This is all I know of art;
Troubled men of other days
Distilled the poisons of the heart
And sealed them in some perfect phrase.
Here's a thing for me to do,
Me that holds myself so clever --
Seal up my memories of you
To medicine men's hearts forever!
My friend is
writer of stories, but he does not write true stories of life as he has
lived and seen it. He saves those stories for the long evenings
talk with his friends. Once I reproached him, saying that life as
he told it in reminiscence was so much more rich and varied than the
he gave of it in his fiction.
"That is just the trouble," he replied, "it is too rich, too varied -- it is chaos. People go to art to find meanings. So I rearrange little bits of life's chaos into a pretty pattern -- something that has a beginning and an end -- a fairy tale, if you like! People, you think, are tired of fairy tales nowadays. But they aren't. Why don't I try, and find out? I have tried, I have found out! I'll tell you a story -- a story that can't be written. Try it yourself, if you like! I make you a present of it. Only don't go and prettify it -- don't leave out the brutalities. I can do that myself! I can change it around, and doll it up, so that it won't hurt anybody's feelings. Tell it straight. Yes, I'd like to see what you can do with it. I can't write it. Here's your chance.
"It begins -- I don't know how it begins. But there's a fellow in it like me -- like you. Mind you, when you write the story, don't make him a villain or a fool. Perhaps we are villains and fools, but we don't seem so to our friends. We seem nice, decent people. That's the point, This thing didn't happen to Benvenuto Cellini, or Casanova; it happened to one of ourselves, a young fellow of twenty-six, in New York City. We'll call his name Terence. He was a poet.
"Terence had been having a love affair, one that meant a lot to him, and not so much to the girl. He had tried to make it mean something to her -- he wanted to marry her. But she couldn't see it that way. It wasn't because Terence was poor and a poet -- it was just because she didn't love him enough. Don't you go blaming anything on her when you write the story! Besides, she doesn't really come into it. Yet she's important, too, as the background. This wasn't a thing which could have happened to Terence if he hadn't been trying to get over being in love with that girl.
"For a little while he thought she really did love him. That was just before he went into the army. Terence hated wars, but he was conscripted, and rather bewilderedly went. Before he went -- she was a generous person, after her fashion -- she wanted to make him happy; and she did. It was a lovely thing for her to do, -- thinking that Terence might be killed, and anyway, that he'd have plenty of time to get over being crazy about her. She had no idea he would be back on her doorstep in a couple of weeks.
"For some reason, he was rejected, after he had been at the army camp two weeks. So there he was, in New York again, feeling rather at a loss as he tried to pick up and piece together a life that he had left behind as if for ever. He had no job, of course, and no money -- for he had spent and given away the little he had, before he left -- no money except his army pay for two weeks. No place to live. And no girl either, it appeared.
"He went to see her first of all, of course, She didn't seem glad he was back, merely surprised and ill-at-ease. He felt as though he were committing some emotional faux pas by coming back. The story had ended, for her, dramatically and beautifully, two weeks ago; this was one of those stupid sequels that no intelligent person wants to read.... He said to himself that he was perhaps being over-sensitive. She was sorry for his 'poor arm,' noting that he winced as she touched it. She wanted to see it, cried out indignantly at the ugly vaccination sore only half disguised by its bandage, shuddered, covered it up hastily, and laid her cool cheek against his wrist comfortingly for a moment. But that meant nothing. She could be sorry for anybody's poor arm; and just as comforting. 'Why didn't you write to me?' he asked.
"She frowned. 'Well, I did start a letter to you,' she said. 'I never finished it. It's here somewhere, if you want to see it.' She fished it out, a sheet of note-paper half covered with writing. He took it eagerly. It was a cool account of various pleasant social activities, changing suddenly to a tone of enthusiasm as she began to describe a young prize fighter she had met at a swimming party: something about the way the muscles rippled under his satiny skin. Well, Terence knew she was like that; it didn't exactly surprise him. But he was thinking how he would have felt if he had received that letter. There isn't any lonlier place on earth than the first two weeks of an army camp. He crumpled up the letter and threw it on the floor. 'You see,' she said, 'I'm really no good as a correspondent.'
