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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » I Walked in Arden » Chapter Six I GO FOR A RIDE ON SATAN
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My precious riding clothes were delivered Saturday night, somewhat to my surprise. I tried them on at a private dress rehearsal before going to bed.

By eight in the morning I was under way to a certain livery and feed stable that had been recommended and found that no progress had yet been made with saddling my chosen horse—or even with the grooming of the angular-looking brute. A tip spurred the hostler's efforts, and finally Satan was as presentable as a horse possessing his peculiar anatomy could be. The beast was an underfed Western broncho somewhat past the first bloom of youth. His eye was not confiding, showing too much white; the manipulation of his ears confirmed the moroseness indicated by his eyes. The poor animal's bony frame was seared all over with hieroglyphic brands proclaiming service under the dynasties of many ranches; he was as interesting to study as the panels on an Egyptian tomb. I suspected that much of the important history of the Far West was engraved upon him. The question of riding, him, however, was a matter of Hobson's choice, for the other animals were fat ladies' cobs mainly used in harness.

When Satan and I appeared before Helen's house there were half a dozen other horses, both good and bad, tethered in front or watched over by grooms. It was to be quite a large party, I noted, with considerable disappointment. Helen came out immediately, looking radiant in a linen riding habit, black sailor hat, and shiny boots. Why is it that a smart riding habit is the most becoming costume a woman can wear? She invited me in to await the others. Her father met us in the entrance hall. He was a typical clear-cut business man, with a rigid moustache, a keen eye, and a hearty hand-clasp. He looked a little searchingly at me, but was friendly. Mother, on the other hand, was certain it was going to rain; the whole party was a foolish idea; we ought to go to church; horses were never safe, and so on. Helen kept up an automatic "Yes, mother. Now don't worry about us, mother," with what I thought was angelic patience.

The others were not long in getting ready. Among them was Miss Hemphill; the rest were strangers to me. There were two more girls, besides Helen and Miss Hemphill, and three other men, one of whom was a dapper German who spoke but little English. Helen told me he was a cavalry officer visiting German-American relatives in Deep Harbor. I was detailed to talk to him because I had fragments of his language and could at least understand him. He clicked his heels and bowed with the customary Prussian stiffness that carried me back at a bound to a week once spent in Berlin. I was curious to know what he was doing in Deep Harbor. There was, however, no opportunity at that time for me to pump him, for Helen ordered us to horse.

We made quite a cavalcade down Myrtle Boulevard, going two by two, with Helen and me in the lead. Behind us rode the German, lavishing most studied attention upon Miss Delia Greyson, who, Helen said, was one of Deep Harbor's heiresses. I felt quite shabby on poor old Satan alongside Helen's neat lady's mare, followed as we were by two superb horses belonging to the Greysons' stables. The German, who was called Lieutenant Ludwig von Oberhausen, took pains to make his horse show off, a thing which caused my Western democratic beast to make vicious threats at such carryings on. I was obliged to ask the Herr Lieutenant to have a care that Satan did not plant his heels where they would be undesirable. The Lieutenant raised his eyebrows and said "Ach so?"—not very pleasantly.

"What have I done to be punished with a German?" I asked Helen, after the Lieutenant had curvetted into Satan and me for about the tenth time. Helen laughed. "Why, we think him very nice. He's quite an important man in his own country."

"Oh, I'm sure of that," I retorted. "They all are, in their own estimation."

"Now, you've got to behave, Ted, and forget your nasty English prejudices. Ludwig is a wonderful horseman and dances adorably."

"Wouldn't you know it?" I thought to myself. "Of course the brute has his parlour tricks down perfectly"—but I was too canny to say this aloud.

"We'll ride on ahead of them, if he annoys," she conceded.

"By the way, Helen," I remarked as we reached the dusty and cinder-strewn outskirts to the eastward of Deep Harbor, "where are we going?"

