The Great Secret/Chapter 29
THE COMPRADO IDYL.
A year had passed since Eugene, Countess de Bergamont, and the plain Captain Anatole had taken up the threads of life together; and although they were not doing very well, from a commercial point of looking at prosperity, yet they were satisfied, and, therefore being contented with their fate; they might be said to be doing well. It is all a comparative affair our doing well or ill. For instance, we may be doing very well on eighteen shillings per week to those who are only making twelve, yet we are badly enough off to the bloated, aristocratic, yet hungry-visaged, clerk who starves on thirty shillings. We are miserable objects also to the hard-up man on five pounds per week as we are wonders to the pauper on five hundred per year.
If our women think we are doing well on twelve shillings per week, then we are doing very well indeed. If our wives think we are miserable wretches on one or five thousand per annum, then we are indeed miserable wretches and hardly worth the burying. It all depends upon our women how well off or how ill off we men are.
Eugene, Countess de Bergamont, loved her man Anatole, therefore they were prosperous on nothing per year. She had been accustomed in her former life to waste and profusion—jewels and knicknacks, fine dresses and fragrant waters. Now she was reduced to the state of primitive woman who had to snatch from Nature the bare necessities of life with stern and hard exertion, which skinned her hands and blistered her face, yet she was happier than she had been in her days of profuseness and wanton waste, for she had Anatole to share all these privations with her, and no one else to interfere. No prosperous couple to force comparison and make her discontented. She was alone with her man, therefore they were rich and happy. The summer was a short one on Comprado Island, yet while it lasted it was beneficent and cheerful. Flowers and herbs bloomed on the hill sides and in the valleys, and they were not likely to starve.
They went so far inland, and gradually relapsed into the primitive stage of existing. The rivers provided them with fish, which they prepared, as their ancestors had done before them, by making fire from friction when their civilised matches were exhausted. They found insects and birds with their eggs to supply them with food, herbs and native vegetables and roots to supply them with what they required for a change in diet, with fresh water without stint.
Anatole's clothes and boots wore out, so did the fashionable costume of Eugene's, then they had recourse to expedients, and managed to cover themselves to keep out the cold. They watched the departure of their former companions, and then took possession of their vacated cavern, working hard, both, against the coming winter, and laying in a store of provisions. It was happy work, for both were interested in it, for they had not lost their love fervour. She was a woman in ten thousand, Anatole thought, so robust and hardy, a veritable comrade in daring and endurance. He was the man of the moment to her, who was able to surmount the difficulties of their position, scale the cliffs with fearless grip, snare the birds, capture the eggs, spear the seals, sea-elephants, sea-leopards and sea-lions. There was no fear of starving with such a hunter and fisher as Anatole, no fear of weariness with such a cook as Eugene.
They had discovered coal on the island, and peat mosses, and laid in a store against winter. It was work from sunrise to sunset, and delight in each other's arms from sunset till sunrise. This was their life, a life of hard work and compensating love, and that was more than enough to make them rich and happy.
He praised her for what she did for him, and she was supremely blest and savagely exultant to do more. She extolled his strength, agility and fearlessness, and he felt like a god. All day they toiled to emulate each other's activity, so that they might coo at night in each other's arms, and feel that they were worthy mates. The past drifted from them. They were beasts who lived for one another, yet each kiss was a thrilling rapture, and each night a draught of delight.
All through the summer they worked hard for the coming winter, and all through the winter they warmed one another with their love. The countess had never known love before, but now she knew and appreciated it.
They were both strong and hardy, and their daily life made them more so, therefore they did not suffer much in their isolation. They had prepared the seals' flesh by drying and smoking it, and cured the skins; also they had fuel enough to cook it, so they passed through the long winter safely in their caves, and could wait for spring to go out again.
Anatole wanted no more than this woman. He had, since he first knew her, remembered her as something superior to him, though he did not tell her so, for man never likes to confess his inferiority. One day, before spring came, she whispered something in his ear, which gave him the master's thrill of power and possession, while it filled his brain with a vague sense of responsibility.
"Anatole, we are both children of the Church; we must get away from here and be blessed before our baby comes, if we can."
"Where were their Atheism and Anarchical principles now? The woman had woke up, and the man followed her obediently, as man ever will follow the woman he loves.
They had not gone far inland, nor attempted much discovery on this island. The snow in the mountain ranges quickly stopped their progress, therefore they had remained in the valleys for a time, fishing and snaring birds, at which Anatole was an adept. They also found on these rough and boggy moors what was of most consequence to them during the winter, large patches of peat.
It was in the first cavern that they discovered the coal to burn with their peat. Together they penetrated a good way into its depths, and there saw the fossilised remains of many past forests.
It is much easier to hark back to savage life than for savages to advance towards civilisation. Anatole did not take long to make fishing-tackle from the bones and sinews of the birds, nor implements of labour from the flints that surrounded them. What had taken primitive man ages to acquire he learnt to do very quickly.
They had thread and fish-bone needles to make sealskin moccasins, leggings and mantles long before their own clothes wore out. They also found mud-holes near the fresh water lakes and streams. This mud served them for soap, so that they could wash themselves—a very strict necessity to Eugene, who was dainty and cleanly in her habits, much more so than Anatole, who considered a roll in the sand and a plunge in the water, fresh or salt, was enough in the way of ablution.
