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   Chapter 26 I COME HOME

Simon Dale By Anthony Hope Characters: 9323

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

I have written the foregoing for my children's sake that they may know that once their father played some part in great affairs, and, rubbing shoulder to shoulder with folk of high degree, bore himself (as I venture to hope) without disgrace, and even with that credit which a ready brain and hand bring to their possessor. Here, then, I might well come to an end, and deny myself the pleasure of a last few words indited for my own comfort and to please a greedy recollection. The children, if they read, will laugh. Have you not seen the mirthful wonder that spreads on a girl's face when she comes by chance on some relic of her father's wooing, a faded wreath that he has given her mother, or a nosegay tied with a ribbon and a poem attached thereto? She will look in her father's face, and thence to where her mother sits at her needle-work, just where she has sat at her needle-work these twenty years, with her old kind smile and comfortable eyes. The girl loves her, loves her well, but-how came father to write those words? For mother, though the dearest creature in the world, is not slim, nor dazzling, nor a Queen, nor is she Venus herself, decked in colours of the rainbow, nor a Goddess come from heaven to men, nor the desire of all the world, nor aught else that father calls her in the poem. Indeed, what father wrote is something akin to what the Squire slipped into her own hand last night; but it is a strange strain in which to write to mother, the dearest creature in the world, but no, not Venus in her glory nor the Queen of the Nymphs. But though the maiden laughs, her father is not ashamed. He still sees her to whom he wrote, and when she smiles across the room at him, and smiles again to see her daughter's wonder, all the years fade from the picture's face, and the vision stands as once it was, though my young mistress' merry eyes have not the power to see it. Let her laugh. God forbid that I should grudge it her! Soon enough shall she sit sewing and another laugh.

Carford was gone, well-nigh healed of his wound, healed also of his love, I trust, at least headed off from it. M. de Fontelles was gone also, on that quest of his which made my Lord Rochester so merry; indeed I fear that in this case the scoffer had the best of it, for he whom I have called M. de Perrencourt was certainly served again by his indignant subject, and that most brilliantly. Well, had I been a Frenchman, I could have forgiven King Louis much; and I suppose that, although an Englishman, I do not hate him greatly, since his ring is often on my wife's finger and I see it there without pain.

It was the day before my wedding was to take place; for my lord, on being informed of all that had passed, had sworn roundly that since there was one honest man who sought his daughter, he would not refuse her, lest while he waited for better things worse should come. And he proceeded to pay me many a compliment, which I would repeat, despite of modesty, if it chanced that I remembered them. But in truth my head was so full of his daughter that there was no space for his praises, and his well-turned eulogy (for my lord had a pretty flow of words) was as sadly wasted as though he had spoken it to the statue of Apollo on his terrace.

I had been taking dinner with the Vicar, and, since it was not yet time to pay my evening visit to the Manor, I sat with him a while after our meal, telling him for his entertainment how I had talked with the King at Whitehall, what the King had said, and what I, and how my Lord Rochester had talked finely of the Devil, and tried, but failed, to talk of love. He drank in all with eager ears, weighing the wit in a balance, and striving to see, through my recollection, the life and the scene and the men that were so strange to his eyes and so familiar to his dreams.

"You don't appear very indignant, sir," I ventured to observe with a smile.

We were in the porch, and, for answer to what I said, he pointed to the path in front of us. Following the direction of his finger I perceived a fly of a species with which I, who am a poor student of nature, was not familiar. It was villainously ugly, although here and there on it were patches of bright colour.

"Yet," said the Vicar, "you are not indignant with it, Simon."

"No, I am not indignant," I admitted.

"But if it were to crawl over you--"

"I should crush the brute," I cried.

"Yes. They have crawled over you and you are indignant. They have not crawled over me, and I am curious."

"But, sir, will you allow a man no disinterested moral emotion?"

