페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

and she wanted to be sure.

I do not

a marvel of a woman. She was, in this think it occurred to her that Miss Quayle case, the more of a marvel that she had would refuse Roger. Nor did it occur no romance in her. I have been bitter, to me, though never was courtship less very bitter, about it all; but, strangely like courtships at home. Roger showed enough, never, in my most sky-defying less ardor than absorption; he went moods, bitter against Aunt Miriam. about the business of life as though The disturbing breath came, as I knew Letitia were the air he breathed. He it would and must; came when Roger took her, you would say, calmly; but Twining's cup spilled over and his passhe was the basis of existence. When she sion declared itself. Disturbing, at first, was not there he seemed to suffer only in the sense that the manner of dumbly, like an animal. I could swear perfection changed; that the tenderness that for a fortnight he spoke no word quickened and Hashed and kindled into to her; yet if he had been visibly on a romance so poignant that my eyes his knees, his attitude could not have smarted in beholding it. By what slow been clearer. His Polynesians got drunk gradations or what swift transmutation, in peace, those days.

known only to their inmost selves, it And Letitia? No girl in my world has came, I cannot say. Though two people ever treated a lover, declared or unde were never more meetly chaperoned, clared, as she treated Roger. She turned they were sometimes alone; and I fancy to him for everything. We picknicked that change could have become conin deep, vine-hung ravines above frigid scious only when they were together in and shadowed pools; and I have seen solitude. They came back from the her, without coquetry, without affecta volcanic headland where I had first tion, bend her head forward to drink found Roger petulantly staring, hand in from a cup he held, or feed him a rose hand, and ranged themselves like decoapple with her own fingers. They clam rous children before Aunt Miriam and bered down exotic trails hand in hand, The Alaming sunset was behind and stood together like children to gaze them; the sudden twilight was already at a waterfall. Not a hint of passion; darkening the remoter corners of the only that beautiful and calm clinging to verandah. Hand in hand, with soft, each other. My constant presence did awe-struck voices, they told us that they not embarrass them; if it was Arden, I were going to be married. It was the was their faithful fool. Do you wonder gentlest climax I have ever known, yet that my dream was so long undisturbed, I felt as if something perfect had passed or that, in spite of all that came after, away. The marvel, as I have said beI look back upon it as the most beautiful fore, was that the previous fortnight thing in life-a thing (sometimes I des could ever have been. Roger Twining perately feel) that fate should never fell manfully in love at sight; nothing have dared to touch?

but the perfect concord of the two The wonder of it is, of course, that creatures could have kept him like a that fortnight could ever have been. child with her just so long as she wanted Even I, completely obsessed with the to be a child. You pay for concord like notion that we were existing outside of that between man and woman-pay history, knew that it could not last like with sacrifices laid on the immemorial this. A breath suffices to destroy so deli altar of sex. Love itself is a fever; and, cate a beauty. I knew the breath would as if that were not enough, the irrelecome. Even in tales, it always does. We vant world steps in to point out that pay tribute forever to the Eumenides. marriage is a practical matter. With

All those enchanted days Aunt love announced, the world, the flesh, and Miriam said nothing. She left Letitia to the devil troop in. Small wonder that Roger and to me—though Letitia spent priests bolster marriage up with sacramany an hour by Aunt Miriam's side, ments! and God knows what they talked of. As luck would have it, Professor That Aunt Miriam's was not the first Quayle had gone, in a motor-boat, to disturbing breath, I know. Sixty years cruise for a few days among outlying of self-control had made Aunt Miriam uninhabited islands and far reefs whence

me.

was

he could gather polypi at will. Letitia They stuck-the dears!--more closely was under the nominal chaperonage of to Aunt Miriam during those days. The the British consul's wife, but it had world and the flesh, as I was saying, been arranged that she should spend a had got in their work. They were not night or two at the Mission. To this so happy as they had been, though love Aunt Miriam now objected. Letitia

was in every sweet and modest gesture. must not be her guest, she told Roger, I knew-don't ask me how—that they until Professor Quayle had sanctioned themselves (even as I, the spectator) the betrothal. The flesh had come in, were looking back rather than forward. you see, already, and here was the Better, infinitely, marriage than this; world. The devil got his innings later. but, oh, best of all, the unreal days forRoger affected to be shocked by the ever past. Their ardor was the tenderest conventions—what true lover is not thing imaginable. Even Roger seemed shocked by them?—but Aunt Miriam only to want Letitia's hand to hold

adamant. Letitia succumbed quietly, peacefully, in our presence. It dumbly, like a hurt child. It seemed was not mawkish, for there was no wanton cruelty to part them. That ulterior suggestion in that simple, muProfessor Quayle should refuse Roger tual caress. Friends, you would have was incredible. It was mere supersti- said, if friends ever had just that hunger. tion, vain as any tabu. I took it upon But I knew better than that, for my myself to tell Mrs. Twining this; but room was next to Roger's, and I knew she did not move a hair's-breadth from how he paced his wide porch, sleepless, her position.

