We have walked round him and under him as he browsed, and even through him where he lay and rested, as one walks through the dun mist in a little hollow on a still, damp morning; and turning round to look (at the proper distance) there was the unmistakable shape again, just thick enough to blot out the lines of the dim primeval landscape beyond, and make a hole in the blank sky. A dread silhouette, thrilling our hearts with awe—blurred and indistinct like a composite photograph—merely the type, as it had been seen generally by all who had ever seen it at all, every one of whom (exceptis excipiendis) was necessarily an ancestor of ours, and of every man now living.
There it stood or reclined, the monster, like the phantom of an overgrown hairy elephant; we could almost see, or fancy we saw, the expression of his dull, cold, antediluvian eye—almost perceive a suggestion of russet-brown in his fell.
Mary firmly believed that we should have got in time to our hairy ancestor with pointed ears and a tail, and have been able to ascertain whether he was arboreal in his habits or not. With what passionate interest she would have followed and studied and described him! And I! With what eager joy, and yet with what filial reverence, I would have sketched his likeness—with what conscientious fidelity as far as my poor powers would allow! (For all we know to the contrary he may have been the most attractive and engaging little beast that ever was, and far less humiliating to descend from than many a titled yahoo of the present day.)
Fate, alas, has willed that it should be otherwise, and on others, duly trained, must devolve the delightful task of following up the clew we have been so fortunate as to discover.
* * * * *
And now the time has come for me to tell as quickly as I may the story of my bereavement—a bereavement so immense that no man, living or dead, can ever have experienced the like; and to explain how it is that I have not only survived it and kept my wits (which some people seem to doubt), but am here calmly and cheerfully writing my reminiscences, just as if I were a famous Academician, actor, novelist, statesman, or general diner-out—blandly garrulous and well-satisfied with myself and the world.
During the latter years of our joint existence Mary and I engrossed by our fascinating journey through the centuries, had seen little or nothing of each other's outer lives, or rather I had seen nothing of hers (for she still came back sometimes with me to my jail); I only saw her as she chose to appear in our dream.
Perhaps at the bottom of this there may have been a feminine dislike on her part to be seen growing older, for at "Magna sed Apta" we were always twenty-eight or thereabouts—at our very best. We had truly discovered the fountain of perennial youth, and had drunk thereof! And in our dream we always felt even younger than we looked; we had the buoyancy of children and their freshness.
Often had we talked of death and separation and the mystery beyond, but only as people do for whom such contingencies are remote; yet in reality time flew as rapidly for us as for others, although we were less sensible of its flight.
There came a day when Mary's exuberant vitality, so constantly overtaxed, broke down, and she was ill for a while; although that did not prevent our meeting as usual, and there was no perceptible difference in her when we met. But I am certain that in reality she was never quite the same again as she had been, and the dread possibility of parting any day would come up oftener in our talk; in our minds, only too often, and our minds were as one.
She knew that if I died first, everything I had brought into "Magna sed Apta" (and little it was) would be there no more; even to my body, ever lying supine on the couch by the enchanted window, it she had woke by chance to our common life before I had, or remained after I had been summoned away to my jail.
And I knew that, if she died, not only her body on the adjacent couch, but all "Magna sed Apta" itself would melt away, and be as if it had never been, with its endless galleries and gardens and magic windows, and all the wonders it contained.
Sometimes I felt a hideous nervous dread, on sinking into sleep, lest I should find it was so, and the ever-heavenly delight of waking there, and finding all as usual, was but the keener. I would kneel by her inanimate body, and gaze at her with a passion of love that seemed made up of all the different kinds of love a human being can feel; even the love of a dog for his mistress was in it, and that of a wild beast for its young.
With eager, tremulous anxiety and aching suspense I would watch for the first light breath from her lips, the first faint tinge of carmine in her cheek, that always heralded her coming back to life. And when she opened her eyes and smiled, and stretched her long young limbs in the joy of waking, what transports of gratitude and relief!
Ah me! the recollection!
* * * * *
At last a terrible unforgettable night arrived when my presentiment was fulfilled.
I awoke in the little lumber-room of "Parva sed Apta," where the door had always been that led to and from our palace of delight; but there was no door any longer—nothing but a blank wall....
I woke back at once in my cell, in such a state as it is impossible to describe. I felt there must be some mistake, and after much time and effort was able to sink into sleep again, but with the same result: the blank wall, the certainty that "Magna sed Apta" was closed forever, that Mary was dead; and then the terrible jump back into my prison life again.
This happened several times during the night, and when the morning dawned I was a raving madman. I took the warder who first came (attracted by my cries of "Mary!") for Colonel Ibbetson, and tried to kill him, and should have done so, but that he was a very big man, almost as powerful as myself and only half my age.
Other warders came to the rescue, and I took them all for Ibbetsons, and fought like the maniac I was.
When I came to myself, after long horrors and brain-fever and what not, I was removed from the jail infirmary to another place, where I am now.
I had suddenly recovered my reason, and woke to mental agony such as I, who had stood in the dock and been condemned to a shameful death, had never even dreamed of.
I soon had the knowledge of my loss confirmed, and heard (it had been common talk for more than nine days) that the famous Mary, Duchess of Towers, had met her death at the ——— station of the Metropolitan Railway.
A woman, carrying a child, had been jostled by a tipsy man just as a train was entering the station, and dropped her child onto the metals. She tried to jump after it but was held back, and Mary, who had just come up, jumped in her stead, and by a miracle of strength and agility was just able to clutch the child and get onto the six-foot way as the engine came by.
She was able to carry the child to the end of the train, and was helped onto the platform. It was her train, and she got into a carriage, but she was dead before it reached the next station. Her heart, (which, it seems, had been diseased for some time) had stopped, and all was over.
So died Mary Seraskier, at fifty-three.
* * * * *
I lay for many weeks convalescent in body, but in a state of dumb, dry tearless, despair, to which there never came a moment's relief, except in the dreamless sleep I got from chloral, which was given to me in large quantities—and then, the waking!
I never spoke nor answered a question, and hardly ever stirred. I had one fixed idea—that of self-destruction; and after two unsuccessful attempts, I was so closely bound and watched night and day that any further attempt was impossible. They would not trust me with a toothpick or a button or a piece of common packthread.
