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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Miller Of Old Church - Book 2. The Cross-Roads - Chapter 9. A Meeting In The Pasture
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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 2. The Cross-Roads - Chapter 9. A Meeting In The Pasture Post by :FreeBiz Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :2461

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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 2. The Cross-Roads - Chapter 9. A Meeting In The Pasture

BOOK II. THE CROSS-ROADS CHAPTER IX. A MEETING IN THE PASTURE

As Judy did not appear next morning, her breakfast was carried up to her by Sarah, who allowed her own cakes to become leathery while she arranged the tray. Her feet were still on the staircase, when Blossom turned to Abel and said in a furtive and anxious voice:

"Mrs. Bottom told me yesterday the Gays were coming back to Jordan's Journey. Have you heard anything about it?"

"No, I haven't heard," he answered indifferently, though his pulses throbbed at the words. Rising from the table an instant later, he went out into the yard, where the sunshine filtered softly through June foliage. By the porch a damask rose-bush was in bloom, and the fragrance followed him along the path between the borders of portulaca. At the gate he found a young robin too weak to fly, and lifting it carefully, he returned it to the nest in a pear-tree. Like all young and helpless things, it aroused in him a tenderness which, in some strange way, was akin to pain.

On the crooked sycamore the young leaves fluttered with shirred edges, and beyond the mill and the fallow field, the slender green ribbons of the corn were unfolding. As he gazed at the pines on the horizon, he remembered the day he had swung his axe in joy under their branches, and it seemed to him, while he looked back upon it, that the hour belonged to the distant memories of his boyhood.

"It's over now, and I'm not going to whine about it," he said aloud to his hound. "A plain fool is bad enough, Moses, my boy, but a whining fool is the meanest thing God ever made in man or dog. Because I've lost the thing I wanted most, I've no mind to wallow in the dust--but, oh, Molly, Molly!"

She came to him again, not fair and flitting, but ardent and tender, with her parted red mouth raised to his, and the light and darkness trembling on her face like faint shadows in the wind. And this vision of her, which was so vivid that it shook his heart with a pang of agony, seemed saying to him in words which were not his--which were not words at all, but some subtler communion of sense--"I am to be loved, but never possessed, for, like the essence of desire, I elude forever the conditions of mortality."

A week later, while the thought of her burned like fire in his brain, he met her face to face in the path which led from the blazed pine over the pasture to Jordan's Journey. Had he seen her in time, he would have fled from the meeting, but she appeared without warning as he turned from the turnpike to the bars. Almost before he was aware of it, he was within touch of her and looking into her eyes. She wore her black dress still, and the air of elegance, of strangeness, was even more obvious than when he had met her at Applegate the day before his marriage. Her face had lost a little of its bloom, and there was a look in it which he had never seen there before--a look which was wistful and yet expectant, as though, like old Reuben, she was hoping against knowledge and in despite of disappointment.

"Molly!" he cried, and stopped short, longing to touch her hand and yet with something, which was like conscience in the shape of Judy, restraining him.

"Abel, how little you've changed!" she said.

"Haven't I? Well, you're yourself, too, and yet you're different."

"Different? I suppose you mean I'm wearing better clothes?"

He smiled for the first time. "I wasn't thinking about your clothes. They never seemed to matter."

What he had meant, though he dared not utter the thought aloud, was that she had grown softer and gentler, and was less the Molly of the flashing charm and the defiant challenge.

"Yes, I've changed in a way, of course," she admitted presently, "I feel grown up now, and I never felt so before. Life was all play to me until grandfather died."

"And it isn't now?"

"Not entirely--I'm still growing."

Her hand rested on the bars beside which she was standing, and the fragrant festoons of wild grape blooming beside the post, brushed softly against her bosom. There was a quietness, a suggestion of restraint in her attitude which he had never seen in the old Molly.

"The day you went away you told me you wanted to live," he said.

"I remember. I couldn't have done differently. I had to find out things for myself. Of course, life is all just the same everywhere, but then I didn't know it. I used to think that one had only to travel a certain distance and one would pass the boundary of the commonplace and come into the country of adventure. It was silly, of course, but you see I didn't know any better. It was the fret of youth, I suppose, though people never seem to think that women ever feel it--or, perhaps, as Mrs. Bottom used to say, it was only the Gay blood working off."

"I don't like to hear you talk of the Gay blood in you," he said quickly.

His voice betrayed him, and looking up, she asked quietly, "How is Judy, Abel?"

"She's not well. It seems she suffers with her nerves."

"I'm coming to see her. Judy and I were always friends, you know."

"Yes, I know. You were a friend to every woman."

"And I am still. I've grown to love Aunt Kesiah, and I believe I'm the only person who sees just how fine she is."

"Your grandfather saw, I think. Do you remember he used to say life was always ready to teach us things, but that some of us were so mortal slow we never learned till we died?"

Her eyes were starry as she looked away from him over the meadow. "Abel, I miss him so," she said after a minute.

"I know, Molly, I know."

