The White Blot
by Henry van Dyke
The real location of a city house depends upon the pictures which
hang upon its walls. They are its neighbourhood and its outlook.
They confer upon it that touch of life and character, that power to
beget love and bind friendship, which a country house receives from
its surrounding landscape, the garden that embraces it, the stream
that runs near it, and the shaded paths that lead to and from its
By this magic of pictures my narrow, upright slice of living-space
in one of the brown-stone strata on the eastward slope of Manhattan
Island is transferred to an open and agreeable site. It has windows
that look toward the woods and the sunset, watergates by which a
little boat is always waiting, and secret passageways leading into
fair places that are frequented by persons of distinction and charm.
No darkness of night obscures these outlets; no neighbour's house
shuts off the view; no drifted snow of winter makes them impassable.
They are always free, and through them I go out and in upon my
One of these picture-wanderings has always appeared to me so
singular that I would like, if it were possible, to put it into
It was Pierrepont who first introduced me to the
picturePierrepont the good-natured: of whom one of his friends said
that he was like Mahomet's Bridge of Paradise, because he was so hard
to cross: to which another added that there was also a resemblance in
the fact that he led to a region of beautiful illusions which he never
entered. He is one of those enthusiastic souls who are always
discovering a new writer, a new painter, a new view from some old
wharf by the river, a new place to obtain picturesque dinners at a
grotesque price. He swung out of his office, with his long-legged,
easy stride, and nearly ran me down, as I was plodding up-town
through the languor of a late spring afternoon, on one of those
duty-walks which conscience offers as a sacrifice to digestion.
"Why, what is the matter with you?" he cried as he linked his arm
through mine, "you look outdone, tired all the way through to your
backbone. Have you been reading the 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' or
something by one of the new British female novelists? You will have
la grippe in your mind if you don't look out. But I know what you
need. Come with me, and I will do you good."
So saying, he drew me out of clanging Broadway into one of the side
streets that run toward the placid region of Washington Square. "No,
no," I answered, feeling, even in the act of resistance, the pleasure
of his cheerful guidance, "you are altogether wrong. I don't need a
dinner at your new-found Bulgarian table-d'hoteseven courses for
seventy-five cents, and the wine thrown out; nor some of those
wonderful Mexican cheroots warranted to eradicate the tobacco- habit;
nor a draught of your South American melon sherbet that cures all
pains, except these which it causes. None of these things will help
me. The doctor suggests that they do not suit my temperament. Let us
go home together and have a shower-bath and a dinner of herbs, with
just a reminiscence of the stalled oxand a bout at backgammon to
wind up the evening. That will be the most comfortable prescription."
"But you mistake me," said he; "I am not thinking of any creature
comforts for you. I am prescribing for your mind. There is a
picture that I want you to see; not a coloured photograph, nor an
exercise in anatomical drawing; but a real picture that will rest the
eyes of your heart. Come away with me to Morgenstern's gallery, and
As we turned into the lower end of Fifth Avenue, it seemed as if I
were being gently floated along between the modest apartment-houses
and old-fashioned dwellings, and prim, respectable churches, on the
smooth current of Pierrepont's talk about his new-found picture. How
often a man has cause to return thanks for the enthusiasms of his
friends! They are the little fountains that run down from the hills
to refresh the mental desert of the despondent.
"You remember Falconer," continued Pierrepont, "Temple Falconer,
that modest, quiet, proud fellow who came out of the South a couple
of years ago and carried off the landscape prize at the Academy last
year, and then disappeared? He had no intimate friends here, and no
one knew what had become of him. But now this picture appears, to
show what he has been doing. It is an evening scene, a revelation of
the beauty of sadness, an idea expressed in coloursor rather, a real
impression of Nature that awakens an ideal feeling in the heart. It
does not define everything and say nothing, like so many paintings.
