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Chapter IV 


IN WHICH I EAT AND DREAM

The girl we go to meet is the girl we have met before. I evolved this sage reflection, as, lost deep down in the green alleys of the dingle, having fortified the romantic side of my nature with sandwiches and sherry, I lazily put the question to myself as to what manner of girl I expected the Golden Girl to be. A man who goes seeking should have some notion of what he goes out to seek. Had I any ideal by which to test and measure the damsels of the world who were to pass before my critical choosing eye? Had I ever met any girl in the past who would serve approximately as a model,--any girl, in fact, I would very much like to meet again? I was very sleepy, and while trying to make up my mind I fell asleep; and lo! the sandwiches and sherry brought me a dream that I could not but consider of good omen. And this was the dream.

I thought my quest had brought me into a strange old haunted forest, and that I had thrown myself down to rest at the gnarled mossy root of a great oak-tree, while all about me was nought but fantastic shapes and capricious groups of gold-green bole and bough, wondrous alleys ending in mysterious coverts, and green lanes of exquisite turf that seemed to have been laid down in expectation of some milk-white queen or goddess passing that way.

And so still the forest was you could have heard an acorn drop or a bird call from one end of it to the other. The exquisite silence was evidently waiting for the exquisite voice, that presently not so much broke as mingled with it, like a swan swimming through a lake.

"Whom seek you?" said, or rather sung, a planetary voice right at my shoulder. But three short unmusical Saxon words, yet it was as though a mystical strain of music had passed through the wood.

"Whom seek you?" and again the lovely speech flowered upon the silence, as white water-lilies on the surface of some shaded pool.

"The Golden Girl," I answered simply, turning my head, and looking half sideways and half upwards; and behold! the tree at whose foot I lay had opened its rocky side, and in the cleft, like a long lily-bud sliding from its green sheath, stood a dryad, and my speech failed and my breath went as I looked upon her beauty, for which mortality has no simile. Yet was there something about her of the earth-sweetness that clings even to the loveliest, star-ambitious, earth- born thing. She was not all immortal, as man is not all mortal. She was the sweetness of the strength of the oak, the soul born of the sun kissing its green leaves in the still Memnonian mornings, of moon and stars kissing its green leaves in the still Trophonian nights.

"The maid you seek," said she, and again she broke the silence like the moon breaking through the clouds, "what manner of maid is she? For a maid abides in this wood, maybe it is she whom you seek. Is she but a lovely face you seek? Is she but a lofty mind? Is she but a beautiful soul?"

"Maybe she is all these, though no one only, and more besides," I answered.

"It is well," she replied, "but have you in your heart no image of her you seek? Else how should you know her should you some day come to meet her?"

"I have no image of her," I said. "I cannot picture her; but I shall know her, know her inerrably as these your wood children find out each other untaught, as the butterfly that has never seen his kindred knows his painted mate, passing on the wing all others by. Only when the lark shall mate with the nightingale, and the honey-bee and the clock-beetle keep house together, shall I wed another maid. Fair maybe she will not be, though fair to me. Wise maybe she will not be, though wise to me. For riches I care not, and of her kindred I have no care. All I know is that just to sit by her will be bliss, just to touch her bliss, just to hear her speak bliss beyond all mortal telling."

Thereat the Sweetness of the Strength of the Oak smiled upon me and said,--

"Follow yonder green path till it leads you into a little grassy glade, where is a crystal well and a hut of woven boughs hard by, and you shall see her whom you seek."

And as she spoke she faded suddenly, and the side of the oak was once more as the solid rock. With hot heart I took the green winding path, and presently came the little grassy glade, and the bubbling crystal well, and the hut of wattled boughs, and, looking through the open door of the hut, I saw a lovely girl lying asleep in her golden hair. She smiled sweetly in her sleep, and stretched out her arms softly, as though to enfold the dear head of her lover. And, ere I knew, I was bending over her, and as her sweet breath came and went I whispered: "Grace o' God, I am here. I have sought you through the world, and found you at last. Grace o' God, I have come."

And then I thought her great eyes opened, as when the sun sweeps clear blue spaces in the morning sky. "Flower o' Men," then said she, low and sweet,--"Flower o' Men, is it you indeed? As you have sought, so have I waited, waited . . ." And thereat her arms stole round my neck, and I awoke, and Grace o' God was suddenly no more than a pretty name that my dream had given me.

"A pretty dream," said my soul, "though a little boyish for thirty." "And a most excellent sherry," added my body.

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