"Haven't I told you, Ted? Oh, I always forget you don't know us. We are going where we often go—to a wonderful little inn to eat a chicken-and-waffle dinner."

"How far is it?" I enquired, for I was already aware that it had been several months since I had ridden a horse.

"Not over fifteen miles," she replied, quite unconscious of the shock her words were to me. A thirty-mile ride the first day! "We'll have a late supper at my house when we get back," she continued. "There's a lovely ravine north from the inn; we can ride up there to a little fairy waterfall. It's only two or three miles out of our way."

"It sounds delightful," I stated quite truthfully. "Satan," I whispered, "you poor old beast, if you are game, I am. It may kill us both, but we'll see it through." Satan shook his head, insulted at the liberty I took of addressing him confidentially.

We were now in the open country, which fairly sparkled in the clear October air. The vineyards on either side of the road were hung with purple clusters, the maples were giving the first hints of their autumn colouring; the sumach was already flaming. Beyond, the lake lay, a colder blue than I had seen it; one felt like shouting with the very joy of living. All this, by some strange twist, reminded me of Mrs. Claybourne's hostility to me. I questioned Helen about it.

"Oh, mother made an awful fuss when she heard I'd asked you to come. Dad spoke up for you; at least, he told mother I was old enough to take care of myself. The trouble was that Ludwig had asked me to go with him—"

"That German?" I interrupted savagely.

"Hush, Ted. Remember your manners. I refused his invitation to ask you. Now are you satisfied?" Giving her horse a touch with her riding crop, she cantered off down the road ahead of me.

"Come Satan," I spoke to my animal, "shades of cattle round-ups and the Wyoming Trail—show what you are good for," and we set off madly in pursuit. It was her pleasure to let us catch her, for Satan, willing enough, was beyond the time of life when he could overhaul a thoroughbred. He was breathing hard, but with dignity, when I pulled upon his iron mouth as we came abreast. I found Helen laughing until tears were in her eyes.

"What now, little woman?" I asked with the anxiety a man has when a woman laughs by herself.

"I was thinking that if Satan were half a hand taller he would exactly match Mr. Winkle's horse. You looked too funny lumbering down the hill after us."

"Apart from the fact that it was bad form of you to canter down a hill and thus imperil Satan's rheumatic joints, I hope you don't intend the comparison to extend to the rider," I rebuked her.

"No," pursing her lips, "you handle a horse well—a little finicky, perhaps, as if you were riding in a park. All told, you compare quite favourably with Mr. Winkle"—this with a most merry twinkle.

"I was once in love with Arabella Allen," I remarked solemnly.

"Isn't that just like a man? She is better than some of the impossible good-goody ones, though. Now, I'll bet, Ted, you thought David Copperfield's Agnes adorable?"

"She was my first love."

"Oh, men make me so angry!" she exclaimed fervently. "They put a silly doll on a pedestal and think that the pattern of what a woman should be."

"How old are you, Helen?"

"Eighteen, Ted."

"Therefore you are old enough to know what a man's woman should be."

"Ted, I hate sarcasm, especially from a boy, on the subject of women."

"I'm twenty-three; that's a lot older than you are."

"No, it isn't. A girl is always older than a boy, no matter what their ages."

That sounded illogical and complicated enough to be true. I didn't want, however, to surrender Agnes too easily.

"What ought a woman to be?" I followed up.

"A person of commonsense; not a silly, affected creature made in man's image—like Agnes."

"My truly first love was a fairy princess."

"A blonde, of course. Man again," and Helen replaced, I think unconsciously, a stray lock of most delicious brown hair.

"I was only nine years old."

"I told you a man's age never made any difference."

To this I had no satisfactory reply.

"I'm sorry, Ted. I didn't mean to be rude, or imply anything when I said that."

"I wasn't silent because you said that," I murmured. "I was just thinking how different Deep Harbor seems to me now."

"Were you very bored when you first came?"