It tells no story, but I know it fits into one. There is not a
figure in it, and yet it is alive with sentiment; it suggests thoughts
which cannot be put into words. Don't you love the pictures that have
that power of suggestionquiet and strong, like Homer Martin's
'Light-house' up at the Century, with its sheltered bay heaving softly
under the pallid greenish sky of evening, and the calm, steadfast glow
of the lantern brightening into readiness for all the perils of night
and coming storm? How much more powerful that is than all the
conventional pictures of light-houses on inaccessible cliffs, with
white foam streaming from them like the ends of a schoolboy's
comforter in a gale of wind! I tell you the real painters are the
fellows who love pure nature because it is so human. They don't need
to exaggerate, and they don't dare to be affected. They are not
afraid of the reality, and they are not ashamed of the sentiment.
They don't paint everything that they see, but they see everything
that they paint. And this picture makes me sure that Falconer is one
By this time we had arrived at the door of the house where
Morgenstern lives and moves and makes his profits, and were admitted
to the shrine of the Commercial Apollo and the Muses in Trade.
It has often seemed to me as if that little house were a silent
epitome of modern art criticism, an automatic indicator, or perhaps
regulator, of the aesthetic taste of New York. On the first floor,
surrounded by all the newest fashions in antiquities and BRIC-A-
BRAC, you will see the art of to-daythe works of painters who are
precisely in the focus of advertisement, and whose names call out an
instant round of applause in the auction-room. On the floors above,
in degrees of obscurity deepening toward the attic, you will find the
art of yesterdaythe pictures which have passed out of the glare of
popularity without yet arriving at the mellow radiance of old masters.
In the basement, concealed in huge packing-cases, and marked
"PARISFRAGILE,"you will find the art of to-morrow; the paintings
of the men in regard to whose names, styles, and personal traits, the
foreign correspondents and prophetic critics in the newspapers, are
now diffusing in the public mind that twilight of familiarity and
ignorance which precedes the sunrise of marketable fame.
The affable and sagacious Morgenstern was already well acquainted
with the waywardness of Pierrepont's admiration, and with my own
persistent disregard of current quotations in the valuation of works
of art. He regarded us, I suppose, very much as Robin Hood would
have looked upon a pair of plain yeomen who had strayed into his
lair. The knights of capital, and coal barons, and rich merchants
were his natural prey, but toward this poor but honest couple it
would be worthy only of a Gentile robber to show anything but
courteous and fair dealing.
He expressed no surprise when he heard what we wanted to see, but
smiled tolerantly and led the way, not into the well-defined realm of
the past, the present, or the future, but into a region of uncertain
fortunes, a limbo of acknowledged but unrewarded merits, a large back
room devoted to the works of American painters. Here we found
Falconer's picture; and the dealer, with that instinctive tact which
is the best part of his business capital, left us alone to look at it.
It showed the mouth of a little river: a secluded lagoon, where the
shallow tides rose and fell with vague lassitude, following the
impulse of prevailing winds more than the strong attraction of the
moon. But now the unsailed harbour was quite still, in the pause of
the evening; and the smooth undulations were caressed by a hundred
opalescent hues, growing deeper toward the west, where the river came
in. Converging lines of trees stood dark against the sky; a cleft in
the woods marked the course of the stream, above which the reluctant
splendours of an autumnal day were dying in ashes of roses, while
three tiny clouds, poised high in air, burned red with the last
glimpse of the departed sun.
On the right was a reedy point running out into the bay, and behind
it, on a slight rise of ground, an antique house with tall white
pillars. It was but dimly outlined in the gathering shadows; yet one
could imagine its stately, formal aspect, its precise garden with beds
of old-fashioned flowers and straight paths bordered with box, and a
little arbour overgrown with honeysuckle. I know not by what subtlety
of delicate and indescribable touchesa slight inclination in one of
the pillars, a broken line which might indicate an unhinged gate, a
drooping resignation in the foliage of the yellowing trees, a tone of
sadness in the blending of subdued coloursthe painter had suggested
that the place was deserted. But the truth was unmistakable. An air
of loneliness and pensive sorrow breathed from the picture; a sigh of
longing and regret. It was haunted by sad, sweet memories of some
untold story of human life.
