What he read was a statement, at once tense and whimsical, of the predicament of the writer. The latter, recognizing the confusion of thought among his captors, wrote because he must, but did not truly expect any aid from Senor Nobody. The writing would, however, prolong life for two days, perhaps for three. If at the end of that time ransom were not forthcoming death would forthcome. Release would follow ransom. But Senor Nobody truly could not be expected to take interest! Most conceivably the stranger's lot must remain the stranger's lot. In that case pardon for the annoyance! If, miraculously, the bearer did find Senor Nobody—if Senor Nobody read this letter—if strangers were not strangers to Senor Nobody—if gold and mercy lay alike in Senor Nobody's keeping—then so and so must be done. Followed three or four lines of explicit directions. Did all the above come about, then truly would the undersigned, living, and pursuing his journey into France, and making return to Senor Nobody when he might, rest the latter's slave! Followed the signature, Ian Rullock.
Alexander sat by the window, in the rocky island, and the Spanish river flowed by. It was dusk. Then came lights, and the English secretary and physician, with servants to lay the table and bring supper. Glenfernie ate and drank with the two men. His lordship was reported better, would doubtless be up to-morrow. The talk fell upon Greece, to which country the nobleman was, in the end, bound. Greek art, Greek literature, Greek myth. Here the secretary proved scholar and enthusiast, a liker especially of the byways of myth. He and Alexander voyaged here and there among them. "And you remember, too," said the secretary, "the Cranes of Ibycus—"
They rose at last from table. Secretary and physician must return to their patron. "I am going to hunt bed and sleep," said Glenfernie. "To-morrow, if his lordship is recovered, we'll go see that church."
In the rude, small bedchamber he found his Spanish servant. Presently he would dismiss him, but first, "Tell me, Gil, of the banditti in these mountains."
Gil told. The foreigner who employed him asked questions, referred intelligently from answer to answer, and at last had in hand a compact body of information. He bade Gil good night. Ways of banditti in any age or place were much the same!
The room was small, with a rude and narrow bed. There was a window, small, too, but open to the night. Pouring through this there entered a vagrant procession of sound, with, in the interstices, a silence that had its own voice. As the night deepened the procession thinned, at last died away.
When he undressed he had taken the letter to Senor Nobody and put it upon the table. Now, lying still and straight upon the bed in the dark room, there seemed a blacker darkness where it lay, four feet from him, a little above the level of his eyes. There it was, a square, a cube, of Egyptian night, hard, fierce, black, impenetrable.
For a long time he kept a fixed gaze upon it. Beyond and above it glimmered the window. The larger square at last drew his eyes. He lay another long while, very still, with the window before him. Lying so, thought at last grew quiet, hushed, subdued. Very quietly, very sweetly, like one long gone, loved in the past, returning home, there slipped into view, borne upon the stream of consciousness, an old mood of stillness, repose, dawn-light by which the underneath of things was seen. Once it had come not infrequently, then blackness and hardness had whelmed it and it came no more. He had almost forgotten the feel of it.
Presently it would go.... It did so, finding at this time a climate in which it could not long live. But it was powerfully a modifier.... Glenfernie, dropping his eyes from the window, found the square that was the letter, a square of iron gray.
A part of the night he lay still upon the narrow bed, a part he spent in slow walking up and down the narrow room, a part he stood motionless by the window. The dawn was faintly in the sky when at last he took from beneath the pillow his purse and a belt filled with gold pieces and sat down to count them over and compare the total with the figures upon a piece of paper. This done, he dressed, the light now gray around him. The letter to Senor Nobody lay yet upon the table. At last, dressed, he took it up and put it in the purse with the gold. Leaving the room, he waked his servant where he lay and gave him directions. A faint yellow light gleamed in the lowest east.
He waited an hour, then went to the room where slept the secretary and the physician. They were both up and dressing. The physician had been to his patron's room. "Yes, his lordship was better—was awake—meant after a while to rise." Glenfernie would send in a request. Something had occurred which made him very desirous to see his lordship. If he might have a few minutes—? The secretary agreed to make the inquiry, went and returned with the desired invitation. Glenfernie followed him to the nobleman's chamber and was greeted with geniality. Seated by the Englishman's bed, he made his explanation and request. He had so much gold with him—he showed the contents of the belt and purse—and he had funds with an agent in Paris and again funds in Amsterdam. Here were letters of indication. With a total unexpectedness there had come to him in this town a call that he could not ignore. He could not explain the nature of it, but a man of honor would feel it imperative. But it would take nicely all his gold and so many pieces besides. He asked the loan of these, together with an additional amount sufficient to bring him through to Paris. Once there he could make repayment. In the mean time his personal note and word—The Englishman made no trouble at all.
"I'll take your countenance and bearing, Mr. Jardine. But I'll make condition that we do travel together, after all, as far, at least, as Tours, where I mean to stop awhile."
"I agree to that," said Glenfernie.
The secretary counted out for him the needed gold. In the narrow room in which he had slept he put this with his own in a bag. He put with it no writing. There was nothing but the bare gold. Carrying it with him, he went out to find the horses saddled and waiting. With Gil behind him, he went from the inn and out of the town. The letter to Senor Nobody had given explicit enough direction. Clear of all buildings, he drew rein and took bearings. Here was the stream, the stump of a burned mill, the mountain-going road, narrower and rougher than the way of main travel. He followed this road; the horses fell into a plodding deliberateness of pace. The sunshine streamed warm around, but there was little human life here to feel its rays. After a time there came emergence into a bare, houseless, almost treeless plain or plateau. The narrow, little-traveled road went on upon the edge of this, but a bridle-path led into and across the bareness. Alexander followed it. Before him, across the waste, sprang cliffs with forest at their feet. But the waste was wide, and in the sun they showed like nothing more than a burnished, distant wall. His path would turn before he reached them. The plain's name might have been Solitariness. It lay naked of anything more than small scattered stones and bushes. There upgrew before him the tree to which he was bound. A solitary, twisted oak it shot out of the plain, its protruding roots holding stones in their grasp. Around was shelterless and bare, but the heightening wall of cliff seemed to be watching. Alexander rode nearer, dismounted, left Gil with the two horses, and, the bag of gold in his hand, walked to the tree. Here was the stone shaped like a closed hand. He put the ransom between the stone fingers and the stone palm. There was no word with it. Senor Nobody had no name. He turned and strode back to the horses, mounted, and with Gil rode from the naked, sunny plain.
The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle lay a year in the future. Yet in Paris, under certain conditions and auspices, Scot or Englishman might dwell in security enough. The Jacobite remnant, foe to the British government, found France its best harbor. A quietly moving Scots laird, not Jacobite, yet might be lumped by the generality with those forfeited Scots gentlemen who, having lost all in a cause urged and supported by France, now, without scruple, took from King Louis a pension that put food in their mouths, coats on their backs, roofs over their heads. Alexander Jardine, knowing the city, finding quiet lodgings in a quiet street, established himself in Paris. It was winter now, cold, bright weather.
In old days he had possessed not a few acquaintances in this city. A circle of thinkers, writers, painters, had powerfully attracted him. Circumstances brought him now again into relation with one or two of this group. He did not seek them as formerly he had done. But neither could he be said to avoid companionship when it came his way. It was not his wish to become singular or solitary. But he was much alone, and while he waited for Ian he wandered in the rich Paris of old, packed life. Street and Seine-side and market knew him; he stood in churches, and before old altarpieces smoked by candles. Booksellers remarked him. Where he might he heard music; sometimes he would go to the play. He carried books to his lodging. He sat late at night over volumes new and old. The lamp burned dim, the fire sank; he put aside reading and knowledge gained through reading, and sat, sunk deep into a dim desert within himself; at last got to bed and fell to sleep and to dreams that fatigued, that took him nowhere. When the next day was here he wandered again through the streets.
One of his old acquaintances he saw oftener than he did others. This was a scholar, a writer, an encyclopedist of to-morrow who liked the big Scot and to be in his company. One day, chance met, they leaned together upon the parapet of a bridge, and watched the crossing throng. "One's own particles in transit! Can you grasp that, Deschamps?"
"I have heard it advanced. No. It is hard to hold."
"It is like a mighty serpent. You would think you had it and then it is gone.... If one could hold it it would transform the world."
"Yes, it would. At what are you staring?"
"The serpent is gone. I thought that I saw one whom I do not hold to be art and part with me." He gazed after a crossing horseman. "No! There was merely a trick of him. It is some other."
"The man for whom you are waiting?"
Deschamps returned to the subject of a moment before. "It is likely that language bewrays much more than we think it does. I say 'the man.' You echo it. And I am 'man.' And you are 'man.' 'Man'—'Man'! Every instant it is said. Yet the identity that we state we never assume!"
