“If you like,” was her answer.
THE MISSING YEARS
“Why shouldn’t life be always like this?” said Waymark, lying on the upper beach and throwing pebbles into the breakers, which each moment drew a little further hack and needed a little extra exertion of the arm to reach them. There was small disturbance by people passing, here some two miles up the shore eastward from Hastings. A large shawl spread between two walking-sticks stuck upright gave, at this afternoon hour, all the shade needful for two persons lying side by side, and, even in the blaze of unclouded summer, there were pleasant airs flitting about the edge of the laughing sea. “Why shouldn’t life be always like this? It might be—sunshine or fireside—if men were wise. Leisure is the one thing that all desire, but they strive for it so blindly that they frustrate one another’s hope. And so at length they have come to lose the end in the means; are mad enough to set the means before them as in itself an end.”
“We must work to forget our troubles,” said his companion simply.
“Why, yes, and those very troubles are the fit reward of our folly. We have not been content to live in the simple happiness of our senses. We must be learned and wise, forsooth. We were not content to enjoy the beauty of the greater and the lesser light. We must understand whence they come and whither they go—after that, what they are made of and how much they weigh. We thought for such a long time that our toil would end in something; that we might become as gods, knowing good and evil. Now we are at the end of our tether, we see clearly enough that it has all been worse than vain; how good if we could unlearn it all, scatter the building of phantasmal knowledge in which we dwell so uncomfortably! It is too late. The gods never take back their gifts; we wearied them with our prayers into granting us this one, and now they sit in the clouds and mock us.”
Ida looked, and kept silent; perhaps scarcely understood.
“People kill themselves in despair,” Waymark went on, “that is, when they have drunk to the very dregs the cup of life’s bitterness. If they were wise, they would die at that moment—if it ever comes— when joy seems supreme and stable. Life can give nothing further, and it has no more hellish misery than disillusion following upon delight.”
“Did you ever seriously think of killing yourself?” Ida asked, gazing at him closely.
“Yes. I have reached at times the point when I would not have moved a muscle to escape death, and from that it is not far to suicide. But my joy had never come, and it is hard to go away without that one draught.—And you!”
“I went so far once as to buy poison. But neither had I tasted any happiness, and I could not help hoping.”
“And you still wait—still hope?”