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CHAPTER XIV

A copy of the Bucklandbury News, containing an account of his evening
adventure, did not reach Miltoun till he was just starting on his
return journey. It came marked with blue pencil together with a
note.

"MY DEAR EUSTACE,

"The enclosed--however unwarranted and impudent--requires attention.
But we shall do nothing till you come back.

"Yours ever,
"WILLIAM SHROPTON."

The effect on Miltoun might perhaps have been different had he not
been so conscious of his intention to ask Audrey Noel to be his wife;
but in any circumstances it is doubtful whether he would have done
more than smile, and tear the paper up. Truly that sort of thing had
so little power to hurt or disturb him personally, that he was
incapable of seeing how it could hurt or disturb others. If those
who read it were affected, so much the worse for them. He had a
real, if unobtrusive, contempt for groundlings, of whatever class;
and it never entered his head to step an inch out of his course in
deference to their vagaries. Nor did it come home to him that Mrs.
Noel, wrapped in the glamour which he cast about her, could possibly
suffer from the meanness of vulgar minds. Shropton's note, indeed,
caused him the more annoyance of those two documents. It was like
his brother-in-law to make much of little!

He hardly dozed at all during his swift journey through the sleeping
country; nor when he reached his room at Monkland did he go to bed.
He had the wonderful, upborne feeling of man on the verge of
achievement. His spirit and senses were both on fire--for that was
the quality of this woman, she suffered no part of him to sleep, and
he was glad of her exactions.

He drank some tea; went out, and took a path up to the moor. It was
not yet eight o'clock when he reached the top of the nearest tor.
And there, below him, around, and above, was a land and sky
transcending even his exaltation. It was like a symphony of great
music; or the nobility of a stupendous mind laid bare; it was God up
there, in His many moods. Serenity was spread in the middle heavens,
blue, illimitable, and along to the East, three huge clouds, like
thoughts brooding over the destinies below, moved slowly toward the
sea, so that great shadows filled the valleys. And the land that lay
under all the other sky was gleaming, and quivering with every
colour, as it were, clothed with the divine smile. The wind, from
the North, whereon floated the white birds of the smaller clouds, had
no voice, for it was above barriers, utterly free. Before Miltoun,
turning to this wind, lay the maze of the lower lands, the misty
greens, rose pinks, and browns of the fields, and white and grey dots
and strokes of cottages and church towers, fading into the blue veil
of distance, confined by a far range of hills. Behind him there was
nothing but the restless surface of the moor, coloured purplish-
brown. On that untamed sea of graven wildness could be seen no ship
of man, save one, on the far horizon--the grim hulk, Dartmoor Prison.
There was no sound, no scent, and it seemed to Miltoun as if his
spirit had left his body, and become part of the solemnity of God.
Yet, as he stood there, with his head bared, that strange smile which
haunted him in moments of deep feeling, showed that he had not
surrendered to the Universal, that his own spirit was but being
fortified, and that this was the true and secret source of his
delight. He lay down in a scoop of the stones. The sun entered
there, but no wind, so that a dry sweet scent exuded from the young
shoots of heather. That warmth and perfume crept through the shield
of his spirit, and stole into his blood; ardent images rose before
him, the vision of an unending embrace. Out of an embrace sprang
Life, out of that the World was made, this World, with its
innumerable forms, and natures--no two alike! And from him and her
would spring forms to take their place in the great pattern. This
seemed wonderful, and right-for they would be worthy forms, who would
hand on those traditions which seemed to him so necessary and great.
And then there broke on him one of those delirious waves of natural
desire, against which he had so often fought, so often with great
pain conquered. He got up, and ran downhill, leaping over the
stones, and the thicker clumps of heather.

Audrey Noel, too, had been early astir, though she had gone late
enough to bed. She dressed languidly, but very carefully, being one
of those women who put on armour against Fate, because they are
proud, and dislike the thought that their sufferings should make
others suffer; because, too, their bodies are to them as it were
sacred, having been given them in trust, to cause delight. When she
had finished, she looked at herself in the glass rather more
distrustfully than usual. She felt that her sort of woman was at a
discount in these days, and being sensitive, she was never content
either with her appearance, or her habits. But, for all that, she
went on behaving in unsatisfactory ways, because she incorrigibly
loved to look as charming as she could; and even if no one were going
to see her, she never felt that she looked charming enough. She was
--as Lady Casterley had shrewdly guessed--the kind of woman who
spoils men by being too nice to them; of no use to those who wish
women to assert themselves; yet having a certain passive stoicism,
very disconcerting. With little or no power of initiative, she would
do what she was set to do with a thoroughness that would shame an
initiator; temperamentally unable to beg anything of anybody, she
required love as a plant requires water; she could give herself
completely, yet remain oddly incorruptible; in a word, hopeless, and
usually beloved of those who thought her so.

With all this, however, she was not quite what is called a 'sweet
woman--a phrase she detested--for there was in her a queer vein of
gentle cynicism. She 'saw' with extraordinary clearness, as if she
had been born in Italy and still carried that clear dry atmosphere
about her soul. She loved glow and warmth and colour; such mysticism
as she felt was pagan; and she had few aspirations--sufficient to her
were things as they showed themselves to be.

This morning, when she had made herself smell of geraniums, and
fastened all the small contrivances that hold even the best of women
together, she went downstairs to her little dining-room, set the
spirit lamp going, and taking up her newspaper, stood waiting to make
tea.

