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The Unclassed (Chapter33)

2006-08-22 22:51

  Chapter XXXIII. A Garden-Party

  Waymark received with astonishment Maud's letter from Paris. He had seen her only two days before, and their conversation had been of the ordinary kind; Maud had given him no hint of her purpose, not even when he spoke to her of the coming holiday season, and the necessity of her having a change. She confessed she was not well. Sometimes, when they had both sat for some minutes in silence, she would raise her eyes and meet his gaze steadily, seeming to search for something. Waymark could not face this look; it drove him to break the suspense by any kind of remark on an indifferent subject. He remembered now that she had gazed at him in that way persistently on the last evening that they were together. When he was saying good-bye, and as he bent to kiss her, she held him back for a moment, and seemed to wish to say something. Doubtless she had been on the point of telling him that she was going away; but she let him leave in silence.

  It was not a long letter that she wrote; she merely said that change had become indispensable to body and soul, and that it had seemed best to make it suddenly.

  “I hope,” she wrote in conclusion, “that you will see my father as often as you can; he is very much in need of friendly company, and I should like you to be able to send me news of him. Do not fear for me; I feel already better. I am always with you in spirit, and in the spirit I love you; God help me to keep my love pure!”

  Waymark put away the letter carelessly; the first sensation of surprise over, he did not even care to speculate on the reasons which had led Maud to leave home. It was but seldom now that his thoughts busied themselves with Maud; the unreal importance which she had for a time assumed in his life was only a recollection; her very face was ghostlike in his mind's eye, dim, always vanishing. If the news of her departure from England moved him at all, it was with a slight sense of satisfaction; it would be so much easier to write letters to her than to speak face to face. Yet, in the days that followed, the ghostlike countenance hovered more persistently before him than was its wont; there was a far-off pleading in its look, and sometimes that shadow of reproach which our uneasy conscience will cast upon the faces of those we have wronged. This passed, however, and another image, one which had ever grown in clearness and persistency of presentment in proportion as Maud's faded away, glided before him in the hours of summer sunlight, and shone forth with the beauty of a rising star against the clouded heaven of his dreams.

  Waymark's mood was bitter, but, in spite of himself, it was no longer cynical. He could not indulge himself in that pessimistic scepticism which had aided him in bearing his poverty, and the restless craving of sense and spirit which had accompanied it. His enthusiasm for art was falling away; as a faith it had failed him in his hour of need. In its stead another faith had come to him, a faith which he felt to be all-powerful, and the sole stay of a man's life amid the shifting shadows of intellectual creeds. And it had been revealed too late. Led by perverse motives, now no longer intelligible, he had reached a goal of mere frustration; between him and the true end of his being there was a great gulf fixed.

  To Ida, in the meanwhile, these weeks of early summer were bringing health of body and cheerfulness of mind. She spent very much of her time in the open air. Whenever it was possible she and Miss Hurst took their books out into the garden, and let the shadows of the rose-bushes mark the hours for them. Ida's natural vigour throve on the strength-giving properties of sun and breeze the last traces of unwholesome pallor passed from her face, and exercise sent her home flushed like the dawn.

  One afternoon she went to sit with her grandfather on a bench beneath an apple-tree. The old man had his pipe and a newspaper. Ida was quiet, and glancing at her presently, Abraham found her eyes fixed upon him.

  “Grandfather,” she said, in her gentlest voice, “will you let me give a garden-party some day next week?”

  “A party?” Mr. Woodstock raised his brows in astonishment. “Who are you going to invite?”

  “You'll think it a strange notion.——I wonder whether I can make it seem as delightful to you as it does to me. Suppose we went to those houses of yours, and got together as many poor little girls as we could, and brought them all here to spend an afternoon in the garden. Think what an unheard-of thing it would be to them! And then we would give them some tea, and take them back again before dark.”

  The proposal filled Mr. Woodstock with dismay, and the habitual hardness of his face suggested a displeasure he did not in reality feel.

  “As you say, it's a strange notion,” he remarked,

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