The Fulness of
Life by Edith
For hours she had lain in a kind of gentle torpor, not unlike that
sweet lassitude which masters one in the hush of a midsummer noon,
when the heat seems to have silenced the very birds and insects, and,
lying sunk in the tasselled meadow-grasses, one looks up through a
level roofing of maple-leaves at the vast shadowless, and unsuggestive
blue. Now and then, at ever- lengthening intervals, a flash of pain
darted through her, like the ripple of sheet-lightning across such a
midsummer sky; but it was too transitory to shake her stupor, that
calm, delicious, bottomless stupor into which she felt herself sinking
more and more deeply, without a disturbing impulse of resistance, an
effort of reattachment to the vanishing edges of consciousness.
The resistance, the effort, had known their hour of violence; but
now they were at an end. Through her mind, long harried by grotesque
visions, fragmentary images of the life that she was leaving,
tormenting lines of verse, obstinate presentments of pictures once
beheld, indistinct impressions of rivers, towers, and cupolas,
gathered in the length of journeys half forgotten— through her mind
there now only moved a few primal sensations of colorless well-being;
a vague satisfaction in the thought that she had swallowed her noxious
last draught of medicine . . . and that she should never again hear
the creaking of her husband's boots—those horrible boots—and that no
one would come to bother her about the next day's dinner . . . or the
butcher's book. . . .
At last even these dim sensations spent themselves in the
thickening obscurity which enveloped her; a dusk now filled with pale
geometric roses, circling softly, interminably before her, now
darkened to a uniform blue-blackness, the hue of a summer night
without stars. And into this darkness she felt herself sinking,
sinking, with the gentle sense of security of one upheld from beneath.
Like a tepid tide it rose around her, gliding ever higher and higher,
folding in its velvety embrace her relaxed and tired body, now
submerging her breast and shoulders, now creeping gradually, with soft
inexorableness, over her throat to her chin, to her ears, to her
mouth. . . . Ah, now it was rising too high; the impulse to struggle
was renewed;. . . her mouth was full;. . . she was choking. . . .
"It is all over," said the nurse, drawing down the eyelids with
The clock struck three. They remembered it afterward. Someone
opened the window and let in a blast of that strange, neutral air
which walks the earth between darkness and dawn; someone else led the
husband into another room. He walked vaguely, like a blind man, on
his creaking boots.
She stood, as it seemed, on a threshold, yet no tangible gateway
was in front of her. Only a wide vista of light, mild yet
penetrating as the gathered glimmer of innumerable stars, expanded
gradually before her eyes, in blissful contrast to the cavernous
darkness from which she had of late emerged.
She stepped forward, not frightened, but hesitating, and as her
eyes began to grow more familiar with the melting depths of light
about her, she distinguished the outlines of a landscape, at first
swimming in the opaline uncertainty of Shelley's vaporous creations,
then gradually resolved into distincter shape—the vast unrolling of a
sunlit plain, aerial forms of mountains, and presently the silver
crescent of a river in the valley, and a blue stencilling of trees
along its curve—something suggestive in its ineffable hue of an azure
background of Leonardo's, strange, enchanting, mysterious, leading on
the eye and the imagination into regions of fabulous delight. As she
gazed, her heart beat with a soft and rapturous surprise; so exquisite
a promise she read in the summons of that hyaline distance.
"And so death is not the end after all," in sheer gladness she
heard herself exclaiming aloud. "I always knew that it couldn't be.
I believed in Darwin, of course. I do still; but then Darwin himself
said that he wasn't sure about the soul—at least, I think he did—and
Wallace was a spiritualist; and then there was St. George Mivart—"
Her gaze lost itself in the ethereal remoteness of the mountains.
"How beautiful! How satisfying!" she murmured. "Perhaps now I
shall really know what it is to live."
As she spoke she felt a sudden thickening of her heart-beats, and
looking up she was aware that before her stood the Spirit of Life.
"Have you never really known what it is to live?" the Spirit of
Life asked her.
"I have never known," she replied, "that fulness of life which we
all feel ourselves capable of knowing; though my life has not been
without scattered hints of it, like the scent of earth which comes to
one sometimes far out at sea."
"And what do you call the fulness of life?" the Spirit asked
"Oh, I can't tell you, if you don't know," she said, almost
reproachfully. "Many words are supposed to define it—love and
sympathy are those in commonest use, but I am not even sure that they
are the right ones, and so few people really know what they mean."
"You were married," said the Spirit, "yet you did not find the
fulness of life in your marriage?"
"Oh, dear, no," she replied, with an indulgent scorn, "my marriage
was a very incomplete affair."
"And yet you were fond of your husband?"