"Perhaps," I said, "or lonely—I don't know which. Yes, I did find this a lonely place."

"It needn't have been. You could have met plenty of nice people, if you had taken a little trouble."

"It sounds frightfully foolish—in fact, I know it doesn't sound remotely plausible—I didn't know there were any nice people here."

Helen's eyes were upon me in open astonishment, then she broke into one of her merry laughs.

"You thought you were marooned among barbarians, I suppose. How masculine and English, both together! The combination would be disastrous anywhere."

"I don't know," I protested. "I didn't get started, that's all. I had a lot to do out at the factory."

"Ted, don't lose your temper when you're teased. It's not good sporting spirit."

"I think I'm honest when I say I didn't think about meeting people at all. I wanted to get my work done as soon as possible and get away."

"I see. You were just camping in the wilderness," she laughed.

"Please don't."

"I know, Teddy boy, it's mean to tease you, but you do tease so easily. You don't suppose I would have asked you to go riding with me today, if I had not believed you were—well—nice, do you?"

And again she cantered away.

I let Satan take his time catching up. Helen's last words made me so happy I wanted to think it over. We were by now a long way ahead of the others; they were not even in sight. Moreover, it began to be a question with Satan and me how much longer we could hold the pace. Helen's instinct gave both Satan and me a respite. We found her resting by an oak overhanging the road.

"We must wait for the crowd to catch up with us," she waved to me. I rolled painfully off Satan's back, unloosed the girths, and allowed him to crop the roadside grass.

"Tie him to the fence," Helen suggested. Satan was promptly made fast to one of those picturesque barriers called locally a "snake-rail fence," a conglomeration of heavy split timbers piled one upon the other in alternate layers, each section forming nearly a right angle with the adjacent one. Tawny golden-rod and purple asters stuck their tops through the fence rails, and many kinds of creeping vines, some already scarlet and yellow, helped bind the angles together. We stretched out on a little grassy bank facing the far distant lake, which lay about a mile away and a hundred feet or so below us. The flat vineyard-covered country sloped downward, away from us, to the lake shore.

"A pleasant open country;" I thought, as I relaxed my aching muscles.

"Wait until you see us after the first real frosts—when all the maples have turned," said Helen. It seemed natural and matter-of-course for her to read my thoughts.

"What a country to write a border ballad in," I exclaimed. "It's a pity nothing ever happened here."

Helen's militant patriotism was up in arms at once. "If that isn't like your conceited British ignorance! Over there, not far from that clump of trees by the lake, is a little blockhouse that has a story of pioneer heroism equal to—well, to the bravery at the siege of Lucknow, and not many miles from here the battle of Lake Erie was fought. Perhaps your English history books don't mention that fight," she flung at me mischievously.

"That is naturally wasted on me, because I'm not English," I answered.

"Well, you've lived there all your life and learned some of their ways. You are American only in streaks—and I've heard you call England 'home.'"

"That's true," I replied. "It seems curious to me sometimes—almost a man without a country. But when I said nothing had happened in this big place we are sitting in—it feels like sitting in the centre of a circle thousands of miles in diameter—I was thinking of one of our little English counties, Hertfordshire, for example, where, in any village you choose, you'll find half the world has happened. There's St. Albans—with the old Norman abbey church of Roman bricks sitting high on the hill above the land on which Boadicea and her warriors held the legions at bay."

"Now I know you are a good American," she laughed.


"Because no Englishman is ever sentimental about England; it takes an American to be that."

She had undoubtedly scored a palpable hit. I dropped lecturing on English history.

"The others should be in sight by now," Helen said after a silence. I stood up and looked along the road. There was no trace of them to be seen.

"Perhaps it's because we turned off on to the Ridge Road; they've probably taken the shorter main road by the railroad tracks. I think we'd better ride on, Ted."

