To Have and To Hold
XXXVIII. In Which We Listen To A Song
IT was like a May morning, so mild was the air, so gay the sunshine, when the
mist had risen. Wild flowers were blooming, and here and there unfolding leaves
made a delicate fretwork against a deep blue sky. The wind did not blow;
everywhere were stillness soft and sweet, dewy freshness, careless peace.
Hour after hour I walked slowly through the woodland, pausing now and then to
look from side to side. It was idle going, wandering in a desert with no guiding
star. The place where I would be might lie to the east, to the west. In the wide
enshrouding forest I might have passed it by. I believed not that I had done so.
Surely, surely I should have known; surely the voice that lived only in my heart
would have called to me to stay.
Beside a newly felled tree, in a glade starred with small white flowers, I came
upon the bodies of a man and a boy, so hacked, so hewn, so robbed of all
comeliness, that at the sight the heart stood still and the brain grew sick. Farther
on was a clearing, and in its midst the charred and blackened walls of what had
been a home. I crossed the freshly turned earth, and looked in at the cabin door
with the stillness and the sunshine. A woman lay dead upon the floor, her
outstretched hand clenched upon the foot of a cradle. I entered the room, and,
looking within the cradle, found that the babe had not been spared. Taking up the
little waxen body with the blood upon its innocent breast, I laid it within the
mother's arms, and went my way over the sunny doorstep and the earth that had
been made ready for planting. A white butterfly - the first of the year - fluttered
before me; then rose through a mist of green and passed from my sight.
The sun climbed higher into the deep blue sky. Save where grew pines or cedars
there were no shadowy places in the forest. The slight green of uncurling leaves,
the airy scarlet of the maples, the bare branches of the tardier trees, opposed no
barrier to the sunlight. It streamed into the world below the treetops, and lay
warm upon the dead leaves and the green moss and the fragile wild flowers.
There was a noise of birds, and a fox barked. All was lightness, gayety, and
warmth; the sap was running, the heyday of the spring at hand. Ah! to be riding
with her, to be going home through the fairy forest, the sunshine, and the singing!
. . . The happy miles to Weyanoke, the smell of the sassafras in its woods, the
house all lit and trimmed. The fire kindled, the wine upon the table . . . Diccon's
welcoming face, and his hand upon Black Lamoral's bridle; the minister, too,
maybe, with his great heart and his kindly eyes; her hand in mine, her head upon
my breast -
The vision faded. Never, never, never for me a home-coming such as that, so
deep, so dear, so sweet. The men who were my friends, the woman whom I
loved, had gone into a far country. This world was not their home. They had
crossed the threshold while I lagged behind. The door was shut, and without
were the night and I.
With the fading of the vision came a sudden consciousness of a presence in the
forest other than my own. I turned sharply, and saw an Indian walking with me,
step for step, but with a space between us of earth and brown tree trunks and