Jason's Quest by
This is a story of love for love, and how it came to naught. In it
there shall be no marrying from mercenary motives; the manoeuvering
mother-in-law is suppressed; Nature takes her course; and in the
climax I strive to prove how sad a thing it is that men are modest
and women weak.
Still, I do not lose faith in humanity, but hope for better things
in the broad, bright future. I would respectfully call attention to
the moral of this tale, and, as for the heroes and heroines of the
hereafter, I cheerfully leave them to regulate their affairs upon a
different basis; which basis, I devoutly believe, will be one of the
inevitable results of time.
But, lo! the heroine approaches and the story begins!
Life with some of us is but the grouping of a few brilliant or
sombre tableaux, which are like the famous lines in an epic that
immortalize the whole. Maud's life was such a one, and her years
had been rather unpicturesque until now, when the shadows began to
deepen and the lights to grow more intense. In fact, she seemed to be
approaching some sort of a climax, and she began to grow nervous
about it, being just woman enough to dwell somewhat anxiously upon
her anticipated début, and to hope for at least a decent
appearance in her extremity.
The good-hearted, commonplace people of a pleasant country down
the coast—which I will call Dreamland for convenience'
sake—thought of Maud only as a gentle and humane little lady,
with a comfortable income and a character above reproach. So Maud
abode in peace with her maids at the seaside cottage, spending the
still hours of Dreamland between her rose-garden on the sunny slope
to the southward and the conservatory of lily-like nuns on the hill
toward the sea.
Maud was unhappy in a world which had treated her very kindly
indeed, and it was simply because she had a dove's heart, that
was always fluttering in a strange place, and the face of a nun, that
was for ever getting looked at by all sorts of people, much as it
disliked that kind of treatment from the best of them.
The only reason why Maud preferred such a dull place as Dreamland
to the splendid metropolis up the coast was that she might have a
quiet time of it, and not be annoyed by the impudent metropolitans.
In fact, she was tired of her lovers—all save one, a fine young
fellow named Jason, but better known in Dreamland as John. I have
mentioned, I believe, that Maud was in very good circumstances: I am
sorry to add that Jason wasn't. He was rich only in his untried
youth and the promises of a glorious manhood.
Jason loved Maud, and she knew it as well as she ever knew
anything in her life—she knew it without his having told her.
Had she not divined it by the infallible intuition of the heart, she
might have lived believing herself unloved, for Jason hadn't the
remotest idea of mentioning the fact. He could barely live
comfortably by himself, frugal as he was; and he would not go to her
empty-handed, though Heaven knows she had enough for two, and was
dying to share it with him. He went his way, and the way was tedious
enough in those days. Like a mirage, happiness glimmered before him,
but his upright and patient steps brought him no nearer to its
Youth is impatient and sanguine, and Jason, in his impetuous and
hopeful youth, besought the oracle, whose prophetic utterances seemed
to imply that his future and his fortune lay in some distant land,
and that it would be wise for him to seek it at once. Jason, like his
illustrious predecessor, resolved to go over the sea in search of the
golden fleece. It was the most adventurous thing he ever did, and
Maud thought it a hopeless and a willful act; yet she could do
nothing but hold her peace, while her poor heart was as near to
breaking as possible—much nearer to breaking than it is usually
safe for a maiden's heart to be.
So Jason gathered his mates—a reckless lot they were,
too—and, having laden his barque and swung into the stream, his
men said their final adieux, receiving quantities of pincushions and
bookmarks, so indispensable to Argonauts, as testimonials of eternal
fidelity from the maids of Dreamland.
Jason strode to the cottage and kissed the hand of Maud as if it
were the hand of a princess; after which, with much embarrassment, he
plucked a rose from her garden, while a pang pierced his heart till
it ached again, and a thorn probed his finger till a drop of blood
fell upon a myrtle leaf; which leaf Maud coveted, and keeps to this
day—hugged to her in her grave-clothes.
It is of course best that this life should not be perfect, for the
life to come might suffer by comparison; yet it is one of the
cruelest decrees of Nature—if Nature has really decreed what
seems so wholly against her—that a woman's heart must bide
its time and be silent in the presence of its natural mate while
every attribute of her being implores his recognition; and that the
truest men are too honorable or too proud to yield themselves, having
no offering but their honest love to lay at the feet of their
mistresses. If it were not so, the princess would not have mourned in
her garden for her flown mate, and there would have been much
happiness on short notice.
