MoboReader > Literature > A Mere Accident

   Chapter 5 No.5

A Mere Accident By George Augustus Moore Characters: 37968

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

But if in the morning he were strong, Kitty was more beautiful than ever, and they walked out in the sunlight. They walked out on the green sward, under the evergreen oaks where the young rooks are swinging; out on the mundane swards into the pleasure ground; a rosery and a rockery; the pleasure ground divided from the park by iron railings, the park encircled by the rich elms, the elms shutting out the view of the lofty downs.

The meadows are yellow with buttercups, and the birds fly out of the gold. And the golden note is prolonged through the pleasure grounds by the pale yellow of the laburnums, by the great yellow of the berberis, by the cadmium yellow of the gorse, by the golden wallflowers growing amid rhododendrons and laurels.

And the transparent greenery of the limes shivers, and the young rooks swinging on the branches caw feebly.

And about the rockery there are purple bunches of lilac, and the striped awning of the tennis seat touches with red the paleness of the English spring.

Pansies, pale yellow pansies!

The sun glinting on the foliage of the elms spreads a napery of vivid green, and the trunks come out black upon the cloth of gold, and the larks fly out of the gold, and the sky is a single sapphire, and two white clouds are floating. It is May time.

They walked toward the tennis seat with its red striped awning. They listened to the feeble cawing of young rooks swinging on the branches. They watched the larks nestle in, and fly out of the gold. It was May time, and the air was bright with buds and summer bees. She was dressed in white, and the shadow of the straw hat fell across her eyes when she raised her face. He was dressed in black, and the clerical frock coat buttoned by one button at the throat fell straight.

They sat under the red striped awning of the tennis seat. The large grasping hands holding the polished cane contrasted with the reedy translucent hands laid upon the white folds. The low sweet breath of the May time breathed within them, and their hearts were light; hers was conscious only of the May time, but his was awake with unconscious love, and he yielded to her, to the perfume of the garden, to the absorbing sweetness of the moment. He was no longer John Norton. His being was part of the May time; it had gone forth and had mingled with the colour of the fields and sky; with the life of the flowers, with all vague scents and sounds; with the joy of the birds that flew out of and nestled with amorous wings in the gold. Enraptured and in complete forgetfulness of his vows, he looked at her, he felt his being quickening, and the dark dawn of a late nubility radiated into manhood.

"How beautiful the day is," he said, speaking slowly. "Is it not all light and colour, and you in your white dress with the sunlight on your hair seem more blossom-like than any flower. I wonder what flower I should compare you to.... Shall I say a rose? No, not a rose, nor a lily, nor a violet; you remind me rather of a tall delicate pale carnation...."

"Why, John, I never heard you speak like that before; I thought you never paid compliments."

The transparent green of the limes shivers, the young rooks caw feebly, and the birds nestle with amorous wings in the blossoming gold. Kitty has taken off her straw hat, the sunlight caresses the delicate plenitudes of the bent neck, the delicate plenitudes bound with white cambric, cambric swelling gently over the bosom into the narrow circle of the waist, cambric fluted to the little wrist, reedy translucid hands; cambric falling outwards and flowing like a great white flower over the green sward, over the mauve stocking, and the little shoe set firmly. The ear is as a rose leaf, a fluff of light hair trembles on the curving nape, and the head is crowned with thick brown gold. "O to bathe my face in those perfumed waves! O to kiss with a deep kiss the hollow of that cool neck!..." The thought came he know not whence nor how, as lightning falls from a clear sky, as desert horsemen come with a glitter of spears out of the cloud; there is a shock, a passing anguish, and they are gone.

He left her. So frightened was he at this sudden and singular obsession of his spiritual nature by a lower and grosser nature, whose existence in himself was till now unsuspected, and of whose life and wants in others he had felt, and still felt, so much scorn, that in the tumult of his loathing he could not gain the calm of mind necessary for an examination of conscience. He could not look into his mind with any present hope of obtaining a truthful reply to the very eminent and vital question, how far his will had participated in that burning but wholly inexcusable desire by which he had been so shockingly assailed.

