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John Galsworthy OM was an English novelist and playwright. Notable works include The Forsyte Saga (1906–1921) and its sequels, A Modern Comedy and End of the Chapter. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932.
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The Inn of Tranquillity
Magpie Over the Hill
Riding in Mist
Wind in the Rocks
My Distant Relative
The Black Godmother
The Grand Jury — in Two Panels and a Frame
That Old-Time Place
Romance — Three Gleams
A Novelist’s Allegory
Some Platitudes Concerning Drama
Meditation On Finality
Wanted — Schooling
Reflections on Our Dislike of Things as they are
Vague Thoughts On Art
“Je vous dirai que l’exces est toujours un mal.”
— ANATOLE FRANCE
Under a burning blue sky, among the pine-trees and junipers, the cypresses and olives of that Odyssean coast, we came one afternoon on a pink house bearing the legend: “Osteria di Tranquillita,”; and, partly because of the name, and partly because we did not expect to find a house at all in those goat-haunted groves above the waves, we tarried for contemplation. To the familiar simplicity of that Italian building there were not lacking signs of a certain spiritual change, for out of the olive-grove which grew to its very doors a skittle-alley had been formed, and two baby cypress-trees were cut into the effigies of a cock and hen. The song of a gramophone, too, was breaking forth into the air, as it were the presiding voice of a high and cosmopolitan mind. And, lost in admiration, we became conscious of the odour of a full-flavoured cigar. Yes — in the skittle-alley a gentleman was standing who wore a bowler hat, a bright brown suit, pink tie, and very yellow boots. His head was round, his cheeks fat and well-coloured, his lips red and full under a black moustache, and he was regarding us through very thick and half-closed eyelids.
Perceiving him to be the proprietor of the high and cosmopolitan mind, we accosted him.
“Good-day!” he replied: “I spik English. Been in Amurrica yes.”
“You have a lovely place here.”
Sweeping a glance over the skittle-alley, he sent forth a long puff of smoke; then, turning to my companion (of the politer sex) with the air of one who has made himself perfect master of a foreign tongue, he smiled, and spoke.
“Precisely; the name of your inn, perhaps, suggests ——”
“I change all that — soon I call it Anglo-American hotel.”
“Ah! yes; you are very up-to-date already.”
He closed one eye and smiled.
Having passed a few more compliments, we saluted and walked on; and, coming presently to the edge of the cliff, lay down on the thyme and the crumbled leaf-dust. All the small singing birds had long been shot and eaten; there came to us no sound but that of the waves swimming in on a gentle south wind. The wanton creatures seemed stretching out white arms to the land, flying desperately from a sea of such stupendous serenity; and over their bare shoulders their hair floated back, pale in the sunshine. If the air was void of sound, it was full of scent — that delicious and enlivening perfume of mingled gum, and herbs, and sweet wood being burned somewhere a long way off; and a silky, golden warmth slanted on to us through the olives and umbrella pines. Large wine-red violets were growing near. On such a cliff might Theocritus have lain, spinning his songs; on that divine sea Odysseus should have passed. And we felt that presently the goat-god must put his head forth from behind a rock.
It seemed a little queer that our friend in the bowler hat should move and breathe within one short flight of a cuckoo from this home of Pan. One could not but at first feelingly remember the old Boer saying: “O God, what things man sees when he goes out without a gun!” But soon the infinite incongruity of this juxtaposition began to produce within one a curious eagerness, a sort of half-philosophical delight. It began to seem too good, almost too romantic, to be true. To think of the gramophone wedded to the thin sweet singing of the olive leaves in the evening wind; to remember the scent of his rank cigar marrying with this wild incense; to read that enchanted name, “Inn of Tranquillity,” and hear the bland and affable remark of the gentleman who owned it — such were, indeed, phenomena to stimulate souls to speculation. And all unconsciously one began to justify them by thoughts of the other incongruities of existence — the strange, the passionate incongruities of youth and age, wealth and poverty, life and death; the wonderful odd bedfellows of this world; all those lurid contrasts which haunt a man’s spirit till sometimes he is ready to cry out: “Rather than live where such things can be, let me die!”