Satan, although partly refreshed, allowed me to mount with an ill grace; he gave a longing look backward whence we had come, and set forth after Helen's Titania, his head bowed in gloom. Sprinkled along the ridge, whose crest the road followed, were prosperous-looking farms. The villages and small towns clung closely to the railway which ran along the flat shelf between the ridge and the lake. The remarkable straightness and uniformity of the ridge indicated that it had itself at one time been the lakeshore in the days when even this great lake had been larger. After the close confinement to Deep Harbor it was glorious to ride in the open country with a road stretching indefinitely before one. I so far forgot my aches and pains as to burst into a popular music-hall song, to which Satan listened attentively through one ear turned backwards towards me. As I finished, Helen said: "I'm sorry I'm not musical, Ted, but I'm quite sure you have one of the worst voices I've ever heard." I was not mortified; my efforts at song always met with a like reception. Only extreme good spirits provoked me to melodious utterance. In general, I was careful to remember this particular limitation. I apologetically explained the reason for my peculiar behaviour. "It was partly the fact that we are rid of the others for a time," I continued. "All things seem to make for good."

"You won't think so when you hear what Miss Hershey says about it."

"Miss Hershey?"

"Yes, the stout old maid on the white horse. She is a sort of professional chaperone for our crowd. The boys always draw lots before we go anywhere to see which one of them will be her escort. It is the loser who has that pleasure. Mother whispered many private instructions to her this morning."

"I shall make love to Miss Hershey at the first opportunity."

"It can't be done," laughed Helen. "It has been tried."

"You called her a professional chaperon—just what do you mean?"

"Just that. She is a social secretary, and all our mothers hire her to get up dances and to look after parties like ours today. She is dreadfully strict, naturally, since her bread and butter depends upon it."

"What an extraordinary business," I exclaimed. Here, indeed, was an inversion, so to speak of woman's oldest profession—a thought which could not be told to a débutante. "I've heard of Spanish duennas," I went on, "but I never knew you could go out into the market place and hire one at so much an hour."

"She's of a very fine old Southern family—"

"All Southern families are fine—and old," I interjected.

"Stop being irreverent to Miss Hershey, Ted. Her family being in reduced circumstances—"

"According to the regular formula—"

"Shut up, Ted. She came North and offered herself as a social secretary."

"You have made me all curiosity for luncheon."

"I'll give you one word of advice, Ted. You'd better be awfully nice to Miss Hershey or you won't go far in Deep Harbor. She and Mrs. Hemphill hold the power of life and death over all bachelors."

"What sort of things does one do to be nice to her?"

"Oh, talk to her about her family and tell her about your grandfather."

I laughed: "But my grandfather was in the Northern Army; ten to one he stole Miss Hershey's grandfather's spoons while marching through Georgia, or something like that."

"It doesn't matter. He was a colonel. And you're not very respectful to history. We don't laugh at the Civil War."

I acknowledged the rebuke. We rode for a mile or two in silence—a privilege which our friendship had already attained.

"There's the inn," Helen said, pointing down toward the plain on our left. About half a mile away I saw a group of white buildings gathered about the main road. A cross road took us to the front door. In the stable yard we saw the horses of the others already there—among them, Miss Hershey's white animal looming up with horrible distinctness. He looked positively symbolic. When we dismounted we found Miss Hershey awaiting us. The horse had not belied her; like it, she was broad and imposing across the withers. Her black-plumed riding hat suggested one of General Morgan's raiders.

"Helen, where have you been?" she began severely. Her Southern intonation added a doom-like sound to the interrogatory.

"We took the Ridge Road—it was pleasanter," Helen replied with an innocent calm which I envied her.

"At least, I should think that you, Edward, were old enough to have a sense of responsibility."

This sudden shift of the attack threw me into great confusion. Helen pinched my arm, I didn't know why. Evidently some defence was expected.

"I—I didn't know we had—er—lost you," I murmured, unconvincingly and ungallantly, as I suddenly realized, for it threw the onus upon Helen.

