He was beside her in a moment. An inarticulate sound of triumph had come from him—the legacy of some carniverous ancestor coeval with Adam. He was kissing her hands, and her face, and, when she bowed her head, he kissed the shining beauty of her hair.

It had the taste of sunlight.

She did not take any great pains to prevent him. She did not at that moment see that there was a particular need to do so. It seemed to her so good to be kissed by him.

He had an impression that she kissed him back—once.

Then they looked into each other’s faces and laughed quite pleasantly.

“How funny, isn’t it?” she said, “you have not seen me more than a dozen times.”

He was unable to see what was funny in the matter—that was why he laughed very seriously, and whispered, “My beloved!” in her ear.

“My beloved,” he said again holding her hand close to him. “My beloved, never say that I have not been seeing you all my life. From the time I first knew what love meant I loved you—an ideal—I loved the Ideal that was you. I wondered if I should ever meet you. I hoped that I should or it would not have been worth my while to live. But I met you—you came to me.”

“Yes, I have come to you,” she said. “But...”

“Ah, why should you introduce that note of discord?” he cried. “You said something just now—something—I wonder if I heard it aright... Never mind. This hour is mine, is it not?”

“I don’t know,” she said doubtfully. “You have made it yours, have you not? Oh, yes it must be your hour—and mine—I suppose it must be mine too—because I never felt so happy before; and I do not even let the thought of—of—the other man come between us.”

There was a dreadful recklessness in her voice. She could not help it: she felt reckless at that moment. She felt that she was retaliating justly upon the man who had tricked her. She would have liked if he had suddenly appeared on the other side of the stile and looked on. She would have kissed her lover before his face. What could he have done to her? Did he really fancy that Pierce Winwood would allow him to interfere? If he did he was a fool.

He did not know that it is part of a woman’s nature to be reckless—once in her life; and he became a little afraid of the way in which she was speaking to him. He did not know how she had been driven ahead by the thought that another man had tried to trick her into being true to him.

She was having her retaliation.

He did not object in the least to be a participator in it, though he knew nothing about it. He held her hands in his own and looked into her face.

“You were right,” he whispered; “it is the best day of my life. And I thought that I came here by chance. You love me, don’t you? I wonder if you really do love me. Shall I awaken and find that this marvel of sunshine and summer has fled forever? Were you really thinking of me as I came up? It seems ridiculous to hope so much.”

“I think I must have been thinking of you,” she said, “if I had not been thinking of you should I have felt so... Oh, I recollect now—I was not thinking of you—I was only thinking of the loveliness of the world—that was why I felt angry that he had bound me to him—if I never really hated him before I hated him then. You will not let me go back to him, will you? You must promise to save me from him.”

She had caught him by the arm. All her recklessness had vanished. She was appealing to him as a child appeals to one for protection against a bogey man.

He had his arms about her.

“No one shall take you from me,” he said. “Who is it that you fear, my dearest?”

She stared at him for some moments, and then burst into a laugh.

“I forgot—I forgot,” she cried. “You never heard it. How was it possible for you to hear it?”

Then she put down a hand to his that clasped her waist, and held it away from her. Her eyes were looking out over the whispering breadth of the wheat-field. The wood pigeons were still rising at intervals and curving downward with a glint of sunlight on their feathers.

She rose from where she was sitting against the bank, and picked up her sunshade.

“I am afraid that it is all wrong,” she said, shaking her head. “I have been too sudden—I had no right to listen to you—to tell you—but you came upon me before I was aware of it, and—oh, I told you just how I felt. As I kept telling you, I felt that I was telling myself the truth for the first time. But—well, I was free—that is to say, I should have been free if he had not said that he trusted in me. That was his trick... Oh, why did you come here to-day? Why—why—why? Could you not have waited until I had carried out my resolution to go to him and tell him that I would not be bound by any trick of his? You had no right to come as you did. I feel that I have been wrong—horribly wrong. I should have gone to him first.”

