The Broad Highway
Part 7 out of 11
hands, and forget this folly!" and I extended my hand to Old Amos.
He glanced from it to my face, and immediately, lowering his
eyes, shook his head.
"'Tis the Evil Eye'!" said he, and drew across upon the floor
with his stick, "the 'Evil Eye'!"
"Nonsense!" said I again; "my eye is no more evil than yours or
Job's. I never wished any man harm yet, nor wronged one, and I
hope I never may. As for Mr. Dutton's pigs, if he take better
care of them, and keep them out of the damp, they will probably
thrive better than ever--come, shake hands!"
But, one by one, they edged their way to the door after Old Amos,
until only John Pringle was left; he, for a moment, stood
hesitating, then, suddenly reaching out, he seized my hand, and
shook it twice.
"I'll call for they 'orseshoes in the marnin', Peter," said he,
"Arter all," I heard him say, as he joined the others, "'tis
summat to ha' shook 'ands wi' a chap as fights wi' demons!"
A SHADOW IN THE HEDGE
Over the uplands, to my left, the moon was peeping at me, very
broad and yellow, as yet, casting long shadows athwart my way.
The air was heavy with the perfume of honeysuckle abloom in the
hedges--a warm, still air wherein a deep silence brooded, and in
which leaf fluttered not and twig stirred not; but it was none of
this I held in my thoughts as I strode along, whistling softly as
I went. Yet, in a while, chancing to lift my eyes, I beheld the
object of my reverie coming towards me through the shadows.
"Why--Charmian!" said I, uncovering my head.
"Did you come to meet me?"
"It must be nearly nine o'clock, sir."
"Yes, I had to finish some work."
"Did any one pass you on the road?"
"Not a soul."
"Peter, have you an enemy?"
"Not that I know of, unless it be myself. Epictetus says
"Oh, Peter, how dreadfully quiet everything is!" said she, and
"Are you cold?"
"No--but it is so dreadfully--still."
Now in one place the lane, narrowing suddenly, led between high
banks crowned with bushes, so that it was very dark there. As we
entered this gloom Charmian suddenly drew closer to my side and
slipped her hand beneath my arm and into my clasp, and the touch
of her fingers was like ice.
"Your hand is very cold!" said I. But she only laughed, yet I
felt her shiver as she pressed herself close against me.
And now it was she who talked and I who walked in silence, or
answered at random, for I was conscious only of the clasp of her
fingers and the soft pressure of hip and shoulder.
So we passed through this place of shadows, walking neither fast
nor slow, and ever her cold fingers clasped my fingers, and her
shoulder pressed my arm while she talked, and laughed, but of
what, I know not, until we had left the dark place behind. Then
she sighed deeply and turned, and drew her arm from mine, almost
sharply, and stood looking back, with her two hands pressed upon
"What is it?"
"Look!" she whispered, pointing, "there--where it is darkest
--look!" Now, following the direction of her finger, I saw
something that skulked amid the shadows something that slunk
away, and vanished as I watched.
"A man!" I exclaimed, and would have started in pursuit, but
Charmian's hands were upon my arm, strong and compelling.
"Are you mad?" cried she angrily; "would you give him the
opportunity I prevented? He was waiting there to--to shoot you,
And, after we had gone on some little way, I spoke.
"Was that why you--came to meet me?"
"And--kept so close beside me."
"Ah, yes, to be sure!" said I, and walked on in silence; and now
I noticed that she kept as far from me as the path would allow.
"Are you thinking me very--unmaidenly again, sir?"
"No," I answered; "no."
"You see, I had no other way. Had I told you that there was a
man hidden in the hedge you would have gone to look, and then
--something dreadful would have happened."
"How came you to know he was there?"
"Why, after I had prepared supper I climbed that steep path which
leads to the road and sat down upon the fallen tree that lies
there, to watch for you, and, as I sat there, I saw a man come
hurrying down the road."
"A very big man?"
"Yes, very tall he seemed, and, as I watched, he crept in behind
the hedge. While I was wondering at this, I heard your step on
the road, and you were whistling."
"And yet I seldom whistle."
"It was you--I knew your step."
"Did you, Charmian?"
"I do wish you would not interrupt, sir."
"I beg your pardon," said I humbly.
"And then I saw you coming, and the man saw you too, for he
crouched suddenly; I could only see him dimly in the shadow of
the hedge, but he looked murderous, and it seemed to me that if
you reached his hiding-place before I did--something terrible
would happen, and so--"
"You came to meet me."
"And walked close beside me, so that you were between me and the
shadow in the hedge?"
"And I thought--" I began, and stopped.
"Well, Peter?" Here she turned, and gave me a swift glance beneath
"--that it was because--you were--perhaps--rather glad to see
me." Charmian did not speak; indeed she was so very silent that
I would have given much to have seen her face just then, but the
light was very dim, as I have said, moreover she had turned her
shoulder towards me. "But I am grateful to you," I went on,
"very grateful, and--it was very brave of you!"
"Thank you, sir," she answered in a very small voice, and I more
than suspected that she was laughing at me.
"Not," I therefore continued, "that there was any real danger."
"What do you mean?" she asked quickly.
"I mean that, in all probability, the man you saw was Black
George, a very good friend of mine, who, though he may imagine he
has a grudge against me, is too much of a man to lie in wait to
do me hurt."
"Then why should he hide in the hedge?"
"Because he committed the mistake of throwing the town Beadle
over the churchyard wall, and is, consequently, in hiding, for
"He has an ill-sounding name."
"And is the manliest, gentlest, truest, and worthiest fellow that
ever wore the leather apron."
Seeing how perseveringly she kept the whole breadth of the path
between us, I presently fell back and walked behind her; now her
head was bent, and thus I could not but remark the little curls
and tendrils of hair upon her neck, whose sole object seemed to
be to make the white skin more white by contrast.
"Peter," said she suddenly, speaking over her shoulder, "of what
are you thinking?"
"Of a certain steak pasty that was promised for my supper," I
answered immediately, mendacious.
"And what," I inquired, "what were you thinking?"
"I was thinking, Peter, that the--shadow in the hedge may not
have been Black George, after all."
"This table wobbles!" said Charmian.
"It does," said I, "but then I notice that the block is misplaced
"Then why use a block?"
"A book is so clumsy--" I began.
"Or a book? Why not cut down the long legs to match the short
"That is really an excellent idea."
"Then why didn't you before?"
"Because, to be frank with you, it never occurred to me."
"I suppose you are better as a blacksmith than a carpenter,
aren't you, Peter?" And, seeing I could find no answer worthy of
retort, she laughed, and, sitting down, watched me while I took
my saw, forthwith, and shortened the three long legs as she had
suggested. Having done which, to our common satisfaction, seeing
the moon was rising, we went and sat down on the bench beside the
"And--are you a very good blacksmith?" she pursued, turning to
regard me, chin in hand.
"I can swing a hammer or shoe a horse with any smith in Kent
--except Black George, and he is the best in all the South
"And is that a very great achievement, Peter?"
"It is not a despicable one."
"Are you quite satisfied to be able to shoe horses well, sir?"
"It is far better to be a good blacksmith than a bad poet or an
incompetent prime minister."
"Meaning that you would rather succeed in the little thing than
fail in the great?"
"With your permission, I will smoke," said I.
"Surely," she went on, nodding her permission, "surely it is
nobler to be a great failure rather than a mean success?"
"Success is very sweet, Charmian, even in the smallest thing; for
instance," said I, pointing to the cottage door that stood open
beside her, "when I built that door, and saw it swing on its
hinges, I was as proud of it as though it had been--"
"A really good door," interpolated Charmian, "instead of a bad
"A bad one, Charmian?"
