Even unto Desolation
EVEN UNTO DESOLATION
By Adeline Champney.
AT the edge of the Desert of Utter Desolation a woman lay upon the sands. She was no longer weeping; her tears were spent, for she had wept long and bitterly since first she found herself on the Mountain of Disillusion. Dry-eyed and wan, she raised herself and looked about her. Behind her lay the thick gray mist, concealing the path by which she had climbed; before her stretched the sea of sands, and far in the distance loomed one peak on which her eyes were fastened. Pale, but clear, it rose against the sky, a colder blue.
The woman flung out her arms passionately. "Oh!" she cried, "I thought I had found you! All those years I thought you were mine!"
She peered across the sands where only a faint trail showed; as far as eye could see, only the sands, the sands; and the cold blue mountain far beyond.
And the woman drooped upon the sands, and lay thinking, thinking, while the shadows gathered round, but still the great mountain gleamed blue in the gloaming. She thought of her long climb, of the steepness; of the gulfs she had bridged, of the ledges where she had slipped and fallen. She thought of the weariness, the almost despair she had known; of temptations to forsake the pathway, of friends who had wandered away. She thought of the faith of her journey, of the courage, the hope, as the mountain drew ever nearer. She thought of her joy when the Valley of Delight had opened before her and she had deemed the journey done!
She crouched upon the sands and her form was shaken with sobs, as she dreamed again of the years of her happiness, the years of her Sweet Illusion. Dreaming, she lived again the venturous hour when, following an unwonted path, she had come out upon this mountain, the Mountain of Disillusion. And she lay flat upon the sands which stretched around and before her.
At last she rose slowly and gathered herself as for an effort. She stood erect and turned her gaze again toward the mountain, and then along the desert which stretched lifeless at her feet. Where her tears had fallen, tiny flowers had sprung up and blossomed; and she saw them gleaming in the dim light, and gathered them to wear at her breast.
She stepped out along the trail, and her feet sank in the soft sands, and she lifted them wearily. Soon she stopped, irresolute. Again she peered into the gloom, seeing only the sands and the distance. Then she cried out passionately:
"Alone, alone! Always alone! Oh, it is too much! All my life I have struggled, and for what? To go on alone, alone! My youth is past. I shall soon be old. Oh! Life is too short, and Joy is too sweet. It is never worth while, never!"
Passionately she turned away from the mountain, gleaming cold.
"1 will go back!" cried the woman, and she plunged into the pathway by which she had come, and the mists closed over her.
Recklessly she leaped and ran, as one pursued. She dared not look back, but ever she felt behind her the towering mountain, that mountain of her dreams for which she had climbed and striven and sacrificed through all her young years.
Breathlessly she came again into the Valley of Delight, and flung herself down on the greensward. Feverishly she drank of the fountains. Restlessly she wandered among the bowers till she came to where her love lay sleeping. She flung herself beside him, and he awoke and welcomed her.
"Where have you been so long, away from me, my own?" he whispered.
"Away from you?" she cried. "No, no! I could not go away from you. Take me to your heart, and love me, love me, that I may forget!"
"What would'st forget, beloved?" he asked, wistfully.
And she who had never lied, on whose lips truth dwelt ever serenely, made answer, "Nothing! What should I have to forget? Nay! Let me only remember how dear is love, and how sweet thou art, my heart's dearest!"
And the woman dwelt again in the Valley of Delight. She feasted and laughed and sang the hours away, and all said, "How happy she is!" But ever she kept her back toward the distant Mountain, and oft, when alone, she felt it behind her, reproaching her, drawing her. Then she sang but the more loudly, and laughed but the more gaily, and even he who was nearest and dearest knew only that her lips were more eager and her arms more clinging. And he whispered, "How you love me! How am I worthy of such devotion?" And the woman trembled, and would have moaned, but she changed the moan to a murmur of love; and would have sobbed but she drowned the sob in kisses; and would have wept but she looked the closer in her lover's eyes.
And the days passed. But the waters of the fountains were not so clear as of old. The fruits were not so sweet, and there were canker spots upon them, and crawling things within them. And ever she hid these things from her lover, and cried but the louder, "How beautiful is our life here!" Even the flowers wearied her, but she gathered great armfuls of them and wove garlands and wreathed her bower in them. And as they faded she threw them away to gather more and more. Only the flowers at her breast, the pale blue stars, remained sweet and fresh; and when she was quite alone, and still, they stirred in her bosom, and their faint fragrance came to her. Then she began to remember, and she ran to her love, and showered him with caresses. Even the birdsongs troubled her, and she would fain shut her ears to them, but she only cried to her beloved, "Talk to me, sing to me! Tell me again, and again, and again!" And he smiled at her, musing, "How passionate thou art, my sweetest!"
So the woman dwelt in the Valley of Delight, but ever she turned her back to the distant Mountain, and ever she kept closer and closer to the other side of the garden, and ever the fear of what lay beyond bore in upon her. And ever the pale blue stars that shone so pure against her white bosom put forth their gentle and reminding fragrance.
Then there came a night when her fear grew strong upon her, and she seized upon the flowers at her breast and would have flung them away, but their delicate tendrils wound about her fingers, and she could not cast them from her. Wondering, she looked long upon them, and found she loved them. Fair they were in the moonlight, each pale star like a living jewel of blue, a wondrous blue, cold, clear and gleaming. And she buried her face in them, and a great sobbing came upon her, for she knew their color now. It was the blue, the unchanging blue of the Mountain, the forsaken Mountain.
Then through bitter tears a great resolve kindled in her eyes, and she sprung to her feet, holding the flowers close to her heart.
"I will go! I will go!" she whispered. Then her voice grew stronger. "I must go!" she said. "I can no other. Even though it break my heart, even though I go alone, even unto death, yet I must go!"
Resolutely she turned in the direction of the Mountain, and lo, the Desert of Utter Desolation stretched before her, even at her feet, and the sands flowed about them. She set her face toward the Mountain and began to walk, slowly, but gaining strength as she pushed through the shifting sands. Her eyes were wet with tears, but she would not let them blind her. Her heart was heavy, but she would not list to its beating. There was no joy in her soul and no hope, only the urge to go on, and on, and on! Youth and Love were behind her. Age was creeping down upon her. The Mountain of her quest was far and far away. She would never reach it, yet she must go on, and on, and on!
But she fixed her gaze steadfastly on the single peak of wondrous blue, and toiled on, and slowly in her eyes there grew a light that burned and glowed, and she stretched out her arms to the Mountain, so cold, so far, and she cried aloud, and her voice rang with power:
"Oh! The Ideal! The Ideal!" And with strong, even stride she passed on, into the distance, her face ever uplift and filled with the light of her vision.