The Forest Lovers (Chapter 21)

 
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Chapter 21 : Page 1 of 6

The charcoal-burner's convoy, bearing at once the evidence and the
reward of his humanity, a battered lady on one ass and her flayed
friend on another, jogged leisurely through the forest glades. The
time was the very top of spring, the morning soft and fair, but none
of the party took any heed: the charcoal-burner because he was by
habit too close to these things, Isoult because she was in a faint,
the black ram because he had been skinned. When Isoult did finally
lift her head and begin to look timidly about her, she found herself
in a country unfamiliar, which, for all she knew, might be an hour's
or a week's journey from High March, where Prosper was. Prosper! She
knew that every mincing step of the donkey took her further from him,
but she was powerless to protest or to pray; life scarce whispered in
her yet. And what span of miles or hours, after all, could set her
wider from him than discovery, the shame, the yelling of her foes, had
hounded her?

In this new blank discomfiture of hers, she was like one who has been
taught patiently to climb by a gentle hand. The hand trusts her and
lets go--down, down she falls, and from the mire at the bottom can see
the sunny slopes above her, and the waiting guide stretched at rest
until she come. The utter abasement of her state numbed her spirit;
any other spirit would have been killed outright. But to her one thing
remained, that dull and endless patience of the earth-born, poor clods
without hope or memory, who from dwelling so hidden in the lap of the
earth seem to win a share of its eternal sufferance. Your peasant will
bow his back as soon as he can stand upright, and every year draws him
nearer to the earth. The rheumatics at last grip him unawares, and
clinch him in a gesture which is a figure of his lot. The scarred
hills, the burnt plains, the trees which the wind cows and lays down,
the flowers and corn, meek or glad at the bidding of the hour--the
earth-born is kin to these, more plant than man. I have done ill if I
have not thus expounded Isoult la Desirous, for without such knowledge
of her you will hardly understand her apathy. She had been lapped so
long on the knees of earth; her flights in the upper air had been so
short, and her tumble with a broken wing so sharp, that she resumed
the crouch, the bent knees, the folded arms, the face in hands of the
earth-born, with hardly a struggle. If she had been meant for the air,
she would be in the air; if she was meant to die a serf as she had
lived, why, at the rate she was spending, death would be quick--
ecco! The word comes pat when you talk of such lives as hers,
for the Italian peasant is the last of the earth-born, invincibly
patient.

 
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