Alla inlägg den 4 maj 2011

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 4 maj 2011 06:32

Occasionally he was exasperated that he could not avoid the discussions which his father, with a weak man's obstinacy, forced upon him. Some unhappy, baneful power seemed to drive Colonel Parsons to widen the rift, the existence of which caused him such exquisite pain; his natural kindliness was obscured by an uncontrollable irritation. One day he was reading the paper. "I see we've had another unfortunate reverse," he said, looking up. "Oh!" "I suppose you're delighted, Jamie?" "I'm very sorry. Why should I be otherwise?" "You always stick up for the enemies of your country." Turning to his brother-in-law, he explained: "James says that if he'd been a Cape Dutchman he'd have fought against us." "Well, he deserves to be court-martialled for saying so! "cried Major Forsyth. "I don't think he means to be taken seriously," said his mother. "Oh, yes, I do." It constantly annoyed James that when he said anything that was not quite an obvious truism, they should think he was speaking merely for effect. "Why, my dear mother, if you'd been a Boer woman you'd have potted at us from behind a haystack with the best of them." "The Boers are robbers and brigands." "That's just what they say we are." "But we're right." "And they're equally convinced that they are." "God can't be on both sides, James." "The odd thing is the certainty with which both sides claim His exclusive protection." "I should think it wicked to doubt that God is with us in a righteous war," said Mrs. Parsons. "If the Boers weren't deceived by that old villain Kruger, they'd never have fought us." "The Boers are strange people," replied James. "They actually prefer their independence to all the privileges and advantages of subjection.... The wonderful thing to me is that people should really think Mr. Kruger a hypocrite. A ruler who didn't honestly believe in himself and in his mission would never have had such influence. If a man wants power he must have self-faith; but then he may be narrow, intolerant, and vicious. His fellows will be like wax in his hands." "If Kruger had been honest, he wouldn't have put up with bribery and corruption." "The last thing I expect is consistency in an animal of such contrary instincts as man." "Every true Englishman, I'm thankful to say, thinks him a scoundrel and a blackguard." "In a hundred years he will probably think him a patriot and a hero. In that time the sentimental view will be the only one of interest; and the sentimental view will put the Transvaal in the same category as Poland." "You're nothing better than a pro-Boer, James." "I'm nothing of the kind; but seeing how conflicting was current opinion, I took some trouble to find for myself a justification of the war. I couldn't help wondering why I went and killed people to whom I was personally quite indifferent." "I hope because it was your duty as an officer of Her Majesty the Queen." "Not exactly. I came to the conclusion that I killed people because I liked it. The fighting instinct is in my blood, and I'm never so happy as when I'm shooting things. Killing tigers is very good sport, but it's not in it with killing men. That is my justification, so far as I personally am concerned. As a member of society, I wage war for a different reason. War is the natural instinct of all creatures; not only do progress and civilisation arise from it, but it is the very condition of existence. Men, beasts, and plants are all in the same position: unless they fight incessantly they're wiped out; there's no sitting on one side and looking on.... When a state wants a neighbour's land, it has a perfect right to take it--if it can. Success is its justification. We English wanted the Transvaal for our greater numbers, for our trade, for the continuance of our power; that was our right to take it. The only thing that seems to me undignified is the rather pitiful set of excuses we made up." "If those are your ideas, I think they are utterly ignoble."

