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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 16. The Coming Of Spring
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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 16. The Coming Of Spring Post by :mondd Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :2856

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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 16. The Coming Of Spring

BOOK I CHAPTER XVI. THE COMING OF SPRING

The winter began in a long rain and ended in a heavy snow which lay for a week over the country. In the chill mornings while she dressed, Molly watched the blue-black shadows of the crows skimming over the white ground, and there was always a dumb anxiety at her heart as she looked after them.

On Christmas Eve there had been a dance at Piping Tree, and because she had danced twice with Gay (who had ridden over in obedience to a whim), Abel had parted from her in anger. For the first time she had felt the white heat of his jealousy, and it had aroused rebellion, not acquiescence, in her heart. Jonathan Gay was nothing to her (though he called her his cousin)--he had openly shown his preference for Blossom--but she insisted passionately that she was free and would dance with whomsoever she pleased. To Abel's demand that she should give up "round dances" entirely, she had returned a defiant and mocking laugh. They had parted in an outburst of temper, to rush wildly together a few days later when they met by chance in the turnpike.

"You love him, but you don't love him enough, honey," said Reuben, patting her head. "You love yourself still better than him."

"Three months ago he hardly dared hope for me--he would have kissed the dust under my feet--and now he flies into fits of jealousy because I dance with another man."

"'Tis human natur to go by leaps an' starts in love, Molly."

"It's a foolish way, grandfather."

"Well, I ain't claimin' that we're over-wise, but thar's al'ays life ready to teach us."

When the snow thawed, spring appeared so suddenly that it looked as if it had lain there all winter in a green and gold powder over the meadows. Flashes of blue, like bits of fallen sky, showed from the rail fences; and the notes of robins fluted up from the budding willows beside the brook. On the hill behind Reuben Merryweather's cottage the peach-trees bloomed, and red-bud and dogwood filled the grey woods with clouds of delicate colour. Spring, which germinated in the earth, moved also, with a strange restlessness, in the hearts of men and women. As the weeks passed, that inextinguishable hope, which mounts always with the rising sap, looked from their faces.

On the morning of her birthday, a warm April day, Molly smiled at herself in the mirror, and because the dimples became her, wondered how she could manage to keep on smiling forever. Blushing and paling she tried a ribbon on her hair, threw it aside, and picked up another.

"I am thankful for many things," she was thinking, "and most of all I am thankful that I am pretty. I suppose it's better to be good like Judy Hatch, but I'd rather be pretty."

She was at the age when the forces of character still lie dormant, and an accident may determine the direction of their future development. It is the age when it is possible for fortune to make a dare-devil of a philosopher, a sceptic of a worshipper, a cynic of a sentimentalist.

When she went down the flagged walk a little later to meet Abel by the blazed pine as she had promised, she was still smiling to herself and to the blue birds that sang joyously in the blossoming trees in the orchard. At the end of the walk her smile vanished for she came face to face with Jim Halloween, who carried a new-born lamb in his arms.

"Many happy returns of the day," he began with emotion. "I thought a present like this would be the most acceptable thing I could bring to you--an' ma agreed with me when I asked her advice."

"It's very good of you--and how darling it is! I'll take it back and make it comfortable before I start out."

Taking the lamb into her arms, she hid her face in its wool while they returned to the house.

"It ain't so young as it looks, an will begin to be peart enough befo' long," he remarked. "Something useful as well as ornamental, was what I had in mind to bring you. 'Thar's nothin' mo' suitable all round for the purpose than a lamb,' was what I said to ma. 'She can make a pet of it at first, an' then when it gets too big to pet, she can turn it into mutton.'"

"But I wouldn't--I'd never let it be killed--the little darling!"

"Now, that's foolishness, I reckon," he returned admiringly, "but thar's something downright takin' in foolishness as long as a woman is pretty. I don't mind it, an' I don't reckon ma would unless it turned to wastefulness. Is thar' any hope you've changed yo' mind since the last time I spoke about marriage?"

"No, I haven't changed, Mr. Halloween."

He sighed not passionately, but with a resigned and sentimental regret.

"Well, in that case, it's a pity I've wasted so much time wantin' you, I reckon," he rejoined. "It ain't sensible to want what you can't have, an I've always tried to be sensible, seein' I'm a farmer. If I hadn't set my fancy on you I'd have waited on Blossom Revercomb as likely as not."

They had reached the house, and she did not reply until she had entered the living-room and placed the lamb in a basket. Coming out again, she took up the thread of the conversation as she closed the door behind her.

"I wonder all of you don't turn your eyes on Blossom," she observed.