"Abruptly he began to tell her about a dream he had in camp. For some reason he hadn't wanted to take any books of poetry with him; instead, he had taken a trigonometry textbook, some squared paper, and -- I forget what you call that metal thing that has degrees marked on a half circle -- and solaced himself with sines and socines. And one night he had a dream. He was measuring the hard and abrupt and deadly angles of his own coffin, desperately trying to find some answer except the inevitable one. And then, it seemed, he had found it, for the dream changed to the solemn naked embrace of a girl -- an erotic dream into which the trigonometry nevertheless persisted, for it was as though now he were triumphantly working out that baffling problem of his own human destiny in terms of the gracious, suave, tender angles (forso he thought of them) of a girl's body. A starkly erotic dream fantasy, but something more, too -- a solemn procreative mystery, in which he was finding the mathematical, the trigonometrical solution to the great problem of death; and that solution -- it seemed to him, as indeed to him it was, a new and dazzling discovery -- was the creation of new life, the promise of its emergence, in defiance of death, out of this gracious and tender loveliness of a girl's body: life that he had created, life that was his own! And then, in his dream, a gray, hooded, Norn-like figure appeared, and recited this rune: 'Find the cosine of the womb ere the cosine of the tomb!' ... He told the girl the story of the dream. He knew that she would understand. 'And the next morning,' he said. 'I was handed my papers; and I came back -- here.' He didn't say 'to you;' she knew that. She knew all that he could tell her; in his eyes, plain for her to read, was the question: 'Will you be the mother of my child?' She looked into his eyes, and then looked away.
"He was standing there, waiting for his answer.
"And at last she said softly: 'It's beautiful. Why don't you put it in a poem?'
"And that didn't surprise him, either. He knew her pretty well.
"But he had had his answer. So he went away....
"He said to himself: 'Now that it's all over, it's stupid of me to go on being in love with this girl. I will stop. I won't see her any more. I won't think about her, if I can help it. No, it won't hurt like this for ever. I'll get over it.'
"That was the background of this story. But, if it is going to be a true story, you must not think of Terence as a Tennysonian young lover. He wasn't in the least going to remain faithful to her memory. He was going back to the Greenwich Village life which had been temporarily blotted out for him by his passionate interest in her. Here was a little world, full of gaiety and freedom, of ambition and work and play, where such things as love were not taken with a tragic seriousness. To this care-free world he deliberately turned his mind; but his thoughts did not, at the moment, dwell on it with any pleasure. It seemed to him, now, that the Village was so careless of love simply because it was so full of heartbroken people, to whom nothing mattered. Oh, yes, doubtless, for every broken-hearted boy there was a broken-hearted girl, ready to make merry. And since there are so many beautiful things in life besides true love, since there are candor and beauty and admiration and pity and pleasure to be shared together, these light-hearted moments were not to be despised. They were, no doubt, good medicine for a broken heart. Doubtless he would avail himself later of these comforts. But just now he was in no mood for them. He remembered that he had no place to live, and no job. He hunted up a friend who had a spare bunk, and went out to look for a job.
"He didn't find a job, and didn't find a job. But meanwhile he had credit at the Village restaurants; he was in no danger of starving. And late one afternoon, when he had gone into a magazine office and learned that there was no opening, he was followed out to the elevator by a young man, who said diffidently, 'I know who you are, and I heard you asking for work. If you aren't particular, you might possibly be interested in a job I know about. It's a poor job -- I used to have it myself. I happen to know it's open, and I'd be glad to take you around and introduce you now, if you like. My name is --' Oh, we'll call him Paul.
"Terence thanked him, and waited while he got his hat. He liked this boy, Paul; for he seemed a boy to Terence. 'How old are you?' he asked, as they started off on their errand. 'Twenty-one,' said Paul, 'and I know what it is to be out of a job.'
"They interviewed the editor, and it looked as if something might come of it, though nothing ever did. Terence thanked him again, thinking how much he seemed like himself at twenty-one. An idealist if there ever was one, with those delicate chiseled features, that sensitive mouth, that proud forehead, those candid blue eyes -- and with such a lot still to learn about the world! Terence felt infinitely harder, coarser, and wiser, with his few more years.
"They halted, before parting, on the corner. It appeared that this boy admired Terence immensely -- his poetry, his articles, and the little book he had published. And, diffidently, the boy said at last, 'I wonder if you'd care to come and have dinner with me and my wife. She'd be terribly glad....' So he was married!
"Terence said he'd like to come. The boy went to a cigar store and telephoned to her. They went to a butcher shop where Paul bought some chops, and Terence stepped into a delicatessen next door and bought some salty brown olives, and so to Paul's apartment, three floors up somewhere. 'This is Kitty,' said Paul; and Terrence, shaking hands with the pretty, slender, gray-eyed young thing, was glad Paul had such a nice girl for a wife. He hoped they were happy: he couldn't be sure, for he knew that a very young idealist doesn't always manage such things well....