"I said that we could not hold the serpent."
Ten days afterward he did see Ian. The latter, after a slow and difficult progress through France, came afoot into Paris. He sought, and was glad enough to find, an old acquaintance and sometime fellow-conspirator—Warburton.
"Blessed friendship!" he said, and warmed himself by Warburton's fire. Something within him winced, and would, if it could, have put forward a different phrase.
Warburton poured wine for him. "Now tell your tale! For months those of us who remained in Paris have heard nothing but Trojan woes!"
Ian told. Culloden and after—Edinburgh—Lisbon—Vigo—travel in Spain—Senor Nobody—
"That was a curious adventure! And you don't know the ransomer's name?"
"Not I! Senor Nobody he rests."
"Well, and after that?"
Ian related his wanderings from the Pyrenees up to Paris. Scotland, Spain, and France, the artist in him painted pictures for Warburton—painted with old ableness and abandon, and, Warburton thought, with a new subtlety. The friend hugged his knees and enjoyed it like a well-done play. Here was Rullock's ancient spirit, grown more richly appealing! Trouble at least had not downed him. Warburton, who in the past year had been thrown in contact with a number whom it had downed, and who had suffered depression thereby, felt gratitude to Ian Rullock for being larger, not smaller, than usual.
At last, the fire still burning, Ian warmed and refreshed, they wheeled from retrospect into the present. Warburton revealed how thoroughly shattered were Stewart hopes.
"I begin to see, Rullock, that we've simply passed those things by. We can't go back to that state of mind and affairs."
"I don't want to go back."
"I like to hear you say that. I hear so much whining the other way! Well, as a movement it's over.... And the dead are dead, and the scarred and impoverished will have to pick themselves up."
"Quite so. Is there any immediate helping hand?"
"King Louis gives a pension. It's not much, but it keeps one from starving. And as for you, I've in keeping a packet for you from England. It reached me through Goodworth, the India merchant. I've a notion that your family will manage to put in your hand some annual amount. Of course your own fortune is sequestered and you can return neither to England nor to Scotland."
"My aunt may have had faith that I was living. She would do all that she could to help.... No, I'll not go back."
"Your chance would lie in some post here. Take up old acquaintances where they have power, and recommend yourself to new ones with power. Great ladies in especial," said Warburton.
"We haven't passed that by?"
"Not yet, Rullock, not yet!"
Ian dreamed over the fire. At last he stretched his arms. "Let us go sleep, Warburton! I have come miles...."
"Yes, it is late. Oh, one thing more! Alexander Jardine is in Paris."
"I don't know what he is doing here. In with the writing, studying crew, I suppose. I came upon him by accident, near the Sorbonne. He did not see me and I did not speak."
"I'll not avoid him!"
"I remember your telling me that you had quarreled. That was the eve of your leaving Paris in the springtime, before the Prince went to Scotland. You haven't made it up?"
"No. I suppose we'll never make it up."
"What was it over?"
"I can't tell you that.... It had a double thread. Did he come to Paris, I wonder, because he guessed that I would bring up here?" He rose and stood staring down into the fire. "I think that he did so. Well, if he means to follow me through the world, let him follow! And now no more to-night, Warburton! I want sleep—sleep—sleep!"
The next day and the next and the next began a new French life. He had luck, or he had the large momentum of a personality not negligible, an orb covered with a fine network of enchanter's symbols. The packet from England held money, with an engagement to forward a like sum twice a year. It was not a great sum, but such as it was he did not in the least scorn it. It had come, after all, from Archibald Touris—but Ian knew the influence behind that.
Warburton presented his name to the Minister who dispensed King Louis's fund for Scots gentlemen concerned in the late attempt, losers of all, and now destitute in France. So much would come out of that! The two together waited upon monseigneur in whose coach they had once crossed the Seine. He had blood ties with Stewart kings of yesterday, and in addition to that evidenced a queer, romantic fondness for lost causes, and a willingness to ferry across rivers those who had been engaged in them. Now he displayed toward the Englishman and the Scot a kind of eery, distant graciousness. Ah yes! he would speak here and there of Monsieur Ian Rullock—he would speak to the King. If there were things going ces messieurs might as well have some good of them! Out of old acquaintances in Paris Ian gathered not a few who were in position to further new fortunes. Some of these were men and some were women. He took a lodging, neither so good nor so bad. Warburton found him a servant. He obtained fine clothes, necessary working-garb where one pushed one's fortune among fine folk. The more uncertain and hazardous looked his fortunes the more he walked and spoke as though he were a golden favorite of the woman with the wheel.
All this moved rapidly. He had not been in Paris a week ere again, as many times before, he had the stage all set for Success to walk forth upon it! But it had come December—December—December, and he looked forward to that month's passing.
He had not seen Alexander. Then, in the middle of the month he found himself one evening in a peacock cluster of fine folk, at the theater—a famous actress to be viewed in a comedy grown the rage. The play was nearly over when he saw Alexander in the pit, turned from the stage, gazing steadily upon him. Ian placed himself where he might still see him, and returned the gaze.
Going out when the play was over, the two met face to face in the lighted space between the doors. Each was in company of others—Ian with a courtier, decked and somewhat loudly laughing group, Glenfernie with a painter of landscape, Deschamps, and an Oriental, member of some mission to the West. Meeting so, they stopped short. Their nostrils dilated, there seemed to come a stirring over their bodies. Inwardly they felt a painful constriction, a contraction to something hard, intent, and fanged. This was the more strongly felt by Alexander, but Ian felt it, too. Did Glenfernie mean to dog him through life—think that he would be let to do so? Alone in a forest, very far back, they might, at this point, have flown at each other's throat. But they had felled many forests since the day when just that was possible.... The thing conventionally in order for such a moment as the present was to act as though that annihilation which each wished upon the other had been achieved. All that they had shared since the day when first they met, boys on a heath in Scotland, should be instantaneously blotted out. Two strangers, jostled face to face in a playhouse, should turn without sign that there had ever been that heath. So, symbolically, annihilation might be secured! For a moment each sought for the blank eyes, the unmoved stone face.
As from a compartment above sifted down a dry light with great power of lighting. It came into Alexander's mind, into that, too, of Ian.... How absurd was the human animal! All this saying the opposite left the truth intact. They were not strangers, each was quite securely seated in the other. Self-annihilation—self-oblivion!... All these farcical high horses!... Men went to see comedies and did not see their own comedy.
The laird of Glenfernie and Ian Rullock each very slightly and coldly acknowledged the other's presence. No words passed. But the slow amenity of life bent by a fraction the head of each, just parted the lips of each. Then Alexander turned with an abrupt movement of his great body and with his companions was swallowed by the crowd.
On his bed that night, lying straight with his hands upon his breast, he had for the space of one deep breath an overmastering sense of the suaveness of reality. Crudity, angularity, harshness, seemed to vanish, to dissolve. He knew dry beds of ancient torrents that were a long and somewhat wide wilderness of mere broken rock, stone piece by stone piece, and only the more jagged edges lost and only the surface worn by the action, through ages, of water. It was as though such a bed grew beneath his eyes meadow smooth—smoother than that—smooth as air, air that lost nothing by yielding—smooth as ether that, yielding all, yielded nothing.... The moment went, but left its memory. As the moment was large so was its memory.
He fought against it with tribes of memories, lower and dwarfish, but myriads strong. The bells from some convent rang, the December stars blazed beyond his window, he put out his arms to the December cold.
Ian, despite that moment in the playhouse, looked for the arrival of a second challenge from Glenfernie. For an instant it might be that they had seen that things couldn't be so separate, after all! That there was, as it were, some universal cement. But instants passed, and, indubitably, the world was a broken field! Enmity still existed, full-veined. It would be like this Alexander, who had overshot another Alexander, to send challenge after challenge, never to rest satisfied with one crossing of weapons, with blood drawn once! Or if there was no challenge, no formal duel, still there would be duel. He would pursue—he would cry, "Turn!"—there would be perpetuity of encounter. To the world's end there was to be the face of menace, of old reproach—the arrows dropped of pain of many sorts. "In short, vengeance," said Ian. "Vengeance deep as China! When he used to deny himself revenge in small things it was all piling up for this!... What I did slipped the leash for him! Well, aren't we evened?"
What he looked for came, brought by Deschamps. The two met in a field outside Paris, with seconds, with all the conventionally correct paraphernalia. The setting differed from that of their lonely fight on a Highland mountain-side. But again Ian, still the better swordsman, wounded Alexander. This time he gave—willed perhaps to give—a slight hurt.
