The Lane that ran
East and West
The curving strip of lane, fading into invisibility east
and west, had always symbolized life to her. In some
minds life pictures itself a straight line, uphill, downhill,
flat, as the case may be; in hers it had been, since childhood,
this sweep of country lane that ran past her cottage
door. In thick white summer dust, she invariably visualized
it, blue and yellow flowers along its untidy banks of
green. It flowed, it glided, sometimes it rushed. Without
a sound it ran along past the nut trees and the branches
where honeysuckle and wild roses shone. With every year
now its silent speed increased.
From either end she imagined, as a child, that she
looked over into outer space—from the eastern end into the
infinity before birth, from the western into the infinity
that follows death. It was to her of real importance.
From the veranda the entire stretch was visible, not
more than five hundred yards at most; from the platform
in her mind, whence she viewed existence, she saw her
own life, similarly, as a white curve of flowering lane,
arising she knew not whence, gliding whither she could not
tell. At eighteen she had paraphrased the quatrain with
a smile upon her red lips, her chin tilted, her strong grey
eyes rather wistful with yearning—
Into this little lane, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like water willy-nilly flowing,
And out again—like dust along the waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.
At thirty she now repeated it, the smile still there,
but the lips not quite so red, the chin a trifle firmer, the
grey eyes stronger, clearer, but charged with a more wistful
and a deeper yearning.
It was her turn of mind, imaginative, introspective,
querulous perhaps, that made the bit of running lane significant.
Food with the butcher’s and baker’s carts came
to her from its eastern, its arriving end, as she called it;
news with the postman, adventure with rare callers. Youth,
hope, excitement, all these came from the sunrise. Thence
came likewise spring and summer, flowers, butterflies, the
swallows. The fairies, in her childhood, had come that
way too, their silver feet and gossamer wings brightening
the summer dawns; and it was but a year ago that Dick
Messenger, his car stirring a cloud of thick white dust, had
also come into her life from the space beyond the sunrise.
She sat thinking about him now—how he had suddenly
appeared out of nothing that warm June morning,
asked her permission about some engineering business on
the neighbouring big estate over the hill, given her a dog-rose
and a bit of fern-leaf, and eventually gone away with
her promise when he left. Out of the eastern end he
appeared; into the western end he vanished.
For there was this departing end as well, where the
lane curved out of sight into the space behind the yellow
sunset. In this direction went all that left her life. Her
parents, each in turn, had taken that way to the churchyard.
Spring, summer, the fading butterflies, the restless
swallows, all left her round that western curve. Later the
fairies followed them, her dreams one by one, the vanishing
years as well—and now her youth, swifter, ever swifter,
into the region where the sun dipped nightly among pale
rising stars, leaving her brief strip of life colder, more
and more unlit.
Just beyond this end she imagined shadows.
She saw Dick’s car whirling towards her, whirling
away again, making for distant Mexico, where his treasure
lay. In the interval he had found that treasure and realized
it. He was now coming back again. He had landed
in England yesterday.
Seated in her deck-chair on the veranda, she watched
the sun sink to the level of the hazel trees. The last
swallows already flashed their dark wings against the fading
gold. Over that western end to-morrow or the next
day, amid a cloud of whirling white dust, would emerge,
again out of nothingness, the noisy car that brought Dick
Messenger back to her, back from the Mexican expedition
that ensured his great new riches, back into her heart and
life. In the other direction she would depart a week or so
later, her life in his keeping, and his in hers ... and the
feet of their children, in due course, would run up and
down the mysterious lane in search of flowers, butterflies,
excitement, in search of life.
She wondered ... and as the light faded her wondering
grew deeper. Questions that had lain dormant for
twelve months became audible suddenly. Would Dick be
satisfied with this humble cottage which meant so much
to her that she felt she could never, never leave it? Would
not his money, his new position, demand palaces elsewhere?
