Puslapio vaizdai

wearing a thick coat and leaning on the park wall; her soul was on my shoulder. Suddenly I said:

"Good night. It 's nearly dawn. I

must be going."

she said. "I can't make out how you did n't see me."

"Now, don't you think that because I have a body I can be lied to, either," I stormed at her. "You 've been wishing

"You said you might be leaving New yourself out of the way on purpose.' York soon," she ventured.

"Yes," said I. "And, quite unexpectedly, I'm through my work. I get off the day after to-morrow."

"Oh," she said, "good night," and never another word.

The next night I went out to say good-by; I thought it would be only civil. I made no doubt we should find each other along that first half-mile of park wall, that she'd descend upon me as she had done before. She was n't there. I paced up and down, searching most carefully; my eyes were experts now. I spent the whole night searching. It was broad day when I stopped. I stood in the morning light, with my face in my hands, fixing my thoughts in a final effort firmly on her. I hoped that, though I could not see, I should feel her presence near me if she came. Quite in vain.

I could not make up my mind to leave New York without seeing her. It sounds absurd, for what was she to me? What was she, anyhow, but a disembodied soul, one of thousands and thousands, and all past praying for, despite anything the good Catholics may say? What could there ever be between us? My desires had certainly never been set on New York. Wherever I might find myself when I died, it would certainly not be here. But I felt I could not go without seeing her. For seven nights I searched from dark till daybreak, standing, willing her to come, pacing wildly, silently calling. I remembered then that I did n't even know her name. I slept exhaustedly all day.

On the seventh night the wind was rough. I was at the corner of Sixtyninth Street when a gust blew her right into my face. I caught her, and held her with the roughest grasp.

"Where on earth have you been,” I said, "and what have you been doing?" "I've been close to you lots of times,"

"Yes, I have," she said.
"Why?" I asked her.

She did not answer.

[ocr errors]

"Will you tell me why?" I demanded. "No, I won't," she said, "but if there's anything in it at all you ought to be able to tell without my telling."

"Well, I can't," I snapped.

"I knew you would n't," she said, "so what's the good, anyway?"

"You really are a most irritating little soul," I said. "Will you tell me what it is you want of me?"

Not, poor dear, that she had shown she wanted anything. She made no answer. "Will you please tell me what it is you want of me?" I repeated. Still no answer.

"Then I shall wait here night and day until you do." I did not mean to be bullied. I had made up my mind to that. A long silence.

Then suddenly she said:

"I want to escape. I thought I was settling down to it, but talking to you has brought back time again, and now when you go I shall want to escape worse than ever. I shall want to die, and I sha'n't be able to. Won't it be dreadful?” Her silly little phrase!

"But I really don't see what I can do to help you," I told her. "If you can think of anything, by all means tell me. I'll certainly try it."

"Where do you go to when you go?" she asked.

"I go west across the prairies and the mountains," I said, "and then southwest across the sea."

"I knew that really," she confessed; "it has been in your mind all the time. I've been jealous of your having it so much in your mind."

"Well, go on!" I told her, sharply, as my way was.

"I thought," she spoke slowly, "that if

you could like me well enough to be able to carry me with you part of the way, then why should n't you leave me on the prairie as you passed? And there, if I fixed my desire on nothingness, the great wind might carry me to such a lonely place that I'd be almost as good as dead."

"We might try it," I said; "but you would have to like me enough to stop yourself flying back here."

"But how can I like you," she protested, "unless you like me first?"

"Like you in any ordinary sense of the word I certainly do not," I said. "I am a practical man. I have no use for these fantastic exercises of imagination. How do you expect me to like you?"

She sobbed aloud.

"That's because I 've lost my body," she cried. "If I had my body back, I'd make you like me fast enough, oh dear! oh dear!"

I did my best to soothe her.

"And now I dare say I'm not even a decent-looking soul," she wailed.

I assured her she was a charming-looking soul.

"What shape am I?" she asked.

I assured her she was a perfect oval, and her color a most delicate pale gray.

"It sounds very dull," she said. "I've never dared ask any one to tell me before. But compared with the others, I suppose it 's not so bad."


"But if I do try to take you, how am to take you?" I asked her. "I can't carry you in my hand for two whole days; besides in the daylight I 'd lose you."

"Oh, but I've thought of that," she said. "What you want is a match-box to fold me up and put me in. No, not a real match-box, silly; but one of the-what used the spiritualists to call it?-one of the astral sort."

"And where does one buy those?" I asked.

I was sure she was smiling queerly. "Have you never been in love with a pretty foolish woman?" she said.

"With dozens," I answered. I always say that; it is safer. But the fact is that I had never been in love at all.

