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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Miller Of Old Church - Book 2. The Cross-Roads - Chapter 10. Tangled Threads
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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 2. The Cross-Roads - Chapter 10. Tangled Threads Post by :FreeBiz Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :2581

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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 2. The Cross-Roads - Chapter 10. Tangled Threads


In front of Molly, the path, deep in silvery orchard grass, wound through the pasture to the witch-hazel thicket at Jordan's Journey; and when she entered the shelter of the trees, Gay came, whistling, toward her from the direction of the Poplar Spring. He walked rapidly, and his face wore an anxious and harassed expression, for he was making the unpleasant discovery that even stolen sweets may become cloying to a surfeited palate. His passion had run its inevitable course of desire, fulfilment, and exhaustion. So closely had it followed the changing seasons, that it seemed, in a larger and more impersonal aspect, as much a product of the soil as did the flame-coloured lilies that bloomed in the Haunt's Walk. The summer had returned, and a hardier growth had sprung up from the ground enriched by the decay of the autumn. He was conscious of a distinct relief because the torment of his earlier love for Blossom was over. There was no regret in his mind for the poignant sweetness of the days before he had married her--for the restlessness, the expectancy, the hushed waitings, the enervating suspense--nor even for those brief hours of fulfilment, when that same haunting suspense had seemed to add the sharpest edge to his enjoyment. He did not suffer to-day if she were a few minutes late at the meeting; and he disliked suffering so much that the sense of approaching bliss had never compensated for the pang of it. Her failures now merely made his manufactured excuses the easier. Once, when she had not been able to come, he had experienced a revulsion of feeling; like the sudden lifting of a long strain of anxiety. She still pressed for an acknowledgment of their marriage, while his refusal was still based on a very real solicitude for his mother. Only in the last six months had his feeling for Molly entered into the situation; but like all swift and unguarded emotions, it absorbed the colour in his thoughts, while it left both the past and the future in the cover of darkness.

"I wish you wouldn't wander off alone like this, Molly," he began as he joined her.

"Oh, it's perfectly safe, Jonathan--everybody knows me for miles around."

"But it would make mother nervous if she were to hear of it. She has never allowed Aunt Kesiah to go off the lawn by herself."

"Poor Aunt Kesiah," said Molly softly.

He glanced at her sharply. "Why do you say that?" he asked, "she has always seemed to me to have everything she wanted. If she hadn't had mother to occupy her time, what under heaven would have become of her?"

"I wonder?" she returned; "but has it ever occurred to you that Aunt Kesiah and I are not exactly alike, Jonathan?"

"Well, rather. What are you driving at?"

Her answering smile, instead of softening the effect of her words, appeared to call attention to the width of the gulf that separated Kesiah's generation from her own. The edge of sweetness to her look tempered but did not blunt the keeness with which it pierced. This quality of independent decision had always attracted him, and as he watched her walking under the hanging garland of the wild grape, he told himself in desperation that she was the only woman he had ever seen whose infinite variety he could not exhaust. The mere recollection of the others wearied him. Almost imperceptibly he was beginning to feel a distaste for the side of life which had once offered so rich an allurement to his senses. The idea that this might be love, after all, had occurred to him more than once during the past six months, and he met the suggestion with the invariable cynical retort that "he hadn't it in him." Yet only ten minutes before, he had watched Molly coming to him over the jewelled landscape, and the heavens had opened. Once more the unattainable had appeared to him wrapped in the myriad-coloured veil of his young illusions.

"Molly," he said almost in spite of himself, "what would have happened to us if we had met five or six years ago?"

"Nothing, probably."

"Well, I'm not so sure--not if you like me half as well as I like you. You understand, don't you, that I got myself tied up--entangled before I knew you--but, by Jove, if I were free I'd make you think twice about me."

"There's no use talking about what might have been, is there?"

The hint of his "entanglement," she had accepted quite simply as a veiled allusion to an incident in his life abroad. Her interest in it would have been keener had she been less indifferent to him as a lover, but while she walked by his side, smiling in response to his words, she was thinking breathlessly, like one hushed in suspense, "If Abel had only been like that a year ago, I should not have left him." That the qualities she had always missed in the miller had developed only through the loss of her, she refused to admit. A swift, an almost miraculous change had passed over her, and all the warm blood in her body seemed to rush back to her heart, giving it the abundance of life. The world appeared to her in a clearer and fresher light, as though a perpetual dawn were hanging above it; and this light shone into the secret chambers of her mind as well as over the meadows and into the shadowy places of the Haunt's Walk. "Yes, if he had been like that I should never have left him and all this would not have happened," she thought again; "and if I had been like this would he ever have quarrelled with me?" she asked herself the instant afterwards.

And Gay, walking at her side, but separated by a mental universe, was thinking resentfully, "The deuce of it is that it might just as well never have happened! If I'd only been a little less of a fool--If I'd only not walked my horse across the pasture that October afternoon--If I'd only had sense enough to see what was coming--If I'd only--oh, hang it!"

"I'd be a better man to-day if I'd known you sooner, Molly," he said presently. "A man couldn't tire of you because you're never the same thing two days in succession."

"Doesn't a man tire of change?"

"I don't--it's the most blessed thing in life. I wonder why you've given up flirting?"

