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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Babylon » CHAPTER XVI. COLIN'S DEPARTURE.
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When Minna learnt from Colin that he had finally accepted Sir Henry Wilberforce's situation, her heart was very heavy. She wanted her old friend to do everything that would make him into a great sculptor, of course; but still, say what you will about it, it's very hard to have your one interest in life taken far away from you, and to be left utterly alone and self-contained in the great dreary world of London. Have you ever reflected, dear sir or madam, how terrible is the isolation of a girl in Minna Wroe's position—nay, for the matter of that, of your own housemaid, of cook, or parlour-maid, in that vast, unsympathetic, human ant-hill? Think, for a moment, of the warm human heart within her, suddenly cramped and turned in upon itself by the unspeakable strangeness of everything around her. She has come up from the country, doubtless, to take a 'better' place in London, and there she is thrown by pure chance into one situation or another, with two or three more miscellaneous girls from other shires, having other friends and other interests; and from day to day she toils on, practically alone, among so many unknown, or but officially known, and irresponsive faces. Is it any wonder that, under such circumstances, she looks about her anxiously for some living object round which to twine the tendrils of her better nature?—it may be only a bird, or a cat, or a lap-dog; it may be Bob the postman or policeman Jenkins. We laugh about her young man, whom we envisage to ourselves simply as a hulking fellow and a domestic nuisance; we never reflect that to her all the interest and sympathy of life is concentrated and focussed upon that one single shadowy follower. He may be as uninteresting a slip of a plough-boy, turned driver of a London railway van, as ever was seen in this realm of England; or he may be as full of artistic aspiration and beautiful imaginings as Colin Churchill; but to her it is all the same; he is her one friend and confidant and social environment; he represents in her eyes universal society; he is the solitary unit who can play upon the full gamut of that many-toned and exquisitely modulated musical instrument, her inherited social nature. Take him away, and what is there left of her?—a mere automatic human machine for making beds or grinding out arithmetic for junior classes.

Has not humanity rightly pitched, by common consent, for the main theme of all its verse and all its literature, upon this one universal passion, which, for a few short years at least, tinges with true romance and unspoken poetry even the simplest and most commonplace souls?

Colin felt the sadness of parting, too, but by no means so acutely as Minna. The door of fame was opening at last before him; Rome was looming large upon the mental horizon; dreams in marble were crystallising themselves down into future actuality; and in the near fulfilment of his life-long hopes, it was hardly to be expected that he should take the parting to heart so seriously as the little pupil-teacher herself had taken it. Besides, time, in anticipation at least, never looks nearly so long to men as to women. Don't we all know that a woman will cry her eyes out about a few months' absence, which to a man seems hardly worth making a fuss about? 'It's only for three or four years, you know, Minna,' Colin said, as lightly as though three or four years were absolutely nothing; and ah me, how long they looked to poor, lonely, heartsick little Minna! She felt almost inclined to give up this up-hill work of teaching and self-education altogether, and return once more to the old fisherman's cottage away down at Wootton Mandeville. There at least she would have some human sympathies and interests to comfort and sustain her.

But Colin had lots of work to do, getting himself ready for his great start in life; and he hardly entered to the full into little Minna's fears and troubles. He had to refurbish his entire wardrobe on a scale suited to a gentleman's servant—Minna was working hard in all her spare hours at making new shirts for him or mending old ones: he had to complete arrangements of all sorts for his eventful journey; and he had to select among his books and drawings which ones should accompany him upon his journey to Rome, and which should be consigned to the omnivorous secondhand book-stall. Milton and Shelley and Bohn's '?schylus' he certainly couldn't do without; they were an integral part of his stock-in-trade as a sculptor, and to have left them behind would have been an irreparable error; but the old dog-eared 'Euripides' must go, and the other English translations from the classics would have made his box quite too heavy for Sir Henry to pay excess upon at Continental rates—so Cicolari told him. Still, the Flaxman plates must be got in somewhere, even if Shelley himself had to give way to them; and so must his own designs for his unexecuted statues, those mainstays of his future artistic career. Minna helped him to choose and pack them all, and she was round so often at Cicolari's in the evening that prim Miss Woollacott said somewhat sharply at last, 'It seems to me a very good thing, Minna Wroe, that this cousin of yours is going to Rome at last, as you tell me; for even though he's your only relation in London, I don't think it's quite proper or necessary for you to be round at his lodgings every other evening.' Colin took a few lessons, too, in his future duties, from a gentleman's gentleman in Regent's Park. It wasn't a pleasant thing to do, and he sighed as he put away his books and sketches, and went out to receive his practical instruction from that very supercilious and elegant person; but it had to be done, and so he did it. Colin didn't care particularly for associating with the gentleman's gentleman; indeed, he was beginning slowly to realise now how wide a gulf separated the Colin Churchill of the Marylebone Road from the little Colin Churchill of Wootton Mande-ville. He had lived so much by himself since he came to London, he had seen so little of anybody except Minna and Cicolari, and he had been so entirely devoted to art and study, that he had never stopped to gauge his own progress before, and therefore had never fully felt in his own mind how great was the transformation that had insensibly come over him. Without knowing it himself, he had slowly developed from a gentleman's servant into an artist and a gentleman. And now he was being forced by accident or fate to take upon him once more the position of an ordinary valet.

