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Chapter III 


"Marry! an odd adventure!" I said to myself, as I stepped along in the spring morning air; for, being a pilgrim, I was involuntarily in a mediaeval frame of mind, and "Marry! an odd adventure!" came to my lips as though I had been one of that famous company that once started from the Tabard on a day in spring.

It had been the spring, it will be remembered, that had prompted them to go on pilgrimage; and me, too, the spring was filling with strange, undefinable longings, and though I flattered myself that I had set out in pursuance of a definitely taken resolve, I had really no more freedom in the matter than the children who followed at the heels of the mad piper.

A mad piper, indeed, this spring, with his wonderful lying music,--ever lying, yet ever convincing, for when was Spring known to keep his word? Yet year after year we give eager belief to his promises. He may have consistently broken them for fifty years, yet this year he will keep them. This year the dream will come true, the ship come home. This year the very dead we have loved shall come back to us again: for Spring can even lie like that. There is nothing he will not promise the poor hungry human heart, with his innocent-looking daisies and those practised liars the birds. Why, one branch of hawthorn against the sky promises more than all the summers of time can pay, and a pond ablaze with yellow lilies awakens such answering splendours and enchantments in mortal bosoms,--blazons, it would seem, so august a message from the hidden heart of the world,--that ever afterwards, for one who has looked upon it, the most fortunate human existence must seem a disappointment.

So I, too, with the rest of the world, was following in the wake of the magical music. The lie it was drawing me by is perhaps Spring's oldest, commonest lie,--the lying promise of the Perfect Woman, the Quite Impossible She. Who has not dreamed of her,--who that can dream at all? I suppose that the dreams of our modern youth are entirely commercial. In the morning of life they are rapt by intoxicating visions of some great haberdashery business, beckoned to by the voluptuous enticements of the legal profession, or maybe the Holy Grail they forswear all else to seek is a snug editorial chair. These quests and dreams were not for me. Since I was man I have had but one dream,--namely, Woman. Alas! till this my thirtieth year I have found only women. No! that is disloyal, disloyal to my First Love; for this is sadly true,--that we always find the Golden Girl in our first love, and lose her in our second.

I wonder if the reader would care to hear about my First Love, of whom I am naturally thinking a good deal this morning, under the demoralising influences of the fresh air, blue sky, and various birds and flowers. More potent intoxicants these than any that need licenses for their purveyance, responsible-- see the poets--for no end of human foolishness.

I was about to tell the story of my First Love, but on second thoughts I decide not. It will keep, and I feel hungry, and yonder seems a dingle where I can lie and open my knapsack, eat, drink, and doze among the sun-flecked shadows.

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