In the corner Falconer had put his signature, T. F., "LARMONE,"
189-, and on the border of the picture he had faintly traced some
words, which we made out at last
"A spirit haunts the year's last hours."
Pierrepont took up the quotation and completed it
"A spirit haunts the year's last hours,
Dwelling amid these yellowing bowers:
To himself he talks;
For at eventide, listening earnestly,
At his work you may hear him sob and sigh,
In the walks;
Earthward he boweth the heavy stalks
Of the mouldering flowers:
Heavily hangs the broad sunflower
Over its grave i' the earth so chilly;
Heavily hangs the hollyhock,
Heavily hangs the tiger-lily."
"That is very pretty poetry, gentlemen," said Morgenstern, who had
come in behind us, "but is it not a little vague? You like it, but
you cannot tell exactly what it means. I find the same fault in the
picture from my point of view. There is nothing in it to make a
paragraph about, no anecdote, no experiment in technique. It is
impossible to persuade the public to admire a picture unless you can
tell them precisely the points on which they must fix their
admiration. And that is why, although the painting is a good one, I
should be willing to sell it at a low price."
He named a sum of money in three figures, so small that Pierrepont,
who often buys pictures by proxy, could not conceal his surprise.
"Certainly I should consider that a good bargain, simply for
investment," said he. "Falconer's name alone ought to be worth more
than that, ten years from now. He is a rising man."
"No, Mr. Pierrepont," replied the dealer, "the picture is worth
what I ask for it, for I would not commit the impertinence of offering
a present to you or your friend; but it is worth no more. Falconer's
name will not increase in value. The catalogue of his works is too
short for fame to take much notice of it; and this is the last. Did
you not hear of his death last fall? I do not wonder, for it
happened at some place down on Long Islanda name that I never saw
before, and have forgotten now. There was not even an obituary in
"And besides," he continued, after a pause, "I must not conceal
from you that the painting has a blemish. It is not always visible,
since you have failed to detect it; but it is more noticeable in some
lights than in others; and, do what I will, I cannot remove it. This
alone would prevent the painting from being a good investment. Its
market value will never rise."
He turned the canvas sideways to the light, and the defect became
It was a dim, oblong, white blot in the middle distance; a nebulous
blur in the painting, as if there had been some chemical impurity in
the pigment causing it to fade, or rather as if a long drop of some
acid, or perhaps a splash of salt water, had fallen upon the canvas
while it was wet, and bleached it. I knew little of the possible
causes of such a blot, but enough to see that it could not be erased
without painting over it, perhaps not even then. And yet it seemed
rather to enhance than to weaken the attraction which the picture had
"Your candour does you credit, Mr. Morgenstern," said I, "but you
know me well enough to be sure that what you have said will hardly
discourage me. For I have never been an admirer of 'cabinet finish'
in works of art. Nor have I been in the habit of buying them, as a
Circassian father trains his daughters, with an eye to the market.
They come into my house for my own pleasure, and when the time
arrives that I can see them no longer, it will not matter much to me
what price they bring in the auction-room. This landscape pleases me
so thoroughly that, if you will let us take it with us this evening, I
will send you a check for the amount in the morning."
So we carried off the painting in a cab; and all the way home I was
in the pleasant excitement of a man who is about to make an addition
to his house; while Pierrepont was conscious of the glow of virtue
which comes of having done a favour to a friend and justified your
own critical judgment at one stroke.