I tried to starve myself to death and refused all solid food: but an intolerable thirst (perhaps artificially brought on) made it impossible for me to refuse any liquid that was offered, and I was tempted with milk, beef-tea, port, and sherry, and these kept me alive....
* * * * *
I had lost all wish to dream.
At length, one afternoon, a strange, inexplicable, overwhelming nostalgic desire came over me to see once more the Mare d'Auteuil—only once; to walk thither for the last time through the Chaussee de la Muette, and by the fortifications.
It grew upon me till it became a torture to wait for bedtime, so frantic was my impatience.
When the long-wished-for hour arrived at last, I laid myself down once more (as nearly as I could for my bonds) in the old position I had not tried for so long; my will intent upon the Porte de la Muette, an old stone gate-way that separated the Grande Rue de Passy from the entrance to the Bois de Boulogne—a kind of Temple Bar.
It was pulled down forty-five years ago.
I soon found myself there, just where the Grande Rue meets the Rue de la Pompe, and went through the arch and looked towards the Bois.
It was a dull, leaden day in autumn; few people were about, but a gay repas de noces was being held at a little restaurant on my right-hand side. It was to celebrate the wedding of Achille Grigoux, the green-grocer, with Felicite Lenormand, who had been the Seraskiers' house-maid. I suddenly remembered all this, and that Mimsey and Gogo were of the party—the latter, indeed, being premier garcon d'honneur, on whom would soon devolve the duty of stealing the bride's garter, and cutting it up into little bits to adorn the button-holes of the male guests before the ball began.
In an archway on my left some forlorn, worn-out old rips, broken-kneed and broken-winded, were patiently waiting, ready saddled and bridled, to be hired—Chloris, Murat, Rigolette, and others: I knew and had ridden them all nearly half a century ago. Poor old shadows of the long-dead past, so life-like and real and pathetic—it "split me the heart" to see them!
A handsome young blue-coated, silver-buttoned courier of the name of Lami came trotting along from St. Cloud on a roan horse, with a great jingling of his horse's bells and clacking of his short-handled whip. He stopped at the restaurant and called for a glass of white wine, and rising in his stirrups, shouted gayly for Monsieur et Madame Grigoux. They appeared at the first-floor window, looking very happy, and he drank their health, and they his. I could see Gogo and Mimsey in the crowd behind them, and mildly wondered again, as I had so often wondered before, how I came to see it all from the outside—from another point of view than Gogo's.
Then the courier bowed gallantly, and said, "Bonne chance!" and went trotting down the Grande Rue on his way to the Tuileries, and the wedding guests began to sing: they sang a song beginning—
"Il etait un petit navire, Qui n'avait jamais navigue...."
I had quite forgotten it, and listened till the end, and thought it very pretty; and was interested in a dull, mechanical way at discovering that it must be the original of Thackeray's famous ballad of "Little Billee," which I did not hear till many years after. When they came to the last verse—
"Si cette histoire vous embete, Nous allons la recommencer,"
I went on my way. This was my last walk in dreamland, perhaps, and dream-hours are uncertain, and I would make the most of them, and look about me.
I walked towards Ranelagh, a kind of casino, where they used to give balls and theatrical performances on Sunday and Thursday nights (and where afterwards Rossini spent the latter years of his life; then it was pulled down, I am told, to make room for many smart little villas).
In the meadow opposite M. Erard's park, Saindou's school-boys were playing rounders—la balle au camp—from which I concluded it was a Thursday afternoon, a half-holiday; if they had had clean shirts on (which they had not) it would have been Sunday, and the holiday a whole one.
I knew them all, and the two pions, or ushers, M. Lartigue and le petit Cazal; but no longer cared for them or found them amusing or interesting in the least.
Opposite the Ranelagh a few old hackney-coach men were pacifically killing time by a game of bouchon—knocking sous off a cork with other sous—great fat sous and double sous long gone out of fashion. It is a very good game, and I watched it for a while and envied the long-dead players.
Close by was a small wooden shed, or baraque, prettily painted and glazed, and ornamented at the top with little tricolor flags; it belonged to a couple of old ladies, Mere Manette and Grandmere Manette-the two oldest women ever seen. They were very keen about business, and would not give credit for a centime—not even to English boys. They were said to be immensely rich and quite alone in the world. How very dead they must be now! I thought. And I gazed at them and wondered at their liveliness and the pleasure they took in living. They sold many things: nougat, pain d'epices, mirlitons, hoops, drums, noisy battledoors and shuttlecocks; and little ten-sou hand-mirrors, neatly bound in zinc, that could open and shut.
I looked at myself in one of these that was hanging outside; I was old and worn and gray-my face badly shaven—my hair almost white. I had never been old in a dream before.
I walked through the gate in the fortifications on to the outer Talus (which was quite bare in those days), in the direction of the Mare d'Auteuil. The place seemed very deserted and dull for a Thursday. It was a sad and sober walk; my melancholy was not to be borne—my heart was utterly broken, and my body so tired I could scarcely drag myself along. Never before had I known in a dream what it was to be tired.
I gazed at the famous fortifications in all their brand-new pinkness, the scaffoldings barely removed—some of them still lying in the dry ditch between—and smiled to think how these little brick and granite walls would avail to keep the Germans out of Paris thirty years later (twenty years ago). I tried to throw a stone across the narrow part, and found I could no longer throw stones; so I sat down and rested. How thin my legs were! and how miserably clad—in old prison trousers, greasy, stained, and frayed, and ignobly kneed—and what boots!
Never had I been shabby in a dream before.
Why could not I, once for all, walk round to the other side and take a header a la hussarde off those lofty bulwarks, and kill myself for good and all? Alas! I should only blur the dream, and perhaps even wake in my miserable strait-waistcoat. And I wanted to see the mare once more, very badly.
This set me thinking. I would fill my pockets with stones, and throw myself into the Mare d'Auteuil after I had taken a last good look at it, and around. Perhaps the shock of emotion, in my present state of weakness, might really kill me in my sleep. Who knows? it was worth trying, anyhow.
I got up and dragged myself to the mare. It was deserted but for one solitary female figure, soberly clad in black and gray, that sat motionless on the bench by the old willow.
I walked slowly round in her direction, picking up stones and putting them into my pockets, and saw that she was gray-haired and middle-aged, with very dark eyebrows, and extremely tall, and that her magnificent eyes were following me.