He was ambitious. Could his ambitions set an
altar of sacrifice to his love? And she—could she, on the
other hand, walk happy and satisfied along the western
curve, leaving her lane finally behind her, lost, untravelled,
forgotten? Could she face this sacrifice for him? Was
he, in a word, the man whose appearance out of the sunrise
she had been watching and waiting for all these hurrying,
She wondered. Now that the decisive moment was so
near, unhappy doubts assailed her. Her wondering grew
deeper, spread, enveloped, penetrated her being like a
gathering darkness. And the sun sank lower, dusk crept
along the hedgerows, the flowers closed their little burning
eyes. Shadows passed hand in hand along the familiar
bend that was so short, so soon travelled over and left behind
that a mistake must ruin all its sweetest joy. To
wander down it with a companion to whom its flowers, its
butterflies, its shadows brought no full message, must turn
it chill, dark, lonely, colourless.... Her thoughts slipped
on thus into a soft inner reverie born of that scented
twilight hour of honeysuckle and wild roses, born too of
her deep self-questioning, of wonder, of yearning unsatisfied.
The lane, meanwhile, produced its customary few
figures, moving homewards through the dusk. She knew
them well, these familiar figures of the countryside, had
known them from childhood onwards—labourers, hedgers,
ditchers and the like, with whom now, even in her reverie,
she exchanged the usual friendly greetings across the
wicket-gate. This time, however, she gave but her mind
to them, her heart absorbed with its own personal and immediate
Melancey had come and gone; old Averill, carrying his
hedger’s sickle-knife, had followed; and she was vaguely
looking for Hezekiah Purdy, bent with years and rheumatism,
his tea-pail always rattling, his shuffling feet making
a sorry dust, when the figure she did not quite recognize
came into view, emerging unexpectedly from the sunrise
end. Was it Purdy? Yes—no—yet, if not, who was it?
Of course it must be Purdy. Yet while the others, being
homeward bound, came naturally from west to east, with
this new figure it was otherwise, so that he was half-way
down the curve before she fully realized him. Out of the
eastern end the man drew nearer, a stranger therefore;
out of the unknown regions where the sun rose, and where
no shadows were, he moved towards her down the deserted
lane, perhaps a trespasser, an intruder possibly, but certainly
an unfamiliar figure.
Without particular attention or interest, she watched
him drift nearer down her little semi-private lane of
dream, passing leisurely from east to west, the mere fact
that he was there establishing an intimacy that remained
at first unsuspected. It was her eye that watched him,
not her mind. What was he doing here, where going,
whither come, she wondered vaguely, the lane both his
background and his starting-point? A little by-way, after
all, this haunted lane. The real world, she knew, swept
down the big high-road beyond, unconscious of the humble
folk its unimportant tributary served. Suddenly the burden
of the years assailed her. Had she, then, missed life
by living here?
Then, with a little shock, her heart contracted as she
became aware of two eyes fixed upon her in the dusk.
The stranger had already reached the wicket-gate and now
stood leaning against it, staring at her over its spiked
wooden top. It was certainly not old Purdy. The blood
rushed back into her heart again as she returned the gaze.
He was watching her with a curious intentness, with an
odd sense of authority almost, with something that persuaded
her instantly of a definite purpose in his being
there. He was waiting for her—expecting her to come
down and speak with him, as she had spoken with the
others. Of this, her little habit, he made use, she felt.
Shyly, half-nervously, she left her deck-chair and went
slowly down the short gravel path between the flowers,
noticing meanwhile that his clothes were ragged, his hair
unkempt, his face worn and ravaged as by want and suffering,
yet that his eyes were curiously young. His eyes,
indeed, were full brown smiling eyes, and it was the surprise
of his youth that impressed her chiefly. That he
could be tramp or trespasser left her. She felt no fear.
She wished him “Good evening” in her calm, quiet
voice, adding with sympathy, “And who are you, I wonder?
You want to ask me something?” It flashed across
her that his shabby clothing was somehow a disguise. Over
his shoulder hung a faded sack. “I can do something for
you?” she pursued inquiringly, as was her kindly custom.