After dinner we hung the painting over the chimney-piece in the
room called the study (because it was consecrated to idleness), and
sat there far into the night, talking of the few times we had met
Falconer at the club, and of his reticent manner, which was broken by
curious flashes of impersonal confidence when he spoke not of himself
but of his art. From this we drifted into memories of good comrades
who had walked beside us but a few days in the path of life, and then
disappeared, yet left us feeling as if we cared more for them than for
the men whom we see every day; and of young geniuses who had never
reached the goal; and of many other glimpses of "the light that
failed," until the lamp was low and it was time to say good-night.
For several months I continued to advance in intimacy with my
picture. It grew more familiar, more suggestive; the truth and
beauty of it came home to me constantly. Yet there was something in
it not quite apprehended; a sense of strangeness; a reserve which I
had not yet penetrated.
One night in August I found myself practically alone, so far as
human intercourse was concerned, in the populous, weary city. A
couple of hours of writing had produced nothing that would bear the
test of sunlight, so I anticipated judgment by tearing up the spoiled
sheets of paper, and threw myself upon the couch before the empty
fireplace. It was a dense, sultry night, with electricity thickening
the air, and a trouble of distant thunder rolling far away on the rim
of the cloudy skyone of those nights of restless dulness, when you
wait and long for something to happen, and yet feel despondently that
nothing ever will happen again. I passed through a region of aimless
thoughts into one of migratory and unfinished dreams, and dropped from
that into an empty gulf of sleep.
How late it was when I drifted back toward the shore of
consciousness, I cannot tell. But the student-lamp on the table had
burned out, and the light of the gibbous moon was creeping in through
the open windows. Slowly the pale illumination crept up the eastern
wall, like a tide rising as the moon declined. Now it reached the
mantel-shelf and overflowed the bronze heads of Homer and the Indian
Bacchus and the Egyptian image of Isis with the infant Horus. Now it
touched the frame of the picture and lapped over the edge. Now it
rose to the shadowy house and the dim garden, in the midst of which I
saw the white blot more distinctly than ever before.
It seemed now to have taken a new shape, like the slender form of a
woman, robed in flowing white. And as I watched it through half-
closed eyes, the figure appeared to move and tremble and wave to and
fro, as if it were a ghost.
A haunted picture! Why should it not be so? A haunted ruin, a
haunted forest, a haunted ship,all these have been seen, or
imagined, and reported, and there are learned societies for
investigating such things. Why should not a picture have a ghost in
My mind, in that curiously vivid state which lies between waking
and sleeping, went through the form of careful reasoning over the
question. If there may be some subtle connection between a house and
the spirits of the people who have once lived in it,and wise men
have believed this,why should there be any impassable gulf between a
picture and the vanished lives out of which it has grown? All the
human thought and feeling which have passed into it through the
patient toil of art, remain forever embodied there. A picture is the
most living and personal thing that a man can leave behind him. When
we look at it we see what he saw, hour after hour, day after day, and
we see it through his mood and impression, coloured by his emotion,
tinged with his personality. Surely, if the spirits of the dead are
not extinguished, but only veiled and hidden, and if it were possible
by any means that their presence could flash for a moment through the
veil, it would be most natural that they should come back again to
hover around the work into which their experience and passion had been
woven. Here, if anywhere, they would "Revisit the pale glimpses of
the moon." Here, if anywhere, we might catch fleeting sight, as in a
glass darkly, of the visions that passed before them while they
This much of my train of reasoning along the edge of the dark, I
remember sharply. But after this, all was confused and misty. The
shore of consciousness receded. I floated out again on the ocean of
forgotten dreams. When I woke, it was with a quick start, as if my
ship had been made fast, silently and suddenly, at the wharf of
reality, and the bell rang for me to step ashore.
But the vision of the white blot remained clear and distinct. And
the question that it had brought to me, the chain of thoughts that
had linked themselves to it, lingered through the morning, and made
me feel sure that there was an untold secret in Falconer's life and
that the clew to it must be sought in the history of his last
But how to trace the connection? Every one who had known Falconer,
however slightly, was out of town. There was no clew to follow. Even
the name "Larmone" gave me no help; for I could not find it on any map
of Long Island. It was probably the fanciful title of some old
country-place, familiar only to the people who had lived there.