Then, as I drew nearer, she smiled and showed gleaming white teeth, and her eyes crinkled and nearly closed up as she did so.
"Oh, my God!" I shrieked; "it is Mary Seraskier!"
* * * * *
I ran to her—I threw myself at her feet, and buried my face in her lap, and there I sobbed like a hysterical child, while she tried to soothe me as one soothes a child.
After a while I looked up into her face. It was old and worn and gray, and her hair nearly white, like mine. I had never seen her like that before; she had always been eight-and-twenty. But age became her well—she looked so benignly beautiful and calm and grand that I was awed—and quick, chill waves went down my backbone.
Her dress and bonnet were old and shabby, her gloves had been mended—old kid gloves with fur about the wrists. She drew them off, and took my hands and made me sit beside her, and looked at me for a while with all her might in silence.
At length she said: "Gogo mio, I know all you have been through by the touch of your hands. Does the touch of mine tell you nothing?"
It told me nothing but her huge love for me, which was all I cared for, and I said so.
She sighed, and said: "I was afraid it would be like this. The old circuit is broken, and can't be restored—not yet!"
We tried again hard; but it was useless.
She looked round and about and up at the tree-tops, everywhere; and then at me again, with great wistfulness, and shivered, and finally began to speak, with hesitation at first, and in a manner foreign to her. But soon she became apparently herself, and found her old swift smile and laugh, her happy slight shrugs and gestures, and quaint polyglot colloquialisms (which I omit, as I cannot always spell them); her homely, simple ways of speech, her fluent, magnetic energy, the winning and sympathetic modulations of her voice, its quick humorous changes from grave to gay—all that made everything she said so suggestive of all she wanted to say besides.
"Gogo, I knew you would come. I wished it! How dreadfully you have suffered! How thin you are! It shocks me to see you! But that will not be any more; we are going to change all that.
"Gogo, you have no idea how difficult it has been for me to come back, even for a few short hours, for I can't hold on very long. It is like hanging on to the window-sill by one's wrists. This time it is Hero swimming to Leander, or Juliet climbing up to Romeo.
"Nobody has ever come back before.
"I am but a poor husk of my former self, put together at great pains for you to know me by. I could not make myself again what I have always been to you. I had to be content with this, and so must you. These are the clothes I died in. But you knew me directly, dear Gogo.
"I have come a long way—such a long way—to have an abboccamento with you. I had so many things to say. And now we are both here, hand in hand as we used to be, I can't even understand what they were; and if I could, I couldn't make you understand. But you will know some day, and there is no hurry whatever.
"Every thought you have had since I died, I know already; your share of the circuit is unbroken at least. I know now why you picked up those stones and put them in your pockets. You must never think of that again—you never will. Besides, it would be of no use, poor Gogo!"
Then she looked up at the sky and all round her again, and smiled in her old happy manner, and rubbed her eyes with the backs of her hands, and seemed to settle herself for a good long talk—an abboccamento!
* * * * *
Of all she said I can only give a few fragments—whatever I can recall and understand when awake. Wherever I have forgotten I will put a line of little dots. Only when I sleep and dream can I recall and understand the rest. It seems all very simple then. I often say to myself, "I will fix it well in my mind, and put it into well-chosen words—her words—and learn them by heart; and then wake cautiously and remember them, and write them all down in a book, so that they shall do for others all they have done for me, and turn doubt into happy certainty, and despair into patience and hope and high elation."
But the bell rings and I wake, and my memory plays me false. Nothing remains but the knowledge that all will be well for us all, and of such a kind that those who do not sigh for the moon will be well content.
Alas, this knowledge: I cannot impart it to others. Like many who have lived before me, I cannot prove—I can only affirm....
* * * * *
"How odd and old-fashioned it feels," she began, "to have eyes and ears again, and all that—little open windows on to what is near us. They are very clumsy contrivances! I had already forgotten them."
* * * * *
Look, there goes our old friend, the water-rat, under the bank—the old fat father—le bon gros pere—as we used to call him. He is only a little flat picture moving upsidedown in the opposite direction across the backs of our eyes, and the farther he goes the smaller he seems. A couple of hundred yards off we shouldn't see him at all. As it is, we can only see the outside of him, and that only on one side at a time; and yet he is full of important and wonderful things that have taken millions of years to make—like us! And to see him at all we have to look straight at him—and then we can't see what's behind us or around—and if it was dark we couldn't see anything whatever.
Poor eyes! Little bags full of water, with a little magnifying-glass inside, and a nasturtium leaf behind—to catch the light and feel it!
A celebrated German oculist once told papa that if his instrument-maker were to send him such an ill-made machine as a human eye, he would send it back and refuse to pay the bill. I can understand that now; and yet on earth where should we be without eyes? And afterwards where should we be if some of us hadn't once had them on earth?
* * * * *
I can hear your dear voice, Gogo, with both ears. Why two ears? Why only two? What you want, or think, or feel, you try to tell me in sounds that you have been taught—English, French. If I didn't know English and French, it would be no good whatever. Language is a poor thing. You fill your lungs with wind and shake a little slit in your throat, and make mouths, and that shakes the air; and the air shakes a pair of little drums in my head—a very complicated arrangement, with lots of bones behind—and my brain seizes your meaning in the rough. What a roundabout way, and what a waste of time!
* * * * *
And so with all the rest. We can't even smell straight! A dog would laugh at us—not that even a dog knows much!
And feeling! We can feel too hot or too cold, and it sometimes makes us ill, or even kills us. But we can't feel the coming storm, or which is north and south, or where the new moon is, or the sun at midnight, or the stars at noon, or even what o'clock it is by our own measurement. We cannot even find our way home blindfolded—not even a pigeon can do that, nor a swallow, nor an owl! Only a mole, or a blind man, perhaps, feebly groping with a stick, if he has already been that way before.
And taste! It is well said there is no accounting for it.
And then, to keep all this going, we have to eat, and drink, and sleep, and all the rest. What a burden!
* * * * *
And you and I are the only mortals that I know of who ever found a way to each other's inner being by the touch of the hands. And then we had to go to sleep first. Our bodies were miles apart; not that that would have made any difference, for we could never have done it waking—never; not if we hugged each other to extinction!