"You have hit upon the exact word; I was fond of him, yes, just as
I was fond of my grandmother, and the house that I was born in, and my
old nurse. Oh, I was fond of him, and we were counted a very happy
couple. But I have sometimes thought that a woman's nature is like a
great house full of rooms: there is the hall, through which everyone
passes in going in and out; the drawing- room, where one receives
formal visits; the sitting-room, where the members of the family come
and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the
handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way
to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room,
the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that
"And your husband," asked the Spirit, after a pause, "never got
beyond the family sitting-room?"
"Never," she returned, impatiently; "and the worst of it was that
he was quite content to remain there. He thought it perfectly
beautiful, and sometimes, when he was admiring its commonplace
furniture, insignificant as the chairs and tables of a hotel parlor,
I felt like crying out to him: 'Fool, will you never guess that close
at hand are rooms full of treasures and wonders, such as the eye of
man hath not seen, rooms that no step has crossed, but that might be
yours to live in, could you but find the handle of the door?'"
"Then," the Spirit continued, "those moments of which you lately
spoke, which seemed to come to you like scattered hints of the
fulness of life, were not shared with your husband?"
"Oh, no—never. He was different. His boots creaked, and he
always slammed the door when he went out, and he never read anything
but railway novels and the sporting advertisements in the
papers—and—and, in short, we never understood each other in the
"To what influence, then, did you owe those exquisite sensations?"
"I can hardly tell. Sometimes to the perfume of a flower;
sometimes to a verse of Dante or of Shakespeare; sometimes to a
picture or a sunset, or to one of those calm days at sea, when one
seems to be lying in the hollow of a blue pearl; sometimes, but
rarely, to a word spoken by someone who chanced to give utterance, at
the right moment, to what I felt but could not express."
"Someone whom you loved?" asked the Spirit.
"I never loved anyone, in that way," she said, rather sadly, "nor
was I thinking of any one person when I spoke, but of two or three
who, by touching for an instant upon a certain chord of my being, had
called forth a single note of that strange melody which seemed
sleeping in my soul. It has seldom happened, however, that I have
owed such feelings to people; and no one ever gave me a moment of such
happiness as it was my lot to feel one evening in the Church of Or San
Michele, in Florence."
"Tell me about it," said the Spirit.
"It was near sunset on a rainy spring afternoon in Easter week.
The clouds had vanished, dispersed by a sudden wind, and as we
entered the church the fiery panes of the high windows shone out like
lamps through the dusk. A priest was at the high altar, his white
cope a livid spot in the incense-laden obscurity, the light of the
candles flickering up and down like fireflies about his head; a few
people knelt near by. We stole behind them and sat down on a bench
close to the tabernacle of Orcagna.
"Strange to say, though Florence was not new to me, I had never
been in the church before; and in that magical light I saw for the
first time the inlaid steps, the fluted columns, the sculptured
bas-reliefs and canopy of the marvellous shrine. The marble, worn and
mellowed by the subtle hand of time, took on an unspeakable rosy hue,
suggestive in some remote way of the honey- colored columns of the
Parthenon, but more mystic, more complex, a color not born of the
sun's inveterate kiss, but made up of cryptal twilight, and the flame
of candles upon martyrs' tombs, and gleams of sunset through symbolic
panes of chrysoprase and ruby; such a light as illumines the missals
in the library of Siena, or burns like a hidden fire through the
Madonna of Gian Bellini in the Church of the Redeemer, at Venice; the
light of the Middle Ages, richer, more solemn, more significant than
the limpid sunshine of Greece.
"The church was silent, but for the wail of the priest and the
occasional scraping of a chair against the floor, and as I sat there,
bathed in that light, absorbed in rapt contemplation of the marble
miracle which rose before me, cunningly wrought as a casket of ivory
and enriched with jewel-like incrustations and tarnished gleams of
gold, I felt myself borne onward along a mighty current, whose source
seemed to be in the very beginning of things, and whose tremendous
waters gathered as they went all the mingled streams of human passion
and endeavor. Life in all its varied manifestations of beauty and
strangeness seemed weaving a rhythmical dance around me as I moved,
and wherever the spirit of man had passed I knew that my foot had once
"As I gazed the mediaeval bosses of the tabernacle of Orcagna
seemed to melt and flow into their primal forms so that the folded
lotus of the Nile and the Greek acanthus were braided with the runic
knots and fish-tailed monsters of the North, and all the plastic
terror and beauty born of man's hand from the Ganges to the Baltic
quivered and mingled in Orcagna's apotheosis of Mary. And so the
river bore me on, past the alien face of antique civilizations and the
familiar wonders of Greece, till I swam upon the fiercely rushing tide
of the Middle Ages, with its swirling eddies of passion, its
heaven-reflecting pools of poetry and art; I heard the rhythmic blow
of the craftsmen's hammers in the goldsmiths' workshops and on the
walls of churches, the party-cries of armed factions in the narrow
streets, the organ- roll of Dante's verse, the crackle of the fagots
around Arnold of Brescia, the twitter of the swallows to which St.
