Serapion, by Francis Stevens

Chapter 16

I WALKED into a dusty-green triangle of turfed and gravel-walked space, smitten with hot, yellow light from the west, where the June sun sank slowly down a clear, light-blue sky. Behind me across a narrow street rose the stark, gray wall beyond which a certain man would never pass into the sunshine again.

He is in the shadow; I am in the sun.

But sunlight was yellow, glaring, terrible. In theprison I had longed for it. The shadow had seemed bad then. Now I learned how worse than bad was sunlight.

There were three rusty iron benches set in the triangle, and they were all empty. No one wished to sit there. There would be always the risk that some sneak and murder might come walking out of that prison across the way; walking out. Leaving his friend and his honor and his God behind him forever.

So I walked into the little triangle and sat down on one of the empty benches.

I had with me two papers. I had meant — I think I had meant — to show at least one of them to Nils. When I went to the prison I had not known whether Nils would have read or been told a certain piece of news. If he had not already learned, it was in my despairing mind to tell him and let him decide what we should do.

I had found him ignorant and left him so.

Sitting there on the empty bench in the hot, free, terrible sunshine, I drew one of the papers from my pocket. I wished to see if this were true; if a certain quarter-column of cheap, blurred print did really exist, and if it conveyed exactly the information I had read there.

Yes, there the thing was. The slanting sun beat so hot on the paper that it seemed to burn my hands. I sat on an iron bench in a dusty triangle of green. I had come out of the place where Nils Berquist awaited death, I held a folded newspaper in my hands, and I was beyond question a damned soul. All these things were facts — real.

My eyes followed the print.

“Miss Roberta Whitingfield — death ensued shortly afterward — said to have been the fiancee of Clayton S. Barbour — who has since vainly exerted himself to obtain a pardon for the murderer, Berquist. No one has ever questioned his devoted and disinterested friendship for the socialist murderer, Berquist. His friend dies tomorrow. Has his sweetheart died today?”

I was better informed than the reporter. Not my sweetheart, but my former sweetheart had died today. My victim, not my friend, would die tomorrow.

The second paper that I carried was not printed, but written. Taking it out I tore it up very carefully, into tiny bits of pieces. Just so I had destroyed Nils’ letter, sent me by the bribed guard at the station-house, and also the quaint, strange letter of Alicia Moore.

The pieces I tossed into the air. They fell on the hot, dry grass like snowflakes, and lay still. There wasn’t even a breath of wind to carry them of scatter them. And the words they had borne I couldn’t very well tear up, nor forget.

“We are each other’s only, you and I. No man who could be so loyal to Friendship will ever forget his love. Your own dearest always, here and hereafter.”

“No,” I said aloud very thoughtfully. “Not always. Not — beyond the border. She came to him in a dream, so real — real! And kissed him. Well, they must see clearer, over there. Nils will see clearer tomorrow.”

“But, thank God,” said a pleasant, silent voice, “for the blindness of living men!”

“Are you never going to leave me?” I asked dully.

“Never,” the face replied. “You are mine and I am yours. You settled that a few minutes ago in the prison. You clinched it irrevocably with the destruction of her letter. But don’t be downhearted. I’ve an idea we shall get on excellently together.”

“Go!” I said, but without hope that the face would obey me. Nor did he.

“You would find yourself very lonely if I should go. There will never again be any other comrade for you than myself. And yet I can promise you many friends and lovers. Berquist is not the last idealist alive on earth, nor was she who died the last woman who could love. But you and I understand one another. True comradeship requires understanding, and such as Nils Berquist and the girl, though they offer us their devotion, can never give understanding to you and me. This, when you think of it, is fortunate.”

“In the name of God, leave me!”

“Never! Save as a careless word, what have you and I to do with God? We are each other’s only,” it insisted, the pleasant, horrible face. “Always — always — here and hereafter, indissolubly bound!”

And with that, instead of fading out as was its custom, the face came toward me swiftly. I did not stir. It was against my own face, and I could see it no longer, for it and I were one.

Rising, I walked out of the little, hot triangle of green, and as I had left Nils Berquist in his prison, so I left a newspaper on the bench; some tiny scraps of white paper to litter the dusty grass.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00