That inner life, so strangely personal and pure, and of which he was so proud, seemed to him now to be befouled, and all its mystery and inner grace, and the perfect possession which was his sanctuary, lost to him for ever. For he could never quite forget the defiling thought; it would always remain with him, and the consciousness of the stain would preclude all possibility of that refining happiness, that attribute of cleanliness, which he now knew had long been his. In his anger and self-loathing his rage turned against Kitty. It was always the same story-the charm and ideality of man's life always soiled by woman's influence; so it was in the beginning, so it shall be....

He stopped before the injustice of the accusation; he remembered her candour and her gracious innocence, and he was sorry; and he remembered her youth and her beauty, and he let his thoughts dwell upon her. Turning over his papers he came across the old monk's song to David:

"Surge meo domno dulces fac, fistula versus:

David amat versus, surge fac fistula versus,

David amat vates vatorum est gloria David...."

The verses seemed meaningless and tame, but they awoke vague impulses in him, and, his mind filled by a dim dream of King David and Bathsheba, he opened his Bible and turned over the pages, reading a phrase here and there until he had passed from story and psalm to the Song of songs, and was finally stopped by-"I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him that I am sick of love."

He laid the book down and leaned back in his chair, and holding his temple with one hand (this was his favourite attitude) he looked in the fire fixedly. He was ravaged by emotion. The magical fervour of the words he had just read had revealed to him the depth of his passion.

But he would tear the temptation out of his heart. The conduct of his life had been long ago determined upon. He had known the truth as if by instinct from the first; no life was possible except an ascetic life, at least for him. And in this hour of weakness he summoned to his aid all his ancient ideals: the solemnity and twilight of the arches, the massive Gregorian chant which seems to be at once their voice and their soul, the cloud of incense melting upon the mitres and sunsets, and the boys' treble hovering over an ocean of harmony. But although the picture of his future life rose at his invocation it did not move him as heretofore, nor did the scenes he evoked of conjugal grossness and platitude shock him to the extent he had expected. The moral rebellion he succeeded in exciting was tepid, heartless, and ineffective, and he was not moved by hate or fear until he remembered that God in His infinite goodness had placed him for ever out of the temptation which he so earnestly sought to escape from. Kitty was a Protestant. In a pang of despair, windows and organ collapsed like cardboard; incense and arches vanished, and then rose again with the light of a more gracious vision upon them. For if the dignity and desire of mere self-salvation had departed, all the lighter colours and livelier joys of the conversion of others filled the sky of faith with morning tones and harmonies. And then?... Salvation before all things, he answered in his enthusiasm;-something of the missionary spirit of old time was upon him, and forgetful of his aisles, his arches, his Latin authors, he went down stairs and asked Kitty to play a game of billiards.

"We play billiards here on Sunday, but you would think it wrong to do so."

"But to-day is not Sunday."

"No, I was only speaking in a general way. Yet I often wonder how you can feel satisfied with the protection your Church affords you against the miseries and trials of the world. A Protestant, you know, may believe pretty nearly as little or as much as he likes, whereas in our church everything is defined; we know what we must believe to be saved. There is a sense of security in the Catholic Church which the Protestant has not."

"Do you think so? That is because you do not know our Church," replied Kitty, who was a little astonished at this sudden outburst. "I feel quite happy and safe. I know that our Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross to save us, and we have the Bible to guide us."

"Yes, but the Bible without the interpretation of the Church is ... may lead to error. For instance..."

John stopped abruptly. Seized with a sudden scruple of conscience he asked himself if he, in his own house, had a right to strive to undermine the faith of the daughter of his own friend.

"Go on," cried Kitty, laughing, "I know the Bible better than you, and if I break down I will ask father." And as if to emphasise her intention, she hit her ball which was close under the cushion as hard as she could.

John hailed the rent in the cloth as a deliverance, for in the discussion as to how it could be repaired, the religious question was forgotten.

