小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Moor Fires » CHAPTER XIX
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
CHAPTER XIX

Disease fell heavily on the town that autumn and Zebedee and Helen had to snatch their meetings hurriedly on the moor. She found that Miriam was right and she had no difficulty and no shame in running out into the darkness for a clasp of hands, a few words, a shadowy glimpse of Zebedee by the light of the carriage lamps, while the old horse stood patiently between the shafts and breathed visibly against the frosty night. Over the sodden or frozen ground, the peat squelching or the heather stalks snapping under her feet, she would make her way to that place where she hoped to find her lover with his quick words and his scarce caresses and, returning with the wind of the moor on her and eyes wide with wonder and the night, she would get a paternal smile from Rupert and a gibing word from Miriam, and be almost unaware of both. For weeks, her days were only preludes to the short perfection of his presence and her nights were filled with happy dreams: the eyes which had once been so watchful over Mildred Caniper were now turned inwards or levelled on the road; she went under a spell which shut out fear.

In December she was brought back to a normal world by the illness of Mildred Caniper. One morning, without a word of explanation or complaint, she went back to her bed, and Helen found her there, lying inert and staring at the ceiling. She had not taken down her hair and under the crown of it her face looked small and pinched, her eyes were like blue pools threatening to over-run their banks.

"Is your head aching?" Helen said.

"I—don't think so."

"What is it, then?"

"I was afraid I could not—go on," she said carefully. "I was afraid of doing something silly and I was giddy."

"Are you better now?"

"Yes. I want to rest."

"Try to sleep."

"It isn't sleep I want. It's rest, rest."

Helen went away, but before long she came back with a dark curtain to shroud the window.

"No, no! I want light, not shadows," Mildred cried in a shrill voice. "A dark room—" Her voice fell away in the track of her troubled memories, and when she spoke again it was in her ordinary tones. "I beg your pardon, Helen. You startled me. I think I must have dozed and dreamed."

"And you won't have the curtain?"

"No. Let there be light." She lay there helpless, while thoughts preyed on her, as vultures might prey on something moribund.

At dinner-time she refused to help herself to food, though she ate if Helen fed her. "The spoon is heavy," she complained.

Miriam was white and nervous. "She ought to have Zebedee," she said. "She looks funny. She frightens me."

"We could wait until tomorrow," Helen said. "He is so busy and I don't want to bring him up for nothing. He's being overworked."

"But for Notya!" Miriam exclaimed. "And don't you want to see him?" She could not keep still. "I can't bear people to be ill. He ought to come."

"Go and ask John."

"What does he know about it?" she whispered. "I keep thinking perhaps she will go mad."

"That's silly."

"It isn't. She looks—queer. If she does, I shall run away. I'm going to George. He'll drive into the town. You mustn't sacrifice Notya to Zebedee, you know."

Helen let out an ugly, scornful sound that angered Miriam.

"Old sheep!" she said, and Helen had to spare a smile, but she was thoughtful.

"Perhaps John would go."

"But why not George?"

"We're always asking favours."

"Pooh! He likes them and I don't mind asking."

"Well, then, it would be rather a relief. I don't know what to do with her."

The sense of responsibility towards George which had once kept Miriam awake had also kept her from him in a great effort of self-denial, and it was many days since she had done more than wave a greeting or give him a few light words.

"I believe I've offended you," he had told her not long ago, but she assured him that it was not so.

"Then I can't make you out," he muttered.

She shut her eyes and showed him her long lashes. "No, I'm a mystery. Think about me, George." And before he had time to utter his genuine, clumsy speech, she ran away.

"But I can't avoid temptation much longer," she told herself. "Life's too dull."

And now this illness which alarmed her was like a door opening slowly.

"And it's the hand of God that left it ajar," she said as she sped across the moor.

Her steps slackened as she neared the larch-wood, for she had not ventured into it since the night of old Halkett's death; but it was possible that George would be working in the yard and, tiptoeing down the soft path, she issued on the cobble-stones.

