The Literary Sense

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The Literary Sense

"I want to speak to you," said he.

"I'm rather late," she said, as usual; "couldn't you write?"

"No," he said, "I can't write this. Sit down a moment in the porch."

She loved the masterfulness of his tone. He stood before her.

"I want you to forgive me for speaking to you as I did – once. I'm afraid you're afraid that I shall behave like that again. You needn't be."

"Score number one," she said to herself. Aloud she said —

"I am not afraid," and she said it sweetly, seriously.

"I was wrong," he went on eagerly. "I was terribly wrong. I see it quite plainly now. You do forgive me – don't you?"

"Yes," said she soberly, and sighed.

There was a little silence. Her serious eyes watched the way of the wind dimpling the tall, feathery grass that grew above the graves.

"Are you unhappy?" he asked; "you never smile now."

"I am too busy to smile, I suppose!" she said, and smiled the beautiful, humble, appealing smile he had so longed to see again, though he had not known the longing by its right name.

"Can't we be friends?" he ventured. "You – I am afraid you can never trust me again."

"Yes, I can," she said. "It was very bitter at the time, but I thought it was so brave of you – and kind, too – to care what became of me. If you remember, I did want to trust you, even on that dreadful day, but you wouldn't let me."

"I was a brute," he said remorsefully.

"I do want to tell you one thing. Even if that boy had been holding my hand I should have thought I had a right to let him, if I liked – just as much as though I were a girl, or a widow."

"I don't understand. But tell me – please tell me anything you will tell me." His tone was very humble.

"My husband was a beast," she said calmly. "He betrayed me, he beat me, he had every vile quality a man can have. No, I'll be just to him: he was always good tempered when he was drunk. But when he was sober he used to beat me and pinch me – "

"But – but you could have got a separation, a divorce," he gasped.

"A separation wouldn't have freed me – really. And the Church doesn't believe in divorce," she said demurely. "I did, however, and I left him, and instructed a solicitor. But the brute went mad before I could get free from him; and now, I suppose, I'm tied for life to a mad dog."

"Good God!" said the Reverend Christopher.

"I thought it all out – oh, many, many nights! – and I made up my mind that I would go out and enjoy myself. I never had a good time when I was a girl. And another thing I decided – quite definitely – that if ever I fell in love I would – I should have the right to – I mean that I wouldn't let a horrible, degraded brute of a lunatic stand between me and the man I loved. And I was quite sure that I was right."

"And do you still think this?" he asked in a low voice.

"Ah," she said, "you've changed everything! I don't think the same about anything as I used to do. I think those two years with him must have made me nearly as mad as he is. And then I was so young! I am only twenty-three now, you know – and it did seem hard never to have had any fun. I did want so much to be happy."

She had not intended to speak like this, but even as she spoke she saw that this truth-telling far outshone the lamp of lies she had trimmed ready.

"You will be happy," he said; "there are better things in the world than – "

"Yes," she said; "oh, yes!"

Betty did nothing by halves. She had kept a barrier between her and him till she had excited him to break it down. The barrier once broken, she let it lie where he had thrown it, and became, all at once, in the most natural, matter-of-fact, guileless way, his friend.

She consulted him about everything. Let him call when he would, she always received him. She surrounded him with the dainty feminine spider webs from which his life, almost monastic till now, had been quite free. She imported a knitting aunt, so that he should not take fright at long tête-à-têtes. The knitting aunt was deafish and blindish, and did not walk much in the rose garden. Betty knew a good deal about roses, and she taught the Reverend Christopher all she knew. She knew a little of the hearts of men, and she gently pushed him on the road to forgiveness from that half of the parish whom his first enthusiastic denunciations had offended. She rounded his angles. She turned a wayward ascetic into a fairly good parish priest. And he talked to her of ideals and honour and the service of God and the work of the world. And she listened, and her beauty spoke to him so softly that he did not know that he heard.

One day after long silence she turned quickly and met his eyes. After that she ceased to spin webs, for she saw. Yet she was as blind as he, though she did not know it any more than he did.

At last he saw, in his turn, and the flash of the illumination nearly blinded him.

It was late evening: Betty was nailing up a trailing rose, and he was standing by the ladder holding the nails and the snippets of scarlet cloth. The ladder slipped, and he caught her in his arms. As soon as she had assured him that she was not hurt, he said good night and left her.

