THE BLUE FLOWER
By Henry Van Dyke
The desire of the moth for the star, Of the night for the morrow, The devotion for something afar From the sphere of our sorrow. —SHELLEY.
To THE DEAR MEMORY OF BERNARD VAN DYKE 1887-1897 AND THE LOVE THAT LIVES BEYOND THE YEARS
Sometimes short stories are brought together like parcels in a basket. Sometimes they grow together like blossoms on a bush. Then, of course, they really belong to one another, because they have the same life in them.
The stories in this book have been growing together for a long time. It is at least ten years since the first of them, the story of The Other Wise Man, came to me; and all the others I knew quite well by heart a good while before I could find the time, in a hard-worked life, to write them down and try to make them clear and true to others. It has been a slow task, because the right word has not always been easy to find, and I wanted to keep free from conventionality in the thought and close to nature in the picture. It is enough to cause a man no little shame to see how small is the fruit of so long labour.
And yet, after all, when one wishes to write about life, especially about that part of it which is inward, the inwrought experience of living may be of value. And that is a thing which one cannot get in haste, neither can it be made to order. Patient waiting belongs to it; and rainy days belong to it; and the best of it sometimes comes in the doing of tasks that seem not to amount to much. So in the long run, I suppose, while delay and failure and interruption may keep a piece of work very small, yet in the end they enter into the quality of it and bring it a little nearer to the real thing, which is always more or less of a secret.
But the strangest part of it all is the way in which a single thought, an idea, will live with a man while he works, and take new forms from year to year, and light up the things that he sees and hears, and lead his imagination by the hand into many wonderful and diverse regions. It seems to me that there am two ways in which you may give unity to a book of stories. You may stay in one place and write about different themes, preserving always the colour of the same locality. Or you may go into different places and use as many of the colours and shapes of life as you can really see in the light of the same thought.
There is such a thought in this book. It is the idea of the search for inward happiness, which all men who are really alive are following, along what various paths, and with what different fortunes! Glimpses of this idea, traces of this search, I thought that I could see in certain tales that were in my mind,—tales of times old and new, of lands near and far away. So I tried to tell them, as best as I could, hoping that other men, being also seekers, might find some meaning in them.
There are only little, broken chapters from the long story of life. None of them is taken from other books. Only one of them—the story of Winifried and the Thunder-Oak—has the slightest wisp of a foundation in fact or legend. Yet I think they are all true.
But how to find a name for such a book,—a name that will tell enough to show the thought and yet not too much to leave it free? I have borrowed a symbol from the old German poet and philosopher, Novalis, to stand instead of a name. The Blue Flower which he used in his romance of Heinrich von Ofterdingen to symbolise Poetry, the object of his young hero's quest, I have used here to signify happiness, the satisfaction of the heart.
Reader, will you take the book and see if it belongs to you? Whether it does or not, my wish is that the Blue Flower may grow in the garden where you work.
AVALON, December 1, 1902.
I. The Blue Flower II. The Source III. The Mill IV. Spy Rock V. Wood-Magic VI. The Other Wise Man VII. I Handful of Clay VIII. The Lost Word IX. The First Christmas-Tree
THE BLUE FLOWER
The parents were abed and sleeping. The clock on the wall ticked loudly and lazily, as if it had time to spare. Outside the rattling windows there was a restless, whispering wind. The room grew light, and dark, and wondrous light again, as the moon played hide-and-seek through the clouds. The boy, wide-awake and quiet in his bed, was thinking of the Stranger and his stories.
"It was not what he told me about the treasures," he said to himself, "that was not the thing which filled me with so strange a longing. I am not greedy for riches. But the Blue Flower is what I long for. I can think of nothing else. Never have I felt so before. It seems as if I had been dreaming until now—or as if I had just slept over into a new world.
"Who cared for flowers in the old world where I used to live? I never heard of anyone whose whole heart was set upon finding a flower. But now I cannot even tell all that I feel—sometimes as happy as if I were enchanted. But when the flower fades from me, when I cannot see it in my mind, then it is like being very thirsty and all alone. That is what the other people could not understand.
"Once upon a time, they say, the animals and the trees and the flowers used to talk to people. It seems to me, every minute, as if they were just going to begin again. When I look at them I can see what they want to say. There must be a great many words that I do not know; if I knew more of them perhaps I could understand things better. I used to love to dance, but now I like better to think after the music."
Gradually the boy lost himself in sweet fancies, and suddenly he found himself again, in the charmed land of sleep. He wandered in far countries, rich and strange; he traversed wild waters with incredible swiftness; marvellous creatures appeared and vanished; he lived with all sorts of men, in battles, in whirling crowds, in lonely huts. He was cast into prison. He fell into dire distress and want. All experiences seemed to be sharpened to an edge. He felt them keenly, yet they did not harm him. He died and came alive again; he loved to the height of passion, and then was parted forever from his beloved. At last, toward morning, as the dawn was stealing near, his soul grew calm, and the pictures showed more clear and firm.
It seemed as if he were walking alone through the deep woods. Seldom the daylight shimmered through the green veil. Soon he came to a rocky gorge in the mountains. Under the mossy stones in the bed of the stream, he heard the water secretly tinkling downward, ever downward, as he climbed upward.
The forest grew thinner and lighter. He came to a fair meadow on the slope of the mountain. Beyond the meadow was a high cliff, and in the face of the cliff an opening like the entrance to a path. Dark was the way, but smooth, and he followed easily on till he came near to a vast cavern from which a flood of radiance streamed to meet him.
As he entered he beheld a mighty beam of light which sprang from the ground, shattering itself against the roof in countless sparks, falling and flowing all together into a great pool in the rock. Brighter was the light-beam than molten gold, but silent in its rise, and silent in its fall. The sacred stillness of a shrine, a never-broken hush of joy and wonder, filled the cavern. Cool was the dripping radiance that softly trickled down the walls, and the light that rippled from them was pale blue.
But the pool, as the boy drew near and watched it, quivered and glanced with the ever-changing colours of a liquid opal. He dipped his hands in it and wet his lips. It seemed as if a lively breeze passed through his heart.
He felt an irresistible desire to bathe in the pool. Slipping off his clothes he plunged in. It was as if he bathed in a cloud of sunset. A celestial rapture flowed through him. The waves of the stream were like a bevy of nymphs taking shape around him, clinging to him with tender breasts, as he floated onward, lost in delight, yet keenly sensitive to every impression. Swiftly the current bore him out of the pool, into a hollow in the cliff. Here a dimness of slumber shadowed his eyes, while he felt the pressure of the loveliest dreams.
When he awoke again, he was aware of a new fulness of light, purer and steadier than the first radiance. He found himself lying on the green turf, in the open air, beside a little fountain, which sparkled up and melted away in silver spray. Dark-blue were the rocks that rose at a little distance, veined with white as if strange words were written upon them. Dark-blue was the sky, and cloudless.
All passion had dissolved away from him; every sound was music; every breath was peace; the rocks were like sentinels protecting him; the sky was like a cup of blessing full of tranquil light.
But what charmed him most, and drew him with resistless power, was a tall, clear-blue flower, growing beside the spring, and almost touching him with its broad, glistening leaves. Round about were many other flowers, of all hues. Their odours mingled in a perfect chord of fragrance. He saw nothing but the Blue Flower.
Long and tenderly he gazed at it, with unspeakable love. At last he felt that he must go a little nearer to it, when suddenly it began to move and change. The leaves glistened more brightly, and drew themselves up closely around the swiftly growing stalk. The flower bent itself toward him, and the petals showed a blue, spreading necklace of sapphires, out of which the lovely face of a girl smiled softly into his eyes. His sweet astonishment grew with the wondrous transformation.
All at once he heard his mother's voice calling him, and awoke in his parents' room, already flooded with the gold of the morning sun.
From the German of Novalis.
In the middle of the land that is called by its inhabitants Koorma, and by strangers the Land of the Half-forgotten, I was toiling all day long through heavy sand and grass as hard as wire. Suddenly, toward evening, I came upon a place where a gate opened in the wall of mountains, and the plain ran in through the gate, making a little bay of level country among the hills.
Now this bay was not brown and hard and dry, like the mountains above me, neither was it covered with tawny billows of sand like the desert along the edge of which I had wearily coasted. But the surface of it was smooth and green; and as the winds of twilight breathed across it they were followed by soft waves of verdure, with silvery turnings of the under sides of many leaves, like ripples on a quiet harbour. There were fields of corn, filled with silken rustling, and vineyards with long rows of trimmed maple-trees standing each one like an emerald goblet wreathed with vines, and flower-gardens as bright as if the earth had been embroidered with threads of blue and scarlet and gold, and olive-orchards frosted over with delicate and fragrant blossoms. Red-roofed cottages were scattered everywhere through the sea of greenery, and in the centre, like a white ship surrounded by a flock of little boats, rested a small, fair, shining city.
I wondered greatly how this beauty had come into being on the border of the desert. Passing through the fields and gardens and orchards, I found that they were all encircled and lined with channels full of running water. I followed up one of the smaller channels until it came to a larger stream, and as I walked on beside it, still going upward, it guided me into the midst of the city, where I saw a sweet, merry river flowing through the main street, with abundance of water and a very pleasant sound.
There were houses and shops and lofty palaces and all that makes a city, but the life and joy of all, and the one thing that I remember best, was the river. For in the open square at the edge of the city there were marble pools where the children might bathe and play; at the corners of the streets and on the sides of the houses there were fountains for the drawing of water; at every crossing a stream was turned aside to run out to the vineyards; and the river was the mother of them all.
There were but few people in the streets, and none of the older folk from whom I might ask counsel or a lodging; so I stood and knocked at the door of a house. It was opened by an old man, who greeted me with kindness and bade me enter as his guest. After much courteous entertainment, and when supper was ended, his friendly manner and something of singular attractiveness in his countenance led me to tell him of my strange journeyings in the land of Koorma and in other lands where I had been seeking the Blue Flower, and to inquire of him the name and the story of his city and the cause of the river which made it glad.
