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   Chapter 2 THE WAY OF YOUTH

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 19262

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The debate is years old; not indeed quite so old as the world, since Adam and Eve cannot, for want of opportunity, have fallen out over it, yet descending to us from unknown antiquity. But it has never been set at rest by general consent: the quarrel over Passive Obedience is nothing to it. It seems such a small matter though; for the debate I mean turns on no greater question than this: may a man who owns allegiance to one lady justify by any train of reasoning his conduct in snatching a kiss from another, this other being (for it is important to have the terms right) not (so far as can be judged) unwilling? I maintained that he might; to be sure, my position admitted of no other argument, and, for the most part, it is a man's state which determines his arguments and not his reasons that induce his state. Barbara declared that he could not; though, to be sure, it was, as she added most promptly, no concern of hers; for she cared not whether I were in love or not, nor how deeply, nor with whom, nor, in a word, anything at all about the matter. It was an abstract opinion she gave, so far as love, or what men chose to call such, might be involved; as to seemliness, she must confess that she had her view, with which, may be, Mr Dale was not in agreement. The girl at the gardener's cottage must, she did not doubt, agree wholly with Mr Dale; how otherwise would she have suffered the kiss in an open space in the park, where anybody might pass-and where, in fact (by the most perverse chance in the world), pretty Mistress Barbara herself passed at the moment when the thing occurred? However, if the matter could ever have had the smallest interest for her-save in so far as it touched the reputation of the village and might afford an evil example to the village maidens-it could have none at all now, seeing that she set out the next day to London, to take her place as Maid of Honour to Her Royal Highness the Duchess, and would have as little leisure as inclination to think of Mr Simon Dale or of how he chose to amuse himself when he believed that none was watching. Not that she had watched: her presence was the purest and most unwelcome chance. Yet she could not but be glad to hear that the girl was soon to go back whence she came, to the great relief (she was sure) of Madame Dale and of her dear friends Lucy and Mary; to her love for whom nothing-no, nothing-should make any difference. For the girl herself she wished no harm, but she conceived that her mother must be ill at ease concerning her.

It will be allowed that Mistress Barbara had the most of the argument if not the best. Indeed, I found little to say, except that the village would be the worse by so much as the Duchess of York was the better for Mistress Barbara's departure; the civility won me nothing but the haughtiest curtsey and a taunt.

"Must you rehearse your pretty speeches on me before you venture them on your friends, sir?" she asked.

"I am at your mercy, Mistress Barbara," I pleaded. "Are we to part enemies?"

She made me no answer, but I seemed to see a softening in her face as she turned away towards the window, whence were to be seen the stretch of the lawn and the park-meadows beyond. I believe that with a little more coaxing she would have pardoned me, but at the instant, by another stroke of perversity, a small figure sauntered across the sunny fields. The fairest sights may sometimes come amiss.

"Cydaria! A fine name!" said Barbara, with curling lip. "I'll wager she has reasons for giving no other."

"Her mother gives another to the gardener," I reminded her meekly.

"Names are as easy given as-as kisses!" she retorted. "As for Cydaria, my lord says it is a name out of a play."

All this while we had stood at the window, watching Cydaria's light feet trip across the meadow, and her bonnet swing wantonly in her hand. But now Cydaria disappeared among the trunks of the beech trees.

"See, she has gone," said I in a whisper. "She is gone, Mistress Barbara."

Barbara understood what I would say, but she was resolved to show me no gentleness. The soft tones of my voice had been for her, but she would not accept their homage.

"You need not sigh for that before my face," said she. "And yet, sigh if you will. What is it to me? But she is not gone far, and, doubtless, will not run too fast when you pursue."

"When you are in London," said I, "you will think with remorse how ill you used me."

"I shall never think of you at all. Do you forget that there are gentlemen of wit and breeding at the Court?"

"The devil fly away with every one of them!" cried I suddenly, not knowing then how well the better part of them would match their escort.

Barbara turned to me; there was a gleam of triumph in the depths of her dark eyes.

"Perhaps when you hear of me at Court," she cried, "you'll be sorry to think how--"

But she broke off suddenly, and looked out of the window.