She must have known both of the silly lie and the more shameful truth, but she did not remark on them. Instead, she said:

"Think of your love for a woman like that, and you'll find it very like a sort of match-box to carry me about in."

I never sleep in the train, so all night I sat upright in the darkened car. I had taken the Little Soul from my pocket, and I held her against my cheek; and through the noise of the shaking of the train all night she whispered in my ear. She was sure she was going to die now, she said, and did I mind her telling me things she had never told any one before.

"Why should I?" I answered her coldly. I was leaving the country; she could be certain they would go no further.

They were but simple things she had to tell: of dreams, first for herself, then for her dead children; of little verses she had written and hidden and destroyed; of a temptation to unlawful love that she had shunned. Foolish things, I thought; and I stuck to the thought, though I knew she knew I was thinking it.

The next night I stood on the wide prairie and held her soul in my hand. It was late, for I had walked as far from the town as I could. There was no sound; it was cloudy and pitchy dark. No wind as yet, but a feeling as if a wind would rise.

"Now it's good-by," I said. "I've kept my promise, and I'll wait, what 's more, till the wind blows you away."

"Don't put me down for a minute," she begged. "I have something else to tell you." "You were

"What is it?" I asked. talking all last night."

"Oh, nothing about me, indeed," she whispered. "I 've nothing more to tell. But I wanted you to know that why I told you about myself and did n't ask about yourself at all was only because, being so close to you, I could learn and feel and understand all there was in your heart. I knew all that you had done and suffered in your life from the beginning until now." "Then you know of a poor thing," I

"Good-by," I said.

"Good-by," said she.

said, "a black and hollow thing, a wasted thing."

"Yes," she went on. "And I knew that you were thinking that, but I wanted to tell you that I did n't think so at all. I think you've done very well in spite of what people call your failure, and you 've always tried your best. Though fame has never come to you, you 've set your teeth and gone on, have n't you, and newer chattered or complained? And I wanted to tell you that I love you for it."

"I never heard anything so ridiculous in my life," I said. "How can you love me? We're absolutely unsuited to each other in every way, not a tradition or a taste in common. Besides, you 're dead; quite dead in one sense and almost dead in the other. What 's the use of talking about such things?"

"Now don't pretend to be cross when you 're not," she went on. "That 's childish. I've told you this for a very selfish reason. I thought that instead of running the risk of being blown about this great prairie forever, if you could learn to love me just enough in return, my soul perhaps might pass completely into yours, and in that way there would be quite an end of me. Now, don't interrupt me in what I'm saying. You need a little something like this added to you, a little common sense, a little patience, a little tenderness toward helpless things. You need it badly, and it's very conceited of you to pretend you don't. And, oh, my dear," she cried, and the very soul of her seemed to be throbbing, "love is often like this, you know. How is it that you don't know-death to give, but always life to him that will dare take the offered love? And how gladly one dies to give it!"

"I do not love you," I said, “and I won't pretend to. I have never loved any one and I never will. It 's not worth while. I made up my mind to that long ago."


[ocr errors]

"Very well," she said; "it does n't matPlease put me down."

I put her down.


And then I knelt there for an hour or It was dark; I could not see her, and not another word did we say. Waiting so, I felt how dreadful eternity must be.

At last I heard it rise in the far distance, the northwest wind. Shaking and shrieking and rumbling, it came in leaps of gusty anger, with silence in between. I set my teeth, or I must have cried out in fear. But she made never a sound. Then it was on us, brutal, vindictive. I could not help it; I flung myself along the ground to shield her, groping with my hands where I thought she must be. My neck was bare, and in a moment I felt the frail little thing she was fluttering close

to me.

"I can't," she pleaded in agony; "I'm afraid. It's so cold and merciless and strong. I once had asthma as a child. Take me back to that selfish city. At least they'll understand me there."

"No, no," I whispered, "not back to that; that 's worse than any hell. We must n't be cowards, we two, must we?"

"But I can't be lonely through eternity," she wailed. "I can't, I can't. It is n't fair to ask me."

Suddenly I began to shake as if a very ague were on me. I choked. I turned on my side for air. I crushed her soul between my hands. I ground it to my breast.

I threw my face up to the dark above, and a cry came from me that surely God might have heard. "Oh, my dear Little Soul, my dear Little Soul!" And the ice within me broke, and the tears sprang. I, who had not shed a tear since I could remember!

Before ever the tears could fall, my hands, which had held her, were empty and my lips, which would have kissed her, foiled. The Little Soul had vanished.

But my soul was full of joy. And the wind, as I lay there, could not harm me nor the night make me afraid.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »