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The Return of Don Quixote/Chapter XVIII

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Chapter XVII The Return of Don Quixote
Chapter XVIII: The Secret of Seawood
written by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
Chapter XIX




It had been a day of amazement for many, in which their prophet who had come to bless had remained to curse and had at last gone away cursing. But of all those who were shocked at the judgment which had condemned them, perhaps not one had been more amazed than the man whom the judgment had justified. John Braintree stood staring throughout the whole process by which what seemed to him like laws of the Stone Age were dug up like stone hatchets and offered to him as weapons. Whatever else he had expected, whether feudal vindictiveness or chivalrous magnanimity, he had never dreamed of hearing his own cause supported as a piece of pure medievalism. So far as he could make out, he himself was much the most medieval person present. It made him feel very uncomfortable.

Then, as he stood rolling his eyes round the dissolution of that queer transformation scene, they alit on a special object; he stiffened, pulled himself together, gave a short laugh and strode across to where Olive was standing beside the empty throne. He put his hands on her shoulders and said: "It seems dear we are reconciled after all."

She looked at him without moving and with a slow smile. "It is dreadful," she said, "to think I should be glad of the quarrel that makes the--the reconciliation."

"You will forgive me for feeling only the gladness and not the dreadfulness," he answered. "People must be on my side if they are on his side--I mean if they are really on his side, like you."

"I shall not find it so very difficult to be on your side," she said. "I found it very difficult not to be. Especially when it was the losing side."

"We shall jolly well see now," he said, "whether it won't be the winning side. This has put heart into all my people, I can tell you. I feel as if I'd renewed my youth like the eagle's; only it isn't Mr. Herne that has done that."

She looked slightly embarrassed and then said doubtfully, "I suppose somebody else will inherit the organisation.

"Organisation be blowed," said Braintree. "You don't suppose we were beaten by an organisation, do you? We were beaten by a man and by men who were ready to follow him. Do you think I care anything about the men who were ready to desert him? I said I wasn't afraid of fourteenth century bows and battle-axes; I wasn't; and I'm certainly not afraid of a fourteenth century battle-axe brandished by old Seawood. Oh yes, I suppose they'll go on with the theatricals. We shall have the pleasure of hearing all about Sir Julian Archer, the brilliant Lord High Arbiter and universally popular King-at-Arms. But don't you give us credit for being able to go smash through all that sort of thing like coloured paper? The soul is gone out of it; the soul is riding down the road a mile away."

"Yes, I think you are right," she said after a pause, "and not only because Michael Herne has been something like a great man. It's more than that. Their pride has gone out of them; their youth and their innocence have gone out of them. They have heard the truth and they know it is true. And there's one of them about whom I am very unhappy."

He looked at her earnestly and said, "Well, of course I'm sorry for a lot of them in a way; but do you mean--"

"I mean Rosamund," she answered lowering her voice. "I think it's the most grim and grand and dreadful thing that ever happened to anybody; much worse than anything that ever happened to us."

"I'm not sure I understand," he said.

"Of course you don't," she replied.

He looked at her in a puzzled way; and she broke out with a kind of passion.

"Of course you don't understand! I know it has been hard for you; and it has been hard enough for me. But we haven't gone through what they have gone through--what _she_ is going through. We parted because each of us believed the other was attacking something good; but we didn't, thank God, ever have to attack each other. You didn't have to stand up and abuse my father; and I didn't have to sit silent and hear it. It wasn't _you_ who were directly individually cursing me and mine; it wasn't you, of all men, whom I had to hear saying hateful things about my own home. I don't know what I should have done. I think I should have simply died. What do you suppose she is doing?"

"I'm awfully sorry," he answered, "but I really do not know exactly what you are talking about. Who is _she?_ Do you mean Rosamund Severne?"

"Of course I mean Rosamund Severne," she cried angrily, "and he would not even leave her name. How do you suppose I should have liked that? What are you staring at? Do you really mean that you don't know that Rosamund and Michael Herne are in love with each other?"

"I don't seem to know much," he said, "but if that's true of course I see what you mean."

"I must go to see her," said Olive, "and yet I hardly know even how to do that."

She crossed the now deserted garden towards the house; and as she did so, something made her stand and gaze for a moment at the monument that stood on the lawn; the broken image standing on the dragon. And as she looked at it strange and new things came into her soul and her eyes. In the clear exalted intensity of her happiness and unhappiness, she seemed to be seeing it for the first time.

Then she looked about her, as if almost scared of the stillness, the abrupt and utter stillness that had succeeded to all the hubbub of that horrible afternoon. The great lawn, enclosed on three sides by the front and two wings of the Abbey buildings, had been not an hour ago tossing with angry crowds and now it was as empty as the Courts of a city of the dead. Evening was wheeling towards darkness and the round moon rose and brightened steadily until the faint shadows of the new wan light began to change on the gargoyles and Gothic ornaments as they lost the last shadow of the sun. And as the face of all that ancient building flickered and changed under the changing light, it seemed to come more fully into the foreground of her mind and take on a meaning she had never understood before; though she should have been the first, she might have fancied, to understand it from the beginning. That pointed and tapering tracery, of which she had talked lightly to Monkey long ago, the dark glass of the windows, dense with colours that could only be discovered from within-- suddenly told her something; a paradox. Inside there was light and outside there was only lead. But who was really inside? . . . Those three walls with all their hooded windows, seemed to be watching; seemed to have watched from the beginning of all their follies and to be still watching--and waiting.

Suddenly and silently, as with a sort of soft shock, she came upon Rosamund herself standing in the great gateway. She did not need to look at that perfect mask of tragedy; she avoided looking at it; but she caught her friend by the arm and said incoherently: "Oh I do not know what to say to you . . . and I have so much to say."