"Yes, she's handsome enough, but stiff-mouthed and set like all the rest of the Revercombs. I shouldn't like to marry a Revercomb, when it comes to that."

"Shouldn't you?" she asked and laughed merrily.

"They say down at Bottoms," he went on, "that she's gone moonstruck about Mr. Jonathan, an' young Adam Doolittle swears he saw them walkin' together on the other side of old orchard hill."

"I thought she was too sensible a girl for that."

"They're none of 'em too sensible. I'm the only man I ever saw who never had a woman moonstruck about him--an' it makes me feel kind of lonesome to hear the others talk. It's a painful experience, I reckon, but it must be a fruitful source of conversation with a man's wife, if he ever marries. Has it ever struck you," he inquired, "that the chief thing lackin' in marriage is conversation?"

"I don't know--I've never thought about it."

"Now, I have often an' over again, ma bein' sech a silent person to live with. It's the silence that stands between Blossom Revercomb an' me--an' her brother Abel is another glum one of the same sort, isn't he?"

"Do you think so? I hadn't noticed it."

"An' you seein' so much of him! Well, all folks don't observe things as sharply as I do--'twas a way I was born with. But I passed him at the fork as I came up, an' he was standin' just as solemn an' silent while Mr. Chamberlayne, over from Applegate, was askin' him questions."

"What questions? Did you hear them?"

"Oh, about his mother an' prospects of the grist-mill. The lawyer went on afterward to the big house to do business with Mr. Jonathan."

They had reached the point in the road where a bridle path from the mill ran into it; and in the centre of the field, which was woven in faint spring colours like an unfinished tapestry, Molly descried the figure of Abel moving rapidly toward her. Dismissing her companion, she ran forward with her warm blood suffusing her face.

"Abel," she said, "tell me that you are happy," and lifted her mouth to his kiss.

"Something in the spring makes me wild for you, Molly. I can't live without you another year, and hear the blue birds and see the green burst out so sudden. There is a terrible loneliness in the spring, darling."

"But I'm here, Abel."

"Yes, you're here, but you aren't near enough, for I'm never sure of you. That's the cause of it--shall I ever be sure of you even after we are married? You've got different blood in you, Molly--blood that doesn't run quiet,--and it makes me afraid. Do you know I've been to look at the pines this morning, and I am all one big ache to begin on the house."

"But you're happy--say you're happy."

"How can I be happy, when I'm wanting you with every drop of my blood and yet never certain that I shall have you. The devil has a lot to do with it, I reckon--for there are times when I am half blind with jealousy and doubt of you. Did you ever kiss a man before me, Molly?"

She laughed, moved by an instinct to torment him. "You wouldn't have asked me that three months ago, and you wouldn't have cared."

"It's different now. I've got a right to know."

"You'll never know anything because you have the 'right' to," she returned impatiently. "I hate the word--how silly you are, Abel."

"If you'd call me mad you'd come nearer to it, I reckon. It's the way of the Hawtreys--we've always gone neck and crop over the fences without giving a thought to the damage we've done by the way. My mother went like that at religion--she's gone over so hard to religion that she hasn't left a piece of her for common humanity. All the world is divided for her between religion and damnation. I believe she thinks the very eggs in the hen-house are predestined to be saved or damned. And with me it's the same, only it isn't religion, but you. It's all you to me, Molly, even the spring."

"You're so wholehearted, and I'm so lightminded. You ought to have loved a staid, sober woman. I was born passionate and changeful just as you were born passionate and steady."

"Don't, Molly, if you only knew how you hurt me when you talk like that. You've flown into my heart like a little blue bird into a cage, and there you'll beat and flutter, but you can't get out. Some day you'll rest there quiet, sweetheart."

"Don't call it a cage, and never, never try to hold me or I'll fly away."

"Yet you love me, Molly?"

She threw her arms about his neck, rising on tiptoe while she kissed his mouth. "I love you--and yet in my heart I don't really believe in love," she answered. "I shouldn't be surprised to wake up any morning and find that I had dreamed it."

"It makes me want to curse those that put your mind out of joint when you were little and innocent."

"I don't believe I was ever little and innocent--I was born out of bitterness."

"Then I'll cure you, darling. I'll love you so hard that you'll forget all the terrible things you knew as a child."

She shook her head, gaily and yet with a touch of scorn for his assurance. "You may try with all your strength, but when a sapling has been bent crooked you can't pull it straight."

"But you aren't crooked, Molly," he answered, kissing her throat above her open blouse.

She glowed at his kiss, and for one instant, it seemed to them that their spirits touched as closely as their bodies, while the longing and the rapture of spring drew them together.

"You're mine now, Molly--I've got you close," he said as he held her.