"It was a pleasant dinner; Kitty was one of Terence's admirers, too -- they both treated him rather as if he were a great personage. Not too much so -- for they were hungry for friendship, and they wanted him as a friend. They loved talk quite as much as Terence did, and that evening they sat up till late, talking about everything in the world. Paul's was a heroically and pathetically logical mind; he wanted to get everything into neat and orderly categories; he seemed to think there were such things as Truths, to be arrived at be syllogistic reasoning. ('Myself when young!' thought Terence.) Kitty was more pleasantly human; she wanted to run off the path of discourse in every direction, picking the flowers of wit and chasing the butterflies of fancy. Paul would frown gently, and be patient, never forgetting his train of thought. There was something merciless and absurd and quaint about his mind. He was the sort of young man who could easily be a revolutionist or a martyr. Terence would sidetrack the argument for the sake of giving pleasure to Kitty; he recited snatches of poetry for her, and made foolish little jokes, while Paul waited with the next clause of his syllogism ready to utter. 'What a pity he is too young and too cursedly intellectual to play with her!' thought Terence. Nevertheless, he loved Paul for his absurd seriousness.
"In fact, they were all rather enchated with each other, and never wanted to stop talking. When they urged Terence to spend the rest of the night there on the couch of the living room, he laughingly admitted that he had no real home, and stayed. Kitty made up the couch for sleeping, and when their guest was in bed and they were ready for bed they came back and talked some more.
"Terence, you see, had inveigled Kitty into telling the story of their romance, culminating in their idyllic early marriage when neither of them had a cent. But Kitty's romanticism, and Terence's applause, had troubled Paul, and he had come back now to put in the realistic touches to the story. 'Life,' said Paul, 'isn't like a Broadway play.' Paul's ambition was to be a realistic and satiric dramatist, and 'Broadway' was a term of offensive comparison upon his lips. 'No, life didn't end for us with the wedding bells. Marriage isn't a solution of life's problems -- least of all for people like ourselves. It's a new problem, the hardest problem of all. It involves the whole question of the individual versus the herd -- of freedom versus convention.'
"Terence glanced at Kitty, sitting there on the edge of the couch with an old dressing-gown clasped together over her night-dress, one bare foot drawn up under her, and her dark hair down her back -- very much like a little girl. It seemed all wrong that she should have to think of marriage as a problem. She deserved to have it remain an idyl. But these young male idealists -- of course they couldn't ever let well enough alone! 'Why bother,' said Terence, 'about freedom? Happiness is much better, if you only knew it!'
"Paul shook his head. 'That,' he said, 'is what I want to take up with you. I've been rather surprised at some of the things you've said this evening. I've always thought of you as one of the real and thoroughgoing believers in freedom. At least, that ideal is implicit in everything you write. But -- in your talk there is a touch of disillusion and cynicism. You speak as though you didn't believe in freedom any more.'
"Terence laughed. 'It's true, I'm getting to be an old fogey,' he said. 'It happens to the best of us, you know! You wait a few years more, Paul, and you'll see. Youth is the time when we throw happiness away for the sake of some idea. Later we realize how rare happiness is, and begin to cherish it -- usually too late,' he added, smiling at Kitty.
"But Paul was very much in earnest. 'I don't believe for a moment that it's a matter of age,' he said. 'If I thought I should ever go back on my ideas, I'd -- well, I'd commit suicide before-hand. It's just a matter of courage. Of knowledge, first -- knowledge that the herd isn't right in the stupid laws it lays down for us. And then of courage -- daring to live up to our knowledge of the truth. We needn't become like everybody else. We can keep our freedom.'
"Terence asked: 'Just what are we talking about?' And Paul answered: 'We are talking about freedom. If these things are true in a poem, they're true in real life. They're true now; it isn't just a dreamer's vision of the future. It's something all lovers can experience -- if only they know the truth and aren't afraid of the opinions of the herd.'
"Terence thought again: 'How like this boy is to myself of a few years ago!' Aloud, he said: 'Perhaps you mean free love. I'm not sure...' A little scornfully, Paul replied, 'Yes, of course I mean free love.'
"Terence looked at them, smiling, and then looked away. They were so young, and so beautiful, both of them; such glorious children! He envied them for a moment -- that they were young enough to talk of such a terrible thing as freedom! He had been as young as that once.... And then he felt sorry for them. It would hurt them, to learn -- not what the world was like, they knew that already -- but what they were like, themselves. It seemed too bad: these lovely young people -- surely they weren't going to inflict upon each other the horrid cruelty of trying to live up to ideal!... He looked back at Paul, so utterly sincere, so calm in his hard bright theoretical wisdom, so much a young Olympian; and over at Kitty, whose eyes were fixed upon Paul with admiration and a touch of worship.
