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 THE OF INSPIRED MOMENTS It happened, the next day after the funeral, I came upon reproductions of Aubrey Beardsley's "Atalanta," and of the tail-piece "Salome," and others. I sat and looked and my soul leaped out upon the new thing. I was bewildered, wondering, , fascinated. I looked a long time, but my mind, or my soul, would come to no state of . I was fascinated and overcome, but yet full of stubbornness and resistance.
Lettie was out, so, although it was dinner-time, even because it was dinner-time, I took the book and went down to the mill.
The dinner was over; there was the of cooked rhubarb in the room. I went straight to Emily, who was leaning back in her chair, and put the Salome before her.
"Look," said I, "look here!"
She looked; she was short-sighted, and peered close. I was impatient for her to speak. She turned slowly at last and looked at me, shrinking, with questioning.
"Well?" I said.
"Isn't it—fearful!" she replied softly.
"No!—why is it?"
"It makes you feel—Why have you brought it?"
"I wanted you to see it."
Already I felt relieved, seeing that she too was caught in the spell.
George came and over my shoulder. I could feel the heavy warmth of him.
"Good Lord!" he drawled, half amused. The children came crowding to see, and Emily closed the book.
"I shall be late—Hurry up, Dave!" and she went to wash her hands before going to school.
"Give it me, will you!" George asked, putting out his hand for the book. I gave it him, and he sat down to look at the drawings. When Mollie crept near to look, he angrily shouted to her to get away. She pulled a mouth, and got her hat over her wild brown curls. Emily came in ready for school.
"I'm going—good-bye," she said, and she waited hesitatingly. I moved to get my cap. He looked up with a new expression in his eyes, and said:
"Are you going?—wait a bit—I'm coming."
I waited.
"Oh, very well—good-bye," said Emily bitterly, and she departed.
When he had looked long enough he got up and we went out. He kept his finger between the pages of the book as he carried it. We went towards the fallow land without speaking. There he sat down on a bank, leaning his back against a holly-tree, and saying, very calmly:
"There's no need to be in any hurry now——" whereupon he proceeded to study the illustrations.
"You know," he said at last, "I do want her."
I started at the of this remark, and said, "Who?"
"Lettie. We've got notice, did you know?"
I started to my feet this time with .
"Notice to leave?—what for?"
"Rabbits I expect. I wish she'd have me, Cyril."
"To leave Strelley Mill!" I repeated.
"That's it—and I'm rather glad. But do you think she might have me, Cyril?"
"What a shame! Where will you go? And you lie there joking——!"
"I don't. Never mind about the damned notice. I want her more than anything.—And the more I look at these naked lines, the more I want her. It's a sort of fine sharp feeling, like these curved lines. I don't know what I'm saying—but do you think she'd have me? Has she seen these pictures?"
"If she did perhaps she'd want me—I mean she'd feel it clear and sharp coming through her."
"I'll show her and see."
"I'd been sort of thinking about it—since father had that notice. It seemed as if the ground was pulled from under our feet. I never felt so lost. Then I began to think of her, if she'd have me—but not clear, till you showed me those pictures. I must have her if I can—and I must have something. It's rather ghostish to have the road suddenly smudged out, and all the world anywhere, nowhere for you to go. I must get something sure soon, or else I feel as if I should fall from somewhere and hurt myself. I'll ask her."
I looked at him as he lay there under the holly-tree, his face all dreamy and boyish, very unusual.
"You'll ask Lettie?" said I, "When—how?"
"I must ask her quick, while I feel as if everything had gone, and I was ghostish. I think I must sound rather a lunatic."
He looked at me, and his hung heavy over his eyes as if he had been drinking, or as if he were tired.
"Is she at home?" he said.
"No, she's gone to Nottingham. She'll be home before dark."
"I'll see her then. Can you smell violets?"
I replied that I could not. He was sure that he could, and he seemed uneasy till he had the sensation. So he arose, very , and went along the bank, looking closely for the flowers.