"It is a very clumsy door, and has neither bolt nor lock."
"There are no thieves hereabouts, and, even if there were, they
would not dare to set foot in the Hollow after dark."
"And then, unless one close it with great care, it sticks--very
"That, obviating the necessity of a latch, is rather to be
commended," said I.
"Besides, it is a very ill-fitting door, Peter."
"I have seen worse."
"And will be very draughty in cold weather."
"A blanket hung across will remedy that."
"Still, it can hardly be called a very good door, can it, Peter?"
Here I lighted my pipe without answering. "I suppose you make
horseshoes much better than you make doors?" I puffed at my pipe
in silence. "You are not angry because I found fault with your
door, are you, Peter?"
"Angry?" said I; "not in the least."
"I am sorry for that."
"Are you never angry, Peter?"
"Seldom, I hope."
"I should like to see you so--just once. Finding nothing to say
in answer to this, I smoked my negro-head pipe and stared at the
moon, which was looking down at us through a maze of tree-trunks
"Referring to horseshoes," said Charmian at last, "are you
content to be a blacksmith all your days?"
"Yes, I think I am."
"Were you never ambitious, then?"
"Ambition is like rain, breaking itself upon what it falls on--at
least, so Bacon says, and--"
"Oh, bother Bacon! Were you never ambitious, Peter?"
"I was a great dreamer."
"A dreamer!" she exclaimed with fine scorn; "are dreamers ever
"Indeed, they are the most truly ambitious," I retorted; "their
dreams are so vast, so infinite, so far beyond all puny human
strength and capacity that they, perforce, must remain dreamers
always. Epictetus himself--"
"I wish," sighed Charmian, "I do wish--"
"What do you wish?"
"That you were not--"
"That I was not?"
"Pedant!" said I, somewhat disconcerted.
"And you have a way of echoing my words that is very irritating."
"I beg your pardon," said I, feeling much like a chidden
schoolboy; "and I am sorry you should think me a pedant."
"And you are so dreadfully precise and serious," she continued.
"Am I, Charmian?"
"And so very solemn and austere, and so ponderous, and
egotistical, and calm--yes, you are hatefully calm and placid,
aren't you, Peter?"
And, after I had smoked thoughtfully awhile, I sighed.
"Yes, I fear I may seem so."
"Oh, I forgive you!"
"Though you needn't be so annoyingly humble about it," said she,
and frowned, and, even while she frowned, laughed and shook her
"And pray, why do you laugh?"
"Because--oh, Peter, you are such a--boy!"
"So you told me once before," said I, biting my pipe-stem
"Did I, Peter?"
"You also called me a--lamb, I remember--at least, you suggested it."
"Did I, Peter?" and she began to laugh again, but stopped all at
once and rose to her feet.
"Peter!" said she, with a startled note in her voice, "don't you
"Yes," said I.
"Some one is coming!"
"And--they are coming this way!"
"Oh--how can you sit there so quietly? Do you think--"she began,
and stopped, staring into the shadows with wide eyes.
"I think," said I, knocking the ashes from my pipe, and laying it
on the bench beside me, "that, all things considered, you were
wiser to go into the cottage for a while."
"No--oh, I couldn't do that!"
"You would be safer, perhaps."
"I am not a coward. I shall remain here, of course."
"But I had rather you went inside."
"And I much prefer staying where I am."
"Then I must ask you to go inside, Charmian."
"No, indeed, my mind is made up."
"Then I insist, Charmian."
"Mr. Vibart!" she exclaimed, throwing up her head, "you forget
yourself, I think. I permit no one to order my going and coming,
and I obey no man's command."
"Then--I beg of you."
"And I refuse, sir--my mind is made up."
"And mine also!" said I, rising.
"Why, what--what are you going to do?" she cried, retreating as I
advanced towards her.
"I am going to carry you into the cottage."
"You would not dare!"
"If you refuse to walk, how else can you get there?" said I.
Anger, amazement, indignation, all these I saw in her eyes as she
faced me, but anger most of all.
"Oh--you would--not dare!" she said again, and with a stamp of
"Indeed, yes," I nodded. And now her glance wavered beneath mine,
her head drooped, and, with a strange little sound that was neither
a laugh nor a sob, and yet something of each, she turned upon her
heel, ran into the cottage, and slammed the door behind her.
A PEDLER IN ARCADIA
The cottage, as I have said, was entirely hidden from the chance
observer by reason of the foliage: ash, alder, and bramble
flourished luxuriantly, growing very thick and high, with here
and there a great tree; but, upon one side, there was a little
grassy glade, or clearing rather, some ten yards square, and it
was towards this that my eyes were directed as I reseated myself
upon the settle beside the door, and waited the coming of the
Though the shadows were too deep for my eyes to serve me, yet I
could follow the newcomer's approach quite easily by the sound he
made; indeed, I was particularly struck by the prodigious
rustling of leaves. Whoever it was must be big and bulky, I
thought, and clad, probably, in a long, trailing garment.
All at once I knew I was observed, for the sounds ceased, and I
heard nothing save the distant bark of a dog and the ripple of
the brook near by.
I remained there for, maybe, a full minute, very still, only my
fists clenched themselves as I sat listening and waiting--and
that minute was an hour.
"You won't be wantin' ever a broom, now?"
The relief was so sudden and intense that I had much ado to keep
from laughing outright.
"You won't be wantin' ever a broom, now?" inquired the voice
"No," I answered, "nor yet a fine leather belt with a steel
buckle made in Brummagem as ever was."
"Oh, it's you, is it?" said the Pedler, and forthwith Gabbing
Dick stepped out of the shadows, brooms on shoulder and bulging
pack upon his back, at sight of which the leafy tumult of his
approach was immediately accounted for. "So it's you, is it?" he
repeated, setting down his brooms and spitting lugubriously at
the nearest patch of shadow.
"Yes," I answered, "but what brings you here?"
"I be goin' to sleep 'ere, my chap."
"Oh!--you don't mind the ghost, then?"
"Oh, Lord, no! Theer be only two things as I can't abide--trees
as ain't trees is one on em, an' women's t' other."
"Come, didn't I 'once tell you I were married?"
"Very well then! Trees as ain't trees is bad enough, Lord
knows!--but women's worse--ah!" said the Pedler, shaking his
head, "a sight worse! Ye see, trees ain't got tongues--leastways
not as I ever heerd tell on, an' a tree never told a lie--or ate
a apple, did it?"
"What do you mean by 'ate an apple'?"
"I means as a tree can't tell a lie, or eat a apple, but a woman
can tell a lie--which she does--frequent, an' as for apples--"
"But--" I began.
"Eve ate a apple, didn't she?"
"The Scriptures say so," I nodded.
"An' told a lie arterwards, didn't she?"
"So we are given to understand."
"Very well then!" said the Pedler, "there y' are!" and he turned
to spit into the shadow again. "Wot's more," he continued,
"'twere a woman as done me out o' my birthright."
"Why, 'twere Eve as got us druv out o' the Gardin o' Eden,
weren't it? If it 'adn't been for Eve I might ha' been livin' on
milk an' 'oney, ah! an' playin' wi' butterflies, 'stead o' bein'
married, an' peddlin' these 'ere brooms. Don't talk to me o'
women, my chap; I can't abide 'em bah! if theer's any trouble
afoot you may take your Bible oath as theer's a woman about
some'eres--theer allus is!"
"Do you think so?"