"My son," he answered, "this is the city which was called Ablis, that is to say, Forsaken. For long ago men lived here, and the river made their fields fertile, and their dwellings were full of plenty and peace. But because of many evil things which have been half-forgotten, the river was turned aside, or else it was dried up at its source in the high place among the mountains, so that the water flowed down no more. The channels and the trenches and the marble pools and the basins beside the houses remained, but they were empty. So the gardens withered; the fields were barren; the city was desolate; and in the broken cisterns there was scanty water.
"Then there came one from a distant country who was very sorrowful to see the desolation. He told the people that it was vain to dig new cisterns and to keep the channels and trenches clean; for the water had come only from above. The Source must be found again and reopened. The river would not flow unless they traced it back to the spring, and visited it continually, and offered prayers and praises beside it without ceasing. Then the spring would rise to an outpouring, and the water would run down plentifully to make the gardens blossom and the city rejoice.
"So he went forth to open the fountain; but there were few that went with him, for he was a poor man of lowly aspect, and the path upward was steep and rough. But his companions saw that as he climbed among the rocks, little streams of water gushed from the places where he trod, and pools began to gather in the dry river-bed. He went more swiftly than they could follow him, and at length he passed out of their sight. A little farther on they came to the rising of the river and there, beside the overflowing Source, they found their leader lying dead."
"That was a strange thing," I cried, "and very pitiful. Tell me how it came to pass, and what was the meaning of it."
"I cannot tell the whole of the meaning," replied the old man, after a little pause, "for it was many years ago. But this poor man had many enemies in the city, chiefly among the makers of cisterns, who hated him for his words. I believe that they went out after him secretly and slew him. But his followers came back to the city; and as they came the river began to run down very gently after them. They returned to the Source day by day, bringing others with them; for they said that their leader was really alive, though the form of his life had changed, and that he met them in that high place while they remembered him and prayed and sang songs of praise. More and more the people learned to go with them, and the path grew plainer and easier to find. The more the Source was revisited, the more abundant it became, and the more it filled the river. All the channels and the basins were supplied with water, and men made new channels which were also filled. Some of those who were diggers of trenches and hewers of cisterns said that it was their work which had wrought the change. But the wisest and best among the people knew that it all came from the Source, and they taught that if it should ever again be forgotten and left unvisited the river would fail again and desolation return. So every day, from the gardens and orchards and the streets of the city, men and women and children have gone up the mountain-path with singing, to rejoice beside the spring from which the river flows and to remember the one who opened it. We call it the River Carita. And the name of the city is no more Ablis, but Saloma, which is Peace. And the name of him who died to find the Source for us is so dear that we speak it only when we pray.
"But there are many things yet to learn about our city, and some that seem dark and cast a shadow on my thoughts. Therefore, my son, I bid you to be my guest, for there is a room in my house for the stranger; and to-morrow and on the following days you shall see how life goes with us, and read, if you can, the secret of the city."
That night I slept well, as one who has heard a pleasant tale, with the murmur of running water woven through my dreams; and the next day I went out early into the streets, for I was curious to see the manner of the visitation of the Source.
Already the people were coming forth and turning their steps upward in the mountain-path beside the river. Some of them went alone, swiftly and in silence; others were in groups of two or three, talking as they went; others were in larger companies, and they sang together very gladly and sweetly. But there were many people who remained working in their fields or in their houses, or stayed talking on the corners of the streets. Therefore I joined myself to one of the men who walked alone and asked him why all the people did not go to the spring, since the life of the city depended upon it, and whether, perhaps, the way was so long and so hard that none but the strongest could undertake it.
"Sir," said he, "I perceive that you are a stranger, for the way is both short and easy, so that the children are those who most delight in it; and if a man were in great haste he could go there and return in a little while. But of those who remain behind, some are the busy ones who must visit the fountain at another hour; and some are the careless ones who take life as it comes and never think where it comes from; and some are those who do not believe in the Source and will hear nothing about it."
"How can that be?" I said; "do they not drink of the water, and does it not make their fields green?"
"It is true," he said; "but these men have made wells close by the river, and they say that these wells fill themselves; and they have digged channels through their gardens, and they say that these channels would always have water in them even though the spring should cease to flow. Some of them say also that it is an unworthy thing to drink from a source that another has opened, and that every man ought to find a new spring for himself; so they spend the hour of the visitation, and many more, in searching among the mountains where there is no path."
While I wondered over this, we kept on in the way. There was already quite a throng of people all going in the same direction. And when we came to the Source, which flowed from an opening in a cliff, almost like a chamber hewn in the rock, and made a little garden of wild-flowers around it as it fell, I heard the music of many voices and the beautiful name of him who had given his life to find the forgotten spring.
Then we came down again, singly and in groups, following the river. It seemed already more bright and full and joyous. As we passed through the gardens I saw men turning aside to make new channels through fields which were not yet cultivated. And as we entered the city I saw the wheels of the mills that ground the corn whirling more swiftly, and the maidens coming with their pitchers to draw from the brimming basins at the street corners, and the children laughing because the marble pools were so full that they could swim in them. There was plenty of water everywhere.
For many weeks I stayed in the city of Saloma, going up the mountain-path in the morning, and returning to the day of work and the evening of play. I found friends among the people of the city, not only among those who walked together in the visitation of the Source, but also among those who remained behind, for many of them were kind and generous, faithful in their work, and very pleasant in their conversation.
Yet there was something lacking between me and them. I came not onto firm ground with them, for all their warmth of welcome and their pleasant ways. They were by nature of the race of those who dwell ever in one place; even in their thoughts they went not far abroad. But I have been ever a seeker, and the world seems to me made to wander in, rather than to abide in one corner of it and never see what the rest has in store. Now this was what the people of Saloma could not understand, and for this reason I seemed to them always a stranger, an alien, a guest. The fixed circle of their life was like an invisible wall, and with the best will in the world they knew not how to draw me within it. And I, for my part, while I understood well their wish to rest and be at peace, could not quite understand the way in which it found fulfilment, nor share the repose which seemed to them all-sufficient and lasting. In their gardens I saw ever the same flowers, and none perfect. At their feasts I tasted ever the same food, and none that made an end of hunger. In their talk I heard ever the same words, and none that went to the depth of thought. The very quietude and fixity of their being perplexed and estranged me. What to them was permanent, to me was transient. They were inhabitants: I was a visitor.
The one in all the city of Saloma with whom was most at home was Ruamie, the little granddaughter of the old man with whom I lodged. To her, a girl of thirteen, fair-eyed and full of joy, the wonted round of life had not yet grown to be a matter of course. She was quick to feel and answer the newness of every day that dawned. When a strange bird flew down from the mountains into the gardens, it was she that saw it and wondered at it. It was she that walked with me most often in the path to the Source. She went out with me to the fields in the morning and almost every day found wild-flowers that were new to me. At sunset she drew me to happy games of youths and children, where her fancy was never tired of weaving new turns to the familiar pastimes. In the dusk she would sit beside me in an arbour of honeysuckle and question me about the flower that I was seeking,—for to her I had often spoken of my quest.
"Is it blue," she asked, "as blue as the speedwell that grows beside the brook?"
"Yes, it is as much bluer than the speedwell, as the river is deeper than the brook."
"And is it," she asked, "as bright as the drops of dew in the moonlight?"
"Yes, it is brighter than the drops of dew as the sun is clearer than the moon."
"And is it sweet," she asked, "as sweet as the honeysuckle when the day is warm and still?"
"Yes, it is as much sweeter than the honeysuckle as the night is stiller and more sweet than the day."
"Tell me again," she asked, "when you saw it, and why do you seek it?"
"Once I saw it when I was a boy, no older than you. Our house looked out toward the hills, far away and at sunset softly blue against the eastern sky. It was the day that we laid my father to rest in the little burying-ground among the cedar-trees. There was his father's grave, and his father's father's grave, and there were the places for my mother and for my two brothers and for my sister and for me. I counted them all, when the others had gone back to the house. I paced up and down alone, measuring the ground; there was room enough for us all; and in the western corner where a young elm-tree was growing,—that would be my place, for I was the youngest. How tall would the elm-tree be then? I had never thought of it before. It seemed to make me sad and restless,—wishing for something, I knew not what,—longing to see the world and to taste happiness before I must sleep beneath the elm-tree. Then I looked off to the blue hills, shadowy and dream-like, the boundary of the little world that I knew. And there, in a cleft between the highest peaks I saw a wondrous thing: for the place at which I was looking seemed to come nearer and nearer to me; I saw the trees, the rocks, the ferns, the white road winding before me; the enfolding hills unclosed like leaves, and in the heart of them I saw a Blue Flower, so bright, so beautiful that my eyes filled with tears as I looked. It was like a face that smiled at me and promised something. Then I heard a call, like the note of a trumpet very far away, calling me to come. And as I listened the flower faded into the dimness of the hills."
"Did you follow it," asked Ruamie, "and did you go away from your home? How could you do that?"
"Yes, Ruamie, when the time came, as soon as I was free, I set out on my journey, and my home is at the end of the journey, wherever that may be."
"And the flower," she asked, "you have seen it again?"
"Once again, when I was a youth, I saw it. After a long voyage upon stormy seas, we came into a quiet haven, and there the friend who was dearest to me, said good-by, for he was going back to his own country and his father's house, but I was still journeying onward. So as I stood at the bow of the ship, sailing out into the wide blue water, far away among the sparkling waves I saw a little island, with shores of silver sand and slopes of fairest green, and in the middle of the island the Blue Flower was growing, wondrous tall and dazzling, brighter than the sapphire of the sea. Then the call of the distant trumpet came floating across the water, and while it was sounding a shimmer of fog swept over the island and I could see it no more."