"Yes, confound it, that girl would believe anything that boy told her! And yet she knew better. Her admiration of his courageous theorizing was an admiration of an alien thing, of something she though superior to her own frail nature... Terence put his hand on hers for a moment, a friendly and tender gesture, as if to beg forgiveness for this silly argument; then, turning to Paul mockingly, he asked: 'And Kitty -- she believes in free love too, I suppose?'
"She was looking at Terence, startled, not at what he said, but at something else awakened by the touch of his hand; her eyes seemed for a moment to let him into their depths; she turned pale, and then flushed crimson, and drew her dressing gown tightly about her throat. Paul prompted her impatiently: 'Well, Kitty, speak up for yourself; do you believe in free love -- yes or no?'
"She recovered from her confusion. As if braced by Paul's impatience, she came back into the discussion, 'Yes,' she said quietly, 'I believe in freedom, too.'
"Terence smiled. 'It's a pretty theory,' he said. He was speaking to Paul; and Paul very calmly answered, 'I have put it into practice.'
"Terence couldn't look at Kitty for a moment; he was afraid he would see her wince.... Paul went on speaking. 'We all know,' he said, 'that marriage has no supernatural magic to keep people from being interested, emotionally and physically, in others. We know that such attractions occur, and that people are sometimes unable to resist them even when they believe they are doing wrong. You would not be surprised or shocked if I confessed to you, in a bar room, that I had once been unfaithful to my wife. Why should you look so ashamed because I tell you frankly in her presence that I have had a love affair since my marriage? At least, you see I am not afraid to put my theories into practice,"
Terence looked up at Kitty while he was speaking, and saw that her eyes were fixed upon her husband in that gaze of admiration, that tribute from an inferior to a superior being! He felt obliged to demand of her brutally: 'And you, Kitty? She looked down. 'No, I haven't, she whispered. 'Ah!' said Terence.
"Paul, it seemed, never grew really angry. He only said: 'I know what you mean. You think that it's only an idealistic pretense, -- that I have all the freedom, and my wife none. I assure you it isn't so. She is as free as I am -- freer, in fact; for I shouldn't be jealous.' Terence turned to Kitty and said in mock astonishment: 'What! were you jealous?' 'Yes,' she answered bravely, I was. But I tried not to be. And -- and I was very glad he hadn't lied to me about it. I shouldn't want him to ever have to lie to me about such things. So -- I tried to get over feeling bad about it -- and I did after a while. He was disappointed in me because I cried. But I couldn't help that. I'm not as noble as he is.' 'You think he's really so noble?' 'Of course!' she said. 'She means,' Paul explained, 'merely that I am not possessive. It would be a simple and natural thing for me to live up to my ideas.' Terence laughed. 'How do you know what you are like?' he demanded.
"Suddenly he began to tell Paul, in as vivid detail as was consonant with what was, after all, merely an intellectual discussion, how he would really feel if he put his theory to that test.... But at the end, Paul only said, 'I should despise myself if I were the kind of man who couldn't give the woman he loved the same freedom he demanded of her. No -- I couldn't bear the knowledge that she had to deny herself a happiness, out of pity for me.'
"Can you see why, loving this boy, Terence wanted to hurt him? -- because he was so young, so foolish, so ignorantly cruel and careless with love, so much his own dead youthful self! He wanted to hurt this boy, and make him wise -- hurt him, as he himself had been hurt by life -- give him the wisdom that he himself had got from life's hurts.... 'How do you know,' he asked maliciously, 'that Kitty hasn't refrained from demonstrating her freedom just for that very reason? -- because she's afraid, that you're not so Olympian after all. She's in awe of you, Paul. She wants to believe in you. But she doesn't want to take any risks. You might turn out to be made of very common clay, like all the rest of us! Then she'd have to despise you. She could never forget all your noble attitudes -- and how scornful you were of her when she cried a little. No -- she'd better not take the freedom you offer her with such a generous gesture. She'd better remain an old-fashioned wife, and let you be an old-fashioned husband with a new line of excuses.... And now, if you please, I'm going to sleep!'
"He heard them talking in the bedroom long after their lights were out. Apparently that last barb had rankled! Paul would wonder if it were true that Kitty distrusted his nobility: a wound in his vanity! Terence smiled with contented malice, and slept ... and breakfasted cheerfully with them the next morning, helped Kitty wash the dishes after Paul had gone, and talked with her about poetry a while, and then went away.
