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Wheat in the Ear

Chapter VII. — Sowing Seed

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Chapter VII.
Sowing Seed.

From their high tower the cathedral bells rang out sweetly over Christchurch—city of the plains. The commercial square, in the centre of which the cathedral stands, was given over to the quiet of evening, the broad paved streets and tall stone buildings looking rather ghostly in the twilight, for as yet the street lamps were unlighted. Amid the greyness, the cathedral, lit for service, stood out boldly from the dun canvas of its enclosure, its open door and coloured windows glowing ruddily. The great cross on the spire, the domes and spires of many suburban churches winked at one another irreverently in the after-sunset beams. The high tree-tops still shimmered, but the Avon that embraced the city flowed black and steely beneath overhanging willows; and far beyond the environing plains were grey, except where cut by foam-crested page 71 torrents or lighted by the flashing lamps of the incoming express, which, tearing over their expanse rent their silence with piercing shrieks.

Christchurch, the commercial centre of New Zealand's finest agricultural district, has retained from its foundation a distinctly English educational and ecclesiastical atmosphere. At the West End are to be found stately and picturesque colleges; sylvan residences of church dignitaries and professors fringe the river in the vicinity of the famous museum and parks; fashion, science, art, and religion are neighbours to the park gates, and the added charm of quiet reigns throughout, scarcely broken save by the soughing of wind among great green branches, and the deep-toned voice of a turret clock.

Facing the river and broad green belt where the oak avenue terminates in a river-side path, stood Girton College, a rambling old cottage with dormer windows and verandas. The college proper, connected by a covered way, was built on a strictly scientific and hygienic plan; the house was made to be cosy in. It stood in a large overgrown garden; the porch so covered with vines that, but for the glowing red lamp that hung over it, it would have page 72 been hard to find the door, with its burnished brass plate and inscription:—

“G. Goodyear, M.A., Principal.”

Miss Goodyear was sitting in her study, in a Russian-leather arm-chair, resting. The walls of the room were lined with bookcases, the floor overlaid with a thick carpet of a rich crimson colour; curtains of the same hue hung at the windows, the lower panes of which were hand-painted, the panels of the door showing the same design of hand-painted flowers. A bear-skin rug was spread before the gas stove on the tiled hearth, another was thrown over a low couch; several deep-seated chairs were scattered about; a few exquisite water-colours stood on ivory easels on the mantel-board, with a few photographs. Near the hearth and Miss Goodyear's chair was a handsome carved oak reading-table. On this a green-shaded reading-lamp was burning. A porcelain vase, filled with red and white roses, stood near the lamp.

Gertrude Goodyear rose, and with an easy, slow movement, crossed to the bookcases, touching a volume here and there with the light, lingering touch of a mother caressing her baby's hair. She was dressed in a black garment—a blending of academi- page 73 cal robe and tea-gown. She stood, tall, slender, and square, with a dignity of carriage almost stately. Her age it was impossible to tell; when she smiled she appeared little more than a girl; as she stood now, her pale face impassive, her firm mouth closed, three lines of concentration and study showing between her dark, straight brows, she looked thirty at least. Her chief beauty was her hair, which, cut short like a boy's, waved in half curls of purest gold—every separate hair a separate glory—about her broad forehead and small, transparent, shell-like ears. Her eyes were also handsome, or would have been, but for the quizzical glance that shot from their blue-grey depths, and disturbed their grave serenity. Her throat was rounded and statuesque, its beauty set off by a deep point-lace collar. The neck, hair, and ears were so truly feminine that they seemed at variance with the square shoulders and the firm lines of the chin and lips, and the lordly air that fought with charm and grace. In one light she was seductive, and invited caresses; the next her manner signified, “I pray you have me excused.” It has been said that intellect is aristocratic. Miss Goodyear had the aristocracy of intellect. She had pretensions to learning, combined with some natural page 74 wit, and counted those of inequality who were dull and uneducated. She created much amusement among her set by her satires and caricatures of the women of fashion, the purse-proud and commonplace women who darned the stockings and had babies. Of man—Miss Goodyear thought of him with a capital A—she had absolutely nothing to say. She smiled when he was mentioned in the abstract—a slow, deep, lingering smile, and invited him collectively to her lectures and at homes; but admitted individually to her domestic hearth—never, unless he chanced to be a lion or a hero. Perhaps in her fight up from poverty and obscurity, she had found man in the abstract, collectively and individually, her hill difficulty, which having surmounted with considerable toil, she had never forgiven for her aching feet. There might have been a love episode—she never said. She made no complaint whatever; she had won her woman's guerdon, and she smiled her inscrutable smile.