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The tension between James and his parents became not less, but greater. That barrier which, almost from the beginning, they had watched with pain rise up between them now seemed indestructible, and all their efforts only made it more obvious and more stable. It was like some tropical plant which, for being cut down, grew ever with greater luxuriance. And there was a mischievous devil present at all their conversations that made them misunderstand one another as completely as though they spoke in different tongues. Notwithstanding their love, they were like strangers together; they could look at nothing from the same point of view. The Parsons had lived their whole lives in an artificial state. Ill-educated as most of their contemporaries in that particular class, they had just enough knowledge to render them dogmatic and intolerant. It requires a good deal of information to discover one's own ignorance, but to the consciousness of this the good people had never arrived. They felt they knew as much as necessary, and naturally on the most debatable questions were most assured. Their standpoint was inconceivably narrow. They had the best intentions in the world of doing their duty, but what their duty was they accepted on trust, frivolously. They walked round and round in a narrow circle, hemmed in by false ideals and by ugly prejudices, putting for the love of God unnecessary obstacles in their path and convinced that theirs was the only possible way, while all others led to damnation. They had never worked out an idea for themselves, never done a single deed on their own account, but invariably acted and thought according to the rule of their caste. They were not living creatures, but dogmatic machines. James, going into the world, quickly realised that he had been brought up to a state of things which did not exist. He was like a sailor who has put out to sea in an ornamental boat, and finds that his sail is useless, the ropes not made to work, and the rudder immovable. The long, buoyant wind of the world blew away like thistle-down the conventions which had seemed so secure a foundation. But he discovered in himself a wonderful curiosity, an eagerness for adventure which led him boldly to affront every peril; and the unknown lands of the intellect are every bit as dangerously fascinating as are those of sober fact. He read omnivorously, saw many and varied things; the universe was spread out before him like an enthralling play. Knowledge is like the root of a tree, attaching man by its tendrils to the life about him. James found in existence new beauties, new interests, new complexities; and he gained a lighter heart and, above all, an exquisite sense of freedom. At length he looked back with something like horror at that old life in which the fetters of ignorance had weighed so terribly upon him. On his return to Little Primpton, he found his people as he had left them, doing the same things, repeating at every well-known juncture the same trite observations. Their ingenuousness affected him as a negro, civilised and educated, on visiting after many years his native tribe, might be affected by their nose-rings and yellow ochre. James was astounded that they should ignore matters which he fancied common knowledge, and at the same time accept beliefs that he had thought completely dead. He was willing enough to shrug his shoulders and humour their prejudices, but they had made of them a rule of life which governed every action with an iron tyranny. It was in accordance with all these outworn conventions that they conducted the daily round. And presently James found that his father and mother were striving to draw him back into the prison. Unconsciously, even with the greatest tenderness, they sought to place upon his neck again that irksome yoke which he had so difficultly thrown off. If James had learnt anything, it was at all hazards to think for himself, accepting nothing on authority, questioning, doubting; it was to look upon life with a critical eye, trying to understand it, and to receive no ready-made explanations. Above all, he had learnt that every question has two sides. Now this was precisely what Colonel Parsons and his wife could never acknowledge; for them one view was certainly right, and the other as certainly wrong. There was no middle way. To doubt what they believed could only be ascribed to arrant folly or to wickedness. Sometimes James was thrown into a blind rage by the complacency with which from the depths of his nescience his father dogmatised. No man could have been more unassuming than he, and yet on just the points which were most uncertain his attitude was almost inconceivably arrogant. And James was horrified at the pettiness and the prejudice which he found in his home. Reading no books, for they thought it waste of time to read, the minds of his father and mother had sunk into such a narrow sluggishness that they could interest themselves only in trivialities. Their thoughts were occupied by their neighbours and the humdrum details of the life about them. Flattering themselves on their ideals and their high principles, they vegetated in stupid sloth and in a less than animal vacuity. Every topic of conversation above the most commonplace they found dull or incomprehensible. James learned that he had to talk to them almost as if they were children, and the tedium of those endless days was intolerable.

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 4 maj 2011 06:29

I've never been able to understand why. It didn't occur to me that I might get killed; it seemed the natural thing to do. It wasn't really brave, because I never realised that there was danger." * * * In the afternoon James received a note from Mrs. Clibborn, asking him to call upon her. Mary and her father were out walking, she said, so there would be no one to disturb them, and they could have a pleasant little chat. The invitation was a climax to Jamie's many vexations, and he laughed grimly at the prospect of that very foolish lady's indignation. Still, he felt bound to go. It was, after a fashion, a point of honour with him to avoid none of the annoyances which his act had brought upon him. It was partly in order to face every infliction that he insisted on remaining at Little Primpton. "Why haven't you been to see me, James?" Mrs. Clibborn murmured, with a surprisingly tender smile. "I thought you wouldn't wish me to." "James!" She sighed and cast up her eyes to heaven. "I always liked you. I shall never feel differently towards you." "It's very kind of you to say so," replied James, somewhat relieved. "You must come and see me often. It'll comfort you." "I'm afraid you and Colonel Clibborn must be very angry with me?" "I could never be angry with you, James.... Poor Reginald, he doesn't understand! But you can't deceive a woman." Mrs. Clibborn put her hand on Jamie's arm and gazed into his eyes. "I want you to tell me something. Do you love anyone else?" James looked at her quickly and hesitated. "If you had asked me the other day, I should have denied it with all my might. But now--I don't know." Mrs. Clibborn smiled. "I thought so," she said. "You can tell me, you know." She was convinced that James adored her, but wanted to hear him say so. It is notorious that to a handsome woman even the admiration of a crossing-sweeper is welcome. "Oh, it's no good any longer trying to conceal it from myself!" cried James, forgetting almost to whom he was speaking. "I'm sorry about Mary; no one knows how much. But I do love someone else, and I love her with all my heart and soul; and I shall never get over it now." "I knew it," sighed Mrs. Clibborn, complacently, "I knew it!" Then looking coyly at him: "Tell me about her." "I can't. I know my love is idiotic and impossible; but I can't help it. It's fate." "You're in love with a married woman, James." "How d'you know?" "My poor boy, d'you think you can deceive me! And is it not the wife of an officer?" "Yes." "A very old friend of yours?" "It's just that which makes it so terrible." "I knew it." "Oh, Mrs. Clibborn, I swear you're the only woman here who's got two ounces of gumption. If they'd only listened to you five years ago, we might all have been saved this awful wretchedness." He could not understand that Mrs. Clibborn, whose affectations were manifest, whose folly was notorious, should alone have guessed his secret. He was tired of perpetually concealing his thoughts. "I wish I could tell you everything!" he cried.