Driven forth by the propitious winds, the barque fled from the
shore, while Maud, seated among her roses, with weeping and wringing
of hands, poured out upon the winds the burden of her love.
Why didn't Jason catch a syllable of that fervent prayer,
reef, and come home to her? Then I need not have written this
history, and all would have
been well in Dreamland. But he didn't. He heard nothing but the
sibilant waters as they rushed under his keel: he thought of nothing
but the rose that was withering in the secret locker of his cabin,
and of the wound in his heart that was gaping and as fresh as ever.
So the night-winds hurried him onward, and the darkness absorbed the
outlines of the dear Dreamland coast.
Maud watched the barque while it lessened and lessened in the
distance, and the clouds blew over her, and it grew chilly and damp
in the rose-garden—as chilly and damp as though it were not the
abode of a princess who was beloved of the noblest of men. She
watched the sail till it faded suddenly beyond the headland, and
between it and her loomed the dark towers of the convent. Out on that
troubled sea, seeking the golden fleece in some remote kingdom,
tossed on the treacherous waves for her sake, in her white and
radiant dreams she beheld Jason. Yet ever between him and her, hiding
the lessening barque from the slope of the rose-garden, loomed the
dark towers of the convent.
Jason and his fellows coursed the seas, scanning with eager eyes
the cloudy belt of the horizon, hopefully seeking some signs of the
Fortunate Islands, of whose indescribable beauty and untold wealth
they had heard many surmises. Day after day they pressed on between
the same blank sky and the same blank sea, but there was no token to
gladden the eyes of the watchers. Jason grew impatient at last: he
had called upon nearly all the saints in the calendar, and was
growing to be a very poor sort of a Catholic, inasmuch as he doubted
the efficacy of his prayers and the ability of saints to answer them.
He didn't realize that there might be good reasons for their not
being answered under the existing circumstances; which is a matter
worthy of the consideration of all of us.
The fact was, the Fortunate Islands were not one-half so wonderful
as had been represented; and the saints knew it well enough. Had Jason invested there,
as he purposed doing at the time of his embarkment, he might have
sunk all that he possessed—which was little enough to float, as
one would think—and then Maud might have tended her rose-garden
and carried fruit-offerings to the sweet-faced nuns till she was gray
and limping, for all Jason's fine notions of
independence—namely, a good income from the rise of stocks in
the Fortunate Islands, and two souls and two hearts doing the same
sort of thing at the same time, with complete and unqualified
success, in that sweet rose-garden on the sunny slope to the
That was the way life went with Captain Jason of the Argonauts,
called John, for short, in Dreamland, while the crew growled a good
deal at their ill-luck, and began to fear that if things went on in
that way much longer they would have more fasts than Fridays in the
week. Those were trying times for all of them, and when land was made
at last, and it proved to be a temptation and a snare, Jason ordered
a special fast and a mass for the salvation of the souls in imminent
peril. Out in the world at last, thousands of miles from the
unsophisticated people of Dreamland, Jason beheld the dread
Symplegades rocking their enormous bulks upon the waves, and liable
at any moment to swing together with a terrific and deadly crash.
Probably they were whales at play: it may have been two currents of
the sea rushing into each other's arms: at all events, it was
something deluding, though temporary, and perhaps the selfsame
difficulty experienced by the original J. when he went after the
My hero was young and unschooled in the world's wickedness,
but he knew that where two opposing elements come together with much
force, whatever happens to lie between them must suffer. What should
be done was a question of no little importance to the Argonauts. Most
of them were in favor of running the risk of a collision and letting
the vessel drive straight through. Jason thought this a judgment
worthy of young men whose lady-loves give expression to their most
sacred sentiments by gifts of pincushions and bookmarks. But he had
something to consider more than they—yea, more than any other
living man—in exemplification of the pleasing fallacy that
besets all lovers in all ages. Blessed be God that it is so!
