The Dryad

By George Sterling

Scene—A glade in a forest, sloping gently westward. It is comparatively free from trees, except for an immense pine in its center. A few feet from this tree stands a man about thirty-five years of age. He carries a large covered basket. From a distance comes—

A Woman's Voice—

Henry!

The Man—

Yes, Sarah.

A Woman's Voice —

I am going down to the beach with the children. I shall return in half an hour. Have the water for the coffee boiling.

The Man—

Yes, Sarah. (He deposits the basket near the foot of the tree, and stands gazing westward. Suddenly a slender white arm is extended from the tree, almost touching his face. He recoils. The arm is waved gently in the outer air for a moment. The,Man steps backward and to the rear. A Dryad emerges. She is beautiful, and apparently seventeen years of age. As persons of refinement will insist on her being attired, let us allot her the shadow of a fig-leaf.)

The Dryad—

No rain! What a pity! I love the ghost-rain. Pan says that——— (Notices the Man). Ah! a mortal! How wonderful! (She approaches the Man, who shrinks away from her.)

The Man—

Who are you? What are you?

The Dryad—

Why, I'm a dryad. Surely you know what dryads are. And you're a mortal! Why do you have cloth all over you like that?

The Man—

It's a custom.

The Dryad—

The Greeks didn't.

The Man—

They, do now. Do you see mortals so seldom?

The Dryad—

I may come out only once in a hundred years. The last mortal I saw had even more clothes on than you. And he had a big string of beads.

The Man—

He must have been a friar.

The Dryad—

Yes— and when he saw me he did this (crosses herself) and ran. Why did he run?

The Man—

He found you too attractive, I suppose.

The Dryad—

Do you?

The Man—

Not so I'd run from you.

The Dryad—

I've seen so few mortals! Don't you be afraid of .me!

The Man—

I'm not.

The Dryad —

I'm glad. Why do mortals— (A child calls shrilly.) What's that?

The Man—

One of my children.

The Dryad—

What are children ?

The Man—

They're something like you and me, only much smaller.

The Dryad—

Why do you say it's one of yours?

The Man—

I'm its father.

The Dryad—

How does one become a father?

The Man—

You'd not understand.

The Dryad—

What are children like? As little as rabbits?

The Man—

No—bigger than that; but still, much smaller than you.

The Dryad —

Oh! they must be dear! I'd love to have one! Will you show me how to get one?

The Man—

No! No! At least, not now. And say: would you mind standing this way a little? I want this tree to be between you and the ocean.

The Dryad—

Why? Is it a game?

The Man—

No. It's on my wife's account. She's a peculiar woman .

The Dryad—

What's a wife?

The Man—

I'm afraid I'd have trouble in making you understand.

The Dryad—

Don't try then; I hate trouble. Is she with your children?

The Man—

Yes—she's their mother, you see.

The Dryad—

What's a mother?

The Man—

That would be troubling you again.

The Dryad—

Don't then. But where does one obtain children ?

The Man—

They come to one from God.

The Dryad—

Which god?

The Man—

The God.

The Dryad—

Oh! you mean the biggest one. He can squeeze through only the very largest redwood. They say he's terribly bored. Greece was so much nicer than California.

The Man—

Did you live in Greece?

The Dryad—

In Thessaly. But I was a tiny thing then—like one of your children, perhaps. I could squeeze out from a birch-tree.

The Man—

Is it confining to live in a tree?

The Dryad—

Why, stupid, we don't live in trees! A tree is only a doorway.

The Man—

What's beyond?

The Dryad—

Come and seel They'll let me love if I can bring home a mortal.

The Man—

Have you never loved?

The Dryad—

Oh, I'm too young— not much over 1,900 years. But in 65 years more I'll be 2,000, and may do as I please. Watch me then!

The Man —

What do you know about love?

The Dryad—

Trust me! I've not eyes for nothing! And you? Were you never in love?

The Man—

Once.

The Dryad—

Why only once ?