But if he were her lover, if she were going to be his wife, he would have the right to offer her every facility and encouragement to enter the Catholic Church-the true faith. Darkness passes, and the birds are carolling the sun, flowers and trees are pranked with ?rial jewellery, the fragrance of the warm earth flows in your veins, your eyes are fain of the light above and your heart of the light within. He would not jar his happiness by the presence of Mrs Norton, even Kitty's presence was too actual a joy to be home. She drew him out of himself too completely, interrupted the exquisite sense of personal enchantment which seemed to permeate and flow through him with the sweetness of health returning to a convalescent on a spring day. He closed his eyes, and his thoughts came and went like soft light and shade in a garden close; his happiness was a part of himself, as fragrance is inherent in the summer time. The evil of the last days had fallen from him, and the reaction was equivalently violent. Nor was he conscious of the formal resignation he was now making of his dream, nor did he think of the distasteful load of marital duties with which he was going to burden himself; all was lost in the vision of beautiful companionship, a sort of heavenly journeying, a bright earthly way with flowers and starlight-he a little in advance pointing, she following, with her eyes lifted to the celestial gates shining in the distance. Sometimes his arms would be thrown about her. Sometimes he would press a kiss upon her face. She was his, his, and he was her saviour. The evening died, the room darkened, and John's dream continued in the twilight, and the ringing of the dinner bell and the disturbance of dressing did not destroy his thoughts. Like fumes of wine they hung about him during the evening, and from time to time he looked at Kitty.

But although he had so far surrendered himself, he did not escape without another revulsion of feeling. A sudden realisation of what his life would be under the new conditions did not fail to frighten him, and he looked back with passionate regret on his abandoned dreams. But his nature was changed, abstention he knew was beyond his strength, and after many struggles, each of which was feebler than the last, he determined to propose to Kitty on the first suitable occasion.

Then came the fear of refusal. Often he was paralysed with pain, sometimes he would morbidly allow his thoughts to dwell on the moment when he would hear her say, it was impossible, that she did not and could not love him. The young grey light of the eyes would be fixed upon him; she would speak her sorrow, and her thin hands would hang by her side in the simple attitude that was so peculiar to her. And he mused willingly on the long meek life of grief that would then await him. He would belong to God; his friar's frock would hide all; it would be the habitation, and the Gothic walls he would raise, the sepulchre of his love....

"But no, no, she shall be mine," he cried out, moved in his very entrails. Why should she refuse him? What reason had he to believe that she would not have him? He thought of how she had answered his questions on this and that occasion, how she had looked at him; he recalled every gesture and every movement with wonderful precision, and then he lapsed into a passionate consideration of the general attitude of mind she evinced towards him. He arrived at no conclusion, but these meditations were full of penetrating delight. Sometimes he was afflicted with an intense shyness, and he avoided her; and when Mrs Norton, divining his trouble, sent them to walk in the garden, his heart warmed to his mother, and he regretted his past harshness.

And this idyll was lived about the beautiful Italian house, with its urns and pilasters; through the beautiful English park, with its elms now with the splendour of summer upon them; in the pleasure grounds with their rosary, and the fountain where the rose leaves float, and the wood-pigeons come at eventide to drink; in the greenhouse with its live glare of geraniums, where the great yellow cat, so soft and beautiful, springs on Kitty's shoulder, rounds its back, and purring, insists on caresses; in the large clean stables where the horses munch the corn lazily, and look round with round inquiring eyes, and the rooks croak and flutter, and strut about Kitty's feet. It was Kitty; yes, it was Kitty everywhere; even the blackbird darting through the laurels seemed to cry Kitty.

To propose! Time, place, and the words he should use had been carefully considered. After each deliberation, a new decision had been taken: but when he came to the point, John found himself unable to speak any one of the different versions he had prepared. Still he was very happy. The days were full of sunshine and Kitty, and he mistook her light-heartedness for affection. He had begun to look upon her as his certain wife, although no words had been spoken that would suggest such a possibility. Outside of his imagination nothing was changed; he stood in exactly the same relation to her as he had done when he returned from Stanton College, determined to build a Gothic monastery upon the ruins of Thornby Place, and yet somehow he found it difficult to realise that this was so.