The original Jason in the fable let loose a dove upon the waters,
and the dove lost only a tail-feather or two when the clashing
islands clashed their worst, and in the moment of the rebound the
Argo swept through in safety. The modern J. thought of this in his
predicament, and having turned it in his mind, he concluded that
whereas the pioneer Argonaut did not meet his princess till after his
encounter with the elements, he was not worthy of consideration; for
had he known her and loved her as some one knew and loved some one
else at that moment, most likely he would not have valued his life so
slightly. He clewed up his canvas like a wise mariner, and lay to
while the Symplegades butted one another with their foreheads of
adamant, and the sea was white with terror all about them. Jason was
no coward: he would have braved the passage had he alone been
concerned in the result; but for Maud in her rose-garden and for the
future, dear to him as his hope of heaven, he paused and
It is a pity there should be so little pausing and trembling among
the clashing islands when life hangs in the balance and the odds are
against it. But there always has been and always will be this little,
because we believe that nothing but experience is capable of teaching
us, and experience invariably teaches it all wrong end to, so that we
begin our lesson with a disaster and conclude it with a slow
During Jason's hour of deliberation his guardian angel, who
was the only one having his interests really at heart, and who loved
him unselfishly,—this angel advised him in the similitude of a
dream to "luff a little and go round the obstacles." Jason
luffed, and passed on with colors flying; which was doubtless much
better than trying to squeeze through the floating islands in the
midst of an exceedingly disagreeable sea.
Then came the land beyond, the long-sought kingdom, full of arts
and wiles. Jason was beset with ten thousand temptations, and was
more than once upon the point of falling into a snare, when, however,
he seemed to behold the apparition of his withered rose, which
bloomed and blushed again at such times, and gave out a faint
fragrance, so like a breath from that Eden on the sunny slope that he
paused and grew strong, and was saved.
His troubles were not yet over. There was the bargaining for the
golden fleece, and the tempting offer of the dragons' teeth which
he was to sow. They were the lusts of the body, that, once planted,
spring up an armed force of bloody and persistent accusers. But that
precious rose! How it blossomed over and over for his especial
benefit, a perpetual warning and an unfailing talisman—a very
profitable sort of blossom to wear in one's button-hole in these
times! But such blossoms are scarce indeed.
In due course of time that potent charm got him the golden fleece
in a very natural and business-like way, and, rejoicing in his
possessions, Jason returned to his vessel and trimmed his sails for
Merry the hearts that sailed with him, and fresh the winds that
wafted them onward, while, as is usual at sea, nothing occurred
during the voyage worth mentioning an hour after its occurrence.
Jason in his new joy had almost forgotten that withered token. In
deep remorse at his thoughtlessness, he sought his treasure, and,
horror of horrors! every leaf had fallen from the stem, the blossom
was annihilated for ever. He dwelt upon this episode morbidly, as
upon a presentiment: he pictured in his mind the hill-slope cottage
deserted, the rose-garden wasted and full of tares, and the bleak
wind blowing whither it listed through those avenues of beauty, for
desolation possessed them all. He groaned in spirit and wrestled with
his new and invisible adversary, beseeching the Most Merciful, from
the bitterness of his suspense,
a speedy deliverance or a happy death.
There were thistles and tares in the unkept rose-garden, and the
cottage was abandoned to a sisterhood of doves, who mourned
perpetually for their lost princess. The place was desolate, yet
there had been no sudden desertion of it. For many months no news had
been heard of the Argonauts. They were considerably overdue: the
sages of Dreamland shook their grizzly heads. They were just as sage
and shaky in those days as in these degenerate times. The maids of
the hamlet wept for a season, then turned from sorrowing, dried their
tears, took unto themselves new lovers, and the world wagged well in
But Maud was a truer soul than any amongst them: she prayed hourly
for Jason's prosperity, and was trusting and hopeful until it
seemed almost that something had whispered to her the fate of the
voyagers. Then she mourned night and day: she went into retirement
with the sweet-faced nuns at the headland, whose secluded life had
ever been very grateful to her. She gave out of her bounty to all who
asked, and rested not then, but sought the sick and the suffering,
and they were comforted, and blessed her who had blessed them. They
began to think her half an angel in Dreamland, and it seemed as
though she were not made for this world at all. The same thing
happens now occasionally, and in this way we acknowledge our
shortcomings before our fellow-men and women when we find some one
considerably above the average who shames us into confessing it. I
hope the Recording Angel is within hearing at these precious
The world certainly possessed no charms for one of Maud's
temperament: it never did possess any for her. She was as out of
place in it as a mourning dove in a city mob. Her spirit sought
tranquillity, and she found it in the serene and changless convent
life. You and I might seek in vain for anything like peace of spirit
in such a place: we might find
it a stale and profitless imprisonment; and perhaps it speaks badly
for both of us that it is so. The violet finds its silent cell in the
earth-crevice by the hidden spring a sufficient refuge, and rejoices
in it, but the sea-grass that has all its life tossed in the surges
would think that a very dull sort of existence. There are human
violets in the world, and human sunflowers and poppies, and doves
also, and apes and alligators; and some of them come within one of
being inhuman; and sometimes that one drops out, and the
inhuman swallows up the human.
