The Tree of Heaven

by Robert W. Chambers

So, kneeling there beside her in the shadow of the pines, she absolved him in their dim confessional, holding him guiltless under the destiny that awaits us all. 

Again that illumination touched his haggard face as though brightened by a sun ray stealing through the still foliage above. He grew younger under the level beauty of her gaze; care fell from him like a mask; the shadows that had haunted his eyes faded; youth awoke, transfiguring him and all his eyes beheld. 

Made prisoner by love, adoring her, fearing her, he knelt beside her, knowing already that she had surrendered, though fearful yet by word or gesture or a glance to claim what destiny was holding for him holding securely, inexorably, for him alone. 

He spoke of her kindness in understanding him, and of his gratitude; of her generosity, of his wonder that she had ever noticed him on his way through the world. 

"I cannot believe that we have never before spoken to each other," he said; "that I do not even know your name. Surely there was once a corner in the land of childhood where we sat together.when the world was younger." 

She said, dreamily: "Have you forgotten?" 


"That sunny corner in the land of childhood." 

"Had you been there, I should not have forgotten," he replied, troubled. 

"Look at me," she said. Her lovely eyes met his; under the penetrating sweetness of her gaze his heart quickened and grew restless and his uneasy soul stirred, awaking memories. 

"There was a child," she said, "years ago; a child at school. You sometimes looked at her, you never spoke. Do you remember?" 

He rose to his feet, staring down at her. 

"Do you remember?" she asked again. 

"Rosamund! Do you mean Rosamund? How should you know that?" he faltered. 

The struggle for memory focused all his groping senses; his eyes seemed to look her through and through. 

"How can you know?" he repeated unsteadily. "You are not Rosamund. . . . Are you? . . . She is dead. I heard that she was dead. . . . Are you Rosamund?" 

"Do you not know?" 

"Yes; you are not Rosamund.... What do you know of her?" 

"I think she loved you." 

"Is she dead?" 

The girl looked up at him, smiling, following with delicate perception the sequence of his thoughts; and already his thoughts were far from the child Rosamund, a sweetheart of a day long since immortal; already he had forgotten his question, though the question was of life or death. 

Sadness and unrest and the passing of souls concerned not him; she knew that all his thoughts were centered on her; that he was already living over once more the last three years, with all their mystery and charm, savoring their fragrance anew in the exquisite enchantment of her presence. 

Through the autumn silence the pines began to sway in a wind unfelt below. She raised her eyes and saw their green crests shimmering and swimming in a cool current; a thrilling sound stole our, and with it floated the pine perfume, exhaling in the sunshine. He heard the dreamy harmony above, looked up; then, troubled, somber, moved by he knew not what, he knelt once more in the shadow beside her—close beside her. 

She did not stir. Their destiny was close upon them. It came in the guise of love. 

He bent nearer. "I love you," he said. "I loved you from the first. And shall forever. You knew it long ago." 

She did not move. 

"You knew I loved you?" 

"Yes, I knew it." 

The emotion in her voice, in every delicate contour of her face, pleaded for mercy. He gave her none, and she bent her head in silence, clasped hands tightening. 

And when at last he had had his say, the burning words still rang in her ears through the silence. A curious faintness stole upon her, coming stealthily like a hateful thing. She strove to put it from her, to listen, to remember and understand the words he had spoken, but the dull confusion grew with the sound of the pines. 

"Will you love me? Will you try to love me?" 

"I love you," she said; "I have loved you so many, many years; I—I am Rosamund—" 

She bowed her head and covered her face with both hands.."Rosamund! Rosamund!" he breathed, enraptured. 

She dropped her hands with a little cry; the frightened sweetness of her eyes held back his outstretched arms. "Do not touch me," she whispered; "you will not touch me, will you?—not yet—not now. Wait till I understand!" She pressed her hands to her eyes, then again let them fall, staring straight at him. "I loved you so!" she whispered. "Why did you wait?" 

"Rosamund! Rosamund!" he cried sorrowfully, "what are you saying? I do not understand; I can understand nothing save that I worship you. May I not touch you?—touch your hand, Rosamund? I love you so." 

"And I love you. I beg you not to touch me—nor yet. There is something—some reason why—" 

"Tell me, sweetheart." 

"Do you not know?" 

"By Heaven, I do not!" he said, troubled and amazed. 

She cast one desperate, unhappy glance at him, then rose to her full height, gazing out over the hazy valleys to where the mountains began, piled up like dim sun-tipped clouds in the north. 

The hill wind stirred her hair and fluttered the white ribbons at waist and shoulder. The golden-rod swayed in the sunshine. Below, amid yellow treetops, the roofs and chimneys of the village glimmered. 

"Dear, do you not understand?" she said. "How can I make you understand that I love you— too late?" 

"Give yourself to me, Rosamund; let me touch you—let me take you—" 

"Will you love me always?" 

"In life, in death, which cannot part us. Will you marry me, Rosamund?" 

She looked straight into his eyes. "Dear, do you not understand? Have you forgotten? I died three years ago to-day." 

The unearthly sweetness of her white face startled him. A terrible light broke in on him; his heart stood still. 

In his dull brain words were sounding—his own words, written years ago: "When God takes the mind and leaves the body alive, there grows in it, sometimes, a beauty almost supernatural." 

He had seen it in his practice. A thrill of fright penetrated him, piercing every vein with its chill. He strove to speak; his lips seemed frozen; he stood there before her, a ghastly smile stamped on his face, and in his heart, terror. 

"What do you mean, Rosamund?" he said at last. 

"That I am dead, dear. Did you not understand that? I—I thought you knew it—when you first saw me at the cemetery, after all those years since childhood.. . . Did you not know it?" she asked wistfully. "I must wait for my bridal." 

Misery whitened his face as he raised his head and looked out across the sunlit world. 

Something had smeared and marred the fair earth; the sun grew gray as he stared. 

Stupefied by the crash, the ruins of life around him, he stood mute, erect, facing the west. 

She whispered, "Do you understand?" 

'Yes," he said; "we will wed later. You have been ill, dear; but it is all right now—and will always be—God help us! Love is stronger than all— stronger than death." 

"I know it is stronger than death," she said, looking out dreamily over the misty valley. 

He followed her gaze, calmly, serenely reviewing all that he must renounce, the happiness of wedlock, children—all that a man desires. 

Suddenly instinct stirred, awaking man's only friend—hope. A lifetime for the battle!—for a.cure! Hopeless? He laughed in his excitement. Despair?—when the cure lay almost within his grasp! the work he had given his life to! A month more in the laboratory—two months—three— perhaps a year. What of it? It must surely come—how could he fail when the work of his life meant all in life for her?

The light of exaltation slowly faded from his face; ominous, foreboding thoughts crept in; fear laid a shaky hand on his head which fell heavily forward on his breast. 

Science and man's cunning and the wisdom of the world! 

"O God," he groaned, "for Him who cured by laying on His hands!" 

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