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The Vicar of Little Primpton was an earnest man, and he devoted much care to the composition of his sermons. He was used to expound twice a Sunday the more obvious parts of Holy Scripture, making in twenty minutes or half an hour, for the benefit of the vulgar, a number of trite reflections; and it must be confessed that he had great facility for explaining at decorous length texts which were plain to the meanest intelligence. But having a fair acquaintance with the thought of others, Mr. Jackson flattered himself that he was a thinker; and on suitable occasions attacked from his village pulpit the scarlet weed of heresy, expounding to an intelligent congregation of yokels and small boys the manifold difficulties of the Athanasian Creed. He was at his best in pouring vials of contempt upon the false creed of atheists, Romanists, Dissenters, and men of science. The theory of Evolution excited his bitterest scorn, and he would set up, like a row of nine-pins, the hypotheses of the greatest philosophers of the century, triumphantly to knock them down by the force of his own fearless intellect. His congregation were inattentive, and convinced beyond the need of argument, so they remained pious members of the Church of England. But this particular sermon, after mature consideration, the Vicar had made up his mind to devote to a matter of more pressing interest. He repeated the text. Mrs. Jackson, who knew what was coming, caught the curate's eye, and looked significantly at James. The homily, in fact, was directed against him; his were the pride, the arrogancy, and the evil way. He was blissfully unconscious of these faults, and for a minute or two the application missed him; but the Vicar of Little Primpton, intent upon what he honestly thought his duty, meant that there should be no mistake. He crossed his t's and dotted his i's, with the scrupulous accuracy of the scandal-monger telling a malicious story about some person whom charitably he does not name, yet wishes everyone to identify. Colonel Parsons started when suddenly the drift of the sermon dawned upon him, and then bowed his head with shame. His wife looked straight in front of her, two flaming spots upon her pale cheeks. Mary, in the next pew, dared not move, hardly dared breathe; her heart sank with dismay, and she feared she would faint. "How he must be suffering!" she muttered. They all felt for James intensely; the form of Mr. Jackson, hooded and surpliced, had acquired a new authority, and his solemn invective was sulphurous with the fires of Hell. They wondered how James could bear it. "He hasn't deserved this," thought Mrs. Parsons. But the Colonel bent his head still lower, accepting for his son the reproof, taking part of it himself. The humiliation seemed merited, and the only thing to do was to bear it meekly. James alone appeared unconcerned; the rapid glances at him saw no change in his calm, indifferent face. His eyes were closed, and one might have thought him asleep. Mr. Jackson noted the attitude, and attributed it to a wicked obstinacy. For the repentant sinner, acknowledging his fault, he would have had entire forgiveness; but James showed no contrition. Stiff-necked and sin-hardened, he required a further chastisement. "Courage, what is courage?" asked the preacher. "There is nothing more easy than to do a brave deed when the blood is hot. But to conduct one's life simply, modestly, with a meek spirit and a Christ-like submission, that is ten times more difficult Courage, unaccompanied by moral worth, is the quality of a brute-beast." He showed how much more creditable were the artless virtues of honesty and truthfulness; how better it was to keep one's word, to be kind-hearted and dutiful. Becoming more pointed, he mentioned the case which had caused them so much sorrow, warning the delinquent against conceit and self-assurance. "Pride goeth before a fall," he said. "And he that is mighty shall be abased." * * * They walked home silently, Colonel Parsons and his wife with downcast eyes, feeling that everyone was looking at them. Their hearts were too full for them to speak to one another, and they dared say nothing to James. But Major Forsyth had no scruples of delicacy; he attacked his nephew the moment they sat down to dinner. "Well, James, what did you think of the sermon? Feel a bit sore?" "Why should I?" "I fancy it was addressed pretty directly to you." "So I imagine," replied James, good-humouredly smiling. "I thought it singularly impertinent, but otherwise uninteresting." "Mr. Jackson doesn't think much of you," said Uncle William, with a laugh, ignoring his sister's look, which implored him to be silent. "I can bear that with equanimity. I never set up for a very wonderful person." "He was wrong to make little of your attempt to save young Larcher," said Mrs. Parsons, gently. "Why?" asked James. "He was partly right. Physical courage is more or less accidental. In battle one takes one's chance. One soon gets used to shells flying about; they're not so dangerous as they look, and after a while one forgets all about them. Now and then one gets hit, and then it's too late to be nervous."

