CHAPTER VIII

THE EX-VILLAGER'S CONFESSION

Not only that I love you -- that in you
I find old dreams incredibly come true,
And you in every dream, world without end,
Goddess and girl-child, lover and guest and friend!
Not only that I love you -- seeking still
To bend and break the guarding of your will,
And find, behind that stubbornness, the splendor
Of body and soul in triumph of surrender! --
But that, deep under deep, in you I find
Something to my caresses deaf and blind:
Something not mine to take, nor yours to give,
But only by whose light our love may give,
Lovelier in you than all your burning youth
Is that which holds love lightly beside the truth.


     Yes (he said), you wouldn't think it to see me now, a sedate householder living here in the country with my family, and all that -- but I was a Greenwich Villager once, myself!  Yes, indeed, my boy, free love is no new idea to me, and if you thought you were going to shock me with the news about you and Jane, you're mistaken....  Well, yes, I'd just as soon tell you about it.  Only -- you mustn't expect me to be excessively romantic about it.  I'll tell you the truth as near as I can, and you can think what you like about it.
    I'll begin at the beginning, with the time when Rosemary -- I'll call her Rosemary -- the time when she and I first met each other.  We were both terrible poor, and very ambitious, and very modern.  She was from Middle West, and so was I, and we had just come to Greenwich Village, hoping for fame and sure of at least freedom.  Rosemary wanted to go on the stage; and meanwhile, she worked at some poorly paid secretarial job.  I wrote book reviews for a pittance, and dreamed of writing a novel.  We met each other at the Liberal Club, and became good friends.
    But -- we were terribly poor, and utterly uncertain of our future.  I remember fiercely hating my poverty just then, as though it were an obstacle to my happiness.   And then next moment I was ashamed of that thought, as though it were a kind of treachery to Rosemary.  I was ashamed of myself for thinking that my poverty would make any difference to her.  Poverty might be an obstacle to marriage -- but Rosemary would despise me if she knew I had been thinking in terms of that decadent property-institution.  So I didn't say anything to her about getting married.  But I did say, laughingly:
    "Rosemary, I feel that I am on the verge of promising -- oh, all sorts of absurd and impossible things!"
    "Don't," said Rosemary.  "It's dear of you to want to -- but you must not promise anything.  I might be foolish enough to believe you.  And besides -- we have something better to do with our lives than trying to keep absurd promises.  We have our -- our work.  That is why we came here.  Chance has thrown us together.  But our destinies may carry us apart, who knows when?  We mustn't try to settle our whole futures with reference to the fact that we are in love with each other now!  All we have to do is to make the most of this moment of happiness while it lasts."
    Bravely spoken, wasn't it?
    But the occasion seemed to demand a pledge of some kind.  And so, instead of promising, in the old-fashioned way, to be true to each other, we promised, in a more modern fashion, that each would be true to himself.  "And," said Rosemary, "when the time comes, and . . . one of us falls in love with somebody else, we won't lie about it.  We will tell each other, and part.  Freely, and without regrets or recriminations!"
    These were our vows -- to be courageously candid in our expected and inevitable unfaithfulness.  For we knew, intellectually, that the time would come when we would no longer love each other.  Instinctively, we could not believe it -- to speak of such a thing at a time like this was secretly a hurt to our deepest feelings.  But we believed in facing the facts.  We were reasonable, intellectual, modern young people.  And -- there is no doubt about it -- we felt superior to the common run of mankind.
    Our standards of behavior were, as a matter of fact, set terribly high.  The laws of the land, we knew, permitted within marriage a degree of selfishness, of brutality, of cruelty even, which we as civilized lovers would never for a moment tolerate.  We were going to behave better than any husband and wife!
    But it wasn't that we wanted to set a shining example to the world.  We only wanted to be let alone to be happy in our love -- while it lasted.
    It was true that our relationship would be condemned by nasty-minded people. . . .  However, we knew scarcely any nasty-minded people.  Our friends were all modern young people like ourselves, many of whom, secretly or openly, had dispensed with ceremony in their love-arrangements.  And we had no anxious relatives to come snooping around, asking to see our wedding certificate.  Moreover, being poor, we were obscure; no one in New York would care how we lived; the reporters would not camp on our door-step asking for interviews on "free love."  It was not necessary for us to pose on the one hand as martyrs to an ideal, nor on the other to skulk about in secret rendezvous under the disguise of false names and a wedding ring.  We need neither argue about our conduct, nor lie about it.  We could be lovers openly and fearlessly. . . .  Nevertheless, we both felt very adventurous and a little frightened when we went out to look for a place to live.
    In Greenwich Village there were wonderful old houses, where one could rent a whole floor for almost nothing.  We found a place that charmed us, with its great high-ceiled rooms, deep-embrasured windows, and fireplaces, not far from Washington Square.  Rosemary and I looked at each other in awe and delight, and whispered, "Let's take it."  We paid the rent, and moved in a taxicab; and while Rosemary sat sewing on the gay-colored chintz curtains we had bought, I went down and put our cards over the letter-box in the hall.
    We had seen, in the hallways of our Greenwich Village friends, little placards that usually read non-committally:

