Nona’s laughter ended in a little catch at her breath. He touched her arm. “Let’s walk, Nona.”
He thought she was looking thin and done up. Her face had rather a drawn look, its soft roundness gone. He thought she never had looked so beautiful to him. She spoke to him of what she had tried to say in her letters of his disappointments in offering himself for service. Never had her sweet voice sounded so exquisitely tender to him. They spoke of the war. Never, but in their letters, had he been able thus to give his feelings and receive them, touched with the same perceptions, kindled and enlarged, back into his sympathies again. With others the war was all discussion of chances and circumstances, of this that had happened and that that might happen, of this that should be done and that that ought not to have been done. Laboratory examination of means and remedies. The epidemic everything and the patient upstairs nothing. The wood not seen for the trees. With Nona he talked of how he felt of England:
Dear earth, I do salute thee with my hand.
He told her that.
She nodded. “I know. I know. Say it all through, Marko.”
He stumbled through it. At the end, a little abashed, he smiled at her and said, “Of course, no one else would think it applies. Richard was saying it in Wales where he’d just landed, and it’s about civil war, not foreign; but where it comes to me is the loving of the soil itself, as if it were a living thing that knew it was being loved and loved back in return. Our England, Nona. You remember Gaunt’s thing in the same play:
“This royal throne of
kings, this sceptre’d isle,
This other Eden, demi-paradise....
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea....
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England....”
She nodded again. He saw that her dear eyes were brimming. She said, “Yes—yes.—Our England. Rupert Brooke said it just perfectly, Marko:
“And think, this heart,
all evil shed, away....
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.”
She touched his hand. “Dear Marko—” She made approach to that which lay between them. “‘This heart, all evil shed away.’ Marko, in this frightful time we couldn’t have given back the thoughts by England given if we had.—And that was you, Marko.”
He shook his head, not trusting himself to look at her. He said, “You. Not I. Any one can know the right thing. But strength to do it—Strength flows out of you to me. It always has. I want it more and more. I shall want it. Things are difficult. Sometimes I’ve a frightful feeling that things are closing in on me. There’s Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind.’ It makes me—I don’t know—wrought up. And sometimes I’ve the feeling that I’m being carried along like that and towards that frightful cry at the end, ‘O Wind, if winter comes-’”