“O Man!—who hath dominion over all things save thine own heart, and who, in thy blind egotism, setteth thyself much above me, who am but a runlet of water. O Man! I tell thee, when thou art dusty bones, I shall still be here, singing to myself in the sun or talking to some other poor human fool, in the dark. Go to!” chuckled the brook, “the Wheel of Life turneth ever faster and faster; the woes of to-day shall be the woes of last year, or ever thou canst count them all—out upon thee—go to!”
OF STORM, AND TEMPEST, AND HOW I MET ONE PRAYING IN THE DAWN
On I went, chin on breast, heedless of all direction—now beneath the shade of trees, now crossing grassy glades or rolling meadow, or threading my way through long alleys of hop-vines; on and on, skirting hedges, by haycocks looming ghostly in the dark, by rustling cornfields, through wood and coppice, where branches touched me, as I passed, like ghostly fingers in the dark; on I went, lost to all things but my own thoughts. And my thoughts were not of Life nor Death nor the world nor the spaces beyond the world—but of my Virgil book with the broken cover, and of him who had looked at it—over her shoulder. And, raising my hands, I clasped them about my temples, and, leaning against a tree, stood there a great while. Yet, when the trembling fit had left me, I went on again, and with every footstep there rose a voice within me, crying: “Why? Why? Why?”
Why should I, Peter Vibart, hale and well in body, healthy in mind—why should I fall thus into ague-spasms because of a woman —of whom I knew nothing, who had come I knew not whence, accompanied by one whose presence, under such conditions, meant infamy to any woman; why should I burn thus in a fever if she chose to meet another while I was abroad? Was she not free to follow her own devices; had I any claim upon her; by what right did I seek to compass her goings and comings, or interest myself in her doings? Why? Why? Why?
As I went, the woods gradually fell away, and I came out upon an open place. The ground rose sharply before me, but I climbed on and up and so, in time, stood upon a hill.
Now, standing upon this elevation, with the woods looming dimly below me, as if they were a dark tide hemming me in on all sides, I became conscious of a sudden great quietude in the air—a stillness that was like the hush of expectancy; not a sound came to me, not a whisper from the myriad leaves below.
But, as I stood there listening, very faint and far away, I heard a murmur that rose and died and rose again, that swelled and swelled into the roll of distant thunder. Down in the woods was a faint rustling, as if some giant were stirring among the leaves, and out of their depths breathed a puff of wind that fanned my cheek, and so was gone. But, in a while, it was back again, stronger, more insistent than before, till, sudden as it came, it died away again, and all was hushed and still, save only for the tremor down there among the leaves; but lightning flickered upon the horizon, the thunder rolled nearer and nearer, and the giant grew ever more restless.