"You'll find a husband there," I suggested bitterly.

"Like enough," said she carelessly.

To be plain, I was in no happy mood. Her going grieved me to the heart, and that she should go thus incensed stung me yet more. I was jealous of every man in London town. Had not my argument, then, some reason in it after all?

"Fare-you-well, madame," said I, with a heavy frown and a sweeping bow. No player from the Lane could have been more tragic.

"Fare-you-well, sir. I will not detain you, for you have, I know, other farewells to make."

"Not for a week yet!" I cried, goaded to a show of exultation that Cydaria stayed so long.

"I don't doubt that you'll make good use of the time," she said, as with a fine dignity she waved me to the door. Girl as she was, she had caught or inherited the grand air that great ladies use.

Gloomily I passed out, to fall into the hands of my lord, who was walking on the terrace. He caught me by the arm, laughing in good-humoured mockery.

"You've had a touch of sentiment, eh, you rogue?" said he. "Well, there's little harm in that, since the girl leaves us to-morrow."

"Indeed, my lord, there was little harm," said I, long-faced and rueful. "As little as my lady herself could wish." (At this he smiled and nodded.) "Mistress Barbara will hardly so much as look at me."

He grew graver, though the smile still hung about his lips.

"They gossip about you in the village, Simon," said he. "Take a friend's counsel, and don't be so much with the lady at the cottage. Come, I don't speak without reason." He nodded at me as a man nods who means more than he will say. Indeed, not a word more would he say, so that when I left him I was even more angry than when I parted from his daughter. And, the nature of man being such as Heaven has made it, what need to say that I bent my steps to the cottage with all convenient speed? The only weapon of an ill-used lover (nay, I will not argue the merits of the case again) was ready to my hand.

Yet my impatience availed little; for there, on the seat that stood by the door, sat my good friend the Vicar, discoursing in pleasant leisure with the lady who named herself Cydaria.

"It is true," he was saying. "I fear it is true, though you're over young to have learnt it."

"There are schools, sir," she returned, with a smile that had (or so it seemed to me) a touch-no more-of bitterness in it, "where such lessons are early learnt."

"They are best let alone, those schools," said he.

"And what's the lesson?" I asked, drawing nearer.

Neither answered. The Vicar rested his hands on the ball of his cane, and suddenly began to relate old Betty Nasroth's prophecy to his companion. I cannot tell what led his thoughts to it, but it was never far from his mind when I was by. She listened with attention, smiling brightly in whimsical amusement when the fateful words, pronounced with due solemnity, left the Vicar's lips.

"It is a strange saying," he ended, "of which time alone can show the truth."

She glanced at me with merry eyes, yet with a new air of interest. It is strange the hold these superstitions have on all of us; though surely future ages will outgrow such childishness.

"I don't know what the prophecy means," said she; "yet one thing at least would seem needful for its fulfilment-that Mr Dale should become acquainted with the King."

"True!" cried the Vicar eagerly. "Everything stands on that, and on that we stick. For Simon cannot love where the King loves, nor know what the King hides, nor drink of the King's cup, if he abide all his days here in Hatchstead. Come, Simon, the plague is gone!"

"Should I then be gone too?" I asked. "But to what end? I have no friends in London who would bring me to the notice of the King."

The Vicar shook his head sadly. I had no such friends, and the King had proved before now that he could forget many a better friend to the throne than my dear father's open mind had made of him.

"We must wait, we must wait still," said the Vicar. "Time will find a friend."

Cydaria had become pensive for a moment, but she looked up now, smiling again, and said to me:

"You'll soon have a friend in London."

Thinking of Barbara, I answered gloomily, "She's no friend of mine."

"I did not mean whom you mean," said Cydaria, with twinkling eyes and not a whit put out. "But I also am going to London."

I smiled, for it did not seem as though she would be a powerful friend, or able to open any way for me. But she met my smile with another so full of confidence and challenge that my attention was wholly caught, and I did not heed the Vicar's farewell as he rose and left

us.

"And would you serve me," I asked, "if you had the power?"