"I knows so; ain't I a-'earin' an' a-seein' such all day, an'
every day--theer's Black Jarge, for one."
"What about him?"
"What about 'im!" repeated the Pedler; "w'y, ain't 'is life been
ruined, broke, wore away by one o' them Eves?--very well then!"
"What do you mean--how has his life been ruined?"
"Oh! the usual way of it; Jarge loves a gell--gell loves Jarge
--sugar ain't sweeter--very well then! Along comes another cove
--a strange cove--a cove wi' nice white 'ands an' soft, takin'
ways--'e talks wi' 'er walks wi' 'er--smiles at 'er--an' pore
Jarge ain't nowheeres--pore Jarge's cake is dough--ah! an' doughy
dough at that!"
"How do you come to know all this?"
"'Ow should I come to know it but from the man 'isself? 'Dick,'
says 'e" (baptismal name Richard, but Dick for short), "'Dick,'
says 'e, 'd'ye see this 'ere stick?' an' 'e shows me a good,
stout cudgel cut out o' th' 'edge, an' very neatly trimmed it
were too. 'Ah! I sees it, Jarge,' says I. 'An' d'ye see this
un?' says 'e, 'oldin' up another as like the first as one pea to
its fellow. 'Ah! I sees that un too, Jarge,' says I. 'Well,'
says Jarge, 'one's for 'im an' one's for me--'e can take 'is
chice,' 'e says, 'an' when we do meet, it's a-goin' to be one or
t' other of us,' 'e says, an' wot's more--'e looked it! 'If I
'ave to wait, an' wait, an' foller 'im, an' foller 'im,' says
Jarge, 'I'll catch 'im alone, one o' these fine nights, an' it'll
be man to man.'"
"And when did he tell you all this?"
"'S marnin' as ever was."
"Where did you see him?"
"Oh, no!" said the Pedler, shaking his head, "not by no manner o'
means. I'm married, but I ain't that kind of a cove!"
"What do you mean?"
"The runners is arter 'im--lookin' for 'im 'igh an' low, an'
--though married, I ain't one to give a man away. I ain't a
friendly cove myself, never was, an' never shall be--never 'ad a
friend all my days, an' don't want one but I likes Black Jarge--I
pities, an' I despises 'im."
"Why do you despise him?"
Because 'e carries on so, all about a Eve--w'y, theer ain't a
woman breathin' as is worth a man's troublin' 'is lead over, no,
nor never will be--yet 'ere's Black Jarge ready--ah! an' more
than willin' to get 'isself 'ung, an' all for a wench--a Eve--"
"Get, himself hanged?" I repeated.
"Ah 'ung! w'y, ain't 'e a-waitin' an' a-waitin' to get at this
cove--this cove wi' the nice white 'ands an' the takin' ways,
ain't 'e awatchin' an' a-watchin' to meet 'im some lonely night
--and when 'e do meet 'im--" The Pedler sighed.
"W'y, there'll be blood shed--blood!--quarts on it--buckets on
it! Black Jarge'll batter this 'ere cove's 'ead soft, so sure as
I were baptized Richard 'e'll lift this cove up in 'is great,
strong arms, an' 'e'll throw this cove down, an' 'e'll gore 'im,
an' stamp 'im down under 'is feet, an' this cove's blood'll go
soakin' an' a-soakin' into the grass, some'eres beneath some
'edge, or in some quiet corner o' the woods--and the birds'll
perch on this cove's breast, an' flutter their wings in this
cove's face, 'cause they'll know as this cove can never do nobody
no 'urt no wore; ah! there'll be blood--gallons of it!"
"I hope not!" said I. "Ye do, do ye?"
"An' 'cause why?"
"Because I happen to be that cove," I answered.
"Oh!" said the Pedler, eyeing me more narrowly; "you are, are
"Yet you ain't got w'ite 'ands."
"They were white once," said I.
"An' I don't see as your ways is soft--nor yet takin'!"
"None the less, I am that cove!"
"Oh!" repeated the Pedler, and, having turned this intelligence
over in his mind, spat thoughtfully into the shadow again. "You
won't be wantin' ever a broom, I think you said?"
"No," said I.
"Very well then!" he nodded, and, lifting his brooms, made
towards the cottage door!
"Where are you going?"
"To sleep in this 'ere empty 'ut."
"But it isn't empty!"
"So much the better," nodded the Pedler, "good night!" and, with
the words, he laid his hand upon the door, but, as he did so, it
opened, and Charmian appeared. The Pedler fell back three or
four paces, staring with round eyes.
"By Goles!" he exclaimed. "So you are married then?"
Now, when he said this I felt suddenly hot all over, even to the
very tips of my ears, and, for the life of me, I could not have
looked at Charmian.
"Why--why--" I began, but her smooth, soft voice came to my
"No--he is not married," said she, "far from it."
"Not?" said the Pedler, "so much the better; marriage ain't love,
no, nor love ain't marriage--I'm a married cove myself, so I know
what I'm a-sayin'; if folk do talk, an' shake their 'eads over
ye--w'y, let 'em, only don't--don't go a-spilin' things by
gettin' 'churched.' You're a woman, but you're a fine un--a
dasher, by Goles, nice an' straight-backed, an' round, an' plump
if I was this 'ere cove, now, I know what--"
"Here," said I hastily, "here--sell me a broom!"
The Pedler drew a broom from his bundle and passed it to me.
"One shillin' and sixpence!" said he, which sum I duly paid over.
"Don't," he continued, pocketing the money, and turning to
Charmian, "don't go spilin' things by lettin' this young cove go
a-marryin' an' a-churchin' ye--nobody never got married as didn't
repent it some time or other, an' wot's more, when Marriage comes
in at the door, Love flies out up the chimbley--an' there y'are!
Now, if you loves this young cove, w'y, very good! if this 'ere
young cove loves you--which ain't to be wondered at--so much the
better, but don't--don't go a-marryin' each other, an'--as for
"Come--I'll take a belt--give me a belt!" said I, more hastily
"A belt?" said the Pedler.
"A belt, yes."
"Wi' a fine steel buckle made in--"
"Yes--yes!" said I.
"Two shillin' an' sixpence!" said the Pedler.
"When I saw you last time, you offered much the same belt for a
shilling," I demurred.
"Ah!" nodded the Pedler, "but belts is riz--'arf-a-crown's the
price--take it or leave it."
"It's getting late," said I, slipping the money into his hand,
"and I'll wish you good night!"
"You're in a 'urry about it, ain't you?"
"Ah--to be sure!" nodded the fellow, looking from me to Charmian
with an evil leer, "early to bed an'--"
"Come--get off!" said I angrily.
"Wot--are ye goin' to turn me away--at this time o' night!"
"It is not so far to Sissinghurst!" said I:
"But, Lord! I wouldn't disturb ye--an' there's two rooms, ain't
"There are plenty of comfortable beds to be had at 'The Bull.'"
"So you won't gi'e me a night's shelter, eh?"
"No," I answered, greatly annoyed by the fellow's persistence.
"An' you don't want to buy nothin' for the young woman--a
necklace--or, say--a pair o' garters?" But here, meeting my eye,
he shouldered his brooms hastily and moved off. And, after he
had gone some dozen yards or so, he paused and turned.
"Very well then!" he shouted, "I 'opes as you gets your 'ead
knocked off--ah!--an' gets it knocked off soon!" Having said
which, he spat up into the air towards me, and trudged off.