But the very remoteness of the problem, its lack of contact with
the practical world, fascinated me. It was like something that had
drifted away in the fog, on a sea of unknown and fluctuating
currents. The only possible way to find it was to commit yourself to
the same wandering tides and drift after it, trusting to a propitious
fortune that you might be carried in the same direction; and after a
long, blind, unhurrying chase, one day you might feel a faint touch, a
jar, a thrill along the side of your boat, and, peering through the
fog, lay your hand at last, without surprise, upon the very object of
As it happened, the means for such a quest were at my disposal. I
was part owner of a boat which had been built for hunting and fishing
cruises on the shallow waters of the Great South Bay. It was a
deliberate, but not inconvenient, craft, well named the Patience; and
my turn for using it had come. Black Zekiel, the captain, crew, and
cook, was the very man that I would have chosen for such an
expedition. He combined the indolent good-humour of the negro with
the taciturnity of the Indian, and knew every shoal and channel of the
tortuous waters. He asked nothing better than to set out on a voyage
without a port; sailing aimlessly eastward day after day, through the
long chain of landlocked bays, with the sea plunging behind the
sand-dunes on our right, and the shores of Long Island sleeping on our
left; anchoring every evening in some little cove or estuary, where
Zekiel could sit on the cabin roof, smoking his corn-cob pipe, and
meditating on the vanity and comfort of life, while I pushed off
through the mellow dusk to explore every creek and bend of the shore,
in my light canoe.
There was nothing to hasten our voyage. The three weeks' vacation
was all but gone, when the Patience groped her way through a narrow,
crooked channel in a wide salt-meadow, and entered the last of the
series of bays. A few houses straggled down a point of land; the
village of Quantock lay a little farther back. Beyond that was a
belt of woods reaching to the water; and from these the south-
country road emerged to cross the upper end of the bay on a low
causeway with a narrow bridge of planks at the central point. Here
was our Ultima Thule. Not even the Patience could thread the eye of
this needle, or float through the shallow marsh-canal farther to the
We anchored just in front of the bridge, and as I pushed the canoe
beneath it, after supper, I felt the indefinable sensation of having
passed that way before. I knew beforehand what the little boat would
drift into. The broad saffron light of evening fading over a still
lagoon; two converging lines of pine trees running back into the
sunset; a grassy point upon the right; and behind that a neglected
garden, a tangled bower of honeysuckle, a straight path bordered with
box, leading to a deserted house with a high, white- pillared
porchyes, it was Larmone.
In the morning I went up to the village to see if I could find
trace of my artist's visit to the place. There was no difficulty in
the search, for he had been there often. The people had plenty of
recollections of him, but no real memory, for it seemed as if none of
them had really known him.
"Queer kinder fellow," said a wrinkled old bayman with whom I
walked up the sandy road, "I seen him a good deal round here, but
'twan't like havin' any 'quaintance with him. He allus kep' himself
to himself, pooty much. Used ter stay round 'Squire Ladoo's place
most o' the timekeepin' comp'ny with the gal I guess. Larmone?
Yaas, that's what THEY called it, but we don't go much on fancy names
down here. No, the painter didn' 'zactly live there, but it 'mounted
to the same thing. Las' summer they was all away, house shet up,
painter hangin' round all the time, 's if he looked fur 'em to come
back any minnit. Purfessed to be paintin', but I don' see's he did
much. Lived up to Mort Halsey's; died there too; year ago this fall.
Guess Mis' Halsey can tell ye most of any one 'bout him."
At the boarding-house (with wide, low verandas, now forsaken by the
summer boarders), which did duty for a village inn, I found Mrs.
Halsey; a notable housewife, with a strong taste for ancestry, and an
uncultivated world of romance still brightening her soft brown eyes.
