The Spirit of Spring
By Laura L. Hinkley
Margaret Hazeltine sat on her porch with the spring wind blowing over
her elusive wafts of fragrance—plum-blossom, apple-blossom, young
grass, budding wood scents, pure, growing earth-smells.
"It is like breathing poetry," Margaret thought.
She was sewing, but now and then her hands fell in her lap while she
lifted her head, catching in some wandering sweetness with a sharp
breath, like a sigh.
It was four o'clock in the afternoon. Sunshine mellowed the new
greenness of short, tender grass on the lawns. It shone upon all the
bare, budded branches up and down the street, seeking, caressing,
stimulating. It lay kindly, genially, on the mid-road dust.
Margaret's father was pottering about the garden. He was a very old
man, with stooping shoulders, but tall and slender like his daughter.
He came up to the porch and stood leaning on his hoe. The wind
fluttered his shabby garden-coat and thin, white beard. He rested his
wrinkled old hands on the top of his hoe handle, and cast up his faded,
sunken eyes to the intense young blue of the sky with its fleecy clouds
Mr. Hazeltine addressed his daughter in the strain of conversational
piety habitual with him, and in a voice which age and earnestness made
"Seems like every spring I get more certain of my eternal home up
Margaret smiled acquiescently. Long since she had silently drifted
outside the zone of her father's simple, rigid creed; but to-day its
bald egoism did not repel her. It seemed at one with the sweet will to
live all about them.
Mr. Hazeltine went back to the garden. A girl appeared on the porch of
the house opposite. The Hazeltine house was small and old and not
lately painted. The house opposite was large, fresh, trim, and
commodious in every visible detail. White cement walks enclosed and
divided its neatly kept lawns and parking. Its fruit-trees breathed out
of the unfolding whiteness of their bosoms the sweetest of those
perfumes that drifted across to Margaret. The girl on the porch pushed
the wicker chairs about for a moment, then, disdaining them all, sat
down on the cement steps and rested her chin in her palm.
After a quick look and smile Margaret sewed busily, affecting not to
see the other. She felt a little sympathetic flutter of pleasure and
suspense. "Jean is waiting for Frank," she said to herself.
A piano began to play in a house up the street. Through the open
windows rang joyous, vibrant music. White moths fluttered across the
street and the lawn and parking opposite, veering vaguely over
scattered yellow dandelion heads. Around the house opposite on the
cement walk strutted a very young kitten on soft paws, its short tail
sticking straight up, its gray coat still rough from its mother's
"Me-ow!" said the kitten plaintively, appalled at its own daring.
Jean sprang up, laughing, snatched up the kitten and carried it back to
her seat, cuddling it under her chin.
Down the street came a young girl wheeling a baby's cab. The girl was
but just past childhood, and she had been a homely child. But of late
she had bloomed as mysteriously and almost as quickly as the
plum-trees. She wore a light summer dress with a leaf-brown design upon
it, in which her girlish form still half-confessed the child. Her
complexion was clear and bright, the cheeks flushed; and the
strongly-marked features seemed ready to melt and fuse to a softer
mould. Her brown eyes had grown wistful and winning.
As they advanced, Margaret ran down the rickety wooden walk.
"Oh, is that the new baby?" she cried delightedly. "May I look?"
The girl smiled assent.
Softly Margaret drew back the woolly carriage robe and gazed adoringly.
The baby was about six weeks old. Its tiny face was translucent, pinky
white, the closed eyelids with their fringe of fine lashes
inconceivably delicate. Its wee hands cuddled about its head; the
curled, pink fingers, each tipped with its infinitesimal, dainty nail,
were perfection in miniature. The formless mouth, pinker than the rest
of the face, moved in sleep, betraying the one dream the baby knew.
Margaret drew a long, still breath of rapture, hanging over the little
pink pearl of humanity.
"Will he wake if I kiss him?" she pleaded.
The girl smiled doubtfully. "Maybe," she said.
She was equally indifferent to the baby and to Margaret. Her wistful
eyes wandered eagerly down the street, watching each sidewalk, and the
glow in her cheeks and eyes seemed to kindle and waver momently.
Margaret did not kiss the baby. She only bent her head close over his,
close enough to feel his warm, quick breathing, to catch the rhythm of
his palpitating little life.
When she came back to her porch, after the girl had gone on, Margaret
saw that Jean's caller had come.