Betty went indoors and cried. "What a pity!" she said. "Oh, what a pity! Now he'll be frightened, and it's all over. He'll never come again."

But the next evening he came, and when they had walked through the rose garden and had come to the sun-dial he stopped and spoke —

"I've been thinking of nothing else since I saw you. When I caught you last night. Forgive me if I'm a fool – but when I held you – don't be angry – but it seemed to me that you loved me – "

"Nothing of the sort," said Betty very angrily.

"Then I must be mad," he said; "the way you caught my neck with your arm, and your face was against mine, and your hair crushed up against my ear. Oh, Betty, if you don't love me, what shall I do? For I can't live without you."

Betty had won.

"But – even if I had loved you – I'm married," she urged softly.

"Yes – do you suppose I've forgotten that? But you remember what you said – about being really free, and not being bound to that beast. I see that you were right – right, right. It's the rest of the world that's wrong. Oh, my dear – I can't live without you. Couldn't you love me? Let's go away – right away together. No one will love you as I do. No one knows you as I do – how good and strong and brave and unselfish you are. Oh, try to love me a little!"

Betty had leaned her elbows on the sun-dial, and her chin on her hands.

"But you used to think …" she began.

"Ah – but I know better now. You've taught me everything. Only I never knew it till last night when I touched you. It was like a spark to a bonfire that I've been piling up ever since I've known you. You've taught me what life is, and love. Love can't be wrong. It's only wrong when it's stealing. We shouldn't be robbing anybody. We should both work better – happiness makes people work – I see that now. I should have to give up parish work – but there's plenty of good work wants doing. Why, I've nearly finished that book of mine. I've worked at it night after night – with the thought of you hidden behind the work. If you were my wife, what work I could do! Oh, Betty, if you only loved me!"

She lifted her face and looked at him gravely. He flung his arm round her shoulders and turned her face up to his. She was passive to his kisses. At last she kissed him, once, and drew herself from his arms.

"Come," she said.

She led him to the garden seat in the nut-avenue.

"Now," she said, when he had taken his place beside her, "I'm going to tell you the whole truth. I was very angry with you when you came to me that first day. You were quite right. That boy had been holding my hand: what's more, he had been kissing it. It amused me, and if it hurt him I didn't care. Then you came. And you said things. And then you said you weren't afraid of me or my weapons. It was a challenge. And I determined to make you love me. It was all planned, the helping in your work – and keeping out of your way at first was to make you wish to see me. And, you see, I succeeded. You did love me."

"I do," he said. He caught her hand and held it fiercely. "I deserved it all. I was a brute to you."

"I meant you to love me – and you did love me. I lied to you in almost everything – at first."

"About that man – was that a lie?" he asked fiercely.

"No," she laughed drearily. "That was true enough. You see, it was more effective than any lie I could have invented. No lie could have added a single horror to that story! And so I've won – as I swore I would!"

"Is that all," he said, "all the truth?"

"It's all there's any need for," she said.

"I want it all. I want to know where I am – whether I really was mad last night. Betty – in spite of all your truth I can't believe one thing. I can't believe that you don't love me."

"Man's vanity," she began, with a flippant laugh.

"Don't!" he said harshly. "How dare you try to play with me? Man's vanity! But it's your honour! I know you love me. If you didn't you would be – "

"How do you know I'm not?"

"Silence," he said. "If you can't speak the truth hold your tongue and let me speak it. I love you – and you love me – and we are going to be happy."

"I will speak the truth," said Betty, giving him her other hand. "You love me – and I love you, and we are going to be miserable. Yes – I will speak. Dear, I can't do it. Not even for you. I used to think I thought I could. I was bitter. I think I wanted to be revenged on life and God and everything. I thought I didn't believe in God, but I wanted to spite Him all the same. But when you came – after that day in the porch – when you came and talked to me about all the good and beautiful things – why, then I knew that I really did believe in them, and I began to love you because you had believed them all the time, and because… And I didn't try to make you love me – after that day in the porch – at least, not very much – oh, I do want to speak the truth! I used to try so not to try. I – I did want you to love me, though; I didn't want you to love anyone else. I wanted you to love me just enough to make you happy, and not enough to make you miserable. And so long as you didn't know you loved me it was all right: and when you caught me last night I knew that you would know, and it would be all over. You made up your mind to teach me that there are better things in the world than love – truth and honour and – and – things like that. And you've taught it me. It was a duel, and you've won."