CONCERNING BLACK GEORGE'S LETTER
It was with a feeling of great relief that I watched the fellow
out of sight; nevertheless his very presence seemed to have left a
blight upon all things, for he, viewing matters with the material
eye of Common-sense, had, thereby, contaminated them--even the air
seemed less pure and sweet than it had been heretofore, so that,
glancing over my shoulder, I was glad to see that Charmian had
re-entered the cottage.
"Here," said I to myself, "here is Common-sense in the shape of a
half-witted peddling fellow, blundering into Arcadia, in the
shape of a haunted cottage, a woman, and a man. Straightway our
Pedler, being Common-sense, misjudges us--as, indeed, would every
other common-sense individual the world over; for Arcadia, being
of itself abstract and immaterial, is opposed to, and incapable
of being understood by concrete common-sense, and always will be
--and there's the rub! And yet," said I, "thanks to the Wanderer
of the Roads, who built this cottage and hanged himself here, and
thanks to a Highland Scot who performed wonderfully on the
bagpipes, there is little chance of any common-sense vagrant
venturing near Arcadia again--at least until the woman is gone,
or the man is gone, or--"
Here, going to rub my chin (being somewhat at a loss), I found
that I had been standing, all this while, the broom in one hand
and the belt in the other, and now, hearing a laugh behind me, I
turned, and saw Charmian was leaning in the open doorway watching
"And so you are the--the cove--with the white hands and the
taking ways, are you, Peter?"
"Why--you were actually--listening then?"
"Why, of course I was."
"That," said I, "that was very--undignified!"
"But very--feminine, Peter!" Hereupon I threw the belt from me
one way, and the broom the other, and sitting down upon the bench
began to fill any pipe rather awkwardly, being conscious of
Charmian's mocking scrutiny.
"Poor--poor Black George!" she sighed.
"What do you mean by that?" said I quickly.
"Really I can almost understand his being angry with you."
"You walked with her, and talked with her, Peter--like Caesar,
'you came, you saw, you conquered'!"
Here I dragged my tinder-box from my pocket so awkwardly as to
bring the lining with it.
"And--even smiled at her, Peter--and you so rarely smile!"
Having struck flint and steel several times without success, I
thrust the tinder-box back into my pocket and fixed my gaze upon
"Is she so very pretty, Peter?"
I stared up at the moon without answering.
"I wonder if you bother her with your Epictetus and--and
I bit my lips and stared up at the moon.
"Or perhaps she likes your musty books and philosophy?"
But presently, finding that I would not speak, Charmian began to
sing, very sweet and low, as if to herself, yet, when I chanced
to glance towards her, I found her mocking eyes still watching
me. Now the words of her song were these:
"O, my luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June;
O, my luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune."
And so, at last, unable to bear it any longer, I rose and, taking
my candle, went into my room and closed the door. But I had been
there scarcely five minutes when Charmian knocked.
"Oh, Peter! I wish to speak to you--please." Obediently I opened
"What is it, Charmian?"
"You dropped this from your pocket when you took out your
tinder-box so clumsily!" said she, holding towards me a crumpled
paper. And looking down at it, I saw that it was Black George's
letter to Prudence.
Now, as I took it from her, I noticed that her hand trembled,
while in her eyes I read fear and trouble; and seeing this, I
was, for a moment, unwontedly glad, and then wondered at myself.
"You--did not read it--of course?" said I, well knowing that she
"Yes, Peter--it lay open, and--"
"Then," said I, speaking my thought aloud, "you know that she
"He means you harm," said she, speaking with her head averted,
"and, if he killed you--"
"I should be spared a deal of sorrow, and--and mortification,
and--other people would be no longer bothered by Epictetus and
dry-as-dust quotations." She turned suddenly, and, crossing to
the open doorway, stood leaning there. "But, indeed," I went on
hurriedly, "there is no chance of such a thing happening--not the
remotest. Black George's bark is a thousand times worse than his
bite; this letter means nothing, and--er--nothing at all," I
ended, somewhat lamely, for she had turned and was looking at me
over her shoulder.
"If he has to 'wait and wait, and follow you and follow you'?"
said she, in the same low tone.
"Those are merely the words of a half-mad pedler," said I.
"'And your blood will go soaking, and soaking into the grass'!"
"Our Pedler has a vivid imagination!" said I lightly. But she
shook her head, and turned to look out upon the beauty of the
night once more, while I watched her, chin in hand.
"I was angry with you to-night, Peter," said she at length,
"because you ordered me to do something against my will--and I
--did it; and so, I tried to torment you--you will forgive me
for that, won't you?"
"There is nothing to forgive, nothing, and--good night, Charmian."
Here she turned, and, coming to me, gave me her hand.
"Charmian Brown will always think of you as a--"
"Blacksmith!" said I.
"As a blacksmith!" she repeated, looking at me with a gleam in
her eyes, "but oftener as a--"
"Pedant!" said I.
"As a pedant!" she repeated obediently, "but most of all as a--"
"Well?" said I.
"As a--man," she ended, speaking with bent head. And here again
I was possessed of a sudden gladness that was out of all reason,
as I immediately told myself.
"Your hand is very small," said I, finding nothing better to say,
"smaller even than I thought."
"Is it?" and she smiled and glanced up at me beneath her lashes,
for her head was still bent.
"And wonderfully smooth and soft!"
"Is it?" said she again, but this time she did not look up at me.
Now another man might have stooped and kissed those slender,
shapely fingers--but, as for me, I loosed them, rather suddenly,
and, once more bidding her good night, re-entered my own chamber,
and closed the door.
But to-night, lying upon my bed, I could not sleep, and fell to
watching the luminous patch of sky framed in my open casement. I
thought of Charmian, of her beauty, of her strange whims and
fancies, her swift-changing moods and her contrariness, comparing
her, in turn, to all those fair women I had ever read of or
dreamed over in my books. Little by little, however, my thoughts
drifted to Gabbing Dick and Black George, and, with my mind's
eye, I could see him as he was (perhaps at this very moment),
fierce-eyed and grim of mouth, sitting beneath some hedgerow,
while, knife in hand, he trimmed and trimmed his two bludgeons,
one of which was to batter the life out of me. From such
disquieting reflections I would turn my mind to sweet-eyed
Prudence, to the Ancient, the forge, and the thousand and one
duties of the morrow. I bethought me, once more, of the storm,
of the coming of Charmian, of the fierce struggle in the dark, of
the Postilion, and of Charmian again. And yet, in despite of me,
my thoughts would revert to George, and I would see myself even
as the Pedler pictured me, out in some secluded corner of the
woods, lying stiffly upon my back with glassy eyes staring up
sightlessly through the whispering leaves above, while my blood
soaked and soaked into the green, and with a blackbird singing
gloriously upon my motionless breast.
WHICH, BEING IN PARENTHESIS, MAY BE SKIPPED IF THE READER SO DESIRE
As this life is a Broad Highway along which we must all of us
pass whether we will or no; as it is a thoroughfare sometimes
very hard and cruel in the going, and beset by many hardships,
sometimes desolate and hatefully monotonous, so, also, must its
aspect, sooner or later, change for the better, and, the stony
track overpassed, the choking heat and dust left behind, we may
reach some green, refreshing haven shady with trees, and full of
the cool, sweet sound of running waters. Then who shall blame us
if we pause unduly in this grateful shade, and, lying upon our
backs a while, gaze up through the swaying green of trees to the
infinite blue beyond, ere we journey on once more, as soon we
must, to front whatsoever of good or evil lies waiting for us in
the hazy distance.
To just such a place am I now come, in this, my history; the
record of a period which I, afterwards, remembered as the
happiest I had ever known, the memory of which must remain with
me, green and fragrant everlastingly.
