Through the Postern Gate: A Romance in Seven Daysскачать книгу бесплатно
"Oh, I cannot bear it! I cannot bear it! Boy dear, oh, Boy dear, you shall have all you wish – all – all! … Do you hear, my Little Boy Blue? It shall all be for you, darling; all for you! Nobody else matters. You shall have all you want – all – all – all!"
Silence under the mulberry-tree; the silence of a great decision.
Then he drew himself gently but firmly from her arms.
He stood before her, tall, erect, unbending. The moonlight fell upon his face. It had lost its look of youth, taking on a new power. It was the face of a man; and of a man who, having come to a decision, intended, at all costs, to abide by it.
"No, Christobel," he said. "No, my Belov?d. I could not accept happiness – even such happiness – at so great a cost to you. There could be no bliss for you, no peace, no satisfaction, even in our great love, if you had gone against your supreme sense of duty; your own high conception of right and wrong. Also, Christobel, dearest – you must not give yourself in a rush of emotion. You must give yourself deliberately where your mind has chosen, and where your great soul is content. That being so, I must be off, Christobel; and don't you worry about me. You've been heavenly good to me, dear; and I've put you through so much. I will go up to town to-night. I shall not come back, unless you send for me. But when you want me and send – why, my Love, I will come from the other end of the world."
He stooped and took both her hands in his; lifted them reverently, tenderly, to his lips; held them there one moment, then laid them back upon her lap, and turned away.
She saw him walk down the moonlit lawn, tall and erect. She saw him pass through the gate, without looking back. She heard it close quietly – not with the old boyish bang – yet close irrevocably, decisively.
Then she shut her eyes, and began again to rock gently to and fro. Little Boy Blue was still in her arms; it comforted her to rock him there. But the man who had arisen and left her, when he might, taking advantage of her weakness, have won her against her own conscience and will; the man who, mastering his own agony, had thus been brave and strong for her – had carried her whole heart with him, when he went out through the postern gate.
In rising, he left the Boy in her arms. Through the long hard years to come, she prayed she might keep him there – her own Little Boy Blue.
But he who went out alone, for her sake to face life without her, was the man she loved.
She knew it, at last.
"And the evening and the morning were the fifth day."
THE SIXTH DAY
MISS ANN HAS "MUCH TO SAY"
On the afternoon of the sixth day, at the hour which had hitherto been kept for the Boy, Christobel Charteris, in response to another urgent and immediate summons, went to take tea with Miss Ann.
It had been a long, dull, uneventful day, holding at first a certain amount of restless uncertainty as to whether the Boy was really gone; mingled with apprehensive anticipation of a call from the Professor.
But before noon a reply-paid telegram arrived from the Boy, sent off at Charing Cross.
"Good morning.All's well. Just off for Folkestone. Please tell me how you are."
To which, while Jenkins and the telegraph-boy waited, Miss Charteris replied:
"Quite well, thank you. Do be careful at Folkestone."
and afterwards thought of many other messages which she might have sent, holding more, and better expressed. But that precious moment in touch with the Boy passed so quickly; and it seemed so impossible to think of anything but commonplace words, while Jenkins stood at attention near the table; and the telegraph-boy kept ringing his bicycle-bell outside, as a reminder that he waited.
Yet her heart felt warmed and comforted by this momentary contact with the Boy. He still cared to know how she was. And it was so like him to put: "All's well." He wished her to know he had not gone down beneath his trouble. "Fanks, but I always does my own cawwying." Brave Little Boy Blue, of long ago!
The expectation of the Professor's note or call remained, keeping her anxious; until she heard from Ann Harvey, that her brother had been obliged to go to London on business, and would not return until the evening. "Come to tea with me, dear child," the note concluded; "we have much to say!"
It seemed to Christobel that there remained nothing which Miss Ann had not already said, in every possible form and way. Nevertheless, she put on her hat, and went. Miss Ann had succeeded in impressing all her friends with the conviction that her wishes must never be thwarted.
Miss Ann had named her villa "Shiloh," undoubtedly a suitable name, so far as she herself was concerned; her time being mostly spent upon a comfortable sofa in her tiny drawing-room; or reclining on a wicker lounge beneath the one tree in her small garden; or being carefully wheeled out in a bath-chair.
But nobody else found Miss Ann's villa in any sense a "resting-place." She had a way of keeping everybody about her – from jaded Emma to the most casual caller – on the move, while she herself presented a delicate picture of frail inactivity. Immediately upon their arrival, her friends found an appointed task awaiting them; but it was always something which Miss Ann would have given to somebody else to do, had they not chanced at that moment to appear; and they were usually left with the feeling that the particular somebody else – whose privilege they, in their well-meant zeal, had usurped – would have accomplished it better.