"Nay, put the question as you think it," said she. "Would you have the power to serve me if you had the will? Is not that the doubt in your mind?"

"And if it were?"

"Then, indeed, I do not know how to answer; but strange things happen there in London, and it may be that some day even I should have some power."

"And you would use it for me?"

"Could I do less on behalf of a gentleman who has risked his mistress's favour for my poor cheek's sake?" And she fell to laughing again, her mirth growing greater as I turned red in the face. "You mustn't blush when you come to town," she cried, "or they'll make a ballad on you, and cry you in the streets for a monster."

"The oftener comes the cause, the rarer shall the effect be," said I.

"The excuse is well put," she conceded. "We should make a wit of you in town."

"What do you in town?" I asked squarely, looking her full in the eyes.

"Perhaps, sometimes," she laughed, "what I have done once-and to your good knowledge-since I came to the country."

Thus she would baffle me with jesting answers as often as I sought to find out who and what she was. Nor had I better fortune with her mother, for whom I had small liking, and who had, as it seemed, no more for me. For she was short in her talk, and frowned to see me with her daughter. Yet she saw me, I must confess, often with Cydaria in the next days, and I was often with Cydaria when she did not see me. For Barbara was gone, leaving me both sore and lonely, all in the mood to find comfort where I could, and to see manliness in desertion; and there was a charm about the girl that grew on me insensibly and without my will until I came to love, not her (as I believed, forgetting that Love loves not to mark his boundaries too strictly) but her merry temper, her wit and cheerfulness. Moreover, these things were mingled and spiced with others, more attractive than all to unfledged youth, an air of the world and a knowledge of life which piqued my curiosity and sat (it seems so even to my later mind as I look back) with bewitching incongruity on the laughing child's face and the unripe grace of girlhood. Her moods were endless, vying with one another in an ever undetermined struggle for the prize of greatest charm. For the most part she was merry, frank mirth passing into sly raillery; now and then she would turn sad, sighing, "Heigho, that I could stay in the sweet innocent country!" Or again she would show or ape an uneasy conscience, whispering, "Ah, that I were like your Mistress Barbara!" The next moment she would be laughing and jesting and mocking, as though life were nought but a great many-coloured bubble, and she the brightest-tinted gleam on it.

Are women so constant and men so forgetful, that all sympathy must go from me and all esteem be forfeited because, being of the age of eighteen years, I vowed to live for one lady only on a Monday and was ready to die for another on the Saturday? Look back; bow your heads, and give me your hands, to kiss or to clasp!

Let not you and I inquire

What has been our past desire,

On what shepherds you have smiled,

Or what nymphs I have beguiled;

Leave it to the planets too

What we shall hereafter do;

For the joys we now may prove,

Take advice of present love.

Nay, I will not set my name to that in its fulness; Mr Waller is a little too free for one who has been nicknamed a Puritan to follow him to the end. Yet there is a truth in it. Deny it, if you will. You are smiling, madame, while you deny.

It was a golden summer's evening when I, to whom the golden world was all a hell, came by tryst to the park of Quinton Manor, there to bid Cydaria farewell. Mother and sisters had looked askance at me, the village gossiped, even the Vicar shook a kindly head. What cared I? By Heaven, why was one man a nobleman and rich, while another had no money in his purse and but one change to his back? Was not love all in all, and why did Cydaria laugh at a truth so manifest? There she was under the beech tree, with her sweet face screwed up to a burlesque of grief, her little hand lying on her hard heart as though it beat for me, and her eyes the playground of a thousand quick expressions. I strode up to her, and caught her by the hand, saying no more than just her name, "Cydaria." It seemed that there was no more to say; yet she cried, laughing and reproachful, "Have you no vows for me? Must I go without my tribute?"

I loosed her hand and stood away from her. On my soul, I could not speak. I was tongue-tied, dumb as a dog.

"When you come courting in London," she said, "you must not come so empty of lover's baggage. There ladies ask vows, and protestations, and despair, ay, and poetry, and rhapsodies, and I know not what."

"Of all these I have nothing but despair," said I.

"Then you make a sad lover," she pouted. "And I am glad to be going where lovers are less woebegone."

