Candles were burning, and the soft smell of wax mixed with the perfume of the roses. For there were roses everywhere—great snowy bouquets, and long lines of scattered blossoms, and single roses there and here, and petals fallen and falling were as tears shed for the beautiful dead, and the white flowerage vied with the pallor and the immaculate stillness of the dead.
The calm chastity, the lonely loveliness, so sweetly removed from taint of passion, struck John with all the emotion of art. He reproached himself for having dreamed of her rather as a wife than as a sister, and then all art and all conscience went down as a broken wreck in the wild washing sea of deep human love: he knelt by her bedside, and sobbed piteously, a man whose life is broken.
When they next saw her she was in her coffin. It was almost full of white blossoms—jasmine, Eucharis lilies, white roses, and in the midst of the flowers you saw the hands folded, and the face was veiled with some delicate filmy handkerchief.
For the funeral there were crosses and wreaths of white flowers, roses and stephanotis. And the Austin girls and their cousins who had come from Brighton and Worthing carried loose flowers. How black and sad, how homely and humble they seemed. Down the short drive, through the iron gate, through the farm gate, the bearers staggering a little under the weight of lead, the little cortege passed two by two. A broken-hearted lover, a grief-stricken father, and a dozen sweet girls, their eyes and cheeks streaming with tears. Kitty, their girl-friend was dead, dead, dead! The words rang in their hearts in answer to the mournful tolling of the bell. The little by-way along which they went, the little green path leading over the hill, under trees shot through and through with the whiteness of summer seas, was strewn with blossoms fallen from the bier and the dolent fingers of the weeping girls.
The old church was all in white; great lilies in vases, wreaths of stephanotis; and, above all, roses—great garlands of white roses had been woven, and they hung along and across. A blossom fell, a sob sounded in the stillness; and how trivial it all seemed, and how impotent to assuage the bitter burning of human sorrow: how paltry and circumscribed the old grey church, with its little graveyard full of forgotten griefs and aspirations! This hour of beautiful sorrow and roses, how long will it be remembered? The coffin sinks out of sight, out of sight for ever, a snow-drift of delicate bloom descending into the earth.
From the Austin girls, whose eyes followed him, from Mr Hare, from Mrs Norton, John wandered sorrowfully away,—he wandered through the green woods and fields into the town. He stood by the railway gates. He saw the people coming and going in and out of the public houses; and he watched the trains that whizzed past, and he understood nothing, not even why the great bar of the white gate did not yield beneath the pressure of his hands; and in the great vault of the blue sky, white clouds melted and faded to sheeny visions of paradise, to a white form with folded wings, and eyes whose calm was immortality....
A train stopped. He took a ticket and went to Brighton. As they steamed along a high embankment, he found himself looking into a little suburban cemetery. The graves, the yews, the sharp church spire touching the range of the hills. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and the dread responsive rattle given back by the coffin lid. He watched the group in the distant corner, and its very remoteness and removal from his personal knowledge and concern, moved him to passionate grief and tears....
He walked through the southern sunlight of the town to the long expanse of sea. The mundane pier is taut and trim, and gay with the clangour of the band, the brown sails of the fishing boats wave in the translucid greens of water; and the white field of the sheer cliff, and all the roofs, gables, spires, balconies, and the green of the verandahs are exquisitely indicated and elusive in the bright air; and the beach is strange with acrobats and comic songs, nursemaids lying on the pebbles reading novels, children with their clothes tied tightly about them building sand castles zealously; see the lengthy crowd of promenaders—out of its ranks two little spots of mauve come running to meet the advancing wave, and now they fly back again, and now they come again frolicking like butterflies, as gay and as bright.
Under the impulse of his ravening grief, John watched the spectacle of the world's forgetfulness, and the seeming obscenity horrified him even to the limits of madness. He cried that it might pass from him. Solitude—the solemn peace of the hills, the appealing silence of a pine wood at even; how holy is the idea of solitude, find it where you will. The Gothic pile, the apostles and saints of the windows, the deep purples and crimsons, and the sunlight streaming through, and the pathetic responses and the majesty of the organ do not take away, but enhance and affirm the sensation of idea and God. The quiet rooms austere with Latin and crucifix; John could see them. Fondly he allowed these fancies to linger, but through the dream a sense of reality began to grow, and he remembered the narrowness of the life, when viewed from the material side, and its necessary promiscuousness, and he thought with horror of the impossibility of the preservation of that personal life, with all its sanctuary-like intensity, which was so dear to him. He waved away all thought of priesthood, and walking quickly down the pier, looking on the gay panorama of town and beach, he said, "The world shall be my monastery."