"That is nothing!" said Glenfernie. "Continue—" But the seconds, coming between them, would not have it so. It was understood that their principals had met before, and upon the same count. Blood had been drawn. It was France—and mere ugly tooth-and-claw business not in favor. Blood had flowed—now part!
"'Must' drives then to-day," said Alexander. "But it is December still, Ian Rullock!"
"Turn the world so, if you will, Glenfernie!" answered the other. "And yet there is June somewhere!"
They left the field. Alexander, going home in a hired coach with Deschamps, sat in silence, looking out of the window. His arm was bandaged and held in a sling.
"They breed determined foes in Scotland," said Deschamps.
"That Scotland is in me," Glenfernie answered. "That Scotland and that December."
Three days later he wandered alone in Paris, came at last to old stone steps leading down to the river, in an unpopulous quarter. A few boats lay fastened to piles, but the landing-place hung deserted in the winter sunlight. There lacked not a week of Christmas. But the season had been mild. To-day was not cold, and stiller than still. Glenfernie, his cloak about him, sat upon the river steps and watched the stream. It went by, and still it stood there before him. It came from afar, and it went to afar, and still it shone where his hand might touch it. It turned like a wheel, from the gulf to the height and around again. He followed its round—ocean and climbing vapor, cloud, rain, and far mountain springs, descent and the mother sea. The mind, expanding, ceased to examine radius by radius, but held the whole wheel. Alexander sat in inner quiet, forgetting December.
Turning from that contemplation, he yet remained still, looking now at the sunshine on the steps.... There seemed to reach him, within and from within, rays of color and fragrance, the soul of spice pinks, marigolds, and pansies.... Then, within and from within, Elspeth was with him.
Dead! She was not dead.... Of all idle words—!
It was not as a shade—it was not as a memory, or not as the poor things that were called memory! But she came in the authority and integrity of herself, that was also, most dearly, most marvelously, himself as well—permeative, penetrative, real, a subtle breath named Elspeth! So subtle, so wide and deep, elastic, universal, with no horizons that he could see.... To and fro played the tides of knowledge.
Elspeth all along—sunshines and shadows—Elspeth a wide, living life—not crushed into the two moments upon which he had brooded—not the momentary Elspeth who had walked the glen with him, not the momentary Elspeth lifted from the Kelpie's Pool, borne in his arms, cold, rigid, drowned, a long, long way! But Elspeth, integral, vibrant, living—Elspeth of centillions of moments—Elspeth a beautiful power moving strongly in abundant space....
His form stayed moveless upon the river steps while the wave of realization played.
The experience linked itself with that of the other night when the stony bed of existence, broken, harsh, irregular, had suddenly dissolved into connections myriad wide, deep, and fine.... He had prated with philosophers of oneness. Then what he had prated of had been true! There was a great difference between talking of and touching truth....
But he could not hold the touch. The wings flagged, he fell into the jungle of words. His body turned upon the steps. The caves and dens of his being began to echo with cries and counter-cries.
Hurt? Had she not been hurt at all? But she was hurt—poisoned, ruined, drawn to death! Had she long and wide and living power to heal her own harm? Still was it not there—he would have it there!
Ian Rullock! With a long, inward, violent recoil Alexander shrank into the old caves of himself. All, the magic web of color and fragrance dwindled, came to be a willow basket filled with White Farm flowers placed upon the kirkyard steps.
Ian Rullock had stolen her—Ian, not Alexander, had been her lover, kissed her, clasped her, there in the glen! Ian, the Judas of friendship—thief of a comrade's bliss—cheat, murderer, mocker, and injurer!
The wave of oneness fled.
Glenfernie, looking like the old laird his father, his cloak wrapped around him, feeling the December air, left the river steps, wandered away through Paris.
But when he was alone with the night he tried to recover the wave. It had been so wonderful. Even the faint, faint echo, the ghostly afterglow, were exquisite; were worth more than anything he yet had owned. He tried to recover the earlier part of the wave, separating it from the later flood that had seemed critical of righteous wrath, just punishment. But it would not come back on those terms.... But yet he wanted it, wanted it, longed for it even while he warred against it.
That was one December. The year made twelve steps and here was December again. With it came to Ian a proffer from the nobleman of the coach across the Seine. Some ancient business, whether of soul or sense, carried him to Rome. Monsieur Ian Rullock—said to be for the moment banished from a certain paradise—might find it in his interest to come with him—say as traveling companion. Ian found it so. Monseigneur was starting at once. Good! let us start.
Ian despatched his servant to the lodging known to be occupied by the laird of Glenfernie. The man had a note to deliver. Alexander took it and read:
GLENFERNIE,—I am quitting Paris with the Duc de ——, for Rome.—IAN RULLOCK.
The man gone, Alexander put fire to the missive and burned it, after which he walked up and down, up and down the wide, bare room. When some time had passed he came back to chair and table, inkwell and pen, and a half-written letter. The quill drove on:
... None could do better by the estate than you—not I nor any other. So I beg of you to stay, dear Strickland, who have stayed by us so long!
There followed a page of business detail—inquiries—expressed wishes. Glenfernie paused. Before him, propped against a volume of old lore, stood a small picture;—Orestes asleep in the grove of the Furies. He sat leaning back in his chair, regarding it. He had found it and purchased it months before, and still he studied it. His eyes fell to the page; he wrote on:
You ask no questions, and yet I know that you question. Well, I will tell you—knowing that you will strain out and give to others only what should be given.... He has been, and I have been, in Paris a year. He and I have fought three times—fought, that is, as men call fighting. Once upon that mountain-side at home, twice here. Now he is going—and I am going—to Rome. Shall I fight him again—with metal digged from the earth, fashioned and sharpened in some red-lighted shop of the earth? I am not sure that I shall—rather, I think that I shall not.... Is there ever a place where a kind of growth does not go on? There is a moonrise in me that tells me that that fighting is to be scorned. But what shall I do, seeing that he is my foe?... Ah, I do not know—save haunt him, save bring and bring again my inner man, to clinch and wrestle with and throw, if may be, his inner man. And to see that he knows that I do this—that it tells back upon him—through and through tells back!... It has been a strange year. Now and then I am aware of curious far tides, effects from some giant orb of being. But I go on.... For my daily life in Paris—here it is, your open page!... You see, I still seek knowledge, for all your gibe that I sought darkness. And now, as I go to Rome—
He wrote on, changing now to details as to communication, placing of moneys, and such matters. At length came references to the last home news, expressions of trust and affection. He signed his name, folded, superscribed and sealed the letter, then sat on, studying the picture before him.
Monseigneur, with gold, with fine horses, with an eery, swooping, steadiness of direction, journeyed fast. He and his traveling companion reached Rome early in February. There was a villa, there were attendants, there was the Frenchman's especial circle, set with bizarre jewels, princes of the Church, Italian nobles of his acquaintance, exiles, a charlatan of immense note, certain ladies. He only asked of his guest, Monsieur Rullock, that he help him to entertain the whole chaplet, giving to his residence in Rome a certain splendid virility.
February showed skies like sapphire. There drew on carnival week. Masks and a wildness of riot—childish, too—
Ian leaned against the broken base of an ancient statue, set in the villa garden, at a point that gave a famous view. Around, the almond-trees were in bloom. The marble Diana had gazed hence for so many years, had seen so much that might make the dewy greenwood forgotten! It was mid-afternoon and flooding light. Here Rome basked, half-asleep in a dream of sense; here the ant city worked and worked.
Ian stood between tides, behind him a forenoon, before him an evening of carnival participation. In the morning he had been with a stream of persons; presently, with the declining sun, would be with another. Here was an hour or two of pause, time of day for rest with half-closed eyes. He looked over the pale rose wave of the almonds, he saw Peter's dome and St. Angelo. He was conscious of a fatigue of his powers, a melancholy that they gave him no more than they did. "How it is all tinsel and falsetto!... I want a clean, cold, searching wave—desert and night—not life all choked with wax tapers and harlequins! I want something.... I don't know what I want. I only know I haven't got it!"
His arm moved upon the base of the statue. He looked up at the white form with the arrow in its hands. "Self-containment.... What, goddess, you would call chastity all around?... All the spilled self somehow centered. But just that is difficult—difficult—more difficult than anything Hercules attempted. Oh me!" He sat down beneath the cypress that stood behind the statue and rested his head within his hands. From Rome, on all sides, broke into the still light trumpets and bell-ringing, pipes and drums, shout and singing. It sounded like a thousand giant cicadae. A group of masks went through the garden, by the Diana figure. They threw pine cones and confetti at the gold-brown foreigner seated there. One wore an ass's head, another was dressed as a demon with horns and tail, a third rolled as Bacchus, a fourth, fifth, and sixth were his maenads. All went wildly by, the clamor of the city swelled.
