The most notable thing about Time is that it is so purely relative. A large amount of reminiscence is, by common consent, conceded to
the drowning man; and it is not past belief that one may review an
entire courtship while removing one's gloves.
That is what Trysdale was doing, standing by a table in his bachelor
apartments. On the table stood a singular-looking green plant in a
red earthen jar. The plant was one of the species of cacti, and was
provided with long, tentacular leaves that perpetually swayed with
the slightest breeze with a peculiar beckoning motion.
Trysdale's friend, the brother of the bride, stood at a sideboard
complaining at being allowed to drink alone. Both men were in
evening dress. White favors like stars upon their coats shone
through the gloom of the apartment.
As he slowly unbuttoned his gloves, there passed through Trysdale's
mind a swift, scarifying retrospect of the last few hours. It seemed
that in his nostrils was still the scent of the flowers that had been
banked in odorous masses about the church, and in his ears the
lowpitched hum of a thousand well-bred voices, the rustle of crisp
garments, and, most insistently recurring, the drawling words of the
minister irrevocably binding her to another.
>From this last hopeless point of view he still strove, as if it had
become a habit of his mind, to reach some conjecture as to why and
how he had lost her. Shaken rudely by the uncompromising fact, he
had suddenly found himself confronted by a thing he had never before
faced --his own innermost, unmitigated, arid unbedecked self. He
saw all the garbs of pretence and egoism that he had worn now turn
to rags of folly. He shuddered at the thought that to others, before
now, the garments of his soul must have appeared sorry and threadbare.
Vanity and conceit? These were the joints in his armor. And how
free from either she had always been--But why--
As she had slowly moved up the aisle toward the altar he had felt an
unworthy, sullen exultation that had served to support him. He had
told himself that her paleness was from thoughts of another than the
man to whom she was about to give herself. But even that poor
consolation had been wrenched from him. For, when he saw that swift,
limpid, upward look that she gave the man when he took her hand, he
knew himself to be forgotten. Once that same look had been raised
to him, and he had gauged its meaning. Indeed, his conceit had
crumbled; its last prop was gone. Why had it ended thus? There had
been no quarrel between them, nothing--
For the thousandth time he remarshalled in his mind the events of
those last few days before the tide had so suddenly turned.
She had always insisted upon placing him upon a pedestal, and he had
accepted her homage with royal grandeur. It had been a very sweet
incense that she had burned before him; so modest (he told himself);
so childlike and worshipful, and (he would once have sworn) so
sincere. She had invested him with an almost supernatural number of
high attributes and excellencies and talents, and he had absorbed the
oblation as a desert drinks the rain that can coax from it no promise
of blossom or fruit.
As Trysdale grimly wrenched apart the seam of his last glove, the
crowning instance of his fatuous and tardily mourned egoism came
vividly back to him. The scene was the night when he had asked her
to come up on his pedestal with him and share his greatness. He
could not, now, for the pain of it, allow his mind to dwell upon the
memory of her convincing beauty that night--the careless wave of her
hair, the tenderness and virginal charm of her looks and words. But
they had been enough, and they had brought him to speak. During
their conversation she had said:
"And Captain Carruthers tells me that you speak the Spanish language
like a native. Why have you hidden this accomplishment from me? Is
there anything you do not know?"
Now, Carruthers was an idiot. No doubt he (Trysdale) had been guilty
(he sometimes did such things) of airing at the club some old, canting
Castilian proverb dug from the hotchpotch at the back of dictionaries.
Carruthers, who was one of his incontinent admirers, was the very man
to have magnified this exhibition of doubtful erudition.
But, alas! the incense of her admiration had been so sweet and
flattering. He allowed the imputation to pass without denial.
Without protest, he allowed her to twine about his brow this spurious
bay of Spanish scholarship. He let it grace his conquering head, and,
among its soft convolutions, he did not feel the prick of the thorn
that was to pierce him later.
How glad, how shy, how tremulous she was! How she fluttered like a
snared bird when he laid his mightiness at her feet! He could have
sworn, and he could swear now, that unmistakable consent was in her
eyes, but, coyly, she would give him no direct answer. "I will send
you my answer to-morrow," she said; and he, the indulgent, confident
victor, smilingly granted the delay. The next day he waited,
impatient, in his rooms for the word. At noon her groom came to the
door and left the strange cactus in the red earthen jar. There was
no note, no message, merely a tag upon the plant bearing a barbarous
foreign or botanical name. He waited until night, but her answer did
not come. His large pride and hurt vanity kept him from seeking her.
Two evenings later they met at a dinner. Their greetings were
conventional, but she looked at him, breathless, wondering, eager.
He was courteous, adamant, waiting her explanation. With womanly
swiftness she took her cue from his manner, and turned to snow and
ice. Thus, and wider from this on, they had drifted apart. Where
was his fault? Who had been to blame? Humbled now, he sought the
answer amid the ruins of his self-conceit. If--
The voice of the other man in the room, querulously intruding upon
his thoughts, aroused him.
"I say, Trysdale, what the deuce is the matter with you? You look
unhappy as if you yourself had been married instead of having acted
merely as an accomplice. Look at me, another accessory, come two
thousand miles on a garlicky, cockroachy banana steamer all the way
from South America to connive at the sacrifice--please to observe how
lightly my guilt rests upon my shoulders. Only little sister I had,
too, and now she's gone. Come now! take something to ease your
"I don't drink just now, thanks," said Trysdale.
"Your brandy," resumed the other, coming over and joining him, "is
abominable. Run down to see me some time at Punta Redonda, and try
some of our stuff that old Garcia smuggles in. It's worth the, trip.
Hallo! here's an old acquaintance. Wherever did you rake up this
"A present," said Trysdale, "from a friend. Know the species?"
"Very well. It's a tropical concern. See hundreds of 'em around
Punta every day. Here's the name on this tag tied to it. Know any
"No," said Trysdale, with the bitter wraith of a smile--"Is it
"Yes. The natives imagine the leaves are reaching out and beckoning
to you. They call it by this name--Ventomarme. Name means in English,
'Come and take me.'"