“O haunts of Pan’s abiding,
HIS friends had sent him to Greece. He brooded too much over things, they said, the change might divert his mind from his troubles. Besides, he had always wanted to go back to Athens. That he did not apparently care to go there now was of little importance; he really did not know what he wanted. Now they did know, they always had known, better than he himself.
It was, perhaps, because of their omniscience that he had ceased to tell them anything long ago, and so had left them in ignorance of certain “inhibitions,” as he called them, which not only accounted for his reluctance to leave home, but also for a vague feeling that perhaps it might be better if he did not return to Greece, and especially to Athens, at all. The truth was that although he felt as if he were being warned away, it still was done lovingly and tenderly by those who, otherwise, were fain of his presence, and who unselfishly tried to dissuade him from coming to them, in fear of remote contingencies. During the voyage this last view of the case had grown upon him, and he now looked forward to reaching Greece with the eagerness of one who feels himself anxiously expected. Then, too, was it not, all of it, the merest figment of tired nerves and an overtaxed brain? If any reason for avoiding Greece existed, if there were any danger, who would suffer but himself? Indeed, who would suffer at all? He would rather be ill in Athens than well in his own country, with all the intolerable associations of his devastated home; and as for dying—he could not ask anything better!
At this the invisible monitors seemed penetrated with a sort of delicious amusement, as if he had said something that meant far more than he knew.
He had been thus drawn between two opposing factions: his real and altogether tangible friends and relations, who knew what course was best for him, and meant that he should pursue it; and those beings, unreal and intangible, who were always carefully guarding his personality, who so evidently feared to tread. And now, as a result of an inrush of the tangible, he found himself here in the early dawn, entering the harbor of Patras.
All down the enchanted coast he had passed the day before, in a dream. The bare, terrible mountains, rising steeply from the sea, with only a few scrubby bushes dotted about upon them, had glowed with a lovely rose, as if from some mysterious, internal fire. Above them the sky had taken on a clear, pale green, and the water lay at their feet, a blue jewel. And, as when he first had seen them years ago, their loveliness had shaken him with a panic flutter of the heart that thrilled him to the verge of pain.
There had been some question in his mind of leaving the boat at Patras and going on to spend a day or two at Olympia. He was debating this still as he leaned over the taffrail, watching the dark skiffs put out from the rose-colored mist that hid the town. He had not been able to make up his mind. He had wished to go to Athens by sea, as he had done that other time—when they had all been with him; but he had been afraid to try it again, lest a second experience should mar the perfect memory of the first. Now, although yesterday had taught him that this would not happen, he was still undecided.
In the night it had been as if voices had spoken—and yet there was no sound. “Is it quite safe for him to go there?”
“Safe? What do you call safety?” another voice had replied.
“I am not judging by our standards,” the first had answered, a little severely, “but according to his. If he knew the risks!”
“Are we not here to care for him? And even if anything should happen, has he not everything to gain?”
“You are as wilful as the children! They utterly refuse to believe that he may have reasons for preferring to remain; there may be things to finish.”
“Things to finish!” There was a sense of laughter in the air. It reminded him of his wife’s voice, that time long ago when their little girl refused to come in to her lessons because she had not done washing her doll’s face.
“But really now,” the first voice had protested, “it isn’t as absurd as it seems. You forget that you felt the same when you—”
“Hush! He understands! It is unaccountable how unevenly that sixth sense—” and the dream was gone.
Yet was it a dream? He was startled, almost dismayed, to find himself quite naturally thinking of it as a reality. Up to now it had been a question of honor with him not to permit himself to acknowledge that these strange monitions had an existence separate from his own. As to any question of identity, he never even allowed himself to surmise; but this spring morning, in the ashen pink of the dawn, his eyes searched restlessly for something that he knew was near—a knowledge that transcended either sight or touch.
The turquoise water below him was filling with bobbing boats and shouting men. Only one of them, a tall fellow, stared up at him in silence. It was a splendid, grave, unchanging face lifted to his with a look of wistful question in the eyes. Hamilton returned the gaze for a moment, and then, delighted with the recognition that had come to him after so many years, called, “Hé, Pavlos, what are you doing in this part of the world? I thought you belonged to the Piraeus.”
