They spoke scarcely at all. It had been a habit of old, in their much adventuring together, to do so in long silences. Alexander had set the pace there, Ian learning to follow.... It was as if this were an adventure of, say, five years ago, and it was as if it were a dream adventure. Or it was as if some part of themselves, quietly and with a hidden will separating itself, had sailed away from the huge storm and cloud and red lightnings.... What they did say had wholly and only to do with immediate exigencies. Behind, in pure feeling, was the unity.
Down in this underground place the air began to come more freshly.
“Look at the flame,” said Ian. “It is bending.”
They had left behind rooms and passages lined with unbroken masonry. Here were newer chambers and excavations, softer walled.
“They have been opening from this side. That was dug not so long ago.”
Another minute and they came into a ragged, cavern-like space filled with fresh night air. Presently they were forth upon a low hillside, and at their feet Tiber mirrored the stars. Rome lay around. The carnival lights yet flared, the carnival noise beat, beat. This was a deserted strip, an islet between restless seas.
Ian and Alexander stood upon trodden earth and grass, about them the yet encumbering ruins of an ancient building, pillars and architraves and capitals, broken friezes and headless caryatids. Here was the river, here the ancient street. They breathed in the air, they looked at the sky, but then at Rome. Somewhere a trumpet was fiercely crying. Like an impatient hand, like a spurred foot, it tore the magician’s fabric of the past few hours.
Ian laughed. “We had best rub our eyes!” To the fine hearing there was a catch of the breath, a small dancing hope in his laughter. “Or, Glenfernie, shall we dream on?”
But the other opened his eyes upon things like the Kelpie’s Pool and the old room in the keep where a figure like himself read letters that lied. He saw in many places a figure like himself, injured and fooled, stuck full of poisoned arrows. The figure grew as he watched it, until it overloomed him, until he was passionately its partisan. He said no word, but he flung the smoking torch yet held in hand among the ruins, and, leaving Ian and his black and silver, plunged down the slope to the old, old street along which now poured a wave of carnival.
The laird of Glenfernie lay in the flowering grass, beneath a pine-tree, rising lonely from the Roman Campagna. The grass flowed for miles, a multitudinous green speculating upon other colors, here and there clearly donning a gold, an amethyst, a blue. The pine-tree looked afar to other pine-trees. Each seemed solitary. Yet all had the oneness of the great stage, and if it could comprehend the stage might swim with its little solitariness into a wider uniqueness.