"You look for lovers in London?" I cried, I that had cried to Barbara-well, I have said my say on that.

"If Heaven send them," answered Cydaria.

"And you will forget me?"

"In truth, yes, unless you come yourself to remind me. I have no head for absent lovers."

"But if I come--" I began in a sudden flush of hope.

She did not (though it was her custom) answer in raillery; she plucked a leaf from the tree, and tore it with her fingers as she answered with a curious glance.

"Why, if you come, I think you'll wish that you had not come, unless, indeed, you've forgotten me before you come."

"Forget you! Never while I live! May I come, Cydaria?"

"Most certainly, sir, so soon as your wardrobe and your purse allow. Nay, don't be huffed. Come, Simon, sweet Simon, are we not friends, and may not friends rally one another? No, and if I choose, I will put my hand through your arm. Indeed, sir, you're the first gentleman that ever thrust it away. See, it is there now! Doesn't it look well there, Simon-and feel well there, Simon?" She looked up into my face in coaxing apology for the hurt she had given me, and yet still with mockery of my tragic airs. "Yes, you must by all means come to London," she went on, patting my arm. "Is not Mistress Barbara in London? And I think-am I wrong, Simon?-that there is something for which you will want to ask her pardon."

"If I come to London, it is for you and you only that I shall come," I cried.

"No, no. You will come to love where the King loves, to know what he hides, and to drink of his cup. I, sir, cannot interfere with your great destiny"; she drew away from me, curtseyed low, and stood opposite to me, smiling.

"For you and for you only," I repeated.

"Then will the King love me?" she asked.

"God forbid," said I fervently.

"Oh, and why, pray, your 'God forbid'? You're very ready with your 'God forbids.' Am I then to take your love sooner than the King's, Master Simon?"

"Mine is an honest love," said I soberly.

"Oh, I should doat on the country, if everybody didn't talk of his honesty there! I have seen the King in London and he is a fine gentleman."

"And you have seen the Queen also, may be?"

"In truth, yes. Ah, I have shocked you, Simon? Well, I was wrong. Come, we're in the country; we'll be good. But when we've made a townsman of you, we'll-we will be what they are in town. Moreover, in ten minutes I am going home, and it would be hard if I also left you in anger. You shall have a pleasanter memory of my going than Mistress Barbara's gave you."

"How shall I find you when I come to town?"

"Why, if you will ask any gentleman you meet whether he chances to remember Cydaria, you will find me as soon as it is well you should."

I prayed her to tell me more; but she was resolved to tell no more.

"See, it is late. I go," said she. Then suddenly she came near to me. "Poor Simon," she said softly. "Yet it is good for you, Simon. Some day you will be amused at this, Simon"; she spoke as though she were fifty years older than I. My answer lay not in words or arguments. I caught her in my arms and kissed her. She struggled, yet she laughed. It shot through my mind then that Barbara would neither have struggled nor laughed. But Cydaria laughed.

Presently I let her go, and kneeling on my knee kissed her hand very humbly, as though she had been what Barbara was. If she were not-and I knew not what she was-yet should my love exalt her and make a throne whereon she might sit a Queen. My new posture brought a sudden gravity to her face, and she bent over me with a smile that seemed now tender and almost sorrowful.

"Poor Simon, poor Simon," she whispered. "Kiss my hand now; kiss it as though I were fit for worship. It will do you no harm, and-and perhaps-perhaps I shall like to remember it." She bent down and kissed my forehead as I knelt before her. "Poor Simon," she whispered, as her hair brushed mine. Then her hand was gradually and gently withdrawn. I looked up to see her face; her lips were smiling but there seemed a dew on her lashes. She laughed, and the laugh ended in a little gasp, as though a sob had fought with it. And she cried out loud, her voice ringing clear among the trees in the still evening air.

"That ever I should be so sore a fool!"

Then she turned and left me, running swiftly over the grass, with never a look behind her. I watched till she was out of sight, and then sat down on the ground; with twitching lips and wide-open dreary eyes.

Ah, for youth's happiness! Alas for its dismal woe! Thus she came into my life.

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