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CHAPTER XXIII

Courtier sat in Hyde Park waiting for five o'clock. The day had
recovered somewhat from a grey morning, as though the glow of that
long hot summer were too burnt-in on the air to yield to the first
assault. The sun, piercing the crisped clouds, those breast feathers
of heavenly doves, darted its beams at the mellowed leaves, and
showered to the ground their delicate shadow stains. The first, too
early, scent from leaves about to fall, penetrated to the heart. And
sorrowful sweet birds were tuning their little autumn pipes, blowing
into them fragments of Spring odes to Liberty.

Courtier thought of Miltoun and his mistress. By what a strange fate
had those two been thrown together; to what end was their love
coming? The seeds of grief were already sown, what flowers of
darkness, or of tumult would come up? He saw her again as a little,
grave, considering child, with her soft eyes, set wide apart under
the dark arched brows, and the little tuck at the corner of her mouth
that used to come when he teased her. And to that gentle creature
who would sooner die than force anyone to anything, had been given
this queer lover; this aristocrat by birth and nature, with the dried
fervent soul, whose every fibre had been bred and trained in and to
the service of Authority; this rejecter of the Unity of Life; this
worshipper of an old God! A God that stood, whip in hand, driving
men to obedience. A God that even now Courtier could conjure up
staring at him from the walls of his nursery. The God his own father
had believed in. A God of the Old Testament, knowing neither
sympathy nor understanding. Strange that He should be alive still;
that there should still be thousands who worshipped Him. Yet, not so
very strange, if, as they said, man made God in his own image! Here
indeed was a curious mating of what the philosophers would call the
will to Love, and the will to Power!

A soldier and his girl came and sat down on a bench close by. They
looked askance at this trim and upright figure with the fighting
face; then, some subtle thing informing them that he was not of the
disturbing breed called officer, they ceased to regard him,
abandoning themselves to dumb and inexpressive felicity. Arm in arm,
touching each other, they seemed to Courtier very jolly, having that
look of living entirely in the moment, which always especially
appealed to one whose blood ran too fast to allow him to speculate
much upon the future or brood much over the past.

A leaf from the bough above him, loosened by the sun's kisses,
dropped, and fell yellow at his feet. The leaves were turning very
soon.?

It was characteristic of this man, who could be so hot over the lost
causes of others, that, sitting there within half an hour of the
final loss of his own cause, he could be so calm, so almost
apathetic. This apathy was partly due to the hopelessness, which
Nature had long perceived, of trying to make him feel oppressed, but
also to the habits of a man incurably accustomed to carrying his
fortunes in his hand, and that hand open. It did not seem real to
him that he was actually going to suffer a defeat, to have to confess
that he had hankered after this girl all these past weeks, and that
to-morrow all would be wasted, and she as dead to him as if he had
never seen her. No, it was not exactly resignation, it was rather
sheer lack of commercial instinct. If only this had been the lost
cause of another person. How gallantly he would have rushed to the
assault, and taken her by storm! If only he himself could have been
that other person, how easily, how passionately could he not have
pleaded, letting forth from him all those words which had knocked at
his teeth ever since he knew her, and which would have seemed so
ridiculous and so unworthy, spoken on his own behalf. Yes, for that
other person he could have cut her out from under the guns of the
enemy; he could have taken her, that fairest prize.
And in queer, cheery-looking apathy--not far removed perhaps from
despair--he sat, watching the leaves turn over and fall, and now and
then cutting with his stick at the air, where autumn was already
riding. And, if in imagination he saw himself carrying her away into
the wilderness, and with his devotion making her happiness to grow,
it was so far a flight, that a smile crept about his lips, and once
or twice he snapped his jaws.

The soldier and his girl rose, passing in front of him down the Row.
He watched their scarlet and blue figures, moving slowly towards the
sun, and another couple close to the rails, crossing those receding
forms. Very straight and tall, there was something exhilarating in
the way this new couple swung along, holding their heads up, turning
towards each other, to exchange words or smiles. Even at that
distance they could be seen to be of high fashion; in their gait was
the almost insolent poise of those who are above doubts and cares,
certain of the world and of themselves. The girl's dress was tawny
brown, her hair and hat too of the same hue, and the pursuing
sunlight endowed her with a hazy splendour. Then, Courtier saw who
they were--that couple!

Except for an unconscious grinding of his teeth, he made no sound or
movement, so that they went by without seeing him. Her voice, though
not the words, came to him distinctly. He saw her hand slip up under
Harbinger's arm and swiftly down again. A smile, of whose existence
he was unaware, settled on his lips. He got up, shook himself, as a
dog shakes off a beating, and walked away, with his mouth set very
firm.




The Patrician by John Galsworthy
Category:
Contemporary

General Fiction
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