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 4 maj 2011 06:27

Well, perhaps I should like to be quite English. I should feel more comfortable in my scorn of these regimental ladies if I thought they could find no reason to look down on me." "I don't think they look down on you." "Oh, don't they? They despise and loathe me." "When you were ill, they did all they could for you." "Foolish creature! Don't you know that to do good to your enemy is the very best way of showing your contempt." And so James could go on, questioning, replying, putting little jests into her mouth, or half-cynical repartees. Sometimes he spoke aloud, and then Mrs. Wallace's voice sounded in his ears, clear and rich and passionate, as though she were really standing in the flesh beside him. But always he finished by taking her in his arms and kissing her lips and her closed eyes, the lids transparent like the finest alabaster. He knew no pleasure greater than to place his hands on that lustrous hair. What could it matter now? He was not bound to Mary; he could do no harm to Mrs. Wallace, ten thousand miles away. * * * But Colonel Parsons broke into the charming dream. Bent and weary, he came across the lawn to find his son. The wan, pathetic figure brought back to James all the present bitterness. He sighed, and advanced to meet him. "You're very reckless to come out without a hat, father. I'll fetch you one, shall I?" "No, I'm not going to stay." The Colonel could summon up no answering smile to his boy's kind words. "I only came to tell you that Mrs. Jackson is in the drawing-room, and would like to see you." "What does she want?" "She'll explain herself. She has asked to see you alone." Jamie's face darkened, as some notion of Mrs. Jackson's object dawned upon him. "I don't know what she can have to talk to me about alone." "Please listen to her, Jamie. She's a very clever woman, and you can't fail to benefit by her advice." The Colonel never had an unfriendly word to say of anyone, and even for Mrs. Jackson's unwarrantable interferences could always find a good-natured justification. He was one of those deprecatory men who, in every difference of opinion, are convinced that they are certainly in the wrong. He would have borne with the most cheerful submission any rebuke of his own conduct, and been, indeed, vastly grateful to the Vicar's wife for pointing out his error. James found Mrs. Jackson sitting bolt upright on a straight-backed chair, convinced, such was her admirable sense of propriety, that a lounging attitude was incompatible with the performance of a duty. She held her hands on her lap, gently clasped; and her tight lips expressed as plainly as possible her conviction that though the way of righteousness was hard, she, thank God! had strength to walk it. "How d'you do, Mrs. Jackson?" "Good morning," she replied, with a stiff bow. James, though there was no fire, went over to the mantelpiece and leant against it, waiting for the lady to speak. "Captain Parsons, I have a very painful duty to perform." Those were her words, but it must have been a dense person who failed to perceive that Mrs. Jackson found her duty anything but painful. There was just that hard resonance in her voice that an inquisitor might have in condemning to the stake a Jew to whom he owed much money. "I suppose you will call me a busybody?" "Oh, I'm sure you would never interfere with what does not concern you," replied James, slowly. "Certainly not!" said Mrs. Jackson. "I come here because my conscience tells me to. What I wish to talk to you about concerns us all." "Shall I call my people? I'm sure they'd be interested." "I asked to see you alone, Captain Parsons," answered Mrs. Jackson, frigidly. "And it was for your sake. When one has to tell a person home-truths, he generally prefers that there should be no audience." "So you're going to tell me some home-truths, Mrs. Jackson?" said James, with a laugh. "You must think me very good-natured. How long have I had the pleasure of your acquaintance?" Mrs. Jackson's grimness did not relax. "One learns a good deal about people in a week." "D'you think so? I have an idea that ten years is a short time to get to know them. You must be very quick." "Actions often speak." "Actions are the most lying things in the world. They are due mostly to adventitious circumstances which have nothing to do with the character of the agent. I would never judge a man by his actions." "I didn't come here to discuss abstract things with you, Captain Parsons." "Why not? The abstract is so much more entertaining than the concrete. It affords opportunities for generalisation, which is the salt of conversation." "I'm a very busy woman," retorted Mrs. Jackson sharply, thinking that James was not treating her with proper seriousness. He was not so easy to tackle as she had imagined. "It's very good of you, then, to spare time to come and have a little chat with me," said James. "I did not come for that purpose, Captain Parsons." "Oh, I forgot--home-truths, wasn't it? I was thinking of Shakespeare and the musical glasses!" "Would you kindly remember that I am a clergyman's wife, Captain Parsons? I daresay you are not used to the society of such." "Pardon me, I even know an archdeacon quite well. He has a great gift of humour; a man wants it when he wears a silk apron." "Captain Parsons," said Mrs. Jackson, sternly, "there are some things over which it is unbecoming to jest. I wish to be as gentle as possible with you, but I may remind you that flippancy is not the best course for you to pursue."