Pavlos took off his hat and deposited it in his lap. “I have come to take you ashore, Kyrie,” he said in Greek.
Hamilton turned back to his state-room, which was just behind him on the deck. His luggage was all packed. “Now when did I do that?” he asked himself as he went back and called to Pavlos to come up and get the things.
The man, who was of gigantic size, loaded himself with them all at once, and before other people had completed their bargaining, he was rowing Hamilton in the direction of the town.
“You haven’t told me how you came to be here,” Hamilton said.
“I came up to bury my brother; he has left me a little something, and I am, now, the last of my family.” He raised his oars from the water and, after putting his cap in his lap again, leaned forward. “The Kyrios has not changed,” he said.
“In all these years?”
“We are older, otherwise we are the same. It is life that is different.”
“Yes,” said Hamilton, thoughtfully, “it is life. For me, life is altogether different.”
“And I, also, have lost them all.”
“But how did you know?” asked Hamilton, wondering.
“We have the same look,” said Pavlos, beginning to row again.
Hamilton eyed the man’s splendid physique, his broad shoulders, honest eyes, and fine, powerful head, and then answered humorously, “I wish we had.”
“You were going on to Olympia,” said Pavlos after a pause.
Hamilton nodded, and they did not speak again until they were about to land, when, seeing him search in his pocket for his purse, Pavlos raised a restraining hand. “It is between friends; I came for you.”
“But how could you know I was there?”
A puzzled expression crossed the man’s face. “Very true, I did not know that you were there; but when I saw you I knew why I had rowed out. It was to welcome you.”
There were still some hours of waiting before his train would start, and for a while Hamilton lingered on the quay. The sun was mounting slowly above the hills behind the town, gilding, one by one, the masts in the dim forest of shipping that crowded the harbor. An emigrant vessel was going out early that morning, to America; groups of wistful-faced men and boys stood idly about; there were hardly any women, and those there were were weeping at being left behind. At a dirty wharf alongside, a funereal fleet of scows were being unloaded by rows of gnomes, whose rounded backs were bent almost double under their bulging sacks of coal. They glanced up at Hamilton curiously from under their black pointed hoods, their white eyeballs flashing as the sun struck their soot-grimed faces. Further on, a long narrow dock stretched a pale green finger into the dark blue waters of the bay, and a company of moving green figures, still in pointed hoods like crowding Pucks, busied themselves upon it in unloading the delicately colored sacks of Paris green to be used on the currant vines in the vineyards. Everything about them, their hoods, their garments, even their hands and faces, was tinged with the powdery substance they were carrying. Hamilton watched them, fascinated, wondering to see them thus oddly refined and etherealized through a mere change of tint. They even seemed to move with a light-footed grace and precision impossible to their brethren of the barges. Pavlos at last aroused him from his reverie by picking up the luggage and starting away with it.
“The Kyrios had better come over to the Hotel Pateros and rest; the best train does not go until afternoon.”
Hamilton, amused at his own docility, followed his towering guide, rested as he was told, and in the late afternoon, obediently under the same protection, turned his steps toward the station. “Good-by,” he called from the car window as the train moved off; “I shall come and look you up at the Piraeus.”
“Perhaps,” said Pavlos, standing with his hat in both hands; “perhaps.”
As soon as they had left Patras, Hamilton turned eagerly to the window. Everywhere people were out cultivating the vine, and the vivid freshness of sprouting grain covered the ground beneath the gray branches of the olive trees; far down these bright, emerald-paved aisles, with their columns of brown and twisted trunks, he caught glimpses of pale blue, translucent, snow-capped mountains rising from the Gulf, where the deep lapis lazuli of the water was torn by wind-beaten strips of foaming, angry green.
The evening was approaching and all the world was tinged with rose. Above the green of the passing fields a pink mist hovered. “The asphodel!” he murmured.
It was a sea of delicate flowers, blooming so high on their slender stalks that they almost floated above the earth. To Hamilton, for the moment, they seemed more than flowers; something spiritual emanated from them—longing, fluttering, wistful—in the suffusing glow of the momentary Greek twilight. He pressed closer to the window, eagerly expectant. No, there was nothing there. “And yet, why should there not be?” he said, as if answering one question with another.
