The Tree of Heaven

by Robert W. Chambers

Her delicate face was like a blossom lifted in the still air; her upward glance chained him to silence. The first breeze broke the spell: he spoke a word, then speech died on his lips; he stood twisting his shooting cap, confused, not daring to continue. 

The girl leaned back, supporting her weight on one arm, fingers almost buried in the deep green moss. 

"It is three years to-day," he said, in the dull voice of one who dreams; "three years to-day. 

May I not speak?" 

In her lowered head and eyes he read acquiescence; in her silence, consent. 

"Three years ago to-day," he repeated; "the anniversary has given me courage to speak to you. 

Surely you will not take offense; we have traveled so far together!—from the end of the world to the end of it, and back again, here—to this place of all places in the world! And now to find you here on this day of all days—here within a step of our first meeting place—three years ago to-day! 

And all the world we have traveled over since never speaking, yet ever passing on paths parallel—paths which for thousands of miles ran almost within arms distance—" 

She raised her head slowly, looking out from the shadows of the pines into the sunshine. Her dreamy eyes rested on acres of golden-rod and hillside brambles quivering in the September heat; on fern-choked gullies edged with alder; on brown and purple grasses; on pine thickets where slim silver birches glimmered. 

"Will you speak to me?" he asked. "I have never even heard the sound of your voice." 

She turned and looked at him, touching with idle fingers the soft hair curling on her temples Then she bent her head once more, the faintest shadow of a smile in her eyes. 

"Because," he said humbly, "these long years of silent recognition count for something! And then the strangeness of it!—the fate of it—the quiet destiny that ruled our lives—that rules them now—now as I am speaking, weighting every second with its tiny burden of fate." 

She straightened up, lifting her half-buried hand from the moss; and he saw the imprint there where the palm and fingers had rested. 

"Three years that end to-day—end with the new moon," he said. "Do you remember?" 

"Yes," she said. 

He quivered at the sound of her voice. "You were there, just beyond those oaks," he said eagerly; "we can see them from here. The road turns there—"."Turns by the cemetery," she murmured. 

"Yes, yes, by the cemetery! You had been there, I think." 

"Do you remember that?" she asked. 

"I have never forgotten—never!" he repeated, striving to hold her eyes to his own; "it was not twilight; there was a glimmer of day in the west, but the woods were darkening, and the new moon lay in the sky, and the evening was very clear and still." 

Impulsively he dropped on one knee beside her to see her face; and as he spoke, curbing his emotion and impatience with that subtle deference which is inbred in men or never acquired, she stole a glance at him; and his worn visage brightened as though touched with sunlight. 

"The second time I saw you was in New York," he said—"only a glimpse of your face in the crowd—but I knew you." 

"I saw you," she mused. 

"Did you?" he cried, enchanted. "I dared not believe that you recognized me." 

"Yes, I knew you.... Tell me more." 

The thrilling voice set him aflame; faint danger signals tinted her face and neck. 

"In December," he went on unsteadily, "I saw you in Paris—I saw only you amid the thousand faces in the candlelight of Notre Dame." 

"And I saw you.... And then?" 

"And then two months of darkness.... And at last a light—moonlight—and you on the terrace at Amara." 

"There was only a flower bed—a few spikes of white hyacinths between us," she said dreamily. 

He strove to speak coolly. "Day and night have built many a wall between us; was that you who passed me in the starlight, so close that our shoulders, touched, in that narrow street in Samarkand? And the dark figure with you—" 

"Yes, it was I and my attendant." 

"And . . . you, there in the fog—" 

"At Archangel? Yes, it was I." 

"On the Goryn?" 

"It was I.... And I am here at last—with you. It is our destiny." 

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