This was first day of carnival. Succeeding days, succeeding nights, mounted each a stage to heights of folly. Starred all through was innocent merrymaking, license held in leash. But the gross, the whirling, and the sinister elements came continuously and more strongly into play. Measured sound grew racket, camaraderie turned into impudence. Came at last pandemonium. All without Rome—Campagna and mountains—were in Rome. Peasant men and women slept, when they slept, in and beneath carts and huge wine-wagons camped and parked in stone forests of imperial ruins. Artisan, mechanic, and merchant Rome lightened toil and went upon the hunt for pleasure, dropping servility in the first ditch. Foreigners, artists, men from everywhere, roved, gazed, and listened, shared. The great made displays, some with beauty, some of a perverted and monstrous taste. The lords of the Church nodded, looked sleepily or alertly benevolent. At times all alike turned mere populace. Courtesans thronged, the robber and the assassin found their prey. All men and women who might entertain, ever so coarsely, ever so poorly, were here at market. Mummers and players, musicians, dancers, jugglers, gipsies, and fortune-tellers floated thick as May-flies. Voices, voices, and every musical instrument—but all set in a certain range, and that not the deep nor the sweet. So it seemed, and yet, doubtless, by searching might have been found the deep and the sweet. Certainly the air of heaven was sweet, and it went in and between.
All who might or who chose went masked. So few did not choose that street and piazza seemed filled with all orders of being and moments of time. Terrible, grotesque, fantastic, pleasing, went the rout, and now the hugest crowd was here and now it was there, and now there were moments of even diffusion. At night the lights were in multitude, and in multitude the flaring and strange decorations. Day and night swung processions, stood spectacles, huge symbolic movements and attitudes, grown obscure and molded to the letter, now mere stage effects. Day by day through carnival week the noise increased, restraint lessened.
At times Ian was in company with monseigneur and those who came to the villa; at times he sought or was sought by others that he knew in Rome, fared into carnival with them. Much more rarely he dipped into the swirl alone.
The saturnalia drew toward its close. Ash Wednesday, like a great gray-sailed ship, was seen coming large into port. The noise grew wild, license general. All available oil must be poured into the fire of the last day of pleasures. Ian was to have been with monseigneur's party gathered to view a pageant lit by torches of wax, then to drink wine, then, in choice masks, to break in upon a dance of nymphs, whirl away with black or brown eyes.... It was the program, but at the last he evaded it, slipped from the villa, chose solitary going. Why, he did not know, save that he felt aching satiety.
Here in the streets were half-lights, afterglow from the sunken sun and smoky torches. The latter increased in number, the oil-lamps, great and small, were lit, the tapers of various qualities and thicknesses. Where there were open spaces vast heaps of seasoned wood now flaming caused processions of light and shadow among ruins, against old triumphal arches, against churches and dwellings old, half-old, and new, lived in, chanted in still, intact and usable. Above was star-sown night, but Rome lay under a kobold roof of her own lighting. Noise held grating sway, mere restless motion enthroned with her. Worlds of drunken grasshoppers in endless scorched plains! The masks seemed now demoniac, less beauty than ugliness.
Ian found himself on the Quirinal, in the great ragged space dominated by the Colossi. Here burned a bonfire huge enough to make Plutonian day, and here upon the fringes of that light he encountered a carnival brawl, and became presently involved in it. He wore a domino striped black and silver, and a small black mask, a black hat with wide brim and a long, curling silver feather. He was tall, broad-shouldered, noticeable.... The quarrel had started among unmasked peasants, then had swooped in a numerous band dressed as ravens. Light-fingered gentry, inconspicuously clad, aided in provoking misunderstanding that should shake for them the orchard trees. A company of wine-bibbers with monstrous, leering masks, staggering from a side-street, fell into the whirlpool. With vociferation and blows the whole pulled here and there, the original cause of the falling out buried now in a host of new causes. Ian, caught in an eddy, turned to make way out of it. A peasant woman, there with a group from some rock village, received a chance buffet, so heavy that she cried out, staggered, then, pushed against in the melee, fell upon the earth. The raven crew threatened trampling. "Jesu Maria!" she cried, and tried to raise herself, but could not. Ian, very near her, took a step farther in and, stooping, lifted her. But now the ravens chose to fall foul of him. The woman was presently gone, and her peasant fellows.... He was beating off a drunken Comus crew, with some of active ill-will. His dress was rich—he was not Roman, evidently—the surge had foamed and dragged across from the bonfire and the open place to the dark mouth of a poor street. Many a thing besides light-hearted gaieties happened in carnival season.
He became aware that a friendly person had come up, was with him beating off raven, gorgon, and satyr. He saw that this person was very big, and caught an old, oft-noted trick in the swing of his arm. To-night, in carnival time, when there was trouble, it seemed quite natural and with a touch of home that Old Steadfast should loom forth.
A clang of music, shouting, and an oncoming array of lights helped to daunt band of ravens and drunken masks. A procession of fishermen with nets and monsters of the sea approached, went by. The attackers merged in the throng that attended or followed, went away with innocent shouts and songs. A second push followed the first, a great crowd of masks and spectators bound for a piazza through which was to pass one of the final large pageants. This wave carried with it Ian and Alexander. On such a night, where every sea was tumult, one indication, one propelling touch, was as good as another. The two went on in company. Alexander was not masked. Ian was, but that did not to-night hide him from the other. They came into the flaringly lighted place. Around stood old ruins, piers, broken arches and columns, and among these modern houses. For the better viewing of the spectacle banks of seats had been built, tier upon tier rising high, propped against what had been ancient bath or temple. The crowd surged to these, filling every stretch and cranny not yet seized upon. There issued that the tiers were packed; dark, curving, mounting rows where foot touched shoulder. The piazza turned amphitheater.
Still, in this carnival night, Ian and Alexander found themselves together. They were sitting side by side, a third of the way between pavement and the topmost row. They sat still, broodingly, in a cloud of things rememberable, no distinct images, but all their common past, good and bad, and the progress from one to the other, making as it were one chord, or a mist of one color. They did not reason about this momentary oneness, but took it as it came. It was carnival season.
Yet the cloud dripped honey, the color was clear and not unrestful, the chord sweet and resounding.
The pageant, fantastic, towering, red and purple lighted, passed by. The throng upon the seats moved, rose, struck heavily with their feet, going down the narrow ways. Many torches had been extinguished, many that were carried had gone on, following the last triumphal car. Here were semi-darkness, great noise and confusion—weight, too, pressing upon ground that long ago had been honeycombed; where the crypt of a three-hundred-year-old church touched through an archway old priest paths beneath a vanished temple, that in turn gave into a mixed ruin of dungeons and cellars opening at last to day or night upon a hillside at some distance from the place of raised benches. Now, the crowd pressing thickly, the earth crust at one point trembled, cracked, gave way. Scaffolding and throng came with groans and cries into a very cavern. Those that were left above, high on narrow, overswaying platforms, with shouts of terror pushed back from the pit mouth, managed with accidents, injuries enough, to get to firmer earth. Then began, among the braver sort, rescue of those who had gone down with soil and timbers. What with the darkness and the confused and sunken ruin, this was difficult enough.
Ian and Alexander, unhurt, clambered down the standing part and by the light of congregated and improvised torches helped in that rescue, and helped strongly. Many were pinned beneath wood, smothered by the caving earth. The rent was wide and in places the ruin afire. Groans, cries, appeals shook the hearts of the carnival crowd. All would now have helped, but it was not possible for many. There must be strength to descend into the pit and work there.
A beam pinned a man more than near a creeping flame. The two Scots beat out that fire. Glenfernie heaved away the beam, Ian drew out the man, badly hurt, moaning of wife and child. Glenfernie lifted him, mounted with him, over heaped debris, by uncertain ledge and step, until other arms, outstretched, could take him. Turning back, he took from Ian a woman's form, lifted it forth. Down again, the two worked on. Others were with them, there was made a one-minded ring, folly forgot.
At last it seemed that all were rescued. A few men only moved now in the hollow, peering here and there. The fire had taken headway; the gulf, it was evident, would presently be filled with flame. The heat beat back those at the rim. "Come out! Come out, every one!" The rescuers began to clamber forth.
Came down a roaring pile of red-lit timbers, with smoke and sparks. It blocked the way for Alexander and Ian. Turning, here threatened a pillar of choking murk, red-tongued. Behind them was a gaping, narrow archway. Involuntary recoil before that stinging push of smoke brought them in under this. They were in a passageway, but when again they would have made forth and across to the side of the pit, and so, by climbing, out of it, they found that they could not. Before them lay now a mere field of fire, and the blowing air drove a biting smoke against them.