"Was it a real island," asked Ruamie. "Did you ever find it?"
"Never; for the ship sailed another way. But once again I saw the flower; three days before I came to Saloma. It was on the edge of the desert, close under the shadow of the great mountains. A vast loneliness was round about me; it seemed as if I was the only soul living upon earth; and I longed for the dwellings of men. Then as I woke in the morning I looked up at the dark ridge of the mountains, and there against the brightening blue of the sky I saw the Blue Flower standing up clear and brave. It shone so deep and pure that the sky grew pale around it. Then the echo of the far-off trumpet drifted down the hillsides, and the sun rose, and the flower was melted away in light. So I rose and travelled on till I came to Saloma."
"And now," said the child, "you are at home with us. Will you not stay for a long, long while? You may find the Blue Flower here. There are many kinds in the fields. I find new ones every day."
"I will stay while I can, Ruamie," I answered, taking her hand in mine as we walked back to the house at nightfall, "but how long that may be I cannot tell. For with you I am at home, yet the place where I must abide is the place where the flower grows, and when the call comes I must follow it."
"Yes," said she, looking at me half in doubt, "I think I understand. But wherever you go I hope you will find the flower at last."
In truth there were many things in the city that troubled me and made me restless, in spite of the sweet comfort of Ruamie's friendship and the tranquillity of the life in Saloma. I came to see the meaning of what the old man had said about the shadow that rested upon his thoughts. For there were some in the city who said that the hours of visitation were wasted, and that it would be better to employ the time in gathering water from the pools that formed among the mountains in the rainy season, or in sinking wells along the edge of the desert. Others had newly come to the city and were teaching that there was no Source, and that the story of the poor man who reopened it was a fable, and that the hours of visitation were only hours of dreaming. There were many who believed them, and many more who said that it did not matter whether their words were true or false, and that it was of small moment whether men went to visit the fountain or not, provided only that they worked in the gardens and kept the marble pools and basins in repair and opened new canals through the fields, since there always had been and always would be plenty of water.
As I listened to these sayings it seemed to me doubtful what the end of the city would be. And while this doubt was yet heavy upon me, I heard at midnight the faint calling of the trumpet, sounding along the crest of the mountains: and as I went out to look where it came from, I saw, through the glimmering veil of the milky way, the shape of a blossom of celestial blue, whose petals seemed to fall and fade as I looked. So I bade farewell to the old man in whose house I had learned to love the hour of visitation and the Source and the name of him who opened it; and I kissed the hands and the brow of the little Ruamie who had entered my heart, and went forth sadly from the land of Koorma into other lands, to look for the Blue Flower.
In the Book of the Voyage without a Harbour is written the record of the ten years which passed before I came back again to the city of Saloma.
It was not easy to find, for I came down through the mountains, and as I looked from a distant shoulder of the hills for the little bay full of greenery, it was not to be seen. There was only a white town shining far off against the brown cliffs, like a flake of mica in a cleft of the rocks. Then I slept that night, full of care, on the hillside, and rising before dawn, came down in the early morning toward the city.
The fields were lying parched and yellow under the sunrise, and great cracks gaped in the earth as if it were thirsty. The trenches and channels were still there, but there was little water in them; and through the ragged fringes of the rusty vineyards I heard, instead of the cheerful songs of the vintagers, the creaking of dry windlasses and the hoarse throb of the pumps in sunken wells. The girdle of gardens had shrunk like a wreath of withered flowers, and all the bright embroidery, of earth was faded to a sullen gray.
At the foot of an ancient, leafless olive-tree I saw a group of people kneeling around a newly opened well. I asked a man who was digging beside the dusty path what this might mean. He straightened himself for a moment, wiping the sweat from his brow, and answered, sullenly, "They are worshipping the windlass: how else should they bring water into their fields?" Then he fell furiously to digging again, and I passed on into the city.
There was no sound of murmuring streams in the streets, and down the main bed of the river I saw only a few shallow puddles, joined together by a slowly trickling thread. Even these were fenced and guarded so that no one might come near to them, and there were men going among to the houses with water-skins on their shoulders, crying "Water! Water to sell!"
The marble pools in the open square were empty; and at one of them there was a crowd looking at a man who was being beaten with rods. A bystander told me that the officers of the city had ordered him to be punished because he had said that the pools and the basins and the channels were not all of pure marble, without a flaw. "For this," said he, "is the evil doctrine that has come in to take away the glory of our city, and because of this the water has failed."
"It is a sad change," I answered, "and doubtless they who have caused it should suffer more than others. But can you tell me at what hour and in what manner the people now observe the visitation of the Source?"
He looked curiously at me and replied: "I do not understand you. There is no visitation save the inspection of the cisterns and the wells which the syndics of the city, whom we call the Princes of Water, carry on daily at every hour. What source is this of which you speak?"
So I went on through the street, where all the passers-by seemed in haste and wore weary countenances, until I came to the house where I had lodged. There was a little basin here against the wall, with a slender stream of water still flowing into it, and a group of children standing near with their pitchers, waiting to fill them.
The door of the house was closed; but when I knocked, it opened and a maiden came forth. She was pale and sad in aspect, but a light of joy dawned over the snow of her face, and I knew by the youth in her eyes that it was Ruamie, who had walked with me through the vineyards long ago.
With both hands she welcomed me, saying: "You are expected. Have you found the Blue Flower?"
"Not yet," I answered, "but something drew me back to you. I would know how it fares with you, and I would go again with you to visit the Source."
At this her face grew bright, but with a tender, half-sad brightness.
"The Source!" she said. "Ah, yes, I was sure that you would remember it. And this is the hour of the visitation. Come, let us go up together."
Then we went alone through the busy and weary multitudes of the city toward the mountain-path. So forsaken was it and so covered with stones and overgrown with wire-grass that I could not have found it but for her guidance. But as we climbed upward the air grew clearer, and more sweet, and I questioned her of the things that had come to pass in my absence. I asked her of the kind old man who had taken me into his house when I came as a stranger. She said, softly, "He is dead."
"And where are the men and women, his friends, who once thronged this pathway? Are they also dead?"
"They also are dead."
"But where are the younger ones who sang here so gladly as they marched upward? Surely they, are living?"
"They have forgotten."
"Where then are the young children whose fathers taught them this way and bade them remember it. Have they forgotten?"
"They have forgotten."
"But why have you alone kept the hour of visitation? Why have you not turned back with your companions? How have you walked here solitary day after day?"
She turned to me with a divine regard, and laying her hand gently over mine, she said, "I remember always."
Then I saw a few wild-flowers blossoming beside the path.
We drew near to the Source, and entered into the chamber hewn in the rock. She kneeled and bent over the sleeping spring. She murmured again and again the beautiful name of him who had died to find it. Her voice repeated the song that had once been sung by many voices. Her tears fell softly on the spring, and as they fell it seemed as if the water stirred and rose to meet her bending face, and when she looked up it was as if the dew had fallen on a flower.
We came very slowly down the path along the river Carita, and rested often beside it, for surely, I thought, the rising of the spring had sent a little more water down its dry bed, and some of it must flow on to the city. So it was almost evening when we came back to the streets. The people were hurrying to and fro, for it was the day before the choosing of new Princes of Water; and there was much dispute about them, and strife over the building of new cisterns to hold the stores of rain which might fall in the next year. But none cared for us, as we passed by like strangers, and we came unnoticed to the door of the house.
Then a great desire of love and sorrow moved within my breast, and I said to Ruamie, "You are the life of the city, for you alone remember. Its secret is in your heart, and your faithful keeping of the hours of visitation is the only cause why the river has not failed altogether and the curse of desolation returned. Let me stay with you, sweet soul of all the flowers that are dead, and I will cherish you forever. Together we will visit the Source every day; and we shall turn the people, by our lives and by our words, back to that which they have forgotten."
There was a smile in her eyes so deep that its meaning cannot be spoken, as she lifted my hand to her lips, and answered,
"Not so, dear friend, for who can tell whether life or death will come to the city, whether its people will remember at last, or whether they will forget forever. Its lot is mine, for I was born here, and here my life is rooted. But you are of the Children of the Unquiet Heart, whose feet can never rest until their task of errors is completed and their lesson of wandering is learned to the end. Until then go forth, and do not forget that I shall remember always."
Behind her quiet voice I heard the silent call that compels us, and passed down the street as one walking in a dream. At the place where the path turned aside to the ruined vineyards I looked back. The low sunset made a circle of golden rays about her head and a strange twin blossom of celestial blue seemed to shine in her tranquil eyes.
Since then I know not what has befallen the city, nor whether it is still called Saloma, or once more Ablis, which is Forsaken. But if it lives at all, I know that it is because there is one there who remembers, and keeps the hour of visitation, and treads the steep way, and breathes the beautiful name over the spring, and sometimes I think that long before my seeking and journeying brings me to the Blue Flower, it will bloom for Ruamie beside the still waters of the Source.
How the Young Martimor would Become a Knight and Assay Great Adventure
When Sir Lancelot was come out of the Red Launds where he did many deeds of arms, he rested him long with play and game in a land that is, called Beausejour. For in that land there are neither castles nor enchantments, but many fair manors, with orchards and fields lying about them; and the people that dwell therein have good cheer continually.
Of the wars and of the strange quests that are ever afoot in Northgalis and Lionesse and the Out Isles, they hear nothing; but are well content to till the earth in summer when the world is green; and when the autumn changes green to gold they pitch pavilions among the fruit-trees and the vineyards, making merry with song and dance while they gather harvest of corn and apples and grapes; and in the white days of winter for pastime they have music of divers instruments and the playing of pleasant games.
But of the telling of tales in that land there is little skill, neither do men rightly understand the singing of ballads and romaunts. For one year there is like another, and so their life runs away, and they leave the world to God.