They had begun to turn southward. The mysterious rose of the evening sky changed to a deep tint of salmon, black-green cypresses moved against it, and on the blazing horizon the sun was setting behind the stern, sharp battlements of a mediaeval fortress. So—violent and uncompromising, like the altered sky—Glarenza had stood for centuries, at war with the spirit of its surroundings.
The country also was changing; oaks grew sturdy in the fields powdered in all their twisting twigs with tufts of young leaves. Some of them were still bare, their mighty branches showing through a haze of pale green mistletoe. It was growing dark. Hamilton pressed closer to the window, hoping to catch once more the faint living color of the asphodel; but it was gone, and by the time he reached the hotel in Olympia night had fallen.
When he started out the next morning the rain was descending in torrents. Nevertheless he crossed the river to the ruins; but after an hour or so of the slippery mud and pouring wet he was driven for shelter to the Museum.
His intention had been to go at once to the inner room in search of the Hermes of Praxiteles; but the haughty, sportsmanlike creatures of the Great Pediment arrested him; his head turned reluctantly and his footsteps faltered. The tremendous force of those outlooking men and women, standing eternally as if with the breath of the gods blowing in their faces, held him, and the Hermes was forgotten. Absorbed, enthralled, he moved slowly backward until he found a chair and sat down there in the middle of the wide space. The custodian watched him a moment, and then, with a nod of approval, withdrew and left him to himself.
Through the open door he could hear the rain splashing in a waterfall from the eaves of the portico. The roof overhead drummed a steady bass, and in the corner of the Museum a pool of water was gathering on the floor from a little leak in the roof. The drops fell, one by one, with a clear ring like the strokes of a miniature bell.
Then all the world about was transfigured. Through neither hearing nor sight, by no familiar sense was he made aware of being surrounded by laughter and welcome, by faces wet with tears of happiness, and by little hands outstretched for his. And not these alone, the proud old Greeks, they also were changed. Not that they moved or bent one inch to look down upon him from their lonely pediment, but that they were informed with a vivid and splendid something that was more than life. “It is immortality,” he said aloud, “immortality itself,” and then became conscious that in this effort to translate, as it were, his sensations to his own soul, he had stepped back from some wider world into the narrow confines of human experience.
He drew his hand across his forehead. “What a strange thing to happen to me!” he said aloud, and feeling that in some way he must anchor himself to the normal and commonplace, he drew out a note-book, intending to make memoranda for the lectures he expected to give in the coming winter. But he did not write. He sat staring at the pediment, absorbed, dreaming. His pencil rolled to the floor and the neglected note-book dropped from his hand. Then, all at once, came a rush of childish feet, running from the dark corners to meet him, and, again, the welcomes, the happy tears, the penetrating love rushed back upon him. He had gone out into the real world. The narrow place he had left behind, with its note-books, its lectures, its necessity for treading the former ground, its lust of seeing and handling, seemed to be the unreal and the immaterial.
Carefully closing his senses to every impression but the inner ones, he prepared himself to enjoy this truer life. And then the voices of the night before called, warning—and youth and love and laughter withdrew.
The torrent drummed upon the roof, the leaking eaves splashed in the portico, and the far-off rumble of thunder sounded over the vast extent of ruined wall and green tree that marked the site of the ancient precinct. Hamilton went to the door, hesitated a minute, and then walked blindly down the hill in the rain and crossed the Kladeos. The great overturned drums of the columns of the Temple of Zeus, and the standing ancient pillars of the Temple of Hera were all streaked and streaming with wet. He walked about, his thoughts turning confusedly, as if his mind were moving in a maze to which it could not find the clue.
After an early dinner, when the sun had broken through the clouds, Hamilton climbed the hill behind the hotel. There was a little church up there with a strange, rude belfry outside it, built high on crossed stakes. A rough ladder led up to the bell, to which the sexton climbed, in order to sound the strokes with a hammer. In the churchyard near by were two or three pathetic graves. The epitaph to one young German, who, after “ein viel bewegtes Leben,” rested there, made Hamilton think as he walked a little further along the brow of the hill, of his own “much troubled life”; but the thought came lightly, for Hamilton’s was an essentially wholesome mind. In all simplicity he took life and work and weariness as they came; enjoying the first where he could, accomplishing the second as best he knew, and enduring the last without complaint.