"Move back, until this burns itself out! The earth gave into some kind of underground room. This is a passage."
It stretched black behind them. Glenfernie caught up a thick, arm-long piece of lighted wood that would answer for brand. They worked through a long vaulted tunnel, turned at right angles, and came into what their torch showed to have been an ancient chapel. In a niche stood a broken statue, on the wall spread a painting of St. Christopher in midstream.
"Shall we go on? There must be a way out of this maze."
"If the torch will last us through."
They passed out of the chapel into a place where of old the dead had been buried. They moved between massy pillars, by the shelves of stone where the bones lay in the dust. It seemed a great enough hall. At the end of this they discovered an upward-going stair, but it was old and broken, and when they mounted it they found that it ended flat against thick stone, roof to it, pavement, perhaps, to some old church. They saw by a difference in the flags where had been space, the stair opening into the hollow of the church; but now was only stone, solid and thick. They struck against it, but it was moveless, and in the church, if church there were above, none in the dead night to hear them. They came down the stair, and through a small, half-blocked doorway stumbled into a labyrinth of passages and narrow chambers. They found old pieces of wood—what had been a wine-cask, what might have had other uses. They broke these into torch lengths, lighting one from another as that burned down. These underways did not seem wholly neglected, buried, and forgotten. There lacked any total blocking or demolition, and there was air. But intricacy and uncertainty reigned.
The mood of the amphitheater when they had sat side by side claimed them still. There had been a reversion or a coming into fresh space where quarrel faded like a shadow before light. The light was a golden, hazy one, made up of myriads of sublimed memories, associations, judgments, conclusions. Nothing defined emerged from it; it was simply somewhat golden, somewhat warm light, as from a sun well under the horizon—a kind of dreamy well-being as of old Together, unquestioning Acceptance. Suddenly aroused, each might have cried, "For the moment—it was for a moment only!" Then, for the moment, there was return, with addition. It came like a winged force from the bounds of doing or undoing. While it lasted it imposed upon them quieted minds, withdrew any seeming need for question. They sought for egress from this place where their bodies moved, explanation of this material labyrinth. But they did not seek explanation of this mood, fallen among pride and anger, wrong and revenge. It came from at large, with the power of largeness. They were back, "for the moment," in a simplicity of ancient, firm companionship.
They spoke scarcely at all. It had been a habit of old, in their much adventuring together, to do so in long silences. Alexander had set the pace there, Ian learning to follow.... It was as if this were an adventure of, say, five years ago, and it was as if it were a dream adventure. Or it was as if some part of themselves, quietly and with a hidden will separating itself, had sailed away from the huge storm and cloud and red lightnings.... What they did say had wholly and only to do with immediate exigencies. Behind, in pure feeling, was the unity.
Down in this underground place the air began to come more freshly.
"Look at the flame," said Ian. "It is bending."
They had left behind rooms and passages lined with unbroken masonry. Here were newer chambers and excavations, softer walled.
"They have been opening from this side. That was dug not so long ago."
Another minute and they came into a ragged, cavern-like space filled with fresh night air. Presently they were forth upon a low hillside, and at their feet Tiber mirrored the stars. Rome lay around. The carnival lights yet flared, the carnival noise beat, beat. This was a deserted strip, an islet between restless seas.
Ian and Alexander stood upon trodden earth and grass, about them the yet encumbering ruins of an ancient building, pillars and architraves and capitals, broken friezes and headless caryatids. Here was the river, here the ancient street. They breathed in the air, they looked at the sky, but then at Rome. Somewhere a trumpet was fiercely crying. Like an impatient hand, like a spurred foot, it tore the magician's fabric of the past few hours.
Ian laughed. "We had best rub our eyes!" To the fine hearing there was a catch of the breath, a small dancing hope in his laughter. "Or, Glenfernie, shall we dream on?"
But the other opened his eyes upon things like the Kelpie's Pool and the old room in the keep where a figure like himself read letters that lied. He saw in many places a figure like himself, injured and fooled, stuck full of poisoned arrows. The figure grew as he watched it, until it overloomed him, until he was passionately its partisan. He said no word, but he flung the smoking torch yet held in hand among the ruins, and, leaving Ian and his black and silver, plunged down the slope to the old, old street along which now poured a wave of carnival.
The laird of Glenfernie lay in the flowering grass, beneath a pine-tree, rising lonely from the Roman Campagna. The grass flowed for miles, a multitudinous green speculating upon other colors, here and there clearly donning a gold, an amethyst, a blue. The pine-tree looked afar to other pine-trees. Each seemed solitary. Yet all had the oneness of the great stage, and if it could comprehend the stage might swim with its little solitariness into a wider uniqueness. In the distance lay Rome. He could see St. Peter's dome. But around streamed the ocean of grass and the ocean of air. Lifted from the one, bathed in the other, strewed afar, appeared the wreckage of an older Rome. There was no moving in Rome or its Campagna without moving among time-cleansed bones and vestiges. Rome and its Campagna were like Sargasso Seas and held the hulks of what had been great galleons. The air swam above endless grass, endless minute flowers. In long perspective traveled the arches of an Aqueduct.
He lay in the shadow of a broken tomb. It was midspring. The bland stillness of this world was grateful to him, after long inner storm. He lay motionless, not far from the skirts of Contemplation.
The long line of the Aqueduct, arch after arch, succession fixed, sequence which the gaze made unitary, toled on his thought. He was regarding span after span of imagery held together, a very wide and deep landscape of numerous sequences, more planes than one. He was seeing, around the cells, the shadowy force lines of the organ, around the organ the luminous mist of the organism. He passed calmly from one great landscape to another.
Rome. To-day and yesterday and the day before, and to-morrow. The "to-morrow" put in the life, guaranteeing an endless present, endless breathing. He saw Rome the giant, the stone and earth of her, the vast animal life of her, the vast passional, the mental clutch and hammer-blow. The spiritual Rome? He sought it—it must be there. At last, among the far arches, it rose, a light, a leaven, an ether.... Rome.
If there were boundaries in this ocean of air they were gauze-thin and floating. He looked here and there, into landscapes Rome led to. Like and like, and synthesis of syntheses! Images, finding that of which they were images, lost their grotesqueness or meaninglessness of line, their quality of caricature, lost unripeness, lost the dull annoy of riddles never meant to be answered.... He had a great fund of images, material so full that it must begin to build higher. Building higher meant arrival in a fluid world where all aggregates were penetrable.
He lay still among the grasses, and it was as though he lay also amid the wide, simple, first growths of a larger, more potent living. Now and again, through years, he had been aware of approaches, always momentary, to this condition, to a country that lay behind time and space, cause and effect, as he ordinarily knew them. The lightning went—but always left something transforming. And then for three years all gleams stopped, a leaden wall that they could not pierce rearing itself.
Latterly they had begun to return.... The proud will might rise against them, but they came. Then it must be so, he would have said of another, that the will was divided. Part of it must still have kept its seat before the door whence the lights came, stayed there with its face in its hands, waiting its season. And a part that had said no must be coming to say yes, going and taking its place beside the other by the door. And together they were strong enough to bring the gleaming back, watching the propitious moment. But still there was the opposed will, and it was strong.... When the light came it sought out old traces of itself, and these became revivified. Then all joined together to make a flood against the abundant darkness. A day like this joined itself through likeness to others on the other side of the three years, and also to moments of the months just passed and passing. Union was made with a sleepless night in an inn of Spain, with the hours after his encounter with Ian in the Paris theater, with that time he sat upon the river steps and saw that the dead were living and the prisoners free, with the hour in the amphitheater and after, in carnival.
He saw and heard, felt and tasted, life in greater lengths and breadths. He comprehended more of the pattern. The tones and semi-tones fell into the long scale. Such moments brought always elevation, deep satisfaction.... More of the will particles traveled from below to the center by the door.
The soul turned the mind and directed it upon Alexander Jardine's own history. It spread like a landscape, like a continent viewed from the air, and here it sang with attainment and here it had not attained; and here it was light, and here there were darknesses; right-doing here and wrong-doing there and every shade between. He saw that there was right- and wrong-doing quite outside of conventional standards.
Where were frontiers? The edges of the continent were merely spectral. Where did others end and he begin, or he end and others begin? He saw that his history was very wide and very deep and very high. Through him faintly, by nerve paths in the making, traveled the touch of oneness.
Alexander Jardine—Elspeth Barrow—Ian Rullock. And all others—and all others.
There swam upon him another great perspective. He saw Christ in light, Buddha in light. The glorified—the unified. Union.
Alexander Jardine—Elspeth Barrow—Ian Rullock. And all others—and all others. For we are members, one of another.