"I knew I could. White ones!"
He sat down and picked three flowers, and held them to his , and their fragrance. Then he put them to his mouth, and I saw his strong white teeth crush them. He chewed them for a while without speaking; then he them out and gathered more.
"They remind me of her too," he said, and he twisted a piece of honeysuckle stem round the bunch and handed it to me.
"A white violet, is she?" I smiled.
"Give them to her, and tell her to come and meet me just when it's getting dark in the wood."
"But if she won't?"
"She will."
"If she's not at home?"
"Come and tell me."
He lay down again with his head among the green violet leaves, saying:
"I ought to work, because it all counts in the valuation. But I don't care."
He lay looking at me for some time. Then he said:
"I don't suppose I shall have above twenty pounds left when we've sold up—but she's got plenty of money to start with—if she has me—in Canada. I could get well off—and she could have—what she wanted—I'm sure she'd have what she wanted."
He took it all calmly as if it were realised. I was somewhat amused.
"What frock will she have on when she comes to meet me?" he asked.
"I don't know. The same as she's gone to Nottingham in, I suppose—a sort of gold-brown costume with a rather tight fitting coat. Why?"
"I was thinking how she'd look."
"What chickens are you counting now?" I asked.
"But what do you think I look best in?" he replied.
"You? Just as you are—no, put that old smooth cloth coat on—that's all." I smiled as I told him, but he was very serious.
"Shan't I put my new clothes on?"
"No—you want to leave your neck showing."
He put his hand to his throat, and said naïvely:
"Do I?"—and it amused him.
Then he lay looking dreamily up into the tree. I left him, and went wandering round the fields finding flowers and bird's nests.
When I came back, it was nearly four o'clock. He stood up and stretched himself. He pulled out his watch.
"Good Lord," he drawled, "I've lain there thinking all afternoon. I didn't know I could do such a thing. Where have you been? It's with being all upset you see. You left the violets—here, take them, will you; and tell her: I'll come when it's getting dark. I feel like somebody else—or else really like myself. I hope I shan't wake up to the other things—you know, like I am always—before them."
"Why not?"
"Oh, I don't know—only I feel as if I could talk straight off without arranging—like birds, without knowing what note is coming next."
When I was going he said:
"Here, leave me that book—it'll keep me like this—I mean I'm not the same as I was yesterday, and that book'll keep me like it. Perhaps it's a bout—I do sometimes have one, if something very extraordinary happens. When it's getting dark then!"
Lettie had not arrived when I went home. I put the violets in a little vase on the table. I remembered he had wanted her to see the drawings—it was perhaps as well he had kept them.
She came about six o'clock—in the motor-car with Marie. But the latter did not . I went out to assist with the parcels. Lettie had already begun to buy things; the wedding was for July.
The room was soon over-covered with stuffs: table , underclothing, pieces of silken stuff and lace stuff, patterns for carpets and curtains, a whole gleaming glowing array. Lettie was very delighted. She could hardly wait to take off her hat, but went round cutting the string of her parcels, opening them, talking all the time to my mother.
"Look, Little Woman. I've got a ready-made underskirt—isn't it lovely. Listen!" and she it through her hands. "Shan't I sound splendid! Frou-Frou! But it is a charming shade, isn't it, and not a bit bulky or clumsy anywhere?" She put the band of the skirt against her waist, and put forward her foot, and looked down, saying, "It's just the right length, isn't it, Little Woman?—and they said I was tall—it was a wonder. Don't you wish it were yours, Little?—oh, you won't confess it. Yes you like to be as fine as anybody—that's why I bought you this piece of silk—isn't it sweet, though?—you needn't say there's too much lavender in it, there is not. Now!" She pleated it up and held it against my mother's chin. "It suits you beautifully—doesn't it. Don't you like it, Sweet? You don't seem to like it a bit, and I'm sure it suits you—makes you look ever so young. I wish you wouldn't be so old fashioned in your notions. You do like it, don't you?"