One morning he said, as they went into the garden, "You must sometimes feel a little lonely here ... when I am away ... all alone here with mother."

"Oh dear no! we have lots to do. I look after the pets in the morning. I feed the cats and the rooks, and I see that the canaries have fresh water and seed. And then the bees take up a lot of our time. We have twenty-two hives. Mrs Norton says she ought to make five pounds a year on each. Sometimes we lose a swarm or two, and then Mrs Norton is so cross. We were out for hours with the gardener the other day, but we could do no good; we could not get them out of that elm tree. You see that long branch leaning right over the wall; well it was on that branch that they settled, and no ladder was tall enough to reach them; and when Bill climbed the tree and shook them out they flew right away."

"Shall I, shall I propose to her now?" thought John. But Kitty continued talking, and it was difficult to interrupt her. The gravel grated under their feet; the rooks were flying about the elms. At the end of the garden there was a circle of fig trees. A silent place, and John vowed he would say the word there. But as they approached his courage died within him, and he was obliged to defer his vows until they reached the green-house.

"So your time is fully occupied here."

"And in the afternoon we go out for drives; we pay visits. You never pay visits; you never go and call on your neighbours."

"Oh, yes I do; I went the other day to see your father."

"Ah yes, but that is only because he talks to you about Latin authors."

"No, I assure you it isn't. Once I have finished my book I shall never look at them again."

"Well, what will you do?"

"Next winter I intend to go in for hunting. I have told a dealer to look out for a couple of nice horses for me."

Kitty looked up, her grey eyes wide open. If John had told her that he had given the order for a couple of crocodiles she could not have been more surprised.

"But hunting is over now; it won't begin again till next November. You will have to play lawn tennis this summer."

"I have sent to London for a racquet and shoes, and a suit of flannels."

"Goodness me.... Well, that is a surprise! But you won't want the flannels; you might play in the Carmelite's habit which came down the other day. How you do change your mind about things!"

"Do you never change your mind, Kitty?"

"Well, I don't know, but not so suddenly as you. Then you are not going to become a monk?"

"I don't know, it depends on circumstances."

"What circumstances?" said Kitty, innocently.

The words "whether you will or will not have me" rose to John's lips, but all power to speak them seemed to desert him; he had grown suddenly as weak as melting snow, and in an instant the occasion had passed. He hated himself for his weakness. The weary burden of his love lay still upon him, and the torture of utterance still menaced him from afar. The conversation had fallen. They were approaching the greenhouse, and the cats ran to meet their patron. Sammy sprang on Kitty's shoulder.

"Oh, isn't he a beauty? stroke him, do."

John passed his hand along the beautiful yellow fur. Sammy rubbed his head against his mistress' face, her raised eyes were as full of light as the pale sky, and the rich brown head and the thin hands made a picture in the exquisite clarity of the English morning,-in the homeliness of the English garden, with tall hollyhocks, espalier apple trees, and one labourer digging amid the cabbages. Joy crystal as the morning itself illumined John's mind for a moment, and then faded, and he was left lonely with the remembrance that his fate had still to be decided, that it still hung in the scale.

One evening as they were walking in the park, shadowy in the twilight of an approaching storm, Kitty said:

"I never would have believed, John, that you could care to go out for a walk wit

h me."

"And why, Kitty?"

Kitty laughed-her short sudden laugh was strange and sweet. John's heart was beating. "Well," she said, without the faintest hesitation or shyness, "we always thought you hated girls. I know I used to tease you, when you came home for the first time; when you used to think of nothing but the Latin authors."

"What do you mean?"

Kitty laughed again.

"You promise not to tell?"

"I promise."

This was their first confidence.

"You told your mother when I came, when you were sitting by the fire reading, that the flutter of my skirts disturbed you."