Like a wild bird tracking through the air, one’s meditation wandered on, following that trail of thought, till the chance encounter became spiritually luminous. That Italian gentleman of the world, with his bowler hat, his skittle-alley, his gramophone, who had planted himself down in this temple of wild harmony, was he not Progress itself — the blind figure with the stomach full of new meats and the brain of raw notions? Was he not the very embodiment of the wonderful child, Civilisation, so possessed by a new toy each day that she has no time to master its use — naive creature lost amid her own discoveries! Was he not the very symbol of that which was making economists thin, thinkers pale, artists haggard, statesmen bald — the symbol of Indigestion Incarnate! Did he not, delicious, gross, unconscious man, personify beneath his Americo-Italian polish all those rank and primitive instincts, whose satisfaction necessitated the million miseries of his fellows; all those thick rapacities which stir the hatred of the humane and thin-skinned! And yet, one’s meditation could not stop there — it was not convenient to the heart!
A little above us, among the olive-trees, two blue-clothed peasants, man and woman, were gathering the fruit — from some such couple, no doubt, our friend in the bowler hat had sprung; more “virile” and adventurous than his brothers, he had not stayed in the home groves, but had gone forth to drink the waters of hustle and commerce, and come back — what he was. And he, in turn, would beget children, and having made his pile out of his ‘Anglo-American hotel’ would place those children beyond the coarser influences of life, till they became, perhaps, even as our selves, the salt of the earth, and despised him. And I thought: “I do not despise those peasants — far from it. I do not despise myself — no more than reason; why, then, despise my friend in the bowler hat, who is, after all, but the necessary link between them and me?” I did not despise the olive-trees, the warm sun, the pine scent, all those material things which had made him so thick and strong; I did not despise the golden, tenuous imaginings which the trees and rocks and sea were starting in my own spirit. Why, then, despise the skittle-alley, the gramophone, those expressions of the spirit of my friend in the billy-cock hat? To despise them was ridiculous!
And suddenly I was visited by a sensation only to be described as a sort of smiling certainty, emanating from, and, as it were, still tingling within every nerve of myself, but yet vibrating harmoniously with the world around. It was as if I had suddenly seen what was the truth of things; not perhaps to anybody else, but at all events to me. And I felt at once tranquil and elated, as when something is met with which rouses and fascinates in a man all his faculties.
“For,” I thought, “if it is ridiculous in me to despise my friend — that perfect marvel of disharmony — it is ridiculous in me to despise anything. If he is a little bit of continuity, as perfectly logical an expression of a necessary phase or mood of existence as I myself am, then, surely, there is nothing in all the world that is not a little bit of continuity, the expression of a little necessary mood. Yes,” I thought, “he and I, and those olive-trees, and this spider on my hand, and everything in the Universe which has an individual shape, are all fit expressions of the separate moods of a great underlying Mood or Principle, which must be perfectly adjusted, volving and revolving on itself. For if It did not volve and revolve on Itself, It would peter out at one end or the other, and the image of this petering out no man with his mental apparatus can conceive. Therefore, one must conclude It to be perfectly adjusted and everlasting. But if It is perfectly adjusted and everlasting, we are all little bits of continuity, and if we are all little bits of continuity it is ridiculous for one of us to despise another. So,” I thought, “I have now proved it from my friend in the billy-cock hat up to the Universe, and from the Universe down, back again to my friend.”
And I lay on my back and looked at the sky. It seemed friendly to my thought with its smile, and few white clouds, saffron-tinged like the plumes of a white duck in sunlight. “And yet,” I wondered, “though my friend and I may be equally necessary, I am certainly irritated by him, and shall as certainly continue to be irritated, not only by him, but by a thousand other men and so, with a light heart, you may go on being irritated with your friend in the bowler hat, you may go on loving those peasants and this sky and sea. But, since you have this theory of life, you may not despise any one or any thing, not even a skittle-alley, for they are all threaded to you, and to despise them would be to blaspheme against continuity, and to blaspheme against continuity would be to deny Eternity. Love you cannot help, and hate you cannot help; but contempt is — for you — the sovereign idiocy, the irreligious fancy!”