It was the hour of the day most dear to her. If the dew had been
brushed off her life, it was still out there every morning on the
face of Nature, and on the faces of her flowers; there was before her
all the pleasure of seeing how each of those little creatures in the
garden had slept; how many children had been born since the Dawn; who
was ailing, and needed attention. There was also the feeling, which
renews itself every morning in people who live lonely lives, that
they are not lonely, until, the day wearing on, assures them of the
fact. Not that she was idle, for she had obtained through Courtier
the work of reviewing music in a woman's paper, for which she was
intuitively fitted. This, her flowers, her own music, and the
affairs of certain families of cottagers, filled nearly all her time.
And she asked no better fate than to have every minute occupied,
having that passion for work requiring no initiation, which is
natural to the owners of lazy minds.

Suddenly she dropped her newspaper, went to the bowl of flowers on
the breakfast-table, and plucked forth two stalks of lavender;
holding them away from her, she went out into the garden, and flung
them over the wall.

This strange immolation of those two poor sprigs, born so early,
gathered and placed before her with such kind intention by her maid,
seemed of all acts the least to be expected of one who hated to hurt
people's feelings, and whose eyes always shone at the sight of
flowers. But in truth the smell of lavender--that scent carried on
her husband's handkerchief and clothes--still affected her so
strongly that she could not bear to be in a room with it. As nothing
else did, it brought before her one, to live with whom had slowly
become torture. And freed by that scent, the whole flood of memory
broke in on her. The memory of three years when her teeth had been
set doggedly, on her discovery that she was chained to unhappiness
for life; the memory of the abrupt end, and of her creeping away to
let her scorched nerves recover. Of how during the first year of
this release which was not freedom, she had twice changed her abode,
to get away from her own story--not because she was ashamed of it,
but because it reminded her of wretchedness. Of how she had then
come to Monkland, where the quiet life had slowly given her
elasticity again. And then of her meeting with Miltoun; the
unexpected delight of that companionship; the frank enjoyment of the
first four months. And she remembered all her secret rejoicing, her
silent identification of another life with her own, before she
acknowledged or even suspected love. And just three weeks ago now,
helping to tie up her roses, he had touched her, and she had known.
But even then, until the night of Courtier's accident, she had not
dared to realize. More concerned now for him than for herself, she
asked herself a thousand times if she had been to blame. She had let
him grow fond of her, a woman out of court, a dead woman! An
unpardonable sin! Yet surely that depended on what she was prepared
to give! And she was frankly ready to give everything, and ask for
nothing. He knew her position, he had told her that he knew. In her
love for him she gloried, would continue to glory; would suffer for
it without regret. Miltoun was right in believing that newspaper
gossip was incapable of hurting her, though her reasons for being so
impervious were not what he supposed. She was not, like him, secured
from pain because such insinuations about the private affairs of
others were mean and vulgar and beneath notice; it had not as yet
occurred to her to look at the matter in so lofty and general a
light; she simply was not hurt, because she was already so deeply
Miltoun's property in spirit, that she was almost glad that they
should assign him all the rest of her. But for Miltoun's sake she
was disturbed to the soul. She had tarnished his shield in the eyes
of men; and (for she was oddly practical, and saw things in very
clear proportion) perhaps put back his career, who knew how many
years!

She sat down to drink her tea. Not being a crying woman, she
suffered quietly. She felt that Miltoun would be coming to her. She
did not know at all what she should say when he did come. He could
not care for her so much as she cared for him! He was a man; men
soon forget! Ah! but he was not like most men. One could not look
at his eyes without feeling that he could suffer terribly! In all
this her own reputation concerned her not at all. Life, and her
clear way of looking at things, had rooted in her the conviction that
to a woman the preciousness of her reputation was a fiction invented
by men entirely for man's benefit; a second-hand fetish insidiously,
inevitably set-up by men for worship, in novels, plays, and law-
courts. Her instinct told her that men could not feel secure in the
possession of their women unless they could believe that women set
tremendous store by sexual reputation. What they wanted to believe,
that they did believe! But she knew otherwise. Such great-minded
women as she had met or read of had always left on her the impression
that reputation for them was a matter of the spirit, having little to
do with sex. From her own feelings she knew that reputation, for a
simple woman, meant to stand well in the eyes of him or her whom she
loved best. For worldly women--and there were so many kinds of
those, besides the merely fashionable--she had always noted that its
value was not intrinsic, but commercial; not a crown of dignity, but
just a marketable asset. She did not dread in the least what people
might say of her friendship with Miltoun; nor did she feel at all
that her indissoluble marriage forbade her loving him. She had
secretly felt free as soon as she had discovered that she had never
really loved her husband; she had only gone on dutifully until the
separation, from sheer passivity, and because it was against her
nature to cause pain to anyone. The man who was still her husband
was now as dead to her as if he had never been born. She could not
marry again, it was true; but she could and did love. If that love
was to be starved and die away, it would not be because of any moral
scruples.

She opened her paper languidly; and almost the first words she read,
under the heading of Election News, were these:

'Apropos of the outrage on Mr. Courtier, we are requested to state
that the lady who accompanied Lord Miltoun to the rescue of that
gentleman was Mrs. Lees Noel, wife of the Rev. Stephen Lees Noel,
vicar of Clathampton, Warwickshire.'

This dubious little daub of whitewash only brought a rather sad smile
to her lips. She left her tea, and went out into the air. There at
the gate was Miltoun coming in. Her heart leaped. But she went
forward quietly, and greeted him with cast-down eyes, as if nothing
were out of the ordinary.




The Patrician by John Galsworthy
Category:
Contemporary

General Fiction
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