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'How black and yellow they are!' 'How large they are! One cannot be lieve they are human bones!'
All of a sudden I heard an angry exclamation, the cry of a man who had endured for a long time and can no longer bear up.
'I cannot work any longer! I shall stifle! It smells horribly!'
to act Hamlet; finally my opportunity is here. No actor would wish a better stage. But instead of applause, it is the thunder of cannon. It is more magnificent! And instead of laurels, perhaps I will get a bullet through my forehead. But it is all the same. This scene is worth death! The story is, that a khedive, throwing away his koran and his ingiales, gave liberty to all his slaves and the wives of his harem. He stood before a window and saw how these unhappy ones joyfully breathed the beautiful air of liberty. Never khedive saw a more magnificent picture! Later, he committed suicide in the great delight of his heart, with these words on his lips, "These scenes will not happen every day."
'A skull! Is that a skull of a politi cian, a lawyer, or a buyer of land? Is that a skull of those men whom Hamlet hated and despised? No, no, it is the skull of a mother. Do you see what is written here: "To our good Mama!" Mother! Sometimes you had heard those words, my poor skull, my good mother, and you were the happiest among human beings. Mother! She is our source of life, of nourishment, our teacher, protector, defender, angel, love, life-our God! All this is one woman, one mother, to her children. Skull, what are you to me? Nothing but cold, dirty, dead bones. And yet, in these dark sockets were once eyes, 'I remember, but it was not as — like those of my mother, which wept 'It was worse,' said Cheda angrily. with happiness when I smiled, or with 'It is not worth your while to com- pain when I but cut my little finger. plain. Better work! Dig!' Oh! dear mother's eyes! Here were the Again they were silent. Again only lips, like the lips of my mother, which the stroke of the picks.
'What? It smells!' I heard Bora's voice. 'Ha, bato moj, this is no perfumer's shop, it is a cemetery; it is not the festival of Mi-Carême, it is war. Have you forgotten the days of CernaBara, when we had to remain for fifteen days in our trenches, and around us lay the corpses which had rotted in the summer sun, because we could not bury them? Do you remember that?'
'Auh!' cried a frightened voice. 'Bora, look here! A skull!'
A skull! Throw it up here. How terrible and cold it is! Can it be possible that this was once covered with flesh, and moved above the earth? Brothers, for a long time I have wished
kissed me and called me "my angel." Here were the cheeks, like the cheeks of my mother, which I kissed uncounted times!'
Something thrilled in my heart and soul when I heard Bora's words. I felt that his words burned me, scathed me, and kindled great pain within me; but
at the same time, I felt that a strange warmth was melting the ice around my heart which had formed there during these last days of horror. It seemed to me that I wanted to listen to his words, to drink them in, and yet, at the same time, to close my ears to them. All the feelings which I had hidden and kept deep in my heart, this good boy, in his honesty and youth, had drawn out without pity. Never, never should one speak of mother in the war! When I heard the words about mother, I felt as if I could not breathe, and that I could no longer endure to hear him speak, and I called out to him,
'Stop, Bora! Come here.'
Slowly he came over. He was pale as death.
I was frightened by his looks, and I put both hands on his shoulders, shook him and said,
'Bora, be a man!'
He looked at me, then he smiled, opened his eyes widely, his face flushed,
and in an eager and excited voice, he said to me,
'God protect them! Is it not so?'
'Yes, Bora, God protect them!' I repeated, prayerfully; and suddenly I felt that a great hope had entered my heart. Just then the big black soldier's voice broke in. 'Lieutenant!'
'What is the matter?'
'A coffin, sir, entirely new! Look! a fine red coffin! Here it is peeping out from the earth. If I dig deeper it will take more than a half of the trench. What shall I do now?'
"The trench is not deep enough,' I said to him; 'dig around it and leave it exposed.'
"That is a fine idea. For a long time you have wished to have a chair in the trench. Now you will have one!'
'Fool!' said Cheda, angrily.
'It's a fine idea, anyway!' said the big fellow, chuckling, and he began to dig.
(To be continued)
THE CONTRIBUTORS' CLUB
THE SLEEPY ROAD
It is hard for me to remember now that my knowledge of the Sleepy Road, gained so many years ago, came only through the chance bit of advice dropped by a wise, kind, weary old doctor as he shuffled, at midnight, down the corridor of the silent hospital. Whatever was the errand of life or death that had called him in such haste, he had time to stop and give me a friendly word, although I, a small and incorrigbly sleepless patient, was sitting bolt
upright among the pillows in defiance of all his orders, and was staring, wideeyed, into the hot, pain-haunted dark.
