The Spike or Victoria University College Review Silver Jubilee 1924
His school-days had passed without episode. Looking back in after years he could select no incident, no succession of events, which threw a high-light on the greyness of his days. Not that his life was dull or that his existence was an unhappy one. In spite of his apparent aloofness, he was an observant lad, albeit little influenced by what he saw, viewing all things and happenings front a distance, as if his mind had created for itself a miniature tower, from which it had no desire to issue, simply because the vista was not alluring enough. Perhaps the temperament of the great city in which he lived had forced its moods upon him, and made him, without his knowledge, a part of itself, just as if he were the whim of a sentient being.
As the years hastened on, seeming almost to venture past him in their flow, there came a time when it should be decided what he was to do in life. Then quite naturally he accepted his father's decision that he should continue his studies at the University. This brought about no essential change in his manner of life; his interests were at once widened and diminished. He missed the frank joyousness of schoolboy existence, and found unconsciously a satisfaction in the looming importance of manhood. A gradually awakening love of the beauties of good literature was fostered by the enthusiasms of his friends. Yet he was never really intimate with any of them. It was different with the great city which was always about him; even in his sleep he was conscious of its inarticulate murmur. It was become a vital factor in his life without his realising it. A sudden illness—city nerves, the doctor implied—made a change essential, and he decided, somewhat unwillingly, to spend his final semester in a quiet country town. He chose the University of Greifswald. page 26 Greifswald! What a thrill the name recalls to those who have lingered in its pensive streets! How frank an existence within its crumbling ramparts, where the tall linden-trees, four abreast, threw their cool shadows on the tiled roofs of the little town—a veritable mosaic, the reds, the yellows and the browns, when one saw them from the church tower! How the fir-forests around seem to breathe a melody in the summer air, and how like an arrow the little river darted past into the blue, the glorious pulsating blue of the Baltic! Insensibly he lived himself into the little life there and inevitably he began to forget the impelling murmur of the great town which he had left. It was strangely pleasant, and he quickly accustomed himself to it, to rise to greet the early sunshine; there was a freshness in the morning welcome of the simple folk around him, the comely old Wirtin, who made all the house fragrant with her coffee-brewing, and her flaxen-haired children. Then he would set out for a walk, beneath the linden-trees, with the sleepy town at his side, or along the banks of the river, where he would speculate idly on the port of origin of the old fashioned sailing-craft: Reval, Riga, Danzig, or some settlement among the sand-dunes, where the clump of dark fir-trees fringed the blue water, such as he had already discovered on a sailing expedition. Pleasant it was to find oneself in the in bustling market place at noon, to watch the white clouds drifting past the stately gables, tier on tapering tier of rich red brick, with holes here and there, through which one caught an unexpected glimpse of sky—for all the world like a della Robbia lunette. A real pride those old Hanseatic citizens had taken in Their Gothic houses and in their noble church; the great bronze cupola of its tower, delicately poised in the air like an immense emerald, had taken a velvety greenness from the warm sea-winds of the centuries. A breath of salt air amid the drowsy scents from the fields was about the place in the summer weather, and it was refreshing to descend into the coolness of the Ratskeller, and to finger there the long-stemmed glasses of soothing Rheinwein. And then the golden hour of reverie in the early afternoon, when even the insects were drowsy in his little garden! There, in the shadow of the rampart, whose trees seemed even higher than the church-tower peering through them, he let the minutes slip deliciously past, almost into the long, cool, invigorating twilight. One by one the lights would begin to twinkle, and fragments of voices would be wafted to him as he loitered through the streets, till the cool sea-breeze hastened his footsteps home-wards. He was become almost a dreamer in a life which was a little like a dream, and his city seemed to belong to another world, although he had strange twinges of nostalgia at unexpected moments. But safely between the fragrant sheets, when he heard the distant rumbling of the mail-cart (or was it the diligence of the Golden Eagle bringing some belated traveller?) he would be lured to forgetfulness and sleep.
Thus the days passed fluently and pleasurably. By a turn of fair fortune he had become a member of one of the university clubs, whose members showed every inclination to enjoy to the full their youth and the summer sunshine. Excursions to the favoured spots in the neighbourhood were frequently made, at times with a company of ladies. And on one of these occasions it fell to his lot to have for his partner a singularly pleasant companion. This impression was heightened in the rambling walk page 27 for which they went afterwards along the sea-shore. With a freedom which surprised him he unburdened his thoughts, his musings and aspirations, and they seemed to gain so much in clearness by the light of her sympathetic interest. As they returned against the westerly wind and the setting sun they spoke but little; he was impregnated through and through with a fervour such as he had not hitherto in his life experienced. Never had the waves curled so crisply on the beach; the sand had never appeared so golden. And this radiant swinging creature at his side—he felt himself looking at her with sidelong glances.