Directing them from the sofa, Miss Ann kept her entourage busy and perpetually on the move. Yet she never felt she was asking much of them; nor, however weary at the conclusion of the task, did they ever feel much had been accomplished, owing to the judicious use of the word "just."
"My dear," Miss Ann would say, "as you are here, will you just clean the canary?" Cleaning the canary meant a very thorough turning out of an intricate little brass cage; several journeys up and down stairs in quest of sand, seed, and brass polish, and an out-door excursion to a neighbour's garden for groundsel. The canary's name was "Sweetie-weet," and, however much annoyed Miss Ann's friends might be feeling with the canary, they had to call him "Sweetie-weet" all the time they "cleaned him," lest his flutterings should upset Miss Ann. Now you cannot say "Sweetie-weet" in an angry voice. Try, and you will see. Consequently Miss Ann's friends had no vent for their feelings during the process of getting a rather large hand in and out of a very small brass door with a spring, which always snapped to, at the wrong moment, while the hand, which seemed to its possessor larger than it had ever seemed before, was crooked round in an impossible position in a strained attempt to fix Sweetie-weet's perches. If anything went wrong during the cleaning process, Miss Ann, from her vantage-ground on the sofa would sigh, and exclaim: "Poor patient little Sweetie-weet!" Miss Ann was in full possession of all her faculties. Her hearing was preternaturally sharp. It was no use saying "Fiend!" to Sweetie-weet, in an emphatic whisper. He fluttered the more.
When the task was completed, the cage had to be brought to Miss Ann's couch for inspection. She then usually discovered the perches to have been put back before they were perfectly dry. Now nothing– as surely you hardly ought to require to be told – was so prejudicial to Sweetie-weet's delicate constitution as to have damp wood beneath his precious little feet. Consequently all the perches had just to be taken out again, dried before the kitchen fire, and put back once more. When this mandate went forth, the glee in the bright black eyes in Sweetie-weet's yellow head was unmistakable. He shared Miss Ann's mania for keeping people busy.
When, at last, the second installation of perches was over, and the cage was suspended from the brass chain in the sunny window, Sweetie-weet poured forth a shrill crescendo of ear-piercing sarcasm – "a little song of praise" Miss Ann called it – directed full at the hot and exhausted friend, who was applying a pocket-handkerchief to the wire scratches on the back of her hand, and trying to smile at Miss Ann's recital of all Emma would say, when she found that her special privilege and delight – the cleaning of Sweetie-weet – had been wrested from her by the over-zealous friend. As a matter of fact, jaded Emma's personal remarks about Sweetie-weet, during the perch-drying process in the kitchen, had been of a nature which would not bear repeating in Sweetie-weet's presence, and had provided the only amusement the friend had got out of the whole performance.
When Christobel Charteris arrived at Shiloh, she found Miss Ann on the green velvet sofa, looking very frail and ethereal; a Shetland shawl about her shoulders, fastened by the largest and most mysterious of her hair-brooches – a gold-mounted oval brooch, in which a weeping willow of fair hair drooped over a sarcophagus of dark hair; while a crescent moon of grey hair kept watch over both. This funereal collection of family hair always possessed a weird fascination for small children, brought by their parents to call upon Miss Ann. The most undemonstrative became affectionate, and hastened with ready docility to the sofa to kiss Miss Ann, in order to obtain a closer view, and to settle the much disputed point as to the significance of a small round object in the left-hand corner at the bottom. In fact, to the undisguised dismay of his mother, a sturdy youngster once emerged from Miss Ann's embrace, exclaiming eagerly to his little sister: "It's a furze-bush, not a hedgehog!" An unfortunate remark, which might have been taken by Miss Ann to refer to even more personal matters than a detail in her brooch.
Christobel herself was not altogether free from the spell of this hirsute cemetery; chiefly because she knew it was worn on days when deep emotion was to be felt and expressed. At sight of it, she was quite prepared for the tearful smile with which Miss Ann signed to her to close the door. Then extending her arms, "Sweet sister," she said, with emotion, "let me take you to my heart."
It was somewhat startling to Christobel to be apostrophized as "sister" by Miss Ann. The Boy had made her feel so young, and so completely his contemporary, that if Miss Ann had called her "daughter," or even "granddaughter," it would have seemed more appropriate. Also her magnificent proportions constituted a somewhat large order for Miss Ann's proposed embrace.
However, she knelt beside the sofa, and allowed herself to be taken to Miss Ann's heart in sections. Then, having found and restored Miss Ann's lace pocket-handkerchief, she seated herself in a low chair beside the couch, hoping for enlightenment upon the immediate prospects of her own future.