Then Sir Lancelot had great ease for a time in this quiet land, and often he lay under the apple-trees sleeping, and again he taught the people new games and feats of skill. For into what place soever he came he was welcome, though the inhabitants knew not his name and great renown, nor the famous deeds that he had done in tournament and battle. Yet for his own sake, because he was a very gentle knight, fair-spoken and full of courtesy and a good man of his hands withal, they doted upon him.
So he began to tell them tales of many things that have been done in the world by clean knights and faithful squires. Of the wars against the Saracens and misbelieving men; of the discomfiture of the Romans when they came to take truage of King Arthur; of the strife with the eleven kings and the battle that was ended but never finished; of the Questing Beast and how King Pellinore and then Sir Palamides followed it; of Balin that gave the dolourous stroke unto King Pellam; of Sir Tor that sought the lady's brachet and by the way overcame two knights and smote off the head of the outrageous caitiff Abelleus,—of these and many like matters of pith and moment, full of blood and honour, told Sir Lancelot, and the people had marvel of his words.
Now, among them that listened to him gladly, was a youth of good blood and breeding, very fair in the face and of great stature. His name was Martimor. Strong of arm was he, and his neck was like a pillar. His legs were as tough as beams of ash-wood, and in his heart was the hunger of noble tatches and deeds. So when he heard of Sir Lancelot these redoubtable histories he was taken with desire to assay his strength. And he besought the knight that they might joust together.
But in the land of Beausejour there were no arms of war save such as Sir Lancelot had brought with him. Wherefore they made shift to fashion a harness out of kitchen gear, with a brazen platter for a breast-plate, and the cover of the greatest of all kettles for a shield, and for a helmet a round pot of iron, whereof the handle stuck down at Martimor's back like a tail. And for spear he got him a stout young fir-tree, the point hardened in the fire, and Sir Lancelot lent to him the sword that he had taken from the false knight that distressed all ladies.
Thus was Martimor accoutred for the jousting, and when he had climbed upon his horse, there arose much laughter and mockage. Sir Lancelot laughed a little, though he was ever a grave man, and said, "Now must we call this knight, La Queue de Fer, by reason of the tail at his back."
But Martimor was half merry and half wroth, and crying "'Ware!" he dressed his spear beneath his arm. Right so he rushed upon Sir Lancelot, and so marvellously did his harness jangle and smite together as he came, that the horse of Sir Lancelot was frighted and turned aside. Thus the point of the fir-tree caught him upon the shoulder and came near to unhorse him. Then Martimor drew rein and shouted: "Ha! ha! has Iron-Tail done well?"
"Nobly hast thou done," said Lancelot, laughing, the while he amended his horse, "but let not the first stroke turn thy head, else will the tail of thy helmet hang down afore thee and mar the second stroke!"
So he kept his horse in hand and guided him warily, making feint now on this side and now on that, until he was aware that the youth grew hot with the joy of fighting and sought to deal with him roughly and bigly. Then he cast aside his spear and drew sword, and as Martimor walloped toward him, he lightly swerved, and with one stroke cut in twain the young fir-tree, so that not above an ell was left in the youth's hand.
Then was the youth full of fire, and he also drew sword and made at Sir Lancelot, lashing heavily as, he would hew down a tree. But the knight guarded and warded without distress, until the other breathed hard and was blind with sweat. Then Lancelot smote him with a mighty stroke upon the head, but with the flat of his sword, so that Martimor's breath went clean out of him, and the blood gushed from his mouth, and he fell over the croup of his horse as he were a man slain.
Then Sir Lancelot laughed no more, but grieved, for he weened that he had harmed the youth, and he liked him passing well. So he ran to him and held him in his arms fast and tended him. And when the breath came again into his body, Lancelot was glad, and desired the youth that he would pardon him of that unequal joust and of the stroke too heavy.
At this Martimor sat up and took him by the hand. "Pardon?" he cried. "No talk of pardon between thee and me, my Lord Lancelot! Thou hast given me such joy of my life as never I had before. It made me glad to feel thy might. And now am I delibred and fully concluded that I also will become a knight, and thou shalt instruct me how and in what land I shall seek great adventure."
How Martimor was Instructed of Sir Lancelot to Set Forth Upon His Quest
So right gladly did Sir Lancelot advise the young Martimor of all the customs and vows of the noble order of knighthood, and shew how he might become a well-ruled and a hardy knight to win good fame and renown. For between these two from the first there was close brotherhood and affiance, though in years and in breeding they were so far apart, and this brotherhood endured until the last, as ye shall see, nor was the affiance broken.
Thus willingly learned the youth of his master; being instructed first in the art and craft to manage and guide a horse; then to handle the shield and the spear, and both to cut and to foin with the sword; and last of all in the laws of honour and courtesy, whereby a man may rule his own spirit and so obtain grace of God, praise of princes, and favour of fair ladies.
"For this I tell thee," said Sir Lancelot, as they sat together under an apple-tree, "there be many good fighters that are false knights, breaking faith with man and woman, envious, lustful and orgulous. In them courage is cruel, and love is lecherous. And in the end they shall come to shame and shall be overcome by a simpler knight than themselves; or else they shall win sorrow and despite by the slaying of better men than they be; and with their paramours they shall have weary dole and distress of soul and body; for he that is false, to him shall none be true, but all things shall be unhappy about him."
"But how and if a man be true in heart," said Martimor, "yet by some enchantment, or evil fortune, he may do an ill deed and one that is harmful to his lord or to his friend, even as Balin and his brother Balan slew each the other unknown?"
"That is in God's hand," said Lancelot. "Doubtless he may pardon and assoil all such in their unhappiness, forasmuch as the secret of it is with him."
"And how if a man be entangled in love," said Martimor, "Yet his love be set upon one that is not lawful for him to have? For either he must deny his love, which is great shame, or else he must do dishonour to the law. What shall he then do?"
At this Sir Lancelot was silent, and heaved a great sigh. Then said he: "Rest assured that this man shall have sorrow enough. For out of this net he may not escape, save by falsehood on the one side, or by treachery on the other. Therefore say I that he shall not assay to escape, but rather right manfully to bear the bonds with which he is bound, and to do honour to them."'
"How may this be?" said Martimor.
"By clean living," said Lancelot, "and by keeping himself from wine which heats the blood, and by quests and labours and combats wherein the fierceness of the heart is spent and overcome, and by inward joy in the pure worship of his lady, whereat none may take offence."
"How then shall a man bear himself in the following of a quest?" said Martimor. "Shall he set his face ever forward, and turn not to right, or left, whatever meet him by the way? Or shall he hold himself ready to answer them that call to him, and to succour them that ask help of him, and to turn aside from his path for rescue and good service?"
"Enough of questions!" said Lancelot. "These are things whereto each man must answer for himself, and not for other. True knight taketh counsel of the time. Every day his own deed. And the winning of a quest is not by haste, nor by hap, but what needs to be done, that must ye do while ye are in the way."
Then because of the love that Sir Lancelot bore to Martimor he gave him his own armour, and the good spear wherewith he had unhorsed many knights, and the sword that he took from Sir Peris de Forest Savage that distressed all ladies, but his shield he gave not, for therein his own remembrance was blazoned. So he let make a new shield, and in the corner was painted a Blue Flower that was nameless, and this he gave to Martimor, saying: "Thou shalt name it when thou hast found it, and so shalt thou have both crest and motto."
"Now am I well beseen," cried Martimor, "and my adventures are before me. Which way shall I ride, and where shall I find them?"
"Ride into the wind," said Lancelot, "and what chance soever it blows thee, thereby do thy best, as it were the first and the last. Take not thy hand from it until it be fulfilled. So shalt thou most quickly and worthily achieve knighthood."
Then they embraced like brothers; and each bade other keep him well; and Sir Lancelot in leather jerkin, with naked head, but with his shield and sword, rode to the south toward Camelot; and Martimor rode into the wind, westward, over the hill.
How Martimor Came to the Mill a Stayed in a Delay
So by wildsome ways in strange countries and through many waters and valleys rode Martimor forty days, but adventure met him none, blow the wind never so fierce or fickle. Neither dragons, nor giants, nor false knights, nor distressed ladies, nor fays, nor kings imprisoned could he find.
"These are ill times for adventure," said he, "the world is full of meat and sleepy. Now must I ride farther afield and undertake some ancient, famous quest wherein other knights have failed and fallen. Either I shall follow the Questing Beast with Sir Palamides, or I shall find Merlin at the great stone whereunder the Lady of the Lake enchanted him and deliver him from that enchantment, or I shall assay the cleansing of the Forest Perilous, or I shall win the favour of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, or mayhap I shall adventure the quest of the Sangreal. One or other of these will I achieve, or bleed the best blood of my body." Thus pondering and dreaming he came by the road down a gentle hill with close woods on either hand; and so into a valley with a swift river flowing through it; and on the river a Mill.
So white it stood among the trees, and so merrily whirred the wheel as the water turned it, and so bright blossomed the flowers in the garden, that Martimor had joy of the sight, for it minded him of his own country. "But here is no adventure," thought he, and made to ride by.
Even then came a young maid suddenly through the garden crying and wringing her hands. And when she saw him she cried him help. At this Martimor alighted quickly and ran into the garden, where the young maid soon led him to the millpond, which was great and deep, and made him understand that her little hound was swept away by the water and was near to perishing.
There saw he a red and white brachet, caught by the swift stream that ran into the race, fast swimming as ever he could swim, yet by no means able to escape. Then Martimor stripped off his harness and leaped into the water and did marvellously to rescue the little hound. But the fierce river dragged his legs, and buffeted him, and hurtled at him, and drew him down, as it were an enemy wrestling with him, so that he had much ado to come where the brachet was, and more to win back again, with the brachet in his arm, to the dry land.
