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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 15. Shows The Tyranny Of Weakness
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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 15. Shows The Tyranny Of Weakness Post by :mondd Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :1784

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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 15. Shows The Tyranny Of Weakness

BOOK I CHAPTER XV. SHOWS THE TYRANNY OF WEAKNESS

Three days later the bay horse returned at a gallop with Jonathan Gay in the saddle. At the head of the steps Kesiah was standing, and she answered the young man's anxious questions with a manner which she tried to make as sympathetic as the occasion required. This effort to adjust her features into harmony with her feelings had brought her brows together in a forbidding scowl and exaggerated the harsh lines between mouth and chin.

"Am I in time?" he asked in a trembling voice, and his hand reached out to her for support.

"The immediate danger is over, Jonathan," she answered, while she led him into the library and closed the door softly behind them. "For hours we despaired of her recovery, but the doctors say now that if there is no other shock, she may live on for months."

"I got your note last night in Washington," he returned. "It was forwarded by mail from Applegate. Is the doctor still with her?"

"No, he has just gone. The rector is there now. She finds him a great comfort."

"It was so sudden, Aunt Kesiah--she appeared well when I left her. What caused the attack?"

"A talk she had had with Mr. Chamberlayne. It seems he thought it best to prepare her for the fact that your Uncle Jonathan left a good deal of his property--it amounts to an income of about ten thousand a year, I believe, to Reuben Merryweather's granddaughter when she comes of age. Of course it wasn't the money--Angela never gave that a thought--but the admission that the girl was his illegitimate daughter that struck so heavy a blow."

"But surely she must have suspected---"

"She has never suspected anything in her life. It is a part of her sweetness, you know, that she never faces an unpleasant fact until it is literally thrust on her notice. As long as your uncle was so devoted to her and so considerate, she thought it a kind of disloyalty to inquire as to the rest of his life. Once I remember, twenty years ago, when that poor distraught creature came to me--I went straight to Angela and tried to get her to use her influence with her uncle for the girl's sake. But at the first hint, she locked herself in her room and refused to let me come near her. Then it was that I had that terrible quarrel with Mr. Gay, and he hardly spoke to me again as long as he lived. I believe, though, he would have married Janet after my talk with him except for Angela's illness, which was brought on by the shock of hearing him speak of his intention." She sighed wonderingly, her anxious frown deepening between her eyebrows. "They both seemed to think that in some way I was to blame for the whole thing," she added, "and your uncle never forgave me. It's the same way now. Mr. Chamberlayne spoke quite angrily to me when he saw the effect of his interview. He appeared to think that I ought to have prevented it."

"Could it have been kept from her, do you suppose?"

"That looked impossible, and of course, he broke it to her very gently. He also, you know, has all his life had a sentiment about Angela, and that, I think is why he never married. He told me once that she came nearer than any woman he had ever seen to representing every man's ideal."

"What I can't understand is why she should have been so upset by the discovery?"

"Well, she was very fond of your uncle, and she has cherished quite romantically the memory of his affection for her. I think--for that is Angela's way--that he means much more to her dead than he did living--and this, she says, has blackened the image."

"But even then it seems incomprehensible that it should have made her really so ill."

"Oh, you don't know her yet, Jonathan. I remember your uncle used to say that she was more like a flower than a woman, and he was always starting alarms about her health. We lived in a continual panic about her for several years, and it was her weakness, as much as her beauty, that gave her her tremendous power over him. He was like wax in her hands, though of course he never suspected it."

The tread of Mr. Mullen was heard softly on the staircase, and he entered with his hand outstretched from the starched cuff that showed beneath the sleeve of his black broadcloth coat. Pausing on the rug, he glanced from Kesiah to Jonathan with a grave and capable look, as though he wished them to understand that, having settled everything with perfect satisfaction in the mind of Mrs. Gay, he was now ready to perform a similar office for the rest of the household.

"I am thankful to say that I left your dear mother resting peacefully," he observed in a whisper. "You must have had a distressing journey, Mr. Gay?"

"I was very much alarmed," replied Gay, with a nervous gesture as if he were pushing aside a disagreeable responsibility. "The note took three days to find me, and I didn't know until I got here whether she was alive or dead."

"It is easy to understand your feelings," returned the rector, still whispering though Gay had spoken in his natural voice. "Such a mother as yours deserves the most careful cherishing that you can give her. To know her has been an inspiration, and I am never tired of repeating that her presence in the parish, and occasional attendance at church, are privileges for which we should not forget to be thankful. It is not possible, I believe, for any woman to approach more closely the perfect example of her sex."

"Perhaps I had better go up to her at once. We are deeply grateful to you, Mr. Mullen, for your sympathy."

"Who would not have felt?" rejoined the other, and taking up his hat from the table, he went out, still treading softly as though he were walking upon something he feared to hurt.