BROWN-NELSON
Two Flights Up.

But sometimes there were to be seen, tacked one above the other, two old visiting-cards -- relics of their owner's former conventional lives in Oregon and Georgia, perhaps -- now proclaiming boldly that the apartment was occupied together by

MISS PHYLLIS WOOD
MR. GEORGE HENDERSON

    I had consulted Rosemary about it, and she had said: "We'll put both our names up, of course!" -- and I blushed to think that I had for a moment entertained a more cowardly idea. . . .  That was our only defiance to the great outside world; and the great outside world, as represented by the postman, did not seem to mind in the least.
    Yes, the great outside world went on its way, leaving us to conduct our sociological experiment in peace.  As for our small world, the Village, it approved, of course.  Cards like that were going up every few days in the hallways about Washington Square. . . .  An observant stranger might have said that we had our conventions, and that this was one of them.
    Rosemary and I were very happy: and I must say that according to any sensible standards, we were a most respectable couple.  Seen against the background of a moderately frivolous suburban group of the post-war period, we should have been immediately set down as prudes.  We were busy with our work and our ambitions, and enchanted with each other.  And so it went. . . .
    To be sure, there were minor difficulties.  You see, young people of talent can't in the course of time avoid gaining a wider recognition, which carries with it a more extended acquaintance.  And our mode of living, so comfortably attuned to a small world of unknown and struggling idealists, began to present some embarrassments as we became in spite of ourselves entangled in the fringes of that bourgeois world which we despised.  There was the matter of casual invitations from new acquaintances, for example.  "Won't you come to dinner next Monday?  And" -- uncertainty cloaking itself in genial vulgarity -- "is there a Mrs.?"  Of course, such invitations could always be declined without regret.  But the existence in our world of people to whom a situation could not possibly be explained, accustomed us to see the situation through their stupid eyes.  If this pretty girl with whom I was said to be living was not my "Mrs.," then she must be my "mistress."  The idea that any one could think so infuriated me.  Rosemary was not the sort of girl who is anybody's "mistress": nor did I, for that matter, like to be thought of as the kind of man who "keeps a mistress."  The conception was hateful and degrading.  But what could we do about it?  We were not going to lie to please them, much less get married for their convenience. . . .  After all, we despised such people, and what they thought did not matter to us.
    But time went on, and "chance" did not part us.  It was a less noble accident that intervened.
    We had become -- we didn't quite know why -- estranged.  Every one expects that to happen every once in a while to husbands and wives.  They can afford to indulge in the painful luxury of such moods.  But it was the first time it had ever happened to us, and it seemed a portent.  Estrangement left us helpless.  A good quarrel might have cleared things up, by letting us know what the trouble was.  But we had been consistently and stringently on our best behavior with each other all this while; we had never quarreled -- we were too civilized to quarrel.  And now, wondering miserably what it was all about, and how it had started, we only became more polite, more considerate -- and more lonely.  And at length, as might cynically have been expected, one of us found a consoling bosom on which to forget the secret pain of that estrangement; and I was that one.  There was in that, so far as our declared beliefs were concerned, nothing for me to be ashamed of, or for Rosemary to be angry about.  Such things, we knew, happened.  Only it was not, according to those beliefs, a matter that could honorably be concealed from Rosemary.
    I was false to my beliefs.  I lied, like any cowardly sneak of a respectable married man who has been unfaithful to his wife.  And I addressed to myself the same arguments.  I said to myself that Rosemary would take it "too seriously."  I said that the telling of my secret would irretrievably ruin the possibility of further happiness with Rosemary.  I said all the usual things to myself, and acted accordingly.
    But I am a poor liar; I could not keep it up very long.  I broke down and told Rosemary.  Even if it meant the end of everything, I couldn't go on lying to her.
