Phyllis of Philistia

Contents:
Author: Frank Frankfort Moore

Chapter XVII. - What Am I That I Should Do This Thing?

"At last!"

He sat with the letter before him after he had breakfasted, and perhaps for a time, say a minute or so, he caught a glimpse of the nature of the woman who had written those lines to him. If he had not had some appreciation of her nature he would have spent an hour or two —perhaps a day or two—trying to reconcile her attitude of the previous night with the tone of her letter. He did not, however, waste his time over such an endeavor. He knew that she loved him, and that she did not love her husband. He knew that she had allowed him to kiss her, and it had been a puzzle to him for some months why she had not come to his arms forever—he meant her to be his own property forever. He had been amazed to hear her allude, as she had done on the previous night, to such abstractions as honor, religion, her husband. He could not see what they had to do with the matter in hand. He could not see why such considerations should be potent to exercise a restraining influence on the intentions of a man and a woman who love each other.

Well, now it would appear that she had cast to the winds all such considerations as she had enumerated, and was prepared to live under the rule of love alone, and it was at his suggestion she was doing so.

For a moment or two he saw her as she was: a woman in the midst of a seething ocean, throwing up her hands and finding an absolute relief in going down—down—down into very hell. For a moment or two his heart was full of pity for her. Who could be a spectator of a woman’s struggles for life in the midst of that turbulent sea of passion which was overwhelming her, and refrain from feeling pity? That letter which lay before him represented the agonizing cry of a drowning creature; one whom the long struggle has made delirious; one who looks forward to going down with the delight born of delirium.

He recollected a picture which he had once seen—the picture of a drowning woman. He saw it now before him with hideous vividness, and the face of the woman was the face of Ella Linton. The agony of that last fight with an element that was overpowering, overwhelming in its ruthless strength, was shown upon every feature, and his soul was filled with pity.

He sprang to his feet and crushed the letter into his pocket. He felt none of the exultation of the huntsman—only sadness at the fate of the hunted thing that lay at his feet. Once before the same feeling had come over him. It was when, after the long struggle up the river, through the forests, swamps, jungle grass that cut the body of a man as though it were sharp wire, he fired his shot and the meteor-bird fell at his feet. After the first few panting breaths that came to him he had stood leaning on his gun, looking down at that beautiful thing which he had deprived of life.

"What am I that I should have done this thing?" he had asked himself on that evening, while the blacks had yelled around him like devils.

"What am I that I should do this thing?" was his cry now, as the voice of many demons sounded in his ears.

What was he that he should rejoice at receiving that letter from the woman over whose head the waters were closing?

He ordered his horse and, mounting it, rode to where he could put it to the gallop. So men try to leave behind them the sneering demons of conscience and self-reproach. Some of them succeed in doing so, but find the pair waiting for them on their own doorstep. Herbert Courtland galloped his horse intermittently for an hour or two, and then rode leisurely back to his rooms. He felt that he had got the better of those two enemies of his who had been irritating him. He heard their voices no longer. He had lost them (he fancied), because there had come to him another voice that said:

"I love her—I love her."

And whensoever that voice comes to a man as it came to Herbert Courtland it drowns all other voices. He would love her to the end of his life. Their life together would be the real life for which men and women have come into the world. He would go to her, and so far from allowing her to sink beneath the waters down to hell, his arms would be around her to bear her up until—well, is it not generally conceded that love is heaven and heaven is love?

He seated himself at a desk and wrote to her an impassioned line. He would go to her, he said. If death should come to him the next day he would still thank God for having given him an hour of life.

That was what he said—all. It expressed pretty well what he felt he should feel. That reference to God she would, of course, understand. God was to him a Figure of Speech. He had said as much to Phyllis Ayrton. But then he had said that he had regarded God to mean the Power by which men were able (sometimes) successfully to combat the influences of nature. But had he not just then made up his mind to yield to that passion which God, as a Principle, has the greatest difficulty in opposing? Why, then, should he expect that Ella would understand precisely what he meant in saying that he would thank God for his hour of life, his hour of love?

He would have had considerable difficulty in explaining this apparent discrepancy between his scheme of philosophy and his life as a man, had Phyllis asked him to do so; and Phyllis would certainly have asked him to do so had she become acquainted with the contents of his letter to her friend Ella; though Phyllis’ father, having acquired some knowledge of men as well as of phrases, would not have asked for any explanation, knowing that a man’s philosophy is, in its relation to a man’s life, a good deal less important than the fuse is to a bomb. He would have known that a scheme of philosophy no more brings wisdom into a man’s life than a telescope brings the moon nearer to the earth. He would have known that for a man to build up a doctrine of philosophy around himself, hoping that the devil will keep on the other side of the paling, is as ridiculous as it is to raise a stockade of roses against a tiger.

