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   Chapter 33 No.33

Everyman's Land By A. M. Williamson Characters: 14999

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


I stared, fascinated. Here was Jim-of-the-rose-arbour, and a new Jim-of-the-war-a browner, thinner, sterner Jim, a Jim that looked at me with a look I could not read. It may have been cruel, but it was not cold, and it pierced like a hot sword-blade through my flesh into my soul.

"You-after all!" he said. The remembered voice I had so often heard in dreams, struck on my nerves like a hand on the strings of a harp. I felt the vibration thrill through me.

"Yes-it's I." The answer came in a whisper from dry lips. "I'm sorry!"

"What are you sorry for? Because you are you?"

"It wouldn't be-quite so horrible if-I'd been a stranger."

"You think not?"

"I-it seems as if I took advantage of-oh, that's just what I did! I'm not asking you to forgive me--"

"It isn't so much a question of forgiving, as putting things straight. We must put them straight--"

"I'll do whatever you wish," I promised. "Only-let me go soon."

"Are you afraid of me?" There was sharpness in his tone.

"Not afraid. I am-utterly humiliated."

"Why did you do this-thing? Let's have that out first."

"The thought came into my head when I was at my wits' end-for my brother. Not that that's an excuse!"

"I'm not worrying about excuses. It's explanations I need, I had my own theories-thinking it all over-and wondering-whether it would be you or a stranger I should find. The name was the one thing I had to go on: 'O'Malley' and its likeness to Ommalee. That was the way I heard your name pronounced, you know, when we met. I was coming back to see you and make sure. But I was laid up in Paris with an attack of typhoid. Perhaps Mother told you?"

"Yes. But please, let us not talk of that! There isn't much time. You'll have to go back to Fath-to Mr. and Mrs. Beckett. Tell me quickly what you want me to do."

"I was forgetting for a minute. You look very pale, Miss O'Malley. Hadn't you better sit down?"

"No, thank you. I like standing-where I am."

"Ah!" he gave a sudden exclamation. At last he had seen Brian's sketch. He had not noticed it, or any of the "den treasures," before. He had looked only at me.

"Why-it's the picture! And-Gee!"-his eyes travelled round the room-"all my dear old things! What a mother I've got!" He gazed about during a full minute of silence, then turned abruptly back to me. "You love her-don't you?"

"Who could help loving her?"

"And the dear old Governor-you're fond of him?"

"I should be even worse than I am, if I didn't adore them both. They have been-angels to me and my brother."

"I'm told that you and he have been something of the same sort to them."

"Oh, they would speak kindly of us, of course!-They're so noble, themselves, they judge--"

"It was another person who told me the particular thing I'm thinking of now."

"Another person? Doctor Paul, I suppose."

"You must guess again, Miss O'Malley."

"I can't think of any one else who would--"

"What about your friend, Mr. O'Farrell?"

"He's not my friend!" I cried. "Oh, I knew he'd somehow contrive a chance to talk to you alone, about me!"

"He certainly did. And what he said impressed me a good deal."

"Most likely it's untrue."

"Too likely! I'm very anxious to find out from headquarters if it's true or not."

"If you ask me, I'll answer honestly. I can't and won't lie to you."

"I'll take you at your word and ask you-in a minute. You may be angry when I do. But-it will save time. It'll clear up all my difficulties at one fell swoop."

"Why wait a minute, then?" I ventured, with faint bitterness, because his "difficulties" seemed so small compared with mine. He was in the right in everything. This was his home. The dear Becketts were his people. All the world was his.

"I wait a minute, because something has to be told you before I can ask you to answer any more questions. When I didn't know who or what my-er-official fiancée would turn out to be, this was the plan I made, to save my parents' feelings-and yours. I thought that, when we'd had the interview I asked you to give me, we could manage to quarrel, or discover that we didn't like each other as well as before. We could break off our engagement, and Father and Mother need never know-how it began."

"A very generous idea of yours!" I cried, the blood so hot in my cheeks that it forced tears to my eyes. "It had occurred to me, too, that for their sakes we might manage that way. Thank you, Mr. Beckett, for sparing me the pain-I deserve. I couldn't have dared hope for such a happy solution--"

"Couldn't you?"

"No. I--"

"Well, I'm hoping for an even happier one-a lot happier. But of course it depends on what you say to Mr. O'Farrell's-accusation."

"He-made an accusation?"

