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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Deliverance: A Romance Of The Virginia Tobacco Fields - Book IV - The Awakening - Chapter X. By the Poplar Spring
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The Deliverance: A Romance Of The Virginia Tobacco Fields - Book IV - The Awakening - Chapter X. By the Poplar Spring Post by :EXNETSYS Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :April 2011 Read :1810

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The Deliverance: A Romance Of The Virginia Tobacco Fields - Book IV - The Awakening - Chapter X. By the Poplar Spring

The next day he watched for her anxiously until she appeared over
the low brow of the hill, her arms filled with books, and Agag
trotting at her side. As she descended slowly into the broad
ravine where he awaited her under six great poplars that
surrounded the little spring, he saw that she wore a dress of
some soft, creamy stuff and a large white hat that shaded her
brow and eyes. She looked younger, he noticed, than she had done
in her black gown, and he recalled while she neared him the
afternoon more than six years before when she had come suddenly
upon him while he worked in his tobacco.

"So you are present at the roll-call?" she said, laughing, as she
sat down on the bench beside him and spread out the books that
she had brought.

"Why, I've been sitting here for half an hour," he answered.

"What a shame--that's a whole furrow unploughed, isn't it?"

"Several of them; but I'm not counting furrows now. I'm getting
ready to appall you by my ignorance." He spoke with a determined,
reckless gaiety that lent a peculiar animation to his face.

"If you are waiting for that, you are going to be disappointed,"
she replied, smiling, "for I've put my heart into the work, and I
was born and patterned for a teacher; I always knew it. We're
going to do English literature and a first book in Latin."

"Are we?" He picked up the Latin grammar and ran his fingers
lightly through the pages. "I went a little way in this once," he
said. "I got as far as 'omnia vincit amor' and stopped. Tobacco
conquered me instead."

She caught up his gay laugh. "Well, we'll try it over again," she
returned, and held out the book.

An hour later, when the first lesson was over and he had gone
back to his work, he carried with him a wonderful exhilaration--a
feeling as if he had with a sudden effort burst the bonds that
had held him to the earth. By the next day the elation vanished
and a great heaviness came in its place, but for a single
afternoon he had known what it was to thrill in every fiber with
a powerful and pure emotion--an emotion beside which all the
cheap sensations of his life showed stale and colourless. While
the strangeness of this mood was still upon him he chanced upon
Lila and Jim Weatherby standing together by the gate in the gray
dusk, and when presently the girl came back alone across the yard
he laid his hand upon her arm and drew her over to Tucker's bench
beside the rose-bush.

"Lila, I've changed my mind about it all," he said.

"About what, dear?"

"About Jim and you. We were all wrong--all of us except Uncle
Tucker--wrong from the very start. You musn't mind mother; you
musn't mind anybody. Marry Jim and be happy, if he can make you
so."

"Oh, Christopher!" gasped Lila, with a long breath, lifting her
lovely, pensive face. "Oh, Christopher!"

"Don't wait; don't put it off; don't listen to any of us," he
urged impatiently. "Good God! If you love him as you say you do,
why have you let all these years slip away?"

"But you thought it was best, Christopher. You told me so."

"Best! There's nothing best except to be happy if you get the
chance."

"He wants me to marry him now," said Lila, lowering her voice.
"Mother will never know, he thinks, her mind grows so feeble; he
wants me to marry him without any getting ready--after church one
Sunday morning."

Putting his arm about her, Christopher held her for a moment
against his side. "Then do it," he said gravely, as he stooped
and kissed her.

And several weeks later, on a bright first Sunday in May, Lila
was married, after morning services, in the little country
church, and Christopher watched her almost eagerly as she walked
home across the broad meadows powdered white with daisies. To the
reproachful countenance which Cynthia presented to him upon his
return to the house he gave back a careless and defiant smile.

"So it's all over," he announced gaily, "and Lila's married at
last."

"Then you're satisfied, I hope," rejoined Cynthia grimly, "now
that you've dragged us down to the level of the Weatherbys and--
the Fletchers? There's nothing more to be said about it, I
suppose, and you may as well come in to dinner."

She held herself stiffly aloof from the subject, with her head
flung back and her chin expressing an indignant protest. There
was a kind of rebellious scorn in the way in which she carved the
shoulder of bacon and poured the coffee.

"Good Lord! It's such a little thing to make a fuss about," said
Tucker, "when you remember, my dear, that our levels aren't any
bigger than chalk lines in the eyes of God Almighty."

Cynthia regarded him with squinting displeasure.

"Oh, of course; you have no family pride," she returned; "but I
had thought there was a little left in Christopher."

Christopher shook his head, smiling indifferently. "Not enough to
want blood sacrifices," he responded, and fell into a detached
and thoughtful silence. The vision of Lila in her radiant
happiness remained with him like a picture that one has beheld by
some rare chance in a vivid and lovely light; and it was still
before him when he left the house presently and strolled slowly
down to meet Maria by the poplar spring.

The bloom of the meadows filled his nostrils with a delicate
fragrance, and from the bough of an old apple-tree in the orchard
he heard the low afternoon murmurs of a solitary thrush. May was
on the earth, and it had entered into him as into the piping
birds and the spreading trees. It was at last good to be alive--
to breathe the warm, sweet air, and to watch the sunshine
slanting on the low, green hill. So closely akin were his moods
to those of the changing seasons that, at the instant, he seemed
to feel the current of his being flow from the earth beneath his
feet--as if his physical nature drew strength and nourishment
from that genial and abundant source.