If, in the forthcoming pages, you shall find over-much of
Charmian, I would say, in the first place, that it is by her, and
upon her, that this narrative hangs; and, in the second place,
that in this part of my story I find my greatest pleasure; though
here, indeed, I am faced with a great difficulty, seeing that I
must depict, as faithfully as may be, that most difficult, that
most elusive of all created things, to wit--a woman.
Truly, I begin to fear lest my pen fail me altogether for the
very reason that it is of Charmian that I would tell, and of
Charmian I understand little more than nothing; for what rule has
ever been devised whereby a woman's mind may be accurately
gauged, and who of all those wise ones who have written hitherto
--poets, romancers, or historians--has ever fathomed the why and
wherefore of the Mind Feminine?
A fool indeed were I to attempt a thing impossible; I do but seek
to show her to you as I saw her, and to describe her in so far as
I learned to know her.
And yet, how may I begin? I might tell you that her nose was
neither arched nor straight, but perfect, none the less; I might
tell you of her brows, straight and low, of her eyes, long and
heavy-lashed, of her chin, firm and round and dimpled; and yet,
that would not be Charmian. For I could not paint you the scarlet
witchery of her mouth with its sudden, bewildering changes, nor
show you how sweetly the lower lip curved up to meet its mate.
I might tell you that to look into her eyes was like gazing down
into very deep water, but I could never give you their varying
beauty, nor the way she had with her lashes; nor can I ever
describe her rich, warm coloring, nor the lithe grace of her body.
Thus it is that I misdoubt my pen of its task, and fear that, when
you shall have read these pages, you shall, at best, have caught
but a very imperfect reflection of Charmian as she really is.
Wherefore, I will waste no more time or paper upon so unprofitable
a task, but hurry on with my narrative, leaving you to find her
out as best you may.
CONCERNING, AMONG OTHER MATTERS, THE PRICE OF BEEF, AND THE LADY
SOPHIA SEFTON OF CAMBOURNE
Charmian sighed, bit the end of her pen, and sighed again. She
was deep in her housekeeping accounts, adding and subtracting
and, between whiles, regarding the result with a rueful frown.
Her sleeves were rolled up over her round, white arms, and I
inwardly wondered if the much vaunted Phryne's were ever more
perfect in their modelling, or of a fairer texture. Had I
possessed the genius of a Praxiteles I might have given to the
world a masterpiece of beauty to replace his vanished Venus of
Cnidus; but, as it happened, I was only a humble blacksmith, and
she a fair woman who sighed, and nibbled her pen, and sighed
"What is it, Charmian?"
"Compound addition, Peter, and I hate figures I detest, loathe,
and abominate them--especially when they won't balance!"
"Then never mind them," said I.
"Never mind them, indeed--the idea, Sir! How can I help minding
them when living costs so much and we so poor?"
"Are we?" said I.
"Why, of course we are."
"Yes--to be sure--I suppose we are," said I dreamily.
Lais was beautiful, Thais was alluring, and Berenice was famous
for her beauty, but then, could either of them have shown such
arms--so long, so graceful in their every movement, so subtly
rounded in their lines, arms which, for all their seeming
firmness, must (I thought) be wonderfully soft to the touch, and
smooth as ivory, and which found a delicate sheen where the light
"We have spent four shillings for meat this week, Peter!" said
Charmian, glancing up suddenly.
"Good!" said I.
"Nonsense, sir--four shillings is most extravagant!"
"Oh!--is it, Charmian?"
"Why, of course it is."
"Oh!" said I; "yes--perhaps it is."
"Perhaps!" said she, curling her lip at me, "perhaps, indeed!"
Having said which, Charmian became absorbed in her accounts
again, and I in Charmian.
In Homer we may read that the loveliness of Briseis caused
Achilles much sorrow; Ovid tells us that Chione was beautiful
enough to inflame two gods, and that Antiope's beauty drew down
from heaven the mighty Jove himself; and yet, was either of them
formed and shaped more splendidly than she who sat so near me,
frowning at what she had written, and petulantly biting her pen?
"Impossible!" said I, so suddenly that Charmian started and
dropped her pen, which I picked up, feeling very like a fool.
"What did you mean by 'impossible,' Peter?"
"I was--thinking merely."
"Then I wish you wouldn't think so suddenly next time."
"I beg your pardon."
"Nor be so very emphatic about it."
"No," said I, "er--no." Hereupon, deigning to receive her pen
back again, she recommenced her figuring, while I began to fill
"Two shillings for tea!"
"Excellent!" said I.
"I do wish," she sighed, raising her head to shake it
reproachfully at me, "that you would be a little more sensible."
"Tea at twelve shillings a pound is a luxury!"
"And to pay two shillings for a luxury when we are so poor--is
"Is it, Charmian?"
"Of course it is."
"Oh!" said I; "and yet, life without tea--more especially as you
brew it--would be very stale, flat, and unprofitable, and--"
"Bacon and eggs--one shilling and fourpence!" she went on,
consulting her accounts.
"Ah!" said I, not venturing on "good," this time.
"Hum!" said I cautiously, and with the air of turning this over
in my mind.
"To be sure," said I, nodding my head, "tenpence, certainly."
"And bread, Peter" (this in a voice of tragedy) "--eightpence."
"Excellent!" said I recklessly, whereat Charmian immediately
frowned at me.
"Oh, Peter!" said she, with a sigh of resignation, "you possess
absolutely no idea of proportion. Here we pay four shillings for
meat, and only eightpence for bread; had we spent less on luxuries
and more on necessaries we should have had money in hand instead
of--let me see!" and she began adding up the various items before
her with soft, quick little pats of her fingers on the table.
Presently, having found the total, she leaned back in her chair
and, summoning my attention with a tap of her pen, announced:
"We have spent nine shillings and tenpence, Peter!"
"Good, indeed!" said I.
"Leaving exactly--twopence over."
"A penny for you, and a penny for me."
"I fear I am a very bad housekeeper, Peter."
"On the contrary."
"You earn ten shillings a week."
"And here is exactly--twopence left--oh, Peter!"
"You are forgetting the tea and the beef, and--and the other
luxuries," said I, struck by the droop of her mouth.
"But you work so very, very hard, and earn so little and that
"I work that I may live, Charmian, and lo! I am alive."
"And dreadfully poor!"
"And ridiculously happy."
"I wonder why?" said she, beginning to draw designs on the page
"Indeed, though I have asked myself that question frequently
of late, I have as yet found no answer, unless it be my busy,
care-free life, with the warm sun about me and the voice of the
wind in the trees."
"Yes, perhaps that is it."
"And yet I don't know," I went on thoughtfully, "for now I come
to think of it, my life has always been busy and care-free, and I
have always loved the sun and the sound of wind in trees--yet,
like Horace, have asked 'What is Happiness?' and looked for it in
vain; and now, here--in this out-of-the-world spot, working as a
village smith, it has come to me all unbidden and unsought--which
is very strange!"
"Yes, Peter," said Charmian, still busy with her pen.
"Upon consideration I think my thanks are due to my uncle for
dying and leaving me penniless."
"Do you mean that he disinherited you?"
"In a way, yes; he left me his whole fortune provided that I
married a certain lady within the year."
"A certain lady?"
"The Lady Sophia Sefton, of Cambourne," said I.
Charmian's pen stopped in the very middle of a letter, and she
bent down to examine what she had been writing.
"Oh!" said she very softly, "the Lady Sophia Sefton of Cambourne?"
"Yes," said I.
"And--your cousin--Sir Maurice--were the conditions the same in
"Oh!" said Charmian, just as softly as before, "and this lady
--she will not--marry you?"
