It was more beautiful than ever, just touched already with evening mystery—it was better than ever to be alive. And the immortal wonder that has haunted man since first he became man, and haunts, I think, even the animals—the unanswerable question,—why joy and beauty must ever be walking hand in hand with ugliness and pain haunted us across those fields of life and loveliness. It was all right, no doubt, even reasonable, since without dark there is no light. It was part of that unending sum whose answer is not given; the merest little swing of the great pendulum! And yet——! To accept this violent contrast without a sigh of revolt, without a question! No sirs, it was not so jolly as all that! That she should be dying there at thirty, of a creeping malady which she might have checked, perhaps, if she had not had too many things to do for the children and husband, to do anything for herself—if she had not been forced to hold the creed: Be healthy, or die! This was no doubt perfectly explicable and in accordance with the Supreme Equation; yet we, enjoying life, and health, and ease of money, felt horror and revolt on, this evening of such beauty. Nor at the moment did we derive great comfort from the thought that life slips in and out of sheath, like sun-sparks on water, and that of all the cloud of summer midges dancing in the last gleam, not one would be alive to-morrow.
It was three evenings later that we heard uncertain footfalls on the flagstones of the verandah, then a sort of brushing sound against the wood of the long, open window. Drawing aside the curtain, one of us looked out. Herd was standing there in the bright moonlight, bareheaded, with roughened hair. He came in, and seeming not to know quite where he went, took stand by the hearth, and putting up his dark hand, gripped the mantelshelf. Then, as if recollecting himself, he said: “Gude evenin’, sir; beg pardon, M’m.” No more for a full minute; but his hand, taking some little china thing, turned it over and over without ceasing, and down his broken face tears ran. Then, very suddenly, he said: “She’s gone.” And his hand turned over and over that little china thing, and the tears went on rolling down. Then, stumbling, and swaying like a man in drink, he made his way out again into the moonlight. We watched him across the lawn and path, and through the gate, till his footfalls died out there in the field, and his figure was lost in the black shadow of the holly hedge.
And the night was so beautiful, so utterly, glamourously beautiful, with its star-flowers, and its silence, and its trees clothed in moonlight. All was tranquil as a dream of sleep. But it was long before our hearts, wandering with poor Herd, would let us remember that she had slipped away into so beautiful a dream.
The dead do not suffer from their rest in beauty. But the living—–! 1911.