"Of course I do—I was only thinking what an mortal you are when you begin to buy. You know you mustn't keep on always——"
"Now—now, Sweet, don't be naughty and preachey. It's such a treat to go buying: You will come with me next time, won't you? Oh, I have enjoyed it—but I wished you were there—Marie takes anything, she's so easy to suit—I like to have a good buy—Oh, it was splendid!—and there's lots more yet. Oh, did you see this cushion cover—these are the colours I want for that room—gold and amber——"
This was a bad opening. I watched the shadows darken further and further along the brightness, hushing the glitter of the water. I watched the golden ripeness come upon the west, and thought the rencontre was never to take place. At last, however, Lettie flung herself down with a sigh, saying she was tired.
"Come into the dining-room and have a cup of tea," said mother. "I told Rebecca to when you came in."
"All right. Leslie's coming up later on, I believe—about half past eight, he said. Should I show him what I've bought?"
"There's nothing there for a man to see."
"I shall have to change my dress, and I'm sure I don't want the fag. Rebecca, just go and look at the things I've bought—in the other room—and, Becky, fold them up for me, will you, and put them on my bed?"
As soon as she'd gone out, Lettie said: "She'll enjoy doing it, won't she, mother, they're so nice! Do you think I need dress, mother?"
"Please yourself—do as you wish."
"I suppose I shall have to; he doesn't like blouses and skirts of an evening he says; he hates the belt. I'll wear that old cream cashmere; it looks nice now I've put that new lace on it. Don't those violets smell nice?—who got them?"
"Cyril brought them in."
"George sent them you," said I.
"Well, I'll just run up and take my dress off. Why are we troubled with men!"
"It's a trouble you like well enough," said mother.
"Oh, do I? such a bother!" and she ran upstairs.
The sun was red behind Highclose. I kneeled in the window seat and smiled at Fate and at people who imagine that strange states are near to the inner realities. The sun went straight down behind the trees, and, it seemed as I watched, swiftly lowered itself behind the trees, behind the of the hill.
"I must go," I said to myself, "and tell him she will not come."
Yet I fidgeted about the room, loth to depart. Lettie came down, dressed in white—or cream—cut low round the neck. She looked very and fresh again, with a sparkle of the afternoon's excitement still.
"I'll put some of these violets on me," she said, glancing at herself in the mirror, and then taking the flowers from their water, she dried them, and fastened them among her lace.
"Don't Lettie and I look nice to-night?" she said smiling, glancing from me to her reflection which was like a light in the dusky room.
"That reminds me," I said, "George Saxton wanted to see you this evening."
"What ever for?"
"I don't know. They've got notice to leave their farm, and I think he feels a bit ."
"Oh, well—is he coming here?"
"He said would you go just a little way in the wood to meet him."
"Did he! Oh, indeed! Well, of course I can't."
"Of course not—if you won't. They're his violets you're wearing by the way."
"Are they—let them stay, it makes no difference. But whatever did he want to see me for?"
"I couldn't say, I assure you."
She glanced at herself in the mirror, and then at the clock.
"Let's see," she remarked, "it's only a quarter to eight. Three quarters of an hour—! But what can he want me for?—I never knew anything like it."
"Startling, isn't it!" I observed satirically.
"Yes," she glanced at herself in the mirror:
"I can't go out like this."
"All right, you can't then."
"Besides—it's nearly dark, it will be too dark to see in the wood, won't it?"
"It will directly."
"Well, I'll just go to the end of the garden, for one moment—run and fetch that silk shawl out of my wardrobe—be quick, while it's light."
I ran and brought the wrap. She arranged it carefully over her head.
We went out, down the garden path. Lettie held her skirts carefully gathered from the ground. A nightingale began to sing in the ; we stepped along in silence as far as the rhododendron bushes, now in bud.
"I cannot go into the wood," she said.
"Come to the top of the riding"—and we went round the dark bushes.