There was a bee weighing down a blossom of thyme close by, and underneath the stalk a very ugly little centipede. The wild bee, with his little dark body and his busy bear’s legs, was lovely to me, and the creepy centipede gave me shudderings; but it was a pleasant thing to feel so sure that he, no less than the bee, was a little mood expressing himself out in harmony with Designs tiny thread on the miraculous quilt. And I looked at him with a sudden zest and curiosity; it seemed to me that in the mystery of his queer little creepings I was enjoying the Supreme Mystery; and I thought: “If I knew all about that wriggling beast, then, indeed, I might despise him; but, truly, if I knew all about him I should know all about everything — Mystery would be gone, and I could not bear to live!”
So I stirred him with my finger and he went away.
“But how”— I thought “about such as do not feel it ridiculous to despise; how about those whose temperaments and religions show them all things so plainly that they know they are right and others wrong? They must be in a bad way!” And for some seconds I felt sorry for them, and was discouraged. But then I thought: “Not at all — obviously not! For if they do not find it ridiculous to feel contempt, they are perfectly right to feel contempt, it being natural to them; and you have no business to be sorry for them, for that is, after all, only your euphemism for contempt. They are all right, being the expressions of contemptuous moods, having religions and so forth, suitable to these moods; and the religion of your mood would be Greek to them, and probably a matter for contempt. But this only makes it the more interesting. For though to you, for instance, it may seem impossible to worship Mystery with one lobe of the brain, and with the other to explain it, the thought that this may not seem impossible to others should not discourage you; it is but another little piece of that Mystery which makes life so wonderful and sweet.”
The sun, fallen now almost to the level of the cliff, was slanting upward on to the burnt-red pine boughs, which had taken to themselves a quaint resemblance to the great brown limbs of the wild men Titian drew in his pagan pictures, and down below us the sea-nymphs, still swimming to shore, seemed eager to embrace them in the enchanted groves. All was fused in that golden glow of the sun going down-sea and land gathered into one transcendent mood of light and colour, as if Mystery desired to bless us by showing how perfect was that worshipful adjustment, whose secret we could never know. And I said to myself: “None of those thoughts of yours are new, and in a vague way even you have thought them before; but all the same, they have given you some little feeling of tranquillity.”
And at that word of fear I rose and invited my companion to return toward the town. But as we stealthy crept by the “Osteria di Tranquillita,” our friend in the bowler hat came out with a gun over his shoulder and waved his hand toward the Inn.
“You come again in two week — I change all that! And now,” he added, “I go to shoot little bird or two,” and he disappeared into the golden haze under the olive-trees.
A minute later we heard his gun go off, and returned homeward with a prayer.
I knew him from the days of my extreme youth, because he made my father’s boots; inhabiting with his elder brother two little shops let into one, in a small by-street-now no more, but then most fashionably placed in the West End.
That tenement had a certain quiet distinction; there was no sign upon its face that he made for any of the Royal Family — merely his own German name of Gessler Brothers; and in the window a few pairs of boots. I remember that it always troubled me to account for those unvarying boots in the window, for he made only what was ordered, reaching nothing down, and it seemed so inconceivable that what he made could ever have failed to fit. Had he bought them to put there? That, too, seemed inconceivable. He would never have tolerated in his house leather on which he had not worked himself. Besides, they were too beautiful — the pair of pumps, so inexpressibly slim, the patent leathers with cloth tops, making water come into one’s mouth, the tall brown riding boots with marvellous sooty glow, as if, though new, they had been worn a hundred years. Those pairs could only have been made by one who saw before him the Soul of Boot — so truly were they prototypes incarnating the very spirit of all foot-gear. These thoughts, of course, came to me later, though even when I was promoted to him, at the age of perhaps fourteen, some inkling haunted me of the dignity of himself and brother. For to make boots — such boots as he made — seemed to me then, and still seems to me, mysterious and wonderful.