The feathered, flowered grass, miles of it, and the sea of air.... By degrees the level of consciousness sank. The splendid, steadfast moment could not be long sustained. Consciousness drew difficult breath in the pure ether, it felt weight, it sank. Alexander moved against the old tomb, turned, and buried his face in his arms. The completer moment went by, here was the torn self again. But he strove to find footing on the thickening impressions of all such moments.
Moving back to Rome, along the old way where had marched all the legions, by the ruins, under the blue sky, he had a sense of going with Caesar's legions, step by step, targe by targe, and then of his footstep halting, turning out, breaking rhythm.... From this it was suddenly a winter night and at Glenfernie, and he sat by the fire in his father's death-room. His father spoke to him from the bed and he went to his side and listened to dying words, distilled from a wide garden that had relaxed into bitterness, growths, and trails of ideal hatred.... What was it, setting one's foot upon an adder?... What was the adder?
He entered the city. His lodging was above the workroom and shop of a recoverer of ancient coins and intaglios, skilful cleanser and mender of these and merchant to whom would buy. The man was artist besides, maker of strange drawings whom few ever understood or bought.
Glenfernie liked him—an elderly, fine, thin, hook-nosed, dark-eyed, subtle-lipped, little-speaking personage. No great custom came to the shop in front; the owner of it might work all day in the room behind, with only two or three peals of a small silvery summoning bell. The lodger acquired the habit of sitting for perhaps an hour out of each twenty-four in this workroom. He might study at the window gem or coin and the finish of old designs, or he might lift and look at sheet after sheet of the man's drawings, or watch him at his work, or have with him some talk.
The drawings had a fascination for him. "What did you mean behind this outward meaning? Now here I see this, and I see that, but here I don't penetrate." The man laid down his mending a broken Eros and came and stood by the table and spoke. Glenfernie listened, the wood propping elbow, the hand propping chin, the eyes upon the drawing. Or he leaned back in the great visitor's chair and looked instead at the draftsman. They were strange drawings, and the draftsman's models were not materially visible.
To-day Glenfernie came from the noise of Rome without into this room. His host was sitting before a drawing-board. Alexander stood and looked.
"Are you trying to bring the world of the plane up a dimension? Then you work from an idea above the world of the solid?"
"Si. Up a dimension."
"What are these forms?"
"I am dreaming the new eye, the new ear, the new hand."
Glenfernie watched the moving and the resting hand. Later in the day he returned to the room.
"It has been a fertile season," said the artist. "Look!"
At the top of a sheet of paper was written large in Latin, LOVE IS BLIND. Beneath stood a figure filled with eyes. "It is the same thing," said the man.
The next day, at sunset, going up to his room after restless wandering in this city, he found there from Ian another intimation of the latter's movements:
GLENFERNIE,—I am going northward. There will be a month spent at monseigneur's villa upon the Lake of Como. Then France again.—IAN RULLOCK.
Alexander laid the paper upon the table before him, and now he stared at it, and now he gazed at space beyond, and where he gazed seemed dark and empty. It was deep night when finally he dipped quill into ink and wrote:
IAN RULLOCK,—Stay or go as you will! I do not follow you now as I did before. I come to see the crudeness, the barrenness, of that. But within—oh, are you not my enemy still? I ask Justice that, and what can she do but echo back my words? "Within" is a universe.—ALEXANDER JARDINE.
Five days later he knew that Ian with the Frenchman in whose company he was had departed Rome. On that morning he went again without the city and lay among the grasses. But the sky to-day was closed, and all dead Rome that had been proud or violent or a lover of self seemed to move around him multitudinous. He fought the shapes down, but the sea in storm then turned sluggish, dead and weary.... What was he going to do? Scotland? Was he going back to Scotland? The glen, the moor, White Farm and the kirk, Black Hill and his own house—all seemed cold and without tint, gray, small, and withered, and yet oppressive. All that would be importunate, officious. He cried out, "O my God, I want healing!" For a long time he lay there still, then, rising, went wandering by arches and broken columns, choked doorways, graved slabs sunken in fairy jungles. Into his mind came a journey years before when he had just brushed a desert. The East, the Out-of-Europe, called to him now.
Ian guided the boat to the water steps. Above, over the wall, streamed roses, a great, soundless fall of them, reflected, mass and color, in the lake. Above the roses sprang deep trees, shade behind shade, and here sang nightingales. Facing him sat the Milanese song-bird, the singer Antonia Castinelli. She had the throat of the nightingale and the beauty of the velvety open rose.
"Why land?" she said. "Why climb the steps to the chatter in the villa?"
"They are not singing! They are talking. There is deep, sweet shadow around that point."
The boat turned glidingly. Now it was under tall rock, parapeted with trees.
"Let Giovanni have the boat. Come and sit beside me! You are too far away for singing together."
Old Giovanni at the helm, boatman upon this lake since youth, used long since to murmuring words, to touching hands, stayed brown and wrinkled and silent and unspeculative as a walnut. Perhaps his mind was sunk in his own stone hut behind vine leaves. The two under the rose-and-white-fringed canopy leaned toward each other.
"Tell me of your strange, foreign land! Have you roses there—roses—roses? And nightingales that sing out your heart under the moon?"
"I will tell you of the heather, the lark, and the mavis."
She listened. "Oh, it does not taste as tastes this lake! Give me pain! Tell me of women you have loved.... Oh, hear! The nightingales stop singing."
"Do you ever listen to the silence?"
"Of course ... when a friend dies—or I go to Mass—and sometimes when I am singing very passionately. But this lake—"
She began to sing. The contralto throbbed, painted, told, brought delight and melancholy. He sat with his hand loosened from hers, his eyes upon the lake's blue-green depths. At last she stopped.
"Oh—h!... Let us go back to the talking shore and the chattering villa! Somebody else is singing—somebody or something! I hear silence—I hear it in the silence.... Some things I can sing against, and some things I can't."
They went underneath the wall of roses. Her arm, sleeved as with mist, touched his; her low, wide brow and great liquid eyes were at his shoulder, at his breast. "O foreigner—and yet not at all foreign! Tell me your English words for roses—walls of roses—and music that never ceases in the night—and pleasing, pleasing, pleasing love!"
The boat came to the water steps. The two left it, climbing between flowers. Down to them came a wave of laughter and hand-clapping.
"Celestina recites—but I do not think she does it so well!... That is my window—see, where the roses mount!"
The company, flowing forth, caught them upon the terrace. "Lo, the truants!"
But that night, instead of climbing where the roses climbed, he took a boat from the number moored by the steps and rowed himself across the lake to a piece of shore, bare of houses, lifting by steep slope and crag into the mountain masses. He fastened the boat and climbed here. The moon was round, the night merely a paler day. He went up among low trees and bushes until he came to naked rock. He climbed here as far as he might, found some manner of platform, and threw himself down, below him the lake, around him the mountains.
He lay still until the expended energy was replaced. At last the mind moved and, apprentice-bound to feeling, began again a hot and heavy and bitter work, laid aside at times and then renewed. It was upon the vindication to himself of Ian Rullock.
It was made to work hard.... Its old task used to be to keep asleep upon the subject. But now for a considerable time this had been its task. Old feeling, old egoism, awakened up and down, drove it hard! It had to make bricks without straw. It had to fetch and carry from the ends of the earth.
Emotion, when it must rest, provided for it a dull place of listlessness and discontent. But the taskmaster now would have it up at all hours, fashioning reasons and justifications. The soonest found straw in the fields lay in the faults of others—of the world in general and Alexander Jardine in particular. Feeling got its anodyne in gloating over these. It had the pounce of a panther for such a bitter berry, such a weed, such a shameful form. It did not always gloat, but it always held up and said, Who could be weaker here—more open to question? It made constant, sore comparison.
The lake gleamed below him, the herded mountains slept in a gray silver light. How many were the faults of the laird of Glenfernie! Faults! He looked at the dark old plains of the moon. That was a light word! He saw Alexander pitted and scarred.
Pride! That had always been in the core of Glenfernie. That has been his old fortress, walled and moated against trespass. Pride so high that it was careless—that its possessor could seem peaceable and humble.... But find the quick and touch it—and you saw! What was his was his. What he deemed to be his, whether it was so or not! Touch him there and out jumped jealousy, hate, and implacableness—and all the time one had been thinking of him as a kind of seer!
Ian turned upon the rock above Como. And Glenfernie was ignorant! The seer had seen very little, after all. His touch had not been precisely permeative when it came to the world, Ian Rullock. If liking meant understanding, there had not been much understanding—which left liking but a word. If liking was a degree of love, where then had been love, where the friend at all? After all, and all the time, Glenfernie's notion of friendship was a sieve. The notion that he had held up as though it were the North Star!