Unmindful of the damp, he sat down on the hillside. Twisting through its clayey flats the muddy Alpheios flowed across the valley; Kronos rose green with pines behind the ruins that lay, quiet and reposeful, like heaps of granite in the midst of some New England landscape. Hamilton did not know how long he had been sitting there thinking; but all at once the little plain was filled with life. Below him, in the precinct, wheeling chariots, prancing horses, rich clothing and jewels moved, pulsating with color and glittering with silver and gold. Up to his ears came the cries of buyers and sellers, the clink of mending armor, the sound of the chipping of marble. He saw an ostentatious procession of interloping Romans met by the scorn of the outrivalled Greeks, and all the valley was awake and alive in the old gay turmoil of the games.
He sprang to his feet. “This will not do,” he said firmly, and again there was nothing on the plain but two sluggish, yellow streams, a wooded knoll and an expanse of gray brown stones, scattered in gigantic confusion.
He hurried down the hill. Passing the hotel, he made his way again across the river, but turned to the left, away from the ruins. For a long time he walked there through the fields on the right bank, until the approaching sunset warned him that he had a long way to go before reaching the hotel again. The world was filled with pink light, and, as he hurried onward, something softly brushed his hand. He looked and found himself standing in the midst of a bed of tall asphodel. Suddenly his sense of haste vanished, and he sat down on the drum of a broken column, dreaming, questioning, quietly expectant. “And why not?” he murmured, as he had the day before. “What could be more natural than that the spirits of those departed should haunt this flower of the dead—fluttering, longing, wistful—waiting until our grosser senses shall be fined to a recognition of their presence?—Why not?”
The asphodel seemed to stretch away from him in acres of feathery, rose-like mist. Again the feeling came to him that his earthly senses were being overridden, superseded by some other sense more powerful than they. The rosy light flooded the earth and above the flowers a delicate sylph-like figure slowly took shape. It was like a part of the twilight; behind it in .the sky a large star glistened, and it bent toward him a face full of laughter, full of life and mischief, all alight with the daring of a child who, in doing some forbidden thing, is still sure of forgiveness. Hamilton did not stir. By this time he knew well that any motion on his part would obscure the working of this new power which had so strangely taken possession of him. And again, out of the silence, came the warning. It was not speech, it was not sound, and yet he knew that it cried: “What are you doing, oh foolish child! Why will you not obey?” And the glimmering figure faded and was gone.
Much troubled, Hamilton returned to the hotel; but that night he dreamed. It was a relief to him in the morning to feel sure that he had had an honest, every-day dream. It had been of a surprising vividness and reality, it was true, but it was unmistakably dream. Those for the lack of whom his life was desolate had all been with him in a natural and every-day way. There had been no intimation of the supernatural. He had seen them with his eyes and heard them with his ears, he had held their hands in his and laughed with them and talked with them about the small events of a normal day. And in the morning he had awakened, sane and comforted.
On the way back to Patras the sun shone clearly, the sea was a pale blue, sweet and serene, not like the green, wind-swept waters of two days ago. Patras was swarming with men, the sun set red behind its mountains; electric lights sprang up, glittering on the crowded quay, and long reflections shivered in the water. Hamilton rejoiced, glad to find himself in a tangible world. Late that night he took a small coastwise boat for Athens, still following out his original scheme. Before he left Olympia he had picked himself a large bunch of asphodel. It now lay withering in his cabin; the steward had asked leave to throw it away, but Hamilton had refused. “Not till I get some fresh,” he said, and took it ashore with him the next afternoon when he reached the Piraeus.
A party of young men from the American School of Archæology, who had been on the steamer with him from Brindisi to Patras, came out in a boat to meet him, and with them Pavlos, splendid, quiet, remote.
“He doesn’t take passengers to and from the steamer any more,” one of the young fellows had said; “he is too grand for that now; but when we got down here we found him waiting, and he said that you had engaged him to bring you ashore.”
Hamilton glanced at Pavlos. He was rowing with steady strokes and an unmoved face. No one knew whether he understood English or not; but when they reached the quay, Pavlos touched him on the shoulder. “Wait for me a moment, Kyrie,” he said; “I must speak to you.”