I remember well my shy remark, one day, while stretching out to him my youthful foot:
“Isn’t it awfully hard to do, Mr. Gessler?”
And his answer, given with a sudden smile from out of the sardonic redness of his beard: “Id is an Ardt!”
Himself, he was a little as if made from leather, with his yellow crinkly face, and crinkly reddish hair and beard; and neat folds slanting down his cheeks to the corners of his mouth, and his guttural and one-toned voice; for leather is a sardonic substance, and stiff and slow of purpose. And that was the character of his face, save that his eyes, which were grey-blue, had in them the simple gravity of one secretly possessed by the Ideal. His elder brother was so very like him — though watery, paler in every way, with a great industry — that sometimes in early days I was not quite sure of him until the interview was over. Then I knew that it was he, if the words, “I will ask my brudder,” had not been spoken; and that, if they had, it was his elder brother.
When one grew old and wild and ran up bills, one somehow never ran them up with Gessler Brothers. It would not have seemed becoming to go in there and stretch out one’s foot to that blue iron-spectacled glance, owing him for more than — say — two pairs, just the comfortable reassurance that one was still his client.
For it was not possible to go to him very often — his boots lasted terribly, having something beyond the temporary — some, as it were, essence of boot stitched into them.
One went in, not as into most shops, in the mood of: “Please serve me, and let me go!” but restfully, as one enters a church; and, sitting on the single wooden chair, waited — for there was never anybody there. Soon, over the top edge of that sort of well — rather dark, and smelling soothingly of leather — which formed the shop, there would be seen his face, or that of his elder brother, peering down. A guttural sound, and the tip-tap of bast slippers beating the narrow wooden stairs, and he would stand before one without coat, a little bent, in leather apron, with sleeves turned back, blinking — as if awakened from some dream of boots, or like an owl surprised in daylight and annoyed at this interruption.
And I would say: “How do you do, Mr. Gessler? Could you make me a pair of Russia leather boots?”
Without a word he would leave me, retiring whence he came, or into the other portion of the shop, and I would, continue to rest in the wooden chair, inhaling the incense of his trade. Soon he would come back, holding in his thin, veined hand a piece of gold-brown leather. With eyes fixed on it, he would remark: “What a beaudiful biece!” When I, too, had admired it, he would speak again. “When do you wand dem?” And I would answer: “Oh! As soon as you conveniently can.” And he would say: “To-morrow fordnighd?” Or if he were his elder brother: “I will ask my brudder!”
Then I would murmur: “Thank you! Good-morning, Mr. Gessler.” “Goot-morning!” he would reply, still looking at the leather in his hand. And as I moved to the door, I would hear the tip-tap of his bast slippers restoring him, up the stairs, to his dream of boots. But if it were some new kind of foot-gear that he had not yet made me, then indeed he would observe ceremony — divesting me of my boot and holding it long in his hand, looking at it with eyes at once critical and loving, as if recalling the glow with which he had created it, and rebuking the way in which one had disorganized this masterpiece. Then, placing my foot on a piece of paper, he would two or three times tickle the outer edges with a pencil and pass his nervous fingers over my toes, feeling himself into the heart of my requirements.
I cannot forget that day on which I had occasion to say to him; “Mr. Gessler, that last pair of town walking-boots creaked, you know.”
He looked at me for a time without replying, as if expecting me to withdraw or qualify the statement, then said:
“Id shouldn’d ‘ave greaked.”
“It did, I’m afraid.”
“You goddem wed before dey found demselves?”
“I don’t think so.”
At that he lowered his eyes, as if hunting for memory of those boots, and I felt sorry I had mentioned this grave thing.
“Zend dem back!” he said; “I will look at dem.”
A feeling of compassion for my creaking boots surged up in me, so well could I imagine the sorrowful long curiosity of regard which he would bend on them.
“Zome boods,” he said slowly, “are bad from birdt. If I can do noding wid dem, I dake dem off your bill.”
Once (once only) I went absent-mindedly into his shop in a pair of boots bought in an emergency at some large firm’s. He took my order without showing me any leather, and I could feel his eyes penetrating the inferior integument of my foot. At last he said:
“Dose are nod my boods.”