 

"And you meant to teach me that love is stronger than anything in the world. And you have won too."

"Yes," she said, "we've both won. That's the worst of it – or the best."

"What is to become of us?" he said. "Oh, my dear – what are we to do? Do you forgive me? If you are right, I must be wrong – but I can't see anything now except that I want you so."

"I'm glad you loved me enough to be silly," she said; "but, oh, my dear, how glad I am that I love you too much to let you."

"But what are we to do?"

"Do? Nothing. Don't you see we've taught each other everything we know. We've given each other everything we can give. Isn't it good to love like this – even if this has to be all?"

"It's all very difficult," he said; "but everything shall be as you choose, only somehow I think it's worse for me than for you. I loved you before – and now I adore you. I seem to have made a saint of you – but you've made me a man."

One wishes with all one's heart that that lunatic would die. The situation is, one would say – impossible. Yet the lovers do not find it so. They work together, and parish scandal has almost ceased to patter about their names. There is a subtle pleasure for both in the ceremonious courtesy with which ever since that day they treat each other. It contrasts so splendidly with the living flame upon each heart-altar. So far the mutual passion has improved the character of each. All the same, one wishes that the lunatic would die – for she is not so much of a saint as he thinks her, and he is more of a man than she knows.

CINDERELLA

"HOOTS!" said the gardener, "there's nae sense in't. The suppression o' the truth's bad as a lee. Indeed, I doot mair hae been damned for t'ane than t'ither."

"Law! Mr. Murchison, you do use language, I'm sure!" tittered the parlourmaid.

"I say nae mair than the truth," he answered, cutting bloom after bloom quickly yet tenderly. "To bring hame a new mistress to the hoose and never to tell your bairn a word aboot the matter till all's made fast – it's a thing he'll hae to answer for to his Maker, I'm thinking. Here's the flowers, wumman; carry them canny. I'll send the lad up wi' the lave o' the flowers an' a bit green stuff in a wee meenit. And mind you your flaunting streamers agin the pots."

The parlourmaid gathered her skirts closely, and delicately tip-toed to the door of the hothouse. Here she took the basket of bright beauty from his hand and walked away across the green blaze of the lawn.

Mr. Murchison grunted relief. He was not fond of parlourmaids, no matter how pretty and streamered.

He left the hot, sweet air of the big hothouse and threaded his way among the glittering glasshouses to the potting-shed. At its door a sound caught his ear.

"Hoots!" he said again, but this time with a gentle, anxious intonation.

"Eh! ma lammie," said he, stepping quickly forward, "what deevilment hae ye been after the noo, and wha is't's been catching ye at it?"

The "lammie" crept out from under the potting-shelf; a pair of small arms went round Murchison's legs, and a little face, round and red and very dirty, was lifted towards his. He raised the child in his arms and set her on the shelf, so that she could lean her flushed face on his shirt-front.

"Toots, toots!" said he, "noo tell me – "

"It isn't true, is it?" said the child.

"Hoots!" said Murchison for the third time, but he said it under his breath. Aloud he said —

"Tell old Murchison a' aboot it, Miss Charling, dearie."

"It was when I wanted some more of the strawberries," she began, with another sob, "and the new cook said not, and I was a greedy little pig: and I said I'd rather be a greedy little pig than a spiteful old cat!" The tears broke out afresh.

"And you eight past! Ye should hae mair sense at siccan age than to ca' names." The head gardener spoke reprovingly, but he stroked her rough hair.

"I didn't – not one single name – not even when she said I was enough to make a cat laugh, even an old one – and she wondered any good servant ever stayed a week in the place."

"And what was ye sayin'?"

"I said, 'Guid ye may be, but ye're no bonny' – I've heard you say that, Murchison, so I know it wasn't wrong, and then she said I was a minx, and other things, and I wanted keeping in order, and it was a very good thing I had a new mamma coming home to-day, to keep me under a bit, and a lot more – and – and things about my own, own mother, and that father wouldn't love me any more. But it's not true, is it? Oh! it isn't true? She only just said it?"