“If you are hungry, thirsty, or——”
It was the expression of vigour leaping into the deep
eyes that stopped her. “If you need clothes,” she had
been going to add. She was not frightened, but suddenly
she paused, gripped by a wonder she could not understand.
And his first words justified her wonder. “I have
something for you,” he said, his voice faint, a kind of stillness
in it as though it came through distance. Also,
though this she did not notice, it was an educated voice,
and it was the absence of surprise that made this detail
too natural to claim attention. She had expected it.
“Something to give you. I have brought it for you,” the
“Yes,” she replied, aware, again without comprehension,
that her courage and her patience were both summoned
to support her. “Yes,” she repeated more faintly,
as though this was all natural, inevitable, expected. She
saw that the sack was now lifted from his shoulder and
that his hand plunged into it, as it hung apparently loose
and empty against the gate. His eyes, however, never for
one instant left her own. Alarm, she was able to remind
herself, she did not feel. She only recognized that this
ragged figure laid something upon her spirit she could not
fathom, yet was compelled to face.
His next words startled her. She drew, if unconsciously,
upon her courage:
The voice was deep, yet still with the faintness as of
distance in it. His hand, she saw, was moving slowly
from the empty sack. A strange attraction, mingled with
pity, with yearning too, stirred deeply in her. The face,
it seemed, turned soft, the eyes glowed with some inner
fire of feeling. Her heart now beat unevenly.
“Something—to—sell to me,” she faltered, aware that
his glowing eyes upon her made her tremble. The same
instant she was ashamed of the words, knowing they were
uttered by a portion of her that resisted, and this was
not the language he deserved.
He smiled, and she knew her resistance a vain make-believe
he pierced too easily, though he let it pass in
“There is, I mean, a price—for every dream,” she
tried to save herself, conscious delightfully that her heart
was smiling in return.
The dusk enveloped them, the corncrakes were calling
from the fields, the scent of honeysuckle and wild
roses lay round her in a warm wave of air, yet at the same
time she felt as if her naked soul stood side by side with
this figure in the infinitude of space beyond the sunrise
end. The golden stars hung calm and motionless above
them. “That price”—his answer fell like a summons she
had actually expected—“you pay to another, not to me.”
The voice grew fainter, farther away, dropping through
empty space behind her. “All dreams are but a single
dream. You pay that price to——”
Her interruption slipped spontaneously from her lips,
its inevitable truth a prophecy:
He smiled again, but this time he did not answer.
His hand, instead, now moved across the gate towards
And before she quite realized what had happened, she
was holding a little object he had passed across to her. She
had taken it, obeying, it seemed, an inner compulsion
and authority which were inevitable, fore-ordained. Lowering
her face she examined it in the dusk—a small green
leaf of fern—fingered it with tender caution as it lay in
her palm, gazed for some seconds closely at the tiny
thing.... When she looked up again the stranger,
the seller of dreams, as she now imagined him, had moved
some yards away from the gate, and was moving still, a
leisurely quiet tread that stirred no dust, a shadowy outline
soft with dusk and starlight, moving towards the
sunrise end, whence he had first appeared.
Her heart gave a sudden leap, as once again the burden
of the years assailed her. Her words seemed driven out:
“Who are you? Before you go—your name! What is
His voice, now faint with distance as he melted from
sight against the dark fringe of hazel trees, reached her
but indistinctly, though its meaning was somehow clear:
“The dream,” she heard like a breath of wind against
her ear, “shall bring its own name with it. I wait....”
Both sound and figure trailed off into the unknown space
beyond the eastern end, and, leaning against the wicket-gate
as usual, the white dust settling about his heavy boots,
the tea-pail but just ceased from rattling, was—old Purdy.
Unless the mind can fix the reality of an event in the
actual instant of its happening, judgment soon dwindles
into a confusion between memory and argument. Five
minutes later, when old Purdy had gone his way again,
she found herself already wondering, reflecting, questioning.