Maud was the mourning dove seeking its bower of shade: she used to
fancy herself a nun, and followed the prescribed duties of the house
as faithfully as Sister Grace herself. She knelt in the little chapel
of the convent till her back ached and her knees were lame, but it
was a never-failing joy in time of trouble, and her time of tremble
had come. Maud said many prayers before an altar of exceeding
loveliness, where fresh flowers seemed to breathe forth an unusual
fragrance. There was a statue of the Virgin, said to possess some
miraculous qualities: tradition whispered that on two or three
occasions the expression on the face of the statue had been seen to
change visibly. Maud heard of this, and was very eager to witness the
miracle, for it was thought to be nothing less than miraculous by the
good Sisters. She bowed before the altar for hours, and dreamed of
the marble face till she seemed to see its features smiling upon her
and its small, slim hand beckoning her back to prayer. She grew
nervous and pale and almost ill with watching and waiting, and at
last was found prostrate and insensible at the foot of the statue,
overcome with excitement and exhaustion. When she grew better she
vowed she had seen the head bowing to her, and the hands spread over
her in benediction: no one could deny it, for she was alone in the
chapel. After that there was a feast of lilies at the convent, and
Maud became Sister Somebody or other, and never again set foot beyond
the great gates of the convent wall.
The consecration was doubtless a blessing to her, for she was
happy in her new home, and found a sphere of usefulness that employed
her hours to the best advantage. Moreover, she grew to be a sensible
nun, and ceased to look for supernatural demonstrations in the
neighborhood of the chapel. She grew hearty, and was cheerful, and
sang at her work, and prayed with more honesty and less sentiment.
Her life was as placid as a river whose waters are untroubled by
tempestuous winds, and upon her bosom light cares, like passing
barges, left but a momentary wake.
As Maud mused in her cell one day, through the narrow barred
window she caught a glimpse of the burnished sea bearing upon its
waves a weather-beaten barque inward bound. There was danger that her
mind might wander off, piloted by her dreamy and worshipful eyes. She
arose, drew across the opening a leathern curtain, and returned with
undisturbed complacence to her prayers.
Jason, having among his freights the veritable golden fleece,
still coursed the seas, but beheld with rapture the fair outlines of
the Dreamland coast traced in the far blue and mysterious horizon.
The wind freshened: hour after hour they were nearing port, and as
the whole familiar picture grew more and more distinct, Jason saw the
convent towers looming like a great shadow, and afterward the sunny
slope whereon the rose-garden grew.
The manner of his quitting the barque before she was fairly within
communication with the shore was hardly worthy of his calling. I
forbear to dwell upon this exhibition of human weakness, for almost
any one in Jason's shoes would have been equally regardless of
the regulations, and in consequence proportionally unseamanlike.
With soiled garments and unshorn beard Jason ran to the hill. No
one of the idlers in port recognized the returned wanderer, and he
assured himself of the fact before venturing upon his visit to the
dove-cot where Maud dwelt, for he wished to gaze upon her from afar,
and in silence to worship her, unknown and unregarded. When he
reached the wicket, breathless with haste and excitement, he at once
beheld the ruin of his hopes—the thistles in the paths, the
roses overgrown and choked with weeds, the sad and general decay.
Jason smote his breast in a paroxysm of despair, while the doves
fluttered out from the porch of the cottage in amazement at the
approach of a human foot to their domains.
What could it mean? he asked himself again and again, while
suspicions taunted him almost to madness. Up and down that disordered
garden he paced like a ghostly sentinel; the doves fluttered to and
fro, and were dismayed; the night-winds came in from the chilly sea,
and the dews gathered in his beard. Through the deepening dusk he
beheld the lights of the little town below him: across the solemn
silence floated the clear notes of the vesper-bell. Jason turned
toward the tower on the headland. A single ray of light stealing from
one of the high, narrow windows shot through the mist toward heaven.
"The ladder of Jacob's dream," said Jason: "on it
the angels are ascending and descending in their visitations. Oh that
I, like Jacob, might receive intelligence from these!"