"No, Kitty, I'm sure you never disturbed me, or at least not for a long time. I wish my mother would not repeat conversations, it is most unfair."

"Mind you, you promised not to repeat what I have told you. If you do, you will get me into an awful scrape."

"I promise."

The conversation came to a pause. Presently Kitty said, "But you seem to have got over your dislike to girls. I saw you talking a long while with Miss Orme the other day; and at the Meet you seemed to admire her. She was the prettiest girl we had here."

"No, indeed she wasn't!"

"Who was, then?"

"You were."

Kitty looked up; and there was so much astonishment in her face that John in a sudden access of fear said, "We had better make haste, the storm is coming on; we shall get wet through."

They ran towards the house. John reproached himself bitterly, but he made no further attempt to screw his courage up to the point of proposing. His disappointment was followed by doubts. Was his powerlessness a sign from God that he was abandoning his true vocation for a false one? and a little shaken, he attempted to interest himself in the re-building of his house; but the project had grown impossible to him, and he felt he could not embrace it again, with any of the old enthusiasm at least, until he had been refused by Kitty. There were moments when he almost yearned to hear her say that she could never love him. But in his love and religious suffering the thought of bringing a soul home to the true fold remained a fixed light; he often looked to it with happy eyes, and then if he were alone he fell on his knees and prayed. Prayer like an opiate calmed his querulous spirit, and having told his beads-the great beads which hung on his prie-dieu-he would go down stairs with peace in his heart, and finding Kitty, he would ask her to walk with him in the garden, or they would stroll out on the tennis lawn, racquet in hand.

One afternoon it was decided that they should go for a long walk. John suggested that they should climb to the top of Toddington Mount, and view the immense plain which stretches away in dim blue vapour and a thousand fields.

You see John and Kitty as they cross the wide park towards the vista in the circling elms,-she swinging her parasol, he carrying stiffly his grave canonical cane. He still wears the long black coat buttoned at the throat, but the air of hieratic dignity is now replaced by, or rather it is glossed with, the ordinary passion of life. Both are like children, infinitely amused by the colour of the grass and sky, by the hurry of the startled rabbit, by the prospect of the long walk; and they taste already the wild charm of the downs, seeing and hearing in imagination its many sights and sounds, the wild heather, the yellow savage gorse, the solitary winding flock, the tinkling of the bell-wether, the cliff-like sides, the crowns of trees, the mighty distance spread out like a sea below them with its faint and constantly dissolving horizon of the Epsom Hills.

"I never can cross this plain, Kitty, without thinking of the Dover cliffs as seen in mid Channel; this is a mere inland imitation of them."

"I have never seen the Dover cliffs; I have never been out of England, but the Brighton cliffs give me an idea of what you mean."

"On your side-the Shoreham side-the downs rise in a gently sloping ascent from the sea."

"Yes, we often walk up there. You can see Brighton and Southwick and Worthing. Oh! it is beautiful! I often go for a walk there with my friends, the Austen girls-you saw them here at the Meet."

"Yes, Mr Austen has a very nice property; it extends right into the town of Shoreham, does it not?"

"Yes, and right up to Toddington Mount, where we are going. But aren't you a little tired, John? These roads are very steep."

"Out of breath, Kitty; let's stop for a minute or two." The country lay below them. They had walked three miles, and Thornby Place and its elms were now vague in the blue evening. "We must see one of these days if we cannot do the whole distance."

"What? right across the downs from Shoreham to Henfield?"

"Well, it is not more than eight miles; you don't think you could manage it?"

"I don't know, it is more than eight miles, and walking on the downs is not like walking on the highroad. Father thinks nothing of it."

"We must really try it."

"What would you do if I were to get so tired that I could not go back or forward?"

"I would carry you."

They continued their climb. Speaking of the Devil's Dyke, Kitty said-

"What! you mean to say you never heard the legend? You, a Sussex man!"

"I have lived very little in Sussex, and I used to hate the place; I am only just beginning to like it."

"And you don't like the Jesuits any more, because they go in for matchmaking."