Which when he had done he was clean for-spent and fell upon the ground as a dead man. At this the young maid wept yet more bitterly than she had wept for her hound, and cried aloud, "Alas, if so goodly a man should spend his life for my little brachet!" So she took his head upon her knee and cherished him and beat the palms of his hands, and the hound licked his face. And when Martimor opened his eyes he saw the face of the maid that it was fair as any flower.
Then was she shamed, and put him gently from her knee, and began to thank him and to ask with what she might reward him for the saving of the brachet.
"A night's lodging and a day's cheer," quoth Martimor.
"As long as thee liketh," said she, "for my father, the miller, will return ere sundown, and right gladly will he have a guest so brave."
"Longer might I like," said he, "but longer may I not stay, for I ride in a quest and seek great adventures to become a knight."
So they bestowed the horse in the stable, and went into the Mill; and when the miller was come home they had such good cheer with eating of venison and pan-cakes, and drinking of hydromel, and singing of pleasant ballads, that Martimor clean forgot he was in a delay. And going to his bed in a fair garret he dreamed of the Maid of the Mill, whose name was Lirette.
How the Mill was in Danger and the Delay Endured
In the morning Martimor lay late and thought large thoughts of his quest, and whither it might lead him, and to what honour it should bring him. As he dreamed thus, suddenly he heard in the hall below a trampling of feet and a shouting, with the voice of Lirette crying and shrieking. With that he sprang out of his bed, and caught up his sword and dagger, leaping lightly and fiercely down the stair.
There he saw three foul churls, whereof two strove with the miller, beating him with great clubs, while the third would master the Maid and drag her away to do her shame, but she fought shrewdly. Then Martimor rushed upon the churls, shouting for joy, and there was a great medley of breaking chairs and tables and cursing and smiting, and with his sword he gave horrible strokes.
One of the knaves that fought with the miller, he smote upon the shoulder and clave him to the navel. And at the other he foined fiercely so that the point of the sword went through his back and stuck fast in the wall. But the third knave, that was the biggest and the blackest, and strove to bear away the Maid, left bold of her, and leaped upon Martimor and caught him by the middle and crushed him so that his ribs cracked.
Thus they weltered and wrung together, and now one of them was above and now the other; and ever as they wallowed Martimor smote him with his dagger, but there came forth no blood, only water.
Then the black churl broke away from him and ran out at the door of the mill, and Martimor after. So they ran through the garden to the river, and there the churl sprang into the water, and swept away raging and foaming. And as he went he shouted, "Yet will I put thee to the worse, and mar the Mill, and have the Maid!"'
Then Martimor cried, "Never while I live shalt thou mar the Mill or have the Maid, thou foul, black, misbegotten churl!" So he returned to the Mill, and there the damsel Lirette made him to understand that these three churls were long time enemies of the Mill, and sought ever to destroy it and to do despite to her and her father. One of them was Ignis, and another was Ventus, and these were the twain that he had smitten. But the third, that fled down the river (and he was ever the fiercest and the most outrageous), his name was Flumen, for he dwelt in the caves of the stream, and was the master of it before the Mill was built.
"And now," wept the Maid, "he must have had his will with me and with the Mill, but for God's mercy, thanked be our Lord Jesus!"
"Thank me too," said Mlartimor.
"So I do," said Lirette, and she kissed him. "Yet am I heavy at heart and fearful, for my father is sorely mishandled and his arm is broken, so that he cannot tend the Mill nor guard it. And Flumen is escaped; surely he will harm us again. Now I know not, where I shall look for help."
"Why not here?" said Martimor.
Then Lirette looked him in the face, smiling a little sorrily. "But thou ridest in a quest," quoth she, "thou mayst not stay from thy adventures."
"A month," said he.
"Till my father be well?" said she.
"A month," said he.
"Till thou hast put Flumen to the worse?" said she.
"Right willingly would I have to do with that base, slippery knave again," said he, "but more than a month I may not stay, for my quest calls me and I must win worship of men or ever I become a knight."
So they bound up the miller's wounds and set the Mill in order. But Martimor had much to do to learn the working of the Mill; and they were busied with the grinding of wheat and rye and barley and divers kinds of grain; and the millers hurts were mended every day; and at night there was merry rest and good cheer; and Martimor talked with the Maid of the great adventure that he must find; and thus the delay endured in pleasant wise.
Yet More of the Mill, and of the Same Delay, also of the Maid
Now at the end of the third month, which was November, Martimor made Lirette to understand that it was high time he should ride farther to follow his quest. For the miller was now recovered, and it was long that they had heard and seen naught of Flumen, and doubtless that black knave was well routed and dismayed that he would not come again. Lirette prayed him and desired him that he would tarry yet one week. But Martimor said, No! for his adventures were before him, and that he could not be happy save in the doing of great deeds and the winning of knightly fame. Then he showed her the Blue Flower in his shield that was nameless, and told her how Sir Lancelot had said that he must find it, then should he name it and have both crest and motto.
"Does it grow in my garden?" said Lirette.
"I have not seen it," said he, "and now the flowers are all faded."
"Perhaps in the month of May?" said she.
"In that month I will come again," said he, "for by that time it may fortune that I shall achieve my quest, but now forth must I fare."
So there was sad cheer in the Mill that day, and at night there came a fierce storm with howling wind and plumping rain, and Martimor slept ill. About the break of day he was wakened by a great roaring and pounding; then he looked out of window, and saw the river in flood, with black waves spuming and raving, like wood beasts, and driving before them great logs and broken trees. Thus the river hurled and hammered at the mill-dam so that it trembled, and the logs leaped as they would spring over it, and the voice of Flumen shouted hoarsely and hungrily, "Yet will I mar the Mill and have the Maid!"
Then Martimor ran with the miller out upon the dam, and they laboured at the gates that held the river back, and thrust away the logs that were heaped over them, and cut with axes, and fought with the river. So at last two of the gates were lifted and one was broken, and the flood ran down ramping and roaring in great raundon, and as it ran the black face of Flumen sprang above it, crying, "Yet will I mar both Mill and Maid."
"That shalt thou never do," cried Martimor, "by foul or fair, while the life beats in my body."
So he came back with the miller into the Mill, and there was meat ready for them and they ate strongly and with good heart. "Now," said the miller, "must I mend the gate. But how it may be done, I know not, for surely this will be great travail for a man alone."
"Why alone?" said Martimor.
"Thou wilt stay, then?" said Lirette.
"Yea," said he.
"For another month?" said she.
"Till the gate be mended," said he.
But when the gate was mended there came another flood and brake the second gate. And when that was mended there came another flood and brake the third gate. So when all three were mended firm and fast, being bound with iron, still the grimly river hurled over the dam, and the voice of Flumen muttered in the dark of winter nights, "Yet will I mar—mar—mar—yet will I mar Mill and Maid."
"Oho!" said Martimor, "this is a durable and dogged knave. Art thou feared of him Lirette?"
"Not so," said she, "for thou art stronger. But fear have I of the day when thou ridest forth in thy quest."
"Well, as to that," said he, "when I have overcome this false devil Flumen, then will we consider and appoint that day."
So the delay continued, and Martimor was both busy and happy at the Mill, for he liked and loved this damsel well, and was fain of her company. Moreover the strife with Flumen was great joy to him.
How the Month of May came to the Mill, and the Delay was Made Longer
Now when the month of May came to the Mill it brought a plenty of sweet flowers, and Lirette wrought in the garden. With her, when the day was spent and the sun rested upon the edge of the hill, went Martimor, and she showed him all her flowers that were blue. But none of them was like the flower on his shield.
"Is it this?" she cried, giving him a violet. "Too dark," said he.
"Then here it is," she said, plucking a posy of forget-me-not.
"Too light," said he.
"Surely this is it," and she brought him a spray of blue-bells.
"Too slender," said he, "and well I ween that I may not find that flower, till I ride farther in my quest and achieve great adventure."
Then was the Maid cast down, and Martimor was fain to comfort her.
So while they walked thus in the garden, the days were fair and still, and the river ran lowly and slowly, as it were full of gentleness, and Flumen had amended him of his evil ways. But full of craft and guile was that false foe. For now that the gates were firm and strong, he found a way down through the corner of the dam, where a water-rat had burrowed, and there the water went seeping and creeping, gnawing ever at the hidden breach. Presently in the night came a mizzling rain, and far among the hills a cloud brake open, and the mill-pond flowed over and under, and the dam crumbled away, and the Mill shook, and the whole river ran roaring through the garden.
Then was Martimor wonderly wroth, because the river had blotted out the Maid's flowers. "And one day," she cried, holding fast to him and trembling, "one day Flumen will have me, when thou art gone."
"Not so," said he, "by the faith of my body that foul fiend shall never have thee. I will bind him, I will compel him, or die in the deed."
So he went forth, upward along the river, till he came to a strait Place among the hills. There was a great rock full of caves and hollows, and there the water whirled and burbled in furious wise. "Here," thought he, "is the hold of the knave Flumen, and if I may cut through above this rock and make a dyke with a gate in it, to let down the water another way when the floods come, so shall I spoil him of his craft and put him to the worse."
Then he toiled day and night to make the dyke, and ever by night Flumen came and strove with him, and did his power to cast him down and strangle him. But Martimor stood fast and drave him back.
And at last, as they wrestled and whapped together, they fell headlong in the stream.
"Ho-o!" shouted Flumen, "now will I drown thee, and mar the Mill and the Maid."
But Martimor gripped him by the neck and thrust his head betwixt the leaves of the gate and shut them fast, so that his eyes stood out like gobbets of foam, and his black tongue hung from his mouth like a water-weed.
"Now shalt thou swear never to mar Mill nor Maid, but meekly to serve them," cried Martimor. Then Flumen sware by wind and wave, by storm and stream, by rain and river, by pond and pool, by flood and fountain, by dyke and dam.
"These be changeable things," said Martimor, "swear by the Name of God."
