"i hope it's paid you, sis. roughing it's dangerous business; it takes the taste out of things."
she shut her fingers firmly over the brown hand that was so like her own.
"paid? why, wyllis, i haven't been so happy since we were children and were going to discover the ruins of troy together some day. do you know, i believe i could just stay on here forever and let the world go on its own gait. it seems as though the tension and strain we used to talk of last winter were gone for good, as though one could never give one's strength out to such petty things any more."
wyllis brushed the ashes of his pipe away from the silk handkerchief that was knotted about his neck and stared moodily off at the skyline.
"no, you're mistaken. this would bore you after a while. you can't shake the fever of the other life. i've tried it. there was a time when the gay fellows of rome could trot down into the thebaid and burrow into the sandhills and get rid of it. but it's all too complex now. you see we've made our dissipations so dainty and respectable that they've gone further in than the flesh, and taken hold of the ego proper. you couldn't rest, even here. the war cry would follow you."
"you don't waste words, wyllis, but you never miss fire. i talk more than you do, without saying half so much. you must have learned the art of silence from these taciturn norwegians. i think i like silent men."
"naturally," said wyllis, "since you have decided to marry the most brilliant talker you know."
both were silent for a time, listening to the sighing of the hot wind through the parched morning-glory vines. margaret spoke first.
"tell me, wyllis, were many of the norwegians you used to know as interesting as eric hermannson?"
"who, siegfried? well, no. he used to be the flower of the norwegian youth in my day, and he's rather an exception, even now. he has retrograded, though. the bonds of the soil have tightened on him, i fancy."
"siegfried? come, that's rather good, wyllis. he looks like a dragon-slayer. what is it that makes him so different from the others? i can talk to him; he seems quite like a human being."
"well," said wyllis, meditatively, "i don't read bourget as much as my cultured sister, and i'm not so well up in analysis, but i fancy it's because one keeps cherishing a perfectly unwarranted suspicion that under that big, hulking anatomy of his, he may conceal a soul somewhere. nicht wahr?"
"something like that," said margaret, thoughtfully, "except that it's more than a suspicion, and it isn't groundless. he has one, and he makes it known, somehow, without speaking."
"i always have my doubts about loquacious souls," wyllis remarked, with the unbelieving smile that had grown habitual with him.
margaret went on, not heeding the interruption. "i knew it from the first, when he told me about the suicide of his cousin, the bernstein boy. that kind of blunt pathos can't be summoned at will in anybody. the earlier novelists rose to it, sometimes, unconsciously. but last night when i sang for him i was doubly sure. oh, i haven't told you about that yet! better light your pipe again. you see, he stumbled in on me in the dark when i was pumping away at that old parlour organ to please mrs. lockhart it's her household fetish and i've forgotten how many pounds of butter she made and sold to buy it. well, eric stumbled in, and in some inarticulate manner made me understand that he wanted me to sing for him. i sang just the old things, of course. it's queer to sing familiar things here at the world's end. it makes one think how the hearts of men have carried them around the world, into the wastes of iceland and the jungles of africa and the islands of the pacific. i think if one lived here long enough one would quite forget how to be trivial, and would read only the great books that we never get time to read in the world, and would remember only the great music, and the things that are really worth while would stand out clearly against that horizon over there. and of course i played the intermezzo from cavalleria rusticana for him; it goes rather better on an organ than most things do. he shuffled his feet and twisted his big hands up into knots and blurted out that he didn't know there was any music like that in the world. why, there were tears in his voice, wyllis! yes, like rossetti, i heard his tears. then it dawned upon me that it was probably the first good music be had ever heard in all his life. think of it, to care for music as he does and never to hear it, never to know that it exists on earth! to long for it as we long for other perfect experiences that never come. i can't tell you what music means to that man. i never saw any one so susceptible to it. it gave him speech, he became alive. when i had finished the intermezzo, he began telling me about a little crippled brother who died and whom he loved and used to carry everywhere in his arms. he did not wait for encouragement. he took up the story and told it slowly, as if to himself, just sort of rose up and told his own woe to answer mascagni's. it overcame me."
"poor devil," said wyllis, looking at her with mysterious eyes, "and so you've given him a new woe. now he'll go on wanting grieg and schubert the rest of his days and never getting them. that's a girl's philanthropy for you!"