Across the Plains Part 10

Ill-temper and envy and revenge find here an a.r.s.enal of pious disguises; this is the playground of inverted l.u.s.ts. With a little more patience and a little less temper, a gentler and wiser method might be found in almost every case; and the knot that we cut by some fine heady quarrel-scene in private life, or, in public affairs, by some denunciatory act against what we are pleased to call our neighbour's vices, might yet have been unwoven by the hand of sympathy.

IV

To look back upon the past year, and see how little we have striven and to what small purpose; and how often we have been cowardly and hung back, or temerarious and rushed unwisely in; and how every day and all day long we have transgressed the law of kindness;-it may seem a paradox, but in the bitterness of these discoveries, a certain consolation resides. Life is not designed to minister to a man's vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of rewards and pleasures as it is-so that to see the day break or the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinner-call when he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys-this world is yet for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails, weariness a.s.sails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly process of detachment. When the time comes that he should go, there need be few illusions left about himself. _Here lies one who meant well_, _tried a little_, _failed much_:-surely that may be his epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed. Nor will he complain at the summons which calls a defeated soldier from the field: defeated, ay, if he were Paul or Marcus Aurelius!-but if there is still one inch of fight in his old spirit, undishonoured. The faith which sustained him in his life-long blindness and life-long disappointment will scarce even be required in this last formality of laying down his arms. Give him a march with his old bones; there, out of the glorious sun-coloured earth, out of the day and the dust and the ecstasy-there goes another Faithful Failure!

From a recent book of verse, where there is more than one such beautiful and manly poem, I take this memorial piece: it says better than I can, what I love to think; let it be our parting word.

"A late lark twitters from the quiet skies; And from the west, Where the sun, his day's work ended, Lingers as in content, There falls on the old, gray city An influence luminous and serene, A shining peace.

"The smoke ascends In a rosy-and-golden haze. The spires Shine, and are changed. In the valley Shadows rise. The lark sings on. The sun, Closing his benediction, Sinks, and the darkening air Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night- Night, with her train of stars And her great gift of sleep.

"So be my pa.s.sing!

My task accomplished and the long day done, My wages taken, and in my heart Some late lark singing, Let me be gathered to the quiet west, The sundown splendid and serene, Death." {212}

[1888.]

FOOTNOTES

{8} Please p.r.o.nounce Arkansaw, with the accent on the first.

{95} See _An Inland Voyage_, by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1878.

{141} Wild cherries.

{202} _i.e._ in the pages of _Scribner's Magazine_ (1888).

{212} From _A Book of Verses_ by William Ernest Henley. D. Nutt, 1888.

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