"Kitty had said, 'You will come again, soon, won't you?' and Paul had said shyly, 'I hope we'll have some more talks,' and he had assured them both that he would come. But he didn't go again for weeks and weeks; in the meantime he had written a few things and made a little money, and moved his books and typewriter into a cheap room on an alley, next to a livery stable.... He managed not to go to see that girl -- the one who had said of his dream, 'why don't you put it slowly into a poem?' The ache for her was fading slowly out of his heart and bones; sometimes it all came back for an unendurable hour as fresh as new, after something -- a young moon, a white rose, a strain of music -- reminded him too powerfully of her; but it was going, and soon, soon, it would be all gone. He didn't like to go to parties for fear of meeting her; and he was intolerably lonely in his hot, noisy little room on the alley.
"He often thought of going to see Paul and Kitty. He liked them tremendously, none the less that they were such darling fools over their theories of 'freedom.' They would wonder why he never came; and Paul, so sensitive under that calm Olympian exterior of his, would say to Kitty, 'He didn't really like us, after all; he only let us think he did.' But confound it, Terence did like them! The reason he didn't go was that he had remembered the look exchanged between him and Kitty there on the couch. He knew well enough what that look meant -- it meant that they had wanted, in that moment, desperately, to kiss each other.... It had been a moment entirely away from that silly argument; it had been born of a mutual desire to escape from the arid intellectuality of logical disputation, -- of a wish to join hands and run away into the green fields of life and beauty. Poor girl, she had doubtless been argued with day and night all these years of her young marriage! And she had felt in Terence a passion for the same things in life that she cared for -- the things that can't be argued about. She had felt his tenderness, his affection, and her heart had suddenly opened to him like a flower. It had been a surprise to them both: it was a moment in which they stood nakedly revealed to each other as people between whom there is love and all its possibilities. And that was all right -- this would be a poor world if there weren't such moments in the lives of men and women. They made friendships lovelier and sweeter. There was no need to be frightened of such things. Just because two people wanted to kiss each other was no sufficient reason for their doing so; and it was sometimes -- as in this present instance, notably -- an excellent reason for their not doing anything of the kind! These two young people were in an explosive state. He knew better than to kiss that girl. But if he went again, he would want to -- and because he was sick, sick with old memories that wouldn't quite die in his mind, there would be an ineffable healing in the touch of her lips. She was sick, too, with hurt love. She would want to be kissed. And then -- but that would be too foolish!
"On the other hand, he told himself not to be an egotistic ass. As though he could know, from a glance, that a girl was ready to fall into his arms! What masculine self-conceit! Here were two new and agreeable friends who would be glad to see him. Did he really think he had to stay away lest he get mixed up in a situation like that? Nonsense!... and so saying, he went one evening.
"They hailed him eagerly, and with such a poignancy of relief in their welcome that he knew he had guessed right -- Paul had doubtless been telling Kitty that he had forgotten them, that they had meant nothing whatever to him. By coming back, he had proved what they wanted to believe -- that he was really their friend.
"Again there was a long evening of talk about everything in the world; and again -- a July thunderstorm coming up -- he was invited to spend the night there, and did. And again, in pajamas and nightgown, sitting on his bed, his earnest host and adorable hostess talked of love and freedom.... That barb had rankled! Paul was apparently anxious that Kitty should make use of her freedom, to prove that she really believed in him; and Kitty was rather worried. Terence laughed at them. 'Kitty,' he said, 'you are an old-fashioned wife, and wish to please your husband. That is why you believe in his silly old theories. And Paul is an old-fashioned husband, with perhaps a bad conscience over a trivial and ridiculous little sin that he can't forget -- that's why he'd like you to put him in countenance. Well, why don't you please him -- at least to the extent of confessing an imaginary sin! Then everything will be all right! Or -- bob your beautiful hair: that sacrifice of a useless and traditional feminine adornment to a modern theory would satisfy him perhaps even better. You must find some way to be modern, Kitty!' Reassured by his raillery, she smiled, and Paul argued earnestly, and they all went to sleep dreadfully late.
"Terence stayed next morning to help Kitty with the breakfast dishes, and then they talked, and it was nearly noon. 'Come,' she said, 'and have lunch with Paul and me -- he'll be pleased,' she said.
"After lunch, Terence and Kitty went for a bus ride, and a walk in Central Park.... Do you see why this story can't be written; or, being written, would seem a piece of botchwork? Simply because it has too much of life's chaotic reality in it. No, the way to write this story is to leave off what came before and followed after. Display these two, walking in Central Park, looking at each other in delight, caressing each other with shy glances. Everybody would understand that picture of two lovers who do not yet know that they are lovers. It would be pleasant and exciting to look forward to the moment of their mutual discovery. And, thus isolated from the irrelevant chaos of life, this moment of theirs would seem beautiful. To whom could it seem beautiful, as it is? Only to themselves -- yes, for it does seem beautiful to them. They have forgotten the past; they are unaware of the future; they are isolated within a magic circle. They do not know of what an utterly meaningless folly this beautiful moment is a part: and so they are free, as we are not, to delight in its loveliness.