“Yes; but I came—I came, and you cannot take back a word that you spoke—that’s one good thing anyway,” said he in the voice of a man that no woman’s treble can oppose, unless it becomes shrill, and there is a craning of the neck as it is uttered.

“You will say that women have no sense of honour—I have heard men say that,” she continued, and there was indignation in her voice. “No sense of honour! Perhaps we have not; but I meant—yes, it was my sense of honour that made me make up my mind to go to him and give him to understand that I meant to be free—free, not merely in name, but really free—free so that he should have no right to say that he trusted me. He said that he trusted me—those were his words; they sounded generous at the moment, but then I perceived that—that——” Her utterance became more deliberate; then it seemed to occur to her that there was something wanting on the part of her auditor: there was a puzzled expression on his face that puzzled her at first interfering with her fluency; then all at once she seemed to recollect that the extent of her knowledge of the subject on which she was speaking was a good deal more than his could possibly be. How could he be expected to know what had been kept a secret from her father and mother—from all the world?

“You know nothing,” she said after a long pause. “I shall have to tell you everything. Perhaps you will feel that I have acted badly—disgracefully—without a sense of honour. I dare say I have—yes, I feel that I have behaved badly; but it was your fault. You came too soon. I tell you that indeed I had thought it all out, and made up my mind that I should be free from all blame.”

“Tell me all that is on your mind, my dearest,” said he. “You have already told me all that is on your heart.”

“It doesn’t matter what he may think—now, does it?” she cried.

“Nothing matters so long as we love each other,” he responded glibly and gladly.

“And it really isn’t much after all that I have to tell,” she said. “How I ever came to agree to his proposal, I cannot explain.”

“Whose proposal?”

“Whose?—Whose? Oh, you do not know even so much. Listen. Nearly a year ago I fancied that I was in love with Ernest Clifton. At any rate he told me that he was in love with me and I admired him so much for the way he had worked himself up from the humblest of positions—I suppose that’s the best explanation of the matter—I agreed to marry him, and he also persuaded me to keep my engagement secret from all the world: he knew that my father would not sanction it until at least he had a seat in Parliament. Well, it was kept a secret; but I gradually so came to see that I was acting wrongly—the whole business so weighed upon me that I was conscious of my whole character—my whole nature changing, and I insisted on his releasing me from my engagement.”

“And he did so? It would not matter to me whether he did so or not; but I suppose he was wise enough to do so.”

“After some time, and a letter or two, he said that he released me; and then—this was what made me angry—he said, ‘Between you and me there is no need for the formality of an engagement. I have implicit faith in you and I know that you have implicit faith in me. We can trust each other.’ Now don’t you see how despicably clever he was? Don’t you see that while he released me with one hand he was holding me to him with the other? Don’t you see that in listening to you here to-day—in admitting to you that it is you and none other whom I love, I have acted dishonestly—shamefully, if you insist on it.”

“I don’t insist on it. I am glad that I came here when I did, taking you by surprise. I see clearly that if I had not taken you by surprise I might never have had a chance of hearing the truth from you—the truth which has made a new man of me.”

“I don’t agree with you. I feel that when he trusted me—cannot you see that he made it a question of honour with me? Haven’t you heard of a soldier’s parole? I have broken my parole. That’s what I feel.”

“My dearest girl, do you fancy that parole can be a one-sided agreement? Is your sense of honour to be entrapped by sophistry? Talk of parole—a man to whom you consider yourself bound by a promise releases you from the consequence of this promise, and then tells you that though you promised not to run away, and though he releases you from that promise he trusts in your honour not to run away. What sophistry is this? It might do well enough for a political juggler, but it is not for such people as you or I. You didn’t say to him, did you?—‘I agree to be bound to you by the faith which we have in each other.’”

“He took care to give me no chance of replying to him one way or another.”

“Then cannot you perceive that he had no claim on you?”

She was silent. The fact was that she did not perceive it. But undoubtedly the way he proved the point was agreeable to her. Of course it is quite possible for a man to prove a point to a woman’s satisfaction and yet to leave her unsatisfied as to whether or not his contention is correct. Pierce Winwood had proved to this young woman that she had been well within her rights in accepting him as her lover, and yet she had an uneasy feeling that she had done the other man a wrong. An old rhyme went jingling through her brain, with all the irritating force of a milk cart hurrying for a train—something about the advisability of being off with the old love before being on with the new.