The tone was not one of anger, nor of sorrow, not even of contempt, but there was in it something quiet that froze the blood. He put his hand down and pressed a finger on the place where the left boot, endeavouring to be fashionable, was not quite comfortable.
“Id ‘urds you dere,”, he said. “Dose big virms ‘ave no self-respect. Drash!” And then, as if something had given way within him, he spoke long and bitterly. It was the only time I ever heard him discuss the conditions and hardships of his trade.
“Dey get id all,” he said, “dey get id by adverdisement, nod by work. Dey dake it away from us, who lofe our boods. Id gomes to this — bresently I haf no work. Every year id gets less you will see.” And looking at his lined face I saw things I had never noticed before, bitter things and bitter struggle — and what a lot of grey hairs there seemed suddenly in his red beard!
As best I could, I explained the circumstances of the purchase of those ill-omened boots. But his face and voice made so deep impression that during the next few minutes I ordered many pairs. Nemesis fell! They lasted more terribly than ever. And I was not able conscientiously to go to him for nearly two years.
When at last I went I was surprised to find that outside one of the two little windows of his shop another name was painted, also that of a bootmaker-making, of course, for the Royal Family. The old familiar boots, no longer in dignified isolation, were huddled in the single window. Inside, the now contracted well of the one little shop was more scented and darker than ever. And it was longer than usual, too, before a face peered down, and the tip-tap of the bast slippers began. At last he stood before me, and, gazing through those rusty iron spectacles, said:
“Mr. ——-, isn’d it?”
“Ah! Mr. Gessler,” I stammered, “but your boots are really too good, you know! See, these are quite decent still!” And I stretched out to him my foot. He looked at it.
“Yes,” he said, “beople do nod wand good hoods, id seems.”
To get away from his reproachful eyes and voice I hastily remarked: “What have you done to your shop?”
He answered quietly: “Id was too exbensif. Do you wand some boods?”
I ordered three pairs, though I had only wanted two, and quickly left. I had, I do not know quite what feeling of being part, in his mind, of a conspiracy against him; or not perhaps so much against him as against his idea of boot. One does not, I suppose, care to feel like that; for it was again many months before my next visit to his shop, paid, I remember, with the feeling: “Oh! well, I can’t leave the old boy — so here goes! Perhaps it’ll be his elder brother!”
For his elder brother, I knew, had not character enough to reproach me, even dumbly.
And, to my relief, in the shop there did appear to be his elder brother, handling a piece of leather.
“Well, Mr. Gessler,” I said, “how are you?”
He came close, and peered at me.
“I am breddy well,” he said slowly “but my elder brudder is dead.”
And I saw that it was indeed himself — but how aged and wan! And never before had I heard him mention his brother. Much shocked; I murmured: “Oh! I am sorry!”
“Yes,” he answered, “he was a good man, he made a good bood; but he is dead.” And he touched the top of his head, where the hair had suddenly gone as thin as it had been on that of his poor brother, to indicate, I suppose, the cause of death. “He could nod ged over losing de oder shop. Do you wand any hoods?” And he held up the leather in his hand: “Id’s a beaudiful biece.”
I ordered several pairs. It was very long before they came — but they were better than ever. One simply could not wear them out. And soon after that I went abroad.
It was over a year before I was again in London. And the first shop I went to was my old friend’s. I had left a man of sixty, I came back to one of seventy-five, pinched and worn and tremulous, who genuinely, this time, did not at first know me.
“Oh! Mr. Gessler,” I said, sick at heart; “how splendid your boots are! See, I’ve been wearing this pair nearly all the time I’ve been abroad; and they’re not half worn out, are they?”
He looked long at my boots — a pair of Russia leather, and his face seemed to regain steadiness. Putting his hand on my instep, he said:
“Do dey vid you here? I ‘ad drouble wid dat bair, I remember.”
I assured him that they had fitted beautifully.
“Do you wand any boods?” he said. “I can make dem quickly; id is a slack dime.”
