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Wheat in the Ear

Chapter XIV. — Thoughts of Love

page 164

Chapter XIV.
Thoughts of Love.

David stood beside the stream waiting. This waiting had grown wondrous sweet He had done battle with himself, but the fight had proved too hard; his passion had taken complete possession of him. There was no escape from it, he told himself, with no desire to be free.

The morning was irresistible. The cloudless sky was of deep purple-blue; a soft breeze stirred the blue and red flags growing by the stream at his feet, and blurred the water in patches like breath upon glass; thick green corn rustled in pride, with promise of a fat harvest; bees, with drowsy murmurs, hummed among the clover; and the sharp swish of scythes from an adjacent field told that men made hay while the sun shone.

The langour and lassitude of intense longing overpowered the young man. Surely she would come; page 165 the life of the morning would entice her. Would this waiting be long sustained? Would it end abruptly with the passage of the summer? He glanced along the stream, and his hand closed convulsively, a ruddy colour mounting to his brow. He strode to meet the slender, white-gowned figure. She came along with her proud head held up, her large grey eyes shining, and with a slight flush—a little trick of self-consciousness lately acquired. But there was no hint of self-surrender in her manner. A fleeting little frown contracted her brows at the man's too hasty advance. But she was quick to note the artistic beauty of the scene; the strong man gave that touch of individuality that the still picture needed.

David's heart throbbed when he saw her blush; but had she not proved false again and again to that sign of welcome? She was a kaleidoscope of moods. He could not trace one of them back to its source; he could not by a given touch produce the same effect twice. How was he to know how she would meet him this morning?

“You are not tired yet?”

There was a tone of supplication in his voice. He looked down into her face eagerly.

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She gazed past him at the distant horizon, wrinkling her brows to shade her eyes from the glittering haze.

“I must have dreamt the past three months; they are so unreal.”

She turned from him a little and began mechanically to pluck the marguerites growing tall among the grass. It was the same spot at which Father had sought her long ago and pressed the unwelcome thought of labour. A recollection of this paled her cheeks a little; the passion for accomplishment, stronger in the few than the passion of flesh, was suddenly called into life again. She could weigh no other desire beside it.

“I have thought the matter over thoroughly/' she continued gently, still with head bent over her flowers, “and it is better that I should go back to town.”

Her father trusted in her blindly, she went on hurriedly; she must not disappoint him, and she could not be content with only small things to do. She was not great enough for that Not to misunderstand her, once she had despised the humble workers, but that was when she was ignorant of the science of doing insignificant things well. She could conceive a page 167 far-off time when she herself would be strong enough to renounce; but it would not be till she had proved that her dearest wish—fame—would never be. When she had failed she would come home and darn the stockings; it would do her good. She bent down lower over the marguerites, and the snapping of their stalks could be heard in the silence that followed her words.

“It is the great women who do those small, unnoticed things,” she continued, with strange humility, not lifting her eyes. “It is true I did despise them once, but not now. One day I may come to be like them—good, like mother and Mercy. Perhaps when I am quite old; it will be a great occasion.”

She looked up then and smiled appealingly, her eyes misty.

“But no one must expect anything so big of me just now,” she continued hurriedly. “There is something theatrical in my nature; I must strive for effects; or, in other words, I must fly till my wings are broken. It is the glamour of the air.”

She shaded her eyes with her hand and watched the ascent of a lark, which soared steadily till it became a dark speck only against the blue vault. The passion of her voice, her quick action, gave the page 168 little dramatic touch that always redeemed her ways from commonplace, and infused the moment with a force which emanated from herself, moving her audience to her mood.

David uttered a half articulate sound of despair and passion. She would not be caged, this beautiful girl. He cursed beneath his breath his spendthrift ancestors who had made it impossible for him to follow her where she would.

She roused him from his morbid thoughts by a magic imitation of the lark's notes. The notes ended in a rush of laughter and words.

“If one could be spontaneous like the bird, and want no audience!”

There was a passionate protest in her heart—a cry that he would have and hold her even against her will; keep her from battle and strife. A random impulse, her brain reasoned, even while it was strongest upon her; a madness born of the sensuous, odorous summer morning, that, passing, would leave her sane again. She shuddered, as with chill. Where was she drifting? She missed the sense of David's answer; but she felt his fingers upon her muslinvested arm. Her pink colour deepened.

In an instant he relaxed his hold. Something in page 169 his face warned the girl that she was trying him too far; she stood for a moment transfixed before the storm she had called into his dark eyes. He braced himself as though for defence; then the speechless anger died suddenly from his face.

The girl was looking at him with the expression of a frightened lamb. Her incoherent lament had suggested tragic possibilities.

“I shall be here when you return,” he said, in a choked voice, and unexpectedly.

She held out her hand instinctively. She had not thought of that; the summer would not end it. An hour ago there seemed no alternative between eternal separation and relinquishment of the world she had run away once long before to see. But David missed his point—insistence. The young have not experience enough to fall in placidly with the irresistible march of life—the end of a phase is the end of existence; and it is just possible the girl was not prepared wholly to give him up.