The Man —

When one's married, that's supposed to end it.

The Dryad—

To end loving?

The Man—

To end loving all but one's wife.

The Dryad—

Does it?

The Man—

Sometimes.

The Dryad—

But what is this marrying? Will you marry me?

The Man—

If I had two wives, I might be put in prison.

The Dryad—

What's prison? But never mind! Can't you get rid of your wife ?

The Man—

Not easily. Then, there are the children.

The Dryad—

Oh! let her keep the children. We can ask that god for plenty more. Come, now! (She holds out her hand to him.) Come Beyond with me. Wonderful things are there—things you never dreamt of!

The Man—

My wife wouldn't approve.

The Dryad—

Why are you always talking about your wife? It isn't very flattering to me. Will she dance with you in the moonlight and the rain?

The Man—

In the rain? She'd be afraid of wetting her clothes.

The Dryad —

Oh! does she wear clothes?

The Man—

Rather!

The Dryad—

Why?

The Man—

You'd not understand.

The Dryad —

"Not understand" again! You must think I'm awfully stupid. Am I stupid?

The Man—

You're beautiful!

The Dryad—

Hum! Evidently the same thing. Would you love me if I wore clothes? Go and bring me your wife's clothes!

The Man—

It would be hard to get them.

The Dryad—

Give me yours!

The Man—

No! no! At least not now. (Nervously.) Would you mind standing back there, behind the tree?

The Dryad—

How silly! Of course not! But what's that? (She points to the basket.)

The Man—

Things to eat and drink. We're on a picnic.

The Dryad—

What's—never mind. Open it! (They seat themselves. The Man opens the basket, and takes out sundry viands and bottles. The Dryad picks up an apple, smells it, and tries a mouthful. An expression of distaste comes over her face, she removes the bit of apple, and hides it behind her.)

The Dryad—

(Holding out the apple) What is this?

The Man—

That's an apple.

The Dryad—

What are they for?

The Man—

They're to eat.

The Dryad —

What a pity! You should taste the fruit in my country. (Takes up a can of sardines.) And what's this?

The Man—

Sardines.

The Dryad—

(Biting the can) How can you eat anything so hard?

The Man—

-Oh! the sardines are inside. One opens it with a knife, or something. I don't think you'd care for them.

The Dryad—

(Picking up a bottle) What's this?

The Man—

That's a bottle of root-beer, for the children.

The Dryad—

Imagine a drink made of roots!

The Man —

 (Opening the bottle) It's not so bad. Try it.

The Dryad—

(Drinks from the bottle. Makes a grimace.) Ugh! Let the children have it! . . . What's in that black bottle?

The Man —

That's claret for me and my wife.

The Dryad—

Claret?

The Man—

It's a wine. Have you never seen wine?

The Dryad—

Oceans of it. Give me some. (The Man pours a glassful, which she tastes. Chokes over it.) O dear! Do you call that wine? You should taste our wine! (Pointing to a cardboard box.) What's in there? Ambrosia?

The Man—

No—ham.

The Dryad—

Don't give me any! I'm afraid I don't like the food and drink of mortals. . . . But tell me; have you hoofs, like Pan?

The Man—

No; I've feet, like yours, only larger.

The Dryad —

Then why do you cover them up? Why don't you wear sandals?

The Man—

Sandals are out-of-date. All respectable people now wear shoes.

The Dryad —

Shoes! How funny! Let me try them on.

The Man—

I'm sure you'd not like them.

The Dryad—

I want to try them once, anyhow. This is the only chance I've ever had. (The Man takes off his shoes, which the Dryad puts on. She stands up and takes a few steps.) How awful! How do you ever manage to dance in them? (She tries to dance.) Really, I think Pluto must have put them on you as a punishment. Have you ever been in Hell?

The Man—

Oh! Lots of times!

The Dryad—

Tell me: what was it like?

The Man—

But there are so many hells.

The Dryad—

Well, what was the last one like?

The Man—

Everyone there was very good, and there was nothing to drink but water.