"It was late in the afternoon; Terence took Kitty home. No, he could not stay for dinner; he remembered, or invented, another engagement; but he would wait a few minutes, till Paul came home.
"Paul did not come, and did not come. They stood by the window, looking down at the street. By accident their hands touched; and then they were in each other's arms. They kissed passionately. And then they sat down on the couch, saying to each other how glad they were. No, nothing could keep them from being glad. Love has its own childlike innocence. And they were sitting there side by side, with clasped hands, when the bell rang. They were sitting there, with clasped hands, when the door opened, and Paul came in. 'I've been telling Kitty,' said Terence, to Paul, 'that I love her.'
"Paul smiled pleasantly, as at a witticism, and said, 'She is nice, isn't she?' And then Terence bade them good-by, and hurried away to his dinner engagement.
"He knew, presently, that he had been a fool; but he didn't care. Sometimes it is good to be a fool. He was quite happy for some hours, until his mind, revolving curiously, made it clear to him why he was happy. He was happy because he had managed for an hour, to banish those old memories. That was all. Medicine for a sick soul!
"It wouldn't be fair to go back. Kitty would have told Paul; and Paul, the young madman -- No, he couldn't go back and walk into a situation like that! He stayed away a week, two weeks.... But it wasn't fair to Kitty to drop the thing like this. Absurd and impossible as it was, it had been real to them both. Not to go back would be a disloyalty to her. He had to go back, if only for the sake of her girl's pride. And he needn't be afraid. No, surely he had sense enough to keep out of trouble. He would go back, and straighten out this tangle with some frank talk....
"He went. Kitty was alone, Paul having gone our for cigarettes. She was surprised, distant, hurt, and glad. 'What's the matter?' he asked; and she told him. It appeared that they had talked of nothing else during those two weeks. Paul had thought Terence's speech a mere polite pleasantry, until Kitty had explained. Then he solemnly reminded her of her freedom, and awaited Terence's return. Kitty laughed in telling it, and then grew mournful. 'I was rather glad you didn't come back,' she said, 'because I didn't want you to be embarrassed! But then Paul began to say that your not coming back showed that you hadn't meant anything at all! You were only playing with me, she said. That hurt my feelings. I didn't want to think that. It seemed real. I didn't want to think that I had been just a -- a little fool! But he argued and argued. At last I told him that if you never came back to see me at all, I'd admit that he was right. But never was too long, he said, so I agreed to give you just three more days. And you didn't come, you see.... But now you have come -- and he wasn't right, after all! It did mean something to you, didn't it?' And Paul said, 'Yes, of course it did!' But -- but just because it's true, that doesn't mean that we have to -- to do anything more than we've done, does it? Paul thinks that if we love each other, then we ought to; and if we don't, then it's cowardice, or disbelief in him, or else -- or else it isn't love! Can't people love each other and be -- just good friends?' 'Of course they can,' Terence said, ' and we'll show him, won't we, Kitty!'
"Then Paul came in, the young madman, and the argument began again. It was the same argument; but this time it wasn't abstract or general, it was definite and particular. Paul was proving that if Kitty and Terence loved each other, they would inevitably become lovers; they might as well face the fact, he said, and accept the consequences of their love frankly and freely, instead of feeling obliged to be hypocrites. He was calm, poised, Olympian. And Terence was furious and incoherent. Again, and as brutally as possible, not in vague terms this time, but in harsh, crude pictures, he told Paul how he would feel if they became lovers. Paul was calmly unconvinced.... No, the story can't be written in mere words; it might be set to music, not to sentimental opera music, but, like a queer play I have seen, to jazz music. That might help to convey the chaotic madness of life that is in what follows. Yes, they were all mad, drunk with youth and emotion and logic. Conceive the argument going on endlessly, late into the night, the young Olympian calmly offering his wife to his friend's arms, and the friend in tormented fury refusing her. 'But you two must want to express your love physically,' the calm young Olympian would say. 'Yes, by God, we do -- but we aren't going to just to please your crazy vanity!' the other would shout. And the girl, pale and quiet, bringing out sheets to make up the couch as usual for their guest. 'Perhaps you think,' said the calm Olympian, 'that it would be in better taste to steal her from me in secret -- the conventional, lying, hypocritical way of the world.' 'Yes,' said Terence, 'if it came to that! But, as it happens, and in spite of you, Kitty and I are going to be friends!' The calm Olympian smiled. He knew better.