Yearning had perhaps conjured with emotion to
fashion both voice and figure out of imagination, out of
this perfumed dusk, out of the troubled heart’s desire.
Confusion in time had further helped to metamorphose old
Purdy into some legendary shape that had stolen upon
her mood of reverie from the shadows of her beloved
lane.... Yet the dream she had accepted from a
stranger hand, a little fern leaf, remained at any rate to
shape a delightful certainty her brain might criticize while
her heart believed. The fern leaf assuredly was real. A
fairy gift! Those who eat of this fern-seed, she remembered
as she sank into sleep that night, shall see the fairies! And,
indeed, a few hours later she walked in dream along the
familiar curve between the hedges, her own childhood taking
her by the hand as she played with the flowers, the
butterflies, the glad swallows beckoning while they flashed.
Without the smallest sense of surprise or unexpectedness,
too, she met at the eastern end—two figures. They stood,
as she with her childhood stood, hand in hand, the seller
of dreams and her lover, waiting since time began, she
realized, waiting with some great unuttered question on
their lips. Neither addressed her, neither spoke a word.
Dick looked at her, ambition, hard and restless, shining
in his eyes; in the eyes of the other—dark, gentle, piercing,
but extraordinarily young for all the ragged hair about
the face the shabby clothes, the ravaged and unkempt appearance—a
brightness as of the coming dawn.
A choice, she understood, was offered to her; there was
a decision she must make. She realized, as though some
great wind blew it into her from outer space, another, a
new standard to which her judgment must inevitably conform,
or admit the purpose of her life evaded finally. The
same moment she knew what her decision was. No hesitation
touched her. Calm, yet trembling, her courage and
her patience faced the decision and accepted it. The hands
then instantly fell apart, unclasped. One figure turned
and vanished down the lane towards the departing end, but
with the other, now hand in hand, she rose floating, gliding
without effort, a strange bliss in her heart, to meet the
“He has awakened ... so he cannot stay,” she heard,
like a breath of wind that whispered into her ear. “I, who
bring you this dream—I wait.”
She did not wake at once when the dream was ended,
but slept on long beyond her accustomed hour, missing
thereby Melancey, Averill, old Purdy as they passed the
wicket-gate in the early hours. She woke, however, with
a new clear knowledge of herself, of her mind and heart,
to all of which in simple truth to her own soul she must
conform. The fern-seed she placed in a locket attached to
a fine gold chain about her neck. During the long, lonely,
expectant yet unsatisfied years that followed she wore it
day and night.
She had the curious feeling that she remained young.
Others grew older, but not she. She watched her contemporaries
slowly give the signs, while she herself held
stationary. Even those younger than herself went past
her, growing older in the ordinary way, whereas her heart,
her mind, even her appearance, she felt certain, hardly
aged at all. In a room full of people she felt pity often
as she read the signs in their faces knowing her own unchanged.
Their eyes were burning out, but hers burned
on. It was neither vanity nor delusion, but an inner conviction
she could not alter.
The age she held to was the year she had received the
fern-seed from old Purdy, or rather, from an imaginary
figure her reverie had set momentarily in old Purdy’s
place. That figure of her reverie, the dream that followed,
the subsequent confession to Dick Messenger, meeting his
own half-way—these marked the year when she stopped
growing older. To that year she seemed chained, gazing
into the sunrise end—waiting, ever waiting.
Whether in her absent-minded reverie she had actually
plucked the bit of fern herself, or whether, after all, old
Purdy had handed it to her, was not a point that troubled
her. It was in her locket about her neck still, day and
night. The seller of dreams was an established imaginative
reality in her life. Her heart assured her she would
meet him again one day. She waited. It was very curious,
it was rather pathetic. Men came and went, she saw her
chances pass; her answer was invariably “No.”
The break came suddenly, and with devastating effect.