"Poor mother! It's wonderful the way she has with people!" exclaimed Gay, turning to Kesiah.

"She's always had it with men--there's something so appealing about her. You'll be very careful what you say to her, Jonathan."

"Oh, I'll not confess my sins, if that's what you mean," he responded as he ascended the staircase.

The room was fragrant with burning cedar, and from the dormer-windows, latticed by boughs, a band of sunlight stretched over the carpet to the high white bed in which his mother was lying. Her plaintive blue eyes, which clung to him when he entered, appeared to say; "Yes, see how they have hurt me--a poor frail creature." Above her forehead her hair, which was going grey, broke into a mist, and spread in soft, pale strands over the pillow. Never had her helpless sweetness appealed so strongly to his emotions, as when she laid her hand on his arm and said in an apologetic whisper:

"Dear boy, how I hated to bring you back."

"As if I wouldn't have come from the end of the world, dearest mother," he answered.

He had fallen on his knees by her bed, but when Kesiah brought him a chair, he rose and settled himself more comfortably.

"I wanted you, dear, but if you knew how I dreaded to become a drag on you. Men must be free, I know--never let me interfere with your freedom--I feel such a helpless, burdensome creature."

"If you could only see how young and lovely you look even when you are ill, you would never fear becoming a burden. In spite of your grey hairs, you might pass for a girl at this minute."

"You wicked flatterer!--but, oh, Jonathan, I've had a blow!"

"I understand. It must have been rough."

"And to think how I always idealized him!--how I had believed in his love for me and cherished his memory! To discover that even at the last--on his deathbed--he was thinking of that woman!"

She wept gently, wiping her eyes with a resigned and suffering gesture on the handkerchief Kesiah had handed her. "I feel as if my whole universe had crumbled," she said.

"But it was no affront to you, mother--it all happened before he saw you, and was only an episode. Those things don't bite into a man's life, you know."

"Of course, I knew there had been something, but I thought he had forgotten it--that he was faithful to his love for me--his spirit worship, he called it. Then to find out so long after his death--when his memory had become a part of my religion--that he had turned back at the end."

"It wasn't turning away from you, it was merely an atonement. Your influence was visible even there."

"I am sorry for the child, of course," she said sadly, after weeping a little--"who knows but she may have inherited her mother's character?"

"The doctor said you were to be quiet, Angela," remarked Kesiah, who had stood at the foot of the bed in the attitude of a Spartan. "Jonathan, if you begin to excite her, you'd better go."

"Oh, my boy, my darling boy," sobbed Mrs. Gay, with her head on his shoulder, "I have but one comfort and that is the thought that you are so different--that you will never shatter my faith in you. If you only knew how thankful I am to feel that you are free from these dreadful weaknesses of men."

Cowed by her helplessness, he looked down on her with shining eyes.

"Remember the poor devil loved you, mother, and be merciful to his memory," he replied, touched, for the first time, by the thought of his uncle.

"I shall try, Jonathan, I shall try, though the very thought of evil is a distress to me," she replied, with a saintly look. "As for the girl, I have only the tenderest pity for the unfortunate creature."

"That's like you, mother."

"Kesiah says that she has behaved very well. Didn't you say so, Kesiah?"

"Yes, Mr. Chamberlayne told me that she appeared perfectly indifferent when he spoke to her. She even remarked, I believe, that she didn't see that it concerned her."

"Well, she's spirit enough. Now stop talking, mother, I am going."

"God bless you, my darling boy--you have never failed me."

Instead of appeasing his conscience, the remark completed his descent into the state of disenchantment he had been approaching for hours. The shock of his mother's illness, coming after three days of marriage, had been too much for his unstable equilibrium, and he felt smothered by an oppression which, in some strange way, seemed closing upon him from without. It was in the air--in the faded cretonne of the room, in the grey flashes of the swallows from the eaves of the house, in the leafless boughs etched delicately against the orange light of the sky. Like most adventurers of the emotions, he was given to swift despondencies as well as to vivid elations, and the tyranny of a mood was usually as absolute as it was brief. The fact was there while it lasted like the physical sensation of hunger or gratification. When it departed he seldom spurred his imagination to the pursuit of it.

"So it's over," he said under his breath, as he looked through the lacework of ivy on the small greenish panes to the desolate November fields, "and I've been a damn fool for the asking!"

