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“Not a bit, Noakes,” said Norah from the end seat of the punt. · Pray, don't !”
“It's ’ard,” remarked Mr. Noakes, still trying to draw the wood on the other side of the stream 'into conversation, “ter see yer, day arter day, an' not ter speak. Mornin' an' night, night an' mornin', you taks me athirt an’ across, athirt an’across, and it seems it never ain't no use me speakin'.”
“And I don't think it ever will be.”
“I wouldn't give oop my eighteen shillin' a week, you understan -not oi ; but oi'd go to it ev'ry day, an' leave 'ee to the ferry 'ere. Don't it seem a pity, now, as it ain't no use me speakin' ? ”
Mr. Noakes was quite pathetic in this appeal to the opposite plantation.
“But,” laughed Norah mischievously, “there's Elms, headgardener to Mrs. Jessel at the Hall, and he has thirty-five shillings a week and a cottage too, and I've told him it's no use speaking. I tell them all the same-every one.”
"An' they're all jest mad about 'ee,” Mr. Noakes told the opposite plantation, with emotion. ""Jest mad. Aint it 'ard ? Doan't 'ee think now, as it's a bit ’ard ?”
Getting no immediate reply from the opposite plantation, Mr. Noakes looked for an instant in Norah's face, and then looked away again hurriedly, with his hand to his eyes.
“It reg'lar dazzles me," he explained.
Mr. Noakes seemed prepared to take this hint, but paused irresolutely for a moment, standing first on one foot and then on the other, and appearing anxious to deliver himself of some great sentiment.
“Yer face,” he said heavily, at last, "yer face is sich a face ter me, that when I sees the sun I thinks o'yer face direc'ly : an' when I sees the moon, I thinks o’yer face direc’ly, I du. Yer face seems reg'lar like sun, moon, an' stars all rolled into one ; fur when I sees the stars I thinks oyer face, that I du. It's a queer thing, so I thought I'd better tell yer."
Thus can love fertilise the rock, and make flowers spring and blossom in the dust !
“I did'nt know I was so brilliant,” Norah laughed. “Goodnight, Noakes."
Then did Mr. Noakes, with another momentary glance, and a sudden, dazzled turning away, address a hoarse “Good night” to the opposite plantation, shoulder his empty basket and depart.
“Funny,” said Norah to herself, and thinking of Mrs. Marcus, " that she should have said 'look steadily in the stream and one day you'll see the reflection of a knight there'; because, when I sit here and wait for fares, I always do look in the stream : and the footpath happens to be at such an angle that I always do see my fares in the water before I see them in the flesh. Generally, they're such awful faces they might easily frighten anyone. Well, here I sit, then, waiting for the knight! I wonder how long I shall have to wait? I do believe I'm ready for him. Nobody knows as I know, every day and all day long, how lonely I feel. I'm sure I've a warm corner for the knight, in my heart ; and that I could make him very cosy there !"
It is sad to think how many equally brave, tender, and true women's hearts there are in the world this moment with the empty corner for the knight in them, and with the power to make him cosy there—if he would only come, as he ought to do, loyal and true !
Norah began to sing gently to herself, and to watch the lights appearing in the cottage windows of her nearest neighbours, two hundred yards away; and then, when the summer night was fully fallen, she went indoors to supper.
Strange girl, strange life ! Strange, oh, doubly strange and mysterious river, eternally coiling in eddies to the sea : so like the stream of our existence upon which we, stray atoms detached from time, are outward borne !
The summer glided by upon perfumed wings. The river became crowded by various craft, and seemed an aquatic Bond Street. Norah, taking across such fares as required that attention, would have all eyes turned to her, and various comments would be audibly passed upon her by holiday-making youths from distant shops, and by youths from the great college three miles away up stream. All complimentary comments, and well-meant; but insufferably unpleasant to the girl, who began to find the possessing of that intangible attribute, a "reputation," is not unalloyed bliss.
At last the summer began to shiver itself away in fitful winds and showers. The fresh greens began to be streaked with yellow.
But to Norah, sitting daily in her punt and looking at the stream, no true knight came.
At last, on one of those early autumn days when summer seems to have come back to look for something it has left behind, Norah, in the old picturesque costume, with the wide-brimmed hat upon her
head, searching the mirror of the stream as it glided by, suddenly saw a totally new reflection there, and wondered whether the knight were come. At least, she greeted his appearance with a blush upon neck and brow as she thought, “If I had to choose a knight, he would be something like that !” and then hesitated before she looked up from the reflection in the stream to the man who caused it.
Bertie Vale stood for a moment or two unconcernedly upon the bank, looking at the lights and shadows on the stream with the appreciative glance of one who might have been a great artist if wealth hadn't numbed his natural powers. Finally, he came to the water's edge, and said civilly to the girl :
“May I trouble you to take me over ?”
Polite as a true knight ever should be! So polite, that Norah felt she'd never said anything half so rude to any stranger before, as she replied :
“It's no trouble ; it's my business." Vale got in and went to the usual seat of fares, at the far end of
“I won't ask you to let me do the work,” he said quietly, as he did so. “I can see you're independent, and would rather do it yourself.”