* * * * *
Gogo, I cannot find any words to tell you how, for there are none in any language that I ever knew to tell it; but where I am it is all ear and eye and the rest in one, and there is, oh, how much more besides! Things a homing-pigeon has known, and an ant, and a mole, and a water-beetle, and an earthworm, and a leaf, and a root, and a magnet—even a lump of chalk, and more. One can see and smell and touch and taste a sound, as well as hear it, and vice versa. It is very simple, though it may not seem so to you now.
And the sounds! Ah, what sounds! The thick atmosphere of earth is no conductor for such as they, and earthly ear-drums no receiver. Sound is everything. Sound and light are one.
* * * * *
And what does it all mean?
I knew what it meant when I was there—part of it, at least—and should know again in a few hours. But this poor old earth-brain of mine, which I have had to put on once more as an old woman puts on a nightcap, is like my eyes and ears. It can now only understand what is of the earth—what you can understand, Gogo, who are still of the earth. I forget, as one forgets an ordinary dream, as one sometimes forgets the answer to a riddle, or the last verse of a song. It is on the tip of the tongue; but there it sticks, and won't come any farther.
Remember, it is only in your brain I am living now—your earthly brain, that has been my only home for so many happy years, as mine has been yours.
How we have nestled!
* * * * *
But this I know: one must have had them all once—brains, ears, eyes, and the rest—on earth. 'Il faut avoir passe par la!' or no after-existence for man or beast would be possible or even conceivable.
One cannot teach a born deaf-mute how to understand a musical score, nor a born blind man how to feel color. To Beethoven, who had once heard with the ear, his deafness made no difference, nor their blindness to Homer and Milton.
Can you make out my little parable?
* * * * *
Sound and light and heat, and electricity and motion, and will and thought and remembrance, and love and hate and pity, and the desire to be born and to live, and the longing of all things alive and dead to get near each other, or to fly apart—and lots of other things besides! All that comes to the same—'C'est comme qui dirait bonnet blanc et blanc bonnet,' as Monsieur le Major used to say. 'C'est simple comme bonjour!'
Where I am, Gogo, I can hear the sun shining on the earth and making the flowers blow, and the birds sing, and the bells peal for birth and marriage and death—happy, happy death, if you only knew—'C'est la clef des champs!'
It shines on moons and planets, and I can hear it, and hear the echo they give back again. The very stars are singing; rather a long way off! but it is well worth their while with such an audience as lies between us and them; and they can't help it....
I can't hear it here—not a bit—now that I've got my ears on; besides, the winds of the earth are too loud....
Ah, that is music, if you like; but men and women are stone-deaf to it—their ears are in the way! ...
Those poor unseen flat fish that live in the darkness and mud at the bottom of deep seas can't catch the music men and women make upon the earth—such poor music as it is! But if ever so faint a murmur, borne on the wings and fins of a sunbeam, reaches them for a few minutes at mid-day, and they have a speck of marrow in their spines to feel it, and no ears or eyes to come between, they are better off than any man, Gogo. Their dull existence is more blessed than his.
But alas for them, as yet! They haven't got the memory of the eye and ear, and without that no speck of spinal marrow will avail; they must be content to wait, like you.
The blind and deaf?
Oh yes; la bas, it is all right for the poor deaf-mutes and born blind of the earth; they can remember with the past eyes and ears of all the rest. Besides, it is no longer they. There is no they! That is only a detail.
* * * * *
You must try and realize that it is just as though all space between us and the sun and stars were full of little specks of spinal marrow, much too small to be seen in any microscope—smaller than anything in the world. All space is full of them, shoulder to shoulder—almost as close as sardines in a box—and there is still room for more! Yet a single drop of water would hold them all, and not be the less transparent. They all remember having been alive on earth or elsewhere, in some form or other, and each knows all the others remember. I can only compare it to that.
Once all that space was only full of stones, rushing, whirling, meeting, and crushing together, and melting and steaming in the white-heat of their own hurry. But now there's a crop of something better than stones, I can promise you! It goes on gathering, and being garnered and mingled and sifted and winnowed—the precious, indestructible harvest of how many millions of years of life!
* * * * *
And this I know: the longer and more strenuously and completely one lives one's life on earth the better for all. It is the foundation of everything. Though if men could guess what is in store for them when they die, without also knowing that, they would not have the patience to live—they wouldn't wait! For who would fardels bear? They would just put stones in their pockets, as you did, and make for the nearest pond.
* * * * *
Nothing is lost—nothing! From the ineffable, high, fleeting thought a Shakespeare can't find words to express, to the slightest sensation of an earthworm—nothing! Not a leaf's feeling of the light, not a loadstone's sense of the pole, not a single volcanic or electric thrill of the mother earth.
All knowledge must begin on earth for us. It is the most favored planet in this poor system of ours just now, and for a few short millions of years to come. There are just a couple of others, perhaps three; but they are not of great consequence. 'Il y fait trop chaud—ou pas assez!' They are failures.
The sun, the father sun, le bon gros pere, rains life on to the mother earth. A poor little life it was at first, as you know—grasses and moss, and little wriggling, transparent things—all stomach; it is quite true! That is what we come from—Shakespeare, and you, and I!
* * * * *
After each individual death the earth retains each individual clay to be used again and again; and, as far as I can see, it rains back each individual essence to the sun—or somewhere near it—like a precious water-drop returned to the sea, where it mingles, after having been about and seen something of the world, and learned the use of five small wits—and remembering all! Yes, like that poor little exiled wandering water-drop in the pretty song your father used to sing, and which always manages to find its home at last—
'Va passaggier' in fiume, Va prigionier' in fonte, Ma sempre ritorn' al mar.'
Or else it is as if little grains of salt were being showered into the Mare d'Auteuil, to melt and mingle with the water and each other till the Mare d'Auteuil itself was as salt as salt can be.
Not till that Mare d'Auteuil of the sun is saturated with the salt of the earth, of earthly life and knowledge, will the purpose be complete, and then old mother earth may well dry up into a cinder like the moon; its occupation will be gone, like hers—'adieu, panier, les vendanges sont faites!'
And, as for the sun and its surrounding ocean of life—ah, that is beyond me! but the sun will dry up, too, and its ocean of life no doubt be drawn to other greater suns. For everything seems to go on more or less in the same way, only crescendo, everywhere and forever.