As she was dressing carefully for the party, full of excited
anticipation like some young girl still, she saw
looking out upon her from the long mirror a face of plain
middle-age. A blackness rose about her. It seemed the
mirror shattered. The long, long dream, at any rate, fell
in a thousand broken pieces at her feet. It was perhaps
the ball dress, perhaps the flowers in her hair; it may have
been the low-cut gown that betrayed the neck and throat,
or the one brilliant jewel that proved her eyes now dimmed
beside it—but most probably it was the tell-tale hands,
whose ageing no artifice ever can conceal. The middle-aged
woman, at any rate, rushed from the glass and claimed her.
It was a long time, too, before the signs of tears had
been carefully obliterated again, and the battle with herself—to
go or not to go—was decided by clear courage.
She would not send a hurried excuse of illness, but would
take the place where she now belonged. She saw herself,
a fading figure, more than half-way now towards the sunset
end, within sight even of the shadowed emptiness that lay
beyond the sun’s dipping edge. She had lingered over-long,
expecting a dream to confirm a dream; she had
been oblivious of the truth that the lane went rushing just
the same. It was now too late. The speed increased. She
had waited, waited for nothing. The seller of dreams was
a myth. No man could need her as she now was.
Yet the chief ingredient in her decision was, oddly
enough, itself a sign of youth. A party, a ball, is ever
an adventure. Fate, with her destined eyes aglow, may
be bidden too, waiting among the throng, waiting for that
very one who hesitates whether to go or not to go. Who
knows what the evening may bring forth? It was this
anticipation, faintly beckoning, its voice the merest echo
of her shadowy youth, that tipped the scales between an
evening of sleepless regrets at home and hours of neglected
loneliness, watching the young fulfil the happy night.
This and her courage weighed the balance down against the
afflicting weariness of her sudden disillusion.
Therefore she went, her aunt, in whose house she was
a visitor, accompanying her. They arrived late, walking
under the awning alone into the great mansion. Music,
flowers, lovely dresses, and bright happy faces filled the air
about them. The dancing feet, the flashing eyes, the swing
of the music, the throng of graceful figures expressed one
word—pleasure. Pleasure, of course, meant youth. Beneath
the calm summer stars youth realized itself prodigally,
reckless of years to follow. Under the same calm
stars, some fifty miles away in Kent, her stretch of deserted
lane flowed peacefully, never pausing, passing relentlessly
out into unknown space beyond the edge of the
world. A girl and a middle-aged woman bravely watched
“Dreadfully overcrowded,” remarked her prosaic aunt.
“When I was a young thing there was more taste—always
room to dance, at any rate.”
“It is a rabble rather,” replied the middle-aged woman,
while the girl added, “but I enjoy it.” She had enjoyed
one duty-dance with an elderly man to whom her aunt had
introduced her. She now sat watching the rabble whirl
and laugh. Her friend, behind unabashed lorgnettes,
made occasional comments.
“There’s Mabel. Look at her frock, will you—the
naked back. The way he holds her, too!”
She looked at Mabel Messenger, exactly her own age,
wife of the successful engineer, yet bearing herself almost
like a girl.
“He’s away in Mexico, as usual,” went on her aunt,
“with somebody else, also as usual.”
“I don’t envy her,” mentioned the middle-aged woman,
while the girl added, “but she did well for herself, anyhow.”
“It’s a mistake to wait too long,” was a suggestion
she did not comment on.
The host’s brother came up and carried off her aunt.
She was left alone. An old gentleman dropped into the
vacated chair. Only in the centre of the brilliantly lit
room was there dancing now; people stood and talked in
animated throngs, every seat along the walls, every chair
and sofa in alcove corners occupied. The landing outside
the great flung doors was packed; some, going on elsewhere,
were already leaving, but others arriving late still
poured up the staircase. Her loneliness remained unnoticed;
with many other women, similarly stationed behind
the whirling, moving dancers, she sat looking on,
an artificial smile of enjoyment upon her face, but the
eyes empty and unlit.