Francis preached, the laughter of the ladies listening on the hillside
to the quips of the Decameron, while plague-struck Florence howled
beneath them—all this and much more I heard, joined in strange
unison with voices earlier and more remote, fierce, passionate, or
tender, yet subdued to such awful harmony that I thought of the song
that the morning stars sang together and felt as though it were
sounding in my ears. My heart beat to suffocation, the tears burned
my lids, the joy, the mystery of it seemed too intolerable to be
borne. I could not understand even then the words of the song; but I
knew that if there had been someone at my side who could have heard it
with me, we might have found the key to it together.
"I turned to my husband, who was sitting beside me in an attitude
of patient dejection, gazing into the bottom of his hat; but at that
moment he rose, and stretching his stiffened legs, said, mildly:
'Hadn't we better be going? There doesn't seem to be much to see
here, and you know the table d'hote dinner is at half-past six
Her recital ended, there was an interval of silence; then the
Spirit of Life said: "There is a compensation in store for such needs
as you have expressed."
"Oh, then you DO understand?" she exclaimed. "Tell me what
compensation, I entreat you!"
"It is ordained," the Spirit answered, "that every soul which
seeks in vain on earth for a kindred soul to whom it can lay bare its
inmost being shall find that soul here and be united to it for
A glad cry broke from her lips. "Ah, shall I find him at last?"
she cried, exultant.
"He is here," said the Spirit of Life.
She looked up and saw that a man stood near whose soul (for in
that unwonted light she seemed to see his soul more clearly than his
face) drew her toward him with an invincible force.
"Are you really he?" she murmured.
"I am he," he answered.
She laid her hand in his and drew him toward the parapet which
overhung the valley.
"Shall we go down together," she asked him, "into that marvellous
country; shall we see it together, as if with the self-same eyes, and
tell each other in the same words all that we think and feel?"
"So," he replied, "have I hoped and dreamed."
"What?" she asked, with rising joy. "Then you, too, have looked
"All my life."
"How wonderful! And did you never, never find anyone in the other
world who understood you?"
"Not wholly—not as you and I understand each other."
"Then you feel it, too? Oh, I am happy," she sighed.
They stood, hand in hand, looking down over the parapet upon the
shimmering landscape which stretched forth beneath them into
sapphirine space, and the Spirit of Life, who kept watch near the
threshold, heard now and then a floating fragment of their talk blown
backward like the stray swallows which the wind sometimes separates
from their migratory tribe.
"Did you never feel at sunset—"
"Ah, yes; but I never heard anyone else say so. Did you?"
"Do you remember that line in the third canto of the 'Inferno?'"
"Ah, that line—my favorite always. Is it possible—"
"You know the stooping Victory in the frieze of the Nike Apteros?"
"You mean the one who is tying her sandal? Then you have noticed,
too, that all Botticelli and Mantegna are dormant in those flying
folds of her drapery?"
"After a storm in autumn have you never seen—"
"Yes, it is curious how certain flowers suggest certain painters—
the perfume of the incarnation, Leonardo; that of the rose, Titian;
the tuberose, Crivelli—"
"I never supposed that anyone else had noticed it."
"Have you never thought—"
"Oh, yes, often and often; but I never dreamed that anyone else
"But surely you must have felt—"
"Oh, yes, yes; and you, too—"
"How beautiful! How strange—"
Their voices rose and fell, like the murmur of two fountains
answering each other across a garden full of flowers. At length,
with a certain tender impatience, he turned to her and said: "Love,
why should we linger here? All eternity lies before us. Let us go
down into that beautiful country together and make a home for
ourselves on some blue hill above the shining river."
As he spoke, the hand she had forgotten in his was suddenly
withdrawn, and he felt that a cloud was passing over the radiance of
"A home," she repeated, slowly, "a home for you and me to live in
for all eternity?"
"Why not, love? Am I not the soul that yours has sought?"
"Y-yes—yes, I know—but, don't you see, home would not be like
home to me, unless—"
"Unless?" he wonderingly repeated.
She did not answer, but she thought to herself, with an impulse of
whimsical inconsistency, "Unless you slammed the door and wore
But he had recovered his hold upon her hand, and by imperceptible
degrees was leading her toward the shining steps which descended to
"Come, O my soul's soul," he passionately implored; "why delay a
moment? Surely you feel, as I do, that eternity itself is too short
to hold such bliss as ours. It seems to me that I can see our home
already. Have I not always seem it in my dreams? It is white, love,
is it not, with polished columns, and a sculptured cornice against the
blue? Groves of laurel and oleander and thickets of roses surround
it; but from the terrace where we walk at sunset, the eye looks out
over woodlands and cool meadows where, deep-bowered under ancient
boughs, a stream goes delicately toward the river. Indoors our
favorite pictures hang upon the walls and the rooms are lined with
books. Think, dear, at last we shall have time to read them all.
