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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Miller Of Old Church - Book 2. The Cross-Roads - Chapter 2. The Desire Of The Moth
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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 2. The Cross-Roads - Chapter 2. The Desire Of The Moth Post by :FreeBiz Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :1966

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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 2. The Cross-Roads - Chapter 2. The Desire Of The Moth


At the gate before the Revercombs' house Blossom was standing in a dress of vivid blue.

"Are you going to a party?" Abel inquired as he reached her, and she answered impatiently:

"I promised to wear this dress over to Judy's, so that she could see how it is trimmed."

"Does she want a blue one?" he asked. It seemed to him little short of ludicrous that Judy should buy a new dress because she was going to be married to him; but in the presence of a custom so firmly entrenched behind the traditions of respectability, he knew that protest would be useless. Judy would check out her unromantic person in wedding finery because finery was customary on such occasions.

"Of course we couldn't dress just alike, Abel," replied Blossom. His question had seemed foolish to her and her usual soft solemnity was ruffled by a passing irritation. "Judy's frock will be green, but she wants bretelles like these on it."

"Bretelles?" he repeated as incredulously as if he had possessed any but the vaguest idea of the article the word described. "Why didn't she wait until she was married, and then I'd have bought them for her," he added.

"Of course she wants her wedding clothes--all girls do," said Blossom, invoking tradition. "Are you coming in now. We're having dinner a little earlier."

She turned and moved slowly up the walk, while he followed, caressing the head of Moses, his spotted hound. From the kitchen he could hear Sarah Revercomb scolding the small negro, Mary Jo, whom she was training to wait on the table. On one side of the hearth grandmother sat very alert, waiting for her bowl of soup, into which Mary Jo was crumbling soft bread, while across from her grandfather chuckled to himself over a recollection which he did not divulge.

At Abel's entrance, the old man stopped chuckling and inquired in an interested tone,

"Did you buy that ar steer, Abel?"

"Not yet, I'm to think it over and let Jim Bumpass know."

"Thar never was sech a man for steers," remarked grandmother, contemptuously. "Here he's still axin' about steers when he can't hist himself out of his cheer. If I were you, Abel, I'd tell him he'd better be steddyin' about everlastin' damnation instead of steers. Steers ain't goin' to haul him out of hell fire if he once gits down into it."

"Well, you can tell her, Abel," retorted grandfather, "that it's time enough to holler 'hell-fire!' when you begin to burn."

Mary Jo prevented a rejoinder by appearing with a napkin, which she tied under his wife's chin, and a little later the old woman could be heard drinking greedily her bowl of soup. She lived for food, yet, like most passions which have become exaggerated by concentration out of all proportion to the fact upon which they depend, the moment of fulfilment seemed always brief and unsatisfactory after the intensity of anticipation. To-day the trouble was there were no carrots in the soup, and this omission reduced her to tears because it had blighted the hopes of her entire morning.

"An' I'd been hankerin' arter them carrots ever since breakfast," she whimpered.

"Don't cry, ma, I'll mash you up some nice ones for supper. That'll be something to look forward to," said Sarah, who might have won an immortal crown had such trophies been awarded to the patience of daughters-in-law. "So you didn't buy that steer, Abel?"

"No, I didn't buy it."

"Have you seen Judy to-day?"

"I stopped there on my way home. She was making butter, and we talked about buying an extra cow or two and letting Blossom and her send some to market."

"Well it beats me!" observed Sarah, but whether her discomfiture was due to Judy's butter or to Abel's love making, she did not explain. On the whole the staidness of the courtship was pleasing to her. Her sense of decorum was flattered by it, for she had as little tolerance of the softer virtues as of the softer vines. It had been years since she had felt so indulgent toward her second son; yet in spite of the gratification his dejection afforded her, she was, as she had just confessed, utterly and entirely "beat." His period of common sense--of perfect and complete sobriety--had lasted for half a year, but she was too shrewd a woman to be deceived by the mere external calmness of appearances. She had had moreover, a long experience with males of the Revercomb stock, and she knew that it was when their blood flowed quietest that there was the greatest danger of an ultimate "rousing." All her life she had lived in dread of this menace to respectability--to that strict observance of the letter of the social law for which the Hawtreys had stood for generations. On several occasions she had seen a Revercomb really "roused," and when the transformation was once achieved, not all the gravity of all the Hawtreys could withstand the force of it. And this terrible potential energy in her husband's stock would assert itself, she knew, after a period of tranquillity. She hadn't been married to a Revercomb for nothing, she had once remarked.

If anything could have put her into a cheerful humour, it would have been the depressed and solemn manner with which Abel went about the preparations for his marriage. The inflexible logic of Calvinism had passed into her fibre, until it had become almost an instinct with her to tread softly in the way of pleasure lest God should hear. Generations of joyless ancestors had imbued her with an ineradicable suspicion of human happiness--as something which must be paid for, either literally in its pound of flesh, or in a corresponding measure of the materials of salvation.

"I declar' things are goin' on so smooth that something must be gettin' ready to happen," she said anxiously to herself at least twenty times a day--for she had observed life, and in her opinion, the observation had verified the rigid principles of her religion. Do what you would the doctrines of original sin and predestination kept cropping up under the surface of existence. And so--"It looks all right on top, but you never can tell," was the habitual attitude of her mind.