With the heaviest heart that ever burdened man he returned to the
town and entered the open doors of the church, seeking a few moments
of repose. An alien in his own land and unwelcomed of any, Jason
sought the good priest and learned the fate of Maud. She was dead to
the world and to him. It was but the realization of his fears, and he
was in some measure prepared for it; yet the best part of the man was
killed with the force of that blow. His only hope was gone. He set
his house in order, like one about to leave it, never to return: his
golden fleece was made over to enrich the convent, and, as the
magnanimous offering of a homelesss and nameless voyager, it delights
the happy creatures within those walls, and the shrine of the Virgin
was made more wonderfully
beautiful than it is possible to conceive.
That night Jason walked in the shadow of the lofty walls and
poured out his sorrowful prayers upon the winds that swept about
them. Once in his agony he beat at the massive gates, demanding in
the name of God and of mercy admittance for a lost soul that had no
shelter save under that roof, and no salvation away from it; but his
bleeding hands made no impression upon the ponderous doors, and the
silent inmates at prayer heard nothing save their own whispers, or
dreamed in their cells of heaven and of peace.
So the cry of that hopeless soul rang up to the stars unanswered,
and the night frowned down upon him with impenetrable darkness.
End of the tragedy of Jason's Quest, which might easily have
been a pleasant comedy if Maud had only spoken her mind in the right
place. Will women never learn—since God has given them the same
instincts with man, to love, to trust, to doubt, to hate and to make
themselves at times disagreeable, even with a more complete success
than men in each of these lines of dramatic business—that God
must have intended also that they should have the equal right to
choose the particular object upon which they may exercise those
various offices of love, trust, etc., etc.? I shall never cease to
wonder why they are persistently and stupidly silent through six
thousand years, content to let their hearts wither and die within
them, or surrender at last to the wretched apology for a lover who
offers himself as a substitute, and is surprised at rinding himself
To be sure, it is less dramatic. Jason might have come back and
married Maud: there would have been a pretty wedding and some
delightful hours before things grew dull and commonplace, as they
must have done ultimately. That rose-garden would have come to grief
when once the children got to playing in it; Jason, on some tedious
afternoon, when overhauling old letters and the like, would have thrown out that withered rose
(of precious memory), quite forgetful of its significance; Maud would
have lost her myrtle leaf in house-cleaning. Yet what were the odds?
A withered rose and a myrtle leaf are scarcely worth the keeping.
You will remember how it turned out in the days of the gods: Jason
wearied of Medea and the children; Medea was disgusted with such
conduct, and behaved like a savage; there was general unhappiness in
the family; and I blush for my sex—which is
Jason's—whenever I think of it. Now, if my Jason had
married his Maud, it would have scarcely been worth noticing beyond
the simple register in the Daily Dreamlander, after having
been thrice published from the pulpit between the Gospel and the
Creed—"Jason to Maud."
As Jason was not heard of after the windy night under the wall of
the convent, there were many surmises concerning his disappearance.
It was thought that he had again embarked upon some voyage of
discovery. I believe he had, and it was a desperate one for him. The
other Argonauts married such maids as were left unmarried, and they
did well to do so. Some of the old sweethearts regretted their haste,
and looked enviously upon the new brides of Dreamland; but most of
them were satisfied with their children, and contented with such
husbands as Heaven had sent them.
Life grew slow in the little drowsy seaport; the old tales of the
Symplegades were stale and tedious; the Argonauts had become
spiritless and corpulent and lazy. One night a great gale swept in
from the sea: the earth fairly trembled under the repeated shocks of
the breakers. Old people looked troubled and young people looked
scared, and on the worst night of all the convent bell was heard to
toll, and then everybody feared something dreadful was happening to
the nuns, and everybody lay still and hoped it would soon be over.
The nuns wondered who rang the bell; and when every one had denied
all knowledge of it, it was known that most likely the devil had rung
it, for it was a dreadful night, and such a one as he best likes to
be out in.
In the morning, when the wind and the sea had gone down somewhat,
the wreckers found a stark corpse among the rocks under the headland,
lying with its face to the tower. It was dreadfully mangled: no one
could identify it as being any one in particular, and it was
impossible to know whether death had occurred by accident or
intentionally; so it was shrouded and put away out of Christian
burial in the common field of the unfortunate. The nuns sang a
requiem, as was their custom, and Maud prayed earnestly for
all followers of the sea; and the echo of her miserere is the
saddest line in the story of Jason's Quest.