thyrsis sat and thought about this, he clenched his hands. Some day the world would hear about it--some day the world would think about it! Some day people would behold life--would realize what it was and what it meant. They did not realize it now--else how could it be that women, who bore the race with so much pain and sorrow, should be drudges and slaves, or the ornaments and playthings of men? Else how could it be that life, which cost such a fearful price, should be so cheap upon the earth? For every man that lived and walked alive, some woman had had to bear this agony; and yet men were pent up in mines and sweatshops, they were ground up in accidents in factories and mills--nay, worse than that, were dressed up in gaudy uniforms, and armed with rifles and machine-guns, and marched out to slaughter each other by tens and hundreds of thousands!
So, as he walked the streets that night, Thyrsis made a vow. Some day he would put before the world this vision that had come to him, some day he would blast men's souls with it. He would shake them with this horror, he would thrill them with this sense of the infinite preciousness and holiness of life! He would drive it into them like a barbed arrow--that never afterwards in all their lives would they be rid of. Never afterwards would they dare to mock, never afterwards would they be able to rest until these things had been done away with, until these horrors had been driven from the earth.
THE END of Part I.
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