The young man sat beside Jean. His head was bare, his black hair
brushed stiffly up from his forehead pompadour-fashion, his new spring
suit palpably in its original creases. He and Jean talked eagerly,
sometimes with shouts of young laughter, at which Margaret smiled
sympathetically; sometimes with swift, earnest interchange; sometimes
with lazy, contented intervals of silence. Occasionally he put out his
hand to pat or tease the kitten which lay in Jean's lap. She defended
it. Whenever their fingers chanced to touch they started consciously
apart—covertly to tempt the chance again.
Two little girls came skipping down the street, their white dresses
tossed about their knees. Their loose hair, of the dusky fairness of
brunette children, tossed about their shoulders and an immense white
ribbon bow quivered on the top of each little bare head. Their dress
and their dancing run gave them the look and the wavering allure of
They were on Jean's side of the street. They fluttered past the house
unnoticed by the two on the porch, who were in the midst of an
especially interesting quarrel about the kitten. The little girls
passed over the crossing with traces of conscientious care for their
white slippers, and came up on Margaret's side. Opposite her they
paused in consultation.
"Won't you come in," she called to them, "and talk to me a minute?"
The two advanced hesitatingly and stood before her at a little distance
on the young grass in attitudes clearly tentative. They were shy little
misses, and had not lived long on that street.
"Someone told me," said Margaret, "that your names were Enid and
Elaine. Which is which?"
The taller one pointed first to her embroidered bosom, then to her
"I'm Enid; she's Elaine."
"I've read about you in a book of poetry," observed Margaret—"it must
have been you! I suppose if you had a little sister her name would be
The large dark eyes of the two exchanged glances of denial. The small
Elaine shook her head decidedly.
"We got a little sister!" announced Enid, "but her name ain't
that; it's Katherine."
They were both pretty with the adorable prettiness of small girls, half
baby's beauty, and half woman's. But Enid's good looks would always
depend more or less upon happy accident—her time of life, her flow of
spirits, her fortune in costume. Her face was rather long, with chin
and forehead a trifle too pronounced. But the little Elaine was
nature's darling. Her softly rounded person and countenance were
instinct with charm. Even her little brown hands had delicacy and
character. Her white-stockinged legs, from the fine ankles to the
rounded knees at her skirt's edge, were turned to a sculptor's desire.
Beside them, Enid's merely serviceable legs looked like sticks. The
white bows in their hair shared the ensemble effect of each: Enid's
perched precisely in the middle, its loops and ends vibrantly and
decisively erect; Elaine's drooped a little at one side, its crispness
at once confessing and defying evanescence and fragility.
Margaret thrilled with the child's loveliness, but for some subtle
reason she smiled chiefly on Enid.
That little lady concluded she must be a person worthy of confidence.
"My doll's name is Clara," she imparted. "An' hers is Isabel, only she
calls it 'Ithabel'!"
The color deepened in Elaine's dainty cheek. She was stung to protest;
which she did with all the grace in the world, hanging her head at one
side and speaking low.
"I don't either!" she murmured. "I thay Ithabel!"
"Either way is very nice," Margaret hastened to say.
"We've been to Miss Eaton's Sunday school children's party," Enid
informed her. "These are our best dresses, and our white kid slippers.
Don't you think they're pretty? Mine tie with ribbons, but hers only
button like a baby's."
Elaine looked down grievingly at the offensively infantile slippers,
turning her exquisite little foot.
"I'm going to speak a piece for Easter," Enid pursued, "all alone by
myself; and she's going to speak one in concert with a class."
"Oh, I hope you will come and speak them for me some time," Margaret
invited; "and bring Clara and Isabel."
"Maybe we will," answered Enid. "We must go now. Come on, Elaine."
Margaret watched them until they stopped beside a flowerbed along the
sidewalk where the first tulips of the season were unfolding. Elaine
bent over to examine them. Margaret reproached herself that, though
Elaine had spoken but once, it was her image that lingered uppermost.
Why should she add even the weight of her preference to that child in
whose favor the dice were already so heavily loaded? For in Margaret's
eyes, beauty was always the chief gift of the gods.
As she resumed her sewing, a sudden, fantastic fear shot across her
thoughts—the fear that Elaine would die. She recognized it, in a
moment, for the heart's old, sad prevision of impermanence in beauty,
its rooted unbelief in fortune's constancy.
A quick glance up the street showed Elaine still stooping over the
tulip bed, her stiff little skirts sticking out straight behind her.
The grotesqueness was somehow reassuring. Margaret smiled, half at the
absurd little figure, half at her own absurdly tragic fancy.