"No," I answered.
"Are you quite--sure?"
"Certain!--you see, I never intend to ask her."
Charmian suddenly raised her head and looked at me,
"Why not, Peter?"
"Because, should I ever marry--a remote contingency, and most
improbable--I am sufficiently self-willed to prefer to exert my
own choice in the matter; moreover, this lady is a celebrated
toast, and it would be most repugnant to me that my wife's name
should ever have been bandied from mouth to mouth, and hiccoughed
out over slopping wineglasses--"
The pen slipped from Charmian's fingers to the floor, and before
I could pick it up she had forestalled me, so that when she
raised her head she was flushed with stooping.
"Have you ever seen this lady, Peter?"
"Never, but I have heard of her--who has not?"
"What have you heard?"
"That she galloped her horse up and down the steps of St. Paul's
Cathedral, for one thing."
"That she is proud, and passionate, and sudden of temper--in a
word, a virago!"
"Virago!" said Charmian, flinging up her head.
"Virago!" I nodded, "though she is handsome, I understand--in a
strapping way--and I have it on very excellent authority that she
is a black-browed goddess, a peach, and a veritable plum."
"'Strapping' is a hateful word, Peter!"
"But very descriptive."
"And--doesn't she interest you--a little, Peter?".
"Not in the least," said I.
"And, pray, why not?"
"Because I care very little for either peaches or plums."
"Or black-browed goddesses, Peter?"
"Not if she is big and strapping, and possesses a temper."
"I suppose--to such a philosopher as you--a woman or a goddess,
black-browed or not, can scarcely compare with, or hope to rival
an old book, can she, sir?"
"Why, that depends, Charmian."
"On the book!" said I.
Charmian rested her round elbows upon the table, and, setting her
chin in her hands, stared squarely at me.
"Peter," said she.
"If ever you did meet this lady--I think--"
"That you would fall a very easy victim!"
"I think not," said I.
"You would be her slave in--a month--three weeks--or much less--"
"Preposterous!" I exclaimed.
"If she set herself to make you!"
"That would be very immodest!" said I; "besides, no woman can
make a man love her."
"Do your books teach you that, Peter?" Here, finding I did not
answer, she laughed and nodded her head at me. "You would be
head over ears in love before you knew it!"
"I think not," said I, smiling.
"You are the kind of man who would grow sick with love, and never
know what ailed him."
"Any man in such a condition would be a pitiful ass!" said I.
Charmian only laughed at me again, and went back to her scribbling.
"Then, if this lady married you," said she suddenly, "you would
be a gentleman of good position and standing?"
"Yes, I suppose so--and probably miserable."
"And rich, Peter?"
"I should have more than enough."
"Instead of being a village blacksmith--"
"With just enough, and absurdly happy and content," I added,
"which is far more desirable--at least I think so."
"Do you mean to say that you would rather--exist here, and make
horseshoes all your life, than--live, respected, and rich."
"And married to--"
"And married to the Lady Sophia?"
"Infinitely!" said I.
"Then your cousin, so far as you are concerned, is free to woo
and win her and your uncle's fortune?"
"And I wish him well of his bargain!" I nodded. "As for me,
I shall probably continue to live here, and make horseshoes
--wifeless and content."
"Is marriage so hateful to you?"
"In the abstract--no; for in my mind there exists a woman whom I
think I could love--very greatly; but, in the actual--yes,
because there is no woman in all the world that is like this
woman of my mind."
"Is she so flawlessly perfect--this imaginary woman?"
"She is one whom I would respect for her intellect."
"Whom I would honor for her proud virtue."
"Whom I would worship for her broad charity, her gentleness, and
"And love with all my strength, for her warm, sweet womanhood--in
a word, she is the epitome of all that is true and womanly!"
"That is to say--as you understand such things, sir, and all your
knowledge of woman, and her virtues and failings, you have
learned from your books, therefore, misrepresented by history,
and distorted by romance, it is utterly false and unreal. And,
of course, this imaginary creature of yours is ethereal,
bloodless, sexless, unnatural, and quite impossible!"
Now, when she spoke thus, I laid down my pipe and stared, but,
before I could get my breath, she began again, with curling lip
and lashes that drooped disdainfully.
"I quite understand that there can be no woman worthy of Mr.
Peter Vibart--she whom he would honor with marriage must be
specially created for him! Ah! but some day a woman--a real,
live woman--will come into his life, and the touch of her hand,
the glance of her eyes, the warmth of her breath, will dispel
this poor, flaccid, misty creature of his imagination, who will
fade and fade, and vanish into nothingness. And when the real
woman has shown him how utterly false and impossible this dream
woman was--then, Mr. Peter Vibart, I hope she will laugh at you
--as I do, and turn her back upon you--as I do, and leave you
--for the very superior, very pedantic pedant that you are--and
scorn you--as I do, most of all because you are merely a
--creature!" With the word, she flung up her head and stamped
her foot at me, and turning, swept out through the open door
into the moonlight.
"Creature?" said I, and so sat staring at the table, and the
walls, and the floor, and the rafters in a blank amazement.
But in a while, my amazement growing, I went and stood in the
doorway, looking at Charmian, but saying nothing.
And, as I watched, she began to sing softly to herself, and,
putting up her hand, drew the comb from her hair so that it fell
down, rippling about her neck and shoulders. And, singing softly
thus, she shook her hair about her, so that I saw it curled far
below her waist; stooped her head, and, parting it upon her neck,
drew it over either shoulder, whence it flowed far down over her
bosom in two glorious waves, for the moon, peeping through the
rift in the leaves above, sent down her beams to wake small fires
in it, that came and went, and winked with her breathing.
"Charmian, you have glorious hair!" said I, speaking on the
impulse--a thing I rarely do.
But Charmian only combed her tresses, and went on singing to
"Charmian," said I again, "what did you mean when you called me
Charmian went on singing.
"You called me a 'pedant' once before; to be told that I am
superior, also, is most disquieting. I fear my manner must be
very unfortunate to afford you such an opinion of me."
Charmian went on singing.
"Naturally I am much perturbed, and doubly anxious to know what
you wish me to understand by the epithet 'creature'?"
Charmian went on singing. Wherefore, seeing she did not intend
to answer me, I presently re-entered the cottage.
Now it is ever my custom, when at all troubled or put out in any
way, to seek consolation in my books, hence, I now took up my
Homer, and, trimming the candles, sat down at the table.
In a little while Charmian came in, still humming the air of her
song, and not troubling even to glance in my direction.
Some days before, at her request, I had brought her linen and
lace and ribands from Cranbrook, and these she now took out,
together with needle and cotton, and, sitting down at the
opposite side of the table, began to sew.
She was still humming, and this of itself distracted my mind from
the lines before me; moreover, my eye was fascinated by the gleam
of her flying needle, and I began to debate within myself what
she was making. It (whatever it might be) was ruffled, and edged
with lace, and caught here and there with little bows of blue
riband, and, from these, and divers other evidences, I had
concluded it to be a garment of some sort, and was casting about
in my mind to account for these bows of riband, when, glancing up
suddenly, she caught my eye; whereupon, for no reason in the
world, I felt suddenly guilty, to hide which I began to search
through my pockets for my pipe.
"On the mantelshelf!" said she.
"Thank you!" said I, and reached it down.
"What are you reading?" she inquired; "is it of Helen or Aspasia
"Neither--it is the parting of Hector and Andromache," I answered.
"Is it very interesting?"
"Then why do your eyes wander so often from the page?"