"They are too sly for me, I confess; I don't approve of priests meddling in family affairs. But tell me the legend."

"Oh, how steep these roads are. At last, at last. Now let's try and find a place where we can sit down. The grass is full of that horrid prickly gorse."

"Here's a nice soft place; there is no gorse here. Now tell me the legend."

"Well, I never!" said Kitty, sitting herself on the spot that had been chosen for her, "you do astonish me. You never heard of the legend of St Cuthman."

"No, do tell it to me."

"Well, I scarcely know how to tell it in ordinary words, for I learnt it in poetry."

"In poetry! In whose poetry?"

"Evy Austen put it into poetry, the eldest of the girls, and they made me recite it at the harvest supper."

"Oh, that's awfully jolly-I never should have thought she was so clever. Evy is the dark-haired one."

"Yes, Evy is awfully clever; but she doesn't talk much about it."

"Do recite it."

"I don't know that I can remember it all. You won't laugh if I break down."

"I promise."


"St Cuthman stood on a point which crowns

The entire range of the grand South Downs;

Beneath his feet, like a giant field,

Was stretched the expanse of the Sussex Weald.

'Suppose,' said the Saint,''twas the will of Heaven

To cause this range of hills to be riven,

And what were the use of prayers and whinings,

Were the sea to flood the village of Poynings:

'Twould be fine, no doubt, these Downs to level,

But to do such a thing I defy the Devil!'

St Cuthman, tho' saint, was a human creature,

And his eye, a bland and benevolent feature,

Remarked the approach of the close of day,

And he thought of his supper, and turned away.

Walking fast, he

Had scarcely passed the

First steps of his way, when he saw something nasty;

'Twas tall and big,

And he saw from its rig

'Twas the Devil in full diabolical fig.

There were wanting no proofs,

For the horns and the hoofs

And the tail were a fully convincing sight;

But the heart of the Saint

Ne'er once turned faint,

And his halo shone with redoubled light.

'Hallo, I fear

You're trespassing here!'

Said St Cuthman, 'To me it is perfectly clear,

If you talk of the devil, he's sure to appear!'

'With my spade and my pick

I am come,' said old Nick,

'To prove you've no power o'er a demon like me.

I'll show you my power-

Ere the first morning hour

Thro' the Downs, over Poynings, shall roll in the sea.'

'I'll give you long odds,'

Cried the Saint, 'by the gods!

I'll stake what you please, only say what your wish is.'

Said the devil, 'By Jove!

You're a sporting old cove!

My pick to your soul,

I'll make such a hole,

That where Poynings now stands, shall be swimming the fishes.'

'Done!' cried the Saint, 'but I must away

I have a penitent to confess;

In an hour I'll come to see fair play-

In truth I cannot return in less.

My bet will be won ere the first bright ray

Heralds the ascension of the day.

If I lose!-there will be the devil to pay!'

He descended the hill with a firm quick stride,

Till he reached a cell which stood on the side;

He knocked at the door, and it opened wide,-

He murmured a blessing and walked inside.

Before him he saw a tear-stained face

Of an elderly maiden of elderly grace;

Who, when she beheld him, turned deadly pale,

And drew o'er her features a nun's black veil.

'Holy father!' she said, 'I have one sin more,

Which I should have confessed sixty years before!

I have broken my vows-'tis a terrible crime!

I have loved you, oh father, for all that time!

My passion I cannot subdue, tho' I try!

Shrive me, oh father! and let me die!'

'Alas, my daughter,' replied the Saint,

'One's desire is ever to do what one mayn't,

There was once a time when I loved you, too,

I have conquered my passion, and why shouldn't you?

For penance I say,

You must kneel and pray

For hours which will number seven;

Fifty times say the rosary,

(Fifty, 'twill be a poser, eh?)

But by it you'll enter heaven;

As each hour doth pass,

Turn the hour glass,

Till the time of midnight's near;

On the stroke of midnight

This taper light,

Your conscience will then be clear.'