"Listen, and tell me what you'd call it. He said you told him at Amiens, when he asked you to marry him, that-you loved me."

"Oh!"

"Is it true?"

"Yes, I did tell him that--"

"I mean, is it true that you've loved me?"

"Mr. Beckett, after all, you are cruel! You're punishing me very hard."

"I don't wish to 'punish you hard'-or at all. Why am I 'cruel,' simply asking if it's true that you've loved me? Of course, when Mother told you of my fever, and what I'd said of this cathedral picture, she told you that I was dead in love with 'the Girl,' as I called you, and just about crazy because I'd lost her. Why shouldn't you have loved me a little bit-say, the hundredth part as much as I loved you? I'm not a monster, am I? And we both had exactly the same length of time to fall in love-whole hours on end. Cruel or not cruel, I've got to know. Was it the truth you told the O'Farrell man?"

I could not speak. I didn't try to speak. I looked up at him. It must have been some such look as the Princess gave St. George when he appeared at the last minute, to rescue her from the dragon. The tears I'd been holding back splashed over my cheeks. Jim gave a low cry of pity-or love (it sounded like love) as he saw them; and the next thing, he was kissing them away. I was in his arms so closely held that my breath was crushed out of my lungs. I wanted to sob. But how can you sob without breath? I could only let him kiss me on cheeks, and eyes, and mouth, and kiss him back again, with eager haste, lest I should wake up to find he had loved me for a fleeting instant, in a divine dream.

When he let me breathe for a second, I gasped that, of course, it couldn't be true, this wonderful thing that was happening?

"I've dreamed of you-a hundred times," I stammered. "Waking dreams-sleeping dreams. They've seemed as real-almost as real-as this."

"Did I kiss you like this, in the dreams?"

"Sometimes. But not in the realest ones. It never seemed real that you could care, in spite of all-that you'd forgive me, if you should come back--"

"Did you want me to come?"

"Oh, 'want' isn't the word to express it!"

"Even though you dreaded-being found out!"

"That didn't count, against having you alive, and knowing you were in the world-if only for your parents' sake. I wanted them to be happy, more than I wanted anything for myself except Brian's good. I had you for my own, in my dreams, while you were dead, and I expected to lose you if you were alive. But--"

"You really expected that?"

"Oh, indeed, yes!"

"Although you knew from Mother how I'd loved you, and searched for you?"

"You thought I was good-then."

"I think so now."

"But you can't! You know what a wicked, wicked wretch I was! Why, wh

en you came into this room and looked at me, I saw how you felt! And your letter--"

"Don't you understand, I was testing you? If you hadn't cared for me, what you did might have been-(only 'might', mind you, for what man can judge a girl's heart?) what you did to my people might have been cruel and calculating. I had to find out the truth of things, before letting myself go. The letter was written to let a stranger see-if you turned out to be a stranger-what to expect. But O'Farrell made me sure in a minute, that the girl here must be my Girl. After that, I'd only to see you-to ask if he told the truth-to watch your face-your precious, beautiful face! I thought of it and pictured it. But I never thought of those tears! Forgive me, my darling, for making them come. If you'll let me love you all your life, they shall be the last I'll ever cause."

I laughed, and cried a little more, at the same time. "What a word from you to me-'Forgive'!"

"Well, it's more suitable than from you to me, because there's nothing you could do that I wouldn't forgive before you did it, or even be sure it was just the one right thing to do. My Girl-my lost, found love-do you suppose it was of your own accord you came to my people and said you belonged to me? No. It was the Great Power that's in us all, which made you do what you did-the Power they call Providence. You understand now what I meant, when I said that one question from me and an answer from you, would smooth away all my difficulties at once? Bless that O'Farrell fellow!"

I'd never thought to bless Julian O'Farrell, but now I willingly agreed. Sometimes, dimly, I had divined latent goodness in him, as one divines vague, lovely shapes floating under dark depths of water. And he had said once that love for me was bringing out qualities he hadn't credited himself with possessing. I had taken that as one of Puck's pleasantries! But I knew the true inwardness of him now, as I had learned to know the true inwardness of Dierdre. Julian had had his chance to hurt me with his rival. He had used it instead to do me good. He had laughed the other day, "Well, I'll always be something to you anyhow, if only a brother-in-law." But now, he would be more than that, even if he went out of my life, and I never saw him again.