George was not there, nor could she hear him, and she was constrained to knock on the closed door, but the face of Mrs. Biggs, who appeared after a stealthy pause, was not encouraging to the visitor. She looked at Miriam and her thin lips parted and joined again without speech.

"I want Mr. Halkett," Miriam said, straightening herself and speaking haughtily because she guessed that Mrs. Biggs was suspicious of her friendliness with George.

"He's out. You'll have to wait," she said and shut the door.

A cold wind was swooping into the hollow, but Miriam was hot with a gathering anger that rushed into words as Halkett appeared.

"George!" She ran to him. "I hate that woman. I always did. I wish you wouldn't keep her. Oh, I hate her!"

"But you didn't come here to tell me that," he said. In her haste she had allowed him to take her hand and the touch of her softened his resentment at her neglect; amusement narrowed his eyes until she could not see their blue.

"She's horrid, she's rude; she left me on the step. I didn't want to go in, but she oughtn't to have left me standing there."

"She ought not. I'll tell her."

"Dare you?"

"Dare I!" he repeated boastfully.

"But you mustn't! Don't, George, please don't. Promise you won't. Promise, George."

"All right."

"Thank you." She drew her hand away.

"The fact is, she's always pretty hard on you."

Miriam's flame went out. "You don't mean," she said coldly, "that you discuss me with her?"

"No, I do not."

"You swear you never have?"

He had a pleasing and indulgent smile. "Yes, I swear it, but she dislikes the whole lot of you, and you can't always stop a woman's talk."

"You should be able to," she said. She wished she had not come for George did not realize what was due to her. She would go to John and she nodded a cold good-bye.

Her hands were in the pockets of her brown woollen coat, her shoulders were lifted towards her ears; she was less beautiful than he had ever seen her, yet in her kindest moments she had not seemed so near to him. He was elated by this discovery; he did not seek its cause and, had he done so, he was not acute enough to see that hitherto the feelings she had shown him had been chiefly feigned, and that this real resentment, marking her face with petulance, revealed her nature to be common with his own.

"But you've not told me what you came for," he said.

She was reluctant, but she spoke. "To ask you to do something for us."

"You know I'll do it."

Still sulky, she took a few steps and leaned against the house wall; she had the look of a boy caught in a fault.

"We want the doctor."

"Who's ill?"

"It's Notya."

"What's the matter?"

"I don't know." She forgot her grievance. "I don't like thinking of it. It makes me sick."

"Is she very bad?"

"No, but I think he ought to come."

"Must I bring him back?"

"Just leave a message, please, if it doesn't put you out."

In the pause before he spoke, he studied the dark head against the white-washed wall, the slim body, the little feet crossed on the cobbles, and then he stammered:

"You—you're like a rose-tree growing up."

She spread her arms and turned and drooped her head to encourage the resemblance. "Like that?"

He nodded, with the clumsiness of his emotions. "Look here—"

"Now, don't be tiresome. Oh, you can tell me what you were going to say."

"All these weeks—"

"I know, but it was for your sake, George."

"How?"

"It's difficult to explain, but one night my good angel bent over my bed, like a mother—or was it your good angel?"

He grinned. "I don't believe you'd know one if you saw one."

"I'm afraid I shouldn't," she admitted, with a laugh. "Would you?"

"I fancy I've seen one."

"Mrs. Biggs?" she dared. "Me?"

"I'm not going to tell you."

"I expect it's me. But run away and bring the doctor."

"I say—will you wait till I get back?"

"I couldn't. Think of Mrs. Biggs!"

"Not here. Up in the wood. But never mind. Come and see me saddle the little mare."

She liked the smell of the long, dim stable, the sound of the horses moving in their stalls, the regular crunching as they ate their hay. Years ago, she had been in this place with John and Rupert and she had forgotten nothing. There were the corn-bins under the windows and the pieces of old harness still hanging on big nails; above, there was the loft that looked as vast as ever in the shadowy gloom, and again it invited her ascent by the iron steps between the stalls.