Two pictures she watched simultaneously—the gay
ballroom and the lane that ran east and west.
Midnight was past and supper over, though she had
not noticed it. Her aunt had disappeared finally, it
seemed. The two pictures filled her mind, absorbed her.
What she was feeling was not clear, for there was confusion
in her between the two scenes somewhere—as though
the brilliant ballroom lay set against the dark background
of the lane beneath the quiet stars. The contrast struck
her. How calm and lovely the night lane seemed against
this feverish gaiety, this heat, this artificial perfume, these
exaggerated clothes. Like a small, rapid cinema-picture
the dazzling ballroom passed along the dark throat of the
deserted lane. A patch of light, alive with whirling animalculæ,
it shone a moment against the velvet background
of the midnight country-side. It grew smaller and smaller.
It vanished over the edge of the departing end. It was
Night and the stars enveloped her, and her eyes became
accustomed to the change, so that she saw the sandy strip
of lane, the hazel bushes, the dim outline of the cottage.
Her naked soul, it seemed again, stood facing an infinitude.
Yet the scent of roses, of dew-soaked grass came to her. A
blackbird was whistling in the hedge. The eastern end
showed itself now more plainly. The tops of the trees
defined themselves. There came a glimmer in the sky, an
early swallow flashed past against a streak of pale sweet
gold. Old Purdy, his tea-pail faintly rattling, a stir of
thick white dust about his feet, came slowly round the
curve. It was the sunrise.
A deep, passionate thrill ran through her body from
head to feet. There was a clap beside her—in the air it
seemed—as though the wings of the early swallow had
flashed past her very ear, or the approaching sunrise called
aloud. She turned her head—along the brightening lane,
but also across the gay ballroom. Old Purdy, straightening
up his bent shoulders, was gazing over the wicket-gate
into her eyes.
Something quivered. A shimmer ran fluttering before
her sight. She trembled. Over the crowd of intervening
heads, as over the spiked top of the little gate, a man was
gazing at her.
Old Purdy, however, did not fade, nor did his outline
wholly pass. There was this confusion between two pictures.
Yet this man who gazed at her was in the London
ballroom. He was so tall and straight. The same moment
her aunt’s face appeared below his shoulder, only just visible,
and he turned his head, but did not turn his eyes, to
listen to her. Both looked her way; they moved, threading
their way towards her. It meant an introduction coming.
He had asked for it.
She did not catch his name, so quickly, yet so easily
and naturally the little formalities were managed, and she
was dancing. The same sweet, dim confusion was about
her. His touch, his voice, his eyes combined extraordinarily
in a sense of complete possession to which she yielded
utterly. The two pictures, moreover, still held their place.
Behind the glaring lights ran the pale sweet gold of a
country dawn; woven like a silver thread among the strings
she heard the blackbirds whistling; in the stale, heated air
lay the subtle freshness of a summer sunrise. Their dancing
feet bore them along in a flowing motion that curved
from east to west.
They danced without speaking; one rhythm took them;
like a single person they glided over the smooth, perfect
floor, and, more and more to her, it was as if the floor
flowed with them, bearing them along. Such dancing she
had never known. The strange sweetness of the confusion
that half-entranced her increased—almost as though she
lay upon her partner’s arms and that he bore her through
the air. Both the sense of weight and the touch of her feet
on solid ground were gone delightfully. The London room
grew hazy, too; the other figures faded; the ceiling, half
transparent, let through a filtering glimmer of the dawn.
Her thoughts—surely he shared them with her—went out
floating beneath this brightening sky. There was a sound
of wakening birds, a smell of flowers.
They had danced perhaps five minutes when both
stopped abruptly as with one accord.
“Shall we sit it out—if you’ve no objection?” he suggested
in the very instant that the same thought occurred
to her. “The conservatory, among the flowers,” he added,
leading her to the corner among scented blooms and plants,
exactly as she herself desired. There were leaves and ferns
about them in the warm air. The light was dim. A streak
of gold in the sky showed through the glass. But for one
other couple they were alone.