"Bless O'Farrell. Bless Providence. Bless you. Bless me. Bless everybody and everything!" Jim was going on, joyfully exploding, still clasping me in his arms; for we clung as if to let each other go might be to lose one another forever! "How happy Mother dear-and the good old Governor are going to be! They absolutely adore you!"

"Did they say so?"

"They did. And almost hustled me into this room to meet you. I'm glad the best thing in my life has come to me here, among all the odds and ends of my childhood and youth, that I call my treasures! Of course Mother planned it specially that you should welcome me here."

"Yes, the darling! But it seemed to me a terrible plan. I thought you'd hate me so, I'd spoil the surprise of the room for you."

Those words were uttered with the last breath he let me draw for some time. But oh, Padre, if it had been my last on earth, how well worth while it would have been to live just till that minute, and no longer! I am so happy! I don't know how I am going to deserve this forgiveness, this deliverance, this joy!

"Even if I'd found a strange girl looking after my parents and saving their lives and winning their love, it would have been pretty difficult to chuck her," Jim was laughing. "You, on this side of the door, waiting to face the ogre Me, couldn't have felt much worse than I felt on my side, not knowing what I should see-or do. Darling, one more kiss for my people's sake, one more for myself, and then I must take you to them. It's not fair to keep them waiting any longer. But no-first I must put a ring on the Girl's finger-as I hoped to do long ago. You remember-the ring of my bet, that almost made me lose you? I told you about it, didn't I, on our day together, when I thought I should come back in two weeks?"

"You told me you hoped not to lose a thing you wanted. You didn't say it was a ring. But at Royalieu-the newspaper correspondents' chateau near Compiègne-we came across a friend of yours, the one you made the bet with--"

"Jack Curtis!"

"Yes. He told me about the ring. And he was sure you were alive."

"Good old Jack! Well, now I'm going to slip that magic ring on your darling finger-the 'engaged' finger."

"But where is it?"

"The finger? Just now on the back of my neck, which it's making throb-like a star!... Oh, the ring? That's in the hobby-horse which I see over there, as large as life. At least, it's in him unless, unlike a leopard, he's changed his spots."

Jim wouldn't let me go, but drew me with him, our arms interlaced, to the tower end of the room where the hobby-horse he had once rescued from fire endlessly pranced. "This used to be my bank, when I was a little chap," he said. "Like a magpie, I always hid the things I valued most in a hole I made under the third smudge to the left, on Spot Cash's breast. 'Spot Cash' is the old boy's name, you know! When I won the bet and took the ring home, I had a fancy to keep it in this hidie hole, for luck, till I could find the Girl. Mother knew. She was with me at the time. But I was half ashamed of myself for my childishness, and asked her not to tell-not even the Governor. I shouldn't wonder if that was why it occurred to her to pack up my treasures for France. Maybe she had a prophetic soul, and thought, if I found the Girl, I should want to lay my hand on the ring. Here it is, safe and sound."

As he spoke, he had somehow contrived to extract a particularly black smudge from the region of the hobby-horse's heart. It came out with a block of wood underneath, and left a gap which gave Spot Cash the effect of having suffered an operation. At the back of the cavity a second hole, leading downward, had been burrowed in the softish wood; and in this reposed a screwed-up wad of tissue paper. Jim hooked the tiny packet out with a finger, opened the paper as casually as though it enclosed a pebble, and brought to the light (which found and flashed to the depths of a large blue diamond) a quaintly fashioned ring of greenish gold.

"This belonged to the most beautiful woman of a day that's past," Jim said. "Now, it's for the most beautiful woman of a better day and a still grander to-morrow. May I wish it on your finger-with the greatest wish in the world?"

I gave him my hand-for the ring, and for all time.

One more moment in his arms, and he opened the door, to take "his Girl" to Father and Mother Beckett.

Somewhere in the distance Julian O'Farrell was singing, as he had sung on the first night we met, Mario's heartbreaking song in "La Tosca"-the song on the roof, at dawn. Always in remembering Julian I must remember Mario's love and sacrifice! I knew that he meant it should be so with me.

The voice was the voice of love itself, such love as mine for Jim, as Jim's for me, which can never die. It made me sad and happy at the same time. But, as Jim and I paused at the door to listen, hand in hand, the music changed. Julian began to sing something new and strangely beautiful-a song he has composed, and dedicated to Brian. I was sad no longer, for this is a song of courage and triumph. He calls it: "Everyman's Land."

THE END

THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK

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