* * * * *
You must understand that it is not a bit like an ocean, nor a bit like water-drops, or grains of salt, or specks of spinal marrow; but it is only by such poor metaphors that I can give you a glimpse of what I mean, since you can no longer understand me, as you used to do on earthly things, by the mere touch of our hands.
* * * * *
Gogo, I am the only little water-drop, the one grain of salt that has not yet been able to dissolve and melt away in that universal sea; I am the exception.
It is as though a long, invisible chain bound me still to the earth, and I were hung at the other end of it in a little transparent locket, a kind of cage, which lets me see and hear things all round, but keeps me from melting away.
And soon I found that this locket was made of that half of you that is still in me, so that I couldn't dissolve, because half of me wasn't dead at all; for the chain linked me to that half of myself I had left in you, so that half of me actually wasn't there to be dissolved.... I am getting rather mixed!
But oh, my heart's true love, how I hugged my chain, with you at the other end of it!
With such pain and effort as you cannot conceive, I have crept along it back to you, like a spider on an endless thread of its own spinning. Such love as mine is stronger then death indeed!
* * * * *
I have come to tell you that we are inseparable forever, you and I, one double speck of spinal marrow—'Philipschen!'—one little grain of salt, one drop. There is to be no parting for us—I can see that; but such extraordinary luck seems reserved for you and me alone up to now; and it is all our own doing.
But not till you join me shall you and I be complete, and free to melt away in that universal ocean, and take our part, as One, in all is to be.
That moment—you must not hasten it by a moment. Time is nothing. I'm even beginning to believe there's no such thing; there is so little difference, la-bas, between a year and a day. And as for space—dear me, an inch is as as an ell!
Things cannot be measured like that.
A midge's life is as long as a man's, for it has time to learn its business, and do all the harm it can, and fight, and make love, and marry, and reproduce its kind, and grow disenchanted and bored and sick and content to die—all in a summer afternoon. An average man can live to seventy years without doing much more.
And then there are tall midges, and clever and good-looking ones, and midges of great personal strength and cunning, who can fly a little faster and a little farther than the rest, and live an hour longer to drink a whole drop more of some other creature's blood; but it does not make a very great difference!
* * * * *
No, time and space mean just the same as 'nothing.'
But for you they mean much, as you have much to do. Our joint life must be revealed—that long, sweet life of make-believe, that has been so much more real than reality. Ah! where and what were time or space to us then?
* * * * *
And you must tell all we have found out, and how; the way must be shown to others with better brains and better training than we had. The value to mankind—to mankind here and hereafter—may be incalculable.
* * * * *
For some day, when all is found out that can be found out on earth, and made the common property of all (or even before that), the great man will perhaps arise and make the great guess that is to set us all free, here and hereafter. Who knows?
I feel this splendid guesser will be some inspired musician of the future, as simple as a little child in all things but his knowledge of the power of sound; but even little children will have learned much in those days. He will want new notes and find them—new notes between the black and white keys. He will go blind like Milton and Homer, and deaf like Beethoven; and then, all in the stillness and the dark, all in the depths of his forlorn and lonely soul, he will make his best music, and out of the endless mazes of its counterpoint he will evolve a secret, as we did from the "Chant du Triste Commensal," but it will be a greater secret than ours. Others will have been very near this hidden treasure; but he will happen right on it, and unearth it, and bring it to light.
I think I see him sitting at the key-board, so familiar of old to the feel of his consummate fingers; painfully dictating his score to some most patient and devoted friend—mother, sister, daughter, wife—that score that he will never see or hear.
What a stammerer! Not only blind and deaf, but mad—mad in the world's eyes, for fifty, a hundred, a thousand years. Time is nothing; but that score will survive....
He will die of it, of course; and when he dies and comes to us, there will be joy from here to Sirius, and beyond.
And one day they will find out on earth that he was only deaf and blind—not mad at all. They will hear and understand—they will know that he saw and heard as none had ever heard or seen before!
* * * * *
For 'as we sow we reap'; that is a true saying, and all the sowing is done here on earth, and the reaping beyond. Man is a grub; his dead clay, as he lies coffined in his grave, is the left-off cocoon he has spun for himself during his earthly life, to burst open and soar from with all his memories about him, even his lost ones. Like the dragon-fly, the butterfly, the moth ... and when they die it is the same, and the same with a blade of grass. We are all, tous tant que nous sommes, little bags of remembrance that never dies; that's what we're for. But we can only bring with us to the common stock what we've got. As Pere Francois used to say, 'La plus belle fille au monde ne peut donner que ce qu'elle a.'
* * * * *
Besides all this I am your earthly wife, Gogo—your loving, faithful, devoted wife, and I wish it to be known.
* * * * *
And then at last, in the fulness of time—a very few years—ah, then——
"Once more shall Neuha lead her Torquil by the hand."
* * * * *
"Oh, Mary!" I cried, "shall we be transcendently happy again? As happy as we were—happier even?"
Ah, Gogo, is a man happier than a mouse, or a mouse than a turnip, or a turnip than a lump of chalk? But what man would be a mouse or a turnip, or vice versa? What turnip would be a lump—of anything but itself? Are two people happier than one? You and I, yes; because we are one; but who else? It is one and all. Happiness is like time and space—we make and measure it ourselves; it is a fancy—as big, as little, as you please; just a thing of contrasts and comparisons, like health or strength or beauty or any other good—that wouldn't even be noticed but for sad personal experience of its opposite!—or its greater!
"I have forgotten all I know but this, which is for you and me: we are inseparable forever. Be sure we shall not want to go back again for a moment."
"And is there no punishment or reward?"
Oh, there again! What a detail! Poor little naughty perverse midges—who were born so—and can't keep straight! poor little exemplary midges who couldn't go wrong if they tried! Is it worth while? Isn't it enough for either punishment or reward that the secrets of all midges' hearts shall be revealed, and for all other midges to see? Think of it!
* * * * *
There are battles to be fought and races to be won, but no longer against 'each other.' And strength and swiftness to win them; but no longer any strong and swift. There is weakness and cowardice, but no longer any cowards or weaklings. The good and the bad and the worst and the best—it is all mixed up. But the good comes to the top; the bad goes to the bottom—it is precipitated, as papa used to say. It is not an agreeable sediment, with its once useful cruelty at the lowest bottom of all—out of sight, out of mind—all but forgotten. C'est deja le ciel.
