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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMr. Crewe's Career - Book 3 - Chapter 29. The Vale Of The Blue
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Mr. Crewe's Career - Book 3 - Chapter 29. The Vale Of The Blue Post by :nexus Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :May 2012 Read :3037

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Mr. Crewe's Career - Book 3 - Chapter 29. The Vale Of The Blue

BOOK III CHAPTER XXIX. THE VALE OF THE BLUE

Austen himself could not well have defined his mental state as he made his way through the big rooms towards the door, but he was aware of one main desire--to escape from Fairview. With the odours of the flowers in the tall silver vases on the piano--her piano!--the spirit of desire which had so long possessed him, waking and sleeping, returned,--returned to torture him now with greater skill amidst these her possessions; her volume of Chopin on the rack, bound in red leather and stamped with her initials, which compelled his glance as he passed, and brought vivid to his memory the night he had stood in the snow and heard her playing. So, he told himself, it must always be, for him to stand in the snow listening.

He reached the hall, with a vast relief perceived that it was empty, and opened the door and went out. Strange that he should note, first of all, as he parsed a moment at the top of the steps, that the very day had changed. The wind had fallen; the sun, well on his course towards the rim of western hills, poured the golden light of autumn over field and forest, while Sawanec was already in the blue shadow; the expectant stillness of autumn reigned, and all unconsciously Austen's blood was quickened though a quickening of pain.

The surprise of the instant over, he noticed that his horse was gone,--had evidently been taken to the stables. And rather than ring the bell and wait in the mood in which he found himself, he took the path through the shrubbery from which he had seen the groom emerge.

It turned beyond the corner of the house, descended a flight of stone steps, and turned again.

They stood gazing each at the other for a space of time not to be computed before either spoke, and the sense of unreality which comes with a sudden fulfilment of intense desire--or dread--was upon Austen. Could this indeed be her figure, and this her face on which he watched the colour rise (so he remembered afterwards) like the slow flood of day? Were there so many Victorias, that a new one--and a strange one--should confront him at every meeting? And, even while he looked, this Victoria, too,--one who had been near him and departed,--was surveying him now from an unapproachable height of self-possession and calm. She held out her hand, and he took it, scarce knowing--that it was hers.

"How do you do, Mr. Vane?" she said; "I did not expect to meet you here."

"I was searching for the stable, to get my horse," he answered lamely.

"And your father?" she asked quickly; "I hope he is not--worse."

It was thus she supplied him, quite naturally, with an excuse for being at Fairview. And yet her solicitude for Hilary was wholly unaffected.

"Dr. Harmon, who came from New York, has been more encouraging than I had dared to hope," said Austen. "And, by the way, Mr. Vane believes that you had a share in the fruit and flowers which Mr. Flint so kindly brought. If--he had known that I were to see you, I am sure he would have wished me to thank you."

Victoria turned, and tore a leaf from the spiraea.

"I will show you where the stables are," she said; "the path divides a little farther on--and you might find yourself in the kitchen."

Austen smiled, and as she went on slowly, he followed her, the path not being wide enough for them to walk abreast, his eyes caressing the stray hairs that clustered about her neck and caught the light. It seemed so real, and yet so unrealizable, that he should be here with her.

"I am afraid," he said, "that I did not express my gratitude as I should have done the evening you were good enough to come up to Jabe Jenney's."

He saw her colour rise again, but she did not pause.

"Please don't say anything about it, Mr. Vane. Of course I understand how you felt," she cried.

"Neither my father nor myself will forget that service," said Austen.

"It was nothing," answered Victoria, in a low voice. "Or, rather, it was something I shall always be glad that I did not miss. I have seen Mr. Vane all my life, but I never=-never really knew him until that day. I have come to the conclusion," she added, in a lighter tone, "that the young are not always the best judges of the old. There," she added, "is the path that goes to the kitchen, which you probably would have taken."