Hamilton waited until Pavlos had put his boat in care of a friend; but when the man approached him he seemed unable for a few moments to express himself.
At last, “Ought you to be-here, Kyrie?” he began. “Would it not be better to go back to your own people?”
“My own people have sent me away.”
Pavlos shook his head.
“Why do you think it would be better for me to be at home?” asked Hamilton.
“I cannot say, and yet I know. You and I, Kyrie, know things that we are not able to tell about. Do you hold very much to life?”
“Not so very much.”
“Ah, well, then, perhaps it is just as wise to remain. I also do not hold to life; but they will not take me.”
Then Hamilton had been swept away with his young friends, and he did not see Pavlos again. He was to stay at the American School. It was a quiet, hard-working household of young men, and often there were so many of them away on excursions, or at work at the excavations, that but one or two were left. Hamilton had had more than half of the number who were there in his college classes, and they, knowing of his many sorrows, were very gentle; also, seeing his growing inclination for solitude, they withdrew themselves as much from his company as they could.
“I am sure I can’t see what he is going to do when the asphodel is gone,” one of them said to the other.
“I wondered if anybody had noticed that but me! He is never without a sprig of it.”
“Jones brought him in a whole bunch the other day; he found it over there toward Hymettos.”
“Then Jones has noticed it as well as we!”
“The question in my mind is, whether a man ought to let himself slowly die of a broken heart.”
“Nonsense!” said the other. “He is tired, that’s all. You let him get rested and he’ll be all right again. Why, look at last night, he was the soul of the occasion. I never saw so amusing a man in my life!”
But the first man remained unconvinced. “He is more than tired,” he said.
Hamilton, however, was not conscious of fatigue. In fact, he congratulated himself daily upon his immunity from the wearing fag, from which he had suffered at home. Yet beneath his content there was a certain uneasiness. For all day long, on the long walks which he took, in the sunlit Museums, and, toward evening, when he sat on the School balcony and watched the pink light of the sunset vivify the great bulk of Hymettos, a feeling that he was surrounded—besieged, as it were—by a sort of loving tenderness, kept growing. It had never yet, as at Olympia by the field of asphodel, taken on a clear and definite form; but always there, was the sense of something eluding him,—something which, nevertheless, pursued.
At a turn of the road, from behind a column, in among the bushes, hidden in the red fields of poppies, out from the midst of many colored anemones, gentle presences trooped to meet him, and yet at the same time sought to avoid recognition. He never dared acknowledge to himself his inmost thought regarding them. To be definite was desecration; but he knew that every manifestation of their presence was a reluctant one, as if they had been overcome by an unconquerable longing to do that which they feared was not for his good.
Several weeks had passed and the warm weather was at hand. Hamilton’s last fortnight in Athens had come, and, anxious to crowd as much into it as possible, he procured a permit from the authorities to visit the enclosure of the Acropolis after sunset.
“You come too often and you stay too long up here,” an old Greek friend of his had said to him kindly; “it is dangerous, especially at the hour of sunset.”
“But of all times the sunset is the most beautiful,” objected Hamilton. “It is the time I am least willing to miss.”
“Ah, you rebellious Americans! You are constitutionally incapable of learning the wisdom of adapting yourselves to the exigencies of a strange climate!”
“But I have always been immune to malaria.”
“There are other things than malaria. You have been on the Acropolis for nearly two weeks, at all hours of the day and night; I assure you—it is not safe!”
“If you mean fever, I never had one in my life and I am nearly fifty.” It was evening and they had been standing at the top of the steps of the Propylea.
With an impatient exclamation his old friend turned to go down.
“I have but three nights more,” pleaded Hamilton, in extenuation.
The old man went on, but at the third step he paused and, turning around, quoted in Greek:
O sentinel rock down-gazing,
On the Long-cliff caves down glimmering,
Where, with shadowy feet in the dance soft-sliding
Agraulus’s daughters three go pacing
O’er the lawns by Athene’s fane dew-shimmering
In moonlight, while upward floats
A weird strain rising and falling,
Wild witchery-wafting notes
O Pan, from thy pipes that are calling,
Out of thy sunless grots!”