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James felt no relief. He had looked forward to a sensation of freedom such as a man might feel when he had escaped from some tyrannous servitude, and was at liberty again to breathe the buoyant air of heaven. He imagined that his depression would vanish like an evil spirit exorcised so soon as ever he got from Mary his release; but instead it sat more heavily upon him. Unconvinced even yet that he had acted rightly, he went over the conversation word for word. It seemed singularly ineffectual. Wishing to show Mary that he did not break with her from caprice or frivolous reason, but with sorrowful reluctance, and full knowledge of her suffering, he had succeeded only in being futile and commonplace. He walked slowly towards Primpton House. He had before him the announcement to his mother and father; and he tried to order his thoughts. Mrs. Parsons, her household work finished, was knitting the inevitable socks; while the Colonel sat at the table, putting new stamps into his album. He chattered delightedly over his treasures, getting up now and then gravely to ask his wife some question or to point out a surcharge; she, good woman, showed interest by appropriate rejoinders. "There's no one in Tunbridge Wells who has such a fine collection as I have." "General Newsmith showed me his the other day, but it's not nearly so good as yours, Richmond." "I'm glad of that. I suppose his Mauritius are fine?" replied the Colonel, with some envy, for the general had lived several years on the island. "They're fair," said Mrs. Parsons, reassuringly; "but not so good as one would expect." "It takes a clever man to get together a good collection of stamps, although I shouldn't say it." They looked up when James entered. "I've just been putting in those Free States you brought me, Jamie. They look very well." The Colonel leant back to view them, with the satisfied look with which he might have examined an old master. "It was very thoughtful of Jamie to bring them," said Mrs. Parsons. "Ah, I knew he wouldn't forget his old father. Don't you remember, Frances, I said to you, 'I'll be bound the boy will bring some stamps with him.' They'll be valuable in a year or two. That's what I always say with regard to postage stamps; you can't waste your money. Now jewellery, for instance, gets old-fashioned, and china breaks; but you run no risk with stamps. When I buy stamps, I really feel that I'm as good as investing my money in consols." "Well, how's Mary this morning?" "I've been having a long talk with her." "Settled the day yet?" asked the Colonel, with a knowing little laugh. "No!" "Upon my word, Frances, I think we shall have to settle it for them. Things weren't like this when we were young. Why, Jamie, your mother and I got married six weeks after I was introduced to her at a croquet party." "We were married in haste, Richmond," said Mrs. Parsons, laughing. "Well, we've taken a long time to repent of it, my dear. It's over thirty years." "I fancy it's too late now." The Colonel took her hand and patted it. "If you get such a good wife as I have, Jamie, I don't think you'll have reason to complain. Will he, my dear?" "It's not for me to say, Richmond," replied Mrs. Parsons, smiling contentedly. "Do you want me to get married very much, father?" "Of course I do. I've set my heart upon it. I want to see what the new generations of Parsons are like before I die." "Listen, Richmond, Jamie has something to tell us." Mrs. Parsons had been looking at her son, and was struck at last by the agony of his expression. "What is it, Jamie?" she asked. "I'm afraid you'll be dreadfully disappointed. I'm so sorry--Mary and I are no longer engaged to be married." For a minute there was silence in the room. The old Colonel looked helplessly from wife to son. "What does he mean, Frances?" he said at last. Mrs. Parsons did not answer, and he turned to James.