From the harness-room Halkett fetched a saddle, and as he put it on the mare's back, he said, "Come and say how d'you do to her."

"It's Daisy. She'll go fast. Isn't she beautiful! She's rubbing her nose on me. I wish I could ride her."

"She might let you—for half a minute. Charlie's the boy for you. Come and see what's in the harness-room."

"Not now. There isn't time."

"Wait for me then." There was pleading in his voice. "Wait in the wood. I've something to show you. Will you do that for me?"

He was standing close to her, and she did not look up. "I ought to go back, but I don't want to. I don't like ill people. They sicken me."

"Don't go, then."

Now she looked at him in search of the assurance she wanted. "I needn't, need I? Helen can manage, can't she?"

He forgot to answer because she was like a flower suddenly brought to life in Daisy's stall, a flower for grace and beauty, but a woman for something that made him deaf to what she said.

"She can manage, can't she?"

"Of course." He snatched an armful of hay from a rack and led her to the larch trees and there he scraped together the fallen needles and laid the hay on them to make a bed for her.

"Rest there. Go to sleep and I'll be back before you wake."

She lay curled on her side until all sounds of him had passed and then she rolled on to her back and drew up her knees. It was dark and warm in the little wood; the straight trunks of the larches were as menacing as spears and the sky looked like a great banner tattered by their points. Though she lay still, she seemed to be marching with a host, and the light wind in the trees was the music of its going, the riven banner was a trophy carried proudly and, at a little distance, the rushing of the brook was the sound of feet following behind. For a long time she went with that triumphant army, but at length there came other sounds that forced themselves on her hearing and changed her from a gallant soldier to a girl half frightened in a wood.

She sat up and listened to the galloping of a horse and a voice singing in gay snatches. The sounds rose and sank and died away and came forth lustily again, and in the singing there was something full-blooded and urgent, as though the singer came from some danger joyfully escaped or hurried to some tryst. She stood up and, holding to a tree, she leaned sideways to listen. She heard Halkett speaking jovially to the mare as he pulled her up on the cobbles and gave her a parting smack of his open hand: then there began a sweet whistling invaded by other sounds, by Daisy's stamping in her stall, a corn-bin opened and shut, and Halkett's footsteps in the yard. Soon they were lost in the softness of the larch needles, but the whistling warned her of his coming and alarmed her with its pulsing lilt, and as she moved away and tried to make no noise, a dry branch snapped under her feet.

"Where are you?" he called out.

"Here," she answered, and awaited him. She could see the light gleaming in his eyes.

"Were you running off?"

"I didn't run."

He wound his arm about a tree and said, "We came at a pace, the mare and I."

"I heard you. Is Dr. Mackenzie coming?"

"Yes—fast as that old nag of his will bring him."

She slipped limply to the ground for she was chilled. She had braced herself for danger and it had turned aside, and she felt no thankfulness: she merely found George Halkett dull.

"Thank you for going," she said in cool tones. "Now I must go back and see how Notya is."

"No. I want to show you the side saddle."

"Which?"

"The one for you."

Adventure was hovering again. "For me? Are you really going to teach me to ride?"

"Didn't I say so?"

"But when?"

"When the rest of the world's in their beds."

"Oh. Won't it be too dark?"

"We'll manage. We'll try it first in daylight, right over the moor where no one goes. Most nights are not much darker than it is now, though. I can see you easily."

"Can you?" She was rocking herself in the way to which she had accustomed him. "What can you see?"

"Black hair and black eyes. Come here."

"I'm quite comfortable and you should never tell a lady to come to you, George."

"Are you asking me to come to you?"

"Don't be silly. Aren't you going to show me the saddle?"

"Yes. Where's your hand? I'll help you up. There you are! No, I'll keep your hand. The ground's steep and you might fall."

"No. Let me have it, George."