He left the cell, and he walked until

He joined Old Nick on the top of the hill.

It was five o'clock, and the setting sun

Showed the work of the Devil already begun.

St Cuthman was rather fatigued by his walk,

And caring but little for brimstone talk,

He watched the pick crash through layers of chalk.

And huge blocks went over and splitting asunder

Broke o'er the Weald like the crashing of thunder.

St Cuthman wished the first hour would pass,

When St Ursula, praying, reversed the glass.

'Ye legions of hell!' the Old Gentleman cried,

'I have such a terrible stitch in the side!'

'Don't work so hard,' said the Saint, 'only see,

The sides of your dyke a heap smoother might be.'

'Just so,' said the Devil, 'I've had a sharp fit,

So, resting, I'll trim up my crevice a bit.'

St Cuthman was looking prodigiously sly,

He knew that the hours were slipping by.

'Another attack!

I've cramp at my back!

I've needles and pins

From my hair to my shins!

I tremble and quail

From my horns to my tail!

I will not be vanquished, I'll work, I say,

This dyke shall be finished ere break of day!'

'If you win your bet, 'twill be fairly earned,'

Said the Saint, and again was the hour-glass turned.

And then with a most unearthly din

The farther end of the dyke fell in;

But in spite of an awful rheumatic pain

The Devil began his work again.

'I'll not be vanquished!' exclaimed the old bloke.

'By breathing torrents of flame and smoke,

Your dyke,' said the Saint, 'is hindered each minute,

What can one expect when the Devil is in it?'

Then an accident happened, which caused Nick at last

To rage, fume, and swear; when the fourth hour had passed,

On his hoof there came rolling a huge mass of quartz.

Then quite out of sorts

The bad tempered old cove

Sent the huge mass of stone whizzing over to Hove.

He worked on again, till a howl and a cry

Told the Saint one more hour-the fifth-had gone by.

'What's the row?' asked the Saint, 'A cramp in the wrist,

I think for a while I had better desist.'

Having rested a bit he worked at his chasm,

Till, the hour having passed, he was seized with a spasm.

He raged and he cursed,

'I bore this at first,

The rheumatics were awful, but this is the worst.'

With awful rage heated,

The demon defeated,

In his passion used words that can't be repeated.

Feeling shaken and queer,

In spite of his fear,

At the dyke he worked on until midnight drew near.

But when the glass turned for the last time, he found

That the head of his pick was stuck fast in the ground.

'Cease now!' cried St Cuthman, 'vain is your toil!

Come forth from the dyke! Leave your pick in the soil!

You agreed to work 'tween sunset and morn,

And lo! the glimmer of day is born!

In vain was your fag,

And your senseless brag.'

Dizzy and dazed with sulphureous vapour,

Old Nick was deceived by St Ursula's taper.

'The dawn!' yelled the Devil, 'in vain was my boast,

That I'd have your soul, for I've lost it, I've lost!'

'Away!' cried St Cuthman, 'Foul fiend! away!

See yonder approaches the dawn of day!

Return to the flames where you were before,

And molest these peaceful South Downs no more!'

The old gentleman scowled but dared not stay,

And the prints of his hoofs remain to this day,

Where he spread his dark pinions and soared away.

At St Ursula's cell

Was tolling the bell,

And St Cuthman in sorrow, stood there by her side.

'Twas over at last,

Her sorrows were past,

In the moment of triumph St Ursula died.

Tho' this was the ground,

There never were found

The tools of the Devil, his spade and his pick;

But if you want proof

Of the Legend, the hoof-

Marks are still in the hillock last trod by Old Nick."

"Oh! that is jolly. Well, I never thought the girl was clever enough to write that. And there are some excellent rhymes in it, 'passed he' rhyming with 'nasty,' and 'rosary' with 'poser, eh;' and how well you recite it."

"Oh, I recited it better at the harvest supper; and you have no idea how the farmers enjoyed it. They know the place so well, and it interested them on that account. They understood it all."