The world, Ian Rullock, could not be so contemned....
He felt with heat and pain the truth of that. It was a wrong that Glenfernie should not understand! The world, Ian Rullock, might be incomplete, imperfect—might have taken, more than once, wrong turns, left its path, so to speak, in the heavens. But what of the world, Alexander Jardine? Had it no memories? He brooded over what these memories might be—must be; he tried to taste and handle that other's faults in time and space. But he could not plunge into Alexander's depths of wrath. As he could not, he made himself contemptuous of all that—of Old Steadfast's power of reaction!
A star shot across the moon-filled night, so large a meteor that it made light even against that silver. A mass within Ian made a slow turn, with effort, with thrilling, changed its inclination. He saw that disdain, that it was shallow and streaked with ebony. He moved with a kind of groan. "Was there—is there—wickedness?... What, O God, is wickedness?"
He pressed the rock with his hand—sat up. The old taskmaster, alarmed, gathered his forces. "I say that it is just that—pride, vengefulness, hard misunderstanding!"
A voice within him answered. "Even so, is it not still yourself?"
He stared after the meteor track. There was a conception here that he had not dreamed of.
It seemed best to keep still upon the rock. He sat in inner wonder. There was a sense of purity, of a fresh coolness not physical, of awe. He was in presence of something comprehensive, immortal.
"Is it myself? Then let it pour out and make of naught the old poison of myself!"
The perception could not hold. It flagged and sank, echoing down into the caves. He sat still and felt the old taskmaster stir. But this time he found strength to resist. There resulted, not the divine novelty and largeness of that one moment, but a kind of dim and bare desert waste of wide extent. And as it ate up all width, so it seemed timeless. Across this, like a person, unheralded, came and went two lines from "Richard III"
Clarence is come—false, fleeting, perjured Clarence, That stabbed me in the field by Tewksbury.
It went and left awareness of the desert. "False—fleeting—perjured...."
He saw himself as in mirrors.
The desert ached and became a place of thorns and briers and bewilderment. Then rose, like Antaeus, the taskmaster. "And what of all that—if I like life so?"
Sense of the villa and the roses and the nightingales in the coverts—sense of wide, mobile sweeps and flowing currents inwashing, indrawing, pleasure-crafts great and small—desire and desire for desire—lust for sweetness, lust for salt—the rose to be plucked, the grapes to be eaten—and all for self, all for Ian....
He started up from the rock above Como, and turned to descend to the boat. That within him that set itself to make thin cloud of the taskmaster pulled him back as by the hair of the head and cast him down upon the rocky floor.
He lay still, half upon his face buried in the bend of his arm. He felt misery.
"My soul is sick—a beggar—like to become an outcast!"
How long he lay here now he did not know. The nadir of night was passed, but there was cold and voidness, an abyss. He felt as one fallen from a great height long ago. "There is no help here! Let me only go to an eternal sleep—"
A wind began. In the east the sky grew whiter than elsewhere. There came a sword-blow from an unseen hand, ripping and tearing veils. Elspeth—Elspeth Barrow!
In a bitterness as of myrrh he came into touch with cleanness, purity, wholeness. Henceforth there was invisible light. Its first action was not to show him scorchingly the night of Egypt, but with the quietness of the whitening east to bring a larger understanding of Elspeth.
The caravan, having spent three days in a town the edge of the desert, set forth in the afternoon. The caravan was a considerable one. Three hundred camels, more than a hundred asses, went heavily laden. Twenty men rode excellent horses; ten, poorer steeds; the company of others mounted with the merchandise or, staff in hand, strode beside. In safe stretches occurred a long stringing out, with lagging at the rear; in stretches where robber bands or other dangers might be apprehended things became compact. Besides traders and their employ, there rode or walked a handful of chance folk who had occasion for the desert or for places beyond it. These paid some much, some little, but all something for the advantage of this convoy. The traders did not look to lose, whoever went with them. Altogether, several hundred men journeyed in company.
The elected chief of the caravan was a tall Arab, Zeyn al-Din. Twelve of the camels were his; he was a merchant of spices, of wrought stuff, girdles, and gems—a man of forty, bold and with scope. He rode a fine horse and kept usually at the head of the caravan. But now and again he went up and down, seeing to things. Then there was talking, loud or low, between the head man and units of the march.
Starting from its home city, this caravan had been for two days in good spirits. Then had become to creep in disaster, not excessive, but persistent. One thing and another befell, and at last a stealing sickness, none knew what, attacking both beast and man. They had made the town at the edge of the desert. Physicians were found and rest taken. Recuperation and trading proceeded amicably together. The day of departure wheeling round, the noontide prayer was made with an especial fervor and attention. Then from the caravanserai forth stepped the camels.
The sun descending, the caravan threw a giant shadow upon the sand. Ridge and wave of sterile earth broke it, confused it, made it an unintelligible, ragged, moving, and monstrous shade. The sun was red and huge. As it lowered to the desert rim Zeyn al-Din gave the order for the seven-hour halt. The orb touched the sand; prayer carpets were spread.
Night of stars unnumbered, the ineffable tent, arched the desert. The caravan, a small thing in the world, lay at rest. The meal was over. Here was coolness after heat, repose after toil. The fires that had been kindled from scrub and waste lessened, died away. Zeyn al-Din appointed the guards for the night, went himself the rounds.
Where one of the fires had burned he found certain of those men who were not merchants nor servants of merchants, yet traveled with the caravan. Here were Hassan the Scribe, and Ali the Wanderer, and the dervish Abdallah, and others. Here was the big Christian from some outlandish far-away country, who had dwelt for the better part of a year in the city whence the caravan started, who had money and a wish to reach the city toward which the caravan journeyed. In the first city he had become, it seemed, well liked by Yusuf the Physician, that was the man that Zeyn al-Din most admired in life. It was Yusuf who had recommended the Christian to Zeyn, who did not like infidel sojourners with caravans. Zeyn himself was liberal and did not so much mind, but he had had experience with troubles created along the way and in the column itself. The more ignorant or the stiffer sort thought it unpleasing to Allah. But Zeyn al-Din would do anything really that Yusuf the Physician wanted. So in the end the big Christian came along. Zeyn, interpreting fealty to Yusuf to mean care in some measure for this infidel's well-being, began at once with a few minutes' riding each day beside him. These insensibly expanded to more than a few. He presently liked the infidel. "He is a man!" said Zeyn and that was the praise that he considered highest. The big Christian rode strongly a strong horse; he did not fret over small troubles nor apparently fear great ones; he did not say, "This is my way," and infer that it was better than others; he liked the red camel, the white, and the brown. "Who dances with the sand is not stifled," said Zeyn.
Now he found the Christian with Hassan, listening at ease, stretched upon the sand, to Ali the Wanderer. The head man, welcomed, listened, too, to Ali bringing his story to a close. "That is good, Ali the Wanderer! Just where grows the tree from which one gathers that fruit?"
"It can't be told unless you already know," said Ali.
"Allah my refuge! Then I would not be asking you!" answered Zeyn. "I should have shaken the tree and gathered the diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, and been off with them!"
"You did not hear what was said. Ibn the Happy found that they could not be taken from the tree. He had tried what you propose. He broke off a great number and ran away with them. But they turned to black dust in his bosom. He put them all down, and when he looked back he saw them still shining on the tree."
"What did Ibn the Happy do?"
"He climbed into the tree and lived there."
In the distance jackals were barking. "I like nothing better than listening to stories," said Zeyn al-Din. "But, Allah! Just now there are more important things to do! Yusuf the Red, I name you watcher here until moonrise. Then waken Melec, who already sleeps there!"
His eyes touched in passing the big Christian. "Oh yes, you would be a good watcher," thought Zeyn. "But there's a folly in this caravan! Wait till good fortune has a steadier foot!"
But good fortune continued a wavering, evanishing thing. Deep in the night, from behind a stiffened wave of earth, rose and dashed a mounted band of Bedouin robbers. Yusuf the Red and other watchers had and gave some warning. Zeyn al-Din's voice was presently heard like a trumpet. The caravan repelled the robbers. But five of its number were lost, some camels and mules driven off. The Bedouins departing with wild cries, there were left confusion and bewailing, slowly straightening, slowly sinking. The caravan, with a pang, recognized that ill luck was a traveler with it.
The dead received burial; the wounded were looked to, at last hoisted, groaning, upon the camels, among the merchandise. Unrested, bemoaning loss, the trading company made their morning start three hours behind the set time. For stars in the sky, there was the yellow light and the sun at a bound, strewing heat. In the melee the robbers had thrust lance or knife into several of the water-skins. Yet there was, it was held, provision enough. The caravan went on. At midday the Bedouins returned, reinforced. Zeyn al-Din and his mustered force beat them off. No loss of goods or life, but much of time! The caravan went on, that with laden beasts must move at best much like a tortoise. That night the rest was shortened. Two hours after midnight and the strings of camels were moving again, the asses and mules so monstrously misshapen with bales of goods, the horses and horsemen and those afoot. At dawn, not these Bedouins, but another roving band, harassed them. Time was running like water from a cracked pitcher.
