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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 10. Resolutions
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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 10. Resolutions Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3038

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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 10. Resolutions

PART II CHAPTER X. RESOLUTIONS

Toby went to church that Sunday evening with great propriety, Saltash having departed, taking Bunny with him to spend the evening at Burchester. Her behaviour was a model of decorum throughout, but returning she begged Jake for a cigarette as a reward of virtue.

"It'll keep me good for hours," she assured him.

And Jake, who yearned for a smoke himself, could not find it in his heart to refuse.

"Don't overdo it, that's all!" he said. "Young Bunny is always at it, and it's very bad for him."

"Oh, I've got heaps more sense than Bunny," said Toby, with lofty assurance.

She smoked the cigarette with delicate appreciation though Jake's tobacco was by no means suited to a feminine palate, and they returned at peace with all the world.

Maud, who had been watching for them somewhat anxiously, saw with relief that her fears were groundless. Toby's serene countenance told her that all was well. No, she had not hated it so very badly after all. It was nothing to make a fuss about anyhow. She would go again if Jake liked.

She seemed in fact mildly amused by the idea that he could be so easily pleased, and asked him later with her chin in the air if there were any other odd jobs he would like her to perform.

But when Maud presently went to the piano, she came and sat on a low chair near her and listened in absolute stillness while she played. They were alone, and Maud played on and on, almost forgetful of her silent companion, suffering her fingers to wander in unison with her thoughts. All her life music had been her great joy and solace. She was not a brilliant musician as was Saltash, but she had the gift of so steeping herself in music that she could at times thereby express that which otherwise would have been unutterable--the hidden emotions of her soul.

Nearly an hour had passed thus before she remembered the silent little figure behind her, and then it was with a swift sense of compunction that she took her hands from the keys and turned.

"Toby dear, how boring this must be for you! Are you asleep? Why, child, what is it?"

With a start she saw that Toby's fair head was bowed upon her arms in an attitude of the most hopeless, the most bitter, despair.

She made a convulsive movement at the sound of Maud's voice, and in a moment lifted a white, strained face. "I am just a little tired, that's all," she said in a voice that quivered in spite of her. "Please go on playing! I like it."

Maud got up with quiet decision and went to her, but Toby was on her feet before she reached her. She stood with that look of a small, frightened animal so characteristic of her, her two hands nervously locked together.

Maud took her gently by the arm. "Shall we sit down and talk?" she said.

Toby yielded as it were involuntarily to the quiet touch. In her plain white blouse with the sailor collar she looked a mere child--a piteous, shy child.

Maud drew her down upon the sofa. All the mother in her went out to the forlorn little creature, yet for the moment she hesitated, as one afraid to strike a wrong note.

Toby was trembling a little and that fact decided her. She put a comforting arm about her.

"Do you know I am wondering how to make you happy?" she said.

Toby choked back a sob. "You are very kind, and I am stupid--stupid. I will try to be happy. I will really."

Maud began to draw her gently nearer, but Toby surprised her by a sudden passionate movement and slipped down on to the floor, hiding her face against her.

"I'm not fit--to speak to you!" she said in a vehement, strangled whisper. "I'm so bad--so bad. And I do--so--want to be good."

"My dear, dear child!" Maud said very tenderly.

Toby fought with herself for a space, her thin arms tightly clasping Maud's knees. At last, forcing back her distress she lifted her head.

"I'm so dreadfully sorry. Don't let it upset you! Don't--tell Jake!"

"You are quite safe with me, dear," Maud assured her. "But can't I help you?"

She knew even as she asked the question that Toby was not prepared to give her full confidence, and her own reserve shrank from asking for it.

Toby looked up at her with quivering lips. "Oh, you are good!" she said. "I want to be good--like you. But--I don't feel as if I ever shall be."

Maud laid a very gentle hand upon the blue-veined forehead. "I think goodness is only comparative at the best of times, dear," she said. "I don't feel that I am specially good. If I seem so to you, it is probably because my life holds very few temptations to be anything else."

"Ah!" Toby said, with a quick sigh. "And do you think people ought to be made to suffer for--for things they can't help?"

Maud shook her head. "I am afraid it often happens, dear."

"And yet you believe in God," Toby said.

"Yes, I believe in God." With quiet reverence Maud made answer. "And I am quite sure, Toby--quite, quite sure--that He never holds people responsible for the things they can't help."

"Then why--" began Toby restlessly.

Maud interrupted her. "No, no. Don't ask why! The world is as God made it. 'We are His workmanship.' Let Him do with us as He will!"

Toby's hands clenched. A frown that was curiously unchildlike drew the wide forehead. "Are we to be quite passive then? Just--slaves?"

"No," Maud said. "Servants--not slaves. There is a big difference. And every one of us--every one of us--has God's work to do in the world."

"And you think that bad people,--like me--can do anything?" said Toby.

Maud smiled a little. "Toby dear, I am quite sure that your work is waiting for you."

"Don't know where I'm going to begin," said Toby, with another sigh.

"My dear, you have begun." Maud's hand smoothed the fair hair. "Do you think I don't know how hard you try?"

Toby's eyes filled with quick tears. "But is it any good trying? Shall I ever get away from--from--" She broke off with a nervous, upward glance. "Shall I ever do more than begin?" she substituted rather piteously.

"My dear, yes." Very quietly, with absolute decision, Maud made answer. "You are young--too young to be hampered by anything that is past. You have your life before you, and--to a very great extent--you can make of it what you will. There is no need--believe me, there is no need--to look back. There is only time enough for the present. Just keep on trying! Make the very best you can of it! And you will find the future will come out all right."

"Will it?" said Toby rather dubiously.

Maud bent and kissed her. "Certainly it will, dear. Never doubt it! It may not be the future we plan for ourselves, but it will be the very best possible if we keep on doing our best with the present."

"Thank you," Toby murmured gratefully. "And you really think--you do really think--the past doesn't matter?"

Maud was silent for a few moments. The thought of Saltash was in her mind, his jesting evasions, his air of careless proprietorship. What was the thing in this child's past that she desired so earnestly to put away? She wondered if she ought to ask, but she could not.

A slight terror ran through the small, supplicating figure at her knee, and quick pity banished doubt. "I think it is entirely in our own hands, dear," she said gently. "The past can always be left behind if we work hard enough."

"Oh, thank you," Toby said again, and gathering Maud's hands impulsively into her own she kissed them. "I'm going to work very hard," she said. "You'll help me, I know. I've got to--to leave off turning somersaults--and learn to--curtsey."

She sent a shy smile into Maud's face, and almost in spite of herself Maud answered it. There was something oddly appealing, irresistibly attractive, about the child. She was so young and ardent, yet so pathetically anxious to please.

"Of course I will help you," she said. "I will always help you, my dear."

And Toby, emboldened, thrust warm arms about her neck, and held her close.

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