* * * * *
"And the goal? The cause, the whither, and the why of it all? Ah! Gogo—as inscrutable, as unthinkable as ever, till the great guesser comes! At least so it seems to me, speaking as a fool, out of the depths of my poor ignorance; for I am a new arrival, and a complete outsider, with my chain and locket, waiting for you.
"I have only picked up a few grains of sand on the shore of that sea—a few little shells, and I can't even show you what they are like. I see that it is no good even talking of it, alas! And I had promised myself so much.
"Oh! how my earthly education was neglected, and yours! and how I feel it now, with so much to say in words, mere words! Why, to tell you in words the little I can see, the very little—so that you could understand—would require that each of us should be the greatest poet and the greatest mathematician that ever were, rolled into one! How I pity you, Gogo—with your untrained, unskilled, innocent pen, poor scribe! having to write all this down—for you must—and do your poor little best, as I have done mine in telling you! You must let the heart speak, and not mind style or manner! Write any how! write for the greatest need and the greatest number.
"But do just try and see this, dearest, and make the best of it you can: as far as I can make it out, everything everywhere seems to be an ever-deepening, ever-broadening stream that makes with inconceivable velocity for its own proper level, WHERE PERFECTION IS! ... and ever gets nearer and nearer, and never finds it, and fortunately never will!
"Only that, unlike an earthly stream, and more like a fresh flowing tide up an endless, boundless, shoreless creek (if you can imagine that), the level it seeks is immeasurably higher than its source. And everywhere in it is Life, Life, Life! ever renewing and doubling itself, and ever swelling that mighty river which has no banks!
"And everywhere in it like begets like, plus a little better or a little worse; and the little worse finds its way into some backwater and sticks there, and finally goes to the bottom, and nobody cares. And the little better goes on bettering and bettering—not all man's folly or perverseness can hinder that, nor make that headlong torrent stay, or ebb, or roll backward for a moment—c'est plus fort que nous! ... The record goes on beating itself, the high-water-mark gets higher and higher till the highest on earth is reached that can be—and then, I suppose, the earth grows cold and the sun goes out—to be broken up into bits, and used all over again, perhaps! And betterness flies to warmer climes and higher systems, to better itself still! And so on, from better to better, from higher to higher, from warmer to warmer, and bigger to bigger—for ever and ever and ever!
"But the final superlative of all, absolute all—goodness and all-highness, absolute all-wisdom, absolute omnipotence, beyond which there neither is nor can be anything more, will never be reached at all—since there are no such things; they are abstractions; besides which, attainment means rest, and rest stagnation, and stagnation an end of all! And there is no end, and never can be—no end to Time and all the things that are done in it—no end to Space and all the things that fill it, or all would come together in a heap and smash up in the middle—and there is no middle!—no end, no beginning, no middle! no middle, Gogo! think of that! it is the most inconceivable thing of all!!!
"So who shall say where Shakespeare and you and I come in—tiny links in an endless chain, so tiny that even Shakespeare is no bigger than we! And just a little way behind us, those little wriggling transparent things, all stomach, that we descend from; and far ahead of ourselves, but in the direct line of a long descent from us, an ever-growing conscious Power, so strong, so glad, so simple, so wise, so mild, and so beneficent, that what can we do, even now, but fall on our knees with our foreheads in the dust, and our hearts brimful of wonder, hope, and love, and tender shivering awe; and worship as a yet unborn, barely conceived, and scarce begotten Child—that which we have always been taught to worship as a Father—That which is not now, but is to be—That which we shall all share in and be part and parcel of in the dim future—That which is slowly, surely, painfully weaving Itself out of us and the likes of us all through the limitless Universe, and Whose coming we can but faintly foretell by the casting of its shadow on our own slowly, surely, painfully awakening souls!"
* * * * *
Then she went on to speak of earthly things, and ask questions in her old practical way. First of my bodily health, with the tenderest solicitude and the wisest advice—as a mother to a son. She even insisted on listening to my heart, like a doctor.
Then she spoke at great length of the charities in which she had been interested, and gave me many directions which I was to write, as coming from myself, to certain people whose names and addresses she impressed upon me with great care.
I have done as she wished, and most of these directions have been followed to the letter, with no little wonder on the world's part (as the world well knows) that such sagacious and useful reforms should have originated with the inmate of a criminal lunatic asylum.
* * * * *
At last the time came for us to part. She foresaw that I should have to wake in a few minutes, and said, rising——
"And now, Gogo, the best beloved that ever was on earth, take me once more in your dear arms, and kiss me good-bye for a little while—auf wiedersehen. Come here to rest and think and remember when your body sleeps. My spirit will always be here with you. I may even be able to come back again myself—just this poor husk of me—hardly more to look at than a bundle of old clothes; but yet a world made up of love for you. Good-bye, good-bye, dearest and best. Time is nothing, but I shall count the hours. Good-bye...."
Even as she strained me to her breast I awoke.
* * * * *
I awoke, and knew that the dread black shadow of melancholia had passed away from me like a hideous nightmare—like a long and horrible winter. My heart was full of the sunshine of spring—the gladness of awaking to a new life.
I smiled at my night attendant, who stared back at me in astonishment, and exclaimed——
"Why, sir, blest if you ain't a new man altogether. There, now!"
I wrung his hand, and thanked him for all his past patience, kindness, and forbearance with such effusion that his eyes had tears in them. I had not spoken for weeks, and he heard my voice for the first time.
That day, also, without any preamble or explanation, I gave the doctor and the chaplain and the governor my word of honor that I would not attempt my life again, or any one else's, and was believed and trusted on the spot; and they unstrapped me.
I was never so touched in my life.
In a week I recovered much of my strength; but I was an old man. That was a great change.
Most people age gradually and imperceptibly. To me old age had come of a sudden—in a night, as it were; but with it, and suddenly also, the resigned and cheerful acquiescence, the mild serenity, that are its compensation and more.
My hope, my certainty to be one with Mary some day—that is my haven, my heaven—a consummation of completeness beyond which there is nothing to wish for or imagine. Come what else may, that is safe, and that is all I care for. She was able to care for me, and for many other things besides, and I love her all the more for it; but I can only care for her.
