If You Touch


10. Chapter X

But it was the heart of winter, not the Poor Boy's that was to be broken. March came, and a wind from the south. Snow melted in sunny corners, to freeze again at night, and melted and froze; and April came, and wherever the Poor Boy went with his love there was a sound of water falling, running, and roaring. The ice in lakes and streams wore thin along the shores, broke, lost its grip, tinkled in the brooks, clashed and cracked in the river. In the lakes the margin of water between the ice islands and the shore grew wider and wider. In open spaces, faced south, the snow melted and thinned until black soil showed in patches. Rain came, more and more frequently, until no day passed without rain, and the land was washed clean of winter, and rinsed, and became deep mud, that oozed and gasped under foot.

The Poor Boy had been happier than he had ever hoped to be again. And since Joy's coming (she still stopped with Lord Harrow's daughter, who conversed pearls) there had been an ecstasy in his happiness and a thrilling quality of romance. No man who has not endured solitude in long doses knows how vivid, real, and necessary people and things of the imagination may become. Sometimes the Poor Boy laughed at himself, but more often he surrendered to his inventions, his people, his dams, powerhouses, and schemes of amelioration, as you surrender to an opiate.

His valley from his own house to the sea was a thriving and virtuous state; on terms with other governments. Ships came and went; there were exports and imports, newspapers, news. News of inventions, of romances, of misunderstandings righted by Solomonian judgments; of successes, promotions; and almost every day in the foreign columns were to be found reversals of those judgments by which his friends and the citizens of his little state had been convicted of sins and crimes of which they had never been guilty.

But daily and sometimes nightly through the complex evolutions of his dreams the Poor Boy never lost grip upon his own personal love-affair. It had become more real, and with the bursting of woods and meadows into carpets of spring flowers more necessary to him than anything in life. It was joy for him, and rapture--a dizzy path into unknown lands where only the footprints of the "True Romance" marked the way. But suddenly sometimes in the very heyday of his ecstasy the tragedy of it smote him, you may say, between the eyes--so that villages vanished, homes, institutions, and all the creatures of his brain, and he saw himself, as another might have seen him, a very young man, all alone, thrust out forever and ever.

The thought that all unknown to him the real Miss Grey might love another, belong to another, tortured him. Tortured him, too, the knowledge that if this was so he had no right to entertain that beloved phantom that he had made of her in his North Woods. Or it tortured him to remember that his love for her could come to nothing--nothing. He must not tell her that he loved her; he must not, upon a night flooded with moonlight and the odor of flowers, so much as touch her hand, because he knew too well--too well--that "when you touch them they vanish."

Old Martha and Joy will never forget a certain June night. The Poor Boy did not come home for his dinner; supper of the most tempting nature and variety did not tempt him. He was drunk, ethereally drunk with the beauty of the night and with love. He opened many windows, and sat at his piano in the moonlight. The two women drew as near as they dared, to listen, while the Poor Boy's tantalized soul went out in splendid, beseeching singing. Until after midnight Schubert and Schumann and other lovers sang through the Poor Boy to their loves, and the women listened and cried and trembled, or were carried upward as it were upon angel wings into regions of pure and disembodied bliss.

At last there fell a long silence.

It was now the Poor Boy who listened. He had sent forth his questing, questioning soul, and he waited for an answer. But in those regions, that night, all things were still; and not so much as the hoot of an owl answered him nor the chirp of a cricket.

"Oh," he thought, "there is no answer for me in all the world, no answer. I have said all that I can say. And she--she doesn't hear--she will not hear--she can not hear."

His fingers began to follow an air that flowed with eternal sadness like blood from a broken heart.

His fingers found their way once more to the keys, and for a while harmonies rose in slow, quiet succession like a meditation, and took more shape presently as if something had been decided on, and began to follow an air that flowed with eternal sadness like blood from a broken heart ... and then once more the Poor Boy was singing:

"Let us go hence, my songs, she will not hear,
Let us go hence, together, without fear.
Keep silence now, for singing time is over,
And over all things old, and all things dear.
She loves not you nor me, as all we love her.
Yea! Though we sang as angels in her ear,
She would not hear."

He broke off abruptly. The knob had rattled in a door!--a door had opened, and been swiftly closed. The Poor Boy leapt to his feet. He thought he had heard her voice.

He stood, and trembled....

That "Yea! though we sang as angels in her ear, she would not hear," had been too much for Joy. She had sobbed and said things, and had tried to go to him. It was her voice that he had heard.

Martha had dragged her out of danger and sent her to bed with a scolding. "The conceit of some people!" she had exclaimed. "To be always thinking it's themselves as is grouped in the lime-light of another's thoughts!"