"Perhaps because there isn't anybody to flirt with."

"I like that. Am I not continually at your service?"

"But I don't like your kind of flirting, somehow."

"What you want, I suppose, is a perpetual supply of Mullens. Have you seen him, by the way?"

"He called on Aunt Angela this morning and read a chapter from the Bible. I heard it all the way downstairs on the porch."

"And the miller?"

She was walking beside a clump of lilies, and the colour of the flowers flamed in her face.

"I saw him for a few minutes this morning."

"How has his marriage turned out?"

"I haven't heard. Like all the others, I suppose."

"Well he's as fine a looking animal as one often encounters. His wife is that thin, drawn out, anaemic girl I saw at Piping Tree, isn't she? Such men always seem to marry such women."

"I never thought Judy unattractive. She's really interesting if you take the trouble to dig deep enough."

"I suppose Revercomb dug, but it isn't as a rule a man's habit to go around with a spade when he's in want of a wife."

With an impetuous movement, he bent closer to her:

"Look here, Molly, don't you think you might kiss me?"

"I told you the first time I ever saw you that I didn't care for kissing."

"Well, even if you don't care, can't you occasionally be generous? You've got a colour in your cheeks like red flowers."

"Oh, have I?"

"The trouble is, I've gone and fallen in love with you and it's turning my head."

"I don't think it will hurt you, Jonathan."

She broke away from him before he could detain her, and while a protest was still on his lips, ran up the walk and under the grape arbour into the back door of the house.

Left to himself, Gay wheeled about and passed into the side-garden, where he found Kesiah snipping off withered roses with a pair of pruning shears.

At his approach, she paused in her task and stood waiting for him, with the expression of interested, if automatic, attention, which appeared on her face, as in answer to some secret spring, whenever she was invited to perform the delicate part of a listener. She had attained at last that battered yet smiling acquiescence in the will of Providence which has been eloquently praised, under different names, by both theologians and philosophers. From a long and uncomplaining submission to boredom, she had arrived at a point of blessedness where she was unable to be bored at all. Out of the furnace of a too ardent youth, her soul had escaped into the agreeable, if foggy, atmosphere of middle age. Peace had been provided for her--if not by generously presenting her with the things that she desired, still quite as effectually by crippling the energy of her desires, until they were content to sun themselves quietly in a row, like aged, enfeebled paupers along the south wall of the poorhouse.

"Aunt Kesiah," said Gay, stopping beside her, "do you think any of us understand Molly's character? Is she happy with us or not?"

It is a pleasant thing to be at the time of life, and in the possession of the outward advantages, which compel other persons to stop in the midst of their own interesting affairs and begin to inquire if they understand one's character. As Kesiah lifted a caterpillar on a leaf, and carefully laid it in the centre of the grassy walk, she thought quite cheerfully that nobody had ever wondered about her character, and that it must be rather nice to have some one do so.

"I don't know, Jonathan; you will tread on that caterpillar if you aren't careful."

"Hang the caterpillar! I sometimes suspect that she isn't quite so happy as she ought to be."

"She didn't get over Reuben's death easily, if that is what you mean."

"I don't know whether it is what I mean or not."

"Perhaps her development has surprised you, in a way. The first touch of sorrow changed her from a child into a woman. No one ever realized, I suppose, the strength that was in her all the time."

Turning away from her, he stared moodily at Uncle Boaz, who was trimming the lawn beyond the miniature box hedges of the garden. Furrows of mown grass lay like golden green wind-drifts behind the swinging passage of the scythe, and the face of the old negro showed scarred and wistful under the dappled sunshine. June beetles, coloured like emeralds, spun loudly through the stillness, which had in it an almost human quality of hushed and expectant waiting. All Nature seemed to be breathing softly, lest she should awake from her illusion and find the world dissolved into space.

"I wonder if it is really the miller?" said Gay suddenly. "The truth is her life seems empty of something."

"I beg your pardon?" returned Kesiah, startled, for she had been thinking not of Molly's life, but of her own. It was not much of a life, to be sure, but it was all she had, so she felt it was only natural that she should think about it.

"I said I wondered if it were the miller," repeated Gay a little impatiently. Like his mother he found Kesiah's attacks of inattention very trying--and if she were to get deaf the only position she had ever filled with credit would be necessarily closed to her. What on earth did she have to occupy her anyway if not other people's affairs?

"I can hardly believe that," she answered. "Of course he's a very admirable young man, but it's out of the question that Molly should worry her mind about him after he has gone and married another woman."

Her logic seemed rather feeble to Gay, but as he had told himself often before, Kesiah never could argue.

"I hear the fellow's come out quite surprisingly. Mr. Chamberlayne tells me he is speaking now around the neighbourhood, and he has a pretty command of rough and ready oratory."

"I suppose that is why Molly is so anxious to hear him. She has ordered her horse to ride over to a meeting at Piping Tree this afternoon."

"What?" He stared in amazement.

"Young Revercomb is going to speak at an open air meeting of some kind--political, I imagine--and Molly is going to hear him."

His answer was a low whistle. "At what time?" he asked presently.

"She ordered her horse at three--the very hottest part of the day."

"Well, she'll probably have sunstroke," Gay replied, "but at any rate, I'll not let her have it alone."

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