At the end of the week Blossom returned to the mill, and on the afternoon of her arrival, Gay met her in the willow copse by the brook. To the casual observer there would have appeared no perceptible change in his manner, but a closer student of the hearts of lovers might have drawn an inference from the fact that he allowed her to wait five minutes for him at the place of meeting. True, as he explained passionately, his mother had asked for him just as he was leaving the house, and it was clearly impossible that he should refuse his mother! That he was still ardent for Blossom's embraces was evident to her glance, but the affair was settled, the mystery solved, and there was no longer need that he should torment himself. That the love of his kind is usually a torment or nothing had not, at this stage, occurred to either of the lovers. He was feeling strongly that, having conducted himself in so honourable a manner there was nothing more to be expected of him; while she assured her heart that when his love had proved capable of so gallant a sacrifice, it had established the fact of its immortality. The truth was that the fire still burned, though the obstacles, which had supplied fuel to the flames, were consumed, and a pleasant warmth rather than a destroying blaze was the result. Had Gay sounded the depths of his nature, which he seldom did, he would have discovered that for him passion was a kind of restlessness translated into emotion. When the restlessness was appeased, the desire in which it had revealed itself slowly evaporated.

"How is your mother?" was Blossom's first eager question, "oh, I do hope she is better!"

"Better, yes, but we're still awfully anxious, the least shock may kill her--Aunt Kesiah and I are walking on pins and needles. How are you, Beauty? Did you enjoy your visit?"

He kissed her lips, and she clung to him with the first expression of weakness she had ever shown.

"How could I when it ended like that?"

"Well, you're married anyway--that ought to satisfy you. What does it feel like?"

"I can't believe it--and I haven't even any ring."

"Oh, the ring! If you'd had it, you'd have dropped it about somewhere and let out the secret."

"I wish it had been in church and before a clergyman."

"Are you trying to make me jealous again of the Reverend Orlando? I'm an old married man now, and it is hopeless."

"Do you really feel married, Jonathan?"

"The deuce I don't! If I did I'd be galloping down the turnpike."

"I wonder why you did it?" she questioned a little wistfully, "you take it so lightly."

"I could only take it lightly after I'd done it--that's why, darling."

"If I could believe in it I shouldn't mind the secrecy," she said, "but I feel so wicked and underhand that I hardly dare hold up my head before the folks at home. Jonathan, when do you think we may come out and confess?"

For a moment he did not answer, and she watched the frown gather slowly between his eyebrows.

"There, there, Blossom, don't begin that already," he responded irritably, "we can't make it public as long as my mother lives--that's out of the question. Do you think I could love you if I felt you had forced me to murder her? Heaven knows I've done enough--I've married you fair and square, and you ought to be satisfied."

"I am satisfied," she replied on the point of tears, "but, oh, Jonathan, I'm not happy."

"Then it's your own fault," he answered, still annoyed with her. "You've had everything your own way, and just because I get in trouble and come to you for sympathy, you begin to nag. For God's sake, don't become a nagging woman, Blossom. A man hates her worse than poison."

"O Jonathan!" she cried out sharply, placing her hand on her breast as though he had stabbed her.

"Of course, I'm only warning you. Your great charm is poise--I never saw a woman who had so much of it. That's what a man wants in a wife, too. Vagaries are all right in a girl, but when he marries, he wants something solid and sensible."

"Then you do love me, Jonathan?"

"Don't be a goose," he rejoined--for it was a question to which he had never in his life returned a direct answer.

"Of course, I know you do or you wouldn't have married me--but I wish you'd tell me so--just in words--sometimes."

"If I told you so, you'd have no curiosity left, and that would be bad for you. Come, kiss me, sweetheart, that's better than talking."

She kissed him obediently, as mildly complaisant as she had once been coldly aloof. Though the allurement of the remote had deserted her, she still possessed, in his eyes, the attraction of the beautiful. If the excitement of the chase was ended, the pleasure of the capture was still amply sufficient to make up the difference. He laughed softly as he kissed her, enjoying her freshness, her surrender, her adoration, which she no longer attempted to hide.

When he parted from her several hours afterwards, he had almost recovered the casual gaiety which had become his habit of mind. Life was too short either to wonder or to regret, he had once remarked, and a certain easy fatalism had softened so far the pricks of a disturbing conscience.

The walk from the pasture to the house led through a tangle of shrubbery called by the negroes, the Haunt's Walk, and as he pushed the leafless boughs out of his way, a flitting glimpse of red caught his eye beyond a turn in the path. An instant later, Molly passed him on her way to the spring or to the meadows beyond.

"Good day, Mr. Jonathan," she said, while her lips curved and she looked up at him with her arch and brilliant smile.

"Good day to yourself, cousin," he responded gaily, "what is your hurry?"

As he made a movement to detain her, she slipped past him, and a minute afterwards her laugh floated back.

"Oh, there's a reason!" she called over her shoulder.

A sudden thought appeared to strike him at her words, and turning quickly in the path, he looked after her until she disappeared down the winding path amid the tangle of shrubbery.

"Jove, she is amazingly pretty!" he said at last under his breath.

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