When dinner was over, Abel went out to the mill, with Moses, the hound, trotting at his heels. The high wind was still blowing, and while he stood by the mill-race, the boughs of the sycamore rocked back and forth over his head with a creaking noise. At each swing of the branches a crowd of broad yellow leaves was torn from the stems and chased over the moving wheel to the open meadow beyond.

With the key of the mill in his hand, Abel stopped to gaze over the green knoll where he had once planned to build his house. Beyond it he saw the strip of pines, and he knew that the tallest of the trees had fallen uselessly beneath his axe. The great trunk still lay there, fast rotting to dust on the carpet of pine cones. He had never sold it for timber. He would never use it for the rafters of his home.

As he looked back now all that past life of his appeared to him fair and desirable. He remembered the early morning risings in his boyhood, and it seemed to him that he had enjoyed every one of them to its fullest--that it was only the present that showed stale and unprofitable in his eyes. A rosy haze obscured all that was harsh and unlovely in the past, and he thought of himself as always eager and enthusiastic then, as always finding happiness in the incidents that befell him. The year when he had gone away, and worked in the factory in order to educate himself, was revealed as a period of delightful promise, of wonderful opportunity. In remembering his love for Molly, he forgot the quarrels, the jealousies, the heartburnings, and recalled only the exquisite instant of their first lover's kiss. Then, he told himself, that even while he had enjoyed his life, it had cheated him, and he would not live it over again if he could.

Turning presently in the other direction, he discerned a patch of vivid blue in the pasture, and knew that it was Blossom crossing the fields to Solomon Hatch's. "She's gone a good piece out of her road," he thought, and then, "I wonder why she doesn't marry? She might have anybody about here if she wasn't so particular." The vivid blue spot in the midst of the russet and brown landscape held his gaze for a moment; then calling Moses to his side, he unlocked the door of the mill and began counting the sacks of grist.

Outside, in the high wind, which made walking difficult, Blossom moved in the direction of the willow copse. Gay had promised to meet her, but she knew, from the experience of the last few months, that he would neither hasten his luncheon nor smoke a cigar the less in order to do so. As she pressed on the wind sang in her ears. She heard it like the sound of rushing wings in the broomsedge, and when it died down, she waited for it to rise again with a silken murmur in the red-topped orchard grass. She could tell from the sound whether the gust was still in the field of broomsedge or had swept on to the pasture.

In spite of her blue dress, in spite of the flush in her cheeks and the luminous softness in her eyes, the joy in her bosom fluttered on crippled wings. Gay was kind, he was gentle, he was even solicitous on the rare occasions when she saw him; but somehow--in some way, it was different from the ideal marriage of which she had dreamed. If he was kind, he was also casual. She had hoped once that love would fill her life, and now, to her despair, it looked as if it might be poured into a tea-cup. She had imagined that it would move mountains, and the most ordinary detail of living was sufficient to thrust it out of sight.

When she reached the brook, she saw Gay coming slowly along the Haunt's Walk, to the spring. As he walked, he blew little clouds of smoke into the air, and she thought, as he approached her, that the smell of his cigar was unlike the cigar of any other man she knew--that it possessed, in itself, a quality that was exciting and romantic. This trait in his personality--a disturbing suggestion of the atmosphere of a richer world--had fascinated her from the beginning, and after eighteen months of repeated disappointments, it still held her, though she struggled now in its power like a hare in a trap.

"So you're here!" he exclaimed as he reached her. Then, after a swift glance over the fields, he drew her into the shelter of the trees, and holding his cigar in his left hand, kissed her lips.

Closing her eyes, she leaned against him, while the scent of tobacco intoxicated her with its train of happier associations.

"You're looking all right, though your letters have been rather jumpy. My dear girl, when you pounce on me like that you frighten me out of my wits. You really mustn't, you know."

"O Jonathan!" she gasped, and clung to him.

"Why, I had to manufacture some excuse on the instant for coming down. I couldn't tell what foolishness you'd be capable of if I didn't."

His tone was half caressing, yet beneath it there was a serious annoyance, which killed the suffering joy in her heart. She was slowly learning that it is not safe to remind the man of pleasure of his obligations, since he is attracted chiefly by his opportunities.

"The time was when you wanted to come just as much as I," she said.

"Don't I still? Haven't I proved it by telling a tremendous lie and rushing down here on the first train? Come, now, kiss me like a good girl and look cheerful. You've got to make up, you know, for all the trouble you've put me to."

She kissed him obediently, yielding to his casual embraces with a docility that would have charmed him had his passion been in its beginning instead of its decline.

"You're glad now you came, aren't you?" she asked presently pleading to be reassured.

"Oh, yes, of course, I like it, but you mustn't write to me that way again."

Putting his arm closer about her, he pressed her to his side, and they sat in silence while the wind whistled in the tree-tops above them. From their shelter they could see the empty chimneys of Jordan's Journey, and a blurred and attenuated figure on the lawn, which was that of the old negro, who passed back and forth spreading manure. Some swallows with slate grey wings were flying over the roof, and they appeared from a distance to whirl as helplessly as the dead leaves.

"You do love me as much as ever, don't you, Jonathan?" she asked suddenly.

He frowned, staring at the moving figure of the old negro. Again she had blundered, for he was disinclined by temperament to do or say the thing that was expected of him.

"Why, of course I do," he answered after a pause.

She sighed and nestled against him, while his hand which had been on her shoulder, slipped to her waist. Her heart had turned to lead in her breast, and, like Judy, she could have wept because the reality of love was different from her virgin dreams.

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