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