I answered: “Please, please! I want boots all round — every kind!”
“I will make a vresh model. Your food must be bigger.” And with utter slowness, he traced round my foot, and felt my toes, only once looking up to say:
“Did I dell you my brudder was dead?”
To watch him was painful, so feeble had he grown; I was glad to get away.
I had given those boots up, when one evening they came. Opening the parcel, I set the four pairs out in a row. Then one by one I tried them on. There was no doubt about it. In shape and fit, in finish and quality of leather, they were the best he had ever made me. And in the mouth of one of the Town walking-boots I found his bill.
The amount was the same as usual, but it gave me quite a shock. He had never before sent it in till quarter day. I flew down-stairs, and wrote a cheque, and posted it at once with my own hand.
A week later, passing the little street, I thought I would go in and tell him how splendidly the new boots fitted. But when I came to where his shop had been, his name was gone. Still there, in the window, were the slim pumps, the patent leathers with cloth tops, the sooty riding boots.
I went in, very much disturbed. In the two little shops — again made into one — was a young man with an English face.
“Mr. Gessler in?” I said.
He gave me a strange, ingratiating look.
“No, sir,” he said, “no. But we can attend to anything with pleasure. We’ve taken the shop over. You’ve seen our name, no doubt, next door. We make for some very good people.”
“Yes, Yes,” I said; “but Mr. Gessler?”
“Oh!” he answered; “dead.”
“Dead! But I only received these boots from him last Wednesday week.”
“Ah!” he said; “a shockin’ go. Poor old man starved ‘imself.”
“Slow starvation, the doctor called it! You see he went to work in such a way! Would keep the shop on; wouldn’t have a soul touch his boots except himself. When he got an order, it took him such a time. People won’t wait. He lost everybody. And there he’d sit, goin’ on and on — I will say that for him not a man in London made a better boot! But look at the competition! He never advertised! Would ‘ave the best leather, too, and do it all ‘imself. Well, there it is. What could you expect with his ideas?”
“But starvation ——!”
“That may be a bit flowery, as the sayin’ is — but I know myself he was sittin’ over his boots day and night, to the very last. You see I used to watch him. Never gave ‘imself time to eat; never had a penny in the house. All went in rent and leather. How he lived so long I don’t know. He regular let his fire go out. He was a character. But he made good boots.”
“Yes,” I said, “he made good boots.”
And I turned and went out quickly, for I did not want that youth to know that I could hardly see.
I lay often that summer on a slope of sand and coarse grass, close to the Cornish sea, trying to catch thoughts; and I was trying very hard when I saw them coming hand in hand.
She was dressed in blue linen, and a little cloud of honey-coloured hair; her small face had serious eyes the colour of the chicory flowers she was holding up to sniff at — a clean sober little maid, with a very touching upward look of trust. Her companion was a strong, active boy of perhaps fourteen, and he, too, was serious — his deep-set, blacklashed eyes looked down at her with a queer protective wonder; the while he explained in a soft voice broken up between two ages, that exact process which bees adopt to draw honey out of flowers. Once or twice this hoarse but charming voice became quite fervent, when she had evidently failed to follow; it was as if he would have been impatient, only he knew he must not, because she was a lady and younger than himself, and he loved her.
They sat down just below my nook, and began to count the petals of a chicory flower, and slowly she nestled in to him, and he put his arm round her. Never did I see such sedate, sweet lovering, so trusting on her part, so guardianlike on his. They were like, in miniature —-though more dewy — those sober couples who have long lived together, yet whom one still catches looking at each other with confidential tenderness, and in whom, one feels, passion is atrophied from never having been in use.
