Presently a robin dropped down close to her, flashing up his gray under wing as he alighted, and then flew up into the cedar, and from its sun-stirred depths said his say.
The robin never forgets. In the autumn afternoons, when the shadows are lengthening, he sings sadness into your heart. If you are joyful shut your ears against him, for you may keep peace, but never joy, while he is singing. He knows all about it, “love’s labor lost,” the gray face of young Love dead, the hard-wrought grave in the live rock where he is buried. And he tells of it again and again and again, as if Love’s sharp sword had indeed reddened his little breast, until the heart aches to hear him. But he tells also that consolation is folded not in forgetfulness, but in remembrance. That is why he sings in the silence of the autumn dawn, before Memory closes her eyes, and again near sunset, when Memory wakes.
Still Rachel sat motionless.
She had labored with dumb unreasoning passion to forget, as a man works his hand to the bone night after night, week after week, month after month, to file through the bars of his prison. She found at last that forgetfulness came not of prayer and fasting; that it was not in her to forget. The past had seemed to stretch its cruel, desecrating hand over all the future, cutting her off from the possibility of love and marriage, and from the children whom in dreams she held in her arms. As she had said to Hester, she thought she “had nothing left to give.”
But now the dead past had risen from its grave in her meeting with her former lover, and in a moment, in two short days and wakeful nights, the past relinquished its false claim upon her life. She saw that it was false, that she had been frightened where no fear was, that her deliverance lay in remembrance itself, not in the handcuffs with which until now she had bound her deliverer.
Mr. Tristram had come back into her life, and with his own hands had destroyed the overthrown image of himself, which lay like a barrier across her heart. He had replaced it by an accurate presentment of himself as he really was.
“Only that which is replaced is destroyed,” and it is often our real self in its native rags, and not, as we jealously imagine, another king in richer purple who has replaced us in the throne-room of the heart that loved us. To the end of life Rachel never forgot Mr. Tristram, any more than the amber forgets its fly. But she was vaguely conscious as he left her that he had set her free. She listened to his retreating step hardly daring to breathe. It was too good to be true. At last there was dead silence. No echo of a footfall. Quite gone. He had departed not only out of her presence, but out of her life.
She breathed again. A tremor, like that which shakes the first green leaf against the March sky, stole across her crushed heart, empty at last, empty at last. She raised her hand timidly in the sunshine. She was free. She looked round dazzled, bewildered. The little world of sunshine and the turquoises of sky strewn among the golden net-work of the trees smiled at her, as one who brings good tidings.