“I have something to say to you,” he began. “You
must have thought it curious—I’ve been staring at you so.
The whole evening I’ve been watching you.”
“I—hadn’t noticed,” she said truthfully, her voice, as
it were, not quite her own. “I’ve not been dancing—only
once, that is.”
But her heart was dancing as she said it. For the first
time she became aware of her partner more distinctly—of
his deep, resonant voice, his soldierly tall figure, his deferential,
almost protective manner. She turned suddenly
and looked into his face. The clear, rather penetrating
eyes reminded her of someone she had known.
At the same instant he used her thought, turning it in
his own direction. “I can’t remember, for the life of me,”
he said quietly, “where I have seen you before. Your face
is familiar to me, oddly familiar—years ago—in my first
It was as though he broke something to her gently—something
he was sure of and knew positively, that yet
might shock and startle her.
The blood rushed from her heart as she quickly turned
her gaze away. The wave of deep feeling that rose with
a sensation of glowing warmth troubled her voice. “I find
in you, too, a faint resemblance to—someone I have met,”
she murmured. Without meaning it she let slip the added
words, “when I was a girl.”
She felt him start, but he saved the situation, making
it ordinary again by obtaining her permission to smoke,
then slowly lighting his cigarette before he spoke.
“You must forgive me,” he put in with a smile, “but
your name, when you were kind enough to let me be introduced,
escaped me. I did not catch it.”
She told him her surname, but he asked in his persuasive
yet somehow masterful way for the Christian name
as well. He turned round instantly as she gave it, staring
hard at her with meaning, with an examining intentness,
with open curiosity. There was a question on his lips, but
she interrupted, delaying it by a question of her own.
Without looking at him she knew and feared his question.
Her voice just concealed a trembling that was in her
“My aunt,” she agreed lightly, “is incorrigible. Do
you know I didn’t catch yours either? Oh—I meant your
surname,” she added, confusion gaining upon her when he
mentioned his first name only.
He became suddenly more earnest, his voice deepened,
his whole manner took on the guise of deliberate intention
backed by some profound emotion that he could no longer
hide. The music, which had momentarily ceased, began
again, and a couple, who had been sitting out diagonally
across from them, rose and went out. They were now quite
alone. The sky was brighter.
“I must tell you,” he went on in a way that compelled
her to look up and meet his intent gaze. “You really must
allow me. I feel sure somehow you’ll understand. At any
rate,” he added like a boy, “you won’t laugh.”
She believes she gave the permission and assurance.
Memory fails her a little here, for as she returned his gaze,
it seemed a curious change came stealing over him, yet at
first so imperceptibly, so vaguely, that she could not say
when it began, nor how it happened.
“Yes,” she murmured, “please——” The change defined
itself. She stopped dead.
“I know now where I’ve seen you before. I remember.”
His voice vibrated like a wind in big trees. It enveloped
“Yes,” she repeated in a whisper, for the hammering
of her heart made both a louder tone or further words
impossible. She knew not what he was going to say, yet
at the same time she knew with accuracy. Her eyes gazed
helplessly into his. The change absorbed her. Within his
outline she watched another outline grow. Behind the immaculate
evening clothes a ragged, unkempt figure rose.
A worn, ravaged face with young burning eyes peered
through his own. “Please, please,” she whispered again
very faintly. He took her hand in his.
His voice came from very far away, yet drawing nearer,
and the scene about them faded, vanished. The lane that
curved east and west now stretched behind him, and she
sat gazing towards the sunrise end, as years ago when the
girl passed into the woman first.
“I knew—a friend of yours—Dick Messenger,” he was
saying in this distant voice that yet was close beside her,
“knew him at school, at Cambridge, and later in Mexico.
We worked in the same mines together, only he was contractor
and I was—in difficulties. That made no difference.