She knew all the threads in the story that I was following; and the
interest with which she spoke made it evident that she had often woven
them together in the winter evenings on patterns of her own.
Judge Ledoux had come to Quantock from the South during the war,
and built a house there like the one he used to live in. There were
three things he hated: slavery and war and society. But he always
loved the South more than the North, and lived like a foreigner,
polite enough, but very retired. His wife died after a few years,
and left him alone with a little girl. Claire grew up as pretty as a
picture, but very shy and delicate. About two years ago Mr. Falconer
had come down from the city; he stayed at Larmone first, and then he
came to the boarding-house, but he was over at the Ledoux' house
almost all the time. He was a Southerner too, and a relative of the
family; a real gentleman, and very proud though he was poor. It
seemed strange that he should not live with them, but perhaps he felt
more free over here. Every one thought he must be engaged to Claire,
but he was not the kind of a man that you could ask questions about
himself. A year ago last winter he had gone up to the city and taken
all his things with him. He had never stayed away so long before. In
the spring the Ledoux had gone to Europe; Claire seemed to be falling
into a decline; her sight seemed to be failing, and her father said
she must see a famous doctor and have a change of air.
"Mr. Falconer came back in May," continued the good lady, "as if he
expected to find them. But the house was shut up and nobody knew
just where they were. He seemed to be all taken aback; it was queer
if he didn't know about it, intimate as he had been; but he never
said anything, and made no inquiries; just seemed to be waiting, as
if there was nothing else for him to do. We would have told him in a
minute, if we had anything to tell. But all we could do was to guess
there must have been some kind of a quarrel between him and the Judge,
and if there was, he must know best about it himself.
"All summer long he kept going over to the house and wandering
around in the garden. In the fall he began to paint a picture, but
it was very slow painting; he would go over in the afternoon and come
back long after dark, damp with the dew and fog. He kept growing
paler and weaker and more silent. Some days he did not speak more
than a dozen words, but always kind and pleasant. He was just
dwindling away; and when the picture was almost done a fever took hold
of him. The doctor said it was malaria, but it seemed to me more like
a trouble in the throat, a kind of dumb misery. And one night, in the
third quarter of the moon, just after the tide turned to run out, he
raised up in the bed and tried to speak, but he was gone.
"We tried to find out his relations, but there didn't seem to be
any, except the Ledoux, and they were out of reach. So we sent the
picture up to our cousin in Brooklyn, and it sold for about enough to
pay Mr. Falconer's summer's board and the cost of his funeral. There
was nothing else that he left of any value, except a few books;
perhaps you would like to look at them, if you were his friend?
"I never saw any one that I seemed to know so little and like so
well. It was a disappointment in love, of course, and they all said
that he died of a broken heart; but I think it was because his heart
was too full, and wouldn't break.
"And oh!I forgot to tell you; a week after he was gone there was
a notice in the paper that Claire Ledoux had died suddenly, on the
last of August, at some place in Switzerland. Her father is still
away travelling. And so the whole story is broken off and will never
be finished. Will you look at the books?"
Nothing is more pathetic, to my mind, than to take up the books of
one who is dead. Here is his name, with perhaps a note of the place
where the volume was bought or read, and the marks on the pages that
he liked best. Here are the passages that gave him pleasure, and the
thoughts that entered into his life and formed it; they became part of
him, but where has he carried them now?
Falconer's little library was an unstudied choice, and gave a hint
of his character. There was a New Testament in French, with his name
written in a slender, woman's hand; three or four volumes of stories,
Cable's "Old Creole Days," Allen's "Kentucky Cardinal," Page's "In Old
Virginia," and the like; "Henry Esmond" and Amiel's "Journal" and
Lamartine's "Raphael"; and a few volumes of poetry, among them one of
Sidney Lanier's, and one of Tennyson's earlier poems.
There was also a little morocco-bound book of manuscript notes.