"Ma lammie," said he gravely, kissing the top of the head nestled against him, "it's true that yer guid feyther, wha' never crossed ye except for yer ain sake syne the day ye were born, is bringing hame a guid wife the day, but ye mun be a wumman and no cry oot afore ye're hurted. I'll be bound it's a kind, genteel lady he's got, that'll love ye, and mak' much o' ye, and teach ye to sew fine – aye, an' play at the piano as like's no."

The child's mouth tightened resentfully, but Murchison did not see it.

"Noo, ye'll jest be a douce lassie," he went on, "and say me fair that ye'll never gie an unkind word tae yer feyther's new lady. Noo, promise me that, an' fine I ken ye'll keep tae it."

"No, I won't say anything unkind to her," she answered, and Murchison hugged himself on a victory, for a promise was sacred to Charling. He did not notice the child's voice as she gave it.

When the tears were quite dried he gave her a white geranium to plant in her own garden, and went back to his work.

Charling took the geranium with pretty thanks and kisses, but she felt it a burden, none the less. For her mind was quite made up. When she had promised never to say anything unkind to her "father's new lady," she meant to keep the promise – by never speaking to her or seeing her at all. She meant to run away. How could she bear to be "kept under" by this strange lady, who would come and sit in her own mother's place, and wear her own mother's clothes, and no doubt presently burn her own mother's picture, and make Charling wash the dishes and sweep the kitchen like poor dear Cinderella in the story? True, Cinderella's misfortunes ended in marriage with a prince, but then Charling did not want to be married, and she had but little faith in princes, and, besides, she had no fairy godmother. Her godmother was dead, her own, own mother was dead, and only father was left; and now he had done this thing, and he would not want his Charling any more.

So Charling went indoors and washed her face and hands and smoothed her hair, which never would be smoothed, put a few treasures in her pocket – all her money, some coloured chalks, a stone with crystal inside that showed where it was broken, and went quietly out at the lodge gate, carrying the white geranium in her arms, because when you are running away you cannot possibly leave behind you the last gift of somebody who loves you. But the geranium in its pot was very heavy – and it seemed to get heavier and heavier as she walked along the dry, dusty road, so that presently Charling turned through the swing gate into the field-way, for the sake of the shadow of the hedge; and the field-way led past the church, and when she reached the low, mossy wall of the churchyard, she set the pot on it and rested. Then she said —

"I think I will leave it with mother to take care of." So she took the pot in her hands again and carried it to her mother's grave. Of course, they had told Charling that her mother was an angel now and was not in the churchyard at all, but in heaven; only heaven was a very long way off, and Charling preferred to think that mother was only asleep under the green counterpane with the daisies on it. There had been a green coverlet to the bed in mother's room, only it had white lilac on it, and not daisies. So Charling set down the pot, and she knelt down beside it, and wrote on it with a piece of blue chalk from her pocket: "From Charling to mother to take care of." Then she cried a little bit more, because she was so sorry for herself; and then she smelt the thyme and wondered why the bees liked it better than white geraniums; and then she felt that she was very like a little girl in a book, and so she forgot to cry, and told herself that she was the third sister going out to seek her fortune.

After that it was easy to go on, especially when she had put the crystal stone, which hung heavy and bumpy in the pocket, beside the geranium pot. Then she kissed the tombstone where it said, "Helen, beloved wife of – " and went away among the green graves in the sunshine.

Mother had died when she was only five, so that she could not remember her very well; but all these three years she had loved and thought of a kind, beautiful Something that was never tired and never cross, and always ready to kiss and love and forgive little girls, however naughty they were, and she called this something "mother" in her heart, and it was for this something that she left her kisses on the gravestone. And the gravestone was warm to her lips as she kissed it.

It was on a wide, furze-covered down, across which a white road wound like a twisted ribbon, that Charling's courage began to fail her. The white road looked so very long; there were no houses anywhere, and no trees, only far away across the down she saw the round tops of some big elms. "They look like cabbages," she said to herself.