"You think you are never going to be able to sleep again, don't you?' he observed; 'well, shut your eyes and do just what I tell you. Think of some road that you know well, a good long road that winds and turns and shows you water and woods and hills. Keep your eyes tight shut and travel along it in memory as slowly as you can; recall every sight and sound and perfume as you pass by. I have such a road of
my own, the one I used to walk to school when I was eight years old; I have started out on it a hundred times, when I thought I could not sleep, but I never get very far. I come just about to the old, stone bridge over Damon's Creek, or perhaps to the swimminghole where the willows dip into the brown water, but I never reach the end.'
On many and many a night since then I have traveled my own Sleepy Road and thanked the dear old doctor at every step of the way. When obstinate wakefulness will yield to nothing else, I have only to close my reluctant eyes firmly and set off. I go first down the street that leads from the house where I was born an overgrown country-town street, known as The Avenue, lined with tall, lank houses of the Middle Victorian period, the broad lawns beginning to be submerged under the rising tide of aggressive bungalows.
I pass, at last, a corner where there stands, deserted and dropping to decay, an enormous dwelling whose millionaire builder, now long since dead, followed no school of architecture save the Pure Plutocratic and his own sweet will. The edge of his garden still shows a few red geraniums and purple coleus and is guarded by weather-stained iron deer: the flora and fauna of a forgotten Art. Beyond these monstrosities, the street turns abruptly, drops swiftly down-hill, and becomes a road, the Sleepy Road at last. As I hear the cool rustle of the trees on either hand and see their sharp shadows lying across the white, dusty way, the first feeling of drowsiness comes and begins to weigh down the eyelids that have, so far, been kept shut only by main strength of will.
There is another sound to be heard presently, the thin trickling of water that comes splashing out from below a great boulder, joins a tiny stream, and runs below a rude, makeshift bridge. Sometimes I have it winter when I pass
across that bridge, so that the little ravine is full of drifted snow, with the black arches of bent ferns crowned with white, and tall leafless trees standing above against a blue and cloudless sky. Or sometimes it is spring, with dry leaves blowing before warm April winds, with the smell of wild crabapple in the air, and with white bloodroots starring the steep brown banks. But whatever the season, I stop to lean upon the bark-covered rail, to sniff the sweet fresh woodsy air - and to yawn for the first time.
Beyond the bridge there is another turn, where I come out at the edge of the river, the silent mile-wide stream that waking people would call our greatest inland waterway, but that, to me, stands only for the River of Sleep. It is always late daylight when I set out on my pilgrimage. It is shadowy twilight when I stand upon the bridge, with, perhaps, a little thin new moon behind the tree-tops. But it is full, flooding moonlight when I reach the river shore. The wide, quiet expanse is a sheet of polished silver, broken into bars of shattered splendor where the water comes rippling in at my feet. The road stretches away along the bank; a far-flung white ribbon, looping over hills and around the little bays, it finally slants up the wooded bluff and disappears. I follow it, more and more slowly now, past the little marshy harbor where the cat-tails rustle together in the night wind, past the neat. square fields that checkerboard the rising slope, through a tiny sleeping town where the windows are blank and blind in the white light, and where only one drowsy dog raises his head as he lies upon a doorstep and barks at me in friendly greeting as I go by his gate. All the world is asleep and so shall I soon be.
Outside the town is a high bridge spanning a tributary river, a good
sized, hasty, tumbling stream that shrinks into insignificance beside the silent, tremendous flood in which it finally loses itself. There are trees grouped at the head of the bridge-straight white ghostly sycamores; then denser woods that hide river and fields as the way goes steeply up a breath-taking hill. It was bright moonlight when I passed the town; it was deep, black shadow in the wooded hollow; but, when I come out upon the broad crowning plateau where there are neither trees nor houses nor view of the river, the moon has gone, and above the level fields I see only a wide, wide sea of stars.
Of all the miles of the Sleepy Road this is the stretch that I love the best. It is along this that I pass so slowly, — oh! so slowly, -with sleep but one turn of the road away. Whatever season I choose to have it when I pass the little bridge, or the river, or the town, whether it is winter or gay spring or glowing autumn, it is always high midsummer when I come here. The gigantic, sprawling length of the Scorpion hangs, it seems, nearly half-way round the horizon, its glowing Antares regards me with a friendly, ruddy eye. Above is clear-faced Vega, the widespread wings of the Swan, the hovering Eagle, and the broad white river of the Milky Way, with Arcturus and the Dipper swinging low before me. But I have not time to greet them all; the plateau is not, alas! so wide as that.