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 4 maj 2011 06:23

After that, how could he say immediately that he no longer loved her, and wished to be released from his engagement? "I'm afraid you think I'm a very terrifying person," answered James. Her words had made his announcement impossible; another day had gone, and weakly he had let it pass. "What shall I do?" he murmured under his breath. "What a coward I am!" They came to the door of the Clibborns' house and Mary turned to say good-bye. She bent forward, smiling and blushing, and he quickly kissed her. * * * In the evening, James was sitting by the fire in the dining-room, thinking of that one subject which occupied all his thoughts. Colonel Parsons and his wife were at the table, engaged upon the game of backgammon which invariably filled the interval between supper and prayers. The rattle of dice came to James indistinctly, as in a dream, and he imagined fantastically that unseen powers were playing for his life. He sat with his head between his hands, staring at the flames as though to find in them a solution to his difficulty; but mockingly they spoke only of Mrs. Wallace and the caress of her limpid eyes. He turned away with a gesture of impatience. The game was just finished, and Mrs. Parsons, catching the expression on his face, asked: "What are you thinking of, Jamie?" "I?" he answered, looking up quickly, as though afraid that his secret had been divined. "Nothing!" Mrs. Parsons put the backgammon board away, making up her mind to speak, for she too suffered from a shyness which made the subjects she had nearest at heart precisely those that she could least bear to talk about. "When do you think of getting married, Jamie?" James started. "Why, you asked me that yesterday," He tried to make a joke of it. "Upon my word, you're very anxious to get rid of me." "I wonder if it's occurred to you that you're making Mary a little unhappy?" James stood up and leaned against the mantelpiece, his face upon his hand. "I should be sorry to do that, mother." "You've been home four days, and you've not said a word to show you love her." "I'm afraid I'm not very demonstrative." "That's what I said!" cried the Colonel, triumphantly. "Can't you try to say a word or two to prove you care for her, Jamie? She _is_ so fond of you," continued his mother. "I don't want to interfere with your private concerns, but I think it's only thoughtlessness on your part; and I'm sure you don't wish to make Mary miserable. Poor thing, she's so unhappy at home; she yearns for a little affection.... Won't you say something to her about your marriage?" "Has she asked you to speak to me?" inquired James. "No, dear. You know that she would never do anything of the kind. She would hate to think that I had said anything." James paused a moment. "I will speak to her to-morrow, mother." "That's right!" said the Colonel, cheerfully. "I know she's going to be in all the morning. Colonel and Mrs. Clibborn are going into Tunbridge Wells." "It will be a good opportunity."