Long I sat watching them in their cool communion, half-embraced, talking a little, smiling a little, never once kissing. They did not seem shy of that; it was rather as if they were too much each other’s to think of such a thing. And then her head slid lower and lower down his shoulder, and sleep buttoned the lids over those chicory-blue eyes. How careful he was, then, not to wake her, though I could see his arm was getting stiff! He still sat, good as gold, holding her, till it began quite to hurt me to see his shoulder thus in chancery. But presently I saw him draw his arm away ever so carefully, lay her head down on the grass, and lean forward to stare at something. Straight in front of them was a magpie, balancing itself on a stripped twig of thorn-tree. The agitating bird, painted of night and day, was making a queer noise and flirting one wing, as if trying to attract attention. Rising from the twig, it circled, vivid and stealthy, twice round the tree, and flew to another a dozen paces off. The boy rose; he looked at his little mate, looked at the bird, and began quietly to move toward it; but uttering again its queer call, the bird glided on to a third thorn-tree. The boy hesitated then — but once more the bird flew on, and suddenly dipped over the hill. I saw the boy break into a run; and getting up quickly, I ran too.
When I reached the crest there was the black and white bird flying low into a dell, and there the boy, with hair streaming back, was rushing helter-skelter down the hill. He reached the bottom and vanished into the dell. I, too, ran down the hill. For all that I was prying and must not be seen by bird or boy, I crept warily in among the trees to the edge of a pool that could know but little sunlight, so thickly arched was it by willows, birch-trees, and wild hazel. There, in a swing of boughs above the water, was perched no pied bird, but a young, dark-haired girl with, dangling, bare, brown legs. And on the brink of the black water goldened, with fallen leaves, the boy was crouching, gazing up at her with all his soul. She swung just out of reach and looked down at him across the pool. How old was she, with her brown limbs, and her gleaming, slanting eyes? Or was she only the spirit of the dell, this elf-thing swinging there, entwined with boughs and the dark water, and covered with a shift of wet birch leaves. So strange a face she had, wild, almost wicked, yet so tender; a face that I could not take my eyes from. Her bare toes just touched the pool, and flicked up drops of water that fell on the boy’s face.
From him all the sober steadfastness was gone; already he looked as wild as she, and his arms were stretched out trying to reach her feet. I wanted to cry to him: “Go back, boy, go back!” but could not; her elf eyes held me dumb-they looked so lost in their tender wildness.
And then my heart stood still, for he had slipped and was struggling in deep water beneath her feet. What a gaze was that he was turning up to her — not frightened, but so longing, so desperate; and hers how triumphant, and how happy!
And then he clutched her foot, and clung, and climbed; and bending down, she drew him up to her, all wet, and clasped him in the swing of boughs.
I took a long breath then. An orange gleam of sunlight had flamed in among the shadows and fell round those two where they swung over the dark water, with lips close together and spirits lost in one another’s, and in their eyes such drowning ecstasy! And then they kissed! All round me pool, and leaves, and air seemed suddenly to swirl and melt — I could see nothing plain! . . . What time passed — I do not know — before their faces slowly again became visible! His face the sober boy’s — was turned away from her, and he was listening; for above the whispering of leaves a sound of weeping came from over the hill. It was to that he listened.
And even as I looked he slid down from out of her arms; back into the pool, and began struggling to gain the edge. What grief and longing in her wild face then! But she did not wail. She did not try to pull him back; that elfish heart of dignity could reach out to what was coming, it could not drag at what was gone. Unmoving as the boughs and water, she watched him abandon her.
Slowly the struggling boy gained land, and lay there, breathless. And still that sound of lonely weeping came from over the hill.
Listening, but looking at those wild, mourning eyes that never moved from him, he lay. Once he turned back toward the water, but fire had died within him; his hands dropped, nerveless — his young face was all bewilderment.
And the quiet darkness of the pool waited, and the trees, and those lost eyes of hers, and my heart. And ever from over the hill came the little fair maiden’s lonely weeping.
Then, slowly dragging his feet, stumbling, half-blinded, turning and turning to look back, the boy groped his way out through the trees toward that sound; and, as he went, that dark spirit-elf, abandoned, clasping her own lithe body with her arms, never moved her gaze from him.
I, too, crept away, and when I was safe outside in the pale evening sunlight, peered back into the dell. There under the dark trees she was no longer, but round and round that cage of passion, fluttering and wailing through the leaves, over the black water, was the magpie, flighting on its twilight wings.
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