The way dips once more and passes down a long curving hill. There is another turn at the foot, guarded by a great round oak tree whose shadow casts a pool of blackness across the path. Beyond the turn, I know, is the broad river again, with a fringe of silver poplars along the shore. Sleep has walked close beside me for this long time, and now slips a hand into mine. I can hear the cool patter of the moving
aspen leaves. I come nearer and nearer, but I do not pass the turn. I know that, beyond, the way stretches far and straight and white across more valleys and wooded hills; that, on the farthest height, the roofs and spires of a distant city stand black against the stars. But I never see them for, as the dear good doctor said, though I travel the Sleepy Road innumerable times, I can never come to its end.
" A WOMAN OF ALMOST THIRTY'
'ALTHOUGH a woman of almost thirty, there was still the spring of youth in her walk.'
I re-read the sentence. It stood out clearly in a firm, round, Freshman hand. I called to mind the vigorous young person who had thus unwittingly destroyed the calm of my themecorrecting evening. She was, on the whole, little different from her Freshman sisters, possibly more observing and conscientious-well trained, we call it. She had simply given classic form to a point of view which was probably shared by most of her two hundred and fifty-seven classmates.
The idea gave me shocked pause, for I was even then within hail of my thirtieth birthday - unrheumatically within hail (that is the point!) — and still cherishing the notion that my life lay before and not behind me. Modern novelists had reinforced me in this idea. Surely Helena Ritchie and the astonishing Alice Challis and many another found interest in their middle years. Of late, however, it had been increasingly brought home to me that the point of view of the older novelists, whose heroines had lived all the life that counted before they were twentyfive, is the point of view of the college undergraduate. I thankfully admit. that my thinking is less young than it was ten years ago; association with the
Freshman mind has assured me of this fact beyond possibility of doubt. But, alas! my feeling is still young; and apparently it should be of more elderly mien. There is a note almost of reproach in that sentence: 'Although a woman of almost thirty, there was still the spring of youth in her walk.'
Say it over a few times and see how you begin to feel. I found myself tentatively testing arm- and leg-movements. Both seemed in excellent form. Was it indeed unseemly in one of my years to walk with 'the spring of youth'? Was the longing within me on gay April mornings 'to laugh, to run, to leap, to sing for joy' an abnormal survival from the days of my childhood? Hazlitt, to be sure, quite frankly acknowledges giving way to such a desire, and on the lesser provocation of 'a winding road and a three hours' march to dinner.' Nor does he seem to have felt any shame in indulging himself. But then, Hazlitt was a man and under no compulsion to appear graceful or dignified. Do you remember how Dorothy Wordsworth's 'quick, glancing movements' offended De Quincey? They gave, he says, 'an ungraceful and even an unsexual character to her appearance.' It should also be remembered that Hazlitt did not live under the critical eye of the undergraduate.
It is very repressing, this living under that critical eye. It tends to make one staid and inexpressive. One tries to behave properly middle-aged; to curb one's inclination for 'quick, glancing movements' and for active and undignified postures; to let the young wait upon one and regard one's judgments as oracular.
Yet contact with young people is supposed to be rejuvenating! Indeed, this contact is the only good thing many see in that absorbing and in every other way desirable profession of teaching. Was ever so false an idea?
How could so obvious a fallacy get the popular ear? Think how little aware of passing years we should be, were it not for the young! Their very presence proclaims our greater years. They themselves seem to have conspired together to help us to a suitable awareness. Every possible aid is offered, and offered in the kindest spirit of courtesy. One is helped into wraps, relieved of carrying loads or opening doors, guided up and down steps, deposited in easy chairs, and generally treated as fragile. It is all delightful; but the force of suggestion as exerted by so many vigor ous young minds will sooner or later have its effect. We may resist for a time; ultimately, however, we shall take ourselves at the rating of the community in which we live. I have seen my friends capitulate one by one, accept the verdict of the majority, and settle down into the accepted properties of middle-age.
And perhaps that is what one should do. The fact remains, however, that the adjustments of middle-age are less nicely made than those of adolescence. The feeling more often fails to accompany the fact. When one was sixteen
there was no doubt about it - one felt quite the young lady and gladly so comported herself; now, when one is 'almost thirty' and still possessed of 'the spring of youth,' one is expected to conduct one's self not according to one's feelings but according to one's years. The task is difficult. I know 'a woman of almost thirty' who, as an outlet for liveliness unbefitting her age, turns a few cautious somersaults now and then, beyond closed doors and upon prudently arranged sofa-pillows. It looks indelicate even in print, does n't it? As connected with a particular person the habit could never be mentioned. Clandestine cigarette-smoking might give a piquant flavor, but clandestine somersaulting -!