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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 19. Beauty, Purity, And Peace
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A Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 19. Beauty, Purity, And Peace Post by :codebluenj Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :1284

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A Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 19. Beauty, Purity, And Peace

CHAPTER XIX. BEAUTY, PURITY, AND PEACE

I now proposed to wheel my way in one long stretch to Walford. I took no interest in rest or in refreshment. Simply to feel that I had done with this cycle of Cathay would be to me rest, refreshment, and, perhaps, the beginning of peace.

The sun was high in the heavens, and its rays were hot, but still I kept steadily on until I saw a female figure by the road-side waving a handkerchief. I had not yet reached her, but she had stopped, was looking at me, and was waving energetically. I could not be mistaken. I turned and wheeled up in front of her. It was Mrs. Burton, the mother of the young lady who had injured her ankle on the day when I set out for my journey through Cathay.

"I am so glad to see you," she said, as she shook hands with me. "I knew you as soon as my eyes first fell upon you. You know I have often seen you on the road before we became acquainted with you. We have frequently talked about you since you were here, and we did not expect you would be coming back so soon. Mr. Burton has been hoping that he would have a chance to know you better. He is very fond of school-masters. He was an intimate friend of Godfrey Chester, who had the school at Walford some years before you came--when the boys and girls used to go to school together--and of the man who came afterwards. He was a little too elderly, perhaps, but Mr. Burton liked him too, and now he hopes that he is going to know you. But excuse me for keeping you standing so long in the road. You must come in. We shall have dinner in ten minutes. I was just coming home from a neighbor's when I caught sight of you."

I declined with earnestness. Mr. Burton might be a very agreeable man, but I wanted to make no new acquaintances then. I must keep on to Walford.

But the good lady would listen to no refusals of her hospitality. I was just in time. I must need a mid-day rest and something to eat. She was very sorry that Mr. Burton was not at home. He nearly always was at home, but to-day he had gone to Waterton. But if I would be contented to take dinner with her daughter and herself, they would be delighted to have me do so. She made a motion to open the gate for me, but I opened it for her, and we both went in. The daughter met us at the top of the garden walk. She came towards me as a cool summer breeze comes upon a hot and dusty world. There was, no flush upon her face, but her eyes and lips told me that she was glad to see me before she spoke a word or placed her soft, white hand in mine. At the first touch of that hand I felt glad that Mrs. Burton had stopped me in the road. Here was peace.

That dinner was the most soothing meal of which I had ever partaken. I did the carving, my companions did the questioning, and nearly all the conversation was about myself. Ordinarily I would not have liked this, but every word which was said by these two fair ladies--for the sweetness of the mother was merely more seasoned than that of the daughter--was so filled with friendly interest that it gratified me to make my answers.

They seemed to have heard a great deal about me during my wanderings through Cathay. They knew, of course, that I had stopped with the Putneys, for I had told them that, but they had also heard that I had spent a night at the Holly Sprig, and had afterwards stayed with the Larramies. But of anything which had happened which in the slightest degree had jarred upon my feelings they did not appear to have heard the slightest mention.

I might have supposed that only good and happy news thought it worth while to stop at that abode of peace. As I looked upon the serene and tender countenance of Mrs. Burton I wondered how a cloud rising from want of sympathy with early peas ever could have settled over this little family circle; but it was the man who had caused the cloud. I knew it. It is so often the man.

When we had finished dinner and had gone out to sit in the cool shadows of the piazza, I let my gaze rest as often as I might upon the fair face of that young girl. Several times her eyes met mine, but their lids never drooped, their tender light did not brighten. I felt that she was so truly glad to see me that her pleasure in the meeting was not affected one way or the other by the slight incident of my looking at her.

If ever a countenance told of innocence, purity, and truth, her countenance told of them. I believe that if she had thought it pleased me to look at her, it would have pleased her to know that it gave me pleasure.

As I talked with her and looked at her, and as I looked at her mother and talked with her, it was impressed upon me that if there is one thing in this world which is better than all else, it is peace, that peace which comprises so many forms of happiness and deep content. That the thoughts which came to me could come to a heart so lacerated, so torn, so full of pain as mine had been that morning, seemed wonderful, and yet they came.

Once or twice I tried to banish these thoughts. It seemed disrespectful to myself to entertain them so soon after other thoughts which I now wished to banish utterly. I am not a hero of romance. I am only a plain human being, and such is the constitution of my nature that the more troubled and disturbed is my soul, the more welcome is purity, truth, and peace.

But, after all, my feelings were not quite natural, and the change in them was too sudden. It was the consequence of too violent a reaction, but, such as it was, it was complete. I would not be hasty. I would not be deficient in self-respect. But if at that moment I had known that this was the time to declare what I wished to have, I would unhesitatingly have asked for beauty, purity, and peace.

A maid came out upon the piazza who wanted something. Mrs. Burton half rose, but her daughter forestalled her. "I will go," said she. "Excuse me one minute."

If my face expressed the sentiment, "Oh, that the mother had gone!" I did not intend that it should do so. Mrs. Burton then began to talk about her daughter.

"She is like her father," she said, "in so many ways. For one thing, she is very fond of school-masters. I do not know exactly why this should be, but her teachers always seem to be her friends. In fact, she is to marry a school-master--that is, an assistant professor at Yale. He is in Europe now, but we expect him back early in the fall."

A short time after this, when the daughter had returned and I rose to go, the young girl put her soft, white hand into mine exactly as she had done when I arrived, and the light in her eyes showed me, just as it had showed me before, the pleasure she had taken in my visit. But the mother's farewell was different from her greeting. I could see in her kind air a certain considerate sympathy which was not there before. She had been very prompt to tell me of her daughter's engagement.

That young angel of peace and truth would not have deemed it necessary to say a word about the matter, even to a young man who was a school-master, and between whom and her family a mutual interest was rapidly growing. But with the mother it was otherwise. She had seen the shadows pass away from my countenance as I sat and talked upon that cool piazza, my eyes bent upon her daughter. Mothers know.

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