小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Moor Fires » CHAPTER XI
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
It had long been a custom of the Canipers to spend each warm Sunday evening in the heather, and there, if Daniel were not already with them, they would find him waiting, or they would watch for his gaunt, loose figure to come across the moor. This habit had begun when his father was alive, and the stern chapel-goer's anger must be dared before Daniel could appear with the light of a martyr on his brow. In those days, Zebedee, who was working under the old doctor, sometimes arrived with Daniel, and sank with an unexpressed relief into the lair which was a little hollow in the moor, where heather grew thickly on the sides, but permitted pale violets and golden tormentilla to creep about the grassy bottom. Zebedee was more than ten years older than his brother, and he suffered from a loneliness which made their honest welcome of great value to him. He liked to listen to the boys' precocious talk and watch the grace and beauty of the girls before he went back to the ugly house in the town of dreary streets, to the work he liked and wearied himself over, and the father he did not understand. Then he went away, and he never knew how bitterly Helen missed him, how she had recognized the tired look which said he had been working too hard, and the unhappy look which betrayed his quarrels with his father, and how, in her own fashion, she had tried to smooth those looks away, and now he had returned with a new expression on his face. It was that, she thought, of a man who, knowing misery like a great block in his path, had ridden over it and not looked back. She knew what Rupert meant by saying he was different, and again she felt a strong dislike for all his experiences which she had not shared.

On the evening after his visit, the Canipers and Daniel went to the trysting place. Helen wrapped herself in a shawl and lay down with her head on her arms and one eye for the clouds, but she did not listen to the talk, and she had no definite thoughts. The voices of Rupert and Daniel were like the buzzing of bees, a sound of warmth and summer, and the smell of their tobacco came and went on the wind. She was aware that John, having smoked for a time and disagreed with everything that was said, had walked off towards the road, and the succeeding peace was proof that Miriam too, had disappeared.

Helen rolled on her back and went floating with the clouds. While she merely watched them, she thought they kept a level course, but to go with them was like riding on a swollen sea, and as she rose and fell in slow and splendid curves, she discovered differences of colour and quality in a medium which seemed invariable from below. She swooped downwards like a bird on steady wings and saw the moor lifting itself towards her until she anticipated a shock; she was carried upwards through a blue that strained to keep its colour, yet wearied into a pallor which almost let out the stars. She saw the eye of a hawk as its victims knew it, and for a time she kept pace with a lark and saw the music in his throat before he uttered it. Joy escaped her in a little sound, and then she felt that the earth was solid under her.

Daniel and Rupert were still discussing the great things which did not matter, and idly she marvelled at their capacity for argument and quarrel; but she realized that for Rupert, at least, this was a sport equivalent to her game of sailing with the clouds, and when she turned to look at him, she saw him leaning against his heather bush, wearing the expression most annoying to an antagonist, and flicking broken heather stalks at Daniel's angular and monumental knees.

"You talk of the mind," Rupert said, "as though it were the stomach."

"I do," Daniel said heavily.

"And your stomach at that! Bulk and fat foods—"

"This is merely personal," Daniel said, "and a sign that you are being beaten, as usual. I was going to say that in a day of fuller knowledge we shall be able to predict the effect of emotions with the same certainty—"

"With which you now predict the effect of Eliza's diet. God forbid! Anyhow, I shall be dead. Come on."

Daniel stood up obediently, for they had now reached the point where they always rose and walked off side by side, in the silence of amusement and indignation.

There was a rustling in the heather, and she heard no more of them. Then the thud of approaching footsteps ran along the ground, and she sat up to see Miriam with Zebedee.

"I went fishing," Miriam said, "and this is what I caught."

He smiled at Helen a little uncertainly. "I had some time to spare, and I thought you wouldn't mind if I came up here. You used to let me."

"I've always wanted you to come back," she said with her disconcerting frankness.

"You may sit down," Miriam said, "and go on telling us about your childhood. Helen, we'd hardly said how d'you do when he began on that. It's a sure sign of age."

"I am old."

"Oh," Helen murmured. "No." She dropped back into her bed. She could see Zebedee's grey coat sleeve and the movements of his arm as he found and filled his pipe, and by moving her head half an inch she saw his collar and his lean cheek.

"Yes, old," he said, "and the reason I mentioned my unfortunate childhood was to point a moral in content. When I was young I was made to go to chapel twice on Sundays, three times counting Sunday-school, and here I find you all wandering about the moor."

"I'd rather have had the chapel," Miriam said. "One could at least look at people's hats."

"The hats in our particular Bethel were chiefly bonnets. Bonnets with things in them that nodded, and generally black." He stared across the moor. "I don't know that the memory of them is a thing to cherish."

Helen tried to do justice to the absent. "We were never told not to go. We could do what we liked."

"Ah, but we weren't encouraged," Miriam chuckled. "You have to be encouraged, don't you, Zebedee, before you go into places like that?"

"My father had other methods," he said grimly.

The silence tightened on his memories, and no one spoke until Miriam said, almost gently, "Please tell us some more."

"The pews were a bright yellow, and looked sticky. The roof was painted blue, with stars. There was a man in a black gown with special knowledge on the subject of sin."