The Dryad —

You make me sad. Come! Let's dance! (She kicks off the shoes and holds out her hands to him.)

The Man —

I've never learned to dance.

The Dryad—

Come! I'll teach you. (She takes his hands, and capers round and round him. He stands awkwardly erect in the same spot.) Jump! can't you? Jump!. Leap up in the air and kick your legs, as the fauns do! Oh! but you're stupid, or cruel! I don't believe you want to dance with me!

The Man—

I'd love to, but not now. Come—please stand behind that tree! And say: would you mind if I wrapped this table-cloth about you ? (He picks up a red table-cloth and drapes it around her.) There! That's a bit better! Now, if you don't mind, stand here, please. (He leads her back of the pine.)

The Dryad—

I don't like this ugly cloth. It's too warm, and it scratches me.

The Man—

Please wear it just a minute, for my sake.

The Dryad —

Well, for a minute. But tell me: do you do anything except picnic?

The Man—

Yes; I'm a clerk in a shoe-store. It's no picnic.

The Dryad —

Why do you stay there?

The Man—

It beats starving.

The Dryad—

How long will you have to do that?

The Man—

Till I'm an old man, I suppose.

The Dryad—

And then?

The Man—

Then I'll rest for a few years, I hope.

The Dryad—

And then?

The Man—

Death comes next.

The Dryad—

And then?

The Man—

I don't know. Nothing, I suppose.

The Dryad—

(Casting aside the table cloth.) Not for you! You are too fine for that! Come with me, now! Come with me to my own country!

The Man—

Tell me of it.

The Dryad—

It lies, as this, at an ocean's edge. But that sea is of wine, and its shore the dust of pearls. No sun is there, but day goes by as a golden haze, in which one drowses dreamily, and wakes to drink forgetfulness from cups of topaz, and to know the taste of strange fruits. Come with me to that country!

The Man—

Tell me more!

The Dryad—

There is always music in that land—sweet strains and sad, distilled from the grief and joy of mortals. One sees not the Harp-player, but his hands are on the chords forever. Come Beyond with me!

The Man—

Go on! Go on!

The Dryad —

Alas for you, who know not our nights! Then indeed the soul and body wake, drunk with their immortality. In our sky are seven moons, none of the same hue. They weave delicate webs of color, nameless and shifting. In their light we dance by that sea of wine, whose foam, purple and odorous, we wear for crowns. Come with me to that land!

The Man—

Tell me all!

The Dryad—

Beyond the beach are meadows of violet, through which stray paths that lead to dim and ancient woodlands. There the flowers are fadeless, heavy with fragrance and softly luminous. The murmur of love is there—all the music of its old enchantment. Surely you will come with me!

The Man—

I will go with you!

The Dryad—

Ah! you shall never regret! I will be———

A Woman's Voice—

Henry! Come and help the children up this bank! (The Man starts in the direction of the sound. The Dryad sinks to one knee before him, holding forth her arms.)

The Dryad—

Do not leave me! The time is now—or never! We may entreat a mortal but once. Listen! There is no sorrow in that land—no weariness nor care. You shall be made immortal, and beautiful—how far more beautiful. I— shall be—

A Woman's Voice—

Henry! Do you hear me?

The Man—

Right away, my dear! .

The Dryad—

Ah! Come with me! Come Beyond with me! I shall be your true one, your worshipper, for you will have made love known to me—love, at last, love! Come with me, swiftly, swiftly! I shall never—

A Woman's Voice—

Henry Lister, are you coming, or not? (The Man takes a step forward. The Dryad clasps him around the knees.)

The Dryad—

Come with me! What is better than happiness? My lips shall whisper mysteries to you. You shall remember nothing sad. The tears of my rapture shall be on your face.

A Woman's Voice—

Henry Lister! (The Man stoops, loosens the clasp of the Dryad, and, after several hesitations, passes from view. She stands gazing after him.)

The Dryad—

I wonder if all men are like that.

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