The sound of cab wheels caused Miss Goodyear to lift her head expectantly. Presently the brass knocker shook the door; loud revibrations echoed through the house.

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Miss Goodyear turned on the electric light, dispelling the partial darkness of the room.

“Mr., Mrs., and Miss Jefferies,” announced the maid; and Father, Mother, and their only daughter Joan were ushered in.

The brilliant light dazzled Father's eyes; shading them with his hand, as though from the rays of the rising sun, he discerned a lady in the radiance, and bowed with the gravity of a magistrate; then, a sudden impulse of goodwill and admiration breaking through his impressions of polite deportment, held out his hand. Miss Goodyear let her slender, strong hand rest for a moment in the large brown palm, then advanced to greet Janet.

With simple and undisguised satisfaction, Father undertook the introductions:

“Miss G. Goodyear—my wife, Mrs. Thomas Jefferies, and Joan John Jefferies of Otira Farm, Canterbury.”

Miss Goodyear bowed. It was a moment before she raised her head; when she did so the sad, grey eyes were sparkling.

“I expected you by to-night's express,” she said quietly, drawing forward a chair for Janet, and at the same time taking in every detail of the Quakerish figure.

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Father refused a seat, and stood on the hearthrug, a tall, bronzed figure demanding attention, his grey tweed suit smelling of new-mown hay. The night was warm, but he wore a knitted comforter of white wool—Janet distrusted the air of cities—and the fringed ends hung almost to the carpet. His massive grey head was lifted proudly, as though conscious of his important part in the bestowal of such a pupil as Joan upon the learned lady. He did not feign a mild interest in the occasion so important to himself and Janet, and he was bound already by friendly bonds to the instructress who was to “rub the rust off” Joan. He smiled benignly, as a generous-hearted person who bestows a favour.

Miss Goodyear felt conscious that the position of recipient, though not the spirit, was being forced upon her. The shadow of authority passed again into her face, the expression of intellectual solitude into her eyes. The gratitude should be theirs, that she had renounced for life sexual and maternal joys, ease and peace, to train other people's children to their fullest responsibilities.

While Tom talked—he never found himself embarrassed in any circumstances, playing his simple part honestly, giving everyone credit for feeling his page 77 own identical interest in it—the tragi-comic side of her situation struck Miss Goodyear anew. Here was another uncultivated mind brought to her for culture; later the parents would return for their child and boast of her ability. She would be forsaken and forgotten. The next moment she soared quickly and high away from the hurtful, embittering thought. Her cause was woman's cause; every fresh thinker among women helped forward their emancipation. While she was striving unconsciously to crush down emotion, and see only with her intellect, Mother, who sat watching the grave face attentively, decided, “No, she didn't much like her. She was neither a natural woman, nor domestic.” Then, her eyes falling upon a volume on the bookshelves, entitled “Bacon,” and another “Lamb,” endeavoured to readjust her first impression.

By a quick, unreasoning intuition, Janet realised that this woman was destined to be her rival in the admiration of her child, for she had caught Joan's look of interest, and seen Miss Goodyear's glance travel slowly from the brown curling head and daintily proportioned figure back to the piquant, sun-tinted face.

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“Ah!” she exclaimed enigmatically, and, with a quick movement, stretched out her hand.

Joan placed her small palm in it, and glanced up into the eyes looking down with a gaze as steady.

“Make a scholard of her, ma'am, make a scholard of her!”

Miss Goodyear was very tired. She wished they would go; but she kept her attitude of courteous attention.

Father glanced at Mother, who was struggling to keep her face calm for the parting, then shifted from one foot to the other, and, twirling his wideawake in his hands, said, with a deprecating glance, and voice of courage:

“With your permission, we will now commit the stranger into safe keeping.”

Miss Goodyear bowed. She gave the great rough man credit for a pretty compliment. Then an unprecedented thing occurred. He drew the little girl into his encircling arms and knelt, Janet beside him. Miss Goodyear, embarrassed, stood, one hand resting lightly upon the reading-desk. She wrestled for a moment with a feeling of vexation, when the meaning of the singular scene came to her. The page 79 trio were at their devotions. The littleness of indignation passed when Father spoke. Miss Good-year's embarrassment changed to attention when, tremulous and shaken with his own petition, the man's voice faltered:

“When we are farthest from home, we are most akin to Thee,” he concluded, “for Thou wert a wanderer, O Son of Man. Silence an' solitude echo Thy sorrow, for Thou didst dwell in the wilderness.”

