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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 17. Barbara And Others
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There & Back - Chapter 17. Barbara And Others Post by :stillgreen Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2693

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There & Back - Chapter 17. Barbara And Others

CHAPTER XVII. BARBARA AND OTHERS

At this point, Barbara's friend came into the room, and they went away together.

Theodora, so named by her mother because she was born on a Sunday, was a very different girl from Barbara. Nominally friends, neither understood the other. Theodora was the best of the family, but that did not suffice to make her interesting. She was short, stout, rather clumsy, with an honest, thick-featured face, and entirely without guile. Even when she saw it, she could not believe it there. She had not much sympathy, but was very kind. She never hesitated to do what she was sure was right; but then, except for rules, many of them far from right themselves, she would have been almost always in doubt. Anything in the shape of a rule, she received as an angel from heaven. If all the rules she obeyed had been right, and she had seen the right in them, she would have been making rapid progress; as it was, her progress was very slow. How Barbara and she managed to entertain each other, I find it hard to think; but all forms of innocent humanity must have much in common. A contrast, nevertheless, the two must have presented to any power able to read them. Barbara was like a heath of thyme and wild roses and sudden winds; Theodora like a Dutch garden without its flowers. They never quarrelled. I suspect they did not come near enough to quarrel.

Barbara left Richard almost bewitched, and considerably perplexed. He had never seen anything like her. No more had most people that met her. She seemed of another nature from his, a sort of sylph or salamander, yet, in simplest human fashion, she had come quite close to him. She had indeed brought to bear upon him, without knowing it, that humbling and elevating power which ideal womankind has always had, and will eternally have upon genuine manhood. There was an airiness about her, yet a reality, a lightness, yet a force, a readiness, a life, such as he could never have imagined. She was a revelation unrevealed--a presence lovely but incredible, suggesting facts and relations which the commonplace in him said could not exist. The vision was, to use a favourite but pagan phrase, "too good to be true." Richard's knowledge of girls was small indeed, but he had now enough to make his first comparison: Alice was like China, Barbara like Venetian glass. He thought there was something in Alice if he could only get at it: he feared there was nothing in Barbara to get at. For one thing, how could she have such parents and take it so lightly!

There were certainly few things yet in flower in Barbara's garden, but there was a multitude of precious things on the way to unfold themselves to any one that might love her enough to give them a true welcome. She was nearly as far out of Richard's understanding as beyond that of the good Theodora. The consequence was that he felt himself full beside her emptiness. He was no coxcomb, neither dreamed of presenting himself for her admiration; but he pictured the delight of opening the eyes of this child-woman to the many doors of treasure-houses that stood in her own wall.

Only those who haunt the slopes of literature, know that marvels lie in the grass for the hand that will gather them. Multitudes who count themselves readers know no more of the books they read than the crowds that visit the Academy exhibitions know of the pictures they gaze upon. Yet are the realms of literature free as air, freer even than those of music. The man whose literary judgment and sympathy I prized beyond that of the world beside, was a clerk in the Bank of England. The man who by the spell of his words can set me in the heart of soft-stealing twilight--nay, rather, can set the very heart of the dying day in me--was a Lancashire weaver. And dainty, bird-moth-like Barbara had begun to suspect the existence of something hers yet beyond her in books, of an unknown world which lay at her very door. In that same world the bookbinder passed much of his time, and it was neither in pride nor in presumption that he desired to share it with Barbara. It is the home-born impulse of every true heart to give of its best, to infect with its own joy; and the thought of giving grandly to a woman, to a lady, might well fill the soul of a working man with a hitherto unnamed ecstasy. Another might have compared it to the housing of a strayed angel with frozen feathers, lost on the wintry wilds of this far-out, border world; but Richard did not believe in those celestial birds; and had he believed, a woman would yet have been to him, and rightly, more than any angel. What he did think of was the huntsman and the little lady in The Flight of the Duchess.

He began to ponder how to treat her--how to begin to open doors for her--what door to open first. Should it be of prose or of verse? He must have more talk with her ere he could tell! He must try her with something!

He had time to ponder, for she did not anew swim into his ken for three days. He wondered whether he had displeased her, but could think of nothing he had said or done amiss. He must be very careful not to offend her with the least roughness in word or manner, lest he should so lose the chance of helping her! It was the main part of his creed, as gathered from his adoptive father, that a man must do something for his neighbour: Miss Wylder was his neighbour; what better thing could he do for her than make her free of the greatest joy he knew?

Barbara had quite as much liberty as was good. Her mother sat in a darkened room, and took morphia; her father, to occupy his leisure, had begun to repair an old house on the estate with his own hands. Nobody heeded Barbara; she did as she pleased, going and coming as in the colony. A favourite with all about the place, she had never to use authority. Every one, for very love, was at her service. Whatever preposterous thing, at whatever unearthly moment, she might have wanted, it would have been ready--her mare at midnight, her breakfast at noon, a cow in the library to draw from. There was little regularity in the house; every one wanted to do what was right in his own eyes; but every one was ready to see right with the eyes of Barbara.

Home was, nevertheless, as one may well believe, a terribly dull place to her; and as, for some occult reason, Theodora Lestrange had taken a fancy to her, as sir Wilton was charmed with her, and lady Ann--for reasons--had little to say against her, she was at Mortgrange as much as she pleased--never too much even for Arthur, whose propriety, rather insular, a little provincial, and sometimes pedantic, she would shock twenty times a day; for he was fascinated by her grace and playfulness, though he declared he would as soon think of marrying a humming-bird as Barbara. He tried for a while to throw his net over her, for he would fain have tamed her to come at his call: but he soon arrived at the conclusion that nothing but the troubles of life would tame her, and then it would be a pity. She was a fine creature, he said, but hardly human; and for his part he preferred a woman to a fay!

But such was the report of her riches, that sir Wilton and lady Ann were both ready to welcome her as a daughter-in-law. Sir Wilton was delighted with her gaiety and the sharp readiness of her clever retort. All he regretted in her lack of an English education was that her speech was not quite that of a lady--on which point sir Wilton had not always been so fastidious. For the rest, intellectual development was of so little interest to him that he never suspected Barbara of having more than a usual share of intellect to develop. She was just the wife for the future baronet, he was once heard to say--though how he came once to say it I cannot think, for never before had he betrayed a consciousness that he would not be the present baronet for ever and ever. So long as he did not feel the approach of death, he would never think of dying, and then he would do his best to forget it. He seemed sometimes to grudge his son the dainty little wife Barbara would make him: "The rascal will be the envy of the clubs!" he said.

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