“You mean—I may see them?” demanded Hamilton eagerly.
The Greek shrugged his shoulders.
“But that is the very thing I am wishing!” Hamilton assured him, smiling at the same time to give his words an air of jest.
“Oh, you Americans!” And the old gentleman cautiously descended the rest of the long flight of steps, shaking his head. At the foot he looked up and beckoned imperatively; but Hamilton, with a laughing gesture of refusal, turned away.
He stayed on the Acropolis for the next two nights, watching the sunset colors fade into moonlight, and the moonlight brighten into dawn. On the third and last night the guardian, sleepy with previous late hours, showed him a surreptitious way out, and toward half past nine o’clock left him.
There was no one else in the ruins. Hamilton had the whole splendid area to himself. A cool wind had arisen, and as he sat looking up at the façade of the Parthenon, the breeze sang in and out among the columns like some splendid voice. It was almost too late in the season for any possibility of rain, and yet from behind Hymettos some sullen clouds had begun to roll upward, stormy and black, into the deep blue of the moonlit sky.
“Are you ready now?” It was a question, not an articulate voice. Yet, even at that longed-for moment, Hamilton hesitated.
Was he ready? Are we ever ready?
And as if in answer to this thought: “How can he be ready, when he does not know what is before him?” asked another voice.
“I shall know at dawn,” answered Hamilton, aloud. “Wait until then.”
He could not tell why he answered thus; but all about him the noiseless voices repeated: “He will know at dawn.”
The wind struck him chilly, and he moved to the northern parapet overlooking the city, that stretched away toward the hills like an immense translucent floor lighted from below. He had not hitherto been struck with the quiet of it; but there was no noise of rolling trams, no rumble of machines; the clinking Street of the Tinkers, that made a musical din up to the very hour of sunset, was still; once in a while a boy called to his mate on the slopes below, and far away, near the steep slopes of Lycabettos, a dog woke from time to time and bayed at the moon.
To his left, under the edge of the hill, some one began to play softly on the pipes. Hamilton laughed. “Pan,” he murmured; “old Demetrios was right!” And he strolled in the direction of an opening under the edge of the Acropolis known as “The Cave of Pan.” The music was abruptly hushed; he thought that he heard a boy’s remonstrant laugh—oddly like his own. “It couldn’t have been an echo,” he said—for Hamilton had acquired a nervous habit of talking to himself—and leaned as far out over the parapet as he could, trying to look along toward the Cave. “Pan,” he called softly, in Greek, “Pan!”
There was a short delighted giggle, quickly suppressed. Hamilton drew back; a faint icy prickling crawled over his flesh. “Oh, Pan!” he called, still louder, leaning out again; but Pan was still.
Hamilton walked thoughtfully back to the eastern end of the Parthenon, climbed to the top of the steps and, going a short distance within, sat down, leaning back against a column.
“If it were not so like them,” he pondered, “I should not heed. Just thus it has always been, never claiming an iota of that which should be left to a man’s own decision, not even in the small matters of every day; the very children—babies as they were—were taught to respect what might in my estimation be a more urgent claim. How often have they waited—and alas, that I should have kept them!—and shown no sign of impatience, nothing but a certain sweet, whimsical amusement! It was then, as it is now, the inertia of this heavy flesh that kept me lagging behind their delicate spirituality. What charming ruses they invented to attract my attention—and now, as then, the ‘burden of this death’ keeps us parted!”
He buried his head in his hands. “Oh, Pan, Pan,” he cried, “my little Puck, my dainty Ariel!”
The clouds had gathered more thickly in the east, mounting higher toward the zenith. Over the mountain’s ridge gushed pale rivers of mist that glistened in the moonlight and poured down the distant slopes like cascades of powdered silver.
Hamilton allowed his hands to fall between his knees and gazed toward it.
‘‘Have I the right to go?” he questioned. “Are we not Soldiers of Life? May we desert the post to which we have been assigned? There is this to do—and that.”
His mind wandered vaguely to his different interests—distasteful tasks, his very flesh wearied at the thought of them!—and yet, in proportion to their futility, they seemed obligatory. “But who knows?” he went on, communing with himself. “I am but a picket, a scout. Is it for me to gauge the value of the little I may gain, the worth of the clues I may find, leading men to a better knowledge of the Scheme of the Whole? How should I question my orders, ignorant as I am of the plan of the great campaign?”