“Eloquent!” thought Miss Goodyear.

And when she bowed Tom out there was a subtle change in her demeanour that those who knew her would have pronounced respect. She stood patiently by while the farewells were said.

Father, clearing his throat, for it had grown suddenly hoarse, said:

“Little maid, be a gentleman.”

“I sha'n't tuck you in to-night,” said Mother tremulously. “Come, Father.”

Father's voice was loud to the gate, and loud for some distance down the quiet street.

When it had died away, Miss Goodyear returned to the study.

Joan had sunk into an easy-chair, and was leaning page 80 back among the cushions. Her brows were puckered, and lips compressed, but no sound escaped them.

Miss Goodyear glanced at the small forlorn-looking figure, then crossed to Joan's chair. She noted the paling cheeks and the dark circles beneath the closed eyes, that were made by unshed tears.

“You don't cry,” she said a little wonderingly.

Joan's large eyes opened.

The two stared at one another.

“Do you?” asked the small girl, in a toneless voice.

Miss Goodyear was surprised once more tonight.

“I do—occasionally,” she admitted, as to an equal.

“So do I,” responded Joan, sitting bolt upright; “but not when I get something I want very much.”

The perplexed expression deepened upon Miss Goodyear's face.

“This,” explained Joan, waving towards the shelves.

“Ah, I understand!” rejoined the woman, with spontaneous interest, a faint flush mounting to her cheeks. She bent forward her body from the waist, page 81 and asked eagerly, and yet with slight hesitation, “You find the exchange of home and parents … for books … easy?”

“No,” thundered Joan, “I do not; it is not true; but one must give something always for the thing one wants.”

Miss Goodyear turned off the electric light and sat down near the reading-table, and, leaning her chin upon her hand, looked steadily at her new pupil.

“Who told you?” she asked.

“I know,” affirmed Joan; “to gather small fruit one must be pricked; to get at the large fruit one must climb.”

Miss Goodyear slowly nodded her head, still with her hand supporting her chin, looking intently at Joan meanwhile.

“You are right,” she said presently, “and if you want to achieve take no notice of outside distractions and hindrances. Many see the goal afar off; but it is the getting there that proves the individual. Thousands start—only one here and there reaches the goal. Of such the world cries ‘He is a genius’; but his genius consists not so much in the strong pull as in the long pull.” Her eyes were not looking at Joan now, but through her and afar off, page 82 seeing things that the child had not yet seen. “Almost everyone is capable of a sudden rousing—a big effort either for honour, or affection, or ambition's sake; but, after the first glamour and enthusiasm have passed, the long, silent pull in cold, common sense is a rarer thing.”

She meditated for a time in utter forgetfulness of the unaccustomed presence of the child, who sat and watched her, half-faint with the mingled sensations of hunger, home-sickness and a strange new sense of fascination.

“I find the quality of continuity rare,” she reiterated dreamily. “Those who will reach the ultimate leave much good company behind.”

Then, suddenly rousing, she became aware of a small, pale, pained face.

“Is anything the matter?” she asked quickly.

“I think I should like my supper and then to go to bed,” said Joan, with trembling lips.

Miss Goodyear rose hurriedly, and rang the bell.

“Yes, of course. I beg your pardon. I forgot. I am sometimes absent-minded and preoccupied, I fear. My pupils return to their homes after we have finished our day's work. Our association is purely mental. Bring supper,” she said to the maid; then page 83 turning to Joan, she asked doubtingly, “What did they give you at home for supper? Your mother seemed anxious about your physical well-being, and I have never had a girl—a child—living with me before. What do you usually eat?”

Miss Goodyear's eyebrows had contracted with anxiety.

“Oh, anything,” answered Joan wearily. “Chicken or duck, or ham, or things.”

Miss Goodyear's brow cleared.

“Yes, thanks, Ann,” she said to the girl, who stood respectfully awaiting her orders; “the chicken, and things.”

When the tray came, Miss Goodyear waited upon Joan almost humbly, and spoke only once during the meal.

“Ah! fresh bread was prohibited, I remember,” she said, putting away the new roll, and cutting from a stale loaf.

At the conclusion of the meal, Miss Goodyear asked abruptly:

“Is it your usual custom to engage in devotional exercise before retiring? I mean—do you pray?”

Joan nodded.

Miss Goodyear looked anxious.

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“I think,” she said, “I will limit my instruction—supervision—to intellectual and material interpretation; the spiritual is, I fear, somewhat out of my sphere.”

Joan looked in nowise distressed, and followed Miss Goodyear upstairs.