He laughed. Past and future were blotted out, and he lived only in the present. He could think of nothing but that she was here beside him. Afterwards, cataclysms might come and welcome.

"Isn't there another place," he asked, "where I might lose my way?"

She turned and gave him one of the swift, searching looks he recalled so well: a look the meaning of which he could not declare, save that she seemed vainly striving to fathom something in him--as though he were not fathomable! He thought she smiled a little as she took the left-hand path.

"You will remember me to your father?" she said. "I hope he is not suffering."

"He is not suffering," Austen replied. "Perhaps--if it were not too much to ask--perhaps you might come to see him, sometime? I can think of nothing that would give him greater pleasure."

"I will come--sometime," she answered. "I am going away to-morrow, but--"

"Away?" he repeated, in dismay. Now that he was beside her, all unconsciously the dominating male spirit which was so strong in him, and which moves not woman alone, but the world, was asserting itself. For the moment he was the only man, and she the only woman, in the universe.

"I am going on a promised visit to a friend of mine."

"For how long?" he demanded.

"I don't know, said Victoria, calmly; probably until she gets tired of me. And there," she added, "are the stables, where no doubt you will find your faithful Pepper."

They had come out upon an elevation above the hard service drive, and across it, below them, was the coach house with its clock-tower and weather-vane, and its two wings, enclosing a paved court where a whistling stable-boy was washing a carriage. Austen regarded this scene an instant, and glanced back at her profile. It was expressionless.

"Might I not linger--a few minutes?" he asked.

Her lips parted slightly in a smile, and she turned her head. How wonderfully, he thought, it was poised upon her shoulders.

"I haven't been very hospitable, have I?" she said. "But then, you seemed in such a hurry to go, didn't you? You were walking so fast when I met you that you quite frightened me."

"Was I?" asked Austen, in surprise.

She laughed.

"You looked as if you were ready to charge somebody. But this isn't a very nice place--to linger, and if you really will stay awhile," said Victoria, "we might walk over to the dairy, where that model protege of yours, Eben Fitch, whom you once threatened with corporal chastisement if he fell from grace, is engaged. I know he will be glad to see you."

Austen laughed as he caught up with her. She was already halfway across the road.

"Do you always beat people if they do wrong?" she asked.

"It was Eben who requested it, if I remember rightly," he said. "Fortunately, the trial has not yet arrived. Your methods," he added, "seem to be more successful with Eben."

They went down the grassy slope with its groups of half-grown trees; through an orchard shot with slanting, yellow sunlight,--the golden fruit, harvested by the morning winds, littering the ground; and then by a gate into a dimpled, emerald pasture slope where the Guernseys were feeding along a water run. They spoke of trivial things that found no place in Austen's memory, and at times, upon one pretext or another, he fell behind a little that he might feast his eyes upon her.

Eben was not at the dairy, and Austen betraying no undue curiosity as to his whereabouts, they walked on up the slopes, and still upward towards the crest of the range of hills that marked the course of the Blue. He did not allow his mind to dwell upon this new footing they were on, but clung to it. Before, in those delicious moments with her, seemingly pilfered from the angry gods, the sense of intimacy had been deep; deep, because robbing the gods together, they had shared the feeling of guilt, had known that retribution would coma. And now the gods had locked their treasure-chest, although themselves powerless to redeem from him the memory of what he had gained. Nor could they, apparently, deprive him of the vision of her in the fields and woods beside him, though transformed by their magic into a new Victoria, keeping him lightly and easily at a distance.

Scattering the sheep that flecked the velvet turf of the uplands, they stood at length on the granite crown of the crest itself. Far below them wound the Blue into its vale of sapphire shadows, with its hillsides of the mystic fabric of the backgrounds of the masters of the Renaissance. For a while they stood in silence under the spell of the scene's enchantment, and then Victoria seated herself on the rock, and he dropped to a place at her side.

"I thought you would like the view," she said; "but perhaps you have been here, perhaps I am taking you to one of your own possessions."

