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Wheat in the Ear

Chapter VIII. — The Green Blade

page 85

Chapter VIII.
The Green Blade.

Miss Goodyear's absent - mindedness was not chronic, but an indulgence for weary hours.

At the head of her school she was “all there,” as Janet expressed it. Her leading characteristic was concentration; now was her motto—her creed labour. The satire she levelled against incompetence put indolence to rout. She roused passion for achievement; do, and do thoroughly, was the atmosphere she generated.

There was something of grandeur in her acceptance of labour; she thought it was the only justification of existence; failure was a sadder word to her than death. She had power, influence, admiration; all sorts of people found her useful—but she had no love. She had roused a passion in more than one man—the passion to subdue. No man had ever longed to serve her. All valued her approbation, page 86 and she reigned supreme in her school, on which she lavished the care that mothers give their children.

The chief hall of the college was lofty and light; at one end was a small stage, near which was Miss Goodyear's desk.

On the morning after Joan's arrival, Miss Goodyear stood at this desk, the sunlight glowing over her shining hair and sombre gown. She had just introduced Joan to the school, and was uncertain where to place her. Joan, interested and excited, but unembarrassed, awaited events. It was the morning for literature, and, in inward trepidation, Miss Goodyear placed a copy of Hood's poems in Joan's hands, open at “Eugene Aram.” Joan scanned the page swiftly, and, with a sudden flushing of her cheeks, began.

As she read, a deep silence fell upon the room. Surprise was soon swallowed up in interest. The stranger was forgotten in the subject.

Miss Goodyear, with her eyes fixed upon her, also passed beyond observance.

When Joan ceased, there was a moment's silence, then a storm, as of hail, made by the clapping of hands.

When the illusion had passed, Miss Goodyear page 87 became aware that a small figure in a sailor suit of serge was standing, with pale face and shining eyes. She stepped from her pedestal, and shook hands with the country-bred pupil.

After that day she tasked Joan severely; and the spoilt child, whose wishes had hitherto been consulted, felt abashed at her own ignorance, and ground away doggedly at the tasks which elbowed one another. She was debarred poetry, and kept to the hard, dry mechanism of fact. Pulled from the sensuous and æsthetic, her days were so many geometrical figures. Her performance must be exact, finished, clear. She was taught to reconcile drudgery with intellectual freedom.

When first Miss Goodyear disentangled Joan from her educational system, and realised her as an individual, her lonely rooms began to brighten. She remembered old games, and surprised herself with sudden bursts of laughter, and found that the hours of relaxation had a savour that did not come wholly of accomplished duty. At first she fought with this feeling, as a sentiment that would interfere with absolute concentration to her life-task. Miss Goodyear had rigorously held herself to impartiality and justice; no one of her pupils had hitherto been page 88 favoured or defrauded by even a wish; but once or twice of late the Principal of Girton College had detected herself hoping for honours for Joan not justly due. The discovery appalled her. She concluded that she was overworked, and losing nerve control; but when she found herself listening for the girl's quick, light footsteps with heart as well as ears, she knew that she had grown fond of her.

Before the college, the most rigorous discipline was kept up—no familiarity was permitted or taken; but in the house, the diligent and exemplary pupil whistled, and Miss Goodyear called her “Johnnie.”

Janet found her out.

“It isn't often that I express an opinion of my own,” she remarked to Father sarcastically, “but I really do think that, when a woman has mastered everything there is to master in the way of scholarship, an' thinks that babies are only a special provision of Providence for them to teach, it's a little ridiculous to fall in love with another woman's child.”

Miss Goodyear suspected that Janet had found out her secret and tried to conciliate her. But Janet held the whip. Possession was nine points of the page 89 law, and she reminded Miss Goodyear that Joan was hers, belonged by right to her inalienably.

“When the maid comes home,” she would say, her expression of righteous cause hardening her soft features, her truthful eyes wilfully ignoring the pain in the paling cheek of the other.

Once, after one of these scenes, Joan sat wistfully looking into the fire. Three years had passed since her first occupation of that chair; yet Miss Goodyear could never tell whether she cared to be with her or not. There had been an inconsistency in her dealings with the girl. She had taught the superiority of the intellect over the emotions, and—

“Well,” she cried, with an intonation of repressed passion, “why don't you say how glad you will be when Girton is a phase of the past?”

“Because it would not be true,” answered Joan calmly, putting her head on one side, bird fashion.

Miss Goodyear felt the indignity of her position; she had been tricked into petulance. She turned away to her books.

“I hope you will let me stay on with you,” said Joan gently.

“Let you!” exclaimed Miss Goodyear, with some bitterness, although she laughed lightly. “I wish I page 90 could believe that … the thought of study … filled your heart; that you would have no power … to leave it.”

Emotion after emotion passed through Miss Goodyear—memory of past triumphs, of temptations to half measures resisted; but the ache at the bottom of this perpetual search disquieted her—Joan's complacency disturbed her. Had this calm girl that impersonality of temperament which fitted her absolutely for the student's life? Was she exempt from that distracting element of sentiment that (she blushed guiltily) hindered her? Was she herself only fitted for the common destiny after all? Had she reached her limit of intellectuality? If so, could she not triumph in one mind?—snatch one complete success from many comparative failures?

On one point Miss Goodyear could move her to gratitude and delight—by permitting her to read. This she occasionally did — sometimes for the pleasure of listening, sometimes to win an expression of endearment.

One night, when Miss Goodyear and Joan were seated together in the study, the former showed signs of weariness. She had opened more than one book page 91 and returned it to the bookcase, when she said suddenly:

“Take me out of myself, Joan. Read.”

Joan, flushing with pleasure, reached for Tennyson, and at that moment Professor Stanton was announced—a man of much consideration, and occupier of a chair at the adjacent university. Joan, among other aspirants for matriculation, had lately passed into his hands; but, although she had been presented, it was not until that night that she became actually visible upon his horizon; he never saw her till she gave a passage from Tennyson, and then he perceived upon the hearth-rug a slender girl, whom, in the nervousness of the moment, he mistook for a boy—a bright-faced youth who put his own elocution to the blush. The poetry took such hold on him, and carried him so far away, that he lost sight of the reader again immediately; and when he came back to the fact of her existence, he discerned that she was a girl. The confusion of this discovery betrayed the fact that he had a pulse, for he flushed. Hitherto Joan had regarded him as a mind—she had not associated with him the primal force of blood.