But that was just what she had done: she had been strictly conscientious. She had written to Ernest Clifton asking to be released from the promise which she had made to him and he had freed her—what the young man beside her said was perfectly true: she had not been a party to the parole—it had been forced upon her. She had not consented to it. Nothing in the world could be clearer than this.

And yet the result of thinking over it all was to leave her with a feeling of uneasiness in respect of her own action and of still greater uneasiness in respect of his sense of honour.

“Don’t think anything more about the business,” said he.

“I will not,” she said. “I will not; after all, did not he try to trick me, and why should not I, if I saw that—that—— But you—well, I have made a confession to you at any rate, and that’s something, isn’t it? You are not angry?”


He was taking such action in regard to her as should he thought convince her that he was not permanently embittered against her; but she gave him to understand that his word of mouth was quite adequate to allay her doubts.

“Ah, no—no,” she said; and his lips had to be content with the back of her hand. “I was taken by surprise just now. I did wrong, considering the position in which I stood—in which I still stand.”

“Good heavens,” he cried, “haven’t I proved—didn’t you agree with me——”

“Yes, yes; there can be no doubt about it,” she assented with the utmost cordiality. “Yes; still—but I see clearly what I can do. I can tell him that without my father’s consent it would be impossible for me to—to—to be otherwise than free. I will tell him that I consider myself to be free—that I considered myself to be so from the moment he agreed to my taking back my promise.”

He could not see that anything would be gained by this traffic with the other man; but he thought that she might fancy that he was giving himself the airs of a lover too early in his career. Only half an hour had elapsed since he had undertaken to play the part, and though ambitious to make a mark in the role, he thought it would be more prudent to perfect himself in it by slow degrees.

Still he could not refrain from saying:

“I wouldn’t bother myself much, if I were you, in this business. These chaps are so clever you never know quite where you are with them. I see plainly that was how you came to engage yourself to him. He told you of his hopes—you wished out of the goodness and generosity of your heart to help him on, and so—well, there you were, don’t you see?”

“That was exactly how it was,” she cried. “You are just to me. I know now that I never loved him—ah, now I know what love is!”

“My beloved!”

“I admired him for his courage—I admired him for having got on without any one to help him—I do so still: indeed there is a good deal that is worthy of admiration about him—and respect—oh, heaven knows that I respect him.”

The lover laughed. He knew that he had nothing to fear from the other man when she began to talk of respecting him. In fact the more she spoke in praise of the fellow the more confident he felt in her love for himself. Girls do not talk in praise of the men they love. They simply love them.

She went on.

“Yes, I thought—I hoped that it might be possible for me to have helped him. Perhaps I felt flattered—every one about me was saying how clever he was—that he was one of the coming men—that was the phrase—I think I hate the sound of it now. But I dare say that I felt flattered... he might have chosen some other girl, you see: such men usually choose girls who are heiresses—and yet he chose me—I suppose I felt all that.”

“He’ll have a chance of choosing one of the heiresses now,” said the Real Lover grimly; “and he’ll do it, you may be certain.”

She did not respond to the laugh he gave. She felt that it would have been in bad taste. When the second husband looks at the portrait of his predecessor and says something jocular about the size of his ears, the widow of the original of the picture does not usually acquiesce with a smile, even though her late husband’s ears were as long as Bottom’s. She thinks that, ears or no ears, he was once her gentle joy.

There was a note of reproof in Josephine’s voice as she said:

“You must do him the justice to acknowledge that he was not mercenary when he asked me to give him my promise. We must do Mr. Clifton justice.”