The clouds closed in and the darkness covered him.
“Beloved,” Hamilton’s voice sounded from the shadows, “I may not choose to come to you. The dawn will brighten, and unless it is granted me by those under whose rule I continue to serve, I shall not know the sacred mysteries that to you are plain. Go back, dear ones, to the happy fields, to the pleasant country where you have waited hitherto, and abide my coming in patient joy; for I am ignorant where you are wise. Where you see, I am but little better than blind, and as yet, I am not chosen to tread where you have been called to walk. But one large knowledge is ours in common: the task that was laid upon you, you each fulfilled; the post you were set to watch, you guarded in simple fidelity; and so must I pursue my labor and accomplish my vigil. If with your greater light you deem this foolishness, remember that the light that is vouchsafed us is all we have. Beloved, beloved, I may not even choose.”
A breath of wind blew over from the east like a great sigh; exhausted, Hamilton leaned back against the column behind him. The world grew darker, the moon was setting beneath the clouds. Loneliness besieged him as in the first days of his desolation. Then, in the heavy sultry air, he slept.
It was more a stupor than a sleep. Back of Hymettos the thunder threatened, the mist overflowed the plain, and in the flare of the stabbing lightning the exquisite columns that crowned the Acropolis sprang startled to life, softly clear against a background of seething cloud. Hamilton dully knew it all, but he did not awake, not even when the rain fell—pouring, flying, lashing by him, like the angry laughter of the ancient gods.
Then came quiet, and he knew no more until he opened his eyes on the deep blue wonder of the early dawn. Above the mountain arched an unclouded sky, lighted by a few clear stars and against it the beautiful brown yellow of the columns of the Parthenon stood in warm, intimate familiarity. Hamilton breathed a sigh of content. “It is like coming home,” he whispered, “and, hark! the little Pan is still piping.”
He rose and, passing between the columns, climbed down the first steep steps, then stopped. The night had hardly broken, and in all the shadowy distances it was still dim. The sound of the music was approaching. Hamilton turned. “Has that boy been playing all night?” he said.
In the direction of the Erechtheum people were moving, women dancing, and further on, above the rampart, a dark head appeared, while the noise of the pipes grew clearer. “Pan himself!” said Hamilton, “and the daughters of Agraulus dancing still, to this very day!—I must be dreaming!” He turned toward the temple again to reassure himself. At the foot of a column behind him a man lay huddled carelessly, as if in sleep. For a moment Hamilton thought it was the guardian soldier. “I should not have allowed him to stay out in the rain and storm, merely to gratify a caprice—”
He did not finish. The figure lying there suddenly took on a strange familiarity. “It is I,” said Hamilton, “the shell of what was once myself! And these?” He wheeled swiftly and ran down the rest of the steps in great flying leaps. ‘‘Beloved! I am coming!” he cried. “I am coming!”
Laughing, weeping in pure joy, calling to him and to each other, they ran toward him. “They wouldn’t let us come to you!”—“You were not allowed to know that we were there!”—“They always called us away!”
Hamilton moved forward in a little tempest of radiant delight as they surrounded him with their happy babel of welcome and caresses. He did not even see the group of frightened, anxious young men who hurried across from the Propylea toward the eastern end of the Parthenon.
For the differences in the values of two opposing worlds had already begun to make themselves felt, and that mere husk and shell—which Hamilton had left behind him without a thought—was to these young friends of his a matter of momentous meaning, of terrible import.
“It is of no use,” said one of them, huskily, as he rose from his stooping attitude.
“He must have died in the storm!” said the other.
“And look,” said a third—his voice was unsteady—“he is still holding a sprig of that asphodel I brought him yesterday morning!”
“Asphodel” by Mary Tappan Wright was originally published in
Scribner's Magazine v. 46, no. 4, October 1909; reprinted in
Pro Tempore, and Other Stories by Mary Tappan Wright, edited by Brian Kunde, Mountain House, Fleabonnet Press, 2007.
The work of Mary Tappan Wright here reproduced is in the public domain. All other material in this edition is
©2007-2008 by Brian Kunde.