John sat as if enchanted,-by Kitty's almost childish grace, her enthusiasm for her friend's poem, and her genuine enjoyment of it; by the abrupt hills, mysterious now in sunset and legend; by the vast plains so blue and so boundless: out of the thought of the littleness of life, of which they were a symbol, there came the thought of the greatness of love.

"Won't you cross the poor gipsy's palm with a bit of silver, my pretty gentleman, and she will tell you your fortune and that of your pretty lady?"

Kitty uttered a startled cry, and turning they found themselves facing a strong, black-eyed girl. She repeated her question.

"What do you think, Kitty, would you like to have your fortune told?"

Kitty laughed. "It would be rather fun," she said.

She did not know what was coming, and she listened to the usual story, full by the way of references to John-of a handsome young man who would woo her, win her, and give her happiness, children, and wealth.

John threw the girl a shilling. She withdrew. They watched her passing through the furze. The silence about them was immense. Then John spoke:

"What the gipsy said is quite true; I did not dare to tell you so before."

"What do you mean, John?"

"I mean that I am in love with you, will you love me?"

"You in love with me, John; it is quite absurd-I thought you hated girls."

"Never mind that, Kitty, say you will have me; make the gipsy's words come true."

"Gipsies' words always come true."

"Then you will marry me?"

"I never thought about marriage. When do you want me to marry you? I am only seventeen?"

"Oh! when you like, later on, only say you will be mine, that you will be mistress of Thornby Place one day, that is all I want."

"Then you don't want to pull the house down any more."

"No, no; a thousand times no! Say you will be my wife one of these days."

"Very well then, one of these days...." "And I may tell my mother of your promise to-night?... It will make her so happy."

"Of course you may tell her, John, but I don't think she will believe it."

"Why should she not believe it?"

"I don't know," said Kitty, laughing, "but how funny, was it not, that the gipsy girl should guess right?"

"Yes, it was indeed. I wanted to tell you before, but I hadn't the courage; and I might never have found the courage if it had not been for that gipsy."

In his abundant happiness John did not notice that Kitty was scarcely sensible of the importance of the promise she had given. And in silence he gazed on the landscape, letting it sink into and fix itself for ever in his mind. Below them lay the great green plain, wonderfully level, and so distinct were its hedges that it looked like a chessboard. Thornby Place was hidden in vapour, and further away all was lost in darkness that was almost night.

"I am sorry we cannot see the house-your house," said John as they descended the chalk road.

"It seems so funny to hear you say that, John."

"Why? It will be your house some day."

"But supposing your Church will not let you marry me, what then...."

"There is no danger of that; a dispensation can always be obtained. But who knows.... You have never considered the question.... You know nothing of our Church; if you did, you might become a convert. I wish you would consider the question. It is so simple; we surrender our own wretched understanding, and are content to accept the Church as wiser than we. Once man throws off restraint there is no happiness, there is only misery. One step leads to another; if he would be logical he must go on, and before long, for the descent is very rapid indeed, he finds himself in an abyss of darkness and doubt, a terrible abyss indeed, where nothing exists, and life has lost all meaning. The Reformation was the thin end of the wedge, it was the first denial of authority, and you see what it has led to-modern scepticism and modern pessimism."

"I don't know what it means, but I heard Mrs Norton say you were a pessimist."

"I was; but I saw in time where it was leading me, and I crushed it out. I used to be a Republican too, but I saw what liberty meant, and what were its results, and I gave it up."

"So you gave up all your ideas for Catholicism...."

John hesitated, he seemed a little startled, but he answered, "I would give up anything for my Church..."

"What! Me?"

"That is not required."

"And did it cost you much to give up your ideas?"

John raised his eyes-it was a look that Balzac would have understood and would have known how to interpret in some admirable pages of human suffering. "None will ever know how I have suffered," he said sadly. "But now I am happy, oh! so happy, and my happiness would be complete if.... Oh! if God would grant you grace to believe...."

"But I do believe. I believe in our Lord Christ who died to save us. Is not that enough?"

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top