"The argument became transferred to the bedroom, whiter Terence was called to adjudicate a point in discussion between husband and wife. A little jazz now would help. A cynical bray of the saxophone, and furious work with the drums, and, in betweem, some sweet, piercing, unearthly notes of a flute. Kitty failed to follow her husband's precise logic, and he rebuked her. She burst into hysterical tears, and fled from the room in her nightgown, crying wildly. The calm Olympian turned to Terence and said apologetically, "I'm sorry Kitty can't keep her head in a discussion.' 'You fool!' Terence shouted, and went to look for Kitty.
"He found her in the toilet, sitting there and sobbing like a child. He put his arm about her, petted and comforted her, and brought her back. 'Are you over your outbreak?' asked the calm Olympian. Terence turned on him in rage. 'Your heart has never broken, has it? Well, by God, it ought to be! A heart is not much good until it's been broken into very little pieces!' 'A heart!' cried Kitty; 'he hasn't got a heart. He's got a set of books! They're the best books -- Nietzsche and Stirner and Bernard Shaw -- but it's a library, not a heart. Oh, if you knew how many times he and I have lain in this bed, and me crying, and it needed just a touch from him to tell me that he loved me, and he wouldn't reach his hand across that little space between us. No, he lay there reading his five pages of Nietzsche, and then turned out the light and went to sleep. He doesn't care! He doesn't understand -- he isn't human, he's a god! What does he know about poor, suffering human beings?'
"More jazz now, while out tumbles the tormented story of her marriage to a man who isn't human, to a cruel and logical god, whom she loves but who has never loved her. 'How absurd,' said the young Olympian quietly. 'Oh, yes, you say it's absurd -- but I've never really believed that you loved me. How can I believe it? You've proved it to me in arguments many a time. But you don't know what love is, or you couldn't talk the way you do! I believe you would go on reading your five pages of Nietzsche if you knew I was in another man's arms!' 'Yes, I should,' said the calm Olympian. A loud blare of the trumpets here, and the drum, like a tom-tom, keeping monotonous time to the beating of sick hearts. More arguments, more arguments....
"Terence went to his couch. And presently Kitty strayed in, smiled wearily, and sat down at the edge of the couch. They talked quietly -- of things far away from this insanity; hand in hand they wandered in the green fields of beauty. She shivered in the cool breeze from the open window, and he drew aside the coverlet to let her in beside him. They put their arms about each other, and the world faded about them.
"Terence was the first to remember time, place, and circumstance. He looked at Kitty, in the cool moonlight. She was forgetfully at peace. She murmured drowsy words. He didn't want to spoil this little moment for her. But he was thinking of the boy in the next room. 'What about Paul?' he said at last. She opened her eyes. 'Oh, he's read his five pages of Nietzsche and gone to sleep long ago.' 'I -- don't.' 'Why -- what do you think?' 'I think we'd better go in the other room and see what's happening.'
"They went in. There was a dim shape huddled in a corner of the bed. Terence jerked on the light. Paul lay there, twisted into a strange shape, like a tortured animal, agonized with pain, yet unable to make a sound. Kitty stared at him with wide, astonished eyes, utterly incredulous for a moment. Then she cried, 'But -- you do care! You do love me!' and she flung herself upon him, drawing him fiercely into her arms.
"He made a feeble gesture as if to push her away. Helpless within her arms he fought for strength to speak, fought visibly as a dying man might fight for such strength, found it at last, and whispered, coldly and austerely and distantly, 'Go -- away.'
"She laughed, and hugged him tight in her arms. 'No -- I'll never go away!'
"His strength came back little by little. 'I'll -- go,' he said. 'Ah!' she cried, 'do you think, now I've found my lover, I will ever let him go?' She held him, as though he were a child.
