As quickly as he could make arrangements, he went.
Of the woman's success, I cannot write here. My story has been poorly told, indeed, if I have not made it clear that, for this woman who knew herself to be a woman, Success was inseparable from Love.
For every woman who knows herself to be a woman, Love and Success are one.
Again it was that time of the year when every corner of the world is a lovers' corner.
On bough and branch, in orchard and wood; on bush and vine, in garden and yard; in meadow grass and pasture sod; on the silvery lichens that cling to the rocks; among the ferns and mosses that dwell in cool retreats; amid the reeds and rushes by the old mill pond; in the fragrant mints and fluted blades on the banks of the little creek; the children of Nature sought their mates or by their mates were sought.
Every flower cup was a loving cup, lifted to drink a pledge to Life; every tint of color was a blush of love, called forth by the wooing of Life; every perfumed breath was a breath of love, a blessing and prayer of Life; every rustling movement was a whisper of love, a promised word of Life; every touch of the breeze was a caress of love, a passionate kiss of Life; every sunbeam was a smile of love, warm with the tender triumph of Life.
The bees, that, in their labor for hive and swarm, carry the golden pollen from flower to flower, preach thus the word of God. The gauze winged insects, that, in the evening, dance their aerial mating dance, declare thus the Creator's will. The fireflies, that, in the night time, light their tiny lamps of love, signal thus a message from the throne on high.
The fowls of the air, singing their mating songs; the wild stallion on the hills, trumpeting aloud his fiery strength; the bull on the plains, thundering his bellowing challenge; the panther that in the mountains screams to his mate; the wolf that in the timber howls to his mistress; declare thus the supreme law of Life—make known the unchanging purpose of God—and evidence an authority and power divine.
In all this wooing and mating; in all this seeking and being sought; in all this giving and receiving; in all this loving and being loved; in all natural and holy desire; Life is exalted—the divine is worshiped—acceptable offerings to God are made.
To preserve Life—to perpetuate Life—to produce Life—to perfect Life—to exalt Life—this is the purpose of Life. In all the activity of Life there is no other meaning manifest. This, indeed, is Life. How foolish then to think only of eternal Life as though it began at the grave. This Life that is, is the eternal Life. Eternity is to-day. The man and woman who mate in love fulfill thus the eternal law of Life, and, in their children, conceived and born in Love, do they know and do the will of God, even as do all things that are alive.
Life and Love are one.
The man had been at his boyhood home but three days when the neighbor, who lived next door, told him that his childhood playmate was coming, with her aunt, to visit their old home for a few weeks.
"Needs a rest and quiet" the neighbor said; and smiled at nothing at all as neighbors will sometimes do.
Perhaps, though, the neighbor smiled at the look of surprise and bewilderment that swept over the man's face as he heard the news, or it might have been at the mingling of pleasure and regret that was in his voice as he answered: "Indeed." Or, perhaps, the neighbor was wondering what the woman would say and how she would look if she knew that the man was to be next door. Whatever the reason the neighbor smiled.
They did not know that the woman was, in reality, seeking to escape from the thought of Failure that so haunted her. Since that day when her good friend had talked to her of her career and had gravely asked—"for you do you think it would be success?"—her work had become more and more unbearable. In desperation, at last, she had arranged to go, for a few weeks, back to the scenes of her girlhood; hoping to find there, as she had found before, the peace and strength she needed.
The cherry tree, in the corner of the garden near the hedge, showered the delicate petals of its blossoms down with every touch of the gentle breeze. In the nearby bower of green, a pair of brown birds had just put the finishing touch to a new nest. But, in the years that had passed since that boy and girl play wedding, the tree had grown large, and scarred, and old. Many pairs of brown birds had nested and reared their broods in the hedge since that day when the lad had kissed his childhood mate with a kiss that was different. And the little opening through which the boy and girl had so often gone at each other's call was closed by a growth of branches that time had woven as if to shut, forever, that gateway of their Yesterdays. On his former visit, the man had looked for that gateway of his childhood but could not find it. And now, when he heard that she was coming, he went again, curiously, to see if he could find any sign to show where the opening had been. But the branches that the years had woven hid from the man's eyes every trace of the old way that, in his Yesterdays, had been so plain.
Late that afternoon, when the neighbor, coming from the depot with his guests, drove slowly up the hill, the man stood at the gate where, years before, the little boy had sat on the post, and, swinging his bare legs, had watched the big wagons, loaded with household goods, turning into the yard of the place next door.
There was no reason why the man should get up when the first touches of gray light showed in the eastern sky the next morning, but the day seemed to call him and he arose and went out. From the little hill where he had sat that day when first he knew that he was a man and where his manhood life began with his dreams, he watched the sun rise and saw the sleeping world awake. Then back through the orchard that was all dew drenched and ringing with the morning hymn of the birds, he went, until he stood in the garden.