With which shall we begin? Come, help me to choose. Shall it be
'Faust' or the 'Vita Nuova,' the 'Tempest' or 'Les Caprices de
Marianne,' or the thirty-first canto of the 'Paradise,' or
'Epipsychidion' or "Lycidas'? Tell me, dear, which one?"
As he spoke he saw the answer trembling joyously upon her lips;
but it died in the ensuing silence, and she stood motionless,
resisting the persuasion of his hand.
"What is it?" he entreated.
"Wait a moment," she said, with a strange hesitation in her voice.
"Tell me first, are you quite sure of yourself? Is there no one on
earth whom you sometimes remember?"
"Not since I have seen you," he replied; for, being a man, he had
Still she stood motionless, and he saw that the shadow deepened on
"Surely, love," he rebuked her, "it was not that which troubled
you? For my part I have walked through Lethe. The past has melted
like a cloud before the moon. I never lived until I saw you."
She made no answer to his pleadings, but at length, rousing
herself with a visible effort, she turned away from him and moved
toward the Spirit of Life, who still stood near the threshold.
"I want to ask you a question," she said, in a troubled voice.
"Ask," said the Spirit.
"A little while ago," she began, slowly, "you told me that every
soul which has not found a kindred soul on earth is destined to find
"And have you not found one?" asked the Spirit.
"Yes; but will it be so with my husband's soul also?"
"No," answered the Spirit of Life, "for your husband imagined that
he had found his soul's mate on earth in you; and for such delusions
eternity itself contains no cure."
She gave a little cry. Was it of disappointment or triumph?
"Then—then what will happen to him when he comes here?"
"That I cannot tell you. Some field of activity and happiness he
will doubtless find, in due measure to his capacity for being active
She interrupted, almost angrily: "He will never be happy without
"Do not be too sure of that," said the Spirit.
She took no notice of this, and the Spirit continued: "He will not
understand you here any better than he did on earth."
"No matter," she said; "I shall be the only sufferer, for he
always thought that he understood me."
"His boots will creak just as much as ever—"
"And he will slam the door—"
"And continue to read railway novels—"
She interposed, impatiently: "Many men do worse than that."
"But you said just now," said the Spirit, "that you did not love
"True," she answered, simply; "but don't you understand that I
shouldn't feel at home without him? It is all very well for a week
or two—but for eternity! After all, I never minded the creaking of
his boots, except when my head ached, and I don't suppose it will ache
HERE; and he was always so sorry when he had slammed the door, only he
never COULD remember not to. Besides, no one else would know how to
look after him, he is so helpless. His inkstand would never be filled,
and he would always be out of stamps and visiting-cards. He would
never remember to have his umbrella re-covered, or to ask the price of
anything before he bought it. Why, he wouldn't even know what novels
to read. I always had to choose the kind he liked, with a murder or a
forgery and a successful detective."
She turned abruptly to her kindred soul, who stood listening with
a mien of wonder and dismay.
"Don't you see," she said, "that I can't possibly go with you?"
"But what do you intend to do?" asked the Spirit of Life.
"What do I intend to do?" she returned, indignantly. "Why, I mean
to wait for my husband, of course. If he had come here first HE would
have waited for me for years and years; and it would break his heart
not to find me here when he comes." She pointed with a contemptuous
gesture to the magic vision of hill and vale sloping away to the
translucent mountains. "He wouldn't give a fig for all that," she
said, "if he didn't find me here."
"But consider," warned the Spirit, "that you are now choosing for
eternity. It is a solemn moment."
"Choosing!" she said, with a half-sad smile. "Do you still keep
up here that old fiction about choosing? I should have thought that
YOU knew better than that. How can I help myself? He will expect to
find me here when he comes, and he would never believe you if you told
him that I had gone away with someone else— never, never."
"So be it," said the Spirit. "Here, as on earth, each one must
decide for himself."
She turned to her kindred soul and looked at him gently, almost
wistfully. "I am sorry," she said. "I should have liked to talk
with you again; but you will understand, I know, and I dare say you
will find someone else a great deal cleverer—"
And without pausing to hear his answer she waved him a swift
farewell and turned back toward the threshold.
"Will my husband come soon?" she asked the Spirit of Life.
"That you are not destined to know," the Spirit replied.
"No matter," she said, cheerfully; "I have all eternity to wait
And still seated alone on the threshold, she listens for the
creaking of his boots.