Miss Ann wept gently for a while. Christobel sat silent. Her recent experience of tears, wrung from such deep anguish of soul, made it less easy for her to feel sympathetic towards tears which flowed from no apparent cause, and fell delicately into perfumed lace. So she waited in silence, while Miss Ann wept.
The room was very still. The bang with which the Boy usually made his entry anywhere, would have been terrific in its joyful suddenness. At the mere thought of it, Christobel's heart stood still and listened. But this was a place into which the Boy would never make an entry, noisy or otherwise. Besides – the Boy was gone. Oh, silent, sober, sorry world! The Boy was gone.
Sweetie-weet put his head on one side, and chirped interrogatively. In his judgment, the silence had lasted sufficiently long.
Miss Ann dried her eyes, making an effort to control her emotion. Then she spoke, in a voice which still trembled.
"Dearest child," she said, "I want you just to cover this book for me. Emma has offered to do it, several times, but I said: 'No, Emma. We must keep it for Miss Christobel. I do not know what she would say to you, if you took to covering my books!' Emma is a good soul, and willing; but has not the mind and method required to cover a book properly. If you will just run up to my room, dear child, you will find a neat piece of whity-brown paper laid aside on purpose… Hush, Sweetie-weet! Christobel knows you are pleased to see her… It is either on the ottoman behind the screen, or in the top left-hand drawer of the mahogany chest, between the window and the fireplace. Ah, how much we have come through, during the last twenty-four hours! The scissors, dear Love, are hanging by black tape from a nail in the store-room. You require a large and common pair for cutting brown paper. How truly wonderful are the ways of Providence, dear Christobel! The paste is in the little cupboard under the stairs."
When Miss Charteris had finished covering the book, having bent upon it all the mind and method it required, she forestalled the setting of another task, by saying firmly: "I want an important talk now, please. Ann, are you sure you told your brother that I had cared for him for years?"
"Darling, dear Kenrick was so diffident; so unable to realize his own powers of attraction; so – "
"Do you think it was fair toward a woman, even if it were true, to tell a man who had never asked her love, that that love has long been his?"
"Sweet child, how crudely you put it! I merely hinted, whispered; gave the most delicate indications of what I knew to be your feeling. For you do love my brother; do you not, dear Christobel?"
"I think," said Miss Charteris, slowly, weighing each word; "I think I love the Professor as a woman loves a book."
There was a moment of tense silence in Miss Ann's drawing-room. Christobel Charteris looked straight before her, a stern light upon her face, as of one confronted on the path of duty by the clear shining of the mirror of self-revelation.
Into Miss Ann's pale blue eyes shot a gleam of nervous anxiety.
Sweetie-weet chirped, interrogatively.
Then Miss Ann, recovering, clasped her hands. "Ah, what a beautiful definition!" she said. "What could be more pure, more perfect?"
Miss Charteris knew a love of a very different kind, which was absolutely pure, and altogether perfect. But that was the love she had put from her.
"A woman could hardly marry a book," she said.
Miss Ann gave a little deprecatory shriek. "Darling child!" she cried. "No simile, however beautiful, should be pressed too far! Your exquisite description of your love for dear Kenrick merely assures us that your union with him will prove one of complete contentment to the mind. And the mind– that sensitive instrument, attuned to all the immensities of the intellectual spheres – the mind is what really matters."
"Bodies count," said Miss Charteris, with conviction; adding beneath her breath, the dawning of a smile in her sad eyes: "We shall jolly well find, bodies count."
Miss Ann's hearing, as we have already remarked, was preternaturally sharp. She started. "My dear Christobel, what an expression! And do you not think, that, under these circumstances, any mention of bodies savours of impropriety?"
Miss Charteris turned quickly. The colour flamed into her beautiful face. The glint of angry indignation flashed from her eyes. But the elderly figure on the couch looked so small and frail. To wound and crush it would be so easy; and so unworthy of her strength, and wider experience.
Suddenly she remembered a little blue back, round with grief and shame; a small sandy face, silent and unflinching; a brave little heart which kept its faith in God, and prayed on trustfully, while nurses misunderstood and bullied. Then Miss Charteris conquered her own wrath.
"Dear Ann," she said, gently, "do you really believe your brother would be much disappointed if – after all – when he asks me to marry him – which he has not done yet – I feel it better not to do so?"
"My darling child!" exclaimed Miss Ann, and her hair-brooch flew open, as if to accentuate her horror and amazement. "My darling child! Think how patiently he has waited! Remember the long years! Remember – "
"Yes, I know," said Miss Charteris. "You told me all that last night, didn't you? But it seems to me that, if a man can wait twelve years, he might as well wait twenty."