He had flung his hat upon the rock, and she glanced at his serious, sunburned face. His eyes were still fixed, contemplatively, on the Yale of the Blue, but he turned to her with a smile.

"It has become yours by right of conquest," he answered.

She did not reply to that. The immobility of her face, save for the one look she had flashed upon him, surprised and puzzled him more and more--the world--old, indefinable, eternal feminine quality of the Spring.

"So you refused to be governor? she said presently,--surprising him again.

"It scarcely came to that," he replied.

"What did it come to?" she demanded.

He hesitated.

"I had to go down to the capital, on my father's account, but I did not go to the convention. I stayed," he said slowly, "at the little cottage across from the Duncan house where--you were last winter." He paused, but she gave no sign. "Tom Gaylord came up there late in the afternoon, and wanted me to be a candidate."

"And you refused?"

"Yes."

"But you could have been nominated!"

"Yes," he admitted; "it is probable. The conditions were chaotic."

"Are you sure you have done right?" she asked. "It has always seemed to me from what I know and have heard of you that you were made for positions of trust. You would have been a better governor than the man they have nominated."

His expression became set.

"I am sure I have done right," he answered deliberately. "It doesn't make any difference who is governor this time."

"Doesn't make any difference!" she exclaimed.

"No," he said. "Things have changed--the people have changed. The old method of politics, which was wrong, although it had some justification in conditions, has gone out. A new and more desirable state of affairs has come. I am at liberty to say this much to you now," he added, fixing his glance upon her, "because my father has resigned as counsel for the Northeastern, and I have just had a talk with--Mr. Flint."

"You have seen my father?" she asked, in a low voice, and her face was averted.

"Yes," he answered.

"You--did not agree," she said quickly.

His blood beat higher at the question and the manner of her asking it, but he felt that he must answer it honestly, unequivocally, whatever the cost.

"No, we did not agree. It is only fair to tell you that we differed--vitally. On the other hand, it is just that you should know that we did not part in anger, but, I think, with a mutual respect."

She drew breath.

"I knew," she said, "I knew if he could but talk to you he would understand that you were sincere--and you have proved it. I am glad--I am glad that you saw him." The quality of the sunlight changed, the very hills leaped, and the river sparkled. Could she care? Why did she wish her father to know that he was sincere.

"You are glad that I saw him!" he repeated.

But she met his glance steadily.

"My father has so little faith in human nature," she answered. "He has a faculty of doubting the honesty of his opponents--I suppose because so many of them have been dishonest. And--I believe in my friends," she added, smiling. "Isn't it natural that I should wish to have my judgment vindicated?"

He got to his feet and walked slowly to the far edge of the rock, where he stood for a while, seemingly gazing off across the spaces to Sawanec. It was like him, thus to question the immutable. Victoria sat motionless, but her eyes followed irresistibly the lines of power in the tall figure against the sky--the breadth of shoulder and slimness of hip and length of limb typical of the men who had conquered and held this land for their descendants. Suddenly, with a characteristic movement of determination; he swung about and came towards her, and at the same instant she rose.

"Don't you think we should be going back?" she said.

Rut he seemed not to hear her.

"May I ask you something?" he said.

"That depends," she answered.

"Are you going to marry Mr. Rangely?"

"No," she said, and turned away. "Why did you think that?"

He quivered.

"Victoria!"

She looked up at him, swiftly, half revealed, her eyes like stars surprised by the flush of dawn in her cheeks. Hope quickened at the vision of hope, the seats of judgment themselves were filled with radiance, and rumour, cowered and fled like the spirit of night. He could only gaze, enraptured.

"Yes?" she answered.

His voice was firm but low, yet vibrant with sincerity, with the vast store of feeling, of compelling magnetism that was in the man and moved in spite of themselves those who knew him. His words Victoria remembered afterwards--all of them; but it was to the call of the voice she responded. His was the fibre which grows stronger in times of crisis. Sure of himself, proud of the love which he declared, he spoke as a man who has earned that for which he prays,--simply and with dignity.