When he reached the spring he saw Maria appear on the brow of the
hill, and with a quick, joyous bound his heart leaped up to meet
her. As she came toward him her white dress swept the tall grass
from her feet, and her shadow flew like a winged creature
straight before her. There was a vivid softness in her face--a
look at once bright and wistful--which moved him with a new and
strange tenderness.

"I was a little late," she explained, as they met before the long
bench and she laid her books upon it, "and I am very warm. May I
have a drink?"

"From a bramble cup?"

"How else?" She took off her hat and tossed it on the grass at
her feet; then, going to the spring, she waited while he plucked
a leaf from the bramble and bent it into shape. When he filled it
and held it out, she placed her lips to the edge of the leaf and
looked up at him with smiling eyes while she drank slowly from
his hand.

"It holds only a drop, but how delicious!" she said, seating
herself again upon the bench and leaning back against the great
body of a poplar. Then her eyes fell upon his clothes. "Why, how
very much dressed you look!" she added.

"Oh, there's a reason besides Sunday--I've just come from a
wedding. Lila has married after twelve years of waiting."

"Your pretty sister! And to whom?"

"To Jim Weatherby--old Jacob's son, you know. Now, don't tell me
that you disapprove. I count on your good sense to see the wisdom
of it."

"So it is your pretty sister," she said slowly, "the woman I
passed in the road the other day and held my breath as I did
before Botticelli's Venus."

"Is that so? Well, she doesn't know much about pictures, nor does
Jim. She has thrown herself away, Cynthia says, but what could
she have waited for, after all? Nothing had ever come to her, and
she had lived thirty years. Besides, she will be very happy, and
that's a good deal, isn't it?"

"It's everything," said Maria quietly, looking down into her lap.

"Everything? And if you had been born in her place?"

"I am not in her place and never could be; but six years ago, if
I had been told that I must live here all my life, I think I
should have fretted myself to death; that would have happened six
years ago, for I was born with a great aching for life, and I
thought then that one could live only in the big outside world."

"And now?" he questioned, for she paused and sat smiling gravely
at the book she held.

"Now I know that the fulness of life does not come from the
things outside of us, and that we ourselves must create the
beauty in which we live. Oh, I have learned so much from misery,"
she went on softly, "and worst of all, I have learned what it is
to starve for bread in the midst of sugar-plums."

"And it was worth learning?"

"The knowledge that I gained? Oh, yes, yes; for it taught me how
to be happy. I went down into hell," she said passionately, "and
I came out--clean. I saw evil such as I had never heard of; I
went close to it, I even touched it, but I always kept my soul
very far away, and I was like a person in a dream. The more I saw
of sin and ugliness the more I dreamed of peace and beauty. I
builded me my own refuge, I fed on my own strength day and night
--and I am what I am--"

"The loveliest woman on God's earth," he said.

"You do not know me, "she answered, and opened the book before
her. "It was the story of the Holy Grail," she added, "and we
left off here. Oh, those brave days of King Arthur! It was always
May then."

He touched the page lightly with a long blade of grass.

"Read yourself--this once," he pleaded, "and let me listen."

Leaning a little forward, she looked down and slowly turned the
pages, her head bent over the book, her long lashes shading the
faint flush in her cheeks. Over her white dress fell a delicate
lacework from the young poplar leaves, flecked here and there
with pale drops of sunshine, which filtered through the thickly
clustered boughs. When the wind passed in the high tree-tops, the
shadows, soft and fine as cobweb, rippled over her dress, and a
loose strand of her dark hair waved gently about her ear. The
life--the throbbing vitality within--her seemed to vivify the
very air she breathed, and he felt all at once that the glad
thrill which stirred his blood was but a response to the fervent
spirit which spoke in her voice.

"For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May,"
she read, "in something to constrain him to some manner of thing
more in that month than in any other month--for then all herbs
and trees renew a man and woman, and in likewise lovers call
again to mind old gentleness and old service and many kind deeds
that were forgotten by negligence."

The words went like wine to his head, and he saw her shadowy
figure recede and dissolve suddenly as in a mist. A lump rose in
his throat, his heart leaped, and he felt his pulses beating
madly in his temples. He drew back, closing his eves to shut out
her face; but the next instant, as she stirred slightly to hold
down the rippling leaves, he bent forward and laid his hand upon
the one that held the open book.

Her voice fluttered into silence, and, raising her head, she
looked up in tremulous surprise. He saw her face pale slowly, her
lids quiver and droop above her shining eyes, and her teeth gleam
milk white between her parted lips. A tremor of alarm ran through
her, and she made a swift movement to escape; then, lifting her
eyes again, she looked full into his own, and, stooping quickly,
he kissed her on the mouth.

An instant afterward the book fell to the ground, and he rose to
his feet and stood trembling against the body of the poplar.

"Forgive me," he said; "forgive me--I have ruined it."

Standing beside the bench, she watched him with a still, grave
gentleness before which his gaze dropped slowly to the ground.

"Yes, you have ruined this," she answered, smiling, "but Latin is
still left."

"It's no use," he went on breathlessly. "I can't do it; it's no
use."

His eyes sought hers and held them while he made a single step
forward; then, turning quickly away, he went from her across the
meadow to the distant wood.

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