But these stolen impressions were to keep him awake through the short summer nights; nor in his fitful starts of sleep after dawn could he rid himself of her vision ....
The hateful days, three long sleepless weeks of them, had passed, and once again he was walking by her side. Among the avenues of fir through which they were passing were patches of green, and they sought together for the wild strawberries hidden there. She had stained her mouth with their juice, and his temples throbbed when he looked at it. That night he never remembered returning to his house, for he had walked himself into a state of apathy.
As the summer heats became more intense, his disease, no less indeed had it become, did not abate. At nights he would linger near her house, returning again and again, even after all the lights had been extinguished.
Then all at once he discovered that she had left Greifswald. In the course of the days her actual vision gradually faded and became replaced by vague misty lines, by the colour of the sea, by the scent of the fir-trees. She had slipped back into the world of phantoms from which his egotism had for the moment drawn her, just as in the future, he assured himself, when he would be well again, it would attract other women to him. All his instincts seemed to tell him this; it was his knowledge also from men and books. Just about this time he heard again the voice of the great city, and he realised how much it had meant to him in the past. But one day, walking along the ramparts, he was informed that she was married. All these rebel thoughts were scattered by the shock of this news, although now it could mean so little to him. The pain which he had been suffering all these weeks seemed to return again, subdued now, but with a persistence that gave him strange misgivings.
The last student had departed, yet he still lingered on. No longer now had he any desire to return to the great city. Her presence was intimately everywhere, with an allurement which he could not resist. And the deliciousness of it he could hardly dissociate in his mind from the fragrance of the linden-blossoms, as in the evenings he walked along the old ramparts. The whole place was indeed redolent of her, and insensibly he was allowing himself to love her memory, her memory visualized there, even more than he had loved herself.
The day of his fitfully postponed departure arrived at last, and he climbed the church-tower to bid farewell to it all; the mosaic of the tiled roofs, the lofty linden-trees, the pale river, the quivering blue sea in the distance, the little hamlet on its shore where he had first met her, and the fair country around, dotted here and there with the dark clumps of fir-forest. page 28 There, just where the afternoon mist was beginning to rise, he had plucked wild strawberries with her, and their very scent was in his nostrils. Over him came a flood of sadness, deep, powerful, sweeping through all his being, just as when his little sister died. Passionately he looked at the little town where he was to leave behind such a real part of himself. It was no mere luxury of regret, as he had imagined, a little angry with himself, in the morning; it was a pain, a hard, hurting pain. And how feeble a thing his life appeared without her, how trivial was all the past, how meaningless the future!
When he returned to the great city, nothing was changed, yet all was different. There were no soothing depths now in its greyness, its pavements were cruelly hard, and its people were hatefully distinct. But with the passing of time, there came resignation, a kind of peace. He had become successful in a world which measures success by worldly things; he owned a large house in a garden suburb, and was the head of a great business. Yet every year in early summer the longing would come over him to revisit the little town, in which he had lived so much of his life; to see once more its old church-tower peering through the linden-trees, to pass amid the thronging students in the High Street, to catch a glimpse of the lunettes of blue sky that decorated the lofty gables in the market-place, and in the afternoons to wander through the fir-woods to the sea of seas. At such times he would disappear for an interval to return with a strange look in his eyes.
Now on one of these occasions it happened that he had omitted to inform his family of his departure, and his absence was the cause of considerable uneasiness. Through the activity of his wife, at the cost of no little inconvenience, his whereabouts was at length discovered. Naturally the reason which he invented in order to explain his presence in Greifswald was not believed, in fact discredited with some acerbity; a good instance, he commented, in the language of his favourite philosopher, of the confusion between the moral and the practical judgment.
After a long winter the linden blossom was profuse and disturbing. He began vaguely to envisage his preparations for his annual journey. He remembered, a little grimly, that the Golden Eagle had not been so comfortable in recent years; and the wines had certainly deteriorated under the new management. Perhaps after all it was not quite fair to deceive them again, he reflected, not noticing, for the once, the coincidence of the practical and the moral judgment.
P. W. Robertson.
The bow must to the violin be laid
Or e'er you hear the music of the note.
The Bell Bird's eager passion song will fade
If answering call comes not from mellow throat.
The wind must fill the sail of speeding boat
And the butterfly be netted—
For who can tell the pleasures of the race
Whose straining muscles never race hath run
Or glory in the glamour of the chase
Whose slacked nerves doth ever danger shun.
The rolling mists must fade before the sun
And the grinding stone be wetted.