Her resistance broke the bonds he had laid on himself, and over her there fell a kind of wavering darkness in which she was drawn to him and held against his breast. His coat smelt of peat and tobacco; she felt his strength and the tense muscles under his clothes, and she did not struggle to get free of him. Ages of warm, dark time seemed to have passed over her before she realized that he was doing something to her hair. He was kissing it and, without any thought, obedient to the hour, she turned up her face to share those kisses. He uttered a low sound and put a hand to either of her cheeks, marking her mouth for his, and it was then she pushed him from her, stepped back, and shook herself and cried, "Oh, oh, you have been drinking!"

As she retreated, he advanced, but she fenced him off with outstretched hands.

"Go away. You have been drinking."

"I swear I haven't. I had one glass down there. I was thirsty—and no wonder. I swear I had no more. It's you, you that's sent it to my head."

At that, half was forgiven, but she said, "Anyhow, it's horrid and it makes me hate you. Go away. Don't touch me. Don't come near." In her retreat she stumbled against a tree and felt a bitterness of reproach because he did not ask if she were hurt.

"I'll show you I'm sober," he grumbled. "What do you know about it? You're a schoolgirl."

"Then if you think that you should be still more ashamed."

"Well, I'm not. You made me mad and—you didn't seem to mind it."

"I didn't, but I do now, and I'm going."

He followed her to the wood's edge and there she turned.

"If your head is so weak you ought never to take spirits."

"My head isn't weak, and I'm not a drunkard. Ask any one. It's you that are—"

She offered the word—"Intoxicating?" And she let a smile break through her lips before she ran away.

She felt no mental revulsion against his embrace; the physical one was only against the smell of spirits which she disliked, and she was the richer for an experience she did not want to repeat. She saw no reason, however, why he should not be tempted to offer it. She had tasted of the fruit, and now she desired no more than the delight of seeing it held out to her and refusing it.

The moor was friendly to her as she crossed it and if she had suffered from any sense of guilt, it would have reassured her. Spread under the pale colour of the declining sun, she thought it was a big eye that twinkled at her. She looked at the walls of her home and felt unwilling to be enclosed by them; she looked towards the road, and seeing the doctor's trap, she decided to stay on the moor until he had been and gone, and when at last she entered she found the house ominously dark and quiet. The familiar scent of the hall was a chiding in itself and she went nervously to the schoolroom, where a line of light marked its meeting with the floor.

Helen sat by the table, mending linen in the lamplight. She gave one upward glance and went on working.

"Well?" Miriam said.

"Well?"

"Did he come?"

"Yes."

"What did he say?"

"He called it collapse."

"How clever of him!"

"I have left the tea-things for you to wash, and will you please get supper?"

"You needn't talk like that. I'm willing to do my share."

"You shirked it today, and though I know you're frightened of her, that's no excuse for leaving me alone."

Miriam leaned on the table and asked in a gentler voice, "Is she likely to be ill long?"

"It's very likely."

"Well, we shan't miss her while you are with us, but it's a pity, when we might have peace. You're just like her. I hope you'll never have any children, for they'd be as miserable as I am, only there wouldn't be one like me. How could there be? One only has to think of Zebedee."

Helen stood up and brought her hand so heavily to the table that the lamplight flared.

"Go!" she said, "go—" Her voice and body shook, her arms slid limply over her mending, and she tumbled into her chair, crying with sobs that seemed to quaver for a long time in her breast. Miriam could not have imagined such a weeping, and it frightened her. With one finger she touched Helen's shoulder, and over and over again she said, "I'm sorry, Helen. I'm sorry. Don't cry. I'm sorry—" until she heard Rupert whistling on the track. At that Helen stirred and wiped her eyes, but Miriam darted from the room, shouted cheerfully to Rupert and, keeping him in talk, led him to the dining-room, while Helen sat staring with blurred eyes at the linen pile, and seeing the misery in Mildred Caniper's face.


欢迎访问英文小说网http://novel.tingroom.com

©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

鲁ICP备05031204号