The man did not know why he went into the garden. Something seemed to lead him there. And he went very softly as one goes into places that are holy with the memories of dead years. Very still, he stood, watching the two birds that had builded their nest in the hedge near the cherry tree that, now, lifted its branches so high. The two birds were very, very, busy that morning; but, busy as they were, the father bird could not resist pouring forth the joy of his life in a flood of melody while his mate, swinging and fluttering and chirping on a nearby twig, seemed to enter as fully and heartily into his sentiments as though the song were her own. Breathlessly, with bare head and upturned, eager, face, the man watched and listened.
When the song was ended he drew a long breath—then started and, without moving from his place, looked carefully around. A low call had reached his ears—a familiar call that seemed to come out of the long ago. Surely his fancy was playing him strange tricks that morning.
He was turning toward the house when, again, that call came—low and clear. It was a call of his Yesterdays. And this time it was followed by a low, full throated laugh that was as full of music as the song of the bird to which the man had been listening.
With amazement and wonder upon his face, he turned quickly toward the hedge, as a voice that was like an echo of the laugh said: "Good morning! Pardon me for startling you—you looked so much like the little boy that I couldn't resist."
"But where are you?" asked the man, bewildered still.
Again came that low, full throated laugh. Then: "I believe you think I am a ghost. I'm here at the hedge—at the old place. Have you forgotten?"
Slowly, as she spoke, he went toward the hedge, guided by her voice. "So you found it then," he said slowly, gazing at the beautiful woman face that was framed in the green of the leaves and branches.
And at his words, the woman's heart beat quicker—so he had tried to find it—but aloud she only said: "Of course."
To which he returned smilingly: "But it is quite grown over now, isn't it? You could scarcely come through there now as you used to do—could you?"
The woman laughed again. "I could if I were a man"—she challenged.
A moment later he stood beside her; a little breathless, with his clothing disarranged, and a scratch or two on his face and hands.
"Do you know"—she said when they had shaken hands quite properly as grown up people must do—"do you know that I was dreadfully afraid to meet you? When they told me that you were here I wanted to go away again. I was afraid that you would be so different. Do you understand?"
"Yes," he said, gravely, "I understand." But he did not tell her, then, how fully he understood.
She went on: "But when I looked through the hedge and saw you with your hat off, watching the birds, I knew you were the same little boy—and—well—I could not resist giving the old call."
And, all at once, the man knew why he had risen early that morning and why he had gone into the garden.
After that, they spent many days together in the scenes of their childhood; living over again, so far as man and woman may, their Yesterdays. And so cane, at last, the day that was forever after, to them, the day of all their days.
It was in the afternoon and they were together down by the little brook, in the shade of the willows, where the stream, running lazily under the patches of light and shade, murmured drowsily—seeming more than half asleep. She was weaving an old time daisy chain from a great armful that he had helped her gather on their way to the cool retreat. A bit of fancy work that she had brought from the house lay neglected near his hat, which the man, boy like, had cast aside. He was industriously fishing for minnows, with a slender twig of willow for a rod, a line of thread from her sewing, and a pin, that she had found for him, fashioned into a hook. With a pointed stick he had dug among the roots of the old tree for bait—securing one, tiny, thin, worm and rejoicing gleefully at his success. For a long time neither had said a word; but the woman, her white fingers busy with the daisies in her lap, had several times looked up from her pretty task to smile at the man who was so intensely and seriously interested in his childish sport.
"Gee! I nearly got one that time!" He exclaimed with boyish triumph and disappointment in his voice.
The woman laughed merrily. "One would think," she said, "that your fame in life depended upon your catching one of those poor little fish. What do you suppose your dear, devoted, public would say if they could see you now?"
The man grunted his disapproval. "I came out here to get away from said public," he retorted. "Why do you drag 'em into our paradise?"
At his words, a warm color crept into the woman's face, and, bending low over the daisies in her lap, she did not answer.
Lifting the improvised fishing tackle of his childhood and looking at it critically the man said: "I suppose, now, that if this rod were a split bamboo, and this thread were braided silk, and this pin with its wiggly piece of worm were a "Silver Doctor" or a "Queen of the Waters" or a "Dusty Miller" or a "Brown Hackle"; and if this stream were an educated stream, with educated trout; and the house up there were a club house; and your dear old aunt, who is watching to see that I don't eat you, were a lot of whist playing old men; I suppose you would think it all right and a proper sport for a man. But for me—I can't see much difference—except that, just now—" he carefully lowered his hook into the water—"just now, I prefer this. In fact," he added meditatively, "I would rather do this than anything else in the world."
The color in the woman's face deepened.