This I begged permission to carry away with me, hoping to find in it
something which would throw light upon my picture, perhaps even some
message to be carried, some hint or suggestion of something which the
writer would fain have had done for him, and which I promised myself
faithfully to perform, as a test of an imagined friendship imagined
not in the future, but in the impossible past.
I read the book in this spirit, searching its pages carefully,
through the long afternoon, in the solitary cabin of my boat. There
was nothing at first but an ordinary diary; a record of the work and
self-denials of a poor student of art. Then came the date of his
first visit to Larmone, and an expression of the pleasure of being
with his own people again after a lonely life, and some chronicle of
his occupations there, studies for pictures, and idle days that were
summed up in a phrase: "On the bay," or "In the woods."
After this the regular succession of dates was broken, and there
followed a few scraps of verse, irregular and unfinished, bound
together by the thread of a name"Claire among her Roses," "A Ride
through the Pines with Claire," "An Old Song of Claire's" "The Blue
Flower in Claire's Eyes." It was not poetry, but such an unconscious
tribute to the power and beauty of poetry as unfolds itself almost
inevitably from youthful love, as naturally as the blossoms unfold
from the apple trees in May. If you pick them they are worthless.
They charm only in their own time and place.
A date told of his change from Larmone to the village, and this was
written below it: "Too heavy a sense of obligation destroys freedom,
and only a free man can dare to love."
Then came a number of fragments indicating trouble of mind and
hesitation; the sensitiveness of the artist, the delicate, self-
tormenting scruples of the lonely idealist, the morbid pride of the
young poor man, contending with an impetuous passion and forcing it
to surrender, or at least to compromise.
"What right has a man to demand everything and offer nothing in
return except an ambition and a hope? Love must come as a giver, not
as a beggar."
"A knight should not ask to wear his lady's colours until he has
won his spurs."
"King Cophetua and the beggar-maidvery fine! but the other way
"A woman may take everything from a man, wealth and fame and
position. But there is only one thing that a man may accept from a
womansomething that she alone can givehappiness."
"Self-respect is less than love, but it is the trellis that holds
love up from the ground; break it down, and all the flowers are in
the dust, the fruit is spoiled."
"And yet"so the man's thought shone through everywhere"I think
she must know that I love her, and why I cannot speak."
One entry was written in a clearer, stronger hand: "An end of
hesitation. The longest way is the shortest. I am going to the city
to work for the Academy prize, to think of nothing else until I win
it, and then come back with it to Claire, to tell her that I have a
future, and that it is hers. If I spoke of it now it would be like
claiming the reward before I had done the work. I have told her only
that I am going to prove myself an artist, AND TO LIVE FOR WHAT I LOVE
BEST. She understood, I am sure, for she would not lift her eyes to
me, but her hand trembled as she gave me the blue flower from her
The date of his return to Larmone was marked, but the page was
blank, as the day had been.
Some pages of dull self-reproach and questioning and bewildered
"Is it possible that she has gone away, without a word, without a
sign, after what has passed between us? It is not fair. Surely I
had some claim."
"But what claim, after all? I asked for nothing. And was it not
pride that kept me silent, taking it for granted that if I asked, she
"It was a mistake; she did not understand, nor care."
"It was my fault; I might at least have told her that I loved her,
though she could not have answered me."
"It is too late now. To-night, while I was finishing the picture,
I saw her in the garden. Her spirit, all in white, with a blue flower
in her belt. I knew she was dead across the sea. I tried to call to
her, but my voice made no sound. She seemed not to see me. She moved
like one in a dream, straight on, and vanished. Is there no one who
can tell her? Must she never know that I loved her?"
The last thing in the book was a printed scrap of paper that lay
between the leaves:
"Would the gods might give
Another field for human strife;
Man must live one life
Ere he learns to live.
Ah, friend, in thy deep grave,
What now can change; what now can save?"