On the other porch Frank was taking his leave—a process of some
duration. First he stood on the lower steps talking at length with Jean
who stood on the top step. Then he raised his cap and started away,
only to remember something before he reached the corner and to run back
across the lawn. There he stood talking while Jean sat on the porch
railing, suggesting a faint Romeo and Juliet effect. The next time,
Jean called him back. They met halfway down the cement walk and
conversed earnestly and lengthily.
With an exquisite sympathy Margaret watched these maneuvers from under
discreet eyelids. She was glad for them both, with a clear-souled,
generous joy. And yet she felt a sensitive pleasure that walked on the
edge of pain. In the young man especially she took a quick delight—in
his supple length of limb, the spread of his shoulders, his
close-cropped black hair, his new clothes, the way he thrust his hands
deep in his trousers' pockets while he swung on the balls of his feet,
the attentive bend of his head toward Jean; she reveled in all his
elastic, masculine youth which she knew for the garb of a straight,
strong, kindly, honorable soul. But out of the revel grew a trouble, as
if some strange spirit prisoned in her own struggled to tear itself
free, to fling itself, wailing, in the dust.
"Egotism!" said Margaret to herself, curling her lip, sewing very fast.
The fluttering spirit lay tombed and still.
When Frank was finally gone, Jean sauntered across the street to
Margaret's porch. She perched on the rail and pulled at the leafless
vine-stems beside her, talking idly and desultorily of things she was
not interested in.
She was an attractive girl, more wholesome than beautiful. Her
bronze-brown hair coiled stylishly about her head, gleamed in the late
sun. There were some tiny freckles across her nose. She wore a pale
blue summer-dress with short sleeves out of which her young arms
emerged, fresh and tender from their winter seclusion.
The two maidens circled warily about the topic they were both longing
to talk of. Margaret noted in Jean a new aloofness. Every time she
threw Frank's name temptingly into the open Jean purposely let it lie.
At last, with a little gasp of laughter, looking straight before her,
Jean exclaimed: "I guess I'm sort of scared!"
"What I like about Frank," said Margaret, "is that he's so true and
reliable. He's a fellow you can trust!"
"Yes," assented Jean. "Don't you think he looks—nice in that new
"Splendid! Frank's a handsome boy."
"Isn't he?" sighed Jean.
"He'll always be constant to anyone he cares for. And, I think—he does
care for someone."
"What makes you think so?" demanded Jean, her blue eyes suddenly
intent on Margaret.
"What makes you think so?" Margaret parried.
Jean sat up instantly very straight and stiff.
"Who said I thought anything?"
"Oh, no, no!" Margaret disclaimed hastily. "I didn't mean that. I meant
anyone would think so!"
Jean lapsed into a placated limpness, resting her lithe young figure in
its summer blue against the dingy house-wall.
"Isn't it funny," she mused, "how you can resolve you won't think, and
keep yourself from thinking, and really not think, because you've made
up your mind you wouldn't—and all the time you know!"
Margaret was searching in her mind for some tenderest phrase of warning
when Jean anticipated her.
"Well, it's a good thing I don't care!—I thought at first I didn't
like his hair that way, but I do now—better than the other way. He was
telling about college."
"He finishes this year, doesn't he?"
"Yes. He's going in with his father next year—unless he makes up his
mind to go to Yale. But he doesn't think he will. His father wants him
here; and he's about decided that's best."
"Marg'ret," called a thin, querulous, broken voice from within the
house; "ain't it time you was gettin' supper?"
Margaret opened the door to call back in a loud, clear voice: "Not yet,
Jean slipped off the railing. "I must go."
"It really isn't time yet. Mother gets nervous, sitting all day. And
she doesn't care to read any more. Stay a little longer."
These snatches of Jean's confidence were delicious to her.
"Oh, I've got to go."
Jean suddenly put both arms around Margaret's waist and clasped her in
a swift embrace.
"I wish," she said, "some awfully nice old widower or bachelor would
come along and marry you!"
As Jean crossed the street with the lowering sun making a nimbus in her
chestnut-golden hair, she began to sing. The words sprang joyous and
clear as a bobolink's note—
"What's this dull town to me?
Robin's not here!"
But a sudden waft of consciousness smote them to a vague humming that
passed swiftly into—
"My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream;
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream."
In the scented dark of the spring evening, Margaret came to the porch
again. A little curved moon sailed the sky—less a light-giver than a
shining ornament on the breast of night. A while before children's
laughter and skurrying footfalls had echoed down the sidewalks. Boys
had played ball in the middle of the street, with running and violent
contortions, and shouts and calls rejoicing in the release of their
animal energies. But these sounds had ceded to silence as the soft
darkness fell. Then young strollers, two and two, had passed; but these
also were gone. A gentle wind rustled very softly in the dead
vine-stalks. The world was alone with the fragrant wind and the
dreaming dusk and the little silver scimitar of moon.