"Edward, you will ride with me going back." And Miss Hershey did something I had always wanted to see: she swept into the inn, I had often read of people sweeping away from a situation and wondered how they did it. I was no longer in any doubt. It really was an effective exit. Helen laughed, most inappropriately, I thought.

"Ted, it's all right. You'll ride with me—if I want you to. And she called you 'Edward' twice. That's an awfully good sign—she's very particular about using Christian names—didn't you feel me pinch your arm when she said 'Edward'?"

The chicken dinner proved to be a wonderful affair. We were each served a whole grilled fowl together with corn on the cob and fried potatoes, followed by waffles and syrup, all on a lavish scale. The part of me which wasn't stiff and sore from riding was intensely hungry; I ate, careless of Satan's feelings. The only blot upon the meal was the fact that Herr Lieutenant von Oberhausen most excitedly explained America to all of us, calling upon me to translate when his scraps of English failed him. He talked himself into several word jams from which it was difficult for my knowledge of German to extricate him. He proved thoroughly to his own satisfaction the standardized Teutonic thesis that America is basely commercial, material, and totally lacking in ideals. When he got partly through and paused for a breathing space—speaking German oratorically is one of the most violent forms of physical exercise on earth, particularly destructive of throat tissues—I mildly remarked, in opposition, that I thought Berlin rather careful, to use the Scot's phrase, how a mark was spent, and skilfully inventive in discovering devices to earn those coins, considering that all Germany was composed of unmaterial, abstract idealists. The Herr Lieutenant did not understand the comment and asked for its repetition. I stripped the statement of its Anglo-Saxon irony and repeated it in bald German, containing one mistaken gender and a faulty termination. The Herr Lieutenant politely announced: "Es ist nicht wahr," and there we let the matter rest.

After dinner he buttonholed me on the front porch. My heart sank, for I supposed I was in for another lecture. On the contrary, he was now in an amiable mood and wished to go in for reminiscences on the pleasures of eating in Berlin. He had not had anything one could really call food in America, except at a few German houses. As for the unspeakable American custom of not serving wine, guttural explosions were inadequate to express his feelings. How could one eat so in cold blood? It was on a par with materialism; indeed, a demonstration of it. It was "ungemütlich, unbequem" and a lot of other disturbing epithets. I let him ramble on, for I had learned long ago the futility of argument with his kind. Helen rescued me just as we had reached Kempinski's roast partridge on toast garnished with sauerkraut. It was just as well she did, for I was about to say that only idealists would add sauerkraut to a delicately flavoured game bird.

"We are going up our ravine, Ted," she whispered. The Herr Lieutenant was rather red in the face as we left him without any particular ceremony.

"What have you done with Miss Hershey?"

"Oh, that's all right. I had a talk with her while Ludwig was relieving his feelings to you. She can see no objection, if we all keep together going home."

Poor Satan had to have his saddle on once more. I did what I could for him, rubbing his back briskly first and inspecting his feet. There was no gratitude in his eye. We picked our way carefully up the bed of a small, densely wooded ravine, over red sandstone shale through which shallow water rippled; here and there the stream broadened out into mirror-smooth pools. Ferns and other sweet-smelling growing things lined the sides. Apparently we were in a primitive wilderness miles from any inhabitants. Splendid oaks and chestnuts shut out the direct rays of the sun, and we rode in a cool, green twilight such as one might find in the forest of Arden itself. The glory of this country is in its woodlands, I thought. Such a ravine as this would make a fortune for any railway in North Wales. Here it was one of thousands, nay millions, unsought save by an occasional wanderer—simply a part of the landscape. At last the ravine stopped abruptly against a sandstone barrier over which the little stream fell lazily and mistily. We dismounted, and the horses shoved their noses eagerly through the cool water, as we lay on the mossy bank and stared at a patch of blue sky through the overhanging branches. The place had been made to order for sentimental young people.