There was no answer and she broke forth again, "It's a shame that it should happen to you, who have never been anything but good to all the world. It's a shame that anybody should tell such tales."

Then Rosamund Severne said in a dreadful dead voice; "He always tells the truth."

"I think you are the noblest woman in the world," said Olive.

"Only the most unlucky," said the other. "It is nobody's fault. It's as if there were a curse on this place."

And in that instant of time Olive received a revelation like a blinding light; and understood her own trembling in the shadow of those watching walls.

"Rosamund, there is a curse on the place," she said. "There's a curse because there is a blessing. But it's nothing to do with anything we have ever talked about. It has nothing to do with anything that man said. It's not a curse on your name or anybody else's name, whatever your name is or whether it's old or new. The curse is in the name of this house."

"The name of this house," repeated the other in a dull voice.

"You've seen it at the top of your note-paper a thousand times and taken it for granted; and you have never seen that _that_ is the falsehood. It doesn't matter whether your father's position is false or not: it doesn't matter whether it's old or new. This place doesn't belong to the old families any more than the new families. It belongs to God."

Rosamund seemed to stiffen suddenly like a literal statue and yet one could swear the statue had ears to hear.

Olive burst out again with her broken soliloquy; "Why have all our toppling fancies about kings and knights come with a crash; why is all our Round Table ruined? Because we never began at the beginning. Because we never went back to the Thing itself. The Thing that produced everything else; the love of the Thing where it really lives. On this spot long ago two hundred men lived and loved It."

She stopped and seemed to realise that her words were tumbling out in a tail foremost fashion; and that she was herself, hardly setting a good example of beginning at the beginning. She made a desperate effort at clarity.

"Don't you see--the modern people may be right to be modern; there may be people who ask for nothing better than banks and brokers; there may be people who think Milldyke a nice place. Your father and his friends may have been right in their way; I'm sure they weren't so wrong as they looked when he was abusing them . . . it was hateful, and anyhow he had no business to spring it on you like that, without telling you beforehand."

The statue spoke again; it seemed as if it never spoke except to utter one sort of stony defence.

"He did tell me beforehand. And I think that was more terrible."

"Let me say what I am trying to say," said 0live pathetically. "I feel as if it didn't belong to me, and I must give it away. There may be people to whom it's senseless to talk about a flower of chivalry; it sounds like a blossom of butchery. But _if_ we want the flower of chivalry, we must go right away back to the root of chivalry. We must go back if we find it in a thorny place people call theology. We must think differently about death and free will and loneliness and the last appeal. It's just the same with the popular things we can turn into fashionable things; folk-dances and pageants and calling everything a Guild. Our fathers did these things by the thousand; quite common people; not cranks. We are always asking how they did it. What we've got to ask is why they did it. . . . Rosamund, _this_ is why they did it. Something lived here. Something they loved. Some of them loved it so much. . . . Oh don't you and I know what is the only test? They wanted to be alone with it."

The statue moved ever so faintly as if turning away; and Olive clutched the arm again in a sort of remorse.

"You must think me mad to be talking so when you suffer; but it's as if I were bursting with news--with something bigger than all the universe of sorrow. Rosamund, there really is joy. Not rejoicing but joy; not rejoicing at this or that; but the thing itself, we only see reflected in mirrors-- which sometimes break. And it lived here. That's why they didn't want anything else; not even what we want; not even the best we know. . . . And that's what's gone--the good itself. Now we have only evils to hate, and thank God we hate them."

She pointed suddenly at the monument in the middle of which the wrinkles and convolutions were traced elaborately by the silver-point of the moon-light, like the phosphorescence that outlines some goggling sea-monster.

"We have only the dragon left. A hundred times I've looked at that dragon and hated it and never understood it. Upright and high above that horror stood St. Michael or St. Margaret, subduing and conquering it; but it is the conqueror that has vanished. We have no notion of what it would be really like; we haven't tried to imagine what image really stood there. We danced round it and thought of everything else except that. There burned in this court a great bonfire of visionary passion which in the spirit could be seen for miles and men lived in the warmth of it; the positive passion and possession, the thing worth having in itself. But now the very best of them are negative; attacking the absence of it in the world. They fight for truth where it isn't. They fight for honour where it isn't. They are a thousand times right; but it ends in truth and honour fighting each other, as poor Jack and Michael fought. We haven't any sense or any place where these virtues are happy, where these virtues are simply themselves. I love Jack and Jack loves justice; but he loves justice where it isn't. There ought to be a way of loving it where it is."

"And where is that, I wonder?" said Rosamund in a low voice.

"How should we know," cried Olive, "who have driven away the men who knew?"

A deep chasm of silence opened between them; and at last Rosamund said in her simple way; "I am very stupid. I shall have to try to think about what you mean. I'm sure you won't mind if we don't talk any more now."

Olive went back slowly across the green courts and out of the shadow of the grey walls and found John Braintree waiting for her. They went away together, but were rather silent for the first part of the walk; then Olive said suddenly; "What a strange story all this is . . . I mean ever since I started poor Monkey running after red paint. What a rage I was in with you and your red tie; and yet in a queer sort of way it turns out to have been the same sort of red. I didn't know it and you didn't know it; and yet it was you who were working back blindly for the colour that I was after, like a child after a sunset cloud. It was you who were really trying to avenge my father's friend."

"I should have tried to get him his rights, I hope," replied Braintree.

"Oh you are always so rabid about rights," she said laughing with a faint impatience. "And poor Rosamund . . . you must admit you do talk a terrible lot about rights. Are you quite sure about them?"

"I hope to do a terrible lot about them before I've done," replied the implacable politician.

"But do you," she asked, "think anybody has really a right to be so happy?"

He laughed shortly and they went out along the grey road toward Milldyke.

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