Sooner or later—a year—ten years; it does not matter much. I also am beginning to disbelieve in the existence of time.
That waking was the gladdest in my life—gladder even than the waking in my condemned cell the morning after my sentence of death, when another black shadow passed away—that of the scaffold.
Oh, Mary! What has she not done for me—what clouds has she not dispelled!
When night came round again I made once more, step by step, the journey from the Porte de la Muette to the Mare d'Auteuil, with everything the same—the gay wedding-feast, the blue and silver courier, the merry guests singing
"Il etait un petit navire."
Nothing was altered, even to the dull gray weather. But, oh, the difference to me!
I longed to play at bouchon with the hackney coachmen, or at la balle au camp with my old schoolfellows. I could have even waltzed with "Monsieur Lartigue" and "le petit Cazal."
I looked in Mere Manette's little mirror and saw my worn, gray, haggard, old face again; and liked it, and thought it quite good-looking. I sat down and rested by the fortifications as I had done the night before, for I was still tired, but with a most delicious fatigue; my very shabbiness was agreeable to me—pauvre, mais honnete. A convict, a madman, but a prince among men—still the beloved of Mary!
And when at last I reached the spot I had always loved the best on earth ever since I first saw it as a child, I fell on my knees and wept for sheer excess of joy. It was mine indeed; it belonged to me as no land or water had ever belonged to any man before.
Mary was not there, of course; I did not expect her.
But, strange and incomprehensible as it seems, she had forgotten her gloves; she had left them behind her. One was on the bench, one was on the ground; poor old gloves that had been mended, with the well-known shape of her dear hand in them; every fold and crease preserved as in a mould—the very cast of her finger-nails; and the scent of sandal-wood she and her mother had so loved.
I laid them side by side, palms upward, on the bench where we had sat the night before. No dream-wind has blown them away; no dream-thief has stolen them; there they lie still, and will lie till the great change comes over me, and I am one with their owner.
* * * * *
I am there every night—in the lovely spring or autumn sunshine—meditating, remembering, taking notes—dream-notes to be learned by heard, and used next day for a real purpose.
I walk round and round, or sit on the benches, or lie in the grass by the brink, and smoke cigarettes without end, and watch the old amphibious life I found so charming half a century ago, and find it charming still.
Sometimes I dive into the forest (which has now been razed to the ground. Ever since 1870 there is an open space all round the Mare d'Auteuil. I had seen it since then in a dream with Mary, who went to Paris after the war, and mad pilgrimages by day to all the places so dear to our hearts, and so changed; and again, when the night came, with me for a fellow-pilgrim. It was a sad disenchantment for us both).
My Mare d'Auteuil, where I spend so many hours, is the Mare d'Auteuil of Louis Philippe, unchangeable except for such slight changes as will occur, now and then, between the years 1839 and 1846: a broken bench mended, a new barrier put up by the high-road, a small wooden dike where the brink is giving way.
And the thicket beside and behind it is dark and dense for miles, with many tall trees and a rich, tangled undergrowth.
There is a giant oak which it is difficult to find in that labyrinth (it now stands, for the world, alone in the open; an ornament to the Auteuil race-course) I have often climbed it as a boy, with Mimsey and the rest; I cannot climb it now, but I love to lie on the grass in its shade, and dream in my dream there, shut in on all sides by fragrant, impenetrable verdure; with birds and bees and butterflies and dragon-flies and strange beetles and little field-mice with bright eyes, and lithe spotted snakes and lively brown squirrels and beautiful green lizards for my company. Now and then a gentle roebuck comes and feeds close by me without fear, and the mole throws up his little mound of earth and takes an airing.
It is a very charming solitude.
It amuses me to think by day, when broad awake in my sad English prison, and among my crazy peers, how this nightly umbrageous French solitude of mine, so many miles and years away, is now but a common, bare, wide grassy plain, overlooked by a gaudy, beflagged grand-stand. It is Sunday, let us say—and for all I know a great race may be going on—all Paris is there, rich and poor. Little red-legged soldiers, big blue-legged gendarmes, keep the course clear; the sun shines, the tricolour waves, the gay, familiar language makes the summer breeze musical. I dare say it is all very bright and animated, but the whole place rings with the vulgar din of the bookmakers, and the air is full of dust and foul with the scent of rank tobacco, the reek of struggling French humanity; and the gaunt Eiffel Tower looks down upon it all from the sky over Paris (so, at least, I am told) like a skeleton at a feast.
Then twilight comes, and the crowds have departed; on foot, on horseback, on bicycles and tricycles, in every kind of vehicle; many by the chemin de fer de ceinture, the Auteuil station of which is close by ... all is quiet and bare and dull.
Then down drops the silent night like a curtain, and beneath its friendly cover the strange transformation effects itself quickly, and all is made ready for me. The grand-stand evaporates, the railway station melts away into thin air; there is no more Eiffel Tower with its electric light! The sweet forest of fifty years ago rises suddenly out of the ground, and all the wild live things that once lived in it wake to their merry life again.
A quiet deep old pond in a past French forest, hallowed by such memories! What can be more enchanting? Oh, soft and sweet nostalgia, so soon to be relieved!
Up springs the mellow sun, the light of other days, to its appointed place in the heavens—zenith, or east or west, according to order. A light wind blows from the south—everything is properly disinfected, and made warm and bright and comfortable—and lo! old Peter Ibbetson appears upon the scene, absolute monarch of all he surveys for the next eight hours—one whose right there are literally none to dispute.
I do not encourage noisy gatherings there as a rule, nor by the pond; I like to keep the sweet place pretty much to myself; there is no selfishness in this, for I am really depriving nobody. Whoever comes there now, comes there nearly fifty years ago and does not know it; they must have all died long since.
Sometimes it is a garde champetre in Louis Philippe's blue and silver, with his black pipe, his gaiters, his old flint gun, and his embroidered game-bag. He does well in the landscape.
Sometimes it is a pair of lovers, if they are good-looking and well-behaved, or else the boys from Saindou's school to play fly the garter—la raie.
Sometimes it is Monsieur le Cure, peacefully conning his "Hours," as with slow and thoughtful step he paces round and round. I can now read his calm, benevolent face by the light of half a century's experience of life, and have learned to love that still, black, meditative aspect which I found so antipathetic as a small boy—he is no burner alive of little heretics! This world is big enough for us both—and so is the world to come! And he knows it. Now, at all events!
