The Garden of Survival, by Algernon Blackwood

2

THE brief marriage ran its course, depleting rather than enriching me, and I know you realized before the hurried, dreadful end that my tie with yourself was strengthened rather than endangered, and that I took from you nothing that I might give it to her. That death should intervene so swiftly, leaving her but an interval of a month between the altar and the grave, you could foreknow as little as I or she; yet in that brief space of time you learned that I had robbed you of nothing that was your precious due, while she as surely realized that the amazing love she poured so lavishly upon me woke no response — beyond a deep and tender pity, strangely deep and singularly tender I admit, but assuredly very different from love.

Now this, I think, you already know and in some measure understand; but what you cannot know — since it is a portion of her secret, of that ambushed meaning, as I termed it, given to me when she lay dying — is the pathetic truth that her discovery wrought no touch of disenchantment in her. I think she knew with shame that she had caught me with her lowest weapon, yet still hoped that the highest in her might complete and elevate her victory. She knew, at any rate, neither dismay nor disappointment; of reproach there was no faintest hint. She did not even once speak of it directly, though her fine, passionate face made me aware of the position. Of the usual human reaction, that is, there was no slightest trace; she neither chided nor implored; she did not weep. The exact opposite of what I might have expected took place before my very eyes.

For she turned and faced me, empty as I was. The soul in her, realizing the truth, stood erect to meet the misery of lonely pain that inevitably lay ahead — in some sense as though she welcomed it already; and, strangest of all, she blossomed, physically as well as mentally, into a fuller revelation of gracious loveliness than before, sweeter and more exquisite, indeed, than anything life had yet shown to me. Moreover, having captured me, she changed; the grossness I had discerned, that which had led me to my own undoing, vanished completely as though it were transmuted into desires and emotions of a loftier kind. Some purpose, some intention, a hope immensely resolute shone out of her, and of such spiritual loveliness, it seemed to me, that I watched it in a kind of dumb amazement.

I watched it — unaware at first of my own shame, emptied of any emotion whatsoever, I think, but that of a startled worship before the grandeur of her generosity. It seemed she listened breathlessly for the beating of my heart, and hearing none, resolved that she would pour her own life into it, regardless of pain, of loss, of sacrifice, that she might make it live. She undertook her mission, that is to say, and this mission, in some mysterious way, and according to some code of conduct undivined by me, yet passionately honoured, was to give — regardless of herself or of response. I caught myself sometimes thinking of a child who would instinctively undo some earlier grievous wrong. She loved me marvellously.

I know not how to describe to you the lavish wealth of selfless devotion she bathed me in during the brief torturing and unfulfilled period before the end. It made me aware of new depths and heights in human nature. It taught me a new beauty that even my finest dreams had left unmentioned. Into the region that great souls inhabit a glimpse was given me. My own dreadful weakness was laid bare. And an eternal hunger woke in me — that I might love.

That hunger remained unsatisfied. I prayed, I yearned, I suffered; I could have decreed myself a deservedly cruel death; it seemed I stretched my little nature to unendurable limits in the fierce hope that the Gift of the Gods might be bestowed upon me, and that her divine emotion might waken a response within my leaden soul. But all in vain. My attitude, in spite of every prayer, of every effort, remained no more than a searching and unavailing pity, but a pity that held no seed of a mere positive emotion, least of all, of love. The heart in me lay unredeemed; it knew ashamed and very tender gratitude; but it did not beat for her. I could not love.

I have told you bluntly, frankly, of my physical feelings towards Marion and her beauty. It is a confession that I give into my own safe keeping. I think, perhaps, that you, though cast in a finer mould, may not despise them utterly, nor too contemptuously misinterpret them. The legend that twins may share a single soul has always seemed to me grotesque and unpoetic nonsense, a cruel and unnecessary notion too: a man is sufficiently imperfect without suffering this further subtraction from his potentialities. And yet it is true, in our own case, that you have exclusive monopoly of the ethereal qualities, while to me are given chiefly the physical attributes of the vigorous and healthy male — the animal: my six feet three, my muscular system, my inartistic and pedestrian temperament. Fairly clean-minded, I hope I may be, but beyond all question I am the male animal incarnate. It was, indeed, the thousand slaveries of the senses, individually so negligible, collectively so overwhelming, that forced me upon my knees before her physical loveliness. I must tell you now that this potent spell, alternating between fiery desire and the sincerest of repugnance, continued to operate. I complete the confession by adding briefly, that after marriage she resented and repelled all my advances. A deep sadness came upon her; she wept; and I desisted. It was my soul that she desired with the fire of her mighty love, and not my body. . . . And again, since it is to myself and to you alone I tell it, I would add this vital fact: it was this “new beauty which my finest dreams have left unmentioned” that made it somehow possible for me to desist, both against my animal will, yet willingly.

I have told you that, when dying, she revealed to me a portion of her “secret.” This portion of a sacred confidence lies so safe within my everlasting pity that I may share it with you without the remorse of a betrayal. Full understanding we need never ask; the solution, I am convinced, is scarcely obtainable in this world. The message, however, was incomplete because the breath that framed it into broken words failed suddenly; the heart, so strangely given into my unworthy keeping, stopped beating as you shall hear upon the very edge of full disclosure. The ambushed meaning I have hinted at remained — a hint.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31