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There was a pained hush, such as naturally occurs when someone has made a very horrible _faux pas_. They all looked at one another awkwardly; while Mary, ashamed at her mother's want of taste, kept her eyes glued to the carpet But Mrs. Clibborn's folly was so notorious that presently anger was succeeded by contemptuous amusement, and the curate came to the rescue with a loud guffaw. "Of course, you know your Marie Corelli by heart, Captain Parsons?" "I'm afraid I've never read one of them." "Not?" they all cried in surprise. "Oh, I'll send them to you to Primpton House," said Mr. Dryland. "I have them all. Why, no one's education is complete till he's read Marie Corelli." This was considered a very good hit at Mrs. Clibborn, and the dear people smiled at one another significantly. Even Mary could scarcely keep a straight face. The tea then appeared, and was taken more or less silently. With the exception of the fashionable Mrs. Clibborn, they were all more used to making a sit-down meal of it, and the care of holding a cup, with a piece of cake unsteadily balanced in the saucer, prevented them from indulging in very brilliant conversational feats; they found one gymnastic exercise quite sufficient at a time. But when the tea-cups were safely restored to the table, Mrs. Jackson suggested a little music. "Will you open the proceedings, Mary?" The curate went up to Miss Clibborn with a bow, gallantly offering his arm to escort her to the piano. Mary had thoughtfully brought her music, and began to play a 'Song Without Words,' by Mendelssohn. She was considered a fine pianist in Little Primpton. She attacked the notes with marked resolution, keeping the loud pedal down throughout; her eyes were fixed on the music with an intense, determined air, in which you saw an eagerness to perform a social duty, and her lips moved as conscientiously she counted time. Mary played the whole piece without making a single mistake, and at the end was much applauded. "There's nothing like classical music, is there?" cried the curate enthusiastically, as Mary stopped, rather out of breath, for she played, as she did everything else, with energy and thoroughness. "It's the only music I really love." "And those 'Songs Without Words' are beautiful," said Colonel Parsons, who was standing on Mary's other side. "Mendelssohn is my favourite composer," she replied. "He's so full of soul." "Ah, yes," murmured Mr. Dryland. "His heart seems to throb through all his music. It's strange that he should have been a Jew." "But then Our Lord was a Jew, wasn't He?" said Mary. "Yes, one is so apt to forget that." Mary turned the leaves, and finding another piece which was familiar to her, set about it. It was a satisfactory thing to listen to her performance. In Mary's decided touch one felt all the strength of her character, with its simple, unaffected candour and its eminent sense of propriety. In her execution one perceived the high purpose which animated her whole conduct; it was pure and wholesome, and thoroughly English. And her piano-playing served also as a moral lesson, for none could listen without remembering that life was not an affair to be taken lightly, but a strenuous endeavour: the world was a battlefield (this one realised more particularly when Mary forgot for a page or so to take her foot off the pedal); each one of us had a mission to perform, a duty to do, a function to fulfil. Meanwhile, James was trying to make conversation with Mrs. Clibborn. "How well Mary plays!" "D'you think so? I can't bear amateurs. I wish they wouldn't play." James looked at Mrs. Clibborn quickly. It rather surprised him that she, the very silliest woman he had ever known, should say the only sensible things he had heard that day. Nor could he forget that she had done her best to prevent his engagement. "I think you're a very wonderful woman," he said. "Oh, Jamie!" Mrs. Clibborn smiled and sighed, slipping forward her hand for him to take; but James was too preoccupied to notice the movement. "I'm beginning to think you really like me," murmured Mrs. Clibborn, cooing like an amorous dove. Then James was invited to sing, and refused. "Please do, Jamie!" cried Mary, smiling. "For my sake. You used to sing so nicely!" He still tried to excuse himself, but finding everyone insistent, went at last, with very bad grace, to the piano. He not only sang badly, but knew it, and was irritated that he should be forced to make a fool of himself. Mr. Dryland sang badly, but perfectly satisfied with himself, needed no pressing when his turn came. He made a speciality of old English songs, and thundered out in his most ecclesiastical manner a jovial ditty entitled, "Down Among the Dead Men." The afternoon was concluded by an adjournment to the dining-room to play bagatelle, the most inane of games, to which the billiard-player goes with contempt, changed quickly to wrath when he cannot put the balls into absurd little holes. Mary was an adept, and took pleasure in showing James how the thing should be done. He noticed that she and the curate managed the whole affair between them, arranging partners and advising freely. Mrs. Clibborn alone refused to play, saying frankly it was too idiotic a pastime. At last the party broke up, and in a group bade their farewells. "I'll walk home with you, Mary, if you don't mind," said James, "and smoke a pipe." Mary suddenly became radiant, and Colonel Parsons gave her a happy little smile and a friendly nod.... At last James had his opportunity. He lingered while Mary gathered together her music, and waited again to light his pipe, so that when they came out of the Vicarage gates the rest of the company were no longer in sight. The day had become overcast and sombre; on the even surface of the sky floated little ragged black clouds, like the fragments cast to the wind of some widowed, ample garment. It had grown cold, and James, accustomed to a warmer air, shivered a little. The country suddenly appeared cramped and circumscribed; in the fading light a dulness of colour came over tree and hedgerow which was singularly depressing. They walked in silence, while James looked for words. All day he had been trying to find some manner to express himself, but his mind, perplexed and weary, refused to help him. The walk to Mary's house could not take more than five minutes, and he saw the distance slipping away rapidly. If he meant to say anything it must be said at once; and his mouth was dry, he felt almost a physical inability to speak. He did not know how to prepare the way, how to approach the subject; and he was doubly tormented by the absolute necessity of breaking the silence.


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