She had walked quite a long way, and she was very tired. Her dinner of sweets and stale cakes from the greeny-glass bottles in the window of a village shop had not been so nice as she expected; the woman at the shop had been cross because Charling had no pennies, only the five-shilling piece father had given her when he went away, and the woman had no change. And she had scolded so that Charling had grown frightened and had run away, leaving the big, round piece of silver on the dirty little counter. This was about the time when she was missed at home, and the servants began to search for her, running to and fro like ants whose nest is turned up by the spade.

A big furze bush cast a ragged square yard of alluring shade on the common. Charling flung herself down on the turf in the shadow. "I wonder what they are doing at home?" she said to herself after a while. "I don't suppose they've even missed me. They think of nothing but making the place all flowery for her to see. Nobody wants me – "

At home they were dragging the ornamental water in the park; old Murchison directing the operation with tears running slow and unregarded down his face.

Charling lay and looked at the white road. Somebody must go along it presently. Roads were made for people to go along. Then when any people came by she would speak to them, and they would help her and tell her what to do. "I wonder what a girl ought to do when she runs away from home?" said Charling to herself. "Boys go to sea, of course; but I don't suppose a pirate would care about engaging a cabin-girl – " She fell a-musing, however, on the probable woes of possible cabin-girls, and their chances of becoming admirals, as cabin-boys always did in the stories; and so deep were her musings that she positively jumped when a boy, passing along the road, began suddenly to whistle. It was the air of a comic song, in a minor key, and its inflections were those of a funeral march. It went to Charling's heart. Now she knew, as she had never known before, how lonely and miserable she was.

She scrambled to her feet and called out, "Hi! you boy!"

The boy also jumped. But he stopped and said, "Well?" though in a tone that promised little.

"Come here," said Charling. "At least, of course, I mean come, if you please."

The boy shrugged his shoulders and came towards her.

 

"Well?" he said again, very grumpily, Charling thought; so she said, "Don't be cross. I wish you'd talk to me a little, if you are not too busy. If you please, I mean, of course."

She said it with her best company manner, and the boy laughed, not unkindly, but still in a grudging way. Then he threw himself down on the turf and began pulling bits of it up by the roots. "Go ahead!" said he.

But Charling could not go ahead. She looked at his handsome, sulky face, his knitted brow, twisted into fretful lines, and the cloud behind his blue eyes frightened her.

"Oh! go away!" she said. "I don't want you! Go away; you're very unkind!"

The boy seemed to shake himself awake at the sight of the tears that rushed to follow her words.

"I say, don't-you-know, I say;" but Charling had flung herself face down on the turf and took no notice.

"I say, look here," he said; "I am not unkind, really. I was in an awful wax about something else, and I didn't understand. Oh! drop it. I say, look here, what's the matter? I'm not such a bad sort, really. Come, kiddie, what's the row?"

He dragged himself on knees and elbows to her side and began to pat her on the back, with some energy: "There, there," he said; "don't cry, there's a dear. Here, I've got a handkerchief, as it happens," for Charling was feeling blindly and vainly among the coloured chalks. He thrust the dingy handkerchief into her hands, and she dried her eyes, still sobbing.

"That's the style," said he. "Look here, we're like people in a book. Two travellers in misfortune meet upon a wild moor and exchange narratives. Come, tell me what's up?"

"You tell first," said Charling, rubbing her eyes very hard; "but swear eternal friendship before you begin, then we can't tell each other's secrets to the enemy."

He looked at her with a nascent approval. She understood how to play, then, this forlorn child in the torn white frock.

He took her hand and said solemnly —

"I swear."

"Your name," she interrupted. "I, N or M, swear, you know."

"Oh, yes. Well, I, Harry Basingstoke, swear to you – "

"Charling," she interpolated; "the other names don't matter. I've got six of them."

"That we will support – no, maintain – eternal friendship."

"And I, Charling, swear the same to you, Harry."

"Why do they call you Charling?"

"Oh! because my name's Charlotte, and mother used to sing a song about Charlie being her darling, and I was her darling, only I couldn't speak properly then; and I got it mixed up into Charling, father says. But let's go on. Tell me your sad history, poor fellow-wanderer."

"My father was a king," said Harry gravely; but Charling turned such sad eyes on him that he stopped.

"Won't you tell me the real true truth?" she said. "I will you."

"Well," said he, "the real true truth is, Charling, I've run away from home, and I'm going to sea."