So he sware, and even as the Name passed his teeth, the gobbets of foam floated forth from the gate, and the water-weed writhed away with the stream, and the river flowed fair and softly, with a sound like singing.
Then Martimor came back to the Mill, and told how Flumen was overcome and made to swear a pact. Thus their hearts waxed light and jolly, and they kept that day as it were a love-day.
How Martimor Bled for a Lady and Lived for a Maid, and how His Great Adventure Ended and Began at the Mill
Now leave we of the Mill and Martimor and the Maid, and let us speak of a certain Lady, passing tall and fair and young. This was the Lady Beauvivante, that was daughter to King Pellinore. And three false knights took her by craft from her father's court and led her away to work their will on her. But she escaped from them as they slept by a well, and came riding on a white palfrey, over hill and dale, as fast as ever she could drive.
Thus she came to the Mill, and her palfrey was spent, and there she took refuge, beseeching Martimor that he would hide her, and defend her from those caitiff knights that must soon follow.
"Of hiding," said he, "will I hear naught, but of defending am I full fain. For this have I waited."
Then he made ready his horse and his armour, and took both spear and sword, and stood forth in the bridge. Now this bridge was strait, so that none could pass there but singly, and that not till Martimor yielded or was beaten down.
Then came the three knights that followed the Lady, riding fiercely down the hill. And when they came about ten spear-lengths from the bridge, they halted, and stood still as it had been a plump of wood. One rode in black, and one rode in yellow, and the third rode in black and yellow. So they cried Martimor that he should give them passage, for they followed a quest.
"Passage takes, who passage makes!" cried Martimor. "Right well I know your quest, and it is a foul one."
Then the knight in black rode at him lightly, but Martimor encountered him with the spear and smote him backward from his horse, that his head struck the coping of the bridge and brake his neck. Then came the knight in yellow, walloping heavily, and him the spear pierced through the midst of the body and burst in three pieces: so he fell on his back and the life went out of him, but the spear stuck fast and stood up from his breast as a stake.
Then the knight in black and yellow, that was as big as both his brethren, gave a terrible shout, and rode at Martimor like a wood lion. But he fended with his shield that the spear went aside, and they clapped together like thunder, and both horses were overthrown. And lightly they avoided their horses and rushed together, tracing, rasing, and foining. Such strokes they gave that great pieces were clipped away from their hauberks, and their helms, and they staggered to and fro like drunken men. Then they hurtled together like rams and each battered other the wind out of his body. So they sat either on one side of the bridge, to take their breath, glaring the one at the other as two owls. Then they stepped together and fought freshly, smiting and thrusting, ramping and reeling, panting, snorting, and scattering blood, for the space of two hours. So the knight in black and yellow, because he was heavier, drave Martimor backward step by step till he came to the crown of the bridge, and there fell grovelling. At this the Lady Beauvivante shrieked and wailed, but the damsel Lirette cried loudly, "Up! Martimor, strike again!"
Then the courage came into his body, and with a great might he abraid upon his feet, and smote the black and yellow knight upon the helm by an overstroke so fierce that the sword sheared away the third part of his head, as it had been a rotten cheese. So he lay upon the bridge, and the blood ran out of him. And Martimor smote off the rest of his head quite, and cast it into the river. Likewise did he with the other twain that lay dead beyond the bridge. And he cried to Flumen, "Hide me these black eggs that hatched evil thoughts." So the river bore them away.
Then Martimor came into the Mill, all for-bled; "Now are ye free, lady," he cried, and fell down in a swoon. Then the Lady and the Maid wept full sore and made great dole and unlaced his helm; and Lirette cherished him tenderly to recover his life.
So while they were thus busied and distressed, came Sir Lancelot with a great company of knights and squires riding for to rescue the princess. When he came to the bridge all bedashed with blood, and the bodies of the knights headless, "Now, by my lady's name," said he, "here has been good fighting, and those three caitiffs are slain! By whose hand I wonder?"
So he came into the Mill, and there he found Martimor recovered of his swoon, and had marvellous joy of him, when he heard how he had wrought.
"Now are thou proven worthy of the noble order of knighthood," said Lancelot, and forthwith he dubbed him knight.
Then he said that Sir Martimor should ride with him to the court of King Pellinore, to receive a castle and a fair lady to wife, for doubtless the King would deny him nothing to reward the rescue of his daughter.
But Martimor stood in a muse; then said he, "May a knight have his free will and choice of castles, where he will abide?"
"Within the law," said Lancelot, "and by the King's word he may."
"Then choose I the Mill," said Martimor, "for here will I dwell."
"Freely spoken," said Lancelot, laughing, "so art thou Sir Martimor of the Mill; no doubt the King will confirm it. And now what sayest thou of ladies?"
"May a knight have his free will and choice here also?" said he.
"According to his fortune," said Lancelot, "and by the lady's favour, he may."
"Well, then," said Sir Martimor, taking Lirette by the hand, "this Maid is to me liefer to have and to wield as my wife than any dame or princess that is christened."
"What, brother," said Sir Lancelot, "is the wind in that quarter? And will the Maid have thee?"
"I will well," said Lirette.
"Now are you well provided," said Sir Lancelot, "with knighthood, and a castle, and a lady. Lacks but a motto and a name for the Blue Flower in thy shield."
"He that names it shall never find it," said Sir Martimor, "and he that finds it needs no name."
So Lirette rejoiced Sir Martimor and loved together during their life-days; and this is the end and the beginning of the Story of the Mill.
It must have been near Sutherland's Pond that I lost the way. For there the deserted road which I had been following through the Highlands ran out upon a meadow all abloom with purple loose-strife and golden Saint-John's wort. The declining sun cast a glory over the lonely field, and far in the corner, nigh to the woods, there was a touch of the celestial colour: blue of the sky seen between white clouds: blue of the sea shimmering through faint drifts of silver mist. The hope of finding that hue of distance and mystery embodied in a living form, the old hope of discovering the Blue Flower rose again in my heart. But it was only for a moment, for when I came nearer I saw that the colour which had caught my eye came from a multitude of closed gentians—the blossoms which never open into perfection—growing so closely together that their blended promise had seemed like a single flower.
So I harked back again, slanting across the meadow, to find the road. But it had vanished. Wandering among the alders and clumps of gray birches, here and there I found a track that looked like it; but as I tried each one, it grew more faint and uncertain and at last came to nothing in a thicket or a marsh. While I was thus beating about the bush the sun dropped below the western rim of hills. It was necessary to make the most of the lingering light, if I did not wish to be benighted in the woods. The little village of Canterbury, which was the goal of my day's march, must lie about to the north just beyond the edge of the mountain, and in that direction I turned, pushing forward as rapidly as possible through the undergrowth.
Presently I came into a region where the trees were larger and the travelling was easier. It was not a primeval forest, but a second growth of chestnuts and poplars and maples. Through the woods there ran at intervals long lines of broken rock, covered with moss—the ruins, evidently, of ancient stone fences. The land must have been, in former days, a farm, inhabited, cultivated, the home of human hopes and desires and labours, but now relapsed into solitude and wilderness. What could the life have been among these rugged and inhospitable Highlands, on this niggard and reluctant soil? Where was the house that once sheltered the tillers of this rude corner of the earth?
Here, perhaps, in the little clearing into which I now emerged. A couple of decrepit apple-trees grew on the edge of it, and dropped their scanty and gnarled fruit to feast the squirrels. A little farther on, a straggling clump of ancient lilacs, a bewildered old bush of sweetbrier, the dark-green leaves of a cluster of tiger-lilies, long past blooming, marked the grave of the garden. And here, above this square hollow in the earth, with the remains of a crumbling chimney standing sentinel beside it, here the house must have stood. What joys, what sorrows once centred around this cold and desolate hearth-stone? What children went forth like birds from this dismantled nest into the wide world? What guests found refuge——
"Take care! stand back! There is a rattlesnake in the old cellar."
The voice, even more than the words, startled me. I drew away suddenly, and saw, behind the ruins of the chimney, a man of an aspect so striking that to this day his face and figure are as vivid in my memory as if it were but yesterday that I had met him.
He was dressed in black, the coat of a somewhat formal cut, a long cravat loosely knotted in his rolling collar. His head was bare, and the coal-black hair, thick and waving, was in some disorder. His face, smooth and pale, with high forehead, straight nose, and thin, sensitive lips—was it old or young? Handsome it certainly was, the face of a man of mark, a man of power. Yet there was something strange and wild about it. His dark eyes, with the fine wrinkles about them, had a look of unspeakable remoteness, and at the same time an intensity that seemed to pierce me through and through. It was as if he saw me in a dream, yet measured me, weighed me with a scrutiny as exact as it was at bottom indifferent.
But his lips were smiling, and there was no fault to be found, at least, with his manner. He had risen from the broad stone where he had evidently been sitting with his back against the chimney, and came forward to greet me.
"You will pardon the abruptness of my greeting? I thought you might not care to make acquaintance with the present tenant of this old house—at least not without an introduction."
"Certainly not," I answered, "you have done me a real kindness, which is better than the outward form of courtesy. But how is it that you stay at such close quarters with this unpleasant tenant? Have you no fear of him?"
"Not the least in the world," he answered, laughing. "I know the snakes too well, better than they know themselves. It is not likely that even an old serpent with thirteen rattles, like this one, could harm me. I know his ways. Before he could strike I should be out of reach."
"Well," said I, "it is a grim thought, at all events, that this house, once a cheerful home, no doubt, should have fallen at last to be the dwelling of such a vile creature."