Herbert Courtland, however, thought neither of philosophical consistency nor of the advantages of having on one’s side a sound Principle. He thought of the stockade of roses, not to keep out the beast but to keep love in. They would live together in the midst of roses forever, and though each might possibly lose something by the transaction, yet what they might lose was nothing compared to what they should certainly win. Of that he was certain, and therefore he posted his impassioned line with a light heart.

That was on Tuesday. He had still two days that he might employ thinking over the enterprise to which he was committed; and he certainly made the most of his time in this direction. Now and again, as he thought of what was in store for him—for her—he felt as if he were lifted off the earth, and at other times he felt that he was crushed into the earth—crushed into it until he had become incapable of any thought that was not of the earth, earthy. At such moments he felt inclined to walk down to the docks and step aboard the first vessel that was sailing eastward or westward or northward or southward. Then it was that he found but the scantiest comfort in the consideration of the loveliness of love. Glorifying life! No, corrupting life until life is more putrid than death.

That was what love was—something to fly from. But still he did not fly from the vision that came to him when he found himself alone after spending the evenings in brilliant company—a vision of the lovely woman who was waiting for him! What had she said? Her soul—her soul would be lost forevermore?

Well, that showed that she was a woman, at any rate, and he loved her all the better for her womanliness. He knew very well that if God is a Figure of Speech with men, the losing of a soul is a figure of speech with women. The expression means only that they have lost the chance of drinking a number of cups of tea in drawing rooms whose doors are now shut to them. That was what Ella meant, no doubt. If she were openly to set at defiance certain of those laws by the aid of which society was kept together with a moderate degree of consistency, she would be treated as an outlaw.

After all, such a fate was not without its bright side. Some happiness may remain to human beings in that world which is on the hither side of London drawing rooms; and it would be his aim in life to see that she had all the happiness that the world could give her.

Pah! He felt his sentiment becoming a trifle brackish. He loved her, and she loved him. That was more than all the laws and the profits of society to them. That was the beginning and the end of the whole matter—the origin of the sin (people called it a sin) and the exculpation of the sinners. There was nothing more to be said or thought about the matter. Those who loved would understand. Those who did not understand would condemn, and the existence of either class was of no earthly importance to himself or to Ella.

When he awoke on the Thursday morning the feeling of exultation of which he was conscious was not without a note of depression. So it had been when the object of his explorations in New Guinea had been attained, and he looked down at that exquisite thing—that dead splendor at his feet.

He wondered if the attainment of every great object which a man may have in life brings about a feeling of sadness that almost neutralizes the exultation. As he picked up his letters he had a fear that among them there might be one from Ella, telling him that she had come to the conclusion that she had written too hastily those lines which he had received on Tuesday—that, on consideration, she was unwilling to lose her soul for love of him.

No such letter, however, was among his correspondence. (Could it be possible that he was disappointed on account of this?) He received an intimation from Berlin of the conferring of an order upon him in recognition of his exploration of a territory in which Germany was so greatly interested. He received an intimation from Vienna that a gold medal had been voted to him by one of the learned societies in recognition of his contributions to biological science. He received an intimation from his publishers that they had just gone to press with another thousand (the twelfth) of his book, and he received thirteen cards of invitation to various functions to take place in from three to six weeks’ time, but no line did he receive from Ella.

She was his forever and ever, whether her soul would be lost or saved in consequence.

He rather thought that it would be lost; but that did not matter. She was his forever and ever.

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Chicago: Frank Frankfort Moore, "Chapter XVII. - What Am I That I Should Do This Thing?," Phyllis of Philistia, ed. Altemus, Henry in Phyllis of Philistia Original Sources, accessed February 9, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8MP351S6Z8A7TEU.

MLA: Moore, Frank Frankfort. "Chapter XVII. - What Am I That I Should Do This Thing?." Phyllis of Philistia, edited by Altemus, Henry, in Phyllis of Philistia, Original Sources. 9 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8MP351S6Z8A7TEU.

Harvard: Moore, FF, 'Chapter XVII. - What Am I That I Should Do This Thing?' in Phyllis of Philistia, ed. . cited in , Phyllis of Philistia. Original Sources, retrieved 9 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8MP351S6Z8A7TEU.