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Moth and Rust; Together with Geoffrey's Wife and The Pitfall By Mary Cholmondeley Characters: 5319

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"The heart asks pleasure first,

And then, excuse from pain;

And then, those little anodynes

That deaden suffering;

And then, to go to sleep;

And then if it should be

The will of its Inquisitor,

The liberty to die."

-Emily Dickinson.

There are long periods in the journey of life when "the road winds uphill all the way." There are also long periods when the dim plain holds us, endless day after day, till the last bivouac fires of our youth are quenched in its rains.

But when we look back across our journey, do we not forget alike the hill and the plain? Do we not rather remember that one turn, exceeding sharp, of the narrow inevitable way, what time the light failed, and the ground yawned beneath our feet, and we knew fear?

There is a slow descent, awful, step by step, into a growing darkness, which those know who have strength to make it. Only the strong are broken on certain wheels. Only the strong know the dim landscape of Hades, that world which underlies the lives of all of us.

I cannot follow Janet down into it. I can only see her as a shadow, moving among shadows; going down unconsciously with tears in her eyes, taking, poor thing, her brave, loving unselfish heart with her, to meet anguish, desolation, desertion, and at last despair. If we needs must go down that steep stair we go alone, and who shall say how it fared with us? Nature has some appalling beneficent processes, of which it is not well to speak. Life has been taught at the same knee, out of the same book, and when her inexorable disintegrating hand closes over us, the abhorrent darkness, from which we have shrunk with loathing, becomes our only friend.

* * *

In the following autumn and winter Janet slowly descended, inch by inch, step by step, that steep stair. She reached at last the death of love. She thought she reached it many times before she actually touched it. She believed she reached it when the news of George's engagement penetrated to her. But she did not in reality. No, she hoped against hope to the last day, to the morning of his wedding. She did not know she hoped. She supposed she had long since given up all thought of a reconciliation between her and her lover. But when the wedding was over, when he was really gone, then something broke within her-the last string of the lyre over which blind Hope leans.

There are those who tell us that we have not suffered till we have known jealousy. Janet's foot reached that lowest step, and was scorched upon it.

Only then she realised that she had never, never believed that he could really leave her. Even on his wedding morning she had looked out

across the fields, by which she had so often seen him come, which had been so long empty of that familiar figure. She knew he was far away at the house of the bride, but nevertheless she expected that he would come to her, and hold her to his heart, and say: "But, Janet, I could never marry anyone but you. You know such a thing could never be. What other woman could part you and me, who cannot part?" And then the evil dream would fall from her, and she and George would look gravely at each other, and the endless, endless pain would pass away.

* * *

Wrapt close against the anguish of love there is always a word such as this with which human nature sustains its aching heart-poor human nature which believes that, come what come may, Love can never die.

"Some day," the woman says to herself, half knowing that that day can never dawn, "some day I shall tell him of these awful months, full of days like years, and nights like nothing, please God, which shall ever be endured again. Some day-it may be a long time off-but some day I shall say to him: 'Why did you leave me?' And he will tell me his foolish reasons, and we shall lean together in tears. And surely some day I shall say to him: 'I always burnt your letters for fear I might die suddenly and others should read them. But see, here are the envelopes, every one. That envelope is nearly worn out. Do you remember what you said inside it? That one is still new. I only read the letter it had in it once. How could you-could you write it?'"

* * *

"Some day," the man says to himself, when the work of the day is done-"some day my hour will come. She thinks me harsh and cold, but some day, when these evil days are past, and she understands, I will wrap her round with a tenderness such as she has never dreamed of. I will show her what a lover can be. She finds the world hard, and its ways a weariness-let her; but some day she shall own to me, to me here in this room, that she did not know what life was, what joy and peace were, until she let my love take her."

Yet he half knows she will never come, that woman whose coming seems inevitable as spring. So the heart comforts itself, telling itself fairy stories until the day dawns when Reality's stern, beneficent figure enters our dwelling, and we know at last that not one word of all we have spoken in imagination will ever be said. What we have suffered we have suffered. The one for whom it was borne will hear no further word from us.

The moth and the rust have corrupted.

The thieves have broken through and stolen.

Then rise up, lay hold of your pilgrim's staff, and take up life with a will.

* * *

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