"Fallen!" he exclaimed. Then he repeated the word with a questioning accent—"fallen? Are you sure of that? The snake, in his way, may be quite as honest as the people who lived here before him, and not much more harmful. The farmer was a miser who robbed his mother, quarrelled with his brother, and starved his wife. What she lacked in food, she made up in drink, when she could. One of the children, a girl, was a cripple, lamed by her mother in a fit of rage. The two boys were ne'er-do-weels who ran away from home as soon as they were old enough. One of them is serving a life-sentence in the State prison for manslaughter. When the house burned down some thirty years ago, the woman escaped. The man's body was found with the head crushed in—perhaps by a falling timber. The family of our friend the rattlesnake could hardly surpass that record, I think.
"But why should we blame them—any of them? They were only acting out their natures. To one who can see and understand, it is all perfectly simple, and interesting—immensely interesting."
It is impossible to describe the quiet eagerness, the cool glow of fervour with which he narrated this little history. It was the manner of the triumphant pathologist who lays bare some hidden seat of disease. It surprised and repelled me a little; yet it attracted me, too, for I could see how evidently he counted on my comprehension and sympathy.
"Well," said I, "it is a pitiful history. Rural life is not all peace and innocence. But how came you to know the story?"
"I? Oh, I make it my business to know a little of everything, and as much as possible of human life, not excepting the petty chronicles of the rustics around me. It is my chief pleasure. I earn my living by teaching boys. I find my satisfaction in studying men. But you are on a journey, sir, and night is falling. I must not detain you. Or perhaps you will allow me to forward you a little by serving as a guide. Which way were you going when you turned aside to look at this dismantled shrine?"
"To Canterbury," I answered, "to find a night's, or a month's, lodging at the inn. My journey is a ramble, it has neither terminus nor time-table."
"Then let me commend to you something vastly better than the tender mercies of the Canterbury Inn. Come with me to the school on Hilltop, where I am a teacher. It is a thousand feet above the village—purer air, finer view, and pleasanter company. There is plenty of room in the house, for it is vacation-time. Master Isaac Ward is always glad to entertain guests."
There was something so sudden and unconventional about the invitation that I was reluctant to accept it; but he gave it naturally and pressed it with earnest courtesy, assuring me that it was in accordance with Master Ward's custom, that he would be much disappointed to lose the chance of talking with an interesting traveller, that he would far rather let me pay him for my lodging than have me go by, and so on—so that at last I consented.
Three minutes' walking from the deserted clearing brought us into a travelled road. It circled the breast of the mountain, and as we stepped along it in the dusk I learned something of my companion. His name was Edward Keene; he taught Latin and Greek in the Hilltop School; he had studied for the ministry, but had given it up, I gathered, on account of a certain loss of interest, or rather a diversion of interest in another direction. He spoke of himself with an impersonal candour.
"Preachers must be always trying to persuade men," he said. "But what I care about is to know men. I don't care what they do. Certainly I have no wish to interfere with them in their doings, for I doubt whether anyone can really change them. Each tree bears its own fruit, you see, and by their fruits you know them."
"What do you say to grafting? That changes the fruit, surely?"
"Yes, but a grafted tree is not really one tree. It is two trees growing together. There is a double life in it, and the second life, the added life, dominates the other. The stock becomes a kind of animate soil for the graft to grow in."
Presently the road dipped into a little valley and rose again, breasting the slope of a wooded hill which thrust itself out from the steeper flank of the mountain-range. Down the hill-side a song floated to meet us—that most noble lyric of old Robert Herrick:
Bid me to live, and I will live Thy Protestant to be; Or bid me love, and I will give A loving heart to thee.
It was a girl's voice, fresh and clear, with a note of tenderness in it that thrilled me. Keene's pace quickened. And soon the singer came in sight, stepping lightly down the road, a shape of slender whiteness on the background of gathering night. She was beautiful even in that dim light, with brown eyes and hair, and a face that seemed to breathe purity and trust. Yet there was a trace of anxiety in it, or so I fancied, that gave it an appealing charm.
"You have come at last, Edward," she cried, running forward and putting her hand in his. "It is late. You have been out all day; I began to be afraid."
"Not too late," he answered; "there was no need for fear, Dorothy. I am not alone, you see." And keeping her hand, he introduced me to the daughter of Master Ward.
It was easy to guess the relation between these two young people who walked beside me in the dusk. It needed no words to say that they were lovers. Yet it would have needed many words to define the sense, that came to me gradually, of something singular in the tie that bound them together. On his part there was a certain tone of half-playful condescension toward her such as one might use to a lovely child, which seemed to match but ill with her unconscious attitude of watchful care, of tender solicitude for him—almost like the manner of an elder sister. Lovers they surely were, and acknowledged lovers, for their frankness of demeanour sought no concealment; but I felt that there must be
A little rift within the lute,
though neither of them might know it. Each one's thought of the other was different from the other's thought of self. There could not be a complete understanding, a perfect accord. What was the secret, of which each knew half, but not the other half?
Thus, with steps that kept time, but with thoughts how wide apart, we came to the door of the school. A warm flood of light poured out to greet us. The Master, an elderly, placid, comfortable man, gave me just the welcome that had been promised in his name. The supper was waiting, and the evening passed in such happy cheer that the bewilderments and misgivings of the twilight melted away, and at bedtime I dropped into the nest of sleep as one who has found a shelter among friends.
The Hilltop School stood on a blessed site. Lifted high above the village, it held the crest of the last gentle wave of the mountains that filled the south with crowding billows, ragged and tumultuous. Northward, the great plain lay at our feet, smiling in the sun; meadows and groves, yellow fields of harvest and green orchards, white roads and clustering towns, with here and there a little city on the bank of the mighty river which curved in a vast line of beauty toward the blue Catskill Range, fifty miles away. Lines of filmy smoke, like vanishing footprints in the air, marked the passage of railway trains across the landscape—their swift flight reduced by distance to a leisurely transition. The bright surface of the stream was furrowed by a hundred vessels; tiny rowboats creeping from shore to shore; knots of black barges following the lead of puffing tugs; sloops with languid motion tacking against the tide; white steamboats, like huge toy-houses, crowded with pygmy inhabitants, moving smoothly on their way to the great city, and disappearing suddenly as they turned into the narrows between Storm-King and the Fishkill Mountains. Down there was life, incessant, varied, restless, intricate, many-coloured—down there was history, the highway of ancient voyagers since the days of Hendrik Hudson, the hunting-ground of Indian tribes, the scenes of massacre and battle, the last camp of the Army of the Revolution, the Head-quarters of Washington—down there were the homes of legend and poetry, the dreamlike hills of Rip van Winkle's sleep, the cliffs and caves haunted by the Culprit Fay, the solitudes traversed by the Spy—all outspread before us, and visible as in a Claude Lorraine glass, in the tranquil lucidity of distance. And here, on the hilltop, was our own life; secluded, yet never separated from the other life; looking down upon it, yet woven of the same stuff; peaceful in circumstance, yet ever busy with its own tasks, and holding in its quiet heart all the elements of joy and sorrow and tragic consequence.
The Master was a man of most unworldly wisdom. In his youth a great traveller, he had brought home many observations, a few views, and at least one theory. To him the school was the most important of human institutions—more vital even than the home, because it held the first real experience of social contact, of free intercourse with other minds and lives coming from different households and embodying different strains of blood. "My school," said he, "is the world in miniature. If I can teach these boys to study and play together freely and with fairness to one another, I shall make men fit to live and work together in society. What they learn matters less than how they learn it. The great thing is the bringing out of individual character so that it will find its place in social harmony."
Yet never man knew less of character in the concrete than Master Ward. To him each person represented a type—the scientific, the practical, the poetic. From each one he expected, and in each one he found, to a certain degree, the fruit of the marked quality, the obvious, the characteristic. But of the deeper character, made up of a hundred traits, coloured and conditioned most vitally by something secret and in itself apparently of slight importance, he was placidly unconscious. Classes he knew. Individuals escaped him. Yet he was a most companionable man, a social solitary, a friendly hermit.
His daughter Dorothy seemed to me even more fair and appealing by daylight than when I first saw her in the dusk. There was a pure brightness in her brown eyes, a gentle dignity in her look and bearing, a soft cadence of expectant joy in her voice. She was womanly in every tone and motion, yet by no means weak or uncertain. Mistress of herself and of the house, she ruled her kingdom without an effort. Busied with many little cares, she bore them lightly. Her spirit overflowed into the lives around her with delicate sympathy and merry cheer. But it was in music that her nature found its widest outlet. In the lengthening evenings of late August she would play from Schumann, or Chopin, or Grieg, interpreting the vague feelings of gladness or grief which lie too deep for words. Ballads she loved, quaint old English and Scotch airs, folk-songs of Germany, "Come-all-ye's" of Ireland, Canadian chansons. She sang—not like an angel, but like a woman.
Of the two under-masters in the school, Edward Keene was the elder. The younger, John Graham, was his opposite in every respect. Sturdy, fair-haired, plain in the face, he was essentially an every-day man, devoted to out-of-door sports, a hard worker, a good player, and a sound sleeper. He came back to the school, from a fishing-excursion, a few days after my arrival. I liked the way in which he told of his adventures, with a little frank boasting, enough to season but not to spoil the story. I liked the way in which he took hold of his work, helping to get the school in readiness for the return of the boys in the middle of September. I liked, more than all, his attitude to Dorothy Ward. He loved her, clearly enough. When she was in the room the other people were only accidents to him. Yet there was nothing of the disappointed suitor in his bearing. He was cheerful, natural, accepting the situation, giving her the best he had to give, and gladly taking from her the frank reliance, the ready comradeship which she bestowed upon him. If he envied Keene—and how could he help it—at least he never showed a touch of jealousy or rivalry. The engagement was a fact which he took into account as something not to be changed or questioned. Keene was so much more brilliant, interesting, attractive. He answered so much more fully to the poetic side of Dorothy's nature. How could she help preferring him?