George was waiting. I saw at once he was half distrustful of himself now. Lettie dropped her skirts and trailed towards him. He stood awkwardly awaiting her, conscious of the clownishness of his appearance. She held out her hand with something of a grand air:
"See," she said, "I have come."
"Yes—I thought you wouldn't—perhaps"—he looked at her, and suddenly gained courage: "You have been putting white on—you, you do look nice—though not like——"
"What?—Who else?"
"Nobody else—only I—well I'd—I'd thought about it different—like some pictures."
She smiled with a gentle radiance, and asked indulgently, "And how was I different?"
"Not all that soft stuff—plainer."
"But don't I look very nice with all this soft stuff, as you call it?"—and she shook the silk away from her smiles.
"Oh, yes—better than those naked lines."
"You are to-night—what did you want me for—to say good-bye?"
"Yes—you're going away, Cyril tells me. I'm very sorry—fancy strangers at the Mill! But then I shall be gone away soon, too. We are all going you see, now we've grown up,"—she kept hold of my arm. "Yes."
"And where will you go—Canada? You'll settle there and be quite a patriarch, won't you?"
"I don't know."
"You are not really sorry to go, are you?"
"No, I'm glad."
"Glad to go away from us all."
"I suppose so—since I must."
"Ah, Fate—Fate! It separates you whether you want it or not."
"Why, you see, you have to leave. I mustn't stay out here—it is growing . How soon are you going?"
"I don't know."
"Not soon then?"
"I don't know."
"Then I may see you again?"
"I don't know."
"Oh, yes, I shall. Well, I must go. Shall I say good-bye now?—that was what you wanted, was it not?"
"To say good-bye?"
"No—it wasn't—I wanted, I wanted to ask you——"
"What?" she cried.
"You don't know, Lettie, now the old life's gone, everything—how I want you—to set out with—it's like beginning life, and I want you."
"But what could I do—I could only hinder—what help should I be?"
"I should feel as if my mind was made up—as if I could do something clearly. Now it's all hazy—not knowing what to do next."
"And if—if you had—what then?"
"If I had you I could go straight on."
"Oh—I should take a farm in Canada——"
"Well, wouldn't it be better to get it first and make sure——?"
"I have no money."
"Oh!—so you wanted me——?"
"I only wanted you, I only wanted you. I would have given you——"
"You'd have me—you'd have all me, and everything you wanted."
"That I paid for—a good bargain! No, oh no, George, I beg your pardon. This is one of my flippant nights. I don't mean it like that. But you know it's impossible—look how I'm fixed—it is impossible, isn't it now."
"I suppose it is."
"You know it is—Look at me now, and say if it's not impossible—a farmer's wife—with you in Canada."
"Yes—I didn't expect you like that. Yes, I see it is impossible. But I'd thought about it, and felt as if I must have you. Should have you . . . Yes, it doesn't do to go on dreaming. I think it's the first time, and it'll be the last. Yes, it is impossible. Now I have made up my mind."
"And what will you do?"
"I shall not go to Canada."
"Oh, you must not—you must not do anything rash."
"No—I shall get married."
"You will? Oh, I am glad. I thought—you—you were too fond—. But you're not—of yourself I meant. I am so glad. Yes—do marry!"
"Well, I shall—since you are——"
"Yes," said Lettie. "It is best. But I thought that you——" she smiled at him in sad reproach.
"Did you think so?" he replied, smiling gravely.
"Yes," she whispered. They stood looking at one another.
He made an movement towards her. She, however, drew back slightly, checking him.
"Well—I shall see you again sometime—so good-bye," he said, putting out his hand.
We heard a foot on the . Leslie halted at the top of the riding. Lettie, hearing him, relaxed into a kind of graciousness, and said to George:
"I am so sorry you are going to leave—it breaks the old life up. You said I would see you again——" She left her hand in his a moment or two.
"Yes," George replied. "Good-night"—and he turned away. She stood for a moment in the same , attitude watching him, t............
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