"As much as he will, and he shall be cool at the end of it," smiled th

e Vicar. "Now if they took my benefice from me again!" Stooping down, he picked up the creature in his hand and fell to examining it very minutely.

"I wonder you can touch it," said I in disgust.

"You did not quit the Court without some regret, Simon," he reminded me.

I could make nothing of him in this mood and was about to leave him when I perceived my lord and Barbara approaching the house. Springing up, I ran to meet them; they received me with a grave air, and in the ready apprehension of evil born of a happiness that seems too great I cried out to know if there were bad tidings.

"There's nothing that touches us nearly," said my lord. "But very pitiful news is come from France."

The Vicar had followed me and now stood by me; I looked up and saw that the ugly creature was still in his hand.

"It concerns Madame, Simon," said Barbara. "She is dead and all the town declares that she had poison given to her in a cup of chicory-water. Is it not pitiful?"

Indeed the tidings came as a shock to me, for I remembered the winning grace and wit of the unhappy lady.

"But who has done it?" I cried.

"I don't know," said my lord. "It is set down to her husband; rightly or wrongly, who knows?"

A silence ensued for a few moments. The Vicar stooped and set his captive free to crawl away on the path.

"God has crushed one of them, Simon," said he. "Are you content?"

"I try not to believe it of her," said I.

In a grave mood we began to walk, and presently, as it chanced, Barbara and I distanced the slow steps of our elders and found ourselves at the Manor gates alone.

"I am very sorry for Madame," said she, sighing heavily. Yet presently, because by the mercy of Providence our own joy outweighs others' grief and thus we can pass through the world with unbroken hearts, she looked up at me with a smile, and passing her arm, through mine, drew herself close to me.

"Ay, be merry, to-night at least be merry, my sweet," said I. "For we have come through a forest of troubles and are here safe out on the other side."

"Safe and together," said she.

"Without the second, where would be the first?"

"Yet," said Barbara, "I fear you'll make a bad husband; for here at the very beginning-nay, I mean before the beginning-you have deceived me."

"I protest--!" I cried.

"For it was from my father only that I heard of a visit you paid in London."

I bent my head and looked at her.

"I would not trouble you with it," said I. "It was no more than a debt of civility."

"Simon, I don't grudge it to her. For I am, here in the country with you, and she is there in London without you."

"And in truth," said I, "I believe that you are both best pleased."

"For her," said Barbara, "I cannot speak."

For a long while then we walked in silence, while the afternoon grew full and waned again. They mock at lovers' talk; let them, say I with all my heart, so that they leave our silence sacred. But at last Barbara turned to me and said with a little laugh:

"Art glad to have come home, Simon?"

Verily I was glad. In body I had wandered some way, in mind and heart farther, through many dark ways, turning and twisting here and there, leading I knew not whither, seeming to leave no track by which I might regain my starting point. Yet, although I felt it not, the thread was in my hand, the golden thread spun here in Hatchstead when my days were young. At length the hold of it had tightened and I, perceiving it, had turned and followed. Thus it had brought me home, no better in purse or station than I went, and poorer by the loss of certain dreams that haunted me, yet, as I hope, sound in heart and soul. I looked now in the dark eyes that were, set on me as though there were their refuge, joy, and life; she clung to me as though even still I might leave her. But the last fear fled, the last doubt faded away, and a smile came in radiant serenity on the lips I loved as, bending down, I whispered:

"Ay, I am glad to have come home."

But there was one thing more that I must say. Her head fell on my shoulder as she murmured:

"And you have utterly forgotten her?"

Her eyes were safely hidden. I smiled as I answered, "Utterly."

See how I stood! Wilt thou forgive me, Nelly?

For a man may be very happy as he is and still not forget the things which have been. "What are you thinking of, Simon?" my wife asks sometimes when I lean back in my chair and smile. "Of nothing, sweet," say I. And, in truth, I am not thinking; it is only that a low laugh echoes distantly in my ear. Faithful and loyal am I-but, should such as Nell leave nought behind her?

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