Sometimes even a couple of Prendergasts are admitted, or even three; they are not so bad, after all; they have the qualities of their faults, although you might not think it.
But very often the old beloved shades arrive with their fishing-nets, and their high spirits, and their ringing Anglo-French—Charlie, and Alfred, and Madge, and the rest, and the grinning, barking, gyrating Medor, who dives after stones.
Oh, how it does my heart good to see and hear them!
They make me feel like a grandfather. Even Monsieur le Major is younger than I—his mustache less white than mine. He only comes to my chin; but I look up to him still, and love and revere him as when I was a little child.
And Dr. Seraskier! I place myself between him and what he is looking at, so that he seems to be looking straight at me; but with a far-away look in his eyes, as is only natural. Presently something amuses him, and he smiles, and his eyes crinkle up as his daughter's used to do when she was a woman, and his majestic face becomes as that of an angel, like hers.
L'ange du sourire!
And my gay, young, light-hearted father, with his vivacity and rollicking laugh and eternal good-humor! He is just like a boy to me now, le beau Pasquier! He has got a new sling of his own invention; he pulls it out of his pocket, and slings stones high over the tree-tops and far away out of sight—to the joy of himself and everybody else—and does not trouble much as to where they will fall.
My mother is young enough now to be my daughter; it is as a daughter, a sweet, kind, lovely daughter, that I love her now—a happily-married daughter with a tall, handsome husband who yodles divinely and slings stones, and who has presented me with a grandson—beau comme le jour—for whatever Peter Ibbetson may have been in his time, there is no gainsaying the singular comeliness of little Gogo Pasquier.
And Mimsey is just a child angel! Monsieur le Major is infallible.
"Elle a toutes les intelligences de la tete et du coeur! Vous verrez un jour, quand ca ira mieux; vous verrez!"
That day has long come and gone; it is easy to see all that now—to have the eyes of Monsieur le Major.
Ah, poor little Mimsey, with her cropped head and her pale face, and long, thin arms and legs, and grave, kind, luminous eyes, that have not yet learned to smile. What she is to me!!!!
And Madame Seraskier, in all the youthful bloom and splendor of her sacred beauty! A chosen lily among women—the mother of Mary!
She sits on the old bench by the willow, close to her daughter's gloves. Sometimes (a trivial and almost comic detail!) she actually seems to sit upon them, to my momentary distress; but when she goes away, there they are still, not flattened a bit—the precious mould of those beautiful, generous hands to which I owe everything here and hereafter.
* * * * *
I have not been again to my old home. I dread the sight of the avenue. I cannot face "Parva sed Apta."
But I have seen Mary again—seven times.
And every time she comes she brings a book with her, gilt-edged and bound in green morocco like the Byron we read when we were children, or in red morocco like the Elegant Extracts out of which we used to translate Gray's "Elegy," and the "Battle of Hohenlinden," and Cunningham's "Pastorals" into French.
Such is her fancy!
But inside these books are very different. They are printed in cipher, and in a language I can only understand in my dream. Nothing that I, or any one else, has ever read in any living book can approach, for interest and importance, what I read in these. There are seven of them.
I say to myself when I read them: it is perhaps well that I shall not remember this when I wake, after all!
For I might be indiscreet and injudicious, and either say too much or not enough; and the world might come to a stand-still, all through me. For who would fardels bear, as Mary said! No! The world must be content to wait for the great guesser!
Thus my lips are sealed.
All I know is this: that all will be well for us all, and of such a kind that all who do not sigh for the moon will be well content.
* * * * *
In such wise have I striven, with the best of my ability, to give some account of my two lives and Mary's. We have lived three lives between us—three lives in one.
It has been a happy task, however poorly performed, and all the conditions of its performance have been singularly happy also.
A cell in a criminal lunatic asylum! That does not sound like a bower in the Elysian Fields! It is, and has been for me.
Besides the sun that lights and warms my inner life, I have been treated with a kindness and sympathy and consideration by everybody here, from the governor downward, that fills me with unspeakable gratitude.
Most especially do I feel grateful to my good friends, the doctor, the chaplain, and the priest—best and kindest of men—each of whom has made up his mind about everything in heaven and earth and below, and each in a contrary sense to the two others!
There is but one thing they are neither of them quite cocksure about, and that is whether I am mad or sane.
And there is one thing—the only one on which they are agreed; namely, that, mad or sane, I am a great undiscovered genius!
My little sketches, plain or colored, fill them with admiration and ecstasy. Such boldness and facility and execution, such an overwhelming fertility in the choice of subjects, such singular realism in the conception and rendering of past scenes, historical and otherwise, such astounding knowledge of architecture, character, costume, and what not, such local color—it is all as if I had really been there to see!
I have the greatest difficulty in keeping my fame from spreading beyond the walls of the asylum. My modesty is as great as my talent!
No, I do not wish this great genius to be discovered just yet. It must all go to help and illustrate and adorn the work of a much greater genius, from which it has drawn every inspiration it ever had.
It is a splendid and delightful task I have before me: to unravel and translate and put in order these voluminous and hastily-penned reminiscences of Mary's, all of them written in the cipher we invented together in our dream—a very transparent cipher when once you have got the key!
It will take five years at least, and I think that, without presumption, I can count on that, strong and active as I feel, and still so far from the age of the Psalmist.
First of all, I intend
* * * * *
Note.—Here ends my poor cousin's memoir. He was found dead from effusion of blood on the brain, with his pen still in his hand, and his head bowed down on his unfinished manuscript, on the margin of which he had just sketched a small boy wheeling a toy wheelbarrow full of stones from one open door to another. One door is labelled Passe, the other Avenir.
I arrived in England, after a long life spent abroad, at the time his death occurred, but too late to see him alive. I heard much about him and his latter days. All those whose duties brought them into contact with him seemed to have regarded him with a respect that bordered on veneration.
I had the melancholy satisfaction of seeing him in his coffin. I had not seen him since he was twelve years old.
As he lay there, in his still length and breadth, he appeared gigantic—the most magnificent human being I ever beheld; and the splendor of his dead face will haunt my memory till I die.