At his words the rosy waves upon which they had floated broke suddenly on the earth, and turning slowly they walked hand in hand out of the field into the turnpike. A strange shyness had fallen over them, for when Molly tried to meet his eyes, she found that her lashes trembled and fell;--yet this shyness was as delicious as the ecstasy from which it had come.

But Nature seldom suffers such high moments to pass before they have been paid for in physical values. As the lovers passed into the turnpike, there came the sound of a horse at a trot, and a minute later Jonathan Gay rode toward them, leaning slightly over the neck of his bay. Seeing them, he lifted his hat and brought down his horse to a walk, as if prompted by a sudden desire to look closer in Molly's face. Her rapture evidently became her, for after his first casual glance, he turned again quickly and smiled into her eyes. Her look met his with the frankness of a child's and taken unawares--pleased, too, that he should so openly admire her--she smiled back again with the glow of her secret happiness enriching her beauty.

In a moment Gay had passed on, and turning to Abel, she saw that a frown darkened his features.

"He had no right to look at you like that, and you oughtn't to have smiled back, Molly," he said sternly.

Her nature leaped instantly to arms. "I suppose I've a right to my smiles," she retorted defiantly.

"No you haven't--not now. An engaged woman ought to be proper and sober--anybody will tell you so--ask Mr. Mullen. A girl may flirt a little and nobody thinks any harm of it, but it's different afterwards, and you know it."

"I know nothing of the kind, and I refuse to be preached to. I might as well marry Mr. Mullen."

The taunt, though it was uttered half in jest, appeared to torment him beyond endurance.

"How can you talk to me like this, after what you said five minutes ago?" he demanded.

His tone approached, unfortunately, the ministerial, and as he spoke, her anger flamed over her as hotly as her happiness had done a few minutes earlier.

"That was five minutes ago," she retorted with passion.

Stopping in the road, he caught her arms and held them to her sides, while the thunder cloud blackened his forehead. Two playthings of Nature, swept alternately by the calm and the storm of elemental forces, they faced each other in the midst of mating birds and insects that were as free as they.

"Do you mean that you've changed, and in five minutes?" he asked.

"I've always told you I could change in three," she retorted.

"I don't believe it--you are behaving foolishly."

"And you are wise, I suppose--preaching and prating to me as if you stood in the pulpit. When you were begging me so humbly for a kind word, I might have known that as soon as you got the kind word, you'd begin to want to manage me body and soul--that's a man all over."

"I merely said that an engaged woman ought not to smile too free at other men--and that you ought not to even more than others, because there is something so inviting about you. Mr. Mullen would say the same thing from the pulpit--and what one man can say in the pulpit, I reckon, another may repeat in the road."

"No, he mayn't--not if he wants to marry me."

"If I promise not to say a word more about it, will you get over your temper?"

"If you keep your promise, but how am I to know that you won't burst out again the next time I look at a man?"

"Only try to look at them a little differently, Molly, not quite so wide-eyed and red-lipped--but primmer and with lowered lashes, just a bit contemptuous, as if your were thinking 'you might as well be a stick or a stone for all the thought I am giving you.'" The mental picture appeared to afford him satisfaction, for he resumed after a moment. "I believe if you'd practise it a while before the glass you could do it--you are so clever."

"Why on earth should I make myself ugly just to please you?"

"It wouldn't be making yourself ugly--I can't endure an ugly woman. All I want you to be is sober."

"Then what made you fall in love with me? It certainly was not for soberness."

He shook his head hopelessly, puzzled for the first time by the too obvious contradiction between the ideal and the actual--between the phantom of a man's imagination and the woman who enthralls his heart.

"To save my life I couldn't tell you why I did," he replied. "It does seem, a bit foolish to fall in love with a woman as she is and then try to make her over into something different."

"Judy Hatch was the person God intended for you, I'm sure of it."

"Well, I'm not, and if I were I'd go ahead and defeat his intentions as I'm doubtless doing this minute. Let's make up now, so you'd as well stop talking silliness."

"It's you that talks silliness, not I--as if I were going through life lowering my lashes and looking contemptuous! But you're your mother all over again. I've heard her say a dozen times that a girl who is born homely ought to get down on her knees and thank the Lord for protecting her from temptation."

"You never heard me say it, did you?"

"No, but I shall yet if I live long enough--and all because of your ridiculous jealousy."

The humour of this struck him, and he remarked rather grimly:

"Good God, Molly, what a vixen you are!" Then he broke into a laugh, and catching her to him, stopped her mouth with kisses.

"Well, we're in it," he said, "and we can't get out, so there's no use fighting about it."

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