Story type: Literature
“Good-night.” A lingering of finger tips that touched, as by accident; a bared head; the regular tap of shoes on cement, as a man walked down the path.
“Good-night–and God bless thee,” he repeated softly, tenderly, under his breath, that none but he might hear: words of faith spoken reverently, and by one who believes not in the God known of the herd.
“Good-night–and God bless thee,” whispered the woman slowly; and the south wind, murmuring northward, took the words and carried them gently away as sacred things.
The woman stood thinking, dreaming, her color mounting, her eyes dimming, as she read deep the mystery of her own heart.
They had sat side by side the entire evening, and had talked of life and of its hidden things; or else had remained silent in the unspoken converse that is even sweeter to those who understand each other.
She had said of a mutual friend: “He is a man I admire; he has an ideal.”
“A thing but few of earth possess.”
“No; I think you are wrong. I believe all people have ideals. They must; life would not be life without.”
“You mean object rather than ideal. Does not an ideal mean something beautiful–something beyond–something we’d give our all for? Not our working hours alone, but our hours of pleasure and our times of thought. An ideal is an intangible thing–having much of the supernatural in its make-up; ’tis a fetish for which we’d sacrifice life–or the strongest passion of life,–love.”
“Is this an ideal, though? Could anything be beautiful to us after we’d sacrificed much of life, and all of love in its attainment? Is not everything that is opposed to love also opposed to the ideal? Is not an ideal, when all is told, nothing but a great love–the great personal love of each individual?”
He turned to the woman, and there was that in his face which caused her eyes to drop, and her breath to come more quickly.
“I don’t know. I’m miserable, and lonely, and tired. I’ve thought I had an ideal, and I followed it, working for it faithfully and for it alone. I’ve shown it to myself, glowing, splendid, when I became weary and ready to yield. I’ve sacrificed, in attempting its attainment, youth and pleasure–self, continually. Still, I’m afar off–and still the light beckons me on. I work day after day, and night after night, as ever; but the faith within me is growing weaker. Might not the ideal I worshipped after all be an earth-born thing, an ambition whose brightness is not of pure gold, but of tinsel? That which I have sought, speaks always to me so loudly that there may be no mistake in hearing.
“‘I am thy god,’ it says; ‘worship me–and me alone. Sacrifice–sacrifice–sacrifice–thyself–thy love. Thus shalt thou attain me.’
“One day I stopped my work to think; hid myself solitary that I might question. ‘What shall I have when I attain thee?’ I asked.
“‘Fame–fame–the plaudits of the people–a pedestal apart.’
“‘Yes,’ whispered my soul to me, ‘and a great envy always surrounding; a great fight always to hold thy small pedestal secure.’
“Of such as this are ideals made? No. ‘Twas a mistake. I have sought not an ideal, but an ambition–a worthless thing. An ideal is something beautiful–a great love. ‘Tis not yet too late to correct my fault; to seek this ideal–this beautiful thing–this love.”
He reached over to the woman and their fingers, as by chance, touching, lingered together. His eyes shone, and when he spoke his voice trembled.
“You know the ideal–the beautiful thing–the love I seek.”
Side by side they sat, each bosom throbbing; not with the wild passion of youth, but with the deeper, more spiritual love of middle-life. Overhead, the night wind murmured; all about, the crickets sang.
Turning, she met him face to face, frankly, earnestly.
“Let us think.”
She rose, in her eyes the look men worship and, worshipping, find oblivion.
A moment they stood together.
“Good-night,” she whispered.
“Good-night,” his lips silently answered, pressing upon hers.