    To Rosemary it did mean the end of everything.  Not, she insisted, because of my unfaithfulness, but because I had lied about it.  She said -- bitterly -- that I had treated her as though she were my wife.
    I couldn't find any words with which to defend myself.  After all, it wasn't anybody else's morality that I had offended against: it was mine -- and Rosemary's.  We had thrown traditional morality overboard at the outset of our adventure.  We had chosen to dispense with everything except our trust in each other; and I had violated that.  And so, when she declared sadly that this ended things between us, I had nothing to reply.
    The time was here which we had so cheerfully discussed in the first moments of our love -- the time to part, "freely and without regrets or recriminations."  Somewhat of that pledge -- the heroic abstention from vain regrets -- seemed to be beyond our powers; we were only human, after all.  But at least there were no ugly recriminations; we were courteous to each other to the last.  We told each other how happy we had been. . .
    The end had come.  We had made our own laws, and we had to abide by them.  Rather more like frightened and lonely children than like free adventurers, we kissed each other, and said good-by.
    We must go on, now, to such other beautiful and fleeting moments as chance might give us. . . .
    But I don't think I shall tell you about those other "beautiful and fleeting moments."  Some of them weren't very beautiful.
    It was several years later when Rosemary and I talked together again about love.
    "The trouble with us," said Rosemary frankly, "was that we were fools.  Nice fools -- but still fools!"
    "We were?" I said.
    "It's no use to reason the way we did about love," she insisted.  "It's not an entirely reasonable thing, love isn't."
    "How have you found that out?" I asked.
    "By daring to let myself fall really in love for once!" she answered.  "And I assure you that it is not a civilized and modern relationship!"
    "You are going to be married?" I asked.
    "Of course -- and have babies."
    "I -- I didn't know you wanted babies," I said naively.
    "Neither did I," she said.  "I didn't dare to let myself when -- when I was in love with you.  That was the trouble -- we promised to tell the truth to each other, but we didn't know what the truth was.  It was all a beautiful lie, that part of it.  People aren't so civilized as we pretended to be; they're barbarians, really.  We want the old things -- the best of them; things like homes, and permanence, and babies.  At least I'm like that -- and I'm glad I've found it out.  Do you remember how we used to assure each other that marriage was a relic of barbarism?  Well, so are our feelings -- relics of barbarism.  And it's our feelings that we love with -- not our brains!"
    "I'm afraid, Rosemary," I said, smiling at her, "that you've become a reactionary!"
    "I don't care!" she said defiantly.
    "And are you sorry, now -- "
    "About us?  No, I'm not.  I had to learn.  And that was the only way I could.  I wouldn't have believed it if I'd read it in a book.  It was a part of my education.  And -- and it's all right for people to be hurt, if they learn something by it.  There's nothing to be sorry for."
    "I should have known that you wouldn't regret it," I said.
    "But you--" she said.  "Have you learned anything from it?  I expect not.  But let me give you this tip.  The next modern girl you fall in love with -- don't take her at her word.  Don't let her fool you.  Don't let her fool herself.  And see how it works out."
    Well, you can see for yourself -- if you look out the windows -- how it's worked out.  But I can tell you that if you had seen that girl a few years ago when she first landed in Greenwich Village, you would never have thought you'd find her here in a garden with her baby, picking flowers.  She hadn't come to Greenwich Village for anything as tame as marriage and babies.  She laughed at the idea of marriage.  She was a rip-snorting modern young woman.  She was -- I'll tell you what she was like: she was like your Jane, hell-bent for adventure and the free life!  And yet -- I don't believe she's regretted being cheated out of it.  She seems happy.  She looks happy.  It may be, of course, that she is secretly embittered because she didn't get a chance to have her fling in Greenwich Village; but I doubt it.
    Well, give my love to Jane, and tell her that the old codger said, "Bless you, my children!"
 



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