Until Letitia's father through the night, and how he was never could give his consent, she would not himself again until the morning when have Letitia under her roof as Roger's Letitia came stepping through the garbetrothed. She owed it to Professor den, bringing calm with her. They were Quayle. So we took Letitia down to the bad, those three days of the professor's town again, instead of keeping her with absence, but so cunningly arranged that us on the heights.

each hour was tolerable, almost desirable The prohibition was purely formal, as compared with the one that followed it. even Aunt Miriam admitted, and Letitia In all that stillness and sweetness events was at liberty to come each morning and progressed with catastrophic speed. It "spend the day.” So few of those days seemed as though an unseen hurricane of probation there were—only three, all drove us on, though the Trade never told, between the engagement and Pro ceased its gentle rhythm. fessor Quayle's return. Yet, with their It was the second evening, and the atmosphere of trial, of waiting, we last savored hour before Letitia must seemed to be taking something indefi descend to the hospitality of the connite, equivocal, painful, into our lungs sul's wife. Mrs. Twining stirred the with each breath we drew. Gone was scented air with some faint rebuke of the happy oxygen of the idyllic fortnight. Roger for neglect of duty. He answered, Sometimes I gazed up at the low-hung defending himself. Then Aunt Miriam stars and clenched my fists and vowed it turned to Letitia to make her peace. shouldn't pass; that one instant should “I don't see why you shouldn't go suffice for Quayle's consent, and that

down to the school to-morrow, my then Letitia and Roger should wander You can't know too soon about the work back hand in hand, for a time, to their that you will share if you marry Roger.” Eden. I, their faithful fool, would "Oh, but I couldn't."

The girl stand guard between them and the stopped, as if to find a tone even gentler world. Curiously, you see, I did not than that first murmur of hers. “You crave an immediate marriage for them; see, I don't believe any of it.' I craved, rather, a return of the un Aunt Miriam gave no sign of what capturable days. Nothing had ever must have been to her a terrible shock. been so beautiful as the fortnight of A strong woman, very. “You mean that their idyll. Nothing-I set it down with you are not a Christian, Letitia?" an unflinching pen-ever has been. I "A Christian?

I've never stand committed to that.

been to any church. Father has no re

dear.

Oh no.

were

not

ligion, and of course I think as he does." tacked first here, then there, by insidi"You poor child!"

ous, destructive agents. But the hero It must have been Letitia Quayle's and heroine were perfect still. How long beauty that wrung this groan from Mrs. would it be before the poison ate inTwining, for on matters of faith she was reached the heart of the idyll, and uncompromising. I felt sick.

them? "Did you know this, Roger?” His That night I had two sleepless houseaunt turned to him.

mates, I knew; I could hear Aunt "It never occurred to me to tell him," Miriam walking about her room. Letitia threw in. “Does it matter,

Mrs. Twining was a strong woman. Roger?"

She said nothing to me; she bade Roger Twining answered, slowly, heavily, good-bye when he went off to the school “Not the least bit in the world, my as naturally as if his religious integrity dear.”

threatened. She greeted “You see.”. The girl turned to Mrs. Letitia with a serenity that was almost Twining. “He says it doesn't matter.' sweetness. Only I, perhaps, knew how

“But, Letitia" — Aunt Miriam fal- deep was her disturbance, for I caught tered for an instant, then went on her replacing Primitive Paternity on “how could you, an atheist, marry, a Roger's shelves with a little disgusted Christian missionary? A wife must be push. I did not know but that she might a helpmeet.'

call on me to be devil's advocate; to I breathed more easily now that the expound to her how one might be nonfatal word was out; it had not been Christian and yet not heathen. But pronounced before, and it was inevit apparently she was waiting for Quayle's able that some time it should be. return before making any move. Twin

“I was brought up on all those books ing himself, that day, seemed untrouRoger has in there. I couldn't believe bled. He had not yet awaked from his the Christian religion—though of course dream. Letitia, too, seemed unconit is a very nice religion. I didn't know scious. It was only Aunt Miriam and I I should have to teach it. I knew Roger who, under a sunny sky, put up helpless would have to, but I supposed I should hands against the coming storm. I was just stay at home and love him.” Then, not shocked, as she was, by Letitia's nonwith a stifled desperation (but all so religiousness. It hit me in quite another gentle-pianissimo): "I haven't thought place. Roger Twining was not any too about marriage much. I've only thought enamoured of his profession, as I well about Roger. And-forgive me, Mrs. knew; it might be that Letitia would Twining-if Roger doesn't mind, need ruin it utterly in his eyes. And if Uncle you? He is a missionary himself, you Ephraim (stout old son of Kingsborsee. He must know best." Then she tried ough) was a portentous ghost to me, for mirth. "If Roger throws me over who had never seen him, what must he -why, then, we shan't have to bother be to Roger, bowed down under his burwith asking father, shall we? It will all den of gratitude and to Aunt Miriam, be out of the way before he gets back. ” who had been flesh of his flesh and soul