This day they cleared the robber bands. There spread before them, around them, clean desert. Then returned that sickness.
"O Zeyn al-Din, what could we expect who travel with him who denies Allah?"
The stricken caravan crept under the blaze across the red waste. Camels fell and died. Their burdens were lifted from them and added to the packs of others; their bodies were left to light and heat and moving air.... It grew that an enchantment seemed to hold the feet of the caravan. Evils came upon them, sickness of men and beasts. And now it was seen that there was indeed little water.
"O Zeyn al-Din, rid us of this infidel!"
"The infidel is in you!" answered Zeyn al-Din. "Much speaking makes for thirst and impedes motion. Let us cross this desert."
"O Zeyn al-Din, if you be no right head man we shall choose another!"
"Choose!" said Zeyn al-Din, and went to the head of a camel who would not rise from the sand.
Ill luck clung and clung. Twelve hours and there began to be cabals. These grew to factions. The larger of these swallowed the small fry, swelled and mounted, took the shape of practically the whole caravan. "Zeyn al-Din, if you do not harken to us it will be the worse for you! Drive away the Christian dog!"
"Abu al-Salam, are you the chief, or I?—Now, companions, listen! These are the reasons in nature for our troubles—"
But no! It was the noon halt. The desert swam in light and silence. The great majority of the traders and their company undertook to play divining, judging, determining Allah. The big Christian stood over against them and looked at them, his arms folded.
"It is no such great matter!... Very good then! What do you want me to do?"
"Turn your head and your eyes from us, and go to what fate Allah parcels out to you!"
There arose a buzzing. "Better we slay him here and now! So Allah will know our side!"
Zeyn al-Din stepped forth. "This is the friend of my friend and I am pledged. Slay, and you will have two to slay! O Allah! what a thing it is to stare at the west when the riders are in the east!"
"Zeyn al-Din, we have chosen for head man Abu al-Salam."
"Allah with you! I should say you had chosen well. I have twelve camels," said Zeyn al-Din. "I make another caravan! Mansur, Omar, and Melec, draw you forth my camels and mules!"
With a weaker man there might have been interference, stoppage. But Zeyn's mass and force acquired clear space for his own movements. He made his caravan. He had with him so many men. Three of these stood by him; the others cowered into the great caravan, into the shadow of Abu al-Salam.
Zeyn threw a withering look. "Oh, precious is the skin!"
The big infidel came to him. "Zeyn al-Din, I do not want all this peril for me. I have ridden away alone before to-day. Now I shall go in that direction, and I shall find a garden."
"Perhaps we shall find it," said Zeyn. "Does any other go with my caravan?"
It seemed that Ali the Wanderer went, and the dervish Abdallah.... There was more ado, but at last the caravan parted.... The great one, the long string of beads, drew with slow toil across the waste, along the old track. The very small one, the tiny string of beads, departed at right angles. Space grew between them. The dervish Abdallah turned upon his camel.
"It seems that we part. But, O Allah! around 'We part' is drawn 'We are together!'"
Zeyn al-Din made a gesture of assent. "O I shall meet in bazaars Abu al-Salam! 'Ha! Zeyn al-Din!'—'Ha! Abu al-Salam!'"
The sun sank lower. The vastly larger caravan drew away, drew away, over the desert rim. Between the two was now a sea of desert waves. Where the great string of camels, the asses, the riders, the men could be seen, all were like little figures cut from dark paper, drawn by some invisible finger, slowly, slowly across a wide floor. Before long there were only dots, far in the distance. Around Zeyn al-Din's caravan swept a great solitude.
"Halt!" said Zeyn. "Now they observe us no longer, and this is what we do!"
All the merchant lading was taken from the camels. The bales of wealth strewed the sand. "Wealth is a comfortable garment," said Zeyn, "but life is a richer yet! That which gathers wealth is wealth. Now we shall go thrice as fast as Abu al-Salam!"
"Far over there," said Ali the Wanderer, and nodded his head toward the quarter, "is the small oasis called the Garland."
"I have heard of it, though I have not been there," answered Zeyn. "Well, we shall not rest to-night; we shall ride!"
They rode in the desert beneath the stars, going fast, camels and horses, unencumbered by bales and packs unwieldy and heavy. But there were guarded, as though they were a train of the costliest merchandise, the shrunken water-skins....
The laird of Glenfernie, riding in silence by Zeyn al-Din, whom he had thanked once with emphasis, and then had accepted as he himself was accepted, looked now at the desert and now at the stars and now at past things. A year and more—he had been a year and more in the East. If you had it in you to grow, the East was good growing-ground.... He looked toward the stars beneath which lay Scotland.
The night passed. The yellow dawn came up, the sun and the heat of day. And they must still press on.... At last the horses could not do that. At eve they shot the horses, having no water for them. They went on upon camels. Great suffering came upon them. They went stoically, the Arabs and the Scot. The eternal waste, the sand, the arrows of the sun.... The most of the camels died. Day and night and morn, and, almost dead themselves, the men saw upon the verge the palms of the desert oasis called the Garland.
* * * * *
Seven men dwelt seven days in the Garland. Uninhabited it stood, a spring, date-palms, lesser verdure, a few birds and small beasts and winged insects. It was an emerald set in ashy gold.
The dervish Abdallah sat in contemplation under a palm. Ali the Wanderer lay and dreamed. Zeyn al-Din and his men, Mansur, Omar, and Melec, were as active as time and place admitted. The camels tasted rich repose. Day went by in dry light, in a pleasant rustling and waving of palm fronds. Night sprang in starshine, wonderful soft lamps orbed in a blue vault. Presently was born and grew a white moon.
Alexander Jardine, standing at the edge of the emerald, watched it. He could not sleep. The first nights in the Garland he with the others had slept profoundly. But now there was recuperation, strength again. Around swept the circle of the desert. Above him he saw Canopus.
He ceased to look directly at the moon, or the desert, or Canopus. He stretched himself upon the clear sand and was back in the inner vast that searched for the upper vast. Since the grasses of the Campagna there had been a long search, and his bark had encountered many a wind, head winds and favoring winds, and had beaten from coast to coast.
"O God, for the open, divine sea and Wisdom the compass—"
He lay beneath the palm; he put his arm over his eyes. For an hour he had been whelmed in an old sense, bitter and stately, of the woe, the broken knowledge, the ailing and the pain of the world. All the world.... That other caravan, where was it?... Where were all caravans? And all the bewilderment and all the false hopes and all the fool's paradises. All the crying in the night. Children....
Little by little he recognized that he was seeing it as panorama.... None saw a panorama until one was out of the plane of its components—out of the immediate plane. Gotten out as all must get out, by the struggling Thought, which, the thing done, uses its eyes....
He looked at his past. He did not beat his breast nor cry out in repentance, but he saw with a kind of wonder the plains of darkness. Oh, the deserts, and the slow-moving caravans in them!
He lay very still beneath the palm. All the world.... All.
"All is myself."
He heard a step upon the sand—the putting by of a branch. The Sufi Abdallah stood beside him. Alexander made a movement.
"Lie still," said the other, "I will sit here, for sweet is the night." He took his place, white-robed, a gleaming upon the sand. Silent almost always, it was nothing that he should sit silent now, quiet, moveless, gone away apparently among the stars.
The moments dropped, each a larger round. Glenfernie moved, sat up.
"I've felt you and your calm in our caravaning. Let me see if my Arabic will carry me here!—What have you that I have not and that I long for?"
"I have nought that you have not."
"But you see the having, and I do not."
"You are beginning to see."
The wind breathed in the oasis palms. The earth turned, seeking the sun for her every chamber, the earth made pilgrimage around the sun, eying point after point of that excellence, the earth journeyed with the sun, held by the invisible cords.
"I wish new sight—I wish new touch—I wish comprehension!"
"You are beginning to have it."
"I have more than I had.... Yes, I know it—"
"There is birth.... Then comes the joy of birth. At last comes the knowledge of why there is joy. Strive to be fully born."
"And if I were so—?"
"Then life alters and there is strong embrace."
A great stillness lay upon the oasis and the desert around. Men and beasts were sleeping, only these two waking, just here, just now. After a moment the dervish spoke again. "The holder-back is the sense of disunity. Sit fast and gather yourself to yourself.... Then will you find how large is your brood!"