How quickly they had both learnt to be natural. Modesty is no more natural than is morality; both are products of an artificial education, which outrages Nature at every turn. Yet love is always delicate, tender and considerate, and both were deeply in love, therefore they never relapsed into coarseness any more than the animals do. He was her god, whom she had learnt to worship, his hands, feet, arms and legs as well as his face. All that composed him were objects of adoration to her, as her dainty body was to him, a precious treasure to love and cherish. They babbled to each other, as the birds do during courting season, meaningless words of tenderness and adoration, praising each other's parts, as connoisseurs rave over old masterpieces, the colour, the texture, the form, and in this fashion they extolled the Maker of all these perfections.
If the Creator of the universe is capable of being flattered for His works, the repetition of lovers, so ridiculous to callous outsiders, must be a sweet pleasure, sweeter than the gross adulation of the hell-believers, for the lovers mean what they utter.
They kept themselves carefully out of the way while the George Washington anchored in the harbour. Anatole knew how long the sealers would be about, therefore the pair sought another part of the coast, and worked as hard during the summer months, laying up and curing their stores for winter. After they had watched the schooner sail away, they carried their stock down to the cave and prepared.
During those summer months Eugene had laid in a store of health and strength that would last her for many a year. She often wondered at her own vitality, vigour and lightness. She had lost something of her velvety softness and delicacy perhaps, her cheeks were rougher, and her muscles harder, yet what once would have made her shrink and shiver and bend herself double with abject misery, now made her square her magnificent chest defiantly and exult. Those cold, fierce blasts no longer stung her like lead-tipped whips; they imparted vigour; she opened her fine nostrils and inhaled them with refreshment, and often bared her neck, now ruddy, to this rude but wholesome buffeting.
The vices of super-refinement and civilisation fell from her as a dead skin does after fever. Once chloral and absinthe were necessities to her vitiated system, now the Antarctic ozone was anodyne enough. She became a fresh woman, lusty, strong and ardent, like the goddesses of old, or the female field workers. Her breasts and limbs were bulwarks, and her heart a steady machine that did its work and sent warm blood rushing freely through her throbbing veins. She was no longer a lady filled with morbid fancies and unwholesomenesses, but a woman fervent and keen, with blue eyes that glowed sapphire-like from their setting of pure white, with lips that were ruddy and ripe, and all the past eradicated as if it had never been.
It seemed only right to her to blister her hands working for this man of her heart and to his orders. What although the nails were not so shapely or clean, or the skin hard that smoothed his matted locks? what although her rich tresses fell tangled like brushwood over her shoulders, and her body was swathed in shapeless furs? she cast the furs from her when night came, and held him in her strong arms until day called him from her, and he was satisfied, this glorious man whom she adored.
This was marriage, the glorification of womanhood, and now the God of love had condoned her past offences and given her the best reward. The joy which he had given to her moved within her with a constant thrill.
Anatole was a simple man who had been roughly brought up. The countess, to him, was a marvellous creature with her refined ways and intensity. She carried him along on the wings of her passion, and even while he could not fathom all her intricacies and devotion, still he felt proud and humbled with his conquest of this matchless creature. She was sincere. This he could not possibly doubt, therefore he took the gifts that the gods had sent him, and strove to prove worthy of them. He was her slave, yet she had crowned him lord and master, and therefore he tried his hardest to act up to his character as master. Thus they were both content, she idealising him, and he doing his best to fill out and play his part.
He had never been a lover of books. In open air sports, such as football, wrestling and running, he had excelled in his boyhood. His youth had been spent at sea and adventure in foreign lands. He was a true primitive man by instinct.
Drawn into the bloody order by a fluke, be hadn't done much for it, nor raised himself very high in the ranks, although his courage and honesty had been noted. He was one of the men that desperate organisms use as sacrifices and blind tools, without trusting with too many secrets.
As a savage he was super-excellent and might well have become a chief, for he had a perfect physique, a fine and swarthy face, with expressive brown eyes, a handsome and lithe figure, with brains and craft enough to look out for and provide for himself and his mate.
He was great when on the hunt or scaling dizzy precipices, and at such times Eugene watched his fearless and heroic actions with bated breath. He was also ingenuous and domesticated, all qualities which women rate much higher than genius in the man they live with, be they aristocratic or rustic.
Before winter came—that Antarctic winter that was murderous in its intensity—by their united efforts they had made a comfortable home of that cavern. The walls were hung with dried flesh of seals and fish, they had piled up enough fuel and cabbages, also melted tallow enough to provide them with light during the long night. The floor was carpeted with skins three and four deep to lie on, and others to cover them, while a heavy curtain of stitched skins hung in front and kept out the fierce blasts. Then they lay down and rested, content and without any desire for the benefits of civilisation. A natural man and woman. How quickly the countess had forgotten the necessity for fast novels to amuse her, and how easily she fell into the way of working, eating and sleeping, as the savage woman does. They slept during that long winter until they were hungry, then they both got up and cooked sufficient to satisfy their hunger, lying down again happy and satisfied.
The tempest raged outside with vicious force, but they were cosy inside, and they desired no more. They had no longer any hatred for society, the world was centred in themselves.
The countess told him how she became an Anarchist, but she was no longer bitter in the relations of her wrongs. They did not appear so serious now, when she saw how easy it was to exist, and, where love is, how little else can satisfy. The fresh water from the iceblocks was more delicious than the most costly wines, and that dried flesh, boiled or stewed, more satisfying than a dozen courses.
He also felt content as he rolled on his furs and let her administer to him, watching her matchless and hardy beauty and her tangled tresses of gold. There was no other eyes to watch them, therefore they abandoned themselves to their delights, the purely animal and natural delights of eating, sleeping and loving.
So that hard, dark, yet blissful winter passed away and spring came again to call them out to fresh exertions, and with the spring she revealed to him her happy secret, then both felt that the evil past was indeed ended for ever, and that a new life was opened to them, the life of hope and promise.