Fuercht’ dich nicht,
du liebes Kindchen,
Vor der boesen Geister Macht;
Tag und Nacht, du liebes Kindchen,
Halten Engel bei dir Wacht.—HEINE.
Once, on a warm moonlight night in September, Storm and I took a walk in the Park. The night always tuned him into a gentle mood, and I even suspect that he had some sentiment about it. The currents of life, he said, then ran more serenely, with a slower and healthier pulse-beat; the unfathomable mysteries of life crowded in upon us; our shallow individualities were quenched, and our larger human traits rose nearer to the surface. The best test of sympathy was a night walk; two persons who then jarred upon each other might safely conclude that they were constitutionally unsympathetic. He had known silly girls who in moonlight were sublime; but it was dangerous to build one’s hopes of happiness upon this moonlight sublimity. Just as all complexions, except positive black, were fair when touched by the radiance of the night, so all shades of character, except downright wickedness, borrowed a finer human tinge under this illusory illumination. Thus ran his talk, I throwing in the necessary expletives, and as I am neither black nor absolutely wicked, I have reason to believe that I appeared to good advantage.
“It is very curious about women,” he broke forth after a long meditative pause. “In spite of all my pondering on the subject, I never quite could understand the secret of their fascination. Their goodness, if they are good, is usually of the quality of oatmeal, and when they are bad—”
“‘They are horrid,’” I quoted promptly.
“Amen,” he added with a contented chuckle. “I never could see the appropriateness of the Bible precept about coveting your neighbor’s wife,” he resumed after another brief silence. “I, for my part, never found my neighbor’s wife worth coveting. But I will admit that I have, in a few instances, felt inclined to covet my neighbor’s child. No amount of pessimism can quite fortify a man against the desire to have children. A child is not always a ‘thing of beauty,’ nor is it apt to be a ‘joy for ever’; but I never yet met the man who would not be willing to take his chances. It is a confounded thing that the paternal instinct is so deeply implanted, even in such a piece of dried-up parchment as myself. It is like discovering a warm, live vein of throbbing blood under the shrivelled skin of an Egyptian mummy.”
We sauntered on for more than an hour, now plunging into dense masses of shadow, now again emerging into cool pathways of light. The conversation turned on various topics, all of which Storm touched with a kindlier humor than was his wont. The world was a failure, but for all that, it was the part of a wise man to make the best of it as it was. The clock in some neighboring tower struck ten; we took a street-car and rode home. As we were about to alight (I first, and Storm following closely after me), I noticed a woman with a wild, frightened face hurrying away from the street-lamp right in front of us. My friend, owing either to his near-sightedness, or his preoccupation, had evidently not observed her. We climbed the long dimly lighted stairs to his room, and both stumbled at the door against a large basket.