"I know many of the lines by heart," said I. And having lighted
my pipe, I took up the book, and once more began to read. Yet I
was conscious, all the time, of Charmian's flashing needle, also
she had begun to hum again.
And, after I had endeavored to read, and Charmian had hummed for
perhaps five minutes, I lowered my book, and, sighing, glanced
"I am trying to read, Charmian."
"So I see."
"And your humming confuses me."
"It is very quiet outside, Peter."
"But I cannot read by moonlight, Charmian."
"Then--don't read, Peter." Here she nibbled her thread with
white teeth, and held up what she had been sewing to view the
effect of a bow of riband, with her head very much on one side.
And I inwardly wondered that she should spend so much care upon
such frippery--all senseless bows and laces.
"To hum is a very disturbing habit!" said I.
"To smoke an evil-smelling pipe is worse--much worse, Peter!"
"I beg your pardon!" said I, and laid the offending object back
upon the mantel.
"Are you angry, Peter?"
"Not in the least; I am only sorry that my smoking annoyed you
--had I known before--"
"It didn't annoy me in the least!"
"But from what you said I understood--"
"No, Peter, you did not understand; you never understand, and I
don't think you ever will understand anything but your Helens and
Phrynes--and your Latin and Greek philosophies, and that is what
makes you so very annoying, and so--so quaintly original!"
"But you certainly found fault with my pipe."
"Naturally!--didn't you find fault with my humming?"
"Really," said I, "really, I fail to see--"
"Of course you do!" sighed Charmian. Whereupon there fell a
silence between us, during which she sewed industriously, and I
went forth with brave Hector to face the mighty Achilles. But
my eye had traversed barely twenty lines when:
"Do you remember my giving you a locket?"
"Where is it?"
"Oh! I have it still--somewhere."
"Somewhere, sir?" she repeated, glancing at me with raised brows.
"Somewhere safe," said I, fixing my eyes upon my book.
"It had a riband attached, hadn't it?"
"A pink riband, if I remember--yes, pink."
"No--it was blue!" said I unguardedly.
"Are you sure, Peter?" And here, glancing up, I save that she
was watching me beneath her lashes.
"Yes," I answered; "that is--I think so."
"Then you are not sure?"
"Yes, I am," said I; "it was a blue riband," and I turned over a
page very ostentatiously.
"Oh!" said Charmian, and there was another pause, during which I
construed probably fifty lines or so.
"Where did you say it was now--my locket?"
"I didn't say it was anywhere."
"No, you said it was 'somewhere'--in a rather vague sort of way,
"Well, perhaps I did," said I, frowning at my book.
"It is not very valuable, but I prized it for association's sake,
"Ah!--yes, to be sure," said I, feigning to be wholly absorbed.
"I was wondering if you ever--wear it, Peter?"
"Wear it!" I exclaimed, and glancing furtively down at myself, I
was relieved to see that there were no signs of a betraying blue
riband; "wear it!" said I again, "why should I wear it?"
"Why, indeed, Peter, unless it was because it was there to wear."
Suddenly she uttered an exclamation of annoyance, and, taking up
a candle, began looking about the floor.
"What have you lost?"
"My needle! I think it must have fallen under the table. and
needles are precious in this wilderness; won't you please help me
to find it?"
"With pleasure!" said I, getting down upon my hands and knees,
and together we began to hunt for the lost needle.
Now, in our search, it chanced that we drew near together, and
once her hand touched mine, and once her soft hair brushed my
cheek, and there stole over me a perfume like the breath of
violets, the fragrance that I always associated with her, faint
and sweet and alluring--so much so, that I drew back from further
chance of contact, and kept my eyes directed to the floor.
And, after I had sought vainly for some time, I raised my head
and looked at Charmian, to find her regarding me with a very
"What is it?" I inquired. "Have you found the needle?" Charmian
sat back on her heels, and laughed softly.
"Oh, yes, I've found the needle, Peter, that is--I never lost it."
"Why, then--what--what did you mean--?"
For answer, she raised her hand and pointed to my breast. Then,
glancing hurriedly down, I saw that the locket had slipped
forward through the bosom of my shirt, and hung in plain view. I
made an instinctive movement to hide it, but, hearing her laugh,
looked at her instead.
"So this was why you asked me to stoop to find your needle?"
"Of course I knew."
"Hum!" said I. A distant clock chimed eleven, and Charmian began
to fold away her work, seeing which, I rose, and took up my
"And, pray," said I, staring hard at the flame of my candle, "how
did you happen to--find out--?"
"Very simply--I saw the riband round your neck days ago. Good
"Oh," said I. "Good night!"
"My lady sweet, arise!
My lady sweet, arise
With everything that pretty is,
My lady sweet, arise;
It was morning, and Charmian was singing. The pure, rich notes
floated in at my open lattice, and I heard the clatter of her
pail as she went to fetch water from the brook. Wherefore I
presently stepped out into the sunshine, my coat and neckcloth
across my arm, to plunge my head and face into the brook, and
carry back the heavy bucket for her, as was my custom.
Being come to the brook I found the brimming bucket, sure enough,
but no Charmian. I was looking about wonderingly, when she began
to sing again, and, guided by this, I espied her kneeling beside
The water ran deep and very still, just here, overhung by ash and
alder and willow, whose slender, curving branches formed a leafy
bower wherein she half knelt, half sat, bending over to regard
herself in the placid water. For a long moment she remained
thus, studying her reflection intently in this crystal mirror,
and little by little her song died away. Then she put up her
hands and began to rearrange her hair with swift, dexterous
fingers, apostrophizing her watery image the while, in this wise:
"My dear, you are growing positively apple-cheeked--I vow you
are! your enemies might almost call you strapping--alack! And
then your complexion, my dear, your adorable complexion!" she
went on, with a rueful shake of her head, "you are as brown as a
gipsy--not that you need go breaking your heart over it--for,
between you and me, my dear, I think it rather improves you; the
pity of it is that you have no one to appreciate you properly--to
render to your charms the homage they deserve, no one--not a soul,
my dear; your hermit, bless you! can see, or think, of nothing
that exists out of a book--which, between you and me and the
bucket yonder, is perhaps just as well--and yet--heigho! To be
so lovely and so forlorn! indeed, I could shed tears for you if
it would not make your eyelids swell and your classic nose
Here she sighed again, and, taking a tendril of hair between her
fingers, transformed it, very cleverly, into a small curl.
"Yes, your tan certainly becomes you, my dear," she went on,
nodding to her reflection; "not that he will ever notice--dear
heart, no! were you suddenly to turn as black as a Hottentot
--before his very eyes--he would go on serenely smoking his pipe,
and talk to you of Epictetus--heighho!" Sighing thus, she broke
off a spray of leaves and proceeded to twine them in among the
lustrous coils of her hair, bending over her reflection
meanwhile, and turning her head this way and that, to note the
"Yes," said she at last, nodding at her image with a satisfied
air, "that touch of green sets off your gipsy complexion
admirably, my dear--I could positively kiss you--I vow I could,
and I am hard to please. St. Anthony himself, meeting you alone
in the desert, would, at least, have run away from you, and that
would have been some tribute to your charms, but our philosopher
will just glance at you with his slow, grave smile, and tell
you, in his solemn, affable way--that it is a very fine morning
Here (somewhat late in the day, perhaps) perceiving that I was
playing eavesdropper, I moved cautiously away, and taking up the
pail, returned to the cottage. I now filled the kettle and set
it upon the fire, and proceeded to spread the cloth (a luxurious
institution of Charmian's, on which she insisted) and to lay out
the breakfast things. In the midst of which, however, chancing
to fall into a reverie, I became oblivious of all things till
roused by a step behind me, and, turning, beheld Charmian
standing with the glory of the sun about her--like the Spirit of
Summer herself, broad of hip and shoulder, yet slender, and long
of limb, all warmth and life, and long, soft curves from throat
to ankle--perfect with vigorous youth from the leaves that
crowned her beauty to the foot that showed beneath her gown.