“Yes,” returned Norah abruptly, “I would.”
They began moving across the stream, Norah making the same diagonal allowance for the current that her great-grandfather used to make for it a hundred years or so ago.
The stranger made no comment on anything, and, when the opposite bank was reached, said “Thank you,” paid his penny and
“A melancholy knight,” Norah thought, glancing after him ; “but just the face to look well in a helmet. Quite a pale, dark-moustached, crusading face ! I wonder how long he's going to sit on that stile and stare dreamily down here? And I wonder what his great trouble is ? He's got one, I'm certain."
That made him all the more interesting, she told herself, as she punted back to the shelter of her little cabin. To the great majority of women, a man with some profound, soul-searing, secret sorrow (so long, perhaps, as it isn't indigestion or homicidal mania) is the most interesting and delightful experience. For all women conceive themselves the born physicians of man-at least, in all heart-affection
Arrived at the other side Norah moored her craft in its usual place, and taking her usual seat in it dreamily watched the stranger
across the river as, still sitting lazily upon the stile, he prepared to smoke a confidential cigar.
He was deeply thoughtful as he lighted that cigar, and performed the operation in the manner of one who didn't expect to derive any true enjoyment from the completed task. When he had completed it, however, he still sat on the stile and looked back over the river to the spot whence he had so recently come; doing it all in the same melancholy and half-hearted manner.
The fact of the matter was, shorn of all subterfuge, that Bertie Vale at that period of his life suffered from an extremely distressing optical disturbance which took the form of presenting to his eyes the words “Lily Tarleton," scrawled in very big letters across everything he looked at. It was most awkward and painful. Even then, that bright, still autumn day, as he sat there on the stile smoking an excellent cigar, he saw that name written across the river beneath him, as though that river were a bill and she had accepted it.
That very thought came into his head at the moment, and came into it in a most melancholy way—“Accepted it—though she has declined me! How very dreary! and yet, even now, I think she declined me sadly--almost regretfully. I'm sure she did. Yes, even though she wouldn't give a reason.
s! That's the time I've followed her like a dog, and not spoken for fear of being premature ! Then I speak, and get declined at once. Too bad, altogether! Well, I've done with her. I'll never think about her golden hair and her blue eyes, and her delicate little figure, any more. Hang me if I do! I'll have a complete contrast. Something tall and dark and queenly. By-the-bye, what a wonderful creature this ferry girl is !—and she answers my description, too! Presently I'll go down and see what she's like to talk to.”
A man in the position of Mr. Bertie Vale is in a very dangerous position. The danger varies in accordance with the temperament. One man, rejected, shuts up his heart there and then with the snap of a rat-trap, and has done with the business of romance for the residue of his natural life. Another man, in similar circumstances, becomes what may be called “receptive.” He has been suddenly expelled Paradise, and, feeling the lack of it very badly, sets to work as speedily as he can to enclose and plant a new little paradise of his own. It isn't on quite such a large and delightful scale as the real Paradise, and unworthy of a capital letter ; but it is a very good makeshift while it lasts.
Belonging to the latter order of the noble institution MAN, Bertie Vale went down from the stile presently, and signalling to be
taken into the punt and returned whence he had originally come, paused at the end of his voyage and held a conversation with Norah.
“Yes," said Mr. Vale, in the course of it, “I'm staying within a couple of miles of this place. Only staying for a week. Can't tell you, for the life of me, why I've come here. Some vague, hypnotic suggestion, I suppose, that something would come of my coming here. That's the only way I can account for the action. A very rash one."
He was a picturesquely-clad individual, artistically attired in a soft brown suit, surmounted by a soft brown felt hat. In his buttonhole was a rosebud with a piece of maiden-hair fern for back
“Do you think it was so very rash?” asked Norah.
“ Awfully! Don't you? I come to a part I've not the least knowledge of, for no particular purpose "
“Oh, for no particular purpose ?”
“ I thought you might have come to get the better of something," Norah replied very demurely. “People do."
“Influenza, scarlet fever, or something of that sort ?"
She was standing with one hand on the top of the pole planted in the river, and Bertie sat still at the end of the punt, looking up at her. He thought what an excellent figure she had, and what flashing mischievous eyes. He was not in the least hurry to get out, and would have stayed on there for an hour or two longer if an old woman with a bundle hadn't turned up after only a ten minutes' interval and compelled him to vacate his seat and depart.
When Norah came back and moored under her cabin after the voyage with the old woman, she noticed that the rose Bertie Vale had been wearing had dropped a flake of crimson snow upon the seat of her craft. She picked that petal up and held it in her hand for a short space, looking closely at it.
“ If he's to be the knight,” she thought, “I ought to keep this, and show it him, very crisp and withered, on our golden-wedding day!”
Then, with a smile, and quite convinced he wasn't the knight, and couldn't be, she crumpled up the perfumed memento of her recent