So there was a message after all, but it could never be carried; a
task for a friend, but it was impossible. What better thing could I
do with the poor little book than bury it in the garden in the shadow
of Larmone? The story of a silent fault, hidden in silence. How many
of life's deepest tragedies are only that: no great transgression, no
shock of conflict, no sudden catastrophe with its answering thrill of
courage and resistance: only a mistake made in the darkness, and under
the guidance of what seemed a true and noble motive; a failure to see
the right path at the right moment, and a long wandering beyond it; a
word left unspoken until the ears that should have heard it are
sealed, and the tongue that should have spoken it is dumb.
The soft sea-fog clothed the night with clinging darkness; the
faded leaves hung slack and motionless from the trees, waiting for
their fall; the tense notes of the surf beyond the sand-dunes vibrated
through the damp air like chords from some mighty VIOLONO; large,
warm drops wept from the arbour while I sat in the garden, holding
the poor little book, and thinking of the white blot in the record of
a life that was too proud to bend to the happiness that was meant for
There are men like that: not many perhaps, but a few; and they are
the ones who suffer most keenly in this world of half-understanding
and clouded knowledge. There is a pride, honourable and sensitive,
that imperils the realization of love, puts it under a spell of
silence and reserve, makes it sterile of blossoms and impotent of
fruits. For what is it, after all, but a subtle, spiritual worship
of self? And what was Falconer's resolve not to tell this girl that
he loved her until he had won fame and position, but a secret,
unconscious setting of himself above her? For surely, if love is
supreme, it does not need to wait for anything else to lend it worth
and dignity. The very sweetness and power of it lie in the
confession of one life as dependent upon another for its fulfilment.
It is made strong in its very weakness. It is the only thing, after
all, that can break the prison bars and set the heart free from
itself. The pride that hinders it, enslaves it. Love's first duty
is to be true to itself, in word and deed. Then, having spoken truth
and acted verity, it may call on honour to keep it pure and steadfast.
If Falconer had trusted Claire, and showed her his heart without
reserve, would she not have understood him and helped him? It was
the pride of independence, the passion of self-reliance that drew him
away from her and divided his heart from hers in a dumb isolation.
But Claire,was not she also in fault? Might she not have known,
should not she have taken for granted, the truth which must have been
so easy to read in Falconer's face, though he never put it into words?
And yet with her there was something very different from the pride
that kept him silent. The virgin reserve of a young girl's heart is
more sacred than any pride of self. It is the maiden instinct which
makes the woman always the shrine, and never the pilgrim. She is not
the seeker, but the one sought. She dares not take anything for
granted. She has the right to wait for the voice, the word, the
avowal. Then, and not till then, if the pilgrim be the chosen one,
the shrine may open to receive him.
Not all women believe this; but those who do are the ones best
worth seeking and winning. And Claire was one of them. It seemed to
me, as I mused, half dreaming, on the unfinished story of these two
lives that had missed each other in the darkness, that I could see
her figure moving through the garden, beyond where the pallid bloom
of the tall cosmos-flower bent to the fitful breeze. Her robe was
like the waving of the mist. Her face was fair, and very fair, for
all its sadness: a blue flower, faint as a shadow on the snow,
trembled at her waist, as she paced to and fro along the path.
I murmured to myself, "Yet he loved her: and she loved him. Can
pride be stronger than love?"
Perhaps, after all, the lingering and belated confession which
Falconer had written in his diary might in some way come to her.
Perhaps if it were left here in the bower of honeysuckles where they
had so often sat together, it might be a sign and omen of the meeting
of these two souls that had lost each other in the dark of the world.
Perhaps,ah, who can tell that it is not so?for those who truly
love, with all their errors, with all their faults, there is no
"irrevocable"there is "another field."
As I turned from the garden, the tense note of the surf vibrated
through the night. The pattering drops of dew rustled as they fell
from the leaves of the honeysuckle. But underneath these sounds it
seemed as if I heard a deep voice saying "Claire!" and a woman's lips