Charling clapped her hands. "Oh! so have I! So am I! Let me come with you. Would they take a cabin-girl on the ship where you're going to, do you think? And why did you run away? Did they beat you and starve you at home? Or have you a cruel stepmother, or stepfather, or something?"

"No," said he grimly; "I haven't any step-relations, and I'm jolly well not going to have any, either. I ran away because I didn't choose to have a strange chap set over me, and that's all I am going to tell you. But about you? How far have you come to-day?"

"About ninety miles, I should think," said Charling; "at least, my legs feel exactly like that."

"And what made you do such a silly thing?" he said, smiling at her, and she thought his blue eyes looked quite different now, so that she did not mind his calling her silly. "You know, it's no good girls running away; they always get caught, and then they put them into convents or something."

She slipped her hand confidingly under his arm, and put her head against the sleeve of his Norfolk jacket.

"Not girls with eternal friends, they don't," she said. "You'll take care of me now? You won't let them catch me?"

"Tell me why you did it, then."

Charling told him at some length.

"And father never told me a word about it," she ended; "and I wasn't going to stay to be made to wash the dishes and things, like Cinderella. I wouldn't stand that, not if I had to run away every day for a year. Besides, nobody wants me; nobody will miss me."

This was about the time when they found the white geranium in the churchyard, and began to send grooms about the country on horses. And Murchison was striding about the lanes gnawing his grizzled beard and calling on his God to take him, too, if harm had come to the child.

"But perhaps the stepmother would be nice," the boy said.

"Not she. Stepmothers never are. I know just what she'll be like – a horrid old hag with red hair and a hump!"

"Then you've not seen her?"

"No."

"You might have waited till you had."

"It would have been too late then," said Charling tragically.

"But your father wouldn't have let you be treated unkindly, silly."

"Fathers generally die when the stepmother comes; or else they can't help themselves. You know that as well as I do."

"I suppose your father is a good sort?"

"He's the best man there is," said Charling indignantly, "and the kindest and bravest, and cleverest and amusingest, and he can sit any horse like wax; and he can fence with real swords, and sing all the songs in all the world. There!"

Harry was silent, racking his brain for arguments.

"Look here, kiddie," he said slowly, "if your father's such a good sort, he'd have more sense than to choose a stepmother who wasn't nice. He's a much finer chap than the fathers in fairy tales. You never read of them being able to do all the things your father can do."

"No," said Charling, "that's true."

"He's sure to have chosen someone quite jolly, really," Harry went on, more confidently.

Charling looked up suddenly. "Who was it chose the chap that you weren't going to stand having set over you?" she said.

The boy bit his lip.

"I swore eternal friendship, so I can never tell your secrets, you know," said Charling softly, "and I've told you every single thing."

"Well, it's my sister, then," said he abruptly, "and she's married a chap I've never seen – and I'm to go and live with them, if you please; and she told me once she was never going to marry, and it was always going to be just us two; and now she's found this fellow she knew when she was a little girl, and he was a boy – as it might be us, you know – and she's forgotten all about what she said, and married him. And I wasn't even asked to the beastly wedding because they wanted to be married quietly; and they came home from their hateful honeymoon this evening, and the holidays begin to-day, and I was to go to this new chap's house to spend them. And I only got her letter this morning, and I just took my journey money and ran away. My boxes were sent on straight from school, though – so I've got no clothes but these. I'm just going to look at the place where she's to live, and then I'm off to sea."

"Why didn't she tell you before?"

"She says she meant it to be a pleasant surprise, because we've been rather hard up since my father died, and this chap's got horses and everything, and she says he's going to adopt me. As if I wanted to be adopted by any old stuck-up money-grubber!"

"But you haven't seen him," said Charling gently. "If I'm silly, you are too, aren't you?"

She hid her face on her sleeve to avoid seeing the effect of this daring shot. Only silence answered her.

Presently Harry said —

"Now, kiddie, let me take you home, will you? Give the stepmother a fair show, anyhow."

Charling reflected. She was very tired. She stroked Harry's hand absently, and after a while said —

"I will if you will."

"Will what?"

"Go back and give your chap a fair show."

And now the boy reflected.

"Done," he said suddenly. "After all, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Come on."

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