"Nothing makes up for him. All the rest seems so distant and unhuman. Nothing is so real to me as the memory of him sitting in his chair on the porch with Spot at his feet."

For a minute he did not reply, and when he spoke at last, it was only to say:

"I wonder if a single human being could ever understand you, Molly?"

"I don't understand myself. I don't even try."

"You've had everything you could want for a year--been everywhere--seen everything--yet, I believe, you'd give it all up to be back in the cottage over there with Reuben and his hound?"

"Why shouldn't I?" she answered passionately, "that was what I loved."

"I suppose you're right," he said a little sadly, "that was always what you loved."

She turned her head away, but he saw the delicate flush pass from her cheek to her throat.

"I mean I am faithful to the things that really matter," she answered.

"And the things that do not really matter are men?" he asked with a humour in which there was a touch of grimness.

"Perhaps you're right about some of them, at least," she answered, smiling at a memory. "I was full of animal spirits--of the joy of energy, and there was no other outlet. A girl sows her mental wild oats, if she has any mind, just as a boy does. But what people never seem to realize is that women go on and change just as men do. They seem to think that a girl stands perfectly still, that what she is at twenty, she remains to the end of her life. Of course that's absurd. After the first shock of real experience that old make-believe side of things lost all attraction for me. I could no more go back to flirting with Mr. Mullen or with Jim Halloween than I could sit down in the road and make mud pies for an amusement. How is Mr. Mullen, by the way?" she inquired in a less serious tone.

"Just the same. He's had a call."

"And old Adam? Is he still living?"

"He can't walk any longer, but his mind is perfectly clear. Sometimes his son puts his chair into an oxcart and brings him over to the ordinary. He's still the best talker about here, and he frets if he is left by himself."

For a moment they were silent again. Old Adam, having fulfilled his purpose, was dismissed into space. Molly watched Abel's eyes turn to the pines on the horizon, and in the midst of the June meadow, there was a look in them that reminded her of the autumnal sadness of nature. She had seen this look in Reuben's face when he gazed wistfully at the blossoming apple boughs in the spring, and the thought came to her that just this attitude of soul--this steadfast courage in the face of circumstance--was the thing that life was meant to teach them both at the end. If Abel's energy was now less effervescent, she realized instinctively that it had become more assured. Life or marriage--or, perhaps, both together had "tamed" him, as Reuben had prophesied, and the rough edges of his character had worn smooth in the process.

A butterfly, marked gorgeously in blue and orange, alighted on the bar by her hand, and when it fluttered off again, drunken with summer, her gaze followed it into the meadow, where the music of innumerable bees filled the sunshine.

"And you, Abel?" she asked, turning presently, "what of yourself?"

He smiled at her before answering; and with the smile, she felt again the old physical joy in his presence--in his splendid animal vitality, in the red-brown colour of his flesh, in the glow of his dark eyes, which smiled down into hers. No other man had ever made this appeal to her senses. She had struggled sometimes like a bird in a net against the memory of it, yet it had held her, in spite of her will, even when she was farthest away from him. The gentleness from which Judy revolted, brought Molly's heart back to him with a longing to comfort.

"Well, I'm learning," he answered, still smiling.

"And you are happy?"

He made a gesture of assent, while he looked over her head at the butterfly--which had found its mate and was soaring heavenward in a flight of ecstasy. The same loyalty which had prevented his touching her hand when they met, rebelled now against an implied reflection on Judy.

"I am glad," she said, "you deserve it."

She had given her eyes to him almost unconsciously, and their look was like a cord which drew them slowly to each other. His pulses hammered in his ears, yet he heard around him still the mellow murmuring of bees, and saw the butterflies whirling deliriously together. All the forces which had held him under restraint stretched suddenly, while he met her eyes, like bands that were breaking. Before the solitary primal fact of his love for her, the fog of tradition with which civilization has enveloped the simple relation of man and woman, evaporated in the sunlight. The harsh outlines of the future were veiled, and he saw only the present, crowned, radiant, and sweet to the senses as the garlands of wild grape around which the golden bees hung in a cloud. For an instant only the vision held him; then the rush of desire faded slowly, and some unconquerable instinct, of which he had been almost unconscious, asserted its supremacy in his brain. The ghosts of dead ancestors who had adhered to law at the cost of happiness; the iron skeleton of an outgrown and yet indelibly implanted creed; the tenacity of the racial structure against which his individual impulses had rebelled--these things, or one of these things, proved in the end stronger than the appeal of his passion. He longed with all his strength to hold her in his arms--every nerve in his body ached for her--yet he knew that because of this unconquerable instinct he was powerless to follow his longing.

"I don't think I deserve much, Molly," he said quietly.

She hesitated still, looking away from him in the direction of her path, which led over the meadow.

"Abel, be good to Judy," she said, without turning.

"I will, Molly, I promise you."

He moved a step toward the turnpike, stopped, and looked back.

"I can't do much for you, Molly," he said, "but if you ever need anybody to die for you, remember I'm ready."

"I'll remember," she answered, with a smile, but her eyes were misty when she passed the blazed pine and turned into the little path.

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