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CHAPTER IV

At Monkland, that same hour, in the little whitewashed 'withdrawing-
room' of a thatched, whitewashed cottage, two men sat talking, one on
either side of the hearth; and in a low chair between them a dark-
eyed woman leaned back, watching, the tips of her delicate thin
fingers pressed together, or held out transparent towards the fire.
A log, dropping now and then, turned up its glowing underside; and
the firelight and the lamplight seemed so to have soaked into the
white walls that a wan warmth exuded. Silvery dun moths, fluttering
in from the dark garden, kept vibrating, like spun shillings, over a
jade-green bowl of crimson roses; and there was a scent, as ever in
that old thatched cottage, of woodsmoke, flowers, and sweetbriar.

The man on the left was perhaps forty, rather above middle height,
vigorous, active, straight, with blue eyes and a sanguine face that
glowed on small provocation. His hair was very bright, almost red,
and his fiery moustaches which descended to the level of his chin,
like Don Quixote's seemed bristling and charging.

The man on the right was nearer thirty, evidently tall, wiry, and
very thin. He sat rather crumpled, in his low armchair, with hands
clasped round a knee; and a little crucified smile haunted the lips
of his lean face, which, with its parchmenty, tanned, shaven cheeks,
and deep-set, very living eyes, had a certain beauty.

These two men, so extravagantly unlike, looked at each other like
neighbouring dogs, who, having long decided that they are better
apart, suddenly find that they have met at some spot where they
cannot possibly have a fight. And the woman watched; the owner, as
it were, of one, but who, from sheer love of dogs, had always stroked
and patted the other.

"So, Mr. Courtier," said the younger man, whose dry, ironic voice,
like his smile, seemed defending the fervid spirit in his eyes; "all
you say only amounts, you see, to a defence of the so-called Liberal
spirit; and, forgive my candour, that spirit, being an importation
from the realms of philosophy and art, withers the moment it touches
practical affairs.

The man with the red moustaches laughed; the sound was queer--at once
so genial and so sardonic.

"Well put!" he said: "And far be it from me to gainsay. But since
compromise is the very essence of politics, high-priests of caste and
authority, like you, Lord Miltoun, are every bit as much out of it as
any Liberal professor."

"I don't agree!"

"Agree or not, your position towards public affairs is very like the
Church's attitude towards marriage and divorce; as remote from the
realities of life as the attitude of the believer in Free Love, and
not more likely to catch on. The death of your point of view lies in
itself--it's too dried-up and far from things ever to understand
them. If you don't understand you can never rule. You might just as
well keep your hands in your pockets, as go into politics with your
notions!"

"I fear we must continue to agree to differ."

"Well; perhaps I do pay you too high a compliment. After all, you
are a patrician."

"You speak in riddles, Mr. Courtier."

The dark-eyed woman stirred; her hands gave a sort of flutter, as
though in deprecation of acerbity.

Rising at once, and speaking in a deferential voice, the elder man
said

"We're tiring Mrs. Noel. Good-night, Audrey, It's high time I was
off." Against the darkness of the open French window, he turned
round to fire a parting shot.

"What I meant, Lord Miltoun, was that your class is the driest and
most practical in the State--it's odd if it doesn't save you from a
poet's dreams. Good-night!" He passed out on to the lawn, and
vanished.

The young man sat unmoving; the glow of the fire had caught his face,
so that a spirit seemed clinging round his lips, gleaming out of his
eyes. Suddenly he said:

"Do you believe that, Mrs. Noel?"

For answer Audrey Noel smiled, then rose and went over to the window.

"Look at my dear toad! It comes here every evening!"
On a flagstone of the verandah, in the centre of the stream of
lamplight, sat a little golden toad. As Miltoun came to look, it
waddled to one side, and vanished.

"How peaceful your garden is!" he said; then taking her hand, he very
gently raised it to his lips, and followed his opponent out into the
darkness.

Truly peace brooded over that garden. The Night seemed listening--
all lights out, all hearts at rest. It watched, with a little white
star for every tree, and roof, and slumbering tired flower, as a
mother watches her sleeping child, leaning above him and counting
with her love every hair of his head, and all his tiny tremors.

Argument seemed child's babble indeed under the smile of Night. And
the face of the woman, left alone at her window, was a little like
the face of this warm, sweet night. It was sensitive, harmonious;
and its harmony was not, as in some faces, cold--but seemed to
tremble and glow and flutter, as though it were a spirit which had
found its place of resting.

In her garden,--all velvety grey, with black shadows beneath the yew-
trees, the white flowers alone seemed to be awake, and to look at her
wistfully. The trees stood dark and still. Not even the night birds
stirred. Alone, the little stream down in the bottom raised its
voice, privileged when day voices were hushed.

It was not in Audrey Noel to deny herself to any spirit that was
abroad; to repel was an art she did not practise. But this night,
though the Spirit of Peace hovered so near, she did not seem to know
it. Her hands trembled, her cheeks were burning; her breast heaved,
and sighs fluttered from her lips, just parted.




The Patrician by John Galsworthy
Category:
Contemporary

General Fiction
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