The storm was over. In the beech-tree opposite a wren was raising optimistic outcry. The sun had won his way through a black-bellied shred of cloud; upon the terrace below, a dripping Venus and Perseus were glistening as with white fire. Past these, drenched gardens, the natural wildness of which was judiciously restrained with walks, ponds, grottoes, statuary and other rural elegancies, displayed the intermingled brilliancies of diamonds and emeralds, and glittered as with pearls and rubies where tempest-battered roses were reviving in assertiveness.
“I think the storm is over,” Mr. Pope remarked. “It is strange how violent are these convulsions of nature. But nature is a treacherous blowsy jade, who respects nobody. A gentleman can but shrug under her onslaughts, and henceforward civilly avoid them. It is a consolation to reflect that they pass quickly.”
People in England
He turned as in defiance. “Yes, yes! It hurts. But I envy them. Yes, even I, that ugly spiteful hornet! `The great Mr. Pope,` who will be dining with the proudest people in England within the hour and gloating over their deference! For they presume to make a little free with God occasionally, John, but never with me. And envy these dead young fools. You see, they loved each other, John. I left them, not an hour ago, the happiest of living creatures. I looked back once.
I pretended to have dropped my handkerchief. I imagine they were talking of their wedding-clothes, for this broad-shouldered Hughes was matching poppies and field-flowers to her complexion. It was a scene out of Theocritus. I think Heaven was so well pleased by the tableau that Heaven hastily resumed possession of its enactors in order to prevent any after-happenings from belittling that perfect instant.”
“Egad, and matrimony might easily have proved an anti-climax,” Gay considered.
“Yes; oh, it is only Love that is blind, and not the lover necessarily. I know. I suppose I always knew at the bottom of my heart. This hamadryad was destined in the outcome to dwindle into a village housewife, she would have taken a lively interest in the number of eggs the hens were laying, she would even have assured her children, precisely in the way her father spoke of John Hughes, that young people ordinarily have foolish fancies which their rational eiders agree to disregard.
But as it is, no Eastern queen not Semele herself left earth more nobly ” Pope broke off short. He produced his notebook, which he never went without, and wrote frowningly, with many erasures. “H`m, yes,` ` he said; and he read aloud:
“When Eastern lovers feed the funeral fire,
On the same pile the faithful fair expire;
Here pitying heaven that virtue mutual found,
And blasted both that it might neither wound.
Hearts so sincere the Almighty saw well pleased,
Sent His own lightning and the victims seized.”
Then Pope made a grimace. “No; the analogy is trim enough, but the lines lack fervor. It is deplorable how much easier it is to express any emotion other than that of which one is actually conscious.” Pope had torn the paper half-through before he reflected that it would help to fill a printed page. He put it in his pocket. “But, come now, I am writing to Lady Mary this afternoon. You know how she loves oddities. Between us with prose as the medium, of course, since verse should, after all, confine itself to the commemoration of heroes and royal persons I believe we might make of this occurrence a neat and moving pastorally I should say, pastoral, of course, but my wits are woolgathering.”
Mr. Gay had the kindest heart in the universe. Yet he, also, had dreamed of the perfected phrase, so worded that to alter a syllable of its wording would be little short of sacrilege. Eyes kindling, he took up a pen. “Yes, yes, I understand. Egad, it is an admirable subject. But, then, I don`t believe I ever saw these lovers?”
“John was a well-set man of about five-and-twenty,” replied Mr. Pope; “and Sarah was a brown woman of eighteen years, three months and fourteen days.”
Then these two dipped their pens and set about a moving composition, which has to-day its proper rating among Mr. Pope`s Complete Works.
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