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The Broad Highway(Book2,Chapter34)

2006-08-28 22:58

  Book Two. The Woman Chapter XXXIV. In Which I Find Peace and Joy and an Abiding Sorrow

  I hurried on, looking neither to right nor left, seeing only the face of Charmian, now fearful and appealing, now blazing with scorn. And coming to the brook, I sat down, and thought upon her marvellous beauty, of the firm roundness of the arms that my fingers had so lately pressed. Anon I started up again, and plunged, knee-deep, through the brook, and strode on and on, bursting my way through bramble and briar, heedless of their petty stings, till at last I was clear of them, being now among trees. And here, where the shadow was deepest, I came upon a lurking figure——a figure I recognized——a figure there was no mistaking, and which I should have known in a thousand.

  A shortish, broad-shouldered man, clad in a blue coat, who stood with his back towards me, looking down into the Hollow, in the attitude of one who waits——for what? for whom?

  He was cut off from me by a solitary bush, a bramble, that seemed to have strayed from its kind and lost itself, and, running upon my toes, I cleared this bush at a bound, and, before the fellow had realized my presence, I had pinned him by the collar.

  "Damn you!——show your face!" I cried, and swung him round so fiercely that he staggered, and his hat fell off.

  Then, as I saw, I clasped my head between my hands, and fell back——staring.

  A grizzled man with an honest, open face, a middle-aged man whose homely features were lighted by a pair of kindly blue eyes, just now round with astonishment.

  "Lord!——Mr. Peter!" he exclaimed.

  "Adam!" I groaned. "Oh, God forgive me, it's Adam!"

  "Lord! Mr. Peter," said he again, "you sure give me a turn, Sir! But what's the matter wi' you, sir? Come, Mr. Peter, never stare so wild like——come, sir, what is it?"

  "Tell me——quick!" said I, catching his hand in mine, "you have been here many times before of late?"

  "Why——yes, Mr. Peter, but——"

  "Quick!" said I; "on one occasion she took you into the cottage yonder and showed you a book——you looked at it over her shoulder?"

  "Yes, sir——but——"

  "What sort of book was it?"

  "A old book, sir, wi' the cover broke, and wi' your name writ down inside of it; 'twas that way as she found out who you was——"

  "Oh, Adam!" I cried. "Oh, Adam! now may God help me!" And, dropping his hand, I turned and ran until I reached the cottage; but it was empty, Charmian was gone.

  In a fever of haste I sought her along the brook, among the bushes and trees, even along the road. And, as I sought, night fell, and in the shadows was black despair.

  I searched the Hollow from end to end, calling upon her name, but no sound reached me, save the hoot of an owl, and the far-off, dismal cry of a corncrake.

  With some faint hope that she might have returned to the cottage, I hastened thither, but, finding it dark and desolate, I gave way to my despair.

  O blind, self-deceiving fool! She had said that, and she was right——as usual. She had called me an egoist——I was an egoist, a pedant, a blind, self-deceiving fool who had wilfully destroyed all hopes of a happiness the very thought of which had so often set me trembling——and now——she had left me——was gone! The world ——my world, was a void——its emptiness terrified me. How should I live without Charmian, the woman whose image was ever before my eyes, whose soft, low voice was ever in my ears?

  And I had thought so much to please her! I who had set my thoughts to guard my tongue, lest by word or look I might offend her! And this was the end of it!

  Sitting down at the table, I leaned my head there, pressing my forehead against the hard wood, and remained thus a great while.

  At last, because it was very dark, I found and lighted a candle, and came and stood beside her bed. Very white and trim it looked, yet I was glad to see its smoothness rumpled where I had laid her down, and to see the depression in the pillow that her head had made. And, while I stood there, up to me stole a perfume very faint, like the breath of violets in a wood at evening time, wherefore I sank down upon my knees beside the bed.

  And now the full knowledge of my madness rushed upon me in an overwhelming flood; but with misery was a great and mighty joy, for now I knew her worthy of all respect and honor and worship, for her intellect, for her proud virtue, and for her spotless purity. And thus, with joy came remorse, and with remorse——an abiding sorrow.

  And gradually my arms crept about the pillow where her head had so often rested, wherefore I kissed it, and laid my head upon it and sighed, and so fell into a troubled sleep.

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