And, as I gazed upon her, silent and wondering, lo! though her
mouth was solemn yet there was laughter in her eyes as she spoke.
"Well, sir--have you no greeting for me?"
"It--is a--very fine morning!" said I. And now the merriment
overflowed her eyes, and she laughed, yet blushed a little, too,
and lowered her eyes from mine, and said, still laughing:
"Oh, Peter--the teapot--do mind the teapot!"
"Teapot?" I repeated, and then I saw that I still held it in my
"Pray, sir--what might you be going to do with the teapot in one
hand, and that fork in the other?"
"I was going to make the tea, I remember," said I.
"Is that why you were standing there staring at the kettle while
it boiled over?"
"I--forgot all about the kettle," said I. So Charmian took the
teapot from me, and set about brewing the tea, singing merrily
the while. Anon she began to fry the bacon, giving each
individual slice its due amount of care and attention; but, her
eyes chancing to meet mine, the song died upon her lip, her
lashes flickered and fell, while up from throat to brow there
crept a slow, hot wave of crimson. And in that moment I turned
away and strode down to the brook.
Now it happened that I came to that same spot where she had
leaned and, flinging myself down, I fell to studying my
reflection in the water, even as she had done.
Heretofore, though I had paid scant heed to my appearance, I had
been content (in a certain impersonal sort of way), had dressed
in the fashion, and taken advantage of such adornments as were in
favor, as much from habit as from any set design; but now, lying
beside the brook with my chin propped in my hands, I began to
study myself critically, feature by feature, as I had never
dreamed of doing before.
Mirrored in the clear waters I beheld a face lean and brown, and
with lank, black hair; eyes, dark and of a strange brilliance,
looked at me from beneath a steep prominence of brow; I saw a
somewhat high-bridged nose with thin, nervous nostrils, a long,
cleft chin, and a disdainful mouth.
Truly, a saturnine face, cold and dark and unlovely, and thus
--even as I gazed--the mouth grew still more disdainful, and the
heavy brow lowered blacker and more forbidding. And yet, in that
same moment, I found myself sighing, while I strove to lend some
order to the wildness of my hair.
"Fool!" said I, and plunged my head beneath the water, and held
it there so long that I came up puffing and blowing; whereupon I
caught up the towel and fell to rubbing myself vigorously, so
that presently, looking down into the water again, I saw that my
hair was wilder than ever--all rubbed into long elf-locks.
Straightway I lifted my hands, and would have smoothed it
somewhat, but checked the impulse.
"Let be," said I to myself, turning away, "let be. I am as I am,
and shall be henceforth in very truth a village blacksmith--and
content so to be--absolutely content."
At sight of me Charmian burst out laughing, the which, though I
had expected it, angered me nevertheless.
"Why, Peter!" she exclaimed, "you look like--"
"A very low fellow!" said I, "say a village blacksmith who has
been at his ablutions."
"If you only had rings in your ears, and a scarf round your head,
you would be the image of a Spanish brigand--or like the man Mina
whose exploits The Gazette is full of--a Spanish general, I think."
"A guerrilla leader," said I, taking my place at the table, "and
a singularly cold-blooded villain--indeed I think it probable
that we much resemble one another; is it any wonder that I am
shunned by my kind--avoided by the ignorant and regarded askance
by the rest?"
"Why, Peter!" said Charmian, regarding me with grave eyes, "what
do you mean?"
"I mean that the country folk hereabout go out of their way to
avoid crossing my path--not that, I suppose, they ever heard of
Mina, but because of my looks."
"They think me possessed of the 'Evil Eye' or some such folly
--may I cut you a piece of bread?"
"Already, by divers honest-hearted rustics, I am credited with
having cast a deadly spell upon certain unfortunate pigs, with
having fought hand to hand with the hosts of the nethermost pit,
and with having sold my soul to the devil--may I trouble you to
pass the butter?"
"Oh, Peter, how foolish of them!"
"And how excusable! considering their ignorance and superstition,"
said I. "Mine, I am well aware, is not a face to win me the heart
of man, woman, or child; they (especially women and children) share,
in common with dogs and horses, that divine attribute which, for
want of a better name, we call 'instinct,' whereby they love or
hate for the mere tone of a voice, the glance of an eye, the motion
of a hand, and, the love or hate once given, the prejudice for, or
against, is seldom wholly overcome."
"Indeed," said Charmian, "I believe in first impressions."
"Being a woman," said I.
"Being a woman!" she nodded; "and the instinct of dog and child
and woman has often proved true in the end."
"Surely instinct is always true?" said I--"I'd thank you for
another cup of tea--yet, strangely enough, dogs generally make
friends with me very readily, and the few children to whom I've
spoken have neither screamed nor run away from me. Still, as I
said before, I am aware that my looks are scarcely calculated to
gain the love of man, woman, or child; not that it matters
greatly, seeing that I am likely to hold very little converse
"There is one woman, Peter, to whom you have talked by the hour
"And who is doubtless weary enough of it all--more especially of
Epictetus and Trojan Helen."
"Two lumps of sugar, Peter?"
"Thank you! Women are very like flowers--" I began.
"That is a very profound remark, sir!--more especially coming
from one who has studied and knows womankind so deeply."
"--and it is a pity that they should be allowed to 'waste their
sweetness on the desert air.'"
"And philosophical blacksmiths, Peter?"
"More so if they be poor blacksmiths."
"I said 'philosophical,' Peter."
"You probably find your situation horribly lonely here?" I went
on after a pause.
"Yes; it's nice and lonely, Peter."
"And, undoubtedly, this cottage is very poor and mean, and--er
--humble?" Charmian smiled and shook her head.
"But then, Charmian Brown is a very humble person, sir."
"And you haven't even the luxury of a mirror to dress your hair by!"
"Is it so very clumsily dressed, sir?"
"No, no," said I hastily, "indeed I was thinking--"
"That it was very--beautiful!"
"Why, you told me that last night--come, what do you think of it
"With those leaves in it--it is--even more so!"
Charmian laughed, and, rising, swept me a stately curtesy.
"After all, sir, we find there be exceptions to every rule!"
And in a while, having finished my breakfast, I rose, and, taking
my hat, bade Charmian "Good morning," and so came to the door.
But on the threshold I turned and looked back at her. She had
risen, and stood leaning with one hand on the table; now in the
other she held the breadknife, and her eyes were upon mine.
And lo! wonder of wonders! once again, but this time sudden and
swift--up from the round, full column of her throat, up over
cheek and brow there rushed that vivid tide of color; her eyes
grew suddenly deep and soft, and then were hidden 'neath her
lashes--and, in that same moment, the knife slipped from her
grasp, and falling, point downwards, stood quivering in the floor
between us--an ugly thing that gleamed evilly.
Was this an omen--a sign vouchsafed of that which, dark and
terrible, was, even then, marching to meet us upon this Broad
Highway? O Blind, and more than blind!
Almost before it had ceased to quiver I stooped, and, plucking it
from the floor, gave it into her hand. Now, as I did so, her
fingers touched mine, and, moved by a sudden mad impulse, I
stooped and pressed my lips upon them--kissed them quick and
fierce, and so turned, and hurried upon my way.
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