After a little, he looked cautiously around to see her bending over the daisy chain. A moment later, under pretense of examining his bait, he stole another look. Then, in spite of his declaration, he abandoned his sport to stretch himself full length on the ground at her side.
She did not look at him but bent her head low over the wealth of white and gold blossoms in her lap; and the man noticed, with an odd feeling of pleasure, the beautiful curve of her white neck from the soft brown hair to the edge of her dress low on the shoulder. Then, with a sly smile, as the boy of their Yesterdays might have done, he stealthily raised the slender willow twig and with the tip cautiously attempted to lift the thin golden chain that she always wore loosely about her throat with the locket or pendant concealed by her dress.
She clutched the chain with a frightened gesture and a little exclamation. "You must not—you must not do that."
The man laughed aloud as the mischievous boy would have laughed.
But the woman, with flaming cheeks, caught the twig from his hand and threw it into the creek. "If you are not good, I shall call auntie," she threatened.
At which he looked ruefully toward the porch and became very serious. "Do you know that I am going away to-morrow?" he asked.
"And leave your paradise for your dear public?" she said mockingly. "The public will be glad."
"And you, will you care?"
"I'm going back to my work, too, next week," she replied.
"But will you care to-morrow?" he persisted.
The woman's fingers, busy with the daisy chain, trembled.
The man, when she still did not answer his question, arose and, picking up his hat and her sewing, held out his hand.
She looked up into his face questioningly.
"Come"—he said with a grave smile—"come."
Still without speaking, she gave him her hand and he helped her to her feet; and, at her touch, the man again felt that thrill of pleasure.
The aunt, from her place on the porch, saw them coming up the grassy slope, through the daisies, toward the house. She saw them coming and smiled—as the neighbor had smiled, so she smiled, apparently, at nothing at all.
But the man and the woman did not go to the porch where the old lady sat. With a wave of their hands, they passed from her sight around the house, and, a few minutes later, stood face to face in that quiet, secluded, corner of the garden, under the old cherry tree, close by the hedge.
"Now," said the man gently, "now tell me—will you be sorry to have me go away to-morrow?"
She made no pretense that she did not understand, Nor did she hesitate as one in doubt. Lifting her head, proudly, humbly, graciously, she looked at him and, in that look, surrendered to him, without reserve, all the treasures of her womanhood that, with such care, she had kept against that hour. And her face was shining with the light that only a woman's mate can kindle.
The man caught his breath. "My wife," he said. "My wife,"
A few moments later he whispered: "Tell me again—I know that you have always belonged to me and I to you—but tell me again—you will—you will—be my wife?"
Releasing herself gently, she lifted her hands and, unfastening that slender chain of gold from around her throat, with rosy cheeks and happy, tender, eyes, held out to him a tiny brass ring.
So the Yesterdays of the man and the Yesterdays of the woman became Their Yesterdays.
All that Dreams, Occupation, Knowledge, Ignorance, Religion, Tradition, Temptation, Life, Death, Failure, Success, Love and Memories had given him, this man who knew that he was a man, gave to her. All that the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life had given her, this woman who knew herself to be a woman, gave to him. And thus these two became one. As God made them one, they became one.
And this is the love that I say, is one of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life.
But my story is not yet quite finished for still, you must know, there are Memories.
And the years of the man and the woman passed until all their days were Yesterdays.
Even as they had, together, crossed the threshold of the old, old, door that has stood open since the beginning, they stood now, together, upon the threshold of another door that has never been closed.
And it was so, that, as once they went back into the Yesterdays that became Their Yesterdays, so they still went back to the days that were past. It was so, that the things of their manhood and womanhood had become to them, now, even as the things of their childhood. They knew, now, that, indeed, the work of men is but the play of children, after all.
Their years were nearly spent, it is true. His hair was silvery white and his form was bent and trembling. Her cheeks were like the drying petals of a rose and her once brown hair was as white as his. But the vigor and strength and life of their years lived still—gloriously increased in the lives that they had given to the race.
Gone were the years of their manhood and womanhood—even as the days of their boyhood and girlhood—they were gone. But, as the boy and the girl had lived in the man and the woman, the man and the woman lived, now, in their boys and girls and in the children of their children.
And this was the true glory and the fulfillment of their lives—that they could live thus in their children—that they could see themselves renewed in their children and in their children's children.
So it was that Memories became to this man and this woman, also, one of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life.
There are many things that might be told about this man and woman—about the work they did, the place they held in life, and the rewards and honors they received—but I have put down all that, at the end, seemed of any importance to them. Therefore have I put down all that matters to my story.
What matters to them and to my story is this: always, as they went back into the Yesterdays, they went back to the days of their childhood and to the days of their children. They went back only to Their Yesterdays. To those other days—those days when they were strangers—they did not go back.