His surrender touched her; but he took up arms against himself as soon as he had made it; he had done precisely as he had determined all along he would not do—taken an off chance. His rival was an unseen force; the ground of combat was taken away page 170 from him; man against man, he would have fought every inch. Against this intangible obstacle he was powerless; and yet he strove, first against the pain of heart, that made itself felt above the joy her presence gave, and then against the witchery of her eyes.

They rested upon his face. She divined his thoughts. But the end was not just yet. After her fight with the world, the flesh, and the devil, if she returned conquered, he would be here. They disagreed on many points; on this they were agreed. She had robbed him of no right, for she had given him none. She was vehement over this thought, and raised her head proudly; certainly she had given him no right. Gertrude, with her fastidious sense of fitness, might blame her for the close companionship of the past months; and at the name of Gertrude she had a twinge of self-disgust.

Gertrude was single of purpose, beyond the weakness of this hour. How had it come to pass that she had made this man grieve?

“It is my old luck,” she said inaudibly.

They had bent their steps in silence towards the plains. David walked with his head up; her tacit rejection of him had roused his pride; he kept pace with page 171 her courteously, but he had the air of one encaged. His shoulders were thrown back, and his set mouth and glowing eyes reminded the girl of the morning she had watched him break in the filly. Their conversation turned into conventional channels; and Joan, with burning cheeks, sketched her life at Girton, and the brilliant career that was to be, when he, her friend David, would be one of her audience, and bring her flowers.

Suddenly he put out his hand sideways, and took hers in a grip.

“It's all nonsense, isn't it?” he said.

She met his eyes, and faltered, rallied, then shook her head gaily.

“It's sober truth,” she affirmed.

“I will bring you the gorse blossom,” he replied, relinquishing her hand, and springing to a bush that flowered among the gorse, breaking a spray while he spoke. “It has a sweet perfume and a heart of gold, although it grows among thorns.”

She took the cluster he proffered, and fastened it in her belt.

“David,” said Joan, using his name unconsciously, “do you repent of our friendship?”

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He had not yet lost all individuality in loving, and he counted the cost.

“I repent of nothing,” he answered, after a pause. “Do not let us quarrel. I will wish all that you wish, think as you bid me think, accept what you can give me at your own price. It is not my life, but yours, which is to be considered. You have an unalterable purpose. I drift, as you see. I let my feelings get the better of common sense.”

The smothered anger and sarcasm in his voice belied his words. The struggle between pride and love was raging. The outburst of irritation chilled the girl's remorse. If he would exert himself he might convince her. In obedience to an impulse she could not analyse, she turned a scornful glance upon him.

“I trust we may be friends,” she said haughtily and coldly. Then, in a few hurried words, she intimated that she wanted to be alone, to listen to the sound of the wind among the tussocks.

Her lips were smiling, and her brow was serene. David's sudden suffering surprised him. She was dismissing him; their old intercourse would never again be renewed. He should revisit the old haunts without her. His longing spoke from every page 173 feature. He threw off his cynicism, resentment, and hostility, and, in quick, earnest words, as though pleading for life, asked her humbly to forgive his temper, and to meet him when the moon rose; he wanted to show her an effect which he thought had escaped her. His manner touched her, and she agreed.

The girl wandered along slowly, with downcast eyes. Why could she not be left alone to be happy in her own way? She felt her heart beating fast. What did it mean—pleasure or pain? Why was she more receptive of impressions than she had been six months ago? She felt David's presence perilous. Every time she was with him it happened that her self-restraint became weaker. It was a vulgarity of the flesh—a sentimentality which could be played upon by the trivialities of tones and looks. There was a possibility that she would entirely abandon herself to this new sensation if she indulged in it much longer. Should she remain calm enough to put aside that unreal world, that accidental phase of passion, and realise the real world of labour and achievement?

The young face looked strangely old, the great eyes very wistful. How lonely it was; how horribly page 174 lonely! Love obliterated all limits, nullified all divisions, emancipated from ambitions. How sweet it would be to rise spontaneously to the ideal world, and leave the real behind. Were the women of higher intelligence the happier women after all? If she had been left there to milk the cows and ride at will over the plains, she might have developed a plenitude of power to give and receive happiness.

She lay face downward on the tussocks, and wished for the conflicting simplicities, spontaneity, platitudes, and insipidities that were part of other girls, for their ridiculous tendernesses and simple, sensuous truth.

The long shadows were slanting over the plains when she remembered that it was time to go home. She had reached the old cart-road, when she saw the figure of a man toiling over the ruts—a familiar figure, slender, and slightly stooping, dressed in black. Every fibre of Joan's brain remembered, every nerve tingled with recollection. It was the Professor.

As she went forward to meet him, she heard David's voice from the hay-field:

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“‘This carol they began that hour,
How that life was but a flow'r;
And therefore take the present time,
For love is crowned with the prime.
In springtime, the only pretty ring-time,
When birds do sing, hey ding-a-ding,
Sweet lovers love the spring.’”