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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Front Yard By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 9495

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


In the meanwhile Pauline Graham had left Salerno behind her, and was flying over the plain with John Ash.

Pauline all her life had had a passion for riding at breakneck speed; one of the explanations of her fancy for Ash lay in the fact that, having the same passion himself, he enabled her to gratify her own. Whenever she had felt in the mood during the past five weeks there had always been a horse and a mounted escort at her door. Upon this occasion, after what they called an inspiring ride (to any one else a series of mad gallops), they had dismounted at a farm-house, and leaving their horses, had strolled down to the shore. It was a lovely day, towards the last of March; the sea, of the soft misty blue of the southern Mediterranean, stretched out before them without a sail; at their feet the same clear water laved the shore in long smooth wavelets, hardly a foot high, whose gentle roll upon the sands had an indescribably caressing sound. There was no one in sight. It is a lonely coast. Pauline stood, gazing absently over the blue.

"Sit down for a moment," suggested Ash.

"Not now."

"Not now? When do you expect to be here again?"

She came back to the present, laughing. "True; but I did not mean that; I meant that you were not the ideal companion for sea-side musing; you never meditate. I venture to say you have never quoted poetry in your life."

"No; I live my poetry," John Ash responded.

"But for a ride you are perfect; for a rush over the plain, in the teeth of the wind, I have never had any one approaching you. You are a cavalier of the gods."

"Have you had many?"

"Cavaliers?-plenty. Of the gods?-no."

"Plenty! I reckon you have," said Ash, half to himself.

"Would you wish me to have had few? You must remember that I have been in many countries and have seen many peoples. I shouldn't have appreciated you otherwise; I should have thought you dangerous-horrible! There is Isabella, who has not been in many countries; Isabella is sure that you are 'so dissipated.'"

"Dissipated!-mild term!"

"Then you acknowledge it?"

"Freely."

Pauline looked about for a rock of the right height, and finding one, seated herself, and began to draw off her gloves. "Some time-in some other existence-will you come and tell me how it has paid you, please? You are so preternaturally intelligent, and you have such a will of your own, that you cannot have fallen into it from stupidity, as so many do." Her gloves off, she began to tighten the braids of her hair, loosened by the gallop.

"It pays as it goes; it makes one forget for a moment the hideous tiresomeness of existence. But you put your question off to some other life; you have no intention, then, of redeeming me in this?"

"I shouldn't succeed. In the first place, I have no influence-"

"You know I am your slave," said Ash; his voice suddenly deepened.

"And how much of a slave shall you be to the next pretty peasant girl you meet?" Mrs. Graham demanded, turning towards him, both hands still occupied with her hair.

"I don't deny that. But it has nothing to do with the subject."

"In one way I know it has not," she answered, after she had fastened the last braid in its place with a long gold pin.

"How right I was to like you! You understand of yourself the thing that so few women can ever be brought to comprehend. Well, if you acknowledge that it makes no difference-I mean about the peasant girls-we're just where we were; I am your slave, yet you have no desire to reclaim me. I believe you like me better as I am," he added, abruptly.

"Do you want me to tell you that you are impertinent?" demanded Pauline, with her lovely smile, that always contradicted in its sweetness any apparent rebuke expressed by her words. "Do I know what you are in reality, or care to know? I know what you seem, and what you seem is admirable, perfect, for these rides of ours, the most enchanting rides I have ever had."

"And the rides are to be the end of it? You wouldn't care for me elsewhere?"

"Ah!" said Pauline, rising and drawing on her gloves, "you wouldn't care for me. In Paris I am altogether another person; I am not at all as you see me here. In Paris you would call me a doll. Come, don't dissect the happy present; enjoy it as I do. 'He only is rich who owns the day,' and we own this-for our ride."

"'YOU KNOW I AM YOUR SLAVE'"

"'I hear the hoofs upon the hill;

I hear them fainter, fainter still,'"

she sang in her clear voice. "The idea of that old Virginia song coming to me here!"