The house opposite was all dark, except for a line of lamplight beside
the drawn blind of a side window. Earlier, Jean had turned on the porch
lights and sat under them in the most graceful of the wicker chairs,
reading, or affecting to read, and Frank, coming down the street, had
seen her in all that glow. Then they had turned off the lights and gone
away together, and the house had sunk into shadowy repose. Vague lines
of wanness betrayed the place of the cement walks. The fruit-trees were
dim, withdrawn, half-hinted shapes of whiteness, but their perfume,
grown bolder in darkness, wandered the winds with poignant, sweet
Margaret leaned against the weather-worn corner-post of the porch; her
hand passed over its cracked, paint-blistered surface with, a soft,
absent touch. She felt to her finger-tips the wooing lure of the night.
In the spring of her pulses she was aware of Frank and Jean somewhere
together in the dusky, fragrant, crescent-clasped folds of it. She
seemed to draw in with her breath and gather subtly through the pores
of her flesh all the shy, sweet, youthful yearning of the world—and,
behind that, wordlessly she knew the driven sap, the life-call, the
procreant urge. She sighed and stirred restlessly. The strand of pain
that runs in the pleasure of such moods began to ache gently like an
old wound touched with foreknowledge of evil weather. She shared the
pang that lies at the heart of spring.
Words of poetry pressed into her mind, voices of the great
interpreters. She was not a cultivated woman, hardly to be called
educated; her horizon, even of books, was chance-formed and narrow; but
what circumstance had given her she remembered well. The groping, vain
longing that stirred in her fell on speech, and moved among the haunted
echoes of the world.
"Bloomy the world, yet a blank all the same—
Framework that waits for a picture to frame."
And then, sudden as a cry:
"Never the time and the place,
And the loved one all together!"
She drew a long, shivering sigh, and deliberately thrust the lines out
of her mind. Best not to remember them—on such a night! Their edges
cut like young grass drawn through careless fingers.
The little new moon was rising higher in the deep, soft blue-darkness
of the sky. Margaret looked up at its gleaming curve, and other words
of poetry came to her, words she had read once in an old
magazine—translated from the Persian:
"Quaffing Hadji-Kivam's wine-cup, there I saw by grace of him,
On the green sea of the night, the new moon's silver shallop swim!"
They swung on, like a familiar, wistful, passionate tune:
"Oh, my heart is like a tulip, closing up in time of cold!
When, at length, shy Bird of Fortune, shall my snare thy wings enfold?"
Footsteps sounded along the walk, the linked steps of two, lingering,
yet with the springing fall of youth; then a murmur of voices, girl's
and boy's interchanging, lingering, too, and low, weighted, like the
footsteps, with the burden of their hour. Margaret drew back a little
behind the sapless vine-stems. She knew that she could not be seen in
the shadow of the porch, even by a passer far less absorbed than the
two who drifted by. She had recognized Frank and Jean at once, and
thrilled intimately at the quality of their voices. Both were changed
from the careless tones of every day, Frank's husky and strained,
Jean's vibrant and tremulous. What they said was quite inaudible—only
that betraying timbre, conscious and unconscious, hung on the
scented air. A single word in the girl's thrilled voice—a sharpened,
quivering note of life at high tension—pierced the shadows of the
"—— you ——"
"'You!'" Margaret leaned forward among her shadows, thrusting her
clenched hands downward, then pressed them tight upon her heart. "You!"
That little key unlocked the flood-gates. The barriers went down, and
the tide of passionate loneliness swept her soul.
"You!" she whispered to the fragrant, shimmering, vitalizing night; and
the word mocked her, and returned unto her void. She leaned her bosom
against the angled surface of the porch-post; she pressed her face
among the dry, unbudded vines. The cry went out from her into the empty
spaces of the world—a voiceless, hopeless call: "You! you! you! Oh,
you who never came to me!"
Her soul was ravaged by that mocking bitterness of loss which comes
only to those who have not possessed. She, crying for a lover in the
night, she who had never been sought! If ever her shy and homely
girlhood might have attracted a youth, poor Margaret's love of poetry
would have frightened him away. If the burdened poverty of her maturity
might have admitted a suitor, her acquaintance numbered no man who
would not have shunned an earnest-minded old maid. And she knew this
utterly. A thousand old aches were in the sudden rush of anguish, and
shame fought among them. She was shocked and startled at the drip of
salt tears down her cheeks, at the heaving of her shaken breast.