"I love you," he said; "I have known it since I have known you, but you must see why I could not tell you so. It was very hard, for there were times when I led myself to believe that you might come to love me. There were times when I should have gone away if I hadn't made a promise to stay in Ripton. I ask you to marry me, because I--know that I shall love you as long as I live. I can give you this, at least, and I can promise to protect and cherish you. I cannot give you that to which you have been accustomed all your life, that which you have here at Fairview, but I shouldn't say this to you if I believed that you cared for them above--other things."

"Oh, Austen!" she cried, "I do not--I--do not! They would be hateful to me--without you. I would rather live with you--at Jabe Jenney's," and her voice caught in an exquisite note between laughter and tears. "I love you, do you understand, you! Oh, how could you ever have doubted it? How could you? What you believe, I believe. And, Austen, I have been so unhappy for three days."

He never knew whether, as the most precious of graces ever conferred upon man, with a womanly gesture she had raised her arms and laid her hands upon his shoulders before he drew her to him and kissed her face, that vied in colour with the coming glow in the western sky. Above the prying eyes of men, above the world itself, he held her, striving to realize some little of the vast joy of this possession, and failing. And at last she drew away from him, gently, that she might look searchingly into his face again, and shook her head slowly.

"And you were going away," she said, "without a word I thought--you didn't care. How could I have known that you were just--stupid?"

His eyes lighted with humour and tenderness.

"How long have you cared, Victoria?" he asked.

She became thoughtful.

"Always, I think," she answered; "only I didn't know it. I think I loved you even before I saw you."

"Before you saw me!"

"I think it began," said Victoria, "when I learned that you had shot Mr. Blodgett--only I hope you will never do such a thing again. And you will please try to remember," she added, after a moment, "that I am neither Eben Fitch nor your friend, Tom Gaylord."

Sunset found them seated on the rock, with the waters of the river turned to wine at the miracle in the sky their miracle. At times their eyes wandered to the mountain, which seemed to regard them from a discreet distance--with a kindly and protecting majesty.

"And you promised," said Victoria, "to take me up there. When will you do it?"

"I thought you were going away," he replied.

"Unforeseen circumstances," she answered, "have compelled me to change my plans."

"Then we will go tomorrow," he said.

"To the Delectable Land," said Victoria, dreamily; "your land, where we shall be--benevolent despots. Austen?"

"Yes?" He had not ceased to thrill at the sound of his name upon her lips.

"Do you think," she asked, glancing at him, "do you think you have money enough to go abroad--just for a little while?"

He laughed joyously.

"I don't know," he said, "but I shall make it a point to examine my bank-account to-night. I haven't done so--for some time."

"We will go to Venice, and drift about in a gondola on one of those gray days when the haze comes in from the Adriatic and touches the city with the magic of the past. Sometimes I like the gray days best--when I am happy. And then," she added, regarding him critically, "although you are very near perfection, there are some things you ought to see and learn to make your education complete. I will take you to all the queer places I love. When you are ambassador to France, you know, it would be humiliating to have to have an interpreter, wouldn't it?"

"What's the use of both of us knowing the language?" he demanded.

"I'm afraid we shall be--too happy," she sighed, presently.

"Too happy!" he repeated.

"I sometimes wonder," she said, "whether happiness and achievement go together. And yet--I feel sure that you will achieve."

"To please you, Victoria," he answered, "I think I should almost be willing to try."

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BOOK III CHAPTER XXVIII. THE VOICE OF AN ERAThey took him home, in the stateroom of the sleeper attached to the night express from the south, although Mr. Flint, by telephone, had put a special train at his disposal. The long service of Hilary Vane was over; he had won his last fight for the man he had chosen to call his master; and those who had fought behind him, whose places, whose very luminary existences, had depended on his skill, knew that the end had come; nay, were already speculating, manoeuvring, and taking sides. Who would be the new Captain-general?
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