"He bagan to talk. His talk, with pauses while he got his breath, and shot through with spasms of pain, was still clear, calm, logical. He was, though in torment, still Olympian. Like Prometheus nailed to the icy crag and with vultures tearing at his bowels, he discoursed. He had learned something, and he was telling it. 'I've learned,' he said, in a voice hardly louder than a whisper, 'that life is more -- like a Broadway show melodrama -- than I thought.... And I know, now, what Kitty was -- talking about when she spoke -- of her heart. A heart -- is something that hurts. I've never been -- hurt before.... I didn't know that -- anybody could hurt so much and -- live.... I suppose it's -- jealousy. I didn't know it was like -- this. I thought jealousy was an idea. It isn't. It's -- a pain.... But -- there's one thing where I don't -- feel as they do in -- Broadway melodrama. I don't want to -- kill anybody. I just want to -- die.' 'Oh,' said Kitty, rocking him in her arms, 'do you suppose I'd let you die -- now!' 'I'll tell you why,' he went on; 'it's because I see how -- life is arranged. It's a -- struggle. And I -- I'm afraid. I've been afraid of losing Kitty's love. So I pretended to myself that I -- didn't care. Now I know. I've wanted Kitty's love more than anything else on earth. It's been the only beautiful thing that ever -- happened to me. I've starved, I've been -- kicked about. Kitty -- Kitty's love -- has been the only thing that made it worth while to -- go on living. And -- just because it meant so much to me, I had to think that it -- didn't matter. That -- was how I kept from -- being afraid. Now I know. I haven't got Kitty's love --' 'Oh, yes, you have!' she laughed; 'do you suppose I care for anything or anybody else?' 'No,' he went on, 'I haven't really got it. It isn't -- really mine. I don't mean -- you, Terence. I mean -- the way life is. I'd have to -- fight for her love. I'd have to deserve it. I don't want to fight for it. I don't want to have to deserve it. I want it to be mine. Do you understand? And that isn't -- the way life is arranged. One must fight. But I can't fight for what I -- want. I'd rather -- die.' 'But you have me, darling,' she crooned; 'I was yours from the beginning of the world -- I'm going to be yours for ever and ever....'
"Terence kept wondering what hidden motive of cruelty in himself had caused him to forget. Kitty wasn't to blame. She really believed that he wouldn't care! But Terence had known better.... Forgetting wasn't a sufficient excuse. He must have wanted to forget. Was it that he desired Kitty so much? -- or that he hated Paul! And why should he, unknown to himself, hate this boy so much as to want to inflict this inconceivable and hideous cruelty upon him? Was it because Paul was himself, his younger self, his dead self? Was it because he loved Paul, as one can only love oneself, that he had dared punish him so? He stood aghast at the dark possibilities he glimpsed dimly within his nature....
"Far, far too good to be true -- this apparent outcome! For Kitty's fierce tenderness was melting the ice in Paul's soul, bringing him back to life. His tortured limbs had relaxed, he lay there in her arms, quietly. Terence said, 'I'm ashamed of myself,' and turned to go from the room. But Paul raised himself up and said earnestly, 'You needn't be. How could I ever have known that I needed Kitty's love, but for this? You've made me understand.' Terence laughed, a little frimly. 'I suppose,' he said, 'that you think I did it on purpose, for the sake of your education.' 'Yes,' said Paul, 'I really think you did, whether you realize it or not. Anyway, you've given us back our love, and I'm grateful to you.' Again the saxophone, here, for chorus, and the kettledrums, and the laughter of the clarient! Now that Paul had ceased to be a god to himself, he had made a god of this intruder; Kitty seemed to agree with him; and before Terence slipped back shamefacedly to his couch, it had been proved, logically and indisputably, that his wise and kind and far-seeing intervention had restored to health a marriage that was in peril!
"No, the story doesn't stop here. It would seem, then, to have some meaning, though a preposterous one; and that meaning would be a lie. For we are dealing with life, now, which is chaos. Find a meaning here if you can! For that morning Terence awoke to the patter of bare feet, Kitty going through his room to the bathroon; her head was averted, but there was despair and weariness in her whole body's gesture. He watched for her to come back. She saw him awake, came over to his bedside with drooping shoulders, and whispered in a tragic voice: 'Why, he's only a child!' -- and turned and went slowly back into the bedroom. She had liked her god-husband, after all. And he was lost to her.
"The story doesn't exactly end. It trails off, by degrees of anticlimax, to commonplace, as things do in real life. But let it stop here -- the story of Paul and Kitty.
"While as for that other story in the background -- I might tell you how Terence and that girl whom he couldn't quite forget presently made up their quarrel, and swore to be faithful to each other till death.... That would be a good frame for the picture -- an ironic frame, always excellent as a literary device. Then the tale might be entitled, 'In the Interval,' or something like that.... But -- that, too, would be a lie, a pretty lie. For that wasn't the end -- Terence and that girl quarreled again, and gave each other up at last, as they had been trying to so long to do....
"No, there is no meaning in it! It's merely -- what happened. And that is why we prefer the pretty patterns of fiction, my friend. Life's chaos is the dark mine in which we find the metal of art. We refine it and shape it to our purposes. Don't you see, there are a dozen different fiction stories in the volcanic jumble of fact I have told you! Indeed, I've written a dozen stories out of it already; you wouldn't recognize them, they're so neat, so shapely, so clear in their outlines, so full of sweetness and beauty and what we feel to be Truth -- meaning a lie we can believe! That's why I present you with this, still left after I've drawn my dozen pretty stories from it -- crude, dirty, brutal, real, a piece of slag!"
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