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A CATHEDRAL COURTSHIP (11)

2006-09-08 20:01

    HE

    DURHAM, July

    O child of fortune, thy name is J. Q. Copley! How did it happen to be election time? Why did the inns chance to be full? How did aunt Celia relax sufficiently to allow me to find her a lodging? Why did she fall in love with the lodging when found? I do not know. I only know Fate smiles; that Kitty and I eat our morning bacon and eggs together; that I carve Kitty's cold beef and pour Kitty's sparkling ale at luncheon; that I go to vespers with Kitty, and dine with Kitty, and walk in the gloaming with Kitty——and aunt Celia. And after a day of heaven like this, like Lorna Doone's lover,——ay, and like every other lover, I suppose,——I go to sleep, and the roof above me swarms with angels, having Kitty under it!

    We were coming home from afternoon service, Kitty and I. (I am anticipating for she was "Miss Schuyler" then, but never mind.) We were walking through the fields, while Mrs. Benedict and aunt Celia were driving. As we came across a corner of the bit of meadow land that joins the stable and the garden, we heard a muffled roar, and as we looked round we saw a creature with tossing horns and waving tail making for us, head down, eyes flashing. Kitty gave a shriek. We chanced to be near a pair of low bars. I hadn't been a college athlete for nothing. I swung Kitty over the bars, and jumped after her. But she, not knowing in her fright where she was nor what she was doing; supposing, also, that the mad creature, like the villain in the play, would "still pursue her," flung herself bodily into my arms, crying, "Jack! Jack! Save me!"

    "It was the first time she had called me Jack," and I needed no second invitation. I proceeded to save her,——in the usual way, by holding her to my heart and kissing her lovely hair reassuringly, as I murmured: "You are safe, my darling; not a hair of your precious head shall be hurt. Don't be frightened."

    She shivered like a leaf. "I am frightened," she said. "I can't help being frightened. He will chase us, I know. Where is he? What is he doing now?"

    Looking up to determine if I need abbreviate this blissful moment, I saw the enraged animal disappearing in the side door of the barn; and it was a nice, comfortable Durham cow,——that somewhat rare but possible thing, a sportive cow!

    "Is he gone?" breathed Kitty from my waistcoat.

    "Yes, he is gone——she is gone, darling. But don't move; it may come again."

    My first too hasty assurance had calmed Kitty's fears, and she raised her charming flushed face from its retreat and prepared to withdraw. I did not facilitate the preparations, and a moment of awkward silence ensued.

    "Might I inquire," I asked, "if the dear little person at present reposing in my arms will stay there (with intervals for rest and refreshment) for the rest of her natural life?"

    She withdrew entirely now, all but her hand, and her eyes sought the ground. "I suppose I shall have to now,——that is, if you think——at least, I suppose you do think——at any rate, you look as if you were thinking- -that this has been giving you encouragement."

    "I do indeed,——decisive, undoubted, barefaced encouragement."

    "I don't think I ought to be judged as if I were in my sober senses," she replied. "I was frightened within an inch of my life. I told you this morning that I was dreadfully afraid of bulls, especially mad ones, and I told you that my nurse frightened me, when I was a child, with awful stories about them, and that I never outgrew my childish terror. I looked everywhere about: the barn was too far, the fence too high, I saw him coming, and there was nothing but you and the open country; of course I took you. It was very natural, I'm sure,——any girl would have done it."

    "To be sure," I replied soothingly, "any girl would have run after me, as you say."

    "I didn't say any girl would have run after you,——you needn't flatter yourself; and besides, I think I was really trying to protect you as well as to gain protection; else why should I have cast myself on you like a catamount, or a catacomb, or whatever the thing is?"

    "Yes, darling, I thank you for saving my life, and I am willing to devote the remainder of it to your service as a pledge of my gratitude; but if you should take up life-saving as a profession, dear, don't throw yourself on a fellow with"

    "Jack! Jack!" she cried, putting her hand over my lips, and getting it well kissed in consequence. "If you will only forget that, and never, never taunt me with it afterwards, I'll——I'll——well, I'll do anything in reason; yes, even marry you!"

    CANTERBURY, July  The Royal Fountain.

    I was never sure enough of Kitty, at first, to dare risk telling her about that little mistake of hers. She is such an elusive person that I spend all my time in wooing her, and can never lay flattering unction to my soul that she is really won.

    But after aunt Celia had looked up my family record and given a provisional consent, and papa Schuyler had cabled a reluctant blessing, I did not feel capable of any further self-restraint. It was twilight here in Canterbury, and we were sitting on the vine-shaded veranda of aunt Celia's lodging. Kitty's head was on my shoulder. There is something very queer about that; when Kitty's head is on my shoulder, I am not capable of any consecutive train of thought. When she puts it there I see stars, then myriads of stars, then, oh! I can't begin to enumerate the steps by which ecstasy mounts to delirium; but at all events, any operation which demands exclusive use of the intellect is beyond me at these times. Still I gathered my stray wits together and said, "Kitty!"

    "Yes, Jack?"

    "Now that nothing but death or marriage can separate us, I have something to confess to you."

    " Yes," she said serenely, "I know what you are going to say. He was a cow."

    I lifted her head from my shoulder sternly, and gazed into her childlike, candid eyes.

    "You mountain of deceit! How long have you known about it?"

    "Ever since the first. Oh, Jack, stop looking at me in that way! Not the very first, not when I——not when you——not when we——no, not then, but the next morning I said to Farmer Hendry, 'I wish you would keep your savage bull chained up while we are here; aunt Celia is awfully afraid of them, especially those that go mad, like yours!' 'Lor', miss,' said Farmer Hendry, 'he haven't been pastured here for three weeks. I keep him six mile away. There ben't nothing but gentle cows in the home medder.' But I didn't think that you knew, you secretive person! I dare say you planned the whole thing in advance, in order to take advantage of my fright!"

    "Never! I am incapable of such an unnecessary subterfuge! Besides, Kitty, I could not have made an accomplice of a cow, you know."

    " Then," she said, with great dignity, "if you had been a gentleman and a man of honor, you would have cried, 'Unhand me, girl! You are clinging to me under a misunderstanding!'"

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