Roger leaned over and grasped Leti- of his sturdy soul? Only three days betia's hand. Mrs. Twining rose from her fore, I had walked in Arden with the deep chair and paced the wide verandah untroubled pair. And already my once, twice, three times, the length of fourth-dimensional world was receding it. Then she stopped before the pair into the original myth. The slow sun and spoke, and I knew she was trying gave no sign; but the moon, past the full not to sound harsh:

and rising later each evening, seemed to "Roger will convert you.'

be marking off the stages of the legend. The two young things started. They That very night we should sit in darkhad already had time to forget.

ness, and we should escort Letitia home, "Oh no, I shan't, Aunt Miriam. I each of us with a lantern in his hand. don't want her different in any way.”

Believe

me, the moon is the real I, of course, said nothing. "The idyll timekeeper; it is she who marks our was spoiling slowly before my eyes, at human intervals.

Vol. CXXXVI.-No. 811.-7

It came very suddenly, that night, as “I'll put one on to-morrow. White is we sat looking at the stårs. By it" I what I like best. But why?” mean-oh, it is very hard to tell—the Her tone had changed, as it always real irruption of the devil, perhaps. The changed when she spoke to Roger, and world and the flesh, with their simulta- his when he spoke to her. They seemed neous utterance of the word “marriage,' to strike the same note; their voices had had their turn, and they had not mingled; it had nothing to do with the been able to shatter the dream. The gamut they kept for the rest of the devil came in, I suppose, with Letitia's world. paganism (if you can call it that); but “It's your widow's peak, I think. I that was only his formal entrance, his used to play with a little girl who wore conventional cue. We were all breath- blue and had yellow hair in a widow's ing a little hard, but we were not without peak. I was very fond of her. What hope. There was a deep plot among us was her name, Aunty?" -the only time we four conspired to Letitia laughed. “Yes, what was her gether--to put off consideration of the name?" problem, to pretend that there was no Mrs. Twining seemed to rouse herself problem. Even Aunt Miriam, with a from deafness. "What is it, my dear?” quiet hand on Letitia's knee, seemed to be “The girl I used to play with, who waiting for it to solve or dissolve itself. had yellow hair and a widow's peak, and But the devil had made a good entrance. always wore blue?He was in fine form, I maysay. None of us Aunt Miriam answered, slowly, "It helped him, but he did not need our help. must have been Mabel Cheyne, Roger."

Letitia, as if with a half-thought of “I remember Minnie Cheyne. She explaining herself, of showing the de wasn't like that." cency of her impious upbringing, had “Mabel was her little sister who died. given us a wandering narrative of her You played with her in the very beginyouth. Mrs. Quayle had died when ning: I am surprised that you remember Letitia was ten. Since then her life had been the interesting and curious thing "I don't, very well. It must have I have earlier hinted at. Her stress was been very far back, when I was tiny. not, as it had first been, on the exotic I can't say I really remember Mabel, side of that wandering life; rather, I but I do remember the widow's peak thought, on the important things Pro and the blue dress. Did I go to her fessor Quayle had done, and the distin funeral ?" guished friends they had had in every “Of course not!" Mrs. Twining's part of the globe. But Letitia was not voice was sharp. “You were far too herself interested-she was incapable of young to go to funerals. We went, of “side"--and Aunt Miriam asked no eager

She was a pretty child, and, in questions. She had clasped Letitia's hand your baby way, you were very fond of in hers, firmly, as if she would hold her her. You soon got over it, of course.” bodily back from Heathenesse. Roger “It is odd that I should remember. had Letitia's other hand, and so they sat. But you know I've always liked widow's

Then I was startled by Roger's voice, peaks, uncannily, since Mabel--if that seeming to come from very far away, was her name. And she must have had from the inmost recesses of the dream in blue dresses." which he walked:

And you want me to wear blue in Do you ever wear blue, Letitia?” memory of her?” Letitia was totally

It was the first question he had ever without coquetry, I knew, but I thought asked her. It brought back to me all the she would be amused.

she would be amused. There was no savor of that woodland miracle when we amusement in her tone, however-only had met her, garlanded, in the forest, a blank meekness. and Virginia had flung away her dripping “I don't really care a bit. Only, mango unashamed.

somehow, blue fits with your hair. I "Often. Do you want me in a blue seem to see it that way.” frock?"

Mrs. Twining turned to her. "He “Yes."

used to play with Mabel every day

her."

course.

[merged small][graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« 이전계속 »