"This talk about reclaiming and reforming is all bosh," remarked Ash, leaning back against a high fragment of rock, with his hands in his pockets. "I am what I am because I choose to be, t

hat's all. The usual successes of American life, what are they? I no longer care a rap about them, because I've had them, or at least have seen them within my reach. I came up from nothing; I got an education-no matter now how I got it; I studied law. In ten years I had won such a position in my profession (my branch of it-I was never an office lawyer) that everything lay open before me. It was only a question of a certain number of years. Not only was this generally prophesied, but I knew it myself. But by that time I had found out the unutterable stupidity of people and their pursuits; I couldn't help despising them. I had made enough to make my mother comfortable, and there came over me a horror of a plodding life. I said to myself, 'What is the use of it?' Of pleasure there was no question. But I could go back to that plodding life to-morrow if I chose. Don't you believe it, Pauline?"

"Yes."

"Yet you don't say-try?"

"Try, by all means."

"At a safe distance from you!"

"Yes, at a safe distance from me," Pauline answered. "I should do you no good; I am not enough in earnest. I am never in earnest long about anything. I am changeable, too-you have no idea how changeable. There has been no opportunity to show you."

"Is that a threat? You know that I am deeply in love with you." He did not move as he said this, but his eyes were fixed passionately upon her face.

"I neither know it nor believe it; it is with you simply as it is with me-there is no one else here." She stood there watching the wavelets break at her feet. Nothing in her countenance corresponded in the least with the description she had just given of herself.

"How you say that! What am I to think of you? You have a face to worship: does it lie?" said Ash.

"Oh, my face!" She turned, and began to cross the field towards the farm.

"It shouldn't have that expression, then," he said, joining her, and walking by her side. "I don't believe you know what it is yourself, Pauline-that expression. It seems to say as you talk, coming straight from those divine lips, those sweet eyes: 'I could love you. Be good and I will.' Why, you have almost made me determine to be 'good' again, almost made me begin to dream of going back to that plodding life that I loathe. And you don't know what I am."

Mrs. Graham did not answer; she did not look up, though she knew that his head was bent beseechingly towards her.

John Ash was obliged to bend; he was very tall. His figure was rather thin, and he had a slouching gait; his broad shoulders and well-knit muscles showed that he had plenty of force, and his slouching step seemed to come from laziness, as though he found it too much trouble to plant his feet firmly, to carry his long length erect. He was holding his hat in his hand, and the light from the sea showed his face clearly, its good points and its bad. His head was well shaped, covered with thick brown hair, closely cut; but, in spite of the shortness, many silver threads could be seen on the brown-a premature silver, as he was not yet thirty-five. His face was beardless, thin, with a bold eagle-like outline, and strong, warm blue eyes, the blue eyes that go with a great deal of color. Ordinarily, Ash had now but little color; that is, there was but little red; his complexion had a dark brown hue; there were many deep lines. The mouth, the worst feature, had a cynical droop; the jaw conveyed suggestions that were not agreeable. The expression of the whole countenance was that of recklessness and cleverness, both of no common order. Of late the recklessness had often changed into a more happy merriment when he was with Pauline, the careless merriment of a boy; one could see then plainly how handsome he must have been before the lines, and the heaviness, and, alas! the evil, had come to darken his youth, and to sadden (for so it must have been) his silent, frightened-looking mother.

They reached the farm; he led out the horses, and mounted her. She gathered up the reins; but he still held the bridle. "How tired you look!" he said.

Her face was flushed slightly, high on the cheeks close under the eyes; between the fair eyebrows a perpendicular line was visible; for the moment, she showed to the full her thirty years.

"Yes, I am tired; and it's dangerous to tire me," she answered, smiling. She had recovered her light-hearted carelessness.

Ash still looked at her. A sudden conviction seemed to seize him. "Don't throw me over, Pauline," he pleaded. And as he spoke, on his brown, deeply lined face there was an expression which was boyishly young and trusting.

"As I told you, so long as there is no one else," Pauline answered.

The next moment they were flying over the plain.

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