Indeed, during the month that intervened between Colin's engagement by Sir Henry Wilberforce and his start for Rome, he wrote to his brother Sam over in America; and, shadowy memory as Sam had long since become to him, though he told him of his projected trip, and enlarged upon his hopes of attaining to the pinnacle of art in Rome, he was so ashamed of his mode of getting there that he said nothing at all upon that point, but just glided easily over the questions of means and method. He didn't want his thriving brother in America to know that he was going to Rome, with all his high ideals and beautiful dreams, in no better position than as an old man's valet.

At last the slow month wore itself away gradually for Colin—how swift and short it seemed to Minna!—and the day came when he was really to set out for Paris, on his way to Italy. He was to start with his new master from Charing Cross station, and he had taken possession of his post by anticipation a couple of days earlier. Minna mustn't be at the station to see him off, of course; that would be unofficial; and if servants indulge in such doubtful luxuries as sweethearts, they must at least take care to meet them at some seemly time or season; but at any rate she could say good-bye to him the evening before, and that was always something. Would he propose to her this time, at last, Minna wondered, or would he go away for that long, long journey, and leave her as much in doubt as ever as to whether he really did or didn't love her?

'It won't be for long, you see, little woman,' Colin said, kissing away her tears in Regent's Park, as well as he was able; 'it won't be for long, Minna; and then, when we meet again, I shall have come back a real sculptor. What a delightful meeting we shall have, Minna, and how awfully learned and clever you'll have got by that time! I shall be half afraid to talk to you. But you'll write to me every week, won't you, little woman? You'll promise me that? You must promise me to write to me every week, or at the very least every fortnight.'

It was some little crumb of comfort to Minna that he wanted her to write to him so often. That showed at any rate that he really cared for her just ever such a tiny bit. She wiped her eyes again as she answered, 'Yes, Colin; I'll take great care never to miss writing to you.'

'That's right, little woman. And look here, you mustn't mind my giving you them; there's stamps enough for Italy to last you for a whole twelvemonth—fifty-two of them, Minna, so that it won't ever be any expense to you; and when those are gone, I'll send you some others.'

'Thank you, Colin,' Minna said, taking them quite simply and naturally. 'And you'll write to me, too, won't you, Colin?'

'My dear Minna! Why, of course I will. Who else on earth have I got to write to?'

'And you won't forget me, Colin?'

'Forget you, Minna! If ever I forget you, may my right hand forget her cunning—and what more dreadful thing could a sculptor say by way of an imprecation than that, now!'

'Oh, Colin, don't! Don't say so! Suppose it was to come true, you know!'

'But I don't mean to forget you, Minna; so it won't come true. Little woman, I shall think of you always, and have your dear little gipsy face for ever before me. And now, Minna, this time we must really say good-bye. I'm out beyond my time already. Just one more; thank you, darling. Goodbye, good-bye, Minna. Good-bye, dearest. One more. God bless you!'

'Good-bye, Colin. Good-bye, good-bye. Oh, Colin, my heart is breaking.'

And when that night Minna lay awake in her own bare small room at prim Miss Woollacott's, she thought it all over once more, and argued the pros and cons of the whole question deliberately to herself with much trepidation. 'He called me “dearest,” she thought in her sad little mind, 'and he said he'd never forget me; that looks very much as if he really loved me: but, then, he never asked me whether I loved him or not, and he never proposed to me—no, I'm quite sure he never proposed to me. I should have felt so much easier in my own mind if only before he went away he'd properly proposed to me!' And then she covered her head with the bed-clothes once more, and sobbed herself to sleep, to dream of Colin.

The very next evening, Colin was at Paris.


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