"If this place were in Herr Ludwig's Harz Mountains or Black Forest," I said, "there would be a little restaurant behind us, surrounded by white pebbles, and a sign pointing at this ravine labelled 'Wald Idyll.'"

Helen laughed: "It must be rather convenient to have your emotions labelled for you."

"It is," I said, "when you are full of food and thinking is painful. You have only to read the signs, such as 'Sch?ne Aussicht' or 'Rauchen verboten,' and choose pleasure or anger at will."

"Ludwig must have been very annoying."

"He was; it's lucky you didn't understand all he said. He says we are base materialists," and I slapped a mosquito.

"It does irritate, the way Ludwig puts it, of course; the mere sound of his language makes one want to fight. But I wonder if some of it isn't true? How big a part do spiritual things play in your life, Ted?"

I sat up straight at the abruptness of the challenge. It was not an easy one to meet with Helen's now solemn grey eyes upon me. They were so large and clearly truthful. I was curious concerning my own answer.

"Spirituality is not what one does, such as going to church; it is the way one feels inside about things," I defended, I fear lamely. It wasn't what I had intended the major premise to be.

"Well," Helen went on, "how do you feel inside, and how much do these feelings shape your life?"

I was fairly cornered. I had postponed self-analysis on this particular subject; I wasn't certain what, if anything, I did believe. I lacked a good deal of Prospero's fluent "philosophy."

"Perhaps I could answer better if I knew a little about your opinions," I dodged.

"That isn't fair, because I asked first; however, I'm not afraid to tell you." She pulled a fern leaf and slowly tore the fronds apart as she reflected a moment. I laughed.

"What are you laughing at, Ted?"

"Seeing you tear that fern apart made me think of Caliban upon Setebos—the twenty-first crab you choose for destruction, while you're trying to invent what you believe."

She flung the fern leaf from her horrified.

"Ted! That's true! How could you say it?"

"Because, Helen dear, I think we'll have to find things out for ourselves as we go through life; I for one can't take them ready made."

She leaned forward, her chin in her hands, her elbows resting on her drawn-up knees.

"Yes—I was hashing over in my mind to give you as something original only the things I'd already heard—"

"That is my objection to philosophy—it is a hash of words," I said.

"Still, one does have to have an experimental creed to go on with—one to change and add to, but to keep one steadfast meanwhile."

"Yes," I said. "Mine is foolishly practical: be decent, play fair, and take the life of no living creature."

"You are inconsistent right at the start," she complained. "If you lived up to your creed you'd be a vegetarian."

"I admit the weakness in the armour, but I mean shooting and killing beasts and birds for the fun of it. Mosquitoes are excepted.

"You keep your creed pretty firmly on earth."

"That's where I live at present, Grey Eyes."

"Ted, dear, I don't think you have improved upon the Sermon on the Mount, not even for practical purposes."

"I think, Helen, you've rather shown me up," I acknowledged. Her hand quickly sought my arm.

"No, Ted dear. I wasn't trying to outargue you; I wanted to know what you really thought about things."

"I improvised my creed on the spur of the moment. Probably there is more to it."

She got to her feet with her precious radiant laugh: "We must go back to the Inn, Ted. Miss Hershey will be fuming because the party can't start for home without us."

It was strange how naturally and unconsciously we had grown in intimacy and friendship during the day, leaping over what I had always imagined would take months of time. Yet I am quite certain, as I look backward now over the entries in my diary, that no serious thoughts of love had yet entered our heads. We were building away at a friendship, uncertain as to how elaborate the superstructure was to be, or, to be more precise, not questioning the future at all. To change the figure, we were quite content to explore one another's souls and to marvel at the mystic things we found there. Neither of us had quite reached complete frankness, but we were very near. I fell asleep that night with the realization that Deep Harbor had suddenly become an intimate place in which I lived.


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