She struggled to rebuild her old barriers against the woe—pride, and
dignity, and the decent acceptance of one's lot. But those were for the
eyes of men and women; and here were no eyes, only night, and the risen
sap and the wild heart in her breast. Duty? She had never swerved in
doing it, but she thrust the thought by with passionate rebellion at
the waste of her in dull service to the outworn lives which neither
asked nor could take from her anything but the daily drudgery. She
groped for the old humble consolations, tender appreciations, generous
friendships, the joy in others' joy. But there the wall had broken
through. "I am nothing to them!" thought Margaret bitterly. "Jean will
not care to talk to me after to-night. And I can't always kiss other
people's babies! I want one of my own!"
The gauzy veil of dream that wrapped her often had fallen from before
her eyes. Rent by the piercing beauty of the night, and soaked in her
tears, that fragile fabric of vision served no more. Imagined blisses
had betrayed her, naked and tender, to the unpitying lash of truth. The
remote, the universal, mocked her sore longing for something near and
real, of earth and flesh—oh, as welcome in sorrow as in joy!—to be
imperiously her own! The river of life dashed by and would not fill her
empty cup. The love she loved so had passed her by.
She faced the hollowest desolation known to humanity. She had committed
no sin; she had been true and tender and faithful; she had not failed
in the least and humblest dues of love: yet, now she stood wrapped in
torment, and saw, across a great gulf fixed, the joys of love's elect.
She stood utterly frustrate and alone—a shared frustration were
happiness! Her mental life had been so intensely uncompanioned that she
was tortured with doubts of her own reality. What warrant of Being had
that soul which could not touch in all the blank, black spaces of the
void another soul to give it assurance of itself? What if the aching
throat and riven breast were but the phantom anguish of a dream Thing,
unpurposed, unjustified, a Thing of ashes and emptiness!
There remained God—perhaps! Was God a dream too? Was there any
You in all the empty worlds?
She stood quite still, questing the universe for God. She thought of
her father's God—the savage Hebrew deity he thought he worshiped, the
harsh Puritan formalist who ruled his creed, the hysterical, illogical
sentimentalist who swayed his heart. She dropped them all out of her
mind. God was not, for her, in the ancient earthquake or fire or
She sank to her knees in the darkness, and, laying her head upon her
arms on the railing, sought in her soul for God.
"You are Love," she said. "They say it, but they do not believe it; but
I believe it. You are Love that creates, and makes glad—and
wounds. You are Love that rises in all creatures in spring, and would
make all things beautiful and kind. You are Love that gives—and gives
itself. You made me to love love and love's uses, and nothing else in
the world! You made my life loveless. Why?"
She waited a moment, then, with a sobbing breath of remembrance, "Oh,
one spring they nailed you on a cross because you loved too much!"
After that she was very still, her head bent upon her arms, her heart
quiet, waiting for the still, small voice, the answer of God.
It came presently, and she knew it was the answer. She accepted it with
comfort, and sad pride, and submission, and a slow, strange, white
happiness of consecration. The answer came without any words. If there
had been words, they might have been, perhaps, like these:
"Bear the pain patiently, my daughter, for life is wrought in pain, and
there is no child born without sharp pangs. I have not shut thee out
from my festival of spring. Thy part is thy pang. I have given thee a
coronal of pain and made thee rich with loss and desire. I have made
thee one of my vestals who guard perpetually the hearth-fire which
shall not be lit for them. I have denied thee love that love shall be
manifest in thee. Wherever love fails in my world, there shalt thou
re-create it in beauty and kindness. The vision thou hast, and the
passion, are of me, and I charge thee find some fair and sweet way that
they perish not in thee. All ways are mine. Be thou in peace."
Margaret rose at length. The moon was gone from the sky, but out of its
deep, tender darkness shone the far, dim light of stars. A cool wind
touched her cheek, bearing a faint, ethereal odor of blossoms as from a
great distance. And upon her face, if one might have seen for the
darkness, shone a fine, ethereal beauty far-brought from that great
distance which is nearer than hands and feet.
Against the shadowy front of the house opposite, two figures were
vaguely discernible, the taller a little darker than the encompassing
space, the other a little lighter. As Margaret looked, they melted
together, and were no longer two but one.
She smiled in the darkness, very sweetly, and, holding her head high,
turned and went quietly into the dark little house.