"So he would have!" cried Miss Ann. "Undoubtedly dear Kenrick would have waited twenty years, had it not been for this fortunate legacy, which places him in a position to marry at once. But why should you wish to keep him waiting any longer? Is not twelve years sufficiently long?"
Miss Charteris smiled. "Twelve days would be too long for some people," she said, gently. "I have no wish to keep him waiting. But you must remember, Ann, the Professor has, as yet, spoken no word of love to me."
"Dear child," said Miss Ann, eagerly; "he would have come to you to-day, but imperative legal business, connected with our uncle's will, took him to town. I know for certain that he intends writing to you this evening; and, if you then give him leave to do so, he will call upon you to-morrow. Oh, darling girl, you will not disappoint us? We have so trusted you; so believed in you! A less scrupulously honourable man than Kenrick, might have tried to bind you by a promise, before he was in a position to offer you immediate marriage. Think of all the hopes – the hopes and p-plans, which depend upon your faithfulness!" Miss Ann dissolved into tears – but not to a degree which should hinder her flow of eloquence. "Ah, sweetest child! You knelt beside this very sofa, five years ago, and you said: 'Ann, I think any woman might be proud to become the wife of the Professor!' Have you forgotten that you said that, kneeling beside this very sofa?"
"I have not forgotten," said Miss Charteris; "and I think so still."
"Then you will marry Kenrick?" said Miss Ann, through her tears.
Christobel Charteris rose. She stood, for a moment, tall and immovable, in the small, low room, crowded with knick-knacks – china, bric-?-brac, ferns in painted pots, embroidery, photograph frames – overseated with easy chairs, which, in their turn, were overfilled with a varied assortment of cushions. Miss Ann's drawing-room gave the effect of a rather prettily arranged bazaar. You mentally pictured yourself walking round, admiring everything, but seeing nothing you liked quite well enough to wish to buy it, and take it home.
Christobel Charteris, tall and stately, in her simple white gown, looked so utterly apart from the trumpery elegance of these surroundings. As the Boy had said, the mellow beauty of his ancestral homes would indeed be a fit setting for her stately grace. But she had sent away the Boy, with his beautiful castles in the air, and places in the shires. The atmosphere and surroundings of Shiloh were those to which she must be willing to bend her fastidious taste. Miss Ann would expect to make her home with the Professor.
"Then you will marry Kenrick?" whispered Miss Ann, through her lace pocket-handkerchief.
Christobel bent over her, tenderly; fastening the clasp of the mysterious hair-brooch.
"Dear Ann," she said. "It will not be leap year again, until 1912. And, meanwhile, the Professor has not proposed marriage to me."
Miss Ann instantly brightened. Laughing gaily, she wiped away a few remaining tears.
"Ah, naughty!" she said. "Naughty, to make me tell! But as you will ask —he is going to write to-night. But you must never let him know I told you! And now I want you just to find the Spectator– it is laid over that exquisitely embroidered blotter on the writing-table in the window, sent me last Christmas by that kind creature, Lady Goldsmith; so thoughtful, tasteful, and quite touching; Emma, careful soul, spread it over the blotter, while darling Sweetie-weetie took his bath. Dear pet, it is a sight to see him splash and splutter. Lady Goldsmith thinks so much of dear Kenrick. The first time she saw him, she was immensely struck by his extraordinarily clever appearance. He sat exactly opposite her at a Guildhall banquet; and she told me afterwards that the mere sight of him was sufficient to take away all inclination for food; excepting for that intellectual nourishment which he is so well able to supply. I thought that was rather well expressed, and, coming from a florid woman, such as Lady Goldsmith, was quite a tribute to my brother. You would call Lady Goldsmith 'florid,' would you not, dear Christobel? … Oh, you do not know her by sight? I am surprised. As the wife of the Professor, you will soon know all these distinguished people by sight. Yes, she is undoubtedly florid; and inclined to be what my dear father used to call 'a woman of a stout habit.' This being the case, it was certainly a tribute– a tribute of which you and I, dearest child, have a right to feel justly proud… Oh, is it still damp? Naughty Sweetie-weet! Don't you think it might be wise, just to take it to the kitchen. Emma, good soul, will let you dry it before the fire. I have heard of fatalities caused by damp newspapers. Precious child, we can have you run no risks! What would Kenrick say? But when it is absolutely dry, I want you just to explain to me the gist of that article on the effect of oriental literature on modern thought. Kenrick tells me you have read it. He wishes to discuss it with me. I really cannot undertake to read it through. I have not the time required. Yet I must be prepared to talk it over intelligently with my brother, when next he pays me a visit. He may look in this evening, weary with his day in town, and requiring the relaxation of a little intellectual conversation. I must be ready."скачать книгу бесплатно
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