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A Circle In The Water
by [?]

I.

The sunset struck its hard red light through the fringe of leafless trees to the westward, and gave their outlines that black definition which a French school of landscape saw a few years ago, and now seems to see no longer. In the whole scene there was the pathetic repose which we feel in some dying day of the dying year, and a sort of impersonal melancholy weighed me down as I dragged myself through the woods toward that dreary November sunset.

Presently I came in sight of the place I was seeking, and partly because of the insensate pleasure of having found it, and partly because of the cheerful opening in the boscage made by the pool, which cleared its space to the sky, my heart lifted. I perceived that it was not so late as I had thought, and that there was much more of the day left than I had supposed from the crimson glare in the west. I threw myself down on one of the grassy gradines of the amphitheatre, and comforted myself with the antiquity of the work, which was so great as to involve its origin in a somewhat impassioned question among the local authorities. Whether it was a Norse work, a temple for the celebration of the earliest Christian, or the latest heathen, rites among the first discoverers of New England, or whether it was a cockpit where the English officers who were billeted in the old tavern near by fought their mains at the time of our Revolution, it had the charm of a ruin, and appealed to the fancy with whatever potency belongs to the mouldering monuments of the past. The hands that shaped it were all dust, and there was no record of the minds that willed it to prove that it was a hundred, or that it was a thousand, years old. There were young oaks and pines growing up to the border of the amphitheatre on all sides; blackberry vines and sumach bushes overran the gradines almost to the margin of the pool which filled the centre; at the edge of the water some clumps of willow and white birch leaned outward as if to mirror their tracery in its steely surface. But of the life that the thing inarticulately recorded, there was not the slightest impulse left.

I began to think how everything ends at last. Love ends, sorrow ends, and to our mortal sense everything that is mortal ends, whether that which is spiritual has a perpetual effect beyond these eyes or not. The very name of things passes with the things themselves, and

“Glory is like a circle in the water,
Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself,
Till by broad spreading, it disperse to naught.”

But if fame ended, did not infamy end, too? If glory, why not shame? What was it, I mused, that made an evil deed so much more memorable than a good one? Why should a crime have so much longer lodgment in our minds, and be of consequences so much more lasting than the sort of action which is the opposite of a crime, but has no precise name with us? Was it because the want of positive quality which left it nameless, characterized its effects with a kind of essential debility? Was evil then a greater force than good in the moral world? I tried to recall personalities, virtuous and vicious, and I found a fatal want of distinctness in the return of those I classed as virtuous, and a lurid vividness in those I classed as vicious. Images, knowledges, concepts, zigzagged through my brain, as they do when we are thinking, or believe we are thinking; perhaps there is no such thing as we call thinking, except when we are talking. I did not hold myself responsible in this will-less revery for the question which asked itself, Whether, then, evil and not good was the lasting principle, and whether that which should remain recognizable to all eternity was not the good effect but the evil effect?