The Real Lover was better pleased than ever. He had almost reached the chuckling point of the condition of being pleased. When a girl talks about her desire to be strictly just towards a man she (Mr. Win-wood felt assured) has no remnant of affection for that man. The moment a girl becomes just towards a man she ceases to have any affection for him. There is some chance for a man (Winwood knew) so long as a girl is capable of treating him unjustly. The assumption of the judicial attitude on the part of a girl means that the little god Cupid has had the bandage snatched from his eyes, and Cupid with his eyes open might, if provided with a jacket covered with buttons, pass for the boy at any dentist’s door.

The Real Lover being, by virtue of his Loverhood, strictly dishonourable, encouraged her to be just to the other.

“Yes,” he said gravely, “I should be sorry to think that he is otherwise than a good kind of chap—for a professor of politics. But there are heiresses and heiresses. Money is a very minor inheritance. I am quite ready to believe as you did, that he had a real—that is to say, a—an honest—he may have fancied it was honest—feeling that you—yes, that you could advance his interests. Oh, I don’t say that these clever chaps are indifferent to beauty and grace and the soul of a woman as the means of advancing their own ends. I dare say that he had a notion that you—but he’ll certainly have a look in where there are heiresses now.”

“You are grossly unjust—you are grossly ungenerous—and I am deeply hurt,” said she.

“That makes me love you all the more,” he cried. “For every word you say in his favour I will love you an extra thousand years.”

He knew that if he could only stimulate her to talk still more generously about Mr. Clifton he would soon get her to feel that she had not been guilty of the breach of honour with which she was still inclined to reproach herself. It was so like a woman, he thought, to place so much importance upon a little flaw in the etiquette of being off with the old love and on with the new. He loved her the more for her femininity and he thought that he might lead her on to feel that she had actually been generous in respect of the other.

“I will not have a word said against Mr. Clifton,” she said firmly.

And she did not hear a word said against him, though she had so earnestly encouraged him to say such a word; but the fact was that the dinner-hour of the prosaic harvesters had come to an end, and the reaping machine, with the patent binding attachment, began to work under their eyes, and a girl cannot speak well even of the man whom she has just thrown over when so interesting a machine is at hand.

The two stood spell-bound watching that beautiful thing of blue picked out with red, as it went mightily on its way down the wall of standing grain, stretching out its pendulous arms with a rhythmic regularity that a poet might have envied,—lifting the material for a sheaf and laying it along with more than the tenderness of a mother for her child, laying it in its cot.

How much more picturesque—how much more stimulating to the imagination was not this marvellous creature—this graminivorous reanimated thing of the early world, than the squalid shrill-voiced, beer-ex-haling reapers of the fields in the days gone by? This was the boldly expressed opinion of both the watchers, though each of them had a good word to say for the cycle of the sickle.

“The sickle was the lyric of the wheatfield, the reaping machine is the epic,” said Josephine, with a laugh at her attempt to satisfy an exacting recollection of a picture of Ruth, the Moabitess, with her sickle in a field flooded with moonlight, as well as an inexorable sense of what is due to the modern inventor.

“My dearest,” said he, “I know now that you are happy. Are you happy, my dearest?”

“Ah, happy, happy, happy!” she whispered, when their faces were only an inch or two apart.

They watched the wood pigeons circling, and dip-. ping with the exceeding delicacy of cherubic wings until they dropped upon the surface of the freshly cleared space. They breathed the warm fragrance of the sun-saturated air, with now and again a whiff of the wild thyme that caused them to hear through the whir of the machinery the faint strain of a Shakesperian lyric floating above the oxlips and nodding violets of that bank beside them—and the sweet briar that was somewhere, loved of the wild bee. The sulphur butterflies went through their dances in the air, and more than one velvety butterfly in brown—a floating pansy—swung on the poppies of the path.

“You are happy,” he said again.

“Happy—happy, happy,” she repeated.

Happiness was in her face—in her parted lips—in her half closed eyes—in the smile of the maiden who loves she knows not why, and she cares not whom.

She was not quite so happy when she had returned to her home two hours later and her father met her saying:

“My dearest child, Ernest Clifton has been with me and he has persuaded me. Josephine, my child, I think of your happiness more than any earthly consideration. I have given my consent to your engagement. Kiss me, my Josephine.”

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