Thus the three actors in the drama stood, when I became an inmate of Hilltop, and accepted the master's invitation to undertake some of the minor classes in English, and stay on at the school indefinitely. It was my wish to see the little play—a pleasant comedy, I hoped—move forward to a happy ending. And yet—what was it that disturbed me now and then with forebodings? Something, doubtless, in the character of Keene, for he was the dominant personality. The key of the situation lay with him. He was the centre of interest. Yet he was the one who seemed not perfectly in harmony, not quite at home, as if something beckoned and urged him away.
"I am glad you are to stay," said he, "yet I wonder at it. You will find the life narrow, after all your travels. Ulysses at Ithaca—you will surely be restless to see the world again."
"If you find the life broad enough, I ought not to be cramped in it."
"Ah, but I have compensations."
"One you certainly have," said I, thinking of Dorothy, "and that one is enough to make a man happy anywhere."
"Yes, yes," he answered, quickly, "but that is not what I mean. It is not there that I look for a wider life. Love—do you think that love broadens a man's outlook? To me it seems to make him narrower—happier, perhaps, within his own little circle—but distinctly narrower. Knowledge is the only thing that broadens life, sets it free from the tyranny of the parish, fills it with the sense of power. And love is the opposite of knowledge. Love is a kind of an illusion—a happy illusion, that is what love is. Don't you see that?"
"See it?" I cried. "I don't know what you mean. Do you mean that you don't really care for Dorothy Ward? Do you mean that what you have won in her is an illusion? If so, you are as wrong as a man can be."
"No, no," he answered, eagerly, "you know I don't mean that. I could not live without her. But love is not the only reality. There is something else, something broader, something——"
"Come away," I said, "come away, man! You are talking nonsense, treason. You are not true to yourself. You've been working too hard at your books. There's a maggot in your brain. Come out for a long walk."
That indeed was what he liked best. He was a magnificent walker, easy, steady, unwearying. He knew every road and lane in the valleys, every footpath and trail among the mountains. But he cared little for walking in company; one companion was the most that he could abide. And, strange to say, it was not Dorothy whom he chose for his most frequent comrade. With her he would saunter down the Black Brook path, or climb slowly to the first ridge of Storm-King. But with me he pushed out to the farthest pinnacle that overhangs the river, and down through the Lonely Heart gorge, and over the pass of the White Horse, and up to the peak of Cro' Nest, and across the rugged summit of Black Rock. At every wider outlook a strange exhilaration seemed to come upon him. His spirit glowed like a live coal in the wind. He overflowed with brilliant talk and curious stories of the villages and scattered houses that we could see from our eyries.
But it was not with me that he made his longest expeditions. They were solitary. Early on Saturday he would leave the rest of us, with some slight excuse, and start away on the mountain-road, to be gone all day. Sometimes he would not return till long after dark. Then I could see the anxious look deepen on Dorothy's face, and she would slip away down the road to meet him. But he always came back in good spirits, talkable and charming. It was the next day that the reaction came. The black fit took him. He was silent, moody, bitter. Holding himself aloof, yet never giving utterance to any irritation, he seemed half-unconsciously to resent the claims of love and friendship, as if they irked him. There was a look in his eyes as if he measured us, weighed us, analysed us all as strangers.
Yes, even Dorothy. I have seen her go to meet him with a flower in her hand that she had plucked for him, and turn away with her lips trembling, too proud to say a word, dropping the flower on the grass. John Graham saw it, too. He waited till she was gone; then he picked up the flower and kept it.
There was nothing to take offence at, nothing on which one could lay a finger; only these singular alternations of mood which made Keene now the most delightful of friends, now an intimate stranger in the circle. The change was inexplicable. But certainly it seemed to have some connection, as cause or consequence, with his long, lonely walks.
Once, when he was absent, we spoke of his remarkable fluctuations of spirit.
The master labelled him. "He is an idealist, a dreamer. They are always uncertain."
I blamed him. "He gives way too much to his moods. He lacks self-control. He is in danger of spoiling a fine nature."
I looked at Dorothy. She defended him. "Why should he be always the same? He is too great for that. His thoughts make him restless, and sometimes he is tired. Surely you wouldn't have him act what he don't feel. Why do you want him to do that?"
"I don't know," said Graham, with a short laugh. "None of us know. But what we all want just now is music. Dorothy, will you sing a little for us?"
So she sang "The Coulin," and "The Days o' the Kerry Dancin'," and "The Hawthorn Tree," and "The Green Woods of Truigha," and "Flowers o' the Forest," and "A la claire Fontaine," until the twilight was filled with peace.
The boys came back to the school. The wheels of routine began to turn again, slowly and with a little friction at first, then smoothly and swiftly as if they had never stopped. Summer reddened into autumn; autumn bronzed into fall. The maples and poplars were bare. The oaks alone kept their rusted crimson glory, and the cloaks of spruce and hemlock on the shoulders of the hills grew dark with wintry foliage. Keene's transitions of mood became more frequent and more extreme. The gulf of isolation that divided him from us when the black days came seemed wider and more unfathomable. Dorothy and John Graham were thrown more constantly together. Keene appeared to encourage their companionship. He watched them curiously, sometimes, not as if he were jealous, but rather as if he were interested in some delicate experiment. At other times he would be singularly indifferent to everything, remote, abstracted, forgetful.
Dorothy's birthday, which fell in mid-October, was kept as a holiday. In the morning everyone had some little birthday gift for her, except Keene. He had forgotten the birthday entirely. The shadow of disappointment that quenched the brightness of her face was pitiful. Even he could not be blind to it. He flushed as if surprised, and hesitated a moment, evidently in conflict with himself. Then a look of shame and regret came into his eyes. He made some excuse for not going with us to the picnic, at the Black Brook Falls, with which the day was celebrated. In the afternoon, as we all sat around the camp-fire, he came swinging through the woods with his long, swift stride, and going at once to Dorothy laid a little brooch of pearl and opal in her hand.
"Will you forgive me?" he said. "I hope this is not too late. But I lost the train back from Newburg and walked home. I pray that you may never know any tears but pearls, and that there may be nothing changeable about you but the opal."
"Oh, Edward!" she cried, "how beautiful! Thank you a thousand times. But I wish you had been with us all day. We have missed you so much!"
For the rest of that day simplicity and clearness and joy came back to us. Keene was at his best, a leader of friendly merriment, a master of good-fellowship, a prince of delicate chivalry. Dorothy's loveliness unfolded like a flower in the sun.
But the Indian summer of peace was brief. It was hardly a week before Keene's old moods returned, darker and stranger than ever. The girl's unconcealable bewilderment, her sense of wounded loyalty and baffled anxiety, her still look of hurt and wondering tenderness, increased from day to day. John Graham's temper seemed to change, suddenly and completely. From the best-humoured and most careless fellow in the world, he became silent, thoughtful, irritable toward everyone except Dorothy. With Keene he was curt and impatient, avoiding him as much as possible, and when they were together, evidently struggling to keep down a deep dislike and rising anger. They had had sharp words when they were alone, I was sure, but Keene's coolness seemed to grow with Graham's heat. There was no open quarrel.
One Saturday evening, Graham came to me. "You have seen what is going on here?" he said.
"Something, at least," I answered, "and I am very sorry for it. But I don't quite understand it."
"Well, I do; and I'm going to put an end to it. I'm going to have it out with Ned Keene. He is breaking her heart."
"But are you the right one to take the matter up?"
"Who else is there to do it?"
"He sees nothing, comprehends nothing. 'Practical type—poetic type—misunderstandings sure to arise—come together after a while each supply the other's deficiencies.' Cursed folly! And the girl so unhappy that she can't tell anyone. It shall not go on, I say. Keene is out on the road now, taking one of his infernal walks. I'm going to meet him."
"I'm afraid it will make trouble. Let me go with you."
"The trouble is made. Come if you like. I'm going now."
The night lay heavy upon the forest. Where the road dipped through the valley we could hardly see a rod ahead of us. But higher up where the way curved around the breast of the mountain, the woods were thin on the left, and on the right a sheer precipice fell away to the gorge of the brook. In the dim starlight we saw Keene striding toward us. Graham stepped out to meet him.
"Where have you been, Ned Keene?" he cried. The cry was a challenge. Keene lifted his head and stood still. Then he laughed and took a step forward.
"Taking a long walk, Jack Graham," he answered. "It was glorious. You should have been with me. But why this sudden question?"
"Because your long walk is a pretence. You are playing false. There is some woman that you go to see at West Point, at Highland Falls, who knows where?"
Keene laughed again.
"Certainly you don't know, my dear fellow; and neither do I. Since when has walking become a vice in your estimation? You seem to be in a fierce mood. What's the matter?"
"I will tell you what's the matter. You have been acting like a brute to the girl you profess to love."
"Plain words! But between friends frankness is best. Did she ask you to tell me?"
"No! You know too well she would die before she would speak. You are killing her, that is what you are doing with your devilish moods and mysteries. You must stop. Do you hear? You must give her up."
"I hear well enough, and it sounds like a word for her and two for yourself. Is that it?"
"Damn you," cried the younger man, "let the words go! we'll settle it this way"——and he sprang at the other's throat.
Keene, cool and well-braced, met him with a heavy blow in the chest. He recoiled, and I rushed between them, holding Graham back, and pleading for self-control. As we stood thus, panting and confused, on the edge of the cliff, a singing voice floated up to us from the shadows across the valley. It was Herrick's song again:
A heart as soft, a heart as kind, A heart as sound and free Is in the whole world thou canst find, That heart I'll give to thee.
"Come, gentlemen," I cried, "this is folly, sheer madness. You can never deal with the matter in this way. Think of the girl who is singing down yonder. What would happen to her, what would she suffer, from scandal, from her own feelings, if either of you should be killed, or even seriously hurt by the other? There must be no quarrel between you."
"Certainly," said Keene, whose poise, if shaken at all, had returned, "certainly, you are right. It is not of my seeking, nor shall I be the one to keep it up. I am willing to let it pass. It is but a small matter at most."