"That," Miriam said pensively, "must have been amusing."

"No. Only dreary and somehow rather unclean. I liked to go to the surgery afterwards and smell the antiseptics."

"I wish the horrible black-gowned man could know that," Helen said fiercely.

He looked down, smiling tolerantly. "But it doesn't matter now."

"It does. It will always matter. You were little—" She broke off and huddled herself closer in her shawl, as though she held a small thing in its folds.

He found nothing to say; he was swept by gratitude for this tenderness. It was, he knew, what she would have given to anything needing comfort, but it was no less wonderful for that and he was warmed by it and, at the same time, disturbed. She seemed to have her hands near his heart, and they were pressing closer.

"Go on," said Miriam, unconscious of the emotions that lived near her. "I like to hear about other people's miseries. Were you rather a funny little boy?"

"I expect so."

"Pale and plain, I should think," she said consideringly, "with too big a nose. Oh, it's all right now, rather nice, but little boys so often have noses out of proportion. I shall have girls. Did you wear black clothes on Sunday?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Poor little ugly thing! Helen, are you listening? Black clothes! And your hair oiled?"

"No, not so bad as that. My mother was a very particular lady."

"Can you tell us about her?" Helen asked.

"I don't know that I can."

"You oughtn't to have suggested it," Miriam said in a reproof which was ready to turn to mockery at a hint from Zebedee.

"He won't tell us if he doesn't want to. You wouldn't be hurt by anything we said, would you?"

"Of course not. The difficulty is that there seems nothing to tell. She was so quiet, as I remember her, and so meek, and yet one felt quite safe with her. I don't think she was afraid, as I was, but there was something, something that made things uncertain. I can't explain."

"I expect she was too gentle at the beginning," Helen said. "She let him have his own way and then she was never able to catch up, and all the time—all the time she was thinking perhaps you were going to suffer because she had made that mistake. And that would make her so anxious not to make another, wouldn't it? And so—"

"And so it would go on. But how did you discover that?"

"Oh, I know some things," she said, and ended feebly, "about some things."

"She died when I was thirteen and Daniel three, and my father was very unhappy."

"I didn't like your father a bit," Miriam said.

"He was a good man in his way, his uncomfortable way."

"Then I like them wickeder than that."

"It made him uncomfortable too, you know."

"If you're going to preach—"

He laughed. "I didn't mean to. I was only offering you the experience of my maturity!"

"Well, I'm getting stiff and cold. Helen likes that kind of thing. Give it to her while I get warm. Unless you'll lend me your shawl, Helen?"

"No, I won't."

"I must go too," said Zebedee, but he did not move and Helen did not speak. His thoughts were on her while his eyes were on the dark line of moor touching the sky; yet he thought less of her than of the strange ways of life and the force which drew him to this woman whom he had known a child so short a time ago. He wondered if what he felt were real, if the night and the mystery of the moor had not bewitched him, for she had come to him at night out of the darkness with the wind whistling round her. It was so easy, as he knew, for a solitary being to fasten eagerly on another, like a beaten boat to the safety of a buoy, but while he thus admonished himself, he had no genuine doubt. He knew that she was what he wanted: her youth, her wisdom, her smoothness, her serenity, and the many things which made her, even the stubbornness which underlay her calm.

Into these reflections her voice came loudly, calling him from the heights.

"I do wish you wouldn't keep Eliza. She's a most unsuitable person to look after you."

He laughed so heartily and so long that she sat up to look at him. "I don't know what's amusing you," she said.

"It's so extraordinarily like you!"


"And why don't you think her suitable?"

"From things Daniel has told me."

"Oh, Daniel is an old maid. She's ugly and disagreeable, but she delivers messages accurately, and that's all I care about. Don't believe all Daniel's stories."

"They worry me," she said.

"Do you worry about every one's affairs?" he asked, and feared she would hear the jealousy in his voice.

"I know so few people, you see. Oughtn't I to?"

"I'm humbly thankful," he said with a light gravity.

"Then I'll go on. Aren't you lonely on Sundays in that house with only the holly bush and the rowan and the apple-trees that bear no fruit? Why don't you come up here?"

"May I?"

"You belong to the moor, too," she said.

He nodded his thanks for that. "Who told you about our trees? Daniel again?"

"Yes; but I asked him."

He stood up. "I must go back. Thank you and good night."

It was getting dark and, with a heavy feeling in her heart, she watched him walk away, while Miriam ran up with a whirl of skirts, crying out, "Is he going? Is he going? Come and see him to the road."

Helen shook her head. She would let Miriam have anything she wanted, but she would not share with her. She turned her back on the thin striding figure and the small running one behind it, and she went into the house. There, the remembrance of Mildred Caniper went with her from room to room, and the house itself seemed to close on Helen and hold her in.

She stood at the schoolroom window and watched the twilight give place to night. In the garden, the laurel bushes were quite black and it seemed to her that the whole world was dead except herself and the lurking shadows that filled the house. Zebedee, who tramped the long road to the town, had become hardly more than a toy which had been wound up and would go on for ever. Then, on the hillside, a spark leapt out, and she knew that John or Lily Brent had lighted the kitchen lamp.


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533