He—he told me about a girl—of his love and admiration,
an admiration that remained, but a love that had
She saw only the ragged outline within the well-groomed
figure of the man who spoke. The young eyes
that gazed so piercingly into hers belonged to him, the
seller of her dream of years before. It was to this ragged
stranger in her lane she made her answer:
“I, too, now remember,” she said softly. “Please go
“He gave me his confidence, asking me where his
duty lay, and I told him that the real love comes once
only; it knows no doubt, no fading. I told him this——”
“We both discovered it in time,” she said to herself,
so low it was scarcely audible, yet not resisting as he laid
his other hand upon the one he already held.
“I also told him there was only one true dream,” the
voice continued, the inner face drawing nearer to the outer
that contained it. “I asked him, and he told me—everything.
I knew all about this girl. Her picture, too, he
The voice broke off. The flood of love and pity, of sympathy
and understanding that rose in her like a power
long suppressed, threatened tears, yet happy, yearning
tears like those of a girl, which only the quick, strong
pressure of his hands prevented.
“The—little painting—yes, I know it,” she faltered.
“It saved me,” he said simply. “It changed my life.
From that moment I began—living decently again—living
for an ideal.” Without knowing that she did so, the pressure
of her hand upon his own came instantly. “He—he
gave it to me,” the voice went on, “to keep. He said he
could neither keep it himself nor destroy it. It was the
day before he sailed. I remember it as yesterday. I said
I must give him something in return, or it would cut
friendship. But I had nothing in the world to give. We
were in the hills. I picked a leaf of fern instead. ‘Fern-seed,’
I told him, ‘it will make you see the fairies and find
your true dream.’ I remember his laugh to this day—a sad,
uneasy laugh. ‘I shall give it to her,’ he told me, ‘when
I give her my difficult explanation.’ But I said, ‘Give it
with my love, and tell her that I wait.’ He looked at me
with surprise, incredulous. Then he said slowly, ‘Why
not? If—if only you hadn’t let yourself go to pieces like
An immensity of clear emotion she could not understand
passed over her in a wave. Involuntarily she moved
closer against him. With her eyes unflinchingly upon his
own, she whispered: “You were hungry, thirsty, you had
no clothes.... You waited!”
“You’re reading my thoughts, as I knew one day you
would.” It seemed as if their minds, their bodies too, were
one, as he said the words. “You, too—you waited.” His
voice was low.
There came a glow between them as of hidden fire;
their faces shone; there was a brightening as of dawn
upon their skins, within their eyes, lighting their very hair.
Out of this happy sky his voice floated to her with the
“And that night I dreamed of you. I dreamed I met
you in an English country lane.”
“We did,” she murmured, as though it were quite natural.
“I dreamed I gave you the fern leaf—across a wicket-gate—and
in front of a little house that was our home.
In my dream—I handed to you—a dream——”
“You did.” And as she whispered it the two figures
merged into one before her very eyes. “See,” she added
softly, “I have it still. It is in my locket at this moment,
for I have worn it day and night through all these years
of waiting.” She began fumbling at her chain.
He smiled. “Such things,” he said gently, “are beyond
me rather. I have found you. That’s all that matters.
That”—he smiled again—“is real at any rate.”
“A vision,” she murmured, half to herself and half to
him, “I can understand. A dream, though wonderful, is
a dream. But the little fern you gave me,” drawing the
fine gold chain from her bosom, “the actual leaf I have
worn all these years in my locket!”
He smiled as she held the locket out to him, her fingers
feeling for the little spring. He shook his head, but so
slightly she did not notice it.
“I will prove it to you,” she said. “I must. Look!”
she cried, as with trembling hand she pressed the hidden
catch. “There! There!”
With heads close together they bent over. The tiny
lid flew open. And as he took her for one quick instant
in his arms the sun flashed his first golden shaft upon
them, covering them with light. But her exclamation of
incredulous surprise he smothered with a kiss. For inside
the little locket there lay—nothing. It was quite empty.