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The Broad Highway(Book2,Chapter28)

2006-08-28 22:57

  Book Two. The Woman Chapter XXVIII. In Which I Come to a Determination

  As I walked through the fresh, green world there ensued within me the following dispute, as it were, between myself and two voices; and the first voice I will call Pro, and the other Contra.

  MYSELF. May the devil take that "Gabbing Dick"!

  PRO. He probably will.

  MYSELF. Had he not told me of what he saw——of the man who looked at my Virgil——over her shoulder——

  PRO. Or had you not listened.

  MYSELF. Ah, yes!——but then, I did listen, and that he spoke the truth is beyond all doubt; the misplaced Virgil proves that. However, it is certain, yes, very certain, that I can remain no longer in the Hollow.

  CONTRA. Well, there is excellent accommodation at "The Bull."

  PRO. And, pray, why leave the Hollow?

  MYSELF. Because she is a woman——

  PRO. And you love her!

  MYSELF. To my sorrow.

  PRO. Well, but woman was made for man, Peter, and man for woman——!

  MYSELF (sternly). Enough of that——I must go!

  PRO. Being full of bitter jealousy.

  MYSELF. No!

  PRO. Being a mad, jealous fool——

  MYSELF. As you will.

  PRO. ——who has condemned her unheard——with no chance of justification.

  MYSELF. To-morrow, at the very latest, I shall seek some other habitation.

  PRO. Has she the look of guilt?

  MYSELF. No; but then women are deceitful by nature, and very skilful in disguising their faults——at least so I have read in my books——

  PRO (contemptuously). Books! Books! Books!

  MYSELF (shortly). No matter; I have decided.

  PRO. Do you remember how willingly she worked for you with those slender, capable hands of hers——?

  MYSELF. Why remind me of this?

  Pro. You must needs miss her presence sorely; her footstep, that was always so quick and light——

  MYSELF. Truly wonderful in one so nobly formed!

  PRO. ——and the way she had of singing softly to herself.

  MYSELF. A beautiful voice——

  PRO. With a caress in it! And then, her habit of looking at you over her shoulder.

  MYSELF. Ah, yes!——her lashes a little drooping, her brows a little wrinkled, her lips a little parted.

  CONTRA. A comfortable inn is "The Bull."

  MYSELF (hastily). Yes, yes——certainly.

  PRO. Ah!——her lips——the scarlet witchery of her lips! Do you remember how sweetly the lower one curved upward to its fellow? A mutinous mouth, with its sudden, bewildering changes! You never quite knew which to watch oftenest——her eyes or her lips——

  CONTRA (hoarsely). Excellent cooking at "The Bull"!

  PRO. And how she would berate you and scoff at your Master Epictetus, and dry-as-dust philosophers!

  MYSELF. I have sometimes wondered at her pronounced antipathy to Epictetus.

  PRO. And she called you a "creature."

  MYSELF. The meaning of which I never quite fathomed.

  PRO. And, frequently, a "pedant."

  MYSELF. I think not more than four times.

  PRO. On such occasions, you will remember, she had a petulant way of twitching her shoulder towards you and frowning, and, occasionally, stamping her foot; and, deep within you, you loved it all, you know you did.

  CONTRA. But that is all over, and you are going to "The Bull."

  MYSELF (hurriedly). To be sure——"The Bull."

  PRO. And, lastly, you cannot have forgotten——you never will forget——the soft tumult of the tender bosom that pillowed your battered head——the pity of her hands——those great, scalding tears, the sudden, swift caress of her lips, and the thrill in her voice when she said——

  MYSELF (hastily). Stop! that is all forgotten.

  PRO. You lie! You have dreamed of it ever since, working at your anvil, or lying upon your bed, with your eyes upon the stars; you have loved her from the beginning of things!

  MYSELF. And I did not know it; I was very blind. The wonder is that she did not discover my love for her long ago, for, not knowing it was there, how should I try to hide it?

  CONTRA. O Blind, and more than blind! Why should you suppose she hasn't?

  MYSELF (stopping short). What? Can it be possible that she has?

  CONTRA. Didn't she once say that she could read you like a book?

  MYSELF. She did.

  CONTRA. And have you not often surprised a smile upon her lips, and wondered?

  MYSELF. Many times.

  CONTRA. Have you not beheld a thin-veiled mockery in her look? Why, poor fool, has she not mocked you from the first? You dream of her lips. Were not their smiles but coquetry and derision?

  MYSELF. But why should she deride me?

  CONTRA. For your youth and——innocence.

  MYSELF. My youth! my innocence!

  CONTRA. Being a fool ingrain, didn't you boast that you had known but few women?

  MYSELF. I did, but——

  CONTRA. Didn't she call you boy! boy! boy!——and laugh at you?

  MYSELF. Well——even so——

  CONTRA (with bitter scorn). O Boy! O Innocent of the innocent! Go to, for a bookish fool! Learn that lovely ladies yield themselves but to those who are masterful in their wooing, who have wooed often, and triumphed as often. O Innocent of the innocent! Forget the maudlin sentiment of thy books and old romances——thy pure Sir Galahads, thy "vary parfait gentil knightes," thy meek and lowly lovers serving their ladies on bended knee; open thine eyes, learn that women to-day love only the strong hand, the bold eye, the ready tongue; kneel to her, and she will scorn and contemn you. What woman, think you, would prefer the solemn, stern-eyed purity of a Sir Galahad (though he be the king of men) to the quick-witted gayety of a debonair Lothario (though he be but the shadow of a man)? Out upon thee, pale-faced student! Thy tongue hath not the trick, nor thy mind the nimbleness for the winning of a fair and lovely lady. Thou'rt well enough in want of a better, but, when Lothario comes, must she not run to meet him with arms outstretched?

  "To-morrow," said I, clenching my fists, "to-morrow I will go away!"

  Being now come to the Hollow, I turned aside to the brook, at that place where was the pool in which I was wont to perform my morning ablutions; and, kneeling down, I gazed at myself in the dark, still water; and I saw that the night had, indeed, set its mark upon me.

  "To-morrow," said I again, nodding to the wild face below, "to-morrow I will go far hence."

  Now while I yet gazed at myself, I heard a sudden gasp behind me and, turning, beheld Charmian.

  "Peter! is it you?" she whispered, drawing back from me.

  "Who else, Charmian? Did I startle you?"

  "Yes——oh, Peter!"

  "Are you afraid of me?"

  "You are like one who has walked with——death!"

  I rose to my feet, and stood looking down at her. "Are you afraid of me, Charmian?"

  "No, Peter."

  "I am glad of that," said I, "because I want to ask you——to marry me, Charmian."

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