THE GOLDEN GIRL
One fresh and sunny morning, some months after this night, Elizabeth and I stood before the simple altar of a little country church, for the news had come to us that her husband was dead, and thus we were free to belong to each other before all the world. The exquisite stillness in the cool old church was as the peace in our hearts, and the rippling sound of the sunlit leaves outside seemed like the very murmur of the stream of life down which we dreamed of gliding together from that hour.
It was one of those moments which sometimes come and go without any apparent cause, when life suddenly takes a mystical aspect of completeness, all its discords are harmonised by some unseen hand of the spirit, and all its imperfections fall away. The lover of beauty and the lover of God alike know these strange moments, but none know them with such a mighty satisfaction as a man and a woman who love as loved Elizabeth and I.
Love for ever completes the world, for it is no future of higher achievement, no expectation of greater joy. It lives for ever in a present made perfect by itself. Love can dream of no greater blessedness than itself, of no heaven but its own. God himself could have added no touch of happiness to our happy hearts that grave and sunny morning. You philosophers who go searching for the meaning of life, thinkers reading so sadly, and let us hope so wrongly, the riddle of the world--life has but one meaning, the riddle but one answer--which is Love. To love is to put yourself in harmony with the spheral music of creation, to stand in the centre of the universe, and see it good and whole as it appears in the eye of God.
Even Death himself, the great and terrible King of kings, though he may break the heart of love with agonies and anguish and slow tortures of separation, may break not his faith. No one that has loved will dream even death too terrible a price to pay for the revelation of love. For that revelation once made can never be recalled. As a little sprig of lavender will perfume a queen's wardrobe, so will a short year of love keep sweet a long life. And love's best gifts death can never take away. Nay, indeed, death does not so much rob as enrich the gifts of love. The dead face that was fair grows fairer each spring, sweet memories grow more sweet, what was silver is now gold, and as years go by, the very death of love becomes its immortality.
I think I shall never hear Elizabeth's voice again, never look into her eyes, never kiss her dear lips--but Elizabeth is still mine, and I am hers, as in that morning when we kissed in that little chancel amid the flickering light, and passed out into the sun and down the lanes, to our little home among the meadow-sweet.
She is still as real to me as the stars,--and, alas, as far away! I think no thought that does not fly to her, I have no joys I do not share with her, I tell her when the spring is here, and we sit beneath the moon and listen to the nightjar together. Sometimes we are merry together as in the old time, and our laughter makes nightfaring folk to cross themselves; my work, my dreams, my loves, are all hers, and my very sins are sinned for her sake.
Two years did Elizabeth and I know the love that passeth all understanding, and day by day the chestnut upon her head was more and the gold less, till the day came that she had prophesied, and with the day a little child, whose hair had stolen all her mother's gold, as her heart had drained away her mother's life.
Ah! reader, may it be long before you kneel at the bedside of her you love best in the world, and know that of all your love is left but a hundred heart-beats, while opposite sits Death, watch in hand, and fingers upon her wrist.
"Husband," whispered Elizabeth, as we looked at each other for the last time, "let her be your little golden girl . . ."
And then a strange sweetness stole over her face, and the dream of Elizabeth's life was ended.
As I write I hear in the still house the running of little feet, a fairy patter sweet and terrible to the heart.
Little feet, little feet--perhaps if I follow you I shall find again our mother that is lost. Perhaps Elizabeth left you with me that I should not miss the way.
Tout par soullas.