Once Aboard the Lugger Part 24

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"Well, I thought perhaps you--you cared after that first day when you came here."

"Not before that?"

She laughed. "Come, how _could_ I? Why, I'd hardly seen you."

"Well, I did, anyway," George told her. "I loved you from the very minute you shot out of the cab that day. There! But even this isn't the proper thing. I've been promising myself all night to say four words to you--just four. Now I'm going to say them: Mary, I love you."

She looked in his eyes for a moment, answering the signal that shone thence; and then she laughed that clear pipe of mirth which was so uniquely her own possession.

"Oh, I say, you mustn't do that," George cried. He was really perturbed.

"I can't help it. You are so utterly foolish."

"I'm not. It's the proper thing. I tell you I've planned it all out. I love you. I've never said it to you before. Now it's your turn."

"But what on earth am I to say?"

"You've got to say that you love me."

"You're making a farce of it."

"No, I tell you I've planned it all out. I can't go on till you've said it."

"You can't expect me to say: 'George, I love you.' It's ridiculous.

It's like a funny story."

"Oh, never mind what it's like. Do be serious, Mary. How can I be sure you love me if you won't tell me?"

For the first moment since its happening the thought of Bob Chater and of Mrs. Chater pa.s.sed completely from Mary's mind. She looked around: there was no soul in sight. She listened: there was no sound. She clasped her fingers about his; leaned towards him, her face upturned....

He kissed her upon the lips....

"The plans," said George after a moment, "have all gone fut. I never thought of that way."

"It's much better," Mary said.

"The other's not a patch upon it," said George.

III.

You must conjecture of what lovers think when, following their first kiss, they sit silent. It is not a state that may be written down in such poor words as your author commands. For the touch of lips on lips is the key that turns the lock and gives admission to a world dimly conceived, yet found to have been wrongly conceived since conceived never to be so wonderful or so beautiful as it does prove. Nor, ever again, once the silence is broken and speech is found, has that world an aspect quite the same. For the door that divides this new world from the material world can never from the inside be closed. It is at first--for the s.p.a.ce of that silence after the first kiss--pushed very close by those who have entered; but, soon after, the breath of every rus.h.i.+ng moment blows it further and further ajar. Drab objects from the outer world drift across the threshold and obtrude their presence--vagabond tramps in a rose-garden, unpleasant, marring the surroundings, soiling the atmosphere. Cares drift in, worldly interests drift in; in drift smudgy, soiled, unpleasant objects brus.h.i.+ng the door yet wider upon its hinges till it stands back to its furthest extent and the interior becomes at one with the outer world.

The process is gradual, indiscernible. When completed the knowledge of what has been done dawns suddenly. One knocks against an intruder especially drab, starts into wakefulness to rub the bruise, and looking around exclaims, "And this is love!"

Well, it was love. But a rose-garden will not long remain beautiful if no care is taken of what may intrude.

If we but stand sentinel at the door, exercising a nice discretion, the garden may likely remain unsoiled, its air uncontaminated.

IV.

George said that though across the first portion of the scheme he had so laboriously planned he had been shot at lightning speed by the vehicle of Mary's action, its latter portion yet remained to be discussed. "We've got to marry, dearest--and as quick as quick. We can't go on like this--seeing each other once a week. No, not even if it were once a day. It's got to be always."

"Always and always, dear," Mary said softly.

Women are more intoxicated than men by the sudden atmosphere of that new world. The awe of it was still upon her. The light of love comes strongly to men, with the sensation of bright suns.h.i.+ne; to women as through stained gla.s.s windows, softly.

She continued: "Fancy saying 'always' and being glad to say it! I never thought I could. Do you know--will this frighten you?--I am one of those people who dread the idea of 'always.' I never could bear the idea of looking far, far ahead and not seeing any end. It frightened me. Ever since father died, I've been like that--even in little things, even in tangible things. When we go to the seaside in the summer I never can bear to look straight across the sea. That gives me the idea of always--of long, long miles and miles without a turn or a stop. I want to think every day, every hour, that what I am doing can't go on--mustchange. It suffocates me to think otherwise. I want to jump out, to scream."

Then she gave that laugh that seldom failed to come to her relief, and said: "It's a sort of claustrophobia--isn't that the word?--on a universal scale. But why is it? And why am I suddenly changed now? Why does the thought of always, always, endless always with you, bring a sort of--don't laugh, dear--a sort of bliss, peace?"

This poor George of mine, who was no deep thinker, nevertheless had the reason pat. He said:

"I think because the past has all been unhappy and because this, you know, means happiness."

She gave a little sigh; told him: "Yes, that's it--happiness."

V.

And now they fell to making plans as mating birds build nests. Here a bit of straw and there a tuft of moss; here a feather, there a shred of wool--George would do this and George would do that; here the house would be and thus would they do in the house. Probabilities were outraged, obstacles vaulted.

Castles that are builded in the air spring into being quicker than Aladdin's palace--bricks and mortar, beams and stones are featherweight when handled in the clouds; every piece is so dovetailed, marked and numbered that like magic there springs before the eye the s.h.i.+ning whole--pinnacled, turreted, embattled.

Disaster arrives when the work is completed. "There!" we say, standing back, a little flushed and out of breath with the excitement of the thing. "There! There's a place in which to live! Could any existence be more glorious?" And then we advance a step and lean against the walls to survey the surrounding prospect. It is the fatal action. The material body touches the aerial structure and down with a crash the castle comes--back we pitch into the foundations, and thwack, b.u.mp, thwack, comes the masonry tumbling about us, bruising, wounding.

VI.

George had built the castle. Mary had sat by twittering and clapping her hands for glee as higher and higher it rose. He knew for a fact, he told her, that his uncle had not expended upon his education much more than half the money left him for the purpose. He was convinced that by hook or by crook he could obtain the 400 pounds that would buy him the practice at Runnygate of which the Dean had told him. They would have a little house there--the town would thrive--the practice would nourish--in a year--why, in a year they would likely enough have to be thinking of getting a partner! And it would begin almost immediately! In three weeks the examination would be held. He could not fail to pa.s.s--then for the 400 pounds and Runnygate!

And then, unhappily, George leaned against this castle wall; provoked the crash.

"Till then, dear," he said, "you will stay with these Chater people. I know you hate it; but it will be only a short time, a few weeks at most."

Instantly her gay twittering ceased. Trouble drove glee from her eyes.

Memory chased dreams from her brain. Distress tore down the gay colours from her cheeks. She clasped her hands; from her seat half rose.

"Oh!" she cried; and again, "Oh! I had forgotten!"

"Forgotten? Forgotten what?"

"Dearest, I should have told you at the beginning, but I could not. I wanted to wait until I knew. I have not seen her yet this morning."

My startled George was becoming pale. "Knew what? Seen whom? What do you mean?"

Once Aboard the Lugger Part 24

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Once Aboard the Lugger Part 24 summary

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